Monday, October 5, 2009

Extra! Extra! Then NYT actually acts like a newspaper!

The New York Times has surprised me lately by acting like a newspaper. This is so unusual that I didn’t know, at first, what was going on. The investigation of drinking water (one of the great triumphs of the state in the 19th century, now being retracted in the American Imperium as it goes into its tailspin) was the first clue. The story was not really a surprise – in the zona, one expects that the majority of the people will be screwed to the max, through their bones, in their calcium and phosphate ions, by the morally bankrupt demons that reign on Wall Street and in D.C. This is the old news that hasn’t even figured in the newspapers for years. In my lifetime, I’m seeing something vast. The America of my childhood was still, visibly, the slaveowning, Indian killing country of our forefathers. But that America was changed, and even, briefly, became a democracy. Then, of course, it became first an oligarchy, and now it is a joke on a Soviet scale. Beyond the fact that the inhabitants of one of the capitals of one of the states, Charleston West Virginia, couldn’t safely trust themselves to the water in the shower without being burned by the acids and mineral salts in it (from coal companies that no longer have to obey the rules, as they now make them in that thuggish merger of the corporocracy and DC characteristic of the Bush-Obama era), this story was also told as an old fashioned newspaper story. That is, it was not half p.r., half spin, and wholly a lukewarm mélange of viewpoints that crept into a hole of conformity. Rather, it strove to be, my God, truthful. This was a surprise.

This is the NYT. The all purpose driver of the getaway vehicle for the great bank robbery heist of TARP, the invasion of Iraq, the all too numerous schemes of peculation and fraud that have roamed the country in the name of free enterprise, ripping off the mass of the population to gorge the upper 1 percent with blood for the last decade. I had long ago ceased to regard the Times as a newspaper.

And then came the hamburger article, about another catastrophic regression from the civilized norms of the late nineteenth century – which is when the state got into the business of inspecting meat. This was excellent muckraking. It showed the power of the combination of business and government, the gross neglect of the safety of the consumer, and the way in which information, with the full collusion of the state, has been closed off, so that it is difficult to find out anything about the testing of hamburger meat for e. coli. As a bonus, it include a quote from an official in the Obama administration that was wonderful, a description of Obama-ism in action:

“Dr. Kenneth Petersen, an assistant administrator with the department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, said that the department could mandate testing, but that it needed to consider the impact on companies as well as consumers. “I have to look at the entire industry, not just what is best for public health,” Dr. Petersen said.”

Today the business section –the section for which freshwater economist Casey Mulligan and various George Mason libertarians regularly float their hilarious version of country club mythology, as for instance Mulligan’s idea that the unemployment figures show the sloth of American workers, who are quitting big time to enjoy more leisure, those lucky duckies – had a real story in it today. It was a story about the predators known as Private Equity firms. It describes how they descended upon and destroyed Simmons Mattress company. Yves Smith, the great analyst who runs the Naked Capitalism site, had one criticism: they didn’t call the fucks by their name. The NYT politely avoided the word looting:

“PE firms in risk-blind environment preceding the credit crunch got into the habit of producing good to stellar returns by modifying their usual formula. The traditional model was to buy companies with a ton of debt, then improving their bottom line by a combination of partial asset stripping (selling off ancillary operations), cost cutting, and once a blue moon, actually doing something to improve operational performance. Then the company would be sold, either privately, usually to a corporation, or taken public.

But the PE firms found a much easier approach: just pile on more and more debt, and pay themselves a special dividend. No need to do any work, just keep borrowing until you had recouped your investment and then some. And that way you did not need to care how the company fared. If you destroyed the business, it was of no mind to you and your investors. Other saps were left holding the carcass.

George Akerlof and Paul Romer called that activity looting in a famous 1993 paper and depicted it as criminal:

Our theoretical analysis shows that an economic underground can come to life if firms have an incentive to go broke for profit at society’s expense (to loot) instead of to go for broke (to gamble on success). Bankruptcy for profit will occur if poor accounting, lax regulation, or low penalties for abuse give owners an incentive to pay themselves more than their firms are worth and then default on their debt obligations.”

Although I am not going to celebrate this newfound interest in what is actually happening in America just yet. The New Yorker, who I love like a family member, saddened me by publishing a Lizza profile of Larry Summers that majorly kissed Summers ass. The elite that rule us are crooked beyond belief, and Summers is a typical product of that venal group. Lizza even omits in his profile Summers amazing luck, after he was canned at Harvard, when instead of having to go into the unemployment line, he received an offer to consult for D.E. Shaw, a wall street firm that was so grateful for his one week of work that they gave him 5 million dollars. How sweet! A fact very kindly remembered by Felix Salmon, although Felix is convinced by that article that Summers did the right thing with the banks – a call I think he will regret.


Kirk Katalonskiï said...

On the other hand this newspaper actually mistreated the Catalonians (part of them, because the NYT seems to ignore - as they only live in Madrid, where all the fascist bureaucrats congregate - that Catalonia is much more than what the thieving castilians name "cataluna" (with the wavy turd above), and the jacobine french "pyrenées orientales") for not wanting the torture of bulls on their cities - the torture of drugged bulls is a medieval brutal "spectacle" only a creep would defend. Anyway, I don't even know why I bother - justice has never been on the agenda of anyone with any kind of power. I'm fed up with even trying to make our position known. The fascists seem to have won all over the world.

Anonymous said...

I somehow couldn't post this in one comment, so...

Oh damn, this is just so good I have to quote it again.

“Dr. Kenneth Petersen, an assistant administrator with the department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, said that the department could mandate testing, but that it needed to consider the impact on companies as well as consumers. “I have to look at the entire industry, not just what is best for public health,” Dr. Petersen said.”

I would only hope that while contemplating the entire picture, Dr.KP is having some helpings of the hamburger and water that "could" mandate testing. After which he might just want to have a check up with his health care plan provider, as I assume he has one, and hear them say: listen, Mr. KP, we've a little bit of bad news. we're always up front and honest about our health care plans, you can count on us alright, so we're tell it to you straight. First your insides are no pretty picture, no siree, we'd show you but we don't want to scare you. In short, you're a dead man and the last days might not be pretty, downright ugly even, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder you know. Did we mention pain, let's not mention pain. Bad for public morale. As you must know, being a public "servant" all these long-suffering years always keeping the public interest on channel 167 of your dvr, even if most of the time you watched ....well, some things are better not made public.
The other thing is, we know you've been making all these premiums for your health care, at a bargain price might we remind you as a public servant, has nothing at all to do with your large viewpoint on keeping industry's interests in consideration as against the narrow public interest. But it's not enough bud. Numbers don't lie, we're just not making enough money. So pal, if we provide the care, you and your family are in hock for a while and then some. I hope while serving the public you were able to stash some moolah if you know what we mean.Don't look so outraged pal. If you and the guv'mint had done a better job on hamburgers and water would this have happened, so don't lay this on us pal. Guv'mint never gave us a fucking cent you know.
Aw hell, you're taking it all personal and looking a bit grim . Let us tell you a little story, just in case you be thinking we are the scum of the earth and that free enterprise is not god's gift to humanity. We're numbers guys here, deal with statistics, we don't do stories, but for you we will make an exception, as the story will split your sides, if they ain't spit already with you've been eating.

Anonymous said...

So there is a prison, a juvenile detention facility, in the fair country of the United States, another institution all about "public health". It was run by the Guvmint, and they were just not doing a good job. Well hell, we didn't burn it down, what is the world without prisons, we replaced it with a nice new prison run by free enterprise. How cool is that. So there was a slight snag see, this facility had to have inmates you know, otherwise what the fuck is it there for. So they got inmates, thanks to public servants like you with the larger good in mind. A couple of judges made sure they had inmates by sending kids to the place for very serious crimes, like yelling at someone, I kid you not, it is a major thing this lack of politeness in our culture, these kids think they can get away with anything. OK, so the judges didn't totally get away with it, they have now been indicted, but the beat goes on, those kids are still in prison. Can't have them leave cause they were put there on trumped up charges, what would happen to the prison!
Come on, Mr. KP laugh will you, be a man! You have kids too? Don't be a woman and weep, what are a woman's tears worth unless it is at a blockbuster movie bringing in the bucks.
So you're on death's door, but hey we would like you to do us a final public service on the question of childbirth and public health. It's a shame that women should have to bear childbirth, what a pain. Hand it over to us. To bear a child in a womb, what an archaic thing. We didn't want to mention pain, take this utterly stupid comment by this Aeschylus: learn to think with pain.
After all we're all happy and that is the goal, and we have technology all for the public good, where neither birth or death is painful. In fact, pain is an illness, and we have hospitals for that too, and for how it might infect thinking we have institutions called universities.

So, Mr. KP, here's wishing you a happy death, and we hope when you get settled up there you will write us a nice endorsement - and some tips on real estate - is it as going down up there?


roger said...

Amie, quite quite right.
A guy I know - and don't like much - I guy I worked with once, as part of my brother Doug's construction crew - fell two weeks ago from the roof of his mother's house. He was on a ladder. He fell onto and cracked his ribs. Being the kind of guy he is, and having, as my bro says, half of even my income (which is pretty streetlevel), he thought he'd fix himself at home. Big mistake, as one of the ribs had pierced his lung. So he swole up, fell into a coma, and is now on his second week in the hospital and the family is thinking that this will end up as a million bucks.
Who knows if he will come out of the dts and the shock, but he has little chance of paying even a thousand dollars. His family, of course, are dyed in the wool ga. rednecks (and actually I like his brother, a shambling drunk but a nice guy) but they are all mysteriously moved by hate radio and think national healthcare was created by Satan and Stalin during an orgy. It is a farce.
At the same time it is sad sad sad sad sad. Lately, I wonder if I really want to read the paper. Is there a point?

Ed said...

There was actually a strange PR campaign just a little while ago about how bottled water was really rebottled tap water and you should use the public water because the plastic containers of the bottled water was giving you cancer. The fact that this campaign was necessary, given the increase in bottled water use, shows that alot of the public gets it at least at some subterranean level.

I'll admit I started avoiding tap water after reading about all the chemicals that were legally dumped into the US water supply, actually mandated (it turns out that the wingnuts were absolutely right about flouridization). I didn't know about all the illegal chemicals.