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money for nothing

i am not a populist. most of the time. i try to leave the populism to folk like lou dobbs, sean hannity, and glenn beck (although sometimes populism gets blended in with craziness with these guys). still, in a recent sermon from the ten commandments against stealing, i mentioned merrill lynch's payment of executive bonuses just days before its takeover by bank of america. as a very relevant example of greed. angry nods from the congregation.

i do not pretend to understand the complexity of "toxic mortgages," tarp bailouts, or recovery packages. but it seems to me that we forget our outrage very quickly, which dooms us to fail again and again. last week i watched an american experience film telling the story of the wall street crash of 1929. it was produced in 1990, a couple of years after the stock market crash of 1987. it was obviously re-aired now because 2008 recalls 1987, which recalls 1929. do we see a pattern here? everyone says the stock market and the economy in general are cyclical; we know that from economics 101. but i think there is more going on here.

last night i stayed up extra late to watch enron: the smartest guys in the room, the documentary released in 2005. i watched in the cinema then, but had to see it again. the parallels between enron and merrill and bank of america and lehman brothers and aig and citibank were striking. in fact, many of these same banks were involved in enron's corrupt business practices. they were suckered in by enron's false corporate revenue announcements, the next big play out there. when enron's executives knew the charade was over, they dumped their stocks, stuffed millions into their mattresses, and began practicing their "i do not recall" and "on the advice of counsel" speeches.

i've grown weary of seeing ceo's of auto companies and investment banks testify before congress. i've had enough of daily updates on the dow jones industrial index and the nasdaq. i think cnbc, fox business, and every other cable "business" network and program should be cancelled, their producers hauled before congress with the other financial conspirators. if i had the option i would move all of my pension savings into ira's-- in fact after i publish this i'm going to call the general board of pension and health benefits. in a couple of years the market will be up again and we'll see more and more ads call us to pour our money in again. it will almost certainly be fueled by the same speculators, falsely building up demand and hype. we all want to retire rich. we're all waiting on the next big thing. we'll probably fall for it again.

sometimes populism is a bunch of hot wind, taking advantage of the ever-changing political landscape. there's plenty of outrage out there about executive bonuses, lost bailout funds, lack of any oversight and accountability. but the real truth is we have only ourselves to blame. we tune in. we subscribe. we listen. we allow ourselves to be manipulated. we forget that wall street is no different from las vegas, just without the neon and free drinks.

yesterday there were staged "tea parties" in a few cities, protesting government spending. fair enough. but i am still upset about the stock market crash of last fall, corporate greed, arrogance, lack of oversight, and manipulation. honestly i am more afraid of wall street than the government. "what does it benefit you to gain the whole world but lose your soul?," Jesus asked-- or maybe he continues to ask us. all the networks have those crawling news lines at the bottom of the screen. maybe instead of stock prices and treasury secretary quotes they can just flash matthew 16:26 over and over again?


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