On precisely the day Barack Obama signed into law the most gargantuan economic measure in the nation's peacetime history (White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel termed it "the most major, sweeping, comprehensive legislation as it relates to economic activity ever") -- at almost precisely the moment of his pen-strokes -- the stock market's hope balloon went "bang!"
The Dow fell to its bear-market low. In a cascade of awful economic news, the market had struggled to hold on. But the signs weren't good. It fell on the day of the inauguration of a man who had campaigned as the embodiment of an idea called hope. It fell on the day his tax-challenged treasury secretary rolled out his salvational plan. Then, at the signing, it fell again. Said The Wall Street Journal Wednesday, with gold pushing toward its all-time high (up 9 percent this year, with the Dow down 14 percent): "The rising gold price says investors are starting to freak out over governments' response to the credit crunch."
The market is testifying to the difficulty of keeping hope alive. And to borrow the understatement Apollo XIII astronaut Jim Lovell gave the language, "Houston, we have a problem."
Again on the day of the signing, these things also happened:
-- Chrysler and General Motors begged for $21 billion in additional taxpayer dollars to keep from going toes-up.
-- Word came that Lloyds of London may follow G.M., et al., down bankruptcy's road.
-- China, the holder of $900 billion in U.S. Treasury bills alone, bought in big time to one of the world's premier gold-mining companies.
-- Roland Burris -- the joke now occupying Obama's seat in the joke called the Senate -- insisted in the face of calls for his resignation that he did not misspeak to investigators about his communications with Illinois' (former) joke of a governor.
-- Hugo Chavez won a referendum effectively crowning him tin-pot dictator for life in Venezuela, one of our major sources of imported oil.
-- Pakistan conceded the inevitable and sanctioned Sharia law in the country's jihadist-held Swat Valley.
-- Kansas halted taxpayer refunds because it is out of cash, and California continued giving refunds in the form of IOUs.
-- After a very public display of drunken incoherence at a meeting of the world's leading economies, Japan's finance minister resigned.
Ross Mackenzie lives with his wife and Labrador retriever in the woods west of Richmond, Virginia. They have two grown sons, both Naval officers.
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