Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Jake's Word Re: A New Deal for the 21st Century

[Jake Berry's response to A Jazzman Chronicle, reprinted below.]

We were talking about clarity in explanation a few days ago. Your latest makes the issues as clear as they could possibly be. The situation is grim, the solution is a bitter pill and finally, we need some reason to hope that circumstances will improve.

FDR's great gift was the gift of hope. The New Deal did not end the depression, but it gave people hope. It gave people jobs who had given up on finding work. It gave the nation focus and determination to survive. My grandfather was in the Navy when word came of FDR's death. He said the whole base fell silent and everyone wept. Can you imagine that kind of response to the death of a politician now?

Indeed, Hoover has been on our mind's lately. A man as qualified for the presidency as any that ever held the office. Yet when he needed to apply his ample intelligence to governing he stood on the premise of the absence of governing while the economy and the hopes of a vibrant nation crumbled around him, fell into shanty towns, Hoovervilles.

The failures of the Bush administration are so numerous and near absolute that they inspire hopelessness on every level. However, we can point to two major mistakes that may become the Bush legacy. First, when the sympathy of the entire planet was with us, when virtually every nation supported our need to heal and recover, the Bush administration, openly and repeatedly lied in order to instigate a war of aggression. The failure here was one of bad government. Second, while the economy slid from stagnation to recession the administration did nothing. When it became obvious that even his corporate base was in trouble, again he did nothing. This was a failure of no government at all.

It's a matter of sound judgment. When to act and when to show restraint. George W. Bush has failed as miserably as president as he has failed at everything else he has attempted to do with the exception of drunken revelry. And John McCain has voted to support him 90% of the time. What does that say about McCain's judgment? And just to make sure we understood how lousy his judgment was he nominated a vice-presidential candidate that appears to be even less capable of grasping the complexities of the office than Bush.

Obama by comparison rose to national recognition because he was a great organizer. We certainly need a bit of that right now. Since the President's oath of office demands that he uphold the Constitution, who would know better how to do that than someone who taught constitutional law for more than a decade?

Democrats and Republicans alike hesitate before the urgent demands of Bush's Treasury Secretary. Who can blame them? Their constituents pay the price for listening to Bush's lies with the loss of their jobs, their homes and their very lives.

What we need now is hope. At one time it might have been audacious to suggest that hope was the medicine. Now it seems abundantly clear. It was clear to Barack Obama years ago. If this nation has any hope, we will have to pin it on him. Not to cure our problems, but to inspire us and offer pragmatic, reasoned leadership.

The electorate needs to exercise a bit of sound judgment.

Thanks for keeping the flame alive.


[Jake Berry, Poet and author of Brambu Drezi, Liminal Blue and other works...]



By Jack Random

The economy is in meltdown. Most of us have begun to recognize how serious the crisis is. Inaction – the dominant policy of the Bush administration – is no longer viable. The institutions of finance are one or two steps from wholesale implosion. Even the corporate cheerleading squad sometimes known as the mainstream media is using the D word: Depression.

We know how we got here: Runaway capitalism, dismantled government regulation, unbridled greed. Twenty years of conservative economic theory applied to the American economy. Twenty years ignoring the lessons of the Savings and Loan Crisis, the Enron scandal, the west coast energy crisis, the technology bust, on and on.

We know that the government is largely to blame. We know therefore that the government is unlikely to accept what must be done to right the balance and set our economy back on firm ground. They would prefer to write a check from the American taxpayers and pass the buck to future generations but the threat of systemic collapse will not go away so easily.

The Bush administration shamelessly pimped the concept of home ownership to every working man and woman in America at a time when real wages were down and debt was rising. They enabled the markets to finance home mortgages through accounting tricks – apparently never thinking that the bills would come due on their watch. They replaced an economy that once produced real value with an Enron Ponzi Scheme.

The question becomes: Where do we go from here?

On the short term, an infusion of capital is required. We can all agree that the heart of the current collapse is the housing market. We can agree that millions of Americans were given loans that they could not afford and that should never have been given.

The short-term solution is to make those loans good by restructuring them and giving them the backing of the United States Treasury.

We have heard the same conservative ideologues who preached deregulation from every pulpit decry with rare venom the very thought of helping the foreclosed. Like Herbert Hoover in his direst hour, they plead with us never to forgive the individual who dared to believe that she or he could own a home.

There was a time in this country when you could trust the bank or the mortgage company to give you a fair deal. Why would any responsible institution offer a loan that could not be repaid? The answer is they would not; only a crook would conspire to steal your limited savings and leave you without a prayer.

If you are fortunate enough to have bought a home on a workingman’s wages, you know that you are dependent on the broker representing you. At the escrow signing, hundreds of papers in the foreign language of legalese are paraded before your dazzled eyes. You are asked to sign here, initial there and when it is over, you can only hope that the papers say what you think they say.

If anyone deserves to be forgiven it is the hapless individuals who reached for the dream the president the held out to them at every opportunity. Let them stay in their homes if they have not been foreclosed. If they have already lost their homes, let them find a new beginning with a roof over their heads and hope in their hearts.

In the parlance of those now promoting the great bailout, by helping them we are helping ourselves. We are even helping the unscrupulous lenders who almost broke the system but that is an unfortunate necessity.

Of course, what we do in the short term will make little difference if we do not restore balance in the system. The price of unfettered greed is rigorous regulation. We do not need a new bureaucracy to achieve this goal; we need a president dedicated to the cause.

Despite an apparent eleventh hour conversion, John McCain is not the man for the job. He has spent his entire career equating government regulation with socialism – a concept he holds beneath contempt. He is gambling that this is a temporary crisis. He will revert to his roots the moment he takes office.

Regulation is necessary but it is not sufficient. It will not restore balance for the working class will remain bridled by debt and unable to sustain a consumer-based economy.

We need new jobs. We need a green economy. We need a massive workforce to rebuild our aging infrastructure and, more importantly, to create a twenty first century infrastructure. In the tradition of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, we need public works. We need them more than ever because they provide jobs that cannot be outsourced and they are long overdue.

Beyond public works, we confront a monumental problem that FDR could never have imagined: the outsourcing of American jobs in a globalized economy. The obvious answer is fair trade. American workers can compete and win on a fair playing field but no one can compete with slave labor. The masterminds behind this new economy have built corporate profits by exploiting the cheapest possible labor overseas and simultaneously undermining labor in our own country.

That is why Americans are buried in debt. That is why we cannot sustain our standard of living. Only when labor standards and fair wages are built into the trade formula will this impoverishment of the working class end.

In 1932 the American people faced a clear choice: Herbert Hoover stood firm for individual responsibility. Translation: He would not lift a finger to help the people at the bottom of the chain, the people who had lost their homes, their jobs and their life savings. In recognition of the grave economic reality of the Great Depression, he was willing to help the banks but the people were on their own. It was a 20th century version of: Let them eat cake.

Franklin Roosevelt had a different approach: Lift up the people with public works, relief and social security. He understood that the only way to lift the nation out of its deep hole was to rebuild its foundation from the bottom up.

In this fundamental sense, the choice we now face is equally clear: McCain is Hoover and Obama is FDR.

In light of the economic crisis before us, I would like to see Barack Obama rename his cause for the final weeks of this campaign: A New Deal for the 21st Century.

That would make it clear who he is standing with, what he is fighting for, and the principles that will guide his actions as we move forward in these dark and troubled times.