A stranger walked through my neighborhood and planted American flags in the yards of every house on my block. The feeling of our community closing ranks didn't last long, though. The next thing I knew, these and other flags across the nation were being mocked by a loathsome group that for too long has held esteem in our country and purported to define its national purpose.
I am speaking of Wall Street and its disciples: that grim gambler's den that rushed to bet against us.
The profiteers failed the first test of patriotism in 2001.
They short-sold their country. Cowards, they ran.
I'm going to join the lunch-bucket brigade, the soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marines, the flag-wavers and New York firemen and legions of volunteers who have given something of themselves on this one. Right now, in the middle of September 2001, we needed to feel the country pull together, not just with slogans but in deeds. We needed to shake off our collective cynicism about ourselves.
Many tried. Not the profiteers. A curse on their house.
I'll be quick to acknowledge the mixed blessings of patriotism. It can run away with us, and blind us to good judgment. But patriotism is also the way we express our collective hopes when we're under siege.
This week, eyes went to Wall Street. Congress, the Federal Reserve, the president and many of us on the sidelines asked for a little backbone among the investor clique. Congress rushed to signal that it would bail out the airlines. The Fed cut interest rates for the eighth time this year.
Investors? They grabbed what they could from the moment and skittered off. They didn't think red, white and blue, only green. In a far off bunker somewhere, Osama bin Laden had a second reason to rejoice.
Don't even try to talk to me about "market forces." If other Americans answered to market forces alone, TV networks would have showed ads for toilet paper last week instead of absorbing huge losses to carry the story uninterrupted. Newspapers would have shrunk instead of expanded. Strange, isn't it? The "liberal media" sacrificed at the bottom line. Too bad the hustlers of the stock markets couldn't even hold fast.
If rescue workers thought like the big-money investors, they would have bet against saving any lives and resumed their eight-hour shifts. If F-16 pilots over Iraq had no more guts than Wall Street, they'd figure the odds of enforcing a no-fly zone are lousy and report to sick bay. And thank God it wasn't Wall Street investors on United Airlines Flight 93 or no one would have fought off the hijackers and that airplane, too, would have reached its target.
Instead of showing bravery, investors served up a record number of sell orders. The realm of bulls and bears turned out to be a field of sheep. Yes, there were some who stood firm. But they were dragged down by the overpaid mutual fund managers who led the retreat, by the brokers who churned orders as they spread fear, by the hedge fund players who could see no further than the closing bell, by the individual investors who let themselves be stampeded: Hey, terrorism is one thing, but this is Money!
A small example: These same investors who were glued to their TVs and who scooped up newspapers in a frantic effort to keep informed promptly drove down the value of these same media companies -- Wall Street's twisted rewards for American enterprise.
At least it wasn't panic, the analysts said. We are supposed to be reassured that they didn't go completely berserk? Good news, general! Our crack Wall Street troops only yielded 7 percent of the value of this nation's publicly held industry on the first day they were summoned to battle.
Now can you imagine, lowering the capital gains taxes on money earned by those who play this market against us? This is blood money.
If you're one of those who bet against America this week, one of those renegades who, like the terrorists, answered first to your own god, The God of Gain, then hurry out and make sure someone didn't mistakenly stick a flag in your yard. If so, pull it up and hand it over to a patriot who deserves to fly it.
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