Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Difference Between Fair and Just


Judge Learned Hand (his actual name) bid good-bye to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. as Judge Holmes left New York to take his new job on the United States Supreme court.

"I wanted to provoke a response," Judge Hand said, "So as he walked off, I said to him, 'Well, sir, goodbye. Do justice!"

Holmes replied, "That is not my job. My job is to play the game according to the rules."

This distinction between what is legal and what is moral has arisen in sharp relief throughout our nation's history. It was once legal to forbid Black Americans from using a Whites Only drinking fountain, or a Whites Only bathroom or Whites Only swimming pool. Legal but immoral. It was illegal to refuse to be put in a position where you had to kill Vietnamese peasants. The war in Vietnam was legal binding on every draftee, but that didn't make it morally correct to fight there.

Now Ellen Schultz, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal,( that's right, Rupert Murdock's right wing rag,) has written a book, Retirement Heist, in which she documents how large corporations have raided their employee's retirement funds, which only two decades ago, in aggregate, had a trillion dollars excess, to pay for golden parachutes and severance pay and retirement boondoggles for their chief executives, or to pay for mergers and acquisitions, all perfectly legally, all within the rules.

So the little guys at General Electric discovered their pension plan had evaporated. GE had not put one red cent into its pension plan since the mid-1980's; it used assets from the plans to pay for other things.

"The plans were in fact significantly overfunded," Schultz says. ""They had more than enough to pay every dime for every person currently employed and already retired." Meanwhile, the companies were crying Wah Wah, they didn't have enough to pay unexpectedly high health care costs or pensions for all those undeserving retirees, who had planned for, paid into and expected support from these pension plans.

So, the private sector, the great white knight on the stallion of economic drive and innovation, our only hope for the average American in this recession, as the Republicans remind us ad nauseum, the entrepreneurs and captains of industry who are the only people we can rely on to save our nation from its financial quagmire, have been robbing the average American blind all these years.

And the Republicans point their fingers at the government as the source of all misery and wrong doing. Oh, the nasty government with all those regulations!

Wouldn't those GE workers have been happy for a little more government regulation?

Just look at that pie graph. See how, playing by the rules, the rich in this country have raped the other 80% of this nation.

The rich can play by the rules, because they've bought and paid for those rules, bought and paid for Congressmen and Senators, who were either alseep at the wheel and did not know what they were voting for (the generous reading of history) or happily complicit in the rape, because they were getting paid, kept in office and flown around on private jets to nice golf courses.

The New York Times this morning has an article about President Obama's new strident, or as they put it, "caustic" tone, saying he risks alienating the part of the public which looked to him to end the partisan bickering in Washington, but instead he is playing Harry Truman and running against Congress and sounding all angry.

As if anger is never appropriate. As if moral outrage is somehow a disqualifier for public office. As if our delicate psyches just cannot take so much discord.

One might ask the New York Times, what do you think is the appropriate response to the vitriol which daily spews from Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, virtually every Republican on Capitol Hill?

Bickering is a tango; it takes two.

Yesterday, Mitch McConnell in explaining why he was voting down the jobs bills used one of those h down home quips, "There's no education in the second kick of the mule." By which he meant, if you didn't learn the first time you were kicked, you're not going to get much more enlightenment from the second. He was saying the first stimulus package Congress votes through did not help, why try again?

Of course, what he didn't say is actually the first bill would have worked, had the Republicans not wounded it so badly by cutting it down from a size which would have had the power to jump start the economy. The battery needed 400 volts and the Republicans would allow only 100 volts.

But even as diminished as that first try was, a lot of economists believe had it not been for that first stimulus bill and some other maneuvers by the Fed, we would not be mired in a recession today, we'd be in full blow Depression.

So maybe Mitch McConnell needs that second kick in his behind.

And when President Obama delivers it, I hope he is not smiling and cooing and sounding non partisan. I hope President Obama is channeling Harry Truman and Franklin Roosevelt. Neither of these guys were afraid of a little outrage.

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