Oversight? What’s that? (Sorry, it’s been a while.)

I was, in the words of many a Capital Hill douchebag, “cautiously optimistic” when I read this today in the Washington Post.

A massive federal plan to revive the U.S. financial system ran into intense skepticism today on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers from both parties questioned whether it would work and demanded protections for taxpayers with tough oversight.

Oversight! Now there’s a role Congress hasn’t taken very seriously in the past seven years. But, if real, this attitude shift is welcome –a bit late, and a bit cynical coming from Republicans– but very, very welcome nonetheless.

For reasons best expressed by Naomi Klein, I am still pretty worried.

The second [phase of the economic shock] comes when the debt crisis currently being created by this bailout becomes the excuse to privatize social security, lower corporate taxes and cut spending on the poor. A President McCain would embrace these policies willingly. A President Obama would come under huge pressure from the think tanks and the corporate media to abandon his campaign promises and embrace austerity and “free-market stimulus.”

So, even if there is strict Congressional oversight of the “bailout” and it’s followed by much greater regulation of Wall Street, it’s still likely that those of us who bear the least responsibility for the crisis in the first place (especially the poor) will ultimately pay most dearly.

Cheery, no?

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GOP Wall Street Socialism

So, our always prudent government is bailing out Wall Street as it collapses like a house of cards. My extreme free-marketeer roommate is being strangely silent about this, and prefers to argue with me about whether or not “black privilege” exists (It does not.) Maybe the I should send him Glenn Greenwald’s latest column and see what he thinks.

Greenwald’s take (emphasis mine):

…whatever else is true, the events of the last week are the most momentous events of the Bush era in terms of defining what kind of country we are and how we function — and before this week, the last eight years have been quite momentous, so that is saying a lot. Again, regardless of whether this nationalization/bailout scheme is “necessary” or makes utilitarian sense, it is a crime of the highest order — not a “crime” in the legal sense but in a more meaningful sense.

What is more intrinsically corrupt than allowing people to engage in high-reward/no-risk capitalism — where they reap tens of millions of dollars and more every year while their reckless gambles are paying off only to then have the Government shift their losses to the citizenry at large once their schemes collapse? We’ve retroactively created a win-only system where the wealthiest corporations and their shareholders are free to gamble for as long as they win and then force others who have no upside to pay for their losses. Watching Wall St. erupt with an orgy of celebration on Friday after it became clear the Government (i.e., you) would pay for their disaster was literally nauseating, as the very people who wreaked this havoc are now being rewarded.

More amazingly, they’re free to walk away without having to disgorge their gains; at worst, they’re just “forced” to walk away without any further stake in the gamble. How can these bailouts not at least be categorically conditioned on the disgorgement of ill-gotten gains from those who are responsible? The mere fact that shareholders might lose their stake going forward doesn’t resolve that concern; why should those who so fantastically profited from these schemes they couldn’t support walk away with their gains? This is “redistribution of wealth” and “government takeover of industry” on the grandest scale imaginable — the buzzphrases that have been thrown around for decades to represent all that is evil and bad in the world.

Or, as Mischa put it (in his gchat away message), “All Republicans are Socialists above a hundred million dollars.”

And it’s not just Mischa, apparently the Brazilians are thinking similarly.

Other countries are debating it. The headline in the largest Brazilian newspaper this week was: “Capitalist Socialism??” and articles all week have questioned — with alarm — whether what the U.S. Government did has just radically and permanently altered the world economic system and ushered in some perverse form of “socialism” where industries are nationalized and massive debt imposed on workers in order to protect the wealthiest. If Latin America is shocked at the degree of nationalization and government-mandated transfer of wealth, that is a pretty compelling reflection of how extreme — unprecedented — it all is.

But there’s virtually no discussion of that in America’s dominant media outlets. All one hears is that everything that is happening is necessary to save us all from economic doom.

This last point is important, and very scary when you really reflect on what it means. The near total lack of dissenting voices in Congress and the media is another sign of how ossified democracy has become in the United States. Everything government does is ok, because it’s government doing it.

UPDATE: Ummm, or not.  Sort of? We hope?