Tag Archives: Economy

Mic Check

Occupy Atlanta at the State CapitalSaturday was a day of occupation and solidarity in cites around the world. In Atlanta, there was a march from “Troy Davis Park,” the name used by the occupying residents of Woodruff Park, to the state capital.

Economic Refugee Camps
Occupy Atlanta is a populist movement. It is not affiliated with any political party and vows not to be hijacked either. It is, at least by intent, neither liberal or conservative. Those in the camps are, generally, young or homeless. They are symbolic refugees in the richest country in the world. They are our surrogates.

Occupy Atlanta at Troy Davis/Woodruff ParkThey represent the tens of millions of Americans who are unemployed or underemployed and cannot find work to sustain their lives. They represent the millions of homeless men and women who have lost everything in their path to the American dream. They represent all of those whose lives have been upended by the richest one percent among us who have gamed the system. They represent those who fought for our nation and returned to find there were no opportunities in the land of opportunity. They are standing in for those of us who live off peanut butter and oatmeal. Those of us who live day to to day and are just one missing paycheck from being homeless. Those of us whose homes have been repossessed or sold by bankers with fake documents. Those of us who borrowed tens of thousands or more for college tuition, only to find no work. Those of us whose homes are worth less than we paid. Those of us who put their faith in the system and were betrayed by their leaders who have been bribed by lobbyist shills of the one-percenters. Those of us who had the audacity of hope and had it crushed by compromise and a just-say-no Congress. Those of us who believed in the Republicans or the Democrats to do the right thing and were lied to. They may not look like us, but they are us. They are “we the people.” They are the 99%.

Violinist at Occupy Atlanta at Troy Davis/Woodruff ParkThe urban campers seem to be motivated by the deep sense that something is fundamentally wrong in our nation and the world. That something must to be changed. They are earnest and brave. They have given up their lives to stand in and stand up for us.

The rally to the capital was “organized” by MoveOn.org, and not without some discontent from the folks at Occupy Atlanta who expressed concern that MoveOn was attempting to subvert the Occupy movement to support President Obama.

The march and rally was a diverse crowd. Aging activists. Middleclass believers. People of all walks, skin color, origin, hair length, wardrobe choice and life experience.

Occupy Atlanta is not the sixties antiwar movement. The sixties may have been easy in comparison – one real issue, one solution. This time, the issues are complicated.

Signs at Occupy Atlanta rally at the Capital StepsI had a deep feeling that something was different while listening to those on the capital steps who walked up to the microphone or took the people’s mic, and said, “mic check.” This was the real deal. The speakers were not polished. The talking points were largely unrehearsed. Anyone could take the mic. It was messy. There was chaos – confusion, sure, but more in the definition of “the infinity of space or formless matter supposed to have preceded the existence of the ordered universe.”

The goal of the rally was not to convince, but to be heard. Some at the mic sounded eerily like the tea partiers. Some seemed awkward Obama apologists. Some had watched too many television pundits or listened to too much talk radio.

All, however, were seeking change. All were challenging each other to find solutions. Some argued that we the people can make the jobs and change America and the world. Others just told stories of hardship and overcoming since the economic collapse. The banksters and multi-national corporations were a consistent target of the anger. The bailout money was blamed as a missed opportunity. The war a terrible waste of our people and our treasure. That the wealth disparity was terribly wrong and had to be fixed. They spoke of the need for justice – social, and for those on Wall Street. But each came back to the need for jobs.

Occupy Wall Street’s goal is not to overthrow the government, but a revolution to overthrow the status quo. The movement is seeking the people’s solution from the people’s voice.

I don’t pretend to know what it takes to motivate one person to get off their couch and into the street. Perhaps, it will take a second wave of bank failures and layoffs. Or another Selma moment. Or a leader who could emerge inspired by yesterday’s dedication of the MLK memorial, realizing the civil rights movement is part of the human rights movement and so much work is left to be done. But as Chris Hedges wrote today in Truth-Out.org, it is “A Movement Too Big to Fail.”

One month old today:
Occupy Wall Street is a people-powered movement that began on September 17, 2011 in Liberty Square in Manhattan’s Financial District, and has spread to over 100 cities in the United States and actions in over 1,500 cities globally. #OWS is fighting back against the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process, and the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations. The movement is inspired by popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, and aims to expose how the richest 1% of people are writing the rules of an unfair global economy that is foreclosing on our future. – OccupyWallSt.org

 

 

 

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Post updated 10.18.11 9:53 am. Author’s note: It has come to my attention that I, nor my editors, could save me from my embarrassing blunder that my “playfully anthropomorphizing” [NYT] of microphone, should not be “Mike,” it should be “Mic.” The post has been updated to make sure every reader knows the potential that I have for stupid.

Did you see The Warning?

For anyone who would like to know how the economic meltdown could happen and when it will happen it again, you just have to see this show: PBS Frontline: The Warning. As you’d expect, it stars a bunch of rich powerful middle-aged white men in courageous battle to protect Ayn Rand’s dream of unfettered capitalism against one woman, Brooksley Born, who dared to raise her hand and suggest that the super secret, totally unregulated, multi-trillion dollar derivatives markets needed adult supervision. It is riveting. Find out how we hunted down those responsible and made sure they can’t do it to us again. Spend a few minutes strolling memory lane with the greatest leaders of our lives: Ford, Reagan, Greenspan, Clinton, Rubin, Gramm and others. Here’s a 4 minute preview:



In The Warning, veteran FRONTLINE producer Michael Kirk unearths the hidden history of the nation’s worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. At the center of it all he finds Brooksley Born, who speaks for the first time on television about her failed campaign to regulate the secretive, multitrillion-dollar derivatives market whose crash helped trigger the financial collapse in the fall of 2008.

“I didn’t know Brooksley Born,” says former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt, a member of President Clinton’s powerful Working Group on Financial Markets. “I was told that she was irascible, difficult, stubborn, unreasonable.” Levitt explains how the other principals of the Working Group — former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan and former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin — convinced him that Born’s attempt to regulate the risky derivatives market could lead to financial turmoil, a conclusion he now believes was “clearly a mistake.”

Born’s battle behind closed doors was epic, Kirk finds. The members of the President’s Working Group vehemently opposed regulation — especially when proposed by a Washington outsider like Born.

“I walk into Brooksley’s office one day; the blood has drained from her face,” says Michael Greenberger, a former top official at the CFTC who worked closely with Born. “She’s hanging up the telephone; she says to me: ‘That was [former Assistant Treasury Secretary] Larry Summers. He says, “You’re going to cause the worst financial crisis since the end of World War II.”… [He says he has] 13 bankers in his office who informed him of this. Stop, right away. No more.'”

Greenspan, Rubin and Summers ultimately prevailed on Congress to stop Born and limit future regulation of derivatives. “Born faced a formidable struggle pushing for regulation at a time when the stock market was booming,” Kirk says. “Alan Greenspan was the maestro, and both parties in Washington were united in a belief that the markets would take care of themselves.”

Now, with many of the same men who shut down Born in key positions in the Obama administration, The Warning reveals the complicated politics that led to this crisis and what it may say about current attempts to prevent the next one.

“It’ll happen again if we don’t take the appropriate steps,” Born warns. “There will be significant financial downturns and disasters attributed to this regulatory gap over and over until we learn from experience.” – PBS Frontline

Get Me Off The Road, Please

Driving on the interstates is inherently irrationalDriving on the interstates is inherently irrational. To think that the drivers of all those other cars would voluntarily and routinely entrust theirs and their family’s lives to me is nuts. Based solely on a ten minute driving test in high school, with no knowledge of  my driving skills, my car maintenance or my attention span, and regardless of whether I’m returning a call, Twittering, checking email, drinking coffee or booze, locating an iPod playlist, picking my nose, watching a DVD, lost or lost in thought, they have enough faith in me to share the highway at speeds guaranteed to to kill and maim. With my car aimed directly at theirs, they ride along fearlessly believing they are more likely to fall asleep from boredom than my minimum breaking distance. Why do they do it? What makes where they are going so important? Why do they trust me completely at 75 miles an hour, but while standing still they lock their doors? Beat’s me. My driving scares the bejesus out of me. It’s a miracle we make it safely any time I drive. I believe I need to be stopped. I’m hoping all those other drivers will organize and decide it is time to get me, and all the others like me, off the road. Trains come to mind. Trains that go places people, especially drivers like me, want to go. Modern, fast, clean, energy efficient trains. Spurs the economy. Creates jobs. And will save lives – maybe yours. Think about it. Then write your Congresspeople. Your life may depend it on it.

It is a tough time to be anything

believe_0001It is an awful time to passionately believe in something. Be it liberal, conservative, or independent. No one is happy.

For all our freedom, America is a lousy place to be a zealot. Sure, you can talk the talk almost as loud as you wish. You can carry signs, march, demonstrate, blog, tweet, harangue, chant, argue, and pontificate – but in the end, it will be decided by politicians, pollsters and lobbyists.

  • Anti-war? 30,000 more troops are going to Afghanistan. We’ll assess the situation on the ground before bringing our troops home and it will take at least 3 years after that.
  • A hawk on defense? We are only sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan and we’re getting out in 18 months.
  • Health care reform with or without public option? It won’t be a true public option and we’ll spend more because of it, but actually pay for it less. There is something in it for everyone to love and everyone to hate.
  • Immigration reform? We’re still building a wall with Mexico. There’s no path to citizenship for people who are here illegally, but we still pay for their emergency health care and now provide alternatives to detaining those who are caught.
  • Wall Street regulation? Tough regulation is planned, but it will take another meltdown to get it out of committee.
  • Deficit reduction? In this tough economy, we can’t cut spending or raise taxes – or won’t. The deficit doesn’t matter – or it does.
  • Unemployment and the economy stupid? We’ll extend the benefits for those who get unemployment; provide some food stamps, but little else for others unemployed or underemployed; give trillions to the banks so they’ll make loans which they won’t; spend hundreds of billions on works projects that are subverted by states to help their budgets; and do nothing to re-capitalize small business.
  • Alternative energy and domestic production? We bailed out GM. Wasted billions then abandoned Chrysler. We provided incentives to buy cars that get “at least 22 mpg,” continue to subsidize oil with taxes, but created no new tax or incentive to reduce consumption. We have provided some, but not much, stimulus money for alternative energy, conservation and light rail.
  • Equal rights and discrimination? We are still “studying” don’t ask, don’t tell. It is still okay to discriminate based on sexual orientation except where it isn’t. You cannot hire or fire someone because of their race, age or gender, but it is fine to do so if you can make up some other reason. Racial, religious and ethnic profiling is wrong, but okay if it protects us.

I could go on, but let me just ask: is there any issue anyone outside of Washington is happy with?

Mindlessness must be the route to happiness. Things are great as long as you don’t care. Stay away from the news and just watch another survivor or gossip show (or anything on television). Grey is the new black. Grey is the new white. We know the economy is making a comeback because fewer people lost their jobs last week. President Obama accepts the Peace prize the same week he announces escalation of the war.

“A good compromise, a good piece of legislation, is like a good sentence; or a good piece of music. Everybody can recognize it. They say, ‘Huh. It works. It makes sense.’” – Barack Obama

“All compromise is based on give and take, but there can be no give and take on fundamentals. Any compromise on mere fundamentals is a surrender. For it is all give and no take.” – Mohandas Gandhi

“So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” – Revelation 3:16 (King James)

“Don’t worry, be happy” – Bobby McFerrin Bobby McFerrin - Best of Bobby McFerrin - Don't Worry, Be Happy

Plan A

elephant-in-the-roomThere’s a cold dark secret inside the White House, your state house and your city hall. You aren’t likely to hear it discussed on talk tv. There are no talking points prepared. Don’t expect mass email blasts raising money for it. No one wants to talk about it. It is the elephant (or donkey depending on your affiliation) in every room.

It explains why healthcare reform will be in name only. Why regulation of banks and Wall Street will be studied in committee well into next year. It is why K Street still has its way on the hill. Why oil prices are going back up although demand isn’t driving it. Why our investments in green are longterm. Why there’s no hurry to get our troops home. Why we can throw money at GM and buy a few extra weapons programs we don’t want and won’t use. Why so much of our stimulus was to help the states who can’t borrow, or was for shovel-ready projects that were just another name for pork. The cold dark secret explains why Republican Bush and Democrat Obama would each bet the house (ours) and ask willing bi-partisan Congresses for blank checks –  all caring less how they are cashed.

This secret is more important than jobs, foreclosures, funding pensions, deficits, global warming, peace, food or clean water. It keeps every sober politician up at night and makes every other drink themselves to sleep. It is the source of their power. This isn’t about mid-term elections. For them, it is all of it. Every last senator, congressperson, governor, mayor and political appointee, regardless of party, has known the crisis was coming, but they had already drank the Kool-Aid. Now, there’s only one way out.

Tax revenues are way down and falling. Their only hope is a Wall Street bubble.

The villains who caused it are now heroes in waiting. “It’s the economy stupid” has been replaced with “it’s the Dow Jones stupid.” The only answer found by our best and brightest is to purposely have history repeat. The speculators are speculating. Our government has provided all the chips and is covering all the bets. They don’t care who gets rich, or how rich. They just know that it is the only way quick enough for enough people to make enough income so enough people pay enough taxes that our great nation of cards won’t fall during their watch. At least not this year.

Our cities and states are suffering. It is way too late to raise taxes and too few are left to pay. Cutting enough spending will just make it worse. Creating jobs is too hard and takes too long. Another housing bubble can’t work until we have finished burping the last. They have never had faith in the middle class and had just as soon be rid of them. Wall Street bubbles are quick, cheap and they’ve done it before. Plus, you can do it with half the country unemployed or paralyzed in debt.

Don’t get your hopes up for anything else. There is no plan B. All the rest is just sport to keep us distracted.

A sermon for the choir

Listen up you godless, spineless, irrational, sushi-eating, America-blaming, terrorist-coddling, morally superior, Hollywood-humping, liberal, defeatocrat, progressive, elitist, Marxist, business-bashing, whining, pinko, tree-hugging, vegan-exalting, crackpot, sanctimonious, stem-cell-sucking, tofu-chomping, out-of-touch, pantywaist, tax-hiking, Obamaton snobs*. This is a defining moment. A tipping point. A chance such as we have never had before. A chance that we, the world, will never have again.perfect_storm

This is the moment. It will define the future of our children and generations to come. Forever. This is a planet-changing moment. Life and death serious. We have a narrow window and it will close. I fear we are going to blow it. Grab a beer and watch it on TV. Cheat this chance to make our brief moments here matter. I fear, we are going to damn ourselves to an eventual, perhaps, inevitable oblivion and take everyone with us.

You know the litany. The talking points. Stop. Think about them. This is real. A storm more perfect than facts know or fiction dreamed.  We should be in the streets.

Say these things out loud:

  • Rapid climate change is occurring; the ice caps are melting; the oceans are rising, our planet is warming.
  • The world is in a great recession – a world where more than 80% already live on less than $10 a day.
  • People are starving all over the planet.
  • More than a billion people don’t have clean drinking water; almost as many can’t read or write.
  • We have a global pandemic.
  • Iran, Pakistan and North Korea have nuclear weapons.
  • Fundamentalism, ethnic sovereignty and terrorism have made many of the world’s governments unstable.
  • Recipes for bio-weapons are on the internet.
  • Even per capita, there are more guns in the world than ever before.
  • Pollution and over-fishing have 80% of our fish stocks in danger of collapse.
  • Industrial pollution, the overuse of pesticides, antibiotics and fertilizer runoff have all species at risk.
  • Global drilling and mining cartels, most controlled by dictators, hold the world’s economy hostage – while our natural resources dwindle.
  • In the US:
    • We are in two wars – weapons spending continues to increase.
    • Our deficit will be almost $2 trillion this year and will get worse.
    • Medical care gobbles one of every five dollars and will eat more – 1 out of 3 have no health insurance.
    • Most lost half the value of their retirement and investments last year.
    • Half of us have an unemployed family member who won’t find a job this year – it is getting worse.
    • We have record numbers of bankruptcies, mortgage foreclosures and people in prison.
    • Lobbyists and campaign funds continue to control our government.
    • Our farm subsidies have destroyed small farms around the world.
    • 39 states cut 2009 spending for Medicaid, schools and other services for families (12 Southern states out of 16) – more cuts will come for years to come.
    • Our government now insures most mortgages, business and investments around the world.
    • We bailed out Wall Street.

Yet, we have the audacity of hope. A new, smart, charismatic and popular president with a majority in both houses.  Will we have the dramatic change he promised and the world needs? No reason to think so.

More troops are on their way to Afghanistan with no talk of an exit strategy.

  • CIA-guided bombings and other incursions into Pakistan are now routine.
  • Record lobby spending has regulation for Wall Street languishing as Goldman Sachs reports billions of profits on high risk investments.
  • The stimulus bill passed, but is just a band-aid to state budgets, builds too many roads we don’t need, extends some unsustainable benefits for too small a percentage of the unemployed and suffering, does little to create consumption or re-start business, and will rollout so slowly, most of us won’t notice.
  • The energy bill that passed the House and is in the Senate is an insult to all of us who wish to breath and have hope for our future – the Senate is sure to make it worse.
  • The heath care bill has been introduced in the House, but don’t expect much or soon – something is likely to pass this year, but it surely will be a another Congressional camel that sustains all that is bad (private insurance, for instance) while helping some, but not nearly enough.

liberalsearchingfor

It isn’t too late, but our leaders don’t think we care. They don’t believe many of us are paying attention to what they do, only to what talk TV and talk radio say about what they do. They also know our attention span is greater for Michael Jackson than for debate on Capital Hill. They know we won’t hold them accountable in the next election. They know we aren’t organized. That we are too busy worrying about having a place to live, feeding our families, updating our Facebook and ducking calls from credit card companies. They know the generation who took to the streets in the 60’s are in their 60’s. The rest of us are too busy, too lazy, too fearful, too preoccupied.


Bully Pulpit

Brother and sisters, I come before you today a shaken man. I fear our dream will turn into a nightmare. I fear the sinners on Wall Street and K Street will not repent. That the sick and suffering among us will be turned away. That the little children will continue to gather in the refugee camps to pick through the garbage. That the best and brightest will continue to die in service alongside the powerless and innocent collateral damage. I fear the new President will accept the lukewarm bills in Congress – neither hot nor cold, and not spit them out. I fear that sound from the corporate boardrooms, from the sheiks and dictators, from the oil wells to the new car show rooms, will be, “Hallelujah, we did it to them again. Praise greed almighty.”

I have seen the promised land and it is only on TV. Can I please not get an “amen”?

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* Apologies for borrowing “liberally” from the Liberal Insult Generator

Over Stimulated in Atlanta

Post_PropertiesDon’t get me wrong. I’m all for the stimulus bill. I think it is absolutely appropriate for Washington to replace the imaginary money lost on Wall Street with imaginary money from the treasury.

Don’t get me wrong. I know they have to spend it on something. Roads are easy. Might as well add a lane or two everywhere. It means jobs, which means people can eat. And, I love the hardworking people we have invited from other countries to do the work. It’s just, well, I really don’t like the inconvenience of the construction delays.

I think it might have been much better for all of us if the stimulus bill was just spent on government buildings. For instance, why not rebuild the Capitol, the White House and the Treasury Building? Do the same at the Stock Exchange. Yeah, they’d have to tear the buildings down first. Then it would take years to rebuild. Couldn’t that be wonderful? They’d be soooo inconvenienced. It would be years before they screw us further. We need a local stimulus, too, so we could do the same in each of the states and our cities.  That could be even better.

This morning (Saturday), the workers appeared on the scaffolding outside my window promptly at 9:05 AM. They won’t leave until about 6:00, unless it rains. They have been at it for almost three months and will be here at least another two. They are wonderfully hardworking, respectful and well-mannered young men. No, none of the 120 workers on the crew are female. A handful do speak English, but mostly it is a Spanish lesson for us.

They are repairing the building I live in because the owner needs to sell it (Post Properties; current stock quote). Something about a bad economy, a depressed stock price and needing to raise cash. They tried hard last year to dump it, but the windows weren’t flashed correctly and there was some wood damage under the stucco in a few places. The section of the building I live in was perfectly fine, but they replaced the doors, ripped off the stucco, re-flashed, re-insulated, etc. anyway. Made a real mess. Loud. Dirty. Stressful. No privacy. No views. Makes me angry to walk down the hall and feel the crunch of construction debris under my feet. To see the security doors wide open. To hear the saws and the hammering. I truly hate them for it. Good for the economy, I guess. Just not convenient.

I talked with some of the workers about it. I asked what it is like to tear down a perfectly good building and build it back? The younger workers looked to the older ones for signs of how to answer this Anglo. They smiled and nodded politely. Laughed. Waited patiently to see if I were going to continue asking them questions in a language they didn’t understand. I knew I was talking to myself, but they were the only ones who would listen.

The stimulus spending will start most everywhere soon. You’ll learn what it is like. Inconvenient, but good for the economy.