Category Archives: Obama

Meet the New Boss

Here is a fairly scathing review of Obama’s presidential performance that you should read, written by Dr. Drew Western, a professor of psychology who advised Democrats in the last election.  He definitely gives voice (and then some) to the sense of frustration felt by the progressive left over what has to be considered a year of wasted opportunity.  If I had to summarize Obama’s freshman year in office, it would be: “stabilize the stock market, and fuck the rest”.

Maybe all the recent healthcare drama is inducing amnesia, but I’m having a hard time identifying any significant policy changes from the Bush years.  There’s been no rebuke of the torture years, just a polite brushing under the rug.  There’s been no check on the titans of Wall Street (even the Brits instituted a 50% tax on bank bonus payments).  Anyone recall anything remotely close to that over here?  (This blog doesn’t count).  We’ve got escalation in Afghanistan, and even the Iraq troop drawdown is following the Bush timeline.  McClatchy has a truly infuriating story about the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) which was supposed to help people facing foreclosure stay in their homes, but instead is helping banks to fast-track the eviction process:

To date, more than 759,000 trial loan modifications have been started, but just 31,382 have been converted to permanent new loans. That’s averages out to 4 percent, far below the 75 percent conversion rate President Barack Obama has said he seeks.

In the fine print of the form homeowners fill out to apply for Obama’s program, which lowers monthly payments for three months while the lender decides whether to provide permanent relief, borrowers must waive important notification rights.

This clause allows banks to reject borrowers without any written notification and move straight to auctioning off their homes without any warning.

[…]

Flores bought her home in 2006 for $352,000. Records show that it has a current fair-market value of $99,000. The new owner bought it for $78,000 at an auction Flores didn’t even know about.

You can’t even blame Bush for this one.  Explain to me why it is better for a bank to sell a place to real estate vultures at below market value, rather than let the owner-occupant renegotiate (i.e. cramdown).  We really are on the road to neo-feudalism.  Peace be with you, fellow peasant!

UPDATE

While in no way, shape or form endorsing the thinly veiled racism… this is fun:

Oratory Glory

I believe speeches can be significant. I think Obama’s speech on Wednesday’s might be one of those important moments. Or it may be more wasting of our time, more triangulation, more disappointment, more sucking up to the monied interest that currently dominate our government. My now seemingly naive hope when we elected Obama on the strength of millions of $20 donations, was that he would be able turn our corprate-ocracy back into a Constitutional democracy.

Fans of Thom Hartmann know I’m snatching this from Thursday’s show, but the similarities are too profound and I had to post this here. The following quotes are from a speech by FDR just before the ’36 election, after his first four years in office. This first clip talks about Republican attempts to undermine support for the just recently established Social Security program:

Here is an amazing paradox! The very employers and politicians and publishers who talk most loudly of class antagonism and the destruction of the American system now undermine that system by this attempt to coerce the votes of the wage earners of this country. It is the 1936 version of the old threat to close down the factory or the office if a particular candidate does not win. It is an old strategy of tyrants to delude their victims into fighting their battles for them.

Every message in a pay envelope, even if it is the truth, is a command to vote according to the will of the employer. But this propaganda is worse—it is deceit.

They tell the worker his wage will be reduced by a contribution to some vague form of old-age insurance. They carefully conceal from him the fact that for every dollar of premium he pays for that insurance, the employer pays another dollar. That omission is deceit.

They carefully conceal from him the fact that under the federal law, he receives another insurance policy to help him if he loses his job, and that the premium of that policy is paid 100 percent by the employer and not one cent by the worker. They do not tell him that the insurance policy that is bought for him is far more favorable to him than any policy that any private insurance company could afford to issue. That omission is deceit.

They imply to him that he pays all the cost of both forms of insurance. They carefully conceal from him the fact that for every dollar put up by him his employer puts up three dollars three for one. And that omission is deceit.

But they are guilty of more than deceit. When they imply that the reserves thus created against both these policies will be stolen by some future Congress, diverted to some wholly foreign purpose, they attack the integrity and honor of American Government itself. Those who suggest that, are already aliens to the spirit of American democracy. Let them emigrate and try their lot under some foreign flag in which they have more confidence.

See any similarities? How many victims of the current ‘Wealthcare’ health ‘scamsurance’ system have been deluded into railing against a national insurance system? Only now, it is ‘understood’ that the American government is incompetent and incapable of doing ‘anything’. To those ‘nine word’ Reagan disciples I suggest they ’emigrate and try their lot’ somewhere else.

This next quote refers to the Republican administrations that came before his first term in ’32, that brought about the Great Depression:

For twelve years this Nation was afflicted with hear-nothing, see-nothing, do-nothing Government. The Nation looked to Government but the Government looked away. Nine mocking years with the golden calf and three long years of the scourge! Nine crazy years at the ticker and three long years in the breadlines! Nine mad years of mirage and three long years of despair! Powerful influences strive today to restore that kind of government with its doctrine that that Government is best which is most indifferent.

For nearly four years you have had an Administration which instead of twirling its thumbs has rolled up its sleeves. We will keep our sleeves rolled up.

We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Sound familiar? I would love to hear the right wing punditocracy howl if Obama could ever remind us how we arrived at this economic state as forcefully as FDR did.

Click this link to hear the audio and read the transcript. I can’t get enough FDR audio. I hope I hear a little FDR on Wednesday.

Post Script – This article from Harpers Barack Hoover Obama is brilliant…thanks Uila for linking to it, it is so pertinent to this post and has great insights into the Hoover administration. It probably deserves its own post, but the bottom line from this piece is that Obama needs to recognize the extreme situation the nation is in and he needs to grow the sack to take radical action, or become the left’s Hoover.

This Vast and Worthless Area

Soon after Robert Kennedy announced his candidacy in 1968, he spoke at Kansas University. I encourage you to read the entire speech…required reading..

As I caught up on the ATH tonight, I couldn’t help thinking about RFK’s heart breaking and tragic run for the presidency. Before you read this quote, if you don’t know William Allen White, as I didn’t, please click the link so you’ll get the sarcasm.

I’m glad to come here to the home of the man who publicly wrote: “If our colleges and universities do not breed men who riot, who rebel, who attack life with all the youthful vision and vigor, then there is something wrong with our colleges. The more riots that come out of our college campuses, the better the world for tomorrow.” And despite all the accusations against me, those words were not written by me, they were written by that notorious seditionist, William Allen White. And I know what great affection this university has for him. He is an honored man today, here on your campus and around the rest of the nation. But when he lived and wrote, he was reviled as an extremist and worse. For he spoke, he spoke as he believed. He did not conceal his concern in comforting words. He did not delude his readers or himself with false hopes and with illusions. This spirit of honest confrontation is what America needs today. It has been missing all too often in the recent years and it is one of the reasons that I run for President of the United States.

For we as a people, we as a people, are strong enough, we are brave enough to be told the truth of where we stand. This country needs honesty and candor in its political life and from the President of the United States. But I don’t want to run for the presidency – I don’t want America to make the critical choice of direction and leadership this year without confronting that truth. I don’t want to win support of votes by hiding the American condition in false hopes or illusions. I want us to find out the promise of the future, what we can accomplish here in the United States, what this country does stand for and what is expected of us in the years ahead. And I also want us to know and examine where we’ve gone wrong. And I want all of us, young and old, to have a chance to build a better country and change the direction of the United States of America.

This morning I spoke about the war in Vietnam, and I will speak briefly about it in a few moments. But there is much more to this critical election year than the war in Vietnam.

It appears today that partisan politics and running the constant campaign is more important than literally everything.

The title of this post also comes from that RFK speech in Kansas (see previous link). In 1824, Daniel Webster opposed expanding the United States further into the Great Plains. Today I think the vast and worthless area is called the Democratic Party.

Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace

After several months of obsessively studying American politics, it’s my carefully considered opinion that this country is run by worthless assholes. I never thought Bush was remotely in charge of things, I don’t know why I thought things would be any different with Obama.  They’re both pitchmen for the new fascism. Obama’s a hell of a lot better at it than W, which is in many ways terribly depressing.  

Was anyone else disturbed by yesterday’s speeches? Talk about your false dichotomy. Obama brilliantly explains all the ways we have to continue Bush Administration policy, then before you can object, here comes a fat slab of Cheney to make you count your blessings.  You tell me which one of them had this to say:

Now, finally, there remains the question of detainees at Guantanamo who cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger to the American people. And I have to be honest here—this is the toughest single issue that we will face. We’re going to exhaust every avenue that we have to prosecute those at Guantanamo who pose a danger to our country. But even when this process is complete, there may be a number of people who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, in some cases because evidence may be tainted, but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States. Examples of that threat include people who’ve received extensive explosives training at al Qaeda training camps, or commanded Taliban troops in battle, or expressed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden, or otherwise made it clear that they want to kill Americans. These are people who, in effect, remain at war with the United States.

Let me repeat: I am not going to release individuals who endanger the American people. Al Qaeda terrorists and their affiliates are at war with the United States, and those that we capture—like other prisoners of war—must be prevented from attacking us again. Having said that, we must recognize that these detention policies cannot be unbounded. They can’t be based simply on what I or the executive branch decide alone. That’s why my administration has begun to reshape the standards that apply to ensure that they are in line with the rule of law. We must have clear, defensible, and lawful standards for those who fall into this category. We must have fair procedures so that we don’t make mistakes. We must have a thorough process of periodic review, so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified. 

This preventive detention shit is intended to be the new policy. Here’s Diane Feinstein telling Andrea Mitchell all about it:

The laws of war very clearly say that you can keep a combatant in detention for the length of the conflict. Now this is a bit of an unusual war in that sense, but it is, in fact, a war and it is going to go on. 

Therefore, if somebody is judged to be an unlawful combatant, and they remain a threat to our national security, what needs to be evolved is a process whereby their detention is periodically reviewed, either by a court, which I would prefer, or by a military panel and a determination made as to whether the threat still continues.

Now this would happen, I would think, annually, in a lengthy detention, but there is no question in my mind that somebody who is classified as an unlawful combatant can, in fact, be kept in detention until the end of this conflict, which means terrorism, against the United States, against her allies, and in the world abates.

Oh, I see! So these guys who can’t be convicted of any crimes unless it’s in a kangaroo court, get to be released when the War Against Terror is officially over? When will that be? When the threat level drops to green?

UPDATE: Greenwald with (lots) more, natcherly.

If you really think about the argument Obama made yesterday — when he described the five categories of detainees and the procedures to which each will be subjected — it becomes manifest just how profound a violation of Western conceptions of justice this is.  What Obama is saying is this:  we’ll give real trials only to those detainees we know in advance we will convict.  For those we don’t think we can convict in a real court, we’ll get convictions in the military commissions I’m creating.  For those we can’t convict even in my military commissions, we’ll just imprison them anyway with no charges (“preventively detain” them). 

Giving trials to people only when you know for sure, in advance, that you’ll get convictions is not due process.  Those are called “show trials.”  In a healthy system of justice, the Government gives everyone it wants to imprison a trial and then imprisons only those whom it can convict. 

UPDATE II: Maddow with solid coverage too!

Oh Bama Where Art Thou?

I’ve been fuming all week and was going to do a bunch of research, but Greenwald’s post yesterday summed it up perfectly, thanks for linking to that…

This Administration cannot sweep the crimes of the previous administration under the rug, we absolutely must attack every policy and action, we must be open with this process to heal our country and to restore our moral standing and credibility in the world. Photos of detainee abuse have already been released. The cat is out of the bag. If we continue to deny what happened we look like cowards, but worse we lose our moral standing in the world. There is no room for nuance and middle ground – torture, transparency, human rights…these are central to democracy around the world and to the core values of our country for generations.

If we are successful in reversing the direction of the W administration, then history books will put the Military Commissions Act alongside the Alien and Sedition Acts…misguided mistakes that we reversed in short order. We cannot adopt one single aspect of these horrible, hateful, and mindless reactions to terrorism – they must rejected completely or they will continue to fester in the hearts and minds of Americans and we will never recover. This nation will forever have the precedent of the Bush administration to allow the ends to justify the means. Our system of checks and balances will be forever broken, and Nixon/Cheney/Rice will be right – if the president does it then it must be OK.

We need a suite of new legislation that rolls back the abuses of the Bush administration, and we need to prosecute any illegal actions. It should be a no brainer. Partially adopting any of these shameful and ineffective debacles of the previous administration like the military commissions is completely unacceptable. Even if these tactics go un-used, without a complete reversal of this country’s direction in this regard the Obama Administration will be part of that disgrace. You can never cede the moral or philosophical high ground on these issues. If we do not prosecute torturers, we betray the many soldiers who had every right to want to exact revenge and take an eye for an eye, but held themselves to the higher standards espoused by their country.

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…