Thursday, August 6, 2009

Hypocrisy or Class War?

New York Times


The blinders are now off. The greed and hypocrisy of some of the most powerful leaders in society are now exposed for all to see. Are they behaving like Marie Antoinette, fighting for their own wealth instead of the well being of the people? Future historians will judge fairly, and probably just as harshly. Let's hope history does not repeat itself, and the revolution to oust these selfish rulers remain peaceful.


Clunker Class War

My clunker was a ’64 Ford Galaxie, logging maybe eight miles to the gallon on level ground, the back seat burned to the coils by a knucklehead friend who left a cigarette to smolder. When it died, just short of 140,000 miles, everything went. Sold it for scrap and $50 — with the tow.

Today, I’d trade that dog on wheels in a New York minute for the upgrade, some smart mileage car that is one of the autos zooming off my neighborhood lot as part of the Cash for Clunkers program.

But according to a barnacled cluster of senators, this program must be sunk, now. It’s been far too successful — dealers have been swamped, people are lining up to buy cars that burn less gas and bring instant cash to crippled local economies.

This is old fashioned stimulus of a sort that Republicans have always advocated, using financial incentives to change behavior. Representative Candice Miller, a G.O.P. lawmaker — albeit from the car-dependent state of Michigan — called it “the best $1 billion of economic stimulus the government has ever spent.”

But look where the rest of Miller’s party is. Last week, Senator John McCain threatened to lead a filibuster rather than let Cash for Clunkers continue to September, as the House has agreed to do with an additional $2 billion from money already approved in the stimulus law.

He backed off this week, though he and other critics continued to treat Cash for Clunkers like swine flu with a steering wheel.

They hate it, many of these Republicans, because it’s a huge hit. It’s working as planned, and this cannot stand. America must fail in order for President Obama to fail. Don’t be surprised if the tea party goons now being dispatched to shout down town hall forums on health care start showing up at your car dealers, megaphones in hand.

But there’s another reason, less spoken of, for why some people get so incensed over little old Cash for Clunkers: it helps average people, and it’s easily understood — a rare combination in a town where the big money deals usually go down with packaged obfuscation.

The overall amount of money is paltry, to the government. But to a typical family, a $4,500 break on a new car with greater gas mileage is a big deal. Consider the extraordinary giveaways of your tax dollars that happened without serious filibuster threats by the protectors of free enterprise.

The granddaddy of them all, of course, was President George W. Bush’s $700 billion bailout of banks, insurance companies and Wall Street miscreants who helped to run the economy into the ground. As presented initially, remember, the bailout had to pass in a day or two, with minimal debate. Or else.

“The goal isn’t to control markets, but to revive them,” the Wall Street Journal editorialized at the time, backing perhaps the greatest reward for bad behavior in the history of capitalism.

Yet, when a tiny fraction of that amount went to strapped consumers this summer for their revival, The Journal jumped back on their Adam Smith pedestal, calling Cash for Clunkers “crackpot economics.”

Then there is the American International Group, the pariah A.I.G., now being kept afloat by the taxpayers to the tune of nearly $180 billion. This money from us to them didn’t sell any cars. It didn’t improve gas mileage. It didn’t help neighborhood businesses. It went to fortify an insurance giant that made terrible bets on complex securities and then threatened to bring us all down with them. McCain was there for A.I.G., no filibuster in his quiver.

And when it came out that some of those same corporate welfare titans would still be giving each other bonuses, former Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani rode to the rescue. Bonuses, he argued, trickle down to waiters, limo drivers, cafes that sell donuts to cops — cash for dunkers.

But try to give struggling families a one-time boost to buy a more fuel-efficient car, with an amount that wouldn’t pay for paper clips at A.I.G., and it’s … outrageous!

Reports from car dealers show that clunker stimulus has boosted show room traffic up to 200 percent. The most common vehicles being traded in, they said, are pickups and S.U.V.’s; the most popular replacements will save drivers more than $1,000 a year in gas costs.

Those who oppose this program on principle argue that government should not be choosing winners and losers in the marketplace, even in a down economy. But both parties have long used federal money for precisely that, intending to change society, in ways big and small. What was the G.I. Bill but the greatest escalator to the middle class for returning war veterans? Home mortgage subsidies allow millions of families to own their own house, benefiting realtors, drywallers, roofers and assorted contractors.

I don’t like that big agriculture gets rewarded for monopolizing rural economies while stuffing nearly every processed food with the dreaded high-fructose corn syrup. I was against giving $35 billion in federal help for oil and gas companies over the next five years, as Republicans advocated during last year’s campaign.

For that matter, I hate to see small independent book stores disappear from the landscape.

But Cash for Clunkers is a bare slight against free market chastity. It’s simple stimulus, caught up in a much larger system that’s always been there for the big money players, but holds a much higher standard for anyone else.

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