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Thursday, March 24, 2011 06:30 pm

America’s true crisis

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The greatest problem our nation faces can be summed up in one word: leadership. OK, make that three words: lack of leadership.

America’s corporate, political, media, academic and other leaders aren’t. They’re not leaders because they refuse to stand tall, be bold, offer vision, inspire and ... well, lead. We’ve got too many 5-watt bulbs sitting in 100-watt sockets. They’re squishing the historic can-do spirit of the American people, reducing it to a dispiriting ethic of surrender that says we-shouldn’t-even-try.

Start with our leaders’ willful abdication of the American dream. They’ve given up on the notion of producing a shared prosperity that creates a broad middle class. For more than a decade now, Wall Street and Washington have let millions of jobs disappear and pushed wages down. They now yawn at the entrenched jobs crisis that is eating the middle class, and rather than responding to the plight of millions of hard-hit families, they’re trying to bust unions and kill minimum-wage laws.

They call it “the new normal,” in which the workaday majority of folks should simply ratchet down their hopes and expectations. A national commitment to quality education, health care for all and a decent retirement has been reduced to a “YO-YO” program: You’re on Your Own.

What about creating a vibrant new green economy based on renewable energy? Let China build it, they shrug. How about constructing a bold, nationwide, job-creating network of high-speed trains? Spain built a great one and even France has one, but we’re told it’s too much for America. Our deteriorating and dangerous infrastructure? Better that we cut taxes for the super-rich and pray for God to take care of infrastructure.  

These people are pathetic. And shameful. You can’t call yourself a leader if you’re too weak and too afraid to lead.

One of the worst examples of their inability to lead is the new Securities and Exchange Commission’s crackdown on the egregious pay packages that the elites of Wall Street keep grabbing.

By a three-to-two vote, SEC commissioners socked the money-grubbing bankers with a new “say on pay” rule. Rather than let top executives lavish money on themselves unchecked, the new rule lets shareholders of those financial giants vote on extravagant salaries, bonuses and perks. That’ll rein in the excess, right?

Probably not. You see, the SEC has long been a gentle regulator, never wanting to hear a Wall Streeter say “ouch.” Thus, the say-on-pay rule has no bite. Shareholders can indeed have their say, but it’s a non-binding vote! Bank big-shots can simply ignore it. Yet even this velvet harness was too rough for the two soft-on-greed Republican commissioners, Kathleen Casey and Troy Paredes. Both voted no, with Casey explaining that the new rules “are unduly restrictive and impose unnecessary burdens” on bankers.

Don’t despair, though, for justice still might be served. The SEC has since approved another compensation crackdown, this time specifically targeting outrageous multimillion-dollar bonuses. For the first time, big banks will henceforth be compelled to restrain themselves. How? By filing detailed annual reports about the bonuses they pay. Ouch, that’ll sting, won’t it?

Again, though, even this tiny pinch was too harsh for the compassionate Republican members. Both sided with the poor bankers, wailing that requiring reports is a big-government intrusion into the private sector, overreaching the SEC’s authority.

Real leaders aren’t in Washington – they’re fighting for us on Main Street. Luckily, a public interest group named Bankster USA is rallying grass-roots support to curb banker greed. To find our nation’s real leaders and have your own say and push for real reform, contact www.banksterusa.org.

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


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