There was a little news item recently about a man in Sheboygan, Wis., who was sentenced to six years in prison for robbing $20 from a child’s piggy bank.

Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower

Think how much better things would have gone for him if only his name had been Freddie Mac, Bear Stearns or any of the other flamboyant figures of high finance on Wall Street. They are the ones that rigged the regulatory system so they could rob the piggy banks of millions of American homeowners.

And when they got caught in the crash of their own house of cards, here came Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson (himself a former wizard of Wall Street), sprinting toward them fast as he could — not to arrest the scofflaws, but to reward them with an 11-figure — or will it be 12? — taxpayer bailout.

You might recall that Paulson is the fellow who spent the last several months pooh-poohing the notion that anything was fundamentally wrong with the Street’s house of cards. Yes, he kept telling us, there are some difficulties with those tacky subprime mortgages, but the problem is “contained” and the market will magically correct itself — even as more and more families were losing their homes, housing values were plummeting, the home construction industry was rolling into the ditch and mortgage lenders were seeking the shelter of bankruptcy. Only in the last couple of weeks, when Wall Street itself began taking on a deathly pallor, did Paulson suddenly bolt upright and shriek, “The sky is falling!”

So Paulson-the-Capitalist is now pushing an unlimited plan of unvarnished socialism to rescue the failed greedheads who did this to America — and to countries beyond. He wants $700 billion upfront from you and I — $2,000 per every man, woman and child in America — so the government can buy up the bad bets that these speculators made. It is essential, says the wizard, that the bailout be approved today, if not yesterday, so Congress must not be allowed to ask any questions or put up any speed bumps. Just give me a “clean” bailout, he insisted over the weekend. Trust me on this.

Trust me? I’d sooner trust a coyote with my last lamb chop. Here are a few reasons not to trust him: One, so far, he’s been consistently wrong in his judgments and actions. Two, the $700 billion — even more than the Bushites have dumped into the dark hole of Iraq — is just for openers; Paulson’s plan has no top to it. Three, his rescue focuses entirely on salvaging the wealthy perpetuators of this robbery, with nothing for those homeowners who got robbed. Four, he would bail out the bankers without erecting any regulatory barriers to a repeat of their thefts, in effect telling the kleptocrats there is no punishment for their misdeeds — so why not do it again?

For me, however, two other fundamental flaws in the bailout are the most damning. First is Bush & Co.‘s assertion that these financial corporations are “too big to fail,” so taxpayers simply have no choice but to pay billions of dollars to preserve them. Hello. Instead, shouldn’t we be breaking them up, so America is not at the mercy of such behemoths and so we can instill a bit of competition in the system?

Second, with the Paulson plan, Congress is again being rushed into subverting our country’s democratic heritage by authorizing autocratic executive supremacy. Paulson himself would have dictatorial power to allocate the money and set the rules. Congress would get semi-annual reports, but have no control. And the judicial branch of government is peremptorily dismissed by the White house scheme, explicitly barred from considering any aspect of the bailout. We the People would have no recourse to stop executive abuse.

When the wizard in The Wizard of Oz was finally exposed, Dorothy angrily accused him of being “a very bad man.”

“Oh, no, my dear,” he responded. “I … I’m a very good man — I’m just a very bad Wizard.” So is Paulson.

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, writer, public speaker and author of Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow. Click here for more information, or click here to contact him.