Category Archives: and then?

The Mayor’s Final Presser

Big can of crazy…

I’m guessing it’s the National Enquirer sex scandal stuff about to be verified, but I’m cynical like that.

One thing I can’t help keeping in mind, this person who is the darling of the GOP, who everybody wants to see run for prez in a few years, was quite simply the mayor of a tiny Alaskan town not two years ago.  She has no business on the national stage, at least not as a credible chief executive.  On the other hand, if she wants to fulfill her destiny as the teevee love child of Oprah and Glenn Beck, I say have at it.

No shame being poor, but might as well be

I heard a report recently on local public radio talking about the various tent cities that have been popping up around Baltimore, as more and more people slip through the economic cracks.  They profiled a man and woman, probably late 30’s / early 40’s, recently out of doors.  They’re living in the woods off of 8th Avenue in Glen Burnie, probably a few blocks away from where Reefercake and Monkey Woman saw G Love kickboxing behind his tour bus roughly 10 years ago.  But I digress…

A couple of things struck me about the interview.  For one, these people were still employed (at least the woman was).  She commutes to a job as a nurse’s assistant or some such thing in Columbia, MD, which is no small commute.  So they still have a car.  When asked how they came to be homeless, the dude said something to the effect that living in motels was too expensive.  They’re basically trying to save up enough money to get back on their feet, and maybe into an apartment.

Anyway, the reporter made a point of asking if they still considered themselves to be “middle class”. The question pissed me off.  After a brief instant of perplexion – probably thinking the same thing I was: “asshole!” – she replied that she did, though their current circumstance was one of poverty.  

God bless her for being gracious, but what was the point of that question?  Reasonable people can have different definitions of what constitutes middle class, but homelessness does not make the cut under any scenario.  Even people in the “lower” class still have a roof over their heads.  So what was the reporter asking?  Was he just taunting these people?  (“They so poor, they think they middle class!”)

Perhaps the reporter thinks “middle class” is just a state of mind.  If so, that’s good news for all these fools about to lose their homes in the next wave of home foreclosures:

The Wall Street Journal reports that estimates of people underwater on their homes (owing more than it is worth) are anywhere from 15-27 million homes.  In other words, the low end (15 mil) represents 1/5 of all owner-occupied homes.  Combine these numbers with continued job losses, and the prognosis for the next two years looks bleak.  That the Senate voted to kill the cramdown provision in the face of this crisis is unconscionable.  To quote Sen. Dick Durbin last week:

And the banks — hard to believe in a time when we’re facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created — are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place.

At least somebody still owns something.  To get back to our homeless couple, I think what the reporter was really asking with the “middle class” question was, “do you still consider yourself to be respectable?”  The listener is meant to find their affirmative response to be surprising and ironic. The very premise of the question is offensive, really, and only illustrates Kurt Vonnegut’s observation that our culture affords no dignity to its poor.  

But hey, who needs dignity when you’ve got Tent City?

Voluntary Regulation

This is a really long one, but if you have the time and are interested in the current state of water quality, check out this frontline clip:
Poisoned Waters
Bottom line, it may have been 36 years since creation of the EPA, but in that time we’ve only had two administrations interested in doing anything substantive toward sustainability (‘voluntary regulation’ is the common buzzword throughout each Republican administration), and Bill was pretty much Republican Lite. We’ve done a lot with respect to municipal waste, and are now considering the possible impacts of things we can barely measure like endocrine disruptors, while any industry with some clout hasn’t done a damn thing. So fish keep going belly up with regularity, and while over-fishing is a problem the health of aquatic life in many places is very bleak due to poor waste management practices. Happy belated Earth Day!

Fiscal Fanatics Phony Freakout

First let me recommend you drink tap water. Its safe, clean, environmentally friendly and brought to you by my hardworking clients. Should you decide to suckle off the germ ridden teet of ‘the bottle’ and deny yourself the wonders of chlorine and other disinfectants, here is a simple reminder for you in your inevitable discussions with the creatures who gather ‘around the water cooler’:

The freakout over the ‘massive’ and ‘outrageous’ 3.5T budget needs historical perspective…click for the real data nobody wants to talk about. W increased spending by about a trillion dollars over his two terms…steadily each year. Last year we spent about 3 trillion dollars. In light of our current situation, a 3.5T budget with a pledge to crank it back down next year sounds very reasonable to me. Now is the time. In 3 years, when the economy has recovered and the deficit halved, we’ll have yet another chapter in my favorite book, “Republicans Don’t Know Shit About the Economy” as written by people who observe real events.

Meet the New Deal, same as the Old Deal

Here’s an open question: now that the fascists are officially running the country, what is the best choice of second language for my 3-year old to learn?  I just want her to have options.  And please, don’t tell me “Chinese”.  I need to know: Mandarin or Cantonese?… is there another?… be specific!  Is Canada the future (parlez vous?) or India?  If India, which state is most hospitable to the carpetbagging white devil?  My provincial upbringing leaves me unequipped to deal with current realities, so any and all suggestions are welcome.

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James Galbraith’s reaction to Geithner’s plan to subsidize the purchase of toxic bank assets?  EXAMINE THE LOAN TAPES.  Contrary to the oft-repeated claim that the true value of the mystery toxic assets is unknowable (“these new-fangled financial instruments are so gosh darn complex, nobody really knows what they’re worth!”), Galbraith believes a comparison to the IndyMac portfolio will reveal “whether these loans or derivatives based on them have any right to be marketed in an open securities market”…

Note that even a small loss of capital, relative to the purchase price, completely wipes out the interest earnings on the Treasury’s loans, putting the government in a loss position and giving the banks a windfall.

If I’m right and the mortgages are largely trash, then the Geithner plan is a Rube Goldberg device for shifting inevitable losses from the banks to the Treasury, preserving the big banks and their incumbent management in all their dysfunctional glory. The cost will be continued vast over-capacity in banking, and a consequent weakening of the remaining, smaller, better- managed banks who didn’t participate in the garbage-loan frenzy.

This will not achieve the stated goal, of bringing on new lending, for reasons already explained at length.  It’s all about not-measuring true asset quality at the big banks, permitting them to escape a clean audit, and therefore preserving them as institutions, while forcing the inevitable shrinkage of the financial sector to occur elsewhere. In short, the plan seems to me to be a very bad idea.

But the way to determine whether Geithner’s and the banks’ stated view of the toxic assets has any merit, is to demand an INDEPENDENT EXAMINATION OF THE LOAN TAPES, particularly looking to establish the prevalence of missing documents, misrepresentation, and fraud.  This can be done by a sufficient sample.  If the tapes look bad, it will be very difficult to justify the bank/Treasury view that the RMBS actually have value, which is somehow not realizable on the marketplace today because of “liquidity shortages” or “fire-sale conditions.”  Maybe there actually was a fire.

What’s most enfuriating in all of this is the thought of how quickly they can shovel money at these greedy fuckers, when for years we’ve been told there’s no money to expand the social safety net, universal single payer health care, social security, what have you…

Wait, did I say most enfuriating?  That would be the absolute disinterest on the part of the Obama administration to treat this like a massive swindle.  What’s enfuriating is that the unfolding trainwreck of events compels me to spend my free time trying to understand the difference between a CDO and CDS, just so I can pretend to understand what crooked scheme brought down the republic.

Am I being alarmist?  Hey, it’s just money after all, right?

One more link I need to get out of my system.  This one to an article Matt Taibbi wrote during the election that really took the wind out of my sails at the time.  It’s all about the way Wall Street rallied bahind Obama (and vice versa) after he took the Democratic nomination.  I sincerely hoped Taibbi was being overly cyncial, that the army of small donors could overwhelm the monied interests once Obama was firmly in charge.  Now that seems doubtful.

Other companies are getting in on the ground floor with the new chief by stuffing money in his ears. Overall, Obama is flat-out kicking McCain’s ass when it comes to Wall Street contributions, raking in nearly $9 million from securities and investment executives, compared to $6.2 million for McCain. Obama has received more contributions from Goldman Sachs than from any other employer — more than $627,000 at this writing — not to mention $398,021 from JP Morgan Chase, $353,922 from Lehman Brothers and $291,388 from Morgan Stanley. Even among hedge-fund executives, who have an unequivocal interest in electing McCain, Obama is whipping the Republican, collecting $500,000 more than McCain. All of which begs the question: Why would corporate giants like these throw so much weight behind a man who promises to strip them of billions in tax breaks?

Why, indeed?  Especially since, to a cynical observer, the financial panic triggered in September by the collapse of Lehman Bros was perfectly timed to allow the Bush Administration to bestow one last parting gift to Big Business (i.e. $700 billion of TARP funds).  I guess when you’ve lost trillions of dollars in careless speculation, it’s best to cover all your bases.  Well played, assholes!

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Lastly, some low budget econo-rock… (for the record, this guy’s got nothing on Jimmy Reefercake, though I liked the Turbo Tax line)

Sadly, I fear Krugman may have just jumped the shark…

Last fair deal in the country

While on the subject of the America-hating Noise Machine (this started as a comment, but got so long I decided to bump it to a new post):

– Glenn Beck continues to use Fox News as his platform to fantasize about violent overthrow of the government, going so far as to bring on retired CIA and military officers…

They discuss a coming “civil war” led by American “Bubba” militias — Beck says he “believes we’re on this road” — and they contemplate whether the U.S. military would follow the President’s orders to subdue civil unrest or would instead join with “the people” in defense of their Constitutional rights against the Government (they agree that the U.S. military would be with “the people”)

This clown Beck really thinks he represents “the resistance”.

– Here’s Hannity’s webpage with a poll up asking “what form of armed revolt do you prefer? A) Military Coup, B) Armed Rebellion, or C) War for Secession…

Fox needs to pull the plug on this garbage. Things are bad in enough in the world as it is without these idiots glorifying civil unrest.

– Finally, I lifted that last link from another great post by Digby that deconstructs the right-wing political/media agenda:

[Bill Kristol] is arguing that Roosevelt should have been obstructed in 1933, so the scope of the [current] crisis doesn’t affect his view and the size of the [electoral] mandate is obviously irrelevant. He simply seeks to find a way to keep the Democrats from achieving anything that the people might see as a positive in their lives. Like Rush Limbaugh, he is openly advocating failure.

Stimulating themselves since 1865

Since Lincoln died, the Republicans have been supporting stim-u-lie packages. The latest installment, from a week ago (please feel free to laugh when you see the pie chart)

Pie chart 101: when the slice is so small it can’t be seen by the naked eye, switch to a bar chart.

Paraphrasing the Republican plan to bring us out of recession:
Out of work? Nothing a check for a couple grand can’t fix. If we could only cut more taxes, eventually we’d create enough economic bubbles, we could attach them to our house and float away to our happy place. If you don’t pay income tax, you’re pretty lucky! I wish I were in your shoes, except for the part about making less than $30k per year (or nothing at all right now). If we reduce payroll taxes, we’d create a ton of new jobs making green visors for this guy:

C’mon! Really, with a payroll tax reduction we’re going to be able to keep people employed?

The question we need to be asking the Republicans, how can tax cuts help us when we are running a $50 to $60 billion dollar per month trade deficit? Will that bring back US manufacturing? Protectionist clauses are not the answer either. How about building things here at home that will help us rebuild the support systems we need to be competitive, and taking the burden of health care off our companies? I know ‘this one’ gets it:

2/7/09: Your Weekly Address from White House on Vimeo.

If you haven’t already, call or write your senators folks, this thing is too important to let the Republicans fuck it up again.

Something Smells Phishy

Last week I was having one of those Frank “The Tank” Ricard moments…we had a nice little saturday planned. Home Depot, Sears. Phish tickets? I don’t know! I don’t know if we’ll have enough time! I had it in the back of my mind that I would have to hit the box office based on the near impossiblity of getting through by phone or online. But we needed to get some drapes for the new bedroom and look at new washers. Suddenly, I had a moment of clarity. I could drop the wife and kids off at nearby Ikea and I could go stand in line for the tickets. My earlier indecision almost ruined it though, because by the time I hauled the family in the car and started out, the gps was telling me the arrival time to Ikea was 9:52 and tickets would go on sale at 10:00. There was no way I was going to make it in time so we agreed that I would be dropped off first. We pull up to the Comcast Center, formerly Great Woods (back in the day before corporate America took over), about 9:56 and I get in the back of a line of about 300 plus. It was a pretty good scene considering the temps were in the 20’s. There was a buzz in the air about the band getting back together and people were sharing stories of past shows. Apparently those with their shit together that arrived at or before 9:00 got a some kind of raffle or lottery ticket, that seemed to ensure them that they would get real tickets. I was behind these folks, so the situation was dicey. Every second or so you would hear, “Buy tickets” as people were trying to get through on cell phones and being prompted by Live Nation’s voice activated system. As time dragged on and the line didn’t seem to move, I was starting to lose hope because I’m thinking that this thing is going to sell out in minutes. But then rumors start in the crowd about a certain allotment of tickets at the box office that the phone and online system can’t touch. Someone says about 2,000 are at the box office. That would only make sense, those who came down and waited in the cold weather would be rewarded. I guess we’ll see. Then suddenly the girl in front of me gets through on the phone. Then a couple more people. Then a couple more. I’m thinking this is statistically impossible based the number of times I’ve tried and failed in the past to get through by phone. The agents on the line say it is ok to pass the phone off to another person and process his or her order. Sweet! Phans start giving their info and then shortly after their look of elation turns to dejection. The computers are crashing and most people are just on hold for fear if they hang up they won’t get through again. Cell phone batteries are dying….hopes are dashed. One girl starts up some small talk with the agent while on hold. Apparently these Live Nation agents take calls from home and process orders on their own computers! They don’t even really know who they are working for, they just use this special access code to log in and secure the tickets. People around me are just in this state of limbo because only partial information has gone through and so they don’t know if the order will be successful. So this fiasco and the fact that my hand would be warmer if I just keep it in my pocket convinces me to give up on the phone. Supply is dwindling as one guy who phones in can only purchase one seat. Folks in line start bitching about Ticketmaster and it’s subsidiary TicketsNow, where you are directed by Ticketmaster after a show is sold out and somehow there a plethora of tickets at four times the cost. I take a stroll up to the front and there is only one window open and the line is crawling. I return to the line and a random guy gives me his lottery ticket because he got through on the phone. Again, sweet! Word reaches the back that the box office is having trouble getting through to Live Nation. I move up and try to find my new spot in line and am not having too much luck so I turn to the event staff. They might as well have replaced the “Event Staff” on the back of their jackets with “Masshole”. “583? That numbah went through the line long ago!” I ask another, ” 583? You ah behind nine twenty fouwah.” “Wha?” I reply. “Back neah the end of the line!” I’m beginning to realize how poorly organized this whole thing is…nothing makes sense. A few minutes later one of the massholes yells, “Sold out! We’re all sold out!” Phans are pissed. Some yell, “Fuck you! This is bullshit!” But most are just disappointed and leave. Probably about 100 or so were turned away, most of whom had a lottery ticket. I get on the phone and call the wife and kids to come pick me up. One by one people clear out…I seem to be the only one waiting for a ride. Eventually it’s just me and the event staff. I start my long trek to the gates looking back occasionally, hoping for a miracle or that Trey would suddenly appear from behind a tree and feel pity for me (maybe the cold was getting to my brain). The snow covered parking lots are like the frozen tundra they spread so far and then just trees beyond that. Quiet and desolate. I’m amazed at how fast the area cleared out and wondered why there weren’t more stragglers. About 20 minutes after the sell out a jeep pulls up along side me and I recognize the event staff guy who told me I was behind 924. He unbuttons his plastic window and tells me they may have found a couple more tickets back at the box office. I jump up and race back to the box office. Jackpot, I get 4 lawn seats! Two hours of waiting and freezing my ass off. The car pulls up quite late. Apparently the gps took them on some circuitous route and allowed enough time for me to be the last one standing. I must say I felt young again. My son rolls down his window, “Daddy, are you done fishing yet?”

If it ‘taint broke

If only we could have given them four more years they would have found Bin Laden and really figured out how to sell the tribunals as legit. Now that they’ve had to hand over the presidential limo, its likely Al Queda will flourish, heroin will still be addictive, and there will never be peace in the middle east…

I wanna git mo terrorists

The Right’s reaction to closing gitmo is an absolute bonanza of hypocrisy. As you’ll recall from the Bush Legacee Tour: Revisin’ and Hypnotisin’, (which made the first part of January 2009 such a joy to behold), W was very disappointed that other countries were not stepping up and taking the gitmo prisoners off our hands after we detained them for four or five years and told them to stick their Geneva Convention in their Habeus Corpus. (now that we have elected a real leader, things have definitely changed).

Now that we are finally shutting down what will forever be one of the blackest marks in US history, we are subjected to the following incessant boob-ery:

Yes Sean, I too am so scared, the mere thought of this guy being held in a maximum security prison anywhere within 3000 miles of my front door makes me pee my pants. Guantanamo Bay, however, is located on another planet, and since Bin Laden doesn’t train astronauts, I feel very safe right now. Al Qaeda also doesn’t train people how to make rafts that could get from Cuba to Florida, so anywhere outside the continental US will do.

I really hope Obama wises up and realizes that the only way to combat terrorism is to follow the GOP’s example:

1. arrest as many people as possible, sometimes at random
2. if the Red Cross asks, take them on a tour of the cafeteria and weight room
3. avoid gathering evidence, especially anything that can be used in a court of law
4. secretly release more than 1/2 of them, the ones you’re pretty sure didn’t do anything
5. base the safety of our citizens (and the world’s) on the notion that you’ll be able to create your own new system of justice that will ‘totally work, dude’
6. if anything goes wrong, remember that regardless of how reckless and un-imaginably stupid your plan was, what are they going to do now, release them?

Like we saw on Professor Hannity’s show, the dude rented apartments on the coast of Yemen! What more proof do you need? What do you want them to do, write this shit down on paper and submit it in a court of law?

Can we please return to a policy of black ops assassinations like a civilized superpower? Maybe we can embed Heraldo Rivera with the Green Berets to make sure we can watch on the teevee. How about a reality tv show of the detainees first month in a US prison? Survivor Season 15: Leavenworth!