Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Unsaid

If you are going to participate in this democracy there are some facts you just have to know.

"Starve the Beast" is a policy strategy that when implemented, (tax cuts under President Bush for example), hopes to slash government by denying it money. A far more devastating form of the same policy is to create massive amounts of debt, generating the kind of fiscal crisis we now suffer, and limiting the governments ability to fund. Bush did both.
Grover Norquist, an architect of the Bush program, states his objectives: "Norquist favors dramatically reducing the size of the government. He has been noted for his widely quoted quip: "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub."
He has also stated, "Cutting the government in half in one generation is both an ambitious and reasonable goal. If we work hard we will accomplish this and more by 2025. Then the conservative movement can set a new goal. I have a recommendation: To cut government in half again by 2050". The Americans for Tax Reform mission statement is "The government's power to control one's life derives from its power to tax. We believe that power should be minimized."
Norquist is the author of the book Leave Us Alone: Getting the Government's Hands Off Our Money, Our Guns, Our Lives,published on March 11, 2008 by HarperCollins. He has variously served as a monthly "Politics" columnist and contributing editor to The American Spectator." The above is a wiki citation.

Ed Gilgore, a democratic strategist, wrote in 2004 an article that set out the policy as it was being adopted by then President Bush.

Paul Krugman revisited the issue this year and threw down the gauntlet to republicans to name just where they would make the cuts they demand.

What Krugman didn't say, and no dem will admit, is that they have lost the political battle. Here is their problem in a nutshell: Having chosen to go along, in the name of bi-partisanship; funding the Iraq and Afghan war off the books, approving drug benefits to Medicare, and most egregiously, funding the bankers bailout, the dems have sealed their fate. In addition to all of that activity under Bush, the democrats were not going to curtail their agenda when they gained control. Health care reform, school reform, engaging the world in nation building, funding alternative energy R/D, bailing out Fannie and Freddie, are some of the programs we have watched them implement. The effect of all of this is to grow the debt and the national outrage against it. The bank appears to be broken on their watch. They are going to pay.

What neither party was ready to imagine was the extent to which the national bankruptcy is not a function of public policy but rather the wholesale theft of our treasury. Dan Froomkin's piece on Harvard's Neiman Watchdog gets at just one element of the theft, the mortgage fraud. It is exactly at this point that most eyes are going to fall off the page and it is for just that reason that readers must press on. You haven't heard too much re. this fiasco, you haven't heard nearly enough.
Here is a Slate article on the passing through of billions of taxpayer dollars to foreign banks.
Here is a statement on the same subject from the right.
These articles address some of the trillions of dollars that have passed from taxpayers to vested interests. These articles don't address the negative wealth effect of the blowup on the average citizen. Trillions of dollars of assets have evaporated in the form of securities losses and house values. You've seen the pictures of the gutted houses in city after city. You don't live in a slum. This doesn't effect you. On your next drive note the number of for sale/lease signs in your neighborhood commercial district to get a since of the scope of the problem. This does affect you. The pic at the top of this post is but a segment of Domino's world headquarters. It is for rent.

This excerpt from Elizabeth Warren corrects some of the newspeak out there:
"Through it all, families never asked for a handout from anyone, especially Washington. They were left to go on their own, working harder, squeezing nickels, and taking care of themselves. But their economic boats have been taking on water for years, and now the crisis has swamped millions of middle class families.
The contrast with the big banks could not be sharper. While the middle class has been caught in an economic vise, the financial industry that was supposed to serve them has prospered at their expense. Consumer banking -- selling debt to middle class families -- has been a gold mine. Boring banking has given way to creative banking, and the industry has generated tens of billions of dollars annually in fees made possible by deceptive and dangerous terms buried in the fine print of opaque, incomprehensible, and largely unregulated contracts.
And when various forms of this creative banking triggered economic crisis, the banks went to Washington for a handout. All the while, top executives kept their jobs and retained their bonuses. Even though the tax dollars that supported the bailout came largely from middle class families -- from people already working hard to make ends meet -- the beneficiaries of those tax dollars are now lobbying Congress to preserve the rules that had let those huge banks feast off the middle class.
Pundits talk about "populist rage" as a way to trivialize the anger and fear coursing through the middle class. But they have it wrong. Families understand with crystalline clarity that the rules they have played by are not the same rules that govern Wall Street. They understand that no American family is "too big to fail." They recognize that business models have shifted and that big banks are pulling out all the stops to squeeze families and boost revenues. They understand that their economic security is under assault and that leaving consumer debt effectively unregulated does not work.
Families are ready for change. According to polls, large majorities of Americans have welcomed the Obama Administration's proposal for a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA). The CFPA would be answerable to consumers -- not to banks and not to Wall Street. The agency would have the power to end tricks-and-traps pricing and to start leveling the playing field so that consumers have the tools they need to compare prices and manage their money. The response of the big banks has been to swing into action against the Agency, fighting with all their lobbying might to keep business-as-usual. They are pulling out all the stops to kill the agency before it is born. And if those practices crush millions more families, who cares -- so long as the profits stay high and the bonuses keep coming.
America today has plenty of rich and super-rich. But it has far more families who did all the right things, but who still have no real security. Going to college and finding a good job no longer guarantee economic safety. Paying for a child's education and setting aside enough for a decent retirement have become distant dreams. Tens of millions of once-secure middle class families now live paycheck to paycheck, watching as their debts pile up and worrying about whether a pink slip or a bad diagnosis will send them hurtling over an economic cliff.
America without a strong middle class? Unthinkable, but the once-solid foundation is shaking."

These statements serve her interest, validating the agency she intends to create. What she can't do is claw back the money that was stolen. She suggests that we need to regulate to keep them from doing this again. There is no "again". It's done. There is no capital, there is only debt finance. All of the loans made since 2007 are on leveraged funds. Government funds. And lending institutions are not going to lend these monies if they fear the collapse of the dollar (in which the loans are denominated) or that interests rates will rise (which they must). The impact of all of this is that whichever party ascends to power they are powerless to offset the damage. The republicans have their wish, the beast is starved. Now the question is, how do you run the government, any level of government with no money? Here is the brit's solution. (FYI, Quango=quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation). A corporate state. We are heading in the same direction.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Books of Samuel

We arrived at the Art Institute of Chicago about a half hour before opening and took the opportunity to stretch out on the benches in the park and catch some rays.

I hear a meek voice declare that this is not a request for money; "if you could just help me with my assignment that is all I am asking". I peek up to see an impish, cockeyed teen, dressed in piped jeans, purcell's, and a pork pie diddy-bop hat sitting jauntily atop his head. His name is Samuel. Too cute.

I tell him I'll trade, give him what he wants if he will answer some questions and sit awhile. He agrees. We are to fill in a 2/2 post-it note with a tragedy. I write Mel Brook's definition, "comedy is you fall in an open manhole, tragedy is I have a splinter". He accepts the note and explains that this is good as his prof is looking for irony. Carrie writes that if Romeo were gay, he would have never killed Tybalt and tragedy would have been avoided. It provokes no answer. He is to gather 98 more notes in the park.

I ask him where he is from and he informs me a suburb to the north. I'm just a visitor and assume he means north-side and he tells me no, further north and west, a ghetto. Whoa!
And which school are you attending? "SAIC the college attached to the Art Institute".

So you're poor? "Yeah, and worse, a Mexican".
How did you get here? "I worked since I was 8 years old, mornings before school, and weekends, because I knew then I wanted to be an artist. My dad is rarely home and when he is it's the shit, but mom didn't stop me. I started auditing art classes at my local community college when I was 12. I took the train here to the high school and took classes though I wasn't an official student. I had no friends I could talk to. My grandma was my best friend. I put together a portfolio of my work and applied for a scholarship here and I won it."

What kind of work do you do? "Collages mostly. My grandma, sitting in front of fields of flowers".
Do you know where you are from? "A village about 100 miles south of Mexico City. Grandma is going to take me back".

Have you seen the "It Get's Better" project? "No never heard of it."
Well it is testimony from people who have been bullied in school addressing how they survived and how things got better for them.

"Things already got better for me. I got a $140,000 dollar scholarship".

He tips his hat and moves on.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Waiting for Supermen

Screeners of the new film documentary, "Waiting for Superman" have been told to bring towels. As if the audience had no idea of the state of public education in America. It is true that there are those who live at such a remove from troubled school districts that they may have never actually been in a central city school, those living in rural Montana for example, but the rest of us have either fled them for cause (Obama fesses up) or their cable has been cut for the last 50 years. I spoke on this blog in February to some of the issues.

Let's allow the possibility that what these kids haven't been getting is absolutely known to all of us and we have chosen to do nothing about it. People within the Washington D.C. metro area who are old enough will remember "massive resistance" and those that don't ought to read this link. It is a perfect example of a very public expression of an area of the country saying no to integration because they knew that children of color were under educated in sub par schools and whites were not going to be forced into those schools. They didn't pretend they didn't know what was going on. They had supported keeping those kids in their place. And white kids were not going to that place.

But let's get some perspective here. To make the leap from; we are keeping the black and brown folk down, to, we have a broken system. is the height of public manipulation. Let's get some facts on the table before we get caught up in the great public diversion away from our other problems:
There is not one vacant seat in any of the colleges and universities in America. Evidence includes a discussion group that identifies the acceptance rate at leading universities and includes a discussion of Cal Tech. Cal Tech applicants come from California public schools.
There are millions of highly qualified, educated persons, standing in unemployment lines.
The economic success of the BRICs is not because their schools are better than ours. They have a work force that will work for less.
We are not losing our ability to compete in the world because some inner city kid is being trampled.

Another set of behaviors, educational outcomes, is more interesting to me:
The people who implement all the current forms of "massive or passive resistance" are highly educated.
The persons who designed and built the killer drone unmanned aircraft are all Ph.D. engineers.
The persons who designed and implemented the ad campaign for "Sugar Smacks" were all college grads.
Supreme Court Justices Roberts and Kennedy to name but two, are law school grads who voted to extend to corporations the rights of individuals.
All of the bankers and insurance company executives that have brought the world as we knew it to an end are business school graduates.
The Unabomber is a Harvard Graduate.
The geniuses that destroyed the American auto industry were all graduate engineers.
The persons who are asking for your tax dollars to support a manned mission to Mars, to sustain the thread of life that will expire on Earth, are all graduates of schools of higher education.
The generals that brought you Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan are all graduates of West Point.
The software engineers that gave you the ability to reduce human existence to the banality of tweets are all highly educated.

After the current round of the education debate is over, refueled by the guilt instilled by the latest film documentary on the subject, I am going to be asked to divert my money away from some form of self indulgence to support the improvement of the educational circumstances of under-privileged kids in city school systems. I will "resist". What I am more than ready to do is give up meat to challenge the efficacy of American higher education. I want my money to be used to create a set of objectives for our graduates that includes ethics, morals, and a sense of responsibility to our fellow human beings on this planet. Moral college graduates will not tolerate the destruction of others. They will improve education.