by John Ellis
For the past year or so, I have been working on a political manifesto entitled: “Recall Them All.” The plan is to hone it down over the next few months and release it as an e-book in early 2013. The idea is to put forward a platform of fiscal reform, government re-invention, and economic growth. Normal, accomplished citizens would pledge allegiance to the platform’s enactment as legislation.
Necessarily, some of them would have to become candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. But they wouldn’t campaign, if they didn’t want to. The entire campaign would be focused on the plan. Candidates wouldn’t be the candidate. The plan would be the candidate, with candidates pledged to pass it and do nothing else but that.
At present, there are 14 planks in the platform. I hope to eventually reduce it to ten. But one plank that will certainly remain is the funding of a “Wall of Shame,” to be designed by the woman who designed the Vietnam War Memorial, and to be sited somewhere in or around the Washington, DC metropolitan area.
You may have noticed today that Goldman Sachs became the umpteenth financial services organization to avoid prosecution for its role in the mortgage-backed security crisis (or scam, if you want to be a bit more precise). Goldman Sachs hosing rich clients isn’t the end of the world, obviously. Life goes on.
But the financial meltdown of 2008 wasn’t “completely unexpected” or a “once-in-a-lifetime” event. It was baked into the assumptions of every major financial institution on Wall Street. The key assumption was that if everything goes wrong, a bail-out will be required because otherwise the world will come to an end.
In the event, Wall Street got its bail-out. Wall Street executives kept their jobs (mostly). As important, from their point of view, Wall Street executives got to keep their bonuses from all the fictional “profits” made in the preceding years. It was, it turned out, the perfect trade.
If it was legal, then that’s an even bigger scandal than the fact that the SEC and the Department of Justice can’t find a single criminal violation in what amounted to one of the greatest heists in American history. But outrage is pointless. Action needs to be taken.
What we need is a National Wall of Shame. A distinguished group of citizens, led perhaps by General Stan McChrystal, would serve as the “admissions committee.” $25 million would be allocated for the acquisition of the site and the construction of the wall itself. And on that wall would go the names of those whose actions brought disgrace upon the United States of America.
We could quickly fill up a section of the Wall by reviewing the portfolios of, say, 50 banking executives. We could then move on from there. My initial entries would be James Johnson, former CEO of Fannie Mae; Dick Fuld, former CEO of Lehman Brothers, Sen. Charles Ellis Schumer (D-NY), and the senior executive management team at Bear Stearns.
It might even make a terrific reality TV show. Five people would be nominated. The Board would review their cases in a kind of trial. The accused would state their case as to why they shouldn’t spend the rest of time on the National Wall of Shame.
I see ratings.
The larger point is that bad press doesn’t really work. The legal system is either incompetent or corrupt or ham-strung. Our celebrity culture weirdly rewards malfeasance.
But a National Wall of Shame would live on, forever, and with Internet technology, it would be accessible world-wide and could provide not just the name but the larger story of shameful and disgraceful conduct.
No one would want to be on it. No one would want their kids and their grandkids to see their name and read their sorry tale prominently displayed at a leading tourist attraction in the nation’s capital.
As Walter Mead has pointed out in a previous post, we used to do this sort of thing with tar and feathers and “riding ‘em out on a rail.” We need the modern equivalent. It’s time to build The National Wall of Shame.