Sunday, July 25, 2010

When Shame is Not Enough

In case there were any lingering doubts as to who owns the Obama administration – lock, stock, and barrel – Kenneth Feinberg, the departing “pay czar”, has set the record straight. The answer, of course, is the banks... and the evidence is that, after months of huffing and puffing, executive compensation for the banks who were bailed out by the taxpayers is going to remain untouched. Suddenly executive pay doesn't seem so “excessive” after all, apparently; I guess it's all relative. But here's the real kicker. Quoth Feinberg: “Shaming them was punishment enough.” To which the immediate response ought to be, you can only shame people who _have_ a sense of shame, and these people don't. I mean, they already demonstrated that to the satisfaction of nearly everyone when they even accepted those compensation packages after driving their own firms into bankruptcy. This, of course, has been the behavior pattern for corporate warlords for quite some time now, but the new twist is that it now triggers bailouts by the government. In the old days it was the stockholders who suffered, and hey, if you invest in an outfit like that you take your chances, right? But now it's no longer a gamble, since the government promises to cover all losses, but leave profits alone. It's a pretty good deal if you're already on top of the heap.

Plus, what's to be ashamed of? It was really a brilliant move -- maximum pay, a revival of profits (post-bailout, that is), and getting the government to cover all your losses? And they all thought of it at the same time, which kind of makes you wonder. In any case, these guys should be raised on high and worshipped as gods in their respective boardrooms and stockholders' meetings (in fact, they probably are even as we speak).

Oh, and BTW, this pillar of wisdom – i.e. Feinberg – is now heading up the compensation fund for the Gulf oil spill. I guess we can expect the same “shame was punishment enough” line to be trotted out there too – with about the same degree of justification.

I suppose I should feel a certain degree of satisfaction about this, since I've been saying from the beginning that what is now termed the Great Recession was, in fact, entirely intentional, and meticulously programmed from the start. And events have pretty consistently supported this theory – like the fact that the organizations most responsible are not only back on their feet, but are prospering... making more money than ever in many cases, which includes their top officers. And yes, I know it's risky to judge intent according to results – sometimes good things happen to bad people for no particular reason. But this “meltdown”, and the resulting bailouts, and the stimulus program, have “hoax” and “scam” written all over them. I think what we've seen is, basically, a huge wealth transfer where business and government are co-conspirators, and where all the “crisis” talk is no more than a cover story. It is, I grant you, a new and somewhat novel model compared to the crude pillage of old, but it's ultimately the same thing and it's having more or less the same results... with one critical difference, which is that the American public has, by and large, bought into the propaganda package. Sure, there is some skepticism and there are a few “conspiracy theorists” (ahem!) running around – but overall, it's just like all the other government-sponsored hoaxes in our history. People are so upset and disoriented, and panicked, by not only the “crisis” itself but what is said about it (by the government via the captive media) that they don't have the time or energy for skepticism – in addition to which, the level of fear is such that no one wants to “rock the boat”. Just at the point when the system is most vulnerable – i.e. the immediate cover-up stage – the people are also the most fearful and the most anxious to run and hide under the wing of mother hen. That chick who's too slow might get left behind, and eaten by the Big Bad Wolf. Problem is, it's the wolves who are running things – but they are clothed in the garb of the Nanny State, so it's the rare person who sees them for what they are.

For instance, who was about to question the official line as to what happened on 9-11, on 9-12? A few lone voices, whom the media were ready to discount as "nut cases". You'll notice that in "crises" of this sort the media are always primed to shut down dissent. It's almost as if they knew in advance... but that's just crazy talk, right?

My question, as always, is how many times can an exercise like this be performed before there are no victims left? I mean, sooner or later we're going to have a system where the rich and powerful rule over a vast army of slaves. Well, we have that now, but eventually the slaves are going to live like the slaves of old, and probably look (and smell) like them as well. And what happens then? Can we find, anywhere in history, a comparable situation? One could point to any number of ancient empires, but I think the Soviet Union and China under Mao – and North Korea under Kim – are maybe more perfect examples. What happened in the case of the Soviets and the Chinese is that the ruling class started to die out, their heirs didn't have the same political will or sheer viciousness, and at the same time the ordinary people started to wake from their slumbers and dream that there might be a better way. In the case of North Korea, of course, we're still all waiting for this to happen; and in Cuba, the process is just getting under way. So yes, there is life after the death of freedom – but who wants to have to live through the dark times? I think we're going to get a chance to find out, since they've already begun.

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