Riding The Economic Roller-Coaster: The Big Plunge Is Just Up Ahead

In what at times has sounded like a script from Sesame Street,
pundits and economists have endlessly engaged in speculating about
whether the recession looks like the warm and fuzzy Letter U, the nasty
Letter V, the even nastier Letter W, the crazy Letter X, or the dreaded
Letter L. It's enough to make you swear off Alphabet Soup forever.

Call me illiterate, but I think we're barking up the wrong analogy,
what we've got looks more like a roller coaster from where I sit.
Think about it: the most terrifying ride in the park-you go up a little
and then down, your heart lands in your stomach and you're afraid
you're going to upchuck all over your date but then you realize that
you survived and it isn't so bad and hey you're going up again. And
then you get to the top of the next rise and see the very long and
steep decline that lies ahead...

I'm no economist, but while the Cash for Clunkers
program certainly helped lower car inventories and upped the average
mpg of the cars on the road a tad, only 41% of the cars bought under
the program were American and hey did you know that the payments are
taxable? Much more importantly, none of this does jack to reform our
transportation policy. So now that the program is over, how long does
the economic honeymoon continue? And when does an understanding of
peak oil temper our Detroit at any cost mantra?

Then there is the money laundering bailout of the banks and
insurance companies. Stockholders got stuck in the hot water spin
cycle where their money shrank the big one leading a panicked Congress
to shovel enormous amounts of money at these companies with shockingly
little oversight or regulation. We don't even know how the money was
used or where it all went. And funny story, those companies that were
about to plunge into the abyss and take us with them-stock prices are
back up, and the CEO's are doing quite nicely, thank you. And what
exactly has been done to insure that it doesn't happen again?

As for the foreclosure crisis-that nasty little house of cards seems
to have eased. Or not. Seems there are some mortgages called Option ARMs
about 70% of which will reset before 2011, some by as much as 63%
leaving a whole lot more people with not much of an option but to go
into foreclosure, so that one isn't over yet either.

Those factors, and throw in the health care debacle and unemployment
while we're at it, are enough to say we've still got a problem but our
current economic woes are only the tip of the not so proverbial
iceberg. Which happens to be melting. And quickly at that.

Our national self-centered myopia when it comes to climate change
and environmental peril is blinding us to the inevitable, drastic
changes ahead. In the face of incontrovertible evidence to the
contrary, we believe there is such a thing as clean coal and safe
nuclear energy, we blithely use pesticides and herbicides on our land
and then drink them from our rivers. We poison our air and imperil our
food supply by genetically modifying it and then go back to watching Mad Men or American Idol without a minute of my bad or wondering about the consequences and cost of this folly.

And costly it will be. As the healthcare 'reform' debate has made
all too clear, we have incorporated our democracy to the point where
the welfare of huge corporations is considered at least if not more
important than the welfare and health of the people they supposedly
serve. The same is even more true of the energy and global warming
debate, witness the recent effort by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to
hold a "Scopes"-like trial on global warming for the simple reason that
the corporations they represent will do just about anything to keep
making a buck for as long as they can, no matter the cost and heaven
forbid they should be held accountable for the damage that is staring
us in the face.

This head-in-the-sand state of national denial is not sustainable,
it's not even survivable and it most definitely is not profitable. Richard Power puts it quite eloquently,

(T)he climate change debate (by that I mean what to do
about it, not whether it is real), is not... simply one of dire national
importance, it is one of dire planetary importance, and the nature of
opposition to meaningful action on climate change is not simply
self-abusive, it is suicidal.

Or in the even more dire words of Johann Hari, we are at "five minutes to ecological midnight."

Whether or not the recession is ending is irrelevant and not even
the correct question. At best, we are in a bit of economic remission,
but do not be deluded, the ride has only just begun, and the big fall
is still ahead.

I'll leave you with this...

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