Thursday, December 8, 2011

Turning a huge ship around

Perhaps the least controversial thing one can say about the global economy is that the banksters run damn near everything and have for several decades.  One of the more interesting things that Chris Hedges said in his speech to the Occupy Harvard folks is that the reason people have moved from traditional politics to direct action is that there is no way to actually VOTE against the agenda of Goldman Sachs.

How one actually opposes a bankster agenda is another problem altogether.  If one believes such things, the Bible reports that the Prince of Peace resorted to violence to drive the moneychangers out of the temple.  Apparently, the Son of God (who had the powers to raise the dead) found the moneychangers so odious, he resorted to knocking over their tables of business (Matthew 21:12-13).  The lesson here is that anyone who can figure out a non-violent way to take on the banksters will have to be more virtuous than Christ.  Good luck with that!

But little by little, people are figuring out ways to fight back against the crazy levels of power wielded by the folks who control the money supply.  Some of these examples are so trivial I might (accurately) be accused of grasping at straws but together, I believe they demonstrate a movement in a new direction.  We shall see.

Even at the heart of Euro "prosperity" in Germany, there is talk about nationalizing a major bank.

Desperately Seeking Capital
Berlin May Have to Nationalize Giant Commerzbank
By Martin Hesse and Anne Seith   12/06/2011

Europe's banks urgently need fresh capital to meet tougher EU rules, but they will have problems raising it amid the current crisis of confidence plaguing the euro zone. The survival of Commerzbank, Germany's second-largest bank, is at stake, and Berlin is considering a full nationalization of the bank if necessary.

In the foyer of Frankfurt's Commerzbank Tower stands a Christmas tree decorated with all manner of glitter. The idea is to brighten up the gloomy mood with a bit of seasonal cheer. Next to the tree is a notice board covered with children's wish lists for the Yuletide. Most of the youngsters want computer games and other forms of amusement -- small wishes, for the most part, that can easily be fulfilled.

It will be more difficult to indulge the man sitting on the 48th floor of the building. If Commerzbank CEO Martin Blessing could make one wish, he would presumably ask for a few billion euros, or that someone would take the bank's ailing subsidiary Eurohypo off his hands, or that the entire sovereign debt crisis would simply disappear.

But banks, along with their managers and owners, are not allowed to pin their hopes on miracles. They need money, as quickly as possible. And since Commerzbank's survival is at stake once again, the major shareholder in Berlin is thinking the unthinkable: One-quarter of Germany's second-largest financial institution already belongs to the state; now the government is considering fully nationalizing the bank if necessary. 
According to government sources, if Commerzbank doesn't manage to raise sufficient capital on its own by next summer, Berlin will reactivate the Special Fund for Financial Market Stabilization (Soffin) and purchase additional shares in the bank. The sources say that they assume the government would acquire a majority of the bank's shares in a capital increase. 
But things haven't reached that stage yet -- and they won't necessarily have to, either. Commerzbank management is working round the clock to solve the problem without government aid. It's a difficult job that will mainly have to be tackled by the new Chief financial Officer, Stephan Engels, who was appointed by the supervisory board last Friday. 
If Commerzbank fails to meet the challenge, though, Blessing's days at the head of the commercial lending giant may very well be numbered. "I'm not going there again," he recently said, in reference to a government bailout of €16.2 billion ($21.7 billion) that the bank received in 2009. His statement was not well received in Berlin. more
Turns out the Russians are so fed up with bankster capitalism, they actually voted in a lot of real commies last Sunday.
A Punch in the Face for the Capitalist Way
What Really Happened in the Russian Elections

Moscow is unusually warm: the temperature refuses to dip below zero degrees Centigrade, the freezing point. Instead, it is wet and dark. The sun gets up late and goes to sleep early. To make matters worse, President Medvedev decided to keep Russia on daylight savings time throughout winter. To offset this stupid decision, Christmas illumination was turned on a month before the usual time, in order to cheer up the voters. Now it lights the way for the armoured vans of the riot police sent in to pacify the cheery electorate.

The parliamentary elections were deemed in advance as a futile and vain exercise of no practical importance. “It does not matter how you vote, what matters is how they count”, pundits said. But the results were quite impressive and they point to great changes ahead. The Russians have said to communism: “Come back, all is forgiven.” They effectively voted to restore the Soviet Union, in one form or another. Perhaps this vote will not be acted upon, but now we know – the people are disappointed with capitalism, with the low place of post-Soviet Russia in the world and with the marriage of big business and government.

If communists proved the fallacy of their ideas in 70 years, the capitalists needed only twenty years to achieve this same result, joked Maxim Kantor, a prominent modern Russian painter, writer and thinker. The twentieth anniversary of the restoration of capitalism that Russia commemorated this year was not a cause for celebration but rather for sad second thoughts. The Russians loudly regretted the course taken by their country in 1991; the failed coup of August 1991, this last ditch attempt to preserve communism, has been reassessed in a positive light, while the brave Harvard boys of yesteryear who initiated the reforms are seen as criminals. Yeltsin and Gorbachev are out, Stalin is in.

Despite the falsifications of election results (discussed below), the communists (CPRF and their splinter party the Just Russia or SR) greatly increased their share and can be considered the true winners. The ruling United Russia (ER) party suffered huge losses. A loose confederation of power-seeking individuals, it could easily fall apart. There is a distinct possibility of the communists being able to form the government; that is, if they should be asked to do so by the President.

Pro-capitalist and right-wing parties were decimated by the voters. Neoliberal Right Cause (PD), the party of choice for market believers, languished with less than one per cent of the vote. The liberal, pro-Western Apple Party (half-jokingly referred to as “the Steve Jobs party”) did not cross the electoral threshold. Many Russians think that, discounting falsifications, the communists “really” got over 50 per cent, while the ER actually got less, perhaps much less. Given the chance, the people voted for communists, as had been predicted a few months ago by VT Tretyakov, a senior Russian journalist and chief editor, during an address to a Washington DC think tank. He correctly said that in fairly honest elections, the communists will carry the day, and the liberals will be gone, and he was right. If this change of heart does not find its expression in political action, people will feel cheated. more
The people who are really fed up with neoliberal banksterism are usually those who are (or were very recently) being held up a success stories.
‘No People, No Problem’
The Baltic Tigers’ False Prophets of Austerity
DECEMBER 06, 2011

The Baltic states have discovered a new way to cut unemployment and cut budgets for social services: emigration. If enough people of working age are forced to leave to find work abroad, unemployment and social service budgets will both drop.

This simple mathematics explains what the algebra of austerity-plan advocates are applauding today as the “New Baltic Miracle” for Greece, Spain, and Italy to emulate. The reality, however, is a model predicated on economic shrinkage as a result of wage cuts. In the case of Latvia, this was some 30 per cent for Latvian public-sector employees (euphemized as “internal devaluation”). With a set of flat taxes on employment adding up to 59 per cent in Latvia (while property taxes are only 1 per cent), it would seem hard indeed to present this as a success story.

But one hears only celebratory praise from the neoliberal lobbyists whose policies have de-industrialized and stripped the Baltic economies of Lithuania and Latvia, leaving them debt-ridden and uncompetitive. It is as if their real estate collapse from bubble-level debt leveraging that left their basic infrastructure in the hands of kleptocrats, is a free market success story.

What then does a neoliberal “free market” mean?

After a half-century struggle for independence, the Balts emerged in a world where neoliberal policies were the global fashion, and where the dress code and face control were initially enforced by the world’s international financial institutions–and later even more aggressively internalized by Baltic policymakers themselves. Twenty years of neoliberal policy after emerging from Soviet rule have left the Baltics a mess. On the lead up to the 2008 global economic crisis and the world’s biggest collapses the financial press was praising the Baltic Tigers for dutifully imposing rule by bankers.

Now, after the storm has quieted in the Baltics, Anders Aslund and other apologists are at it again as they promote the Baltic model. Aslund did so most recently with his Petersen Institute banking industry funded book on Latvia’s “remarkable” rebound. The only thing he failed to mention was that Latvians were voting with their feet in record numbers. Latvians were exiting at a rate of roughly 1 per cent of the population per month in an exodus of Biblical proportions. Indeed, Latvian’s census makers were horrified when they discovered that that the country’s population had decreased from 2.3 to 1.9 million people from 2001-2011. more
India is discovering, after faithfully parroting the neoliberal line for years, that the rule by banksters doesn't work so well for her either.
India's Economic Decline Is One Of The Most Under-Reported Stories This Year
Mamta Badkar | Dec. 5, 2011

Economist Tyler Cowen tweeted, "the current economic deterioration of India is the single most important under-reported story these days…".

We've been tracking India's inflation and stock market woes for some time, so we went digging.

The Bombay Stock Exchange has been one of the world's worst performing stock markets this year. The BSE 30-share index is off 18.06% year-to-date, worse than the stock markets of other BRIC economies.

Foreign investors have been pulling out of the country all year as India continues to struggle with inflation, and investors continue to pick safe havens.

The Indian economy which gained 6.9% in the second quarter, is expected to grow 7.5% this year, according to Indian finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, against previous estimates of 9% growth. And the Indian Rupee is off 13.14% year-to-date (YTD) against the U.S. dollar, and 13.72% against the euro. The currency has been declining as inflation remains consistently high, driven up by food costs.

Inflation and capital flight are two clear factors that have hurt the Indian economy. First, inflation has stayed over 9% since December 2010, and wage inflation is also on the rise. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the country's central bank has been hiking interest rates since March 2010 to curb inflation. India's finance ministry released a statement showing that rising interest rates in part caused industrial growth to drop to 5% from April-September in the fiscal year 2011 - 2012, from 8.8% a year ago.

The higher interest rates have tightened liquidity in the Indian market over the year, and the central bank has now promised to inject liquidity through debt repurchases. Moody's recently cut India's banking sector outlook to negative, from stable: more
Even back in USA where Obama has faithfully played the role of Wall Street's toy boy, we find that he can at least SOUND like an old-fashioned Populist.  Now whether or not he believes a word he says is another matter but at least the folks around him understand that standing up to banksters is good politics.
Obama's Populism Meets the Ghost of Teddy Roosevelt
By Richard RJ Eskow   December 07, 2011

Tuesday morning Barack Obama channeled one of American history's truly transformative figures by visiting the tiny Kansas town where Teddy Roosevelt gave his "New Nationalism" speech over a century ago. It was refreshing to see the President invoke his predecessor, who was a powerful and fearless agent of change both inside and outside the White House. 
For the first time the President directly confronted the injustice of our growing economic divide, which were caused by the ongoing rapacity of the already-wealthy. He promised to take real action against the bankers who accepted our help after ruining the economy, then went on hoarding the nation's wealth for themselves at everyone else's expense. 
Teddy would have been proud. 
But echoing the populist chords of the First Progressive Era isn't without its risks. The speech that Roosevelt gave in Osawatomie, Kansas in 1910 should serve as a beacon for the President and his fellow Democrats. It also warned future leaders that there is a price to paid for promises betrayed. 
If Roosevelt's ghost had been hovering over the lectern today, no doubt it would have appreciated being remembered. But the apparition might also have repeated the words Roosevelt spoke on the same platform in 1910: 
"It is of little use for us to pay lip-loyalty to the mighty men of the past unless we sincerely endeavor to apply to the problems of the present precisely the qualities which ... enabled the men of that day to meet those crises." 
President Roosevelt fought relentlessly against the powerful financial interests of his time, who dominated the nation in pretty much the same way they dominate ours today. J. Pierpont Morgan famously offered to "send my man around to meet your man and sort it all out," but President Roosevelt didn't want to cut deals with powerful banking interests. He wanted to make them less powerful, and he got it done. 
Four years after leaving office, Roosevelt was running for President again. People back then suggested that his ideas were too extreme: A minimum wage. Women's right to vote. Direct election of Senators. An eight-hour workday. But they all came true. 
Now that's change you can believe in. And here's what Teddy Roosevelt told his Kansas audience that day.

More than one thousand bank executives were prosecuted after the Savings and Loan scandal of the 1980's under Republican President Ronald Reagan. This week's 60 Minutes report presented overwhelming evidence of criminal behavior at the major banks. The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission provided a wealth of evidence suggested criminal acts, as did the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations. I analyzed information about leading executives at my former employer, AIG, that also seemed to suggest blatant illegal activity. 
Yet, up to now, not one senior executive at a major financial institution has been prosecuted. There is no excuse for the Obama Administration's failure to prosecute anyone. 
Teddy Roosevelt told the citizens of Osawatomie that "I believe that the officers, and, especially, the directors, of corporations should be held personally responsible when any corporation breaks the law." 
Personally responsible, the man said. 
Meanwhile the Obama Justice Department sits idly by as the SEC continues to let major corporations pay slap-on-the-wrist fines for executive criminality - fines that are often paid by the same shareholders they deceived - while "neither admitting nor denying wrongdoing."

"No man should receive a dollar unless that dollar has been fairly earned," said Roosevelt. "Every dollar received should represent a dollar's worth of service rendered-not gambling in stocks, but service rendered." 
Today the financial sector is once again earning nearly 40 percent of the nation's corporate profits, and much of that income is earned by gambling in ways Roosevelt and his contemporaries couldn't have imagined. 
As for "services rendered," there's not much of that going on. Lending remains at low levels, despite all the low-interest loans and other money-generating perks the banks have been given. more

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