Archive for the ‘Economics’ Category

The Feeling Is Mutual

January 15, 2013

Rolling Jubilee

The first time I heard the term “mutual aid society” was when it was used to describe the Rolling Jubilee, a project run by an Occupy spin-off called Strike Debt, that buys debt for pennies on the dollar, but instead of collecting it, abolishes it… creating, in their own small way, a bailout of the people by the people.

For the last few holiday seasons, the Bull Raker clan has donated to worthy causes in the names of our extended families, and I chose Rolling Jubilee this time around because I was won over by the creativity and efficiency of the project.  For each dollar collected, Strike Debt is able to abolish $20 worth of debt, thus highlighting the failures of our current economic and political systems. In a time when our elected followers are led by big money interests into crisis after pre-fabricated crisis (Or should I say cliff after fiscal cliff?), the Rolling Jubilee shows us how arbitrarily high debt can be and how utterly incapable our government is in assisting people who really need the help.

While mutual aid societies may not always be scalable (e.g. as successful as the Rolling Jubilee is, it can’t possibly abolish all bad debt on its own), they empower citizens to find creative solutions and build a better world. Now that’s something 99% of us should get behind!

Good Eats

Here’s an idea I have for a local mutual aid society:

It’s similar to restaurant.com but, rather than customers purchasing on-line coupons through a for-profit marketing company, they can buy them from a non-profit that would funnel its earnings into food banks and soup kitchens. This would create a system where those who are more fortunate can help feed the hungry, while saving money too. Do you have an idea for a mutual aid society? If so, please share!

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Anything For Money

December 9, 2011

When my family and I first drove by the above image, which once graced a billboard in Bristol, I couldn’t believe my eyes. You see, until recently, prostitution was legal in RI! So you can imagine my disappointment when, after fumbling for my cell phone in a mad attempt to dial the number listed, my wife informed me these ladies were only selling real estate. Bummer.

That’s when I got to thinking. Did you ever notice how some people will do just about anything for money? No? Oh, well, me neither. I’m too caught up in my own life to be concerned with the problems caused by greed (e.g. wars, poverty, climate change, a broken healthcare system) until those issues start impacting me and mine. Of course, by then, it’ll probably be too late for the good old USA, if not the planet.

But, honestly, who cares? Especially when we can take advantage of the downtrodden along the way through stuff like payday loans, pawn shops (as long as they’re not downtown), home foreclosures, corporate takeovers of public institutions, you name it! No sir, life is still good for the 1% and their uncritical followers. In fact, not being critical is the key to it all. Ignorance is bliss as the saying goes.

I mean, sure, being critical has its advantages. It allows people to become independent, productive citizens who make informed decisions and help protect society from the uncontrolled selfishness that leads to so much of the chaos in the world. Beyond that, though, it’s kind of limited. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather have giant displays of voluptuous women selling… anything.

Am I Chicken Little Or Is Everyone Else A Little Chicken?

November 19, 2011

I recently read Reckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon by Gretchen Morgensen and Josh Rosner. The authors (Morgensen, a New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, and Rosner, the Managing Director at the independent research consultancy Graham Fisher & Co who advises regulators and institutional investors on housing and mortgage finance issues) do an excellent job of breaking down this complex topic into understandable terms. They reveal how the financial meltdown emerged from the corrupt practices, not only of Fannie Mae executives, but also of enablers at Countrywide Financial, Goldman Sachs, the Federal Reserve, HUD, Congress, the FDIC, and the biggest players on Wall Street, which led countless officials to ignore warning signs of an imminent disaster.

As I read the book, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between the factors that caused the mortgage crisis and what is currently happening in the national education reform movement. During the past two years, the Bullraker blog has been filled with posts trying to warn readers of the consequences of some of the reforms (e.g. privately-run, publicly funded charter schools and digital learning environments), which have far less educational value to students than financial value to investors, tech companies, and politicians.

However, since most of my rants seem to have fallen on deaf ears, I sometimes wonder if the sky isn’t actually falling. That is, until I read things like this excerpt from the epilogue to Reckless Endangerment:

In the fall of 2007, Johnson returned to his old playbook. It was a time for another partnership, he said, in which the public sector and private industry would join hands for the greater good. A Blueprint for American Prosperity, designed to bolster America’s cities, was put forward by Brookings in November 2007. Promotional materials for the push sounded remarkably like the homeownership push made a dozen years earlier.

The Blueprint was “a multi-year initiative aimed at creating a new Federal partnership with state and local leaders and with the private sector to advance American prosperity,” Johnson announced at its launch in Washington. “The ability of the United States to compete globally and to meet the great environmental and social challenges of the 21st century rest largely on the health, vitality and prosperity of the nation’s major cities and metroplitan areas.”

Many of the same figures were on hand for this launch who had been standing alongside Johnson twelve years earlier. Henry Cisneros, the former HUD director who had sat on the board of KB Homes with Johnson and had overseen Clinton’s National Partners in Homeownership a little more than a decade before, delivered the keynote address at the Blueprint’s launch. Brookings created a Metropolitan Leadership Council to help promote the agenda; its members included Johnson, of course, but also executives from Goldman Sachs and Target.

The Johnson referred to above is one of the most vile of the book’s villians: James A. Johnson, the former CEO of Fannie Mae and former director of Goldman Sachs and KB Home, who is now chair emeritus at the Brookings Institute. It should then come as no surprise what types of reforms Brookings is calling for in education… But yet hardly anyone locally seems concerned about the validity of the reforms. How can that be? Do people not see the connection? Are they too afraid to ask the critical questions? I don’t know, but the longer citizens go without a conversation about the inner workings of these large private-public partnerships, the more vulnerable we will be when the next economic bubble pops.

As for me, I may be going crazy but at least I’ve become bold enough to occupy the board room. Meanwhile, I highly recommend Reckless Endangerment to anyone who doesn’t understand what 99% of America is so upset about, or how inside baseball is played at the highest levels… And, no, I’m not talking about Old Hoss! 🙂

A Hard Sell

October 14, 2011

Heading into tonight’s 2nd Annual Bristol Economic Development Forum, I promised myself I wouldn’t make comments or ask questions of the panelists — a veritable who’s who on the Bullraker education deformer shit list. I wanted merely to bear witness to the encroaching corporatization of Bristol-Warren public schools… and, in a way, I got my wish.

Despite preparing two statements during the forum and having my arm raised for close to a half hour waiting to be called on during the Q&A session, I was continually passed over by the moderator (a.k.a. Bullraker gadfly, Mike Byrnes). I can’t speculate whether Mike did this intentionally, though he has made it quite clear on this blog that he disagrees with my take on the education deform movement. However, I am certain that without an open and honest debate on the topic, we risk being sold a bad bill of goods. But, let’s face it, telling the truth about the deforms would be a much harder sell. And that’s bad for business!

In case anyone out there is curious, here were the comments I intended to make:

I have responses to two statements made earlier by Angus Davis.

The first is in regard to the U.S. spending over half a trillion dollars on K-12 education per year, even more than what we pay for defense. I’m for one am glad that’s the case. In fact, we should be spending way more on education than defense. And I don’t say this lightly. I have two advanced degrees, one in Mathematics and the other in Teaching & Curriculum, and I’d much prefer to be a teacher than a defense contractor. Unfortunately, one job pays 3 times more than the other! If we believed in education, then we would fund it like we believed in it. Not cut millions from schools districts!

The second thing I want to address is the notion that “innovative” ideas, like trying to bring Achievement First (AF) charter schools to Cranston, are regarded as controversial simply because people fear change. That’s untrue. I don’t fear positive change, but I do have serious doubts about whether charter management companies like AF can bring about positive change.

Here are a few sources that back up my position and will hopefully enlighten Mr. Davis and others on the genuine criticisms of the types of reforms he espouses:

Get Motivated!: Join The Peaceful Revolution

October 5, 2011

On Monday, Providence public schools were delayed two hours in anticipation of the traffic caused by a Get Motivated! motivational seminar. When the horde failed to materialize, the cynic in me saw the overreaction to a bunch of pro-corporate speakers as simply an unsuccessful commercial made by politicians who have already shown their willingness to allow private interests to take control of public education. But, just two days later, the optimist in me now sees crowds all over the country with enough motivation to put an end to the plutocracy and restart our democracy.

For example, the majority of Americans:

Isn’t democracy a great idea? So, while the mainstream media too often covers the fake news, join a global movement called Occupy Together that is growing exponentially. Find the nearest occupation site (in my case, it’s Burnside Park in Providence’s Kennedy Plaza) and help change the world!

The Secret of Oz

May 11, 2011

The following press release was issued by the East Bay Patriots,  a local Tea Party group. Although I have been (and will remain) openly critical of the Tea Party on many issues, it shouldn’t stop me from reaching out to them when we find common ground.

I stumbled onto the Secret of Oz movie just as the East Bay Citizens for Peace  (EBCP) were kicking off their 25% Solution campaign to cut military spending by 25% and use the savings to fund community needs, which includes reducing the national debt. As EBCP moved forward with the 25% campaign, I was shocked to learn that, even by the most conservative estimates, close to half of our 13+ trillion dollar debt stems from prior military spending. Well, if the people behind the Secret of Oz had their way, we’d no longer have to pay interest on past military spending, which accounts for 18% of our current military budget — or roughly 3/4 of the 25% Solution. In fact, the U.S. wouldn’t have to pay interest on anything ever again!

The sovereign money movement may not solve all of the country’s economic woes, but it sure could help. Coming down from ivory (or emerald) towers to engage in healthy debate with those who have vastly different world views doesn’t hurt either.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

East Bay Patriots to show Secret of Oz film

Bristol, RI – May 16, 2011 – The Bristol East Bay Patriots will hold a meeting on May 16th, at the Rogers Free Library in Bristol. Meeting will start at 6:30pm.

Kevin Faria of East Bay Citizens for Peace will be the guest moderator and will be presenting the movie The Secret of Oz.

It is well known in economics academia that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz written by L. Frank Baum in 1900 is loaded with powerful symbols of monetary reform which were the core of the Populist movement and the 1896 and 1900 president bid of Democrat William Jennings Bryan.

The yellow brick road (gold standard), the emerald city of Oz (greenback money), even Dorothy’s silver slippers (changed to ruby slippers for the movie version) were the symbol of Baum’s and Bryan’s belief that adding silver coinage to gold would provide much needed money to a depression-strapped, 1890s America.

America is going broke! Now the question is how can we get out of this mess. Foreclosures are everywhere, unemployment is skyrocketing – and this is only the beginning. America’s economy is on a long, slippery slope from here on. The bubble ride of debt has come to an end.

What can government do? The sad answer is – under the current monetary system – nothing. It’s not going to get better until the root of the problem is understood and addressed. There isn’t enough stimulus money in the entire world to get us out of this hole.

Why? Debt. The national debt is just like our consumer debt – it’s the interest that’s killing us.

Though most people don’t realize it the government can’t just issue its own money anymore. It used to be that way. The King could just issue stuff called money. Abraham Lincoln did it to win the Civil War.

Today the government has to borrow our money into existence and then pay interest on it. That’s why they call it the National Debt. All our money is created out of debt. Politicians who focus on reducing the National Debt as an answer probably don’t know what the National Debt really is. To reduce the National Debt would be to reduce our money – and there’s already too little of that.

You have to go deeper. You have to get at the root of this problem or we’re never going to fix this. The solution isn’t new or radical.

Why can’t we just issue our own money, debt free? That, my friends, is the answer. Talk about reform! That’s the only reform that will make a huge difference to everyone’s life – even worldwide.

The solution is the secret that’s been hidden from us for just over 100 years – ever since the time when author L. Frank Baum wrote “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”

Come and join us for this provocative film! It is an eye-opener!

Think Global. Act Local.

March 31, 2011

At last month’s Bristol Town Council meeting, East Bay Citizens For Peace (EBCP) asked the town to sponsor an event to discuss the impact of military spending on our communities and pass a resolution to call on the federal government to reduce such spending and instead fund local needs. Shockingly, all five members, including Kenny Marshall, who stated publicly that he would pass the resolution when asked (by me) at a debate prior to the November elections, denied EBCP’s request! It was a moment I won’t forget anytime soon, because it was then when I realized that many local leaders know and/or care very little about the larger issues. They confine themselves solely to the world of local politics, no matter how much regional and national politics shape the crises we face.

For example, the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) is allowing Bristol-Warren schools to be boxed in by the state, which is cutting aid to the district by more than $8 million over the next ten years. Rather than fully funding the school department’s request of $2.9 million to simply maintain the same services it currently provides — and giving all the stakeholders (i.e. students, parents, teachers, adminstrators, and concerned citizens) a full year to organize and direct their angst at the people most responsible for this mess (i.e. state and federal officials) — the JFC is forking over only a little more than half of the amount.

The decision is a disastrous mistake for a committee that scolded members of the public for being too “adversarial”. Just wait until the administration is forced to start cutting things like foreign languages, art, music, and sports. Then we’ll see some adversity! But the inevitable in-fighting will take the real antagonists off the hook. While communities bicker over what to slash from already tight budgets, the ones who put them in such unworkable positions are hailed as rock stars. If only there were local leaders who refused to let others place them in a box and dared to think outside of it. Well, we may not find them in “America’s Most Patriotic Town”, but they’re out there:

Hartford, CT City Council Votes to Bring Our War Dollars Home Now!

City Council Urges Hartford residents to Attend April 9 Antiwar March in NYC
Unbridled war spending by the federal government and President Obama has drained resources from our communities to keep the wheels of the war machine grinding on. This has also translated into attacks on education and unions, especially in the public sector, as states scramble to make up for budget shortfalls.

Recognizing that the majority of Americans are against the wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, 17 groups and individuals with a focus on peace and justice joined together to bring forward a resolution to the city council of Hartford, CT. It said, Bring Our War Dollars Home Now! Money for Education, Jobs, Housing and Healthcare!

On Monday, March 28th the city council of Hartford voted in favor of the resolution. The resolution goes on to urge residents to join thousands on April 9, 2011 for a national march in New York City that says Bring our troops home now, No to War, Cutbacks, Racism, Attacks on Muslims and Immigrants. For info go to UNACPeace.org

With this historic vote Hartford is the first state capitol to pass such a resolution and joins city councils in Portland, Maine and Northampton, MA in saying not another penny for wars and occupations.

Below you can read the resolution:

A resolution of the city council of Hartford, CT calling upon the US government and President Obama to Bring Our War Dollars Home Now

Whereas, the economic collapse has exhausted the financial resources at the local, county, state and federal levels of the US; and

Whereas, the US government since 2001 has spent well over 1 trillion dollars nationally on the wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Connecticut nearly 28 billion dollars has gone to war spending and more than $453 million has been taken from the city of Hartford to fund the wars and occupations, and

Whereas, more than 5,700 US troops have been killed, more than 40,000 wounded; and

Whereas, hundred’s of thousands of civilians have been killed or wounded and the ongoing warfare poses great and unnecessary harm to the nation of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan and elsewhere in the world; and

Whereas, billions of tax payer’s money is spent to prop up repressive regimes in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world; and

Whereas,
educational services, medical care, housing, other essential public services, infrastructure repair, and family financing throughout Connecticut, especially in cities such as Hartford, have been diverted from a constructive economy to these wars and occupations, and

Whereas,
budget deficits, largely due to war spending, have been used as a pretext to force concessions from public sector unions from California to Wisconsin to Connecticut; and

Whereas, 2010 census data shows that Hartford has the highest poverty rating in Connecticut at 31.9% (nationally, the poverty rating is 14.3%) and

Whereas,
communities of color in Hartford have been hardest hit. Our city has a population that is 41% Latino and 38% African American/West Indian population. Unemployment for people of color is over 40%, and unemployment for people of color is nearly 20% and when employed, people of color make only 60 cents for every dollar made by white workers; and

Whereas, the above mentioned communities are heavily targeted for military recruitment,

Be it resolved that the city council of Hartford call upon the US government and President Obama to end the wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan and bring our war dollars home now.

Now be it further resolved, that the city council of Hartford support informational events regarding the cost of the wars and occupations to our community; and

Be it further resolved that the city council of Hartford support the right of public sector unions and all other unions to collectively bargain and defend the interests of their members; and

Be it further resolved, that the city council of Hartford urge residents to participate in the April 9, 2011 national march in New York City to end the wars and occupations and bring our war dollars home.

The 25% Solution

December 19, 2010
Do you care how your money is being spent?

 Click here to learn more about the 25% Solution.

Charity Cases

November 2, 2010

While tax rates for top income earners have dropped to a fraction of their mid-20th century levels, the US has found it increasingly difficult to meet the basic needs of its people. Sure, wars, bank bailouts and other policy failures drive us deeper into debt, but they often mask the fact that, even under less volatile conditions, we cannot provide adequate education, healthcare, food and shelter to millions of Americans. As a result, we’ve become so reliant on the wealthy, not only to drive the economy but to give a helping hand to the less fortunate, that we’re vulnerable to a new form of exploitation.

When setting aside money for charitable endeavors, zillionaires, instead of working directly with charity groups, can now place funds in what are called supporting organizations, which regulators and lawmakers suspect are used more for tax planning than the public good. Supporting organizations, like charter school management companies, are attractive because they offer generous tax benefits and allow donors to retain a great deal of control over their money. So, unlike the rest of us who give to charities and expect little to nothing in return, wealthy individuals are essentially creating personal investment vehicles and profiting off honest taxpayers.

Unfortunately, beyond the hypocrisy of these fake philanthropists, there lies a simple mathematical problem. If the cost of bribing the benfactors outweighs the benefits they provide, an already unsustainable economic situation will be made worse. With the holiday season approaching, concerned citizens will be donating to non-profit organizations in support of worthwhile causes. Let’s hope they choose wisely. It also wouldn’t hurt to ask Santa for a politician brave enough to bring back the most effective philanthropy — taxing the rich.

Free Markets And Corporate Socialism: The Difference Between Theory And Practice

August 7, 2010

Lots of alleged conservatives claim to believe in a “free market” without economic intervention and regulation by government, but evidently it’s a lot harder for them to put their money where their mouths are:

  • Shilling For Schilling: Former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling recently received a $75 million dollar loan guarantee from the RI Economic Development Corporation for his new video game company, 38 Studios, to relocate to Providence. Huh? Why would the state invest so heavily in a company that has yet to produce anything in an industry with a 90-percent failure rate and run by someone who has enough money to fund the move himself? Maybe EDC members are a bunch of geeky gamers hoping to be the first to own 38 Studios’ upcoming release Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Or maybe they’re jock-sniffing sports fans itching to get a whiff of Schilling’s bloody sock. Probably not, but either of those answers are more logical than any economic reason they may offer up.
  • Unchartered Territory: Angus Davis has helped lead the charge for the charter school movement in RI. As a member of the Board of Regents, the native Bristolian was instrumental in hiring Deborah Gist as the state’s new Education Comissioner. Too busy to write her own speeches (Davis anonymously hired her speechwriters too), Gist went about firing teachers, slashing state aid in some districts to the bone, and lifting a cap that restricted the number of these privately-run public schools to only two per district — thus paving the way for large charter management companies to open up here. Back in 2007, RI Monthly featured Davis and fellow charter school advocate and dot com millionaire, Bill Daugherty, in an article highlighting the “new generation of philanthropists“. But what the magazine failed to mention was how much they stand to earn from their “charity” work. A few months ago the New York Daily News revealed that, through various federal tax credits and interest payments on construction loans, non-profit charter management companies and their rich financiers are able to nearly double their investments in only 7 years off the backs of the overly indebted Albany charter schools and taxpayers… Making me wonder if the national drive toward privatized education is motivated more by the effectiveness of charters versus public schools (which is debatable to say the least) or by greed disguised as social consciousness? Meanwhile, here in the Ocean State, Davis is about to launch a new educational non-profit called Best For Kids. Will it really seek to improve public education, as he claims, or will improving the return on investment be the organization’s ultimate goal? I don’t know.

What I’m more sure of is that, without government assistance, these so-called free market capitalists wouldn’t waste their time and money on such ventures. Much like the Defense Industry during our unending wars on terrorism or Wall Street during our financial crisis, people like Schilling, Davis, and Daugherty are literally banking on taxpayers for help! Socialize the risk and privatize the profits. Welcome to the era of corporate socialism, Little Rhody.

The hypocrisy, not just of the nefarious businessmen and politicians, but by the ideologues from supposedly conservative groups like the RI Statewide Coalition who support their actions, leads me to believe that the free market is as mythical a place as the Kingdoms of Amalur. America will never have a free economy as long as we allow wealthy individuals and corporations to abuse our government. But there’s still hope. Some economists (the real socially conscious ones) think the country can regain control of its money system and end the reign of the corporate socialists. Learn more: http://www.webofdebt.com