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Saturday, December 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 28.0° F  Light Snow Fog/Mist
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Guess who's hurting most?
Hint: It isn't the fat cats

Wall Street is committing suicide with our tax dollars. Housing foreclosures are at their highest levels since the Great Depression, gas prices are higher than ever before, and the federal government is in panic mode.

This isn't a good thing for anyone, but the people feeling it hardest are ordinary workers - Joe and Joann Doe on Main Street. Meanwhile, the fat cats from bellied-up and bailed-out businesses on Wall Street are walking away with tens of millions of dollars for doing such a good job blowing the economy to high heaven.

Mr. and Ms. Doe are likely not to have stocks, other than an IRA or a 401(k) plan. These are not investments meant to make them rich; these are savings for their retirement. They may not have lost as much as those who have wagered millions in the stock market, but their loss will be more consequential.

High and wildly fluctuating gas prices pack another whammy. One day the price of gas at the Mobil or BP station on Verona Road near Allied Drive may be $3.69 a gallon. The next morning, after another fitful day on Wall Street, it may be back up to $3.99.

Given all of this mind-blowing economic news, John McCain and Barack Obama are scrambling to come up with ideas on the economy and national energy policy. But we've known for years, or should have, that these issues were going to explode.

Let's go back to 1979, when Jimmy Carter was president. Because the oil cartels finally figured out how they could get rich off of what the U.S. consumed the most, gas prices went from about 35 cents a gallon all the way up to 50 cents.

Oh, my! Lines at the gas stations snaked out of the station lots, down the street and even around the corners. College students would party all night in their cars so they could be one of the early ones to get their gas tanks filled.

Carter called for a comprehensive energy policy, but didn't get one. And the solar voltaic cells he had installed on the White House roof were promptly removed by Ronald Reagan, who ousted him from office.

Fast-forward to the reign of George W. Bush. So far, no real comprehensive energy policy has been developed. There may even have been some ground lost since Bill Clinton, who ramped up funding for alternative energy research.

In the early days of the Bush administration, Vice President Dick Cheney - like Bush, an oilman - convened a highly secret meeting to shape the nation's energy policy. The group's agenda, and even the participants' names, were never released, despite aggressive court action by the Sierra Club and other conservation groups. The Republican-leaning Supreme Court sided with Cheney.

Politics assured that the major energy companies made billions of dollars in profit. Meanwhile, back on Main Street, Joe and Joann Doe have to figure out how to pay their bills.

It isn't easy. Low- to moderate-income households can barely hold on to what they have. Now they must pour $30 to $50 a week into their vehicles so they can get their kids to and from childcare and themselves to work. That's a big hit.

Add in higher costs to heat homes and higher prices at the grocery store and the hit becomes a hurt. Meanwhile, a few segments of society are seeing their wealth increase.

"Economic growth has become a spectator sport for many workers," says Laura Dresser of the Center on Wisconsin Strategy, a UW-Madison group that tracks state economic trends. "You can see it, but you can't take it home with you."

Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, County Executive Kathleen Falk and Gov. Jim Doyle all are doing what they can to promote sane energy policies at the local and state level. What's needed is a commitment at the federal level.

I'm an Obama supporter. I believe, after reading his issues papers and following his speeches, that he will, at least, put the people first instead of the oil tycoons. It is about leadership and judgment.

People living at the poverty level, as well as those with moderate and even middle incomes, need a government that will work to make things better for them, not the fat cats. They need a coherent energy plan. "Drill, baby, drill" is not it.

Steve Braunginn is a writer, radio host, businessman and community activist.

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