Monday, September 29, 2008

"Gidget Addresses the Reichstag"

Boy, do I wish I'd come up with that headline on my own. The article link is to Matt Taibbi's blog, one of the best political journalists in the USA right now, and this particular entry has to do with what's wrong with Sarah Palin and America.

Unfortunately, it also links itself (obliquely) to the financial crisis we're in. Mr. Taibbi's thesis is that we (Americans) will put up with practically anything, so long as someone gives us the right stimulus at the right time, even if the rest of the time they've been pounding on our, um... toes... with a jackhammer. Even the reformers will tell you that the current bailout deal (which just died today) is too good to be true, as far as the banks are concerned.

There will be oversight (like we've had so far - spying, eavesdropping, politicization of every government department, the war in Iraq) over how the money is spent. There will be a cap on executive salaries and retirement/termination packages ("is $1 million a year enough? Or would 2 be better?"). And if the securities we're buying with this bailout don't prove to have their purchased value five years down the road, we can tax the companies we bought them from and make them pay us all back. 

Or something.

Or will we simply continue to accept whatever the government does, no matter who does it, in the hopes that we will still be able to charge that TV upgrade we've been wanting to our children's college fund under the "we'll pay it back later" umbrella?

I realize this is mostly a load of old snark (which I usually reserve for actual political campaigns) and not much in the way of useful information. I do find it fascinating that one of the leftiest of left-wingers, Dennis Kucinich, is absolutely opposed to the bailout right alongside the Republican "we really really HATE socialism" crowd. Economics makes strange bedfellows, indeed.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Running into Trees While Ignoring the Forest

So, while the banks of Wall Street gradually become the banks of, well, Wall Street (but paid for by you and me - where's my shares?), we in America are almost, but not quite watching the other subversion of our democracy - voter suppression by various Republican Party operatives around the country. Colorado Republican folk are telling out-of-state students that if their parents can claim them on their IRS taxes as dependents, they can't vote in Colorado. This of course, is what's known in the trade papers as a lie.

Meanwhile, Repugnicans in Michigan got their asses handed to them by the local courts when the Democrats pointed out that it wasn't right to use foreclosure notices as a basis for challenging the votes of Michigan voters. Just because someone has received a foreclosure notice does not mean that they no longer live at the address they're registered under. The Secretary of State of Ohio has already commanded her vote-counting folks to resist any temptation to do this sort of thing. Yay.

Diebold voting machines aren't letting people finish their voting unless they go really really fast, apparently. Voters receive a two-minute warning on the terminals, and are subsequently kicked off, requiring that they fill out a provisional ballot (which is less likely to be counted, because it's easier to challenge someone's vote if they don't know you're doing it).

Florida in 2000, Ohio and Florida in 2004 - where next? While the Repugs continue to scream vote fraud at the top of their lungs, actual stories about voter suppression tend to get dropped by the mainstream press; the papers that will publish these stories are either considered partisan hackery, or just too small to be noticed by anyone. 

Or (even worse) foreign.

You have to get mad, you have to get loud, you have to look, and you have to care. If you want your vote to count, demand that there be a paper trail that can be counted by a person. When Diebold (or other companies) talk about how expensive it is to add a printer that can print the equivalent of a receipt after you vote, ask them why it isn't so prohibitively expensive for pharmacies and grocery stores to attach them to their registers (a much more complicated procedure - take it from me). 

When your Republican friends talk about voter fraud, ask them to name a particular case. The ones I read about are excessive registration (ACORN got nailed for this sort of thing, but everyone seems to forget that ghost registrants don't vote - when was the last time Mickey Mouse voted for anyone?); or my other favorite, people who get deported for registering to vote who aren't citizens. Usman Ali is trying to rebuild his life in Pakistan after mistakenly filling out a voter registration card while in line at the local DMV, after living here legally for ten years, with his American wife and child. Mr. Ali was certainly a threat to democracy...

So look. Get pissed off. If they can do it to the Democrats, the Democrats can do it right back to the Repugs. You McCain voters out there - how would you like it if we targeted all the rich white folks and said they could vote on Wednesday, while us Dems would be voting on Tuesday?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ideas that Irritate the Wealthy

So, with all of this subprime meltdown, insurance policies that cover nothing, bankers letting themselves be swindled, consumers being swindled by unscrupulous mortgage brokers, and so on and so on, what does one do?

First off, write your senator/congresscritter, preferably through the real mail, with a real letter (NOT form letters - they don't read them), or you can always call - the messages you leave with the congresscritter's aide will be passed on. Tell them that this contingency plan that they've been ready with for months (not just slapped together over the weekend like we all thought) is no damn good, and we shouldn't have to cover poor business practices or lapses in ethics. If they get to keep the profits, then they should have to cover their losses as well. If the banks are too big to fail, then they should be broken up into smaller companies so that individual portions can fail should they do something stupid.

In this case, the stupid was spread around pretty heavily, and everyone seems to have caught some of their own personal version of stupid.

Bernie Sanders (Socialist, VT - I love a good socialist in times of capitalism's failure to perform to spec) has suggested we do two things: first is the one I mentioned above, break up the banks that are so large their failure equals the collapse of American finance as we know it; the other suggestion is to impose a 10% surtax on individuals with take home pay greater than $500,000, or couples with take home pay greater than $1,000,000. They benefited from this disaster, they should pay. I don't really disagree with either of these ideas.

Another idea came from the Thom Hartmann program on Air America this morning: return the %0.25 per stock purchase tax that was discontinued in 1966. Used to be there to fund the SEC, but as the income from this tax was exceeding the operating costs of the SEC by a factor of about ten, LBJ and the congress decided to end it, and roll the SEC budget into the general fund.

Two reasons to do this: might slow the speculators down if they have to report every single trade to the IRS; it would bring in potentially billions per year. The London Stock Exchange has been doing this for a long time and is prosperous enough to attract buyers like the NASDAQ.

Above all, none of this $700,000,000,000 bailout crap - no private profits with socialized losses.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

HOW much?


Is what we will owe the government from keeping the mortgage bankers, who have forgotten how to tell the difference between a person who has a job and savings from a person who doesn't, from going out of business, and carrying the rest of us into the financial toilet with them.

Credit cards, rent-to-own, payday loans, sub-prime mortgages, NINJA loans (no income, no job or assets - coined by HCL Finance, a mortgage broker, as a product) - is this all some sort of big surprise?

I am now no longer worried about the atomic bomb.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

What were we THINKING?

It has begun. The great unraveling.

As banks that lent money to people with no way to pay the money back (but it looked good on the bottom line) are suddenly realizing that they can't squeeze blood money from a homeless person (the homeless will tell you that you can get blood from a homeless person - sometimes the only way they can afford food is to sell their plasma), the country is beginning to understand what uncompromized deregulation looks like - a f**king disaster.

Through various things called leveraging, or futures forecasting, or reading the bones, or perhaps there are more technical terms for the shell games they've been pulling since Phil Gramm (John McCain's former financial wizard) gave them the cake they're eating, too, our economy has become, suddenly what it really is: a house of cards, built on fake money, or (even better!) the promise of fake money, and everyone is asking, "Can we have our real money back?" And the banks have to answer, well, no, we're not sure who has it.

All the while trying to sound like Jimmy Stewart in It's A Wonderful Life. All that money is tied up with the various developments and investments that each of these large financial institutions owns. Except the housing market is going into the tank, thanks to subprime mortgage swindlers, and house-flippers (a pox on them all). And the investments? Well, Bank A loans Bank B money in order for Bank B to grow Bank A's money through investment in housing. Bank B's housing market collapses, and Bank A loses some or all of that capital.

I have two cheap illustrations of how our financial markets are at the mercy of every idiot (including me): The Current Occupant of the White House, George W Bush, recently lifted the ban on offshore oil drilling, and the price of oil went down - based on what, exactly? That oil was really cheaper, or that oil might get cheaper soon, or that my tummy hurts and I don't feel like bidding? The other story was when American Airlines was going bankrupt and their stock price went way down in a single day. The person that said they were going bankrupt was American Airlines, but six years ago. The mis-reporting of this fact sent the stock market into a down-bid frenzy, and AA ended up at something like $0.50 a share.

So, meaningless news and old news can make something suddenly worth less, down to almost nothing. This is our financial system. Live with it.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

To whom do we owe...?

This is the seventh anniversary of September 11th, 2001, when four planes were hijacked by terrorists bent on the destruction of financial, military and political symbols of our nation.

Three of them succeeded, one was crashed into a field (how, we still don't know), and 2,999 people died as a result, along with the nineteen hijackers, the "suicide pilots."

I wasn't sure if I was going to write about this, as my take on it upset people at the time, and I think it would upset them still. To the families of the people who died, the only thing I can offer is bottomless sympathy for their losses. To the American public, I'm sorry, but the only thing I can give you is heaps of scorn for not recognizing how we all contributed to this event, and on the day, my first thought upon hearing and seeing what was going on was, "they finally had enough of us."

For as a nation, we have thought of ourselves as a beacon of democracy, of hope, of justice, and by our principles (as enshrined by such documents as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights) we deserve to be thought of as a possibility for a better world. And as a nation, we have blindly sat by while our leaders have secretly (and not so secretly) subverted those ideals in smaller countries around the world, in order to improve the chances of American corporations, and the indigenous population's rights be damned.

1953, we overthrew the democractically elected Mohammad Mossadegh of Iran, and replaced him with our puppet, the Shah of Iran, after Mossadegh demanded a greater share of the oil revenues for the people of Iran in order to improve their lives. The Shah was the recipient of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of American military equipment, and used some of this technoogy to repress and brutalize the people of Iran, living a life of luxury while his people starved.

1959, we propped up Ngo Dinh Diem, a member of the Catholic minority in South Vietnam, in order to maintain control of that country in the face of the popular uprising that wanted the South reunited with the North. Ho Chi Minh had written to President Truman after WWII, begging that we assist in their democratic efforts to remove the French, and quoting both the Declaration of Independence and the French Rights of Man. The response we gave him was to fund the French against the people of Vietnam. When we finally left Vietnam in 1975, over fifty thousand Americans had given their lives, and approximately two million Vietnamese, Cambodians and Loatians were dead.

1965, we supported a coup against Sukarno of Indonesia, and threw our weight behind Suharto, who proceeded to slaughter every Indonesian Communist he could find. Deaths were counted at somewhere between 700,000 and 1.2 million.

1975, we supported Suharto in the invasion and occupation of E. Timor. With a population of a little over a million people, in the years between 1975 and 1999, seventeen thousand people lost their lives in fighting against the occupation, while another eighty-four thousand died from disease and starvation.

1989, we invaded Panama to ensure that America would retain control of the Panama Canal, under the cover of capturing the "drug dealing" head of the country, General Manuel Noriega, a former associate of President George Herbert Walker Bush, who ordered the illegal invasion. Twenty-three American soldiers lost their lives, and somewhere between three and five thousand Panamians were killed. The entire neighborhood of El Chorillo (also known as the poor/black section of Panama City) was burned to the ground. The World Court condemned our action, calling it "genocide." And after the invasion, drug traffic through Panama doubled.

These are some small examples of the terror we have wrought around the world in the name of promoting democracy, or protecting our way of life. Did we think we could do these things and no one would notice? That no one would get upset?

While I disapprove of the tactics used by Al Qaeda, and deplore the loss of life, why do we think that, as a nation, we could ever expect to be treated by the world differently than we have treated it?

If we don't wake up and start holding our government accountable for its past misdeeds, and do everything we can to prevent future misdeeds, then we deserve what we get.

We have to stop forgetting our own past.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


Yes, the polls are in - Obama and McCain are now in a dead heat, thanks to that plucky maverick, Sarah Palin. As well as the Repugs repeating the constant refrain that the Democrats will "raise your taxes, raise your taxes, RAISE YOUR TAXES."


>>sound of running away<<

Ms. Anti-Pork has worked to ensure that her state receives the most piggy per person of any state in the union. She continues to trumpet her refusal of that Bridge to Nowhere, but forgets that she got all cranky at first when that rude epithet was first used on one of her pet projects, the, ummm.... Bridge to Nowhere. So, OK, she decided to junk the project while (oh, yeah) keeping the money anyway.

I'd like to try that with my overlords. No, I don't want to go build that apartment building, house, skyscraper, etc., after all - but gimme the money for it. I'm sure I will find something to do with the dough.

Like, for example, charging the state for per diem travel expenses while staying home. Or paying the kids' expenses for "state business." Still waiting to hear what a 4-month old with Down Syndrome can do for the state of Alaska. Other than look really really cute.

So here's the thing - I don't think it's right to try and figure out how her daughter had a child out of wedlock or whether Sarah had an affair, or if her Church is kinda kooky (and it really really is). All I care about is whether she plans on legislating how the rest of us behave based on her biblical outlook. I'd much rather we had the option of doing as she does/did, rather than doing what she says.

And her defenders - how many people can the TV news pundit machine line up to say how wonderful she is? And how many will say what a straight-shootermaverickhonestplain-spokenfamilyvalueshockeymom thing she is? And with a straight face, too...

Anyone planning on voting for the McCain/Palin ticket? If you are, let me know where to send the bill in 2012. I've been trying to get reimbursed for the last eight to no avail, and since the Repugs want to crack down on "rogue trial lawyers," pretty soon, there'll be no one to serve the writs I'm writing.