Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Great Description!

In the course of an interesting piece about the bailout, Trapper John at the Daily Kos makes the following observation: "GOP House caucus consists primarily of shit-flinging howler monkeys."

That seems pretty accurate to me . . . and amusing.

Bailout Alternatives

Let me be crystal clear. My objections to the Bush-Paulson bailout package definitely do not track with the reasons offered by the conservative House Republicans. I have nothing in common with those people other than this: we agree that the current administration bailout plan is wrong. That's where the similarity ends. The conservative ideologues who voted down the plan yesterday did it because it offends their principles. They still cling to the nonsense of unfettered free market and minuscule government foisted upon us by Reagan. These people want no government, basically, and certainly no government intervention into the affairs of business. Needless to tell you, I am precisely the opposite.

As I've said over the past week or so, I cannot stomach this plan not because government intervenes, but because it intervenes by rewarding the financial industry for recklessness and greed. As Congressman Dennis Kucinich points out the premise of the proposed bailout is ridiculous. Borrow--BORROW--$700 billion and use it to buy unadulterated dung, the toxic waste investments on the balance sheets of the biggest companies on Wall Street. And, secondly, because no serious consideration has been given to any other proposal other than Bush's. The Bush plan is the only plan.

Well it isn't. Here is a list of alternative plans. I'm not aware that the party leaders (and certainly not the Administration) have given any thought to these at all:

1. Bill King Plan
2. Republican Study Committe plan
3. House Republicans' proposal
4. James K. Galbaith plan
5. Senator Bernie Sanders' plan
6. John Paulson plan
7. Lucian B. Bebchuck plan
8. Noriel Rubini's plan
9. "Swedish model"
10. Ten alternatives listed on RGE Monitor (some duplicates)

My point is not that any one of these plans is the solution. (I think #5 is the best one.) Indeed, there are serious flaws in several of them. The point is a host of alternatives that do not involve sticking the taxpayers with Wall Street's garbage have been proposed to solve this crisis. To pass the Bush administration's kiss-the-ass-of-Wall-Street bailout because he and Paulson have put a cocked gun to the Congress's head is the height of folly. The absurdity of rushing into a new $700 billion debt without due and studious consideration needs no further discussion.

Bye the bye, the stock market is up 260 points as I write this.

Pre-Apocalypse, One Supposes

I guess that's exactly what we're in. Chicken Little, the sky is falling down! The House has defeated the Bush bailout bill, with 133 Republicans and 95 Democrats voting "nay." That's about 2/3 of the Republicans, 1/3 of the Dems. The market went down 777 points yesterday, the biggest drop in its history, and we have a lot of hand wringing and finger pointing going on. I understand the vile little fraud in the White House is going on TV again early tomorrow to tell us that the sky is falling, and that to save ourselves we have to embrace his plan to get us out of it.

Commentary has been tart from the right. David Brooks says the people voting against the bill are nihilists, and if there's deep recession coming, it's their fault. This is a bit premature, isn't it? Is anybody certain that if the bill is passed we won't have a deep recession anyway? Of course not, but now there's a ready-made scapegoat out there: all those nihilists.

The pressure to pass this legislation is cranking up fiercely. I was watching Anderson Cooper on CNN tonight, and it was nothing but a steady stream of how irresponsible and stupid the Congress was, how everybody in the country is going to be mauled by the lack of credit, and--my favorite--how the American people just don't understand the legislation. And that, brothers and sisters, is why they are telling their representatives and senators hell, no, don't you vote for this POS. We're all a bunch of dodo birds out here. If we really want wisdom and understanding, we should be listening to these frigging fonts of intelligence in the media. Pu-leez!

Well, smoke this, CNN--the people understand enough about this bill to know that they and their kids are the ones getting the shaft, while the evildoers don't even get punished. What they get is hundreds of billions in free taxpayer money. There are other reasons to oppose this bill, and I've talked about them here and here. The very best presentation of why the Bush bailout sucks is Glen Greenwald's. It should be required reading for everybody in Congress.

As I've also said, now is the time for the Democrats to grow a pair of gonads. Look, if Bush and his people want this so bad, the Democrats should make them pay for it: with all of the provisions that should be there like help for the people with mortgages and much tighter safeguards for taxpayer money. Paul Krugman talked about these progressive provisions on Keith Olbermann tonight. And the editorial in the NY Times today also mentioned such provisions and noted that "Over all, lawmakers have given too little consideration, in public at least, to alternatives to the Treasury’s plan to buy up the bad assets from various financial firms." Just so. Why is this Bush plan the only plan?

If Bush and his people balk about these changes, well, tough, they don't get their bill. It's a lousy bill. It was a really lousy bill as originally proposed, and the trimming around the edges that was supposed to improve it didn't do a hell of lot of that.

I do not buy that the world is coming to end because the Congress will not pass a piece of rancid legislation that the overwhelming majority of the American people oppose. This is, as far as I know, still a democracy of sorts.

Monday, September 29, 2008

No Way, No How

Here is the text of the letter I sent to my congressman and senators just a few minutes ago:



I was also going to send them the text of this article which lays out five good reasons that the Wall Street bailout bill cooked up by our so-called political leaders should be spurned, but I figure some other enterprising Oklahoman will do that. Surely these guys are not ignorant of all the many cogent arguments against this horrible piece of legislation. Elsewhere on the web you can find "10 Reasons to Oppose the Bailout" as well as a host of other sites raising a scream of opposition. Here's another.

The numbers we're talking about here are just staggering. The blockbuster bailout is just one of the line items we taxpayers are ponying up for. Don't forget about the billions of dollars for Fannie and Freddie and AIG--and there are billions and billions beyond that that we're already committed to. If the bailout adds $700 billion more, the government will be into us for almost $2 trillion.

You have to wonder how these people, and I'm talking especially about Democrats from Obama to Schumer to Pelosi, how these people can fall in line with anything coming out of the Bush White House. Here is a guy who is beneath contempt at this point. How can he possibly influence anybody? But no, here are the progressives lining up to endorse this giveaway to the greedy. It's mind-boggling.

Wanna let these toadies know how you feel? You can sign a petition against this bailout here.

I can't help but hear the old R.E.M. refrain: "It's the end of the world as we know it." But I don't feel fine.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Unfortunately . . .

. . . it's really difficult to tell the difference between this hilarious spoof on the Alaskan Bimbo who in your nightmares could become president and the real Alaskan bimbo. Do we need any further evidence that this country is in serious trouble?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Divine Spark Visible

If there's anything to soothe the savage breast and give pause before wholesale damnation of the entire human species, it's the fact that the tribe has produced the likes of Giotto, Beethoven, Wordsworth, Dickinson, Mozart, Van Gogh, and thousands of others. Artists. People who remind us of the divine spark that's lies at the heart of our true nature. Because there's a Beethoven or a Van Gogh is reason enough for me to believe there's more to us than a felicitous combination of chromosomes.

With that in mind, I've installed a reminder of this here on the blog. Right to the left, every time you click onto "What Powderfinger Said," you'll find a magnificent art masterpiece. Click on it for a full and larger rendition. The art work hooks up to the Allpaintings web site, where, if you want you can lose yourself for days in the wondrous world of art. There are over 32,000 images here, and more all the time. The way I figure it, we'll cycle through 32,000 images at one per day in a little over 87 and a half years. I'll be 152 years old at that point, and if I'm still blogging, my guess is there will be at least another 32,000 images that will have been added to the queue by then. We ain't gonna run out of beautiful art any time soon. And this is a good thing considering all the other awful stuff that's happening.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Now Wait Just a Frigging Minute!

It's early, early morning on Friday, and I'm reading the tea leaves about this proposed "solution" to the financial crisis that dominated the news on Thursday and sent the market up almost 200 points. I take some hope from a post in Daily Kos that says the evening negotiations on this thing have broken down. Good. According to this writeup, the House Republicans are the stumbling block. Know what? I don't care who's responsible for running this so-called "plan" into the ditch. Just so long it gets torpedoed in some way.

As far as can be measured, the American people are decidedly against the deal congressional leaders and the administration embraced yesterday. I don't often laud the collective wisdom of the American people--hardly ever--but in this case God or some equally beneficent force has endowed them with the wisdom to say hell, no! to this swindle being foisted upon them.

How can it be that all those worthies in Congress have essentially gotten on the same bus with Bush on this thing? Make no mistake: the essential element of this plan is the free pass (free billions) that Wall Street gets in this "solution." This is what Bush wants, and this is what Bush says must be passed right now. Now, what's wrong with this picture?

For anybody out there who may be half or fully brain dead, let me spell this out. This bailout plan sucks for the following reasons:

1. It's the Bush administration's solution and therefore suspect by definition. We're being asked to trust George W. Bush and his servants. Who in their right mind would even consider doing such a thing at this juncture?
2. It rewards the malefactors of great wealth on Wall St. and puts all the pain on the taxpayers when it should be just the opposite.
3. It's being jammed down our throats, as in, do it now or the sky will fall on us. Remember the same urgency with the Iraq war? Look where that got us.
4. It's being jammed down our throats 40 days before a presidential election. No matter who's elected, he's going to have to live with a fait accompli that from all indications the American people hate. Why aren't both candidates raising hell about this?
5. It has not had nearly enough debate. Alternatives to this so-called solution have not been given even a cursory hearing. Where's the debate? Are these clowns in Congress serious? Lay a $700 billion burden on generations of Americans after only a few days consideration?
6. There's been no public input to this process. Nobody's shouting at the top of their lungs: "Hey, time out! Let's think about this." Hell, there ought to be a stream of experts trooping up to Washington and testifying about alternatives to this for several weeks at least.

I don't care who stops this madness: Republicans, Democrats, or Visigoth hordes, and I don't care where they come from: the House, Senate, or woodwork. I just want it stopped cold till we've taken the time to air this whole thing out. We're talking about over a trillion dollars here!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Fear Button Time Again

Are we all supposed to breathe a sigh relief on the news that Bush and leading lawmakers, including the presidential candidates, have agreed on principles to form the basis of a bailout bill for Wall Street? (There are some early details here.) Well, I'm not. I'm not relieved. For two reasons. First, because I'm still adamantly opposed to any bill that gives our money, even one dollar of it, to the Wall Street fat cats to get their sorry asses out of the mess they've brought on themselves. I don't care how many conditions are added to the giveaway. There are several other rescue plans being proposed by some very smart people that don't involve putting taxpayers in hock for this. Here's just one of them.

And second, and an even better reason, nobody is certain whether this monstrously expensive plan being endorsed will even work. Did you get that? There are no guarantees here other than the one that guarantees financial safety to the Lords of the Universe on Wall Street, and the guarantee that my great-grandchildren are going still be paying off this debt. That is, if this country manages to survive that long.

What's happened here is that the vile little pretender in the White House has once again succeeded in pushing the country's fear button and getting it to convulse.

Apparently, millions upon millions of Americans agree with me. (I won't take the time now to marvel about the sheer wonder of that.) Everybody's furious. Strangely enough, I find myself in almost total agreement with Senator Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican:

"There's no question we've got a big mess here. But I'll tell you the one sure thing is this mess was caused by the government. They broke it. I don't trust them to fix it at this point," he tells Fox News. "I see this as a trillion dollar band-aid that's designed to get people past the next election, but it is not going to solve our problem. I think it's going to make it worse by expanding our national debt, lowering the value of our dollar." (Quoted here.)

Agreed. The mess was caused by government, but it was in cahoots with the obscenely greedy free marketeers of Wall Street. That's my only quibble with what he says. But the part about this being political window dressing to get everybody past the election . . . that's so true it could have issued from the mouth of God.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Tell It, Wanda!

This is some of the most cogent comment on current events I've heard.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Not So Fast

There's a great little piece on AlterNet today: "10 Things You Should Know about Bush's Trillion Dollar Fleecing Plan." I wasn't aware of them all, but each of them gladdens my heart. I'm also heartened that Congress generally is balking at embracing the White House "solution" for the current financial crisis. Finally our lawmakers are saying "not so fast" to something the White House wants to jam through it. I was just being paranoid when I said earlier that the White House was going to get what it wanted here. It's become increasingly apparent that it won't. But that in itself brings up the troublesome thought that perhaps this was the plan all along. Present something so utterly fascist that the administration could make a few concessions to the outrage and still get what it wants. Bear in mind that I define anything the Administration wants as unacceptable by definition. Hence my continued nervousness about this bailout, albeit not the degree of nervousness as before.

Oh, yes. Those 10 things you should know--all of this in relation to the unadorned Administration bailout plan:
  1. Shock Doctrine: it takes disaster to force unpopular measures. A depression which will result, according to the Administration, if the bailout doesn't happen, actually does have some salutary effects. And if taxpayers are going pay to avoid it, they can demand a slew of reforms and conditions.
  2. Is there really "consensus" that something has to be done? No . . . how did everybody come to universal agreement on the solution between last Friday and yesterday?
  3. Is this bailout procedure even legal? No. It's blatantly unconstitutional because of the dictatorial powers it gives the secretary of the treasury.
  4. Some lawmakers are really pissed off. Obviously.
  5. Opposition to the plan is coming from across the political spectrum. When William Kristol agrees with Paul Krugman, we're in an alternate universe.
  6. However unlikely, there are ways around having the taxpayers put up the rescue money. Government could force the banks to stop paying dividends and to issue new equity.
  7. Elements of a progressive bailout: a] financial institutions swallow the bulk of the losses with taxpayers stepping up only when necessary; b] minimization of opportunities for gaming the system; c] minimization of the moral hazard--i.e., don't punish people who did the right thing--lived within their means and made the necessary sacrifices. For example, don't allow those who took excessive risks in loaning money to failing institutions such as Goldman Sacs and Lehman Bros. to profit from the bailout; d] if government acquires delinquent mortgages, it must take all steps to see that people remain in their houses, even if they have to rent, and even if the government takes a loss; e] restriction of rescued companies' executive compensation.
  8. Ongoing negotiations will improve the bill. Not that the unadulterated rape of the taxpayer that was proposed would be immune to improvement.
  9. The fact that foreign banks are beneficiaries of the current plan could wreck the whole thing.
  10. Is this a signal of the decline in American power? Well, yeah . . . Chinese commentators are saying: "The world urgently needs to create a diversified currency and financial system and fair and just financial order that is not dependent on the United States."

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Now Let Me . . .

. . . get this straight. A whole mess of banks and other financial institutions who are holding billions upon billions of dollars worth of debt, the vast bulk of it in mortgage-backed securities, are going to be relieved of that debt by the taxpayers of the U.S. There have been frantic meetings all over the capital this weekend, and it looks like a bipartisan consensus is going to get behind a massive bailout scheme for these institutions. The New York Times has an explanation of the whole scheme. So does "Talking Points Memo." What we taxpayers are going to do is buy all of this debt from these institutions. Estimates at present put the price tag at $700 billion. But that's the government projection. So the minimum amount we're talking is double that: $1.4 trillion. Bear in mind that this $700 billion is on top of the $85 billion that the taxpayers put up to bail out AIG. And it's also on top of the up to $200 billion (or more) price tag for bailing out Fanny May and Freddie Mac. So we're looking at a cool $1 trillion at least if the government figure is correct. And there's no way that's possible.

Let me be frank: everybody is talking about this being the largest bailout in US history. What it really is is the largest screw job the American taxpayers have ever gotten in US history. Many people are comparing this bailout to a similar one that rescued insolvent S&Ls in the late 1980s. But the two are not really comparable. Beyond rewarding the guilty and punishing the innocent, that is. Think about it: In the S&L bailout, the government bought all kinds of real property: land, buildings, and various improvements, which could then be resold, albeit at pennies on the dollar in many cases. In the contemplated bailout we're talking about here, the government is going to pay untold hundreds of billions of dollars to take completely valueless assets off the banks' books, to purchase shit, worthless mortgage-backed financial instruments that aren't worth anything and never will be.

Moreover, if the bailout package goes as planned by Treasury and the Fed, it will be free of any kind of relief for homeowners or regular consumers. All the relief is for the bastards who got us into this problem to begin with. That's been another constant theme of these pre-Screw the Taxpayer plan talks. The legislation must be "clean." That is, unencumbered by any provisions that go beyond the task of providing free taxpayer billions to the people responsible for this crisis.

Some Democrats are resisting this, insisting that the legislation provide relief also for "Main Street" as well. And some key Democrats are pushing for provisions to at least limit the golden parachutes of the CEOs of these rotten banks. “They should accept some compensation guidelines,” Barney Frank (D-Mass) said, “particularly to get rid of the perverse incentives where it’s ‘heads I win, tails I break even.’” The administration is opposed to anything in the legislation like this. Bush, the vile little pretender in the White House, says any bill that has such provision it is going to be in trouble.

Secretary of the Treasury Paulson, a former Wall Street fat cat himself, "said he hoped to defer such an effort. 'Pay should be for performance, not for failure,' he said. 'But we need the system to work, so the reforms need to come afterward.'" Afterward! Let's bailout the capitalists now and worry about fixing the system later. Can you believe the brazen arrogance of these guys? Can you believe the Democrats are going to let them get away with this? This shit just makes me crazy!

All I can say is NO! A thousand times NO to the whole miserable scheme that's going to rescue these greedy SOBs who worship the free market except when their own asses are in trouble, that's going to give them hundreds of billions of dollars out of the pockets of hard-working citizens whom these Wall Street tycoons with their golden parachutes wouldn't piss on if they were on fire. No! NO! NO!

I cannot understand the complete lack of spine in among Democrats. Here they are with the largest hammer they've had in their hands in decades. Under the present circumstances, they could absolutely force a raft of necessary and stringent reforms on an out-of-control financial system--see five specific recommendations for reform right here--but instead they're rolling over like swine. I guess it's not so surprising when you remember that both parties slop at the same corrupt trough. Not a single soul is talking about anything that is going to punish the people who brought the country to this crisis. Everybody in Washington is stampeding in panic. You mark my words: the most corrupt and hapless administration in the history of this country is going to get what it wants here.

But just so you know, there are other alternatives. It doesn't have to follow the plan of the plutocrats. Take some time and watch the latest Bill Moyers Journal. Listen to voices of reason; listen to Kevin Phillips about the dire situation we're in. We're watching the beginning of the end of the American republic. I really do pity my children and grandchildren. They deserve so much better from us.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

& Now for Something Completely Different

I was talking to my daughter the other day and telling her that I really do have to sometimes get off the subject of politics in this blog. Her response: it's your blog and you can write what you want. Well, of course, but it is disturbing to find that politics is something that occupies a too-large amount of your thinking time. So, I'm going to force myself to talk about something else today, despite the severe provocation the events of yesterday have provided. I'll talk about that sometime this weekend.

I ran across this site a few days ago with the intriguing title: "Five Questions that Will Change Your Life." So naturally I had to go look. (Actually, addressing only one question critically is enough. That question is: WHY? But that's another entry.) I was wondering what question I could ask that could change my life at this stage. Or, better, do I really want my life changed at this stage? I think not. But I digress.

So here are the magical questions:
  1. What else could this mean?
  2. Who can help me?
  3. What am I grateful for?
  4. What's my end game?
  5. What can I learn from this?
OK. I'm absolutely fine with four of these questions as is. I have a problem with #4, but it's probably from the way it's worded. In repulsive business speak. So I went to the link provided for further explanation of the questions, and find that #4 is as I expected. In plain, less-obnoxious English it's: what's my goal?

I found myself wondering who in the hell could possibly be out there that doesn't ask these questions. They are as natural to me as breathing. But apparently there's this huge clientele out there for the tribe of motivational consultants that never thought to ask such things.

So I leave it to you to decide whether these five questions can change your life. If you're already asking them, you'll have to do an exercise like I'm forced to do: wonder what your life would be like if you didn't ask these questions and haven't asked them from the beginning.

Answer for me: not worth living.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Nation of Village Idiots

I complained early this morning that I really couldn't explain the economic meltdown that's going on right now. What I meant was there was no way I could possibly untangle the twisted story of the investment vehicles and schemes that brought about the current mess. I wonder if anybody can. This is not to say, however, that broader explanations of what's going on are not easily understandable. This article makes such an explanation in absolutely splendid fashion. Its author is James Moore, who co-authored Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential among other things. Anybody, he says, who has seen greed and corruption can grasp it.

Read the article. It talks about the key role former Senator Phil Gramm (R-Texas) played in facilitating the current mess with his bill that released the financial industry from any governmental oversight. It goes on to talk about how Gramm's bill also exempted energy trading from scrutiny too. Result: Enron. And the infamous Keating Five, of whom John McCain was one, and the cozy relationship the Arizona senator had with a sleazy pirate named Charlie Keating. And the S&L bailout of the late 1980s--which has cost the taxpayers an estimated $1.4 trillion. (God alone knows what the current bailouts are going to cost us.)

Here it is in a nutshell: The Republicans passed laws to facilitate just what's happening now. The first was a bill to keep the government from overseeing the financial shenanigans of the whole tribe of financial institutions. Who specifically? Why the then-chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Phil Gramm, McCain's chief financial advisor. "A few days after the Supreme Court made George W. Bush president in 2000, Gramm stuck something called the Commodity Futures Modernization Act into the budget bill. Nobody knew that the Texas senator was slipping America a 262 page poison pill. Th[is act] was designed to keep regulators from controlling new financial tools described as credit "swaps." These are instruments like sub-prime mortgages bundled up and sold as securities. Under the Gramm law, neither the SEC nor the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) were able to examine financial institutions like hedge funds or investment banks to guarantee they had the assets necessary to cover losses they were guaranteeing."

Another piece of Gramm legislation called the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act was passed the year before. This act killed provisions of New Deal legislation that prevented banks from engaging in other financial activities such as sale of securities and insurance. John McCain who is now calling for federal regulation of these financial entities that are crashing all around us enthusiastically supported both of these bills.

John McCain would now have us believe that he's got our interests at heart. This same guy who's carried water for the banking industry for years, who's taken their healthy political contributions, drank their booze, rode their jets? Who has basically jerked them off since he's been in the Senate? Whose wife made a cool $1 million in a transaction with Keating's S&L? This is the guy who's going to look out for us small fry?

As James Moore comments: "He must think we are a nation of village idiots. Hell, maybe we are."

One Little Hurrah for God

I just recently reacquainted myself with a blog every bit as obscure as my own called "A Father Talks to His Daughter about God." Subtitled: "The Holy and Morality in a World of Idolatry slipping over the edge into End-Time." That's pretty cool, too. First off, this is the product of a guy who suggests Aristotle's Poetics on his reading list. And Emerson's "Essay on History." [Links available on site.] This is not something you encounter every day. Actually the blog's title is a bit of a misnomer because it's certainly not overtly about God all the time. It's pretty eclectic: poetry, political comment, snippets of the dude's brain. (You can see why I might find this site interesting.) But this time the post was about God, and it's so in tune with my own thoughts about the subject that I share them. Montag--that's what he calls himself--writes:

The Experience Of the Divine is a basic and essential human function, such as language and music. It is not reducible to some other human experience. God is not joy nor suffering, not words, not singing, not dreaming. We may talk about basketball, but that does not make the experience of basketball somehow reducible to talking and language. Similarly, the Divine is not reducible to words and logic, or songs, or smiles, or frowns, or anything else.

God is one and alone. Our experience of God is a primitive function of humanity which is not reducible to any other human function: it stands alone.

I have seen and heard that our concept or acquaintance of God came from our experience of awe or fear or wonder at (pick one): the world, the universe, the starry night...etc. Pure hogwash. The emotion of awe is what it is. It is not God.

God is not that which you conceive.
God is not that which you cannot conceive. Rather God stands outside of any conceptual system: beyond any thesis and antithesis; God stands outside any non-conceptual system. If you think God to be a wonderful, bearded, old softy who loves children, He sends a hurricane. If you think God is a nasty old bugger, He sends you a mitzvah. Go figure.

Precisely so. God is beyond all our categories of thought or expression or emotion. Beyond our denial of his existence or our descriptions.

Many people, probably most, surely most I know, and certainly the celebrated lately published atheists like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins don't believe in God, scorn God, and revile God because they blame God for religion. God ain't religion. He's beyond that, too. But he, hapless guy, takes the rap for it nonetheless.

A Bleat from Below

I do not pretend to be an economist. In fact, as a breed these people are even more worthless than tits on a boar hog. Put any three economists in a room and you will have three different explanations about whatever economic event is happening. Put a hundred in a room, and you'll get a hundred explanations. These guys make historians appear monolithic. Unfortunately, the people everybody is turning to now to explain the monstrous events transpiring in the U.S. economy are economists--or Wall Street gurus--or business writers. So, I can't offer you an explanation as to why the market tanked yesterday, even after the $85 billion bailout the U.S. Treasury just extended to AIG. Government bailout was good news a few days ago. The market doesn't make sense when it is relieved by bailout on one day and not relieved the next day. At least to me it doesn't. But what to do I know. The generalized explanation is that fear has taken over. Investors are so skittish that even a bailout of the proportions that happened with AIG cannot allay the creeping panic.

This is what I believe. We are in the midst of a huge financial crisis in this country that's going to have a profound effect on our future and our way of life. I won't pretend to be optimistic about this situation. I mean, look what we've got to rely on to get us out of this mess: an administration that has fostered a revived Gilded Age for the past 8 years, replete with a repugnance to regulation of the financial sector (or anything else) and has gotten the country literally trillions in debt.

I'll tell you one thing: I'd sure feel a lot better if I saw some of the grasping, greedy sons of bitches who materially assisted in bringing this crisis on (Wall Street and banking CEOs, et al.) go to jail. I'm not reading any news about these guys losing everything. Quite the contrary. It appears they're going to be just fine. It's all the little people who are going to get creamed.

To the most immediate question, what does this mean for me and my wife in retirement, which we happen to be in at the moment. Well, it's not clear. The general tenor of commentary out there seems to be: things are bad, but nobody's sure exactly how bad or what it means. See this, and especially the responses to it. I guess we'll all just have to stay tuned. There's not much any of us pipsqueaks can do about this mess.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

One for You, Nineteen for Me

Above is a graphic of the McCain tax plan, red, and the Obama tax plan, blue. You can call up a readable rendition of the chart here. Suffice it to say, this proves that McCain is once again lying. He claims that Obama's plan will "raise your taxes." Well, actually that's true--but only if you're in the top 1 percent of the population. If you're anywhere else, you're going to have your taxes cut.

Lying is about the only thing that McCain has done during this campaign. Exactly 55 lies to this point in the campaign and counting. Oh, and besides lying, he's also been whoring himself out to the most extreme wing of the Republican party. He's been doing that for months, even before he got the nomination. The lying has gotten so blatant that no less than Karl Rove, the prince of darkness himself, has declared that the McCain ads have gone too far. This is the equivalent of Attila the Hun complaining about barbarity.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Bye Bye American Pie, Verse 2

Okay. I'll admit he's a gloom-and-doom guy. Jim Kuntsler. But his blog is one I never miss, and I can say that about very few actually. Kuntsler's interested in energy, specifically oil, and he's been beating the drum about the coming demise of suburbia and the "American way of life," "American dream," call it what you want, for a long time.

His take on the Wall Street implosion is arresting. First of all, he lays the blame where it belongs, squarely on the Republican party, "the party that wrecked America," in his words. (About 75 percent of the national debt, calculated in trillions, belongs to Reagan and the Bush dynasty.) And he points out as he has many times, that this country's been living in a dream world for a long, long time. Since about the mid-1970s, actually, when the U.S. stopped producing anything of real value--that was being done by other countries then fully recovered from the horrific wars of mid-century--and instead seized on a series of phony labels such as information economy, consumer economy, high-tech economy that simply disguised the fact that the real economy was going down the shitter. The last of these farcical fakes was the "financial services industry." Which was essentially a vehicle to perpetrate a raft of swindles on the American public. But so finely constructed and complicated were these swindles that it took 20 years for them to reveal what they really were. With the collapse of housing prices and the mortgage crisis, everything came tumbling down. The jig was up.

What we're talking about here basically is the drying up of just about everybody's wealth. (Don't worry about the richest in our society. As always, they will be fine. It's the rest of us, 98 percent of the country that will suffer.) I don't have a lot of confidence that the American people are going to be philosophical about wholesale loss of jobs, value of homes, value of investments, disappearance of retirement savings and plans, and all the attendant evils.

Monday, September 15, 2008

A Market of Whiners

The nation of whiners now witnesses corporate whining of epic proportions. What are we supposed to do? Feel sorry for these people, these free marketeers with a great big problem?

I haven't read or heard any of the official numbers yet, only a guy on NPR who mentioned that the Dow was off 500 points today. [It actually turned out to be 504.] I've been reading for several months that the state of the financial institutions and the banking industry in this country is extremely shaky, and that the dismal economic situation is not going to get better, only worse. Well, this does appear to be so, doesn't it?

OK, I'm a historian of US history And I know that markets go up and down. And I've got two sons in banking who are telling me that markets go up and down. I've got a financial advisor who says markets go up and down. But, I'll tell you, I'm afraid of this shit that's happening now. As a historian, I also know that this country is not immune to economic cataclysms, and I think we're on the brink of one. I was greeted this morning on the radio on the way to the doctor with the news that Lehman Brothers, an investment bank that's been around since the Gilded Age, went belly up this weekend. [So their link is going to wink out soon also, and they'll just be a memory on the Wayback Machine.] They pleaded with the government to bail them out like it did for Bear Stearns, but the Fed refused to do it this time. Also Merrill Lynch, in danger of going belly up itself, managed to dodge the bullet. Bank Of America bought them. And, from what I understand, these financial giants are not the only ones in serious trouble. There are more where these came from.

And on top of this -- something else that heard before -- the US automakers want the US government to grant them a $50 billion low-interest loan to get their financial asses out of trouble. They are losing their shirts, you see. And they want the taxpayers to save them. According to the radio, they say they need this money so they can produce hybrid automobiles much faster than would ordinarily be possible. What they're really saying is "we didn't do a damn thing about building hybrids while we were making all that money on SUVs, and now we're behind all those smart guys making cars in Japan and S. Korea. We need to get into the Federal cookie jar right now . . . please."

Now, these are the same jokers who have opposed every single bill in Congress to increase fuel efficiency; these are the same guys who have wallowed in obscene profits they have made off of gas guzzling SUVs for years now. And now they want the taxpayers to take care of them. You've got to be kidding me! I don't think you want me to get started on tirade about market forces, so beloved by our politicians and businessmen but especially by our Republican friends who think government should do nothing at all except function as a sugar daddy for defense contractors and the military. And who've deified untrammeled market forces as the answer to everything that ails us. And now these same people are coming with their hand out to the United States government, which they loathe, and to us taxpayers, whom they have sodomized at every opportunity, to bail their asses out of trouble. Trouble, mind you, that they got into themselves by poor management, greed, and more greed.

Stop! I said I would not go on a tirade. I think at this point, you can read my mind. If not, let me know.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Dumbo -- In a Landslide!

It's a subject I keep circling back to, not because I find it encouraging or uplifting, but because it's just ubiquitous. Every day in every way I am reminded of it. The acclaim being accorded the bubble-headed Ms Moose-Gutter from Alaska is just the its latest manifestation, but even if this hadn't ever happened, I'd still have to confront it on the radio or TV constantly (while channel-surfing, of course, since I could hardly be expected to linger). What are we talking about here, this ubiquitous companion of daily life? Why, American stupidity, of course. This piece, which talked at length about a new book on the subject, Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth about the American Voter by Rick Shenkman is guaranteed to depress you. Alas, it documents an unstoppable trend: as a people we are pretty damn dumb and getting dumber. And that, brothers and sisters, does not bode well for democracy and our future.

Some exhibits:
  • half of us can name 4 characters from "The Simpsons," but less than a quarter can name more than one of the guaranteed rights in the First Amendment. (And only 1 in 1,000 can name all five.)
  • only 2 out of 5 voters can name all three branches of the federal government.
  • only 1 in 5 know that there are 100 federal senators.
  • only 1 in 7 can find Iraq on a map.
  • only one-fifth of Americans between ages 18-34 bother to keep up with current events.
Had enough? OK. I won't wallow in this anymore (today). But lemme just leave you with the five defining characteristics of American stupidity according to Shenkman:
  1. Ignorance -- I don't know about important news events or how government works
  2. Negligence -- and I'm not going to take the time to find out
  3. Wooden-headedness -- because I believe what I believe regardless of facts
  4. Short-sightedness -- and I'll support contradictory national policies against my own and the national interest
  5. Bone-headness -- because I'm a prisoner of my fears/hopes and easily snookered by absolute nonsense.
More details in the article. Cheerio!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


There are 14 teams in the American League. Here is how Texas team pitching stacks up against the rest of the league:

ERA 5.31 14th
BAA .289 14th
OPS .821 14th
WHIP 1.57 14th
QS 49 14th
R 862 14th
H 1478 14th
HR 161 13th
BB 553 12th
SO 841 13th

If you are not a baseball fan, these numbers which measure the effectiveness of your team's pitching staff are really, really terrible. If you are a fan, you can see how terrible. It's a wonder the team has managed to win 71 games, just three short of .500 with pitching this awful.

So not only do I have to endure the thought of John McCain as president and Ms Moose-Gutter as vice president, but also this. It's unbearable, I tell you. Unbearable.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Bye, Bye American Pie

"The middle class is disappearing," says [Vermont Senator Bernie] Sanders. "In real ways we're becoming more like a third-world country." The observation is true in all of the states, methinks. Let that phrase "the middle class is disappearing" roll around in your heads for a bit. The senator is talking about a whole bunch of people. Senator Sanders came to this conclusion after getting letters from hundreds and hundreds of his constituents after asking them how they were faring economically. He heard horror stories about 71-year old guys having to go back to work to pay property taxes and fuel oil; a single mom who has burned furniture to stay warm and sleeps on the floor in the kitchen because the cost of fuel oil is so high; of cancer patients who can't afford their treatments because they cannot afford the gas to drive to hospitals. And on and on.

Matt Taibbi, the author of this piece on the subject of the vanishing middle class goes on to observe that it is precisely these class issues that simply don't get addressed in our political campaigns. The desperate financial straits affecting millions of Americans, worse and deteriorating, is no secret.

Here, however, is something that is a secret: that this is a class issue that is being intentionally downplayed by a political/media consensus bent on selling the public a version of reality where class resentments, or class distinctions even, do not exist. Our "national debate" is always a thing where we do not talk about things like haves and have-nots, rich and poor, employers versus employees. But we increasingly live in a society where all the political action is happening on one side of the line separating all those groups, to the detriment of the people on the other side.

It continually amazes me how people can keep taking it in the chops year after year by the richest segment of our population, sink slowly into basically hand-to-mouth existence, and they still think the really important concerns are issues that have nothing whatever to do with their actual lives. Things like gay marriage.

And the way the current campaign is shaping up, the main focus will once again be frivolities.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Alaskan Barbie

Look, I know Sarah Palin is the story of the hour, but I'm going talk about her in this post and then be done with it. This little Barbie doll with all the kids, the NRA seal of approval, the much-coveted ability to field-dress a moose, and the blessing of the nut-case religious right--this from-the-sticks chick who's now touted by the Republicans as perfectly capable of being president of the United States (give me a frigging break!)--simply is not worth my time. She's just a penny-ante, small-minded Rovian ploy to stir up the so-called base of the Republican party. But you better believe that underneath that cuteness is a dangerous moralist.

You may or may not have heard, and I doubt you'll be surprised, that she's all for book censorship. [There are links to several other revealing articles about Palin in the same place. She's a hypocrite and a liar, and she's not a reformer.] When she was amassing all that valuable executive experience as the mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, she inquired of the town librarian how she would feel about removing books from the shelves. The librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons--bless her!--was "shocked" at the question and said she would most certainly resist such a move. A few months later, Ms Moose-Gutter tried to fire her because "she didn't fully support" the mayor. The librarian successfully resisted this attempt and later resigned.

So this book-banner (which is the same as a book-burner), this stalwart guardian of public morals, is the kind of person that the Republican party celebrates as fit to be a heartbeat away from the presidency. You couldn't make this stuff up, folks.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Time to Kick Butt

The numbers are in on what the public thought of Ms. Alaska Moose-Gutting, Gun-Totin', War-Mongering, Creationism-Preaching Sarah Palin's speech night before last. They have given the Republican party--a party bankrupt of ideas, up to its eyeballs in cronyism and corruption, and guilty of running the country into a ditch it will take maybe a couple of generations to get out of, if we're extremely fortunate--a huge rush. Glenn Greenwald reports that 60 percent of the people that heard the speech gave her an A, and 58 percent of the American people give her a favorable rating. Two weeks ago nobody knew who she was. (My fellow observer of the human condition over at Trench Warfare has some incisive observations about Ms Moose-Gutter. See her September 2 entry.)

Greenwald reports these numbers in the context of a piece that argues once again (he wrote at more length on the subject yesterday) that since the Republicans cannot possibly run on the issues, their campaign rests and will rest on relentless vicious personal attacks on Obama and his character. And the Democrats will just roll over and take it. The idea that Americans recoil from negativity in political campaigns is nonsense. These attacks work, especially on a people as uninformed and unsophisticated as Americans. They've worked since Reagan. Here's Greenwald:

The idea that Americans instinctively recoil from negativity or that there will be some sort of backlash against Republicans generally and Palin specifically because of how "negative" their convention speeches were is pure fantasy. Cultural tribalism and personality attacks of those sort work, especially when they're not aggressively engaged.counter-productive. And every four years, that belief is disproven.

Every four years, the GOP unleashes unrestrained personality attacks on Democrats and exploits cultural resentments. Every four years, Democrats tell themselves that such attacks don't work and are counter-productive. And every four years, that belief is disproven.

Look what these guys did to John Kerry, no less a war hero than McCain, and running against Bush-Cheney, a couple of war slackers! It is going to be far, far worse with Obama. It's high time that the Democrats "aggressively engage" the slanders and lies that will continue to gush from GOP campaign machinery. They will increase in frequency and intensity now that the campaign has officially launched. The Democrats not going to win this election playing patty-cake with a bunch of slanderous sharks. They need to take off the gloves, stop bowing to McCain's POW experience and kissing his ass, and start taking him to task for the low road he's taking. I really cannot believe the American people are going to choke in this smokescreen again!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Thugs Wear Badges

As of early this morning 422 people have been arrested in Minneapolis in connection with security for the Republican National Convention. I'm sure I'm not the only one concerned and outraged by crap like this. Illegal detentions, police raids on private residences, destruction of property, brutalization of citizens by the police in Minneapolis as well as Denver.

Let's face it folks. We live in a police state, and it's getting worse. During the past eight years of the administration of the vile little pretender in the White House, we Americans, paralyzed with the fear the administration keeps fanning, have just accepted the fact that our constitutional liberties exist only at the whim of local law-enforcement or the Feds. So-called law enforcement -- state, local, national -- can do whatever it damn well pleases. Since 9/11 hundreds of billions of dollars have been poured into "terrorist prevention" and SWAT teams in countless U.S. communities. Would somebody tell me why it's necessary for every city in America of any size to have paramilitary units with military equipment ready at a moments notice to be deployed against whatever the government defines as dangerous to the peace? That's what the thugs with badges in Minneapolis claim to be doing. Keeping the peace. What they doing of course be stifling dissent. (I cannot but be reminded of the Nazi Brown Shirts . . . I've been saying for years and years that the line that separates law enforcement people from the people they supposedly protect the rest of us against is very thin indeed.) Read about the latest outrages against free speech here and here and especially, here.

I hate to sound like a graying hippie, but this kind of police-gone-wild stuff would've caused widespread outrage years ago. Police tactics like this would've brought even more people out on the streets. Instead this country has become so docile in the face of continuous defilement of our Constitution that police outrages like this have become normative and will only get worse.

Think about this. The police infiltrate their operatives into groups that plan to protest some aspect (and there are so many choose from) of unconstitutional or criminal behavior by their government, and the police goons start making arrests even before the first sign is waved or the first pair of sandals hits the pavement. And they are not gentle about it. This is what's become of our liberties.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

"The Clause"

I love this poem.

The Clause

by C. K. Williams

This entity I call my mind, this hive of restlessness,
this wedge of want my mind calls self,
this self which doubts so much and which keeps reaching,
keeps referring, keeps aspiring, longing, towards some state
from which ambiguity would be banished, uncertainty expunged;

this implement my mind and self imagine they might make together,
which would have everything accessible to it,
all our doings and undoings all at once before it,
so it would have at last the right to bless, or blame,
for without everything before you, all at once, how bless, how blame?

this capacity imagination, self and mind conceive might be the "soul,"
which would be able to regard such matters as creation and
origin and extinction, of species, peoples, even families, even mine,

of equal consequence, and might finally solve the quandary
of this thing of being, and this other thing of not;

these layers, these divisions, these meanings or the lack thereof,
these fissures and abysses beside which I stumble, over which I reel:
is the place, the space, they constitute,
which I never satisfactorily experience but from which the fear
I might be torn away appalls me, me, or what might most be me?

Even mine, I say, as if I might ever believe such a thing;
bless and blame, I say, as though I could ever not.
This ramshackle, this unwieldy, this jerry-built assemblage,
this unfelt always felt disarray: is this the sum of me,
is this where I'm meant to end, exactly where I started out?

"The Clause" by C.K. Williams from The Singing. © Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Felonious Dog

I hear there are about a bazillion heavily armed, heavily armored cops in Minneapolis-St. Paul for the Republican convention. They are there to protect the city and presumably the delegates against the thousands of people who will be there the protest the many crimes of the last eight years committed by our national government under the vile little pretender in the White House. Massive police presence. Protesters. First Amendment rights being squeezed. This is life in Bush's America.

Which leads me into a tale of life in Okie land, to wit, attendance by me, my wife, my daughter, and her daughter at OCCC Arts Fair last evening. Let me make a long story short. Near the end of our stay at the fair, I was thrown out of the place because I had my little dog, a ferocious 12-pound Boston Terrier, on a leash with me. Pets, you see, were not allowed. (Two or three festival security people of the type who were not armed and dangerous had already let us stay where we were.)

And to make sure that I got this message, it required four, count 'em, four armed Bubbas, who, I'm sure had the thrill of their night hassling me and my felonious dog. I will spare you all the details of a previous encounter with a couple of these champions of liberty. Suffice it to say, we had been led to believe by one of these worthies that it was okay to have the felonious dog with us just so long we did not bring her on the food court and as long as we were leaving. We did not go on the food court, and we were leaving just as soon as the others--I wasn't eating--finished eating their meals. We were sitting in a tent beside the food court. It made no difference. As it turned out, we, that is all of us, starting with me and including my 5-year-old granddaughter and the felonious dog, who also wasn't eating, would not be allowed to even finish eating before being summarily escorted from the premises. And I do mean escorted--one of the Bubbas followed us in his golf cart all the way to the car. I should mention that the fair had about 10 minutes to run before closing down for the night when all this went down.

I must also confess, upon reflection, to not being surprised. These are the kinds of goons that populate the airport as TSA checkers. These are the kinds of halfwits on minimum wage who are allowed to carry guns and bully other people to their hearts' content under the guise of providing "security." And I am sorry to say, the same kind of people can also be found on police forces throughout the country. My daughter commented "This is why I don't like police," and I share a sentiment. (not that these morons were police -- hell, they were rent-a-cops, some jokers hired as security guards). This is a perfect example of what this country has become. Concern for manners or simple consideration for people is gone with the wind. In its place we have fear, suspicion, paranoia, xenophobia, and just plain meanness. Worse, we have seen fit to give everybody and anybody the right to carry firearms. And when some dude is walking around with a piece on his hip, especially if he's inclined to be a bully anyway, that is a dangerous guy.

Maybe you don't share my views about what's going on in this country. That's OK. They'll probably come for you after they round up people like me and my daughter, who, to her credit, got bitchy with the Bubbas and was even more upset about this nonsense than I.

I blame Bush.