. . .The huge bonuses over the last decade or so skimmed off about 300 billion dollars into private pockets. Now what can those people do with that money? How many yachts can you own? How many homes can you own? How many planes can you own? It's that level of income which could, I think, make a contribution to class solidarity rather than be the cause of class hatred and social hatred, [and] Class warfare, eventually.
Dr. Zbiginiew Brzeznski, March 26, 2009
One day last week I woke up to a memorable bit of remarkable television--and it was on "Morning Joe", of all places. If, before I turned on the TV, Joe was his usual puffy-chested, when-I-was-in-congress blowhard, I missed it. If Mika was her usual schizo hand-wringing, sorry-for-even-existing, here-comes-tough-mommy self, I didn't see it. If Jim Cramer did a freaky voodoo dance (he was a guest that morning), I didn't see that, either.
What I saw was Dr. Zbiginiew Brzeznski--Mika's father--giving the clearest, harshest, most insightful lecture to the super rich I've ever even dreamed of witnessing. (Mika makes no bones about the fact that he is the most intimidating figure she's ever known. Yes, I could see that. But the thing is--he's on our side. I love that about him. Even though he'd scare me to death, too.)
The most amazing thing about the segment with Zbiginiew--among many amazing things--is that it went on for over 17 minutes with barely an interruption. He began by talking about Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan (interesting stuff there, too) and then, at about 7:26 on the video, Joe changed the subject by saying, "Dr. Brzeznski, you've talked about the danger of runaway populism. (Eds note: ???) Some mocked you. Over the past two weeks we've seen your predictions unfold, from Capitol Hill to Wall Street to Main Street."
That was it. Joe (yes, that Joe) shut up and let Dr. Brzeznski talk. (Remember when Zbig called Joe "stunningly superficial" a while back? That might have been why.)
"There is a growing anger in this country," Dr B said, "a growing sense of resentment. There is a feeling of fundamental unfairness. . .We saw a list of people who have made more than a billion dollars in one year. A billion is a thousand million. Can you imagine making more than a thousand million a year? And how were most of those funds made? They didn't make them by creating new jobs, building new factories, making new technological innovations which then cumulatively enriched America. They made it by complex financial transactions which few people understand. Which, in effect, just sort of swooshed off money into private pockets. . .It's almost like a huge national ponzi scheme."
Here I thought I heard some slight whimpers of protest, but the good doctor was on a roll:
"Now, what gets me really is in this situation of anger and resentment and the growing risk of class hatred, no one from the private sector has stepped forward and said 'Let's organize a national solidarity fund in which the people who made so much money. . .money which is difficult to understand and to even justify, [should] contribute, to help, to pull us together'. The taxpayers are contributing. The president has urged us to pull this together, and we're doing it. You're doing it, I'm doing it, and a lot of much poorer people than us are doing it. Where are the rich people who have made hundreds of millions, thousands of millions in some cases? Why don't they step forward? We have the names of some who are returning the bonuses; what about the others who are not? There should be social pressure and if some major figures from the public sector with great reputations who have made a lot of money but who are generous in philanthropy stood forward. . .maybe there would be a movement to do something about social rehabilitation, social reconciliation, social solidarity. I think this is very much needed."
(Did you see the CEOs coming out of the White House meeting yesterday? What was the one thing they all said they agreed on with the president? "We're all in this together." Something tells me either Zbigniew was in the room with them or the specter of Zbigniew was in the room.)
Finally, Jim Kramer spoke--softly, a little petulantly, with head down though not in full kowtow position. He said, " . . .These hedge fund managers who made money are- a lot of them grew up regular, normal people who grew up in America and managed to just win big. We don't want to discourage people from winning big who are from normal origins, who are not silver spoon people."
To which Dr B., refraining admirably from slapping the little wanker upside the head, said, "Well, that's fair but. . .there's also a limit to what 'win big' really means in a society in which there are still a lot of people who are very poor--who are not winning big but losing much. Do you really need billions of dollars to be happy? What can you do with them? At some point it seems to me that social responsibility comes to play. . ."
He talked almost non-stop on the subject, without commercial interruption, for over 10 minutes. He pointed out the obvious: "If you made 500 million dollars and you gave away 250, I think you would still be left with enough to enjoy. The point is, there has to be some demonstrable response to this sense of crisis today from the rich people, rather than have them hide, or hire security guards, or insist that they stay anonymous."
And then he said it again, in another way: "I would like to see some major figures, public figures, step forward on their own. Not mobilized by the president, or by you or by me, but out of a sense of moral obligation. They still will not suffer. If you have 500 million or even 50 million dollars in your pocket you can give up half of it and still be more than comfortable for the rest of your life.
Mike Barnicle came in then, and told a poignant story about the mill town in Massachusetts, where he grew up . He talked about the "big winners" who had "more or less raped that town and other towns like it. Made millions for themselves, and yet the factories that they bought and sold that enriched them are now closed. They didn't build any new factories. They didn't create any new jobs. They left behind the skeletal remains of a city that was once vibrant and they've moved on to their big billion dollar salaries and this, I think, is part of the Bunsen burner, the fuel that is igniting this incipient class warfare in America."
It wasn't because the town had gone bad or the workers didn't work. It wasn't because people didn't pray hard enough or sing loudly enough. It wasn't a case of "tried but failed". It was because those lousy SOBs rode into town with premeditated plunder on their minds. (This is not Barnicle talking. This is me interpreting what I saw on his face and heard in his voice.)
There was much more, of course. I've probably already violated some copyright law by transcribing almost word for word a large portion of this conversation. (I'm doing it mainly for those who still have slow dial-up. They can't watch those streaming videos without having to wander off for a fortnight or two until the damn things finally reach the end.)
When Dr. Brzeznski was finished, I thought the Morning Bunch was going to burst into "Hoo Rahs" and cheers. They did rise up from their seats a little and made muffled noises of assent, but of course they couldn't let themselves go that far, considering who they are and what they've either advocated or ignored in the past.
Mika, bless her heart, had the final word after those long minutes of having to huddle in the shadow of her father's brilliance: "In America we don't think about--actually, I'm sorry, but there is a certain way of thinking--greed--put it on credit. We just don't think of--I'm sorry, we just don't think this way."
Is that priceless? Could you, in all honesty, turn it off after that?
Yeah, me too.