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Days of whines and roses

Local Commentary . Are Americans whiners?-Out of My Head

Posted: August 4, 2008 5:32 p.m.
Updated: October 6, 2008 5:01 a.m.
Whine: To complain peevishly; to utter something in a high-pitched sound.

A nation of whiners.

That is what big-banker-and-former-Texas-Sen. Phil Gramm recently declared about the mental state of our union. His words probably would not have packed such a far-reaching punch had he not said them as co-chair and adviser for Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign.

No longer serving in that capacity for the White House hopeful from Arizona, Gramm probably wishes he had chosen better vocabulary, particularly since our country is in a severe economic, social, moral, and infrastructural crisis - and people know it.

But "whine?"

What have we even got to peevishly complain about?

Cash diet

Unless you're among our nation's wealthy elite, you are probably on a cash diet with the rest of us average folks.

Understandably the current recession-depression (the one George W. Bush discounts as even occurring) is causing many stressed-out people to spend less and swallow Pepto Bismol more.

We're sick of the economy taking one continuous dump as home values wane, businesses and banks fold, and a gallon of gas becomes more pricey than a pint of O-negative.

We're horrified at hearing our schools are failing, education is being stripped of funds and joblessness is increasing.

We're burned up over crafty politicians talking out of one side of their mouths while spitting on us with the other.

We're furious that 25 percent of our country's bridges are on the verge of collapsing, yet we don't have the $114 billion necessary to fix our vast Atlantic-to-Pacific network of aging highways. But thank goodness there are funds for erecting new bridges to those oil refineries in Iraq!

We're financially and emotionally exhausted from a five-year-old manufactured war that has no end in sight, just more bodies to count, billions to squander overseas, and trance-like babble-speak press secretary updates to endure.

We're troubled by Gov. Arnold Schwarzennegger's "desperation-induced" budget slashes, knowing that full-time state employees will be reduced to minimum wage and part-time workers will be laid off, all of this while people who live here illegally won't see a dent in state aid payouts.

With all due respect to people from other countries who want to improve their lives, even if it's being done on the sly, what about first protecting those who have worked their butts off for California as bona fide citizens?

Things stink, and there's plenty for us to justifiably complain about.

Amid these problems, and the dollar devaluing on a daily basis, folks are trying to stop their pocketbooks and spirits from bleeding out.

Many are clipping coupons, scrapping travel plans, dining in, and saying adios to new clothing and needed car expFienditures. Some are even foregoing costly doctor checks or giving up their medical insurance plans altogether.

Others are staying put in older homes and refurbishing the same old, same old.

Heck, even Nevada's brothel industry is taking it in the shorts. A whopping 25 percent of its annual income has been lost through our flaccid economy.

With gas/diesel being so high, the bordellos' biggest customers - long-distance truckers - have had to put the brakes on their regular prostitute visits. So much for those paltry "stimulus" incentives getting things rolling, I guess.

Although I'll not thank anyone or anything just yet, particularly the current administration, I must acknowledge that valuable lessons are coming out of the pecuniary peccadillo surrounding us.

Silver lining

In fact, there may actually be a silver lining to some of these storm clouds.

Ultimately, financially rough circumstances are forcing us to learn what many of our parents never forgot: how to live with less and avoid buying what we can't afford in the first place.

In many ways, our ultra techno-consumerist-hedonistic-American Express-addicted-gotta-gotta-gotta-have-it culture has avoided that sharper vision for too long.

Many bought into the mind-set that our biggest, wealthiest American businesses and investors have wanted us to adopt - Buy! Buy! Buy!

We have been enabled to do so: This is exactly what Corporate America has wanted us to do.

Many have survived on credit as if a piece of plastic were real currency.

Many have lived for today, not saving or planning for tomorrow.

Especially during the recent, over-inflated real estate market, many bought homes they shouldn't have and now pay the price through foreclosure and/or eating 99-cent store tuna five times a week.

While they are quick to blame their lenders and agents admittedly, some were only too happy to "work up" those creatively worded loan papers and ensure commissions, the onus largely rests on these buyers' shoulders.

It was they who chose to go through with the transactions, thus gambling with enticing (and fluctuating) interest rates in what became an unpredictable, movin'-on-up bubble that burst.

Sure, plenty of fine Americans have made unsound financial decisions. I'll venture to guess that some even overspent out of a growing communal hopelessness we've been feeling - watching so much that was good and strong in our country go sideways, only to receive a bunch of PR mumbo jumbo that falsely mitigates reality.

Remember: "We're not in a recession ... and there's no proof shown that gas is going to hit $4 a gallon."

Hard lessons, sure

This rationale is not an excuse for entering unwise money ventures. But it does suggest a sort of self-medicating habit going around, people buying more than they should to make themselves feel better - trying to numb the pain that hits them every time they open the newspaper or turn on CNN.

Times are tough!

But a nation of whiners?

I don't think so.

Sure, we're learning some hard lessons here. And in the long run, some of them will probably be valuable ones.

But in the meantime, a lot of families are hurting. Children are going without. Parents are walking the floors at night wondering how to make it all better. Too many seniors don't know how they'll buy their heart medicine, let along survive in this faltering economy.

Yeah, some of us are whining.

But to label the American people as such?

That's a pejorative stretch if I ever heard one. And Phil Gramm ought to be ashamed.

Diana Sevanian is a Santa Clarita resident. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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