DONALD SHULL WHERE ARE YOU?

Donald Shull where are you?
Where have you been?
I was in the old neighborhood,
Just recently, once again.
No one knew your name,
Or had a clue, or cared.
No one had the time to talk,
But yet they stood and stared.
The days when we ruled it,
Owned our block, if you will,
Have never left my mind,
Memories are with me still.
Out beyond the street lamps
On the darkened edge of night,
We would run, oblivious,
Caring not for our plight.
Out beyond the lightning bugs
That summer seemed to spawn,
And beyond the swirling snow
On a cold winter’s dawn.
Then as happens in one’s life
We parted, you moved away,
Though we swore allegiance
To each other on that day.
We would write and we would call,
And always stay in touch.
When boys part at ten years old
Those promises mean so much.
Now half a century passes on
Though much faster than it seems,
Suddenly I remember you
And our childish dreams.
Donald Shull where are you?
Are you living still?
Do you wonder where I am,
Do you think you ever will?

Three Legged Table

According to Karl Marx, an economy based on speculation, and one from which only a few profit, cannot sustain itself. Marx predicted the eventual collapse of capitalism based on that postulation. He did not predict when or where this collapse would happen, only that it was an inevitability. We may now be witnessing that collapse before our eyes.

We now see that greed is not the engine that can run or maintain an economy. It is now obvious that Reagan’s vaunted “trickle down” theory of the economy has a lot more down to it than it does trickle.

I’m not an economist, nor am I a Marxist. I do know, however, that while a three-legged table may look nice, it is a precarious repositor upon which to place anything of value. And our economy since the Reagan era can well be likened to this three legged table.

You may think that you like limited regulation and unsustainable growth, but this position has suddenly become an untenable one due to the greed factor. Now that we have had that erroneous view of the economy yanked out from under us, we have a trillion or more dollar mess to sweep up. Actually, if some economists are correct, the mess may well be several trillion dollars before all is done and said.

It’s a mess, and most economists who aren’t card carrying Libertarians have been warning about such a calamity for three or more years. The banks didn’t fail because the free-markets were restrained. The lending industry didn’t collapse because taxes were too high. Nor did the market tank because the Democrats took control of Congress two years ago. We, the people, were promised prosperity in a time of war, financed by low taxes and borrowed dollars. And, or yeah, good times were just around the bend. We were told to shop instead of save and to borrow instead of invest. This is a failure of leadership and that leadership sits in the White House. And it controlled the Congress for twelve out of the last fourteen years.

I, myself, flirted with the Libertarian philosophy from the eighties until 2003. I began to see the flaws in Libertarian ideology when trade deal after trade deal took our jobs away, and when tariffs disappeared, harming the manufacturing industries and their workers. At the same time our borders were overrun by immigrants, understandably seeking a better life, all the while diminishing job opportunities and wage and benefit improvements for us and our children. Libertarians embraced much of this deregulation, freetrade, open borders and other positions which have not worked.

Then when those Indiana voters who were misled by Mitch Daniels, buying into his vision for the state, elected him as governor, the final nails were driven into the coffin of Libertarianism for me. He messed up our time zones for no reason other than that he could. He privatized our Toll Road for what amounts to thirty pieces of silver, and either privatized, or tried to privatize, our child care services, welfare, prisons, license branches, and other necessary and essential services.

Privatization sounds a lot better in theory than it appears to be in reality. Bush, Daniels, and their ilk have pushed me back to the progressive liberalism of my youth. They and their minions have proven that government is necessary, that oversight and regulation must be maintained for the good of the people and to keep robber barons and other purveyors of greed in check. Only through the workings of a government which protects those most innocent of our citizenry can we achieve and hold on to justice and fairness. We have tried their lassaize faire style of privatization, deregulation, and rampant greed and found it to be a failure. We need to get back on the path of good government and necessary oversight and fairness. Not the nanny state which keeps us safe from all risk and potential harm, but a government that functions for the best interest of the people as a whole, and not just for those few with power, wealth, and access.

The system has failed to deliver, but at the same time, we have failed ourselves. We haven’t asked the hard questions nor demanded to hear the hard answers. We have grown accustomed to our cell phones, plasma TVs, and mobile living rooms that we call SUVs. We expect to live our lives in comfort while month after month only making the minimum payment on our mortgages and credit cards, and we get angry when our gas bill cramps our spending habits. Government can’t, and shouldn’t fix this for us. We need to take charge of our own lives and we need to stop blaming anyone else for our own unrealistic expectations.

Maybe government can, and probably should, offer better tax incentives to encourage us to save and invest than it does for us to spend. But we need to do those things regardless, because they are ultimately good for us, our children, and our grandchildren, and for the economy as a whole. Rampant consumerism needs to be replaced by investment and responsibility, and good government can encourage us on that path.

Wall Streets robber barons who were allowed to run amok for the last eight or more years have now floundered on the rocky shore of greed, and I say not a dime for them in any bailout that ultimately comes out of Washington. Whatever money is injected into the economic failures of these greed meisters should be introduced at the ground level of these serial collapses. What I mean by this is, the money should be earmarked toward bailing out or guaranteeing the mortgages of single dwelling borrowers who find themselves caught up in this conundrum in which they are the victims, not the perpetrators.

It should not bail out the losses of those who mortgaged second, third, or more homes. It should not bail out the real estate speculators who were busy flipping houses for the sake of profit who finally ran out of wiggle room with the mortgage holders. And it should certainly not bail out those who wrote up and backed bad loans just so they could bundle more mortgages into financial instruments which they then sold to other speculators trying to get their share of the carcasses of hard working middle America. Nor should those purchasers of these bundled mortgages be rewarded for their despicable role in this financial fiasco.

The dollars that flow out of Washington, in whatever version of a bailout is finally arrived at, are our dollars. They will be injecting tax dollars, or more likely, borrowed dollars, the repayment of which we are all collectively responsible. Therefore we are all stakeholders in the bailout. We need to let our Senators and Representatives know that we want these dollars to purchase or insure the mortgages of people like us. Middle class wage earners who were lied to, misled, overleveraged, or whatever, by these shysters, and that the financiers whose greed superceded the national interest, and the best interest of their clients, should get not one dime.

We the people have the power to determine the final bailout deal with our vast numbers and the articulation of our voices in a way that we seldom do. National elections are 39 days away. The entirety of the House of Representatives, and one third of the Senate are standing for election. We need to let those who ostensibly represent us know that we are watching what they do and are conversant and cognizant about what they decide, and that we will vote accordingly. Then we need to actually direct our votes based on the stance taken by our current elected officials.

Those who vote to do nothing do not deserve our support. Those who vote to lower capital gains taxes do not deserve our support. Those who vote in favor of financial tycoons do not deserve our support. Those who vote for the same or more relaxed oversight and regulation do not deserve our support. Only those who vote to back the mortgages of our friends, neighbors, relatives, or ourselves deserve our vote. Determine the role of your representative or senator in these trying times and vote accordingly.

AUTUMN

I sat upon the low-slung wall
laid up of mortar and granite stone,
and drank in the scent of fallen leaves
and piney needles and bristled cone.
The sounds of nature, undisturbed,
fell upon my aged and icy ears,
it all recalling other days
when I was young, across the years.
I watched the early morning frost
as it sparkled in the sunlight,
and turned to water before my eyes
as day again reclaimed the night.
Once again the green turned brown
as autumn took the season’s stage,
and summer days disappeared,
memories on a faded page.
A blackbird lands upon a thistle,
a chill breeze so lightly blows.
Far off clouds gather, piled high,
and rainy scent assaults my nose.
My sojourn here, about to end,
took me back to distant times,
cheerful days of chilly autumns,
different places, different climes.
I turned my back to the wind
and pulled my hat down low.
I was escorted from that place
by pelting rain and frigid blow.
But I’ll be back there tomorrow,
at least in my mind’s eye.
For I cannot escape those feelings
for all those days now gone by.

Indiana Toll Road

Last week’s heavy flooding in northwest Indiana has subsided, though there are still long-lasting effects to be dealt with. One of the things that may have escaped many of us around the state, should have some impact on the gubernatorial race in Indiana.

During this natural disaster, many heavily traveled roadways were closed in the region. In order to alleviate some of the congestion, a 25 mile stretch of the Indiana Toll Road was temporarily turned into a freeway at the request of the governor. Macquarie-Cintra, the leaseholder, agreed. The tolls went back into effect by the end of last week.

Now it is found out that the state will reimburse Macquarie-Cintra for any lost revenue during this emergency situation. It isn’t known yet what the price tag will be, but the Daniels administration will tap into the $3.8 billion trust fund that this consortium paid the state for the right to collect tolls on the highway for 75 years. In other words, Macquarie-Cintra will get some of their money back. A few more emergencies and they may have it all back with a wink and a nod from Mitch.

Of course, the transfer of this money back to the consortium is all fine and dandy from a legal perspective. The lease agreement provides for just such a contingency. It states that a loss of revenue of this sort will be paid back from the fund paid to the state. Even shortfalls of revenue resulting from decreased traffic flow on the highway would trigger such a pay back.

In other words, if business goes great on the Toll Road, and Macqurie-Cintra makes a profit, we get to actually keep the money. But if revenue falls and profits dry up, they get their money back. So the state is basically a repositor for Macquarie-Cintra money, rather than the recipient of funds that can be used at the state’s discretion.

The trickle of money that will now begin with this repayment for last weeks natural disaster may become a flood of it’s own during the remainder of the time left on the lease. And we could all be left holding our share of nothing as the money finds its way back to Spain and Australia.

Financial Bailout

I’m not a financial expert, and I don’t pretend to be. I can barely balance my check book, and when I say that I’m investing in CDs, I mean compact discs.

Still, I’ve got a little money put away and a couple of private pension plans that I’ll be drawing from in less than a year. I guess that makes me, if not an expert, then certainly an interested party in the current financial meltdown taking place. And like you, I’ll be taking a bath financially due to lower market values, reduced real estate values, and higher taxes.

As I understand it, the various banks and financial institutions that are vaporizing right before our eyes are in the position they’re in primarily because they made bad loans, bought unsecured or under secured debt, and did it all with minimal or no regulation from the Federal Government. A product, largely, of the Reagan and G.H.W. Bush days of rampant deregulation without regard to the public needs and the trust that government is supposed to exercise on behalf of that public.

Now there is a proposal floating that will allow the government to expose up to $700 billion at a time to bail out these bad boys of Wall Street. That’s not $700 billion total, as I read it, but $700 billion at any one time. That means that if they invest that amount of our taxpayer dollars in the initial bailout, and then liquidate some of the debt, even at a loss, then they can bailout somebody else for the amount collected from the liquidation, as long as the total exposure at any one time does not exceed $700 billion.

This whole business of essentially nationalizing our financial markets may be the biggest political capitualation in the history of the Union. It’s both socialistic and fascistic, and I don’t think the full significance of vaporizing any legitimacy the Conservative Movement might have had has fully dawned on our rightwing friends. It erases the validity of their 75 year complaint on The New Deal, as well as ANY credibility about ANYTHING economic. What else do they have left now but the culture war, abortion, and bombing Iran?

But to the rest of us, we’re seeing the means of financing national health insurance go right out the window. Not only that, but any spending on schools, infrastructure, and any other causes dear to progressive Americans will not happen because the money is being stolen from the people and given to a few elites in the world of high finance.

At least when you’re mugged on the street, the perpetrator has the decency to stick a gun in your face. These spineless politicans will, as Wood Guthrie said 70 years ago, rob you with a fountain pen. But they’re not just robbing you. They’re also robbing your children, grandchildren, and probably great grandchildren. It’s kind of like the Sarah Palin-as-mayor-of-Wasilla, Alaska-plan. They’re charging us for our own rape kits. And we’re forking over the money without complaint.

I personally think it’s time to get out the pitchforks and torches and storm the castle walls but I know that won’t happen. After all, the fall TV season is beginning and football is on the tube to take our minds off of things that should incense us. And some gay couple somewhere wants to get married, and some woman is contemplating an abortion, and we’re all working more hours for less pay, and who has time to think all of this through and actually do anything about it? I guess we do have to keep our priorities straight, afterall.

Is it just me? I have this Thomas Nast-like cartoon in my mind of these Republicans sweeping out the last of the people’s money from the vaults. It’s their last chance for awhile to get what’s left. It took them eight years, but they managed to get it all. The war, private contractors with no-bid contracts, the oil companies, deregulation, and the fleecing of America. These Republicans started their tour of duty eight years ago with the coffers overflowing, flush with cash and managed in that time to pillage and plunder every cent. They’ve even managed to get hundreds of billions more from Chinese, Japanese, and other foreign lenders that we euphemistically call “federal debt.” They got it and we’re stuck with paying back the loans. And now they’re making their final raid on the treasury, and we have to pay more.

What worries me the most about this bailout, besides the inherent boneheadedness of the entire scheme, is Section 8 of the bill. It reads as follows…
“Sec. 8. Review.
Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.”

This means that Secretary of the Treasury Paulson, and/or his successor has carte blanche to distribute money, strip or rebundle assets/losses, or whatever the hell else they may feel like without any oversight, regulation, or legal recourse. Wasn’t it deregulation and lack of oversight that lead to this entire fiasco?

This is the same Henry Paulson who spent his career on Wall Street working for Goldman Sachs. Oh yeah, they’re an investment firm. Can you spell collusion? How about special interest? And isn’t this bailout really just going to dump money on the jackasses who caused this crisis in the first place? Golden parachutes for everybody. Yeah, that’ll shore up the shaky financial markets.

I love the fact that the “rescue plan” for the crisis brought on by the deregulation of our financial industry requires that Congress deregulates the actual “rescue plan” itself. There are no rules whatsoever on what Secretary / Former Goldman Sachs CEO Paulson chooses to do with the taxpayers’ $700 billion.

Before we agree to send these scumbags the money, can we at least force them to sign over the keys to the Rolls, the Jetstream, the house in the Hamptons, and the ski lodge in Aspen? I mean a trillion dollar mistake ought to cause at least one of these guys to lose a house or something. Assuming they’re at least as well off as McCain, they will still have half a dozen or so in each of their portfolios.

But the poor schumucks out here in the hinterlands who are buying one house and have gotten tangled up in this mess aren’t hearing one word about how to save their homes from foreclosure. No talk about revaluing their homes to a more realistic price, nor any provisions for renegotiation of mortgages. Even though those solutions would be cheaper and would put the money into the bailout at the ground level and ultimately be more likely to shore up the industry.

So what then is the correct solution? Like I said early on, I’m not an expert. But I do possess a modicum of common sense and a tad of critical thinking skills. I propose that the government should simply manage the liquidation of these firms, unroll the mortgages in these debt packages into Freddie Mac/Fannie Mae and refinance as many of the bad mortgages as possible under short-term favorable rates, that slowly increase to market rates. Executives and investors get nothing. They screwed the pooch, but they shouldn’t get the puppies.

If taxpayer money is being put up to finance a solution, we would all be better served if as few foreclosures took place as possible. It would be vastly preferable to get 4% from a mortgage for the next year or two than trying to liquidate a property at 20% or more below market rate. The fed has Fannie and Freddie available to do this, so turn them loose.

There also might be some long-term advantage to taking the foreclosed properties that are out there and put together a new GI bill to help vets acquire housing. You could also create a more comprehensive housing package, giving preference to people willing to teach in inner-city schools, and that sort of thing.

That still leaves a lot of pain to deal with, but it sends the right message to Wall Street (we’ll help you liquidate, but not save you), to taxpayers, and helps diffuse a lot of the problem closer to where individuals will feel it.

Oh, and a capital gain tax rate increase most certainly should accompany any bailout. Start paying for this bailout from the source. It can be a progressive tiered increase from the current rates, so small capital gains distributions stay at the current rate, but the more you take in during a year, the higher the rate you pay. That wouldn’t hurt small investors, but again puts the burden on those who contributed to this mess in the first place.

Finally, I’ve been advocating for over twenty years for a tax on stock transfers. Something along the line of one quarter to one half percent of the value of each transfer would generate billions of dollars a year. This money could be used to pay down the debt and would have minimal impact on the earnings of those involved in the stock market. Yet it would make a significant contribution to paying down our debt. This would free up more money in the private sector, leading to more economic growth where it counts. From the ground up.