Steve Kroft’s explosive 60 Minutes report on rampant ‘legal’ congressional insider trading last Sunday provoked fury and heartache at an elitist political class spiraling out of control. I cannot claim to have romantic notions about any politician, but this latest disclosure is the final nail in the coffin. For politicians to use access to insider information to line their own pockets while sitting on or even trashing legislation that might adversely affect their personal profits is despicable. All the while, Wall Street continues to function like a giant Ponzi scheme. Representatives who claim to have our backs instead put us on the hook for irresponsible business practices and then profit from the same mistakes that cost average Americans their pensions.
We know that the regular rules do not apply to the “1 percenters.” Make no mistake; the 1 percenters refer to politicians as much as any “evil” banker since Congress counts at least 267 millionaires in their ranks. The message to those of us out here on the ground is clear: Take what crumbs we give you. Your voices will not be heard.
CBS’ 60 Minutes reported insider trading activity by four Republicans, including House Speaker Boehner, and only one Democrat, namely former Speaker and current Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Yet Throw Them All Out, Peter Schweizer’s book on which Kroft’s report is based, implicates plenty of Democrats, including Senator John Kerry who made a killing on pharmaceutical stocks in 2003 while on a committee influencing the same. But given the current nature of the fourth estate, with many reporters trading objectivity for access and a seven figure book deal, I am shocked such a story saw the light of day, balanced or not.
In Ms. Pelosi’s case, while House Speaker, she and her husband were offered very favorable terms in a credit card IPO. She likewise made a killing while sitting on legislation for two years that would have reduced her profit margin. For shame. Schweizer was condemned by Ms. Pelosi’s team as a “conservative writer” with an “agenda” even though Kroft stated that Schweizer’s research had been independently confirmed. Republican Rep. Spencer Bachus of Georgia, chair of the House Committee on Financial Services, basically bet against his own county in the financial crisis of 2008 and likewise made a killing in the market. There are now calls for his resignation.
As a result of Schweizer’s book, legislation is being proposed to stop the outrageous practice of legal insider trading by Congress. Let’s see how far it gets. It has been tried before only to die a quick death.
While Tea Partyers and the Occupy Wall Street crowds have gained some traction calling attention to perils of government overspending and greedy bankers, respectively, it is the Tea Party that has a more accurate perspective. Only through an irresponsible legislative body on both sides does other crooked activity flourish. It all rolls downhill.
Unfortunately, the truth of that message is obscured. The bulk of mainstream media helps to muddy the waters with biased coverage.
Most media outlets downplay reports of rapes, assaults, health hazards and filthy conditions at some of the OWS encampments around the country in what I assume is an attempt to glorify the movement. That same media has made a herculean effort to paint the Tea Party as right wing “extremists and racists.” Given the media’s predisposition for running interference for this President, as it did for his predecessor, it is not hard to glean their reasons for unfavorable characterizations of a group that targets government misbehavior rather than just the crooks on Wall Street.
In 2010, the Washington Post featured a story by a young woman who spent a year attending every Tea Party rally imaginable. She found scant evidence of racism, despite what the mainstream media, self-serving political operatives and frankly, anyone with a platform seems to imply. Likewise, there are OWS protesters with honest concerns and good motives who are not violent and do not defecate on cars.
Any grassroots movement is only as good – or bad – as those co-opting it. And it will only be deemed as good or bad as those who purchase ink by the barrel decide it can be.
Sarah Palin offered an op-ed in the Wall St. Journal in which she pointed out the need for “sudden and relentless reform” and bipartisan grassroots efforts to get it:
This call for real reform must transcend political parties. The grass-roots movements of the right and the left should embrace this. The tea party’s mission has always been opposition to waste and crony capitalism, and the Occupy protesters must realize that Washington politicians have been “Occupying Wall Street” long before anyone pitched a tent in Zuccotti Park.
Her suggested solutions:
We need reform that provides real transparency. Congress should be subject to the Freedom of Information Act like everyone else. We need more detailed financial disclosure reports, and members should submit reports much more often than once a year. All stock transactions above $5,000 should be disclosed within five days.
We need equality under the law. From now on, laws that apply to the private sector must apply to Congress, including whistleblower, conflict-of-interest and insider-trading laws. Trading on nonpublic government information should be illegal both for those who pass on the information and those who trade on it. (This should close the loophole of the blind trusts that aren’t really blind because they’re managed by family members or friends.)
No more sweetheart land deals with campaign contributors. No gifts of IPO shares. No trading of stocks related to committee assignments. No earmarks where the congressman receives a direct benefit. No accepting campaign contributions while Congress is in session. No lobbyists as family members, and no transitioning into a lobbying career after leaving office. No more revolving door, ever.
Not bad ideas. Then it is possible that politics may revert to being a public service rather than a path to millionaires’ row. I won’t hold my breath.
Grassroots – and bipartisan – fury is the only thing that may have an effect on our damaged political system, yet we cannot even seem to accomplish that, as demagoguery works to keep left and right busy tearing each other down, rather than seeing the true culprits here.
Self-serving political operatives and their cronies gin up all sorts of distractions to keep us focused on making enemies of one another, which keeps the attention off the more insidious crimes taking place behind closed doors.
As the late George Carlin once said, “You think you have choice in this country? Here is your choice: Leaded or unleaded. Decaf or Regular. Window or Aisle.” We are not encouraged to think critically to affect change, but rather to engage in what writer Robert A. Johnson called shadow projections – ‘I don’t have something because you have it. My life stinks because of you.’ It is a malaise that keeps us looking for bad guys, and gals, in all the wrong places. This generally leads to boxing with shadows, nothing more.
The halls of power offer a seductive siren song promising personal enrichment and influence. The protected political class, along with the irresponsible blokes in our financial sector had best beware the day that both sides let the smoke clear to see past the bread and circus distractions offered by those in charge. If America’s left and right ever figure out who the real criminals are, 60% of Congress will be out of a job. And the cronies they have long protected will likewise get a pink slip.