I can’t get that hot, asphalt taste out of my mouth. We’re all out of money, it seems, but there is plenty of tar to go around. I was only half-joking when I proposed that perhaps it was time to revisit the old-fashioned (and quite brutal, even savage) practice of tarring and feathering disgraced public servants, here and here. Less than two months later, our capacity for outrage has scarcely been quelled; indeed, we all better begin practicing yoga in order to prepare our nervous systems for the flood of feelings that will churn up as more of this mendacity is revealed.
I’ve considered myself relatively (remotely?) in the loop, just in terms of keeping abreast of the seemingly daily revelations about how outrageous and, let’s stop mincing words and tiptoing around the truth, criminal the so-called masters of the universe have acted in bringing down our entire economy. Most people know that these scumbags shit money because they eat it all day, but very few of us had any idea that we all had skin in this poker game they were playing with the national piggy bank. I’ve read virtually everything I can to try to get a handle on the situation (above and beyond the whys and wherefores, but just the simple how the hell did we get here and where the hell do we go from here?), and even reading a little is enough to make one sick. The aftershock of this meltdown is a psychic jet-lag that won’t pass anytime soon. Therefore, it is going to be imperative for us to seek out reliable sources of information and arm ourselves with the truth, because when the sytem shits itself we all have skidmarks in our shorts. Where we are right now is the proverbial car wreck you can’t help but look at. Only this car wreck involves each and every one of our cars, except that none of us were driving them at the time. Hence the proliferating public outrage.
As usual, Frank Rich is able to articulate, in one short column, the context of this escalating debacle in terms of where we find ourselves, right now. He rightly grasps the insidious bigger picture, but also correctly questions whether Obama is properly equipped to meet this challenge before it devours his administration. In short, everyone knows the game is rigged, but it’s time to wonder aloud how Change (with a capital C) can come about if everyone involved is playing on the same squad?
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?
Is this going to happen? Don’t bet on it. But why? Such a simple, and fair question. Unfortunately, as Rich indicates, the answer is also simple, and it’s ugly:
Another compelling question connects all of the above: why has there been so little transparency and so much evasiveness so far? The answer, I fear, is that too many of the administration’s officials are too marinated in the insiders’ culture to police it, reform it or own up to their own past complicity with it.
Matt Taibbi does some incredibly heavy lifting here, and this is award-winning journalism (I won’t hold my breath, since he is not counted amongst the connected and celebrated, and ever-supine, fraternity of the MSM):
People are pissed off about this financial crisis, and about this bailout, but they’re not pissed off enough. The reality is that the worldwide economic meltdown and the bailout that followed were together a kind of revolution, a coup d’état. They cemented and formalized a political trend that has been snowballing for decades: the gradual takeover of the government by a small class of connected insiders, who used money to control elections, buy influence and systematically weaken financial regulations.
The crisis was the coup de grâce: Given virtually free rein over the economy, these same insiders first wrecked the financial world, then cunningly granted themselves nearly unlimited emergency powers to clean up their own mess. And so the gambling-addict leaders of companies like AIG end up not penniless and in jail, but with an Alien-style death grip on the Treasury and the Federal Reserve — “our partners in the government,” as Liddy put it with a shockingly casual matter-of-factness after the most recent bailout.
The mistake most people make in looking at the financial crisis is thinking of it in terms of money, a habit that might lead you to look at the unfolding mess as a huge bonus-killing downer for the Wall Street class. But if you look at it in purely Machiavellian terms, what you see is a colossal power grab that threatens to turn the federal government into a kind of giant Enron — a huge, impenetrable black box filled with self-dealing insiders whose scheme is the securing of individual profits at the expense of an ocean of unwitting involuntary shareholders, previously known as taxpayers.
The most galling thing about this financial crisis is that so many Wall Street types think they actually deserve not only their huge bonuses and lavish lifestyles but the awesome political power their own mistakes have left them in possession of. When challenged, they talk about how hard they work, the 90-hour weeks, the stress, the failed marriages, the hemorrhoids and gallstones they all get before they hit 40.
“But wait a minute,” you say to them. “No one ever asked you to stay up all night eight days a week trying to get filthy rich shorting what’s left of the American auto industry or selling $600 billion in toxic, irredeemable mortgages to ex-strippers on work release and Taco Bell clerks. Actually, come to think of it, why are we even giving taxpayer money to you people? Why are we not throwing your ass in jail instead?”
But before you even finish saying that, they’re rolling their eyes, because You Don’t Get It. These people were never about anything except turning money into money, in order to get more money; valueswise they’re on par with crack addicts, or obsessive sexual deviants who burgle homes to steal panties. Yet these are the people in whose hands our entire political future now rests.
Obviously, Obama inherited this shit storm. People would be more inclined to cut him slack if his administration did not happen to include some of the slimiest engineers of this national implosion. Throwing Chris Dodd to the wolves while going to the mat for Geithner is the first thing Obama has done that strikes me as blatantly political and self-serving. It borders on the outrageous and it considerably weakens his integrity (as an agent of change, and as a leader). And frankly, the bloated dog and pony shows in Congress aren’t doing much for me. It’s good TV for the C-SPAN cycle, but these clowns are a day late and a few billion dollars short. As usual, these out-of-touch enablers are only capable of (feigning) outrage when the public prompts them. While the Wall Street clusterfuck signifies the official comeuppance of Republican financial ideology, let there be no mistake that there are plenty of Democrats whose porcine paws are filthy with the muck they’ve been lazily wallowing in.
The only ostensible silver lining in this catastrophe is that the pitchfork wielding populace might oblige some overdue accountability. What we really need is a reckoning, but a simple Q&A session will signify sufficient progress at this juncture. It’s time to start getting some very basic questions answered, and it’s not too late to take back money that was handed out to unworthy recipients (on the individual level as well as entire companies). People are right to point out that the AIG bonuses are a tempest in a tea (party) pot in terms of the overall GDP, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t demand return on our investment; it’s our money now. Start with this minor mess, and work backward. That, and only that, will set the necessary precedent for how we untangle ourselves from this capitalist-on-crack quicksand going forward. Naive as it may sound, truth needs to trump politics, at long last. Anyone, no matter what side of the political fence they get Wall Street kickbacks from, needs to come clean. (Okay, that fantasy goes beyond naive and borders on comical.) We know the people lined up at the trough are disinclined to question their own conduct, so it’s time to slap the teet out of their mouths and demand some answers. Heads need to roll, at least figuratively. That, at least, is a start.