(This was also posted in the group "Left Wing Atheists")
I have come a long way in three years. I was so naive. I couldn't wait to vote the Republicans out of office, so I registered myself as a Democrat and woke up at 5am to go stand proudly in line to vote for Obama. Like many of us since then, I now realize what a sucker I was. I had high hopes that Obama was going to nationalize the banks when he took office and start loosening the hold the bankers have around our throats. Well, that didn't happen, and instead he went after health care. We all know what he has and has not done since, with the latter more than overwhelming the former. So I got frustrated, as most of us have, that nothing changed with Obama. I got determined to educate myself and find out what the real problems are, and what the real solutions are.
I started watching a lot of MSNBC. At first, I stuck with Hardball with Chris Matthews. While that kept me informed as to what the two political parties were up to, I was far from satisfied. Then one day I tuned in a little early and caught a little of Dylan Ratigan. His personality turned me off a little at first, but the next time I saw his show I was mesmerized. Hooked. Here was a guy who was finally speaking about the real issues, the fundamental structural problems underlying the mess we are in. If you know the show, much of what I am about to say will sound like repetition, but these are what I think the real problems in America are.
There are 6 industries which own the US government, the military-industrial complex (e.g. Lockheed Martin), health care (Big Pharma, health insurance), banking, energy (oil, Halliburton), agribusiness (think Monsanto), and telecommunications (e.g. the phone companies that rip us off). The heads of these industries use their spectacular wealth to buy politicians. In fact, 94% of our elections are now won by the candidate who raises the most money. Obama was no exception. Yes, he raised more money from small donations than anyone had before, but he also raised more money from LARGE donations than ever before. Goldman Sachs was his single biggest campaign contributor in 2008. We all know that if a candidate tries to go against any of these industries, they use their fabulous wealth to take out attack ads so that they don't stand a chance (think swiftboating). As long as our two political parties play by the rules, they can divide up the country in any other, meaningless way they want.
They have a very cozy relationship, these plutocrats. The politicians look the other way while the rich engage in insider trading. They even call up their friends on Wall St. and give them insider information as to policy changes which have financial ramifications (and then engage in a healthy amount of insider trading themselves). Then the rich spend huge amounts of money in lobbying efforts to convince the politicians as to how the laws should be written. They have managed to rig, to their vast benefit, the tax code, trade policies, and banking regulations to siphon money from the American people and into their pockets. They pay lower taxes (or none at all) than average American individuals and businesses. They trade with countries like China which can make products far cheaper than we can make it here, eliminating American jobs while flooding the markets with cheap goods (think Walmart). But the banking "industry" seems to have benefited to even more egregious levels.
Our US government has allowed a $700 trillion, completely invisible and unregulated swaps market to exist without requiring all of these transactions to take place on a visible (and regulatable) exchange. There are no capital requirements, which means they can trade without having anything of value to put up as collateral. And when their bets go bad, the Fed just sends them a check to the tune of $29.6 trillion of our tax-payer money so far since the crisis began. And I thought we had a deficit! Where are we getting all of this money from? Are we just printing it?
Meanwhile 1 in 15 Americans now live in poverty. 18% of us are unemployed (that's the "real" unemployment figures), and that's not even counting the underemployed. Incomes are falling, debt is mounting. People are left homeless while foreclosed homes sit empty. Income and wealth inequality are at their highest levels since the Great Depression. Meanwhile our elections are being put up for auction and neither political party will stand up to these powerful ruling interests. If this isn't a state of unjust affairs, then I don't know what is. These are issues that shouldn't even be restricted to the left, we are all being oppressed. But while we on the left are waking up, those on the right are drifting towards a libertarian philosophy which plays right into the hands of the rich. With no government around, who could possibly stand up to the rich?
We need to retake our government, not break it down into uselessness. And we need large-scale structural solutions to address these mounting problems. We need systematic and system-wide changes to our democracy and our government. We need to weed out waste and abuse of power at all levels. We need to eliminate subsidies for oil companies and stop sending money without strings attached to the bankers. We need to break up the banking cartels so that never again will an institution be "too big to fail". We need real regulations on the banking industry, and that begins with having capital requirements and putting the swaps market on a visible exchange. If we change the way Wall St. does business, they will make money honestly and contribute real value to America rather than being fueled by the need to create more and more debt. We need to restructure debt to help out students and homeowners. And to that end I would suggest literally bailing out the American people. If we are going to print money, why not give it directly to Americans so that they can use it to pay off their debts to the banks?
We need to eliminate superpacs and overturn the Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court that makes corporations people and money into protected free speech so that the rich can't talk more loudly than everyone else. We need a real energy plan, and we need to improve our energy efficiency so that we can approach a % in the 90's like other modern industrialized nations have rather than the 34% efficiency we are now sitting at. We need real environmental regulations, and we need to completely restructure our educational system so that we can keep up with the rest of the world. And we need to end privatized profit but socialized risk for the wealthy, and incentivize investment in America and it's people.
The political discussion has been framed by our politicians as being about ballooning debt. While certainly this is a huge problem, I am quite certain that if we address the real problems in America, our national debt problem will also be solved. If we stop war-mongering and being the arms-dealers to the world, we won't have huge costly wars to pay off. With an economy that puts people to work, our social programs will have plenty of funding to continue operations, keeping Americans healthy and financially supported throughout old age.
We are really running out of time. The changing environment is going to make all humanity come together, one way or another. We can come together now and make the necessary changes to our lifestyle and our society so that we can all live on this earth in peace, or the catastrophe to come will be marked by the most violence, starvation, and suffering the world has ever known. And the US needs to lead the way. When the catastrophe comes, humanity will largely blame Americans for it, and rightly so. There will be enough blame to go around, but the American people can do something about it now, while we still have time. If we do not raise our heads up out of the herd and take our country back from the oligarchs who hold us as slaves and hostages, the lion's share of the moral responsibility for the future of humanity will be ours to bear.
Hah, that fits in quite nicely with the response I made which is currently at the bottom of the page (the last one), excepting perhaps the part about socialism. I certainly agree with is analysis of both communism and capitalism, and I actually wrote that bit about communism in response to someone who responded to this post in the "Left Wing Atheist" group (I had myself heard it from none other than Ayn Rand). It is an easy response to give to that claim originally made by Marx, not least because it is so easily refuted.
I am not sure I follow the critique on Socialism though. There is clearly a continuum on the political spectrum, ranging as we have come to know it from right to left. And going to either extreme has obvious problems. As I describe in that response I make at the end (so far) of this discussion, the right is dominated by a philosophy of competition, of unbridled individualism which is made incompatible with any degree of cooperation or sense of unity with others. And the left is the complete opposite. Going along with an Aristotelian approach then, we should be striving for a happy medium, a virtuous middle, or as I like to call it, an optimal balance between the two variables in play here. It helps to understand exactly what I am saying if you have the picture of a parabola in your head - on each side there is a sharp downward slope, so that the further away you get from the optimal, highest center point, the lower you can expect the result of the function to be (along the Y axis). But right in the middle there is the highest point, the apex of the parabola which is the highest you can go given the variables you are working with. It naturally makes sense then that someone who is working from the perspective of the extremes to either side will quickly shout out that any steps towards the other side is a "slippery slope", their thinking being that the apex of the parabola lies on the complete edge of the field with nowhere to go but downwards. But we know two things - first, that neither extreme has got the whole picture, and second, that there is not one slippery slope, but two! This makes the situation very precarious, and it is made more so because we cannot tell exactly where we are at any given moment, but we can only infer. This double slippery slope means that we are being pulled in two directions at once, and when things start to go badly we don't know (we can only infer) whether it is because we have started slipping down to the left or to the right, and so in which direction we need to go to correct the imbalance.
Anyways, my point is that if we are striving for the golden mean, then that seems to point us in the very large and general direction of socialism. Any step to the left from pure, unadulterated free-market capitalism gives you socialism, and likewise any step to the right of the purest communistic state. So virtually ALL of politics is socialism, as I understand it. So is the critique Kondratieff made about socialism true of socialism in general (if so then either we are really screwed or I am really lost), or is it true only of some imbalanced form of socialism? In which case we need only to correct for the imbalances and this is not an all-encompassing problem. And if it is true of socialism in general, then what alternatives have we got left?
Wanderer, Yes, I can imagine the parabola and the slippery slide on both sides. And when I don't know the answer, I stand still and think, now what do I do?
The reason I like Keen so much is he provides a sort of a map to where we are, where the trend lines are pointed, and the long term consequences of going to either extreme. He has been the first to develop a model, at least as far as I can tell, that reflects what is happening in money markets.
Another thing Keen does is go back to the original documents of the theorists to see what they wrote and discovered that Keynes has been so distorted that we have not seen an actual Keynes model put in place. Keen diagrams what Keynes said but Keynes had not been able to create a mathematical model of it.
This financial stuff is kind of like high school chemistry. We see the chunk of lead, or quartz or silica laying on the lab bench, but it is seeing the mathematical model that we can understand the differences. In finance, we see people working for fiat money, they use the money to buy food and shelter and transportation, we understand the money goes through the businesses and services into the banks to pay down debts and the money flies out of the banks back into circulation again. That is what I did to pass economics ... draw cartoons.
Keen provides the program for illustrating what happens on charts and graphs and other methods and suddenly I can see how capitalism is designed to suck up money like a vacuum and paid labor has to struggle to improve their condition. Without the struggle, the money just gets sucked up.
Laissez faire capitalism, especially as defined by Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, Alan Greenspan, Rand Paul, Ron Paul, Neal Boortz, Alex Jones, Glenn Beck, John Stossel cannot work because it is based on faulty premises. Keen does a good job of defining the flaws in their thinking. So I will save my weary eyes and tired body and let you watch the videos or read the books.
Gosh! this stuff takes so much time ... I am an old retired lady and have the time; because you are young, you have other pressures on you. But we should be able to sort all this out and come up with some good solid understandings.
I think the alchemists and astrologers must have been mystified as they attempted to understand processes of nature. For so many of the answers modern science has come up with requires being able to see the very small, look out into space and see the very large, and now computer technology helps us identify such things as fractals, how and why they work, and why economic systems don't do what we want them to do.
What model has a higher probability of informing us what trends are and what they mean? What shift in perception will get us off the parabola and off the slippery slopes, headed in the direction that will work better for owners of capital, owners of labor and for the Earth?
Are you familiar with fractals?
I will get to the Keen stuff, but you are right when you say that I have other pressures on me. I'm a father of three and my wife works overseas so at the moment I have no help and I rarely get a break. And to make matters worse, I will be away for a little less than two weeks, starting on Wednesday, so whatever I don't get to by then will have to wait until I get back. but then I will do it for sure.
I don't know much of anything about fractals, no.
Wanderer, I'll share the concept with you later and send you some examples that are most stunning. And they are factors in Nature. Every leaf, shell, person, everything that has cell division and replication is a fractal. It is geometry.
Fractals in Nature:
Oh and I'll of course look at the articles. And btw, I was born in 1977.
I have a lot of respect for Richard Branson. He seems to be ethical in his business dealings and even reported attempts by British Airways to engage in price fixing. He is supporting the drive for human exploration of space and works for a lot of humanitarian causes. He is an atheist, too.
After the so-called campaign of "dirty tricks", British Airways settled the case, giving £500,000 to Branson and a further £110,000 to his airline and had to pay legal fees of up to £3 million. Branson divided his compensation (the so-called "BA bonus") among his staff.
He sponsored the Virgin Earth Challenge.
I don't think you can find much fault, if any, with his rise among the wealthy.
I really like this quote: "For me business is not about wearing suits, or keeping stockholders pleased. It's about being true to yourself, your ideas and focusing on the essentials"
Dee - yes he is a lucky lad that one - Richard Branson
Dee, Wow! I didn't know any of this! A very interesting fellow to follow.
What you have stated is an eternal truth!
Madhukar - what about? Luck?
An excellent article to check out: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1969/12/how-to-turn-rep...
"How to Turn Republicans and Democrats Into Americans"
I've no problem with people getting rich, but I'd limit inheritance to, say, $5 million. Simply exiting the vaginal canal shouldn't entitle you to be a billionaire, Mr. Rockefeller, Mr. Mellon, Ms. Walton.