Dithering In A Hot Tub
I arose this morning in a holiday mood, coming to the happy realization that Thanksgiving is just four days away. I was at last ready to start the very real chore of dragging my vast array of Christmas decorations out of the storage closet. This is my big thing, so it literally takes days and days to accomplish a task that started 30 years ago as Mrs. Jack’s and my first Christmas tree – three strings of lights and a few boxes of cheap ornaments. Somehow, like the snowballing financial crisis, the whole thing has gotten away from me as I have added more and more over the years. You know, excess!
Somehow, despite horrible news this morning, which I will get to, the boost of getting ready for the holidays and the hope inspired by the recent election of Barack Obama managed to keep my spirits high as I watched the usual suspects deliver the bad news on Morning Joe today. And bad it was. It seems that Citigroup had been lying to the government about how large its toxic loan portfolio is. It wasn’t the $20-something billion they claimed; it was $400 billion. Now, where I come from that’s a whopper that deserves a really good spanking. But did Hank Paulson deem this misbehavior by his brother CEO over at Citi worthy of punishment? NO! Without so much as a blink of the eye, Bush’s Treasury Secretary rushed to the rescue claiming that Citi was “too big” to go under. Now, this is the same Hank Paulson who had no such concern for the Big Three – but I refuse to go there today.
I guess this could be a good sign of a government willing to “do something.” Only yesterday on Face the Nation and today on Morning Joe, Barack Obama’s Senior Financial Adviser, Austan Goolsbee, proclaimed that “The era of dithering has come to an end.” Then he went on to blast the Bush Administration’s hands-off approach to the economy that has crashed it so utterly in Bush’s last days. Now, as a Democrat, I am grateful that this came to light in time to be recognized by the electorate before it signed the nation up for four more years of the same “dithering.”
But missing from the “to the rescue” move by Hank Paulson of one of his precious allies in the banking industry at taxpayer expense, were any meaningful strings. The CEO of Citigroup gets to keep his job. Isn’t that incredible? After all the moaning spawned by the CEOs of the Big Three last week, this guy over at Citigroup, after telling a whopper about Citi’s real bottom line, has been spared the guillotine. I say his head should roll — without a golden parachute to keep it from slamming into the platform below. But once again we have seen the “my friends are my friends” ethos at work in the George W. Bush White House. One last shameful reminder of eight years of dithering. But, one may ask, why the hot tub reference in my headline? Were George W. Bush, Hank Paulson and the CEO of Citigroup smoking cigars and sipping brandy in a hot tub? Alas, no such photo exists. But wouldn’t that be a great one?
There is another, actually more fun reason for the hot tub reference today. Chuck Todd, NBC’s chief political analyst, who was subbing for Joe Scarborough this morning, revealed – and that’s exactly the right word – that his mother is a small-business owner who sells hot tubs. And as Chuck lamented, through the titters that this revelation brought from his fellow panelists, “They can’t sell any hot tubs.” Now, quickly moving on from the mind illustration of somebody’s mom selling hot tubs, this revelation exposes – sorry, couldn’t help myself – a real truth that confronts our economy. In frightening economic times those selling items that have been working their way down from the lives of the very rich into the upper middle class are going to suffer greatly in the reality of today’s economy. I guess one could expect that all those rich folks who were enjoying the “good times” under Bush and the Republicans have already bought their hot tub and are relaxing in it right now with the money they drug out of the economy when they had the chance. But for the rest of the people who were hoping to “go luxury” this Christmas or next year, whose Citibank credit card is maxed out, who are afraid their $90,000 to $200,000 per year salary is about to disappear in a layoff and their big fancy home along with it, those folks aren’t too interested in installing a new hot tub.
Now, before we begin to snicker about the fate of the poor hot tub industry and its sales outlets, let us remember that these soothing icons of the luxurious lifestyle we as Americans are more and more taking for granted are mere metaphors for what we are up against. This economic mess that the dithering Bush Administration has led us into, spurring on a credit-heavy consumer economy, is leading us closer and closer to the precipice. While we are constantly reminded of the failing banks and finance markets and the automobile industry, there are literally thousands of other businesses that are about to take it on the chin. Is anybody planning on buying a ski boat this upcoming summer? How about just a humble Jet Ski? Anybody in the market for a new backyard swimming pool? What about that landscaping project you were putting off until next year? Any takers?
Folks, this is bad, and the only way out of the tangled briar forest is by a bold and unafraid approach by our incoming administration. Today, Barack Obama is going to roll out his financial team, and the question running through the media is whether or not George W. Bush and Hank Paulson are willing to take a backseat to the new guys and allow a fresh approach to get started. My feeling on this is that Bush and his cronies are not yet ready to give
up power, even though they don’t want to exercise any except in support of their banker buddies. In Lima, Peru, over the week-end President Bush kept on talking the same old “free-trade agenda,” and “everything is going to be okay” happy talk he has been substituting for a meaningful policy for eight years. I predict that even the words of the level-headed James Baker, an uber-Republican, will not budge the stubborn Bush to admit that anything is wrong. Haven’t we seen eight years of this?
But the good news is that we now have less than six weeks of Bush’s Congressional allies blocking the will of the people as expressed in November. And today Barack Obama will step forward with his team and his vision, calling on the newly elected Congress to hit the ground running on January 2, 2009, and have a hefty stimulus package ready for his signature on January 20th. And the children all shouted, “Hallelujah!”
Hang in there everybody; help is on the way. It is the main thing that will make me thankful this Thursday when I gather with my family. And speaking of things to be thankful about, please visit Mudflats.com for a hilarious post on why we should all thank Sarah Palin. You’ll be glad you did.
That’s it for today. KEEP FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT!