Friday, February 6, 2009


Many of us this time of year are inclined to focus on the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The people who walk in darkness will see a bright light.” But for too many of our fellow citizens during this holiday season, the all too dark shadow of economic catastrophe looms. Things are so bad that even the Supreme Being (assuming you are a Christian) is apparently running out of cash. The 19 November edition of the Washington Post reported that the venerable National Cathedral in Washington DC “plans to slash its budget dramatically and lay off 30 percent of its staff. The century old institution plans to shut down a historic building on its grounds, cut back on choir performances and rely more on volunteers. The Rev. Samuel Lloyd III, dean of the Episcopal cathedral, noted that "This is a difficult time and it breaks my heart what we're doing with our staff.”

Indeed, these are difficult times, however if the good reverend thinks its bad in the theological realm he should check out the conditions on Wall Street and most importantly on Main street. It is one thing to curtail choir practice due to lack of funds and quite another to tell people who have worked for decades for firms such as Citibank that their services will no longer be required.

I will not depress you with the latest unemployment figures. Suffice it to say that millions of hard working men and women will soon find themselves with no way to pay their mortgages and put food on the table for themselves and their families. Capitalism is great when you are working. When you are out of a job however you suffer not only financially but physically and mentally as well. In time it becomes easy to lose hope and when hope is gone everything else goes with it. This is not a problem when only small numbers of our fellow citizens are out of work, but when unemployment starts to become the rule rather than the exception society itself begins to crumble.

This is why it is so imperative for the incoming administration to move expeditiously to create an employment program that will put people back to work. If they are smart, they will follow the Workers Progress Administration model created by President Roosevelt and Harry Hopkins during a similar crisis during the 1930s. Many people today who are old enough to remember that time still make fun of the WPA (critics said the initials stood for “We’re Poking Along”). But the fact is that the jobs it provided gave hope to millions of carpenters, electricians, plumbers, accountants and writers who had myriad skills but nowhere to use them. In the end the program helped people to once again realize their self worth and feed their families.

The WPA built the Golden Gate Bridge; it built and repaired countless roads, bridges, sewer lines and other important parts of the nation’s infrastructure. The program was not brain surgery. The federal government provided grants to the states and the money eventually flowed down to the county level. Which brings me to my next subject, namely the billion-dollar backlog of repairs to our country school system? Unfortunately, it is likely that in the near future Anne Arundel County will have hundreds, perhaps thousands of unemployed artisans who have the skill and knowledge to make these repairs. Some of my previous columns have talked about the leaky roofs and crumbling walls that are far too common in places as close as our beloved local high school.

The magic of the WPA was that it took people who had something to contribute and put them to work doing things important things that needed to be done. We as a nation in this day and time should do the same, and our county and state leaders, rather than wringing their hands and telling us there is nothing that they can do should take action and kill two birds with one stone. Namely, solve the unemployment problem by putting people to work rebuilding the country school system and infrastructure.

Now the obvious question is, who is going to pay for all this? Harry Hopkins was asked the same thing while giving a speech to a group at Ames Iowa in 1935. His answer was an obvious one, “you are”! But Hopkins went further.
Who can better afford to pay for it? Look at this great university; look at these fields, these forests and rivers. This is America, the richest country in the world. We can afford to pay for anything we want and we want a decent life for all the people in this country. And we are going to pay for it.

As we enter the season of light we do so knowing that many of fellow Americans are frightened and scared of what the future holds. With this in mind, we should not only expect help from Washington but be willing to help on the local level as well. Make your holiday one to remember by volunteering to help out at one of the local food banks or deliver meals to the elderly. Most charitable organization are suffering economically as well, if you don’t have time to pitch in (and are lucky enough to have a secure job) make sure you find the will to write a fat check to at least one worthy charitable organization of your choice. People need to know that they are not alone.

All right, enough doom and gloom. How about a holiday gift for you that will give you a lift in these difficult times, go to the following URL ( and watch 70 year old Chuck Berry rocking out as never before. No matter how bad things may get, to my mind, any country that can produce such a marvelous talent will never fade away! Happy Holidays to one and all!

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