Saturday, March 29, 2008

McCain On The Mortgage Crisis

~ Er, Doesn't have a Lot of Hope to Offer ~

Via Gail Collins, your Demon's fave new snarky NYT editorialist:

.."Fortunately for the quivering Democrats, McCain has also felt compelled to speak about the mortgage crisis. His economic thinking — which is, in any form, a brand-new phenomenon — harks back to the time when Republicans all seemed to be elderly rich guys who muttered a lot about bonded indebtedness. The public’s deep lack of enthusiasm for this worldview was what encouraged Reagan to change the subject to optimism and abortion.

"The theme for his mortgage speech this week was basically McCain to Homeowners: Drop Dead. It was, he said sternly, 'not the duty of the government to bail out and reward those who act irresponsibly.' The good news, he noted, was that out of 80 million American homeowners, only 4 million are in the tank, while everybody else is 'working a second job, skipping a vacation and managing their budgets' the way Countrywide Financial intended them to.

"He did, however, leave the door open for some vague, amorphous, undefined aid to good homeowners, as opposed to irresponsible ones who ... did something irresponsible. Like taking that vacation.

"McCain then suggested that the federal government ought to do something about getting regulations off the back of the financial markets and concluded with a call to reduce the corporate tax rate. It was not exactly a rallying cry for the masses."

"Not the responsibility of government to bail out those who act irresponsibly?"

Well, except for Bear Stearns, commercial banks and certain mortgage brokers! What John means, we think, is "irresponsible" individuals, who, after all, deserve to be punished, driven out of their homes and get foreclosed on.

Not the commercial operations who lured buyers into "irresponsibility" ~ they've been punished enough. See Bear Stearns investors and employees complaining about its stock price below. How are they going to make the payments on their exotic homes and cars? You're not thinking of their plight, are you, America ~ poor downtrodden free marketeers!

More here from Gail on Democrats as well:


Wall Street Begs To Be Rescued From Itself

~ Wall Street is begging, yes, you heard right, begging for regulation, proving even the Cannibal Captains of Capitalism know that they've gone too far and are about to devour themselves~
More on the troubling paradoxes of capitalism from the edge of the abyss
In his "Talking Business" column in the NYT, Joe Nocera reflects on the surprising support for stronger regulation than the Fed's Paulson has proposed, and Democrat Barney Frank's ideas (*gasp*) for taking a non-efficent system inherited from the Depression era (with major gutting along the way under Bill Clinton's watch), and strengthening it gathering steam, viewed with favor by major players on Wall Street:
...[Frank] "also said that capital requirements for nonbanks needed to be reassessed, that consumer protection needed to be enhanced, that mortgage originators — indeed, all lenders — should have to carry a portion of their loans on their books so that they would bear some risk if things went wrong, and that companies should be regulated not according to whether they were a bank or an investment bank or a hedge fund but whether they did things like create credit. 'We now see a situation in which more damage was done by inadequate regulation,” he said. He called for a new era of 'sensible regulation.'
"You may have noticed that when the Treasury secretary, Henry M. Paulson Jr., made his big Wall Street regulation speech a few days ago, in which he took a far more cautious — or tepid, depending on your point of view — position on the need for new regulation, he took a swipe at Democratic proposals like Mr. Frank’s, saying that most of their ideas 'are not yet ready for the starting gate.'
"But Mr. Paulson is wrong. Given Mr. Frank’s position as chairman of the central [House Financial Services] committee, his ideas are very much at the starting gate. He will hold hearings and get support, especially if the crisis deepens. Indeed, Mr. Paulson will release on Monday his own set of ideas, which were obtained Friday by The New York Times. Although his proposals are elaborate, they strike me as mainly an effort to keep new regulation to a minimum.

"And lest you think Mr. Frank’s notions for new regulation are just the knee-jerk impulse of a liberal Democrat, I can say with some authority that there is a surprising amount of support, even on Wall Street, for the idea that investment banks need more stringent regulation. That includes influential people like Byron Wien of Pequot Capital, Laurence Fink of BlackRock, the economist Alan Blinder, Allan Sinai of Decision Economics, Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, and even Larry Kudlow, the archconservative host of 'Kudlow & Company' on CNBC.
“'I think investment banks need to be regulated,' Mr. Kudlow told me flatly. He added that although he often disagreed with Mr. Frank, he felt that he was 'a good thinker and not a knee-jerk liberal'” I’ll tell you, I nearly fell off my chair.
"There are any number of problems with [the regulatory] system [as it presently exists]. One is is both duplicative and full of gaping holes. The main concern in the wake of the Depression was the banking system — so banks wound up heavily regulated. Investment banks, by contrast, were far less important to the overall financial system, so they wound up with a very different kind of regulation; in general, they can take all the risk they want with their balance sheets without the government saying boo.
"Yet over the last few decades, and especially since the abolition of the Glass-Steagall Act, the Depression-era law that separated investment banks from commercial banks, the two kinds of institutions have come to perform many of the same functions. All kinds of banklike institutions have sprung up that are largely unregulated. Mr. Sinai, the chief global economist at Decision Economics, estimates that today, only 20 percent of loans are made by regulated banks. The rest are generated by institutions that are much less regulated.
"Indeed, thanks to securitization, banks don’t have anywhere near the assets or power they used to have — while investment banks are a far larger and more powerful part of the financial system. For that reason, said Mr. Fink, the chief executive of BlackRock, the large public money manager, 'I believe, as I have for years, it is time for investment banks to be regulated.'

"Here’s another problem: the bank regulators and the securities regulators have very different mind-sets. For good reason, the Depression caused bank regulators to focus on the 'safety and soundness' of the banking system. These many decades later, that is still their major concern.
"Protecting bank customers, by contrast, has been a much less pressing concern. A number of people told me, for instance, that the Fed could have reined in mortgage lenders if it had wanted to, or cracked down on subprime loans. But the Fed chairman then, Alan Greenspan, was really quite hostile to the notion that he should be wading into the subprime market. Indeed, he thought the benefits of broader homeownership were worth the risks that subprime loans entailed. And the few regulators who tried to sound the alarm about those risks were ignored.
"The S.E.C., meanwhile, cares a great deal about consumer protection — indeed, its mandate is to protect investors — but it’s not really equipped to evaluate the safety and soundness of the investment banks it regulates.
"Lynn Turner, a former S.E.C. chief accountant, points out that the agency actually has an office of risk management, which was established a few years ago when William Donaldson was the chairman. Its job is to do precisely what Mr. Frank is proposing: make sure Wall Street firms aren’t taking on more risk than they can handle. But in its most recent annual report to Congress, the S.E.C. admitted that the office had been unable to function properly because it was plagued with staff turnover.
"Mr. Paulson’s essential position, as articulated in both his speech and the proposals he will formally unveil Monday, is that the Federal Reserve’s opening of the discount window to investment banks — an action not taken since the Depression —means that the Fed will have to have some new measure of regulatory control over investment banks. After all, the discount window makes loans to banks that are having problems — and since it’s the taxpayers’ money that is being lent, the Fed needs to be able to assess the size of the problems. He wants the Fed to be able to burrow into investment banks and scout out potential problems.
"But putting investment banks under the purview of the Fed because they have access to the discount window is about as minimal a step as one could take. And while Mr. Paulson also calls for consolidation of some regulatory agencies, he is still not tackling some central problems. His proposals won’t cover institutions like mortgage companies that make loans and then send them to Wall Street to be turned into complex securities. It won’t come to terms with the potential dangers of derivatives themselves. It won’t cause the Fed to become more consumer-friendly, or the S.E.C. to care more about the soundness of investment banks. Without serious, wholesale change, the system will still look for all the world like a Rube Goldberg contraption.
“'The system is broken,' Mr. Sinai said. 'The animal spirits of the private sector, plus lax regulation, did it in.' He is among those who believe that we need a new supervisory agency that would regulate, as he puts it, 'all the banklike institutions.' Those that took the most risk would have the biggest capital requirements — no matter whether they were investment banks or hedge funds or banks. The government would be able to examine investment banks, just as it now examines banks. Outliers like mortgage brokers wouldn’t be able to play by one set of rules while banks play by another.
"I don’t know whether a big new agency is the right way to go. The ideas that emerged from the Depression came after much thought and many Congressional hearings — and one would hope the same would happen this time.'You don’t want to rush into a new regulatory regime,' said Mr. Blinder, the former Fed board member who now teaches at Princeton. Indeed, one of the things I like about Mr. Frank’s approach is that he is not trying to rush through legislation. He has thrown out some interesting, provocative — and in many ways, quite sensible — ideas, and now he’s going to see where they lead.
"That’s hardly the approach of a knee-jerk liberal. Even Mr. Kudlow would seem to agree."
Meanwhile, it is reported last week that the employees (of the infamously "brass-knuckle," "no holds barred," "we'll put you and your little dog too through the meat grinder and serve you as barbeque") Bear Stearns were crying in the halls last Friday at the injustice of having to settle for a $2 per share stock price in the government bailout. They want at least $10! Shareholders chimed in.
They're lucky that we didn't leave them to die and go bankrupt, like we did with Drexel a decade ago. But brass-knucklers like Bear don't know how to be grateful that they've dodged a bullet and are left alive at all. With true Wall Street chutzpah and unmitigated gall, while they're still standing they think they have an absolute right and entitlement to more, more, more.
Seems they don't at all mind playing with fire as long as somebody else ~ in this case, the entire American economy~ gets burned. Take a coupla bucks away from them when they should be grateful they're still standing, and they cry like little girls. Doncha wish somebody would spank the nasty little brats but good?

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Friday, March 28, 2008

Clinton Backers Send Pelosi A $24M "Love" Letter

~A Telling Commentary on the Role of Money in Modern Politix ~

Today The Capital Eye reports that in a not-at-all-subtle effort to sway Nancy Pelosi away from Obama, major donors to Hillary's campaign and the Democratic party send Pelosi a letter advancing the most persuasive argument they can apparently conceive ~ a stern reminder just how important they are.
"Prominent backers of Hillary Clinton sent a multi-million-dollar message to Capitol Hill this week: Watch out, Nancy Pelosi. In a letter to the Speaker of the House that urged her to stay out of the debate over how superdelegates should cast their votes, the 20 major Democratic donors didn't call direct attention to the $23.6 million that they've given to the Democratic Party since 1999, but they reminded her of their 'enthusiastic' support over the years.
"'We appreciate your activities in support of the Democratic Party and your leadership role in the Party and hope you will be responsive to some of your major enthusiastic supporters,' online copies of the letter read.
"Every signer of the letter has contributed to the Democratic Party in every election cycle since at least 2000, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, and there's no way to know how many more millions they've helped raise from others, or bundled, to support the party. The authors clearly favor Clinton in the presidential race, and many of them serve as bundlers for her campaign. Clinton has collected $315,000 for her Senate and presidential campaigns from these major donors and their spouses over the last 10 years, or $554,000 including contributions to HILLPAC, her political action committee. By comparison, Barack Obama has collected $34,700 from these donors for his Senate and presidential campaigns, plus $17,500 to his PAC, Hope Fund. Eleven of those listed on the letter to Pelosi have given to Obama over the years, although only one couple has given to his presidential account in the 2008 cycle.
"The donors also pointed out to Pelosi that they have been strong supporters of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the party appartus that supports the Democratic members she leads in the House of Representatives. Nearly $3 million of the $23.6 million that the authors of the letter have given to Democrats has gone to the DCCC. In addition to the money they've given to candidates, parties and other Democratic committees, the donors have contributed about $3 million to 527 committees, the independent issue groups that frequently get involved in elections.
"The contest between Clinton and Obama has been tight from the start and might come down to the votes of superdelegates, that elite group of Democrats that includes members of Congress, party leaders and state officials. Pelosi has urged the superdelegates to support the candidate who emerges with more pledged delegates by the time of the nominating convention this summer, arguing that the party will suffer if the superdelegates are perceived to defy the popular vote."
Note to Nancy: Money Talks


Thursday, March 27, 2008

BushCo's Last Days List ~ To-Do's While Still In Office

Ill: Wizard of Whimsy

Your Demon's admittedly dark and perverse sense of humor doesn't prevent her from looking eagerly forward and, yes, rather naiively, to the day we finally learn the real reasons behind America's abysmal failure to oust Dick Cheney and George Bush via the self-restorative tonic of impeachment for various crimes at home and abroad when the red flags were awave in all our faces ~ scintillating as it's sure to be ~ but I rather doubt history's judgment will be anywhere near complete in my lifetime. Or during the lifetimes of any of the major actors ~ certainly not Bush himself, who's promised to keep his "Presidential Library" in Texas off-limits to serious scholars for many years to come.

I mention it only because I can't help a whistful game of "what if" as I launch into this evening's topic of things we shouldn't have to suffer again: the fact that the neocon wish list of things undone so far continues to be pursued with unabashed vigor and with no more grounds nor imagination than we've had to endure previously, no matter how unsuccessful to date and transparent the insult to our collective intelligence.

War with Iran, for instance: Cheney should be embarrassed to keep harping on it, never mind resurrecting the highly credible argument of WMD's, despite no intelligence to support it. Deja vu, anyone?

"Vice President Dick Cheney charged in an interview released Tuesday that Iran is trying to develop weapons-grade uranium, though international inspectors and U.S. intelligence services have not found evidence of such an effort.

"'Obviously, they're also heavily involved in trying to develop nuclear weapons enrichment, the enrichment of uranium to weapons-grade levels,' Cheney said, according to a transcript released by the White House of an interview done Monday in Turkey with ABC's Martha Raddatz.

"Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful energy production, but the U.S. and other Western countries fear Tehran will eventually develop nuclear weapons.

"In its latest report, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency, says Iran is enriching uranium at its plant in Natanz to less than 3.8%, which is the level necessary to create fuel for a civilian reactor. Weapons-grade uranium is enriched to 80% or 90%.

"Cheney's comment also contradicted the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies, which concluded in a report revealed late last year that Iran had halted its efforts to develop nuclear weapons in 2003.

"The vice president's statement was the second time in a week that a White House official has made an allegation regarding Iran's nuclear program and its intentions that did not square with publicly known facts.

"President Bush said last week that Iran's leaders had 'declared' they were seeking nuclear weapons. Iran has always denied the charge, and the White House later backpedaled, calling the president's remarks 'shorthand.'",1,7973825.story

Another favorite Bushco agenda bugaboo, besides expanding Middle Eastern boondoggle-wars, is the continuing campaign to privatize social security (after borrowing against it for lo these many years), but oddly enough, we do have money for bailouts of "riverboat gambler" investment and commercial banks who've brought ordinary America to its knees financially, and, of course, we always plenty of money for war! (Through some little dishonest budget trix like not counting the costs of private contractors, or the waste and fraud lost to friendly no-bid contracts).

"US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said Tuesday that America's Social Security program for the retired is 'financially unsustainable' and needs an urgent overhaul."

What most people don't realize is that retirement benefits haven't been keeping up with inflation because of by-now-familiar Bushco jiggering of figures, comparing apples to oranges, while the "privatization through the back door" of Medicare Advantage programs that lure Medicare recipients away from Medicare and into private plans that often are more expensive to those in desperate need of reliable health care with cost containment have been heavily subsidized. Wonder if those sacks of money in subsidies to private entitites are being counted as a "cost" to the taxpayers as well, in the rush to pronounce social security on its last legs.
Senior's League reports:
"Newly Released 2009 COLA Forecast Would Keep Five Million Seniors Below Poverty Line 2.8 Percent Increase Would Raise Average Benefit Just $30.20 Per Month During Economic Downturn"

"February 14, 2008 (Washington, DC) – Late last month, the Congressional Budget Office published a little-noticed estimate that forecasts seniors will receive just a 2.8 percent increase in their Social Security checks beginning in January, 2009.
Despite the increase, at least five million people aged 65 and over will remain in poverty, since senior costs are rising significantly faster than the annual Social Security Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA).

"Between 2001 and 2008, Medicare Part B premiums have soared by more than 93 percent while the COLA has crept up just 19 percent, leaving many seniors on their own to cover all other rising costs. Part B premiums cover doctors’ visits, tests, and outpatient hospital care. Although the COLA is intended to help seniors keep up with inflation, a recent study by The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) that analyzed eight key expenditures found that people 65 and over have lost 40 percent of their buying power since 2000. Expenses such as home heating oil and gasoline have more than doubled since the beginning of the decade, while food staples such as potatoes and butter have increased by 47 and 39 percent, respectively.

"A majority of the 48 million Americans aged 65 and over who receive a Social Security check depend on it for at least 50 percent of their total income, and one in three beneficiaries relies on it for 90 percent or more of their total income.

“'Social Security is supposed to protect seniors in need – but with five million seniors below the poverty line, it’s clear the system is failing them,' said Shannon Benton, executive director of The Senior Citizens League. 'If it’s true that a nation’s greatness is defined by how well it treats its most vulnerable citizens, then we must do a better job of protecting impoverished seniors.'

"To help offset the cost of Medicare Part B, TSCL is lobbying for a change in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) used to determine the COLA. The government currently calculates the COLA based on the CPI for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W), a slow-rising index that tracks the spending habits of younger workers who don’t spend as much of their income on health expenditures.

"However, the government also tracks the spending patterns of older Americans with the CPI for Elderly Consumers, or CPI-E. By tying the annual increase in the COLA to the CPI-E, seniors would see much needed relief in their monthly checks."

So, while Bush dreams of his legacy and insists that someday America will look back and see him as a visionary, your Demon thinks that proper word for it would be, not visionary, but delusional.

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Rev. Wright's REAL "Chickens Come Home to Roost" Sermon

~ A Demon Princess public service message ~

We should all know by now to beware of conservatives who twist, manipulate, and take everything out of context, shouldn't we?

You won't be surprised, then, to find that the real "chickens come home to roost" sermon wasn't anything like hate-filled rant first shown on Fox, then picked up by CNN, which played it, uncritically, over and over again until the entire country was induced to think that Reverend Wright is a madman. In fact, the "chickens come home to roost" was a comment made by a (white) ambassador to the Mideast.

The truth is, with respect to that particular speech, Wright is anything but a madman. Watch it yourself:

And here is the "God Damn America" speech in context (which would be more appropriately titled the "America confuses itself with God," and THAT'S what Wright damns speech):

Another basic truth about which we should be hypervigilant in the brave new post-Bushworld is that the right wing media will stop at nothing to destroy anyone/anything who threatens their carefully constructed, media-manipulated status quo. They're not about to go gracefully. Look for more of the same in the near future.


Saturday, March 22, 2008

5 Years In Iraq ~ And A Civics Lesson for Dick

Apologies, kittens, but your Demon didn't have time this past week to appropriately remark the Anniversary of the Grand and Glorious War in Iraq, nor to lobby for the commendable idea of expanding it to Iran. Why not bring a campaign that's met with so much success to other nations we really dislike since we can't control them anymore (and happen to be sitting on oil reserves that should be ours, anyway?)

Lessee: bonuses and dividends so far: the normalization of lying, spying and torture abroad and at home; the suspension of habeus corpus; giving Faux News Network and hate-spew radio a reason to exist and; the complete suspension of international and domestic law! Those things are quite an achievement in a democratic democracy! *wink, wink*

To all of which, Dick Cheney sez, rightfully: SO?

If we were stupid enough to surrender all that power to them on such feeble and unexamined pretexts, don't we deserve what we get? And all the rest of the world, too ~ SO?
Wouldn't there be rioting in the streets if such things had really happened? Wouldn't they have been impeached by now?
A former bigwig GOP supporter has the nerve to upbraid the excellent Mr. Dick and presume to give him a civics lesson:

"For at least six years, as I've become increasingly frustrated by the Bush administration's repeated betrayal of constitutional -- and conservative -- principles, I have defended Vice President Cheney, a man I've known for decades and with whom I served and made common cause in Congress. No longer.

"I do not blame Dick Cheney for George W. Bush's transgressions; the president needs no prompting to wrap himself in the cloak of a modern-day king. Nor do I believe that the vice president so enthusiastically supports the Iraq war out of a loyalty to the oil industry that his former employer serves. By all accounts, Cheney's belief in "the military option" and the principle of president-as-decider predates his affiliation with Halliburton.

"What, then, is the straw that causes me to finally consign a man I served with in the House Republican leadership to the category of "those about whom we should be greatly concerned"?
It is Cheney's all-too-revealing conversation this week with ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz. On Wednesday, reminded of the public's disapproval of the war in Iraq, now five years old, the vice president shrugged off that fact (and thus, the people themselves) with a one-word answer: "So?"
.."Policy, Cheney went on to say, should not be tailored to fit fluctuations in the public attitudes. If there is one thing public attitudes have not been doing, however, it is fluctuating: Resistance to the Bush administration's Iraq policy has been widespread, entrenched and consistent. Whether public opinion is right or wrong, it is not to be cavalierly dismissed.
"The decision to go to war, I told the students -- to send young Americans off to battle, knowing that some will die -- is the single most difficult choice any public official can be called upon to make. That is precisely why the nation's Founders, aware of the deadly wars of Europe, deliberately withheld from the executive branch the power to engage in war unless such action was expressly approved by the people themselves, through their representatives in Congress.
"Cheney told Raddatz that American war policy should not be affected by the views of the people. But that is precisely whose views should matter: It is the people who should decide whether the nation shall go to war. That is not a radical, or liberal, or unpatriotic idea. It is the very heart of America's constitutional system.
"In Europe, before America's founding, there were rulers and their subjects. The Founders decided that in the United States there would be not subjects but citizens. Rulers tell their subjects what to do, but citizens tell their government what to do.
"If Dick Cheney believes, as he obviously does, that the war in Iraq is vital to American interests, it is his job, and that of President Bush, to make the case with sufficient proof to win the necessary public support.
"That is the difference between a strong president (one who leads) and a strong presidency (one in which ultimate power resides in the hands of a single person). Bush is officially America's 'head of state,' but he is not the head of government; he is the head of one branch of our government, and it's not the branch that decides on war and peace. "

Personally, Mr. Mickey Edwards's op-ed on the topic sounds like heresy to me. If all that was true, how is it that Bush and Cheney have been able to convince "the people" to go along with things that are not supposed to happen under a Constitutional framework that provides for 3 separate, co-equal branches of government?? He must be hallucinating.
I want some of what he's injecting.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

~ The Presidential Preacher Wars ~

Get yer semi-religious swag from Betty Bowers for

“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.”
Seneca, Roman Philosopher, mid-1st Century AD
* * *

Wherein your Demon Opines that the Holier-than-Thou Plague in Presidential Politix has Finally Reached its Most Absurd and Completely Logical Apex ~ so let's have a Holy-Roller smackdown~

In the things your Demon would sorely like to see Department today~ a face-off, a royal rumble, an official smackdown featurin' those freaky, whacky, hate and brimstone-spewin' Presidential Preachers! Let's have a contest to see whose personal conception of God would despise, vilify,demonize and kill for no particular reason the greatest number of people on the slimmest of theological pretexts! Enquiring minds wanna know!

Leading the pack by two to one, John McCain has 2 Certifiably Crazy Holy Rollers in his camp, the 1st being Reverend Hagge in one corner, calling the Catholic Church a "cult" and the Whore of Babylon, but he doesn't have the sense to stop there, oh no! He also prays for Armageddon so the Christ-hating Jews will all go straight to hell, where they belong. Just a taste:

In the second corner, also for John McCain, we have a Reverend Parsley, who believes Allah was a demon spirit and that America was founded on the notion that Islam should be wiped from the face of earth (a "charitable" and "Christian" view, hey?) that Keith Olbermann is forced to debunk himself when McCain refuses to respond.
Update: Is McCain really a Christian? He seems to have evaded baptism for 15 years according to his home-state pastor:
"McCain...was raised in the Episcopal Church but has been attending Yeary's church for about 15 years. Yeary declined to comment on McCain's reluctance to finally undergo a baptism ceremony, a key ritual of the faith. 'John and I are having continual dialogue about his spiritual pursuits,'" Yeary said.
But none of that seems to be really remarkable, nor are McCain's holy-rolling preachers getting the attention they deserve over the past week, compared to the scorn and opprobrium heaped upon Obama's reverend for claiming that Jesus was a black man, and that white people were really, really, really mean to black people historically. Which, as to the latter, if you're African-American, seems a perfectly reasonable and plausible hypothesis. But right-wingers who have difficult relationships with historical fact resent it being thrown in their faces prefer and seem to prefer to view it as a matter of blacks having the proverbial chips on their shoulders or "reverse racism" and fear, if truth be told, that if a black man is ascendant politically, they'll be made to suffer somehow in retaliation.
Reverend Wright's experience in historical context:
Reverend Wright's "Chickens Come Home to Roost" sermon in CONTEXT:
If in fact Obama is really Christian at all ~ he does have that middle name "Hussein," after all.
Update: Not to be out-religioned in the Holier-than-Thou Culture War, the Nation has an article on Hillary Clinton's relationship with the Lord, or at least those who purport to have a direct feed to Him. A former acolyte name of Sharlet reports:
"Sharlet generously attributes Clinton's involvement to the under-appreciated depth of her religiosity, but he himself struggles to define The Family's theological underpinnings.
"The Family avoids the word Christian but worships Jesus, though not the Jesus who promised the earth to the 'meek.' They believe that, in mass societies, it's only the elites who matter, the political leaders who can build God's 'dominion' on earth. Insofar as The Family has a consistent philosophy, it's all about power--cultivating it, building it and networking it together into ever-stronger units, or 'cells.' 'We work with power where we can,' Doug Coe has said, and 'build new power where we can't.'"
~ Tip o' the tinfoil hat to Paul ~
* * *
“On the dogmas of religion, as distinguished from moral principles, all mankind, from the beginning of the world to this day, have been quarreling, fighting, burning and torturing one another, for abstractions unintelligible to themselves and to all others, and absolutely beyond the comprehension of the human mind.”
~ Thomas Jefferson
* * *
“Of all religions, Christianity is without a doubt the one that should inspire tolerance most, although, up to now, the Christians have been the most intolerant of all men.”
~ Voltaire
* * *
“The tendency to turn human judgments into divine commands makes religion one of the most dangerous forces in the world.”
~ Georgia Harkness

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Still Waiting For Those Interest Rate Cuts To Trickle Down?

Bonus Econonic News Tidbit

Your Demon thinks she should take this opportunity to compare and contrast the recent hububs and rescue operations carried out by the Fed of "riverboat gamblers," banks and other assorted operations, the attendant bailouts and interest rate cuts, while noting belatedly that in Bushco's notion of the free market, the ordinary consumers don't really rate ~ you know, those of us in our little houses driving little cars and paying down our little credit cards ~ er, trying to pay down our little credit cards, more like.

Were you aware that there was (or is) such a thing as a credit-card holders' Bill of Rights movement afoot? Did you know legislation has been drafted, and hearings held?

Yes, it was a great idea ~ until the last minute when the credit card companies decided not to let consumers testify about unilateral contracts whereby an issuer can raise rates, fees, and penalties, without notice or consent, such that you'll NEVER be able to pay off that balance.

Read about it on the Mother Jones blog:

A NYT op-ed titled "Plastic Card Tricks" picked up the issue from there:

.."The Federal Reserve is focused mainly on making it easier for consumers to understand credit card contracts — some go as high as 30 pages of nearly unreadable fine print. Clarity, however, is not enough. One bank contract stated baldly: 'We reserve the right to change the terms at any time for any reason.'

"Congress needs to address numerous unfair practices, including interest rates that skyrocket for no apparent reason and due dates that suddenly shift — forward — so that an unwary consumer pays late. Late fees are a big profit center in some banks. Some raise interest rates when consumers get close to their credit limits. In other cases, a late payment on one company’s card raises the rates on other cards in your wallet." [...]

And how 'bout the credit scoring industry itself? Any "little person" who's had any experience with any of the 3 titans in that field know how impossible it is to get errors of "derogatory" credit reporting removed or explained.

Never mind that a derogatory credit report can tank your little-people ability to get a job, the rates you pay for insurance (I've never understood the logic behind why that should be so ~ your auto and home insurer can say, in effect ~ yeah we'll write ya, but for reasons totally unrelated to your actual insurance risk, we're docking you and forcing you to pay MORE, when it appears to us you've already had some problems), or the rates you pay for a whole host of other necessaries.

There is a penalty for being poor in America (even temporarily) after all! Don't like it? Nobody's keeping you from moving!


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Making The World Safe For Billionaires

Ill: Wizard of Whimsy

The Troubling Paradoxes of Capitalism

~ America's First MBA/CEO President Bails Out a "Riverboat Gambler" using the Fed to do it ~ hey, we didn't say he was a good CEO!
Deliciously ironic (if you like these sorts of ironies), the Fed resorts to a little-used Depression-era law to effect a bailout of Wall Street giant Bear Stearns, which is, in case you missed it, an investment bank (not a regular commercial one) that had a hand in the ingenious packaging of sub-prime loans such that nobody could follow or figure out what was in them after an innovative wash-spin-rinse cycle. The bailout set off a firestorm of controversy.
The New York Times provides the back story:

..."But why save Bear Stearns? The beneficiary of this bailout, remember, has often operated in the gray areas of Wall Street and with an aggressive, brass-knuckles approach. Until regulators came along in 1996, Bear Stearns was happy to provide its balance sheet and imprimatur to bucket-shop brokerages like Stratton Oakmont and A. R. Baron, clearing dubious stock trades.

"And as one of the biggest players in the mortgage securities business on Wall Street, Bear provided munificent lines of credit to public-spirited subprime lenders like New Century (now bankrupt). It is also the owner of EMC Mortgage Servicing, one of the most aggressive subprime mortgage servicers out there.

"Bear’s default rates on so-called Alt-A mortgages that it underwrote also indicates that its lending practices were especially lax during the real estate boom. As of February, according to Bloomberg data, 15 percent of these loans in its underwritten securities were delinquent by more than 60 days or in foreclosure. That compares with an industry average of 8.4 percent.

"Let’s not forget that Bear Stearns lost billions for its clients last summer, when two hedge funds investing heavily in mortgage securities collapsed. And the firm tried to dump toxic mortgage securities it held in its own vaults onto the public last summer in an initial public offering of a financial company called Everquest Financial. Thankfully, that deal never got done.
Recall, too, that back in 1998, when the Long Term Capital Management hedge fund required a Fed-arranged bailout, Bear Stearns refused to join the rescue effort. Jimmy Cayne, then chief executive at the firm, told the Fed to take a hike.
"And so, Bear Stearns, a firm that some say is this decade’s version of Drexel Burnham Lambert, the anything-goes, 1980s junk-bond shop dominated by Michael Milken, is rescued. Almost two decades ago, Drexel was left to die.
"Bear Stearns and Drexel have a lot in common. And yet their differing outcomes offer proof that we are in a very different and scarier place than in the late 1980s.
'Why not set an example of Bear Stearns, the guys who have this record of dog-eat-dog, we’re brass knuckles, we’re tough?' asked William A. Fleckenstein, president of Fleckenstein Capital in Issaquah, Wash., and co-author with Fred Sheehan of Greenspan’s Bubbles: The Age of Ignorance at the Federal Reserve. 'This is the perfect time to set an example, but they are not interested in setting an example. We are Bailout Nation.'”
The comments to a Wall Street Journal blog entry explaining the Depression-era law still on the books indicates that even dyed-in-the-wool Republicans were reconsidering the whole capitalistic free-marketeer enterprise:

"Bear is an 'investment bank', not a 'commercial bank' like Bank of America, Suntrust, Wachovia, etc. Given this, why is the fed involved. These investment banks are riverboat gamblers and now the Fed is sanctioning their actions. This is a bailout. I’ve tried to be level headed about this, but I think this goes too far. I consider myself a conservative, but I have come to the conclusion that some industries should be regulated. Banks, airlines and utilities all spring to mind. De-regulation hasn’t worked in these industries.
Comment by What do I know"

"Let’s see. The money is funneled through JP Morgan, but if Bear defaults, the taxpayers pick up the tab? I’ve been a Republican a long time, but this makes no sense anymore. What’s in it for JP MC? This is getting very confusing. Does Morgan Chase take a cut of the action or what?
Comment by CC "

"I want to be JP Morgan! They get to make money from making a risky loan to Bear Stearns, but if it turns bad then the Fed picks up the risk!Who’s underwriting the Fed, then? The Chinese?How the pecking order has changed!
Comment by Greg T "

"I believe that the Fed is trying to avert a complete economic collapse. The easy credit given out was completely insane, and the motivation was pure greed. However, there are millions of Americans invested in these companies who are not independently rich but saving for retirement. A complete collapse would wipe out many taxpayers’ hard earned savings and investments. The Federal government could have stopped this right away but everyone in Washington, D.C. is bought by Wall Street and every other major industry. I would like to see strict regulation, which is rigorously enforced. I doubt that will happen. Bush’s pep talk about the economy is not going to change people’s minds. It will be years before people recover from this mess and some will not. I would not rule out a very long and deep recession. A depression would not surprise me either. Wall Street definitely needs regulation, a concept alien to far too many in Washington and the people at the WSJ. Capitalism needs some restraints. Booms and busts do not work and the proof is being seen everyday.
Comment by Jake"

"Privatize profits, socialize losses. That’s the system we’re operating under. I’m glad to see the comments from several Republicans who finally realize that this business of skewing all policy to favor the rich has finally reached its endgame.
Comment by John R"

Maybe America's gamblers on Wall Street have finally overcome the deregulation mania that started with the Reagan administration and trickled on down to the present day, having reached its zenith in the person of one GWB (pictured above).

Speaking of whom, if you didn't see his pathetic presentation on the economy in the past several days, watch a mercifully abbreviated version here, and note the transparent and not very well executed efforts at diversion (your Demon particularly likes "9/11!"):

However, everyone has noted by now that Bush won't admit the depth of the stuff we're swimming in, and everytime he speaks on the topic it brings to mind what a landmark excercise in denial and propagandistic talking points it is to be America's 1st MBA President ~ worthy of a leader of Soviet Russia or Communist China in their heydays~ heaven forbid, there cannot be a recession, much less a full-blown depression ~ because George SAYS there isn't! Much as there are no real problems with finding work, or inflation, or food costs, etc. etc.
Meanwhile, a Harvard economist says we may be headed for a "slump" the magnitude of which this country hasn't seen since World War II.

"The United States has already slipped into a deep recession that could be the most serious since World War II, said Martin Feldstein, president of the Cambridge group that is considered the official word on economic cycles.
"'The situation is bad, it's getting worse, and the risks are that the situation could be very bad,' Feldstein said in a speech yesterday at a financial industry conference in Boca Raton, Fla.
"Also yesterday, Macroeconomic Advisers, a St. Louis consulting firm run by several former Federal Reserve officials, said the US economy barely grew in January and predicted it declined by 0.7 percent in February.
"Feldstein's remarks were punctuated by an extraordinary run of alarming developments yesterday, including surging oil prices, new worries about home foreclosures, and the near collapse of a venerable investment bank that sparked another rout in stock prices on Wall Street.
"US investment giant Bear Stearns Cos. yesterday morning received an emergency bailout loan for an undisclosed amount that was facilitated by the Federal Reserve Bank, which invoked a little used Depression-era measure to unleash the funds. Bear Stearns is in dire need of cash after it was forced to write off billions of dollars of losses in mortgage-related investments, and worried investors withdrew their funds.
"Bear Stearns's stock lost $3.2 billion of value yesterday, almost half its market capitalization. The major stock indexes all posted steep declines, with the Dow Jones industrial average down 195 points to close below 12,000.
"US oil prices, meanwhile, remained above $110 a barrel, after hitting a record $111 on Thursday, putting increasing strain on consumers and businesses alike. United Airlines and Continental Airlines raised round-trip fares by as much as $50 a ticket to help recoup the cost of rising jet fuel prices, the latest in a wave of ticket increases throughout the industry. Heating oil and gasoline prices also surged.
"Rising oil prices, in turn, are driving up prices for everything from food to electricity, threatening to end years of modest inflation. Gold prices hit a fresh record yesterday, as investors embrace it as a hedge against inflation and a weakening US dollar, which remained at lows against the euro.
"Earlier this month the US Labor Department reported that private employers slashed their payrolls by 101,000 jobs in February, the third straight month of job reductions. Also yesterday a widely followed monthly index of consumer sentiment posted a 16-year low."
Here in Seattle, we got the cheery news over the weekend that we have one of the highest inflation rates in the nation:

We're told that's good news because we still have a strong economy ~ for now.
Wait here while your Demon goes to count her blessings and her store of canned tuna.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

News Roundup: Stupid Human Trix

First and most prominent Dunderhead of the Day Award: Get Down in the Mud & Fling Feces Through a Proxy (Not the First Time)

The Clinton Campaign's Willie Horton Moment

To Geraldine Ferraro of the Hillary Clinton camp, for trying to fan the flames of racism against Barrack Obama:
"Ferraro, who sits on Clinton's finance committee and has spoken at her rallies, sparked the firestorm when she was quoted by a California newspaper as saying: 'If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position.'
"Obama...called the remark by the Democrats' 1984 vice presidential nominee 'patently absurd.'
"'I don't think that Geraldine Ferraro's comments have any place in our politics or the Democratic Party,' he told Pennsylvania newspaper The Morning Call.
"His campaign clamored for Ferraro's head, noting the swift resignation of an Obama aide last week after her remark that Clinton was a 'monster' sparked howls of outrage from the New York senator's team. [...]
"Clinton said only that she did 'not agree' with Ferraro's portrayal of Obama as the privileged recipient of affirmative action, and found it 'regrettable' that supporters might resort to personal attacks."
This after Clinton purportedly tried to portray herself as the Democratic frontrunner by "magnanimously" offering Obama the Vice Presidency when in fact the two are still in a dead heat, and previous manipulative stunts such as darkening photos of Obama to make it appear his skin tone is blacker than it really is, allegedly.
With nasty political personal attacks like this ~ speaking to nothing like real issues or policy positions, illustrating only that Hillary herself will do ANYTHING to win~ from a Democrat, who needs the GOP?
Next we'll be hearing from the Clinton camp that they're doing Obama a favor--after all, it's what everybody's really thinking, isn't it--shouldn't Obama toughen up and face it now?
But Clinton doesn't really want to go there ~ the same unspoken "bigotry of soft expectations" applies to women who try to enter the traditional white male citadels of politics, law and other professions, and in fact, the Obama rejoinder (which does address substantive issues of experience upon which Hillary herself campaigns) is true--she's been in the White House as a First Lady, which is not to be confused with the actual Chief Executive. She attempts to amalgamate that experience with her experience in Congress, and unfortunately overreaches.

Second Stupid Human Trick of the Day:

Speaking of white males with power pennies to burn, your Demon has to note the unfortunate fact that a great many of them can't keep their peckers in their pockets, and it seems there's an even more unfortunate correlation of power to their pitiful underestimations of the political consequences if they're discovered ~ and I don't mind noting that this is and has been true on both sides of the aisle, though conservatives today aren't mentioning that little nugget of info.
Wall Street is in a state of bliss today to learn that its nemesis Eliot Spitzer has been outed as a frequenter of prostitutes. As a woman myself, along with untold numbers of women everywhere, I know what kind of pain the male human proclivity for whoring (not to mention the talent for blaming it on the objects of their unchaste desires) causes, but I'm not of the opinion that it's a matter of great public interest in and of itself, unless of course it involves children, people who are incapacitated, sex slaves or any right-wing televangelist who's been caught in said acts and cried in public in the past 10 years.

Unfortunately, like crusaders before him, Spitzer saw fit to apply a standard of morality to others that he couldn't uphold himself. It's one thing if the whoring was more than tangentially related to his famous investigations on Wall Street (did captains of industry indeed throw money at call girls and prostitutes, and in so doing, adversely affect the companies' interests), along with the more usual forms of raiding consumers and investors of money that they otherwise would have realized?)
The latter is a justifiable and worthy goal, especially now, when disparaties of wealth are insane and cannibal capitalism under Bushco has driven the world economy into the ground. However, Spitzer is learning, like political elites from both parties before him, that it is ever advisable to remove the log from one's eyes before complaining of logs in others.'

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Rove Is Gone (In Theory) But Homages Abound

Ohio Republicans "cross over" temporarily in effort to throw the vote for Clinton as suggested by Limbaugh because everyone knows the lunatic right will vote for McCain over her.
~ Isn't tampering with votes supposed to be a crime? Rush Limbaugh and his deluded acolytes in Ohio don't seem to realize it, or don't care ~
A weird piece in a Cleveland paper shows that fans of Rush Limbaugh and his hate-spew radio show took part in "a plot" to try to throw the Ohio elections by cross-dressing as Democrats, but only temporarily ~ on the theory that Clinton would be easier for McCain to beat in the Presidential elections than Obama. Ohio election officials assure us there weren't enough voters (who would admit it, not surpringly, because I'm pretty sure it's a crime to try to influence elections this way~ but where's your Demon's head today? Still stuck in the Bad Ol' Librul Days Before Bushworld, apparently)~ to succeed in throwing the election to Clinton, really. So I guess there's no need for a do-over.
In any event, two poll workers in their '70's, staunch Republicans, cheerfully admitted to the paper they'd assisted other Republicans with the cross-registration process, or at least didn't challenge the really transparent registrations, some following the Great White Leader's example by attaching their own "signing statements." The elderly pranksters then went on to cross over and vote the same way themselves!
And all this time your Demon thought the GOP was supposed to be the law-and-order party! Apparently there's now an exception when trying to save the country from damnation and demonic liberals. Let us call it "the Limbaugh Rule."

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