Monday, April 6, 2009

Obama's Window of Opportunity

Obam's Window Of Opportunity
by Ron Powell

In November, 2008, Rahm Emanuel, told business leaders assembled by the Wall Street Journal, that the economic crisis facing the country is "an opportunity to do things you could not do before." The bailout and stimulus measures that are in place are bereft of any requirements that can produce fundamental change in the way Wall Street works and thinks. There has been no attempt to eliminate the waste and corruption inherent in the ‘old boys network’ which is rife with cronyism, nepotism, and patronage. Indeed, apart from limiting executive pay, the money that will go to Wall Street will not act as a catalyst for 'change' in any meaningful way. What would make a difference is a required change in the personnel charged with the responsibility of managing the bailout funds and changes in the standards against which 'success' is measured. If the criteria is not altered, the out-comes will be the same regardless of the mix of individuals involved in the process.
There is no mention made of the potential for the Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action implications of the Bailout and Stimulus plans and proposals. There is an opportunity here to ensure that there is a greater degree of competition, diversity, and inclusion on Wall Street, not just at the very top, but at the entry and middle levels as well.
President Obama saw the crisis as a great opportunity for bipartisanship. When he said "80 votes" or "bipartisan" was the goal, he gave the Republicans the ability to determine success or failure, because the Republicans are the only ones who can determine whether something is going to be "bipartisan" or not. He put a gun in the hand of every Republican who wanted to take a shot at his plans, and they're firing away. There is no inherent value in bipartisanship, it's a means to an end, not an end in itself. If the administration doesn't define what that "end" is and gives the Republicans the power to determine success or failure by a simple refusal to participate, they will continue to do so.
The Recovery and reinvestment, 'stimulus', legislation could have included a component that would have an immediate and visible financial impact on people's lives. For instance, requesting a 30 or 60 day moratorium on foreclosures, evictions, layoffs, collection or payment demands and enforcement procedures, utility/cable/internet shutoffs etc. In other words, require creditors of any type, including state, local and the federal governments, to back off and give people who are being squeezed, due to job loss or other income constraints, a chance to stabilize themselves and renegotiate or restructure their debts and payments in a manner that is consistent with their capacity to pay.
Finally, the economic crisis gives the Obama administration an opportunity to work at eliminating the criminalization of poverty. Crime is big business in America. Annually the laws are changed to ensure profitability in the industry of crime. Economic conditions that can increase the number of people driven into poverty, feed the industry of crime. The current economic crisis and the continuing trend toward the criminalization of poverty can result in turning America’s middle class into a sort of criminal class. Under the laws in many jurisdictions, joblessness and homelessness can do that to people.It is incumbent on the government to identify the real culprits, and seek the means to have them become accountable for their criminal behavior. This may very well include the redistribution of their wealth, and the reorganization of the social contract between the government and the governed.
During that same gathering of business leaders Rahm Emanuel also said, "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste." Roosevelt had the New Deal, Kennedy, the New Frontier, Johnson, the Great Society. Thus far, Obama has an economic crisis of epic proportion. He also has an opportunity to define his administration as an administration of great positive social change. The window of opportunity for making “change we can believe in” will not again be as wide open as it is now.

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