Monday, March 16, 2009

Let the Thing Be Pressed

Let the Thing Be Pressed

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Still no end in sight to the corruption in Washington. While the Democrats now control both houses of Congress and the White House, the raging wildfire of corruption continues unabated.

A.I.G. bailed out to the tune of 165 billion taxpayer dollars and proceeds to pay executives what is now approaching 300 million in bonuses? The White House and Congress are "outraged, but can't do anything"?

Meanwhile, legislation that could have prevented millions of foreclosures barely passed the House after being watered down to the point of ineffectiveness and now languishes in the Senate, awaiting recrafting that will insure it saves no homeowner.

At the heart of the problem lies a government of large corporations, by large corporations and for large corporations. To illustrate the point, Senate Democrats are redrafting the foreclosure legislation in negotiations with the very financial institutions the bill is intended to rein in. Absent the support - read, "approval" - of the banks, the legislation will not pass.

Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner put in a phone call to Edward M. Liddy, the government-appointed chairman of A.I.G., to "berate" him and "pressure" him. However, regardless of what is now a nearly 80 percent ownership stake in A.I.G. by the US government, the government says there is simply nothing more it can do. "We are a country of law," said White House economic adviser Lawrence H. Summers. "There are contracts. The government cannot just abrogate contracts."

While Mr. Summers wants us to remember that we are a nation of laws when it comes to paying huge bonuses to A.I.G. executives, who will apply the law to former Bush administration officials who approved torture? If law dictates payment of bonuses, what law addresses money laundering? And is that law less important than the one that insures payment of bonuses?

What could be more corrupt than asking banks that have been bailed out by the American taxpayer - expressly to address their loses from mortgage failures - if they approve of a foreclosure bill that would in turn bailout the taxpayer/homeowners themselves?

No American institution is more at fault than Congress. The Obama White House really looks like it wants to do the right thing. However, Congress always seems to unable to close the deal. While the Constitution gives Congress vast power to rein in corruption, those powers are no greater than the will of Congress members to use them. If Congress members will not act, there is no constitutional remedy for abdication.

If Congress insists on consulting with and entering into agreements with and seeking the approval of the very entities that are bleeding the nation dry, then it is their Congress, not ours.

Nothing could be more disheartening for those who watched article after article of the most anti-American legislation the country has ever seen sail through the Congress during the Bush years. From funding for illegal war to evisceration of constitutional rights, if it was bad for America it became law in the Bush years. The Republicans rarely had enough votes to make a filibuster impossible. It didn't matter, because the Democrats had no stomach for opposition. Now, suddenly, the Democrats need 60 votes to pass anything. The corporate press calls it "clearing the procedural threshold." It is, in reality, the filibuster threshold.

Instead of kowtowing to the Wall Street financiers, bring them before Congress, under oath, to account. Instead of crafting legislation that protects mortgage companies while they foreclose on the very taxpayers who have bailed them out, writing and passing legislation provides the same social safety net for homeowners that their tax dollars are providing for the mortgage companies.

In the final days of the American Civil War, Union Major General Philip H. Sheridan, reporting on the running battle against Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia, telegraphed General Ulysses S. Grant saying, "If the thing be pressed I think Lee will surrender." Grant, in turn, passed the message to Lincoln.

Lincoln responded, "Let the thing be pressed."

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