12/11/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The D Word

An eight year boy old shot his father dead last week.

Don't you wish you could have spoken to him first?

Across the country, people are traveling long distances to abandon their children to the guardianship of the state. More relatives are bunking in, and yard sales have become daily events in the Southwest as suburbanites empty their homes into their driveways hoping for enough money to buy food and service their mortgages. If you drive around, you can pick up a gigantic plasma TV for $300. You could use it to watch the pundits figure out what's gone wrong with the economy on CNN.

Meanwhile, widows are taking their own lives before the bank can foreclose, and -- after 71 years -- San Francisco is finally erecting a barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge to prevent people from jumping off the most popular suicide spot in America.

Signs of immense stress are everywhere

Clumsy novices, including many young couples, are now attempting more armed robberies nationwide. Often these stick-ups go badly wrong and people get wounded or killed for very small potatoes. In Monroe WA, a first-time father engineered the robbery of a Brinks truck, and escaped clutching a bag of money down a raging river on an inflated tire. He'd posted a job ad on Craigslist asking for landscapers dressed as he was in order to create confusion at the scene of the crime. 12 people showed up. Some of them had driven from Seattle 25 miles away.

The unemployed father-robber knew how desperate Americans are.

Across the nation, the most vulnerable have already been stripped of their security. They are wildly adrift in the economic chaos like autumn leaves caught in a hurricane. They have no morale and little hope. Sex-trade workers across the nation can no longer (as the Rolling Stones say) 'give it away'. But Hyundai can: the Korean car manufacturer will now pay you $1000 to buy one of their cars because -- this year -- no one is buying cars. It's likely that another major auto-maker -- one of America's big three -- will soon shut down entirely raising an already astronomical unemployment level.

Much more unemployment is coming.

We can all forget about good jobs; recent high school graduates can no longer find even the McJobs that pay $7.25 an hour for part-time work with no benefits. Childcare facilities nationwide are emptying out as newly unemployed parents trim expenses. Illegal Mexican workers are returning home in droves preferring to poverty among family and friends in Mexico to poverty in the United States. Finally, churches in America are increasing security to accommodate a new level of danger from distressed and distraught parishioners.


On that second-hand TV you might hear people trying to figure out what will end this 'recession' and how long this 'recession' will last. But I'm not here to bullshit you... There is nothing now that distinguishes this 'economic downturn' from a genuine big-D 'depression' except our reluctance to face the fact that it will go on for years.

I say this out loud and in public because the true dimensions of the problem are staggering and we need to get a handle on what it will take to cope. The whole world has been affected by the greed and corruption of the growth economy's force-fed mortgage loans. Even, remote, successful, well-fed Iceland (for God's sake) is now in an economic crisis.

So what to do?

Well, as W.C. Field's once said 'you've got to speculate, to accumulate'. If we stop being scared of the word 'depression,' President Obama could look up some of the dusty old patterns from FDR's 1930s depression playbook. Of course, he needs immediately to restore confidence and to limit stupid government spending like the $11 Billion or so we spend monthly on getting our people killed in Iraq.

But Obama will also need to spend judiciously

FDR created make-work programs that invested in America's infrastructure. That was 70 years ago. He funded construction of public projects like the Golden Gate Bridge. Today, our roads are in desperate need of repair, and our bridges are failing. 150,000,000 Americans live within 50 miles of the oceans which are encroaching on our shorelines: these need 'hardening' now. Last, as drought increases and oil becomes more and more expensive, water and power projects will also become essential to America's economic survival. So, there are a wealth of potential jobs for a bold decisive leader to create.

That's good to know.

But right now more than anything, American families need food and housing security. Guarantees of a fundamental standard of well-being for all Americans is a good first step to restoring national and international confidence. Confidence, after all, is America's greatest point of social capital.

Here's what FDR said about getting things done:

"One thing is sure. We have to do something. We have to do the best we know how at the moment... if it doesn't turn out right, we can modify it as we go along