A thoughtful discussion took place in the coffee cafe this past week concerning the recent shenanigans of our leaders in Washington, who were attempting to ease national economic pain.

First there was the Wall Street scramble. Should the taxpayer rescue or repair the consequences of ill judgment, simple stupidity, greed and downright theft in the elegant financial world? The simple answer was: Yes, of course. Among our guardians of the purse, there took place an adrenaline rush akin to sorority sisters shopping for Christmas with daddy’s credit card. Within only a couple days, a jillion smackeroos were placed into the hands of the secretary of the Treasury – an ex-Wall Street gold medalist who had only recently come to Washington. Since he had a look of concern – as well as being bald – he was given carte blanche as to whom, when, where and how these dollars were to be disbursed.

It was Christmas in November.

Horace Wellspring of Dingley Springs was obsessed with the amount of money being thrown around. He suggested the adjectives humongous or prodigious. What happened, he asked, to the chorus of disapproval when Senor Bush ran up similar amounts on the national Visa in order to hunt for WMDs and cut taxes for the rich? He quoted Whoopie Goldberg, “What the hell?!?!”

However, coffee klatcher Lucius Flatley reminded the group that the experts were all in bed together in support of a “Save the Nation Day” – Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz and even Paul Volcker, the horseless marshal who slew the outlaw of inflation a generation ago, was on board. If he says to print money, who is to say him nay? And the erstwhile maestro of the Free Market, Alan Greenspan, admitted he had overlooked a couple of serious knocks in the Free Market engine. Even the Economist urged a quick and massive purging of the nation’s treasury, saying that any delay represented “the dangers of incrementalism”.

In sum, said Flatley, neither the Laffer curve, trickle-down sharing nor Reaganomics could be found in the land. He paraphrased Richard Nixon, “We are all Keynesians now.”

Rafe Noodle of Little Falls said that Democrats are always ready to give money away and he observed that, after eight years of training in Bush budgets, Republicans are no better. The elephant was as generous as the donkey.

But, in the end, the elephant’s Christmas generosity turned out to be restricted to the top end of the economic scale. The sad fact that Wall Street and its millionaire ninnies have driven the financial network of this country into disaster (to say nothing of shrinking the corporate thievery know as annual executive bonuses) brought tears to their eyes. But for the plight of workers in the automobile industry, nary a moist eye.

Two of the Big Three (Ford has managed to keep its head above water and excused itself from the machinations) begged for a $15 billion “bridge” loan with $25 billion more to be considered in the spring. They were well received in the House, but the Senate, which operates under an Alice in Wonderland rule known as cloture, surrendered to Republican leadership. These merry Christmas Senate elves insisted on worker wage reductions (without union bargain rights) as a quid pro quo, and the deal was dead. Nothing under the Christmas tree for any Joe Sixpacks who wore union buttons.

A word or two on wages seems in order: The average wage of the Big Three is $55 per hour versus $45 for Nippon in America. (Health and retirement costs above that figure are Big Three responsibilities, but are not a part of production costs). According to the experts, wages represent less than 10 percent of the cost of each car – so a reduction from $55 to $45 would mean only about the cost of a variable speed windshield wiper or two on each new car.

Led by the nose (as senators often seem to be) by their leadership, and spurred on by Claghorn types from southern states, which have already gifted foreign auto makers with multi-million dollar modern assembly plants, Republicans en bloc killed the proposal. No person of fair mind would suspect that in this instance, wages were a stalking horse used to hide a chance to shove a sharp stob into the eye of workers’ unions. Loving the working man as Republicans do, such a thought would surely be partisan. But the fact remains that they passed up a good proposal to let the market and future bargaining sessions solve the wage discrepancy. They preferred to emasculate union options by law.

When it came to workers versus Wall Street on the Republican gift list, it was no contest. The working man’s Christmas stocking was to have only a lump of coal.

Sarah, come back to us. We need the Bridge to Nowhere.

Rodney Quinn, who lives in Gorham, is a former Maine secretary of state. He can be reached at [email protected]


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