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Bill Sharon

What Needs To Go Right by Bill Sharon

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After Lehman by Bill Sharon

There is much scurrying around in the Democratic Party these days; what to do about Sarah Palin.  The liberal pundits are in an uproar and the conservatives are chuckling up their sleeves and nursing some cautious optimism.  Cable news is having a ball. 


This weekend the financial powers of the world met in New York City to try to come up with a plan to save Lehman Brothers.  They failed.  Barclayís bank would not take on the debt ridden investment house without a credit guarantee and nobody was volunteering Ė not their fellow financial institutions and not the Treasury Department or the Federal Reserve.  So Lehman goes down and the list of troubled firms continues to mount.  Almost as soon as Barclayís backed out of the deal Bank of America bought Merrill Lynch, the 3rd largest US financial house and one of the top contenders for the next bankruptcy.  Washington Mutual probably moves to the top of that list now and AIG, the insurance giant is also in dire straits and scrambling to raise capital. By the time you read this there may be other names in the mix.


Nouriel Roubini is telling us that we are just at the beginning of a major financial meltdown that will result in a one to two trillion dollar loss and a contraction in GDP of 10%.  Mr. Roubini has made a living from predicting doom but he is riding a wave of newfound popularity, probably because it is difficult to envisage a scenario that doesnítí come close to his predictions.  The financial experts who oppose his views make hopeful assertions about the end of the year or early next year for the hemorrhaging to stop but it is increasingly clear that nothing is clear.

I am reminded of the chorus from Dylanís Ballad of a Thin Man:

Ö something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

 The question is who is it that doesnít know what is happening?  It has not been unusual for the public to be uninformed about the bad and even criminal behavior of their government and the irresponsibility of those in positions of authority in the financial system.  Thatís been the norm, even in the recent past.  But the Internet has changed all that.  There is abundant information about the nature and dimension of the current fiscal crisis and there is abundant information about the actions of our government.  Many ask why there is not more of an outcry.  Whereís the indignation and outrage?


This lack of an emotional response is likely because catharsis is loosing its appeal.  You couldnít tell that by the partisan reactions at the party conventions but you hear it in everyday conversations on the street.  People know that there is a connection between the financial meltdown and their job security, the rise in food and fuel costs and the diminished likelihood that they will be able to send their kids to college, the lengthy list of failed pharmaceuticals and battle to get insurance companies to cover healthcare costs.


The meetings in New York and London this weekend were an attempt to shore up a financial system that is no longer viable.  We should all hope that even with the failure to come to the rescue of Lehman that these financial leaders are capable of engineering a slide rather than a collapse.  A collapse will not be good for anyone; an orderly transition out of this mess will not be without pain, but chaos can only result in greater social disruption than we are already going to have.  Where are we going and what will the financial system will look like when we are through this experience?  No one really knows.  It could be another round of the same lunacy, but that increasingly doesnít seem likely. 


Although he surely would have been excoriated in todayís media for his extra-marital activities, John Kennedy is generally thought of as a great inspirational leader.  In one of his most famous quotes he asked us not to think of ourselves but to think of each other, to think of our country.  Perhaps it is not so much that great leaders lead, perhaps it is that they give us permission to act on what we already know to be true.


Sarah Palinís admirers love their kids and they help their neighbors.  They donít want their daughterís to be pregnant before their time any more than I do.  They are loosing their jobs, their healthcare deductibles make it impossible to use their insurance for anything but catastrophes and they live paycheck to paycheck like most of the rest of us.  It doesnít make what is considered good television or radio and it wonít warm the cockles of a partisanís heart, but we all need to find a way to start talking to each other.  The Internet, with its many tools (blogs, social networking, radio, television to mention a few) provides us with ample opportunity.  Nobody is going to lead us in that effort but hopefully our new leaders that take over next year will encourage us and play to our aspirations rather than our fear.  But if they donít, itís no excuse for all of us to pretend that someone else is going to solve all these problems for us.


It has been brought to our attention that Margaret is being portrayed as a psychic on $1.99 sites. These sites are doing so without Margaret's permission. Margaret has not claimed she is a psychic. - MW