Wall Street Beggars Being Choosey

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Goodness gracious, Congress is really getting tough on Wall Street bankers, isn’t it?

In a remarkable act of bipartisanship, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe are proposing to impose new conditions on the banks that are getting bailout funds from taxpayers.

The senators are demanding that the recipients report occasionally to the public, giving us some general idea of what they’re doing with our cash.

It’s a necessary step, because the financial giants are refusing to tell us how they’re spending the billions of dollars Washington has thrown at them. In December, the Associated Press asked various recipients where our money went, and got these responses:

“We’re choosing not to disclose that,” said New York Mellon, which hauled in about $3 billion.

“We have not disclosed that to the public. We’re declining to,” said JPMorgan Chase, which got $25 billion.

“We’re not providing dollar-in, dollar-out tracking,” said SunTrust Banks, a $3.5 billion winner.

“We’re going to decline to comment,” said Morgan Stanley, after getting $10 billion.

As AP reported, one bank’s spokesman was even closed-mouthed about being closed-mouthed: “I just would prefer if you wouldn’t say that we’re not going to discuss those details.”

Why isn’t Congress demanding that these con artists give our money back?

HOMELAND ABSURDITY

Homeland Security is in charge of building the ridiculous and incredibly expensive 40-foot wall that our government is erecting along the U.S. border with Mexico. The very idea of this divisive wall is offensive, but the insufferable arrogance of the agency has made the wall’s offensiveness explosive.

The Department’s charm was on glaring display just before Christmas, when it sued the Nature Conservancy to condemn land near Brownsville for the project. The Conservancy owns and operates a unique 1,000-acre wildlife preserve along the Rio Grande, and the federal wall-builders wanted to poach a 60-foot-wide strip from the preserve, amounting to about 8 acres.

You’d assume that the wall would be going up on the actual border, but no. They want to build this section a mile and a half from the border, thus putting three-fourths of the preserve in a no man’s land between the wall and Mexico. The most critical part of the wildlife habitat, and even the home of the preserve’s manager, would be cut off by the wall, effectively destroying the park, which is home to two kinds of endangered wildcat and a rare palm forest.

A decade ago, the Conservancy paid $2.6 million to acquire this gem, yet Homeland Security now insists that it should pay only $114,000 as “fair compensation” for the chunk it intends to bite out of the center of the preserve. It’s this kind of swaggering lunacy that has made the agency as beloved as it is. Which is not very.

CONDUCT UNBECOMING

As George W. prepares to depart Washington, it’s appropriate to reflect for a moment on the millions of innocent victims who have paid-and are continuing to pay-such a terrible price for his wrongheaded war on terrorism. For example, Alberto Gonzales.

Say what? Al Gonzales, the Bushites’ legal lackey who okayed everything from the administration’s use of torture to its secret and illegal program for spying on millions of Americans? That Al Gonzales?

Yes, that one. Bush’s former attorney general has recently been on a whine tour to try to rewrite the history of his feckless and cowardly performance in office: “I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror,” Al whimpered in a Wall Street Journal interview.

Excuse me, Mr. Gonzales, but no. You cannot put yourself in the company of the U.S. soldiers who’ve been killed or brutally maimed because clueless and reckless ideologues like you sent them to war without the protective armor they needed. Nor can you compare yourself to the millions of innocent Iraqi civilians who’ve been killed, crippled or forced from their homes and their country by the war of lies you helped start.

And to even suggest that you’re on par with real “war on terror” victims who were waterboarded and otherwise tortured with your authorization is to inflict an atrocity on language, logic and common decency. You’re not a victim-you’re a perpetrator. Regardless, Gonzales wallows in self-pity. “What is it that I did that is so fundamentally wrong, that deserves this kind of response to my service?” he asks.

The very fact that he has to ask is a damning measure of his obtuseness. In another way, though, Al really was victimized. He’s one of many unqualified political hacks whom George W. thrust into important positions, only to abandon them when they failed. Heck of a job, Georgie.

For more information on Jim Hightower’s work-and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown-visit www.jimhightower.com. His latest book, with Susan DeMarco, is Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow.