May 25, 2013
Truthdig Radio: Meltdown in Our Casino Economy
Posted on Apr 21, 2011
Robert Scheer: Is there an aspect of corruption? I mean, take Lawrence Summers. He was the president of Harvard after having screwed up the economy by pushing through the Commodity Futures Modernization Act and the Financial Services Modernization Act when he was in the Treasury Department, and became head of the Treasury Department under Clinton. And then he goes off, he’s rewarded by being given this distinguished position of being head of Harvard. And then when he runs into some trouble there, he nonetheless lands on his feet, he gets $8 million from hedge funds and speaking fees while he’s advising Obama in the election, in the ’08 election. And then of course he’s given a key position in the government when Obama comes in. I noticed in the figures that he was getting $600,000 at Harvard, and then he gets another $8 million in speaking fees, and consulting and so forth. Is there kind of a rot that runs through our academic world, our expertise?
Tim Canova: I think so. I do. And, you know, ever since “Inside Job” came out there’s now been a push for an actual code of ethics among economists to have to disclose the conflicts of interests. It’s bad enough that somebody like Summers has gamed the system to be involved in these revolving doors, to be taking lots of money from Wall Street interests, either through speaking fees or as a principal in a big, big hedge fund, and then revolves back into a high administrative post. That’s bad enough, and I’m not sure really what can be done to control or contain that, other than, you know, as much transparency as possible and sort of an informed and enraged citizenry. But among academic, academic economists, for instance, they should at least be required to disclose when they’re writing their expert reports and journal peer-reviewed articles and books; they should be required to at least disclose their own conflicts of interests.
Robert Scheer: Yeah, and just so I’m not picking on academics—I mean the corruption in journalism is rampant. People get, you know, enormous speaking fees while they’re pundits; they can get a hundred, hundred and fifty thousand dollars for a lecture. Thomas Reidman, who … can make a million bucks off what, five or six lectures. And there is no full disclosure. People who are very famous commentators, even for NPR, let alone commercial television, get this kind of money. And, but let me go a little further here. It seems to me the main thing that’s dividing us on this whole debt and what to do about it is the Republican philosophy that says, you know, if you give tax cuts for the rich and you coddle the corporations, they’ll create jobs and this will be great for everyone else. And at least the Democrats and Obama are trying to hold that line a bit. And it was interesting to my mind that just in the last quarter we had a 29 percent increase in corporate profits, the last quarter of ’10. And yet we didn’t get the jobs. And just as we are … this week, Alan Greenspan came out with a statement when he was asked on ABC News, do you think that the tax cuts for the rich and so forth will create jobs and pay for themselves in terms of the debt. And he said no, it won’t. And he actually called for reversing the Bush tax cuts for the rich that he had favored back then. Did that surprise you, and do you think the debate is getting better?
Tim Canova: Well, Greenspan seems to go back and forth. I remember in March of 2009—Obama had not been in office for long—Alan Greenspan had actually come out in favor of nationalizing the big banks, putting them into receivership. And Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican, had as well. I thought that was a moment when the Democrats and the new administration could have tried to seize the opportunity to move in that direction, but instead you got Timothy Geithner, who—again, that’s another Wall Street water boy who basically said it was contrary to America’s cultural heritage to be taking over banks but, apparently, not contrary to our history to be propping them up with trillions of dollars. You know, Greenspan making the statement that you just mentioned—I had not heard that; I think it’s great that he did—but I’m afraid Greenspan’s influence on the debate is somewhat limited at this point. The tea party seems to have really galvanized the Republicans, to the point where here in California Jerry Brown can’t even find one Republican with the polls to vote for an extension of taxes and, you know, might have to go to the all-cuts option, which is quite draconian. Just to complete my thought, what I fear is that this is now a Republican strategy by the Republicans who know better. They know that this tax-cutting and budget-cutting is not going to help the economy, but it’s part of a calculated effort just to undermine the economy and therefore to increase their chances at the polls next go-around.
Robert Scheer: Thank you.
Tim Canova: Well, thank you. It’s a pleasure, always.
Kasia Anderson: And now, Howie Stier takes a look at an unusual and musical enclave in Hollywood known as the Green Jello House.
Howie Stier: On a residential Los Angeles side street where iconic Southern California Craftsman-style homes sit beneath towering palms and majestic comfort trees, one stands out—not because the quaint architectural detailing of a century past has been lovingly restored, but because it is, by anyone’s standards, a chaotic eyesore. This is the Green Jello House, home to a band that regularly pops up on lists of worst rock acts ever.
They were gonged within seconds on “The Gong Show”; they haven’t had a hit since 1992’s “Three Little Pigs”; and while old concert posters of theirs still decorate dive bars on Hollywood Boulevard, the band hasn’t performed publicly around their home base of Los Angeles in years. But it is their Pee-wee Herman-meets-the-Addams-Family home that connotes a notable cultural contribution to the world. The one-time party house of horror-film star Peter Lorre, until recently a halfway house for released convicts, is now a unique bastion of bohemian living for the creative types that Hollywood continues to draw. The broken pavement of this run-down corner of L.A. never caught the eyes of developers, and with the city’s economic fortunes continuing in a death spiral, rents remain depressed, allowing a communal living arrangement last seen on the Lower East Side in pre-Giuliani New York City and long gone from the streets of San Francisco.
Technically proficient musicians who choose to play badly, they pair nursery rhymes and commercial jingles with the molar-grinding chords of thrash metal, performed in crude puppet costumes, which all bears elements of Dada, the art movement that sprung up during the First World War in Europe. If not critically successful, Green Jello sold a lot of records. Their song, “The Bear Went Over the Mountain,” is featured in the film “Dumb and Dumber.”
They tour annually and produce music for mainstream media, like Disney. They are not a political counterculture, like the music movement documented in the book “American Hardcore: A Tribal [History].” Image aside, they maintain conventional suburban tastes, like cooking meat-o-mat burgers and watching sports. And in a town that fosters immaturity in adults, their penchant for toys and costumes is not subversive. And so here they dwell, alongside costume genre bands Gwar and Radioactive Chickenheads, who all practice and perform in this space and at any given time shoot videos involving bloody props and giant lizard costumes in their front yard, which evokes nothing but the tribal compound out of postapocalyptic film “The Road Warrior.”
A white 1974 Cadillac Hearse is parked out front, beside a cherry muscle car. A black pit bull looks around, and a snaggle-toothed bulldog that answers to the name Monster charges into a fence at passers-by. A scarecrow fashioned of discarded toys is impaled on a lamppost; filthy, weathered Sesame Street dolls adorn the porch; and, incongruously, a Jacuzzi and TV and a castaway couch complete a design scheme that would strike Martha Stewart blind.
Green Jello’s living room is outfitted with an array of 1980s video game consoles like Centipede and Operation Wolf in various states of broken. They’re kept turned on for their chirpy, 16-bit ambient sound. Paul Zero is 28 years old and the drummer of Green Jello’s most recent lineup. Deathly pale and rail thin, his head is shaved except for two patches spiked into devil horns. He wears an ankle-length black caftan over a bare chest and, indeed, creeps at a Nosferatu-like pace around the house, of which he is the majordomo. But he is not really a vampire. Among the mélange of tattoos he sports are pentagrams, as well as comic book lettered interjections like “Ha-ha!” They clue you in that he isn’t too serious about the Satan stuff.
Howie Stier: So altogether, you have over a dozen people living in a house, who are all musicians, artists or filmmakers.
Paul Zero: At any given time, yeah.
Howie Stier: Anybody here have a job?
Paul Zero: Nobody really works here, so instead we throw parties.
Howie Stier: What’s the benefit of musicians living together?
Paul Zero: You know, when the original idea of the house, you know, came to life, I imagined that everyone would be writing with each other, and collaborating on things. And it’s kind of happened a couple times, but for the most part, everyone has their projects and we don’t really intertwine. But having like, say, Angelo from Fishbone—he freakin’ works all the time; he’s in his room writing songs, recording songs, practicing, just doing so much—by living with him and seeing him working so much, it helps me work more, because I feel lazy compared to him.
Howie Stier: Is there an economic incentive for musicians to live together in one house?
Paul Zero: Oh, yeah, huge. I mean, you know, by us all living in a commune, so to speak, you know, it brings all of our expenses drastically low. I mean, it’s far cheaper to live here than any other [place] in Hollywood.
Howie Stier: In the movie documentary “Everyday Sunshine,” which profiles the influential cult ska-punk bank Fishbone, it’s mentioned that Fishbone’s middle-aged front man, Doctor Mad Vibes, lives with his mother. Recently, the lead singer, also known as Angelo Moore, took up residence here. Moore is fond of purple suits and stingy brimmed hats, usually parked on his shaved scalp at a crazy angle. Today he is wearing skinny braces unslung, white bondage pants, and has no shirt on as his band warms up for rehearsal.
Howie Stier: You’re living in a house with other musicians. What’s that like?
Angelo Moore: Ahm…[Laughs] Well, I guess it’s community livin’, is what it is. I call it the Green Jello Art Complex. Before I got here, before I moved in here, I met Manspeaker, Bill Manspeaker from Green Jello on the road on Warped Tour, when I was on tour at the Warped Tour. And so I sat in with them a couple of times, and so at the end of it all, on their last show, I was telling Bill that I needed, I was looking for a place to stay in Hollywood. And they said, man, you can stay at the Green Jello place. So I came here and I saw it, and all the toys and everything, and all of the different artistic pieces. Very elaborate, bizarre artistic museum; got a lot of eccentric spirits in the place too. And so it’s good for music and art and creativity.
Howie Stier: You’ve been around a long time playing music. You’ve lived in other places. Have you ever lived with a bunch of musicians like this before?
Angelo Moore: No. First time.
Howie Stier: Fishbone never lived together?
Angelo Moore: No.
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