A Caveat.

Jan. 20th, 2009 06:27 pm
richardf8: (Default)
[livejournal.com profile] level_head has a post worth contemplating, regardless of its slant, called Unpatriotic.

It's noteworthy to my mind because it points to a way in which we, as Americans, have gotten sloppy in our thinking, especially over the past eight years, but going back farther than that even. We have become accustomed to an us and them style of thought. The right and the left alike have spent the Bush years assimilating the "if you're not with us, your against us" mentality. And here is my warning: any lefty who brings this framework to the Obama presidency is going to be disappointed.

What we have in Obama is someone who grasps realpolitik. And that tends to mean compromise. If the last 8 years have had any effect on our culture at all, it has been to make "compromise" on either side of the fence a dirty word. The partisanship that has been brewing since Nixon, that saw its full flowering in the "Republican Revolution" and the Bush administration have torn this nation limb from limb. Getting us to where we are now demanded that Franken take on Limbaugh, that Maddow deconstruct Coulter, but the battle is now lost and won, and its time for reconstruction.

I think that Obama's ability to blend that which I agree with along with that which I find distasteful speaks volumes about his ability to reintegrate a nation that has been separated as if by a centrifuge. To those who are seeking ideological purity, he will seem a sellout, but to those who want a nation at peace, he may just the ticket.

You can't always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need.


[Edit: [livejournal.com profile] bluerain notes: "I actually think it's grossly unfair to cast anyone who is angry at the selection of Warren as displaying an "if you're not with us, you're against us" mentality." This assessment is correct and just, and I have therefore removed the reference from the body of the post. Thanks to her and [livejournal.com profile] orv for helping refine my thoughts on that.]
richardf8: (Default)
Learned from [livejournal.com profile] level_head who learned it from [livejournal.com profile] rowyn that at a Wal-Mart in Valley Stream, an employee was stampeded to death by a mob awaiting the store's early opening. Do read the story if it is not familiar to you.

Now, where to even begin?

Well, let's see, let's begin on Thanksgiving, when people who were working retail had to be prepared to wake up at 2 or 3AM to be at stores by 4am for 5am openings. Many would have had to have earlier Thanksgiving meals, or given up on it in order to be alert the next day. This was noted by friend Stego.

This is in service of what?

Then there are those 5:00 store openings as well, littered with loss-leaders to entice people into the stores. Heavy discounts on flat screen TV's were common, not just at Wal-Mart, but at Best Buy, and many other outlets across the nation.

This is in service of what?

Then there are the people determined to be first in line, determined to beat their neighbors to those loss-leaders. Instead of getting a good night's sleep and spending the day after Thanksgiving in quality time with family and friends, they're up at God-knows-when so they can get this stuff that no one really needs.

This is in service of what?

There's desperation all over this scenario - the retail worker desperate for a paycheck, the retailer desperate for sales, the consumer desperate for the discount. And all this desperation collided tragically on Friday in Valley Stream, and a man died.

This in service of what?

Ben Zoma would say: "Who is rich, he who is happy with his portion." (Avot 4:11)

If everyone in America followed Ben Zoma, our economy would collapse in a heartbeat. So we live in a world of manufactured need, and discontent with our portion is the engine that drives our economy. And right now, problems in banking and industry are forcing some to learn to be content with their portion, and others to look for bargains that will allow them to assuage their discontent within the constraints imposed by those problems.

Sales like the Black Friday sales are designed to capitalize on the discontent that our culture works so hard to manufacture. And that discontent is a powerful enough force that this year, it killed a man.
richardf8: (Default)
Here are some thoughts of mine on the matter of the Real Estate market correction and its consequences.

The assumption that the bubble came about solely because of subprime lending unhinging home prices from inflation misses the point. The Fed lowering the Prime Rate to levels that were unsustainable in order to combat inflation near the beginning of this decade did a lot to make people seek new mortgages and re-finances who perhaps otherwise would not have. It demonstrates a failure of the "Free Market" that prices so quickly began to outstrip value. One thing this should teach us is that homes, real-estate, have an intrinsic value, separate from the market value. The bursting of the bubble is a "correction," but this is a more tragic correction than, say, a correction in the stock market, because rather than being stock certificates, these are people's homes. So these homes go into foreclosure because, in many cases, the homeowner is burdened with a debt that exceeds the value of his collateral. Seen this happen first hand.

Banks could have taken two approaches - 1) Take a loss by writing a new mortgage for the real value of the house, or 2) Take a bigger loss by foreclosing the home and reselling it in a depressed market, depressing it even further.

Banks seem, by and large to have chosen option 2. It seems to me that any "bailout" would have to favor option 1 - I suspect many homeowners currently faced with foreclosure would greet a manageable monthly payment at a fixed rate with relief.

And this brings me to my last point. If you are buying a house because you plan to fix it up and resell it within a year, perhaps an ARM makes sense. But if you are buying a house as a roof over your head, and a nest egg, then the ARM is a predatory instrument. Especially in times where the prime rate is unsustainably low. If subprime lending is to continue, ARMs should not be among the instruments used: a subprime loan presumes a precarious borrower, it is folly to imagine that such a borrower will be able to manage a higher payment when the rate goes up.

So, my proposals are as follows:

1) Do not write (or underwrite) loans for more than the home is reasonably worth.

and

2) Do not make ARMs available to subprime borrowers. The more precarious your economic situation, the more important it is that your housing costs be Fixed, not Variable.

Item 1 is tricky, because it raises the problem of how to assess a property's intrinsic value (by which I really mean the market value in a market which is neither inflated nor depressed). I suppose a formula that looks at average home prices over a fairly long period of time, adjusted for inflation would come close.

The effect of people not being to obtain loans for a ludicrously overvalued home would be that they could not make offers on them and the prices would have to reach sane levels before the loans would be written.
richardf8: (Default)
I sent this to Senator Dayton today, via his web form.

I expect senate Democrats to fillibuster this nomination. The purpose of an opposition party is to defend the people of this nation from the tyranny of a grasping Majority.

The decisions of Samuel Alito on every court on which he sat betray a consistent elevation of corporate and government power over individual freedom, on topics ranging from the FMLA to discrimination to abortion. His ascendancy to the Supreme Court would eliminate the last, wafer thin, barrier between the US as a Constitutional Republic and the US as a Corporate Feudal State.

If the Democrats Fillibuster, and the Republicans exercise the so called "Nuclear Option," so be it. It would demonstrate the barefaced brutality of the current regime.

However, if the Democrats do not Fillibuster, then we will find that we have already surrendered to a one party state in which elections are as meaningful as they were in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. There will be no reason to vote any more.


Finally, note that Sandra Day O'Connor has agreed to serve until a replacement is found. Her willingness to prevent an actual Vacancy implies a wish on her part that a Justice more reflective of her values than of Bush's replace her.

Do not fail her.
And do not fail the people of this nation.


Do not vote to end debate on this nomination.
richardf8: (Default)
George Lakoff has an excellent article regarding the reasons that the aftermath of Katrina has played out the way it has:

http://alternet.org/story/25099/

The following two paragraphs present the article's thesis very cogently:

The cause was political through and through -- a matter of values and principles. The progressive-liberal values are America's values, and we need to go back to them. The heart of progressive-liberal values is simple: empathy (caring about and for people) and responsibility (acting responsibly on that empathy). These values translate into a simple principle: Use the common wealth for the common good to better all our lives. In short, promoting the common good is the central role of government.

The right-wing conservatives now in power have the opposite values and principles. Their main value is Rely on individual discipline and initiative. The central principle: Government has no useful role. The only common good is the sum of individual goods. It's the difference between We're all in this together and You're on your own, buddy. It's the difference between Every citizen is entitled to protection and You're only entitled to what you can afford. It's the difference between connection and separation. It is this difference in moral and political philosophy that lies behind the tragedy of Katrina.



To me, the conservative philosophy is best characterized by Peter Yarrow in the song "Greenwood"

I've seen a thousand people kneel in silence
And I've seen them face the rifles with their songs
I always thought that we could end the killing
But now I live in fear that I was wrong

The killer and the cynic waltz together
Their eyes are turned into their skulls

They do not feel the bullets in the bodies
They do not hear the dolphins or the gulls

If we do these things in the greenwood,
what will happen in the dry?

If we don't stop there'll come a time when women
With barren wombs will bitterly rejoice
With breasts that dry and never fill with promise
Gladly they'll not suckle one more life

Is this then the whimper and the ending?
The impotence of people raised on fear,
A fear that blinds the sense of common oneness
Common love and life or death are here


If we do these things in the greenwood,
what will happen in the dry?

Will no one light the candle in the darkness
Will no one be my guide, not let me fall
I've lost the sense that tells me where the path is
I feel the chill of winter in my soul

There's no way I can say the words more plainly
There's no one left to point at anymore
It's you and me and we must make the choice now
And not destroy the life we're living for

If we do these things in the greenwood,
what will happen in the dry?
If we do these things in the greenwood,
what will happen in the dry?
richardf8: (Default)
Many years ago, I was working at Zeos computers, doing technical support. My co-worker, Lyle - a Lutheran minister who served as an Air Force chaplain, co-worker Colin - a recent grad from Saint Olaf's who is legally blind, and co-worker Bill - like Lyle, a USAF vet who also happened to be triumphing in his struggle with alcoholism, all carpooled together. Well not "carpooled" really, since Lyle was the only one of us with a car; it would perhaps be more accurate to say that Lyle, in an act of loving-kindness, chauffered us.

One day he came to pick me up, with Colin already in the car, and we headed over to the street corner where Bill would reliably be waiting with his morning coffee and his Pioneer Press.

He was not there.

So we traced the steps of what we knew to be his morning walk back to his home. There were fire-engines and first-responders all over the place. The building Bill lived in was being evacuated, and evacuees sent to the hospital because of a Carbon Monoxide. Lyle spoke to a fireman who was controlling access to the site. He gave Bill's full name to the fireman, told the fireman that Bill had not been where he was expected at an appointed time. He urged the firefighter to make sure that Bill was accounted for before they left the site. He even offered to go look himself. He was turned away with a cursory "Yeah, we'll get everyone out." We accepted that, trusted them to do their jobs, and went off to do ours. When, by 11:00am, we'd heard nothing from him, we went to HR and got his emergency contact. It was his girlfriend, an RN herself. I swapped contact info with her, and she assured me she'd look into it and call back.

She did. I came home to a very tearful message on my voicemail. Bill was dead. He'd been found by another tenant, in the communal bathroom on the first floor. Although the responders had emptied all the dwelling units, they had not checked the bathrooms (very possibly did not even know they were bathrooms. Bill liked a long morning soak, and the comfort he took in it was the reward of his own work. He had personally weatherproofed the bathroom, being faced with an apathetic landlord. The bathroom was directly over the boiler that was putting out the carbon monoxide. Bill was probably dead before we even got there.

At least that's what I tell myself. I have to believe it, because the alternative is that we stood by and LET Bill die. That our ovine acceptance of what the authorities told us killed him. It's what I told Lyle two years later in a server room at Eaton Hydraulics in Eden Prairie. I reminded him of his clear articulation, and of the Fireman's refusal to let us pass. I assured him that we had done what we could, and that if Bill WAS still alive then, it was a failure of communication that was beyond our control that killed him.

And I felt like a heel, doling out mealy mouthed rationalizations like some Nazi at Nuremberg professing ignorance and deference to authority to explain away his role in the Holocaust.

Lyle was never able to escape the feeling that we should have persisted until Bill was rescued (or recovered) or until we were arrested. Instead we turned away like meek lambs at the shepherds' urging. I, too, always wondered if we could have caused a difference for Bill with more persistence. Lyle lives with the guilt. I live in a house whose windows leak like sieves all through the Minnesota winter. So what if the heating bill exceeds the mortgage payment so I can shiver under two blankets in a 40 degree bedroom? At least I wake up in the morning and the cold winter's air slipping through the casements is the smell of life to me, the smell of NOT DYING LIKE BILL.

It weighs.

Then I see what's happening in New Orleans. So I donate, and my wife donates and a guy at our synagogue is running a truck down there so we plan to donate supplies. Tampons. A blanket. An air mattress. We hope it helps and can be used. But what's worse I hope it gets there.

FEMA has been turning away people bringing tools and skills to help while not doing much at all to lend help themselves. The Red Cross is not being let into New Orleans to give direct assistance. Mostly, it seems that it is at FEMA's request, but the Red Cross is doing a good job running interference for the feds in this link.

Looking some of this material over, it seems as if the feds WANT these people to die. It seems like a passive aggressive holocaust, like "oopsie, we've had a little hurricane thingy. Well we got the people able to transport themselves out, and if the others die, well it's a disaster, people die in those. Not our problem." It makes me want to hop on the truck headed down there and do something hands on. I both envy and admire [livejournal.com profile] odanu who is headed down there.

It's bad enough when first responders make honest mistakes. Bill died in an understandable oversight, though I'll never understand why they didn't kick EVERY door in in that place. What I'm hearing from NOLA is far from understandable though, and if I can't shake some sense of culpability in Bill's death, how can we, as a nation, expect to live with ourselves in the aftermath of this?
richardf8: (Default)
CNN, via Flayrah: http://www.cnn.com/2004/LAW/12/30/cat.killed.ap/index.html

Of course, it should be noted that Wal*Mart suspended the employees in question as soon as this became public, but one must wonder about an environment in which this would seem like a good idea, and in which such an order would be obeyed.
richardf8: (Default)
Donated $25.00 by way of American Jewish World Service Not much by itself, but many drops fill an ocean.
richardf8: (Default)
Went to see National Treasure this evening, looking for brainless mind candy, and all I can say is wow. Just wow.

Well actually, I'm going to say a lot more than that.

it gets kinda spoilery )
I expect I will own this one on DVD - I imagine that more is buried in there.
richardf8: (Default)
I've been coming across lots of diatribes like this since the election.

OK. You're Liberal. You're smart. And you're Christian. And you're tired of hearing how those ignorant, bigoted red-state Christian podunks got us four more years of Bush. You don't want to be lumped in with them, and you don't want Christianity characterized as a religion of ignorance, hatred and bigotry. So you start screaming at us liberals to stop the hatred.

Well I've got some news for you Sunshine. You're responsible.

That's right. Because instead of claiming your faith, you pull mealy-mouthed crap like this: As a lesbian Catholic, I have not spoken from my religious views on LJ.

It raises the question "why the hell not?" Why are you allowing only those people who invoke Jesus to rationalize their bigotry to be the ones speaking from their "religious views." And how DARE you turn on the rest of us when your silence has let them steal your God.

So, let me teach you a new phrase: "I am a Christian. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson do not speak for me, and they do not speak for the Jesus that I know."

Try repeating it, backing it up with relevant scripture, and showing the world how the haters have rejected the moral values of the New Testament. It's not that hard. If Mad Magazine can do it, surely a smart, liberal, Christian can.

It might take a little time to win us over though. You've let Falwell and Robertson "brand" Christianity for a little too long, so we associate it with the product that they're selling. And if you start now, it's still going to be a little too little, a little to late - because we're all going to suffer from this sin of omission for the next four years.

In the meanwhile, stop returning friendly fire. If you point your guns in the right direction, you'll find us dug in beside you in no time.
richardf8: (Default)
Snagged from the liberal community is this little link to a budget simulator. How would you balance the budget?

http://www.budgetsim.org/nbs/
richardf8: (Eating)
After the Bush tax cuts have set deficits sprialling out of control, it seems the fed chief has come up with the perfect solution: Cut Social Security

This is essentially a Swiftian solution which would have us eat our elderly rather than our children. Anyone up for a side of Fed Chief with Fava Beans and a fine Chianti? He's 78 now, and has CLEARLY outlived his usefulness.

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