Sunday, September 21, 2008


(as published in the Bangkok Post)


A meltdown 'in the shadow of no towers'

The Bush years will be remembered for many definitive events, but perhaps none so grave as the two black Septembers that now bookend his presidency.

First there was the September 2001 attack from without that the Bush administration was warned about but failed to thwart, busy as he was gathering sagebrush and playing cowboy on his ranch. Even forgiving that lapse, malicious plans were hastily laid that very month for an unprovoked attack on Iraq. Sense of vigilante justice aroused and seemingly out of control, Mr Bush went on to attack the wrong country. A million lives later, including some 5,000 American dead, 50,000 wounded for life, the war rages on. Civil liberties diminished, US prestige was at an all time low. A trillion dollars down the drain.

Then there was the collapse from within, again in September, again Wall Street a ground zero. And what is the response of those most responsible for the mess? What is the response from the extremely rich who made the economy unravel due to unmitigated greed empowered with lax oversight, deregulation and cronyism?

Do what we say or else.

We are told with frightening effect that the world's biggest economy was within a few days of collapse. If true, it is reminiscent of the bureaucratic sclerosis and insider mismanagement that led to the demise of the Soviet Union. We are told that the $85 billion rescue package bailing out AIG, plus $200 billion more for Fanny Mac and Fanny Mae, are mere band-aids, not enough to do the job. What's that horrendous sucking sound? On top of all that, another $700 billion of tax money going down the drain?

Twin mega-disasters on the watch of one man. One in his first September as president, the other in his last. The first took down the Twin Towers, the second disaster took place, to borrow a phrase from ace illustrator Art Spiegelman, "in the shadow of no towers".

The Bush administration is nothing if not nervy. They have the nerve to ask taxpayers to foot a questionable trillion-dollar bailout of Wall Street on top of a questionable trillion-dollar war.

That's asking a lot, especially when the asking is being done by "deciders" with no sense of shame or accountability.

Would it be too much to ask for the Bush administration to show some accountability for its mistakes and resign en masse?

What ever happened to honour? Whither responsibility?

It's about time ordinary Americans got wise to being conned. In this time of crisis, Republicans are taking care of business as usual, taking care of the big guys at the expense of the small, and spouting noisy populist rhetoric while quietly maintaining their affluent base. The Democrats are only marginally better, expressing the hope that a modicum of relief might be directed at ordinary people losing their homes, wondering if there might be some upper limit to the multi-million bonuses the wizards of the financial world pilfer to reward themselves.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, a Bush appointee of Nixon-era Pentagon and White House vintage, says no. No time to think about ordinary Joes, even while acknowledging the country desperately needs their help. "It pains me tremendously to have the American taxpayer put in this position," says Mr Paulson, former aide to John Erlichman, asking for a trillion dollars in exchange for a three-page proposal.

In demanding, without due diligence and democratic process such an astronomical sum, in demanding further that it come not from the reckless, profligate gamblers who caused the problem but from the hard-earned money of ordinary working Americans, in demanding market discipline below without throwing struggling families as much as a few breadcrumbs as top Democrats are demanding, Mr Paulson shows himself to be icily on par with Messrs Rumsfeld, Cheney and other Nixon-era appointees of George Walker Bush.

After bluffing and boasting his way into a taxpayer-supported war against Iraq to the tune of a trillion dollars, Mr Bush sometimes claims to feel the pain, at least when addressing teary-eyed widows and fatherless children, though his mind is unwavering, his faulty positions non-negotiable. His jogging speeds are down but his golf game is good.

"We need this to be clean and quick," says Mr Paulson, echoing Mr Rumsfeld, the man with a simplistic plan for a little war on the Euphrates.

Why should we believe any of these slicks in suits? Why should we believe these tricky dicks in high office? Why should we trust any appointee in an administration of truth evaders and unapologetic greed? Their track record is abysmal, their stubborn selfishness legendary. They plunder national wealth; send other people's kids to war, green light torture, arbitrary arrest and surveillance, yet demand get-out-of-jail-free cards. Quick to put themselves above the law and beyond the reach of subpoenas - they want what they want on their terms. Is there only one solution to the financial crisis? The Bush administration says give us the money or else, once again using fear to win trust.Oh no, you don't. Not you. Not again. There's got to be a better way.

Philip J Cunningham is a freelance political commentator.


Anonymous said...

Rich people has always used their money as weapon.
They have always found loopholes to any law that progressives will come up with.

America is headed to same trajectory as Great Britain from 1900-1950, but this time it will be a lot faster.

Logical conclusion is Fascism not Socialism. So progressive need to use the right word to describe current state of affair.

Anonymous said...

here you go:

first, absolve all debt. mortgages. credit cards. everything. everybody keeps their house for free.
then give all the financial services people jobs at the humongous brand new government-funded windmill factory.

hal said...

Unbelieveable - Bush led us into a qustionable war, who is to say this bail-out is the right thing to do? We should all be asking questions on this one.

Anonymous said...

I find it hard to sympathize very much with the USA, which is in much better shape than large swaths of Central Asia and Africa. Rather would I use the trillion dollars on the one thing that provably has worked to lift a populace out of their subhuman conditions: educate the small girls in Asia and Africa.

This has huge effects on infant mortality, birth rates, literacy measures extending into the next and the next generation, a gift that keeps on giving. For ever.

The dollar amounts required to finance and supervise small schools in Africa are so minuscule as to be laughable, the yields so large as to be incalculable.

And those little girls will need all the breaks they can get to survive the coming climate cataclysms we have caused.


Anonymous said...

It is easy to get emotional but that never solves anything.

We are at the door to the Great Depression II.
According to Philip Cunningham we should walk through that door as that is what Wall Street deserves.

Think about 30% unemployment Philip. This about massive wealth destruction, including housing.

Think about working Americans.

You are not a financial expert so why do you think you know better that the head of the US treasury and the Fed.

Peter Attwood said...

Why would a common citizen think he might know better than the Treasury Secretary and the Fed Chairman?

Uh, that might be because these boys and their pals made this mess - Paulson, indeed, as CEO of Goldman-Sachs - precisely by conspiring to engorge themselves by fraud at the expense of everyone else. And now they propose that we should let them just have $700 billion to play with, just for starters, and specifically with no oversight whatever either from the courts or Congress.

Having seen what they've already done when they had a chance to lie, steal, and bamboozle, we will all be saved by just trusting them some more!

Well, if chutzpah is the key, these boys are the man!

You actually don't have to be a financial expert to know that robbing poor and middle class people just to give unconditionally to the richest, least productive people in society isn't the brightest thing to do.

If they really want to restore confidence and arrest panic, they could do so by simply canceling fraudulently written mortgages so that millions of people could feel safe about staying in their homes, giving them the means to buy things and thereby propping up the real economy. Call it a class action bankruptcy protection for the average man.

Bondholders and others being stiffed could be paid some cents on the dollar by seizing the institutions that have written this fraudulent paper as compensation to some government authority set up to manage this liquidation.

I'm not actually expecting anything like that. I only want to note that the cries of outrage that creditors would be stiffed under this proposal and other people get away with not paying would leap from the same throats that are quite placid when it comes to Paulson's plan to rob everyone else to keep the original thieves from bearing any consequences.

There is also, of course, that wrecking the real economy by impoverishing everyone else to keep the rich in their caviar has no chance of working in the end anyway.

Truth is, this train wreck won't be averted. It's time to think of how best to shield the innocent, or at least the less guilty, not the worst of the wordst at everyone else's expense. And yet that is far too much to expect.

captainjohann said...

The leadership of Bush with his crony capitalists in the guise of socalled NEOCONS.I think Americans were fooled by SAUDIES who advised them to shift from Afghanistan to Iraq and also increase oil prices so that it will suck the importers like china and India but the oil profit though made some Texans happy pulled in ordinary americans.It also rejuvenated russia into a super power.
German finance Minister is crowing the end of capitalism as we know and also end of American empire.
Congress has done the right thing by putting its foot down on 700 billion bailout.There is a bancruptsy court in USA for AIG,fanny mae etc.The fall in oil prices as soon as the congress vetoed the plan shows it is CRONY CAPITALISM OF THE WORST KIND worse than even that of marcos,Suharto and Zia.