Opinion from The Los Angeles Times –

By Jonah Goldberg Sept. 30, 2008

On Sunday evening, Republican House Minority Leader John A. Boehner explained his considered opinion on the $700-billion Wall Street bailout plan: It’s a “crap sandwich,” he said, but he was going to eat it.

Well, it turned out he couldn’t shove it down his colleagues’ throats. The bill failed on a bipartisan basis, but it was the Republicans who failed to deliver the votes they promised. Some complained that Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi drove some of them to switch their votes with her needlessly partisan floor speech on the subject. Of course Pelosi’s needlessly partisan. This is news?

The Republican complaint is beyond childish. Democratic Rep. Barney Frank, a man saturated with guilt for this crisis, nonetheless was right to ridicule the GOP crybabies on Monday. “I’ll make an offer,” he added. “Give me [their] names and I will go talk uncharacteristically nicely to them and tell them what wonderful people they are and maybe they’ll now think about the country.”

Would that Frank had been imbued with such a spirit earlier. Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, has spent the last few years ridiculing Alan Greenspan, John McCain and others who sought more regulation for Fannie Mae’s market-distorting schemes — the fons et origo of this financial crisis. Now he says “the private sector got us into this mess.” His partner in crime, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), a chief beneficiary of Fannie Mae lobbyists’ largesse, claims this mess is the result of poor oversight — without even hinting at the fact he is in charge of oversight of banks. They sound like pimps complaining about the prevalence of STDs among prostitutes.

And let us not forget that the Democrats, with a 31-seat majority, could not get 95 of their own to vote for the bailout, largely because it didn’t provide enough taxpayer money to their left-wing special interests. Would that they thought about the country.

The one man who truly tried to treat this crisis like a crisis — McCain — was ridiculed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who implored him to come to Washington to help in the first place. And the news media, which now treat any Republican action that threatens a Barack Obama victory as inherently dishonorable, uncritically accepted the bald Democratic lie that McCain ruined a bipartisan bailout deal last Friday.

This is not to say that McCain knows what to do. Faced with an unprecedented financial crisis involving frozen global credit markets and a maelstrom of moral hazard, his standard response is to talk about wiping out earmarks and eliminating waste, fraud and abuse. Memo to Mr. McCain: Waste, fraud and abuse are the only things holding the system together at this point.

Obama is no better. The man has spent two weeks irresponsibly excoriating his opponent for saying the fundamentals of the economy are strong — a perfectly leaderly thing for McCain to have said during a panic. Then, campaigning in Colorado on Monday, the day the market plunged 777.68 points, Obama proclaimed: “We’ve got the long-term fundamentals that will really make sure this economy grows.”

Perhaps after Al Qaeda seizes Baghdad, a President Obama would finally declare, “Hey, we can win this thing!”

Meanwhile, President Bush, his popularity ratings stuck at below-freezing numbers, has decided to cling to Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson for warmth on the grounds that the vaunted former Goldman Sachs chair has the credibility to sell the solution to a problem he’s been exacerbating for 18 months. When a reporter for Forbes magazine asked a Treasury spokesman last week why Congress had to lay out $700 billion, the answer came back: “It’s not based on any particular data point.” Rather: “We just wanted to choose a really large number.”

There’s a confidence builder.

As for the reputedly free-market firebrands of the congressional GOP, with whom my sympathies generally lie, I cannot let pass without comment the fact that they controlled the legislative branch for most of the last eight years. Only now, when capitalism is in flames, does this fire brigade try to enforce the free-market fire codes without compromise.

I loathe populism. But if there ever has been a moment when reasonable men’s hands itch for the pitchfork, this must surely be it. No one is blameless. No one is pure. Two decades of crapulence by the political class has been prologue to the era of coprophagy that is now upon us. It is crap sandwiches for as far as the eye can see.

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  1. jujubee

    1. The bailout bill had NO enforcement provisions for the so-called oversight group that was going to monitor Wall Street’s spending of the $700 billion;
    2. It had NO penalties, fines or imprisonment for any executive who might steal any of the people’s money;
    3. It did NOTHING to force banks and lenders to rewrite people’s mortgages to avoid foreclosures — this bill would not have stopped ONE foreclosure!;
    4. It had NO teeth anywhere in the entire piece of legislation, using words like “suggested” when referring to the government being paid back for the bailout;
    5. Over 200 economists wrote to Congress and said this bill might actually WORSEN the “financial crisis” and cause even MORE of a meltdown.
    Cover Your A$$es Folks, Stick a fork in this pork, because it is done!! Time to defeat crooks!! Elect officials who support the people, not big wig companies and CEO’s!!

  2. jujubee

    Obama proclaimed: “We’ve got the long-term fundamentals that will really make sure this economy grows.”

    Perhaps a leader is not what is needed, we need a president that listens to the people that he represents. Companies go down all the time. This is part of the stock market. Yesterdays stock market fell about 8%. This happens approx. every 10 years, our last being 1987. So we were overdue for an 8% single day drop. Obama is stating that the stock market will rise. People who have jobs will pay their morgages and we will be right back to where we started.

  3. orlando

    By Dean Baker – September 29, 2008, 6:09AM
    If you have a real story, you don’t have to make up phony stories. That’s pretty straightforward.

    I’ve heard lots of phony stories. Much of the country’s political and economic leadership has been running around raising the prospect of the Great Depression and a breakdown in the banking system (I actually had taken the latter seriously). These stories are absolutely not true.

    There is no plausible scenario under which the no bailout scenario gives us a Great Depression. There is a more plausible scenario (but highly unlikely) that the bailout will give us a Great Depression. There is no way that the failure to do a bailout will lead to more than a very brief failure of the financial system. We will not lose our modern system of payments.

    At this point I cannot identify a single good reason to do the bailout.

    The basic argument for the bailout is that the banks are filled with so much bad debt that the banks can’t trust each other to repay loans. This creates a situation in which the system of payments breaks down. That would mean that we cannot use our ATMs or credit cards or cash checks.

    That is a very frightening scenario, but this is not where things end. The Federal Reserve Board would surely step in and take over the major money center banks so that the system of payments would begin functioning again. The Fed was prepared to take over the major banks back in the 80s when bad debt to developing countries threatened to make them insolvent. It is inconceivable that it has not made similar preparations in the current crisis.

    In other words, the worst case scenario is that we have an extremely scary day in which the markets freeze for a few hours. Then the Fed steps in and takes over the major banks. The system of payments continues to operate exactly as before, but the bank executives are out of their jobs and the bank shareholders have likely lost most of their money. In other words, the banks have a gun pointed to their heads and are threatening to pull the trigger unless we hand them $700 billion.

    If we are not worried about this worst case scenario (to be clear, I wouldn’t want to see it), then why should we do the bailout?

    There has been a mountain of scare stories and misinformation circulated to push the bailout. Yes, banks have tightened credit. Yes, we are in a recession. But the problem is not a freeze up of the banking system. The problem is the collapse of an $8 trillion housing bubble. (It was remarkable how many so-called experts somehow could not see the housing bubble as it grew to ever more dangerous levels. It is even more remarkable that many of these experts still don’t recognize the bubble even as its collapse sinks the economy and the financial system.) The decline in housing prices to date has already cost the economy $4 trillion to $5 trillion in housing equity. This would be expected to lead to a decline in annual consumption on the order of $160 billion to $300 billion.

    Given the loss of housing equity, I have actually been surprised that the downturn has not been sharper. Homeowners had been consuming based on their home equity. Much of that equity has now disappeared with the collapse of the bubble. We would expect that their consumption would fall. We also would expect that banks would be reluctant to lend to people who no longer have any collateral.

    This is the story of the downturn and of course the bailout does almost nothing to counter this drop in demand. At best, it will make capital available to some marginal lenders who would not otherwise receive loans. We should demand more for $700 billion.

    For the record, the restrictions on executive pay and the commitment to give the taxpayers equity in banks in exchange for buying bad assets are jokes. These provisions are sops to provide cover. They are not written in ways to be binding. (And Congress knows how to write binding rules.)

    Finally, the bailout absolutely can make things worse. We are going to be in a serious recession because of the collapse of the housing bubble. We will need effective stimulus measures to boost the economy and keep the recession from getting worse.

    However, the $700 billion outlay on the bailout is likely to be used as an argument against effective stimulus. We have already seen voices like the Washington Post and the Wall Street funded Peterson Foundation arguing that the government will have to make serious cutbacks because of the bailout.

    While their argument is wrong, these are powerful voices in national debates. If the bailout proves to be an obstacle to effective stimulus in future months and years, then the bailout could lead to exactly the sort of prolonged economic downturn that its proponents claim it is intended to prevent.

    In short, the bailout rewards some of the richest people in the country for their incompetence. It provides little obvious economic benefit and could lead to long-term harm. That looks like a pretty bad deal.




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