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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That makes more sense than what you said. However, I think there is something that you missed. We are already using this system. This is exactly what is promoted as the way to go in America.

This is the main problem I have with this system. The corporations are capable of leveraging much more pressure against small businesses than small businesses can leverage back. This is especially true with regards to the Intellectual Property laws which are directly designed to stifle innovation. I am sure, if you are a software designer, that you understand what I mean.

The system will still have to deal with that. The system will still leave large numbers of people destitute and still lead to the same problem we have now.

Dee -

> We are already using this system. This is exactly what is promoted as the way to go in America.

People say it, but it's not backed up.  If you go into business for a couple of years, it's regarded as a hole in your resume.  And there is near-zero business education in high school.  Basic skills like data entry, yes.  Turning that into a living, not so much.

In any case, though, the bigger change I'm looking for is, as Joan says, attitude.  A person with a job clocks in, clocks out, and does the minimum in between.  A person with a business goes all-out.  A person with a job says, "Is this good enough?"  A person with a business says, "What else can I do for you?"  Completely different vibe.

> The system will ... still lead to the same problem we have now.

Maybe.  But with a population that has the tools to lift themselves back up, and the expectation of doing so.

Dee, I think you missed the point. High school kids are able to start their own businesses. My kids did and most of my friends' kids had their own little business ... simple, basic, but they learned how to manage money, make schedules and live up to them, budget, stuff like that. When they went to college, they learned more professional and technical things. 

My daughter had a bookkeeping business in high school and now has her own business (she's 45). The things she learned had more to do with attitude than anything. 

Thanks, Joan.

Maybe a better way to say it is that I think the country needs a cultural shift.  For over 100 years, the education system has been turning out people who expect to get jobs where they're told what to do, in exchange for security.  That was good for the Industrial USA.  We are now post-industrial, whatever that means, and everybody needs to start finding their own way.

People from other countries come here, paint up the side of an old van, and bang, they're in business.  The rest of us need to get back to that level of innovation.  Given the realities of globalization, we really have no choice.  Yankee traders were once the best small businessmen in the world.  Maybe they still are, but there are not enough of them.

There's even room in the curriculum for it.  Transform Civics class into Small Business class.  It's mostly patriotic drivel anyway.  Make it useful.

No, I didn't miss the point. I understand what he was saying and stand by my interpretation what he said before qualifying it.

You answered a question that I was going to ask. I was going to ask you to establish a timeframe because the timeframe makes a world of difference in these discussions. Let me use your daughter as an example of the issue.

If we take the example of your daughter and have her graduating high school around 1984. I was working during that time period. The world of 1980 was a completely different reality than it is now. It was before the rise of the megacorporations. It was before the rise of the computer revolution. It was before the decline of the manufacturing sector. It was before the wealth of the country was so concentrated in the hands of the rich. There was a lot of opportunity for such bootstrap stories like your daughters. The conditions which allowed people to do what she did do not exist anymore and they haven't for a while.

There is only one way to return to that time.

1. Eliminate the increases in efficiency created by technological progress. For example, the decline of the manufacturing sector isn't only because companies shifted them oversees. The manufacturing sector saw the same technological improvements which changed the agricultural segment. It is the same thing which explains why farming isn't a major way of life anymore.

2. Seize the funds of the wealthy and put them back into the kitty. Despite plenty of Libertarian and Republican propaganda the people with wealth don't return the majority of it back to the economy. They sit on it so they can be wealthy.

3. Kill of a large segment of the population to release population pressures.

The world of today has changed so much that none of the old mechanism will continue to work. We have to create a new system.

That's pretty dark, Dee.

Yep. However, the universe is a very dark place.

Well, when we all get to Hell in a Handbasket, you can get a job whipping the other sinners.  I'll open a lemonade stand.  Deal?

No need to do any flogging of sinners or even the creation of sinners is required. There is something which is required.

It is required that we acknowledge the problem. We have to admit that eventually we are going to run into a wall. If we don't then the emergency will happen and we won't even have an idea that we should have been prepared.

Andrew, I especially like your, "Teach kids to expect to start small businesses rather than get jobs." Yes, even if it is a lawn cutting business or a baby sitting one, or cleaning ... all of these provide a start in understanding their economic lives. With all the working moms and dads there are lots of things that people want done and they don't have time to do. My next door neighbor owns a dog walking job and she loves it. 

I appreciate your distinction of homeless ... some are down on their luck and need a hand up. Some are mentally ill and not able to take care of themselves. Some just don't want to work to live and they make a career out of panhandling. Some are mothers and/or fathers with dependent children and just couldn't find work. They may be homeless temporarily but with some skills, good health, and some self-discipline they can pull their lives together. Then, of course, there is the drug and alcohol conditions that requires more than charity or money to solve.   

Those qualifiers I listed, "with some skills, good health, and some self-discipline" create real barriers, but not impossible. 

Dee, I think you are forgetting the Women's Rights movement, the Civil Rights movement (remember MLK Jr.?), and a whole bunch of smaller ones as well...

No. I didn't. How long ago did these things happen? We keep their memory alive, but they happened over a half a century ago.

Civil Rights Movement: 40 years ago.

Womens Suffrage: 90 years ago.

EPA (which the political arm of the rich is trying to dismantle) 40 years ago.

Let me give you a recent example. The fight for homosexuals to have the right to marry. Even though a recent poll shows that over 50% of the population supports this right there are 29 states which have amendments which make it illegal. The proponents of marriage equality don't even have a powerful enough movement to oppose these actions even though it seems to have a lot of support.

The problem is population.

The population has increased to the point where large scale social movements are harder and harder to motivate. You can actually trace the degradation of major social change by tying it to population count. Most of the major movements occurred before the global population reached 4,000,000,000. Yet, we think that because we have a couple of million people involved we have the makings of a massive social movement. We don't. We have a small percentage of people trying to change the minds of a large percentage. The larger the disparity between activist and population the lesser chance of significant change.

The previous example of the environmental movement works for this. There seem to be a lot of environmentalist because a lot of them talk together. However, there aren't enough to affect global warming because they are statistically irrelevant to the larger population. One person planting a garden in their backyard to grow organic food is heavily outpowered by the number driving 10 miles to the local Walmart to buy cheap, pesticide laden food transported by ship from several thousand miles away.

This is the major reason I stopped trying to make large scale changes and decided to concentrate on people I don't have to kick out of their mindset.

Sorry about the long post.

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