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Despite extensive (albeit flawed) media coverage of the Great Recession, its causes and significance, I still get the impression that far too many of us don’t adequately appreciate, or care to grapple with, the sheer scale of the corruption emanating from our financial sector.
It represents a crisis of American Capitalism; and you file that sort of thing under the heading of ‘Existential Threat.’ That means, in effect, a threat to our very existence. It is that serious.
It has already overtaken our political and legal processes, and continues to spread like an aggressive cancer throughout virtually every aspect of the American Way of Life. We already know that our politicians have been bought. Now everyone, and everything else, is being bought also.
This Crisis of American Capitalism (capitalism comes in many flavors – and some work well) is an issue with such catastrophic implications that it should dominate public discourse; yet, palpably it doesn’t. It’s almost as if the attack on Pearl Harbor had been relegated to the status of a regrettable event – perhaps akin to Katrina - which might require a few reforms, but which otherwise could be substantially ignored. Such a reaction, back in 1941, would, quite rightly, have generated total outrage throughout the land.
Fortunately, it was not required. FDR rose to the occasion, made a magnificent speech, unified all Americans to a common purpose, refocused the entire economy to achieve that purpose, and then won the war. The effort almost certainly cost him his life, but it was the very personification of leadership.
President Obama has shown no such leadership. There have been no major speeches focusing the nation on the threat emanating from the financial sector, and no major efforts initiated to defeat such a threat.
Instead, he has concentrated on shoring up the status quo, together with the very people who helped to cause this crisis, to the tune of over $16 trillion; and has made no effort at all to either break up the big banks, or prosecute those responsible. It is almost as if he is complicit; and perhaps he is.
The financial sector is still being propped up by the Fed. His supporters are having a hard time making sense of this; and this level of subsidy to the financial sector certainly does not match any form of capitalism yet invented except what is pejoratively called “crony capitalism.” The suspicion is that Obama is so dependent on Wall Street for financial support, for his reelection campaign, that his obligations as president come second. And one can add in the fact that he seems remarkably reluctant to articulate clear Democratic principles; or to stand and fight for his beliefs. But what are his beliefs?
President Obama’s depressing behavior apart, let me explore some of the other reasons why public indignation is so muted:
Media Failure: Although media coverage has been extensive, taken as a whole, it hasn’t been nearly as clear and focused as it might have been. It’s as if we weren’t quite sure who had attacked Pearl Harbor. Perhaps it was the Japanese, but it could have been the Soviets. Perhaps a volcano had erupted or there had been a giant gas explosion. Bottom line: the issues have been blurred. Given who owns the media, we shouldn’t be surprised by this. Big business can’t become big without being in bed with the financial sector; and our main media is owned by Big Business.
An Apathetic (and frequently ignorant) Public: I have no desire to be critical of the American public, but it is hard not to be concerned when one examines the data available. Let me quote a neighbor (a fireman) instead: “Thanks to TV, fast food and drugs – mainly legal – we’ve turned into a bunch of flaccid couch potatoes; and we deserve what we get.” Hmm! Not sure I would go that far, but about 30% seem to be totally deaf to any form of reasoned argument about any issue; and the thought that half of the rest are permanently drugged (legal drugs are still drugs – and not all are legal) is not reassuring. Also, many work for corporations who do not take kindly to political activism, and who have the power to fire people whose politics they disapprove of; which they use. The reality of freedom is way different from the propaganda.
The Extraordinary & Unrelenting Efforts of the Republicans To Blur the Issue: We should scarcely be surprised at this, given that the Republican Party is so clearly in the hands of the Rich and Corporate Interests these days, but one might have hoped that there would have been a few Republicans left who would have considered the Public Good, the National Interest or even the ethic of the situation. Clearly not; and to a disturbing extent, the Democrats have been complicit. So much for Congress.
The Equally Extraordinary & Unrelenting Efforts of the The Financial Sector (and Big Business in general) To Manipulate Public Opinion and Game The System: There is a tendency to refer to the Financial Sector – Wall Street or the Big Banks – as if they existed in isolation. Clearly they do not, but it is rather more important to be aware that the interests of the Financial Sector and Big Business in general are frequently one and the same. That represents an extraordinary nexus of resources compared to the ballot box. And the Rich and Corporate Interests have not hesitated to use such resources to the fullest extent necessary.
It says a great deal about the current state of this Great Nation that the only people who seem to be prepared to do the right thing are those involved in the Occupy Movement. And now winter is coming.
We all need to get involved. This used to be a pretty good country. Seems a pity to have it stolen away from us. Our own interests apart, much of the rest of the world needs us too; even likes us. And we need them.
Perhaps we need a different graphic.
‘A’ for ACTION comes to mind. By ‘U.S.’
Those were the days.