Here's the dirty little secret, though. Most of the stuff that got us into trouble was perfectly legal. And that is a sign of how much we've got to change our laws -- right?
What this story needs is a good gibbet.
WHO'S up for a morning stroll? Good. The neighborhood's full of historical interest. For example, just ahead is the Roberts Commission, the first inquiry into the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which began eleven days after the attack itself, and was tasked, by Franklin Socialist Roosevelt himself, with determining if there had been any dereliction of duty. (I suppose if David Brooks had been columnizing in those days he'd have explained to President Pinko that he had enough on his plate already.) Over here on your right is the US War in Afghanistan. It's only seven years old, but if you'll look closely at the foundation you'll note it consists of coarsely-ground international law produced by our insisting that the then-government of the World's Most Godforsaken Country hand over some criminals we wanted, and make that before sundown. This was despite the fact that said government's expertise lie more in stoning to death young girls who tried to go to school, and despite the fact that said criminals were ensconced in an area so hostile that, as it turned out, we couldn't get them out ourselves without huge bombs and huger* bribes. The hole there across the street is all that remains of the old Justice for War Profiteers Place, which stood from the Civil War up unto the time that some bright boys figured out how to go to war every 4.5 years, on average, without ever declaring one. Which, by the President's formulation, makes profiteering perfectly legal.
I first learned about our latest difficulty on Sunday, as I took a break from lawn care, head cold, and brunch-level Alcohol Ingestion Syndrome to catch up on newspapers and breeze through tapes of the Sunday shows. The Market, that arbiter of the Good and the Reasonable, was having another one of its spells, due to the possibility of the Evil Congress (how dramatically Life would improve in the instant that Harry Reid, let alone Nancy Pelosi, turned up before the cameras with Spock's goatee!) would just Keep Coming Back for Our Gallant Traders' Hard-Earned Money Until It Was All Gone. This was also apparently the one question of substance Leno couldn't help but sneak in: the "frightening" effect of the supposed precedent-setting post-facto bonus taxation. Then they came for my warehouses of antique vehicles, and there was no one left to protest!
The absolute nadir, though, was Meet the Press, where half the program was given over to CNBC anchor Erin "Just Remember, Without The Lead Paint The Price Of Chinese Toys Will Skyrocket" Burnett, and Tom Fucking Brokaw; apparently she was his choice as designated NBC henchnetwork artificial resuscitator, which is now in his contract like the Red White and Blue M&Ms only, motherfuckers! clause. Burnett explained that this violation of our sacred prohibition on Ex Post Facto laws Just wouldn't fly! at which point I was hoping David Gregory would thank them both and spend the final twenty-five minutes of the program playing an imaginary jew's-harp. Thanks for putting your personal stamp on the program so quickly, Dave! By god, when the nation faces towering financial collapse the first person I think of turning to is a guy who used to read a teleprompter twenty years ago, and whose one real claim to fame was coining the term "The Greatest Generation" while the Generation in question still had enough disposable income and visual acuity left to buy his crappy book. The great thing about Brokaw is the way he combines Conventional Wisdom banality with the sort of personal intellectual banality that really sells it, and which makes you want to invite him right into your living room to bore you to death in person. "They (the administration)'ve got to get their act together", he said, suggesting that he's now zeroing in on the Last of the Hippies and their bread stash.
(Yes, I know he's already "written" a "book" about the Sixties. If you've read it feel free to leave a review, and also a description of the people who forced you to do so, including their weapons.)
The Times, either fearing it was falling behind in the Meaningless Blather race, or else contractually obligated to fill the Week in Review section down to the fold, minimum, with vapidity, had Sheryl Gay Stolberg compare the "distraction" over AIG bonuses with the "distraction" over Reagan's Ketchup as a Vegetable and $1000 Military Hammers, and Bill Clinton's commerce-halting haircut. Never mind that a simple, straightforward understanding of those earlier trivialities might have produced some benefit: the Ketchup as School Vegetable story showed, not just the tone-deafness of that administration, but the preposterous levels it was willing to sink to in pursuing budget cuts that actually hurt people, while claiming it would all be made up by putting an end to Big Guvment Waste, and the military procurement scandals were less the fault of bad Reagan administration actors than they were the continuation of decades-old military graft now even more flush with cash. As for the Clinton story, which the Times apparently needs to bring up at least once every year or two, consider all the good the ability to lie, boldly and in public, has done for us in the interim. (And, fer chrissakes, would have led us to the Times while Judith Miller was still a star. Stolberg mentions the Clinton story twice without ever mentioning it was fiction; that tidbit is left to a quote from Stan Greenberg, who was Mr. Clinton's pollster. It comes as the article nears twice the 350-word length it had achieved when the charge was relayed, baldly.)
Dirty little secrets? Fuck, I wish we had only little secrets to worry about. It may very well be that none of the derivatives shenanigans reached the level of explicit illegality--I'm an idiot, if that tempers my doubt, Mr. President--but in aggregate they amounted to the largest robbery in the history of the world, and if we can't find any illegality we can certainly assign blame with the same ethical certitude we applied to the Taliban. And if our carrier force is inappropriate, or busy elsewhere, and our ground forces depleted, well, we've sure used RICO statutes for much smaller outrages in the past. I think it's time to consider just what side of the torchlight you'd care to be on. And you've got til tomorrow night to consider it.
* Attempted enallage thwarted when the spell checker, to my astonishment, passed huger, which turns out to be an actual word, though not a very good one.