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Swimming Lessons for Washington and Wall Street

The Predators’ Bailout

by RON JACOBS

Let me get this straight.  The Congress is meeting with the Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson this week.  Mr. Paulson, who works for the White House, says he has a plan to save the US economy.  That plan involves bailing out the same companies that got the economy into the mess it is in today.  The money for the bailout plan is going to come from the people who are already paying for two pointless, brutal and expensive occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan.–the US taxpayers.  More precisely, the US taxpayers who make between $25, 000 and $150,000 a year–the people the government likes to call the middle class.  These people are already making less in real wages than they were ten years ago and many of them are facing foreclosures and other financial problems of their own. 

If I recall correctly, the very same US Congress that is considering bailing out the big financial corporations that got the economy into its current mess because of their greed and the government’s willingness to forgo any regulation of their doings (and the doings of their sister companies in the energy sector) made it almost impossible for individual working people in the US to declare bankruptcy.  Yet, they are enabling these giants of the Wall Street economy to get out of their financial catastrophes by making us foot the bill.  Furthermore, they have the nerve to tell us it is for the good of the country.  Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I can honestly recall the last time the White House, Congress or Wall Street did anything for the good of the country that I know. 

Sure, they started a war against Afghanistan under the pretense that they were going to chase down and capture the guys who organized those planes flying into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.  That’s gone real well.  I mean, look at Afghanistan now.  The Pentagon is sending more troops and the White House and Congress are giving the okay.  Dozens of civilians are dying in US air strikes as the occupiers fight a growing guerrilla army.  They also started a war in Iraq that has done nothing but brought greater misery to that country and its people.  It has also caused over 30,000 US casualties, with over 4000 of those casualties being dead men and women whose families are still not sure what they died for.  Oh yeh, the price of fuel at the pump has increased by almost four dollars in some places across this land and the number of jobs has decreased steadily.  That is, of course, unless you look at the military.  Those job openings continue to grow.

But somebody must have benefited from this, right?  And we all know who they are.  The energy industry has raked in historically huge profits, all the while claiming that they deserve them while insisting that they get further tax breaks.  Tax breaks which Congress willingly grants.  The war industry has also made a bundle.  Some companies, like General Dynamics, have doubled their net earnings just in the past four years.  Others, like Haliburton, have used their insider connections to capture dozens, if not hundreds, of no-bid contracts that involve several documented cases of outright fraud and corruption.  Yet, they continue to obtain the contracts and avoid prosecution.  Then, there are those so-called security contractors, whose employees murder Iraqi citizens, media workers, and even Iraqi employees of the US-installed regime in Baghdad and face no penalties.  Meanwhile, the contractor corporations themselves reap huge profits while also selling their services to agencies stateside that are involved with immigration and disaster management.  So, uniformed thugs who answer to no one are now performing police duties here in the US.  It’s like the Pinkertons of old in the employ of the Rockefellers, Carnegies and the government they ran back then.

Anyhow, back to that financial bailout and the arrogance assumed by those who are proposing it and those who will vote for it.  Every time I hear about a CEO of some corporation that fails getting a multimillion dollar compensation package I can’t help but wonder: why is it that these guys get paid for doing their job so poorly that the company they manage fails?  I know that in every job I have ever had that if I don’t do my job correctly than I get fired, plain and simple.  If I’m lucky I might get a small unemployment check for a few months, but usually when a worker gets fired there is no compensation whatsoever.  So, it pisses me off that these guys, from Lee Iacocca to the folks who ran Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into the sewer not only get what the rich people call a parachute, but that they genuinely think they deserve one.  I say push them out of th plane and let them try to fly.  That’s what happens  when people who work for a living lose their jobs.

The government isn’t any better, either.  What could arguably be called the worst presidential administration in history will be leaving Washington next January.  Yet, when those men and women hop on their chartered planes and head out of town, will they have to wonder where their next meal is coming from?  Of course not.  Almost every single one of them will fetch a nice retirement check for the rest of their lives.  In addition, many of them will continue to receive the best health care in the world and hand us the bill.  Others will go directly back into the business they were in before they joined the government.  Naturally, those businesses will most certainly be better off than when these men and women left them to work in what I loosely term public service.  After all, I’m not convinced that there is much servicing the public going on in DC any more.  It’s more like servicing the wealthy and their bank accounts.  As for Congress, these folks can spend two years in DC kissing corporate ass and hanging out in K Street offices and then go back to their other life with a lifetime pension and that same health care referred to previously.  Bet the average reader can’t depend on a package like that.

It’s time Wall Street and Washington DC start practicing for itself what it preaches to the rest of us.  No more bailouts and no more fat no-bid contracts.  No more wars fought by other people’s kids for the war industry’s profits and the politicians’ egos. No more pay raises and no more free health care.  No more taxpayer-funded travel and no more free gas.  No more compensation packages unless they do a good job.  Either that, or share the wealth and make health care universal, wars illegal, and fuel affordable.

It’s time we tell these folks: Bail your own selves out.  Or, if you can’t, then start swimming.  That’s what you expect us regular folks to do.

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: rjacobs3625@charter.net 

 

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