Monday, March 30, 2009

The New Economy

When I was a child I never quite believed that tunnels had openings at the other end. It takes to this day a real act of faith to venture into tunnels that are long or go under water or are totally unfamiliar to me.

Watching yet another Sunday talk show on the economy yesterday it struck me that this dark recession is a tunnel and that the economists haven't a clue about where the end is or what the other side will look like.

They keep relying of phrases like "our economy will be stronger than before" or "we have some models of what has not worked" and "where FDR went wrong." But the one question they all tap dance around is what this new stronger economy will look like? One thing becomes increasingly clear is that it will not look like it did before.

The robber barons of the new century have proven that we cannot let them drive the train. The Republicans chant that to not let the capitalists drive is to have a socialistic country. Wake up we already do. When any government owns 90% of the leading economic factor (banks in this case - trains in England a while back) they are socialistic. We would like to pretend it is temporary. But if the G8 in the world are too big to fail then life support is called for.

We want to all to pretend that life support, be it in a hospital for a loved one or the economy for the country we live in, is temporary. But let us be honest here. If we are being constantly gouged by the utility companies wouldn't regulation be nice on pricing in the midst of winter. A cap? And if gasoline prices rise to the point that Exxon is making insane profits and nobody has the money to fill their tank to drive to work? Or the airlines have so totally cornered the transportation market that there are no light rails to fill in for routine commutes or freight when another 9/11 grounds all air traffic?

What seems to be different in the recession/depression is the population is not merely angry with the banks like AIG, but they are pissed at Parker Bros for lead based paint on toys they no longer make but only import. We don't want to go Vista whether Bill Gates says it is the best or not. We don't want to talk to someone in Pakistan about a technical problem. And we definitely distrust Exxon and any product produced in China. And food producers because of artificial protein and raised prices they will not lower. And what we think of credit cards cannot be gone into here.

Even if suddenly we had available credit and excess money in our budgets there is a question about whether we will even spend it. One of the reasons they have not given us one of those tax rebates to stimulate the economy. It is believed we would just save it.

So what will the new economy - the other end of the tunnel - look like. I think it is safe to say nothing like what we left behind when we went where no country or global economy has gone before.

Anyone have any thoughts on this?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Stop Your Whining

If the current business atmosphere were a Monopoly game (does seem like they thought it was as it was not their money) this is about the time my father would have charged into the room, told us to stop whining, and confiscated the game, "If you cannot play nicely with each other nobody plays."

Evidently President Obama did the adult diplomatic version of that in a White House conference with bankers. He told them to work together. I wonder if there was an "or else" attached. The United States can take the Monopoly game away in a number of ways from strict new regulations to nationalizing the banks. Whatever else the President said the bankers left the meeting voicing approval of his financial plans.

Course the banks are not the only whiners in this game gone horribly wrong while GW was calling the plays. There are the auto companies that refused to build greener cars and fueled our appetities for more and bigger. While of course the UAW (no favorite of mine after ten years working building auto plants) kept upping the Union contract requirements and priced the US out of the internation auto market. In this recent effort for the big three to make themselves economically viable the UAW have been some of the biggest whiners. Shut up you do have jobs. Currently. That could change.

The whiners I hate at the most are the Republicans and those Democrats currying favor with the voters in 2010. "You have an alternate plan?" my father would ask when we would whine about the length of the walk back or the difficulty of erecting the tent in a drenching rain. We hardly ever did. And I have noticed that none of the Republicans that blithely voted us into this mess have any alternate plans on getting us out. So shut up and row the same direction as the rest of those in the lifeboat and shut up unless you have something constructive to say or a good upbeat song to sing.

Michael Rowed the Boat Ashore might be nice. And those Fargo citizens working so tirelessly together to save their town from the rising flood waters of the Red River could embrace that theme.

So bankers, car manufacturers, UAW, Republicans, and naysayers take a tip from Fargo. When the water is about to top the levees it is time to work together with no whining.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Somebody to Blame

Remember this kid's game? They seem to have upgraded it from my days. No more dangerous pins. But if you watched the Sunday talk shows you will probably have noticed it has become an adult game.

The object of the game (especially if you are a Republican) is to find a Democrat to blame the whole economic mess on. This began under GW's watch and because of his deregulation and the first TARP funds were asked for by him, voted on my the Republicans that held both houses at the time, and doled out by Paulson with no strings.

All that said, it matters only whose fault it is to the extent we don't do whatever stupid thing they did again.

I was about to turn off my stream videos of economic panels when someone finally said something that made a great deal of sense: "Too big to fail. Ergo to big to be managed."

We got in this mess because GW said AIG was too big to fail. Too big to go the Chapter 11 bankruptcy route which would have negated all those contracts for huge bonuses. And why did AIG and the other mega banks like Citibank and Bank of America get too big to fail? Because the Republicans, wanting free trade, deregulated the industry and allowed them to gobble up lessor banks untill they became slugs unable to move and adjust quickly. Sort of financial Jabba the Huts from StarWars.

This is not capitalism or even free trade this is blackmail by legal mobs of CEO's. When three CEO's can meet on a corporate jet and decide on how they are going to rape customers we are talking financial mafia. Why else with deregulation would all credit card fees and rates and excesses be the same across the board?

And the banking industry is just where it has currently shown up. Here you really notice it in gasoline prices! No individual station can charge a lessor amount or their supply of gasoline gets cut off. Or how about electrical utilities. I live on a coop but we have to buy our electricity form Plains Electric. They and every other electricity producer doubled and tripled their rates in the middle of winter. Remember Enron? They even did rolling blackouts to convince buyers of their power they had to pay more and more and more.

Then there are current food prices. They raised prices because of gas prices in 2008. Well, gas is half that price now. Corn and other grains which were going into ethonal are way cheaper now, but have we seen a cut in prices? No! They retool and redesign packages to sell us less at more but simply lower prices or stop excess packaging? No!

The mob mentality developing around AIG bonuses is not going away because they are merely the tip of the iceberg. The American consumer has been treated like the Donkey's Ass for so long we can no longer sit down comfortably. This shit has got to stop.

PS: The blame game isn't working. You can spindoctor this all you want. We don't care who did it. Fix it.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Fear or Guilt or Greed

In Feudal England and Colonial American Tar and Feathering was a rather popular means of humiliation by the public. The Boston Commissioner of Customs John Malcolm was tar and feathered four weeks after the Boston Tea Party as one of the more famous examples.

It was also common to ride the person around town or out of town on a rail so the crowds could throw insults and I assume other objects. Today we seem to use the press for these acts of humiliation. But they are evidently still effective as an executive of AIG reported that several of their top employees quit and left town in fear for their lives.

Well, even in the American west if has been a long time since a lynch mob went further than the local bar. I have to wonder if this tale of loss is spin-doctoring to cover up those too greedy to give back their bonuses or heading for off-shore to hide their ill gotten gains from the new tax law being passed that would claim 90% back. If the report was made to gain the sympathy of the American people they have another think coming. I doubt we would retaliate but I do think if it is unwise to put AIG on your resume these days. So where would they work in the future?

they could go straight to the FBI investigating possible felonies committed by AIG and other banking firms responsible for this crisis and get in the witness protection program.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Rioting in the Streets

It is no fun when it is real. I remember the civil rights riots and those after the death of Martin Luther King. The last thing President Obama wants right now is to have to bring home the National Guard from Iraq early to quell riots in the streets. Fortunately he read the handwriting on the wall.

Obama Tells Geithner to Block A.I.G. Bonuses

President Obama has instructed the Treasury secretary to try to stop the faltering insurance giant American International Group from paying out hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses to executives, as the administration scrambled to
avert a populist backlash against banks and Wall Street that could complicate Mr. Obama's economic recovery agenda.

Complicate at the very least. If I was not angry enough at the bonuses the list of banks AIG gave bailout money to - mostly foreign banks - really got my dander up. And then Cheney has the gull to go on air and say the financial crisis was not caused by GW and his administration. Give me a break. They had it last. It was under their watch. They took off all the regulations and let the CEO's run rampant. And then they doled out our money in TARP funds with absolutely no strings attached.

Off with their heads!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

There has to be a special place in Hell

After posting earlier my blog about how the recession was effecting my life on just the little things I was shocked to get the following news alert from the New York Times:

A.I.G. to Pay $100 Million in Bonuses After Huge Bailout

Despite being bailed out with more than $170 billion from the Treasury and Federal Reserve, the American International Group is preparing to pay about $100 million in bonuses to executives in the same business unit that brought the company to the brink of collapse last year.

We, the citizens of the United States, gave these leaders in our economic destruction $170 billion of our hard earned tax dollars (when we still had money to be earned). And they are giving $100 million in bonuses to them? We are living on the bare minimum and thousands are in tent cities and foreclosure and they have the gull to accept huge sums of money?

I am reminded of the French Revolution and I say as they said: Off with their heads!

How Has the Recession Effected You?

CNN is asking viewers to post videos on how the recession is effecting them personally. I don't have a video camera but it got me thinking. Clearly I have not been able to afford to make home repairs. It has been months since I have been to Lowe's Home Improvement Center. They no doubt have missed me.

Actually just coming up the money for the heating bills has been a bit of a stretch. We seem to be at that point where incomes are going down but prices have not yet followed suit. In fact, the amount my rural co-op pays for electricity had a huge spike. Greed on the part of corporate executives? Surely not!

I certainly stay home more even if the house is a lot colder because I have really turned down the heat in an effort to be able to reduce utility bills. And evidently I am not the only one. People are eating out a lot less or ordering in like pizza.

I write a cooking column for a local newspaper and had decided before the news on Domino's bottom line it the news to focus more on good old home cooking and comfort food. Even I, a single person, dropped Ragu from my shopping list and made a huge pot of Mother's Spaghetti Sauce with Italian sausage. I froze some of it in the large cups of a muffin tin and then popped them out and into a freezer bag so I can just pull out a serving of sauce when I want pasta. Pasta is my comfort food of choice.

I also find that I am altering my schedule in my home to fit the temperature in various parts of the house. My studio hours for painting are between 10 and 2 because the sun streams through the studio windows and warms it up. I watch DVD's in the evening (cut off my satellite TV) from Netflix which is enjoying a boom in this economy. I can sit in my easy chair with Afgans over my lap and shawl around my shoulders and knit or crochet another warm object.

I go to bed when the sun goes down and snuggle up on propped pillows with "bed jacket" and read until I am sleepy. I wake up and put on hoodies and long johns and head to the coffee and the morning computer dose with lap blanket.

And I just don't dash off to the store because I need one or two items. I carefully make a list, consider the price, and the necessity before dropping by the store on a group of errands that finally must be run.

I feel somewhat guilty that I am not buying things and shoring up the economy but as an artist my income is down and there is not a lot of excess income to spread about beyond the necessities for me and my fur kids. My sister has just adopted a rescue dog. There are a lot of those these days. People that cannot afford to feed them are dumping them in rural areas hoping one of us pet lovers will pick them up. I have all I can care for as it is and know I would feed them before me if it came to that. Course I could use the reduced rations to look model thin. They already have great figures. Hopefully none of them gets sick because I don't know how I can afford the vet bills just now.

Oh, and I am probably blogging more and going out with earth friends for lunch far, far less.

What about you? What ways has the economy effected you?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Where is the bottom?

My father always seemed to have a quick comeback for any of my fears as a child. I remember in a fishing boat on a huge lake and asking how deep the water was. His reply was, "It doesn't matter once it is over your head."

I have been feeling a lot like that nervous kid in the small boat with the entire financial crisis, but the bottomline (or bottom) is way over my head. I am treading water in the small end of the pool. But today Warren Buffett who swims with the big guys says the economy fell off a cliff. And people are changing their buying habits like he did not anticipate. We are all in the shallow end treading water.

But Mr. Buffett remains calm. So did the band that played on the decks of the sinking Titanic. According to Buffett fear is dominating Americans' behavior and the economy has basically followed the worst-case scenario because of that fear. He didn't say it in this article I read but we don't need naysayers like Rush Limbaugh or even the congressional Republicans fighting against the direction that our President is rowing.

Buffett remains optimistic and says now is the time that the nation's leaders need to support President Obama's recovery plan, which I believe he had a hand in drafting. I learned today that my small community will get some of those first "shovel ready project" funds which will bring $25 million in infrastructure development to the area. Half of that will be labor costs which translates to jobs. And business for restaurants and landlords and shops.

I am still treading water but it is possible I see a dim light of a possible ship of rescue on the horizon. I don't want to hear that it is not going to come or that someone on national radio actually hopes it doesn't.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Tick Tock

A friend yesterday reminded me that today is the day we are all suppose to turn our clocks forward for daylight savings time. This saves nothing and just who are they kidding? In point of fact when GW Bush extended the period of DST it actually cost this country more money. And put us out of sync for a few weeks fore and aft with the rest of the world. And now Canada has been forced to join us.

But originally clocks and standardized time were important for only two things: To keep trains from hitting each other and let ships at sea know where they were. Up till then most towns set their own time ergo the clock tower on at least one major building in a town.

I work so off the clock as it were that this time shift every spring and fall causes no end of problems. I and the fur kids get up by a biorhythms or internal clocks. We do our thing all day and then go to sleep when we are tired. I don't receive television or radio signals so I don't have to set my watch (I think I own one somewhere) for certain programs I don't want to miss. So what would happen if I just didn't reset all my clocks today? Just stayed on regular time as it were.

What if we all did?

Okay, big brother has enough control of our lives that all our computers will have their clocks reset. My cellphone will get some type of order over the airwaves and alter its time. But the other clocks -- 1) those that I use mostly to time how long to bake a pie or how long it takes to complete a certain task or set of exercises -- and 2) those clocks that are slipped into our life like it or not - on the range and on the coffee maker and on the microwave and VCR and telephone message machine and our cars -- why reset those?

And that latter group (except the car) are the ones without battery backup. The ones that have to be reset every single time the power winks or they blink annoyingly at you or in the case of the telephone talk to you, "Please set date and time." The first set matter only in elapsed time so who cares about the hour? I remember when I had only a watch and an alarm clock.
Once, and not that long ago, a man that owned a pocket watch was considered very important and wealthy. So much so that there was a thriving business made in watch chains and fobs to dangle from the vest whether you had a watch for it or not.

How many time telling devices in your household? Be honest with yourself. We are counting watches and cell phones and clocks and computers and microwaves. Oh, and let's not forget the cars. And which are truly important to you? Are we slaves to time or slaves to the masters of time?