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Nederlog


  August
23, 2014
Crisis: Wall Street, Great Britain, U.S. journalism, Internet neutrality
  "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
 
   -- Benjamin Franklin [1]
   "All governments lie and nothing
   they say should be believed.
"
   -- I.F. Stone
   "Power tends to corrupt, and   
   absolute power corrupts
   absolutely. Great men are        
   almost always bad men."
   -- Lord Acton
















Prev- crisis -Next
Sections
Introduction

1.
 Bank of America Settlement Only Proves Invincibility of
     Wall Street

2. Sale of the century: the privatisation scam
3. Journalists on the Government’s Blacklist
4. How the Internet Checks Police Abuses 

About ME/CFS


Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Saturday, August 23. It is a crisis log.

It is a Saturday today, and I could only find four items, that follow. The first two seem the most interesting to me.
 
1. Bank of America Settlement Only Proves Invincibility of Wall Street  

The first item is an article by Jon Queally on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

It's not nothing, say critics, but the U.S. government's announced $16.65 billion settlement with Bank of America announced on Thursday—so far the largest associated with the Wall Street-fueled mortgage malpractice that led to the 2008 financial meltdown—is more stage-acting than justice and more business-as-usual than real punishment.

Presented to the public as a victory for the Justice Department who negotiated the deal on behalf of the government, details of the BofA settlement—as with previous high-profile agreements with Citibank and JPMorgan—offer a clear view of how large banks have avoided responsibility for the behavior that sent the global economy into a tailspin just six years ago. Much of the money—as much as $7 billion of it—is not paid in cash as a fine, but is instead included as "soft money" in which banks are credited for writing down existing mortgages. Other large portions of the settlement are allowed to serve as business expenses which allows the banks to exploit them as tax write-offs.

Speaking with the New York Times about the settlement, Phineas Baxandall, an analyst with the public advocacy group U.S. PIRG, said, “The American public is expecting the Justice Department to hold the banks accountable for its misdeeds in the mortgage meltdown. But these tax write-offs shift the burden back onto taxpayers and send the wrong message by treating parts of the settlement as an ordinary business expense.”

Following announcement of the deal, the stock price of the bank—one of the nation's largest—rose four points.

That is about it - I mean: "more stage-acting than justice and more business-as-usual than real punishment". Besides, after "announcement of the deal, the stock price of the bank (..) rose four points". They have not been punished: they have been rewarded, for the money that is needed they can loan at virtually no interest for themselves, and the bank's managers once again are scot free.

Here is some more:

Critics of both the banks and the government's effort to go after them in the wake of the crisis have repeatedly said that criminal prosecutions--including the threat of prison sentences for individual bankers and executives--would be the strongest and best response to activities that have unleashed so significant and widespread pain across society.

Dean Baker, an economist and director of the progressive Center for Economic & Policy Research, in a post this week titled, Prosecutors Could Send Bankers to Jail, argued: "Knowingly packaging and selling fraudulent mortgages is fraud. It is a serious crime that could be punished by years in jail. The risk of jail time is likely to discourage bankers from engaging in this sort of behavior." Absent such a threat, Baker suggests, there is little to dissuade these banks, and those who work for them and make decisions, from acting differently.

And yes: Clearly it was fraud; clearly the fraudulent bankers knew they were committting fraud; and fraud should be punished by years of time in jail.
Instead, the DoJ come to a deal that washes the frauds clean, against a punishment that is no punishment whatsoever (and just a proper part of the profits made).

Brief summary: the crisis will continue,
until the next collapse, that probably is going to be much larger than the one of 2008.

2. Sale of the century: the privatisation scam

The next item is an article by James Meek on The Guardian:

This is a long essay by James Meek, that seems related to his book that is to be published next month, "Private Island: Why Britain Now Belongs to Someone Else".

I will quote some parts of it under titles I provide, in order to sketch my own answers to questions that are in the begining. The quotes are in the order they are in the essay, except for the first one with the questions, for that comes last in my treatment. Also, it should be noted this is exclusively about Great Britain.

First, there is this:

1979 - the start of Thatcher:

We start here, because Mrs Thatcher came with huge promises:

When Thatcher's Conservatives came to power in Britain in 1979, much of the economy, and almost all its infrastructure, was in state hands. Exactly what gloss you put on "in state hands" depends on your political point of view. For traditional socialists, it meant "the people's hands". For traditional Tories, it meant "in British hands". For Thatcher and her allies, it meant "in the hands of meddling bureaucrats and selfish, greedy trade unionists". How much of the economy? A third of all homes were rented from the state. The health service, most schools, the armed forces, prisons, roads, bridges and streets, water, sewers, the National Grid, power stations, the phone and postal system, gas supply, coal mines, the railways, refuse collection, the airports, many of the ports, local and long-distance buses, freight lorries, nuclear-fuel reprocessing, air traffic control, much of the car-, ship- and aircraft-building industries, most of the steel factories, British Airways, oil companies, Cable & Wireless, the aircraft engine makers Rolls-Royce, the arms makers Royal Ordnance, the ferry company Sealink, the Trustee Savings Bank, Girobank, technology companies Ferranti and Inmos, medical technology firm Amersham International and many others.

In the past 35 years, this commonly owned economy, this people's portion of the island, has to a greater or lesser degree become private.
Note that until 1979 Great Britain was a capitalist society, although Meek doesn't quite say it: Anybody could get privately rich by investing money in a clever way, and by being lucky, and quite a few did.

Also, most of the things owned by the state were what I would call public property - railroads, roads, airports, buses, airways, gas supply, electricity, water - anyway, by which I mean that these are best run by some sort of public authority, because they serve very many different interests in many different ways, and only a state (provided that is democratic and free) can operate these well and in a balanced way.

The blessings of privatization:

Second, we come to the blessings of privatization, that in fact turned out to be a complete curse - except for the rich few, whom it also was designed to serve:
Privatisation failed to turn Britain into a nation of small shareholders. Before Thatcher came to power, almost 40% of the shares in British companies were held by individuals. By 1981, it was less than 30%. By the time she died in 2013, it had slumped to under 12%.
(...)
Privatisation failed to demonstrate the case made by the privatisers that private companies are always more competent than state-owned ones – that private bosses, chasing the carrot of bonuses and dodging the stick of bankruptcy, will always do better than their state-employed counterparts. Through euphemisms such as "wealth creation" and "enjoying the rewards of success" Thatcher and her allies have promoted the notion that greed on the part of a private executive elite is the chief and sufficient engine of prosperity for all. The result has been 35 years of denigration of the concept of duty and public service, as well as a squalid ideal of all work as something that shouldn't be cared about for its own sake, but only for the money it brings.
I mean: if small shareholders go from 40% in the 1970ies to 12% when Thatcher died, that is as massive a failure as is possible without a major social revolution, that indeed did not happen.

Besides, Meek is quite correct on greed: It killed "
the concept of duty and public service", and it made working even more boring, stultifying, awful and profit- oriented than it is anyway, at least for most.

The blessings of taxation:

Third, we come to the blessings of Thatcherite/Blairite taxation, for Tony Blair - "there is a new dawn" and indeed now he owes 20 million pounds, all by himself - simply continued Thatcher's work:
When the Conservatives came to power in 1979 the top rate of tax was 83%, the basic rate 33. The top rate is now 45% and the basic rate 20%.
(...)
By moving from a system where public services are supported by progressive general taxation to a system where they are supported exclusively by the flat fees people pay to use them, they move from a system where the rich are obliged to help the poor to a system where the less well-off enable services that the rich get for what is, to them, a trifling sum.

Quite so: Lowering the taxes on the rich benefits the rich, and the rich only. Besides, now British water, gas and electricity are privatized, and ordinary people have to pay more for these necessities of life - and the profits go to the rich again, who own the companies that provide these necessities, because of privatization. (They are also mostly not British anymore.)

Some questions:

Fourth, here are some questions, that Meek in fact put in the beginning:
If competition shows that the best companies to run Britain's privatised railways are state-owned railways from other countries, what does that say about the justification of privatisation? And what does it say about what privatisation has done to Britain? How did we get to the point where this country's railways, power stations and postal service were ready to be taken over by foreign versions of British organisations that our own government, claiming patriotism, systematically took to pieces?
Here are my answers:

First question: Clearly, privatization was and is a major failure and set-back for everyone and for civilization as well, indeed except for the very rich, provided these are purely profit-oriented: Their gains, and only their gains, have been enormous, not only in financial terms but also in terms of other advantages.

Second question: Privatization has made a major social mess in Great Britain. It increased inequalities of pay; it increased working hours of the non-rich; it made everyone who was not a power hungry, greed driven, egoistic maniac seem to be like a soft fool; it denied all responsibility and accountability to the very people who instituted privatization, and it mostly killed Great Britain, also economically: It is now mainly owned by private and state companies that are not British.

Third question: By listening to Thatcher's and Blair's and Brown's and Cameron's combinations of ideology, lies, propaganda and bullshit, and by doing nothing while they destroyed public ownership, in order to hand over the publicly owned amenities to private, profit-oriented, socially blind, greedy and egoistic interests - in the name of "freedom" also.

O yes - I am not a socialist or a communist, and you can get quite similar answers by Sir James Goldsmith, who was a very rich and successful private capitalist, but with a social conscience, that most capitalists seem to lack.

3. Journalists on the Government’s Blacklist

The next item is an article by David Sirota on Truthdig:

This starts as follows:

As states move to hide details of government deals with Wall Street, and as politicians come up with new arguments to defend secrecy, a study released earlier this month revealed that many government information officers block specific journalists they don’t like from accessing information. The news comes as 47 federal inspectors general sent a letter to lawmakers criticizing “serious limitations on access to records” that they say have “impeded” their oversight work.

The data about public information officers was compiled over the past few years by Kennesaw State University professor Dr. Carolyn Carlson. Her surveys found that 4 in 10 public information officers say “there are specific reporters they will not allow their staff to talk to due to problems with their stories in the past.”

Note first that this means that "many government information officers" simply deny the U.S. Constitution's validity, indeed to help a government that also simply denies them (headed by a former professor of constitutional government: surely the president knows, but he doesn't care).

In fact, the U.S. government these days seems rather like the Soviet government:

In her [professor Carolyn Carlson's]  most recent survey of 445 working journalists, four out of five reported that “their interviews must be approved” by government information officers, and “more than half of the reporters said they had actually been prohibited from interviewing [government] employees at least some of the time by public information officers.”

At the same time, the same government officers who deny the information will insist on giving homilies on how well they serve the law or the state, and that nothing is as fault, and Simply Trust Us TM.

Here is David Sirota's sum-up:

Carlson’s polls from 2014 show that three-quarters of journalists surveyed now agree that “the public is not getting the information it needs because of barriers agencies are imposing on journalists’ reporting practices.”

That’s the whole point of government secrecy, of course—and the ramifications are predictable. In an information vacuum, the public is being systematically divorced from public policy, which is exactly what too many elected officials want.

Yes, indeed. 

4. How the Internet Checks Police Abuses

The next item is an article by Michael Winship on Consortium News:

In fact, this is less about the title than it is about internet neutrality:

The tragedy and ensuing crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, have shown the ability of social media to get the story told.

Yes, we’re talking about preserving Net neutrality, preventing the Federal Communications Commission from allowing the Internet to be split into fast lanes for the rich and slow lanes for the rest of us, lanes that could be clogged or blocked to prevent word from getting out about corporate and government malfeasance.

Well... I am strongly in favor of internet neutrality, but I do not think that "internet checks police abuse" very well, and certainly not without a free press, that may make what is known to a few tens, hundreds or thousands, known to tens of millions in a day.

So I will leave this to your interests - according to mine, it is a bit flawed, if well intentioned.

---------------------------------
Notes
[1] Here it is necessary to insist, with Aristotle, that the governors do not rule, or at least, should not rule: The laws rule, and the government, if good, is part of its executive power. Here I quote Aristotle from my More on stupidity, the rule of law, and Glenn Greenwald:
It is more proper that law should govern than any one of the citizens: upon the same principle, if it is advantageous to place the supreme power in some particular persons, they should be appointed to be only guardians, and the servants of the laws.
(And I note the whole file I quote from is quite pertinent.)


About ME/CFS (that I prefer to call M.E.: The "/CFS" is added to facilitate search machines) which is a disease I have since 1.1.1979:
1. Anthony Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS(pdf)

2. Malcolm Hooper THE MENTAL HEALTH MOVEMENT:  
PERSECUTION OF PATIENTS?
3. Hillary Johnson

The Why  (currently not available)

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2003)
5. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2011)
6. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

7. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)
9.
Maarten Maartensz
Resources about ME/CFS
(more resources, by many)



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