This will the last post of this thread, for a while, since it now appears this is my new normal, the routine, my exile on Sundays. So instead I’ll post someday when I’m not at Starbucks on Sunday. I got my free drink, after 15 purchases, a big surprise at how often I’m here. I spend around five bucks each visit and get about five hours of using Starbuck’s chairs, AC, restrooms and WiFi. I figure my purchase is probably about 1/2 for the actual goods and 1/2 for Starbuck’s margins, so that means it costs me about $0.50/hour to sit here, not too bad, so, thanks, Starbucks for being my home one day a week.
So what to talk about? Let’s just check a few things in the news.
First is the somewhat weird story about muralist Michael Pilato removing the halo from Joe Paterno’s head in a mural at Penn State. Now given JoePa negotiated a fat “golden goodbye” before retiring, further tarnishing his reputation, the removal of the halo seems appropriate. But the real question I have, is why was there a halo to begin with? Did a mere football coach deserve to be represented as divine? With all the commentary about the corruption from the big money college football it’s hard to see anyone truly believing these guys, anywhere, are “divine”. Sorry, the halo was undeserved even without the horrible child abuse scandals.
But here in the center of another football dynasty it’s easy to see how people do escalate the vapid to the divine. In Nebraska football is everything. With only one Division I university and no major professional sports teams sports fans here only have the Huskers, and embrace them they do. In The Big Bang Theory Leonard comments to Penny how strange it sounds to say “we won the game” (who is this ‘we’, were the fans out on the field, too?). But here it is definitely the ‘we’. I’ll reserve comments on the Huskers for another post but have to say I had some genuine interest in the dilemma UNL faced when the Huskers fell into not winning.
Nebraska has two honorable traditions in their football: walk-ons and scholastic expectations for the players. I learned once, to my pleasure, my anesthesiologist was not only captain of the team but also the NCAA scholar of the year. UNL has done a lot better job of getting scholastics as part of their program than most of the other big name teams. And walk-ons, allowing big strong local corn-fed kids to try out (the way it used to be for most spots) and compete on even terms with all the hired (scholarship) players. These were real virtues but it was also clear these interfered with the quest for a national championship. To its credit Nebraska merely sacked the coach rather than abandoning these principles. So even in a football crazy state some values can prevail. In contrast PSU demonstrated that winning is everything, even to the point of covering up ghastly crimes.
Second is the story that the U.S. government is attempting to prepare some prosecutions for the Libor scandal. Now I don’t diminish the magnitude of this scandal but in the big picture of all the crime that occurred in the buildup to the 2008 crash it is astounding this is all they can find to prosecute. I guess, since he’s leaving, Timmy Geithner’s influence as the consigliere of the banks, defending them from all accountability, has diminished and now at last, just as statue of limitations is running out for the other crimes, we’ll finally roast a few sacrificial lambs. It’s quite a contrast today between the toothless response to 21st century financial criminality and the Pecora Commission of Great Depression era, which was coincidentally pushed by the then-somewhat-honest Republicans. It used to be that Repugs were more sensitive to corruption in business since they wanted a level playing field (at least crime had to be committed within the rules and norms) and didn’t particularly love Wall Street anyway.
Somehow both political parties (the Dems, unfortunately, contaminated by the Rubin acolytes, like Summers and Geithner) have decided that banks are above the law and that any consequences for the worst financial disaster ever were not required. So a few fines, maybe if there are really egregious offenses, then a couple of country club prison sentences and the public can rest assured our interests are served. But it is appropriate to give a shout-out to Gary Gensler, a born-again reformer (after spending his earlier life in the den of vampire squids that is Goldman Sachs), who is at least trying to use CFTC to actually do what it is chartered to do. But don’t hold your breath that derivatives, proprietary trading, or the loathsome bonus system will be, in the slightest, repaired.
Third, and I’ll close on this, is the story that the FDA has performed extensive and probably illegal spying on its own employees because they dared to disagree with the inadequate review process for some medical devices. Perhaps the public would have been better served to investigate those who violated protocols to rush through devices that would make huge profits for their manufacturers. But once again it’s the whistle-blowers that get the attention, not to just hound them, then to make an example of them and show that individual integrity is a really good way to have your privacy violated on the path to even more career damage.
If there is anything that unifies these disparate events it is the way that our culture’s adoption of greed-is-good as our defining value can go down any filthy rathole in the pursuit of profits. I’m not anti-business (esp. having spent my life in it), I’m just anti-crooked-business. It’s possible to make an honest buck and serve the public at the same time. Crooks have existed throughout captalism’s wretched history, but lately we’ve decided that the pursuit of extreme wealth is some weird virtue that the rest of us should endorse because somehow it does something for us, frankly, a complete misreading of the collapse of the Soviet Union, which any historian will recognize is a collapse more due to corruption of the elites than a particular economic theory. But that collapse created an open hunting season on acquiring wealth at any cost to society through any means and so it’s no surprise that every aspect of life in the U.S. is suffering from this.
The question is not how deep the corruption goes into every institution but whether there is any chance there can ever be any reform. As long as the so-called “morality voters”(the religious right) continues to support the grossest immorality then we can hardly blame the politicians, even the Repugs, for their corruption. The fault lies with us and only we can fix it. A little window-dressing of a few prosecutions over Liborgate, or removing a halo, or an investigation into how government tried to coerce its own employees into denying wrongdoing is not going to change anything, until we finally demand that some moral values are more important to our society than repulsive wealth for the 0.01%.