5 02 2009

We have a tie for the “Truth in Strange Places” award this month.  I was going to give it to Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, a guy who is usually so slippery that if he said the sun was shining I’d look to check.  However, I believe he gave us the real straight dope last month when he said, in an interview with Austria’s Profil magazine,

“The drug trade at this time could be the only growth industry …The money that is being made is flowing only partly back into illegal activities, in parts of Asia, Africa, and South America, where it is used to bribe politicians, buy elections, or finance insurgents, such as the Talibans in Afghanistan, the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka, or the FARC in Colombia, for example.”

The rest of the profit, Costa said, “is fed into the legal economic circulation through money laundering. We do not know how much, but the volume is imposing. As such, seen from the macroeconomic effect, this is simply bringing in investment capital. There are indications that these funds also ended up in the finance sector, which has been under obvious pressure since the second half of last year. In many instances, drug money is currently the only liquid investment capital, to buy real estate, for example,” Costa continued. “In the second half of 2008, liquidity was the banking system’s main problem and hence liquid capital became an important factor.”

When pressed on just how this was accomplished, Costa responded: “It appears that interbank credits have been financed by money which comes from the drug trade and other illegal activities. It is naturally hard to prove this, but there are indications that a number of banks were rescued by this means.”

Costa noted that money laundering controls put in place to stop drug trafficking have “ironically” resulted in drug traffickers sitting on large stashes of cash — the ultimate liquid financial instrument. “To get around the electronic surveillance of bank transactions, now criminals stash their funds in cash sums which can be up to hundreds of millions of dollars. This is the way they try to hold these funds liquid.”

Thanks to for what you just heard/read.  Now, I’ve hearing this for years from Catherine Austin Fitts,  but as a social scientist of sorts, I have an easier time believing things when they are, as it were, proved in different laboratories with different priorities, and I don’t think that you can get much more difference than these two and still stay credible.

Senor Costas shares this month’s award with U.S. House of Representatives member Marcy Kaptur, who is the senior member of the Ohio House delegation and the longest-serving woman in the U.S. Congress, who told Amy Goodman and anyone else who would listen, not to surrender their home in the event of a foreclosure:

possession is nine-tenths of the law; therefore, stay in your property.

Get proper legal representation. If you believe that Wall Street has been deceptive, could have been fraudulent or tried to dupe the public, and with these subprime loans and with the kind of circuitous financing that’s been done, Wall Street cannot produce the deed nor the mortgage audit trail, you need a lawyer.

And you should stay in your home. It is your castle. It’s more than a piece of property. It’s your home….

I’m recommending your Legal Aid Society. Call your local bar association or the national number, (888) 995-HOME. Most people don’t even think about getting representation, because they get a piece of paper from the bank, and they go, “Oh, it’s the bank,” and they become fearful, rather than saying, “Oh, wait a minute. This is contract law. The mortgage is a contract. I am one party. There is another party. What are my legal rights under the law as a property owner?” And many times, they are abrogating their own rights. They’re forgetting that they have rights in this proceeding. And they need to exercise those legal rights.

In case you missed it, Representative Kaptur was pointing out back in there that banks are all too frequently foreclosing on properties that, due to the “slicing and dicing” of the mortgage market prior to our current financial collapse, they do not actually have clear title to–that is, the deed to the property that the homeowner surrendered as collateral for the mortgage loan.  The devil is in the details, they say, but so is the savior.  Continuing to roar like a radical lion, Ms. Kaptur continued,

You know, when this mess started, when the meltdown really started back last year, 75 percent even of the subprime loans were performing. That means people were making their payments. What Washington has done and what Wall Street has done has made it so much worse….

I think that Wall Street really didn’t want (too be investigated), and they were powerful enough, in order to help to pass a bill, scaring Congress right before the election, before a new president was elected last fall, that they really put all the power in the Treasury Department, which isn’t a housing agency. It really doesn’t do bank regulation in the same way that the FDIC does, nor oversight. Treasury really works with Wall Street. They basically sell US debt. There’s a real circuit that goes between Wall Street and Washington, the Capitol, the US Treasury Department. So they used the wrong agency.
They brought in people from the very companies, like Goldman Sachs, to run the Treasury that had been one of the agencies—one of the companies that was going under, so they made it into a bank holding company. You can follow the trail of what they did. Meanwhile, they’re protecting their interests on Wall Street. And here on Main Street, the so-called bailout that they were given hasn’t trickled down. And so, millions and millions of families are getting foreclosure notices.

There’s plenty more where that came from on the Democracy Now website.  It’s reassuring to know that there are some honest people in Congress…her and Dennis Kucinich, maybe a few more.  It’s not too early to begin looking to 2010, and how to break the Democratic Leadership Council”s stranglehold on  the Democrat party, and how to break the two-party system’s lock on the American mind.   Obama could be the reincarnation of Jesus, Buddha, and Bucky Fuller rolled into one, but as long as the legislative branch keeps on being as venal and shortsighted as it still is, JIM COOPER, he would not be able to get the first piece of sane policy through Congress, which continues to be a whore for big money, and has been a whore for big money for so long that most Congresspeople can’t imagine doing anything else.  Two words:  Green Party.

Rave on, Marcy Kaptur!  May your tribe increase.

music:  Eliza Gilkyson, Runaway Train


8 06 2008

I went to the Sonnenschein Festival in Hohenwald, Tennessee, over the weekend, a curious little hybrid critter enjoying its third year down in the hill country of south-central Tennessee.

Hohenwald is the county seat of Lewis County, in a part of the state so poor and inaccessible that it was, as I understand it, not even settled until the 1890’s.  The thin soil won’t grow much, not even trees of any great size, and so it was one of Tennessee’s last frontiers.  Nothing much is happening there, nothing much ever has happened there.  When the Tennessee Department of Transportation, that infinite cash cow and welfare system for the state’s road contractors, started to build a 4-lane, divided highway between Hohenwald and Columbia in fulfillment of their self-appointed mission to connect all the state’s county seats with these monstrosities, the legislature actually woke up and stopped them, because everybody could see that the expense and environmental destruction involved would be totally out of proportion with any benefit–and that was before $4/gallon gasoline.  That’s how podunk Hohenwald is.

Anyway, the Sonnenschein Festival is, as I said, a curious hybrid.  The city fathers’ original intent was to have a little bluegrass and gospel music and some cotton candy, bratwurst, and knicknacks, but some of the local counterculturalists got wind of the event and signed up for booths featuring solar energy, biodiesel, alternative construction methods, and the like, and suddenly there were two very different festivals going on all intermingled with each other, even though there originally seemed to be an attempt to segregate all the new ideas off in a building some distance from the main festival grounds.

The festival moved, this year, from around the courthouse to downtown Hohenwald, a difference of a block or two, but the struggling downtown merchants hoped it would generate some more business for them.  Lord knows, they need something. The few miles of four-lane that did get built heading east out of town has sprouted a roster of all the best-known names in low-end American chain stores, including a “Family Dollar” and a “Dollar General Store” going head-to-head and a Walmart Superstore that, even without its parking lot, takes up more room than all of downtown Hohenwald put together–and then there’s the empty, smaller building they vacated when they built the “superstore,” sitting out in front of it–good for what?  Green Walmart?  Get real!

The festival got a lot more integrated with the move. The “alternative” booths are no longer so isolated– Green Party U.S.. Senate Candidate Chris Lugo was right next to the Kewpie dolls.  Another new feature of this year’s festival was a full roster of countercultural speakers in what was referred to on the program as “The Strand Theater.”  I have been an irregular visitor and shopper in Hohenwald for twenty-five years, and I couldn’t recall ever seeing a theater there–imagine my surprise to find that one of the town’s famed “dig stores”  (featuring cheap, cheap, cheap second-hand clothing) was now once again a theater, which apparently it had been back before television shuttered so many of the country’s small movie houses.  With the cost of gas to get to the nearest multiplex now rivalling the cost of movie tickets, a local revival was taking place.

I was curious to see whether the townsfolk would turn out for the speakers, and I was gratified to see that, in significant numbers, they did.  Not massive numbers–a couple of dozen at a time, making them about half the audience–but from what I could gather, many of those who were attending are the town’s movers and opinion makers, and what they appreciated and took from the talks will probably be spread all over Hohenwald.

The opening speaker was David Blume, a lively advocate for permaculture and home-brewed alcohol fuel.  He criticized the country’s current ethanol binge as ” bad implementation of a good idea” and stressed that smaller ethanol plants are much better at providing re-usable outputs (such as feed and fertilizer) than the massive production facilities now being built.  He emphasized that there is not one big answer to the fuel crunch so much as a lot of small, diverse answers, and got cheers and applause from the whole audience when he pointed out that, for a fraction of the cost of the Iraq war, we could have provided “food and energy for everybody in the world.  And when everybody’s got enough food and enough energy, what’s there to fight about?”

The next speaker was Catherine Austin Fitts, whose specialty is relocalizing economics and helping people get their money out of what she calls “the tapeworm economy.”

“What good is it to go and protest the war,” she asked, “when your money is invested in keeping it going?”

And she challenged bible-belt Hohenwald with, “Where would Jesus Bank?”…she can do that, she’s a professing Christian.  Significantly, she will be meeting with the county commission on Monday to discuss how to make Hohenwald more financially self-sufficient.  I’m impressed.

Then there was a break for a benefit auction to help raise money for the festival and Green Living Journal, a magazine that I help edit.  I came out of that with a hundred-dollar gift certificate from “Our Nursery,” a local permaculture nursery that specializes in bamboo.

The third speaker was Albert Bates, a veritable polymath from the Ecovillage Training Center at The Farm.  He painted a dire picture of the mess we have gotten into, with oil in decline and CO2 on the rise, but pointed out that many small towns are taking stock of the crisis and organizing to meet it–and, once you are organized to meet this challenge, you’re…well, in a much better position to meet it, and less likely to just get sucked under as it alters our society.

“We have used up five hundred million years worth of stored energy in just the last hundred and fifty years,”Albert said, “and the binge is almost over,” adding a William Burroughs line about “Hairless Apes in the Gasoline Crack of History.” On the positive side, he pointed to brain research that shows that optimism chemically primes our frontal cortexes to be better at problem solving than pessimism does, and quoted economist David Fleming to the effect that “localism is at the limits of practical possibilities–but the decisive argument is that there is no alternative.”

It seems that the movers and shakers in Hohenwald are starting to see that, which I find very reassuring.  After Albert, I had absorbed about all the talk I could handle, and I was hungry, so I went outside and strolled the midway, passing over the bratwurst, the barbeque, and the deep-fried snickers bars, until I found an  old friend cooking health-food pizza in a solar oven he had built himself.  I had to wait for the biracial lesbian couple ahead of me to get done fixing up their kids with pizza, but just the idea of a biracial lesbian couple with kids in ol’ whitebread Hohenwald was delightful.  The heat was brutal and the crowd was thin, but I could feel a change in the air.  Out there in the hinterlands, they’re starting to get it.  Me, I’m hiring my friend to build us a solar oven.  It’s time.

music: Greg Brown, “Our Little Town”

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