Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Use Protection

I don't know what to say. I can't not be sardonic. It's too fahrf├╝rfrappen 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 sch├Ân! 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?