Taking stock / Israeli democracy is bankrupt
Bill Gross sardonically spelled it out: Obama, Romney - it's all the same, for the man in the street. Is it better here? No.
"So I pulled out my magic lamp that for some reason works only every October 22nd," Bill Gross wrote. He rubbed it until the genie came out, Gross continued, and the spirit got right to the point: "He immediately said, 'Mr. G, instead of the yield on the 10-year Treasury, perhaps this year you should wish to know who is going to win the presidential election?'"
The so-called bonds king thought and suggested, "Nah, I need some breaking news, Mr. Genie, something that will make a difference, something that will shock the world, like when does the iPhone 6 come out?"
Obama/Romney, Romney/Obama - what's the difference? "They're bought and paid for with the same money," wrote Gross, the head of the biggest bonds management company in the world. "Ours is a country of the SuperPAC, by the SuperPAC, and for the SuperPAC." The so-called people are merely election-day pawns that deliver the same results every four years, he added.
He'd bought the "change you can believe in" line in 2008 before the last vestige of his "middle-age optimism" dissipated. "We got a more intelligent president," Gross observed - but not change.
"Health care dominated by corporate interests - what's new? Financial regulation dominated by Wall Street - what's new? Continuing pointless foreign wars - what's new?" he fumed in a newsletter to investors. While Americans waste their time and money choosing between these non-alternatives, Gross found a better use for his time - rewriting the Pledge of Allegiance.
"I pledge allegiance to the flag of
the fragmented state of America,
and to the plutocracy for which now it stands,
a red and blue nation, under financial gods
with liberty and justice for the 1 (%)," he wrote.
Such is Gross, whose company PIMCO made him one of the richest people in the world.
Yes, Bill Gross - billionaire, Republican - tells his readers that if he had a genie who could foresee the future, he'd rather ask whither the bond market than who'd be America's next president, Obama or Romney, because there's little difference between them regarding the probability of America changing for the better.
Rule by the rich
Why? In a word, plutocracy. Rule by the rich. Gross, a plutocrat himself, feels it time to tell hundreds of millions of Americans, who remain convinced that America is a democratic land of opportunity and free choice, that government is controlled by Wall Street interests, giant companies in particular. The money that bought Romney is the money that bought Obama.
Gross isn't some lone maverick. Last March I asked Warren Buffett, the second-richest man in the United States, if his country - the biggest democracy in the world - is actually a plutocracy. "Yes," Buffett said instantly, it's moving that way. Elections are a media and political circus but most decisions (and perceptions ) are the fiefdom of a handful of billionaires and strong economic interest groups.
And what about Israel? The election campaigns are on and the media are flooded with reports of alliances and truces, misalliances and splits, rising and falling stars.
We are being stifled by 24/7 of hot air about left, right, conservative and liberal, all designed to dazzle the eyes of the miserable unconnected beholder lest he lift his eyes to the lofty heights where the decisions really are made, the resources handed out, the norms laid down and the future of our children robbed.
Naturally, some pols and oligarchs know it well; the second the camera stops rolling and the mike is off, they go back to their real job - handing out candy, hit lists and cozying up where they need to: the stuff from which careers are made, monopolies are forged and power and wealth accrue.
Tzipi Livni - perhaps the politician most devoid of determination, commitment to her messages (and believe me, she has competition) - brought things to an amusing peak last week. Nobody knows what she brings to the table other than the story that once she was Right and now she's Center. Seconds before the elections she suddenly announced a new party, who knows what its manifesto is, and took off for Washington to meet with Haim Saban, the billionaire who made a fortune here from buying and then selling Bezeq. Livni left the task of building a Knesset list to a former minister convicted of criminal activity, who last week represented a tycoon refused a permit to buy a bank.
Politicians whom Saban likes clustered at his event, which marked his acquisition of Partner Communications, to talk about "peace." That is the Israeli system in its essence. During Saban's stint at Bezeq, the communications minister wasn't Moshe Kahlon, author of profound reform in the cellular sector. The minister was Dalia Itzik and then Ariel Atias, and Bezeq's cellular subsidiary Pelephone was a money-minting machine.
It is heartbreaking and sometimes overwhelming to see hundreds of thousands of Israelis, maybe millions, believing that politics is relevant to their lives, that there's a difference between this or that party, and that the newcomers to politics can change the old structures, be they economic interests or deeply entrenched social concepts.
Powers that be
At the height of the primary circus last week, I ran into M., a high-tech engineer who'd recently started working at a big government company. In her first day on the job, she told me, while filling out forms, a perfectly pleasant person showed up in the cubicle. "I'm from the union," he said and asked her to sign a form to join a certain large political party. Not a political animal, she refused. The next day when she drove up to the company, she was relegated to the farthest spot in the parking lot, a long walk from the building in the heat of summer or rain of winter. She began to understand.