Thursday, October 23, 2008

Dear Andrew

Ahh… poor pathetic AIG has now become the poster-child for corporate greed. They have been ordered to suspend their $600 million bonus fund. Poor Mr. Sullivan. And you know about poster children. The real victims are not even camera-ready. They’re festering, stewing in greed, still lunching in Armani while they consider passing on the private jet for Christmas vacation. Call me, Andrew Cuomo. Call me.

First of all, I’d like to know what kind of accounting principles Henry Paulson is using. The Goldman Sachs kind, apparently. As for me, before I’d lend a friend my last $20, I’d have to be pretty sure he doesn’t have a few Ferraris in the garage. Here’s a hint: you can’t spell Goldman without G-O-L-D. Call me.

I’ve got a notice from HRA in my mailbox. The second one. Apparently someone shared my tax return with them. The one that was so pathetic, I didn’t qualify for an economic stimulus check. I was counting on that, to buy my teenage son a graduation laptop. The IRS assumes anyone in my income bracket is receiving welfare benefits, and no matter what they give me, my thrift-shop buying is not going to stimulate the economy. I am forced to submit my 1040 to receive my Child Health Plus package (thank you Hillary!). This year, as last, I am too poor to be billed. I also have a brain and another commodity which is not only obsolete but worthless in the current atmosphere: a conscience. I have an apartment. I have my guitars and I know how to use them. I am struggling, day by day, week by week, to keep up payments. I had a retirement fund. This has been decimated to the point where I must live to an age of invalidity in order to collect what I’d put in. I don’t have a cellphone, Andrew, but I’ve got Verizon. Call me. It's local. I don’t receive benefits.

And how about this? I owe no one. I have no debt. I have no nice or even acceptable clothing, no heels on my shoes, a near-empty pantry. I do have mice. In my funky old prewar building which is now on the Corcoran list of Luxury Residences…due to endless renovations by the AIG and Bear Stearns unduly rewarded…I have mice, I have leaks, I have holes. Despite the fact that they are manipulating our old co-op like an overpriced Biotech company and demanding millions from shareholders…they cannot seem to find the cash in their pocket to patch the most recent hole they made in my ceiling. One of them even sued the co-op because we complained about his illegal and damaging renovation. Does the Attorney General's office respond? The government does not intervene in the corporation I live in. Not until it's bankrupt and in ruins. If I were being played by Steve McQueen, I’d eat the mice.

Let me say something else. Being hungry makes you cranky. It makes you less generous with sympathy. Especially sympathy for the rich. What about me, Presidential candidates? What about the proud hard-working poor…we who scarcely pay more than self-employment tax, who don’t ‘burden the system’, who share our stale bread with the homeless guys on the corner, who walk for a couple of days each month to postpone the cost of the monthly Metro card into the next billing cycle?

Yesterday I walked 3 miles to hand-deliver a birthday card because it saved me 42 cents. I pay my gas bill every 3 months because the finance charge is less than the stamps I’d have to use. I know about 'cutting the fat'. So how about hiring me to balance the AIG budget? I’m available. I’m smart. I don’t use the word deficit. I work per diem. Cheap. You can be sure I’d have found a good use for the $600 million. You can be sure their customers whose homes have been destroyed by hurricanes and floods would have a little cash.

Every morning I listen to the baffled BBC interviewees on the state of the world markets. The whole economy is tanked, let’s face it. My life is not much different than it was… yes, I’m losing work. I’m still terrified. Next week I must factor in Halloween candy. Do food stamps cover candy? Is that 'kosher'? Certainly not a sound nutritional investment. But soon it will be Christmas. A tree? I’m hungry. Eggs are out of my budget now. Rice is a luxury. I’ve stood outside a cafĂ© several times this month with my hoodie on, waiting for them to put out leftover bread. Pride? Do I have pride? Why do my neighbors flash cash at the doormen when their Global Equity positions have caused suffering on a global and inequitable scale? Is that pride? Call me, Andrew.

Do they really want to restore CONFIDENCE? If I were getting Jon Stewart’s salary, I’d laugh. Here’s my question: Why are they letting the criminals jury their own trial? Never in all my educational or historical experience, except possibly the most corrupt African nations…was this kind of thing going on. Is this the new version of justice? Let’s face it… if someone kidnaps your child, holds him ransom for everything you own…are you going to let him go when he’s caught in the next heinous act? Are you going to let him keep what he stole? It’s not like I’m asking for anything except simple, Biblical Justice. Human Decency. The Law.

Why are they not rounding up the criminals and corralling them in their own bank vaults? Why is no one staging some large-scale political version of Dog Day Afternoon? I live in a building with these people who essentially spent their co-workers’ pensions on lunches. And they have money. They are all being paid. They are living on huge accounts built with massive bonuses.

Come on Andrew…you can do better. Every single one of these guys needs to put it back. And no, John McCain, this is not SPREADING THE WEALTH AROUND, this is putting back what you stole. It was a long party… and so much of the money has been spent, those bastards. Punishment? Yes, they deserve it. On a global scale. But first? Make them give it back. Every single penny. I’ll do the books. I’m great at it. I’ve don’t even know what a vacation looks like. No expensive junkets for my team. We'll eat stale bread for lunch. Hey...I’m living in a Corcoran-designated Luxury Residence just footsteps from Central Park and putting a kid through college on a poverty-level income. I know how to put extra notches in a belt. Call me.

As for the AIG guys and the other Investment Wizards: Let them eat mice.

P.S.: Does it occur to anyone that if we hadn’t been so obsessed with crucifying Spitzer for personal indiscretion, someone might have had an eye on the true Satans of Wall Street?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Cramer vs. Cramer

My teenage son knows about economics. He has a debit card. He knows who Jim Cramer is. Most adult children can relate to the format which for me is a cross between a sports-talk thing and a kiddie show emceed by a Mr. Rogers on crack. When I watch this, I am reminded that some obscene percentage of serious computer gamers are in their 30’s.

Of course everyone is suddenly trashing Cramer when they secretly watched the guy on their gym screen or at home while they answered email. His viewing audience, despite the fact that he has been exposed as the pathetic duped victim of his own hubris, is even larger. It is truly remarkable how what is essentially a cheap gameshow affected the market. Poor schmucks were Etrading like mad according to Cramer’s recommendations which were about as reliable as sports commentators’ prattle back and forth during a close game. When the score is up, it’s fairly safe to side with the winner.

Cramer always reminded me of that double-headed guy in MIB2. And during recent weeks he’s undoubtedly had to up his daily dose of ADHD medication, not to mention the extra antiperspirant. But this version of economics for dummies—the same version the Republicans stuffed down our throats and the Hedge funds perpetrated and supported with a slick desperation which makes Gordon Gekko look like Mother Theresa-- is no longer working. So why does Cramer still have a job? Why is there not a 24-hour network where the heads of these investment firms get dunked in a tank? Along with Cramer. I can picture both of his heads wearing a shower cap. Is there anyone out there who would volunteer to get behind the Mad Money camera and throw a pie?

Instead, we get this maybe less confident version of Cramer who backtracks within a one-hour show, reverses positions, speaks out of 2 mouths like the market is an Andy Roddick tennis match. Accountability? And why not? No one else tells the truth. Both presidential candidates are guilty of mis-stating facts, underestimating, over-calculating. Half of our news is speculative.

Which brings me to the thing that woke me up this morning. I was dreaming about the girl who gives me my afternoon coffee, that she was explaining to me how she volunteers at Starbucks and how I was admiring her philosophical and peculiar work-ethic while also realizing suddenly why her co-workers treated her with such disdain. I am not used to such prosaic kinds of dreams…usually they involve Andy Warhol among red poppies or finding myself onstage with a band I’ve never seen or collapsing bridges.

So what is real? The stuff we read in the news, most of which is someone’s version of whatever? Even journalists skip research, accept biased sources as reliable, blink.
Where is our money? What does it stand for? What are all these charts and graphs we see every day? The theoretical polls and opinion barometers?

Where is the music? Bits of digital information on a disc? Where is art? What is the meaning of the Nobel prize, or any award in a culture where more information is ignored and suppressed than shared. How many artists come out repeating notes that have been done thousands of times before? If no one calls them on it, they get away with it.

So what’s the solution? Some kind of Big Brother? To insure that people don’t cheat? To watch out when some computer hacker simply deletes the balance of your bank account and the ATM teller doesn’t shrug its shoulders or express any kind of remorse when you try to withdraw something? Does anyone come on the Cramer show, in the flesh, and beat him because they have no retirement fund?

How about simple human honesty and accountability? Realizing that what you dreamed or schemed doesn’t really cut it. How about actually facing your neighbors down? Your shareholders? The candidates go out and shake hands and hold babies. How many do this after the fact?

Suze Orman didn’t shift positions. She is the real uncorrupted Martha Stewart. She is the new American mother figure. If McCain had picked her as running mate instead of the Stepford Barbie, he might actually have had an edge. But she wasn't cheesecakey. She'd definitely support gay marriage. And I have no idea of her politics and of course would never vote Republican. But why doesn’t someone appoint her to the Federal Reserve? She’d have Paulson running like a skinned rabbit. He and Cramer have a fat bank balance. She does too, but I salute her. How bad does Paulson feel? Not. He’s a little hoarse, but that’s just the strain of concealing reality from Americans. He doesn’t have a letter in his mailbox describing the new automated foodstamp system. Which is bound to be abused within days.

The new American dream is reality. The messed up, bankrupt version they’ve served us.
I know life is getting pretty hallucinatory and the media has us all seeing and hearing double. But we can wake up and find the dream. I believe this. At least one of my heads does.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Wreck-javik

I used to dream about moving to Iceland. Land of Purity, Sigur Ros, Deserted Farmhouses… endless subarctic vistas. Home of the Sagas, Laxness. Bankrupt. A whole country. Geysers…volcanoes. These bastards. These greedy Wall Street credit-swapping rich bastards. Economic rape. The end of whatever version of innocence was possible in this world— Christmas, birthday wrapping, cake and trick-or-treating. They spoiled it. For what? So they could super-size their second and third homes, put a Tag Heuer on every child’s wrist? A Ferrari in every garage? A golf course in every gated community?

My personal economics haven’t changed much. I refuse foodstamps. I have a brain, I still refuse to pay $2 for a pretzel, even when I’m starving. Waiting for a bus at Grand Central last night, one of the vendors offered me one for $1. It was the best tasting food I’d had all week …hot, fresh, smoky. A food value investment. When I boarded the hourly crosstown at 3 AM, the guy waved to me. Is this a sign of the times? Love, I felt. A certain human camaraderie. The kind most people forget about. The kind these Hedge Fund guys don’t feel at $10,000-a-plate dinners.

I refuse to live on credit, which is a form of rich-man’s charity, with not just strings but chains and handcuffs. For the poor, that is. I choose freedom.

The rich? They not only lived on credit, but banked millions from this. Monopoly money. And the worldwide piggy bank has shaken itself out. So who gets punished? If I see either Bernanke or Henry Paulson one more time I’m going to puke. Unless they are wearing one of those John Doe uniforms and out shoveling. Call me then.

How can we have let these assholes run with our ball? Our country? Because we are a race of ostriches and media-anesthetized morons who don’t complain as long as our cable and cellphones are working?

My old British grandfather once advised me that if he could not die with a million pounds, it was just as well to die owing a million pounds. Apparently his ethic is universal. Personally, I have a moral aversion to slavery. Borrowing for poor people, I reiterate, is not pretending you are a rich person, but a kind of slavery.

Because there are two sets of rules. Two sets of standards. Two sets of consequences. There is the occasional wrist-slap of bad behaviour among the rich, and there are the dismal prisons and brutal beatings for the poor. A wallet-snatcher is beaten mercilessly by local police, handcuffed and denied the right to vote while in prison. But a billion-dollar credit-snatcher gets 10 years of excessive Hampton-weekends, gourmet meals, platinum cards and 7-figure bonuses. And then? A bailout. His buddies are on the Federal Reserve fixing things so he can keep his homes and his children’s ponies will not suffer.

Meanwhile my investment banker neighbors are planning a massive renovation of our lobby. Undoubtedly they still have several million of their last Christmas bonus in some kind of bank, will hire their colleagues, receive the standard 10-20% kickback which will cover their portion of the assessment. The rest of us? We will be billed. Along with our tax increases and excessive oil bills so these neighbors can run their Jacuzzis overtime.

I play in a band with a guy who wears earplugs and blasts his guitar so that my ear-damage is beginning to affect my existence. My passion for music, which has maybe placed me in the undesireable economic category I am in..is going to be destroyed by an individual whose MO is ‘all bout me’. All. He whines, he blasts. He ignores. Accountability? There is a parallel here.

But for others, life seems to go on. There are lines at Starbucks, rush-hour traffic jams. There will be a debate tonight. Neither candidate will be able to keep promises, because there is no money. But people are content with this. Cash comes out of ATM machines. As for me, I have a phobia of plastic. I don’t like it. My bank doesn’t make much from my account. I don’t accrue fees, I don’t borrow. My credit is excellent, even though I live at the national poverty level. In Manhattan. When I get yesterday’s rolls I give a couple to the homeless guy on the corner. I am accountable. Am I accountable for those who are less fortunate? For those who may be helpless victims of their own accountability? I feel this. I really do. I am obsolete, aging, badly dressed, underfed, and losing my hearing along with my religion. But I am accountable.

I used to dream about moving to Iceland. Now I am wondering if deaf people dream with soundtracks.