(original post-date: November 17, 2010)
For a few consecutive years, beginning in early 2002, my neighbors and I had a routine. It took place on the stoop in the courtyard of our apartment building. It involved Heinekens and raucous laughter. And it would go on and on, into the wee small hours. My then-boyfriend was part of the mix, and he’d occasionally add his guitar to the scene. So there would be strumming and… singing.
Often until two in the morning.
We didn’t care that we were loud. We were in our own world. And so, we only smiled and shrugged when we were scolded by those older, quieter neighbors whom we had woken. (Okay, we also said “sorry,” but doing so never prevented a repeat performance.)
It took me two or three years to step away from that self-involved behavior. It took me that long to realize how it had come on the heels of 9/11. It took me some perspective to believe that we were simply acting out.
I remember a thought that would occur to me during those years: I miss my country.
And by that, I meant that I missed the country I thought I knew.
… When I was in the first grade, we were let out of school early one day. And the mood was somber.
It was November 22, 1963.
I remember walking down the blacktop toward the parking lot. I remember embracing that sense of somberness, but not really knowing why. I remember hearing one third grader whisper to her peer: “Don’t tell the first graders,” she said. “They won’t understand.”
I resented condescension even before I knew the word, and so what I overheard that day will always stay with me. I’d also love to track down that third grader. I’m guessing she’s now 55.
So tell me, whoever you are at 55: how do you explain the Kennedy assassination? (From what I overheard that fateful day, you understood.)
… Last weekend, I took myself to the movies, but not because I’m a great date. I just felt like getting out, and I’d been intrigued to see Inside Job, the documentary about what led to the financial crisis of 2008.
So I took advantage of my local theatre’s still-reasonable matinee price and I forked over $6.50 for my ticket.
As I took in the film’s message, I can’t say that I was shocked. Rather, I was informed.
(And frankly, nothing shocks me anymore. I’ve done my “acting out,” thank you very much, and I’ve come to accept that we are all totally screwed.)
Watching the movie, though, I came to understand a bit more about the “derivatives” that NPR has talked about for the past year. And I saw how those bundled packages helped to create the mess that’s led to so many foreclosures. I also got a sense of how “credit default swaps” contributed to the meltdown.
As to what really brought on the meltdown? Well, it isn’t news that the groundwork was laid by Reagan, when he green-lighted deregulation. The first Bush kept it going, and Clinton was right there, too, cheering on the banks as they successfully lobbied against any suggestions for oversight. During those years, the game sort of worked. There were some minor financial crises, but we bounced back until…
It all began to really come apart after 2001, and here’s my theory: The banks were acting out. Located on Wall Street, where they lost their people and their towers, they just freaked. They didn’t know what hit them, but they realized their world was not the same. It would have to be every man for himself. And so, because it was their modus operandi to pursue the almighty dollar, they began to pursue it with a vengeance and with no regard for who might get hurt (or lose a job, or lose a home) in the process.
They didn’t care. They had watched colleagues leap to their deaths from fiery buildings, and they just didn’t care.
… Today, the same people who were there for the meltdown – and who let it happen – are still in charge of our government’s financial dealings. The Treasury Department and Obama’s circle of economic advisors are filled with guys (and a few women) who were once the “deciders” at such failures as Goldman Sachs and AIG. They were there when Bush II was our pitiable president, and they are still there. According to Inside Job, they’ve been kept on because it’s “too complicated.”
It’s too complicated, they say.
I feel like that first grader again, with the third grader whispering, “they won’t understand.”
Screw you, third grader!
I don’t believe it’s too complicated. It’s simply too inbred.
And until we start over with completely new leadership (something I hoped for, when I voted for Obama), we will continue to be treated like first graders.
I didn’t like it when I was six, and I don’t like it now.