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American Tsunami/On Shaky Ground 3/21/11

Robert Downes - March 21st, 2011
American Tsunami
Over the past four years, America has been swept up in its own economic
tsunami which has arguably been as devastating to our unemployed citizens
as the wreck of Japan.
Millions of jobs have been washed from our shores, but unfortunately, the
rescue has been largely impeded by ideologues on the right who are
presently in the driver’s seat in Congress. You know, the same folks who
argued that General Motors should be allowed to fail along with the
nation’s banks, forgetting that when major institutions go under, they
take us along with them.
A review of the book, Punching Out, in this issue notes that there were
5,000 plant closings in America over a four-year period under President
George W. Bush alone.
Millions of unemployed factory workers fled to the construction industry,
which was all too happy to employ them during the real estate boom of the
early ’00s, during which “flipping” houses and building spec homes on
dubious credit was seen as a path to riches.
We all know what happened to that idea.
Driven by bad credit and an anything-goes attitude toward regulating
financial firms, the economic tsunami hit in September 2008, when one
third of the value of the world‘s economy vanished overnight.
In 2009, President Obama’s response was to pump $787 billion into the
nation‘s economy in stimulus funds. But it was a weak stimulus bill, made
more so by partisan politics -- some say far less than what was needed to
revive the economy -- and the results weren‘t immediately evident. Keeping
cops and government workers on the job with stimulus funds proved to be
less photogenic than the CCC-style public works projects that were
launched in the Great Depression. There were complaints of a lack of
“shovel ready” jobs.
So, despite the fact that the majority of economists around the world
agree that it‘s a good idea for government to prime the economic pump in
times of trouble, voters responded with displeasure in the last election,
convinced that the recovery was going too slow.
So now the Republicans are having their turn at the helm of a sinking ship
with tactics that include busting unions, privatizing government services,
and tax cuts for corporations. They’d also like to do away with the
minimum wage and, of course, see to it that you pay for your own health
It will be interesting to see what kind of jobs our kids will have in the
America being brewed up with this approach: Low pay, no benefits or
bargaining rights, part-time hours and no health care, for starters. The
template that is currently being stamped on the workplace across the
country could go from bad to worse.
Then there are the Tea Party rebels in Congress demanding budget cuts at a
time when our economy is just beginning to recover.
The current issue of Newsweek offers a gloomy forecast from economists
over the Republican budget cuts, which could amount to strangling our
infant economy in its crib. Fed chairman Ben Bernanke estimates that the
budget cuts could cost America 200,000 jobs; a firm called Macroeconomic
Forecasters estimates 500,000 jobs lost; while the chief economist at estimates 700,000 jobs down the drain.
Yes, having to borrow money from the Chinese and foreign bankers to
stimulate job growth and the American economy is a bad thing. But
allowing our economy to stall and die while it is still on the rise -- and
while still owing all of that foreign debt to boot -- will be positively

On Shaky Ground

Someone told me the other day that they were sending all their prayers,
positive thoughts and good vibrations to the people of Japan.
Perhaps in some inscrutable way those cosmic intentions will be helpful --
like on the same level as the kiss of a snowflake, and a small one at
that. But I think a donation to the Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders
would do more to fill a child’s empty stomach or comfort a homeless family
shivering in the wreckage of Fukushima.
After all, when your car slides into a ditch, you’d probably be more
appreciative of some help pushing it out than receiving the prayers of
passing motorists.
Sometimes it seems like you only get to know your neighbor when there’s an
emergency or the need for a helping hand. Then there’s an anxious face at
the door or someone out struggling with a heavy load at the curb and you
do your bit to pitch in.
Such is the case with Japan, where televised news reports have brought us
scenes of utter destruction. Far more people -- 80,000 -- died in the
earthquake that struck Szechuan, China in 2008, and an estimated 250,000
people died in Haiti last year. A staggering 800,000 people are believed
to have been washed away in the Indian Ocean tsunami of Christmas, 2004.
But the quake in Japan has seemed especially disturbing, because unlike
those other disasters, we’ve been able to watch it unfold around the clock
on the TV news.
It’s a wonder more people aren‘t reported dead in Japan, because many of
its citizens live within sight of the sea. Ride the train from Tokyo to
Hiroshima and you‘ll find what seems to be a 500-mile city, broken by the
occasional rice paddy.
The average Japanese lives in a home or apartment about the size of
two-car garage and has suffered through nearly 20 years of economic
hardship created by a financial collapse similar to what we’re going
through in America. For the most part, they’re not the wealthy bunch
they‘re made out to be.
The world got a similar view of Americans clinging to the wreckage of
Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Televised images of Americans as spoiled,
wealthy residents of the 90210 area code were replaced by news reports of
desperate, poverty-stricken African-Americans clinging to their rooftops
in the floodwaters of the Mississippi, or anguishing in the limbo of the
At times like these, we see a Japanese family crying in the wreckage of
their splintered home, wondering where a child or a parent has gone --
perhaps never to be seen again -- and we realize that we are all brothers
and sisters in our humanity.
Now is the time we are called upon to prove it: let’s each give to the
best of our ability.

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