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The Whitless Wonder Uncomplicates The Stimulus Package

January 31, 2009 - John Whittaker

If tossing big numbers around in Washington, D.C. could solve our nation's problems, well, let's just say our economy would be stimulated already.

We're tossing billions of dollars around like my buddies and I do on our fantasy baseball league.

What's $50 in the grand scheme of things, really? $430 million here and another $200 million there, and you're talking real money.

I won't sit here and say there aren't serious problems with our economy. Anyone who says that should volunteer to stand in the middle of a crowd and let people who are struggling to make ends meet hit them with rotten fruit.

I have a problem with the fact that the federal government is asking state governments for "shovel-ready' projects. Improving our nation's infrastructure is great, a worthy idea that is well overdue. My problem is that no one has yet explained to me how giving money to state and county governments will help the people who have seen their jobs disappear in the last six months.

Will giving Chautauqua County, or Jamestown, money to fix East Fifth Street (which needs to be done, by the way) put any of the thousands of people in our county who are out of work back to work, or will it just provide money for a job that will be done by the city or county public works departments? Will giving construction aid to the Jamestown Public Schools district put anyone back to work?

Is it just me, or don't we have a model for a situation just like this?

Hmmm, when was that, a time when the economy tanked because investors got too greedy and put too much strain on Wall Street, forcing companies to go out of business and banks to become insolvent. Wasn't there rampant unemployment, tumbleweeds rolling in the breeze across the American heartland, low wages, people happy to have any job they could get and government make-work projects springing up throughout the land?

That's right! We have been here before, during the GREAT DEPRESSION! Eureka! We've found it.  

Why are we making this so damned hard? How dumb are we? Let's give more money to the people who helped create the crisis we're in. Yeah. That's brilliant legislation. Who wrote this stimulus bill - Gomer Pyle? Corky from Life Goes On? Whoever thought up the idea for Worst Week? That stupid kid from my college political science class? I want to know whose idea this is, and I want them to come to my house so I can torture them with Yoko Ono albums, turned up to 11, for five or six days straight. They need to be punished. Come on down - you're the next contestant on You're A Fricking Idiot! Yoko's waiting for you, Congress.

Right now, you're saying, "But Whitless Wonder, it's easy to whine from the sideline. What would you do, smart guy? This should be good for a laugh."

I'm glad you asked me, because nobody in power will. Here are my recommendations?

1. Properly Prioritize. Why are we not talking about creating agencies that will disburse this money to the people who need it, to create jobs for people who need jobs, to get America moving in the direction we want? Why are we not talking about national priorities? We need to sit down in a room and come up with a list of 10 general areas that, if improved, will help the American economy and position the country to rebound. That's your list of stimulus priorities. Money for Ripley Central School probably doesn't belong in a federal stimulus bill, does it? Making states business-friendly might be, though. What's a bigger priority, a resolution naming March 23 as "Let's Honor A Guy Who Nobody Knows Day,' or making sure your state is taken care of in the stimulus bill? That's what I thought. Clear your plate, and get it done.

2. Create, or reprogram, federal agencies to be in charge of taking the money we're giving them and getting the ball rolling. You have six months after the list of projects is created to disburse the money and get people working. Don't create government jobs with it. Find the applicable projects in each state, work from that state's unemployment roster, and put people back to work. If you turn down the job, no unemployment for you. If you can't work, we'll take care of you. Let's build water and sewer systems, rebuild highways, do road work and prepare for the next 20 years. But, do it with people who want to work and aren't right now. The states can't be in charge of this. Counties can't be in charge of this because of what's coming next. 

3. Begin reorganizing government. Why are we not telling state governments that are hemorrhaging population that in order to get any of this money, you have to change your government structure -- no more 10 minute drive with five police jurisdictions and five municipal governments. That's a thing of the past in the Whitless Wonder's world. If you want federal stimulus money, you have to streamline. You have to be responsive to people. You have to find a plan to cut your taxes so people who want to buy a home can afford the taxes, so the businesses we create can afford to operate in your state. I agree that our schools need more aid money. I get that. But, wouldn't we get more bang for our federal buck if we gave three or four schools a big shot in the arm rather than 22 school districts a little prick in the finger? And, if New York is this messed up, what's going on in the other 49 states?

4. Begin setting national priorities, and get the public to buy in. The way I see it, one of our biggest problems is that we, as a citizenry and as a government, are divided on every major issue. We have citizens saying it's good to have assault weapons on the streets because it's guaranteed in the Second Amendment. We have people saying it's Socialism if we try to have a national health care system. We can't get together on national defense, homeland security, domestic policy, health care, what kind of potato chips should be served in the Congressional dining room or what's the best toilet paper to have in the Congressional bathrooms. Locally, we can't agree on economic development projects, the best ways to lower taxes, the best ways to pay for police and fire services, how big our County Legislature should be, what structure our local governments should take, which roads should be fixed and how to pay for our schools. You'd think residents of our school districts lived in Iran and Iraq when the subject of school consolidation or merger or shared services were brought up. It's amazing, when you think about it, that we can agree on a way to teach kids to tie their shoes and blow their noses.

I want a stimulus package to get done. I really do. I want to see the 7.1 percent of people in Chautauqua County who are able to work, but can't find a job, to be working. I want to know that senior citizens in our county and beyond who need health care will be able to afford it. I want to know when my dad, or the News Gal's parents, want to retire, they can stay in their home, that their retirement savings will be there for them, that they won't be left in the cold.

More than anything, I want to know that my children, when I can afford to have them, will be well educated in our public schools, that they'll live in a stable community and that they'll have an opportunity to do better than I did and better than my parents before me. I want them to know that blue collar jobs are a worthy career - a notion that our country forgot a long time ago - and to know that those blue collar jobs will be here. If they want to go work at Bush or Cummins because they like making things, I want Bush or Cummins to be here for them. If my son likes building houses, I want to know there will be demand for his masterpieces. If they want to go to college, I want to be able to afford college - and right now, college just isn't affordable for too many people. When they want to retire, I don't want them to have to work until they're 70 or 75, like I'm probably going to have to do.

Maybe the best thing to come from this recession, and the ensuing debate about the best way to fix our economy, is a reengagement of Generation We Don't Give A Crap in the political process. Remember when people would get together and talk about politics, about their federal representative, about the national welfare? Well, now, when people get together, we talk about sports, beer, pop culture and sports (we really like sports, and yes, I think the Steelers are winning the Super Bowl, though I hope Arizona comes out on top). For too long, too many people haven't cared about the debates in Washington. What they're talking about doesn't affect us, so we don't care. They're stupid. We can do better, we just choose not to.

Well, guys, those debates and discussions do affect you. Let's crystalize this picture a bit.

The next job to go away could be yours. The next business that shuts its doors could be the one where you work. The next home to be foreclosed on could be the one you're living in. The first unemployment check that bounces could be that of someone you know.

The road construction project could hire that friend of yours who just lost his job at an area manufacturer or retail store. That school aid might close the gap enough that you can afford to pay your taxes. Propping up that bank might be the move that saves your IRA and pension.

Hits a bit close to home, doesn't it?


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