Thursday, September 25, 2008

Financial Bailout & National Character

The U.S. currently faces three crises: financial, health care, and foreign policy. In each arena, national irresponsibility—call it intentional attempt to defraud, procrastination, and imperial overreach, respectively—has created a needless crisis that is undermining the quality of life for Americans today and the stability of the nation’s prospects for the future.

The financial crisis grew from an intentional attempt on the part of both individual home buyers and financial “movers and shakers” to defraud – to cheat someone. Homeowners wanted to buy a house for more than it was worth and quickly sell it for still more to some other poor slob, who would then be left holding the bag while they ran for the door with the money. The nation’s financial leaders were essentially playing the same game – knowingly breaking both laws and commonsense rules of investment to make a quick buck without really working for it. It’s called “getting rich quick” and both morally and legally it constitutes fraud. Many, many Americans deserve to be convicted in court of crime and severely punished as part of any Federal bailout.

For a creative approach to managing the financial crisis proposed by
Representative Dennis Kucinich, the man who should probably have been our next president, see this report about his "no cash for trash" rejection of the Bush bailout idea.

The health care crisis grew from decades of procrastination in facing the truth on at least two levels:

  • The first level is that we individual Americans are almost all guilty of being too lazy to get basic exercise and too self-indulgent to eat nutritious food. We have the cheapest and, if you shop very carefully (avoiding all processed items on the interior shelves of standard grocery stores), some of the healthiest food in the history of mankind. The healthy food is even some of the cheapest – compare the cost of a bowl of organic, steel-cut oats with a bowl of your junk dry cereal of choice.
  • The second level is that the health care industry has become increasingly organized as a profit-making business rather than a critical government service to the population.

We all knew this was the wrong approach, but letting things slide was easier than facing up to the truth. If you think I am overstating, try getting effective health care for an aged relative on Medicaid with severe depression. Thanks to the general trend toward “one-size fits all” mass processing of the sick to generate corporate profits and, specifically, to the irresponsibility of Ronald Reagan, this nation no longer does mental health problems for the poor. For a second example, try persuading a hospital to keep a sick person in the hospital once the insurance company starts pressuring the doctor to kick the patient out. Yes, I said that correctly – it is, in today’s corporate health industry, not the doctor but some anonymous insurance company employee in a far-away city who decides when a patient will be sent home from the hospital. The bottom line is that today, America is a three-class society – the elite rich who can buy the care they need, a class with health insurance, and a class without.

The foreign policy crisis grew from a post-Cold War decision to take advantage of the sudden absence of serious foreign enemies to steal what we wanted, to bully the world into submission. Don’t like a Latin American leader who is trying to strengthen his country’s independence? Foment a coup against him. Don’t like a Mideast dictator who suddenly talks back? Invade. Don’t like the internal policy of a country that is wrestling with an Islamic rebellion? Bomb the rebels whether that country gives you permission or not. Don’t like a country’s foreign policy – call it undemocratic and institute regime change. Like a country’s foreign policy – call it democratic (regardless of the degree to which it tortures or slaughters its citizens) and prop up its corrupt ruling class.

Those short-sighted, self-centered policies were not selected out of ignorance – they were intended to be profitable now (i.e., short-sighted) and profitable to Americans, or more specifically to American elites, without concern for anyone else (i.e., self-centered). But the short term is proving to be very short indeed, as the resurgent Taliban resistance to Western control over Afghanistan, Pakistani tribal resentment at outside interference, and al Qua’ida efforts to pour gasoline on the (momentarily?) cooling flames of global conflict increasingly overlap—propelled to do so both by the policies of al Qua’ida and those of Washington. Seven years on, the result of the specific U.S. policies of the so-called “war on terror” is growing al Qua’ida power, decline in the U.S. position in enormous Pakistan (population 200 million) that is far more dangerous than the small signs of progress in tiny Iraq (population 30 million), and rising hostility toward the U.S., meaning that—in an age where a really small bunch of guys anywhere can put together the means to cause us real harm—U.S. national security is declining as fast as house prices.

Despite the existence of these three crises, Washington is proposing to spend limitless hundreds of billions of dollars to resolve just one of these crises: the financial one. Why?

  • It is not necessary, from the perspective of the ruling circles in this country, to resolve the health care crisis because that is a crisis that affects only the poor and the middle class; the rich can buy the best health care known in human civilization in whatever amount they desire.
  • It is not even desirable, from the perspective of the ruling circles in this country, to resolve the foreign policy crisis because it is precisely the existence of that crisis…that global turmoil…that offers the members of our ruling class the wonderful opportunities for making a buck of which they are so eagerly taking advantage.
  • The financial crisis, however, is very different: the financial crisis is threatening the very livelihoods of this country’s richest and most powerful corporate officials.

Now that merits a bailout.

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