Sunday, March 29, 2009

Huffington Post Launches Investigative Journalism Venture

Kudos to HuffPo for this venture. The American public has seen through the spin machine and is ready to handle the truth about the economy.

I hope that you can talk Danny Schecter, Naomi Klein and Greg Palast into becoming key participants.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

NY Times Editorial on J. H. Franklin

I thought this editorial by Brent Staples on the death last week of Dr. John Hope Franklin was worth sharing.

March 27, 2009
John Hope Franklin


Every death leaves a conversation unfinished. The one I regret not finishing with the historian John Hope Franklin, who died Wednesday at the age of 94, focused on what it was like to be a rising black intellectual in the Jim Crow South. In particular, I wanted to hear more about Dec. 7, 1941, the day he and his wife, Aurelia, drove from Charleston, S.C., to Raleigh, N.C. — covering the better part of two states — before they reached home and learned that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.

Clearly, the car had no radio. But wouldn’t they have heard the news when they stopped to gas up and get something eat? No, he said; I had misunderstood the period. Black families motoring through the Jim Crow South packed box lunches to avoid the humiliation of being turned away from restaurants. They relieved themselves in roadside ditches because service-station restrooms were often closed to them. They worried incessantly about breakdowns and flat tires that could leave them stranded at the mercy of bigots who demeaned and wished them ill.

“You took your life into your hands every time you went out on the road,” he said. It was, of course, a relief to come upon a black-owned service station. But he said that you could drive from Charleston quite nearly to Baltimore before finding one.

We had that conversation in 2006, in connection with an article I wrote for this page on his powerful autobiography “Mirror to America.” I had known him for more than 30 years by that time. I had long been aware that he had reshaped the scholarship of the South and had given birth to African-American history with books such as “From Slavery to Freedom,” “The Militant South, 1800-1860” and his groundbreaking work on free Negroes in antebellum North Carolina.
I first met him as a student during the 1970s — a time of big hair and loud voices — when young radicals too often dismissed distinguished black elders as Uncle Toms. This was a mistake based on the fashion of the moment. The older I got, the more we talked. And the more we talked, the more I became attuned to the fierce militancy that burned in his voice and in his prose.

He continued to speak out against injustice and never let himself be flattered into the role of the black factotum who would conveniently declare the race problem solved. If anything, the militancy grew fiercer over time. It reached its zenith in “Mirror to America,” which recounts in vivid detail how the decision to segregate the armed forces poisoned American civic culture. He refused to serve during World War II for a country “that had no respect for me [and] little interest in my well-being.”

I had hoped to sit down with him one more time to reconstruct that trip back in 1941. I must now do that without him. BRENT STAPLES

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Definition of Work

A few definitions of the word “work” according the Merriam Webster Dictionary:
1: activity in which one exerts strength or faculties to do or perform something: a: sustained physical or mental effort to overcome obstacles and achieve an objective or result b: the labor, task, or duty that is one's accustomed means of livelihood c: a specific task, duty, function, or assignment often being a part or phase of some larger activity.

7 a: something produced or accomplished by effort, exertion, or exercise of skill <this book is the work of many hands> b: something produced by the exercise of creative talent or expenditure of creative effort : artistic production

For a moment try to imagine that you performed one of the following jobs: Home HealthCare Worker; Landscaper; Personal Finance Manager; Life Coach; Personal Chef ; Housekeeper; Handyperson; Freelance Writer; IT Tech for a Small Business, Tax Preparer and Advocate for the Elderly.

Imagine that you left a position performing one job function to perform not one, but all of the tasks listed above.

Now imagine that you are not paid for any of these services and that you fund the associated costs for these services solely from your own savings, the intermittent freelance assignment, fixing someone’s computer problem or, the occasional gift.

Finally, try to imagine that according to society’s standards the fact that you are not financially compensated for providing the aforementioned services means that you, my friend, “Do Not Work” or at least you do not have a “real job”.

You have just imagined the day to day reality for thousands of today’s family caregivers.

A mysterious thing happens when you no longer receive a biweekly paycheck. People look at you askance. Many equate your new “jobless” status with a 20-30 point drop in IQ , the loss of years of formal education and the invalidation of any professional credentials. Some think that since your budget no longer includes regular visits to the salon that you no longer care about your appearance…or something worse.

Forget the fact that your new duties include negotiating and often fighting with insurance companies, understanding medicine management and, understanding mortgages and real estate values. You are no longer considered a “professional”.

If you listen to C-SPAN long enough you will realize that quite a few politicians think that if you did not make enough to file a tax return last year that you didn’t contribute to the economy. However, if your “friends” learn that you spend too much time watching C-SPAN they’ll tell you that you’re spending too much idle time watching TV. And heaven forbid that you goof off one Sunday afternoon and watch a few movies in between preparing meals and doing laundry, you may just have someone remind you that they ( and not you ) spent the day “working.”

The mainstream media doubts that you could possibly pose an intelligent question for the President. Even members of the established blogosphere often doubt that you have anything meaningful to say. After all, it’s not like you get out to many conventions and conferences these days.

For generations women who chose to be housewives were considered as “not working” but at least they were given some credit for bearing and caring for children. However, if you’ve never had children or your children have flown the nest then not having a “paying” gig means that you’re just not contributing to society. At least that’s how some people see it and I’m sure that this post won’t change their views.

When I learned about the Fem2pt0 blog carnival on this topic I was excited to hear that they were addressing this issue. However, after spending the past few days performing landscaping tasks and home heath worker duties, I almost didn’t get this post written in time.

I am awfully achey from “not working”.

Technorati Tags: jobs,women,women's issues,politics,family caregiving, satire

Thursday, March 26, 2009

America’s Latest Conflict: The Mainstream Media vs The Dumb Fish

Forget the race war or the class war, the new war in America seems to be between The Mainstream Media and, as described by one recent radio personality, “The Dumb Fish.”

Yes, in case you missed it, during the March 24, 2009 broadcast of Lou Dobbs Tonight radio personality Chris Krok of WMAC in Macon referred to the average American citizen as “dumb fish”. Here’s an excerpt from the show transcript.

DOBBS: Well, joining me now, three of the country's best radio talk show hosts in Macon Georgia, Chris Krok, WMAC in Macon, good to have you with us, in Albany Paul Vandenburgh, WDGJ, and here in New York, my colleague and buddy John Gambling, WOR good to see you.

Let's start this out gentlemen. Chris Krok let's go with, ESPN, "60 Minutes," Jay Leno and now a primetime news conference. What do you think?

CHRIS KROK, WMAC IN MACON: Lou, you set this up perfectly for me. I created something called the people, he's fishing, trolling, looking for dumb fish. That's why he went on Jay Leno. He's looking for people who don't know that he is -- his administration said to Dodd, keep those loopholes in there for the -- for AIG. So he is trolling. He needs to -- somebody needs to tell him, Coach K should have been more to the point. Fix this country, not run it into the ground and stop worrying about basketball.

DOBBS: Paul?

PAUL VANDENBURGH, WGDJ IN ALBANY: If you go back over the last couple of weeks, it started when he went to a Washington Wizards basketball game, sat there in the front row. He did this thing on ESPN. He then went on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno. He did "60 Minutes" on Sunday night and I found it amazing that he said he's home in the afternoon when the girls get home on school and he sees them on the weekend and I'm thinking, when does he work? I know guys that work pretty hard that are never home in when they kids get home, and they're kids grow up and go on and have kids of their own and they're never there once. I'm wondering, if this guy has really latched on to the importance of this job yet.

JOHN GAMBLING, WOR IN NEW YORK: I couldn't agree more with what has just been said. Leave the airplane in the hangar, get into the oval office and get to work. What does he think he's doing? The Leno thing was amazing. When he screamed, I'm stunned at the AIG bonuses. I looked at the television and said, are you kidding me? He knew exactly those AIG bonuses were in that, and the loopholes were there, and he looks into the camera and to Jay Leno and the nation and world and says I didn't know anything about it? Come on. That's disingenuous at its best.

KROK: Because those people that watch Jay Leno don't know, and he needs them. That's all he needs to continue running this country.

My jaw dropped.

There they were. A primetime CNN news host and his two guests laughing and nodding and agreeing that President Obama’s efforts to communicate directly with the American people were trolling for “dumb fish”. And don’t forget that people that watch Jay Leno “don’t know” and that President Obama needs to neglect his children in order to really work.

And just when I was ready to chalk that whole episode of Lou Dobbs off to things that stupid white men say when they get together, the moment was virtually recreated during tonight’s episode of MSNBC’s 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with David Shuster.

During his roundtable segment David and his two guests discussed the President’s choice not to limit media questions to the established mainstream media outlets during his recent press conference. During that segment one of the guests, whose name I can’t remember because I’m really not a journalist, stated that the mainstream media outlets have paid for their access so the President should have called on them. After which someone implied that since the President may need them, the mainstream media, in the future to sell his plans shouldn’t he give them deferential treatment. I am paraphrasing, of course.

Is this the same media who fed the America public endless bits of minutia about the exploits of Michael Jackson, Anna Nicole Smith, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan. Are they so convinced that their efforts to dumb down the American public were successful? Or are corporately owned media conglomerates upset by the fact the public remembers that it was sold a bill of goods on the Iraq war and no longer wants to just settle for spin.

When did the world get so small that paid journalists resent the public’s access to their elected officials. God help me, I don’t want to start like sounding like Sarah Palin but something is really wrong when the paid media starts believing that their paycheck means that they have been bestowed the Divine right of access to government and that they are the only ones intelligent enough to interpret current events for the ignorant masses.

Maybe I’m just too naive or too old school but what happened to the idea of the media asking government the questions that the public would ask if they had the same degree of access. I thought that the world was big enough to accommodate main stream media outlets, the blogosphere, social media and the vast array of websites dedicated to government transparency. Silly me I thought that the diversity in voices would be good for democracy.

Yes, the public will probably ask a few truly dumb questions. But I dare anyone to tell me that they haven’t heard a few stupid questions at White House press conferences.

I’m still big fans of many mainstream media outlets and will continue to watch, read and support them. But I will not support a media that continues to try to dumb me down.

Of course, I don’t have the right to write this post because as a college graduate with a degree in communications and years of career experience in management, marketing and IT, I am just to dumb to pose an intelligent question.

Give me a break.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Resources for Continuing Self Education on the Economy


On Sunday, I took part in a great discussion on the current economic crisis with Alan Silberberg, CEO of You2Gov and fellow member of Political Voices of Women, Tami Winfrey Harris of the blog "What Tami Said" and host of the "The Best of What Tami Said". a blogtalk radio program.

You can listen to the show
by going to The Best of What Tami Said for Sunday, March 22
During our discussion I mentioned that I consider my quest to understand the current economic crisis as a form of continuing education. This reminded me that it's been quite awhile since I've posted my recommended reading/listening/viewing list. So here are just a few of the resources that have helped me make a little sense of the madness.

Books & Articles

Credit Card Nation: The Consequences of America's Addiction to Debt
by Robert D. Manning

The New Road to Serfdom: An Illustrated Guide to the Coming Real Estate Collapse
by Economist Michael Hudson
a downloadable pdf file

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America
by Barbara Ehrenreich, Arlie Hochschild, Shara Kay (Editor)

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalismby Naomi Klein

Movies / DVDs

In Debt We Trust: America Before the Bubble Burst
by Danny Schechter

Maxed Out
by James Scurlock

The Corporation
a documentary by Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott & Joel Bakan
based on the book, "The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Power"


Demos a non-partisan public policy research and advocacy organization

Center for Responsible Lending

The Center for Public Intergrity

I knew that I would forget one that I really wanted to include.

The Economic Policy Institute




Bill Moyers Journal

Democracy Now

You can also check out my advocacy blog, Get the Facts & Get Involved, my blogroll and all of the very informed people that I follow on Twitter.

Related posts

Just How Does The Fed Have Trillions and the Government Doesn't

Caveat Emptor: Beware of Mortgage Modification Scams

Saying No One Saw This Coming Just Doesn't Ring True - Part I

Saying No One Saw This Coming Just Doesn't Ring True - Part II

Quote of the Day - Monday, March 23, 2009

"The right will take some time to absorb this but Bush was Carter II - with two full terms. All that rage at what has actually happened - bottled up by rank partisanship for years - has come bounding out. Hence the bizarre spectacle of a president just two months on the job being treated on the right as if he's already Robert Mugabe. Throw in a little racial and cultural panic, add a world of genuine economic pain ... and you have the Malkin surge. "

-- by Andrew Sullivan, commenting in the "tea party movement in host post The Brutal Truth for The Daily Dish.

Of course, I would never compare former Pres. George W. Bush to Nobel Peace Prize Winner former Pres. Jimmy Carter. The latter understood diplomacy. But you get the point.

The hypocrisy is obvious. .

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Just How Does The Fed Have Trillions of Dollars & the Government Doesn't?

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that in an effort to stabilize the economy The Federal Reserve is saying it will "flood the financial system with an additional $1.2 trillion."

That's TRILLION with a T.

Washington Post Staff Reporter Neil Irwin reports:
"The Federal Reserve yesterday escalated its massive campaign to stabilize the economy, saying it would flood the financial system with an additional $1.2 trillion.

The decision by the Fed to buy government bonds and mortgage-related securities is designed to lower borrowing costs for home mortgages and other types of loans, thereby stimulating economic activity. The central bank, effectively, will print more money to pay for the purchases.

Combined with the billions already deployed by the Fed, the new money dwarfs even the biggest government bailouts of financial companies."
You're not kidding that it dwarfs other bailouts. So, I just have two questions:
  • Where is The Federal Reserve getting this money? and,
  • If The Fed has access to this much money why did Bernanke and Bush state that the world as we know it would come to an end if Congress didn't rush to pass a $700 billion bill to bail out the banks?
I'm the first to admit that I'm no economic guru. I'm just a finance novice who is trying to maintain my household and make sense of the world around me. I really need someone to explain this. But be advised, momma didn't raise no fool.

Here's what I understand so far.

Wikipedia gives this description of the Federal Reserve System:
"The Federal Reserve System (also the Federal Reserve; informally The Fed) is the central banking system of the United States. Created in 1913 by the enactment of the Federal Reserve Act, it is a quasi-public (government entity with private components) banking system[1] that comprises (1) the presidentially appointed Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System in Washington, D.C.; (2) the Federal Open Market Committee; (3) twelve regional privately-owned Federal Reserve Banks located in major cities throughout the nation acting as fiscal agents for the U.S. Treasury, each with its own nine-member board of directors; (4) numerous other private U.S. member banks, which subscribe to required amounts of non-transferable stock in their regional Federal Reserve Banks; and (5) various advisory councils.

The primary motivation for creating the Federal Reserve System was to address
banking panics.[13] Other purposes are stated in the Federal Reserve Act, such as "to furnish an elastic currency, to afford means of rediscounting commercial paper, to establish a more effective supervision of banking in the United States, and for other purposes."[14]

And according to the site this is how the Fed is funded :
"The Federal Reserve's income is derived primarily from the interest on U.S. government securities that it has acquired through open market operations. Other sources of income are the interest on foreign currency investments held by the System; fees received for services provided to depository institutions, such as check clearing, funds transfers, and automated clearinghouse operations; and interest on loans to depository institutions (the rate on which is the so-called discount rate). After paying its expenses, the Federal Reserve turns the rest of its earnings over to the U.S. Treasury."
So if the Federal Reserve turns all of its earnings, minus operating expenses, over to the U.S Treasury, how does the Fed now have trillions of dollars to "flood the banking system"?

To recap, The Federal Reserve is a "quasi-public"/private agency that was created to address banking panics and has trillions of dollars at its disposal but couldn't prevent the current economic crisis unless Congress ponied up $700B of TARP money for the banks.


Oh, I do have one last question.

Is it sheer coincidence that the Fed made this announcement while the US public is totally engrossed by the AIG bonus debacle?

Related posts:

The Narcoleptic Public Consciousness of America, 2/09

Get Over the Shock, Stop Them Now, 9/08

Why Americans Want Wall Street and the Banking Industry to Suffer, 9/08

Where Are They Getting The Money?, 03/08

Banks Will Pay Less to Borrow Money While Consumers Pay More, 2/08

Don't Just Get Mad, Ask Questions, 8/07

Other articles:

The Bush Bulldozer Strategy by Danny Schechter, 10/06

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Sen Grassley: AIG Execs Should Commit Suicide

Ok I wouldn't go that far but I know how Senator Grassley feels. Now that's frightening!

US capital Suffering HIV and AIDS Epidemic

AljazeeraEnglish reports:

"The city's health department says three per cent of residents are living with AIDS, or HIV, a 22 per cent increase since 2006.

It means infections are spreading faster in Washington than in some cities in Africa. "

Monday, March 16, 2009

Urgent: Speak Out Against Genetically Engineered Food - Deadline Midnight, March 17

I've sent in my comments, please share yours.  Pamela

-------- An Important Message from Food Democracy Now --------

Untitled document


If you care about the environment, human health and sustainable and organic farms:

It’s time to act!

Write to the USDA in these final 24 hours for the comment period to close the loopholes regulating genetically-engineered (GE) crops, also referred to as genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Tell the USDA that the loopholes regarding GE crops must be closed and to suspend approval of additional GE crops until truly independent, peer-reviewed testing can be performed.

While supporters claim this technology is safe, thorough testing was never completed before GE crops/GMOs were introduced into our food chain. Already more than 60 percent of packaged foods sold in U.S. supermarkets contain genetically-engineered food that American consumers unknowingly eat everyday.

Not only is this a great concern for consumer health, but also for family farmers who must pay exorbitant technology fees for the GE seed, and for the environment and sustainable and organic farmers whose crops can become contaminated due to GE drift.

If you care about food safety, it’s time to make your concern about GE food known! The USDA is accepting public comments on a proposed rule about GE until the close of business March 17th.

Tell the USDA that it must ensure the safety of GE technology for eaters, farmers and the environment!

If you want to learn more about concerns regarding genetically engineered food, watch The Future of Food tonight and this week on DIRECTV Channel 375 and DISH Network Channel 9410. Visit LinkTV for schedule.

Please send in your comments now! 


If you’d like to see Food Democracy Now! grassroots work continue, please consider donating as little as $10 or $25. We need all your support to be able to create the change that is needed at the USDA.

How to Submit Comments to the USDA:

Include “Docket Number APHIS-2008-0023” at the top of your correspondence or in the subject line of your email.

Online Instructions:

1. Click here to send your comments to the USDA electronically or go to:

The result with Document ID number "APHIS-2008-0023" is the Interim Final Rule for comments on Importation, Interstate Movement, and Release into the Environment of Certain Genetically Engineered Organisms

2. Click on the “Add Comment” icon and follow the instructions on the next screen.

Tell USDA to: 1. Withdraw the proposed rule; 2. Release the EIS for public review and comment and to be used as a basis for further rule-making; and 3. Suspend all new GE crop approvals until the above has been satisfactorily completed and unless and until GE crops are proven safe.

SAMPLE LETTER (Please cut and paste)

To whom it may concern,
Docket No. APHIS-2008-0023
Regulatory Analysis and Development
PPD, APHIS, Station 3A-03.8
4700 River Road Unit 118
Riverdale, MD 20737-1238.

Re: Docket No. APHIS-2008-0023, Importation, Interstate Movement, and Release into the Environment of Certain Genetically Engineered Organisms.

I am very concerned about the risks posed by genetically engineered crops. They threaten human health, family farmers, and the environment. I urge USDA to withdraw the proposed rule, publish the Environmental Impact Statement for public review and comment, and suspend all new GE crop approvals in the interim.

After USDA releases the EIS, a comment period of at least 90 days is needed so the public has the opportunity to fully participate in a transparent process on this important issue. This will not only aid in the development of the final EIS but also in the drafting of a new proposed rule. The current proposed rule does little to close the loopholes in the regulations the rule is designed to replace and it creates more gaps than it fills.





Hooked on Red-Tail Hawks

I guess you can say that I'm officially hooked on birdwatching.

Last year I was thoroughly engrossed in the lives of the house finches and chickadees that decided to nest on my patio. And now I'm completely hooked on watching the Franklin Institute's webcam of the red-tailed hawks who've built a nest on one of their window ledges.

To some people I'm sure that watching birds in a nest is like watching grass grow. But for a person who spent a portion of her Sunday afternoon going through seed catalogs and part of Sunday evening watching Planet Earth., watching the domestic life of two hawks is more fascinating than most reality TV shows.

I guess that I'll never outgrow The Franklin Institute.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Tell CNBC: Listen to Jon Stewart and report the news.

A CREDO Action Message:

We know about the Bush administration turning a blind eye and refusing to regulate bad behavior. We know about the banks that played fast and loose with our retirements, and then, when it all blew up, they took golden parachutes lined with our tax dollars.
On March 12, Jon Stewart of The Daily Show discussed another serious problem: financial news networks like CNBC that promoted Wall Street propaganda and then blamed the financial crisis on "losers" who couldn't make their mortgage payments.
Stewart took on Jim Cramer of CNBC; the interview was moving, appalling, and a searing indictment that really hit home.
I just watched the interview and signed a petition to tell CNBC that they should be ashamed of their behavior. A financial news channel should investigate and report the truth, not merely air infomercials for Wall Street.
Please have a look and take action.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Raising Property Taxes During A Mortgage Crisis?

I'm trying, I'm really trying to support Mayor Nutter but news of his possible plan to raise property taxes by 17% has my faith wavering.

I know that Philadelphia is facing a budget crisis. But will someone explain to me how it can possibly be wise to raise property taxes during a time when people are struggling to make mortgage payments, struggling to keep pace with the increased public utility rates, struggling with health care costs and praying that they don't lose their jobs.

People are already leaving the city due to its infamous city wage tax. Now the Mayor wants to increase the burden of those residents who are struggling to hold on and increase the possibility of not only foreclosures but house loss due to taxes.


excerpt from:
Nutter plan: Taxes up, spending down | Philadelphia Inquirer | 03/12/2009

With his budget and five-year spending plan due to the printer by the end of the week, Mayor Nutter appears ready to call for a temporary increase in property and sales taxes, spending cuts, higher fees for city services, and sharp reductions in spending on employee salaries and benefits.

According to budget documents The Inquirer obtained, Nutter will propose two two-year tax increases: a 1 percent increase in the sales tax and a 17 percent increase in property taxes.

Caveat Emptor: Beware of Mortgage Modification Scams

Some people have no shame and will take advantage of anyone for a buck.  And now many of those vultures are posing as mortgage modification brokers.

If you feel that you have been taken advantage of by a so-called mortgage modification broker report them immediately to your local State's Attorney General's Office and/or your local District Attorney.

New Jersey's attorney general has filed civil lawsuits against two Camden County companies accused of preying on homeowners facing foreclosures.

The companies billed themselves as loan-modification services that could negotiate with lenders to prevent foreclosures.

The companies took payments up-front from customers, then did nothing to help them, Attorney General Anne Milgram said yesterday..

The Camden County companies took names and operated Web sites intended to give the impression that they were affiliated with federal government-sponsored programs like the Hope Now Alliance and Hope for Homeowners, the complaints said.

One company, in Cherry Hill, used the name Hope Now Financial. The second company, in Bellmawr, is called New Hope Modification

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Saying “No One Saw This Coming” Just Doesn’t Ring True – Part 2

continued from Part 1

So let’s see where did we leave off?

In 2004, economists at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) recognized that the US was experiencing the greatest sustained job loss since the 1930s.
By 2005, it was clear that while the rich were getting exponentially richer, the middle class was declaring bankruptcy in record numbers and the number of people living in poverty was increasing.

By 2006, the first signs of problems in the subprime mortgage mortgage market were clearly apparent as was the fact that Americans were drowning in debt. One of the fastest growing areas of the financial sector was debt collection.
So in spite of recent comments by persons like former Vice President Dick Cheney and financial advisors like Jim Cramer that no one could have predicted the current economic crisis three years ago, there is clear evidence that quite a few people did just that.

But you ask, why should we care whether people saw this economic collapse coming or not? Shouldn’t we all be focusing on just getting out of this mess?
Of course we should be focusing on moving the economy forward but shouldn’t we ask ourselves do we really want to go back to doing business as usual. Phrased another way, is it wise to rebuild a house of cards.

In an op-ed article for the Washington Post, columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. stated, " .. if this near meltdown of capitalism doesn't encourage a lot of people to question the principles they have carried in their heads for the past three decades or so, nothing will.”

As I mentioned in my last post, one of the movies that changed the way that I viewed Wall Street and the banking system was James Scurlock’s Maxed Out.
In the following video clip Nightline's Vickie Mabrey interviews the movie's Director, James Scurlock and Harvard Law Professor, Elizabeth Warren.

Professor Elizabeth Warren was one of those who recognized that the economy was teetering on the edge of collapse three years ago. And, in one of the smartest moves that Congress has made in a long time appointed her to be Chairperson of the TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Program) Congressional Oversight Committee.

Last night, during an interview on The Rachel Maddow Show Professor Warren warned us that the bailouts won't work if the banking industry doesn't change their ways.

In the same year that James Scurlock released his film “Maxed Out”, Emmy winning journalist, Danny Schecter released another documentary, In Debt We Trust, which closely examined the nature of the economy and the banking and mortgage industries. 

In his film Schecter poses the question, “When did the mall replace the factory as America’s economic engine?" He also explains “financialization”, a phrase that he credits to former Reagan advisor Kevin Phillips, which refers to “a powerful credit industrial complex deliberately engineered by excessive debt.”

In the film former credit card executive Steve Barrett explained:
“We’re doomed to shop until we drop. Two thirds of our economy is based on consumption which leads to a rather petrifying paradox. If we cut back on consumption which is obviously good for the environment, good for a number of things, the US economy collapses. In a sense we’ve built an economy that needs rampant consumerism as a fuel to keep the engine going.”

Later in the same film, Ronald Silverman, Hofstra University Law Professor, comments on the sub-prime mortgage crisis:

“The severity of the problem of home mortgage lending in a predatory way may be quantified in the following terms. You are talking about a problem that transfers hundreds of billions of dollars from the pockets of the poor to people who are in a far better position than their so-called victims.”

Apparently all of the people who are now claiming that no one could have predicted the current economic crisis never heard the little parable about the mousetrap in the house.


A mouse looked through a crack in the wall to see the farmer and his wife opening a package. What food might it contain? He was aghast to discover that it was a mouse trap. Retreating to the farmyard the mouse proclaimed the warning: "There is a mouse trap in the house, a mouse trap in the house!

"The chicken clucked and scratched, raised her head and said, "Excuse me, Mr. Mouse, I can tell this is a grave concern to you, but it is of no consequence to me. I cannot be bothered by it."

The mouse turned to the pig and told him, "There is a mouse trap in the house, a mouse trap in the house!" "I am so very sorry Mr. Mouse," sympathized the pig, "but there is nothing I can do about it but pray. Be assured that you are in my prayers."

The mouse turned to the cow. She said, "Like wow, Mr. Mouse. A mouse trap. Like I am in grave danger. Duh...NOT!"

So the mouse returned to the house, head down and dejected, to face the farmer's mouse trap alone.
That very night a sound was heard throughout the house, like the sound of a mouse trap catching its prey. The farmer's wife rushed to see what was caught. In the darkness, she did not see that it was a venomous snake whose tail the trap had caught. The snake bit the farmer's wife. The farmer rushed her to the hospital. She returned home with a fever. 
Now everyone knows you treat a fever with fresh chicken soup, so the farmer took his hatchet to the farmyard for the soup's main ingredient. His wife's sickness continued so that friends and neighbors came to sit with her around the clock. To feed them, the farmer butchered the pig. The farmer's wife did not get well and a few days later she passed away. So many people came for her funeral, that the farmer had the cow slaughtered, to provide meat for all of them to eat. So the next time you hear that someone is facing a problem and think that it does not 
concern you, remember that when there is a mouse trap in the house, the 
whole farmyard is at risk.
-- Author Unknown

and while we’re telling stories here’s a good one that circulated in June of 2006.

The Corporate Boat Race

An American automobile company and a Japanese auto company decided to have a competitive boat race on the Detroit River. Both teams practiced hard and long to reach their peak performance. On the big day, they were as ready as they could be.

The Japanese team won by a mile.

Afterwards, the American team became discouraged by the loss and their morale sagged. Corporate management decided that the reason for the crushing defeat had to be found. A Continuous Measurable Improvement Team of "Executives" was set up to investigate the problem and to recommend appropriate corrective action.

Their conclusion: The problem was that the Japanese team had 8 people rowing and 1 person steering, whereas the American team had 1 person rowing and 8 people steering. The American Corporate Steering Committee immediately hired a consulting firm to do a study on the management structure.

After some time and billions of dollars, the consulting firm concluded that "too many people were steering and not enough rowing." To prevent losing to the Japanese again next year, the management structure was changed to "4 Steering Managers, 3 Area Steering Managers, and 1 Staff Steering Manager" and a new performance system for the person rowing the boat to give more incentive to work harder and become a six sigma performer. "We must give him 
empowerment and enrichment." That ought to do it.

The next year the Japanese team won by two miles.

The American Corporation laid off the rower for poor performance, sold all of the paddles, cancelled all capital investments for new equipment, halted development of a new canoe, awarded high performance awards to the consulting firm, and distributed the money saved as bonuses to the senior executives.

Sound familiar?

The bottom line is this. Not only were there quite a few people who saw the current economic crisis coming but a few were desperately trying to warn the public. However by 2007, those voices were drowned out by news coverage of Anna Nicole Smith's baby daddy drama, Britney Spears' breakdown and the never-ending tale of Paris Hilton's will she or won't she go to jail.

Wall Street, K Street, Madison Avenue, Capitol Hill and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue didn't want the general public to realize that during the last decade "capitalism" had been redefined and a not so subtle transfer of wealth from the middle class to the rich was occurring. And when Americans began to complain, people like Phil Gramm aka "Foreclosure Phil" tried to convince them that they were whiners.

Friends, if you think that it was an accident that there were record gasoline prices right before Americans lost their shirts in the stock market then you probably believe that the current economic stimulus bill is socialism and want a return to the good old days of excessive debt and spending.

But if you think that there is more to this story than un-educated consumers who didn't read the fine-print on their sub-prime mortgage then I implore you to demand the truth from the news media, demand that Congress hold Wall Street accountable and that you hold Congress and the White House accountable.

And most importantly, don't believe it when someone says that no one saw this coming.
This post is lovingly dedicated to my former coworkers who made jokes about the people trapped on roofs during Hurricane Katrina. I hope that their 401Ks are all doing well.

Related posts:
Saying "No One Saw This Coming" Just Doesn't Ring True - part 1
The Best Joke of the Day No One Saw It Coming
A Modern Bedtime Story, 09/08
Bad Luck, Incompetence, Lack of Regulation or Simple Avarice, 3/08
Remember Watch for the Signs, 2/08
When the Middle Class Can No Longer Cope, 12/07
Are You Preparing for A Recession?, 9/07
A Change in the Public Discourse on Poverty, 7/07

Other Articles:
Poverty Gap in US Widened Under Bush by Andrew Gumbrel for the Independent/UK , republished by, 2/07
Conspiracy Theories Abound as Oil Prices Fluctuate by Steven Mufson for The Washington Post. 10/06
New Survery Report Reveals Truth Behind Credit Card Debt Explosion in the US a report from the Center for Responsible Lending, 10/05

Thursday, March 5, 2009

What Constitutes A Treasonable Offense These Days?

I couldn't help but ponder that thought as I watched the Senate hearing on the Internal Revenue Investigation of UBS

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary provides the simplest definition of treason as "a betrayal of trust".

Based on that definition, if the actions of former Senator Phil Gramm don't constitute treasonable offenses then I don't know what does.

When the former Chair of the US Senate Banking Committee and co-sponsor of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 joined UBS in 2002 the press release announcing his appointment read, "
UBS Warburg today announced that Texas Senator Phil Gramm will join the firm as vice chairman. In this role, he will advise clients on corporate finance issues and strategy."

Of course there is no proof that the former US Senator was helping wealthy Americans avoid paying their taxes. We can only guess about the advice that Gramm was giving his clients.

Related posts:

Responses to Phil Gramm's "Mental Recession" Comment.

from the Dallas Morning News
Phil Gramm: Most Blameworthy?

from Time
25 People to Blame for the Financial Crisis

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Saying "No One Saw This Coming" Just Doesn't Ring True - Part 1 of 2

If you've been listening to the news coverage of the current economic crisis over the past few weeks, you've probably heard variations of one phrase repeated over and over and over again.

    •    "No one could have seen this coming!"
    •    "No one could have predicted this!"
    •    "Who could have imagined that things would have gotten this bad."

Sounds true but there's one big problem. It isn't.

Saying that no one could have predicted the current economic crisis has the same hollow sound as the statement that no one could have predicted that Hurricane Katrina would have devastated New Orleans. Anyone who made the latter statement simply chose to ignore that Pulitzer Prize winning writer, John McQuaid predicted much of what happened during Katrina, three years before it happened, in his 2002 series for the Times Picayune, Washing Away. They are also ignoring the fact that, at least a decade earlier, conservationists and environmentalists warned that the destruction of Louisiana's barrier islands could lead to the devastation of a city that is below sea level.

So, I simple don't buy that no one in Washington or on Wall Street saw the economic crisis coming and you shouldn't either. As the saying goes, that dog won't hunt.

The economic indicators were certainly there. It's just that no one was paying attention, or cared, when it was only the canaries that were dying. It's also not a stretch of the imagination to believe that there were individuals and industries, (like banking and oil for example), who intentionally milked their cash cows dry before they sent them to slaughter.

Think that this is all conspiracy theory mumbo jumbo?

Let's look back.

In June 2004, The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) published the following information in their JobWatch Bulletin.

"Record-breaking job loss continues for women

The 2001 recession inaugurated the only period of sustained job loss for women in the last 40 years. Women workers lost over 300,000 jobs between the start of the recession in March 2001 and March 2004, a 0.5% decline in their employment level.

Bush Administration's tax cuts not fulfilling job creation promises

The Bush Administration called the tax cut package, which was passed in May 2003 and took effect in July 2003, its "Jobs and Growth Plan." The president's economics staff, the Council of Economic Advisers, projected that the plan would result in the creation of 5.5 million jobs by the end of 2004 — 306,000 new jobs each month, starting in July 2003. The CEA projected that, starting in July 2003, the economy would generate 228,000 jobs a month without a tax cut and 306,000 jobs a month with the tax cut. Thus, it projected that 3,366,000 jobs would be created in the last 11 months. In fact, since the tax cuts took effect, jobs have grown by 1,365,000 — two million fewer jobs than the administration projected would be created by the enactment of its tax cuts.

Greatest sustained job loss since the Great Depression

Since the recession began 38 months ago in March 2001, 1.3 million jobs have disappeared, representing a 1.0% contraction. The Bureau of Labor Statistics began collecting monthly jobs data in 1939 (at the end of the Great Depression). In every previous episode of recession and job decline since 1939, the number of jobs had fully recovered to above the pre-recession peak within 31 months of the start of the recession. The picture is worse for private-sector jobs, which have dropped by 1.9 million since March 2001, representing a 1.7% contraction."

One month later, in July 2004 EPI reported that several states were still experiencing significant job loss and no signs of recovering from the 2001 recession.

"Over three years after the start of the recession, and 31 months into the official economic recovery, most states still have not recovered the jobs they lost. Thirty-one states have fewer jobs than when the recession started, and the shortfall is widespread, from Iowa (-27,300 jobs) to Washington (-13,000), and from Texas (-103,300) to Michigan (-213,300)."

And while the Democrats and Republicans were busy replaying the Viet Nam war debate, New York Times columnist Eduardo Porter published an excellent article on the impact of skyrocketing healthcare costs on the job market.

In his August 2004 article, Rising Cost of Health Benefits Cited as Factor in Slump of Jobs, Porter wrote:

"Government data, industry surveys and interviews with employers big and small indicate that many businesses remain reluctant to hire full-time employees because health insurance, which now costs the nation's employers an average of about $3,000 a year for each worker, has become one of the fastest-growing costs for companies.

Health premiums are sapping corporate balance sheets even more than the rising cost of energy."

Of course, in 2004 no one thought that any of these situations would last. Or did they?

Moving on to 2005.

In March, 2005 Nobel Prize Winning Economist and New York Times Columnist, Paul Krugman wrote an article, The Debt-Peonage Society, in which he discussed the best bankruptcy bill that the banking industry could buy.

Krugman wrote:

"The credit card companies say this is needed because people have been abusing the bankruptcy law, borrowing irresponsibly and walking away from debts. The facts say otherwise.

A vast majority of personal bankruptcies in the United States are the result of severe misfortune. One recent study found that more than half of bankruptcies are the result of medical emergencies. The rest are overwhelmingly the result either of job loss or of divorce.

To the extent that there is significant abuse of the system, it's concentrated among the wealthy - including corporate executives found guilty of misleading investors - who can exploit loopholes in the law to protect their wealth, no matter how ill-gotten.

One increasingly popular loophole is the creation of an "asset protection trust," which is worth doing only for the wealthy. Senator Charles Schumer introduced an amendment that would have limited the exemption on such trusts, but apparently it's O.K. to game the system if you're rich: 54 Republicans and 2 Democrats voted against the Schumer amendment.

Other amendments were aimed at protecting families and individuals who have clearly been forced into bankruptcy by events, or who would face extreme hardship in repaying debts. Ted Kennedy introduced an exemption for cases of medical bankruptcy. Russ Feingold introduced an amendment protecting the homes of the elderly. Dick Durbin asked for protection for armed services members and veterans. All were rejected.

None of this should come as a surprise: it's all part of the pattern."

It was the Krugman op-ed and Mark Trahant's article for the Seattle Intelligencer in April, 2005 that really started helping me connect the dots.

In his article, The Economy is Based on Borrowing, Trahant reported:
"Where you see the effects is in the shrinking paycheck of median household income. In real dollars, the median household income has declined $971 in 2001, $502 in 2002 and $63 in 2003 -- a cumulative loss of $1,536.

Health insurance has declined for all wage groups -- and pension coverage is shrinking, too, down from more than half of all workers in 1979 to about 45 percent in 2002.

How does a family pay for all these wage and benefit cuts? We borrow more.

Nearly 18 percent of households showed a zero or negative net worth in 2001 -- and government figures show that many families are paying 40 percent of their income just to keep up with their debt.

It's also true that home ownership rates are on the rise but the debt side of that picture is troublesome, too. Last week, a mortgage association reported that 36.6 percent of mortgages are based on adjustable rates. As interest rates go up, so will debt obligations -- and the risk of insolvency for any family already on the edge."

You didn't have to tell me about living on the edge. I was there.

My employer was outsourcing jobs, increasingly taking advantage of the H1B Visa laws, cutting overtime hours, hiring temps instead of filling full-time positions, cutting benefits, expecting a lot more and reminding you constantly of how easily you could be replaced.

While this was going on, our house decided that everything old would breakdown, a parent was diagnosed with a serious illness, and the stress of all of the above left me with diagnoses of carpal tunnel syndrome, possible fibromyalgia, stress related pulmonary hypertension and lots of medical bills. Yes, I know about teetering on the edge.

Of course, all of those hours spent in doctor's offices weren't wasted. I caught up on my reading. So by the time I read EPI's January, 2006 State of the Union report I wasn't surprised. The report referenced Ross Eisenbrey's article, "What's Wrong With the Economy", which cited the following:

    1.    Profits are up, but the wages and incomes of average Americans are down.
    2.    More and more people are deeper and deeper in debt.
    3.    Job creation has not kept up with population growth, and the employment rate has fallen sharply.
    4.    Poverty is on the rise.
    5.    Rising health care costs are eroding families' already declining income.

At this point, corporate profits were up and executives were making record salaries and bonuses. The rich were getting richer while the middle class was on a downward slope and the poor were getting poorer. You don't have to be able to understand Einstein's theory of relativity to understand that something was amiss.

In February, 2006 New York Times reporters Vikas Bajaj and Ron Nixon reported on the troubling rise in foreclosures among minority homeowners.

In their article, For Minorities, Signs of Trouble in Foreclosures they reported:
"President Bush cites rising minority ownership as a milestone achievement under his "ownership society" programs.

But hidden behind such success stories lies a disturbing trend: in the last several years, neighborhoods with large poor and minority populations in places like Cleveland, Chicago, Philadelphia and Atlanta have experienced a sharp rise in foreclosures, in some cases more than a doubling, according to an analysis of court filings and other housing data by The New York Times and academic researchers.

The increase in foreclosures could be the first of a wave of financial distress for many minority homeowners, experts say, because they are twice as likely as whites to have taken out expensive subprime mortgages, most of which will jump to higher interest rates in the next two years, according to an analysis of data that lenders disclose under the federal Home Mortgage Disclosure Act"
Canaries were dying in the coal mines. Was anyone paying attention?

This was 2006. Banks were still extending credit, people were still "flipping" houses and buying newer and larger cars, the oil industry was making record profits and Wall Street executives were raking in 9 figure bonuses, not salaries, bonuses. Not to be outdone the pharmaceutical industries was marketing new diseases and the drugs to treat them. While war contractors in Iraq were building prisons that would never be used and sewage systems that did not connect to residential dwellings.

And in 2006, James Scurlock produced "Maxed Out", a documentary that would change the way the I viewed the economy and the banking industry forever.

No one saw an economic crash coming. Keep believing that

... to be continued.

My New Punk

Michael Steele –

So he goes on DL Hugley (some guy named HUG –ley as Matthews described him on Hardball) and speaks truth to power – he says that Limbaugh is an entertainer and that his show is incendiary at times. Limbaugh then takes him on during his radio show telling Steele to start doing what he was elected to do rather than try to be a media star which he stinks at.

Then, Steele APOLOGIZES to Rush. It’s not the apology that makes him my new punk…I really don’t care what they do over there and if you get put in your place by your overseer, then you bought that on yourself, but here’s the rub. It is what he said in his apology.

“My intent was not to go after Rush – I have enormous respect for Rush Limbaugh,” Steele said in a telephone interview. “I was maybe a little bit inarticulate. … There was no attempt on my part to diminish his voice or his leadership.”

Okay Mike Rubber (‘cause you ain’t steel!!), you got sent back into the field from the Big House with a scolding. So what exactly is it in his statement that rankles me?

As everyone to whom I sending this letter knows very well, those of us who are of African decent and have the benefit of some training in the use of language have been assaulted all of our lives with the condescending phrase “He (she)’s so articulate!” by the white community . It is meant as a compliment and to show that we might very well be “one of the good ones.”

The folks for whom Rubber is carrying the water, when they crafted his apology for him, made him say (and I quote as you can see from above) “I was maybe a little bit inarticulate.” They made him CALL HIMSELF inarticulate. Well I’ll be damned, as my 84 year-old mother would say. Tim Kaine, the head of our party put it well today when he said:

"Today, President Obama and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood unveiled new job-creating infrastructure projects that were made possible by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. These projects are helping put Americans back to work while also investing in repairing our crumbling infrastructure. But, instead of joining Democrats in supporting the President's economic recovery plan, almost every single Republican in Congress chose to follow Rush Limbaugh by voting against a plan that will create or save 3.5 million jobs. Now, instead of the denouncing Limbaugh's claim that he is rooting for the President to fail, my counterpart at the Republican National Committee proved who is really leading their party—calling Rush Limbaugh to apologize after courageously criticizing him just this weekend.”

THAT’S why he’s my new punk (and Rush’s bitch).