Late last week, while Senate Democrats were busy letting Republicans castrate an already neutered stimulus plan, I got pretty agitated. Much of our generation’s future, and the future of generations down the line, depends on this administration’s response to the recession. The quality of our nation’s education system, especially, will determine whether we find ourselves and our children living in an era of prosperity or an era of poverty.
Yet this stimulus, the administration’s first crack at the recession, does not bode well.
As it stood until Wednesday, the Senate threw in a completely ineffective $35 billion tax cut for people who flip their homes and a nearly $12 billion tax cut for auto purchases. Democrats have since returned some sanity, paring back both provisions substantially to approximately $5 billion combined. But at the time, tax cuts in the bill increased by over 27 percent.
Then there were the “adjustments downward” in spending as “Democratic“ Senator Ben Nelson put it. The entire $21 billion allocated for school construction was tossed and higher education took a 14 percent hit on top of the complete loss of $1.5 billion for university research facilities.
Overall, spending on education was adjusted downward by $60 billion. But the most damaging cut was the $40 billion axed from direct aid to states meant to fund our schools, our police and fire protection and other municipal services like garbage pick-up. The compromise bill has again returned some sanity, but it still cuts $25 billion and $16 billion from direct state aid and school construction, respectively.
While all this was going on, Obama came out with a 500 grand cap on executive pay; which only impacts institutions receiving “exceptional assistance“ in the future and does not apply to stock options.
Rather than pulling a PR stunt, how’s this for change: Within any one company, no one, executive or otherwise, is allowed to make more than 20 times the lowest paid full-time employee in the company. End of story.
Audit the pants off firms, and include the market value of any gifts, options, etc. in the deal. So if a CEO wants to make a cool million in 2009, he has to pay all the janitors $50,000. Consider what that would mean in finance alone; the $18 billion paid out in bonuses last year could be turned into an extra $10,000 per year for 1.8 million workers.
So all this, along with the anti-labor hang up of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis (now finally out of committee), got me really riled. And when that happens, I have a tendency to vent. This time, I decided to vent to our state’s senators.
Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein are not easy people to get in touch with. When I called their DC offices, I was greeted each time by full voicemails. So I called their local offices. Senator Feinstein’s voicemail was again full. But Senator Boxer picked up; or rather a guy picked up who couldn’t have been much older than me and who sounded positively exhausted. For some reason, I just couldn’t bring myself to obliterate him in place of his boss. So I toned down my rhetoric, and thanked him for his time.
But that got me to thinking; given that I just tried to do my civic duty, and really only got a hold of a 20-something-year-old intern, how the hell do we get through to our government these days? Taking it a step further, how are we supposed to affect change without relying on a president who’s making policy with $116 million of campaign contributions from finance, insurance, real-estate, lawyers, lobbyists and “miscellaneous business“ weighing on his wallet?
The answer, my friends, is George Hayduke. For those unfamiliar with the man, you’ll want to read The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey.
George Hayduke is the central character in the most validating novel fathomable for a disillusioned adolescent male with environmentalism coursing through his veins and who also happens to have a penchant for pyrotechnics. In a nutshell, Hayduke’s M.O. is to find something that gets his blood pressure up and then devise a way to destroy it; basically, rat-fucking for hippies.
Now, don’t confuse George Hayduke’s antics with the tree-sitting, intersection-blocking activists we all know and hate. Hayduke doesn’t get in the way of heavy machinery; he blows it up. It’s an elegant strategy; it provides a negative incentive and even helps the economy. Because when you wreck a bulldozer by pouring corn syrup in its gas tank, you keep people at Caterpillar in a job and increase GDP. Call it creative destruction, if you will.
Anyway, there’s a lot of little Haydukes out there, each of them breathing life into the gospel on their own terms. Take Tim DeChristopher for instance. This econ major dropped a massive Hayduke on a Utah oil and gas auction being pushed by the Bush administration in December.
How’d he do it?
Instead of standing outside waving a stick with some paper on it, he went inside and waved a stick with some paper on it. In the process, DeChristopher inflated the price of over a dozen parcels and won 11 bids. He’s broke as balls, of course, and was summarily arrested on site. But the auction was tainted, corporations cried foul, and a judge put a hold on the whole thing. And after the election, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar nullified 77 of the leases from the auction while the rest remain under review.
Then there’s what happened to Dick Fuld. You might know Dick Fuld as the former CEO of Lehman Brothers, the of the most über-failed investment bank in U.S. history. I know him as the guy who got Hayduked-the-fuck-out by a Lehman employee. According to CNBC, Dick Fuld went to the corporate gym the day after Lehman had gone bankrupt, got on a treadmill and was subsequently knocked to the mat by a shot to the jaw. Whoever did that is a goddamn hero; he got in there, got his hands dirty and took one for the team.
Or how about Bruce Marks.
He runs a nonprofit called the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America that makes loans to low-income families and helps people in foreclosure keep their homes. Marks pulls major Haydukage. The guy camps on the lawns of bank CEO’s with hundreds of people, breaks into their country clubs, protests outside their kids‘ schools and exposes their extramarital activities. Not only that, over the years he’s managed to actually do business with banks and has access (for now) to over $6 billion from Bank of America for making loans to low-income families.
Since Obama and Geithner don’t seem too keen on helping those families, he’s just begun a tour of New York and Connecticut to rain hellfire and bullhorns on the likes of Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack to get them to modify the same loans that Obama and Geithner want to use our money to overpay for.
What these stories tell me, above all, is that if we want to affect change our best bet is to engage in highly targeted acts of vigilantism, direct action and civil disobedience. We need more Cindy Sheehans, Army Specialists like Thomas Wilson (“Hey Rummy, why don’t we have armored vehicles?“) and shoe throwing reporters.
What we need are more George Haydukes.
K.C. CODY encourages you to think carefully about the impact of any shenanigans you may pull. He also encourages you to reveal your inner Hayduke to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.