The wheels keep churning in Washington regarding a housing solution for homeless vets, the use of three unused buildings on the West LA VA property. Bobby Shriver has his teeth into this one and just won’t let go, so my guess is these buildings will be converted. Shriver has convinced his brother-in-law, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, of this good idea, and when the opportunity presented itself the two of them walked Jim Nicholson, then-Secretary of Veterans Affairs, over to the property. Once he saw the situation, it became a “no brainer” and just a matter of time until Congressman Henry Waxman also started to support the idea. Shriver knows how to bring odd couples together. (The Bush Administration and Henry Waxman? Or how about getting Jesse Helms to support AIDS funding!?) He is a pretty impressive politician, and when this project gets final approval he will have done a service for our community, but most important he will have served a constituency often neglected – homeless vets.
* * * *
Those dang folks at the Federal Reserve. How can we as a country allow the banks to control the interest rates and amount of money in the system just to serve bankers? Most countries control their own central banking system and would never think of setting these guys loose on the public. Let’s be perfectly clear about this: The Federal Reserve does not represent the American public, they represent the banking system. That is their charter.
In order to raise yields to investors and give more product and profit to sell to the banking industry, the Federal Reserve designed and gave the clear go-ahead to sell sub-prime home loans. Yep, that’s right, those fine independent bankers at the Fed pushed these loans hard and fast. And then what did they do? By golly, they started to raise interest rates, higher and higher, until all of a sudden, lo and behold, the American public got hit with an increase they can’t handle. So much so that many are in jeopardy of losing their homes. At the interest rates at which the homes were bought, foreclosure was not an issue.
The Fed in all its wisdom kept jacking up interest rates to protect the moneyed bond-holding class of this country from losing money to inflation (not the American public who traditionally benefits from wage increases – the deadliest sin to these bankers). Homes are in jeopardy. Just when it seems as though they might consider lowering those rates a tad, they act like Herbert Hoover and wait for millions of people to stress out, for stock markets to panic, for homebuilding to cease and for home values to plummet. They wait for this thing to “correct” itself. You boneheads – you messed it up, now fix it. Lower the dang rates and stop gouging the public with your extra profits due to higher interest rates.
That’s right – the higher the interest rates, the more the banks make. Notice how all the credit card interest rates have gone up? They key their rates to the prime lending rate (say, 20-25 percent over!!) and find new ways to gouge us. MBNA even went so far as to hold checks from members until they were past due and then hit them with a usury late fee. These people have no shame. I remember the days when B of A gave me a “relationship” banking officer. And you know what, it helped and really did some good. Try to get one nowadays that has any authority to do anything to help. Bankers can be nice people, don’t get me wrong, but they are completely helpless to do anything on their own, as all decisions must go to “committee” or San Francisco or wherever else they harbor the headquarters.
But I digress. My chief complaint today is with the Federal Reserve that stands idly by as we pay more and more INTEREST to it. Talk about a hidden tax. (Profit? We don’t even get a road out of it.) Of course, President Bush wasted no time saying he opposed helping individual homeowners. Duh, just look at the sordid history of his brother Neil Bush who was at the center of the 80s savings and loan debacle. President Bush waited five days to show up to a drowning American city. Who knows if he will ever help average Americans from losing their homes. And besides, the Federal Reserve listens to no one but the banks they represent.
* * * *
Since I am griping, I might as well take a shot at the airline industry. Richard Branson, the head of Virgin Atlantic, is opening more routes into the U.S. When asked why, he acted like one of us consumers and said in no uncertain terms, “The U.S. flight carriers give awful service. They do not care about their customers.” He has that right. And it is getting worse. I know I have to play by the rules, but dang, they are so tight they do me – a member of the buying consumer public – the person the rules should be tailored for – no good whatsoever. I have over 100,000 flying miles with American Airlines and have yet to find an “open date” to be able to use them. I called last week about a trip to Australia I need to make by the end of month, and when I asked the frequent flier gal if we could use my miles, she said “no” before I had an opportunity to say where and when. They say “no” first and then frustrate you into holding on to the miles until they expire. Alaska Airlines is no better. I go to Portland several times a year and have yet to use any miles to help on pricing or an upgrade. Oh, that’s right, I have to book at least nine months in advance and fly on a Tuesday before 6:00 a.m. and make sure I spend a Saturday night and come home anytime I want as long as it is on a Friday after midnight. These people drive me nuts. So I say fugghetaboutit and take my RV instead. It is a much prettier ride and the food is whatever I want it to be. Problem now is the RV doesn’t float so I need another way to Australia.
* * * *
On the bright side of things, Southern California Edison is moving at breakneck speed to ensure improved service for our downtown businesses. They should have a plan in place by the middle of next year and movement on it as soon as their CEO can finish spending the $16 million in bonus, “other” and stock options he got for providing such great service to the public. Seriously now, they don’t make improvements because they don’t have to. The city has one of these permanent relationships that allows SCE to dawdle at their own pace because there is nothing anyone can do about it. Other cities have put their feet to the fire in a whole other way, by soliciting bids from other utilities, preparing bonds to buy up the infrastructure and working to have their own city-owned utility. Vernon, Pasadena and Glendale all have city-owned utilities and Los Angeles has the DWP. Rates are lower and profits are poured back into the community. What a shame the public ever bought into this whole deregulation of utilities and making an open market out of it. Check out how Enron gamed the system if you really want your blood to boil. Currently, executive compensation is rewarded for holding off maintenance and infrastructure investment. Means profits go up, at the expense of the public, including our downtown businesses that have seen business go elsewhere because of the insecurity of the power grid. What a ridiculous state of affairs for a city like Santa Monica.
* * * *
I saw a sign for a new farmacy opening up on Abbot Kinney. They will sell all types of herbal remedies including medical marijuana. The same ownership runs a respectable operation in West Hollywood and Westwood. Their green sign is very cheerful. Medical marijuana dispensaries are supported by progressive Los Angeles councilman Bill Rosendahl. I love it when polticians do the right thing. It is a shame Bill Clinton in all his glorious years as president didn’t relax the rules on medical marijuana. I was told by a reliable source to ask for Mendocino Organic Medicine (aka Buxom Buds). For the record, I have smoked and inhaled, but due to a recent health condition I have not imbibed for several years. I support the growers, in that it helps to keep people on the land with crops that are not taken over by corporate megafarms. I also recommend keeping it out of the hands of minors and a “use it, don’t abuse it” strategy (my same policy for desserts, and look where that got me!).