Coffee Party Update

This post is aimed primarily at letting everyone who expressed an interest in the Grants Pass Coffee Party but has been unable to attend know what’s been happening.  First a brief history:

  1. March 13 — Party #1.  Was just me.  Used the time to practice getting a table, setting up my laptop, calling people I knew to let them know about the party.  It was great to talk to some of my activist friends, some of  whom I hadn’t heard from for years.  Got emails afterwards from 2 individuals who indicated they were interested and wanted to be kept in the loop.
  2. March 20 — Party #2.  Was me plus one=2.  Much more productive.  We learned about the coffee sphere, compared our results, and decided that we had broad areas of agreement in most areas of public policy from Health Care to Education and the Economy.  This we actually knew in advance, but it was interesting to see it verified more or less objectively with the Coffee Sphere.
  3. March 27 — Coffee Party Summit.  I was in Portland for the weekend and attended a local coffee party up there.   What a surprise!  I found out that, Dave Varner, the local organizer, had put out exactly the same amount of effort as I had, i.e., basically entering an announcement on the National Coffee Party Website, and here in the coffee shop were TWENTY interested people as a result.  Wow.  Lots of good conversation.  The group was able to come to a consensus of sort that the most important area for improvement is in the area of funding for leglislative / political processes.  Areas touched on were corporate personhood, campaign finance reform, the lobby system, life after public service (corporate-Congressional revolving door).
  4. April 3 — No party.  Just recovering from last weekend.
  5. April 10 — That brings me to today’s party.  Total attendance: Four!  All right!  The numbers are moving in the right direction.  One of today’s attendees, Dale Matthews, is a candidate for County Commissioner.  So, predictably, much of the conversation revolved around local politics.  We learned there is a candidates forum being sponsored by The Daily Courier on Tuesday, April 20 at the Anne Basker Auditorium at 6PM.  There was the expected grumbling about the lack of political education and general apathy of the County’s electorate.  But there was general sense that the corrupting influence of money in evidence at all levels of our politics from national to local is less the cause than a result of a general decline in standards of public behavior in politics.  To me, this suggests that the Coffee Party may be on the right track in insisting on civility in public discourse, as one area where standards seem in a precipitous slide at the moment,  as a fundamental priority.

In attempting to come to grips with this reality, we observed there are certainly other areas of concern, e.g., dishonesty, cronyism, irresponsibility, i.e., lack of accountability, and excessive secrecy or lack of transparency in the handling of the People’s money.  Not even going to mention incompetence or lack of managerial know-how.  We generally agreed with the importance of a two pronged approach to addressing the preceding flaws:

a.  Shine a bright light on the wrongdoing and

b.  Run and elect better, more virtuous leaders.

Other suggestions that were made for improvements:

  • Full public funding of County elections.
  • A petition drive for amending the County Charter to allow election finance reform
  • Better use of social networking technology to aid in achieving point a., above

I would add the following suggestions (not discussed directly today) which I intend to follow myself.

  • Read the National Coffee Party Website on a semi-regular basis to learn of changes in scheduling, information, briefing papers, and navigation.  I have to say that I was grumbling about a loss of focus by the national “politburo” and had posted a suggestion for national strategic planning on the forum that emphasized the need for  bottom-up channels of communication, as well as better organization of the Forum itself.  Well today I see that, in fact, the Forum has been reorganized in a more logical form and does include a strategic planning topic.  All in one week’s time.  Well done to whoever did the work!
  • Please take a look at the Money in Politics Briefing Paper and also the Wall Street Reform Briefing Paper for talking points and, most importantly for ideas for action that can be applied to local politics right here.
  • Advertisements

    Support for Stimulus Now

    Republican Senators are apparently unaware that the last election repudiated Reagan-Bush macro-economic theory and are still desperately and pathetically attempting to implement trickle-down policies and impede speedy implementation of the Administration’s stimulus package.

    While browsing in the stacks at the university library where my daughter studies, I came across an article in the March 2007 issue of the Journal of Macroeconomics by Keiichiro Kobayashi.

    Forbearance impedes confidence recovery

    Many countries have experienced financial crises. Recent research indicates that a quick policy response (e.g., resolving nonperforming loans, recapitalizing the banking sector, reorganizing failed firms) will be followed by quick recovery of economic growth. Countries that take a slow approach to reform [i.e., forbearance] during a financial crisis run into problems of persistent stagnation . . . Forbearance impedes the recovery of confidence that is lost during a financial crisis.

    There is, according to the author, an abundance of historical evidence supporting the idea that the last thing you want to do in financial crisis is take a cautious, wait-and-see approach toward resolving questions about how bankruptcies will be handled.

    For example, Bergoeing et al. (2002) compare the quick and sustained recovery of Chile with the long stagnation of Mexico after the external debt crises at the beginning of the 1980s. . . Other episodes of financial crisis include the bursting of asset-price bubbles in Sweden and Japan in the early 1990s. Both Sweden and Japan experienced price declines in their real estate markets at the beginning of the 1990s. Sweden quickly disposed of nonperforming loans and recapitalized the banking sector from 1992 to 1994, while Japan delayed the resolution of nonperforming loans until 1997. Asset prices in Sweden picked up in 1994 and have continued to rise, while asset prices in Japan have
    continued to fall for more than a decade.

    In their continuing effort to live in an alternate reality from the vast majority of working people, Republican Senators in particular are either ignorant of these and countless other historical examples that could be cited, deliberately ignoring them, or are having a psychotic episode characterized by delusional thinking and irrational behavior.

    Your call. . .

    More on Financial Crisis

    Found this alternative view on the financial crisis at Hassanmarghub’s Blog on WordPress.com.

    What Really Lies Behind the Financial Crisis?

    What was the true cause of the worst financial crisis the world has seen since the Great Depression? Was it excessive greed on Wall Street? Was it mark-to-market accounting?

    The answer is none of the above, says Jeremy Siegel, a professor of finance at Wharton. While these factors contributed to the crisis, they do not represent its most significant cause.

    Here is the real reason, according to Siegel: Financial firms bought, held and insured large quantities of risky, mortgage-related assets on borrowed money.

    The irony is that these financial giants had little need to hold these securities; they were already making enormous profits simply from creating, bundling and selling them. “During dot-com IPOs of the early 1990s, the firms that underwrote the stock offerings did not hold on to those stocks,” Siegel says. “They flipped them. But in the case of mortgage-backed securities, the financial firms decided these were good assets to hold. That was their fatal flaw.”

    So, the whole meltdown comes down to a simple simultaneous misjudgment by every investment banker of note in the world.

    Well, we can all breathe a sigh of relief now that Siegel has taken the burden of causal analysis for the crash off our shoulders with this sweeping bit of reductionism. But shouldn’t any true explanation of a catastrophe contain within it a clue to preventing its repetition? Siegel’s begs the question, “why” did the bankers decide to hold on to these “assets”?

    Scary Players I: Timothy Geithner

    Maybe it’s the nature of democracy, when it’s starting to work again after a long hiatus, to be uncertain. It seems like every time I get set to proclaim happy days are here again, some new cold ugliness dampens the impulse. What could be better than Yitzhak Perlman and Yoyo Ma improvising together in concert followed by President Obama’s inspirational inaugural? And then within 48 hours, a series of historic Executive Orders reconnecting our government with our Constitution once again. It doesn’t get much better than this.

    But then, this following bit of cold water caught my attention:

    Treasury Nominee Failed to Halt Bond Scam

    U.S. senators at Timothy Geithner’s confirmation hearing for Treasury Secretary Wednesday may want to ask him about a failure to act that is costing the U.S. a lot more than the amount he evaded on taxes.

    The Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which he has led since 2003, conducts the operations on Wall Street of the Federal Reserve Bank in Washington, the country’s central bank. The New York Fed under Geithner’s presidency has failed to stop massive naked short selling of U.S. Treasury bonds that threatens the stability of the market and sale of the bonds.

    via Treasury Nominee Failed to Halt Bond Scam :: The Komisar Scoop.

    It is definitely worth following the link to the Komisar Scoop, investigative journalist Lucy Komisar’s website, to read a clear description of just how and why Timothy Geithner‘s failure to act “threatens the stability” of the U.S. Treasury bond market. But the scary part is that this guy’s work history provides no clue as to why he should be trusted with the U.S. Treasury. Scarcely out of Dartmouth, he goes to work and learn from no lesser paragon of probity than Henry Kissenger, prime candidate for a war crimes tribunal if there ever was one. A few years later he goes to work in the Treasury Department under Bush I where he remains through the Clinton years, becoming the disciple of Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, who, along with Alan Greenspan, was an active opponent to the regulation of derivatives in the run-up to the current credit debacle.

    We can only hope that, if his appointment goes through as predicted, that he has learned the folly of his former ways. After all, as the investment banks’ PR flacks are always telling us, “Past performance is no predictor of future behavior.”

    The Bailout STILL Stinks

    It’s great, of course, to be on the cutting edge of change. But the scale and pace of current developments in Washington scarcely leave time for reflection, let alone thoughtful analysis.

    Take the recent Wall Street Bailout. Please.

    The magnitude of the dollars involved, the speed with which the Congress leaped to throw the national treasure at the bankers, the apparent lack of regard for citizen outrage, the absence of any concern to provide a convincing explanation for their action, the fickle nature of mass media coverage, all cry out for attention. But now, Tuesday’s inaugural extravaganza with its accompaniment of blather from establishment pundits appears ready to swallow all public awareness of any Congressional missteps.

    So, I’m thinking that you all will be as happy as I was to see that there is still quality thinking and writing going on, if only one is lucky enough to know where to encounter it. For today’s Wackerfiles offering in this category, I will mention two:

    Both of these essays pay attention to economics as if people mattered in the best tradition of E. F. Schumacher

    Of course, one hopes that the new administration with its expressed commitment to providing a “Seat at the Table” and ongoing invitation to “Join the Discussion” will actually pay attention to the good stuff. One also hopes that the folks doing the thinking and writing will make the extra effort to put their offerings in front of the new administration in one form or another. And finally one hopes that, with the awareness that, in politics, quantity counts, those of us fortunate to stumble across important writing will take steps to bring it to the attention of policy makers by, for example, uploading a copy or a link to the Transition Team.

    Another Look at the Economy

    Many times what you see depends greatly upon how you look.  The answers you get depend on what questions you ask.  Take the employment outlook, for example.  If you only look at the last quarter’s numbers, as the mainstream media has been doing, you will come away with the impression that the sky is falling.

    Well, it may be actually falling, and certainly is falling if yours is one of the half-million jobs lost during the last month.  But if we step back from the immediate carnage and look instead at how the employment picture has evolved over the past decade, a rather different picture emerges.

    The media seems to be ever-focused on jobs lost, reporting even the minutest fluctuations in unemployment percentages.  The stock market, too, seems to respond to these variations, and seems only able to manage a simple binary response: down-good, up-bad.  But if it’s a picture of whether or not the economy is growing we are interested in, then a bit more discernment is called for.

    At a minimum we need to recognize that often when one part of the economy is downsizing, other industries are starting up.  When one company lays off a 100 workers, several others may be hiring 50 or 60 each.  Or not.  But surely what is important, from the macroeconomic viewpoint, is net jobs gained.  In the same way that we wouldn’t determine the financial health of a company from examining only trends in its expenses and would look also at revenues and, of course, the bottom line.  Net jobs gained is the bottom line as far as employment is concerned.

    This being the case, I went to the Bureau of Labor Statistics to see what light their numbers might shed on U.S. employment.  Since their datasets didn’t record net jobs gained or lost, I had to calculate it from their jobs gained and jobs lost datasets.  I then plotted the difference.  The resulting plot is shown in Figure 1, below.


    Figure 1: Annual Net Jobs Gained 1998 – 2007