Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Waking Up From the American Dream

Last year, when just buying oil was more than I could handle, I gave up on the television and the cable bill that accompanied it. I get most of my news from that wonderful tried and true source - the newspaper, something that I can hold in my hand and go back to in a day or two or a week or a month or even years from now. And, I must admit, I get up every morning, turn on my computer, and read the Yahoo headlines.

In my job as editor I also get press releases from the governor, from other government agencies and from the financial sector.. This week as the press releases spoke about one failure after another, still others followed heavily reassuring the public that things will straighten out in time, sort of like if I hang a dress in the closet without ironing it, eventually it will lose its wrinkles.

The governor wants us to know that even though, “approximately 11,000 jobs were lost in New York’s finance and insurance sectors between July 2007 and July 2008. He goes on to say, “More recent data will likely show this number continues to grow and based on past data, approximately 40,000 jobs in the financial services industry in the New York City area can be expected to be lost in the current downturn. All told, approximately 120,000 jobs may ultimately be directly and indirectly affected as a result of financial sector turmoil.” He has “directed the New York State Labor Department to take immediate action by reaching out to affected workers on Wall Street. The Labor Department will dispatch its rapid response specialists to assist displaced workers in New York City’s financial industry. These rapid response sessions will provide workers with basic information on how to file an unemployment claim, possible training opportunities, labor market information, and workshops covering everything from resume writing to interviewing skills.”

Closer to home, banks that were invested in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac assure us that whatever losses they may have sustained in the federal takeover were minor and should not cause anyone concern. However, analysts on the internet are exclaiming that there are approximately $3 trillion on deposit in one form or another in American banks. The FDIC has funds to insure $50 million of those deposited funds with 20% of those funds already paid out to customers whose banks have failed this year alone. Meanwhile the banks, perhaps like the people who decided to stay in Galveston during Hurricane Ike, will ride out the storm created by the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac fiascos, the bankruptcy of Lehman Bros. and the buying of Merrill-Lynch for peanuts by Bank of America as the federal government continues to encourage us to stickour heads under the sand, like the proverbial ostrich, and hope for a solution.

And then there is the abundance of American political commentary, which is starting to make choosing a new leader more like a trip to a three ring circus than an exercise in democracy. The economy has overtaken the war as chief priority on the minds of American citizens, so the pundits tell us, and yet what is seen and heard about the candidates is becoming more and more like watching children in a sandbox fighting over whose daddy can beat whose daddy.

I do not care what shade of lipstick Sarah Palin wears, but I do care about whether or not she has more of a clue about economics than I do. I don’t care about the Obama bump, but I do care about soldiers dying in a war that has still not seen the capture of Osama Bin Laden and has not meant that oil is a sure thing this winter. Joe Biden might be the quiet man and John McCain a war hero, but that is not putting food on the table or enabling me to visit grandchildren 700 miles away.

What all this is leading to is that I’m not sure we can trust the big boys or the big girls to care that the little guy in the sandbox just wants to be heard, too. I think that the little guys have to start getting together and show the big guys that reassurance will not feed a family or heat a home or bring back a dead soldier to life. The little guys have to start getting tough, tougher than the hockey moms or the war heroes or the fresh young faces with idealistic dreams.

President Bush has denied over and over again that there is a recession in this country. That has not changed the recession. Today reassurances will not change the financial sector’s problems, nor protect a family’s life savings. Governments will not be able to keep the American dream alive. American’s have to do that. And they have to realize that the phrase the American Dream is a far cry from Americans dreaming. It’s time the country woke up and realized that dreams are for sleeping and work is for waking and it is time to get to work. For that we do not need the government to help us - we need to help each other.