Saturday, March 28, 2009

Dr. B to the Super Rich: When will you be rich enough?

. . .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, Morning Joe, March 26, 2009

One day last week I woke up to a bit of remarkable television--and it was on "Morning Joe". Seriously. 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 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."

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 had visions of  the Morning Bunch finally getting with it, bursting into "Hoo Rahs", doing fist bumps 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.


  1. Mika is a good example of the acorn falling a couple of miles away from the tree. Thanks for letting us know what Zbig said on Morning Joe,even if I could stay home and watch it ,I wouldn't.

  2. I feel it's my duty to keep people from watching "Morning Joe". But every now and then something happens there that forces me to look in now and then. Lately, it's been pretty exasperating, but that's partly what made this segment with Dr. B so amazing.

    Thanks for commenting.


  3. Dr. B's idea of social responsibility and social consciousness is the only psyche Americans can afford to be in today. Encourage ideas like solidarity fund, a social rehabilitation, and both promising new keywords for the times. In the face of giant American greed, is this a possibility? I think it's one that's politically human. But is there consciousness left?

  4. Anonymous, (it's awkward addressing someone who is "anonymous") I have hope that we're getting back to reclaiming a social consciousness. We elected Barack Obama. That's the first clue. The second is that we're finally showing appropriate disgust for the hatemongers and for raging, unregulated capitalism.

    But we're in for a terribly long haul and we all have to work toward making our country great again. We can't allow the obstructionists to force us to waver. We're in the process of rebuilding a country that has gone so wrong for so long.

    We need to give this administration a chance to make truly bold moves toward fixing the economy. At the same time, we need to let them know we're watching them.

    It's not Socialism to support the necessity for social obligations in a capitalistic society. We've seen what happens when we let Big Business run the show. Now we're paying for it, and it's our obligation to take care of the people who have suffered for so long under that failed philosophy.
    Thanks for commenting.

  5. While I agree with what "Dr B" (is he a real Phd, or a 'Kissinger honorary degree' type?) says about the wasteful extravagance of these 'financial capitalists', he is far from the first (or most articulate) to say these things. And I still can't feel good about the man who almost gleefully recounted orchestrating the Soviet/Afghan war beginning six months BEFORE the Soviets invaded Afghanistan - - he was proud of "giving the Soviets their own Vietnam". Proud of creating a war where 10's of thousands died and a country was war-torn, leading to the rise of the Taliban and many of their present problems. Morally speaking, we can rightfully lay half of the Afghan war-dead (since 1979) at his feet.

  6. Hi Big Em, I believe Dr. B is a "real" PhD, but that's neither here nor there. I don't know anything about his past history, so I can't dispute or agree with what you say. I only know that it's time for some Big Voices to come forward and finally recognize what unfettered greed and corruption has done to this country. It's pretty sad when we have half a million newly unemployed every month and tent cities popping up all over the place and we still find people who don't want the super-rich to have to pay their way.

    That was my point. Zbig's past history may be despicable to some, but what he's doing today is commendable. ] just have to wonder where those people have been. Why did they stay relatively silent during the Bush years, when all this was building up to disaster, and only now come out of the woodwork? It wasn't that you couldn't see it coming. . .

    Thanks for commenting. Ramona

  7. hi, Ramona--
    great post.
    your interpretation [It was because those lousy SOBs rode into town with premeditated plunder on their minds] put me in mind of knights on the rampage in medieval Europe.

    the only thing that brought an end to the slaughter was the Black Death and the wiping out of half the population.
    I hope we fare better than the European masses did.

  8. Two crows, I had hoped that in the 21st century we would be a little more enlightened. Until January 20, I hadn't seen any sign of it. Maybe I'm seeing a little glimmer now, but it's something to at least hang on to.

    The Republicans don't see that plundering as evil. Their biggest fear is "socialism" and "Marxism". As if their remedies for the past eight years--namely raging capitalism--would really work if we only gave it a chance. Fools.


  9. hey again, Ramona--
    I must be more cynical than you are.
    I'm not sure the Rethuglicans really _fear_ socialism.

    When a congressman [I forget who] says he has a list of socialists in Congress, I remember McCarthy. I doubt he was really afraid of communists in Hollywood, either. He saw a chance to sow fear and score points.

    Today seems like the early 1950's to me.
    I hope I'm being paranoid -- but I'm afraid I'm not.

  10. Voluntary Simplicity - or why I'm rich enough already.

    Over 10 years ago, Scott Simon and the public tv folk did a documentary on "voluntary simplicity", living on only what is necessary, avoiding excess consumption, reducing stress and actually becoming "anti-materialistic." They ran it again on the Documentary Channel this afternoon and it really caught my attention.

    Here, in our economic pothole, with a government trying to restore the high debt spending system supported by banks, investment houses, auto manufacturers and most of the world's producers of necessary and unnecessary products, we are all trying to get by from day to day with jobs disappearing and income tightening up.

    Living a more simplified life in West Virginia is where Elly and I started heading before the blowout of the markets. It is somewhat less expensive here and the community has just about everything we need to survive as long as we can keep ma job. Elly's teaching position is fairly secure (mine, however, never was and is about to end --- leaving me back at freelancing in the web market... and fortunately I found my first local client on my initial entry into the market. One more account and I will be better off than I was teaching and have more control of my own time.)

    The Farmer's Market has started again for the season, giving us access to fresh, mostly organic produce tied to the season. We participate in the Town recycling pickup every Tuesday morning (although I don't know where the plastic goes... hopefully not to landfills where they just add to the mess, but into new products or insulation or fabrics[?]... I saw an ad for men's suits made of a recycled plastic fabric!) We garden in our back yard, eat what we grow and have very good grocery stores with new organic food departments springing up all over.
    Intellectual stimulation comes through Community Theatre (now I'm involved with Full Circle and really enjoying it) and the free Friday night film society.

    And we could still simplify our lives some more. The next year will be an interesting experiment.

    Under The LobsterScope

  11. Two Crows, I've been traveling and missed much of the congressman with the list of "socialists" in congress. I need to catch up. I also need to finish my blog drafts! They've been sitting idle while I've been working my way back home to Michigan but now we're home and life can finally get back to normal. (Whatever THAT is!)

    I felt an upswing toward McCarthyism all through the Bush years, and couldn't wait until they were over. I'm old enough to remember McCarthy and the HUAC hearings. They were terrifying, even to me at a young age. I saw people become powerless, their lives destroyed by a ruthless demagogue. Bush and Cheney would have liked to have followed that act, but there were enough in congress who either remembered or had actually read about the devastation that one man caused. Bush/Cheney were given way too much leverage and now we'll spend the next few years falling behind in order to fix their mess. What a waste.

  12. btchakir; What an interesting life you and your wife are leading. I know you must be anxious about future employment, but it sounds like you're making the best of it and using your resources to move on.

    We don't live as simply as I would like (at least, I THINK I would like. . .), but we do reuse, recycle, return. It's foolish to think the earth is renewable and/or that man has no control over the acceleration of global warming. We all need to do our part.
    Thanks for commenting.


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