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Too Soon to Fail?

by JAYNE LYN STAHL

There’s been a lot of talk about banks being “too big to fail” lately. And, as the one year anniversary of Obama’s inauguration approaches, there’s been lots of controversy about what he has, and has not, accomplished.

Many would prefer to focus on the bad news, and fairly. After all, health care reform that was promised during the 2008 campaign should it pass would itself require reform. As it stands now, the so-called public option has vanished, and was replaced, essentially,with taxpayer subsidies for the insurance industry. The idea of so-called “universal health coverage” has morphed into a mandate with a Cadillac tax clause that, as it stands, will wind up taxing everybody who has insurance, not just those who can afford Cadillacs.

Since he took his oath of office, last January, the idea of cloning has grown to include members of Congress as the American people daily watch how, despite having a plurality in both the House and the Senate, the Democrats have effectively become their conservative Republican counterparts when asking for things like assurance that federal funds won’t go to subsidize legal abortion.

And, of course, there is the matter of those egregious bonuses big banks have paid to their chief executives, as well as what the president rightly terms their “obscene” profits. Obama announced his proposal for a “financial crisis responsiblity fee” intended for the largest banks, the ones that are “too big to fail.”

More than $100 billion of taxpayer money was spent to save the banks from their toxic assets. One can hardly expect that, altogether, the amount that accrues from the so-called “responsibility fee” will come anywhere near the amount banks now collect for bounced checks. But, it is, as they say, the thought that counts.

How can one celebrate the recovery of stolen funds without first addressing how it is they came to be stolen in the first place.

As if that weren’t enough, there is the clamor, from both the left and the right, to address the transgressions of Wall Street that have managed to creep like raw sewage into this administration’s own cabinet combined with the fact that Obama will reportedly ask Congress for an additional $33 billion for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq on top of the record $708 billion already allocated for the Defense Department next year, and this on top of grim retail and unemployment figures. And, that $33 billion doesn’t even include a covert war being waged in Pakistan, by remote control death machines called drones, that have claimed the lives of 700 Pakistani citizens in 2009 alone.

No one has noticed seismic movement from the Bush/Cheney years when it comes to issues like electronic eavesdropping, the USA Patriot Act, allowing the divulging of millions of White House e-mails “disappeared” under the Bush administration, the state secrets defense, vows to seek revenge against a deliberately amorphous enemy, at least not yet.

Yes, Blackwater has changed–it’s now XE, and Iraqis have formed a class action lawsuit to go after the five contractors who senselessly slaughtered more than a dozen unarmed Iraqi civilians because they could.

Well, they can’t get away with that anymore, can they? Not with the whole world watching.

There’s a lot that needs fixing. Rest assured, this president knows that. So, instead of focusing on what hasn’t been done, or what went wrong in the past year, let’s focus instead on the three years ahead.

Citizenship comes with certain duties, too, one of which is speaking up when a government appears to be veering off course. Governance is a collaborative effort.

One may see the glass as half empty, or half full. The first year is gone, but another three years remain. America has lost its legitimacy as a world leader, and even Houdini couldn’t restore that with the stroke of a pen, or in a matter of a dozen months. The only thing more audacious than hope, right now, is faith and, as Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

The corruption that has surfaced since the Nixon years isn’t about insider trading, or usury. It’s political, and moral corruption.

We’re not even close to seeing the whole staircase yet, and in the next 36 months, we have a right to demand a government that uses its resources, and energy to rebuild our inner cities, to house our homeless, to feed our hungry, to provide every working age man and woman with a job and a decent living wage, to make higher education a right and not a privilege for all our youngsters.

In the next three years, it is right to require of this president that he keep his promise to work for nuclear non-proliferation, and to realize the vision of another young president, John F. Kennedy, for “complete and total disarmament.” It starts with a vision, but it doesn’t end there, and it’s up to each and every one of us to climb that staircase with this president.

If it may be said that a bank is “too big to fail,” then it follows that it may be too soon to declare game over for a presidency that is in its first inning. For those who are still intent on looking for that silver lining, the next few years may yet hold a surprise or two.

JAYNE LYN STAHL is a widely published poet, essayist, playwright, and screenwriter, member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA.
 

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JAYNE LYN STAHL is a widely published poet, essayist, playwright, and screenwriter, member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA.

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