3/29/09

Officially Unofficial @ the Chicago Tourism Center


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Our friends Ray Noland and our buds at the The Post Family are co-curating, “Officially Unofficial”, an exhibition of prints, posters, photographs, and videos that emerged in 2008 as icons of the art movement in support of Barack Obama for President. The exhibition will include official campaign materials as well as independent work by artists and designers from Chicago and across the country. It opens March 31st!

The Post Family is curating the show with Nathon Mason, Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs • Chicago artist Ray Noland of CRO • in collaboration with Hal Wert of the Kansas City Art Institute.

officially-unofficial.com

William Greider on Geitner

From the Nation: File under: How To Understand The Stupid Economy.

William Greider: To restore the nation's broken financial system, Washington must reform the Federal Reserve.

The story makes disturbing current events sound practically normal. But what are the storytellers leaving out? They aren't saying that this financial catastrophe was not merely an inevitable development of history but a man-made disaster. Greedheads on Wall Street did their part, but so did Washington. The reason we need new rules is that a generation of Democrats and Republicans systematically repealed or gutted the old ones--the regulatory controls enacted eighty years ago to remedy the last breakdown of capitalism (better known as the Great Depression).

The White House executed a nifty two-step this week to re-educate the public and deflect anger. On Tuesday Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner relaunched the massive bailout of banking and finance. Knowing how unpopular this is with the people at large, Geithner followed on Thursday with his "sweeping" plans to re-regulate the bankers and financiers. Whenever official plans are called "sweeping," it indicates that they really, really mean it this time.

Most Americans are not financial experts. It's very difficult, nearly impossible, for normal mortals to sort through the dense policy talk and conflicting opinions to figure out if the rhetoric of reform is real. Confusion is widespread in the land. Most Americans want to believe this president is leading us out of the swamp, but how can they know? I say, trust your gut feelings. They are as reliable as the learned experts.

Many Americans want to believe because they think that returning to "normal" means their decimated 401(k) accounts might somehow recover the 30-40 percent that disappeared during the past year. If it takes monster bank bailouts to restore stock-market prices, let's have bailouts. Good luck with that. The Dow has regained 21 percent in two weeks of rallies, but I remind friends that steep, short bursts in the stock market do not foretell the future of the economy. Banks may be relieved of their losses without changing the general economic outlook. After the crash of 1929, there were occasional stock rallies, followed by fierce bears. It took twenty-five years (until 1954) for the Dow to regain its old peak. Another way to assess the Obama plan for reform is ask: who likes it? The verdict was swift and sure after Geithner's twin announcements. Wall Street likes it. The blueprint for regulatory reforms was applauded by the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association; the American Insurance Association; and the Private Equity Council, the trade group for the major private funds that will get public money and backup insurance to buy the banking system's rotten assets. This could be born-again patriotism. Or it could be the animal appetites of financiers smelling gorgeous opportunity for returns.

This may be one of those moments where people can find some guidance from their moral convictions. They do not need to know all the details to ask simple questions. Does the outline of what's happening to rescue major financial institutions seem morally wrong? Or is it justified by the larger necessities of the national predicament? Is the government insufficiently tough in demanding reciprocal commitments from the beneficiaries? Should Washington pursue larger structural changes in the banking system?

Trying to imagine alternatives to the bankers-first bailouts is a good place to start. What follows are suggestions I produced at the request of young people organizing demonstrations around the country for April 11. They call themselves A New Way Forward. I hope they light lots of bonfires.

This rough outline leaves out lots of particular regulatory issues, but the core goal of reform is to create a banking and financial system that serves the society and the economy, not the other way around. Everything being done to rescue and restore the old order gets in the way of creating something truly new and valuable for the future. Those of us throwing logs in the path of the bailouts are dismissed as naysayers or worse, but the financial titans are trying to foreclose just solutions by stampeding Congress and the president to adopt ill-considered ideas.

If Wall Street gets its way, the "reforms" may further consolidate power and ratify a corporate state--a grotesque hybrid that combines the worst aspects of socialism and capitalism. The reform ideas announced by Geithner would plant the seeds by creating a "systemic risk" regulator, presumably the Federal Reserve, to oversee the largest, most politically adept banks and financial firms that qualify as "too big to fail." Capitalism, with its inherent tendency toward monopoly, would have the means to monopolize democracy (see my recent Washington Post article.)

My new book, Come Home, America, asks people to enunciate their versions of "patriotic realism." That is the essence of an alternative vision: deconcentrate power, liberate people and smaller enterprises, workers and middle managers and investors, to help shape the country's future from many different perspectives. This is how democracy was supposed to work. It can again.

Some points I recommend people consider:

1. Euthanasia for insolvent banks. Transferring their losses to the public will not restore the trillions in capital the bankers helped destroy. It would merely relieve the banks, their creditors and shareholders of the pain. Government must take control of the system to supervise a just unwinding of the mess--whether we call it nationalization or something else. Handing out money and leaving bankers in control of how it's spent is nutty and morally wrong. People everywhere understand this. Only Washington seems oblivious to the irrationality of what it is attempting.

2. The Federal Reserve must be democratized and effectively stripped of its peculiar antidemocratic status as an unaccountable island of power within the government. A new federal agency--accountable to Congress and the president--can be refashioned from the working parts of the Fed. Call it a central bank or something else, but its governing power must not rest with heavyweight bankers on the board of directors at the twelve regional banks. (To understand why, consider that the New York Federal Reserve Bank was headed until recently by Geithner.)

3. The reformed Fed would be confined to conducting monetary policy and stripped of its regulatory functions. A different section of the Treasury or a new free-standing regulatory agency can assume responsibility for regulation and be armed with strong antitrust laws and other rules to ensure that "too big to fail" institutions are redefined as "too big to save."

4. The federal law against usury can be restored to halt predatory lending. Persistent violators would not be fined with trivial penalties, as they are now, but stripped of their government protections and subsidies--that is, doomed.

5. A new banking system--smaller and more diverse and responsible to the public interest--can fill the hole left by the demise of major banks like Citigroup. Vast public resources should be devoted to creating this system, not to saving the mastodons. Public banks (like the North Dakota State Bank) and nonprofit savings and lending cooperatives can also serve as an important cross-check on private commercial banking--a competitive model that offers credit on nonusurious terms and keeps the big boys honest.

6. Once the Federal Reserve is domesticated in a democratic fashion, then it can be reformed to assume broad supervision of the nonbank financial firms in the "shadow banking system"--hedge funds, private equity firms, pension funds, mutual funds, insurance companies. (For more on this, see my recent Nation article, "Fixing the Fed.")

7. Our first political challenge is to disturb business as usual in Washington and prevent Congress from taking hasty action to adopt Wall Street's "reform" agenda. Congress is rattled by the exploding popular anger and listening nervously. The people need to speak louder--loud enough for the president to hear.

3/26/09

Cities deal with a surge of Shantytowns


From the NYT

FRESNO, Calif. — As the operations manager of an outreach center for the homeless here, Paul Stack is used to seeing people down on their luck. What he had never seen before was people living in tents and lean-tos on the railroad lot across from the center.

“They just popped up about 18 months ago,” Mr. Stack said. “One day it was empty. The next day, there were people living there.”

View the slideshow


Stiglitz: “This amounts to robbery of the American people”

From Reuters:

The U.S. government plan to rid banks of toxic assets will rob American taxpayers by exposing them to too much risk and is unlikely to work as long as the economy remains weak, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz said on Tuesday…

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s plan to wipe up to US$1 trillion in bad debt off banks’ balance sheets, unveiled on Monday, offered “perverse incentives”, Stiglitz said.

The U.S. government is basically using the taxpayer to guarantee against downside risk on the value of these assets, while giving the upside, or potential profits, to private investors, he said. “Quite frankly, this amounts to robbery of the American people. I don’t think it’s going to work because I think there’ll be a lot of anger about putting the losses so much on the shoulder of the American taxpayer.”

3/23/09

The Big Takeover



The global economic crisis isn't about money - it's about power.
Read how Wall Street insiders are using the bailout to stage a revolution.

People are pissed off about this financial crisis, and about this bailout, but they're not pissed off enough. The reality is that the worldwide economic meltdown and the bailout that followed were together a kind of revolution, a coup d'état. They cemented and formalized a political trend that has been snowballing for decades: the gradual takeover of the government by a small class of connected insiders, who used money to control elections, buy influence and systematically weaken financial regulations.

Rolling Stone

Visualizations and Infographics to Understand the Financial Crisis

Pretty Awesome series of images:







No_Lympic Chicago update

by Ben Joravsky at 5:16 p.m. via Chicago Reader

Good news on the Olympic front, at least for Chicago: the upper house of the Japanese parliament signed on to a plan to fund the 2016 Olympics if the International Olympic Committee awards them to Tokyo.

My condolences to the Japanese taxpayers.

Meanwhile, back in the U.S. of A., neither the city or the federal government has yet agreed to back the games. According to a recent Tribune article by Laurie Cohen and Kathy Bergen, this is supposed to be a bone of contention between Chicago's Olympic planners and the IOC, which wants the government (federal, local--any will do) to pony up. My suggestion to the IOC is to forget about Chicago and just give the games to Japan.

In addition, the local Olympic opposition movement is gearing up. You probably already know about the April 2 rally--it starts at 5 PM at Federal Plaza (that's 50 W. Adams). But now they're going to have a march after the rally, moving north on LaSalle to City Hall and then east to the Aon Center, home of Chicago's 2016 Olympic committee.

"I'm going to pick up the permit for the march tomorrow," says Bob Quellos, a member of No Games Chicago.

3/22/09

Android App Scans DVD Bar Codes, Starts BitTorrent Download

By David Kravets from Wired!

Android application developer Alex Holmes is creating a simple and powerful new way to get your pirated videos: an application that uses your cellphone's built in camera to scan a DVD bar code, then starts the movie downloading onto your home computer.

Called "Torrent Droid," the program means consumers who spot a DVD they like at the local Walmart will no longer have to choose between the instant gratification of buying it on the spot, and the frugal -- albeit illegal -- alternative of grabbing it from BitTorrent.

"I could feel bad about creating a tool that could be used for piracy," says the 23-year-old Holmes, a Bournemouth University software systems student. "However if I didn't create the tool, someone else would have."

After scanning the UPC on the DVD's packaging, the program looks up the number in a database to get the title. Then it automatically runs a search on your favorite torrent site.

Select the torrent of your choice, and Torrent Droid sends it to your home computer, assuming your PC is running uTorrent with a web interface. If your broadband connection is fast and the checkout line slow, your movie will be waiting for you when you get home.

Holmes says the program will be for sale on his website, Zerofate, in about a month.

The idea for the application came from the website Android and Me, which offered a cash reward to the first developer who could create a working version for Google's Android. Holmes won the $90 award with his "very private alpha" version of the software, shown in the video.

Treasury's Toxic Asset Plan Could Cost $1 Trillion

Via>> The Associated Press

NPR.org, March 22, 2009 · The Obama administration's latest attempt to tackle the banking crisis and get loans flowing to families and businesses will create a new government entity, the Public-Private Investment Program, to help purchase as much as $1 trillion in toxic assets on banks' books.

The new effort, to be unveiled Monday, will be followed the next day with release of the administration's broad framework for overhauling the financial system to ensure that the current crisis — the worst in seven decades — is not repeated.



This could lead to some bad times... and bad choices. like printing money to pay for this garbage.

Paul Craig Roberts says "If the US government is forced to print money to cover the high costs of its wars and bailouts, things could fall apart very quickly."

3/19/09

Version Festival Fundraiser


March 21, 2009, 8pm
Co-Prosperity Sphere
3219 S Morgan St

There are way too many good reasons to come by Co-Prosperity Sphere this Saturday, March 21.

We are launching two new publications: Matériel and Pr.

They are awesome. And HUGE! Download this link for a sneak peak at Matériel:
http://lumpen.com/materielmag/Matériel_Mag_Issue_001.pdf

We are also raising funds for Version>09 Immodest Proposals our annual international art freak out. This is our only fundraiser that will pay for 10 days and nights of projects by over 350 people from around the world.

Bobby Conn is playing along with Casual Encounter, and a super secret internet famous band.


Matériel is an oversized broadside newsprint publication that’s a collection of the best/brightest designers/illustrators/photographers work we can find – creating a showcase for their submitted work. It’s a sister magazine to Proximity providing a ‘design’ counterpoint to Prox’s ‘art’ focus.

Pr is Proximty’s in-between issues poster letter featuring reviews, interview, a calendar and a sweet recipe for a healthy art ecology.

Both of these oversized publications are beautiful. Come and get one, and fund our soon to be epic festival.

issues are complementary with a $10 Suggested donation.

... Please repost and forward this transmission:

3/9/09

The SSD Project

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has created this Surveillance Self-Defense site to educate the American public about the law and technology of government surveillance in the United States, providing the information and tools necessary to evaluate the threat of surveillance and take appropriate steps to defend against it.

Coming soon to everywhere?

California's Inland Empire

Hard times hit, and we slowly disappear.
By Susan Straight
LA Times

March 8, 2009
First in a series

At night, I can hear the soft thumps as the rats land on my roof. They launch themselves from the branches of the apricot tree because they want to get inside my attic, into a house with heat.

The house next door, and the one next to that, have been empty since October. Their yards have gone feral, with hundreds of dandelion heads glistening gray in the night.

The rats are cold and hungry. The skunks have a den somewhere next door, where the metal shed was dismantled. Opossums, raccoons and lizards have colonized the abandoned yards on my block in Riverside. And it's spooky, at night, to see so much darkness, to hear skittering, to keep an eye out for homeless people trying to break in and sleep, to listen for the sounds of desperate humans and animals.

Last week, a woman stole a pair of shoes right off my neighbor Maria's front porch. Maria woke her son, who ran down the street and confronted the woman. She threw the shoes back at him. After a pair of clippers disappeared from my yard, I've started taking ladders and anything else of possible worth inside at night.

Our mailman, Randy, said this week that from what he sees in his letter bag (he reminds me that Americans have no secrets from the letter carrier), about one in eight homes in our neighborhood are in foreclosure or a few months away. The street already has six empty houses, some vacant for nearly a year. And people walking aimlessly in the street make life eerie and uncertain.

Here in the Inland Empire, we joke that our people are canaries but we don't die.

Our foreclosure rate was the highest in the country for many months; Riverside County's unemployment rate is 12.2%. But we do recession better than many places. We have experience. In the 1980s, we lost Kaiser Steel and many other manufacturers; from 1992-94, the unemployment rate for the Riverside-San Bernardino metro area averaged 10%, with an astonishing 12.1% in July 1992.

But this feels different. More desperate. Last year, after the price of copper skyrocketed, metal theft was rampant; thieves stole catalytic converters from parked cars, brass plaques from headstones and monuments, faucets and bushings from fire hydrants, copper wire from schools and parks. Thieves strip foreclosed homes, identifying them by "Bank Owned" signs in the dead lawns. Water heaters, copper pipes, electrical equipment -- all torn from walls and floors, homes destroyed.

I haven't slept well for about a year. For a while, I woke up at night to check on my daughter's Honda, which was broken into repeatedly. We knew it was a prime target. But recently it was stolen from in front of her friend's house, in the 15 minutes she left it to go inside. On Presidents Day, my ex-husband and I drove to a towing yard in San Bernardino near the Colton border to retrieve what was left of the car when police found it. The guy who brought it to me shook his head.

Stripped. Everything gone but the fast-food trash the thieves had strewn on the floor. "I'll call the salvage guy for new door panels and seats," my ex-husband said. Then he rolled his eyes. "He only takes cash, but my tax refund's gonna be an IOU, right?"

We drove through streets of boarded-up bungalows, the neighborhoods of old California now turning back to wild oats and silvery foxtails so high the windows were obscured. Men wandered the potholed streets looking like something out of a current-day Steinbeck novel.

To say we might lose "community" is too simple. We are already more isolated and urbanized than in the past. But to lose the community on my street, the street I've lived on for 22 years, breaks my heart.

We watch out for each other. A neighbor with orange trees brings me bags of navels, which I share with other neighbors. I give Maria eggs from my chickens and winter tomatoes and oranges, and she brings us foods from her native Philippines -- chicken adobo and pancit.

But increasingly there are things we can't help each other with. Down the block, my neighbors -- waitresses and home day-care workers and contractors and retired people -- are all nervous about whether they'll have jobs tomorrow. One neighbor sold many of her belongings last year in a series of yard sales, trying to make house payments; her husband, an adult-education teacher, was furloughed for the summer, and his hours for this school year were cut. They are filing for bankruptcy.

A few days ago, police were at Maria's; someone had tried to carjack her son at gunpoint for his truck. And from my kitchen window, I saw police at a house on the next street. After work, my youngest and I smelled smoke on that street, so several neighbors and I ran to see whether the elderly widows on the block were OK. The fire was put out quickly, but one man said to me, "A bad day on this street." Earlier that morning, police arriving to evict a woman found her dead. A woman in her 30s, in a rental house, who'd lost her job some months before and was being evicted, had hanged herself.

None of us can get her out of our minds, because we didn't help her. We didn't know. She hadn't been here long. I can see the roof of her house as I wash dishes, and when I go to bed, I can hear the rats gnawing at the chicken wire over the vents on my roof.

Susan Straight's most recent novel is "A Million Nightingales." On Monday: The view from South Los Angeles.

3/3/09

Stimulus is trickling onto highways



Stimulus Flows Into Patchwork of State Transport Projects
There is nothing monumental in President Obama’s plan to revive the economy with a coast-to-coast building spree, no historic New Deal public works. The goal of the stimulus plan was to put people to work quickly, and so states across the country have begun to spend nearly $50 billion on thousands of smaller transportation projects that could employ up to 400,000 people, by the administration’s estimates.

See an interactive map of how the money is being spent

Still confused about the economic crisis?

So are we.
Here is some recent confusion:

The Lazy Man's Guide to the Economic Crisis

Taking Greenspan at his word, we can surmise that one of the goals of the ruling elites is to even the global playing field by reducing the wages of hard-working Americans, by now in a desperate race to the bottom. No more discretionary income, no more annual trips to the beach. Instead, as a wage slave, chained to an ever-turning wheel of mis-fortune, stands the American worker – oblivious to the hidden hand of events even as it operates right in front of his nose.

A Banana Republic by 2012? Obama's Budget
"President Obama has presented the most irresponsible budget in US history. His fiscal year 2010 budget projects federal spending of $3.5 trillion and a federal deficit of $1.75 trillion. In other words, 50 percent of the government’s budget consists of red ink. "

Redistributionist, and That’s Just Fine

“Over the past two or three decades, the top 1 percent of Americans have experienced a dramatic increase from 10 percent to more than 20 percent in the share of national income that’s accruing to them,” said Peter Orszag, Obama’s budget director. Now, he said, is their time “to pitch in a bit more.”

Graham: Nationalizing Banks Should Be On The Table

A.F.L.-C.I.O. to Support Nationalizing Banks