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    • The Problem With Neoliberal “It’s Never Been Better” Triumphalism
      Saying that humanity is currently the best off it has ever been (a dubious proposition in any case) is like saying “I’ve never been warmer” as you burn down your house. People like Pinker have been trotting out stats to claim that we’ve never been better off. Those stats are questionable, based on a definition […]
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His First Term?

obama_on_highJust Barely President, Baracus Hubris Maximus (hail Ceasar!) has been prattling on about “his first term” since he threw his size 10-gallon hat into the ring, like he knows something the rest of us don’t.  Like the rest of his West Wing “reality,” this is yet another transparent bit of scripted brainwashing propaganda in the Theater of the Obsurd.  However, though he no doubt truly, truly believes this one, the possibility that he might have some sort of insider knowledge on this point is more than a little freaking scary creepy.

Yesterday, while vowing to halve the deficit he inherited, yet saying zippo, nada, nuttin’ about the deficit he’s creating, he promised with his fingers crossed to get the job done by the end of “his first term,” something which he has already hinted would ensure him a second.  But, as with all things Obama, one must ask oneself, is there more to this than that?  This is an especially valuable point to consider, given that before the end of “his first term,” we’re all going to be spending a lot of time mumbling to ourselves anyway.  Might as well have something worthwhile to discuss.

Like his handlers’ now familiar other rather adept feats of legerdemain, such as the tried and true, clever use of favorable polling results ahead of entry into particularly tricky territory, in  proven-to-be largely successful attempts to pave the way for the increased possibility of public acceptance of whatever balderdash is read from left to right off his his Traveling TelePrompTer To Go, “my first term” has the hypnotic effect of “you are getting sleepy.”

Of course, in advance of his sure-to-be-historic first non State of the Union address tonight, we have already been treated to the requisite number of “he’s the shit” polls in the last few days, one even going so far as to assure us that he is more heroic, and thus, logically, more powerful, than Jesus.  Since, for Christians, Jesus trumps Moses, we can take comfort in the blind faith that the Obamessiah will lead us to the Promised Land of Financial Security by throwing out the Money Changers.  See how that works?  And, while all this is going on, we are being properly greased and trussed to receive the news that Our Dear Leader will reluctantly have to bite the bullet and nationalize the already nationalized entire financial sector.  Before “his first term” really even starts.

It is indeed comforting to know that we have a Father Figure who will do what’s best for us, even if that means increasing our (the taxpayer’s) risk while fattening the pockets of the beleaguered banksters.  Which is exactly what he’s about to tell us he’s about to do.  But you see, that’s how he’s going to “remake” the country, and bring about the “change” he’s been promising to achieve before the end of “his first term.”  First, see, he’s gotta get control of the banks, then, all industry, then, put us all to work on chain gangs building roads and railroads, then force us to “volunteer,” then turn over the school system to the military.  After that, by the time the government is in charge of everything else, fixing health care is a piece of cake.  Quite ambitious for the four years he’s got until the end of “his first term,” huh?

Now, if this is your idea of liberal/progressive heaven, the Wall Street Journal’s Matt Miller says, in what I assume is not snark, “Shhhhhh! Shut the hell up and let the man do his thing before you blow it!”  Of course, being an Obot fluent in ObaSpeak, he didn’t use those exact words, per se:

President Barack Obama is taking a beating from liberal critics who think his attempt to court Republican support is a political failure and a policy disaster. Yet this assault on Mr. Obama’s bipartisan instinct is misguided and, ironically, threatens to undermine liberal goals.

snip

Mr. Obama’s stimulus plan, which aims first to mitigate the collapse in aggregate demand in the economy, nonetheless lays down important markers toward this agenda, even if (or perhaps because) the details didn’t please partisans on either side. By marrying major new public investments with major new tax cuts, Mr. Obama is signaling that public activism and private incentives both matter profoundly. This yin-and-yang approach was strikingly on display at the bipartisan “fiscal responsibility summit,” which Mr. Obama convened at the White House yesterday. Before members of Congress and other guests, the president insisted on the need to restore long-term fiscal discipline (including entitlement reform) even as the nation runs up historic deficits to battle the recession in the next few years. The president’s professed reluctance to “nationalize” ailing banks — which has left space for an extraordinarily swift outside consensus to emerge (led by surprising voices like Alan Greenspan’s and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham’s) that temporary bank takeovers may be necessary — shows similar instincts. (emphasis mine)

See, Obie’s just playin’.  He’s finagling the Republicans with fake out overtures of bipartisanship so they can publicly reject him, then, pretending he doesn’t want stuff he really does want, because he knows whatever he says he doesn’t like, they’re gonna promote.  Clever, huh?  That way, he gets his way and if it tanks, it’s not his fault.  If it doesn’t, he’s a hero. (hail Ceasar!)  Either way, he gets his second term.

But, first, he’s gotta get the banks.

Now, you may say, “oh, come on! Are you really trying to tell me you think this guy is that friggin’ Machiavellian?”  To which I would respond, “you must be an Obot.”  Everybody else is well aware that similarly scuzzy, deceitful, underhanded manipulations are the reason he’s president now.   Step away from the KoolAid, and prepare to serve.  First though, I should warn you, you, too are going to have to assume the position sooner or later.  Once you have a firm grasp on your ankles, maybe you’ll begin to really see The Light.

“Cross posted at my place, Cinie’s World.  For more background information on my take on the meltdown and how we got here, see my earlier posts, Inside the Wall Street Whisper Campaign, and What “Is” Is.

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Monday: The Bankers and Obama.

They paid for him.  They paid big money to get what they wanted.

Liberal Rapture has an account of an unknown insider that is uncanny in its summary of Obama.  The account could be completely fabricated but if it is true, it is told from the perspective of someone who was present at many of the fundraising meetings that Obama had with the financial sector.  The author justs says what I and many others concluded last year during the primaries:  Obama is a political opportunist whose only goal was to become president.  That’s it.  He’s completely over his head with the governing thing.  What is particularly notable is what the anonymous writer says about Obama’s perceived boredom.  That was the impression I got from him when I say him at YearlyKos 2007 in Chicago.  He just looked bored with the whole thing.  It came through in his “presentation” during the debates as well.  Here was a man who wasn’t completely comfortable with the material.  People in research start to develop a feel for this sort of thing.  We can tell when someone hasn’t really done the work or can’t interpret the results.

But it is only now that he has taken office in the midst of a major global financial crisis that we see why the banks invested so much money in him.  Paul Krugman outlines three reasons why the banks should be nationalized today in Banking on the Brink:

The case for nationalization rests on three observations.

First, some major banks are dangerously close to the edge — in fact, they would have failed already if investors didn’t expect the government to rescue them if necessary.

Second, banks must be rescued. The collapse of Lehman Brothers almost destroyed the world financial system, and we can’t risk letting much bigger institutions like Citigroup or Bank of America implode.

Third, while banks must be rescued, the U.S. government can’t afford, fiscally or politically, to bestow huge gifts on bank shareholders.

There it is. It’s that simple.  We can’t afford to keep lavishing money on bank shareholders just so they will be spared from having to suffer the consequences of their actions.  The money isn’t there even if the popular will was, which it isn’t.  These banks are in danger of imploding and taking down the world’s financial markets.  And yet, Obama just can’t seem to do what is the right thing:

The real question is why the Obama administration keeps coming up with proposals that sound like possible alternatives to nationalization, but turn out to involve huge handouts to bank stockholders.

For example, the administration initially floated the idea of offering banks guarantees against losses on troubled assets. This would have been a great deal for bank stockholders, not so much for the rest of us: heads they win, tails taxpayers lose.

Now the administration is talking about a “public-private partnership” to buy troubled assets from the banks, with the government lending money to private investors for that purpose. This would offer investors a one-way bet: if the assets rise in price, investors win; if they fall substantially, investors walk away and leave the government holding the bag. Again, heads they win, tails we lose.

Why not just go ahead and nationalize? Remember, the longer we live with zombie banks, the harder it will be to end the economic crisis.

I suspect the reason that Obama won’t nationalize, or won’t until the second before Armageddon, is because the bankers hold his junk in their hands.  And we already know that Obama doesn’t have a core Democratic principle that isn’t on a sliding scale.  That’s why shmoozers in business are detested by the people who have to work for them.  We know how they got to the top.  They hobnobbed and played golf with the guy two levels above them instead of actually working at their jobs until they reached a level of familiarity and expertise.  Their whole goal in life is to get to the very top of the ladder.  Getting to the top makes them successful- at getting to the top.  And then what?

While Obama pays the piper for shmoozing, we are still waiting for Commerce, Labor and HHS to get secretaries.  We teeter on the edge of insolvency.  We watch our retirement savings accounts dwindle day after day, waiting for a reboot.  We have nothing left but hope that he will snap out of it and grow a conscience

(Superdelegates, we haven’t forgotten your role in this.)

Lindsey Graham would consider nationalizing banks; Barack Obama dithers about preserving capitalist culture

Yesterday, the new U.S. President played basketball and then watched the NBA all-star game with a friend. He’s been enjoying a vacation in Chicago, seemingly unconcerned that we are in the midst of a financial crisis the like of which we haven’t seen since the 1930s.

Not everyone is so relaxed and carefree. Yesterday Nouriel Roubini wrote in the Washington Post that “We’re all Swedes now,” arguing that the US banking system is on the ropes and the only solution is nationalization. But Barack Obama insists we just can’t do that because we are Americans–or something like that.

“Obviously Sweden has a different set of cultures in terms of how the government relates to markets and, and America’s different. And we want to retain a strong sense of that private capital fulfilling the core — core investment needs of this country,” he says. “And so, what we’ve tried to do is to apply some of the tough love that’s going to be necessary, but do it in a way that’s also recognizing we’ve got big private capital markets and, and ultimately that’s going to be the key to getting credit flowing again. ”

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The U.S. government further nationalizes over religion, liberalism takes another hit

(Cross-posted from Heidi Li’s Potpourri)

The proper relationship between markets and governments in a liberal state is a debatable one. Adam Smith, generally understood to be one of the major progenitors of modern laisezz faire economic-political theory, did not advocate for the absence of the government intervention in economic affairs. Indeed he felt that the state, via law, would be required to create efficient markets because, in the era in which he wrote, professions and financial institutions were dominated by private parties who had not achieved that domination through economic division of labor and competition – the hallmarks of the Smithean classical economic theory. Rather, professions and financial institutions were dominated by guilds and churches, among other groups, who had achieved their economic position not by virtue of serving the economic interests of the community well, but as a side-effect or perk of attaining power in other ways. Smith’s economic theory qualifies as liberal not because it advocates minimal government intervention in economic affairs, but because of its egalitarianism: Smith argued that in order to create equal opportunity for individuals pursuing their economic self-interest (which he believed would have the fortuitious effect of creating an overall efficient wealth creating economy), power had to be removed from the special interest groups of his day (the guilds, the churches, etc.) that denied that equal opportunity on grounds that had nothing to do with economic interests (e.g. excluding some people from some sorts of jobs on the grounds of the religion) or with simply shoring up economic self interest that was not being exercised within a system likely to maximize overall wealth creation.

Today, President Obama has signed an executive order creating “a revamped White House office for religion-based and neighborhood programs, expanding aninitiative started by the Bush administration that provides government
support — and financing — to religious and charitable organizations that deliver social services.” (See this New York Times article, also reprinted after the jump in this post for all quotations).

This is precisely the inverse of a Smithean approach to government and the economy. Wholly apart from questions related to the constitutionality of the expanded office and its powers, this inversion must be noted on grounds of its illiberalism. What the expanded office does is to advantage certain groups – faith-based ones – not on grounds of the likelihood of their contributing to efficient wealth production, but on the grounds that the President believes they are “good” and will do “good”:

“No matter how much money we invest or how sensibly we design our policies, the change that Americans are looking for will not come from government alone,” Mr. Obama said. “There is a force for good greater than government.”

Whether or not one agrees with President Obama’s metaphysics (if by forces for good he is referencing supernatural beings) or his confidence in the beneficence of organized religious groups (including, see article, The Church of Scientiology) has nothing to do with the illiberalism of the government funding religious groups to expand their resources for “to lift up those who have fallen on hard times,” as President Obama put it.

If one of the tasks for our society is to aid those who have fallen on hard times, we have two established, liberal ways to accomplish that task. We can entrust the job to the market, assuming that entrepeneurs will find a way to serve their own economic interest while helping others. Indeed, many mega-churches can be understood as doing just just this: they participate in the supply-and-demand cycle for charitable services, often advantaged by all sorts of tax-exemptions, not just on income but on property owned. Or we can choose to add social safety nets officiated over by civil servants acting directly on behalf of the state.

The Time article notes: “In announcing the expansion of the religion office, Mr. Obama did not settle the biggest question: Can religious groups that receive federal money for social service programs hire only those who share their faith?”

Sometimes a conspicuous lack of an answer tells us more than any answer could. The fact that this question – whether faith-based organizations who receive direct government funding to engage in economic activity may discriminate on the basis in their own hiring practices – has not been giving a resounding no tells us that there is not even aspiration to liberalism in this effort to further meld government and religion in this country. Recall, Smith specifically objected to the negative that churches had on the creation of efficient provision of goods and services because churches imposed noneconomically relevant criteria who could participate in the provision of those goods and services. President Obama’s new office flies in the face of this point.

Perhaps this is why his executive order was signed stealthily, “away from the view of television cameras or an audience”?

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