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So maybe it’s doom after all for the US economy. At any rate, I was mentally tossing around various causal factors for the mess and I settled on one possible psychological motivation — and it has something to do with Sept. 11, 2001.

It’s probably no accident that financial excess followed the tragedy of 9/11. Imagine traders walking past the visible scar of that day and wondering why some died, some survived. They drowned themselves in a sea of speculative trading. They took risks that make sense only if you’re heedless of the consequences.

It’s the reaction you might have if your best friend died in some senseless, horrible accident that might have claimed you as well. But you went on living anyway. And drank — or gambled or sky-dived or high-speed raced — yourself into oblivion. Either looking for a reason why you survived — or, more aptly, trying to avoid looking. Financial types, known more for speculation than introspection, probably opted for the latter.

What’s also interesting is the flight to Greenwich you (or at least I) read about lately. That is, all the money now is being made by hedge funds in Greenwich. It’s the high-finance version of cocooning with the family in the suburbs.

I may be wrong, or not wholly right. But it makes just as much sense as ascribing it all to greed, pure and simple. Greed has been around for eons, yet it doesn’t cause financial panics every day. And it may not be the thing that drove every last soul on Wall Street. Greed is just the easiest and least controversial straw to grasp.

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Here’s why I think Congress will pass a bailout sooner rather than later, despite all the hype surrounding it. The failure of an investment bank affects more than a few cuff-linked and tie-clipped CEOs. It also affects janitorial companies. When the office building goes dark, there go the hardworking, low-paid janitors, innocent in all likelihood of whatever financial chicanery turned off the lights in the first place.

This is the kind of real-world ripple effect that Congress is going to recognize. They can talk themselves blue in the face about creeping financial socialism, misplaced priorities and the moral hazard of letting “them” get away with it. But ultimately, they won’t be able to turn away from the potential for collateral damage. I just imagine that the final price tag will be a lot higher than $700 billion as lawmakers struggle to convince the American people that they arent’ giving away the store.

In the fast-moving blur that our financial sector has become,  I vaguely recall the argument that taxpayers (or Asian creditors) could someday turn a profit on the “distressed assets” they’ll be purchasing in a few week;

Still, I’m a bit skeptical. I should note that I haven’t heard this claim in the political posturing that has passed for Congressional debate the last few days. (I wonder how many pols are willing to put their principled free-market stands through the risk of a real-world test. Very few, which is why we’re more likely to end up with a package that includes tax rebates for you and me.) But we may hear it again, so it’s worth dissecting, however briefly. If there is a profit to be made from these assets, why don’t the companies keep them or why doesn’t some enterprising private-sector investor snatch them up?

I’ll be waiting for the answer.

If elected president, John McCain will raise taxes.

Why? Because this election has so many eerie parallels to 1988. The older war hero emerging from the shadows of a two-term Republican. The move to paint his Democratic opponent as an elite tax-and-spend liberal. The young, once-obscure sidekick that many people argue is inexperienced (I can’t wait for Sarah Palin’s first visit to a Central American market or her first speling lesson).

Barack Obama is running hard to escape the trap and become Bill Clinton, not Michael Dukakis. But even Obama has repeated some of Dukakis’ steps. The main one is tapping an experienced Washington senator to be his vice president. Obama’s saving grace is his charisma, which puts him back in Clinton’s league. Clinton also gave a great speech, lest anyone forget.

But the biggest parallels of all are these: Rising deficits, a big defense build-up abroad and a financial crisis requiring the government to cover bad debt.

The Resolution Trust Corp. may very well have ended the savings-and-loan crisis, but the rescue came at a cost. George H.W. Bush was willing to pony up. I suspect McCain will do the same once in office — provided we can expect a war hero not to worry about paying the ultimate (political) price for doing the right thing.

People try to draw connections between campaigning and governing, but the two remain wholly separate. George W. Bush ran as a uniter not a divider, and has been anything but for the last eight years. Some say McCain is running as a divider. That doesn’t mean he won’t be a uniter in office. It’s just unclear whether the distinction will matter on election day.

We used to have an economy based on making stuff. Now we have an economy based on making bets. Alas, we haven’t figured out what to do when those bets blow up in our faces.

America’s safety net is based on factory employment, not financial speculation. The theory, I suppose, is that people engaged in financial speculation do so with an eyes-wide-open appreciation for the risks. The theory appears to need some revision.

Set your hypocrisy radars on high alert. Just don’t expect anyone to reconcile the AIG bailout with the values of a government supposedly in thrall to the belief that the market is the ultimate arbiter of all that is good and true.

As we’re learning, the market can dish out some ugliness, too. But is it really a new lesson? Not for the workers who used to make Ford minivans. Or the workers that used to make toys, lawn mowers and televisions. Nor is the market’s ability to inflict pain news to anyone who has to fill up a gas tank or pay for their own health insurance.

But in all of those cases, we let the market do its work, or at least profess faith in its ability to do so over the long run – if, for example, we could clear out those silly government bans on offshore drilling. But when you’re an investment bank or an international insurance company, I guess drill, baby,  drill – or retrain, baby, retrain – isn’t the answer. The answer is a multi-billion-dollar loan.

I laughed when morning news anchors on CNN lamented AIG’s interest rate of 11.5%, calling it high and an incentive for the company to look elsewhere. Funny, but I don’t recall any journalists wringing their hands over the rates charged to people with credit cards (20%-plus) or the rates charged to subprime borrowers.

Seems to me, if your business is a credit risk and teetering on the edge of collapse, you should pay higher rates. No lender throws good money after bad at a low rate. Well, not anymore, anyway.

Another ridiculous argument in all this is the claim that the collapse of AIG would lead to higher borrowing costs. Higher costs for whom? Certainly not for people buying cars and houses, the two major purchases for most consumers.

The automakers would go lower than 0% if they could and I don’t see that changing – unless they get a bailout of their own. The same incentives apply to housing. If rates rise, home prices likely will fall, making them more affordable in the long run, not exactly the worst news in the world.

Yes, it sucks if you already have a house and the value falls or simply doesn’t go up year after year. But look on the bright side. You own a house. And now you own an insurance company, or at least a 79.5% stake in one. I can’t wait for my first dividend check.

The terrible loss of innocent life is still the saddest part of this anniversary. Coming close, however, is the opportunities we’ve wasted to make anything good out of it.

After the Holocaust, people said “Never again” and they meant it to apply to all people of every stripe all around the world. Reality has fallen short of the ideal. But the ideal is still there. After 9/11, we have pretty much settled on “Never again to us.” Too often that has meant little more than concern for our own safety and security as Americans rather than the safety and security of all human beings.

At any rate, I now know why people still write letters to editors when newspapers fail to make mention of D-Day or Pearl Harbor. The emotional impact never truly goes away and it needs to be recognized each and every year.

Let me get this straight. Taxpayers, the new politically correct term for Chinese lenders, are going to bail out Fannie and Freddie so that our benighted mortgage giants can pay back their creditors in, uh, China. It’s sheer genius. I don’t think a country wishing us harm could have put us in a deeper financial hole.

It’s the international version of payday lending — an endless lifeline for the fiscally challenged. Do you think they’d let me go to the bank to borrow money so I can pay my mortgage to the same bank?

Now, if John McCain really believes we need to cut taxes, he should come out against this bailout. Best, however, to discuss “long-term reforms,” preferably of the painless sort. Wake me up when Mr. and Mrs. Straight Talk point out that a streamlined Fannie and Freddie could make it harder for the average American to get a loan or when they discuss the details of how their reforms will keep that from happening.

After all, before these companies existed to enrich MBAs, stockholders, former politicians and foreign creditors, they existed to help Americans.

All this debate about “executive experience” is getting a little stale. Since when did Americans need a president who could order people around? Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a president who could empower us to do for ourselves? Isn’t that what democracy and the free market are supposed to be about?

Ideally, yes. Realistically, I guess not. But still. It would float my boat to see a debate about which candidate — McCain, Obama, Palin, or Biden — would be better able to empower us instead of assume power over us.

Drill, baby, drill!