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Conversation: In The Winter Of Our Discontent

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

It's an hour of hope. Yet you don't seem especially hopeful about the grim gray economic scene or the ability of the new administration -- and the stimulus package -- to give it color.

Good observation. Though hope never dies, a large hunk of hope went out with the lights.

But there's a rarefied ethical atmosphere in Washington now, and surely the trillion-dollar package Congress is bestowing will make everything economically right. A new day is coming. I can see it now . . .

You've got to be kidding. If there's a changed atmosphere, why didn't President Obama withdraw his Cabinet nominations of (a) three Cabinet-equivalent nominees who didn't pay their taxes; (b) at least two nominees with revolving-door, lobbyist-politician conflicts; and (c) one nominee facing a grand jury investigation of state contracts awarded to his big campaign contributors?

Things now in D.C. look eerily like the same-ol'-same-ol' arrangement that mimic the Chicago paradigm -- and differ hardly at all from Wall Street's I'll-get-mine, I-deserve-it bonus atmosphere.

And the stimulus?

It's less economic policy intended to free up credit markets, restore confidence, and address the mortgage implosion, than social policy lobbing federal cash at every seductive leftist project in the galaxy. That's what makes congressional Democratic hearts beat pit-a-pat. And in Chicago, as a community organizer in such areas as Rose Lawn and West Pullman, that's what Obama proved so very good at doing -- depositing federal dollars into the palm of just about every "organized" resident with his hand out. There are few new jobs created, and fewer long-term economic benefits.

Are you saying the stimulus won't help?

It's unlikely to. We're in an economic cataclysm, a depression --

The experts don't call it that. They say that technically it's not a depression but a recession -- an "economic crisis." Or something.

Maybe the "experts" are beamed to a different channel. Gross Domestic Product is collapsing at the worst rate in 51 years. Consumer demand is in the tank. Ditto spending on durable goods, capital equipment, business investment, and home-building. The Dow has plunged 6,000 points in 12 months. Home sales have plummeted 45 percent in the same period. Last year 2.6 million Americans lost their jobs, as will a predicted 2 million more in 2009's first quarter alone.

Obama speaks glowingly about the audacity to hope and dream. Yet the dreams of old retirees and young boomers alike have been rubbed out like so many ants on a sidewalk. Each day more great corporate and financial nameplates are taken down. The government has moved into the banking business -- big time. And into the car business -- perhaps intending to model it on the U.S. Postal Service.

How many whacks in the face with a 2-by-4 are necessary to make us recognize a depression for what it is? And there's no reliable safe haven for what little anyone may have left. As O. Henry reminded, "It's a rat trap, and you -- madam and sir and all of us -- are in it."

What about gold? Isn't it the last redoubt of the fearful?

The fearful are crushed and bereft. Few can afford gold at $900 an ounce.

Still, the sense in Washington is of urgency, that the $1 trillion stimulus will work -- simply has to.

Can you identify any effort to stabilize the dollar? Can you identify any Democratic proposal for meaningful tax cuts? We are heaping debt upon debt -- and inviting wreckage. Somebody -- some generation -- supposedly will have to repay these obligations. Yet even with $700 billion in emergency funds last fall, and the $1 trillion now, the Obama administration is contemplating $2 trillion in additional "emergency" spending.

So, you're saying the sky is falling?

No -- it has fallen. Globally. The desolation is everywhere.

And you don't have faith in those set in authority over us to fix it?

Nowhere -- in anything -- has the candidate of "reform," now the nation's president, ever shown himself to be a true reformer. Do you have faith in the abilities of a John Kerry who views the election of Obama as the country's singular historical event in the past 230 years? Do you have faith in the abilities of his Senate colleague Dick Durbin, who declaimed before voting to seat Roland Burris (nominated by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to succeed Obama in the Senate): "No appointment by this governor under these circumstances could produce a credible replacement"?

Do you have any faith in the willingness of these leftists -- restyled self-servingly as "moderates" -- to practice selfless bipartisanship in the interest of national economic salvation?

The other day The Washington Post headlined its lead story, "Economic Signs Turn From Bad to Worse." Any parting thoughts?

In those signs, we should be discerning several things: That the hottest incomprehensible fads -- like derivatives and subprime lending and Enron-like practices -- are shams. That from Wall Street to K Street to Pennsylvania Avenue, from Bernard Madoff to the U.S. Congress to Social Security, a Ponzi scheme is a Ponzi scheme -- even the jazziest federal scheme to clean up the mess caused by the last failed scheme.

Oh, and that Shakespeare was spot-on when he said in "Richard III," "This is the winter of our discontent" -- for truly it is.

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