Monday, September 13, 2010

A Gentle Reminder

Not too long ago the economy crashed as a result of something called "the sub-prime mortgage debacle". Real estate prices had been artificially pumped by allowing people to buy homes on substandard credit, at too-low interest rates, and under terms that now seem ridiculous. The resulting mortgages were then traded on the market as "AAA" securities. This house of cards had to crash, and the worldwide economy almost tanked when it did. All of us, but particularly many of the currently unemployed, have been greatly harmed by this calamity. Somehow, though, the culprits who facilitated this collapse seem to have been forgotten.

Who were those culprits? They were the politicians and government agency (read "FED") people who kept interest rates too low for too long. They were the bankers and mortgage brokers who relaxed their credit rules and wrote the ridiculous contracts, and the rating agencies who lied about the value of the packaged securities. They were the real estate agents who got rich peddling overpriced property to people who clearly could not afford it. All these big players made it possible for speculators and ignorant buyers to get hooked and subsequently get busted, and for the rest of us to bear much of the cost.

My gentle reminder is that the culprits mentioned above, the self-described champions of the "free market", are the perennial backers of the republican party. Their goals have not changed; they want want low taxes on their income and investments, and they want gentle regulation of their business interests. Many of them made big money during the boom years, and they kept it. Now they're trying to convince us that the people who got displaced by the crash don't need any more "welfare" and that the rich can't afford a tax increase. After what these people did to all of us during the Bush years, is it really possible Americans will hand them the reins again?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

No Breaks for White Collar Crime!

I see that ex-Illinois governor George Ryan is asking for an early release from prison because his wife is ill and not expected to live more than three more years. Ryan's been in prison for less than two years of his 6.5 year sentence for bribery, tax evasion, and other charges. I say, throw away the key to his cell. White collar crimes don't get treated nearly as seriously as they should be.

I have much less sympathy for the white collar criminal than I do for many who go to jail for crimes of passion or desperation. Typical white collar criminals have plenty of money, considerable education, and lots of social contacts. They do their crimes not out of what one might consider "necessity" but, rather, out of simple greed or a compulsion to outsmart the system. I put George Ryan in the same stinking boat as Bernie Madoff and a host of others who have knowingly misused their positions of trust to enrich themselves at great cost to innocent others.

If prison time meted out for punishment or deterrence is to have any meaning, then it must be served. If Ryan is released early under standard "good behavior" terms, that's fine with me. However, external events should have no bearing. Those are the contingencies Ryan should have considered when he took the risks that landed him behind bars.