Swans Commentary » swans.com February 25, 2008  



Poor And Pickled
How America Is Reinventing The American Dream


by Jan Baughman





(Swans - February 25, 2008)  It would appear that the elephant in the room, otherwise known as the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex, has been formally acknowledged, with President Bush's little revelation that must have had his cabinet and constituents recoiling in horror. When asked in an NBC interview on February 19, 2008, if war spending was hurting America's economy, he replied, "I don't think so. I think actually the spending in the war might help with jobs...because we're buying equipment, and people are working." Bring 'em on! Yet, if war is such a good economic stimulus, why is our economy shrinking despite perpetual war, and why is so much of the war spending kept officially out of the budget?* Let's once and for all put war's hidden cost out in the open, what with all the job training and equipment-buying it creates. In fact, rather than throw $300 Wal*Mart gift cards at the little people so they can shop the economy back to life, the government should just spend the $150 billion economic stimulus package on some Humvees, war planes, missiles and rockets, and that much-needed protective gear for our soldiers in harm's way. We could officially privatize the military, build some new bases, and create even more jobs at the same time. We could then return to the good ol' days of WWII, when our men went off to fight and our women worked in the factories sewing stars on flags and assembling bombs to keep the economy functioning. Just imagine, we'd have another baby boom, and create demand for more single-family homes for the booming families...

Mr. Bush's response didn't stop there, however, for he speculated on what he perceives to be the real source of our economic woes. "I think this economy is down because we built too many houses and the economy's adjusting." Does that mean the American Dream of homeownership is dead, or is it now a mere myth for the masses? In June 2007 he put forth a proclamation entitled National Homeownership Month, stating that "Owning a home provides a source of security and stability for many of our citizens. My Administration is committed to fostering an ownership society and helping more Americans realize the great promise of our country...the American Dream Downpayment Act of 2003 is helping thousands of low to moderate income and minority families with the downpayment and closing costs on their homes.... I call upon the people of the United States to join me in recognizing the importance of homeownership and building a more prosperous future." Less than a year later, that prosperous future is no longer directed toward the importance of homeownership and subsidizing downpayments on dreams. (One must also consider the far-reaching effects of subprime lending, well described in these pages but not mentioned during National Homeownership Month.)

So how is it that with all the hundreds of thousands of people displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, entire towns decimated by tornadoes this year and last, and the neighborhoods burned to the ground in the Southern California fires, we've built too many houses? And with all of these excess houses putting a drain on the economy, why do we need so many FEMA trailers? Perhaps it all comes back to promising the American Dream to the right kind of American, not just any old American. Low-income housing units destroyed (or not) by Katrina are being replaced with more expensive models, and according to Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), "there are over 6,000 households living in travel trailers along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, but only about 300 rental properties are available at fair market value in the same area."

In all fairness, I quoted Rep. Thompson somewhat out of context. He wasn't complaining about the lack of low-income housing along the Gulf, per se, or the "Administration's recent decision to allow the funding intended for low and middle income housing construction to be diverted to a port expansion project in the Gulf," but rather the unusually high levels of formaldehyde in the FEMA &qout;travel" trailers in which we have situated our low-income, displaced American citizens. Even though formaldehyde is a probable carcinogen, and many occupants have suffered respiratory and other problems and at least one person has died from presumed exposure, FEMA Administrator David Paulison assured the Committee on Homeland Security that "we have been told that the formaldehyde does not present a health hazard." He seemingly failed to mention the fine print, which would state that when formaldehyde is used to embalm human remains, it poses no health hazard to those in whom it is infused...

No, we haven't built too many houses; we've suckered too many people. Now we're pickling them, too. It is apparently official that the American Dream of homeownership exists for a shrinking segment of the population, and war is the new American Nightmare that promises life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for us all.


*  One could also ask, by the way, if tax cuts for the wealthy also create jobs and stimulate the economy, why are we losing jobs and why is the economy slowing?  (back)



Bush: No Link Between Economy, Iraq War
Democracy Now!, February 19, 2008

National Homeownership Month, 2007

Thompson Demands Solution to Formaldehyde Trailer Crisis
PRNewswire, February 14, 2008

FEMA's Formaldehyde Foul-Up
The New York Times, February 15, 2008


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About the Author

Jan Baughman on Swans (with bio).



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One Final Corporative Capitalist Empire - Carol Warner Christen

A Critical Assessment Of Corporations - Michael Doliner

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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art14/jeb186.html
Published February 25, 2008