Sunday, October 19, 2008

Pick Your Color -- Gray or Black?

From gray to blackest black, all the news stories this weekend really offered very few bright threads, but we have to take them where we find them. It is increasingly obvious that the whole country – news media included have one hope and that is that this election is over soon and that the candidate who offers the most hope for the future wins by an unquestionable margin.

One of the brightest threads of the weekend was Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama on “Meet The Press”. One of the darker tales was the story of A.I.G., the insurance giant bailed out by taxpayers for $123 billion. Just when we thought they had finally been shamed into stopping their post-bailout spa treatments, luxury sports suites, Vegas and California post resort retreats, it was discovered much to our amazement, that some A.I.G. execs were cavorting at a lavish shooting party at a British country manor. Check out Maureen Dowd’s Op-Ed piece to read about the undercover reporter who followed the “feckless financiers on their $86,000 partridge hunt as they tromped through the countryside in tweed knickers, and then later as they slurped fine wine and feasted on pigeon breast and halibut.” Dowd says that these days she’s feeling pretty much like what Charles Dickens described as the “vengeful and bloodthirsty Madame Defarge sharpening her knitting needles at the guillotine”. I can relate to that.

Then, how about where British citizens, municipalities and universities – including Cambridge had their savings parked? When Tom Friedman checked out the Icesave Web site he discovered the headline: “Simple, transparent and consistently high-rate online savings accounts from Icesave”, but underneath in blue letters was the following note appended: “We are not currently processing any deposit or any withdrawal requests through our Icesave Internet accounts. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause our customers.” That’s more than an inconvenience – we’re talking total panic. See Tom Friedman’s column for more details.

But then there is an upside to all of this, a bright thread – can you believe that? A recession could actually save your life! According to Christopher Ruhm, an economist at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, the death rates go down during economic slowdowns. Now, granted, the suicides rise but total mortality rates drop, as do deaths from heart attacks, car accidents, pneumonia and most other causes.

Some experts are skeptical. But in downturns we drive less and so car accidents decline, while less business activity means fewer job accidents and less pollution. In addition to the fact that in recessions people have more leisure time and seem to smoke less, exercise more and eat more healthily. For more good news regarding recessions see Nicholas Kristoff’s Sunday column.

However, as far as I’m concerned I have had more than enough of politics, politicians, debates, recession, and fear-mongering. There has still, it seems to me, been more bad news than good for much of the time. Let’s hope the next fifteen days hurry by and that MAYBE we can finally see the light at the end of what has seemed to be an endless eight year tunnel.

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