Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A thorny problem?

Two quick things for today. Number one, Steve's favorite network, LMN, is rerunning
The Thorn Birds for the first time in memory. It is well worth seeing, if only for that classic exchange between Father Ralph and grown-up Meggie after Drogheda is ravaged by fire. For my money, it's the single best (as well as the most succinct) comment on blind religious faith ever to emerge from Hollywood. Of course, the real credit must go to author Colleen McCullough, who penned the immortal lines. Please excuse the schmaltzy YouTube video, but I fall back on the old Mallory quip about Everest: "...because it's there...."

Second, I've been thinking about this bailout stuff. And though I know we've painted ourselves into a corner where we have little choice (unless we're willing to risk an honest-to-God depression), it occurs to me that pretty soon we'll have bailed out every meaningful business segment in America*...while doing very little that anyone can point to for actual living, breathing Americans. We're throwing bushels of money (that we don't really have) at concepts ("infrastructure," "the auto industry," etc.) instead of helping people. Again, yes, I know that propping up the concepts will prevent even more horrific things from happening to the people. It's just that I can't get past the idea that corporate welfare once again wins out over principle, that the incompetents running the American oligarchy end up succeeding even when they fail, and that despite all these billions burning up the transmission lines between the U.S. Treasury and everywhere else, I personally know of three more erstwhile homeowners who lost their houses in November alone. Something's rotten, and not in Denmark.

* No, we haven't propped up the airline industry yet. But I'm sure that's coming. You think they're just gonna stand by as the gov't hands billions to Detroit, and not ask for their "fair share"?


roger o'keefe said...

You said it yourself Steve, but bailing out the industries is how we bail out the people. That is how it works in this economy. Why is that so hard for some of us to accept? Those industries are not concepts as you call them, they are giant business enterprises that are composed of, and ultimately serve, millions of people.

Elizabeth said...

Left Out of The Bailouts:
The Poor


RevRon's Rants said...

Yeah Roger, but they definitely serve some (their execs and their major shareholders) better than others. I personally believe that any exec of a company that gets a piece of the bailout pie then collects a multimillion-dollar salary, bonus, or golden parachute should be jailed. And for folks like those at AIG who celebrate their newfound salvation at a pricey resort, I'd suggest a change of itinerary to less-accommodating venue.

RevRon's Rants said...

I've made some really stupid business and career decisions in my lifetime... so where's the line for the bailout bucks? Or do I have to do something closer to being illegal?

roger o'keefe said...

Like it or not Ron, the needs of the rich must be served in order for the needs of the less rich to be served. It's just how our free market works. If you don't like it, and the recent election suggests that you and other don't, then change it to something more like socialism and we'll see how that goes. You'll notice that your friend Obama already is backing away from his pledge to hit the rich harder in taxes. That's because the advisers he trusts, people who have actually had to run something and make it work, are telling him it would be financial suicide to kill the entrepreneurial spirit in this economy.

Anonymous said...

"kill the entrepreneurial spirit in this economy."

You know what kills me? The fact Citigroup and J.P. Mogan Chase had so many lobbyists making sure Congress changed the bankruptcy laws! My how the wheel turns, when these same institutions are on the brink of bankruptcy. The "entrepreneurial spirit" was killed with these new tougher bankruptcy laws. We had lenient bankruptcy laws to protect the entrepreneur. That protection is now history. By the way, only 20% of new businesses ever make it. Most entrepreneurs have many failures before they have one success, but heck that is pretty much gone thanks to Citigroup and its brethren.

Elizabeth said...

There should be a way to help the big business and regular folks at the same time (not that I know what it is -- though someone suggested a total wipe-out of individual debt -- and I like the idea, it would certainly stimulate the economy).

BTW, Roger, you never answered my question from way back: don't you consider the government's intervention (i.e. bailout) as contradictory to the free market philosophy? I imagine that you, of all people, would be vehemently against it, no?

'Cuz according to the free free market criteria, we are already knee-deep in socialism, thanks to none other but President Bush and his fiscal policies.

P.S. Rev, the line for the bailout bucks ends right there, behind that last dude with a private jet and a summer home in Saint-Tropez. If you don't have your own, er, 'scuse me, corporate jet, don't bother.

Elizabeth said...

Not to harrumph, Steve, but that video ("The Thorn Birds") is vaguely disturbing, in addition to being, yeah, schmaltzy.

What a curious selection of images, the juxtaposition of sex scenes with the pictures of Meggie as a child admired and caressed by the priest. Ugh. "Thorn Birds" is obviously pre-pedophile priests scandals.

(Just sayin.')

Cal said...

I ask again, where is the outrage? You would think there would be a group of people (primarily college-aged) that would be threatening to do things that make Ayers and the Weathermen antics seem like child's play. I'm not advocating violence, but I would think there would be more rhetoric leaning that way.

Have the kids been spoiled by their computers, phones, X-box's and other gadgets that they really don't know and/or care?

Why are the names of these board of directors of these corporations who tacitly allowed some of these risky business practices to continue not printed in major newspapers so they can be tarred and feathered? You would think these people would have to hire security that rivals the Secret Service. Why aren't the Ivy League and other elite colleges where many of these brainiacs graduated from getting a thorough going-over as to why many of their alumni are the architechts in bringing down the financial system and maybe the whole world economy? Instead, I read where applications to these schools have continued to go up. Yet these same schools are belly-aching because there outrageous endowments have shrunk. I think Sen. Charles Grassley's idea to make them spend 5% of their endowments every year would be a stimulus package itself.

And this stuff occurred AFTER Sarbanes-Oxley, which was supposed to prevent these problems from occurring. Who allowed any bank or financial institution to carry off-balance sheet items? Especially after Enron?

I guess much of this stuff is because we were never told to sacrifice. After invading Iraq, we weren't told that maybe we need to conserve energy and get more fuel-efficient cars. In fact, I remember after 9/11 that Bush met with the car makers and implored them to try to be creative to continue selling cars. That's where the 0% financing stuff started. And now, he wants to pull the rug from them. (Not that the Big 3 has really been serious about developing more fuel-efficient cars.) In fact, we were all told to spend after 9/11. So maybe this was supposed to happen in '02, but the economy was artificially propped up by the request that consumers continue to spend -- which they did.

I do believe history doesn't exactly repeat, but rhymes. So maybe the world was due for such a period of (seemingly) prolonged economic weakness. I'm just concerned about the potential social unrest here and the around the world. We know what the Great Depression lead to.

Steve Salerno said...

Cal: I'm with you 100 percent. In some ways we live in a softer, more "civilized" society nowadays, where rhetoric has replaced action. (I really think that many of us regard politics as a kind of adult video game, where we watch "our side" do battle against the enemy, and we hoot and holler when the other guy's head comes rolling off...rhetorically, that is.) If this were the 60s, you'd have bombs going off on Exchange Place and at Exxon/Mobil headquarters, no question. Not saying that's right or wrong. Just saying it.

Eliz: It is hard to look at a complex miniseries like Thorn Birds through the medium of a handful of scenes set to bad music--and which of course were not picked by the writer or director, but some (leering? lusting?) fan. I think you also have to consider that the person who put this "tribute" together is doing it for people have already seen the show and will take his "work" in context. In other words, it's not meant to be viewed as a trailer, per se.

All that said, many people were made uneasy by the pedophilic subtext here; the Catholic Church banned the book and miniseries, and not a few of America's more strait-laced critics got their shorts all bunched up over it. Still, I say that TB managed to do for its theme what Godfather did for the Mob and the question of the duality of human nature (i.e. good and evil coexisting in the same person): It took a touchy subject, a taboo really, and showed that it's a lot more nuanced--and possibly a lot more prevalent--than most of us like to admit. It made a story with multiple deviant overtones come off as A Love Story that deeply touched millions of viewers (including many women and parents of young daughters).

Anonymous said...

I'm with Elizbeth here, I tried to watch it a little bit and it actually upset me. I think she's right that too much has happened with priests since then, you can't watch it as just a show without that in the back of your mind. Also the way he reacts to the little girl right from the beginning is pretty sick to me. And the funny thing everybody knows the guy is gay now!

Elizabeth said...

the way he reacts to the little girl right from the beginning is pretty sick to me.

Yes, I agree, Carl. Nauseatingly disturbing.

Steve, I think TB was condemned by the Vatican because the priest had sex with a woman there (gasp!), not because of any pedophile connotations.

I'm very cynical when it comes to the inner workings of the Church (having experienced them all too closely). Sex with children is a tolerable sin -- at least was until public outrage made it less easy to sweep under the holy carpet. It is sex with women that's so unholy and unforgivable.

BTW, I could never stomach TB and not because of its "scandalous" overtones. It was just too much of a soap opera to me. But I know it has a huge following world-wide (my parents were big fans).

Steve Salerno said...

my parents were big fans

Boy do I feel old. But in all candor I find that many of the folks with whom I tend to engage on subjects of, shall we say, intellectual significance do not "get," at all, the appeal of something like Thorn Birds or even The Godfather, both of which they regard as lowbrow and ultimately "commercial fare." Of all the people I intersected with during my days in academia, I can't think of one, not one, who would sit there and watch Lifetime movies for much of the day, let alone admit to it. They'd talk about Kurosawa, maybe, but not Coppola.

I guess it's a chromosomal defect. Or maybe, again, that I was raised by, in effect, three mothers.

Elizabeth said...

I did not mean to make you feel old, Steve. LOL, no, really.

If your "chromosomal defect" makes you enjoy Lifetime and TB (and other examples of "softer" fare), mine makes me shun them. :) The whole genre of "women's" TV (whatever it is) is alien to me. It's the overabundance of (cheesy) emotion that makes it insufferable. In fairness, Kurosawa is unwatchable as well. But give me any old TV whodunit drama and I'm glued, no matter how predictable it may be.

We all have our quirks. :)

P.S. Three mothers...?

Steve Salerno said...

An actual mother and two sisters, both of whom were at least eight years older.

Stever Robbins said...

We need to bail out the rich to help the poor? Killing the entrepreneurial spirit? I couldn't disagree more.

Working at the #1 college in entrepreneurship in the country, with deep connections to several others, I can assure you that we have no shortage of highly motivated, passionate, smart people who would kill to get their hands on the tiniest bits of money they could use to develop entire new industries.

I have no problem with the bailout including a massive redistribution of wealth. Detroit has had 30 years to change and has demonstrated a multi-generational unwillingness or inability to change. I'm sure there are plenty of hungry, smart people out there who would be happy to try their hand at running the industry, and whose lack of experience in the industry couldn't produce worse results than we've already seen.

The problem is not that large corporations need more money to stay afloat, the problem is that many of them are very poorly run, and we *believe* that somehow they're the source of American prosperity.

Most new jobs are created by smaller enterprises. And while some large companies innovate, much innovation--and virtually all "disruptive" and "revolutionary" innovation--comes from startups. A favorite exit strategy for startups, in fact, is being acquired by a large company. The startups innovate, the large companies buy up and distribute (or kill, if it's threatening) the innovation.

In short: I'd like to try giving the money to the entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers, and hungry folk of the world. At least they're unknown quantities. Throwing more money at managers with a track record of incompetence combined with a propensity to give themselves substantial bonuses does not strike me as a way to bail out *anything.*

Steve Salerno said...

Stever: That is one of the most succinct, on-point analyses voiced to date, for my money (and a lot of other people's as well, when you look at the billions now being thrown around with such casual abandon).

I guess we're at the point where a man's gotta do what a man's gott ado, but it still astonishes me that the Treasury is acting like some crazed college freshman who somehow got 'hold of a Mastercard with no spending limits and no due date. It's mind-boggling! What happens if we continue to experience a severe shortfall in real-estate values, corporate growth and the overall health of certain sectors (like Detroit) that we're counting on to vindicate all these bailouts? What then? The dollar will go into a free-fall unseen since post-war Deutsche marks or the Mexican peso a while back.

Anonymous said...

"In short: I'd like to try giving the money to the entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers, and hungry folk of the world. At least they're unknown quantities. Throwing more money at managers with a track record of incompetence combined with a propensity to give themselves substantial bonuses does not strike me as a way to bail out *anything.*"

I agree with Stever, but let us not forget this is a cultural phenomenon. I know of many CEOs who got golden parachutes for basically being incompetent! As long as there are golden handshakes and rewarding of bad behavior, bailouts will be the norm. AIG's "spa weekend," was a perfect example of it.