Sunday, November 20, 2011

Now, It's Come To This?

“Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it ... he who doesn't ... pays it.” ― Albert Einstein
The gap between the 'haves' and 'have-nots' is getting wider and deeper, yet not many in our National politics seem to care enough to even acknowledge it, much less try doing anything about it.

This article confirms what some have felt was true; that a there are many more Americans in the near-poor category than we wanted to believe. Yet, at some level, many did know all along.
How else would you expect the constant -and sometimes irresistible- pressure to use easy credit to purchase what we want, but don't necessarily need? In turn, this leads to a reliance on credit to obtain even those things we do need!

Because compound interest is a really marvelous invention. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955) called it the 8th Wonder - It can work for you, or against you. When you invest it works for you. When you borrow it works against you!

We do need credit, but not an overdose of it. Even more, we need honesty and effective action on the part of those who would be our political leaders!

The latter is certainly not happening, as tuning into any of the current 'debates' about how to reduce our Federal deficit, who will be the Republican candidate for President, how to 'create' jobs, how to repair our crumbling infrastructure, how to reform our increasingly unfair tax system, how to ensure affordable basic health care, how to deal with the proliferation of wars & terrorism, how to strengthen our public education system, how to curtail the rising dominance of corporate & monetary influence in politics, how to deal with climate change, and almost any other issue of universal importance to all citizens.

It should be getting pretty obvious -to everyone paying attention- who is serious about doing anything positive about any of these pervasive problems and who isn't.
Right now, to me, our great experiment in Democracy is on the verge of failure.
Consider for a moment this caution, issued many years ago, then tell me if it hasn't already come true:
"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing, always to be followed by a dictatorship, then a monarchy."
Now, tell me why you doubt this isn't coming to pass right now. It seems to me that we are having our freedoms constantly eroded by a tyranny of wealth & power that is controlled by the few. Whether that few equates to the 1% of very wealthy & powerful, I don't know, but that seems probable, particularly with the tremendous, growing gap between the few & the many.
That may constitute something of a 'dictatorship' by oligarchy, but by any name it amounts to a form of economic slavery.

I'm reminded of a cartoon which depicted a large, streaming herd of small Lemming-like animals rushing mindlessly toward falling off a big cliff. In the midst of this chaos, one animal raised its head and shouted; 'hey, we're Lemurs! LEMURS!'

At some point, we need to wake up to the signs that we are heading in a similar direction, toward a precipice from which it will become increasingly difficult to even slow down, much less reverse.

Did you know that the folks who used to be called Republicans are now called Democrats?
I don't know what present day Republicans used to be called, but it might have been Tories, a gentle version of King's dupes. That might be too harsh an indictment, but have you witnessed the current crop of Republican Presidential candidates? It's certainly true of most of them!

Newt Gingrich now is polling higher numbers than any of the others? Get serious! A more hypocritical political elite cannot be found. His recent quip about those involved in the 'Occupy' movement was 'they need to get a job, right after they take a bath' is an insensitive cheap shot, designed to appeal to the 'haves' from whom he wants support.

Lest you think I'm just picking on Republicans, there are plenty of folks who call themselves Democrats, Independents, Libertarians, T-Partyans and other names or non-names, who qualify as opportunistic, self-centered elites as well. You know the ones I mean, you see them or hear their screed every day on our public airways like TV, either as talking heads, the frequent guests of talking heads, the faceless owners of talking heads, or those paid by them, brainwashed by them, or otherwise in their thrall.

I'm really tired of the insidious line of propaganda, self-serving commentary and outright BS these people continually spout, but that is what dominates our media these days. That and constant, destructive criticism of the very leaders, institutions and values that are there to help knit us together as a nation. We are a nation, you know. But, we're acting like a bunch of spoiled brats that are constantly trying to climb over one another without regard for anything remotely resembling the greater good.
That type of trajectory is not leading us to sharing anything likely to be sustainable or worthy of our best intentions.
But, maybe that's not important to us any more?
More likely, we're too distracted with making ends meet, or in the case of the privileged 1%, making our next million?

The comparison of our gradual awareness of the effects of inequality to that of a frog being brought slowly to a boil, seems apt. Sometimes trends themselves are not noticed until some tangible benchmark is reached that gets our attention.
I believe the objective of the Occupy movement is to get our attention on matters than have steadily encroached upon us, like growing inequality and indifference to unnecessary suffering that could be significantly mitigated. When taken to their limits, these things will become intolerable, a point we are now beginning to reach.

For example, we hear many complaints about the fiscal stimulus measures taken to help jump start our economy. Here's a 'joke' I received recently from a friend, entitled What is a Financial Bail-Out ?:
It is a slow day in a damp little Irish town. The rain is beating down harshly, and all the streets are deserted. Times are tough, everybody is in debt and everybody lives on credit.

On this particular day a rich German tourist is driving through the town, stops at the local hotel and lays a ¤100 note on the desk, telling the hotel owner he wants to inspect the rooms upstairs in order to pick one to spend the night.

The owner gives him some room-keys and, as soon as the visitor has walked upstairs, the hotelier grabs the ¤100 note and runs next door to pay his debt to the butcher.

The butcher takes the ¤100 note and rushes down the street to repay his debt to the pig farmer. The pig farmer takes the ¤100 note and heads off to pay his bill at the supplier of animal feed and fuel.

The guy at the Farmers' Co-op takes the ¤100 note and runs to pay his drinks bill at the friendly neighbourhood pub. The pub owner slips the money along to the local prostitute drinking at the bar - who, in spite of facing hard times, has always gladly offered him her 'services' on credit.

The hooker then rushes over to the hotel and pays off her room bill to the hotel owner with the ¤100 note.

The hotel proprietor quietly replaces the ¤100 note back on the counter, so that the rich traveller will not suspect anything.

At that moment the traveller comes down the stairs, states that none of the rooms are satisfactory, picks up the ¤100 note, pockets it and leaves town.

No one has produced anything. No one has earned anything. However, the whole town is now out of debt and looking to the future with a lot more optimism.

And that, dear ladies and gentlemen, is how a basic financial bailout package works!
That joke is amusing, but its intent seems to be to take a shot at the very idea of any sort of bailout.
Is that necessary? After all, all the people involved were rewarded by paying off debts, and the investor got all his money back! What's wrong with that?

The debtors are relieved to no longer be in debt and the wealthy depositor got his money back. What would be a better ending than that? That the wealthy depositor got wealthier?
And, who is that depositor? A tycoon, a Good Samaritan, or a government?
To me, it's the thought -and action- that counts, not the fact that nothing was created but debt relief.
Being in debt is not fun; getting out of it is. It's that simple.

So, have we become so cynical that we discount intended good acts that do much good and little harm? And, do we now value wealth, power and intentional inaction in the face of clear need above basic human kindness, care of society's problems and degradation of our very nests here on earth?

If so, we are experiencing the compound impacts of excessive greed & cynicism, neither of which helps build upon our real values and freedoms.
I hope it hasn't come to this, but there are clear signs that is happening.

If it is, there's a better name for than the 8th wonder of the world!
When nearly one in three in our nation lives in near-poverty, maybe the correct name is more like the fatal wound of the world?