Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Junk Food for the Mind

While working on a client computer system today, I was subjected to the inanity of Wolf Blitzer and CNN "reporting" on the Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, and AIG crises.

I had to cringe. I haven't seen a CNN program since 9/11. I have no intention of reverting my avoidance of CNN. It continues on as mental junk food. McDonald's for the mind. McNews.

Don't bother trying to understand what either Obama or McCain insist is the fix for Wall Street blues. Both of them are part of the problem, themselves. They have no intention of addressing the systemic fatal flaws in capitalism. It's a TV charade. Better you watch a sitcom.

Neither the Dems nor the Repubs want people to understand that we are looking at a predictable systemic failure. McCain wants to create a commission to study greed on Wall Street. That is so laughable that it makes my sides split. Wall Street is greed. He may as well create a commission to study why the sky is blue. It's so stupid and so insulting of anyone with a brain, that one must either laugh, or get very angry. Obama doesn't do any better. He's in denial. At least McCain is willing to be boldly stupid in front of the camera. It's not much of a risk, though. No one in corporate media-land is capable of perceiving the obvious absurdity. Obama is a shiifty one. He's a band-aid-on-cancer kinda guy. Obama lives in a soothing pretend world. "Let's pretend the rich really don't run this country. Let's pretend that I care." The Democrats have been in control of Congress for the past two years which lays culpability for the current economic crisis at their own feet.

AIG, the largest insurance group in the nation, was bailed out by--guess who--you and me, The taxpayers will loan 86 billion dollars to AIG, a corporation which exists to make money for shareholders. What should have been done? What was the right thing to do? AIG (and Chrysler before it), should have been nationalized--taken over by the public because the public should now own it. We are paying 86 billion dollars for it. We, the people, should own it. Turn AIG over to the existing employees, converting the corporation into a worker-owned cooperative. What the federal government has done is bail out rich investors. The government plan is welfare for the rich.

Isn't it curious that if you were poor, and if you took out a shady sub-prime home loan t o put a roof over your head, and if you lost your home due to bankruptcy, the feds don't give a damn. Contrariwise, if you bought stock in AIG hoping to put money in your pocket, the federal government will stuff your now-empty pocket. Noam Chomsky has described such economic practises as Tough Love: Love for the rich; tough-luck for the poor.

The last major progressive economic movement (prior to the civil rights work of the fifties and sixties) was a direct result of the 1929 crash on Wall Street. I suspect much talk will flow from the mouths of Obama and McCain, but that nothing will be done until the next market crash. That crash may come sooner than later. it's sad that progressive movements require hammers to the head before people power emerges.

Instead of turning on CNN campaign coverage, buy this book, America Beyond Capitalism. Do something nice for yourself. Watching Wolf is an insult to your intelligence.

The alternatives to capitalism are not limited to totalitarian systems. Our economic system exhibits alternatives known as nonprofits. Nonprofits can be expanded from the current marginal role in society as narrow public-interest groups, to the meat-and-potatoes of life. Think of the Red Cross for every town, every day, not solely for disaster relief. Think of the American Cancer Society, not just collecting nickels and dimes on the periphery of life, but the principal support for cancer research.

Why not expand nonprofit organizations to thus form the economic core of society? Banks. Insurance. Health care. Oil and gas. Food. Clothing. Real estate, and other sectors.

Government and nonprofit organizations (a wretched term, NGO/nonprofit) are as American as apple pie. We have alternatives here and now. Why is water supplied by a public, nonprofit agency (East Bay Municipal Utility District), but gasoline is not? Why are libraries free, but lunch is not? Why is firefighting performed without charge by a nonprofit government agency (the "fire department"), but fighting cancer at a medical clinic is performed for a fee?

We would never know it by watching TV, but there is something profoundly broken in America.

I can't end this essay without an anecdote from the sixties. We are thoroughly indoctrinated from birth in the belief system that we should pay on an individual basis for every service.

A car in which I was a passenger burst into flames. Where my friend and I where headed, I do not remember, but there we were cruising down the Ventura Freeway in L.A. as the rear of the car became flagrantly on fire. Having noticed this mishap, I shouted at him to pull over, which he did. A kind and conscientious truck driver pulled over to the shoulder of the read in our defense. He pulled out a fire extinguisher bottle, which, much to his consternation, he promptly demonstrated did not work. The flames on the left-rear of the car grew higher.

I offered to run down the nearest off-ramp to find a public telephone booth (remember those antiquities?) for the purpose of calling the fire department. My friend said no, he didn't want me to do that.. As I stood there in timeless disbelief, he said, "I can't afford to pay for the fire department."

Can you imagine my confusion and disorientation forty years ago? Pay for it? Everyone knows firefighting is a public service. Unless arson is involved, people don't pay directly for firefighting servicse, but my friend was so well indoctrinated that even asking for help in putting out a fire was attached to fear.

Is it that much of a stretch of the imagination to conceive of other services essential to keeping us alive and well, provided just because we all need them? The costs are real . There is, indeed, no such thing as a free lunch, but there is such a thing as a lunch which is paid for collectively and consumed privately, individually, without charge.

The measure of the wealth of a nation is the degree to which we collectively decide to do things solely because we humans need it, or just because it's a nice thing to do. Making a buck is a disgraceful enterprise destructive to human relationships and destructive to the world around us.

Socialism is the American way.

The argument that socialism is "un-American" (whatever that means) is false.
The argument that we can't afford social welfare for all is false.

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