Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Helping Hand

"Together we cannot fail. Not now. Not when we have a crisis to solve and an economy to save. Not when there are so many Americans without jobs and without homes. Now when there are families who can't afford to see a doctor
or send their child to college, or pay their bills at the end of the month. Not when there is a generation that is counting on us to give them the same opportunities and the same chances that we had for ourselves.
We can do this. Americans have done this before. Some of us had grandparents or parents who said maybe I can’t go to college but my child can; maybe I can’t have my own business but my child can. I may have to rent, but maybe my children will have a home they can call their own. I may not have a lot of money but maybe my child will run for Senate. I might live in a small village but maybe someday my son can be president of the United States of America.Now it falls to us. Together, we cannot fail."

Friday, October 10, 2008

Speculation and/on the Real Economy

As I write this, European and Asian stock markets are either following the American markets down, or they're leading Friday's U.S. downward plunge, or both. So here's my semi-informed explanation of what's going on.

This fall is explained by "experts" as "loss of confidence" or fear. What it seems to me to amount to is this: rich people are cashing out. They've made as much as they're going to make for the time being from this financial house of cards, and they're taking their cards out while they still can.

Here's something else. I've heard the experts and commentators saying that surely the stock market can't go too much lower because prices are approaching the point that they reflect the real value of the companies. In other words, they are admitting that all this wealth that's being lost was never real wealth at all.

How unreal wealth translates into $4,000 a night hotel rooms (though only $500 for dogs) for government bailed-out AIG execs who promptly spent every cent they got and are back for more, is a bit of a mystery to me, but I see that for a certain period of time, unreal wealth does translate into some kind of reality.

And if you think about it, the concept does work if you look at long enough time periods. Wealth has been created that has depleted resources and destroyed to some extent the ability of the environment to keep sustaining us, at least without a lot of work to renew it. Similarly, our built infrastructure. So the wealth created is, over time, unreal wealth.

Our only chance at sustaining civilization in the long run is to use this period of unreal wealth to organize a new economy and financial system that are sustainable and that will create real wealth over the long term. The first step to doing that is understanding that this needs to be done, and electing the leadership to start doing it. And in this we are lucky: the next election is less than a month away, and we have a candidate in Barack Obama with the knowledge, the intelligence, the temperament and the political ability to get us started on the path we need to take.

But probably before that, the governments of the world are probably going to have to pass a preliminary test. They are going to have to work in concert to stabilize the global financial system. So far this crisis-laden week, the record is spotty. The European Union, which has succeeded in unifying enough to guarantee peace on a continent that pretty much sparked two world wars, is so far failing to meet this crisis as a single entity, as a United States of Europe, or even to coordinate effectively.

There was talk Thursday that the U.S. and the U.K. may coordinate policies on banks. There are meetings ahead. That George Bush is involved is not a hopeful sign, but perhaps there are statesmen (of both genders) who will step up.

Still, it seems to me what we are seeing in essence is a purging. Virtually all of the economic orthodoxies beginning with Reaganism are being destroyed, including the consumer economy forged in those years.

At the same time, let's remember that we had a good economy in the 1950s and 1960s that included real production as well as consumption, and more equal roles for government and the "private sector" of corporations and small business. It's not impossible. We need to move to that kind of balance, but in a whole new way: a sustainable, renewable, green economy that can create real wealth over the very long term.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Obama's Presidential Debate

By every measure--polls, focus groups, pundits--Barack Obama triumphed in the second presidential debate on Tuesday night. On the economy, the new energy economy, health care as a right, the need for national service, the Climate Crisis, the moral obligation to help stop genocide in Darfur, ending the Iraq war, Obama gave clear and persuasive answers. One indication of this was a focus group covered by Time's Amy Sullivan: "Even more dramatic was the shift in the voters’ personal reactions to the two candidates. Before the debate, McCain had a 48/46 favorability rating; that improved to 56/36 by the end. But that’s about where Obama started the evening—54/36. After an hour and a half, Obama’s favorability numbers were 80/14. As Joe Biden would say, let me repeat that: 80% of the undecided voters had favorable views of Obama and only 14% saw him negatively for a net rating of +66. Not even Bill Clinton got such a warm response in town hall formats."

Monday, October 06, 2008

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Come on for the Rising

Bruce Springsteen in Philadelphia on Saturday.


In many states, Monday is the last day to register to vote in this election. If you are not registered, you've got Monday or you've got no vote in this historic election. Do it! (That's the Boss, Bruce Springsteen, singing for a registration rally in Philadelphia in those first two photos.)