Thursday, January 28, 2010

I Feel Your Pain II

President Clinton used to give the kind of speech Obama did last night--feeling our pain, promising jobs and prosperity and milk and honey and all that other good stuff. Then he went back to his office and huddled with the Wall Street Boys (and they are mostly boys) and figured out new ways to complete the Reagan Revolution. And where did that get us?

I have to admit that I didn't watch the whole speech. C'mon. No more than 45 minutes, please! But I did see the part where he recited the canard about household budgets and government budgets. Does he think that people are so stupid that they don't know the difference? Are people so stupid that they don't know the difference? If the latter is true, it's time for a brave politician to step up and say, "Folks, no matter how easy it makes government budgeting seem to you, there's little relationship between the government budget and the household budget. Governments and households don't do the same things, they don't have the same priorities, or the same responsibilities. In fact, governments often have to step in and rescue households, particularly in just the kind of crisis we're having now." How hard can that be?

Nor by the way, is the household budget anything like a business. A business exists to make money. That's it. A household exists to support its members. A business lays off workers when it's no longer profitable to keep them. Most households don't send little Johnny out to fend for himself because he's four and won't be able to contribute much for years.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Now That It's Been Raining For A Week

I keep thinking that I should be out working in the garden. But aside from the problem of my injured shoulder, the heavy clay soil should not come in contact with any human feet. Wandering around in the dirt will compact the soil, eliminating the little spaces that allow the plant roots to grow. So I sit in the living room contemplating the changes I'm planning for this year. First the eucalyptus tree in the front yard has grown and one side of the yard there no longer gets enough sun to sustain the Agastache rupestris planted there. I'm planning to replant the area with ferns backgrounded with either Loropetalum chinense or Camellia sasanqua, both of which can survive the almost full shade except for the few sunny, hot hours during the hottest part of the day in the hottest part of the summer.

I also have to decide what to do about the driveway strip. The plants there mostly didn't do well last year, and while some of the herbaceous perennials like the cone flower will come back next year, the gaura did nothing but host aphids and probably won't be allowed back in the spring. Some of the erigeron has gotten ratty and will be replaced with fresh. And I need something that will look good next to the Cecile Brunner on the back fence.

Oh, and the hellebores have put out their first flowers. Still buds, but clearly there.

Obama Administration Moves From Wrong to Pathetic

The NYT reports today that President Obama's State of the Union speech will concentrate on issues important to the "middle class." Well, Obama doesn't understand that the middle class is a relatively small minority of the population. Or that the Great Slump has moved the interests of the middle class into alignment with those of the working class. You know, things like jobs and affordable housing and boring but expensive stuff like that.

It does little good to make it easier to people to save for retirement when the investment vehicles you provide periodically crash and burn. Or that the house you've struggled to pay for isn't going to provide anything like the income you need to retire. And any worker over the age of 50 is precarious--potentially losing the last decent job she or he will ever have.

The Democrats seem to be engaged in intentional cluelessness. The neoliberal "dream" is dead, but the Administration seems intent on trying to bring it back to life, if only in zombie form.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Aristide and the $900 Million

Last night J and I watched, as we often do, The McLaughlin Group, where right-wingers Pat Buchanan and Monica Crowley spar with moderates Clarence Page and Eleanor Clift on the issues of the day. It's mostly yelling, occasional references to pitchforks, and insight into the minds of people who don't do much thinking. Anyway last night both Buchanan and Crowley made reference to $900 million that former President Jean Betrand Aristide had lifted from Haiti when he was kidnapped and dumped in the Central African Republic. I'd never heard this before and so, this morning, set about hunting down the information on same. Unfortunately there is no information on same, although there are repeated references to it throughout the right-wing press.

It appears that this canard comes from one of two misrepresentations. The first is that USAID granted Haiti some $900 million in development aid during the second Aristide Administration, but that there is little to show for it. But the fact that there is little to show for it does not mean that Aristide stole it. Indeed it may simply mean, as it usually does with USAID funds, that the funds were consumed by administrative expenses and the excessive prices paid to import goods from the United States. (The vast majority of the UN aid to Haiti, for instance, is consumed by military rumbling through various communities in armored vehicles.) There is, so far as I can see, no evidence that Aristide pocketed any of that money.

This second possibility is the result of sloppy reading. It is believed that Papa and Baby Doc extracted some $600-900 million during their respective administrations. Is is truly possible that the right makes no distinction between the Docs and Aristide? I honestly don't know.

I did note that the moderates on the panel didn't condtradict Buchanan or Crowley, or even ask for evidence of their assertion. (And "Bill O'Reilly said so" is not evidence.)

But this brings up an interesting point. One of the real problems in Haiti is that non-governmental organizations control so much of the administration of the country. We can see what this means by looking at the nature and extent of the relief efforts. The country has plenty of whatever the NGOs have to offer, but the activities we expect of governments aren't anywhere to be seen. There are lots of doctors, but no way to move medical supplies. There are plenty of armed men in uniform, but they aren't doing what the Coast Guard did during Katrina. There's no heavy equipment to clear roads and remove rubble. There's no one to do what CalTrans did after Loma Prieta, which was to get the section of I-80 that had buckled back into service within a couple of days. And because all of this is charitable giving, there's no one who is accountable, as a government would be.

I've never been much impressed with Rene Preval, but I understand his reticence to create a government. That would require opposing the neoliberalism imposed by the United States. And we know what happened to the last guy who did that.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Every So Often I'm Right

See this. But note the date on this. I don't think it's brilliance, just an ability to observe the world around me.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Election in Massachusetts

I'm not surprised at the election results in Massachusetts. It's true that Coakley ran an amazingly bad campaign, but the Dems would have been in trouble anyway. After all, Obama hasn't done any of the things that those who voted for him thought he'd promised. (As I've often said before, he didn't really promise most of those things, but I've beaten that one into the ground.) But what has he done? Put the people responsible for the financial crisis in positions of power and authority. Handed a lot of money to the people who brought us the financial crisis. Sent the military to places they shouldn't be. Done nothing to alleviate the foreclosure crisis--after all, that might make the bankers mad. Done very little to deal with the crises for ordinary people caused by unemployment--loss of housing, medical insurance etc. And then there's that awful, dreadful, appalling health insurance "reform."

The plan solves a few problems. It puts medically indigent adults back into Medicaid. (The Democrats dumped them on the public hospitals in 1978.) It prevents insurers from refusing to insure those who have pre-existing conditions, which protects middle-and-upper income people who can't get insurance at all. But it doesn't do much more than that. What it does do is force moderate-income families to buy insurance that they won't be able to afford to use. Moderate-to-middle income families wouldn't be able to afford the gold or silver plans, and would be forced into what I call the plastic plans. Those are the ones that will require people who can barely meet the premiums to haul out their plastic to pay the co-pays and deductibles. These plans pay only 65% of costs. A serious illness would bankrupt them just as surely as going without insurance entirely.

And people figured this out, even though the Administration and the Democrats sought to hide the actual costs. Had they believed that this was something worth supporting, they'd have done what the sponsors of Proposition 186 did in California. The curious could use their calculator to see what the insurance cost would be, given income and family size. Obfuscation is not a good way to convince people that your plan will help them. Indeed, even those who would benefit might oppose it if they can't figure out how it works.

What people did notice was that the lobbyists were winning--that Big Pharma and the health insurers were getting everything they wanted. There was no reason to do this. After Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, it's hard to find a more detested group of industrial leaders than health insurers. Even people with good insurance have horror stories. But the Democrats didn't have the sense to exploit this, to force the Republicans into bed with Blue Cross, and so ended up with Blue Cross in their bed. Not so bright, obviously.

Alexander Cockburn suggests that the health insurers and Big Pharma might try to push health insurance "reform" through anyway. They've invested so much in it, and get so much from it, that they might be able to find some Republican support. Then the Dems could create a calculator showing how much this will cost most families.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Looting in Haiti

Anderson Cooper strikes again.

There was a store. It had supplies. Young Haitian men broke into the store and were removing boxes of candles. They were either handing them to others or selling them, or both. Remember that Haiti has had no electricity for a week. The owner of the store (an American) showed up with two hired Haitian police officers. The owner ordered the police officers to shoot their weapons into the air. (Oh, that's bright.) The crowd dispersed and the owner then hauled a truck in to take out the candles and the FOODSTUFFS in the store. This in a country where most people haven't received food or water in a week. Why not do a public service and give or, for that matter, sell the stuff to your fellows?

I was embarrassed, both because the shop owner was an American, and because Anderson Cooper presented this as a story of lawless looting--not desperation--and expressed such sympathy for someone who, if the looters were white, would probably be perceived as mean, small, and obnoxious.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Cleaned Out My Email Box

I always feel bad for people who come to my blog, assuming that because I left some trenchant remark as a comment somewhere, there might be more of it on my blog. And then they come here and discover that I've written about the 1500 hundred emails that I've finally filed or deleted.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Sanjay Gupta's Next Story

Instead of playing the Sanjay Gupta with the Baby story again, CNN should send Gupta off to the medical station being run by the Reeve Brigade, Cuba's disaster relief operation. The Henry Reeve Contingent of Doctors Specialized in Disaster Situations and Serious Epidemics was formed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and has been dispatched to a number of natural disasters. (And lordy lord, I do hope the brigade name scans better in Spanish.)

Henry Reeve was an American who fought with the Cuban independence forces in the First Cuban War.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


I'm not going to say much about Haiti, except to note that DH and I have contributed a small sum to Oxfam American for Haitian relief, and hope that everyone else will do so also. It's so easy--no writing a check, no finding a stamp, no heading off to the mailbox. Should you want to see pictures, there are plenty on TV and the internet.

And of course, Pat Robertson struck again, claiming that Haitian independence had been won, not by a struggle of the enslaved Haitian people, but by making a pact with the devil. I guess that, in Robertson's twisted brain, people of recent African descent can't free themselves--they have to have help. And as a side note, the Haitian Revolution did NOT take place during the reign of Napoleon III. Napoleon III was born in 1808. The Haitian Revolution began in 1791.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

We're Not "Investing"

I was driving home this morning and happened to hear one of the banksters testifying before the Angelides Commission--I think from BofA. He suggested that the government had "invested" in the major banks. No, we did no such thing. We bailed them out. We put them on welfare. I was surprised not to hear laughter in the background.

And I don't expect Phil Angelides to do much to upset Wall Street and the rich people who depend on it. One need only look at his history to see what a disappointment he's likely to be.

Update: The banker in question was Jamie Dimon, the head of JP Morgan Chase. Yes, the people who send you weekly mailings attempting to get your credit card business. Dimon is also opposed to any consumer protection, I guess believing that you should be parted from as much of your money as he can get and then bail him out every few years when he loses it investing in some new "financial instrument."

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Gray January

I guess I should be happy that I'm not sitting under a couple feet of snow, or that cars aren't careening into one another on the ice outside the front door, but were have a gray and boring January. The fog has settled in and isn't going anywhere. Even the cats have shown little interest in the out-of-doors, determining that it's too cold for more than a fast jaunt round the yard to make sure that there aren't any marauding squirrels. Then it's back inside to settle down on the quilt or, in Dash's case, the heater vent.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

I Guess The Foreclosure Moratoriums Are Over

My Tenants and Foreclosure blog had 139 hits yesterday, and 142 today. The lenders, they are a'movin'.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year

I guess it's a sign of the times, but I received an email from a tenant in distress last night--yeah, on New Year's Eve. What is is with landlords that they can't at least behave themselves on major holidays? This one was demanding rent after the building had been foreclosed. How difficult is it for landlords to understand that once the lender has taken the building back, the tenants don't have to pay rent to them?

And this morning our local newspaper actually suggested that the State Legislature (and the Governor) stand up to the lender community and "evaluate borrowers for alternatives to foreclosure, such as loan modification, before filing notices of default." And this would accomplish what? Many lenders already spend months evaluating homeowners for loan modifications, and then foreclose on the property, sometimes in the middle of negotiations. Nasty folk, these, and the only legislation likely to have any effect is that FORCING them to behave themselves. State lawmakers could, for instance, enact a foreclosure eviction moratorium, similar to that already enacted in some California communities, that would protect both former homeowners and tenants from eviction after foreclosure. That's an easy and entirely non-bureaucratic solution that doesn't depend of the kindness of lenders.

But expecting that our State Legislature to do anything this sensible is asking more than can be reasonably hoped. After all, these are the people who didn't require that tenants in soon-to-be-foreclosed properties receive a copy of the Notice of Default on the grounds that it violated the landlord's privacy rights. The Notice of Default is a public document, filed with the County Recorder. Or the Governor, who determined that tenants did not have the right to return of their security deposits because it would be too much of a burden for lenders. I guess it's okay to thieve from tenants.

Happy New Year, anyway.