Monday, September 29, 2008

It's on the record...

Boehner and Blunt say that you can't trust Republicans to do what's right if you hurt their feelings.

Republicans blamed Pelosi's scathing speech near the close of the debate — which assailed Bush's economic policies and a "right-wing ideology of anything goes, no supervision, no discipline, no regulation" of financial markets — for the defeat. It was not much different from her usual tough words against the president and his party.

"We could have gotten there today had it not been for the partisan speech that the speaker gave on the floor of the House," Boehner said.

Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the whip, estimated that Pelosi's speech changed the minds of a dozen Republicans who might otherwise have supported the plan.

That amounted to an appalling accusation by Republicans against Republicans, said Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., chairman of the Financial Services Committee: "Because somebody hurt their feelings, they decide to punish the country."

Look: I'm not sure that this bailout bill is a good idea. I think it might be necessary, but I just don't know.

But if sixty percent of one party votes aye, and sixty percent of the other party votes nay, you can't blame the aye-voters for causing the bill to fail.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

What really happened on Wall Street

There's a toxic meme going around that the Democratic-supported proposals to help encourage home ownership are the reason for the huge financial troubles we're facing.

The Democrats encouraged the creation of creative methods of financing a home purchase, the accusation goes. And, presumably, once those methods existed, Democrats went into major banks and said "and if you don't make thousands and thousands of bad mortgage loans, we're going to kill this puppy!"

Well, no, nothing like that happened. What happened was greed.

There was a time when, if a bank loaned you money for a house, the bank would own that loan until the day it was paid off, so they were super-careful about who they lent money to. If you defaulted, they'd have to go into foreclosure, which was a time consuming and expensive process, and they ended up not getting their money back until they re-sold the house.

But then, people started buying and selling mortgages a lot more often. Suddenly, originating a mortgage wasn't as big a deal. Sure, you had to do some pesky paperwork, but you'd make the loan, then sell the loan, and get the money back, so you could originate another loan. The lender was now, in large part, shielded from the consequences of a bad loan. It was now in the lender's best interest to make as many loans as possible. The loans have to be good, of course, because no one wants to buy a bad loan. But more loans = more profit.

So greed says, let's see if there's a way to get more applications and get rid of some of the initial paperwork. Enter the mortgage broker... a person who makes money connecting lenders and borrowers.

Greed gets to play a double role here. First, the desire to get more loan applications, and cut back on the expense of screening leads to the use of the brokers. Second, the brokers themselves want to get as many commissions as possible, and while many will act ethically and properly, some will cheat, or let the borrower cheat, because who is going to notice? The bank? Probably not; they probably sold the loan. If the person who owns the loan tracks it back to a particular broker, well, every broker will make a mistake once a while, right?

That's the baseline root cause of this. Banks, who were partially immune to the risk of default, wanted to make a lot of loans. And, brokers who were almost entirely immune to the risk of default, wanted to get a lot of loans made.

It's true, this couldn't have happened with an old fashioned set of loans, where anything less than a 20% downpayment is considered extremely risky, and all loans are for fixed terms with fixed payments.

At the same time, there's nothing to say that a "no money down" loan has to be bad either. If a bank looked at the person's circumstances, and could determine that the risk of default was low, such a loan could be good for lender and borrower both.

The biggest problem was not the loan type; it was greed, coupled with a lack of consequences for a bad loan.

There's more, of course... there's the whole set of reasons the bad mortgages spread so that they infected such huge portions of the economy, but that's a story for another day.

The root cause had little to do with the specific loan types; it had everything to do with what happens when you let people make lots of money while protecting them from the consequences of bad decisions, and let them act without any oversight or standards.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Does it even need to be said?

Real leaders don't forsake their responsibilities unless there's an actual, honest-to-goodness crisis, not an artificial deadline.

Folks, the financial markets are in a tizzy, I'll grant you that, but we're not looking at a meltdown by Friday. What we're looking at is a bad situation that might get steadily worse, especially if we listen to a moron like Bush saying "you have to give me more power or terrible things will happen!"

(Seriously, did you see the proposal? Let the government buy whatever junk debt the Bushies want, without any oversight or control. Translation: Let Bush give away presents to all of his supporters.)

But there's no need to suspend one's campaign, or duck out on a debate, just because there's a bunch of whining and handwringing going on in the financial markets.

If this is how John McCain reacts in a crisis, maybe he should just give up and admit he can't hack it as President. Because Presidents are busy, and have to show they can carry through with their plans, even when Congress might adjourn without passing a particular bill that is of questionable value.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

More on the 'wisdom' of offshore drilling

So, let's just pretend that offshore drilling will bring up huge amounts of oil for America. Let's just pretend that, and forget about whether the oil companies will reduce their profits by increasing supply so that there's additional excess capacity.

Let's now focus on one of the ridiculous arguments being raised in favor of drilling.

Right now (the argument goes), we are giving money to people who dislike us. Why shouldn't we give it to American oil companies, instead?

That would be a good question, if oil existed in limitless supply. But it's not limitless, and someday, probably soon, we'll hit the production peak. And at that point, every single barrel still in the ground will become much, much more valuable. We'll have pulled up every easy barrel of oil, and have to start drilling for the harder-to-get stuff.

So, what the Republicans are actually arguing is that we should use up our oil reserves now, in favor of saving more oil for people who don't like us... so when peak oil hits, they have that much more oil still in the ground. This would vastly increase the value of those remaining reserves.

Of course, this problem is easy to notice, if you think about the problem as a problem, and not as a wedge issue to use to influence an election.

That this problem hasn't been discussed shows you which way the Republicans are looking at this, doesn't it?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Rush Limbaugh: Hypocrite

Now, I want you to understand something. I get Rush Limbaugh. He's an entertainer, right? I mean, he's putting on a show, he's saying whatever bullshit occurs to him that he thinks his audience will eat up. He doesn't try to report news, and have journalistic standards, and he doesn't worry about inconsistency, as long as he keeps sucking in the advertiser bucks.

But here's the thing. If you're going to play that game, you have to play it fairly. Since Rush Limbaugh makes a game out of distortion and anger, he has no right to pretend it's anything other than a game.

Case in point:

Obama is taking him out of context, he claims - wow, and Limbaugh's never done that as part of his schtick! - and letting his racist statements sound like they were, well, racist. But it was all a joke! Really!

What I especially like is that he claims psychic powers. He claims one racist statement was "a parody ... and nobody took it otherwise."

I thought his radio show had millions of listeners. Yet he can tell that, among those millions of listeners, none of them took it as anything other than a parody! Isn't that amazing? I'd say it's pretty amazing... to the point that if anyone made that claim, I'd feel forced to call bullshit. So, "bullshit!"

Limbaugh's a curious character. He'll say whatever he thinks will bring in the listeners, without any concern for truth. I don't like that. I think it's evil to try to sow divisiveness for the sole purpose of making money. But I grant that he has a right to do what he does.

But in return for the right to sow divisiveness to line his pockets, I could at least ask that he recognizes that there's a boundary where the game ends. He can't ethically go onto editorial pages of major news papers and keep playing the game, pretending to be offended because it suits his on-air persona. On his show? Sure, that's his forum. But in other forums, where people expect some level of honesty? No, he should graciously bow out.

To do otherwise suggests that he wishes to cast off the mantle of "entertainer" and take on the mantle of "reporter". And that would require him to adopt standards that he has neither the maturity nor honor to uphold.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Journalistic hindquarter covering

Richard Cohen, journalists should do their jobs.

Yes, I know. Obama didn't go all nasty on people on interviews. He - gasp! - said that if you want to ask tough questions about Palin's readiness, you should ask Palin or McCain.

And you should.

There seems to be some kind of idiotic meme going around journalism that journalists can't ask tough questions or raise sticky issues unless someone else does it for them. Like, you can't report that Sarah Palin doesn't have the chops to be a good President (and thus, shouldn't be VP), and heaven knows you can't pressure the McCain campaign on something so obvious, but you can ask Obama to make the claim, and take the heat off of you.

And I'm sorry, but that's the job of journalists... to seek out and report news, not to try to play a game of "let's you and him fight, 'cause it's good for ratings".

Look: Obama understands something that not a whole bunch of people in this country get.

What's killing us is partisan hatred. The constant battering of one party against another, constantly vying for power and advantage. There's never a thought about doing what's right for the country, because both parties are constantly struggling to maintain influence.

And here's the thing: as they both spend all of their time struggling to maintain their influence, is there ever a time when it's going to end? Unless one party overwhelmingly defeats the other, to the point that the other party has no influence whatsoever - not even with the news media - it won't end, unless people stop it.

Obama wants to stop it.

Not the bitter campaign battles; they've always been with us, and they always will be. No, he wants to stop the senseless, constant battling that keeps anything from being done. He wants to show there's a better way to run our country, where we can accomplish great things, because we won't have the two major parties constantly trying to stab each other in the back.

So, Mr. Cohen, if you want to expose something truly nasty, like Sarah Palin's lack of readiness, maybe you should do your job and expose it on your own, rather than egging folks on, hoping for a good, bloody fight.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Democrats being mean to Palin! (News at at 11...)

Oh no! The dirty filthy Democrats are hammering Palin for having supported the "Bridge to Nowhere"! How mean! How unfair! They've supported pork barrel spending themselves, so how dare they talk about her?

The Republicans are really playing the victim card hard on this one, and I don't blame them, because folks can see the problem here.

It's not that Palin supported some pork. I think that the job of government is to help us do the things that we can't do alone. Why have a government if it's not to help us build a functioning society? And a bridge to an island with an airport might well be a good use of tax payer dollars. I don't know the facts, so I can't say the bridge was a good idea, but it's in line with what I'd like to see the government doing. The fifty folks on the island can't build the bridge on their own, but maybe, depending on a variety of factors, it might be worthwhile enough to have Uncle Sam kick in some funding.

So, you see, it's not the bridge. It's the lies.

She said she told Congress "thanks, but no thanks". And that was a flat out lie. She didn't give up on the project until Congress had already nixed it.

She said "I'm a reformer! I hate pork!" and she lied to us.

Now, politicians lie all the time, so let's not be too hard on her. (If you do, it makes baby Republicans - a surprisingly large number of whom are well over the age of majority - cry.) But it does impeach her claims of being some kind of "maverick reformer".

Of course, when I say "impeach", I mean "totally disprove". Hey, don't blame me; I'm only the messenger.

The free market

So, here's the thing.

Republicans love to praise the free market. The free market makes everything better, right?

I remember a few years back, I saw a roadside stand with a large sign proclaiming they were selling "tomatoes that taste like tomatoes!"

Now, if the free market is such a great problem solver, why on earth would someone need a big sign saying they have a food that tastes like itself?

Because the free market doesn't solve problems. The free market makes money.

So, if grocery stores just want to sell "tomatoes", the free market will find a way to maximize the money folks can make, even if it means growing and selling tomatoes that taste like... well, that taste like a reminder that the last four letters of "tomatoes" are "t-o-e-s". Good tomatoes don't have a high enough profit margin, there's too much loss to spoilage, so they're out.

Harnessed correctly, a lively marketplace can solve a lot of problems, when creative people figure out how to accomplish things to make money. But once you harness a marketplace, you'll see people complaining bitterly that it's no longer free.

Well, when that happens, compare their bitterness to the bitterness of a low quality tomato from a major chain, and think about how the free market is not the cure for all ills.

Why are they scared?

So, the Republicans have decided to attack Barack Obama over his community activism. Right out of college, he decided to do some good helping other people, and they want to mock that.

And I wondered about that. Why are they afraid of this? You don't attack something if it's neutral or if it's a liability. If being a community organizer was actually worthy of mockery, they wouldn't bother to mention it (unless Obama was trying to hide it - at which point it would be a character issue, no doubt).

And then it struck me.

Where is the compassion in their campaign?

George W. pretended to be a new conservative, a "compassionate conservative". Now, me, I knew that was BS. It was just a feel-good line to use, and he's since proven it was meaningless.

But what about McCain? He's not even paying lip service.

Joe Biden put it well... they're not even trying to mention helping the middle class.

They're scared. And who can blame them?

Look, McCain is an angry old man. Don't hate me, I'm just the messenger, okay?

And Palin? Well... the Republicans have been whining so much about Palin, that I'll try to be kind, but come on, folks... do the Republicans really have grounds to be aghast that people are saying mean things about her, some of which aren't even true? I didn't hear them defending Obama against false rumors... did you?

So, Palin... folks, have you, at any time in the past 8 years, thought "if only Bush or Cheney knew how to field dress a moose..."? Have you ever thought "Damn it all, if only someone with the experience of being a small town mayor was in the White House..."?

She sounds like an interesting person to know, I'll grant you that (assuming she's not as mean-spirited as she looked at the convention - mean people suck)... but she doesn't exactly make me think "that's who I want running this country!"

And neither she nor McCain can pretend to bring compassion to this country. You can't make attack dog speeches and pretend that compassion is your stock in trade, especially not while mocking a man for trying to help folks out.

So, I think that's it. There's a compassion gap, and it's looming large, so the Republicans have to go on the attack.

I don't think it's going to work. Compassion - the real thing, the kind of thing you see from Obama and Biden - is hard to beat.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Wow... didn't think Romney would top ol' 911!

Romney's transcript... this can't be right! Is he really that stupid?

Last week, the Democratic convention talked about change. But what do you think? Is Washington now, liberal or conservative? Let me ask you some questions.

Is a Supreme Court decision liberal or conservative that awards Guantanamo terrorists with constitutional rights? It's liberal.

Is a government liberal or conservative that puts the interests of the teachers union ahead of the needs of our children? It's liberal.

Is a Congress liberal or conservative that stops nuclear power plants and off-shore drilling, making us more and more dependent on Middle Eastern tyrants? It's liberal.

Is government spending, putting aside inflation, liberal or conservative if it doubles since 1980? It's liberal.

Let's see: the Supreme Court said that the Constitution declares that, yes, we must grant prisoners some basic levels of rights, e.g., a hearing to determine if there's cause to hold them (Habeas Corpus). But that's "liberal". Why? Because Romney doesn't like it!

I'll skip the whine about the teacher's union; I think that the GOP just hates teachers to have job protection and collective bargaining rights, and I've never seen any sensible arguments about that talking point.

Stopping nuclear power plants and offshore drilling is liberal. Why? Well, it was upheld through how many Republican and Democratic administrations, and congressional sessions? But it's liberal... because Mitt Romney doesn't like it.

Government spending has risen through the 80 to today, and that's "liberal"... even though it was Reagan who started piling up deficits, George Bush I who kept 'em going, Bill Clinton who brought about a surplus, and George Bush II who brought back deficits. But it's all liberal because Mitt Romney doesn't like it.

I can imagine him as a kid, his parents have just smacked his bottom, and he screams "WAAAAAH! You gave me a liberal!" Because liberal means "something Mitt Romney hates".

Well, we know that's the case. That's why he doesn't pay attention to what liberal folks actually *do*, and has to make up lies about them when giving speeches, right?

This is the best ol' noun-verb-911 can do?

I just saw some bits of the transcript of Giuliani's speech here.

This is not a personal's a statement of fact -- Barack Obama has never led anything.

Nothing. Nada.

Yeah! He's never led a campaign against one of the most successful politicians on the planet, and won, by finding a good plan, sticking to it, and pounding out a victory state after state.


But, hey, at least he voted "present" to help defeat bad legislation; that's a good jab to take at him, isn't it, ol' 911? Because strategic votes are a hell of a lot worse than being unable to get your cops and firefighters decent radios, isn't it Mr. "I know how to handle a crisis"?

Oh, and I love this bit:

And (McCain) will keep us on offense against terrorism at home and abroad. For four days in Denver and for the past 18 months Democrats have been afraid to use the words "Islamic terrorism." During their convention, the Democrats rarely mentioned the attacks of September 11, 2001.

They are in a state of denial about the biggest threat that faces us now and in the future.

You need to face your enemy in order to defeat them. John McCain will face this threat and lead us on to victory.

Yeah, because after an initial victory of Afghanistan, McCain said "next stop, Baghdad!" And he was right. How's that "leading to victory" been working for you? It's... taken an awfully long time, hasn't it? Cost a lot of money, right? Hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis, and thousands of US soldiers, too. And all for a ramshackle government that, well, may or may not stand up for the long term, and one that certainly has a great deal of allegiance to Iran. But at least you don't have those horrible nasty time frames for withdrawal... oops.

Gee, it sounds like Obama, who said we should have faced the terrorists in Afghanistan was right... just like he was right in talking about withdrawing from Iraq. Go figure.

OH! And this:

And as a former U.S. Attorney, I am impressed by her success in combating corruption -- when she found unethical and illegal behavior among the power-brokers of her own party, she did not hesitate -- she acted courageously and independently. That's the kind of reformer we need -- she shook up Alaska. She'll shake up Washington.

Yeah! Just the kind of reformer you need, someone who lies to the public and lawyers up when dealing with an investigation into a potential abuse of power! That's what impresses Giuliani!

Monday, September 01, 2008

Bristol Palin is pregnant... so what?

So, Sarah Palin's daughter is pregnant. What does this show us?

It shows us that abstinence only "education" is about as flawed as we'd expect, I'd say.

(I'm assuming that when a 17 year old, unwed woman, whose mother is the governor, becomes pregnant, it was not a planned pregnancy. If that assumption is wrong, of course, my criticism is unwarranted.)

And that's about all I have to say about that, except that my heart goes out to her and her family - I'm sure this must have been a scary time, given the circumstances - and I wish many blessings on her baby.

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