American Pie….That You Shouldn’t Want

American PieDon’t get me wrong. I think the American religion of capitalism has some merit. I’ve done ok by it, I guess. But it also seems to me to be fraught with failure; failure that is rigged into it for most of us no matter what we want to believe about unfettered and free capitalist markets that create opportunities for any of us to be rich.

Believe in tinkle-down economics and corporate benevolence if you like, but the reality is that the vast majority of us are only so much chattel in the execution of an economic model that sees people as expendable resources. That’s not rain splashing on top of your head. More on that in a minute.

How else can our indifference and downright hatred and contempt from some segments of our population be explained? I’m no theologian, but I don’t think it can be explained as part of any mainstream religion.

No, IMHO, it comes from what I consider to be a terribly misguided resurgence of Randian capitalism and what seems to be a built-in contempt in conservatism for anyone not meeting their litmus tests and the definition of “success” in a capitalist sense. It all seems to me to breed an ugly culture of greed and amorality that spawns idiots like Beck, Limbaugh, and Palin who preach their sermons of lies and hatred. They make tons of money and grow their personal wealth by duping certain people in this country into thinking that things like universal health care and financial market regulations are bad ideas. In simple terms, their religion of capitalism puts greater value on money and individual wealth than it does on human life or protecting the rest of us from undue investment risks taken on by people who get all the reward and bear none of that risk.

(BTW and before anyone takes offense at my penchant for using the word ‘dupe’, it means to deceive. It has nothing to do with intelligence. Even the brightest people in the world can be deceived.)

Unfettered capitalism also dupes Americans into believing that we can buy our way into wealth and happiness. Who was it, after all, that made credit cheap and told us the only way to be happy was to stuff our lives with more and more stuff!?! Probably wasn’t the liberal left.

Unfettered capitalism also seems to create a sense of entitlement among American consumers. Strange use of that term, entitlement, I know. What I mean is that we have allowed ourselves to be deceived – duped – into believing that we are entitled to cheaper and cheaper consumer goods so we can stuff our lives with more and more stuff without one wit of consideration for how, where, and by whom those goods are produced, distributed, and delivered to market. It was this video that got me thinking about that today.

The high priests of this capitalist religion – the “captains of industry”, “Wall Streeters”, and, yes, neo-Randians, so-called fiscal conservatives, even Libertarians – are more than happy to supposedly “serve the market demands”, right? I mean, why not? If that’s what Americans want then, dammit, we’re Americans and that’s what we’re going to have. All that’s being done is the servicing of the demands of the marketplace, right? If that’s what people want, that’s what we’ll give them. What’s wrong with that?

Fair enough. I’m ok with that….to a point.

If cheaper and cheaper is the siren song to wealth and happiness, how’s that going to be possible in a country that produces fewer and fewer consumer goods? How’s that possible where the middle class *is* the primary consumer marketplace and where that part of our society is under the most stress and may even be shrinking?

If everything has to get cheaper – and in the case of food, nothing could be worse, really, since the cheapest food products tend to be the least healthy for us – what’s a good capitalist to do? Well, there’s the always-popular answer of lowering labor costs. Turning people into chattel. It’s either continue to ship middle class jobs overseas so you can pay slave wages to workers, or risk pricing your goods and services out of the market. Now that’s good capitalism at work!

The very class of people capitalists need in order to have at least a domestic market – the middle class – are the very people getting hurt the most right now. Who’s doing that? It’s precisely and unequivocally the fault of unfettered and unregulated capitalism and capitalists.

I mean, you’re not going to blame the poor are you?

And certainly you can’t blame the government for over-regulation because the RRs – Randian Republicans – successfully deregulated financial markets when they passed GLB.

I suggest you think about this the next time you hear the ultra-whack-wing-right mouthpieces like Beck and O’Reilly and Limbaugh and Palin – or elected officials with “Waterloo” agendas – criticize an administration for not yet having fixed a broken economy. Are we that eff-ing stupid to think that 8 disastrous years can be remedied in one?

Think about this the next time…..
….a jobs number comes out
….someone complains that America doesn’t manufacture enough and our trade balance is all out of whack
….someone claims that what’s needed is less government regulation and not more
….someone points out that the middle class is shrinking and we’re headed toward some banana republic state where you have only a small percentage of wealthy people living off the backs of an impoverished population.

Exactly where are jobs supposed to come from in an economy that long ago – and in the name of corporate profits and shareholder returns – shipped most of its manufacturing overseas where there’s nothing close to our definition of a middle class?

And exactly how many “services” jobs can we reasonably expect companies to create and sustain in our economy? Oh wait, many of them now exist overseas, too. Why? Because labor is cheaper there. Remember that the next time you make a “language skills” complaint about the customer service agent who answers your call. It wasn’t the liberal left who outsourced that job from Minneapolis to Mumbai. Thank your friendly neighborhood capitalist.

So what’s the answer to our current economic mess? Is it more government bail outs to free market capitalists who want nothing to do with government involvement in their lives and their businesses? F***ing hypocrites.

Is it protectionism? Is it isolationism? Can’t keep lowering operating expenses and outsourcing jobs to Asia-Pac countries and then close off our borders to the importation of those foreign-made goods. What would happen to the income statements of our benevolent corporations then?

Is it more regulation or less? History can teach us a lot if we just take the time to study it. The first Great Depression seems to have taught us very little.

I don’t profess to know the answer.

What I do feel pretty confident that I know unequivocally is this…..
….it wasn’t the so-called universal health care socialists who think it’s time to rein in insurance companies who put money and profits ahead of humanity and humane treatment of others
….it wasn’t the advocates for social equality and gay marriage rights who keep wondering why anyone else gives a f*** about them and their desire to get hitched
….it wasn’t the “nut-job” environmentalists and tree-huggers who wonder why we can’t see the reality that oil barons are simply protecting the last few drops of a disappearing resource from which they will wring every last penny at our expense
….it wasn’t all those worrisome waves of illegal immigrants taking all those prized lawn-care and domestic housekeeping jobs from true middle class Americans
….it wasn’t the inner-city poor luxuriating in lives of crime-free-front-stoop Doritos-munching and drug dealing
….it wasn’t the peaceniks and war protesters who want the government officials brought to justice who dragged this once great country as low as it could go by admittedly torturing people
….and it sure as f*** wasn’t the middle class that put us into this mess.

No, no, no. It was……………………………………………………………………….nah, I don’t need to say it. You know who it was. Whether or not you’ll ever admit it out loud….now that’s a different question. 😉

Don’t Blame the Borrower – How a Republican Congress Helped to Create the Current Economic Crash and Continues to Erode the Middle Class

As I see it, the reality is that our current economic problems stem directly from deregulated financial markets. We can thank Alan Greenspan, appointed by Reagan, and the pro-business, deregulatory belief system of the Republican party for that.

Let’s start with the mortgage crises since that seems to be something most people can agree is at the root of our current economic problems. The notion that we should blame the person applying for a mortgage that they can’t afford versus the people and systems that are supposed to screen applicants and then say, “No” is just silly, but that seems to be the position of social and fiscal conservatives.

Let’s see where the argument for blaming the applicant takes us……

  1. Let’s say I go to a bank or lender and apply for a mortgage suspecting – or even knowing – I can’t pay it back.
  2. The bank decides not to check me out and deny my application. Why? They know they won’t be holding my loan very long. Why not? Because they don’t have to and aren’t motivated to thanks to the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, a law passed in 1999 while Clinton was president but Congress was controlled by Republicans. Remember that it is, after all, Congress who makes law, not presidents. GLBA was authored by Republican Senator Phil Gramm and Republican Representative Jim Leach, with contributions from Republican Rep and House Commerce Committee Chairman, Tom Bliley. It effectively removed regulations on banks created in 1933 by the Glass-Steagall Act which, itself, was a response to conditions not at all unlike today that caused the Great Depression – an unregulated financial services industry.
  3. Because sufficient regulations no longer exist thanks to the GLBA, lenders of all kinds – including banks – can now package and sell my loan with thousands of others to someone else and wash their hands of the initial risk of lending me money. No reason to deny my application if they aren’t worried about me paying it back – that’s someone else’s worry now.

So what should we expect will happen? No one will deny my loan application because there’s money to be made quickly by writing the loan and selling the now infamously “toxic asset” to someone else. Well, here’s what will and did seem to happen…

  1. I and lots of people will get mortgages we don’t qualify for
  2. The re-packaged investments will be sold to someone else
  3. Those packaged securities will become worthless because not enough people can pay them back, and
  4. The financial services companies who used to be regulate banks but who no longer fall under enough regulation and scrutiny will go crying to the very same government who stopped regulating them in the first place to now bail them out.

The Rich make and pass laws to benefit the Rich, and when things go bad we as citizens pay for it through weaker markets and inflated government debt. If we were real Capitalist, we’d let them all fail just like Bear Stearns and Leahman Brothers, but that would create complete anarchy…..actually, it would mean a lot of rich people would lose a lot of money, and that will NEVER happen.

So if you’re blaming Clinton for perpetuating the idea of broader home ownership as the reason for our current problems, you really need to look at the simple truth of the matter.

If you’re somehow trying to make a connection between broader home ownership and too many unqualified loan applicants, then you really have to blame GLBA and greed for that. Home ownership is still a great idea for our society, but deregulating the lenders and blaming the borrower doesn’t make sense.

Plain and simple, the current economic problems can be traced back to when Republicans had a Congressional majority and could create laws that allowed their supporters and constituents in big business and especially big finance to maximize return and minimize risk. As a result of GLBA, their big money supporters were able to create Bank of America, Citigroup, and J.P. Morgan Chase.

Pretty soon, financial markets were a free-for-all, just as they had been before the Great Depression. Firms that had once been regulated so that they wouldn’t fail were now buying and selling every imaginable type of security without rules, including mortgages that never would have been approved to begin with which are now re-packaged as some kind of investment vehicle.

The American Middle Class once again allowed themselves to be duped by the wealthy and powerful. It’s not the borrowers fault if they are lent money they can’t repay. The lender is supposed to say, “No” if they know the only way they make money is if the borrower pays them back. The lack of regulation allowed – hell, encouraged – those loans to written and then sold off as investments so that the rich could get richer off of the transaction without any regard for the borrower or the affects that so much failed lending could have on everyone and the economy.

The lack of regulation on the banking industry is the classic fox in charge of the hen house. It’s easy to see that a few very smart and very rich people understood how to make a great deal of money out of the house of cards that was the real estate bubble.

The lack of regulation actually brings us to Mr. Smaller Government himself, Ronald Reagan, and his fed chairman, Mr. Greenspan, who convinced us that smaller was better. No need to regulate banks as had been done since the Depression and the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933. This is America, land of free markets! Let the markets decide! (Translation: Let Rich Republicans Decide)

Yes, this is America and so that means we have only ourselves to blame or thank for who we elect, the markets we create, and the consequences of our decisions. So if anyone is going to go back and blame Clinton for wanting more people to own homes, we must go back just a little further to Ronald Reagan.

Reagan ballooned the federal deficit to it’s largest amounts ever (to that point in time) after getting elected on the “government’s not the answer to the problem, government is the problem” fable. Clinton left office with a federal surplus which W proceeded to totally squander by giving it to the rich in the form of tax cuts. Remember, too, the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq have never been accounted for in the federal budget. The piper isn’t even close to being paid when it comes to the federal deficit.

So who really is the party of fiscal responsibility? Make no mistake, Republicans talk a grass-roots, family values game but that’s a ruse intended – and seemingly working extremely well – to convince middle America that they are the Republican party core. Wrong. The wealthy is the real Republican party core. The religious-right, pro-life, Creationist, white-bread American is just the uniformed and ill-advised pawn in their game. They are easily convinced that so-called tax-and-spend liberals, job-stealing illegal immigrants, and unfair (meaning unregulated) foreign markets and labor practices are to blame for our troubles.

We only have ourselves to blame.

When it comes to foreign and domestic markets and labor, we only need to look in the mirror. Consider the goods and services we consume, how that affects the economy, and what it means to domestic and overseas markets and societies, including China.

Any business is in business to do something profitably. Businesses who outsource everything possible to overseas markets like China do so in order to lower operating expenses and maximize profits on the goods and services they sell and we buy from them.

Hey, we don’t want government to tell them or us what we can and can’t do, right? No need to regulate business, right? This is America, land of the free and free markets! Let us as producers and consumers drive the market!

So if we as consumers….

  1. weren’t always encouraging businesses to lower costs by constantly demanding and buying cheaper and cheaper goods (the WalMart affect)
  2. were more willing to elect leaders who put the needs of the American middle class worker ahead of the corner office CEO maybe with proper tariffing and changes to NAFTA – George H.W. Bush’s baby, by the way, and
  3. stopped believing red herrings like illegal aliens taking all of the good paying jobs (yeah, like picking vegetables and raking lawns) thrown at us by right-wing news sources like Fox, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage and Quinn and Rose as the cause of our economic problems,then maybe we wouldn’t be in such a mess.

In a democracy, we have some power by virtue of our ballot. So long as we allow ourselves to be fooled into thinking that the Republican party in this day and age is anything but a party of the rich, we’ll keep going through cycles where they come to power every so often, make changes that only benefit the rich like deregulating markets and cutting taxes for the wealthy under the total lie of Reagan’s failed “smaller government” and “trickle-down economics” theories, and we’ll be stuck once again holding the short end of the stick.

It really is something to see – middle class Americans somehow thinking that Republicans are in our corner. I don’t get it. The past 3 Republican administrations – Reagan, Bush 41, and especially the last 8 years under W have proved that to me. Look at how W took Reagan’s failed philosophies – and the deficit – to heights unimaginable. When were we last really prospering? Wasn’t it under Clinton?

For now it seems the majority of Americans have awoken from the nightmare of Republican dogma and are at least willing to try something different. After all, you know the definition of insanity, right? – doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.