Monday, December 8, 2008

Bailout Hypocrisy, part 2

Double Standards

In an ongoing series of bailout related news, I am taking the whos of the previous question one further and to wonder what is different between the financial sector and the auto secter.

The media has started to pick up on this story and wonder about it, but I don’t know that it is breaking through, so here it is: why do financial institutions get free cash in amounts of hundreds of billions of dollars and the Big Three Automakers have asked for a few billion in loans, Congress suddenly needs for them to account for every penny and plead their case. When Chicken Littles at Bear Stearns and AIG say that the sky is falling, Congress can’t act fast enough and can’t be saddled with demands for financial scrutiny. But when GM and Ford appear before Congress, hat-in-hand, they say “come back in a couple of weeks when you’ve got your s--- together.”

Another double standard? AIG spent tons on a spa, and Citi, after its $25 billion from Congress, turned around and spent $400 million of that to name the NY Mets’ new ballpark. When the head of GM flew to Washington in his private jet, he was berated as “out of touch”. He needed to make a show of it with his return to Washington in a Chevy Malibu. The hat-in-hand wasn’t good enough, eh?

Rachel Maddow astutely pointed out the real difference between giving $700 BILLION (so big it needs caps) to Wall Street and lending $25 billion to Detroit is just that: Wall Street versus Detroit. The sums and conditions are just icing on the cake. Because Wall Street provides us with a few white collar jobs, these institutions are too big to fail, while Detroit provides us with many blue collar jobs, so they can freely hang out on the chopping block. Regardless of whether these institutions really need our money and regardless of their mistakes, the difference between what happens when these industries fail can never come to the table because Still Pres. Bush and Congress have taken the credit industry out of the discussion. They’ve given a free pass to all of the bad actors, and pig-headed executives while leaving Detroit out to dry. This is really what they think about the so-called Middle Class.

And as they flush it down the toilet, communities that have driven the entire country’s economy and saved us during WWII are to be flushed right down with it. If the Democrats aren’t careful, they just might irrevocably alienate the Midwest the way they did with the Civil Rights Act.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Bailout Hypocrisy, part 1

Who doesn’t love a hypocrite?

Here we are, two months after we were told that the sky was going to fall without a bailout of the financial sector. And lo and behold…it is still standing! Crisis averted!

But here is the question of the hour (and has been for many hours now): who gets ‘em? Which institutions get bailed out?
  • Bear Stearns
  • AIG
  • not Lehman Bros.
  • Citi
  • not yet, Big Three!
Is anyone minding this store? Is anyone paying attention to what is going on with this money? Does anyone care? Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Paulson asked for a blank check of $700 BILLION and pretty much got it from a compliant Congress.

Secretary Paulson is the former Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs, a company that directly benefited from the downfall of Lehman Bros.

Then he decides that after spending only 1/3 of the money, that he would save the rest for the next president. Nobody seems to be asking why he needed $700 Bil if he were only going to spend $250.

Then he changed his mind again.

Do we have any better idea of who is getting this money?
Who will get this money?
Who has already received this money?
And what the criteria is for receiving this money?

For some reason, these questions continue to go unanswered.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The scandal of Centrism

The relationship between liberalism and conservatism is at an all-time irrelevance.

That modernist thinking of a linear spectrum with liberalism at the left end and conservatism at the right has not only become pervasive, it has encouraged both the intellectual world and the “real” world to check out from the conversation. It means that we don’t listen to either ‘wing’—that each one’s contributions can be easily ignored by the populous. It also means that the sweet spot of American politics is the mythic Center—a concept that I don’t know if we can easily define. Most adherents to centrism simply argue that liberals and conservatives “go too far” or they aren’t comfortable taking either position: two very different (and often at odds) philosophies!

But it has mostly been the conservative movement’s underlying pursuit of not only winning elections and governing as often as possible, but permanently defeating liberalism that has caused a whole-sale rejection of partisanship. Further exasperated by the media's ambivalence and criminal devotion to 'balance', the public interest in centrism therefore is actually the most dangerous ideology in America today.

Most dangerous. Worse than fundamentalism.

This is the true support of that dreaded relativism that ‘true believers’ rail against. Centrism as opting out of partisanship is not only a political dead-end, but it is a shocking reinterpretation of a truly new brand of conservatism—a maintenance of the status quo due to a lack of invigoration and new thinking. The Goldwater Conservative is both an obstructionist and a destroyer—intent on returning the world to a time that is past. A true conservative ideology is interested in maintenance and the eternal present. The purpose of planning for the future is so that tomorrow will look like today. The danger of new Centrism is that it seems to pursue this very purpose indirectly by stunting any prospective growth.

The truth is that political ‘camps’ are never truly at odds. They can only be at odds when one wants to grow and the other wants to shrink, when one wants to live and one wants to die, when one wants to buy and one wants to sell. These are issues, not ideologies. Liberals and Conservatives have different goals, different motivations, and different world views, but they both support the country. It is the same in the church. Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals are traditional “wings” of the Episcopal Church and have often seen their church in very different ways, but they aren’t opposites. In the 19th Century, the Anglo-Catholics were motivated by stuff—vestments, holy hardware, etc.—while the Evangelicals were motivated by evangelism. Do these seem to be at odds? Is there any person in his or her right mind that would consider these as ‘opposites’? Would anyone truly feel the need to take a centrist position and broker a deal that pleases neither group? Of course not! This is ludicrous!

The current political landscape is balancing on a very delicate precipice. Do we take a step toward greater understanding, more transformational work, and faithful adherence to our core principles (as Christians and/or Americans) or do we fall many feet to a ground representing irreconcilable discord, disharmony, and denial? Perhaps this is the importance of our current season of hope. That we can start having opinions and yet work for the common good at the same time. That compromise can be a first step in collaboration—not an end result of legal whittling. That the people can actually take interest in their organizations without betraying that great public interest in centrism. To me, these are great reasons for hope.