Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Neither So Big Nor So Bold -- and Not Very Fast, Either

There's been a whole lot of hooey about nothing at all (eg: Caroline, Burris, Blago, Richardson, et al) this festive New Year Season, a lot of Israeli propaganda about deadly events in the Middle East, and a curious and disappointing level of hype and "well, maybes" about the vaunted economic "stimulus" Mr. Obama is going to start off his administration with, bold and big, right out of the gate. Signing bills the minute he takes office, putting people back to work, back in their homes, back on their feet.

No wait. Well, maybe not. Miss McConnell over in the Senate House is throwing one of her patented hissy-fits yet again, demanding to know just why such and such is being done, and wanting account of every dime, every precious penny that is disbursed from the Treasury on Mr. Obama's Harebrained Schemes. Of course Miss McConnell was not at all concerned about the hundreds of billions and trillions that were extorted by the bankers of Wall Street without the least bit of accountability just a couple of months ago. But of course that was then, this is now.

But wait. That's not all. Rather than a stimulus that helps individuals, families, and communities, we're talking about a dribble, a few dollars a week to those who are employed, nothing to those who lose their jobs, in the form of reduced withholding, but only slightly reduced, and likely only temporary. Nothing at all to keep people in their homes and forestall foreclosure, just as there has been nothing at all to put a stopper in that part of the economic meltdown since it first reared its ugly head years ago.

There may be some infrastructure repair and construction funding, but that won't get under way in the middle of winter, and even when it does start up, it won't put more than a fraction of the unemployed back to work, and it was never intended to.

My bet is that a shift to a "Green Economy" won't happen, at least not so you would notice, in part because of Miss McConnell and her flounces.

Broad hints are being offered that the Bank Bailout will continue and even accelerate, hundreds more billions and trillions unaccountably down that rathole, with nothing at all to show for it, except that we ordinary folk are "allowed to live" one more day.

There may -- or may not -- be some loans to some states and localities to help cover some of their operating deficits for a limited time. But one can almost be certain that California's catastrophic budgetary implosion (and we recalled Gray Davis over something much smaller by comparison) will not be one of the candidates for Federal assistance.

I don't know how it is in your town, but the fallout from the economic earthquake that's going on is really showing up around me, and it ain't pretty. Businesses are closing right and left, some that have been around for a long time and are institutions around here. Car dealerships have almost completely vacated a long strip of suburban road where they once dominated. I was driving in a long-established neighborhood not long ago, and it seemed like every other house was in foreclosure, offered for auction or for sale by one of the foreclosure specialist companies. House prices in many neighborhoods -- not all -- have declined 40%-50%-even 60% from their peaks; but in some "exclusive" enclaves, prices have held steady or even increased slightly. What that says right there is that some folks still have plenty of money to live their ritzy lives, while as for the rest? Oh well!

The number of people living on the streets has increased noticeably, and this in the middle of winter. Not good. Homeless camps are springing up all over. Wherever there is some flat empty space and at least a hint of shelter. Police are being a little more tolerant of the homeless than in the past. But property crimes are increasing fast, burglary and robbery statistics showing worrying trends upward. I hear the sirens of police cars a lot more than I used to.

Helping agencies are running out of money and goods to help with and individuals are running out of resources to bulk up what's missing. It's a vicious cycle, and really there are few if any signs that this problem -- which continues to get worse -- will be addressed at all.

Nearly 2 million people lost their jobs in 2008 alone; that many or perhaps even more are expected to lose their jobs in 2009; the job creation programs Mr. Obama has talked about may never happen on a major scale at all, but even if they do, they won't get under way for months if not years.

In other words, things will continue to get worse while they get worse, and what the government intends to do about it -- at the level of individuals, families, and communities -- is the very least possible, with the bulk of what "help" there is continuing to go to the banks and Wall Street as extortion payments.

What's been revealed so far of Mr. Obama's Stimulus Package looks an awful lot like what Herbert Hoover was content with in 1931 and 1932.

Ain't we got fun.

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