Through a Glass Darkly: Catherine Austin Fitts and the Capitalism of Crisis

In The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein brought to light the neoliberal tactic of crisis capitalism, unleashed in circumstances (as in Chile, Argentina, Poland, Russia, South Africa) where political powers have exploited (or even created) extreme conditions–such as coups, natural disasters, or economic crises–during which the local population is disoriented and their defenses are down, to instigate corporation- and “investment”-friendly policies like lowered taxes and the  cutting  and privatization of government services.  The justification given for such maneuvers is to bring the target economy in line with the global economy, but, of course, very few people (only a tiny few) in the world actually benefit from these capitalistic incursions. One of the most obscene instances of the Shock Doctrine in action resulted in the rape of the former Soviet Union”s assets by the oligarchs in the name of Boris Yelstin’s economic “reforms.” But that’s only one of the most obvious and well known cases.

Catherine Austin Fitts

Catherine Austin Fitts

During the Clinton years, as former communist apparatchiks were helping themselves to radically discounted oil fields and other rich resources in Russia, Catherine Austin Fitts says she witnessed a similar feeding frenzy much closer to home. A former managing director and board member at the Wall Street firm Dillon Read who served as Assistant Secretary at HUD in the first Bush administration, Fitts started a financial company of her own, The Hamilton Securities Group of Washington, D.C., to help communities make the most of federal monies and improve their standing in what she calls the Popsicle Index,  which measures the confidence families in a community feel to send a six-year-old by herself to the corner store and back. Fitts witnessed firsthand the collusion between Washington and Wall Street insiders (often the same people on opposite sides of a revolving door) to employ crisis capitalism techniques in the US as part of the daily repertoire of government actions (my emphasis):

Our efforts at The Hamilton Securities Group to help HUD achieve maximum return on the sale of its defaulted mortgage assets coincided with a widespread process of “privatization” in which assets were, in fact, being transferred out of governments worldwide at significantly below market value in a manner providing extraordinary windfall profits, capital gains and financial equity to private corporations and investors. In addition, government functions were being outsourced at prices way above what should have been market price or government costs — again stripping governmental and community resources in a manner that subsidized private interests. The financial equity gained by private interests was often the result of financial, human, environmental and living equity stripped and stolen from communities — often without communities being able to understand what had happened or to clearly identify their loss. This is why I now refer to privatization as “piratization.”

One of the consequences was to steadily increase the political power of companies and investors who were increasingly dependent on lucrative back door subsidies — thus lowering overall social and economic productivity. Hence, the doubling of FHA’s mortgage recovery rates from 35% to 70-90% ran counter to global trends and ruffled feathers…. Continue reading

#OWS Economics: Neofeudal Reality and the Free Market Myth

A little follow up to the last post about Damon Vrabel and his critique of neoclassical economics.

After concluding the Renaissance 2.0 series of lectures, Vrabel wrote a farewell on his blog at his Council for Spiritual, Psychological and Economic Renewal, explaining why he was no longer going to keep posting on the world situation. Among his reasons:

As I said in previous articles, IF we participate in the system, I’m not opposed to it at all. How could I be? I’d be a tyrant if I wanted to force hundreds of millions of people to change their behavior. And the fact is, that “IF” was answered long ago. We Americans have chosen the material benefits of being managed by the financial system for generations. We like demand-side freedom, i.e. choosing between Coke and Pepsi, but don’t want supply-side freedom. We like the supply-side to be taken care of for us. We love the benefits that come from it being imperially run—the credit card always works, the gas station is always open, our water faucets and light switches do what they’re supposed to do, the markets keep going up (oops…maybe not). All of our economic needs are outsourced to others, so we have the luxury of spending our time pursuing wants. And if these types of benefits are good for us, they’re good for the rest of the world. We have no moral authority to stand opposed just because we’re now going to lose our privileged position—a rather childlike perspective.

Do I detect some sarcasm? Many of the items Vrabel ticked off as buying our disinterest in changing the imperial system are, of course, threatening to stop working in the near-long term, if they haven’t already stopped working for many of us, which is why, I suspect,  #OWS has resonated so deeply so fast.

In any case, perhaps responding to the Arab spring and certainly responding to questions from viewers of Renaissance 2.0, Vrabel returned to YouTube with a new series titled “Debunking Money.” Again, I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to understand how the world really works and why we, the people (or the peasantry, as the case may be), are experiencing a diminution of our liberties. In this series, Vrabel makes explicit his rejection of various ideas from the left and right, including Austrian school economics and Milton Friedman’s neoliberalism.

The lesson below is particularly interesting as it debunks the notion, popular among Libertarians and popularized by Ron Paul, that “ending the Fed” is a viable solution to the problem. Vrabel says the American people would be “cutting their own throat.” If you have difficulty following this, I strongly suggest starting from the first video and hanging on his every word, if possible. Not to say this is the ultimate truth, of course, but it is certainly much closer to the truth than anything you will be hearing from Republicans or Democrats:

Defending #OWS, Ron Paul Says He Supports Bailout of People with Bad Mortgages

I applaud him for that. He is certainly the rare politician who seems to actually understand the legitimacy of the #occupyWallStreet protest.

Of course, the last time I heard applause for him like this at one of these debates, he was arguing against bailing out people with catastrophic illnesses who have no health insurance.

Revolution Inchoate: Political vs. Civil Disobedience at #OWS

Mic check: A revolution needs a revolutionary communication system

Bernard Harcourt has an essay in the New York Times‘ The Stone blog in which he proposes a syntagm, as the continental philosophers would call it, standing for the unique mode of resistance energizing #occupationWallStreet and its sister occupations around the world:

Occupy Wall Street is best understood, I would suggest, as a new form of what could be called “political disobedience,” as opposed to civil disobedience, that fundamentally rejects the political and ideological landscape that we inherited from the Cold War.

Civil disobedience accepted the legitimacy of political institutions, but resisted the moral authority of resulting laws. Political disobedience, by contrast, resists the very way in which we are governed: it resists the structure of partisan politics, the demand for policy reforms, the call for party identification, and the very ideologies that dominated the post-War period.

Occupy Wall Street, which identifies itself as a “leaderless resistance movement with people of many … political persuasions,” is politically disobedient precisely in refusing to articulate policy demands or to embrace old ideologies. Those who incessantly want to impose demands on the movement may show good will and generosity, but fail to understand that the resistance movement is precisely about disobeying that kind of political maneuver. Similarly, those who want to push an ideology onto these new forms of political disobedience, like Slavoj Zizek or Raymond Lotta, are missing the point of the resistance. Continue reading

This Is What #Democracy Looks Like: John Lewis and #OccupyAtlanta

"They really didn't deny me," Lewis said.

One thing The New Republic, in its dismissal of the #OccupyWallStreet movement, misled its readers about regarding the John Lewis incident at Occupy Atlanta, and one thing anyone who doesn’t watch the video, painful as it may be, will miss: The General Assembly did not “groupthink” Lewis away, which would imply that the decision was, like the Washington crowd’s bullheaded decision to go to war in Iraq, assumed by everyone present to be a reasonable fait accompli. On the contrary, there was a strong pro-Lewis contingent among the Assembly–so strong that after the facilitator ruled that no consensus had been reached, a chant of “Let him speak!” rose up.

You can see for yourself if you watch the video below, which I recommend, especially to anyone prejudiced into a negative opinion about the Atlanta occupation’s impoliteness. You may draw the same conclusion, but it’s important to be accurate about what really happened there: An agenda had been previously agreed to, Lewis was requesting to interrupt it, and, according to the agreed upon Assembly rules, changing the agenda required “consensus,” which the Assembly was unable to reach.Therefore, the previously agreed to agenda remained in effect and Lewis was unable to interrupt. Lewis himself humbly accepted the Assembly’s decision. Continue reading

Liberals Are Terrified of #OccupyWallStreet

TNR: Liberals should be nervous

Picking up where we left off yesterday, The New Republic has now offered its official two cents on the protests on Wall Street and, as one would expect of the stuffy self-appointed organ of the liberal power elite inside the Beltway, it disapproves.

[T]o draw on the old cliché, the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend. Just because liberals are frustrated with Wall Street does not mean that we should automatically find common cause with a group of people who are protesting Wall Street. Indeed, one of the first obligations of liberalism is skepticism—of governments, of arguments, and of movements. And so it is important to look at what Occupy Wall Street actually believes and then to ask two, related questions: Is their rhetoric liberal, or at least a close cousin of liberalism? And is this movement helpful to the achievement of liberal aims?

This task is made especially difficult by the fact that there is no single leader who is speaking for the crowds, no book of demands that has been put forward by the movement. Like all such gatherings, it undoubtedly includes a broad range of views. But the volume of interviews, speeches, and online declarations associated with the protests does make it possible to arrive at some broad generalizations about what Occupy Wall Street stands for. And these, in turn, suggest a few reasons for liberals to be nervous about the movement.

The Editors responsible for the unsigned editorial then go on to outline the differences between #ows’s radicalism and TNR’s proper liberalism (the former is dreamy, “group-thinky” and utopian, the latter skeptical, pragmatic and pro-capitalist) , before urging liberals to stay the hell away. Continue reading

#TeaParty Terrified of #OccupyWallStreet’s New American Revolution

Dress-up rebel doing the bidding of the corporate class.

James Oliphant of the Los Angeles Times quotes prominent self-anointed leaders of the Tea Party movement on their reaction to the recent sprouting of Occupy America encampments in dozens of cities across North America from Boston and New York to Seattle and L.A. Clearly the Tea Party bosses don’t get it Continue reading