Sunday, March 22, 2009

People Power

Welcome to the first week of Ooopsies. The public has been politicized, something that really happened when suddenly Barack Obama the candidate kept winning despite the pundits' dismissal. Coming into office with the push of insistent public approval, President Obama has been taking the reins of an out-of-control fire engine on the way to a fire.

Lots of mess has ensued, but its the kind of mess that the public could deal with, knowing that eight years of robbing them had led up to it. This week, the tolerance shut down when even the president took a passive approach to dealing with more blatant robbery than ever - corporate CEO's who took down a lot of the financial world giving themselves hefty rewards.

I admit I'm as usual disappointed that finding out this country was using torture as a standard operating procedure didn't prove the final straw. Instead, CEO's who have destroyed our economy insisting they needed more gold toilet seats did the trick.

The maxim of business that made America prosper was that executives worked to make the firm strong, to direct it into a functioning producer of wealth for the long term. As I have pointed out here previously, when business was turned into a money machine for the executives instead of the firm's investors and workers, the American economy turned self-destructive.

Far and wide, pundittoes are declaiming the same thing, that we wuz robbed. They're a bit behind in taking up this theme, because in almost every American family there are examples of this victimization by unregulated, rampant, theft. It isn't even the first time this has happened to most families, because many of them still have memories of, or tales from, the 20's when the same thing occurred, that our laws were supposed to protect us from.

Frank Rich does a long diatribe about the Wall Street frenzy. He points up quite a number of the problems Americans are not stepping away from any longer, and gives a nice handy list of what's brought on the crucible.

What made Jon Stewart’s takedown of Jim Cramer resonate was less his specific brief against CNBC’s cheerleading for bad stocks than his larger indictment of the gaping economic inequality that defined the bubble. As Stewart said, there were “two markets” — the long-term market that Americans earnestly thought would sustain their 401(k)’s, and the fast-moving, short-term “real market” in the back room where high-rolling insiders wagered “giant piles of money” and brought down everyone with them.

No one is more commanding on this subject than our president. In his town-hall meeting in Costa Mesa, Calif., on Wednesday, he described the A.I.G. bonuses as merely a symptom of “a culture where people made enormous sums of money taking irresponsible risks that have now put the entire economy at risk.” But rhetoric won’t tamp down the anger out there, and neither will calculated displays of presidential “outrage.” We must have governance to match the message.

To get ahead of the anger, Obama must do what he has repeatedly promised but not always done: make everything about his economic policies transparent and hold every player accountable. His administration must start actually answering the questions that officials like Geithner and Summers routinely duck.

Inquiring Americans have the right to know why it took six months for us to learn (some of) what A.I.G. did with our money. We need to understand why some of that money was used to bail out foreign banks. And why Goldman, which declared that its potential losses with A.I.G. were “immaterial,” nonetheless got the largest-known A.I.G. handout of taxpayers’ cash ($12.9 billion) while also receiving a TARP bailout. We need to be told why retention bonuses went to some 50 bankers who not only were in the toxic A.I.G. unit but who left despite the “retention” jackpots. We must be told why taxpayers have so little control of the bailed-out financial institutions that we now own some or most of. And where are the M.R.I.’s from those “stress tests” the Treasury Department is giving those banks?
As the nation’s anger rose last week, the president took responsibility for what’s happening on his watch — more than he needed to, given the disaster he inherited. But in the credit mess, action must match words. To fall short would be to deliver us into the catastrophic hands of a Republican opposition whose only known economic program is to reject job-creating stimulus spending and root for Obama and, by extension, the country to fail.

Of course, the spectacle of an aroused populace has suddenly turned the suckup party into born-again populists. While those of us who have opposed their thieving for most of our lives think it's all too obvious that it's the Party of Nope that's engineered and cheered on this economic disaster, we've learned not to expect that being obvious means that this travesty will be perceived by the general public.

There were still about 25% who believed in the departed cretin in chief even as the world's economy collapsed around us, reassurance that our country didn't torture was disproved in all directions, wars that were adventures at best (business opportunities at worst) raged on unabated, and the executive department as a whole continuously betrayed the public interest at any opportunity. This is fertile ground for the charade we're seeing from the ringleaders of the Gang of Nope.

While I can't give the president all the answers, I do see him trying to do the right thing. It isn't easy, not for him and not for me, to get through this time. It's going to take a lot more than saying 'I told you so' - for all of us.

Like FDR, President Obama is trying to do a lot of things. Some are failures, some are successes. I will look for the failures to be abandoned, the successes to be strengthened and improved upon. If I can help, I will. This post is one attempt on my part.

I'm going to expect those of good will to forge to the front, and let the gangsters eat our dust.

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