Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Beginning of the End . . .

Environmental degradation, global climate changes, pending food and water shortages, a looming energy crisis, a burst housing bubble, massive (and growing) unemployment, unrelenting war, a pending transportation crisis, crumbling infrastructure, and a foundering economy based on unsustainable revolving credit should be enough to tell us we’re doing something wrong. Is anybody paying attention? Probably not, at least not until this season’s reality TV shows have run their course.

A perfect storm of calamities has overtaken us, and none of the proposals so far put forth by the President, the House, the Senate, Wall Street buff . . . er, tycoons, the Federal Reserve, corporate CEOs, and all the other pay-to-play or paid-to-play performers in the powerbroker hierarchy are ambitious enough or smart enough to head it off or to even mitigate some of the damage it’s causing.

Politicians afflicted with tunnel vision and an ingrained belief that political expediency is the best tool for addressing whatever problem arises are as much to blame for this perfect storm as the people who set the various components of the storm in motion by manipulating the economy for personal gain. If they realize that dealing with the core problem, the economy, in exactly the right way will cause all related problems to resolve themselves, they’re keeping it a closely guarded secret.

In regards to the economy, forget about recession; that car went behind the pit wall a long time ago and a full-blown depression replaced it. As our economic engine continues to lug down to a standstill, what we need, now—more than a gear change to bring the engine back up to speed—is a complete change of vehicles. Maintaining the status quo is not a viable option, and doing more of the same things that got us into this mess is not going to get us out of this mess.

While most people who are in a position to do something about it agree that some type of stimulus spending package needs to be implemented quickly, few agree as to how much money to spend and what to spend it on. Rather than entertain ideas that will actually work, the GOP (Greedy Obstructionist Politicians) snipe at Democratic proposals while arguing (erroneously and disingenuously)) that free markets and tax cuts for the wealthy are the best solutions.

Meanwhile, the Democrats steadfastly refuse to grow the spines and/or the balls necessary to tell the Repugthuglicans that they’re no longer in charge. Did Rome burn while Nero fiddled around? As a matter of fact, it did, and much the same thing seems to be happening here, only on a larger scale.

The key to getting the economy back on track is to get money moving again, and only banks and government have the financial clout to make it happen. Middle-class/working-class people can’t and won’t be much help; until their jobs are secure and future paychecks guaranteed they aren’t likely to spend money on anything but absolute essentials—the most basic of basic necessities. One-time stimulus payments are more likely to end up buried in the back yard than they are to flow into the economy.

Letting the banks fail would have dire consequences for the economy and therefore is not an option, but before forking over huge amounts of the taxpayers’ cash to bail them out, government should reinstate all of the regulations that were removed since the beginning of Reagan’s deregulation orgy and impose a few new regulations to insure against further abuses.

As it stands, Timothy Geithner’s bank rescue plan is a formula for failure. At the least, government should nationalize the failed and failing banks, fire the executives responsible for this disaster, cancel all bonuses and “performance” awards, sell off the fleets of corporate jets and executive limos to someone who can afford to waste the money, and do whatever else it takes to restore solvency and put the banks back on the path to profitability.

What we are witnessing now is nothing less than the end of life as we know it, and the situation is sure to get worse before it starts to get better. That’s just the way these things work. But the end doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing; the end of one thing could be the beginning of something new, of something more equitable and fair for everyone, of something that measures wealth not in terms of money but in quality of life.

In the end, reality will trump political ideology. In the end, we will either get it right or we won’t. If we get it right, the end will signify the end of the beginning and suspend the game of politics as usual. If we don’t, the end will be just that—the end of everything human.

Cynic that I am, at this point in time I’m betting on won’t.