Who Will Take On the Banks?
It was smart of the top Democrats to cut presidential candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich out of that South Carolina debate, where they lamely attempted to deal with the dire consequences of the banking meltdown without confronting the banks. They made all the proper concerned noises about millions of folks losing their retirement savings and homes, but none was willing to say what Kucinich would have said: Bankers are crooks who will steal from the public unless the government holds them accountable.
How do I know Kucinich would have said that? Because I interviewed him for the Los Angeles Times back when he was mayor of Cleveland and the banks foreclosed on his city after he refused to sell the public power plant. Others can talk a populist line, but Kucinich lived it. He was forced out of office that time, but voters realized 10 years later that Kucinich had been right. Thanks to the public power alternative that Kucinich refused to sacrifice, Cleveland had cheap power, and he was elected to the Ohio Legislature and then to Congress as his reward.
I bring this up now not to push a Kucinich presidential candidacy, which seems quite forlorn given the power of big money and big media to set the stage for permissible political debate, but rather to hold out a yardstick for measuring the "progressivism" of the top three Democrats. Sure, they all would be preferable to their likely Republican alternatives, although Sen. John McCain has been far better than all three Democrats on both campaign-finance reform and taking on the defense contractors who have been bleeding us dry since 9/11. I got a little worried when Sen. Hillary Clinton said she could do the best job in confronting McCain on national security; she is shameless in throwing money at war profiteers, while McCain has held the line on some of the more egregiously wasteful military expenditures.
With a military budget that has more than doubled since 9/11, soaking up trillions of dollars in obligations for future generations, it is stupid to argue about whether the Democrats or Republicans would spend more on needed domestic programs, because the money for those programs will not be available. Kucinich was the one candidate on the Democratic side willing to do what Rep. Ron Paul has in the Republican debates-challenge the phony patriotism of ripping off the taxpayers for war-fighting expenditures in Iraq and elsewhere, leaving us less secure.
While Paul is very good, indeed the best candidate, on the waste of taxpayer dollars on foreign military ventures, as is expected from a libertarian, he is hostile to the need for government regulation to control the excesses of the marketplace. And it is those excesses that are at the root of the financial chaos we have visited upon the world. As with the Enron scandal, which was the direct result of the bipartisan-supported deregulation of the energy industry, so too the subprime mortgage and easy-credit scandals now upon us. For decades, banking lobbyists have pushed through legislation freeing them to wreak havoc on our lives while they profit from lucrative personal bailouts even as their own companies suffer.
Deregulation became the mantra covering corporate theft in both Republican and Democratic administrations, and it is amazing that not one of her interlocutors at the South Carolina debate asked Sen. Clinton about her husband's signing of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999, which permitted banks, stockbrokers and insurance companies to merge, overturning one of the major regulatory achievements of the New Deal. More important, both political parties have refused to place any serious restraints on the interest charged by banks and think it perfectly normal, indeed healthful, for the economy that folks are given home loans or credit cards at unrealistically low interest rates calculated to soar after an introductory phase. What a sorry scene to see the top Democratic contenders unable to agree that some interest rates below 30 percent may rise to the level of usury.
For those unfamiliar with the moral crime of usury, believing it's only a legal crime if loan sharks threaten your knee caps, let me quote from Ezekiel 22:12 of the King James Bible: "... thou hast taken usury and increase, and thou hast greedily gained of thy neighbours by extortion, and hast forgotten me, saith the Lord God." Not being overly familiar with Scripture, I am grateful to Kucinich, a product of a stern Catholic upbringing, for having informed me, more than a quarter of a century ago, that the bankers, and the politicians who service them, are courting the wrath of God-even if they fool the voters.
Robert Scheer is editor of Truthdig.com and a regular columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle.
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