[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.

Inauguration Jubilee: Sunday

Pete Seeger, his voice  thinned by the years,  sings  old labor and unity anthems shoulder-to-shoulder with  The Boss.

Through the Vietnam War and the crushing of the labor unions, we sang with outrage, defiance and by the skin of our teeth.  Through the last thirty years, we’ve  sung to each other of Joe Hill,  Matewan, endless war  and  the Letter from the Birmingham Jail.    Even when we doubted, we pledged in small groups to join hands and overcome.  (Letter from the Birmingham Jail:   http://www.bu.edu/irsd/Ec326_2004/material_2004/Letter%20from%20Birmingham%20Jail.htm

In one moment during the Democratic Primary Debates,  Obama and Clinton showed us the fundamental difference between them.   The moment  received little subsequent coverage and  came in  response to a question from Kim Millman of  Burnsville, Minnesota:  “…there’s been no acknowledgement by any of the presidential candidates of the negative economic impact of immigration on the African-American community.  How do you propose to address the high unemployment rates and the declining wages in the African-American community that are related to the flood of immigrant labor?”

Obama replied with full understanding of how business and economic downturns have conspired to divide workers along racial, ethnic  and gender  lines  into weakened factions.  He encouraged workers to organize around their commonly-held kitchen table issues.  He reminded  us that all American workers are under siege and that we need each other.    His response educated workers for their own organizing good.

Clinton’s response acknowledged  that business scavenges  for low-cost workers and drives down compensation, but many of her words were vested in  the manufactured divide  between African Americans and “immigrant”  workers.   (The transcript of the debate is available here:  http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/01/31/dem.debate.transcript/index.html

This inauguration, we sing,  “This land is our land,”  with tears streaming.    We dare  to believe  we can re-create  a  “government  of the people, by the people and for the people.”

In  music and poetry we hear  a few of   the stories we didn’t learn  in school.  Queen Latifah takes  the  stage —  tall, certain and strong — to tell  us of  the day Marian Anderson and   Eleanor Roosevelt  faced down The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).   I give thanks to my mother and grandfather  for telling me the story  of  those two astonishing women.  There are so many clues in our history that show us how to avoid the mistakes that have separated us one from another.  (Here’s  the story of Marian and Eleanor.  It includes  The  First Lady’s letter of resignation from  the DAR: http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/american_originals/eleanor.html

More than any other reason,  I thank the fates for Obama  this Inauguration weekend  because I remember how migrant farm workers were threatened with lynching in the town where I grew up.  I remember the faces of my schoolmates when we hid beneath our desks  in  fear of a  US-USSR nuclear war.    I am thankful,  while a ceasefire exists between Israel and Gaza,   that  our next  President  has an ingrained understanding  that we live or die together.

For years,  the picture of Eleanor climbing out of the coal mine hung over my bed.  (I was an atheist  who adored my spiritual icons.)  Her face was dirty and the miner’s lamp she wore hung low over her forehead and crushed her  hairdo.  She was looking up at the miners who were waiting to pull her out of the hole and into the light.  I haven’t located that particular photo but this  link  shows her entering the depths of  the Willow Grove Mine  in a mining car:  http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Ridge/4478/grove.htm

Today,  the media speaks in breathless tones about the gown Michelle will wear tomorrow.   CNN is all a-twitter speculating on the designer’s identity and how many pairs of shoes  The First Lady will need  to survive the Inaugural festivities.

We  need bread and circuses, I suppose; but we also need to see  honest images of cashiers, neighbors, truck drivers, friends  and  autoworkers as they wait  in line this winter day at  their local food pantries.

Bailouts: Tired of Linear Thinking and Threats?

I’ve been listening since the election to the national  “discussion” of the automaker bailout and  I’m not the only one who’s noticed it sounds like the “discussion” we had before the Iraq invasion.  “Either-or,”  again and again.  It’s played out like this,  “If we don’t give the Big Three Automakers another $25 billion dollars, the United States will swirl down the drain.”   The other side counters with, “If we  give The Big Three another $25 billion, it will be the end of the Capitalist model.”

As near as I can tell, we need six pieces of unequivocal information which are not, apparently available:

:     are The Big Three “toxic”  and are they equally-toxic?

:     would  a loan of $50 billion dollars ensure that  The Big Three  are market-competitive in  five years?

:     what structural changes have to be made in their physical plants and business models to ensure they’re market-competitive in five years?

:     are there viable buyers and/or investors for The Big Three? If not, what makes Paulsen and the Treasury Department believe that We The People want to invest in a raggedy Wonderland?

:     how long will it take to create green manufacturing jobs for people clobbered with job losses?

And, just because we should be alarmed by  the increased vilification of the poor, working poor and middle classes:

:     how did workers’ wages and insurance premiums destroy The Big Three?  Workers were being paid to build products nobody wanted.  Successive generations of families worked  in the same plants forty years or more. It was one of the few corporate sectors where “trickle-down economics”  actually benefited workers as well as CEOs.  Auto workers set a standard for participating in our economic booms and after forty years of feeding the economy with the products they bought, the homes they built and the children they sent to college, they’ve earned better than bankruptcy when their employers “bail out” of their pension and health care contracts.  Our economy runs on the notion that “workers” will earn enough to have “expendable income” which they will use to  “consume and invest.”  How did we achieve a topsy-turvy understanding that blames worker/consumers when corporate profit margins for worthless products exceed all rational models?

Why isn’t  the information we need for good decision-making  available in  discussable form?  Economic journalists have morphed into “opinion” journalists.  I read Robert Reich, Thomas Friedman and Paul Krugman and for balance, I watch CNBC.  The analysts are just as frightened as the rest of us and I’m tired of hearing the same “mushroom cloud” analyses  we heard before the Iraq invasion. If I hear “economic Armageddon” or “world-wide meltdown”  one more time from trusted analysts….

Instead,  I want to hear from Buffett and Soros.  I want a team of their analysts to audit the automakers.  I want an analysis of each company’s future viability.  I want to know the conditions they need to meet in order to be market-competitive.  I also want to know what they’ve done with the first $25 billion they were given besides tuck it in their back pockets.  Why is that money collecting interest in their corporate accounts?  I want those interest dollars reimbursed to a Green Manufacturing  and Job Creation Fund.  (Relatedly, every single person whose job is threatened should be enrolled in all-expenses-paid educational programs today.  Let’s make sure every single community college and BOCES offers vocational training in computer- and green-based manufacturing because  there are other sectors on the brink of failure.  Hospitals, for instance, are in desperate straits and everyone knows we have a nursing shortage. One reason for that is the huge number of good nurses who’ve run screaming out of hospital work because the system is cruel and unusual to patients and workers.  Clean up the system and the “nursing crisis” will evaporate.)

Sorry for that sidetrack.

Structural changes to The Big Three’s physical plants and business models.  I want a full-blown analysis of both these areas for each of the Three. I don’t want another bundle of toxic assets. Is there a law of  magneto-physics that links the three inextricably?

The team of analysts who audit The Big Three should include representatives from  green manufacturing sectors, autoworkers and anyone who sold their patent rights to the automakers — anyone whose bright idea so threatened the automakers that they bought the patents and buried them under a pile of over-priced and poisonous vehicles.  Let this team of analysts examine the physical plants cooperatively. Let them tell us what’s possible.  I’ll bet there are hungry and innovative enterprises fully-capable of building a better mousetrap in abandoned car factories all over this country. All they need is the investment capital that, heretofore, was siphoned off by the companies at the top of the heap.  In fact, I’ll bet innovators are  already buzzing with  brilliant ideas as I type this. I’ll even  bet there are stymied Ford engineers and line workers with boxes of great ideas that have been trampled in the race to the mediocre bottom.  Maybe innovative employees could create a research, development and implementation  plan.  In the meantime, let the bean counters do their work.  When the chickens are counted, let’s invest in the demonstrably best bet.

Presumably, after offering its cost analysis,  this team of structural and financial experts would be able to provide business plans for retrofitting the abandoned factories for a variety of industrial purposes.   Hell.  I’ll bet there’d be investors all over the world lining up — anything to keep the US economy intelligently afloat.  (I wonder what the rest of the world will trust us with next.)

Plenty of respected economists  believe we don’t have time to do a thorough analysis of the companies’ financial prospects.  In point of fact, we don’t know our timeframe, do we?  We have claims and counter-claims without verifiable proofs.  Our distrust is  one price of being lied to for eight years.  It’s one price of all the dead and maimed in Iraq.  Regardless, if it’s too late for a thoughtful analysis, then it’s probably too late, period. Supporters of The Big Three Bailout cite their increased European profile and the fact that GM makes more 30+ MPG models than any other company. (Their sales lag but their production is up.)  I’m not convinced we should let them fade away.  I’m not convinced we’d be nuts to invest in The Big Three;  but  we do need to know if they  can be market-competitive in five years or if they’re hopelessly behind the eight ball.

Soon, there’ll be a lot of soldiers coming home.  Among the many things they’ll need,  fair-wage jobs have to be a priority.   Are the automakers — America’s industrial backbone — going to provide those jobs?

No?  Then perhaps we need to answer the question:  what are the viable alternatives? Should we throw good money after bad for, perhaps, the sake of egocentric nostalgia?   At our root, isn’t this more a referendum on what it means to be American?  Aren’t we afraid of what we’ll see in the mirror (or what else we’ll cede)  if we admit publicly  that we don’t make cars anymore?  Don’t we need a stronger backbone for our US economy than what’s been provided by The Big Three?

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Related questions:

How did teachers, plumbers, farmers and nurses outwit  bankers, lawyers and their maze of legal documents  to create the mortgage meltdown?

Why aren’t AIG’s hyenas in jail instead of lolling poolside with  private masseuses and standing in front of Congress with their hands still out?

Why aren’t rating agency employees (Moody’s,  Standards & Poors, Fitch) who colluded to award falsely high grades to toxic bundled assets in jail?