Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Going Green in 2008 and Saving Money

In spring of 2008 I stopped using plastic bags because I learned that millions of our plastic bags are in the Pacific Ocean killing birds and fish. In the spring at Santa Monica College I heard Marcus Eriksen read from his book "My River Home: A Journey from the Gulf War to the Gulf of Mexico" about taking a raft he made of soda pop bottles down the whole length of the Mississippi. Eriksen worked for Algalita Marine Research Foundation in Long Beach, California, which does research on plastic bags in the Pacific Ocean. In late spring he and his colleague took Junk, a raft they made out of plastic, and sailed it from California to Hawaii doing research all the while on plastics in the ocean.

I decided if Erikesen could sail the raft across the Pacific I'd quit using plastic bags. Whenever I went grocery shopping, I trained myself in a new habit of bringing my cloth bags to haul my groceries home. A lot of community groups gave out free cloth bags so I have quite a collection. I also bought organic cloth bags for $30 to bag fruits and vegetables rather than using the small plastic grocery store bags. I don't have all these plastic or paper bags cluttering up my drawers or needing to be recylcled, so cloth bags are definitely more convenient.

Also, I started composting in my mother's backyard. I took a class in composting that the L.A. Parks and Recreating holds at its Griffith Park composting facility:

After the class I bought one of the low-cost big green composting bins they had for sale. Learning how to compost was very easy, and I got two households to compost: mine and my mother's. Actually it was amazing to watch how the compost reduced itself. Keeping up the compost doesn't take much time--just add more fruits, vegetables, leaves, lawn clippings and water. One needn't take a class. In a half hour Internet research one can find out how to compost. By composting, getting rid of the plastic bags, and recycling all paper, metal, and plastic in the blue bins, I've reduced my trash for landfill quite a lot.

Also in 2008 I helped plant three trees. I donated money to Treepeople to plant a tree as a memorial for two friends who had died: my mother's old friend Delores Smith and our family friend Dr. Saul Niedorf. I find it comforting that out there in Southern California there is the Delores Smith tree and also the Dr. Saul Niedorf tree growing.Treepeople, who have planted one million trees in the Los Angeles area, can be found online at

I also got a free tree from the Los Angeles Conservation Corps which was planted in the parkway in front of my mother's house and I've ordered another tree from them for the parkway. In Los Angeles people can get free trees from either Los Angeles Conservation Corps or LA DWP as part of Mayor Villaraigosa's initiative to plant a million trees My mother's garden already has a fig tree, an orange tree, a tangerine tree, and a lemon tree, and we've ordered a fuji apple tree. I've also had bougainvillea planted around my mother's back window to shield the house from the sun.

In the spring my brother and I planted our first vegetable garden in my mother's backyard. I figured if I want to green the earth I'd start by learning about our backyard soil, so did a test to see how quickly the soil absorbs water and also put store-bought compst to improve it before we planted We used Pat Welsh's excellent book "Southern California Gardening: A Month-by-Month Guide" as our bible. We planted corn, beans, tomatoes, carrots, watermelon, strawberries, radishes, and herbs--basil, sage, parsley, rosemary. I used the basil to make pesto, the carrots to make carrot cake, and we enjoyed eating the corn. We didn't plant in the fall but I want to resume planting as soon as possible. Though a few things didn't work out--the watermelon, for instance or the zuchinni--but we learned a lot and are proud of our first vegetable and herb garden. I had to learn how to dry and store our rosemary and sage.

Lastly, when my mother's water heater broke, I got her a tankless water heater which saves energy and water. The tankless water heater does cost more than the gas water heater, but over the long run it will reduce electricity and water bills so the cost between the two water heaters will be the same. My mother's washing machine also quit, so I got a Energy star washing machine and a $200 rebate from L.A. DWP. We got a rebate for the tankless water heater also. I've been trying to buy all paper products which are recycled as well as non-toxic cleaners such as Bon Ami cleanser and Trader Jo's cedarwood and sage multi-purpose cleaner. By careful shopping at stores like Trader Jo and Vons one can find non-toxic cleansers and paper that are about the same in price as the standard cleansers and paper goods or only a bit more.

I've also enjoyed the whole process of going green this year, especially the gardening. I love to cook, and love to go to the garden, clip off rosemary or sage or tomatoes or lemons from the lemon tree--nothing could be finer. I'm sorry we let the garden go fallow in the fall but hope we'll have a bigger, better garden using our own compost. In the end I think I saved money through all these measures. Now my brother I am are planning our garden so we'll soon do a winter planting but we live in L.A. and crops grow year round!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Woman of Rome: A Life of Elsa Morante

Lily Tuck has written the first biography of Elsa Morante, post-World War II Italian novelist. Within Italy critics consider her one of post-war Italy's best novelists but outside Italy she is mostly know as the wife of novelist Alberto Moravio. Tuck does a superb change in rescuing Morante from oblivion for English-speaking audiences and recreating her central role in the explosion of Italian literature starting in 1945.

Morante had a difficult childhood. Her legal father was impotent and scorned by her mother; her mother had a long affair with a handsome rascal who fathered her four children but abandoned his offspring. At 18 Morante left home in the 1930s to support herself tutoring and struggling to write in great poverty--an act of great courage at time for a young Italian woman. Tuck shows had courage, dedication to writing, and honesty were three main aspects of Morante's character.

By 1941 she had married Moravio, who already was an established writer. Because Morante and Moravio were both half-Jewish, their lives in Rome grew more precarious toward the end of the war until the Fascist police wanted to arrest Moravio, so both fled into hiding, first with friends in Rome and then in a small mountain village south of Rome. One of the most moving part of the biography is Tuck's description of Moravio and Morante's harsh nine-month exile up in the mountains in a one-room peasant hut close to starvation waiting for the Allies to arrive.

With the liberation of Rome, Morante and her husband returned to Rome, beginning to publish novels, establishing themselves as the de Beauvior/Sarte of post-War Italian literature. They were friends with many of Italy's leading writers and filmmakers in that amazing cultural explosion directly after the war. Tuck's book wonderfully recreates the glories of this cultural explosion in Rome of the 1940s and 1950s--la dolce vita. But la dolce vita had a harsh side for Morante. Even as her novels won literary prizes, her marriage with Moravio broke up, she had a painful love affair with the filmmaker Visconti who preferred men, and her close friendship with filmmaker/poet Pasolini eventually broke up.

Tuck also gives much insight into Morante's writing, showing how she was part of the modernistic revolution in Italian literature against realism. Her writing was influenced by surrealism, Freud, the violence of World War II, and her close friendships with two leading homosexual artists. In her writing she explores the toxic effects of obsessive loves within families, homosexuality, and the horrible violence of World War II on the Italian poor. The last theme dominated her most famous novel, "History: A Novel," which showed the impact of World War II brutality in destroying a poor mother and son living in Rome. Morante is an Italian equivalent of Simone de Beauvoir or Virginia Woolf as a courageous woman writing exploring major themes of the 20th century, and Tuck's biography is excellent.

Friday, December 26, 2008

"Links," one of the Great Novels of this decade

Nuruddin Farah from Somalia is one of the leading writers of the world and frequently mentioned for the Nobel Prize. His second novel got him exiled by the dictator Siad Barre. For decades he has lived in exile. His nine novels are always set in Somalia which first had the military despot Barre ruling from 1969-1991 and then civil wars since the 1990s. After the nation state failed, the clans which warred against each other became the dominant force in Somalia in the 1990s. Farah has always tried to keep the idea the idea of the nation alive in his writing. Starting in his first novel and continuing through his work, he has deplored female subjugation in Somalia and honored the strength of women there.

"Links," Farah’s ninth novel, deals with how Somalis in the mid-1990s during the horrors of the civil war gave each other courage, love, and refuge. The main character Jeebleh is an exile living in New York returning home after a twenty year absence to Mogadiscio. With epigrams from Dante’s Inferno, Farah leads us through the hell of Mogadiscio in the mid-1990s as Jeebleh lands at the airport just captured by a warlord and full of menacing armed young men. Jeebleh like the reader is disorientated by this strange, violent land so different from the peaceful Mogadiscio he once knew.

Jeebleh like all Somalis has to choose who to trust: his clan, the one dominated northern Mogadiscio, or his best friend Bile from a different clan that dominates southern Mogadiscio. Does one trust blood relations of the tribe or friends? Jeebleh choose friends over blood of the clan. He finds refuge from the violent city with Bile, a doctor who along with close friends and family started the Refuge, a clinic/school/refugee home for people from different clans. The Refuge that Bile creates were “oceans of comfort in a land of sorrow” (155).

Bile’s young niece Rasta, a child many Somalis consider magical and giving protection and safety to those near her, has disappeared along with her best friend. Jeebleh wants to find the grave of his mother and rescue Rasta, and again he turns not to his clan but to his friends who help him. Again and again his clan relatives lie to him, try to coerce money from him, and try to kill him. Farah clearly sees armed warring clans as destructive forces and only trusting, loving friends who create refuges able to bring the future.

Throughout the novel Jeebleh and his friends tell each other stories—stories of what they did in the previous twenty years through which Somali history unfold or Somali folktales through which Somali culture is revealed. At one point Jeebleh thinks, “He and his friends were forever linked through the chains of the stories they shared” (334). At one point a friend tells Jeebleh that “It makes me sad to think that you’ll not only become part of the civil war story, but totally get lost in it” (215).

Jeebleh never gets lost in the civil war story but instead constructs an alternative story about honoring his dead mother, getting justice, and loving his friends. "Links" is about how constructing alternative stories to the civil war story in Somalia is necessary to creating peace, hope, and a future. The novel brilliantly thrusts us into the inferno of violent Mogadiscio but leaves us with a hopeful and tranquil. It is one of the great novels of this decade.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Best Books I Read 2008

These are the best books I read in 2008.


Alaa al Aswamy- "Chicago"--excellent novel about Egyptian graduate students and professors in Chicago caught between pull of Egyptian and American cultures

Nadeem Aslem--"The Wasted Vigil"--tragic novel about the waste of lives of the Afghan 30-year war

Po Bronson- "Bombadiers"--novel that delves into psychology of corrupt bond traders in an investment bank-

Pat Dillon- "The Last Best Thing"--funny satire about excesses of Silicon Valley
during the era

Nuruddin Farah- "Links," gripping, fascinating novel about people who help give each other hope, love, and refuge during civil war in Somalia in 1990s

Michael Frayn--"Spies"--novel set in Britain during World War II about two boys whose search for spies lead to disaster- lovely Proustian recalling of childhood

Joyce Carol Oates- "The Falls"--novel about Love Canal, environmental disaster,
an American family destroyed and then redeemed.

Ellen Ullman- "The Bug"---excellent novel delving into psychology of computer programmer and tester searching for elusive computer bug- makes poetry out of computer programming!


Gilgamesh--great 1st epic in the whole world from ancient Sumer in the modern day Iraq about loss of best friend and becoming human

Mahmoud Darwish-"Unfortunately, It Was Paradise: Selected Poems," wonderful selection from Palestinian poet who was the voice of Palestine

Saadi Yousef-"Without an Alphabet, Without a Face: Selected Poems" - heartbreaking poems by leading Iraqi poet


Paulina Borsook- Cyberselfish- extended essay critical of selfishness permeating Silicon Valley culture

V.S. Naipul- The Writer and His World- great essays by Nobel Laureate from Trinidad in Carribbean- essays about Caribbean and Argentinian politics of 1960s-1990s are brilliant

Pat Welch- Southern California Gardening- great book that helped me start my first vegetable garden in Los Angeles-- a real treasure for all L.A. gardeners

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Superb Novel about Afghanistan

Nadeen Aslam’s 2008 "The Wasted Vigil" is the best English-language novel about the Afghan wars of the last decade. The novel captures the immense tragedy of Afghanistan of the thirty-year conflict. The novel’s brilliantly shows how this tragedy affects Afghanis, English, Americans, and Russians—all imperial dreams end in ruin for the dreamers as well as bring ruins to Afghanistan.

Aslam was born in Paskistan to a secular family, and was brought to England when he was fourteen. He has written two fine previous novels about Pakistanis.

"The Wasted Vigil" focuses on the walking wounded of the Afghan Wars who find a short refuge with Marcus, an English doctor who has a house in a small town outside Jalalabad under the Tora Bora Mountains and has lived there for decades. Marcus himself is one of the walking wounded; his Afghan doctor wife Qatrina was murdered by the Taliban, his daughter Zameen was captured by the Russians and disappeared, and he’s searching for his long lost grandson. Marcus gives refuge to Lara, a Russian woman searching for her lost brother Benedikt, a soldier in the Russian army in Afghanistan who defected and disappeared.

The next walking wounded is David Town, an American who once loved Marcus’s daughter Zameen, comes to visit Marcus and to see the school he has built. Town, once a CIA anti-Communist spy, saw how his work arming Muslim fundamentalists helped destroy Zameen who was murdered by these same funademantalists. Now he’s long given up spying and tries to build schools in American-dominated Afghanistan as way of repentence. He is mourning his lost love Zameen.

Casa is a young Taliban who helps bomb David's school and later gets wounded. David, not knowing that Case hepled bomb his school, rescues him but Casa’s comrades see him received money from David, the American, so they are out to kill their former comrade. Casa finds refuge with Marcus. Casa is brilliantly portrayed as an orphan missing his family he never knew raised in madrassas and trained as a mujahaddin who became his new family. Lastly, Dunia, a young Afghani female schoolteacher whom the warlords want to kill as they close down her school, finds refuge with Marcus.

As these characters struggle to rebuild their lives and develop friendships, two love affairs begin—David allows himself to care again for Lara while Casa, the Taliban, begins to shyly fall in love with the modern Afghani Dunia. Great loves resonate throughout this novel: Marcus and his wife Qatrina; David and Zameen. Marcus and his wife had devoted their lives to books, art, music, and healing, so the novel is infused with marvelous language and love for the Afghani/Persian art, music, and literature.

As the characters search for the lost relatives, the novels frequently flashes back to decades previously where Marcus, his wife Qatrina, his daughter Zameen, the Russian soldier Benedikt, David, and the Afghani warlords all interact. Many of male characters--David, Casa, Benedikt the Russian soldier--have been modeled by childhood into warriors and done terrible acts as adults yet the novelist shows us their vulnerabilities and the terrible price these three pay. The women--the Russian Lara and the Afghans Quintirina and Dunia--suffer as their men, their country, and their own lives are impaled. Aslam mixes immense beauty of love and love of literature with horrible stories of atrocities the main characters suffer. No character is stereotyped but all are flawed and wounded but capable of love.

As an new war heats up between Americans and the resurgent Taliban, war again edges even closer to Marcus’s home, so the refuge Marcus hosts is only temporary. The novel ends in tragedy again for the main characters mimicking the larger tragedy of Afghanistan. Read this novel—it’s sad, haunting, and brilliant.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Best selling Egyptian novelist Alaa Al Aswany

Egyptian writer Alaa Al Aswany’s first novel The Yacoubian Building became a best seller throughout the Middle East and was transformed into a big budget Egyptian film. Now Aswany’s brilliant second novel Chicago has just been translated from Arabic into English and published in the United States.

Aswany studied dentistry at the University of Illinois in Chicago, and back in Cairo has supported himself as a dentist. He uses his graduate studies in Chicago and his familiarity with the city in his novel Chicago which has intertwining tales of two Egyptian professors at the university and four Egyptian graduate students in medicine as well as one left-wing white professor and his black partner.

Many of the characters deal with their own conflicts between Egyptian and U.S. cultures. New female graduate student Saymaa starts a friendship and then a romance with lonely brilliant Tariq Haseeb; both are from traditional families who believe in arranged marriages but the two explore new freedoms of dating. Tarif feels superior to Saymaa, a country girl, so how much should she trust him? Both Dr. Ra’fat Thabit and Dr. Muhammad Salah have made successful professional lives in the United States, married American women, and seemed to assimilate fully. When Thabit’s only daughter leaves her father's home to go live with a poor painter, Thabit becomes an enraged Egyptian traditional father. He struggles with rage and caring as his daughter develops a drug addiction. As for Dr. Salah, after years of full assimilation in his American life, he has such nostalgia for his old political girlfriend in Cairo that he starts searching for her through the Internet and ignoring his American wife. All of Aswamny's characters seems real with fascinating predicaments.

Aswany, a long-time dissident fighting to end the dictatorship in Egypt, has the core of the novel dealing with his characters differing reactions to the Egyptian dictatorship. Nagi Abd al-Samad is a newly arrived graduate student who is a poet and dissident in his home country but wants a master’s degree to support himself. His nemesis is graduate student Ahmad Danana, a spy for the Egyptian secret police who runs a student association where he bosses the other Eyptian students around. While Danana wants to organize a reception for the visit of the Egyptian leader, al-Samad wants to organize a protest. The characters argue over politics as Aswany reveals the brutality, torture, and sadism involved in a long-standing dictatorship. The book is immensely revealing about Egypt from a reasoned, intelligent critic of that government.

The book is brilliant about showing the conflicts of all its Egyptians characters and the conflicts within Egyptian politics, but it also pinpoints flaws in American culture such as our drug problems when Dr. Thabit’s daughter becomes addicted. Some critics have said Aswany's portrait of a black single mother's difficult job search is unrealistic, but what kind of job can a black single mother with little education get? Aswany seems accurate in his portrayal of a single mother's actual job prospects for only minimum wage wage but she still desires a job that can get her bling. Aswany is an astute observer of Egyptian but also American characters. All in all, if one wants to read one of the most famous Arabic novelists, read Alaa Al Aswany’s Chicago.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Yiddish Los Angeles in December

This coming Thursday I'm going to the Yiddishkayt Los Angeles concert of
Russian Jewish wedding music in Plummer Park in West Hollywood, the heart
of the Russian neighborhood in Los Angeles.

Below from Yiddishkaht Los Angeles newsletter is news of some upcoming Yiddish
events mostly musical this December:

Еврейской свадебной музыки

Thursday, December 18, 2008 7:00 pm

Free Admission
RSVP to reserve a seat (see below)

Fiesta Hall, Plummer Park

Join in the celebration. Yiddishkayt invites you to a concert exploring the many faces of Russian-Jewish wedding music. The unique trio of musicians shares an incredible, encyclopedic fluency in Jewish, Moldavian, Roumanian and Russian music, a rare and special talent.

Local treasures Isaac Sadigursky (Clarinet) and David Kasap (Accordion) have been playing music together for 50 years, meeting in their youth as Conservatory roommates. Isaac and David are both natives of what is now Moldova, located between Ukraine and Roumania. They are joined by world-renowned klezmer revivalist and music scholar, Michael Alpert (Creative Direction, Violin & Voice) of Brave Old World. Fluent in Yiddish, Russian, Polish, Spanish, German, Serbo-Croatian and conversant in a dozen more languages, Michael has drawn from his deep family heritage and extensive travels to become a pioneering figure in the current renaissance of East European Jewish klezmer music for over 25 years.

FREE ADMISSION, general seating

RSVP to reserve a seat by emailing us your name and number of people in your party (up to 4)--You do not need to RSVP to attend the concert. - email RSVP at

Fiesta Hall, Plummer Park (map)
7377 Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood, CA
(parking lot entrance off Santa Monica Blvd)

Monday, December 08, 2008

Obama's Big Mistake: Hiring Larry Summers

Obama has made a disastrous choice of Larry Summers as one of his lead economic advisors. Summers has been for decades a right-wing economist advocating deregulation, ‘free trade,” sweatshops, and privatization--economic policies that resulted in economic collapse in numerous countries including the U.S.

Summers first became famous when he worked at the World Bank in the early 1990s for his memo that Africa is underpolluted and that industrial countries should dump their pollution on Africa. He became even more famous as President of Harvard University by saying women are by our genes less qualified to be scientists than men. Harvard faculty voted overwhelming no confidence in him, so he was fired in June, 2006.

Summers has advocated disastrous economic policies for decades. In the 1980s Summers was first brought to Washington by his thesis advisor M. Feldstein to be part of Reagan brain trust, serving on Reagan's Council of Economic Advisors from 1982-3 where Summers adopted Regan right-wing attacks on New Deal regulation of bank and finance. In 1990 Lithuania hired him to help their transition to a free market. According to Mark Ames in the "Nation," Summers advocated such a harsh, brutal privatization of the economy that within five years the suicide rate in Lithuania jumped to the highest in the world and "in 1992, after just two years of Summers-nomics, the traumatized Lithuanians voted the communist party back into power, the first East European nation to do so."

Summers didn’t learn anything from the Lithuanian disaster because soon he advocated as U.S. Treasury undersecretary under Clinton the same dreadful economic policies for Russia. According to Peter Bosshard, the policy director of International Rivers, “In the early 1990s, he [Summers] was instrumental in pushing through an untested system of voucher privatization for Russia’s state-owned enterprises. As more prudent colleagues at the World Bank such as David Ellerman had warned, his policies resulted in economic collapse, widespread misery and the emergence of the current system of crony capitalism in Russia.”

Summers’ policies in Russia resulted in the Russian GNP plunging 60% while Russian had the worst "death-to-birth ratio of any industrialized country" (Ames). By the end of the 1990s the “free market” in Russia Summers had set up made a spectacular collapse while his protégé Schliefer was accused by the U.S. Department of Justice of corruption in Russia and the Justice Department was seeking $100 million in damages from Schliefer. As Harvard President Summers put pressure on to get Schliefer off the hook. The death rate in Russia was still soaring.

Having helped destroy the economies for Lithuania and Russia, Summers still hadn’t learned anything. By the late 1990s was Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Department under Clinton when Korean and other Asian countries faced by a financial crises. As Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Department, Summers had policies that wouldn’t let South Korea and Thailand have economic stimulus programs like Obama wants now to do. Summer's policies enforced through the International Monetary Found forced the Koreans to sell off cheaply many of their large corporations to U.S. companies and investors. The I.M.F. policies crashed the South Korean economy, causing a severe recession including huge increase of lay-offs, unemployment, much lowered wages, and huge collapse in the standard of living.

As Secretary of the Treasury under Clinton, he is responsible for the current economic crises in the U.S. Naomi Klein says, “Summers along with Alan Greenspan and Robert Rubin were the key architects of the policies of deregulation that created the crisis that we’re living now.” The three sucessfully abolished Glass-Steagal Act from the 1930s that regulated banks, so the three right-wing ideologues got a new law that allowed for mergers that created banks too big to fail. Summers made yet another disastrous decision when his policy said the U.S. government wouldn’t regulate derivatives held by investment banks—these derivatives are weapons of mass economic destruction key to the current financial disaster. Summers in another disastrous policy decision allowed banks to carry huge amounts of debt—33 to 1 in the cast of Bear Stearns. Summers like his boss at the Treasury Department Robert Rubin was a ardent support of N.A.F.T.A and global sweatshops.

Summers has never been a “free thinker” but a dogmatic right-wing advocate of deregulation and privatization no matter how much havoc it costs it country after country decade after decade. His past economic policies have created disasters to the economies of Lithuania, Russia, South Korea, and now the United States. Rivers says, "Larry Summers is not the free thinker which his supporters make him out to be. He has time and again acted as a dogmatic neoliberal with little regard for subtleties such as the history, political culture and power relations in a country."

What’s wrong with Obama appointing such a long-standing right-wing ideologue as a top economics advisor is that Summers never faces any consequences from his disastrous economic policies in so many countries. The whole dialogue about Summers in mainstream media including the December 7, 2008, New York Times article is about how “smart” he is without any documentation of what he’s done. There’s a huge lack of reality in talking about Summers in the U.S. mass media. Reality never seems to matter. All those suicides in Lithuania never matter. All the Russians who died early deaths never matter. All those U.S. workers who lost their jobs because of N.A.F.T.A that Summers loves don't matter.

The Rachel Maddows show had an interview with Representative Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) about the Obama stimulus package just passed. Rep. De Fazio said, "There’s a pretty good consensus among members of the House that it [spending on infrastruture] should be more. But the dictate from on high in the negotiations with Obama’s advisers — I don’t think the President is there — I think he’s ill-advised by Larry Summers. Larry Summers hates infrastructure, and some of these other economists — who were very much part of creating the problem. Now they’re gonna solve the problem. And they don’t like infrastructure." De Fazio said that 33% of the stimulus package is tax cuts while 7 % is spending on transportation infrastructure. Rep. De Fazio says that Obama advisors like Summers " want to have a consumer-driven recovery. We need an investment- and productivity-driven recovery for this country, a long-term recovery." Also, Summers and the rest of Obama's economic adsiors are living in cuckooland if they think consumers are going to start spending a lot in 2009 as all eocnomic evidence is Americans are saving not spending.

Rep. De Fazio is correct. The last thing this bankrupt coutry needs now is tax cuts. Continuing Republican policies like tax cuts will only lead to protecting the rich who can benefit from reignited consumerism and misery and poverty for millions of Americans now losing jobs and homes. Summer's as Obama's policy advisor looks like the he will treat the United States like he once treated Russia pushing policies to help set up an oligarchy and leading to economic misery of millions of citizens.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Mulholland a Christmas Carol--a holiday play

Los Angeles now has its own holiday play tradition with this 5th run of Bill Robens' musical A Mulholland Christmas Carol. The play is at A Sacred Fool theater, 660 No. Heliotrope, for a pre-Christmas run and is presented by two fine small theaters--Sacred Fools and Theater of Note. The play, the best written about Los Angeles since Luis Valdez's Zoot Suit, shows the choice between greed or generosity and is particularly appropriate for the 2008 holiday season in the new recession.

Robens rewrites Dickens class tale "A Christmas Carol" about greed, poverty, and justice making Ebenezer Scrooge, the mean spirited wealthy man, into William Mulholland, the man who built Los Angeles Department of Water and Power at the beginning of the 20th century. A small band with violin, keyboards, guitar, bass, and drummer played the score while the excellent cast sings the wonderful musical numbers. The show also has fine choreography including the Owens Valley farmers dancing traditional country dances while they sing "Our Owens Valley Song," a song of praise to rural California.

The story begins the day before Christmas when Mulholland at his DWP office won't give the drought-struck Owens Valley farmers any water and threatens to lay off his clerk Van Norman. That night Mulholland is visited by four ghosts. The first is Fred Eaton, ex-mayor of Los Angeles who helped Mulholland steal Owens Valley water, now a ghost in chains. The next ghost is explorer John Wesley Powell as Ghost of Christmas past who shows Mulholland scenes of his youth when he first came to Los Angeles as a poor idealistic young man who sings "Los Angeles River," a lovely song to L.A.'s very own river.

The play delightfully satirizes water politics and corruption in the song "Land Grab" with Harrison Gray Otis, builder of the Los Angeles Times newspaper; Moses Sherman, developer of the city's first electric car system; and rest of the cast singing and dancing out how Los Angeles got all of Owen's Valley Water leading to a twenty years water war.

The next Ghost of Christmas present is Teddy Roosevelt who along with Mulholland sing Roosevelt's mantra "Bully" about forging ahead to get what you want before the Ghost shows Mulholland the suffering of Owens Valley farmers in the drought-stricken region as well as the poor Christmas of his clerk Van Norman and his family.

The Ghost of Christmas Future, a black robbed figure, points out to old Mulholland two alternative futures. He can continue to build the Saint Francis Dam which will then burst--it really did spectacularly burst onstage--to drown hundreds or he can stop building the dam and share his water with the Owens Valley farmers and his wealth with his clerk Van Norman and his family helping them have a better Christmas. The alternative futures in December, 2008, are California alternative futures.

So rush to this show if you want to have a real Los Angeles holiday play. Also, hopefully the play will be videotaped as well as a recording made of the score and songs. The play is the most wonderful way to teach history, so a videotape as well as CD should be in Los Angeles' libraries as well as its schools..

Sacred Fools Theater Company
660 No. Heliotrope, Los Angeles Ca 90004

Friday, November 07, 2008

Best Silicon Valley novel: Pat Dillon's "The Last Best Thing"

Pat Dillon's funny satire The Last Best Thing is by far the best novel about Silicon Valley in the last 20 years. Despite the dot com explosion of the early 21st century when most start-ups went bust, the basic myth of Silicon Valley that any enterprising young person can come to the Valley, work hard in a start-up and make millions young still lingers. In September during the financial crises New York Times magazine even had an article on how Silicon Valley maybe could save the economy, so the newspaper should read Dillon's novel.

Dillon satirizes J.P. McCorwin or J.P., head of a start-up who like many heads of Silicon Valley companies is charismatic and legendary. J.P.s legend began when he headed R & D of Infinity Corporation where he had helped develop many new spiffy products. Dillon quickly punctures the myth: J.P. 's new products "defined both narcissism and overpricing and excited everyone except consumers and financial analysts" so he was fired. Dillon portrays how J.P., who was once a countercultural radical, has changed: the man who once hung out with French anarchists while studying at the Sorbonne has recreated himself after reading Any Rand and wants to serve God and greed at the same time as getting revenge against his former company. The name of J.P.'s French sidekick is priceless: Baba RAM DOS. Dillon is the only novelist of Silicon Valley who satirizes the Bay Area's cultural evolution from 1960s to the 1990s from counterculture to using computers for greed and revenge.

Even better, the novel wonderfully capture's J.P.s '60s rhetoric to his employees and journalists to ring in the suckers. He has no product but boasts to all the product will change the world and get them all rich. It's about time that a novelist skewered the heads of start-ups like J.P. who rushed to get millions of venture capital and were obsessed with stock shares when they had few or no products and no profits. The myth of Silicon Valley is a hard one to puncture but Dillon does so hilariously. A lot of the plot is absurd which wonderfully captures the absurdity of rushing to sell stocks with no profits to back it up as so many did in the Valley. Like Dillion says the J.P.s of Silicon Valley were selling "vapor."

Dillon also satirizes people's escaping into online fantasies. Brad, the head of marketing at J.P.s company, is having an Internet affair with the online sexpot Rose D. rather than deal with his falling apart marriage, his alienated son, or his wife's bullying his daughter. When nearing the climatic online moment with RoseD his laptop catches fires. After another laptop explodes, Brad finds that the second victim Jason, the programmer, was also online hot and heavy with RoseD. Brad is aware that both men are competing for the same virtual woman.

This novel is the first to explore the Valley's geography and history while other Silicon Valley novelists recreate Anywhere U.S.A as they describe mansions, offices, chains, and fast food joints. Dillon uses two characters--Brad the marketing guy and Maria Cisneros, the Mexican-American Executive Assistant--to symbolized all those who grew up in the area but feel like outsiders to explore this geography and history. Brad feels left-out on the day when all his Palo Alto neighbors celebrate their private colleges with banners so he hoists his old San Jose State t-shirt to the gable over the doorway, which provokes put downs from his Yuppie wife.

Maria grew up in as daughter to a vineyard foreman in Santa Clara Valley, the pre-Silicon Valley. She grew up on farmland in the eastern foothills then sold to developers which her retired father always laments, but she went on to get a Stanford MBA. In the job interview with J.P., Maria is seduced by J.P.'s tales of both producing the Last Big Thing to make a bundle of money improving the world so she gives him thousands of both her and her dad's hard earned money as "seed money." She lives now in glitzy new Silicon Valley but left her heart in old rural Santa Clara.

Maria and Brad are the naive ones taken in by financial seductions of the J.P.'s of the world. While the FBI hunts for RoseB, J.P. plans to use publicity to get a "buzz" while he still has no product to sell but still plans a IPO to make a killing in the stock market before he cuts and runs. Both Maria and Brad are like Kafesque characters lost in this absurd world. Brad realizes he's head of marketing but has no idea what the product he's supposed to market while Maria has to write a SEC prospectus for the IPO also without knowing what the product is. Dillon satirizes their naivete as they slowly gain forces to try to understand what J.P. is doing and who RoseD is? Dillon's novel is so good because its the only one to completely step outside of the get-rich-quick myth of Silicon Valley to show us how naive and propesterous this myth is.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Three Good Silicon Valley novels

I've been reading a lot of Silicon Valley literature in preparation for California Studies Association next conference in De Anza College in April, 2009. The conference is on Silicon Valley.

Well, here are short takes on three good Silicon Valley novels:

1. Matt Richtel's "Hooked," a fun, absorbing murder mystery about addictions. Nat Idle the hero, a S.F. medical journalist, is sitting in a San Francisco Internet cafe when a woman hands him a note in the handwriting of his dead girlfriend Annie telling him to leave immediately. He walks out and then the Internet cafe blows up. Idle uses his journalistic skills to search for who bombed the cafe and to investigate if Annie is really dead. Annie was/is a venture capitalist, daughter of a leading Silicon Valley venture capitalist. So the novel takes us from the mansions of venture capitalists to the down home S.F. bars where Idle hands out with his friends, from encrypted files to geeks who open such files. In a lighthearted way the mystery is really about addiction to love and addiction to computers and how the two are intertwined.

2. Po Bronson's "The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest" is a fascinating novel about young engineers struggling to escape the treadmill of bad jobs and boring lives in Silicon Valley. The head of research at La Honda Research Center in the Silicon Valley hills assigns new engineer Andy Caspar to La Honda's worst research job: designing the $300 computer. Caspar recruits three other software and hardware guys at La Honda and inspires his team to take their job seriously. After they are all fired, they begin their own startup--the four idealistic young guys trying to make a go it amidst the nasty politics, betrayals, and backstabbing of the older men in the computer industry.

Bronson gets the details right from Caspar's boarding house for penniless Stanford grad students, to all four engineers' romantic problems, to the 'board" meetings the four engineers have in the local fast food joints to the mind games the engineers play such as the infinity loop. Infinity loop is a prank engineers play getting a newbie to go on a wild goose chase ending exactly where they started. The infinity loop in the novel is the model for all the traps or loops or treadmills in society that make people go round and round ending exactly where they started. The engineers are aiming at jolting society out of its infinity loop.

3. Po Bronson's "Bombadiers is a satire of corrupt bond traders on mid-1990s San Francisco. While not actually set in Silicon Valley, the novel captures the 1990s spirit of yuppies struggling on awful jobs to make big bucks and how their companies mercilessly manipulate them. Bronson worked for a time at First Boston, an investment bank, so he really captures the atmosphere of Bay Area yuppies on the make--whether in finance or Silicon Valley of the 1990s. Actually, the two fields were closely intertwined.

Sid Geeder, the hero of "Bombadiers," is the King of Mortgages, the top seller of terrible overpriced bonds based on bad mortgages from failed S & Ls. Geeder and all the other salespeople know the bonds are terrible and know that the bonds are unpayable, but gleefully he sells bonds worth millions to those he hates as a way to undermine to government. To sell the bonds, Geeder makes up lies that "were well-constructed bombs that blew up few years down the road." Geeder is a "bombadier," spewing out his bombs--lies--about the financial system in order to make his $4 million in stock. Now that all those bombs of securities based on bad mortgages have blown up the global financial system, this novel is utterly fascinating in a ghoulish way.

Bronson's chapter "Addictions" shows how the bonds salespeople are all addicted--to greed, to drugs, to lousy romances. Addictions seems to be part of the job. Another fascinating chapter "Information Economics" deals with how "the Information Economy was a Ponzi scheme spiraling out of control" starting with information glut stemming from computers and the press as well as the investment bank spreading rumors aka lies through the information system to help sell bonds. If a reader wants to understand the mindset of bond and stock traders knowingly selling bad securities, this novel is for you.

Another fascinating chapter is "Assets" detailing how this extremely rich investment bank tries to stay as liquid as possible--everything in its offices is temporary and it can fire all its salespeople at any moment. The company's biggest asset is its workers' brainpower: "the firm strategized incessantly to milk its employees' brainpower while simultaneously keeping them so strung out, addicted, and off-kilter they didn't know how valuable they had become." What's fascinating is "Bombadiers" as well as "Hooked" show how Yuppie's addictions hook them into the nasty system while the characters in "Bombadiers" as well as "The First Twenty Million" struggle to escape this vicious system or get out of the infinity loop.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Paulson Won't Get Bank Loans from his Bucks

Once upon a time there was man named Hank Paulson, CEO of investment bank Goldman Sacks. Starting in 2001, his bank and others helped lend money to mortgage lenders Countrywide, NovaStar financial, and Impac Mortgage to ignite a housing boom of subprime loans. Godlman Sacks and the other investment banks purchased subprime mortgage loans "from these lenders so that they could chop them into mortgage-backed securities of dizzying complexity and dubious credit quality, which were, in turn, sold to suckers ... er, "investors" all over the world ...."(Moteley Fool wesite)".

The bankers gave themselves billions of bonuses each year for all their good works. Hank Paulson makes a fortune of $700 billion. He also successfully lobbies the SEC so these new investments of bad mortgages aren't regulated. President Bush asks him to be Secretary of the Treasurey. When the subprime mortgages starts tanking in 2007 he does nothing. When more mortgages default throughout spring of 2008 he does nothing. Then September, 2008, Paulson announces that the U.S. economy will collapse unless the Congress passes his $710 bailout to buy the bad mortgages so banks will begin lending again. The U.S. citizens voice their opposition 100 to 1, but on Wall State and big business exerts pressure so Congress on its second try passes the bailout. Immediately stock markets crash around the world.

In the October 25, 2008 New York Times Joe Nocera wrote a column titled "So When Will Banks Give Loans?" After Nocera reminds us that Paulson had sold his $700 bailout to Congress as the fastest way to get banks giving loans again, the writer says "the dirty little secret of the banking industry is that it has no intention of using the [bailout] money to make new loans."

Nocera heard a J.P. Morgan Chase banking insider say the $25 billion the bank got from the government "will help us do is perhaps be a little bit more active on the acquisition side or opportunistic side for some banks who are still struggling." In other words, the bank is thinking of using its money to acquire other banks. The J.P. Morgan Chase executive said his bank will not be making more loans. They are hoarding the money.

Nocera adds that Treasury really didn't want its bailout money to go for bank loans but "Treasury wants banks to acquire each other and is using its power to inject capital to force a new and wrenching consolidation." Also, the Treasury Department "recently put in place a new tax break, worth billions to the banking industry, that has only one purpose; to encourage bank mergers." The banking industry should really appreciate Secretary Paulson for giving them such huge tax breaks. Also, Paulson is using the bailout money to turn the U.S. banking system into a "oligopoly" of huge banks--that will hurt rather than help this country. The huge banks will benefit from the bailout but the rest of the country will be big losers. Besides, J.P. Morgan Chase is really sound and didn't need the $25 billion at all.

Nocera then compares Paulson's bailout with the British government's. Paulson's bailout gifts the money to banks while only recommending they give loans while the British government mandated lending as a requirement for getting the capital. Because of Paulson's toxic bailout investors for good reasons won't trust the financial system and won't invest. The stock market will continue to fall. People will continue to lose jobs and homes by the hundreds of thousands.

First, Paulson's bank Goldman Sacks is one of the key plays in creating the housing bubble--they profit mightily. Paulson's bailout was a con job to help a few big banks including his own Goldman Sacks but is harming the whole U.S. economy. Paulson's own billions in Goldman Sacks stock and has huge conflicts of interest. He'll go down in history injecting taxpayer money into big banks, one of whose stock he owns. He's a greedy little man and a low class grifter, but our tragedy is he's the Secretary of the Treasury.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

How People Can Improve the Economy

Latest news in New York Times this week is that wages are going to go down and that "Banks Are Likely to Hold Tight to Bailout Money" of $200 billion that Secretary of Treasury gave them. The newspapers says that the banks will not lend the money out as Paulson and the administration hoped.

So let's see what people did in the 1st years of the Great Depression when Secretary of the Treasury Mellon was yelling liquidate the banks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate the workers and unemployment climbed to 25% by 1932

People organized Unemployment Councils from 1930-32 that demanded unemployment (there was none at the time) and food from the local governments. In the hunger marchers which culminated on International Unemployment day on March 6, 1930, the marchers in many cities demanded unemployment relief, and they wanted to "work for wages." The Communist Party and its allied organizations were the main organizers of the Unemployment Councils which stopped evictions and asked city governments for relief--food and small change.

By 1931 hunger marchers in 12 state capitals demanded relief and unemployment insurance. A national hunger march on December 7, 1931, was timed to coincide with the opening of Congress. The December 7 march demanded unemployment insurance and a social insurance system to cover maternity care, illness, accidents, and old age. Local demonstrations and conferences select 1,670 delegates who converged on Washington from four separate columns. The marchers were never allowed to speak to Congress or the president, but their mass meetings brought these issues to be discussed nationally.

In the March 7, 1932, at Ford Hunger March Three thousand marched from Detroit to the Ford employment office in the suburb of Dearborn, a company town where Ford's main complex was located. Most were auto workers and their families. Police gassed the marchers when they were entering Dearborn. Then some marchers threw stones. When the marchers arrive at Ford, the police fired at them, killing five. The cops blamed the Communists and had a witch hunt with raids against left-wing organization, but the Ford hunger marchers held a huge funeral march of 30,0000--the unemployment movement in the Detroit area then grew even stronger.

Also World War I veterans organized the bonus march across the country of 43,000 veterans and their families asking for a bonus they said they had been promised for their war service in spring of 1932. The Bonus marchers arrived in Washington D.C. on June 17, 1932 where they had an encampment. Hoover got hysterical and asked General McArthur to clear out the bonus marchers, so he had has troops shoot at them, killing two.

By 1933 radical farmers were protesting throughout the Midwest. In February 1933, thousands of farmers marched on the new capitol building in Lincoln, Nebraska, demanding a moratorium on all farm foreclosures. The Legislature halted foreclosure sales for two years, but the legislators allowed district judges to decide how long a foreclosure could be postponed or to order the proceedings to go forward anyway. In the first test case ended the judge said the sale to go forward. Farmers and their newspapers demanded higher farm prices, cancellation on payment of feed and seed loans, a moratorium on mortgages and reduced taxes.

The marchers' demands then were adopted by FDR and the Democratic Party and by the 2nd half of the 1930s passed as legislation: unemployment insurance; state relief in food and small amounts of money; disability insurance; social security for the elderly; the W.P.A. and C.C.C. programs that hired the unemployed for jobs; the T.V.A. program to help impoverished farmers in the Tennessee Valley; agricultural subsidies to help farmers. At the end of World War II in 1944 Congress finally responded to the demands of the veterans in the Bonus March by enacting the G.I.Bill of Rights legislation giving education benefits so World War II veterans could get a free college education and low-interest G.I. home mortgages.

So the 99% of the U.S. people who have been against Paulson's idiotic bailouts and Bush's inept economic policies should like the protesters in the 1930-1931 publicly through marches, demonstrations, conferences articulate a set of demands; 1) extend unemployment insurance; 2) have FANNIE MAE and Freddie Mac give new low-interest mortgages to stop forecloses; 3.) allow judges in bankruptcy courts to lower the amount owed in mortgages; 4.) have a government-sponsored green energy program hiring unemployed modeled after the W.P.A. and C.C.C. 5.) have a government program to rebuild roads, bridges etc. hiring unemployed; 6.) single payer national health insurance.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Comparing 1929 and 2008

So how is this 2008 economic crises like 1929? The economist John Maynard Keynes said the 1929 meltdown was because income of Americans and Western Europeans was too low to buy the goods and services.During the 1920s government policies favored the rich and attacked the wages of farmers and workers.

Right now the same problem is occurring: the income of Americans is too low to buy goods and services. Former labor secretary Reich said, "Americans have lived beyond their means because their means have declined. It is necessary that their means be restored." Many Americans turned to credit cards and subprime mortgages because they lacked money. Juan Cole says , ’’The average wage of the average worker is lower now than in 1973 and has been lower or flat for the past 35 years. That's the condition of the 300 million or so Americans.” Cole says 300 million have stagnant wages while we have 3 million Superrich who take home 20% of the national income, owning some 45 percent of the privately held wealth in the US.” The Regan-Clinton-Bush neoliberal economic policies have smashed the middle class and working class enriching the 3 million superrich just like the 1920s.

Hoover’s Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon who was a firm believer in cutting taxes, especially on the rich. In the 1920s Mellon kept on advocating and getting tax cuts for the very rich. The rich put their money saved into the bank as they already had far more than they needed.—this excess savings of the rich and unequal income distribution in the 1920s with a small Superirch and a larger struggling masses helped trigger the Great Depression. Bush like Mellon was all about cutting taxes on the superich. Also McCain’s economic plan is all about cutting taxes—that helped cause the Great Depression. He sounds like the reincarnation of Hoover and his Secretary of the Treasury Mellon.

Secretary of the Treasury Mellon in 1930s had a theory of not bailing out banks, but letting the strong banks survive and the weak banks go bankrupt. Go bankrupt they did, so by 1932 there was panic and runs on the bank until late 1932 when FDR was elected and the banking economy completely collapsed. Ben Barncke, the current head of the Federal Reserve Bank, is supposedly a student of the Great Depression, and is critical of Mellon's not trying to save the faiiling banks of 1930-32. The only problem of Bernacke's analysis is that unemployment steadily rose in the time period while wages fell. What as really driving the economny down was falling wages as Americans bought less and less.

Americans by 100 to 1 were against Paulson’s toxic $700 bailout. First, Congresspeople listened to us, rejecting the bailout but then Wall Street and Chamber of Commerce pressure was applied, so Congress reversed itself, approving the bailout. Then stock markets crashed around the world. It seems that Americans consuming on credit cards were the driving force between global economic expansion, particularly in Asia, buying all those goods from China, Japan, Korean, etc etc. So last month when Americans reigned in our spending, those economies in Asian felt pain. Paulson's bailouts do nothing to help Americans get more money from wages so we can buy more goods and services.

Last Friday financier George Sorros on Bill Moyer’s TV show on PBS told the truth about Paulson’s bailout for the first time on mainstream corporate media: Paulson’s bailout is designed to help bank stockholders. By the way, Paulson owns $650 million stock in Goldman Sacks investment bank so Paulson is helping himself and his cronies. Everything Paulson has done is to bailout out bank stockholders, the people who caused the financial crises by demanding ever increasing profits from the banks and who benefited from ever increasing profts from the banks.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Los Angeles artists have Onyx reunion

Tomorrow, Saturday Oct. 11 poet S.A. Griffin is organizing 10-year reunion for the OnyxPhotobucket Left- Atomic Sherpas

an artists' cafe that was LA Weekly says 'about the closet thing to '20s-era Paris this town has
ever seen." Yes, I was there from the beginning--it was true. In a tiny
cafe in Silverlake we had poets, painters, rock' musicians, avant garde musicians,
art students--it was a great artists cafe. Run by Fumiko Robinson and John Leech,
it was our home away for home ,our communal artists living room. I read poetry
at the first Onyx art event upstairs which went on for hours.

I will read tomorrow at 2pm followed by leading L.A. poet Holly Prado and 11 more hours. The party will go on until 1 am.

Poet/writer S.A. Griffin brings us The 10-Year Onyx Reunion. Griffin calls it "an old-fashioned Onyx hoedown" with music from Atomic Sherpas, Charmkin Rebellion, Bill Markus, Michael Whitmore and Ron Hershewe bands, poetry by Steve Abee, Rafael F.J. Alvarado, Holly Prado and Blakeslee Stevens. Tribal Café, 1651 W. Temple St., L.A.; Sat., Oct. 11, noon-1 p.m.; free. (213) 483-4458. Pictured: Atomic Sherpas.


Monday, October 06, 2008

Tent Cities and Sara Palin

In the U.S. for the last three decades we've had 1920s football/frat house culture as well as 1920s Wall Street bubble/fraud/greed. Well, the party's over today and the stock market is crashing in the U.S. and Europe.

Actually, I've thought the people like Bush and Paulson who go around saying that Congress must pass the bailout or the sky will fall have been first creating fears and then manipulating fears to pass their terrible bailout. Some good things have been happening. The globe in the last few weeks has people using less oil--a good thing as it lessens global warming. The people who created the bubble and frauds in Wall Street have begun to be exposed. People in the United States have been spending less and saving more--a good thing. But now we have to deal with our many problems starting with tent cities growing up across the nation. These people need to be put in homes.
I'm not underestimating our economic problems--the economy lost 760,000 jobs this year including losing 159,000 jobs in September. People move to Reno to try to find casino jobs but no jobs so wind up in tents. They move to California for jobs but no jobs. New York Times reported Friday people in Nebraska are beginning to abandon children as they did in the Depression. We have tent cities going up outside Los Angeles and Reno and other places.

We have a leadership crises where leaders of both parties have been pushing hard for a terrible $700 billion bailout. We have a mass media which focuses on trivia such as Sara Palin's wink rather than she did a dreadful job on the debate last Thursday. When asked what Palin would do about the mortgage crises, she ignored the question. Her recipe for improving the economy is a tax cut as she repeated during the debate a tax cut creates jobs. That's total idiocy, particularly in a month where 159,000 jobs were lost. We've had eight years of Bush tax cuts and lost millions of jobs. Tax cuts do not create jobs. Palin flunked on the debate. Palin should get the Herbert Hoover award for the dumbest comment made about the economic crises. It's time the mass media stopped being so incredibly stupid in how they write about her.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

200 economists against the bailout

Last week 200 economists from leading American universities issued the following letter against the wreched bailout:

(This letter was sent to Congress on Wed Sept 24 2008 regarding the Treasury plan as outlined on that date. It does not reflect all signatories views on subesquent plans or modifications of the bill)

To the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President pro tempore of the Senate:

As economists, we want to express to Congress our great concern for the plan proposed by Treasury Secretary Paulson to deal with the financial crisis. We are well aware of the difficulty of the current financial situation and we agree with the need for bold action to ensure that the financial system continues to function. We see three fatal pitfalls in the currently proposed plan:

1) Its fairness. The plan is a subsidy to investors at taxpayers’ expense. Investors who took risks to earn profits must also bear the losses. Not every business failure carries systemic risk. The government can ensure a well-functioning financial industry, able to make new loans to creditworthy borrowers, without bailing out particular investors and institutions whose choices proved unwise.

2) Its ambiguity. Neither the mission of the new agency nor its oversight are clear. If taxpayers are to buy illiquid and opaque assets from troubled sellers, the terms, occasions, and methods of such purchases must be crystal clear ahead of time and carefully monitored afterwards.

3) Its long-term effects. If the plan is enacted, its effects will be with us for a generation. For all their recent troubles, America's dynamic and innovative private capital markets have brought the nation unparalleled prosperity. Fundamentally weakening those markets in order to calm short-run disruptions is desperately short-sighted.

For these reasons we ask Congress not to rush, to hold appropriate hearings, and to carefully consider the right course of action, and to wisely determine the future of the financial industry and the U.S. economy for years to come.

For the whole list of names of the economists, go to the link

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Fire Paulson Fire Cox

The reason Bush should fire Paulson is he and his investment bank buddies created the financial mess.

The federal government admitted it in the New York Times story "S.E.C. Concedes Oversight Flaw Fueled Collapse." The Security and Exchange Commission (the SEC) was passed during FDR's presidency to regulate Wall Street and was supposed to save the country from out-of-control greed, speculation and manipulations of the 1929 stock market crash. The SEC was supposed to regulate Wall Street, but following the Reaganomics voodoo economics of the last 3 decades. they didn't regulate. Instead Bush II appoints Christopher Cox to chair the SEC, but Cox like Bush and like McCain is a long-time foe of regulation. It's just like letting the fox guard the hen house. In 2004 the SEC, not interested in any real regulation of investment banks, instituted a "voluntary supervision program for Wall Street's largest investment banks" and now Mr. Cox admits his voluntary program "had contributed to the global financial crises, and he abruptly shut the program down" (New York Times, 9/27/08).

Mr. Cox said his voluntary program was "fundamentally flawed the from the beginning" because investments banking companies could join or withdraw from the program at will. Besides, the SEC in a just released report said that it didn't failed to monitor Bear Stearns before it collapsed.

The 5 big investor banks lobbied for the voluntary commission, and who was head of Goldman Sacks at the time? Mr Paulson, now head of the Treasury Department. So Mr. Paulson helps set up the voluntary commission at the SEC that helps crash Wall Street. The SEC gave into the lobbying of the 5 investment banks including Mr. Paulson at Goldman Sacks.

But there's more. The 5 investment banks wanted SEC as their umbrella regulator "because that let them avoid regulation of their fast-growing European operations by the European Union." So this voluntary commission was set up to avoid regulation by European Union. Now Mr. Cox admits that the SEC's regulation was non-existent and was put into place at the request of the investment banks who had collapsed or been sold.

Mr. Paulson is one of the people most responsible fore creating this Wall Street financial crises. He should be fired. Mr. Cox also by his negligence helped the crises develop. He should be fired.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Wall Street Bail Out Is a Mistake

Last week I was interested in the Wall Street crisis for many reasons, one being that my
auto insurance agency was 21st Century owned by AIG. I was wondering if I had an auto insurance if AIG went bankrupt, but then it the federal government promised to bail it out, so I still have auto insurance.

Who to blame for the crises? Most people in mainstream media such as PBS blame Allan Greenspan, former head of the Federal Reserve bank, for not regulating the investment banks such as Lehman Brothers who were making wild loans on subprime mortgages. LA Times had an article today saying Europeans blame the financial crises on deregulation, Alan Greenspan, and greed. The left-wing Counterpunch goes further saying blaming the crises on neoliberalism, the ideology that free markets with little or no government regulation should dominate our economy. Neoliberalism has dominated U.S. economy since President Regan. Therefore blame Milton Freedman, the great guru of neoliberalism, and all his quack followers; also blame President Regan and his bunch of neoliberals followers including Bush I and Bush II. They repeated endlessly that deregulation wasn't necessary and markets should prevail.

We also should blame U.S. Senator Phil Graham who sponsored a legislation passed in the late 1990s that deregulated banks and investment houses, ending the Glass/Stegal Act that in the 1930s regulated banks and investment houses. Graham is now a major fundraiser and adviser for McCain who also solidly supported deregulation his decades in the Senate. We should blame Clinton and his Secretary of the Treasury Bob Rubin for pushing to pass Graham's disastrous piece of legislation that deregulated the banks.

Most everybody agrees that government needs to step in but Bush's stepping in so far has been a disaster. Bush has refused to help out distressed homeowners by giving them low-interest loans. Neoliberals have also kept down wages for 30 years, so wages have stagnated. Bush II's mismanagement has cost the country 600,000 lost jobs this year.

Now Bush's plans would worsen the economic crises. The New York Times said the government could spend money on rebuilding the country's broken infrastructure or doing a bail out of Wall Street. Bush II wants to spend $700 billion bailing out Wall Street--this same Bush II who said the country couldn't afford to spend paltry millions to expand Healthy Families giving health insurance to poor children.

The major problem with Bush II's proposal is that he wants the government to take over bad mortgages from banks to stabilize the financial system until the economy improves and people can buy homes a gain. Given lost jobs, stagnating wages, and difficult-to-get high-interest mortgages, who is going to buy houses in the next few years? Very very few.

I know one young couple with a year-old baby in a one-room apartment in Los Angeles and another young couple planning to have a baby in their one-room apartment in San Francisco. Neither can afford to buy houses in their cities. Bush II's plans will do nothing to improve anybody's income but instead cause average taxpayers taxes to go up to pay for the bail out which might amount to trillion dollars. Bush II's bailout plan is a recipe for one very very very very long recession.

2001 economics Novel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz says the first thing this country has to do to recover economically is end the Iraq War which has now cost $3 trillion dollars. The economist argues that to get out of a recession what the federal government needs is to stimulate the economy but it doesn't have the funds if it wastes its funds on the Iraq War. He argues that the longer the Iraq War lasts, the longer the recession lasts. Also, I'd add close all these unnecessary bases that the U.S. has around the world.

Reducing military spending overseas would free the money to give a real stimulus package like FDR's New Deal. A new government in Washington would rebuild infrastructure as FDR did through such projects as the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s (CCC). The CCC not only built bridges, roads, post offices, and high schools which we still use today but also gave jobs to the unemployed. When you give jobs to the unemployed, then they immediately spend their wages, stimulating the economy. Further, a new administration could expand unemployment and food stamps. When you give jobs to the unemployed or more unemployment or food stamps, then the people immediately spend their wages or unemployment checks, stimulating the economy.

Further, FDR supported unionizing of blue collar workers, enabled them to eventually increase wages to join the middle class. The president & federal legislature can change its anti-union stances as well as get rid of anti-union legislation. With rise in unionization, wages will rise as they did in the 1940s and 1950s. With more people have jobs and higher wages, then people will have the income to buy homes so the housing market will naturally improve.

Instead of federal bailout of banks and investment houses who took on bad mortgage debt, the federal government should have a policy of switching high interest mortgages to lower, fixed rate 30 year mortgage, helping people to stay in their homes. The federal government after World War II gave low-interest housing loans to veterans, allowing thousands to buy homes for the first times in their lives. Low-interest 30-year mortgages would help stabilize markets and housing prices. Further, because investors speculated on housing prices causing them to go up astronomically, working people and middle class couldn't afford to buy houses in many urban areas such as Los Angeles. The fall of housing prices will make houses more affordable--that is a good thing.

Obama and the Democrats in Congress support some of these things. The Democrats in Congress want some housing relief for distressed homeowners included in the bailout package but the housing relief should be in a different bill. Also, Obama has promised to included money to rebuild infrastructure in his new administration. The rest of the |New Deal package--including removing anti-union legislation--people will have to struggle for. McCain sounds clueless. His major economic adviser is Phil Graham who got us into this mass. McCain's election will mean economic disaster for this country.

Let's get this very straight. FDR's New Deal, while not prefect, did help get millions out of dire poverty into jobs. The federal post-World War II packages of veterans benefits for education and low-coast housing loans helped more millions. We know what has worked in our economy. We know the neoliberalism has given us the present recession and Wall Street disaster. We need to junk the failed polices of neoliberalism. Government programs have worked in the past. We need to resurrect them.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sara Palin as Bush III

Sara Palin is really just Bush the Third.

The McCain/Palin ticket would give us more Bush policies in spades.

First, Palin like Bush is the candidate from Big Oil. Palin like Bush doesn't believe
in global warming. A few days ago she moderated her position and said that human activity can contribute to global warming a little. Palin like Bush wants as the crowd cheered at the Repbulican National Convention to "drill, drill, drill." Palin like Bush doesn't believe in renewable energy and hasn't funded any in Alaska.

Yes, Palin as governor of Alaska increased taxes from the oil industry but her husband has worked for oil giant British Petroleum for eighteen years on the north slope in Alaska. Palin thinks her big accomplishment is having the Alaska fund a natural gas pipeline which will pipe gas to Alberta to treat tar oil--an environmental disaster waiting to happen. As a governor in Alaska she lets oil companies dump thousands of gallons of toxic wastes in prime fisheries. McCain/Palin would continue Bush's policies of letting oil giants dominate energy in the United States, letting gas prices soar, wreak environmental havoc and letting oil companies have obscene profits. Voting for McCain/Palin is like voting for a hike in the price of gas.

Palin like McCain has presented herself as having no taxes but cutting spending. As mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, she cut funds for a new library, wouldn 't fund a new park the city needed, and wouldn't fund a sewage treatment plant Wasilla desperately needed. She did fund $15 million for a sports complex on land that the city didn't own, spurring a lawsuit which is still in the the courts. As mayor she lowered taxes on corporations but raised sales taxes which falls on working people. After she was mayor, the working people of Wasilla paid higher taxes for everything they bought but still lacked the library, the park, and the sewage treatment plant. She was a lousy mayor. As governor of Alaska, she had surplus of government money but wouldn't spend it on improving Alaska's terrible schools nor on domestic violence programs.

She attacked Obama for being a community organizer in her speech at the Republican National Convention. She obviously thinks its idiotic to give up a high paying job to go to work trying to improve a local communities. In fact, as governor of Alaska she had policies that were designed to never improve any local communities. She does, however, believe in spending a lot of state funds on proving polar bears are not endangered species. Ensuring that polar bears die out seems to be high on her priority list as Alaskan governor. Bush also has gone after the endangered species act, trying to end it. Palin like Bush work hard at making policies that wipe out animal species. Palin has been a lousy governor of Alaska.

Palin would give us more of Bush's foreign policy.

Palin like Bush II knows very little about foreign policy and Palin like Bush II before he was elected has hardly been out of the United States. The Republicans said she went to Canada, Mexico, and visited the troops in Iraq. Then the Republicans corrected themselves. No, she didn't visit troops in Iraq but merely went to Kuwait. Oh well.

Bush has now gotten into two wars--Iraq and Afghanistan. Bush has the tremendous incompetency to be losing to the Taliban in Afghanistan. McCain has promised us 100 years of war in Iraq while Palin when asked about Georgia/Russia said she would support War with Russia over Georgia. McCain/Palin are warmongers who refused to recognize how Bush's wars have bankrupted the U.S. economy and who promise to bankrupt it even faster.

Let's take her speech at the Republican National Convention attack Obama for thinking it important to read prisoners their rights. Palin thinks prisoners should have no rights. In other words like Bush she is pro-torture. She clearly hasn't thought much about the issue, because the armed service leadership is always against torture knowing if we torture people, then other people will hate us and torture our soldiers. Just like Bush has isolated the U.S. around the world, Palin's ideas that prisoners in the U.S. need rights would make this country look like brutal torturers.

The speech Palin said at the Republican National Convention, according to the New Yorker, was written by a Bush speechwriter and then refitted for Palin. Palin is a puppet repeating the words of her Republican handlers. The Republicans have threatened the press that if they ask tough questions of Palin, they would loose access. What are her Republican handlers afraid of? Are they afraid she would divert from the script they make her carefully memorize?

When people look at Palin and McCain, see 8 more years of polices destroying small towns by denying them needed sewage plants, destroying rural economies such as fisheries in Alaska she is letting oil companies pollute with toxic waste, and destroying communities in the city. Palin and McCain promise us indept handling of the U.S. economy and more wars to bankrupt the country.

Finally, many scientists think global warming causes increased intensity of hurricanes. Scientists predicted that millions would have to flee low-lieing areas to escape floods caused by global warming. That's exactly what's happening in the last month with hurricanes like Hurricane Ike right now. The Republicans have put in place policies that cause global warming. As long as they continue to be puppets of the oil industry and continue to fight for polices like use of oil and coal which increases global warming, they may shed tears for envirnomental refugees. They may give speeches about helping environmental refugees. But their policies for decades had caused the environmental refugees. There's an old saying that it's don't talk the talk but walk the walk. Palin walks the walk of Big Oil

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Short eco-tour of Los Angeles

Siel of Green Los Angeles Girl asked what to tell a ecological Finish visitor who had one Sunday evening and one Monday morning in Los Angeles. So below is my answer.

Dear Finnish Visitor to Los Angeles,
Let's pretend you are staying in Hollywood.

For a Sunday evening, I'd buy an all-day metro pass. Take either the Metro Rapid 704 bus or Metro 4 bus down Santa Monica Boulevard all the way to the beach and get off at the final stop. If you are in Hollywood, Santa Monica Boulevard is usually a short walk. Then I'd walk the palisades, walk down to the beach, say hello to the ocean, go back up, walk around 3rd Street Promenade and downtown Santa Monica. By the way, if you want to hop off the bus at Beverly Drive in the heart of Beverly Hills and walk two blocks south to Wilshire Boulevard and back north to Santa Monica Boulevard you will see the heart of Beverly Hill's shopping district.

For Monday morning, I'd get an all-day metro pass, and take the Red line subway to Union Station, get off and tour the station. Then I'd walk across the street, walk through Olvera Street and look at the zanja madre ditch/fountain right in front of the Avila Adobe and walk through the Avila Adobe.The city started as a small farming town irrigated my zanjas or irrigation ditches where water was brought down the the Los Angeles River just north of here to the fields circling Olvera city.

Then I'd walk across the street and walk around La Placita Church, Los Angele's oldest church. Then I'd walk south to La Placita, the little plaza and hub of the city. All the city's celebrations and political rallies for the first 100 years were held here. There's a fine Chinese-American museum just south of the plaza telling Chinese history of Los Angeles as this area was the city's first Chinatown.

If there's time, walk about 4 blocks south to Little Tokyo and walk through the plaza there between the Japanese-American museum and the Democracy museum.

Of course, there are many fine restaurants along the way in Santa Monica, Union Station, Olvera Street, and Little Tokyo. But at least the visitor gets to see both the city's historical beginnings in Olvera Street, the mighty Pacific and one beach city, and even perhaps a glimpse of Little Tokyo, the historical home of Japanese-Americans in the city.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Next Week, S.F. Labor Book Fair

Next July 19, 2008, I'll be reading poetry at the San Francisco Labor Book Fair. The poets will
read 3:30-5:00. The Book Fair is part of San Francisco Labor Festival: 50 events held from July 5 to 31 in San Francisco and the East Bay on labor including films, videos, talks, theater, concerts, panels, walks of historical labor sites.

1st Annual LaborFest BookFair & Poetry Reading
July 19 (Saturday) 2008
Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts - 2868 Mission St.,SF


Main Gallery (Book Presentations)
9:30 AM-10:45 AM
Fernando Gapasin on: Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice.

11:00 AM-12:15 PM
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz on: Roots of Resistance: A History of Land Tenure in New Mexico.

1:15 PM – 2:30 PM
Lauren Coodley on: Putting Labor into California History,3110,0131884107,00.html

Theater 12:00 PM-1:30PM
Lincoln Cushing Presentation and Slide Show on: Art/Works - American Labor Graphic.

1:45 PM-3:15 PM
Bryan D. Palmer on: James P. Cannon and the Origins Of the American Revolutionary Left.

3:30 PM-5:00 PM
LaborFest Poetry Reading
With Jenifer Rae Vernon, Julia Stein, Alice Rogoff, Matthew Diaz, Benjamin Balthaser, James Tracy, and others.

Small Gallery
9:30 AM-12:00 Noon
The LaborFest Writers Workshop will conduct writing exercises inspired by the American Life Histories of the WPA Federal Writers’ Project’s Folklore Project. Main themes will be on the industrial and occupational lore of working class people and families. We will explore the customs, cultures, and regional traditions of our diverse backgrounds.

12:30 PM 1:45 PM
Dan Berman on: Death On The Job and the State Of Health And Safety.

2:00 PM – 3:15 PM
Suzanne Gordon on: Safety In Numbers, Nurse-to-Patient Ratios and the Future of Health Care
Suzanne Gordon; John Buchanan; Tanya Bretherton

3:30 PM - 5:00 PM
Paul D. Blanc, MD on: How Everyday Products Make People Sick
Toxins at Home and in the Workplace

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Saving Energry: One Danish Island Does it!

There's a great article in the July 7 and 14 New York titled "The Island in the Wind" by Elizabeth Kolbert about the Dutch island of Samso, where over a decade the 4300 people living changed how they used energy so by 2005 Samso was "producing from renewable sources more energy than it was using."

The people at Samso are conservative farmers mostly--not wealthy, not idealistic, not adventurous. First, the Danish government had a contest to choose one community to sponsor for a renewable energy project. After an engineer along with Samso's mayor drew up a plan to wean the island off fossil fuel, the island won the contest. The Danish federal government funded one person, Soren Hermansen, to be the project's first employee. For years Hermansen worked alone to convince these conservative farmers to rethink how they used energy in discussions and "he brought free beer along to the discussions." More and more people got involved.

People in Samso erected eleven big turbines on land and a dozen micro-wind turbines. The land-based wind turbines produce enough electricity for all 4,300 people on the island. They also erected 10 offshore wind-turbines, and one offshore wind turbine provides electricity for 2,000 homes. So the 10 offshore turbines "were erected to compensate for Samso's continuing use of fossil fields in its cars, trucks, and ferries." The offshore turbines feed electricity back into the energy grid as well as provide the "energy equivalent of all gasoline and diesel oil consumed on the island." So Samso produces more energy than it consumes.

The turbines were financed three ways. The European grants gave money. Cooperatives of Danes buying shares at $360/share also paid for the turbines. And private investors put up money for turbines making 8% on their investments. Farmer Tranberg on Samso took out a $1 million while the Danish government promised him above market price for his power. Now his windmill has paid off, and he's making enough money to retire, but he still farms because he likes it. People in Samso are now making money off their turbines.

Also Samso has three plants which burn biomass to make heat for buildings: in one plant they burn bales of straw; a 2nd also burns straw; a third burns wood chips. The straw used in the two plants comes from wheat stalks the farmers used to burn in their fields. A few farmers also use canola oil to run cars and tractors, but their program using electric cars failed. The people also removed their furnaces, replacing them with heat pumps. They're now working on finding ways to run their cars without gasoline.

What Samso shows is that one very modest federal program spending a tiny amount of money started moblizing of an entire community. One can't sit back and let "the experts" decide our energy future. At Samso they financed the program partially through cooperatives in which people of modest means could invest. The investors are getting excellent returns of 8% on investments. The people of Samso lacked fancy educations but did have common sense. They didn't sacrifice their way of life when they changed their methods of using energy. Instead they became a world famous showcase of how simple technology we have now can reduce our energy bill to 0. People from around the world now come to Samso to study how they did it.

Friday, July 04, 2008

A poem for July 4th

Here's a poem from my new manuscript "The War Years,"

Ben Franklin Nods in San Francisco

Our poets’ cries for peace had been smothered

in the huge hurricane for war that swept across our country.

Still after the U.S. tanks glided into Baghdad in April and

the President declared victory standing on an aircraft carrier,

we six poets gathered on the grass in Washington Park next

to the statue of Ben Franklin in North Beach, attempted

to light our peace candles, saw the wind blew them all out;

still we relit the candles as we spoke, Quaker-style,

how still we stood against the war; I swear I saw

Ben Franklin that old protestor from Quaker Philadelphia nod

approval as all six of us busily began to relight

all our candles; I swear that Lincoln sitting in his

Memorial stood up for a moment to salute us in San Francisco,

swear that Washington in Mt. Rushmore turned his face

westward toward us in praise, they all wanted

their old republic back just as we did in Washington Park

despite all the harsh winds of war we relit and

relit our candles again until all six blazed forth.