Robert Downes 10/5/09
We just passed the first anniversary of the collapse of the stock market and the wreck of the world economy. To refresh your memory, a year ago a gang of suicidal financial terrorists flew a jet full of empty promises into the Twin Towers of home ownership and retirement savings on Wall Street. Result? Millions of Americans lost their homes and their 401k savings.
September 15, 2008 is generally held to be the day everything went kerblooey with the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers -- the largest in U.S. history.
Lehman Brothers was a global financial firm that was heavily invested in subprime (“dubious“) mortgages. Unable to pass this junk on to its fleeing investors, or to secure a bailout from the U.S. government, the bankruptcy of Lehman kicked off a global meltdown in the economy.
What‘s amazing about the events of the past year is how genial Americans have been about getting reamed. You‘d think that people who‘ve lost 30-40 percent of their lifes‘ savings (through the devaluation of their homes or retirement funds) would be marching in the streets with pitchforks and torches.
Consider what happened in Albania in the mid-‘90s, when two-thirds of the population invested in a government-approved Ponzi scheme. When the Albanians realized they‘d been fleeced, they went on a rampage, rioting in the streets, overturning the government, and killing 2,000 people.
To put this in context, Albania has a population of only 3 million people -- one percent of our population of 300 million. If Americans carried on like Albanians, our death toll would be 200,000 and Wall Street would be decorated with investment bankers hanging from lamp posts.
Similarly, in Argentina the middle class revolted in 2001 over economic issues. A run on the banks led to riots when the government put the brakes on making withdrawals. Looting, mass demonstrations, and the overthrow of the government were the order of the day.
But here in America, we have more of a “grin and bear it“ attitude. True, the Republican Party was thrown out of office for its part in deregulating the banks, which led to our current disaster. But you don‘t see anyone on Wall Street going to jail for their part in lowering the value of the assets of the entire world by 30 percent or more -- much less running down the street, pursued by an angry mob.
Instead, we have an ‘ah shucks‘ attitude, and the quiet faith that maybe the stock market will bounce back by the time (if ever) that we retire, and maybe we‘ll still have jobs next year to pay for that underwater mortgage...
Violence is no solution, and I‘m not advocating that we emulate the rock-thowing Albanians or Argentines, but couldn‘t we be a little less “nice“ about getting ripped off by CEOs who make 400 times the pay of the average worker? (Those who still have jobs, anyway.)
With that in mind, it‘s both cheering and timely to see that Michael Moore‘s new film, Capitalism: A Love Story, packs some cinematic smelling salts. Maybe it will wake some of us up. (Check out the interview with Moore and film review in this issue.)
Dovetailing with Moore‘s film, there‘s currently another documentary out, entitled What‘s the Matter With Kansas? based on the bestselling book by Thomas Frank.
Frank notes that Kansas was a progressive, left-wing state in the early 20th century. Back then, economic issues such as fair pay, union organizing, and busting up the monopolies of railroads and big business were burning issues for farmers and laborers. In fact, in the early 1900s, America was on the brink of a socialist revolution by angry farmers and workingmen which was averted by the reforms and monopoly-busting of President Theodore Roosevelt -- a progressive Republican.
But through the years, working people in the American heartland have turned away from those meat-and-potato issues in favor of conservative and religious ideologies that encourage people to become human doormats for the super-rich, who run their lives from afar.
These are the folks who are more riled up at the polls over gay marriage and abortion than issues such as whether they‘ll have a job next week.
“This is its point,“ stated film critic Roger Ebert in a recent review of What‘s the Matter With Kansas? “Conservatives in the heartland have persuaded themselves to vote against their own economic and social well-being because they consider hot-button issues more important than their incomes, economic chances, educations and the welfare of society at large.“
Ebert adds that these folks tend to “accept hardship as the will of God.“ This, when more likely, their problems stem from some CEO moving his plant to Indonesia, or outsourcing their jobs to India.
I have a friend who desperately needs medical care, but has no insurance. He‘d love to see President Obama‘s “public option“ for health care reform become a reality. The alternative is bankruptcy, lack of medical treatment, and being worried sick over his situation.
And yet, people -- including his own friends -- send him email propaganda opposing a public health care option for those who can‘t afford insurance.
What‘s wrong with Kansas? The bigger question is what‘s wrong with us? Why are we willing to allow insurance companies to make decisions on our health care, rather than the government we elect and control? Why are we willing to let the thieves on Wall Street continue to receive millions in bonuses from the wreck of our fortunes? Why do we allow CEOs to ship our jobs overseas and then dodge their taxes, while enjoying the protection of American liberty and our armed forces?
What‘s wrong with us that we‘re so willing to lie down and take it?
OBSTRUCTION FROM STUPAK
Speaking of health care reform, the so-called conservative Blue Dog Democrats, including our own U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, have begun the “circular firing squad“ act that the party is well known for in the aim of shooting down any meaningful health care reform.
In Stupak‘s case, it‘s a pledge to obstruct reform if it includes any public funding for abortion.
Considering that much of Stupak‘s district in the U.P. has an unemployment rate of 20 percent or more and its people desperately need a public option for health care, one can only wonder why he‘s willing to play into the hands of the insurance companies for this sideshow issue.