Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Economic Stimulus?

So there's an economic stimulus check from the federal government with my name on it in Atlanta for $600 dollars. In the next day or two it should be making its way over here.

There's a bunch of things I appreciate about this attempt to allow me to stimulate the economy. I'll be able to fix that back windshield now which has been held together with tape for two months. I'll be able to get a few more housewares I could use like something besides my leaking thermarest to sleep on and some coat hangers and such.

Then I thought it will also be great because I can use the rest of what's left over to pay for gas to do various expeditions to scenic and mountainous parts of the state. So that rocks.

So the stimulus is good and welcome.

But then I thought of this:

Did you know that before bush was in office oil was at $30 ish a barrell, and had been relatively stable around that price for around 10 years? Now it's at what, $100 or more above that?

If oil didn't skyrocket in the past year, I'd have saved way more than $600 which I spent on gas. Then I think about how much more I would have saved over the past seven years if there were never these stupid wars. The whole point of them was to secure our control over middle east oil against rising competitors but that's totally blown up in Bush's face and just fucked things for us more than leaving them alone would have.

So in essence, all the stimulus really is is just a handout to oil companies. The price of transport and food and everything else rose because the price of gas rose. That's a main reason why people have less money now. The stimulus helps us keep living a bit more comfortable for a month or so, but only because we can use it to pay oil companies the outrageous inflated, speculative prices they've invented. Not just at the pump, but you use it to buy groceries which are more expensive and Safeway uses that to pay truckers or farmers and they give it to the oil companies. It all trickles up.

So that's a little weird. I think it would be easier just to confront the oil companies politically and try and do things to decrease the amount of speculation possible.

I know some people are afraid of government intervention in the economy, but how much worse could it possibly be? We deregulated banks about what, a decade or a decade and a half ago? And now they're collapsing in a speculative housing bubble that's costing the government billions to bail out anyway, as well as encouraging people to dump their dollars and invest in oil futures instead?

So much for the invisible hand.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Obama's Shift to the Right: AIPAC, Latin America, and "Abandoned Responsibilities"

I'd write an article about this, but someone's already done such a great job, I'll just repost it here.

Scoring points at the expense of Black men

Demonizing Black men was the latest in a series of right turns by Barack Obama now that the general election campaign is underway.

June 17, 2008

THE IMAGE of the shiftless Black man has been a staple of U.S. presidential politics since the founding of the Republic.

Typical was Democrat Grover Cleveland, elected in 1884. The first member of the old slaveowners' party to make it to the White House after the Civil War, Cleveland said that among Blacks there was "a grievous amount of ignorance, a sad amount of viciousness, and a tremendous amount of laziness and thriftlessness."

In the modern era, the race-baiting has been a bit more subtle. But when Republican Richard Nixon campaigned for "law and order" in the 1968 elections, everyone knew what he meant--especially conservative Southern Democrats who have turned to the Republicans ever since.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan upped the ante, referring to "welfare queens" driving Cadillacs and "strapping young bucks" who took government handouts rather than work. In 1992, Democrat Bill Clinton joined this shameful parade when he left the campaign trail to personally preside over the execution of a mentally disabled Black man, Ricky Ray Rector--and, later, denounce the rap artist Sister Souljah at a meeting of Rev. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition.

Now comes Barack Obama with his own broadside against African American men.

"We need fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception," Obama said at an African American church on Chicago's South Side on Father's Day. "Too many fathers are M.I.A, too many fathers are AWOL, missing from too many lives and too many homes. They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it."

The focus of Obama's harangue was statistics showing that about half of all Black children live in single-parent households, the overwhelming majority of them with their mothers.

But rather than examine the social conditions that gave rise to this, Obama blamed the victims. He lectured African American parents who "just sit in the house watching SportsCenter," and said, "Don't get carried away with that eighth-grade graduation. You're supposed to graduate from eighth grade."

According to the New York Times, Obama's speech at the Apostolic Church of God was well received. The audience often voiced approval and, at one point, gave him a standing ovation.

Obama was echoing the comedian Bill Cosby, whose recent books and speaking tours criticizing hip-hop culture and the African American family have been popular among the Black middle class.

The African American writer Michael Eric Dyson points out that Cosby's attacks on the Black poor ignore social realities.

"If the rigidly segregated education system continues to fail poor Blacks by failing to prepare their children for the world of work, then admonitions to 'stay in school' may ring hollow," he wrote in response to a 2004 Cosby speech. "In suburban neighborhoods, there are $60-million schools with state-of-the-art technology, while inner city schools desperately fight for funding for their students."

He added: "There's nothing like a formerly poor Black multimillionaire bashing poor Blacks to lend credence to the ancient assaults they've endured from the dominant culture."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

DYSON'S COMMENTS about Cosby apply equally well to Obama's attacks on Black men. But Obama's motives are more cynical--part of a calculated appeal to conservative white voters by validating racist stereotypes.

There's a pattern here. Just a day after securing the nomination, Obama gave a hard-line pro-Zionist speech at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee meeting. He also took a classic Yankee imperialist position slamming Cuba and Venezuela's Hugo Chávez in a speech before right-wing Cuban Americans.

Demonizing Black men was just another checklist item in Obama's post-primary right turn for the general election.

Moreover, Obama's pronouncements about Black men left out more than a few important facts.

Having gone well beyond eighth grade himself to graduate from Harvard Law School, Obama surely knows that the number of children living with single mothers has increased among all racial groups. According to Census Bureau statistics for 2005, for Latinos, the figure was 25 percent. For whites, it was 16 percent.

And as a former community organizer on the South Side of Chicago, Obama is well aware of the social impact of the loss of good-paying factory jobs. Unemployment--or the lack of a decent job in the first place--is certainly a more important factor in destabilizing families than sports shows on cable television.

Finally, there's a shocking statistic about Black men that Obama didn't cite in his speech--that one out of 15 are behind bars. That figure, perhaps more than any, captures the continued impact of racism on U.S. society.

But that's not something Obama is eager to talk about. Because giving a speech denouncing the fact that the U.S. sends more African Americans to prison than to college just isn't good politics. Not when you're the favorite to become president of the United States.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Why are Gas Prices so High?

This article makes more sense to me than anything else I've read, but I don't totally understand how reserve currencies and national debt works. What do you think?

June 11, 2008

A Weak Dollar, Bad Fed Policies and Hedge Fund Speculators
Why Oil Prices Are So High


How to explain the oil price? Why is it so high? Are we running out? Are supplies disrupted, or is the high price a reflection of oil company greed or OPEC greed. Are Chavez and the Saudis conspiring against us?
In my opinion, the two biggest factors in oil’s high price are the weakness in the US dollar’s exchange value and the liquidity that the Federal Reserve is pumping out.

The dollar is weak because of large trade and budget deficits, the closing of which is beyond American political will. As abuse wears out the US dollar’s reserve currency role, sellers demand more dollars as a hedge against its declining exchange value and ultimate loss of reserve currency status.

In an effort to forestall a serious recession and further crises in derivative instruments, the Federal Reserve is pouring out liquidity that is financing speculation in oil futures contracts. Hedge funds and investment banks are restoring their impaired capital structures with profits made by speculating in highly leveraged oil future contracts, just as real estate speculators flipping contracts pushed up home prices. The oil futures bubble, too, will pop, hopefully before new derivatives are created on the basis of high oil prices.

There are other factors affecting the price of oil. The prospect of an Israeli/US attack on Iran has increased current demand in order to build stocks against disruption. No one knows the consequence of such an ill-conceived act of aggression, and the uncertainty pushes up the price of oil as the entire Middle East could be engulfed in conflagration. However, storage facilities are limited, and the impact on price of larger inventories has a limit.

Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi recently stated, “There is no justification for the current rise in prices.” What the minister means is that there are no shortages or supply disruptions. He means no real reasons as distinct from speculative or psychological reasons.

The run up in oil price coincides with a period of heightened US and Israeli military aggression in the Middle East. However, the biggest jump has been in the last 18 months.

When Bush invaded Iraq in 2003, the average price of oil that year was about $27 per barrel, or about $31 in inflation adjusted 2007 dollars. The price rose another $10 in 2004 to an average annual price of $42 (in 2007 dollars), another $12 in 2005, $7 in 2006, and $4 in 2007 to $65. But in the last few months the price has more than doubled to about $135. It is difficult to explain a $70 jump in price in terms other than speculation.

Oil prices have been high in the past. Until 2008, the record monthly oil price was $104 in December 1979 (measured in December 2007 dollars). As recently as 1998 the real price of oil was lower than in 1946 when the nominal price of oil was $1.63 per barrel. During the Bush regime, the price of oil in 2007 dollars has risen from $27 to approximately $135.

Possibly, the rise in the oil price was held down, prior to the recent jump, by expectations that Democrats would eventually end the conflict and restrain Israel in the interest of Middle East peace and justice for the Palestinians.

Now that Obama has pledged allegiance to AIPAC and adopted Bush’s position toward Iran, the high oil price could be a forecast that US/Israeli policy is likely to result in substantial supply disruptions. Still, the recent Israeli statements that an attack on Iran was “inevitable” only jumped the oil price about $8.

Perhaps more difficult to understand than the high price of oil are the low US long-term interest rates. US interest rates are actually below the rate of inflation, to say nothing of the imperiled exchange value of the dollar. Economists who assume rational participants in rational markets cannot explain why lenders would indefinitely accept interest rates below the rate of inflation.

Of course, Americans don’t get real inflation numbers from their government and have not since the Consumer Price Index was rigged during the Clinton administration to hold down Social Security payments by denying retirees their full cost of living adjustments. According to statistician John Williams, using the pre-Clinton era measure of the CPI produces a current CPI of about 7.5%.

Understating inflation makes real GDP growth appear higher. If inflation were properly measured, the US has probably experienced no real GDP growth in the 21st century.

Williams reports that for decades political administrations have fiddled with the inflation and employment numbers to make themselves look slightly better. The cumulative effect has been to deprive these measurements of veracity. If I understand Williams, today both inflation and unemployment rates, as originally measured, are around 12 per cent.

By pumping out money in an effort to forestall recession and paper over balance sheet problems, the Federal Reserve is driving up commodity and food prices in general. Yet American real incomes are not growing. Even without jobs offshoring, US economic policy has put the bulk of the population on a path to lower living standards.

The crisis that looms for the US is the loss of world currency role. Once the dollar loses that role, the US government will not be able to finance its operations by borrowing abroad, and foreigners will cease to finance the massive US trade deficit. This crisis will eliminate the US as a world power.

Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.He can be reached at:

Monday, June 9, 2008

News FLASH, B*@^#)$!!!!!

"Umm... my waiter seems tired, and he didn't iron his sleeves.

Does he live in a car?"

"No sir... he just likes camping a lot!"

News flash bitches: No more being homeless.

That's right. I got me a m-effing apartment. 500 plus something or other square feet. Only $535 a month. I got some windows and some floor. I can take a shower WHENEVER I WANT! I can keep food in a FRIDGE and not always have to buy ice that leaks onto where I sleep when the cheap wall mart cooler turns over. I can COOK without tasting pine sap! There are no COYOTES prowling around when I SLEEP- which I can do WHENEVER I WANT- whether or not it is day or night, and without having to drive far away! NEITHER are their ROOMATES- which, like biting insects AND coyotes, I no longer FOR THE NEXT YEAR AT LEAST will have to fucking deal with, chase down for rent, or clean up after.

This means YOU: Matt and Andrew I repainted all that shit you vandalized you bastards

And YOU: R Lindsey- I had my security deposit mangled over more that it should have been because you didn't take out your furniture like you promised to do.

Thanks a lot, champ!

I got a SHOWER CURTAIN with rubber ducks on it it is BLUE I really like it. There's also a DRYING RACK I can put dishes in so they DRY at their own leisure. I don't have to wash DIRT out of my plates before I eat off them.

Also, I have a TOILET I can use without having to buy something first!

I have a desk, and the internet. I have walls I can put maps onto and space for a bookcase to put this pile of books onto.

I thought the outdoors here and politics would keep me busy enough but I've found another thing to do: Go to K-Mart and buy HOUSEWARES for my HOME that I LIVE IN and have MY NAME on A LEASE AT!

The floor above me has better views of the rockies BUT it is hot up there and colder in the basement so I like my middle floor. My neighbors are also all very friendly and they all play music loud so that makes me feel good.

OH yes- and umm... PLENTY OF FREE ON THE STREET PARKING and NO hunting like a WILD ELK for that shit at 2 am because SOMEONE decided to put a lot of fucking clubs and other gentrified crap by my last apartment!

Studio is being set up and I can finally finish that album I was muttering about around a month ago before the presence of a beautiful woman made it impossible. I need to get some isopropyl first though and wipe everything down there is some dust you know from umm... me accidentally knocking out the back windshield while on a dirt road but HEY what doesn't kill you makes you STRONGER right?

At this point in Time I would like to thank:

-Danielle, Jim, and Heith for putting me up at their places for a while or letting me sit their cats/stay at their place/eat their food for a while.
-Jim and Juan and Danielle and my work for giving me good apartment company references.
-The National Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management for maintaining our public lands.
-The friendly and competent staff of Hooked on Coalfax, Penn Street Perk, Leela's, Cafe Netherworld, and Burger King.
-My Dad for teaching me how to live in the woods and cook out and pitch tents and wear layers and such.
-Whoever bought me drinks last night at the Church when I was celebrating

Also, it is very important that if you live in Denver and

-have ever changed oil & oil filter on a '99 or equivalent Subaru Forester and would like to show me how to do that


-You have a bookcase, or a dresser, or a table, or a desk chair, or some other such pieces of furniture you do not want to keep in your possession


You contact me and let me know of this!

SEE YA LATER!!!!!!!!!!


Sunday, June 1, 2008

Josh B, Laughing Fish and Me

So a lot of you out there who are my friends on MS may have been delighted to see a lovely message from me letting you know about this site. The specialness you felt then may have worn off when you then visited the site of any other mutual friend to see the exact same post. Well, guess what, I got 347 "friends", and I'm gonna die of old age if I sit here and try to think of how to write the same message 347 times in 347 different ways.

So I used a template... that's just how it goes. But then I got to one site and it just didn't work any more. It was the one site I couldn't just post anything and have it read, because the person whose site it was won't ever be able to read it. It's more for their friends, who see the site, to read, and a template just wouldn't work. It would have been totally insensitive, caustic, and wrong.

So I wrote a personal message, the most personal of all, half to this person, and half to the community of people this person has brought together. I think the life and spirit of this person can best be served by sharing those thoughts with you all here.

If you don't know who Josh is go here

Josh's passing was very significant to me for many reasons. One of them was that towards the end of my living in DC (I moved out for good in August 2007) I was very depressed there. I had no social life and didn't relate to any of the scenes or my neighbors and I just wanted out. So for all of 2007 I worked really crazy hours in a fine dining restaurant for rich and powerful people that I also didn't relate to at all so I could save up and move. And while that let me save and travel a lot (I crossed the country 4 times in the last 7 months- twice for myself, and twice with a band on tour), it made me even more miserable because I was so physically tired I never had time for a social life (and hardly for a political life). Adam's Morgan at 2 am when I got off didn't really do it for me (though a quiet Jerk Chicken and Popcorn Shrimp on a stool at the Diner was one consolation).

I was actually writing a song about suicide in my band right before Josh died. Afterwards I re-wrote it to sound a bit less trivializing and to sound a bit more serious, and to actually try and analyze why life appears hopelessness sometimes- to acknowledge the self-destructive impulse but simultaneously to critique it. The final track I think got a bit crushed in mastering but you can hear it here

Anyways, it really freaked me out that I was so interested in these ideas... so I decided I'd never again live anywhere that I felt the environment made me unhappy, or where I felt I couldn't relate to the people.

At the beginning of this past month I packed up for the last time and moved to Denver, CO. I really really really love it here. People are incredibly nice, there's plenty of open space, all the things I love about the outdoors are at my doorstep, and life isn't too expensive. There's actually time for life and people seem to care about each other and strangers a little bit more.

In a bizarre way, I sort of have Josh to thank for motivating me so strongly to change my life and take those steps to do what I had to do to deal with the negative influences in my life. Since then I've never looked back and I've never been happier in my life.

Another thing I wanted to share with you all is that while I've been expressing myself a lot with music, that can be a bit hard to promote and certainly more than a bit frustrating with so much financial investment that never gets paid back. Anyways, as I've been moving around and seeing the country and the world and really getting to know it, I've been thinking a lot more about life and definitely experiencing it a lot more. Crazy experiences... all the extremes... and of course the benign as well.

Now I'm writing about all this, the world, life, stories, politics, and music, in a blog I'm starting. It's a different medium, but really the same thing I've been doing all along. It's probably long over due, but being homeless with all the music gear in storage certainly makes this an opportune time to try it out!

The name sounds a little absurd but it has a meaningful symbolic value. When I was working in that restaurant in DC, most of our shifts were doubles, which meant 15-16 hours a day. On many busy days we would not sit down once in that entire shift, and some days we wouldn't have anything to eat except a little bread here and there... the mental capacities of everyone who worked there were challenged farther than they had been prepared for. But the money was good and kept us coming back.

A lot of my coworkers were immigrants from other countries- legal and otherwise. Some were my peers, but many were older than me. I learned pidgin Spanish there on the shop floor in order to communicate and get the job done. As strange as it sounds, for me those people really became more of a family than any other scene I was a part of in DC- if nothing other than for the simple fact that we were forced to spend 50-60 hours a week next to each other!

Anyways, we'd joke a lot to pass the time. The best jokers were Chilean, where in that country being able to tell great jokes is sort of like being undefeated in arm wrestling in the US. Jokes were often funny in at least 2 or 3 dimensions because translations would produce phrases with double and triple entendres- often sexual, morbid, or some combination of the two, and usually in reference to a particularly interesting, obnoxious, or attractive customer.

There was of course a lot of stress and pain in it all- some physical, and some emotional. One female coworker of mine has not seen her two daughters in 5 years. When asked by her over the phone if they'd like her savings to go towards building them a room extension, or allowing their mother to travel home to visit them- they picked the home improvements. Their mother is a total stranger they have no love association with at all.

Another friend has lived in DC for over five years waiting tables downtown for elite politicians. She's been sending her money back to Chile to pay for her son's education. When this son who she hadn't seen in years tried and visit her he was stopped in Atlanta and deported.

A lot of these people had things tougher than me, but we were all sweating it out together and all trying to hustle these big spenders to pay our bills. And we drew this funny comparison to the fishes we were serving- Tilapia, Ahi Tuna, Lobster, Salmon, and Sea Bass: We'd say when someone was weeded, "Laugh Fucker! Laugh or you're gonna die like a Sea Bass!" This could also be shortened to, "Laugh like a Fish!" This decontextualization did make the meaning more ambiguous for the uninitiated, but it sharpened the mental picture. The contrast of cold, wet, dead, and slimy fish with the idea of laughing was one that hit home hard. We were all constantly in danger of becoming lifeless and cold, losing our humanity and any personal identity in this stress and hell of stupid rules, class subservience, and never ending shifts...

But if we could still laugh... at least that set us apart as something other than those commodities dead and being eaten!

It was a very crude and unintellectual way of making a point that existential philosophers decades and centuries ago had expanded in great detail: the liberating potential of a confrontation with death. Also, something that alpine mountain climbers, rescue teams, and other high risk professionals take well to heart: That the most important tool anyone has to survive in a difficult situation is their brain, and the most important skill: a sense of humor.

Time and again it's been proven that people stranded without water on a desert island- or victims of crashed plane- have been able to survive because a sense of humor has prevented stress, desperation, and wasted expenditure of precious calories and water.

I named the blog after that to try and showcase that value: That sometimes, when the world just seems so horrible, so absurd, so upside down and the odds you are facing seem so totally impossible: If you can step back for a minute and laugh at the irony of it all, you might still have a chance.

Some posts are serious and some are not, some are fiction, some are journalistic, some are music scene oriented, others are more overtly political.

But through all my bitter sarcasm, escapism, sense of humor, and the shields I put up around me to deal, I think there's a bit of something I've taken from Josh, which I'll always have with me. I can't do it as well or all the time but I have some of it and I've learned what it looks like and how it should be. I don't have a word for it, but maybe that's because it's too important and words can't fit it right. What do you call it, when even in the most socially trying circumstances a person can still look another in eye and meet them like an equal- assuming absolutely nothing about them- and despite whatever stereotype or fear or prejudice we're taught by society, this person can extend to any stranger a completely unreserved and unqualified respect?

I don't now. Maybe it's Solidarity. But it's something that's felt. And if man really was sculpted out by God almighty... by the time he got around to running off a line of Joshes... I know clay must've been 86'd. The guy was a 100% guaranteed, walking, talking, hunk of this stuff. "One in a million" doesn't even come close...

So here's to him. I wish I could laugh with you too, buddy.