Mistakes Were Made

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Common Dreams

Mistakes Were Made

“When the same mistakes are repeated over and over again, it’s time to consider the possibility that they are not mistakes at all.”
-- Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine

Little has changed since Barack Obama assumed the presidency.  The imperial agenda of the United States proceeds unabated with record military spending, expanded wars and prolonged occupations.  Enabled by the president’s choice of lifelong deregulators Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner to mastermind the economic “recovery”, the financial sector continues to fleece the taxpayers.   

As Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin succinctly put it, “Frankly, the banks run this place.”   

Then there is the Bush administration’s legacy of torture, a problem that won’t go away quietly despite Obama’s determination to “look ahead.” Unfortunately for him, the president doesn’t have the right to choose which laws he will enforce, which international treaties he will honor.  (Remember how we balked at George W. Bush’s imperious signing statements?)  According to George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, Obama is placing himself in legal jeopardy by refusing to meet the solemn obligations of the United States of America with respect to the crime of torture.  This would be on top of the extreme political jeopardy Obama may encounter now that he has reversed virtually every position with regard the war on terror (other than his pledge to intensify the Afghan war) he advanced during his campaign.  Most recently, the president has broken his promise of transparency by refusing to honor a court-ordered release of photographs that could put the lie to the assertion that the torturers were “a few bad apples.”

Somewhere along the line, Barack Obama became enamored of Wall Street.  He bought the pre-meltdown line that the raft of exotic financial instruments spawned by the Street were evidence of the energy and creativity of the US economy, rather than signs of its corruption.  When the crash came, Obama smartly saluted the Bush/Paulson plan to advance an initial $700 billion bailout of the scofflaws.  The president hasn’t wavered since in his belief that Humpty Dumpty can and must be put back together again.  

Under Bush and Obama, 13 trillion dollars have been spent, lent or guaranteed to save the country’s largest (albeit insolvent) banks.  But when it came to mustering 51 Senate Democrats to help homeowners avoid foreclosure by the very banks that have been devouring his government’s bailout feast, Obama was mute.  Senator Durbin again captured the moment:  “The banks that are too big to fail are saying that 8 million Americans facing foreclosure are too little to count.”  

At his 100 Days press conference, the president called the ethical meltdown that led Americans to torture a “mistake”.  Hauled before Congress to explain the financial meltdown that gathered steam on his watch, Alan Greenspan explained his “mistake” of “presuming that the self-interests of…banks…were such that they were best capable of protecting their shareholders.”  In a similar vein, we’ve heard repeatedly that the Iraq war—with no WMD’s found and no post-shock and awe plan—was another “mistake.” 

How come these brilliant, highly educated and compensated people keep making supersized “mistakes?”  Perhaps because they aren’t mistakes at all.  

What the United States needs more than anything is some full-bore truth-telling before we slip into a fascistic, Orwellian dystopia.  We could start by admitting that we preyed upon Iraq not because that country was perceived as a threat but because, after 10 years of sanctions, Iraq was no threat at all.  In fact, it was ripe for the picking.  Once consumer protection was removed, the banks could freely practice their own brand of predation.  Millions of Americans, hoodwinked into signing up for “no-doc” loans with teaser rates, were also ripe for the picking. 

Was the financial meltdown a mistake?  According to University of Texas Professor James K. Galbraith, “You had fraud in the origination of the mortgages, fraud in the underwriting, fraud in the ratings agencies.”  Committing fraud is not the same as making a mistake.  Fraud, according to our dictionary (American Heritage, 2nd ed.), is “deception deliberately practiced in order to secure unfair or unlawful gain.”  Fraud is not a mistake.  

In 2004, the FBI warned that “rampant fraud in the mortgage industry… could become an ‘epidemic.’”  The Bureau was ignored.  (Interestingly, the Bureau was also ignored when it tried to sound the alarm that young Saudis with dubious visas had enrolled in US flight training schools.) Top economists including Nobel Prize winners Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman were also ignored because in fact, there was no mistake being made.  As in their preemptory attack on oil-rich and strategically-located Iraq, the ruling elites were simply pursuing their private, or corporate, interests, indistinguishable in their minds from the public interest.  

The American people are now suffering from all these “mistakes” and there are plenty of signs that things will not improve soon.  Last month, we learned that just over half a million people lost their jobs.  That was considered good news.  Experts predict at least eight million foreclosures in 2009.  That translates into about 30 million people without homes.  Already tent cities have sprung up in cities and towns around the country. Democrats in Congress are now proposing construction of FEMA “emergency centers” on military installations across the country.  Is this going to be the only “housing” that millions of foreclosed Americans will be able to afford?   

Make no mistake, we the people are being taken for a very expensive ride, an unpleasant ride that our children and grandchildren will be forced to take as well.  The elites that own the wealth, fund the politicians and control the message are on the verge of stealing our birthright of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in a democratic society.

Lewis Seiler

Lewis Seiler is president of Voice of the Environment.

Dan Hamburg

Dan Hamburg, a former US congressman from California, is executive director of Voice of the Environment..

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