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Glass-Steagall > Volker > the winding down

Punking Ourselves to Death


The Volker Rule was a lame gesture toward restoring the heart of the Glass-Steagall provisions of the Banking Act of 1933, which were repealed in 1999 in a cynical effort led by Wall Street uber-grifter Robert Rubin and his sidekick Larry Summers, who served serially as US Treasury Secretaries under Bill Clinton. Glass Steagall was passed in Congress following revelations of gross misconduct among bankers leading up to the stock market crash of 1929. The main thrust of Glass Steagall was to mandate the separation of commercial banking (deposit accounts + lending) from investment banking (underwriting and trading in securities). The idea was to prevent banks from using money in customer deposit accounts to gamble in stocks and other speculative instruments. This rule was designed to work hand-in-hand with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), also created in 1933, to backstop the accounts of ordinary citizens in commercial banks. The initial backstop limits were very modest: $2,500 at inception, and didn’t rise above $40,000 until 1980. Investment banks, on the other hand, were not backstopped at all under Glass-Steagall, since their activities were construed as a form of high-toned gambling.

The Glass Steagall Act of 1933 was about 35 pages long, written in language that was precise, clear, and succinct. It worked for 66 years. Banking during those years was a pretty boring business, commercial banking especially. It operated on the 3-6-3 principle — pay 3 percent interest on deposits, lend at 6 percent, and be out on the golf course at 3 p.m. Bankers made a nice living but nothing like the obscene racketeering profits engineered by the looting operations of today. Before 1980, the finance sector of the economy was about 5 percent of all activity. Its purpose was to allocate precious capital to new productive ventures.

As American manufacturing was surrendered to other countries, there were fewer productive ventures for capital to be directed into. What remained was real estate development (a.k.a. suburban sprawl) and finance, which was the enabler of it. Finance ballooned to 40 percent of the US economy and the American landscape got trashed. The computer revolution of the 1990s stimulated tremendous “innovation” in financial activities. Much of that innovation turned out to be new species of swindles and frauds. Now you understand the history of the so-called “housing bubble” and the crash of 2008. The US never recovered from it, and all the rescue attempts in the form of bail-outs, quantitative easing, zero interest rates, have turned into rackets aimed at papering-over this national failure to thrive. It is all ultimately linked to the larger story of industrialism and its relationship with the unique, finite, fossil fuel resources that the human race got cheaply for a few hundred years. That story is now winding down and we refuse to pay attention to the reality of it.


8^ I

Wolfe, Loneliness, and Italy in the 70s

Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938), in God’s Lonely Man (undated as an essay):

“The whole conviction of my life now rests upon the belief that loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon, peculiar to myself and to a few other solitary men, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence. When we examine the moments, acts, and statements of all kinds of people—not only the grief and ecstasy of the greatest poets, but also the huge unhappiness of the average soul…we find, I think, that they are all suffering from the same thing. The final cause of their complaint is loneliness.”[46]

Guerriglia e guerra rivoluzionaria in Italia [Guerrilla Warfare and Revolutionary War in Italy]
by Sabino S. Acquaviva
Rizzoli (Milan), 179 pp., 5,500 Lire

II seme religioso della rivolta [The Religious Seed of Revolt]
by Sabino S. Acquaviva
Rusconi (Milan), 151 pp., 3,000 Lire 
Given the pervasiveness of such terrorism in this most civilized of countries, one welcomes the efforts of Sabino S. Acquaviva, sociologist at the University of Padua and Visiting Fellow at All Souls, Oxford, to cut beneath the surface and to try to reach its underlying causes. He has undertaken to explain the ideology of the radical left in his Guerrilla Warfare and Revolutionary War in Italy and to trace its social psychology in The Religious Seed of Revolt. The two books overlap and in a sense have their unnamed subject in Toni Negri himself, one of those “clamorous cases of people,” as Acquaviva puts it, “who began with a militant commitment to Catholic Action only to end up, in the space of a few years and via complex and troublesome intellectual odysseys, as militants or theoreticians in armed revolutionary groups.”

1.       Acquaviva claims that one element of continuity between the Catholic ideology these activists abandoned and the revolutionary one they embraced is found in their strong sense of moralism. I recall that some time ago a young revolutionary who still claimed to believe in God told me:

“Some big politician wanted that highway built [near Padua], and it cost 1.5 trillion lire that could have been used for cardiac or dialysis centers which we still don’t have…. But the highway was worth more votes than a hospital or cardiac center, and therefore someone who could have been saved is dying because that road was built. Now who is the worse killer? I who shoot that politician and maybe prevent his crime from being repeated, or that politician who kills every day?”

2.       Acquaviva finds a second element contributing to Autonomia in the crisis of identity that Italian Marxism has suffered in its long march from postwar Stalinism to present-day revisionism. Especially since 1973, when the PCI came out for the historic compromise with the Christian Democrats, many Italians have come to see the Party not as an adversary of capitalist society so much as a component of it, a moderate force for reforming the work ethic in Italy rather than a revolutionary movement to abolish it. For the Autonomists, the PCI hardly seems the place to enact the end of alienation that they take to be the promise of Marxism. For them, only the “refusal of work,” that is, absolute opposition to salaried labor, is true to the revolutionary spirit of Marx.
3.       Here enters the third element, the counterculture of personal liberation and self-fulfillment. Before it is a political movement, Acquaviva notes, Autonomia is a will to enjoy life rather than to have to earn it, a radical rejection of any society which, instead of enriching its citizens, dominates and represses them with an ethical system that insists that value comes through uncreative work. For the Autonomists the key word (it is Negri’s) has become autovalorizzazione, which can be translated as falling somewhere between self-fulfillment and self-assertion. In this concept the personal and the political meet, and more often than not Dylan pipes the tune and Marx dances.

“The have-nots, it turned out, aspired mainly to having.”

Joan Didion quote about the failure of radical politics in America:  

“The have-nots, it turned out, aspired mainly to having.”

New Peaks Will Rise

New Peaks Will Rise

We Can’t ‘GO’ It Alone, or

“Yes we can!”

(crowd applause)

Not in response to court orders

but in response to Keeping up with the pace of business

and maintaining an acceptable

l e v e l

of (mis)understandable nonsense (which is what it all is)

in the form of fictitious financial capital

as valuable as Hasbro’s monopoly money


a recent independent study found an existing anti-reality vaccine

given in a course of three shots

may be effective in only two-

with help from the Human Trials Transformation Initiative

the initiator can turn into the verifier and assure mutual destruction

by holding fast to strong beliefs in neoliberalism


We Can’t ‘GO’ It Alone, or

“Yes we can!”

and don’t worry, fair market competition

will not exist (crowd applause)

Above the ridge new peaks will rise

redundancy is resilience

which ensures system availability

 in the event of inevitably failed

meritocratic markers and markets, and

accelerating precarity 


We Can’t ‘GO’ It Alone, or

“Yes we can!”

“Yes we can!”

“Yes we can!”

(crowd applause)

I’m Tired of Murder Mysteries

I’m Tired of Murder Mysteries

Weightlifting (off-my-back) magazines…

A little, itty-bitty, TV set…

Cigarettes, cigarettes, cigarettes,

rest quietly on the kitchen counter.

Regrets (no)?

…with time being just a phase;

and logic a form of rhythm,

Knowledge gets in constant conflict with Wisdom.


One shot of sad sunshine (going down!),

it hurts but I don’t mind.

-this is what lost ambition looks like-

The leaves they fall away from tress;

because, they’re tired and lazy;

-a hammock, a breeze, and a Long Island ice tea-

who can fight gravity?

It keeps me down; but, I just want to get fucked up.


Cut short like mom haircuts and cut-off jeans,

worn by those who in them shouldn’t be seen…

Your secrets’ safe(s) got broken,

opened, my eyes,

to pretty clean white lies.

Clean Coal®, Clean Coal®,

black, black,

Clean Coal®.

Online screens fight constantly with printed papers and magazines.


Please remove my sins,

like the tops of Appalachian Mountains.

I’m still trying to figure out how to exist,

within the context of this:

shit is fucked up and bullshit.

People are just watching each other,

kill each other.

I’m tired of murder mysteries.