So far, the current US financial upheavals have not effected me. I don’t own stocks or real estate and I don’t carry debt. The collapse of the housing market, Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac, and the large insurance and banking houses didn’t even cause my blood pressure to rise. In fact, they didn’t even come as a surprise.
Reading (and Viewing) Beyond the Mainstream
One reason might be my reading. In my student years I read Marx. The effort I put into Marx might have cut into my time at the front lines of the sexual revolution but it paid off by prompting me to see through myths of the efficiency and beneficence of “markets” and realize the myopic inefficiencies of enterprise-based profit motives. Most important — to my spirit albeit not to my “net worth” — it led me to look for value in the inherent worth of things rather than in their speculative potential.
I’ve also always looked beyond the traditional press. I cut my political-reading-teeth on the legendary I.F. Stone’s courageous belated “Weekly.” Since the 1980s, I’ve subscribed to Doug Henwood’s Left Business Observer, a little known and erratically published broadsheet that uses economic analysis to see through, rather than justify or exploit, economic news and trends. Today, in the Internet age, I read Jim Kunstler’s Clusterfuck Nation which passionately and knowledgeably explores the relationships between infrastructure and economy and the prices to be paid for urban sprawl and SUV-driving suburbia. And, in the age of diminishing attention spans, I’ve become a loyal viewer of the short videos of the Internets Celebrities, Rafi Kam and Dallas Penn, producers and presenters of “Bronx Bodega” and “Check Mate” (to view the videos click on the appropriate icons at the top of Celebrities’ site).
Back in July I met Dallas Penn for bagels and lox in a luncheonette near Flatbush Avenue to discuss ideas relevant to the Celebrity’s planned new production “Real(?) Estate.” The basic idea (without giving away plot or “MacGuffin”): The Celebrities would, in their usual mix of contrived innocence and spot-on insight, hit the streets (and apartment buildings) throughout the city to prod and expose the abstract and illusory nature of urban property ownership, down to the trade in air-rights.
The Internet Celebrities, by the way, are models of fiscal prudence. Their productions are not financed by loans or “IPO”s and will not be bailed-out if they fail. Instead, their videos are funded by plain old-fashioned cash donations from ordinary hard-working (or slothful) folks like you and me. You can play your part by clicking here. And do it quickly! Had the Celebrities been able to get “Real(?) Estate” out six months ago, the mortgage crisis and subsequent financial implosion might never have taken place.
During our discussion of the tulip-crisis-like trade in sliced-and-diced three-dimensional urban space, Dallas Penn pointed out that sports stadiums occupy volumes of space that could house thousands or tens of thousands of people or serve as immense urban parks, yet they are used for mere parts of each day for, on average, only 80-some-odd days a year. This does not mean that stadiums should be done away with but that new stadium projects should be carefully weighed.
The Yankee Stadium project is a case in point. Last week, Bill Moyers echoed Dallas Penn in a close-of-show editorial exposing the new stadium as a publicly-financed boondoggle benefiting the private sector — a Mae-and-Mac/AIG/WAMU meets the “national pass-time” as it were. At tremendous public expense and little cost to its private-sector owners, the old stadium is being replaced with a new one that will have a capacity of 5,000 fewer seats but a greater number of corporate “private box” facilities. The new stadium will occupy a larger footprint of Bronx territory than the old one did but will feed less back into the local economy of (as the Internet Celebrities underscored in “Bronx Bodega”) the poorest urban county in the United States. Not least, the stadium project sweeps away a cultural if not physical monument — the “House that Babe Built” — the longest lasting of New York’s one-time legendary troika of baseball fields (the other two, Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds in Manhattan, fell victim to … real estate development).
Footnote: Impeach Palin In Advance and Dallas Penn on the Presidential Debates
Bob Herbert writes about the crisis obscured by the current financial crises, i.e. the apocalyptic crisis that could ensue if Palin would ever accede to the presidency. Herbert calls on Republicans to dump Palin from their ticket now — abortion for the good of the nation, as it were. And, voters should think hard about what the Palin nomination tells us about the kind of administration McCain would appoint if elected.
Dallas Penn voices the frustration many of us felt as Obama pulled his punches during the debate, letting McCain off the hook a number of times and compromising his own positions and personality, as well as the stances of his supporters, in a possible attempt to woo centrist and “undecided” voters. When reading Dallas’s post, however, don’t waste time on the link to the infantile video by Sarah Silverman. Silverman’s ”Uncle Moses-ing” and suburban whine are offensive. Contrary to Silverman’s view-from-the-suburbs, out here in Brooklyn we have many Jews (this writer included) whose politics are far, far to the LEFT of Obama’s, who do not necessarily define themselves in terms of America’s racial bifurcations, and who have never been to Florida nor even thought of owning a Cadillac (well, one that runs, anyway!).