John Kass at The Chicago Tribune:
The Solyndra scandal cost at least a half-billion public dollars. It is plaguing President Barack Obama. And it’s being billed as a Washington story.
But back in Obama’s political hometown, those of us familiar with the Chicago Way can see something else in Solyndra — something that the Washington crowd calls “optics.” In fact, it’s not just a Washington saga — it has all the elements of a Chicago City Hall story, except with more zeros.
The FBI is investigating what happened with Solyndra, a solar panel company that got a $535 million government-backed loan with the help of the Obama White House over the objections of federal budget analysts.
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden got a nice photo op. They got to make speeches about being “green.” But then Solyndra went bankrupt. Americans lost jobs. Taxpayers got stuck with the bill. And members of Congress are now in high dudgeon and making speeches.
Federal investigators want to know what role political fundraising played in the guarantee of the questionable loan. Washington bureaucrats warned the deal was lousy. And White House spokesmen flail desperately, like weakened victims in a cheesy vampire movie.
So forget optics. What about smell? It smells bad, and it’s going to smell worse.
Or, did you really believe it when the White House mouthpieces — who are also Chicago City Hall mouthpieces — promised they were bringing a new kind of politics to Washington?
This is not a new kind of politics. It’s the old kind. The Chicago kind.
Those of us from Chicago know exactly what the Solyndra scandal smells like. And It doesn’t smell fresh and green.
How to Talk About Solyndra
You’ve probably heard of Solyndra by now, right? It’s the solar power company that got $500 million in Recovery Act loans from the Department of Energy and then went belly up a couple of weeks ago.
Conservatives have been trying to paint this as a big scandal of some kind, despite the fact that: the company had plenty of private investors too; it’s the only DOE loan that has failed so far; and there’s no real evidence that anyone in the White House did anything worse than push OMB to speed up their decision-making process a bit in 2009.Basically, Solyndra was working on a solar technology that promised to be cheaper than silicon, and at the time of the loan it looked really promising both to DOE and to private investors. But then the market turned: Silicon prices dropped, and China started producing super low-cost silicon PV. That spelled doom for Solyndra. They had a good idea, but it didn’t work out.
In any case, Solyndra is a tiny fraction of DOE’s green-energy loan program, and Solyndra’s loan guarantees are dwarfed by those of both fossil fuel and nuclear companies, which range into the multiple billions. There was no scandal in the loan process, and there’s nothing unusual about having a certain fraction of speculative programs like this fail. It’s all part of the way the free market works.
Let’s get rid of some of the fallacies that are floating around:
“It’s not a scandal.”
Half a billion dollars is missing. That’s a scandal.
“Nobody saw it coming.”
Yes they did. The warnings were ignored.
“There is no evidence of wrongdoing.”
The FBI got search warrants. Search warrants require probable cause that a crime has been committed. That means there is evidence of wrongdoing.
“There is no evidence the White House did anything illegal.”
Not yet, but they’re still digging.
“This all started under Bush.”
Who gives a fuck when it started. Corruption is bipartisan.
“The Republicans are hypocrites.”
I’m sure the GOPers really appreciated it when the Democrats helped them sweep all the Bush-era corruption under the rug, but that doesn’t mean they have to reciprocate. Besides, it’s OUR money getting stolen.
“The Republicans are worse.”
We have lots of prisons – there’s room for all of them.