Tom Paxton’s We Didn’t Know


(The first time I  heard this, the Vietnam War was raging.  It was sung either by The Kingston Trio or The Chad Mitchell Trio.  It requires no imagination to substitute words like, “I guess we’ve  gotta’  drop those bombs if we wanna’  keep Iraqis and Afghanis  free.”  Or,  “Torturing prisoners is an Al Qaeda game and you can bet they’re doing the same.”    Citizens and policy makers  who stand in the way of  a just reckoning for those who ordered torture  are writing   verses for all our children, grandchildren and theirs.)

We didn’t know said the Burgomeister,
About the camps on the edge of town.
It was Hitler and his crew,
That tore the German nation down.
We saw the cattle cars it’s true,
And maybe they carried a Jew or two.
They woke us up as they rattled through,
But what did you expect me to do?

[Cho:]
We didn’t know at all,
We didn’t see a thing.
You can’t hold us to blame,
What could we do?
It was a terrible shame,
But we can’t bear the blame.
Oh no, not us, we didn’t know.

We didn’t know said the congregation,
Singing a hymn in a church of white.
The Press was full lf lies about us,
Preacher told us we were right.
The outside agitators came.
They burned some churches and put the blame,
On decent southern people’s names,
To set our colored people aflame.
And maybe some of our boys got hot,
And a couple of niggers and reds got shot,
They should have stayed where they belong,
And preacher would’ve told us if we’d done wrong.

[Cho:]

We didn’t know said the puzzled voter,
Watching the President on TV.
I guess we’ve got to drop those bombs,
If we’re gonna keep South Asia free.
The President’s such a peaceful man,
I guess he’s got some kind of plan.
They say we’re torturing prisoners of war,
But I don’t believe that stuff no more.
Torturing prisoners is a communist game,
And You can bet they’re doing the same.
I wish this war was over and through,
But what do you expect me to do?

Words and Music by Tom Paxton

[F]unny side of the [Wall] Street: Obamanomics

In the spirit of Jon Stewart, “Let’s just cut out the middle man.” If President Obama is serious about “changing how we do business,” then he needs to roll out something better than his new version of Reaganomics.


Imagine  you’re the on-duty emergency room (ER) nurse in a small country hospital.  Your resources are severely limited by high unemployment and a health insurance crisis.

A healthy snowboarder hobbles in with a broken leg and dislocated shoulder.

You start a prophylactic IV drip of normal saline, pain killers  and antibiotics to protect the snowboarder from dehydration, pain and infection.

In a corner of the emergency room is a bloated near-corpse in systemic organ failure. His liver’s shot.  His heart’s all but stopped.  The smell of his rot and disease are spreading out of the ER, down the corridors and into the rooms of recuperating patients.

Emergency room protocol requires you to infuse the snowboarder’s  IV solution through the bloated near-corpse middle man first, rather than  into the snowboarder’s arm directly.

Proponents of this bassackward policy say that if the gas in the bloated guy explodes, it’ll jeopardize everyone in the hospital so we have to treat him with the best of the drugs and hope enough benefit reaches the snowboarder to prevent her relatively minor injuries from becoming a systemic threat.  If you’re the cynical type, you might think  the nearly-dead guy’s membership on the hospital’s Board of Directors is significant, too.

Whatever the reason for  the policy, the outcome is assured:  the bloated near-corpse will drain  your few precious resources on its way to the morgue and the healthy patient will die of preventable consequences.

In the spirit of Jon Stewart,  “Let’s just cut out the middle man.”  Break with protocol and centuries of obsolete thinking. Infuse the snowboarder directly. She’s going into shock.  Microbes are chewing on her broken, exposed bone. It’s a matter of basic triage:  apply your resources where they will do the most good as you asses each situation  uniquely, dispassionately and quickly.

The snowboarder (like most of our  neighbors) will heal quickly and be ready to continue her education,  develop new products, create new markets  and in general, become the new economic engine.  She’ll be rebuilding our nation while the rotting AIG-Goldman Sachs-Citi-Bank of America-corpse that’s poisoning us all is buried quietly in the background.

Stimulate acutely-ill  borrowers with a direct infusion of debt-cancelling cash that can be paid by them  to their ORIGINATING lenders.   The funds will or won’t trickle UP to the bloated entities who bought and bundled the  stinky credit card and mortgage loans.  Those who are too-big-to-fail will collapse if the funds can’t  find their way through the maze of intermediaries.  But, by  excising the corpse and caring directly for our fundamentally healthy neighbors, we can mitigate the effects of this new shift in focus and purpose.

The “mortgage-crisis” isn’t the root of our problems.  And our continued reliance on a rotting corpse to rescue the future may not be the cause of our problems, but it’s certainly proximate.  If President Obama is serious about “changing how we do business,”  then he needs to roll out something better than his new version of  Reaganomics.

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NEXT:  Tell-tale quotes from this week’s House Financial Services Subcommittee Hearing.

The Class Warfare Trigger


Consolidating wealth in 2% of pockets is not class warfare.

Monopolizing water and fuel resources is not class warfare.

Transferring wealth from the lower 98% to the financial class is not class warfare.

Giving bonuses to the top 2% and stripping 3 million jobs from the lower 98% is not class warfare.

Transferring wealth from the lower 98% to the insurance industry  is not class warfare.

Wealthy people living above  the water line while the lower 98% drown or are displaced in New Orleans is not class warfare.

Investors buying the properties cheap and manipulating zoning laws is not class warfare.

Toxic and/or crumbling schools in rural and urban areas is not class warfare.

Old books and empty libraries in rural and urban schools is not class warfare.

Increased costs of  State colleges and restricted enrollment is not class warfare.

Under-educated  kids enlisting  in the military while others go to college isn’t class warfare.

The elderly losing their pensions while ratings agencies skate free is not class warfare.

CEOs and Congresspeople sporting excellent health insurance while workers are bankrupted for its lack is not class warfare.

Congress fiddling  in endless hearings while workers are foreclosed is not class warfare.

Food shortages are  not class warfare.

Contamination of cheap protein sources (peanut butter) is not class warfare.

Tax codes that reward Buffett and add $12.00 a week to workers’ pockets is not class warfare.

Paying outlandish bonuses to failed CEOs while the UAW is asked to make further concessions is not class warfare.

Putting drug addicts in prison as Halliburton changes its name and gets new government contracts is not class warfare.

Giving taxpayer money to financiers who squeeze taxpayers for increased bank fees is not class warfare.

Secretaries paying taxes at a higher rate than their corporate bosses is not class warfare.

Wealth-based and regional access  to broadband internet is not class warfare.

Class warfare is  when a pattern of unequal access to wealth and power emerges and we have the chutzpah to complain about it.

Bank of America : Get Your $78 Refund


(First,  a correction to  Bipartisanship:  The Lowest Common Denominator.  I misleadingly referred to Obama’s restriction on  executive salaries as a restriction on executive compensation.   Though President Obama  has put his weight behind capping certain executive salaries at $500,000,   total executive compensation may be oodles more.  Oodles, billions or trillions?     The difference is…?)

*       *       *

On one hand,  Walt Disney accused the Screen Actors Guild of being a communist front bent on malevolently influencing Hollywood. On the other, he created  Donald Duck who quacked his way into popular culture  in  1934.  When Donald’s  nephews, Huey, Dewey & Louie came to stay for a day and never left, Donald was a de facto single dad with a  romantic companion he never  really married (Daisy).  In later years, he morphed into an adventurer who  dumped the kids on Uncle Scrooge.

Donald’s Hollywood foe, Mickey Mouse, was another Disney creation.  He met his main squeeze,  Minnie the Barmaid,  in a tavern and in their first short together,   Minnie parachuted out of a plane to escape Mickey’s pawings.  It was  the anthropomorphic mouse version of  John Wayne dragging  Maureen O’Hara around by her hair in one cinematic lust fest after another. (Not that I’ve watched The Quiet Man two billion times….)   Mickey & Minnie free float in each other’s lives–sometimes married, sometimes dating–but frequently together for  shared adventures.

In a time when Puritanism  and  Doris Day were slathering our cultural landscape with goo,  Disney understood that if a creature, character or person was cute  enough, he could sell us anything — even lifestyles we found offensive in 1950.

“Cute” and adorably irascible  have  sold us down the drain regularly.   George Bush and Laura Bush are almost as cute as   Ron Paul and he’s  even more adorable than  Barnie Frank, Diane Feinstein and Chris Dodd,  none of  whom hold a candle to the ETrade babies.  (Check out the E-Trade babies which front  for the much-maligned  E-Trade  online trading platform. )

Whether it was weapons of mass destruction or  financier- and congress-based  schemes to rip off credit cardholders,  we’ve  spectated at  our own screwing because so many of the salesman looked or spoke as disarming populists.

Bank of America did virtually no due diligence before it  bought  Merrill Lynch one weekend for $50 billion in stock.  Then, when BOA realized it had grossly underestimated Merrill Lynch’s toxic holdings, it “accepted”  a taxpayer bailout.

In this economy (brought to the point of collapse by financial institutions like Bank of America) what does  BOA do to taxpayer-customers who have BOA accounts and  own BOA’s debt?    They manipulated  “…customers’ account activity in order to trigger more fees for overdrawn accounts, returned checks, and similar infractions. Under the agreement, account holders who incurred overdraft fees from BofA between 2000 and 2007–or from any of the banks it took over during that period–may be entitled to up to a $78 payout. Although it may be a victory for the consumer, financial services advisory firm Bretton Woods says the restitution represents only a sliver of the $368 that the average U.S. household doles out each year for overdraft charges. Generating these and similar fees has become big business for banks and credit unions, which posted $37 billion-plus in such charges last year. As financial institutions try to compensate for losses on loan defaults and stiffer competition during the credit crisis, they are making it easier for customers–even those that carefully monitor their own activity–to trip the fee wire. Practices such as clearing the largest transactions in a single day from largest to smallest and posting deposits last of all makes it difficult for even the most diligent bank customers to avoid charges. In response, consumer advocates are counting on the Federal Reserve to take steps to protect the public from overdraft fees. While the issue failed to earn a place in new credit card rules approved by the agency last month, the central bank has signaled that it will raise the issue again–this time independently–sometime this year.  (See:  Center for Responsible Lending:  Bank of America)

We’re being raped by the people we saved and somehow,  Uncca Chris Dodd and “Populist” Barney Frank can’t get  legislation through Congress that would rescue us because of  push back from the financial lobby.

And then, there’s  Citigroup.

“… Citi began sending the notices at about the same time it was getting a $20 billion, taxpayer-financed government bailout.  No one at Citigroup would talk on camera to CNN about the matter. Instead, the company issued a written statement, which said: “To continue funding in this difficult credit and funding environment, Citi is repricing a group of customers.” Citi told CNN that anyone unhappy with the new [credit card] rates can opt out and continue paying the lower interest, but they must close their account when their card expires. It’s all in the fine print.  (See:  Cnn/Citigroup.)

Here’s Representative Carolyn Maloney’s  proposed legislation “Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights” which has been supported by The Center for Responsible Lending.

If you have a BOA  account, apply for your $78.00 and send a copy of the demand to your Congresspeople.

Bipartisanship: Lowest Common Denominator?


According to CNBC,  the  US Senate has pared Obama’s Stimulus Package  from $937 to  $780 billion.  A vote is expected Sunday because Congress needs to start its  recess ASAP. 

(Remember the expressed outrage when Iraq’s Congress took a vacation while its nation faced insurrection and bankruptcy?  Remember our Congress’  indignation that Iraq’s lawmakers had the chutzpah  to take a vacation while American taxpayers footed the bill?  Remember the purpled faces and bursting veins of our shining palladins?) 

Most economists  are pleading  for a Stimulus Package nearer  $1 trillion.   They’ve  tossed an  I Ching of  formulae  based on percentages of Gross National Product and investment/return ratios and are shrieking,  “The appropriation is  going backwardThe train is out of control!  The horses are stampeding!”   Not a catastrophic metaphor has been left in the box.  And yet,  Nero fiddles as Rome burns.

Additionally,  “Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry said the compromise price tag would be made up of 42 percent tax cuts with 58 percent in new spending.”  (CNBC)  

Most economists agree that tax cuts are anathema in times like these–like  a passenger trying to stop a run-away rollercoaster by dragging her feet on the track:  it’s a waste of time, it won’t work and the thing in need of  saving will get her legs broken.

Obama’s practice these past two years has been to watch his opponents crash of their own gravity.  He doesn’t participate substantially in that downfall.  (It’s a basic Gandhi/King principle; a kind of  Judo politic.) 

These past weeks,  President Obama has  hosted a bipartisan Super Bowl party and  two cocktail “parties.”  He’s  bearded the Conservative lion in its den down at Congress.   He offered a stimulus bill with enough tax cuts to raise brows in the pundit community and yet,  Senate Republicans and Conservative Democrats reduced the package  by another $150 billion.

Zero Republicans voted for the first compromise package.

Two or three are expected to vote for the Senate bill.

Has Obama sold our economic future down the tubes for the sake of a few bipartisan pieces of silver?  

Or, has he allowed knee-jerk naysayers with bankrupt economic policies to  dramatically and publicly shoot themselves in  both feet?

Obama’s slated to offer his Recovery Plan this coming Monday.   He wants the Senate to pass the Stimulus Package before that. 

If the Recovery Plan covers all the bases Candidate-Obama trumpeted the past two years, it will include more funds for health care, infrastructure, “greening”  and the consequent job production and training.  By the time the Recovery Plan is unveiled,  the “loyal  Conservative opposition”  will have been marginalized on  their own petards. 

If I sound like a True Believer, eschewing rebellion in the face of  Obama’s vows that, “Tomorrow, Tomorrow”  my reward will come tomorrow,  I apologize and propose this:

If  the Recovery Plan is more of the same  “bipartisan,”  lowest-common-denominator-political-toadying as offered by the Stimulus Package,  then every worker,  wannabe-worker, retiree, wannabe-retiree, student  and wannabe-student needs to march on Washington within the month.  We need to take our tents,  backpacks and firewood for cooking.  

And we must not accede to being penned like cattle behind officially-approved barriers.

Economy: Fixing a Broken Heart


The magical art of economics makes sense to me  only in real-life analogies.  I know some of the jargon and find it nearly as fascinating as the art itself.  High practitioners possess a comprehensive, pragmatic and effective understanding of (1)  where we are in history;  (2)  what the future holds;  (3) what we’ll need to bridge the gap;  and (4)  what  the probability is  that particular events will effect  our forward outcomes.  The last one calculates a dizzying array of  data and impressions from climate change and famine to  sonograms and pancreatic cancer.  Economics is the Buddhism of  the Magical Arts.  In fact, this blog could have been entitled, “Breathing is Economics.”

If a patient’s heart stops,  it needs a big  jolt to act as if it’s  alive. That initial jolt is a pretense:  whether we’re re-starting a heart, a battery or an economy,  the initial stimulus is a  second chance, not a fix.  Without fuel  to keep the engine charged,  another shut down is  inevitable.  (If a mixed metaphor works, then what do we care? It’s the gestalt we’re getting at here.)

The current inside-the-bubble  discussion is about whether  Obama’s Stimulus  creates enough jobs  OR  if it’s a wish list of  forward-looking investments.  (This is the basis of the stock market which predicts which  products will get us from here to there.)  The real question should be:  does it create or save enough jobs to give us confidence in the future  AND  does it anticipate building the educational and technological bridges  that will support a recovery?  In other words and to reference an Obama quote,  “Can we walk and chew gum at the same time?”

The economic stimulus has to to be big enough to  convince us that an innovative, smart economy is  in the offing.  Of necessity,  an  economic growth package has to create  sustainable manufacturing and service sectors.  So, we must invest in education and the  body politic (arts, humanities, science and technology).  We must stimulate  new economies and continuing education that  green the planet,  generate  well-health care and build local communities.

Both the stimulus and growth plans must prove our commitment to ethics and  to a workforce that  values and can afford  to buy what it produces.  Our decision making and its process must  prove we’re commited to a republic not an oligarchy.

On my birthday (January 27th) Jon Stewart suggested a stimulus plan that would eradicate our consumer debt (including mortgages) and inject  lending institutions with capital.  The  simple beauty of his plan lacks details and leaves much  to  debate, but it pinpoints the vital starting point:  worker-consumers.  As long as we’re afraid that  debt and job losses are going to drag us  over a cliff, we’ll buy only  necessities.  Demand for products will continue to slide and it’s ridiculous to invest  in companies whose products won’t be bought.   Combined with very little credit to grease the gears,  the world economy is grinding to a halt.    While Jim Cramer waxed  poetic about recession-resistant stocks like Johnson & Johnson and Colgate Palmolive, we were buying generics at the dollar stores. Our real lives are moving  faster toward pragmatism than the stock market can anticipate or pundits in a bubble can predict. Luxury and impulse buying are gone.   We’re cleaning  our own houses, cutting our own hair, plowing our own drives, mowing our own lawns, making our own yogurt and bread,  fixing our own plumbing and  growing  our own veggies.   (See  the  Foxfire Books. A Foxfire Christmas is particularly cool, I think.)  We’ve wakened from our consumptive coma  and we’re haunting  second hand shops and  buying toilet paper for  Just-A-Buck.  (If you’re new to this, find an old hippy who still looks like an old hippy and find out where s/he got her/his clothes, food and that nifty snowblower.  Also,  check out  Freecycle.  It’s an astonishing source of  free stuff.)

Sorry.  Back to Jon Stewart’s economic stimulus.

He’s  proposed  a new place to begin and called the scheme  “trickle up.”   Months ago, I suggested a direct infusion of funds to   local employers in order to stem job losses.  Both that idea and Stewart’s  shore up  the foundation of the  pyramid and frankly, as long as we jolt the core and build from the foundation, I don’t much care how we do it.

There are a blizzard of details to sort through of which these are just a few:

Regulators and  people facing foreclosure may not know which caballic entity holds their mortgage debt today,  but  consumers know which bank and loan officer  approved it. Do we give the money to the originating bank who may have issued a lousy loan?  Remember, the patient’s heading for complete cardiac arrest.  We don’t  have time to worry about which arteries messed us up; we need to jump start the  heart.  Some greedy consumers and banks will be rewarded.   It’s an unfortunate consequence that common sense suggests we must swallow.

Would every consumer get $15,000 to pay down or eliminate non-mortgage debt?   Would we modify corporate debt?  Or,  would we  limit debt cancellation to  locally-owned and/or  -operated businesses  with healthy, symbiotic relationships to their workers and communities?  (Nirvana, that and probably  fraught with legal challenges.  Not to mention how few locally-owned and/or operated businesses are surviving the early carnage.)

Which mortgage debt do we wipe out?  Do we subsidize all properties that have lost  value since purchase  or only property holders  who’ve lost or are in danger of losing the property?  Do we include only the primary home or do  we help the  retiree who bought a vacation home as a retirement investment?  Do we consider residential and commercial mortgages?  Do we have time to look at the community-at-large?  Can we afford not to?

We don’t have time to re-value each mortgage and  credit card so we might  have to pick a pay-back  percentage  which all parties  accept as whole.  If  we  owe the credit card company  $10,000, the company has to agree that  $1,000 (10 cents on the dollar) makes them whole.  Then,  Linens & Things and  Circuit City (the bankrupt companies where we bought our towels and computers) have  to accept $5 for a $50 bed sheet and  $100 for the $1,000 computer  they sold.  (I’m not saying it’s a bad deal, but  part of the equation is that when franchise retailers go out of business,  we lose the  under-compensated jobs many of us have been “educated” to fill.)

It’s gnarly; but so is the idea of a trillion dollars going directly to banks in hopes they’ll get around to re-financing  our debt.  They won’t.  Not just because they’re greedily waiting to scoop up the weaklings, but because they’d  be crazy to lend money in a sliding economy without substantial government investment in the future.

Increasingly violent hurricanes, floods, crop destruction,  water pollution and  water wars are events that threaten our basic food supply  and our economic forecast.  They  demand  resources for fixing rather than prevention.

Our transportation and electric grids are so  unreliable  that year-round, millions of people are left for weeks without heat/air conditioning, electric and water  in the wake of  storms.  When our transportation arteries aren’t flooded, they’re rendered impassible by ice.  They’re pocked with axle-busting potholes and our bridges are crumbling.  “Bird strikes” pose a known and unpredictable threat to our air transport, for cryin’ out loud.

We’ve got plenty of work to do–plenty of valuable jobs to fill.  If  an economic plan includes a large enough jolt and forward-thinking investments,  then it stands a chance of  succeeding.  (See:  House Bill and Senate Bill at Thomas.gov.)

A small note on “Sin Taxes.” Many of  us can’t afford the pleasures of  vacations, monthly trips to the movies or fresh fruits & veggies,  so we cling to our cheap substitutes:  fast-fat-sweet-salty-food,  cigarettes,  dope and  beer).  It isn’t a pretty picture (especially for the children) but if we’re going to tax sin,  then we need to think of it in terms of  a population that can’t afford  regular trips to a therapist.