Friday, January 30, 2009

Let them eat cake

Here's a fun video to lighten spirits in tough times.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inauguration day, take two -- a remarkable day unlike any other

How many of you sobbed yesterday? We desperately needed a catharsis after the last eight years. And especially after the last four maimed by bunker mentality, fear, despair and a governance vacuum.

Millions of Americans trekked to D.C. to witness President Obama's inauguration. Millions more breathed a collective sigh of relief (some openly taunted) as Bush flew away. The problems we face are immense. Our international reputation has been trashed. Our economy left in ruins. The lives of millions of us more tenuous than ever, as unemployment soars and foreclosures mount.

But, as of yesterday, we actually have a President willing to take on the role of leader and call us to conscience and responsibility as We the People. He recognizes we are a pluralistic society and seeks rational responses to national problems. He is willing to step into the position of a national symbol. He says he is humbled and I believe him.

I want to believe that our country is not permanently broken by the excesses and sins of the last eight years. I hope that we can redeem our reputation among nations. I pray that we can help each other, especially the least among us, find lives of dignity and purpose in this historically dismal economy.

I for one am ready to get up and try again. To do my best on behalf of all the people I love and people I don't even know. There's plenty of work to be done and, after yesterday, plenty of willing hands to pitch in.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Inauguration day -- a historic day like any other

It's party time in D.C. for the Dems who have waited eight years for these inaugural balls, dinners and concerts. People are primping and prepping, acquiring last-minute formal wear, begging for tickets, hoping to network, witness history and have fun. After all they worked hard to get their man into the White House and it's time to kick back and whoop, dance until sunup, drink a little too much and kiss a dozen strangers. The moment is historic; the President elect is African American. It may not be morning in America, but the clouds seem to be parting a little.

I would love to be able to celebrate, but I am terrible at compartmentalizing and cognitive dissonance gives me a scorching headache. If I did have a ticket to the inauguration, I'd probably give it away, because I'd be unable to enjoy myself knowing that for a lot of people who are suffering, nothing will change after the three-day-long party in D.C. Nothing.

It isn't party time for the 2.6 million Americans who lost their jobs last year. And not for the 120,000 who lost their jobs in the first half of January. Nor is it party time for the increasing numbers of children living in poverty with parents destitute and homeless, unable to provide adequate nutrition, shelter and medicine for their young.

Obama may inspire people who have lost everything to continue hoping that things will improve. What else do they have at this juncture? He will certainly motivate young, idealistic people to give of themselves to better their communities. But can he ensure that sensible and ethical financial regulation will be implemented over the entire financial services sector immediately? Can he motivate Congress to conduct oversight of the FDA and EPA, two agencies whose work has been severely compromised and politicized in the last eight years? Can he raise morale in the Justice Department? Can he bring effective leadership to FEMA? Can he close Guantanamo and save face? Can he seek bipartisan collaboration and get pragmatic compromise? Can he herd cats?

Congratulations, President-elect Obama and good luck.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Tough times for Michigan's children

I dare you to read this report and not cry. As you read it, realize that 2009 will likely be worse.

Michigan Kids Count Data Book 2008

From the Executive Summary:
"Poverty afflicts one of every four young children ages
0–4. Minority children have much higher rates—44
percent for African Americans and 29 percent for
Hispanics compared with 15 percent for whites."

Friday, January 9, 2009

Consumer confidence still lagging -- so what?

Consumers are losing confidence, holding on to what money they have and increasing savings. And economists tell us this is bad, bad, bad. Increased personal thrift leads to less spending. And our beloved system is predicated on consumption and production. Producers are a separate species from consumers, we are told, and producers are freaking out because consumers don't want to spend money.

I would propose that the whole damned frame is wrong. We are persons, not consumers and producers, and debt has never been money. Most of us persons are workers, the labor used by producers. And workers also happen to be consumers -- an inconvenient truth that pundits don't like to allow. Vulnerable workers are spending less money and what money they are spending is in real time -- not debt. They are starting to live on a cash basis. This is a rational response to economic conditions, as rational as corporations laying off tens of thousands of workers. Yet, when corporations inflict mass layoffs pundits do not chide them for losing confidence. And when banks hoard cash -- oodles they just received from We the People-- and refuse to stimulate economic activity with new lending, pundits allow that this is unfortunate, but rational.

You can practice personal thrift, protect your assets and feel guilt free. People living within their means did not cause this recession. Read that again. This recession was caused by greed, unrealistic investment expectations, funny money, deregulation of securities and financial illiteracy among regular people.

So, if you are a thrifty consumer/person/worker who chooses to opt out of consumer culture by spending as little as possible, that's okay. It was never your responsibility to sustain a hideous economic lie with your future potential and happiness.