Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Alpo On Sale

For the last 15 years of his life, my Daddy lived in a brick ranch house, 1,700 square feet, not including the full basement, in Cornelia, Ga. Outside was parked a two-year old Chevrolet Suburban with three rows of seats and a motor boat big enough to take out deep-sea fishing. House, car, and boat all paid for. Overhead in the basement was the most elaborate HVAC duct work I have ever seen to this day. All the insulation, every strip of shiny duct tape, diverters and controls, all personally and painstakingly installed by my Daddy, whose training as an air conditioning tradesman was obtained under the WWII GI Bill. One-third of the floor space in my Daddy’s basement was devoted to work benches and storage of his large collection of tools. The rest of the basement consisted of shelves full of canned food, both commercially produced and home-made in Mason jars. String beans, lima beans, and navy beans. Black-eyed peas and crowder peas. New potatoes. Yams. Hominy. Corn. Bread and butter pickles. Watermelon rind pickles. Chow-chow. Corned beef. Spam. What was he expecting? Nuclear attack? No, he had lived through The Great Depression, and these were the scars to prove it.

My Daddy was not quite 20 years old when Herbert Hoover announced “The fundamentals of our economy are sound,” despite the stock market crash, banks closing, people losing their homes, no jobs, no money. Franklin D. Roosevelt came along and saved everybody’s bacon, including the Republicans, with government regulation, work programs, and social welfare. Maybe it will see us through things yet. All my life I’ve thought it could not happen again. How could anyone gamble borrowed money on the stock market? Who could let all the money just disappear? Margins. Derivatives. Hocuspocus. Now you think you see it. Now you wonder what happened.

Now the U.S. government, the insurer of last resort, is taking over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Of course this will not impact the federal budget, because it will just not be reported on the books. Like privatizing the war in Iraq by hiring private security forces. Hessians. Keep it off the books and keep it quiet. Government by administrative fiat and secrecy. While we are at it, we will lend $85-Billion to giant insurance company AIG to keep it from going broke. Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi describes this new economy, “All the profits are privatized and all the losses are nationalized.” You would think George Bush and the Republicans would be too ashamed to show their faces in public. John McCain’s chief economic spokesperson, who was fired from her last corporate job, says none of the current candidates for President or Vice President would be qualified to run a major corporation. I guess any jackass can run one into the ground. It takes special qualifications to run the entire country into the ground.

The only good thing about the Wall Street meltdown is maybe now the silly talk about privatizing Social Security will be too self-evidently preposterous and embarrassing even for Republicans to try to sell. Maybe seniors who support John McCain will get real. If Social Security had been in the hands of Wall Street, the September surprise would have been the lines of seniors at the grocery stores stocking up on Alpo.

Copyright 2008 by William C. Cotter


Anonymous said...

That is a really good commentary.
The problem I see is that a great many people do not connect causes and results or even draw reasonable conclusions from their own experience or their family stories.
I know and have frequent e-mail communications with two young men who firmly believe that if the rich get richer they themselves will be better off financially -- and they believe this despite being consistently underpaid and in debt. They both also think that social security should be privatized, and that they would -- if they could keep the deductions -- save money for their retirement. Curiously, they seem to be immune to any arguments having to do with the general welfare, and we have several times had discussions arrive at an impasse because they simply don't accept the premise that they should be concerned about others. This, to them, is "liberal." But, what's scarier is that the lack of concern doesn't seem so much to be ideological as simply not there.
One had his children insured under PeachCare, which meant he could have good insurance for them at a small monthly rate. The eligibility level included his family until it was changed and he was narrowly excluded. This caused a real hardship for a young family already strapped financially and he complained bitterly, but none of his experiences seem to translate for him into a different political view, or -- once the problem was resolved when he got a better job -- empathy for other young families in similar straits.
It basically comes down to "I've got mine. To hell with you."
I think that attitude is at the heart of most of the big problems we're having economically.

Cotter Pen said...

Ordinarily I am not a fan of anonymous comments. These are so insightful I am barely going to mention my mystification at why you would not stand behind them proudly, if only with a silly, make-believe name, like Paw Paw Bill.

Professor Staff said...

It baffles me how the same people who want "the government off our back" have repeatedly been using the phrase this week "too big to fail" : AIG, Fannie/Freddie, Lehman Brothers, Bear Steans, etc. Pretty soon it may be the US automakers.

If a company is able to have such a hefty impact on our economy that extends beyond the success or failure of the company, that sounds to me like the kind of situation that requires some sort of government oversight of their money handling practices. Ironically, it is partially due to the very loosening of such regulations (remember back when banks were just banks?) that started the slippery slope that put us in this mess.

The government off our backs crowd can't have it both ways.

-- Rob (in DC)

Cotter Pen said...

Maybe, they lie.

Anonymous said...

Can someone just please tell me why Bush has got away with this for 8 years, but a perfectly good President was put on trial for a personal indiscretion that in no way affected his ability to run this country? Why doesn't someone do something? Can nobody stop him? I'm just praying that our country can hang on until Obama takes over. And God help us if by some Stroke of bad luck or cheating McCain should win. I truly believe he is just another George Bush.

Cotter Pen said...

Welcome to the prayer vigil.


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