Wall Street Bonuses; Traumatized Haiti

The visual juxtaposition is compelling – congressional hearings in Washington where bailed-out bankers defend their mega-bonuses as “doing God’s work” while thousands of dust-covered and injured earthquake victims stare eerily into the after-shock silence of their personal suffering in Haiti, the latest example of global climate insecurity. In either case, the odds are not good that the people’s greater good will prevail.

Greased by insider lobbying campaigns, Wall Street is poised to redistribute millions of dollars in bonuses paid for performances that earned massive taxpayer-funded bailouts. This injustice claws at our collective sense of shared citizenship at home while the devastation in Haiti that claws at our hearts allows us to communicate and demonstrate the values of civic generosity and shared sacrifice abroad.

We self-identify as a nation for good, ready and willing to send unparalleled aid to others in need. But inwardly we know we owe it to ourselves to check our own self-inflicted deficiencies at the open door to our nation’s survival. Leadership by example means we cannot truly help others unless we learn how to uplift the disenfranchised, disillusioned, and discarded citizens in our midst who are victims of systemic abuses still dancing merrily in the halls of conscience-free corporate boardrooms.

Here’s how we start. For those financial and insurance institutions deemed too big to fail – let’s make them smaller and more accountable to the Main Street communities they purportedly serve and whose deposits and policies they supposedly safeguard. “Too big to fail” translates into privatized profits and socialized losses. Those bailed out institutions who decry any aspect of socialism in the American equation should be first in line to volunteer for downsizing.

Those who argue for unfettered capitalism and the free market’s invisible hand cannot then spend large sums tilting the public playing field overwhelmingly in their parochial favor with full impunity. Our political system, while visibly flawed, must persist as a resolute bulwark against destructive greed, and self-serving market distortions.

Those high-priced Wall Street individuals who supposedly will leave if they don’t garner the current pay scale tributes they are accustomed to receiving should be encouraged to try and find a better place to do what they do in the way they do it. This is a non-credible bluff crying to be called-out in the public square. Maybe we can suggest a Google-free China, or the United Kingdom with its precedent “make the polluter pay” approach to outrageous banker bonuses?

Those Wall Street defenders who contend their detractors suffer from class envy should enroll in community college civics 101. Such revolting lack of economic patriotism on the part of a privileged investor class reveals a collective, gold-plated tin ear regarding the real causes behind ten percent nationwide unemployment. What may pass for class envy on Wall Street translates into broadly based public rejection of a business model that outsources local jobs, shutters neighborhood factories, destroys homeowner equity, and threatens community livelihood. “Fool us once, shame on you; fool us twice, shame on us” is a fitting epitaph for a Wall Street shell game that brokers myriad and impossible to decipher client conflicts of interest using other people’s money with the final conflicted client being the American people.

As we have already seen in Virginia, New Jersey, and now Massachusetts, the 2010 mid-term elections are going to showcase incumbent politicians losing their seats if they don’t rejuvenate Main Street America in ways that resonate, starting with jobs. Those current officeholders who survive will have proven their ability to channel public anger and suffering into solutions that gush justice and fairness back to citizens who have been ill-served, born the burden, and paid the price. Then, when we help to sustain Haiti’s societal and infrastructure rebuilding from disaster response to next generation growth and inclusion – we can shine even brighter through our own example.