HANK AND BILL’S EXCELLENT BLACKMAIL SCHEME

12 10 2008

It was a blackmail scheme, for sure.  “THIS IS A SERIOUS CRISIS!  Give us what we want or we’ll trash the economy, (and maybe declare martial law)  THIS IS A SERIOUS CRISIS,” was the mantra of all the talking heads in the Bush junta–hardly the way to calm a serious crisis, more like the way to fan the flames.   Congress blinked, and gave them the money, and agreed to overlook the fact that Paulson and Bernanke (and their godfather, Alan Greenspan) were the ones who ran the economy into the ground in the first place.

If Bernanke and Paulson had a shred of integrity, they would have offered their resignations.  If they were traditional Japanese, they would have committed seppuku….(hey, I can dream, can’t I?) but no, they’re neocon men from Wall Street, aka American Fascists, so they just asked for more money. That’s a fundamental rule in the neocon playbook–never, ever, ever admit that you screwed up.  No way anything they did could have been what trashed the economy, nossir.

They admitted that $700 billion was a number they pretty much pulled out of their asses. They even admitted that this was something they’d seen coming for a while.  But somehow that didn’t matter when they said, “pay up NOW, on THESE TERMS or we’re all screwed!”  (even though they’re not actually going to start handing the money out until mid-November!)  They had America by the short hairs and everybody knew it, and so the Senate and ultimately the House  squawked and grumbled and grew the proposal from three pages to over four hundred, with a few half-assed conditions thrown in, plus a lot of bribes to get people to feel a little better about the whole ugly mess–a hundred and fifty billion dollars worth of tax breaks for everything from toy wooden arrows to solar panels.  Talk about perversion!

But hey, if they didn’t, Bush might declare martial law–after all, Congress gave him the power, since he was gracious enough to ask for it, and a brigade of US Army regulars has recently been reassigned to the US from Iraq, and are busy training in “non-lethal crowd control”–rubber bullets and tasers, which have proved lethal to plenty of people in their time. Uhh..anybody seen the Posse Comitatus act lately? Hmmm……but there’s no significance to that, no, none at all….just give us the money in small, unmarked bills, like what you gave us for Iraq…..

And what did these neo-con artists propose to buy with our seven hundred billion dollars?  Worthless assets that banks created and got stuck with in the course of the Ponzi scheme that has been the American economy ever since Bill Clinton crammed NAFTA down our throats and America’s manufacturing economy literally went south.

Seven hundred billion dollars worth of bad mortgages.  Seven hundred billion dollars for overvalued, trashed-out, abandoned houses, many of which would not sell for a dollar at public auction.  Houses that it will cost money just to tear down.  Actually, the financial instruments are so Byzantine that owning the debt on the house may not convey title to the house, so that means we’re not even getting the lot under a trashed-out house, we’re just getting a piece of paper, and good luck ever selling it for anything besides making “Save your CDO certificates/The United States Will Rise Again!” posters.

Hank and Bill will be generous with our money, giving the poor bankers whatever price they claim those mortgages are worth, but basically, Congress voted to spend seven hundred billion dollars on–nothing.  We couldn’t afford thirty-five billion for childrens’ health care.  We can’t afford to take proper care of Iraq war veterans.  We can’t afford to rebuild our country’s infrastructure in a way that will mute the effects of climate change.  We can’t afford health coverage for all.  None of those things we really need will cost seven hundred billion dollars, all would have a clear payback, and in fact will save not only our money but our asses to the tune of far more than seven hundred billion dollars, but we can’t afford them.

Seven hundred billion dollars is what we spend every year on imported oil, and we can afford that.  Seven hundred billion dollars is about a quarter of what the war in Iraq is likely to cost us, maybe less than a quarter. The tax cuts for the wealthy that the Bush junta pushed through have cost the government about four hundred billion dollars a year since 2003, for a total of two trillion dollars and counting, but none of the high muckamucks in our government seem to have any qualms about the cost of any of that.  Hey, that’s all money into (or at least not out of) their pockets, and besides, they own the presses, they can print more dollars if they need ’em.  Sure, they’ll be worth less (worthless?  or just worth less?  who knows!), and foreign governments and other investors may be a lot less interested in taking them, but the asses of the wealthy have been covered, and that’s what counts to the neo con-men.  They will all be going off to someplace safe, leaving you and me to go down with the ship–and the bills.

Oh, and just in case Obama gets elected and has any ideas about doing anything creative, this will tie his hands, just like his pledge to continue the “war on terror” by escalating in Afghanistan will tie his feet.  Smooth move, Mr. Rove!

There are a few sops thrown into this bill.  Some of them could mitigate the chilling effect this bill will have on our national budget, if Obama’s government is progressive and courageous and not just a replay of the Democratic Leadership Council-led Clinton years that set us up for this mess.  Now, maybe I’m crazy to expect courage from the Democrats at this point, but if Obama’s Secretary of the Treasury has the nerve, he can, instead of buying bad bank assets at high prices, buy preferred stock in the banks, so that the government will then own them in exchange for bailing them out.  As bank owners, the government can change bank policy–and fire the scheming, selfish jerks–I mean executives–who got us into this mess.  Paulson has this option, too, but you can bet he won’t take it.  He’s not gonna sell his banker buddies down the river.  From all indications, Obama is going to feel the same way–his main economic adviser is Jason Furman, who thinks Walmart has been great for the economy and free trade is a wonderful thing.  La-la land stuff, y’know?

The bill also suggests that banks could renegotiate their nonperforming loans and mark them down to the real value of the homes involved, but that’s like asking Dracula to pretty please quit sucking the blood out of people.  He ain’t gonna do it.

If they wanted to provide some real relief, they could have outlawed eviction, directing banks to negotiate a reasonable rent with folks who can’t make their mortgage payments.  They didn’t do that.  They could have loosened up our country’s newly draconian bankruptcy laws, which Joe Biden championed and which make it all but impossible for individuals to get out of debt,  but they didn’t.  Individuals need to take responsibility for their actions, but big rich banks can count on having the government to fall back on.  That seems to be the lesson here.

Oh, by the way, one of the main reasons people fall behind on their house payments, besides losing their jobs due to corporate downsizing, is falling into debt and out of work due to serious illness or injury and consequent serious medical debts, even with insurance.  But we are not going there, people, we can’t afford to do anything about that, no way–we got rich bankers to bail out–they’re more important than you common folk, dontcha know?

Congress capped the income and bonus payments to the top five executives in companies that accept a certain level of federal help, but you can bet there are loopholes in that provision.  They also kept in most of Paulson’s original bid for dictatorial powers, saying that he could only be challenged legally if Constitutional grounds are involved.

What the bill does not admit is that home prices in this country are seriously inflated, and need to come down to reflect reality.  The other thing this bill does not admit is that there are going to be more economic crises after this one, and the government has just used its last ammunition.  In fact, as I write this, the headlines tell me the Down Joe average is, yep, down seriously, and that more economies around the world are in trouble.

Whatever comes next, we as a nation are now too strapped to do anything about it.  Make sure you’re stocked up on food and have a way to cook it, and get set for some real fun.

music:  James McMurtry, “We Can’t Make It Here Anymore





SARAH PALIN–BAD COP! JOE BIDEN–GOOD COP?

11 10 2008

I am getting really tired of hearing scary Sarah Palin stories.  I mean, of course she’s the wicked Christian witch of the north, of course she’s ignorant and simplistic and has a very limited worldview, and yes I think that makes her a very poor choice for a leadership position in this country, or even the state of Alaska or the town of Wasilla, where it took only 600 people out of the total population of 5,000 to make her mayor.

And, just as an aside, I’m not impressed by her ability to shoot a moose.  I have been around moose in Vermont, and, while you can’t walk up to them and pet them, they are not particularly shy of humans.  A friend of mine up there commented, long before Ms. Palin became a national figure,  that shooting a moose takes about as much hunting skill as shooting a parked car.   As for dressing a moose, I think that, if you’re going to eat meat, it’s only honest to know how to take it from live animal to what’s for dinner.  My wife can do that, with deer, anyway–we have no moose here in Tennessee–and she’d make a much better VPUS than Ms. Palin.  It is, as the New Agers say, a very grounding skill.  Maybe it should be one of the Vice Presidential prerequisites?   What if we got a vegetarian candidate? But, I digress….

There are two points I’d like to make from my “Deep Green Perspective.”  The first is that Joe Biden is just as scary, in his own way, as Ms. Palin, and the second is that what many see as Ms. Palin’s weaknesses look like strengths to her core supporters, so that when she is attacked for these qualities, it only rallies her base and makes her stronger. Many people don’t understand that we have three colliding worldviews interacting in this election.  When you see it that way, a lot of things start to make sense that seem quite baffling otherwise.  But first, let’s take a critical look at Joe Biden.

A lot of my “left Democrat” friends believe that Obama is playing the Roosevelt strategy, running a conservative campaign that will mutate into a much more radical approach to restructuring the country once he has gotten himself elected by acting more mainstream than he really is.  When I see that he has cold warrior Zbigniew Brezinski advising him on foreign policy and Wall Street insiders like Robert Rubin and his acolyte Jason Furman giving him pointers on financial policy, I have my doubts that foxes like these three will really create a safe henhouse, y’know?  And then we have Joe Biden, “the Senator from MBNA,” a heartbeat away from the Presidency–and sure, Obama’s a lot healthier than McCain, but we’ve got people at Palin rallies screaming “kill him!” when Obama’s name gets mentioned.  Bullets do not respect your healthy lifestyle, folks, and, as I’m going to discuss later, there’s every reason to take those threats seriously.

“The Senator from MBNA” is an epithet Joe has earned by his earnest support of Delaware’s largest corporation, or what was Delaware’s largest corporation until it got bought out by Bank of America, which, with that purchase and its recent acquisition of Merrill, Lynch, is well on its way to fulfilling its name.  Monopoly capitalism….Karl Marx would feel vindicated.  Joe was one of the first Democrats to support the Republican-originated bankruptcy reform bill, which has made it much harder for middle-class Americans to declare bankruptcy.  He voted for it four times over the seven years it took to get the bill passed; Obama, to his credit, voted against the bill, one of only 24 Democrats with enough spine and compassion to do so. Here’s Arianna Huffington on the consequences of this bill:

So what does the bill do? It makes it harder for average people to file for bankruptcy protection; it makes it easier for landlords to evict a bankrupt tenant; it endangers child-support payments by giving a wider array of creditors a shot at post-bankruptcy income; it allows millionaires to shield an unlimited amount of equity in homes and asset-protection trusts; it makes it more difficult for small businesses to reorganize while opening new loopholes for the Enrons of the world; it allows creditors to provide misleading information; and it does nothing to rein in lending abuses that frequently turn manageable debt into unmanageable crises. Even in failure, ordinary Americans do not get a level playing field.

All because the credit-card sharks wanted to be sure of getting their pound of flesh.  And Joe Biden is supposed to be a “friend of the working man”?

And then there’s his support for the Patriot Act.  He introduced a similar bill in the nineties, because of the Oklahoma City bombings, and boasted after 9-11 that the Patriot Act was “my bill.”  He has also been a strong supporter of US military intervention.  And there’s his offhand racism–but there’s one key issue of his that impacts me personally.  That issue is the War on Some Drugs.  Biden initiated the creation of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which one wag recently characterized as “the only federal agency with a mandate to lie to the public,” as well as being a prime mover of mandatory minimum sentencing for drug “offenses.”  He introduced and secured passage of the so-called “RAVE Act,” which turned bottled water and glow sticks into drug paraphernalia.  Joe is personally responsible not only for the Patriot Act, but for the “War on Drugs” as we know it.

Now, I’m not going to admit to any so-called criminal activity myself, but I will say that I have a lot of friends who use “illegal drugs,” and the vast majority of them are responsible, hard-working people; but in the eyes of Joe Biden and the US government, they are all unfit to hold a job, drive, or raise children, and should be stripped of their voting rights and all their assets and jailed or re-educated until they see the error of their ways.  We are supposed to vote for  Biden and Obama because they are not as frightening as McSame and imPlalin?  Can you say “Kafkaesque,” boys and girls?  Very good.  How about “Orwellian”?  When you vote for the lesser of two evils, you are still  voting for evil.  And what does that make you?

musical interlude:  Tom Neilson, “Democrats

Well, enough about the particulars…now for the deeper perspective.  Here’s how it looks to me:

For most of the time since humans became humans, we have lived in small bands of closely-related individuals whose primary commitment was to support each other, whether repelling large carnivores, hunting big game, or fending off raiders from the next valley who thought we were impinging on their hunting territory.  That, in my opinion, is where Sarah Palin, and the millions who support her, are coming from.  They are kind, considerate, and compassionate–with their own people.  The rest of us don’t count, and if we attack any one of them, we have attacked them all.  Loyalty to their pack and obedience to its leader are their supreme virtues.  Questioning consensus reality is treason; active dissent from it is even worse, because we have to hang together to survive in a hostile world.  If you want to know more about these folks read Bob Altenmeyer’s The Authoritarians.  It’s available for free, online.

I hate to be the one to break the news to you, but about three-quarters of the people in the world are still in the grip of this us-versus-them mindset, even though the saber-tooth tigers and the great herds are all long gone, and People Who Are Not Like Us live in the next apartment, not a day’s walk away through the woods.

Joe Biden and Barack Obama, I believe, have evolved beyond this primitive, anachronistic world view–but that does not constitute an endorsement!  They see that the whole human race is in it together on this planet and have a somewhat egalitarian approach, believing that debate among equals is no sin, unlike the Palin-McSame crowd.  However, the Biden-Obama worldview is so firmly committed to materialistic rationality that it incurs the hostility of those committed to the primitive religion of McCain-Palin consciousness, while it in turn is hostile to higher mysticism–hence the support for the war on some drugs and the commitment to the neoliberal, corporatist, ant hill/consumerist/growth agenda, which is as dangerous to the soul and ecology of the planet as the neoconservative, corporatist, ant hill/consumerist/growth agenda; the two differ mainly in how much they trust the ants–excuse me, I mean common people–who will populate the worlds they envision.  Palin-McSamers think humans are basically evil and will do the wrong thing unless watched constantly; the Biden-Obama crowd has seen far enough to postulate the perfectability of human nature, but will constantly be confounded by both  the prerational and postrational impulses that arise from deep within, because the possibility of post-rationality is not comprehensible to them; they, with Freud, think that religion is necessarily primitive, and they have little tolerance for it in either case.

Well, some small percentage of the population, myself included, (at least that’s what I like to think) has gone beyond the polarization games of American politics, and we are neither afraid of the bad cops (McSame/Palin) nor drawn to co-operate with the good cops (Obama/Biden).  We could get along just fine in a world without cops, thank you, and we have a feeling that our numbers are growing exponentially.  If the struggle between the good cops and the bad cops doesn’t destroy the planet’s ability to sustain human life, we will likely take over when they have cancelled each other out.  It’s just a question of time.

Meanwhile, I’m not going to be scared into voting for the good cop.  I’m going to vote for the Green Party’s Cynthia McKinney, as well as local Green candidates John Miglietta and Chris Lugo.  And if all the “left Democrats” got fed up with being left by their party’s consistent selection of center-right, neo-liberal, pro-growth, ecologically ignorant candidates and did the same, we would have quite a little movement on our hands, and maybe we could get this country moving again.  It’s just a question of time; but time, my friends, is running out.

music:  Bruce Cockburn, “Gospel of Bondage








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