Friday, January 30, 2009

My two cents - Thank you to the Ramones

The benefit of working out to good music is the inspiration it can bring. After spending a long time being angry about the bank bailouts, I have found inspiration in the Ramones. Today I heard "I Wanna Be Sedated" and could not help re-writing the words. So, for all those failed CEO's, regulators, and lawmakers who sold us out - this is for you.

Eight hundred twenty billion more dollars to go – I want them regulated
Print so much money with no hope of control – I want them regulated
Just put them out to pasture, let them take the loss
Then let's put in place, a competent new boss
They can't control their actions, they think they've done no wrong
Oh no no no no no

Eight hundred twenty billion more dollars to go – I'm totally frustrated
Screw old Phil Graham and all the problems he's caused – I'm totally frustrated
Let's take away their savings, let's take their private planes
Hurry hurry hurry before I go insane
They can't control their actions, they think they've done no wrong
Oh no no no no no

Eight hundred twenty billion more dollars to go – I want them incarcerated
No hope for recovery for the everyday Joe – I want them incarcerated
Let's put them all in jail, they don't deserve no breaks
Make them room with big angry men, looking for new mates
They deserve to be prison bitches, for all the shit they've caused
Oh yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah

Ba-ba-bamp-ba ba-ba-ba-bamp-ba – I want them regulated
Ba-ba-bamp-ba ba-ba-ba-bamp-ba – I'm totally frustrated
Ba-ba-bamp-ba ba-ba-ba-bamp-ba – I want them incarcerated
Ba-ba-bamp-ba ba-ba-ba-bamp-ba – I want them violated!

With all due respect and with great appreciation to the Ramones.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The problem with the "bad bank" idea

It's been a week now, and the hope is beginning to diminish. I had such high expectations though, that this was really just a matter of time. The first hint that Obama may not be the change agent I had hoped for came with his announcement in December that the Chairman of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, Tim Geithner, would be his pick to head the Treasury Department. Putting a man in charge of the Treasury who was a part of causing this mess we are in is akin to letting Charles Manson be in charge of prisons.

Geithner was one of the ones who did not do anything to stop the banks from lending to people who really should not have gotten loans at all and then sat back as the loans were securitized and sold off as prime investments. He was in charge of the NY Fed, the most powerful of them all, and thus had the opportunity and responsibility to tell the Fed Chief and Treasury Secretary that what was going on should stop. In truth, he just did not see a problem. There are many others, however, who did see problems and these people would have been a much better pick to head the Treasury Department than the banking industry's "yes man".

What has transpired in the banking industry - the bad loans given to people who had little ability to pay them off, the lack of oversight, the ability of banks to dump bad loans into the secondary market where they were bought up after having been given AAA-rated status by the rating agencies - all of this is what is behind the problems we now face. Why is this guy, who saw no issues unfolding and did nothing but encourage the bad behavior, now put in charge of the clean-up?

And his plan? His big idea to fix the problem? Well, he wants to use taxpayer money to buy the bad debt of banks and set up a "bad bank" that will be guaranteed to lose money so that the same people who made the bad loans in the first place - the banks - can restock their vaults and go forward. No reprimand. No fines. No penalties. No bankruptcy. Just some more of our hard-earned money because someone decided we just could not live without CitiBank.

The website MarketWatch today writes:

"The idea of a bad bank has been around for some time and has been discussed by new Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, as well as others, over the past several weeks.

The Treasury Department's $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program began life as a kind of "good bank/bad bank" program, with the government setting up what may have been one large bad-bank entity to buy soured mortgage-related assets and other problem holdings from financial institutions."

This has been the plan and hope of bankers all along. They don't think (still) that they have done anything wrong and they want us to just give them money to fix "our" collective problem. Well, to hell with them. If I had made bad investments and couldn't pay my bills, would anyone be coming from the government to help me? Would anyone think I was serious about correcting my poor decision making if I went out and spent money I did not have on a luxury car?

Just yesterday it was reported that executives of large banks have gone out and spent billions in bonuses for themselves and staff, bought new luxury corporate jets and, in one particularly disgusting case, John Thain is reported to have remodeled his office to the tune of over 1 million dollars. Are you fucking kidding me?

So we get George Mitchell to go to the Middle East and fix them, but we get Geithner to help fix us. What a deal. Maybe we sent to the wrong guy to Israel.

"There's nothing in the street
Looks any different to me
And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye
And the parting on the left
Is now the parting on the right
And the beards have all grown longer overnight

I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around me
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again"

- The Who

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Stimulus packages and reality

The Obama administration has proposed a massive spending package that has attached to it a large sum of tax breaks. Republican leaders have argued that more tax breaks are needed and that less spending would be better. They still believe (even after the Trickle Down theory of economics has been disproved by the Bush administration) that more tax breaks will equate to more spending by consumers. Today's highest tax rates? Currently 40%. That's a far cry from the 90% the highest earners used to pay back in the 1930's.

There's also the little issue of debt that we carry as a nation. Why on Earth would you want to ask those who pay real amounts of money in taxes to pay less when we have so much debt - currently hovering at 11 TRILLION dollars (if you don't count the takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac that will be another 5-6 TRILLION)? Didn't we just learn that cutting taxes and spending huge sums at the same time was a bad idea? I know I did - apparently, the Republicans missed that one.

Here's a reality check folks. At the end of WWII, we had the largest production economy in the world. We MADE things. We had factories and produced goods, not just services. Today, we have turned that around completely into what is currently a service based (consumer-driven) economy. Our manufacturing has gone away as companies were able to pay workers in other countries much less per hour to work manufacturing goods. Made in China sound familiar? The result of 60 years of this shift has been that now we produce less than half of what we used to produce and we rely on SHOPPING to keep the economy going. Remember after 9/11 when Bush told us to keep shopping because it was good for the economy? He meant that. It's all we have other than home building - oh yeah, that's not doing so well either.

So the argument the Obama administration makes is that they want tax breaks for the lowest people on the earnings pole. These are the ones who spend everything they earn (and then some) just to live. He wants to put more money in their pockets so they can spend a little more. The Republicans have argued that tax cuts across the board are needed because the wealthy will invest more if they pay less taxes. The wealthy won't spend more if we give them tax cuts - they will save it or invest it in some other venture that will not generate taxable income.

Well, tax breaks for the wealthy has been the plan for the last 8 years. Has it worked? Have more business owners hired a lot over the last 8 years? Not that I can tell. In fact, the last 8 years saw a net loss in jobs and a decrease in wages for the vast majority of Americans. Who made money? The wealthy. Who else? Not me.

I have come to pay more for food, fuel, gasoline and health care. Hell, I work in health care and can't afford insurance. How is it that I can spend my professional life caring for patients and not be able to afford to protect my own family? It's a great system.

But I digress.......

Back to the stimulus plan - the current plan calls for spending money on projects that will create jobs. Things like re-building bridges, roads, sewers and water lines, the electrical power grid that is fast collapsing and other such things. These efforts would create jobs so more people would be working and not looking for unemployment benefits. It is costly? Sure. Will it fix everything? No.

But more spending and more targeted tax cuts is most certainly a better plan that giving more money to the wealthy and waiting for it to "trickle down" to the rest of us. This plan is a move to stimulate from the ground up instead of the top down and that is a nice change of direction when you assess things from down here.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Day Two and I'm still happy......

Not a bad first 48 hours as Commander-in-Chief. Today Obama orders Gitmo closed in the next year and gets the military planners working on the exit from Iraq. Oh, and no more torture permitted by the government with a wink and a nod. Not bad. Not bad at all.

So this morning I'm reading an article in the New York Times about the Bush folks and their plane trip back to Texas. Many people on the plane (like Rove) feel like Obama took shots at Bush during his speech on Tuesday. I did not read Rove's piece in the Wall Street Journal that basically defended the Bush administration, but I am sure it was as full of bullshit as everything else that comes out of him.

Really, the Bush crew should just be happy that the US Congress was too full of pitiful saps to impeach him and that they were allowed to leave town and not be in custody of the proper authorities. May history be as unkind to them as they have been to the rest of us regular folks. Winston Churchill once said, "History will be kind to me; for I intend to write it" - well Bushies, I'm not the compliant press and you guys sucked. Oh and Karl.........

"Were you born an asshole?
Or did you work at it your whole life?
Either way it worked out fine
'Cause you're an aaaass...hole tonight"
- Fred Campbell

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Light of Day

This is the first of what I am hoping will be many posts. I am not a writer by trade or education, but I am an avid reader and consumer of interesting works. I am a daily reader of opinion pieces and blogs – reading many and agreeing with a few. While I am an avowed centrist and believe in personal accountability, I belong to a shrinking middle class who wonders just how we will ever get out of our current predicament. I cautiously support the government spending more money, but wish that money had an impact on regular citizens instead of the wealthy elite who have run our ship aground with their deceptions and greed.

It is not a mistake that this blog begins on the first full day of Obama's presidency. It is now the second day in a row that I feel hopeful and perhaps even proud of my country – but it has been so long since I have felt that way that I may be misconstruing those feelings. At any rate, I will try (for as long as I can) to continue to feel hopeful and appreciative as a new administration takes the reins of government and represents the interests of most of us instead of just a few of us. It will be a nice change, and really, since he is following Bush (and the bar is thus incredibly low) Obama only has to do something for the common man to be a success in my eyes.

I watched today as Obama froze the salaries of his top staff and changed the way lobbying will be conducted in his administration. It's just a first step, but it's a good start and miles away from where this nation was only a few days ago.

My intent here will be to document and comment on the new administration and its impact on those of us who have felt for a long time that we have not been very well represented. It is my hope that this will be a happier blog as time moves forward and my anger, resentment and outright disgust with the Bush administration begins to dissipate. But I fear that so much damage has been done to this country, and indeed the world over the past eight years, that happiness will not be mine soon.

Here's to finding our way through the mess we have on our doorstep. It should be easier now that we have a leader with humble origins - who has been a common man and felt the pain of having less than what was needed. He's already got a leg up on those who had never known what suffering was – what sacrifice was like.

Let the catharsis begin.......

“ Things can't get any worse, they got to get better

Well I'm a little down under, but I'm feeling O.K.
I got a little lost along the way

I'm just around the corner to the light of day” - Bruce Springsteen