Tag: Wall Street

This is not ‘rocket science’!

We all live on one, finite, planet.  Full stop!

When putting together the short item for yesterday, Sunday, I was taken by the power of such simple concepts as beauty, harmony, love, the natural world.  Then I came across an article published by Tom Engelhardt, of TomDispatch fame, a little over two weeks ago.  It was a guest essay by Chip Ward and is reproduced below.

Learning from Dogs is about integrity.  In the sense that dogs, both literally and metaphorically, offer mankind an alternative, and more integrous, way of living.  As I wrote in one of the background items to Learning from Dogs, over two years ago,

Because of this closeness between dogs and man, we (as in man!) have the ability to observe the way they live.  Now I’m sure that scientists would cringe with the idea that the way that a dog lives his life sets an example for us humans, well cringe in the scientific sense.  But man seems to be at one of those defining stages in mankind’s evolution where the forces bearing down on the species homo sapiens have the potential to cause very great harm.  If the example of dogs can provide a beacon of hope, a incentive to change at a deep cultural level, then the quicker we ‘get the message’, the better it will be.


  • are integrous ( a score of 210) according to Dr David Hawkins
  • don’t cheat or lie
  • don’t have hidden agendas
  • are loyal and faithful
  • forgive
  • love unconditionally
  • value and cherish the ‘present’ in a way that humans dream of achieving
  • are, by eons of time, a more successful species than man.

So with those thoughts in mind, please read Chip’s essay as published on TomDispatch.  It is reproduced with the written permission of Tom Engelhardt

Someone Got Rich and Someone Got Sick
Nature Is the 99%, Too
By Chip Ward

What if rising sea levels are yet another measure of inequality? What if the degradation of our planet’s life-support systems — its atmosphere, oceans, and biosphere — goes hand in hand with the accumulation of wealth, power, and control by that corrupt and greedy 1% we are hearing about from Zuccotti Park?  What if the assault on America’s middle class and the assault on the environment are one and the same?

Money Rules: It’s not hard for me to understand how environmental quality and economic inequality came to be joined at the hip.  In all my years as a grassroots organizer dealing with the tragic impact of degraded environments on public health, it was always the same: someone got rich and someone got sick.

In the struggles that I was involved in to curb polluters and safeguard public health, those who wanted curbs, accountability, and precautions were always outspent several times over by those who wanted no restrictions on their effluents.  We dug into our own pockets for postage money, they had expense accounts.  We made flyers to slip under the windshield wipers of parked cars, they bought ads on television.  We took time off from jobs to visit legislators, only to discover that they had gone to lunch with fulltime lobbyists.

Naturally, the barons of the chemical and nuclear industries don’t live next to the radioactive or toxic-waste dumps that their corporations create; on the other hand, impoverished black and brown people often do live near such ecological sacrifice zones because they can’t afford better.  Similarly, the gated communities of the hyper-wealthy are not built next to cesspool rivers or skylines filled with fuming smokestacks, but the slums of the planet are. Don’t think, though, that it’s just a matter of property values or scenery.  It’s about health, about whether your kids have lead or dioxins running through their veins.  It’s a simple formula, in fact: wealth disparities become health disparities.

And here’s another formula: when there’s money to be made, both workers and the environment are expendable.  Just as jobs migrate if labor can be had cheaper overseas, I know workers who were tossed aside when they became ill from the foul air or poisonous chemicals they encountered on the job.

The fact is: we won’t free ourselves from a dysfunctional and unfair economic order until we begin to see ourselves as communities, not commodities.  That is one clear message from Zuccotti Park.

Polluters routinely walk away from the ground they poison and expect taxpayers to clean up after them.  By “externalizing” such costs, profits are increased.  Examples of land abuse and abandonment are too legion to list, but most of us can refer to a familiar “superfund site” in our own backyard.  Clearly, Mother Nature is among the disenfranchised, exploited, and struggling.

Democracy 101: The 99% pay for wealth disparity with lost jobs, foreclosed homes, weakening pensions, and slashed services, but Nature pays, too.  In the world the one-percenters have created, the needs of whole ecosystems are as easy to disregard as, say, the need the young have for debt-free educations and meaningful jobs.

Extreme disparity and deep inequality generate a double standard with profound consequences.  If you are a CEO who skims millions of dollars off other people’s labor, it’s called a “bonus.”  If you are a flood victim who breaks into a sporting goods store to grab a lifejacket, it’s called looting.  If you lose your job and fall behind on your mortgage, you get evicted.  If you are a banker-broker whodesigned flawed mortgages that caused a million people to lose their homes, you get a second-home vacation-mansion near a golf course.

If you drag heavy fishnets across the ocean floor and pulverize an entire ecosystem, ending thousands of years of dynamic evolution and depriving future generations of a healthy ocean, it’s called free enterprise.  But if, like Tim DeChristopher, you disrupt an auction of public land to oil and gas companies, it’s called a crime and you get two years in jail.

In campaigns to make polluting corporations accountable, my Utah neighbors and I learned this simple truth: decisions about what to allow into the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat are soon enough translated into flesh and blood, bone and nerve, and daily experience.  So it’s crucial that those decisions, involving environmental quality and public health, are made openly, inclusively, and accountably.  That’s Democracy 101.

The corporations that shred habitat and contaminate your air and water are anything but democratic.  Stand in line to get your 30 seconds in front of a microphone at a public hearing about the siting of a nuclear power plant, the effluent from a factory farm, or the removal of a mountaintop and you’ll get the picture quickly enough: the corporations that profit from such ecological destruction are distant, arrogant, secretive, and unresponsive.  The 1% are willing to spend billions impeding democratic initiatives, which is why every so-called environmental issue is also about building a democratic culture.

First Kill the EPA, Then Social Security: Beyond all the rhetoric about freedom from the new stars of the Republican Party, the strategy is simple enough: obstruct and misinform, then blame the resulting dysfunction on “government.”  It’s a great scam.  Tell the voters that government doesn’t work and then, when elected, prove it.  And first on the list of government outfits they want to sideline or kill is the Environmental Protection Agency, so they can do away with the already flimsy wall of regulation that stands between their toxins and your bloodstream.

Poll after poll shows that citizens understand the need for environmental rules and safeguards.  Mercury is never put into the bloodstreams of nursing mothers by consensus, nor are watersheds fracked until they are flammable by popular demand.  But the free market ideologues of the Republican Party are united in opposition to any rule or standard that impedes the “magic” of the marketplace and unchecked capital.

The same bottom-line quarterly-report fixation on profitability that accepts oil spills as inevitable also accepts unemployment as inevitable. Tearing apart wildlife habitat to make a profit and doing the same at a workplace are just considered the price of doing business. Clearcutting a forest and clearcutting a labor force are two sides of the same coin.

Beware of Growth: Getting the economy growing has been the refrain of the Obama administration and the justification for every bad deal, budget cut, and unbalanced compromise it’s made.  The desperate effort to grow the economy to solve our economic woes is what keeps Timothy Geithner at the helm of the Treasury and is what stalls the regulation of greenhouse gasses.  It’s why we are told we must sacrifice environmental quality for pipelines and why young men and women are sacrificed to protect access to oil, the lubricant for an acquisitive economic engine.  The financial empire of the one percenters and the political order it has shaped are predicated on easy and relentless growth.  How, we are asked, will there be enough for everyone if we don’t keep growing?

The fundamental contradiction of our time is this: we have built an all-encompassing economic engine that requires unending growth.  A contraction of even a percent or two is a crisis, and yet we are embedded in ecosystems that are reaching or have reached their limits.  This isn’t complicated: There’s only so much fertile soil or fresh water available, only so many fish in the ocean, only so much CO2 the planet can absorb and remain habitable.

Yes, you can get around this contradiction for a while by exploiting your neighbor’s habitat, using technological advances to extend your natural resources, and stealing from the future — that is, using up soil, minerals, and water your grandchildren (someday to be part of that same 99%) will need.  But the limits to those familiar and, in the past, largely successful strategies are becoming more evident all the time.

At some point, we’ll discover that you can’t exist for long beyond the boundaries of the natural world, that (as with every other species) if you overload the carrying capacity of your habitat, you crash.  Warming temperatures, chaotic weather patterns, extreme storms, monster wildfiresepic droughtsBiblical floods, anavalanche of species extinction… that collapse is upon us now.  In the human realm, it translates into hunger and violence, mass migrations and civil strife, failed states and resource wars.

Like so much else these days, the crash, as it happens, will not be suffered in equal measure by all of us.  The one percenters will be atop the hill, while the 99% will be in the flood lands below swimming for their lives, clinging to debris, or drowning. The Great Recession has previewed just how that will work.

An unsustainable economy is inherently unfair, and worse is to come.  After all, the car is heading for the cliff’s edge, the grandkids are in the backseat, and all we’re arguing about is who can best put the pedal to the metal.

Occupy Earth: Give credit where it’s due: it’s been the genius of the protesters in Zuccotti Park to shift public discourse to whether the distribution of economic burdens and rewards is just and whether the economic system makes us whole or reduces and divides us.  It’s hard to imagine how we’ll address our converging ecological crises without first addressing the way accumulating wealth and power has captured the political system.  As long as Washington is dominated and intimidated by giant oil companies, Wall Street speculators, and corporations that can buy influence and even write the rules that make buying influence possible, there’s no meaningful way to deal with our economy’s addiction to fossil fuels and its dire consequences.

Nature’s 99% is an amazingly diverse community of species.  They feed and share and recycle within a web of relationships so dynamic and complex that we have yet to fathom how it all fits together.  What we have excelled at so far is breaking things down into their parts and then reassembling them; that, after all, is how a barrel of crude oil becomes rocket fuel or a lawn chair.

When it comes to the more chaotic, less linear features of life like climate, ecosystems, immune systems, or fetal development, we are only beginning to understand thresholds and feedback loops, the way the whole becomes greaterthan the sum of its parts.  But we at least know that the parts matter deeply and that, before we even fully understand them, we’re losing them at an accelerating rate.  Forests are dying, fisheries are going, extinction is on steroids.

Degrading the planet’s operating systems to bolster the bottom line is foolish and reckless.  It hurts us all.  No less important, it’s unfair.  The 1% profit, while the rest of us cough and cope.

After Occupy Wall Street, isn’t it time for Occupy Earth?

Chip Ward co-founded and led Families Against Incinerator Risk and HEAL Utah. A TomDispatch regular, he wrote about campaigns to make polluters accountable in Canaries on the Rim: Living Downwind in the West and about visionary conservationists in Hope’s Horizon: Three Visions for Healing the American Land.

Copyright 2011 Chip Ward

The Changing Face of Society

A powerful and compelling essay from Tom Engelhardt

First, a preamble from me.

There have been a number of references to Tom Engelhardt’s writings on Learning from Dogs over the last 12 months; if you want to browse through them why not start with TomDispatch – The Great American Carbon Bomb.  Frequently, Tom writes an introductory piece to an essay from a guest author; Tom has generously given me written permission to republish any of his writings.

But his latest essay is 100% Tom and beautifully written.  My instinct is to agree with Tom’s conclusions entirely.  The reason you hear a slight hesitation in that last sentence is because I was not born an American, indeed only became a permanent USA resident this last April.  From the perspective of  a Londoner born in 1944, I suspect not too many years Tom’s senior, much of Tom’s essay really resonates with me.

OK, that’s enough from me.  Whoops, sorry, a few more words.  Tom’s essay is long, but so what!  Guess what I am saying is don’t be put off by the length, just make a mental note that if you haven’t got a quiet 15 minutes now, then wait until you have.  The essay will be compelling, I can guarantee it.  Especially if you are one of the many Learning from Dogs readers that is outside the USA – this provides very great insight into the Occupy Wall Street movement and the changes in society that are going to flow from that movement, flow around the globe.

Tomgram: Engelhardt, Wall Street by the Book Posted by Tom Engelhardt at 8:00pm, October 30, 2011.

OWS at Valley Forge
A (Self-)Graduation Speech for the Occupiers of Zuccotti Park 

By Tom Engelhardt

Once the Arab Spring broke loose, people began asking me why this country was still so quiet.  I would always point out that no one ever expects or predicts such events.  Nothing like this, I would say, happens until it happens, and only then do you try to make sense of it retrospectively.

Sounds smart enough, but here’s the truth of it: whatever I said, I wasn’t expecting you.  After this endless grim decade of war and debacle in America, I had no idea you were coming, not even after Madison.

You took me by surprise.  For all I know, you took yourself by surprise, the first of you who arrived at Zuccotti Park and, inspired by a bunch of Egyptian students, didn’t go home again.  And when the news of you penetrated my world, I didn’t pay much attention.  So I wasn’t among the best and brightest when it came to you.  But one thing’s for sure: you’ve had my attention these last weeks.  I already feel years younger thanks to you (even if my legs don’t).

Decades ago in the Neolithic age we now call “the Sixties,” I was, like you: outraged.  I was out in the streets (and in the library).  I was part of the anti-Vietnam War movement.  I turned in my draft card, joined a group called the Resistance, took part in the radical politics of the moment, researched the war, became a draft counselor, helped organize an anti-war Asian scholars group — I was at the time preparing to be a China scholar, before being swept away — began writing about (and against) the war, worked as an “underground” printer (there was nothing underground about us, but it sounded wonderful), and finally became an editor and journalist at an antiwar news service in San Francisco.

In that time of turmoil, I doubt I spent a moment pondering this irony: despite all those years in college and graduate school, the most crucial part of my education — learning about the nature of American power and how it was wielded — was largely self-taught in my off-hours.  And I wasn’t alone.  In those days, most of us found ourselves in a frenzy of teaching (each other), reading, writing — and acting.  That was how I first became an editor (without even knowing what an editor was): simply by having friends shove their essays at me and ask for help.

Those were heady years, as heady, I have no doubt, as this moment is for you.  But that doesn’t mean our moments were the same.  Not by a long shot.  Here’s one major difference: like so many of the young of that distant era, I was surfing the crest of a wave of American wealth and wellbeing.  We never thought about, but also never doubted, that if this moment ended, there would be perfectly normal jobs — good ones — awaiting us, should we want them.  It never crossed our minds that we couldn’t land on our feet in America, if we cared to.

In that sense, while we certainly talked about putting everything on the line, we didn’t; in truth, economically speaking, we couldn’t. Although you, the occupiers of Zuccotti Park and other encampments around the country, are a heterogeneous crew, many of you, I know, graduated from college in recent years.

Most of you were ushered off those leafy campuses (or their urban equivalents) with due pomp and ceremony, and plenty of what passes for inspiration.  I’m ready to bet, though, that in those ceremonies no one bothered to mention that you (and your parents) had essentially been conned, snookered out of tens of thousands of dollars on the implicit promise that such an “education” would usher you into a profession or at least a world of decent jobs.

As you know better than I, you got soaked by the educational equivalent of a subprime mortgage.  As a result, many of you were sent out of those gates and directly — as they say of houses that are worth less than what’s owed on their mortgages — underwater.

You essentially mortgaged your lives for an education and left college weighed down with so much debt — a veritable trillion-dollar bubble of it — that you may never straighten up, not if the 1% have their way.  Worse yet, you were sent into a world just then being stripped of its finery, where decent jobs were going the way of TVs with antennas and rotary telephones.

Lost Worlds and Utopia

Here’s a weakness of mine: graduation speeches.  I like their form, if not their everyday reality, and so from time to time give them unasked at TomDispatch.com, speeches for those of us already out in the world and seldom credited for never stopping learning.

In this case, though, don’t think of me as your graduation speaker.  Think of this as a self-graduation.  And this time, it’s positives all the way to the horizon.  After all, you haven’t incurred a cent of debt, because you and those around you in Zuccotti Park are giving the classes you took.  First, you began educating yourself in the realities of post-meltdown America, and then, miraculously enough, you went and educated many of the rest of us as well.

You really did change the conversation in this country in a heartbeat from, as Joshua Holland wroteat Alternet.org, “a relentless focus on the deficit to a discussion of the real issues facing Main Street: the lack of jobs… spiraling inequality, cash-strapped American families’ debt-loads, and the pernicious influence of money in politics that led us to this point” — and more amazingly yet, at no charge.

In other words, I’m not here, like the typical graduation speaker, to inspire you.  I’m here to tell you how you’ve inspired me.   In the four decades between the moment when I imagined I put everything on the line and the moment when you actually did, wealth and income inequalitiesexploded in ways unimaginable in the 1960s.  For ordinary Americans, the numbers that translated into daily troubles began heading downhill in the 1990s, the Clinton years, and only a fraudulent bubble in home values kept the good times rolling until 2008.

Then, of course, it burst big time.  But you know all this.  Who knows better than you the story of the financial and political flim-flam artists who brought this country to its knees, made out like bandits, and left the 99% in the dust?  Three years of stunned silence followed, as if Americans simply couldn’t believe it, couldn’t take it in — if, that is, you leave aside the Tea Party movement.

But give those aging, angry whites credit.  They were the first to cry out for a lost world (while denouncing some of the same bank bailouts and financial shenanigans you have).  That was before, in a political nano-second, the phrase “Tea Party” was essentially trademarked, occupied, and made the property of long-time Republican operatives, corporate cronies, and various billionaires.

That won’t happen to you.  Among your many strengths, the lack of a list of demands that so many of your elders have complained about, your inclusiveness, and your utopian streak — the urge to create a tiny, thoroughly democratic new society near the beating financial heart of the old one — will make you far harder to co-opt.  Add in the fact that, while any movement taking on inequity and unfairness is political, you are also, in the usual sense of the term, a strikingly apolitical movement.  Again, this is, to my mind, part of your strength.  It ensures that neither the Democratic Party nor left sects will find it easy to get a toehold in your environs.  Yes, in the long run, if you last and grow (as I suspect you will), a more traditional kind of politics may form around you, but it’s unlikely to abscond with you as those Republican operatives did with the Tea Party.

Actuarially, the Tea Party is a movement of the past in mourning for a lost world and the good life that went with it.  All you have to do is look at the sudden, post-2008 burst of poverty in the suburbs, that golden beacon of the post-World War II American dream, to know that something unprecedented is underway.

Once upon a time, no one imagined that an American world of home ownership and good jobs, of cheap gas and cheaper steaks, would ever end.  Nonetheless, it was kneecapped over the last few decades and it’s not coming back.  Not for you or your children, no matter what happens economically.

So don’t kid yourself: whether you know it or not, young as you are, you’re in mourning, too, or Occupy Wall Street wouldn’t exist. Unlike the Tea Party, however, you are young, which means that you’re also a movement of the unknown future, which is your strength.

Self-Education U.

Let me fess up here to my fondness for libraries (even though I find their silence unnerving).  As a child, I lived in the golden age of your lost world, but as something of an outsider.  The 1950s weren’t a golden age for my family, and they weren’t particularly happy years for me.  I was an only child, and my escape was into books.  Less than a block from where I lived was a local branch of the New York City public library and, in those days before adult problems had morphed into TV fare, I repaired there, like Harriet the Spy, to get the scoop on the mysterious world of grown-ups.  (The only question then was whether the librarian would let you out of the children’s section; mine did.)

I remembering hauling home piles of books, including John Toland’s But Not in Shame, Isaac Asimov’s space operas, and Désirée (a racy pop novel about a woman Napoleon loved), often with little idea what they were and no one to guide me.  On the shelves in my small room were yet more books, including most of the Harvard Five Foot Shelf, a collection of 51 classic volumes.  My set had been rescued from somebody’s flooded basement, their spines slightly warped and signs of mildew on some of them.  But I can still remember taking them off my shelf with a certain wonder: Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast (thrilling!), Darwin’s The Origins of the Species(impenetrable), Homer’s The Odyssey (Cyclops!), and so on.

Books — Johannes Gutenberg’s more than 500-year-old “technology” — were my companions, my siblings, and also my building blocks.  To while away the hours, I would pile them up to create the landscape — valleys and mountains — within which my toy soldiers fought their battles.  So libraries and self-education, that’s a program in my comfort zone.

Though my route seemed happenstantial at the time, it’s probably no accident that, 35 years ago, I ended up as a book editor on the periphery of mainstream publishing and stayed there.  After all, it was a paid excuse to retreat to my room with books (to-be) and, if not turn them into mountains and valleys, then at least transform them into a kind of eternal play and self-education.

All of which is why, on arriving for the first time at your encampment in Zuccotti Park and taking that tiny set of steps down from Broadway, I was moved to find myself in, of all things, an informal open-air library.  The People’s Library no less, even if books sorted by category in plastic bins on tables isn’t exactly the way I once imagined The Library.

Still, it couldn’t be more appropriate for Occupy Wall Street, with its long, open-air meetings, its invited speakers and experts, its visiting authors, its constant debates and arguments, that feeling when you’re there that you can talk to anyone.

Like the best of library systems, it’s a Self-Education U., or perhaps a modern version of theChautauqua adult education movement.  Your goal, it seems, is to educate yourselves and then the rest of us in the realities and inequities of twenty-first century American life.

Still, for the advanced guard of your electronic generation to commit itself so publicly to actual books, ones you can pick up, leaf through, hand to someone else — that took me by surprise.  Those books, all donations, are flowing in from publishers (including Metropolitan Books, where I work, and Haymarket Books, which publishes me), private bookstores, authors, and well, just about anyone.  As I stood talking with some of you, the librarians of Zuccotti Park, I watched people arriving, unzipping backpacks, and handing over books.

Of the thousands of volumes you now have, some, as in any library, are indeed taken out and returned, but some not. As Bill Scott, a librarian sitting in front of a makeshift “reference table” in muffler and jacket told me, “The books are donated to us and we donate them to others.”

A youthful-looking 42, Scott, an associate professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh, is spending his sabbatical semester camped out in the park.  His book, Troublemakers, is just about to be published and he’s bubbling with enthusiasm.  He’s ordered a couple of copies to donate himself.  “It’s my first book ever.  I’ve never even held it in my hands.  To shelve the first copy in the People’s Library, it’s like all the strands of my life coming together!”

Think of it: Yes, your peers in the park were texting and tweeting and streaming up a video storm.  They were social networking circles around the 1%, the mayor, the police, and whoever else got in their way.  Still, there you all were pushing a technology already relegated by many to the trash bin of cultural history.  You were betting your bottom dollar on the value to your movement of real books, the very things that kept me alive as a kid, that I’ve been editing, publishing, and even writingfor more than three decades.

“I Wanted Something Productive to Do”

That library — in fact, those libraries at Occupy Boston, Occupy Washington, Occupy San Francisco, and other encampments — may be the least commented upon part of your movement.  And yet, you set your library up not as an afterthought or a sideline, but almost as soon as you began imagining a society worth living in, a little world of your own.  You didn’t forget the books, which means you didn’t forget about education.  I mean, a real education.

This was both generous of you and, quite simply, inspiring.  Who would have expected that the old-fashioned, retro book would be at the heart of this country’s great protest movement of a tarnished new century?

When asked how the library began, librarian “Scales” (aka Sam Smith), an unemployed, 20-year-old blond dancer still in shorts on a chilly fall day, responded, “Nobody knows exactly who started it. It was like an immaculate conception.  It was just here.”  If the movement itself were a book, that might stand as its epigraph.  Even if Occupy Wall Street indeed did start somewhere (as did its library), the way it has exploded globally in a historical nanosecond, does give it exactly the feeling Scales described.

When asked why he himself was here, he simply said, “I wanted something productive to do.”

In an economy where “production” is gone with the wind, that makes the deepest sense to me.  Who doesn’t want to be productive in life?  Why should a generation that Wall Street and Washington seem perfectly happy to sideline not want to produce something of their own, as they now have?

I was no less touched, while listening in on a long meeting of the Library Working Group one Saturday afternoon amid the chaos of Zuccotti Park — crowd noise all around us, a band playing nearby — when the woman standing next to me interrupted your meeting.  She identified herself as an elected legislator from an upstate New York county who had driven down to see Occupy Wall Street for herself.  She just wanted you, the librarians, to know that she supported what you were doing and that, while her county was still funding its libraries, it was getting ever harder to do so, given strapped state and local budgets.

In other words, as education is priced out of the reach of so many Americans and in many communities library hours are cut back or local libraries shut down, you’ve opened for business.

Here are just a few things that you, the librarians of Zuccotti Park, said to me:

Bill Scott: “Part of the reason we’re down here is because we live in a society which promotes the idea that education should be bought and sold on the open market.  We want to establish it as a human right.  What the People’s Library proves is that books belong to the people, as does education.  People with student-loan debt find their freedom and options limited.  It severely limited my options.  I’m still crawling out from under a ton of debt.”

Zachary Loeb, who in what passes for real life is an actual librarian: “I’m working part time, so I wake up every morning and spend two hours sending out resumes, but the work isn’t out there.  My training’s in archiving, but nobody’s hiring.  I got a degree in library science, not philosophy, which I wanted to go into, to be on a job track.  Obviously, I’m not.  Lots of people are here because the work situation is abysmal.

“I’ve been an activist for a long time.  I read [the magazine] Adbusters and saw the call to occupy Wall Street.  I was down here on the first day.  I think we’ve changed the conversation in this country.  We’ve given people permission to stand up, to talk to each other, test their ideas out against each other, and consider decisions that shouldn’t simply be made by the powerful in Washington.”

Frances Mercanti-Anthony, out-of-work actress (“my last play closed in August”) and comic writer: “Knowledge is the greatest weapon we have.  What we’re doing is offering knowledge to people who have been disenfranchised.  Our online database of books [in the People’s Library] stands as a great symbol of the movement, of democracy, of knowledge, and sharing.”

Lighting Up the Landscape

Here’s what you’ve done: your anger and your thoughtfulness — what you don’t know and don’t mind not knowing, as well as what you do know — has lit up a previously dismal landscape.  And every move made by those who want to get rid of you has only spurred your growth.

I’m a pretty levelheaded guy, but call me a little starry-eyed right now and I don’t mind at all.  It’s something to feel this way for the first time in I don’t know how long, and whatever happens from now on, I can thank you for that — and for the sudden sense of possibility that goes with it.

Only six weeks into your movement, with so little known about where you’re going or what will happen, it’s undoubtedly early for graduation ceremonies.  Still, let’s face it, you’ve been growing up fast and, for all we know, these could have been the six weeks that changed the world.  Anyway, there’s no limit out here, where you can make your own traditions, on how often you can graduate yourself.

So I say, go for it.  Mark your progress thus far.  Self-graduate.  You don’t need me.   I’ll stay here and borrow a book from your library — and later, when I’m done, just as you suggest, I’ll donate it to someone else.

Shoulder your handmade signs.  Lift them high.  Chant your chants.  Let the drummers play as you march.  Head out toward Wall Street, toward the future, looking back over your shoulder, remembering exactly what your elders squandered, the world they left you, the debts they piled on you.  And the next time they start telling you what you should do with your movement, take it with a grain of salt.  The future, after all, is yours, not theirs.  It may be the only thing you have, exactly because it’s so beautifully unknown, so deeply unpredictable.  It’s your advantage over them because it’s one thing that Washington and Wall Street have no more way of controlling than you do.

In a world of increasing misery, you carry not just your debts, but ours too.  It’s a burden no one should shoulder, especially with winter bearing down, and that 1% of adults waiting for the cold to make tempers short, hoping you’ll begin to fall out, grow discouraged, and find life too miserable to bear, hoping that a New York winter will freeze you out of your own movement.

I take heart that last weekend, on a beautiful fall day, you, the librarians, were already discussing the need to buy “Alaska-style” sleeping bags and a generator which would give you heat; that you, like the mayor, are looking ahead and planning for winter.  This, after all, could be your Valley Forge.  As actress-librarian Mercanti-Anthony told me:  “We have the whole world behind us at this point.  We want to stand our ground for the long haul.  If we can make it through the winter, this occupation is here to stay.”

And she just might be right.  So head out now, and whatever you do, don’t go home.  It’s underwater anyway, and we need you.  We really do.  The world’s in a hell of a mess, but what a time for you to take it in your own hands and do your damnedest.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s as well as The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, The United States of Fear(Haymarket Books), will be published in November. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Engelhardt discusses the Occupy Wall Street movement and what hope means in our time click here, or download it to your iPod here.

Copyright 2011 Tom Engelhardt

Is it me…

…. or have we all gone stark, staring mad!

Sorry, in a bit of a rant mood just now.

I read widely many Blogs out there because it seems that this channel is one which is more likely to offer real, valid commentaries on what is going on at present with regard to the economic crisis, that is the crisis in the broader sense.

Here’s a recent piece from Baseline Scenario about the US Federal Reserve.  Here’s how that piece ends:

Regulation remains largely ineffective (in fact, the industry has managed to demonize the word), the big banks are too important to fail, and interest rates are low across the yield curve. The Fed provides downside protection and there is no effective limit on the amount or nature of risks that the private financial sector can take. This is a recipe not for stagnation but rather for a metaboom in which we will receive warnings, including painful recessions – but consistently ignore them.

The 1920s opened with an 18-month recession, an eerie parallel to the 2007-9 experience. It ended with the Great Crash of 1929.

Then across the way we have a piece on The Daily Beast about Summers. I quote from the first two paragraphs with their permission (thanks guys.)

Washington is swirling with the usual rumors—the White House’s man was pushed! He jumped! But Summers is leaving because he made sure real reform was discussed—but not accomplished.


The rumor that come November, when the mid-term elections are history, Lawrence Summers, administration’s quarterback on economic matters, will leave the White House, has been confirmed. The usual presumptions have been put in play: Summers is weary of the job; the president and his men and women feel the need for a new pair of hands under center; the man has done well; the man has done badly. There is no indication that, like Bush II’s ill-served first Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neill, Summers is being canned for speaking truth to power. That is not the man’s style, not—let it be said—that there’s much evidence that the administration has better than a shaky grasp of the practical truths of American financial and economic life in the Age of Goldman Sachs.The bottom line is that we can expect the usual judgemental blahblahblah to grow in volume and marginality on the talk-show and Op-Ed circuit as the day calendared by the media for Summers’ leave-taking approaches.

Now go across to the article and read it in full. Read why Michael Thomas, the author and no stranger to Wall St., describes Summers as someone who “saw to it that the talk was talked, but the walk was never walked.

And I’ll close by repeating a comment I made to the Baseline Scenario article:

I don’t have the knowledge to respond to Simon’s excellent Post in detail but his comments reinforce what feels like a constant throbbing in my mind – how can the citizens of so many countries have abdicated so much interest and concern in how they/we are governed. Wish I had even a clue as to the answer to that question.

Significant social unrest would be very scary – the ‘law’ of unintended consequences and all that – but there are times when I wonder if this, in the end, might be the only form of real progress for the hard-working, tax-paying majority.

End of rant! 😉

By Paul Handover

Of the people, for the people – huh!

It’s enough to make one weep!

Gettysburg Address

Just a couple of items from disparate sources came together last Friday to demonstrate just how possibly corrupt it has been over the last so many years!  But there is a golden lining to this stuff.

That is the ever increasing spread and reach of all forms of digital communications, from the humble email through to Wikileaks, is making it increasingly difficult for those that wish to cheat and lie their way through their lives, at the expense of others, to do so without detection.

Anyway, back to the theme of the Post.

The first item is from here (thanks to Naked Capitalism for the link):

Under the article title of – The Wages of Sin: Former Citi Execs Pay Token Fines for Lying to Investors

A news story today provides further confirmation of the rule by the banking classes in the US, with only token gestures to the rule of law.
(and after an in-depth review closes with:)
The message seems pretty clear. Sarbox [Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Ed]was intended to curtail phony corporate accounting in the wake of Enron. But why resort to complicated transactions like the energy company’s famed Raptors when Citi shows that mere lying will produce the same results with much less fuss?

The second from Karl Denninger, from which closes with these words are offered: GDP Report: Liar Liar Pants on Fire:

All three years of the revision period were revised down. Again, if a mistake or inaccuracy (as opposed to intentional falsehood) is responsible for errors, one would expect them to be normally distributed – that is, some would be positive, some negative.  This is obviously not the case.

Is there any good news in the report?  Well, yes – there was a material uptick in non-residential fixed investment, centered around equipment and software.  How much of this is a normal replacement cycle (deferred last year) and how much signifies real expansion is an open question and one not easily answered.  However, I wouldn’t call this particularly “robust”, despite the pump monkey characterization this morning in the media.

The drops in some of the previously-published numbers were, however, simply stunning.  For example, PCE (personal consumption) was previously reported for Q1/2010 as 2.13.  The revision is 1.33, a thirty percent downward revision.  That’s not an error, it was a falsehood.

Worse was the services false report.  The previous reported number for Q1/2010 was 0.69.  Revised was 0.03, a downward revision of ninety-five percent.

The services revision backward was truly sickening – the entirety of 2009 was negative with the exception of the fourth quarter, where all but the first was previously reported positive, and the changes were ridiculous.  First quarter was revised down from -0.13% to -0.75%, second from +0.09% to -0.79%, and so on.  Again, that’s not an error, it’s a lie.

Needless to say when I get all my graph source data updated, it’s going to look worse than it did – including my “government ponzi support” graph, one of my favorites.

The futures are diving on the report, as well they should.  Not because it’s bad – but because the entirety of the 2009 data set was a bald-faced lie.

Frankly, I’m much less interested in what is happening to Western economies – my views have been regularly reported on Learning from Dogs.

What appals me is how far we seem from those famous words in the Gettysburg Address given by President Abraham Lincoln on the afternoon of Thursday, November 19, 1863 (my emphasis):

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Pres. Lincoln's words

P.S. As it happens, after finishing this article last Friday, Jean and I watched the film The Verdict in the evening.  The words used by the lawyer Frank Galvin (Paul Newman) in his summation struck me so powerfully that I have made them a separate Post for tomorrow.
By Paul Handover

The Fourteenth Banker

What interesting times we live in.

Came across a relatively new Blog with the title The Fourteenth Banker.  Caught my eye because of the similarity to the book written by Simon Johnson and James Kwak of Baseline Scenario fame.  Here’s an extract from the ‘About’ piece of this new Blog.

In response to the comments of folks in the Congress and oversight regimes, I have created this blog as a home for bankers who need to speak out and do not have a central clearinghouse or a safe place to do so.     Big banks now treat their employees like property, bought and owned.     Typically employees must subject themselves to all sorts of potential sanctions, forfeitures of compensation, clawbacks and even lawsuits if they speak in ways we often have thought were protected speech.   I am not talking about revealing confidential customer or proprietary information, I am talking about simply commenting on a company, management philosophy, making general observations or raising concerns.     It makes one appreciate unions even if not historically supportive of unions.   At least management and labor can have a debate.    Not so in today’s large banks.    Gag orders are written in the most intimidating way, included in Codes of Ethics, attached to incentive plans, posted on the company home pages.     We should ask ourselves, what is the big secret?

Do support the Blog by calling by.  Here’s a taste of what they are writing about:

Lying at Leyman

What is a million between friends?

Read this piece from Bloomberg Businessweek How Much Did Lehman CEO Dick Fuld Really Make?

This can only be called what it is. Delusion. Delusion about self, society, morality, values and anything else you can name. These are symptoms of a grave illness which is too common among those in power. In fact, the illness may be the requisite to power.

By Paul Handover

Breaking up the big banks

There are so many excellent Blogs out there that it is difficult at times to keep track of key articles.  But here’s one reproduced from Washington’s Blog.  It was published on the 30th April and sets out some powerful reasons why the so-called Too Big To Fail banks should, and must, be broken up.  It is reproduced with permission. Ed.

5 Reasons We Must Break Up the Giant Banks

As everyone from Paul Krugman to Simon Johnson has noted, the banks are so big and politically powerful that they have bought the politicians and captured the regulators.

But the giant banks are not only dangerous because they skew the political system. There are five economic arguments against the mega-banks as well.

Impaired Competition

Fortune pointed out last February that the only reason that smaller banks haven’t been able to expand and thrive is that the too-big-to-fails have decreased competition:

Growth for the nation’s smaller banks represents a reversal of trends from the last twenty years, when the biggest banks got much bigger and many of the smallest players were gobbled up or driven under…

As big banks struggle to find a way forward and rising loan losses threaten to punish poorly run banks of all sizes, smaller but well capitalized institutions have a long-awaited chance to expand.

So the very size of the giants squashes competition.

Less Loans, More Bonuses

Small banks have been lending much more than the big boys.

The giant banks which received taxpayer bailouts actually slashed lending more, gave higher bonuses, and reduced costs less than banks which didn’t get bailed out.

Lack of Transparency in Derivatives

Too Big!

JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, and Morgan Stanley together hold 80% of the country’s derivatives risk, and 96% of the exposure to credit derivatives.

Experts say that derivatives will never be reined in until the mega-banks are broken up.

Increased Debt Problems

As I pointed out in December 2008:

The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) is often called the “central banks’ central bank”, as it coordinates transactions between central banks.

BIS points out in a new report that the bank rescue packages have transferred significant risks onto government balance sheets, which is reflected in the corresponding widening of sovereign credit default swaps:

The scope and magnitude of the bank rescue packages also meant that significant risks had been transferred onto government balance sheets. This was particularly apparent in the market for CDS referencing sovereigns involved either in large individual bank rescues or in broad-based support packages for the financial sector, including the United States. While such CDS were thinly traded prior to the announced rescue packages, spreads widened suddenly on increased demand for credit protection, while corresponding financial sector spreads tightened.

In other words, by assuming huge portions of the risk from banks trading in toxic derivatives, and by spending trillions that they don’t have, central banks have put their countries at risk from default.

Now, Greece, Portugal, Spain and many other European countries – as well as the U.S. and Japan – are facing serious debt crises. See this, this and this.

By failing to break up the giant banks, the government is guaranteeing that they will take crazily risky bets again and again and again.

We are no longer wealthy enough to keep bailing out the bloated banks. We have serious debt problems. See this, this and this.

(Anyone who claims that Chris Dodd’s proposed “reform” legislation will prevent banks from getting bailed out again is wrong. If the giant banks aren’t broken up now – when they are threatening to take down the world economy – they won’t be broken up next time they become insolvent, either. And see this.)

Unfair Competition and Manipulation of Markets

Moreover, Richard Alford – former New York Fed economist, trading floor economist and strategist – recently showed that banks that get too big benefit from “information asymmetry” which disrupts the free market.

Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz noted in September that giants like Goldman are using their size to manipulate the market:

“The main problem that Goldman raises is a question of size: ‘too big to fail.’ In some markets, they have a significant fraction of trades. Why is that important? They trade both on their proprietary desk and on behalf of customers. When you do that and you have a significant fraction of all trades, you have a lot of information.”

Further, he says, “That raises the potential of conflicts of interest, problems of front-running, using that inside information for your proprietary desk. And that’s why the Volcker report came out and said that we need to restrict the kinds of activity that these large institutions have. If you’re going to trade on behalf of others, if you’re going to be a commercial bank, you can’t engage in certain kinds of risk-taking behavior.”

The giants (especially Goldman Sachs) have also used high-frequency program trading which not only distorted the markets – making up more than 70% of stock trades – but which also let the program trading giants take a sneak peak at what the real (aka “human”) traders are buying and selling, and then trade on the insider information. See this, this, this, this and this. (This is frontrunning, which is illegal; but it is a lot bigger than garden variety frontrunning, because the program traders are not only trading based on inside knowledge of what their own clients are doing, they are also trading based on knowledge of what all other traders are doing).

Goldman also admitted that its proprietary trading program can “manipulate the markets in unfair ways”. The giant banks have also allegedly used their Counterparty Risk Management Policy Group (CRMPG) to exchange secret information and formulate coordinated mutually beneficial actions, all with the government’s blessings.

Again, size matters. If a bunch of small banks did this, manipulation by numerous small players would tend to cancel each other out. But with a handful of giants doing it, it can manipulate the entire economy in ways which are not good for the American citizen.

No wonder virtually every independent economist and financial expert is calling for the big banks to be broken up.

Some argue that it is logistically impossible to break up the behemoths. But if we broke up Standard Oil, we can break up the giant banks as well.

Well done, Bill Moyers!

A giant of US television retires from the screen

One of the fascinating aspects of my new American life is seeing how loud the volume of dissent is from the American

Bill Moyers

people about the shenanigans on Wall Street and the Too Big To Fail banks.  There is an intensity and passion that I can’t see happening on the other side of the Pond.  Maybe this is the cultural legacy of a people that just a short time ago, relatively speaking, were opening up this giant country seeking a better way of life than the ‘old countries’.

This intensity and passion is why, in the end, I believe that the solution to the huge crisis that still awaits us will start from this side of the Atlantic.  But it will get a whole lot worse before it gets better, such is the complexity and depth of the fraud that is being visited on decent, ordinary folks in this and many other fine countries.

Bill Moyers of the Bill Moyers Journal on PBS is retiring.  He’s approaching 76 and that’s a grand age to be dealing with the workload and stress of a weekly television presentation.  His last Journal was broadcast on the 23rd April, a week ago today airing two really important topics.  My only regret is that I haven’t been here sufficiently long to view many more of his Journals.

William K Black

In that last broadcast on the 23rd, Bill had two key interviews.  In this Post, I want to bring to your attention his first report, which was an interview with William K Black, now an academic but, just as importantly, a former bank regulator.  William Black really understands what is going on in banking.

The interview is both fascinating and captivating because, well to me anyway, it explains in terms that us laymen can understand, exactly what is going on and why it is so terribly important that legislation and regulations are brought into force to stop this fraud ever happening again.

This interview has not yet made it’s way onto YouTube so I can only post the link to the Bill Moyers website.

But, please, if you care about what is happening to us in whatever country you live in, click on this link and watch the interview.

And if you want to watch the earlier interview that Bill Moyers had with William Black then here it is.

By Paul Handover

Why do we cheat?

Behavioral Economist concludes that most people cheat.

In a very interesting video on the website TED, Dan Ariely, Professor of Behavioral Economics at Duke University, explains his research into why people think it is okay to cheat and steal.

Here is Ariely’s presentation from YouTube:

From his research, he concludes the following:

  • A lot of people will cheat.
  • When people cheat, however, they cheat by a little, not a lot.
  • The probability of being caught is not a prime motivation for avoiding cheating.
  • If reminded of morality, people cheat less.
  • If distanced from the benefits from cheating, like using “chips” instead of actual money in transactions, people cheat more.
  • If your in-group accepts cheating, you cheat more.
Dan Ariely

I quibble with the interpretation of some of his findings, which may justify a separate post on how people perceive what they do and do not know, but there are always issues of this sort with a given research project.  Where I draw the line is when he expands his conclusions to include all of Wall Street and the stock market, which is totally beyond the scope and nature of his research.

On what basis does he draw this conclusion?  As explained in this short video (as I have not read his book, though I’ve read excerpts and am familiar with the study upon which the book is based), Ariely claims that because stocks and derivatives are not in the form of money, they “distance people from the benefits of cheating,” which leads individuals who engage in the stock market to cheat more.  He alludes to Enron as proof.

This is almost too silly to spend a lot of time on trying to discredit, but I fear that a lot of people who hear his talks or read his book may be lulled into accepting what he says about the stock market as true.  But it is not! Enron is the exception, not the rule.

Companies who issue stocks are raising money to provide a good or service that is valued by society; they are rewarded by profits.  Investors who buy and sell stocks, trade derivatives, and invest in portfolios are trying to make their money go further. They are trying to earn a return on their savings.  Cheaters do not survive in the stock market, unlike the “consequences-free” classroom in Areily’s experiment.

On the other hand, these factors are in glaring abundance in the government:  politicians never “see” the taxes they spend as the hard-earned income of the citizens. And the “benefits” of cheating, including power and privilege, are amorphous and vague, and couched in the so-called morality of “doing the greater good.”  I’m surprised Ariely does not condemn the federal government using the same logic as his does the stock market.

His last take-away from this research project?  That we find it “hard to believe that our own intuition is wrong.”

I think Dr. Ariely ought to apply that caveat to the conclusions he draws about his own research.  Very interesting, very compelling, but his interpretation of the results as they apply to the stock market falls victim to the very same biases that he claims to find in others.

by Sherry Jarrell

The GPS and the AAAs

Welcome Per Kurowski Egerström

On the 22nd March, Learning from Dogs had the pleasure of a Post from our first Guest Author, Elliot Engstrom.  We are doubly delighted to have Per Kurowski join us as our second Guest Author.

Per Kurowski

Per is a prolific blogger.  He has had a full career including serving as an Executive Director of the World Bank from 2002 until 2004 for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Spain and Venezuela.  More about Per’s life experiences can be found here.

Here is Per’s first Guest Post for Learning from Dogs.


The GPS and the AAAs

Not so long ago I asked my daughter to key in an address in the GPS and then even while I continuously heard a little voice inside me telling me I was heading in the wrong direction I ended up where I did not want to go.

Whither we are led?

Something similar caused the current financial crisis.

First the financial regulators in Basel decided that the only thing they would care about was the risk of individual financial defaults and not one iota about any other risks.

Second then, though they must have known these were humanly fallible they still empowered some few credit rating agencies to be their GPS on default risks.

Finally, by means of the minimum capital requirements for banks, they set up all the incentives possible to force them to heed what the GPS said and to ignore any internal warning voices.

Of course, almost like if planned on purpose, it all ended up in a crisis. In just a couple of years, over two trillion dollars followed some AAA signs over the precipice of badly awarded mortgages to the subprime sector. Today, we are still using the same financial risk GPS with the same keyed in instructions… and not a word about it in all recent Financial Regulatory Reform proposals

I hate the GPS type guidance of any system since I am convinced that any kid brought up with it will have no clue of what north, south, east or west means; just as the banker not knowing his client’s business or how to look into his client’s eyes or how to feel the firmness of his client’s handshake, can only end up stupidly following someone else’s opinion about his client on a stupid monitor.

I hate the GPS type guidance system because, on the margin, it is making our society more stupid as exemplified by how society, day by day, seems to be giving more importance to some opaque credit scores than to the school grades of their children. I wait in horror for some DNA health rating scores to appear and cause a total breakdown of civilization as we know it.

Yes, we are buried under massive loads of information and these systems are a tempting way of trying to make some sense out of it all, but, if we used them, at least we owe it to ourselves to concentrate all our efforts in developing our capacity to question and to respond adequately when our instincts tell us we’re heading in the wrong way.

Not all is lost though. I often order the GPS in my car to instruct me in different tongues so as to learn new languages, it gives a totally new meaning to “lost in translation”, and I eagerly await a GPS system that can describe the surroundings in more extensive terms than right or left, AAA or BBB-, since that way not only would I get more out of it but, more importantly, I would also be more inclined to talk-back.

By Per Kurowski

Let there be markets

Here’s a novel idea – make markets be markets!

I apologise for the rather trite sub-heading but it was a bit of attention grabbing to promote the results of a recent conference called Let Markets Be Markets.  It was published by the Roosevelt Institute and had one very impressive line of speakers.

One of the speakers was Simon Johnson of Baseline Scenario fame, a Blog that Learning from Dogs has followed since our inception.

Here’s 8 minutes of Simon pulling no punches.

If you want to read and watch other presentations, then Mike Konczal’s Blog Rortybomb is the place to go.

As this Blog has repeated from time to time, this present crisis is a long way from being over.

By Paul Handover