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Michael Winship: That’s No Angry Mob, It’s a Movement

(Photo by Robin Holland)

Below is an article by JOURNAL senior writer Michael Winship. We welcome your comments below.

That’s No Angry Mob, It’s a Movement
By Michael Winship

A college friend of mine, after much quaffing from the keg, so to speak, would start singing a faux hymn that began, “We are sliding into sin – whee!”

I’ve thought of his bleary tune from time to time as we all watched our financial institutions slide from thoughtless, wretched excess into calamity, aided and abetted by deregulation and bailouts, dragging the rest of us along on their speed bump-free ride.

You’d think there would be a modicum of contrition but mostly it has been deny, deny, deny combined with shivers of revulsion as an angry citizenry freely expresses its opinion. Former Clinton SEC chairman Arthur Levitt sniffed to THE WALL STREET JOURNAL this week, “It has reached extremes of incivility that are intolerable,” and on Friday the JOURNAL editorially wrung its hands over “political Torquemadas” who would dare to prosecute Wall Street executives.

See here, you people, the seemingly dumfounded elite ask, why all this hollering? Well, it wasn’t only those AIG bonuses that had folks mad as hell. For sure, they triggered the outburst last week. But then came an ABC News report that JPMorgan Chase – recipient of 25 billion in bailout bucks, courtesy of taxpayers – was pressing ahead with plans to spend $138 million dollars on two new corporate jets and a place to park them – a state of the art hangar with a “vegetated roof garden.” Presumably, bank executives will use the vegetation to hide behind when the mob arrives with tar and feathers.

And speaking of greenery, Wednesday’s NEW YORK TIMES reported that last year 25 top hedge fund managers harvested salaries totaling 11.6 billion dollars. That’s an awful lot of lettuce in these hungry times, especially when, as the TIMES calculates, hedge funds have lost an average 18 percent of their value.

By Thursday, Treasury Secretary Geithner was talking tough to Congress. He called for a vast expansion of government authority, promising to crack down on Wall Street’s reckless behavior, including the murky markets of hedge funds and derivatives. He proposed “comprehensive reform – not modest repairs at the margin, but new rules of the game.”

But veteran Washington journalist Wllliam Greider, who has covered government, politics and the economy for four decades, fears that what Geithner and the Obama administration are proposing may not create reform but simply perpetuate more of the same and even lead to the creation of what he calls “a corporate state… a rather small but very powerful circle of financial institutions... Yes, watched closely by the Federal Reserve and others in government, but also protected by them. And that's a really insidious departure.”

He expressed his concern to my colleague Bill Moyers in an interview for the current edition of BILL MOYERS JOURNAL on PBS. Greider agrees with most experts that the Geithner plan will end up placing reform in the hands of the Federal Reserve Board.

Twenty years ago, Greider wrote Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country, still considered the definitive account of the government bank. “One of the attractive qualities about the Fed is that it is this black box of technocratic expertise,” he told Moyers. “And it knows things the rest of us don't know. And it's very expert at what it does… But it's a political institution. It makes public decisions for the rest of us. So to pretend that it's above all that is nonsense from the beginning...

“They couldn’t stop deregulation,” he continued. “In fact, they supported it, because they knew their major constituencies in finance and banking were all very much for it... So to tell them now ‘Wouldn’t you like to just admit your mistake and put back some of the collateral lending functions into your control?’ I don’t trust them to do that.”

What we ought to be seeking, Greider believes, “is creating a new financial and banking system, of many more, thousands more, smaller, more diverse, regionally dispersed banks and investment firms. The first obligation is to serve the economy and serve society. Not the other way around.

As for President Obama, “I understand his political dilemma. And I sympathize with it. But he's trying to govern by convincing people that we will be able to get the old good times back. And my view is that the good times ain't comin' back. For lots of reasons – including the ecological crisis and global warming and the weakness of our economy. This is the hard part. The sooner the country comes to terms with that, acknowledges it as fact, not just fear, then we can start this great era of reform and revitalizing the country and society.”

In his new book, Come Home, America: The Rise and Fall (and Redeeming Promise) of Our Country, William Greider sees the public’s anger as good news for the country – “America the Possible,” he calls it.

“We're at a break point in our history,” he said. “And it's not just the financial system, although that's front and center. It's the deteriorated economy, it's militarism looking out in the world, trying to find the next war. It's a lot of things coming at us, all at once. I believe, on the other side of all of these adversities, we can become a better country.

But to make that happen, Greider thinks, “People at large, I don't care whether they're middle class or upper class or working poor or union, non-union, have to find ways to come together themselves, perhaps in very small groups at first, and talk about their own stuff. Their experiences, their ideas their convictions, their aspirations for the country, themselves, their families, and then broaden out a bit, laterally. And have more people in the discussion. They don't have to become a giant organization, but they have to convince themselves that they're citizens…

“That's kind of the mystery of democracy. People get power if they believe they're entitled to power.”

Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Michael Winship are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.


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Comments

What do you think concerning adding some more pics? No offence, blog is really nice. But according to the scientists visitors acquire information much more effective if they see some helpful illustrations.

Stacy Drawledge
cell phone jammer

I think that we should pull back are troops from the war in Afganistan.

I recently came across your post and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that it caught my interest and you've provided informative points. I will visit this blog often. Thank you.

If one asks what is the best insurance, my answer is to be safe and careful. respect the law of the road, wear a seatbelt. drive slow.

M. Winship sorry I missed your original blog post as I have wondered why more actual info is not covered on Paulson's demand for $700 Billion in small un-marked bills in 24 hrs. or the country collapses.

Marcus thanks for renewing this post.

Prof. Levy Apr 06 2am I too have wondered about financial crisis & the DNC denyinf FL primary votes--no one seems interested!

PBS's FRONTLINE's "The Warning" by Michael Kirk aired Oct. 20, 09 & proved Greenspan & co. knew of the great risk to out country 10 yrs. ago when LTCM melted & the FED forced banks to pony up almost 4 trillion to cover up. Greenspan defeated Chairman B. Born of the CFTC at the time in her effort to expose the risk to Congress & he felt FRAUD should be left alone for the market to deal with. They dealt alright & tried to take trillions of tax dollars.

Watch the show for your own evaluation, but Treason is not to light a word!

Billy Bob, Florida

Cool blog you got here. It would be great to read something more about this matter.

Some world "leader" (?) said the US will be taken down without a shot being fired?

Excellent assessment.

Thanks, Stef

With all that is going on in America why so few protests. Have American lost the ability to move towards collective action to deal with there anger!

Ed Crump has obtained a parade permit allowing NC citizens to protest non-transparency in the bailout and the "too big to fail" assumption. Y'all come on out before 2pm Saturday, April 11, to beautiful Union Square in Hickory, NC. Go to anewwayforward.org to sign up. You can get Ed's email address there if you want to help out. He welcomes all peaceful and orderly concerned citizens. restroom facilities and plenty of parking will be available. Help America formulate a fair and viable economic policy, and don't depend on the crooks in Washington and Charlotte. This is the only anewwayforward protest in western NC: Only 9 days away.

adding insult to injury - -

[ Washington Looks to AIG's Greenberg For Help

By Michael Weisskopf / Washington

Thursday, Apr. 02, 2009

Maurice (Hank) Greenberg has said that all he ever wanted in life was "an unfair advantage," an insurance man's credo that propelled American International Group into a global powerhouse. Greenberg grew up with the now infamous company, becoming a world business power who dined with heads of state and influenced international trade policy — until risk caught up to him four years ago. An accounting scandal forced him to step down from his beloved company.
Now, the odds may be working in Greenberg's favor again. The reported recklessness and greed of his successors at AIG have overshadowed any wrongdoing he is alleged to have committed. Since AIG's collapse last September, sources tell TIME, Greenberg has worked with the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department on a plan to rebuild the company. And, today, the 84-year-old tycoon is scheduled to appear as the star witness at a House Oversight Committee hearing on AIG's fall and its economic repercussions. A committee aide called him "an investigative asset" who can further understanding of what happened to the corporate colossus that has received $170 billion in government bailout funds. ( See the five lessons to learn from the AIG bonus blowup.)
Greenberg is not likely to escape tough questions. It was Greenberg, after all, who supervised Joseph Cassano, chief of AIG's Financial Products (FP) unit whose sales of uncollateralized credit default swaps brought down the company. Rep. Peter Welch, a Vermont Democrat and committee member, blamed Greenberg for "allowing a culture to develop that completely contradicted the insurance company ethic of limiting risk." Greenberg, Welch said, is trying to redeem his reputation on grounds that "he was out the door before the roof fell in."
The lucrative swaps — they insured banks against losses on loans backed by mortgage securities — began on Greenberg's watch. But he is likely to argue that only after his ouster in March 2005 did the company's troubled FP unit fail to put up sufficient collateral to cover potential losses from the increasing number of loans backed by subprime mortgages. That way, he told TIME in a recent interview, "You want to make sure you don't have any unexpected surprises down the road."
Greenberg is more eager to talk about the future. Instead of the government's plan to sell off parts of AIG, he believes the quickest way for taxpayers to recoup billions in federal bailout money is to rebuild the company. "Get AIG back so that it is a taxpayer and an employer again," he said.
The hearing will be a reduced stage for a man once wined, dined and courted by congressional leaders and Presidents — nearly all Republican — and backed by a large lobbying apparatus in Washington. He will appear not as a genius of finance but as the deposed chairman of a defamed colossus who still faces a civil lawsuit by the New York attorney general's office over accounting issues.
But at a time when Congress is looking for scalps to pay for corporate misdeeds, the fact that Greenberg was invited as an expert — not a corporate villain — is a measure of his redemption.
"There are only handful of people who understand the workings of the global financial system as well as Greenberg," a Democratic committee staffer said. "He can provide some very valuable insight into what went wrong worldwide in the current financial crisis and how it can be fixed and what the government ought to do to stabilize things." ]

--------

This is NOT 'rocket science' or something as cerebral as the 'Theory Of Relativity', for God's sake !!!!!!

This is as OUTRAGEOUS as asking one of the CROOKS to help solve a CRIME, because ''he is the only one who knows how the game is played'' !!!!!!!!!!!

From this and all the other government manoeurings attempted in the last few months, there is ABSOLUTELY NO DOUBT that Washington is in-bed-with Wallstreet - -

GOD - HELP - US - ALL !!!!!!!!!

this was last week - - -

[ IBM draws criticism for job cuts, outsourcing (CNN) -- IBM's reported plans to lay off thousands ( 5000! ) of U.S. workers and outsource many of those jobs to India, even as the company angles for billions in stimulus money, doesn't sit well with employee rights advocates."In the research we've done working with the transition team, we know that $30 billion could create 1 million jobs in the next 12 months," IBM CEO Sam Palmisano said in January.]
[ IBM says CEO Palmisano's 2008 pay valued at nearly $21M, barely higher than previous year ]

How much money will it take to satisfy the GREED of this Corporate Pigs who lay off workers to push their bottom-line ever higher ??!!


this is from today [3/31/'09] - -

[Critics slam Microsoft bridge as waste of stimulus money
By Patrick Oppmann, CNN
REDMOND, Washington (CNN) -- Should a bridge that would connect two campuses at Microsoft's headquarters be funded with $11 million from the federal stimulus package?]

This is beyond o-u-t-r-a-g-e-o-u-s; the question is, how much INSULT to INJURY will these Corporate Traitors & Thieves keep on subjecting the citizens of this country to ?

And how come, the majority of the MSM [except for CNN] doen't even mention this in today's news ??

And Prez Obama, what are you going to do about 'Corporate-Behaviour' like this ?? How about ELIMINATING all H1B Visas, until the economy recovers ??? That will be the least you can do.

Hey Republicans, where the hell is your ''patriotic'' machismo posturing in support of the white-collar workers ??? Oh I forgot, that is only for 'Big Business', I suppose !!!!!!!!

Michael Winship: We are organizing a demonstration under thewayforward in Hickory, NC because the charlotte police are to dangerous for peaceful citizens to confront. We call it "Taking a Hickory to Bad Economic Policy". If anyone in NC wants to come out and participate and confer April 11th the contact guy is Ed Crump (link on thewayforward site. He is applying for a permit to demonstrate tomorrow. Thanks to Winship, Moyers and Greider for the information.

The very "fabric of society" (the name of a college textbook) seems to really be the issue.

An example of the problem is the call to "restructure" the automobile industry which seems likely to result in continued production of inefficient cars, albeit cars loaded with electric motors and batteries. Similarly the call to restructure the electric grid will result in perpetuation of our system of massive centralized power plants designed to waste much more heat energy than the electric energy actually delivered. And we as a society seem to be poised to be taken in by these kinds of deception.

The fact that we are willing to print money to buy our way out of the conspiratorial use of our financial system that foisted bad debt on unsuspecting, but greedy investors, gives me the sense that there is not a lot of interest in making the financial system into a straight operating backbone. This impression is further supported by the fact that the loan sharking credit card system has yet to be recognized as the next slimy disaster which will hit us in the face. And we as a society only notice the impending disasters after they blow up.

So how might this society get into a high minded mode and actually be willing to sacrifice present wealth, real or imaginary, to fix a climate problem that is nowhere near as obvious as loss of retirement savings or unemployment?

Ever the optimist, I like to hope there is an answer based on innovation. I imagine that Pres. Obama was thinking similarly when he exhorted us to better motivate people away from occupations in the financial industry, and into "engineering, science, teaching --." Who can deny that the financial industry that bilked the world out of such yet to be known trillions of dollars was innovative? So maybe creativity needs to be motivated in the right direction? Ultimately this may be the answer and government and influential people could help make this shift.

But there is more to turning us into an innovative people. Certainly, innovation is different to different beholders, but there seems to be something in human nature that is very resistant to change. Since it is one of my main interests, the way this works out in the auto industry is an area I can readily discuss. But it is only an example.

A present topic in the forefront is the call for restructuring of the auto industry in order to justify great financial infusions. But really, few seem to understand that restructuring to go ahead and make the same basic products is not going to fix things. In this regard, resistance to change is the same as attachment to tradition.

But the world auto industry is sinking under the weight of 100 years of tradition. From the original horseless carriage, there have been a variety of refinements, but few real innovations. We still have the four wheeled box and we have come to love it. Each year we put a cute new outfit on it. Sometimes we get really brave and put an electric motor in it with batteries, and thus copy technology that is about as old as the original horseless carriage. Toyota showed that the basic car could be refined substantially, but the USA companies seem unable to get the idea. Rather, they would prefer to put electric motors in Yukons and continue to please us and to make the big profits. Pretending to innovate is a lot cheaper than really doing so.

Where might we take this? We worked the motorcycle quite well, added a side car, put three wheels on it, and added some fairings and protective bars from time to time. Some really good aerodynamics has been added with the Aptera being a good example of that (see http://www.aptera.com). But it is still a motorcycle. Still this is the best innovation we seem to be capable of accomplishing. The "we" here is not only the major auto industry. They still cringe at anything that violates the current auto fashion statement, and so does the car buying public in overwhelming numbers.

Sufficient restructuring would take a mighty effort on the part of both industry and the public. Together we need to think far outside the four wheeled box. The Aptera is a move in the right direction, but it seems to only be a start. It is hard to know how things will turn out in the end, but the right answer might look more like the Miastrada car which is roughly discussed at http://www.miastrada.com. What a change it would be for GM to retool to build something this different. But then maybe we would have a US product worthy of our industrial capacity.

The Miastrada represents innovation, as does the Aptera to a lesser extent. Either could represent 90% solutions, that 90% being the reduction in CO2 per mile driven. In contrast, the Volt is an example of trickery and deceit that will end in greater use of coal with more CO2, and with higher electric power prices. Things will look good for a while since a lot of Volts will help hold down the price of oil. The climate issue will only come back to haunt us later.

By the above discussion I have tried to show that there is a need for critical thinking about innovation. Of course it represents my point of view which includes self interest, that being my promotion of a plan based on the Miastrada car. That plan should be subject to as much criticism as I have given to the US auto industry products, and it should come based on financial considerations as well as engineering and scientific values.

I am hopeful that there is something in my thinking that will help strengthen that "fabric of society."

The Change ! The bigger and deeper whole! The real change!

Upon Reading the American Recovery and Reinvesting Act of January 15, 2009
the “bonus payments of $218 millions was only drop in the bucket.”
Only tyrants, dictators on rampage of corruption, would approve such a bill.
It is full of earmarks and pork-barrel projects. The appropriation of funds for the
“bridge to nowhere” does not even come close in respect to this Act. I am even doubtful
that the Congress or the Senate even read it before they approved it.
I believe that the people should read this ACT at:

http://appropriations.house.gov/pdf/RecoveryBill01-15-09.pdf

If there was ever a need and time for the people to “AMMEND the CONSTITUTION,”
the people to be empowered to express their “WILL on ALL ISSUESS,” that time is now!
“That’s No Angry Mob, It’s a Movement.” I agree with you. If it is not It should be!

If not the federal reserve board..then who??? Congress? that sounds like the worse of 2 options, besides as political winds change so could they vote to dereguate again..By the way that was a great segment, however, it added more questions to my ever expanding list...

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