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Mark Shields
Mark Shields
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Whatever Happened to Accountability?


Just about a year ago, President George W. Bush, presiding over the five largest federal deficits in U.S. history, finally vetoed the very first spending bill in his two White House terms. His administration argued that this veto was necessary because we did not have the money — an extra $30 billion over five years — even though the legislation provided that the funds would come from a dedicated increase in the cigarette tax.

And what was the bill that Bush felt compelled to veto? It was the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), passed by large, bipartisan majorities in both the House and Senate, which would have enabled the states to provide medical care to children in 8 million low-income families.

The United States did not have the money then to insure poor kids, but — in the last eight months alone — our federal government, in a frenzied effort to contain the financial crisis, has as of today committed just about $7 trillion. One trillion, I have to keep reminding myself, is 1,000 billion.

To give you some idea of what $7 trillion could pay for, the costs in constant dollars of World Wars I and II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War combined totaled, according to the Library of Congress, under $5.4 trillion. The Marshall Plan, which in three short years after World War II restored the devastated economies of 16 European nations, cost $115 billion in constant dollars, while the Louisiana Purchase — from which all or part of 15 U.S. states were created — would today carry a price tag of $217 billion.

This whole story makes me angrier by the minute. Bush and his crowd have sermonized endlessly about the urgency of accountability. The president repeated that "accountability is critically important," that "accountability is the cornerstone of reform." On Main Street, the public school, its principal, all its teachers and every student must be held accountable.

But on Wall Street — where we knew these guys were terminally greedy and we now find out, painfully, that they are apparently dumber than a bag of hammers — nobody is accountable for anything!

These titans of the economic world — who drove the getaway cars while bandits in Brioni suits robbed millions of American families of their dreams, their life savings and their peace of mind — now plead ignorance. The celebrated boards of directors who were photographed in the Hamptons and profiled in Forbes or Fortune now all sound exactly like the piano player in the house of ill repute — the one who never had any idea what was going on upstairs or in the back room.

These people have no shame. When the first bailout checks came in the front door from the U.S. Treasury, too often their reaction was to send it out the back door to pay dividends or bonuses or to buy a healthy and profitable bank.

Does nobody on Wall Street or in the Bush administration remember the leadership example of Chrysler's Lee Iacocca, who before seeking a federal loan guarantee of $1.5 billion in the fall of 1979 first negotiated $2 billion in concessions from the company's dealers, suppliers, union and non-union employees, and cut his own salary to one dollar a year? And that Iacocca and Chrysler paid that federal loan back seven years early?

Instead, the checks are written on the Treasury to individuals who neither are asked nor who offer to make any sacrifice and on whom no conditions or obligations are imposed. This is the abdication of public and private leadership and the abandonment of any pretense of accountability.

Do we want to live in a country that cannot afford $6 billion a year for five years to cover uninsured children in 8 million poor, working families but can somehow find $7 trillion — with no strings attached and no questions asked — to rescue the captains of Wall Street?

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at




8 Comments | Post Comment
Sir;...We all know what money is....Apart from being a form of relationship, we all have a certain understanding of money... What you may have done to earn your first real dollar may be ingrained in your memory... What was the cost of a Hershy bar then, as oppposed to now??? But, mainly the relation of labor to money, -this amount of hardship for that amount of cash.... In my best years of hard work, I may have earned fifty thousand, and taken far less home... So for me, this form of relationship, the having of, or not having of which determines the quality of all relationships is being put through a meat grinder, when what I worked so hard for, lost so much sleep over, risked my life for, and risked other lives for -is cranked out like so many numbers on an adding machine having no more value than the ribbon... You see, Sir, that the underlying relationship of people with people that money is supposed to serve is not the least consideration, or money would have been found for children's health care.... This rush to print and pass out dollars is purely about the form, and yet the act to support the form as soon undercuts the form...Think of what all those billions printed up and given for free does to my perception of my own value which I have bought dearly with my own labor.... How can my dignity as a human being matter to them when the pennies and dollars I scrimp, and save, for charity, or gifts are so easily debased, made worthless in an attempt to save an economy that has robbed me of my time, while robbing others of their lives... It is not fair, and it is not sensible, and even the poorest people will see what is being done here with their own eyes....Money is a form, and people can only progress by forms, by abandoning one, and taking up another... This form, of money, is having its value and its meaning robbed from it as we watch...Go into bankruptcy, say the rich to the auto makers; so you can break all your contracts... Is that not a form of relationship, a contract; ones word between employee and employer??? Will words be robbed of value so that money can keep its value??? Will money be robbed of value to save a failed economy??? After a while it is only numbers, and no longer money; that in trying to save one form they have destroyed another and all the time forgetting the relationships within the form.... It is crazy; but the government has long ago ceased to be a fair judge between workers and owners, and now has thrown its future in with the owners for good and all... Bankruptcy leads to revolution, and the government is bankrupt, morally, and financially... It will take more than a new president to save it... It reminds me of a story of the madam in Iron country who had a travelling preacher rail against her business... She said later that he advertized it better than a barrel of Slow Gin coulda... The government and the capitalists are advertizing for socialism as no socialist ever coulda...Thanks...Sweeney
Comment: #1
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sat Nov 29, 2008 5:36 AM
Sir;...Good article, by the way... Good to see ya back... Now, get to work...Thanks...Sweeney
Comment: #2
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sat Nov 29, 2008 5:43 AM
It's just silly to blame everything on Bush! Give it up, already. How about some blame for our condition on those millions who borrowed knowing they couldn't pay it back, those whose credit card debt exceeds their earning capacity, those who want the American dream but are unwilling to work & save for it? If we really want a fuzzy feeling socialist system, then we need to treat the non-productives the way they get treated in Europe - let them eat cake.
Comment: #3
Posted by:
Sat Nov 29, 2008 5:54 AM
Re: Forrest;... Are you made of matches, or are matches made of you... If you caught hell for burning would that be justified??? Mr. Bush accelerated a process begun long before him, and even encouraged by Mr. Greenspan, -of giving political support for property rights by the illusion of home ownership....Now; how many do you think actually burrowed thinking they could not pay back??? If you could prove what you charge, then that is fraud.... People sold inflated values on the perception that prices would continue to bubble... They did not, but the fraud is in the selling, and not in the buying... Look at all who are hurt.... If you have more invested in your house than it would sell for, you have been robbed of your labor as well as your equity....But what of people who burrow to survive??? To hear the talk of government and economists, our society and the whole world are living on credt, so that nothing moves and no one is hired without credit... Talk about productive people... I dare you... Because the latest statistics i have heard is that 20% of our economy is in production, and of that, 90% is exported, and yet, more than 90% of profits in this country come out of the financiial sector, and that includes production, and the 80% we would call service, as finance might well be... Here is the thing: If wages are continually forced lower, and no one has or can afford insurance for life altering ilnesses, then isn't dependence upon credit all but assured unless one seeks the economic suicide of bankruptcy??? The government borrows, and so do all the businesses... If they cannot now pay back their borrowing, does that make them morally defective??? The situtation under which people must borrow is contrived, just as the company towns were of days past...People do not get enough of wages... People do not have enough of rights, or life; and even if they borrow and borrowing only buries them deeper in debt, that makes borrowing even more essential to their survival... If I could not survive otherwise, and I guess I cannot, I would borrow before I would steal, and it is making last choices first, rather than taking the only alternative that makes one bad....So; before you run down socialism, please look for the definition of a commonwealth... It was not to be nice that the Romans had the corn dole... It was the right of Roman Citizens and by the same measure we all have a right to the produce of this country... If it is thought good to give away the national wealth, as we have done with land, mineral rights, and even broadcast rights- for nothing; then where is the good??? This land was designed with goals clearly stated in the preamble of the constitution, and it says nothing about cake for all... It does say justice, liberty welfare, union, defense... And these are all noble and achievable goals... But, not if the government serves only one class in the expectation that all other classes will be Served...Do you want to make people productive??? Let me tell you how.... The great advance of capital is that to make products cheap it had to make labor free... Every worker capital could kick out of a job lowered the expense of the product accordingly... If we worked two hour shifts a day we would not have room in the factories, and could produce for all our needs... Productivity is denied to people, and even to productive people, their place in production is denied, so that their meaning, the value of what they do, is denied to them along with a full measure of its price... What ever else my work denied to me, it was always real, and I was always real, because I could always see my place in production, and no matter what the boss said, I could not be replaced by a trained monkey working for peanuts, even if I did work for peanuts...To understand why people rely on credit is never going to be a simple conclusion based upon a handful of facts... The whole society is working in the future to afford a moment of now... Most of us are deprived of meaning, and deliberately so, because no one can have more meaning, but the value of wealth it such that it only has meaning when others are deprived of it... Why be rich if everyone is rich too??? But poverty is demeaning, and all the more so if one must work hard for the pleasure...Thanks...Sweeney
Comment: #4
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sat Nov 29, 2008 8:20 AM
Funny how pious folks like Bush just can't square evolution with the teachings of their Good Lord, but from them Social Darwinism to weed out the poor gets a heavenly nod every time. It was just God's will that Georgie was born to a rich family with all the perks, and that he has lived life like all the other sliver-spoon spoiled brats with advantage at every turn. It's for God to decide who gets welfare, not the government.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Masako
Sat Nov 29, 2008 3:05 PM
Re: Masako; Sir,....To be fair, it is probably easier to imagine being rich if you are born poor, than to imagine being poor if born rich... Having what one needs is not likely to fire ones imagination... And I guess that many born into wealth look at poverty as unendurable, and wonder why the poor do not just die, and conveniently so, after digging their own graves... Thanks...Sweeney
Comment: #6
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sat Nov 29, 2008 3:18 PM
Re: James A, Sweeney: You got me, as usual. You are quite right that there will be plenty of fire in the synapses of the poor. Obama is a case in point. But those who popped out right on third base don't really have much of an incentive to trouble their little synapses, do they? That's Darwin, again. He's everywhere. Cheers to you. Masako
Comment: #7
Posted by: Masako
Sat Nov 29, 2008 7:39 PM
Re: Masako; Wall, thanks... And best to ya...Sweeney
Comment: #8
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sun Nov 30, 2008 8:43 AM
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