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Sunday: Taking the Top off the Mountain

Digby wonders why the bankers are whining.  They’ve gotten everything they wanted but they’re all upset that Obama is speaking harshly to them.  So, now they’re going to sit on their money and not give him any for his re-election.

Wait!  Why is that a *bad* thing?  If they’re not contributing to his campaign, maybe he and other Democrats will have to start paying attention to what the voters want.  Would that be such a crime?  After all, there are more voters than bankers.  Seems to me that banker money has made it too easy for Democrats to coast instead of doing what they’re supposed to be doing.  So, ok, then, let the bankers keep their money.  And if they give it to Republicans to run a bajillion campaign ads, then Democrats better get on it and do some legislatin’.  But I digress.

So, Digby’s question is a valid one: What drives the bankers to be such whiny Verulka Salt’s who want it all NOW!?  She has a couple of theories that glance at the truth tangentially.  They explain the whininess but not what drives the bankers.  They’re either naive, resentful of populism or arrogant twits.

But if you’ve read my Strategy of No Strategy series, you’ll see if from a different point of view altogether.  The finance class actually consists of a bunch of overqualified strip miners.  They’re overworked, which might explain the number of bad decisions they make, and their compensation system decouples the consequences of their actions from the actions themselves.  They are being paid to make “deals” and the purpose of those deals is to extract “wealth”.  In a way, it’s not that much different from getting into the cab of some giant piece of earth moving equipment and mowing down the side of the mountain and then loading that potential ore onto a conveyor belt to be separated from dirt.  They live in a “company” town and are paid “company scrip”.  It’s a truck system for them as well.  The compensation is not proportional to the amount of work they do, they can be fired at will and they’re never going to leave that mountain because they owe their souls to the company store.  The more they work, the more compensation in bonuses they are promised but it’s never enough.

That’s not to make you feel sorry for them.  That’s just the way it is.  And seeing it for the way it really is can help us get over the very legitimate emotion of wanting to ring their skinny necks right out of their Brooks Brothers suits. We need to separate our feelings of hatred towards them from our understanding of what’s really going on here.

What I see is really going on here with Obama is that he was hired because he is one of them.  He comes from the right school, he has the right pedigree, he had the right connections.  It didn’t matter if he knew nothing about finance.  Just like them, he would get a crash course and learn on the job.  And they have taken this deal with him as far as it would go.  Just like them, Obama has stripped the top of the mountain.  There is no more wealth to be extracted.  Now, the middle class has been mined to death.  It’s exhausted and can no longer generate the wealth that they have been paid to retrieve.  They’re screwed.  The owners (ironically, that would be some of us shareholders through our 401Ks) want more money.  There’s no more to give.  It’s a vicious circle because generating more wealth for us, the shareholders, means laying more of us off, which means less wealth going into the 401Ks.  When Obama finally signs the Grand Bargain, he will be creating an environmental catastrophe but before that happens, he has to win this election and people are hurting so badly, he may not be able to do it.

Do the number of ad buys really make a difference anymore?  We may see the effects of the internet on politics for real this election season.  Some of us have given up TVs altogether and no longer subscribe to newspapers.  I’m guessing that would affect the Democrats more.  Their base is younger and better educated (but not necessarily smarter).  The people who are moved by TV ads are older and less well educated.  That would favor Republicans.  I don’t know, this crap makes me crazy.  It’s all a bunch of political psych tricks that make no difference to how people live their lives.  But I suspect that the Osama bin Laden to-do this week had something to do with appealing to older and independent voters.  I could care less.  All I want to hear coming out of either candidates’ mouths is how they are planning to solve the unemployment problem and save our retirements without requiring even one more half penny of sacrifice from the late babyboomers.  Anything other than that might as well be speaking in some obscure language from a small isolated population in the Caucasus.  “Blah-blah-blah-SEALS! Blah-blah-blah-SHOT-IN-THE-EYE!” Who. Gives. A. FRACK.

So, as I was saying, the bankers are like strip miners and they’re not getting much out of the mountain anymore, their manager says the place is exhausted and they’re puzzled because this particular piece of real estate has been pretty rich for so long that it’s hard to take it all in that it’s gone.  It’s really gone.  And now, they have to go mine somewhere else and in those other places, the ore’s not so rich or it’s harder to get at or there are people standing in the way or it’s going to take time to get the permits and pay off the owners or make new deals.  They’re going to have to do a trickier kind of work now or they’re in big trouble because the deals they are about to make are a lot riskier.  Meanwhile, they’re leaving a big mess behind with lots of toxic runoff and the downstream people are angry because they have destroyed our economic ecosystem.  I guess they want Obama to keep the rabble down while they finish their work but it’s getting loud and noisy and not helping their concentration.  Maybe Mitt can keep a lid on it…

Anyway, that’s the way I see it.  They’re getting paid to stripmine.  Changing the way they behave will require the will to change the environment they work in.  If I were really interested in changing the way this works, I would have protected the employees that worked for Wall Street at the very beginning of this crisis.  I would have enforced workplace standards, required a limit on the number of hours worked, required mandatory overtime to be dispensed with the next immediate paycheck, enforced the minimum wage, tied salary to hours worked and prevented bonuses from rising to more than 20% of salary, mandated more 4 weeks of vacation per year, paid, and required every blessed transaction to undergo rigorous outside auditing, just to slooooow everything down.  Also, I might have had the EEOC or some other agency review hiring practices so that applicants were not discriminated on the basis of where they went to school or their genders.

From the money side of things, I would have begun the process of eliminating the 401K, reinstituted the defined benefit pension plan, and placed rigorous outside auditing checks on every blessed pension fund transaction.  One final thing: I would have made sure that I seized control of any fiber optic cable coming out of Wall Street.  We should never negotiate with terrorists.

Wall Street would have screamed bloody murder but such measures might have gotten a lot of support from workers including some of the workers on Wall Street.

Alas, Obama did not do this.  So now he is faced with having to do without finance sector money and will have to face the mountain this fall.

I kind of like the way this is playing out.

Farrah Fawcett Living Downstream

Dividing Breast Cell

Dividing Breast Cell

Farrah Fawcett’s death is both poignant and embarrassingly mundane. It is poignant because she gathered the energies she gained from being an “it” girl and used them to bring to light some common, and less common, plights of women in general. Farrah’s touch of America, brought America in touch with some of its hidden aspects.

Her death is embarrassingly mundane in the way that “The Burning Bed” examined the embarrassing mundane phenomenon of domestic violence. When we should be embarrassed by the commonality of a social practise, it is embarrassingly mundane.

Farrah’s death by cancer is merely one death in many that is the result of the societal choice to poison or chemically-load the places that provide our sustenance and give us shelter. In death, her personal struggle with cancer highlights our society’s embarrassingly mundane choice to slowly poison, or biochemically alter, ourselves, our children, and our children’s children, so that some of us can pay less for things.

Whom among us can claim a family that is untouched by cancer? How have we also been touched?

“According to the American Cancer Society, [cancer]… is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. with half of all men and one-third of all women developing some form of cancer during their lifetimes.” (The good news is that cancer rates have stabilized and even declined, since 1992, after steadily rising for many years.)

In terms of other touches, the growth in childhood asthma has reached epidemic status; the early onset of puberty in girls (precocious puberty) has become normal; and sperm counts in males, and the volume of healthy sperm produced, continues to steadily decline (due to environmental endocrine disrupters), to name a few.

Sandra Steingraber, a biologist and cancer survivor, coined the phrase “living downstream” to describe the phenomenon of societies following development trajectories that lead to adverse health outcomes. The parable below is borrowed from a website tied to a documentary that is derived from her research:

There once was a village overlooking a beautiful river.
The residents who lived here began noticing increasing numbers of drowning people caught in the river’s swift current and so went to work inventing ever more elaborate technologies to resuscitate them.
So preoccupied were these heroic villagers with rescue and treatment that they never thought to look upstream to see who was pushing the victims in.
Living Downstream is a walk up that river.

One does not have to look far upstream to find Sarah Palin, Barack Obama, George Bush Jr. and the United States Supreme Court pushing their fellow citizens into the river. They’ve made, and continue to make, choices that chemically-load or poison the citizens they represent.

A mining company was given the go-ahead by the Supreme Court on Monday to dump waste from an Alaskan gold mine into a nearby 23-acre lake, although the material will kill all of the lake’s fish.
By a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court said a federal appeals court wrongly blocked on environmental grounds the Army Corps of Engineers’ waste disposal permit for the mine project. The Alaska mine, which had been closed since 1928, now plans to resume operation and will dump about 4.5 million tons of mine tailings — waste left after metals are extracted from the ore — into the lake located three miles away in the Tongass National Forest.
The court said that the federal government acted legally in declaring the waste left after metals are extracted from the ore as “fill material” allowing a federal permit without meeting more stringent requirements from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Water Act.

The ruling was rejected by 3 moral voices in Ginsburg, Stevens, and Souter.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said it is “neither necessary or proper” to interpret the waterway protection law “as allowing mines to bypass EPA’s zero-discharge standard by classifying slurry as fill material.” She argued the lower court had been correct in concluding that the use of waters as “settling ponds for harmful mining waste” was contrary to the federal Clean Water Act.

Sarah Palin confirmed her status as a “pro-life without the chance of parole” candidate.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin called the decision “great news for Alaska” and said it “is a green light for responsible resource development.” The Kensington Goal Mine 45 miles north of Juneau will produce as many as 370 jobs when it begins operation.

In this regard, Governor Palin pales in comparison to President Obama, who continues to provide evidence that he is merely a better looking, more articulate version of George W. Bush. Following their standard modus operendi, the Obama Whitehouse, in the form of Ken Salazar, the Secretary of the Interior, stated that Bush’s policy on mountaintop removal mining did not pass the smell test and then proceeded to hold their noses and put Bush’s policy into practice. Thankfully, the Senate may yet have something different to say.

Farrah Fawcett, like the rest of us, lived downstream from the choices of others. She touched America and America touched back. Unfortunately, some of those touches gave her cancer, like they’ve done to too many others, and like they continue to do today in many different and harmful ways. This is unlikely to change anytime soon because, as related in Steingraber’s parable, the most prominent politicians in the United States today continue to push their fellow citizens into the river.

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