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"Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."   Abraham Lincoln

If one carries that profound thought a bit further, would it be safe to say that with wealth comes power? What about the 'promise' of wealth? Does power, or its promise, as Einstein said "corrupt absolutely"? Does it lead to total arrogance? Infallibility? What about the total opposite – poverty? Various forms of oppression? Humility? Apathy? Do poverty and oppression ever serve to move humanity to some kind of action? Does humility give birth to strength? Apathy to determination?

So, the crucial $700 billion bail out of Wall Street has failed. What does that mean? Are we headed for collapse? Or does it force some of this 'real change' the politicians are yapping about? Were the American citizens hurt by the failure of this bill? Or is the populace who were calling and emailing their representatives twenty-five to one against the bail out saying "We've had enough!" It's being said even if the bail out had passed, we the people still have a long way to fall before we start to climb again. Are the people saying "if we're going down, this time you're going with us!?" Or is it because, once again, the government isn't doing enough for us? Is it prophetic justice wielding its sword full circle now? Is it time for every single American out there to take a good and very hard look in the mirror and at the culture of this so-called most 'powerful' nation on earth? Have we been corrupted absolutely?

As Abraham Lincoln also noted in the quote above, Americans have shown on numerous occasion that adversity has rallied us together, been motivation to get up off the couch and help a neighbor, unite against a common enemy without a moment's hesitation. Sadly, though, it usually takes a crisis to wake us out of our complacency. For, at least the last eight years, we've watched the economy decline, healthcare decline, world standing decline. That is not to say all that is wrong with our country today is ALL the fault of the present administration. Nor, is it to say that it's ALL the fault of government in general. Or Wall Street either. Maybe it's time for everyone to do a 'mirror' check. We are ALL the culture.  

One could cite several instances over a two-hundred plus year history that our nation has crawled out of many an abyss and ascended a few mountains. One could even cite the not so glorious history of land acquisition from the Native Americans or the slave trade/labor policies of the plantation south, to now an effort by law, at least, at equality for all citizens. In defense, no nation can claim a stain-free fabric of establishment and growth. Nor, can one boast of ever attaining perfection. It's simply not the nature of the man-beast. Survival of the fittest and all that . . .

For the purpose of somewhat current events, however, let's just look at the period to which we can all somewhat relate, if not in our own lives, the lives of our parents and grandparents. Today, the market fell almost 800 points, which means that our national 'worth' is a trillion dollars less tonight than it was yesterday. That's even worse than 1929. All that is stopping a total crash is that it's a longer fall to the street due to pure volume. I suspect the landing may be a bit harder, though. What is that ol' cliché . . . the bigger they are, the harder they fall . . .  

Our parents and grandparents fought their way back through a horrible depression, a major world war, two major 'police actions' that for all practical definitions were, in fact, wars. And a 'cold war' where everyone worried about the 'finger on the button'. There was a severe period of civil unrest finally culminating in a Civil Rights Act. Was there a point where we should have just 'slowed' down and been satisfied? A point where we should have just concentrated on being grateful and comfortable? Enjoyed the fruits of their labors while improving knowledge in science, medicine, and technology for the good of all, maintaining a strong and modern infrastructure which would have kept people working, good schools, sustaining a progressive and well-planned growth in development and world trade, and global interaction? Where did it all go wrong? Just when did we cross the line?

Were we all caught up in the progress pace? Did we all get greedy? Did winning some wars instill arrogance? Had we really become the most 'powerful' nation on earth as we are frequently told by our leaders? Do we really have an 'it's our way because ours is the only right way' mentality? Does the rest of the world view our tyranny instead of our generosity? Did our labor unions go beyond fair pay raises and increased benefits to demanding more and more until our major employers were lured by cheap overseas labor? Did competition to come up with bigger and better, more convenient, less labor intensive, spoil us to anything non-electric? Did the power of a microwave replace the effort of preparing a nutritious, economical meal in a bowl and a pan? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Did the family's survival require two parents working outside the home or did the influx of having what you want 'now' on easy to get credit blur the reality that eventually bills have to be paid and make the second job a necessity after the fact? When did it become the job of teachers to teach family values or the schools to feed the kids?

How did it happen that trial lawyers, insurance companies, and pharmaceuticals started determining the cost of a visit to a family physician? For that matter, what happened to the family physician? Why do we have to go to five doctors to get a prescription for an antibiotic? Did we ALL get caught up in a lawsuit mentality so that a doctor's malpractice insurance runs hundreds of thousands dollars a year? Or that we might get an easy million if we get a hot cup of coffee from McDonalds? Did we simply get greedy as a culture?

When did we lose our ability to observe the signs around us and make sensible decisions? The first rumbles of energy problems to come happened way back in the Seventies when the speed limit was dropped to 55mph. Japan has been making high mileage automobiles for fifteen years or more. Why have the American auto makers been unable to keep up? Were they too busy feeding the sudden SUV craze squeezing out every last penny of profit while they could? But what about supply and demand? Why did we have sporty military Hummers hauling the kids around while the troops in Iraq were driving vehicles without protective armor? Didn't anyone notice?

  

The last bad market fall, 9/11 aside, was 1987. Trickle-down wasn't trickling down. Why weren't we paying attention? The Nineties kind of turned things around and we took our eyes off the ball. Things got better on the economic scene so we didn't pay close attention to the all the de-regulation and all the world trade agreements. When housing markets were soaring, anybody and everybody could get a new house; lenders went nuts in the frenzy. With no regulation, they could afford to take risks because they weren't going to hold the paper long anyway. But, then the re-finance craze started too. People started getting home equity loans and re-fi's but spending the money on other luxuries that without putting their home in hock they couldn't afford. Many of the foreclosures have been the result of equity loans and re-fi’s. There was a time home equity loans were geared to home improvements, but now the easy credit made it possible to get 'play' money. Or money to pay off the huge credit card debt so the credit cards could be run up again. Did we really think this bubble would never burst? Did we ALL get have now and pay later mindsets or simply allow it to become a culture?

We all do complain about Washington being broken and it is, but why did we allow it? If the Congress has done nothing, or takes months to make a decision, or is guided by lobbyists, and more inconsequential bills rumble around than consequential ones, why are the same representatives and senators serving term after term after term? Why aren't we throwing them out? Why aren't we demanding the same job performance standards from highly paid officials that are demanded of us? Why haven’t we raised up in force as our consitution is systematically raped, ignored, and government is filled up with tons of legislation and fluff that shouldn’t even be there in the first place? If we can rattle off the scores of the entire NFL football roster or the flow of food prices at the local market for the last twelve months, why can't we keep track of how, at least, our own representative is casting a ballot and what issues they are casting a ballot on?  

This crisis isn't ALL government's fault. It isn't ALL Wall Street's fault. And, it surely isn't the fault of all those who did tighten their belts and try to live within their means. But we are ALL going to have to pay the price for the dance. It's one of those what goes around comes around things. Perhaps, it will be a good thing. It might just re-ignite the American ingenuity. It may force another look at old values and a re-prioritizing of our culture. Or, it simply may evolve into another detour around the big fall and the real hard landing. That is kind of up to us; ALL of us and our culture. Something to critically think about.  

  

Susan Haley, Author
RAINY DAY PEOPLE – A Novel
FIBERS IN THE WEB



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Member Comments

    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Suzann wrote Oct 11, 2008
    • Perfectly said, Susan. I’m a total believer in personal accountability. It does start from the individual, and then move up to groups.

      “Why did we have sporty military Hummers hauling the kids around while the troops in Iraq were driving vehicles without protective armor? Didn't anyone notice?”—- S.H.

      Oh my gosh, have you totally nailed it! Great essay.

      Namaste,
      Suzann



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