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At Last... | The Nation

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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

Well-chosen words on music, movies and politics, with the occasional special guest.

At Last...

Danielle Ivory writes:

Five minutes just breezes by. At least this is what I've gathered fromwatching the recent House Financial Services hearings on the economiccrisis. It's super hard to do any serious fact-finding aboutcatastrophic economic decisions in just five minutes. So why bother? Even if you're a powerful Congressional leader, tasked with oversightand sitting within throwing distance of one of the dudes running thebailout and the whole thing is being broadcast on national television,it's just easier to use your precious five minutes to pontificategenerically or hurl abuse generically or to embarrass the Hill-mate whomay or may not have said something mean about you to the AssociatedPress.

Which is why I was so pleasantly surprised when I saw Rep. Alan Grayson(D-FL) take the road less traveled and open a can o' whoop-ass on ViceChairman of the Federal Reserve, Donald Kohn. If time flies when you'rehaving fun, this five-minute back-and-forth must have dragged onfor-EVER for Kohn. While newbie Grayson, who used to prosecute Iraq warprofiteers and happens to look a bit like an old-timey boxer, punchedaway, Kohn admitted that the Fed's balance sheet had spent (lent, Imeant, lent!) nearly $2 trillion just since September. But he refusedto divulge who had received the money and how much. This brief rumbleappears to have prompted a full hearing on transparency at the FederalReserve, starring Chairman Ben Bernanke, to be held on February 10. When I asked Grayson about the exchange, he replied simply: "I wanted toknow what was going on with the Fed and the one guy who potentiallycould tell me what was going on was sitting right in front of me." Fairenough.

The truth is that squeezing financial information out of the FederalReserve Board against their will is a lot like trying to squeeze blood out ofa turnip (or turnip juice out of a turnip--no easy task, though thehealth benefits are apparently far-reaching). The TARP Program'sbuilt-in oversight mechanisms have been criticized, but at least it hasbuilt-in oversight mechanisms--namely, the Government AccountabilityOffice, Elizabeth Warren's Congressional Oversight Panel, theself-reflective Financial Stability Oversight Board, and now,apparently, an independent bailout board. On the other hand, the onlybody with any authority over the Federal Reserve is Congress, and theyusually try to keep their distance to avoid political poisoning.

There are basic "oversight" differences between the Treasury and the Fedas well. The President can fire the Treasury Secretary at any time ifthere are policy disagreements. Meanwhile, the Fed Chairman can't befired before his term is up, except for cause--ie. he doesn't show upfor work, he's prowling after his staff, he's drunk all day long, orhe's taking money directly out of the printer and stuffing it in hiswallet. Also, the Treasury's $700 billion in TARP funds had to beappropriated by Congress, whereas the Fed can print its own money, even$2 trillion. And, according to section 13-3 of the Federal Reserve Act,in "exigent circumstances" (an economic meltdown, perhaps) the Fed canspend (lend,I meant, lend!!) to its heart's content and it doesn't have to disclose the names of individual recipients nor the amount theyreceived. The Fed says the loans are safe, but, frankly, without anytransparency, how could you possibly have any clue?

If Congress doesn't ask (and demand answers), then options for retrievalare slim. Bloomberg News unsuccessfully sued the Federal Reserve inNovember to force disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. Toobad that FOIA actually contains a built-in exemption relating to therecords of financial institutions, created by the banking lobby. Georgetown law professor and FOIA expert, David Vladeck, told theAmerican News Project that in the year before FOIA passed, "two industries came to Congress, asking for special exemptions, the oil and gas industry...and the banking industry, which got a special exemption. It was a very broad exemption. It was a last-minute add-on to the statute. It was plainly a result of intense lobbying by the financialinstitution community."

So, while journalists doggedly continue to crack their heads against thewall, Congress could save us all some time and use their five minutes abit more wisely.

Watch ANP's video coverage of this story here.

I try to make it a practice of not writing about the cd of my musicianfriends, because it feels like hack work. But I also want to do what Ican to let people know about music they might appreciate and enjoy. Sothe solution is to ask the musicians themselves to do the writing, andexplain what he or she had in mind. So here's my friend CarolineDoctorow on her new cd, Another Country:

Another Country...the songs of Mimi and Richard Farina.

Another Country is a collection of songs written and performedby the 1960 folk artists Mimi and Richard Farina. The record boastssome very special guests, Nanci Griffith, John Sebastian, Maura Kennedy,Happy Traum and Eric Weissberg. It's the first full audio retrospectiveof Farina's long neglected catalog.

The project was recorded over a period of just three weeks thispast August with multi-instrumentalist Pete Kennedy as producer. I hired Pete sight unseen, and I suppose looking back I was taking a realgamble. He and his wife singer Maura Kennedy were to stay with us formuch of August while completing the project. Pete had come highlyrecommended by the folk community and I had also heard from a DJ friendin Boston that he owned and played an electric sitar, a somewhat rareinstrument which was featured in the original 1960's Farina recordingsfor Vanguard. So I took this sitar playing as a good sign and on blindfaith and sealed the deal.

Much to my delight Pete, as it turned out, is one of those raremusical genius types who plays anything and everything with strings. Heis enormously versed in the folk tradition and already knew all aboutRichard Farina's songs. I had some concerns before we began as to thedirection to take with the material. A project like this one couldeasily be viewed as "nostalgic" and become a train wreck in less skilledhands. But when I first heard his arrangement for the track "BoldMarauder" all my worries melted away and I realized how lucky a gamble I had taken. Pete set the songs in a contemporary, almost swampy/rootsbackground that seems to really work. Maura is the best harmony singeryou will ever meet, and lent her beautiful voice to the project aswell. Together these two talented people form another prominent husbandand wife folk duo, The Kennedys and they have many recording to theircredit. Below are some words Pete helped me put down about the everillusive Richard Farina...

I hope you like their record....

Richard Farina is known and yet not known, by a small coterie whoremember or who have researched the Greenwich Village folk scene of themid-sixties. While Bob Dylan is generally regarded as the strong man ofthat scene, the chosen one with the strongest connection the Beats,there was in fact a dark counterpart and an equal adversary to Dylan. Hewas a Cuban-Irish American and a bold adventurer and song writer namedRichard Farina.

Farina will always remain an enigmatic figure in pop culture. Everytime you think you have him tucked into a neat corner of history hedisappears around the next bend. In his brief action packed life, hemanaged to record two wonderfully eclectic albums with his wife Mimi,(who was also Joan Baez's younger sister and founder of Bread andRoses) He died on a motorcycle in 1966 at the age of twenty nine,pulling off the ultimate disappearing act just days after thepublication of his first novel Been Down So Long it Looks Like Up To Me(Random House)

But there is a cache of songs, and Another Country examines thesesongs in detail. Farina's lyrics somehow remain on the cutting edge oftoday in their unflinching, even ruthless examination of relationshipsbetween lovers, nations, and cultures. As a lyricist, his three prongedattack springs from his ability to seamlessly blend hipster slang(always with a scenic of self parody) with archaic language of themysterious old Child ballads, and embossing the whole thing with ageneral patina of literacy. This trick bag of strengths sets him apartfrom the entire pack of Greenwich Village songwriters.

www.carolinedoctorow.com

Stephen Metcalf has a smart piece on Bruce's--to me--embarrassing SuperBowl performance here, but to me it wasn't the song selection that rankled, it was the hamminess. It's onething to do all those things over the course of 3.5 hours. To do it intwelve minutes felt ridiculous.

Meanwhile, here is Bruce's (studio) bookshelf and coffee table aspictured in Rolling Stone and figured out by someone with a magnifyingglass and a bit of time on his or her hands. Congratulations to all thenominees:

Roget's Thesaurus
The Holy Bible
Bob Dylan's Lyrics
Black Tickets, by Jayne Anne Phillips
White Noise, by Don DeLillo
American Pastoral, by Philip Roth
The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell
Cold New World, by William Finnegan
Country: The Music and the Musicians
American Moderns, by Christine Stansell
Real Boys, by William Pollack
At the Center of the Storm, by George Tenet
When We Were Good, by Robert S. Cantwell
John Wayne's America, by Garry Wills
The Elegant Universe, by Brian Greene
The Search for God at Harvard, by Ari L. Goldman
Feel Like Going Home, by Peter Guralnick
Dark Witness, by Ralph Wiley
Go Cat Go, by Craig Morrison
New Americans, by Al Santoli
Orlando, by Virginia Woolf

Currently, Bruce appears to be reading Fallen Founder by Nancy Isenberg

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