Friday, March 20, 2009

Seeing one tree and not the forest

"Suppose you were an idiot," Mark Twain once wrote, "and suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself." This bit of Twain's wisdom comes to mind at times like this week, when members of Congress are tripping over themselves to find a microphone where they can express outrage, and even in an instance like this, when outrage is appropriate, any and all reasonable thought is quickly abandoned so as not to be seen on the wrong side of an issue that is clearly resonating with the public.

The A.I.G. bonuses look terrible -- and they are terrible -- but the week-long furor they incited distracted all of us from a number of other items that are as important, if not more so. I didn't hear a single member of Congress weigh in on the high-ranking Bush Administration official who said that the government and the military under the former president knew from day one that most of those held as enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay were innocent. Hundreds were held for up to seven years, and some are still there! Where is the outrage?

On the financial front, economists repeat the warning that the Obama Administration has not adequately addressed the banking crisis and that the recovery will not begin in earnest until then. The bonus debacle, in fact, makes it much less likely that the public will tolerate any more attempts at anything that can be tagged with the term "bailout," and Congress has rarely shown the nerve to stand up and do what needs to be done in the face of widespread public disapproval.

When I look at the bonus issue from a broader view, my reaction is to wonder if all these people shouting have been paying attention to our economic system and the inherent disparities lo these many years. This is what capitalism does: resources and people are exploited for the benefit of a small class of individuals. It's worked that way from the start -- and now, suddenly, there's an uproar over a tiny piece of the inequity?

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