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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Hah, you ask me if I remember a Reagan SOTU speech?! Lol, remember I was born in 1977, I vaguely remember Reagan as President (Carter was before my memory took shape), so I certainly don't recall the content of any of his speeches. I remember the "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" line, that's about it, oh, and with boyish naivete exclaiming to my mother "I like President Reagan"! I didn't even become interested in politics until fairly recently since, like many of my generation (generation X, as if the name wasn't a clue enough as to our sense of being lost in the wind, a pretty damning conviction against the baby boomers that raised us), politics was one part confusing and complicated, one part about things that didn't seem relevant to football or girls or having fun, and one part ugly and dirty. I only just got through Obama's last SOTU speech, and it was one of my first. I don't think I ever watched one of Bush's, and I certainly didn't care about politics even back when Clinton was in office. Sorry to date you! :-) But I am not quite as pessimistic as you are about what it takes to make it rich. One of my closest friends did what he had to do, he wanted to own his own business from a young age (he wanted to be like his grandpa or uncle or someone), so he went to business school, worked for a business firm for a few years until he learned the ropes, then went into business for himself and makes a good living. Of course, to do this you have to have a pretty narrow focus, it means being focused and disciplined and cutting away extraneous things, much of which are I think vital for becoming a whole human being. I certainly had no interest in being a businessman, now or ever. My wife makes a very good living, she went to school for business and has a much narrower perspective on life than would make me happy as well, but these days that is what is necessary to live comfortably and raise a family. And there are still plenty of good smart people who come up with good ideas that are worth a lot in the market. But that does leave vast portions of the population who are talented and good and want to contribute to society but don't want to sell their soul to a corporation or a conglomerate, and who would have no trouble at all making it in a society where power was distributed in anything like a fair distribution, but do poorly when all the wealth and power in the country is concentrated in the hands of the 0.1%. So I am saying that you don't have to be immoral to be rich, but it helps to be somewhat less than human (maybe the same thing?).

Excellent response! Years ago I asked a young soldier where he was on Pearl Harbor day and he said he wasn't conceived yet. Oh! I am getting so old ... I probably forget more than you have learned. 

Absolutely correct! There is opportunity for making a good living and even making it big, but we do not live on a level playing field, we do not have a free enterprise, whatever that is supposed to mean, freedom of thought is guaranteed ... if one thinks the correct thoughts. 

My daughter and her husband are in business for themselves and she formed her own business when when she was just out of school. They have done very well, but they are on call 24/7. She took 1/2 day off to have a baby, and she has always worked. Pure determination, rugged discipline, and old fashioned hard work. 

She said last week that if she had joined the army when she graduated she would be able to retire now. She has years of work ahead of her to support her senior years. 

Well, not everyone has advantage of a good education and strong family support and I can't even imagine trying to build a middle class family now. Young people have real challenges ahead of them, and not everyone is good at entrepreneurial ways of working.  

Good for you! Sounds like you know what you want out of life and what you are willing to give. Hope all turns out well for you and your family.

Thank you Joan. My family certainly did not support me, and getting my education has been that much harder for it (I am still struggling along). If I had stayed in the military myself, I could have retired in about 5 years, assuming of course I survived all these wars or made it out without psychological trauma (and preferably with all my limbs intact). I would have had to trade that not too appealing outcome for my education though. Even though it means I have to struggle to make my life work, I believe I made the right choice for my determined spirit.

Holy Buckshot, Batman!

First, your Class A&B loans already exist.  The market made them.  Banks loan money for Class A.  Household Finance and friends work class B.  The mischief is credit cards, which change from A to B if you miss too many payments.

Second, business people are not cash seeking missiles you make us out to be.  I spent 20 years learning my trade - electronics and software - and am now making a good living in business by concentrating on doing a good job technically.  If you think I'm some kind of automaton, I think you need to read-back some of my posts.

I would say back to you that earning a living off the raw economy gives you focus.  If you have to make your own payroll, you may not have as much time to dream, or patience with theories, as people who are happy to draw a check.  But that doesn't mean that you are limited, any more than a laser beam is more limited than a candle.

Got it!, yes, credit cards do make mischief. Yes, there is something about making a payroll that keeps one focused. That said, even in the electronics and software business, do you feel squeezed by lower labor costs at box stores, or difficulty finding quality products  from producers? If you provide services, that is an advantage for you, and your reputation can carry you forward. When you face rising unemployment that limits your providing goods and services, do you feel the pressure? 

For me, being retired and in poor health means all I have to do is think and read and develop theories. I hope you and my daughter and her husband are able to do that, hard work deserves a good retirement. 

Andrew, by no means did I mean to imply that all people who work hard and put their nose to the grindstone in this society were deficient in some way. In fact I immediately thought of you as one of the counterexamples of people who are capable of being both entreprenurial and managing to keep a healthy thirst for knowledge that goes beyond figuring out how to get a paycheck and what to spend it on. The friend I mentioned is another - he is a successful businessman and manages to find time to read the occasional book and get informed politically. There are a great many more people who are not all that capable in one area or the other. That doesn't mean that the ones who aren't entreprenurial are worth less to a society that values them according to their actual values, but our society is really hard of hearing in this regard. The businessmen and bankers get paid for doing work which is sometimes destructive to the society and the economy, but what do teachers and scientists get paid? They have to live off the realization by the government that what they do is good for the society, so if that's indicated by how much they get paid, our society doesn't value education or science as much as how to turn a profit, regardless of how that profit is made or whether it is socially constructive or destructive.

 

And you make another excellent point that backs one of mine up - having to live according to the profit motive means not being able to afford the time to dream, or entertain more theoretical work, you know, the kind of stuff that pays zero in the here and now but pays much bigger dividends for everyone in the long-term, if only those theories were implemented or the dreams helped made into reality. We as a society, and indeed as a species, have not figured out very many effective ways of doing this, and who knows how many wonderful theories could have been acted on by now, and how much better our way of life would be for them? I'll give you one excellent example - health care. The ideas that spurred Obama to go after health care reform when he came into office were based on evidence-based practices developed at Dartmouth which were found to reduce costs dramatically as well as reduce the number of unnecessary procedures that pay big money to the hospitals but do patients little real good. The health care industry pushed back against these initiatives because they would reduce their profits. In the end, Obama essentially traded on these ideas and settled on expanding coverage but without the reduced costs that were supposed to pay for them, due to pressure from lobbyists. The industry won out, the people are still paying for it, and one small percentage of the population is leeching off of the general population, continuing the high costs which are spinning out of control and buying us unimproved health care. Were our society to be better designed so that the real thinkers and dreamers and theorists were in charge, our entire economy would be in better shape, despite the increased costs to subsidize the lives of us dreamers. Instead, businessmen with their eyes on how to turn a quick profit are in command, and steering us on a course to hell. I do not think you are limited, Andrew, but I do think our society's emphasis on business is myopic, and the people who blindly go along with it are limited, and limiting the rest of us, and indeed all of us.

@Joan -

> I hope you and my daughter and her husband are able to do that, hard work deserves a good retirement.

Thanks, Joan.  I don't expect to retire.  I'm trying to figure out how to take my business employee-owned, while "encouraging" it to send me part time work as long as I can handle it.

> in the electronics and software business, do you feel squeezed by lower labor costs at box stores

Part of the trick is finding niches to work in.  I am never going to compete with Microsoft or Apple.  But there is a whole world of endeavor out there,with many problems to solve.  I make it my business to solve problems that companies would otherwise have to solve themselves, and sell the result for about 1/10 the development cost.  If more than 10 places buy, I win.  No self respecting conglomerate would ever develop anything for the small markets I serve.  But this strategy is now keeping 3 people busy.

We also walk dogs.

@Wanderer -

> by no means did I mean to imply

Dude, no sweat, I was messing with ya.  And I agree with you about Obamacare.  I'm nervously watching my state health pool to see how things shake out.

> Andrew, but I do think our society's emphasis on business is myopic

The thing is, money is objective.  Everything else, from scientific consensus to pop music charts, is subjective.  Money changes everything.

Andrew,

 

Oh. Yeah I knew that!.....

 

Lol, thanks for the Monty Python link, I'm always up for something completely different, and perhaps a little bit naughty... :-)

 

And your statement that only money is objective is highly debatable! In fact it leaves me wondering if you were serious, or if you intended to argue for something and thought that this would make your point. In any case, there are degrees of objectivity and subjectivity in almost all things, and that certainly applies to money. Economics has long been considered a social science rather than a hard science, despite the beliefs otherwise of some economists (probably the ones I don't much care for). So, have at you!

@Wanderer

> your statement that only money is objective is highly debatable!

I was mostly playing - mostly.

It's a discussion for another time.

Can someone tell me a situation where someone has got rich in an ethical way?

Because from my understanding - our moral values hold us back from getting rich - and those who already have money go about making laws to keep it.

Oh, hah, for a minute there I thought you were asking for an example of someone getting rich in an unethical way. I am not one of those extremists on the far left who think that some inequality is inherently a bad thing, or that people cannot get rich without being unethical. Anyone who uses their talent and creates a product that a lot of people like and are willing to pay for to have can get rich ethically. Take the example of J. K. Rowling, the author of the wildly popular Harry Potter books. She created something that a lot of people think is quite wonderful, and got hugely wealthy in doing so. The only people I can think of who think she created something bad are the religious nuts who think stories about wizards and witches is satanic or something (yes, from the same people who brought us witch-hunts not too long ago).

 

I don't think our moral values hold us back from being rich, but I think they should have us use our wealth in balance between helping others and self-indulgence. It is not wrong to want things for oneself - people are quite within their rights to want to raise happy families and have nice things, but they should also want their children to grow up in a world without so much suffering. If one can do good for others without much cost to one's own well-being (or even as a boon to one's well-being), then they probably should.

 

I think about these things organismically. We are the centers of whatever organisms we belong to (family organisms, political organisms, humanity, the earth (I call this planetary organism "Gaia")), and we work outwards as we gain in power. At first we need to be concerned with our own survival and basic needs (think of when you were a baby), but as we grow and our ability to organize with others grows, we think of the needs of the greater organisms to which we belong more and more. If we are truly strong as human beings, we look towards those mega-organisms, e.g. all of humanity, or Gaia, and we become concerned with their well-being as well as our own. This does not mean we have to sacrifice our own well-being for the good of the group, as an extreme version of altruism might have us do (like some religious beliefs). Or at least, what we do sacrifice of our selfish interests we think we gain back by belonging to a better meta-organism. But of course an ethics that says that we should withhold everything for ourselves, and which denies the existence of these meta-organisms (like Randian Objectivism as the most egregious example), an ethics based on pure, unabashed selfishness is also against our natures. We need a balance, and this balance depends primarily I think on how much power we have, so if we are very rich, then we ought to be able to empower others a great deal.

 

As an example of someone getting rich unethically, in case anyone wants to know, consider the tobacco farmer who, knowing that his product kills and causes untold suffering in countless people, but hides behind the fact that what he is doing is not considered illegal, well, he doesn't even have to be getting rich this way, he is acting unethically just by making his living, and he ought to switch to a less profitable, but also far less organismically-destructive (i.e. unethical), crop, as but just one example.

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