I happened across my old pal Pete Bingo while waiting to cash a check the other day. The line stretched around the building and down the block. Could be this was because the bank had been seized by the Feds earlier that very morning.
Finally, I was within spitting distance of the front door, and here comes Pete. Sighting me, he waddles up like he owns the place. I'd been in line for the better part of an hour, but Pete immediately used our conversation to buttinski just ahead of me.
Pete Bingo calls himself both a "primordial-ooze free marketeer" and the world's greatest salesman. But he pays the rent working for his granddaughter as a hired gumshoe in the City.
I've never known Pete to say a bad word against the system, particularly when it comes to the system formerly known as free market capitalism, or its recently liquidated manifestation, deregulated finance capitalism. But boy-oh-boy does he rail against socialism, claiming its every form is pure distilled evil, though the depth of his reference to it seems to be "all those goddamned welfare bums."
Pete's been financially challenged for as long as I've known him and is anything but a young bull, but being an eternal optimist, he still expects to become enormously wealthy through his entrepreneurial endeavors, and according to him, "the sooner, the better."
So in light of recent massive financial disasters, missteps, bailouts, giveaways, criminal activities and secretive billions in taxpayer monies smuggled off to an unholy and undisclosed array of "free market" enterprises, I figured I'd have a little fun with him. But first our handshake.
"How's things, Pete?"
"Like always, makin' history—no money. Still fightin' the war on poverty."
"So, Pete," and I dug right into him, "I hear Treasury just dropped untold billions on Citigroup. Last week we played Santa Claus to a bunch of unnamed banks. Before that it was Fannie, Freddy, Bear Stearns, AIG, Indy Mac and we don't even know who else. How're you feeling about socialism now that our money's going to bail out rich welfare bums, instead of feeding and sheltering the poor ones?"
"But Pete, Bush himself demanded the bailout money, and besides, legislation couldn't have passed muster without Republican support."
"Yeah, but my boys had a gun to their head."
"Well, don't think for a minute that progressives backed the plan. The fact that it passed just shows the reach of the corporate world into the pants of both parties. Anyway, now that capitalism's dead and the corporatocracy has us footing the bill for their mistakes, how do you figure you'll come out of this?"
"Smelling like a rose, that's how I'm coming out of it . . . and . . . you, madam!"
Pete had turned from me, gearing himself into sales mode, tipping the rim of his pith helmet, smiling widely at a well-dressed elderly woman shambling our way. "That's one fine-looking walker you have there, old girl. Perhaps I could interest you in an equally fashionable plastic-press magnetic sign. It's the perfect complement, custom-made by talented machinists in exotic China. Just attach one to the front of your walker and you'll be surprised at . . ."
The woman glared back at Pete as though he were a uniquely vile form of vermin.
"Of course, if you already have sufficient signage, then you'll want to protect your investment with a Dead Devil Alarm." Sensing why the old woman was scowling so, Pete shifted tack, hoping to close the deal. "Yeah, I don't like any of that cheap crap made in China, either. Now, this here Dead Devil Alarm, though, it's made in the good ol' American Marianas by workers my good friend 'Truthful' Tom DeLay says are as happy and well-paid as clams on the half-shell. Now, allow me to present you with one of my business cards. The name's Pete Bingo. I'm the exclusive dealer . . ."
But the woman and her walker kept shuffling right on past us, so Pete shrugged, sighed and shoved his business card back into his safari jacket. He rubbed his medicine-ball belly, turning his attention back my way, smacking his lips before saying, "I'm getting a taste for a little something to eat. After we rob the bank, how 'bout you and me go out for a bite—on you?"
"I'm due back at work, but if you're short on lunch money, why don't you grab some from your good buddy, Hank Paulson?"
"Yeah, well, I tried that."
"Pete, pardon me for saying this, but here we are on the verge of the next Great Depression, and you don't seem to appreciate that this free market economic system you've worshipped your entire lifetime has collapsed before our very eyes."
"Like I always say, GTM—'get the money.'"
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"There's never a shortage of money-making opportunities amidst disaster."
I admit it, Pete hit the nail on head. Our nation has suffered 18 economic recessions since 1797, including the Great Depression. Historical statistics indicate we've muddled through economic downturns more than one in every three years—and yet the J. P. Morgan–types seem to come out of each one fat, happy, wealthier and more powerful than ever. That said, people like Pete and me typically emerge from periods of financial malaise minus shirts, shoes, shorts or worse.
I just had to ask Pete, "How'd you like to finally see a little industry oversight now that we're paying for all these fat-cat mistakes?"
"I don't want nobody telling me what I can sell for how much to whoever."
"But isn't capitalism at its heart and soul all about taking full responsibility for one's own actions? You know, making profit for your successes and paying the price when things don't go so well?"
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"Well, yessss. I would say yes. That is, I would say yes—but I'm not that much of a liar." Suddenly Pete noticed yet another acquaintance standing third from the head of the line. "You'll excuse me," he said, "I see a friendly pigeon needs plucking." And he was off to the races.
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