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The fate of civilization is in the hands of air traffic controllers

There are some pretty good posts this morning that really should be read.

Avedon Carol writes about the wealthy and well connected and the centrists who deceive for them.  In “Did I say ‘overlords’?, I mean ‘protectors’ (Avedon is a Chiron Beta Prime fan), she writes :

The arch-conservatives believe that the rich – the aristocracy – should run everything, and the rest of us should be “losers” who are poor and miserable and have to live a hard-scrabble existence in which we literally have to beg them for jobs, alms, and mercy. They recognize that the world can be ordered differently, that there can be democracy and freedom and a decent living for everyone, they just think it shouldn’t be that way, it should be their way, because they are morally better than us and should be able to lord it over us. They have worked tirelessly (and effectively) for more than 30 years to undo democracy, and they knew just what they were doing.

The Centrists, by their statements and position papers, believe this choice no longer exists – that the “new rules” of “globalization” mean that democracy and a better life, decent wages, worker safety and all that jazz are just no longer possible. We will have to live according to the desires of the arch-conservatives – not because it is morally right, but because there is simply no other option. We are no longer in an aberrant situation where democracy can be a realistic hope and workers can be treated like human beings. We “have to” “compete” with China, and that’s that. Somehow, these centrists have all managed not to notice more than two centuries of American and European history and thousands of years of world history, not to mention many changes in their own lifetimes. They have failed to read any economic charts or to make any coherent conclusions about the direct and visible results of policy choices.

Avedon goes on to suggest that the Centrists in charge are being deliberately deceptive or they wouldn’t be doing this because it’s stupid.  I’m not so sure about that.  I think the problem is that the nation became stratified when we weren’t paying attention.  I noticed it when I visited the executive office building half a mile away from the labs.  The suits aren’t like you and me.  They have no idea what we do and how much they depend on us.  Well, they might get a clue if they are ever diagnosed with a cancer whose program was disrupted by multiple mergers and layoffs and stupid pet MBA tricks, but I digress.

There is a class system in the US.  It started with the financial overlords and is now filtering its way down to everyone.  I blame Jack Welch.  He started the ridiculous “rank and yank” performance system that major corporations and Enron have taken such a shine to.  That system supposedly rewards competitiveness and drive but what it really rewards is loyalty.  The more you suck up to the person who ranks you, the better the chances that you will keep your job.  And the people who rank you are more likely to reward people like themselves.  It’s human nature.  So, the corporate aristocracy tends to make corporate aristocrats.  When it gets to the labs, it gets really ugly because then people start to hoard resources.  Stabbing colleagues in the back to make them look bad so you can look good to the people who can reward you becomes a real art form in the lab.  The problem is that all this politicking doesn’t lead to any real work.  When your livelihood depends on where you went to school and what your pedigree is, it doesn’t matter so much what you do once you get a job.  It’s a self perpetuating caste system.  America did not become a great nation by using a caste system.  It became great by breaking it.  Some of our best innovators weren’t even college graduates.  Think Edison and Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.  Today, those guys couldn’t even get an entry level position in their own companies.

So, the stratification and castification of American culture has been happening right in front of us but we haven’t seen it, mostly because we don’t come in contact with the classes very often.  I didn’t know that the executive building cafeteria served gourmet entrees and had a registered dietician on staff to customize your lunch.  I didn’t know that they could still send packages internationally at vastly reduced costs through the company mail system but that the lab rats couldn’t.  And I didn’t know how snippy and insulting the purchasing department could be until one of its members humiliated a PhD biologist for having the temerity to ask what SAP stood for during a presentation of the kludgy application during a NEW, new purchasing procedures rollout.

Those people up the road don’t know who you are.  You work with your hands or you deal with customers or you’re in a smelly lab with gross ecoli thingies, whatever those are, and they don’t see you, especially if they don’t have to.  And the centrists come from this class of people.  Things get done and chickens get shrinkwrapped into neat, sterile packages and drugs get synthesized but those people up the road have compartmentalized the process and do not associate *people* with the outcomes.  I recently met a former pharma advertising person working in an apple store.  He can’t find a job after his layoff (but I’ll bet his severance package was much more generous than mine) so he works at apple part time.  He says he was laid off because there was nothing in the company pipeline.  I will venture that he had never until that day ever met someone who had worked on that pipeline.  I was that person.  So, I asked him if maybe there was nothing in that pipeline because of all of the mergers and re-orgs and laying off people like me meant that research was broken?  Did he even know that 100,000 of us scientists were laid off right now, NOT working on the pipeline?  He got a funny look on his face.  I think he finally got it.  But it takes a guy losing his cube in the executive office building and who now works at an apple store for the classes to finally get to know one another.

The other two posts are by Matt Taibbi who I think might even come from the 1% but has a conscience in spite of it.  Well, he seems to have grown a conscience since 2008, for which we can be grateful but we are still stuck with Obama.  Anyway, he comes down hard on Obama and Tim Geithner in Government-Enron Style where he writes:

In other words, Geithner and Obama are behaving like Lehman executives before the crash of Lehman, not disclosing the full extent of the internal problem in order to keep investors from fleeing and creditors from calling in their chits. It’s worth noting that this kind of behavior – knowingly hiding the derogatory truth from the outside world in order to prevent a run on the bank – is, itself, fraud!

This is exactly the mindset that led Lehman to the abuses of the “Repo 105” accounting trick, in which loans were disguised as revenues in order to prevent the outside world from knowing the dire state of the bank’s balance sheet.

Now Obama and Geithner are engaged in the same sort of activity, only they’re trying to prevent a run not on an individual bank, but the entire American financial services sector. Geithner seems really to believe that if fraud were aggressively policed, and the world made aware of the incredible extent of the illegality in our markets, that international confidence in the American financial sector would plummet and our economy would suffer – and suffer, incidentally, on Barack Obama’s watch.

Better, apparently, the Band-Aid the problem now, and let the real mess happen later on, on someone else’s watch, or at least in a second term, when there’s no need to worry about re-election.

I’m particularly worried about this since so much of my savings is tied up in my 401K and as far as I can tell, the 401K system is a racket.  It’s the way middle class people can get a tax break, now, in exchange for putting their life savings, and all of the extra money they have, in the hands of sociopaths with a pathological gambling addiction.  Remember, they don’t know us because they never bother to meet us so all that money has no real meaning to them.  It’s just like the instant $200 Monopoly money given to them through our paycheck withdrawals.  It’s an automatic “Pass Go and Collect”.  It just shows up in the accounts.  The brokers don’t wonder how it got there.  They don’t think about what workers had to give up in real time to put away those hundreds of dollars a month for the future.  The future happens to other people.  Finance people live in the present.  They deny themselves nothing.

The other Matt Taibbi post is about the clueless plutocrats in A Christmas Message from America’s rich.  Some of these insults from the 1% have appeared elsewhere but Taibbi drills down to the real message the rich are sending us:

People like Dimon, and Schwarzman, and John Paulson, and all of the rest of them who think the “imbeciles” on the streets are simply full of reasonless class anger, they don’t get it. Nobody hates them for being successful. And not that this needs repeating, but nobody even minds that they are rich.

What makes people furious is that they have stopped being citizens.

Yes, that’s the problem.  The rich have stopped being citizens.  They see themselves as citizens of the world.  They can move their pawns around a global chessboard and so far, the nations of the world have been unable or unwilling to stop them.

That got me thinking about a proposal I have floated before.  If they’re not going to act like citizens, do we really have to let them live here?  I wouldn’t want to propose violent actions, because that would be wrong and no one wants another round of the French Terror.  Ok, some people do but not me.  No, in fact killin’s too good for some of them.  What I would prefer is if they had an extended vacation to some tropical destination, like, oh, I don’t know, the Cayman Islands, perhaps?  In fact, why don’t we let the union first screwed by the 1% and their bought and paid for president have the first crack at this?  When ever a 1%’ers private jet checks in for a landing, divert the plane to the Cayman Islands.  Let’s let the rich hobnob with their own class.  They can spend more time with their money.  And they don’t really need satellite or underwater cables to carry their internet traffic.  Just cut them off.  Let the predators play a game of real-life Survivor on Grand Cayman where they can fight each other for the best views and snorkel sites.  in fact, why not relocate the support staff?  It’s not their fault the rich have to go somewhere.  Then the bankers and brokers and investment class can clean their own toilets and administer their own antibiotics and mow their own golf courses and maintain the water treatment plants.

Well, it’s a start.  We still have to figure out a solution for the yachts, though those yachts ain’t going nowhere without a crew.  If I were a crew member, I would revel in my new found power.  While the rich dudes are asleep in their sleek, mahogany paneled staterooms, just cut the engines and abandon ship.  Yeah, take the only lifeboats with you and the keys to the helicopter.  Pull the fuses out of the electrical panels and consign them to the watery deep. Disable the GPS devices.  After you take the best wines and delicacies, dump all of the food overboard.  Let them float for a few days.

If they’re really as smart and successful and productive as they claim to be, they’ll figure out a way to get out their predicament.  But while they’re working on that, we’ll have time to blockade their way off the islands and bar their entrance to any port.

If they’re not going to be good citizens, they can’t have a country.  We’ll lease the Caymans to them for $500,000,000,000/year.  After a few years, they should be reduced to the economic status of Haitians.

21 Responses

  1. “Yes, so anyway,” he resumed, “the idea was that into the first ship, the ‘A’ ship, would go all the brilliant leaders, the scientists, the great artists, you know, all the achievers; and into the third, or ‘C’ ship, would go all the people who did the actual work, who made things and did things, and then into the `B’ ship – that’s us – would go everyone else, the middlemen you see.”

    Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

    • exactly

      Except in our case, we don’t have an inprobability drive level spaceship to send them to another planet.

      But we do have some tropical islands that might make suitable alternatives.

      Yes, Douglas Adams was way ahead of his time.

  2. Those guys would be at the economic level of Haitians in weeks not years. Without toadies, they probably couldn’t tie their own shoes anymore.

  3. Brazil overtakes UK as sixth-largest economy

    Brazil has overtaken the UK to become the world’s sixth-largest economy, according to a team of economists. The banking crash of 2008 and the subsequent recession has relegated the UK to seventh place in 2011, behind South America’s largest economy, which has boomed on the back of exports to China and the far east.

    Ah the wonderful fruits of austerity. Doing wonders for the UK. Perhaps we could look there before following them further down the path to ruin?

  4. The Big Lie

    Wall Street has destroyed the wonder that was America.

    As 2011 slithers to its end, none of the major problems that led to the crisis point three years ago have really been solved. Bank balance sheets still reek. Europe day by day becomes a financial black hole, with matter from the periphery being sucked toward the center until the vortex itself collapses. The Street and its ministries of propaganda have fallen back on a Big Lie as old as capitalism itself: that all that has gone wrong has been government’s fault. This time, however, I don’t think the argument that “Washington ate my homework” is going to work. This time, a firestorm is going to explode about the Street’s head—and about time, too.
    (…)
    At the end of the day, the convulsion to come won’t really be about Wall Street’s derivatives malefactions, or its subprime fun and games, or rogue trading, or the folly of banks. It will be about this society’s final opportunity to rip away the paralyzing shackles of corruption or else dwell forever in a neofeudal social order. You might say that 1384 has replaced 1984 as our worst-case scenario. I have lived what now, at 75, is starting to feel like a long life. If anyone asks me what has been the great American story of my lifetime, I have a ready answer. It is the corruption, money-based, that has settled like some all-enveloping excremental mist on the landscape of our hopes, that has permeated every nook of any institution or being that has real influence on the way we live now.
    (…)
    There should be more to America, Gore Vidal has written, than who pays tax to whom. It has been in Wall Street’s interest to shrivel our sensibilities as a nation, to shove aside the verities of which General MacArthur spoke at West Point—duty, honor, country—in favor of grubby schemes and scams and “carried interest” calculations. Time, I think, to take the country back.

    I love the level of invective which is reached by this old style Wall St investment banker. I hope he’s right about the coming fire storm for Wall St.

  5. ” And I didn’t know how snippy and insulting the purchasing department could be until one of its members humiliated a PhD biologist for having the temerity to ask what SAP stood for during a presentation of the kludgy application during a NEW, new purchasing procedures rollout.”

    One of the worst fits I ever pitched at work was over something very similar. I told the offending party (in a rather large meeting), who was a toadie for our IT department, that I had better things to do with my brain than keep all their gd acronyms loaded in my fkng memory– you know like the information I use to do my work, which earns money to keep you in a job so you can piss away funds on redundant IT projects. Excuse my French, please but it gets my blood boiling even now.

    America– over managed but under supervised.

    • I will never understand why IT departments and executive building types prefer to use those gawd awful database applications with the non-intuitive databases. The there are “rogue” programmers, like regular chemists with a gift for coding that can whip up better, easier to use and more productive database interface and they are told pretty much to cease and desist by the idiots who run the corporate IT departments. Which reminds me at the reason big pharma wants SOPA is be ause their corporate IT refuses to update Windows and IE on a regular basis and won’t switch to any other system or secure their firewalls.

      • Too many corporate IT depts are just plain old incompetent. While the management is paranoid about using something that is officially “unsupported” due to potential problems.

        • I taught computer science decades ago and one the things I railed about was the “Priests In The Temple” syndrome of the 50-70’s then DP departments. The PC destroyed all that for a decade then the old centralized system starting creeping back in with the advent of the internet. I think many of the ITers are just lazy– they’ve become what the Air Force used to call “Atlas Missles” —can’t get ’em to work and takes an act of Congress to fire ’em.

          • OMG, have I got stories about that. You couldn’t be more correct.

          • For a while, I was in a Library IT department and always fought against that (useless acronyms and talking-down to people in other departments) …. Half our department came with long-time library experience and our group had a pretty good idea how to talk about technology without making the staff crazy but the tech-based IT people, OMG…. they delighted in talking as obscurely as possible.

      • I was one of the rogues and you are exactly right. For years, before I was locked out by passwords and condom wrappers around installations, I fixed problems for folks and got the machine to work the way they wanted it to work. Now, the tail wags the dog and professionals are forced to jump through hoops because “it’s easier for the computer.” Scream.

      • Fill the suggestion box at your workplace with ideas like going to India for IT support because they’ll work for peanuts. Sell the suits on that idea an retire to watch the fun.

        • Every time the job gets easier for these parasites, usually through automation, they weasel another position to support the new more efficient technology. Now assistants’ assistans have assistants. Tho I do like the gist of the idea Mr. Mike.

  6. The rich have stopped being citizens. They see themselves as citizens of the world.

    Uh, these “citizens of the world” very nearly blew up the world a few years ago.

    I’d say rather that they no longer see anybody but themselves as citizens.

    They can move their pawns around a global chessboard and so far, the nations of the world have been unable or unwilling to stop them.

    They can do that because the U.S. government consistently backs them in almost any circumstance. Standing up to them generally involves, in the final analysis, standing up to the Pentagon, which can a little bit messy at times.

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