Friday, October 31, 2008

White House Defends Billions To Banks

White House Defends Billions To Banks, Bipartisan Congressional Criticism Aimed At Possible Use Of Funds To Reward Executives - CBS News

If this whole bailout thing doesn't get you angrier by the day, then you are not paying enough attention!

The White House on Thursday was forced to defend banks doing whatever they want with the (taxpayer's) money after several reports that banks would still pay obscene bonuses to executives, pay billions in owed compensation to executives, as well as issue regular quarterly dividend checks to shareholders, and even use the money to finance mergers & acquisitions.

Let me put this as simply as I can: if these huge financial institutions have money to REWARD stockholders despite incredibly dismal performance and complete lack of fiduciary duty, then they DO NOT NEED TAXPAYER MONEY. If things are really as bad as Paulson, Bush & Co. made it seem, then they should be using every spare penny to shore up their balance sheets and/or get lending going again.

Of course, if you see this bailout as I do- as a naked grab for money- then none of this is surprising to you. In fact, I'm going to go way out on a scary limb and issue a prediction: there will be many more abuses of taxpayer money. Shocking, I know... just remember you heard it here first.

War & Reason

Norman Mailer: The Quotations Page: "Any war that requires the suspension of reason as a necessity for support is a bad war.
Norman Mailer, Armies Of The Night
US journalist & novelist (1923 - 2007)"

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Treasury to need "Unprecedented" financing

The dazzling incompetence and lack of understanding of financial markets would make me laugh, if it weren't so sad. quotes White House Press Secretary Dana Perino:

``What we're trying to do is get banks to do what they are supposed to do, which is support the system that we have in America''
Actually Dana, what banks are "supposed" to do is make money for the shareholders. They sure aren't stopping their dividend payments, so how bad could this crisis really be? They did that quite well the last several years- first through widespread use of dubious financial instruments, and now by getting the taxpayers to finance their mergers. It's everyone else that's in trouble. And by the way, if you wanted banks to actually lend with the money that we were so generously giving them, perhaps you should have made that explicit in the legislation that you rushed through. The fact that you designed this plan so vague that anyone can qualify and do anything with the money is your fault, not the banks'.

And just what system is it, that we have in America? If it's the system where there income inequality has reached record levels, Wall St. pays obscene bonuses that they didn't earn, companies legally pay no taxes and everyone else gets screwed, seems to me like it's working the same as it always has.

"Talking points" much?

The two major party candidates are robots, parroting lines they are given that they desperately hope will turn into conventional wisdom. Maybe it will work if they say it over and over and over again?

Obama Aides Diss Atheists! - Obama Aids Diss Atheists! [sic]

Carl Silverman describes attending a "Presidential Forum" at the Christian Life Academy. Full text of the email is below, but there are a few things that I want to highlight.

Don Miller of the Obama campaign responds to a question directed to the McCain campaign,

"Senator Obama has a policy director and an advisor for many different faiths. He has nothing on atheists or agnostics. There's not this grand effort for the Democrats to reach out to a group of pagans to try to get them to vote for Senator Obama."
I guess admitting that Obama's all set to ignore atheists didn't go far enough for D. Paul Moneiro, Obama's National Deputy Director for Religious Affairs. Side note: why is it that campaigns need "Directors for Religious Affairs", and are the Directors really so overwhelmed with Religious Affairs that they require Deputies????? Anyway, Monteiro continues (referring to Obama), "This is not some crazy wacko atheist trying to make sure that your children grow up to marry trees."

That's good to know! Nothing gets under my skin more than those damned atheists and their persistent attempts to get children to marry trees! Not just American trees either, they actually want children to marry DUTCH ELMS or JAPANESE MAPLES!! *gasp* These foreigner trees have been luring our young people away for far too long. If you elect me as president, I vow to keep American children marrying American trees!

OK then, I have a question: is Obama some kind of KrAzY KrIsTiAn that is trying to get your children to grow up to hate gays? Does he want your children to grow up to hate science? Is Obama at least willing to accept godless money? I bet he is! Once again, it proves that atheists are one of the few groups that it's still considered permissible to slander. For shame.


First let me say that, despite what you are about to read, I still encourage everyone to vote for
Obama. As we all know, we must focus on the Supreme Court.


My wife and I went to the "Presidential Forum"
last night (Wednesday 10/29/08) at the Christian Life Academy, a megachurch here in Camp Hill, PA,
expecting to be offended by the McCain-Palin surrogates. The event was being recorded/televised,
probably for podcasting on the Christian Life website, but I'm not sure. I have listed the
participants at bottom of this page.

I submitted a question, specifically for the McCain-Palin people. Here's the question, as asked by the moderator, who only slightly rephrased it from the original:

"With at least 8% of Pennsylvanians being atheists, agnostics, and humanists, what are the McCain-Palin campaign going to say tonight to attract any undecided voters from that group of Pennsylvanians?"

McCain's National Evangelical Director, Marlys Pompa, said that McCain was going to be a president
of all the people, people "of all faiths and no faiths." She mentioned the "wonderful melting
pot" of America, and generally emphasized the inclusiveness and unity of a McCain presidency. She, of course, did not mention Palin.

The moderator then proceeded to ask another question, this time directed to the Obama campaign, but the Obama representatives insisted on responding to my question first.

Don Miller, an author and social conservative who delivered a prayer at the Democratic convention, said, "Senator Obama has a policy director and an advisor for many different faiths. He has nothing on atheists or agnostics. There's not this grand effort for the Democrats to reach out to a group of pagans to try to get them to vote for Senator Obama."

D. Paul Monteiro, Obama's National Deputy Director for Religious Affairs, then said, "Senator Obama has a twenty-year history, a twenty-year testimony" and described Obama's support for Bush's "faith-based partnership program" and how Obama said "no" to those who distributed flyers at the Democratic National Convention urging him, on the basis of church-state separation, to oppose public funding of faith-based initiatives.

Then, referring to Sen. Obama, Monteiro proclaimed, "This is not some crazy wacko atheist trying to make sure that your children grow up to marry trees."

Yes, Obama's aides not only gloated that they were not actively seeking the votes of atheists, agnostics, and pagans, but delivered a slur of such an egregious nature that, if targeted against Christians or Jews, would have likely been fatal to Obama's campaign. I can't imagine Barack himself making such a grossly insulting statement.

In addition, there was a dispute over whether Obama supported or opposed discriminatory hiring by publicly funded faith-based programs. David Barton, founder of the WallBuilders organization, claimed that Obama opposed discriminatory hiring, but Obama's National Evangelical Coordinator Shaun Casey claimed that was untrue. To my recollection, based on Obama's past statements, Barton was correct and Casey was wrong.

In the future, I think atheists and other rationalists should create their own political party, not in the hopes of winning in this "Christian nation," but at least to act as a spoiler against any candidate who does not treat us with the same respect to which believers feel they are entitled.

Again, please vote for Barack, if only because Palin must be stopped.

Feel free to forward or publish this message, but only IN ITS ENTIRETY.

Carl H. Silverman
Camp Hill, PA

[apologies if this email is poorly formatted]

Copyright 2008, Carl H. Silverman. All rights reserved, except permission is granted to forward
(or publish) this message in its entirety.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Paulson and his Goldman Gang: they're aliens! Or possibly members of some kind of bald-head cult! The pieces are starting to come together....

From L to R: Neel Kashkari, James H. Lambright, and Henry M. Paulson, Jr.
From BailoutSleuth

Bailout: more bad policy on top of horrible policy

I've been against the bailout from the beginning, as have most right-thinking folks. Daily, more evidence piles up that the bailout was a bad idea, and the implementation is leaving a sour taste in everyone's mouth.

As a refresher: Sec. Paulson assaulted Congress and the American public and demanded $700 billion and unlimited power to do with it whatever he wanted, or else the economy would take a giant shit and we'd all get splattered. Nevermind that the giant shit was going to happen anyway, and we're all starting to get splattered. Predictably, the American public gave their collective middle fingers to that plan, and he was forced to say something about what he'd do with the money. His brilliant idea was to buy the worthless (err..... "troubled") "assets" from the crooks (err... bankers). OK, remember that plan (conveniently named "Troubled Asset Relief Plan- get it? It's a tarp, to cover up the giant shit). Presto-change-o the banks have adequate capital and crisis is averted. Oh, and he needed the money IMMEDIATELY, there was absolutely no time to look at alternatives. Congress decides to give Paulson the middle finger, the stock market drops 700 points, there was a bunch of secret late-night meetings held at the White House, they threaten to declare martial law, and then the bailout passes. With me so far?

Now, the secret reasons behind the bailout have started to come out, but you've got to put the pieces to the puzzle together. OK, remember the reason for the bailout? Banks couldn't lend because they've got all this worthless stuff that somehow magically ended up on their balance sheets, causing them to have to write all the worthless stuff down to it's value (0), which causes them to have to increase their reserves to compensate for the loss of these "assets". Banks weren't lending to each other, because they all knew that they all had this worthless stuff they were hiding and didn't know which one would be the next to go belly-up because of it. Paulson's theory was that the government would take all this worthless stuff off their hands, freeing the banks to start lending to each other again. But, as soon as the bailout passed, the plan morphed from buying "assets" from banks to straight liquidity injections, whether they wanted it or not. The idea this time was to cut out the middle step of buying the bad assets and just shore up the balance sheets immediately, thereby mitigating the need to raise more capital, even if the worthless (oops, I mean "troubled) assets come to light.

Now, it seems the plan has morphed again, albeit in a way that nobody's acknowledging. Now, the plan is to nudge the big banks to use that fresh liquidity to buyout smaller banks. Smaller banks didn't have the same exposure to these worthless derivatives, as a result of their need to actually serve their customers, so the smaller banks have excellent balance sheets compared to their larger brethren. Unfortunately for them, the big guys need that capital, so it's going to be merger time! Remember two weeks ago, when Citigroup was hoving over Wachovia, all set to go ahead with the buyout, when Wells Fargo swooped in? The Motley Fool breaks it down:

Why was Wells Fargo so eager to ante up a deal that was leaps and bounds sweeter than Citi was willing to pay? After all, Wells Fargo has a stellar reputation of keeping underwriting standards in check, so why would it want anything to do with a shoddy bank drowning in subprime mortgages?

Taxes. It was all about the taxes.

The day after Citigroup made its bid, the Treasury changed a tax rule that lets banks accelerate the losses and writedowns on banks they acquire against their own net income, offsetting the charges as tax write-offs.

Wells plans on writing off some $74 billion of Wachovia's $498 billion loan portfolio -- an insanely large amount that reflects just how poisoned Wachovia's books really were. With the new tax rules, it gets to use all of that $74 billion as a charge against its own net income, which means one thing: Wells Fargo's going to be a tax-write-off machine for years to come.

Just how much will it save? The Wall Street Journal, citing an independent tax analyst, estimates Wells Fargo could reap a tax savings of about $19.4 billion. To put that in perspective, the 0.1991 shares of its own stock Wells Fargo is offering Wachovia comes out to around $6.24 per share, or roughly $13.8 billion. Yes, Wells Fargo gets a $19.4 billion tax break for a company it'll pay just under $14 billion for (if the deal closed today).

In other words, Wells Fargo didn't pay anything for Wachovia: The IRS paid it more than $5 billion to take it. Who ever said you have to fear the taxman?

Nary a peep from Treasury on the deal, so the big guys figure it's a merger green-light. The Guardian reports:

A Californian lender, City National Bank of Beverly Hills, made it clear it would consider using its $395m capital infusion to make purchases. Its chief executive, Russell Goldsmith, told the Los Angeles Times the money "clearly enhances our financial capacity to make acquisitions and to lend to a larger degree".

The pace of deals in the banking industry has already picked up. On Friday, Cleveland-based National City Bank agreed to a $5.6bn buyout by a competitor, PNC, which is getting $7.7bn from the Treasury.

Keith Horowitz, a banking analyst at Citigroup, said National City did not need capital but had found itself vulnerable as a result of the bail-out.
"We believe [the bail-out] in a perverse way pushed/forced National City's management to sell the bank into a buyers' market," said Horowitz in a note to clients.

Not brazen enough for you? I agree- here's a more brazen example.

In point of fact, the dirty little secret of the banking industry is that it has no intention of using the money to make new loans. But this executive was the first insider who’s been indiscreet enough to say it within earshot of a journalist.

(He [JP Morgan executive] didn’t mean to, of course, but I obtained the call-in number and listened to a recording.)

“Twenty-five billion dollars is obviously going to help the folks who are struggling more than Chase,” he began. “What we do think it will help us do is perhaps be a little bit more active on the acquisition side or opportunistic side for some banks who are still struggling. And I would not assume that we are done on the acquisition side just because of the Washington Mutual and Bear Stearns mergers. I think there are going to be some great opportunities for us to grow in this environment, and I think we have an opportunity to use that $25 billion in that way and obviously depending on whether recession turns into depression or what happens in the future, you know, we have that as a backstop.”

I think former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich has good suggestions on his blog, too bad nobody in charge is listening. He argues that

the big bank beneficiaries of the bailout should be barred from (1) paying lobbyists who have anything whatever to do with administration or implementation of the bailout; (2) buying up other financial institutions; (3) paying dividends to shareholders; or (4) paying any bonuses or severance packages to any executives -- as long as the bailout continues. There's simply no excuse for using taxpayer dollars for any of these purposes.

This whole bailout has been a scam from day one, and I become more certain of that by the day. If they were committed to transparency and oversight as was promised, why would there be the secrecy and redacted documents?

The Freakonomics blog today asked a similar question to the one I posed yesterday. They just didn't take it as far... they were only wondering why there weren't any riots, I was wondering when the full-scale revolution is going to happen?

For those in love with Obama

As I've been trying to remind people, Obama may be better than the other big alternative, but he's still not what you want if you believe in real change. Coke may be better than Pepsi, but not if you're looking for locally-produced organic orange juice.

Two quick articles that caught my attention today on the very same subject:First: Obama campaign doesn't mind skirting campaign finance rules. Not really surprising, given that he's raised more this month than George W. Bush did during the entire 2004 election cycle. He's also opted into and then out-of the public finance system, subject to allegations of "secret, foreign donors", not to mention that the influence-peddling has already begun. All of that's not to say that he's any better than John McCain, given that McCain's found several new ways to tap extra donations and skirt campaign finance laws he helped to create. To me, the question is not who's the more egregious violator of campaign finance laws, it's the simple fact that the system as it exists right now is unquestionably broken.

Second, I'm reproducing this full article here, because Mr. Joshua Frank makes all the right points. I was discussing the issue with my wife the other day, and she made an argument that since Obama was more aligned with progressive causes during the primaries, he's more likely to return to those positions once in the White House. My contention: doesn't that prove the point that he's not such a different type of politician after all? If he moves so easily and seamlessly from progressive to center-right within a matter of months and based upon the particular demands of whatever constituency he's courting at the moment, then as far as I'm concerned, the calls for "change" are more empty promises. Indeed, generic "change" is coming- regardless of which major-party candidate wins this election. (Barring some kind of last-minute power grab from the Bush administration, and I'm still not ruling that out completely). The key is getting change that goes far enough, change that restores some kind of faith in the system. Senator Obama certainly can talk the talk, but I'm concerned that the actual business of governing will not allow for platitudes of "change" or "hope".

Note to Progressives for Obama: What Happens After Election Day?

Unless John McCain has a bombshell of a scandal to drop on Barack Obama at the 11th hour, this election is beginning to look like it’s in the bag for the Democrats. The Republicans will finally be kicked out of the White House and peace and calm will slowly return to Washington.

At least that’s the message reverberating across the progressive landscape these days. One can almost hear a collective sigh of relief. Darth Cheney will be gone. Karl Rove will be forced to recoil, and President Bush can retire in ignorant bliss to his ranch in Crawford.


It is certainly comforting to believe the stars have aligned and progressive values are about to flood the Beltway. Barack Obama has campaigned on “Hope” and “Change” and we all but believe the guy is actually going to deliver on his varied promises.

But believing is what’s caused so many to fall victim to Obama fever. You know the signs: they send you emails from (claiming you’re to blame for Obama’s fictional loss) and hope-filled rants from Norman Solomon. They talk about Obama as if he’s the next messiah, their wardrobe consists of more than two Obama shirts that they’ll wear every day leading up to the election. They have a “Change” sign in their window and one in their front yard. It’s as if they’ve become more or less Obama-zombies, just in time for Halloween.

No question the Obama strategists have accomplished what they set out to do. Just look at all they’ve achieved thus far: antiwar activists have exchanged their slogans for pro-Obama refrains despite the fact that their candidate inflates the alleged threat of Iran, wants to put more troops in Afghanistan and won’t pull out of Iraq anytime soon.

Environmentalists have come out for Obama in large numbers, even though he thinks coal can be clean and nuclear energy can be safe. No big deal that he wants to drill baby drill off our coastal shores. At least the guy believes in global warming.

Or take the civil rights champions who have few qualms about his rabid support for FISA and the PATRIOT Act or social justice activists who aren’t overly concerned that Obama condones the execution of convicts who have never murdered. Economic progressives, who would be the first to say the economic I.V. pumped into the Wall Street bloodline was hastily passed and rips off tax-payers, are the first to defend Obama’s economic platform. No matter he supported the bailout without reservation. No matter his team of economic hit men includes a whole slew of Clintonite neoliberals like Robert Rubin. Obama is still their guy.

All of this wouldn’t bother me much if it weren’t for the overt hypocrisy so many progressives, and a few radicals, are exhibiting with their blind support for Obama. It’s one thing to embrace pragmatic voting and lesser-evilism on the grounds that we don’t really live in a true democracy. It’s quite another to be excited about the prospect of electing a man who doesn’t stand for the issues you do, and is in fact campaigning against them.

What will happen if Obama wins the electorate? Progressive Group Number One seems to believe he’ll magically move left once inaugurated and is only running to the right in order to win the election. That position is a non sequitur and not worthy of real discussion as it’s based on wishful thinking.

Progressive Group Number Two knows Obama is pretty damn conservative but is planning on voting “strategically,” arguing that change comes in baby steps, yet they assure us they’ll apply pressure once Obama’s elected to get the little toddler strolling. A friend, who happens to be a professor at a large university, recently told me that he plans on coercing Obama by pressuring elected members of congress. He’ll be “making a stink” and “scene,” he assured me.

What a relief.

“The forces arrayed against far-reaching progressive change are massive and unrelenting. If an Obama victory is declared next week, those forces will be regrouping in front of our eyes — with right-wing elements looking for backup from corporate and pro-war Democrats,” Norman Solomon recently wrote in an article advising progressives to vote against their interests. “How much leverage these forces exercise on an Obama presidency would heavily depend on the extent to which progressives are willing and able to put up a fight.”

Does Solomon even understand what it means to “put up a fight”? And what’s with the notion that progressives will “apply pressure” once Obama wins? They have no cash and he’s already going to receive most of their votes. What are they going to do to pressure him, poke him in his ribs? Cause a stink by farting through the halls of Congress? Obama may actually listen to us if he thought progressives were considering to vote for a guy like Ralph Nader, which is the point Nader seems to be making by campaigning in swing states this week. Nader knows how to put up a real fight, one not mired in hypotheticals and fear-mongering, so he’s pressuring Obama where it matters most.

Of course, such a direct confrontation to Obama’s backward policies ruffles the slacks of many devout liberals. But that is the point. Progressives are not flush with cash and as we all should know, flashing the almighty buck is usually the best way to grab a politician’s attention. But the only thing we have at our immediate disposal now is votes. These crooks need us to get elected. Obama already has the majority of left-wing support shored up despite his resistance to embrace our concerns. Imagine if he had to earn our votes instead of receiving our support without having to do a thing for it?

So let’s prepare for what’s ahead. Obama may win next Tuesday, but what will happen to the movements that have been sidelined in order to help get the Democrats elected? What will become of the environmental movement after January 20? Will it step up to oppose Obama’s quest for nuclear power and clean coal? Will the antiwar movement work to force Obama to take a softer approach toward Iran? Will they stop the troop increase in Afghanistan?

These are but a few of the questions I’d like progressive supporters of Obama to answer. I’ve yet to hear exactly how they will pressure an Obama administration. In fact, I don’t think they will. George W. Bush will be gone and that will be enough for most. Progressives faced a similar confrontation in 1992 when Bill Clinton took office, but without much of a fight we saw neoliberalism take hold in the form of NAFTA and we endured the Telecommunications Act, Welfare Reform, a forest plan written by the logging industry, the dismantling of Glass-Steagall, the Iraq Liberation Act, and much much more.

What makes the Democrats believe that they even deserve our support now? President Bush has indeed been bad, but his most egregious policies were upheld and supported by the majority of Democrats. They gave Bush the green light to whack Saddam while they controlled the Senate. They supported the PATRIOT Act (Obama voted for its reconfirmation), the War on Terror, Bush’s increased Pentagon budget, a no-strings Wall Street bailout and two awful Supreme Court confirmations. You may also remember that two years ago we ushered Democrats back into office with the belief that they might actually fight Bush on Iraq. Instead we’ve had nothing but complicity, with Democrats time and again supporting increased war funds.

I hope I’m not alone in saying that we deserve more than lofty rhetoric about “action” and “hope.” We deserve a program for real progressive change — the kind Democrats and Barack Obama will not bring as long as we give them our unconditional support.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

It's never enough

Is anyone else noticing a pattern?

AIG Bailout was originally set at $85 billion, but that wasn't enough, so the government generously added $37.8 billion (of your money), but now that's not going to be enough either. I guess all those spa parties and hunting trips are getting expensive.

The magic $700 billion number for the bailout was picked because "they just wanted a really big number", but it clearly wasn't enough.

While you were struggling to understand how the government could want to spend $700 billion, and despite promises to the contrary, they gave a quick $25 billion to the automakers (ostensibly to help them create more fuel-efficient cars) but guess what? It's not enough, and now they're going to use it for mergers & acquisitions instead.

Today, the Telegraph reports a couple of staggering figures:

  • worldwide, the various national bailouts have cost over $7 trillion, so far!
  • That number is 12% of the entire global"real" economy.
  • The "real" economy is vastly overwhelmed by "the unregulated shadow banking market, where the Bank estimates $14,500bn of "toxic" assets responsible for the financial crisis have proliferated"
The translation is this: if they are estimating $14.5 trillion of "toxic" assets, and we've spent $7 trillion without even making a dent, then what does that say about how much further we have to go? Of course, they are only estimating how much of the shadow banking market is toxic. If they are wrong by even a fraction, we are really in for it. Remember, the global derivatives market was "valued" at $1.14 quadrillion dollars this summer.

Thomas Jefferson on Banks

I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around [the banks] will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered. The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs.
Thomas Jefferson
, Letter to the Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin (1802)

Greenspan says nobody could have forecast this, everyone else disagrees

Greenspan's testimony caused me to actually laugh out loud. You get choice soundbites like these:

  • ``Yes, I found a flaw,'' Greenspan said in response to grilling from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. ``I was shocked because I'd been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.'' Greenspan added he was ``partially'' wrong for opposing the regulation of derivatives.
  • Greenspan, responding to questions, said only ``onerous'' regulation would have prevented the financial crisis. Stifling rules would have suppressed growth and hurt Americans' standards of living, he said.
  • ``We have to do our best but not expect infallibility or omniscience,' he said.

    Part of the problem was that the Fed's ability to forecast the economy's trajectory is an inexact science, he said.

    ``If we are right 60 percent of the time in forecasting, we are doing exceptionally well; that means we are wrong 40 percent of the time,'' Greenspan said. ``Forecasting never gets to the point where it is 100 percent accurate.''

  • Greenspan, 82, reiterated his ``shocked disbelief'' that financial companies failed to execute sufficient ``surveillance'' on their trading counterparties to prevent surging losses. The ``breakdown'' was clearest in the market where securities firms packaged home mortgages into debt sold on to other investors, he said.
By the way, here's 10 people who predicted the financial meltdown, and as a special bonus person- Ralph Nader!

Dean Baker nails it:

Greenspan Says, 'Who Could Have Known?'

by Dean Baker

That's right, the former Maestro told Congress last week, when asked about the meltdown of the housing bubble and the resulting financial crisis, "we're not smart enough as people. We just cannot see events that far in advance."

Unfortunately, this sentence is even worse in context. Greenspan told the committee about the brilliant economists on staff at the Federal Reserve Board. His point was that if this group could not see the housing bubble, and the risks it posed to the economy, then it was not humanly possible to see it.

The reality is that it was possible -- in fact, easy -- to recognize the housing bubble as early as the summer of 2002. House prices nationwide had substantially outpaced inflation in the years since 1996 (coinciding with the stock bubble) after just tracking the rate of inflation for the prior hundred years. There was nothing in the fundamentals of supply or demand that could explain this run-up.

Furthermore, there was no corresponding increase in rents. Since people always have the choice to buy or rent, house sale prices and rents should rise and fall together over time, although not necessarily at the exact same pace. In the years since 1996, rents had only modestly outpaced inflation. And they had begun dropping in real terms by 2002. This was not consistent with house prices being driven by fundamentals.

It was also easy to see that the collapse of the housing bubble would cause enormous damage to the economy. Housing itself accounted for more than 6 percent of GDP at the peak of the boom in 2006. Today, it accounts for just over 3 percent.

More importantly, housing wealth provided the base for the consumption boom of this period. Research from the Federal Reserve Board and elsewhere shows that annual consumption is increased by 5 to 7 cents for each dollar of housing wealth. This means that the collapse of a bubble that eventually grew to $8 trillion would lead to a reduction in annual consumption on the order of $400 billion to $560 billion (2.6 percent to 3.7 percent of GDP).

In addition, housing is a highly leveraged asset. In normal times, buyers typically borrow 80 to 90 percent of the purchase price. Of course, housing became much more highly leveraged during the bubble with many borrowers putting zero down.

The heavy leverage in the housing market meant that it was inconceivable that a collapse of the housing bubble would not lead to serious consequences for the banking industry. I first warned that the collapse of the bubble would imperil the survival of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in September of 2002.

Greenspan would have been correct if he said that we are not smart enough as human beings to know when the bubble would finally burst. I did not expect the bubble to last as long as it did.

Of course, I did not bet on there being such a vast reservoir of foolish investors, not only in the United States but also in Asia and Europe, willing to buy garbage mortgages buried in complex derivative instruments. I also didn't imagine the Fed and other regulatory agencies would ever be so completely out-to-lunch in policing mortgage issuance and the practices of the investment banks.

But the basic story, that there was a housing bubble that would burst, and that it would cause enormous damage to the economy, was completely knowable to any competent economist long ago. The failure of the economists at the Fed, as well as the vast majority of the economists elsewhere, to see the housing bubble and to recognize the damage that would be caused by its collapse, is a testament to the failure of the profession.

Greenspan's claim that the crisis was not foreseeable is a cover-up for a profession that has badly failed the public. If factory workers or custodians had failed so miserably in their jobs, they would quickly find themselves unemployed.

Remarkably, in economics, the people responsible for this easily preventable disaster are suffering no negative consequences and, in fact, are still the ones designing the nation's economic policies. Economists believe that if workers are not held accountable for their performance, then they will not do good work. If economists are not held accountable for their performance, then we should not expect good economic policy.

Contrary to what Greenspan told Congress, "we" are smart enough as people to see asset bubbles like the housing bubble. If his "we" are not smart enough, as he claims, then the current group of economic policymakers must be replaced with people qualified to do the job.

Dean Baker is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). He is the author of "The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer". He also has a blog, "Beat the Press," where he discusses the media's coverage of economic issues.

High time to boycott elections?

It seems more and more people are coming to a similar conclusion:

High time to boycott elections

The only choice: Don't vote!

A Former Voter is Rehabilitated

Not voting, or voting third-party?

Accountant by Day has a great post up, you should read the whole thing, but I wanted to highlight just a bit that goes along with the "voting/not voting" theme week I guess I have going on. She explains that she was voting by mail-in ballot, and had spent some time agonizing over the decision for which presidential candidate to vote for or to vote against: (emphasis mine)

After a long time I ended up darkening the oval next to Barack Obama’s name, which in a way is a sad thing, to vote for a candidate you don’t really believe in to avoid voting for a candidate you’re genuinely afraid is a threat to your civil rights. It’s too bad to have to choose between spending policies you agree with and social policies you don’t consider fascist. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Obama is the worst, just like I don’t think McCain is the worst. I think he’ll probably do mostly fine and we’ll pull through like we always do. But it makes me feel bad to always be stuck with candidates I can’t really root for. It would be cool to get to be one of those people who can be full-throttle rah-rah for somebody. I never quite get there. I always seem to wind up either abstaining out of principle, like when Pat Roberts ran unopposed in the primary, or voting for the person who scares me less.

Sebelius ‘12?

Anyway, so after I mailed the ballot I began to regret my vote. Not in the sense that I wished I had voted for McCain and the deerslayer instead. No, I think not. But having reflected on the fact that, particularly in this state and in consideration of the miserable disgrace the electoral college makes of our voting system, my vote basically counts for nothing, I wish I’d decided to throw it away on the Libertarian party. I think Bob Barr is basically an asshole and I don’t like him any more than the other two, but at least I agree with Libertarian principles in general. Lacking interest or faith in Republican or Democrat and considering I think my vote is a waste anyway, I now think I should have gone moderate and voted Libertarian so that I could have made some pathetic stand against a two-party system that does exactly the opposite of representing me. For once, it’s a comfort to think about the fact that nothing I do really counts in this political system. My misfire won’t really have an impact anyway.

I think that encapsulates so much of the sentiment that I feel, and that I pick up from so many others this year. We are all waking up with this profound sense of alienation from our government. Perhaps our "government" is too abstract, we're actually alienated from our "representatives", from our "leaders", and from each other. What was once a badge of civic pride- the vote- has now become an onerous and guilt-inducing reminder of just how far removed our government is from anything resembling fairness, equality, engagment, representation, truth, justice and the American way. I hope that the situation is changing this cycle, that more and more people are realizing just how far we've come from representative democracy.

Not voting withholds consent from a government that desperately craves it. Our "leaders" govern based on the polls. The legacy of the Bush administration is not just the wreckage of the global economy, the destruction of America's image around the world, or the loss of so many lives. It's also in the brazen and willful determination to do whatever they want, despite the polls. It's almost to the point that I wonder if they trying to find out where the breaking point is? So many of their policies have angered the world, not to mention the American public. They've flouted international and domestic law for years, and despite blatant and rampant corruption they managed to secure congressional approval for $700 billion in additional money to Wall Street on top of already obscene bonuses. I wonder if they are curious just how far they can push before an actual, literal revolution happens?

Not voting sends a signal, just the same as voting does. It sends a signal that you are aware of all the shenanigans and will not give the fraudsters the authority, the legitimacy that they crave. If nobody voted, they would be forced to change things, I can only assume. Is it possible that voting third-party sends a similar signal? At least, in my mind, some of the third-party candidates are at least talking about bigger issues than "socialism" vs. Joe the Plumber.

Excerpt of an interview with James Cromwell

James Cromwell is playing Bush Sr., in W, the new movie from Oliver Stone. The movie is not the interesting part, this interview with James Cromwell is. (emphasis mine)

Ryan Stewart:
You've been politically active for quite a long time -- does the moment we're at right now parallel anything you've seen in the past?
James Cromwell:
Well, for those people who went through 1931, it would be incredibly reminiscent. I don't know of that, but I think this is unprecedented in its condemnation of...I don't know what to call's not capitalism. When you say 'capitalism' to Americans they think 'My god, that's small businesses, that's working folk!' and I don't mean that at all. I mean that large, predatory, multinational capitalism and the markets it supposedly regulates -- or doesn't -- is now defunct.

A new system will have to be developed. Will we have the will? Has this ever happened? On the radio they were talking about Lincoln in the midst of the Civil War; the dilemma for Lincoln was profound, so much so that it made the topic of slavery secondary in his mind to maintaining the union. The union was at stake. I believe the survival of this country is definitely at stake, and not only with the economic crisis.

The pursuit of American empire -- the plan laid out by Cheney for American bases from the Tigris to the Euphrates because we basically have no friends and in order to maintain our supremacy we need to control the energy resources in that area of the world -- is a collision course with the rest of the world, which we'll ultimately lose. It'll either destroy us or the entire planet. It also takes away from the multitude of issues also involving the survivability of the planet, which we should be facing with every resource at our command. How do we shift this lifestyle of consuming the world's resources and spitting them out into the atmosphere as pollutants? We're watching the biosphere die in front of us.

So maybe not the best time for the media to be focusing on things like the Weather Underground, in your opinion?

Of course it's not the time. Listen, I understand they're gonna run that out. If you wanna talk about things I condemned the elder Bush for, that campaign against Dukakis and the use of Willie Horton and the tank ad are two prime examples of Atwater-Rove manipulation of media that we are now experiencing again. I understand that McCain's ads are now 100 percent negative, but that's only a minor thing that involves one candidate. The fact that Obama can stand up there and answer questions that have been screened in a debate forum controlled by both parties and under a contract that they will not release to the press, and that they will not include Cynthia McKinney and Ralph Nader...the issues have nothing to do with goddamn terrorists –– they have to do with the terrorists who run our country. They are not allowed to ask or answer those questions appropriately in this forum. That is the crisis of this country. Not only do we know that the last two elections were basically stolen, we're watching them being stolen again right from under our noses! No one says fuck all about it!

I don't know, there's a pretty healthy alternative media in this country for those who want it.

I totally agree. Bless our hearts, that is quite true, but when I say that no one says fuck all about it, the mainstream media that reaches the majority of the people.... as almost anybody who tends to agree with us says, they're asleep, they're shopping, they're numb, they're distracted, they're lazy, they're stupid, they're unwilling, they're uninformed. Those people don't know what we know. Those people don't hear the truth. Only those people are gonna make a difference. We have to move them to action!

Does the presumptive Obama victory in a few weeks give you any hope?

I have hope. The conditions are so bad from this administration that, much like the country that Roosevelt inherited, I hope that Obama is a big enough man to respond to the needs of ordinary American people, and that ordinary Americans learn that it is not our leaders who lead us. All substantive change in this country has come from the people, not the leaders. The leaders don't lead -- they follow.

Now, the question is will we abdicate the way we've abdicated for the last eight years and probably the last forty years? Will we abdicate to the money forces, the Wall Street forces, the multinationals and the military-industrial complex? Or will we finally say, "This is it!? This is our country. We are taking it back. We believe in habeas corpus. We hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. Among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to maintain these rights, governments are instituted among men, who derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. That when these powers threaten these rights it is the duty and it is the obligation of the people to throw off this government."

I believe that. That's what this country is founded on and that is what we have to rediscover. Barack Obama? As the Black Panthers used to say, you're either part of the solution or you're part of the problem. He has the choice. If he wants to be part of the solution, he has to listen to more rational voices. He has to listen to more progressive voices. He has to listen to his heart. He has to listen to his wife. He has to listen to his children and all of our children and do the right thing. That's the key, he has to do the right thing.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Life as a Cog

Life as a Cog

by Mike Jaynes / August 30th, 2008

The disturbing feeling of Cog-ness is slowly creeping into our nation’s educated citizens. By educated, I do not mean those of us with various alphabet soups behind our gentrified names, but those who have begun to realize this American Dream isn’t what we signed up for. And by Cog-ness, I mean the Machine. Much has been written on our quaint and overly mechanized materialistic system and its class slavery, but there is even more ground to cover. The wheel of the world keeps spinning around its eight-to-six slave driving and passionless axis while the outer rim of the super wealthy continues to be supported by the spokes of hard working American types who never take a day off unless they have to and believe in words like Freedom and Justice while possessing neither. And the wheel of America, in its ever accelerating downward roll, continues to squash any country and every culture that happens to wander into its path. For confirmation, examine the tread marks on flattened Iraq, Sudan, and the like. Or google “factory farming” and look at our wonderful factory farmed meat industry. Real warm and fluffy. Hopeful, you know.

We’ve been told that if we work hard, stay honest, do our best, and floss every day we will have good lives. We’ve been told not to complain, believe in God, and keep our heads down; keep a low profile. We’ve heard this our whole lives. The problem, and what inspires considerable stress related gastrointestinal cramps in The Man, is that the inherited sociocultural beliefs of past generations won’t do anymore. They are no longer relevant. Across the country, people are beginning to pay attention and complain with the best of them. But stay in line, we are told. Corporations weed out possible rebels and free spirits with standardized personality and drug testing and the university realm of academia scoffs at any would be teachers lacking multiple graduate degrees on their resumes. As if jumping through various systematic hoops of academic accomplishment proves one dynamic enough, creative enough, and worthy to educate the up and coming troublemakers of tomorrow. The low wage workers, as researchers such as Barbara Ehrenreich tell us, are told to value hard work and not complain and continue to pull the hard unforgiving yoke on the ground floor of the machinery.

And then there is God. Or rather, the popular Americanized version. The drifting vagrant Christ who said Love each other and Do the Right Thing before adorning some knotty pine seems not to be present. America holds God up as a threat to these low wage worker slaves showing them: See? Jesus had it way worse than you, and he didn’t complain. And often the low wage view is skewed as well. Here in East Tennessee, on UT football nights, God is undoubtedly inundated with countless southern inflected twangy voices begging for the Vols to make those two last yards for the first down. This is distressing, and it seems best if we just left the whole subject out of the quest for personal freedom. Often my students are confused, and we examine beliefs on God much like Serge A. Storms’ in Triggerfish Twist: “I’m not saying God doesn’t exist. I believe in God. But he’s not a micromanager, so stop asking Him to drop the crisis in Rwanda and help you find your wallet.”

However, in my experience as a university lecturer in English and the Humanities and an animal advocate, plenty of students are catching on. They are getting the vague and uneasy feeling that overly reductionist religious systems and outdated social codes are selling a comfy cell block box with all the trimmings in which to live, in which to stay in line. Our jailers are masters of deception, and they use chains with such subtle disguising craftsmanship Hephaestus himself would be proud of them. In our comfy ornate boxes, the jailers give us pretty shackles to wear. Not only do we wear them, but we must go out and purchase them and pay for them with our hard earned money (nah, just charge it). Akin to docking a prisoner for his meals, we pull on the woolly snug chains of comfort in complete ignorance. Ipods, absurdly large and flat television screens on which we watch absurdly large and fake heroes. More clothes than anyone could wear, Hummers, overly aggressive predatory student loans, and more. Oh yes, don’t forget the wholesale slaughter of countless animals who think, live, and acutely feel pain. Sure, I realize many feel these purchases are their right. They earned the money or have the credit, so who am I to say these excesses are wrong? Who says we can’t eat animals? I do. The minute you find yourself plopping down huge percentages of your monthly income for unneeded things, you are wrong. I’ve been there as well, so save your righteous indignation. If you have not examined the reasons behind your desire for things, you need to rethink, or perhaps simply think. And that is why my writing and classes often inspire controversy…I feel no reason to subscribe to a hypocritical system of political correctness in which I do not believe. So I feel I am someone who is right and not hesitant to admit it. It is not ego; it is simply truth.

Ah yes, it is a part of my dilettante palm-tree-methodology and life path to live and let live, so don’t expect me to come fire bomb any Hummer dealerships. Been there, done that, so to speak. If you want to eat the cooked flesh of a tortured animal, that is your choice; it is our choice to live as we chose. That, in fact, is one of the only true values America has to offer us. Therefore, hateful small minded responses do not anger me. Rather, I am quite entertained by them because there always is the possibility that my paradigm could be flawed in some way unbeknown to me. You know, I could be wrong. But, materialism, class division, animal slavery, overly reductionist religious institutions, and ignorance are the problems in this society as I see them and unlike so many millions who have came and gone before me quite unnoticed, I don’t have a big interest in faking sincerity and keeping my head down.

Predatory credit card companies, criminal mortgage lenders, slaughterhouses and factory farms, absurd student loan companies, and well spoken politicians who truly do not care about the plight of commoners are all too vocal and powerful and committed to exploiting the lower classes for outrageous financial gain. So why should people who realize the version of Freedom we have been sold has come at the cost of soulless conformity remain politically correct and silent? Why should the cogs keep evenly greased and silently turning? The squeaks of social unrest, class consciousness, and animal/civil rights are quickly greased by cheap government bureaucrats with six part plans efficiently going nowhere. The truth is the poor are simply minor speed bumps on the road to upper class elitism, a minor annoyance with no real teeth, nothing to damage the SUVs of the Very Well Adjusted and Upwardly Mobile. So go ahead, crush them as you ladder climb because it’s completely your right to do so. Go ahead and destroy them and their hopes, you won’t hardly even think about it; it won’t trouble you at all.

Being a system in which one can rise above one’s situation, achieve a higher level of socioeconomic successs, and then haughtily look down on members of one’s previous socioeconomic class, America may not be as Great as they once told us. The present wealth oriented America system depends on the ignorance and placidity of us cogs to stay silent and take what they can give us. Then, after an adult lifetime of crushing labor, we can get a company watch and know that we never started any trouble and kept to ourselves. Perhaps the tombstones of the current American low wage workforce could have a single inscription above a collective mass grave: Good American. Worked Hard. Never Caused Trouble. Socially Accepted. Historically Irrelevant. Not that their one track activism is always the correct approach, but as those mysterious maskers at A.L.F. and E.L.F. would no doubt tell us, there is talking and there is doing. Until the majority of Americans realize our superimposed socioeconomic slavery and decide to raise complete and holy hell, this article — and all others like it — is the worthless talk of self-important academics. Thanks for reading. I’ll be around.

Letter to the editor: Why vote?

Recently, my local letters the editor column has been awash in letters urging people to do their
"patriotic duty" by voting. Even leaving aside issues of fraud, there are so many reasons to consider not voting. I originally started thinking about it in terms of game theory, but have since changed to more practical, easily apparent reasons to avoid voting. Or if not to avoid it altogether, at least vote for a third party that you feel best represents a shot at real change. In fact, I'm slowly coming around to the perspective that voting for third parties can send the same type of message to Washington that one would be sending by not voting, while also helping to "do" something to help that change come about. Anyway, here's my letter to the editor, then read on after that for more diverse perspectives on voting and change.

There has been some discussion in The Public Pulse lately as to whether one ought to vote or not. Democracy, in any meaningful sense, is a system that allows people to have a say in decisions to the degree that they are affected. Do we have that? The Bush administration has approval ratings stuck around 25%, while Congress struggles to keep their approval ratings in the double-digits. So it can hardly be said that the government has the support of the people.
Reporters without borders recently ranked the USA 36th out of 173 countries in it's annual Press Freedom Index. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, of its member states only Turkey and Mexico have higher levels of income inequality than the USA. The United States has troops stationed in 136 countries around the world. We now have secret prisons, where we hold prisoners indefinitely without formal charges or access to representation. The world knows that we torture prisoners, despite the Geneva Convention. Our students have some of the worst educational scores in the developed world. Allegations of voter fraud and rigged voting machines have plagued elections in America since the 2000, and international election monitors had to be brought in to monitor the 2004 presidential election to ensure fairness. The United States has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. We only have 5% of the world's population, but 25% of the world's prisoners are in American prisons. The machinery of international capitalism is falling down around our ears and the major candidates are quibbling about tax policy on the richest 1% of Americans. I've heard more about lipstick, pigs, pit-bulls, and plumbers than I have about any of the issues that really matter.
Despite all assertions from hard-core partisans, there are no meaningful differences between the two parties. There is no way for citizens to influence the policies that affect them most. If you doubt this, consider the recent vote on the banking bailout. Despite the clear opposition of the majority of Americans communicated through hundreds of calls and emails to their "representatives", politicians from both parties scrambled to enact it anyway. Since it's been enacted, news of unbelievable corruption and greed have come from many of these financial institutions, including AIG and Lehman Brothers. It is clear that without access to millions of dollars and lobbying firms, the average American doesn't have any representation in the halls of Congress or the White House.
So for all of these reasons and more, a case could be made that by refusing to vote, one is withholding consent and taking a moral stand against the immoral actions of our "leaders". If you feel that you must vote, I certainly understand the urge to use one of the few constitutional rights you have left. But please don't harbor any illusions that a vote for either of the major parties will change anything that really matters.

How should you vote?

With the U.S. presidential election fast approaching, Americans are settling on their decision for who would best take their country in the right direction and serve their interests. Most view the political system with cynicism. Most see the two dominant political parties, Democratic and Republican, as serving the interests of corporations and the financial elite but not their own. Many feel disenfranchised. Many feel that to participate in a system that merely perpetuates the status quo without offering any hope for real change is to grant it legitimacy when it deserves none. And if past trends are any indication, most won’t vote.

Among those who will cast their ballot, most, even those who will vote along party lines, view both Barack Obama and John McCain with skepticism. They are both seen negatively, both representing the established order. But one or the other of them is viewed as the lesser evil. To keep the greater evil out of power, a vote for the lesser one becomes necessary.

This remains true even when there are alternatives to the Democratic and Republican candidates, and even when the alternative candidates are seen far more as representing American interests and far less as being corrupted. A great many voters will vote for who they see as a lesser evil rather than who they see as actually being a good candidate because they so greatly fear the possibility of the greater evil gaining power.

This voting strategy is deeply ingrained. During the 2000 election, Ralph Nader was an extraordinarily popular candidate, particularly among the left. He was seen as far more worthy than the Democratic candidate Al Gore. And yet many liberals who shared that view chastised their fellow leftists for casting their vote for Nader, particularly when it came down to the Florida election.

The reasoning is straightforward: voting for Nader meant not voting for Gore, which meant George W. Bush, the Republican candidate, had a better chance of winning. Voting for Nader helped ensure a Bush win, the argument goes, because liberals might swing their vote away from Gore, but conservatives were less likely to do so. Nader didn’t have nearly as good a chance as winning as Gore, and so the strategic goal of keeping Bush from power meant voting for Gore even if Nader was the better candidate.

While this appears to be a perfectly logical argument and pragmatic voting strategy, it is rooted upon a number of fallacies. First and foremost is the deeply ingrained belief that alternative candidates don’t have a chance of winning, and so to vote for one would mean “wasting” your vote.

This year, the most extraordinary candidate was, hands down, Ron Paul. He was extremely popular, and remains so after having withdrawn his candidacy. He made waves in America, and, despite being old enough to be their grandfather, spoke to a whole new generation of voters that are disillusioned with business as usual in Washington. His position on the issues make sense and Americans recognized that he represented real change. The fact that he was even in the running gave hope to many that the U.S. political system might actually be able to function as the founding fathers intended, that a restoration of the American Republic based upon the U.S. Constitution as the supreme law of the land might be possible.

Still, one could turn on the TV and watch news reports where people on the street are interviewed about their preference of candidates and see people saying things like “I really like Ron Paul. I think he’s the best candidate. I like his position on the issues, and he makes sense. But he doesn’t have much chance of winning, so I’m probably going to vote for Barack Obama.”

Therein lies another fallacy. People don’t vote for who they actually like for the presidency based upon their opinion of whether or not they think it is likely that they will win. The “we have to ensure the greater evil doesn’t gain power” mindset wins out over “we have to ensure the best candidate wins”. But, of course, strict adherence to this electoral strategy can only result in the self-perpetuation of the same political process they are so disillusioned with in the first place.

The truth is that the only reason a candidate like Ron Paul is “unlikely” to win an election is because people won’t vote for him. And they won’t vote for him because they think he’s unlikely to win, which of course results in the self-fulfillment of that reality.

The American people need to recognize that an alternate reality exists, and that the way to bring it about requires merely a shift in paradigm. American voters should shift their electoral strategy from seeking to put the lesser of evils into power to seeking to elect the force for the greatest good.

There are, of course, those who already adhere to this alternative framework. If there were a few more among their numbers, alternative candidates like Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich, and Ralph Nader would gain more votes. They might still lose. But does voting for a losing candidate mean one’s vote has been wasted? How much more wasted is a vote that goes towards the lesser evil? You’ve still voted for the perpetuation of evil.

Far more worthy alternative candidates might still lose, but it wouldn’t mean votes were wasted. The increased percentage of the votes that went towards them would send a powerful message to Washington. It would encourage more people in the next election to do the same and vote their conscience, rather than adhering to a voting strategy that virtually guarantees nothing will ever substantially change.

Eventually, the number of votes being cast towards alternative candidates would be enough that the message from the American public could no longer be ignored. Even if still resulting in a loss for the worthiest candidate it would remain a win for the American public, because whichever evil from whichever party did win the election would be under far greater pressure to implement real reform.

And for Americans who don’t believe their voice is heard in Washington or that public pressure has any effect, a simple refresher course in history could remind them that advancements in society are not made at the behest of government or the ruling class, but only by pressure from the masses reaching a tipping point. Politicians don’t go out on a limb to promote radical change on their own accord. They have to be pushed out there under massive public pressure and under the fear that one’s constituency might very well vote one out of power if one doesn’t do precisely what they are publicly demanding.

One of the most effective means by which the American people could send a message to Washington would be by voting. There’s every reason to be cynical of the political system in the U.S. But there’s no reason for despair. There is hope. And there are individuals working within the system representing real hope and real change. More Americans need to take the time to stay informed and get engaged in the political process. And of those Americans who do vote each election, more need to recognize that the “lesser of evil” strategy only perpetuates the framework wherein it remains a choice between evils.

The only real voting strategy that can offer real hope for change is the one wherein Americans vote their conscience and cast their ballot for the candidate they think is truly the most worthy to be called by the title of President of the United States of America.

Until Americans realize this then there will indeed remain little hope for the future.

Taking Politics Seriously: Looking Beyond the Election and Beyond Elections

by Robert Jensen and Pat Youngblood

We have nothing against voting. We plan to vote in the upcoming election. Some of our best friends are voters.

But we also believe that we shouldn't make the mistake of thinking that the most important political moment in our lives comes in the voting booth. Instead, people should take politics seriously, which means asking considerably more of ourselves than the typical fixation with electoral politics.

First, we won't be coy about this election. Each of us voted for Obama in the Texas primary and will vote for him in November. We are leftists who are consistently disgusted by the center-right political positions of the leadership of the Democratic Party, and we have no illusions that Obama is secretly more progressive than his statements in public and choice of advisers indicate. But there is slightly more than a dime's worth of policy differences between Obama and McCain, and those differences are important in this election. The reckless quality of the McCain campaign and its policy proposals are scary, as is the cult of ignorance that has grown up around Palin.

Just as important, the people of this white-supremacist nation have a chance to vote for an African-American candidate. Four decades after the end of formal apartheid in the United States, in the context of ongoing overt and covert racism that is normalized in many sectors of society, there's a possibility that a black person might be elected president. Even though Obama doesn't claim the radical roots of the anti-apartheid struggles of recent U.S. history, the symbolic value of this election is not a trivial consideration. This isn't tokenism, but a sign of real progress, albeit limited.

But even though we make that argument, we will vote knowing that the outcome of the election is not all that important, for a simple reason: The multiple crises facing this country, and the world, cannot be adequately addressed within the conventional political, economic, or social systems. This is reflected in the fact that neither candidate is even acknowledging the crises. The conventional political wisdom -- Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative -- is deeply rooted in the denial of the severity of these crises and hostility to acknowledging the need for radical change. Such a politics of delusion won't generate solutions but instead will lead us to the end of the road, the edge of the cliff, the brick wall -- pick your preferred metaphor, but when the chickens of denial come home to roost, it's never pretty.

These crises are not difficult to identify; the evidence is all around us.

Economics: We aren't facing a temporary downturn caused by this particular burst bubble but instead are moving into a new phase in the permanent decline of a system that has never met the human needs of most people and never will. It is long past the time to recognize the urgent need to start imagining and building an economics based on production and distribution for real human needs, rejecting the corrosive greed that underlies not only the obscene profits hoarded by the few but also the orgiastic consumption pursued by the many. We can't know whether McCain or Obama recognizes these things, but it's clear that both candidates -- along with their parties and the interests they represent -- are not interested in facing these realities.

Empire: The way in which First-World nations have pursued global empires over the past 500 years to grab for themselves a disproportionate share of the world's wealth has never been morally justifiable. The recent phase of U.S. domination in that project is particularly offensive, given U.S. political leaders' cynical rhetoric about democracy. But whatever one's evaluation of the ideology behind the U.S. attempt to run the world through violence and coercion, the project is falling apart. The invasions and occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq are not just moral failures but pragmatic disasters. While McCain and Obama have slightly different strategies for dealing with these disasters, neither is willing to face the depravity of the imperial endeavor and neither argues for abandoning the imperial project.

Ecology: It's no longer helpful to speak about "environmental issues," as if we face discrete problems that have clear solutions. Without major changes to the way humans live, we face the collapse of the ecosystem's ability to sustain human life as we know it. Every basic indicator of the health of the ecosystem is cause for concern -- inadequate and dwindling supplies of clean water, chemical contamination in every part of the life cycle, continuing topsoil loss, toxic waste build-up, species loss and reduced biodiversity, and climate change. Unless one adopts an irrational technological fundamentalism -- the faith-based assumption that new gadgets will magically rescue us -- this means we have to downsize and scale back our lives dramatically, learning to live with less. Yet conventional politicians continue to promise to deliver a lifestyle that constitutes a form of collective planetary suicide.

So, we live in a predatory corporate capitalist economy in a world structured by the profound injustice produced by an imperial system that is steadily drawing down the ecological capital of the planet. The domination/subordination dynamic at the heart of this world is rooted in the ideologies of male domination and white domination. This belief in the inevitability of hierarchy grows out of thousands of years of patriarchy, reinforced by hundreds of years of white supremacy. Any meaningful progressive politics also must address not just the worst behaviors that come out of these systems -- the overt sexism and racism that continue to plague society -- but also the underlying worldview that normalizes inequality. Yes, Obama is black, and McCain selected a female running mate, but neither candidate ever speaks of patriarchy and white supremacy.

There are two common responses to the analysis offered here. The first is to condemn it as crazy, which is the response of the majority of Americans. The second, from people who don't find such claims crazy and share the basic analysis, is that we have to be realistic and tone down our arguments, precisely because most Americans won't take seriously anyone who speaks so radically.

But if being realistic has something to do with facing reality, then arguments for radical change are the most realistic. When problems are the predictable consequence of existing systems and no solutions are plausible within them, then arguing for continued capitulation to those systems isn't realistic. It's literally insane.

We live in a country that is, in fact, growing increasingly insane. Fashioning a strategy for political organizing in such a country, and shaping rhetoric to advance that organizing, is indeed difficult. But it must start with a realistic description of the problems we face, a realistic evaluation of the nature of the systems that gave rise to those problems, and a realistic assessment of the degree of change necessary to imagine solutions.

Taking politics seriously in the United States today means recognizing the limits of electoral politics. Voting matters, but it's not the most important act in our political lives. Traditional grassroots political organizing to advance progressive policies on issues is more important. And even more crucial today is the long-term project of preparing for the dramatically different world that is on the horizon -- a world in which an already unconscionable inequality will have expanded; a world with less energy to deal with the ecological collapse; a world in which existing institutions likely will prove useless in helping us restructure our lives; a world in which we will need to reclaim and develop basic skills for sustaining ourselves and our communities.

These challenges are daunting but also exciting, presenting us with tasks for which the energy and creativity of every one of us will be needed. Can we find a way to talk about that excitement which could encourage others to explore these ideas? Can we develop projects to put those ideas into action, even if only on a small scale? When we have tried to articulate this worldview in plain language in recent political lectures and discussions, we have found that a growing number of people not only will listen but are hungry for such honesty.

We don't pretend that number is large right now -- certainly not a majority, and not anywhere near the number needed for a mass movement -- but one wouldn't expect that in this affluent society in which many people are still insulated from the worst consequences of these systems. But that's changing. As more and more people, from many sectors of society, face these realities, they join the search for a community in which to confront this together. Our political work should focus on connecting with people on common ground, articulating a realistically radical analysis, and working from there to construct a just and sustainable society.

So, we will vote on Nov. 4, without hesitation. But more importantly, on Nov. 5 we will be realistic and continue talking about the radical change necessary to build a different world.

Planet Atheism

Planet Atheism - aggregating blogs by non-believers and freethinkers