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A number of you have told me that you don’t look forward to reading the column on your computer screen. That’s not necessary if you have a printer. Print out the column and take it with you to the breakfast table or wherever else you choose to read printed material. (You can also call up past columns in case you missed them.)
And, if you haven’t already done so, let us know your e-mail address so that we can send you a weekly reminder when a new column is available.
Today, I start the column with a recital of some of the non-blessings which hang over this troubled country this Thanksgiving week. Later in the column, I turn to the subject of blessings. So if you would like a Thanksgiving-week break from downbeat news and comments about the perilous state of our national economy, you have the option of proceeding directly to the section of the column with a headline starting "Some Potential Blessings."
November 26, 2008
Suppose you had the job (self-imposed, I hasten to acknowledge) of writing a column to appear the day before Thanksgiving when traditionally we count our blessings.
Would you, like me, find it more difficult to be upbeat, considering the number of non-blessings which this country and its citizens are faced with during this time of economic crisis, the effects of which knowledgeable observers expect to last, to a greater or lesser extent, for an unpredictable number of years?
Would you, like me, give at least some thought to the list of non-blessings—loss of jobs, a credit card crunch for a good many Americans, unavailable bank loans in too many instances, a decline in housing values and housing starts and, perhaps most severe of all, a stock market price plunge which has wiped out 30 to 50% or more of the value of life savings of many millions of Americans
And, further considering the non-blessings which Americans are experiencing this Thanksgiving season, would you, like me, feel at least a bit indignant over the fact that responsibility for this variety of national problems can be laid largely at the feet of liberal politicians—from former President Bill Clinton to members of Congress like Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut? Politicians who are still very much in the public eye but are not held responsible—by the news media or the general public-for the damage they caused by advocating easy-money mortgage loans so that more Americans, creditworthy or not, could enjoy "the American dream" of owning a home.
Politicians like Senator Dodd, Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, have succeeded in focusing public and Congressional attention on other interests—Wall Street investment banks and the Big Three Detroit-based automakers, for example.
Congress should be investigating itself for failure to respond to warning signals and impose regulatory oversight to curb obviously risky mortgage lending.
One hopes that the quality of the scrutiny which Congress is now retroactively applying to this mess—and the quality of some of the Congress members applying that scrutiny—was not indicated by the attention which a number of Congress members gave to this fact: When the chief executives of Chrysler, Ford and General Motors appeared before congressional committees asking for help, they had flown to the Washington hearings in company-owned jets.
One member of the House investigating committee went so far as to ask that any of the three chief executives raise his hand if he planned to sell the company jet and take a commercial flight back to Detroit.
Then this (the word nincompoop suggests itself) member of the United States House of Representatives asked that this diversion from the real issues be made a part of the committee's official record of the hearing.
"Let the record show not a hand was raised," he said—an incident which CNN was happy to tape and play on a later telecast.
Adding what might be called insult to the injury of the non-blessing bad news this Thanksgiving season is the fact that, in the words of a New York Times story: "The United States may have plunged the world into a sharp economic downturn, but it will take the combined efforts of China and other emerging nations to lead to global economy out of what is likely to be a long and painful recession."
The Times story indicated it was reflecting the views of business executives, government officials and economic experts from other countries.
So the United States is a world leader in creating global economic chaos and needs China "and other emerging nations" to lead the world in bailing out the United States and other national economies which we have pulled down with us.
A humiliating non-blessing for sure.
I'm pleased—while wishing there were many more such cases—to take note of an example of at least one Democrat willing to acknowledge that he and his fellow Democrats were wrong in ignoring warning signs that cheap mortgage policies might lead to disaster.
Referring to Democratic Congressional opposition to reining in government-created Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the risk they were taking in buying mortgages which had been sold to homebuyers who were poor credit risks or at least very questionable credit risks, Rep. Arthur Davis, D.-Alabama, was quoted as saying:
"Like a lot of my Democratic colleagues, I was too slow to appreciate the recklessness of Fannie and Freddie. Frankly, I wish my Democratic colleagues would admit, when it comes to Fannie and Freddie, we were wrong."
The USA Today story had pointed out that in 2005 "thanks to resistance from mostly Democrats," Congress rejected a Republican-sponsored bill (introduced by Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska) aimed at curbing risky investments by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
(USA Today, of course, did not mention it, but the Republican-backed regulatory effort in 2005 was backed by the Bush administration.)
* * *
I interrupt these proceedings for a brief comment on news affecting the Nebraska Cornhusker football team—a topic particularly appropriate this week as the Huskers seek to go 8-4 with a win over Colorado. (It might also be said that the revival of Cornhusker football fortunes is certainly a blessing for Nebraska fans.)
The misfortune of Notre Dame's Fighting Irish in losing to a Syracuse team with a dismal season record opens the door to the possibility that the Huskers may be invited to the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida, whereas previous speculation had been that the Huskers would likely play in the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas.
The Sun Bowl prospect is especially unappealing. El Paso is hardly Jacksonville, and I'm told that excursions across the border from El Paso to Jaurez, Mexico aren't advisable because of visitor safety concern.
Jaurez south of El Paso isn't Tijuana south of San Diego, but recent news from Tijuana is disquieting in terms of visiting any Mexican border city, it seems to me. The news, as reported by the Associated Press: "Six people are dead after gunmen burst into a Tijuana bar popular with university students and opened fire."
* * *
Enough about non-blessings. Let's turn attention to blessings—or potential blessings if we work hard on major problems—which the great majority of the American people still should be thankful for. This country and its citizens—at least the great majority of its citizens—still have, I hope and believe, the strength and resiliency to work our way back from this politician-induced economic crisis.
It is a time of testing, a test of whether our political leadership, particularly in the Congress, can focus on commonly recognized problems—the economy, health care, the environment, and avoid social engineering diversions such as an "every American family in a dream home of its own" welfare program which at the bottom of the current economic mess.
Reform at the Congressional level may prove to be asking too much-but it is certainly not expecting too much, and the American people should insist that Congress raise its collective sights and its performance. Significant improvement in this regard would surely be a blessing. The key role beyond the voice of the people pressuring Congress will, of course, be played by President Barack Obama.
So many questions have still to be answered, but some of the preliminary signs are heartening as Obama selects a leadership team which, along with Obama, will have the primary job of pressuring Congress to shape up. Among those heartening signs:
Developments summarized by a headline in The New York Times which read: "Obama Tilts to Center, Inviting a Clash of Ideas." The reference, of course, was to reports of Obama's plans to appoint pragmatic moderates, not left-wing ideologues, to a number of key positions in his administration.
(I'm not necessarily including Hillary Rodham Clinton in my definition of "moderate." One hopes that Obama's choice of Clinton to be Secretary of State represents much more than an effort to make peace with the millions of women who thought one of their own should be elected president.)
But if Obama succeeds in leading his administration closer to the middle of the road than to the left lane, it would be a blessing indeed.
* * *
In 16 years of column writing (I'm not counting the columns I wrote in 1940-41 as sports editor of the Omaha North High School Star), I've consistently tried to come up with an appropriate ending for a column published during a special week such as Thanksgiving week or Christmas week.
This week, I've concluded I can't improve on the theme with which I finished my Thanksgiving Day column 10 years ago:
Thanksgiving and the long weekend that follows offer a particularly appropriate time to thank those friends—starting with family, of course—whose friendship you consider one of your special blessings.
There should be some—not necessarily only family members—to whom you can appropriately express not only your thanks but also your love. Such a course should keep you properly and productively busy this Thanksgiving week.
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