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Wildly Interesting Books

  • Adam's Task by Vicki Hearne
  • Anything by Colin Cotterill
  • Auguries of Innocence by Patti Smith
  • Big Box Swindle by Stacy Mitchell
  • Darwin: A Life in Poems by Ruth Padel
  • Gehry Draws
  • Human Smoke by Nicholson Baker
  • Out of Our Heads by Ava Noe
  • Stylepedia: A Guide to Graphic Design, Mannerisms, Quirks and Conceits
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larrson
  • The God of Small Things by Arundahti Roy
  • The Long Fall by Walter Mosely
  • The Martin Beck Series by Maj Sjowall and Per Waloo
  • The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
  • The Wrecking Crew by Thomas Frank
  • Vermeeer in Bosnia by Lawrence Weschler

Monday, March 09, 2009

Nader on Bailout

Published on Saturday, March 7, 2009 by
The Bottomless Bailout
by Ralph Nader
Does anybody in the federal government know or could know “who, what, where and when” of the massive, complex, vertical, horizontal, global collapse of Wall Street and its planetary tentacles in over 100 countries abroad? Step forward if you exist! Uncle Sam needs you!
Is the multi-million dollar bailout of this financial mess and house of cards, this phantom wealth mummy hitting air beyond the federal governments’ salvage capability? It is relatively easy to announce hundreds of billions of dollars of corporate rescue programs here and hundreds of billions of dollars of guarantees of corporate recklessness there and trillions of dollars of assorted stimulus, loan availabilities and foreclosure prevention initiatives in all directions. Now comes the rubber hitting the road.Where are the skilled people to be hired by the federal agencies—the administrators, field implementers, auditors, financial whizzes able to understand the complexity of greed and over-reach; the inspectors, prosecutors and contract negotiators to name a few categories?In other words, how are a hurried President Obama and his deputies going to rapidly build up the infrastructure of the federal government itself to advance all these “public works” efficiently and to avoid expenditure disasters amidst a potential orgy of waste, fraud and abuse by the coast to coast recipients?So many of the federal government’s functions have been contracted out to corporations and consulting firms under Clinton and the Bushes that there is a serious dearth of skilled civil servants. Moreover, Obama has indicated he wants this work done by an accountable government and not by Halliburton-type outside contractors at greater expense to taxpayers.Knowing and doing have to go hand in hand. Some Congressional Committees have finally gotten around to asking the basic questions about what is actually going on inside companies like the giant financial conglomerate AIG. Since the Goliath’s near collapse in September, the federal government has committed $160 billion to keep it from splattering its reckless red ink over small businesses, municipalities, 401(k) plans, policyholders and of course the Fortune 500 big companies led by the omnipresent Goldman Sachs bank.At a Senate hearing on March 5, 2009 to review yet another $30 billion in rescue funds, Senators from both parties demanded that the Federal Reserve make public the names of the parties benefiting from all this taxpayer largesse. These include the derivatives trading partners (eg credit default swappers) who have received tens of billions of these dollars passing from Washington through AIG to them.Senators Chris Dodd, Richard Shelby and Jim Bunning went after Donald L. Kohn, the vice-chairman of the Fed board of governors who finally promised he would ask the other governors to reconsider their corporate privacy policy under these megabailouts. Don’t hold your breath!Surprisingly, the Wall Street Journal editorial writers weighed in three days earlier about this fourth ever-sweeter rescue of AIG. in six months. In an editorial titled “AIG’s Black Box” the Journal thundered: “Perhaps someday the feds will even explain to taxpayers which AIG creditors had to be rescued and why…..try figuring out exactly who benefits when taxpayer money arrives at the insurance giant.”Besides rebuilding the federal workforce and finding out what is going on inside casino capitalism begging for bailouts, the Obama Administration is wading into an administrative nightmare that could run through trillions of mis-directed dollars and not turn around a deep Recession plunging toward Depression.When dealing with esoteric gambling chips called “derivatives” that are bets on bets on debts on debts, more than astute regulations and prosecutions are needed to punish, disgorge and deter present and future self-paid corporate crooks looting and draining other people’s pensions and savings. What is essential is that the federal surgeons have to know just where to apply their scalpel on the continuum spanning the big predators to the millions of direct and indirect victims.So, during the next Congressional hearings featuring government witnesses from the Federal Reserve, the Treasury Department and the securities, insurance and banking regulatory agencies, the Senators should start with four direct questions:
1. Just what is it that you do NOT understand about what is going on inside this widening Wall Street mess?2. Why don’t you understand what you need to know?3. How are you going to use your powers to achieve such understanding?4. Finally, if these corporations like AIG are too big to fail, too secret to fail and overwhelmingly global in structure and operations, why aren’t you asking other governments to pitch in with their own rescue packages and tell you what they know?As one solid small town banker in Indiana put it recently: “If these big companies are too big to fail, then they’re too big.”
Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer, and author. His most recent book is The Seventeen Traditions.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Our Man in Panama Begins to Devolve

Posted by Jim Calandrillo, now back in Panama by way of Mumbia

Hello, my fellow American. And, how are you on this fine, fine morning? I, myself, could not catch an ounce of shuteye, and decided to come here to the Canal banks to see if a fellow countryman might also be having trouble navigating the Land of Nod. And here you are! Fine, fine morning, I must say. When you can't smell the Canal, it means the winds are calm, and you'll be able to walk along ths shores without a mask or having to turn back to whatever direction you came from.Now that was mighty nice of you to offer me a cigar. It sure smells genuine Cuban, but my doctor has forbidden such extravagances because of my sinus condition. What? Did you lose something in the grass down there? Well, never mind the sinuses, let me just help you up to your feet. You're soaking wet from the dew. You'll never find your little dog anyway in this thick fog. Bet they never warned you of the thick layer of dew that develops on these fine, fine mornings, now did they? Way I see it, when you step on her, she'll yap, and there, you'll have found her! What's her name? Hugo? Well, she won't be able to hear you in the thick air, so be careful where you step. She'll show up somewhere along the banks here. All bodies do.I see you're wearing a "Find Baby Sophie" ribbon. Damn shame about that one. Nice job they did shaping the ribbon to look like one of them Macy's balloons.Well, aren't you nice. But, once again, I'll have to pass on that whiskey flask. Jameson's did you say? Mighty fine. No, I'm taking so many pills the doctor gave me that I can't drink sip of anything but well water. What's that? A Vicadin. You sure pack 'em strong. And I guess you don't care about what damage you might be doing to your liver?Hell, you're right on that one. You only go 'round once, unless you're a Canal repeater? Really! First time! Well, I'll be zoned! You could of fooled me. Headed where? Venezuela is a nice place this time of year. I'll give you that. Only stay away from that Guantanamo. Bad place, full of crazy Iraqis, like they never heard the Monroe Doctrine in school! Shame on them once for landing, and shame on them twice for squatting, but I'll be damned if they'll catch any of us not looking next time.Say, you seem like a nice sort of woman. What's a nice sort of woman like you doing in these parts of the Canal zone? You don't say. I thought Ballanchine had given up the search for your friend decades ago. She sure was somethin' the way she tu tu'd around, wasn't she? You reckon she's still alive and dancin' at her age? Oh just forty-two. Thought she'd be much older than that by now.Well, you have a nice stroll. You hear. Mind that dip in the Canal up about a hundred feet or so, where you're headed. Last time I heard, there was a gang o' no-gooders collecting people for another Muriel boat lift, or is it arial boat lift?No, I know you're not Cuban, my fellow American. But, you can't be too careful of who you might be mistook for. Just last year this bunch of maniacs thought I was some Serbian related to that long-dead archduke Ferdinand that went and started that big, world war, the second or third one, I think. And don't let anyone call you an ugly American! Geez, that fumes my timbers. You're about the prettiest thing I've seen along these banks in years, but you start talking to these know-nothings and first thing you know they're calling you an ugly American or queer, or something like that.Now, there goes my sinuses all plugged up again. Hey, you be careful on all fours down there. I was once mistook for an alligator. You don't want that nip and tuck. Just a joke. This gal, Joan Rivers told it to me. Yeah, the one who can't move her face any more. Damn shame. You mind your wet snout in the grass there. And when you head back this way, I'll fill you in on my latest condition.