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Patsy Ouellette

Three presidential debates down, none to go. Have we learned anything? Or is the whole exercise a smoke screen to keep us from focusing on the real issue? The scary issue.

What is this demon with the multitude of tentacles reaching into our very living rooms? It is the class divide. Not since 1929 has America had a division of wealth at these extremes. "From 2002 to 2007," according to Hedrick Smith of "Who Stole the American Dream?," "the top 1 percent reaped two-thirds of the nation's entire economic gains." And, "In 2010, the first full year of the recovery, the top 1 percent captured 93 percent of the nation's gains."

Why do I think of our leaders as wolves in sheep's clothing? Charles H. Ferguson, writing in "Predator Nation," summarizes it this way: "Presiding over all this is an impressive, though utterly cynical, innovation on the part of American politicians: the political duopoly. Both parties are able to mobilize support because they skillfully exploit America's cultural polarization.

"Republicans warn social conservatives about the dangers of secularism, taxes, abortion, welfare, gay marriage, gun control and liberals," Ferguson writes. "Democrats warn social liberals about the dangers of guns, pollution, global warming, making abortion illegal, and conservatives. Both parties make a public show of how bitter their conflicts are, and how dangerous it would be for the other party to achieve power, while both prostitute themselves to the financial sector, powerful industries, and the wealthy. Thus, the very intensity of the two parties' differences on 'values' issues enables them to collaborate when it comes to money."

Robert Reich, writing in the Oct. 19 Huffington Post, reminds us that "five years ago Wall Street's excesses almost ruined the economy. Bankers, hedge-fund managers, and private-equity traders speculated on the upside, then shorted on the downside -- in a vast zero-sum game that resulted in the largest transfer of wealth from average Americans to financial elites ever witnessed in this nation's history."

Al Lewis, writing in the Oct. 21 Wall Street Journal Sunday, confirms that the government continues to jeopardize our economic stability. "When Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, the Congressional Budget Office, and others warn that the fiscal cliff will lead to another recession, what they are really saying is that our economy is artificially propped up. If runaway deficit spending came to an abrupt end, all the blocks would tumble again."

What to do? Let's start with the infamous quote from John McCain in 2008: The flow of money into lobbying and election campaigns, he said, is "nothing less than an elaborate influence peddling scheme in which both parties conspire to stay in office by selling the country to the highest bidder." Obviously, the first order of business is to get money out of politics.

Regarding the financial sector, Sheila Bair, head of the FDIC from 2006 to 2010 under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, suggests in her book "Bull by the Horns": "Break up the largest banks, raise capital requirements, require securitizers to retain risks, and end revolving door hiring of industry professionals to dictate public policy."

Shamefully, not one banker or CEO has been indicted or convicted for the massive financial fraud perpetrated on our nation during the Great Recession. In 2008, when I was watching friends and family lose their homes and their jobs, I attributed it to fluctuating market forces. I didn't realize that the Madoff Ponzi scheme was emblematic of the entire financial system. And because the first bailout happened under Bush, my great hope was that the Obama White House would clean up the system. Then I watched in dismay as Obama proceeded to appoint Larry Summers, an ex-hedge-fund manager, and Tim Geithner, head of the New York Fed during the bubble. Bernanke, who was directly complicit in helping to deregulate Wall Street, was retained as the chairman of the Federal Reserve.

One can only hope, pray, get educated and get involved. In the meantime, we're fated to continue being manipulated by the monied class. Matt Taibi, writing in 2009 in Rolling Stone, describes Goldman Sachs as "a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood tunnel into anything that smells like money." It sounds like a science fiction B-movie. Unfortunately, it's our present day reality.

Patsy Ouellette of Bakersfield is an eighth-grade English teacher at Norris Middle School. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words. The Californian reserves the right to edit all submissions for length and clarity.

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