Steps in the right direction

By now, most people know that AIG is going to give out $165 million in “bonuses” to the people who not only wrecked the company, but would have wrecked the entire global economy without massive and repeated bailouts (to the tune of $170 billion so far). Frankly, I’m too numb to feel outrage about this anymore. I pretty much take for granted that the leadership of the companies behind the collapse were either too full of themselves to contemplate the possibility that they might not deserve bonuses, or consciously looting a sinking ship. I’ll leave the expressions of outrage to the government officials who orchestrated the bailouts, and turn my attention back to what can we do about all this.

Last night, I couldn’t sleep, so I turned on the television to find myself face to face with Glenn Beck, who has a regular show on Fox News. He was openly emotional (cried twice!) as he launched into a self described “televangelist” mode to launch the 9-12 Project. Beck’s project is based on repeated appeals to community, and it fascinates me. He has apparently cooked up nine principles and 12 values, and is encouraging people to gather together and talk about them, and about how we can get back to that sense of unity and community that many experienced on the day after the September 11 attacks.

I appreciate what Beck is doing, even if I have some philosophical differences with him. Most notably I think he fails to look behind the real curtain, to the corporate powers that pull the government’s strings. If the AIG debacle doesn’t show this, I don’t know what will. I’m also a bit wary of any “populist” movement to take back America that is launched by a company controlled by the foreign tycoon Rupert Murdoch. It may have the best of intentions, but it can only go so far.

Nevertheless, I wish the 9-12 Project well, and will be keeping an eye on it to see how it develops. One of the main things that I will be looking for is how much room there is for people who have been standing up against the powers that be from a more secular leftist perspective. I believe that any serious effort to confront our common problems be will have to get beyond the cultural divisiveness and recognize that the little people on both ends of the supposed political spectrum have more in common with each other than they do with the elites that claim to represent us.

In other good news today, the Wall Street Journal (also a Rupert Murdoch joint, alas) ran an article on credit unions. The title acknowledged these cooperative banks as “safe havens” in the financial storm. It was a pretty good article despite a minor inaccuracy (the membership requirements of many credit unions are now relaxed to the point that anyone in a region can join). It also didn’t mention that there’s a very good reason why credit unions didn’t go down the dangerous roads of high-stakes speculation (i.e. they are dedicated to the needs of their members, and not to attracting ever more fickle investors). But hey, it’s the Wall Street Journal; this is truly progress. There was also a relevant omission, that many credit unions are now a part of branch-sharing arrangements that allow members to do their banking at any other credit unions in a given network.

Ironically, this Friday I tried to cash a cashiers check that said Wells Fargo on it. I didn’t feel like going downtown to my credit union, and there’s a branch right next to a store I was visiting. But they wouldn’t cash it, not because I have no account, but because (get this) it was from Wells Fargo Southcentral, which is apparently their Alaskan subsidiary that somehow generated a check from someone in Alabama. I asked, “What’s the point of taking over the world if I still can’t cash your checks here?” and stalked out. Hrrumph.

The final good news of the day is this piece on how people are going garden crazy as a way to cut their food bills in the recession. I’m grateful that this reporter got beyond the usual stories about how bad things are, and focused on how to make them better for yourselves. It even included mentions of community gardens and links to information and seed suppliers. We need more of this kind of coverage, and fortunately, a news search for “recession garden” is yielding lots of hits. It seems that there is a buzz building, and just in time for spring.

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