23 September 2008

All Poltics Is Personal

I have a brother in prison. You probably wouldn't believe it if you met him before. He is charming, gregarious... a great storyteller. He was popular in school. He was successful at work. He is a family man. He made a mistake. One very big, life-altering mistake. My brother drove drunk and killed someone. When I explain to people how I came to have a brother in prison, no one feels sorry for him. Even I find it difficult to feel sorry for him. He rightly has to pay for his poor judgment.

My brother has in him both the best that we look for in ourselves and the worst. He worked hard his whole life, and I do mean hard. He was ambitious. He did everything he was supposed to do, right up until the day he went to prison. He worked the last week before he went in to provide as best he could for his family. A family that hates him now, I might add. A family that thinks he did this to them. On purpose. They think they are the victims. I find them quite laughable, actually. There is only one person in a casket. The rest of us are pretty damn lucky if you ask me. But I digress. He pled guilty. He accepted his sentence and is doing every day of it.

But this isn't a story about my brother. Not really. This is a story about all of us.

I am not ashamed of my brother. I tell his story often as a lesson and a warning to others. Because few of us are without sin. If we are honest with ourselves, I think most of us should be reminding ourselves: there but for the grace of God, go I. Who hasn't stretched the limits of sobriety and driven? Who hasn't engaged in risky sexual behavior and breathed a sigh of relief to learn you weren't: 1) pregnant or 2) going to die from some awful STD? Who hasn't done something, sometime, that could have resulted in disaster? and most of the time, we get off scott-free. There's that big Whew! moment when you realize that fate was denied. But there is a difference between my brother and most people. My brother did this behavior over and over again.

I hope my telling of my brother's story teaches others the same lesson it taught me. The law of averages works. If you engage in risky behavior often enough for long enough, something bad is going to happen.

Which brings me to our current economic woes. Whaaaaa, you say? Well, as I see it, members of the financial community engaged in very risky behavior for a very long time and they did so not to feed an addiction (such as alcoholism) or for sexual pleasure, but rather for the love of money. And they got away with it once. Then twice. And then their confidence turned to cockiness. Just like my brother, they gambled with other people's safety for their own selfishness. And they did it long enough and often enough, until the bad times came home to roost.

Most people who gamble short eventually meet up with a fella named Fingers or The Nose, or Crazy Vinny. Men who remind gamblers that there is no free ride. I guess because these short-sellers are Wall Street elite, we are supposed to feel sorry for them and call off the dogs? Instead of paying for their own sins, we are going to pay for them.

What makes these people so different than my brother? By what rights do they walk away without consequence? By whose authority do we not only forgive their bad behavior, but also reward them with more money for f***ing the rest of us to hell?

George W. Bush's authority, that's who. He's got brass ones, I'll give him that. The same man who brought us non-existent WMDs as an excuse for an open-ended, unprovoked, illegitimate and ultimately immoral war in Iraq. The same man who has failed in 8 years to bring the money behind the 9/11 attacks to justice. The man with a C average in history at Yale.

Earlier, I made allusion to the fact that Wall Street elite seem to be acting like the robber barons of days of old. I don't think this is an exageration. Concentrating decision-making in the hands of a few (or in this case, one!) individuals is a risk that I am not just uncomfortable with, but that I think is a threat to the republic. There can be no good to come of this.

Now I don't claim to be an economist. I don't understand the larger ramifications of a bailout or lack of a bailout, but I am a pretty astute judge of human behavior every once in a while. It makes no sense to punish some and reward others for what is ultimately the same behavior. I don't think you trust the coyote to run the hen house. There are good people left in America. Trustworthy people. People who have proven their worth. Can we really afford to put our fate in the hands of a man and his cronies who knowingly lied to us about so many things? Oh no. Hell to the no.

It is absurd. We can't afford absurdities in a crisis. I will believe in this bailout when George W. Bush steps back from it. When he doesn't have a single ounce of influence in it.

There can be no blank check. Not ever. Not with this man.

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