Nov. 18, 2008
Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s ‘emergency’ $700 billion bailout was authorized in record time by both houses of Congress despite the opposition of an estimated 80% of U.S. taxpayers, each of whom seems to have contacted his/her legislators more than once. For days, Congress was flooded with emails and calls with one message: No Wall Street bail out! When the bail out was fully funded, with lightning speed but no hearings, logical justification or concrete plan, it became clearer than ever that the opinions, wishes, demands of the electorate are scarcely worth the cost of the ballots they cast.
Although the immediate cause of the current economic meltdown was the deregulation of Wall Street, banks and the financial services industry, this was far from the first time that citizens have been sold out by elected representatives doing the bidding of Big Business. In fact, dismantling the regulatory/consumer safety net and throwing the taxpayer under the bus has become a way of life in Washington.
We prefer safe drugs. Instead, we get FDA approval of drugs that sicken and kill us. When the body count reaches a boundary of tolerance, they are withdrawn until Big Pharma’s lobbyists can wrangle them back on the market. This game earns billions for Big Pharma and is worth every calculated penny they pay lawmakers and their victims.
We prefer safe and fuel efficient vehicles. Instead, we get what the auto makers decide to serve up, and that is neither notably safe nor fuel efficient. Detroit’s auto industry is now insisting that they are entitled to their share of the buy out billions. They were part owners of Congress long before the current economic crisis, so what they want now is simple payback.
We prefer a sane and reasonable energy policy. Instead, we are held hostage by an unregulated energy sector that rewards run-amok speculation. In 2008, speculators single handedly raised the price of oil to the extent that the economy threatened to grind to a halt. After the price of food, consumer goods, and transportation skyrocketed, after we were left with a lowered standard of living and Congress belatedly threatened action, they crawled back into their holes and oil prices returned to a semblance of normal. Today, with the tacit approval of a complicit Congress and in conjunction with the rest of the economic crisis, the damage done by Big Oil’s engineered bubble appears irreversible.
We prefer an ethical, honest government that understands the need to protect the economy, the environment and citizens with responsible regulation. Instead, we get the likes of Henry Paulson and Nancy Pelosi, so heavily subsidized by their corporate sponsors that they lose sight of public accountability and, I suspect, their own consciences.
How else to explain an AIG? Even in the Land of Bail Out Oz, these delinquents are in a class by themselves, done in by a highly lucrative and utterly irresponsible insurance swindle called credit default swaps. There is no rational justification for rewarding this 21st century casino, and the gamblers – whom they prefer to call ‘investors’ – who kept it in business, with one cent. And yet, their heavy lobbying has paid off, once again, to the tune of tens of billions of taxpayer dollar even as they continue to throw expensive parties and, like the rest of the bail out jackpot winners, hand billions in bonuses to their amoral managers – whom they prefer to call ‘Wall Street elites’ – who are at the root of the turmoil. It would make as much sense to throw a few billion at Starbucks and the Flamingo.
Will anything change with a new administration? We have clues. President-elect Obama was among the first to say the bail out was needed immediately, no questions asked, no second thoughts about disregarding the wishes of the vast majority of Americans. If he had any concerns about the outsized, poorly reasoned giveaway to the reckless greedy, or to the concept of a Wall Street bail out as absurd as it was intellectually dishonest, he never showed it.
And this episode wasn’t the first clue. As others have documented, President-elect Obama’s voting record has been enough to give most supporters pause, as were his speeches at various high dollar fundraisers during the campaign. The myth that the Obama campaign was financed by legions of individual $10 donations is belied by his campaign disclosure statements (www.opensecrets.org).
Obama’s first, immediate, appointment was Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff. Emanuel is a temperamentally volatile man who never met a war in the Middle East that he didn’t want the U.S. to finance and then star in, and he never met a free trade agreement that he didn’t love. Does he sound like a first round draft pick in a ‘change’ administration? Or does he sound more like a plant preordained by big donors to further their own agendas?
It seems likely that Barack Obama is the best person for the presidency that we could have elected. He is a reasoning, intelligent man of goodwill, a difference of light years from the mean-spirited, short-sighted, unapologetic corporate hustler that he replaces.
But it is naïve to think that he is not caught in the Washington money game or that whatever remains of his ideals, after four years in the Senate and a presidential race, are not prone to extinction by the groupthink that inhabits the East Coast.
Even with Barack Obama as the president elect, our democracy remains fragile, its future uncertain. Here are a few is ideas on how we might restore it.
First, everybody knows that private money should get out of politics. Barring that, politics should get out of Washington.
So, first, close Washington down. Zip it up and return it to the Indians or give it to the Smithsonian for a cautionary display of how not to do democracy.
Elected representatives have shown themselves spectacularly incapable of managing the public trust when they flock together. Grouped, away from the voters who sent them, they make easy prey for corporate predators dispensing lots of money. Events repeatedly show that it is nearly impossible for most of them to rouse their brain cells to independent activity in a crowd. We need to get them out of their noxious geographic comfort zone and send them home.
Given the current economic crisis, we should expect lawmakers to willingly relinquish their cushy, expensive Washington pads and establish primary offices in their home states, among their friends, neighbors and voters. They could thereby patriotically save the taxpayers at least part of the money they gave away to Henry Paulson. They would have an allowance for staff, offices and limited travel. All meetings would be conducted by telecommunication, like it’s the 21st century.
Further, lawmakers will be reminded daily, up close and in person, of the wishes of those who brought them. There won’t be another misbegotten, taxpayer-financed, Wall Street bailout when directives are delivered by the irate face to face and in the same time zone.
Although this plan will not keep lobbyist entirely at bay, it should make their lives considerably more difficult, a big plus.
Next, the talking heads residing in the New York-Washington corridor should be banned from the air waves. They talk only to each other, being elites and all, and not one of them has had an independent or creative thought in years. We don’t need any more pundits from Yale, Columbia or NYU; we don’t need Brian, Katie or Charlie; we don’t need anyone else from an East Coast think tank giving us their pompous, arrogant version of reality.
There is a continent of alternatives. Let’s get an assessment of the options to Paulson’s opinions from, say, an economist at the University of Missouri; an ungarbled analysis of the Russia-S. Ossetia situation from someone without a vested interest in getting it wrong, maybe a political analyst from the University of Idaho; let’s find people who understand the catastrophe of a toxic ruling class and who won’t lose their jobs for telling the truth right out loud. Because we’ve had enough of the smug politics of condescension.
Getting our news from the western side of the Alleghenies and keeping our elected lawmakers home are actions that could go far toward saving our democracy.
If the United States can elect an Obama, it can do anything.