Monday, September 29, 2008

The Bailout has a Blowout

For a week or so, we have heard Paulson and Bernanke blasting air raid sirens to announce what sober economists of both liberal and conservative stripe have been telling us for a year: the financial infrastructure of our nation, and given our size, that of the world to a lesser extent, is being sailed into the rocks by captains of our financial industry in their heedless pursuit of short term profit. And lately SEC chairman Cox admitted maybe he should not have let those captains off the regulatory leash. OK, we little people had our own ways of knowing that already...the economy is busted. Did we bust it? Consumers beside yours truly certainly did their share of the borrowing. I intend by that graphic to illustrate that not just "wealthy people" but about half of America's work force have seen their paper wealth mushroom and then evaporate. And many of the little players can't get out from under a bad investment that is locked up in a retirement plan...unless they swallow the penalties. Given how things are going, that option may not be so dumb after all. One of my 401K's is in Wachovia...its too late for me to crack open that rotten nest egg.

It is supposedly so busted that there isn't time to sort out exactly where the money went and get it all back from whoever took it. But I think we have now seen that something equally important has been broken. And that something is important because it provides the wherewithal to solve the big problems like war mongering enemies and harmful shifts in natural resources and business climate: it is the workings of our democracy. The level of trust in our government has been so damaged by the last 7 years that the administration can neither lead nor command its own political party. How screwed is that? And as Forbes' Joshua Zumbrun and Brian Wingfield write Now What? The Democrats demanded taxpayer equity and assurances in the bill and then reluctantly got behind it. The presidential candidates at least tepidly said they would support it. The preznit has addressed congress and country saying we need to act soon. ....but his own party will not play with him on this one. Could that lost confidence in government and respectful check and balance of congressional interests and administration be resurrected? More likely in an Obama adminstration.

Either those who have belatedly sounded the sirens are wrong and we won't have a collapse, or they have some idea, not understood by the House Republican caucus, that in fact the monetary equivalent of a large hole in a space ship is about to rapidly depressurize the capital flow and credit machinery on which we allegedly depend. Don't ask me which is more correct! The thing is, people with money being almost the same a humans, when there is uncertainty and a threat or rumor of danger, it is their nature to hide the goodies for safe keeping. Banks, bankers have shown us, are NOT safe places to keep money. Much of what is screwed about our economy is the dirty little secret of how it depends on psychology more than on math.

Is your bicycle in good repair? Have you laid in enough root vegetables and canned goods for a long spell? Is your heating oil tank filled up for the season?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

the "Who won the debate" debate

Every web outlet for political news that I had time to scan is replete with the attempts of the entire punditocracy to tell the rest of us who did better in Friday's almost-cancelled debate.   I found NY Times and Politico.Com's "Arena" most useful but look where you will, the interwebs are awash with the fluff.

 If you ask me, it was the very unpresidential brinksmanship or just dumb vascillation on McCain's part...but whatever the cause, the rest of us certainly have an answer for the pundits: Point to Obama.   How do ya like them apples?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A quick roundup of this afternoons news:

I listen to the news, I have violent reactions...its just been one of those weeks. Today's crop:
--- what seems to be the problem? ---
After listening to NPR try to explain exactly what IS the problem Bernanke and Paulson want us to be in a panic over....I paraphrase but lets see if I got it at all right:
All liquidity was based on confidence of repayment, not actual deposits. And not just for a few mortgage issuers but the entire system. So, its supposedly not the beach-house-in-the-Hamptons, $20 million severance package, Armani clad class from wall street we are saving, or their firms but rather the quantity of cash in the money pool that can be lent/spent to found, expand or just run businesses. In plainer English, we are to swallow the claim that to save our own jobs, we have to save the CEOs and CFOs and the bundlers of moldy mortgages.
I have to ask: if that is how fragile the US financial machinery really is, why on earth did the Bush money mavens leave it so exposed to default? Why did they administer what is in a sense a confidence game in a way that made it so easy for a little greed to undermine a lot of confidence? I read commentary saying Paulsen is no where near as dumb as his boss...but that ain't saying much.

--- republicanism going down in frames ---
Where is Rove when they need him the most? Lakoff pointed, for years, to the way the neoconservatives always got the drop on their opponents, the middle class, by staking out the high ground in the framing of issues in the early rounds. Boy has framing discipline gone to hell in the Bush league! The mess in the markets and the dire measures Paulson and Bernanke offer to clean it up are almost universally referred to in the news stories I hear as some variation of a discussion about how taxpayers are going to bail out billionaires and brokers on wall doesn't matter what answer you come up with if that is the question! McSame can't put enough distance between himself and Bush Buck Bailout Boys if this is the setup. [not saying it shouldn't be the setup, just noting how the chickens have come home to roost for republicans]

--- if he were executive material, he'd have executive class excuses ---
And speaking of McCain's inability to distance himself from Washington, why, at 3pm on Thursday is his campaign saying the debate is still on hold until there is a bailout deal [as if captain crash had anything to do with that!] when as of Wednesday afternoon, Barney Frank...who is calling the shots more than McCain, said the compromises overturning the worst of the P&B bailout's anti-middle class and pro-corporation giveaways were nearly complete? Implicit in that timing is a serious question about McCain's ability to process information or his sincerity in the excuse he gives for postponing the debate: How come mere me out here in the internet boonies knew yesterday the deal would be done and McCain, a senator and presidential candidate with oodles of staffers is STILL claiming he isn't really sure if there is a deal.
What does McCain know that I don't know? He knows the Republicans are going to, or at least he is going to scuttle the agreement...why should Barney Frank get any credit?

--- if not a manufactured crisis, one harvested when ripe ---
I want to point to a modest little post in a diary over at Agonist because it puts facts to a suspicion I find obvious and disturbing: Paulson, Bush and Bernanke have given congress an ultimatum and said there was no time to ponder and yet, they have been drafting their ransom note for months! This makes the power grab accusations more plausible. hat tip to Agonist diarist LeePenn

--- so who ARE the 43% that polls claim favor Capt. Crash ---
People who didn't like Bush, don't like McCain. That should leave McCain at the 30% level. And they think the only way McCain can say something about the economy [or health care or social security, for that matter] that will gain him some favor among voters is to imitate Bush's positions on those issues. But he is imitating Obama's slogans. If Obama can't get a copyright on the words "Change" or "Hope", McCain can certainly dilute their political worth by appropriation and misuse. On the other side of the spectrum McCain has not been able to nail down the votes of racist and religious bigots among America's peasantry or the "no regulation" fundamentalists among America's most greedy Republicans. The unappealing history of his varying positions on abortion/choice are only partly repaired by his choice of bare-knuckles Palin. His moment in the sunshine for having once tried to legislate the lobbyists out of their powerful and often corrupt jobs long since completely eclipsed by his well publicized embrace of lobbyists as advisers and campaign managers, there is nothing left of his record: at 14% behind on polls asking about economic competence, he is regarded at home and abroad as a nincompoop on the economy.

What is left? What has he done repeatedly in his career with some form of success? He's crashed airplanes and lived to tell about it is all I can find. That is why I call him Capt. Crash. Keep him away from the capital lest some horrendous accident might allow him to act out his delusions of being able to pilot our nation.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The last person I want to see in Washington at this time John McCain. We already have more economic stupidity than we can handle.

He has not been on the Senate Finance Committee. He is not now a member of that committee. His colleagues do not accord him a position indicating their trust of his expertise in economics. Why then does he claim his particular services are so desperately needed to solve the financial crisis that he can blow off a debate that until quite recently he was demanding? The posturing old fart has been clumsily trying to sow doubts about whether Obama is ready to lead and yet, McCain signals loud and clear he is not even ready to debate. As Josh Marshall and a few other veterans of unblinkered commentary point out, all McCain can add to the proceedings is politicizing at a moment when political polarizing would be most damaging.

The guru of deregulation of the financial markets, a man often cited as a key architect of the financial environment in which commodity speculators can double the price of oil in a year or top-10 investment banks can basically write their own rules about how secure their "securities" need to Phil Gramm. Gramm is the architect of legislation that has enabled the explosion of government debt since the Reagan administration. This is the man that John McCain relies on for explanations and advice on all matters economic. And McCain's campaign refuse to deny that Gramm would be appointed Secretary of the Treasury if McCain should win the election. Now is that the kind of proven incompetence we need meddling with this supposedly dire crisis? Wasn't this guy saying the fundamentals of the economy were sound just two or three weeks ago? Has he got a f__king clue?

You want clues? What source do you trust for opinions about financial probity and acumen?
The Wall Street Journal says that McCain "doesn't understand what's happening on Wall Street."... [and that is George Will quoting WSJ...who are McCain's friends if these are his detractors?]
Every writer the Asia Times cares to publish regarding US finances sees no value in the programs McCain flips back and forth on but Muhammad Cohen is particularly blunt in saying so. Askari and Krichene think Paulson and Bernanke overstate the trouble in the credit supply. Martin Hutchinson gives a history lesson showing the long term confidence erosion that accreted from short term bailouts...and warns us beware of "financially illiterate" presidents. Hutchinson has been keeping track of all the bailouts: Bernanke is 0 for 5 at this point. Kevin Phillips, the very valuable apostate Republican now churning out book after debunking book about Republican embraces of errant politics, has an even longer list than Hutchinson. In the International Herald Tribune, Sorkin provides a thorough and informative criticism of Paulson's wildly deficient plan.

Robert Reich on the other hand shows how Paulson and Bernanke have understated the problem by omitting other bad debt on the banks books that will get its turn to swell as foreclosures have: they are low-balling us.

Which deregulation did the damage? What institutions should come firmly under control and scrutiny of the government and tax payers who are asked to make up for their shoddy version of due diligence in lending? Here is a clue from Time writer Justin Fox that its not the "usual suspects" whose names now stream across across the bottom of your CNN news shows. I found the Fox article linked by Brad DeLong who backs the article with an interesting chart showing just who poured bad loans into the magic washing machine of derivative debt instruments and when.

As you can see, there is much to know, lots to learn before one could claim any useful expertise: I was looking forward to the debate as a way to hear what cogent solution McCain has and how he can make clear to voters what that crowd of published experts have not...I have not linked even 1% of the news and opinion on the emergency that Mr Bernake and Mr Paulson just discovered. Since the functional members of congress have by now largely completed the negotiations and since his colleagues don't rank him a great resource in their work on the economy wouldn't it have been smarter for McCain to use the pulpit he already had waiting in tomorrow's scheduled debate? From there, he could lay out his impressive and persuasive and powerfully informed and reasoned plans...that would surely persuade voters to call their representatives and demand the "McCain plan".

Let me put aside my sarcasm and just wonder: what will the world think of us if we elect this disaster of a man to run our country?

Friday, September 19, 2008

I come out of hibernation and what do I find?!

My savings going up in smoke and the new candidate for the arsonist party only 2% behind in the polls. NY Times, for one, mentions that we who have been saving the last 30 or 40 years for our retirement just took a hit many will not recover from.

There are a thousand things to say about the administration's attempt to use the massive screw-ups of our unregulated financial giants as a cover for taking the last bits of power from congress and the last bits of taxpayer money in the treasury and just giving it to Mr Paulson's former colleagues on Wall Street. Fortunately, these things are being said. At TPM, HuffPo, TruthOut, Brad DeLong and Agonist you will find a flood of facts and contempt for what the administration is trying to do. TPM and Agonist have nice juicy dirt on McCain's connection to the beneficiaries of the proposed bailout via his lobbyists/advisers Carly Fiorina, Phil Gramm and Rick Davis.

So why am I writing? I have soured on is the sport and distraction of people who have problems they can't ignore but don't understand and who do not wish to deal in person with the shiftless dehumanized bums they hold responsible. Seriously, just do one thing: do not let that senile sell-out, John McCain nor his Bush-in-a-skirt ratings buoy get in to office. Those idiots will plunge us into a dark age and a depression faster than I can get safely to a place off the grid, with low taxes and a climate that would let me feed myself.

I fear this bailout will be no longer lived, in its good effects, than the previous gyrations and heroics with which the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department have papered over the stock market's tumbles three times in the last 16 months. How long do you think this nation could go on ignoring all the laws of common sense economics, spending a trillion on useless wars, cutting taxes, letting jobs go off shore with no plan to re-educate the bereft workers and removing all obstacles to head long consumer spending and balance of trade hemorrhaging? How long? You can also ignore the laws of gravity until the moment of impact with the ground. Borrowing to prop up all those losing activities will naturally come to an end. Just as Reagan smirked in 1989 that communism was dead, I suspect Hu Jintao and Putin now smirk that capitalism as Americans do it, is in equally poor health.

It really and deeply hurts me that this country has been so weakened, I can not find an article in any of my reading that overstates how stupid and treacherous the Republicans have been. Even Larisa Alexandrovna seems too restrained.

I have read just one too many of these dooms day scenarios by "America-hating" liberals. I have seen too many of their predictions unfold like clockwork ticking.
Steve Fraser, writing the day before the administration's finance managers, Bernanke and Paulson called their desperate huddle on capitol hill, gave a pretty good summary of how bad things were, how drastic the solutions must be and a gentle reminder that this train wreck of ruined credit vehicles at all levels of the economy was not an accident. It is the largely predictable consequence of dismantling regulation of markets that has gone on throughout Democratic but mostly Republican administrations over the last 30 years. The line in Dubya's speech last night in which he claimed our problems were due to old regulations written for different times is a lie...his party tore up the regulations. There are many things that are meant by regulation but the rules and enforcements that would double check greed-colored decisions that risk other people's money should not be weakened until a species of human can be found that does not sucome to greed. I repeat: Democrats and Republicans have had a hand in weakening such rules and we ought to ask why they did so. I think Fraser's article also points in a good direction for solutions. Rather than these fits of spilled tax monies and deferred debt that suspend consequences for the risk taking of a coterie of bankers and deal makers who amass vast empires of paper wealth, we need to subsidize the creation of education, productive capacity and infrastructure, as the Chinese have been doing like mad for a decade, . You might give Mr. Fraser's remarks a little attention, if not for their appearance in TruthOut, then for their having also been picked up by the generally perceptive editors of Asia Times. Did y'all read Stirling's essay on "penultimate crises"? Are we there yet?

My blogging ceased recently. I found all I was doing was passing on the complaints you have already heard from sources closer to the fray. My excuses for writing have been the general relief of venting my anger at our subjugation by smug, selfish, ignorant and privileged fools, or the claim that every voice counts for something if it adds to the din of outraged hue and cry. But other than my feeble involvement with MoveOn, what have I done to change things? Not much. In my blog as a partisan in the war for sustainability, I have perhaps a more activist, or perhaps more accurately a PASSIVIST, approach to things. I expose myself to chastisement for abandoning a fight that I consider lost. I really don't think Americans, nor Chinese for that matter, in their governments nor in the minute daily struggles and decisions of citizens and consumers, give a damn for whether their strivings amount to a stable long term program for human life on earth. These economic dramas by which we seem to be caught up and swept along, are symptoms of an even bigger collapse that our nearly universal quest for a bigger share of nature's pie has doomed us to suffer.

I am contemplating what I suspect most readers would confuse with the programs of survivalists and the anti-government paranoids. I wont have a rack of guns and boxes of ammunition in a bunker but I do actually consider it likely that most of us will at some point in the next two generations, be forced to fend for our selves personally to gain food and warmth when they are no longer obtainable by the ordinary economy. Corporate greed may be accelerating the ruin and necessitating the occasional revamping of the macroeconomic machinery but the personal appetites, innate or induced by ad culture, on which that machinery has fed is equally to blame and more to blame for the irresponsible way we outstrip the mineral and biosphere capacities to support our life style ambitions.

I am planning a retreat from all this. I am lucky enough to be able to buy arable land at a time when the housing debacle in the US has put a few such acres on the market at a discount. I plan to work at jobs for pay or to otherwise participate in the emerging nationalized-finance economy as little as possible. We have finally heard sensible complaints from pundits who should have said long ago that the wholesale abandonment of fiscal conservatism by the republicans and the suspension of critical economic thought by the electorate are burying us and generations of our children with debt. If I make no money, I cannot be taxed to pay that debt. Take the repayment from the accounts of the chairmen and CEO's of Wall street, please. I will have beans and squash to plant and strawberries and peaches to can. I wonder though, if many take up my strategy, how long before the US income tax would be augmented by a national real estate tax or a "small farm" tax. Would our reduction to serfs in a subsistence agriculture economy be so very different from the present state of the late and unlamented middle class? Only the size of the paycheck and the demands on the earth's resources would shrink. Too many of the little people, the wage earners and workers, their vision diverted by hope that they too will participate in Dubya's mythical "ownership society" have seen that to pursue that participation via debt makes for a "foreclosure society". We are there now. Even before that was visible, it was clear that these workers were being saddled with deferred national debt spent on useless wars and bankers who had ceased to worry about risk. I refuse to carry these fat bankers on my back, no matter how diffuse and indirect the means by which I am hitched to their mistakes.

The day after I drafted this post, I found one Jo Fish at FDL had an inkling of the revolt that attracts me. Larisa is not the revolutionary at all.

I claim to have been a model citizen: If a democracy is a government that derives its legitimacy and its policy directions by consulting all its citizens, then it is an absolute necessity that those citizens actively engage in being broadly informed and recognize their individual obligation to bear the costs of the commons. Biden is right that it is patriotic to pay your taxes. I would go so far as to say it is idiotic not to. It is perverse that one of our nation's last great public investments in those commons, the Internet, had the potential for each of us to finally be constantly and broadly informed but instead our natures lent us the Internet as a means to form balkanized virtual enclaves. Our awareness of the plural nature of our society and the interdependence of its parts has changed to estrangement and an arms length perception of faceless competitors in our midst. We now have a country where the recognition of our obligations is atrophied. When I first began earning a good paycheck as a 20-something engineer, I did resent the chunk taken by the state and the federal government. In the 35 years since my career began, the household income here at Greensmile Acres has grown to 97th percentile and our tax bill is now 50% larger than the median yearly income in the US yet I have grown grateful that I can carry my share of the weight. I should be a Republican but I am not and I only resent the taxes pissed away on warfare and the useless leeches in the Defense and Energy and Fatherland Security departments. What madness is it that permits a man to see himself as a would be savior while lining his pockets with public monies for which greater needs are in plain sight? Our family has saved more and consumed far less than is typical even in our income bracket. We have lived 35 years with a modestly escalating and, we thought, absolutely sound prosperity resting on good paychecks and a value for prudent saving. Our story differs from Sean-Paul's. And that difference may only tell a story of one generation and its successor in this country. We have had money for our children's education. Our checks to the IRS do not mean we will have to do without. Retirement, if we ever wanted it, should have been a fat chest of goodies we were positioning at the end of our working years. We have had no debt for over a decade. But now the rotten condition in which Republican policies have left that chest, and the way the majority of voters in this country have supported, ignored or acquiesced to those policies despite being hurt by them all darken my view of life in this country. Of what have I been a model citizen? Will the feeble mined elders who have clung in their insecurity to the protofascist pitches of Rove and of Bush turn to cling the more fervently to McCain now that their fears and harms have been aggravated by a deeper plunge into financial insecurity? I want no part of such a nation yet I have no choice.

"In the long run" is a phrase that slips in to many a polemical paragraph, certainly in to mine, to warn you the writer fancies he has some perspective or can accurately project trends forward to some eventuality. I don't know how long we have to run before retrospectives of the history of protests against the selfishness exemplified by Republican economic policy can be said to remove doubt and ambiguity from my conclusions: some liberal economists and a few progressive legislators have had a good grasp of what was wrong with those policies. I don't know how long we have to run, period. Now that nothing less than our entire national economy lays bleeding, bled, and broken in a heap before congress, it is a bit late to admit that in the long run, pandering to the selfishness of taxpayers is a fucked up scheme and the most toxic substitute for leadership, however successful it may be in getting you in office for in the short term.

I do not trust these fascists. Though many liberal economists can see clearly enough that Republican deregulation is a cause of the over extension of debt instruments that finally collapsed our entire credit apparatus, I expect to hear daily in the news the bleating of Neoconservatives who will try to hide their matches and gasoline and say we are witnessing a kind of Reichstag fire on Wall Street for which, god knows how, those tax-and-spend liberals must be to blame. Naomi Klein has been mentioned by a few of my favorite bloggers in light of this week's economic events. That is apt. We might have paid more attention to the feckless pursuit of Bin Laden, now gone somewhat into reverse in Pakistan and Afghanistan, we might have looked at the connection between the devastation of Galveston and the disappearance of the polar ice sheets...real problems abound... but now the Republicans can shout "oh! look! An emergency! Quick, give me more power, cede more rights so I can protect you!".

What is being judged then, by all these tribulations? We cast all our judgments on our political champions so they may stand in for us, and we the voters absolve ourselves of blame. My disgust and withdrawal stem from this understanding: voting only dilutes blame, it does not absolve. If we stumble on as we have, electing McCain and otherwise teetering toward fascism, it is not John McCain who should be examined for his failures but we teh people.

I am not talking about somebody else, I am talking about YOU. The "we" who stumble includes me, all who say and do the right things as well as the dangerously ignorant and mislead who foam at the mouth over at We all have the vote. Everybody says vile things about lawyers except the one who gets them out of jail or wins their civil case. Everyone resents the wealth of doctors...except the doctor who cures their disease. Everyone is saying vile things about bankers...except the one who lent them the money to start their business. Do you not see what a shitty job we are doing of sharing the world?