Sunday, September 21, 2008

Stop the bailout: Letters to My Sister- &Brother-1 & 2

This morning (9/21) I sent this to my brother and sister in Georgia and Florida respectively:

"You both live in states where you have actual voting representatives in Congress and in the Senate. Please write them all now and in as nice a way as possible tell them: Don’t give my money to crooks.

The bail out plan is horrible. It may or may not help some, but it will cost 700 BILLION dollars all of which has to come from the US Treasury and eventually from the US taxpayer. What do you, the tax payer, get in exchange? Nada, zilch the big zero with no numbers in front of it.

When the financial system melted down in Sweden, they nationalized the banking system, threw out all the crooks running the banks, recapitalized the banks and then let them pay back the taxpayer for all the money it cost. Nothing like that in this deal.

And suppose you don’t like it? Here’s what the law says: “Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.”

This is a blank check to steal the public’s money that comes with a get out of jail free card. If John McCain is elected president, the odds are that the Secretary will be former Senator Phil Gramm, the man who with the help of Enron wrote the legislation that made all this possible and got it passed by slipping it into a must pass budget bill.

Today, e-mail your senators and representatives. Be polite but tell them, don’t give my money to crooks.

e-mail number 2:

This is the run up to the Iraq war all speeded up. Yes, there is a serious threat out there. But what changed between Monday morning, when they said, no more bail outs, and Friday, when they said $700 billion?

This is bigger than the Iraq war—at least then we had about 6 months to debate the pros and cons going to war in Irag. Quite frankly this costs more than all we have spent in Iraq in five and half years. It is just as bad as Iraq in that they don’t have any mechanism to pay for it. And it is just as bad as the Iraq war because they are playing it as if the objectives are one thing when in fact their real agenda is something else. And it is just as bad as Iraq because it appears that the Democrats are going to be as spineless now as they were then.

The supposed objective is to save the economy. Note that they talk about the financial system but do everything they can to make it sound like it is saving the economy. Sorry, this WILL NOT save the economy. Until Americans start living within their means—which will be extremely painful—we are going to be in trouble. There will be a recession if not a depression whether the $700 billion gets appropriated or not. George Bush and the Republicans from 2001-2006 screwed things up royally and there are no good options.

What the $700 billion bailout WILL do is save a bunch of folks on Wall Street from having to sell their second house in the Hamptons and their ski lodge in Aspen and so on. These guys engaged in a big Ponzi scheme only they were stupid enough to also put their money into the pot and they don’t want to be left holding the bag. (Actually, the original Ponzi had his money in the pot and was wiped out too).

I don’t know what the solution is. There are a couple of principles I would insist on: If the taxpayer puts out money the tax payer should get something in return. Ok, we buy $100 billion in bad debt from Citibank at face value; then we also get to get some piece of Citibank as part of the deal. Maybe tie it to how much we can get out of this debt: say we realize 30 cents on the dollar of debt, then we get 70 cents worth of Citi. Or we pass a $700 billion bailout package and we pay for it by raising taxes on incomes over $1 million a year to the extent that they pay for it—even if that means taxing every penny of income over $1 million (it won’t).

We will not get a real solution until people who screwed up are forced to deal with consequences of screwing up. They don’t have to be taken out and beheaded, but they have to have some real consequences for their failures. This $700 billion bill is all about removing any consequences for these guys for their failure.

Remember the Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson, ran Goldman Sachs before he became Treasury Secretary. Under this bill he gets to decide who gets the money and CAN'T BE SUED FOR CONFLICT OF INTEREST if it all goes to Goldman Sachs. This bill makes him above the law. Nick and my Goldman Sachs mutual funds might do better under this deal (right now they are down almost 25% from their original purchase price) but let me tell you he ain’t doing for the country.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Is Andrew Sullivan Completely Divorced From Reality?

In an "E-mail of the night" Andrew Sullivan gives this summation of conservatism:
"government needs to be kept in its place, taxes should be low and budgets balanced, individuals should be able to pursue their dreams as free of government control as possible, families do matter and need to be free from government interference, free markets and enterprise are the only guarantees of prosperity, moral choices - and their consequences - should be faced by the individual responsibly, and we have to be strong in our defense and prudent in foreign policy."

He then claims that John McCain subscribes to this philosophy. On what evidence?

As far as I can tell, John McCain receives 3 government checks: his Navy pension, his Senate salary and his social security check. His father and grandfather were also on the government dole. McCain has far less experience with the free market than Sullivan himself. The last time we had a balanced budget--well, more than a balanced budget, a government surplus paying down the national debt--Bill Clinton was president. The only enterprise that McCain demonstrated was in marrying his second wife--a very cut throat example of the principle that "families do matter." And exactly what moral consequence did he face in the moral choice of ditching that first wife? (Not to mention that McCain is firmly on record as opposing the right for Andrew Sullivan to form a family.) McCain's foreign policy is "bomb, bomb, bomb Iran." Is that prudent?

There seems to be this weird notion throughout the press that John McCain is some sort of secret saint hiding under the robes of an election winning wolf. Sorry, but look at what is under your own nose.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Letter to My Sister 4-1-2008

Hi, Nancy—

We took the dogs to Rock Creek Park on Sunday. It was not at all like spring—cold and damp without actually being rainy. The dogs of course thoroughly love this kind of weather. We walked along Beach Drive, which is shut down to motorized traffic from Pierce Mill to the Ranger Station (a mile and a half). About half way up to the Ranger Station, we crossed over Rock Creek on a footbridge and let the dogs off the leash on the trail that parallels Beach Drive. They were in puppy dog heaven, running at the top speed their little legs would take them. Fortunately, they don’t like to get too far from Nick and Jim, so Manny would tear off, Jamie in hot pursuit, go about 100 yards, check up on the old men, run back to us, and then repeat. They only took one wading session in the creek, so they weren’t as filthy at the end as we feared they might be (and I’m afraid most of the mud and sand rubbed off on our clothes on the way home). Nick snapped this picture of me and the pups about 1/3 of the way up on the trail—he’d stayed back to photograph and the dogs were keeping me company.

Nick was out of commission today so I took the animals for their midday walk. I keep saying I should bring the camera along and today I did.

I made my theme of the day the Victorian Mansions of Logan Circle, cherry trees and neighborhood front gardens.

I suppose I've said a hundred times that Logan Circle was nothing but drugs and prostitutes when I moved to DC. Now it is very upscale (reminds me of the neighborhood you lived in in Savannah—like Savannah, Logan Circle was too poor to tear down). Mostly the blog has consisted of political rants, so pictures of the neighborhood will be a change.

I think the one I like the best was of a white flowering fruit tree (apple?) set against a dark blue wall. Unassuming house (unlike the row houses on Logan Circle) but the limited color palate and the diffuse lighting (it had been a drizzly day—this morning reminded me of the trip Nick and I took to the Lake District) made for a nice shot.

It is now bright sunny and 74 degrees (my computer says). I sat in a chair in the sun in the garden for about 15 min. It looks like it will be a race between the growing power of the perennials and the digging power of the dogs. Little Jamie had chewed the spikes of a hosta down to the nub, but now the hosta is trying to stage a comeback and Jamie might not be interested the second time around. We’ve made makeshift cages to protect the peonies we rescued from Nick’s family house in Annapolis.

You asked about the Federal program to save the financial system. My guru for economics is Paul Krugman in the New York Times. He says that the most regulated part of the financial system, the traditional banks, have done ok in this current crisis. The most unregulated parts of the financial system—the investment banks, the hedge funds, the private equity—are the ones that have gotten us into this mess. So of course, the Treasury wants to relax regulation on the traditional banks and engage in a lot of wishful thinking on the rest of the financial system. There is nothing so bad that this administration can’t make it worse. (Bet I sound like my brother.)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Washington Post Death Spiral Watch

(Non Brad Delong edition)

Jim Hoagland has an op ed in today Washington Post with an excellent title "Needed: Honesty on Iraq". I'm betting that some editor wrote the headline, though, since the article reads as if it were written by someone from another planet who had no concept of earth-bound reality and no actual knowledge of the history of the US and Iraq.

To begin with, the op ed is that favorite in the journalistic nihilistic universe of the Washington Post, it is a "meta" piece--that is, it doesn't really bother to be honest about Iraq, but rather, it talks about the need for politicians to be honest about Iraq. What Jim Hoagland thinks the US should do in Iraq he doesn't deign to say beyond suggesting a generalized "stay the course." There is the usual Washington Post pretence of "pox on all their houses" with Hoagland claiming to find fault with all three candidates for President, although of course he really only finds fault with the Democrats. There is the familiar Washington Post editorial bloated rhetoric, with Hoagland generously sharing with us that the three politicians are "insulting the future," whatever that is supposed to mean.

But it is in recounting the history of the US with Iraq that Hoaglan launches into fantasyland. Here he is on Bill Clinton: "Bill Clinton used sanctions and pinprick missile attacks that helped protect the Kurds and Iraq's Arab neighbors. But those tactics also had the effect of aiding Hussein in grinding into dust any remaining social cohesion in the country." So, without any evidence presented, Bill Clinton somehow becomes a partner of Saddam Hussein in the oppression of his people. In the previous paragraph Hoagland skirted lightly over the fact that the Reagan and first Bush administration had provided material aid to Hussein (" did little to prevent or to punish" Saddam's actions against the Kurds is Hoagland's closest approach to that truth) , going so far as to send Donald Rumsfield to shake the tyrant's hand, and then proclaims the first Bush in some sense the "victim" of the policy ("They reaped Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait as reward.") Somehow, no doubt for reasons of space, the first Gulf War goes unmentioned, as does the immediate aftermath when President George H. W. Bush encouraged Iraq's shi'ites to rebel and then stood idly by when Saddam viciously put the rebellion down, even though we had overwhelming military force on the ground in the area. Somehow in Hoagland land, protecting the Kurds so that they could set up their own defacto state (which has some earmarks of democracy in it, however it may fall short) is "aiding" Saddam, but standing by while Saddam slaughters his own people is not worth mentioning.

Other inconvenient facts similarly are kept at bay. The Clinton administration had a fairly activist foreign policy, which did involve military action in the Balkans to protect Bosnia from a ruthless dictator, and then engage in the diplomacy and peace-keeping and aid necessary to keep the whole enterprise afloat. This sort of nation-building, which presumably Hoagland is retrospectively advocating that Bill Clinton should have done in Iraq, was of course the subject of attack by George W. Bush when he ran for President in 2000.

In the world of editorial writing, at least as practiced by Hoagland, word counts are the only restraint. But in the real world in which politicians must act, there are limits of resources such as money and troops. Hoagland talks about "moral obligations" that Iraq poses for Americans, but he seems to ignore the actual financial and physical obligations of the war on Iraq. I'm all for John McCain spelling out how much his "victory" in Iraq is going to cost in blood and treasurer, and what sort of taxes he's going to levy to pay those costs. Let's see, the war is approaching $200 billion a year and at best we've managed to achieve a fragile stalemate. Are we talking adding another $100 billion/year? $200 billion? and for how many years?

The war in Iraq has been a disaster because it has been from the beginning based on lies. The Washington Post Outlook section in which Hoagland's op-ed appears has as its lead story an article that points out that after five years, we still don't know the real reasons we went to war in Iraq. Colin Powell went before the United Nations and lied that we had proof that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. Paul Wolfowitz went before congress and said the war would pay for itself. Donald Rumsfield, he who had gone to Baghdad to shake the tyrant's hand, assured us that there would be no need for hundreds of thousands of troops and that the war would be over quickly. They told these lies and the Jim Hoagland's of the press repeated these lies and now say in that oh-so-grand "no insult to the future" way, we must continue to muddle along because "fresh thinking is badly needed."

When I first read Hoagland's let's-be-honest-without-being-honest op ed, I thought how Thucydides had dealt with the way words decay in war and how partisans stop speaking the same language even when the words remain the same. I looked up the passage (Thucydides is talking about the civil war in Corcyra during the Peloponnesian War) and found it more apt than I had recalled:

"To fit in with the change of events, words, too, had to change their usual meanings. What used to be described as a thoughtless act of aggression was now regarded as the courage one would expect to find in a party member; to think of the future and wait was merely another way of saying one was a coward; any idea of moderation was just an attempt to disguise one's unmanly character; ability to understand a question from all sides meant that one was totally unfitted for action."

Could anything better describe the behavior of the mainstream press when it came to their reporting and cheer leading on Iraq?

Friday, March 07, 2008

Let it rain

Ok, I was wrong about the red phone ad.Whatever it was that put HRC over the top in the last election (Ohio-Texas-Rhode Island-Vermont) I don't regret it. The News Hour tonight played three clips from the campaign. John McCain tried to talk about the economy. It was all talking points, trying to walk a tight-rope between acknowledging that Bush had screwed the economy up while promising that he could fix things (the default position for the Bush administration is that the government has no impact on the economy--except when they want to claim that tax cuts do). I couldn't exactly tell you what Obama was saying, although he wasn't as bad as McCain. Hillary, on the other hand, was present in the moment. She had the stump speech economic points going for her, but she homed in on the price of gasoline. She said, I won't be walking " hand in hand" with the people gouging the American consumer. It was masterful politics. If its about the economy, stupid, in November, I want this Hillary charging the ramparts. She's loose, she smart, she's funny, she's cutting and she's talking about issues that matter to real people in ways that real people will understand. It was a roller coaster ride with Bill, so why won't it be one with Hill? She's got the moxie.

Friday, February 29, 2008

The Day Hillary Lost Me

I don't know what genius created the "red phone" ad, but that person and everyone who signed off on it should be fired.

I voted for Hillary in the DC primary. I made my living as a photographer in Washington DC from roughly 1982-1992. I photographed Barbara Bush and witnessed her Junior League photographer. The fact that Sharon Farmer worked as Hillary Clinton's staff photographer when she was in the White House speaks volumes to me about HRC's vision (and that Sharon became the White House head photographer is no less inspiring). That HRC will incorporate many points of view when she is president is why I voted for her.

That's why the "red phone" ad has so turned me off. I don't expect HRC to pick up the red phone and make an instant decision. I expect her to make sure that the five most relevant experts on this threat are called and are either brought into the White House or made available. I expect HRC to determine where the threat is coming from and who the enemies are. That's true to her character and her resume.

Sorry, she's not the "shoot first, ask questions later" girl. That's why I supported her. Whoever crafted this ad thought somehow that they could go against her biography and character and portray her as a woman of action. Sorry, not her persona.

I don't know why she cast that horrible vote for enabling GWBush to go to war in Iraq. There had to be some political calculations at the time which made sense to her. They didn't make sense to me then and they don't now. Barak is correct: he took the right position at the time when it mattered.

I'll happily vote for HRC in the general election if that is the choice. But I'm saying goodby to the Clintons for now.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Broken Kristol

In today's New York Times, William Kristol plays a George Will trick: quote a celebrated author and then use that author to make a point that has no relationship to the actual thinking of the author quoted. George Orwell today gets dragooned into Kristol's column with Rudyard Kipling thrown in for good measure.

Berkeley University Professor Brad DeLong goes to the trouble of quoting Orwell in context, just in case there might be any doubt that Orwell was some sort of neocon before there were neocons. (For the George Will trick to be even a plausible rhetorical gambit, Kristol has to assume that the audience has no actual knowledge of the author quoted, and is too lazy to check it out.)

But the real howler is not the ill-use Kristol makes of Orwell, but the ludicrousness of the claim he purports to make.

To quote: "Having controlled the executive branch for 28 of the last 40 years, Republicans tend to think of themselves as the governing party — with some of the arrogance and narrowness that implies, but also with a sense of real-world responsibility. "

Of course, what distinguishes the last 8 years of Republican control of the executive branch has been its determination not to assume any real-world responsibility. Pass a tax cut, but pay for it? Start a war, but plan for it?

The case-in-point real-world responsibility is, as in all of Kristol's NY Times editorials, just the latest Republican talking points (Robert Novak basically wrote the same column in today's Washington Post, with trial lawyers serving the same function as Kristol's Orwell). Namely, he argues that in refusing to grant legal immunity telecommunications companies that helped the government spy on Americans (to quote again: "certain legal arrangements regarding surveillance abilities"--talk about Orwellian New Speech!) the Democrats are putting the nation (and not George W. Bush) at risk. Of course, to prove this point Kristol parades a group of Bush appointed lackeys saying so, pretends they are "non-partisan" and then goes on his merry way, actual proof and real world evidence apparently not something that needs to be part of an argument (well, he got the arrogance and narrowness right). Exactly where "responsibility" comes in allowing large corporations to evade the consequence of breaking the law is of course an point never considered.

That Kristol could think, and the New York Times put in print, that Orwell somehow believed that it is OK for governments to spy on its citizens in itself boggles the mind. He should have saved the money he spent on Orwell's essays and spent it on Orwells 1984.