ALPERN AT LARGE-Five years ago, the Great Recession hit this country and this world. Five years ago, we were introduced to the notion of some banks and other entities being "too big to fail". Five years ago, we waited and hoped for leadership from Washington to support the endeavors of "the little guy" to get back on his/her feet. And five years later, only the dreamers and the short-sighted can believe that anyone with any economic or political power is truly looking out for them.
The TARP funds and bailouts have done a brilliant job of saving the undeserved hides of the politically and financially connected big banks, but the community banks that are more likely to remain dedicated to their depositors are suffering mightily, and might just be bought out by those bigger banks to avoid going under.
Yes, we have had many of those TARP bailouts paid back, and with interest to boot, but it hasn't done much for Main Street as much as it's done for Wall Street. For those of us who can afford stocks and have big deposits, it's probably been nice...but for the middle and lower economic classes, very little has been done to bail them out.
Instead, there have been a few forgiveness and window-dressing federal and state measures to allow renegotiation of mortgages for homeowners and demands to not kick homeowners out of their homes while they were struggling to make good on their obligations.
State Senator Ted Lieu has done considerable work towards this end in our own Golden State. However, the number of homeowners who were still shoved out of their homes by unscrupulous banks either trying to stay alive or to minimize their losses number in the hundreds of thousands or more in our state and nation.
For many, it was easier to walk away from their homes and their debt, and now the rest of us have to pay for all that...and it's anyone's guess how many have gotten used to defaulting on their credit cards. Which has set a pretty horrible precedent in the halls of power in Washington, where the President is in the middle of a game of chicken with the House Republicans, and where his claims of paying back our nation's bills is probably falling flat on many Americans who recognize that defaulting on debt is becoming part of "the new normal".
Because when a nation's political leadership shrugs its shoulders at raising the debt ceiling from $17 trillion to yet another trillion to last, say, a year or so, it's pretty hard to recognize any economic or moral responsibility emanating from our leadership, whether you ascribe to the Tea Party or to our Dear Leader President.
Big business is surviving, particularly since Wall Street is being propped up with a neverending printing press of ever-cheapening money from the Fed, and which new Fed Chairman appointee Janet Yellen is certain to continue as Ben Bernanke steps down from that post. When Bernanke even whispered the idea that printing more money might end, the markets swooned...and so it's back to the artificial market support from D.C.! As for small businesses, they're not so sanguine.
The political fights, and the fiscal risk of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a.k.a. "Obamacare", are making sales and hiring priorities take a back seat to just plain survival. So Wall Street gets propped up by Washington, perpetually so it appears, and small businesses realize that--as with homeowners--they're on their own. Nice.
And those home prices zooming up to levels now unaffordable (again) to many working, saving Americans? Paid for by the same Wall Street firms who got us into this mess, and who will now own all the homes we aspire to buy for ourselves. Really nice. But fortunately, we've got our health taken care of, right?
What a relief we have the ACA to ensure access to affordable health care, right? Well, an AP-GfK poll shows that 40 percent of Americans say the launch of the insurance markets hasn't gone well, 20 percent said it's gone somewhat well, and 30 percent didn't know what to say. Only 7 percent said the launch had gone "very well" or "somewhat well".
It's a pity that President Obama didn't hire the webmasters who craftily got him elected and re-elected, because the government officials who set up the ACA websites clearly couldn't program their way out of a paper bag. It appears our government workers didn't do so good a job on the ACA websites, which again calls into the question of how good a job the public sector can do for health care compared to the private sector.
Some individuals actually have saved money and received better premiums and coverage--which is great! However, many more either do not make enough money, or make too much money, to enjoy better access and rates than what they had before--and as a physician, I hear the complaints every day from my patients.
I have a few friends who had good experiences, but I regret that they are in the distinct minority at this time. Those lucky enough to have good coverage from their employers (usually in larger companies) will probably keep their insurance--despite what is almost certainly going to be much higher premiums--but employees of smaller employers and independent contractors appear likely to experience serious disappointment.
And the effect of the ACA on hiring? Other than President Obama, whose own credibility on a variety of domestic and foreign issues has taken a few hits, it's difficult to escape the notion that full-time hiring with benefits has been hurt by the ACA at a time when it was beginning to come back.
So the new normal of many will be part-time work, and hopefully one will not make too much so that he/she can be eligible for expanded Medicaid coverage. And isn't THAT groovy! Kind of makes one want to run out of town and go on vacation...say to Washington, D.C. or the Grand Canyon or to Yellowstone. Oh...that's right--they were shut down!
With orders to make it as painful on veterans, park visitors and tourists as possible, Old Faithful was blocked off before each eruption by park rangers, and numerous open air memorials in our nation's capitol were barricaded from individuals who need not have been kept away.
And as much as it's super-duper fun to blame the GOP for all this (isn't life always that simple?), it's to be noted that President Obama and the Democratic political leadership appeared to make it a point to (again) hurt the little guy who just wanted to go on a vacation--even when the national parks, benefits to disabled veterans and WIC programs were specifically funded by bills from the GOP-led House of Representatives.
Meanwhile, the gymnasium for Congress is considered too vital to close, so at least Congress can keep in shape...and while Congress and their staff members aren't obligated to join the ACA health exchanges that were supposed to help us all.
So...the point of all this? After five years of the Great Recession--we are settling into a Second Great Depression in a toughening, hardening nation with worsening poverty and credit ratings. And you and every other little guy reading this are ON YOUR OWN, no matter how partisan and blinded you might want to be. God Bless America!
Vol 11 Issue 82
Pub: Oct 11, 2013