Sunday, September 28, 2008

Singin' the Bailout Blues

Every time I think we’ve reached the pinnacle of greed and bald-faced chicanery of the free market in action, a new instance comes along to show me that we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Apparently, the Congressional plan to bailout Wall Street has at last been re-worked and is awaiting final votes from our elected leaders to make this unprecedented situation a nightmare reality.

True, no one knows how much of the $700 billion will actually be dispensed to banks and investment companies, and yes, there is a possibility that this rescue measure will actually reap profits for the government before it’s all over and, certainly, anyone who’s been following this confusing and unfathomable story for the last couple of weeks understands that something had to be done to stem the nation’s economic hemorrhage. But I remain unconvinced that this bailout was the only possible answer, even with some sensible precautions/ provisions, which have now been agreed upon – and that don’t go anywhere near far enough.

I am furious, frightened and heartbroken about this turn of events. If, indeed, Barack Obama makes it to the White House, he will absolutely, positively, not be able to do many of the things he wants to do, because the absence of $700 billion in the national coffers, either in cash on hand or by increasing the already obscene deficit, is a deal-breaker, a plan-changer, a dream-stealer of unimaginable proportions. It won’t be about making hard choices, the situation threatens to leave the next President with very few options.

No We Can’t if we’re dead broke or drowning in debt. We can’t fully and properly reform health care and the Medicare/Medicaid systems, shore up Social Security, improve primary education and fund higher education, pioneer innovative energy solutions, overhaul the military and ensure veterans’ full rights, take creative and sensible steps to really increase national security, address poverty and homelessness, advance scientific achievement, re-build the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, build new affordable housing, reform the prison system, fully restore areas devastated by killer storms in recent years, or anything else that urgently needs doing in the public interest.

What I still don’t understand is why there is no legal punishment for the corporate decision-makers who brought us here; for that matter, why there is no punishment for the government agencies that turned a blind eye to the shady dealings of the free market; and why, even with revisions, the bailout plan offers so little relief for average people in this country.

I was raised in the midst of two standards of personal morality, by a mother who spent years and years with individual companies but wouldn’t bring home so much as a ballpoint pen or a legal pad, and by a father who had no trouble “shopping” in Harlem barbershops or near the trucks that merchandise fell off of. Since my mother took care of the family paperwork, we never cheated on our taxes and we paid every bill without fail. It was very important to her that she (and we) behave honorably in all things. I agreed, but I was confused. I still am.

I know virtue is its own reward, but really, where’s the payoff for the 90% of Americans who are not rich by any measure and who take pride in being self reliant? Where is the humane, even generous, assistance, where are the essential rights and privileges? In developed countries around the world, citizens don’t have to worry about the costs of health care or higher education, because they’re covered. Their homes are affordable. Their jobs are far more secure than ours. We ordinary Americans are routinely punished, whether or not we play by the rules – and there are stringent rules for us, while the Masters of the Universe run wild and free. I think it's fair to say that this is the last straw and something good better come out of this bailout, or a lot of nice, honorable Americans are gonna go ballistic.

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