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Americans should ask tough questions



Published: Mon, October 6, 2008 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Jack Z. Smith

Prior to joining the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1977, I worked for a newspaper in the North Texas town of Sherman. One of the few perks that the paper offered was a big Butterball turkey for Christmas.

I knew times were tough during the 1974-75 recession when that perk was downgraded. My wife, Nina, couldn’t conceal her disappointment when I came home not with the prized Butterball but instead with the newspaper’s cheap substitute gift: a puny little Cornish game hen about the size of a softball.

That’s when the recession really hit home for me.

I hate to lay the bad news on John McCain and Barack Obama, but whoever is sworn in as president on Jan. 20 can expect a brutally difficult 2009. Some economists are forecasting a real turkey of a year. To me, it’s looking even worse — a Cornish game hen year.

Indeed, the chickens are finally coming home to roost, due in great part to America’s many irresponsible actions, both collectively and individually. It looks as if we’re headed not only for a national recession, but also a global economic downturn. The world’s financial markets are in a debilitating dither, the U.S. stock market has been cratering since October, energy prices remain high and America has lost 605,000 jobs in the past year.

We’re finally starting to pay the price — big-time — for these sins:

URecord federal budget deficits under President George W. Bush, resulting from excessive tax cuts coupled with runaway spending exemplified by the needless war in Iraq.

UOur failure to craft long-term funding solutions for Social Security and Medicare, two potential disasters looming ever closer on the horizon.

UIneffective energy policy, with a gross under emphasis on energy conservation and developing alternative energy technologies, as well as a failure to sufficiently expand domestic oil and natural gas production.

UA housing crisis fostered by greed, a lack of accountability and absurdly lax lending standards.

UA health-care system that somehow manages to be both high-cost and exclusionary, leaving 46 million Americans without insurance.

UA business mentality that lavishes excessively large compensation on CEOs (even when they fail), while often treating low- and moderate-income workers as dispensable grunts who don’t merit health insurance and sometimes don’t even get any paid vacation after a full year’s work.

UA federal government, plagued by bitter partisanship and gaping ideological divides between Democrats and Republicans, that appears unable to deal with major issues until they become national crises.

America also needs to re-examine its moral fiber.

We need to ask ourselves whether we are increasingly becoming a nation of selfish, shortsighted people who lie about our incomes to avoid taxes or buy homes we can’t afford; irresponsibly ring up huge credit-card debts in our quest for instant gratification; insist on cutting federal income tax rates and expanding deductions but aren’t willing to take the tough fiscal actions needed to slash federal budget deficits; complain about high energy costs but buy 4,000-square-foot homes and drive behemoth gas-gulpers; and fail to vote in local elections but gripe when City Hall doesn’t do what we want.

President Bush suddenly has discovered, as has Republican presidential nominee John McCain, that the economy is in the pits. Hence, Bush is pushed for a $700 billion financial bailout, with U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson as the chief pitchman.

And even though the bailout has been approved, there will be many more home foreclosures, job layoffs, business failures and homes that owners can’t sell without taking a financial bath.

Instead of a big Butterball on the Christmas dinner table, we could be nibbling on Cornish game hen.

X Jack Z. Smith is an editorial writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


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