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Entries in Bill Clinton (2)

Thursday
Sep062012

Atlas Schmuck

If there is one word that invalidates Ayn Rand's blubbering worship of individual achievement, it would be "exposure". It is a term used in the investment and finance worlds, describing the vulnerability a portfolio, institution or industry can endure in times of uncertainty. It conveys a relative link between two parties that can chain react adversely throughout entire industries, even economies. It wields no stoic or heroic connotation--unlike the feigned bravery of Ayn Rand's discourse.

How ironic that it is a word used or applied by her most influential, most well-known acolyte: former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan.

He used the term whenever updating the US government on the state of the economy. Pointedly, he used it when making the case to bail out hedge fund Long Term Capital Markets back in Sept. 1998. Failure to prop it up would have caused the collapse of several sovereign economies. That is interdependence at work.

Day in and day out, the market--that oracle of capitalist virtue--bears this out. Trouble in Iran sends oil futures through the roof, spiking the price of gas; Greek debt turbulance reverberates throughout the bond market.

Think of the mortgage securities meltdown: if those toxic investments had stayed with the originator of the loan, the damage would have  remained localized to a region, even possibly within a few industries.  It wasn't the case, here. They were sold to pension funds, mutual funds  and various other institutional investors who saw their assets circle the drain of the hemorrhaging pools of loans. This explains why lots of individual 401ks took such a devastating hit: because of their exposure to the high-risk mortgage assets.

Take reality at the interpersonal level--there are any number of factors that shape how much success an individual can achieve: personal aptitude, financial status, quality of education, social mobility, economic enviromment are just a few. Because some have achieved much working against the greatest odds, it is deeply naive to argue that all can--and stupid to call lazy, those who can't.

President Obama was right to give the business world a reality check--no, you didn't build that (on your own)--as was candidate for US Senate, Elizabeth Warren, when she spoke of a "social contract" businesses enter when launching and operating. They benefit from an infrastructure and labor pool all citizens and businesses pay into through taxes.

Former President Bill Clinton, speaking at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte last night, made the case for cooperation far more succinctly: we're in this together if the whole country is to succeed again.

Leaders like Republican VP nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan, should take responsibility for arguing otherwise: you're on your own (words, by the way, never uttered to corporate welfare recipients like oil and defense industries). They have no interest in the whole country succeeding. Like Ayn Rand, they're caught up in the adolescent fantasy of living in a world that bends to the force of their individual wills.

Sunday
Sep182011

Get by gridlock with a little help from voters

Former president Bill Clinton appeared on ABC's This Week With Christiane Amanpour on Sunday (Sept. 18) to talk government gridlock and the economy. He imparted two points that capture the crisis of our times.

Speaking to the question of what it will take for Washington decision making to break through the stalemate, he replied that it would require “a little help from the American people.” His answer followed with a reminder to voters of the crop of freshman Congressional nay-sayers elected in 2010--those who impeded such matters like raising the debt ceiling and opposed a balanced approach to the federal budget deficit. Clinton elaborated by saying, "It's very hard for the people in Washington who got there based on pure conflict, pure attack, pure ideology to take it seriously when their same constituents are saying please do something positive."

This is especially true of elected legislators who behave as if their sole mandate is to oppose President Obama. As far as anyone can measure, this agenda has yet to have any direct impact on creating jobs.

On that note about jobs and their 'creators' Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on the same day joined the Fox News Hour discussion to cry 'class warfare' at President Obama's suggestion of raising taxes on millionaires (the White House calls it "The Buffet Rule"). Rep. Ryan also repeated the usual, fraudulent claims against raising federal levies on the wealthy and their impact on how jobs get created. Such arguments loop in the multi-million dollar S-corp. companies among that sacred class of small business owners that must be spared any increases.

His reasoning mashes down to "if you tax more... you get less. If you tax job creators more, you get less job creation." Rep. Ryan would be in the oddest position to explain with a straight face why Bank of America, a beneficiary of Bush-era tax cuts, is fixing to lay off 30,000 employees. All that may remain of Ryan's once-fervent audience is the low information voter.

Speaking of the low information voter, Bill Clinton's second important point emerges. In an attempt to account for the few bright spots of economic development around the country, he emphasizes how crucial "networks of cooperation" are to the success of a local market. As for the rest of the country's lagging economy, a significant disconnect prevails between "the way the economic system works and the way the political system works." In other words, we cannot expect economic success when the political system endures the legislative standstills of the magnitued we witnessed this past summer.

As for other disconnects that figure prominantly into our political dysfunction, the influence gap is one that rarely receives attention. Yes, there are those whining references to "campaign finance reform" that pepper some conversations about how to improve government, however, rarely, if ever, does anyone name the players or what is at stake. 

The influence gap occurs between two classes of citizens distiguished by their earning power. As troubling economic times have ginned up talk about class conflict, increasingly the two groups have been referred to as the elite 2 per cent and the everyone-else 98 per cent. Each election they enter into what has been  called here a zero-sum faceoff--the 2% being in a position to finance the media resources necessary to reach the remaining 98% through television, radio and internet ads.

Conventional wisdom drives Bill Clinton's caution that "until the American people make it clear that-- however they voted in past elections--they want these folks [Democrats and Republicans] to work together and to do something, there's going to be a little ambivalence in Washington."

For the millions of unemployed or foreclosed-upon Americans hanging to their wits by a tattered thread, relief will require something far bolder than conventional thought. 

What voters too often forget or fail to understand is the influence they wield when working in concert. If the 2008 economic meltdown has anything to teach us, it has to be how interlinked or mutually dependent our occupational and financial destinies are. Given that interdependency, won't survival require a serious reconfiguration of the influence gap? It would be up to the 'lower' 98 per cent to insist that candidates and elected officials alike, must honestly bear their concerns.