Bill Totten's Weblog

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Hostage Situation

Clusterfuck Nation

by James Howard Kunstler

Comment on current events by the author of
The Long Emergency (2005) (December 14 2009)

Okay, so President Obama didn't run for office to help out a bunch of fat cat bankers on Wall Street - or so he said on CBS's 60 Minutes show Sunday night. But maybe it didn't seem like such a bad idea once the election was over. Anyway, the net effect of his administration's actions since then - all nicely documented in the latest Rolling Stone dispatch {1} from the choleric Matt Taibbi - was an immense helping out of fat cat bankers on Wall Street at the expense of a lot of American citizens who work elsewhere, if they are lucky enough to have income-producing work.

Mr Obama has really offered no satisfactory explanation for why he larded his department of the US government from the get-go with so many agents and recent graduates of Wall Street's biggest firms. Nor has any clear reason emerged for the absence of criminal prosecution - or even investigation - by the Attorney General in such obvious cases of criminal fraud and insider trading as Goldman Sachs's double-window technique for hedging its own issues of mortgage-backed securities. By comparison, the Savings-and-Loan scandal of a decade ago led to thousands of criminal convictions.

Last week, the Right Reverend Lloyd Blankfein, still "doing God's work", announced in a "cash-for-pitchforks" deal that the top thirty executives of his company, Goldman Sachs, would not receive dollar bonuses this Christmas but instead will get stock that ostensibly can't be sold for five years. Those of us in the USA who enjoy a good mystery are wondering exactly what fine language in this memorandum drawn up by a team of thousand-dollar-an-hour lawyers contains the magic catch that frees up the Goldman Sachs execs to convert this stock into money, say, on February 2 2010 - because you know it's got to be in there somewhere.

Anyway, insofar as the top thirty Goldman Sachs employees is made up strictly of people who are already multi-deca-millionaires, notice that the other 31,670 employees of Goldman Sachs, including not a few hundred in the upper income tranches, will be receiving cash bonuses as usual this year from a bonus pool that amounts to about $16 billion (sixteen thousand million dollars). Of course, being a publicly-held company, Goldman Sachs will have to announce soon what those cash bonuses are. Perhaps this is why the news also got out about Goldman Sachs employees seeking handgun permits {2} in bunches. Exactly how they get around New York City's special "Sullivan Law", which supercedes the New York State permitting rules, has not been explained.

Meanwhile, all the stops are being pulled out to produce a mighty wall-of-sound in dubiously-reported statistics pertaining to national unemployment and retail sales - the first way down and the latter up, supposedly - in an attempt to squeeze one last giant potlatch Christmas out of the dying "consumer" economy. Jew though I may be, I confess that Christmas is for me. I'm sorry, fellow Chosen People, but Hanukkah is just plain boring - the equivalent of Danish Modern furniture for the spirit. Give me Christmas, with its pagan yule logs, feasts, and revels! One can enjoy the holiday doings and trappings without subscribing to either the divinity of Santa Claus or the Babe of Nazareth. But Christmas does invite us to indulge in all kinds of "hopes" and delusions, and the main one crackling through the American zeitgeist this year is the wish that our national life will resume the yeasty expansion of goodies that most living citizens regard as baseline normality - namely, a never-ending orgy of credit card spending and real estate flipping.

This wish is doomed to disappointment. The cold boney finger of reality, like Dickens's spectral Ghost of Christmas yet-to-come, points to many a tableau of desolation in the decade ahead ... of a lost "normality", of evictions, foreclosures, tragedies, ruinations and most of all dashed expectations - assuming that the vast public clings to habits and behaviors no longer suited to the mandates of new circumstances in our world. And it is the greatest disservice of all at this holiday time for respected authorities to pimp that wish. What a shabby thing it has become anyway - a sordid spectacle of multitudes moiling in chain store checkout lines en route to the certain anguish of buyer's remorse in the parking lot.

Can't we come up with a better American Dream, even one that includes Christmas? I think we can. It would require the liberation of American citizen's minds from their thralldom to bigness in every realm from work to worship to recreation. If you think Barack Obama is a hostage to Wall Street, reflect for a while on the people's self-surrender to the tyranny of everything that diminishes us to mere "consumers". We're on a journey - and we don't know it - back to a nation of communities where your character really matters, and where character rests on whether your deeds comport with truthfulness. Many will be dragged kicking and screaming upon that journey, and many a dark night will be passed in the cold and damp on the way. But it will take us to a place where the hearths are burning brightly and the estranged spirits of our national character await a reunion with us: fortitude, patience, generosity, humor. That will be a Christmas to live for and remember!


As a holiday bonus to readers (sorry, no Clusterfuck stock shares available), I attach three splendid poems from the excellent Missouri poet Louis Daniel Brodsky:

Dubai World

Dubai World,
Fronted by the oil-inebriated United Arab Emirates,
A confederation of trickle-down-economics
sheik-down artists,

Who put all their Western Easter eggs in leaky baskets:
A ski "mountain" moved into an indoor resort,
A beach cooled by under-the-sand,
refrigerated pipe work,

Golf courses drenched, hourly, with desalinated ocean water,
Man-made islands kneaded into a vast palm-leaf array
And a map of Earth's landmasses -

A surreal Xanadu out-Las Vegasing Las Vegas,
A dizzying Disney World Shangri-la of mother's milk and money,
A Bahamian Paradise Island Atlantis resurrected from silica ...

Dubious World,
Drowning in an oasis of debt, hoping to cross the Red-Ink Sea
Before the parted waters close, squeeze it dry.

Tinker's Damn

To this gnawingly aggravating second,
I find my mind at a depleted loss for reasonable explanations -
Some ... a few ... one - as to why my country,

The increasingly disunited United States of America,
Has lost all sight of its painful degradation,
Those principles laid in place, by patriots and patriarchs,

That once formulated the basis of our nationalistic nature
As a tribe of diverse, hardscrabble-ambitious peoples
Hewing to the well-being of a vibrant identity.

I'm left only with questions orphaned of answers,
Enigmas in search of exits from their dazing mazes,
Unjustified justifications for our gross injustices

Toward others as well as our hubris-doomed selves.
Who mandated that America play God to the planet,
Nation-build corruption, globalize itself out of jobs,

Allow plastic food stamps to substitute for legal tender,
Foreclose on tepees, tents, log cabins, McMansions
Purchased, for an ARM and a leg pull, from greedy lenders,

Even as their owners seek shelter in doorways, storm drains,
As, once, the hopeful huddled masses did,
On first swarming our golden Ellis Island shores?

Ultimately, I don't have a tinker's-damn choice
Of accepting anything but our inexorable Manifest Decrepitude
As the just fruits of our labors in the fields of anomie,

The factories of hypocrisy, the casinos of high finance,
The brothels of materialistic adultery,
The toilets of grandiose delusion - the American Dream.

Chinese Fire Drill

What a strange, bewildering, terrifying time it is,
Here in America World,
To find it the foreclosed home of the brave homeless,

Who, as recently as today, this Black Friday,
Have borne witness to Dubai World's humiliating bankruptcy,
A revelation capable of taking down entire far-flung nations -

An insult to our already systemically weakened body politic,
Disemboweled by un-Orthodox Wall Street bonus-baby boomers
Bringing home (sleet, snow, shine, Shabbat) the bacon ...

Who, just this inordinately hyped Day of the Colossal Sales,
Are salivating, like Pavlovian Dobermans,
To unleash their well-conditioned shop-till-you-drop skills,

Just as they've done for the past fifty postwar years,
Like good little followers of Nazi Germany's Oberster Kommandant,
Who exhorted his fellow followers to follow orders,

In nothing more than nothing less than orderly Aryan fellowship,
Even as they drove themselves, like lemmings, buffaloes,
Over the precipice, into infamy's abyss of hyperinflation,

Which is precisely where we prodigal Americans are headed,
As, day by day, we outsource our Levi's, flags, apple pies, moms,
Mortgage our subprime-ARM souls to Goldman Sachs Fifth Avenue,

In exchange for McMansions, Harley-Davidson hogs,
Bombardier snowmobiles, Madoff's Rolexes and Patek Philippes,
Purchased on disappearing red-white-and-blue-ink credit.

And here we are, the day after Thanksgiving,
Digging deep into the shifting sand dunes of our shallow pockets,
Trying to reach China, as we did as kids, at the seashore,

To persuade those quasi-communistic-capitalistic powers that be
That America is yet a viable investment for their future,
When our, as well as their, Harvard-trained chief economists

Damn well know that it amounts to a Chinese fire drill, if that,
For them to continue accumulating Treasury notes,
Which, any day now, won't buy five grains of Dubai World sand.





The Sequel to World Made By Hand is now done and scheduled for publication by the Atlantic Monthly Press in Fall, 2010.

(c) 2009 All Rights Reserved.

Bill Totten


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