Saturday, December 4, 2010

The American Fool- What's in Our wallet?


How much debt are you carrying?  Do you have car payments, mortgage payments, and credit card payments?  If you sneeze incorrectly, does your bank charge you thirty dollars?  Did you ever wonder who collects your money?  At the end of the day, your interest payment on your debt ends up in someone else's pocket.  Companies are run by people. They sit on the Board of Directors, they attend the galas in the Hamptons, they are CEO's and CFO's and they have grand salaries, stock options, and insider trading tips.  They have drivers, maids, personal chefs, and yachts with a full crew.  They float around from resort to resort, watching your money grow in their bank accounts.

When we got angry and declared, "We can't afford this 26% interest rate on our credit cards, we are swimming out of this whirlpool that empties our pockets and sucks us down", we declared bankruptcy in huge numbers. Those folks on their yachts dialed up their Senators and Congressional representatives, and demanded the credit laws be changed.   Congress and then President Bush passed a law that appeared to help the debtors, but actually helped the wealthiest hold us down, with their greedy hands permanently stitched into our wallets and pocketbooks, even after bankruptcy.  Welcome to the modern-day debtor's prison.  You can expect to be imprisoned here for the rest of your life.

The naysayers will point out that it is our own fault if we have huge debt. We spent that money, we knew the interest rate on the card, and now we must reap what we sow.  This position appears to make sense, but we must examine our own weaknesses as human beings to fully understand how we are being manipulated by the powerful elite to fund their million-dollar parties and feed their investments.  

How many Capital One card offers do you get in the mail each week?  We are averaging one per day.  There are large envelopes, smaller envelopes with "Important- Time Sensitive" stamped on the front, envelopes with a simple return address, thick package style envelopes that dump out various shapes and sizes of offers and advertisements.  Have you been throwing them out too?  Now turn on your television.  What's in your wallet?

Capital One Bank saturates us with their tempting offers, day after day after day. They will, at some point, catch us in a weak moment, and soon afterwards- our very own card will arrive in the mail.  The interest rate will be low, perhaps even 0%.  Now we can buy that Sony LCD screen we always wanted and we will pay it off before the nasty 26% interest rate kicks in.  Right. Sure.  You think Capital One would give you a 0%  interest rate for six months if the statistics determined that 95% of credit card users paid off their entire debt within that time period?  Capital One is nearly certain there will be a balance on our card when the 26% rate kicks in.  They know we are the American fool.

Here is a true story.  My ex-wife had a wealthy uncle through marriage, who aspired to be one of the wealthiest Americans.  He married into her family, took control of the grandfather's finances- who was a locally successful builder before his death- and played the stock market while building up his own business.  

Uncle Bernie (named changed) was a Jewish plumber who hired young men with no experience, promised them an apprenticeship,and paid them minimum wage. When they became experienced enough to know they were being taken advantage of, he would fire them and hire new recruits. His work was sloppy and sometimes he got sued- but his business thrived.  He bought a million-dollar (modest) house in a private gated community in the Florida Keys called Ocean Reef Club.

Bucci Island at Ocean Reef Club
This wasn't some gated slum in the Poconos. Ocean Reef Club includes a 5-star hotel, a full-service shopping center, 27-hole golf course, 3 marinas, 9 restaurants, post office, and a 30-man private police force.  Cash is not accepted anywhere within the community.  You must use your Ocean Reef Card for all purchases. They are even making interest off of each other.

When the children were young, we spent a few days within the gated walls of ORC, and swam in the large, lovely swimming pool and lake at the recreation center, Bucci Island. We heard the story on how they once kept dolphins in the moat around the recreation center, but "those damn animal activists" made a stink and ORC had to release them back into the wild.  

We walked along the marina where wealthy yachters would dock for a few days, get in a few rounds of golf, before sailing off to the next Ocean Reef Club-like community charted for their life of leisure..  Bernie would point to the multi-million dollar yachts as we walked past, "That one is owned by one of the heirs to the Campbell Soup fortune. This one belongs to the owner of the Detroit Lions."  One boat was so large, we could look through the huge cabin windows see the grand piano and full size Christmas tree in their living room.

Ocean Reef Golf Cart (typ.)
Every morning, Bernie would drive his golf cart to the hotel for the complimentary (free) coffee and newspaper made available for residents.  One morning I tagged along with him.  Every road in the community has a matching golf cart path, and most homes have a separate carport to house and re-charge their golf carts.  Some people have their golf carts customized to match their own cars.  We saw golf carts with Rolls Royce, Lincoln, Cadillac, Jaguar hoods during our stay.

After we picked up our free Columbian coffee, I accidentally spilled  half my cup on the hotel floor.  I offered to tell the staff at the front desk. Uncle Bernie dismissed my offer with an impatient wave of his hand, "They have people for that,"  he explained..  I turned around and looked back at my spill and already there was a Hispanic man with a bucket and mop moving into position for clean-up. Ah, they have people for that.

"We have people for that."
They have people for everything, for their every need and desire.  Life is a warm, cozy bubble, with money as the insulator.  After a few days of living like this, it becomes obvious that they have created a separate world from our own, and admission is based on the color green. If you have it, you're in. If you don't have it, you're out.  Most of us don't have it and we never will, unless we either rip off our customers and family, or are born to a family that already has it.  Look again, what's in your wallet?

Is there a solution? Short of revolution, probably not. The human propensity for greed and power is well-documented throughout  the ages.  Even Moses threw down the tablets.  Think about that.  He hand-chiseled the ten commandments into stone.  That required a great effort (and stone-carving talent)! He must have chosen stone so that the rules would be remembered for ages to come- something permanent for his people. 

Moses chiseled ten community guidelines that he received directly from our Supreme Being, the One who created us all.  Then Moses returned home to find a big drunken orgy, everyone wearing bling, praying to golden statues- a bunch of drunken, naked, wine-drinking nymphomaniacs.  SLAM!  Down go the tablets into a hundred pieces.  You have to be very pissed off and disgusted to destroy the ten commandments entrusted to you by the highest Authority in the universe.

When Moses returned from his prophetic meeting on the mountain, he found the Ocean Reef Club.  If Uncle Bernie had been there when Moses threw down the tablets, he would have casually waved Moses off, " Hey, don't worry about it. We have people for that."

Moses Destroys the Tables of the Ten Commandments (watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot)



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