Everyone has read the news today, or heard it on the radio/ television news complex: The financial sector is experiencing a “restructuring.” First Bear Stearns, now Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch & Co.:
NEW YORK – When Wall Street woke up Monday morning, two more of its storied firms had vanished.
Lehman Brothers, burdened by $60 billion in soured real-estate holdings, said it is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after attempts to rescue the 158-year-old firm failed.
Bank of America Corp. said it is snapping up Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. in an $50 billion all-stock transaction.
The demise of the independent Wall Street institutions came as shock waves from the 14-month-old credit crisis roiled the U.S. financial system six months after the collapse of Bear Stearns.
The world’s largest insurance company, American International Group Inc., also was forced into a restructuring.
I am Jack’s cold sweat.
Notice how they did that? Dropped in that little bit about the “world’s largest insurance company, American International Group, Inc” right at the end of the lede? They do not expound upon it in the article. Now, I’m no economist. I actually think the facts of my life speak to how much I know about money, which is to say, I live paycheck to paycheck, though I think I’ve got money properly prioritized. So I’m less than know-nothing when it comes to financial matters. What I do know is that business and insurance operate like joint compound and drywall. Neither works well without the other. So I’m wondering: Are we headed for worse?
Worse than gas at $4.16 a gallon, up from $3.79 just the day before yesterday? As bad as the $9.99 a gallon sign I saw on the closed Meijer’s gas station today? Worse than the fact that my grocery bill is up from $125 2 months ago to $180 now? Certainly it can’t get any worse than today, where my bank account has been depleted entirely by a region-wide power outage that may last for a week. I am Jack’s empty wallet.
As I drove around today looking for a place I could charge my cell phone while I accessed wifi, I grew increasingly angry. Everywhere I looked businesses where up and running, the first serviced in the power outage. Having spent countless hours driving around looking for basic services and documenting the damage, I can tell you that is true everywhere in the metro area. Last night as I drove past Clark Memorial Hospital, I noted that they hadn’t regained full power. But I had eaten at IHOP just a few hours before, on a street where all the stores were open. It’s not like they hadn’t lost power too.
How is it that people that sell stuff get preferential treatment to people who are sick, possibly struggling just to live? How is it that these business folks with savings accounts and houses and health insurance and credit lines with venders are more important than families that spent nearly the last of their money on two weeks worth of groceries a day or two before the storm? That food is now wasted, and those families can’t eat, but the grocery stores sure are open to take advantage of two grocery hits in a week for those families who can afford it.
Then Henry Paulson comes on the car radio to talk about the new rhetoric of “restructuring.” And do you know what? That’s exactly what I’d been stewing on all morning. I may not know much about economics, but I do know that rich people, people who own companies and a lot of fat cat stockholders, have “made” an indecent amount of money in the last 20 years. And they aren’t anywhere near hurting like those families are. I put “made” in quotation marks because my opinion is there is nothing you can possibly do to “earn” a salary of multi-millions of dollars. Nothing.
I once had an idea for a website called Paid by the Calorie (freebee idea-if you can do it, take it). If we could calculate how many calories these CEOs spend per day doing their jobs and compare that with a construction worker, who makes a decent living if s/he’s a skilled worker, and divide their caloric outputs by their earnings, then the truth of all this ridiculousness would be obvious. I suspect that these companies and stockholders have gotten so bloated with their cash flows and their profit margins as they operated within the largest stock market expansion in history that they are having a hard time doing what working stiffs like you and I do every day-cut back, expect less, and appreciate what you’ve got. Color me Jack’s complete lack of surprise.
I want to shout from the rooftops: It’s about GREED STOOPID! But I won’t. My own apathy is still too thick. I wanted to go to K-Mart earlier today to buy a stack of poster boards and paint them with ideas for protest over this outage. DUMP YOUR ROTTEN FOOD ON DUKE ENERGY’S DOORSTEP kinda thing. And I almost woulda, but I was exhausted from searching for places to stash my groceries, which I can’t afford to replace, and a place for my daughter to stay that has energy–cool air and TV for her 14-year old habits and customs. I was also too broke from paying for the gas it takes to do all of this. Ironically, we’ve used the money we budgeted to pay the energy bill to survive the energy crisis, which is not yet over. I’m trying to maintain a positive attitude, but it’s hard when I wake up to continued blackness, and when I jump in my car to secure my survival I hear HENRY FUCKING PAULSON telling me the recession is off with a bang starting three days ago. I at least know enough about economics to parse that much. I am Jack’s wasting life. And it’s not even my fault.
I am doing everything right, as are millions of Americans today. As we continue on this downward spiral and more people suffer economic surprises the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 1980s, all I hear in the media is how it’s the fault of regular lower class and working poor folks. They were the ones, the media tells us, who lied on mortgage applications about how much they made, or worse, were too stupid to know that supposedly trained mortgage loan professionals were lying to them about what they were signing. They should have read the fine print! is the constant refrain. Not that the financial companies should have made damn sure all the Is where dotted and the Ts were crossed. Not that they should have vetted applications more thoroughly. Not that ethical standards should have been in place to prevent this sort of thing. Oh no! Not the dreaded regulation!
When I consider all of this-and I consider it often-I am Jack’s raging bile duct.
So what is the answer? I wish I knew. It looks like I won’t even have much time to consider it at this rate, as all of my time will soon be eaten up in the pursuit of survival. I do have ideas though. Earlier this year I asked my husband what he thought about creating an Anti-Incumbent Party. The idea is to just keeping voting them out, constant roll-over, just like so many poor folks today, until they learn some lessons and start doing their jobs. And let’s face it, no one, not even Russ Feingold, bless his not-as-corrupted heart, is doing his or her job in government today. I’m frustrated, but I’m not ready to give up my vote. I will not be demoralized into not participating anymore. And neither should you. Maybe we should start that Anti-Incumbent Party and be Jack’s smirking revenge.