Monday, February 16, 2009

Recovery Or Stimulus?

. . . wars might be avoided by: universal disarmament; limited national sovereignties; provision for all people of the world: of a rising standard of living, better education, more contact with and better understanding of others; and equal access to the technical and raw materials which are needed for improving life. . . .
--- J. Robert Oppenheimer, 1946

What experience and history teach is this -- that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles.
--- George Wilhelm Hegel

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.
--- Ralph Waldo Emerson
The photo, by Anthony Suau for Time, shows Detective Robert Kole making sure all residents of this house in Cleveland are gone. Their mortgage was foreclosed March 28, 2008. The picture won the World Press Photo of the Year last Friday.
Maybe I'm discovered lying on the sidewalk. Concerned passersby summon help for me. A medical emergency team arrives. One member says, "This man looks exhausted. We should take him to a facility where he can receive tender, loving care." Another member says, "What he needs is a jumpstart. Let's give his heart a jolt." What should they do?
I'm not an economist. Nor a sociologist. I tried community organizing a while back, but wasn't very good at it. I might be better now. I read, I write, I'm interested in words. So when I hear one spokesperson call the Package "stimulus" and another refer to it as "recovery," I have to wonder. Am I alone in thinking we may not know what we're doing? All that's certain is it's going to cost another ton of money---which is a bit like you feel when you check into the hospital. Will you survive the procedure...whatever it is?
If I'm sick, does it matter what the diagnosis is? Just give me a pill, I don't care what it is. That blue one looks good. We're told doctors always write a prescription of some kind because people expect it. If you don't go to the pharmacy from the doctor's office, he couldn't have been much good.
Am I just being pedantic...or does it matter? We should have learned from the last Administration that what you call something matters a lot. Liberals rushed out to buy a book telling us about the importance of "framing" your proposition. Everybody said, "Gee, we have to learn how to do that." OK, here we are. What is the frame? Do we need a jumpstart immediately so GM doesn't go bankrupt---or is recovery a slow, deliberate process that will take years. Is it both at once?
What I do know is the Package has passed and the President will sign it tomorrow, the day after this federal holiday. The whole world's watching. The money will be available, money that's being loaned to us I guess. I don't know where it's coming from. But wait---isn't that how we got into this mess? Spending money we didn't have, betting the gamble will pay off? We'll have enough to give the creditors and a profit left over for ourselves? I can't run my household that way.
Be that as it may, here comes the money in search of projects. Is your community ready? Are you organized? Does your neighborhood know what it needs? You can be applying for grants now. Who's doing it? And once the money arrives, do you know what to do with it? Can you account for the expenditures? Can you demonstrate the progress?
We've been through this kind of thing before. I was there. I remember it. Thirty-five, 40 years ago there were community agencies, more than now. There were workers paid with federal funds. The workers spent a lot of time going to meetings at each other's agencies. People walked around the agencies with coffee cups in their hands and sat on each other's desks. Too much of that went on. A Hollywood and TV actor came along and got elected President campaigning about inflation and government spending. A history teacher named Gingrich got us hating the word "bureaucrat," and eventually the whole country decided government is the enemy.
It's clear there still are lots of people around who believe that. Their sketicism is hardened. Republicans are not cooperating with any of this...despite extended hands of friendship. They are hovering everywhere, just waiting for mistakes. Conservatives and fundamentalists are good at organizing. They know if liberals have disagreements, all they do is splinter off and set up another reform group. Liberal towns are full of groups in opposition to this and that...but are they ready now to take command and control of these problems? Are they talking to each other and planning together how to avoid repetition and waste? Do they have a constituency that wants help and will cooperate?
I'm hopeful the President knows about the 1970s, and how a lot of community action went down. He has a history of organizing and America was impressed with his campaign. Clarence Page posted yesterday his account of talking with the President on Friday~~~
Asked whether his experience had changed his expectations of winnable Republican support or how he might win it, he responded sagely. "You know, I am an eternal optimist," he said. "That doesn't mean I'm a sap."
As our laughter subsided, he described his goal? "Assume the best, but prepare for a whole range of different possibilities."
Good advice. We already should be prepared. Time is short.


jazzolog said...

"If it's too big to fail, it's too big to exist." I've been hearing that a lot lately in reference to banks and business. I was surprised to do a search on the quote and find that generally Michael Moore is credited with it. I guess I don't doubt it, but I wish the idea had become more current in American economics about 20 years ago. Now it's used to defend this last ditch effort to rescue the economy and my meager savings through nationalization.

Frank Rich describes our situation this way today~~~

"Pity our new president. As he rolls out one recovery package after another, he can’t know for sure what will work. If he tells the whole story of what might be around the corner, he risks instilling fear itself among Americans who are already panicked. (Half the country, according to a new Associated Press poll, now fears unemployment.) But if the president airbrushes the picture too much, the country could be as angry about ensuing calamities as it was when the Bush administration’s repeated assertion of 'success' in Iraq proved a sham. Managing America’s future shock is a task that will call for every last ounce of Obama’s brains, temperament and oratorical gifts.

"The difficulty of walking this fine line can be seen in the drama surrounding the latest forbidden word to creep around the shadows for months before finally leaping into the open: nationalization. Until he started hedging a little last weekend, the president has pointedly said that nationalizing banks, while fine for Sweden, wouldn’t do in America, with its 'different' (i.e., non-socialistic) culture and traditions. But the word nationalization, once mostly whispered by liberal economists, is now even being tossed around by Lindsey Graham and Alan Greenspan. It’s a clear indication that no one has a better idea." html?th&emc=th

Well, this fourth generation Swede ain't scared of "nationalizing" these crooks. Bring it on.

Quinty said...

At the risk of appearing “soft,” I can’t help agreeing with Rich regarding his sympathetic attitude toward Obama and his dilemmas. And the Bush administration softened up the economy not only in the usual ways (tax cuts for the rich, lack of regulation, corruption, etc.) but by creating a huge deficit (not paying for his war) to begin with. Perhaps following the far right theory that the best way of destroying government (thus taxes and regulation) is by incompetently running it into the ground. (While blaming government itself for its lack of success.) Making any new government spending proposals more difficult to enact by claiming they would be excessively costly. So now here’s Obama trying a Keynsian approach.

Yes, I would say it’s safe for Republicans to oppose his measures, since nobody knows if they will work. There those, such as Paul Krugman, who say they are far too small. That the stimulus is not nearly enough to be truly affective. The Republicans have that uncertainty on their side, and appear confident enough to bet all their chips on gambling it will fail. To me is smells of being highly political, armies clashing in the night.....

I don’t know about nationalization: by which I mean I’m ignorant as to what it precisely means in terms of the overall economy. But I hardly think it will be a threat to capitalism, especially if the banks are nationalized temporarily, until they are out of the current mess. And once out they can go rolling on as usual. Closely regulated, let’s hope: should Glass Steagall be returned? Should Phil Gramm be sent to Guantanamo, while it’s still in operation, to be made to confess? To talk? In order to roll back all the speculative reforms?

jazzolog said...

Paul Krugman argues for "temporary nationalization" this morning~~~

http://www. nytimes. com/2009/02/23/opinion/23krugman. html?th&emc=th

On another emergency front~~~

Drought to cut off federal water to Calif.
Friday, Feb.
20, 2009
By GARANCE BURKE - Associated Press Writer

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Federal water managers said Friday that they plan to cut off water, at least temporarily, to thousands of California farms as a result of the deepening drought gripping the state.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials said parched reservoirs and patchy rainfall this year were forcing them to completely stop surface water deliveries for at least a three-week period beginning March 1. Authorities said they haven't had to take such a drastic move for more than 15 years.

The situation could improve slightly if more rain falls over the next few weeks, and officials will know by mid-March if they can release more irrigation supplies to growers.

Farmers in the nation's No. 1 agriculture state predicted it would cause consumers to pay more for their fruits and vegetables, which would have to be grown using expensive well water.

"Water is our life - it's our jobs and it's our food," said Ryan Jacobsen, executive director of the farm bureau in Fresno County. "Without a reliable water supply, Fresno County's No. 1 employer - agriculture - is at great risk.

The drought would cause an estimated $1.15 billion dollar loss in agriculture-related wages and eliminate as many as 40,000 jobs in farm-related industries in the San Joaquin Valley alone, where most of the nation's produce and nut crops are grown, said Lester Snow, director of the Department of Water Resources.

http://www. fresnobee. com/641/story/1212565. html

A couple good comments at this story also.

jazzolog said...

This reply came yesterday morning almost immediately upon posting of the news surrounding drought in California. Gifford is professor emeritus of history at Ohio University, and rather celebrated in many areas. If you don't know of his incarceration with Kurt Vonnegut in Dresden, you might be interested in this interview~~~ . At any rate, he obviously hoped to share this comment with others.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Gifford Doxsee"
To: "Richard Carlson"; "Sierra Yahoo Group"; "AthensGrow Yahoo Group"
Sent: Monday, February 23, 2009 6:43 AM
Subject: Re: Water And California

> Richard and all,
> Thanks for sharing this bit of added stressful information. What I found
> missing from Richard's remarks and also from the attached commentaries was
> the impact on the larger world population outside the USA. For years our
> subsidized agricultural surpluses have been used to feed half the world's
> population outside North America.
> More frightening for me than the California debacle is the looming crisis
> in the Midwest where the underground aquifers west of the Mississippi are
> drying up because of greater water usage than nature can replenish. The
> huge wheat crops produced with irrigated water from the aquifers have fed
> much of the world's population/ When the aquifers run dry, predicted to
> occur within a few years, our abundant production of wheat will shrink
> immensely. At that point will the politicians in Washington, DC decide to
> allocate dwindling food supplies to feeding Americans or to let Americans
> starve so the world's overpopulation can continue to be fed?
> What is the maximum population of the earth than can be fed indefinitely
> with existing supplies of agricultural land and water? That is the basic
> question which the so-called "Right to Life" folks never ask. My own guess
> is that we have today billions of people alive on this planet beyond the
> sustainable carrying capacity of planet earth. So when the real crunch
> comes and billions die of starvation, this will then be considered an "Act
> of God" caused in no way by the irresponsible "Right to Life" folks who in
> fact are agents of death.
> Enough of my rambling.
> Gifford

Quinty said...

Those of us who feel hemmed in by rising at five in the morning and commuting two hours to get to work and commuting back and having only enough time at night to grab a frozen dinner and watch some TV while worrying about the leaky roof and the bills and straightening the front teeth of the family dog, as well as other domestic worries and matters, have little time to think about all the suffering in the rest of the world. And may console ourselves as we finally lay our heads down on our pillows late at night thinking of getting up tomorrow in the early morning and worrying about our crazy boss's temper tantrums by considering that it is our god sworn patriotic duty to remind ourselves that this is the American Dream In Action. And that we are not only better off but better than everyone else in the world. (That is soooo important!!!) And if they starve it is probably their own damn fault, what with their unending civil wars, genocides, crazy backward notions and laws. Not to mention all the purloined American TV shows. (Since theirs can’t compete with ours.) Though I, with my job on the line, worrying about getting ahead, living day to day, facing that crazy office again in the morning, glad to even have a job, really have much more important things to think about. And really don’t care. But god am I angry.

And anyone who promises me even a tattered semblance of the American dream will get my vote, since that promise is better than all this crazy stuff coming from pointy heads in academia, liberland, Hollywood, and the upper west side of Manhattan. Most of whom are foreigners with commie leanings.

jazzolog said...

I worked for a couple years in Suffolk County, which for folks elsewhere is the eastern half of Long Island. The schoolkids' families came largely from Brooklyn, had relocated out onto the Island to have a house and yard, and still worked at the shipyards when they still existed in Brooklyn. The commute might take an hour or hour and a half, if there wasn't a lot of traffic. But at rush hour, particularly through the borough of Queens (where you inched along at about half a mile per hour) it was easily a 3 hour drive.

These kids never saw their fathers at all during the week. And on the weekend, a couple of cases of beer separated you from the consciousness of Dad. On the coveted lawn was parked a boat that of course you had to have if you lived that close to salt water. These guys didn't know much about boating, so in the summer they rented a space on a dock, with electric outlets, and drank the beer in the boat---which nobody knew how to drive so it just sat there. At lowtide you could see them walking around in waisthigh water in the bay.

This was the American Dream realized by blue collar. The discipline problems we saw in the schools then were unique and new. Fatherless kids taken off by a relentless commute.