My morning routine has been a standardized thing for many years now. I roll out of bed, turn on "Sportscenter" in the living room, get the coffee going in the kitchen, and then bunker in at my desk for a couple of hours of reading news reports and email at my computer. Given everything that has been happening in this country and the world over the last several years, this has generally been a depressing process that has me yelling at nothing before noon. Some days, however, are so bad that I have to force myself not to go back to bed and pull the covers over my head.
Monday was one of those days. Two stories jumped off the front page of The New York Times that almost caused me to put my fist through my computer monitor. The first began:
The financial reform legislation making its way through Congress has Wall Street executives privately relieved that the bill does not do more to fundamentally change how the industry does business.
Despite the outcry from lobbyists and warnings from conservative Republicans that the legislation will choke economic growth, bankers and many analysts think that the bill approved by the Senate last week will reduce Wall Street's profits but leave its size and power largely intact. Industry officials are also hopeful that several of the most punitive provisions can be softened before it is signed into law.
"If you talk to anyone privately, there's a sigh of relief," said one veteran investment banker who insisted on anonymity because of the delicacy of the issue. "It'll crimp the profit pool initially by 15 or 20 percent and increase oversight and compliance costs, but there's no breakup of any institution or onerous new taxes."
The reaction of the market to the legislation echoed that view. Stocks of financial institutions performed well on Friday, with shares of JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley each up 5 percent.
Sigh of relief, eh? Well, thank goodness. It makes me so happy to know the thieves and cretins who raped our futures are not only going to get away with it, but the institutions and slippery systems of theft and fraud are going to be largely kept intact. Specifically, the dark and dangerous derivatives trading process, which was at the core of the crisis, will not be regulated to any great degree. The "too big to fail" institutions that stole from us won't be broken up, despite the insane danger they represent to the health of this economy.
There is a vast, windy gap between the high-flown rhetoric from the White House and the final product that comes once the talking is done. The health care "reform" process was the first great example of this; the talk was about public options and true reform, but the actual legislation had only a few wobbly teeth and included a galactic giveaway to the insurance industry, the very industry at the heart of the problem. We were going to be out of Iraq soon, too, and, now, not so much. And here again, with financial reform, is a lot of big talk, but very little follow-through.
The second story I read on Monday was, impossible as it seems, even more maddening than the first:
In the days since President Obama announced a moratorium on permits for drilling new offshore oil wells and a halt to a controversial type of environmental waiver that was given to the Deepwater Horizon rig, at least seven new permits for various types of drilling and five environmental waivers have been granted, according to records.
The records also indicate that since the April 20 explosion on the rig, federal regulators have granted at least 19 environmental waivers for gulf drilling projects and at least 17 drilling permits, most of which were for types of work like that on the Deepwater Horizon shortly before it exploded, pouring a ceaseless current of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
The catastrophe of the Deepwater Horizon has been going on for a month now, with no end in sight. Fishing grounds are being savaged, the unimaginably delicate wetlands and ecosystems along the Gulf are about to be totally destroyed, the migratory patterns of millions of birds are doomed to an oily death, and the only thing standing between us and this disaster are desperate fishermen scrambling to erect meager defenses before this inexorable tide. British Petroleum has been helpless and useless in this fight, and the US government appears to have few answers, either.
That front page on Monday told me everything I needed to know about how it is in America today. I knew it already, but those two stories were like getting slapped in the face with an oil-murdered fish. We the people have no say, while the worst elements of this society hold total sway. The thieving bankers don't like reform, and so reform gets ravaged. The oil boys want to drill, and so the very exceptions that led to the Gulf disaster keep getting rolled out. We are not citizens, but merely subjects, and all we get for the pain and woe we are made to suffer is a lot of empty talk from a lot of empty suits.
I'm not going to change my morning routine because of the dung-bomb the Times dropped on me (again), but the circles under my eyes are certainly growing in breadth and depth. We have to stay informed, all of us, every day, and that's supposed to be "empowering." All I'm "empowered" with after those two stories is a sense of creeping doom. If those financial people quoted above are correct, and if the Obama administration is stupid enough to let the oil industry run wild even as an entire region sinks into the ooze, well, I may actually wind up punching through my monitor if I hear or read anything about "victories."