Cui Bono? I’m not one to use Latin words and phrases often, but that’s a good one. As I understand it, the English translation is basically “who benefits?” or “for whose benefit?”. There’s an overwhelming pile of items that should be prompting people to be asking that broad and basic question. How many do?
This past week was especially notable because of the week-long presentation by PBS of the latest Ken Burns documentary, this one on the Roosevelt family and their place in American history.
One of the memorable and repeated bits from Franklin Roosevelt’s long run as president was the excerpted line “… we have nothing to fear but fear itself”. It’s still a great phrase, and I don’t mean that in terms as some rhetorical campaign platitude. It meant something. It still means something, and it seems to be forgotten. Even when that line is recalled, as a historical sound-bite tidbit, it seems like present day Americans barely register it, and really grasp it. It seems as if people barely give it a thought beyond being an answer to game trivia questions.
The context was Roosevelt’s first inaugural speech as he first took office as President of the United States in early 1933, as the country was already a few years into what we now know as The Great Depression, and people were feeling, to say the least, very unsettled. The country still had not come to face the growing menace that was to turn into World War II.
At that point, the country was several years into the depression.
Exiting president Hoover was either unable or unwilling to take hold of the situation and sort things out, and deal with the crashing economic disaster that hit the nation in late 1929, following the Roaring Twenties and the out of control games in finance, banking, and Wall Street trading markets. The apparent long run of an attitude of “anything goes” in banking and finance and the Wall Street games, coupled with deluded beliefs that things would just go and go and make everybody rich, and that you just could not be greedy enough, blew up badly. When Roosevelt took office, there were no magic fixes for this (and he didn’t think there were, contrary to the sort of “magical thinking” that built up the disaster), but he stepped up, took temporary control of banking, and Congress passed the Banking Act of 1933 (AKA the Glass-Steagall bill) to try to get things under control and stave off a repeat disaster of bad decisions losing other people’s money.
Now, in 2014, we have the added history (and still current events) of watching the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Banking Act of 1933 in a period strangely echoing a repeat of the delusions and hubris leading to the big crash of 1929, and less than a decade later, in late 2008, another implosion of banking and finance. It wasn’t an exact repeat in all the details, of course, but amazingly similar in essence, lending a bit of support to the idea that history doesn’t exactly repeat, but it rhymes.
Unlike 80 years ago, we have nobody like Roosevelt taking this on. We have had Obama and congressional persons doing the dog and pony show theater of “financial reform” that is a rather long joke (literally, very long) that seems to be a vast nothing, while bills introduced in both the Senate and House of Representatives to reinstate the basics of the Banking Act of 1933 have gone nowhere. In fact, it seems clear that hardly anyone even knows about them. The reasons for that are easy enough to understand. President Barack Obama has never even mentioned them in public, as far as I know. I’ve never heard them mentioned in any TV news, or radio.
So, who are these people working for? Who benefits?
Meanwhile, the frenzy of surrealism pushing rational grip on reality continues, as the recent news of Wall Street swirled around an initial stock offering of a new corporate entity with a silly name, whose effective worth and purpose no one seems to really know. The episode is another sign of a phenomenon that has been long-running, where actual value doesn’t even seem relevant in the casino games, and the whole essence of the exercise is simply in high speed games of buying and selling theoretical “wealth” back and forth and extracting profits from the acts of trading.
There is a lot more food for thought related to current scenarios and events in that history of FDR’s era.
Amazingly, today, there are all kinds of noisy people who claim that Franklin Roosevelt was not only not a great president who they think is vastly overrated, but that he was a horrible commie socialist who ruined America, people who I can only think are either incredibly ignorant of the history of the period, or just grotesquely dishonest. Some combination of genuine and sincere idiocy and delusion has to be considered as possible.
The reality of the times, between events and circumstances in both the United States and Europe, created circumstances where it was amazingly impressive that FDR managed to save the US from plunging into the chaotic madness that gripped Europe, a raging conflict between the opposing batches of insanity of Fascism and Communism that arose from the dire circumstances of the time. If people understand nothing else about FDR and his time as president, it should be understood and appreciated that he managed to keep insanity from breaking out in the United States the way it gripped parts of Europe. In the dire circumstances of the Thirties here, there were people who thought that, considering the way things were going, maybe that “Soviet experiment” of communism was a good idea, while other people thought that Hitler and that Nazi party bunch were admirable and doing an amazing job of getting things organized and working in Germany.
It was a strange twist of events that FDR took office as president around roughly the same time as Adolph Hitler became Chancellor of Germany and began to take hold of official power, setting the Nazi party program of evil lunacy into full speed ahead mode.
Roosevelt was concerned about what was obviously a growing threat from the Hitler gang, with that being just one part, albeit the worst, of a growing problem of fascism in Europe, with Hitler in Germany added to Mussolini in Italy and Franco in Spain. He had to deal with opposition from politicians here, most notably of the Republican party, who wanted to stay completely out of any of that, becoming known as isolationists in political lingo. That was the attitude despite a very real and increasingly evident serious menace.
Now, the twist of irony is that around 80 years later, we have a different bunch, largely of the Republican party tribe, who are exactly the opposite, with a crazed lust for permanent war and “interventionist” involvement in trying to dominate everything everywhere on the planet at all times. In other words, in political lingo, the “neoconservatives”, the neocon cult of megalomania. Just to be clear, it isn’t solely a Republican party thing, something that’s conveniently ignored by people with an unquestioning loyalty for the Democratic party as it exists now, with their own large contingent of actors who are happily willing to be “bipartisan” and join in with the Republican megalomaniacs. The added twist is that this isn’t just continuing to bankrupt the national government, just like President Dwight Eisenhower warned in a time when the US federal government, and the nation in general, was in good financial shape. It’s still happening, and getting worse, even when, unlike the period FDR was dealing with, there isn’t some great threat looming.
That isn’t what we get from the government now, though, and the “news” media playing along, as the continuous noise flows about ISIS/ISIL/whatever, and, now, the latest news is the start of air attacks, inside the nation of Syria, which cracks open another subject. This is also happening with questionable authority for still more war action, and added to the mix is that Congress has collectively managed to avoid dealing with that, and have gone, yes, left, for a couple of months, so that the dysfunctional club that is the US Congress can all go off and beg for money (much of it arguably bribery) to fund advertising to get people to re-elect them to the jobs they’re not doing.
The contrasts between now and the FDR presidency are pretty stark. Not only do we now have a president (and Congress that’s worse than useless) managing to avoid dealing with reality in any sensible way here within this country, their actual jobs, the “foreign policy” and international relations realm finds them actively making things worse. While the new war that’s not officially a war gets going, complete with the relentless instructions to be very afraid because the ISIS bogeyman is coming to get us, another major item has nearly disappeared.
Remember the “Ukraine Crisis”? How about the crash of the Malaysian airliner in Ukraine? This stuff has mysteriously vanished, pretty much, and all the hysterics about who was supposedly to blame for the crash have quieted, while all things in the realm of honest assessment of reality seem to point, not to the immediate scapegoats of “Russian separatists” (or “terrorists”), or the Russians themselves, but the military forces of the coup government that took control of Ukraine, a “false flag” attack. It’s obvious, and has been for some time, to any observers really paying attention and ignoring the rabble-rousing propaganda, that the US backing of a coup d’etat in Kiev to try to isolate Russia economically, get NATO military forces (under control of the US neocon politicos) lining the Russian border, and generally try to intimidate the Russians into shutting up and staying out of the way of neocon domination of the world, has definitely not gone well.
So, basically… POOF! It quietly disappears. Look at the ISIS threat! Scary scary! Be afraid of the new bogeyman coming to get us! Incidentally, it’s not entirely unrelated to note that part of the pounding of war drums about the supposed “Russian threat” came, almost immediately, with admonitions from US leaders to European governments to jack up their spending on military armaments and equipment, happily supplied by the US war supplies business, even as virtually all of Europe has their own massive economic problems, including monumental governmental financial problems.
Roosevelt’s statement to the American people in 1933 saying we have nothing to fear but fear itself was a much more profound and important thought for right now than many people might realize.