Poor Us: The Great Depression 2.0

April 29, 2009

Fun in Acapulco? Really? Poor Us correspondent reports from Mexico’s travel trade show Tianguis Turistico

Influenza by Cyphermx via Deviantart.com With the global economy tanking and a nasty Narco War raging, the Mexican Ministry of Tourism was really looking to book a win at their 34th annual tourism trade show Tiagnguis Turistico in Acapulco.

I’m sure they imagined the odds were in their favor. What else could possibly go wrong? As it turns out, the bad stuff was just getting started (don’t you hate when that happens?).

The travel industry pros—the people that organize conventions, package tours, weddings, and the people who write about it—arrived in Acapulco on Sunday, the day before a traveler’s advisory went into effect and a pandemic of panic headlines circled the globe faster than the Swine Flu outbreak they were freaking out about.

Luckily, there had been no reported cases of the flu in Acapulco, so they decided to go on with the show, holding meetings outside and nixing discos and other venues where too much mixing with the locals might turn out to be, well, fatal.

So far so good?  Not so fast, the god of screw you wasn’t done with Acapulco yet,  as Poor Us correspondent Traveljones reported: “ We had an earthquake, a 5.6, while I was blogging in the press room. People were sprinting for the exits.”

How fun is that? Despite earthquake, epidemic and the Bullet Flu, (as Jon Stewart nicknamed the drug war),  Traveljones reports that Tiagnguis Turistico stuck as close as possible to business as usual. “Es la economía, estúpido,” is the bottom line on both sides of the border:Fun in Acapulco or is Elvis examining Ursula Andress for Swine Flu symptoms?

Flu news came after the conference started, so it didn’t keep people away, though  some people have left early, partly because of the flu and partly because business is slow this year in general.

I mean the flu isn’t really as huge a topic as you’d think. People are more concerned about the lack of business to Mexico, with US travelers freaked out by yet another story about big bad Mexico and canceling their trips left and right. Some people are wearing masks, but from what’s been said the outbreak has been in the southern section of Mexico City, the huge teeming barrio of bottom rungers.

The narco war isn’t really a topic, since everyone here (travel agents, travel writers) knows that the places with all the violence (Tijuana, Juarez) have never been travel destinations, and those places aren’t represented here anyway.

As far as the recession, most people in this country have been living in permanent recession/depression anyway, farther down the ladder than ours even goes. But yeah, this’ll take them one step lower since tourism is a major industry here. I guess one way they’re dealing with it is the tons of deals they have here now, more than ever. I mean, in general, things are subdued but people are still out, life goes on and they gotta make a buck.  TJ

April 28, 2009

Who Puts the Swine in Swine Flu? Republicans Do.

Filed under: Reduced Circumstances — Tags: , , , , , — debacled @ 2:05 am


Well, I suppose it’s kind of a cheap shot to point out that Republicans stripped $900 million for pandemic preparedness out of the Obama Stimulus Bill on the grounds that it was pork.

Indeed, we probably should be worried about this sinister-sounding story that appeared in The Independent :

“…alarming reports from Mexico City, Felipe Solis, a distinguished archaeologist who showed Mr. .Obama around the city’s anthropology museum during his visit to Mexico earlier this month, died the next day from "flu-like symptoms." via The Copycat Effect

However, Obama doesn’t seem to have the flu (at least not that they’re telling us) and the Republicans do have it coming.  After all, they’ve spent decades trying to convince Americans that government is useless and spendthrift by recklessly undermining public services and safety from Katrina to climate change to credit card regulations while hogging all the tax cuts and government contracts for their porcine pals.  Somehow, Swine Flu seems a fitting end for them, but the rest of us deserve the best pandemic preparedness government “pork” can buy.

Republicans Strip Stimulus Money for Pandemic via The Guardian

According to John Nichols of The Nation, back during the January-February stimulus fight, Republicans in Congress stripped about $900 million from the package that was intended to…drumroll…fight pandemics. Yep.
One could plausibly argue, I suppose, that pandemic-prevention spending did not exactly count as stimulus in the same way that rail construction did. But Democratic members of Congress like David Obey of Wisconsin countered that argument this way, writes Nichols:

Obey and other advocates for the spending argued, correctly, that a pandemic hitting


April 23, 2009

The “D” Word Heard Around the World (Clue: It’s Not Daffodil)

by Mike Luckovich via TruthdigWhile Wall Street dicks around trying to figure out how to by give back the TARP money (so they can keep their bonuses) and manipulate Obama’s Public/Private Partnership plan to buy up toxic assets (so they can make an illicit killing for themselves on the taxpayer’s dime), global grownups are urging them to get a grip.  It’s no longer a matter of beating around the Bush; pros from the IMF to Harvard are now calling this economic clusterfuck by its right name—a Depression

Here’s how they’re using it in context:

Global recession worst since Depression, IMF says

The International Monetary Fund declared Wednesday, for what it said was "by far the deepest global recession since the Great Depression."

Even with many countries taking bold steps to turn things around, the global economy will shrink 1.3 percent this year, the IMF predicted in its dour forecast.

"We can be fairly confident that in 2010 or even 2011, economies will not be back to normal," said IMF chief economist Olivier Blanchard. "Which means that governments should today basically think at least about contingent plans for infrastructure spending. … Next year will be too late."

(read on)

Via AP

Harvard Economic Historian Says, "We’re in a depression."

Two big-time economic thinkers …  Jeff Madrick, a Senior Fellow at the New School’s Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis, faced Niall Ferguson, Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University and William Ziegler Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. Moderator Brian Lehrer, host of the Brian Lehrer Show, asked tough questions about the economic crisis.

Ferguson took the question first. “We’re not in a recession,” he said. “We’re in a depression. I would say it’s a slight depression, rather than a Great Depression, but we’re looking at five years of subprime growth.” . (read on)

via Recessionwire

Recession has features of a depression: California unemployment rate reaches 11.2%

Unemployment in California shot to 11.2% in March, the highest level since the state began keeping records. What’s more, the number of people out of work for almost a year rose by 9.4%, and has now doubled in the last 12 months.

An average of 211,000 Californians have been unemployed for more than 47 weeks over the last year, the state reported. These people now account for about 14% of California’s approximately 1.5 million jobless.

“This recession has features of a depression,” said Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor historian at UC Santa Barbara. “We get these very long-time people being out of work. They sort of disappear to a never-never land.”

  Los Angeles Times   via G.O.O.D.

April 22, 2009

O Zud, We Broke Mongolia, Too

Filed under: Reduced Circumstances — Tags: , , , — debacled @ 6:04 pm

Cashmere couple The Global Downturn Lands With a Zud on Mongolia’s Nomads – WSJ.com Falling demand for cashmere among recession-hit shoppers in the West is cutting into earnings among nomadic herders in Mongolia, whose goats produce the soft fiber used in high-end sweaters, scarves and coats. The result: herder loan defaults.

Mongolians are calling the current situation a financial zud, invoking a local term for unusually harsh winters that devastate herds.

WSJ’s Josh Chin’s photo shows the glut of meat flooding Mongolian butchers since herders started to sell off their livestock to make payments on overdue bank loans

Cashmere kasimiya_jpg Mongolian butchers swamped with meat as herds are sold to pay debts, photo by John Chin WSJ

Oligarchs Rule! (But Not In A Good Way)

Crushing  the American Dream by discogangsta via DeviantArt.com

“President Bush announced his new economic plan. The centerpiece was a proposed repeal of the dividend tax on stocks, a boon that could be worth millions of dollars to average Americans. Well, average stock-owning Americans. Technically, Americans who own a significant amount of shares in dividend-dealing companies. Well, rich people, that’s what I’m trying to say. They’re going to do really well with this.” Jon Stewart, The Daily Show

Yesterday we learned (and isn’t it ironic?) that many of the really rich people at the pin-head-tiny top of the economic pyramid, the top 1% of US income getters, just happen to work for the banks and financial institutions whose Three-Card-Monty investment schemes wrought this fresh hell in which we now find ourselves.

Who are these privileged few? Some call them oligarchs, running the world with their cabal of elites.  Others say they’re plutocrats, the lucky few whose wealth gives them near total control.

One thing is clear, they think small d-democracy is a sucker’s game. One of the angry bankers Poor Us talked about yesterday complained about Obama’s tax increase, ranting that he already “supported 20 poor families” with his tax dollars. He’s absolutely convinced he’s not only entitled to a salary (plus bonuses!) big enough to maintain an entire village of serfs while allowing him to live like a king (a really rich king), he thinks the serfs are exploiting him. Whoa! Maybe he’s just an asshole.

Whatever you  want to call them, they are a breed most  serfers didn’t know too much about. Until they crashed the economy, that is.  Now, we’re obliged to get acquainted with these self-anointed Masters of the Universe so we won’t get fooled again. And your re-education starts here with the Poor Us Better-Know-Your-Oligarch Primer.  Coming soon: The Peasant’s Guide to Getting Even:

The Pirate Pose by Tom Wolfe, Portfolio Magazine, May 2007

Twenty years after The Bonfire of the Vanities, the author checks in on the new masters of the universe and finds them even coarser and ruder than their predecessors could have ever.

First, they have more money, infinitely more, than any of the various waves of new money that preceded them, with the possible exception of robber barons on the order of John D. Rockefeller, who, incidentally, was regarded as a rude Pocantico hillbilly Baptist by society in New York a hundred years ago. Hedge funds have what investment managers call “the greatest business plan of all time,” known as “2 and 20.” Each year the typical fund takes 20 percent of the return plus 2 percent of the

total investments. Some of the hottest managers, such as Icahn and Stevie Cohen, reportedly take 50 percent of the profits.  (read on)

The Quiet Coup by Simon Johnson, The Atlantic, May 2009

Johnson is a former economist with the International Monetary Fund, now writes the Baseline Scenario blog, is a contributor to NPR’s Planet Money and the New York Times.

American financial industry gained political power by amassing a kind of cultural capital—a belief system. Once, perhaps, what was good for General Motors was good for the country. Over the past decade, the attitude took hold that what was good for Wall Street was good for the country. The banking-and-securities industry has become one of the top contributors to political campaigns, but at the peak of its influence, it did not have to buy favors the way, for example, the tobacco companies or military contractors might have to. Instead, it benefited from the fact that Washington insiders already believed that large financial institutions and free-flowing capital markets were crucial to America’s position in the world. (read on)

The Big Takeover by Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone Magazine, April 2009

So it’s time to admit it: We’re fools, protagonists in a kind of gruesome comedy about the marriage of greed and stupidity. And the worst part about it is that we’re still in denial — we still think this is some kind of unfortunate accident, not something that was created by the group of psychopaths on Wall Street whom we allowed to gang-rape the American Dream. (read on)

The Dirty Dozen, Rolling Stone Magazine, April 2009

Meet the bankers and brokers responsible for the financial crisis – and the officials who let them get away with it. (read on)

April 21, 2009

Wall St. Pity Party: “Government wants us to be slaves!”

Greed_by_jane_vivian When the Ivy League held classes in Introductory Irony, Jon Stewart must have been the only dude who showed up. (Okay, Stewart and the guys who grew up to be The Daily Show’s smarty pants writing staff.)

“What a clown,” his frosh classmates might have said as they swarmed into Goldman-Sachs Capitalist Tool  Training Shed. By the time they emerged four years later wearing bespoke suits and fondling BlackBerries, if Stewart had quipped, “What are you supposed to be? The ’fighter pilots of capitalism’?” he would have been met with silence. Capitalist Tools won’t even get a joke unless it’s at somebody else’s expense.

You, however, are certain to laugh, cry, laugh more(maybe in a scary way mixed with uncontrollable sobbing) while reading Gabriel Sherman’s current article in New York Magazine,  The Wail of the 1%: The Rage of the Privileged Class As It Loses It’s Privileges.

Here’s a few randomly selected highlights to get your heart pumping, your eyes rolling and your irony meter spinning faster than the hands on the national debt clock:

There’s a vast woundedness now on Wall Street, which is hard to contemplate after the period of triumphalism so recently ended. In this conversation about money, there’s a lot to work through. Just months ago, the masses kept what anger they had to themselves, and the bankers were close-lipped about what they thought they were owed by society. There wasn’t much of a dialogue about the haves and have-nots and who was entitled to what. For the privileged, it was a lot more comfortable when things remained unspoken. Almost more than the loss of money, they are concerned with the loss of status and pride.

“I was at a cocktail party on Friday. Some guy said to me, ‘You work on Wall Street? How’s that working out for you?’ ” says the JPMorgan banker who was forced out in a recent round of layoffs. “There was a little bit of nastiness there.”

“Nastiness”? Really? Pretty thin skinned for someone who was in a business that took huge risks with other people’s money—like nurses’ pension funds, for instance, and your 401K–and then joked “IBG, YBG” “I’ll be gone. You’ll be gone,“ code for “We’ll collect our bonuses now and be long gone before anyone finds out the deal is no good.”


April 18, 2009

A Fable: Crash Takes NY Street Artist from Hard Times to Happy Days

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — debacled @ 5:55 am

Picture via My Life On (and Off) the GuestThis is a fairytale for anyone who has toiled away at any endeavor-–science, art, invention, entrepreneurship, love—without pay, or recognition, and, especially in these bleak times, with diminishing hope that your creation will ever catch on. 

Artists struggle, they starve, they die believing themselves to be failures only to become posthumous geniuses whose newly understood masterpieces rake in praise and fortune the artist never sees. That’s why it’s called dying for your art.

Even the tiny handful of artists who find fame while alive enough to enjoy it apparently are still required to suffer.  Not too long ago Poor Us posted about photographer Annie Leibovitz who pawned her life’s work—past, present and future–to pay off her debts.

 Boom2Bust blogged that the art market has plunged 35 percent during the first quarter of the year “as cash-strapped collectors looked to unload works by postwar masters that had earlier boomed in price along with the stock market. “

It’s a harsh reality, which is why the story of artist Peter Zonis is so very gratifying  on the face of it.  Let’s start with his life before the crash as reported by The New York Times in October, 2008.

Mr. Zonis is no stranger to financial hardship. 

“With all of my talent,” he said, “until I was in my mid-40s I had never sold any work.” Mr. Zonis, who grew up outside Boston, said that after graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design, he moved to New York in the early 1980s. His first job was on Wall Street designing corporate reports for an investment firm while studying at the Art Students League.

He was working at the Museum of Modern Art bookstore, making $10 an hour, he says, when fate intervened and Elle Petrincic, an Australian redhead who is now his manager and muse, came into his life.


April 16, 2009

Texas Mad At Taxes, Wants to Split Up with US

Texas Thank god you're in When the Supreme Court picked George W. Bush as POTUS, many left-wingnuts threatened to move to Canada. Who knows whether any of them defected, but it sure would have been easier than trying to stop W.’s dismantling of this country through civil protest.  Those who tried that were mocked and vilified as unpatriotic, terrorist sympathizers who hated America.

Now that the guard has changed, it seems that what those right-wingnuts meant to say was that true American-loving patriots don’t leave their country, they secede, which is like leaving without the bother of actually having to go elsewhere or giving up the stuff you like about where you are. If you ever wondered how George W. arrived at his Me-centric world view, now you know.

So yesterday while some Americans across the country participated in Tea Party Tax Protests, despite the historically low Federal tax rates–

The CBO estimates that the average family forked over 9 percent of its earnings to the IRS in 2006, the most recent year for which information is available. The effective tax rate hit its all-time low in 2003 and has crept up only slightly since. (more…)

April 15, 2009

Ways the Economy Will Change Poor Us? #1 Rise of Gen Millennial Clans

WALTZ_FARM Earlier I posted about the The Christian Science Monitor’s 10 Ways the Economy Will Be Different, an article that offered reasonable assumptions about how the crash will change our economic future and how we’ll adapt.

Personally, I have seen no evidence that we can be level-headed in financial matters given that not long ago the median home price in this area was $1million but people kept buying based on the belief that home values always rise. With that level of credulity mixed with wishful thinking, I feel sure our economic Tomorrowland will be far more unpredictable, fractious and changed than the penny-pinching, EBay shopping reality of the CSM’s list of ten.

How far will the paradigm shift? So far, the Poor Us Economic Outlook is a list of one.  It will grow as I find surmises as good as this one from Adam Nathaniel Mayer’s NewGeography blog post, The Millennials First Recession. As a member of the 20ish Millennial generation, Mayer and many members of his cohort are fresh out of college and have already lost their first jobs.  They’re finding it difficult to find new jobs given that the Baby Boomers (Millennials


April 14, 2009

Easter Egg Salad: “Helicopter Ben” Buzzes SF Fed; H/T to Madoff in NY

Helicopter Ben Buzzs SF Fed Protest

Bunny Better at Hiding Loot

An Obama Ninja disguised as Helicopter Ben” Bernanke buzzed  San Francisco ahead of the Easter Bunny Saturday to drop a delicious load of inflation fighting cashsfprotest.jpg to the Federal Bank.  The 200 protesters picketing the location attempted to stop delivery but were foiled by Obamanke’s aerial derring-do and a mad grab by 50 police  officers scrambling to protect the crowd from a downpour of $100 bills unleashed by military personnel. via Silicon Investor

Ponzi’d Easter Bonnets

At the other end of Easter Sunday Liz Borod Wright of Travelogged reports in Recessionwire that New York has its own style of protesting the financial crisis:

“One family got more creative – and that New York has protesters too timely. The parents, their teenage daughter and dog all wore Lost-Our-Nest-Egg hats. But these weren’t ordinary victims of the downturn: The mother wasn’t shy about telling everyone that they had lost their savings to none other than Bernie Madoff.

“For added effect, they were waving around a coffee mug for donations. The daughter was heard telling her parents that “someone from another country” put some money in the cup after taking their photo.”
h/t Calculated Risk

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