General: June 2002 Archives

The people who run Capitalism, that is. Not happy at all, I'm sure.

Today, first the NYDaily News with a dramatic front page graphic and the headline, "BUSTED TRUST, Wall St. scandals spooking big, small investors," then the NYTimes Week in Review banner headline, "CLAY FEET, Could Capitalists Actually Bring Down Capitalism?," at the top of a somewhat less pessimistic but no less smashing description of what's going on. And these are not lefty journals. These is The Establishment.

Now I know I shouldn't necessarily be gleeful at the possible or impending sudden disappearance of or depressive shift in the cycle of this "system", since it would mean havoc perhaps even exceeding the evil it does now. Moreover, as someone living on a fixed income produced by, no, not the sweat of my brow, but by years of borrrre-dom, I should have a selfish interest at stake. And in the end, we know the ones who will suffer regardless of how this all works out will not be the very rich. BUT, I will admit I'm absolutely fascinated by what's happening right now.

To those inured to corporate wrongdoing — perhaps by the insider trading scandals or the savings and loan debacle of recent decades — the latest scourge of white-collar malfeasance might seem like more of the same, with greedy executives cutting corners to make a profit. But in truth, the corporate calamities of the new millennium are of a different ilk, one that challenges the credibility of the financial reporting system, and in turn the faith of investors in the capital markets — the very engine that has driven capitalism to its success.

It used to be you trusted either biz'nez or the guv'ment.

Since the powers of each have dispensed with the fiction that the two were separate, it will now be very hard to look up to either, whether your primary allegiance is to liberal politics or capitalist economics.

Americans gave up on regarding government as a force for good long ago, but lately even the monied classes have lost faith in institutions which handle money.

You mean they actually do teach "responsible business practices and organizational ethics" to businesspeople? We're told that's the subject of Barbara Toffler's teaching at Columbia Business School, but the classes must have been very small indeed.

She worries now about what will bring investors back to a market whose image has been shattered in recent months. She says the ethics problem is "systemic and intractable."

"And we're not going to be able to get out of this crisis of credibility and concern about who can we trust, because nobody really wants to break up the nice, neat little ring of conflicts of interest that go from the corporate world to the streets of Wall Street to the political suites of our government," Hoffman said.
Doesn't sound good for the home team.

Terrorists dropped two atomic bombs on Japanese cities at the end of the Second World War.

Why, to save money and/or avoid risking American soldier's lives? But few today believe Japan was not about to surrender anyway, The agument was apparently specious even then, for "In 1946 the US strategic bombing survey came to the conclusion that 'Japan would have surrendered even if atomic bombs had not been dropped'."

[In the summerof 1945] Sixty-six of Japan's largest cities had been burned down by napalm bombing. In Tokyo a million civilians were homeless and 100,000 people had died. They had been, according to Major General Curtis Lemay, who was in charge of the fire bombing operations, "scorched and boiled and baked to death". President Franklin Roosevelt's son and confidant said that the bombing should continue "until we have destroyed about half the Japanese civilian population." On July 18 the Japanese emperor telegraphed President Truman, who had succeeded Roosevelt, and once again asked for peace. The message was ignored.

A few days before the bombing of Hiroshima, Vice Admiral Radford boasted that "Japan will eventually be a nation without cities - a nomadic people". The bomb, exploding above a hospital in the center of the city, killed 100,000 people instantly, 95% of them civilians. Another 100,000 died slowly from burns and effects of radiation.

Dresden could be invoked here as well, but additional examples aren't needed to give us enough of the historical perspective we ignore now at such risk.

Incredibly today we are told that only desperate individuals and the insurrections of which they may be a part can be terrorists, and that nations, at least the good guys, those that aren't "rogue," cannot.

From the words of a professor of history at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, writing in the Israeli press, we can still hold onto our hopes for the triumph of basic good sense among Israelis in the midst of terror.

If indeed there is no difference between the territories that were conquered by the end of the War of Independence and those that came into our hands in the Six-Day War, it is possible that Zionism really never was, as its opponents have always said, either national liberation movement or a movement to save Jews from physical and cultural extinction, but rather an imperialist movement that aims at constant expansion.

The Supreme's ruling yesterday on school vouchers obviously reflects the increasing integration of religion and public life in America. [The Pledge's "under god" is symbolically very important to this impulse, and symbols are important---look at the fuss we make over the flag!]

The wall of separation between church and state is being dismantled. A NYTimes news article observes that "Recent [court] rulings have held that religion is entitled to equal treatment in public life." In an otherwise estimable editorial on vouchers in the same edition, the paper observes that in parochial schools "...for a variety of reasons [the writers do not elaborate], tuition is far lower [than other private schools]," thereby eliminating even this court rulings's premise that parents must have "genuine choice."

What's missing here? Just the observation that to get "equal treatment in public life" and incidently to give parents an equal "genuine choice" between schools competing for the voucher money collected from all taxpayers, religious institutions should lose their tax-exempt status, since this is the key to their attraction as a bargain alternative to all kinds of public programs we should be looking to instead.

If we excuse religion its tax obligation, we are already heavily subsidizing it before we hand over additional money in the form of the vouchers we offer it, at least partly, as a reward for the fiction of its good money management.

If we can no longer be protected from religion, religion can no longer be protected from taxes. The two principles must stand or fall together.

P.S. The Declaration of Independence mentions "god," but that excellent text was essentially a letter of resignation, and was composed for the purpose of public relations. The deist misstep was corrected in the document which became the law of the land, the U.S. Constituion with its Bill of Rights.

Finally, one for the handful of Americans who do not believe in invisible friends and who are not part of a cult!

A federal appeals court found the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional on Wednesday....

"A profession that we are a nation 'under God' is identical ... to a profession that we are a nation 'under Jesus,' a nation 'under Vishnu,' a nation 'under Zeus,' or a nation 'under no god,"' it said.

The words, "under God," were first added in 1954 in the midst of our last big right-wing witch-hunting god-fearing jingoistic fake-war boom time, in a year dominated by Senator Joseph McCarthy. I should be amazed it's still there, but I'm not, and I have no illusions the Supreme Court would agree with this Federal Appeals Court decision.

The NYTimes issued a correction on its editorial page today.

An editorial last Friday supporting a Supreme Court decision that bans execution of the retarded stated incorrectly that apart from the United States, only Kyrgyzstan and Japan permit the death penalty for retarded convicts. The law in Kyrgyzstan prohibits the execution of the retarded.
That makes me feel so much better; I was so embarassed for Kyrgyzstan.

I thought this piece might be too simplistic to pass muster with someone more familiar with economics than m'self, but B says he thinks it's probably too abstruse for the casual browser, too much attempted too minimally. Must be just right then. I dunno. It does it for me, but you judge for yourself.

The argument is that it was basically a crisis of overproduction which drove the U.S. stock market boom, but it was a singleminded concentration on the needs of investors which created the disaster we visited on the third world but which has now landed in our own lap.

Industry after industry had made more products—autos to computer chips—than could be sold for a profit on the market. Market saturation of a particular product didn’t happen by itself. The “why” of the story is that the working majority hasn’t been able to buy what it has made.

Accordingly, overproduction reduced profitability for those who buy labor-power. No profits, no investment in more productive capacity. The result was lots of money with no place to go.

What to do? The response from the titans of the global market economy was twofold. One was that investment migrated from industrial production to financial speculation.

The other was the destruction of productive capacity. The International Monetary Fund and World Bank in part enforced policies that purposely plunged Third World and newly industrialized nations into depressions that devastated peopleÂ’s living standards.

In the meantime, investment seeking profits flowed into the U.S. stock market.
[While] the flow of foreign funds into the U.S. [helped] consumers and corporations live beyond their means....[the] unsustainable trend of U.S. spending based on lending was given a boost by the nation's high-flying stock market.

In any case, the boom is now bust, and investors around the world know it. Is there a lesson going forward? Of course there is. The question is only whether we can get rid of enough of the fools and villains at the top to do something about it.
... describing the end of what some have called the speculative boom of all time by sidestepping what led to its creation covers up what needs to be covered. Namely, that a market economy system based on production to meet the needs of investors instead of human needs is the problem for the vast majority of humanity.

WorldCom Finds $3.8 Billion Error, Fires CFO [Reuters lead headline]

Yes, but I want to know what the severence package looks like.

WorldCom, which is already under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission, said it would restate its financial results for 2001 and the first quarter of 2002 to show net losses.

It also plans to cut 17,000 jobs, or more than 20 percent of its work force, starting on Friday, in a bid to save $900 million a year. It also will pare its capital spending budget to $2.1 billion.

Seventeen thousand workers are now going to be put out onto the street because the stockholders had to be fed, at all costs to the people.

Does the world simply envy us, or is there something else going on as well?

Americans are the world's luckiest teenagers, with the best car, the fattest allowance and the biggest line of brag, yet like all teenagers we're secretly afraid that someone is laughing at us. Here's a news flash. They are. Our cowboy Puritanism dumbfounds the rest of the world. We execute teenagers, we impeach a president over a sex act, we want to ban pop from schools to protect children at the same time we practically sell guns in vending machines.


Instead, the United States practices Pops Americana, a soft-sell virtual empire of culture, burgers, movies, jeans and slang. Ronald Reagan genuinely believed that if the rest of the world was safe for big-screen TVs and gold MasterCards, everyone would be just like us, and thrilled to be so.


Pops Americana is one reason "they" hate us, in all those sinister and unpronounceable places on the world's map, and one reason why we now find ourselves on the crash-course terrorism tour of the world, learning about places like Kabul and Kandahar, and, like our other tours of places with names like Normandy and Saigon, we risk once again making the mistake of coming home from "over there" convinced that the great world is full not of intriguingly different places, but only perilous ones.

Do we really think anything involving force will make us feel safe? We have more of that stuff than anyone in the world, even the Israelis.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Air National Guard fighter jets were scrambled into the air too late from nearby Andrews Air Force Base on Wednesday night to protect the White House from a small plane that wandered into restricted airspace over Washington, U.S. officials said on Thursday.
"This illustrates just how hard it is to do this kind of thing, especially in a busy air traffic area," said one of the officials.
Maybe it would make more sense to think about how we can dissuade people from wanting to blow us up in the first place. Duh.

Why is U.S. foreign policy so fundamentally irreconcilable with that of our European friends? Our differences are still being ignored or minimized by just about all parties, but real differences there are.

...the fact is Europeans and Americans no longer share a common view of the world. On the all-important question of power -- the utility of power, the morality of power -- they have parted ways. Europeans believe they are moving beyond power into a self-contained world of laws and rules and transnational negotiation and cooperation. Europe itself has entered a post-historical paradise, the realization of Immanuel Kant's "Perpetual Peace." The United States, meanwhile, remains mired in history, exercising power in the anarchic Hobbesian world where international rules are unreliable and where security and the promotion of a liberal order still depend on the possession and use of military might.

I've admired Richard Goldstein for years, largely through his pieces in the Village Voice. This week his essay in The Nation really did it for me.

I'm linking it here because Goldstein has done an excellent job of describing my own social and political posture and my position as a member of a pariah community.

The queer community is the spawn of a marriage between socialism and bohemianism more than a century ago. This heady union, which begat gay liberation, has been all but ignored by the culture.
Some of my friends and relatives will be surprised to know that I am not a "retreating liberal" and I am not a "good gay." I blame over sixty years of a certain amount of dissembling in order to survive in a frightened and frightening world for any appearances which may have encouraged that misunderstanding. I am grateful however to chance, and for the good graces of friends and strangers, that I have become more and more radical over the years. I intend to keep heading in that direction.

What I am now is a leftist and a queer, and for me the two are inseparable.

We now have a window into what President Bush and America's senators think of the world's women: Not much.

An international women's treaty banning discrimination has been ratified by 169 countries so far (without emasculating men in any of them!), yet it has languished in the United States Senate ever since President Carter sent it there for ratification in 1980. This month the Senate Foreign Relations Committee got around to holding hearings on it, but the Bush administration, after shyly supporting it at first, now is finding its courage faltering.

Nicholas Kristof is just a bit off base when he assumes the success of the rights movement for women in the U.S., saying that the treaty ". . . has almost nothing to do with American women, who already enjoy the rights the treaty supports," but he is absolutely correct when he describes the Bushie adminstration's attitude toward the treaty.
Critics have complained that the treaty, in the words of Jesse Helms, was "negotiated by radical feminists with the intent of enshrining their radical anti-family agenda into international law" and is "a vehicle for imposing abortion on countries that still protect the rights of the unborn."

That's absurd. Twenty years of experience with the treaty in the great majority of countries shows that it simply helps third-world women gain their barest human rights. In Pakistan, for example, women who become pregnant after being raped are often prosecuted for adultery and sentenced to death by stoning. But this treaty has helped them escape execution.

How can we be against that? Do we really want to side with the Taliban mullahs, who, like Mr. Ashcroft, fretted that the treaty imposes sexual equality? Or do we dare side with third-world girls who die because of their gender, more than 2,000 of them today alone?

Now can we start the revolution?

Look at Bloggy if you want to know what tomorrow will bring for all of us, and take full note of the Washington Post's take on the emperor and his clothes.

This is really scary.

This news arrived in our home only today, from Rex Wockner's list, and for that I find great fault with the queer media. Unless I have missed a lot, there have been no reports here of the death of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf this past April.

Charlotte von Mahlsdorf lived, entirely openly and openly fully, as a cross-dresser under the twentieth centuryÂ’s two most repressive regimes, the Nazis and the Communists. She was, in her own words, "my own woman."

Wockner's notice:


Germany's most famous transgendered person, Charlotte
von Mahlsdorf (Lothar Berfelde), died in Berlin April
30 of a heart attack. She was 74.

Von Mahlsdorf was awarded the Federal Cross of Honor
(Bundesverdienstkreuz), the nation's highest civilian
honor, in 1992 for founding East Berlin's Grunderzeit
which preserves furniture and household
appliances from the period 1870-1900.

"I am not at all keen on medals," she said at the
time. "But what I find even more important is that a
homosexual, a transvestite, is honored in this way.
.. I hope this encourages other gays and lesbians and
demonstrates to heterosexuals that we too can achieve

Von Mahlsdorf emigrated to Sweden in 1997 after the
museum was attacked by anti-gay hoodlums. She was on a
visit to Berlin when she died.

She was both subject and actress in Rosa von Praunheim's 1992 film, "Ich Bin Meine Eigene Frau [I am my own woman]."

So, the life of a lesbian, ok, a woman, even an attractive, vigorous, healthy middle class woman, and even in San Francisco, isn't worth a dog's life, to the dog's owner. What's next, the murderers suing the murdered for lack of the canine companionship of the euthanized dogs? Accounts from early this year of the horrorible assault and of the owners' culpability left little to the imagination or to reasonable doubt.

The five-week trial gripped much of the nation as prosecutors described a horrific attack in which Whipple was bitten all over her body -- her throat ripped, her clothes torn off -- by at least one of the dogs.

The jury of seven men and five women saw graphic photos of the victim's ravaged body, with wounds visible from her ankles to her face, and pictures of the blood-stained hallway where the attack occurred.
Don Newton, the jury foreman, said the number of prior incidents involving the dogs undermined the defense claim that the mauling was nothing more than a tragic accident.

"It was a series of actions -- a series of failures to heed warnings, a series of careless taking of the dogs out and allowing them to lunge at people and attack people, that they had fallen into a pattern of actions which were inevitably leading to this result," Newton said.

In today's report, once again the defendent present when the dogs attacked that fatal day, ". . . insisted she had no idea her 'loving' pets were capable of such an attack."

Ok, I'll admit to a certain interest in the creative out-sized flower arangements (the cigar, the martini, the poker hand, the race horse, etc.), and where else is there a demand for those retro flower car limos (yikes, the very latest model Cadillacs!) we saw in the photographs?

But let's try to put this into proportion. The Daily News let Thomas Hackett try today, but for whatever reason the paper fails to include the story in its online site. I will manually enter the complete text here:

It was sometimes hard to remember John Gotti had been convicted of killing six men and was believed to have had a hand in dozens more deaths in his storied career as New York's most famous mob boss. The Catholic Church refused Gotti a funeral Mass, citing canon law that forbids holy services for a "manifest sinner." But its verdict on Gotti's immorality did nothing to dampen in some cases fawning media coverage of his death in a federal prison hospital from cancer at age 61. Before spending the last 10 years in prison, Gotti had reveled in his celebrity. "This is my public," he once told his right-hand man about the gawkers who stared everywnere he went in New York. "They love me." It didn't matter that he was a thug from first to last, graduating from petty street crimes to hijacking to murder; or that extorting millions of dollars from unions and manufacturers drove business from New York; or that his reckless vanity invited the FBI scrutiny that left his organization in shambles.

The last clause about the FBI seems out of place in a litany of sins against society, but I can vouch for the comment about the impact of his extortions, having had some experience with the "cost of doing business," even very conservative and legitimate business, here in New York. Gotti and "celebrities" like him hurt all of us more than we know.

We're scared out of our wits, and the Bushies' continual and manipulative alarms are doing everything they can to keep the heebie jeebies going.

Nine months after the Sept. 11 attacks, the United States finds itself in a jittery mood, as scandal and doubts envelop a growing number of major institutions.

But there is also sheer fear, and it won't go away.
During the maximum jitters of the Cuban missile crisis, the high school where I was an impressionable freshman happened to be holding an assembly. The star speaker was a priest from San Francisco, who arranged to have his remarks interrupted by a student delivering a note. The priest studied the note, then looked up with a somber face and announced that the Soviet Union and the United States had just launched nuclear missiles at each other.

Forty years later, I can still hear the terrified whimper in that auditorium as we all considered our imminent doom. But I can't remember a word of what the speaker said afterward. That's the thing about fear: It gets your attention and then refuses to give it back.

untitled 1

We need not stand alone. We are not alone. Where can we sign up?

I'm not a celebrity and I'm not an academic, but I have asked to be a part of this very reasonable statement. But I'm already a part of it! I feel like I have been a voice crying in the wilderness since September 11, and this from a born again atheist. I'll keep you posted about the organizers' response and the details of the procedure.

Ok, just more words, but words which will mean that we and the entire world will know that the our rampaging government cannot shut us up or out.

Jeremy Pikser, one of the organizers of the statement, said yesterday that he had been concerned that the rest of the world was under the impression that there was no dissent in the US to the bombing of Afghanistan and the plans for a war against Iraq.

Pikser, a screenwriter who wrote Bulworth, a satire on American politics in which Warren Beatty played a politician who finally decided to speak his mind, said some people had been reluctant to add their names. "A lot of people haven't signed it, although they agree with it, because they think it might jeopardize other things they're involved in."

No comment on this news item is necessary. [Actually, I find comment impossible at the moment. Maybe later. Maybe.]

The announcement received across-the-board rave reviews from industry groups representing refiners, petrochemical, manufacturers and petroleum sectors.

The Dow Jones and other indexes fell over two percent today in the midst of a growing and deepening "mistrust about Corporate America's top management and finances," reports the Reuters wire.

Investors' widening distrust helped overshadow a raft of robust economic data, including a new report on Monday that showed U.S. manufacturing activity grew at its fastest pace in two years in May. Wall Street's faith in corporate management has eroded after the implosion of energy trader Enron Corp., one of whose executives committed suicide on Jan. 25.

Faith misplaced? Where have these investors been up until now?

I worked for large corporations for many years and never had any illusions about the general competence of management, in my own companies or any others with which I became familiar. I was often simply astounded that things held together at all. Eventually I concluded that certainly within a corporation, and to a large extent even within an industry and throughout the business world, the old boy networks of small minds and smaller imaginations held each other up. The smart or imaginative people weren't let in, or certainly weren't let upstairs.

I fear the consequences for the country and the world of what appears to be a snowballing recognition of the emptiness at the top.

How can we live with this fool?

Bushie delivered a major address to the Japanese Diet on February 21. A few seconds into the speech* he said:

My trip to Asia begins here in Japan for an important reason. It begins here because for a century and a half now, America and Japan have formed one of the great and enduring alliances of modern times. From that alliance has come an era of peace in the Pacific. And in that peace, the world has witnessed the broad advance of prosperity and democracy throughout East Asia.

I learned of this first from Reno's performance rant last night and found it online today. Reno suggested that his handler, Condy Rice, standing in the wings, must have thrown her hands to her head in astonishment, saying, "we coached him up through the thirties; we thought he knew about World War II!"

And I can't imagine what the Japanese who were there thought.

Note: All official or unofficial transcripts I have been able to locate edited the written text to change our records of what was said, perhaps thus hoping we would sleep better at night.

* go to the WATCH/LISTEN video link on the right, "US President George Bush" for the full visual and audio record.

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