Posts Tagged “USA”

08w14:2 Immanuel Wallerstein's Commentary for 1 April 2008

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Immanuel Wallerstein’s Commentary No. 230

“Wall Street is Really Predicated on Greed”

It is not I who is saying that Wall Street is really predicated on greed, but Stephen Raphael. And who is Stephen Raphael? He is a former member of the Board of Bear Stearns, the Wall Street bank that collapsed last month. And where did Raphael say this? In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, which is more or less the house journal of Wall Street. And what was Raphael’s point? It was to explain (or was it to excuse?) the collapse of the firm. “This could happen to any firm,” he said.

Yes, indeed it could. And it did. Meanwhile, while this was happening, the chairman of the firm, Jimmy Caynes, was nonchalantly playing bridge in a tournament. Not too smart for a greedy banker. As a result, he lost most of his personal fortune, and another greedy firm, JPMorgan Chase, came in like a vulture and made a killing. Oh, incidentally, some 14,000 employees of Bear Stearns are, or will soon be, out of a job.

Is then capitalism nothing but greed? No, there are other things to it, but greed plays a very big role. And greed, by definition, works for some at the expense of others. So, some firms are going bankrupt these days – on Wall Street, and elsewhere in the world – and others are not. The United States as a country is going bankrupt, and others are not. The United States doesn’t call it that, but that is the truth of it.

Is it always like this? No, not always. Just half the time. Let us review how Wall Street and the United States got into this particular disastrous corner. It all started out well – for Wall Street and for the United States in 1945. The war was over. The war was won. And the United States was the only industrial power whose factories were intact, untouched by wartime damage. There were destroyed cities elsewhere, and actual hunger in Europe and Asia.

The United States was set to do well, and it did do well, very well. It could outproduce the world, and get the rewards. It made a deal with the Soviet Union – we call it rhetorically Yalta – so that there would be no nuclear wars that could really damage the United States. And, at home, the big manufacturers made a deal with the big unions so that there would be no destructive strikes to interfere with the profitable production. Rosy times loomed, and the standard of living went up dramatically. Actually, the years after the war proved to be fairly rosy times for most of the world. It was the moment of the greatest expansion of production, of profit, of population, and yes of general welfare in the history of the capitalist world-economy. The French called it the “thirty glorious years.”

Must all good things come to an end? Well, cyclically, in the five hundred years of the modern world-system, I fear this has always been true. When everyone begins to cash in on economic expansion, the rate of profit has to go down. Profit from production depends on relative monopolization of the leading industries. But if too many countries have steel factories or auto factories (the leading industries of the times), there is too much competition. And, despite all the nonsensical slogans, competition is not good for capitalists. It reduces the profits.

And when profits get hit too hard, the world-system enters into one of its periodic periods of stagnation. This happened circa 1970. And, in case you hadn’t noticed, things have not been rosy since then, despite once again all the nonsensical slogans. What happens in a period of worldwide economic stagnation? The factories begin to move out of the erstwhile locales (like the United States, but also Germany, France, Great Britain, and Japan) to other countries (like South Korea, India, Brazil, and Taiwan) in search of lower costs of production. It seems good for the new places of steel and auto production, but it means layoffs in the old centers of production.

But runaway factories are not the whole story. What do big capitalists do, if they want to make money, in times of lower profits from production? They start to shift their money from productive enterprises to financial enterprises. That is to say, they begin to speculate. And, in a time of speculation, greed knows no limits. So we have junk bonds and takeovers and subprime mortgages and hedge funds and all those curious things with curious names. It seems that even Robert Rubin, one of the really big people in the financial world, admitted recently that he doesn’t know what a “liquidity put” is.

The underlying story – from 1970 on – has been that of debt, greater and greater debt. Corporations borrow, individuals borrow, states borrow. They all live above their real incomes. And, if you’re in a position to borrow (it’s called credit), you can live high on the hog, as they say. But debts have a small downside. At some point, you’re expected to repay debts. If you don’t, there is a “debt crisis” or a “bankruptcy” or, if you’re a country with a currency, a dramatic decline in the exchange rate.

This is what we call a bubble. And if you blow up a balloon long enough, no matter how good it feels, at some point the balloon bursts. It is bursting now. And everyone is frightened, as well they might be. When the bubble really bursts, it is really painful. The thing is, it is usually more painful for some than for others, even if it is painful for everyone.

At the moment, it might turn out to be most painful for the United States – as a country, and for its capitalists, and above all for its ordinary citizens. It seems the United States has been spending not billions of dollars but trillions of dollars on some wars in the Middle East it has been losing. And it seems that even the wealthiest country in the world doesn’t have in its coffers trillions of dollars. So it has borrowed them. And it seems that its credit in 2008 is not as good as it was in 1945. It seems that the creditors are today reluctant to throw good money after bad. It seems that the United States might be going bankrupt, like Bear Stearns.

Will the United States be bought out by China or by Qatar or by Norway, or by a combination of all of them at $2 or even $10 a share? What will happen to those very expensive toys that the United States keeps buying, like military bases in a hundred countries, and those airplanes and ships and superduper guns the United States constantly orders to replace yesterday’s toys? Who will feed the people on the breadlines?

Come back next decade, and let me know.

by Immanuel Wallerstein

[Copyright by Immanuel Wallerstein, distributed by Agence Global. For rights and permissions, including translations and posting to non-commercial sites, and contact:, 1.336.686.9002 or 1.336.286.6606. Permission is granted to download, forward electronically, or e-mail to others, provided the essay remains intact and the copyright note is displayed. To contact author, write:

These commentaries, published twice monthly, are intended to be reflections on the contemporary world scene, as seen from the perspective not of the immediate headlines but of the long term.]

08w12:1 Obama's Speech

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I’m linking to the Reddit link for its comment-thread, currently running at 689.

Obama Speech In Full: A More Perfect Union ( | Reddit



Text of the Speech on New York Times

08w10:3 Are you really that acquiescent in the United States?

by timothy. 1 Comment

 Tucker Carlson unintentionally reveals the role of the American press |
Glenn Greenwald
“Here was Power’s exact quote: “She is a monster, too –- that is off the record –- she is stooping to anything.” But the reporter who was interviewing her, Britain’s Gerri Peev of The Scotsman, printed the comment anyway — as she should have, because Peev had never agreed that any parts of the interview would be “off the record,” and nobody has the right to demand unilaterally, and after the fact, that journalists keep their embarrassing remarks a secret. […] Illustrating that point as vividly as anything I can recall, MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson had Peev on his show last night and angrily criticized her publication of Power’s remarks. Carlson upbraided Peev for her lack of deference to someone as important as Power, and Peev retorted by pointing out exactly what that attitude reflects about Carlson and the American press generally (via LEXIS; h/t Mike Stark):

CARLSON: What — she wanted it off the record. Typically, the arrangement is if someone you’re interviewing wants a quote off the record, you give it to them off the record. Why didn’t you do that?

PEEV: Are you really that acquiescent in the United States? In the United Kingdom, journalists believe that on or off the record is a principle that’s decided ahead of the interview. If a figure in public life. [empahsis Greenwald]”

08w01:1 What he learned working for Dateline NBC

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This article by John Hockenberry is one of the best things I’ve come across in a long time. It seems to reflect how Chomsky’s critique of mainstream media 20 years ago is now becoming mainstream itself. – Timothy

“You Don’t Understand Our Audience” | John Hockenberry
“One might have thought that the television industry, with its history of rapid adaptation to technological change, would have become a center of innovation for the next radical transformation in communication. It did not. Nor did the ability to transmit pictures, voices, and stories from around the world to living rooms in the U.S. heartland produce a nation that is more sophisticated about global affairs. Instead, the United States is arguably more isolated and less educated about the world than it was a half-century ago. In a time of such broad technological change, how can this possibly be the case? […] Humor in commercials was hip–subtle, even, in its use of obscure pop-cultural references–but if there were any jokes at all in news stories, they were telegraphed, blunt visual gags, usually involving weathermen. That disjunction remains: at the precise moment that Apple cast John Hodgman and Justin Long as dead-on avatars of the PC and the Mac, news anchors on networks that ran those ads were introducing people to multibillion-dollar phenomena like MySpace and Facebook with the cringingly naïve attitude of “What will those nerds think of next?”

07w52:3 Bush Admin's 2007 Legal Fictions

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Legal Fictions:
The Bush administration’s dumbest legal arguments of the year.

| Dahlia Lithwick

Summary, in American MSM reverse order (the article expands on each):

10. The NSA’s eavesdropping was limited in scope
09. Scooter Libby’s sentence was commuted because it was excessive
08. The vice president’s office is not a part of the executive branch
07. The Guantanamo Bay detainees enjoy more legal rights than any prisoners of war in history.
06. Water-boarding may not be torture
05. Everyone who has ever spoken to the president about anything is barred from congressional testimony by executive privilege
04. Nine U.S. attorneys were fired by nobody, but for good reason
03. Alberto Gonzales
02. State secrets
01. The United States does not torture

07w51:4 Bush as a war criminal

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Wow. Just in time for Christmas, Andrew Sullivan sounding like Noam Chomsky.

The torture tape fingering Bush as a war criminal | Andrew Sullivan
“Any reasonable person examining all the evidence we have – without any bias – would conclude that the overwhelming likelihood is that the president of the United States authorised illegal torture of a prisoner and that the evidence of the crime was subsequently illegally destroyed. Congresswoman Jane Harman, the respected top Democrat on the House intelligence committee in 2003-06, put it as simply as she could: “I am worried. It smells like the cover-up of the cover-up.” It’s a potential Watergate. But this time the crime is not a two-bit domestic burglary. It’s a war crime that reaches into the very heart of the Oval Office. Yes, it is Hollywood time. And the ending of this movie is as yet unwritten. “

07w50:6 A culture saturated in sexism

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A culture saturated in sexism | Johanna Schneller
Link (The Globe & Mail)
“Women’s bodies have always been fodder for jokes, but the envelope keeps getting pushed,” said Jessica Valenti, whose book Full Frontal Feminism came out in March. Young moviegoers expect more and more outrageous humour, so the movies get more risqué. Offscreen, recent tabloids, TV shows and Internet sites raked Tyra Banks and Britney Spears over the coals for gaining weight. Endless unflattering photos of their non-washboard midriffs were displayed and discussed. The fact that Banks was at most a size 12, and that Spears has had two children, didn’t matter: These women didn’t maintain their veneer of perfection. They had failed. A few weeks ago, the nitpickers hit a new low: They targeted Jennifer Love Hewitt, zeroing in on bumps on her bikini-clad bottom and blaring, ‘We know what you ate last summer.’ Now, I try to have a sense of humour about this stuff. But Jennifer Love Hewitt is a freaking Polly Pocket, and obviously fit. Seeing her scorned – for I don’t even know what, having hips? – I can’t help but feel that the volume and ubiquity of this kind of criticism is tipping from humour into something uglier.”

// Comment: In building her argument, Schneller writes “In Knocked Up, which came out in June, hero Ben (Seth Rogen — [is] chubby, which I point out because it’s not an issue for the men)”. Being chubby may not be an issue for men, but I’d feel remiss if I didn’t point out the sexism men are subjected to in the media. Either McDreamy handsome or ‘chubby’, they are often depicted as morons who love tools, cars, and meat. I discussed this once with a self-indentifying feminist and she argued that these stereotypes embodied the ‘Everyman’ as if this justified it – an extremely weak argument (imagine it being made for depictions of women in the kitchen, or toward some oppressed minority. Stereotypes never represent the ‘every-stereotype’).

This was somewhat addressed in Goodreads 05w24:2, and especially in this article from, Beauty and the Beast arguing:

In addition to their girth, a signal characteristic of these men is immaturity. Most of them are unable to master the simplest daily tasks. A recent episode of Grounded for Life was propelled by Sean’s inability to take a phone message while a typical King of Queens knee-slapper was fueled by Doug’s inability to keep his hands off a co-worker’s Koosh ball, which he, of course, loses. And virtually every episode of According to Jim is sparked by Jim’s selfishness and impulsiveness—he fights with Santa and the next-door neighbor; he pouts about having to give up his vices so Cheryl can get pregnant.

Indeed, the promixity of these men to their childhood selves is often directly invoked. In a recent episode of King of Queens, for example, Doug’s dad visits for a model train convention, which dredges up bitter memories about how as a child, Doug was not allowed—I am not making this up—to play with his dad’s train. When Dad is called away from the convention and Doug offers to fill in for him, Dad is still reluctant to let his dumb-ass son work the controls. (And when he does, Doug promptly destroys the train set, along with its fake mountain landscape setting. See what happens when you play with Daddy’s train?) Perhaps, then, actors like Mark Addy and Kevin James are best suited for these roles not only because they portray a fantasy life for couch potato male viewers—for a half-hour a week, you can be 300 pounds and still imagine yourself married to Jamie Gertz!—but also because their proportions, with their ample torsos and short and apparently useless limbs, approximate those of babies. [emp mine]

It’s not that there aren’t handsome or sexually desirable men on sitcoms, but these men are typically marked as terminal bachelors, like Ted Danson on Cheers. To the extent they have anything to do with family life, they tend to skulk around its outer margins like coyotes. On Two and Half Men (CBS, Mondays, 9:30 p.m. ET), Charlie (Charlie Sheen) is handsome, successful, and wedded to promiscuous bachelorhood, but he gets to enjoy some nourishing familial scraps since his loser brother (Jon Cryer) and scampy nephew moved themselves into his pad. (In keeping with the Maxim ethos of these shows, the brother was abandoned by a woman who thinks she might be a lesbian. It would be emasculating for male viewers to see a man dumped for being completely undesirable, and, besides, lesbians are so hot.) Likewise, on Grounded for Life the schlumpy husband has a smoother bachelor brother, Eddie (Kevin Corrigan), who lurks around the house and functions as a Casanova alter ego. This really works in Grounded for Life, thanks to the slithery Corrigan, who is probably the best thing about any of these shows. (On According to Jim and Still Standing, the single sibling is an attractive but romantically hopeless sister of the wife. That’s the choice: fat guy vs. spinsterhood.)

Here perhaps, a reminder of where the word ‘stereotype’ comes from. Steven Pinker, in The Blank Slate (2002; p. 201) writes:

The word stereotype originally referred to a kind of printing plate. Its current sense as a pejorative and inaccurate image standing for a category of people was introduced in 1922 by the journalist Walter Lippmann. Lippmann was an important public intellectual who, amoung other things, helped to found The New Republic, influenced Woodrow Wilson’s policies at the end of World War I, and wrote some of the first attacks against IQ testing. In his book Public Opinion, [1922], Lippmann fretted about the difficulty of achieving true democracy in an age in which ordinary people could no longer judge public issues rationally because they got their information in what we today call sound bites. As part of this argument, Lippmann proposed that ordinary people’s concepts of social groups were stereotypes:mental pictures that are incomplete, biased, insensitive to variation, and resistant to disconfirming information.

Lippmann had an immediate influence on social science (though the subtleties and qualifications of his original argument were forgotten). Psychologists gave people lists of ethnic groups and lists of traits and asked them to pair them up.

(Pinker references two books in a footnote: Roger Brown’s Social Psychology, (1985) & the paper Stereotype accuracy: Toward appreciating group differences edited YT Lee, LJ Jussum, and CR McCauley, 1995)

The results proved either Lippmann’s thesis, or just highlighted traditional bigotry. It’s hard to say which, now that we live in a media soup – didn’t some people have ideas about spics and wops in the 19th Century, when those insults were common?

Walter Lippmann, btw, is the coiner of the term ‘manufacture of consent‘ which now days is associated with Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman’s critique of mass media. Pinker’s mention that Lippmann ‘influenced Woodrow Wilson’ sounds great out of context, but within the context reported by Chomsky, his influence was in the way he helped inspire American propaganda. Chomsky, wrote:

The first modern government propaganda operation [was] under the Woodrow Wilson Administration. Woodrow Wilson was elected President in 1916 on the platform “Peace Without Victory.” That was right in the middle of the First World War. The population was extremely pacifistic and saw no reason to become involved in a European war. The Wilson Administration was actually committed to war and had to do something about it. They established a government propaganda commission, called the Creel Commission, which succeeded, within six months, in turning a pacifist population into a hysterical, war-mongering population which wanted to destroy everything German, tear the Germans limb from limb, go to war and save the world. […]

Among those who participated actively and enthusiastically were the progressive intellectuals, people of the John Dewey circle, who took great pride, as you can see from their own writings at the time, in having shown that what they called the “more intelligent members of the community” –namely themselves– were able to drive a reluctant population into a war by terrifying them and eliciting jingoist fanaticism. […]

Another group that was impressed by these successes were liberal Democratic theorists and leading media figures, like, for example, Walter Lippmann, who was the dean of American journalists, a major foreign and domestic policy critic and also a major theorist of liberal democracy. If you take a look at his collected essays, you’ll see that they’re subtitled something like “A Progressive Theory of Liberal Democratic Thought.” Lippmann was involved in these propaganda commissions and recognized their achievements. He argued that what he called a “revolution in the art of democracy,” could be used to manufacture consent, that is, to bring about agreement on the part of the public for things that they didn’t want by the new techniques of propaganda. He also thought that this was a good idea, in fact necessary. It was necessary because, as he put it, “the common interests elude public opinion entirely” and can only be understood and managed by a specialized class of responsible men who are smart enough to figure things out.

This theory asserts that only a small elite, the intellectual community that the Deweyites were talking about, can understand the common interests, what all of us care about, and that these things “elude the general public.” This is a view that goes back hundreds of years. It’s also a typical Leninist view. In fact, it has very close resemblance to the Leninist conception that a vanguard of revolutionary intellectuals take state power, using popular revolutions as the force that brings them to state power, and then drive the stupid masses towards a future that they’re too dumb and incompetent to envision themselves.


Lippmann backed this up by a pretty elaborated theory of progressive democracy. He argued that in a properly-functioning democracy there are classes of citizens. There is first of all the class of citizens who have to take some active role in running general affairs. That’s the specialized class. They are the people who analyze, execute, make decisions, and run things in the political, economic, and ideological systems. That’s a small percentage of the population. Naturally, anyone who puts these ideas forth is always part of that small group, and they’re talking about what to do about those others.

Those others, who are out of the small group, the big majority of the population, they are what Lippmann called “the bewildered herd.” We have to protect ourselves from the trampling and rage of the bewildered herd. Now there are two functions in a democracy: The specialized class, the responsible men, carry out the executive function, which means they do the thinking and planning and understand the common interests. Then, there is the bewildered herd, and they have a function in democracy too. Their function in a democracy, he said, is to be spectators, not participants in action. But they have more of a function than that, because it’s a democracy. Occasionally they are allowed to lend their weight to one or another member of the specialized class. In other words, they’re allowed to say, “We want you to be our leader” or “We want you to be our leader.” That’s because it’s a democracy and not a totalitarian state. That’s called an election.

(source; not properly attributed; excerpts of the above found here and here, and sourced to the 2002 book, Media Control, and from the Alternative Press Review, Fall 1993).

Not having read Lippmann’s 1922 book, it seems then that his argument would run something like this: the ‘bewildered herd’ is subject to the distortions of the media, forming stereotypes on the basis of sound-bites, and hence a self-selecting group of elites have the right to shape public opinion through the active manipulation of those stereotypes. Even better, the self-selecting group of intelligentsia should actively seek to distract ‘the bewildered herd’ so that they are out of the way of the decision making process.

Which gets back to Johanna Schneller’s piece: the fucking tabloids and the like pissing us off by unfairly insulting celebrity women while the Earth burns and our governments are doing fuck all about it.