The Unholy Alliance between the rich (Wall St.) and the powerful (D.C.)

(This was also posted in the group "Left Wing Atheists")

 

I have come a long way in three years. I was so naive. I couldn't wait to vote the Republicans out of office, so I registered myself as a Democrat and woke up at 5am to go stand proudly in line to vote for Obama. Like many of us since then, I now realize what a sucker I was. I had high hopes that Obama was going to nationalize the banks when he took office and start loosening the hold the bankers have around our throats. Well, that didn't happen, and instead he went after health care. We all know what he has and has not done since, with the latter more than overwhelming the former. So I got frustrated, as most of us have, that nothing changed with Obama. I got determined to educate myself and find out what the real problems are, and what the real solutions are.

 

I started watching a lot of MSNBC. At first, I stuck with Hardball with Chris Matthews. While that kept me informed as to what the two political parties were up to, I was far from satisfied. Then one day I tuned in a little early and caught a little of Dylan Ratigan. His personality turned me off a little at first, but the next time I saw his show I was mesmerized. Hooked. Here was a guy who was finally speaking about the real issues, the fundamental structural problems underlying the mess we are in. If you know the show, much of what I am about to say will sound like repetition, but these are what I think the real problems in America are.

 

There are 6 industries which own the US government, the military-industrial complex (e.g. Lockheed Martin), health care (Big Pharma, health insurance), banking, energy (oil, Halliburton), agribusiness (think Monsanto), and telecommunications (e.g. the phone companies that rip us off). The heads of these industries use their spectacular wealth to buy politicians. In fact, 94% of our elections are now won by the candidate who raises the most money. Obama was no exception. Yes, he raised more money from small donations than anyone had before, but he also raised more money from LARGE donations than ever before. Goldman Sachs was his single biggest campaign contributor in 2008. We all know that if a candidate tries to go against any of these industries, they use their fabulous wealth to take out attack ads so that they don't stand a chance (think swiftboating). As long as our two political parties play by the rules, they can divide up the country in any other, meaningless way they want.

 

They have a very cozy relationship, these plutocrats. The politicians look the other way while the rich engage in insider trading. They even call up their friends on Wall St. and give them insider information as to policy changes which have financial ramifications (and then engage in a healthy amount of insider trading themselves). Then the rich spend huge amounts of money in lobbying efforts to convince the politicians as to how the laws should be written. They have managed to rig, to their vast benefit, the tax code, trade policies, and banking regulations to siphon money from the American people and into their pockets. They pay lower taxes (or none at all) than average American individuals and businesses. They trade with countries like China which can make products far cheaper than we can make it here, eliminating American jobs while flooding the markets with cheap goods (think Walmart). But the banking "industry" seems to have benefited to even more egregious levels.

 

Our US government has allowed a $700 trillion, completely invisible and unregulated swaps market to exist without requiring all of these transactions to take place on a visible (and regulatable) exchange. There are no capital requirements, which means they can trade without having anything of value to put up as collateral. And when their bets go bad, the Fed just sends them a check to the tune of $29.6 trillion of our tax-payer money so far since the crisis began. And I thought we had a deficit! Where are we getting all of this money from? Are we just printing it?

 

Meanwhile 1 in 15 Americans now live in poverty. 18% of us are unemployed (that's the "real" unemployment figures), and that's not even counting the underemployed. Incomes are falling, debt is mounting. People are left homeless while foreclosed homes sit empty. Income and wealth inequality are at their highest levels since the Great Depression. Meanwhile our elections are being put up for auction and neither political party will stand up to these powerful ruling interests. If this isn't a state of unjust affairs, then I don't know what is. These are issues that shouldn't even be restricted to the left, we are all being oppressed. But while we on the left are waking up, those on the right are drifting towards a libertarian philosophy which plays right into the hands of the rich. With no government around, who could possibly stand up to the rich?

 

We need to retake our government, not break it down into uselessness. And we need large-scale structural solutions to address these mounting problems. We need systematic and system-wide changes to our democracy and our government. We need to weed out waste and abuse of power at all levels. We need to eliminate subsidies for oil companies and stop sending money without strings attached to the bankers. We need to break up the banking cartels so that never again will an institution be "too big to fail". We need real regulations on the banking industry, and that begins with having capital requirements and putting the swaps market on a visible exchange. If we change the way Wall St. does business, they will make money honestly and contribute real value to America rather than being fueled by the need to create more and more debt. We need to restructure debt to help out students and homeowners. And to that end I would suggest literally bailing out the American people. If we are going to print money, why not give it directly to Americans so that they can use it to pay off their debts to the banks?

 

We need to eliminate superpacs and overturn the Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court that makes corporations people and money into protected free speech so that the rich can't talk more loudly than everyone else. We need a real energy plan, and we need to improve our energy efficiency so that we can approach a % in the 90's like other modern industrialized nations have rather than the 34% efficiency we are now sitting at. We need real environmental regulations, and we need to completely restructure our educational system so that we can keep up with the rest of the world. And we need to end privatized profit but socialized risk for the wealthy, and incentivize investment in America and it's people.

 

The political discussion has been framed by our politicians as being about ballooning debt. While certainly this is a huge problem, I am quite certain that if we address the real problems in America, our national debt problem will also be solved. If we stop war-mongering and being the arms-dealers to the world, we won't have huge costly wars to pay off. With an economy that puts people to work, our social programs will have plenty of funding to continue operations, keeping Americans healthy and financially supported throughout old age.

 

We are really running out of time. The changing environment is going to make all humanity come together, one way or another. We can come together now and make the necessary changes to our lifestyle and our society so that we can all live on this earth in peace, or the catastrophe to come will be marked by the most violence, starvation, and suffering the world has ever known. And the US needs to lead the way. When the catastrophe comes, humanity will largely blame Americans for it, and rightly so. There will be enough blame to go around, but the American people can do something about it now, while we still have time. If we do not raise our heads up out of the herd and take our country back from the oligarchs who hold us as slaves and hostages, the lion's share of the moral responsibility for the future of humanity will be ours to bear.

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I think the dream of large scale social change is just that - a dream.

Ask yourself when the last large scale movement occurred and was successful. The last major ones were way back in the early 1900's and everything since then has just been modifications to the previous revolutions. The best you might get was the fall of the Soviet Union. The Arab Spring which everyone was amazed at is coming apart at the seems. Egypt is devolving into just another military dictatorship and will eventually result in another Islamic theocracy.

Dee, let me think a minute, there was a time when I was afraid of polio and I no longer am, and that has occurred in the fairly recent past. 

There was a time when I believed there was a god and that my job was to obey him, and I no longer belief that. 

It wasn't long ago when I drove a large gas guzzler but don't now. 

I used to have grass in my garden and I no longer have one blade of mowable grass. 

We used to have a lot of trains go through the middle of spokane and they are all gone but one. 

My home used to be filled with cigarette smoke and there is none here now. 

I once used powerful chemical in my garden and now it is organic. 

As to nationalism, we continue to go to war for the flag, even if the country is bankrupt of moral and ethical values, as I think USA is.

We still go to war over religion although no one will admit it. Remember the term "Crusades" that Bush so cavalierly proclaimed?

There was a time not too long ago when pregnant girls couldn't stay in school, or a time when married women teachers couldn't teach. 

We used to make a big deal out of Miss America and now only commercial interests care. 

Women in my family wore high heel shoes even when doing housework, and modern fashion does not require it. 

Phosphates used to be in our soaps and mostly they are gone. 

Lead is no longer in our gasoline.

There are more farmers markets open, even in large cities.

These are small things, trivial, really, but they are changes.  

Family violence, once considered "normal" is no longer tolerated. 

Wife rape did not always count as a crime. 

Changes that we need to have happen are: 

universal health care.

money out of politics.

education that teaches critical thinking rather than rote learning.

less focus on punishment and more on education. 

we need natural flyways on migration paths. 

Each human being born on this planet is entitled to sanitation, healthy food and water, access to basic hygiene and health care, shelter, freedom from tyranny, women have control over their own bodies and decisions based on her health and welfare, homosexuals have full rights of citizens, freedom of and from religion, the right to die with dignity. I'm sure there are more.  

What would you add? and what do you see that needs to be addressed?

Most of the things you listed count as small scale modifications of the current social system. They were small evolutionary changes to current systems which started out small and then spread out. They weren't the result of large scale protests in the streets. In addition, they only apply to a small subset of civilization.

The things which Wanderer is advocating would be large scale and sudden changes in the system. The important concept to remember is "sudden." Large scale and sudden changes will always be faced with opposition.

> Large scale and sudden changes will always be faced with opposition.

Also, unintended consequences and usurpation by opportunists.

Dee, I confessed these were small things.  What can I say, the really important things are sidetracked by wedge issues and much of the population falls for them. We have a people who ridicule education and learning. The children ask why they need to learn reading and arithmetic and history and social studies and algebra and parents let them get away with it. Some parents did not apply themselves in school and ended up with jobs that don't provide a living wage, others lacked education but had an entrepreneurial spirit that can't be taught. Real learning began for some when they got into the job seeking world and discovered they lacked skills needed for production and services. Many did not develop the social skills required to work with other people. 

Let us not forget the role of religion in maintaining and perpetuating the status quo. Some religious want to include "Intelligent Design" into our science classes. Can you imagine, "OK class, this is chemistry 101, alchemy 101 follows." "This is astronomy 101, astrology 101 follows." "This is geology 101, dinosaurs and man co-existed 101 follows. This is the most outrageous, illogical, unintelligent change I can ever imagine. We need to have a voice in this dispute. Would you like to have your heart surgery performed by one who learned alchemy, astrology, prayer healing?

You are perfectly correct in calling me on seeing small changes.

However, Sudden changes did occur when the car replaced the horse, penicillin replaced sit-and-wait treatment, when women and blacks began having access to better schools and making better wages.

Real change will occur when people begin to question neoclassical economic thinking and how it locks us into boom and bust cycles. Or real change will occur when we realize USA, white, anglo saxon, male and protestant are not the only way to see the world. There are other economic systems that work, other races who can think and reason, other sexes are "real" people (I mean women and homosexuals).

Real change will occur when we stop blaming immigrants for our social, economic, and political problems and face the reality of what nationalism, sexism, racism and religionism has cost us. 

We need world wide solutions, but let's start with USA: freedom of thought, speech, and religion, access to lifelong learning, access to affordable health care, an economic system that values capital and labor and appreciates the role in government to maintain balance, justice and peace.

What we experience right now is the change that is taking place because of our changes in technology. Remember the role the auto, penicillin, and washing machines made in our lives, or the invention of the electric starter making it possible for women and small men to drive cars.

This chaos is the result of changes in values and procedures in life. The conflict increases as we type. Conflict produces heat. Heat produces change. Change can go any direction: it can create dysfunction and it can create advancement. That is why we have to think critically, act accordingly, and start where we stand. I can't take on Washington, D.C. but I can take on those with whom I correspond, and discuss.

That is what we are about, isn't it?  

I am sorry if I led you to think I was condemning or complaining about the small things. The small changes are the ones which actually get the work done. Small changes combine into major changes, but a lot of people tend to notice the major changes. The time frame between horses and cars isn't even a really sudden change. The first automobile was created in about 1870, but they didn't become mainstream until after World War 2. It took about 70 years for them to really take off. 

My idea wasn't to trivialize small changes, but to point that they are the real mechanism for societal change.

I don't understand your equivalence between chaos, conflict and heat.

That is why we have to think critically, act accordingly, and start where we stand. I can't take on Washington, D.C. but I can take on those with whom I correspond, and discuss.

That is what we are about, isn't it? 

I agree wholeheartedly.

Dee, I perceive great turmoil that includes many aspects of our daily lives. Certainly economic change creates uncertainty because of the financial downturn.

Political change adds stress because of the different philosophies about the proper role of government and how to manage our system. Some want to reduce the size of government, others want to regulate banks and financial institutions to prevent predatory lending, and some want to increase our government and produce a cradle to grave governmental protections system. 

Religion has a role in the stresses and conflicts confronting us. Some people believe there should be laws controlling women's choices, and how social problems should be managed, and some want religious beliefs to define "family". Some want Intelligent Design incorporated into public school systems. Some want verifiable and replicable evidence before submitting to rules and regulations wanted by religious people.

When there is conflict there is a rise in temperature, whether in a beaker on a lab bench or in emotions caused by having different opinions. 

When there is heat, chemicals and elements begin to change their structure, the heat of disagreement also creates opportunity for cognitive change or to solidify into no change, or to become so malleable there is profound change.

Under the heat, pressure, stress, or conflict one can choose to do more of the same, do less of the same, or not change. These stressors can also cause one to think creatively, imaginatively, and take risks that they ordinarily would not take. That is when change can occur and time will tell if the pressure, stress, and conflict is resolved, or if it not, one can go back to the old way or try Plan B. They keep doing this process until and unless the stressors os gone. 

Joan -

> Each human being born on this planet is entitled to sanitation, healthy food and water, access to basic hygiene and health care, shelter, ...

How?  I agree, we are all human and all deserve dignity, but where would the wealth come from to provide this level of hygiene to the globe's poor?  I've been to Ecuador, Mexico City, and San Francisco - I've seen homeless people.  If you really want to take a liberal agenda to this extreme, you would need StarTrek level technology to fuel it.  Replicators, anyone?

There was an earlier discussion of economic theory in this thread, which I may still digest.  You guys may have sorted this question out back there - if so, I apologize.  But I am a concrete thinker, so here is a numeric example:

Last year, many people were shocked and appalled that the CEO of Ford got a big bonus.  Many felt that the cash should have gone to the rank and file.  First off, it was stock not cash, so the amount is fudgeable.  But call it $57 million bucks.  At the end of 2008, Ford had over 200,000 employees.  That's $285 per head, were it passed around.  A help, but not enough to lift anyone in the USA out of poverty.

I agree with most of your past list, although I do like trains and was not aware that they had been declared anathema :)   But my future list is:

+ Affordable health care (not going for universal yet)

+ End gerrymandering

+ Teach kids to expect to start small businesses rather than get jobs.

+ Recognize that there are two kinds of homeless - down on their luck vs. damaged - and figure out something that can be done for each class.

All in the USA.  The rest of the world is too big a target for the near future.

I would have to agree with Andrew here, Joan. It would be ideal to be able to provide all human beings the dignities of basic health care, shelter, clean water, etc., but that doesn't seem realistic any time in the near future.

 

No Andrew, we didn't sort out the questions of economics earlier in this thread. :-) I haven't yet even had the time to watch the videos and read the articles Joan posted. I promise to do so, but it may have to wait until after I get back in about 2 weeks.

 

I like your idea of splitting the homeless into two distinct groups. I think this kind of individuation is hardly done enough in many areas of concern, and it would be very helpful if it were done more often. In education as just one example, we primarily individuate based on age only. We should be learning how to teach children based on many more criteria! IQ, gender, fields of interest and aptitude, etc. The lists can grow quite long.

Andrew, you are exactly correct and I stand challenged. At the same time, how much wealth was sucked out of Africa, leaving little behind to sustain the workers, let alone those who do not work? What about S. America, how much money was soaked up and taken out of that continent, again with little left for the farmers and miners? What about China and using opium to quiet the masses while draining wealth from their country? What about Cuba, Haiti, the Philippines, who all gave more than they received even as their culture was destroyed, or attempted to be destroyed? Who of us can forget about N America's destruction of natural migration and food supplies and not providing ways to replace them for primitive native cultures? 

As to sharing $57 million with workers, and every big expensive executive split with their workers, would we have the foreclosures and repossessions we now see? I grant you, consumers fell for the con of banks and borrowed beyond their means, and regulations designed to prevent such predatory practices were taken off the law books. There is enough blame to pass around to everyone in the circuit. But since when are the executives worth the money they scoop up and out of worker's pockets? And Since when are the producers of goods and services so undervalued? Let's stop blaming the consumer for this mess and get the money from where it went. 

Downtown Spokane was a railroad town, smelled bad, had a huge prostitution and drunk population, our Skid-row was every bit as bad as Seattle's, and now is a beautiful park with lots of open ground. Many more businesses are closing with big bankrupt sale signs on them, old building are being torn down and left as parking lots, but our city presents a family friendly, outdoor environment that feels and looks better. If the national economy tanks, we still have a pretty place to live.

Railroads brought wealth to our city for the mining, lumbering and agriculture we have, but those old road beds are now parks and trails across the northern tier of USA.  

I like your list, it is pragmatic, realistic, and things that each one of us can participate in changing. I like your challenge to me. 

No, it wouldn't take Star Trek level replicators. It takes efficiency and elimination of waste. Remove the motivation for profit and concentrate on efficiency and elimination of waste and there would be more than enough to make the changes. However, the current economic system relies on inefficiency, inaccurate accounting of cost, and just throwing the waste created during the whole process.

+ Teach kids to expect to start small businesses rather than get jobs.

This one makes no sense whatsoever. Where exactly is the funding for these small businesses going to come from? Starting a small business isn't the cheap thing it may have been once upon a time. Do we provide loans from the government? Do we underwrite loans for them? Who is going to cover the costs when their businesses fail. What kinds of small businesses are they going to start? Where are they going to get the knowledge of how to run a small business?

Dee -

> This one makes no sense whatsoever...

I am glad you asked.  This is the dark horse item on my list.  I made it up myself. It has been a pet idea for several years, and I have written about it elsewhere on AN.

Our current system teaches kids that somebody will take care of them if they are good. If kids are and docile and absorb all their lessons, they will get jobs, work all their lives, and retire in dignity.  That outlook was explicitly adopted as a goal of education in the 1800's, in order to "turn unruly children into disciplined, judicious citizens." 

The downside of that is that it fosters dependence and naivete.  And as much as I love organized labor, work rules often foster an unhealthy environment where everyone can be doing their jobs but the mission is never accomplished.  The worst, sneakiest strike that anybody can pull is to just do their job.

Going into business is a completely different vibe.  You have your basic skill, but you also know about money and law.  Plus, you have to work as smart and as hard as you can, every day, to build a place for yourself in the economy.  Not dependent, not naive. And not reliant on multinationals that want to send all the jobs overseas.

I have been in the software business for 7 years.  I started with a laptop and an attitude.  Now I have a patent, an employee, and worldwide clients.  No loans, no funding, no safety net.  I think my way can be the future.

> Where are they going to get the knowledge of how to run a small business?

Where they now learn dependence on corporate largesse - in school.

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