Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Pitchfork Time

It is an astounding thing to me as I sit here in this period of history and realise that people in the United States are going to sit passively by and let us all be impoverished. Yet I ask myself what really is one to do? Some commentators think we the people should be hammering down doors demanding our money back from the banksters who held the government hostage. Take one as respectable as Alice Schroeder of Bloomberg's Financial Service, quoted in Mandelman's Monthly Museletter:

The banker had told this friend of mine that senior Goldman people have loaded up on firearms and are now equipped to defend themselves if there is a populist uprising against the bank.

Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein also reversed himself after having previously called Goldman’s greed “God’s work” and apologized earlier this month for having participated in things that were “clearly wrong.” Imagine what emotions must be billowing through the halls of Goldman Sachs to provoke the firm into an apology.

No, talk of Goldman and guns plays right into the way Wall- Streeters like to think of themselves. Even those who were bailed out believe they are tough, macho Clint Eastwoods of the financial frontier, protecting the fistful of dollars in one hand with the Glock in the other. The last thing they want is to be so reasonably paid that the peasants have no interest in lynching them.

And if the proles really do appear brandishing pitchforks at the doors of Park Avenue and the gates of Round Hill Road, you can be sure that the Goldman guys and their families will be holed up in their safe rooms with their firearms. If nothing else, that pistol permit might go part way toward explaining why they won’t be standing outside with the rest of the crowd, broke and humiliated, saying, “Damn, I was on the wrong side of a trade with Goldman again.”

Henry Paulson, U.S. Treasury secretary during the bailout and a former Goldman Sachs CEO, let it slip during testimony to Congress last summer when he explained why it was so critical to bail out Goldman Sachs, and — oh yes — the other banks. People “were unhappy with the big discrepancies in wealth, but they at least believed in the system and in some form of market-driven capitalism. But if we had a complete meltdown, it could lead to people questioning the basis of the system.”

The bailout was meant to keep the curtain drawn on the way the rich make money, not from the free market, but from the lack of one. Goldman Sachs blew its cover when the firm’s revenue from trading reached a record $27 billion in the first nine months of this year, and a public that was writhing in financial agony caught on that the profits earned on taxpayer capital were going to pay employee bonuses.

And yet I ask myself, how exactly does one go about fomenting a revolution on the streets? Call me bourgeois but I have no idea exactly how to do that...Should i mount the Bonneville and ride to Wall Street and wave a red flag demanding the return of our cash and power to the people? Who exactly do these banksters think is going to come after them and engage in a running street battle with them? Is New York in 2010 about ready to resemble St Petersburg in 1917?

It is a curious thing to me how Americans have taken their lumps and failed to stand up and be the least bit annoyed in public with modern leadership. We find ourselves deprived of representative government by the interference of big business, we live daily with policies designed to loot our treasury and deprive us of jobs, health care and homes. we have no sense of security, no sense of our established place in the order of things, and yet we sit passively by and allow our country to be looted. How odd it is. I wonder what people alive today will tell future generations when they ask why our generation failed to act? In the 1960s we Baby Boomers acted in unison in opposition to the direct threat of the draft and war in Vietnam, but today we sit idly by and watch that heritage get looted without so much as a hiss of anger. I feel like I have an inkling of how ordinary people in Germany in the 1930s found themselves allowing the Nazis to take over their country. I guess it just kind of happened...you know? (Silent embarrassment ensues).

Stock Island Mangroves

It was another of those pre-frontal days when Up North people look to the skies and anticipate snow, while down here at twenty four degrees north latitude we get hazy skies, humidity and a strong feeling that a summer thunderstorm might be in our future. So I took the dog for a walk. The wind was blowing steadily from the south and the temperature was just above 80 degrees and I dithered wondering where to take Cheyenne on my way in to Key West to meet my wife. There is a road, closed with a gate, on Stock Island that I have never explored. Today was the day to break new ground.That the area is littered with trash is just one extra benefit and a crude swastika stenciled on the barricade just adds flavor to the scene. Cheyenne liked the trash and ignored the political statements. Walking down the street I noticed one of those inexplicable head benders that Stock Island specializes in. How do two streets cross? Beats me but the blocked off street is part of 5th.There is another spot on Stock Island, land of no urban planning, where two avenues meet but we'll discuss that ineptitude another day. In this case Cheyenne and I set off down the empty roadway. Between the mangroves to the west I could see, in the distance, the condominiums lining South Roosevelt, just south of Flagler Avenue. The expanse of water is called Cow Key Channel. Stock Island got it's name from the fact that in the 18th century they kept cattle here to feed the urban Key West population. Nowadays they keep the workers here to satisfy the labor needs of the Big City. Many workers choose cheap housing afloat and park their transport in the mangroves:We also came across a roadside shrine in this unlikely spot. How Armando contrived to get into a fatal road traffic crash here is not explained:For those of a more temporal nature there was an actual car seat folded neatly and dumped in violation of the "No Littering" sign.
A solitary cyclist passed by with a brief nod in response to my "Buenas." In my defense he looked like a tired Cuban fisherman with his cap pulled down and his forearms as leathery and tanned as parchment.Then this dog appeared from behind and followed us nervously. It had a bone in its jaws and it eyed Cheyenne and I as though we were likely to steal his prize possession. I was seized by an urge to bundle him up, put him in my pocket and treat him to a first world life, but he had a collar and an obvious destination in mind. he sidled past like a dog used to being stoned by strangers and disappeared. Stock Island is the land of the poor and the downhearted and doesn't have much milk of human kindness left over for animals and others lower down the food chain.My Cuban fisherman was a middle aged white man, a character from a Steinbeck novel, living in a tent, sitting in a chair resting from his day's labor, spare clothes hanging neatly on a line to dry, his life container in a small cube of nylon. Welcome to the wealthiest, freest country in the world. If you live like this it is your moral failing that got you here, and don't you forget it. I slid by, thanking my lucky stars for my job at the police department. I could not bring myself to photograph him in his exhausted poverty so I snuck a photo of his home.The mangroves at the end of the paved street branched off and we did the same, finding ourselves in a wilderness of mud and mangroves. And trash. Always the trash.
It was, in many respects, a delightful spot. A short tramp, perhaps five minutes, brought us to the waterfront and a splendid view south across the Straits of Florida. The cooling breeze was absolutely lovely.I speculated wildly about the raffish leopard print cloth on the end of the dock but could come up with no sensible reason for its presence, and left it to the more vividly endowed to create an improbable story line to explain it's presence. Leopard spots on fabric seem so....decadent. Cheyenne got busy but happily the supply of dead fish seems to be evaporating so she just got to look and not eat.
There was a mattress ready to receive me had I been overcome with exhaustion, or accompanied by those eager women that seem to hover around some people like flies around...well, never mind. Cheyenne and I were alone:We thought we were until a dog started barking and a woman tried to shush it. It was I suspected the little brown fellow who was home and ready to defend his turf. We retreated as I was unwilling to disturb the peace and not keen to get into conversation with a mangrove dweller. It would just be depressing.The path followed a narrow limestone ridge between water covered mangrove roots:
And then we were back out on the paved road where we met the tent man's other half striding down, a lunch box banging on her hip. She greeted us cheerily and petted Cheyenne who is a whore and will take the kindness of strangers anywhere, anytime. She strode off bellowing for the man, possibly named Jay or Hey I couldn't tell.The thing about these mangroves is that even people with jobs can find it hard to find a home even supposing they wanted to. Rents are astronomical, and to move into a $1,000 modest one bedroom would set you back three grand with all the deposits and stuff. And this is not fancy housing in "the Avenues" as the streets between 5th and 12th Avenue are known on Stock Island. As crazy as it may sound decent, newer homes in this crowded neighborhood were selling for more than $400,000 during the boom years. Even now I'll bet a decent home this close to Key West would command a quarter million, be it ever so small. A rent free tent may not be so bad.Junk piled up is a fact of life even in this little shrine in a front yard.And sneakers out to dry on a fence could just as easily be drying on a mangrove branch.
For me, I'd rather not live this close to my neighbors, but perhaps I am just a snob. It does one good to take a walk and re-dimension one's expectations sometimes.