Bob Franken

King Features Column

(As usual, the syndication deal means this column appears here a week after its newspaper release)

       CUSTOMER SERVICE: (800) 708-7311 EXT. 236
       FOR RELEASE TUESDAY, SEPT. 11, 2012
       Let’s face it, the U.S. financial system is on hold, at least until November and maybe till next year. The unemployment numbers aren’t going to improve. American businesspeople — the ones who could be hiring now, but are not — have hit the pause button. What’s frustrating is that many of them are sitting on tons of cash, but they’ve made the strategic decision not to spend it. So those who are desperately looking for work aren’t finding it.
       Mitt Romney and Barack Obama will continue to blame each other and offer daily sound bites about their polar-opposite approaches, but their facile certainties have created toxic uncertainty. It’s no secret why executives are sitting tight and putting up a “Help Unwanted” sign. They have no earthly idea what the terrain will be after the election, and they’re afraid to commit until they have a better sense of the potholes they’ll encounter in the months ahead.
       Even after they know whether they’re dealing with a second Obama administration or having their way with a new Romney White House, they probably still will be hesitant. They still will have to deal with the inmates of the Capitol Hill asylum.
       If you think it’s been maddening to watch the members of Congress thrash around, wait until we see how the new brood can make things even worse and do its best to push us over the edge.
       You’ve heard the expression: The country is hurtling toward a “cliff.” That’s the precipice that our nation will fall from if the Bush tax cuts expire at the same time massive new budget rollbacks are imposed. Let us not forget that the slashing is mandatory. It’s called “sequestration,” automatic chunks totaling $1.2 trillion through 2021 unless Democrats and Republicans reach a new armistice. Otherwise, next year alone, crippling decreases of $55 billion for defense and $55 billion for domestic programs will be automatic. The idea is that this would be such an unmitigated disaster that the warring parties will be forced to negotiate some sort of tax-and-spending treaty.
       Riiggghhhtt. Let us also not forget that this is the desperation ploy from last year to barely avoid the debacle of a national default.
       As it is, our precious gold-standard credit rating was tarnished when Standard & Poor’s lowered it, but our politicians seem to have no shame. Their heels are dug in just as deep, even though the lethal combination of higher taxes and brutally lower spending almost surely will drag the United States back into recession, with unemployment heading up to more than 9 percent again, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

What are the two sides doing? They’re blaming each other and making it another part of the campaign noise. So, as hard as it is sometimes to be sympathetic to the captains of commerce, it’s easy to understand why they have headed to the bunkers.
       From there, they can watch the upcoming debates with the rest of us and witness two people talking past each other. It will be pointless-counter pointless.
       We’re pretty used to that now, what with the millions upon millions of dollars spent on TV ads that have little attachment to truth. In today’s alternate reality, lying is good, honesty is scorned. Anybody who tries to correct the record is ostracized as a shill for one side or the other.
       So those who could turn things around are turning their backs. Is it any wonder that so few are willing to invest in the future? Who knows what that future will be? The recent past has been a disaster. Unless we somehow unclog the gridlock, we will remain in “pause” … or worse, continuing to unwind.
       © 2012 Bob Franken
       Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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