First, Fire All the Financial Failures
Editor's Note: As the Democrats try to pick up the pieces from their stunning defeat in Massachusetts, part of their problem is that President Barack Obama has spent most of his first year in office trying to reassure the financial and foreign policy elites that he’s their friend, while appearing to do much less for average Americans.
In this guest essay, Mark Ames says Obama should start moving in a new direction by firing some of his top economic officials, who are longtime chums with the bankers and economists who have caused so much pain:
If President Obama wants to really understand why he got his ass handed to him in the Massachusetts Senate race — a defeat as shocking and strange as if Joe Lieberman was elected president of Iran — he might want to read one of the thousands of economic horror stories happening around the country every day, stories that have put most Americans in a very foul, desperate mood.
Like this story out of a small town in northern Indiana, where a casket maker was forced to close down operations and lay off its 50 employees because Americans can no longer afford bury their loved ones, and instead they’re cremating their bodies to save money.
Even the dead are suffering in today’s economy.
The casket-maker, Ampcor, had been operating for almost 50 years, specializing in producing casket handles. Now it’s over—and what little business there still is in the casket industry is being outsourced to cheaper casket handle manufacturers in China, according to a local news report:
LA PORTE — When Kimber Cornell clocked out of work on Thursday, she had no idea it would be her last shift.
A punch press operator at American Metal Products Corporation (Ampcor), Cornell thought it was just another day at the factory, which manufactures metal parts for caskets. But just as they were leaving Ampcor for the day, Cornell and her coworkers were ushered into a break room and told that the doors would be closing on the La Porte business indefinitely.
“Everyone sighed in disbelief, and a lot of us cried. We didn’t know what we were going to do,” Cornell, a 12-year Ampcor employee, recalled Monday.
Everyone, including the supervisor, is sharing the pain — including the brutal, callous way that Americans get fired these days:
When the ball dropped Thursday, employees — even supervisors — were taken by surprise.
“I was dumbfounded I didn’t know what to think,” said Van Vaught, president of Carpenters Union Local 3056, which most Ampcor employees belong to.
Plant manager James Keitz said he was told just five minutes before the entire staff that the operation would be closing and was just as caught off guard.
A couple of years ago, a story like this would either seem fictional or easy late-night comedy material. But now just about everyone outside of Wall Street or Washington DC can relate, and it’s not funny at all.
What’s made it worse is that for the past six months or more, Obama’s all-star economic team has been talking up supposed “green shoots” in the economy—if only because their friends on Wall Street have seen nothing but green since the Bush bailouts began in October of 2008.
The shock is setting in, as the casket manufacturer story shows:
“We as workers thought things were looking up,” Cornell recalled.
For some that feeling made the reality even more devastating.
Terry Brennan, a packer at Ampcor for 17 years, compared the feeling to losing a loved one.
“It’s like the world just stopped — that’s how it felt. That’s how it still feels,” Brennan said Monday.
Brennan is a member of the executive board for Local 3056. She said the union is meeting with Ampcor owner, Dave Christian, to hammer out details of the layoff.
“We still don’t know if we’re going to be getting our last paycheck or vacation time,” she said.
Every government in the world understands that in order to function and avoid chaos or overthrow, there has to be some level of accountability, a relationship between ruler and ruled.
Even Communist China adheres to the accountability principle by periodically executing some of the more venal businessmen and bureaucrats in its ranks, if only to keep the masses from revolting, and to keep those in power somewhat humbled.
The Chinese have been executing so many corrupt officials lately that they’ve even deployed mobile execution busses to deal with the backlog. I’m not saying I’m necessarily for executing our corrupt officials — but you know, death-penalty opponents probably wouldn’t want me to be the deciding member on a blue-ribbon commission to decide the matter, either.
And I think a huge number of Americans feel this way too. (In any event, it’s better than what we have here: billionaire-owned human plasma busses that shuttle human feeding cows from the Mexican border to nearby blood-draining centers, to feed obscene Wall Street profits—something I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.)
Since Obama campaigned on accountability, one way he could start reconnecting with the people he rules is by mass-firing the corrupt failures and sociopaths who are currently running America’s economy into the ground.
It’s painful to admit, but so far even a loser like George W. Bush made some of his closest officials accountable to their failures when the public revolted — for example, his sacking of the disastrous Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld after the 2006 election disaster, and FEMA failure Michael Brown after Hurricane Katrina.
They weren’t sacked for being failures — by 2006, Rumsfeld had already screwed up two wars, the single worst record of any Defense Secretary in American history — but because the voters revolted.
So now Americans are in revolt against the government. Obama’s first response should be mass-executions, in the form of pink-slips, to the economic team that’s screwed this country up. So far, Obama seems to have learned exactly the wrong lesson — he told ABC News that the election defeat came not from substance, but from bad style:
“If there’s one thing that I regret this year is that we were so busy just getting stuff done and dealing with the immediate crises that were in front of us that I think we lost some of that sense of speaking directly to the American people about what their core values are and why we have to make sure those institutions are matching up with those values.”
A deluded and arrogant line like that could have come straight out of Larry Summers’ mouth, and probably did.
Summers, the administration’s economy czar, used to say the same thing in the 1990s, when the emerging-markets economies he oversaw under Clinton collapsed one after another: the policies he’d forced on countries from Southeast Asia to Russia were technically correct, it was just that the people suffering from those policies were too primitive to understand what was good for them.
Summers, the Brain Bug of this administration’s catastrophic enrich-the-rich economic program, is the first official whom Obama should send packing. His entire career has been nothing but a series of disasters and failures that boggle the mind, and the last year has been no exception.
In fact the entire economic team, operating together on the same failed assumptions, should get the axe, and anyone whom they’ve opposed should be promoted in their place.
Here I’ve compiled a partial list of the biggest failures and crooks that Obama should send to the Government Career Execution Bus:
1). Larry Summers, Director of the National Economic Council.
Villain equivalent: Brain Bug from Starship Troopers
Why: In 1990, he served as economic advisor to Lithuania; two years later, Lithuania’s economy crashed so hard that its suicide rate soared to the world’s highest, and they voted back the Communists to power, the first ex-communist country to do so.
During the 1990s, Summers essentially ran Russia’s economy, even drafting presidential decress and faxing them it to Yeltsin for his signature. Result: Russia’s GDP contracted 60 percent, suffered the worst financial collapse of any country at that time, and democracy was replaced by Putinism.
Summers then went on to deregulate the financial industry, leading to the collapse today (Obama just announced that he would propose new banking laws undoing Summers’ disastrous legislation from a decade ago.)
He even bankrupted Harvard in his brief tenure there, losing the university a couple billion dollars — Harvard at least was smart enough to fire him. Obama, a Harvard grad, should too.
2). John Dugan. Head of the OCC, which regulates banks.
Villain equivalent: The pneumatic-cow-gun-toting villain in No Country For Old Men
Why: From 1993 through 2005, Dugan, a Republican, was a top lobbyist for Covington and Burling, where he worked with Summers and Geithner to deregulate the finance industry.
In the 2000s, as state attorneys general started to do the regulatory job that Washington wouldn’t, Dugan lobbied hard to deny states the ability to do Washington’s work.
In 2005, Dugan switched to the law-making side when Bush named him head of the OCC, where he fought to deregulate further and fend off state lawsuits against the banks that were blowing up the bubble.
In 2008, Obama inexplicably re-appointed Dugan, and now he’s trying to name himself the top super-regulator for all banking and finance, while at the same time doing his best to undermine and drive out the one regulator who’s doing her job — FDIC chief Sheila Bair.
Like Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men, Dugan has been ruthlessly offing everyone who’s got in his way in his mad pursuit of ill-begotten riches for the billionaires he’s loyally served.
Ben Bernanke, Federal Reserve chief
Villain equivalent: Smithers
Bernanke didn’t see the bubble forming as it formed, kept the easy money flowing until it was too late, secretly funneled trillions of taxpayer dollars to favored banks, and even apologized to free-market crackpot Milton Friedman, whose theories have been completely debunked by the crash.
In 2002, while at the Fed, Bernanke officially groveled to Milton Friedman and took all the blame for the free-market-mad crash of 1929:
“I would like to say to Milton and Anna…regarding the Great Depression. You’re right, we did it. We’re very sorry. But thanks to you, we won’t do it again.”
Tim Geithner, Treasury Secretary
Villain equivalent: Ash, the cyborg in Alien with orders from corporate headquarters to harvest the monster in the guts of his crew members
Geithner is the perfect failure to advance the corrupt plutocracy’s agenda. Serving under Summers in the 1990s, Geithner forced Indonesia to accept a ruinous economic program in return for IMF aid that caused riots and mass poverty.
China was so horrified that they built up a massive 2 trillion in dollar reserves, so as never to be in a position where Tim Geithner dictates their economic program.
In the mid-2000s, he ran the New York Fed, which was supposed to regulate Wall Street. Instead, it was a vehicle to funnel trillions to the losers who sponsored Geithner’s career. For that job, and for potentially criminal activity in the AIG collapse, Geithner was rewarded with the Treasury Secretary’s job.
Note: he has also colluded with Dugan to destroy Sheila Bair.
Why is he Ash? Consider this scene in Alien, when Sigourney Weaver plugs Ash’s head back in to get answers about the alien monster—imagine this is Geithner’s head, milk pouring out of his wheezing mouth, as Sheila Bair questions him:
Ripley: How do we kill it, Ash? There’s got to be a way of killing it.
Ash: You can’t.
Parker: That’s bullshit.
Ash: You still don’t understand what you’re dealing with, do you? The perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.
Lambert: You admire it.
Ash: I admire its purity. A survivor. Unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.
Parker: Look, I am, I’ve heard enough of this, and I’m asking you to pull the plug. [Ripley moves to turn Ash off, but he interrupts]
Ash: Last words.
Ash: I can’t lie to you about your chances, but…. you have my sympathies.
There are scores more who should be fired (Neil Wolin), but none of this would make much of a difference unless Obama replaces them with competent officials who serve the interests of America and Americans, and not the billionaires who brought all this ruin in the first place.
Sheila Bair would be a great choice to replace Bernanke; Elizabeth Warren to replace Geithner; and both Dugan’s OCC and Summers’ NEC should be abolished altogether, the buildings fumigated and salted to ensure they remain permanently barren.
Beyond personnel changes, though, Obama needs to find a vision. The real problem lies in the fallacy of “post-ideological” ideology that his administration runs on.
If you believe your own bullshit about being “post-ideological” you’ll naturally fall back on the default ideology, which is the same free-market, deregulation-mad, Wall Street designed ideology that brought so much ruin in the first place.
There is no such thing as “post-ideology” — Obama showed this when, last year, he refused to nationalize the banks due primarily to powerful ideological objections to the very idea of nationalization of banks, regardless of its efficacy.
Obama needs to decide, ideologically, whose side he’s on: the billionaire “centrists” whose alleged competence he’s trusted unflinchingly up till now, or the people and the country he rules over, whose sufferings he’s ignored.
But Obama was never a radical — he was always a centrist, temperamentally as well as ideologically, he was always with the consensus and with the powerful, just not as savagely as Bush was.
His big statement on the election defeat — that his problem has been a matter of not explaining to the people well enough all the wonderful work he’s done for them — suggests that this November is going to be a painful one for those who still hold on to the Hope.
Mark Ames is the author of Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion from Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine. This story first appeared at The Exiled.
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