Tuesday, December 30, 2008

I Hate Saying "I Told You So."


…Especially when it’s about something like this.

Sandra Ward of Barron’s has written an excellent piece about the coming credit card industry crisis. Although, it’s focused on warning investors, it’s a good top-to-bottom look at the credit industry’s exposure to mass defaults brought on by still rising unemployment.

I mentioned this particular inevitability at the end of a post back in September on the economic crisis. Many were wondering why certain product and retail sectors seemed unaffected by the crisis in the financial markets and the collapse of consumer spending power. My answer was that people were still using their credit cards… and now, predictably, like the investment banks that traded on overvalued “bad” debt in waiting, the credit card lenders are teetering over a precipice of their own making:
The credit card companies made it far too easy for unqualified, undercapitalized citizens to borrow, and borrow huge. Back in the early 1990s, it was said by politicians that this was good for the economy.

Debt is never, ever good. Debt may be tolerable, even necessary at extreme times, but it is never “good.

These companies have done truly despicable things to Americans:
The credit card companies preyed on people who didn’t understand the mutable one-sided agreements they were signing on to. The credit card companies ramped up interest rates, in many cases retroactively, on things already purchased by credit card holders at earlier points in time. These greedy out-of-control companies made money for the past twenty-eight years on penalties, late fees, and groundlessly escalating double digit interest fees assigned according to draconian rules and regulations decided by none other than their own lawyers and CMOs, (who uitilized stunningly criminal innovations like “Universal Default.”) They had a huge hand in creating this phony upsurge in prosperity that the manufacturing and retail sectors have enjoyed since 1990 on the back of “consumer spending”. “Consumer borrowing” is in fact what has made the consumer spending index increase year after year since 1980… the same year in which laws that governed lending were relaxed to allow for all kinds of ridiculous freewheeling abuse. 1980 is the same year that Delaware became the primary home for this coven of vampires masquerading as credit card companies when its legislature and its Governor decided its own prosperity was more important than regulating credit card companies.

Now it’s 2008 and they’re in trouble. The people they’ve been ripping off can’t pay for it anymore.

Doesn’t this sound familiar?
Doesn’t this sound exactly like what happened in the fund markets and to investment banks with their greedy exposures to unreliable mortgage debts?
I have opposed every bail out as structured by the Bush administration, the Senate, Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke. If there’s any talk… I mean the slightest mention of a bail out for those same credit card companies who have abused people like me and you, crushing us all with usurious penalties, I will join every class action suit in progress and work toward beginning a few on my own.

This is an outrage. We cannot bail out predatory lenders.

The bad debts these companies carry would likely be paid off if they didn’t bury people with interest rates and agreements that don’t let them address the higher interest segments of a debt before paying down the lower interest segments year after year.
These companies have been paid and then some, but like some toothless, Neanderthal leg-breaker, they just keep saying they’re owed more, “but that don’t make it so, rummy.” Just ask any college student with a credit card assigned APR of 29.9999% who can’t make a dent in the principal because the initial “finance charges” of his/her transactions are not touched by his monthly payments.


Ask the students of America why nobody thinks they need a bail out.


I really do hate the fact that this is my last weblog post for 2008. I would rather have written about the great progress made for American citizens by the Senate on beating these greedy companies back, but since those regulations wouldn’t go into effect until 2010, even if they actually pass, -I’m staying real negative.

When Bank of America, Chase, CitiGroup come to Washington DC with tin cups in hand, telling us some crazy nonsense about how the health of their industry somehow should matter to us more than our own future… remember I told you so. Don’t ever make the mistake of thinking they’re too proud to ask for our tax dollars.

I’m calling my lawyer, my representatives, my senators, my AG, my state AG, and my friends…

Hey! How about that? I managed not to curse!

Happy 2009 everybody.

-SJ

Monday, December 29, 2008

What A Time It Was

2008 will long be remembered for the momentous election that brought America its first Black President. It will also be remembered for the disastrous economic collapse. The American people bought into Barack Obama's message of hope and possibility, while watching the economy collapse around them. It was a year in which America showed that it still had some idealism in it while bearing witness to the catastrophic results of unbridled greed and cynicism.

I'm not sure how you wrap up a year like this one. However, I prefer to focus on the positive aspects of 2008. I don't know if there's a lot left to say, so I'll just include a portion of an article that I wrote back in March.


Imagine what it would be like to wake up the day after the general election in November and realize that America had elected it's first non white-male President. It would say so much about how far the country has come. It would be a significant step to showing how far we have come toward fulfilling the ideal of America. We are supposed to be that "shining city on a hill", we are supposed to believe "that there is a placed called hope", we are supposed to think that we are guided by "the better angels of our nature". That is the dream that we have been asked to buy for so long.

I don't know the answer to the question of whether Obama or Clinton would be a better President than McCain, but no one does. If we allow fear and hatred to make that decision for us then we turn our back on everything that this country is supposed to stand for. I am not saying that people should vote for the Democratic candidate to prove a point. What I am saying is that each candidate must be judged on the merits and not pre-judged on their race, religion or gender. That really is all I ask. Is that so much? Judging by what I hear and read every day, apparently it is. I do hope that this election cycle will prove me wrong. I can hope that we have a fair and above board election. I can hope that the majority of Americans stand up and reject the politics of hate and fear. I can hope that this is the year, that we as a country, (as Dr. King so eloquently stated), "rise up and live out the true meaning of our creed". I can only hope.

I'll end this post with the lyrics to "Bookends" by Paul Simon:

"Time it was, and what a time it was, it was. A time of innocence, a time of confidences. Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph. Preserve your memories; They're all that's left you."

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Beating a Dead Horse

The Rod Blagojevich scandal is continuing to drag on with no end in sight. He US Attorney Fitzpatrick is refusing to release the wiretapped conversations of Blagojevich, which are the backbone of the case against the Governor. Therefore any planned impeachment hearings against him are basically stalled because they don't have the primary evidence needed to remove him from office. The Obama camp has released their internal investigation which shows that at least two of members of the President-elect's staff had contact with Blagojevich. The nature of these contacts is basically what is being questioned by the more desperate elements of the Republican Party and the press. Fitzpatrick has already stated that nobody on the Obama team is under investigation and the facts that have been released to date seem to point to the fact that they never offered or seriously discussed any sort of payoff for the Governor for the Senate appointment. That doesn't seem to be enough for those who are hell bent on trying to stain the incoming President.

The internal Obama report said that his Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel spoke with the Governor on two occasions. The Fitzpatrick report seems to suggest that they may have been a couple of more instances than that. That discrepancy should not scream COVER UP to any rational person, especially when the nature of the contact is not in dispute. However the Right Wing would have you believe that the discrepancy is evidence of a lack of transparency from the Obama team. The release date of the Obama team report was itself a cause of a great outcry because it was delayed at the request of the US Attorney's office. The press tried to make a story out of this along with the usual suspects on the Right.

All accounts of Blagojevich's contact with the Obama team confirm that no one was willing to offer him anything other than "appreciation" for the appointment. His recorded conversations include some profanity laced tirades in which he blows off Obama and his team because they are unwilling to offer him anything for the seat. This is clearly a national story because it involves corruption at a high level and it impacts the Senate seat from Illinois, however this story is not about Barack Obama. The press and the far right continue to try to play the guilt by association game (which worked so well for them during the campaign) but there is literally nothing there.

I have even heard the ridiculous claim that if somehow Obama had been more forthcoming initially, this would no longer be a story. First of all, Obama delayed the release of his report at the request of the US Attorney and secondly that is just a bunch of nonsense. The Obama name is like gold for a news starved press and there is no doubt that regardless of the speed of his response, there would continue to be "questions" raised in order to maintain the appearance of a scandal. If this is the level of nonsense that we can look forward to in the coverage of the President-elect, then we are in for a long four years indeed.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Money For Nothing

$1.6 billion. Let's just think about that number for a moment. $1.6 billion. That's one thousand and six hundred million dollars. According to the AP, that is the total of the salary and bonuses that were given out to the top executives at the banks and financial institutions that were involved in the government bailout. I know that some financial institutions were in better shape than others, but I don't remember hearing about any that had a great year. Certainly if there were banks that had not invested heavily in derivatives, then they would not have been in line to get a government handout. Every single institution who accepted a government handout played fast and lose with the money that was entrusted to them by the public. They were reckless and greedy at best and immoral and criminal at worst. Somehow, even while pushing the international economic system to the brink of collapse, it turns out that the executives of those institutions were doing a stellar job.

Apparently there is no executive in the financial industry who feels the slightest bit responsible for squandering billions of dollars and for creating a situation that will force millions of people to default on their home loans. Do these people have a conscience? How do you suppose they feel as they spend this holiday season at one of their seven homes, which they flew to via private jet provided by the same companies that are receiving billions of dollars in aid from a public that can't even afford to pay their mortgages? Actually, I'm sure they feel pretty good. Isn't a free market system based on the principle of survival of the fittest? Therefore they must be the fittest people in America.

Clearly, the people upon whose blood, sweat and tears, the fortunes of the privileged few have been made, don't deserve to be helped the way the fittest have been helped. Why should the government help the least among us, when it can secure the fortunes of the ones with the most among us? Why would this administration, in particular, come up with solutions that might actually help someone other than the people who contributed heavily to their election? Why? Why you ask? I'll give you 1.6 billion reasons why! The ridiculous compensation of top executives cannot continue without a reasonably healthy middle class. Even out of their own greed-driven self-interest, Wall St. and the White House should realize that if the middle class collapses, their seemingly endless gravy train comes to a complete stop. Our economy, as we know it, comes to a complete halt and crumbles under the weight of the artificially inflated wealth at the top of the scale.

It does seem extremely shortsighted, for the government to bailout banks in order for them to be able to extend more credit to people who can't pay their bills now. How does that fix the problem? The financial institutions think it's a great idea because they get to buy other banks. The executives think it's great because they get huge bonuses and they still afford to keep their wives and their girlfriends happy. The Bush administration thinks it's great because they look like they get to look like the heroes on the white horse coming to save the day. And that is all great for them, but what about the tens of millions of people who actually make this economy work? Where is their bailout? Where are their bonuses? Where are their stock options? The bottom line is that when more than 1 in 10 people can't find a job (if you include temp workers (who are not included in the unemployment statistics), and those that have run out unemployment insurance and those that have simply given up trying to find work) and perhaps double that are at jobs that don't pay them enough to afford a reasonable standard of living, then you can see that we are living on borrowed time. If something isn't done soon, we will look back on the financial crisis of 2008 as the good old days.

There will be many parents who don't have the money to give Christmas gifts this year. There will be many a young child who will not get that bike or big wheel or barbie doll or Hannah Montana CD or MP3 player or computer that they wanted. But the adults can always explain to those disappointed children that they took part in real spirit of the season by giving to those in greater need. And as those kids curl up in their beds with a tear of disappointment rolling down their cheeks, perhaps they will find some comfort in knowing that there are 1.6 billion reasons why they shouldn't feel so bad.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Kevin Martin’s New Math


Will the FCC ever be an instrument that protects the people’s right to know, their ability to choose, to be informed?
The Rod Blagojevich nonsense and the very serious matter of our collapsing Auto manufacturing industry overshadowed an important series of revelations disclosed in a report from the House Energy and Commerce Committee on the ninth of December.
Apparently the Governor of Illinois isn’t the only public official that has been under investigation for some time. The House Energy and Commerce Committee started investigating Kevin Martin, the Bush Administration appointed FCC Chairman, back in January. Mr. Martin had been suspected and now stands accused of violating rules and abusing Federal Communications Commission procedures by suppressing reports and manipulating data to help him push through certain changes in regulation particularly in relation to proposals for his “A la Carte” pricing structures for cable subscribers.

Isn’t it time that the FCC Chairman was held accountable to the public directly?

I suggest that these latest allegations of criminal abuses of power are grounds for an amendment to make the FCC Chairman an elected official, if not by the public, then by the House and or Senate.
"The quicker Mr. Martin leaves the FCC, I think it is better for the telecommunications industry," said Representative Bart Stupak of Michigan, of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. It’s clear that this last champion of media consolidation and deregulation has done enough damage.

It’s time for him to go. I don’t want him quietly replaced by an Obama administration pick; I want him forcibly ejected from the office. Anything less is tacit approval of his actions.

-SJ

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Kenneth Starr Wants to Travel Back in Time and Hate Gays.


The sponsors of Proposition 8 are asking the California Supreme Court to nullify the existing marriages of Gays and Lesbians. Kenneth Starr wants to ensure that the ballot initiative (the one that large swathes of Californians failed to vote down) that currently outlaws Gay marriage in California reaches back in time searching for pesky married Gays much in the way the Terminator searched for Sarah Connor…

"Proposition 8's brevity is matched by its clarity. There are no conditional clauses, exceptions, exemptions or exclusions," according to a brief filed by Kenneth Starr.
This is not all that different from what happened back in June with the Supreme Court gun ruling in Washington. Social Conservatives and NeoCons have repeatedly defined legal issues narrowly when it allows them more latitude for abuse (John Yoo’s interesting redefinitions of torture after the 9/11 attacks) or more broadly when it allows them more latitude for abuse, as in this case.
Someone needs to publicly explain to Kenneth Starr that brevity is not clarity, especially when the speaker or writer in question is trying to get away with something… as Kenneth Starr and his backers are trying to. While he already knows that brevity is not clarity in law; he needs to know that the people know it. Clarity is clarity and so it will remain, no matter how many aspiring fascists attempt to shout otherwise. Again we have a situation where a proposed ban or regulation is defined so broadly as to open the door for applications that are entirely unconstitutional.

If Kenneth Starr and the Mormons want to “Save Marriage” they should concentrate on outlawing the biggest threat to matrimony: divorce lawyers.

Kenneth Starr is the former so-called “independent” counsel who investigated President Bill Clinton. I find it incredible how often I have to point out that being an ideologue who is dead-set-against a particular party or against entire groups of people are not qualifications for being independent; either politically, or functionally as an investigator working on behalf of the people. Kenneth Starr spent roughly forty million dollars of our money while he investigated and harangued a sitting President. I wonder whose money he’s spending now, and how much more he plans to waste taking away tax paying people’s rights just because they happen to be Gay tax paying people.
Attorney General Jerry Brown’s office is submitting a brief to the court that maintains that the Gay marriage ban may not be applied retroactively to existing unions between Gays and Lesbians. It’s not enough, and it doesn’t have the enormous backing of religious special interest groups for commercials and other marketing efforts to mobilize support.
Fundamentalists and others who claim that Gay marriage is a “Stop Gap” issue have always entertained me. But this isn’t funny anymore. Just as the late Jerry Falwell, the alive-and-still-crazy Pat Robertson and others have argued that allowing Gays to marry is the first step toward a world where a man can marry his dog etc., I say to Californians, New Yorkers and everyone in between that this is indeed a battle ground issue after all: Kenneth Starr and the co sponsors of Proposition 8 are trying to tell you what rights you are allowed according to THEIR beliefs. They are currently banning Gay marriage, -so what’s next?

Outlawing intercourse between an unwed man and woman?

Outlawing oral sex?

Outlawing living together?

Outlawing making out in public?

Not so cool is it, America?

Kenneth Starr is just the occasional public face of a vast group of people in America who want to define the pursuit of happiness and its limits according to their own beliefs. We cannot legislate based on individual tastes unless we don't care about assualting those basic concepts of liberty we believe are important enough to die for... or so we say.

This is only happening because Gays and Lesbians are a minority in this country and it’s happening for that reason alone. One of the many reasons our Republic exists is to protect the unpopular few from an out-of-control plurality. Right now it’s not working.
Kenneth Starr and his Mormon backed co sponsors are pushing this proposal in California because they can. I don’t see them pursuing it in other states like Vermont.

The Mormons in Utah went after California with millions in media spending because they saw a population that could be mobilized against itself. They went after California because they saw a weakness, a lack of cohesion on the issue, a potential majority that could smash undefined and unarticulated support for Gay marriage. They went after California because they could make the many stamp out the civil rights of the few by fomenting latent fear and loathing.

Just look at that picture of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger back in 1984 in the role that made him an international superstar… looks kinda Gay doesn’t it?

You want to tell him he can’t marry whoever he wants to?

Go ahead.

I dare you.

-SJ

Friday, December 19, 2008

No Rest For the Wicked

Barack Obama's decision to invite Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration has created a firestorm of protest from the left and the right. The people on the right are upset with Warren for accepting the invitation and Obama's supporters are upset with Obama for inviting someone they see as an agent of intolerance to such a historic and symbolic event. Obama has explained his pick by saying that he has always believed in trying to find common ground with those who hold opposing views.

Rick Warren has stated that he sees no difference between Gay marriage and pedophilia, incest or polygamy. In his mind they are all equal. He not only doesn't think that gays should have the right to get married, he sees their unions as equal to the most despicable form of child abuse. He has equated abortion to genocide and said that the supporters of abortion are basically supporting murder. I would like to ask the President-elect to show me the middle ground in that argument. My co-contributor SJ made perhaps one the most astute observations I have ever heard when he said, "you can't argue with people who think they're going to heaven". Mr. Warren believes that he's going to heaven and unless you believe everything he does, you are not. There is no ground for compromise in his position.

Mr. Warren has put a kinder, gentler face on the same kind of intolerance that the likes of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson made so popular. His great claim to fame for being a "new" school evangelist is that he is "environment friendly". He thinks that we should be doing more to reverse global warming. Well, that and the fact that he doesn't wear a jacket and tie every day. However intolerance dressed down and warmed over, is still intolerance. It is true however that his stance on gay marriage essentially mirrors the public stance of the President-elect. While Obama has never said that he equates gay unions with vile criminal activity, he has publicly stated his opposition to same sex marriage.

I have already stated my position on same sex marriage, however I think it's important to realize just how fundamentally wrong it is to arbitrarily decide that certain people don't have the same rights as everyone else. Suppose Rick Warren were opposed to left handed people marrying each other. That position would be viewed as ridiculous, but his argument would be that those people are choosing the left handed lifestyle and until the decide to do things the right way, they shouldn't be allowed to marry. The position of evangelicals is that homosexuality is a deviant lifestyle choice, therefore those who make that choice should not have the same rights as the rest of society. Throughout history, people have been persecuted for things are ridiculous as hair color, eye color, and believe it or not being left handed. They all seem unthinkable to us today, but at the time, people believed that had perfectly legitimate reasons to discriminate and shun those afflicted with the various "maladies".

There is no doubt that the overwhelming majority of those "practicing" the homosexual lifestyle are not doing so by choice. In fact, I think it would be fair to say that there are currently more homosexuals "practicing" the heterosexual lifestyle than there have ever been of the reverse situation. Homosexuality is no more a choice than being a heterosexual is, or being white is, or being left handed is, or being blue eyed is. Why would someone chose to be part of one the last minority groups that it is still perfectly acceptable to discriminate against? The line to sign up for daily persecution would be very short indeed. And yet this is the premise that people like Rick Warren ask us to accept. And trust me, they know they're right because they are going to heaven and you're not.

Ultimately, I have to have to believe that Barack Obama's reasons for making this choice will bear fruit is some manner. Perhaps he's just using this selection to provide him some cover for some sweeping announcement that will benefit the gay community. I have to believe that because otherwise this choice makes absolutely no sense to me. Has he chosen to offend a significant portion of the people who supported him in order to make a point? And what point would that be? That hatred and intolerance are part of the fabric of American society? I think we all got that point a long time ago. The inauguration is the wrong place for that kind of civics lesson.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Look Back In Anger

President Bush is on his so called "Legacy Tour" in which he is attempting to make the case that his presidency has been an unequivocal success. Among his claims are that he kept America safe from terrorism, won the war in Iraq and stabilized the Middle East. He takes no blame for the current economic situation because he says, he inherited these problems from his successors (including his father). His Vice President is also in the process of reinterpreting the past. He feels so secure in himself that he is actually admitting in public that approved the torturing of prisoners and that we are safer because of it.

I'm sure that every President tries to make his case on the way out of office, but this administration has been particularly dismissive of the public’s perception of their actions. Vice President Cheney infamously answered “So”, when he was informed of the fact that the majority of Americans wanted the US to leave Iraq. A monarch never feels the need to explain to or seek the approval of the people and the Bush administration has certainly been run as if they had that power. They have ignored and trampled on the Constitution and blatantly ignored the rights of everyone and everything that came across their path. This Imperial presidency was planned for and carried out with ingenious precision by George Bush and his team. Just a year ago, the President seemed confident that history would show that he was not only correct, but that he was prescient in taking the steps that he did.

The failures of this administration are almost too many to list, but they never felt the need to explain themselves before. Did you know that everything is great in New Orleans? The President himself said so a mere matter of weeks after the Katrina disaster. Never mind the fact that to this day, there are still people who are living in trailers. Never mind the fact that the emergency trailers that were provided were later found out to have been built with toxic materials. Never mind that there are people who lost their lives needlessly. The President said everything was fine and so in his mind, it is so. The war in Iraq, which this President declared over five years ago, is now a success because of the last 12 months. Never mind the fact that over 4,000 Americans have lost their lives. Never mind the fact that up to a million Iraqi’s may have lost their lives. Never mind the fact that terrorists continue to kill innocent Iraqi’s to this day. Never mind that fact that Al Qaeda never existed in Iraq until we go there. The President says it’s a success and so it is.

This is an example of the revisionist history that the President and Vice President are now trying to sell to the American people. It seems they have forgotten the rule about monarchs and their lack of accountability. They now seem to be worried that their legacy is not going to be the stuff of Mount Rushmore. And they have every right to be concerned. If there were a monument for the worst Presidents of all time, George W. Bush would be sitting for a sculptor as we speak. I’m thoroughly convinced that Dick Cheney’s soul is a dark place that long ago had a place reserved on one of the lower levels of hell.

The Legacy tour should instead be a tour of apology. He should personally apologize to the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, wives, husbands, children and friends of every single soldier who has died for his folly. He should have to apologize to every family who lost a loved one in New Orleans. He should have to apologize to every Iraqi family who has had their lives irreparably harmed by the baseless incursion of our armed forces into their country. He should apologize to every family who has lost a home in the mortgage crisis. He should apologize to every person who has lost a job during this economic disaster. He should apologize to every single inmate who was tortured or held indefinitely without the benefit of counsel. He should apologize to every American for stripping our rights away and making us fear our government. That is what he should be spending his time on. Not on making speeches in which he tries to take credit for successes that could only be seen that way by someone with blinders on. If he would like to take credit for keeping us safe from terrorism then he should have to talk to the families of every victim of the 9/11 attacks and ask them how safe their loved ones were from terrorism.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Heir to the Throne

Caroline Kennedy has risen to the top of the list of candidates for the New York Senate seat that will be vacated by Hillary Clinton when she is approved for Secretary of State. Caroline Kennedy has never served in public office or run a campaign or frankly taken a public position on any controversial issues. In fact, her sole foray into politics was campaigning for Barack Obama's election. It is crystal clear that this ascendancy is based solely on her last name.

Caroline Kennedy has degrees from Harvard and Columbia, so her intelligence is not in question. What is in question is how someone who has no political history can rise to the top of the list of candidates for appointment to a Senate seat. If Mrs. Schlossberg's last name happened to be Johnson, do you think that she would even be in the conversation? I have railed against the Bush administrations policy of appointing unqualified people to important positions (Alberto Gonzalez anyone?), but I also feel the need to point this out when the Democrats engage in the same underhanded activity. New York City has had to put up with a Mayor who refuses to leave office regardless of the law and now we are being asked to swallow an appointment based some sort of "Kennedy privilege doctrine". What about what's best for New York? Is Caroline Kennedy the most qualified person to advocate for this state during these difficult economic times? Will she be able to effectively lobby her fellow Senators for help on legislation that will benefit our citizens? Is having a "celebrity" with no legislative experience the best that we as New Yorkers can hope for?

There are direct parallels between Caroline Kennedy and Sarah Palin. Palin was chosen for a variety of reason, but none of them were about her qualifications for the position. Caroline Kennedy is undoubtedly more intelligent than the Governor of Alaska, but her qualifications for the position are as dubious as Palin's were. In fact they may actually be worse. While Governor Palin was in over her head as a Vice Presidential candidate, she had at least been elected to multiple positions and had to take a public stance on a multitude of issues. Caroline Kennedy has never had to face the public and answer for anything. She has never given a press conference on her political positions, she has never faced the voters in an election, she has never faced an opponent in an election, and yet she would like to be anointed (oh, sorry), appointed as our next Senator.

Some will point to other "celebrity" politicians who didn't have any experience when they entered politics. They will point to Hillary Clinton or Arnold or Jesse Ventura or Al Franken, but the difference with all of those individuals is that they had to face the voters and opponents in elections. In fact, I question whether Caroline Kennedy would even have gotten involved in this at all if this seat were up for a vote instead of an appointment. Caroline Kennedy has never shown any interest in running for public office and has fiercely protected her privacy. She has never really been a "public figure". She has always been in the public eye because of her name, but she has never sought the limelight. She is not like Hillary Clinton, who was willing to state her positions and face the public in order to get into office. Kennedy is basically using her name to try and avoid this step.

The Kennedy's are political royalty in this country, but none of them have ever been given their positions in Congress. Robert Kennedy was appointed as Attorney General by his brother, but even he had to face approval from the Congress. And when the Senate seat from New York opened up, he ran for and won that seat. Clearly a lot of his support came from the fact that his name was Kennedy and that his brother had been killed in office, but he had to run on his own. He had to face an opponent. He had to face the voters of New York and tell them what he was going to do for them.

I have to assume that Caroline Kennedy's views are basically in line with my own on most important topics, but that has nothing to do with whether she is qualified or whether she deserves this position. If Caroline Kennedy really wants to be the Senator from New York, then let her run for it in two years when the seat will come up for election. She can certainly spend the next two years explaining her positions to New Yorkers and building up her qualifications for the job. I have no doubt that she will be able to easily raise tens of millions of dollars for her Senate campaign. I have no doubt that if her name (or her last name to be exact) were to appear on a ballot that New Yorkers would be falling over themselves to vote for her. I have no problem with a candidate who faces the voters and is then approved by them. That's our process. That's the way things work.

The thing is that we have a person here in New York who I do think would make a perfect choice. I'm sure he was never considered because he isn't a Democrat, but the person who could make the best case for New York during these trying economic times is none other than our Mayor (or Emperor as he likes to be called) Mike Bloomberg. He understands the legislative process, his economic experience is unquestioned and he would be a great advocate for the people of this City and this state. Of course that would never happen because Mike Bloomberg initially ran for Mayor as a Republican, even though he is now listed as an Independent. His actual party affiliation is Pragmatist. He ran as a Republican because he saw that as his best opportunity to win in the primaries. He's now an independent because he doesn't need the party affiliation to win. Everything comes down to politics though, even at the expense of the well being of the people of this state. But as I've stated before, the welfare of the people is always the last factor in the equation. Clearly our job is to stand silently by as the aristocracy divvy up the spoils.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Three is a Magic Number

The Republican Senators who killed the proposed bridge loan to the Big 3 automakers did the people of America a disservice last night. The southern Senators who have big foreign car plants in their states have a two-fold agenda. First they want to try and kill the domestic competition for their new best friends and secondly they want to break the UAW. Last night they succeeded in killing a bill that would have helped to keep Ford, GM and Chrysler out of bankruptcy. By doing so, they have left a handout from the previously approved $700 billion bailout as the option left to help the companies.

There are multiple reasons why I believe the loans to the car companies was the right thing to do, but there is one that is paramount. The 3 major car companies are directly tied to millions of jobs in this country. If they are allowed to fail, literally entire towns and cities will be devastated. 1.5 million auto workers will have to find other jobs to help pay their mortgages and credit card bills. Retired or disabled auto workers who rely on their benefits to get by will either have to go back to work or receive government help. The state of Michigan would probably default on every loan it currently has outstanding and would certainly not be able to pay its healthcare bill. The ripple effect on the US economy would be catastrophic.

The reason that the bridge loan was my preferred way to go about a temporary solution was that it came with strings attached. The car companies would have to be accountable to Congress for their actions. Their was going to be oversight and they would have make positive steps to creating more fuel efficient cars and funding alternative fuel research. Bailout money for AIG didn't have any strings attached. They are currently funneling millions of dollars to their high ranking employees. They aren't calling them bonuses of course. They are called "retention payouts" or something equally ridiculous. So a company, whose business it is to assess risk is rewarding the very people who failed to see the risk involved in their business practices. That is appalling to me. The bank bailout, in which the bill to the American tax payer was $700 billion has had no effect on the credit markets that it was supposed to help free up. In fact, most of the banks that have received money from the bailout have spent it by buying other banks and laying off employees. That feels like money well spent, doesn't it?

The ridiculous statement about the employees of the American car manufacturers making $70 an hour has been used over and over to justify beating down the UAW and trying to get concessions from the workers. That dollar figure takes into account all the retirement/disability payments that are being paid to millions of people who no longer work for the companies. The actual hourly dollar figure is almost exactly what Honda and Toyota pay their employees. The Senators who continue to harp on the higher number know exactly what they are doing. Their goal isn't based some high minded ideal about being fiscally conservative. They want to help big business at the expense of the worker. Auto workers and the UAW have very willing over the years to help out when their was a crisis, after all, having a job is better than being unemployed (even if it is one that pays less than it used to). But asking workers to take less because the people who run the company have been incompetent is just wrong. Where is the accountability for the people in the board room? American auto workers want to make the best cars in the world. They want to make cars that make sense for the future, but they don't decide what they build. It wasn't their idea to keep on building more and more SUV's, but they are the ones who are being asked to pay for the mistakes made by people who don't have to worry about living paycheck to paycheck.

I understand the feeling that we should let the free market decide who makes it and who doesn't. However, the government has already decided that it can play God. Is now the time to say enough? Does that not seem arbitrary to you? It does to me. This is just another example of the class warfare that takes place in this country every day. The Government acted with all speed when the financial markets needed help. The Fed Chairman and the Secretary of the Treasury were on TV every day explaining why a bailout was needed. We couldn't allow these institutions to go under without facing an economic catastrophe. Well some of those institutions did go under and despite almost $350 billion in aid, there has been no tangible evidence of any change in the situation. Of course their answer to that is to ask for Congress to release the other $350 billion that it approved. I guess it doesn't hurt to have friends in high places. People on Wall St. ask DC to jump, the only question coming back is, "how high?". The bailout still hasn't addressed the millions of people who will be defaulting on their mortgages, but then again, those people don't have the Fed Chairman's cell phone number handy.

The Big 3 have agreed to repay the loan from the Government, they have agreed to federal oversight, they have agreed to design and build more fuel efficient cars, they have agreed to work on alternative fuel research, they have agreed to wage concessions, and yet, unlike the financial institutions (who didn't have to promise anything in return for their payday), they have yet to get any help from Congress. I personally don't care about the people who run these companies. Clearly they are all really bad at their jobs. What I do care about are the millions of regular Americans who will suffer if these companies fail. I don't know if America can sustain three car companies anymore. Perhaps there needs to be a merger (Ford and Chrysler merging would seem to make sense from a size perspective) of some sort. I do know that without some Government aid these companies will go bankrupt in the very near future. They can file for Chapter 11 reorganization but that would mean that some of those bailed out financial institutions would have to give them loans and they seem to be too busy giving out bonuses and buying each other to actually get around to lending any money these days.

The Automakers, the Bailout… and the Future of the Human Species.


We have the Republicans in the Senate to thank for this important last-minute halt in what looks like corporate welfare at worst, or a bail out of incompetents at best. I don’t care what the Republicans’ motives are, this is the right and sensible thing to do, -for now. They have my thanks. I hope they keep their eye on the ball; it’s unlike Republicans to ever vote against corporate and big business interests.
Predictably, President George W. Bush wants to go around their backs and use allocations from the TARP plan. I don’t think that should be allowed to happen in any way, shape or form. It would amount to yet another circumvention of the people’s will on the part of the White House, -if we understand said will of the people to be enacted and personified by our legislative system and the representatives who serve it, respectively.

Upon news of the rejection of the plan, the stock markets have again taken a hard dive today as panicked investors sold off like lemmings. Millions of jobs are at stake in America and abroad. Many industries are “coupled” to the “Big 3” automakers’ operations and fortunes.

Let the Automakers fail or succeed as a direct result of their own business practices.

It’s not something I say lightly. This is not my idea of punishment for the way these companies have conspired to destroy the development of electric cars and fuel efficient vehicles over the years. This isn’t my idea of payback for such evils as Brooks Stevens’s doctrine of “Planned Obsolescence” because that would be a consumer fraud issue to be handled in civil court. This isn’t coming from some place of abstract hatred for transnational corporations and domestic conglomerates and the many ways in which they step on people and infect government with their venal and protectionist concerns because those are possibly criminal matters.

I am talking about letting the Automakers thrive or fail in the deregulated, hands-off, free-market world they have been fighting to be a part of.

It should be noted the Big 3, GM, Ford and Daimler (née Chrysler) have laid off millions over the years, shifting and eliminating jobs that were permanently lost to robots or various forms of automated and off shore outsourcing. It had been rationalized as the cost of doing business; the necessary “creative destruction” to compete in the marketplace. Today they can’t seem to compete despite the reigning fictions of Globalism they alternately praise and blame. Globalism in its current manifestation allows American corporations or their foreign competitors to operate at different standards in labor and safety practices, wages, environmental regulations, health benefits and even in some cases, lowered consumer end-user standards (like the “lead painted” toys that came back to us from China). The world may be flat, but it’s slanted. If you’re one of the corporations at the “down side” of the see saw it’s probably because your operations are weighted down with pesky things like an eight hour work day, health insurance costs and the like. I don’t know what meaning there is to a catchphrase such as “The world is flat” when no one’s standards or laws are even remotely the same, nation to nation, culture to culture. Are you really “competing with the world” if your competitors are having children sew leather car seats? I wonder if Thomas Friedman has ever had to work a “dirty” job that required manual labor in his life. If he did, he’d do well to say the world is “uphill,” flat as it may very well be. Lowering standards to compete seems to be what Globalism means to a lot of the world. No one’s complained until now because everyone who knew the truth was probably getting Rich.

Let the Automakers work themselves out of this recession.

This is my verdict on an industry that, in its current and historic form has proven itself incapable of responding to the existing needs of consumers and American society decade after decade (They had to be humiliated and repeatedly shamed by Ralph Nader into making seat belts standard equipment). This is an industry that will always protect its way of doing business at the cost of life and limb to the rest of the world; and they’re at it again except they want the American citizen to pay for it.
That means you. -All of you; the people making their car payments, and those of you who don’t even drive… I really don’t know who should be angrier. Once again people in government are telling us that the problems and troubled fortunes of corporations are our problems too. If car making as a practice is allowed to move off shore or collapse all together, our way of life will end, they say. Other than massive job losses, I don’t buy this “coupling” of the American citizen’s fortunes with those of the “Big 3”. The inevitable questions arise; “How will people get to work?”, “Even if you don’t drive, don’t you need things that are transported by cars and trucks?”, “Can Mass transportation fulfill all transportation needs?”…
These questions and others roll out of our American mouths as if the fall of the “Big 3” would mean the end of the car as a physical object. It would not. It’s as if there are no alternatives imaginable or practically feasible to this out-of-control industry and to its products. Fundamental questions about automobiles and the industry that creates them are not being asked. There is one central question about our American life that never comes up:

Why is it considered normal for someone to spend one to two hours driving to work, and then again at the day’s end? Why do we need the car to get everywhere and do everything?

Doesn’t this fundamental problem, -the increasing distance that people live from the things they want and need-, have to be addressed first? Does the car actually create many of the problems it is believed to resolve?

We know now by looking at the legacy of a 20th Century builder like Robert Moses that he planned and built most places and roadways in the Tri-Sate areas of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, simply because they could be driven to and driven on. It’s an odd insistence on a “driver’s life” from a man who never drove in his life and remained right up until his death, a passenger looking of out the window of a speeding car. I don’t think he liked people very much. I don’t think anyone who built the Cross Bronx Expressway could have cared about human happiness.

So why do we live in a country where everything is increasingly farther away from the important things necessary to survival or even a desirable quality of life? As we’ve made our homes more remote; as our jobs continue move away from residential districts, as our schools and Universities spread out displacing neighborhoods; as we continue to build and move to outlying counties and suburbs and “exurbs”… The car becomes a parasite on the world’s resources that we depend on to move around. When our homes and residential neighborhoods don’t move, the systems and services that people rely on migrate instead. They concentrate and fester; strip malls and mega warehouse wholesale outlets replacing the grocery store and the local doctor’s office.

Now the automobile is said to be woven into the fabric of the economy so completely, that the failure of the biggest companies that produce cars will throw us into an economic depression reminiscent of the Hoover years.

Not if we change our way of life so that the car isn’t the conduit, the means and the end to life itself.

I suggest that not nearly as many cars need to be built as are being pushed out today: -not if they are built well, and built to last. And I finally suggest that if the Auto industry in this country and in the rest of the world has to diminish let it finally happen because it’s for the sake of our future and well being as species, not because, as in years past, the executives and owners thought they could profit from eliminating jobs.

The question isn’t why do we need cars, the question is: Why do we need an industry that produces so many cars, so often?

Why are cars so inefficient, costly and disposable? Why is it normal to buy a new car every four or five years? Other than to make someone rich, I don’t know any reasons at all.

Would we benefit from an America in which there were a greater number of smaller companies than just three major corporations making cars? Possibly. But all the talk of diversified industry or smaller, carbon-neutral cars doesn’t address the question of why we increasingly have to spend more of our lives driving everywhere: it just makes it more likely that we will.

Again, there’s the question of the “Big 3” and their role in creating pollutant producing technology that is changing the planet’s ecological and climate balance away from something familiar and hospitable for human beings and our fellow mammals. If they’re not serious about this issue, we can’t loan them money to continue doing business. As George Carlin once remarked: “...the planet isn't going anywhere. We are.” We’re being asked to pay for a ticket to a hot, toxic poisoned hell with these proposed subsidies that are being masked as a tax payer investment/loan.

I want no bail outs for the “Big 3.”

-SJ

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

"I want to make money."


Those are apparently the words of Democratic Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich who was arrested today on charges he tried to sell the U.S. Senate seat belonging to President Elect Barack Obama.

Thanks a lot Rod. You fucking greedy little dick.

As if this country needs this kind of distraction from the Democrat in Barack Obama’s own state charged with replacing him. We’re deep into a recession and getting deeper and all some politicians can do is think of how much money they can make. All they can do is give Rupert Murdoch’s goons at the NY Post and Fox News Channel something of substance to actually talk about.

All during the primaries, during the election, I was biting my lip silently hoping that pundits -pro or con-, comedians, late night talk show hosts, rappers, musicians, -whoever- would just shut the fuck up and not do anything to distract the public from Barack Obama’s platform by saying or doing something stupid. Seriously. I was afraid Kanye West would… well be Kanye West, and say something so retarded, so idiotic that it would gain traction in the media. But it didn’t happen. Even the Reverend Wright shooting his mouth off (Mr. Wright, this election was not about whether or not anybody heard all of, or understood your 9/11 sermons you egomaniacal jerk off) was drowned out. So thanks a lot Rod. This could spell trouble, this could actually be a distraction.

When the stocks and indices dip tomorrow I’ll think of you getting corn holed until your toupee shoots off your head in prison.

Thanks a lot, you fucking greedy little corrupt dick.

The allegations go beyond the Illinois Senate seat. Apparently this asshole went after journalists too. Governor Blagojevich is charged with threatening to illegally withhold state assistance to Tribune Co. (which coincidentally filed for bankruptcy today), related to the sale of Wrigley Field home of the lovable, long-suffering Chicago Cubs. Why bring them into this shit?... Governor Blagojevich wanted members of the Chicago Tribune's editorial board fired because they had been critical of him.

Governor Blagojevich considered appointing himself to the Senate seat telling his Deputy Governor "they're not going to offer me anything of value I might as well take it… I'm going to keep this Senate option for me a real possibility, you know, and therefore I can drive a hard bargain."

Read enough? I have.

I hope they take this thieving corrupt idiot down real hard if these wiretaps are telling us the truth. The force behind his ouster and prosecution must come from within the Democratic Party itself. I want to see the same indignant grandstanding that went on when President Bill Clinton was scandalized by the spurious Monica Lewinsky affair.

Wow. It’s 1:47pm already. Nothing. Silence.
I mean seriously people,
what the fuck?


I thought I’d have heard a statement from Howard Dean or somebody by now.

Oh, and in other news, apparently the NYPD is shoving nightsticks up people’s asses again
What the fuck America?… What the fuck.

-SJ

Monday, December 08, 2008

Bill O’Reilly Leaves the Radio Air Waves.


“…Radio is a sound salvation
Radio is cleaning up the nation
They say you better listen to the voice of reason
But they don't give you any choice 'cause they think that it's treason
So you had better do as you are told
You better listen to the radio.”
From “Radio, Radio”
-Elvis Costello, 1978


Elvis was singing about punk bands being cut off the radio in his own England, but I’ve always thought these words had broader relevance.

I don’t like looking at fellow living human beings as though I were an anthropologist, but it’s hard not to get analytical about the “punditry cults”.

Bill O’Reilly is an interesting case. He differs from his colleagues at Fox News Channel like Sean Hannity; who presents himself as a “Conservative news analyst” who is there to “balance” the assumedly Liberal/Left/Progressive slanted mainstream news media. Sean Hannity purports to give opposing viewpoints “thorough” examination. Hannity feigns debate with calculated theatricality against Alan Colmes, who offers no real intelligent opposition to any argument. Alan Comes “wins” arguments for Sean Hannity and his Conservative audience by presenting weak arguments that ensure “victory”. But at the very least Sean Hannity identifies himself as a “Conservative”… for all that it can mean in today’s America.

Bill O’Reilly is another horse, of another color, weight and heft. Bill O’Reilly claims to be the independent voice that could conceivably look at any side of a question without ideology or agenda and fairly decide the morality and truth of the matter and give you his “unbiased opinion”. One is supposed to believe him, after all, what does an “Independent” have to gain by leaning toward one side or another?

The answer is “plenty,” if said “Independent” is in fact a Right-leaning ideologue.

I say “Right-leaning” because Bill O’Reilly is not as relentlessly doctrinaire as other notables in Fox News Corp.’s roster. He supports a woman’s right to choose in regard to abortion and he is against the death penalty. While these are not the traditional stances (They are in fact deal-breakers for most Social Conservatives) they are not positions that he ever articulates or devotes entire programs to, as he does other subjects such as identifying people he sees as enemies of America for example, or a danger to American culture. Claiming to be an Independent with a couple of unconventional stances that mark him squarely out of the mainstream of mainstream Conservatism allows O’Reilly to push this charade of “independence” with a straight face, and it allows his audience to pretend they are not being manipulated, but rather informed by a non-partisan analyst.

Bill O’Reilly is registered as a Republican voter. Who in the world really believes this man is an Independent after his “coverage” of the Bush administration?

Bill O’Reilly’s appeal is one of the more fascinating phenomena of the contemporary news media age. It is the manifestation and manipulation of the desires of the suburban working class blocks that I have written about at length, but it is also something more…

Americans have always been a culture that at once feared and loathed intellect and yet never has felt as smart or sophisticated as it felt it should. Decades of Americans playing caddy to European culture and ideological movements are evidence of this, regardless of the actual some time pre-eminence or irrelevance of those self-same achievements in European arts, culture and sciences. Most Americans have always wanted to be smarter, yet we loathe information, facts, math or data that isn’t tied to organized sports or some form of entertainment. Nobody knows the jobless rate in their state, the APRs on their credit cards or the size of the national debt. Everybody knows the ERAs of the pitchers in the starting rotation of their baseball team, the batting averages of its lead off batters and how much each of those players signed for.

The Dark Knight has grossed $500 million at the United States box office as of September… I don’t know the jobless rate in the state of New York but Alex Rodriguez batted .302 with 103 RBIs in 2008

Yes. Yep, me too. Guilty as charged. I wish I was smarter too. Everyone wants to be. But most of us will settle for just feeling smart. This is where Bill O’Reilly comes in and metastasizes in the public square. His booming voice fills the vacuum of insecurity and public ignorance of policy and history. People listen to Bill O’Reilly not to gain new information, but to be buoyed by a fellowship with someone they perceive as smart. If an intelligent person shares your fears and your hatred, no matter how irrational you may suspect your own fears to be, you “feel” more secure in your worldview. Again, it’s only natural. When the late Stephen Jay Gould exposed the Bell Curve for the utter nonsense that it was, I certainly felt that much more secure in my own convictions, however independently reached. So it is with Bill O’Reilly.
That this kind of associative, transferred reckoning is a natural even instinctive impulse does not make it sound reasoning. It is “non-thought,” a kind of absent-minded mimicry more suited to parrots and other trained animals who repeat as they are instructed to, in hopes of some reward.

If you think I’m being too judgmental, tell me exactly what the purpose of the daily “Talking Points Memo” is?

Now he’s leaving the afternoon drive. Bill O’Reilly is abandoning that interstate thruway of misplaced frustrations and malleable hatreds. What will people who don’t have the nerve to think for themselves do now? The sound of their own voices inside their own heads will be deafening. All that time in traffic… thinkingquestioning… with no one to tell them how to feel and how to think. Who will tell them they’re “not uninformed”? Who will assure Americans that they are right about everything they want to believe?

There’s always Glenn Beck.

-SJ

No Pats on the Back for Anyone.


Call me crazy, but I just don’t think anyone deserved a Nobel Prize for Economics this year. To say Paul Krugman is brilliant, is beside the point. Alan Greenspan is also brilliant... So what?

Nobody talked about derivatives, structuring, subprime etc. until Bear Stearns suddenly found itself with a crippling amount of bad debt in its portfolios this past summer. I don’t think I’d ever heard the term “subprime” until August of this year.

Whenever a shady term like “prime” gets a negative prefix masquerading as a positive prefix like “sub”… someone is about to get hurt.

Then investment bank after investment bank panicked and called the government for help this year. They called that same government that they claimed was historically hampering its profit margins with laws, regulations and limits. Financial institutions called Washington begging for taxpayer dollars. Isn’t that ironic? Companies that have entire accounting divisions, lobbying firms and legal departments devoted to finding ways to pay as little tax to the United States as possible want to be bailed out. They’ve smartened up and are now speaking of low interest “loans,” but let’s not kid ourselves: they want our tax money.

This is not what Capitalism is supposed to be. Capitalism is not the breaking of laws, use of loopholes, or tax-backed risk-free profiteering. Monopoly and oligarchy are the only things enabled by the deregulation that L’aissez Faire economics or what I call “Lawless Commerce” bring about that normal, regulated Capitalism cannot.

David Cay Johnston, pictured at the top of this post, has been writing books on the dangers of free market capitalism, deregulation, under-the-table subsidies and the out-of-control tax breaks for the Rich in America. Johnston’s name never seems to come up when people talk about the now “suddenly broken” economy, yet he’s been writing about this for a couple of years.

The same media outlets devoted to business coverage that failed to spot the Enron and WorldCom disasters before it was too late in 2000, dropped the ball again only eight years later. Once again billions of dollars in retirement savings and investments have simply evaporated.

We are in a recession again, and I don’t see any criminal investigations or frankly any real investigative reporting going on as to why this happened again so soon across so many sectors. Why was there another bubble, another crash? The media isn’t interested because it is owned by big business.

Have I mentioned recently how angry I am at Eliot Spitzer for stupidly terminating his own career? Have I mentioned how angry I am at Ralph Nader for taking his eyes off the ball and focusing on the White House?

Nobody deserves any accolades right now. The people of the United States deserve answers and justice. They have been stolen from yet again by the banks, the corporations, big industry and all our representatives in government want to do is loan money to the thieves.

The heads of the biggest American Automakers are driving to Washington in a contrived show of humility to our lawmakers. These executives should be made to crawl up the steps of Congress on their hands and knees for all they have wrought. They lobbied to have SUVs reclassified as light sport trucks… and now they’re crying for help.

-SJ

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Exactly Just What is Priceless?


Master the Possibilities” my fuckin’ ass.

The only possibilities “mastered” by Bank of America, MasterCard, Visa, Discover, Chase, CitiBank, American Express et al. are their ability to change the terms and conditions under which the price we pay for goods can be changed to pull more money from our pockets than ever before.

Those possibilities are endless my friends.

Think about it: you buy a TV for 300 dollars on a major credit card, then you break one of their adjusted terms, like making a late payment -with an entirely different creditor- and they can change the interest on something you’ve already bought, not just what you’ll buy from that point onward.

This doesn’t happen anywhere else in business. Nowhere else in business or commerce is the rate of interest allowed to be raised retroactively on an existing debt. This should be against the law, but the credit card companies long ago bought our representatives allegiance on this issue.

Now the Credit Card companies that are breaking your back with double digit APRs and changing agreements in order to get more money out of you, want something else. They want part of the bail out fever sweeping our Democrats and Republicans in Washington.

The credit card companies claim that their risk is our problem. The powerful Credit Card Lobby claims that if their businesses can’t lend, the country will fall apart. They do not acknowledge their own role in saddling consumers with interest-addled debt, progressively structured so that the principal is never substantially paid down, insuring their own profits but creating a consumer class that cannot buy new goods and services. They take no responsibility for creating a consumer class that does not contribute to the economy, but only pays off interest. In effect they do not acknowledge their own responsibility for their own industry. They take no responsiblitiy for their greed and excesses.

Suddenly, more and more people can’t pay and are defaulting on credit card debt like never before... and just as suddenly? Credit card companies want a guarantee. Suddenly, credit card companies want no part of the free market. They want no part of the reality that they’ve been engineering since the state of Delaware relaxed its incorporation laws for the credit business in the early 80s. Now they don’t like deregulation so much.

Credit card companies treat consumers, no differently than organized crime has treated the working class for decades.

These days the government is throwing our future earnings around like some lipoed, botoxed, Orange Country trophy-wife who just woke up and realized she doesn’t have to even fuck us anymore to spend our money… And like the poor sucker who put as much thought into his marriage as he did the red sports car in his garage, -there is not a damn thing he can do about it now except watch half his shit walk out the door

Or is there?

Find your senators and representative using these tools here:

https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml

http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

While you’re at it, contact your State AG:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15228784/

Write to them about your credit card problem. Do it today and then do it every time your credit card statements come in every single month, or whenever some weird change in terms arrives in the mail that you don’t understand. If possible, send a written letter, and put some real thought into it, about 16.99% or whatever your APR happens to be. Everyone should all put all the thought into this that we didn’t put into this issue when all the legislation that allowed credit card companies to legally change agreements (and contracts whenever they felt they could squeeze their customers for some fuck-around money) was proposed and then passed by own our representatives. Fight for yourself. Fight for your money. No one else will.

It’s at times like this that I really do wish Eliot Spitzer had kept his dick in his pants.

What is “priceless”? Apparently anything you ever paid for with a credit card. By the way Citibank wishes us all a very merry Christmas.

-SJ

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

In Defense of Thanksgiving.

For any American who looks closely at the classic imagery of European settlers and Native Americans breaking bread, but also beyond, to the intents and motives behind these pictures and fables, there is a strange celebration of genocide in waiting. The mythic images of puritans in their brass buckled hats, shaking the hands of bare-chested “Indians” is bigger than one lie, it’s a whole series of euphemisms and falsehoods.
I think of the life-size dioramas in the main lobby of the Museum of Natural History here in New York City and imagine that while these two cultures are pictured peacefully meeting over roast turkey, slaves are shackled to the floors of galleons, making their way to a life of misery and death in the “new world”. I imagine that right after dinner, the Plymouth settlers ask the Indians to leave and begin erecting the fences that will begin much of the warfare that will soak the United States’ origins in blood.

The earliest Thanksgiving on record in North America was on September 8, 1565 in the area of St. Augustine, Florida by Spanish settlers, but most Americans, in keeping with our Mayflower foundation myths recognize the harvest festival of 1621 on Plymouth Plantation as the very first. Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States and on the second Monday of October in Canada.

Few holidays are as eagerly anticipated, economically important, and consequently derided and heavily criticized as this annual “harvest festival”. To be honest, it’s never meant much to me except good food being shoved into other good food, which is roasted and basted. To me, Thanksgiving has always meant old friends coming by, too much food, usually a lot of beer and wine, more pies than necessary and leftovers that almost eclipse the meals that spawned them in quality and taste. Try a Cuban sandwich made with Turkey and Roast Pork leftovers on toasted sourdough bread… it is mind-blowing. If it’s a holiday of excess, I’ll say it’s the best kind of excess there is, -wanton gluttony acknowledged. These might be two of my favorite days of the year, as they have traditionally brought our friends back to us, allowing us, if only for a time to be in close proximity of people we grew up with, lived with; lived nearby; or saw everyday.

During Thanksgiving, for a time, everyone is as close as they were, long ago, as in their childhood; or in some cases as they were as families before divorce, remarriage or adulthood scattered siblings and fragmented people who were otherwise much closer and saw each other more often. I guess that’s also the reason why so much fighting happens during Thanksgiving as well.

…Thanksgiving in America and in Canada also happen to be the absolute deadliest holidays on the roads. New Year’s Day isn’t even close. This year, with many more people driving than ever before (with the high price of flying, depressed economy and currently dropping price of gas) there will, in all likelihood, be an increase in fatalities which is as unnecessary as it is tragic.
Don’t drink and drive. Ever.

Give thanks for all that still you have, and have had in the way of people and friends in your life. I certainly will.

Thanks for reading our blog.
-SJ

Friday, November 21, 2008

What it means: Part 9


So here it is: my final post on what I feel is the far-reaching significance of the Barack Obama victory.

Yes, I know this has been boring as all hell; but I have to confess it’s been very important for me to think this through along various lines for selfish reasons. I was stupefied by this outcome. I worried about what I felt was my own lack of understanding of this moment in history. I frankly felt kind of dumb, as if I didn’t understand what had just happened. I had no such confusion when George W. Bush took office, -one look at him and I knew it was going to be bad, bad, bad news for all of us. I just didn’t foresee eight years of his blank smiling face waving to cameras from Air Force 1.

I now realize, only through writing about it here on this blog, that I was dumbstruck by the scope and by the consequences of this change in administration and the apparent transformation that happened in America as I cynically walked around thinking that people in America would never actually vote for a Black candidate, no matter what was going wrong with the economy, no matter how bad the wars were going.

I was wrong.

I overlooked that potential in our country that has always asserted itself when we got too close to the brink. My thanks again to Michael Hew, who is the founder of this blog network, and who indulged and encouraged me to run my mouth this year. I hope he doesn’t regret it too much since I don’t seem to be able to politely stop.

The end of the Bush administration and the birth of the Obama administration means so many things to us here in the United States and also surprisingly to the world, judging by all the celebrating that’s still going on today. I tried in 9 innings to express the different ways that the Barack Obama victory represents a unique historical moment in our consciousness beyond the obvious barriers broken. I don’t think I succeeded, but I did manage to give form to some cloudy notions, hopes, fears, suspicions and embarrassing prejudices of my own. For me, the election of Barack Obama represents possibilities too numerous to mention and too nuanced to simply list. Much of his presidency’s significance is yet to come and as Yogi Berra once said:

The future ain’t what it used to be

…and I’m real happy about that, but my thoughts turn to other people in my life when I think of what might be possible now. I think of my friends and their kids. It’s weird running into people I haven’t seen since Barack Obama won.

It’s like knowing someone from another life.

Calling Beth Block my friend isn’t entirely appropriate, she was more than that. I met Beth in the early 1980s at a private school on the upper west side. We were “bad kids” together and we were smart. We had all the kinds of stupid, secret, destructive fun that seems romantic after you turn 30. My first packs of cigarettes, sneaking into bars… my sweet young life. She was there for all of it.
Beth was one of those people that everybody greedily kept as their own over the years. She wasn’t somebody you lost touch with. She kept everybody young. She’s one of those people everyone needs in their life. She died suddenly this year in a car accident in Washington back in April. I think about her a lot these days, with all that’s happened.
Beth was an extraordinarily perceptive and tough-minded girl from Texas, from New York, from Japan, from LA and from all the other places that she made hers. Every month, I find some new thing I would’ve liked to have talked with her about.

I wish so very badly that Beth had lived to see Barack Obama, Joe Biden and the voters take the country back. I wish she'd seen the crowds in Chicago and New York, among other things.

-SJ

What it means: Part 8


I think all Americans are relieved to see an incoming President hit the ground running. It’s been a long time since we saw a statesman take to working for this country as if it were something vitally important and urgent. Eight years too long.

Our outgoing President and his administration have left the country in shambles. George W. Bush walks a little slower these days, shrugging as he walks to the helicopter appearing to wonder why all the people who voted for him are so damn mad.

Take fewer vacations next time Mr. Bush. I wouldn’t hire you to walk a dog.

There is much activity and reorganization already happening in Washington as posts are announced and in turn Senators and others are replaced as they move into the new Obama administration to come. The return of someone like John Podesta is a certainly a welcome sign of the value that Barack Obama and his aides will place on experience and proven qualifications… but what do the return of so many other Clinton era figures, and the Clintons themselves mean?

What are Progressives and Liberals to make of the new administration?

One figure, who has stood at the side lines since the start of the primaries, looms large over the next four years, threatening to complicate Hillary Clinton's possible contributions and legacy. While Bill Clinton represents a Liberal boogieman to Republicans, it’s important to put his lesser known decisions and policies that were neither Progressive nor Liberal, into perspective. It’s surprising to me, when I look at it all directly years later:

Under President Bill Clinton, the nation’s richest received an 8 cent tax break on every dollar, (Whereas George W. Bush only gave them 6 cents off every dollar by the way). There seems to me, an apparent correlation between the gutting of Welfare and aid programs for the poor and the Reaganesque tax break the wealthy received under President Clinton. You may want to blame the Republican Senate and House of the time, but remember, Clinton ultimately signed these into law, forgoing his vetoes.
Then there is NAFTA, which destroyed many small businesses and depressed many local economies in states like Ohio and Indiana. NAFTA ripped out much of the independent manufacturing industry of the coastal regions of the United States and in Middle America, leaving only the very biggest corporations to operate, or ironically, to also move their operations and their associated jobs overseas.
Ultimately, Clinton’s most unforgivable capitulation to the reckless free market culture of the 1990s was the relaxation of Media Ownership Regulations. This has greatly destroyed the industry of local news television and newspapers. It has impaired journalism altogether. As someone who relies and depends, as we all must, on the integrity of journalism and the role of the Fourth Estate in our civic life, this is the absolute worst thing he signed off on. It has effectively allowed Rupert Murdoch to expand a partisan news empire that runs as close along the line to lying as possible, and crossing it when they think they can get away with it. It has allowed corporations to essentially buy the reporting of reality, -sometimes in an entire region. Today if your water’s being poisoned, you won’t know until after you’re sick because the corporation doing it owns the radio, TV and newspapers in your town. None of these are the things the Republican Party would ever complain about, but they are part of the Clinton Presidency they claim to abhor. …and now he’s back.
I voted for, and deeply respect Bill Clinton, but I disagree profoundly with some of his decisions in office.

I know.

I should just be grateful Barack Obama won and remember that even a complete repeat of the Clinton years would be a staggeringly vast improvement over the last eight years in every way. But then I remember the missile strikes on Iraq just days after the Monica Lewinsky scandal heated up... and I think to myself:
things are not so bad that they can’t get worse, should we stupidly take our eyes off of our government again.

Barack Obama, our President Elect, is one of the most intelligent and capable statesmen of this, or any other time. Now he has to govern the country with all the power and responsibility that a “mandate” from the people affords. The weight of history is threatening to crush his ideals and plans for the country’s well being and future, and this man has some big plans. But our job as a citizenry is also just beginning. We have to hold all of our representatives accountable to the ideals, philosophies and ethics they claim to represent. Obama voted along with the FISA bill earlier this year. It's the last time he'll get a "pass" from this voter.

Barack Obama earned our votes. Now he has to deliver us back to the forward-looking nation that we suspect we can be. As my collaborator on this blog pointed out many months ago, “change” is only a word

…but so is "progress".
How tragic it would be, if they remain only words for the next four years.

-SJ

Thursday, November 20, 2008

What it means: Part 7


There were many casualties in the recent presidential elections. The supremacy of diversionary tactics and angles like the pushing of: “Character issues,” “Guilt by association,” “Morality,” “Values (Family, American etc.)” that have been used historically by the Right to get an opponent “off platform” into an areas of constructed vulnerability seems over for the moment. The much lauded “ability to frame the debate” is also lying by the side of the road to the White House, its entrails scattered.

Karl Rove must be crying his fat little eyes out.

The Republican Party has used “Character issues” among other ploys to make investigative journalism and direct questions about its own policy and candidates irrelevant for the last 28 years or so, maybe longer. That tactic of shifting the focus onto a politician’s personal life or associations was foolproof for a long while. Idiots that we are, we allowed this to get a sitting President who presided over one of the biggest sustained periods of economic growth in the nation’s history nearly impeached over a blowjob in 1998.

I wonder if, in his private moments, Kenneth Starr ever feels remorse for wasting 40 million dollars of our hard earned money on a spurious series of investigations concocted to destroy a president just because he was a popular Democrat. I wonder if he ever allows himself to realize the fact that, as Osama bin Laden, Mohamed Atta and all those other scumbags plotted to kill as many American citizens as they could, he was working hard with Linda Tripp to attack the President of the United States. Kenneth Starr is the best example of what Republicans and the Right in America call “Unpatriotic”. You’ll just never hear any of them say it.

The GOP long ago mastered the underhanded art of casting aspersions and offering moral judgments as if they were criminal indictments. The last few years of their own sexual scandals have exposed the hypocrisy of the Republican Party and its socially conservative supporters. Republicans demonstrated that it didn’t really matter as long as it’s one of their own. Predictably, The GOP does not cite its own hypocrisy as a “Character issue.” Not only have closeted homosexuals been outed amongst its most aggressively homophobic statesmen, but extramarital affairs, once a goldmine for destroying brilliant candidates like Gary Hart, are pretty much non-issues due to their frequency in the Republican Party these days. Even the GOP’s agents in the media, like Bill O’Reilly, have been embarrassed by allegations and sex scandals that exposed their hypocrisy, although Keith Olberman is the only one who seems to remember or care. But these Republican scandals are not responsible for why it didn’t work against Barack Obama.

Subjecting opponents to murky subjective judgments of their personal worth or doubting a candidate’s patriotism by having “News Analysts” make accusations disguised as questions just didn’t work this time. I’ve heard more than one person tell me that it didn’t happen this time because the candidate was a Black man. While I don’t doubt that there were many, many, many conversations at Fox News Channel, The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Times about how to attack Barack Obama without looking like open bigots, the fact remains that they did try this again. It didn’t work because enough of the active voting public, -in enough key regions, have had enough of this stupid nonsense. At no point were the GOP and the Right able to take enough of the public’s eyes off the economy and the wars by making them look at either William Ayers or the Reverend Wright.

For the time being at least, “the issues are the issues” in the trajectory of campaign contests. So the economy must be really, really, really bad because “framing the debate” by any party has become irrelevant... for the time being.

Reality frames the debate now.

You can’t make a Presidential contest a matter of whatever your own party wants to focus on right now in America, because if you’re not talking about jobs, or the foreclosure sign on some guy’s front lawn, you’re not talking about reality. Framing a debate or question shouldn’t be called “spin”, but let’s just say I think the concepts are first cousins to each other. I don’t think it’s gone forever… but it’s not a “can’t-miss, go-to” tactic any more.

That’s a brighter and clearer horizon for us.

-SJ

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What it means: Part 6


The Presidency of Barack Obama is not the end of Black politics any more than it is the end of racism or poverty. Al Sharpton? -Your job is still safe. I expect to see you marching the next time someone unjustly gets their ass kicked in my city. Don’t be late.

First of all, Barack Obama is Black. Period.

It may seem crazy, but there are many on the American Left, in the Black Nationalist community, in the African-American intelligentsia and in the nation’s inner cities, especially New York, who maintain that Barack Obama is either not Black or not Black enough.
Interestingly enough, to the bigots of the world he’s the Blackest man they’ve ever seen on their horizon. These are all ridiculous notions in a concrete and technical sense because Barack Obama is as much White, as he is Black. He just gets rounded off to Black or White by anyone who wants to neutralize him politically.

But I’m not here to write about what’s technically true. If I was, my collaborator and I would have run out of things to write about months ago.

To those who maintain that his life experience, education, manners, dialect or actual complexion somehow disqualify him, I propose this silly little test:
Let someone of his exact same height and appearance, manner etc. drive around with me in a car on Fordham Road or Grand Concourse in my native Bronx and let’s see how many times we get pulled over… Hell, let Barack Obama himself actually drive me around as we go pull up at the White Castle near Howard Beach and sidle up to a police car at the traffic light on a Friday night. Exactly.

That is what it is to be Black in this country.

It means that on sight, no matter your upbringing, your financial worth, your education, your achievements, your distinctions or importance to the world, you will be a “nigger” if someone decides you are. Period.

I think it’s crazy that I have to remind people of this, but here we are.

We can never forget that Blackness is first and foremost a political color. That Black people happen to be darker than White people is almost incidental to the motive and intent of calling someone Black. That Malcolm X, Frantz Fanon and other post war political thinkers found it necessary to distinguish between “lights”, “brights” and “almost whites” is not to say that they thought those people were no longer Black. I think Marcus Garvey in particular meant just the opposite. Whatever intentional attempts at “passing” or inadvertent “passing” goes on, the ultimate truth was and is; Black identity was invented to identify Whites as much as Blacks and certainly to stratify both. How skin shade adds up to Blackness and Whiteness may be a question of degrees within the murky spaces of society and the personal sphere… but at the end of any meaningful conflict or negotiation, a person is either all Black or not at all:

They won’t take out a smaller nightstick; -they only show up with one.

A skull will be broken under that higher earning afro, under that Harvard baseball cap or under that just plain lighter skin just the same. He'll be randomly beaten whether the people in his neighborhood think he’s an “Oreo” or not. I don’t know Barack Obama’s mind and specific experience, but I do know that this is the America that Barack Obama has had to navigate. He’s older than me, so he’s seen much more of it than I have, and even as a Hispanic, I have seen fuckin’ plenty.

Barack Obama won this election in spite of his Blackness.

And that’s all it means for any of us, no matter what our own imposed colors may be, White, Black or any of the infinitude of shades thereof. It’s not that racism has ended, or that race doesn’t matter now that Barack Obama is president, it’s just a sign that race doesn’t have to matter.

-SJ