Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Occupy This Thought

When there are people protesting in the street, something is wrong.

Last year people took to streets to protest the expansion of Big Government. Big Government growth had been a problem for years, but the increased spending and governmental intrusion of the new healthcare plan was enough to push people over the edge.

This protest became know as the Tea Party Movement (it’s a movement, not a political party!). The movement was very effective, working through the political system in stopping (maybe just slowing) the growth of Big Government and changing the attitude and actions of many politicians. It also raised awareness of the issue in the general population.

Now Occupy Wall Street has caused many people to protest what I will refer to as Big Money. While it is easy to criticize and any find reasons to discredit many facets of this movement, I repeat:

When there are people protesting in the street, something is wrong.

At first I thought of these people as misguided hippies who were acting very stupidly. Now no one dislikes hippies more than me (except Eric Cartman), but the protesters do have some legitimate concerns even if they have problems communicating them.

It took awhile to figure out, but the issues driving the protests are: The lack of accountability of banks/financial firms for causing the housing market/financial system collapse, the cozy relationship between Big Money and Big Government, and the growing inequality between the “rich and poor”. The first two issues are very valid. The third raises some complicated factors which I plan to address in a future post.

The main issue is that Big Money made billions promoting the use and abuse of sub-prime mortgages. It also used derivatives, insurance abuses and anything it could to exploit the situation. Corporate profits are good, corporate greed is bad. Remember greed is a sin, one of the seven “big ones” by the way. Sometimes profit and greed are divided by a thin, gray, line, but in this case Big Money went way over the line.

Sin always has a cost. In this case because of Big Money greed, millions of people lost their jobs, millions more are underemployed, many college graduates are working at Mc Donald’s and many people have lost their houses. And millions of unemployed people are still suffering from the sins of Big Money.

Taking in one step further, from lower wages and benefits, lower home values, lower stock values, higher taxes, etc., it is difficult to find someone who has not been negatively impacted by the Great Recession.

And what is the punishment for Big Money for being so irresponsible, for being so greedy? Not much. No one has gone to jail for their role in this fiasco. Remember that Bernie Madoff and the other Ponzi pals did not do anything to cause the financial crisis; their crimes were merely exposed by it. They were the super-greedy, so their penalties were either jail, or in one case suicide. Sometimes the wages of sin are indeed deadly.

Sure, some corporate CEO’s lost their jobs. They had to take their million dollar separation settlements and go sit idly by the pool. Ouch! That’ll teach ‘em.

So the banks took all these great financial risks. The banks raked in enormous profits. The executives all collected huge bonuses. And then it all fell apart and we all had to pay for it all through blood, sweat, tears and bailouts. But the bankers got to keep their big bonuses. It makes you so mad, so mad, that you just want to run out in the street and well, scream. Which I guess is the whole point.

This brings us to the friendly relationship between Big Money and Big Government. Big Government was way too willing to bailout Big Money and become its savior by paying for Big Money’s sins. Big Government was supposed to be watching Big Money, but it clearly saw what was happening and looked the other way.

Yes, this time Big Money was making so much big money that it had enough loot to buy off both the Democrats as well as the Republicans. We expect Big Money to buy off the Republicans and for the Democrats to serve as the watch dog. This time the watch dog had a big bone stuck in its mouth and did not bark.

I don’t know what the penalty should be for the people who caused the financial crisis at this point. The Democrats are now trying to punish Big Money for its actions, but that is resulting in the industry (even the banks that were “sinless”) having problems functioning effectively. And we need the financial system to heal and to be able to function well to get us out of this mess.

And then we read that not enough has been done to safeguard the system (still too big to fail!). More important than anything, laws should be written to ensure that this never, ever, comes close to happening again. Please use some common sense and just fix it! These guys were stealing cookies from the cookie jar, got caught, but received no penalty from grandma for doing so. What are the chances they will go for the cookies again since there were no consequences last time? We must make sure that grandma puts the cookies on the top self where Big Money can’t get them (joke to hockey fans, eh).

There are serious problems in how the Occupy Wall Street protesters are behaving. However peaceful, lawful, protests are protected by the First Amendment. You may disagree with their methods, their politics, etc, but on substance, in the words of that great philosopher M.C. Hammer: “Too legit, too legit to quit”

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