American Meltdown: 3AM or 8PM—Emergency vs Urgency

Thomas Friedman, in Michael Moore -like frankness, doesn’t make a case, create a sound bite, or try to get elected. Here he simply tells the facts. 

If all Americans could compare Berlin’s luxurious central train station today with the grimy, decrepit Penn Station in New York City, they would swear we were the ones who lost World War II.

People want to do nation-building. They really do. But they want to do nation-building in America.

Any one of the candidates can answer the Red Phone at 3 a.m. in the White House bedroom. I’m voting for the one who can talk straight to the American people on national TV — at 8 p.m. — from the White House East Room.

millions of Americans are dying to be enlisted — enlisted to fix education, enlisted to research renewable energy, enlisted to repair our infrastructure, enlisted to help others. Look at the kids lining up to join Teach for America. They want our country to matter again. 

MOST OF ALL WE NEED TO STOP VOTING BECAUSE SOMEONE SCARED THE CRAP OUT OF US OR APPEALS TO BASE PREJUDICE. WHEN WE DO THAT WE ARE VOTING AGAINST OURSELVES, OUR CHILDREN AND OUR GRANDCHILDREN.

The emergency is that the fiscal fiasco of the last 7 years is frightening larger than any public figure has stated. Who will tell the people? The reason why you hear scattered comments about this period being comparable to the great depression is that we have dug a real hole for ourselves, so big, so deep, that we can’t see the bottom anymore.

  • Buffett and others are admitting it — economists are slyly predicting it without being accused of starting riots and panic. There is general agreement that the housing market could have another 20% correction from current levels.
  • 20-30 million American homes will have greater mortgage indebtedness than they are worth within 12-14 months.  The same people are mired in credit card debt carrying interest and fees that assures( or at least threatens) the virtual permanent enslavement of a significant portion the American people. Americans spend more money on debt service (interest payments and principal) than many countries do on EVERYTHING. 
  • We have locked ourselves into an energy policy that allows both domestic and foreign enemies of freedom almost unfettered control over our property, our food, our lives and our civil liberties. We have done this while having the technology and knowledge to reduce our oil and gas consumption to a negligible amount, forever abandoning foreign policy based upon foreign fuel supplies. 
  • Inflation is already five times higher than the manipulative government statistics reported and it is increasing. 
  • Joblessness is five time higher as well. 
  • The Iraq war will take at least 7 years — our longest war.
  • Our healthcare system is in the death grip of a few people who have turned our vulnerability into an excuse to rob the public treasury and the private finance of every individual.
  • 1929? — we already there and headed downward, burdened in more debt than any country or its people have acquired in the world history.
  • And in world opinion our stock of confidence has never been lower and is clearly declining every other day, as the dollar goes lower and lower and the world’s central bankers look for alternatives for their currency reserves — anything other than the plummeting dollar. They know we caused, allowed and promoted the worst outbreak of financial fraud in history and that the measurement of the scope of the fraud keeps growing every day by trillions of dollars.

So there is the emergency. The urgency is that there is hope.

The Mortgage Meltdown was the trigger, the wake-up call that the fundamentals of our policy, our society and our economy were all wrong. The people know it, with 4 out of people asserting we are headed in the wrong direction.

We emerged from the Great Depression and we can emerge from this too, perhaps a little battered and wiser but still standing tall. The way we can do that is through ruthless truth, a tolerance for ambiguity, transcending our fears, acceptance of failure, determination to succeed, and persistent pursuit of the core values expressed, although unevenly lived, in our Declaration of Independence and our U.S. Constitution. 

MOST OF ALL WE NEED TO STOP VOTING BECAUSE SOMEONE SCARED THE CRAP OUT OF US OR APPEALS TO BASE PREJUDICE. WHEN WE DO THAT WE ARE VOTING AGAINST OURSELVES, OUR CHILDREN AND OUR GRANDCHILDREN.

May 4, 2008
OP-ED COLUMNIST

Who Will Tell the People?

Traveling the country these past five months while writing a book, I’ve had my own opportunity to take the pulse, far from the campaign crowds. My own totally unscientific polling has left me feeling that if there is one overwhelming hunger in our country today it’s this: People want to do nation-building. They really do. But they want to do nation-building in America.

They are not only tired of nation-building in Iraq and in Afghanistan, with so little to show for it. They sense something deeper — that we’re just not that strong anymore. We’re borrowing money to shore up our banks from city-states called Dubai and Singapore. Our generals regularly tell us that Iran is subverting our efforts in Iraq, but they do nothing about it because we have no leverage — as long as our forces are pinned down in Baghdad and our economy is pinned to Middle East oil.

Our president’s latest energy initiative was to go to Saudi Arabia and beg King Abdullah to give us a little relief on gasoline prices. I guess there was some justice in that. When you, the president, after 9/11, tell the country to go shopping instead of buckling down to break our addiction to oil, it ends with you, the president, shopping the world for discount gasoline.

We are not as powerful as we used to be because over the past three decades, the Asian values of our parents’ generation — work hard, study, save, invest, live within your means — have given way to subprime values: “You can have the American dream — a house — with no money down and no payments for two years.”

That’s why Donald Rumsfeld’s infamous defense of why he did not originally send more troops to Iraq is the mantra of our times: “You go to war with the army you have.” Hey, you march into the future with the country you have — not the one that you need, not the one you want, not the best you could have.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I flew from New York’s Kennedy Airport to Singapore. In J.F.K.’s waiting lounge we could barely find a place to sit. Eighteen hours later, we landed at Singapore’s ultramodern airport, with free Internet portals and children’s play zones throughout. We felt, as we have before, like we had just flown from the Flintstones to the Jetsons. If all Americans could compare Berlin’s luxurious central train station today with the grimy, decrepit Penn Station in New York City, they would swear we were the ones who lost World War II.

How could this be? We are a great power. How could we be borrowing money from Singapore? Maybe it’s because Singapore is investing billions of dollars, from its own savings, into infrastructure and scientific research to attract the world’s best talent — including Americans.

And us? Harvard’s president, Drew Faust, just told a Senate hearing that cutbacks in government research funds were resulting in “downsized labs, layoffs of post docs, slipping morale and more conservative science that shies away from the big research questions.” Today, she added, “China, India, Singapore … have adopted biomedical research and the building of biotechnology clusters as national goals. Suddenly, those who train in America have significant options elsewhere.”

Much nonsense has been written about how Hillary Clinton is “toughening up” Barack Obama so he’ll be tough enough to withstand Republican attacks. Sorry, we don’t need a president who is tough enough to withstand the lies of his opponents. We need a president who is tough enough to tell the truth to the American people. Any one of the candidates can answer the Red Phone at 3 a.m. in the White House bedroom. I’m voting for the one who can talk straight to the American people on national TV — at 8 p.m. — from the White House East Room.

Who will tell the people? We are not who we think we are. We are living on borrowed time and borrowed dimes. We still have all the potential for greatness, but only if we get back to work on our country.

I don’t know if Barack Obama can lead that, but the notion that the idealism he has inspired in so many young people doesn’t matter is dead wrong. “Of course, hope alone is not enough,” says Tim Shriver, chairman of Special Olympics, “but it’s not trivial. It’s not trivial to inspire people to want to get up and do something with someone else.”

It is especially not trivial now, because millions of Americans are dying to be enlisted — enlisted to fix education, enlisted to research renewable energy, enlisted to repair our infrastructure, enlisted to help others. Look at the kids lining up to join Teach for America. They want our country to matter again. They want it to be about building wealth and dignity — big profits and big purposes. When we just do one, we are less than the sum of our parts. When we do both, said Shriver, “no one can touch us.”

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