When Treasury Secretary Paulson announced work on a bailout plan, he made some comment about wanting to help responsible homeowners, implying that irresponsible homeowners were the ones to blame for this mess and needed no help. I felt like throwing something at the television when I heard him mouth such garbage.
Irresponsible homeowners -- the ones who'd been pushed to become a part of the "ownership society" to help our floundering post-9/11 economy, the ones who suffered a catastrophic illness that health insurance didn't cover, or lost their jobs due to market conditions over which they had no power.
It's infuriating to hear such hints of blame from Paulson to this effect, knowing that the real problems -- the really BIG problems -- had far more to do with the irresponsible and completely amoral pirahna that populated firms like Enron.
Specifically Enron, but including their corporate brothers-in-arms.
Once upon a time, I worked for a Fortune 100 company, in a department with overlaps between legal and financial departments, and with regular exposure to executives and hedge fund traders. I remember about 10 years ago the first time the division for which I worked explored using "swaps", derivatives that would help businesses share risk as well as share profit. (You can read a nice explanation of derivatives by Hugh here in Oxdown.) The executives of the organization sweated for days and weeks over how this worked, what the real exposure would be, whether they knew enough about these kinds of instruments to use them.
And by executives, I mean the kind of guys that made $200K to $1M or more annually, who were graduates of business schools from around the world. They fretted over this stuff more than they did a number of mergers and acquisitions, even with the SEC or DOJ involved in oversight.
Ultimately, they implemented these "swaps" anyhow.
Not long after the first swap derivative, I had a chat with the firm's top hedge fund traders. Again, brilliant guys with degrees from top notch schools, the kind of guys over which other Fortune 100 companies will fight. We got onto the topic of Enron, which was still in its fattest, headiest days as top dog of the market. I asked them what they thought of Enron, and if there was anything that Enron was doing that our firm should be doing.
They shook their heads and told me candidly that they had no idea how they were doing it, couldn't explain how they were succeeding. If they couldn't understand it, they couldn't duplicate it, even though management wanted to get a cut of the same kind of action since they had exposure to energy markets.
Some of the smartest guys at a Fortune 100 company couldn't understand this stuff and went ahead and did it anyhow; the executives duplicated with derivatives what Enron was doing to spread risk, stopping short only with moving these activities offshore and off-book because regulations and company charters kept them from doing so. Even though the guys who had to execute these transactions might be shaking their heads, the executives with big chunks of company stock and options and comfortable salaries went ahead and continued to do more of the same.
I can picture this happening at AIG at a much larger scale, and I'll even bet that a few transactions from the same firm at which I once worked also involved AIG.
Smart guys, all caught up in trying to outsmart those so-called "smartest guys" at Enron, and continuing their efforts for years, long after Enron had gone down in flames.
Irresponsible homeowners? Pshaw. These guys made the puny little mortgagees look like teeny little pikers when it came to irresponsibility.
And yet we are going to have to bail them out. I sure hope they remember to call us and ask us to go for a ride on their yachts sometime, or invite us to go skiing in Gstaad.
(By the way: where did all the Enron employees go, anyhow? not the poor folks who were frontline energy business folks, but the ones who helped execute off-the-books financial maneuvers but weren't prosecuted? Ever wonder where they got their next jobs after Enron imploded?)[cross-posted at Oxdown Gazette; photo: gothick_matt via Flickr.com]
George Lakoff wrote in TruthOut
last week about progressives' response to Gov. Sarah Palin as John McCain's veep pick. While Lakoff tends to cling too tightly to a dualistic worldview framed in the strict father/nurturing mother model, he's quite right that progressives cannot use their over-thought realist perspective to address the problem of Palin.
Where Lakoff struggles is with the unconscious and subconscious that lies deep below our own relationships with parental figures. He does not have a solid grasp of Jungian archetypes -- and that's where we must go to find the tools we need.
After reading his take, I think I figured it out: she is a very primitive archetype for the authoritarians, a vengeful earth mother, a veritable goddess Kali, a bringer of death. They respect that in their guts, in their tissue, at atomic level; their heads cannot engage because her being communicates like a dog whistle to the very molecules of which they are made.
Our challenge is to appeal to another primal archetype that competes with and crowds out that other archetype. Progressives THINK too much, we don’t listen to the fiber of our being like conservatives do; we make mental software that overrides those primal messages. We’re going to have to get back in touch with that primacy in a hurry.
We need to address the different subsets within the conservatives’ ranks, and appealing to their different guts. I can sense in reading feedback from a number of conservative women — Dr. Laura, for example — some sort of resentment. How deep is that resentment? Is it down in the bone? What is the basis for that resentment if it is deep?
We’re looking for something that constitutes a threat to one’s being, a visceral threat, not one that we can deduce.
In the case of the Dr. Laura crowd I sense a feeling of resentment over being thrown aside, but I can’t be certain that’s what it is. Notice how many older white female conservatives have not run up to the microphone and shouted with glee for Palin as their veep…
Perhaps she’s the Queen Mother/Crone model (a la Clarissa Pinkola-Estes); her signature feature is fecundity.
She can display a beautiful face, but she’s a witch underneath.
Hawaiian goddess Pele is like this; she gives birth to the land, but she demands much, takes more, eating up homes in her path of creative destruction.
Think the queen stepmother in Snow White; obviously beautiful enough to capture the heart of father, even serves him (in ways that Disney will never discuss with children), but exacting, extracting, demanding utter and complete loyalty.
And the Christian fundamentalists -- the fundies -- know her. They recognize her even though they cannot say why, only that they are immediately taken with her and her shiny poisonous apple.
That’s why the people who will be most reticent about her on the right will be women; they will rival Queen Mother/Crones or simply Crones who can see her for what she is, but because they have lost access to this primal knowledge about the archetypes they cannot articulate simply and readily what it is that is so wrong about her.
My own inner Crone knows there is something very toxic about her, that nothing jibes at all in any of her stories, especially the ones where children enter the picture. The gut tells me more than the head can.
I'm comfortable with the Snow White wicked queen mother model; her stepdaughter is Snow White, a child who has been lost, possibly deliberately left to her own devices, who's being asked to eat the poison apple. "Here, you are going to get married and it will all be better." We know it's toxic from where we sit, and any hesitancy on the fundies' part about her getting married will suggest they get it, too, just not at a level of logic.
What we have to do is save King Daddy, even if it means a disgusting job to us; we have to paint him as being at risk of losing badly because of her bewitchment, and he'll save himself if he can disentangle himself from her. Of course by the time he does the damage is done to his dreams for the kingdom...bet you right now that's how the rightwingers who are unhappy with this will pull it off if they can. Or maybe they've already written befuddled King Daddy off and are merely sitting quietly on the sidelines
waiting for the inevitable flame-out.
Meditating on this death goddess, a thought sprung unbidden into my head, scaring me to my core:
I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.
Can you really imagine this l'horrible mère
, this dreadful dark goddess, having access to nuclear weapons?(Photo: Sarah Palin with caribou kill, via CynicsParty.com; graphic, goddess Kali, via ExoticIndiaArt.com)