mardi 30 septembre 2008

The sky is falling, my brain is weary, so weary

Vitis vinifera "La Perlette" and "Portugais Bleu"

It's a chill fall day, wind blowing through moments of rain spit onto the paving stones and dry lawn. No redeeming atmospheric quality. It's probably the same over Wall Street right now.

There's a nasty debate taking place, with Obama supporters -- ones we don't hear all that much from on the boards, by the way, some of the less pleasant and cheery voices --, choosing their sides for battle. Those who say, "I remind you that Markets are falling -- NOW. This is not fantasy," to which I say, "Thank you, I was thinking I might have been sleeping and having a bad dream these last few days," except that anyone with a functioning neuron knew where les libéraux, in the wonderful European sense of the term, "free market capitalists", were taking our economy. And, those who think this bail-out plan was wrong-minded and stunk. Like Kaptor and Kucinich.

I can hear the howls. The gnashing of teeth, ready to rip into me. How dare I not let my government rush in to save Wall Street? My thought: I think they have the collective wealth invested in tax-free shelters to make a fair-sized dent in the $700 billion they need to pick up their fallen castles of cards. Maybe they can pass a hat around among present and retired CEO's and the Wall Street managing directors, then they can protect the mortgages that never should have been sold, reregulate themselves, and then maybe come asking for a little tax-payer help.

How come they only want us to play when their chips are down? I lived close to these guys. I know how their reptilian minds work. I know what gets them going, and I know what they think of me, when they do. I also know that the regular guy isn't uniformly a saint, nor the rich all pigs (I have managed to insult repiltes and pigs one tiny paragraph). I just know there aren't any saints pulling down the big bonuses on Wall Street, or in any investment banking firm attached to it.

These guys don't even have to pretend anything other than their disdain. They're proud of it.

I'll tell this story one more time. In 1992, my son was 1 year old, and there was no work in architecture. Friends in the financial sector helped me to find a job in an investment management firm in Fairfield County, Connecticut, in their back office, working out the margin calls on the phone with Bear Sterns, their bank, on the hedge and asset-backed securities funds. Those are the ones where your mortgage is used as collateral for the security. The reasoning was that there is nothing more secure than a person's home mortgage. That was the thinking back in the early 1990's.

The owner of the firm was a raving lunatic Republican. Not a nice Republican you can respect, no. He lived on cans of Diet Coke, which I had to buy, filling the cart with six-packs to fill the refrigerator, and then the closet for over-stock. The office overlooked the Long Island Sound, on Stamford pier, and as I put the cans in the fridge, I cut the plastic rings that hold the six-pack together. Everyone knew that they harm the creatures of the sound. One day he walked in for a can and saw me with the scissors halfway through the rings.

"What are you doing?" he asked, that light coming into his eyes and his brow pulsing a deeper shade of crimson.

"Cutting the plastic rings, Jon." You hold your ground with your own disgust.

"So, now you're an animal-loving, lesbian Democrat!" he hooted, raising an eyebrow and the corner of his lip in a snide laugh, looking right into my eyes to make sure I saw exactly what he thought of me, before shaking his head and cackling all the way back to his office.

I went to Barnard. That explains the lesbian part.

One morning, a few weeks later at tax time, he called me back into his office as I was leaving, having placed his mail right where he likes. I took pleasure in doing things exactly the way he liked. It drove him nuts. I thought he was going to show me the latest morning fax from Bear, with the latest Hillary joke (Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly? Because her mother's Hillary Clinton and her father's Janet Reno).

"I'm a patriot," he announced. I settled on my feet and hips. It wasn't going to end there, so I might as well be comfortable to withstand the shock of the next idiotic, insensitive thing that would issue forth from him. I nodded, hoping still I might be wrong. I might be released. He waited for the question he wanted. When it didn't come, he asked it himself. It wasn't rhetorical.

"Do you know why I am a good American?" I couldn't get away without a reply this time.

"No." But I'm sure you're about to tell me, I thought. That was the whole point of having me there.

"Ha-ha! I'm a good American because," I could hear him wishing for a drum roll, building up his voice to replace it, "I don't pay any taxes, but you do!" He was beside himself with delight.

"How stupid of me, Jon." I should be a better American. Mental note.

"I am a patriotic American because I am a tax attorney, and I read every letter of the US tax code, and I know every loophole put there for me to use." He watched me to see the effect of his declaration, before adding son coup de grâce, "Do you know what a tax shelter is?"

He wished I were a perfect idiot. It made him crazy that I wasn't. If I hadn't known, he never would have called me in for this exhibition of his Republican credentials. This was because my presence made him ill at ease. My Democratic presence in his office. Add to that that I was a single mother and an out-of-work architect, at least as well-educated as he was, and the only way left for him to cope with his anxiety was to crow like a rooster.

"Of course." He told me anyway, adding that that is precisely where all his money goes, "and now I am going to call my tax accountant!"

I know. This is just one guy, a jerk alright, but just one really big jerk. They're not all like that.

No, there are worse, but I shouldn't use my stories up all at once. One of the worse still was at AIG Investment Management, later, when I had returned to architecture and they were our client. Hm. Didn't AIG fail recently, too?

So, now we are supposed to trust them to fix what they have broken, in their attempt to get as much as they possibly could out of the financial system. They went too far. We could see it, but they couldn't?

Suppose your wilful young child, having a crise, breaks all the toys in his room in a fury. How do you teach him to take care of what is important to him? Do you go out and treat him to an afternoon at Toys 'R Us to replace everything he destroyed on your run-up Visa card at 14.99% interest (damn, that's 19.99% -- when the hell did that happen?), or do you ask him to clean up his room and then sit in it for awhile, request an apology and remorse, let him learn the true meaning of boredom, and then work out a plan to replace his objects of amusement, learning they have value?

This is a telling issue. It gets even the Obama supporters using the f-word. Money. Touchy, touchy.

It's easier for me, perhaps. I have less to lose, and I know the world is far older than I am. The sky won't fall, but our little lives might change under it, where nothing is new on earth, nor in heaven, but I am going to let Michael Moore say it, for he did it so well today.

Cogratulations, Corporate Crime Fighters,
Coup Averted for Three Days!

Michael Moore's letter to us
on the failure of the Bail-out bill in the House


Everyone said the bill would pass. The masters of the universe were already making celebratory dinner reservations at Manhattan's finest restaurants. Personal shoppers in Dallas and Atlanta were dispatched to do the early Christmas gifting. Mad Men of Chicago and Miami were popping corks and toasting each other long before the morning latte run.

But what they didn't know was that hundreds of thousands of Americans woke up yesterday morning and decided it was time for revolt. The politicians never saw it coming. Millions of phone calls and emails hit Congress so hard it was as if Marshall Dillon, Elliot Ness and Dog the Bounty Hunter had descended on D.C. to stop the looting and arrest the thieves.

The Corporate Crime of the Century was halted by a vote of 228 to 205. It was rare and historic; no one could remember a time when a bill suppor ted by the president and the leadership of both parties went down in defeat. That just never happens.

A lot of people are wondering why the right wing of the Republican Party joined with the left wing of the Democratic Party in voting down the thievery. Forty percent of Democrats and two-thirds of Republicans voted against the bill.

Here's what happened:

The presidential race may still be close in the polls, but the Congressional races are pointing toward a landslide for the Democrats. Few dispute the prediction that the Republicans are in for a whoopin' on November 4th. Up to 30 Republican House seats could be lost in what would be a stunning repudiation of their agenda.

The Republican reps are so scared of losing their seats, when this "financial crisis" reared its head two weeks ago, they realized they had just been handed their one and only chance to separate themselves from Bush before the election, while doing something that would make them look like they were on the side of "the people."

Watching C-Span yesterday morning was one of the best comedy shows I'd seen in ages. There they were, one Republican after another who had backed the war and sunk the country into record debt, who had voted to kill every regulation that would have kept Wall Street in check -- there they were, now crying foul and standing up for the little guy! One after another, they stood at the microphone on the House floor and threw Bush under the bus, under the train (even though they had voted to kill off our nation's trains, too), heck, they would've thrown him under the rising waters of the Lower Ninth Ward if they could've conjured up another hurricane. You know how your dog acts when sprayed by a skunk? He howls and runs around trying to shake it off, rubbing and rolling himself on every piece of your carpet, trying to get rid of the stench. That's what it looked like on the Republican side of the aisle yesterday, and it was a sight to behold.

The 95 brave Dems who broke with Barney Frank and Chris Dodd were the real heroes, just like those few who stood up and voted against the war in October of 2002. Watch the remarks from yesterday of Reps. Marcy Kaptur, Sheila Jackson Lee, and Dennis Kucinich. They spoke the truth.

The Dems who voted for the giveaway did so mostly because they were scared by the threats of Wall Street, that if the rich didn't get their handout, the market would go nuts and then it's bye-bye stock-based pension and retirement funds.

And guess what? That's exactly what Wall Street did! The largest, single-day drop in the Dow in the history of the New York Stock exchange. The news anchors last night screamed it out: Americans just lost 1.2 trillion dollars in the stock market!! It's a financial Pearl Harbor! The sky is falling! Bird flu! Killer Bees!

Of course, sane people know that nobody "lost" anything yesterday, that stocks go up and down and this too shall pass because the rich will now buy low, hold, then sell off, then buy low again.

But for now, Wall Street and its propaganda arm (the networks and media it owns) will continue to try and scare the bejesus out of you. It will be harder to get a loan. Some people will lose their jobs. A weak nation of wimps won't last long under this torture. Or will we? Is this our line in the sand?

Here's my guess: The Democratic leadership in the House secretly hoped all along that this lousy bill would go down. With Bush's proposals shredded, the Dems knew they could then write their own bill that favors the average American, not the upper 10% who were hoping for another kegger of gold.

So the ball is in the Democrats' hands. The gun from Wall Street remains at their head. Before they mak e their next move, let me tell you what the media kept silent about while this bill was being debated:

1. The bailout bill had NO enforcement provisions for the so-called oversight group that was going to monitor Wall Street's spending of the $700 billion;

2. It had NO penalties, fines or imprisonment for any executive who might steal any of the people's money;

3. It did NOTHING to force banks and lenders to rewrite people's mortgages to avoid foreclosures -- this bill would not have stopped ONE foreclosure!;

4. It had NO teeth anywhere in the entire piece of legislation, using words like "suggested" when referring to the government being paid back for the bailout;

5. Over 200 economists wrote to Congress and said this bill might actually WORSEN the "financial crisis" and cause even MORE of a meltdown.

Put a fork in this slab of pork. I t's over. Now it is time for our side to state very clearly the laws WE want passed. I will send you my proposals later today. We've bought ourselves less than 72 hours.

Michael Moore

Or, as someone else put it, what's the point of using a tea-cup to bail out the boat when the water is up to the gunwhales?

That $700 billion? It's debt we're throwing to debt to keep a very sick system functioning in fantasy land.

Her suggestion?

... while all the negotiations were going on yesterday, there were many investment lobbyists who wanted to profit from this bailout. That is not what we should be doing. We need to set up any relief package so that taxpayers become investors and get every penny back once the markets recover. That seems to be the only logical thing to do.

In other words, let us be our bankers' bankers and let it work for us.

Free TV : Ustream

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