Nobody's Fault -- Personal Thoughts on this Great Recession

Charles Dickens first title for his wonderful novel Little Dorrit was Nobody's Fault. He chose not to use it. Catch the PBS version if you can - it's gloriously acted and produced and very relevant to our time with its world of the crazy greedy, the dispossessed and arch-typical financial swindlers. That phrase "nobody's fault" seems to resonate during our current economic tsunami as we keep looking for the person to blame. Some point to Reganomics, and Ronnie's insatiable lust for deregulation as the start of it all, as the moving finger keeps pointing further and further back to the eternal nature of human greed as the origin of this current downfall. We can get to Jacob tricking Esau out of that parental blessing, and before you know it we are back to Adam and Eve and that snake in the garden. Amazingly, who do we place in charge of getting us out of this recession? The Timothy Gethners and the Larry Summers - the "smart" guys who made their fortunes from a system that ultimately victimized the many. If Obama's choice of such men is wise, it appears that only the serpents in our garden can lead us back to that Eden from which we were recently cast out. It's as if one cannot bring back the good times without taking orders from the geniuses of finance who helped bring about the collapse. One wonders if there isn't someone out there with cleaner hands and a sharper mind who can lead this quest for a prosperous new economy. If so, please ask him/her to apply to President Obama at once. It's one new job in a world where there are no other jobs available.

Unlike many of my friends who recently found their retirement accounts halved or totally decimated by stock losses, I was a pioneer, a brave leader in the losing of one's savings to rascals. I had my own mini-Madoff help me in that regard years ago. No sad songs for me. I get by okay. But what of those younger than I am with babies to support and a mortgage to pay who have lost a job through no fault of their own and find that there is next to nothing out there in the job market? What of the young entrepreneurs who would be able to start up an innovative business if the banks - the very banks into which we have poured billions in order to keep them from tanking - would lend the public funds given to them (amazingly) without government supervision? It's hard not to view the hoarding of these funds by the banks as a violation of the public trust, deeply unpatriotic, and, sadly, one that is taking place under the Obama administration. I sometimes begin to wonder if only the rhetoric has changed from the preceding Bush years in terms of true economic reform, and if we are beginning to peel this onion only to find more tears. And while I'm at it I don't want to hear one more expert blame the poor for taking on those sub-prime mortgages that they could not afford - as if this is an exoneration of corrupt banking practices that led such people into ruin. Sub-prime mortgages were sub-prime morality by the lending institutions from the get go.

When I watch Brian Williams, Katie Couric, and those Morning Joe's and Josephines I feel that they are reporting on this economic crises as tourists with expensive digital cameras snapping pictures of the suffering natives. Their voices are full of second-hand compassion, dropping sadly as the unemployment numbers soar but their own lives are well cushioned against the pain that is being felt outside their studio walls. I hear very few authentic voices, and by that I mean the voices of those who are suffering at this time, or those who are empathetic in life and truly understand the suffering of others. Among the real authorities on suffering during this deep recession are those who have gotten seriously sick (a personal economic catastrophe in a country without universal health insurance) and being uninsured, lost everything.

We hear about the shoots of green in the economy; a spring awakening as the unemployment numbers are growing, as confusing a scenario as one can imagine. But confusion abounds among the so-called experts. We are sometimes told that the new green economy will save us. Cheers. Great news for the environment. I'm an optimist and I want to believe that protecting and restoring the environment can produce great new jobs for a better world. But will it do so without strenuous new policies on the part of our leaders? Where are the government policies in place to encourage that green economy? Some of them strike me as plain silly. Tax breaks for the wealthy to put solar systems on their roofs? Please! Candy Spelling goes green? Sounds like an X rated environmentalist film. What of those without roofs for those solar systems? We hear of plans to give money to people with clunker cars - folks like me with my twenty year old faithful Volvo - so that we buy new cars which do less to pollute the air we breathe. Although I am passionate about clean air I happen to love my old Volvo and its death do us part. By way of an inexcusable excuse, I rarely use it these days, maybe once every other week to visit the grand-children. But even if I was susceptible to such a lure I find it suspect. Are new fuel efficient cars the real answer, or are they just placing more, albeit better cars on the road to make more demands upon a decaying infrastructure and further exhaust a gasping atmosphere? How about giving the big money to public transportation, investing heavily in light rail systems, making travel easier for everyone? We are told that we Americans will never give up our love affair with the private car. We will if a beautiful new/old alternative comes along. I know I would. We are a fickle people. As a boy I lived in a city where everyone delighted in jumping on and off an electric trolley car - and there were far fewer gas guzzling cars to clutter the roads.

In my city of New York we are told that the tax shortfall will cause draconian cutbacks in all bus and subway schedules with fare increases for the very people who can least afford them. And we have a billionaire Mayor who ran the city efficiently and just a wee bit heartlessly who now seeks re-election to a third term. Given the lack of significant opposition and the millions in advertising Mr. Bloomberg can pour into his campaign he will probably win as a Republican/Independent candidate in an overwhelmingly Democratic city. This was a Mayor who encouraged unrestricted new building and never considered that such unchecked development on a small island would not only tax the environment grievously but tax the capacity of existing public schools so that we have no space in our kindergartens for our youngest. Yes, the lunatics are running the asylum and we can only pray for a bit more European style shouting of boo from the opera balcony - or even American style shouting from the bleachers - "Throw the bums out!" Maybe Dickens didn't use that title, Nobody's Fault, because he knew it was somebody's fault.