As our world does its curious minuet of collapse, the Great Dark Hope of 2008 has – for those who hadn’t noticed it already – fully shown he’s a 100% somewhat right-wing Republican with a tan to beat Boehner’s. (Have fun with puns there!) It seems to be his modus-operandi, a kind of rope-a-dope routine in which he lets the supposed opponents shove the goal-posts a mile or two, then surveys the situation and offers still another 10 yards or more, and announces he’s made the needed compromise that gave the supposed opposition a bit, but not everything, and wasn’t that a sage thing to do as the sky did not fall as it otherwise would have. A smooth operator as they might say, a real good one put over on America’s liberals et al. Genuine Kabuki theater, though at this point the process has become as formally ritualized as said theater, the roles fixed in amber.
In the last few years there has been a cottage industry of books and articles analyzing the formative background of Mr. Obama, along with the shrill screeches from the Right – seemingly now a purposeful feint to distract from the con being pulled, as good old American liberals fell into line to protect their guy from these awful racist assaults – though in all the verbiage I saw, in PC America, I don’t recall any suggestions of Uncle Tom, or any of the other deep American places for what used to be called “the house nigger.” It’s considered impolite to suggest that Colin Powell or now Obama have dutifully filled these historical shoes just as they are supposed to. But Obama has certainly done so, and a simple glance at his background explains it readily: he negotiated his black-white family circumstance, sorted out his adolescent identity crisis briefly with an Afro and supposed community organizing, and while opting visually for his black side, ideologically and politically he opted for the white. Harvard, where he minded his manners and zipped into a nice job at the University of Chicago, did lawyering with a white firm, and got the nod to let his dark-skinned eloquence work its magic at the 2004 Democratic Convention. It was all, well, kind of magical.
And so this tabula rasa, with a perfect fill-in-the-blanks-yourself PR slogan, promised Change You Can Believe In, and was inserted into the White House, an antidote to the Bush trauma which sucked in the entire center-left-progressive spectrum of the country like a Hoover. Confronted in 2008 with the banker’s self-made crisis, he backed Bush’s deal with The-Sky-Is-Falling Hank Paulson’s demand for 800 billion instant and unaccountable greenbacks, and once in office did whatever tap dance the Wall Street gang demanded. After all, those he appointed to guide him were all from the offices of Goldman Sachs etc. The alleged urgency of the moment masked this rightward lunge, and he carried on the Fred Astaire routine with his marks, the great unwashed American public, left side, which so wanted a resolution to the traumatic Bush years that they eagerly overlooked all the signs that their great hope was Bush squared. They’ve continued this delusion up until very recently, though as Obama hints at succumbing to so-called Republican demands for shaving Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, it seems even the most ardent of Obama fans are realizing they got taken to the cleaners in one of the slickest political scams of our history: there are no Democrats, the entire party has been bought, and, like Jews in Inquisition Europe, they’ve converted to being Republicans, and if they have any Democrat tendencies they keep them secret.
Meantime, on the other side of the pond, another Greek drama is playing out, and as any good Greek tragedy, the end is foretold and it is the playing out knowing the conclusion which makes it tragic. There, following the clever set-up which Goldman Sachs (yes, them again… are the dots connecting yet?) engineered with the previous right-wing government to hide the country’s indebtedness (a sleight-of-hand bit of bookkeeping fraud which Goldman is apparently expert in doing) so they could join the Euro Community, things are now falling apart. Pumped with Euro funds from the more or less healthy economies to the north, Greece went on a banker-encouraged spending boom, running up mountains of communal and personal debt, suckered into the wonderful consumer fantasy-land of the West, while the interest rates climbed. And now, if they did little else than work their butts to the bone, they will never pay off the interest, not to mention the principle, on the loans so sweetly given to them. Today, the banks want their pound of Greek lamb and some nice embellishments to boot. And they sent their poodle, Standard and Poors, allegedly a disinterested ratings agency, to inform the EU that the holy banks would not tolerate having to absorb any losses, period. Or else, as in 2008, the sky would fall ! And promptly the politicians scrambled to please these monetary masters of the universe. Of course, next in line for this treatment are Portugal (bonds last week reduced to “junk”), Ireland, Spain, and Italy.
All of this is occurring thanks in part to the introduction of the trans-European monetary unit, the Euro, which doesn’t allow individual countries devalue their currency, but sticks them all with the same “value.” Interestingly, I met, about a decade ago, one of the originators of this idea – Robert Mundell, Nobel Prize winning economist, University of Columbia professor, who, along with some others cooked up the logic for having a single currency.
I met Mr Mundell in Rome, somewhere back in the late 1990’s or 2000 or so. One thing led to another, and I was introduced to a friend of his who wanted to do a film based on the painter Masaccio – a Renaissance period piece. The guy gave me his script, which was a turgid piece of utter tripe. But I did get to visit Mundell’s new home, an old castle a short way out of Siena. He was thinking of making the former horse-stable/barn area into a kind of studio. I think I saw him 3 or 4 times. Each time he was what I would charitably call “drunk.” I know in scientific statistical terms this is not a fair sampling, but on the more flexible standard of human observation, I’d have to guess this was kind of normal. At all events, he was/is considered the founder of the Euro, and I would be curious to see what his view on this is now. Given his apparently lousy sense of dramaturgy, his evident gullibility to the kinds of people who show up when riches fall in your lap and his liquid habits, I certainly would not give his intellectual ideas too much credibility, Nobel or no. (We note Mr Obama is a Nobel Peace Prize winner….)
My guess is that the Euro and the EU are a kind of intellectual/Ivory Tower construct, a nice theoretical idea which in some kind of perfect world seems a good idea. In post-WWII Europe something that would entice these differing countries to fight less and get along more must have been a nice lure. Certainly from the pedestrian tourist viewpoint it is nice not to have to change money at every border, and on a vast business scale it also makes big money shifts easier and less costly. However the idea was more that by having a shared currency everyone would (have to) behave similarly. Anyone who has lived in Spain or Italy or Portugal or Greece would know that shifting the coinage in your pocket is not going to change your cultural behavior and turn you into a German. But, behind the idea of the Euro that was the idea. And it has foundered on the rocks of reality. Of course that reality is also rather distorted by the manipulations of the bankers, who for now have figured out how to squeeze blood money out of the rocky terrain of Greece.
And so anger flows on the streets of Athens and Thessalonika, and it builds in the solid burghers of Germany who figure they are the ones paying for this folly. And, if the bankers get their way, as in the S&P notice, they will. However, whether the twists and turns take some more weeks or some more months, it appears the most likely outcome is that Greece will default on its debts, leave the Euro, and we’ll have another major economic crisis as the banks absorb their losses. If you don’t know, if we “follow the money” we find that German and French banks are deeply tied up in the Greek crisis, having loaned them multiple billions of Euro. They did so by borrowing money from American banks, who were flush with their 800 billion bail-out of 2008, and also a Federal “preferred” window in which they were able to obtain money at a half a point interest rate and turn around and loan it to European banks for 4 or 6%. Not a bad deal. But that means that the Greek crisis, zipping through Germany and France (as well as other Euro banks), then moves across the Atlantic to American banks. Hence the stamping of banker feet insisting they will not take a hair-cut. What goes round, comes round, but bankers in this day insist on privatizing massive profits and socializing massive losses. They got away with it in 2008, and they are trying again now.
At the rate things are going, it would seem Mr Mundell’s dream is turning into a nightmare, and soon the Euro will come crashing to the ground, as a sequence of debt-ridden countries, the dubiously coined PIGS, default and pull out of the Euro-zone or are kicked out.
The story is more or less unchanged in history. I figure I am the figure here, to the lower left, and off screen there are billions of others with me. While for most of us it seems fantastical, our “currency” is merely a symbol, be it dollars or yen or renminbi or drachmas or Euros. What it symbolizes is a mode of social trust, and when that trust evaporates – as it did, for example in Weimar Germany, not so long ago, or the Soviet Union much more recently, the money means nothing, and a wheel-barrel of cash can’t buy a loaf of bread. Our societies are rapidly eroding that trust, as we see bankers who for their “work” make 4.9 billion dollars in a year, while those who “work” at less abstract levels all day long, make barely enough to survive – whether in rich western and Asian countries, or those mired in poverty in Africa, areas of Asia and South America.
[Little note: Mr Obama is said to be a student of Lincoln, but perhaps it is Lincoln Perry, a.k.a. Stepin Fetchit who is his mentor rather than the other one we were led to believe it was. I can say this: Barry ain’t no Abraham.]