The Time is Now: Hold Our Leaders Accountable

As the nation continues to wrestle with one of the largest financial crises in her history, we the people seem unable to cope with the dilemma.  We seem to spend most of our time squabbling over which political party is most responsible for the mess and which will best serve our interests or the interest of America herself as we move forward.  With trillions in deficits, record bankruptcies and home foreclosures, a stagnant economy, and political paralysis, the time is now for the American people to stop the squabbling.  The time is now to throw down the gauntlet.

The question should not be which political party is responsible for the mess or which can save the country and us from ruin, because the answer to those two questions if both and then neither.  Both parties are deeply responsible for the financial swamp in which we currently drown.  And because both parties are so deeply aligned to the forces of corruption and greed that drove us into this quagmire, no amount of political pressure will force them to do what is necessary to steer us clear of it in the future.  The truth of the matter is that a lot of people have made a lot of money, not only in spite of the financial crisis, but also because of it, and that money will make it impossible to sway our politicians away from those allegiances.  In other words, that swamp is all around us, and we have to either put up with the stench, or drain it.  Personally, I’m for draining the muck and throwing the vermin in prison, and I think a good number of Americans are with me.

We must demand that our political establishment take on the corruption destroying this country.  If our leaders will not, then we must demand that they, the nation’s entire political regime, resign or to be driven from power—by any means necessary. Many Americans might have taken on bad debt, and most of them are now suffering the consequences.  Bad home mortgages were not, however, the cause of our financial collapse.  The financial collapse was caused by the endless repackaging of those bad loans, of those loans which the bankers knew were bad, into ever more deceptive, and risky, bundles.  Now, many Americans have a clear sense that thousands of people and corporate enterprises reaped huge profits from these economic shenanigans, and they reaped these huge profits knowing that the financial instruments that the Wall Street Bankers were using were fraudulent, scandalous instruments of deception.  They then received bailouts and are now more profitable than ever.

Many American also know that those instruments were constructed for the sole purpose of defrauding the middle class out of years of hard-earned savings. Yet, the American justice system is either unable or unwilling to go after those criminals, some of whom are no doubt history’s greatest cheats and criminals. They are unwilling or unable to freeze their bank accounts and to prosecute them.  Then, to add insult to injury, many of those criminals are still in positions with enormous power and influence.  It is painfully clear that the justice system of this country is aligned with the lawmakers who protect these criminals from prosecution.  In other words, the lawmakers are, and have been for years, in cahoots with these criminals, writing laws that allow immoral and unjust behavior to be unpunishable.

The corporate news agencies and nation’s lawmakers will boast that Bernie Medoff and his ilk have been or are being punished. Financial analysts will also agree that Medoff represents simply the worst of the lot, and that the trading in fraudulent derivatives and credit default swaps was widespread.  Many will say that to punish one Wall Street financial wizard would lead to the punishment of all Wall Street wizards.  I say, the smoking of marijuana is wide-spread, speeding on highways is wide-spread, gang activity in urban centers is wide-spread, and that hasn’t stopped our criminal justice system from cracking down on the violators, arresting hundreds of thousands of teenagers and young adults each year.  Simply because all the demons are playing in the same sandbox does not mean that they are not demons or that they are not destroying the sandbox.  The behavior that led to this crisis was without a doubt wrong.  It was, without a doubt, a violation of more than one commandment, and if it was not a violation of any law, that is only because our lawmakers, who are almost all rich, only want to protect their own.  They have thus assured, through the writing of the law, that criminal, immoral behavior is not illegal.

Alan Greenspan is the perfect example of a rich man protecting his own.  For years he knew that fraudulent devices were being used by his associates, not only to protect their institutions from financial difficulties but also to reap huge financial rewards for themselves and friends.  Nevertheless, he asserted what his ideology told him.  He believed that the rich financial wizards wheeling and dealing in these instruments could and would regulate the market for the better because they would have an interest in protecting their institutional identities.  He believed that, although they would trade in fraudulent financial instruments, they would not do so to the extent that those instruments would endanger their own companies.  In other words, Mr. Greenspan considered these gurus of the economy to exist above the individual greed and selfishness that is so rampant in our financial sector today.  What idiocy!  And yet we still listen to this man as if he were a fount of wisdom.  Or take the example of the entity Moody’s.  Throughout the financial crisis, they gave this fraudulent, criminal behavior a triple A stamp of approval.  One would think that their reputation would have been ruined, either because they were liars and cheats, or because they were just plain stupid.  But no!  They are still quoted by the corporate media as capable of giving sound economic advice to Americans.  Either the media agencies are brain dead or they are in cahoots with the criminals, dedicated to weaving yet another lie to rob us of our life’s savings.

It is clearly time for the hard working American people to stand up and say, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more!”  It is time for all of us to go out and march to our state capitals.  Or we should board busses, travel to Washington, DC, camp out on the National Mall, and—like an Egyptian—refuse to leave until our political leaders either arrest the criminals and freeze their bank accounts, or resign from office.  Yes!  For decades we have pleaded with our politicians to clean up the mess, but it is clear that those pleadings have been to the very pigs that have turned our nation into the squalor in which we now sink.  So the time is now—not for another silly rally at the Capital where we chant “Democracy Now!”—but for a full-fledge throwing down of the gauntlet.  We must be willing to facedown the corrupt corporate-political alliance.  To do so means that we become as committed to changing our world as those wizards are at preserving and expanding the corruption.  Our only other option is simply to endure the continued deterioration of the middle class, of its decency and steadfastness.  But if we continue to choose endurance, we are only ensuring an explosion in the future.

Justice and the National Debt

President Obama got it right about Egypt.  In his speech following the collapse of the Mubarak Regime, he said: “Egyptians have inspired us, and they’ve done so by putting the lie to the idea that justice is best gained through violence.”  The only problem is, as it always seems to be with Americans these days, we don’t listen to our own speeches.  He continued: “For in Egypt, it was the moral force of nonviolence— not terrorism, not mindless killing … that bent the arc of history toward justice once more.”  What Obama failed to insert into his short list of actions that fail to achieve justice was the simple phrase “not war.”  And why would Obama forget such a phrase?  Because America has a long standing addiction to war as a pathway to justice.

Immediately, I think of the much-ballyhooed platitude to all challenges to military action: “It’s a dangerous world out there.”  And, to be sure, the world is dangerous, as I’m sure the Egyptian protesters will attest.  But the fact that we live in a world wrought with danger does not justify our seemingly unquenchable thirst for a larger and larger military.  And I do not make these statements because I harbor moral objections to military action.  I recognize that violence, or the threat of violence, can sometimes stop worse crimes against justice from happening.  What I am asserting is much more practical.  The use of military violence does not move the world closer to achieving justice—either moral or economic.  More seriously, it also diverts much needed attention and resources away from the pursuit of justice.  One need only look at recent American history to see this effect.

Only nine and a half years ago we were dealing with our budget problems.  The government had a surplus; we had a world without a competing superpower; we had Republicans in control of government (the party supposedly in favor of smaller government); and we had begun the difficult job of reforming the Welfare State.  Then a small group of men, being directed by an even smaller group of men living in caves in Afghanistan, carried out a bold and improbable suicide mission.  They flew airplanes into buildings.  Then we, behaving like so many of Pavlov’s dogs, lost our collective minds.  The National Security State ballooned, the financial sector acted like it had no future and no ethical limitations, and the American people shopped, be it for expensive homes, huge SUVs, or just one more happy meal.  And now, we as a nation are on the verge of bankruptcy.  Yes, I’ll say it.  The United States of America is on the verge of bankruptcy.  And Osama Bin Laden must feel oh so close to victory.
And why?  Because we cannot accept the simple reality, which we are always preaching to others: violence cannot achieve justice.  We have built the largest, most expensive military industrial complex in human history; yet justice slides ever further beyond our grasp.  It’s like what we parents preach to our children about the pitfalls of magical thinking.  We so want our children to understand the consequences of their actions, even as we, the parents, engage in magical thinking all the time.  We want our leaders to deal with the nation’s looming deficit; yet, we don’t want to reduce the cost of healthcare except rhetorically.  We want our leaders to slash discretionary spending; yet, we do not want them to put the largest discretionary spending programs, i.e., the military, on the table.  We want our country to have a huge National Security State capable of protecting us from all possible threats, but we don’t want our taxes raised to pay for it.  As a long time teacher of high school students, I am more convinced than ever that the magical thinking engaged in by young people has been taught to them by the adults in their lives.  In other words, we adults are excellent teachers: we are a nation of magical thinkers.
It’s time for all Americans to get real.  To save this country from ruin, we are going to have to cut the federal budget, starting with the military.  We are going to have to raise more revenue, starting with the wealthiest among us.  We are going to have to stop looking for a handout, starting with those who can take care of themselves.  And we are going to have stop blaming the other guy or gal, starting with whomever is standing on the other side of the aisle.