visions of green

aaron mcmanus - green life, real estate, and everything in between

Thursday, November 06, 2008

breaking out

I made this flier for a friend who DJs at Double Dutch on Monday nights. We were hanging out, and he told me about the space at Julie's Supper Club, over on Folsum near 7th. We went to go see it, and it is amazing.

It's about 2,500 sqft across 4 rooms - including an outside patio, a club room (with a projector, lights, and wicked sound system), a lounge, and the main bar room. We met with the owners, and we're going to be doing an event every week called Soul Supper Sunday.

I'm working right now on designing a menu for the buffet, which will be $14 per person, all you can eat, organic, sustainable, local (where possible), delicious BBQ soul food. It'll be a rad, chill, laid-back ongoing Sunday affair where people can come and relax with good drinks, good food, and good music.

I'm excited about this - it'll be a great opportunity to fully design a weekly affair for this city, something that actively works to create community in a way that's not a hippy-dippy super-cultivated way. It's gonna happen naturally, through word of mouth (and I've got a big mouth).

Spread the word - coming soon, San Francisco - Soul Supper Sunday!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Change and Hope

I can't wait to lay in bed and read up on what's just happened. I haven't begun processing yet - Obama was really just elected president. The surge of hope in San Francisco is palpable, and I'm sure many are feeling similar emotions around the world.

I was working at Kate O'Brien's last night, where a huge crowd packed the place to watch the live CNN feed. There were only three of us serving and cleaning up after about 200 people over 5 hours, so I didn't have too much time to process what was happening except for cheering along with the crowd when McCain gave his concession speech.

After quickly glancing across headlines, it seems that the media is full of promise and potential - the Democratic Party is mobilized and ready to work across all lines to make sweeping reforms designed to reinstitute America's prominence around the world.

Perhaps things did get close enough to the brink to allow people to wake up to the fact that we are all constantly vulnerable? Is it possible that Americans recognize the need to organize and come together to ensure that our quality of life is not compromised?

I hope so, although I don't really feel that enough has happened to awaken everyone to the true nature of the change that is needed. For now, it is enough that we have crossed a barrier of centuries of racism to elect the first (mostly) black president.

As my grandmother said, it is an amazing day to know that we're finally led by a rainbow.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Rock of the Revolution

I'm so blessed.

Last night, I got off from work at the steak house at 10p, after another evening of gently prodding Republicans to change their minds while gorging and giving me money. I called up Henry, who'd recently gotten back from Italy, where he was participating in an epic protest against coal power with GreenPeace - I had yet to see him since his return.

Henry happened to be at a Tom Morello show that was just about to start. Of course he had an extra ticket, and I called him just between sets when he could hear the phone ring.

I popped in a cab, and scored a driver who reminded me of the story of how Henry Ford changed the economics of this country when he paid workers enough to afford the cars they were making. The micro-economics lesson was a perfect introduction to the revolutionary rock that took place in the historic Fillmore Auditorium last night, where Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, and countless musical legends have shaken the rafters.

Tom Morrello was amazing, not only because of the incredible range in the set from acoustic guitar and voice solo - leaving the microphone at one point to allow his voice to project across the room - to bringing Boots Riley of The Coup on to do an epic rap during "This Land is Your Land". That's right, they remade the old Woodie Guthrie classic that I used to sing as a child. Now it rocks, and the whole place sang along.

Tom Morrello is touring as The Night Watchman, and his music is filled with inspiration, but not that cheesy, wet hope that goes down like day-old dip - this is the style of music that drives the Irish to drink. The intense, driving beats that he is known for are ever present, even behind the deliciously rough and soulful downtempo moments.

The truly amazing portion of the evening for me was the chance to participate in a crowd full of people who were ignited to revolt, who were told to remember that no matter who gets elected, we will still need to fight. The Watchman does not want those of us who care about social and environmental justice, worker's and civil rights, or freedom to let up, ever.

This country was built on racism, on the backs of people that came here (many against their will) and who started at the bottom and worked for everything they have, The Watchman reminds us. If this racist country that sees only colors and not people is able to elect the first partially-black president, we have made history. The fight to get into that office is a narrow funnel, Tom said, and it is important to remember that we cannot become complacent.

We must always fight for what we believe, and fight to make this world closer to what we know it should be. That's the rock of the revolution.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Translating Daily Reality

The interesting crux of economics for me lays at the junction between theory and the daily behavior of people on an individual level. We find our own behavior and that of any given other person's to be very easy to judge - oh, she should do this, he should do that, and I'm going to go have a drink.

On an individual level, it can be easy (when we know someone well) to predict their behavior. There are always those elusive folks who remain a mystery, who march to the beat of a different drum.

When it comes to large, grander scale theories, we find that our collective behavior is motivated by so many directions simultaneously that it is impossible to make any concrete predictions at this time. Here we stand, a few days from what will turn out to be the most important election in our lifetimes.

The policies that will be implemented in the next presidency will shape the future of our world to come. Economic theory has reached a brink - we stand poised to leap forward off of a cliff, and we think that we can fly.

A part of me thinks that we can fly - into this new world where it can be collectively understood that economics is just a theory. It is just a figment of the imagination, the agreement that this specific digit engraved upon this piece of paper has meaning.

We use money as an intermediate of exchange, a way to receive a nationally-accepted standard in exchange for our goods or services. The vehicles that we use to create money are quite more complicated - bonds, options, securities, and what have you.

I believe that if the vast majority of people understood economics more clearly, they would see that we are actually capable of creating money out of thin air. Money doesn't grow on trees - it grows out of our minds.

Flying into this new world will happen when the policies that are created reflect the majority of this country's desire to take care of our fellow human beings. We can borrow all the money we want to bail out banks, but that doesn't actually feed people who are hungry. It doesn't clothe the cold, or shelter the homeless. It doesn't pay for medical treatment for someone who would otherwise die.

As hippie-dippy as it sounds, if programs were enacted to guarantee that no one would suffer from a lack of food, shelter, or medical care, there would be a lot less fear in this country.

The largest lesson of economics is that when a country begins to fear, its economy crashes. It's just like the coyote chasing the roadrunner off the cliff - the roadrunner has so much momentum that he can make it across to the other side.

So I have it wrong - we're not poised at a cliff, since we've been going fast and furious (as an economy) without much time to think how we've gotten up this high.

Right now as a country, we just looked down, and realized that we've been running on an economy built on thin air.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Death of Patio Man

Monday's NY Times has an editorial about Patio Man: "He is the quintessential suburban American, the service economy worker, the guy who wears khakis to work each day, with the security badge on the belt clip around his waist."

It paints a picture of most of the suburban dwellers, the folks that I understand but I don't relate to at all. These people are apparently content to visit shopping malls as a form of entertainment, and think of their subdivisions as safe, rather than devoid of life. These people should be very perturbed right now, as it is their way of life that is the most threatened.

Suburbia is the most at-risk lifestyle in the threat of the looming tsunami of the economy. We haven't seen the wave crash yet - we've just seen the panicked animals flee the beach. Patio Man is too busy clinging to his lawn furniture - what is a Patio Man without his Patio? - to do the sensible thing and head for the hills.

The suburban middle class is most directly threatened - they couldn't take much more as early as July, so they must really be suffering now. Sprawl is utterly dependent on transportation, so after the election when gas at the pump goes back up, they'll be hurting again. Their house values suck, since no one can afford to pay obscene prices to live in the middle of nowhere, they can't afford to drive to get there, and they can't afford to heat, clothe, or feed themselves when they do.

The economic meltdown is further polarizing wealth in this country. The rich are pretending to be scared, in the same way that the Treasury Secretary insists that he didn't see this coming and McCain said the fundamentals of our economy are strong. It's true - they'll ride this out on the backs of the American workers, which are still supporting the wealthy in true aristocratic style.

The reality is that major money started moving out of real estate about 3-4 years ago, at the peak of the market. I've talked with thousands of real estate agents, and the dumb ones didn't see it coming. The ones who understood cycles knew that what goes up will come down, but everyone knows that you can always blame the market when it happens. There is no individual responsibility in a market - the blame falls on everyone, not on one person.

The most telling sentence in the Patio Man article: "He believes that he is responsible for his own economic destiny." There lays the delusion and fraud of the American Dream: only once you get to the point where you are rich can you be responsible for your economic destiny. The best that anyone else can do is just to hang on for the ride.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Where to invest?

In Thomas Friedman's most recent column in the NY Times, he makes some very good points about the economy. He relates it to nature, and he reminds us that markets at their core are motivated by greed. He says that the market is repricing everything, but I think he too distracted by the great points that he makes to see the big picture that he paints.

What are banking services worth? Compare an interest option exchange with an tomato. Which is tastier? Which can you turn into delicious salsa and eat with chips? Which is real?

I had a very good friend in Chicago that I dropped out of contact with accidentally - one of those people in life that you always mean to call up and rekindle that friendship. She's an amazing person, and put herself through law school while working at Tower Records with a 6" mohawk . That was back in the 90s, before everyone was punk.

At one point when I knew her she was working for Bank of America, something having to do with checking contracts in the interest option exchange department. She spent two hours explaining to me exactly how these mysterious options work between banks, but the only reason it took so long was that I kept trying to get what she was saying to make sense.

Nothing to me makes sense like nature. Plants are real - I can climb trees, plant flowers, eat corn. They are fantastically complex organisms, and the more we study them the more amazing they become. Banking, on the other hand, is an utter fantasy that people take more seriously than the world around them.

Please, people, realize that money is a collective fiction that we share. The value of a dollar is what we want it to be. The only problem is that the group of people that we rely upon is too vast to convince them all at once of the same number and have it stick. Too many variables depend on the value - how much oil is coming out of the ground, how the leaders of our country are misbehaving at the moment, and exactly how much tea there is in China. There's a few more, but the more accurately you can guess at what might happen to the value of various objects, the more money you can make gambling about it.

If I understood my friend correctly, bankers invented "financial instruments" such as options, derivatives, futures, and exchanges as really complicated ways to skim the cream off the system. No one buys these things but other bankers or investors.

When you think about it, the whole system is pretty genius. At this point, we don't even need the little scraps of paper. Everything is just blips on computers, but somehow they translate to fortunes made and lost. For those who are focused on making money, there are endless ways to occupy life by chasing it going up and down.

On the other hand, what kind of life is that? If the market is truly forcing itself to examine the value of everything, can we conclude that financial instruments are utterly worthless? I don't believe that society receives anything of benefit from the people that chase wealth. They are the predators of our economic world, divorced from the prey cycles of the natural world.

At the same time, these economic conditions are incredibly real. As I sit in my heated apartment, with food in my pantry, clothes on my back, and employed, I am more fortunate than most of the population of the world. Billions of people are living on less than a dollar a day. Hundreds of millions are hungry and without a home. People who were once more fortunate are losing their houses, their jobs, and their sense of security everywhere across the world.

Mr. Friedman's column ends with a quote from Warren Buffet: "I do know that the American economy, over a period of time, will do very well, and people who own a piece of it will do well."

Like nature, economics plays in cycles and surprises. There's a lot more twists and turns in the road ahead, and the cracks in the system that are beginning to show may get a whole lot bigger. I'm sure that Mr. Buffet is quite right, as I defer to his vast wealth as evidence of his economic wisdom.

For me, I'm gonna invest in seeds.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Roubini: Global Depression Cannot Be Ruled Out

Democracy Now had a cheerful little tidbit yesterday:

New York University economics professor Nouriel Roubini is predicting that the US and global economy is heading towards a near-term financial meltdown. Roubini, who is often credited with forecasting the current crisis, writes, “At this point severe damage is done and one cannot rule out a systemic collapse and a global depression. It will take a significant change in leadership of economic policy and very radical, coordinated policy actions among all advanced and emerging market economies to avoid this economic and financial disaster."

World Bank President Robert Zoellick warned developing nations may be particularly hard hit by the market meltdown.

Robert Zoellick: “The events of September could be a tipping point for many developing countries. A drop in exports will trigger a fall-off in investments. Deteriorating financial conditions, combined with monetary tightening, will trigger business failures and possibly banking emergencies.”

Slip Slidin' Away...

It's really bizarre to watch the American Dream fade to dust. I'd gotten used to saying fade, because working in real estate for the past 12 years has prepared me well for our current meltdown. Realistically, we're dealing with more of an imploding collapse, similar to how the twin towers fell.

This past Thursday's Daily Show mocked the media for explaining our economy as if their audience was exclusively made up of semi-retarded 9 year-old children. John Stewart is brilliant, but that man pays attention to news like very few people in the country. Are normal people really curious to discover what happened, or do people simply want to ignore it?

Yesterday's NY Times Freakonomics blog lays out a wonderful, if dry, explanation of some of the key elements of how the housing bubble grew like so much Bubble Yum and is now exploding into a big and sticky, if salvageable, mess. Author Ian Ayres is surprised to find out that 4 out of 10 first-time buyers used no-money down loans in 2005 and 2006, but banks were giving away money to anyone with a credit score.

Each day I heard numerous real estate agents preach the gospel of the never-ending housing price surge. No one seemed to understand the fundamentals of housing mathematics - if housing goes up 10% each year, while wage increases for non-management employees hover around 3% per year when adjusted for inflation, quickly no one outside of management will be able to afford their property.

What happens when you combine high inflation rates, rising (with small recent exceptions) costs of goods, services, transportation, a credit-fueled economy, insane speculation, monumental national and personal debt, and a housing bubble just after the peak of prices?

You get a perfect storm. The reason why no one can adequately explain what's happening right now? It has no historical precedent. There are parallels to be drawn, certainly - there are lessons to be learned from the Great Depression and other situations of interconnected economic market crises. All the experts are vying for attention, either dumbing down their stories to reach a wider audience or using complex data to portray themselves as smarter than the competition.

The real situation: the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer. When
Warren Buffet buys up a major stake in Goldman Sachs, it's time to connect some dots. The man is known to be a genius at purchasing companies, and he looks more closely at the people involved than any other factor. Mr. Treasury Secretary Paulson has sold all of his shares of Goldman Sachs, so I'm sure he'll never make a profit off of his unprecedented new powers... right. And Warren Buffet's purchase in the wake of the bailout was entirely coincidental.

I think that South Park has it right - China is looking to take over.

They're doing a great job so far.