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December 31, 2008 5:00 P.M.

The release of a report by the Obama transition team on contact with Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich will not go very far in the prosecution of the errant governor. In fact, the report, which exonerates the President-elect and his staff of any improper contact with Blagojevich, will be a boon to Blago’s defense team. After all, if there was no improper contact between the governor and the transition team, it’s pretty tough to prove that a crime was committed.

As I said before, it appears that there is a lot to prosecute him on, but from what I have read and heard, the strongest part of the case has nothing to do with the senate seat. Blagojevich’s lawyers announced yesterday that the recent round of tapes the government intends to submit to the court are “nothing but talk.” The feds clearly wanted to stop Blagojevich from taking bids on a U.S. Senate seat and they obviously wanted to shut down his ongoing operations, which this case should have done. What will be interesting is whether or not Blagojevich is ever convicted of anything.

December 31, 2008 4:45 P.M.

In writing my recent posts I realized that I had a lot to say. I have not been particularly efficient or even all that articulate. The problem is that while I have been reading a lot lately, I have not been writing enough. The result is that I keep repeating my self in order to try to get out what I’m thinking close to the way I’m thinking it. So…

On the issue of urban v. rural “values,” there are a lot of people who are smart, articulate and well-educated who come from rural or at least less than big city areas of the country. Being from a small community does not, nor should it, suggest how good or smart you are. Where were are from shapes us, but should not define us.

I wrote a piece a while back called “Who Are the American People?” because I was concerned that politicians, presidential candidates, were losing touch with core American values. Those values are not defined by fundamentalist or extreme religious positions, bigotry or even the greed which has driven us into our current economic crisis. I think it’s more basic than that. I think people want to be and feel productive. They want their kids to have what they didn’t and they don’t want to spend their life savings on insurance and health care. They also want a fair shake, knowing that retirement might actually be an option. Might be nice to be able to afford to see a football or basketball game some day, too.

December 28, 2008 10:20 A.M.

Bob Herbert wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times which is worth examining. He calls our behavior as a consumer society stupid. I agree, but I think there is a little more to it than that, and I think we can frame this discussion in terms of the small town values which are now being venerated by Republican strategists (wow, I really have trouble bending my mind around that!) and pundits.

Remember in this discussion, however, that political strategies, concepts and politicians themselves are packaged and sold to us just like every consumer products we are told that we need during those commercial breaks in American Idol. If, for example, personal responsibility, frugality, patience and a good old American work ethic are at the core of these “small town values,” how do Sarah Palin and the RNC justify dressing her and her family up like Barbie dolls while professing an allegiance with “ordinary folks?” What is the message there?

Part of the message, of course, is that ordinary folks are okay if you can dress them up in some type of Pygmalion exercise that transforms them into the very thing they are supposed to be inopposite to. Twisted logic at best.

Yes, we are being stupid. Our auto industry would not be in trouble and a lot less people would be in trouble if you could still buy a car with roll-up windows and vinyl seats, but you can’t, it doesn’t exist because the ads tell us to want more, better, bigger and faster and to mortgage our souls and our futures to get it. I really hate that commercial that shows the whole world running smoothly while everybody uses their credit card. The minute someone decides to use cash (money that they actually have) to buy something, the whole thing stops. Bad message, but an accurate representation of what we have become. Sarah Palin bought (or at least wore) $180,000 worth of clothes with money she did not have and then when called on it, she disavowed the whole thing, just like that bridge she was in favor of before she was against it.

Unless we change, small town values will only be a phrase that spun out of the Republican centrifuge this time around, and we will continue to be simply stupid.

Dianne summed up a perfect plan, an answer to that “what can we all do” question, in two words. Want less. Everyone, all of us, needs to want less and do more without asking what’s in this for me, and this economic crisis too will pass and we will emerge stronger, better and more able to compete with our own products made here at home, by us. Anything else is just stupid.

December 28, 2008 9:50 A.M.

I like the idea of investing federal money in infrastructure and technology as an aspect of economic recovery. I don’t, however, see replacing bridges, roads and water mains as the complete solution just like I don’t see electric or hydrogen cars as a salve for what ails the auto industry.

Unless we become a nation that actually makes things again, all the roads and bridges will be nothing more than bridges to nowhere. Infrastructure jobs will stimulate the economy, certainly, but what we need is a roadmap, a plan for the economic future of our country. Certainly, the short term advantages of infrastructure investment are beneficial, but it’s what we do next that is critical. I don’t know how many more chances we will get to do this right.

About thirty years ago I started talking about changes I was noticing in the way our economy worked. It started with shifts in manufacturing toward automation and outsourcing. Coincident with this shift away from skilled American labor to imports and robots (most of which were imported) was a more fundamental shift away from an industrial, manufacturing-based economy to a “service”-based economy. The question I asked even then was, if we are eliminating our industrial economy, if we are no longer manufacturing or producing products here, who is the service economy going to serve?

The answer, of course, is only itself. That’s all our economy does now and it needs to change if this country is going to survive, compete and provide its citizens with any hope of a decent standard of living going forward.

Of course, we also need to change our expectations and, dare I say, examine our values for this to happen. I was impressed to hear the UAW President talk about stakeholder talks to address the problems which our auto industry is experiencing. I was not so impressed with the political response from politicians too indebted to BMW and Toyota to even listen to GM, Ford and Chrysler.

We need a plan here, folks, and we need it fast.

As with any plan, we need to assess where our economy is now and where it is going in the future. We need to determine how we can make a global economy work for us, and how we can re-tool our own national economic structure so that we remain relevant and not dependant on cheap commercial, industrial and consumer products shipped here from China.

My own bias is toward rolling our sleeves up and starting to make things here, to revive the value of hard work as a virtue and to make quick fix bubble economies a thing of the past. As soon as people started to get impatient and looking for fast track to owning all the toys our 52” flat screen TVs tell us we need. We lost sight of the virtue of hard work and patience. In addition to our work on roads, bridges, sewers and power grids we need to re-invigorate our railroads so that we can drive less and to ship all that stuff we are going to need to start making again.

You know that the economy is out of whack when a baseball player makes $180 million for a 9 year contract and all congress can do is blame an autoworker making $70 grand a year for the collapse of American industry. Of course, the auto execs who drove those companies into the ground need their exorbitant salaries to be able to afford to take their kids to a ball game because of the cost of tickets.

During the presidential debates the candidates were asked what they each thought Americans would have to sacrifice in the future to turn the economy around. None of them wanted to answer the question and that says something. Desperate times call for desperate measures. We need to be told how we can help, and if there is anything left of the fabric that was this country’s value system. What we need from government is a jump start (more like a defibrillator), and a clear direction. The rest is about character, patience, sacrifice and persistence. It’s time to take these “values” off the shelf, and off our sleeves, and to put them into practice.


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