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Posts Tagged ‘Economic Stimulus’

Dear President Obama,

I hate to say it, but you’re no John Kennedy. I know you weren’t even born when JFK was elected, so I suppose you just don’t know what it was like then. Let me try to explain. I just read the news about your new mini-stimulus proposal – the one about building roads and railroads and runways. I understand you are talking about injecting $50 billion into the budget for this. Ummm… let’s see… there are about 300 million people who live in the U.S. so…  50 billion divided by 300 million comes out to be about $166.67 per person worth of stimulus. Pardon me for not leaping out of my chair.  Just what do you think $166.67 is going to do for me over the next ten years? Besides, since I am not a bulldozer operator or a truck driver, I actually expect my share of this new stimulus to be about the same as my share of your last stimulus – that is to say $0.00.

I think what we have here is a failure of imagination and perhaps a failure of boldness. Perhaps a certain lack of courage even. I get the sense that you are trying to fine tune the answer and strike a deal with the Republicans and the TP people. Take my advice: forget it. They won’t ever make a deal with you, they just want you gone so they can continue sending money to their big bank friends. Barack, listen to me. You give great speeches, but I think there is a certain lack of follow through – a desire to avoid a fight. You seem an awful lot like a lawyer or a Senator who is always looking to compromise. We didn’t elect you to compromise.  We elected you to lead.  If George (What me worry?) Bush could lead the country, you should be able to do it too.

Let me tell you about John Kennedy. At a time when we were fierce adversaries with the USSR, Kennedy went eyeball to eyeball with Nikita Khrushchev over the nuclear missiles in Cuba. We were on the brink of global thermonuclear war, but Kennedy didn’t back down, Khrushchev did. That’s leadership. But there was more than just that. Kennedy had vision and he followed through on it. He created the Peace Corps, which celebrates its 50th anniversary next year. He gave a sense of purpose to NASA: he set a goal of sending a man to the Moon and returning him safely to Earth by the end of the decade (the 1960’s). NASA went into full gear research mode, created thousands and thousands of high tech jobs, and spun off countless new technologies that now permeate our lives. And our astronauts went to the Moon before the end of the 1960’s. That’s vision. That’s determination. That was a stimulus that had far reaching economic effects for everyone.

So now you want to build some more roads. Boy, that’s exciting. Railroads too – maybe even some high speed rail. And we’re going to pave some runways. Do you see the difference?  Why not say something like this: We are going to use the full technical resources of NASA and America’s research labs to design and build the world’s first high speed supersonic train that will cross the country faster that the fastest passenger jet planes? Then we are going to build an entire high speed train system that will be the envy of the world in speed, comfort, safety, and cost. The project will cost $1 trillion – maybe $10 trillion, but it will be worth it. It will change the way we live and spin off a whole new generation of technical capabilities and products that we can barely imagine now, but they will form the basis of employment for  a good portion of the American people for the next fifty years. And by doing this we will reestablish America as the world leader in technology.

And…. Oh, by the way, we’re going to repave some roads too.

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It was Albert Einstein who said that the definition of insanity is, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Congress has now passed legislation that will extend the first time home buyer tax credit deal – that’s the one that encourages people to buy a house now so they can pocket an $8,000 tax credit. Now, even better, Congress has also included in the legislation a $6500 tax credit for people who have owned their homes for five years.  The deal is you have to flip the house you are in and buy another house.  Then you have to stay in that house for three years.  This income tax credit is, of course, in addition to the exclusion from income taxes of up to half a million dollars profit you make on the sale of your existing house.

So, let me see if I understand this. The economy of the entire world has been brought to its knees by a housing bubble and the fix for the global economic meltdown is to create another housing bubble?  Is that it? You mean it’s like giving heroin addicts a little more heroin because they are having withdrawal symptoms? So when the symptoms go away everything is OK?  So what about those of us who bought a house four years ago? Why can’t we play too? Or what about those of us who are saving up for a down payment for our first home but we know we’ll never have enough until the summer? What about us?

So – this is going to help the economy, right? OK. Whose economy does it help? The people who buy the new houses? Probably not much, after all they are about to be saddled with a new mortgage.  How about the people who build the houses? I suppose so. It will probably keep them employed for another six months or so while they build the new houses for the new bubble. How about the banks? Well then, I think now we’ve struck pay dirt.  The banks will be giving out their usual, or unusual, 30 year mortgages, thus assuring themselves of at least tripling their investment over time.  Sure, this tax credit sort of stimulus will give a multi-million dollar boost to the home construction industry. However, over the period of 30 years, it will create a multi-billion dollar boost for the banks.

So where does that leave us? Congress is making rules that primarily benefit the big banks and a little bit of the money trickles down to the ordinary people, who will naturally wind up paying for this benefit to the banks via their shiny new mortgage payments – or via their future taxes which will be used to pay for the tax credits they just received.  In the end the net big time winner is the banks – which is probably the intent of our Congress which has grown fat and bloated, feasting upon the “contributions” from the half a zillion lobbyists who troll the streets and alleyways of our nation’s Capital.

Here’s a question: how many professional economists has our Congress consulted for guidance about this? Has Congress ever talked to Nouriel Roubini, the economist who accurately predicted the worldwide economic meltdown? Has President Obama ever talked to him? How about Paul Krugman, the Nobel prize-winning economist? Is he in the loop?  Somehow, I don’t think so. We all know who is in the loop in Washington. It’s the bankers and their lobbyists.  It’s the insurance companies and their lobbyists. As they say – we have the best government money can buy.

Here’s another question: what is the grand vision? Where do we go from here – economically, I mean. And how do we get there? Could someone in DC just stand up, preferably the President, and just lay it out for all of us? Or do they just think it is all too complicated for us children?  Is that why they are throwing us these scraps of cake to feed on – little stimuli to keep us sated while they figure out how to get the banks on top again?

OK, one more question: if our Congress cared so much about us instead of caring about the wealthy bankers, why don’t they put a limit – a hard and low limit – on credit card interest. Something like 12%.  Why don’t they put a hard limit on mortgage interest rates – like maybe 8%?  Why doesn’t the Congress protect us citizens from the raptors at the banks instead of allowing them to feed off the flesh of the American people? We know why.  The banks own Congress.  That’s why we now embarking on Housing Bubble Part 2.

Better find a seat in a lifeboat now.

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One year ago, the entire American banking system was on life support.  It was only through the intervention of the Federal government, using the promise of a semi-infinite supply of tax dollars that some of the banks survived.  If this infusion of billions and billions of dollars of cash had not been made our entire banking system would certainly have collapsed. The question we need to ask – but we haven’t – is this: is there a message here?

Thanks to the extreme measures the Federal Government took with the TARP program we still have some functioning banks, but a more important thing to consider is this: do we have a functioning economy?  The answer to that question is to be found in the history of the Dow Jones Industrials average for the past forty years.  The thing to note is the behavior of the Dow before the year 2000 and after the year 2000.  Notice anything? How about those two massive bumps?  I mean the one about ten years ago and the one a year ago. You know what those are? Those are bubbles, the signs of an economy that is being artificially and irrationally stimulated – an economy on drugs.

The other thing to note is that Bump #1 didn’t start in the year 2000, it started long before, its roots were in the 1980’s. Until then the Dow had been pretty tame, slowly inching upward ever since World War II. So what happened in the 80’s? The government created 401k plans and artificially stimulated massive investment in the stock market by average people who would have otherwise never invested in the market.  The same thing happened again with the 529 plans.

However, for the people who run our government that wasn’t enough. So they changed the tax laws again to provide a massive income tax credit for anyone who sold their house – and they made a provision so that you could do that every two years. That artificially fired up the housing market.  Then we had also the tech boom – a boom that the Fed actually opposed.  They didn’t like all these upstart companies on the NASDAQ sucking up all the investment money from the old money firms that made up the DOW.  So, the Fed killed Tech by ratcheting up interest rates until Tech collapsed.  After Tech was a smoking ruin, the Fed drastically cut interest rates and thereby fueled the housing bubble even more.

The thing to realize is that our economy, for the past twenty or thirty years has been a dying economy, kept alive by infusions of money from unsuspecting citizens contributing to their 401k plans and their 529 plans. It has been kept alive by people buying and flipping houses every two years.  It has been kept alive by one scheme or another while the true engine of our economy, manufacturing, was exported to China.  But nobody cared because you could buy Chinese stuff cheap at Wal-Mart and everyone was doing well in the stock market or the housing market.

Well, the party’s over, isn’t it?  True, the banks are alive again, having dined on the lifeblood of the taxpayers.  However, there are very few green shoots out there. Does anyone have an idea where our new economic engine will come from? Is it possible for our government to think of another economic scam that will power the country for another ten years? Or, are they running out of ideas?  Does anyone really think we can get by on our American manufacturing capability?  Let’s face it we just don’t make enough stuff anymore.  The future of manufacturing, at least for the next twenty years or so is in Asia, not North America. So what is our government thinking? Well, since the only thing they saved is the banks, one must assume that they figure that’s where the money will come from – i.e. lending at interest. But, let’s face it, the lendees are unlikely to be Americans, are they? No, the money (that’s your tax dollars that you gave them as TARP rescue money) will go to developing countries so they can develop their businesses and then pay back the banks at high interest rates.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, what can we expect?  The truth is: not much. Our Capitalist engine doesn’t have a transmission anymore. In fact we lost it a long time ago.  We’ve just been coasting along.  The thing we don’t want to…don’t like to…admit, is that we are witnessing the failure of Capitalism.  Unregulated Capitalism – something we have had from many years – soon morphs into Predation: the strong preying on the weak. We have witnessed that. The Predators in our society, i.e. the financial community, have feasted on us.  There’s not much blood left to drink anymore.  They’ll move on, looking for victims in other countries – still propped up by our government.

Here, in the USA, we won’t admit Capitalism has failed – we can’t – it’s like denying religion or something. It’s like being unpatriotic.  It’s like stepping on the flag.  Capitalism is sacred in America – beyond criticism. It’s hard to figure why – after all, can’t we all see that it doesn’t work?  We can’t we simply acknowledge that it is an economic theory and system that just doesn’t work?  I know, I know ,we’re all afraid of the other two “isms”, Socialism and Communism. So we stick with our belief in Capitalism, even though the wheels have come off and we no longer have an engine for our economy – we still believe. We believe. We believe even though we are in a screaming nose dive.

If the past twenty or thirty years have proved anything, they have proved that unfettered Capitalism is a disaster. For proof just look at your bank account.  If we can’t bear to consider Socialism or Communism, then there is only one solution.  We need a new “ism”.  Call it Americanism if you like.  We need a new approach to economics. We need creative minds in our government who can see beyond the payoffs from lobbyists and the pressures of the fat cat bankers.  We need a new voice in economics, a voice of intelligence who can lead our economic recovery with a sound understanding of what went wrong. We don’t need idealogues, whether they are Capitalists, Socialists, or Communists; we need realists: practical, intelligent people who can understand what is broken and fix it. We simply need a new way of running our economy, a new economic theory for the 21st Century.

The question is this: do we have the intelligence and the courage to change the way we do business? Because if we don’t, it won’t be long before we don’t have any business.

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In 1776, a group of revolutionary minded people, many of whom were Freemasons, created the United States of America.  This new country was to be a break from the past. The leaders of the movement: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, and many more were Freemasons.  They were informed and inspired by some of the tenets of the Freemasons, tenets that were at odds with the established manner of world governments at that time.  Many of the governments of various European countries had a long established and close relationship with one branch or another of the Christian church.  Most of the governments had kings or queens, whose right to rule was based upon their ancestry.  The American revolutionaries had a different concept in mind – a democratic, elected  government that had no association with any religion.  It was a daring concept, and a complete break from the European view of government.  These Freemasons even documented this break from traditional government when they made the Great Seal of the United States and when they printed the one dollar bills that we have today. One each of these bills are printed the words: Novus Ordo Seclorum, i.e. A New Order of (0r for) the Ages.

The New order that was founded by these Freemasons created a Republic where the principal ideas and visions were centered on individual liberty.  A key concept was that the government was not made up of the elite or the wealthy or the influential or the religious leaders. The government was changed regularly, based upon a schedule of elections, and anyone could become a member of the government – as long as they could convince their friends and neighbors to vote for them.  This concept of a republic also implied something else, there would be a distance, a division, between the will of the wealthy and the will of the government, i.e. the will of the people.

Today, as our economy lurches towards a dubious recovery from a worldwide economic meltdown, we can observe that there has been a key change in the Novus Ordo that was created by the Freemasons.  There is no longer a distance between the government and the wealthy. Indeed, it was the closeness of the wealthy to the government that directly led to the meltdown.  It was the money in the pockets of the our governmental representatives that led to the relaxation or the complete annulment of laws that had protected us from nefarious economic practices by the banking industry.  It was the government’s Securities and Exchange Commission that looked the other way when Bernie Madoff ran his gigantic Ponzi scheme.  Over the years, the wealthy had established a cozy relationship with the representatives of our Republic – all for the purpose of gaining more money for themselves and less for the average citizen.

Today, the wealthy have almost a stranglehold on our government.  Some would say it is more than that.  They say we have an oligarchy – a situation where hidden, wealthy people rule through a puppet government and all laws are made to benefit the small, wealthy elite.  All you need to do is look.  Our American companies have become multinational. Our once good paying jobs have been moved to other countries where the cost of labor is much less.  Our government has “reformed” our tax laws allowing millionaires and billionaires to pass on their fortunes from one generation to the next while not a cent of tax is imposed on this transfer of wealth.  The wealthy have used the government to create income tax cuts for themselves and income tax increases for the middle and lower class.

The New Order created by the Freemasons is fast dying.  Today, our multinational companies, owned by the wealthy, fabricate our goods in China- creating no jobs for American workers – except those who work for Wal-Mart.  Our multinational companies pay little or no tax to our country, because they are officially located in the Bahamas or some other idiotic legal location.  And our government just winks and says, “OK”.  Our country has been transformed without our even realizing it.  We have a new world order that we never saw coming.  In this new world order, it is the wealthy who rule and it is the poor who pay taxes.  In this new world order everyone can vote, but it hardly matters who you vote for. Money flows like water from the mighty Mississippi into the pockets of our Congressional representatives who pretend to ask for our opinions but then vote the way they are told.

The Novus Ordo Seclorum of the Freemasons has gone, and we didn’t even see it go.  We can only sit and watch, dazed, as the government tires to stimulate a dying economy, knowing in our hearts that we are only surviving on financial life support.   How can our economy ever rise again when the wealthy have sent all our jobs to China?  How can our children ever compete again when our schools can’t compete with those in Malaysia or Norway?  How can we lead and inspire the world when so much of our television and radio news is now filled with the lies of the wealthy media owners, propaganda, and gross distortions of truth?

The new order of the world is here.  It is the multinational companies of the world who now make the economic rules. It is China that will be the world’s supplier of almost everything anyone needs.  We are to be the consumers, borrowing money from banks in order to live – while living forever in debt.  Meanwhile the people of the wealthy class return to their rightful place: Rulers of the World.  And the elected leaders of our Republic grovel before them and do their bidding – all for a pocketful of change.

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Vice President Biden said it very clearly – we “misread how bad the economy was”.  That’s the good thing about Joe Biden; he just tells you straight, just like it is.  He doesn’t try to finesse things or put the right political spin on things – he just blurts out the truth as best he knows it.  It’s kind of refreshing, isn’t it?  A day or so later. President Obama tried to correct Joe’s statement by saying “we had incomplete information”.  Apparently Paul Krugman wasn’t suffering from incomplete information, nor was Nouriel Roubini. Back in January, Nobel Prize winning economist Krugman criticized the Obama plan saying that we needed a stimulus package twice as big as the Obama plan. Meanwhile, Nouriel Roubini, the economist who predicted the worldwide economic meltdown, thereby earning the title of Dr. Doom and simultaneously qualifying for a Nobel Prize himself, also said that the Obama stimulus was insufficient.  So how is it that noted economists like Krugman and Roubini had enough information to come out and say that the Obama plan wouldn’t be enough?  How can the President of the United States have incomplete information? It seems that the truth lies more in Joe’s words – they just didn’t realize how bad things were – despite being told how bad things were by these preeminent economists.  In other words they chose not to listen to Krugman and Roubini. I wonder who they did listen to? Geithner? Bernanke? Summers? In any event, they got it wrong and the time has come to correct it.

Now of course the Republican Party has a different opinion.  The are more or less saying, “See, we told you a stimulus wouldn’t work”.  Their plan is to  just  remove all the rules, regulations, and taxes from businesses and restart a free for all economy with no rules – the sort of thing created by Clinton and Bush that created the worldwide meltdown.   Here’s an analogy: let’s suppose your house is on fire and the Obama Fire Department arrives with garden hoses. They spray water on the fire but it doesn’t go out.  Then the Republicans show up – not the Republican Fire Department (because they don’t have one), just a bunch of gawkers who hang around sniggering and making comments like, “See, we knew you can’t put out a fire with water!!  That’s why we don’t even try!  Say, why not try gasoline? That might work!”  The thing is this: we need firehoses, not garden hoses.  It’s a big fire.  Joe was right.  So was Krugman and Roubini. Obama needs to admit it.  They thought unemployment would peak at 8%.  It didn’t. We’ll probably break through to 10% unemployment within a month.  It could go a lot higher.  Meanwhile only 10% of the stimulus money has even been spent. Do I detect a certain lack of understanding here? The house is on Fire!! Break out the firehoses and put the fire out!!  Now!!

Meanwhile, perhaps the Republican “Fire Department” could just step back and keep out of the way. If you’re not part of the solution then you are part of the problem, and we don’t have the time or the luxury to start playing politics while our economy continues to go up in smoke.  I’m glad Joe Biden gets it. He needs to have a talk with President Obama – a Joe Biden kind of talk – and let him know, in no uncertain terms, that we don’t need finesse right now. We don’t need to calculate the exact cost of the remedy and then determine not to spend a penny more.  What we need is Stimulus Part II – and this time, let’s use the firehoses.

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It’s like being on the Titanic and seeing that the lifeboats are already all full.  The ocean is littered with icebergs and the water is freezing. The stern of the ship is rising out of the water and you are left alone to fend for yourself, there is nothing the crew can do for you, the Captain is standing at the sinking ship’s wheel, knowing that the end is near.

America’s older people, the retirees and the near-retirees, the baby-boomers who had stashed away everything they could into their 401k funds for as long as they can remember, can only look at their account statements and weep.  Their money is gone, at least most of it.  Their jobs are gone because they retired or were simply laid off.  They hadn’t planned on this.  Who had? They can’t go back to work because most employers, despite all the equal opportunity laws in the world, prefer younger, lower paid, more energetic, workers.  They can’t get by on only Social Security. And they are ignored by the government’s Stimulus Plan. The job creation, tax cut, road building, green energy, education supporting, bill has nothing for them.  It’s as if Yeats had instead written, “Cast a cold eye on retirees,  Lawmakers pass by.”

We are a country incapable of anticipation. We only take action after a disaster has occurred. We couldn’t see the housing bust coming.  We couldn’t see the meltdown of our economy coming.  Now we can’t see an absolute disaster coming for the millions and millions of retired and near retired Americans who suddenly realize that their ship is sinking. Their only retirement money has vaporized as the stock market has lost 50% of its value.  They are quiet people, these old ones.  They’re not marching in the streets. Instead their lives are becoming quietly desperate as they sit in their living rooms and watch television, knowing that next winter they probably won’t be able to pay the heating bill and that their car will only last another 10,000 miles but they can’t afford to buy another. And their house? Yes, it was their ace in the hole. They thought they could always sell it if they had to and downsize perhaps to an affordable apartment – but not anymore, for their house is no longer even worth what they paid for it, and besides no one is buying houses anyway. So they sit in their quiet houses and wait for a government to save them. A government that barely knows they exist and is looking for a way to “solve” the Social Security problem.  A government that isn’t coming.

The problem is that half of the government is made up of people whose philosophy is “You’re on your own”, and the other half is concerned with helping the young people find jobs and go to school. The retired, the near-retired, the old and infirm can’t help but think of those poor, unfortunate, older people who found themselves stranded on Titanic’s deck after the lifeboats had departed.  They knew, more clearly than most, perhaps, that death was waiting and no help would come for them.  They would soon be forgotten as the world went about its business of business.

The great poet William Butler Yeats wrote his own epitaph:

Cast a cold Eye

On Life, on Death.

Horseman pass by!

Unless our comatose government wakes up, we will find that he also wrote an epitaph for an aging generation of Americans.

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There seems to be a worldwide consensus that the economic meltdown was caused by the housing boom and the resulting toxic mortgages that infected U.S. banks as well as banks throughout the world because these toxins were peddled everywhere as AAA-rated securities.  The thinking is that a logical solution would be to fix the banks (i.e. bail them out) and then stand back while the economy rights itself.  The problem with this line of thought is that it may be in error because it doesn’t dig deep enough into the actual cause of our current economic catastrophe.

For example, imagine a windswept hill on a dark and stormy night.  A bolt of lightning strikes the lone tree on the top of the hill and a tree branch breaks and falls down. The branch dislodges a boulder that had teetered for years on the top of the hill and the boulder rolls down the hillside and onto the highway where it strikes a tractor trailer causing it to veer off the road. The momentum of the truck carries it through the guard rail and down a steep embankment where it careens off another embankment and plunges into a lake.  It turns out the lake supplies cooling water for a nuclear reactor and unfortunately the truck’s cargo is sulfuric acid, and even more unfortunately the entire contents of the truck’s sulfuric acid cargo is disgorged right next to the nuclear power plant’s coolant intake.  Within seconds the reactor core is saturated with sulfuric acid and before the nuclear power plant operator can assess and react to the situation the nuclear control rods become stuck.  The nuclear reactor then melts down causing an environmental catastrophe.  So, what caused the meltdown and what should be done to prevent another one?

If we look at the economic climate in the U.S. that preceded the housing bubble we can see a couple of interesting things: 1) Shortly before the bubble began the Federal Reserve drastically lowered interest rates (after deliberately killing the tech boom). 2) The U.S. government changed the income tax regulations. There had been a regulation that allowed homeowners to sell their home and take a $200,000 tax free profit once in a lifetime.  The intent had been that it would be used by people who were retiring.  They would sell off the big family home then, buy a smaller home outright, and live happily ever after.  This regulation was changed so that married couples could sell their home and take a half million dollar profit tax free – EVERY TWO YEARS!  How’s that for an incentive to buy and flip houses? 3) Before the housing bubble many American businesses began setting up shop in other countries where the corporate taxes were lower and the labor was cheaper. This is not simple outsourcing where a company might choose to purchase cheaper components from a foreign manufacturer in order to build a lower cost automobile, for example.  This is outright moving manufacturing jobs to a foreign land and then selling the products in the U.S. The result is fewer and fewer manufacturing jobs in the U.S. Eventually many people found that while good jobs were scarce they could still make a lot of money buying and flipping houses – so they did.

I suppose I could go on and on in this way, talking about how 401k money has been the principal driver of the stock market for the past thirty years and so forth, but my point is not that.  My point is this: if our government’s economic rescue plan is to bail out the banks (i.e. reimburse them for their toxic losses with our money) and then create some temporary jobs in construction to jump start the economy I am just wondering if this will really work. Does it really get at the root of the problem?  Isn’t one of the major causes for the lack of jobs in the U.S. the fact that U.S. companies have moved so many of their manufacturing jobs to other countries?  These jobs were gone before the bubble and they’ll still be gone after the banks are reimbursed and the roads are built.

There is nothing in the economic stimulus that addresses outsourcing or simply exporting factories and jobs to other countries.  Why not? Are we afraid to say that there is something wrong with the concept of a global economy?  Of course there is something wrong with a global economy.  How can you have a well run, well behaved global economy without some sort of  global government? Right now our global economy is like the Wild West with no rules for the big businesses, including the banks, and all sorts of opportunities to exploit one group of people or another in order to make enormous profits – and the multinationals have done so at our expense.

I suppose the people at the nuclear power plant might conclude that there should be a ban on trucks carrying sulfuric acid – but that won’t save them from trucks carrying hydrochloric acid or liquid nitrogen, will it?  We can reimburse the banks and try to prime the broken pumps of our economy too – but that won’t save us either.  Our complex economy has too many major problems and they all need to be fixed at the same time, not just one or two.  Otherwise, all we poor taxpayers will have done is give away what little remains of our money to the greedy, unrepentant,  and obscenely wealthy bankers while we fund a few temporary jobs.

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