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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Brian - good luck with that! LOL

Since money is fiat, it has no intrinsic value and can be printed without restraint. Therefore Rockefeller, Mellon and Walton have a claim on wealth because of capitalism. Working people do not have the same rights as wealthy to fiat money and continue to remain poor, in spite of hard work, dedication, responsibility, honesty, morality, ethics. 

Capitalism is not a flat playing field, but a design, a construct, a scheme for the rich to be richer and the poor to be poorer and then blame individuals for not being worthy of wealth, using religion to justify their position. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-PkWf9M3rUw&feature=related

Well I've never been into George Carlin (I just knew him from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventures), but apparently he knew this shit a long time before I did.

More from George Carlin, with undoubtedly more coming:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKQs-jDI7j8&feature=related

wanderer - funny guy

He's only funny because what he says is true. I probably wouldn't think he was funny at all if I didn't agree with him almost 100%.

wanderer - I think he understands the causality and determinism quite well - along with a bit of dry wit and mild paranoia ;)

I would also point out that on each end of the political spectrum is a philosophy based on either competition or cooperation to the exclusion of the other. The Libertarians on the right seem to be all about competition - they think that competition is the only good, that cooperation is for the weak and is the root of evil, and that we should all be left to ourselves, that we should all be out for ourselves, apparently in a dog-eat-dog world where only the strong survive and deserve to survive.

 

On the other end, in communism one finds cooperation to be the only good, and all fair competition needs to be eradicated so that everyone can be exactly equal with no advantages over anyone else. Nobody should be left out in the cold, but neither should anyone be given anything that isn't also afforded to anyone else.

 

So while on the extreme right you have a belief system which in practice would lead to a social stratification approaching the vertical as closely as possible, with the ones at the top reaching dizzying heights and the ones at the bottom left to fall to sickening lows. on the extreme left you have a belief system which in practice would lead to a social stratification as closely approaching the horizontal as possible, where no one is left behind and no one permitted to get ahead.

 

It seems obvious to me at least that what is called for is balance. We should somewhat reward talent and hard work and somewhat allow the weak to fall behind, but while keeping checks in place to make sure that fewer people are disadvantaged, and are indeed empowered when such empowerment is likely to lead them to higher ground, and to make sure that fewer people can get so far ahead of everyone else that they can shape the ground behind them for everyone else to their own benefit, and to the detriment of fair play and empowerment for others.

 

What is needed is an organismic perspective, but I'll have to get to that later.

It seems obvious to me at least that what is called for is balance. We should somewhat reward talent and hard work and somewhat allow the weak to fall behind, but while keeping checks in place to make sure that fewer people are disadvantaged, and are indeed empowered when such empowerment is likely to lead them to higher ground, and to make sure that fewer people can get so far ahead of everyone else that they can shape the ground behind them for everyone else to their own benefit, and to the detriment of fair play and empowerment for others.

What needs to happen is a change in focus. There is nothing wrong with the natural competitive instinct in human beings, but the competitive focus in external instead of external. A change from an external drive to compete to an internal drive for excellence would completely change the playing field.

We used to have that, but capitalism changed the focus from creating a good product to making a minimally acceptable product that people would pay for.

But if we used to have the kind of focus you are calling for, and capitalism was to blame for the deterioration of that focus, then what we need is to change our economic philosophy, and the focus will reemerge naturally from our human nature. There may not be anything intrinsically wrong about our natural competitive instincts, but we have to look at the state of the world and our place in it far more objectively. A solution to man's problems in this coming century based on competition would mean scrambling over each other in a merciless, everybody-is-out-for-themselves kind of way, leading to even worse suffering for all but a few, and a state of war of man against man devoid of morality. There would undoubtedly be actual wars, which would create still more horrors, and life for everyone would be "nasty, brutish, and short".

 

I think it is glaringly obvious that the world does not need a whole lot more competition. What we need is to come together as a species and cooperate the hell out of this thing, and face the coming challenges together in a display of our finest spirit, or else enter the coming catastrophe each of us alone.

Wanderer, I see this financial crisis is opportunity in disguise.  People have been predicting these events were coming and many people couldn't see the risks. 

Even as my retirement fund is decreasing in size, even as my grocery bills are rising very fast and where I used to pay $12.00 for a tank of gas in my 20 year old car, I now pay $33.00. I had my retirement all planned out so I would have enough to last to my 100th birthday, taking into account a reasonable inflation rate.  

For me, the prudent thing to do is scale way back, develop the skills that I observed as a child and our nation in the depth of the Great Depression. It is possible to live happily and productively without stuff. Many of my generation believe they are entitled to the best, most expensive stuff made, whether cars or homes or clothes or whatever. Well, that is a myth, we are not entitled. Attitudes of entitlement breeds discontent and envy. Entitlements for rich and welfare for poor create problems and we might as well get over it and deal with it as mature, adult human beings. 

With all the printing of fiat money, we will either have massive inflation or we will continue to stagnate and deflate the economy.  Either way, fixed income elderly don't have enough years to recover and have to scale down by selling homes and cars and stuff. 

Young people are in a terrible bind because there are too few jobs that pay living wages, fewer safety nets to help those who get caught in this downturn, no discretionary money to save for children's education or for their own retirement. Their future is dreadfully bleak if we continue as we have. We have to figure out what is happening, why, who needs to know the facts, and how we got into this mess. 

That is the opportunity I see.  There is a way to solve these challenges but it takes skills of research, analysis, planning, persuasion, debate and I don't know many people who have those qualities. 

Joan, I agree with everything here. We certainly should learn to live with less. As a matter of fact, we are living in a completely unsustainable way. Americans consume 25% of the resources of the world, and if everyone in the world lived like us we would need 4 Earths to support us. With dwindling resources and a growing population, we will in this century reach many critical points in the trajectory we take as a species. We had better learn how to live sustainably and within our means, or we will be the cause of greater suffering to come.

 

I think we will probably go through a long period of inflation, and that will inevitably be followed by a rapid deflation. And when that bubble bursts, it will make this past one look mild in comparison. I know I'm a doomsayer, but I agree with George Carlin that we are circling the drain, and eventually there will be a reckoning. It will either be a soft one if we can get our act together, or it will be a disaster.The way things are looking, it is more likely to be the latter.

 

The market is terrible right now, my wife and I are struggling just to raise our 3 boys, and with one of them being autistic, I am very worried about the future security of all of our family members. They are obviously entering into a world which will be far more tumultuous than the one I grew up in, so I just hope we can give them the skills they need to be successful.

 

As for figuring out what is happening and why, well it is obviously a very complex problem, but I would say that there are two ways of looking at it. The first is more of a micro approach, and that means learning the ins and outs of economics at an in-depth level and building up to a macro-level understanding, and this approach is better and more thorough but also far more difficult. The second approach is more of an intuitive approach, and while it attempts to look at the big picture, it does not have high resolution at the micro level. Regardless, my own intuitions about what is happening are pretty straightforward. From what I understand, and given my organismic perspective, the economy is just like an organism, with power being both accumulated and expended. A terrific analogy for what is going on is that the blood-flow of capital is being sent to one organ (the financial giants) and is getting clotted there, starving the rest of the organism of necessary power. It's all about a redistribution of power. We need to loosen the clots by breaking up the big banks and the large corporations so that there is real competition between them, making them work harder for us and giving us more,and more real, choices.

 

It is a similar problem with our political parties. They have all the power split between just the two of them, so they do better for themselves (in the short-term, narrow-focused way) by cooperating with each other and with the other monopolies of power (the 6 controlling industries mentioned in the OP) than by sharing power with the whole organism (our country). We end up without any real choice, being forced to choose between the lesser of two evils, while the real problems never get addressed.

 

It is a lot like the brain and the other internal organs cutting off blood flow to the extremities, to the point where our arms and legs will eventually fall off as a nation. It is so unbelievably short-sighted on the parts of the powerful because it means that the organism as a whole is growing weaker, and eventually they will end up killing themselves as well!

 

On the other hand, there is some logic in what they are doing. It is beneficial to the organism to purge itself of excess "weight". If we were like a bloated organism with dozens of fingers and toes, it would make sense to starve off the extra digits and pare down and streamline the organism into fighting shape. This is what conservatives are pushing for undoubtedly. Can we as a nation, or even as a species, take care of everyone? I think some concessions on this end also have to be made, because i think the answer is that we cannot, at least not without some kinds of changes to how we are organized. Reorganization is another one of those great organismic terms that I am so fond of.

 

In any case, my intuitions are that we should be reorganizing so that power is distributed more equally amongst the different parts of our organism. I think there has been far more attempts in human history to conglomerate or centralize power to one or a few bodies than there has been to keep power more equally distributed, and we should be trying to find the best means for doing so. We may be both engorged and starved as an organism, but each in the wrong places. Well really I think that's exactly what we are. We need to start starving the excesses (the large banks, the mega-corporations, the mega-political parties), and engorging that which is starving (the 99%!).

 

As for explaining this in economic terms, and persuading and debating others on the merits of exactly how to do all this, I don't possess the necessary qualifications, but there are people out there who do. We need to start reforming our society, and quick, but it will take an immense effort. But what choice do we have?

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