[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/02/10/art.obama.podium.jpg caption="Pres. Obama steps away from the podium after his press conference on his economic stimulus plan."]
CNN Senior Executive Producer
Now that President Obama has warned over and over that this economic crisis could turn into a “catastrophe” if Congress doesn’t act quickly on a stimulus package, I'm trying to get an image in my head of what “catastrophe” means.
The Oxford English Dictionary led me to a synonym - “cataclysm.” And right there at the top of “cataclysm” in the Oxford English Dictionary is this sentence: “A great and general flood of water, a deluge; esp. the Noachian deluge, the Flood.”
The ultimate example of a catastrophe or cataclysm may very well be the story of Noah and The Flood. Genesis 6:5 – 8:22. We are already experiencing a flood of job losses. Nearly 600,000 jobs cut last month, following a similar number in December, certainly qualifies as a deluge. As President Obama said accurately, our economic problems “are accelerating, not decelerating.”
Some Republican opponents of the stimulus plan say they’re more worried about a different kind of flood – a flood of taxpayer dollars being spent in ways that are not guaranteed to work – a flood of debt passed down to our children. That’s a legitimate fear that must be addressed. But there’s no questioning the flood we face right now.
As told in Genesis, God floods the earth intentionally in the time of Noah “… because all flesh had corrupted its way on the earth.” Whatever your views of religion and the Bible, each one of us can probably come up with our own list of how human corruption led to our current economic crisis, our current flood of joblessness and dearth of trust.
In Genesis, it is said that it rained for 40 days and 40 nights. But, if you haven’t read the story recently, you may have forgotten that the flood waters did not come only from above. “All the fountains of the great deep” also opened up. So, according to the story, the earth was flooded from above and below. Again, I can’t help but think how apt that image is for our current crisis. This is not just a top down phenomenon. From the highest level Wall Street tycoons who disguised the risks of their new investment devices, to lower income Americans who piled up debt they couldn't afford, Americans from all walks of life have contributed to this Flood.
President Obama this week is visiting places that have the highest water levels, to deliver a message to the high ground of The Capitol. Monday it was Elkhart, Indiana, whose unemployment rate has tripled in the past year to over 15 percent. Later this week, President Obama will visit a Caterpillar factory in Peoria. Caterpillar is one of the world’s great manufacturers of heavy construction equipment. But the construction industry, like so many others, has hit the brakes. Caterpillar has announced 22, 000 job cuts in the past few weeks.
This is not The Flood of Noah’s time, a flood described in Genesis as inundating the entire earth to “the tops of the mountains.” In America, and the new world of global competition, the path to the top of the mountain is education. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is now confronting an education crisis that mayors (and parents) across the country are facing. Mayor Bloomberg said this past week that it was losing more than 800 million dollars in state education aid for its public schools. That amounts to 14,000 teacher jobs. He hoped to make up for that with federal aid channeled through the state. But now, we’re told, federal education aid may be severely curtailed in the revised stimulus package. The path to the top of the mountain is becoming muddy.
Noah had a big advantage over President Obama. Noah got precise instructions from God on how to build the ark that would save humanity. “…three hundred cubit the length of the ark, fifty cubits its width, and thirty cubits its height.” President Obama has repeatedly warned us not to expect that every dollar of the stimulus plan will produce its intended effect. After all, there are no architectural plans being handed down from up high.
The comedian Bill Cosby had a funny routine about Noah talking to God. God gives Noah the dimensions of the ark. Noah’s response: “What’s a cubit?”
For those of us who begin to tire of all the bad news, tire of the uncertainty, tire of the sacrifices we’re asked to make, there’s this passage from the Cosby routine.
Noah: Well I'm sick and tired of this! I've had enough of this stuff! I've been working all day! Working on it for days and days! I'm sick and tired of this!
God: How long can you tread water?
Finally, I want to share a portion of a letter from a man named Paul Bianchi, the Headmaster of Paideia, a prestigious private school in Atlanta. Obviously, well-endowed private schools are better positioned to weather this storm than public schools. Nevertheless, I believe the Headmaster’s letter to parents captures the spirit of how America can get through this crisis and emerge on more solid footing than ever before.
“We expect there may be school families hit particularly hard with a temporary need for some relief. These families might be those where there has been a job loss or dramatic decline in job income. Previously, income and/or assets would have made these families ineligible for our traditional financial aid program, but now income has been slashed and assets, such as a home, might not be a source of income in the short term. The Board has allocated a portion of the school’s limited reserves as a special fund to try to help some families in this situation bridge what we all hope will be a relatively short span of time.”
In other words, we’re all in the same ark.
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