MONEY FOR NOTHING

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said. Watching network news, my other California correspondent filled me in on a story I’d read earlier in the day – and dismissed as yet another freakish hallucination inflicted by seven straight years of escalating insanity from a hijacked White House that civic-minded Canadians ought to torch again. Soon.

“No,” she said. “It’s true. They’ve just announced that they’re giving us a check for $1,200 to go out and consume. They’ve got to do something to keep the economy afloat.”

“Each?” I asked. “You mean Ted Turner and billionaires like him are going to get another twelve-hundred bucks – for nothing?”

“That’s a good question,” Karen said.

We both started laughing. There seemed no other appropriate response. But we found little humor in watching our country burn down.

“We used to joke about this,” I finally resumed. “We used to ask, when are they going to figure out that if they bankrupt the economy and put everyone out of work, no one will be able to buy their stuff.”

We used to chuckle over an absurd inevitability that would see the oligarchy sending checks to people so they could keep spending.

And now they were actually doing it!

“Jesus,” I finally managed. It was not a curse, but a prayer for divine intervention. “Seventy-percent of the U.S. economy is based on people consuming at Wal-Mart and the malls,” I told Karen. Not making stuff. Buying other people’s stuff. “And now that Americans can no longer borrow against their homes, they are about four weeks from maxing all their credit cards. And then everything stops.”

Unless Boy George keeps cutting bogus checks, one of the few tasks in which he excels.

I had another thought. “What’s twelve-hundred dollars times 350 million people?” I asked this talented artist.

Of course, no baby who survives the highest infant mortality rate in the modern world is going to get a check from Uncle Sugar. The payments are to be scaled so that the most needy – non-white people who are unemployed at three-times white jobless rates, the three-million Americans sleeping on sidewalks (one-quarter of them veterans of the wars that cause this fiscal fallout) – will receive handouts in triple digits:

Zip Zero Zilch.

If you’re making 75 grand a year, or if you and your spouse are pulling in up to $150,000, you’ll each get an extra $1,200 to stick in the bank or go spend at a tropical resort – further strangling the stratosphere on the way, and not contributing much of an economic stimulus on the home front, either way. [New York Times Jan 24/08]

But if, like a huge and growing number of menially-manacled ‘mericans, you happen to be someone making not even enough in part-time paychecks to pay taxes, you will receive – wait for it! – a whopping three-hundred bucks.

“They’re saying, don’t wait. Go out and consume right now!” Karen relayed.

“And wreck the planet quicker,” I commented. “The whole thing is insane.”

MONEY FOR NOTHING, BUT NOT FOR FREE
Like a junkie searching desperately for a fix, the elephants and asses putting this package together are talking about a $150 billion “stimulus” for mall-mesmerized Americans to rush out and buy more stuff. But wait. More than 20% of all “goods” (and “bads”) sold in the United States are actually made overseas. So you can see where this is going. Even if the neocons who proved so prescient in Iraq, Louisiana and elsewhere, cannot.

Let’s let Alan Tonelson at the United States Business and Industry Council state the obvious: “A great deal of any stimulus is going to be sent overseas.”

Mostly to a denuded, faraway land choking on the 2.5 billion tons of sulfurous, carbon-packed coal smog wafted into our space colony’s wheezing atmosphere every year in order to produce most of the our steel, cement, metals, buttons, neckties and toys. Not to mention, Beijing-bashers, half the world’s cameras, nearly one-third of our TVs, and soon (by 2015) the most cars. [Mother Jones Dec 10/07]

The “free money” Bush and his Democratic accomplices are going to be handing out is not really for free, I told Karen. “It’s not even there. The country is completely bankrupt. Which means those checks will really be coming from China and Japan.“ And whoever else is crazy or frightened enough to keep ponying up $2 billion in White House loans every day to keep the roulette wheel of consumption spinning to its planet-wrecking conclusion.

“Unfortunately, the plan… looks like a lemon,” writes Paul Krugman at the New York Times.

Unhappily, those dastardly Democrats have caved once again in the face of the folks who are exporting American jobs, monkey-wrenching the economy, transferring the U.S. Treasury to their pals, and otherwise stealing the country blind.

Handing everyone making less than $75 G’s a paltry $300, and the wealthiest elite a sweet $1,200 kiss on both cheeks (and I use that word ambiguously) – “ensures that the bulk of the money would go to people who are doing O.K. financially – which misses the whole point,” Krugman correctly complains. “Money delivered to people who aren’t in good financial shape – who are short on cash and living check to check – does double duty: It alleviates hardship and also pumps up consumer spending.”

Make that “triple duty” considering what consumer spending – including the new hard drive I just ordered (on credit) to keep this website going – is doing to our spaceship.

But at least sending some trucks piled with crates of cash – a la Bremmer in Baghdad – to state and local governments, instead of Bush backers, would help avert further hardship in cities and states already devastated by federal cutbacks for endless weapons and homeland surveillance. Not to mention tickets to the “End of Oil – The Prequel”, and plummeting jobs and incomes. Such timely investment could also “head off more spending cuts,” Krugman says. Like California’s recent 10% write-down on all state funding that many economists fear could flip the feared “R” word into the doom-laded “D” word. [New York Times Jan 25/08]

Can you say 1929?

LET ME STIMULATE YOU
Krugman makes a final point: “If the money the government lays out just gets added to people’s bank accounts or used to pay off debts – the plan will have failed.” [New York Times Jan 25/08]

Guess what? This may be news to Dick and George, but the last big tax handout to the rich mostly padded their bank balances. And many more people are already behind on their mortgage and credit card payments. And fading fast. Because the gas pumps that once promised the freedom of mobility – and a means to get to work – are starting to grow fangs.

“Given that a lot of Americans are so deeply in debt,” suggest rocket scientists at the New York Times, “many may use the money to pay off bills rather than to buy new goods and services.”

From China?

A better way to “stimulate” a Zombie Economy that has been dead for some time but only just now beginning to realize it, is “for the government to spend more money on urgently needed domestic projects, like rebuilding bridges,” The Progressive’s Matthew Rothschild remarks. “Which should be an easy sell…”

The New York Times editorial elite concur. “The best way to ensure that dollars do not leak abroad would be to spend them on state-financed public works projects employing large numbers of people – repairing levees and dams, fixing bridges or building schools. The money could also be directed to states that face shrinking tax revenues as the economy contracts. An infusion of federal money would allow them to sustain construction programs and social services for the poor,” they write.

Drawing heavily on his opinion pipe, economist Dean Baker exhales a fantasy that the government that blocked Bali, ripped up the Kyoto accords, reduced vehicle fuel economy standards, ignored Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, and invaded two countries to grab their oil rigs and pipelines… “could focus on environmentally sane options.”

“We can have generous tax credits for people to install more insulation in their homes, solar panels or other improvements that will reduce energy use. This would be an effective way to reemploy many of the construction workers who are losing their jobs,” Baker believes. “We can also give people money and a powerful incentive to use mass transit by giving transit agencies money to reduce fares. If we gave public transit agencies enough money to reduce transit fares by $1 a trip, over the course of a year this would provide the same stimulus as giving a $500 tax rebate to every user of public transit.”

Why didn’t the Dems demand this? Because their corporate donors would have disowned them.

The Bushites not only favor perpetually profitable wars for the banks and weapons makers that back them. They are also big on perpetual tax cuts for big businesses. The spin is that throwing money at already profitable companies will cause them to expand and hire more workers.

They are. But most often in countries other than the US of A.

The ‘Times also learned: “If consumers lack money to spend, then businesses will stand pat or even cut back and fire people.” [New York Times Jan 25/08]

They must have been tapping my call to Karen.

HOW’S YOUR MANDARIN?
Last time I looked in December 2007, the U.S. national debt was expanding like a red-shifting galaxy stolen by Klingons – by about $1.4 billion a day.

That’s nearly $1 million a minute.

And that’s before Bush’s latest emergency bail-out, which like his dad’s in the Pacific war, is going to leave everyone else in the burning plane.

According to the Associated Press, the “mind-numbing” $9.13 trillion national debt “will top $10 trillion” around the time the tireless architect of so much calamity retires to his ranch. Not the one in Crawford. I’m referring to the big spread protected by U.S. troops he’s just acquired in Paraguay. Does Señior Arbusto know something he isn’t telling the rest of us?

It must be Y2K for real. Because, as AP points out, that $10,000,000,000,000 shackle around the ankle of every American is one digit more than the odometer-style “National Debt Clock” near Times Square can handle.

And more than we can handle, too.

“We pay in interest four-times more than we spend on education, and four-times what it will cost to cover 10 million children with health insurance for five years,” harangues House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – while voting more borrowed billions for yet more wars, weapons and deaths that undermine the morality and monetary policies of her own country.

Foreign governments and investors now hold some $2.2 trillion – or about 44% – of U.S. debt. (Japan is first, with 586 billion depreciating dollars. China is close behind with a reported $400 billion in greenback monopoly money. (Some economists put Beijing’s dollar “exposure” closer to a trillion.) Britain holds $244 billion in bad paper. And Saudi Arabia and other oil-exporting countries are in for another $123 billion. And wondering aloud why they aren’t demanding euros to supply the biggest addiction on Earth.

If foreigners keep floating us loans, by 2050 U.S. indebtedness will hit 350% of the GDP. Everyone knows it will never be paid back . And everyone in the United States will be permanently enslaved, not just by gun-toting Blackwater thugs branching out from Baghdad and New Orleans, but by their creditors. And wouldn’t ya know it? Darn near every building, business, bank and other financial institution in the United States of America will be owned by Beijing. [AP Dec 3/07]

Will throwing another inflation-fueling 150 bil at the hemorrhaging U.S. economy keep it on life-support long enough for Republicans to escape the worst electoral drubbing in the history of the known universe, next year?

Kevin Hall isn’t taking bets on it. As this economic expert explains, “The economic growth package being prepared by President Bush and Congress may help ease the sting of an economic downturn or soften the blow of a recession, but it won’t fix the deeper structural problems that are menacing the economy.”

Buried as deeply the bombs that pulled down the WTC, these structural vulnerabilities are highlighted in the “mammoth investment banks Citigroup and Merrill Lynch,” which have just announced combined fourth-quarter losses of $20 billion – on top of combined write-downs totaling another $30 billion “for bad bets made on mortgage-related bonds.”

That’s a lot. And the cash required to plug those Titanic-size holes is needed right now.

There are more icebergs ahead, Hall warns. “Fears are mounting that insurance companies, which issued policies to protect Wall Street firms from losses on those mortgage bonds, don’t have enough money to pay up.” [McClatchy Newspapers Jan 18/08]

And here’s the kicker:

“The biggest single new investor is likely to be the Chinese government, which has used the financial crisis to snap up large chunks of the US finance industry,” Hall heralds. “Most recently it paid $5 billion for a stake in Morgan Stanley, and is also putting $1 billion into Bear Stearns. [Independent Jan 15/08]

Countries that control our debt control our future, worries Republican budget hawk, Senator George Voinovich. [AP Dec 3/ 07]

He’s right.

WRECKER’S BALL
Meanwhile, back in the Reality that stubbornly resists conforming to the White House version…

“The nation’s physical foundations seem to be crumbling beneath us,” say the editors of the New York Times. “Last week, a 40-year-old interstate highway bridge collapsed in Minneapolis, plunging rush-hour traffic into the Mississippi River 60 feet below. Two weeks earlier, an 83-year-old steam pipe under the streets of Manhattan exploded in a volcano-like blast, showering asbestos-laden debris… The deterioration undermines our quality of life and retards economic growth. Traffic jams waste gasoline, pollute the air and exhaust drivers’ patience. Disabled trains and subways strand commuters. Gridlocked airports disrupt travel plans. And power failures plunge millions into darkness.”

Just wait. Already two years outdated, the American Society of Civil Engineers latest report assigned “near-failing grades of D-to drinking water, sewage treatment and navigable waterways,” tisks the Times. I’ve done the research. Drinking water from any tap in any city in the United States can kill you quite dead. [New York Times Aug 5/07]

Did the FOX in this henhouse forget to mention that some 35 million Americans went hungry in 2006? That’s 13 million malnourished American children at risk from having their physical and mental development permanently stunted – nearly the same number as their hungry, traumatized counterparts in Iraq. [Reuters Nov 14/07]

Could there possibly be a connection?

IT’S THE WARS FOR DUMMIES, STUPID
The lavish government spending Bush prefers is not to help people other than his sponsors. But to hurt them. War and weapons top his list of subsidies. Could this have anything to do with his childhood need to blow up frogs with firecrackers? Or maybe the still-standing record he set as transplanted Texas governor for the number of death row prisoners – including the certified mentally retarded and others of questionable guilt – who received this smirking Caligula’s thumbs down. With more than one million innocent people dead in Afghanistan and Iraq – and both countries in radioactive ruins from the wholesale use of weapons tipped with America’s nuclear waste – why is it taboo to talk about this? Hasn’t anybody else noticed that Dubya is a sociopath?

And why aren’t deadweight network “anchors” commenting on something else that’s obvious? Indulge in wasteful wars like Vietnam, and “Big R” Recession is always the result. Why should an even costlier quagmire in a just-as stubbornly resistant Iraq be any different?

Oh right. I forgot. They were going to pay for it.

MAKING CHOICES
“We cannot afford this war,” says Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. No kidding. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the ongoing bloodshed and destruction in “Afghanaraq” will cost Americans $2.4 trillion over the next 10 years. [AP Dec 3/ 07]

That’s a lot of neglected American children, waterways, roads, schools, smokestacks, powerlines and bridges.

Factor in the “hidden costs” of these ongoing wartime disasters – higher oil prices, care for maimed, brain-damaged and traumatized soldiers, plus interest on all that borrowed money – and a recent Joint Economic Committee report says we’re looking at a $3.5 trillion price tag by 2017. That is serious sticker shock. Just as Climate Shift and the Extremely Expensive Oil kick in. [Reuters Nov 13/07]

What about the families who actually live in the places we’re bombing, as rapidly escalating urban air strikes replace boots on the ground? According to hospital records and door-to-door medical surveys published in the prestigious Lancet, more than one-million Iraqi people have died since the illegal U.S. invasion. Most of them children. Counting higher-paid mercenaries, more than 5,000 U.S. troops have been killed and more than 40,000 physically wounded. So far. You can easily triple this wounded count by including lifetime debilitation from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Actually, Harry, we cannot afford any more wars.

“The $500 billion that Bush has squandered in Iraq could have paid for 4 million new housing units, or hired 8 million new teachers. And the $2 trillion we may end up spending on this war could pay for universal health care for 12 years,” points out Anita Dances of the National Priorities Project.

Domestic spending like this – and economic incentives to create “green jobs” – would also have been much better for the economy than the endless manufacture of machinery to tear people to pieces, poison their wombs and reduce their neighborhoods to rubble.

“Every billion dollars spent on the military results – directly and indirectly – in fewer jobs and lower quality jobs than a billion dollars spent on education,” shows a recent analysis published by the Political Economy Research Institute. “That is, the effects of military spending ripple through the economy with much less vigor than government spending on other programs. Plus, domestic spending has a longer lasting impact on the economy. A well-educated, healthy workforce, along with investment in infrastructure, will fuel the new industries of tomorrow.”

Weapons spending in a permanent war economy, on the other hand, fuels inflation and debt.

HEAVY WEATHER
“When a credit system implodes, it can feed on itself with lightning speed,” warns the Telegraph’s editorial board. They should know. Right outside their London windows is “The City” where bank-driven money markets make the financial “plays” that impact everyone and everything on the planet. [Telegraph Jan 4/08]

Barney Frank is the congressional chairman of the Financial Services Committee. He says that this week’s worldwide stock market “declines” plus the panicky move by the privately-held Federal Reserve to lower interest rates by a massive three-quarters of a percentage point make it clear that yet more borrowed billions must be poured on the debt conflagration. Immediately. As he puts it, “The trigger has already been pulled.” [New York Times Jan 24/08]

Don’t sweat deepening the deficit, Frank urges. The real problem is that all this debt is not producing much, except windfall payoffs to political cronies on both sides of the Congressional aisle. Like the well-connected folks who run Blackwater, Halliburton, Bechtel and the Carlyle Group. [Progressive Jan 11/08]

Still, whether Uncle Bush can dodge the bullet of his own devising by putting this new inflation shotgun to America’s dazed forehead and pulling both triggers remains to be experienced.

It probably won’t be pretty. Or fun.

Just as sailors know that when landlubbing forecasters cushioned by their climate-controlled cars and buildings speak of “windy” weather, you’d better batten down the hatches and prepare for a hurricane… similarly, when tight-lipped U.S. financial priests talk of a “decline” – think 50,000-pound bunker buster whistling toward your den.

A Swiss Central Bank governor named Thomas Jordan puts it another way. “The kind of upheaval observed in the international money markets over the past few months has never been witnessed in history.” [Telegraph Jan 4/08]

PERHAPS A COURSE CHANGE WOULD BE WISE
What if we cut back on our consumption instead? What if we got off the jets, and turned deserted malls into mini-communities of apartments, offices and small shops? What if we give the planet, our nerves, and our families a breather by investing whatever money we have in green companies that offer our children a future?

“All that is left is the one option that would have served Americans (and the world) best all along, which is to model environmental sanity,” insists Jacques Leslie in his landmark article in Mother Jones. “Stop buying products made from illegally cut wood [at Ikea and Home Depot, for example]. Stop building coal-fired power plants. Instead of subsidizing oil companies, invest government funds in research on sustainable-energy technologies. Build effective mass-transit systems in every city. Cut greenhouse gas emissions. Show China” – and a skeptical Two-Thirds World – “the benefits of responsible behavior.” [Mother Jones Dec 10/07]

Out here on the Left Coast, economist Robert Pollin stubbornly believes that a People’s Economy is possible. Pollin is pulling for the common-sense creation of one million new jobs in “health care, education, and energy conservation.”

He also advocates “extending public medical insurance to every single American who doesn’t have it today, and greatly expanding educational opportunities.”

Why not?

It’s our money, after all.

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