This summer’s marathon national debt ceiling negotiations and the UK’s Murdoch-inspired tabloid scandal have a lot in common. Living losers seem more plentiful than past values and future winners. Yesterday’s treasured symbols and slogans are no more than yesterday’s discarded news. Rigid ideology as rationale honors playing chicken to perfection to prove a point in the political present. Previously sacred institutional symbols such as a nation’s credit worthiness built over time at such historical costs by America’s tax-paying forefathers and mothers are thrown under the legislative bus as today’s politics are all about winning the present for a highly privileged few, but in the name of defending a brighter future for the ill-defined, ill-led, ill-housed, and ill-served many the rest of us have become. Bait and switch have become what we do.
The Sun, Rupert Murdoch’s largest UK tabloid, boasted it had won the 1992 election for the Tories with its infamous election evening headline alongside a caricature of Labor Party candidate, Neil Kinnock, as a light bulb rhetorically predicting: “Will the last man out of Britain turn out the light.” In the U.S., this taunting image morphed into a hotly contested political debate courtesy of the House of Representatives over whether the nation should reject the energy efficiency light bulb as a metaphor for lost personal freedoms starting with individual choice and government’s inability and ineligibility to pick winners and losers. The morphing continues.
In the same vein as the light-bulb debate, America’s political debt ceiling confrontation serves as a stalking horse on government’s ability and eligibility to pick winners and losers. Even the bible (which has not yet intervened on perp-marching Wall Street sinners who instigated our current Great Recession by sentencing them to serve time in the nation’s stocks), furnished grist for prayer by three freshman Republicans from South Carolina to justify their call to guarantee a balanced-budget amendment. The Washington Post reported (Sunday, July 31, 2011, “For Speaker Boehner, Tests Only Get Tougher”) that a verse from Proverbs 22, “The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender”, was instrumental in helping these members “really be bold, to really fight for structural changes” in their own words and then vote so that in House Speaker Boehner’s words, “The White House bid to raise taxes has been shut down.” In a country of documented income inequality to the extent that four hundred Americans get to lick a lot more of our national cream than the bottom 150 million or half of our entire population, not raising taxes on this insanely privileged few surely benefits from divine intervention. Otherwise, it’s hard to explain.
Losers also outnumber winners in the harsh public spotlight of Murdoch’s current and growing trans-Atlantic News Corporation scandals (public bribery and blackmail, institutional corruption, political intimidation, the outright destruction of personal lives for the sake of a headline, lying, and hacking) now that we get to do the math on the wrecking ball of public, moral and civic betrayal that double standard societies breed to enlarge and then inseminate inbred inequalities. Similarly, as the post mortem entrails of America’s debt ceiling political horse-trading reveal, these inequalities masquerade as ideological double standard lodestones when expertly communicated through corporate-owned media outlets to the extent that picking winners and losers is framed under an issue purity halo with the goal that those who own so much are voted for and supported by those who have next to nothing left to lose.
In today’s “catch me if you can” America, “do as I say but not as I do” seems like the most profitable way to go. JPMorgan Chase’s 2011 second-quarter results show that income rose 13% as the bank collected higher fees from equity and debt underwriting in its investment banking business and cut losses in its credit card portfolio. Meanwhile, a basic Internet search of “JPMorgan Chase Fines” reveals a parallel-tracking sordid saga: $153.6 million to end a Securities and Exchange Commission suit for failing to tell investors in 2007 that a client hedge fund helped pick and bet against underlying securities in collateralized debt obligations purchased on good faith, followed by another $228 million fine for a bid-rigging scheme involving municipal bonds. This is chump change for JP Morgan, one of many Wall Street gangsters.
Matt Taibbi of The Rolling Stone magazine compares these scams to the Mafia-Cosa Nostra staking out pre-cased boroughs and neighborhoods judged ripe for corruption, writing in his blog of “…the profound difference in the style of criminal justice enforcement for the very rich and connected, versus the style of justice for everyone else.” Terribly, the country seems way beyond this transparent double standard for evil now, turning off the civic light bulb in the “dying of the light” America where the relentless merger of hard core, vested economic interests field ideologically hard-wired, matrix-like, reappearing political “Agent Smith” disciples who prove willing to defund the flickers keeping the rest of the country from going completely dark.
On both Wall Street and in Washington, this moral duopoly continues unabated like a nursery rhyme – profits and fines, profits and fines – concocted by investment banking “Winnie-the-Piglets” as if the financial sector can’t help itself, as if predatory capitalism comes equipped with a reusable get-out-of-jail-free card, as if the profits to be made outweigh the fines to be paid, as if in America “moral hazard” is designed to genuflect in front of “shareholder returns” by repeat perpetrators who slither in and out of the regulatory confessional box without “admitting or denying guilt”, and when the dust clears then make an all cash offer for Nirvana in the Hamptons. Is there anyone in our Congress who reads Proverbs before a life or death vote who would advocate raising their children and families this way?
In the middle of the “Great Recession” or what Paul Krugman calls the “Lesser Depression”, America has downsized from frontier representative democracy to financial oligarchy autocracy with its own pass-key, private entrance, and secret handshakes. Today, there are two sets of rules, one for the children of a lesser god and another for ruling practitioners of prosperity ethics. Contrary to the sordidly gripping UK Murdoch News Corporation scandals, the American version is not yet completely public.
And yet, bits and pieces like the JPMorgan Chase fines coupled with disgust over Washington’s bipartisan disconnect from our everyday jobless reality, build the growing public sense that both political parties represent a collusion of intersecting financial and power elites and their interests, falsely masked by discordant but eerily similar, paid-for, prime time news and circle jerk opinion sound-bites. Uncomfortable, inconvenient truths continue to ooze out from the public sewer on a daily basis despite increased corporate consolidation of media outlets, despite “guns for hire” lobby avalanches pulling the leashes up short on the politicians they own, and in spite of the U.S. Supreme Court’s aiding and abetting crusade to guarantee all corporate bundling funding stays massive, secret and unfettered so that our grotesquely uneven national playing field rests in peace permanently warped.
It turns out America’s national political discourse no longer needs yesterday’s stale “trickle up versus trickle down” confusing paradigm. Today it’s more main-vein “Catch-22” political symbolism so that formal public sector financial default becomes recast as threatened but averted national disaster on behalf of desired national interest. More tough love en route to neo Calvinist predestination, this “I’m only hitting you because I love you” screed becomes justified holy writ underscored by anti-tax happy warriors who burnish political Armageddon at heretics who might choose to stray from the chosen path. And it is a choice because not allowing governments to pick winners and losers means in a world where pressures always seek vacuums that some other power source will grab any options left on the national table.
And indeed they have and we know who they are. In a growing unequal America where the power and the glory are already majority owned by shareholder financial oligarchies this is now a done deal. The political blame game is really about perpetuating the freedom myth to keep natural stakeholder suckers hooked up to their “get it cheaper no matter where it’s made” matrix and liking it. The holy grail of this intravenously media-fed, “wag the dog” messaging is to convince the rest of us that the American dream is still attainable even though nobody we stand in line with can afford to own anything. Double standard politics like a multi-talking-headed python wrap the dispossessed, foreclosed, under and unemployed in ideological chains that demean and restrict the living present in the name of a high-touch future always just beyond our grasp. Basically, the pushback against governments picking winners and losers is a status quo argument. Only those who are currently winning articulate it to their own advantage.