Why bankers are not prosecuted and the poor are

The DivideCurrently reading Matt Taibbi’s book “The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap” which is yet another important piece of writing from this US journalist and author.  Basically he’s exploring why not a single banker went to jail or was personally fined in the wake of the sub-prime crisis, which is clearly the greatest financial scam in history.  Governments openly refer to the large scale fraud that took place so there’s no grey area to all this.  At its most blatant were the ratings agencies slapping AAA status on sub-prime mortgage packages which permitted conservative institutions like your pension fund or city council to drop your money into this toxic crap.  This is loosely equivalent to turning the distance meter on a car back or falsifying a car’s papers to hide the fact it was written off in an accident.  Except the devastation was on a grossly greater scale.  If you think I overstate this then wait until you retire and find yourself eating cold beans while wrapped in a carpet in your damp bedsit.  And as Taibbi quickly zooms in on the fact that the kind of guys carrying out dodgy car sales come from the other side of the tracks from the bankers.

White-collar crime is rife and rarely does anyone go to jail and in the case of the financial crisis rarely does anyone personally pay a fine.  Yes the banks may settle out of court for billions, but that comes out of the banks pockets (which were lined by bailout money anyway).  Now I had my own thoughts about all this which were along the lines of perhaps the ruling classes looking after their own and seeing the poor as somehow being subhuman.  However although there may be an element of this, the picture Taibbi paints is more twisted and related to a game playing scenario: what are our chances of getting a conviction?

Do relatively low paid state prosecutors really want to go head to head against intelligent, ruthless, well connected people with unlimited access to the best legal services in the world?  I mean when you are being measured and sometimes paid against your success rate is it not just easier to randomly pick up poor folk for any random misdemeanor?  In the USA they say that if you can’t pay bail and you go in then you stay in.  If you can pay bail and stay out then you stay out.  Most people arrested (85%) can’t even pay the $1000 bail which means they go in and by the time the case is heard you’ve already been in the pokey longer than the sentence (time served) and not fighting is cheaper and quicker: you’ve already done the time.

A messed up world, folks, a messed up world.  Why the poor don’t take up pitchforks and storm the bastille again I don’t know.  Or maybe they’d never get the pitchfork home from the hardware store without being arrested for possible future crime.  If you’ve never seen Minority Report then do so – it’s where we’re headed, except without the creepy clairvoyants: just arrest poor people randomly because they “fit the description”.

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Beaten to Death by Clowns

Amateur Night in the Big Top is a 2003 album by Shaun Ryder of Happy Mondays fame.  In my mind it is brilliant.  Varied, complex music with a variety of styles including jazz, dance and eastern; cross references, reprises and Ryder rambling and swearing all over it.  If you look at the reviews he got in the music press when it came out, with a few exceptions, he and his creation were completely slated: incoherent muttering, pitiful, tuneless, horrible, need I go on?

Roll-on 12 years and the same music press are apparently saying that it was an influence for a band called Sleaford Mods whose output over four albums is much less varied than any two given tracks on Amateur Night.  And they are getting all kinds of positive reviews.  The hacks are saying this is genius, go listen to these working class sweary lads, laying it out on the state of Britain.  And they were influenced by an obscure, clever Ryder album that you’ve never heard of.

What is going on here?  Could it be the self-preservation, self-policing mindset at play?  Were journos frightened to give a stamp of approval to such a genial, experimental, original album from a washed up former hero?  He’s Shaun Ryder.  He used to do Happy Mondays and Black Grape.  He had problems with drugs.  What the hell is he doing now?  This doesn’t make sense.  Better ridicule it.  The Guardian gave Amateur Night, a mighty 1-star out of 5, which beggars belief.  Even if the music was not to taste, you had to give is a minimum of 3 for what it aimed for.


The fourth track is called Beaten to Death by Clowns.  It’s a brilliant metaphor that can be applied to much of life.  “The idea is, the guy on the cover [above] – he’s a fucking clown,” explains Ryder. “Bush is a clown that staged 9/11, Saddam is a clown, everyone I’ve met in the music business is a clown. My mate Wags once said that his nightmare was being beaten to death by clowns. I’d agree with that.”


I just watched The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz.  A prominent hacktivist and civil liberties figure, hounded to suicide by US prosecutors for a crime that was not actually a crime.  Why did they pursue him so vehemently?  It was clearly a chance to make a statement to his brethren saying: Don’t mess with big government and big business.  Do as we say:  Fucking stand-up, sit down, be quiet, shout loud … keep your head down, in the crowd to quote some of Ryder’s lyrics.

It’s not as if there is a weekly meeting  or newsletter where all the politicians, businessmen, bankers, journalists, prosecutors and police get together and openly say let’s make an example of some poor bastard.  It’s all kind of implied.  A fear of the masses, a need to control.  Despite what the media portray, the vast majority of people are not programming apps, driving a hit YouTube channel, writing popular blogs, wheeling-dealing, getting TV and radio spots, guest editing magazines, or being invited to Davos.  Most of us just get on with things.  We tolerate each other, generally don’t want to harm.

But then there are those people who have become Clowns.  Clowns is the right word.  Not because they are stupid or funny, but because of the mask they wear.  They are whoever they need to be to get some self-beneficial task done today.  They’ll flip tomorrow if that works out better for them.  They’d deliver their own mother to a Saudi sheikh if it netted them a minor oil deal.  They’d sacrifice their own young countrymen in futile wars and bomb a distant country into the stone age if it will win an election or secure business for their fat cat mates.  They’ll turn a blind eye to pedophiles in their midst if it means they can control them for their own purposes; secure their loyalty with a dirty, damaging secret. They’ll destroy a life to make a statement.

The clowns don’t believe in anything other than what serves them right now.  The middle class are taught to fear the hoodie on the street, the burglar, the “did you spill my pint” football hooligan, the dodgy foreigner, and are taught to trust the clowns.  The banker, the journalist, the politician, the lawyer, the TV-star, the businessman won’t break into your house and beat you senseless.  No, they won’t do that, but they wouldn’t hesitate to ruin your reputation, destroy you financially, drive you to the brink and remove your freedom.


[Here is the story of American comedian and drunk Doug Stanhope going head to head with a clown journalist, Britain’s own Allison Pearson.  Doug is a foul mouthed, hard drinking, drug consuming Yank living somewhere in the desert on the edges of society.  He’s also hilarious and as with most great comics is an astute observer of life’s details and injustices.  That’s why most good comics are liberal in leaning because you need to be touching on the truth for something to be funny.  The neoconservatives and ruling class clowns can rarely ever be funny because their whole premise is build on deception; a deception required to keep the whole incredulous, fragile and unjust house of cards that we call society from collapsing.]



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Viz Magazine’s No.22 Shit Street

Back in the mid-1990s there was an issue of Viz comic that featured a miniature porcelain house of the sort that features on the back of certain magazines aimed at the more senior, doddery citizens.  The difference was that this was no cute country cottage but a dilapidated council house in a run-down estate.  As the Telegraph wrote in a 2004 article about Franklin Mint:

” Viz captured the spirit of those promotions brilliantly in a late Nineties parody supposedly marketing a porcelain model of a decrepit council house. “No 22 Shit Street” was perfect in every detail, from “the fire-damaged, urine-stained mattress, carelessly discarded below the bedroom window, to the jauntily angled dustbin spilling its putrid contents across the path in a splash of repulsive colour”. “

I still wonder how much the UK establishment uses the threat of ending up at 22 Shit Street as a means to control the working- and especially the middle-classes and accept whatever draconian Neocon measures that are thrown at them.  You know with a kind of sneer saying: “Be thankful for what you have, life could easily be a lot worse … get on the wrong side of us and we’ll have you in 22 Shit Street faster than a ned in a stolen Ford Escort.”


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UK: The slippery slope

Excellent comment on Craig Murray’s blog today by Mary:

Day 1. Cameron promised he would scrap the Human Rights Act. Now he says it’s at the top of his list.

‘Among Mr Cameron’s first legislative priorities will be to enshrine an EU referendum into law, bring in the so-called ‘snoopers charter’ to give police greater powers to monitor internet communications and give English MPs a veto over legislation only affecting England. The Tories also intend to publish plans to scrap the Human Rights Act within their first 100 days. All proposals had been previously blocked by the Lib Dems.’



The fascisti are coming.

They Thought They Were Free – Milton Mayer
The Germans, 1933-45

‘But Then It Was Too Late

“What no one seemed to notice,” said a colleague of mine, a philologist, “was the ever widening gap, after 1933, between the government and the people. Just think how very wide this gap was to begin with, here in Germany. And it became always wider. You know, it doesn’t make people close to their government to be told that this is a people’s government, a true democracy, or to be enrolled in civilian defense, or even to vote. All this has little, really nothing, to do with knowing one is governing.

“What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could not understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it.

“This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.’

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The Deficit: Why our weakest citizens must suffer

Poverty_in_ukWhat is this deficit we hear about continuously?  Why are we driving the weakest people in our society to suicide in order to reduce this deficit?  When was the last time someone explained to you exactly what this word and the number it represents means?  When did your MP tell you why we’re going to kill the vulnerable just to make the number smaller?

Essentially what all the plonkers on TV and in your newspaper are talking about is the gap between what’s coming into the government in taxes and receipts versus what’s being spent. Now considering that the government can simply create money out of thin air and distribute it via the banks it does seem rather bizarre that anyone gives a flier about deficit, but anyway let’s play along.  If we agree there are only two variables:

  1. Money coming in
  2. Money going out

And the difference is either the deficit or surplus, then it means there has been more money going out than going in.  If you think of your own household it effectively means you’ve run up debt.  To pay back your debt you can either spend less or earn more.  For the government it means they can either spend less or get more tax.  Spending less means cutting back on things like health, education, welfare, maintenance, infrastructure, weapons, quangos, etc.  Getting more tax means increasing income tax, VAT, company tax or closing down tax avoidance loopholes.

Austerity allows richer people to maintain their lifestyle at the expense of the poor in the face of an unsustainable trade deficit.

Naturally given that wealthy people mostly call the shots they are not keen on higher income tax, company tax or closing loopholes.  Surprisingly they are not all that keen on spending less either on things like giant infrastructure projects such as high speed railways, management consultants, tax breaks, private prisons, private hospitals, nuclear power and weapons – these right-wing Neoliberals are more socialist than Karl Marx when it comes to these kind of uses of tax.  No, better cut back on the stuff poor people need.

flags-8220_640But this still does not answer why we should care about a number.  One reason is that letting the deficit get out of hand can lead to runaway inflation.  That is true if money is misappropriated and poorly used.  But a more important reason is that European and world level banks tell us we need to target a certain value.  And if we do not?  Well then our credit rating will drop.  So?  Well then we need to pay more for borrowing.  Pay who?  Actually this is where we come to the crux.  In the end the only deficit of any importance is the balance of trade.  That is the difference between what you import and export.  If you import more than export you’re going to need to borrow “international” money if you want to keep buying German machinery and gadgets from China.  International money is essentially what your currency is worth compared to other currencies and is therefore a kind of barometer for comparing economies and their outlooks.

Why does the domestic deficit not matter when looked at independently of balance of trade?  It’s rather simple and my recent article on the DIY Austerity Experiment reveals all.  Basically I show that the amount of work you undertake in your own household (=country) is limited only by the efforts expended by the family members (=citizens).  As soon as you need something substantial that you can’t make yourself (=computer) from a neighbour or local shop (=foreign country) then you better have something of similar value you can exchange it for (=balance of trade).

In a nutshell:

  1. UK imports more than it exports.  Blame Thatcher, unions, class system, UK doesn’t like making things.
  2. Germany and China want paid (how unreasonable!).
  3. UK needs to borrow to pay this.
  4. The interest rate is set according to numbers such as the deficit.
  5. Increasing tax might make rich people cry and threaten to move somewhere else so instead we cut spending (on things that don’t upset rich people).
  6. Deficit looks good so interest rate stays low.
  7. Keep buying more on loan from abroad as UK’s manufacturing and exports sink further due to cuts in spending.
  8. Rinse and repeat until society breaks down completely.
  9. Civil or international war resets system.
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Yes Voters Were Actually Rather Brave

After the initial massive disappointment last September I began to think a little more about what was actually achieved by the Scottish independence movement.  Recently I’ve begun connecting with people on Twitter again and discussing the General Election in May.  And surprisingly I began to realize that the people who voted Yes last September were actually rather brave.  Although it may appear to be completely logical that the Scots would want to leave the United Kingdom, the fact that there was so much fear mongering and threats made the result still impressive.


It takes bravery and single-mindedness to vote for independence when:


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Psychopathic Cultures and Toxic Empires

psychopathic-coverWill Black’s brilliant book Psychopathic Cultures and Toxic Empires is absolutely essential reading if you want to stop being shocked every day some Establishment figure or powerful organization does something disgusting.  Of course they do terrible things – they are psychopaths.  It’s their job.  Do you condemn every time you see a lion kill an antelope?

If a small number of people will always be at the psychopath or sociopath range of the spectrum then the important consideration is why do the rest of us permit their like to access positions of power from which they can inflict more damage?  Why was Jimmy Savile able to indulge unhindered in his sick, predatory behaviour for a period of 60 years?  There is little chance that the many at the BBC, charities, police and Westminster who actually knew about his crimes would condone what he did?  I am relatively certain most would have been quite sickened.  But they did not seek to stop him either.  Why?

Could it be that psychopaths with their single-mindedness and drive are actually useful weapons for many of us?  Surely his unique publicity attracting presence boosted careers of many TV and charity managers?  And apparently pedophiles are useful in politics – easy for the party whip to keep in line.  Most people have doubts over their decisions, what actions to take, morality, right from wrong, the meaning of life, whether there is a God.  A psychopath can short circuit much of this: does his current action bring them closer to or further from more power over others or their chosen fetish?  Life for them can be much more black and white, can contain that admired ability to make quick authoritative decisions instead of the infinite shades of grey that the rest of us poor suckers struggle under.  Hence useful psychopaths can assist us in handling our darkest, basest fears and beliefs by doing the donkey work that we can’t stomach.

Lovis_Corinth_006In a similar way to how most of us could not slaughter an animal ourselves but we’re happy to buy a sanitized lump of meat from the supermarket, we move through life using psychopathic politicians and establishment leaders to either do our thinking for us (“I always vote Labour”) or do our dirty work.  Whether it is deporting asylum seekers, cutting benefits to the poorest people, denying climate change or renewing a doomsday weapon system, you’ll find a useful psychopath to do the nasty work for you, leaving you with your basest instincts semi-satisfied.

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