Last week, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) weighed in to express his outrage at the lack of government control which led to the AIG bailout scandal. This isn’t the first time that Sessions has expressed outrage over wasteful spending and lack of government control.
Back when the Iraq war was young, news broke that Paul Bremer had followed Cheney’s instructions and “misplaced” some pallets of cash, with twelve BILLION dollars ultimately going missing. That episode also had Sessions frothing at the mouth about government control. But in that instance, he was frothing because the government had lost control of the information and let the press find out that Cheney and friends were getting an extra twelve BILLION dollars, over and above the no-bid and cost-plus contracts being awarded to anyone and everyone who had contributed to the campaign. Why couldn’t we prosecute the press for treason and execute them all for revealing the truth, he wanted to know. Or better, send some of Cheney’s hit squads after the treasonous reporters!
Now that AIG is spending $165 million on bonuses (about 1% of the twelve BILLION given away to Cheney and friends) Sessions is outraged again. Not surprisingly, he isn’t outraged that AIG gave out bonuses under the terms of contracts written and approved under the Bush administration. What Mr. Sessions complains about is that the Obama administration revealed the bonuses and Congress is now passing laws to tax the bonuses.
For Sessions this is a double whammy of evil. First the evil of the press finding out and publicizing what the Bush administration did. Second, the evil of Congress proposing a tax. Any tax on ill-gotten gains is odious to Sessions. Especially a tax on ill-gotten gains. Taxes should only be levied against the poor. Congress should only be forcing the breach of union autoworker contracts, not the no-bid, cost-plus, bonus-for-bad-performance contracts of the wealthy.
One problem with the Obama administration’s laser focus on developing and implementing solutions to the catastrophes caused by eight years of Republican mismanagement and corruption is that there has been so little focus on remembering the details of the policies which got us where we are. It’s understandable that the Obama team wants to look forward, needs to work forward, rather that wallowing in recriminations about what they found when they took over. But their need to look at other issues shifts to concerned citizens the task of remembering recent history, so we aren’t condemned to repeat it.
While Sessions and his Republican pals rebuke the new administration for inadequate oversight, after barely 60 days in office, let’s remember what their beloved Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson, suggested as a bailout package.
Paulson proposed that favored Republican bankers be handed $700 billion dollars. His proposal for oversight was that Congress, the Courts, and the Justice Department would be legislatively prohibited from examining any act of the bankers. That’s right, the Republicans wanted zero oversight, guaranteed by a law preventing any prosecutor or auditor, or investigative agency from looking at or criticizing what the bankers did with that $700 billion.
And now Sessions is outraged by press coverage of spending $165 million to pay bonus contracts that were approved by the Republican administration.
Sessions’ outrage over press coverage of the AIG bonuses was put in clearer context by two other press revelations this week. In the first, a Judge, appointed by that liberal leftist Ronald Reagan, found that the Bush administration had violated the law, intentionally, for years to prevent women from having access to over-the-counter birth control pills.
Federal Judge Edward Korman found that the Bush administration, which took office on January 20, 2001, started to interfere with scientific functions of the FDA, in February 2001. Perhaps this is why Republicans complain about Obama not having large effects after 60 days in office. After only a couple of weeks in office, the Bush administration had started violating the law and interfering with the rights and health of American women.
Once the Republican’s had acted to put women back under control, they wasted no time in taking on the inner city poor. The second news item this week was the disclosure of two agency investigations into intentional corruption of a program to encourage small, minority owned companies, working in economically depressed areas, to apply for and get government contracts.
The Small Business Administration (“SBA”) has programs to help small businesses in economically depressed areas learn how to participate in government contract bidding. This helps the depressed areas by opening opportunities to create jobs, get people off assistance and into the tax paying, product buying economy.
The investigations revealed that the Bush administration systematically undermined these programs and worked to route the contracts to big corporations which were already able to get government contracts. The effort was to disrupt the ability of small businesses in economically depressed areas to compete with big, established, Republican-donating businesses. It was an explicit effort to prevent free market competition by minority businesses with established white businesses.
It was understood that the economically depressed areas targeted by the programs were mostly inner city and minority areas. It was understood and intended that the Republican policies would take money which would have helped poor black and latino owned businesses and give it to already rich white owned businesses. This is racism. Not accidental. Not incidental, but considered, intentional and explicit racism. It is also corporate welfare.
The Republican diversion machine will argue that this was not racism. They were simply reacting to “bad laws.” But in a democracy, the response to laws you don’t like is to work to change the laws. In a democracy, we don’t just break the laws we don’t like. The Republicans knew that the majority of Americans would not support changing laws that were written to help people work their way out of poverty. So they decided to simply break the laws, since they knew voters wouldn’t allow changing them.
And this is the heart of Jeff Sessions’ outrage at the Obama administration. Obama promised change. One central part of the change he is delivering is a renewed respect for the rule of laws. He has said we are going to obey international laws on war and torture. Now he has said that his administration may be bound by legally enforceable bonus contracts left over from the Republican administration.
Sessions and his Republican colleagues don’t want a government that obeys laws. Any good Republican knows that if you don’t like the law, you can just ignore it (if you’re rich and white). But the Obama type government might even prosecute people who just break laws instead of working to change them. Instead of just chasing street corner drug dealers and 7-11 robbers, the Obama administration might actually start enforcing labor laws, or environmental laws, or workplace safety laws. Any of these possibilities is enough to drive Sessions and his Republican cohorts into panic mode.
We see the Republican panic in the plangent plaintive wail from talk radio, congress and the chamber of commerce, all coordinated to complain that Obama is somehow guilty of incompetence precisely because he is accepting the contracts Republicans insisted on last year.
The Republican panic can only mean good things for the people who voted for change. The Republican complaints mean that change is happening, better times are coming. And we who voted for change are getting what we worked for.
Tom Hall is a family lawyer in West Los Angeles. He is from Boston, and was raised in Friends Meeting at Cambridge (Quakers) to think that religion was a progressive force. During the Vietnam War, he organized draft counseling centers and worked with groups training people in techniques for disciplined nonviolent demonstrating. After the war, he became just another yuppie working to make a comfortable life. The Bush administration shocked him back into social concerns. Now he’s working to see that the Obama administration lives up to its progressive promises. Tom can be reached at [email protected]