• Between the Lines
    May 31,2009

    Fantasy finance

    How's this for an eye-catching tagline? "If I can understand this crap, so can you." Chelsea Green Publishing, in White River Junction, is highlighting that line from Les Leopold's introduction to his new book about the financial crises, "The Looting of America: How Wall Street's Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions, and Prosperity and What We Can Do About It."

    Leopold argues that the meltdown has very little to do with subprime mortgages. About $300 billion in such mortgages are in default or nearly so, but the resulting crash has already cost more than $2 trillion in bank bailouts and loan guarantees.

    Instead, he sees a decades-long pattern of increased productivity by rank-and-file workers while their wages (adjusted for inflation) have actually dropped. The resulting profits that accrued to the owners of capital had to go somewhere. Even the rich can buy only so many yachts and houses. Some of the money went into new factories and new companies. But there was so much floating around that "real" economy investments couldn't soak it all up.

    So the financial sector invented scores of new "fantasy" financial instruments for the wealthy to buy, Leopold writes. Not so many years later, those proved to have been mere casino bets based on nothing of value.

    Leopold has a master's in public administration and has worked for years on matters of labor, public health and the environment.

    The reading light: spotlight on events

    -- Ten-year-old Alicia's mother is in prison after going after her children with a knife. Thirteen-year-old Serogia was thrown out of his house by his drunken mother after his father died.

    Child psychologist Robert Belenky of Marshfield met these children and many others in the course of 10 years worth of visits to a children's shelter in St. Petersburg, Russia. He writes about them in "Tales of Priut Almus: Participant Observation in a Russian Children's Shelter."

    After retiring, he began regular visits to the same facilities and, when possible, the same children in Haiti and Russia. He recently self-published "Tales of Priut Almus," which presents his interviews with children and staff at a shelter that he describes as a monument to the spirited and humane ways to raise children who are in need.

    Belenky will read from the book and discuss implications for Vermont families and social services Thursday at 7 p.m. at Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpelier.

    -- Graphic novelist Gareth Hinds will talk about his version of "Beowulf" Wednesday in the first installment of Aldrich Library's annual free Authors at the Aldrich summer series. Each Wednesday a different local author will hold court in the Barre library's Milne Community Room at 6:15 p.m. Upcoming speakers include cartoonist/illustrator Harry Bliss (June 10), sugarmaker and essayist Burr Morse (June 17), short story writers Con Hogan (Aug. 5) and Bill Schubart (Aug. 12), and children's author Stephen Huneck (Aug. 19). See the full schedule at right.

    -- Michael Nethercott, a longtime Brattleboro-area resident, was recently recognized for his storytelling in the traditional mystery style. His novella "O'Nelligan's Glory" is this year's recipient of the Black Orchid Novella Award, co-sponsored by Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, and is being published in the current issue. Nethercott will appear Friday at 6:30 p.m. at Mystery on Main Street bookstore in Brattleboro.

    -- The authors of the new coffee-table book "Lake Champlain: An Illustrated History" will take your questions during a panel discussion Wednesday from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center at the Leahy Center for Lake Champlain in Burlington. A book signing will follow the discussion, with light hors d'oeuvres and a cash bar. ECHO was a partner in the creation of the book, produced by Adirondack Life magazine.

    -- Tom Slayton will kick off the free Books for Bennington series on Thursday evenings at 7 p.m. at the Bennington Museum with a reading from his book "Searching for Thoreau: On the Trails and Shores of Wild New England." Other local authors will continue the weekly series, which is co-sponsored by the Bennington Cultural and Arts Council and the museum; for future listings, see www.benningtonmuseum.org.

    Do you have a tip for Between the Lines? Send it to ruth.hare@timesargus.com.

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