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A National Wall of Shame

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.

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  • Gene

    And your reason for believing such a thing wouldn’t eventually be captured by one party or faction and used as a cudgel against its political enemies?

  • James

    I am an avid reader of this blog, but this post is simply scandalous and deserves no place dedicated to preserving the greatness that is America. Such ideas deserve no airing in democratic discourse, and to give them an airing on a prominent respected platform such as Via Media is disgraceful. This idea is worthy of Pol Pot; it has no place in our Republic.

  • Ed

    This crisis never would have happened without the “Community Reinvestment Act”(CRA)and the gutting of FNMA underwriting criteria, followed by allowing Fannie and Freddie to invest in their own securities, all done in the hopes of getting loan money from legitimate mortgage operations into the hands of liberal clients (read “the poor”)who simply never had the means to pay it back.

    Do your readers a favor and lay the blame for this where it belongs: forty years of well-meaning but misguided liberal policy, hi-jacked by a generation of democrat politicians who crave political power over the well-being of their country. In the end they turned it into just another vote-buying scheme. Wall Street may have been complicit but the architectural firm responsible for this “scam” reside in Washington DC and answer to the name “democrats”.

    This disaster was a long time in the making and will be a long time in the fixing. Let’s hope the conservatives take Rahm Emanuel’s advice and “don’t let this crisis go to waste”. Let’s hope they use this to fix the government and restore the constitution once a for all.

  • JJ

    Gene has it right—your wall of shame would become a political football.

    May I recommend reading the Constitution, and then the Federalist. Any system built on the idea that “honest people” will come to power and run it, is doomed. People are born in sin, politics attracts ruthless, power hungry, ambitious people, and power corrupts. The challenge is to build a system that works despite human frailties, not one that counts on finding angelic humans who get to brand the rest.

  • http://inthisdimension.com alex scipio

    Recommendations for the Wall:

    Jimmy “CRA” Carter
    Bill “Let’s get this CRA thang rolling” Clinton
    Barney “Let’s roll the dice” Frank
    Chris “Countrywide” Dodd
    Maxine “Racists!” Waters

  • Andrew Allison

    I think there’s a much better chance of achieving reform via Term Limits. The loss of the, all too rare, legislator would be more that offset by cleaning the elected-for-life stables. A two-term limit in the Senate and for- or five in the House, together with a five-year ban on working in any industry regulated by a committee on which the legislator has served is our best hope of wrenching our government from the grubby hands of special interests. No need for a constitutional convention, which in the present state would be a disaster, just approval by 30 States.

  • Eurydice

    Mr. Ellis – I look forward to reading your manifesto. For now, I’ll just say that if you’d actually ever watched a reality show, you’d know that being voted The Most Shameful would end up being a desirable thing, with contestants lining up to reveal their tiresome secrets. The show would be filmed at some Skeevy Place Of Shame, with maybe John Edwards as the host, and the contestants would have to undergo various redemptive trials, like keelhauling or flogging or walking on hot coals, while the audience votes by calling, texting and tweeting for their favorite [vulgarity removed]. Yeah, you’re right, I see ratings, too.

  • Bob

    This is a very simple minded poorly thoughtout approach to a complex problem….Not surprising however, since I am guessing it is being proposed by a conservative!

  • Michael M Thomas

    Totally agree. Since a properly inclusive “meritocratic” Wall of Shame would dwarf its prototype (in size) in China, perhaps building the Wall would be a good stimulus/infrastructure project. If Washington would tithe, say, 20% of its bribes and other under-the-table payments, and Wall Street were to contribute, say, an amount equal to 1/3 of bailout payments for which there is zero ethical or economic justification, the thing would be paid for in no time!

  • Jack Straw

    Next time WRM takes a trip, remind him not to leave the keys to the blog on the desk of a high school social studies classroom.

  • Mick The Reactionary

    What’s that Wall of Shame nonsense?

    What’s wrong with assigning 1500 sharp prosecutors, forensic accountants, economists, honest traders (if they can be found) to the task force and go after the bastards?

    Not like 3 dim prosecutors currently assigned to Wall Street Crimes at DOJ by Barry HopeyChangey.

    What’s wrong with prosecution, conviction and sending to jail a few hundreds miss-doers?

    No Shame Wall, Purp Walk!

  • Corlyss

    Good luck!

    You’ll never get anywhere relying on the votes of voters who “get it.” As long as you have to roust votes out of the rent seekers, you’re doomed.

  • Alex Weiner

    I nominate John Ellis and Joseph McCarthy. Two delusional grandstanders. It’s interesting you chose to bring up MBSs and Goldman since the SEC fined them for an MBS CDO deal they did:
    http://www.sec.gov/news/press/2010/2010-123.htm
    Do your homework. This is the kind of thing Hitler and Mao would think of, not a member of a free and open society.

  • Conrad Baylor

    I agree about the shameful guys, but let’s not mistake a rant for a serious proposal. Your post is just a variation on the old head game “Ain’t it awful!”

    http://www.stylemetrics.com/ain%E2%80%99t-it-awful/

  • Paul A’Barge

    We live in the age of the Virtual.

    Why would we want to invest humongous amounts of money in a physical Wall of Shame. Build a website and maintain that.

    Yes, I understand the OP is completely tongue-in-cheek.

  • jaed

    What an ugly idea.

  • Harry

    Best way to use a “National Wall of Shame” would be to have a firing squad in front of it.

  • http://www.hardlyprofound.com Mark

    Isn’t this what Pinterest is for?

  • Robert

    Nothing is stopping you from creating an online Wall of Shame.

    But I agree with those who note that a physical wall would be captured by those with very different motives.

    And you assume that shame is an emotion keenly felt by the left. That’s not the message I take away from their actions.

    The bigger picture here is that there is no one single act — or even a handful of them — that will undo all the damage that a century of progressivism has done to this country.

    It simply requires, on the part of small- and limited-government conservatives the same unrelenting attention to detail and process that the left has used to get us into this condition.

    And it’ll likely take nearly as long to undo as it did to get here. Make no mistake: This is a fight that will engage you for the rest of your life.

  • Denver

    Mourn the Republic. We are ended.

    JJ’s idea of reading the Constitution is fine, if it were 1945, it isn’t.

    There is no hope for a return to a Federal Republic of limited powers. States’ Rights are non-existent. The Chief Justice has said the Court can only hold off the Executive and Legislature for just so long, and that, that time has passed.

    The nation expects informed votes from a population where only 50% have a stake in the game and the other 50% a handout?

    It comes as no surprise, given this state of affairs, that corruption has painted black the souls of politicians whose only goal is to “level the playing field” or building a “new America where prosperity is shared”.

    The entire point of our form of government was to keep the federal government so inconsequential that corruption, inevitable as it is, would find little coin for payoff.

    We. Are. Doomed. Time to find a new form of Government. It is time to re-negotiate for our liberties. Or sit back; let the surveillance state watch our every move, allow TSA to “protect” our buses and highways all the while teaching us to be subjects rather than citizens, to sit back and watch America’s greatest institution, the middle class, be decimated in the name of égalité and fraternité.

  • ThomasD

    Much as I agree that there are many, many names that should be on such a list. And would also stipulate that there are names from both sides of the ostensible political divide (but not really – as they are all first and foremost ruling class statists.)

    My only counter argument would be: What, no tumbrels?

    A thorough changing of the guard, followed by rapid sunsetting of all existing Federal law and regulation would be punishment enough for our erstwhile overlords.

    Power to the people indeed.

  • PWT

    Perhaps we could build it along the border with Mexico and thus kill two birds with one stone. Given the current political class and what is likely to follow, we should have no problem sealing the border within the next two or three election cycles.

  • bobby b

    Why should bankers have any shame over our bubble?

    It was the governmental philosophy that gave us the CRA that caused the implosion, not the bankers. The bankers were merely acting rationally in response to having been set up by the thieves in Congress.

    Had the bankers NOT sought to sell off and spread out the bad loans, they would have eventually been forced to eat the entire loss themselves.

    Why would they accept such a thing? I certainly wouldn’t.

    They are being used as scapegoats for liberal theft. The “evil rich banker” meme is simplistic and dishonest.

  • http://www.petti-legal.com Roscoe

    According to Sullivan’s Law, any organization that is not actively conservative will eventually become liberal. Eventually this endeavor (should it come to pass) will turn itself into a stick for beating republicans.

  • Tx Doc

    Mick at 11 has the best idea – By the way, what does it take for the convening of a Federal Grand Jury for the investigation of the financial and associated governmental crimes committed in the lead up and follow on to the current financial crisis??

  • DH

    How about a platform to restore limited government instead of your proposal, which is more worthy of a totalitarian state? The problem isn’t that certain companies begged for bailouts, but that government had the power to give them the money. Take away this power; restore property and contract rights; get rid of any legal notion that certain companies are “too big to fail,” and the problem goes away.

  • Subotai Bahadur

    An interesting original idea, but impractical for the reasons cited above; a) the inevitable capture by the Left and its Media Complex, and b) the ability in this country to turn infamy into profit.

    The idea of using it for a firing squad AND the addition of a couple of divisions worth of prosecutors and forensic accountants leads to another thought though.

    Make the theft or illegal conversion of money in excess of $100 million while in a position of fiduciary trust OR the giving or receiving of personal or campaign kickbacks in excess of $100,000 by a person in government who has sworn the Oath to the Constitution a new Federal capital offense felony: “Societal Grand Theft”, with no statute of limitations. You can use the section of the wall where their plaque will go for the firing squad.

    Being Chinese in ancestry, I am not averse to long walls. I figure start in DC, follow the Mason-Dixon Line west, connect over to the Cumberland Trail following it, connect west to the Oregon Trail and follow it. The remaining empty spaces can be a reminder to society. Sometime before we reach West Virginia filling the wall, we may have accomplished the goal of term limits.

    And yes, there is a quantity of sarcasm in the above.

    Subotai Bahadur

  • Forbes

    I’d say that Mr. Ellis has his tongue firmly planted in his cheek.

    As one has noted, the housing finance crisis has many fathers–CRA, Fan and Fred, credit underwriting standards, creative mortgage (sub-prime) products, Basel bank capital standards, evolving accounting (mark-to-market) standards, SEC disclosure requirements, Federal Reserve interest rate policy distortions, et al., with their consequences unfolding over many years. And of course also responsible are senior management of banks that lacked the understanding and foresight to anticipate the events that ensued. Legislators, regulators, managers, each guilty in their own way for contributing to the mess…

    I suggest the Wall of Shame is a political/literary device to channel voter discontent towards Ellis’s candidate platform/manifesto of very limited government intervention in the market. The criminal law of fraud (and caveat emptor) should be sufficient to induce legal/ethical behavior–or else. But when laws and regulations mandating conduct are piled to the ceiling, the taxpayer is the party defrauded by the ensuing bailout we’re told is necessary to avoid complete collapse–told by the very legislators, regulators, and managers who’ve brought us to the cliff edge.

    The assignment of blame after the fact may serve to conspire to such a limited government platform…in Madison’s words, if men were angels…

  • JJ Murray

    No. No. There are certain imperative steps that must be taken to keep the Libs from gaining control. The wall must be on private property; maintained by private funds; obtain tax exempt status, and call it a church. That way you can use the name of God at the site, erect a cross and a minorah, and call those of the wall the Devil himself.

  • JJ Murray

    Has anyone else noticed that Democrats rarely resign in shame? They just deny guilt, claim a full investigation will clear them, and wait it out until the people and media move on to another subject. Still guilty but still in office collecting pay and benefits. The wall would be a first step in pushing them out.

  • Robert

    In NRO’s The Corner blog this morning, David French put it exactly: On the left, having the correct ideology confers a virtue that erases all other sins.

    http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/313843/left-ideology-equals-virtue-david-french

    Being wrapped in (self) righteousness absolves you totally, and thus there’s no need for you to feel shame. You’re pre-forgiven.

  • The Old Coach

    “Pre-forgiven”

    Isn’t that what Martin Luther was so exercised about?

  • http://valerie-unblocked.blogspot.com/ valerielynn

    I cannot help but be amused at the way so many of your commenters took this seriously. I’m just an old-maid blogger who likes to play bridge, who graduated from a directional school in 1980….and even I knew that John Ellis was speaking figuratively.

  • David S

    An Interesting association by Alex Weiner between John’s idea and Senator Joe McCarthy. Alex along with other like minded readers of John’s blog, I recommend you read -Blacklisted by History –by M. Stanton Evans. It really illustrates the damage that can be done by corrupt government officials and their allies.

    Another interesting read is found by googling: famous quotes of Karl Marx. –like echos down the canyon-

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