July 27, 2009

My anger issues

I'm not actually angry at anyone or anything. I'm a little too dispassionate and philosophical for that. I keep my "thought diary" as Orwell suggested, which records the evolving American scene, and since I'm not (a) a religious zealot or (b) an uber-capitalist, I find it dismaying and depressing at times, but it's still possible in this country to live a satisfying life. Mostly, things still work, after all. The police and fire departments still respond, there are groceries at the store, gasoline at the pump. The emergency rooms are open for business. I can indulge myself in my pursuits of interest. This state of affairs is likely to persist for the foreseeable future.

I think it's wise to conduct one's life in light of reality, that reality which is likely to (a) "interface" with yours and (b) which magical thinking will not dispel. For example, financial commentators keep reporting on the latest outrages to emanate from the New York Stock Exchange. Now it's that Goldman Sachs (and undoubtedly others) have gamed the system by anticipatory computer programs which use algorithms to detect the direction of trades by the general public and other Suckers and use the milliseconds of delay built, conveniently enough, into the Exchange's computer systems to extract tiny advantages, multiplied millions of times over until it becomes real money. Such as the huge profits which Goldman mysteriously continues to pile up in a depressed economy. This HTF scandal (High Frequency Trading) takes its place in the queue with the old scandals involving preferential treatment of insiders by mutual funds; "laddering" of IPOs by the investment bank underwriters; the sale of fraudulent derivatives and corruption of the ratings agencies; and general insider trading, all of which were attacked by the Sheriff of Wall Street, Eliot Spitzer. So of course he had to go.

In some sense I suppose it's still possible to make money as a general-public investor, in the same sense that "liberal" slots in Reno will also allow you to make money. You simply have to recognize the game is rigged and accept those gains which the Big Boyz leave on the table for you. Their return is guaranteed, because they cheat. Yours is subject to the whims and vagaries of the market. Any reform of these outrages, we know going in, will be tepid and ineffectual.

Does pointing that out make me an Angry Person? I don't think so. It just makes me someone without a dime invested in the stock market (see rules above). If I had a high speed computer located a few feet from the NASDAQ mainframe, like Goldman Sachs, and could use algos to guarantee my returns, and I had no conscience whatsoever as the Gnomes of Wall Street do not, then - bonanza! But that's not the way it works.

Similarly, the corruption of Congress is now so complete that it's become one of the "factors" that everyone openly considers in adjudging the outcome of legislative battles. Think about that one. When Greg Palast wrote The Best Congress Money Could Buy he was considered something of a crank and conspiracy theorist. Simply a prophet not honored in his prime, that's all. Now we have websites such as Opensecrets.org, which tell you to the dollar who's on the take. It's a bipartisan game, to say the least. Some of these pols, such as Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin, have enormous war chests overflowing at any given moment, and as pointed out here too many times, it seems unlikely that Schumer's advocacy for the hedge fund manager's exemption from ordinary income tax rates (they're allowed to use capital gains rates) is coincidental. Wall Street is his home turf.

American commoners can compete with Big Money at the presidential level; Barack Obama raised more than $650 million from individual donors. But at the less glamorous level of Congressional races, we don't have a chance mixing it up with the lobbyists. And Congress is where the laws are written (or where the lobbyists write the laws). The influence of Big Money tends to ossify Congress by keeping old, malleable and corrupt members permanently in power, and the ongoing process of concentration of wealth in this country means that Big Money is in fewer and fewer hands (a process accelerated by Congressional passage of tax reduction laws at the high margins). So they can dictate the parameters of allowed "reform," which is why Congressional enactments tend to look like votes of confidence for the status quo. The Bankruptcy "Reform" Act (improving the position of credit card companies versus the individual bankrupt), the anemic "cap and trade" bill for global warming, the tiny little "victory" in voting down a completely unnecessary piece of military hardware (the F-22 - although, Senator Boxer, don't think I didn't notice that you voted to keep building them.) And on and on.

The McCain-Feingold Act on campaign finance reform set limits on "soft money" and on the maximum amount of money that any individual can contribute to a candidate, but when they pass the hat at Goldman Sachs they come up with a lot more money than you do. The systemic corruption of Congress (Washington generally) means that responses to crises will always look like grudging accommodations, and more often simply token gestures. This is why we do not have a real public transportation system in this country, nor socialized medicine, nor a progressive energy policy, nor fuel efficiency standards, nor an FDA which actually protects public health, nor...And why we do have a massive military establishment and armaments industry, and why we fight wars all the time which are not only unnecessary, but counterproductive.

If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention. Still, I'm not angry. It's all very interesting in a macabre way. The energy flowing through a system defines the system, as the engineers say, and the energy in American government life comes from concentrated wealth flowing through public media (where advertising is done) to the election of corporate bag men who keep things profitable for their bosses. As to health care reform, this is more the exception that proves the rule. It must be a measure of how absolutely dire the problem has become; the situation is so desperate that even Congress has been backed into such a corner that assisting the general public is the only way out. Otherwise, Congress would do nothing.

Wow -- I had no idea the health care system had gotten that bad.

1 comment:

  1. hammerud4:40 PM

    I am frustrated by what I see happening to our country. Maybe a little angry. I think I would be really angry and frustrated if all I could hope for was that somehow man would get his act together and turn things around, but that isn't going to happen. As a Christian (God-deluded religious zealot) I do know and believe the Scriptures; and Jesus, pointing to the final act of man's rule, said, "unless those days were shortened no flesh would be saved on the earth." That is where our God-rejecting world is headed. It is all laid out in Scripture. I'm not sure who is deluded regarding the reality of God since His reality is evident in creation. I guess not everyone has eyes to see.