Friday, November 28, 2008


I'm not an economist, but I think it fair at this juncture to ask everyone from the Obama on down at what point the bailout of banks and financial institutions, which have already brought us the "bubble and bust suite for whiners in zed minor" becomes the next great bubble--the great bailout bubble, "money for nothing and the chicks for free," as Mark Knopfler says. Watch the way the markets gyrate or vibrate in tune to the latest large figure bailout given one of their own without strings or consequence and then ask yourself, would i turn that down? What incentives do the financial institutions have to clean up their acts, as long as they can run to the federal government for tens to hundreds of billions more. Maybe these banks are currently "too big to fail," in which case the minimum price for bailing them out must be their break up. They must be brought back to manageable size. They also must be forced to account for all of these "toxic" loans, to prove the problems are what they claim they are. For its part, the government must withhold more handouts until the accounting is made and financial penalties are assessed against the principals involved in creating the mess. Without that accounting and those penalties, we are left feeding the great bailout bubble--the greatest of them all.

As to the auto industry. I would hate for working people to suffer for the sins of their managers, but I don't want to reward the auto companies for their decades of obstructionism, either. They have fought energy efficiency and pollution control--not only fought but also evaded those regulations that do apply. They have gleefully profited. while refusing to back reforms, like universal health care, that would help make their domestic operations more competitive. Beyond that, I don't buy American cars, so why should I want to give the company money for continuing to make the same crap that brought it here?

Far better, I think, to shore up workers' pensions and enact single payer national health care. Then the government should let the auto makers management figure it out--that is come up with a plan to reconfigure themselves and their products toward energy efficiency: economy, including price of purchase and operation; and safety. No more SUVs or light trucks, except stripped down models that each company can easily modify with plug-ins and that meet the same mileage and emissions standards as cars, The government should also make small, directed investment in new businesses, including those designing and building new vehicles.

The government also has the responsibility for establishing uniform standards for hook-ups for recharging centers and devices, so that time and money are not wasted on different protocols that will not talk to each other. The key here is to build on the already extensive and uniform gas station sysem, so that people in electric vehicles scan receive a rapid recharge or new battery pack in the time it now takes to fill a car with gas--or not much longer. As solar cells improve, there is no reason they can't be built into the car for recharging on the fly.

Finally, the government should put research and development money now being wasted on "star wars" defense systems that don't work into developing a flywheel that will work to power electric cars--into solving the flywheel problem, as it were. Simply, the flywheel would capture and store energy as the car rolls and use that energy to power the car.

The point is that we had better get a huge return for this staggering investment or we are sunk. As nearly as I can tell we are currently getting squat.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Loaf

South Florida is known as a tough place to make bread, largely, the bakers I've talked to seem to agree, because of the humidity, which makes the moisture level of flour so variable that each time out requires a different amount of water. Even if you get that right, the humidity will turn your crust to mush more often than not. This bread is an exception: The recipe is based on a "no-knead bread" recipe from the New York Times, November 8, 2oo6--Mark Bittman's adaptation of a recipe he got from Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery. This time I used King Arthur White Whole Wheat flour, which suddenly appeared in the local Publix; otherwise, here's what I do:
Mix in a big bowl 6 cups flour--white whole wheat, but whole wheat or unbleached all-purpose white works too
1/2 teaspoon yeast
3 teaspoons fine sea salt
1 steel cut oats (optional)
Add 3 to 3 1/2 cups cold, as in chilled water
Thoroughly incorporate water and flour with your hands or a paddle but do not knead more than necessary to do that, if need you must. The result is a wet, tacky blob. Cover the bowl with a dish towel and let it set in a cool part of the house overnight. When usually little bubbles bursting cover the top, knock it down, knead once or twice, cover and let sit again until the surface is covered with bubbles--size seems related to whether the flour is whole wheat or white. Sometimes, I caution, the dough at this point remains soupy--chalk it up to the humidity and proceed; it will produce something better than most of what you get in the store. Preheat over to 450 with a Dutch oven or some other heavy pot with cover in it--I find a cast iron Dutch oven the best. Knock the dough down and turn it onto a cornmeal--or oat or flour--coated dish towel; cover and let proof while oven warms. Once that is done, remove the Dutch oven or whatever--it's very hot, so be careful, dump in the dough--it's really like a slow slop off the towel--cover it up and put in the oven for a righteous 50 minutes to an hour, depending on moisture levels. Let it cool and enjoy.

It's counterintuitive because the dough is damp in a place where dampness is blamed for bad bread, but it works. The rising time for this bread, depending on temperature and humidity, is anywhere from 8 to 20 hours.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Bush and Cheney Should Resign

Yesterday morning I was telling people that Bush and Cheney should resign together, thereby making Nancy Pelosi president. This morning I read Gail Collins saying that very thing in her column in the New York Times. I chalk that up not to some mystical cross-channeling of a woman I've never met, although I do enjoy her column, but to the pure logic of the suggestion. The most obvious and pressing resaons for the switch are that we need a leader in place who is not only competent but also not afraid to lead, and the Obama cannot take over until 20 January 2009. Pelosi, though, would make the ideal caretaker, with the Obamans to straighten out the farce that the Henry Paulson run bailout has become--trasnspose a couple of letters and TARP becomes TRAP, and that's what we're in for the next 2 months unless Bush-Cheney hit the road.

They can cite "grotesque incompetence that has repeatedly put the country and its citizens at risk." Specifically, in times of crisis the President has gone AWOL: down a rabbit hole immediately after 9/11--true, first he went on a plane ride that pointedly did not return him to Washington to take command; out to lunch in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, thereby letting the city sink and drown; god knows where for the financial meltdown--well, he did organize a propaganda summit so John McCain so could show himself a great leader by solving the collapse of the world's financial markets. Cheney has to go because he has been ruining the government for the duration of the Bush reign and has now apparently retired to his favorite undisclosed bunker and hunkered down.

Historians and economists seem to agree that the current vacuum is dangerous for the economy and therefor everyone. Someone needs to take charge and that someone is Pelosi, who not coincidentally would then become the first woman president, making this an historic time indeed in the quest for equality.

The only problem with this scenario is that Bush and Cheney won't do it. Their neglect of their duties and subversion of the law in order to kidnap and torture people, launch illegal wars, undercut enironmental regulations, and grant sweetheart contracts to their friends and supprters in fact have been their policies for eight years. They're not about to change when they are on the verge of creating real Chaos.

Too bad, that.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bail Me Out

The ship of late 20th century American capitalism has run ashoal and now wants the government to bail, meaning it has effectively capitulated to the Marxist dialectic. I used to think that in funding worker retirement plans with company stock and granting stock options to an expanding pool of employees corporations were creating the possibility that those employees would come to control and then own the company--and worker ownership of the means of production is key if capitalism is to be party to its own demise. But incrementalism has no real place in the current global economic meltdown. What we have is a line of international corporations begging the US Treasury for money to save them from their own antisocial greed, which has brought them to ruin, and they use the threat of tens of thousands of lost jobs to justify the bailout, while preparing to renege on retirement and health insurance obligations and to lay off those tens of thousands even if they receive government funds. Thus, General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler are begging, but what I'm not hearing is what government will require of them--and require it should because it should not loan a dime without equity in return and some major changes. Here are some suggestions:

1. The SUV is dead. The car companies are in crisis now because they put all their effort into producing the gas guzzling monsters that imperiled drivers of small, energy efficient cars, not to mention the world. The car companies spent millions of dollars to avoid meeting strict gas mileage and pollution standards. When gas prices soared, sales collapsed and the industry had few other lines to promote.

2. Bailout money is earmarked for developing and building energy efficient low polluting cars, More is available for the car companies that are willing to make solid, reliable alernative energy vehicles. In other words, it is time to solve the flywheel and battery problems in a way that will make electric vehicles viable.

3. The corporations agree to support fully a single-payer national health plan administered through Medicare. that's good business.

4. No executive's salary can exceed 30 times the salary of the corporation's lowest paid employee. If that is $20,000 a year, the CEO earns no more than $600,000 a year, This applies to financial institutions, hedge funds--all businesses that do business beyond their state boundaries.

5. Companies failing to meet their retirement obligations must boost their social security contributions; they will not run retirement funds again; rather they will pay that share into social security. There is no need to privatize social security by the way because it will already own controlling interest in the company.

Those are starters. I'll think of more later.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Obama

Aa reader asked me a few weeks ago why I called him "the Obama?" I said because he is sui generis, unique. Here is this man who undertook this highly implausible, dark horse campaign for the presidency against the woman who fancied the nomination of the Democratic Party hers, against the party establishment she and her husband controlled, against the weight of centuries of the vilest forms of racism, this darkest of horses who stayed on course and on stride despite being batterred from all sides by racists and bigots, who refused to sink to their level, and for all of that won a resounding victory. In so doing he rocketed America once more to the center of the world's dreams. He is prooff to my mind that miracles can happen!