04 August 2012

A Tale of Two Cities: Holocaust of the Vanities

"They plunder, they slaughter, and they steal. This they falsely name Empire. And where they make a desert, they call it peace."

Tacitus, Agricola

"The time was to come, when that wine too would be spilled on the street-stones, and when the stain of it would be red upon many there. The time would come when blood, too, would be spilled on the streets, and many of the people would be stained with it.

And now that the cloud settled on Saint Antoine, which a momentary gleam had driven from his sacred countenance, the darkness of it was heavy—cold, dirt, sickness, ignorance, and want, were the lords in waiting on the saintly presence—nobles of great power all of them; but, most especially the last. Samples of a people that had undergone a terrible grinding and regrinding in the mill, and certainly not in the fabulous mill which ground old people young, shivered at every corner, passed in and out at every doorway, looked from every window, fluttered in every vestige of a garment that the wind shook.

The mill which had worked them down, was the mill that grinds young people old; the children had ancient faces and grave voices; and upon them, and upon the grown faces, and ploughed into every furrow of age and coming up afresh, was the sigh, Hunger. It was prevalent everywhere. Hunger was pushed out of the tall houses, in the wretched clothing that hung upon poles and lines; Hunger was patched into them with straw and rag and wood and paper; Hunger was repeated in every fragment of the small modicum of firewood that the man sawed off; Hunger stared down from the smokeless chimneys, and stared up from the filthy street that had no offal, among its refuse, of anything to eat."

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

I thought this was an exceptionally insightful article.  I excerpted the entire piece.

There are two nations in the US, growing more and more apart. 

The comfortable well-to-do are attempting to ignore the deepening plight of the majority of Americans, based on dodgy economic principles, pure unadulerated greed, self-serving rationalization, a false history of the widespread economic fraud, and a generally apathetic numbness towards the suffering of others that appears to be fully sociopathic.

The poor are merely a calculation in the struggle for the greatest share of the dwindling power and wealth of a declining Empire.  We are not quite there yet, but it will not take much to push things too far.   Austerity applied with a whip hand and a disdain for justice and genuine reform would do it.

This callous arrogance and brutality is nothing new to the one third of the world that has been repeatedly 'saved' by the Pax Americana in its benevolent self-delusions.

The blowback that is coming at home and abroad is going to blow like a hurricane.

And the elite in America will recoil with horror and surprise, and will not understand it.  Or at least,  will pretend not to understand it, once again.  And will blame it on envy, and try to hold on even harder to the status quo in a battle that, in their childish lack of real world perspective, they think they can win.  After all, they are 'winners.'  And they are just itching for yet another war.

There may be blood.  Quite a bit of it. But there will almost certainly be a holocaust of the vanities.

New York Magazine
Why Washington Accepts Mass Unemployment
By Jonathan Chait
3 August 2012

In the years since the collapse of 2008, the existence of mass unemployment has stopped being something the economic powers that be even pretend to regard as a crisis. To those directly impacted, the economic crisis is an emergency, a life-altering disaster the damage from which will endure for years. But most of those in a position to address it simply have not seen it in such terms. History will record that the economic elite has viewed the economic crisis from a perspective of detached complacency.

Two events from the last week have underscored this disturbing reality. The most widely covered was the Federal Reserve’s announcement that, despite a weakening economy, it still would not take steps to stimulate growth. The Fed may not like mass unemployment, but it dislikes inflation even more, and in its calculus, the hypothetical prospect of the latter outweighs the immediate reality of the former.

Here’s a second case, smaller but even more telling. The Obama administration has tried to prevail upon Edward DeMarco, the acting director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, to offer lower mortgage rates to underwater home owners through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which he controls. What interests me is not the proposal itself, nor even DeMarco’s obstinate refusal, but an editorial in the Washington Post applauding DeMarco for refusing to implement the program.

The Post is the voice of the Washington centrist establishment, and the logic of the editorial is a telling signpost. The Obama administration had argued to DeMarco that the mortgage relief was a pure win-win. Not only would the lower mortgage rates provide relief to Americans desperate to keep their homes, and secondarily to give them more purchasing power for other things that would provide a small economic stimulus, it would save the government money: with lower mortgage rates, fewer would default on their government-owned mortgages. DeMarco replied that he believed the taxpayers would end up spending money on the deal: not much, but some.

The Post’s thumbs-up editorial of DeMarco endorsed the reasoning that only a relief program that could be assured to cost the taxpayers nothing was worthwhile. It concluded, “with signs multiplying that the housing market may be finally bottoming out without this additional stimulus, perpetuating this particular battle does not strike us as the best use of the secretary’s time.”

There are signs we’ve hit bottom. Nothing to worry about here. Why risk the possibility of a small outlay merely to provide relief to hundreds of thousands of desperate people? This is such a perfect statement of the way the American elite has approached the economic crisis. They concede that it is a problem. But there are other problems, you know.

It’s important to respond to arguments on intellectual terms and not merely to analyze their motives. Yet it is impossible to understand these positions without putting them in socioeconomic context. Here are a few salient facts: The political scientist Larry Bartels has found (and measured) that members of Congress respond much more strongly to the preferences of their affluent constituents than their poor ones. And for affluent people, there is essentially no recession. Unemployment for workers with a bachelors degree is 4 percent — boom times. Unemployment is also unusually low in the Washington, D.C., area, owing to our economy’s reliance on federal spending, which has not had to impose the punishing austerity of so many state and local governments.

I live in a Washington neighborhood almost entirely filled with college-educated professionals, and it occurred to me not long ago that, when my children grow up, they’ll have no personal memory of having lived through the greatest economic crisis in eighty years. It is more akin to a famine in Africa. For millions and millions of Americans, the economic crisis is the worst event of their lives. They have lost jobs, homes, health insurance, opportunities for their children, seen their skills deteriorate, and lost their sense of self-worth. But from the perspective of those in a position to alleviate their suffering, the crisis is merely a sad and distant tragedy.

Read the original article here.

I think you all know how I feel about all these things. Without serious reform, no amount of stimulus will correct the problems that are plaguing America. The parasites of Wall Street will pounce on any additional liquidity supplied by the Fed.

But I think there is a legitimate case to be made that the Fed has done everything it can for the Banks, but is relatively indifferent to the plight of the real economy. As a regulator the Fed is a colossal hypocrite and failure.

The trillions that have been spent bailing out the wealthy and subsidizing their greed are a scandal of the first order. And yet all they can say is 'more.'

The callous ugliness of many in this nation is of concern. They are encouraged to say outrageous things, and feel justified in taking outageously harsh, anti-human positions. And they are proud of it, having given themselves over completely to greed and hate and pride.

And they will be called to account. God will not be tolerant of such arrogance.

"And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field.

The hot sun rises and the grass withers; the flower droops and falls, and its beauty fades away. In the same way, the rich will fade away with all of their worldly things." James 1:10-11

“We can believe what we choose. We are answerable for what we choose to believe.”

John Henry Newman