Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Social Security and The Bailout

I hope the current Wall Street flap has put paid to the financial weasels' suggestion that we privatize Social Security. Aw, they so wanted to be of help managing our retirements. For a fee, of course.

Sure, it's a good idea to save regularly for emergencies and retirement.

But if you've been too busy living from paycheck to paycheck to build up a private retirement stash you’ll be glad for your socialized retirement plan and your socialized medical program.

In your "golden years" Social Security and Medicare are your only safety net.

Monday, September 29, 2008

House Rejects Bailout

What we're seeing is the capitalist system slowly devolving as a result of its internal contradictions. It begins to seem that a debt-based capitalism, one that only survives by borrowing money, is like the one-industry town where everyone lives by doing the other guy's laundry.

Doesn't it seem that if there is something wrong with our debt-ridden financial system it is simply a mistake to prop it up by more borrowing from ourselves and foreign governments? We are becoming our own loan sharks. What happens when we can no longer pay ourselves the vig? I suppose we break our own kneecaps.

Let's postpone the "bailout" for ninety days. There's plenty of money in the system. The problem is that the financial industry is sitting on it hoping that the government will print more so it doesn’t have to risk its own.

NY Times Story

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Tucson Notes

Looking Back

Happy Birthday to Me!

I understand it's a matter of profound indifference to most of you who stumble on The Data Port in Lefty Blogs, but I’m 79 years old today. There is no particular virtue in being old; no wisdom bestowed by age that recommends what is written here. Still, the memory of those years does much to inform what I believe and write about. Getting clear about all that is what these occasional Looking Back pieces will be about as I sweep into my Eightieth year.

I have lived, in accord with an old Chinese curse, in interesting times. I actually remember events that many (or perhaps most?) of the inhabitants of this small slice of the blogosphere know only as 'history.'

My life is bracketed by two great financial collapses: the stock market crash of 1929, and our current financial system disaster. I was only a month old on Black Monday, October 28. The next day, Black Tuesday, a record 16.4 million shares were traded and at one point the ticker tape fell two and a half hours behind. While I was asleep in my crib the Great Depression had begun.

I had meant to comment about the information meeting on possible annexation by Tucson of a parcel of land north of River Road. Other stuff came up. I think the city officials knew that dog wasn’t going to hunt, but they had to respond to a request made by a resident in the area.

Foothills people fear over-building, which they believe city zoning will make inevitable. Ironically, as soon as the CC&Rs on granddad's three and a half acres expire the folks up here tend to break the property into smaller parcels and build houses.

Downtown Saturday Night

I went. I’ll probably go again. It seemed thin.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

While Tucson Watched the Debate

I went to the Rogue Theatre's wonderful production of Luigi Pirandello's "Six Characters in Search of an Author."

Six Characters is a play that most actors have heard of and some Lit Majors have actually read, but no one has had an opportunity either to act in or to see performed. It is precisely the sort of play that the Rogue Theatre has made one of their priorities to present.

Six Characters is a thinker's play, the sort of theatre that invites a post performance bottle of wine (or in my case two martinis) and a long discussion with friends about (among other things) the nature of theatrical reality.

When you enter the Zuzi Theatre a group of local actors are lounging on stage waiting for their director to arrive and begin the rehearsal. Soon a family of mysterious Characters arrive and ask the actors to tell their story.

You’ll soon realize that Six Characters is more than a 'think' piece; you’ll be riveted by the dreadful things that are going to be revealed about these characters.

The show is crisply paced (not always the case with Rogue productions) thanks to the marvelous direction of David Morden and a fresh translation/adaptation by U of A professor Patrick Baliani. I was specially tickled by sly insider references to past Rogue shows, a gentle dig at ATC’s hiring practices, and a couple of references to traditional Rogue rehearsal practices that only a former Rogue performer (as I am) would catch.

Finally, let us praise whatever gods or benefactors are responsible for the new seats in the Zuzi Theatre.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Republican Bailout Plan

Shrink the economy until it's small enough to drown in the bathtub.

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime

Here's a great quote from a Huffington Post story on the bailout debacle.

"Bush is no diplomat," said a Democratic staffer, "but he's Cardinal freaking Richelieu compared to McCain. McCain couldn't negotiate an agreement on dinner among a family of four without making a big drama with himself at the heroic center of it. And then they'd all just leave to make themselves a sandwich."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Tucson Downtown Saturday Night

These Downtown Saturday night events used to be a regular feature of Tucson nightlife. I'm not sure why they were discontinued. Maybe they were too threatening to the suits; all those freaks, ya know.

This see
ms like a tailor-made opportunity for some spontaneous street theater protesting whatever you have to protest. I'll be there; maybe with a sign. With or without signs this is a good chance to mix with your neighbors.

Here’s t
he announcement from the Downtown Tucson Organization.

Saturday, September 27
6:00pm. FREE

Join us Downtown for an evening of free arts and entertainment. Take a stroll down Congress Street and experience live music, DJs, street performers, vendors, multi-media visuals, gallery openings and more. It’s all happening Downtown, Saturday Night, September 27.

Flam Chen

Fire and stilts spectacular!
Don't miss Flam Chen’s Downtown Saturday Night special performance of "Critical Stilts" at 9:30pm.

Live Music

Downtown Saturday Night live music at various locations along Congress Street:

6:00-7:00pm - Tender Strings
6.30-7.30pm - Low Ones
7:00-8:00pm - Carlos Solorzano
7:00-9:00pm - Stefen George
7.30-9.30pm - Beatnik Dream Vacation
8:00-9:00pm - Leila Lopez
9:00-10:00pm - Cassette Culture

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Hey, Congress-- Stay on the Job!

It looks like Congress is going to be panicked and rushed to action on the bailout. There seems to be an indecent desire to adjourn on Friday so it can get back on the campaign trail.

Frankly, my dears, some of us won't give a damn about your re-election if you screw this up.

There is an interesting short comment to today's NY Times column by David Brooks:

"After being told we were doomed unless we handed over absolute authority to the President to wage war on Iraq, now we are told we are doomed unless we hand over unprecedented power to the Treasury Secretary. Don't be fooled again.

I have another term for the merger of government and corporations - it was done once before when people were told to ignore checks and balances and just to trust their leader, and it was called National Socialism."

— Scottsdale Jack, Scottsdale, AZ

Scottsdale Jack nails it!

Post Script: Write your Representative. I did.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Pssst...Hey, Buddy,You Wanna Buy some Derivatives?

Our masters in Congress are running around in ever tightening circles, bewildered by the disaster brought on by a Republican philosophy of non-regulation on the one hand, and Democratic inaction on the other.

Well, never you mind. After 48 hours of the deepest thought Washington’s financial wizards have done an end run around Congress and come up with a plan to solve the last financial crisis…a version of the Resolution Trust Corporation.

Hang on to your hats, gang, this ain’t your father’s RTC. Back in the day the RTC simply took over the properties of the failed Savings and Loan banks. That stuff had real value… land and buildings. This time around the suggestion is that we save Wall Street by actually buying all the phony paper it holds. (Bargain price half a trillion rapidly depreciating dollars.)

Two problems: No one knows exactly what that paper is worth, and there seems to be no notion of what to do with it once we own it.

Maybe we could use it to paper the National Outhouse.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Wall Street Cooks the Books

Where were the “quants” when we needed them? The “quants” were the quantitative analysts: economists and computer techies, whose job it was to warn a banking firm's traders of risk. They were there, but they were systematically undermined by bankers with deals too rich to ignore.

In an article on the technology pages of the New York Times for September 18th Saul Hansell writes:

They (the “quants”) were developing systems that would comb through all the firm’s positions, analyze everything that might go wrong and estimate how much it might lose.

As a mater of fact the computer models did a pretty good job of alerting financial institutions to risk. The bankers were now in a tough position.

Top bankers couldn’t simply ignore the computer models, because after the last round of big financial losses, regulators now require them to monitor their risk positions. Indeed, if the firm’s models say a firm’s risk has increased, the firm must either reduce its bets or set aside more capital as a cushion in case things go wrong.

According to Gregg Bermann, co-head of Risk Metrics, a risk management software company quoted in the NY Times article:

There was a willful designing of the systems to measure risks in a certain way that would not necessarily pick up all the risks. They wanted to keep their capital base as stable as possible so that the limits they imposed on their trading desks would be stable.

As Hansell says,

Lying to your risk-management computer is like lying to your Doctor. You just aren’t going to get the help you really need.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Well, not a glass steagall, more like a paper steagall. As a matter of fact no steagall at all. Oh-my-God! I just love it. I wish I were sorry to be thinking, “I told you so,” but I can’t help myself.

In case you don’t know about Glass Steagall let me remind you:

The Glass-Steagall Act is the Depression-era law that separated commercial and investment banking. It was functionally repealed in 1998, when Travelers (the parent company of Salomon Smith Barney) acquired Citicorp. And it was officially repealed in 1999. But recent events on Wall Street-the failure or sale of three of the five largest independent investment banks-have effectively turned back the clock to the 1920s, when investment banks and commercial banks cohabited under the same corporate umbrella.
--Daniel Gross, Newsweek

“Trust us,” said the members of he financial ruling class, “we’re too smart to get into trouble, too responsible to need regulation.” Yeah, sure. As always in a class war it’s the little guys who get screwed.

One bright note: It may cost us 85 billion, but at least we have a socialized insurance company to show for it. That’s a good first step.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Twilight of the American Empire

If anything can be said to characterize this period in the history of the American Empire it is the faint sweet smell of decay, the aroma of something barely nosed out behind the curtains of our public and private lives. It is the way an Empire in decline begins to smell.

As a people we have become spiritually feverish and anxious, only dimly aware (if at all) that we are sick yet, somehow, responding to that half-sensed odor by questing after distraction and emotional excitation. Thus we hide ourselves from the truth.

Americans have never been a particularly introspective people; our thought has always been directed outward, toward the world. We have been engineers, pragmatists. At least by the myths we employ to understand ourselves and others it is the French to whom we attribute the inward turning of thought: Think Descartes.

When I look about today I can’t help but think of Rome: Bread…circuses… and Caesar’s royal circlet sold to the highest bidder; political destinies sold to the corn merchants.

Some weeks a go a friend looked up from his coffee and after a pause in our conversation said, “There is no honor any more.” Then just a few nights ago someone turned to me and asked, “Don’t we care about facts anymore?”

If there is a public life without honor anything is thinkable; and in a public life in which facts are less important than emotions and attitudes, the thinkable becomes attainable.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Rodeo Clown

Progressive Blogospherians would be well served to remember the true function of Sarah Palin in this campaign. Only in part is she the Republicans’ attack dog…a pit bull in petticoats. Her major function is to be the Republicans’ Rodeo Clown. While we are busy chasing the clown we miss the opportunity to put a horn in our true enemies

Palin is not an important issue. She is what she is…so move on. (Correct her lies when and where necessary, but without mentioning her, her religious beliefs, or her mothering skills.) Neo-Conservative Republicanism is the issue and the continuing threat.

Warning: Mixed metaphor ahead!

The Progressive Blogosphere reminds me of a nest of scorpions surrounded by a ring of burning straw. They thrash around stinging themselves in a frustrated fury, but they are not attacking a real enemy and they are not breaking out.

We lefty bloggers have a tendency to preach to ourselves when we should be out in the streets. Or, if revolutionary action is not your cup of tea, at least have a coffee for some of your friends and neighbors and remind them of the ways in which neo-conservative Republicanism has been a catastrophe for America.

You’d be surprised how many of your neighbors do not realize the true dimensions of our nation’s disaster.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Precinct 56 Report

I got up early this morning to celebrate Primary Election Day by actually going to the polls. I have no sympathy with voting by mail. I believe in the secret ballot but I also believe that the act of voting should be public.

I like to walk up to my polling place, say hello to my fellow citizens, and “witness” my belief in the system by actually being there. Voting by mail is too much like renewing a magazine subscription by mail---it trivializes the act of voting; no one knows if you actually care.

I walked into the Orange Grove School gymnasium shortly after 7 o’clock.It was empty. Oh, there were voting booths and tables with bright eyed election workers—there just weren’t any voters. Everyone was being very careful slowly to dot every
‘i’ and cross every ‘t.’ This was a good dry run for November. It was probably needed.

I voted. I was the third person today.