Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sarah’s Own Words: “I Don’t Do Black Guys.”

Long before Gregory Charles Royal became a judge on America’s Hot Musician, a talent competition airing in 200 US television markets, he was a hot, young jazz trombonist. Today, he remains a great musician but, more important, is another person confirming from first-hand experience that Palin has always been racist as alleged by numerous sources in my original article on her, Alaskans Speak: Palin Is “Racist, Sexist, Vindictive and Mean.

And he’s willing to be quoted by name.

Royal is incredibly talented. He received formal trombone training when he was 11 in the DC Youth Orchestra Program while simultaneously playing in Washington clubs with Roscoe Bowie's Message Band and Show. He also received principal trombone honors in the First American Festival of Youth Orchestras and, at 15, was the youngest member of the Howard University Jazz Ensemble. He toured with Al Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Slide Hampton and His World of Trombones and starred on Broadway as an on-stage musician in Five Guys Named Moe, which was nominated for two Tony awards. Along the way, Royal wrote and acted in It’s a Hardbop Life, the first play featuring an entire cast of jazz musicians, which debuted at the 2004 New York Jazz Festival.

He also performed with the Duke Ellington Orchestra for 10 years, from 1989 to 1999. In May, 1990, the orchestra was touring Alaska and played in Anchorage. While there, the 28-year old Royal and a small group of other musicians from the orchestra went into a fast food joint near the airport for a bite to eat.

“I saw a great looking young lady and, as lots of travelling musicians do, I struck up a conversation with her,” Royal recounted to me after my original piece on Palin was published. “She told me her name was Sarah.”

Royal admits he was hitting on her, a regular activity for most musicians, especially when on the road. The reason this particular conversation stuck in his mind is because she said that while she wasn’t much into jazz, she played the flute.

“This is why I remembered talking with her,” Royal states.

He told Sarah about talking about the Modern jazz Quartet as an example of not strictly jazz style music but could still be cool. “I was trying to keep the conversation going,” Royal says, “so I mentioned some of the musicians, including Percy Heath.

“She quickly let me know that Heath was her name too,” Royal recounts.

Royal claims that she mentioned going to school in Hawaii but did not say anything about being married or being pregnant. “I would remember that. Anyway, it was May 1990 and she was just a couple of months pregnant and wouldn’t have shown.”

Royal felt he was making progress with Sarah Heath and when a couple of his musician friends approached, he waved them off. “But she saw them and got weird.

“Sarah asked me if they were with me. I asked her what was up because she was obviously a little weird after seeing them,” states Royal, who has Native American blood in his ancestry, is fairly light skinned while his buddies were much darker.

"I don't mean any harm,” Royal says Sarah told him which is exactly what she meant, “but I don't do black guys."

“I said ‘I'm Black,’” Royal relates, to which Sarah replied with, “Well, you aren't really black. You’re like …"

Royal remembers her voice trailed off as if not knowing what to say next as the reality of the situation sunk in on her. “Then she got real confused and the conversation ended rather quickly and uncomfortably.

So how did this long-ago, failed pick-up come back to Royal’s mind some 18 years later?

“I followed the conventions but never connected Sarah Palin to the Sarah Heath I hit on,” he says, “because there was no physical resemblance and the last name was different. It was from watching an MSNBC story on her that I saw the photos and learned her family name.”

When the now-Sarah Palin uttered the immortal words, “So Sambo beat the bitch” to the hearty laugher of her luncheon companions during the primaries, it was merely an extension of what appears to be her lifelong views on race. When she thought Greg Royal was white, she seemed more than eager to make the beast with two backs with him; in an instant of learning he was actually black, she fumbled for words, and fled into the streets ‘lest she catch something from him.

At least we know she fits in naturally with the racist right wingnuts that infest the Republican Party, unlike her running mate who says whatever he needs to say at the moment to fit in with them. For whatever that’s worth.

Thanks, GOP, For Ruining An Economy As Your Friends Got Wealthy.

Back in 2001, I was warned that the world’s financial markets were heading towards disaster. The warning came from a lawyer whose law firm was helping create the instruments that began imploding a year ago and came tumbling down on Monday.

Until his death two years ago at age 83, Edwin A. “Eddie” Goodman, QC, OC, PC, was perhaps the most powerful deal-making lawyers in Canada. One afternoon in late 2001, I was lunching with Eddie at The Albany Club, the oldest of old boy hang-outs in Toronto where portraits of the numerous members who did a term or two as Prime Minister adorn the corridors.

“I don’t think anyone understands these goddamned deals we’re writing (finance and tax) paper for,” Eddie said while chewing on pieces of a rich Irish stew, bits of it spraying from his mouth as he talked. “They’re so fucking complicated it’d take years – maybe decades – of litigation to unwind them if any of them fall apart. And if they do collapse, they’ll bring down businesses and governments with them.”

We were talking about the raft of convoluted, intricate and highly specialized financial instruments that were becoming increasingly popular with institutional investors and traders from Bay St. in Toronto to Wall St., London, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Singapore.

From helping create the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team to having a lawyerly hand in every major commercial real estate deal in the country, nudging a reluctant Prime Minister Brian Mulroney into normalizing relations with China four years after Tiananmen Square and then bringing large and small Canadian businesses en masse to the mainland, to helping turn Four Seasons Hotels into a global luxury hotelier, Eddie Goodman left a massive mark on Canadian business and government from the end of World War II into early years of the 21st century.

In the process, he built what became one of Toronto’s most-powerful law firms. So, if Eddie said no one could understand the complex nuances of the financial instruments being created, then no one could. And he thought he knew the reason.

“These damn things are going to get sold and re-sold and then re-packaged so many times until no one is really sure who owns what, or what they own. I think that’s the whole point.” He paused briefly to wipe his mouth with a crisp, white, linen napkin. “Someone will get screwed because eventually, the whole fucking thing will collapse.”

As a person, Eddie was bothered by what struck him as a giant, unregulated, high risk game of three card Monty being created for global players who would have nothing much at risk in creating the underlying paper; as a lawyer, he knew it was his job to do the best he could for a client.

Eddie Goodman didn’t live long enough to see his dark premonition come true. But, as with many things during his truly remarkable life, he had a talent for seeing far over the horizon to know what was likely to come next.

Skip forward to Meltdown Monday. While President Bush and John McCain were blithely insisting that Wall St. was merely experiencing an “adjustment” and the “fundamentals of the US economy remain sound,” billionaire investor George Soros took a dire yet more realistic view, warning “We are just sailing into the storm.”

This explains why Fed Chairman Ben Bernacke – who happens to a noted scholar on causes of the Great Depression in his other life as an academic – is shuttling frantically between Washington and New York, or on the phone to his counterparts in Europe and Asia, as he desperately tries to keep what he must know is a house of cards from collapsing. But in doing so, Bernacke must feel like the Dutch boy with his finger in the dike, trying to hold back the relentless, pounding ocean.

Fact: Even though the Federal Reserve discount window is charging banks less than 2% to borrow money, banks are charging other banks more than 6% for overnight borrowing. What that means is that American banks don’t trust each other enough to lend money amongst themselves, even overnight, at close-to-Fed rates.

Fact: While American International Group was the largest insurer of mortgage-backed securities, the crisis that still threatens to bring AIG tumbling down despite a massive infusion of capital into the company by the Fed as a last minute, desperate move, to keep the firm afloat, there are dozens of other, smaller companies like AIG who have insured the value of paper that is worthless.

Fact: As lenders become increasingly skittish, many commercial borrowers – even those with good or decent credit histories – will find it impossible to obtain debt at affordable rates. From small and mid-sized business to cities or even states may not be able to raise debt. A flood of Chapter 11 filings are likely to hit the courts, beginning in perhaps six months.

Fact: As businesses contract in the wake of tight money, unemployment will rise. Consumer defaults on their credit cards and mortgage payments will balloon, putting even more pressure on banks. Many will have to be rescued or allowed to collapse. Housing prices will continue to decline, adding to the woes of people just staying afloat who will own homes worth less than they paid for them

Between now and Nov. 4, it is entirely possible that the past 30 years of deregulation, of letting business do what it wants without any reasonable government oversight, of believing that my wealth (if I had any) would trickle down into your pocket, will be exposed as the greatest Ponzi scheme even invented by man. While that bodes poorly for the nation, it may propel Barack Obama into the White House.

Before then, former US Treasury Secretary Robert Reich says, “This is the end of the middle of the beginning of the credit crisis.

“We created a kind of casino atmosphere,” Reich continues, “in which almost anybody and any bank could make a lot of money by going deeper into debt, by buying up all sorts of debt instruments, by selling securities to people who didn't even know what was in the securities. In this sort of atmosphere we were begging for some kind of crisis.”

If that is not harsh enough language for you, read what Nouriel Roubini, an economics professor at New York University, posted on his blog: “This will turn out to be the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression and the worst US recession in decades.

“Hundreds of small banks with massive exposure to real estate will go bust,” he predicts. “Hundreds of US municipalities will go bust. Equity prices in the US and abroad will go much deeper into bear territory … This financial crisis signals the beginning of the decline of the American empire.”

As I wrote in The End Is Near For The Richest Poor Nation On Earth on Monday, the meltdown “marks the official beginning of the end of more than four generations of uninterrupted American prosperity.”

So thanks Ronald Reagan, much appreciated Bush 41, delighted to have known you, Bush 43. You must be so proud, Phil Gramm, the architect of deregulating everything financial and John McCain’s economic guru. And a special thanks to the yokels at the University of Chicago business school who created trickle down, supply-side economics back in the 1970s. All of you really smacked the donkey for the rest of us.

Europe Gets The Energy Issue While America Dithers On Climate Change

With little notice by the American media, the European Union is taking a major step of moving towards its goal of requiring that, by 2020, fully 20% of its energy come from renewable sources rather than fossil fuels.

Unfortunately, they left in biofuels, which are a distraction rather than a solution. The question isn't whether a resource is renewable; it is whether the energy puts more carbon into the atmosphere. Agribusiness doesn’t like it when people mention that the biofuel refining process requires more polluting energy than it produces clean fuel. So, biofuels make no sense from a “green” point of view. We need to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, not slow the rate at which we increase the amount.

By the same token, solar and wind don't add carbon to the atmosphere.

Still, Europe is a big chunk of the industrialized world. If it can make the true costs of fossil fuels apparent by leveling the playing field in favor of wind and solar, that will have a tremendous impact on innovation. There is a big danger that this new policy will give European solar firms a further leg up and leave the United States way behind, captive to Big Oil and Big Coal, with solar firms hobbled by Congress's hidden subsidies to the oil, coal and gas industry.

This is a sure-fire recipe for the US to end up a third world, pariah, country.

Solar is the more important part of the mix, since there is demonstrably enormous energy to be had from the sun if it could be captured efficiently, stored and distributed. But there is only so much wind power in the world although the US and Canada are blessed with an enormous “wind canal” stretching from Texas up through the Great Plains and into the Canadian prairies. As T. Boone Pickens points out repeatedly, it may be the easiest stretch of geography in the world to convert wind into energy.

At least the Europeans are not talking foolishly about “clean coal” as an environmental improvement, unlike in the US. Clean coal is as much of a myth as the unicorn. Nor are Europeans chanting "Drill now! Drill here!" and demanding poisonous oil be brought out of the tundra to create climate catastrophe.