Saturday, September 27, 2008

Jake's Word: Brand America

As America continues to become a brand name citizens disappear, their
only value deriving from how much they are able to consume.
Mindlessness, Empty stimulation from a billion screens assaulting all
senses at all times everywhere. There is only noise where humans used
to be. Vacuity. Vanity of vanities. Every mouth is open. Every head is
empty. No one left alive can hear the scraping wind. Outside is gone
all to satellite waves and wires. No body but static.

Mansel: Poetry Corner

On An Island (for Jake Berry)

Robinson Jeffers on a loading dock,
blinded in pain takes questions from
reporters but answers in verse

"my predisposition is not to elect
but to persuade, to rise and like
the editor's note befall a certain
uncertainty, the common ailment
of life against the cliff, politics..."

his shoulders shrink and haggard
he returns to the steps from whence
he came and in a moment of clarity
the press is genuinely moved..

if not a community.

- Chris Mansel

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.



Sunday, September 21, 2008

Jake's Word re: The Blame Game, Part Two

(A response to Jack Random's The Blame Game - Part Two, The Trillion Dollar Gambit: Corporate Socialism. Reprinted below.)

If only one - one - a number that even George W. Bush can count in his sleep - if only one of the so-called pundits, experts and economists spoke or wrote with the clarity and precision that you employ the people of this nation might actually wake from their media induced stupor and take action.

The problem is that I don't think any of the experts can see the situation as clearly as you do. Or perhaps they are being paid too well to see beyond the veil of phony finances that have been the pillar of fat that has supported this fictional economy since it was sold lock, stock and barrel during the first oil crisis.

There are some of us that remember it all too well because just as we were learning to drive and getting our first cars we found ourselves in long lines waiting to pay double or triple what we would have paid only a few months before. Nixon, for his crimes, was trying to dodge the law by manipulating the justice system. He was pulling remedies for the economy out of his back pocket that only Stalin or Castro would have dreamed of before him. Price freezes. A free-market, anti-communist was making executive decisions in all directions like a dictator. Congress was reeling. This man after all had just been re-elected by a huge margin. Not until the evidence was so obvious that it had become common currency did they act. Too little and too late.

By the time he left office Nixon had cut a deal with Chairman Mao that opened the door to economic prosperity - for China. About that same time the standard of living in terms of real dollars and wages, genuine wealth, peaked for the middle class. The rich continued to get richer and the poor could continue to make do with the scraps, but for the majority the grand promise of post-war prosperity hit a wall. It has never recovered.

There was the boom of the 80s in which the national debt sky rocketed to pay the price of rockets and bombs for a cold war that could only become hot at the expense of the end of the world.

The taxpayers had to pony up for that one during the first Bush administration. Bush himself paid with the loss of the election. The neocons never forgot that lesson. They determined to invent a new set of lies for the New World Order.

Enter The Project for a New American Century where the likes of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz laid plans for the invasion of Iraq, the domination of the Middle East by force and the extension of Pax Americana (the term is used in one of the articles at their website).

Meanwhile the Clinton administration witnessed the longest economic expansion in the nation's history. Never mind that it was financed by an explosion of cheap, and often worthless, imports and the wildest level of speculation that Wall Street had ever seen. Suddenly it seemed the budget was balanced and everybody wanted to take credit.

Credit is the key word because that was how the whole thing was financed. Internet companies were making billions of dollars based on what their profits would be in the future. Every new retirement plan added a 401(k) option. We'd become a nation of gamblers. When the Treasury Department informed the President that many of the CEOs salaries were based on this kind of speculation and that it was in fact illegal, Clinton chose not to enforce the law. Why rain on his own parade? Especially at a time when he was being impeached by a Republican congress for things that had nothing to do with government, the economy or anything else that would have effected the future of any family in the U.S. outside his own.

By the time the towers fell and revealed the staggering amount of corruption that fueled companies like Enron and MCI, the dim-witted son of the former president had seized the oval office on the backs of a cabal of his father's friends including those Pax America fellows.

Eight years on and we hear an ironically familiar song from that administration. This time they are warning us of a complete economic meltdown. Suddenly, the crisis is obvious. Even the opposition party is scrambling to get in line to vote in favor of the solution. No one wants to be left to blame when the world comes to an end - whether it be an immediate and inevitable assault by terrorists or the collapse of every financial institution in the country. Such is the price of deceit. The first time around we were told a lie and we, and the future generations, will pay at least a trillion dollars for it. Now they come from another direction asking for another trillion.

Should we believe them? Indeed as you make so clear, what happens if the Chinese government, the EU and the others who are financing this debt decide to collect the debt sooner than we are able to repay it?

A few years ago Gore Vidal said that one day the debt collectors would come for their money and the American Empire would be over.

Death always comes too soon. No matter what age, you'll always ask for another day. Not today, perhaps next month or next year, any time but now.

The corporate elite and the government they bought with our money are telling us today is the day unless we pay up. Why should we believe them? Simple. Just as before the question hangs over us - what if they are right? We won't know until the money has been committed, the election is over, and everyone at the top of the heap is once again raking in profits at historic levels. Whether those profits are here, in China, India, Europe or all over the world makes no difference to them.

Thanks again for yet another in a long, powerful string of essays that keep us on our toes with eyes wide open.


Jake Berry

(Author of Brambu Drezi, Liminal Blue and other works of extraordinary insight.)


The Blame Game – Part Two

By Jack Random

On September 19, 2008 the government announced what amounts to a trillion dollar bailout of the corporate empire. It was denounced in some quarters as corporate socialism.

Corporate socialism is an oxymoron. What kind of socialism nationalizes the debt of private enterprise without nationalizing the profits? What kind of socialism assumes liability without assuming assets?

Whatever this is it is not corporate socialism.

Overnight the national debt grew by a trillion dollars – from 9.6 to 10.6 trillion.

What happened?

The ultimate dream of the Adam Smith Free Marketeers, an unconstrained and deregulated marketplace, ran us straight over a cliff. Rather than sit and watch tragedy unfold as their philosophy mandates, they have chosen to enact the largest government intervention since Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal.

This time, instead of infusing the economy with capital from the ground up, they are robbing the victims (all of us) to save the Robber Barons.

All the economists agree it is necessary and there is no alternative. I would feel more secure if all the economists saw this crisis approaching.

What happens next?

Having transferred a trillion dollars of debt from private corporations to the government, it is the government that is now at risk. The implications are profound.

Our exploding debt is being financed by foreign nations including China, Japan, India, Saudi Arabia and the European Union.

For the first time in our history we have handed the fate of the nation to another country and we all know who it is: China. The same China that steals our jobs, depresses our wages and displays such a disturbing lack of government regulation that Chinese industries have sought to increase profits by adding a toxic chemical to baby formula and lead to the paint on toys for tots.

We cannot trust China to do what we have failed to do (regulate our industries) but we have no choice. They own us. It is unlikely for now that China will bite the hand that feeds them but if the debt continues to mount, they will have no choice. Nothing in China’s history suggests that they would hold on to a drowning man.

The markets soared on the news of the great government bailout – as well they should. We have removed risk from the marketplace. It is a phenomenon that violates the essential core of a free market economy. Suspending the practice of selling short (betting on a stock to go down) is also against the tenets of a free market. Installing brakes on sell orders during a fall (after a 1987 crash) is also antithesis to the free market ideal.

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (enacted after the Bush infected Enron scandal) sought to bring transparency and accountability to corporate accounting. Applied to the current crisis, it actually might have helped but it was also against the free market mandate, which is why it was never enforced by the Bush regime.

So it seems the free market is not so sacrosanct after all. Wall Street likes a fixed market: Heads we win, tails you lose. We are all regulators now. Government intervention will be employed with reckless abandon whenever the corporate giants come calling.

It is an outrage that the American people must pay a second time for this trillion-dollar train wreck. We paid once with our homes, our home values, our defaults and our debt. (Is this what the president meant when he asked us to go shopping after 9-11? Remember the president’s Ownership Society?) Now we will pay again and the bills keep coming.

It was a failed strategy of the corporate elite that caused this crisis and it was never intended to benefit anyone but their own. This is the nastiest part of this nightmare scenario: The guilty party has been richly rewarded for grossly irresponsible behavior.

It seems the only guilty party we can hold responsible is the “free-trade-free-market” politicians. They too have profited from this disaster. Contributions came with the package.

This means you: John McCain.

If you have ever witnessed your local politicians swooning over “deregulation” or trumpeting the virtues of “free trade,” it is time to give them what we can only dream: early retirement.

We don’t know where it ends but we do know who got us here.