Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Joe Lieberman Is a Douchebag

I want someone from Connecticut to explain to me why they have allowed this preening, sanctimonious schmendreck to continue to represent them in the US Senate. He stands for nothing except promoting the Jo'mentum, whatever the hell that is supposed to be. He has switched positions on everything he's ever claimed to stand for in the past. He makes Arlen Specter come off like a paragon of consistency. He is single-handedly on the verge of putting the kibosh on the most important domestic policy development since Reagan and Tip O'Neil compromised to save Social Security over 25 years ago.

The Republican party has spent a generation systematically destroying the economy, our international reputation, our standard of living, our education system, our infrastructure, our native sense of political moderation, our actual aspirations to the ideals embodied in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, our legal system, our environment, and on and on (I invite readers to add to the list in their comments). And though the Democrats aren't all that much better -- mostly because this silly herd of felines have all clearly been neutered during this generational implosion of what had been a continuing process to become a more perfect union -- at least they are making an effort and making some, if not much, progress towards righting what has gone so terribly wrong for too terribly long in this nation.

I haven't liked Lieberman since the first time I noticed him on the national scene, as the only Democrat who stood up and made personal hay by shaking his finger back at Bill Clinton over his distasteful shenanigans with Monica Lewinsky. He struck me then as a strange genetic cross between Elmer Fudd and Droopy Dog but other than that of no great import. Somehow though, he managed to turn that self-righteousness into a run at the Vice Presidency. For me as a resident of Florida, I've always considered Joe a big reason why Gore failed in Florida. As the first Jewish national candidate, I couldn't understand why he wasn't in my area, which is among the most heavily Jewish and Democratic in the country, personally busing the otherwise immobilized alter-cacas to the polls to vote in enormous droves for the ticket. He couldn't find 200 more Jews who could punch the ballot correctly that day? I wasn't in south Florida at the time, but I could have accomplished that myself in about 20 minutes by walking around my mother's neighborhood. Not the Supreme Court, not the lizards representing George W. Bush, not that sneaky, unnaturally wide-hipped little brother of GWB who was our governor at the time, not the morons who advised Gore on his legal strategy on the recount fight,,, but JOE "I am a schmuck and I don't care who knows it" LIEBERMAN lost the 2000 election.

He's done an amazing number of things to stick his thumbs in the eyes of the party he nominally works with since then. It seemed clear after the '08 election that his comeuppance was finally due. Oh but then we had to wait to see what happened with Al Franken. And then Specter crossed the aisle. Oh crap and then Joe became #60 for the dems in the Senate. So now Joe's butt must be licked whenever he feels it needs a shine.

Well how about this: promise Joe anything he asks for outside of healthcare, make some sort of minor change in the Medicare buy-in to give him cover. Pass the stinking thing already. And then, when the dust settles and he comes knocking for his porridge, stab him in the back and strip him naked in front of everyone. Remove every vestige of authority he has in the Democratic caucus, loudly and with great pomp, then toss his droopy ass out for the GOP vultures to ignore. Joe Lieberman has altered history once to the great detriment of the United States and the world. Don't let this douchebag do it again.
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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Payment Holiday: How To Make the Banks Fix the Mess They Created

Banks are happy to take their profits when the economy is going well, but they don't seem to want to take their lumps when it isn't. The only real solution I see to the home value crisis is the banks rewriting the mortgages to some version of fair market value. But they won't do it. No incentive.

How about this crazy idea: what if all you mortgage payers out there take just one month off from your loan payments all at the same time? And hey, do it on your credit cards too. They're killing you with the raised rates anyway.

If everyone took a one month payment holiday at the same time, I suspect it would bring the financial system to its knees pretty quickly. How's that for incentive?

I'm thinking January 2010 just when the bills come in for the Christmas shopping.
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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Everyday Health Care in America

Here's something that happened to me yesterday. I've had mild high blood pressure since my late teens. At various points since then my doctors have prescribed a low dose, common water pill. Brand name is Diovan and the generic is HCTZ, which is what I've always gotten. Yesterday I went to go get my refill at a local Walgreen's (which have sprouted like mushrooms in my area, it being populated by so many retirees waiting their turn at the Pearly Gates). Under my insurance plan I can only get a one month supply or 30 pills. But the doc prescribes it at 100 count per scrip. I would rather not have to make the extra trips if it's not necessary so I go off the insurance. It's a really cheap med anyway so I figure it's worth a little extra. So I go to pick up the refill at the drive thru. The girl sends it through and it's just the one month supply at a cost of $11.99. I send it back and explain that I'll go off-insurance and get the whole 100. She says she'll check the pricing. Comes back with... $11.99.

Yes I made sure she rechecked it several times and asked her if that seemed a little odd.

America, you're worried that the government's gonna rip you off? Your pockets are already empty and you just haven't pulled up the lint yet.
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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Afghanistan: Failure of Intent

When we went into Afghanistan, it was not yet a month past 9/11, the world effectively supported any reasonable appearing action the US might take, and the American people certainly agreed that since this was the geographical source of the crime, this is where we needed to show that we can’t be so easily knocked down.


NATO joined in and the task at hand seemed fairly straightforward: get in there and roust the intransigent and vile Taliban that took over the country after the withdrawal of the Soviets over a decade earlier; and who made the poor choice of allowing an Arab-based terrorist organization run by an old-style Muslim whackjob with a lot of daddy’s construction cash left under his keffiyeh have undue influence in the country, and the ability to inspire immense acts of murder out of the country. All that, rather than accept billions of US dollars to switch from poppies to potatoes and let girls learn how to read. Once the Taliban was knocked over, blow out the caves and get the sand worm bin Laden and call it a day.


I remember well the day the invasion started. I was out on a country drive with my then-girlfriend and I said to her when the news came on the radio, “I hope this guy knows what he’s doing.” Other than the speech to congress following 9/11 and the megaphone stunt at ground zero, I hadn’t seen anything out of this man-child Bush that gave me any confidence in him at all. He always seemed to me to be the goofy kid of the “guy who was involved in getting things done” which like them or not, was what his daddy, grand daddy, and great grand daddy were. So now he had his chance. Well at least he had the old wise man Cheney at his side, right? And Powell too.


Like each and every other matter these discredited miscreants laid their hands on, they blew it. After quickly bombing the Taliban out of power and taking Kabul, all enemies, Taliban and al-Qaeda were on the run and nearly bottled up at Tora Bora, the jagged, ancient mountains near the Pakistan border. Because another genius, Donald Rumsfeld refused to provide the few thousand additional troops requested for that battle, US forces worked with local anti-Taliban groups who, though good fighters, mostly veterans of the Soviet insurgency, had no great taste after a point to fight fellow Muslims while supporting non-Muslims. The result was that the locals brokered a separate cease-fire which gave bin Laden and his minions the chance to scurry across to the Pakistani tribal areas where, if he lives today, bin Laden remains.


Like the distraction-disaster that followed, GW Bush and his half-a-brain trust either failed or refused to give our military the resources needed to achieve the tasks at hand. And they damn near pulled it off both times anyway.


Now the man who chose to take the cesspit of American politics and policy onto his lanky lap, my friend Barry, is about to make his Big Announcement which, as that earlier expert military tactician Cheney says, he has been dithering over for approximately 90 days. How long does it take to decide on the least screwed up way to deal with what is now a completely screwed up situation? A “war” which should have ended after about 60 days has lasted 8 years and cost about 1500 American lives. Maybe not making a rash decision is called for here, hmmm?


So the early word says Barry is gonna give the general about 2/3 of what he asked for, which to a military man is probably everything he expected. I learned a long time ago to start a negotiation high and settle low. For our friends on the right, who shop retail and buy the sticker price, this makes no sense and they will say so and loudly. But they will never have Barry’s back, unless it’s in crosshairs so why he continues to bother is a question that my political mind cannot reach. I am not myself a political animal so I have no desire to be appreciated by everyone who doesn’t like me for any reason or no reason so I don’t waste effort trying.


On the left there will be howls because this guy was supposed to get us out of these stupid wars. Well yes, but even this guy said he thought this was a correct war so expecting him to ditch it is wrong-headed. Expecting him to do nothing clearly isn’t going to work since, well, it’s not working. So doing what appears to be a half-measure is what should be expected. No one will be happy, which may mean he’s found a good middle ground, like he does in every issue.


My feeling is that numerically, it’s probably necessary to increase troops since there were never enough to cover the country in the first place (it’s bigger and more spread out than Iraq by a substantial margin). It has much less infrastructure and a much less educated population who are nevertheless battle weary and tested following what is now nearly 30 years of near constant war and insurrection involving the world’s major powers: NONE OF WHOM HAVE EVER MANAGED TO SUBDUE THE PLACE.


Very simply, we should stay there long enough in this form to allow Karzai to clean up his act or not, to rebuild some of what we broke, to try to rout the Taliban out of the two southern provinces that actually have lots of Taliban (Helmand and Kandahar), and do so using anti-insurgency tactics rather than old-style big battle plans. We need to get into the villages and interact with the people, gain their confidence and give them the strength to fight off the guys we don’t like and then make sure we continue to supply them appropriately when we want to leave. That’s what finally succeeded in Iraq and that’s what will succeed in Afghanistan. We won’t leave behind a modern democracy. The culture there in 10,000 years old, possibly older than the one we tried to change in Iraq. Dropping bombs around them for a few years isn’t going to bring a light to their world that will obscure the one they have known since before cattle were domesticated.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

The Greatest Threat To Liberty?

The founders of the United States were liberals. They believed that men (yes, white property owning men) had a God-given right to determine the direction their lives could take free from outside interference. In their day, the most likely source of interference and the one they revolted against, was an unresponsive and corrupt central government headed by a hereditary monarch. For the first hundred years of the nation's existence, that perspective was maintained effectively as the sole means by which to measure individual liberty and government authority. By the 1880s though, another threat to personal liberty arose in a way not fully contemplated by the founders: the perpetual corporation.

In the founders' day corporations were rarely used and novel methods of agglomerating capital to take on tasks and disburse the risk of loss in a venture which could not normally be carried by a single owner/operator. They were single-purposed and short-lived. Governments also had great authority to exercise control over the effects a corporation had within its community. Some of the founders recognized the possibility of such entities growing beyond the ability of small governments to control them but that foresight could only go so far.

By the last quarter of the 19th century though, laws had changed to allow the growth of corporate behemoths of size, scope, and influence beyond any of the founders' worst nightmares. Accordingly, a new major threat to the liberty of the individual became a force in American life. The question of whether or how to contend with that threat effectively defines much about modern American politics. Simply stated, the only entity capable of bringing to bear enough resources to assure that the people are not abused by the whims, desires, greed, need, what-have-you of the modern corporation was a larger, more commercially active government at all levels. It required the proper functioning of the former great threat to manage the dangers posed by the abuse of the latter great threat.

The goal is still to protect individual liberty; the Liberal Ideal. The means to do so, requires one to trust in the good graces of two recognized devils. Somewhere along the line, because corporations are private property, the label conservative has stuck to those who still see government as the greater threat to liberty while liberals, who long ago fought a revolution to limit government interference in the liberty of the people, now look to it as the main protector of that same liberty.

Perhaps the greatest threat to liberty is the failure of adequate labels to show we all take different roads to get to the same place.
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The Inevitable Assessment of a Modern Major Genral

The report leaked today from Gen. William McChrystal, the commander of all forces in Afghanistan said that unless forces are dramatically increased, the American effort there is likely to fail. He may be right, after all he has his McChrystal balls to rely on. But on the other hand, what are the chances that any general is going to recommend retreat, which will always look to some as a failure, as opposed to going all in which at least has a chance of "winning" whatever that may be in a place as poor, corrupt, remote, ungoverned, and unconquered as Afghanistan? Pulling out is no choice any military man would ever take. Leave that to the Commander-in-Chief, a civilian whose calculations on such matters have to take into account many more factors than anything a general has to worry about. This does not demean the general's advice in any way, but rather places it in context along with any other sources of advice the president must take into consideration.
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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Racism in the Current Discourse

We have here in the US a president whose father was a native of sub-Saharan Africa. The skin tone of this president bears a closer resemblance to his father's than it does to his mother's, who hailed from Kansas and whose skin tone was as peach/pink/white as anyone whose heritage emanated from northern Europe. At this point proportionately less people care about that one way or the other that at other time in this country's sorry history on that point.

But a lot of people still do care about the president's skin tone; both as a reason to like and to dislike him. While I won't go so far as to say it's an utterly meaningless fact but any discussion of it in the context of the current health care debate is a complete waste of time. Those who support the president primarily because he's a black man will do so no matter what and won't be changed and the same is true of those who can't stand the notion of a black man sitting in the big chair in the White House.

All that will happen if one side or the other accuses anyone of racism is that the chance of any substantive discussion of the particular issue actually at hand will come absolutely to an end. The heat gets turned up. Anyone not predisposed to the extremes gets pushed to it in order to defend themselves against probably baseless charges and before long things could turn violent.

The media, which is astounding me more each day with its unconscionable laziness, goes immediately to the most extreme points of view in order to sensationalize everything and make all debate appear more like a car wreck in process instead of trying to parse through the complexities of difficult issues. Hey I dig it, it's hard to do research to understand the composition of health care in this country and the varieties of ways it comes into play among the 300+ million people living here and the 50 states and the regional variations and enormous sums of cash and the tension between government and service providers and insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies, not to mention the different ways it's handled in other countries, all in the midst of the horrors of the current economic problems.

Like everything else, it's all a lot easier if you try to make it a black or white issue.
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Thursday, August 13, 2009

The America I Know and Love...

I hear that phrase in various forms over and over a lot lately. It's featured most prominently in the ridiculous rant by that Dangerous Moron, Sarah Palin. It comes up in blurts from birthers wanting "their" country back for that Kenyan posing as president.

Here's a simple request for the folks out there who hold that sentiment: please comment below by explaining to me what exactly it is that you mean by holding to any version of the phrase.
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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Is-ism

Unintentionally I seem to have taken a summer recess in blog posting and though much is in need of comment and discussion, instead I want to start getting to some basic principles which should have been addressed long ago, namely, what do I mean by calling myself a Mighty Liberal? This is the first of what hopefully will be many installments on this point and with luck, some readers will add their thoughts.

The goal of liberalism in modern America is tricky and that is part of what makes it a slippery concept, seemingly unprincipled. But it is the seeming unprincipledness of it all which is the hallmark of liberalism. Focus on seeming because in reality that is the aspect of liberalism which makes it a dynamic force. To contrast, conservatives of all stripes make a fetish out of hewing tightly to their so-called principles to the point that the steamrolling of populations along the way becomes testimony to the lengths of sacrifice they would make to assure consistency. They are certain they know what it is that things are. Note the words I use here. They have a desire to have a world governed by "Is-ism". They know what the meaning of "Is" is. Anything which does not meet their self-definition of just about anything is then, by definition, wrong, and therefore to be scorned and destroyed at all costs by any means.

Contrary to conservatism, Liberalism is flexible. It has to be in order to strike a constant balance between liberty and anything which might threaten liberty. Solutions change. Adjustments must be made on the fly. Nothing is certain except the constant need for trying to understand as many facts, circumstances, and opinions as possible while knowing at the same time that full knowing of anything is impossible. We humans must do the best we can and strive always to do better. In the moment, the desire to always be ready to alter one's path can look pretty wishy washy to someone determined to plow ahead at all costs no matter the circumstances. But in most cases, such plowing behavior is good only for an ox.

An ox may be strong but it's not very smart. And it's a herd animal by nature as well. We are humans. We can and should be able to do better. We tell the ox what to do and where to go. And when we're done with the ox, we eat it.
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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

And now, back to our regularly scheduled program...

Dry your eyes and pay attention folks. Michael is apparently NOT staging the greatest comeback but for Jesus. Meantime he knocked a crushed revolution in Iran off the news pages, allowed another in Honduras to simmer unwatched, and Kim Jong Dillweed is still trying to scare us into bombing his pathetic little regime so he can in turn blast Seoul. Al Franken is now officially Senator number 60 in the Democratic roll call. Good luck with that Harry Reid you lousy cat herder you. Only that soon-to-be retired salmon killer Sarah Palin has made a dent in the news cycle since Michael moonwalked off this mortal coil.

Guess what folks, that pissing in the ocean feeling I described a few months ago is about to get a lot warmer. Stimulus One did exactly what it was meant to do - whet the appetite for Stimulus Two: The Real Thing. I suggested when the first one flew in that it wasn't much and was merely intended to allow my friend Barry to get somewhat settled in office. Then he could take a moment to see how reactive the economy might actually be before going whole hog and doing what really needs to be done to bring this country up to date after 30+ years of baby boomer economic masturbation. Yep, it feels real good but boy do we now have a mess of our hands.

Quick review: TARP provided a parachute to a free falling economy. Stimulus One provided a touch of brakes to further downward sliding. But neither provide any improvement in any substantial manner. The toilet has not finished flushing and I'm running out of colorful metaphors. National health care is around the corner, I hope, and that should be followed by Stimulus Two which will really address infrastructure rebuilding. Energy production and distribution. A manufacturing base to supply it. Research and development to constantly upgrade it all. Give us a trillion dollars to pay for the untapped ingenuity in the American psyche and watch what happens.

It was all signaled by that titan of understatement Joe Biden when he admitted they got it wrong about how bad the economy was when they brought out Stimulus One. I don't buy it for a second but politically it was necessary for a rookie president to take two bites on the money apple. Watch the references to additional stimulus start to pile up. Then get back to me to ask what's next.
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Friday, July 3, 2009

Sarah Palin Is A Dangerous Moron

It's about two hours since I first saw the headline that Sarah Palin is resigning as governor of Alaska and I have yet to read, watch, or listen to any commentary about it so I thought I'd lay out some quick thoughts untainted by the punditocracy.

In her released statement she suggested she is quitting because she had already decided she wasn't running for reelection. Additionally, as a lame duck she would be subject to "politics as usual" which I guess means no one would agree to do what she says automatically.

I don't know much about the goings-on in the Alaska state legislature but I suspect the pioneer mavericky spirit she represents oh so well doesn't stop at her office door. That means the folks in the legislature probably don't have trouble telling her to heave ho when she starts spouting her usual inanities. I have a feeling that her incessant campaigning outside her state has made it likely that she would not be reelected if she ran since she has neglected whatever duties she has had for the past year. Finally, fearing the "politics as usual" conundrum of self-imposed lame duck status tells me she doesn't really have the chops to get things done when the going gets tough.

I admit I thought Obama was pretty brazen to run for president this last cycle. But I saw it sort of as a test run for 2012 or 2016, presuming like everyone else that Hillary had it in the bag. Regardless, he has the intellectual chops to engage in the actual issues and whether you agree with what he's done so far as president or not, he has at least demonstrated that he has actual ideas to put in place and a program for doing it.

Like George W. Bush before, Palin just wants to be president. I don't know why. She has never said a thing of actual policy substance since she first winked her skirted way onto the national scene last year. She simply wants to give voice to some mythological "real America" embodied by such imitation spokesmen like Joe the Plumber which doesn't really represent anyone who has to live a real life in the real world among real people who are really hurting and nervous right now. She panders to the worst in what for lack of another demographic descripter I'll cite as white America. It is exclusionary and divisive at best and potentially dangerous fear mongering at worst.

Sarah Palin looks great on TV and can deliver a line. She can talk within a very narrow band of superficial beliefs that do not stand up to the mildest serious scrutiny. The media indulges her existence because she looks good and makes a great story with most of the absurdities that spill from her lipsticked piehole. The GOP is having all sorts of problems trying to find its way in a new world created by its own generation of national political and economic destruction. I would support Newt Gingrich a thousand times before I would give a shred of value to anything sourced from the Godzilla from Wasilla. I need this particular show to end. Hopefully soon some other voices from the right will be more attractive in real terms but my optimism is waning at the moment.

Republicans please, don't do this. To yourselves and certainly not to the rest of us. Learn the lesson of George W. Bush. We can disagree about policy and how to go about governing, but please already, find someone to represent the opposition who is actually interested in governing under the US Constitution instead of not at all or through some bastardized flag waving pseudo-patriotic swill passing as geunine Americanism. Don't support someone who wants to be president just because it's the next step in her job development.

Sarah Palin is a dangerous moron. She is suited for nothing more than to be a breed mare. A capacity she has fulfilled competently and has clearly passed along to the next generation. I hope her resignation is the last official political act she ever takes. Return to the tundra and don't come back. You betcha!
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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Welcome to the Party, Al

Al Franken is the junior senator from Minnesota. I can't wait to see O'Reilly tonight.

With a theoretically filibuster-proof majority of 60 the democrats could steamroll any program they wish through congress now. Dems being dems, of course, this won't happen. Accordingly, the repubes have one last chance to play nice with Barry and have a hand in how the country moves forward for at least the next few years. If they don't, the only hope they have is for the country to spin further down the toilet towards final ruin. Their past behavior suggests this is precisely what they'll do. Either way they are screwed. Hopefully not the rest of us with them.

Now we have to insist that the unherded cats that are our Democratic representatives in congress can pull it together long enough to do the job we collectively sent them to DC to do.

It's the Al Franken Congress now.
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Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson: I'm Sick of This Too

Among the most talented entertainers ever, sure. Horribly abused and damaged psychologically, absolutely. Did naughty things with little boys, probably. Dead one way or the other by virtue of his own weirdness, more than likely. In context, more important beyond the entertainment channels than the immediacy of Iran being violently taken over by its military, Norks shipping nukes, healthcare for me and my kids and you and your kids, keeping an eye on whether there is an economic future for anyone, and cleaning up the mess we humans have made of our home while breaking free as Americans of the noose of foreign oil, no.

Sorry Michael. You're gone. Now Beat It.
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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Mark Sanford: I’m Already Sick of This

The governor of a small but noisy state disappeared from his job and family for a few days. Turns out he popped off to Buenos Aires to cry between his mistresses boobs. It’s an interesting spin on what’s become an all too common story, especially for some reason among Republicans (though Democrats are surely not immune, right Gov. Spitzer?).

My funny bone gets a kick out of bible spouting moralists falling on the stick upon which they had hoisted their petard. And from a partisan politics perspective I am loving how the GOP is publicly destroying itself before our very eyes after having eight years of near total dominance of American government. But in times like these, I end up regressing back to my opinion when Bill Clinton’s shenanigans ended with a cigar trick in the Oval Office.

Beyond the disappearance while on public duty, and possibly using taxpayer funds to do the disappearing in this case, the act of infidelity is absolutely none of our business. It is a family tragedy that all too many of us have felt either ourselves or through the pain of someone we care about. Forgiveness is not ours to be asked for or given. Humans screw up, literally and figuratively, in all sorts of ways. It generally doesn’t mean they can’t do their jobs and do them well — even in public life. It would be nice if more on the right of the political spectrum would recognize that so they could espouse a policy which they could defend instead of a morality which they cannot represent themselves.

I don’t believe morality has much place in politics. It’s a dirty business. Morality is the precinct of the clergy who have followers or of the individuals who follow themselves. Society should dictate to the politicians and the politicians should find a way to balance leading and following. Matters of the flesh among adults do not belong in our public discourse and beyond force or violence should not be legislatively controlled.

We have bigger things going on in the world which need political attention. Ongoing economic issues (not the moral aspects of them though); healthcare and environmental degradation; lunatics from North Korea possibly transporting nuclear technology across the globe just to thumb their noses at the world; people getting hacked apart in the name of democracy in Iran; and so many other matters more important than a strange man from a strange state with a strange history doing strange things with a strange woman from a country with nothing in common with Appalachia other than first and last letters. We have business to take care of which matters. What Mark Sanford does with his pants is none of our business.
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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Labels

Caught a blurb on Morning Joe this morning about a Gallup poll and how Americans perceive their political philosophies (and by the way, how is it that of all the meatheads associated with the GOP it’s starting to look like Pensacola Joe is the one who may be successfully reorienting the Republican Party?). So surprise!!! The largest block of Americans see themselves as conservative more than Moderate or Liberal. On the other hand, if Moderates and Liberals are combined, they come out as a larger block than Conservatives.

I think this is a bunch of crap for the most part and is intended to act as a means for bolstering the Republicans by, as usual, focusing on labels rather than on anything of substance. I do not believe this is a right-of-center nation as the punditocracy is fond of saying. I believe we talk a certain way but when it comes down to it, we are an eminently practical nation, interested in doing what is necessary to achieve a particular goal rather than imposing it from a predetermined template of “how it ought to be”. This is a definition of pragmatism, the one truly American philosophy.

Pragmatism is the philosophy espoused by the current administration and it is a hallmark of Liberal political behavior. It can come off as wishy washy because it doesn’t always say “this is what must be done and how we must do it”. It asks the questions “what should we try and how should we attempt to go about it?” It’s a tightrope walk between more apparently solid principles as so-called conservatives on the right or socialists on the left might prefer. Essentially if both sides are pissed, then the balance is struck. The extremes make the noise and the goal is assure that none of them are completely happy. It sounds like a mushy middle but it requires a true strength of character and willingness to adjust as necessary to maintain such a position. I believe if we look at the demeanor of my friend Barry, we will see the embodiment of a Liberal attitude.

As long as the GOP continues to worry about labels, they will fail to grow and adjust and will become the Whigs of the current era. I’m ok with that. I’d be pleased to be left with wing-nuts on the right and an ongoing conversation between Liberals and other further on the left until you get to the wing-nuts on that end as well.

And finally, if you break down the poll above and get issue-specific, I believe we would find that the VAST majority of Americans would suddenly appear rather more Liberal in the sentiments and desires for the nation and what part the government should play in it. Maybe some dear reader can find that kind of poll out there.
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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is

My car needed servicing. Regular servicing to be sure, overdo for an oil change, replacement of air filters, windshield wipers worn out when it's been raining pretty consistently for the past two weeks (we really needed it and I have no problem with it continuing as long as we get some sun time to let the steam rise on the weekends). The thing that nagged at me was the squeaking noise that seemed to be emanating from the wheels and was telling me I had a brake issue developing. Some things I will let go for a while, like a general washing of the vehicle, or changing oil somewhat beyond 5000 miles instead of at 3000. But tires and brakes have to be right or they become dangerous very quickly.

So as soon as I had more than an hour to spare, I went to my dealer (who does oil changes as cheaply and quickly as any quick change specialist and allows me the chance to gaze longingly at the Ferraris next door) and told them what to look for and then call me before starting any work. I was gonna wander. By the way, in addition to the necessary servicing, my car is on a lease which is up in 4 months, and I was also already on the verge of crossing my yearly mileage allowance, which I knew would happen the day I got the car not quite two years ago. The gas tank was on fumes. Ok so maybe I had some ideas when I got there.

Instead of going to the Ferrari side of the shop, I went to the regular side and immediately saw my salesman Husein, from whom I have bought every new car I've ever bought, and who came right up and greeted me by name. This means I've seen the guy once every year and a half or so for six years, exactly 4 times, today being the fourth. I would like to think I am just that memorable a guy, but honestly, I think Husein is just a talented salesman and has learned the art of memory. At that moment the call came from the service department that the brakes were weirdly shot and everything altogether was going to run between $400 and $500.

My intent was to essentially do a straight swap and exchange the '07 Honda Civic I was driving and extremely pleased with, with a new one and keep the same payment, extended terms, more mileage and no cash out. Apparently my return customer status granted me a little juice since my credit score though excellent in normal times, was just under the current ridiculous line for top-rated credit. They gave me the top rating anyway. Sure maybe that was a car sales hose job, but I came in with an idea of what I wanted anyway so they could puff my ego all they wanted. I retained the power of no which is the key to any bargain oriented negotiation. As long as "that one" isn't "the only one" or the stuff that dreams are made of, you can walk away and go anywhere else and get another version of the same thing, or maybe even the exact same thing, especially if it's a car you're talking about. Yes my current car wasn't going anywhere without the servicing, but Husein didn't know that.

So Husein had me hooked up pretty quickly and assured that it would be a smooth transition from one Civic to another. I was hoping that the 2010s were in because I expect that I may wish to get out of this car before the new lease expires because I hope that the economy will improve, bringing my fortunes with it, and my kids are growing and hopefully inspiring me to make roadtrips like I did with my family as a kid. So I was thinking ahead to my best trade out value and having a 2010 will be better than a 2009. No luck there, the 2010 Civics weren't out yet. Oh well.

We went to go look at the cars in the lot and choose a color. I was leaning towards a sharp looking silver, although there was an interesting red one as well. For a variety of reasons though I can't say I will ever allow myself to buy a red car. Can't have black where I live because the heat makes it truly hot enough to sear flesh, and then there was the same blue I already had, which seemed boring now. But there was one that was such a dark blue it was nearly purple; pimpin for sho' and my kids would love it, but it had a black interior, which is even worse to have around here than a black exterior.

So I was about to say ok on the silver when as an aside I asked about a hybrid. Was there anything comparable in my price range? "Well," says Husein, "there's the Insight, which is about the same with a smaller rear than the Civic but besides that, more or less the same for your purposes. But it's a more expensive car because of the demand and limited production." So I asked him to see what he could do, and he comes back with a price $70 a month more than my current payment. So he figured it was out of the question because I'm really tight right now as a real estate guy in this economy.

But I thought about it a moment. Gas is already popping $2.50/gal again and slowly drifting higher. I'm of the opinion that the current crash in oil prices is temporary as the notion of peak oil is real as is increasing Chinese and Indian oil demands. I think we'll be looking at $4.00/gallon again for good sometime in 2010. I'm also unusual in that probably 90% of my driving is not on the highway. I'm basically the prime driver for a hybrid. At 40 mpg in the city, it almost doubles what the Civic gets. I will be cutting my gas consumption in half. That savings will essentially make up the difference in the monthly car payment, shifting from the oil company to the car manufacturer. If I get any break at all on my insurance for whatever reason, I'm ahead of the game. And my kids can say their daddy is cool 'cause he reduced his carbon footprint (if that's how they would describe it at kindergarten and pre-k). And I can give a little room to stretch my hippie proclivities while being a Mighty Liberal, all at once. As long as the speakers sound good, basically, I'm good. The deal is done.
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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

San Fran Gran Says Spies Lie, Makes Them Cry

Let's be clear here (again). Our government is not allowed to torture. That is the law. Waterboarding is torture. If members of our government wish to authorize torture then they must be prepared to accept the consequences of breaking the law. Whether the technique is effective or not is irrelevant. If they do not wish to take the consequences for authorizing torture then they either refuse to authorize the illegal act, or they get the law changed so that it is no longer illegal.

If I want to drive across the country quickly, doing it at 200 mph in an Indy car would be the best way to do that. But it's illegal so if I do it, I better expect to get pulled over at some point (probably by a helicopter or after I crash). And if I tell Nancy Pelosi I'm going to do it, whether she says it's ok or not, or whether or not she remembers that I told her doesn't matter either. I make the decision and I engage in the act, I'm the one who broke the law, not her.

So stop the whining and get on with the prosecutions.
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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Go Ahead and Spend Time in a Desert of Your Own Creation

I haven't been posting as much lately because business has picked up during the day and I've been engaged in other mind-distracting enterprises during my down time. But this article passed by my eyes a few minutes ago and I wanted to post a blurb while it is still fresh in my mind.

So Oklahoma wants to try to opt out of the federal government's spending and bailout plans. I say let them try it out for a while and see how it feels. Perhaps some readers can send me updated info on this but a few years ago I was doing a little research and confirmed that for the most part, red states like Oklahoma, among the reddest of them all together with Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho, receive significantly more federal tax dollars in grants and services per capita than they pay in. It's not even close. Big Blue states like California, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and purplish Florida pay in way more than they get back (and if you split Florida down by its relative red and blue areas, the pattern is maintained).

The bailout strategy initiated by the prior Republican administration but continued by the current Democratic one may indeed be questionable if you look at it in terms of saving the individual banks concerned. They were DOA and have now become zombies with the infusion of federal money. But that wasn't really the strategy of it. The strategy was to save the entire economic system from sudden collapse. The bailout was an emergency parachute to stop the crashing of the world economy. That it was set up to be a slush fund for the folks who caused the crash in the first place is just another example of how the Bush people did business and failed, did politics and failed, and gave not a rip about anyone worth less than a few million dollars.

So if the fine representatives of the people of Oklahoma wish to exercise their Constitutional 10th Amendment rights over the actions of a federal government exercising its authority under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, then let the legal battles commence. Good luck to the yokels. Let's cut them off from the largesse for the duration and hold the funds in escrow and see how they do.

It's a nice idea and would be fun to watch from the sidelines, but it probably violates the 14th Amendment right to Equal Protection under the law. On the other hand, could this be considered treason? Maybe that's a bit much. Oh well. Let the children rant then.
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Friday, April 24, 2009

Government 101: If It Walks Like a Duck…

A law exists which strictly bans a particular act without exception. Deciding to break that law is not a policy decision, it is a criminal act. When the law in question comes from an international treaty which has been ratified by the government of the United States, then those who engaged in the act must be charged with crimes against humanity. If those who engaged in the banned act did so on direct orders from their superiors in the government, then those superiors also must be charged with crimes against humanity.

Changing the name of a banned act from “Torture” to “Enhanced Interrogation Method” does not turn it into something else. As George Carlin observed, “Shell Shock,” “Battle Fatigue,” “Operational Exhaustion,” and “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” are all the same thing. As Shakespeare noted, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” And finally, as Cheech and Chong explained, if it looks, feels, smells, and tastes like shit, don’t step in it. In all too many ways this nation intentionally stepped in it and members of the former administration rubbed the entire world’s faces in it for years like the bullies they are.

Machiavelli’s nostrum that “the ends justify the means” is not how the United States operates. If we are a nation of laws, if our current administration wishes to re-establish that principle as a fact declared to the nation and the world, if Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzalez, Condolleeza Rice, Colin Powell, Dick Cheney, and George W. Bush believed they were correct by intentionally deciding to authorize, in the name of the United States, the use of techniques long-recognized as torture, against anyone, then that principle should be tested in the wide open light of day in a court of law, for all to see. Any principle worth following must be able to withstand any challenge brought before it or it should be discarded. If the notion of a former vice president and president in the dock is a bit uncomfortable, so what? No more uncomfortable than those, guilty and not guilty, who were subjected to acts deemed inhumane by civilized nations.

The rule of law is not a convenience that can be ignored at will or there is no law. By his constant TV and radio appearances, Dick Cheney is daring the current administration to put him on trial. That is what bullies do. Arrest him, try him, and the rest of the “policy makers” of the former administration, and if they are found not guilty, acknowledge it. If they are found guilty, put them in jail for the rest of their lives and let all who come again into high office know that We The People as a nation are indeed as good as the Constitution which embodies it.
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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Whither Brain Drain: Where Are The Smarty Pants Guys Gonna Go?

One of the lead articles in today’s NY Times, and a topic of discussion on This Week with George Stephanoupoluffugus regarded how the limitations on compensation and bonuses for executives in bailout receiving banks is causing a brain drain in those institutions. Yes folks, the geniuses that brought you the world financial meltdown are taking their collective balls and going home. Or, if not home (to their palatial estates in Connecticut), to other banks which didn’t take the bailout funds and are thus not restricted in their modes of compensation, or to other investment entities. What are the likely results of this so-called “brain drain”?

For those who go to other, still healthy banks, the cycle may repeat unless the strict regulation necessary to reign in the aggressive risk-taking which caused the crisis is finally put in place. Here we see a potential for more real danger. The folks who engaged in these behaviors are a type which is at once needed for the functioning of the upper reaches of a sophisticated capitalist regime. But at the same time, those types are so smart and so aggressive in their desire to turn profit at almost any potential cost that serious regulation is needed together with vigilant enforcement and constant revision to keep them from running rampant as they have for the past eight years. Without it there is continued great risk of systemic threat like that which we are experiencing today. For that reason the regulations in place since the New Deal were created, and with their gradual repeal or failure to enforce, we see a return to catastrophic financial panic of a sort which was a common and expected part of the business cycle from the birth of the nation until the Great Depression. This is all easy and obvious and greatly discussed.

The interesting part is that some of these aggressive financial geniuses will go where they more properly belong. They don’t really belong in high finance and banking which, for all its potential for risk and reward, should really remain an area of relative conservatism and risk aversion in approaches to money management. Instead, I’m hoping that many of these folks return to the world of venture capitalism. Here they can invest huge risk into big ideas with the money from people who know fully the chances of failure as opposed to the average 401K guy on the street. We need big investment in big ideas to finally get done the things which need doing in this economy so we can start competing again and maintain ourselves as the location of choice for research and development. Sure most big ideas fail. For every Google and Amazon there are a couple dozen pets.com but again, the investors there know what they get into at the start. And Amazon lost ungodly amounts of money for years before turning a profit.

I’ve made reference to my belief that the current crisis isn’t one of credit but one of value. Contrary to the operating philosophy of the past generation, Wall St. does not create value, it makes promises of future value which in reality are just hopes. If the big brains leaving Wall St. do indeed go into venture capitalism, they may then be engaged in creating something of value instead of manipulation promises of a particular future size into ones of bigger potential future size. If that happens, the financial crisis will eventually shake itself out and over time, the downward slope of the banking industry will meet up with the upward slope of value creation and both can then begin again to increase and hopefully improve the value of all of our lives.
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Friday, April 10, 2009

The Biggest Travesty of Capitalism

I just got done watching this 12 and a half minute video on you tube and wanted to see if I could encourage my readers to take a look and comment. There are as many ways to slice and interpret the numbers as there are people attempting to do it. That said, this is a pretty negative review of the current version of the government's plan to deal with the toxic assets on banks' books. As far as I can tell, it's a more sophisticated, complicated (nefarious?) means of doing what Hank Paulsen's TARP plan was originally intended to do. I think it's important to keep in mind while watching this or giving attention to anything involving "toxic assets" is to remember that these things aren't abstractions, but at the most basic level are real things which we can all relate to, namely, home mortgages on houses which are worth more than the houses themselves are worth now, the same with commercial loans on office buildings and malls in the same spot as the home loans, and car loans, school loans, and credit card bills belonging to people who can't afford to pay them back.

I hope to get some thoughtful responses from you.

The Biggest Travesty of Capitalism
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Friday, April 3, 2009

Capitalism 101: Chinese Drywall

This is a story that will probably be huge very soon but since I’m in the real estate business I’m hearing about it just before it breaks big. It seems since at least 2003 the real estate building boom resulted in a shortage of domestically produced drywall for home interiors. As with so many products, alternative economical sources were found in China.

Well guess what, like pet food, and children’s toys, and baby formula, the product was substandard to the point of functional inadequacy. It seems the Chinese drywall contains an excess of sulfur compounds which are having some rather serious effects after a period in the homes where it was installed. Sulfur, for those of you familiar with rotten eggs, the stench of hell, or the atmosphere while crossing the bridge over the Savannah River in the 1970s because of the paper mills (don’t know if they’re still there but it’s one of the intensely remembered experiences of my youth as the family drove back and forth from New Jersey to south Florida), is extremely unpleasant to say the least. Folks with the Chinese drywall are now subject to that smell always and throughout their homes because of the seeping fumes from the degrading poor product. As well, studies are underway to determine if the fumes are also causing damage to metal inside the walls themselves. Electrical wiring and plumbing are said to be eroding from the emanations from the walls.

While discussing this with a fellow traveler yesterday, he declared that the Chinese are at war with us already and we just don’t know it. It’s a delicious and nefarious conclusion to draw; deeply conspiratorial, but way too subtle to be of any value whatsoever. The truth, more than likely, is much more mundane and therefore uninteresting to anyone not fascinated by arcane matters of political and economic history.

China is a nation in the very early stages of an otherwise rapidly expanding manufacturing and capitalist economy and political landscape. Until twenty or twenty-five years ago, China was a desperately poor, overpopulated, agrarian society which flung around communist ideological statements from time to time usually to the grave detriment of its own citizens. But in the past couple of decades China has been in a headlong rush to modernize and with its command structure in government, together with the unfathomable human resources it has available, China has become the manufacturer of choice for cheap, mass-produced items at most non-heavy material levels for the United States.

Much of the growing commercial relationship between the US and China occurred under the radar during the 90s but has come out in the open in an ever-increasing level in this decade. We’ve noticed mostly when we’ve heard reports, which seem to happen more often these days, of dangerous or tainted goods coming from there which should never have been tainted in such ways much less at all. But I reject the notion that this is a war because that suggests some level of intent in a coordinated effort to destroy an enemy. My historical understanding tells me instead we are simply witnessing what happens when commercial productivity outstrips the institutional ability or philosophical desire of governing bodies to oversee that productivity.

China now is where the US was around 1890 in relative industrial development. The place is just so incredibly large that in this era it has been able to bloat even faster than the US did 120 years ago. Industrialists rush headlong into the activity that anyone in commerce does, they try to make as much money as quickly as they can. This is done by manufacturing and selling as much of their product as quickly and efficiently as possible at the lowest possible production cost so as to maximize the profits. If there aren’t any rules or no one available to check to see if inexpensive industrial chemicals are mixed in with baby formula to give the appearance of higher nutritional values, then an unscrupulous capitalist will do it to improve the bottom line.

Sure he probably gets caught down the line but by then it’s too late for the babies who have died, or the homeowners whose homes smell like a giant egg fart. Enforcement is for after the crime has been committed. Regulation prevents it from happening in the first place. In the absence of rules, the most aggressive will work the hardest to make the most money. That’s human nature. That’s capitalism. Nothing can change that. It can be tempered by a well-conceived regime of regulation followed by a stringent code of law which is rigorously enforced. When things like that happened in the US often enough at the end of the 19th century, efforts to create minimum standards and inspect for them came into effect. The degree to which they are brought to bear defines the politics within which that capitalism functions. From Communism on the left to totalitarianism or fascism on the right, and everything in between, capitalism is the way of man. China needs to do a better job of controlling its capitalists and our capitalists need to be better controlled before bringing Chinese crap over here which can be made just as easily at home. And the same goes for folks selling false financial promises from Wall Street throughout the world and peanut butter at home.
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Friday, March 27, 2009

An Outrageous Proposal

Just read this brief post by Matthew Yglesias regarding the reaction by fellow Repubelicurs and the press to the emptiness of the GOP “alternative plan” to Barry’s impending budget proposal. At the end he writes: “I’ve never really seen political reporters get outraged before about the fact that a policy document makes no sense in the past. It was a curious outbreak of substance among the press corps that I don’t think was particularly foreseeable.”

I will keep my fingers crossed first that this latest outrage grows legs and sticks around a while, and second, that it acts as a harbinger for the future both of reportage and Repube policy proposals.

In the first case, the so-called Repube alternative would be laughable if it wasn’t such a serious matter. It’s simply another restatement of the same talking points they’ve been blathering on about for years about less tax and spend government. To the extent that these ideas have been implemented, they have gone a long way towards creating the current economic disaster we are living through. They persist in putting fancy covers on the same empty rhetoric and propose absolutely nothing which might actually directly address matters as they exist now. As opposed to last week’s outrage about AIG bonuses, from a political standpoint, this one matters. The minority party has nothing to say about anything and doesn’t have even the balls to admit that there’s no point in doing anything except saying “no” to everything, just to be in opposition. And god forbid they admit there might be some value in something the Democrats propose.

In the second place, maybe, just maybe this absurdity will finally snap the mainstream media as well as the few remaining thoughtful Repubes into focusing on some actual substance instead of how it would be marketed to the public if there was actually anything to market. It would be fascinating to see what it would be like to really have some competing valid ideas.

I am hopeful, but not optimistic.
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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Hell No We Won't Grow

The ocean liner USS American Dream is heading for an iceberg which does not appear as if it will be affected sufficiently by global warming before we hit it. That is unless Captain Barry Obama can steer this unwieldy beast out of the way. Trouble is a lot of folk are scared of what happens if we look in the other direction, so they think we should hit the ‘berg and take our chances. But not our captain, no.

After opening his news conference with a barrage of clich├ęs worthy of the worst American Idol music writer, the prez rather stiffly ran through a workman-like run of questions. To me he seemed like he had been interrupted from considerably more interesting meetings and I must say it’s the first time I’ve seen him look like he has better things to do. Of course he does have better things to do, but one of the things he has to do is to be the front man promoting his multifaceted program of not just fixing the economy, but doing so in a manner which puts the country in some semblance of proper footing to actually deal with the challenges of the times rather than argue points of empty political and cultural philosophy as we have been doing more or less for a generation or so.

I’ll state here flatly that the baby boomer years of rising to and having power — the 80s and 90s — were essentially a complete waste. I think that historians will look back at this period as colossal wastes of time, energy, and resources. Politically, the entire period saw no attempt to see ahead and innovate into the future with the great exception of the geek culture managing to create the internet and related technology revolution. But those folks, by their nature as geeks, were systematically shut out of activities run by the cool guys like Bill Clinton and Georgie Bush. So for now the best we have to show for that singular advance is the great speed and volume with which quality porn has become accessible to the masses. The iconic movie of the boomers will turn out to be Wall Street with Gordon Gecko’s famous declaration that “greed is good” the eternal mantra of the era. The generation generally spent its time sucking out the resources of the world, and now the post-Boomers, like Captain Barry, have to act like the cleanup crew after their lifelong fraternity party has come to its stale, beer, vomit, and used condom conclusion.

So here we are and Captain Barry said quite clearly, as he has been all along, that we now have no choice but to address the issues which have lingered for at least a generation, if not longer, if we wish to continue to be, much less to grow, as a nation. We must address health care, education, and energy, all while rebuilding our financial system, or likely we will lose the ability to ever address these issues in a comprehensive, interconnected, and sensible way.

This is about the kind of country we want to have going forward. It’s really about resetting the clock back to before Lyndon Johnson screwed everything up by focusing his political gifts on Vietnam instead of his War on Poverty. Ever since, it’s been cultural and political war; among differing versions of false conservatism and flamboyant niche nurturing. It’s been fake money and mortgaged futures. It’s been fear and quick riches. It’s been “gimme!” and “it’s mine!” (genuflecting to the ghost of George Carlin).

The president mentioned Pittsburgh in his opening remarks tonight. That city and its industrial output and work ethic used to define the American spirit and the American Dream. At some point in the past few decades that symbol became Las Vegas. Well boys and girls, it’s once again time to take a savage journey into the heart of the American Dream. If our politicians will allow us to take that journey, we may find the heart of the beast is still beating, and we’ll have the juice to steer away from the iceberg and steam ahead to a future we can still define.
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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Outrage About Outrage

$165 million in bonuses was distributed among the staff at the Financial Products Division of AIG. Those are the good people who brought you the current financial panic and have resulted in AIG receiving $170 billion in US government bailout money (so far).

To the average guy a bonus is something you get for a job well done — an unexpected something, given by grateful bosses to hardworking, successful employees. Sports fans have come to know of bonuses as a means of generating incentive in players to meet high performance goals. A-Rod makes it 50 homers, he gets to spend a night in the cage with Madonna, that sort of thing. In the case of AIG, though, it sounds like these folks were rewarded for driving a respected international corporation and, by extension, the entire world economy, to the edge of collapse. Seems pretty outrageous. How could the government allow this?

I’m not going to try to parse the machinations of the deal to give these bonuses other than to say it seems to be a product of the prior administration (with some advise and consent by Ben Bernanke, Tim Geithner, and some others still hanging around the water cooler in DC). All the plans, in place before Barry came into office, are completely consistent with every other action taken by the former administration. They all had the effect of concentrating enormous amounts of taxpayer cash more or less directly into the hands of a relatively few number of hands at the top of the income pyramid while the entire edifice of political and corporate structure began to teeter below.

Here’s the thing, the guys at AIG getting these bonuses are splitting up one tenth of one percent of what AIG has received (so far). “Distasteful”, to quote the current straw man, recently appointed AIG chairman Edward Liddy, but not really all that outrageous. What I suspect will soon become the real outrage will happen as we start to understand more about where the $170 billion (so far) has gone.

The next meme to start popping up in the political and financial discourse will be “counter-parties”. AIG was primarily an insurance company which sold variations of just about every sort of insurance devised. A counter-party is the recipient of a check when a claim is made on the insurance coverage. In other words, if I have hurricane insurance on my house, then a hurricane blows down my house, I am the counter-party who gets the check from my insurance carrier to cover my lost house. Calling me a counter-party is a fancy way of saying I bought the insurance to protect myself.

This will become important because AIG has been infused with $170 billion (so far) basically to pay off claims on stupid risks taken by the Financial Products Department. They insured the stupid loans bundled together in instruments created by the banks. Most of the bad instruments are held by JP Morgan-Chase (Goldman, Sachs), HSBC (not a US bank), Wells-Fargo (Wachovia), Bank of America, and Citigroup. So really, the money that went to AIG (so far) theoretically is being used to pay claims against the debts (mortgages, credit cards, etc.) going bad at those banks. But wait a minute, those banks also received direct infusions in the neighborhood of $170 billion (so far) also.

From an accounting perspective, these companies have all been preserved after years of very bad management, taking huge risks, huge personal paydays for the folks who did the deals, and we are paying the bill for its failure. The phrase “privatize the profits, socialize the losses” was one I heard quite a bit while Randi Rhodes was still on the air and it’s starting to feel more and more like she was right. “They” get to keep the money when “they” make it, we have to pay for it when “they” lose (although that payment still goes to “them”). I understand and agree with the notion that in a severe recession/depression, the only viable source of capital infusion is the government. No one else is spending their own cash and in a world that revolves on the use and reuse of money only the government has sufficient resources to force a change. How that money gets spent is another issue.

What we are seeing now are the continuing consequences of the Bush administration’s outrageous philosophy come full circle. Barry was stuck with it on January 20th and in the absence of a signing statement to the contrary, he is bound by law to carry it out pretty much as he is doing. Personally, I’d feel better if every American instead, was instead given a portion of the $340 billion (so far) for specific use towards either their mortgages or their credit cards or some other bank originated debt. That way the banks are in the same spot as far as getting their cash infusion and at least the people are using their own tax dollars to wipe the debt off their own books. The debts now don’t go bad, AIG doesn’t have to pay the claims, and instead investigations into a foolish, probably criminally fraudulent insurance enterprise can proceed. Wouldn’t THAT be outrageous??
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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Going All In

A few memes popping frequently upon the airwaves the past few days. One of them is “overloading the circuits”. This refers to the Obama administration moving quickly on policy matters which emanated from his campaign promises and which obstructionists argue have nothing to do with improving the economy. Of course, the obstructionists are on the right and they work hard to stop all forward motion on economic matters, particularly since the measures will end up having an effect on the pocketbooks of the folks at the top of the income pyramid.

The biggie is health care, an item addressed by every single modern economy in the world, and some not so modern, except for ours. I’m not going to address the merits or not of such a program right now, but rather the concept of trying to accomplish so many things apparently all at once.

Nothing about any proposed policy is new. Everything has been on the agenda for years, in the case of health care, 60 years (keep in mind Germany has had national health care since the 1870s). The issues have been discussed and debated; it’s just a matter of formalizing most of it at this point and getting it to the floors of congress for an up or down vote. Overloading the circuits means the opposition won’t have enough time to parse through the documents to find the stupid little crap they always find to go on the media outlets foaming at the mouth about how irresponsible the democrats are being, blah blah blah.

The democrats are right to go for everything now while the energy is there to do it. The GOP argues to wait for the economy to stabilize. Two outcomes are possible if that is allowed to happen. First, things can stabilize in which case any further moves will be made to look like a threat to stability so they shouldn’t be taken, or; second, things don’t stabilize in which case further moves shouldn’t be made because they will make things worse (and anyway, more effort must be made directly on the problems at hand rather than side issues).

So go ahead and overload the circuits. If those (Republicur) folks in Congress can’t keep up at this point, it’s just another example of their governing inadequacy. Years of inertia can be overcome if they want. They don’t want. They spent the entirety of their time in power trying to kill the beast and now that it’s nearly dead we are trying to revive the carcass. My friend Barry has made it clear that it’s possible to do more than one thing at a time. Dedicated readers here will note I said a long time ago not to play poker with this guy. He’s going all in. He can still be nice about it but I’m glad we have cute little grandma Nancy to bust out the rolling pin and flatten ‘em to get things cooked. Ah metaphors!!!
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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Whither Rush: Corpulent Bleats From the Republican Intellectual Desert

I could be wrong here, but I just don’t understand delusion. Like everyone else, I come in contact with various degrees of it on a daily basis and I generally pay no mind to it as long as it doesn’t get in the way of my own perceived existence. I am also an advocate of the canard expressed by Groucho Marx when he resigned from the Friar's Club, an exclusive club of well-known comedians. Upon receiving a note insisting he give an explanation for resigning, he stated, “because I wouldn’t want to be in a club that would have me as a member.” With the exception of sports teams when I was a kid, I’ve never been comfortable in large groups seeking common goals. That attitude probably has something to do with why I am a solo practitioner in my professional life, why I shy away from most spiritual gatherings, and why I don’t get directly involved in politics despite my obvious interest in its theory and practice.

Having said that, I shall now gush forth on the latest topic of political interest, Rush Limbaugh’s apparent de facto leadership of the intellectual strategy of the Republicur party. I have mixed feelings about the whole thing. On the one hand, I relish the spectacle of the utter emptiness of Republicur thought these days. In my lifetime I haven’t seen a political party so dominate the national agenda as the GOP has throughout most of my lifetime, only to fall so far so fast with such ringing clarity as has happened since the ’06 elections. They have quite literally clung to the petard of the uselessness of government, no taxes, and brazen jingoism for decades now. They made Ronald Reagan into a saint no matter how he violated every principle he supposedly ever stood for. No better a symbol of the rot and hypocrisy of the GOP could be found than in the bloated Vicodin and Viagra cocktail popping Limbaugh. The audacity of him bouncing before the world proclaiming moral rectitude and manliness should appear as an astonishing joke by anyone who sees it.

Is Rush really interested in leading the GOP? Doubtful. I think Rush is interested in Rush. There was an article on him in the NY Times Sunday Magazine a while back. He acknowledged his upbringing as a southern conservative but he more or less considers himself a hired hand who is there to generate revenue for himself and his advertisers. Pure commercial shill though relatively honest about the positions he takes. He’s honest slime. But he has the hypnotized juden of CPAC that he is speaking for them. And for now that’s probably what they need to keep from slithering off in dispirited clots to Minnesota airport bathrooms.

On the other hand, it’s all meaningless showmanship at this point. Best to let a non-politician showman take the lead now. This is a time for the GOP to reassess itself and its positions as well as strategy. They already know how to sell the ideas, it’s just that for now no one wants what they’re selling. They can either back off and see if the Obama administration succeeds, in which case nothing the GOP can do will help them back into power for a long time, or see if the administration fails, in which case coming back to power will be easy if there’s any country left to misgovern. It’s the fuzzy in-between that matters and honestly, unless something really big and probably really bad happens, we won’t know where we stand economically and otherwise until about this time next year, just as the jockeying for the 2010 elections gets going in earnest.

That said, it’s probably best for democrats that Rush is indeed the voice of the party. It’s become increasingly difficult to contradict either form or substance when Rush wheezes political. The result is that the party is stuck with its discredited policies and philosophy cemented in place since Rush is not actually an intellectual of any kind but just an intake valve for natural and pharmaceutical resources while he spews out the old lines about bad big government, unfair taxes on his fellow offensively rich, individual responsibility from a guy who can probably barely reach around to wipe his own ass anymore, and manliness for a crowd of unnaturally homophobic dudes.

Of course, there is one lurking tendency I detect curled behind a fair amount of their rhetoric. When you can’t convince someone with the force of your ideas, you can only convince them with force. The tone of the Republicur rhetoric often gives me the shakes that they could easily edge in that direction. I don’t agree with them and because of that, I feel their dislike for me has a personal intensity and dehumanizing revulsion that I do not have towards them (ad hominem attacks on Rush for the sake of the words used admittedly notwithstanding). It is beyond disagreement. It is righteous hatred. It is delusion. And I don’t understand it.
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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Brief Observations, Post "State of the Union"

Here is President Obama, promising to do everything he said he was going to do and for the moment making it seem like it’s all possible while invoking a non-existent line-item veto to make it all cost less.

Here is Governor Jindal, Mardi Gras gumbo dripping off his lapel and still woozy from the post-Zulu parade festivities, saying no we shouldn’t let Obama do it, just wait for the Minutemen to show up.

Congressional Republicurs will recede to the background and the Republicur governors will come forward.

Let the games begin...
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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Death By Half Is Still Death

I am ever more deeply believing that the major banks of this country are zombies and have been since the initial crisis hit them last September. TARP was intended to prevent an immediate meltdown at the time and this is it did. It never had much of anything to do with liquidity and possibly may have been a last ditch effort for Bush people to funnel some Treasury cash to their cronies while keeping the banks themselves filled with employees drawing paychecks. I recognize that statement borders on conspiracy theory but we’ll see how things develop in the years ahead. Now, other than the employees (stockholders have already taken their hit), I wonder who at the top end of the pyramid will lose their valuables if the big banks eventually shutter, the zombies no longer able to gnaw on the brains of us taxpayers for sustenance? If they get nationalized we may never find out and instead continue to feel the cold air of day whiffle across our collective financial grey matter. Mmmm, feels like being at dinner with Hannibal Lecter. In other words, I don’t feel bold action is being taken and I wonder why?

The stimulus I am more optimistic about. This I believe is a leading edge for what will require by necessity more financial pumpitude down the line. The infrastructure projects will need to be expanded and maintained, particularly any aimed at developing a new energy grid. Gee, I’m going out on a limb supporting the ideas of the newest Nobel laureate in economics but I’m on the bus with Paul Krugman here that tax breaks don’t do much and we need to spend a lot more to build things up, get money in folks’ pockets and do it by keeping them busy on useful projects.

The foreclosure plan proposed today, well this one seems like a half-measure. I’ve written several times on this blog what I think should be done here to rebuild a housing market. Simply stated it requires a write down of mortgage principal available for everyone regardless of how they got in the situation they are in. We don’t have time to collectively shake our sanctimonious fingers at people who got bad loans through whatever means because getting the economy moving again is vastly more important. At some point, the wide net of devaluing homes will sweep up everyone and then all we’ll have is blame. You can’t eat blame. We’ll have time for that down the road (don’t you worry all you mortgage brokers, we’ll get around to auditing you eventually — yeah I know, it wasn’t just you, but I enjoy the fantasy).

The main focus of the plan is to slow the foreclosure rate so that folks can stay in the homes they are in now. And that’s ok as far as it goes. But for the purposes of a consumer economy, it doesn’t go far enough. This plan does nothing for the principal on loans, which will remain higher than the values of the homes they are on. Interest rates and terms may be stretched out to reduce payments, but the homeowners, although safe in their homes, are effectively trapped in them until such time in the future (at least four or five years in normal times for housing value appreciation, and much longer in the hardest hit places, California, Florida, Arizona, and Nevada) when home values manage to reach back up to where they were when the loans were initially made.

The trouble will be that by that point the banks, receiving regular payments, will have no incentive to approve short sales (the sale of a home for less than the amount due on the loan) so folks can’t relocate, can’t downsize or upsize depending on their circumstances (if they can upsize then they could presumably cover the difference in an undervalued home at closing, but then there’s no cash to pay towards a new home of any size). Meantime, we haven’t even hit bottom on devaluation and now we’re planning ahead for increases? We’ll end up back in the death spiral where the only way to get out is to default.

The only way to affect principal in this plan is through bankruptcy. That may work out for me since I’ve long planned to increase my law practice in that area, but honestly, it’s not good for the nation altogether. The banks will still end up losers in that kind of deal. But now, the homeowners end up having their credit destroyed which will make it difficult to impossible for them to remain involved in a consumer economy in any big way. Cash on the barrelhead for those folks only. In a world short on cash for consumers, that’s no way to run a recovery.

The only semi-reasonable explanation for why my friend Barry is taking this approach, which is feeling like a slowed down death instead of a guillotine on the one hand or a reprieve on the other, is pure political pragmatism. It comes back to doing what you can do. The Republicurs are convinced they have the nation’s ear with their constant trumpeting about tax and spend Democrats. And they’re right, they do have the ear. Except for my friend Barry himself, no Democrat seems yet to have figured out how to explain themselves in such a way that reaches people in the tasty little soundbites that they have to create to swing the discussion their way. It’s frustrating as hell because it doesn’t seem that tough but I haven’t been on TV and been asked the questions so I don’t know (though I’m working out my chops with occasional appearances on the friendly format of Progressive Blend Radio).

I’m halfway hoping that these are half-measures designed to work only so far while the Republicurs act like the philosophical Neanderthals they have become (read, dead-end). By the end of this year or the beginning of next, I’m hoping the results of policies to that point will demonstrate the absolute necessity to go all the way on stimulus spending and mortgage principal modification. At that point John Boner’s head can pop off in the well of the House and the remaining Republicurs can join their Whig forebears in the history books.

The only other thing that can get in the way of this, or anything else, would be something extremely nasty happening in foreign affairs, probably involving Pakistan as it continues to morph in to Talibanistan. In that case at least one thing I have going for me is I can make several wicked varieties of curry so I could have a peace offering in a pinch.
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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Stimulus: Pissing in the Ocean?

Like many folks I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around the causes, effects, and consequences of the economic meltdown we are enduring while still trying to maintain a semblance of my own personal economic existence. As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I’m in the real estate business and I’m in south Florida, so I’ve been feeling the effects of this downturn for going on 4 years now. Business has been steadily declining since hurricane Wilma hit here in October 2005. For me, I manage because I have very low overhead and can operate in a variety of fields, but for real estate specialists, stand alone title companies, and real estate sales offices, well, there are a lot of shuttered storefronts they used to occupy. And there are a lot of empty homes around here as well with many more soon to come empty.

So I heard a figure regarding the amount of debt that is actually hanging out there waiting to fall all over us. The figure is incomprehensible to people outside the astronomy business. It’s 1.14 quadrillion dollars. That is a thousand trillion. Every trillion is a thousand billion and each billion is a thousand million. That 1.14 quadrillion (and I am intentionally NOT italicizing or otherwise emphasizing the number. If it doesn’t already pop your eyes out to see the word, then more emphasis won’t help) is the amount calculated to be owed to the end-holders of the so-called derivative debt held throughout the world. That is compared to the total estimated Gross Domestic Product of the entire world which is approximately 60 trillion dollars. Yes that is correct — the debt owed is almost 20 times the actual value of everything OF value on the planet. (I am also not making links here because a simple Google search of these figures will provide you with numerous references from all manner of sites, both reputable and otherwise).

I will once again make reference to my first assessment of the financial crisis in that it’s not really a problem of credit in and of itself. The problem is that so much credit has already been extended that there is no way that the collateral which backs it can ever hope to come close to even cover a bankruptcy level of pennies on the dollar. Value is the problem. There isn’t any. The banks blew it. They are dead. Giving them money to revive is a false hope. They are dead. Not comatose, not faltering, not on the precipice, not pinin’ for the fjords, but dead.

The bank bailout (TARP) was nothing it was billed to be in the sense of saving the economy — at least not in the long term. It was a very expensive stopgap. Or at least it seems expensive to us mere mortals. The purpose of the TARP had much more to do with stopping the imminent complete meltdown of the world financial system while the US was in the midst of a tumultuous presidential campaign. The failure to include oversight meant that instead of going to lending, it went to cover salaries of the banks’ employees. And yeah, also to immoral bonuses to executives who made bad bets because there was no downside to them for losing on such risk —hence executive life under the Bush administration. But mostly it probably went to salaries for bank tellers and the like.

Further payments to banks won’t solve the problem, and I can’t see how at this point any so-called “bad bank” can soak up the level of bad debt that is out there. I’ve heard it said that the mortgage crisis, the foreclosures being endured in the marketplace, don’t really infect everything like the “bad apple theory” says. But my understanding of how these derivatives work defines them as classic bad apples.

Let’s say you have a bunch of loans that were made in 2004. Some in that bunch were $500,000 no-downpayment loans, pic-a-pay deals allowing $400 per month regardless of interest rate. The unpaid interest gets tacked on as additional principle to be recalculated later. The buyer is an unemployed janitor but it’s a no-doc loan so no one is checking anyway. “Don’t worry in a few years of steady payments your credit rating will improve and you can refinance for a regular 30 year fixed at a better rate and for more than you’re borrowing now because the values always go up my friend.” Well 5 years later, the loan resets, the pic-a-pay option is no longer valid and now it’s a $3,000 per month payment on a house now worth $300,000. I don’t care where our friend washes floors now, he’s out on his ass pretty quick.

But his loan lives on because it was sold off in pieces long ago. Complicated math algorithms, which I admit I can sense more than explain, take pieces of the $500,000 loan, its expected interest, and the time at which they all accrue over a 30 year period, and bundle them together with other pieces of other home loans, commercial loans, credit card debt, and other instruments of financial encumbrance, into a package which then gets insured in similar pieces, and then bet on to either stay solvent or not. Soon it all becomes a giant greasy clot of financial promises which can never be kept. But as long as not too many of the internal debts go bad, the dishes can continue to be spun in the air. Well folks, too many went bad. The banks holding them can’t pay. We can throw money at them forever and they will never be worth anything. Unless we get to Zimbabwean levels of inflation of course, which is possible, and that might not still cover it.

I’m afraid the stimulus bill isn’t what you think it is either. It’s not intended to save the economy. $800,000,000,000 when you’re staring down the barrel of a $1.14 quadrillion ($1,140,000,000,000,000) is pissing in the ocean. You might feel warm where you stand, but it doesn’t last long or go far from its source. The bill is intended to keep people busy doing the important work of making sure this country can be self-sufficient when we get to the other end of this thing. Self-sufficiency is not the American way anymore. Premature globalization has made Ross Perot a genius as so many major industries no longer manufacture any products in this country anymore. And we don’t power the things we still do here with our own energy supplies. No one in power can say it because of the effect it would have on markets, though it gets slyly referred to all the time, but the world’s finances are already shot and we’re just now trying to get a jump on the cleanup before the full extent of the filth rolls over on us. If I’m right and that’s what the stimulus is really for, then it probably isn’t enough. More of these will come down the line as reality finally sets in. Whether the republicurs get on the bus as well will largely determine their survival as a viable party.

The stimulus is to pay paychecks for folks who will build whatever it is that’s about to get built. I’m wondering when the banks will finally be shuttered, our accounts guaranteed by that New Deal stroke of genius, the FDIC, and someone can tell us no one has a mortgage to pay anymore. THAT would free up some spending money. Especially if we don’t have to pay the credit cards off anymore either. If that happens, hell I’m selling off the gold necklace I have stashed away safely on ebay to someone in the Chinese Politburo and using the cash to open a community bank on my front porch.
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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Honest Graft

Ok folks it seems the terms of the game have been set. The republicans left in congress don’t really have too many options left to them as they see things. And the way they see things is purely through the prism of power. Now, considering that they are politicians one shouldn’t begrudge them that perspective since they can’t accomplish anything unless they have power, so in their superficial little mythical republican worlds there’s no reason to support anything at all when it comes to measures proposed by their opposition in the Democrat party.

And by the way, I think I’m gonna start adopting that would-be slanderous usage in much the same way that a gathering mocking movement has begun which sees people adopting Hussein as a universal middle name. Part of the GOP strategy involves taking distinctive labels and using them as slurs against the folks they symbolize; hence “Hussein” as in Barack HUSSEIN Obama, calling the Democratic party the “Democrat” party (probably because it sounds somewhat spittle-like and almost crap), and of course, “liberal”, as if it was a straight-up curse or in the same league as “convicted infant pedophile”.

Today my friend Barry completed the first step in getting his economic stimulus bill in place by passing the House. Not a single republican voted in favor of it. They can take no credit nor receive any of the blame for its success or failure. It’s a mighty gamble considering the stakes. If this thing works even a little bit they can pretty much kiss their jobs (and maybe their party) goodbye because you can bet that any cash that might have flowed their way by participating in the stimulus is more likely to go elsewhere first. The price of purity in principles is going to cost them their jobs just as their constituents’ livelihoods are similarly threatened. And the constituents are to blame just as much as the representatives themselves. They voted ‘em in and clearly didn’t get the message of cooperation out to ‘em while they had the chance. We’re all taking our medicine for the past eight years and some will have to take a stronger dose down the line.

Let’s not be coy about this money business. One man’s pork is another man’s bacon and my friend Barry is trying to pull our collective bacon out of the fire. The business of government is effectively to move money around. When you like where it goes it’s stimulus; when you don’t, it’s pork. When you like the reasoning behind why it gets spent, it’s progressive, when you don’t, it’s socialist. All labels and all marketing and for most of the past near 30 years in power it’s really all the republicans have had. Since Reagan they have succeeded in marketing a series of slogans, slurs, and myths which have made a mockery of the unseemly but necessary business of governing. They have won election after election saying government is the problem and then proving it with utterly ineffective governing. In the process, especially in the past eight years, a small cadre of insiders has stolen almost everything of value in the country and shipped it overseas leaving behind promises of payback that can never be met, all the while telling the rest of us to borrow from them to buy stuff we didn’t used to need, and work harder for them and their profit margin.

If this is starting to sound like class warfare, another phrase they trot out anytime anyone actually analyzes where all the money went, that’s because it has been for all this time. But it’s not warfare against the rich guys, it has been warfare by the rich guys against everyone else who still had stuff they wanted. The republicans became a crowd of Veruca Salts. However much they had, they wanted more, and conned anyone not in their club to pay them to take it. And sorry religious righties, they conned you most of all because they made you think you were part of their club and doing God’s work the whole time. But only your rich reverends are part of the club. You, my Godly friends, are what you have always been, the sheep. And if it hasn’t yet happened, you will soon find that they slaughtered you long ago.

For 30 years everything they said was fake. And when the knock comes on your door and all that you have is taken away, then you may realize too late that this was the case. Or maybe you will self-flagellate yourself for not trying harder, doing better, making better choices. Or maybe you will blame a welfare queen. Who did you vote for?

Look, Democrats are not angels either. They are politicians and I don’t expect or want angelic behavior from a politician. They are humans with all of the usual human frailties only pumped up steroidally by enormous authority, excessive egos, a measure of self-righteousness, and honestly, only a limited ability to know everyone and everything among which to choose to dole out the largesse. But I do expect them to have a sense of proportion and degree. Unfortunately, I expect that out of near a trillion dollars, there will be amounts of fraud and waste that have never been seen before. But there will be much more good to come out of it all. Don’t let the inevitable bad news drown out the good. The media need to be kept somewhat honest too. We must be wary of oversensationalized bad news as compared to what will be much more and therefore mundane good news.

There is a distinction to keep in mind here between honest graft and dishonest graft. Honest graft means that friends of the local representative or senator may get the best shot at the contract for building the new water system for the county. They end up making a lot of money, probably with some delays and cost over runs but when it gets done, the water flows better, is cleaner, and cheaper. That’s good graft. The kind of graft the republicans have done for the past eight years involves destroying an entire country, then paying billions to Halliburton and other friends of the party to fail at rebuilding anything while American soldiers get killed acting as their bodyguards. While they managed to fully destroy Iraq, they didn’t quite complete the job here, and we finally came to our senses before the incapable republican repairmen started digging up the streets.

What we have seen the past eight years from the republicans and are now seeing as if it will continue is a “principled” determination to use the system for nothing even potentially useful if it is not all for them. So they will get nothing. No further opportunity to destroy by incompetence, just by non-involvement. Foolishness. Dereliction of duty. Maybe we need to come up with a word to use as a slur against the name of their party. Republicur? Maybe. But that would be childish and my friend Barry has asked us to leave aside childish things. He was referring in part to false and failed ideologies, specifically those held by the GOP for the past couple of generations. He is a master at the sly and elegant insult by the way. I’m glad he is my friend. And I hope to benefit from our friendship. I hope we all do.
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