Tomgram: William Astore, Rebuilding America, Remaking Ourselves

September 24, 2008

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When you can read a piece headlined in the Wall Street Journal, “Worst Crisis Since ’30s, With No End Yet in Sight” — with passages like, “Fed Chairman Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, walking into a hastily arranged meeting with congressional leaders Tuesday night to brief them on the government’s unprecedented rescue of AIG, looked like exhausted surgeons delivering grim news to the family” — you know you’re at a new moment in our history. Recently, thinking about the American experience in the 1930s, I was wondering why the present administration was now so willing to throw vast sums at the speculators, who thought nothing of the rest of us in their high times, and not even crumbs to Americans; why no one calls us to “the colors” of civil society, as Franklin D. Roosevelt did then. Fortunately, along came TomDispatch regular William Astore with the following post, based on memories of his father’s days in the Civilian Conservation Corps. (That program, which put so many Americans to work rebuilding the country, was, by the way, the one New Deal initiative that even Republicans, even the fiercest opponents of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, came to admire.) Tom

Hey, Government! How About Calling on Us?

Reviving National Service in a Big Way

By William J. Astore
Lately, our news has focused on tropical depressions maturing into monster hurricanes that leave devastation in their wake — and I’m not just talking about Gustav and Ike. Today, we face a perfect storm of financial devastation, notable for the enormity of the greed that generated it and the somnolent response of our government in helping Americans left devastated in its wake.

As unemployment rates soar to their highest level in five years and home construction sinks to its lowest level in 17 years, all our federal government seems able to do is buy up to $700 billion in “distressed” mortgage-related assets, bail-out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (at a cost of roughly $200 billion) or “loan” $85 billion to liquidate insurance giant AIG. If you’re Merrill Lynch, you get a hearing; if you’re just plain Marilyn Lynch of Topeka, what you get is a recession, a looming depression, and a federal tax bill for the fat-cat bail-outs.

But, amazingly enough, ordinary Americans generally don’t want bail-outs, nor do they want handouts. What they normally want is honorable work, decent wages, and a government willing to wake up and help them contribute to a national restoration.

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