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Foreclosures

[State of the Valley]

United we stand?

Bits of stress all over have us looking for political change

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The young couple stands in their Summerlin driveway, an impromptu yard sale illustrating their plight. They need cash. Their house, once the symbol of a personal dream, is now a burden.

Wall hangings, kitchen utensils, pots and pans, everything must go in the age of the upside-down homeowner with the sub-prime mortgage. A cardboard sign written in black marker advertises: “Furniture Inside.” The man and woman in their late 20s embrace as a pickup truck drives away.

“How you doing?” a passerby shouts. A sad look covers the man’s face. The woman says nothing. A for-sale sign leans at an angle several doors down. It stood upright three months ago.

Several miles to the east, two lines of cars and SUVs wait 12 deep for cut-rate gas at an independent gas station at the intersection of Decatur and Washington. Cut-rate is a relative term when you’re paying $3.99 a gallon, but that is the going price, and people sit in triple-digit temperatures, windows rolled down. A few have the haggard look of the gambler who walks away from a cold video-poker machine.

A local TV news camera drops by to document the scene. Maybe the video will someday becomes nostalgic B-roll of a time that passes, much like the gas lines of the mid-’70s. Maybe.

President Bush says the Democrats are blocking his effort to ease the crisis. The party of Obama and Clinton and Reid is opposed to drilling for oil in Alaska and off the coast of Florida. Critics say it could take as long as 10 years before any oil from Alaska could reach the fuel pump. Bush wants drilling to begin as soon as possible.

“You gotta go where the gas is cheap,” says a man who has sat in that slow-moving line at Decatur and Washington. “Just bring some additive, because you don’t know what you’re really getting in your tank.”

Stores are hurting. Restaurants are slow. The highways feel emptier.

State government’s in a financial crisis. It’s no better in California, Arizona or much of the country.

Iowa’s underwater, and many have a sense that we’re on our own.

“Today’s revelation that unemployment in Nevada reached levels not seen even in the months following the terrorist attacks of September 11 reinforces the need for this special session of the Legislature,” says Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons after a panel of top economic advisers meet.

Gibbons remains in trouble, personally and professionally, but one recent poll says a majority of Nevadans don’t care about his pending divorce. There are too many other serious issues to worry about.

A UNLV professor writes an angry e-mail bemoaning the appearance of a conservative, anti-government voice on a local radio program. The professor’s upset, feeling under attack. He fears his university is about to be decimated by budget cuts, and he’s not in an understanding mood.

“You bet I’m angry,” he writes of criticism of professors who spend much of their day working on research rather than teaching in the classroom. The critics argue that they should be teaching students. The professor notes that quality research brings in the grant money that drives many universities, including UNLV, to the next level.

Can’t the critic and the professor both be right? It seems as though we’re talking past each other, rather than to one another. We need wiser voices who can bring us together.

Political pollsters, politicians and pundits offer their spin on what’s happening. It’s the fallout from the anti-tax, borrow-now, pay-later Bush years. It’s economic competition from China and India. Our addiction to oil has finally caught up with us. After Katrina and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, government is broken, and we have to look elsewhere for answers.

One very wise man, a flooring guy who works with his dad, offers his take. “People are angry. We’re looking at $5 gas, rising food prices; work is slow. It’s not going to be long before people take to the streets,” he says.

How much of this is a failure of imagination, an inability to offer a wide range of options, to offer solutions, have a thoughtful national debate, frame and reframe possible solutions, reach compromises and take joint responsibility for our successes and failures?

Eight years ago we heard of Clinton fatigue. It was a term that encompassed everything from Whitewater to impeachment. The faces of that Summerlin couple and the people waiting for gas and the very wise flooring guy look more tired and worried than faces spotted eight years ago.

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