That Sucks You Into Feelin' Like This
Remember the Communists? The Red Menace? You young people won't of course, because as I sit here Monday night writing this sorrowful recitation Public Television is furnishing me with a gleaming, glowing, grand video hagiography of Ronald Reagan, by which I understand that The Great Communicator defeated those evil, dangerous threats to the American Way Of Life through toughness, resolve and horsemanship. Communists were before your time and you may be forgiven for worrying more and properly about our current threat to The American Way Of Life, International Terrorism.
But if you do recall those decades, you remember we, the self-proclaimed Greatest Nation On Earth, with the most modern, powerful weapons at our disposal, and the bravest soldiers and the smartest generals and the benevolent will of Great God Almighty watching over us and guiding us, nevertheless lived in fear of them-those Communists. We were bigger and we were better, and we were scared, but we were also bold and belligerent and self-assured. But deep down inside, we were scared.
But though Nikita Khrushchev (a fat, bald, loud, funny Communist) or Chairman Mao (a goofy little Communist from China-Red China), or even Fidel Castro or Ho Chi Minh (secondary or subservient Communists we sometimes called "puppets", but of whom we were also fundamentally afraid, yet contemptuous), while any or all of these might wish to annihilate us with atomic bombs or multi-million-man armies that would march across the Pacific and into the living rooms of good, TV-watching, barbecuing Americans, there was one glorious weapon, of immeasurable power and undeniable goodness that would render us triumphant: our economic system.
Capitalism! This, they beat into us all through high school, was what made us great. Maybe the Soviet Union and even Red China could build big chemical rockets and equip them with nuclear warheads. But they could never build as many or update their design as frequently or keep them as shiny and oiled and pretty as ours because those nations labored under the handicap of the government ownership of the means of production. Communists (and to a somewhat lesser but still disturbing degree, Socialists) believed that factories and farms were owned by the citizens collectively, through the agency of government. In America, by contrast, our teachers assured us, individuals started, owned and ran the machinery that made us great.
And, in doing so, each of us who might choose to start a business, build a factory, create jobs, add to the Gross National Product, had a chance to become comfortable, secure, and if everything worked just right, even rich. We might also, of course, make bad decisions and go bankrupt, but that didn't often happen, my teachers told me. This was the Land Of Opportunity and only the lazy, those who would not apply themselves, work hard, get their hands dirty, would fail to prosper. Persons who failed to prosper might end up on welfare. (Years later, Bill Clinton promised to "end welfare as we know it", and pretty much did, so now life might be just a bit rougher even for those lazy misfits lacking sufficient ambition.) That was the deal, and most people most of the time believed it was a good one.
But time passed. Conditions, I guess, changed. In 1979 Congress took pity on the Chrysler Corporation, the smallest of America's three giant automobile manufacturers, and provided an infusion of half a billion dollars or so to help those good folks over a rough spot in their road. Then, after being freed from some troublesome government regulations in the early 1980s, America's savings and loan institutions went into the real estate business in a bad way, and began imploding suddenly and publicly. Neil Bush, son of a president and brother of the current officeholder, ruined an institution called Silverado Savings And Loan. When the federal government stepped in to rescue that one institution alone, it set back the taxpayers more than a billion dollars. Taken all together, this episode, known as "The Savings And Loan Debacle", cost us about 124 billion dollars. More or less.
These were memorable and costly government interventions, but each time we were assured that the cost was well borne because the institution or industry was "Too Big To Fail." That is, if Chrysler stopped making cars or Neil Bush's bank went under due to its own bad business ethics, moral turpitude or criminal stupidity, we, the individual taxpayers and wage earners of America, wouldn't like the result.
So government dabbled in the business of "bailouts'. But, except for a few excursions into total ownership (such as, for instance, the taxpayers' assumption of the insurance exposure of nuclear power plants which the private insurance companies consider too risky to insure), the washing of corporate wounds in the salve of our money has been limited to a crisis every decade or so, and as time has passed even the very numbers have seemed to diminish-only five hundred million for Chrysler?
But now, in the space of a single summer, Federal Reserve Chairman Benjamin Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson have, one concludes, gone over to the enemy. No longer proper Capitalists, trusting in The Miracle Of The Free Market, they've been casting cash at pretty much any old mortgage company that lent all its money to crack house entrepreneurs or took the company bank account to Vegas. Oh, they got tough with Lehman Brothers, but only after pledging seventy billion to an outfit called AIG-the American Insurance Group. I sleep better now, knowing a giant insurance company has been rescued.
Merrill-Lynch may have been saved by the Bank Of America (concentration of capital no longer an issue) and Bear-Stearns was swallowed by JP Morgan-Chase, but tonight my computer crackles with news that Morgan-Stanley and Goldman-Sachs are panicky. Fortunately, if theoretically reluctantly, government will ride to the rescue not of single entities any longer, but now comprehensively to lift out of the mire any struggling member of the "Financial Services Industry."
People, this is no industry. It's a shell game. This is not a bailout; it is an unraveling. You and I are being sold out, blatantly, publicly, and with the cooperation and collusion of the press and Congress. Was it a bad thing, that idea Karl Marx and Fred Engels hatched for the people to collectively own truck factories and potato farms? Maybe it was. But it's a far, far worse idea that we should put up our savings to buy discredited institutions that exist primarily to shuffle and reshuffle money in the interest of ever-greater, ever-shakier and more precariously-propped-up profits.
Do you know what a "credit default swap" is? No, of course you don't; neither do I; neither do most members of Congress. Can you define "mortgage-backed securities" or "collateralized debt obligations"? I didn't think so. Well, you're buying a slug of 'em. Seven hundred billion dollars worth, they tell me. But it "might top a trillion." Sure. OK. Whatever. How'd the Red Sox do last night? Of course the press has whored itself out to megabusiness; we know that. And, as ever, Congress is startled and agitated but will, as always of late, go along with whatever gross deal Bush and the bankers and the moguls and the morons of Wall Street cobble together. But are any of my neighbors angry about this? Will we stand for it? Will we accept that it's for our own good?
I just popped up the Population Clock on my computer here Monday night just shy of midnight, and found the estimated number of persons with whom I share these United States stands at 305,229,725. If the burden were to be borne equally across the population, each of us would be assessed $2293 dollars as our share of the seven hundred billion. A family of four would be debited $9173. But you and I, fellow laborer, will inevitably pay much more because so many will pay nothing. Remember those tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires we all thought were such a good idea just a few years ago when we still reveled in the satisfaction that, however low we might have fallen or yet fall, we were still, one and all Capitalists, and what benefited the wealthy would trickle down to us as the marketplace worked its magic and business, free of burdensome regulation, rolled gloriously onward.
So Dick Cheney got his tax breaks and his trillion dollar war, and now his buddies who screwed up, lost, corrupted, twisted, misused, tainted or pissed away every decent dollar they were entrusted to handle will slide out the back door with their salaries and stock options, and any worthwhile thing the next president might have done for us or our country or the world will be hostage to the inevitability of paying the vig on the loan we're going to take out to make this terrible deal go down. Because we don't have the money. There is no seven hundred billion at hand. We'll borrow it. From the Chinese. The (still) Red Chinese.
So we'll raise the cash and we'll put aside our principles and we'll put a good face on it, won't we? John (The Maverick) McCain wants a bit more oversight in the future (too little and too late, you shallow dotard), and Barack (The Great Compromiser) Obama will vote for the bailout as long as it's attached to "an overall plan." Make of that endorsement what you will. Congress will posture, then Congress will approve, and you will pay. And your children unto the seventh generation. They're even calling it a "rescue", as though an innocent animal or person was being saved from cold or fear or hunger or maltreatment. These men in suits will bugger the language as well as the law.
What are we getting for our money? "Devalued Assets." Houses nobody else will buy. Bad paper. Failed institutions. Worthless instruments. Crap, waste, detritus, byproduct, junk, trash, nothing you need, nothing you want, nothing that will do any of us any good. I'm going to use a bad word now, and if you don't like vulgar language, I'd suggest you put this journal down right now and go mow the lawn. And I'm counting on my editor to stand by me today and fight for my right, my duty to speak plainly and forcefully if crudely when I am compelled to discuss what pretty much everybody agrees is the worst mess this country has been in since the Great Depression.
My mother used this expression, and in the thirty-seven years since she died and in the nearly fifty-nine years I've lived in this marvelous Capitalist wonderland and paid my taxes and been screwed by insurance companies and given numerous banks their per centages and worked as many jobs as required to close the hole and hold firm the door against the wolf of cold and the terrors of hunger and despair, I've not heard a better description of the plan being put together today, tonight, this week, by the men who rule America. We are getting, as mom used to say, "shit and shoved in it."
Be careful with your credit cards. Nobody believes you're too big to fail.