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Run them out on a rail

Full Speed to Port!

Posted: September 30, 2008 9:05 p.m.
Updated: December 2, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Finally had enough? Have you lost so much, suffered so much, that you’re ready to cry "Uncle!" on the excesses of these past terrible eight years? You’re not alone. Regular readers know that Carrie and I make a morning practice of visiting with gregarious friends at the Granary Square Starbucks. Over hundreds of cups of Pike’s Place Roast for me, and soy chai lattes for Carrie, we’ve assimilated into a raucous group of witty, irreverent, and lively wise guys who essentially hold court over the place from 6 to 9 a.m. Drop by some morning and pull up a chair. All comers are welcome, and you’ll be treated to what might be the funniest morning show going. We’ve gotten to know some of these morning buddies fairly well. We’re wise to Herman’s “Hermanator” martini at the Social, and we love the stories of Sam’s adolescent days in East L.A., where he rode trolleys to watch the USC Trojans play at the Coliseum. Across all the hours, we’ve shared the ins and outs and ups and downs of the group’s everyday lives. And it’s one positive crowd. But on a Monday three weeks back the mood was anything but “up.” Long faces all around, and the table was hushed. I asked “Caterer to the Stars” Tony, “Why the sad face?” Tony replied, “Fannie Mae. My company’s pension plan was heavily vested in Fanny Mae.” Eeeek. The Feds had seized Fannie Mae that past weekend. Overnight, Tony’s pension lost 20 percent of its value. “Gary, you work your life to build up security, to build a future, and then some overpaid wheeler dealer guy makes screwball decisions and poof! “What you’ve worked so long for disappears. Then the wheeler-dealer gets a golden parachute for tens millions of dollars on the way out the door to his next vacation.” Tony looks pale, lamenting, “Gary — Fannie Mae. They’ve been around for 80 years. They should have been rock solid. This loss isn’t just my money, it’s my employees’ pension, too.” Years ago, Tony emigrated from Croatia. He’s an Old World guy with Old World values. Tony built a large and renowned company and has a loyal employee base. I sense most of his pain is in knowing that his employees are getting hurt under his watch. But as savvy as Tony is, Tony can’t foretell which stock will take a dive tomorrow. Tony is by no means alone. And after this past Monday’s mega meltdown, you’re likely right there, yourself. For years, we’ve bantered over political incompetence as if it’s some sort of a game — until now — when we personally get sucked under the tsunami of stupidness. Carrie and I suspect that most folks are 30 to 50 percent poorer than they were just a year ago. Combine a 20 to 25 percent drop in stock values with a 35 percent slump in home prices and you’ve got a whole lot of Santa Claritans embattled and shaken to the core. So commiserate with us over at the Starbucks. For two bucks you can drown your sorrows in a cup of coffee. That Monday, there was firm consensus at the table. Corrupt CEOs and reckless financiers must finally be held painfully accountable. Giant payouts and golden parachutes for slashers and trashers of our companies are outrageous and offensive. These “leaders” deserve jail time, not vacation time. How on earth did America get to the point where negligence and failure is rewarded — and the greater your misdeed the less you have to pay for it? No wonder there’s recklessness. Even petty shoplifters go to jail. But swindling mortgage bankers and corrupt financiers get bonuses. Don’t parachute them! Bleed them dry for breach of fiduciary duties. And where there’s criminality, toss ‘em in the pokey as examples for the rest. Oil companies ride waves of speculation, earning immeasurable profits. But when crude oil falls, gas prices stick and stay high. Let’s not quietly suffer like begging peasants! Rather, ferret out these price-fixing racketeers and run them up on charges of collusion and profiteering against the American public! George Bush launched a war, wasting hundreds of thousands of lives and ruining America’s economy — while sidestepping all responsibility for the carnage and waste without as much as an “I’m sorry.” For the sake of all righteousness, this man should be tried for the crimes committed — if just to teach our politicians to be damn more careful about what they do with America’s men, money, and our collective morality. And now, Henry Paulson, secretary of the Treasury, the Wall Street insider who helped usher in our economic debacle, wants $700 billion, carte blanche, with almost no oversight! Will we ever learn? We’ve got to reestablish respect for rule of law, not rule of capital, as the standard for justice in America. We’ve got to reestablish competency, not connection, as the standard for reward. Our double standard of jail for the poor but rewards for the rich must change, or we risk sacrificing common respect for the laws of the land. So ... had enough yet? Have you seen America’s standing and your net worth fall far enough? If so, you’ll agree it’s time to return America back to a culture of accountability — and you and I get to start that process on Nov. 4. Much pivots on that day. We can make a new stand for accountability, or reward a failed party representing failed principles with a golden parachute. I, for one, can’t reward the Party of Plunder with another four years for the pillage we’ve suffered. Accountability begins by paying, or being made to pay, for your misdeeds and incompetence. Gary Horton lives in Valencia. His column reflects his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal. “Full Speed to Port” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


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