I happened across my old pal Pete Bingo whilewaiting to cash a check the other day. The line stretched aroundthe building and down the block. Could be this was because the bankhad been seized by the Feds earlier that very morning.
Finally, I was within spitting distance of the front door, andhere 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 Peteimmediately used our conversation to buttinski just ahead ofme.
Pete Bingo calls himself both a "primordial-ooze free marketeer"and the world's greatest salesman. But he pays the rent working forhis 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 freemarket capitalism, or its recently liquidated manifestation,deregulated finance capitalism. But boy-oh-boy does he rail againstsocialism, claiming its every form is pure distilled evil, thoughthe depth of his reference to it seems to be "all those goddamnedwelfare bums."
Pete's been financially challenged for as long as I've known himand is anything but a young bull, but being an eternal optimist, hestill expects to become enormously wealthy through hisentrepreneurial endeavors, and according to him, "the sooner, thebetter."
So in light of recent massive financial disasters, missteps,bailouts, giveaways, criminal activities and secretive billions intaxpayer monies smuggled off to an unholy and undisclosed array of"free market" enterprises, I figured I'd have a little fun withhim. But first our handshake.
"How's things, Pete?"
"Like always, makin' history—no money. Still fightin' thewar on poverty."
"So, Pete," and I dug right into him, "I hear Treasury justdropped untold billions on Citigroup. Last week we played SantaClaus to a bunch of unnamed banks. Before that it was Fannie,Freddy, Bear Stearns, AIG, Indy Mac and we don't even know whoelse. How're you feeling about socialism now that our money's goingto bail out rich welfare bums, instead of feeding and shelteringthe poor ones?"
"But Pete, Bush himself demanded the bailout money, and besides,legislation couldn't have passed muster without Republicansupport."
"Yeah, but my boys had a gun to their head."
"Well, don't think for a minute that progressives backed theplan. The fact that it passed just shows the reach of the corporateworld into the pants of both parties. Anyway, now that capitalism'sdead and the corporatocracy has us footing the bill for theirmistakes, 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 awell-dressed elderly woman shambling our way. "That's onefine-looking walker you have there, old girl. Perhaps I couldinterest you in an equally fashionable plastic-press magnetic sign.It's the perfect complement, custom-made by talented machinists inexotic China. Just attach one to the front of your walker andyou'll be surprised at . . ."
The woman glared back at Pete as though he were a uniquely vileform of vermin.
"Of course, if you already have sufficient signage, then you'llwant to protect your investment with a Dead Devil Alarm." Sensingwhy the old woman was scowling so, Pete shifted tack, hoping toclose the deal. "Yeah, I don't like any of that cheap crap made inChina, either. Now, this here Dead Devil Alarm, though, it's madein the good ol' American Marianas by workers my good friend'Truthful' Tom DeLay says are as happy and well-paid as clams onthe half-shell. Now, allow me to present you with one of mybusiness cards. The name's Pete Bingo. I'm the exclusive dealer . .."
But the woman and her walker kept shuffling right on past us, soPete shrugged, sighed and shoved his business card back into hissafari jacket. He rubbed his medicine-ball belly, turning hisattention back my way, smacking his lips before saying, "I'mgetting a taste for a little something to eat. After we rob thebank, 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, whydon'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 vergeof the next Great Depression, and you don't seem to appreciate thatthis free market economic system you've worshipped your entirelifetime 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 amidstdisaster."
I admit it, Pete hit the nail on head. Our nation has suffered18 economic recessions since 1797, including the Great Depression.Historical statistics indicate we've muddled through economicdownturns 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 Peteand me typically emerge from periods of financial malaise minusshirts, shoes, shorts or worse.
I just had to ask Pete, "How'd you like to finally see alittle industry oversight now that we're paying for all thesefat-cat mistakes?"
"I don't want nobody telling me what I can sell for how much towhoever."
"But isn't capitalism at its heart and soul all about takingfull responsibility for one's own actions? You know, making profitfor your successes and paying the price when things don't go sowell?"
"Well, yessss. I would say yes. That is, I wouldsay yes—but I'm not that much of a liar." Suddenly Petenoticed yet another acquaintance standing third from the head ofthe line. "You'll excuse me," he said, "I see a friendly pigeonneeds plucking." And he was off to the races.
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