Excerpted from remarks at an Augusta Coalition for Peace and Justice event at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Virginia, September 23, 2008. Have you heard the latest news? John McCain is now in favor of regulating Wall Street. But, of course, local son Woodrow Wilson was reelected as a peace candidate. And candidate George W. Bush was opposed to nation building. Now he’s borrowing money from China to build a nation in Iraq and another one here in the United States, except that Iraq has not so much been built as irrevocably destroyed, and nobody seems terribly confident that bailing out Wall Street will work.
And when I say “work” I mean succeed at doing exactly what proponents of the bailout do not want, and that is eliminating the need for more bailouts. Even with this one bailout not yet created, Barack Obama is already promising that it will succeed in the sense in which Naomi Klein’s shock doctrine would define success. Obama has said he will not be able to spend what he’d planned on health care, education, infrastructure, and green energy. He has not, however, said he will have to even hesitate on his proposal to vastly enlarge the largest military the planet has ever seen.
This is how the game works. Some spending must not be questioned. Some spending must be sacrificed. For fiscal year 2009, our government has budgeted $653 billion for the Pentagon, and $150 billion for the military portion of other departments. But this budget includes a ludicrously low $38 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, so that those military occupations have had to be once again funded with an “emergency” supplemental to the tune of $162 billion. If you add the cost of veterans’ benefits, plus 80 percent of the cost of interest on the national debt, you arrive at a total of $1.5 trillion. That compares to $1.2 trillion in non-military U.S. spending and debt payments. These figures do not include trust funds, such as Social Security, which are not part of the federal budget. And they do not include the proposed bailout now known as Paulson’s Plunder.
But let’s take a look at where Obama plans to cut. And, remember, this is by his own choice, even if not his own creation. He’s voted hundreds of billions for war in Iraq, and he plans to vote hundreds of billions for Wall Street. Obama named education as an area for cuts. The federal department of education has a budget of $60 billion. For the kind of money that is being so recklessly tossed around in Washington this week, we could create the world’s best schools from preschool through college, free to all students. Among other things, that would greatly benefit our economy but greatly damage the ability of politicians to push us around - we’d know better.
Obama says he’ll cut back his infrastructure funding plans. The entire Department of Transportation runs on $71 billion, of which $800 million is for Amtrak. The bag of goodies for Wall Street bankers that they’re busy tying ribbons and bows on could multiply Amtrak’s budget a thousand fold. And it’s the cost of infrastructure that is so excessive it must be slashed?
What about green energy? Well, the EPA spends $622 million on researching green energy each year. That wouldn’t cover the sales price of 10 of the houses of the bankers we’re bailing out in their time of need.
And the first place Obama said he wants to cut back in his new initiatives is health care. But there is no need for spending money on health care. We already spend more per capita than other nations and get less for it, because so much goes to that uniquely American pride and joy: the private insurance company. Here we are bailing out other insurance companies. The ultimate irony will come when we are asked to bail out health insurance companies, which wouldn’t exist at all except for our misguided charity at the expense of the health and lives of millions of Americans who could be kept alive and well by single-payer health coverage.
Every time there’s a new Cheney-Bush scandal, every time we discover that Dick Cheney lied to Dick Armey, or another top Iraqi informed the White House there were no weapons, or another missile kills another large family in Afghanistan, or the wars in Pakistan and Iran get out of control before we’d realized they’d begun, or we discover that Cheney’s lawyer signed the Attorney General’s name to an authorization to search Democrats’ body cavities, or a chunk of the North Pole floats past the Republican convention, every single time this happens … there’s a moment of thrilling fantasy in which we can imagine that the American people or their so-called representatives in Washington will snap out of their hypnosis and ship the whole damn kleptocracy to the Hague in wooden crates.
And the same goes for the latest proposal to steal a trillion dollars from our unborn grandchildren and give it to Wall Street. And here I thought the unborn were the only people these fascists did care about!
While I love the idea of clinging briefly to the notion that there really is something new here and that it will wake somebody from their slumber, I secretly have to wonder how exactly this differs from the past seven years and eight months. For that length of time, our government has enthusiastically gone out of its way to provide protection for (rather than from) predatory mortgage lenders, and to treat foreclosures as no more verifiably real than evolution or global warming. In March of this year Bush and his treasury secretary transferred a pile of public money to J.P. Morgan/Chase via the Federal Reserve to assume the liabilities and assets of Bear Stearns at a price not determined in the free market or via public bidding.
But borrowing money and throwing it at the people who least need it began before Cheney and Bush moved into their new public housing in 2001. Remember that Cheney had earlier served as secretary of “defense” and given Halliburton the contract to draw up a plan calling for giving more contracts to companies like Halliburton. Then Cheney had revolved out the revolving door to spend five years as the chief executive of Halliburton, during which period Halliburton had illegally done major oil and construction business with Iran, Iraq, and Indonesia, and had illegally sold nuclear technology to Libya. Cheney had then left his Halliburton job, along with a $33.7 million parting gift, to return to government as vice president, in which position he directed the Pentagon to grant no-bid contracts worth many billions of dollars to Halliburton. For at least two years as vice president, Cheney received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Halliburton in “deferred compensation.” Of course, that was justifiable in terms of the public good: society might have collapsed had Cheney not piled up more riches.
But his riches and Halliburton’s were a little crumb off the loaf of large-scale looting that has been the primary focus of our government all these years. While Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes called their book about Iraq “The Three Trillion Dollar War,” they were being very conservative. If you read their book, you find that incredibly conservative calculations place the amount of money wasted at no less than five trillion dollars, and mounting, with no end in sight. And who gets that money? Well, certainly not “the troops” so cynically used to squeeze it out of those gelatinous masses of spineless goo that go by the name “House” and “Senate.” And certainly not the Iraqi people. Nobody’s been liberated, and nothing’s been reconstructed. Over a million men, women, and children lie dead, but killing them didn’t cost five trillion dollars. Most of that money has gone to war profiteering robber barons, the people who handle the financing of the debt, and China.
The as-yet-unsuccessful proposal to give our Social Security savings to Wall Street is part and parcel of this same scheme. The mission of our government simply is to transfer wealth from those who need it to those who do not, and the most absurd thing about this is the number of commentators who claim that George W. Bush is in some way a “failure.” Most of us can just be grateful we have so little to lose, and give thanks to Nancy Pelosi for having taken impeachment off the table. She did so on May 7, 2006, and I would like to propose that the next Congress honor her wisdom by legislating a national holiday. Every May 7th from here on out let’s celebrate by getting too drunk to stand up straight and going pheasant hunting with shotguns.
There does not seem to be any way we are going to avoid shelling out a major amount of money to save banks from the unregulated greed of bankers. Dean Baker and Doug Henwood and every person with any economic expertise whom I find credible predicts disaster if we don’t.
But, as Baker pointed out on Democracy Now! yesterday morning, the bailout can punish those responsible rather than rewarding them. He suggested capping executives’ salaries at $2 million. Even McCain wants to limit them to the U.S. president’s salary (or perhaps raise the salary of the president?). I suggest firing chief executives without any payoffs or pensions.
The bailout can also be done without creating new dictatorial powers for the executive branch of our government. Treasury Secretary Paulson has asked for absolute power to hand out $700 billion as he sees fit. How much of that do you think will make it back into Republican electoral campaigns? How much into advertisements to buy off the corporate media? And how long before another $700 billion is needed, Social Security is sacrificed, and public schools are sold off to the lowest bidder?
There is a way to break through this corruption. We have to force our will on Congress. You can go to http://afterdowningstreet.org to find out where to Email, phone, fax, visit, and protest.
Congress must reject Paulson’s Plunder and enact a plan with the progressive principles produced by the Backbone Campaign. You can find the full set of principles on my website. Here are highlights:
A. The people who caused the problem or profited most should pay for it
1. Highly compensated executives total compensation should be capped or taxed heavily as a condition for being bailed out.
2. Tobin tax on all transactions in Finance, Insurance and Real Estate including currency transactions.
5. Accountability - fire executives of failed companies as done in the UK, and abrogate their severance packages.
6. Impose a five-year, 10 percent surtax on income over $1 million a year for couples and over $500,000 for single taxpayers.
B. Re-regulate to prevent this from happening again
C. Include Main Street in the bailout and invest in a new productive economy
1. Establish a moratorium on foreclosures, renegotiating mortgages or institute a rent-to-own plan to keep people in homes.
2. Create a major economic recovery package which puts Americans to work at decent wages, in productive jobs that add value to homes and communities.
3. Invest the taxes on speculation, executive compensation, and the surtax on the wealthy in clean energy, infrastructure, education, and health care.
Refusing to include any of these worthwhile things in this scam is being called a “clean” bill. I would call it a dirty bill.
By David Swanson