Liberally Speaking12/4/08

November: A month of thanks, tempered by fear

Dec. 4, 2008

By Steve Mount

It was one heck of a November. There was simultaneously much to be thankful for and much to be fearful of.

In the former category, for me and the majority of the voting population, the election of Barack Obama has let us all breathe a collective sigh of relief. Demonstrating restraint and respect, Obama continues to abide by the truism that “we have one president at a time,” and hence refused to meet with G-20 leaders in Washington in mid-November.

At the same time, however, he is not wasting a single moment in trying to shore up the ailing American economy, choosing economic advisers whom he feels will best be able to guide him and us through the next financial year. Results have been mixed, with Wall Street responding favorably one day, but taking a hit the next.

To the relief of retail managers throughout the area, reports from the local media noted that retailers were pleased with sales over the past week, which bodes well for the season. As Chittenden County goes, so goes the nation?

With positive retail sales, and a $200 billion kick from the Treasury Secretary to get banks lending again, brokers in New York and around the world may have something positive to hang their hats on, and hence a reason to buy, or advise others to do so.

The price of oil, the bane of our existence a scant six months ago, has moved into bearable territory of late. That, of course, means bad news for the OPEC nations, and plans to cut production to raise prices have been discussed. Cheating, however, is rampant, which is good news for oil consumers.

Even with the price of gasoline down significantly— less than $2 a gallon! — we may have locked ourselves into a pattern of decreased usage, a trend which could help our pocketbooks, as well as our environment, in the long run.

The lower prices have also helped some of those who need it most. While the decision to drive can be helped by conservation — by good planning and combining destinations, for example — some uses of fuel have no viable alternative. I’m writing specifically of home heating.

There were those who feared actual fatalities from people freezing to death in their homes from want of fuel. The decline in the price of oil has meant, however, that heating oil is more affordable than it was feared it would be. Lower prices, paired with an increase in the federal subsidy, could allow the Vermont fuel assistance program to help more than 7,000 households instead of last year’s 6,100.

Locally, the month of November was a productive one for our schools. Between the book fair, parent conferences and five Frameworks Committee meetings, good works were done for the children of our town.

Personally, I’m thankful for the advent of December, as that means the near end of holiday shopping. My wife is not one to put things off, and on Nov. 30 we were able to put the finishing touches on this season’s economy-bolstering gift-buying.

The end of November also allowed me to put the finishing touches on a 50,000-word novel, for the third year in a row. I may write more about that some other time, but for now, suffice it to say that writing so much in a month makes a busy month even busier.

As for the latter category, those things to be fearful of, the economy is nowhere near back from the brink, and it seems the littlest thing could set it a-tumble.

The Big Three auto companies, in trying to scare Congress into fronting it billions of dollars, only seemed to manage to make people wary of buying from them.

Terrorism continues to plague the world — and with India its latest victim, the threat of a regional nuclear war again raises its ugly head.

And in one way, it seems we are back in the 18th century, as the crews of ships in the Gulf of Aden and the rest of littoral Somalia, who want to do no more than deliver their cargoes and see their families again, have to contend with pirates.

In closing, and on the lighter side, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin continued to show up in the news, to the particular detriment of Alaskan turkeys. And worse, the Patriots may not be able to buy their way into the playoffs this year. Woe is New England.

Steve Mount has been a Williston resident since 1996. He is a software engineer at GE Healthcare and is devoted to his family, his country and his Constitution. You can reach Steve at steve@saltyrain.com or read his blog at http://saltyrain.com/ls.