Archive for January, 2009

Reasons to oppose the Bush-Obama request for another $350 billion

January 13, 2009

David Sirota’s four reasons to oppose the Bush-Obama request for another $350 billion, as outlined in yesterday’s issue of Salon, are so good that I’m posting them unedited here.

 

The question is whether Congress should agree to this request or not, and I am against it for four reasons ……………

 

REASON 1: Treasury Says It Doesn’t Need the Money

First and foremost, as the New York Times reports, “The first $350 billion in bailout money has been fully allocated and the Treasury says there is no urgent need for more.” On top of this, the first $350 billion has been a complete disaster – as the bailout’s congressional oversight panel reports, there has been almost no transparency or even basic proof that the bailout is working to do anything other than subsidize bank consolidation and executive bonuses.

 

REASON 2: “New” Conditions Are Filled With Loopholes & Omissions

 

Second, it’s not clear that the conditions Democrats are talking about placing on the second batch of money are strong enough – or, in some cases, even real.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) has put forward legislation that would impose some strings on the money – and his legislation draws a nice comparison to the auto bailout.  Essentially, he wants to impose some of the same restrictions on the money that conservatives demand on the auto bailout. And that’s a damn good thing.

 

The problem is that his proposal still has some gaping loopholes. For example, the Washington Independent reports that while Frank’s executive compensation language restricts bonuses, it will still allow executives to pay themselves absurd salaries. Additionally, while it’s good that Frank wants to force some of the new bailout money to be used to help homeowners, that money needs to be accompanied with bankruptcy law reform (ie. giving judges the power to renegotiate loans), so that the money isn’t used to subsidize banks’ bad loans and can be used in the most effective way that actually helps homeowners and the middle-class.

Of course, word today is that Frank is now backing off even his modest legislation, which leads us to reason three.

 

REASON 3: Congress Still Abdicating Its Oversight Responsibilities

 

To my knowledge, neither Frank nor Senate Banking Committee chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) has put forward bills that would legislatively mandate exactly how the new bailout money is used, or even seriously better transparency. Instead, they are telling us we should simply trust Obama to use the money more responsibly and effectively than Bush. Indeed, lawmakers are demanding a letter from Obama describing how he would use the money – but by definition, a letter is non-binding.

 

Incredibly, we are expected to believe this will better guarantee transparency and effectiveness even though, as the New York Times reports, Dodd “acknowledged that without new legislation there would be nothing to guarantee that those plans would be followed.” Arguably worse than Dodd’s statement is the behavior of Frank. The Huffington Post today reports that “Frank introduced legislation at the end of last week that would have tied a number of strings to the second $350 billion in financial-industry bailout funds, but on Monday, he told fellow Democrats in a closed-door meeting that he wouldn’t push for passage of his bill if President-elect Obama would give “his word” that he would implement major portions of his legislation.”

 

Now, I certainly think Obama will do a better job than Bush in administering the bailout money – but this doesn’t mean we should simply accept Congress once again rolling over, playing dead, and effectively delegating its power of the purse to the executive branch. We went down that road once before, and look where it got us. I mean, seriously – didn’t Democrats get elected to Congress to be a Congress rather than a rubber stamp?

 

Additionally, if Congress doesn’t play a much stronger role on this bill, it could politically weaken Obama’s hand in taking on the financial industry as a whole. By passing the buck, Congress will put the bailout all on him – and he won’t have a progressive legislature to play off of if/when he wants to use the bailout in a way that actually makes the financial industry uncomfortable. In other words, he’ll be out there all on his own – which isn’t good for anyone.

 

REASON 4: Nobody Has Explained Why This Is the Best Way to Spend $350 Billion

 

I said this during the original debate over the bailout bill, and I’ll say it again: Nobody is explaining why spending another $350 billion on a Wall Street bailout is a better way to stabilize and stimulate the economy than, say, devoting that money to universal health care or a full employment program. Shouldn’t that be the very first condition of this amount of money? Shouldn’t someone have to make this argument? And isn’t the fact that this case hasn’t been made a major reason why polls show the American people still strongly oppose this bailout?

 

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Let me say that in the upcoming negotiations over the bailout, some of this might change. For example, some of the loopholes may be eliminated, and lawmakers may step forward and actually legislate the use of the money, rather than simply giving it to the president.

 

But if everything stays the same – if these circumstances stand – then I see no reason for Congress to cut another blank check for $350 billion. There’s going to be a huge amount of financial industry pressure to pass this, but progressives have to stand up to that. As George Bush once said, “There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.”

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The origins of this economic crisis

January 12, 2009

Those of us who may who may still be (or may still pretend to be) clueless about why it is we face the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression should read Simon Caulkin’s article in yesterday’s edition of The Observer.

…What’s been lost over the last three decades is only now becoming clear. Some of the warning signs were already visible in the succession of increasingly frequent panics and scandals of the last decade and a half – Enron, the dotcom boom, LTCM. Less obviously, the last 30 years have seen a steady erosion of balance between stakeholders. While layoffs of staff – “the most important asset” – were once a last resort for employers, they are now the first option. Outsourcing is so prevalent that it needs no justification. And the company’s welfare role is now so attenuated that it barely exists. First to go was the notion of career; more recently, the tearing-up of company pension obligations is another unilateral recasting of the conditions of work – a historic step backwards – that has aroused barely a ripple of objection.

The justification for this behaviour is, of course, the pressure of the market. But this is to disguise a betrayal. As a class, ever since the separation of ownership and management in the 19th century, managers have always occupied a neutral position at the heart of the enterprise – neither labour nor capital, but charged with combining the two for the benefit of both the company and society itself.

Everything changed in the 1980s, however, with the advent of Reagan, Thatcher and Chicago School economists who preached the alignment of management with shareholders in the name of “efficiency”. In effect, “efficiency” came to mean short-term earnings to the detriment of long-term organisation-building; what was touted as “wealth creation” was actually “wealth capture”, from suppliers, clients and employees as well as competitors, on the grandest scale since the robber barons. Its purest expression was private equity.

Managers never looked back. As late as the 1980s, a multiple of 20 times the earnings of the average worker was perfectly adequate CEO pay. But under the compliant gaze of shareholders and remuneration committees, performance-pay contracts boosted the ratio to 275 times by 2007.

As we now know, “performance pay” was a misnomer, an incentive for financial engineering that has destroyed value on a heroic scale. But it’s not just shareholder value that has suffered. By severing any common interest between top managers and the rest of the workforce, fake performance pay has fatally undermined the internal compact that makes organisations thrive in the long term……

Teachers, don’t be bores.

January 10, 2009

Ever since I  I read this report in last in last in last Monday’s edition of The Guardian, I have been wondering what exactly it is Ofsted is going to do about “boring” teachers.

Schools face a crackdown on “boring” teaching following concerns that pupils are disruptive because they find lessons dull, it has been reported.

Christine Gilbert, head of Ofsted, the schools watchdog, told The Guardian there was “strong” evidence to suggest a link between boredom in the classroom and low achievement.

Ms Gilbert said: “People divorce teaching from behaviour. I think they are really, really linked and I think students behave much better if the teaching is good, they are engaged in what they are doing and it’s appropriate to them.

“Behaviour in our schools is generally very good. But there’s what I would describe as low-level disruption where children are bored and not motivated, so they start to use their abilities for other ends. That then can lead to other children being distracted in lessons and so on.”

.She said improving schools through better management and head teachers was not enough to banish boredom from the classroom and schools would also need to improve the quality of teaching.

Reforms to the inspection process would amount to a “crackdown” on uninspiring teaching, with inspectors told to advise schools on why children are not paying attention in lessons, she said.

“One of the things that we’ve been concerned to do in the new inspection framework is to really emphasise the importance of teaching and learning.

“One of the things we really felt it was important to do is to give much clearer information about what schools should do.”

However, teachers’ leaders reacted angrily to the chief inspector’s remarks. Chris Keates, the general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, told the newspaper: “The fact is that every chief inspector seems to get infected with a virus that makes them say schools are full of teachers who aren’t good enough despite the fact that their own evidence shows the standards of teaching is good.

“With comments like that, the chief inspector fuels the view that every lesson of every day for every minute has got to be packed with excitement. Quite frankly, life isn’t like that and education isn’t like that. Comments like this make teachers fair game for everyone, including pupils.”

I have heard that that many of those who carry out Ofted inspections are far from inspiring or inspired. And these are to people who are going to show teachers how to be less boring?

The song lyrics of Clive James.

January 10, 2009

The  Smash Flops: The Pete Atkin Homepage  website is now showing where all those groundbreaking songs that the the songwriting team of Pete Atkin and Clive James composed in the late sixties and early 7os can once again be found.

 Demon Records is assembling a CD reissue of Pete’s entire 1970s back catalogue — no longer will you have to pay top dollar on eBay for those See For Miles CDs.

Demon’s Val Jennings has spared no effort in gathering a wealth of support material, including alternative and demo versions, full lyrics (with some handwritten originals), press archives and contemporary photographs to make this the definitive record of Pete and Clive’s glory days as pop’s most celebrated obscurities. Unlike the previous reissues, nothing will be omitted — the bonus tracks even include selections fromThe Party’s Moving On, one of two private demo LPs made by Pete in the late 1960s.

The albums will be released in two single-CD and two double-CD packages (6 discs in all) on The Edsel label, kicking off with Beware Of The Beautiful Stranger and Driving Through Mythical America on February 2nd. The others will follow on March 2nd.

Here are the sales promotion sheets for the first two albums (click for PDF versions) :

Beware of the Beautiful Btranger

BEWARE OF THE BEAUTIFUL STRANGER ..plus Pete Atkin

DRIVING THROUGH MYTHICAL AMERICA Pete Atkin

DRIVING THROUGH MYTHICAL AMERICA Pete Atkin

click on images for pdf files

Check on Amazon for:

Beware of the Beautifu Stranger plus -Pete Atkin  

and

Driving Through Mythical America –Pete Atkin,

 

or on the HMV site for:

Beware of the Beautiful Stranger (Songs of Pete Atkin & Clive James) – Pete Atkin 

and 

Driving Through Mythical America (Songs of Pete Atkin & Clive James) – Pete Atkin.

These two albums and three of the  four which will follow should be in every serious popular music collection. James as a lyricist showed how it might be possible to write songs in the popular idiom that could tackle serious grown-up ideas and themes.

Clive James – The Revolt of the Pendulum

January 9, 2009

A selection of Clive James’s essays from the past three years is to be published by Picador on the 5th of Jun 2009 under the title The Revolt of the Pendulum.

  …Clive James is the most accomplished essayist at work in Britain today. The Revolt of the Pendulum (Picador, £15.99, June) collects his work from the past three years on such diverse topics as the rules of grammar and the culture of fandom……..The New Statesman

 

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