Con men, then and now…

Brain Dropping #112

The Incredible Dancing Clowns.   When I was a kid playing hooky from Junior High School #149 in Brooklyn (Danny Kaye went there), I headed for Forty Second Street on the IRT where I would lunch on a dozen shrimp at Grants (Long gone.) and end up at the “Laugh Movie”(Also long gone.) on the corner of Eighth Avenue, where the Ritz Brothers, The Three Stooges, The Marx Brothers, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, and Abbot and Costello did their slapstick stuff for hours on end.  It was often dark when I got back out on the street.
There were all kinds of con-men plying their trade on the crowded sidewalk.  Remember, this was before the “Disneyfication” of 42 Street.  The one schtick that always caught my attention was the stringless
dancing clown.  The “spieler” would loudly extol the magical ability of a cardboard joint-hinged clown figure, about sixteen inches tall, to dance unassisted by any human hand.  For one dollar, a handsome sum, in 1945, you could be privy to both a cardboard clown and the secret of its dancing.  I didn’t have a dollar so I watched for a long time until I noticed another man, leaning against a darkened store front, about ten feet to the side.  He had his hands behind his back under his long coat.  I could see a subtle movement up and down and, on closer inspection, a barely visible black thread leading to the dancing clown.
This, of course, is an allegory!  The con-men represent our politicians – of all stripes, the dancing clown – the promises they make, and the suckers watching on the sidewalk, and who pay the dollar – the electorate, particularly Liberals, who desperately want to believe that the clown has magical power.  The invisible string is the idea of reform or regulation.  The Liberal cry of “we need greater regulation and all will be well” has the hollow sound of a tin-horn.
Historically, the greatest effort at regulating and reforming our corporatocacy was FDR’s “New Deal”
It did work for several decades mainly because of the strength of Organized Labor and radical parties.  But very soon the “Power Elite” began the inevitable erosion of those principles, and attacked the power of labor. The “Red Scare” of the McCarthite fifties finished the hatchet job. Beginning with the Taft/Hartly Act of 1947 – and culminating with the curtailing of collective bargaining for public workers in Scott Walker’s Wisconsin, the death of the labor movement has been all but accomplished.
The story of the failure of reform and regulation is a dismal tale.  Rescinding  Glass/Steagall of 1933, which prevented depository banks from gambling recklessly with depositors money, Bill Clinton, a phony, so-called Centrist Democrat gave it the coup de grace in 1999.  The Dodd/Frank Act of 2010 attempted an anemic repair of the defunct Glass/Steagall to keep the Wall Street gamblers at bay, but in the recently passed budget bill, hidden away amidst all the jargon and bureaucratic bullshit, Dodd/Frank was eviscerated and the bankers are once again free to plunder the working class.
Here in Vermont, the invisible string, which dragged Liberals and Progressives into Peter Shumlin’s camp was the promise of support for “Single-Payer” health care.  You’d think we suckers would learn to spot the man in the long coat manipulating the string, but our unquenchable desire to believe in the “spiel”, coupled with an incredible aptitude for denial makes us all easy marks.


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