Chrysler said the only reason it was back asking for more money so soon was that the car market was worse than it had expected two months ago.
This cavalier approach to the public purse raises a very big question. If Chrysler is really on track for a turnaround and all it needs is some financing to get over a bad patch in sales and debt markets, why doesn’t Cerberus Capital Management, which owns 80 percent of the company, put up the money itself? Why should taxpayers have to take the risk? That’s what private equity funds like Cerberus are supposed to do.
Cerberus and Daimler, which retained a stake in Chrysler, have promised to convert $2 billion in loans to Chrysler into equity, which should help reduce its debt. But Cerberus said giving fresh money would violate its fiduciary duty to investors, breaking company rules limiting how much it can commit to any given investment.
We suspect these rules would be more pliant if Cerberus deemed Chrysler to be a good deal.
It seems the secretive private-equity fund is willing to gamble on Chrysler’s survival with the taxpayer’s dime, but not its own.
The real question is, if it is violative of Cerberus management’s fiduciary duty to bail out its own company, why is it fiscally responsible for the federal government to do so?
And what does it say when the leader of liberal opinion has more qualms about a bailout than the federal government? Nothing good I would think.
While California’s budget debacle seems to be catching most of the MSM coverage, there’s an interesting drama in Kansas going on as well. Kansas pits a Democratic governor against a Republican legislature.
Income tax refunds and state employee paychecks could be late after Republican leaders and the Democratic governor clashed Monday over how to solve a cash-flow problem.
Payments to Medicaid providers and schools also could be delayed.
“We are out of cash, in essence,” state budget director Duane Goossen said.
The move places state taxpayers, workers and schoolchildren in the middle of a political battle over budget cuts.
Before we move on, note how the situation is framed. Clearly, at least to me, the bias leans toward what? Averting pain. In essence the state should do what is necessary – even if illegal and counterproductive – to avoid any pain.
The fight then, is about pain avoidance or, said another way, facing up to what excessive spending and poor budgeting has brought to the state of Kansas.
Why? Well what happens to politicians when pain is visited on voters? So it’s a very natural thing for politicians who enjoy the perks and power of office and harbor hopes of even higher office to want to avoid pain and the possiblity of losing that power and those perks.
That is essentially what is going on in KS where the governor wants to rob one fund which is healthy to pay out in other areas and the legislature is saying a) that’s illegal and b) we insist instead that we take a hard look at the situation and do things which will actually remedy it while, unfortunately, causing some pain.
Republicans, who hold majorities in both chambers, blocked Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ proposal to borrow $225 million from healthy state funds to cover shortages in accounts used to meet the state’s payroll and issue tax refunds.
GOP leaders said they won’t approve the IOUs until Sebelius either cuts the current budget herself or signs the bill they passed last week slashing $326 million — including $32 million for education — to balance the budget.
Republican leaders said they had no choice, that by law the state can’t borrow any more money from itself.
Sebelius and Democrats disagree and accuse the GOP of playing politics with people’s paychecks.
“Through their refusal to act today, the Republican legislative leadership is jeopardizing our citizens’ pocketbooks for no other reason than to play political games — games in which the only ones set to lose are Kansas families, workers and schools,” Sebelius said in a written statement.
Replied House Speaker Mike O’Neal: “While we all can agree that these are trying times for Kansas families, seniors and business owners, the Kansas House of Representatives respectfully disagrees with breaking the law in order to gain political capital.”
Notice the Governor and Democrats come back – the GOP is “playing politics with people’s paychecks”. But what is the Governor trying to “play” with:
The Governor is asking the Legislature to be complicit in breaking the law by approving certificates of indebtedness outside of the parameters set in statute. Kansas law requires the Director of the Budget to certify that money will be present at the end of the year to pay off certificates of indebtedness, and there is no evidence that will be the case. There is no reason to believe that under the current budget such money will be available. It is irresponsible and illegal to act as if the money will be available when all economic indicators show that we may see even less.
So, in fact, it appears that the GOP isn’t “playing” with anything to include the law, while the Governor wants to waive it so she doesn’t have to face the music and make the cuts necessary to bring the budget of Kansas back into balance.
Given that, which then is the “reality based” group in Kansas? And, after adapting to the new reality, to include the pain it will bring, do you think Kansas will be on the road to recovery faster than some state where pain avoidance is being practiced? Last, but not least – want to bet Governor Sebelius delays signing the bill which would require such cuts hoping the “stimulus” bill to be signed today by Obama will rescue her and help keep her from having to make that difficult decision (and avoid the pain)?
Pain avoidance for political purposes or rule of law? Screw the law, opt for pain avoidance, even if illegal.
That’s exactly the type person I want as my governor. [/sarc]
Venezuelan voters approved a referendum to end term limits on Sunday, paving the way for Hugo Chavez to perfect his dictatorship:
President Hugo Chavez says a referendum victory that removed limits on his re-election is a mandate to intensify his socialist agenda for decades to come. Opponents warn of an impending dictatorship.
Both sides had called the outcome of Sunday’s vote key to the future of this South American country, split down the middle between those who worship the president for redistributing Venezuela’s oil riches and those who see him as a power-hungry autocrat.
“Those who voted “yes” today voted for socialism, for revolution,” Chavez thundered to thousands of ecstatic supporters jamming the streets around the presidential palace. Fireworks lit up the Caracas skyline, and one man walked though the crowd carrying a painting of Chavez that read: “Forever.”
The constitutional overhaul allows all public officials to run for re-election as many times as they want, removing barriers to a Chavez candidacy in the next presidential elections in 2012 and beyond.
“In 2012 there will be presidential elections, and unless God decides otherwise, unless the people decide otherwise, this soldier is already a candidate,” Chavez said to applause. First elected in 1998, he has said he might stay in power until 2049, when he’ll be 95.
Hmmm. Maybe those “critics” are onto something, eh?
At their campaign headquarters, Chavez opponents hugged one another, and some cried. They said the results were skewed by Chavez’s broad use of state resources to get out the vote, through a battery of state-run news media, pressure on 2 million public employees and frequent presidential speeches which all television stations were required to air.
With the courts, the legislature and the election council all under his influence, and now with no limits on his re-election, officials say Chavez is virtually unstoppable.
“Effectively this will become a dictatorship,” opposition leader Omar Barboza told The Associated Press. “It’s control of all the powers, lack of separation of powers, unscrupulous use of state resources, persecution of adversaries.”
As the article notes, however, everything is not peaches and cream for Chavez. Venezuela’s economy, which is so heavily dependent on oil revenues, lies in shambles, beset by low oil prices, rampant inflation, and little prospect for relief. According to Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington:
… the global financial crisis and the plunging price of oil, which accounts for 94 percent of Venezuela’s exports and nearly half its federal budget, will limit Chavez’s ability to maintain the level of public spending that has fueled his popularity.
Without oil revenues to prop up the socialist spending regime, Chavez will have to resort to other means of stabilizing the economy. Because producers of wealth are so politically disfavored in Venezuela, and there are myriad obstacles to successfully operating any businesses, Chavez’s options for economic recovery are limited:
“Venezuela faces serious problems no matter what today’s results were. Later this year, economic problems are going to be felt more acutely.”
Venezuela, the fourth-largest supplier of crude oil to the U.S., depends on oil for 93 percent of export revenue and half the government’s budget. Prices for crude have plunged 74 percent since touching a record in July.
“Now we’re going to see what’s beyond this campaign and what he does when he takes the economy into account,” [Enrique] Alvarez, [head of Latin America fixed-income research at IDEAglobal in New York] said.
The adjustments to economic policy will probably include raising taxes and devaluing the currency to cover a public deficit now that his marathon political campaign is out of the way, said Alberto Ramos, Latin America economist at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in New York.
Raising taxes is de rigueur in such circumstances, but not likely to generate much revenue. After all, the government has taken over the most lucrative part of the Venezuelan economy, and people and businesses who don’t earn much don’t have much to pay to the government. Taxes are not going to solve any problems.
Without any real economic engine to fund socialist programs, therefore, Chavez won’t be able to buy votes anymore. Instead he will have to find another way to garner (or manufacture) public support if he wants to remain in power. And there isn’t any doubt that he wants to remain in power.
The most obvious way for Chavez to accomplish this feat to convince the country that his leadership is indispensable to the country’s fortunes. That line of argument is already a staple in his rhetoric — i.e. that success of the Bolivarian Revolution depends on Chavez exercising ever increasing power — so the foundation has been laid. However, it was much easier to sell that idea when the oil revenues were pouring in. With a looming fiscal crisis at hand, and the prospects of economic improvement looking dim, a call for new leadership will likely grow louder.
Ironically, the path to permanent power for Chavez was described by socialist activist Naomi Klein in her book “Shock Doctrine: the Rise of Disaster Capitalism.” In what has become the bible for the anti-capitalist/ant-globalization movement, Klein
… explodes the myth that the global free market triumphed democratically. Exposing the thinking, the money trail and the puppet strings behind the world-changing crises and wars of the last four decades, The Shock Doctrine is the gripping story of how America’s “free market” policies have come to dominate the world– through the exploitation of disaster-shocked people and countries.
Her theory rests on the premise that democratic obstacles to corporate domination are swept aside in times of severe crisis (e.g. Iraq war, Katrina, tsunami in Sri Lanka), allowing global moneyed interests to swoop in and take control of the economy. She often cites Milton Friedman and the “Chicago Boys” dealings with Pinochet as an example of how capitalist forces purposely, and sometimes violently, undermine the will of the people when they are at their weakest in order to introduce reforms that actually serve the interests of the elite rather than the people. In spite of her historically challenged maunderings (Friedman only met Pinochet once for an hour, and wrote him a letter), Klein does hit on an important point: crises are routinely used to further the power of the elites. Klein just identifies the wrong parties. It is typically the government elites who profit from these crises.
Take, for example, how our own government has seized upon the current fiscal crises to shove a giant social spending bill down our throats, plunging future generations into massive debt, and centralizing control over the lives of individual Americans:
Last year the US economy was hit with one shock after another: the Bear Stearns bail-out, the Indymac collapse, the implosion of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the AIG nationalisation, the biggest stock market drop ever, the $700bn Wall Street bail-out and more – all accompanied by a steady drumbeat of apocalyptic language from political leaders.
And what happened? Did the Republican administration summon up the spirit of Milton Friedman and cut government spending? Did it deregulate and privatise?
It did what governments actually do in a crisis – it seized new powers over the economy. It dramatically expanded the regulatory powers of the Federal Reserve and injected a trillion dollars of inflationary credit into the banking system. It partially nationalised the biggest banks. It appropriated $700bn with which to intervene in the economy. It made General Motors and Chrysler wards of the federal government. It wrote a bail-out bill giving the secretary of the treasury extraordinary powers that could not be reviewed by courts or other government agencies.
Now the Obama administration is continuing this drive toward centralisation and government domination of the economy. And its key players are explicitly referring to heir own version of the shock doctrine. Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, said the economic crisis facing the country is “an opportunity for us”. After all, he said: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And this crisis provides the opportunity for us to do things that you could not do before” such as taking control of the financial, energy, information and healthcare industries.
That’s just the sort of thing Naomi Klein would have us believe that free-marketers like Milton Friedman think.
Of course, that isn’t how supporters of free markets behave at all. It is, however, exactly how someone like Hugo Chavez operates.
With the Venezuelan economy shrinking, and real suffering occurring on a growing scale, the opportunity is ripe for Chavez to further “reform” the country, and complete the Bolivarian Revolution as he has promised. That won’t save the nation from economic ruin, and indeed will probably hasten such an outcome, but it will provide the impetus for perpetual Chavista rule.
The economy is doing poorly? That’s because the revolution has not advanced far enough. Economy doing well? The revolution is working its wonders! Rinse and repeat.
Thus the keys to Chavez’s Bolivarian kingdom lie in the propagandistic message that only centralized and powerful leadership can provide adequately for all. Principles such as “fairness” and “equality” are used as bludgeons against any who dare step out of line. Individual achievement is sneered at as “selfish” and “against the common good.” The redistribution of any wealth created outside the government system (as all wealth created inside is confined to the governmental leaders) is touted as the only means of ensuring a safe and productive future for all. Capitalism is deemed the language of the oppressor, and blamed for any and all ills that befall the nation. Yet, despite all this rhetoric, things will never seem to get any better.
Poor, poor Venezuela. Thank goodness we won’t such stifling of economic welfare and individual freedom here.
Apparently history began for Andrew Sullivan on January 20th of this year:
This much is now clear. Their clear and open intent is to do all they can, however they can, to sabotage the new administration (and the economy to boot). They want failure. Even now. Even after the last eight years. Even in a recession as steeply dangerous as this one. There are legitimate debates to be had; and then there is the cynicism and surrealism of total political war. We now should have even less doubt about what kind of people they are. And the mountain of partisan vitriol Obama will have to climb every day of the next four or eight years.
Obviously Sullivan can’t think of “legitimate debates to be had” concerning this awful bill (just turn toward the White House, bow and sign). And you have to assume that he doesn’t consider putting this bill together without letting the Republicans participate as a party (not as the ‘picked off three’) a cynical declaration of “total political war”. In fact you have to wonder when he began paying attention to “mountains of partisan vitriol” that presidents have to climb over every day.
Andy, when the opposition party “war” dedicated to undermining a presidency and causing it to fail even approaches that which the Democrats waged against George Bush for the last 8 years, I’ll be first to let you know. In the meantime, quit whining for heaven sake. This ain’t bean bag.
UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan responds to my points about “legitimate debates” and Republican inclusion:
You mean Obama never went to the Congress to talk to the House GOP? That he hasn’t been relentless in including Republicans in the debate? That he didn’t urge over $300 billion in tax cuts in the bill to assuage Republican feelings in the first place?
Of course going to Congress to talk with the House GOP turned out to be more for show than substance. It was made clear, afterward, that while he was polite and at least pretended to listen, little if any of what they asked for ended up in the bill. One reason that’s so is the bill was written by Democrats in Congress, not Barack Obama. If it had been written by Obama and his administration, Sullivan might have a leg to stand on. But obviously his “relentless inclusion” attempt was ignored by the Democratic Congressional leadership and the GOP was shut out of the process to craft the bill.
Concerning tax cuts, as we’ve pointed out here any number of times, transfer payments my be called tax cuts just like a pile of dog feces may be called a rose, but by any other name, they’re still just welfare checks. Those aren’t the tax cuts the GOP asked for and certainly not what the GOP would support.
The rent-seekers find another ally:
BILL PRESS: …And, thanks for your leadership, thanks for your good work, it’s great to have you there Senator. And, great to have you on the show. Appreciate it.
SENATOR TOM HARKIN (D-IA): Well, anytime – just let me know Bill. I love being with you, and thanks again for all you do to get the truth and the facts out there. By the way, I read your Op-Ed in the Washington Post the other day. I ripped it out, I took it into my office and said ‘there you go, we gotta get the Fairness Doctrine back in law again.’
BILL PRESS: Alright, well good for you. You know, we gotta work on that, because they are just shutting down progressive talk from one city after another. All we want is, you know, some balance on the airwaves, that’s all. You know, we’re not going to take any of the conservative voices off the airwaves, but just make sure that there are a few progressives and liberals out there, right?
SENATOR TOM HARKIN (D-IA): Exactly, and that’s why we need the fair—that’s why we need the Fairness Doctrine back.
BILL PRESS: We’ll work on that together. Hey, thanks, Senator! Always good to talk to you.
SENATOR TOM HARKIN (D-IA): Thanks Bill, see you, bye.
BILL PRESS: There it is – you heard it here on the Bill Press Show. Senator Tom Harkin: bring back the Fairness Doctrine!
If you can’t make it on your own merit, get the government to step in and grant you what you haven’t earned.
Good work there, Billy.
Dean Baker at American Prospect has an uninformed hissy fit over the amendment GA Sen Johnny Isakson offered to the pork, er stimulus bill. The amendment gives a $15,000 tax credit to those buying a principle residence – note that, principle residence – next year. Baker is sure it is the house flipper’s amendment.
And this is before we get to any gaming. It’s hard to see why tens of millions of people wouldn’t figure out a way to buy a house from a friend or relative and get their $15k. If we can get one-third of the country’s homes to change hands (lots of jobs for realtors) that would be good for $375 billion.
It would have been helpful if reporters had talked to an analyst who could have explained these points for readers.
As much as I criticize the media, someone needs to tell Baker that this information is being and has been reported (I heard it explained when the amendment was first discussed). Below is one example:
The U.S. Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved an amendment to the economic stimulus bill by U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., that gives a $15,000 tax credit to anyone who buys a home in the next year.
Isakson’s amendment would provide a direct tax credit to any homebuyer who buys any home. The amount of the tax credit would be $15,000 or 10 percent of the purchase price, whichever is less. Purchases must be made within one year of the legislation’s enactment, and the tax credit would not have to be repaid.
The amendment would allow taxpayers to claim the credit on their 2008 income tax return. It also seeks to prevent misuse by only allowing purchases of a principle residence and by recapturing the credit if the home is sold within two years of purchase.
Pretty clear to me.
That dispensed with, here’s the real reason the left is so up in arms with this amendment:
Somehow, Isakson has this thing costing just $19 billion. Let’s break the Washington rules and try a little arithmetic. Even with weakness in the housing market, it is still virtually certain
that we will sell close to 5 million homes in 2009. The overwhelming majority would qualify for the full credit. So, we get 5 million times $15,000. That sounds a lot like $75 billion.
That’s right – this would put more money in people’s pockets and make less available for the government to spend on dog parks and Frisbee golf courses.
But the ultimate real world cost of this measure has been disputed, with some critics predicting that it would cost much more, given the expected levels of housing sales this year.
Turns out the critics may have been right. The nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation has just sent a letter to Chuck Schumer, who’s on the Finance Committee, responding to Schumer’s request that the Committee score an estimate of the measure’s cost.
The total price estimated by the Committee? $35.5 billion — double the original cost, says the letter, which was sent our way by Schumer’s staff.
That’s kind of a big deal, and could actually alter the ultimate cost of the overall bill, potentially creating more complications as this gargantuan measure lurches fitfully towards passage.
Anyone – do you believe that all of the estimates contained in this “gargantuan measure” are dead on? That, among 900 billion of government spending, there will be no cost overruns, budget overruns or cost underestimates?
The problem, as stated, is it “costs” the government by putting money precisely where it belongs – in the pockets of the citizens.
And that’s because most of them believe, as Robert Reich does, that government is the only answer:
Regardless of your ideological stripe, you’ve got to see that when consumers and businesses stop spending and investing, there’s only entity left to step into the breach. It’s government. Major increases in government spending are necessary, and the spending must be on a very large scale.
Notice the smuggled premise – that consumer and business spending can’t be spurred by any other means than government spending. Of course that’s nonsense. And the Isakson amendment is one of many ways that can be done. Other obvious means would be a withholding tax cut (or suspension). That’s an instant stimulus.
The CBO says the debt being incurred through this bill will crowd out private investment over the coming years. The key to recovery is private investment which leads to business expansion which leads to jobs.
What part of that don’t the Democrats understand?
Well, if you read Joshua Holland, most of it:
And the GOP’s approach is based on the theory that a “rising tide will lift all boats.” A simple question: how’s that theory been workin’ out for ya?
Mr. Holland, look around you and how you and others live. Then take a trip to, oh, I don’t know, China. Tell us how those boats floated in the past as compared to how they’re floating now. Or India. Or Poland. Or the Czech Republic. Etc.
Sometimes essentially intelligent people get wrapped up in the moment and say things which, upon reflection, they’d most likely think were stupid.
Of course that’s not necessarily true – face it, some people never reflect on anything.
But if I read this after I had sobered up written it, I might be a bit ashamed. Then again, I might just have another shot of the Kool Aid:
Every president to hold office has espoused some version of Americanism; the truths that we hold self-evident, even when those truths are not always in evidence. But for all their grand rhetoric and mostly good deeds, none was able to seal the deal on the trifecta of equality, plurality and socioeconomic ascendancy. Obama has. Obama is the more perfect union. He is a house united. Obama is the New Generation and the hot light of a dawn that goes way beyond clever talk of morning in America.
Quite simply, quite plainly, just by virtue his being, Obama is America. The first true American to lead our nation.
George Washington, call your agent.
Hope and change.
When Bill Clinton was found to be a womanizer and serial abuser, the silence among women’s rights groups, such as NOW, was deafening. Since Clinton was a “progressive” and since he believed in the progressive agenda they shared, most feminists were quiet about his violation of various women’s rights. He was excused from the same level of condemnation the likes of Bob Packwood endured.
Seems we’re about to witness the same phenomenon among human rights groups concerning the Obama administration’s decision to continue the rendition program.
Under executive orders issued by Obama recently, the CIA still has authority to carry out what are known as renditions, secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to countries that cooperate with the United States.
Current and former U.S. intelligence officials said that the rendition program might be poised to play an expanded role going forward because it was the main remaining mechanism — aside from Predator missile strikes — for taking suspected terrorists off the street.
You’d expect, given this decision, to see the usual suspects, like Human Rights Watch, condemn the continuation of the program begun under Bill Clinton and continued through the Bush administration, wouldn’t you? I mean if they really were more concerned about human rights than politics. And principled consistency.
But Darren Hutchinson over at Dissenting Justice (a “progressive blog”) seems to have caught HRW in a NOW moment. Hutchinson quotes and links to HRW’s written position on rendition – a position it has held for at least the Bush years:
The US government should:
Repudiate the use of rendition to torture as a counterterrorism tactic and permanently discontinue the CIA’s rendition program;
Disclose the identities, fate, and current whereabouts of all persons detained by the CIA or rendered to foreign custody by the CIA since 2001, including detainees who were rendered to Jordan;
Repudiate the use of “diplomatic assurances” against torture and ill-treatment as a justification for the transfer of a suspect to a place where he or she is at risk of such abuse;
Make public any audio recordings or videotapes that the CIA possesses of interrogations of detainees rendered by the CIA to foreign custody;
Provide appropriate compensation to all persons arbitrarily detained by the CIA or rendered to foreign custody.
He then quotes the Washington advocacy director for HRW, Tom Malinowski apparently modifying the previously unequivocal position of HRW:
“Under limited circumstances, there is a legitimate place” for renditions, said Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. “What I heard loud and clear from the president’s order was that they want to design a system that doesn’t result in people being sent to foreign dungeons to be tortured — but that designing that system is going to take some time.”
Malinowski said he had urged the Obama administration to stipulate that prisoners could be transferred only to countries where they would be guaranteed a public hearing in an official court. “Producing a prisoner before a real court is a key safeguard against torture, abuse and disappearance,” Malinowski said.
Given their previous position, this is simply capitulation with a huge dollop of hypocrisy added for taste. Suddenly the ‘new’ rendition isn’t like the old rendition because there’s a progressive in town. The fact that the same agency which has been running the program for the last 16 years will continue to do so is waved off as unimportant. And the fact that the incoming administration which roundly condemned the practice previously but now sees utility in its continuation is studiously ignored by HRW.
Now there are “limited circumstances” where there is a “legitimate place” for such practices. Obviously, those “limited circumstances” never existed previously and only suddenly emerged on January 20th around noon. Apparently they think that such a radical shift in position will go unnoticed and unremarked upon.
Hope and change.
Here at QandO we’ve written fairly extensively about the incidence of Bush Derangement Syndrome (BDS) over the last few years. We’ve wondered aloud, or at least in print, what the left would do once Bush was no longer available to hate?
Would it dissipate and change into OLS (that’s Obama Love Syndrome) or would it simply be transferred to some other someone on the right the left loves to hate?
Well, in what most people consider a rookie mistake, Mr. Obama gave us the answer. He called out Rush Limbaugh (and ended up looking worse for it) and the BDS sufferers – who were experiencing withdrawal symptoms not related to Iraq – had a new figure on whom they could lavish their derangement anew.
With his explicit attack on Limbaugh during a Capitol Hill meeting last week, Obama has signaled the end of Bush Derangement Syndrome – the defining mental illness of the Democrats for eight years – and ushered in the age of Rush Derangement Syndrome.
You would think that victories in the presidential race and Congress would be enough for the Left. But no. Like Captain Ahab, Sen. Lindsay Graham still bristles at the “loud folks” in conservative talk radio. Democrats even drafted a petition denouncing Limbaugh last week, showing that trying to save the economy doesn’t wait for petty personal attacks.
Too bad Obama hasn’t learned the lessons of his predecessors. Limbaugh not only has survived countless protests, boycotts, media smears and political attempts to kick him off the airwaves. He has emerged each time with a higher profile, greater influence, and a strengthened hand.
Yes indeed, the transfer of power is complete. Gotta love the left’s complete cluelessness about certain things.
Hope and change.
Gloom, doom and revolution are in the air:
France paralysed by a wave of strike action, the boulevards of Paris resembling a debris-strewn battleﬁeld. The Hungarian currency sinks to its lowest level ever against the euro, as the unemployment ﬁgure rises. Greek farmers block the road into Bulgaria in protest at low prices for their produce. New ﬁgures from the biggest bank in the Baltic show that the three post-Soviet states there face the biggest recessions in Europe.
It’s a snapshot of a single day – yesterday – in a Europe sinking into the bleakest of times. But while the outlook may be dark in the big wealthy democracies of western Europe, it is in the young, poor, vulnerable states of central and eastern Europe that the trauma of crash, slump and meltdown looks graver.
Exactly 20 years ago, in serial revolutionary rejoicing, they ditched communism to put their faith in a capitalism now in crisis and by which they feel betrayed. The result has been the biggest protests across the former communist bloc since the days of people power.
Europe’s time of troubles is gathering depth and scale. Governments are trembling. Revolt is in the air.
Capitalism, of course, is the reason, or at least the cause used by European socialists, to lay blame for this crisis. Forgotten, of course, is the standard of living capitalism has brought to these same people over decades despite their every effort to blunt and subvert it’s bounty through government.
Forgotten by those in the east who survived communism 20 short years ago is the marked difference they found between the east and west and how long it took them to recover from the ravages of communism.
I’ve always heard we human beings have very short memories. And I’ve also heard we always believe that the times we live in are the worst. Ever.
How else do you explain this belief that suddenly the world’s problems can be traced to evil capitalism? But it is truly under attack around the world.
In some places the attack on its foundations is blatant. Consider Bolivian President Evo Morales’ recent speech to the UN:
I think that that capitalism is the worst enemy of humanity and if we do not change the model, change the system, then our presence, our debate, our exchange, and the proposals that we make in these meetings at the United Nations will be totally in vain.
Capitalism has twins, the market and war. The market converts life into commodities, it converts land into a commodity. And when capitalists cannot sustain this economic model based on looting, on exploitation, on marginalisation, on exclusion and, above all, on the accumulation of capital, they rely on war, the arms race. If we ask ourselves how much money is spent on the arms race — we are never concerned about that.
This is why I feel that it is important to change economic models, development models, and economic systems, particularly those in the western world. And if we do not understand and thoroughly discuss the very survival of our peoples, then we certainly not will not be addressing the problem of climate change, the problem of life, the problem for humanity.
Morales, of course, attempts to blame all the ills of colonialism and its aftermath exclusively on capitalism, while ignoring any benefits accrued. He also manages to ignore the oppressive nature of that colonial period and the simple fact that it really didn’t represent capitalism as much as rule by oligarchs. The oligarchs, in many cases did “loot”, “exploit” and “marginalize”. But not under the auspices of a system called “capitalism”.
A simple and rational examination of what capitalism is versus what his country experienced would help Morales understand that capitalism isn’t the cause of his people’s suffering. And while I can empathize with his concerns for the rights of indigenous people and the environment, the system which provides those rights and the wealth necessary to address both issues isn’t the populist brand of socialism to which he and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez subscribe.
And while Chavez and Morales provide the more obvious attacks on the capitalist system, there are much more subtle ones ongoing in Europe and the United States. The article I cite above is a good example of that trend. The fact that Europe was brought so quickly to the precipice isn’t because of capitalism, but instead because so much of life is dependent on the state. And when finally the state – as we saw with Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union – can no longer carry the financial load it has burdened itself with, the whole system eventually collapses.
Funny that the less capitalistic nations of Europe where the state has assumed a more intrusive role in its citizens life seem to be facing a deeper and more immediate financial crises than are others.
But that’s not because the same sort of attempt to subvert capitalism even more isn’t at work here as well. Some time last year, I grabbed a quote from Stephen Bainbridge’s blog (forgive me, I don’t have a link) and it distills well the essence of the evolution of blatant socialism, which is rather unpopular, to a more stealth version of the ideology which we have been seeing for some time. This was written during the recent campaign:
When I think about Obama, I am reminded of Richard Epstein’s observation that in order to remain politically viable modern socialists no longer advocate direct government ownership of production. Instead, modern socialism operates on two different levels: “At a personal level, it speaks to the alienation of the individual, stressing the need for caring and sharing and the politics of meaning. At a regulatory level, it seeks to identify specific sectors in which there is a market failure and then to subject them to various forms of government regulation.” Sounds a lot like Obama’s stump speech to me.
Sounds very much like the government that has formed and is now operating. Isn’t the Obama administration forming a “Middle Class Task Force”? If that doesn’t speak to framing “alienation” I’m not sure what does. And we’re presently hip deep in the ramping up of a new regulatory regime aimed at ensuring we never suffer a new bout of failed markets no matter how many banks they eventually have to nationalize and despite the fact that government was a big part of the problem.
Consider Epstein’s main point above – In order to hide old school socialism enough to make it acceptable today, the populist message had to be tweaked. With the failure of socialism/communism in the USSR and eastern Europe, “direct ownership of the means of production” came to mean two things – gross inefficiency, the mega-state and crushing oppression.
People everywhere came to identify socialism/communism with those damning characteristics. That forever removed it from the pantheon of acceptable ideologies, although (see Chavez in Venezuela who is unapologetic about it) there are still a large cadre of true believers who are sure that the only reason socialism hasn’t worked is it hasn’t been properly done yet. And, of course, they’re the people to do it. For the most part, these people are found on the left side of the political spectrum.
Facing utter rejection, at least in the US if the “S-word” is used, it has become necessary to hide it in a populist message and, then, create a victim class and a villain. It is no longer the proletariat who suffers under the yoke of the oppressive monarchy, but instead, the “bitter and frustrated” voters of rural America. Or the middle class.
As Epstein points out, it is necessary to paint a picture of alienation of the individual from the system in order to attack the system. Establish that narrative and suddenly “hope” and “change” take on a new and easily manipulated meaning.
Once that narrative is established, then the “enemy” has to be identified. The entity or entities which are responsible for the alienation of these individuals have to be identified and called to task in order to establish the framework necessary to make the collectivist premise of bigger and more intrusive government palatable.
Wall Street. Big Oil. Big Pharma.
Ironically, the mega-state remains the answer to the dilemma which it helped create. The narrative necessarily asks how successful, without government intrusion, a small-town voter (aka “the victim”) can be in standing up against the legions of Washington DC lobbyists writing bad law or greedy “big oil” sucking your wallet dry and paying outrageous CEO salaries?
Victim class, oppressor, superhero (the government) to the rescue. Never mind that the superhero has been a much a part of the problem as any other entity involved and more so than most. This too is a classic part of the cycle. Government causes a problem, identifies the victims and the transgressors (without government being counted among that group) and it gathers the power necessary – or, more likely, has it ceded to it – to “right the wrong”. Of course, it never gives up the power it gathers.
End result – bigger government, more government power, more government intrusion.
If you can’t see that on the horizon right now, then you are indeed politically blind and will probably do well under the new state regime which is presently being built.