Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Still down with capitalism?

Things are pretty busy here at the Village Green these days. There may be a crisis on Wall St, but on my street, in Kenmore, summer is over and fall is upon us. I see a few more reddening tomatoes in the garden and lots of tidying up to do before the snow falls. I'd love to go about my work and home chores secure in the knowledge that my pension is growing slowly but surely and that I won't have to sign away money I don't have to stay healthy in my so called "golden" years ahead.

Instead, I've been fantasizing about what human existence could be like in a non-capitalistic society. Maybe life would be better for us all if we were living in collectives dedicated to simpler life-styles and all contributing in one way or other for the benefit of the individual as well as the community. Anarcho-syndicalism, for example, showed lots of promise in Spain. Fascinating to read about entire industries running themselves without an owning class sucking off the profits.

The old Epic Battle of Communism vs Capitalism is so last century. Both of those economic theories collapsed under the weight of those excessively greedy few of the ruling classes. When corruption rules, it doesn't matter what economic system is in place.

I've been doing a lot more listening to others than blogging about the recent current events. I don't trust the talking heads on TV because they all make way more money than I do and tend to marry into even bigger money. All reports are that multitudes of citizens are contacting their elected representatives to complain about bailing out Wall St. Why not bail out us first, they say? Look at the debts we are all struggling under because the banking industry thought it would be a good idea to place bets on our homes and and other things like student loans.

On the other hand, we find ourselves living in a massively excessive society that consumes far more than is healthy. Rampant capitalism has produced multitudes of products that make life so convenient and so very toxic. American consumers are part of the problem as well. If this crisis can shake us out of our old ways of doing business, maybe the Big Bail Out needs to be put on permanent hold. Maybe we should be listening more to Dennis Kucinich who talked about solutions that focus on the bottom up, with a whole lot of clamping down on the monied overlords. His explanation of "the crisis:"
Here is a very quick explanation of the $700 billion bailout within the context of the mechanics of our monetary and banking system:

The taxpayers loan money to the banks. But the taxpayers do not have the money. So we have to borrow it from the banks to give it back to the banks. But the banks do not have the money to loan to the government. So they create it into existence (through a mechanism called fractional reserve) and then loan it to us, at interest, so we can then give it back to them. [The rest here.]

Lots of people are expressing the suspicion that this Bail Out is one final money grab for the Bush regime as it skulks out of office. Geeze, how much more damage can the idiot Bush inflict upon the rest of us?

But I think it goes beyond Bush. Actual people took actions that got us into this lack of liquidity or in plainer terms, into this mess of hugely over-extended credit to people who had no real ability to make the ballooning payments. Loans were bundled and sold again and again. (Ace sends us a link to a highly informative slide show, The Subprime Primer.) Real people thought up that scheme and followed through on it, linking up chains of greedy blood-sucking mortgage leeches. I don't know about you, but I'd like to see lists of actual names of the people -- and I don't care if they are Democrats, Republicans or non-voting non-partisans -- the ones who brought about this need to take 750 billion dollars from the people's collective wealth.

The amazing Wobbly Art displayed above was anarchistically borrowed from The Vancouver Wob.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Senator Brown Responds to Concerned Ohioans

Senator Brown has responded very quickly to emails about the 700 Billion Buyout. In today's email:

Thank you for expressing your concerns with the problems in the financial sector and proposals to address them.

A lot of Ohioans, including me, are angry at the thought of bailing out people who made a lot of money making bad business decisions that created problems in neighborhoods across Ohio.

I agree that we need to avoid rewarding excessive risk taking. These institutions made unwise decisions, and taxpayers should not be expected to simply cover their losses.

Treasury Secretary Paulson this weekend sent a proposal to Congress that would give him almost unfettered authority to spend $700 billion purchasing troubled assets from financial institutions. On Tuesday, my colleagues on the Banking Committee and I held a hearing at which Secretary Paulson, Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke, and others testified.

They made a strong case for the need to act quickly to prevent further damage to our economy. The turmoil in the credit markets has the potential to do great damage to a lot of innocent bystanders. I am afraid that if we do not act, the economic instability could affect thousands of American jobs and the savings of countless middle class families.

But Secretary Paulson’s proposal is not the right answer. No Secretary should be given a $700 billion blank check. Taxpayers must be given an opportunity to recover their money, and assurances their tax dollars will not fund lavish pay and golden parachutes. We need strong rules to guard against abuse, and to ensure all types of institutions and regions are helped.

In the days ahead, we need to focus on containing the damage to middle class families and local businesses as much as possible. In the months ahead, we need to take a hard look at how financial markets are regulated so we never find ourselves in this situation again.

Thank you again for contacting me. I will certainly keep your views in mind as the Senate debates ways to help restore strength to our economy.
Sherrod Brown

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Senator Brown asks some good questions

I'm waiting to hear some answers to his questions. Meanwhile, I am very glad Senator Brown is on the Senate Banking committee. Here's what he had to say today during the Big Bail the Bums Out hearings, via the Cleveland Leader:

"Like my colleagues, my phones have been ringing off the hook. The sentiment from Ohioans about this proposal is universally negative."

Chairman Dodd, thank you for calling today’s hearing, and thanks to the witnesses for joining us. They have had many long nights lately, and this may be a long morning.

But I make no apologies for that, and I doubt they seek any. Like my colleagues, my phones have been ringing off the hook. The sentiment from Ohioans about this proposal is universally negative.

I count myself among the Ohioans who are angry. Had the federal government acted to contain the epidemic in subprime lending, I don’t think we would be sitting here today.

The time we spend this morning will be time well spent, not just for our own benefit, but for the benefit of the people we represent. I’m not sure they will be convinced, but they sure deserve a better explanation than they have received to date.

A man from Westerville, Ohio was so concerned he took a day off from work and drove to Washington, D.C. to share his views with me. He quite rightly asked why we are rushing to bail out companies whose leaders got rich by gambling with other people’s money.

Here’s another communication:

“The Federal Government must not prolong necessary corrections in the housing market, bail out lenders, or subsidize irresponsible borrowing and lending, at the expense of hard-working people who have played by the rules.”

Except that statement didn’t come from Ohio. It came from the Office of Management and Budget three months ago.

Throughout this sorry chapter in our nation’s financial history, this Administration has shown extraordinary attention to the problems of Wall Street, while at times showing hostility to rebuilding Main Streets across the country.

The statement I quoted above was from the administration’s veto threat of the housing bill. Congress wanted to include $4 billion to rebuild neighborhoods devastated by the foreclosure crisis. But the administration didn’t want to reward irresponsible borrowing and lending.

Now it does. But before we agree, there are many unanswered questions that Congress and the American people have a right to ask and the Administration needs to answer.

I’d like to know how taxpayers’ money will be spent. How will purchase decisions be made? Will it be an open and objective process like a reverse auction? Or will the price be determined at some higher level decided by Treasury? If so, does that thaw the credit market, or does everybody sit around waiting for Uncle Sam to pay an inflated price?

Will past patterns persist, where Treasury pays attention to Wall Street first and foremost, while the rest of the country watches and withers?

Will community banks, whose equity in Fannie and Freddie was wiped out, be helped? Will banks be able to sell portfolio loans as soon as investment banks offload their mortgage-backed securities? Does this bill do anything to enhance the government’s ability to modify loans and keep people in their homes?

As Chairman Bernanke probably knows, the Bank Panic of 1933 started in Detroit and in two weeks spread to Cleveland. Two of the city’s largest banks were shuttered and never reopened. One had ties to my predecessor in this seat, Republican Marcus Hanna. Rumors flew that the bank’s closure was a political decision. If we don’t know the rules, these types of rumors will be reborn.

Secretary Paulson, as much as I respect your judgment, you will not be making the hundreds of decisions that this effort will require. And as your colleague Secretary Kempthorne has found, a lack of close supervision and adherence to rules can lead to disastrous results.

Many of the people who will be making these decisions have come from Wall Street, and they may be returning to Wall Street. The notion that they can operate without clear guidelines is not just unfair to the taxpayers, I think it is unfair to them.

So I hope this morning we can go into considerably greater detail. And I hope we can give Main Street a good bit more help and attention than we have to date.

It is fine to say that people’s 401(k) accounts may be affected. They will be if we do not act. But for most people, their home is their 401(k). We need to help them as well.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

No way, no how, no bailout without strings

I "borrowed" this image from Digby's site. There's lots of good writing over there today about the Bush/Paulson plan to reward the greedy bastards who now want 700 billion delivered to their financial institutions without any strings attached.

I tried to call my senator and representative, but no answering machines on today. Why don't they have them up and running? Not all of us have the time to call during business hours.

So email was the only option. Here's what I wrote:
Re: 700 Billion $ Bailout for Wall Street.

No way, no how, no tax dollars to bail out the greedy business people of Wall Street corporations.

Senator, I have a mortgage and I faithfully pay it every month and I pay 50 dollars extra on it so I can pay it off faster. I bought a house I could afford and have paid off by the time I retire. I have been responsible.

If 700 billion dollars is now needed to save the financial markets, I want to know -- who profited and who is sticking the tax payer with their debts? They are the ones who should be paying, not me.

I don't trust Paulson, I don't trust Bush and I especially don't trust this plan that was thrust upon us over the weekend and made to sound like we have to pass it immediately without any strings attached?

Please make sure that there are measures attached to prevent such greed from happening again. Transparency on every transaction. Accountability at ever step of the way. No golden parachutes. And tax the hell out of the bloody rich before taxing me!
Please write or call your Senators and Representative. I admit, I only contacted Sherrod Brown as it would be a wasted effort on Voinovich.

Thought for the day, via Digby: "I just have to add that when I heard Paulson say this bail out was actually going to make money for the government, I couldn't help but remember Paul Wolfowitz assuring us that the Iraq war would pay for itself."

Before buying into the buyout, be sure to read:

Historic Swindle by William Greider at The Nation

Greenwald at Salon.com

Radio Free Newport has a list of useful articles.

Psychobilly Democrat has a different kind of proposal.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Come Dancing -- a preview

Boy do I need a break from politics and the financial collapse of life as we know it. How about you? Here's a clip from Ray Davies' video blog about his new musical, Come Dancing, which is in previews now and press night fast approaching on Sept 24th. I have been studiously avoiding reading fan reviews and comments on the show in previews because I want to view it with uninfluenced eyes, and as Ray notes -- they are at the point of testing it out and changing and refining the production, so what is up now may not be what I'm seeing on October 18th.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Where's the Glass-Steagall Act when you need it?

I don't know about anybody else, but I am no economic expert. I am also very uneasy with both presidential contenders responses to the sudden collapse of Wall Street institutions. How did this happen and why does everybody seem so surprised about it? And how about my STRS Ohio retirement plan? Will there be anything there when I eventually retire?

I decided to ask someone who actually has studied economics and knows a heck of a lot about the subject. He has agreed to let me post his responses here. You might be surprised to read that Joe Biden, for example, is one of the culprits, along with Bill Clinton -- and a whole host of other folks to be sure.

Once we understand how the current financial crisis came to be, there are many more questions to ask, such as where are all the billions coming from that the government is promising to prop up the likes of Franny and Freddie and AIG? And do either Obama or McCain have any clear and detailed plans that might actually work?

Here are my questions with unedited responses from my friend ACB. (Be sure to follow the link to the Progressive Historians web site for everything you need to know about the Glass-Steagall Act.) Readers responses are more than welcome:

"What's your take on all the collapsing going on on Wall St? "

Two main things:
1/ Credit markets are hosed due to the violent collapse of the housing bubble. Housing bubble was caused by the completely-inevitable irresponsible lending which took place, and accelerated, ever since the Glass-Steagall Act was repealed in 1999. Short, informative article here:
Value of the Dollar is hosed due to rising cost of fossil fuels, caused by inevitable economic expansion of formerly dirt-poor third world nations. China is becoming the next Japan, India is becoming the next China, etc etc etc. U.S.Government response to this dynamic has been worse than useless.

"Who is to blame?"

Plenty of blame to go around. Bankers always respond to government policy incentives; these incentives are set in place by politicians; pol's incentives are set in place by voters; voters are morons.
1/ Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress worked together to destroy Glass-Steagall. The greedfest which followed was an inevitable matter of incentives being responded to. It's an echo of the S&L meltdown of the late 20th century, from which our elected officials of both big parties learned absolutely nothing.
2/ George Bush and a Democrat Congress worked together to mandate that all the gasoline available in America should be diluted with corn liquor. Consequently: a/ the gasoline is crappier and less efficient, b/ air pollution worsens AND energy costs rise, because of the extra step of industrial processing required to make that happen, and c/ one quarter of last year's corn crop, and one third of this year's corn crop, are consumed to replaced One Percent of the gasoline supply, d/ leading directly to food becoming much more expensive, both in the USA where we can kind of afford it, and across the entire rest of the world where they can not afford it at all.

" Will my pension be there in 15 years? Etc..."

It's a crapshoot.
1/ Credit markets will be tinkered with by high-powered government doofuses in ways that defy prediction, completely. Left alone, they could conceivably self-repair over maybe 3 to 5 years; but they will not be left alone. That's not election-outcome-dependent.
2/ Currency values will self-repair, but it will take too long and cost too much. Partly that's election-outcome-dependent:
2a/ Cost of energy will positively worsen under an Obama/Pelosi no-nukes, no-drilling regime.
2b/ Cost of energy will still worsen, much less drastically, under a McCain/Pelosi regime.
2c/ Cost of energy might level out under a McCain/(generic republican) regime. Two hundred winged monkeys might fly out of my ass and hand everybody in Ohio a winning lottery ticket, in an equally-likely outcome.

Is your pension hosed? Yes, probably so. Mine too.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Post Hurricane Blues

Ohio got hit by Hurricane Ike and I missed it mostly. I heard the wind kick up on Sunday, so I went outside and put the clothesline poles away and picked up the chrysanthemum plant I've been meaning to plant. It had blown off the outdoor table under the pine tree in back. Then I went back inside and dozed through it all, drugged out on cold medicine. What a fun weekend.

Monday's radio alarm told me that we weren't having school in Akron. And more -- there were over 60 thousand people who lost their power in the area. Many schools were closed, along with power lines down and lots of tree damage.

Tucked in between Summit Lake and the cliffs of Kenmore to the west, my little old house suffered no damage and we lost no power. So I spent the free day working on my thesis -- it's almost done, I'm deep into the last chapter, having finally figured out how to end the damn thing! Oh how happy I'll be once it is done and over with, and I can turn my writing time into more blogging about how to make Akron a greener and more theatrical place to live!

Meanwhile, folks in Ike's trail find themselves in dire circumstances and even more dire need. Time to pony up and send some money to the Red Cross. Click here and send something, small or large, as your finances allow.

Monday, September 15, 2008

McCain's Sleaziest Hits

Here's a handy video summation of McCain's greatest lies. Obtained via The Brain Police and created by Robert Greenwald of Brave New Films:

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Palin and Clinton on SNL

For anyone who missed it and because it was so good:

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Akron Greenprint rollout delayed

I know I said I didn't have time to post, but -- at the E4S meeting in Akron tonight I learned some news that may interest my Akron readers. The schedule for tonight's event had been announced at the last meeting in August as including a preview of Akron's new Greenprint. That didn't happen. Evidently the process is taking much longer than anticipated. I had a chance to talk to some folks who are involved in the Greenprint, one of which works for a company that assists businesses, non-profits and now entire cities in assessing their green needs and helping to format a template for sustainability that will continue on no matter who is in political control at the time.

I was told that Cleveland's ongoing sustainability project began without any attention to the underlying system. Instead, the demand was for visible results from the get-go. One guy was hired to begin the project and was told that he would get funding if he could show bottom line efficiencies. There have been some dramatic results up by the mouth of the Cuyahoga, and evidently Akron's Greenprint folks are quite envious. However, the consultant I talked to felt it was better to put the underlying structure in place first. She said the Cleveland project is now faced with having to go back and do just that before they can continue to move forward.

E4S is all about networking. There is a "network weaver" who gives out conversation starting questions and gets people talking to each other around the room. I have had the opportunity to talk to very interesting and intelligent people. Tonight I met a local landscape designer from a firm that can help you conserve water through landscaping choices. I also met an architect who said he has worked on some of the Akron Public Schools new community learning centers. He says that the new schools yet to be built are going to feature more green elements. What fantastic news!

The Ohio new schools project began back in the era of Taft and his cronies, and nothing about green and sustainable building practices were included in the first rounds of urban school designs. Strickland has ushered in an era of progressive thinking about the buildings we work and live in. The Ohio Schools Facilities Commission has adopted the LEED for Schools Green Building Rating System. And just in the nick of time. As fuel costs go up, school districts investing in green energy systems will be ahead of the game. Green building practices in the urban setting will have a huge effect on student health and learning.

For more on the how and why of building green schools, go here.

It all makes me very glad that the building I teach in is on the list for the very final round of building and renovation. Maybe my dream of teaching in a school with a green roof with solar panels and geothermal wells under the parking lots is not so out there after all.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Just say no to political junk food

I have to set aside commenting on the ever fascinating theatre of politics for a while, as real life theatre responsibilities will be consuming all my time and attention for the next week or so. I'm not sure it is healthy to partake of a 24/7 non-stop diet of political junk food. It appears that the spinners of talking points and the pushers of partisan image over substance have succeeded in bringing the presidential race to yet another back and forth battle. I'm thinking it might be best to just ignore it all until the debates begin.

Who am I kidding? I'll be reading the blogs and the various news reports, but I am shutting down the cable news for awhile. I need to listen to some music and get some work done. Here's a little ditty by Green Day, going out to anybody considering voting for the McSame/Pale Person ticket:

Friday, September 05, 2008

Friday Night Grrrl Power

After too many days of political speechifying, I'm ready for something completely different. How about you? Check out Emma Peel and the Kinks:

Thursday, September 04, 2008

As the chihuahua snaps

Sarah Palin came across as a mean little yapper in her speech last night. The mainstream media is laying it on thick, as if they were watching that speech in an alternative universe. Somewhere in a Bizarro World, meanness and mendacity are the benchmarks for getting good grades on your persuasive speech.

I watched Great American Dog last night rather than the Republican Convention. So maybe that is why I'm seeing dogs when I should see an Alaskan feminine-ist. I will say that Palin looked well-trained for last night's sporting event. It was immediately apparent that she can read a teleprompter and is adept at interpreting a speech written two weeks before she was selected. However, she's been hidden away for some secret extra training today. McCain wants to make sure she can heel, sit and draw Democratic blood at least three times per paragraph.

I'm getting my convention "news" from The Daily Show. John Stewart is doing a brilliant job of wrapping up each day's screeching points. Lots of great laughs, especially Samantha Bee trying to get Republicans to say the word "choice" in reference to the "private decision" made by young Bristol to keep her baby.

I looked for snarling chihuahua clips on YouTube, but every single one involved a male pet owner provoking the little dogs to snap. Not the kind of image I care to promote here, so I'll leave you with much happier, down to earth must-be Democratic dog footage:

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Republican National Convention or Project Runway?

Sam Harris nailed it. McCain's selection of Sarah Palin has turned this political season into a reality show in which an average person finds herself nominated for understudy to the greatest position of power in this country. Harris looks at Social Security's actuarial tables for mortality and sees that there is a greater than 10% chance Palin would succeed McCain in his first term, and a 27% chance in his second.

This woman is no "average" mainstream candidate no matter what the frantic spin-meisters try to say on camera. Apparently off camera, they can be heard saying other things. So the drama builds to some kind of climactic speech opportunity later this evening -- after Project Runway we hope.

I'm thinking I'd much rather watch people sketch, shop for fabric, pin and sew than watch the GOP pretend to be breaking glass ceilings with their VP pick. Or do they really believe that putting a creationist, secessionist, book-banning, far right fundamentalist who would force all women to become prisoner's of unwanted or dangerous pregnancies up for VP is a brilliant move on the part of John McCain? I wonder how many of the delegates are actually thinking, d'oh -- should've voted for Romney?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Just say no to the Republican convention

...and to Tom Brokaw as well. I jut got home from work, turned on MSNBC only to find Tom chatting away with Rahm Emanuel and then Joe Lieberman -- live from the GOP convention. Ten minutes was ten too many. I switched off the TV and it is staying off for the duration of the Republican gathering. Yesterday, I switched off after two minutes of Cindy and Laura introducing each other as Mrs Bush and Mrs McCain. I'll leave them to their 1950s stylin' while I continue to eke out a living here in the 21st century.

I figure if anybody says anything of importance, I can see it on YouTube or read Digby. Otherwise, my time is best spent on other more important things. I watched the Democratic convention all last week with great interest. They have a political party platform that I can support. The Repubs, however, continue to be anti-women, anti-gay, anti environment, anti-intellectual, and anti-science. I'm sure there are more anti's to be listed, I just don't feel like giving them any more of my time tonight.

May their ratings sink along with their candidates. Join me in turning off their convention. Instead -- celebrate this! Barack has reached the magic number of 50% in the Gallup polls over the three day weekend.

No more about kid gloves, please!

If I hear one more pundit say that Joe Biden must handle Sarah Palin with kid gloves in the VP debate, I think I'll scream and organize a bra-burning. How far haven't we come as women that we must be protected in debates against opponents who are cautioned not to "talk down" to us because we are women?

I ask you, would anybody say that to an opponent debating Hillary Clinton? No of course not, because we know that Hillary can handle anything, which is why many of us voted for her. A debate is a debate and treating the other differently because of gender is absurd here in the 21st century.

Palin has a lot to answer for from the press and from the opposition. Although McCain didn't vet her, everybody and her brother are digging up the stories about the real Sarah. Have you heard the one about a speech she gave at her church this past June? Via the wonderful folks at HuffPo:

Speaking before the Pentecostal church, Palin painted the current war in Iraq as a messianic affair in which the United States could act out the will of the Lord.

"Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right. Also, for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending [U.S. soldiers] out on a task that is from God," she exhorted the congregants. "That's what we have to make sure that we're praying for, that there is a plan and that that plan is God's plan."

She also has a pastor problem. Ed Kalnins senior pastor of the Wasilla Assembly of God church preaches that those who voted against Bush will end up in H E double hockey sticks, that we are in the end times and that Jesus is calling for us to die. In his own words:

"What you see in a terrorist -- that's called the invisible enemy. There has always been an invisible enemy. What you see in Iraq, basically, is a manifestation of what's going on in this unseen world called the spirit world. ... We need to think like Jesus thinks. We are in a time and a season of war, and we need to think like that. We need to develop that instinct. We need to develop as believers the instinct that we are at war, and that war is contending for your faith. ... Jesus called us to die. You're worried about getting hurt? He's called us to die."

The bets are on -- how long before Ms Palin decides to respectfully decline the nomination because her family or Alaska or the new oil pipeline needs her more?

Monday, September 01, 2008

Hurricane Relief

I think it is entirely appropriate that the Republicans have scaled back their convention and are focusing on raising money for Hurricane Gustav relief. After all, the Republicans are the ones with all that extra money to donate and then write off on their taxes. And the Republicans are also the ones who don't like "government" to take care of the citizens in need. So let them foot the bill for Gustav -- after they've taken care of everybody still living in Katrina trailers.

It is very obvious that the Gulf coast has a long way to go before it is able to survive the increasing hurricane activity that comes with climate change. With rising sea levels on the horizon and decreasing wetlands lost to out of control human commerce and development, our government lucked out today. The hurricane's path and velocity were not of a level to breach the levees and for that we give a nod to luck and to some repairs made by the Army Corps of Engineers who say they will be finished with all the levee repairs by 2011. According to this August 23, 2008 AP report, the levee repairs and reconstruction post-Katrina have been fraught with all kinds of problems:

In a yearlong review of levee work here, The Associated Press has tracked a pattern of public misperception, political jockeying and legal fighting, along with economic and engineering miscalculations since Katrina, that threaten to make New Orleans the scene of another devastating flood.

They dodged it this time -- but in the long term, a lot more thought, environmental engineering, and money need to go into solving the problems of living on the Gulf Coast. Somehow I doubt the Republicans will give enough to make a difference. You can help out via Barack Obama's web site -- just click here.