Thursday, January 28, 2010

State of the Union

The airwaves and coaxial wires were over flowing with politics last night, President Obama spoke, Democrats clapped and Republicans sent wax statues of the Senators from the Grand Old Party that lived up to the party's colorful nickname.

The President talked in a candid and, at times, confrontational manner to the law makers chastising them for the grid lock that results when you have the constant threat of a filibuster and a highly polarized Congress. He said that the American people expect then to get things done, to make things better.

But we all know that the American people don't expect that at all, mainly because we have watched the what comes out of Washingon,  Wars, the creation of new government departments to do what we already had 2 or 3 others to do, and the recent declaration from the Supreme Court that even though some Humans  may not deserve right all corporations do.

If was also clear that the Republicans refuse to respect Obama because they believe that he shouldn't be in the White House, Bush was equally diss'ed by the Democrats and realizing that we aren't dealing with clear headed geniuses one can see how tit for tat makes perfect sense. We all know that there is no more important American value than getting even, and both sides spend all the their spare time outside of getting themselves reelected seeking revenge for perceived slights.

The arrogance and power drunk folks that spend our money while failing to improve our lives may be a serious flaw in this whole Democracy thing, Canada has the same problem. One of their law makers suggested that they all go home except for the party leader since their is no interparty dissent allowed under the Delay modeled mob model which basically puts a hit on any law maker who thinks for themselves. If the easy going Canadians can't make it work maybe it isn't going to make it here either.

So it turns out the State of Union is sad, and this sad state is the result of everyone being so mad, whipped into constant hysteria of the most mundane of issues and getting only glossing opinions in serious matters. Even our triumphs are dissected into the binary state that all political positions must assume until they too become nothing more than a campaign tactic to get another desiccated geezer through another session so that it's owners interests can be served.

Media Companies have segmented their viewers and their information into neat buckets and spill over is minimal. So nothing is debated and everything is reinforced until it seems that there is only one way it can be, this is a propagandist technique that is used in politics and religion with great effectiveness, the inclusion and exclusion achieved by this method is very high. Add the Purity Tests for Republican Candidates and you can be sure that you will get candidates as interchangeable as beers in a six pack, but not nearly as much fun nor as interesting.

It creates unquestioning agreement, which as Scott Atran points out in his book, "In God's We Trust"is an essential element for religious belief. I witnessed a powerful example of this belief in Haiti where people praised an all powerful God for saving them without questioning why they were chosen for such suffering the first place. There is a power and a strength to this kind of faith and I have great respect for people that truly believe and live their lives with total faith.

That makes the Politicians and tacticians who manipulated citizens with these tactics, preying on the very thing that they claim to respect as they reap millions in perks and glory, staying in DC for years on end become the dried up husks we saw sitting the hallowed halls of goofiness as one after the other of these fiends take our money and our souls while being driven around town like kings instead of the jesters they have become.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

It still isn't fair and they still don't care

This is the data that

Unemployment Rate: 10%
Number of Metropolitan Areas where unemployment is higher than a year ago: 372
Number of Metropolitan Areas tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics: 372
Total consumer bankruptcy filings through November 2009: 1,300,000
Total consumer bankruptcy filings in 2009: 1,095,344
Homes currently in foreclosure: more than 1,000,000
Home Home Equity Loans and lines of credit extended through third quarter, 2009: $40 billion
Home Home Equity Loans and lines of credit extended in 2006: $430 billion
Profits earned by Wall Street firms collectively through third quarter 2009: $49.7 billion
Amount lost by Wall Street firms collectively in 2008: $42.6 billion
Total corporate profits, third quarter 2009: $132.4 billion
Financial services profits, third quarter 2009: $82.8 billion
Goldman Sachs earnings, 2008: $2.8 billion
Goldman Sachs taxes paid, 2008: $14 million
Wall Street Bonuses 2009(1): $149 billion
Wall Street Bonuses 2008: $140 billion
Total Lobbying spending 2009: $3.33 billion*
Lobbying spending by finance industry to influence regulatory reform: more than $300 million
Finance industry lobbyists per member of Congress: 5
Federal government share of GDP 2009: 26%
Federal government share of GDP 2000: 18.4%
Size of Federal Reserve balance sheet: $2.2 trillion

*Expected. The record, set in 2008, was $3.30 billion.

1) Six largest banks: Citigroup (C), Bank of America (BAC), JPMorgan (JPM), Goldman Sachs (GS), Wells Fargo (WFC), Morgan Stanley (MS).

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

On Mondays the Crick Ran Sudsy

On Monday the Cricks along West Run Road ran sudsy from the wash water that overwhelmed the drainage system in the pubic housing plan better known as the projects, or “The Proj” among the school aged.

Having heard my Mother singing,

“This is the way we wash our clothes, Wash our clothes, So early Monday morning”

As long as I could remember it was no surprise that we saw this on a Monday as we walked along the crick that traced a winding road that loosely traced a border from the south end of the borough to the north. There was something to be said for the fact that the smell was better than normal, the detergents, bleaches and softeners melding together with the normal fecal smell of the water. You had to be young and male in 60's to understand the need to find nooks and crannies to grow up in, to experience the unsupervised joy of childhood doing dangerous and foolish things.

I wasn't surprised to learn that these routines were ancient and were even part of the time management efforts dating back to the 1840’s, when books were written on how to manage the household like the factories that were springing up everywhere.

By 1866, each day was programmed across America according to books like Jennie June’s American Cookery which stated that wash should be done Monday, Ironing Tuesday, everything “set to rights” on Wednesday, “extra work” saved for Thursday, sweeping and dusting on Friday, baking on Saturday and church on Sunday.

But this was summer time for us, one day was the same as the last, at 12 they seemed to stretch on forever like the cars of coal and coke that went by on the railroads tracks that ran along the rivers, the same rivers that were the ultimate destination for the suds, some flowing and others clinging to rocks and logs like a soft coating that had an iridescence that was beautiful among the old tires, cement chunks with their antenna of twisted rebar streaking it with copper rivulets.

The first time you took the bait and stepped onto the rocks that resembled pillows, thinking your feet would sink into the foam like a finger into whipped cream, your illusion of softness was shattered. The soap film made the rock surface slippery as ice, the sharp facets at their various angles would shed your feet before you could think a thought, shooting them at high speeds in different directions that made it impossible to stop the hard fall into the putrid stream.

As bad as the physical pain could be the real suffering had just started, as the jeers and calls of Jag Off and Dick Wads were liberally applied to your discomfort, often before you had even emerged from the crick. Once you were standing, you were assessed for the level of wetness and how many gross things attached themselves to places you couldn’t see and were reluctant to touch with bare hands.

At this point the main factor that determined your fate was the number of kids in the party, if it was just you and your main group of 3 or 4 actual sympathy was possible among some mild digs. If you were in a group of 8-12 you would be in for more brutal treatment and if you were low on the hierarchy to begin with it could be a long day leading to a fight you would lose but had to fight to save what precious little dignity you had left.

If you were in a crowd of 13 or more you risked being bullied relentlessly by someone impressing someone else, or shunned by the larger group completely, in the worse case be driven off by threats or rocks. Sometimes a person with some standing in the group will peel off and without offering too much help check to see if you are OK, but your best bet is to take off and head home for some sympathy.

It is amazing how true to form that group size/behavior ratio was though out my life in school, work and life in general, and as my peers became less ethnically homogeneous the differences between groups of different cultures were harder to predict and for some of us impossible to adapt ourselves to regardless of our efforts.

Mom would be washing, it being Monday, and therefore making something for dinner that was easy to prepare, after running up and down to the basement all day getting off the sore feet was the priority. That meant that between trips of unloading from the washer to dryer, or cloths line if the weather was nice enough and the mills were blowing the other direction.

If the winds were coming at you the clothes would be dirtier than when Mom started, and she would be in a really bad mood if the winds shifted and she didn’t notice until the damage was done. Once Dad filled the backyard with an above ground pool in 1970 the outside cloths line became a thing of the past, except for a small line on the back porch or in the basement.

By then the ringer washer was long gone and dryers were common even in working class homes like ours in 1970, that made for a lot less to do on Mondays. Some of the hours were still filled by watching the dramas originally created for radio to sell detergents to housewives known as Soap Operas, these oft redundant and sometimes rules defying shows with plotlines that focused on plotlines that included some of the worst mankind has to offer moved easily to TV, expanding from the original 15 minutes to full one hour shows in some cases.

By 1970 the summer days chasing rats and birds, smoking cigarettes and some of the first tastes of alcohol were just memories, first replaced by corners and then by cars and eventually by apartment occupied by as many people as could found to pay.

Vivid memories still pop out with the slightest smell of methane, kids crawling in pipes under the roads where grownups were busy at the things that we are busy at now, a subterranean world that was stepping through the looking glass for city kids.
Whenever passing over a culvert that cuts under a road the knowledge that a set of memories and life lessons may be going on 15 feet below my car tires.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Banking and the Value Myth

I am old enough to remember the 70's well, I was a young man, the 70's were my first adult decade. The US was an unsure nation, chastised by the second war in 30 years that it didn't really WIN, but rather settled with compromises in Korea and were thrown out of Vietnam.

The pain showed in all aspects of society, our cars were losing share to Japan, the last country we beat in a war was now taking to our workers in Detroit and winning hands down. If you want to know how bad it got look at the way we dressed, fashion trends set by disco and flash back inspired designs from England, a country that has slid far and fast into the abyss of irrelevance and was taking it's revenge through fashion statements that screamed loser.

Then along came Reagan and his new history of America, instead of being a group of people that worked together, like socialist's or some other newly perverted life form, he explained that America was built by individuals who got what they wanted by taking from the weak and poor.

After successfully vilifying black people, poor mothers, hispanics and anyone that wasn't White and wearing a Blue suit with a red tie, he was elected on a platform of no taxes and bringing the stretch black limos back to DC. (Carter's car was a humble Chevy Impala. He was called the master communicator but he he was really a master story teller, and the idea of the oppressed white man was his favorite story, along with the types of folks that listen to Rush Limbaugh.

His most lasting effort was deregulating the banks, letting them change from being a service to businesses and commerce to BEING business and commerce, at least the only part that made any money.

This move to deregulate banks and insurance companies was the equivalent of dropping a bomb in the inner cities. Industries exploded, lives were lost along with jobs and we entered a 30 year period were wages dropped, mansions were built at a rate only exceeded by the 1920's and he raised taxes while building the recovery on the back of the tax funded military efforts building planes and ships to fight non existent enemies in his already failing mind.

So what to do, make baks accountable and transparent, eliminate off shore tax breaks and add import tariffs to countries that shelter tax cheats. Get the Government working again on energy instead of weapons, on education instead of tax breaks for second homes.

Most of all remember that we are part of a global family, humans every where deserve food, shelter and dignity and nothing is more important than making the world kinder and safer for all. Hard to write a country song about perhaps, but there are some rappers that can tell the story in simpler terms that might get the point across like CSN&Y did with their song Ohio that opened eyes through the ears of millions of Americans.

Monday, October 12, 2009

What's so funny about peace, love and understanding?

The guys in Oslo continued their excellent critic of the US, specifically after it's use of the bully pulpit in recent years with their awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize.

The right wing wailed and gnashed their teeth, but that wasn't anything new, what was new was the way that the world is seeing us, that hope thing that the economy dashed over here is alive and well in many parts of the world where things are much worse than here even after our melt down.

The moment that Obama expanded the dialog to include the US and Russian atomic stock piles I was ready to give the Peace Prize, add his efforts to bring a more even handed approach to the Middle East and their problems and easing the tensions in Eastern Europe and it is no brainer.

I wish that there were more jobs for people that want to work, and it would be great if the banking industry wasn't controlled by organized crime and the congress wasn't owned by corporations. But they are and have been for some time so the President will have to get to them when he is done taking out the trash left behind by the crazy party left behind where we sent banks money because they weren't good at their business and bailed out jet riding auto CEO's but not auto workers.

Although I appreciated the many good things that Bush II did in Africa, his mistakes in Iraq and in the US and general lack of understanding have created a huge set of problems in finance, justice and stop progress in key areas of global co-operation.

It is true that September 11th created am emotional crisis across the country but after a few good statements and heading to Afghanistan he lost his way and went to Iraq, good for the Iraqi's who made millions from our efforts, not a good sue of our tax money and he never did get Osama.

Barack Obama is a smart and decent man that is going to leave a mark on the country also, but instead of the red blue brand that we were left with from Bush it will hopefully be a peace sign like the ones that I wore in the 60's to protest deaths everywhere.

I am looking for Peace, Love and Understanding

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

We have the Birthers, the Tee Baggers and now the Suiciders

After watching a listening to the debates and town hall coverage it is clear that the conservative and liberal divide have common interest for a very interesting reason.

No matter if you listen to Rush or John the odds are that you are fat, eat a poor diet and don't exercise enough. If you are very determined to increase the cost to the minority of us that don't smoke, have BMI's under 25, exercise daily and order meals when we eat out that can be carried to the table by one person.

The link above shows how easy and cheap having better health can be, but for over 60% of Americans they want to know who is going to pay for their indulgences, and they don't want it to be themselves.

Elementary education should include trips to hospitals where kids can see fat people who ate so much they lost their feet, or smokers with a tube in their throat because they had the all American right to smoke.

We have all seen the TV stories where they show fat people in malls, airports, really almost anywhere except a gym or a juice bar. These people are stealing our money so they can live a life of excess and foolish habits.

They should be shown and asked on TV, how did you get this way, didn't you think about the problems and the cost to your children. In fact their should be a law that removes kids from fat parents as the problems from childhood obesity is going to cost society and us thin folks much more than the crack "epidemic" and drugs ever did.

Fat camps might be a start, at the individual expense of course. A six month crash course in one of CCI prisons might turn some people around, if not we always have the 3 strike rule in place. If you are caught over the BMI of 25 three times you get a life sentence.

There is some hyperbole here, make no mistake, but the facts are clear. Once again the loudest complainers are the biggest (pun intended ) abusers.

Monday, April 13, 2009

How we went from “Run, Greenspan, Run” to “Financial System Redux”

The financial downturn has been around so long now that we have to squint to remember the good times, fast rising technology company stock begat skyrocketing home prices which begat the worst economic downturn since the great depression.

The common thread throughout these bubbles was the growth of the financial segment of the US economy, it went from a rather stogy business in the 50’s and 60’s to an industry that produced people as famous and much richer than Hollywood by the 90’s.

Somewhere along the line white shoe banks started wearing Nike’s, deciding that they could rob Peter and avoid Paul, going into darker and darker alleys to hang with unsavory characters engaged in unseemly behaviors until the day came when they became the punk. Just like the toady in the old gangster movies they are alternately smarmy and condescending in the best of situations, and winey cowards when things get tough.

Just as the toady squeals like a pig at the first sign of paying for their deeds, these guys are trying to either grab the money and run or turn on their co-conspirators to lessen their own penalties. This is where the everyman for him self-credo of the Ayn Rand crowd gets to be a problem, while there may be honor among thieves, bankers have no similar code of ethics.

The savior has his hands full, and a staff that has its hand stuck in the financial mess like monkeys in a clay jar, unable to unclench the fist of complicity. The answer they have arrived at looks a lot like the question, and the tax payers are being asked to believe that our only hope is in the hands of Wall Street and Large Banks, teeing up the makers of this mess for a huge windfall while not risking enough to make a difference whatever happens.

We need to make a big change in the way the financial system works and the counterintuitive shift towards smaller banks with more to lose if things go wrong. The fact is that while the sporting world may benefit from the Major League Super Star driven business model banking has gone from a useful tool of commerce to a destructive force that has set unachievable expectations while rigging the pay system to reward them for the most banal of accomplishments.

We need a banking system that succeeds when the communities that it serves thrive, it is a critical element of the risk chain that allows economies to adapt and grow, making sure that the system is provided with relevant and timely feedback. When national and international banks took over the local banks a critical bit of information was removed from the local businesses, there was no way of understanding how many loans were failing until it was too late to spare the pain of a major downturn, and the bankers in turn are busy shoveling the pain out the door while handing out bonuses with tax payers money, they still believe they matter.
It is time to show the big dogs the door, letting them sink into extinction like the other failed species that have developed from a mutation into a moment of existence that was doomed as soon as the first $1 million birthday party was given with the plundered booty from our pension plans and 401K’s. The next conversation that I have with a banker is going to start with, “howdy neighbor”, and knowing that he will be boating on our local rivers instead of taking his helicopter to his place in the Hamptons will be a delightful feeling.