Saturday, October 27, 2012

Scapegoat Needed: Group Hysteria

Violence, high unemployment and malaise pervade the atmosphere.  Things fall apart; the center will not hold.  It's time for witch trials and a scapegoat carved out of sexual hysteria and the fear of pandemics.

The discarded outcast is destroyed (or destroys him/herself) for the sake of the community. She serves a vital purpose, to draw the ire and inchoate hatreds of the group upon herself. She exists to be the outsider and functions to enhance the well-being of those within.  The only action to be taken to appease the community in the face of this loathsome creature is to institute a form of social control.  Out of sight, out of mind.  Social control used in this way covers a multitude of sins.  Snorting the air of self-satisfaction and superiority, the members of the community only wish her to be banished from their sight.

This dynamic is seen starkly in the short story, "The Lottery", by Shirley Jackson, which depicts a wholesome farming town that depends on the community to gather together for the harvest day ritual.  Just ordinary people trying to guarantee their survival against the prospect of famine.  Spoiler alert: human sacrifice.  It can happen here.  It can happen to you.

It's tantamount to sexual hysteria and can be whipped up in several ways. We saw this occur during the McCarthy era, when Joseph McCarthy, Senator from Wisconsin, seized upon the idea of Communists lurking among the American population, stoking the notions that ordinary citizens were infiltrating society in order to bring it down.

The fear that spread like a virus through the country tore apart lives but helped put notches on the belt of Roy Cohn and Richard Nixon, who later became President. In the late 17th century in Salem, Massachusetts, accusations of witchcraft ended the lives of several women. The sexual hysteria whipped up serves several functions: bind the group against a common enemy and project internal hostility and rage upon an outsider.

Unfortunately, it is probably difficult to actually be the outsider, the target on whose destruction the group depends. There are many methods utilized against the target: threats, attempts to discredit, or even driving her to the brink of sanity. On a continuous basis, day in and day out, the perpetrator cannot help but succeed, particularly if the group does not step in for fear of becoming tainted themselves.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Failed Actress, Demagogue, Finally Makes It To White House

So, you want Ayn Rand acolyte Paul Ryan a heart beat from the presidency?  Do you know anything about Ayn Rand, failed actress, screenwriter and cult leader who hated altruists yet took full advantage of Medicare while in U.S.?

Now that Bauman Rare Books is trumpeting her book "Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal" and calling her one of "capitalism's most popular and influential philosopher at a mere cost of $3500, I think you should get ejjicated.  Remember the destruction of the middle-class's hope for weath: home equity, over the course of the W administration?  Remember those nasty mergers-and-acquisition guys who bought companies with debt then piled the debt on top of the companies they bought, not before taking a huge chunk of cash out of them, fired everyone and sold them off after they were squeezed dry?  Now no more m&a branding.  These vulture companies are now called private equity firms.  You know, like Bain Capital.

To jog your memory about how the 1% got so much and the rest were took for a ride, here's a piece I wrote back in 2007:

As America enters an unprecedented time of falling housing prices and widespread foreclosure, I found the article in The New York Times “Ayn Rand’s Literature of Capitalism” by Harriet Rubin (9/15/07) very interesting. 

According to the article, many business leaders, including Alan Greenspan, who is currently flogging his book, “The Age of Turbulence”, were strongly influenced by Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged.  Greenspan blamed everyone but himself for the credit crisis, although he was at the Fed’s helm when the interest rate was cut to 1% in 2003 and praised adjustable rate mortgages as most efficient. 

Wall Street decided to offer mortgages borrowers could not afford simply because they could repackage these loans into mortgage-backed securities and assert that they eliminated risk and pay high yields at the same time. 

Although many of these “packagers” such as Angelo Mozilo, the former CEO of Countrywide, the nation’s largest mortgage lender, protested that these methods allowed a greater pool of people to become homeowners, in actuality they were far more cynical.  On the Street subprime and other versions of mortgages were known as “liar loans” or NINJAs (no income, no job, no assets).  The Street divided up their mortgaged-backed securities into “tranches”, slices that they said spread the risk and therefore eliminated it.  But those in the know knew it was a scam because Streeters called the lowest rung tranche “toxic waste.”

Back to Rand.  These business leaders were greatly influenced by her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged.   Atlas Shrugged is the story of the prime movers of society going on strike because society doesn’t appreciate them; in fact, they are exploited and robbed of their dignity.  They refused to contribute their inventions, art, business leadership, scientific research or new ideas of any kind to the rest of the world. 

Society hampers them by interfering with their work and underpays them by confiscating the profits and dignity they have rightfully earned.  The peaceful cohesiveness of the world requires those individuals whose productive work comes from mental effort.  But feeling they have no alternative, they eventually start disappearing from the communities of “looters” and “moochers” who bleed them dry.  The strikers believe that they are crucial to a society that exploits them, and the near-total collapse of civilization triggered by their strike shows them to be correct.

Unfortunately, Atlas Shrugged reflects the mindset of many of those who helmed Wall Street institutions that are now extinct or swallowed up.  To regulate them is to “loot” or “mooch” off them, or as Sterling Hayden as Jack Ripper said in Dr. Strangelove, to steal their precious bodily fluids.  They are of a superior class; therefore they are entitled to play by different rules, all for the benefit of society.  I don’t think Rand even believed that self-interest had to be enlightened to benefit society; all the prime movers like Mozilo, Thain (Merrill Lynch), Blankfein (Goldman Sachs), Paulson (formerly Goldman Sachs, now sadly our Treasury Secretary) just have to be self-interested and somehow, voila! Wave an invisible hand and society benefits.  They took the gold; we the taxpayers take the dross, and none of them accepts responsibility or faces any kind of comeuppance.

I, too, was influenced by literature but not Ayn Rand.  She wrote stiff characters who spoke ridiculous dialogue and had romance-novel sex.  I suggest these business leaders try two other novels:

The Jungle (1906) by Upton Sinclair
The Jungle is the story of Lithuanian immigrants working in Chicago’s Union Stock Yards at the beginning of the 20th century.  It depicts a world of poverty, lack of social security or any sort of social contract, scandalous living and working conditions and generally utter hopelessness prevalent among the have-nots, contrasted with the deeply rooted corruption on the part of the haves.  The novel thrusts the existence of wage slavery into the face of the American public.  Wage slavery is a condition where a person must sell his or her labor power by submitting to the authority of an employer in order to subsist.

In The Jungle workers are shown falling into meat processing tanks and being ground, along with animal parts, into “Durham’s Pure Leaf Lard.”

The disgusting, fetid, filthy working conditions and exploitation of women and children depicted in the Jungle led to the passage of the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, which in turn led to the Food and Drug Administration.

Another great novel:
Elmer Gantry (1927) by Sinclair Lewis
Elmer Gantry is the story of a young, arrogant, womanizing college athlete who, upon realizing the power, prestige and easy money that comes with being a preacher, pursues his “religious” ambitions with gusto, contributing to the downfall, even death, of key people around him as the years pass.  Although he continues to womanize, is often exposed as a fraud and frequently faces a complete downfall, Gantry is never fully discredited and always manages to emerge triumphant and reach ever greater heights of social status.  The novel ends as Reverend Gantry prays for the United States to be a “moral nation” and simultaneously ogles the legs of a new choir member.

Lewis researched the novel by, among other things, attending 2 or 3 religious services a week in Kansas City.  He immersed himself in the religious community.

After publication, the book was banned in Boston and a cleric suggested that Lewis be imprisoned for five years.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

What would a Romney-Ryan presidency look like?

Vouchers galore.  $2,000 for a cancer operation.  Vouchers instead of direct payments from the government for Medicare with 2% administrative costs.  Turning over Social Security to the money men of Wall Street so they can earn a tidy profit gambling with our tax dollars.  Cognitive dissonance: let’s get rid of the post office despite cyberattacks and criminal internet behavior.  It’s going broke because for some reason it has to prepay its pension obligations 85% a year.  Why?  Ask Congress.  They don’t know either and they’re in charge.

Let the cool, pristine arms of technology dull our gaze and atomize us.  An internet provider costs money.  If you don’t have any, you lose the ability to communicate.  You drop out of the human race.

No more domestic programs.  No safety net, no food stamps, no Medicaid, no Head Start, no SNAP.  Sliding into poverty and homelessness, the better to die out and stop being a nuisance.

No jobs.  Just blame the victims for their “lack of education”.  They deserve to be obsolete.  It has nothing to do with the fact that America no longer has a manufacturing base or a strong labor movement.  We are a service economy, which pays very poorly and offers few benefits.

Without profligacy, there would be no sacrifice.  People are getting what they deserve—formerly middle class people eating out of dumpsters.  We, too, must be austere.  Tighten our belts.  We have to balance the budget on the backs of the less wealthy and hence less influential.  Even though money moves from the poorer to the wealthy (transfer of tax dollars to the private sector and VAT, sin taxes, the lottery—all of that takes a bigger bite out of those with less), which is truly redistribution of income, liberals are accused of redistribution all the time.

What happened to the middle-class version of wealth and security, housing?  It was gambled away in the sausage machine known as securitization and filed in a private system known as MERS.  MERS was set up and owned by the banks.  Simply by the nature of numbers (might makes right, saeth the judge) MERS eliminated the public function of the county clerk and cogent research of title change. 

That’s what’s known as “code is law”.  Entities swap over and over the mortgage-backed securities tucked into MERS until the titles for all the mortgages involved are clouded and ownership cannot be proven.  If you don’t have a clear title on your home, you don’t own it and you can’t sell it.  The black humor of this is that many people aren’t told and don’t realize their title is no good so they keep up mortgage payments on homes they might not even own.