When you examine the litany of geniuses who wrought havoc in the markets in their profligate quest for unmitigated deregulation, you’re hard-pressed to find the fairer sex among them.
On the 18thday of the Occupy encampment at Zuccotti Park, I paused to photograph a curious scene. An older man with a tight gray beard was leading an unlikely group in an acoustic rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” People of every age and background, from a family with young children to a construction worker, had gathered on the steps leading to the area of the park known as “The People’s Library” to join in song. The only giveaway that I hadn’t accidentally stumbled through a wrinkle in time and landed sometime in the 1960s was that nearly everyone was recording the moment with a camera phone.Midway through the song, our musical guide abruptly stopped the music to address the ragtag bunch before him. “Why are there no women in this song?” he pondered aloud, with his guitar dangling from its strap and his arms spread wide. “Because men are responsible for screwing it up.” Before continuing with the song he proclaimed, “Let’s hope there are more women in power so we can have more humane decisions.”This scene was only one of several captivating pockets of Zuccotti Park, and my attention was soon drawn elsewhere. Weeks later when reading a piece about celebrity influence in the Occupy movement, I noticed a picture similar to the one I had captured on the steps that day. As it turns out, the gentleman serenading the group was Peter Yarrow of Peter Paul and Mary fame. Two things immediately occurred to me. The first was that Yarrow questioning Bob Dylan was beyond rhetorical, as he probably could have asked him directly. (Dylan wrote “Blowin’ in the Wind,” but it was Peter Paul and Mary who first recorded it.)
The second thing that came to mind was that my friend and former editor-in-chief of the Press, Robbie Woliver, would be gravely disappointed in me for not recognizing Peter Yarrow and grasping the significance of the moment; a realization that was made clearer to me in researching the origins of the song. As it turns out, the first public performance of “Blowin’ in the Wind”—it would become one of the seminal anthems of the ’60s protest movement—was at Gerde’s Folk City in 1962. Robbie and his wife, Marilyn Lash, co-owned Folk City for several years in the 1980s.
Yarrow’s timely reappearance at Occupy Wall Street underscores the similarity between the anti-establishment, anti-corruption sentiment of the 1960s and today. Further, his comments regarding the negative male influence in world affairs are perfectly in context with the situation on Wall Street. When you examine the litany of geniuses who wrought havoc in the markets in their profligate quest for unmitigated deregulation, you’re hard-pressed to find the fairer sex among them. Sure, there are stand-outs such as Wendy Gramm, but even in her case it can be argued that her depravity pales next to that of her husband. As the saying goes: Behind every terrible woman is an asshole. (Or something to that effect.)
History is replete with examples of men behaving badly to the detriment of civilization. Citing women as the reason for some of our bigger peccadilloes—Helen of Troy causing the Trojan War, Eve getting us all kicked out of the Garden, yada yada—is a favorite device of the male historian. Leading up to and during the financial meltdown, omniscient wizards such as Larry Summers, Alan Greenspan and Robert Rubin eschewed the warnings of women like Brooksley Born, head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission from 1996 to 1999, and continued their blitzkrieg of destruction. These guys keep breeding more insufferable free market ideologues like Tim Geithner, who fought Sheila Bair, head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. from 2006 to 2011, who railed against the concept of “Too Big to Fail.” To the free market jerkoffs like Greenspan and Geithner, Born and Bair were considered “difficult.” That’s man-speak for “tough.” Creative wordplay like this is how we men diminish effective women; better to be a bastard than a bitch in the worlds of high finance and government.
The most notable among all of these “difficult bitches” today is the earnest and brilliant Elizabeth Warren, who is running for Ted Kennedy’s old senate seat in Massachusetts against fluke incumbent Scott Brown. The funny thing about that race is that for Warren, this seat is actually a consolation prize from President Barack Obama. After leading the fight to create and organize the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Warren was the presumptive nominee to head the agency upon its formation. Shockingly, however, the POTUS buckled under pressure from Senate Republicans, who threatened to block a Warren appointment, and instead he installed the even more hardcore and controversial Richard Cordray to the position under a recess appointment.
While I might not be able to spot one of the world’s most famous folk singers even when he’s performing one of his biggest hits in front of a crowd at a demonstration (it’s even worse when put that way, isn’t it?) I do have a keen sense of irony and a dark sense of humor. It’s why I can appreciate that while my gender has driven the world’s economy in the ground, they did so in pursuit of an ideology set forth by a woman. Somewhere in hell, Ayn Rand is doubled over with laughter watching obsequious and dim-witted men like Alan Greenspan trip over themselves in an attempt to become the Howard Roark of finance or John Galt incarnate. Ayn Rand is the Helen of Troy of the economy, the Eve of financial catastrophe, the…
Capitalism has only succeeded to the extent it has because it inherently recognizes the most fundamental quality of our nature: greed. In this, capitalism is the most authentic of “isms”; yet even it is not immune to empire-crushing corruption.
The very economic system that fuels democracy in America has provided me with financial gain beyond my ability while simultaneously dispiriting me to such an extent that I cannot help but quietly wish for its demise. The greater the evidence of corporate malfeasance and political ineptitude, the greater my admiration for the nascent revolution taking place on Wall Street where thousands of disenfranchised Americans approach a fortnight of protest against capitalism gone awry.
Mind you, I’m far from what you would call an anarchist. Quite the opposite in fact. I’m an intransigent conformist who ought to know better, given all that I know. But these days I’m finding most “ists,” “isms” and “ologies” increasingly uncomfortable to wear out in public as humans have the unique ability to deform even the purest of ideological intentions. Any organized system that seeks to harness the natural tendencies of humankind is destined to eventually suffocate under the weight of its own construct.
Capitalism has only succeeded to the extent it has because it inherently recognizes the most fundamental quality of our nature: greed. In this, capitalism is the most authentic of “isms”; yet even it is not immune to empire-crushing corruption.
Capitalism can only thrive within a democracy that cradles, coddles and spoon-feeds free enterprise with regulations that govern conduct. It’s this necessity that is lost upon my libertarian friends who seek to abolish anything that would impede free markets and entrepreneurs as though successful Americans weren’t aided by laws that protect their ideas and property, infrastructure that allows the passage of trade and trustworthy currency with which to transact. The phantasmic and magical world of radical Ayn Rand sycophants flourishes in storybooks but founders in history books.
Likewise, capitalism has been the engine of democracy, allowing the formation of a legal structure that, while imperfect, is still the envy of the world. So, too, has it funded a government of disproportionate militaristic might that American hegemony is unrivaled to the point that any chink in our armor can and will be strictly by our own hand. In this, the Project for a New American Century has already been fully realized. Read into this what you will.
So what of the fearless cadre of would-be revolutionaries who are raging against the machine in the belly of the beast on Wall Street? What is to become of us if they are somehow successful in forcing us to look in the mirror and utter aloud treasonous words that would question our collective morality and therefore our patriotism? Imagining the almost unthinkable collapse of capitalism inevitably brings to life the words of Mao Tse-Tung, who pondered this fate and concluded that “humanity left to its own does not necessarily re-establish capitalism, but it does re-establish inequality.”
History is rife with philosopher-kings who have cautioned against unadulterated capitalism and promulgated the need for the equal and opposite influence of regulations and morality to counter the natural forces within us.
It’s why I struggle to wholly align myself with the notion that all we have known must turn to dust if we are to rebuild a robust and equitable, yet competitive future for America. Though as much as I despise the oil oligarchs, banking miscreants and neocons who have hijacked our nation, I am not yet ready to light a match, gather the animals two-by-two and select a few beautiful people with whom to breed and repopulate the planet.
I am, however, as in touch with my inner-Tyler Durden and Chris Hedges as I am with Henry Thoreau and H.L. Mencken. The former inform my understanding that the democracy we live in today is perverted beyond recognition while the latter offer a healthy mix of civil disobedience and cynicism. The result is perhaps a quixotic optimism, a belief that we can still exact a proper balance between economy, ecology and morality. Because if I am to accept that the propagation of inequity is in our DNA, then why start over? Or as my friend Dorian would say: Completely abandoning our version of democracy and capitalism in order to discover our inherent morality is like “burning down the barn to get to the nails.”
Therefore, I continue trying to define what exactly is fundamentally wrong with our economic system today. I offer the following points for your consideration. They are strictly economic measures that would restore balance and sanity to the markets, not some high-minded, socially conscious dreams for a peaceful Utopia. But make no mistake: Absent some or all of the reforms listed here, I truly believe the revolution is nigh.
The only true and good thing about Ayn Rand and objectivism (a fancy word for “that which screws the masses”) is that they’re both dead. Rand may have been a wonderful writer but objectivism is the Scientology of economic theory.
The haul from Hempstead Harbor was so big the first week it had reopened after being closed for more than 40 years of remediation that the axle on my friend Jimmy’s truck was bending slightly at the end of each day. He said the mood of the other diggers on the water was ebullient. Their boats were tightly locked together, with guys shouting to one another in celebration; it was a strange scene for men who typically toil in solitude to put food on their table by harvesting the ocean floor for food to put on our tables.
I caught up with Jimmy at the end of the first week, and he said, although he was physically exhausted, he wouldn’t trade the week for anything. According to him, the only disappointment was the complaints registered by local residents on the hill overlooking the water who were unhappy to discover their formerly too-toxic-to-fish harbor suddenly filled with small commercial vessels.
It seems the boats’ presence was less of an environmental and commercial triumph and more of a case of urban blight. Jimmy shrugged it off but his words stuck with me. He characterized the irate citizens’ reaction as both funny and sad, saying, “It’s amazing how people with millions of dollars are complaining about watching me scrape hundreds of dollars from the ocean floor.” Though nothing came of their complaints, it is another example highlighting our Season of Disconnect when class warfare seems to be erupting in every corner of our nation.
While politicians argue about the debt ceiling and preserving tax cuts, the big, slogging, hairy middle-class squeeze continues. Across the country people are either accepting the “new normal” or, worse, turning their pitchforks and torches on one another instead of storming the castle. Somehow we’ve lost sight of what brought us here and who is to blame for all of this—and there are some very real people and institutions to condemn.
Those who dare to protect “entitlements” are vilified by the free market despots in this nation who have taken hold of the seminal piece of misinformation that has infiltrated every meaningful discussion regarding the economy: that government is somehow corrupting the markets by attempting to inject any level of consumer protection into the financial system. Rays of common sense such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ impassioned plea to restore sanity to the markets and protect America’s working class shone brightly for a moment only to be snuffed by the likes of Michele Bachmann and her quixotic presidential campaign kickoff.
This is a woman who mistakenly believed discussions about pegging global markets to Chinese currency instead of the dollar meant that the Treasury was actually contemplating using Yuan as America’s official money. Beyond the usual mash-up of libertarian, conservative, objectivism ideals that comprise the Tea Party, Bachmann (of course) believes that climate change is a hoax, that anyone who supports healthcare is unpatriotic, and that the best way to protect Americans and the U.S. economy is to dismantle the agencies designed to protect Americans and the U.S. economy.
It’s this last point that is so troubling because it’s what people like Bachmann are gaining traction with. Even the former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, the most famous and powerful disciple of free market guru Ayn Rand, testified before Congress that his extreme laissez faire policy and “markets-will-cure-all” attitude were devastatingly wrong because they fail to recognize the most natural fundamental force that comprises the capitalist economy: Greed. Don’t get me wrong. Greed is indeed an important component of capitalism as it is simply another name for competition. But it cannot go unchecked, as it will feed on itself and everything around it when unfettered by logical behavioral constraints.
To put it bluntly, Alan Greenspan was wrong and admitted as much. So were Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Phil Gramm, Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Arthur Levitt and Treasury Secretary and White House economic advisor Larry Summers. So too were the men they served who facilitated their beliefs. Presidents Reagan, H.W. Bush, Clinton, W. Bush and now, Barack Obama, all of whom surrounded themselves with these free market hucksters and relied on the dearth of financial wherewithal in Congress while counting on the masses’ inability to understand the destructive potential of unregulated markets.
The only thing that is honest and true about Ayn Rand and her theory of objectivism is that they’re both dead. Ayn Rand was a wonderful writer. But in terms of her being considered a prophet of sorts, Rand’s theory of objectivism (a fancy word for “that which screws the masses”) is the Scientology of economic theory. And yet, one of history’s silliest figures is now gathering momentum with copies of Atlas Shrugged flying off Amazon’s virtual shelves and middle America wondering aloud, “Who is John Galt?!”
Forget John Galt. We need to start asking the question, “Who are we?” America is stuck in the largest identity crisis we have faced since the Civil War. The unmitigated and unwarranted assault on the middle class, the working poor and, yes, the poverty-stricken in this nation, must end. We begin by restoring authority to the regulatory agencies in our nation instead of simply requiring more bureaucratic paperwork for businesses already playing by the rules. Business owners know the difference between prudent regulation and the appearance of it.
On a level playing field it’s possible to get ahead while looking down on everyone else. It might even change the perspective of a person jaded enough to be offended by the view of men scraping shellfish from the ocean, no matter how far up the hill they live.
A market where only a handful of powerful people determine the price of commodities, buy and sell them at will, and reap huge rewards while starving millions of people worldwide and decimating the savings of Americans almost overnight is anything but moral.
We assemble around the pumps staring at gas prices like hominids around the monolith, shrieking and beating our chests. But whereas Stanley Kubrick’s primates in 2001 were willing to touch the slab and receive the divine, other-worldly intelligence it offered, we simply tighten the cap and blithely go about our day, all the while filling the wallets of oil companies and banks that conspire to pick every last nickel, dime and piece of lint from our pockets.
The ongoing drama in the Beltway, quibbling over mere billions of a multi-trillion dollar problem, is the ultimate subterfuge blinding us from the true budgetary crisis in our nation and the world. The $39 billion compromise achieved on Capitol Hill last week is a billion shy of ExxonMobil’s profit for 2008, the last time oil prices crippled the nation and filled the corporation’s coffers. This was the largest profit ever posted by an American public company. Once again analysts are predicting record profits when the publicly traded oil companies release their first quarter earnings in the coming weeks.
I’m officially calling bullshit; calling it on the whole stinking lot of them. While oil companies reap historic profits and politicians try to out-Ayn Rand one another, espousing free market ideals they completely misinterpret, Wall Street and Big Oil are about to deliver the coup de grace on the American people and the world at large.
The Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), in partnership with NASDAQ, recently upped the ante to purchase the historic New York Stock Exchange (NYSE Eurodex). Naturally, your next questions should be: “What does this have to do with the price of gasoline at the pumps?” “Why is this important?” “Why should I care?” and “What can I do about it?”
Glad you asked.
What does this have to do with the price of gasoline at the pumps? Everything. Here’s the short version of exactly why gas is so high right now. All you have to do is memorize the following paragraph to be able to shut anyone up at a party who claims that Middle East uprisings are responsible for driving up oil prices.
Nearly 20 years ago Wendy Gramm and her senator husband Phil Gramm created the Enron loophole when Mrs. Gramm chaired the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) under President George H.W. Bush that cleared the way for trading energy futures on the commodities exchanges. On December 21, 2000, President Bill Clinton signed it into law. In 2001, the two largest investment banks in the nation, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, teamed up with British Petroleum (BP) to start their own exchange called the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) to handle commodities transactions. In January of 2006, George W. Bush made it possible for anyone investing in commodities to hide their identity, turning the ICE into a powerhouse exchange overnight. When the Glass Steagall Act was repealed, deregulating the banking industry, banks and investment banks merged; further, because of the commodities deregulation under Clinton, then Bush, banks are now able to set the price of commodities by having their analysts forecast pricing and purchase large quantities of commodities through the banking end on exchanges they own and control.
There you have it. I mention all of the presidents involved in this fiasco to illustrate that this is not a partisan issue. Both parties have blood on their hands. They have created a trading exchange that, despite being only 10 years old, is so big and powerful it can partner on an $11 billion bid to acquire the New York Stock Exchange.
Why is this important? The obvious, most immediate reason is the pain at the pump that you’re experiencing personally and the pain that threatens the global economic recovery. But there’s a larger problem. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have been vociferously warning anyone who will listen that there is a direct correlation between sharply rising crude oil prices and starvation.
There are three reasons for this: 1) The surge in oil prices has increased demand for bio-fuel substitutes, so instead of feeding people we feed our vehicles. 2) Higher oil prices means higher production costs. At the farm level the hard production costs of fertilizer and irrigation rise in lockstep with crude oil prices. 3) Lastly, the cost of transporting goods from farm to table increases directly and dramatically.
So, the answer to the first question is: This is important because high oil prices kill people.
Why should I care? Another wonderful question. Well, apart from the obvious fact that we are all part of the human race and should care about things like forced hunger and starvation, there is a distinctly American reason to care about this issue: Fairness.
Politicians, lobbyists, policy makers, and pundits are all mixing metaphors and messing with the essential American principles of fairness. Tea Partiers, conservative radio hosts, radical free-market freshmen Republicans in Congress and kooky presidential candidates are carrying weathered copies of Atlas Shrugged and the Bible, and screaming from the mountaintops, “Set my market free!” (The Bible-toting Objectivist is my new favorite American oxymoron.)
Talking about “free-markets” is fun, but there are seriously flawed fundamentals at work here. As we have learned from every bubble burst in the era of deregulation, the markets do not self-police nor are they inherently moral. Markets, like people, must be guided by regulations and boundaries; investors must have the freedom to maneuver within these parameters, and suffer punishments for exceeding them. Free market radicals should understand better than anyone that a market without regulations is like the Bible without Commandments.
A market where only a handful of powerful people determine the price of commodities, buy and sell them at will, and reap huge rewards while starving millions of people worldwide and decimating the savings of Americans almost overnight is anything but moral. It’s exactly immoral and completely un-American.
What can I do about it? Plenty.But we have to work together. It starts with understanding the fundamentals behind oil pricing and then figuring out who’s lying. First and foremost, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are both lying unabashedly through their teeth by blaming political unrest and upheaval for potentially hindering supply and causing speculative panic in the market. They’re ignoring that the United States and OPEC oil reserves are at an all-time high, that actual demand is still sluggish, and that we continue to build more energy-efficient vehicles and access natural gas and renewable resources.
Now they’re playing a game of chicken and managing our expectations, sending mixed signals about “demand destruction” and how high energy prices might have a deleterious effect on the global economic recovery even though their own analysts set the price of oil futures contracts and their own bankers buy them up. What they’re doing is establishing a new low, an artificial floor. It’s genius. Get us used to the idea of $5 per gallon pricing so that $4 doesn’t seem so bad. This is a test and we’re eating up their lies.
There are four primary solutions to the global oil problem. They’re a heavy lift and you should know what they are, but don’t be overly concerned with these details; your part comes later. Briefly, the solutions are as follows: (1) Reinstate Glass-Steagall, (2) Incentivize oil companies to invest in renewable energy by levying enormous fees on non-compliant companies, (3) Strip the ICE of its foreign-based exchange status to restore transparency to the commodities and derivative market and (4) Kill all speculative conflicts of interest by crafting legislation that prohibits investment banks from owning a controlling interest in any oil-related corporation.
Sounds like a crazy, impossible pipe dream. Not to worry. Thankfully there is one man with the power to get all of this done. Who is that powerful you ask? New York’s own Sen. Charles Schumer.
Schumer sits on the Rules, Economic, Judiciary, Finance and Banking committees. When it comes to anything related to finance, Charles Schumer is the single most important man in America. Now for your part: Because his office doesn’t accept emails, please call his office at 202-224-6542 and tell whoever answers the phone that you would like Sen. Schumer to please lower the price of gas at the pump. Don’t take no for an answer.
Then we go viral. It’s on. Tweet and post a link to this article with the message: “Only Chuck Schumer can lower the price of gas. If he doesn’t, I guess he’s responsible.”
Good luck and Godspeed. Remember, there are tens of millions of starving people counting on you to tweet our demands.
Charles knows enough to cancel the subsidies (starting around 1:30).
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