Saturday, March 21, 2009

pitchfork rebellion

I didn't intend to write about a four-day-old article, but as I was sorting through NPR's coverage this week of the AIG bonuses, I came upon this gem from Mara Liasson on Tuesday's ATC. The premise of Liasson's article "AIG Complicates Obama's Strategy" is that "a wave of populist outrage" over the AIG bonuses presents political difficulties for the Obama administration. However, something ugly was going on with Liasson's use of the word "populist."

The most common
definition of "populism" is a political philosophy supporting the rights and power of the people in their struggle against the privileged elite. Indubitably, there has been plenty of outrage over the use of the taxpayer-funded bailout to give bonuses to wealthy financial executives. However, another common definition of populism, with a much more negative connotation, is: "a political strategy based on a calculated appeal to the interests or prejudices of ordinary people." It is this second connotation that drives Liasson's story.

This was most clear when Liasson claimed that Obama "let the stage directions show, just a little bit," when he joked that a catch in his throat was due to being choked up with anger over the AIG bonuses. Her point evidently being that the entire press conference was merely posturing necessary to "surf a wave of populist anger."

Of course, I don't know the hearts of Obama, Geithner, et al., any better than Liasson does, but this is an extremely cynical take, considering that are very good reasons to have serious concerns regarding the bailout of AIG and other financial institutions. Rather than admit those concerns, Liasson dismissed them as "populist backlash," and described the Congressional debate over the issue as a "fullblown pitchfork rebellion."

The problem, according to Liasson, is not the very real and justifiable concerns about the bailout, but the fact that the Obama administration is now "torn between attacking and defending some of the financial entities it needs to prop up in order to secure economic recovery." Obama's challenge, she says, is to convince voters/taxpayers that "the bailout money won't be used again in a way that insults taxpayers values." Excuse me, but these issues involve significant, quantifiable realities--budgets, salaries, layoffs, not to mention the transfer of hundreds of billions of dollars of public funds--not simply taxpayers' values (read "opinions").

Needless to say, it would be much more informative and useful if NPR were to report on the substance of the economic policy issues, rather than simply engaging in political scorekeeping while dismissing the actual debate as merely calculated posturing to mollify the pitchfork-wielding rubes.


macon d said...

Excellent analysis/rebuttal. The distinction between different modes of "populism" is especially valuable.

NPR's been suffering cuts, of course, so even its stars must be feeling a bit insecure in their sinecures, jolly as they still usually sound. But they just can't stop old "reporting" habits, can they? No matter how loud that pitchfork-rattling out there gets.

Anonymous said...

Being in the monied and social elite as they are, npr has been anti-populist for some time. They were very down on Gore in 2000 for his populist appeal; their disdain for the unwashed masses literally dripping from my speakers.

Mytwords said...

I didn't intend to write about a four-day-old article...

No need to apologize for looking back a few days. Two days later, Fox Liasson was crushing on McCain< - and getting busted for it on dkos.

Hubertg said...

It bodes well for NPR to minimize the populist movement when it comes to bonus will be "pry it from my cold dead fingers" to get any cash back and the 'Illuminati' loves it...the icons of integrity in government and finance set set fine examples of capitalistic morals for us all.
What a bunch of gangsters.

geoff said...

Mara Liaisson postures as a journalist posturing as a commentator on posture - as if each character in the story is just a caricature of a meme from a prefab partisan politics charade cooked up by her handlers kabuki boxing shadows whose causes are the stuff of conspiracy theorists.

Anonymous said...

I guess Nobel economics laureates like Joe Stiglitz and Paul Krugman are also surfing the wave of populist anger when they disagree with Geithner's approach to the bank problem.

And when Krugman says "The zombies [bankrupt banks] have won".

I don't recall hearing about Liasson's Nobel in economics, but she MUST have one because she always talks like she does (in adition to her Nobel peace prize, literature prize, physics, chemistry and medicine prizes.)

Liasson is the person they had in mind when the term "quack" was invented. These are people who talk like they are experts but actually know little to nothing.

You know, the ones that get jobs with NPR. The ones who WERE TOO STUPID TO GET REAL JOURNALISM JOBS.

Anonymous said...

AIG Complicates Obama's Strategy"

She can say that again.

I'd rephrase that:

"AIG derails Obama's Presidency"

I think Obama is mis-understimating the significance of people's disgust over the AIG bonuses when he compliments Geithner with doing "an outstanding job" on the very same day that Geithner admits that he was the one who insisted Dodd remove the language to limit AIG bonuses from the bailout bill.

"Heckuva job, Brownie" anyone?

This is indeed Obama's Katrina moment and, like Bush, he seems completely oblivious to the fact.

Any bonehead can see that this is NOT just about AIG bonuses. It is about all the dirty dealing that has gone on in the boardrooms in recent years.

And all the lying and obfuscation on the part of our public officials to hide it and cover it up after the fact.

Decisions that have screwed the ordinary folk and made some people obscenely rich (at public expense).

People are PISSED that Obama campaigned on a promise to change that aND to bring "transparency" to the White House.

The AIG bonus deal and Geithner's "plan" to essentially continue the Paulson plan is all the proof most people need to see that Obama does not intend to do what he promised.

Not only that, people are beginning to understand the REAL purpose of the AIG bailout plan (hatched months ago by Paulson, Bernanke, Geithner and AIG officials in a some back room in NY)

As Eliot Spitzer indicated, the purpose of the plan (then and now) was to ensure that companies like Goldman Sachs (Paulson's old company) and BofA (whose bad investments had been insured by AIG) got 100 cents back on their bad investments. In other words, the Paulson/Bush/Geithner/Obama plan is like a huge "funnel".

In other words, the tax payers dump hundreds of billions of tax dollars into AIG and it gets funneled to companies like Goldman and BofA. This is in addition to the money they got from direct bailouts.

If organized crime were doing this, it would be called "money laundering".

Quite frankly, I am surprised Obama has been as tone deaf as Bush on this whole AIG issue.

I thought he was smarter than that. At least that's why I voted for him.

Never again.

Obama's presidency is teetoring on the edge and he does not even recognize it. If he did, he would take drastic measure to right the ship before it goes down: fire Summers, Geithner, Bernanke and the rest of the clowns who created this mess and bring in some people who actually might be able to get us out: Nobel laureates Stiglitz, Krugman and other astute economists like Dean baker.

Obama's stay the course response to the AIG scandal is not smart. It's dumb. George Bush dumb.

Anonymous said...


I agree with you 110%. I would not campaign/vote for Obama because he is much too glib (what the heck are "combat forces" as opposed to regular old Army, marines, etc etc with guns and tanks and planes ane all?) and he took at least 104,000 for his campaign in 08 from AIG. The financial sector contributed 10m to his campaign (7 to McCain) and his advisors are Summers and Rubin who played such a large part in the repeal of Glass-Stegall.

He was "stunned" with Leno. He was "choked up with anger" at his California trip getaway. He told the Tim Man to pursue all "legal" means to get the money back. It's all a sham. Obama needs Wall Street to buy up the worthless paper and they will balk if Congress gets to "re-write" the rules. But he looks good as a "populist" standing for the average person trying to get by in hard economic times.


geoff said...

I want a "Don't blame me, I voted for McKinney" bumper sticker

Anonymous said...

Nobel economics laureate Krugman calls the Paulson..I mean geithner plan "cash for trash".

But, of course, what does he know?

Much better to go with the advice of that giant among thinkers (Albert Einstein II?) Mara Liarson.

According to Paul Krugman:

"Tim Geithner, the Treasury secretary, has persuaded President Obama to recycle Bush administration policy -- specifically, the "cash for trash" plan proposed, then abandoned, six months ago by then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

This is more than disappointing. In fact, it fills me with a sense of despair."

"the real problem with this [Geithner] plan is that it won’t work. Yes, troubled assets may be somewhat undervalued. But the fact is that financial executives literally bet their banks on the belief that there was no housing bubble, and the related belief that unprecedented levels of household debt were no problem. They lost that bet. And no amount of financial hocus-pocus — for that is what the Geithner plan amounts to — will change that fact."

Anonymous said...

Lara Liarson and the rest of the comedy team at NPR could also learn a thing or two (or 1000 or 2000) about economics from economist Dean Baker (who also has Geithner's number)

The Geithner Plan: Billions More for Failed Banks
The last-ditch effort to save Wall Street will hurt taxpayers and still require another big bailout down the line

by Dean Baker

"Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner's latest bank bailout plan is another Rube Goldberg contraption intended to funnel taxpayer dollars to bankrupt banks, without being overly transparent about the process. The main mechanism is a government guarantee that would allow investors to buy junk with a 12-to-1 leverage ratio, where they only risk the downside on their own investment, not the borrowed money.

Anonymous said...

Dean Baker also had this to say;

"Just to be clear (because the media* won't tell you), the people who designed this [New (geithner) bailout] plan are the same people who wrecked the economy. Before anyone even thinks of supporting this plan, they should get a clear answer from Bernanke, Geithner, and the rest of the crowd to the question: "When did you stop being wrong about the economy?"
////end Dean Baker quote

*This is my comment: especially Foxy NPR know-nothing (sorry about the redundancy) members of the media like Mara Liasson.

Anonymous said...

I love Tom Gjelten's "analysis" of the geithner plan to deal with toxic assets.

"What's the biggest complaint about the toxic asset cleanup program?

Critics such as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman say the program is overly generous to Wall Street. "

No, Krugman (who has Nobel in economics, nowhere mentioned by Tom Gjelten) has stated many times that the geithner plan is basically a rehash of the Paulson plan which was ALREADY shot full of holes by ECONOMISTS (you know, people who actually know something about economics, unlike know-nothing NPR announcers like Gjelten) because it WOULD NOT WORK(does not even address the underlying problem, which is that the toxic assets actually ARE not worth as much as Geithner and others seem to think they are).

So, on the one hand we have krugman ACTUALLY calling the Geithner plan "Walking Zombies" and on the other hand we have know-nothing Tom Gjelten saying the biggest complaint is it is "overly generous to Wall Street."

Who you gonna believe? Hmm?

A Nobel economist or a two bit hack reporter?

one thing is certain:
I'm quite sure Gjelten will never interview krugman like Amy Goodman did

Krugman would make a fool of Gjelten.

Anonymous said...

Oh sure, you all can sit around and praise this "trash" (Goodman/Krugman) but as for me? I'll take Bob Moon. I heard Geithner interviewed just last night on the Capitalism R'Us, sorry, I meant MarketPlace, and it was so much more informative. And I might add, upbeat.


Anonymous said...

yes, indeed.

As we all know, everything Princeton economist Paul Krugman says is "trash".

That's why the Nobel committee gave him the prize (they said so in their announcement).

And everything we hear on "Marketplace" is the gospel truth (and so upbeat).

Halleluja! Praise the Lard (and pass the cornbread)

Anonymous said...

Strike two:

Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz:

"Trickle-down economics almost never works. Throwing money at the banks hasn't helped homeowners: foreclosures continue to increase. Letting AIG fail might have hurt some systemically important institutions, but dealing with that would have been better than to gamble upwards of $150 billion and hope that some of it might stick where it is important. One of the reasons we may be getting bad terms is that if we got fair value for our money, we would by now be the dominant shareholder in at least one of the major banks.

"Lack of transparency got America's financial system into this trouble. Lack of transparency will not get it out. The Obama administration is promising to pick up losses to persuade hedge funds and other private investors to buy out banks' bad assets. But this will not establish ''market prices,'' as the administration claims. Banks' losses have already occurred, and their gains must now come at taxpayers' expense. Bringing in hedge funds as third parties will simply increase the cost."
Fiscal Plan Fails both Markets and Taxpayers

by Joseph E. Stiglitz
//end Stiglitz quote

of course, NPR will never interview Stiglitz either, since he actually knows what he is talking about, unlike all the think tank wankers they have on their programs.

Anonymous said...

My my my...

While the White House and US Congress continue with the bonus bashing charade/distraction, NY Attorney general Cuomo says he will investigate the REAL issue with the AIG bailouts:

NY Attorney general Cuomo:
“Our investigation into corporate bonuses has led us to an investigation of the credit default swap contracts at A.I.G.,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement. “CDS contracts were at the heart of A.I.G.’s meltdown. The question is whether the contracts are being wound down properly and efficiently or whether they have become a vehicle for funneling billions in taxpayers dollars to capitalize banks all over the world.”
//// end quote

I imagine there are some very high level Democrats who are pretty pissed with Cuomo at this point. They thought they could keep the focus off the real scandal.

Those poor dears. The real has not yet hit the fan.