President Obama’s declaration following the death of Osama Ben Laden that, “no matter how long it takes, justice will be done,” rings true for the 9-11-2001 evil mastermind but rings hollow for Wall Street ringleaders who manipulated the “great recession” in the Fall of 2008. So far, none of us see any “perp walks” for those who defrauded and hollowed out America and who now are forcing fellow citizens never to be able to retire, lose their homes, forget about anything but emergency room healthcare, and buy back the products they used to make that are produced overseas by others. Mark these words, 2012 electoral anger will be directed towards rising gas prices at the pump and the financial sector’s “great escape” that mired over 50% of the nation in stagnant unemployment and increasing household poverty.
We are witness to an economy for shareholders at the expense of a country of stakeholders. The rot starts in Washington, D.C. which is inundated with financial sector-funded lobbies cutting every moral corner to dismantle the already too-weak Dodd-Frank legislation, ratcheting up congressional fundraising to inspire legislative harassment of Elizabeth Warren and the nascent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau before it even gets off the ground, and going silent on the obscene bonuses and salaries for those who already have ripped way too much fat off the body politic.
We are witness to two Americas where the top 1% of all Americans own 50% of the nation’s wealth, where the top 1% can be boiled down to 400 individuals who now own and control more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans, and where the bottom 60% control only 20% of the nation’s income. This is how oligarchies and revolutions are formed.
By 2030 according to current demographic trends, the U.S. will be a minority majority country; perhaps our only hope is that the accident of birth can somehow offset the visible and morally repugnant class divisions formed by unequal diversion of national treasury on behalf of those who are too skilled at rendering the national playing field as unequal as possible. The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein has written when dissecting the ongoing national budget debate that we have become “a country composed of insurance programs plus an Army”, an amusing but benign and incomplete description. Rather, we have become a country of unequal opportunities manipulated by oligarchies specializing in forming, expanding, and protecting opportunistic and predatory, uneven financial, industrial, and political playing fields where the American dream for the disappearing middle class has been reduced to having no dream at all.
To paraphrase James Joyce, recent financial history is a nightmare from which we are trying to awake even though the continuous reporting of continuous financial sector crimes doesn’t seem to slow any of its perpetrators down. The “most wanted” list is familiar: JP Morgan in settlement talks with the SEC for defrauding investors by selling them misleading collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) based on falsely-structured mortgage-backed securities and for possible antitrust violations in the municipal bond arena; Goldman Sachs who paid a $550 million fine in 2010 for the same crime (misleading their investors who lost over one billion dollars through CDOs tied to subprime mortgages); Wachovia Capital Markets has been fingered “unloading deteriorating assets on unwitting investors at inflated prices”; Germany’s Deutsch Bank which has earned the distinction as one of Los Angeles’ biggest slumlords by allowing hundreds of properties it owns to fall into disrepair and breed crime has been accused of having ignored “every type of red flag and breached every duty of due diligence before underwriting thousands of federally insured mortgages”; and last but not least, the Swiss behemoth, UBS who admitted it made money while rigging U.S. municipal bond transactions.
How much is enough? Why are such criminally-disposed entities still allowed to do business in the U.S. and why aren’t their leaders all in jail? It seems that the country has entered a political discourse time warp where the past versus present – you can pay me now or you can pay me later – has been elevated to the influence art of selling the free lunch today at the expense of a free lunch tomorrow.
The 2012 pre-elections game then of ideology-driven politics preening as national leadership is to move the national cheese. Instead of placing burdens on those who have burdened the system, we’ve instituted a national prosperity ethos of “catch me if you can” where the penalty box doesn’t last a full match season before paid-for-performance political calls ensue to defund the federal and state agencies recently re-geared to take “never again” seriously to heart.
We’re back to the Matrix where the criminals walk unopposed among us. Wall Street financial masterminds who managed to steal over one-trillion dollars from the banking and homeowner equity accounts of working class America and bequeath us today’s Great Recession are now back in the business of self-injecting mega bonuses and “hard to count the zeros” salaries on steroids. Multinational corporations with their headquarters and origins based in America and funded in part historically through taxpayer contributions for research and development, worker training, and market scale, have decided it is more important to return profits to global shareholders wherever they may be instead of defending their country of origin.
In this “greed is good” Matrix that has sucked out all of America’s community oxygen, economic patriotism is redefined as a secular prosperity gospel characterized by special deals for boardroom and c-suite executives who write their own paychecks even when their companies fail and cannot honor their commitments to healthcare or pension fund obligations for their people. Tax avoidance is patriotic and justified (the best accountants money can buy) while the goal posts keep getting moved on tax evasion and the federal agencies whose budgets enable some form of oversight and financial justice to emerge from the corporate sleaze sliming the country have their funds cut under the banner cry of deficit reduction. The logic may be Kafkaesque but the tenor no longer is red, white, and blue. We have gone from an equal opportunity ownership society to one of financial nobles and serfs, those who have it more and more and those who get it less and less, those who are predestined to own the company store and those who are condemned to keep owning it their earnings.
So what do we reap from what we have sown? Germany with about one-fourth of our population beats us in manufacturing exports. China with four times our population is cleaning our clock in waste prevention technologies backed by massively scaled alternative energy deployments. Income inequality has reached a point in this country where there is no way back to our democratic origins except through massive and violent redistribution. Mother Nature is hurling tsunamis and hurricanes at our shores causing earthquakes while we forget the lessons learned from offshore oil platform explosions and uncapped undersea wells, coal plant combustions where methane gas kills our miners, and nuclear meltdowns. We have become a nation where the filth we generate is overwhelmingly the cheddar we stuff into our predatory jaws. Shareholder capitalism as practiced in America is now synonymous with a well lobbied and sanctioned license to steal while unions are gutted in the name of budgetary deficits caused by corporate tax giveaways and deficient income receipts from citizens who have nothing left to give.
We’ve gone from 2004’s self-incriminating cry of “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” to a general undercurrent muttering of “what’s the matter with all of us”? For America’s shareholders, “don’t tread on me” is working just fine but for America’s working class stakeholders, “don’t tread on us” sounds like our last battle gasp before we disappear.