I'm going to be Istanbul next week, so I won't be here to vote. I'm not going to fill out an absentee ballot, though. I'm not voting. Deliberately. The election won't do anything but secure a false sense of connectedness from those who do vote to the oligarchy that continues to exploit us.
I'm not saying voting doesn't matter. It does--to the pundits who want to talk about it, the networks who amp their ratings through it, the ad makers who collect the money poured in to the campaigns, the corps with enough money to buy their members of congress (who seem to get more expensive the more worthless they become).
Voting matters to all those circulating facebook injunctions to vote, telling us to tell our students to vote. Really? We should lie to them and try to get them to feel that this is change they can believe in? That their choices between fascists, oligarchs, and idiots are choices about what's best for the country? No.
The guy running for re-election in my district is a bad guy blue dog. He's running against a far right nut job. Blue dogs are already hurting the Democrats. No surprise there--they are basically Republicans who caucus with Democrats in order to screw them. I'm not going to hold my nose and vote for him this time. I prefer not to vote at all. No candidate for me, no vote. The dominant choices for governor are Andrew Cuomo and a nut job--the homophobe who emails people porn. Cuomo is pledging more tax cuts. Really? Like that will help NY schools and strapped communities? What about dealing with extreme inequality of wealth in the state? I bet a tax increase of five or ten percent won't even be felt by some of the hedge fund guys down on Wall Street. But their tax dollars would certainly help the rest of us--in the form of schools where kids can learn, roads where we can drive, programs that can provide for the less well off.
If I thought we could get some of this by voting, I'd vote. I've given voting quite a few chances, though, and, get this, things are only getting worse. The more we vote, the worse it gets. Now this could be a correlation rather than causation. But if voting is what has gotten the criminals into office and given them the chance to plunder and exploit, then why should we think that voting will do something different?
Doing nothing would be better--especially if it became a mass strike.
Standing around would be better--especially if it became a rally or a march.
t’s a perfect storm. And I’m not talking about the impending dangers facing Democrats. I’m talking about the dangers facing our democracy.
First, income in America is now more concentrated in fewer hands than it’s been in 80 years. Almost a quarter of total income generated in the United States is going to the top 1 percent of Americans.
The top one-tenth of one percent of Americans now earn as much as the bottom 120 million of us.
Who are these people? With the exception of a few entrepreneurs like Bill Gates, they’re top executives of big corporations and Wall Street, hedge-fund managers, and private equity managers. They include the Koch brothers, whose wealth increased by billions last year, and who are now funding tea party candidates across the nation.
Which gets us to the second part of the perfect storm. A relatively few Americans are buying our democracy as never before. And they’re doing it completely in secret.
Hundreds of millions of dollars are pouring into advertisements for and against candidates — without a trace of where the dollars are coming from. They’re laundered through a handful of groups. Fred Malek, whom you may remember as deputy director of Richard Nixon’s notorious Committee to Reelect the President (dubbed Creep in the Watergate scandal), is running one of them. Republican operative Karl Rove runs another. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a third.
The Supreme Court’s Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission made it possible. The Federal Election Commission says only 32 percent of groups paying for election ads are disclosing the names of their donors. By comparison, in the 2006 midterm, 97 percent disclosed; in 2008, almost half disclosed.
We’re back to the late 19th century when the lackeys of robber barons literally deposited sacks of cash on the desks of friendly legislators. The public never knew who was bribing whom.
Just before it recessed the House passed a bill that would require that the names of all such donors be publicly disclosed. But it couldn’t get through the Senate. Every Republican voted against it. (To see how far the GOP has come, nearly ten years ago campaign disclosure was supported by 48 of 54 Republican senators.)
Here’s the third part of the perfect storm. Most Americans are in trouble. Their jobs, incomes, savings, and even homes are on the line. They need a government that’s working for them, not for the privileged and the powerful.
Yet their state and local taxes are rising. And their services are being cut. Teachers and firefighters are being laid off. The roads and bridges they count on are crumbling, pipelines are leaking, schools are dilapidated, and public libraries are being shut.
There’s no jobs bill to speak of. No WPA to hire those who can’t find jobs in the private sector. Unemployment insurance doesn’t reach half of the unemployed.
Washington says nothing can be done. There’s no money left.
No money? The marginal income tax rate on the very rich is the lowest it’s been in more than 80 years. Under President Dwight Eisenhower (who no one would have accused of being a radical) it was 91 percent. Now it’s 36 percent. Congress is even fighting over whether to end the temporary Bush tax cut for the rich and return them to the Clinton top tax of 39 percent.
Much of the income of the highest earners is treated as capital gains, anyway — subject to a 15 percent tax. The typical hedge-fund and private-equity manager paid only 17 percent last year. Their earnings were not exactly modest. The top 15 hedge-fund managers earned an average of $1 billion.
Congress won’t even return to the estate tax in place during the Clinton administration – which applied only to those in the top 2 percent of incomes.
It won’t limit the tax deductions of the very rich, which include interest payments on multi-million dollar mortgages. (Yet Wall Street refuses to allow homeowners who can’t meet mortgage payments to include their primary residence in personal bankruptcy.)
There’s plenty of money to help stranded Americans, just not the political will to raise it. And at the rate secret money is flooding our political system, even less political will in the future.
The perfect storm: An unprecedented concentration of income and wealth at the top; a record amount of secret money flooding our democracy; and a public becoming increasingly angry and cynical about a government that’s raising its taxes, reducing its services, and unable to get it back to work.
We’re losing our democracy to a different system. It’s called plutocracy.
My seminar this year is on affect. There was a lot I needed to read (still is, more than I will ever be able to read, even if everyone stops writing right now), so it seemed like a good idea. This week: Parables of the Virtual. Massumi writes:
The first rule of thumb if you want to invent or reinvent concepts is simple: don't apply them. If you apply a concept or system of connection between concepts, it is the material you apply to it to that undergoes change, much more markedly than do the concepts. The change is imposed upon the material by the concepts' systematicity and constitutes a becoming homologous of the material to the system. This is all very grim. It has less to do with 'more to the world' than 'more of the same.' It has less to do with invention than mastery and control.
This passage caught me because of the work I've been doing on the idea of communism (obviously incited by Badiou and Zizek). I think Massumi is wrong on his own terms to say that the concept doesn't undergo a change through its application--this actually seems a necessary and unavoidable effect of feedback, the process of thinking, etc. That said, communism seems to me to be a concept that explicitly avows the change it imposes on its material (and maybe disavows the change effected on itself, a disavowal which calls out for remedy). For communism, this isn't grim at all. And it's definitely not more of the same. It's a cut through invention, mastery, and control that attempts to reconfigure and rearrange them.
The post below is excerpted from a brilliant post by K-punk, "The Great Bullingdon Club Swindle." Read the whole thing here. Wikipedia says that the Bullingdon club is an exclusive Oxford club for the very, very rich. And, if you haven't already, be sure to read Mark's book, Capitalist Realism.
The Bullingdon Club has pushed Doublethink to new limits with its mantric repetition of the ludicrous claim that it was New Labour policy, rather than the bank bail-outs, that was responsible for the massive deficit. The strategy seems to be to employ the illocutionary power of repetition - if they keep saying it, then it will have been true. The Bullingdon boys are working a mass hypnosis trick, forcing through shock doctrine measures while the population are still in a kind of post-crash trance. But where, previously, neoliberals had used the crises in other political systems (state socialism, social democracy) as an opportunity to helicopter in their 'reforms', on this occasion they are using a crisis brought about by neoliberal policy itself to try to electro-shock the neoliberal programme back into life. I heard one buffoon on television saying that "we've been in denial for the last ten years". If there's denial, it's happened in the last two years, and on the part of the neoliberals and their friends in the business elite, who - after demanding at gunpoint unprecedented sums of public money - are now brazenly continuing to peddle the story that they are the friend of the taxpayer and that it is welfare claimants, not them, who are the scroungers who have brought the country to the "brink of bankruptcy". In what must surely be the most astonishing bait and switch in British parliamentary history, the victims of neoliberal policy - public services and the poor - are now being asked (or rather forced) to pay for the manifest and total failure of that policy.
But the most breathtaking aspect of the Bullingdon swindle is the "we're all in this together" slogan, rightly described by Seumas Milne as "preposterous". What we're seeing now is the Terminator of Capital with its neoliberal-managerialist mask wrecked, and the Big Society (Victoriana 2.0) ruse not convincing anyone. The doughy, fat-of-the-land face of privilege now shows itself openly, exuding the emollient manner of noblesse oblige, but without any sense of obligation. What survives is pure ideological reflex, the decorticated Terminator blindly blasting at its usual tragets: public services, welfare, the arts. It's folk economic faux-wisdom ("if a household overspends, we know that we have to give up things we'd rather keep") that is providing the smokescreen for this ideological assault. Myths and deliberately cultivated misapprehensions abound: judging from all the rhetoric, you'd think that education and the arts were drains on the economy, rather than the highly successful "businesses" that they in fact function as.
...this is definitely not the time to recline into the leftist version of capitalist realism, the defeatist counterpart to the Bullingdon club's bullishness. Now is the time to organise and agitate. The cuts can provide a galvanising focus for an anti-capitalist campaign that can succeed. Protests in these conditions won't have the hubristic impotence of anti-capitalist 'feelgood feelbad' carnivals and kettles. This is shaping up to be a bitter struggle, but there are specific, determinate and winnable goals that can be achieved here: it isn't a question of taking a peashooter to the juggernaut of capital.
The UK, the first capitalist country, is the world capital of apathy, diffidence and reflexive impotence. But it is also a country that periodically explodes into rage. Beneath todays's ideological trance, beneath the capitalist realist hopelessness, an anger simmers here that it is our task to focus and co-ordinate. Public displays of rage can play an enormously significant role in shifting the symbolic terrain that is currently governed by capitalist realism.
The "we're all in this together" slogan may turn out to be a phrase that comes to haunt the Tories in the way that "Labour isn't working" dogged Labour for a generation. Classlessness might have seemed plausible for a moment when fronted by John Major, who didn't go to university, or by Tony Blair, the poster boy for (leftist) post-political administration. But that moment has long passed, and cuts of this kind being forced through by a cabinet of aristocrats and millionaires make brutally apparent a class antagonism that the New Labour government obfuscated. Whenever the ruling class tells us that "we're all on the same side", it is a sure sign that we can hurt them. Similarly, the current media phobia about unions is an indication of the power that they have at this time. History is starting again, which means that nothing is fixed and there are no guarantees. Right wing victory is only inevitable if we think that it is.
Below is a draft of the paper I'm giving in Istanbul the first week of November.
There are a couple of immediate problems: section four doesn't tie back into the rest of the argument as well as it should; section five verges on being rather cryptic and devicey. And, the paper is too long.
Unfortunately, it's due today with the translators and, well, I've spent about 35 hours on it over the last five days and I'm burned out. There are some folks who seem remarkably good at writing unbelievable amounts of really good material in a short period of time. I admire (and envy) them. It seems like they are writing great blog posts, book reviews, articles, giving lectures, and holding onto their day jobs with remarkable agility and finesse (these may not be the best advantages but I don't think I've ever used them on this blog so they felt kinda fresh).
Oh well, enough whining and excuses (or maybe not enough: I could also berate the extent to which I refurbish components of other papers, posts, and article in the attached piece; the thing is, it actually feels like I am making something different, that the recombination is leading further rather than just going around in circles. At least that's what I tell myself).
BY COLIN NISSAN
I don't know about you, but I can't wait to get my hands on some fucking gourds and arrange them in a horn-shaped basket on my dining room table. That shit is going to look so seasonal. I'm about to head up to the attic right now to find that wicker fucker, dust it off, and jam it with an insanely ornate assortment of shellacked vegetables. When my guests come over it's gonna be like, BLAMMO! Check out my shellacked decorative vegetables, assholes. Guess what season it is—fucking fall. There's a nip in the air and my house is full of mutant fucking squash.
I may even throw some multi-colored leaves into the mix, all haphazard like a crisp October breeze just blew through and fucked that shit up. Then I'm going to get to work on making a beautiful fucking gourd necklace for myself. People are going to be like, "Aren't those gourds straining your neck?" And I'm just going to thread another gourd onto my necklace without breaking their gaze and quietly reply, "It's fall, fuckfaces. You're either ready to reap this freaky-assed harvest or you're not."
There’s been plenty of recent media attention to the prospect of investor lawsuits over fraudulent mortgages and mortgage securities. But investor lawsuits against mortgage servicers could be even more damaging than these other lines of legal inquiry. The four largest banks hold nearly half a trillion dollars worth of second-lien mortgages on their books—loans that could be decimated if investors successfully target improper mortgage servicing operations. The result would be major trouble for the financial system. The result would be major trouble for too-big-to-fail behemoths.
Mortgage servicers are the banking industry’s debt collectors. They accept payments and forward them along to investors who own mortgage securities-- servicers themselves don’t actually own the mortgages they handle. This is a recipe for trouble for a variety of reasons, but one of the biggest problems is the fact that the nation’s four largest banks also operate the four largest mortgage servicers. Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup service about half of all mortgages in the United States. They also have multi-trillion-dollar businesses whose interests often conflict with those of mortgage security investors.
The most glaring conflicts involve second-lien mortgages. Much of the foreclosuregate coverage has focused on first-liens—ordinary mortgages that people take out when they want to buy a home. But during the housing bubble, banks frequently sold second-lien mortgages in an effort to cash-in on inflated home prices. If you’ve had a mortgage for a few years, and paid down $30,000 of your home’s value, a bank might try to sell you a new $30,000 loan, backed by the equity you’ve accumulated in your house by paying your first mortgage.
In fact, banks were much more aggressive than this. Usually homeowners have to put up a certain amount of money up-front when they buy a house—this is the down-payment. But the profits available from mortgage securitization were tempting. Banks could issue a mortgage, sell it off to investors, and not have to worry about any potential losses. So banks got around down-payments by selling a second-lien mortgage at the same time they sold the ordinary first mortgage. The second-lien would be used to pay the down-payment on the first lien.
This is a neat trick, but if home values decline just a tiny bit, the second lien mortgage becomes almost immediately worthless. If a borrower can’t pay the first lien, the second lien is wiped out entirely. Similarly, if a bank modifies a first lien to lower a borrower’s overall debt burden, the second lien is also wiped out.
That’s a big deal, because even when home prices have declined dramatically, losses from foreclosure on first liens only eat up about 58 percent of the value of the loan, according to Valparaiso University Law Professor Alan White. The second lien, by contrast, is 100 percent gone.
The fact that four giant banks own almost half a trillion dollars of second-lien mortgages makes things very tricky. If a borrower gets into trouble on a first-lien mortgage, the mortgage servicer has three options. It can 1) foreclose, or 2) offer a loan modification that reduces the borrower’s overall debt burden (principal reduction), or 3) tweak the payment plan, charge some immediate late fees, and try to keep the borrower paying on the current debt level (extending the life of the loan, forgiving missed payments, lowering the interest rate).
If either of the first two are adopted, the second lien is wiped out. If the third option is pursued, the bank buys an extra few months of payments for the second lien. When the payment plan proves unsustainable, the bank can work out a new payment plan with the borrower, and hope for the best. This third tack often proves destructive for both borrowers and the first-lien owners. Tweaking payment plans can exhaust a borrowers’ savings and makes them unable to afford a meaningful loan modification. At the same time, it can generate fees for the servicer that investors ultimately pay for.
Many investors believe that banks are servicing first-lien mortgages for the benefit of second-liens. That’s because the megabank servicers own the second liens, while mortgage security investors own the first liens. This is a conflict-of-interest. A servicer is supposed to maximize the value of the first-lien for the investor. But it's conceivable that servicers--JPMorgan Chase, BofA, Citi, Wells Fargo-- are systematically screwing over both borrowers and investors in order to maximize profits on second-lien mortgages that are, by any reasonable economic analysis, already worthless.
At the Party congress, which takes place every eight years or so, the new central executive – the nine members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo – is presented as a fait accompli. The selection procedure involves complex behind the scenes negotiations; the assembled delegates, who are not told ahead of time who will be put forward, are formally invited to vote on the selection, but invariably give it their unanimous approval. The most powerful figure in the Party as a rule (but not always) takes three titles: president of the republic, general secretary of the Party, and chairman of the Central Military Commission (the head of the military). The latter two titles are much more important than the first. The People’s Liberation Army is a thoroughly politicised entity, following Mao’s motto that ‘the Party commands the gun.’ In bourgeois states, the army is supposed to be apolitical, a neutral force protecting the constitutional order; for the Chinese Communists, such a depoliticised army would be the greatest threat imaginable, since the army is their guarantee that the state will remain subordinated to the Party. If it is to function, such a structure has to rely on a delicate balance between force and protocol. Because the Party acts outside the law, a complex set of unwritten rules govern how one is expected to follow Party decisions.
The notion of the Party-state cannot do justice to the complexities of 20th-century Communism: there is always a gap between Party and state, and the Party functions as the state’s shadowy double. Dissenters call for a new politics of distance from the state, but they don’t recognise that the Party is this distance: it embodies a fundamental distrust of the state, its organs and mechanisms, as if they needed to be controlled, kept in check, at all times. A true 20th-century Communist never fully accepts the state: he accepts the need for an agency, immune to the law, which has the power to supervise the state’s activities.
This model will, of course, be criticised as being non-democratic. The ethico-political preference for a democratic model in which parties are – formally, at least – subordinate to state mechanisms falls into the trap of the ‘democratic fiction’. It ignores the fact that, in a ‘free’ society, domination and servitude are located in the ‘apolitical’ economic sphere of property and managerial power. The Party’s distance from state apparatuses and its ability to act without legal constraint afford a unique possibility: ‘illegal’ activity can be undertaken not only in the interest of the market but – sometimes – in the interest of the workers too. For example, when the 2008 financial crisis hit China, the instinctive reaction of the Chinese banks was to follow the cautious approach of Western banks, radically cutting back on lending to companies wishing to expand. Informally (no law legitimised this), the Party simply ordered the banks to release credit, and thus succeeded – for the time being – in sustaining the growth of the Chinese economy. To take another example, Western governments complain that their industries cannot compete with the Chinese in producing green technology, since Chinese companies get financial support from their government. But what’s wrong with that? Why doesn’t the West simply follow China and do the same?
But China is no Singapore (neither, for that matter, is Singapore): it is not a stable country with an authoritarian regime that guarantees harmony and keeps capitalism under control. Every year, thousands of rebellions by workers, farmers and minorities have to be put down by the police and the army. No wonder official propaganda insists obsessively on the notion of the harmonious society: this very excess bears witness to the opposite, to the threat of chaos and disorder. One should bear in mind the basic rule of Stalinist hermeneutics: since the official media do not openly report trouble, the most reliable way to detect it is to look out for compensatory excesses in state propaganda: the more ‘harmony’ is celebrated, the more chaos and antagonism there is in reality. China is barely under control. It threatens to explode.