Monday, June 7, 2010

Time for a Progressive Leader

Last Thursday I watched Rachel Maddow’s show (she has gotten more serious and watchable lately). She has been doing some interesting and detailed coverage of the BP oil spill diaster. This night she commented how the 1989 Valdez accident didn’t break ExxonMobil—in fact in 2009 Exxon was the most profitable company ever. In 2009 the 5 most profitable countries in the world were all oil companies.

Eighteen months after the disaster the financial industry created they are back to staggeringly huge profits and bonuses.

Just as the bankers cared nothing about ordinary people and their retirement accounts and mortgages, thinking only of their profits, so the oil companies care nothing about safety or the environment but only about their profits.

Is this a connection that could be made in people’s minds, of the unthinking impersonal nature of the corporate business model that is incredibly destructive? This seems to me a perfect time for a progressive leader to emerge who could speak of a new way, a new model that has humanity as its central focus, not profit. Why are all the loudest voices the regressive teapartiers?
The next day (6/4/10) I read Tom Toles' blog and he made the same connection:
So Eric Holder has announced both civil and CRIMINAL investigations regarding the oil spill. They'll be looking into FALSE STATEMENTS! CONSPIRACY! These things are apparently ILLEGAL NOW! Criminally so! So if you are picturing a crazed cartoonist perched atop a bookshelf (and you should be) ready to pounce on why these same things are “perfectly legal” when done by the financial sector, well here I go.

The pipeline of crude that Wall Street built ran right through America’s family room. Newly jobless mom and dad staggered out, covered in goo, just in time to watch their house slide into foreclosure. The wizards of finance didn’t even have the wherewithal to try a top kill or a junk shot or siphon hose or robot sub. THEIR top hats came off their heads and were held out directly to the government. But haven’t they paid their debt back? AS IF! Oil companies are expected to CLEAN UP and PAY DAMAGES. How many jobs were lost in the financial meltdown? Businesses ruined? Families devastated? Oh, but profits are BACK at the BANKS! Time for some BONUSES!

Don’t TELL me no laws were broken. I say it’s time for some prosecutorial work that is one-tenth as creative as the financial instruments the wizards devised.
Frank Rich made the same connection in his New York Times column a couple of days later, “Don’t Get Mad, Mr. President. Get Even.”
Americans are still seething at the bonus-grabbing titans of the bubble and at the public and private institutions that failed to police them. But rather than embrace a unifying vision that could ignite his presidency, Obama shies away from connecting the dots as forcefully and relentlessly as the facts and Americans’ anger demand.

BP’s recklessness is just the latest variation on a story we know by heart. The company’s heedless disregard of risk and lack of safeguards at Deepwater Horizon are all too reminiscent of the failures at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and A.I.G., where the richly rewarded top executives often didn’t even understand the toxic financial products that would pollute and nearly topple the nation’s economy. BP’s reliance on bought-off politicians and lax, industry-captured regulators at the M.M.S. mirrors Wall Street’s cozy relationship with its indulgent overseers at the S.E.C., Federal Reserve and New York Fed — not to mention Massey Energy’s dependence on somnolent supervision from the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Given Toyota’s recent game of Russian roulette with Americans’ safety and Anthem Blue Cross’s unconscionable insurance-rate increases in California, Obama shouldn’t have any problem riveting the country’s attention to this sorry saga. He has the field to himself, thanks to a political opposition whose hottest new star, Rand Paul, and most beloved gulf-state governor, Haley Barbour of Mississippi, both leapt to BP’s defense right after the rig exploded…

This all adds up to a Teddy Roosevelt pivot-point for Obama, who shares many of that president’s moral and intellectual convictions. But Obama can’t embrace his inner T.R. as long as he’s too in thrall to the supposed wisdom of the nation’s meritocracy, too willing to settle for incremental pragmatism as a goal, and too inhibited by the fine points of Washington policy debates to embrace bold words and bold action. If he is to wield the big stick of reform against BP and the other powerful interests that have ripped us off, he will have to tell the big story with no holds barred.
Obama is never going to make that pivot point. We need someone else to be that progressive leader.

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