Friday, March 27, 2009

A Nation of Panickers

From this side of the Pond, through the miracle of the Internet, I've been watching the events unfold in the past week, concerning AIG and the bonuses scandal. That's infuriating and more than annoying; because I understand that many of the bonuses AIG made, from some of my tax money (and I still pay taxes in the US), went to European banks affiliated with AIG, many of them located in London. And that means those bonuses won't be recouped. Believe you me, if there's any place greedier than Wall Street, it's the City of London. Their financial market is populated by an amalgamation of well-heeled Oxbridge Etonian types, coupled with big-haired women who want to play big in a game dominated by Alpha males, but who cry wolf for large sums of damage money when a man even looks at them in a funny way, along with slick Cockney oikers with a taste in bling. Congress won't see that money for dust.

People in the US are right to feel angry at the people who took this money taken from the taxpayer, ostensibly to save their company from liquidation, and then promptly used it to reward the very people who created the problem. Congress is right to blame them, although in reality, Congress aided and abetted the situation.

But I've been getting a bit perturbed at the way some people, in particular the Main Stream Media and some of its main components, have been levelling blame at the door of the President.

OK, the President is the President, and - as Harry Truman once said and Barack Obama's constantly reiterating, the buck does stop with him. But, Christ on a bike, the man's inherited this problem from the previous POTUS; and the root of this started over twenty years ago with Reagan and with Thatcher in the UK. Ever since the Seventies, people have mulled again and again over the breakdown of social mores, pointing the finger of blame at the Sixties and all that transpired during that decade. What we're seeing now is the fruit of labour begun in earnest in the Eighties. Many of the people orchestrating this mess, at least in the US and in the UK, are Reagan's and Thatcher's spiritual children.

On this side of the Pond, I've lived through the housing crisis currently being experienced in the US, at the end of the late 1980s. Prior to Thatcher assuming office in the late Seventies, many ordinary Brits never had a snowball's chance in hell of owning their own homes. Thatcher eased borrowing requirements, sold the population on the idea that it was their duty to invest in bricks and mortar, staved off any increase in the building of subsidised, low-income housing, a staple upon which many people depended, and opened up a credit boom in the 80s. People bought and sold houses as though they were cars, sometimes staying in a house as little as six weeks before selling it on for a humongous profit. The bubble burst at the end of the 80s, with credit card debt soaring (the 80s was also the era of false wealth), interest rates rising, and the housing industry tanking to the point that many people found themselves in a position of negative equity with their mortgages (that's 'underwater' in Yank terms).

Now I'm seeing the same thing in the US, a legacy of Bush, amongst other things. Time was, when I lived in the States, people bought houses in which to raise families. They bought a house and usually, when they left, they were carried out in a box. Otherwise, the only time they bought and sold, thereafter, was to purchase something smaller because they were getting older and the kids had all left home. Or they sold the house to pay for nursing home care in their dotage. Now I'm hearing stories similar and identical to the ones I witnessed here in the UK in the late 1980s. Looks like Thatcher was Dubya Bush's natural mother on that score.

It's clear that the sub-prime mortgage crisis fueled the tanking of Wall Street, and the crisis reached it's beginning in the last days of Bush, during the Election Campaign of 2008.

So why is the MSM now blaming this President?

Have people forgotten that, throughout his campaign, Obama told us, again and again, truthfully, that this financial crisis was of an epic proportion, that it included not only the housing industry and wall street, but also the health care crisis and the situation in Detroit, as well as global warming and our uber-dependence on oil. He also reminded us, repeatedly, that a solution to the problem would not come quickly. It wouldn't happen immediately. Not even in two years, and not in four years.

The estimate he gave was ten years, total. That's two Administrations, assuming he's re-elected, plus half of the first Administration of the next President, be that person Tim Kaine, Gavin Newsom, Cory Booker, or (heaven forbid) someone of the Republican variety.

To me, that sounded like a fairly honest assessment, instead of the same old same old political spin.

But now, you've got the MSM, actually aiding and abetting those Republicans in Congress determined to oppose everything the President proposes, not to mention the real head of the Republican Party, Rush Limbaugh, who's gone on record as saying he hopes the President fails. All that's sparked whack-jobs like Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, the state which spawned Joe McCarthy (and who makes McCarthy look like a weeping Nellie liberal), into actually calling for armed revolution in the streets against the President's agenda.

Pardon me, but isn't that sedition?

And in the wake of all this, it seems to me as though the media is trying to promote panic in the people. It's certainly provoked the wrong kind of anger on the people's part against the executives of AIG. As much as I blame the latter for being out of touch with the ordinary citizens struggling to stay afloat, I don't think even they deserve howling mobs outside their homes threatening their families and children. It also seems to me that the undercurrent to all this is to pressure a Treasury Secretary already under immense pressure and to get the President to take his eye off the ball. It's almost tantamount to goading.

At the end of the day, we elected Obama. Many of us elected him because of the cool, calm demeanor he presented during his campaign in the face of the financial crisis, as well as in the face of some of the mud being slung his way regarding his character. He projected leadership. We bought that.

The man's been in office for two months. Contrary to the snarky right who persist in calling him The Messiah, he's not that at all. He's a man. Some of what he proposes will work, some of his programs won't. We'll have to see. As for his Treasury Secretary, I actually think this man is smarter than all of us and I think he'll come good. His shortcoming is that he's a man more at home with facts, figures and paper than he is fronting a hardsell to the media. In short, he's shy and it shows.

The President has openly asked for sacrifice in these hard times from the citizens of his country. Many people are making those sacrifices, but they're losing patience and beginning to panic, because a light can't be seen at the end of the tunnel yet. A few weeks ago, Bill Maher, whom I think is actually emerging as a valid spokesman for the left-wing of the Baby Boomer generation, remarked on the generation of our fathers, who lived and fought through the Depression and World War II. Maher's much the same age as I, and his parents lived through what my parents endured: a difficult Depression and a World War. That generation simply got on with the task at hand and lived through it. Without complaint. At that time, they had another Democrat at the helm, cautioning patience and offering encouragement in the face of hardship. The majority of people elected him repeatedly.

Maher now reckons, and I reckon he's right, that the subsequent generations have turned into a nation of panickers, with this panic having been engendered and nurtured by the Bush neo-cons in the wake of 9/11. It's very true that we seem to take our lead from those whom we choose to lead us - which is why Europeans often judge Americans of the moment by the leaders they've chosen. Unfair, but true.

Well, let's stop panicking like headless chickens and tune out the GOP and all the negative hype from the people who led us to this point. And while we're at it, let's turn off the Main Stream Media too. One of the television highlights of my recent visit to the States occurred when the eternally mournful-looking Brian Williams, NBC's evening news anchor, was forced to disclose that the show had received record complaints on its negativity in news broadcasting. They were simply told by the public to lighten up. The truth needs to be told, but people also need encouragement in times of difficulty. It's no wonder scores of people are seeking their news, their truth and a bit of levity in the alternative media - the Mahers, Stewarts, Colberts and Olbermanns. And that's good too.

And maybe it's good that they listen as well to Oprah. After all, it was Oprah who said, 'You can have it all, just not at once.'

So sit back, light up a joint (because cigarettes are bad for you), and be patient. The President will see us through. But don't rest on your patience too long, because it's going to take some work and sacrifice from us, the ones who put him there, to ensure he succeeds.

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