Friday, October 10, 2008

Friday Music Blogging

The Buzzcocks - Ever Fallen In Love?

The Buzzcocks were the band that first really merged punk music into the mainstream pop (as this song demonstrates). It didn't stop them from having the same strife that most punk bands I grew up with had, but hell, at least it was music I could play loudly at home with the 'rents in the next room.

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) The soft bigotry of low expectations. Why did I know McCain would be this desperate?

2) You keep playing that one note on the kazoo, Johnny! You'll fall so far behind, I anticipate that by October 19, you'll have Sarah Palin doing interviews topless on Howard Stern.

3) Between Uncle Ted's pickle and Troopergate, this will be a bad day in Palinville.

4) Sarah probably understands now how Bristol felt just before the little dot turned blue.

5) If you are still on the fence about McCain and Obama, and few of you here are, or if you have friends who are still struggling to make sense of it all, Consumer Reports has a great article contrasting their health care plans.

6) Sorry. As a Finn, I have to crow a little. I figure he enforced the peace by threatening to feed them lutefish.

7) "So...what are you wearing, comrade?"

8) Term limits was, and is, a stupid concept. Period. End of discussion.

9) Oh CANADA! Apparently, conservatives all around the world can't keep their peckers in their pants!

10) Listen, the world may seem like it's crumbling, the government may be totally unresponsive to your needs, and even the dolphins may have had enough, please, just...

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Born In The USA

You know, I was born and raised in a free country, not a socialist, totalitarian state:

WASHINGTON — Having tried without success to unlock frozen credit markets, the Treasury Department is considering taking ownership stakes in many United States banks to try to restore confidence in the financial system, according to government officials.

Treasury officials say the just-passed $700 billion bailout bill gives them the authority to inject cash directly into banks that request it. Such a move would quickly strengthen banks' balance sheets and, officials hope, persuade them to resume lending. In return, the law gives the Treasury the right to take ownership positions in banks, including healthy ones.

Effectively, this gives the US Federal government the right to dictate bank policy, decisions, and effectively makes the US Government a shareholder, directly dependent on the quarterly profit of these firms.
This is not freedom, folks. Banks will be obligated to conform not just to the regulations and laws the US Congress has passed, as overseen (however poorly) by the executive branch, but to the caprices and whims of whatever man sits in oversight, presumably Hank Paulson, Treasury Secretary until January 20, 2009.
And who knows who, beyond that?
Now, that person may make good decisions, possibly. And he may influence better oversight and policy from the bank managers and boards themselves. But he also may make terrible decisions, terrible choices, and that alone makes this a really bad idea. After all, underpinning each and every bank in America, each and every investment bank in America, is the hard-earned money of the American worker. Those are your savings accounts that WaMu leveraged out to lend to mortgagors. Those are your checking accounts that Wachovia invested to earn themselves an extra few pennies in income.
And these were people who were supposed to be experts! Now turn this power over to someone with a political agenda.
Do you see where this might go? Imagine a bank in New York state that has lent money to build an abortion clinic, overseen by a McCain Treasury Secretary shoved down his throat like Sarah Palin was. Or a bank in Arkansas that's been forced by court order to lend money to minority clients for affordable housing, something guaranteed not to give the same return as a commercial property in Little Rock.
Suddenly, the government is not only in a position to dictate policy, but enforce it from inside, with little or no dissent. Imagine if in the 1950s, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a credit card from a bank run by the government, the same government that tacitly allowed the states to determine segregation policies? Do you honestly think they would listen to a lone nutcase? Or would they yank that card, freeze hsi assets, and bring him to "justice"?
It gets worse, folks. Just the other day, there was talk that the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve might step in to buy commercial paper issued by companies like General Motors, or IBM, or Campbell's Soup. Now take those banking scenarios and extend them to buying food, clothing, shelter, or transportation.
And the bad news is capped off with the little notice but plaintive wail of individual states now unable to make good on their own bond issues, unable to make interest payments, unable to provide sufficient collateral for the funds they've borrowed, in danger of default.
Not only are they having trouble making good on these bonds, but they can't even refinance them because the credit markets are effectively closed until the bailout funds are made available, which may take months.
Careful readers of this blog will note that more than two years ago, I predicted the worst economic meltdown this nation, this world, has ever faced.
I underestimated the threat. This will make the Great Depression look like a picnic.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Poor Kathleen Parker

Last week, I pointed out how the scales fell away from Kathleen Parker's eyes and she suddenly realized to her regret that some of her colleagues on the right don't take kindly to criticisms.
Well, K-Pax has had yet another revelation about her instigated brand of politics:

But words can have more serious consequences than lost votes and we've already had a glimpse of the Palin effect.

Dana Milbank of The Washington Post reported that media representatives in Clearwater were greeted with taunts, thunder sticks and profanity. One Palin supporter shouted an epithet at an African-American soundman and said, "Sit down, boy."

McCain may want to call off his pit bull before this war escalates.

Yea, um, not to put too fine a point on this, K-Pax, but you brought this on yourself. Where were you when your conservative "colleagues" were calling Bill Clinton a "scumbag"? When Rush Limbaugh was calling Chelsea Clinton a "dog"? When John McCain was laughing when constituents were calling Hillary Clinton a "bitch"?
The comments to this column, which is actually fairly reasonable until you consider who is writing them, make K-Pax out to be a criminal or worse. Perhaps this experience will have softened her, I don't know. I can only hope that she can find some solace in the fact that she's not the first, nor the last, person to be the target of the hate-filled venom of the Town Hall mafia.

The Paradigm of the Progressive Pyramid

This is how government services, and for that matter, personal income, are currently skewed. The top 1% of income earners (including corporations) get the first drops of tax money to trickle down from government:

Those at the bottom, and this is in accordance with supply side economics, get the last drops of government tax policy. It is supposed to trickle down to those with the least, those who do the bulk of the grunt work that runs the economic engine of this nation and it's corporations.
In theory. And in a strictly capitalist society, this is precisely the way things are supposed to run: Those with investable capital put their wealth on the line, take the risk, and reap the rewards of that risk, mostly off the backs of those who do not have the wealth to strike out on their own. If the risk blows up, the ones who lose the most are the folks who funded the venture in the first place, who hired the people to run the business that failed.
In private enterprise, for the most part, this is a highly efficient system, weeding out the weaker companies while rewarding the stronger. There is a kind of savage logic to this. After all, no one is supposed to have emotional feelings about a corporation (nor should a corporation have human rights, but that's a different essay.)
A codicil: I am neither cheering or criticizing capitalism, per se, merely pointing out how it is supposed to work from a clean, clinical, theoretical point of view of how for-profit economics works.
Government is not a for-profit venture, and yet the benefits accruing to society from government seem to skew, indeed even reward, the top one percent to the detriment of every income group below it.
When the economy is in trouble, who is the first to get help inthe forms of tax breaks and incentives? Big corporations. The wealthy. When the economy is humming along, who is the first to reap the benefits of higher tax revenues? Big corporations. The wealthy.
Let's take the infamous "Bridge To Nowhere" in Alaska, which connected the town of Ketchikan to the seaport across a small. That seaport was a destination for tourists travelling by cruise ship, and would facilitate their travel into town (it would cut miles off the drive around the end of the inlet, and hours off ferry rides). Who benefitted? A handful of cruise operators, and the town of Ketchikan.
Now, I'm not arguing against tourism in Alaska, to be sure. Ketchikan is probably a lovely place if so many ships are willing to dock there. What I am arguing against is lining the pockets of greedy cruise operators when times are good with hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars. If the bridge was so necessary, let them pool their money together and build it themselves. Let the state of Alaska and the town of Ketchikan kick some money in. It's a local matter, and should have been handled locally.
But that's not how government works, is it? This is how government should work:

You'll note that here, the people who need the most help are the ones most directly benefitting from the "rain" of government money. But notice something else: this graphic presentation hints at something that would be of great benefit economically to the wealthy.
The "funnel" effect: By distributing funds in this fashion, each level would end up "paying forward" whatever benefits they didn't directly use themselves. The rich would continue to aggregate wealth, just not as directly as they do now.
Let's take the recent spate of bailouts: despite running annual deficits alarmingly close to a half trillion dollars, we're suddenly informed that, somehow, the Fed managed to find almost a trillion dollars of government money to use to help bailout banks and investment banks.
Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm. So the question must be asked: if you could find that now, in a crisis, why couldn't you find it before the crisis to help people pay down their mortgages, or at least keep current on their payments?

A trillion dollars divvied up amongst 330 million Americans works out to around $3,000 per person. If you're late on your mortgage, that could go a long way to helping you catch up. If you don't have a mortgage or credit card bills, you'd probably end up spending it on something nice (yea, a percent or two of you would end up saving it, but even that's OK, since it would put money back into the capital markets). $3,000 would buy a couple of nice meals for a rich person. Indeed, they'd be the most likely to spend it outright.
What's standing in the way of this? It is how politics works. The fact that the poorest 20%, the poorest 60%, can't buy the influence that the richest one percent can.
Re-read that again: the poorest majority of this country is outspent in politics by the richest one percent. 180,000,000 people have a weaker voice in a democracy than 3,000,000!
(To my critics, I know I'm mixing apples and oranges a little here, talking about the richest one percent in terms of corporations and then citizenry and back again, but the numerical impact of a few tens of thousands of corporations on numbers of this magnitude is minimal, statistically speaking).
In terms of realpolitics, I have no trouble with money getting you some additional access to a candidate and/or officeholder, you know, maybe you need a stoplight on your corner, but when we start talking about trillions of dollars and we start talking about walking a tightrope that falling from might end the country, then I think we have to redraw the political map.

And flip the pyramid that's been in place for generations now. FDR had it right, and it seems to have toppled and flipped over as a succession of Republican presidents have weighted the money in the apex and pushed it over.