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W.E. Gutman: When the rich play, the poor pay

Posted: January 8, 2010 6:47 p.m.
Updated: January 10, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 
Parallel universes (or alternate realities in which the laws of physics are not only dissimilar but in conflict) is the stuff of science fiction and quantum mechanics. Brought down to earth, the concept takes on sinister dimensions.

Coexisting side-by-side in states of reciprocal insensitivity, one spurred by greed, the other the victim of prolonged penury, are bankers and people on the edge of destitution.

This is the face of modern feudalism. Not known for their altruism or high moral principles, bankers - as the number of malnourished Americans keeps rising - peddle complex securities (synthetic collateralized debt obligations to the tune of at least $108 billion), then bet against them and laugh all the way to the bank.

On one side is the funfair of the hyper-rich who indulge in high-risk stunts for the thrill of it. Abutting it is the dirt back lot of the super-poor.

As Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Tricadia, Deutsche Bank and other financial institutions create billions of dollars worth of disastrously performing mortgage-linked debt instruments and bet against the clients who purchased them, Americans go hungry.

What little food they can scrape to keep the heart pumping, we are told, often proves less than adequate to feed the brain with sympathy toward capitalism.

Once upon a time, there was an American Dream that prosperity would be shared by all. The daydream has since turned into a nightmare.

Every day, 49 million U.S. citizens (16 percent of the population) go hungry, including 17 million children and five million seniors. Lines at soup kitchens and food stamp offices keep getting longer.

Although the media has generally kept mum about these statistics, they are real. They come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has published them yearly since 1995.

The statistics do not take into account the recent and ongoing shockwave of unemployment, which now officially stands at 10.2 percent.

Indeed, among the victims of hunger, the USDA also notes the existence of the working poor, people who live below the poverty line while earning a subsistence salary.

One child in four went without food in 2008 - four million more than in 2007. Families with children are the main casualties. The level is comparable to the 1930s at the beginning of the Great Depression.

"This is unimaginable," exclaimed Vicky Escarra, president of Feeding America, the nation's largest food bank network and emergency relief provider. "It's as if we were living in a Third-World country," Escarra added.

The above figures "sound a warning" for USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and are a direct consequence of the collapse of the job market.

The sums allotted by President Barack Obama in early 2009 to provide for children suffering from malnutrition have proven grossly inadequate, and there will be no end to this nightmare without an emergency policy to create jobs.

Obama recognizes this. But his economic stimulus package went to save the big banks and insurance companies that engineered the financial crisis that sparked the cataclysm.

The president's choices have caused anguish and anger, and his approval rating is plummeting.

Vice President Joe Biden, who deftly mixes metaphor with disarming reality, jokingly revealed the cause of the disaster on TV last November by likening the stimulus package to "Socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor."

Perhaps prompted by signs that urge spectators to laugh or applaud on cue, the studio audience chortled. But the tragic truth, stripped of its comedic aspect, failed to tickle America's funny bone, so great is the pressure of the dominant ideology which ends in fatalism.

In the name of sacrosanct free enterprise, the capitalist empire has steadfastly attacked the welfare state and undermined assistance programs that sap its profitability. After all, Wall Street must thrive, even if its unappeased gluttony triggers yet another catastrophe.

And while millions of Americans are standing at the far end of a long unemployment line (or have stopped looking for work), a vital sector is on a hiring binge.

Wanted: lobbyists to harass members of Congress into voting against any reform prejudicial to the profits of financial and business elites.
Joe Biden was right.

And as GMAC stands poised to receive another round of federal bailout moneys, Goldman Sachs smugly insists it must pay its employees well ($16.7 billion - or $700,000 per employee) "to keep them from defecting."

In the wings, growing numbers of Americans insist this grand larceny must stop, lest they abscond to a parallel but real and expanding universe that views this nation with decreasing forbearance.

W. E. Gutman is a veteran journalist and Rosamond resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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