Former Labor Secretary (under Clinton) Robert Reich was interviewed yesterday on NPR about the new administration's economic stimulus plans. He is pretty plugged-in, though not an official in the administration, and was thus free to say what he thinks.
And his opinion is that the first $350 billion handed out under W's administration--three hundred and fifty billion dollars!-- was "wasted," having been given to banks without proper (or any?) oversight. The result, he said, is that the money went quickly to pay executive salaries and bonuses, to pay out stock dividends and to enable bank acquisitions and mergers. None of these things was deemed a legitimate use when the stimulus package was envisioned: the idea was that bad debts would be paid down, enabling the banks to again extend credit to consumers. Reich said that the money is basically gone and we must write the aid off as not having reached its mark.
Really? $350 BILLION in taxpayer money--borrowed money, it must be said--just has to be "written off" in a time when our economy is in deep recession? That's not even fucking close to acceptable. It adds yet another criminal act--and a really massive one--on top of the whole bible of criminal acts that got us to our current meltdown.
Obama, not even 48 hours in the White House, has made it one of his first acts as President to turn the bright lights of governmental openness and transparency back on, and I'm hoping that demands for accountability are put in place with the remaining economic assistance measures--including the second $350 billion from W's economic stimulus plan, which pending expenditure was the occasion for Secretary Reich's interview.
But what of that first $350 billion? If we've extended the aid without stipulating at least generally how it needs to be used, then who is responsible for THAT oversight? And was it incompetence, or was the lack of demanded oversight a strategy for enriching a handful of white Republicans? Unless the money went to a million banks (I'm guessing a fairly small number of institutions each got a big wad of cash) I'd like to see an accounting of exactly who got what and what they did with it. These things should all be a matter of public record (and where the information is not public, it should henceforth be made so when public dollars are being wantonly thrown at a problem). And where the money did not go to the direct benefit of consumers--not shareholders, not bank executives--then I think some kind of accounting / organized protest / retribution needs to happen. For myself, I'd gladly pull out any business I had with any institution that failed to act ethically in these matters.
We're finally rid of the cockroaches at the very top of government; it's time to clean house of the rest of society's rudderless, good-ol'-boy scumbags.