Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Bush and Joshua

My friend's family had to move last September because the owner of the decent-sized home they were renting decided to return to it after being foreclosed on his larger home. Instead of seeking a similar-sized home, however, my friend and his wife decided to downsize.

When I asked my friend's son, Joshua, why they had moved to a smaller two-bedroom apartment, he replied: "Oh, because we're bracing for recession." Before I could ask him if he knew what that meant, he said: "That means we're saving money."

It would have been a fairly unremarkable answer if not for Joshua's age. He is only about five and a half years old, having just started kindergarten at Coyote Creek in San Ramon. But his astute reply raises many questions that everyone, especially our politicians and business leaders, must answer.

For instance, why can't over-educated political and business leaders in Washington DC and Wall Street -- who are ten times older than Joshua -- understand the concepts of sacrifice, delayed gratification, and living within one's means?

Perhaps it is because, as F. Scott Fitzgerald noted, the rich are different from you and me. The prime exhibit is John Thain, the newly ousted Merrill Lynch CEO, who, as the San Francisco Chronicle editorial noted today, "when he wasn't purchasing $1,405 trash cans for his own office or handing out between $3 billion and $4 billion in bonuses to his own staff, he was watching the company lose $15 billion during the last quarter of 2008 while he accepted $45 billion in taxpayer money."

How can Thain be so mind-numbingly clueless as to spend an extra $35,000 for a "commode" (a toilet!!!) when his company was just bailed out by taxpayer money?

Why can't the U.S. government or Bank of America shareholders (who acquired Merrill) reclaim the $4 billion Thain doled out as bonuses to Merrill's staffers far in advance of regular bonus time when they turned in a performance that can only be termed "miserable" if one is being merciful with words?

President Obama, what are you planning to do to curb these greedy, selfish, abusive and illegal practices on Wall Street?

I just find it absolutely infuriating that while honest, hard-working, regular people are losing their homes and their jobs, while the country is facing what is possibly another Great Depression, while our soldiers are fighting, killing and dying abroad to defend their vision of America, people like Bernie Madoff (the Ponzi schemer) and Dick Fuld (of the bankrupt Lehman Brothers) are shamelessly and fraudulently transferring their assets to their relatives in order to avoid paying their victims and their creditors, right under the supposedly watchful eye of authorities.

That is why last January 15, less than a week before President Obama's inauguration, I joined a few hundred protesters led by the Greenlining Institute, NaFFAA R8, the Mabuhay Alliance and other community-based organizations in marching from the Bank of America HQ on California Street to the Federal Reserve Bank office on Market Street to protest the Bush Administration's bailout of the banking industry, which so far has received over $300 billion of taxpayer money but has yet to extend commensurate assistance to the folks on Main Street who are really hurting.

Joining that protest was cathartic. It was also my goodbye "kiss my behind" to the Bush Administration which, unfortunately, will be able to avoid the brunt of the problems when the eye of the storm finally hits because, according to many economists, the worst is yet to come.

But what has Bush wrought to deserve our wrath? Well, forget about the wars, the Katrina monumental ineptitude and other Constitutional violations and just stick to basics: Bush cleaned us out of our cash.

As Newsweek Editor Fareed Zakaria pointed out last week: "Remember the Bush tax cuts? In 2000, the Clinton administration had almost balanced the federal budget and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office was projecting that over the next 10 years the United States would have budget surpluses that would add up to $5.6 trillion. By the spring of 2002, two-thirds of that projected surplus had evaporated and the rest disappeared soon thereafter. It was the most profoundly un-conservative act of Bush's presidency. Rather than pay down debt and save in the good times for the inevitable bad times, Bush squandered it all so that all of us -- particularly high income earners -- could indulge in a bit more consumption."

Like consumption of more expensive commodes. And we wonder why our economy is in the toilet.

This brings me back to Joshua.

My friend told me that while driving home one day from a children's party, Joshua asked him: "Dad, when the recession is over, can we move to a home with a yard where we can all play again?" My friend looked at his son and said, "Let's hope so."

For everyone's sake, let's all hope that Joshua and others like him do not get to wait too long.

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