Saturday, March 15, 2008

Greed Gone Wild, Lobbying Gone Looney

Maybe this is what the late 1920s felt like, financial "systems" (ha!) out of control, waves of foreclosures, no sensible planning on the part of private or governmental institutions, the never-free, loaded-dice "free market" cannibalizing itself.

What rational nation cuts taxes after hurling itself into an unnecessary five-year-plus war? Only George Herbert Hoover Bush would pull such a stunt, which enables the very rich to suck up loose cash but ruins the economy as a whole and devastates working people.

I was talking with a realtor today, who explained that after "the Fed" pumped a bunch of money into the banking system, with the idea of lowering interest-rates and getting the economy going, many makes raised interest-rates so that they would make money at both ends--from the Fed handout and from small investors (like home-buyers). Thus they stash a lot of cash, make the quarterly books look good, and raise the price of their stock. Meanwhile, the economy continues to slump, and the gap between rich and poor widens. Why wouldn't Congress (for example) regulate such behavior and instruct the banks that if they get an influx of cash for the government, the mustn't raise interest-rates? Congress/the Fed did step in to save Bear/Stearns--because they were afraid of a stock-crash. Save Bear/Stearns, but to hell with the working-class family in foreclosure. The realtor told me he has a client who can barely make house payments. He wants to negotiate a deal with the bank, but the bank won't negotiate with him unless he goes into foreclosure. It's in the bank's interest to see him fail, I guess. And the banks don't have to pay attention to Congress because banking-lobbyists own Congress.

Don't you just love the argument that lobbying, a synonym for bribery, is protected free speech? Checks, currency, and wire-transfers of money--from banking lobbyists to a congress-person's campaign, e.g.--do involve numbers and letters: texts, if you will. I will grant that technical point. But only amounts of symbolic stored energy are being expressed. No one is speaking, writing, performing, or peacefully protesting. They're just bribing.

I'm tempted to argue against lobbying and even to argue for outlawing it. I'd allow anybody to give any information they wanted to legislators. I just wouldn't allow any money to go from lobbyists and their employers to legislators. In fact, I'd require lobbyists to take a vow of poverty. Non-profit organizations would take care of their basic needs. Ideas, jokes, poems, riddles, statistics, reports, theories, draft-bills--yes to all of these. Money--no. It's not speech. It's money. Gifts--no. Favors--no. Maybe one batch of home-made cookies per year, that's it.

On second thought, however, I think I'd prefer to make lobbying not illegal but even more obviously crass and vividly bad for the common good. Like automobiles in NASCAR, legislators should have to wear patches and decals on their clothes representing every entity that's given them money. Failure to represent a lobbyist with a patch or decal would mean the legislator would have to give the money back--in a public ceremony.

And while I'm at it, let me say how disappointed I am in the Poetry Lobby. What are they doing? Why aren't they pushing the poetry-agenda more fiercely? Where are their offices, their newsletters, their think-tanks, their phony corporations, their email-alerts? I want Emily Dickinson's image to replace Jefferson's on the nickel, for instance. The Poetry Lobby could push for that. E.D. never owned slaves, and she wrote over a thousand great poems. TJ helped draft a few "founding" documents, but he's gotten enough press. He can give up the nickel.

I'd like a National Poet's Reserve. If you joined, you'd have to go to a workshop once a month and agree to be ready to be called up to active duty--for example, if the governor needed some sonnets written, or if an ailing poet needed some help with meals or errands. I'd like to see the U.S. step up poetry-exports, and I want NASA to send some poetry-satellites in orbit, so the spoken word could be broadcast around the globe more vigorously. I'd like to see the villanelle put on the Endangered Form-Poem list, and I want us to drill for poetry in Alaska. Poetry Lobby, where are you?
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