Bait and Switch

     How’s that war on terror working out for you?
     In the past 10 years the Republican Party has pulled off the greatest bait-and-switch scam in history. And Democrats followed behind, begging for crumbs.
     Lay to one side the wars, the tens of thousands of deaths, the tortures, the lies, the electoral gimmicks and the spying.
     Let’s look at the money.
     On Sept. 11, 2001, the average price of gas in the United States was $1.66 a gallon. Today it’s $3.66.
     Since 2011 more than 42,000 U.S. factories have closed, at a cost of 5 million jobs.
     Domestic manufacturing jobs have shrunk from 17 million to 12 million.
     The richest 1 percent of U.S. families today own more wealth than the lowest 90 percent. Most of that money isn’t earned, of course; it was inherited or accumulated by letting stocks and bonds sit in a bank.
     As far as earnings go, the richest 1 percent get 23 percent of the nation’s income each year – more than the bottom 50 percent get.
     All the statistics in this column, except for the gas prices, come from Senator Bernard Sanders’ speech on the Senate floor 9 months ago – on Dec. 10, 2010.
     Bernie filibustered for 8½ hours against the extension of the Bush tax cuts. Actually, he filibustered against more than that. He blamed the Republican Party for ruining the national economy by truckling to the super rich; he blamed the Democratic Party for going along with it; and he said, without ever quite coming out and saying it, that the Obama administration was selling out the nation by refusing to fight.
     Bernie’s speech has been published as a book called “The Speech,” whose profits go to charities in Vermont, mostly for children. He laid out where we’ve been, how we got there, and what the Republicans would do in the days to come – days which have passed now, and which proved Bernie right.
     In that speech, Bernie reeled off the names of recipients of trillions of dollars in low-interest federal loans during the rescue of Wall Street – $2.4 trillion to Citigroup, $2 trillion to Morgan Stanley, $45 billion to Bank of America, $23 billion to the Arab Banking Corp. of Bahrain, $2 billion to the state-owned Bank of South Korea, $2.2 billion to the state-owned Bank of Bavaria, $9.6 billion to the Central Bank of Mexico.
     Didn’t know you bailed out Korea and Bavaria, did you? But you did.
     The United States – that’s you and me – made these loans at rates as low as 1 percent. Bernie asked whether, and how much, of that money was spent on a shell game: with the banks turning around and loaning our own money back to us at 2 or 3 percent by buying U.S. Treasury notes. He said he would try to find out.
     Even a member of the Senate Banking Committee can’t always get answers in Washington.
     Bernie asked why these banks, which got billions of our dollars at 1 percent interest, are allowed to loan that money back to us through credit-card interest rates of 25 to 30 percent, and in the case of the nation’s 10th-largest issuer of credit cards, at 79 percent.
     “In my view, when credit card companies charge over 20 percent interest, they are not engaged in the business of making credit available to their customers; they are involved in extortion and loan-sharking,” Bernie said, “nothing essentially different than gangsters who charge outrageously high prices for their loans and who break kneecaps when their victims can’t afford to pay them.”
     Two out of three U.S. corporations paid no federal income tax from 1998 to 2005; in 2009, ExxonMobil reported $19 billion in profits, and got a $156 million federal tax refund.
     How is this possible? Well, registered lobbyists spent $3.47 billion in 2009 – that averages out to $6.5 million for each member of Congress. It doesn’t include campaign contributions. “And they get what they pay for,” Bernie said.
     The United States government is not for sale – it’s already been sold.
     Now President Obama has asked Congress for money for a jobs program – $240 billion to $440 billion, depending on how you count it. That’s too little too late, but it’s better than nothing, I guess. Let’s see how hard he fights for it – for a jobs program for U.S. workers that’s not even one-tenth the size of the bailout we gave the banks.
     I don’t think he’ll fight very hard. I haven’t seen any indications he’ll fight very hard for anything.

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