Thursday, October 15, 2009

the underworld becomes the overworld

“Hundreds of representatives of various underworld groups are reported to have attended the funeral of Vyacheslav "Yaponchik" Ivankov.

The ceremony was closed to the media at the request of his family. Police were present but no arrests were made.” – BBC, “Russian crime boss laid to rest”

“Meanwhile, quarterly performance at the banking giant Goldman Sachs cemented its status at the top of the financial heap, alongside JPMorgan Chase. On Wednesday, JPMorgan reported another profitable quarter, igniting a rally in the stock markets.
Goldman, which repaid its $10 billion government bailout in June, reported that trading gains and corporate investments contributed to a $3.19 billion profit in the third quarter. In announcing its results, Goldman promptly went on the defensive about its bonuses, which are being doled out while the unemployment rates chugs toward 10 percent.

“There is a massive divide between Wall Street and Main Street,” said the analyst Meredith A. Whitney. “Main Street is suffering while Wall Street is doing great. It’s like the Olive Garden is empty while San Pietro is packed,” a reference to the posh Italian restaurant in Midtown Manhattan.

In part to allay criticism of its profits and bonuses, Goldman announced a $200 million contribution to its foundation, which promotes education.”- NYT, Bank Earnings Show Shifting Earnings of Wall Street

The Vory v Zakony is defunct. Banks and bank robbers have always, of course, existed under the sign of Janus: two faces on one body. The man who embezzles and the man who makes a loan are both dealing with money that is not, properly, theirs. But ours is not a world of fabulous absolutes, and at one point the banking system American had served the American public. In the reversal of that order, we have had a chance, us zona freaks, to see into the very bottom of things. It is sad that before a tsunami hits, the water from the shore rushes out, and briefly, the ocean bottom is revealed. And so it was with our good democracy, from October of last year until January. We saw what we suspected during the Bush years – that democracy has become a caricature and a misnomer for the kind of government we suffer under.
So it is that the bubble, concocted, once again, in the White House and by the Fed, has been a-blowing on Wall Street. Because it is a bubble that touches only the important people, it is a bubble in a very closed and restricted circle. That circle likes it. In the profile of Larry Summers published a couple of weeks ago in the New Yorker, Summers (whose very naps are subject to the writer’s adoration) is depicted meeting with some clueless Michiganers, who are, well, pleading for Federal funding to go to several worthy enterprises that would employ people outside of Wall Street. One of the Michiganers even uttered the heresy that the U.S. needed more manufacturing, citing as his authority Immelt, a CEO who has said the American economy should be twenty percent manufacturing (Americans cite CEOs the way the Medievals would cite Aristotle – to give that needed divine sanction to a statement). Summers is portrayed as a veritable intellectual Anny Oakley, shooting down such crackpot notions with his bare genius:

“It’s terribly important that we be very tough-minded about doing things that work, not things that don’t work, and about testing, challenging, claims,” he told the executives. And then, like a machine gun on a rotating turret, he went around the table one by one and questioned every claim he had just heard. “I was very much aware of Jeff Immelt’s statement about twenty per cent,” he said. “That was a very impressive claim, because if you look at every country the manufacturing share of employment has been going down, and I asked him if he had any data analysis to back up his statement. I’m still waiting for the answer.” (Immelt did eventually send him some information.)

Summers was equally doubtful of the idea that fairness required the government to bail out every struggling industry. He said, “The point that some of you made is one that, frankly, a number of the President’s more political advisers make with great frequency: how could you lend money to the big banks in New York and not lend money to regular folk who are employing a hundred people and are losing a hundred jobs?” But, he said, “just like occasionally in war there are unintended benefits, occasionally in bailouts there are unintended beneficiaries.” The bank bailouts, which, he noted several times, began under President Bush, “were directed at preventing a collapse that would have led millions of people to be out of work, not as support for those institutions.”

He also took exception to the idea, voiced by several people in the meeting, that intervening in manufacturing was as imperative as stabilizing the financial industry. “Manufacturing is very special,” he said, “but I promise you that the people involved in energy production think that it’s kind of special. I promise you that there are a lot of people involved in various kinds of retail activities who think they have a crucial role in the economy, and they’re right.”

Such turret like arguments obviously impressed the hell out of Lizza, but they look like so much bs on paper. Nobody disputes manufacturing is going down, the dispute is about the effects of that on working class and middle class incomes – effects that are worsened as nations like the U.S. shift to depending on the financial sector as the main profit center. And of course, talking about a lack of factual, the sheer impudence in pretending that the big banks were saved in the way they were saved (apparently, there was only one way to save them. Who knew?) because there collapse would have “led millions of people to be out of work” ignores that there reconstruction has happened as millions of people have been kicked out of work – and in fact, many of them come from small business which – o the joy – have been falling left and right due to lack of credit. For those wonderful multipliers of employment, the big investment banks, have been investing in … commodities, derivatives, and bank stocks.

The defender of the banker-bank robbers is, of course, on the left – meaning that he, at least, remembers that the Government saved the entire sector between November and February. Goldman Sachs has been busy forgetting that, and no doubt some bright pup from the Cato institute will chop up figures and redefine common sense definitions until he can prove definitively that it didn’t happen. The parasites live for these moments. They are the little undertakers of memory, which is such an enemy to Myth. And no oligarchy can survive long without Myth.

If we must have myth, I prefer the vory v zakone. There is a funny article (in French) at by Tobias Holzlehner entitled the Paradise of the Great Bandits – which Holzlehner mistakenly locates outside of Manhattan. In fact, he locates it in Russia’s Far East, in Komsomolsk-sur-l’Amour (Konsomolsk on Amur) to be exact. He recounts his adventures in going to see the tomb of Dzhem, which involved him in some difficulties when he was spotted photographing it. In fact, he has to hide for a bit among the tombstones, and keeps slipping on the ice, all of which must have brought some smiles to those lardy Mafioso faces.
Dzhem, it appears, was a mini-Berlusconi or Murdoch. His real name was Evgenii Vasin. In the days of Brezhnevian decay (which has numerous echoes with the American version, circa now), he was a trainer for a soccer team. But the athletes turned out to be much better at beating on the heads of local store owners than kicking a ball towards a field goal, and so they diversified. Life was good and peaceful – artisans and shop owners paid up, the police were paid off, and Vasin, ever the talent scout, even recruited manpower from prisons. In the breakup of the Soviet Union he, a man of vision, saw his chance and greatly expanded his businesses, employing all the standard business practices: motivating his work force, paying his top management bonuses, and administering the physical assault of various concerns and people who did not buy his insurance.
Unfortunately, everything started going to hell when somebody blew up the café Charodeika on February 22, 2001, killing fifteen people. Now, it was a matter of fact that the owner of the café had been behindhand in his payments to Dzhem. The awful truth is, he wasn’t paying at all. Fair is fair. Like any exec, Vasin was inspired by the great leaders. He must have keenly noted the way in which “Chechen” rebels kept blowing up apartment houses in Moscow and elsewhere right before Putin was swept into office on the pledge to kill Chechens, basically.
Things didn’t work out as well for Vasin as for Putin, and so the latter is now Dzhem of Russia and the Dzhem moulders in the cold cold ground.
There’s a warning here. Luckily, America is not the country to stand for violence from criminals, when well organized peculation can more easily and peacefully occur simply by a., grossly understaffing regulators, b., annulling laws against various crimes of corporate fraud and thievery, and c., assuring a gulled and ignorant population that mainlining wealth to the wealthiest is in all our interests, world without end.
Of course, even if the population is not gulled and ignorant, they can do nothing about it. They elect leaders whose every campaign promise and word is a lie. Then they elect their opponents, and it turns out their every campaign promise and word is a lie. Thus, the slow, fatal disenfranchisement of the plebes goes forward.
I hope Goldman Sachs consults the followers of Dzhem about this wondrous educational foundation, which is being endowed with about a month’s worth of salary for one GS highroller:

“In 1996, he opened the charity foundation Sostradanie (« Compassion ») in Komsomolsk-sur-l’Amour, with offices in Khabarovsk, Birobidzhan and on Sakhalin Island. Among the members of the charity service were found former prisoners, writers, former police officers, university professors, and many vory v zakone [3]..


duncan said...

It is said that before a tsunami hits, the water from the shore rushes out, and briefly, the ocean bottom is revealed. And so it was with our good democracy, from October of last year until January.

Beautiful, roger.

They are the little undertakers of memory


yoni said...

it strikes me that even as you sharpen your critiques of the American Media and its attendant circuits of power, you still believe in how things are represented, depicted, shown. why is it that an new yorker article depicting something really means that the "reality" (ok, we can fiht about that) is really what the new yorker says? or, put another post-structuralist way, you still focus on representation vs. practice. you indict the media for their portraits and assume that from a study of the media as source, one sees a true reflection of society. or, you don't, but then you are making big claims about society by *using the media as a reference*. does that make sense? even though i agree with everything you say, you are, like many of my leftist friends, still captivated by the way elites (journalists, politicians, etc) speak about things, because as you know its bullshit there is some kind of kernel of decorum, of real, real, real, real foucauldian discipline, built into the back of your mind where y'all just *know* that only if we get good people back into this role of representing things, objects, people, we can succeed. my retort is to you as to all people with whom i feel political/cultural/economic kinship: it is the very production of knowledge and divisions we uphold that allow us to think this way; that allow us to condemn the speakers without condemning the very ability, power, route, structure, epistemological conceit (pick your theory/school of literature) that preserves these conceits. this is why i'm an anthropologist.. there's something in this very colonialist endeavor that allows a production of knowledge that both acknowledges "rationality" and history, while denying the claims of the modern as the way to access these....

yoni said...

arggggg. convoluted. lets ask grant-proposal style:

Provide an argument for your ethnographic methodology. Why or why not are your sources valid? What remains hidden or what is legible by this choice?

roger said...

yoni, I'm not sure what you are asking me.
On the simplest level, I suppose I'd say: how do I know it is valid that Larry Summers is the director of the National Economic Counci? I only know it from the news. How do I know he went to Detroit at all? Or had that conversation Ryan Lizza reports him as having? Well, I've written for the New Yorker, and I imagine that, like my small small reviews, Lizza's piece was given to an editor who fact checked it. However, this does not mean decisively that Summers went to Detroit - and I certainly expect, knowing the interviewing and profiling process myself, that the account Lizza gives of Summers conversation with the Michiganders has an identikit relation with what was really said. For one thing, you quickly realize, when you tape record human beings, that they rarely speak in full sentences, they interrupt themselves constantly, they make references to previous things said, or to the situation, or to their private fantasies, that are incomprehensible, and they all uh and aww. And the uhs and awws, as my friend Michael Erard has shown in the book, Um, are definitely communicative devises.
Let me continue this in a second comment box.

roger said...

Now, is it possible, through this scrim of conventions, to get to what really happens?
Well, it is interesting that we are talking about this in a post about the Russian Mafiya. Because years ago, a book appeared about the Russian Mafiya by Robert I. Friedman. An excerpt from the book appeared in the New Yorker, about Ludwig "Tarzan" Fainber. Now, I'd been hired by a now defunct crime magazine to review this book. But the more I looked at the fact in it, including the excerpt in the NY-er, the more they smelled funny.

One of Friedman's claims was that a section of the the Columbian mob went to Russia, misrepresented themselves as representatives of Escobar, and bought a submarine.

That was the story I attached myself, with all the ardor of a maggot for a corpse.

The reason was the dates weren't right. This supposed delegation went to Russia, as I think I showed from the book, AFTER Escobar had met a demise that was certainly publicized around the world, and that would have been known by the Russian mob, unless they were a mob of hermits.

roger said...

And in the review - now forever lost, as the last copy was in the harddrive of a computer that failed! - I made an especial point that the information I used to show that Escobar had died on such and such a date ... came from the New Yorker. That, in fact, the fact checkers could have merely read backissues of their own magazine and corrected the Friedman article.

Now, of course, that was back in 2000, when I was young and frisky. I am now more rotten and despairing. But I don't really despair too much that reality is unavailable through the usual sources - I despair that it matters to so few people. And those people who do attach themselves to facts often seem to do so without having any sense of what they mean - f'rinstance, global warming denialists who will find one fact in a sack that seems, to them, to show conclusively and for all time that our addition of CO2 to the atmosphere is a win win for the planet, or something. These people are full of a passionate empirical intensity hitched to a a complete inability to understand scientific theory.

yoni said...

i suppose roger, i'm asking you what i ask matt taibbi and all other asskicking journalist types (mostly in my head, not other places). aside from understanding that larry summers is the head of "x" from a article, why does one take organs of power sincerely, or why does one believe that just making fun of the journalist/institution of journalism for "portraying" something will make it happen? its not that the journalists don't know about their choices, aporias and whatever. its that they choose - its not that larry summers or tim geithner really "believe" in the market approaches they offer. its that they don't _give_a_fuck. so why continue to argue with them as if they are accountable, rational beings rather than dispense with reading or paying attention to them entirely, and refocusing efforts somewhere else???