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Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2008 12:57 am

Gagging on Wall Street’s bailout

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Whoa! The Wall Street bailout bill was so nasty that even Congress gagged before finally passing it. But this doesn't obscure the fact that the bailout is a disgusting glob of corporate welfare.

A sign of just how bad it is came from the incredible last-minute effort to disguise it as a populist proposal. "The rescue we're negotiating," declared George W. in a Saturday radio broadcast, "is not aimed at Wall Street; it is aimed at your street."

In fact, the administration's rescue was having a decidedly anti-populist impact: the elimination of banking competition. On Monday — poof! — Wachovia, the nation's fourth-largest bank, disappeared. Then Washington Mutual was pushed into JPMorgan Chase. Ten days earlier, Merrill Lynch was consumed by Bank of America. The three behemoths doing the swallowing now dominate nationwide, wielding unrivaled power to set fees and interest rates on our credit cards, mortgages, checking accounts, local business loans and every other banking product.

Rather than using the assets of failing banks to establish new competitors, the corporate mindset of Paulson (who came to his job straight from the Wall Street powerhouse of Goldman Sachs) is to consolidate America's banking power into ever fewer, ever bigger hands. His ally is fear, which the White House has been feverishly pumping out. "This sucker could go down," Bush shrieked a week ago in a meeting with congressional leaders.

Worse, though, is the shameful failure of either party to stand up for homeowners. Congress could have made one change that would keep families in their homes, halt the downward slide of housing prices and cost taxpayers nothing. Simply allow bankruptcy judges to reduce the mortgage payments of distressed families (currently, every kind of loan can be adjusted in bankruptcy court — except the mortgage on your home).

During the debate, one House leader cried, "There are no other choices — no other alternatives." What he meant is that there are not alternatives that come with Wall Street's seal of approval — your street be damned.

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist and author.

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