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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas in Pottersville

Reflections of It's a Wonderful Life

If you were not born yesterday the is a likelihood that you have seen a movie called It's a Wonderful Life. If you were born yesterday make sure you see it when you are old enough to enjoy popular entertainment in the form of moving talking pictures. This Frank Capra movie was made 60 years ago. It is one of the great American movies, a wonderful, powerful film.

I want to focus on a particular part of the movie. This part of it keeps popping into my head at anytime of year, not just the holidays. This is when George Bailey has failed in his business, in his attempts to help the working class families. He loses his idealism in a dark night if the soul. He goes to the bridge and wishes he had never been born. The angel comes and shows him what the town would be like if he had never been born. He walks the streets of the once quaint town on Bedford Hills. It is quaint and home no longer. It is Pottersville, the town where greed and money rule the eternal night. It is a trashy small town version of Vegas. The mom and pop stores have been replaced by neon-lit gin joints and gambling establishments. Drunks wander the streets and high desperate emotion. They cackle with delirious laughter, and clash in pointless drunken brawls to the sound of empties that shatter on the pavement. No one knew George Bailey. He has not been born. He was not there to make the world a better place with his kindness and his ethical financial idealism. He was not there to help out his friends. He is in Pottersville, the town corrupted by greed of a selfish capitalist. The town where only the few on top of the social Darwinist heap triumph while all others are lost in a hopeless cycle of poverty, unquiet desperation and addiction.

Here we are in Pottersville, but the selfish exploiters are not as elegant, as human as the "scurvy little spider" played by Lionel Barrymore. There isn't one guy here to shoot, the one symbol, the one powerful banker that the farmer in the Grapes of Wraith was looking to draw a bead on with his shotgun as the dustbowl tractor pushes down his shack, his home. Our Mr. Potters are the respected traders of Goldman Sachs and all the rest. They are the likes of Lloyd Paulson with his $54.4 million year end bonus. Merry Christmas "scurvy little spider". How do you sleep at night and show your face in public? They are these Wall Street types who buy every business in sight and loot it for all it is worth, then sell off the assets. What the hell, if the former workers want to work they can be greeters at Walmart, or emigrate to China if they can get in. Our Mr. Potters are also our media kings. We live in Rupertville where they sell us objectification of all human life, fill the heads of the children with lust and violence just to drive up the profit margin at the same time as they sell us demigods, right-wing preachers and politicians who blame the moral decline on the people, or on the "Liberals", rather than the corporate media that owns them and manipulates and drives it all.

George Bailey has never been born. We are trapped in Pottersville, Pottersworld. There are no bells ringing. No angels are getting their wings.

It's a Wonderful Life is a great American movie. James Stewart is a wonderful actor. I just love him. Frank Capra was a great movie maker. And along with the other writers, Philip Van Doren Stern, Frances Goodrich, and Albert Hackett, brought a wonderful story to the screen 60 years ago.

Maybe some way, someday, we can build a new Bedford Falls out of the ashes of Pottersville.
Work it out with the angel beside you in the flesh. Anything is possible. I guess. I won't jump off the bridge just yet.
No one is a failure who has friends.

Dec. 26
Here is a little coda From a NY Times article from Xmas day called:
Wall St. Bonuses: So Much Money, Too Few Ferraris

Adding to the spending spree is a rash of young hedge fund analysts, first big bonus checks in hand, scooping up the $2 million to $3 million starter apartments (most popular features: glass walls, marble bathrooms and kitchens — likely to go unused — with top-flight appliances).

"We love hedge funds, they are our favorite people" Ms. Kleier said. "They don't feel like the money is real and they don't mind spending it — they don't mind going up by $500,000 or $1 million increments."
...End quote
Later in the article:

The morning Goldman Sachs announced record fourth-quarter and 2006 earnings, Lloyd C. Blankfein, chairman and chief executive, implored his employees — many whom would directly benefit from the bountiful earnings — to avoid excess.

"As stewards of the firm's reputation, I ask each of you to remember that our actions — inside and outside of the office — reflect on Goldman Sachs. Even a perception of arrogance hurts all of us," he said in a voice mail sent to the entire firm.
End Quote

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