I’m in beautiful Glenwood Springs, Colorado with wife Stacie and dog Billie in front of the fireplace in the lobby of the historic Hotel Colorado, which Teddy Roosevelt used as his western White House. There’s the Roosevelt Suite on the second floor, leading out to the grand balcony from which he addressed the masses. Pictures and cartoons of him line the hallways.
I wish our president was more inspired by TR. He tackled the economic powers of his day—the railroads—with tough regulation, using existing antitrust laws to bust them up. Our political leaders don’t have the stomach for tough regulations or antitrust crackdown on too-big-to-fail financial institutions, let alone insisting on accountability for those bankers and politicians whose greed and carelessness actually caused the crash.
There’s wireless Internet, in the lobby of the Hotel Colorado. Barely. It’s so slow that I imagine overworked employees at Google receiving my page request, then sifting through voluminous files to find the page, then ambling back to their desks, where they stuff it into a pneumatic tube to my Macbook.
We’ve been talking to people who are weathering the economic storm. One waitress told us tourists used to line up four-deep at local bars. They’re still at the bars, but they’re not coming in the crowds they used to. Not a biggie for her: She’s third-generation Coloradoan. People here are used to a boom-and-bust economy: There was a silver crash in 1893; nearly a hundred years later, Black Sunday, May 2, 1982, Exxon pulled out and took a big chunk of the state’s economy with it. She says her people are ranchers and live within their means: They save, pay cash and know how to live lean, when they have to.
The battle over financial reform is hot and heavy in the U.S. Senate. Looks like the best we’re going to get out of this president and Congress is a series of baby steps—as “Baseline Scenario’s” Simon Johnson describes them—that leave the status quo in place. But even these baby steps are better than the alternative: giving the bankers and their lobbyists a complete victory.
Contact your senators. Tell them you’re paying attention to financial reform. You’re keeping track of how they vote. Tell them not to water down financial reform any more. Ask them to support the Merkley-Levin amendment, the Volcker rule and Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s derivatives reform plan.
Unless, of course, you believe the following top-ten reasons for apathy, in which case, do nothing, and things will stay exactly as they are now:
One. You like it when banks gouge you on credit card and bank fees.
Two. You think the poor banks have suffered enough.
Three. You believe the banks’ propaganda that new proposals to rein in credit card fees will cost them $5 billion and cause them to extend less credit.
Four. You believe that the Obama administration’s toothless foreclosure prevention program has been a whopping success.
Five. You’re convinced that banks do need to continue the secret high-risk trading that caused disaster for the economy.
Six. You agree with the bailed-out bankers that their bonuses are none of our business.
Seven. You agree with the Federal Reserve that their secret handouts to banks shouldn’t be any of your business.
Eight. You agree with the bankers that they can protect consumers’ interests just fine without interference from any regulators.
Nine. You agree that the bailout really did work well for Main Street as well as Wall Street.
Ten. You’re convinced Lehman Brothers and Washington Mutual did nothing wrong when they cooked their books to hide their bad loans from investors and the public.