Sunday, September 21, 2008


(as published in the Bangkok Post)


A meltdown 'in the shadow of no towers'

The Bush years will be remembered for many definitive events, but perhaps none so grave as the two black Septembers that now bookend his presidency.

First there was the September 2001 attack from without that the Bush administration was warned about but failed to thwart, busy as he was gathering sagebrush and playing cowboy on his ranch. Even forgiving that lapse, malicious plans were hastily laid that very month for an unprovoked attack on Iraq. Sense of vigilante justice aroused and seemingly out of control, Mr Bush went on to attack the wrong country. A million lives later, including some 5,000 American dead, 50,000 wounded for life, the war rages on. Civil liberties diminished, US prestige was at an all time low. A trillion dollars down the drain.

Then there was the collapse from within, again in September, again Wall Street a ground zero. And what is the response of those most responsible for the mess? What is the response from the extremely rich who made the economy unravel due to unmitigated greed empowered with lax oversight, deregulation and cronyism?

Do what we say or else.

We are told with frightening effect that the world's biggest economy was within a few days of collapse. If true, it is reminiscent of the bureaucratic sclerosis and insider mismanagement that led to the demise of the Soviet Union. We are told that the $85 billion rescue package bailing out AIG, plus $200 billion more for Fanny Mac and Fanny Mae, are mere band-aids, not enough to do the job. What's that horrendous sucking sound? On top of all that, another $700 billion of tax money going down the drain?

Twin mega-disasters on the watch of one man. One in his first September as president, the other in his last. The first took down the Twin Towers, the second disaster took place, to borrow a phrase from ace illustrator Art Spiegelman, "in the shadow of no towers".

The Bush administration is nothing if not nervy. They have the nerve to ask taxpayers to foot a questionable trillion-dollar bailout of Wall Street on top of a questionable trillion-dollar war.

That's asking a lot, especially when the asking is being done by "deciders" with no sense of shame or accountability.

Would it be too much to ask for the Bush administration to show some accountability for its mistakes and resign en masse?

What ever happened to honour? Whither responsibility?

It's about time ordinary Americans got wise to being conned. In this time of crisis, Republicans are taking care of business as usual, taking care of the big guys at the expense of the small, and spouting noisy populist rhetoric while quietly maintaining their affluent base. The Democrats are only marginally better, expressing the hope that a modicum of relief might be directed at ordinary people losing their homes, wondering if there might be some upper limit to the multi-million bonuses the wizards of the financial world pilfer to reward themselves.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, a Bush appointee of Nixon-era Pentagon and White House vintage, says no. No time to think about ordinary Joes, even while acknowledging the country desperately needs their help. "It pains me tremendously to have the American taxpayer put in this position," says Mr Paulson, former aide to John Erlichman, asking for a trillion dollars in exchange for a three-page proposal.

In demanding, without due diligence and democratic process such an astronomical sum, in demanding further that it come not from the reckless, profligate gamblers who caused the problem but from the hard-earned money of ordinary working Americans, in demanding market discipline below without throwing struggling families as much as a few breadcrumbs as top Democrats are demanding, Mr Paulson shows himself to be icily on par with Messrs Rumsfeld, Cheney and other Nixon-era appointees of George Walker Bush.

After bluffing and boasting his way into a taxpayer-supported war against Iraq to the tune of a trillion dollars, Mr Bush sometimes claims to feel the pain, at least when addressing teary-eyed widows and fatherless children, though his mind is unwavering, his faulty positions non-negotiable. His jogging speeds are down but his golf game is good.

"We need this to be clean and quick," says Mr Paulson, echoing Mr Rumsfeld, the man with a simplistic plan for a little war on the Euphrates.

Why should we believe any of these slicks in suits? Why should we believe these tricky dicks in high office? Why should we trust any appointee in an administration of truth evaders and unapologetic greed? Their track record is abysmal, their stubborn selfishness legendary. They plunder national wealth; send other people's kids to war, green light torture, arbitrary arrest and surveillance, yet demand get-out-of-jail-free cards. Quick to put themselves above the law and beyond the reach of subpoenas - they want what they want on their terms. Is there only one solution to the financial crisis? The Bush administration says give us the money or else, once again using fear to win trust.Oh no, you don't. Not you. Not again. There's got to be a better way.

Philip J Cunningham is a freelance political commentator.