Monday, October 4, 2010

Bluegrass Love, TARP and Archduke Ferdinand on Debt

This past weekend marked the 10th Annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival - or perhaps more accurately, this past weekend was engulfed by the 10th Annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. I say that because I can't think of a better word to describe 800,000+ people pouring into Golden Gate Park, forming a fluid mass that swelled to fill every space within the fenced event zone that included 6 stages, expensive heart-congestive food, and Randy Newman on a baby grand.

Between the aforementioned stud, Joan Baez, Fountains of Wayne (who indeed sang "Stacey's Mom") and Elvis Costello - who broke it to the crowd that the Padres would not let the Giant's choke, no matter how hard they tried - it was a good weekend that only demanded an 8 minute walk from our apartment. But above all others, a short feisty soul-singer made quite the impression as thousands of us danced till darkness, despite the San Francisco Mist. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings wrought their funk upon the masses for 1 1/2 hours without missing a beat - and oh my, that woman can sing. Somehow the program either acquired a permit or convinced the police that it was not worth their efforts to fight, but a few friends and I brought wine and champagne to drink out of plastic glasses on a picnic blanket and no one even blinked - mostly because they were too busy with the music and enjoying their own.

Endorsement #2 is going to Gaspare's Pizza House for their feta cheese & sun dried tomato pizza, the coffer of easy red wine and the 25cent-for-three-songs personal jukeboxes at every table.

Endorsement #3 is going to The Blarney Stone Irish pub on Geary St. with the free air hockey and shuffle board, whose barkeep cut all of their prices because of the Giants' victory ("obviously!" he says).

Besides the music, and besides the pizza and pressed grapefruit-vodka drink, I learned two very interesting pieces of political knowledge this weekend. Firstly, Germany just completed its last $92 million installment of its World War One reparations debt [1]. This was a little surprising to me, considering that I studied in Germany and still talk about German politics and their war guilt and such, but the fact that they still had tens of millions of $ in war 90 year old war debt – let alone that they were close to actually repaying it – was never really discussed. And for good reason perhaps, as the state is attempting to cut spending and every dollar is being watched. Nonetheless, according to my experience and the more reliable polling data in-country the German populous has almost entirely missed the memo, and most don’t know what the Treaty of Versailles was or demanded! (for the record, it demanded Germany pay around $400billion in today’s dollar value for “guilt”)

What this means for all of you history buffs out there who connect the first War with the Treaty, the near-failed German republic, the rise of Hitler, the second War, the end of Hitler, and everything stemming from the Marshall Plan, is that WWI ended yesterday.

Secondly, TARP worked?! The two year term for the controversial bailout/regulatory program (Troubled Asset Relief Program) officially came to a close this Sunday [2], and the initial performance review suggests that despite all of the absurd and often obscene rants – and the legitimate concerns – against the program, it seems to have been incredibly successful. Instead of the hundreds of billions of dollars so many thought it would cost, it may be closer to $50b-$70b with a possibility of making a return profit. That may still seem a little “out there”, but consider that there was no economic ruin, market collapse, 30% unemployment or returning of the Messiah before the Horsemen, and the market is actually recovering (though with hardly any of the jobs we had all hoped for…). It seems everyone is a little tongue-tied after railing against it for so long as the epitome of government failure.

Pretty neat weekend :)