By Ralph Nader |
It is relatively easy to announce hundreds of billions of dollars of corporate rescue programs here and hundreds of billions of dollars of guarantees of corporate recklessness there and trillions of dollars of assorted stimulus, loan availabilities and foreclosure prevention initiatives in all directions. Now comes the rubber hitting the road.
Where are the skilled people to be hired by the federal agencies–the administrators, field implementers, auditors, financial whizzes able to understand the complexity of greed and over-reach; the inspectors, prosecutors and contract negotiators to name a few categories?
In other words, how are a hurried President Obama and his deputies going to rapidly build up the infrastructure of the federal government itself to advance all these “public works” efficiently and to avoid expenditure disasters amidst a potential orgy of waste, fraud and abuse by the coast to coast recipients?
So many of the federal government’s functions have been contracted out to corporations and consulting firms under Clinton and the Bushes that there is a serious dearth of skilled civil servants. Moreover, Obama has indicated he wants this work done by an accountable government and not by Halliburton-type outside contractors at greater expense to taxpayers.
Knowing and doing have to go hand in hand. Some Congressional Committees have finally gotten around to asking the basic questions about what is actually going on inside companies like the giant financial conglomerate AIG. Since the Goliath’s near collapse in September, the federal government has committed $160 billion to keep it from splattering its reckless red ink over small businesses, municipalities, 401(k) plans, policyholders and of course the Fortune 500 big companies led by the omnipresent Goldman Sachs bank.
At a Senate hearing on March 5, 2009 to review yet another $30 billion in rescue funds, Senators from both parties demanded that the Federal Reserve make public the names of the parties benefiting from all this taxpayer largesse. These include the derivatives trading partners (eg credit default swappers) who have received tens of billions of these dollars passing from Washington through AIG to them.
Surprisingly, the Wall Street Journal editorial writers weighed in three days earlier about this fourth ever-sweeter rescue of AIG. in six months. In an editorial titled “AIG’s Black Box” the Journal thundered: “Perhaps someday the feds will even explain to taxpayers which AIG creditors had to be rescued and why…..try figuring out exactly who benefits when taxpayer money arrives at the insurance giant.”
Besides rebuilding the federal workforce and finding out what is going on inside casino capitalism begging for bailouts, the Obama Administration is wading into an administrative nightmare that could run through trillions of mis-directed dollars and not turn around a deep Recession plunging toward Depression.
When dealing with esoteric gambling chips called “derivatives” that are bets on bets on debts on debts, more than astute regulations and prosecutions are needed to punish, disgorge and deter present and future self-paid corporate crooks looting and draining other people’s pensions and savings. What is essential is that the federal surgeons have to know just where to apply their scalpel on the continuum spanning the big predators to the millions of direct and indirect victims.
So, during the next Congressional hearings featuring government witnesses from the Federal Reserve, the Treasury Department and the securities, insurance and banking regulatory agencies, the Senators should start with four direct questions:
1. Just what is it that you do NOT understand about what is going on inside this widening Wall Street mess?
2. Why don’t you understand what you need to know?
3. How are you going to use your powers to achieve such understanding?
4. Finally, if these corporations like AIG are too big to fail, too secret to fail and overwhelmingly global in structure and operations, why aren’t you asking other governments to pitch in with their own rescue packages and tell you what they know?
As one solid small town banker in Indiana put it recently: “If these big companies are too big to fail, then they’re too big.”