This is a political rant, so you may not care to read it. I simply can’t get back into writing about fun stuff until I put some of the contents of my head out into the universe.
It’s been a while since I’ve been able to face writing here. The images of families being torn apart at the border slammed me into silence and sent me back onto Zoloft. I fear we are failing to be horrified by hatred, and that is a terrible position to occupy.
The first night Barack Obama was elected President, I sat in front of the TV and burst, quite unexpectedly, into tears. I mean, I sobbed for a long time. I thought about what this meant about the progress our country had made. I thought we had at last made inroads against bigotry, xenophobia, and misogyny. I thought we were better than we so clearly are.
A few weeks ago I was at Costco, thumbing through photographer Pete Souza’s Obama: An Intimate Portrait, and lo and behold there I was again, crying. I don’t have to be a theist to believe in grace, and intelligence, and cool reasoning. Not to mention a love of babies.
How I miss that example. Because feces roll downhill, and the attitudes and behaviors of people in power trickle down far more forcefully than the way some people believe money trickles down from big business to us little folk. Like it or not, people in power are role models – perhaps especially for people who don’t feel particularly powerful. (Truly powerful people don’t need to be bullies, or greedy, or sexually inappropriate.)
I even find myself wondering why I have to obey the rules when the people in charge of the rules can’t be bothered.
For the past year my reading has been true crime, corporate version, and books like Crash of the Titans, When Genius Failed, and All the Devils Are Here have been illuminating, to say the least. I know next to nothing about the stock market, high finance, Ponzi schemes, or any of that stuff. But I do know that when the big money circles run into dire trouble, it costs me; and I take that personally. My retirement fund was halved once because of their shenanigans.
All the Devils Are Here focuses mainly on the sub-prime mortgage trend and its cataclysmic crash. Such financial disasters affect us all, not just all the people who lost their jobs, their savings, pensions, homes, and all the rest of it while a special few walked away with too many millions to count.
I’m taking the long route to the topic of feminism, but for a reason. See, as a 65-year-old woman I’ve lived in the world of the first season of Mad Men, and I’ve had real life women rocket scientists in my class who were actually employed in the field while finishing college. There are a few things those students of mine have missed, but if you don’t see the pendulum swinging back to the days of keeping women barefoot, pregnant, and at home you are privileged indeed. Or just not looking.
Have you ever heard of Brooksley Born? I hadn’t, until I listened to All the Devils Are Here. Back in the early 1960s she was the first woman to graduate #1 in her class at Stanford Law School. When she was appointed editor of their law review, a professor assured her that the faculty were ready to step in if the job proved too much for her.
She was also the first #1 from Stanford Law to be denied a Supreme Court clerkship. The justice in question said well he simply wasn’t ready for a female clerk.
From The Washington Post:
Born was seriously considered for attorney general in 1992, but eventually lost out. Four years later, she got her consolation prize: the chairmanship of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, an afterthought in the Washington power game that Waldman, Born’s eventual general counsel there, called “a sleepy little agency.”
The CFTC had been created in the 1970s, primarily to regulate futures contracts purchased by farmers to hedge against price fluctuations. But by the time Born took office in 1996, futures were a much more sophisticated game.
Four years earlier, the CFTC had created a giant opening for sharp market players, exempting most privately negotiated over-the-counter derivatives contracts from regulation. Waldman calls the decision “the seed” of the current financial crisis because bad bets on unregulated derivatives crippled large firms such as Bear Stearns and AIG last fall.
In the late 1990s, the seed had sprouted into a $25 trillion derivatives market and Born saw trouble coming. The mostly unregulated “dark markets” had shown signs of danger in the preceding years, such as the bankruptcy of Orange County, Calif., which lost heavily investing in derivatives. Born’s agency set its sights on a highly caffeinated market.
“I was very concerned about the dark nature of these markets,” Born said. “I didn’t think we knew enough about them. I was concerned about the lack of transparency and the lack of any tools for enforcement and the lack of prohibitions against fraud and manipulation.”
Based on her lunch with Greenspan, Born knew she would run into heavy resistance.
“Brooksley’s view was that he didn’t believe in regulation,” Waldman recounted.
But Born did, and she was about to demonstrate it.
Born argued passionately before every committee she could that the derivatives market would lead us into a financial disaster. She was right, of course, but no matter. Evidently she was still “just a woman.” Later some men would assert that she didn’t succeed in her arguments because she was too strident and did not work well with others.
(They hadn’t found Wendy Gramm too strident when she asserted that derivatives are not futures and should therefore not be regulated like futures. Because there was money to be made down that highway, and people in power knew it. Who needs regulation when there are infinite riches to be harvested?)
I double-dare you to read any account of big business behind closed doors and take note of how the men at the top talk to each other when things become heated. It would be a highly effective way to enhance your vocabulary if you are running out of verbal obscenities.
I think sometimes I live in a world in which everything would be just fine if women would only shut up. And I live in a very educated, professional world! But it seems as if some people do not want us to point out problems, or predict trouble, or express outrage, or complain about unfairness. Or speak up for so many people and non-humans who have no voices.
You say bitch like it’s a bad thing, I tell them.
It’s time to get strident.
I’m so tired of greed, fear, and hatred being the central dynamics around which our country seems to be structuring itself right now. I understand that we are an adolescent culture, still young in the history of humanity; as such we see things in very black and white terms. We are stubborn and judgmental, and often refuse to learn from anyone. Compromise? Out of the question! Fail to agree with me or give me what I want and I will stomp off and slam my bedroom door (and Tweet rants out to all the world).
It’s now Wednesday, August 22, 2018. The headlines are sending those of us of a certain age right back to the days of Watergate, only worse. Can we simply continue to nod and smile like bobbleheads when treason is on the table?
I hope not.
I recently went for a beer with a young friend who is quite left-leaning. She admitted she has never voted. It took a while, but I wheedled her into pinky-promising me that she will vote in November.
Go wheedle someone.