Monday, November 22, 2010

Economic Systems and my Anger

A dear friend of mine, Mark Helpsmeet, just returned from Cuba. He is a Quaker, and an enthusiastic folk dancer. A good man, too, on a mission of peace. I asked him how it went. "We were treated like rock stars. Imagine that!" he said, as he laughed heartily. He and his companions were, at some performances, mobbed. This is not a behavior they are accustomed to, as a response to the presentation of their traditional dances, in America. As fun and joyous as those presentations may be.

On one such occasion, in Cuba, a government official gave an address, as is evidently a common occurrence, there being so many government officials. At the end of this, the party official, after a long denotation of the evil Empire America, acknowledging the peaceful mission of Mark and his acquaintances, shouted, "Viva los estados unidos." Long live the United States. Which no one had ever heard from any party official anywhere in Cuba, in fifty years. But then, the Embargo is the only thing keeping that party in power.

I asked how the food was. I imagine Hispaniola to be a potential Eden, where just about anything might grow. Mark repiled that he had enough to eat. It may be a potential Eden, but the Cuban people have ration cards, which entitles them to less than a person needs to survive - at the time, 3lbs of rice, 1lb of beans and 5 eggs, per person, per month. Whatever more they need, they grow themselves, or buy on the black market. Which, evidently, doesn't amount to much more than just about enough.

I told Mark the rock star treatment probably means he's on an FBI watch list, that our phone conversation was probably being recorded. After agreeing that the US trade embargo is nothing more than the maintaining of a boogey man, we were sure to remind those government officials listening in, of the complete inviability of the Communist system. As for the making of boogey men, aren't Mexican drug cartels, militant homicidal Islamic Jihadists, bottle-eyed North Korean nuclear ambitionists, and Chinese Communist/Capitalist/Imperialists enough? I was under the impression we are supposed to be a beacon of light for the world? Would anyone like to explain why we are not shining that light on Cuba, without offering some tired nonsense about preventing the spread of Communism?

The Transportation Safety Administration officials who met Mark on his return acted as if he had visited the jungles of Congo or Colombia: "You are lucky to be alive, it's so dangerous there." It's not, but somehow our Government thinks it important that we think Cuba is violent, a threat to the United States. If we ended the embargo the Communist government would collapse with the first real wiff of Consumerism the Cuban people got. But then our Government would have one less boogey man to make us afraid with.

The Communist system is without any doubt inviable. It is even more destructive than Capitalism, the inviability of which hasn't quite played out yet.

Leaving for this trip to Cuba, Mark and his wife Sandra arrived at the Eau Claire airport about 25 minutes before the flight. This is a small airport, more like a small office on the tarmac. They were not allowed to board. There was a later flight, but the United Airlines tickets went from $800 to $2800. Then, on their return, United Airlines had no ticket for them, from Toronto to Minneapolis, unless they wanted to buy a new ticket. They drove instead.

Mark is, like me, after balance, wholeness and healing. Earlier this year, Mark had to pay $2500 for the right to build a garage, in Eau Claire County Wisconsin, USA. The county said the lot line ran through his bedroom. That, and a variance might be required to build a new garage on the site of the old garage, because it was about fifty feet from the road and not the required 60ft. The lot line did not run through his bedroom, and the garage wasn't a threat to the road or the drivers on it, but it cost he and his wife Sandra $2500 to get the county to acknowledge it.

This week I received my latest property tax statement from Hennepin County. Taxes increased 16.2%, about $400. That's not as bad as previous years, one year at 19%, another at 23%, if I recall correctly. In addition, my father recently noticed the county has the house listed under a non-homestead status. As I recall, both my father and I were adamant about homestead status, when we purchased the house. I looked at the mortgage. Sure enough, section 24, "buyer waves all right of homestead exemption in the property," our initials an inch and a half away at the bottom of the page.

A non-homestead status means we can be taxed at a higher rate, liens can be placed against the property, and it's easier for the bank to foreclose. In other words, that is motive for malfeasance, for banks, the financial industry and Government. An opportunity for predation. An invitation to rapaciousness.

I can't recall if I agreed to this or not. If I did, I certainly didn't understand the ramifications of it, and the banker wasn't educating me. It would not have been difficult for this to be manipulated in the Bank's favor. That would be Wells Fargo, by the way, the bank that holds my mortgage. I have friends who work for Wells Fargo. Dear friends. Good people. I want not to have to accuse the bank they work for of malfeasance and rapaciousness.

But then, I hear the banks are cutting small business credit lines in half. Two years after Banks were handing out credit as if it were high fructose corn syrup, you can't get credit unless you've got the assets to back the loan in full. Clearly, the sky gods who control these banks are idiots, that they should set the means for the implosion of the economy, and then tighten up like assholes in a blizzard when it's really spring and time for growth.

There was a time when credit was extended in part according to the character of the man asking for it. But it takes character to be a judge of it, and even if you have character and you can recognize it in others, in this age of International Lending Institutions, a branch banker isn't empowered to loan money based on character. The branch banker is empowered to loan money to any man without character, even if that man is a monster, if that monster happens also to be exceptional at making money.

I've been very angry, the past few days. The other day, as I was attending to the most unpleasant task of unclogging my sewer drain, I shouted twice, "Fuck you, God." Where did that come from? It's not God who rules this world, but men who pursue wealth and power at the expense of everything but themselves. Though God provides a great excuse.

I picked up the Koran last night. I almost put it down after the first page. I would expect the Word of God to start with something about joy, beauty and wonder, not a speech about the terrible chastisements awaiting unbelievers. Such a tone as this could only be set by a man in pursuit of control and domination, which may be expected in a world where murder, rape and plunder are a constant threat. Having grown up in a culture where these are not an immediate threat, I don't want to hear about control and domination and the awful Other. I want to hear about Joy, Beauty, Wonder, Balance, Wholeness, Healing. I want that message to be open to and embracing of the great multiplicity that is the Homo sapien sapien experience.

Here in America, we've tried a balance between Business and Government. We have emphasized both without emphasizing character. Consequently, we've got a Government and and Economic elite almost wholly unaccountable, unresponsive and elevated to an untouchable state. But we the citizenry have more power than we think. Democracy is dependent on a populace with character. It will be dependant upon the character of Americans whether or not we have a system that is accountable, responsive and within reach.

What is my recommendation? I recommend a year long holiday. Not from work, but from taxes and credit. That would assuredly implode both America's and the World's economy. It would take a vibrant and healthy local economy to ride out that storm. At the end of which, I would hope, sky gods would be considerably humbled, and existential threats will have diminished considerably.

Meanwhile, I'm paying my dues to banks, corporations and Government. I will continue, even as I use what they provide less and less. And I will cease to pay when my fellow Americans are fed up with this rapacious, predatory, and disempowering system that is leading us toward a terrible crash and burn, and willing to do something meaningful about it.

1 comment:

Chad said...

This made me smile; I'm sure it will have the same effect on you.