Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Homelessness to End in 2024

I'm writing nine days before this will appear. I can't possibly know what's going on there in the time where you're at. The problem isn't that I can't predict the future. The problem is, like everyone else, I can't predict it correctly.

Therefore, when I get the urge to predict the future, I prefer to predict it far enough out that when it will have come about my actual predictions will have been forgotten, and I can say that what happened is what I said would. No one is going to go to the archives to check. That's one reason I will buck the trend and make predictions now for 2010 instead of 2009.

The other is, I have this theory about why 2001 was such a bad year: 2001 A Space Odyssey was too good. The movie jinxed the year. So, ipso reverso, 2010 should be a great year, because the movie 2010 The Year We Make Contact blew. Since I've never seen any of the movies set in 2009, I can't begin to guess what that year will be like.

So I will now predict the wonderful world of 2010.

I'll start with the easy stuff. There will be no aerial highways for flying cars, once again, in 2010. 2010 will be the first year in US history that no one wonders for even a minute what having a Black president in the White House would be like. Some very bad weather will happen somewhere. In spite of all efforts to prevent it, terrorists somewhere will blow something up, so it will take even longer to get a ride on a ferry.

During the latter half of February 2010, Canada will be in the news constantly, and then be forgotten again by the end of March. Around the same time, clipboard sales will increase, and complete strangers will visit millions of Americans asking too many prying questions. Lisa Simpson, a cartoon character, will be married. (These items are courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Every US business will have received at least one bailout by the end of 2010. Some of them will have been bailed out two or three times. All the world's trees will finally be cut down in order to print all the money for the bailouts. In the summer, your kid's lawn mowing service will get a federal bailout.

In predicting local news, I'm trying to see the 2010 Mayor of Seattle. I'm getting an image -- it's fading in and out -- it's someone I don't know yet. But I can definitely predict everyone I know hopes I'm right.

Due to the economic downturn, Real Change will have more vendors than ever. As the number of vendors approaches the number of customers, we will have to make up for it by going daily. There will be not one, but two crossword puzzles in every issue.

There will be so many homeless people that area shelters will adopt an alphabetical admissions system. Everyone will get two days of shelter each month. The days you get shelter will depend on the first letter of your last name. The city will point to this system as proof that everyone is getting the shelter they need, so no new shelters will be funded.

As King County's Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness enters its sixth year, its Governing Council finally says, "Whoa, we're not getting anywhere at this," so they cross out "Ten" on all their literature and write "Twenty" above it, and put out a press release announcing that they're way ahead of schedule. Critics suggest they set the end date of the Plan to End Homelessness in the past. The Committee to End Homelessness is as likely to invent a time machine to return us to 1964 as they are to actually end homelessness by continuing to sit on their hands and wait for the magic federal pixies to solve the problem with federal pixie gold dust, as they have been doing.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Yearend Snarkoff

Why, Thank You, Brutus (Brutia?) "On Whose Kitchen Floor I Have Sometimes Slept" Freeman! I believe I DO look good in red!

Those were the sorts of snarky remarks I was issuing after Anitra Sweet Thing volunteered me, myself from head to toe, to be the new Real Change Board Secretary. "He takes good notes," she said. And I bleed quite well, also.

I'm actually beginning to enjoy the new role. It's easier on the rest of the board, what with me concentrating on writing and not able to inject witty Wesisms as often as before. I sense their relief, and their relief washes over me as a balm. Also, I am now motivated to increase my typing speed to 15 or 20 words per minute. In the past I could only bring myself up to 11 words per minute, which was my thinking speed. Now I have to match pace with my fellow board members' rattling-forth speed.

Plus, I am less dispensable, because I'm doing what nobody else wants to do. On the down side, it has been a fond dream of mine to be dispensed.

Speaking of what nobody wants, this column is being written four days earlier than usual, and the next one will have to be written a whole week earlier than usual, just because the Editor God Adam "Hyla" expects to take a holiday during the holidays. So everyone, Adam included, has to work twice as fast now, in order to not work at all later. So next week, because of this, Adam is really seriously going to need a vacation. This scenario makes sense to him.

Consequently there is no way either this column or the next can be topical. The next will be so not topical, it might as well consist of 666 words in the defense of solipsism. I've decided to spend my 666 words this time whining about random trivialities that spring to mind. You'll have noticed that I've already begun.

This past month I've whined about poverty, terrorism, genocide, and political corruption. It's high time I whined about things that don't matter.

Bed bugs, for instance. The general consensus in the medical profession seems to be that bed bugs don't spread disease. Not even HIV! So why does the management of my subsidized apartment building insist on examining my mattress every month, even though I haven't ever seen a bedbug in my bed, and have never complained about these nonexistent bugs in my bed? Because they have money to waste paying people to look at my mattress for the fun of it? The state ultimately pays for this, calling it a health issue, but I can't get dental coverage?

[Above: Ugly, but mostly harmless.]

I'm going to whine about the abuse of sirens. I've voiced complaints in the past about the escalation of siren noise levels in response to increased soundproofing of cars. I've tried to get people to understand how dangerous the increased noise is. It creates an atmosphere of emergency all the time that poisons us all emotionally, puts us all on artificial high alert, causes the so-inclined to go off the deep end and act out violently, which in turn creates an excuse for more sirens and convinces people they were right all along in being frightened.

But, really, the other day I witnessed an officer driving a police cruiser down 3rd Avenue at Columbia Street turning on the siren to shoo a pigeon out of the way. Then, later that week, I saw a Medic One vehicle approach Fire Station 10, pull past it, do a careful U-turn, and neatly parallel park next to the station, all with the siren on, so that the occupants could then saunter out laughing. It's bad enough that sirens have got too loud in general. Now we have to bear them being used to warn pigeons away and to lengthen coffee breaks.

Next week I'll continue by whining about things that haven't happened yet. Look out! Inflation! Higher taxes! Fewer services!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Rarity Of Blagojevich



In the past few days, as Rod Blagojevich has continued to scare Illinois and the rest of the country by not resigning as governor, there's been talk about the possibility that the prosecutor in the case, Patrick Fitzgerald, may coax Blagojevich into resignation with a plea agreement. I've wondered how that back room discussion would go.

Fitz, loud aside to aides: "I could put him away for 20 bleeping years! I'm sitting on something too bleeping valuable here for me to get nothing bleeping worth it!"

Random aide: "He should bleeping resign if he wants to get out in 10."

Blagojevich: "Wait a minute! Ten? Are you kidding me? My ability to appoint a senator of my choosing to Illinois is only worth a reduction to 10 bleeping years to you? You're bleeping crazy!"

Fitz: "What would you say to bleeping resigning, in return for 10 years with a chance of probation in 6?"

Blagojevich: "It's sounds to me like, I bleeping resign, and all I get is a bleeping thank you. Bleep off!"

[The bleeps would be redactions, of course.]

There are people out there who are shocked that Blagojevich could have thought of committing such a crime, and I'm with them. How could anyone get the idea that something as important as a Senate seat should be haggled over as if it were as trivial as charges brought against an accused felon? I mean, we don't live in that kind of society, where everything and anything is up for sale to the highest bidder. We only sell justice. So how did this sick, sick, man ever think to do such a thing?

Imagine what kind of world we'd be living in if everybody thought the way Blagojevich does. For one thing, we would have mass homelessness, as people who couldn't pay for housing at inflated prices would be told that's just bleeping tough. "We've got something valuable here, and we're not giving it away for bleeping nothing."

Fortunately, we don't live in a world where "you've got to pay to play" is the driving mentality.

Just last week I was strolling down Third Avenue when a nice man stepped out of a grocery store and stuffed ten freshly purchased lottery tickets into my coat pocket, saying, "You look like you haven't had much luck lately." I showed him my bleeping appreciation for the free gift. Of course, the tickets were all losers (I hadn't had much luck lately), but it was the thought that counted. If that good man had been like Blagojevich I wouldn't even had got the thought. I would have had to pay for those tickets!

I just made that story up merely to represent the many good selfless deeds that happen every day in our society that show how far out of step Blagojevich truly is. I'm sure I could make up many, many, more examples of that kind, which would all be equally as representative.

If everyone thought like Blagojevich, colleges would cut costs by hiring more and more part-time teachers so as to not have to pay them benefits, and then turn around and charge thousands of dollars more every year for tuition on the theory that education raises potential income, making the colleges want "a piece of the action." That would be wrong.

Maybe what he was thinking was that if there were going to be an election for the Senate seat in question, the candidates would each have to put up millions in campaign expenses, and the state would have to pay for the election itself. So by simply appointing one of them for a few hundred thou or a cushy appointment of his own, he'd be saving everyone a bundle. So he would have thought, maybe, "I'm just doing a valuable service, and charging a fair exchange rate."

It's a bleeping good thing that kind of thinking is rare, or thousands of us would be freezing our bleeping asses off living in the streets right now.

[Below: Typical American homeless people, enjoying American justice and opportunities, because they are never downtrodden.]

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The 33% Genocide


How genocidal is the system that causes and perpetuates homelessness? Let's put a percentage on it!

I get told from time to time I shouldn't call the system genocidal because to do so dilutes the meaning of the word "genocide" and is thus an abuse of language. To the people who say that, I could say, stop abusing the word "abuse." But I won't. Instead, I plead guilty. Yeah, I abuse language. What are you gonna do about it?

That's the kind of guy I am. I don't kick the living. I kick the abstract, the inanimate, and the dead. And I'm proud of that choice. (Note, though: The alternative is thinkable. Whenever I beat a dead horse, the live horses should be grateful I spared them.)

But I understand how deeply bothered others are by all this. Therefore I will try to make amends. Rather than calling the system all-out genocidal, which is so very very harsh to the poor delicate innocent fluffy word, I will allow for the sake of the word's and the word's defenders' sensibilities that the system is only genocidal to a degree less than all-out, and, moreover, to be absolutely conscientious, I will compute that degree.

US life expectancy varies by date of birth but gathers around 75. So, now, suppose I kill a guy 74 years and 364 days old. How much have I killed him, really? He was probably going to die tomorrow anyway! It's hardly fair to say that I have "murdered" him. It's an abuse of the word! I haven't murdered ALL of him, only the last tiny little bit. You could say I have murdered one day of him, out of his 75 years worth of expected being. That's not even four tenths of one percent of one per cent.

You might then say, "Well, he might have lived to be a hundred if you hadn't killed him just now." Sure, but that extra quarter century would have been a bonus. We're talking about rights and expectations here. In fact, suppose I let him live now and he does lives to be a hundred. I should get CREDIT for helping him eke out that 33% bonus. I will have murdered him by a NEGATIVE amount, exactly minus one third.

Come to think of it, this reasoning explains why day-after abortion pills are so bad, but capital punishment is just dandy. If you do away with a day-old embryo, you cut his or her life expectancy by the 75 years plus an almost 9 months of pre-life. So you have not only murdered him or her entirely, you have murdered him or her by 75.75 divided by 75 = 101%. That extra one percent will get you to Hell one per cent faster. But say a 15 year-old commits a capital crime, gets tried as an adult, and after years on death row dies by lethal injection by our hands, by means of our instrument, the state, at age 25. That's only 66.66% murder, so it's 33.33% live-and-let-live, and St. Peter's going to smile on us all, some.

Anyway, let's get back to the partial genocide. Given that there are 2000 homeless people living on the streets of Seattle because the system can't be bothered to expand shelters. Given that the average street person dies before the age of 50. Assuming that average is exactly 50 for ease in estimation (one or two years won't matter much.) How much genocide is occurring?

The answer will be a pleasant surprise to those who want to say there is no genocide whatsoever. There is only 33% genocide! It isn't 0%, but it's in the right direction! This means that the system is NOT genocidal by a whole two-thirds!

Applying What We Have Learned

Our mayor has been conducting so-called "inhumane" sweeps of homeless encampments. Calculate how inhumane those sweeps are. Is the answer closer to A. 80%? B. 50%? Or C. 20%? Partial credit for showing partial work.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Choose Your Fruit

Recent events in India have me rethinking a lot of popular socio-political commentary.

I'm talking about the kind of commentary that goes, "Eat your broccoli, don't you know there are starving children in India (Zimbabwe, Uganda, whatever)?" and such things as "If they can put a man on the Moon, why can't they make a Big Mac with negative calories?"

It may sound like I'm poised to make light of the tragedy in Mumbai, but I'm not. I'm only going to scold the entire world, the terrorists included, for having once again proved to me that humans don't really deserve the planet they've got born to. It's not funny, but look at what I have to work with.

It's the "If they can put a man on the Moon" business that's really got me. It was only 3 weeks ago that India hit the Moon with a space probe of its own. So, Indians can now be asking, "If we can hit the Moon with our very own rockets from almost 400000 kilometers away on Great Nehru's Birthday, why aren't our cities safe from terrorists?"

[Right: Chandrayaan-1 (चंद्रयान-१) lifts off on the PSLV-C11.]

Well, part of the answer is fear. Let's say you are a nuclear military power. What could you do that could allay the fears of your neighbors on Earth concerning this fact? Could you allay such fears by building up your space program so you can do target practice at the Moon? Really?

Part of the answer is the Apples vs Oranges thing that I hate so much. "The Moon isn't a terrorist." Really. Which feeds back into the first point, because it underlines the fact that lobbing missiles at people where they live is physically a whole lot easier than fighting them close at hand in your 5 star hotels, it's apples to brass balls actually, and if you are doing target practice with Moon gophers, you've pretty much signaled that you've clued into that sort of reasoning, therefore increasing the aforementioned fear.

"There's a war going on." When the United States was in India's position vis a vis the Moon, it was the '60s. The US space program started gaining in prestige right about the same time the Vietnam Conflict started being called a war. This was not coincidence, and neither was the fact that the '60s were marred by all those assassinations and riots.

Which brings us to Priorities. The issue of Priorities is really that of Apples vs Oranges turned on its head, as in "Would you rather have apples, or would you rather have oranges? They're different, you know."

Would you rather have peace and prosperity, or would you prefer to put a handful of your citizens on the Moon?

Don't get me wrong; I'm not against going into space. I'm only a little annoyed that nobody's plans ever involve getting me to the Moon. It seems like even with the occasional incoming probe, the Moon is a whole lot safer than where I'm at.

Lessons Toward Better Living

1. If you had slaves to spare, would you let them go, or would you make them build a giant pyramid to be your mausoleum? If the latter, isn't it odd that you're always thinking in terms of your own mausoleum? You should think about what that says about you.

2. Suppose you understood that you could spend on the order of a hundred million dollars to reduce crime by putting criminals in a jail, or you could spend one-tenth that to reduce crime by an even greater amount by improving the conditions of the lives of people and funding programs that have been proven to work at turning youth away from crime. Knowing that, would you be wasting time arguing about where to put the jail?

3. Think of a way to end the sentence, "If they could put a man on the Moon, why can't they...?" that incorporates both apples and oranges. You may substitute brass balls for oranges, provided I don't catch you.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Ingrace

Here we are again at the time of year when we celebrate a government-sanctioned holiday to pressure me to be thankful even though I'm a whiny, crotchety, old man, with barely an ounce of thankfulness in him. Want me to be thankful? Get off my back about being thankful. ;)

That last bit in the last paragraph was a winking smiley face, for those of you that are 114 year-old hermits living ten miles from nowhere in a shack in the bayou, chain-smoking Pall Malls. It's what people have resorted to use on the Internet to signify "what you just read was an ironic attempt at humor." It's often necessary on the Internet because there are no other clues that the humor-lame need. No laugh tracks, for instance.

Having said all that I remember that many of you don't know what "ironic" means. Well, thanks for asking, it means a lot of things, but in this context it refers to the "winking".

Want me to be thankful this Thanksgiving? Don't make me ever have to use another winking smiley face. You don't need them. It's taken care of in the title: "Adventures in Irony." Don't make me call it "Adventures in Winking."

Here's a relevant news item. Until recently to qualify for Food Stamps your income needed to be under 130% of the poverty level. Now it just has to be below 200% of the poverty level. The theory behind this change is that with rising food prices and rising gas costs, it's getting harder for people to afford food. Hey, I have a crazy idea! Why don't we just raise the poverty level 54%?

Want me to be thankful this Thanksgiving? The Washington State Legislature could get off their collective butts and pass an inflationary increase in government assistance. There's been a 50% increase in the Consumer Price Index since 1993, the last time Washington State raised Government Assistance for the Unemployable (GAU). It's been $339 in all that time, notwithstanding inflation, notwithstanding that, as the state has just recognized in regard to Food Stamps, the CPI doesn't tell the whole story (e.g. rents have gone up way more than 50%), notwithstanding that we're only talking about two-tenths of one per cent of the population that needs it desperately, or they'll become homeless.

Ha, ha, that was a joke! Winking smileys galore! They're already homeless! $339 per month? With rents what they are today?

As a matter of fact, using my outstanding math skills and a cheap $2 calculator, I have been able to estimate with great confidence that if you just increased GAU to an amount sufficient to rent a room and buy clothes, up to 44% of King County's homeless people could get off the streets.

Raise GAU enough, and developers would go after that money. There's your Housing First program. Just like the Food Stamp program is really a benefit for food producers and grocery stores, likewise GAU can be a benefit for construction workers. We could think of it as a bailout, twice removed.

The money it would cost to raise GAU a reasonable amount would be more than offset by the savings in money spent on services.

Of course, that would put a lot of social-service workers out of work. Maybe that's why you don't hear a lot of social-service agencies talking about the ridiculous fact that GAU isn't pegged to inflation, and isn't adequate to prevent homelessness. Hell, I was even tempted not to mention it myself. If homelessness in King County were to end, Real Change wouldn't be needed anymore, and I wouldn't have these opportunities to complain every week.

Want me to be thankful this Thanksgiving? Take some of the energy you were going to apply to feeding the poor one day a year, and apply it to getting our legislature to do what it takes to make half the state's social service industry unemployed. Let them all get jobs in drywall.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Diversity Sells!

One day I predict an African-American will be president of the United States of America and we'll all be rich.

The change in America's image from a country that resists its diversity to one that welcomes it may have unforeseen benefits. Today I read a story that noted that after a decline following Sept. 11, 2001, the numbers of foreign students in the US are now surging again. The story contained this quote from a Chinese student: "In China you can seldom find people from the US, but in the US you find people from all over the world."

Now, I'm all for diversity as much as the next liberal. But, you know, when the only sort of thing diversity means is a few hundred people of all different colors on a hilltop singing I'd Like to Buy The World A Coke shoulder to shoulder, it's pretty much reduced to the aesthetics associated with food pyramid posters and puppy dog calendars, and who gives a rat's ass? But you figure out a way to make money off it, you got something worth promoting.



Rich and semi-rich Chinese neo-capitalists are paying for their sons and daughters to come to American Colleges, not because we have better schools, but because there's a shortage of diversity in China. A survey done in 1977 found that just 35 surnames accounted for 70% of the entire population of China. One in ten were Zhangs. Almost all of them speak Chinese! How do you get away from that? Send them to a school where people speak English and Spanglish, that's how!

Diversity is a draw. There have been times in my life when I would have been willing to pay for some myself. For instance in 1978 I landed a plush job in Zürich, where they speak Swiss German. I'd studied two whole years of German in college, and even passed some of my classes. I figured it would come back to me when the natives started speaking German at my face. I was wrong. I had not fully understood the significance of the word "Swiss" in the expression "Swiss German." It's not that the Swiss speak German, it's that they speak something else, called Swiss German.

Swiss German Lesson [Best one on YouTube!]



I would have gladly shelled out extra bucks in college to pay for a Swiss German to teach me his language, had I known his language wasn't German, had I had foresight, and had I had the extra bucks to shell out. The fact that I hadn't had those particular items does not subtract from the fact that others had them (knowledge, foresight, bucks.) But there would not have been enough Swiss Germans to go around anyway, not in this country, so it wouldn't have mattered!

Like Martin Luther King, Jr., I have a dream. His dream included the bit "that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood," and the business about rough places made plain that he cribbed off Isaiah. My dream is that the rest of the world will pay to see Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream happening, especially if they're allowed to take notes, and there are also Brazilians, Swiss Germans, and Ukrainians present at the table.

Let's stop advertising America as a place to send "your poor your tired your huddled masses" to be assimilated and end up resembling some shade of Bruce Willis. Instead let's talk about our diversity portfolio. Let's bill ourselves as Diversity World, and get us some diversity action on the world market. Why should Belgians have all the money?

We're about to have some Kenya in the White House. That in itself will draw more Kenyans. At a certain point that will position us to siphon off some serious African tourist trade.

We need to start right now getting some souvenir shops up and running. Demand is going to be awesome.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Who's The Dog? You're the Dog!

The incoming president is shopping for a dog for his two daughters. After the election was all over, the tears of joy were wiped away, and the spilled champagne mopped up, the media looked around for new news, and came up with this. It's so great not to be forced to write about torture, war, and economic disaster, for a change. Let's talk about hypoallergenic dogs!

I think I'm like most Americans, in that I did not know there was such a thing as a hypoallergenic dog. I'd heard of hypoallergenic earring studs and hypoallergenic soap. I wear hypoallergenic socks. But the thought that I could get a hypoallergenic dog never crossed my mind. I've looked it up and I've found out that one of the reasons I've never thought of such a thing is that the only really hypoallergenic dog is a bare naked dog. My mind resisted the thought simply because my mind revolted against the idea of calling any sort of naked furless quadruped a dog.

Then I remembered how, in the 90s, about 2 years after Utne Reader declared Belltown the 7th hippest neighborhood in America and it had fully ceased to be true, the place was overrun with people stringing along minute little hairless things that I used to call "long-legged rats." Their owners referred to them as dogs.

Here's what I'm thinking. Obama is just not funny enough by himself. I need me some funny stuff in the White House. He got me Joe Biden, and I thank him for that, but even Joe Biden isn't all that funny. He's no Sarah Palin. But a hairless live ferret morsel passing for a dog you can carry around in a coffee mug, that's a hoot.

Barack to the kids: 'Here's the dog I promised you! Now remember, you need to put him back in his thimble when guests are over, which will be all the time now; otherwise people will think we have rats. Oh, and here's one Swedish meatball. The lickings from it should feed him for a month."

The bottom line is, they don't really make hypoallergenic dogs, they only make hypo-dogs. They're less allergenic because there's less of them. This could be a great metaphor informing Belltown, Seattle, and America.

Greg Nickels wants Seattle to be a major business center and he figures businesses won't locate here if there's homeless people everywhere you look. That's never stopped businesses from locating in New York, San Francisco, or Chicago (home of Boeing), all three of which I have been to and know have at least as much visible homelessness as Seattle does. But let's forget that and accept the premise that visible homelessness would prevent us from being The Big Apple Bye & Bye that we've always wanted to be. We should then be striving to make Seattle hypo-homeless.

That way, in boardrooms all across the US there can be conversations that go: "Gosh, I had to see a homeless person on my way to our offices on the 70th floor of our skyscraper. How awful! Can't we do something about that?" "Why yes, I was looking on Craigslist for an ugly dog and I noticed that Seattle is up for sale, and it's listed as hypo-homeless." "That's great! Let's sell this skyscraper and buy a new one in Seattle, and work there."

In reality, this is America, not the United Arab Emirates. In America, there is no such thing as a hypo-homeless city. The closest thing to a hypo-homeless city in the world is Dubai, which passes its wealth out among its citizens, so that not one is poor by any standard. That will not happen here, even with the socialist in the White House.

[Right: Some would say Dubai can afford to be so socialistic.]

So, the only real way that Seattle can be hypo-homeless, is for her to be hypo-urban. Without sharing the wealth that is created on the backs of our citizens and from their resources, we can only have less homelessness than other American cities by being less city.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Truman Defeats McCain

Wow! Wasn't that election a surprise? Who could have guessed Truman would win?

OK, so it's 6 AM the Monday before as I write this and I think I know who will win the presidency, but don't know for a fact. So what do I do, send this column out as a letter to Future World?

I did that once. Back in 1971, as I was about to head off to grad school, I wrote a letter to my self of ten years later, and stuck it in a "time capsule," with a note to myself to open it in 1981. I did that, and found all this crap about the Viet Nam War and Nixon that made absolutely no sense. The 1971-me seemed to think the 1981-me would be either dead in a rice paddy or living in a colony on Mars.

Sometimes I prognosticate well. In the Spring of 1978 I starting telling people there would be a revolution in Iran soon. I guessed that much sitting in the UW Husky Cafeteria, overhearing visiting Iranian students try to explain their country's politics to other foreign students. Events six months and after would indicate I outdid the CIA and the National Security Agency on that one.

On the other hand I was sure Hubert Humphrey would beat Nixon in '68. It was the last significant cash bet I ever made in my life. I still owe some guy $20. I figure he'll never collect, since he probably died in a rice paddy, possibly the same year.

[Right: I'm convinced that Humphrey would have won in '68 if he hadn't been tickled pink all the time.]

Just 8 years ago I half-believed Nader supporters' claims that if Bush won the 2000 election and people saw how he governed 2000 to 2004, the Republicans would lose in 2004 for sure. He won; they saw; they voted him back in anyway. All his mistakes made them want him more. He screws up so much we suffer the worst single terrorist act in the world on his watch, and people wanted him back "to protect us from terrorism." How do you predict that kind of cosmically-proportioned mass stupidity? It's like trying to guess which way a football will bounce. America isn't round.

Speaking of things not round, one of my heroes, Benoit Mandelbrot, touched upon this very subject a week ago on PBS, the same day the Fed cut the overnight interest rate to 1%. He basically said we're living in a chaotic economy. In other words, the world economy is not round, so you don't know which way it will bounce. (Mandelbrot is the expert on things such as are highly not round.)

In fact the Federal reserve cut that interest rate without knowing what effect it could have. It seemed like a good idea, because it's helped ease us out of recessions in the past. But we're in a credit crunch. How do you encourage credit by making it worth less to the creditor? I don't know! And neither does your government! They're flying blind!

I'm going to make one small effort to predict something, in spite of my own and Mandelbrot's warnings.

Right now the 10-year interest rates for US government notes, adjusted for current inflation, is negative 1%. I'm going to predict that if that doesn't turn around by next fall, we will then be looking back at our current economic condition and calling it good.

I may not know which way a football will bounce, but I know what happens if you toss it down a well.

For Extra Negative Credit

1. Try to predict something really important, like global warming. Now, before doing anything else, try to predict the opposite of what you predicted the first time. Next, try to predict which of your predictions is better. Show your work, in detail, with footnotes and bibliography. Nothing got better, did it? Welcome to Science!

2. Where's my jet-car? Where's my anti-gravity suit? Where's my 3D tele-smell-a-vision?

3. Can you understand stupidity without having personally experienced it? Think carefully before you answer.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I've Stock in Friendship!

My latest obsession: I've gone from doing a couple hundred sudoku per day to spending way too much time trying to invite friends to a certain internet social network.

Actually, that's a little misleading. I'm really building a virtual fiefdom as "Knight Wes" and I'm trying to man and woman my fiefdom with vassals so I may better raid and pillage other less prepared fiefdoms and become a Baron, then Count, then King, and eventually Emperor of The Known World. Inviting friends to the certain internet social network is just part of my evil plan of ultimate conquest.

Happily, world events are playing into my hands. This morning it looks like we're in for some more bad news in the stock market -- good news for me!

You see, I don't have a whole lot of rich friends. I can count my rich friends with my thumbs. They talk to me in alternate decades, usually from a distance. They never treat me to lunch. They won't give me their cell phone numbers. When I get them on the regular phone, it's all "Wes who?" and "Can't talk now, I'm buying Rhode Island", or a voice says, "I'm in San Tropé right now, but if you leave a message after the beep, I'll answer it next Spring."

For a long time, I thought the problem was I just wasn't trying hard enough to make friends with rich people. I needed to get out more and travel among the stinking rich. So I went to art openings and concerts and loitered in airports next to guys in suits and Italian shoes, with good teeth, checked luggage, cuff links, and briefcases. I brought offerings of Grey Poupon. I carried conspicuous copies of the Wall Street Journal. Eventually, I had to accept that the real problem was the stinking rich weren't trying hard enough to make friends with me. In fact, they weren't trying at all.

All that's set to change. Sure, the government is bailing out the super rich, so I'm probably never going to be friends with Charles Schwab. But that still leaves a whole lot of "low hanging fruit" out on a limb and dropping. And that means, I won't have to bother with all the "cross-class" alliance business we love to do here at Real Change. Instead of me reaching out to the other classes, the other classes will come to me!

A report this morning noted the recent sharp increase in homelessness and said nearly half are middle class people homeless for the first time. Well, then, they aren't middle class any more, are they? I have a new pool of friends! And I'm not yet ready to write off all the billionaires either. I'm sure Bill Gates has no need of a parachute -- he can do a power landing in any economic crisis -- but I'm not so positive that the rest of his gang hasn't overused their credit lines buying toys.

Our future may be one of poverty and despair, but, hey! Look on the bright side! Everything will get simpler!

In poverty, choices narrow, and life gets much simpler. At Christmas, for example, what do you get the kids to play with? Before, you had to choose between My Baby's First Cadillac and My Baby's First Summer Cottage. Now the choice is between My Baby's First Stick and My Baby's First Fistful of Nothing. Before, planning dinner could take hours and would often require the services of a paid professional staff. Now, it's "I've got a can opener, and you've got a can of garbanzos and a spoon, so let's eat."

When that happens, my Grey Poupon is going to start looking pretty damn fine. "These garbanzos sure could use some spicing up." "Have you tried them with Grey Poupon?" "Why no, I have not." "Well, if you'll be my friend, I'll let you have some."

Then, I will have them where I want them, ready to become my vassals.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Mayor Fails Sherbert Test

Let's talk about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)!

A 1963 Supreme Court case decided that a Ms. Sherbert who was fired for not working on her Sabbath day was entitled to unemployment benefits, establishing the 4 part "Sherbert Test" to help courts determine when religious freedom trumps a law: If 1) a belief is sincere and if 2) the law places a significant burden on the practice of the belief, then the government must prove 3) it's acting in furtherance of a "compelling state interest," and 4) it has pursued that interest in the manner least restrictive, or least burdensome, to religion. If 1) and 2) hold and 3) and 4) can't be proved by the government, then the government needs to step off.

Well, that decision, made by a liberal 1963 court, was whittled away by later liberal courts appointed by different presidents. So finally Congress had no choice but to pass the RFRA in 1993 to get their Sherbert back.

Why do I, Wes Browning, care? I'm getting to that.

First, in 2007, the Justice Department ruled, without notifying me personally, that the RFRA meant that the government can go ahead and give my tax money to faith-based organizations that only hire people of their own religious persuasions, even though the same Congress that passed the RFRA specifically said no to the practice. The Justice Department said, basically, a general vague yes from Congress that they like overturns a specific clear no that they don't like. If the Justice Department's Mommy said "you don't always have to do what Billy wants," and also said "don't hit Billy," the Justice department would decide it could do what Billy didn't want, namely punch Billy silly.

It so happens it's against MY religion to give one dime of my taxes to any organization that only hires Christians to do charity work that Animists could do just as well. But the Justice Department decided that my religious claim on how MY money is spent in MY name doesn't mean SQUAT, because these religious charities that can collect all the money they want from public donations TAX-FREE would be SERIOUSLY burdened by not having my money, too.

[Left: This animist can label and stuff envelopes for a donation drive as well as any Baptist or Presbyterian. All he needs is a chance to prove himself.]

Well, OK, I'm not going to be a sore loser. So long as that same low bar applies everywhere.

Last week, Nickelsville, the world's pinkest tent city that wants to be a shantytown, was forced onto the parking lot of University Christian Church, northwest of the University of Washington, by the persecution of Mayor Nickels and his administration. You'd think they'd be safe on church land. But Nickels has told the church and everyone else concerned that putting Nickelsville up in the parking lot violates Seattle's land use laws.

What does Sherbert say? Let's see.

1) Does host sincerely believe that their religion requires they give sanctuary to the poor? Yes. It's in their Bible.

2) Would making the church clear the parking lot of tents, or produce a replacement parking lot within days, significantly hinder the practice of said belief? Duh! (It might be different if they were granted a reasonable amount of time to provide alternative off-street parking, but Nickels is in a big hurry. He's got to screw'm while he's got the itch.)

3) Does the state, i.e. the city, have a compelling interest? They have an interest in ensuring that people can park on the streets. But compelling? Parking? Compared to survival? Give me a break.

4) Is evicting Nickelsville and/or fining everyone involved $150 the least restriction of the church's freedom to exercise its beliefs in this case?

Hardly. If a mission that only hires Christians can have my taxes, and never pay them back, there's no reason the city can't let a church limit my parking for a lousy month or two, for the sake of homeless people, when every developer in town can do the same for the sake of building bigger and better homes for the rich.

Nickels needs to step off.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Jails Are Seattle's Future

There's been a lot of talk recently about Seattle's need for a municipal jail. But not everything has been said on the subject that could be said. For example, no one has suggested that the new jail could be designed with futuristic sweeping curved lines, stand 600 feet up, be painted orange, and revolve, and so be a lovely tourist attraction and Seattle icon. Even though a new jail would create many new jobs and require new housing and supporting retail, no one has said there should be a street car going there. No one has come up with a good slogan, like "Invest In Your Future -- Invest In Prisons."

[Above: Without one of these, how are people supposed to get there?]

I'm going to say those things and more. I'm going to tell you what no one else at Real Change wants you to hear: We need this new jail!

Real Change doesn't want you to know that jailing people is Seattle's last hope to have a surviving economy and clean empty streets. Real Change doesn't want you to know that scapegoating the poor for the problems of the middle-class pays.

Now, right away, I'm sure that some of you liberal losers are thinking, "Wouldn't it be cheaper to build more traditional shelters, rather than spend all that money on constructing and maintaining a jail complex?" On the surface, that sounds sensible. The city is paying, right now, just about $10 per person per day for shelter and transitional housing, while just the maintenance cost of a new jail is expected to be more than $110 per person per day. But when you scratch deeper it sounds like mairzy doats and dozy doats. Scratch deeper than that, and it takes your arm off.

What did I just tell you in the first paragraph? This is Seattle's chance to create a whole new thriving industry! We've been Jet City. We've been Amazon Central. We've been Latteville. Now we can be Jail Town, USA!

[Left: Jail made Elvis famous. Elvis made the Seattle World's Fair famous. The Seattle World's Fair made Seattle famous. Therefore Jails already have made Seattle famous. Let's cut out the middlemen!]

There are only two things we have to do to guarantee our preeminence as the world's greatest jailers, and we are well our way to accomplishing both of them.

First, we need lots more misdemeanants. This is being arranged. Our mayor is finding new ways to enforce bad laws. Using methods that were pioneered in the Deep South during the Reconstruction, Mayor Nickels has been finding innovative ways to make the inescapable conditions of homelessness illegal. Meanwhile, our president and congress have done us the favor of ensuring that we will have an ever-increasing number of homeless people to convict. It has been estimated that by the end of 2012 every formerly housed single man, woman, and child in Seattle who does not have a high-level government job will have been foreclosed upon, or be a barista.

We need to make more drugs and herbs illegal. I recommend aspirin, tylenol, and ibuprofen; that will make it more illegal than ever to hurt. We need to expand the no-smoking ordinance to prohibit smoking anywhere within 25 feet of a hard surface, and we need to enforce it with jail time, and add a three-strikes provision.

Second, we need funding for it. We need funding to build it, funding to keep it going, and extra funding to line the pockets of the lobbyists for it, to make it worth their while.

We can do this, too, Seattle! We just have to think big! We have to become the experts on jailing that the world comes to see and learn from! We have make Seattle synonymous not with gray skies, but with gray bars.

Let's get Rem Koolhaus to design it. Let's build a world-class park around it, and charge for tours. Let's build a new college to train incarceration professionals and to teach politicians how to write laws that can't fail to be broken.

Century 21 has been used. Let's call it Century 22, and dazzle America and the rest of the World with our vision, our innovation, and the experience we will have achieved.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

I'm So Privileged

Greg Nickels [our mayor] has me so royally peeved, I'm tempted to just write "Greg Nickels is an arrogant, narcissistic, fool" 75 times and turn that in. I've been told by the editor I could get away with that sort of thing. He's said no one would notice any difference in the quality of my writing, so "what the hell."

I won't though, because I wouldn't want to abuse my free speech privilege. Sarah Palin, who aspires to be Vice President of the United States, a job that requires upholding our Constitution, has reminded us lately that freedom of speech is a privilege that the press should not abuse. Indeed, I clearly recall how in 8th grade history we learned the first ten amendments to the Constitution (they formed what was called the Bill of Privileges), and that the first privilege listed after the Privilege of Religion was the Privilege of Freedom of Speech.

Another privilege we learned about was the Privilege of the People to Peaceably Assemble. I'm sure that if Sarah Palin ever gets to be president she'll keep us on the straight and narrow there, too.

[Right: Some women peaceably assembled to ask politely to be granted privilege to vote. "Please, sirs, with sugar on top!"]

Our activist Supreme Court, abusing its privilege to interpret the Constitution, declared decades ago that people retain privileges of association, asserting they could not otherwise exercise their speech and assembly privileges. Palin has clearly understood how wrong this is.

When Palin accused Barack Obama of associating "with terrorists who targeted our own country" she referred to the fact that Bill Ayers, who helped found the Weather Underground when Obama was 8, and Barack Obama have both worked on the same two non-profit boards. Palin would regard that as an abuse of the privilege of association.

She's absolutely right. Suppose I'm helping put out a fire, at, say, a kindergarten, and I know that the guy passing me buckets of water is none other than Bill Ayers, who blew up a critical Pentagon file-cabinet once. I should walk away from that fire because associating with known terrorists is always wrong, wrong, wrong. The kindergarteners would understand, when they got older, if they weren't burned to a crisp. If they were burned to a crisp, they'd have to ask themselves in the afterlife what the heck were they doing going to a kindergarten in the same neighborhood with a known terrorist?

[Above: President Lyndon B. Johnson shakes hands with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the signing of the landmark Civil Privileges Act of 1964.]

As if just to show you don't have to be republican to have the same kind of grasp of law on privilege as Sarah Palin, this past weekend the administration of our Democratic Mayor Greg Nickels put out a Notice of Land Use Violation threatening to fine a long list of individuals and associations for their support of Nickelsville, at least one of whom was listed for the sole crime of having emailed his support to another of them.

The Notice of Violation notably lists SHARE/WHEEL, the homeless grassroots organization that was NOT responsible for Nickelsville, as a supporter, and includes mention of its Vancouver, Washington, office. But the Vancouver WA office is that of an entirely different organization that just happens to have the name Share.

Therefore Nickels carries Sarah Palin's thinking a step further. Not only should people not do good things if the wrong people join in, they should also pay for having the wrong name. Again, this is as it should be. Share House, Vancouver, started in 1977. SHARE/WHEEL started in 1990. Share House has had 18 of its 31 years in existence to change its name. They have totally abused their privilege of name-having.

But Nickels went too far listing John and Jane Doe as "Persons Responsible For The Violations".

We know what he's doing. He's getting ready to fine everybody who so much as wrote a letter to the editor in support of Nickelsville, $150 a day, every day it exists.

Now we need everyone who cares about Nickelsville and the RIGHT of homeless people to survive to declare themselves to be John or Jane Doe -- I am John Doe.

[Below: I already posted this on my other blog Run Off, but it's worth posting again.]

Spartacus [I now think the subtitles are in Turkish.]

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Adventures at Nickelsville

Back in the 60s I was a rally chaser. Missing a rally or a march would be like missing an episode of Star Trek. An enormous sense of grief would come over me, made worse by the knowledge that there would be no summer reruns in the case of the rallies and marches.


[Above: May 5, 1970. I was there. The Yellow Indicatrix tells you where. I am NOT between the other protesters and the Tac Squad. I am on the northbound on-ramp. No friend of head trauma, I.]

Now, though, I just want to sit in my little corner in my tiny room and watch the world go by on CNN and the internet. When a public gathering presents an opportunity to be arrested it only strengthens my resolve to hide out in my room, owing to desmoteriophobia (fear of dungeons).

Not all of us have such fear. Saturday I opened up the Seattle P-I to find none other than my beloved Anitra "Smiling Buddha" Freeman gazing blissfully up at a policeman about to haul her radical-hippy ass off to jail. The possibility that this time they could just leave her there and forget to tell anyone either did not occur to her, or it goosed her, or she'd gone batspit crazy and thought the policeman was Wilford Brimley come to take her to Antarea, where she'd be young forever, and learn break-dancing from Don Ameche.

Anitra was getting arrested for refusing to leave alleged city land upon which Nickelsville had been set up. You may recall that two weeks ago Nickelsville was a homeless peoples' shantytown only in potentia. On Friday of last week it was very much concrete, and as Mayor Nickels wanted it to return to being an abstract idea, he sent the police to try to make it so.

Before Anitra got arrested there was a scene, broadcast on KING TV, of her telling residents of Nickelsville ("Nickelodeons") three options the police had laid out. I've watched the video over and over, trying to figure out the logic of the three options. It sounds like what she said the police were saying was the Nickelodeons' options were EITHER 1) stay and be arrested OR 2) go away and not be arrested, OR 3) go away with shipoopy, and no kiss.

I was actually there to witness that episode and the subsequent 22 arrests, in spite of my aforementioned phobia, because I'd spent the night before boiling peanuts for my sweetheart not considering that, what with her spending the night in a fuchsia tent at Nickelsville and then surely wanting to stick around to be jailed, and me without a teleportation device, I would have to go there to deliver her the peanuts. So I went, and it was just coincidence that the police vans were arriving from the donut shop just the same time I arrived by bus.

It's the story of my life. I boil some peanuts for someone, then I think, oops, got to deliver the peanuts. I get there just as the cops do. Oh, look, doggies!

It all worked out half well though. I did not get arrested. Anitra got caught and released. Governor Gregoire granted a reprieve to Nickelsville itself, letting the Nickelodeons cram as many tents onto a state owned parking lot as could fit, out of reach of the mayor. I got to talk to the people the mayor sent from Human Services to refer Nickelodeons to "proper" shelter in the system, and I tried to find out how they could do that with a straight face knowing that the shelters are full every night. Answer: they don't think about that. They just pass out referral cards to whoever takes them and call it a job done.

Here's your irony adventure: Some people took the cards and went to be referred to the shelter that the mayor keeps saying is there for them, and the referral agency gave them bus tickets and sent them back to Nickelsville!

Greg Nickels is like the owner of a row boat trying to bail it out with a Dixie cup after it's already sunk in 10 feet of water. Greg Nickels is a fool.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Use Protection

I don't know what to say. I can't not be sardonic. It's too fahrfürfrappen easy. Seven hundred billion dollars! The Bushter wants to have seven hundred billion dollars of OUR money, to save the fortunes of very, VERY important rich people, without whom our economy (the machine that cranks out our wealth) would supposedly not be possible.

[Below: That's 7,000,000 of these.]

Well, you know, for the sake of MY wealth and all, I'd just as soon we keep the seven hundred billion dollars, if you don't mind, bitte, danke schön! Auf wiedersehen, vaya con Dios, amigo! Thank you very frappen much!

Our presidente seems to be under the wildly mistaken assumption that we would all be extremely alarmed if the prices of housing steeply plummeted in this country. Actually, this is far from the case. In fact, I would like very much to be able to buy a house for a dollar. I HAVE a dollar. I would not like to buy a house for 650,000 dollars, because I do not have that many. So if housing prices dropped from what they are now (a zillion per house, on average) to a dollar per house, on average, I'd go so far as propose we change the Constitution to be able to re-elect Bush as presidente, over and over again, until the Rapture.

That won't happen (the housing price drop), because nothing the presidente, nor the Republicans in general, nor Democrats are talking about doing about all this, involves making the price of housing lower. They're all about protecting the mortgage industry, and failing that, homeowners. Nobody gives a damn about home non-owners. Nobody's even TALKING about home non-owners. EXCEPT ME! DO I HAVE TO DO IT ALL?

Home non-owners are Americans, too. Why does no one else ever point this out?

Here's what's wrong with the Bush Administration. When they want to seize property from some poor jerk whose land is in the way of an interstate bypass or a CostCo, they just say "Eminent domain!" and "This is all you get in compensation," and, transaction completed. But when they want the junk assets of precious failing investment companies, it's, "Oh please, sirs, tell us how much you might require for your valuable investment properties, that they may be purchase-ed from you by our humble national government, using our peasants' accumulated pennies."

George's plan asks for the same deal he asked from Congress re Iraq. He wants his Secretary of the Treasury to be authorized to do anything at all with the 700 billion. No limits. The future is uncertain. There are terrorists among us. This is a post-9-11 world. Constitutional checks and balances are outmoded in this climate of fear and terror. Saddam Hussein must be defeated at all costs. We only ask authorization to do what is necessary in these dangerous times.

[Right: Forget those bankers, remember who our real enemy is.]

The Democrats, whom I am ordinarily fond of associating with, have seized upon this as an issue, and I give them credit for doing so. Yes, (big applause) if this screw is inevitable, we MUST HAVE safeguards! Lordy, if this deal is going to go down, please, please, dear government, put on a condom before you do it.

It's too much to ask either party, apparently, to demand that if we taxpayers spend that much for so-called junk properties, the properties be used for our benefit. Like, you know, ending our homelessness. Neither party seems capable of seeing that this crisis is an opportunity to end US homelessness in a year.

Instead, both parties are talking about these failed mortgage assets as bad investments that must be made good, i.e. must be turned into money, in the short term. Rather than shelter, which could improve lives, which could create human welfare, which could generate national wealth. That would take altogether too long. It would take as long as slow moving human generations and slow growing pink flesh. We don't have time for the needs of flesh. We have to make a profit this quarter.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Nickels Makes History Repeat

I have a column due by 9 AM this morning, and I've also promised Anitra "Not Acting On Behalf Of Anybody In Particular" Freeman that by the same time I'd read a book-length manifesto on Nickelsville that she wrote with a committee. Not being inclined to do needless work, I shall now attempt to combine the two efforts into one glorious slack-off.

[Above Left: Anitra with acquaintance.]

I've talked about Nickelsville here before but I've never spent an entire column on it. This is mainly due to the fact that it hasn't existed yet. I generally find that when I talk about that which is not, the results are even more obtuse than what you usually get when I talk about that which is.

But Nickelsville is poised to be, probably before the next column is out, so it has achieved a degree of concreteness analogous to that of The Melting of the Polar Icecaps and The Rise of the Oceans Due to Global Warming, or The Great Stock Market Crash of 2008 (both expected later today).

So what will Nickelsville be? It will be a Hooverville that is named after Greg Nickels, Seattle's mayor, rather than after Herbert Hoover, a former US President. In the Great Depression Seattle had a Hooverville, a shantytown built by homeless people. A lot of people then thought that Herbert Hoover was responsible for a lot of the Greatness of the Great Depression. So they named the shantytowns after him, the need for them being perceived to be partly his fault.

Today, we don't just think Greg Nickels has a lot to do with how hard it is to survive homeless in Seattle, we know he does. We have listened to him talk a good talk about ending homelessness, while at the same time chasing homeless encampments all around the city and destroying survival gear wherever found. The message from Nickels is, we, the City of Seattle, will end homelessness in the abstract by 2014 (only: not really because the plan isn't to actually end homeless, but hah, hah, that's what we say about it, even though the plan itself says something entirely different, read the fine print), but concretely we will strip all the homeless that are forced outdoors for lack of adequate shelter of all their property, and leave them to the elements.

So as those homeless people who wish to live band together into a shantytown, there is no question whose fault it all is. Nickelsville will be Nickels' fault. Without Greg Nickels and the homeless encampment sweeps he instigated, Nickelsville wouldn't be about to happen. As bad as George Bush is, there would not be a Bushville at this time. Until maybe next week, depending on how many multi-billion dollar financial greed factories file Chapter 11 this week.

As Anitra and Friends' manifesto ably and concisely points out, Nickelsville will cost the City of Seattle nothing. To be less concise: it will not take money out of the general fund. It will not be built by city workers paid by taxpayers. The residents will build and maintain it with assistance from private donors. The city will not be billed for the labor.

People are always saying, "Why don't homeless people ever do anything to help themselves?" Well, they do, everyday. They help themselves by barely surviving in spite of all the obstacles and all the persecution. It's understandable that people can't see that work of surviving, because it's scattered among thousands of personal stories.

Nickelsville should make matters clearer. "What are homeless people doing to help themselves?" Nickelsville, for one thing.

And if, as feared, the city tears Nickelsville down, that would help answer the follow-up question, "Why, if they are helping themselves, are they still homeless?"

The first step in getting out of homelessness is finding a way to maintain and survive every day. If that first step is continually tripped up by the police power of a mayor, then there can never be a second step.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Fannie Seized

Ooh, the Bush government just seized Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and I'm all a-twitter!

Quick partial telegraphic history of US Government involvement in the housing, rental, and mortgage business since the New Deal: Home Owners' Loan Corporation (HOLC) '33, Housing Acts '34, '37, Pinko Commy Federal National Mortgage Association '38 (Fannie Mae), Servicemen's Readjustment Act '44 (the GI "Bill of Rights"), Housing Acts '49, '54, '64, Housing and Urban Development Act '65, Demonstration Cities and Metropolitan Development Act '66, Housing and Urban Development Act '68 (created Ginny Mae), Emergency Home Finance Act '70, (created Freddie Mac), Housing and Urban Development Act '70, Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) '75, Community Reinvestment Act '77, Homesteading and Neighborhood Restoration Act '95, Pinko Commy Republicans Seize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac '08.

Really, it's a hoot when small government conservatives say one day that you have to let the market correct itself, and the next day send in the Marines.

General rule: If poor people are the only ones hurt by a market downturn, a government correction of the market is invariably "liberal", but if wealthy investors are feeling the crunch, it's a threat to our national security. Bolsheviks arise!

The truth is, deep down inside, George Bush is jealous of Hugo Chavez. Hugo Chavez gets to wear the cool red beret and the khakis all the time and blah-blah all day and no one can stop him. He gets to seize corporations any time he wants. Now, George is probably thinking, "Heh, heh, Daddy never seized a multi-billion-dollar secondary mortgage guarantor! And I just seized two of them suckers in one day! Next week maybe I'll seize BP and ExxonMobil, heh, heh, that'd show'm."

I just wish it went down like in the movies. Hundreds of guys dressed all in black with wicked guns rappel from hovering black helicopters into windows, race down corridors, shoot their way into board rooms, and march corporate executive weasels at gunpoint to waiting buses, which speed them to their new suites at the Concertina Hotel. Why is it never like that? Reality hates me. I'm sure George feels the same way. It's something I sense we have in common. That, and a sweet love of women's beach volleyball.



All of this wouldn't have been necessary if the government had never privatized these corporations to begin with. You don't have to seize what you already own. I blame Nixon.

At the outset the idea was to back up the mortgage industry with public funds, and nobody seriously believed it could happen without them. Then, as Republicans took control in the late 60s (Nixon!) during a relatively minor housing crisis (minor compared to now) they enforced the idea that what Fannie Mae needed was to be cut loose from the government and begin to get her money the Old Fashioned Way. To help her along she was introduced to her brand new wily half brother Freddie Mac, who would teach her how it's done through the magic of competition. (The same administration later brought us wage and price controls).

By seizing both of them, the Bush administration has restored the Fannie Mae piece of the New Deal: Your irony of the week.

Toward Further Confusion

1. How is it that conservatives and liberals so often resort to the same solutions to the same problems? Could it be that conservatives and liberals differ mainly on the nature of their excuses? Could it be Darwin was right, and it's all about whatever works, works? Or is there a God, Who wrote unto Moses (tablet missing, presumed broken) Thou Shalt Lend Private Funds Only?

2. In 1950, to prevent a national railroad strike from interfering with the Korean War effort, Truman ordered the Army to seize the country's railroads. The Army did so successfully with 46 officers, one enlisted man (a sergeant), and eight civilian clerks. Explain, drawing from your own experiences, or experiences of others you've read about, how so few men with weapons can do so much.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Lackawanna Wonderfulness

Here at Adventures in Irony, we aim to put everything that matters into perspective and distort beyond recognition everything that doesn't matter. Let's talk about the US presidential election!

We now know who's running. On the Democratic side, Barack Obama is running as the I Spy Bill Cosby (not to be confused with the stand-up or Jello-Pudding Cosbys), so has picked Robert Culp as his running mate. I discovered this watching Obama and Biden being interviewed together on 60 Minutes. The objective is for Obama to be the first African-American president without ever actually mentioning African-American-ness. Instead the focus will be on Wonderfulness and Joe Biden's ability to write his own speeches and direct himself. Obama's election will pave the way, in less than 40 years, for a Democratic Ticket that looks like Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson.

McCain's choice of Sarah Palin for Vice Presidential nominee gives us no choice but to speak of a Get Smart Ticket -- Sarah Palin being basically Barbara Feldon, Agent 99, with glasses, a bigger gun, and higher cheekbones. This means John McCain is Maxwell Smart. If anyone is bothered by this I'm sorry, but I don't make these things up. The McCain/Palin sequel, if it's allowed to happen, will be played by Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway.

Counting Greens, Libertarians, Socialists, and the others, there are at least an additional 11 tickets to choose from that I know of (not all offers valid at all election outlets). When one of those 11 tickets starts resembling a 60s TV spy show team I will let you all know within the week. Ralph Nader had a shot at being The Man From U.N.C.L.E but he blew it when he decided to run with Matt Gonzales. Matt Gonzales may have Illya Kuryakin's hair, his eyes, and maybe even his fashion sense, but he is no Illya Kuryakin.

A lot has been made of Barack Hussein Obama's name, especially the Hussein part. It's often suggested that Barack's parents went way out of their way to dream up the weirdest, scariest, name they could. The notion credits them with far more imagination than they actually showed: Barack's father's name was Barack Hussein Obama. They went with something already tried!

John McCain has been revealed as the least homeless man in America. Many in the homeless advocacy business are investigating what impact McCain's possession of all the vacant housing has already had on US homelessness. What we know for certain is that he's the candidate most capable of ending homelessness in a term at the White House, by inviting all the homeless people into his other digs.

Sarah Palin might not know how to end homelessness, but she could help homeless people get relief from their day-to-day struggles by teaching them to shoot and live off wild game. She knows how to make hats out of pigeons and gloves out of stray cats. I'm sure she'll have no problem with homeless people shooting stray cats. Realize it's not about the cats, it's about self-reliance. It's not about the elk, it's about oil. And so forth.

Joe Biden has been a senator from Delaware for 35 freaking years. He's not known for that, of course, since most Americans have never heard of Delaware ("lowest highest elevation of all fifty states") or knew that it was permitted votes in the Senate. Instead, he is best known for having lived as the son of a working-class car salesman in Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, absorbing the honest straight-shooting ethics of all good salt-of-the-earth car salesmen. I didn't really mean to say that, I just wanted to say "Lackawanna."

For Extra Credit

Figure out how John McCain can be said to have had far more foreign policy experience than Barack Obama, but he still can't tell when a war is wrong and an insane waste of people and resources. Should we value experience in and of itself, or should we look at what’s been learned from it?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Epidemic of More Hair

Here's a quote I find fascinating. It was in an opinion piece for Indymedia in San Francisco, attributed to an unnamed reader of Mortgage News Daily. "If we don't do something [about the foreclosure crisis] we are going to have an epidemic of homeless people who are fed up and commit crimes this winter begging to be housed in Jail."

First of all, it's good to see that we are now capitalizing Jail, just like we have learned to capitalize Mother, God, and the Right Honorable So-and-So. If you incarcerate a higher percentage of your population than any other country in the world, it's time to start paying Jail some respect, in the sort of way Germans respect Himmel and Heimat. We capitalize White House and only one family lives there, and all it means is "white house." More than one in a hundred of our adults live in Jail; that counts for something. I'm also in favor of capitalizing Toilet, for the same reason.

The thing that really fascinates me about the quote is the notion that as soon as good law-abiding citizen homeowners become homeless they will immediately give up on all that and start breaking laws, loving Jail and the lawlessness that gets them there. This view does not describe my own bouts with homelessness.

I was homeless for an accumulated total of three and a half years before I started to think breaking laws would be a fun change of pace. For the whole time up until that I was actually, amazingly, the same fastidious, conscientious, law-abiding person I had been in all my previous (by that time) 45 years.

When I finally did consider breaking a law, it wasn't me that had changed; it was the law. It had become against the law to sit down on a sidewalk no matter how tired you were.

But maybe today's homeless people are different. Today's homeless people were born into a different world than we were. They haven't had Eisenhower to ground them and give their lives meaning. They smoke better weed. They have more hair and faster reflexes.

I was thinking about all this when I found a story in an online Florida newspaper titled "Homeless man charged with exposure of sexual organs." Actually the man, "Jimmy," was drunk and had an extremely full bladder, and therefore it wasn't his sexual organs, per se, that he exposed, it was his bladder-relieving organs, properly speaking.

Jimmy's real crime, it turns out, was not sexual in nature, but being so drunk he thought the New England Cafe in Jensen Beach was the Toilet.

So, how drunk were the owners of the New England Cafe of Jensen Beach, Florida, when they decided they were in New England?

Next, how drunk was the reader of Mortgage News Daily, to think that having your house foreclosed will make you want to live in Jail and do all the things it takes to get there?

Whenever people use terms like "epidemic" or "chronic" in connection with homelessness they reinforce the idea that it's a disease you catch. It's no wonder, with the government using such language all the time, that housed drunks, like that reader, would think that if you catch homeless cooties your personality will change and all your principles will atrophy and fall off after one cold night in a doorway.

It never occurs to housed drunks that the Jimmies out there who are now homeless drunks pissing on cafe tables in Florida were once housed drunks just like themselves, pissing on the coffee table in their living rooms just before passing out on the living room floor, and just hours after writing a stupid letter about homelessness to a newspaper.

Exercises For Advance Credit

How drunk was the writer when he wrote this column?

Which of the following comes closest to the writers point? a) "We're all just people, everywhere," b) "We're all drunks, under the skin," or c) "I need to lie down."

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

No Market Cookie

Let's talk about the failure of the housing market! Housing statistics are about the most boring things I can think of, after corn futures! So let's go for it!

Seriously, my heart raced a little last week when I read the following 2 successive Harper's Index entries: "Chance that a U.S. home is currently vacant: 1 in 35," and "Rank of this among the highest recorded vacancy rates in U.S. history: 1." That's sounds informative, I thought! What does it mean?

I had no clue, so I did what Harper's must have done, namely consult the US Census Bureau data. The picture that emerged from that excursion into surveys, tabulations, and estimates was surprisingly interesting, as I will now attempt to convey.

The 1 in 35 bit refers to homes that would ordinarily be occupied by the owners, rather than rentals. Just that much vacant housing of that type alone accounts for something on the order of 2 million vacant homes, nationally. Given that there are only about 700,000 Americans homeless at any moment, says HUD, that means the entire homeless population could fit in said housing, one each to a vacant home, and still have enough left over to house the homeless of Canada, England, Australia, and probably Western Europe in the same plush way. Since the average home is meant to accommodate somewhere between 2 and 6 residents, you could probably house 10 times the US homeless population in the vacant homes we are talking about, even if HUD's counts are way off.

Now, that's not fair, because every market has to have unused stocks of goods to keep it fluid. But when you look at rental vacancies it's a whole different situation.

A full 1 in 10 of all rental units are going vacant in this country. That means that even though less than half of all housing is rental housing (now we're counting apartments, but NOT motel or hotel rooms and NOT summer cabins and NOT rooms at shelters) we're talking about a terrific mondo quantity of vacant units. Altogether, counting all such vacant units and adding in the vacant homes, 18.6 million units of housing are going unused in this country, as of the 2nd quarter of 2008, while the aforementioned homeless people try to find nice bridges to sleep under.

That means there are more than twenty empty housing units for every person in the country who desperately needs housing.

That's way too much unused stock.

What's a market failure?

A market failure is an American-style supermarket opened up in the middle of a Third World slum offering tomatoes at $3 a pound to people who make $3 a month.

A market failure is a Chad street vendor trying to sell jalapeños to drought victims.

What we have here is a failure of the US housing market to deliver affordable housing. To paraphrase someone I wish I never heard of, you don't house the people you want, you house the people you have.

Fun Exercises -- Learn Through Play!

1. Henry Ford had the idea to pay workers high wages to make cars so cheap the workers themselves could afford them. It worked. Why is that idea called liberal now? Why don't conservatives want to own the ideas that have been proved to work in the past? Isn't that what "conservative" means? Keeping what works?

2. This writer has offered no explanation for the failure of the US housing market. Try to think of your own. Here are a few suggestions: a) Aliens did it. b) We've been too chummy with the People's Republic of China, blame Nixon. c) We've been too chummy with the Saudis, blame the Bushes. c) Government housing regulations have something to do with it. d) Al Qa'eda.

3. An exercise in perspective. List twenty successful markets in America. Here are a few to get you started: The Japanese appliance retail market. The banana market. The energy drink market. The potato market. The politician market.