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    Sean Daily is an English major from New Jersey now living in Las Vegas, the Other City of Lights. "I consider 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' to be comfort reading, I like the al pastor tacos at Tacos Mexico and I count among my literary influences the Chainsaw from 'Doom'. 'RRRRRR! You don't like that, do you, Mr. Undead Marine! RRRRRR!'"

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10-1-08 “I’m from the government. Trust me. I’m here to help.”

Posted by Sean on October 1, 2008

Oh, I haven’t nearly emptied my spleen about this, Shanoah. I gots me a big old spleen, and it’s sloppin’ over with vitriol and venom. (I keep meaning to see a doctor about it, but my HMO doesn’t cover ‘distended spleen sloppin’ over with vitriol and venom’)

Anyway, I read something yesterday that got me to thinking. It was this article from Michael Scherer in Time, The Bailout Defeat: A Political Credibility Crisis“. It’s worth a read. It starts:

Nearly every major political leader in the U.S. supported the $700 billion financial-bailout bill. The President. The Vice President. The Treasury Secretary. The Chairman of the Federal Reserve. The Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The Democratic and Republican nominees for President. The Democratic and Republican leadership of the House and Senate. All of them said the same thing: vote yes.

But a majority of those politicians anointed by the Constitution to reflect the will of the people voted no. This is a remarkable event, the culmination of a historic sense of betrayal that Americans have long felt for their representatives in Washington. The nation’s credit crisis on Monday exposed a much deeper and more fundamental problem: a crisis of political credibility that now threatens to harm our nation further, should the markets freeze up and more companies begin to fail, as many experts predict.

The problem has been growing for years. Roughly 28% of Americans approve of President Bush. Roughly 18% of Americans approve of Congress. Now those low numbers and majority of bad feelings have manifested themselves in the starkest of terms.

Asked to take a leap of faith regarding a dizzyingly complex problem, a critical mass of voters refused to trust their leaders, turning down the medicine that was offered. And so the politicians who are most exposed to popular whims have run for cover. With an election on the horizon, 95 House Democrats and 133 House Republicans opposed the bill. Some portion voted no for clearly ideological reasons. But many more were simply doing what politicians do — responding to the will of the people.

But what a difference a day and a different wonk makes. Today, in the same magazine, Amanda Ripley wrote in her article “Why Aren’t Americans Buying the Bailout?” that the reason Americans are so against the bailout is because they’re a bunch of mouthbreathing morons they don’t understand the issue:

The $700 billion financial bailout package failed because most Americans wanted it to fail. Before the vote, members of Congress were getting calls 100 to 1 against the bill. The question is: why? It’s easy to understand that bailing out rich bankers doesn’t feel super, but why, despite all the efforts of all the country’s leaders to fill citizens with fear of an economic apocalypse, did they not see a failure to act as a serious threat to their livelihoods?

Traditionally, human beings are not great at assessing this kind of risk – a peril that has not yet arrived and that is, in any case, hard to viscerally imagine. Witness people’s reluctance to evacuate before hurricanes, and weather forecasts portend a danger far easier to comprehend than failing investment banks.

Why do I feel like every word in this article has an invisible, fnord-like attachment of “you stupid retards”?

Anyway, Ripley thunked and thunked about it, and finally came up with The Solution to the World Credibility Problem:

But there are methods of communicating risk in a way that stills the heart, with words that inject dread into the populace. And Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and President George W. Bush used none of them. “The case wasn’t made as to why the little guy needs this,” says Paul Slovic, author of The Perception of Risk and a psychology professor at the University of Oregon. “The numbers and vague warnings are too abstract.”

The most effective warnings are like the most effective TV ads: easily understood, specific, frequently repeated, personal, accurate and targeted. Paulson and his grim reapers managed only to repeat themselves frequently. They were not easily understood, partly because the problem is so complex. They did not personalize or target their warnings. And, as they themselves admitted, they did not know if their warnings were necessarily accurate, due to the novelty and unpredictability of the crisis.

But their biggest mistake was a lack of specificity. They never clearly told the American people what might happen if Congress did not act. “If you want people to support an action,” says Dennis Mileti, an expert on risk communications who has studied hundreds of disasters of the more conventional kind at the University of Colorado, Boulder, “you need to link the action to cutting people’s losses. And that link isn’t in place.”

Actually, the biggest mistake – and keep with me here – is that no one trusts the government.

These are, after all, the same people that told us we have to invade Iraq because “the smoking gun might be a mushroom cloud”.

These are the same people who told us that Osama bin Laden is public enemy no. 1… and then completely forgot about him for seven years (but not this year; can we say “October surprise“?).

This is the same Congress that handed its power away to the president for five years and rubber stamped his every proposal, no matter how insane it was as or the protests, however strenuous, from their constituents.

This is the same Congress that, when it had a mandate in 2006 to stop the war in Iraq, refused to do so. This was partly because there were still enough Congressmen loyal to the administration to ensure the failure of any veto overturn attempts. But it was also partly because there were still enough Congressmen loyal to the war itself… the one that they were sent to Washington to stop.

This is the same president – supposedly a conservative – who’s overseen and bullied through an exploding federal deficit, never-ending foreign war and government intrusions into private life unprecedented in their number and scale and who’s told us that he was “chosen by God to lead America”.

This is the same government removed all credible oversight over its greediest and most rapacious citizens, with the explanation that the resultant increase in profits and investement would cancel out any possible negatives. This is also the same government that then refused to tax those increased profits and investments.

This is the same Republican party that has called for more bombings, more Gitmos, more war, less rights and “drill baby drill”.

This is the same Democratic party that, for the most part, has sounded exactly like the Repbulican party for seven years, only without the testosterone toxicity.

And now, in possibly this country’s greatest crisis of the decade – greater than the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and with far greater international consequences, if you believe the hype – this government wants us to trust it?

Are you kidding me?

I’m not the only person who thinks this way. According to Joseph L. Galloway at McClatchy-Tribune, in his appropriately-titled article from Sept. 28, “Trust them with bailout? Ha ha haha“:

We the people and our national treasury are going to buy all those bad mortgages out of the portfolios of the guilty and the innocent alike. The wolves smell blood and they smell money, and we the people are supposed to rescue them and make them whole and forgive them and, oh yes, let them make more money in the process.

If you’re ready to buy this deal from a used war salesman like George W. Bush and his cronies on Wall Street, then I have a real deal for you on a bridge to nowhere.

This is the silent and unseen result, like blood poisoning, of the philosophy “The ends justify the means”, a philosophy that’s held the the government and the nation in a death grip for the better part of a decade. It’s been the philosophy of Republicans, whose thought processes have been positively Orwellian: “War is peace,” “ignorance is strength”, “civil rights are weaknesses”. And it’s been the philosophy of Democrats, who refused to call bullshit on the Republicans when it might have made a difference. The thinking behind this strategy, I believe, was “The voters might think we’re too radical and we might not get re-elected”… forgetting, of course, that for all their silence there might as well have been Republicans sitting in those Democratic seats.

These short-term means to short-term ends ended up eroding the long-term trust, already shaky, that the people had in the federal government. And now, when the government needs that trust – when not having that trust could result in disaster – it finds its credit cards maxed out and its bank accounts empty. There just ain’t any trust left.

Galloway has the perfect anecdote to illustrate this:

All I wanted was a quiet drink after a long day. What I got was ambushed by said staffer, who was all hot and bothered over a recent column of mine taking both Republicans and Democrats to task for passing an expanded and extended FISA act legalizing illegal wiretapping and surveillance of every American citizen with a cell phone or a computer.

He claimed to have labored mightily on said act, and declared that even though the NSA (No Such Agency) was gulping down terabytes of data every hour, there was no way the National Security Agency could misuse that information.

They were really only sifting and sorting it for pinpointed terrorism targets, he said, so we were just as safe from their snooping as if, well, as if they weren’t snooping at all.

“Trust us,” he asked most earnestly.

I howled with laughter. “Trust you? Trust YOU? After all that’s gone down in the last seven-plus years?”

He at least had the decency to begin laughing along with me at so ludicrous a suggestion falling out of his own mouth.

Yes, this bailout could be exactly what we need, and not passing it might result in a financial death spiral that we’d need a decade or more to pull out of – or, worse, that will be irreversibly fatal and terminal to the nation. Me and my own could lose our jobs, our financial freedom, our homes and, possibly, in the resulting chaos, our lives.

But do you really trust these clowns? Do you really trust that this bailout is the cure it’s touted to be, and that it absolutely must and with all dispatch be passed into law, and to fail to do so would result in the destruction of the nation?

I mean, haven’t we heard that line before?

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One Response to “10-1-08 “I’m from the government. Trust me. I’m here to help.””

  1. […] 10-1-08 “I’m from the government. Trust me. I’m here to help.” […]

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