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To Elsie

The pure products of America
go crazy–
mountain folk from Kentucky or the ribbed north end of
Jersey
with its isolate lakes and

valleys, its deaf-mutes, thieves
old names
and promiscuity between

devil-may-care men who have taken
to railroading
out of sheer lust of adventure–

and young slatterns, bathed
in filth
from Monday to Saturday

to be tricked out that night
with gauds
from imaginations which have no

peasant traditions to give them
character
but flutter and flaunt

sheer rags succumbing without
emotion
save numbed terror

under some hedge of choke-cherry
or viburnum–
which they cannot express–

Unless it be that marriage
perhaps
with a dash of Indian blood

will throw up a girl so desolate
so hemmed round
with disease or murder

that she’ll be rescued by an
agent–
reared by the state and

sent out at fifteen to work in
some hard-pressed
house in the suburbs–

some doctor’s family, some Elsie
voluptuous water
expressing with broken

brain the truth about us–
her great
ungainly hips and flopping breasts

addressed to cheap
jewelry
and rich young men with fine eyes

as if the earth under our feet
were
an excrement of some sky

and we degraded prisoners
destined
to hunger until we eat filth

while the imagination strains
after deer
going by fields of goldenrod in

the stifling heat of September
somehow
it seems to destroy us

It is only in isolate flecks that
something
is given off

No one
to witness
and adjust, no one to drive the car

Spring and all (1923),

William Carlos Williams

Sunday, September 15, 2008

In the odd dance which is America Wall Street holds its breath for tomorrow’s opening, as yet another major bank goes belly up, and one of the largest insurers, AIG, goes hat in hand to Washington begging for a bail-out, yet another bit of Pure Market Economy Capitalism converting to that old time socialism when the pinch is on.  No “good for the gander is good for the goose” stuff here, when a bank folds all the rules of the game are off, and a public hand-out is in order.   Wall Street Welfare arrives as the golden parachutes leap from Lehman Brothers, Fannie May, Freddie Mac and soon to follow Merrill Lynch (whose bronze bull seems to have pulled in his horns) and a host of others, snookered finally with their own con game.  Not that they didn’t clean up handsomely while the going was good.  But, sorry, no million dollar bonuses this year for the downtown flim-flam artists, and, naturally to follow their monied layoffs will come those of the waiters, baristas of $5 lattes, car washers, personal trainers and a cascade of empty Manhattan condos as the house of cards collapses, stage at a time.

As if this were the least of our worries, we’re in the final slogs of a Presidential election of a schizophrenic kind, with the old culture war cranked up to highest pitch.  In one corner a history-making shift, verily a black man (half black, but in the old American manner, a drop of black blood will do), and an intelligent street-smart one to boot, and an unthreatening charmer.  He’s a shuffle in the deck, though paired with a long-time DC pro.  In the other corner is “Maverick” McCain, trailing a reputation of dubious qualities but hyped as a war-hero; and paired with him in an amazing act of cynical politicking is a plucky mother of 5 from Alaska, having approximately zero qualification for the VP job for which she’s running.   De Tocqueville honed in on this over a century and a half ago.

Meantime we are assured by the aids of a President-in-waiting that the economy is fine, quit whining, while other prognosticators bluntly suggest the imminence of a full-blown 30’s style depression.  Get out the economic Prozac.  And, naturally, the other kind, for minds wallowing in bad thoughts.

The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.

Alexis de Tocqueville

After the swift swoon and deliria of Sarah Palin mania, whose brief tenure as sweetheart of America has confirmed Warhol’s 15 minute maxim, we march onward to harsher realities than Alaskan caribou hunting, namely the US economy, which staggers from one imploding delusion to the next.

A.I.G. Seeks $40 Billion in Fed Aid to Survive

A.I.G.’s collapse seemed so likely on Tuesday that the company hired the law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges — which is also handling the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy — to draw up bankruptcy papers.  Many of A.I.G.’s subsidiaries have drawn down on their credit lines, people briefed on the matter said.

Shares in A.I.G. rebounded sharply after speculation arose that the Fed had changed its mind, closing at $3.75 on Tuesday, down 17 percent. They had fallen more than 60 percent earlier in the day, and have plummeted nearly 94 percent over the past 12 months.

Fed to Give A.I.G. $85 Billion Loan and Take 80% Stake

As if to give away too much, we note the AIG sought a loan (never to be repaid, of course, but these days who is to quibble about such things if it is in fact public money) of a mere 40 billion but after a few days of haggling was given only a modest $85 billion.   Of course compared to the cumulative debt load of Uncle Sam 9.7 trillion, so what’s a little more debt piled on your grandchildren’s backs.  For a tid-bit more of what this means, here’s a paragraph from Wikipedia:

As of September 2008, the total U.S. federal debt was approximately $9.7 trillion[2], about $31,700 per capita (that is, per U.S. resident). Of this amount, debt held by the public was roughly $5.3 trillion.[3] If, in addition, unfunded Medicaid, Social Security, Medicare, etc. promises are added, this figure rises to a total of $59.1 trillion.[4] In 2007, the public debt was 36.9 percent of GDP [5], with a total debt of 65.5 percent of GDP.[6] The CIA ranked the total percentage as 26th in the world.[7]

Below is perhaps a metaphor of your particular sweet hereafter, though one might want, in cartoon style, to place a little label on the water, saying “debt.”

Bailout Fails to Stem Global Stock Slump

September 18th, 2008.  But three days later, as the stockmarket continues to nose-dive, in New York as well as globally, it seems Mr Bush’s government is as good a poker player in the casino of Wall Street as it’s been on the fields of warfare.   While the ideologues have issued forth the usual mumbo-jumbo of the sanctity of the Market Economy in which Mill’s hidden hands take care of everything, the practioners at the Fed and other governmental agencies have leaped in to assist their revolving-door friends with a little socialist-looking grease.  Their bluffs called, they’ve upped the ante (and the national debt), their hands nervously dealing out fresh-minted chips to keep the game afloat.   Bailed out or bought, in swift order have been Freddie and Fanny and Lehman, and now AIG, each buy meant to stanch the flow of capital but instead signalling the hollow faith of the Market Economy wizards, who like that of Oz, know that behind the curtains there’s little but more hot air.  Like the “housing bubble” which is the alleged cause of all this fiscal mayhem, behind it all is simple fraud.  One lie lathered on another, packaged in complex lingo, wrapped in legalistic jujitsu, presented by elegant men in pin-stripes who emerge from the colonnaded temples of money, and, like the politicians who are their kissing-kin,  announce all is OK as they fleece you one final time.  Today, as others fumble to find the money to pay the interest on the mortgages they cannot cover, and contemplate new roles as “homeless”, we see a flock of golden chutes descending from the skies above lower Manhattan, as those who conned the nation into this fix depart, surely chastened a bit, but nevertheless safe from the impending storm about to level the playing field no less than hurricane Ike did the Bolivar peninsula across from Galveston.   Though as public resentment over this stealth debacle expands, perhaps the rural retreats that have bloomed across the nation – the gated Valhalla’s of Sun Valley or the Grand Tetons, or the retreats of Upstate NY – perhaps even these will require the hiring of Blackwater guards as the local meth-heads, driven to desperation, sense just who is getting screwed by whom, and decide to play vigilante.  Perhaps indeed Our Great Leader will find Crawford too risky a ranch and will find it convenient to head on down to Paraguay after all.

Above, Mr Bush surveys the Nation as it has devolved under his astute guidance.

Go shop !

LONDON — Against a backdrop of reeling financial markets and nervous investors, Sotheby’s and the British artist Damien Hirst forged ahead with “Beautiful Inside My Head Forever,” a highly publicized auction of 223 works, all by Mr. Hirst and all made within the last two years.

And there were signs that the bet was paying off: the first session’s total was $127.2 million, above the high estimate for the entire sale, $112 million.

In the above item, it was said that Mr. Hirst was busy playing snooker while his “work” was auctioned off.  As a businessman it must be said he’s an astute player, selling junk for classy prices to the gullible overly rich, who somehow find his spin paintings, dot paintings, butterfly paintings, and formaldehyded animals, not to mention diamond-studded skulls, to be just their fancy.

Certainly Hirst, along with Jeff Koons, is the Warhol of the day, though lacking in Warhol’s smarter graphic sensibilities.  However, together Hirst and Koons underline the blown-out decadence which is the signature of the times, a decadence symbolized by the horrible houses which were the alleged cause of the sub-prime housing bust.

These houses were selling for a million, 1.5 million, and more, and could be seen littering the American landscape from California to Maine, Washington to Florida.  Their signatures were bloated square footage, to go with the SUV in the 3 car garage, a commute distance to some city center 30-50 miles away, unserved by mass transit, a veneer of the symbols of class: Mansard roofs, colonial porticos, Greek columns, whatever could be tacked on however tackily, to assert “value” and “prestige.”  That all of this was made from the cheapest materials possible – a concrete slab, 2 x 4’s, plywood and particle board – and won’t stand the test of 10 seasons of real weather, all went to show that not only the buyers of Hirst spin paintings, or derivative hedge-fund funny money stocks, or the US government, are the only of Barnum’s once-a-minute suckers lurking in the US (and elsewhere in the world).   Not only were the mortgage loans sub-prime, but the actual houses too:  piles of sugar-coated architectural garbage built like the stocks and like Hirst’s “art” with one simple motive.  Money.

Soon enough, battered by a collapsing economy, the US will be full of bloated, costly to cool and heat, popcorn housing, rapidly deteriorating away while the streets are crammed with the homeless, the unemployed who can’t afford rent or perhaps even food.  The refuge of Wal-Mart will turn costly as well, the deflated prices bought on cheap labor and oil, no longer cheap, all fueling the long-deferred real price of things.  Caught up in a 3 decade long delusion in which reality receded from the horizon in incremental steps begetting a nation of fools, most of whom know little, want to know less, and will be most surly when their ignorance comes to hoist them by their own petards, to use a despised slice of French, though here in the mouth of the mother English’s most revered author:

There’s letters seal’d: and my two schoolfellows,
Whom I will trust as I will adders fang’d,
They bear the mandate; they must sweep my way
And marshal me to knavery. Let it work;
For ’tis the sport to have the enginer
Hoist with his own petar; and ‘t shall go hard
But I will delve one yard below their mines
And blow them at the moon: O, ’tis most sweet,
When in one line two crafts directly meet.

Or, to put it in the Biblical terms quite popular amongst the American public,

as you reap, so shall you sow.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell almost 450 points on Wednesday as one of the most stunning government bailouts in American history failed to stem the runaway fears engulfing the global financial system.

16,356.48
–1,280.71
–7.26%

Worry not, of course.  Sarah and her pal will save us with some black and white simple solution.  Armageddon perhaps?   Or, more likely and realistic, poor Mr. Obama will be handed a very empty bag which even the most good-hearted soul in the world could not really sort out and given the fickle ahistorical nature of the grand American public, failure to produce a magic wand and cure all ills in 2 years will beget a drumbeat of discontent and political blame falling upon him.

Investors, Hungry for Hope,

Send Dow Up 410

Sept. 19 2008

In predictable manner, with rumors that the US government, and others – to say European central banks acting on behalf of their governments – will intervene to save the faltering American financial system to which all are deeply tied, the markets today yo-yo’d bouyantly back up 400+ DOW points.  Whether tomorrow, faced with other news, good or bad, it drops or rises seems less and less predicated on any tangible logic, but rather on the desperate need of those in the game to see that the system keeps going, at least until they can unload their stocks for a break-even or profit.  That these preachers of the disciplines of the market abandon such principles at the drop of the DOW, shows how false their beliefs really are – convenient for whipping others while dining at the public trough whenever necessary or possible.  In point of fact this is ordinary everyday stuff to our sacred capitalists, whose biggest money-makers include weaponry, the only real customer for which is the government, and whose second biggest buck turner is agriculture which is heavily subsidised in a 100 ways, from cheap publicly developed water, to the US highway system, to the long ago railroad scam, each of which was paid for with public funding, and is used on the cheap by those who so readily mouth platitudes about welfare Moms and self-reliance, ad nauseum.   Now they cheer a sequence of the biggest bailouts ever, done of course by a Republican administration out to salvage their chums.

For the first time since Lehman collapsed and the American International Group was rescued, President Bush made a brief statement in Washington, saying the government would “act to strengthen and stabilize our financial markets and improve investor confidence.”

Earlier, the Federal Reserve said it would extend an effort that allows central banks around the world to lend dollars in foreign economies. The Fed will provide an extra $180 billion under the program to grease the wheels of finance.

Grease the palms of their buddies would be a more accurate description of this little bundle of help.  So much for the vaunted “discipline of the market.”

The newly-minted Socialists, Ben Bernanke, George W. Bush and Henry Paulson

Sept 20 2008

Congressional Leaders Stunned by Warnings

Yep, they were stunned, indeed.  Informed that the bail-out of the dysfunctional American economic system, previously known as “capitalism” would require a trillion dollar billing (and keep in mind this is government speak, particularly Bush guvspeak, so if they say “1” it probably means “2” or “4” or….) to the already deeply indebted US government, the Congressional members stood and began to sing in unison The International.  In one quick move former uber capitalists, Bush, Bernanke and Paulson announced a coup, and that the United States of America was henceforth to be a Socialist State, in which the government oversees and guides the economy from a centralized agency under the full control of the executive.

The stock-market responded immediately, jumping 370 points upward on the DOW, as the same brokers and traders showed their allegiance to the fundamental principles of their capitalist system: me, me and me.  They stood to rake in the one trillion, continuing on with their bonuses, CEO earnings in the 10’s and 100’s of millions, with only the quibble that now the paymaster was the US Government issuing out freshly printed Greenbacks (admittedly of diminishing purchasing power, but among millions what’s a house or two?).

OK, enough of easy satire.  In making their announcement these wizards of the financial world essentially ended their bluff, and admitted that their entire system is a fraud, a dysfunctional mess the principles of which are inherently flawed and can only lead to the situation in which it is now mired.  And in turn they looked to the government to take over, shell out the money to “keep the system going.”  Of course it is in their interest to keep the system going, as they are the primary winners in this shell game, walking away with their millions.  And, should they let it collapse they know only too well that the ire of the public which would be the primary victims would turn white-hot politically and the gated communities, the golf courses and yacht clubs would be surrounded in short order by angry mobs.   Better to pacify everyone and prop up “the system” with a trillion bucks the grandkids can cover 50 years up the road.  Imagine the interest on this bill – oh are the bankers happy about this deal!  Not only do they get bailed out from their own squalor, but then they can bill JQ Public for it, just like they do with credit card squeezes.

[See this for a taste of Wall Street stuff.] [And this from NYT.]

Life’s function, as a simple nanomachine, is just to use energy to marshal chemicals into making more copies of itself.

“You need to organize yourself in a specific way to be useful,” Ziock said. “You take energy from one place and move it to a place where it usually doesn’t want to go, so you can actually organize things.”

The pure products of America
go crazy–

In the United States, the majority undertakes to supply a multitude of ready-made opinions for the use of individuals, who are thus relieved from the necessity of forming opinions of their own.

As one digs deeper into the national character of the Americans, one sees that they have sought the value of everything in this world only in the answer to this single question: how much money will it bring in?

All those who seek to destroy the liberties of a democratic nation ought to know that war is the surest and shortest means to accomplish it.

Alexis de Tocqueville

[Little note here - decided to change the format for something more readable, and along the way this post has some oddities.  Take another to learn the ins & outs of this one.]

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