Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Dateline: Lafayette Indiana

Lafayette Indiana. Eleven o’clock in the evening. The man has been up since six in the morning. He is watching the Daily Show. It is the man’s favorite show. The man realizes that mental masturbation can only put off the day when everyone realizes that the two party system is horseshit. The man doesn’t care. He is tired and the stylings of John Stewart bring him pleasure. The man knows that Barak Obama will be a better president than John McCain. The man also realizes that no matter who gets elected, the fortunes of the average American will still be heading southward. No one seems to care. The left is pacified by Obama, who they see as the second coming of Jesus. The right has destroyed itself on cultural issues that no one cares about. Jesus is apparently dead as a campaign issue. (Thank God). The governor of Alaska has been caught in another scandal. The election staggers on.

The man takes a sip of a glass of piss poor Indiana wine and wonders whether the heartland cares one whit about the Constitution. He concludes that they do not. Indiana is a battleground state, leaning towards Obama. The fact that the race isn’t closer, in Indiana or elsewhere, troubles the man. Who the fuck is voting for McCain, he wonders. People who either don't understand the issues or can't be bothered to care. The man thinks the hicks from the sticks should spend more time on Sunday reading books other than the Bible. The man gets weary. And sleeps.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


The PBS pundits seem to think McCain did ok, but Obama held ground. McCain's performance was very engaging, but didn't deliver the necessary knock-out. I agree, it seems like Gramps was on the Viagra tonight, but I don't think his performance was good enough to change the momentum that has been building behind the Obama campaign. Polls bear out the fact that going negative has hurt McCain's campaign and I don't think McCain visiting the Ayres matter helped him with the swing voters, which is all that really matters at this point. He has the base. He needs the moderates, and the moderates are more worried about their 401ks than any past associations Obama has with radicals from the 1960s.

The elections are 2 weeks away and both candidates have approval rates in the 50% range. This is almost unheard of this late in the game. Obama has squandered a great opportunity in this race by failing to hammer the Republicans on the economy, but he could hardly do so without calling attention to his own support by the financial industry. Nader, as usual, is right. You cannot have a debate between two establishment candidates and expect anything other than moderate differences between the major candidates. The economy is heading into a recession, maybe a depression, and neither candidate thought the issue was important enough to engage on a meaningful level. The lack of a meaningful articulable difference on economic issues makes the debate, and indeed the election, a mystery to the average voter, which makes them susceptible to attack ads and the like. McCain would be a disaster for the economy, but to expect much more from Obama might be a fools errand.

Part VI

Still on abortion. Taking a bathroom break.Back. Still on abortion. Smoking a cigarette. Back. Still on abortion.

Next (and last) question: Education. "We spend more than anyone but still suck compared to the rest of the world. Comments?" Obama says more money and reform. Recruit an army of new teachers and pay them well but would require pay for performance. Proposes a national $4k tax credit for a volunteer program. McCain says the civil rights issue of the 21st century. Supports charter schools and would let the rest of the people rot. Both favors competition, which is odd because it is an inherently uncompetitive field. McCain seems to favor allowing ex army people to get into schools without being accredited. Obama supports tradition of local control of schools but favors feds getting involved somewhere. Says the problem with no child left behind is that the feds also left the money behind. Obama is against vouchers and attacks McCain on college funding. McCain favors choice with vouchers. Unsurprising positions for both.

I'm getting slightly drunk. Thank god this is over soon. This election has taken years off my life.

Closing remarks: You know what they are saying. It's all bullshit.

Part V

Healthcare, blah, blah. If Obama wanted to win this election he would come out in favor of universal healthcare. All he has to say is, "if we can find $700 billion to bail out Wall Street, we can certainly find the money to create a healthcare system for every American". Election over. But he can't. Because they own him. They own both of them.

Boy, I'd hate to be "Joe" right about now. Every media outlet in America is sending a van to his house right about now.

Next Question: Abortion. McCain will appoint pro-life judges to please his base, Obama will appoint judges who actually understand the law. Although on second thought, his support of the FISA law makes me question his judgment, Harvard Law degree notwithstanding. Personal comment: Roe was decided on the wrong basis and as legal precedent it is questionable. That is very different from believing that the issue was "wrongly decided" which it wasn't. Next question!

Part IV

Deep into the second bottle of Bogle Pinot Noir. McCain attacks Biden for the vote on the first Iraq war and his idea to partition the country after the failure of the second-a good idea in my opinion.

New question: Climate change. How can we reduce our dependence on foreign oil? McCain says Canadian oil is ok, but Venezuela and Middle Eastern Oil is off limits. Accuses Obama of being an extremist. Advocates Nuclear, hydrogen and clean coal. Obama thinks that in 10 years we can reduce our dependence on that nasty oil. Obama drifts over into borrowing 700 billion (an interesting number) from China being a bad idea. Says we cannot drill our way out of the problem and advocates wind, solar, and geothermal. Much cleaner than McCain's plan. Obama reiterates support of free trade but suggests enforceable labor and environmental components to future trade agreements. Frankly, with gas prices falling, who really gives a shit? McCain does. "Drill now! Drill now!"

Missing from this debate thus far is any suggestion that the banks should be held accountable for bankrupting our children's future. Or the fact that there is a recession. Or that the Wall Street titans should be hauled up in front of a tribunal, found guilty, and shot. I suppose that is too much to expect. Why the fuck are they talking about the high-tech cars of the future when the economy is in a total meltdown? See last week's post on contributions to their respective PACs for my answer.

Next question: Healthcare. Both of them have no serious answer to this problem because they are both in the pockets of the insurance industry. Nevertheless, McCain's plan is a complete disaster and would cost most people thousands of dollars a year. Because he is a Republican, and they could care less about you.

Blogging part III

Getting nasty. McCain hiding behind the flag and defending the nazis who come to his rallys and suggest killing Obama. Obama, a bit less aggressive, but brings it back on message. Suggests tough vigorous debates but says we need to focus on the issues. McCain hits Acorn. Obama says Bill Ayres actions were despicable, but notes that the panel he served on with Ayres was funded by Republicans. With respect to Acorn, Obama says he represented them, alongside the DOJ, in a motor voter issue. Obama then reels off a long list of positive associates who have thrown nothing more than rhetorical bombs. McCain isn't letting this go, but sounds a bit petulant.

Next topic: "Who are you going to bring into the government. Specifically, why did McCain pick such a freak?" Obama defends Biden. McCain attempts to defend Palin. Round III to Obama. (And I haven't even heard McCain's answer yet).

Live Blogging the Debate Part II

McSame claims he can balance the budget in 4 years, which is completely unrealistic. Also claims he isn't president Bush. Accuses Obama of raising taxes on people making 42k per year. Talks about being a maverick. Obama takes the bait and answers McCain's attack, which is counterproductive. Denies the McCain claim on his tax plan. "On the core economic issues that matter to the American people...you have been a major supporter of President Bush." Keeps trying to push McCain into the Bush administration. McCain is very feisty tonight. Knows its his last chance.

Blogging the Debate

Hofstra University. Repository of underachieving college students for decades. Our two underachieving candidates meet for the final time answering the softball questions of the main stream media. This one takes place with both candidates seated facing each other, which makes it easier to stick a knife in your opponent's neck, but harder to attack them verbally.

First question is about the respective candidates tax plans. First question, "which of your economic plans sucks less". McCain opens with a violin sonata to Nancy Reagan who broke a hip or something. McCain then goes on to pretend to care about homeowners by proposing an outright purchase of home loans and expresses disappointment at Paulson for not proposing this in the plan that he enthusiastically voted for. Obama agrees that supporting the corporate bail-out was a good idea, since he voted for it too, and proposes his own rescue plan for the middle class. Obama offers tax cuts, cotton candy and free pony rides, and also proposes that we invest in clean energy and something else. McCain appears on edge and a bit combative. He is talking directly to some guy named Joe who is one of the 25 people who would be affected by Obama's tax increase on the rich people. Obama calmly explains that McCain favors more corporate tax reductions. I feel like I watched this debate last week, which, in fact, I did.

Stock answers follow thinly veiled attacks. Etc., etc. McCain accuses Obama of class warfare and wealth redistribution (which I enthusiastically support)and Obama reiterates the fact that he is proposing a tax increase on the wealthy. McCain, the owner of seven houses and at least as many ex wives, is arguing that the $700 billion we sent to Wall Street has no tax implications. Yawn.

Next question: deficit. "Aren't you both ignoring reality?" Good question. Obama is talking about structuring the bail-out properly and argues that America has been living beyond our means and needs to suffer. Suffer! He wants to end subsidies to insurance companies (there goes my job), and make government work better. Obama wants to invest in healthcare (preventive) and energy, sending young people to college. Good stuff. McCain is talking about adopting Roosevelt's policies in the Great Depression., developing nuclear power and offshore drilling. McCain proposes an across the board spending freeze. All of a sudden the Republican maverick has become a Grover Norquist conservative. "I know how to save billions", says McCain. Accuses Obama of porkyness.Brings up the projector at the planetarium. Obama gives a history lesson on the history of the national debt. Everyone not living on either coast is sleeping.

Of Looming Depressions and Credit

Recessions are interesting. Even more interesting is the collective attempt of the media and government to minimize the seriousness of the upcoming economic doomsday staring the country in the face. Even the Times got it wrong by referring to the “looming recession” in an article on the decrease in consumer spending as if it were an event yet to come. As a number of people noted in comments attached to the article, its hard to conceptualize the recession as “looming” when the stock market is down 40 percent for the year, one in three houses in some communities are in foreclosure, consumer spending is down, people are maxed out on their credit cards, new credit is unattainable for anyone except those who don't need it, and the banks are broke. “I expect those sort of semantics from that idiot in the White House, not from the New York Times,” observed one reader.

I’m thinking of investing in coal, since it is bound to feature prominently in a majority of Christmas stockings this year. I’m also wondering how long major retailers like Target and even Walmart can hang on if American consumers have no credit with which to purchase their large televisions and super-sized bags of corn chips. While interbank credit liquidity has grabbed the headlines, perhaps more pernicious is the drying up of previously available consumer credit. This is a big part of the crisis that is being underreported. Here’s an example: I have a friend who had an unused Citibank card with a $25,000 spending limit and a WaMu card with a $7000 limit. After inadvertently being 30 days late on one payment on the WaMu card-with an otherwise perfect payment history-Citibank closed his account and WaMu reduced his credit limit to the balance owned. So my friend went from having a credit cushion of $30,000 to zero, in less than one month. I have heard other reports that the banks are simply slashing credit limits for no reason whatsoever and closing inactive accounts, effectively leaving consumers with no credit at all.

So, in addition to the late payment dinging his credit report, canceling his Citibank card and reducing the limit on his WaMu card caused his FICO score to drop like a stone. Why? Because he was, all of a sudden, using 100% of his available credit. Mind you, this is a person who one year ago had a FICO score of 800. Now his score is in the low 600s and probably heading further south. Does this make any sense? The banks already loaned all of their available capital to people who truly should never have gotten credit, and now they are trying to balance the books and make up for their own sloppy underwriting by destroying the credit of their remaining customers.

Mind you, these same banks were just gifted with billions of dollars by the U.S. Treasury with no strings attached in the hopes of shaking loose the credit market. Ben Bernanke, said yesterday that he "hoped "the banks would put this money into circulation, although apparently the banks are not required to do so. Given their prior track record, does anyone really think that this money will do anything to help the economy? I sure have my doubts.

Oh, well. The family and I went apple picking this week-end so at least we'll have something for the boys to sell from a cart when the whole economy winds up in the shitter. Have a pleasant day.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Abuse of Power and Appeasement

While we have all been running around stashing our acorns for the coming apocalypse, there has been no let up in the government's campaign of spying on American citizens. In a piece of perhaps unsurprising news, two low-level NSA employees being interviewed for a forthcoming book on the warrantless wiretap program said in interviews that they routinely intercepted the phone calls of average Americans-Red Cross volunteers, aid workers, etc. and transcribed those calls at the request of their superiors. These are not people suspected of any terrorist activity, simply people overseas making calls to their families. On more than one occasion, phone sex calls were intercepted and transcribed.

I don't have the best of memories, but I seem to recall Bush swearing on live television that the only calls that were being intercepted were those of, hmm, how did he put it..........oh yeah, "It’s phone calls of known Al Qaeda suspects making a phone call into the United States. " It turns out that he was lying. Another surprise. Since listening in on phone calls of American citizens without a warrant is actually a felony, one would think that the Congress would have something to say on the matter.

Alas, the Senate Intelligence Committee (har har) which was created in the 1970s because the U.S. Government was abusing its surveillance power then, did nothing. They knew what the administration was up to because the administration told them what they were doing, and they did nothing. As Glen Greenwald points out in his excellent post on the subject over in Salon, "the Senate Intelligence Committee never bothered to investigate what the Bush administration was doing with its secret, unlawful spying powers, whether those powers were abused, which Americans were spied upon, and how they were selected. To this day, they have never bothered to investigate those questions. "

The "to this day" part is important because at the time the initial abuses were made public the committee was run by the Republicans. Since 2006 it has been headed by Democrat Jay Rockefeller, who has still decided to let the issue lie.

Let's be clear, we are talking about MAJOR abuses of civil rights. Again from Greenwald, "the extent of the abuses disclosed here is substantial — “hundreds of Americans”; journalists, Red Cross and aid workers; military officers speaking to their friends and families — these disclosures are from only two relatively low-level individual NSA linguists at one NSA facility in Georgia. If just these two individuals are aware of this level of abuse, just imagine what the true extent of the abuses is — both quantitatively (how many innocent Americans had their conversations eavesdropped on?) and qualitatively (who, beyond journalists and aid workers, were listened to?)."

I think if the Democrats want to earn their seats in Congress they have to stop acting like little Neville Chamberlins and more like an opposition party. Their failure to act to stop the dismantiling of the Constitution will not be kindly remembered by history.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum(b)

No mystery why our two contenders for the Oval Office voted Yea on the bailout:

Top 10 Corporate PAC Contributors to OBAMA:

Goldman Sachs $739,521
UBS AG $419,550
Lehman Brothers $391,774
Citigroup Inc $492,548
Morgan Stanley $341,380
Latham & Watkins $328,879
Google Inc $487,355
JPMorgan Chase & Co $475,112
Sidley Austin LLP $370,916
Skadden, Arps et al $360,409

Top 10 Corporate PAC Contributors to MCCAIN:

Merrill Lynch $349,170
Citigroup Inc $287,801
Morgan Stanley $249,377
Wachovia Corp $147,456
Goldman Sachs $220,045
Lehman Brothers $115,707
Bear Stearns $108,000
JPMorgan Chase & Co $206,392
Bank of America $133,975
Credit Suisse Group $175,503

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Quiet Riot

As bad as the bailout was, perhaps worse was the spectacle of the Democrats and Republicans laughing and backslapping as the bill was signed. If this bill was really necessary to save the economy from imminent collapse, one would think a sense of quiet decorum would have prevailed at the signing. Instead, Congress celebrated like it was 1929. Here's a quote from a first hand observer, originally posted on Salon:

"A couple of hours later, upstairs in Republican whip Roy Blunt's office suite (in the middle of which the House, for some reason, has nestled the workspace for magazine writers), staffers cracked open cans of Heineken and blasted "The Final Countdown" and "Cum On Feel the Noise" ('80s music being the natural soundtrack as $700 billion prepares to leave the U.S. Treasury). And a cloud of cigar smoke hung in the air. It was the smell of a victory for Wall Street -- but, if the dire predictions of economic collapse were right, maybe not a loss for the rest of us."

California asked to borrow 8,000,000,000 from the feds so they could make payroll, but hey, at least Goldman Sachs will get to issue bonuses this Christmas. We were just sucker-punched, bigtime.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Tar and Feathers

Well, they went ahead and passed it, like we all knew they would eventually. The Congressional “mutiny” over the bail-out bill was quelled by the addition of several tons of pork which rendered the odious document greasy enough for the House to swallow without further dissent. Highlights of the newly larded bail-out plan include money for American Samoa, a repeal of a tax on wooden arrows designed to be used for children’s toys, and, in a blatant attempt to secure the pirate vote, a rebate against excise taxes charged on rum imported from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

It’s almost a relief to see that Congress has reverted back to its usual way of doing business. I was getting concerned that people were starting to think that by voting down the bill on Monday, the House was taking a principled stance against bailing out Wall Street on the backs of taxpayers. How comforting to know that there are no principles left in American government. Speaking of a lack of principles, I would note that Senator John, “Maverick” McCain voted for this bill after promising throughout his campaign that he would veto any bill containing pork that came across his desk in the oval office. Wall Street money talks, doesn’t it senator?

As for the rest of us who aren’t drinking rum in Samoa and shooting arrows at each other, the bill offers nothing except the banker’s hand in our pockets and the taxman at our doors. Apparently some Democrats also wanted to amend the bill to add an extension of unemployment benefits, but that change would also have required additional Senate action and it was deemed unlikely to pass. Unemployed voters don’t donate as much campaign cash as Wall Street bankers, I suppose.

I would like to formally inform my representative Gary L. Ackerman (D) NY-5, who supported the bill on Monday and voted for it today, that he will not be receiving my vote in November. He is also attempting to keep that vote a secret from his constituents. His web-site’s “press releases” for today make no mention of the bail-out vote. In fact, the bail-out package isn’t mentioned anywhere on the site. If our representatives thought this was such a good thing for Main Street, why are they hiding their positions. Oh yeah, right, I forgot. What this country needs is a good old fashioned revolution, because it seems like the only thing Congress would understand. If we let them get away with this, they will be able to get away with anything.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

A Modest Proposal

It looks as if the House’s defeat of Paulson’s Raw Deal Wall Street bailout package on Monday afternoon was just a bit of theater to set let the market soften us up for a retry tomorrow. I read the new bill-it’s still horseshit. How will injecting cash into a bankrupt system ease credit and save us? Most Americans have car loans, mortgages, student loans, and credit card debt to the point where they have nothing to save. America's total debt, consumer, state, local, and federal is estimated to be over $50 trillion and this bill will do NOTHING to ease the debt burden on the average citizen.

Sorry, but I still smell a rat. This financial crisis has been a decade in the making, but we have to act on it in a week? We are being stampeded into supporting a plan that benefits few on the backs of many by fear mongering of the worst sort. No facts, no detailed analysis, just panic driven hyperbole. But don’t take my word for it, I’m not an economist. But hey, this guy is: Nouriel Robini, a professor of economics at NYU said that “[t]he Treasury plan is a disgrace: a bailout of reckless bankers, lenders and investors that provides little direct debt relief to borrowers and financially stressed households and that will come at a very high cost to the US taxpayer. And the plan does nothing to resolve the severe stress in money markets and interbank markets that are now close to a systemic meltdown. It is pathetic that Congress did not consult any of the many professional economists that have presented - many on the RGE Monitor Finance blog forum - alternative plans that were more fair and efficient and less costly ways to resolve this crisis.”

If the government really wanted to help out Main Street they would also stop fighting tooth and nail against any of the bankruptcy reform being proposed for inclusion in this bill. Why is Congress resisting changing the law that would enable judges to work with people in bankruptcy to avoid defaulting on their mortgages? This is a simple solution that -- while not perfect -- would shore up some of the base of the problem (defaulting mortgages) and would cost tax payers nothing. Guess who would stand to lose money under this scenario? Bankers. Wall Street. Thus, it’s a non-starter. But Congress cares about Main Street? Ha!

I’d like to put forth my own modest proposal. I say we give every registered voter in America $1,000,000. This would cost much, much less than the proposed bailout and allow countless Americans to pay off their mortgages, eliminate their credit card debt and at the same time, pump large amounts of money into the economy that would eventually trickle up to the banks. If secretary Paulson wants to discuss the plan with me I’m ready to take his call. But I’m not holding my breath.