Mr. Potter Has Won?

My perennial Christmas Missive, returns after a 4 year (can your believe it) hiatus. And who would have thought 5 years after the Great Meltdown produced the Great Recession, , 5 years into the age of Obama and a purported move away from supply-side economics pretty much nothing has changed to reign in the very things – excessive income inequality, unfettered financial speculation and moral hazard policies that reward the affluent investor over the struggling worker—that drove us to the brink Great Depression II, setting us up nicely for another round of financial mayhem within the decade.  Meanwhile 5 years into a recovery plan that has produced recovery for the richest  10% of the population who now take in more than half of all income (up by over 50%) and even more so the top 1% who raked in  over 90% of the gains from the recovery, middle class and working families are enduring stagnant or declining incomes that haven’t seen significant real increases since the dawn of 1980s supply side economics.    I was apparently naively optimistic when I wrote: Perhaps by Obama Christmas II the tides may turn. For now, let us at least raise a voice of prayer and a glass of cheer to the fact the Potters aren’t adding as much to their winning totals as they used to.Who knew Morning In America actually meant a sunset for  middle class expansion and an American Dream  deferred.. And yes, Virginia, income inequality DOES matter as any Feudal peasant or lord could have told you and as a brief glance at a map of global income inequality also tells you.  Excessive income inequality produces and exacerbates  poverty and  authoritarianism.  Period.  But at least there is hope in the coming year, what with that Marxist in The White House (as we always knew, thank you Fox News) and one now in the Vatican (thank you Rush Limbaugh for that bit of analysis), that national and global attention and conversation may actually turn to a meaningful discussion of inequality and—beyond the social justice issues and even bad for capitalism issues (true capitalism being antithetical to monopolies of power and wealth) the anti-democratic tendencies it fosters.  Until then,  let us hope that the Mister Potters haven’t won – for once they do it won’t be the same America we were born in.  Merry Christmas and best hopes for the future.  CL

__________

I watched the perennial holiday chestnut, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the other day. There was George Bailey, as he is every year, struggling to keep the old Savings and Loan afloat. There was the malicious Mr. Potter, a truly covetous old sinner, trying to put Bailey out of business.  There was Clarence the angel showing, once again, that our world is a better place for the George Bailey’s amongst us.  It’s too bad that in today’s world the Potters are beating the Baileys, hands down.

Old man Potter dismissed the Bailey Savings and Loan as a kind of privatized social welfare program for dumb poor workers who couldn’t cut it on their own. “And what does that  get us,” he asked?  “A discontented, lazy rabble instead of a thrifty working class.  And all because a few starry eyed dreamers stir them up and fill their heads with a lot of impossible ideas? Don’t the  Rush Limbaughs or Tom Delays say the same thing today?

Labor laws, social welfare, retirement benefits, guaranteed healthcare, workplace safety laws, consumer protection–all are dismissed by our modern Potters as so much misplaced sympathy offered to the undeserving by the foolishly starry eyed, thinking that is at best naïve and at worst dangerous.  Any mention of social welfare on AM radio is now associated with Bolshevik Socialism – want to give workers a guaranteed living wage or put any limits at all on the worst excesses of the market and you’re labeled as an advocate of Gulags and death camps.

George, of course, argued back.  “Just remember this, Mr. Potter,” he retorted, “that this rabble you’re talking about, they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community.  Well is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath?”  Today he could add: is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die with decent healthcare, affordable housing, quality education for their kids and the sure knowledge that when old age comes, there will be some comforts to look forward to?

We don’t have that many George Bailey’s today. Few stand up to our Potters when they tell us workers can’t expect job security, no one is entitled to healthcare and decent pay is whatever the most desperate amongst us is willing to work for.  Even the Democrats, the party of dreams for the working stiff, have fallen in line with the rhetoric of balanced budgets and smaller government (except, of course, if deficits are required to provide tax cuts to the richest Americans) even if the cost are reduced programs to help the disadvantaged.

Can’t anyone makes the simple point George made that helping the least amongst us is not simple altruism, it is Capitalist self interest at it’s best? “Your all business men here,” he reminded the S&L board members thinking of supporting Potter, “don’t it make them better citizens? Doesn’t it make them better customers?”  Heck, wasn’t it that old socialist Henry Ford’s idea to raise worker pay, not because it was the moral thing to do but because it made them better participants in the Capitalist market place?   Like Old Man Potter, much of American corporate business has become warped and frustrated by ruthless competition and now sees its workers only as cattle to be milked for as long as possible before being sent to the layoff slaughterhouse.

Frank Capra understood that the Potters amongst us seldom lose, though the more public-minded like old George could, on occasion, battle them to a draw. Notice that, while George Bailey ultimately survived his battle with Potter, the old man survived unscathed too, his own crime of theft of the Bailey’s deposits unpunished. There have always been the Potters amongst us, those who pursue personal gain at any cost, be they a grasping banker like fictitious  Potter or the greedy executives of a massive corporations like Enron or WorldCom. What’s regrettable is that there are fewer and fewer George Bailey’s speaking up for the little guy.

In the real world the Bailey S&L would have been bought out by the 1980s by PotterCorp, a huge transnational Financial Services leviathan. A PotterCorp holding company would have bought out Bedford Fall’s chief industry, the plastic’s factory old Hee-Haw Sam Wainwright had built at George’s urging and shipped the jobs to Third World sweatshops. Downtown Bedford Falls would now be a ghost town with shops shuttered by a massive PotterMart selling cheap slave-labor produced products to the town’s poorly paid service employees.   Yes, least be there any doubt, in the world of today Mister Potter would have won.  And, least there be any doubt, Mr. Potter voted Republican.

 

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The Wicked Servant

 

 

Scripture tell us:

Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.      

 At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.  But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him.

‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart. Matthew 18:23-35

The numbers tell us:

2.98 Trillion: number of dollars provided by the US Treasury through TARP and by the Federal Reserve to stabilize  Wall Street Banks.  (Wall Street Journal)

1.45 Trillion: number of dollars American corporations are sitting on and not investing. (Forbes)

1.2 Trillion: number of dollars the Federal Reserve provided Wall Street Banks in emergency loans through 2011. (Bloomberg)

942 Million: Total compensation paid to the top 56 executives of the 9 major banks receiving TARP funding in 2007. (CNN Money)

12.8 Million:  Average pay of top bank CEOs in 2011.  (Huffington Post)

8 Million:  Lowest CEO pay in 2012 out of the top 5 banks.  (Forbes)

0: Number of senior financial officers prosecuted for criminal activity related to the housing and stock market crashes since 2007. (Truth Out)

18: Number of years of accumulated wealth (1992-2010) wiped out for American families between 2007-2010. (New York Times)

59.1 thousand: Decline (40%) in median household wealth from 2007 to 2010. (New York Times)

2.2 million: number of homes  (out of 16 million households underwater) refinanced through 2012 by banks under the Home Affordable Refinance Program HARP.  (CBS News)

7.5 million: number of jobs lost in the Great Recession. (ABC News)

19.2 million: number of  home foreclosures since 2007.  (Realty Trac Inc.)

17 Trillion: Amount of wealth lost by American households during the Great Recession (AP)

Since 2007 the American financial industry has received trillions of dollars in government bailouts while presiding over the loss of trillions of dollars in American wealth, millions of American jobs and  the foreclosure of almost 20 million American homes.  

 

So who’s the wicked servant in American society today? 

And isn’t it time for their masters – We the People, to hold our errant servants accountable for their failure to extend to their debtors the same mercy that We the People extended to them?   

Perhaps the titans of finance have survived unscathed and will remain unaccountable for their actions precipitating the Great Recession. But perhaps, during this Lenten season, these same titans of finance should keep in mine the statement in Matthew coming shortly after the parable of the Wicked Servant:

“Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Matthew 19:24

Note to Wall Street Titans: Eat healthy.  Exercise.  Get plenty of rest.  Given your actions the last few years, I wouldn’t be in any hurry to get to the next life if I were you.

 

Read My Lips. I Mean My Other Lips.

Gentleman Jerry Sanders has had his full-on Bush moment.  (That would be the kinder, gentler Bush 41 as opposed to the swaggeringer, already all but forgottener Bush 43.)

Jerry Sanders, Special  Election Edition 2005“Read My Lips. No New Municipal Taxes.”*

(*Offer does not apply to “fee increases”  e.g. Sewer.)

Jerry Sanders, New And Improved Don’t Won’t The City To Go Bankrupt On His Watch 2010 Limited Edition:    New Taxes?  Er, Okay!”

Now, the proposed sales tax increase is probably never going to see the revenue light of fiscal day.  Come November, voters perched on the edge of a double-dip recession will probably prove reluctant to open their pocketbooks to bailout a city government that has proven reluctant to realistically deal with its financial problems for an entire decade.  And the “Reform for Revenue” measure is about as Rube Goldberg  a contraption as has ever been put on a San Diego Ballot.  What with all its “privatize this” and “renegotiate that” provisions, this initiative has more moving parts than the Space Shuttle.  And, for all the hand-wringing over budget cutbacks,  firestation brownouts and pool drainings, the real pain voters will soon experience in municipal meltdown has but put off, if not for much longer.

But it’s interesting to watch the evolution from Jerry Sanders Running For Office: Pander to the voters by telling them you can have no tax increases, no cuts to city services and no municipal maladies of any kind;   to Jerry Sanders Running For Legacy: Acknowledge  that, while yes  fiscal reform is needed at this late date it’s either steep cuts in services or some token increase in taxes.

The simple reality is San Diego is now several billion in the red, the economy is getting ready to tank again as the local housing market looks to drop into the next ditch and  the only thing separating America’s Finest City and other basically bankrupt cities is time.  How long, one must wonder, before the city starts turning off every other street  light to save money like Colorado Springs?

Of course the politics of all this right out of the  San Diego provincial playbook, with the two Republicans on the non-partisan council voting against the six Democrats on the non-partisan council thereby setting up the next GOP contender for the non-partisan Mayoralship to boldly campaign on the slogan, “Read My Lips – oh, heck, you know the rest.”  (One can see Carl D practicing the line in the mirror every morning.)

By then though the game of San Diego municipal musical chairs may be over and a city that has been dancing on the brink for ten years may finally tip over.  And by then  a minor half-cent increase will do about as much good for San Diego finances as a roll of duct tape would have helped the Titanic.

In the interim it would be nice if mayoral mouthpiece Darrel Pudgil took a moment spent praising the mayor for his bold leadership in trying to close the near hundred mil budget gap (and gee, after only five yeas in office) to issue a small little apology to Darling Donna Frye.  Back in 2005 His Gentlemanness, in a  very ungentleman-like way,  savaged  the honest council woman for simply suggesting the city consider what Sanders himself has now embraced.

If you’re worried about legacy, Jerry, why don’t you go the whole nine yards and admit Donna was right a half-decade ago?

Let Them Eat Cake? They Don’t Even Get No Stinkin’ Cake.

While perusing my morning NYT last week two articles jumped out at me.  The pair perfectly capture the Wilted Gilded Age we find our selves in.  The first dealt with the interesting little irony that the rich are actually and calculatingly walking away from more mortgages than average households.  It would appear that the WSJ’s moralizing about moral hazards moralizing ends somewhere west of the Hamptons.  The second article dealt with how the ivy covered towers of Academe are now being turned into the country clubs of the kids of the ruling classes, complete with spa-quality student centers.  Now public schools and community colleges are also spending more on student services  according to the article.  But they are doing so to deal with a) a vast backlog of repair and expansion work that has been sidelined for decades; and b) the crush of lower-income students trying to ride out the Great Recession in a classroom.  (Note to students: choose a major that will take 20 years to complete. If the economy hasn’t recovered by then maybe an elder relative will have kicked off in the interim and left you a small bequest….).  Private schools are putting in tapas bars.  Oh, such a world of difference

mAd Men

Okay, I lied.  One last parting shot and then I’m closing down the pundit pavilion for a break.

Best Commercial for Meg Whitman to run this summer (now that she’s finished running those “Hi, I’m Meg Whitman as in E-Bay and not candy samplers and I’m willing to go so far to the right to win the Republican Gubernatorial primary that I’ve ended up in Arizona” ads):

Rose Bird.

That’s it.  No more hippy vans and  Summer of Love spots.  Just Rose Bird with historical reference.

As for Jerry “Hardest Working Man in California Politics” Brown,  the obvious ad  shows  large stretch limo drives down the blocks of  Rodeo Drive luxury shops, coming to a stop before a Gucci/Prada type establishment.  Two handsome matronly women dressed to the nines emerge from the limo and enter the store, chatting.  The blonder of the women is complaining about the fact that, now that she’s cashed out her billions from her business she just is having the hardest time finding things to fill her time.  The other woman expresses her sympathies for her friend’s plight.  As they peruse row after row of purses with four and five figure price tags the Blonde stops in front of one labeled “Governor of California” with a price tag of $150 million. She picks it up, looks at her friend and says, “Hey, I like this one.  What do you think?”  Her friend says, “Oh honey, it’s you.  And you certainly can afford it!”

And so the bored, rich Blonde woman walks to the checkout stand and buys the Governorship purse.  Throw in a voiceover asking if Californians are really going to let  a bored, rich Blonde woman basically buy the governorship and, voila,   the spot sells itself.

Of course the answer to that question come November may well be “Eh? Why not?”

Now, make the Blonde’s companion look oh-so Carly Fiorina and you have a two-fer commercial.  The Carly character can pick up a purse labeled “United States Senator” with a $50 million price tag and say “I think I’ll get one, too.”

Yo Barb and Jerry, ever thought about combining forces on this one?

And, to be fair to Carly, her ad against Barbara B. is simple as pie.

The US Capitol

With a simple voice over:  “With the highest unemployment levels in thirty-years does ANYONE working in this building deserve to keep THEIR jobs?”

(Admittedly, this is an ambidextrous spot useful to all challengers of both parties but, hey, if the spot fits.

Sianara  for a few more weeks.

Summer Hiatus

I’m not teaching this summer and have several projects in the works so I’m taking a recharging break from blogging.  I’ll probably get back to these funny pages by the end of July.  So I leave you for a while to while away the dog days of summer with these final lunacy-driven observations.

Primary Election 2010

Hey, what do you know?  Money doesn’t always win.  I mean, PG&E’s vanity Prop 16 failed despite millions in energizer monies the utility company unleashed.  The measure failed to pass by five  percentage points.  That’ll teach PG&E to try and win on the cheap.  Of course money did triumph with Prop 17 aka the “Win One For Mercury Insurance” initiative.  Yes, the good citizens of Mercury Insurance saw democracy triumph for them.  And all you military-types heading out of country to go in country Middle Eastern and Himalayan style?  Just be ready for nice hefty fees should you turn off your insurance while you trade in your Ford pickup for a Humvee for the next year.  Courtesy of the wise California voters, of course.  And, from what I heard, money did play a teensy-weensy role in helping the GOP CEO Corps crush the GOP Professional Brigade in the Gubernatorial and Senatorial primaries.  Then again, it could have been the hair styles….

And, as long as I’m bringing up the GOP Gubernatorial race,  I noticed Meg Whitman caught a little heat for launching straight into her partisan general election campaign during her victory speech on election night.  I disagree with the critics.  I thought launching her 2012 presidential bid that night was ABSOLUTELY brilliant.  You can’t let the grass grow and all that.  And if anyone thinks the most important election in the country this November in terms of its impact on the 2012 Presidential isn’t California’s governor’s race, they are wrong.  THAT is the one to watch.  I can only assume President-elect Whitman is already working on her inaugural speech

Okey dokey.  Toodles for now.

Off to the Races

Well papers are graded and the semester is over.  All that’s left is administrative paper work – and the 2010 Primary Elections.

I’ll be providing analysis for KGTV 10 again this year, between 8:30 or there abouts  (depending on how long it takes the Lakers to dunk the Celtics) and 11:30.  This year I get to be in studio which means a) I don’t have to deal with all the noise and crazy people down at Golden Hall; and b) I don’t have to deal with the labor dispute at Golden Hall.

(Note to Jess Durfee:  Yo Dude, while it is commendable that you are holding the line in Union Solidarity—Go AFT 1931, my homies–and all by not crossing the line into Golden Hall do realize that means for most San Diegans tonight politics in America’s Finest City is going to be dominated by Republicans, Tea Partiers and the Really Really Really Whacked Out Right that thinks Ron Paul is still running while Democrats are the Party That Can Not Find There Way On To The  TV.  Hope you have a backup plan, dude.)

I’ll also be participating in City Beat’s first election night live chat room which you too can join at SDVOTES.COM.  Hope to hear from you.

I wrap up tomorrow with KPBS’s election wrap up on These Days at 9AM.

So, lots to do and talk about.  I’ve got three major questions for the evening:

1.  Is  California heading towards blissful Matriarchy?   Will Whitman/Fiorina/Atkins/Salas et al. triumph over their male rivals?

2. Is California heading deeper into Plutarchy?  Will PG&E and Mercury Insurance be able to show that it really is that easy (albeit pricey) to buy the legislation they want wholesale through the initiative process cutting out the legislative middlemen?

3. Combining 1 & 2,  with the megabucks spent by Whitman & Fiorina, Inc. will California now be ruled by Plutarchy with a Femine Face?

The next twelve hours will tell.

Go vote if you haven’t.  I am.

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