Wednesday, October 22, 2008

the news will be repeated until you get a fxxxking clue

This AP report, which I found nowhere else but in Huffington Post underscores a point that was perfectly obvious to me before I researched the issue back in 2006. Bush and McBush desperately need fear and terror to consolidate their fascist grip on the mind of the nation. Al-Qaeda know this perfectly well. They are, via this news story, finally on record as admitting that they need a belligerent guns-beat-words leadership in America in order for their cruel and primitive view of Islam to sell well with the so called Arab street. It is a kind of deadly embrace of backward interests we cannot afford to support.

Neoconservative hawks, and other idiots who still support our counterproductive abortion in Iraq should face a few facts. Bush did not fight back in any useful way against the architects of the 9/11 attacks...he just helped them recruit so that they continue to gain ground in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

UPDATE: eventually WaPo and TPM picked up on this "endorsement". Good, the more the better. I'd like it if the facts that McBush campaign are trying to completely reverse by mere assertion and spin got wider exposure. That would make it more obvious that the credibility of the McBush campaign is in the toilet because they put it there. They are pathetic and I doubt they understand what credibility is all about or why their lack of it has only driven them to shred it further with desperate tactics.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Monday, October 13, 2008

but then so did Milton Friedman!

Congratulations to Paul Krugman, and a big grin for all us liberals and progressives who have been cheered by his opinions written up in the NY Times over the last few years: He has won the Nobel Prize in economics for his improvements to models and explanations of international trade.

One more example of how much worse the present administration is at financial leadership than most of its critics outside of government.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

paranoia is optional

In a conversation with a friend last week I heard something about a coup that Bush had pulled or was planning to pull...I happen to trust this person though the story seemed outlandish. So I looked into it.

At bottom, the news fact around which the speculation has crystallized is this vague mention of a deployment of active army brigade to train for a prospective domestic urban counter terror mission. The correction at the bottom of that article bears reading.

When Democracy Now wrote it up, they did not seem too alarmed nor did they read too much into the Army Times piece.

So is this post by Chicago Dyke at CorrenteWire a little over the top?

Not as crazy as she sounds. I thought bringing in the regulars just to have them standing around resting from their year or two of wasting Iraqis was bad enough. And it doesn't actually violate the third amendment. But, as one commenter to the Correntewire post points out, such deployment probably violates the Posse Commitatus law, which is nowadays interpreted as prohibiting the use of federal armed forces to do domestic peace keeping that is the domain of state authorities. That law has a weird history. But even if you don't opt for the conspiracy theory don't you just hate having a president who thinks the national guard is for deploying to discretionary wars in foreign countries and regular army brigades are for riot control? How screwed up is our government?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Yet another day of atonement.

Duh economy
Well its getting pretty bad here folks. Not sure where to draw the line between buying opportunities and bear traps...$4 GM shares anyone?...the company's liabilities exceed its assets just now according to MarketWatch data. The amount that has evaporated out of retirement accounts in the last year is headed toward 10 trillion dollars: that is about $33000 for each person in the USA which would be enough to pay off the national debt. My consolation at having so shriveled a nest egg will have to be that I have lived to see a Republican administration complete the nationalization of the banking system, which actually began in the FDR administration's attempt to cure the depression's collapsed banks. That Republican administration swore its true belief in the gospel of free and unregulated markets.

I was raised in a home where Republican was the only choice and my dad cursed Democrats and FDR in particular...though I could never get a clear explanation of that stance. FDR-hatred must have been a common ailment among the reactionary patchwork of constituencies that neoconservatism pulled together for Reagan. The end result is that these assholes have made capitalism look like more of a failure than even I believe it to be. And yet, my sense of revenge is sweet.

In its effort to trace the roots of the rot that grips our markets, New York Times casts a critical eye on the wonk-hero of the economy for the previous decade: Alan Greenspan. Genteel enough to grace Time magazine covers 20 years ago and work amiably enough with a Clinton administration as well as a Bush Administration, he even had a grudging fan in Brad DeLong...until recently. But do not be fooled. The guy liked Ayan Rand's writing - a lot - so why do you think his policies would care about YOU? The Times and plenty of other sources cite deregulation of financial markets as the cause of present grief. That deregulation went on since Reagan Administration let the Savings and Loan industry crater while its magnates wined and dined John McCain and then got bailed out with your tax money. When congress was Newtered in the mid 90's systematic removal of oversight went on apace until 2004, when SEC basically said to the investment bankers "y'all can just police yourselves". I understood none of this as it was happening. But I had the queasiest discomfort at 2% prime interest rates making houses seem affordable to people who were in fact NOT getting raises under the bush administration ... which was simultaneously spending ever increasing levels of borrowed money itself. I could not understand why inflation was not worse [that may have been dampened by the shift to foreign labor that went on concurrently]. It just felt like Greenspan was faking a I moved investments I control [much of my retirement money is managed and out of my hands] into cash. As of today, those investments are in tact and my tax-free municipals have made a tiny 3% a year since 2003. I admit I felt a bit foolish at first when the market continued up to 14000 but now I lick my chops and smile at all the bargains I can buy into!

Was/is the problem really deregulation? When asked if the complex derivitives contracts that imaginative bankers cooked up to hide the risk in bundles of bad housing loans had been a bad idea, Greenspan said no:
The problem is not that the contracts failed, he says. Rather, the people using them got greedy. A lack of integrity spawned the crisis, he argued

But if you ask me, Greenspan is actually conceding his error by blaming the problem on mere human nature, common old greed: that is EXACTLY why we ever institute regulation. Some check on human failings is vital where our lives and fortunes basically rest on our trust of one person or a small group of people.

But in the end, only a few of the greedy CEO's got what they had coming for not treating deregulation as both a gift to act freely and a burden to act responsibly with everyone else's money.

Desperation of the ignorant becomes a danger to the republic
With so much expert opinion now arrayed on Obama's side of the arguments about what government failures led us to this mess and what steps may rescue the economy, I don't blame the McCain campaign for trying to divert attention to other concerns. I hope McCain's deplorable decision to just go all out negative backfires and disgusts any undecided voters. To those who are paying any attention, the shift of tactics certainly makes a bald lie out of his claim that he would run a civil and respectful campaign.

Who are these rabid McCain supporters that Palin attracts? You might want to dismiss this very unpleasant kind of campaign and the ugly natures it appeals to as fringe politics and desperation on McCain's part. Don't. That was just the attitude of many when the German fascists began to draw crowds in the 30's. Don't go thinking Germans of that era were somehow a different kind of human than Americans of the 2000's...we are all just people and quite subject to fear and manipulation. Have you seen the footage from McCain rallies, that even MSM stations are playing, of extremely agitated ignoramuses venting anger at strawmen and completly misidentified policies and threats they label as Obama's? I predict, or at least hope, that in the not too distant future and for long thereafter, videos of McCain's performances at these rallies will become synonymous with the small minded and the fear-driven themes of American voting patterns...and understood to show empty conservative jingoism in its flop sweat moment of collapse. All of the forgetting that it takes for a nation to retread the worst impulses and mobs of political history may, I pray, be vanquished by YouTube.

The end game for the campaign is at hand. Edsell, insightful as ever, points to the choices Obama now faces. The quandry Edsell raises is, with victory nearly assured by Obama's margin in the polls, will a switch to more realistic speaches about the sacrifices our foxed up economy demands help set expectations or hurt his vote tally?

Monday, October 06, 2008

My cheery disposition deteriorates along with the economy

A shit-for-brains such as Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reily, Sara Palin or Dick Cheney might read things I have said in this blog and try to raise questions about my patriotism. Well, I sure as hell do criticize many of the actions and expenditures made or avoided by the current administration and some of its predecessors and I try to get at the attitudes that enabled such incompetent and damaging government: the predominant jingoism and war lust we use to blind ourselves to economic common sense. But I just came across a prospect that hurts and angers me and leaves a raw bruise on the particular mix of identities and allegiances that make up my patriotism: America has been so financially weakened by its "we can just spend like mad, cut taxes and borrow" leadership that international commerce has become as indispensable for us as it was for other struggling nations. And what strikes an especially sore nerve in me is that we are no longer going to do business by merely selling stuff we make: we are going to have to sell off parts of the farm, as it were, in order to keep our house. Thom Friedman points to our empire's setting sun:
I would also bet that more and more of the foreign investors who come our way are going to want to buy hard, tangible assets skyscrapers, real estate and real companies not just mutual funds, T-bills, bank stocks or other equities. No problem. Americans own assets all over the world; foreigners have long owned substantial positions in U.S. companies. That’s globalization and now you are going to see globalization and financial integration on steroids. It should help us, but also change us.

The next round of capital that comes in from abroad is going to be much more demanding and move into real assets, argued Jeffrey Garten, professor of trade and finance at the Yale School of Management. Being a bigger debtor nation means losing even more of our sovereignty. It means conducting our economic policies with an eye toward whether others approve. It means bearing the advice and criticism that we have dispensed ad nauseam to other countries for over half a century. It means far more intensive consultations with other capitals on our fiscal policies and our monetary policies.
God Damn every last politician and voter who has gone along thinking they would never have to pay for anything. You have gotten and are getting what you deserve but why did you drag the rest of us down? What future do my children have? What do I have to show for my years of forgone luxuries and toys passed up in order to pay off all my debts? I would have been looked upon as an anachronistic economic puritan a few years ago. The dollars I saved have been cut in half by the those of you who supported Bush. God damn you. I never understood grasshoppers could do that to ants.

The next American president will not deal with the world from a position of strength because we have wasted our strength.

How long have we been fooling ourselves? What kind of leaders have kept shafting the next generation of tax payers and getting into office by telling this generation's voters they shouldn't have to pay? Here is part of the story you really need to read.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Present Tense

and getting more tense.

OK, fine, Palin got through her debut debate with Joe Biden without saying anything grossly stupid though without actually answering 80% of the questions. The polls tell us her performance compared to Biden's left a strong majority of viewers better impressed with Biden's ability and readiness to be VP or, god forbid, President.

So now she is out on the trail, saying things she thinks will staunch the desertions from McCain's base. The crap she lets out of her mouth is about the most vile distortion you could imagine without resorting to completely fabricated "facts". Actually, since she speaks of Obama's meeting with a 60's radical in the present tense, she is fabricating. Her words:
"Our opponent ... is someone who sees America, it seems, as being so imperfect, imperfect enough, that he's palling around with terrorists who would target their own country,"
That audience in Colorado should be insulted but you know Republicans. Mind you, the source linked here is the Associated Press, a news organization with an ill-disguised preference for the success of the right wing politics of the Republican you will see elsewhere in the article. Whoever took off Palin's muzzle may eventually feel her bite. They can send her to cheer up the Republican donors but they better start closing those meetings to the press.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Kudos to Thomas Friedman

My elitism will be in evidence here...

That is not a sarcastic title. Mr. Friedman does not always get things right in my view but I have to commend him on this Op-Ed piece. In a valiant stab at public service, he tries to explain in terms even a Republican could understand just exactly why so many people think there is a problem:

This is a credit crisis. It’s all about confidence. What you can’t see is how bank A will no longer lend to good company B or mortgage company C. Because no one is sure the other guy’s assets and collateral are worth anything, which is why the government needs to come in and put a floor under them. Otherwise, the system will be choked of credit, like a body being choked of oxygen and turning blue.

Well, you say, “I don’t own any stocks — let those greedy monsters on Wall Street suffer.” You may not own any stocks, but your pension fund owned some Lehman Brothers commercial paper and your regional bank held subprime mortgage bonds, which is why you were able refinance your house two years ago. And your local airport was insured by A.I.G., and your local municipality sold municipal bonds on Wall Street to finance your street’s new sewer system, and your local car company depended on the credit markets to finance your auto loan — and now that the credit market has dried up, Wachovia bank went bust and your neighbor lost her secretarial job there.

And I particularly enjoy Friedman's turn of phrase, blunt as a 2X4 up side the head:

I’ve always believed that America’s government was a unique political system — one designed by geniuses so that it could be run by idiots. I was wrong. No system can be smart enough to survive this level of incompetence and recklessness by the people charged to run it.

This is dangerous. We have House members, many of whom I suspect can’t balance their own checkbooks, rejecting a complex rescue package because some voters, whom I fear also don’t understand, swamped them with phone calls. I appreciate the popular anger against Wall Street, but you can’t deal with this crisis this way.

David Leonhardt, a NY Times reporter on finance, gives a more thorough if less ringing lesson on the nature of the problem. That confidence as much as palpable cash is at the heart of the matter became apparent to me last week, Friedman has said it in just so many words and it is looking at us from between the lines of Leonhardt's article:
As a young academic economist in the 1980s, Mr. Bernanke largely developed the theory that the loan officers’ lost knowledge was a crucial cause of the Depression. He referred to this lost knowledge as “informational capital.” In plain English, it means that trust vanished from the banking sector.

I must repeat this question until somewhere I hear the right answer, on many lips: If it was so well understood that trust and faith that deposits were safe is what really makes the world go around, why for goodness sake, would the government eject the minimum regulation needed to maintain that trust? "Greed is good" never impressed me as the lone and sufficient maxim to rule the management of trillions of other people's dollars. But that is all Gramm, Donaldson, Bush or any other Neoconservative has given us.

So, there we have it. All the right things have been said and written...often...and not just in the last week. Will any of that soak in?

The problem here is that I am reading this Op-Ed and you may have, but the constituents of the congress critters [left and right populist wings] who knocked over the hard fought improvements over Paulson's original ransom note...they are not reading. Are those the congress critters that have gained congress a 15% approval rating this afternoon, or is it the ones who voted for the so called bailout. After FCC deregulation and the '76 ruling that money can talk, tox radio and Reagan's cheer leaders have managed to make education synonymous with "elite", any recitation of degrees or non-business accomplishments synonymous with "elite", "intelligent" synonymous with "elite" and finally, "elite" so dirty a word [despite the fabulous financial power of those who have crafted this shift] you can affix to any enemy of conservatism. Obama may break that spell...I fevently hope so. They try to make wealth a mark of elitism but it has backfired at last in the case of McCain. I think it is time that the standard for expert and professional services this country desperately needs be faced up to: we cannot have another administration that bypasses the best candidates for appointment to regulatory jobs based solely on a few litmus test questions or Old Boy connections. It is not likely the protofascist constituency will quickly mend its ways. Still, I hope that a sound drubbing and the spread of actual financial pain to the stiff necked rabble that simply have not learned where their bread is buttered may reduce that constituency, may make a few percent more realize they should have been reading at places like the NY Times and disabuse them of the false comfort of their jingoism in favor of a broader attention to real news. The best elites, of course, are not exactly what the name, or the connotation of class distinction it has been laden with, imply but a wish to do better rather than to be better that has come true by some effort and which invites others to follow and to join.

The rapidity with which poverty trickles down, as compared to the tax gifts to billionaires most of which never trickled down, is stunning. Speaking with Barney Frank this evening, Anderson Cooper asked whether the bailout might pass the house on the second try. Frank answered by saying that reality had bitten share holders, in their retirement accounts almost instantly on Monday and that reality might soak through the skulls of the hold-out republicans who had seen the tax consequences as real and dismissed the economic connectedness we all suffer and occasionally benefit from. CNN reported in that same segment that in a week's time the 55+ demographic, one eye on their shriking 401K acccounts, moved from net approval of McCain to the utterly unlikely stance of favoring Obama slightly...that demographic has never moved for any reason but percieved security. The "socialism" against which the Republican purists were holding out is the security play at the moment, and more comfortable territory for Democrats.

BTW, liveblogginly speaking, Bill Clinton is on CSPAN, stumping for Obama before a crowd in FL and man, are they loving that. He has great delivery and I am pleased at the points he is making.

The R-word has been sighted in the MSM.

[or, "how to make yourself feel like a financial expert by merely reading"]

``The cards are on the table and a recession is coming,'' Henry Herrmann, chief executive officer of Waddell & Reed Financial Inc. in Overland Park, Kansas, which manages $70 billion, told Bloomberg Television. ``Our focus is going to be on things like dividend yields, solid brand names, consumer staples, less cyclical exposure and those sorts of things. Broadly speaking, earnings estimates are coming down.''

The dreaded R word that Greenspan and all Bush Administration econotoadies bent numerous rules to avoid pronouncing, has not be put off for long, just made more severe.

And Herrmann better not bet his farm on the consumer staples either. It isn't just the deteriorating world of high financiers that is a statistic in support of declaring a recession: the republican party's favorite trickle down theories, the faith that their megarich corporate sponsors would drip dollars into blue collar pockets, work in practice far more swiftly and efficiently when it is absence rather than excess of money to be distributed:
Consumer spending held flat in August as high prices and lower earnings pinched U.S. households and put the economy in line for the first quarterly drop in consumer spending since the 1990-1991 recession.

The Commerce Department said August consumer spending held steady after dropping 0.5% in July. "Consumers are pulling back really across the board," said Bank of America economist Peter Kretzmer, who expects spending to decline at a 2.2% annual pace for the July through September period, following a 1.2% gain in the second quarter.

And consumer spending for the quarter as measured in the reported Commerce Department stats is an overstatement of the economic health: after correcting the dollars spent for the inflation that has taken place in that time period, we actually bought less stuff, not a steady level of stuff. Being 70% of the nation's economic activity, a decline in consumer spending pretty much makes a recession all by itself. When that last happened, in 1991, what did we do the the bush in the white house then? Eh? [The more damning question about us voters is why did we then plant another bush in the white house?]

Will I gloat over bad news like this when Obama is in office? It seems unlikely I will get the chance. We have let the Bush administration screw things up so thoroughly for so long that Obama, if he can merely arrest our downward spiral, would actually be a hero...there is nowhere to go but up.

I hope.

That this low ebb of American economic power is the bottom is not entirely certain but I am a far more optimistic person by nature than evolution usually tolerates. So let me make my prediction that things will worsen in the economy only a little while longer, perhaps until next February...and then level off and begin a slow, hardworking but upward progress...if you and I, fellow citizen, are willing to do the work.

Why not make a prediction? I have been bitching about the neocon economy since at least 2006. I started bookmarking posts by economists around the time of the '06 election because I found my own opinions uninformed on economics. I was drafting but not publishing posts by Nov '07 because plenty of smart people had already been painting a picture of fiscal malaise seeping, despite officials in denial, into most quarters of commerce. I had no trouble foreseeing at the end of last year, in general terms, that Bush and Wall Street would trash our economy by the middle of this year...All I had to do was read the right columnists on the economy. And after all, voters have been worrying about the economy more and sooner than the politicians they elected. But let me hedge a bit: "upward progress" will never return us to the unsustainable excesses of consumption by which consumers helped wreck our economy...our wealth ultimately deriving from an over taxed nature, our life style will hence forth need to be a bit more modest.