I saw Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story earlier this week and it took me from pissed off to infuriated in the first 30 minutes.
After seeing the report on "Dead Peasant Policies" the word "peasant" has been rattling around in my head for days. Dead Peasant Policies are life insurance policies a company takes out on its employees in order to collect the payoff if and when the employee dies. So while your family and friends are hoping you make it home safely from work, your boss is hoping you don't. Nice to know that your death is in the company's financial interest isn't it?
The concept of peasants isn't foreign or new to me. I've been using the term in reference to me, colleagues, and employees for years. Every time my mother would tell my brother and I to clean the yard, our rooms, the cat box, or the bathroom we'd make jokes about being peasants and that she was the Queen of France. In fact my family in France were peasants and farmers, but it had a more respectable and romantic connotation. You know, because they're French. I also referred to my staff when I ran bars and restaurants as "the peasants."
The scene with King Arthur and the peasants from Monty Python and the Holy Grail has stayed with me since the first time I saw it some thirty odd years ago and maybe that's why I've used the term in jest:
ARTHUR: Well, I AM king...
DENNIS: Oh king, eh, very nice. An' how'd you get that, eh? By exploitin' the workers -- by 'angin' on to outdated imperialist dogma which perpetuates the economic an' social differences in our society!
Is that any different now?
A year ago the too-big-to-fail Masters of the Universe blew up the economy and sent all of us along with the Bush administration into mass panic.
Henry Paulson, former master of the universe turned government crony wrote his buddies a check for $700 Billion and we have no idea where that money went. Moore asks that very question in his movie. "Where's the money," he asks?
Elizabeth Warren, soon to be super hero and Chairman of the Congressional Oversight Committee answers that question.
"I don't know," Warren says, in her signature perky flabbergasted way.
Bless her heart. And she really doesn't.
She responded to that clip in an interview with The Washington Post:
Well, we don't know where the $700 billion is because the system was initially designed to make sure that we didn't know.
When Secretary Paulson first put this money out into the banks, he didn't ask 'what are you going to do with it?' He didn't put any restrictions on it. He didn't put any tabs on where it was going to go; in other words, he didn't ask. And if you don't ask, no one tells. And so we have a system that originally put more than $200 billion into the financial institutions basically saying just take it.
See? Screw up the entire monetary system and economy because you found new and interesting ways to play with other peoples' money and when it all goes bad, tap the peasants for the losses - no questions asked and no accountability. Not to mention that there's actually a chance that the bailout wasn't needed at all. But we still don't know where that money is.
We have Socialism for the big guys and the worst form of Capitalism for the rest of us, as former Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich pointed out during an On Point interview.
So now that they have our money and we'll be paying it back for years to come the fleecing and pillaging of the peasants continue.
$75 Billion of the peasants' money has been dumped into modifying loans for homes whose values were over inflated and the results are pathetic. Most of the banks and servicers actually continue to abuse and threaten the peasants. Ocwen Financial for example, who is receiving $500 Million has sent paperwork to less than 5% of its peasants.
Ocwen was Freddie Mac's poster child for the Making Home Affordable plan back in March, but when their shady practices ended up in court, "It successfully petitioned to have itself removed from oversight by the Office of Thrift Supervision, thus ending their supervisory agreement hatched just months before...," according to McClatchey.
Bank of America stands accused, by one woman's account of causing the death of her husband. Maybe they have a life insurance policy.
Meanwhile insurance companies are spending millions to lobby against a public option or any reform that might benefit the general population and want the government to fine the peasants that don't buy their crappy product. In fact if you're WellPoint Insurance Company, you fight reform and cut the benefits of the peasants who work for you.
And if that weren't enough pillaging, last week the Center for Responsible Lending reported that the banks, the same ungrateful aristocracy who last year were begging for help, looted the peasants for a whopping $24 billion in fees. Credit Card companies, in order to fight the economic slump are doing their part by raising interest rates and adding fees, cutting credit, and doubling monthly payments. The peasants make too much money as it is.
There's another scene that struck me deeply in Moore's film. One of the homeowners losing his home due to predatory lending and an out of reach mortgage, speculates briefly towards the end of the film about his empathy towards people who walk into "these places" with guns. He doesn't quite finish his sentence because he's choked up and seemingly in disbelief of his own feelings.
A couple of months ago I watched an episode of Flashpoint in which three men had lost their homes to predatory lending. One of the older men had lost his wife who had killed herself when their mortgage skyrocketed. They had taken the bank employees hostage in an effort to get their homes back. By the end of the show I had tears running down my face. Not because the acting was particularly good or because the episode ended on a positive note, but because I found myself empathetic to their cause. Because I found it in myself to find violence or the threat of violence to be a plausible means of negotiating and that somewhere in a place I don't care to visit again soon, I hoped that it might happen.
How much more can the peasants really take? Just how far can you push them before they take to the streets with torches and pitchforks?
And just how much more are they willing to push to find out?
Follow Richard Zombeck on Twitter: www.twitter.com/zombeck