Monday, September 29, 2008

again on the bailout

The talking heads have been yakking all afternoon about the failure of the U.S. House of Representatives to pass the bailout and about how the Republicans failed to follow their glorious leader or even the Lone Ranger of the Presidential Campaign, John McBush. Perhaps the most surprising comment came from a Republican supporter who actually seemed angry that we were blaming free market capitalism when, he claimed, it had never been tried, that there still had been too much government interference in the markets. Dumb as a box of bricks. Free market capitalism, like Libertarianism and other far right economic schemes, are just pie in the sky. I would like Libertarianism, except we had a little example of that back in Medieval days where the strongest ruled. Now, it's the economic strongest who are ruling us. Someone once said that business destroys itself by its excesses under Republican governments and only gets well again when the Democrats are in control with regulations that keep business from eating its own tail. I think that is not only well said, but correct. Those who support such plans don't seem to take into consideration human nature. A little power, be it financial or political, leads to a desire for more. In the markets it creates greed and that, in turn, destroys any trace of free markets. We see that happening with the death or purchase of industries other than banks until just a few are left in a kind of business oligarchy.

For those who are so against a bailout of any kind, and I have all kinds of concerns about giving this Administration so much unfettered ability to wheel and deal in the financial markets, we have to remember that it will not be the fat cats who have made the decisions that led to the economic crash who will feel the pain. Most of the working people that I have come in contact with in Montana have employer sponsored retirement plans that they invest in the market in several ways including buying stock or buying mutual funds that in turn invest in stocks. Each of them has lost a bit of the $1 trillion that the markets reportedly lost today. Not a pretty picture for those who may retire in the next 10 years, says Suze Orman. Paulson, I admit, scares me. I expect he's pretty ruthless when he wants something. After all, he was CEO of Goldman-Sachs, one bank that seems to not only be surviving but growing in this financial meltdown. Yet something has to be done if the stores down on Broadway and on Grand Ave and other Billings shopping areas are going to be able to continue. They may be in great financial shape, yet it has been the rule for farmers and business to borrow operating capital that is later paid off when goods and products are sold. If credit locks up, they may have to lock their doors. It is a conundrum.

on the failure of the bailout

The bailout went down in the House this morning with enough Democratic votes against with the Republicans. It is rather amazing that the Montana echo in the House, Denny Living-off-the-taxpayer Rehberg, did not follow his esteemed leader's position but voted against it. Maybe it was for the best. At this point I would suggest that the Congress now look at other ways to unlock the bank credit lockup without having to bailout the Wall Street wealthy for their gambling. One way may be to look at making credit and money available to those banks that now can't get money and actually make the loans to keep businesses and farms operating. Seems to me that's what we are really looking. The U.S. can actually get away, I think, without the big stock markets as long as trades can be negotiated between brokers on line. It seems to me that putting the markets on line without a central point to amass gambling wealth they could be made more transparent and more easily regulated. If we were to bypass Wall Street, it might really be the best thing for the country and would help the Main Street far better than the bailout. I've really changed my mind on this since watching Paulsen on 60 minutes last night. He's scary.

Several people said on radio that Republicans and Democrats who are in close contested races are wary because their constituents are angry about the bailout of the rich. Certain minority caucuses came down against the bailout, possibly because of the number of far right comments concerning the laws that demanded that banks take chances on mortgages in more rundown areas or areas considered more risky. That was a no brainer then, and a no brainer now. If banks are going to take a chance they should be required to use the same standards in measuring a risk as they do in other areas. No wonder the minority caucuses and members voted no. They may have been afraid that the racists would prevail.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

on more of the bailout

Saw Scott Pelley interview Sec. of the Treasury Paulsen on 60 Minutes tonight. It was almost enough for me to decide to abandon the whole idea of a bailout. Paulsen, former CEO of Goldman-Sacks who got into government after people began to see the future, was just a bit scary. Pelley did a much better job of pinning him down to specifics than he did McBush last week, but there were still some pretty hazy statements. I can understand that if we don't unlock the money flow between banks, the ability to pay bills and provide loans could become a crisis and is a crisis. What I don't understand is why we should reward the money men for getting us into this crisis in the first place. They know that in the daily operations of business companies and farmers borrow money to fund operations until the items produced begin to get paid for. The fear is that the collapse of the banking system will shut down those loans, shut down production and shut down jobs. But, maybe, giving it to Wall Street and the money world is not the best response. Maybe we should give it directly to the companies who need loans for operating capital on Main Street and by-pass the idiots on wall street, the gamblers in particular. In particular, I would like to know how Treasury came up with this plan and the costs, given all the uncertainties that Paulsen has. It smells like a dead Rainbow.

I have read one very good article calling for a return of the CCC, the Civilian Conservation Corps, of the 1930s to help rebuild our infrastructure. It would certainly provide jobs as it did then and with 700 Billion of infrastructure work we might be able to stop fires, build roads and bridges, fix up schools that spend maintenance money on textbooks and work on adequate medical facilities for all. It would also provide a culture of community service. A rather good idea and one I would support. (My dad was in the CCC and while he didn't talk about it a lot, he did seem to have some feeling for it.) The insurmountable problem with the bailout, as it was with the response to 9/11, the Iraq boondoggle, and the Iran nuclear conundrum is that this administration seems to be as in a rush to "cure" the financial collapse as it was to create Homeland Secuirty with the Patriot Act and that was bollixed up pretty badly, a result seen not only in the Katrina aftermath but in following the two big hurricanes this year. Maybe this fix is too quick and there's a more thoughtful answer out there.

on the bailout

Congress is supposed to be in agreement, finally, on the proposed $700 Billion bailout of the big banks and of Wall Street. The devil, however, is in the details and I haven't seen the final elements. However, I think these should be included: help for the middle class mortgage holders; ownership of at least part of any firms that obtain money through the bailout; oversight of the Secretary of the Treasury who will oversee how the money is used; elimination of salaries higher than the U.S. President's for the CEO of any company that takes the money; and limiting the blank check to $250 Billion now with control of the remainder to come later. NO TAX CUTS. The GOP minority in the House can have a stipulation that the secretary can sell insurance on bad debt to firms who prefer to go that way rather than give up their bad debt to the government, but NO TAX CUTS FOR THOSE FIRMS.

And whomever the next president is, we need to regulate the stock markets to prevent this from happening again. One of the basic elements to consider is forcing the markets to return to their essential job: making it possible for people to sell their securities and for other people to buy them when the time comes. The casino players should be told to go play the games in Lost Wages, Nev., or in Atlantic City, N.J. It seems to me that both in 1929 and now, the problems in the market occurred because people were playing games with stocks to the point where the money was not in the market to the extent that it had to be and speculators were driving the boards up and down. Back in, I believe it was, 1968, Big Blue, IBM, had one quarter during the inflation of Guns and Butter when it didn't earn more money than it had the previous quarter. It didn't earn any less, either. But its stock took a tumble.

I have claimed for some time that we have two economies in this country: the great national economy centered on the stock and futures markets and the Main Street economy that most of us spend our money in. From my observations, I would suggest that those economies are represented in the stock markets in two ways. What I'm about to say may seem more general than it should be and some players may be active in both markets, but I think we can break out, at the minimum, two categories. The first is the Main Street investor who has a 401K with his employer and/or an IRA who puts his or her money into stock or mutual funds with the intent to watch them build up over the years until he or she is ready to draw them down for some special need such as education or a first home or retirement. The second is the gambler (the most notorious were the day traders who lost a lot of member in the first years of this administration). These are the people who sell short, buy puts and calls and derivatives with no intention of hanging onto them more than a few minutes or a year plus one day (if they want to get capital gains tax rules on their increase or decrease). These are the people who make the markets risky. Another word for them is speculators. And until their role in the stock market declines we will keep having this problem.

on the presidential campaign

In the past week I've seen McBush and Obama on television twice, once on 60 minutes a week ago today and again on the debate last Friday. I think McBush is fading and I am not referring to the polls. He seemed weaker in the 60 minutes interview and more general than I had expected. He couldn't seem to focus on the issues with any specificity. Part of that may have been that interviewer Scott Pelley (sp?) did not conduct a particularly good interview. His first question was what McBush as president would have said to the American people as the financial crisis became so clear. McCain started to give some details including saying he would have told the people the cause and Scott cut him off before he could amplify his remarks. And Scott did not then ask him to get specific about the cause. It may have been more of the blame game of greed and corruption and lack of regulation but I would have liked to have heard an answer even if I am obviously not enamored of McBush. Overall, however, I felt that Obama had a much more reasoned approach and had much better details in his plans.

The same thing happened during the debate. McBush cited his experience in foreign policy, but it seemed little more than having been to some of the trouble spots without citing anything he learned there (except for the terrain, in one instance) or what influence he had there. He also spent a great deal of time citing Gen. Petraeus' views on Iraq and Afghanistan without mentioning that as president he would be the one to make the strategic decisions. And, as David Crisp said earlier, he didn't seem to have a good hold on the difference between strategy and tactics. In my opinion, McBush did not do as well against Obama as he was expected to in the debate on foreign and one of his weaknesses was his feeling that if we leave Iraq whatever happens there will be our fault and we will lose that war. I respectfully beg to differ with him. The "war" was won years ago when Saddam fell; now we are trying to nation build to our specifications without realizing the tribal and ethnic realities of the country. We can drive out El Quaeda but the chances are much more than 50% that we will have a civil war between Shia and Sunni no matter when we leave with the Kurds staying out of it if they can. John McBush is defending the things that have led Baby Bush into a very bad relationship with U.S. citizens as far as Iraq is concerned. His daddy knew better and should have spanked him on day 1 of the invasion. And McBush really didn't say anything about the financial crisis that indicated he understood that the middle class has been in crisis since at least 2001 and maybe longer while the business fat cats have been padding their bank accounts and shortchanging the rest of us on their taxes. One thing we have to wonder is why, as Left in the West asks, does McBush hate Montana? Once again he has questioned the "earmark" that helped lead to the delisting of the grizzly bear with the resulting opening up of some Montana land to exploitation. Maybe it's because our senators are Democrats rather than the Republicans whose "pork" is for buildings named for themselves and highways in Texas that no one wants?

Obama has seemed much more reasoned and much more aware of what's going on with the average American than McBush. There is none of the tired rhetoric of a wholesale plan to "cut taxes" as if that will solve the problems of our economy. Both of the candidates are pushing a tax cut: Obama for those making under $250,000 a year and McBush for everyone. According to a tax checking group, a married couple with two children making $100,000 a year would see their taxes go down about $50 under McCain's plan and down about $500 under Obama's. A single person could expect his or her taxes to go up about $10 under McBush's plan and down about $500 under Obama's. I also felt that Obama was stronger on his emphasis on going after the terrorists rather than shooting our entire wad in Afghanistan. McBush seemed to support him in this by citing Petreaus' support for putting more troops in Afghanistan. But without pulling them out of Iraq where are they coming from without conscription (i.e., a draft)?

One other note on the debate: We found out for sure that Sarah Agnew-Pain is really following the script set down by the McBush campaign when he used, in the discussion of Iran, a phrase identical to the one that she used in her interview with Katie Couric. And, a question: Was Katie working to keep from laughing at the end of that interview? One other point that I haven't seen mentioned elsewhere but Biden, the Democratic vice presidential candidate, was asked for his opinion on who won, but Palin did not appear. I wondered until I read online that CNN and NBC (and probably the other major networks) had asked to interview her but she was unavailable.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

on earmarks

Earmarks have become one of the big issues in this current campaign, so let's talk about them. First, what are earmarks? Answer: they are money approved by Congress at the urging of individual Senators and Representatives at a point in the spending process where they are not subject to the usual reviews. They amount to a little over 1 percent of the Federal Budget, but seem to have more press and more consideration than does the lack of oversight of the Iraq peace-keeping spending. (Iraq has not really been a war since the fall of Saddam.) Second, who dislikes earmarks? Generally, no one if they put money into my Congressional District (in this case, Montana). In fact, it may prove detrimental to a Congressperson who does not support such money for his constituents. I recall back in the bad old days when the pundits said a very conservative Montana representative (Orvin Fjare) lost the 1960 election to a Democrat (and we came close to having the heavens fall on us back then) when he did not support money for Yellowtail Dam. So earmarks are bad only when they are in some other jurisdiction. Afterall, Montanans have cheered the Bozeman library money and the funds spent on Taxpayer Acres (otherwise known as Dehler Park).

So that brings me to the issue of the Bridge to Nowhere which is raising a big stink in the campaign because Agnew-Palin is saying that she told Congress no on the bridge. I ask, what difference does that make? She may not have supported the bridge (the evidence says she did up until Congress said no) but as governor of Alaska she took the money and has distributed it to other projects in the state. So is she telling a lie when she says she said no to the Bridge to Nowhere? Maybe not, but she took the money and has spent. So what is the issue here: the bridge or the money? By my reading of the attacks on earmarks it's not necessarily the projects (some of which are rather criminal in nature or at least very unusual) but it is the money. So is it a lie or a rather slippery notion of facts? I would suggest that morally, she lied.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

on "reform" vs. "change"

We all know that Washington must change. What we may fully understand is that our view of the world must change as well. There is no room left in today's world for the shibboleths of the past. If we don't fully grasp the world in which we live, then we will be doomed to lose it. Some of us may say we already live in a two-tiered world: people like John McBush who believe that we can ignore the technology, ignore the changes forced upon us by technology, ignore the changes that will occur when global warming creates a world without us, ignore the changes in biology that the next century will bring. We already, for instance, have medical technology that will enable many of us to live longer and put more strain on medical and financial worlds, while not really having a much better life in the long run. But even more so, as I've said before, we face significant changes in homo sapiens over the next century: gene manipulation for certain traits and to cure genetic diseases and other things too strange to come to mind. What will happen when the people living in the coastal areas of the U.S. move to the central cities, when Denver becomes the capital because politicians don't want to have to wear scuba masks to move in D.C.? What will happen when the island nations in the Pacific become unlivable? When New York is underwater so far that Wall Street has to move out? When the people of Bangladesh and other Monsoon countries find themselves having to move out of their national boundaries or drown? What about those things that change that are unexpected? I was born before computers and television, before jet planes and super highways, before instantaneous communication around the world, before cell phones and photo exchanges on the Internet, and long before the Internet. Many of these things were not even thought of when I was born. This is not the world of 1900. It is a totally different world and yet we like to react to it the same way. Now we have the great tunnel in Europe that may tell us about the origin of the universe. And we have some people who still don't accept evolution although there is no other scientific argument.

Now we have a presidential race in which "change" has been a key issue. Obama and the Democrats realized for the start that this was the world we would need, a changed world. Now McBush has picked it up. But recently he seems to have been modifying that with "reform." You can reform the current system which means changing the atmosphere but not the policies or you can change the system which means accepting more meaningful symbols. For instance, McCain and Agnew-Palin keep talking about tax cuts for everybody, but as is usual with the Republicans, they mean tax cuts that will give most of us a few hundred dollars, but give the wealthiest thousands. This is change? If a person doesn't know how many houses he has, what can we think of him? He didn't say five, omitting rentals, which would be reasonable. He said he didn't know. He thinks you have to have $5 million to be rich. He seems to think that life is for the rich. And he would continue to send our disposable government income to Iraq. I'm not sure this is either reform or change.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

On Agnew Palin's homecoming

I think we now know what we'll be doing the rest of this campaign: watch Sarah Agnew Palin's concern about her son in Iraq. It seems to me that her son should be treated by our military in the same manner that Prince Harry was by England: keep him out of harm's way. I know we're not supposed to talk about family in this election, but what would be the rebound effect ont he election if he gets hurt or killed in Iraq? Or captured? Keep him home.

In her homecoming speech, she once again attacked the "pork" that Congress pours into member's individual districts like the half million for Taxpayer Acres here in Billings, the $4 million for Bozeman's library and money coming in for Shiloh and Airport roads, among others. Let's remember that, except for curmudgeons who hate all government money, one person's pork is another person's long-awaited ball park or library. Congress may not be well like in the polls but most individual congressmen will be re-elected this fall. And most of those re-elected will have as part of their re-election plank the money they brought home to their district.

And what is this change that she says McBush is offering? In his list of programs I see neither a long list of reform or a long list of changes in D.C., exept for going after earmarks which make up but a small portion of the federal budget, about 1%. What about the big spending on the Iraq war which we should never have been involved in. We can leave Iraq anytime we want to: we won the war. It was over when Saddam fell. What we are doing now is empire building. And because of Iraq we now have a tough job to cleanup in Afghanistan.

Friday, September 05, 2008

on the Palin speech

I guess I'm in the minority. I got a chill down my back watching Agnew Palin's speech the other night, only it was one of fear. First, I though that my high school and college speech teachers would not have given her more than a C for the talk despite the choreographed responses to it. It was flatly presented, without a great deal of inflection except for slyness she interjected with the way she moved her head and smiled. Besides having eyes just a bit too close set, often the sign of a fanatic, she looks as if she has a mean streak. That's not unusual for Republicans who often seem to feel that people are not worthy of their attention unless they are executives in oil companies or other big multi-national firms. I also thought it unworthy of her to parade her pregnant daughter (who didn't show the signs of pregnancy) on the stage when the fact of the pregnancy indicates that her family values are not particularly high. I hope she does better by a younger daughter than teaching her to depend on saying no in the heat of a moment. And I hope 18-year-old Levi knows what he's getting into and the limits that will place on his future. I've known several shotgun marriages that lasted and a lot that didn't and the kids suffer. But what I don't understand is how this is a "family value" after what the Republicans have been pushing with the "silver ring thing." And I wouldn't vote for Palin, even if she was a Democrat (which she never would be) because she's mean. It's in her eyes. It's a sign, just like Baby Bush was lying every time he leaned forward on his left forearm. She's doing the same thing when she turns her head to her right.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

what's happening to the election?

Oh, boy, the sleaze is hitting. At first, I thought the selection of Sarah Qaylin or Sarah Agnewlin (take your pick) was a cynical choice to try to take from Obama the former Hillary supporters who supported her only because she was a woman. Now it looks as if she was selected because, if elected, she will help continue the ruthless political basis of government in Washington that the current administratiion has pursued. And her 17-year-old unmarried daughter is pregnant and is expecting to be married to the father. Shades of the bad old days. We used to call that a shotgun wedding (formal if the shotgun was silver plated). A lot of people's lives went in different directions because of that back before the pill and more open access to contraception. I wonder if Agnewlin thought to tell her daughter about contraception or did she rely on just saying no? Obama is being nice to say a politician's family should be sacrosant as far as criticism after his own wife has been attacked. I seem to remember other family members coming under scrutiny in the past, including the brothers of a couple of Democratic presidents.

I suggest that John McBush may have made a mistake in his selection and that someone did not look at the impact of what's coming out about Agnewlin now. Are we going to have a makeover in this convention? Remember, the selection is not final until the convention makes it so, usually just a formality. And so McBush can still change his mind.

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