Posts Tagged 'Economy'

Save your old shoes

Headed down the hill today to visit John Long at Ojai Valley Imports.  Time for an oil change.  John was a bit scruffier looking than usual but, in his happy way, greeted me with “Hi Fred, how you been?”  For whatever reason, I still think an oil change costs $39.  And I’m always surprised to discover that’s only the half of it.  Must be an age thing.

Sort of like my view of buying shoes.  I remember when Florsheim meant something.  Spend $35 on a pair of Florsheims forty years ago and they were an investment that kept on giving until your wife ripped them off your feet and threw them in the garbage.  I always get wide-eyed at the cost of any kind of shoe, regardless of price.  Must be my upbringing.

I waited under that old fir tree on the corner of Summer and Ojai Avenue, trying to twist old, dead needles into a useful survival tool.  Mercifully, Don arrived and we drove to the Ojai Cafe Emporium for our usual coffee and half a sweet roll.  Like Florsheims, I think their cinnamon rolls have suffered a bit over time.  But their muffins are the best, especially pumpkin.  I could probably eat a whole one but I feel psychologically fitter if I only get a half ration of white flour and sugar.  Besides, I usually bring two home for Sweetie and help her with the eating part.

The place was nearly deserted at 8:15, an unusual event.  I asked the lovely lady behind the counter where everyone was.  No clue.  I joked “maybe they’re all staking claim to prime spots on the avenue for the July 4th parade.”  And then I remembered that the parade is on July 3 because the 4th is a Sunday.

I admit to a certain amount of bristling about the parade being moved to Saturday.  And I remember the brooha that ensued when the parade sponsors made the same decision a few years ago in order to let folks attend church.  Back then I almost wrote a letter to the Ojai Valley News to remind the sponsors that Saturday was a holy day for us desert wanderers.  But then I haven’t been to a temple Saturday service in a long time.  So why should I bitch.  Even so, a July Third parade seems all wrong.

Don and I began with an organ recital (how’s your health), a less than argumentative discussion of who’s really at fault for the state of the economy, Joe Barton’s whole-hearted but bonehead apology to BP, and a review of our latest literary explorations.  I was proud to announce that I was actually reading a piece of non-fiction.  Nothing to Fear by Adam Cohen (who probably would also be ticked at the thought of a July 3rd parade) recounts FDR’s first hundred days in office in 1933.  In the depths of the depression, here comes a guy who had an easy act to follow, Herbert Hoover.  Some would argue that Obama had the same advantage.

As I read the book, I found myself comparing then and now.  Killer unemployment, a banking system on life support, stocks in the toilet, a media that thrives on bad news, and conflicting views on the role of government in an economic holocaust.  FDR and the Democrats win the election in a landslide.  A lock on both houses of congress and the key to the Oval Office.  On Day One, FDR plops himself behind the desk and hasn’t a clue as to what specific steps should be taken.  All he knows is that the banks need oxygen and people need jobs.  And the rest is history.

The only difference between then and now is the sense of urgency.  Not enough people selling apples.  No army of the unemployed on the steps of Congress.  Too few market manipulators leaping from the fifth floor.  And an election cycle that has no beginning and no end.

Who knows, maybe we’ll get lucky and things will get worse.  Meanwhile, save your old shoes.

Tea parties on the Fourth

The world’s greatest newspaper, the Ventura Star, in it’s quest to provide a balanced point of view, has outdone itself by publishing just about anything.  Including letters from unhappy folks who seek a platform to misinform.

Carla Bonney claims to be part of  a “diverse, nonpartisan group of people, who share a common commitment to work as hard as we can to stop our government from running wild over our rights and freedoms.”

Carla is the organizer of one of many Tea Party protests scheduled for the Fourth.  She and others are opposed to the continuation of the tax and spend policies that have brought us to the brink of insolvency and moral ruination.  Evidence of her glowing patriotism and her supporters can be found at her website Patriot Revival.

Included in Carla’s list of objections are socialized medicine, deficits, and the administration running roughshod over the Constitution.  Good thing socialized medicine was in the list or I would have thought she was talking about her favorite past president.  Ooops.  Excuse me.  She’s non-partisan.

Tea parties are nice.  I wonder what kept Carla from having one during the previous administration.  Politics?  Perish the thought.  Where was she when we became unwanted guests fighting the wrong battles?  Where was Carla when accumulated surpluses were replaced with misbegotten deficits that benefited no one except the merchants of war?  Where was she when personal privacy was trampled?  Where was Carla when the rich got richer and the poor got poorer?

The Republican party is in deep doo-doo.  Maybe changing its name to the Tea Party is one way of recovering.  But, after eight years of unrivaled disaster, I think you’ll need something more than a new name to hide behind.

Yes, Carla.  You’re right.  We are spending money, lots of it.  Maybe too much.  But what’s your solution when the economy is in the shitter and the once safe middle class is out of work.  What’s your solution when your neighbor loses his home,  his kids depend on food stamps and no one’s hiring?  Do nothing?  We tried that for eight years and all we got was dead people, lots of them.

Yes, Carla, there is someone who is doing something.  But he won’t be marching with you in this Fourth’s Tea Party Parade.  No, he’ll be busy trying to fix the economic and global mess that your heroes left us.  And he may even be trying to deal with the disaster that’s befallen California as a result of your minority holding the majority hostage.

He’ll be shooting off fireworks on the White House lawn and thinking about those less fortunate than you and me.  Thinking that world domination isn’t such a hot thing while global warming, stem cell research, market regulation, health care, women’s rights, and jobs are.

 But you go ahead and march, Carla.  There’ll be plenty of room.

fourth of july

And then I met a man…

Sweetie and I had dinner with Frank and Doris last night.  Doris cooked some great chili.  I baked a coffee cake that had nearly a pound of fat-laden butter in it.  Yummy.

We started with wine and conversation.  Frank’s brother and wife came from Woodland Hills to share the evening.  Subjects included AIG bonuses, toxic assets, the Holocaust, Afghanistan.  The usual stuff that everyone has an opinion on but no good solution.

 “Are you going to the Ojai Music Festival fund raiser in May?” Frank asked.  “You know, the one that’ll help raise money to rebuild Libbey Bowl.    I said “The invitation is on Sweetie’s desk. I’m in my procrastination stage.”

Frank’s question made me remember the Jim Lehrer News Hour that aired Friday.  It included a piece about Pomona high school kids.  The kids who created the film Is Anybody Listening.  It’s something like what Dorothea Lange  did during the Depression, photographing  poor souls whose faces reflected what the whole country was feeling.

Only this time it was live, on TV.  Kids looking into the camera, telling their stories.  Kids whose folks had lost jobs and homes.  Refrigerators with five pounds of dry oatmeal from the Food Pantry and a box of frozen burritos.  Kids who said “I’m hungry a lot of the time.”  Kids who have to go to work to support their folks.  Cancelled college plans.  Bright kids with an uncertain future.  Stuff that brings tears to your eyes.  Stuff that makes you want to do something.

I looked at the Music Festival invitation this morning.  It’s filled with a list of supporters.  Familiar names.  Good folks.  People who support the community with their time and their money.  All involved in an effort to generate $3 million to renovate the decaying bowl.  Music lovers.  Givers.

Only $195 to attend the event.  Not a lot of money for Sweetie and me.  A small percentage of what we give during the year.  Surely we could participate, be a builder.

But I couldn’t get the image of that refrigerator out of my head.  Or of Chris who worries about becoming homeless.  Evelyn is one of twelve in a one-room apartment.  Marittsa cries while describing her mother’s struggle.  Roger says “It’s not about what you want, it’s about what you need.”   Sonya asks “Do people really care?”

$195.  Not much.  Wonder how many burritos it will buy.


If the shoe fits…

Poor George Bush.   Takes time off from the crumbling economy to fly to Iraq to tell everyone “Hang in there, I’ll remember you.”   And some guy throws a shoe at him.  So much for fond farewells.

The shoe guy, Muntadhar al Zeidi, had this to say…”This is your farewell kiss, you dog!  This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq.”  Nicely put but hardly politically correct.  What Mr. al Zeidi fails to mention in his soliloquy are a couple of related items that I offer for your consideration.

While the Deluder in Chief was promoting, prosecuting and making excuses for the ill-conceived and poorly planned war in Iraq…

He turned a federal surplus into a raging deficit.  The American economy entered free-fall.  People lost their homes.  Retirement assets lost 40% of their value.  And at least 8% of us will be jobless.

The SEC was tiptoeing around Bernard Madoff as part of the Administration’s goal of regulation abandonment.   And the biggest investment fraud in American history cost us $50 billion in a blatant Ponzi scheme.

The reconstruction of Iraq was overseen by virtually no one…at a cost of $100 billion.  And it failed.  A new draft report shows that the Administration was informed enough to know about the failing effort.  So what did they do?  They simply put out inflated measures of progress.  Mission accomplished.

And lookee here.  A new Senate bipartisan report says that the Administration not only knew about the atrocities at Abu Grahib.  They produced them.   The torture wasn’t the fault of a few misguided psychopaths.  It resulted from actions committed by high ranking officials in the Bush cabinet including Rummy, Dickie and Alberto.  Actions that some would say should lead to criminal indictments.  As the Times reported…

…top officials, charged with defending the Constitution and America’s standing in the world, methodically introduced interrogation practices based on illegal tortures devised by Chinese agents during the Korean War. Until the Bush administration, their only use in the United States was to train soldiers to resist what might be done to them if they were captured by a lawless enemy.

The officials then issued legally and morally bankrupt documents to justify their actions, starting with a presidential order saying that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to prisoners of the “war on terror” — the first time any democratic nation had unilaterally reinterpreted the conventions.

Yet in spite of the potential benefits of maintaining a low profile in the remaining days of the Bush legacy, it goes on.  Like new regulations that can be rushed into place just in time for the Deluder’s departure.  Regulations that impact the environment, our privacy and a woman’s right to govern her own body.

Yes, I can hear some of you say “Enough already.  We know he’s a jerk and good riddance to him.  Why do you have to keep beating on a dead horse?”  Maybe because those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.  Or maybe because it was so awful that even I can’t believe it.

Yes, Mr. al Zeidi had the right idea when he threw the shoe.  Too bad it took us eight years to see it.


Parallel Universes

Sweetie and I shlepped to Santa Barbara on Tuesday for an investment seminar.  I always think that Santa Barbara is just up the road…until I get close to Carpenteria and find that we’ve still got miles to go.

We hadn’t been to a Bernstein seminar since just before the bust of…when was it…the late nineties.  I vividly remember that meeting.   Sanford Bernstein Investment Management was founded by a New York Orthodox Jew with a conservative mindset.  The firm hadn’t invested client money in Internet companies while others gorged on them.   Bernstein clients watched and stock prices skyrocket while Mr. Bernstein dragged his fanny and their money through Ford,  J.P. Morgan and General Foods.   Folks at that 90’s Bernstein seminar were  pissed that they weren’t sharing the wealth.  But old Sanford had the last laugh when people finally said “sell my Internet stocks” and their less astute brokers said “to who?”

This seminar was a bit different.  Yes, it was at an expensive hotel, the Biltmore.  I feel awkward and out of place in expensive hotels.  Must be my Ukranian roots.  Sitting down for lunch, I knew right away that things were tough…no lamb chops.  Overcooked chicken was the featured entree.  The only thing that looked familiar were the people in the audience.  I thought, as I did at that 90’s gathering, if a terrorist were to spray the room with bullets, lots of well-to-do Jews would pass their wealth to their heirs sooner than expected.

The two hour message offered by some young (everyone is young to me) investment mavens was, in brief, “Hang in there…the market will rise again.”  I thought…I should live so long…then again.  We ate the chicken, arm wrestled the bread tray, skipped dessert, got back in the car and went home.

The next morning we drove down Highway 33, exited at the oil wells, and arrived at  Foster elementary school in Ventura.  It’s in a heavily Latino low to middle income neighborhood.  The Ojai Music Festival was sponsoring a Chumash Indian music participation program for fourth graders.  Julie Tumamait entertained the bright-eyed kids with stories, dances, flutes, drums, and rattles.

The classroom was crowded with the decor bordering on organized chaos.  The kids’ regular teacher, a lovely young woman, seemed at times the very picture of a drill sergeant.  I was amazed at how she kept her composure, all the while monitoring her charges and simultaneously grading their homework.

I think Julie must be almost as old as I am.  She’s the Valley’s resident Chumash expert and shows up at anything faintly related to her ancestors.  Sweetie and I have photographed lots of kids participating in all kinds of Music Festival programs.  It’s a daunting challenge for the instructor.  The kids usually start out with sort of a “what am I doing here” look on their faces.  They move on to studied indifference.  Keeping them from engaging their nearest neighbor in some sort of mayhem is common.  Getting their attention and keeping them interested is the goal.  Julie was a master.

She began by providing background information.  I don’t think anyone heard it.  Next, a video of Indian dancing accompanied by Julie’s jousting with the remote control.  The kids were indifferent.  Having set them up in this manner, she then went for the jugular.  Forming forty kids in a circle, the center of which was crammed with chairs and desks, she handed out all manner of rattles, drums, flutes and whatnot.  She showed the kids how to hop up and down while moving clockwise and blowing on or beating their Chumash instruments.  It was a sight to behold.  The kids were ecstatic.  They couldn’t get enough of it.  It went on in various forms for nearly thirty minutes.  I was exhausted…and all I was doing was taking pictures.

Before we left the classroom, we both hugged Julie and told her how happy we were that she survived.  So was she.  And she had to do it again half an hour later.

So what’s this got to do with old Mr. Bernstein you say.  I’m not sure.  Maybe it was the contrasts.  A bunch of adults listening to investment strategy versus kids who barely have enough lunch money.  Old folks wondering if their legacy would last til they keeled over versus kids who have no idea of mortality.  Skeptics who’ve heard it before versus kids who haven’t.

Bet the kids would love lamb chops.


Faint heart never won…

Sweetie and I went to Tom’s today.  It was time for her haircut and for me to bring the OVLFF deposit to the bank.  I have the enviable job of collecting the receipts from the Library Foundation bookstore and the contribution box in the library.  The plastic box has been a faithful collector of the coin of the realm from good-hearted souls who think we should actually have a place where people can get free books, use computers and relax without being confronted by the pressures of the day.  People are odd, aren’t they?

When Sweetie was done and looking more beautiful than ever, we got back in the car and started the drive up the hill.  We turned on NPR.  I don’t understand why automakers insist on embedding that silly antenna in the car’s windshield instead of the good old whip antenna that is so attractive to young vandals.  The windshield solution is only good if I’m parked inside the radio station building.  It is seriously challenged going up the Dennison Grade.

We heard Henry Paulson say that he had determined that using the $700 billion bailout for the purpose originally intended was no longer in vogue.  He said he had a different solution that would be much better at reducing my blood pressure, relieving my stress level and increasing my sexual potency.  I wondered if Sweetie could handle it.

My initial reaction was “Gee, that sounds reasonable.”  But that was immediately followed by “I bet the stock market will think he doesn’t know what he’s doing.”  The market went down by 400 points.  As my good friend Tony said a week ago when I mentioned the market crash…”Which one?”

Paulson’s comments were followed by NPR’s discussion with an economic guru about what has become the question of the moment.  Because of the economic turmoil (a kind euphemism for what has become a debilitating recession), should Obama take it easy in the first days of his presidency, catch his breath and go slow.  Or should he go balls out, damn the torpedoes, and do the things he promised us.

I thought about the Iraq war.  How much time did President What’s His Name and Congress spend debating it?  About the same amount of time I take to decide on my menu selection at Sea Fresh.  Yes, it’s true that it turned out to be not so good an idea.

So let’s see.  What needs to be done?  Health care reform is a very good thing.  Investing in renewable energy will end our dependence on the sheiks.  Putting folks back to work rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure will put money in their pockets.  Ending that dumb war will save some bucks and help mend our fences with the rest of the world.  Getting rich folks to contribute a bit more is a nice idea.

Obama has a mandate from the people.  The people want him to do more than be cautious, deliberate, and glacial.  It took eight years to bring us to where we are today.  We don’t have eight years to put us back together again.  Ronald Reagan got a smaller percentage of the popular vote in 1980 than Obama did.  And the great actor said “Full speed ahead…to where I’m not sure but it’s better than dicking around where we’re at.”  Or something like that.

Yes, I know that Obama needs to reach across the aisle.  But, frankly, the Republicans are ready to grab a lifeline from anyone who throws it.  So, go Bama, do it now.  Don’t wait.  He who hesitates.  No guts, no glory.  A chance like this shouldn’t be wasted.  Carpe diem.  I’m with you.

You can even have some of the coins from the library collection box.