Thursday, December 13, 2007

Religion + Government = Taliban

Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee are both trying to give each other a run for their money on the subject of religion. In the vein of, "I'm more religious than you are," or "My religion works better than yours." Both of them are blowing spectacular holes in the ideal that there should be no religious litmus test in order to be elected in this country. It would appear that a religious litmus test may be the only thing that allows someone to be elected on the Republican ticket.

Mitt, in his recent speech at the George HW Bush Presidential Library, said, "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom."

Yeah... Like in Saudi Arabia, where religion pretty much runs things. Neat-O!

Of course, the Dem candidates are going, "I'm religious, too!!!" all over the place and embarrassing the rest of us. Progressives would rather that you mention that you have religion, or faith, or whatever you call it, and then shut the hell up. As long as you don't pray to God for scientific information, or directives on reproductive rights, we don't care if you pray to God or Dog or Bob or whoever.

UFOs bother us a little, but nevermind.

The Huckster, on the other hand, may believe that the Earth is 6,000 years old and that Adam and Eve were an actual, ya know, item. Ask him straight out, and his current response is "well, I can't be sure, because I wasn't there when it happened." Hmm... That would pretty much invalidate most scientific arguments, wouldn't it? Maybe the dinosaurs were here the same time as humans. Can't be sure, because none of us were here at the time. Testable, provable scientific facts can be discounted, because we don't have any actual direct experience of such things. Like air. Can't see air. Maybe it's something else.

So, Mitt is running away from his record in Massachusetts as a too-liberal Republican governor.

And Huckabee is running away from his speeches as a Baptist preacher.

In the race for president, the Republican direction appears to be "away."

Friday, December 7, 2007

Subprime And Proud Of It!

As with many interesting situations that HAVE for certain been created by both Bush and the previous Congress, the Subprime mortgage thingie can be traced way back to the fifties, when credit cards became available. As our banking and consumer systems have progressed, weird things keep happening.
  • You can no longer take interest payments on anything other than mortgages as a deduction from income off your taxes. This changed in the mid seventies.
  • Savings interest rates have gone from 5.5% (back when I was dropping a buck a week into a savings account) down to 2-3%.
  • Institutions like Money Tree (and other check-cashing places) have grown by leaps and bounds, and most are owned by large financial institutions, such as CitiBank and Wells Fargo. Generally patronized by poor and retired folks.
  • The Bankruptcy bill, passed in 2005, essentially says that if you're a corporation, you can declare bankruptcy, but if you're an individual, you pretty much can't, or if you do, you still have to pay back what you owe. So, if you can't pay, you can declare bankruptcy, and you still have to pay what you can't afford to pay. Makes sense, huh?
  • If you fall behind on credit card payments, most credit card companies will raise your interest rate, which will usually put the borrower further behind.
  • Banking deregulation started in the 1980s, under Reagan (remember the Savings and Loan Crisis?). It continued through Clinton. It has been enhanced during Bush II.
  • Alan Greenspan (former head of the Fed) was responsible (under Bush II) for influencing regulations by saying whether or not certain banking practices should (or should not) be regulated. He claims - now - that he saw the subprime crisis coming, but if you look at what he said about subprime lending while he was still at the Fed, he didn't seem to have a problem with it at the time.
Most house-flippers are set up as LLCs. If they can't sell a home and then go bankrupt, they will be forgiven some or all of their debt. Poor folks who were suckered into buying homes at low interest rates, when in the past they would never have qualified, will still have to pay off their houses even if they file for bankruptcy. Or else they will lose their homes and all the money they've put into them.

I have been offered a credit card (for example) that was sold to me at an APR of 12%. When I received the first statement, it turned out to be 12% over PRIME (which put it around 22% at the time). Many people have been lied to, snookered, hoodwinked, cheated. Because they believed that it is their right to imagine they could own a home in their lifetime. Places like Countrywide fed that dream with promises of homeownership, and because everything on TV says "you deserve" this or that, people believe they deserve it, and sign on the dotted line.

When people talk about economics, it sounds like they're trying to run with the Invisible Hand theory of Adam Smith (the orginal capitalist), and under normal circumstances, they're not wrong - the market can generally be pretty fair. However, when banking concerns and financiers have more of the lawmakers' ears than the general public, the game is rigged in their favor.

As Voltaire said long ago, "when bankers are jumping out the windows, follow them - there's probably money in it."

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Wolfman's Back! (and we're gonna be in trouble)


Can't we just lose this guy in the woods somewhere and be done with him? Considering his ability in predicting things, I say we put him in charge of the weather somewhere, and he'll do a lot less harm.


Paul Wolfowitz, one of the former members of the Bush administration, is being rehired by Condoleeza Rice as the chairman of the International Security Advisory Board (he'll be filling the Fred Thompson spot).

A little history of Mr. Wolfowitz: besides his appearance in Fahrenheit 9/11 (licking his comb to control his unruly hair - eeew), Paul Wolfowitz has been in government in one form or another since the 70s. And yet, amazingly, has learned very little about how to fight wars, or run government agencies, or work in a way that won't get him fired. An "expert" on the Middle East, he nonetheless pushed for war in Iraq, thinking that the warring factions that had been held away from each other's throats by a military dictator for decades would suddenly behave like old college chums the moment the dictator was gone.

But you know, Iraq is "floating on a sea of oil." That makes all the trouble worthwhile.

So, after prediction after prediction has gone spectacularly wrong (see what I mean about being a weatherman? he'd be perfect), he finally resigned from the Bush Administration, only to be appointed to head the World Bank.

His brief tenure at the World Bank was marked with a single scandal that rapidly morphed into a huge hideosity that eventually got him to resign. He promoted, then relocated, then promoted, and gave huge raises to, his girlfriend. Surprisingly, most people in the World bank (not the most philanthropic of institutions, no matter what their press releases may say) felt that this particular giveaway was perhaps a little too much. So he resigned in some disgrace.

At least I hope it was in disgrace.

But no matter - if you f**k up spectacularly in a major position in the Bush administration, then f**k up equally spectacularly in another job involving foreign policy and finance, you can always find a job.

In the Bush Administration!

In this case, he will be chairing a committee that looks at International Security for the State Department and will be instrumental in formulating policy and predicting the moves that the government should take based on how they read the signs.

You know, like dowsing rods, or phrenology.

Yup - we're doomed. Again.