Friday, October 31, 2008

Let Loose Dogs of Justice

Look, I'm not a vindictive type. I would have no part of a lynch mob, even a rhetorical one. Vengeful anger is counter-productive, and good people try to avoid it. However, I'm a great fan of justice. And justice demands that the Wall Street plutocrats and bankers pay for driving the nation's economy into a sewerage ditch. Countless millions of Americans have lost their retirements, their livelihoods, their hopes for the future. I cannot imagine that they are not breathing fire about the fact that the architects of their ruin are doing just swell, thank you.

These Wall St. crooks have not an atom of shame. Before filing for Chapter 11, Lehman Brothers sequestered $2.5 billion for future executive bonuses. It's the same with all the other Masters of the Universe. Merrill, Lynch has allocated $6.7 billion for bonuses this year. Between them Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley will dole out $13 billion in bonuses on top of already ridiculously handsome salaries, in a year of massive losses. To me, it's unbelievable, beyond comprehension, what these executives are paid. Just one example: the CEO of Goldman's got a $67.9 million bonus on top of his $600,000 salary last year. He's not atypical. All the sordid details are right here. You'll be appalled.

So the question is how long will all those poor screwed schmucks out there in the hinterlands beyond Wall Street will remain quiet. People want these greedy bastards who did this to them to pay, but there's been no sign yet that any of them are going to. What happens if the schmucks figure this out? No society in the history of the world has undergone the kind of wrenching disasters like what's happening to the US without violent spillover. And despite the self-image we like to embrace, the US is not a city on a hill. We're just like everybody else. Once people are busted, what have they got to lose by setting fire to things and throwing bricks?

My hope is Barack Obama has plans for all those gold-plated thieves on Wall St. and he's just being quiet about it. I think we can expect the department of justice to live up to its name in his administration. I certainly hope so. The dogs of justice from Washington are likely to be a lot kinder to thieves and liars than mobs of American paupers who have finally figured out who to blame. The dogs will bite, but the mobs will tear limb from limb.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Norwegian Interlude

"Only This Moment" by Royksopp from Norway. Or try "Remind Me" and one of the coolest videos ever made.

I like this band!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Taking Off Emily Dickinson's Clothes

This is a poem by Billy Collins, an amazing contemporary poet whose work I greatly admire. One of those rarities of rarities in the US, a poet who earns enough writing poems to make a living. Those familiar with Emily Dickinson and her work will appreciate the deep artistry here, but you don't have to be familiar with Emily to enjoy this. It's a great poem on several levels.

Taking Off Emily Dickinson's Clothes

First, her tippet made of tulle,
easily lifted off her shoulders and laid
on the back of a wooden chair.

And her bonnet,
the bow undone with a light forward pull.

Then the long white dress, a more
complicated matter with mother-of-pearl
buttons down the back,
so tiny and numerous that it takes forever
before my hands can part the fabric,
like a swimmer's dividing water,
and slip inside.

You will want to know
that she was standing
by an open window in an upstairs bedroom,
motionless, a little wide-eyed,
looking out at the orchard below,
the white dress puddled at her feet
on the wide-board, hardwood floor.

The complexity of women's undergarments
in nineteenth-century America
is not to be waved off,
and I proceeded like a polar explorer
through clips, clasps, and moorings,
catches, straps, and whalebone stays,
sailing toward the iceberg of her nakedness.

Later, I wrote in a notebook
it was like riding a swan into the night,
but, of course, I cannot tell you everything -
the way she closed her eyes to the orchard,
how her hair tumbled free of its pins,
how there were sudden dashes
whenever we spoke.

What I can tell you is
it was terribly quiet in Amherst
that Sabbath afternoon,
nothing but a carriage passing the house,
a fly buzzing in a windowpane.

So I could plainly hear her inhale
when I undid the very top
hook-and-eye fastener of her corset

and I could hear her sigh when finally it was unloosed,
the way some readers sigh when they realize
that Hope has feathers,
that reason is a plank,
that life is a loaded gun
that looks right at you with a yellow eye.

This site has a bunch more Collins poems, if this one has just wet your beak.

Thought Police in the Wings

Have you ever heard of the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act? I didn't think you had. The US House of Representatives passed this looney-tunes bill in October last year, by a vote--are you ready for this?--405 to 6. There's half a dozen heroes for you.

The Senate was considering a similar bill, but it appears that the it never came to the floor. You can read all about what this legislation proposes to do in this blog post, or you can click on the first link above and read the text of the bill itself. So I'm not going to go into it in any depth. What we're talking about here is another in the avalanche of bills "to make us safe" at the expense of the Bill of Rights.

I'll just list the salient points for you:

  • Congressional commission set up to hold hearings across the country on home-grown terrorists.
  • The same commission gets to decide what groups are homegrown terrorists . . .
  • . . . and propose legislation to take punitive action against such groups and individuals.
  • After 15 months a permanent Center for Excellence in this subject will be set up to continue the vigilence.
Everything in this bill is vaguely defined, but it's clear the proposed commission will decide who among us is a terrorist and who is not. On the basis of what these people say. Doesn't this sound like just what we need?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Ah So . . . Side Bets

If you didn't get a chance to catch it, Steve Kroft had a great story on "60 Minutes" last night about CDSs, the now infamous credit default swaps that have brought the US economy to the brink of implosion. This is the clearest explanation of these things that I've seen, a lot more clear than the Wikipedia article I just linked to. You can watch it here or read the text of the report. Either way, if you're a relative simplton about such things, you'll have a better grasp of it.

Only one quibble--well, actually, more than a quibble, a strong objection: the story laid blame for the deregulation of the financial industry on Alan Greenspan and Bill Clinton. This is patently incorrect. The culprit is the Republican party and that genius of financial acumen Phil Gramm, who at the last minute tacked a near-300 page amendment into an appropriations bill that had to be passed. This amendment is what undid regulations of the banking industry that had been in place since the Great Depression and let the banks and greedy sharks on Wall Street loose to do their nefarious deeds. I have talked about this before, right here.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Are You Joking?

Get a load of these questions that one Barbara West, a so-called reporter for the ABC affiliate in Orlando, put to Joe Biden:

  • If Biden is "embarrassed about the blatant attempt to register phony voters by ACORN," since Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., worked with the organization in the past;
  • If Obama's comment about wanting tax policies that "spread the wealth" is "a potentially crushing political blunder";
  • "You may recognize this famous quote: 'from each according to his abilities to each according to his needs.' That's from Karl Marx. How is Sen. Obama not being a Marxist if he intends to spread the wealth around?";
  • Regarding Biden's comment that the world would test Obama and the Obama-Biden administration will need the support of Americans since it might not be immediately apparent Obama did the right thing -- "Are you forewarning Americans that nothing will be done and America's days as the world's leading power are over?"
  • "What do you say to the people that are concerned that Barack Obama will want to turn America into a Socialist country like Sweden?"
At one point--the Marx quote--Biden responded, "Are you joking? Is this a joke, or is that a real question?" Indeed, how else are you to respond to such a question? There are only two explanations for this line of questioning by an alleged member of the journalistic profession. First, blatant partisanship, or, second, profound stupidity. Either is possible in Orlando, Florida. Or a two-fer: stupid and partisan. You take your pick. (Another account of this plus video is here.)

And before you dismiss stupidity as an explanation, read Susan Jacoby's The Age of American Unreason, which makes it clear, that that explanation cannot be dismissed lightly. So, too, with the defense of this silly woman West by her news director. According to him, this was "hard-hitting journalism." What are you going to do in media climate like this?

Friday, October 24, 2008


Every 38 seconds a marijuana smoker is arrested in the U.S. In 2006, the latest year that figures are available for, 829, 627 people were arrested for smoking weed--well, to be exact 89 percent of this number were arrested for possession, so it's not the traffickers and drug kings being busted by the law, it's the small fry. In fact, marijuana busts comprise 44 percent of all drug arrests in this country. And are you ready for this? There are more arrests for marijuana than for all other crimes combined. This is insane, and only part of what I learned in this article.

Isn't there something wrong with this picture? Anybody who does some reading in the vast literature on this subject cannot but conclude that the answer to this question must be: Of course there is. Just consider the fact that in federal law pot is lumped in the same category with heroin, crack cocaine, and crystal meth. This is just plain crazy. And then consider that if only half of the information about the safety or relative harmlessness of weed is true, then arresting people for possession and use of this drug is just crazy. Twelve states, most of them in the West, now allow medical marijuana, a number that is surely going to grow as the truth about the benefits of this plant begins to permeate the noggins of legislators elsewhere.

Just as an aside, I have a friend with pancreatic cancer. He has 3 to 6 months, max. And a lot of pain. His kids are arguing among themselves which is best able to get the best marijuana to help their dad. They will get it for him, and he will consume it in brownies. And everybody involved, terminal cancer or not, is a criminal. Also just for the record the marijuana laws in the state of Oklahoma, where he and I live, are (surprise!) draconian. Possession for the first arrest is a misdemeanor and can land you in the poky for up to a year. Subsequent arrests for this: felony. Everything else beyond simple possession--cultivation, sale: felony and big-time monetary fines. Possession of paraphernalia can get you a year in jail plus $1,000 fine for the first time. It's a year and big-time monetary fines for paraphernalia if you get caught twice with a bong. This is just plain crazy.

Information on work to change pot policy is here. NORML, the grandaddy of ganja consciousness, is here; it's an excellent site. A first class site with extensive information on medical marijuana is the one cited above.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Hungry Shall Always Be with Us . . .

"Hunger and malnutrition are the underlying cause of more than half of all child deaths, killing nearly 6 million children each year."

—Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

. . . Which means we will always have somebody to help, somebody who is far worse off than we are. With the world headed down into what appears to be a great trough of recession--I really think the old word depression works better, but the language police have seemingly banished it from usage--there's going to be even more millions who go hungry. Here's a place you can go right now to learn about how you can help these people. In a couple of cases, it costs you nothing at all to provide some food for starving people. Some of the sites have a plethora of information about this issue also. While we're on the subject, "88 Ways to DO Something about Poverty" will also repay any time you spend there. You're bound to find one or two worthwhile, one or two you can do.

I raised three children. I cannot imagine the anguish of not having enough food to feed them, the pain of having them grow up malnourished. Next time you throw away food--check this site out for suggestions on ways not to waste food--think how many dads and mom deal with this anguish every day.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Is anybody neutral on The Rolling Stones? I seriously doubt it. It's always seemed to me they are like The Talking Heads or Madonna . . . either you like them or you don't. And if you don't like 'em, you hate 'em, and if you do like 'em . . . well, I do like 'em. I've seen them a couple of times in concert at widely different points in their career. Once in the mid-1970s and again in the mid-1990s. Just reporting that underscores what an amazing aggregation these guys are. They formed as a band in London in 1962, and here, 46 years later(!) the Stones are still around, still playing kick-ass chops, still as amazing as ever.

Anyway, last night I spent a couple of fun hours watching Martin Scorsese's Shine a Light, a concert film he shot of the band's show at the Beacon Theater in New York City in 2006 during the band's tour that year. Well, not exactly all concert because there was some backstage and historical footage, too. But the light he shone on the band was as bright and searching as you're going to find. Great band + gifted film maker, what do you expect? I don't know how many cameras he had working, but they seemed to be everywhere. It's a first class production. More here and here.

Random observations: the rock and roll is marvelous. No bad tracks. The set had several Stone standards--Jumping Jack Flash, Tumbling Dice, Sympathy for the Devil--but for my money the best stuff was the stuff you don't often hear in concert. Four songs from the Some Girls album, including the title track and a delicious countryfied "Faraway Eyes" with Ronnie Wood on pedal guitar. (I didn't know he could play that.) Jagger wields an instrument, guitar or harmonica, on probably half the songs, something you rarely see. The best track for my money was "Champagne and Reefer," a blues number with Buddy Guy as a guest. Check it out.

Jagger is as old as I am, and I tell you right now, I don't know where he finds the energy for all the jumping, running, shaking, dancing, arm-waving, and wild gesticulation he does for almost two straight hours. It's ridiculous. These guys also look like they could use some fat grams. The four Stones are so damn skinny--basically a collective bag of bones with long hair and a bunch of great guitar chops--that I doubt they weigh more than 500 pounds together. And what can one say about Keith Richards, a guy who looks positively ravaged (and he don't help anything with the get-up he wears)? Believe me, pictures of this guy, who looks like something the cat dragged in, don't do him justice. He looks a lot worse.

But with the Stones the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And ain't that grand?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Poring over the Entrails

I have the good fortune to be in regular contact with at least one of my few regular readers. I like to flatter myself that perhaps a half dozen people a day check into "What Powderfinger Said" to see what Powderfinger has to say that day. But who knows? It may be only my relatives. I fear I may have lost some of these readers, maybe even relatives, because of what I'm about to consider. (I'm also aware that I screwed up rather badly by not advising this tiny cadre of readers that I would be out of town for several days in the past 10. I know myself that the disappearance of a blogger for any amount of time can get him off my list of regulars quickly. That will not happen again.)

The regular reader I mentioned, and whose judgment I trust, observes that my blog tone seems to exhibit a rather consistent undercurrent of anger. Unfortunately, upon consideration, I tend to agree. The question is whether this is really reflective of who I am, and whether this is what I want to be putting out there in the ether all the time. And the answer to both is a resounding no.

If this were my entire legacy, this blog, I mean, who would ever realize that there was a lot more to me than an undercurrent of anger? That I have many other interests other than politics, which I seem to obsess on when I sit down to blog? That I don't really chose to be stereotyped as a smoldering liberal all the time? That I actually have a broad sense of humor, that I can be "quite charming," according to my spouse who, though not an unbiased observer is one with acute judgment about people?

With all this in mind, I've decided to effect a small, but I hope positive, change in the blog by broadening its scope. This is actually something I intimated the blog would be when I first started seven months ago, but as it turned out, I wrote about politics most of the time. This was never intended to be the only subject here. And it will not be the sole focus anymore. This certainly doesn't mean I won't be considering that subject regularly. But not exclusively. Look for a lighter tone and a broader array of topics from Powderfinger. I hope you'll find this congenial. If not, please let me know.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Here's to the Rays

I used to live in Tampa, so hooray for the Rays and their win of the American League pennant! Their win tonight over the Boston Red Sox, an aggregation that has become almost as repulsive in my mind as the New York Yankees, was a thriller. The very best kind of a game: a nail-biting pitcher's duel with few runs for either side. (Another account of the game is here.)

As is the case with so many other things, I seem to be a throwback to some sort of mossy old past that makes little sense to the current generation of baseball fans. I'd much rather see a 1-0 game than a slugfest with a bunch of home runs. One of these days I'm going to write a little something about everything that's wrong with baseball. For the moment, though, I'll just lift a glass of bubbly to the Tampa Bay Rays and start praying for their victory over the Philadelphia Phillies, a deserving team from that other league.

The Rays now have the opportunity of being the first team ever to go from last place to World Series. Since their entry into the American League in 1998, they have averaged 97 losses a season. They finished last in the division every year but one before this magical season. In a word, this team was terrible. Their achievement thus gives hope to the hopeless. So while we're at it, another glass high for the Texas Rangers, my hapless team. In the league now since 1971 (1961 if you count their time as the expansion Washington Senators), they've yet to win a pennant. I'd say if the Rays can do it in 10 years, it's way past time that the Rangers do it, too.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Break Out the Ice Pack

Tonight there's another so-called presidential debate. Thank God it's the last one. I will watch, of course--I can't help myself--and grind my teeth at the uselessness of it. If these guys do not focus on the economy with everything going down the toilet, what's the point?

But I have no faith that we're likely to hear anything but the same echoing line of crap that I've been hearing from both sides for weeks. McCain will refuse to address the issues, and I suspect we might sense the desperateness of his campaign in the attacks he's bound to make. Obama will remain icily cool, but he won't say anything new.

I confess I have no clue what should be done about this economic debacle, and it bothers me that there's nothing like a consensus that I can see in everything I'm reading. Fact is, our current situation is not like 1929. It's like 2008, i.e., we've not been here before, and the economists and political leaders are going to have to devise something for to fix this unique problem. Why does this make me extremely nervous?

Ice pack, please!

Everything's Tanking!

Hold on to your hats, it's a long way down. Despite my post of yesterday reporting all the good news about the market rally--you did detect a certain tongue-in-cheek quality to it, didn't you?--today the Dow plunged 733+ points, almost 8 percent, and pretty much erased the 936-point jump from yesterday. Why? Because investors are concerned about the gloomy economic indicators. Things don't look good for the future.

Does it seem to you like all the furor about the bailout happened a year ago? It's now apparent that the rescue didn't rescue much of anything. This is not really news. All those smart economists did tell us that recovery was going to take awhile, but how many Joe Six-packs out there are going to remember this? Or care? Pretty soon all this bad news is going to start squeezing people in a way they haven't been squeezed just yet. Even those who still haven't lost their houses will start losing their jobs, and when that happens, the number of truly pissed-off people in this country is going to take a quantum leap.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Everything's Working!

In the course of his latest entry on "Clusterfuck Nation," a marvelous blog for the pessimists, or should I say realists, among us, Jim Kuntsler is considering the difference between our present society in America and the one that listened to FDR during the depression of the 1930s. That generation was dutiful, docile, and diligent. (And I might add, able to read and write for the most part.) Unlike the present generation of Americans, much more likely to take to the streets with their guns, prejudices, and hatreds, not to mention their ever-present and overwhelming ignorance.

Today [Kuntsler writes] we're a nation of tattooed barbarian "consumers" with no impulse control, a swollen sense of entitlement, ruled by a set of authorities ranging from one G.W. Bush to the grifter-billionaire pantheon of Wall Street CEOs -- now heading into secret bunkers with their stashes of krugerrands, freeze-dried veal Milanese, and private security squads armed with XM-8 carbines.

Doesn't sound too hopeful, does he? He never does. Why should he? My guess is most Americans who notice what's happening--do you really want to contemplate the millions who won't notice anything?--will conclude that things are just bound to get better. Look at the market yesterday! Up over 940 points, the greatest single-day rise ever! Look at the price of gasoline going down! See? Everything's working!

But there's not a single reputable commentator who says we're not in for a huge readjustment in the very way we live in this country. Kuntsler is just one, and one of the gloomiest.

But also this is not what Americans want to hear. So our corporate masters, and their lackeys the politicians and the mass media will doubtless be plying us with tidings of good cheer every time the Dow pokes up a little or some number divested from the reality of people's real lives can be cited as evidence that things are going to get back to the way they used to be. But don't believe it. Even is Kuntsler is only half right, we're all in for a very bad time, except for our masters down in their bunkers.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Snore & the Whore

Why do I watch the damn debates? I ask myself that at every one. I'm remembering now those years in the '60s and '70s when we didn't have to endure these debates. Talk about an unrecognized blessing.

These productions are not debates. These are TV theater, and very bad theater at that. I refuse to even acknowledge that these "debates" have a "winner" or "loser." Why? Because I'm basically an idiot for expecting intellectual respectability in addressing serious and crucially important questions. What a joke. First off, rarely is the question posed actually answered. And as for "debate," nothing is contested or explained or examined or understood. The standard fare that the candidates have been dispensing for months is simply chewed again and regurgitated on cue. I just can't take these tired sound bytes seriously, and I wonder how otherwise respectable commentators can sit around and discuss these things with any kind of gravitas whatever.

The "debate" last night, in so-called town meeting format, bored the life out of me. Honestly. Watching paint dry would have been more interesting than a reprise in the round of the same old crap we've been hearing for weeks on end. (And didn't all those people in Sections A through F look like they were having fun?) Which is exactly what we got. By the blessed end of these charades next week, half the country should be able to repeat great swathes of the memorized, but not memorable, talking points from both candidates.

Given the situation the country is in, the worst economic shape ever in the history of our country, not to mention the world shaking on its foundations, the two candidates for president spent all of about 5-6 minutes on the subject. What possibly could be of more relevance and importance than the economic future of the country? But no, we were soon back to a retread of what's by now become stock questions and the same stock answers. Health care, "he's going to raise your taxes," Iraq and frigging surge, and Pakistan. Not that these issues are not important. It's just that the demand for something palatable on television for the near-mindless masses trivializes and debases practically everything that appears on the tube.

I will say this. Barrack Obama is head and shoulders a cooler, more erudite, better informed, and skillful speaker and thinker than John McCain, who always appears on the edge of rage when he's not talking and clumsy when he is. What new thing did we hear? McCain learned everything he knows from a Navy chief? Well, if that's the case, we're really in trouble. But that would be nothing compared to our troubles if John McCain became president of this country. He's a war-monger, every bit as dangerous as the vile little fraud in the White House, if not more so because if, may the gods prevent it, he became president, it would be at a time of unprecedented economic upheaval. And a perfect time to distract the country with another war.

What a whore this man is! An old, lying whore. He would sell off anything to advance himself; he's clearly not stopped at selling off what honor he had and his soul. All of that was on display last night. It's a wonder Obama can sit there and listen to the torrent of lies McCain tells without punching the old bastard in the snoot. He would richly deserve it. Speaking of lies, there's a long piece in Rolling Stone that puts the lie to just about every John McCain myth you've ever heard. The title is the message: "Make Believe Maverick" I commend it; even if it's only half true--and it's got a lot more truth than that--we shouldn't be electing John McCain to a local school board. Take look also at "The Double Talk Express," which will point out nine instances of Mr McCain completely reversing earlier and sometimes admired positions on issues ranging from Bush tax cuts to torture.

Here's a guy who's benefited from a truly benign and, at one point, near-fawning press, a press and media that still doesn't take this guy to task for falsehood. Here's a self-proclaimed "maverick" who has not deviated from party line for years, and who now disavows it all and embraces the nonsense of the noisy Republican right. He needs to be kicked aside so some grownups can take over running the country.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Home Sweet Homes

I was appalled at the glimpse of reality depicted in my recent entry. "Appalled" doesn't quite express the welter of emotions those scenes stirred up in me. Horror, pity, rage, disgust, sorrow. And the questions those scenes raised in my mind, foremost of which was: where are these people who once lived in these foreclosed houses? what's happened to them?

Unfortunately, the answer in many cases, as I found, is they are living on the streets. Maybe the ones living in tents are the lucky ones. Did you know that modern-day Hoovervilles are springing up all over the country? They tend to be a bit more stylish than the Depression-era shanties--we're talking tents, tent cities sprouting like mushrooms everywhere.

Do we need any better symbol of a society in crisis than this phenomenon? These are cities in the United States of America: Chattanooga, Santa Barbara, Reno, Athens, GA. Not Third World nightmare metropolises like Lagos, Mogadishu, Manila, or Mexico City. But what's so different about about the American situation? Thousands of wretched people scratching out some kind of marginal existence on the periphery of civilization (a term I use advisedly applied to what we've become under Bush) living in makeshift shelter.

Does anyone have an accurate estimate of how many homeless people are living on the streets of American cities? How many of them are children? How many people living on the streets have jobs but cannot affording housing? There's a recent serious study here that provides some glimpses at answers. To wit:

Of the 21 cities with data available, 193,183 unduplicated persons used transitional housing or emergency shelters in the past year. Of these people 23 percent are members of households with children, 23 percent are individuals, while one percent is made up of unaccompanied youth. One to three percent of the cities’ total population used a shelter or transitional housing in the past year. Singles and unaccompanied children remain homeless an average of 4.7 months while 5.7 months is the average for families with children in the 23 survey cities (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2007). In 2006, officials estimated that, on average, single men comprise 51 percent of the homeless population, families with children 30 percent, single women 17 percent and unaccompanied youth 2 percent (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2006). In 2007, the number for families with children decreased to 23% while the other numbers remain relatively steady (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2007).

The homeless population is estimated to be 42 percent African American, 39 percent white, 13 percent Hispanic, 4 percent Native American and 2 percent Asian. An average of 22 percent of homeless single people is considered mentally ill while 8 percent of homeless individuals in a household with children were found to have mental illnesses (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2006). Thirty seven percent of single homeless people are substance abusers while 10 percent of adults with children are substance abusers. Thirteen percent of homeless singles and unaccompanied youth are employed, and 17.4 percent of members of homeless households with children are employed. (U.S. Conference of Mayors,2007)

The study goes on to say that "in virtually every city, the city's official estimated number of homeless people greatly exceeded the number of emergency shelter and transitional housing spaces . . . [and] there are few or no shelters in rural areas of the United States, despite significant levels of homelessness."

And that's why tent cities are proliferating. Hang on, if you don't have one yet, there's one coming to your very own city.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Get Smart

Every once in a while I stumble across something so good it deserves to be inserted here in toto. The following is one of those pieces. I found it here. I have heard only part of the episode on the current situation; my daughter recommends it highly. I can personally tell you that the "The Giant Pool of Money" referenced below is excellent.

A good, simple primer on the economic crisis--no reading required!
WBEZ Chicago's "This American Life" radio program has done an excellent episode on the current economic situation, what caused it, who's responsible, how it affects people outside of Wall Street, whether the bailout is a good idea, and the last minute provisions added to the now-legislation bailout that might end up actually solving the problem.

Listen at or subscribe to the weekly podcast.

Please don't miss this, and please pass it along to friends and family who need someone to just sit them down and clearly explain what the hell is going on in our economy.

(Also recommended is their program about the mortgage crisis from back in May--informative, clear, and so so prescient--called "The Giant Pool of Money".)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

One Way of Looking at It

Now isn't this interesting? I found this in this piece on Open Left. The most important way to look at the debt from the macro-economic point of view, according to author Paul Rosenberg, is as a percentage of GDP, which is essentially the tax base the government can use to pay the interest on the debt, and eventually, pay it down.

The numbers shown here show graphically, if you'll pardon the pun, what's happened in this realm over the past 60 years. The percentage went steadily downward until the Reagan presidency and the introduction of his "government is the problem" philosophy and the voodoo economics that have given us the gargantuan financial mess we're in now. What's the import of these figures? Two things, according to the writer: first, despite the incredible stupidity of the bailout, it's not the end of the world; our levels of debt can remain manageable, provided "the next President is sane (i.e. not a Republican)." Second, and obviously: supply-side, voodoo economics don't work. They spawn massive and needless increases in public debt.

See? I'm not always a gloomy Gus. I know you were dying to hear something positive about the detestable Wall Street bailout, so you can pin a little hope to this theory.


If you can stomach watching, this is what's going on all over the country. The lives of the people depicted here are also what the $700 billion bailout bill our honored representatives in Congress refuses to notice, much less, help.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

So Long, Juice--Finally

Amidst all the other clamor--the bailout, the crashing of the market, the VP debate--a Las Vegas jury found O. J. Simpson guilty on 12 felony counts including armed robbery and kidnapping on Friday. The story says he could spend the rest of his life in jail. If that's the case, I hope lives to be 150.

Bimbo Survives

I really have no idea why I watch the Presidential Debates, so-called. I haven't missed many since I started watching them years ago. Why do I waste my time? One generalization I can make about all of them, no exclusions, is that they are not debates in any sense of the word in English. The candidates stand there and mouth talking points most often only loosely connected with the question that was asked.

Which brings us to the subject of Thursday night's "debate" between the vice presidential candidates. Here's the flash: Sarah Palin survived. Yes, along with all the other millions, I was there in front of the tube to see if Sarah Palin, the Alaskan bimbo, would live up to the potential she displayed in the Katie Couric interviews. In my opinion, she did . . . only she wasn't as deliciously vacuous as then. Of course, this was to be expected. This woman really hasn't got a clue. One of those pleasently-packaged people who manages to skate by serious scrutiny from other people who cannot get beyond the surface trifle.

But maybe it's better to stay there on the surface. Seriously. Because this woman is grossly deficient in any quality you would expect in an actual aspirant for the vice presidency of the United States. A common reaction among the pundits was that Palin did much better than expected, didn't terminally embarrass herself and sink the McCain ticket right on the spot--which is the ultimate in damning with faint praise. See here, here, and here, for just a few examples. Others were scathing in their appraisal of the woman's ineptness: here, here, and here.

I agree with both these camps: yes, she managed to stagger through the 90 minutes without completely discrediting herself, but, my God, she was otherwise awful. Did not directly answer any of the questions put to her, completely ignored some, constantly filled the air with the misleading if not completely false talking points pumped into her head over the past few days by her (probably desperate) handlers. Drove me crazy with her unrelenting cuteness and folksy blather--"doggone it"--and that phony aw-shucks-I'm-just-like-all-the-rest-of-you facade. Well, she ain't anything like anybody else except ignorant, Bible-beating suburbanites who actually have SUVs to drive kids to soccer, whose husbands actually have jobs, who work at what they do "outside the home" for "self-fulfillment," and who think gays are hell-bound, and God's going to take care of everything. (You know who they are: you saw them in all their splendor screaming "USA! USA!" and "Sarah! Sarah!" at the Republican convention.) And you just know that the phrase "Say it ain't so, Joe," was on her pre-programmed program to insert sometime during the evening. Sure enough, she got it in. My poor wife had to listen to my raving at the TV screen several times during the debate.

David Brooks, conservative NY Times pundit and Lehrer Newshour commentator, like many of his GOP colleagues, congratulated Palin for not self-immolating before the millions. This excellent Glenn Greenwald piece takes him to task for contending, in the face of polling data showing just the opposite, that Palin is just the sort of American sweetheart people will happily vote for. But Greenwald's criticism is downright kind compared to this entertaining savage attack. It's an attack worthy of the bubble-brained woman who ultimately inspired it.

The Champagne's Still Flowing

The House yesterday passed the 400-plus page Wall Street Bailout Bill by a comfortable margin. It's gotten almost too late for my mind to be functioning properly, but it's on autopilot when it comes to this bailout bill. Sssshhhhhh. If you're real quiet, you can still hear the champagne corks popping in the swank offices and plush hideaways of all those execrable bastards who'll now be bellying up to the biggest free feed anybody could ever dream up. Yes, the fat cats and grubby capitalists are still celebrating their successful scare campaign to saddle the next three generations of Americans with the trillion-dollar bill for their profligate greed.

I really don't have the heart left to bemoan this terrible defeat of the American people at the hands their elected representatives. I agree completely with David Sirota over on Open Left, who has the energy to castigate the wimp-out Democrats and Republicans in the House who switched their votes from against the bailout bill on Monday to for the bailout bill on Friday. He also notes that the market went down the crapper yesterday, despite passage of the Wall Street bailout. Remember way back on Tuesday we heard about how the market tanked because of the House's refusal to pass the bill? Seems those things don't exactly track.

I just want to make a few short points, and then I'm going to bed.

1. Don't you even believe that $700 billion will be what this abomination is going to cost. Oh no, it's going to be hundreds of billions more than this.

2. The Democrats, especially Nancy Pelosi, ought to hang their heads in shame. Stripped to its essentials, what they did was vote practically en masse for a "solution" dictated to them by the White House and its vile inhabitant president. Think about it: this is George W. Bush's plan we're talking about. You like how all his other plans have worked out for eight years? Well, if you supported this giveaway to Wall Street, don't you even think about whining and crying when this POS doesn't work, and the country not only has to pony up more billions for more ailing capitalists but also gets further into deep and lasting depression. I guarantee you, we haven't seen the last of business bailouts. There's another whole world of sectors out there who are now going to come calling with their grasping little hands out. (What did I tell you? I didn't consider the individual US state sector. Arnold Schwartzenegger wants $7 billion to meet California's bills. . . . And so it begins.)

3. You think you're going to get an unbiased administration of this bill from Paulson, a former CEO mogul at Goldman-Sachs who's worth about $500 million? You don't? Well, then maybe all the frigging investment bankers who got us into this mess and who will be contracted to administer the bailout will give the country even-handed administration. If you believe that, you and tooth fairy are drinking buddies. Words haven't really been devised to describe the corruption to come, brothers and sisters.

4. Obama's administration--I do think he's going to win the election--is going to be consumed with cleaning up the shit piled up from the last 8 years, and it won't be very long before the Republicans will be blaming him for all the existing shit and all the shit that's going to result from this "rescue plan." Nobody will remember that it was Bush and his untrammeled market policies that contributed most mightily to the financial disaster.

5. Start praying right now, even if you don't believe in prayer. We ordinary citizens need all the help we can get.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Mad Dog Palin

. . . is the title of a piece I just read by Matt Taibbi, whom I try never to miss. He's got such a crackling writing style, and he's funny, and he's correct almost all the time, too.

Best line, in talking about the Palin address to the Republican convention: "It was like watching Gidget address the Reichstag."

The Beast at the Trough

The lumbering, slavering beast that is our so-called "defense" establishment gets fed no matter what. Chew on this statement for a second from an article in The Nation:

Our annual spending on "national security"--meaning the defense budget plus all military expenditures hidden in the budgets for the departments of Energy, State, Treasury and Veterans Affairs, the CIA and numerous other places in the executive branch--already exceeds a trillion dollars, an amount larger than that of all other national defense budgets combined.
In the midst of all this hullabaloo over the bailout bill, hardly a soul noticed the $619 billion defense authorization bill. This passed the House on September 24 right in the middle of all the furor over the bailout.

The defense bill includes $68.6 billion to pursue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is only a down payment on the full yearly cost of these wars. (The rest will be raised through future supplementary bills.) [By the way, I heard on NPR earlier today that the US commander in Afghanistan wants . . . guess what? More troops and more money.] It also included a 3.9 percent pay raise for military personnel, and $5 billion in pork-barrel projects not even requested by the administration or the Secretary of Defense. It also fully funds the Pentagon's request for a radar site in the Czech Republic, a harebrained scheme sure to infuriate the Russians just as much as a Russian missile base in Cuba once infuriated us. The whole bill passed by a vote of 392-39 and will fly through the Senate, where a similar bill has already been approved.
Have you heard a single bleat of protest about this outrage? The positively absurd, and in the present climate, destructive and sinful amount of money we give to the Pentagon and their bloated friends in the military-industrial complex ought to have the people marching in the streets. Our lawmakers ought to be jumping up and down on their desks. Our editorial pages ought to be flaming with outrage. But don't hold your breath waiting for any of this to happen. You'll keel over all blue-faced and die.