Sunday, May 24, 2009

It's all about ME and you and US

This post is spurred on by Bill Maher's most recent Real Time HBO show, in which the guests were female rapper M.I.A., former IMF chief economist Simon Johnson, Nobel Peace Prize winner and 'Banker to the poor' Mohammad Yunus, and Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Newsweek magazine editor, Jon Meacham. When the "easy target" Bush administration was in power, Maher was a formidible political satirist. His barbs were usually well-place and right on, although he often overlooked the deeper issues in favor of the popular ones. It has become clear that in the presence of the Obama administration, Maher is comedy first, political issues second (or maybe even third), passing up few opportunities to cheap-shot the easy targets, which include religion, the American public at large, and his audience in part.

That much was clear from the get-go, during his interview with Tamil Sri Lankan female visual and rap music artist M.I.A. , when Bill made stupid remarks about Maya's (M.I.A.) pregnant condition during the Grammys, gave an impromptu geography lesson for the dumb American public on Sri Lanka's location, and incorrectly assumed the conflict in Sri Lanka between the Tamal minority and the Sinhalese majority was a religious (Hinduism vs. Buddhism) one. I'm not religious, but I've noticed that Maher won't pass up an opportunity to crucify religion any chance he gets. (He would have made a great Roman Centurion in Jerusalem back in 33 A.D.) The conflict is not religion-based, but rather ethnic and majority-over minority based, the hegemony of the Sinhalese over the Tamil and the Tamil's refusal to docilely accept their role as second class citizens. MI.A.'s purpose for being on the show was to enlighten the American public on the truth of the situation since recent the end of the civil war and defeat of the rebel Tamil Tigers in that country. The Sinhalese oppression now goes unchecked, and rather than make issue of that, Bill chose to make fun of MI.A.'s British accent and even blame the Brits for spawning the conflict.

So with that bit of embarrassment out of the way, Maher moved on to the panel- Simon Johnson, Mohammad Yunus and Jon Meacham. Bill lobbed the initial topic, a nice & easy one that posed the question- "It looks like things are getting better but economically speaking, are we out of the woods now?" Johnson swung and connected limply on a pitch he should have been able to hit out of the park by saying that there has been some recovery as "No drama Obama" pulled the banks away from falling off the edge of the cliff, but for the "real economy" (the general public), things still look a bit shakey. Simon, Simon, Simon....what the hell are you doing? Following Maher's lead dumbing-down the economic situation for the Joe 3-pack public? Jeez, you wouldn't ever say anthing so shallow and simplisitc in your Baseline Scenario blog, so why would you boil all the water out of the pan on a highly rated TV show? You know that the Banksters have been sucking up all the goodies out of Obama & Tiny Tim's Santa bag they can, you know the market is being manipulated, and you know that the Gen Public is fucked with a capital "F". At least you could have strongly pointed out where the guv'ment was going wrong, and how Obama's wuss handling of the Banksters and his lack of forward planning was just hastening the inevitable doomsday scenario.

Maher, in one of his rare moments of brilliance, used something Johnson said about "Banana Republics" to make comment on the infectious avarice of the financial sector, and the American public at large, equating unfettered markets with the religion of material greed. (Gotta get that religious snipe in.) Smiling Buddha Mohammad Yunus said that the economic crisis was actually an opportunity for real positive change in the financial sector, and that it was overlooked in favor of the status quo, and failed to be capitalized on. He said "We have selfishness in us and we have selflessness in us...but the way the economic market is designed... it's all about selfishness, and I have no chance about looking out for anybody else." Maher follows up with a comment about how there are no plans for redesigning the financial system, and Obama is still giving money way to the corrupt Wall Street executives he went to Harvard with. Meacham (P.J. O'Rourke light) finally got a comment in about the economic and social disparity of the United States today, citing how the Great Depression brought the nation together as one enabling social and economic change, while now it's all rhetoric and business as usual.

There rest of the show was consumed with Cheney vs. Obama on the terrorist issue, and Maher's favorite pincushion, religion. Now I'm no religious supporter, but gee Bill, give it a rest already. How about some constructive economic solutions? How about what needs to be done to make things better for Americans who are losing their jobs, their meager savings, their freedoms and being forced to eat Genetically Mutated Organisms? Out of all his "New Rules", the only one worthy of mentioning was his last- Stop thinking that electing a Superhero is going to be the answer to our problems. Rather than zeroing in on he puts it, "Chocolate Jesus" (Obama), he turned his attention to California and Schwarzenegger. Saying that it was impossible for the Gubenator to solve California's problems because it's "illeagal" to govern in this state. Maher said "We only govern by ballot initiatives, and there are only two types of those - things I like, and don't raise my taxes. We votes YES on gain and NO on pain. This is why America's founders established a representative democracy, because they knew if the average joe had the chance, he'd vote for a fantasy world with no taxes, free beer and vagina trees." A little broad-based humor, but in essence, Maher's right. The pressure exerted by special interest groups and "political correctness" has fostered the oiling of the squeaky wheel over what makes common sense, and is really in the public good.

This brings us back to the first part of the topic title - All about ME, or perhaps even the collective "WE". The WE being those that can exert the most power and influence over legislation, who gets the breaks, who gets the money, and who gets the shaft. It seems as though it will always be the ME/WE minority that gets the two former boons, while the bane of the shaft falls on the collective "you" majority. Like a good feudal lord, the Prez throws bones to his hounds like the "Credit Card Bill of Rights" which bans retroactive interest rate increases and minimum payment time disclosure among other things, but fails to cap outrageous and usurious interest rates at a percent that's reasonable. He says he's going to close Gitmo, but can't deliver on an exit strategy. He finger-wags at the Wall Street culprits that caused the financial debacle, but does nothing to punish the wrongdoers. And those are only a few issues. Pretty unbelievable for change we're supposed to believe in.

So it seems as though it's still all about ME, only the "ME" here isn't you or I. It's them. The people with the power and the gold still making the rules to serve the people with the power and the gold to make the rules. It doesn't take an IMF economist to know that the robber-barons of Wall Street, Goldman Sachs is manipulating the stock market to their advantage, and yet nothing gets done about it. Gee, could that have anything to do with former T-Sec Hanky-Panky's and current T-Sec Tiny Tim's relationship with GS cronies?

It's time we stopped thinking about ME, and started thinking about US. Instead of focusing on the big score, beating down the competition and amassing as much personal gain at any cost to our ethics and values, we need to develop a mindset that will benefit the majority of the people in this country over our own individual little island worlds. The gap between the HAVES and the HAVE-NOTS is widening; people who lose their jobs and homes now are finding that it sucks to be on the other side of the chasm. What happens when if the dollar truly tanks? (And don't think that it isn't a possibility, because a large part of this nation's economic stability depends on who buys our debt, and other countries ain't buying like they used to.) Maybe then they'll realize we're all in this together, or if you have the biggest guns, you can still get your own way.

As Simon Johnson pointed out in his "What I Didn't Get To Say on Bill Maher Last Night" post on The Baseline Scenario, Mohammad Yunus's idea of the "Social Business" model over a "Strictly-for-Profit" business model is something that needs to be addressed NOW, before it becomes too late. In a country you're doing business in, there has to be a certain social responsibity, otherwise the propensity to suck the citizens dry becomes too great. Whether it's Big Oil, the Pharmaceutical Industry, Insurance, Banking, Tech, etc., whatever, the idea of taking huge amounts of money in profits and not contributing socially (and I don't mean charitable tax write-offs, scholarship funds and grants stamped with the corporate logo) is repugnant. How can a mega-business justify its right to exist in a community, when it has allowed that community to go bankrupt by manipulating the tax laws to not pay its fair share? How can you have a gainfully employed America if you keep shipping jobs overseas for a few tax breaks? How can you have a healthy America if your business pollutes the environment, genetically alters the food supply with unknown and potentially disastrous consequences or drive health care costs through the roof? How can you have a wealthy America when you rig the casino games of Wall Street with under the table financial mechanisms no one understands, that enrich YOU rather than any sucker investors bold or stupid enough to play you game of chance? How can you have a future for America when you keep the wheels of energy stuck in the muck and mire of fossil fuels with cost-prohibitive roadblocks and aggressive lobbying?

It's time we stated thinking about US, the collective "us", and begin to change the mindset about what it all means to co-exist harmoniously in this country, on this planet together. Anyone can be the harbinger of a doomsday scenario (just check the best seller's list) , but it takes courage and forward thinking to become part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Maybe we need an even worse plight to make us al pull together. I'm not suggesting socialism, but I AM advocating social consciousness. Yeah, you can be a naysayer and trumpet the glory of unfettered free-market capitalism. So how's that been working for you of late? All I'm saying is that it's time to employ a little common sense, get off the high horse and do what's right for US as a whole, not what you think is right for just your little world. Because if you're only out for 'ME', you're going to find out soon enough just how small your own little world really is.


  1. Here are a few ideas to get the ball rolling in the right direction.

    1) reinstate the old accounting rules. Assets - Liabilites = 0 No more level assets, off-shore phantom companies.
    2) reinstate Glass-Stegal
    3) No corporate incentives for moving overseas
    4) Right now products have to be proven to be harmful before they're taken off the market. New products should be proven safe before they come on market. The 'similar' rule is obscene.
    5) too big to fail is too big to bail. Break up the monopolies Teddy Roosevelt style.
    6) Put some teeth back in the SEC. Prosecute corporate shennanigans with jail time as punishment, not fines that get absorbed as the cost of doing business.

  2. Excellent sugestions ED! Now, just forward them on to your Rep in Congress...oh, wait, isn't he the guy who can't even deliver on his election promise of a package of Whitehouse M&Ms for your vote? Sorry. Guess it's going to be awhile.

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  4. Two thoughts:

    Guys like Maher piss me off. Yeah, he's funny, and now and again he hits the nail on the head, but more often than not he passes off smarm and snarky for real analysis and solutions. Oh, and the same guy who tells you smoking is bad for you and drinking wine is putting "poison" in your system is advocating for pot legalization. Way to be intelectually consitent, Bill. The same guy who prattles on about individual freedom wants to tell us what kind of car to drive and what to eat. Fuck you, Bill. <---said with a smarmy smile on my face.

    As to the second point, I've said for years that you can be "social" without being "socialist". Most of the small business owners I know are actively involved in their community, donate their time, talent and treasure for the good of the city, town and state they live in, and bust their ass for their piece of the American dream. It may sound trite and hokey in an age of cynicism, but it's true.

    When we as consumers put our money where our mouths are, and stop shopping at the MegaMart, buy our groceries from independent markets instead of chains*, and work for the common good instead of trying to figure out ways to game the system, then perhaps we'll make true progress. But few of us (sadly, myself included) are willing to go "all in" on that proposition.

    * All chains aren't "evil", obviously. But what good is a comment like this one if you can't get out the big wide brush to paint your rash generalization picture? :-)

  5. Howdy Gimmel.

    Or was it Daleth? Good to see you're still swimming with some passion against the tide. Takes time and effort and some other ingredient to craft a lengthy post full well knowing it's likely to be ignored. In the days of the twit, paying attention is the new kindness, and giving time is the new love.

    Living in Quebec these days, occasionally I pass near your neck (a wild exaggeration actually, Albany) enroute to former NJ contacts. Employ email, would be good to reminisce sometime, roll out the cognac and hobbit cakes. First 5 letters of my surname plus y (a nickname that stuck from my software career) at att dot net.

    Au revoir, Galith...