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Jim Hightower: Let's Stop Clowning Around With America's Economy

Here's my no-cost economic reform plan for America: All politicians and economists who keep blathering at us that things really are in good shape if only people would get over their "mental recession" must henceforth wear clown suits and sit on whoopee cushions when they speak.

I'm talking about the clowns with straight faces who wag their fingers at us for using the "R" word. Technically, they scold, America is not - repeat, NOT - in a recession. This absurdist shtick is hilarious to the workaday majority of folks who see the economy crumbling all around them. Then, out trots clown in chief, George W., to deliver this knee-slapper of a punch line: America's economic fundamentals are "sound."

These people are our leaders! I don't know whether to laugh, cry or go bowling.

Sound? They tell us that America's unemployment rate is only 5.7 percent - so, be happy, go shopping. I hate to burst a clown's balloons, but that's nearly 9 million of our people, 1.5 million more than were out of work a year ago. No laughing matter. Meanwhile, corporate chieftans are downsizing and offshoring jobs likes cats shedding hair, and it's clear that they don't plan to stop anytime soon.

Sound? Hidden in their happy employment numbers is a painful economic reality for millions of working-class families who do have jobs. They are people who were working full-time, but have had their hours chopped to part-time, meaning their incomes have dropped precipitously. This involuntary downsizing is the stealth thief in today's economy, and there's nothing sound about it. More than 5.3 million Americans are now working part-time against their will - a jump of more than a million in the past year.

Sound? These are the same clowns who assured us just this spring that the subprime mortgage mess was nothing to worry about because they had it "contained." Not exactly. That house of cards collapsed, taking down thousands of homeowners, several mortgage firms, banks, thousands of construction jobs and billions of dollars in investments.

Now, the contagion has spread to homeowners with good credit, draining the value right out of their homes and impoverishing them. The number of people holding prime loans who can't make their house payments has doubled over the past year, and bankers expect a tidal wave of defaults in the coming months.

Sound? Bush and Congress bailed out Bear Stearns, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, saying this $130 billion rescue was necessary to restore confidence in our economy. It hasn't. The Federal Reserve has cut interest rates again and again to boost private investment. It hasn't worked. Washington's $80 billion tax rebate program this year was supposed to stimulate the economy and create jobs. It didn't.

It's time to stop clowning around. The fundamentals are not sound. That's because America's economic polices for the past 30 years (especially under Bush-Cheney) have been driven by a "tinkle-down" ideology of enriching a few while undermining the economic strength of the many. This has worked fabulously for wealthy elites - but not for America.

To seed real expansion, government and business must switch to a vigorous policy of percolate-up economics. A good place to start is with a historic, multibillion-dollar national effort to rebuild and extend America's infrastructure. Let's enlist and invest in millions of our people to do the productive work that America needs done - from fixing our roads and bridges to retrofitting every home and building for energy conservation, from making our Internet system world class to connecting our population centers with high-speed trains.

These are big national goals that are worthy of this great country, allowing people to lift America up themselves - both economically and spiritually. 

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