Thursday, March 26, 2009

Obama's Patronizing Response to the Deathly Serious Issue of Marijuana Prohibition

On March 26, 2009, President Obama held an online town hall to answer questions which had been submitted on the White House website over the preceding days. He should be applauded for this move, which has the potential to allow divergent voices in to the President's world, access to which has generally been restricted to a select few news outlets.

One of the President's answers during this event, however, to a highly popular question which was posed in many different ways, was, to say the least, insulting. The question was why we continue to maintain our complete prohibition on marijuana. Some of the questions addressed the issue from a humanitarian perspective:

"As a person with Multiple Sclerosis, I have many other MS friends who use marijuana just to feel some relief from their bodies. When can pressure be placed to reclassify Cannabis from a Schedule 1 drug (no medical benefit) to Schedule 5?"

Others from an economic and pragmatic perspective:
"Why is marijuana still illegal? Cigarettes and alcohol are far more harmful, and with the taxes put on the legal distribution of marijuana the US could make millions"

"Has the administration given any thought to legalizing marijuana, as a cash crop to fuel the economy? Why not make available, regulate, and tax something that that about 10 million Americans use regularly and is less harmful than tobacco or alcohol."

Some pointed out that the country had an analogous experience with alcohol prohibition:
"Growing up I have noticed many around me always talk about legalization of marijuana, and I always thought, why not put a tax stamp on it. If marijuana was legalized it could really change a lot of things. America had the same problem with Alcohol."
This is an issue which has been around for a long time, and has rarely been addressed by mainstream politicians, at least when they were in a position to do something about it. Often, it is treated as a triviality, a serious cause only for stoned college kids. Bill Clinton expressed support for decriminalization when he no longer had to worry about reelection. Michael Bloomberg admitted to using marijuana and enjoying it, as has President Obama.

Now, however, perhaps more than at any other time, the seriousness of this issue is abundantly clear. Illegal marijuana cultivation is harming our environment. Marijuana prohibition is preventing people from accessing a medicine that has in some cases proven superior to those legally available for people suffering from serious illness. The U.S. prision population, bolstered by non-violent drug offenders, now comprises a quarter of the world's total prison population. Finally, violence fueled by criminal drug cartels, supported in part by the cultivation of illegal marijuana, has killed countless people in the United States and Mexico, and has prompted the Secretary of State to promise millions of dollars in additional aid, largely for military style weapons, on top of the billions already committed. All of this, to prevent people from using a drug which has never been known to kill anyone. For comparison, acetaminophen(the active ingredient in Tylenol), kills around 450 people a year.

So, in light of all of these sobering facts, one could expect a similarly sober response from the President. Here it is:

THE PRESIDENT: Three point five million people voted. I have to say that there was one question that was voted on that ranked fairly high and that was whether legalizing marijuana would improve the economy -- (laughter) -- and job creation. And I don't know what this says about the online audience -- (laughter) -- but I just want -- I don't want people to think that -- this was a fairly popular question; we want to make sure that it was answered. The answer is, no, I don't think that is a good strategy -- (laughter) -- to grow our economy. (Applause.)

So -- all right.

DR. BERNSTEIN: Thank you for clearing that up.
Imagine if he had given such a response to any other question of such importance. Consider the following hypothetical response:

Three point five million people voted. I have to say that there was one question that was voted on that ranked fairly high and that was whether giving returning veterans access to services that would help them reintegrate into their communities -- (laughter) -- and obtain jobs would be a good idea. And I don't know what this says about the online audience -- (laughter) -- but I just want -- I don't want people to think that -- this was a fairly popular question; we want to make sure that it was answered. The answer is, no, I don't think that is a good strategy -- (laughter). (Applause.)
Make no mistake. This answer is no more insulting than the one he gave about marijuana prohibition. Most of us have the luxury of treating the issue as a joke. Others, like those with spouses, children, or siblings in prison for marijuana related crimes, those suffering from ailments for which there is no equally effective treatment, and those living in areas where drug cartels are active who have been killed or lost loved ones in drug related violence, do not.

President Obama is, of course, entitled to his opinion on this issue, but those people suffering as a result of this country's, and now this President's, policies on marijuana, are entitled to a cogent answer to their questions, and an explanation as to why making it somewhat harder for people to smoke marijuana is worth so much money, so many lives, and so much suffering.


The inappropriateness of Obama's response to this question was not entirely overlooked in the media: Andrew Sullivan posted the following in the Daily Dish:
I'm tired of having the Prohibition issue treated as if it's trivial or a joke. It is neither. It is about freedom and it's deadly serious. As for your online audience, Mr president, have you forgotten who got you elected?
However, the treatment of this issue as a triviality seems by and large to have been continued. The New York Times spent more time discussing who voted for the question to be asked than on the substance, or lack thereof, of the answer, while a Los Angeles Times Blog offered the following:
Though some of us expected Obama to sidestep the politically sensitive topic, he chose instead to take it head on.
The questions posted regarding Marijuana, at least the better ones, did not just ask whether or not President Obama thought it should be legalized, so his saying that he doesn't was not an answer, but an evasion. The questions instead were, by and large, of the form "Given X, why Y?" where X could represent the people who have been or will be killed in drug related violence, the people who are or will suffer because they can't obtain medicinal marijuana, the people who are or will be or have family members be imprisoned for non-violent marijuana-related crimes, or the billions of dollars spent in the furtherance of prohibition. Y, of course, represents keeping marijuana illegal. So, Obama was given the question "Given X, why Y" His answer? "Y"

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Changing Values: "At least I'm not one of those deadbeat CEO's"

The CEO's of major corporations are among the most financially successful people in our society. They are also people who exercise a great deal of control over the lives of others. While few people dreamt of growing up to be CEOs of major corporations as children, the power and wealth inherent in the job have made it a prestigious one. The same is true, to some extent, of business leaders in general. It certainly makes sense that people who have reached the pinnacle of their profession, and in so doing become responsible for overseeing others, should be respected for that achievement, and virtually everyone would like to make the kind of money that CEOs do, but the respect and admiration afforded to business leaders in our society goes far beyond these considerations. Business leaders have been seen as embodying the American Dream, that a person can start with nothing and through their own hard work and ingenuity achieve great success. They have also been seen as the caretakers of our country, particularly by those on the right, who have long argued that giving business leaders free reign, and lower taxes, will lead to greater prosperity for all.

Business leaders have been held in such high-esteem by our society that they have often been considered qualified and credible candidates for public office based only on their business experience. Ross Perot and Steve Forbes both ran for President, and received significant support, having no serious background in politics or public interest work. Mitt Romney was elected Governor of Massachusetts based on his business experience, and made it the centerpiece of his presidential campaign. Michael Bloomberg was elected Mayor of New York City based on his business success. These are only a few examples. For the most part, it does not matter whether a business leader's career really embodied the American Dream. Both Forbes and Romney, for example, were born into money. While an argument can be made that private managerial, or executive, experience is important to a prospective mayor, governor, or president, it is a weak one. In a sense, the job of a CEO is the polar opposite of the job of a governor or president. CEOs must do everything in their power to increase the profitability of the companies they run, any benefits to employees or customers resulting from their decisions are essentially side-effects. A political leader, in contrast, is responsible for balancing the needs of everyone in their constituency. While the ability to give instructions and run an organization may be important, anyone who can run a political campaign demonstrates that they have these skills.

The place of business leaders in our society, or at least how they are covered by the media, appears to have changed in recent months. Whether or not this will be a fleeting change that disappears along with the outrage over the recent wall street excesses, or something more lasting, remains to be seen. It is clear that the catalyst for the change was the financial bailouts, and subsequent revelations regarding the frivolous spending of those running the bailed out companies. The media, and many political leaders, have mocked and criticized the excesses of AIG's corporate retreats, the automaker CEOs private jets, and more recently, Merrill Lynch CEO John Thaine's $1,200,000.00 office renovation, and Citigroup's plan to purchase a $50,000,000.00 corporate jet. Yesterday, President Obama called recent Wall Street bonuses "shameful," while Vice President Biden said of those receiving them “I’d like to throw these guys in the brig.”

These sorts of perks have rightly outraged taxpayers who feel they are footing the bill for them. These sorts of expenditures were just as outrageous, however, before the bailouts, when they received no attention whatsoever. Remember, CEOs are legally obligated to act in the best interests of their shareholders, which essentially means they must maximize profits. Why were expenditures of the sort mentioned above viewed as appropriate business decisions aimed at maximizing profits before the bailouts, but not after? The answer, I believe, is that for the moment our society no longer looks on business leaders with the reverence it once did. The luxuries CEOs and other business leaders have become accustomed to receiving from their companies were always justified as necessary to attract and keep the best leaders. In a recent column, Maureen Dowd conveys the absurdity of this justification, in light of the recent financial collapse, as follows:

In an interview with Maria Bartiromo on CNBC, Thain used the specious, contemptible reasoning that other executives use to rationalize why they’re keeping their bonuses as profits are plunging.

“If you don’t pay your best people, you will destroy your franchise” and they’ll go elsewhere, he said.

Hello? They destroyed the franchise. Let’s call their bluff. Let’s see what a great job market it is for the geniuses of capitalism who lost $15 billion in three months. . .
This seemingly common sense perspective reflects a significant shift in how our culture views business leaders. The assertion that the largesse of corporations toward their executives was justified by the need to compete for the best people, and that these people were worth what they made, is inconsistent with the prevalence of golden parachute provisions in the contracts of these "best" people. While it is argued that these provisions protect business executives who are terminated due to circumstances unrelated to their effectiveness, such as mergers, an executive with a record of achievement should have little trouble finding another job after such a termination, and could certainly afford to take some time to find one. Golden parachute provisions would be unimaginable in most professions, and many people who are confident in their abilities would find the suggestion that they need such a provision demeaning. Thus, the fact that these provisions are not unheard of suggests that the executives who receive them view themselves, and are viewed by society, as having superior inherent value, unrelated to their competence.

The change in how society views business leaders may be a significant silver lining of the recent financial turmoil. The idolization of people who have devoted their lives to accumulating personal wealth and power has been harmful in many ways, the most obvious of which is the current financial crisis. While the change may prove temporary, there is some reason to think it will not. The change was certainly catalyzed by the current financial problems, but the failed presidency of George W. Bush, the "CEO President", was probably a contributing factor, as was the Bernie Madoff debacle. The election of President Obama can be viewed as both a possible consequence of the changing view of business leaders and a potential reason for its continuance. Obama not only has no significant business experience, but actually turned his back on a lucrative career in corporate law in order to take a low paying job as a community organizer, and regularly speaks of the importance of public service.

To say that our society has embraced Obama to a far greater extent than most political leaders would be something of an understatement. He is currently viewed favorably by around seventy percent of Americans. This embrace may be harmful in some ways, particularly if it leads to complacency among progressives, and an unquestioning embrace of Obama's policies. It may also, however, positively impact the values of our society. For some time, perhaps a long time, we are likely to see a narrative in the media of career public servants like Obama and Biden chastising business leaders for their greed and short-sightedness, working to fix the damage they've done, and setting up regulations to ensure they do not run amok again. This narrative may not be entirely fair, as not all business leaders are responsible for the financial crisis, but I believe it is a very good one for us to see.

The accumulation of excessive wealth and power should not be viewed as a respectable aspiration. This does not mean that those who achieve success in business should be looked down on; competence and skill in any profession are admirable qualities, and in a Capitalist country successful businesses are necessarily the source of most jobs. It also does not mean that business leaders should be demonized for prioritizing the interests of their company's shareholders over those of its employees, customers, or country. That is not only their job, but also their legal obligation. What it does mean is that business leaders who carry over this pursuit of profits over all else from their jobs to their own lives should not be viewed as embodying the American ideal, but as simply being offensively greedy. A more realistic perspective on the place business leaders occupy in our society may also facilitate a greater recognition that arguments made by, or on behalf of, a business or industry's leaders are motivated solely by the interests of the business or industry. Thus, for example, an argument in favor of free trade, as necessary for American companies to stay competitive, made by the CEO of an auto company, should not be considered persuasive evidence that free trade will be good for the country or the economy. but only that it will be good for the auto company.

If the change in our society's values brought about by recent events proves lasting, it could mark a dramatic change in our culture. The elevation of public service and and hard work over wealth and power could inspire future generations, and today's students, to measure their success by the good they do in the world. For some, this may mean forgoing a career in business or corporate law, and working instead as a union organizer or public defender. For others, it may mean confining their zealous pursuit of wealth to their job as a business executive, forgoing bonuses when layoffs must be made, and giving away any money they make in excess of what they need to live a reasonable lifestyle. And perhaps, for those who persist in making it their life's goal to accumulate wealth at any expense, it means being viewed by society as morally equivalent to con artists, loansharks, and others who share this priority.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Confronting Cataclysm: Obama and Lincoln

A few months ago I was struck by the following statement by Professor Cornel West on Real Time with Bill Maher: “It’s time for more than just a president. What we need is a statesman. We need another Lincoln." There have been many comparisons of Lincoln and Obama during the course of his campaign and transition, and there will surely be more during the course of his presidency. There are many similarities between them: both came from Illinois, both are known for the power of their speeches, both sought in different ways to follow a middle path, and of course, Lincoln ended slavery, paving the way for the struggle that, in a sense, culminated in today's inauguration of the United States' first African-American president.

In a recent opinion piece in the New York Times, titled "A Pragmatic Precedent", Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and John Stauffer write:

"Is Barack Obama another Abraham Lincoln? Let’s hope not. Greatness — witness the presidencies of Lincoln, say, and Franklin D. Roosevelt — is forged in the crucible of disaster. It comes when character is equal to cataclysm. A peacetime Lincoln would have been no Lincoln at all. Let’s hope that Mr. Obama, for all of his considerable gifts, doesn’t get this particular chance to be great."

A very different argument against embracing Obama as the next Lincoln, is advanced in an article by Carlos Fierro, titled "An Anarchist View of Elections" which appeared on Counterpunch around the same time as Dr. West's appearance on Real Time, and reacts to comments he made elsewhere lauding Obama as a potentially Lincolnesque figure. Fierro argues that electoral politics are a distraction from real activism, and that the Obama's campaign has sapped energy from, for example, the anti-war movement. He asserts that real change has never come through elections but through popular movements, and warns against the embrace of an idealized Obama as the solution to all of our problems. Citing Dr. West's statement that there is no Abe Lincoln becoming a statesmen without Fredrick Douglas and Harriet Beecher Stowe,” Fierro argues as follows:

We don’t need another Lincoln, or an Obama; what we need is more Fredrick Douglasses and Harriet Beecher Stowes. We need more Martin Luther Kings, Big Bill Haywoods, and Helen Kellers. We don’t need more FDRs, we need more Eugene Debs. We don’t need more JFKs, we need more Philip Berrigans. We don’t need to look to great men to lead us to the promised land, we need to recognize the power that we, the nameless and 'the powerless,' possess when we assert our power rather than make assertions of faith directed at the great leader myths."

While I find the general dismissal of electoral change which is a characteristic of certain segments of the left misguided, I agree with Mr. Fierro that progressive change in this country has not been handed down by benevolent leaders; it has come about through the struggles of activists and agitators whose contributions are often forgotten, and who wrested change from an often resistant government. I do not believe it follows, however, that "we don't need another Lincoln, or an Obama."

Activism does not in and of itself change anything. There were demonstrations immediately preceding the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, but the only response they evoked from then-President Bush was a statement that he "doesn't govern by focus group." Activists change things by pressuring those in government to respond to them, or by creating enough popular support for a position to replace politicians who will not respond with those who will. President Bush dismissed those who demonstrated against the invasion of Iraq. His replacement, President Obama, opposed the invasion of Iraq and has stated an intention to withdraw U.S. troops from the country, albeit slowly. During the Democratic primaries, Senator Clinton argued that her vote, essentially to authorize the invasion of Iraq, was based on false intelligence and that nobody could have known that Iraq was not really a threat to us. While it is impossible to know what impact activism actually had on public perception at that time, any astute observer could see that tens of thousands of people had in fact believed strongly enough that the invasion was unnecessary, to take to the streets.

This discussion, I hope, casts the statement in "A Pragmatic Precedent"
, that we should hope Obama does not face a cataclysmic event that would enable him to achieve greatness in the way that Lincoln and F.D.R. did, in a new light. The Civil War did not suddenly strike Lincoln. While he did not set out to plunge the country into civil war, there were principles he was unwilling to give up in order to prevent it. Few would argue that the enslavement of human beings is not a cataclysmic occurrence, or that the existence of legal slavery in one's own country is disastrous. Yet, each President before Lincoln faced this disaster and failed to end it. There are disasters in the United States today, some of which were created by the previous administration, but most of which significantly predate it. These include that in this wealthiest of countries, more than ten percent of the population lives in poverty, that people are legally executed for crimes while potential evidence of their innocence is willfully ignored, and that members of certain minority groups are still legally denied basic civil rights. President Obama will be remembered by history as the first African-American to hold that office, and presumably if the wish of "A Pragmatic Precedent's" authors comes true, little else. Obama need only plot a safe course for his presidency, choosing not to acknowledge problems like those listed above as the disasters they are.

Despite all the attention he has received in the last few years, President Obama is still something of an unknown quantity. While many of his stated positions, some of his Senate votes, and some of his cabinet appointments, seem at odds with a truly progressive agenda for change, the truth is we don't really know what he will do. We do know that he opted to take a job as a community organizer in Chicago in lieu of a high-paying job in corporate law, and has emphasized the importance of ordinary people throughout his campaign. We can hope this means that he will be more receptive to pressure from progressive activism. To dismiss Obama as just another Democratic President who will change nothing of substance is to dismiss a potentially enormous opportunity. It has been suggested that Obama looks to Lincoln for inspiration. Those who look instead to Frederick Douglas and Eugene Victor Debs for inspiration should seek to create a popular movement for change that will allow Obama to enact a progressive agenda if that is his intention, and pressure him to do so if it is not. It may be that Obama's presidency is an opportunity for this generation's activists and agitators to enact real change by helping or forcing Obama to face the disasters of our time head on. The greatness of Obama's presidency may well depend on the efforts of activists to frame the country's problems as the disasters they are, and demand that they be met head on.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Bush Legacy: He Kept Us Safe from Terrorists and Tigers

There seems to be a general consensus in the mainstream media that, whatever one thinks of his presidency overall, President George W. Bush indisputably kept us safe from terrorism after 9/11. There are some notable exceptions, including commentators like Keith Olbermann, who regularly points out the absurdity of giving Bush credit for keeping us safe since 9/11, while absolving him of responsibility for that horrific event, but they are essentially confined to unabashedly liberal media sources. I have heard, on more than one occasion, anchors of purportedly objective cable newscasts say, between news items, something to the effect of "whatever you think of President Bush, he has kept us safe." An opinion-piece written on behalf of the White House and printed in USA Today makes the following claim: "The primary responsibility of the president is to keep American citizens safe. By that standard alone, President Bush has achieved success." In an interview, New York Times Columnist Thomas Friedman said the following:
There are many terrible handoffs the Bush administration, many many, uh, are leaving for President Obama. But there is one overriding large one -- there has been no terrorist act in this country since 9/11. And I think that is a very sobering, weighty handoff for this administration.
Whenever I hear these claims, I think of an old joke, whose details I can't recall, but which goes something like this: Two friends are walking down a city street talking. One of them stops on every corner and spins around three times. Finally, his friend asks him "Why are you doing that?" "To prevent tiger attacks" he responds. "But there are no tigers in the city!" the friend says, to which he replies "Works pretty well doesn't it?"

The joke illustrates the often blurred, but highly significant, distinction between correlation(I use the term in the common sense) and causation. It seems to be taken as a given in America that most people will fail to make this crucial distinction. For example, according to Politico, New York Times reporter Jeff Zeleny said the following regarding Obama's reelection prospects: “It’s hard to imagine that he could be reelected if the economy’s in the exact same position four years from now.” Mr. Zeleny is probably right, but implicit in his remark is the assumption that people will attribute a poor economy to Obama's policies, deservedly or not.

President Bush claims to have kept America safe since 9/11, and the media has basically accepted this claim. Why wouldn't they? After all, it is undisputed that there has not been a major terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11, and Bush has been President the whole time! The distinction between correlation and causation is clearer in some situations than in others. In some, like that in the joke above, the absurdity of conflating them is so apparent that an attempt to do so serves as a punchline. In contrast, carefully controlled scientific studies can justify a reasonable inference of causation from correlation, and the two are easily confused. Superficially, President Bush's claim appears more like the latter than the former.

When trying to determine whether a specific correlation justifies an inference of causation, two important factors to consider are the strength of the correlation, and the existence of a plausible connection between the correlated phenomenon. In the situation described in the tiger joke, there is apparently a perfect correlation between the two events: 100% of the days the friend spun around on every street corner there were no tiger attacks. The reaons this does not justify the friend's belief that his behavior is the reason for the lack of tiger attacks are that closer examination of the apparent correlation would reveal that before he started his strange behavior, there were also no tiger attacks, so there would be no correlation between his failures to spin around on street corners and tiger attacks; and, of course, that there is no plausible relationship between the two factors.

If this type of analysis is applied to the proposition that President Bush is the reason there have not been any terrorist attacks in the United States since 9/11, it can be seen that it is not a much more plausible claim of causation than that made in the joke, even if one sets aside the obvious problems with leaving 9/11 itself out of the analysis. First, there is not a pefect correlation between Bush being President and the absence of terrorist attacks after 9/11. Recall the Anthrax attacks in October of 2001. Comparing Bush to his predecessor also undermines the purported correlation, as there were not many terrorist attacks in the United States while Bill Clinton was President. In fact, even without Bush as President, there was only one major terrorist attack on U.S. soil after the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing (it seems only fair to waive Clinton's responsibility for this if we're waiving Bush's for the 9/11 attacks). Second, as in the joke, there is no plausible connection between Bush being the President and the absence of terrorist attacks post-9/11. Undoubtedly, certain changes in law enforcement and airplane security have made us safer, but it can't be seriously argued that these largely common sense measures would not have been taken by a different president. As Paul Abrams details in the Huffington Post, there were some apparently obvious security measures which President Bush failed to take, such as inspecting shipping containers, and the actions he took which were not common sense, in particular his entire foreign policy, were actually counterproductive.

If Bush is to be given credit for keeping us safe after 9/11, why stop there? I haven't been attacked by a tiger once since he's been president, and while I don't know of anything he's done to prevent tiger attacks, I also know of nothing he's done to encourage them, so he deserves at least as much credit for this accomplishment as for keeping us safe post-9/11. I suggest that efforts to salvage his legacy focus more on his prevention of tiger attacks, Viking pillaging, and smallpox outbreaks, and less on his keeping us safe from terrorists post-9/11, as I started watching the news a lot more after 9/11, and have continued to do so, and am pretty sure that this is the real reason we haven't been attacked again.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Too Big to Fail

Over the last few months we've been hearing this phrase quite a lot in the news media. Essentially, it is proposed that recent multi-billion dollar bailouts of various financial institutions by the United States government were necessary because these institutions were so large, and consequently so integral to our economy, that their failure would have been disastrous. I am not an economist, and have no reason to doubt the truth of this claim. In my opinion, however, if one is to accept the 'too big to fail' justification for the recent bailouts, there are certain other actions which are required by the same reasoning.

Presumably, the disastrous consequences which would result from the failure of the too big to fail companies would cause serious financial hardships for all, or virtually all, Americans, not just for those with some direct financial interest in the companies. This is the premise of another claim that we've been hearing a lot of: the current financial crises encompasses both wall street and main street. Thus, using taxpayer money to bailout enormous corporations is not an outrageous upwards redistribution of wealth, but actually a necessary step to protect all citizens from financial disaster. I find this eminently reasonable, as protecting vast numbers of ordinary people from financial ruin is certainly a laudable goal. Yesterday, Hank Paulson declared his recent bailout a success, because the credit markets are apparently improving somewhat. (see Hank Paulson Declares Victory at Salon). Presumably, this will ultimately provide relief to ordinary people.

The problem with the 'too big to fail' justification for these bailouts is that in American politics, saving ordinary people from financial ruin is not typically considered a high enough priority to justify interfering with the free market, or requiring those who are doing well financially to pay to support those who are struggling. Quite frequently, it is argued that this is ultimately in everyone's best interest, as interfering with the free market or providing people with financial safety nets takes away their motivation to work harder, and contribute more to the economy. To reconcile support for bailing out companies that are 'too big to fail' with opposition to providing struggling Americans with direct aid, it is often implied that these bailouts must be an isolated exception to a general rule, where the cost-benefit analysis so strongly, and unusually, favored the bailouts, that everyone would understand they were an aberration, and not view them as setting a precedent.

Considering the vast sums allocated for this bailout, however, the potential impact if it were used in other ways appear similarly justifiable. For example, there are approximately 35 million Americans living below the poverty line. If the 800 billion dollars were divided amongst them evenly, they could each be given nearly 23,000 dollars. That's at least twice the yearly income of any individual living below the poverty line. It seems self-evident that this amount of money could lift many, if not most, of these people out of poverty. It is enough money to buy a car, or perhaps to pay for living expenses or child care while a person goes back to school. Have the benefits of the recent corporate bailouts significantly outweighed saving tens of millions of Americans from poverty?

Objections to such an expenditure as socialistic or redistributive do not seem reconcilable with support for the recent bailouts. Ultimately, what I find most disturbing about these bailouts, and the 'too big to fail' concept, is the idea that the unacceptability of failure is something that kicks in once a corporation reaches a certain size. Why is it unacceptable to allow a company to fail when doing so would plunge many people into financial ruin, but acceptable to allow individuals to suffer the same fate for other reasons, unrelated to their own conduct. Why should those who would have suffered if AIG or Bear Sterns were allowed to die be bailed out, while those who are suffering because of the subprime mortgage crisis, or who were fired because their employer moved overseas be left to fend for themselves? It may be true that, from a national perspective, these companies were 'too big to fail', but for a family struggling to stay in their home, keeping up with their mortgage or rent payments is an undertaking that is similarly too big to fail, and if the former is true, it is only because of the latter.