Sunday, February 01, 2009

The Zairean Model

Obama's comments late last week about Wall Street bonuses were interesting mainly for their stridency, but they were probably inconsequential. We'll see what happens when the next stage of the bailout is announced. This feels like an inflection point where policy could represent a fundamental change, or we could continue the descent into a sort of neo-feudal kleptocracy in which the productive but increasingly hollowed-out parts of society -- teachers, doctors, cops, small business owners -- send tribute to a handful of unelected government officials, who then dole it out to slightly more legit versions of Bernie Madoff.

The parallels to admittedly cruder national systems are wrapped in legitimizing acronyms like TARP, but the basic dynamic in many ways is the same -- from the establishment's apparent disdain for paying taxes (Geithner, Daschle, etc.), to crumbling infrastructure, profound institutional failure, and the economic squeeze on parts of the civil service. Historically, the last in particular has characterized economic chaos and national decline. This report from a few weeks ago is one example. Here's another. And still another is the increasing hardship on Americans serving abroad. Some snippets of a post report from the U.S. consulate in Rio de Janeiro:

Housing: Apartments in either Ipanema or Leblon, which are two of the most upscale neighborhoods in the city. However, the housing pool and the management section's attitude were both appalling while I was there. Several officers were without hot water for extended periods of time, gas leaks, ceilings caving in, broken air-conditioners, lighting wiring held together with electrical tape such that only GSO staff could change light bulbs... all common place. And to make it worse, while I was there, the attitude was "well, the landlord won't fix it and we have no money so just live with it". That's okay for a broken door handle or something like that, but not for major health and safety related concerns. Everytime there was a problem in anyone's apartment, the resident would get a sinking feeling in anticipation of having to go to war with the management section.

How do you get and send your letters and package mail? APO, although several times in 2008 there was no money to buy gas for the consulate staff to go to the airport to get the mail.

Morale among expats: Varies. At the consulate it is pretty bad because of money management problems there. Having no money for toilet paper and no money for gas for official vehicles makes it difficult to do one's job. Having all consulate cell phones turned off for nonpayment of bills can all take a toll on morale.

Anyone else find this embarrassing? Folks, this is Rio, not N'Djamena. And while Rio isn't Brasilia, it's still a high-profile post in an increasingly important country. Our official representatives are complaining about decrepit and dangerous living conditions, no money for gasoline or toilet paper, and consulate phones disconnected for lack of payment. Isn't that something you'd expect to see in a desperate missive from some central or west African diplomat stationed in New York or London? Are they getting similar dispatches in Beijing from China's diplomatic corps?

We'll see if the actions of the Fed and Treasury start to reflect Obama's rhetoric, or continue to symbolize and effect a broader national decline.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This embarrassing too: $90k/yr jobs, in bailed out companies, going to H1B/L1Bs. What's with that?

Bailed Out Banks Sought Foreign Workers For High-Paying Jobs: AP

Is there a shortage of "best people" as Thain would say? And if so, is that saying America can not develop intelligent, educated workers? Don't businesses train and develop their personnel? Is it saying foreigners will do jobs Americans won't, like Sr. VP., junior investment analysts, or human resources specialists? Or is it, "Foreigners are attractive hires because companies have found ways to pay them less than American workers."

If you follow the later, basically our stock driven model is a major contributing factor to our problems: the CEO will look like they are decreasing costs, earnings are manipulated, news media and financial folks cheer - 'rah, rah, sis, boom, bah, stocks!', and the company board concludes that the CEO should be paid multi-millions in pay, perks, bonuses which extends into their retirement.

2/01/2009 1:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for this, CR. One of the enjoyable things about your site is that while you're much more to the right than I am (most people are, actually), you've never stooped to the every man an island, devil take the hindmost idiocies of most right-wingers (and, frankly, **all** self-identified libertarians that I've ever heard).

The only thing I'd add is that as bad as the situations you describe are, what's going on with state-level civil servants is even worse, and much more likely to cause a rapid and direct decline in the daily lives of most Americans. I'm in Michigan now, and I note that even the most obtuse, heads-up-their-asses Republicans seem to expect the roads to be cleared of snow (though I think they still expect this to occur tax-free).

To my mind, there's no clearer sign of the disconnect between the Imperial Center and this: Our "defense" budget has ballooned, and our "leadership" caste thinks it can "manage" provincial affairs in Waziristan and Mosul. Meanwhile, states have been slashing payrolls and paring services and selling public assets to meet short-term budget obligations. (Those asset sales are arguably the prime symptom of our new banana republic order.)

I'm happy to see that Obama's grand economic scheme includes additional revenue-sharing with the states, but the amounts seem rather paltry, given the scale of the needs and the amount that's already been shoveled to and stolen by the financial "industry". It seems to me that Obama's economic "geniuses" are far too beholden to the very bastards who got us into this mess, and certainly seem to share their approach to diligence: The "oversights" and "mistakes" that these guys indulge in seem a little contrived -- I'm pretty sure that there are tax accountants for hire, good ones, in Manhattan and DC. And I'll bet they're even listed in the phone book.
-- sglover

2/01/2009 2:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sglover gets it.
The state of our states and the state of our diplomacy, like the state of our Justice Department, Treasury, SEC and CDC are just a manifestation of 8 years of Bush and the legacy of Reagan.
It's done, it's over and it ain't purty.

2/01/2009 2:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since I can never leave a hair unsplit:

I don't think we can lay **all** the blame for the states' problems in Bush's account, or Reagan's (theirs are flush enough anyway). The free-lunch/banana republic rot has been bubbling up from the local level for decades now. Look at how many states have glommed on to lotteries as revenue source: It sure beats levelling with taxpayers, and telling them the unpleasant truth that public services require public money.
-- sglover

2/01/2009 3:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't disagree but, getting it all for nothing is what we see on Wall Street & the halls of our Federal Gov't. That and Grover Norquist.
We've been spoonfed this pablum from birth.

2/01/2009 7:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

great posts and comments. thanks sglover, very spot on, IMO.

2/02/2009 10:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh my gawwwd, if we don't pay up Roberts might leave, and then how will we ever find a partisan hack to shit all over the Bill of Rights?

2/02/2009 8:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You see these comments from Obama, but then you continue to see leaks from the administration and congressional Dems about the creation of a "bad bank" to buy up all the banks' toxic assets-- i.e., utterly worthless shit-- at the banks' fictional "market value" in return for little or no equity in the rescued firms. If this or anything close to it goes through, I really think the pitchforks and torches have to come out. There is no other appropriate response.

2/03/2009 4:26 PM  
Blogger Mr. Hedley Bowes said...

Before the pitchforks and torches, a lot of shovels need to be deployed to clean up the effluence of the Bush dynasty.

I had the privilege of listening to the president of a major U.S. manufacturer at lunch today. I've had the privilege of seeing their product on the manufacturing floor. When done right, U.S. engineering and pride of workmanship is a beautiful thing to behold. We left this presentation optimistic and steeled for challenge and opportunity.

This is a republic, not an Empire. This post reminds us that these are ugly remains of a declining Empire. God willing, we have the Republic to fall back on.

2/07/2009 11:27 PM  

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