Monday, September 29, 2008

They did WHAT?

Congress - of whom I generally have low expectations - has startled even me today. They actually voted down the bailout bill that Congressional leaders had spent an entire week hammering out.

So now what? No one is quite sure. The trouble with the bailout bill, though, was that even if it had passed both Houses of Congress, no one was quite sure what next. Henry Paulsen had something he considered a plan, but he never explained it in much detail - IMHO because even he wasn't really sure what it was, but he was convinced that if he could throw enough money at the problem, some of it would stick.

The interesting thing is not that
the markets are down - everybody expected that - but they aren't down as far as one might expect. They're down about 7% at the end of the day. The Dow is down not quite 778 points, which is the all time high in number of points lost - but is NOT one of the 10 greatest market percentage drops (see the lists in this article from, and the market is still above 10,000. Ten thousand on the Dow was a pipe dream for most of the years I've been watching the markets. The market is still higher than it was in March 1999, when it crossed 10,000 for the first time in history.

So the interesting question is: why isn't the market worse? (As well as, "Now what?") I don't have an answer.

Politically, of course, they "had to do it". According to NPR this morning, every Congressional office in the country has been flooded with furious calls from constituents, urging them not to bail the bastards out. They're all up for re-election in November - the entire House of Representatives - and they all felt they couldn't face the voters unless they could justify their votes. In fact, the real political courage today was shown by the people who voted for the bailout.

I wonder if the leaders of the financial industry realized exactly how much they were hated by Joe Sixpak, that quintessential American on Main Street. I'm quite sure they didn't care.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


This year has been very strange. Beginning in 1976, I spent my entire working life in the financial industry: corporate librarian for Coopers & Lybrand, then computer technician for Bank of America. Always, keeping an eye on that entity called "Wall Street" or "the markets" - the brokerage houses, the investment banks, the New York Stock Exchange, the Dow Jones.

And now it's gone, or much of it. Coopers & Lybrand, of course, vanished in the '90s when it merged with Price Waterhouse to become PricewaterhouseCoopers, as the "Big Eight" dwindled to the "Big Five" (then the "Big Four", when Arthur Anderson imploded in the wake of the Enron scandal).

But in the last few months, "Wall Street" has - vanished. Earlier financial crises took their toll on firms that were merged or taken over, but the giants remained: Merrill Lynch. Lehman Brothers. Goldman Sachs. Morgan Stanley. Bear Sterns. They're all gone, or transformed. Merrill Lynch - sold to Bank of America. Bear Sterns, Lehman Brothers - sold and dismantled. (In the case of Lehman, taking some of my money with them, damn them.) And Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, reorganizing as commercial banks. I want to be a fly on the wall at their first visit from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. I don't think their corporate culture will take it well. There are - no major investment banks left in the United States. Does that mean that what they did will never be done again? Or will new firms arise to take on the risks (and hopefully not come screaming to the taxpayers for relief when they fail)?

Even the commercial banks are going - IndyMac. Washington Mutual. At the national level there are what? Five banks left? No, four, offhand - Bank of America; Wachovia; JP Morgan Chase; Citi. Of course, there are dozens of local and regional banks left, all over the country, which are NOT falling apart - several of them are advertising actively in my local newspaper.

It's a very strange feeling. It reminds me of the strange feeling I got, earlier this year, poking around the University of California's web sites. I realized that my graduate degree (Master's of Library Science) no longer exists, and neither does the Library School that offered it. The Library School is now the Information School (I know - they still hit me up for donations), and the degree is now Master's of Library and Information Science, and the computers I turned to in my midlife crisis are now the basis of the graduate program in which I learned to type catalog cards on a huge, creaking manual typewriter (because the electric typewriters, which were available, didn't come with the appropriate bibliographic typeface, including the square brackets).

So my degree is obsolete, and the industry I worked in is gone. I guess I have to think of something else to do. I hope we're right that I don't need to find another job; it's an awful time to be looking.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


The press has made a great fuss over the fact that Governor Sarah Palin can field dress a moose. Would everyone please remember that this skill is not part of the job description for Vice President of the United States? Unless you think that the economy is about to get so bad that we'll all have to go back to hunting and gathering. In which case she'll either have to move back to Alaska or learn to hunt smaller game - there are no moose in the District of Columbia that I know of, although the Smithsonian may have one stuffed.

I was discussing this issue with my sister this morning, who commented that "She's not going to be allowed to shoot Putin and field dress him." In fact, shooting people isn't part of the Vice Presidential job description either - Dick Cheney shot that lawyer on his own time.

The trouble is, the McCain campaign is keeping such a tight rein on the governor that we can't tell what else she's capable of - and frankly, I think we ought to be able to get some kind of feel for that, before we have to vote. Why are they afraid to let her answer press questions? How many clothes is the Emperor wearing, anyhow?


Despite the subject line, this post isn't about the Bush administration or the financial bailout.

This is about skunks - the furry black-and-white critters with the unpleasant smell. We have a yard full of luxuriant bushes and plants, just the sort of place that a shy wild creature might like to move into, and I have a sinking feeling that a local skunk may have done just that.

As I look back at my Lunch in the Yard post, it was on August 28 that I complained about the lingering scent of skunk in the back yard. If only that had been the end of things - Friday of that week, we found a dead skunk in our back yard, right where the fence meets the corner of the garage.
I took a picture of it, but I'll spare you. I looked up Oakland Animal Control on the Internet, and it basically said, we can't be bothered to send someone around - bury the carcass yourself. So we did.

We don't really know why the skunk died. If it was rabid, wouldn't they want to know? Evidently not. It didn't die in the garage, but according to my husband (who spends more time there than I do), it had been in the garage, and three weeks later he's still trying to air it out. Over the intervening several weeks, we've had skunk smells waft in, through the open upstairs windows, in the evening from time to time, which may be the remains of the last incident. Or maybe not.

Today, though, I came home from an errand, walked into the house, closed the door, and said to myself, "This place smells of skunk." Sniff again - yup, skunk. I turned on the house fan in hopes that the allergy filter on the furnace would help - several hours later I can't tell whether it has, or I've simply got used to the smell.

I began to worry when I went out to tour the foundation vents, and the access door to the crawl space, just outside the back door, was hanging from one rusted screw in one hinge (since fallen off). So anything smallish that wanted to nest under the back stairs could possibly have got in. The other vents were all solid, but it only takes one.

When my husband got home, he crawled part way under the house with a flashlight, and couldn't see or smell anything, except that we both smelled skunk strongly, right around the access door. Our current take is that a skunk sprayed the access door (which is right under an upstairs window we often open) but didn't get under the house. We left the door propped so something could get out but probably not back in, just in case.

I don't actually object to skunks; I wish them well; but I don't want them living under my house. I wish I didn't think that a local skunk had decided this is "his" yard. We already have a squirrel, a pair of towhees, and possibly a pair of Anna's hummingbirds living back there; surely that's enough wildlife support??

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


That's what the Treasury bailout plan is. High-grade, all beef, thinly sliced baloney. I like the editor's comment in the San Francisco Chronicle today: Henry Paulsen is not our king. Although I'm not sure he understands that. I also agree with the Senator I heard this morning on NPR (can't recall whom), who said, "Just because God made the world in 7 days doesn't mean we have to do this in 7 days."

Mr. Paulsen doesn't seem to have grasped the concept, basic to our democracy, of "checks and balances." Not to mention, "accountability" and "transparency."

I'm particularly annoyed when the Treasury and the Fed insist that the housing market won't recover unless Congress passes the plan as it stands. The implication is that the housing market will recover if it does pass the plan - and that's baloney, too.

The housing market isn't crashing because of tight credit - mortgage credit isn't that tight. The housing market is crashing because the huge backlog of foreclosed homes, on sale at fire-sale prices, is driving down real estate values. It's going to continue to crash as long as that condition exists - in my personal opinion, about another year and a half. Only major bargain hunters, who plan to stay a long time, want to buy a house that will be worth less than they paid for it in 6 months; and until we've finished the fire sales, that condition will continue to exist.

This is classic Bush administration propaganda: ride the fear. Only we can save you. We can't restrict executive compensation on bailed out firms or companies won't play with us. If that's really true - then don't bail them out. Let them fail. These yoyos are in this position because they are incompetent. They don't deserve huge payouts to go away and do it again somewhere else.

I am beginning to get sufficiently torqued with all of these idiots - who are in this position because they allowed their greed to overcome their common sense - that I think we should let them fail, and pick up the pieces as best we can. It won't be any worse for the people who are being foreclosed; they're already losing their homes. The rest of us watching our houses drop in value also won't see any change; see above, the housing crash cannot be affected by this crap, and they're lying to us.

This is the Bush administration's attempt to get monarchical powers for the Treasury secretary as well as the Presidency, and it should be blocked. Write your congressman; call your senator. Oppose this. I have.

Friday, September 19, 2008


OK, it's official. This is the Depression.

A major characteristic of the Great Depression were the "Hoovervilles", which Wikipedia defines as "a shanty town built by homeless men in the depression years." The term was also used to define tent cities that sprang up on empty land across the country. "Hoover", of course, was President Hoover, who was in charge, more or less, when the economy fell apart after the 1929 stock market crash.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports today that locales all over the country are seeing tent cities spring up, in parking lots and parks, full of people who often have no job as well as no place to live. No one knows how many of these people are homeless due to foreclosure. No one really knows how many there are; the last data on homelessness from HUD dates from early 2007, and this has all happened in the last few months.

So what shall we call these encampments? Bushvilles? Or are these people just "Bushed"? How about "Crawford camps"?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Republican Ticket

Like the rest of the world, I was startled - is that the right word? - when John McCain announced his choice for VP. Since then, in an attempt to figure out what was going on, I've been reading everything I can find in the infamous "mainstream media" about Gov. Palin. I'm trying to be as objective as possible, to counterbalance my visceral reaction to her. In short, the lady creeps me out, probably because she's diametrically opposed to me on virtually every position.

I've deliberately avoided the Internet riffs floating around on her, with one exception: the "Letter from Wasilla," attributed to one Anne Kilkenny - largely because the thing was signed, and showed internal evidence that the author was trying to be fair-minded. considers that letter authentic; much of what I say about her here comes either from that letter or from the New York Times.

I've concluded that Gov. Palin is the affirmative action candidate. She is where she is because she's female, and for no other major reason. To prove this to yourself, just invert the situation. You have the one-term governor of a large but thinly populated state, with no national or international experience or (apparently) interest; with a public record of hiring cronies and family members; a gun supporter, a disbeliever in global warming, a born-again evangelical creationist and right-to-life supporter, with 5 children, one of whom has Down's syndrome, and another of whom is pregnant at the age of 17. And this hypothetical governor is male.

Would this person be anywhere near the vice presidency? He wouldn't even be on the backup list. But she's in the catbird seat.

McCain apparently picked her himself, bypassing the usual vetting process. The New York Times ran a major article suggesting that no one in the Alaska Republican Party - for that matter, no one in the national party - was contacted about the governor before the announcement. It's a very interesting read; apparently McCain simply leaped to the conclusion that this woman could save his campaign and offered her the job on the spot, in place of two or three male candidates with real records of competence.

Consider this as an example of McCain's decision making under stress. Is this really the man you want running this country??

Also consider what this implies about McCain's opinion of American voting women. He thinks we'll vote for his ticket because his number two has ovaries instead of balls. The level of contempt for the people he expects to vote for him leaves me gobsmacked. It is an insult. If I were a Republican woman, I'd be furious. If I were a moderate Republican woman, I'd be practically radioactive.

Gov. Palin has one attribute that is usually required to attain high office: ambition. Is that enough??

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Lazy in Las Vegas

I'm visiting my sister again. It's cooler than the last time, only in the middle 90's. The tortoises are stumping around the yard; the dogs got out today and ran who knows where, and we all scrabbled around yelling for them until they came back. It's dangerous for loose dogs - people drive way too fast on these roads.

With nothing else in particular to do, I accompanied my sister to her scheduled visit to get her hair and nails done. I didn't realize when I signed up for this that it was going to take three and a half hours; I love my sister dearly, but even I admit that she's "high maintenance." With a slight advance warning that it would take "all afternoon," I took a book.

As we approached the shop, the noise stunned me - the salon is right under the final approach path to McCarran International Airport. I mean right under - landing planes go over the front door maybe 200 feet up; you can read the letters on the fuselage. My sister says she waves to the pilots. The noise is unbelievably loud - I can't even estimate the decibel level. It completely freaked me out. However, this was where we were bound.

I hadn't realized how early the appointment was, and hadn't had any lunch; so my first move was to ask the desk girl to recommend a place to eat. She suggested a local lunch shop across the parking lot, and I tried it and found it good; and then I returned to the salon and settled down in the lobby with my book.

After not very long in the lobby, the smells began to get to me. This salon does everything chemical to hair - bleach, color, extensions, you name it - and they do nails, which means nail polish, nail polish remover, and whatever they use to glue on those long talons. Most of the chemical activity happens farther back in the shop, but the odors waft out to the reception area pretty regularly.

I read a couple more chapters of my book, and decided that the combination of airplanes and smells was more than I wanted to spend several hours in. I hunted up my sister, who was having something I didn't ask about painted on her hair, and told her that I was going to find a coffee shop to wait this out, and to call my cell phone when she was ready to leave. Going down the sidewalk, her "nail lady" stopped me and recommended a bar nearby where I could sit and read, because all the lunch places close early.

I should have seen this one coming. This isn't the Rive Gauche. Bars, especially in Las Vegas, do not expect people to sit and read; bars expect people to sit and (a) drink and talk, (b) play video poker, (c) watch ESPN, or (d) all of the above. None of these activities requires reading lights; the place was dark as a cave. Fortunately, it wasn't especially hot today, and they have a shaded outdoor patio, so I sat, drinking soda water, long enough to finish my novel and two short stories.

Part way into the third short story, I realized it was after 3 o'clock; no word from my sister, but the sun was coming around onto the patio. I wandered back to the salon, dodging from shade to shade (I forgot to put on sunscreen), and found my sister having her hair blow-dried by a man whose hair looked like someone was blow-drying him. I resettled in the lobby and read another short story, and then she was ready to go.

I still can't quite believe this, but she claims she'd never noticed the smells until I mentioned them. I'm also delighted that a freak of genetics means that I'm going gray gracefully, and slowly - all I get from my hairdresser is a very careful haircut.