BD # 21

Brain Dropping #21

 
At this point in time I want to reiterate that the title of this series “Brain Droppings” is taken from a book of sardonic observations by George Carlin.  My use of the title is an homage to his courageous dissections of  the hypocrites who hold power over us.
 
I’m reading Senator Elizabeth Warren’s book “A Fighting Chance”, and share her frustration at the failure in getting meaningful oversight and.  reform of the financial gangsters.  The conundrum has always been why American society, intellectuals, the middle class and especially the working class respond so passively to egregious acts of thievery and criminality by corporations and the banks?  In this so-called Judeo-Christian society how does the ethic of “maximizing-the-bottom -line” square with the biblical injunctions against such flagrantly acquisitive behavior.  How does this putative Christian nation justify usurious  interest rates on credit cards and student loans?  Remember, the only time Jesus used violence was against the bankers in the temple.
 
The great German sociologist and political economist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Max Weber in his “The Protestant Ethic And The Spirit Of Capitalism” of 1905, gives us insight into the viral effect of a particular religious doctrine in how each of us treats his neighbor.
 
 Calvinism’s Doctrine of Predestination put forth in the Westminster confession of Faith states:
 
                                   “God appointed the eternal destiny of some to salvation by grace while leaving the remainder to receive
                                    eternal damnation for all their sins!”
 
This is called ‘unconditional election’ – hence the ‘elect’ – that group of people who are predestined for salvation to the exclusion of the billions of the unwashed and unworthy.  According to this bullshit, God has a list of those who are in a ‘state of grace’ and if you ain’t on that list – no matter how decent a human being you may be – go fuck off!  The kicker is that no one knows who is a member of the ‘elect’ and so wild speculation begins.  Surely, if you are in a state of grace in the eyes of God he would smile benignly down upon you and afford you all the comforts of your earthly existence?  And those who are destined to be damned will be stricken with pestilence and poverty.  What proceeds from this deranged thinking is contempt for the poor and an almost awestruck respect for the filthy rich.  It is this pernicious distortion of Christian ethics that  allows Congress not to lose any sleep after cutting food stamps for poor children, allowing housing foreclosures on working families who have been scammed by banks and criminal mortgage lenders, not batting an eyelash at the growing number of the homeless, and for our Justice Department to allow the bandits of Wall Street to go free.
 

Al Salzman

 

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Brain Dropping # 20

Brain Dropping #20

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts gave a talk in Burlington on Friday at the Unitarian Church.  I had to go hear her – she’s one of my heroes, a truth-teller!   Over the years, to keep my spirits up, I have compiled a list of truth-tellers who go against the flow of the vast rivers of bullshit, and it’s funny, most of them are women.  No, not Hillary, she’s a master kayaker floating downstream on that fetid flow.  I’m talking about Brooksley Born who was head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission who warned about the fraudulent bets in the derivatives market, and was roundly put down by Alan Greenspan, Robert Rubin, Larry Summers and the rest of the eunuchs of economic cupidity.  And Sheila Bair chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation which insures our lowly bank deposits.  She rejected the idea of impunity for banks based on the notion of “Too big to fail!”  And, of course Elizabeth Warren who was chair of the Congressional Oversight Committee during the TARP giveaway to the banks, and an advocate for the Consumers Financial Protection Agency.

Senator Warren is a good speaker.  She has integrity, and I would vote for her for President in a heart beat.  In her talk she laid down a strategy of reform for the financial system – from resurrecting Glass/Steagell, restoring the fire-wall between commercial banks and riskier investment banks, to allowing student loans to be restructured to less onerous interest rates.  But, alas, as much as I like Senator Warren my cynical self sees all that as “pissing in the wind!”  Why??  Because all this talk of reform and regulation assumes that we are still a democracy and that the rule of “one person – one vote” is still operational, and that Citizens United never happened, and that our legislators are not “bought and paid for!” and do not consistently vote against the popular will to please their puppet masters with the bags of dough.

Waves of protests have spread across the globe as a direct challenge to neo-liberal (unbridled market policies) modes of domination and corruption of politics.  The debilitating notion that politics can only be challenged within established methods of reform and existing relations of power plays right into the hands of the ruling elite.  No matter how well-intentioned Senator Warren’s program may be, without  protests of extraordinary magnitude – yes, people in the streets, civil disobedience, marchers by the hundreds of thousands encamped in Lafayette Park, labor organizing.  Without a popular uprising like Occupy Wall Street by the millions – I fear the oligarchs with deep pockets will prevail.

Al Salzman

Brain Dropping # 19

Brain Dropping #19

 
Few people remember Chris Chataway.  In 1954 he was the ‘rabbit’ who set the pace for Roger Bannister in running a sub four minute mile  in a race at Oxford, England.  In an interview he said that moving through the countryside at faster than four miles an hour meant you couldn’t see much, hear much or smell much.  I feel the same way about the speed at which the news of the day passes and disappears – one minute it’s in the headlines – the next moment it’s gone, rarely to be followed up or resurrected.  Beyond the sound-bites, we don’t know much, we don’t learn much and don’t understand much. 
 
With the current news of the horrific chaos in Iraq I can’t help thinking of Colin Powell’s shameless charade before the U.N. holding up a vial of baby powder and proclaiming that there is irrefutable evidence that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling chemical weapons – or Condaleezza Rice’s dire reference to a “mushroom cloud.” Awareness of all that pernicious lying and the hundreds of thousands dead it caused, seems to have evaporated at the speed of a drop of water on a sizzling frying pan.  How fast must we run away from any recollection of the truth to forget that we destroyed Iraq and murdered hundreds of thousands so that  Exxon Mobil and others could have their oil. Listening to the  pinstriped-talking-heads on the boob-tube – we don’t learn anything, we don’t understand anything,  we don’t know anything.
 
As for the  depredations of the thieves of Wall Street, they seem to be forgotten at the speed of light – disappearing into the black hole of memory faster than one nano second of an electronic stock trade.  The celebrity gangsters, like Jamie Dimon immaculately suited, appear in the papers and magazines smiling broadly just minutes after having their wrists slapped by corrupt and compliant regulators.   There seems to be a paradoxical law at work here promulgated by Eric Holder’s Department of Justice: “The more you steal the greater your immunity from the law – and the faster you move through the revolving door from government position to paid off corporate lackey the slower the wheels of justice grind.”   We the people don’t get much, don’t protest much, don’t know much.

 

Al Salzman

 

Brain Dropping # 17

Kshama Sawant – Kshama Sawant – Kshama Sawant – no that’s not some exotic chant – it’s the name of the out loud, no holds barred, militant Socialist member of the Seattle City Council, the charismatic leader of the $15 an hour minimum wage uprising in that city.  And they won!  Yesterday the Seattle City Council unanimously voted in the $15 minimum wage.   click here to hear Ms. Sawant speak: http://www.democracynow.org/2014/6/5/seattle_s_socialist_city_council_member .   It will be like a breath of fresh air to hear someone who doesn’t hedge, doesn’t hold back, doesn’t do a song and dance as many so-called progressives do.

It isn’t all a bowl of cherries however.  The new minimum wage will be phased in over a three to seven year period – an arrangement that Ms. Sawant fought to avoid.  “How can MacDonalds or Starbucks ask their employees to spend another year in poverty?”  What the Seattle experience underscores is the need for masses of people getting into the streets to force the hand of the incestuous political insiders who seem far removed from the needs of their constituents.

BD # 16

Brain Dropping #16

For years I had the fantasy of putting up a huge billboard across from the New York Times, in view of the newsroom, whose messages would reveal the deceptions and outright lies of the so-called ‘newspaper of record’.  Just the other day a friend sent me a link to a group called CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) which has done just that. Click here to see the billboard: :http://www.camera.org/nytimes/    Regrettably, the billboard focuses only on the Israeli / Palestinian conflict and does not deal with the NYT distortions of the news from the world-at-large.  

The billboard is four stories high just across from the NYT newsroom, and unless the obedient minions of the press  keep closed curtains on the windows, it would be impossible to ignore what is just beyond their brown noses.  Some of the messages I would like to see so prominently  displayed are as follows:  “The New York Times is in part responsible for the war in Iraq and its subsequent war crimes!” –  “The New York Times is guilty of biased reporting on Venezuela!”  –  “The New York Times is the propaganda sheet of the oligarchs!” – “The New York Times practices censorship by placement in burying stories that don’t conform to official newsspeak, in the back pages below the fold!”  – “The New York Times distorts history by bowdlerizing important news stories by puritanically redacting so-called foul language as in: “”Showing irritation at Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, Vice President Cheney used an epithet unfit to be published in a family newspaper.”   Here’s what really happened: “When Vermont’s Senator Patrick Leahy came over to join a group of Republican Senators on the Senate floor, Vice President Dick Cheney, told him  to “Go fuck yourself!”  –   “The New York Times, time and time again uses subjective editorial language in its hard news stories, without attribution employing phrases like ” a source who asked to remain anonymous.”

Al Salzman

BD # 15

Brain Dropping #15

I learned in 1st Grade that two plus two, and two times two, equals four.  This, I was taught, is an immutable law of the universe.   But back then I was a child and thought “like a child, but when I was an adult I put away childish things, and looked through the glass darkly.”  Now I well know that the laws of mathematics can be set aside in the calculations of economic foolery, especially in a “Kleptocracy” where we are ruled by thieves.   The vital intermediary for this  perversion of the straightforward rules of mathematical certainty is the obliging CPA – the Certified Public Accountant in his magical manipulation of the balance sheet.  Magical?  Why yes! – making a negative value appear as a positive on the balance sheet as per the prestigious accounting firm of Arthur Anderson of ENRON fame.  That episode of October 2001, was one of the rare times that the public-at-large was made aware of the torturous distortions  a well-bribed, creative accountant was capable of in making things come out just right on the corporate balance sheet to spare the oligarchs the burden of paying a fair tax, or to aid in the duping of hapless investors.

This country is awash in accounting scandals – by the hundreds – which are rarely prosecuted.  “Accounting scandals are political and/or business scandals which arise with the disclosure of financial misdeeds by trusted executives of corporations.  Such misdeeds typically
involve complex methods for misusing or misdirecting funds, overstating revenues, understating expenses, overstating the value of corporate assets or underreporting the existence of liabilities, sometimes with the cooperation of officials in other corporations and affiliates.”  Often managers and employees are pressured or willingly alter financial statements for short -term personal benefit, frequently at the expense of pension obligations.  No-one goes to jail.  Even under the most glaring circumstances a fine is levied, which as a percentage of the corporate  profits, is miniscule.

How crucial is this criminalization of the balance sheet?  The accuracy of such information has a bearing on the viability of even the smallest investment, the safety of a state’s pension fund and the funding of grass roots social programs.  One historian asserts that it was the invention of double-entry bookkeeping which precipitated the transition from Feudalism to robust Capitalism, and in the modern era plays a vital role in keeping the boat from sinking.  There is an oversight group without any enforcement power – The Financial Accounting Standards Board – which attempts to publicize the worst offenders.   But given the dormancy of the Department of Justice under AG Holder in these matters, I would not hold out any hope for a “reign-of-honesty” in the world of big business.   Meanwhile the corporate balance sheet becomes an exercise in creative fiction to the detriment of honest, taxpaying Americans.

Al Salzman

Brain Dropping # 14

If you’re as simple minded as I am then the financial machinations of Wall Street and the banksters will make your head spin.  Begin with the arcane jargon formulated to disguise unethical if not illegal behavior and to keep the average taxpayer in the dark.  Among my favorites is ‘quantitative easing.’   The Federal Reserve Bank, backed by you and me the taxpayers, buys from the banks, bonds, U.S. Treasury notes and Mortgage Backed Securities, which are worthless because of the predatory lending practices of the sub-prime mortgage scam in which unscrupulous bankers convinced low income families to take on unaffordable mortgages.  Where does the Fed get the money?  Why they create it out of thin air in the form of giving credit to the mismanaged banks – it is the equivalent of printing money which ‘eases’  dried up ‘liquidity.’   Liquidity simply means money-on-hand.  If you have ten bucks in your pocket your funds are liquid – if you don’t you’re homeless and broke.

As I understand it, the Federal Reserve in making these purchases is buying ‘toxic assets’.  A toxic asset is an asset that becomes illiquid when its secondary market disappears and cannot be sold, as they are guaranteed to lose money.  In other words as worthless as a pile of steaming cow shit.  But wait, the pile of cow shit can be composted and become a valuable nutrient to your garden.

Two more favorites in the Wall Street larcenous lexicon are – ‘Derivatives’ and ‘Credit Default Swaps.’  A ‘Derivative’ is nothing more than a very ordinary Nathan Detroit floating crap game side bet.   The shooter is going for a ten.  You bet on whether he makes it or not.  He hits ‘boxcars’ and you’re golden.  On Wall Street you can place a side bet on whether a stock goes up or down.  These guys that you see on television in their two thousand dollar pin-striped suits, testifying before the House Banking Committee, are nothing more than cheap back-alley crap shooters who let their MBA flunkies get down on their knees to ‘shoot the bones.’   The big difference is, that when these elegant con men lose,  we the taxpayers bail them out so that they can ride their limousines to the next crap game.  In the words of that great old folksong “Stack O Lee” these Wall Street gamblers never “learn to lose!” because the American taxpayer is always there to ante up.

‘Credit Default Swaps’ is another disingenuous name for an insurance policy taken out by an investment group to cover any loss from highly speculative investments.  The insurance company, say AIG, is supposed to keep on hand enough capital reserves to cover all contingencies.
AIG did not keep such reserves on hand, leading to the largest government (taxpayer) bailout  in history when the sub-prime mortgage house-of-cards collapsed.

Al Salzman