Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Chomsky on the meaning and significance of Occupy:
Well, the Occupy movement is—it was a big surprise. You know, if anybody asked me a year ago, "Is this possible?" I would have said, "It’s crazy. Don’t even try." But it lit a spark, took off. There are now Occupy movements in thousands of American cities, spread overseas. I was in Australia recently, went to the Occupy movement in Sydney, in Melbourne. There’s one in Hong Kong. You know, everywhere. And there are parallel movements in Europe.

It’s the first—and it’s very significant, I think. Already in—it’s only been around for a couple of months, so, you know, you can’t talk about huge achievements. But there are two kinds of the achievements which I think are—have already had an effect that probably is permanent, but anyway significant. One is, they just changed the national discourse. So, issues that had been, you know, marginalized—they’re familiar, but you didn’t talk about them—like inequality, shredding of the democratic process, you know, financial corruption, environmental issues, all these things, they became—they moved to the center of discussion. In fact, you can even see it from the imagery that’s used. You read about the 99 percent and the 1 percent in the considerable press of the business press. That’s just changed the way lots of people are looking at things. In fact, the polls show that concern over inequality among the general public rose pretty sharply after the Occupy movement started, very probably as a consequence. And there are other policy issues that came to the fore, which are significant.

The other aspect, which in my estimation may be more significant, is that the Occupy movement spontaneously created something that doesn’t really exist in the country: communities of mutual support, cooperation, open spaces for discussion. They just developed a health system, a library, a common kitchen—just people doing things and helping each other. That’s very much missing. There is a massive propaganda—it’s been going on for a century, but picking up enormously—that you really shouldn’t care about anyone else, you should just care about yourself. You pay attention to yourself; we don’t want anything else. You take a look at the attitudes among young people, that’s—it’s polled, it’s studied. It’s remarkably high. So, there was just a study that came out from the Harvard Public Policy Institute, found that—pretty scary results, I thought. Less than—this is kids 18 to 24, you know, college students, basically. Less than half of them think that the government has a responsibility to deal with things like healthcare or food, and so on. When they say the government doesn’t have a responsibility, that’s kind of an interesting concept. If people thought they were living in a democracy, they would say—they would ask the question whether it’s a public responsibility. But again, the propaganda system is designed to make you feel that the government is some alien force, and it’s against you. You know, you want to keep it away from your affairs.

In a democratic society, it would be quite different. Like, you can see it on April 15th. And a good measure of the extent to which a democratic system is functioning is how people feel about taxes. If you had a functioning democratic society, April 15th would be a day of celebration. It’s the day on which we get together and fund the policies that we’ve decided on and that we’ve gotten our representatives to approve of. It’s not what it is here. It’s a day of mourning, because this alien force is coming to steal things from you. Well, that’s the kind of thing that the Occupy movement began to break. It said, "Yeah, we’re in it together." That’s what the old labor movement used to be. I mean, I can remember, as a kid in the '30s, when the situation was objectively much worse. But then, my family was mostly unemployed working-class here in New York. But there was a sense of hopefulness, largely because of labor organizing, which not only provided benefits to the people involved, but also made them part of something in which we can work together. The term "solidarity" wasn't just a vacuous term. And to rebuild that kind of thing, even if it’s in small pieces of the society, can become very important, can change the conception of how a society ought to function.
Greenwald notes another interesting bit from the same Chomsky interview. And more from Chomsky on what makes this unprecedented moment in American history unprecedented.

Joe Nocera says it's time to make banking boring again because, as JPMorgan makes clear, despite the financial crisis nothing has changed:
At JPMorgan, nothing changed. The incentives, the behavior, even the trades themselves are basically the same as they were in the run-up to the financial crisis. The London whale was selling underpriced “credit protection.” Isn’t that exactly what A.I.G. did? The only difference is that JPMorgan has the balance sheet to absorb the losses that Iksil and his colleagues have racked up. That is small comfort.

In recent years, whenever I heard Dimon defend derivatives, he cast it as something banks had to offer their clients. Caterpillar, he liked to say, needed to hedge its exposure to foreign currency shifts, which JPMorgan’s derivatives made possible. But what client was being served with these trades? They were done for the bank, by the bank, solely to fatten the bank’s bottom line.

Which brings us, inevitably, to the Volcker Rule, that part of the financial reform law intended to prevent banks from doing what JPMorgan was doing: making risky bets for its own account. JPMorgan executives have insisted in recent days that the London trades did not violate the Volcker Rule (which, for the record, has not yet taken effect). But that is only because the banks have lobbied to protect their ability to hedge entire portfolios. A letter to regulators written in February by a top JPMorgan lobbyist — a letter denouncing the potential effects of a strictly interpreted Volcker Rule — describes a trade that sounds exactly like the ones that have just caused all the problems. Such trades need to be preserved, the lobbyist argues.

Actually, they don’t. “I just want all this garbage out of insured banks,” said Sheila Bair, the former head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. “A bank with insured deposits should be making loans. If they have excess they should put the money in safe government securities. If they want to trade, set up separate subsidiaries that have higher capital requirements.”

What banking most needs is to become boring, the way the business was before bankers became addicted to trading profits. But if that were to happen, Ina Drew wouldn’t make $14 million. Safer banking means lower profits, which means smaller compensation packages. That is precisely what JPMorgan’s London traders were trying to avoid.

“Paul Volcker by his own admission has said he doesn’t understand capital markets,” Dimon has famously said. What Volcker understands is far more important: the behavior of bankers.

Happily, the recent behavior of JPMorgan’s London traders could well cause regulators to put in place a Volcker Rule so tough that it would make banking boring again. One can only hope.
In a similar vein, dumb laws are what we need to regulate finance.

Fracking and toxic wastewater: many uncertainties.

Getting a better picture of carbon emissions due to deforestation by understanding what happens to wood.

The climate cries over spilled milk (and other food waste).

Americans are willing to pay more for cleaner energy.

Hawaii's shoreline is eroding away.

The EPA appeals a ruling stating that they lack the authority to veto a mountaintop removal project in West Virginia.

Linguistic diversity and biodiversity co-occur.

Obesity: blame corporations, not individuals. And not just calories in-calories out, but the kind of calories matter. (h/t Bittman)

How that beautiful corn came to be.

Slavery on the farm in Florida.

Claude Fischer on the “culture of poverty” debates.

Addressing student debt in Congress.

E-reserves are fair use.

A handful of Repubs in the Senate decided women deserve protection from violence, but the misogynists in the House don't seem to agree, stripping out protections for immigrants and LGBT victims.

The War On Women: a state-by-state look at 2012.

A visit to Missoula, rape capital of America.

Dissent highlights a piece by Martha Nussbaum, written three years ago, on the rights of gays to marry.

Reason eleventy billion to not have kids: they're psychopaths. For real.

Oh, how lovely: Trayvon Martin target practice.

Texas (of course, where else?) is ready to forcibly drug and then execute a severely mentally ill man.

Porn in PNAS.

Today in good infographics: college debt and fracking.

Remembering Stax bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn.

The Punch Brothers cover The Band.

The Emersons tackle Beethoven's ultimately triumphant String Quartet No. 15 in A minor, Op. 132.

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