Sep 24, 2008

An encounter after Iftar (إفطار‎)

I have a friend who invited me to join him at the Annual Interfaith Dinner towards the end of September. This is a traditional evening meal, Iftar‎, which breaks the fast done every day during the Islamic month of Ramadan. Among Muslims, this is usually a communal event, and it begins immediately after sunset (in this case, Pacific time).

I meet friends at the sign in. They are all happy and cheerful, very talkative. As am I. Non-believer that I am, I tried to fast, but of course woke up after sunrise and so didn't have breakfast in the dark. By noon I had to eat something--a salad--telling myself that since I had some health problems, I might have been excused, were I a Muslim. At any rate, I was very hungry and wondered if my talkative side was spurred by my comparably insufficient but real hunger pangs. Or perhaps the low blood sugar. A friend and I stood at the assigned table and waited the 15 second countdown, staring at the bowl of dates in the center of the table. Medjools. My favorite, and I say so my friend , a Palestinian Christian. She tells me that a date is the traditional food to break the fast with.

This is an Interfaith Event, so Roman collars and yarmulkes and head coverings on some of the women. These, along with some accents, are signs only--the important thing is that everyone is personable, reasonable, talkative or not talkative. In short, just the kind of folks you would expect at a fancy community dinner at the Anaheim Sheraton right up the road from Disneyland. The dinner will be enjoyable, to be sure, and the many testimonials and messages of interfaith cooperation are to be expected. Officials from the cities of Anaheim and Los Angeles, from Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim organizations will speak.

After the dates break the fast, comes a time of worship for the Muslim attendees who respond to the call to prayer. A few people stand nearby to watch and listen to the prayers, yarmulkes and collars among them. While worship takes place at the other side of the hall, I meet some of the non-Muslim folks who share the table with us.

One is a representative of a very conservative Republican group. Its executive director, in fact. He has been invited to the dinner by a mutual friend, S., a director of an Islamic organization. This man is personable enough, though he talks more with my Palestinian friend than with me. He asks questions about the dinner and she tells him. I found out later that he wanted to initiate a dialogue with her about Muslims. And terrorism. And Jihad. He says he wants to find out more about these things.

The conservative Republican is not impressed by the interfaith testimonials, I guess, for in a follow up communication with my friend (she and I are part of a project for educating people about the Middle East), he asks her to watch the movie

This cranky film is currently being distributed free in all the battleground states during the election in order to raise fears--not questions, mind you, just fear--about Barack Obama's middle name, "Hussein." Some right wing think tank is putting up the money from what I can gather, and the usual distorted message is in it: after a careful disclaimer that not all Muslims are terrorists, the movie then goes on to insist on a great terrorist conspiracy to take over the United States and the rest of the "free world" in order to spread an Islamic Theocratic hegemony.

The right wing in specific, but Republicans in general, will not jump off this hobby horse.

She responds to him very clearly and sincerely, but it is not enough. He has to "gently challenge" her response. Here are some of his challenges, and I must comment on his points as I present them:

First, he wants her to watch the film because she "in in that world" and he wants to understand it and bring that understanding to others in his circle who want to "better understand it."
[Note that although he knows she is a Christian, he also knows she is a Palestinian, so therefore she is automatically in the world of the Jihadi terrorists; note too that although his people want to know more information, he implies that they already understand it.]

Second, he thanks her for the time, and yet challenges her
[Remember, she is Christian, so ask yourself why he is asking her to give him understanding about the Islamic faith rather than asking her to perhaps refer him to some Muslim acquaintances.] He does this because the people who watch and appreciate the movie Obsession he tells her, have a "pretty good idea of what the religion is about. Most are religious people. Many have read some of the Koran, as well as The Looming Tower and books like the Al Queda Reader, Londonistan, Now They Call Me Infidel, and America Alone. These are all best sellers for good reason."

[I cannot help but wonder just exactly what parts of the Qur'an they have read. The more pacific and humanistic, I am sure, though a look at the movie will tell you that the references to the book are all to the more violent ones, as if the killings and the massacres in the Old Testament represented the Jewish or the Christian religion.]

Third, he says that these folks have "done their homework" and refers to a question he asked at the dinner: "where are the moderate Muslims out in the streets demonstrating against those who seem to have hijacked what is a peaceful religion?"

[Because of course, it is not enough that Muslims all over the world have condemned violence and terrorism, but that the press here in the United States has failed to publicize the condemnations, which are readily available. A lot of responses have not received any mainstream press or media attention even though they existed. A Google search would produce documents aplenty. That is, if you have the impulse to search. That is, if once you have searched, you have the intellectual curiosity to read them. That is, after you have read them, if you have the intellectual courage to temper your original assumptions. They have an essential belief, despite their howling that the media is liberal, that all the information gets out. It doesn't. No, he wants the people who are stereotyped and victimized by short-sightedness, to mobilize. Perhaps he wants Muslims to march in the streets as those millions of Christians did after the terrorist shootings and bombings of abortion clinics? There were so many of them arrested during their demonstrations. The jails could not hold all those Christians.]

Fourth, he then goes on to insist that a full 10% of the Muslim world is committed to terrorism and points to the many instances of violence worldwide. He exaggerates, of course, not having "done his homework" about the very small number of terrorists compared to the number of Muslims.

[According to the 2006 National Intelligence Estimate, there were about 50,000 Al Qaeda terrorists--up from 20,000 in 2001--among an entire worldwide Muslim population of 1.5 Billion people. This is so minuscule a percentage that your calculator will not have enough places to provide the percentage. You will get the message "CALC ERR." One thirty-thousandth or thereabouts? His exaggeration is absurd, of course,and shows the essential fearful nature of his position and those of his "well-informed friends." Where there is fear there is hyperbole. Always. He is of course, asking for public action as a way of "proving" sincerity. The written word is not enough. The testimony at the very interfaith council meeting he attends is not enough to convince him that all the Muslims he sees tonight are non-violent, condemning violence quite rationally, and exhibiting their commitment to interfaith dialogue and cooperation. This crowd of two hundred is not enough to even suggest to him that he is acting on paranoiac hyperbole.]

Almost as a gratuitous insult and sign of his ignorance, he says that his "folks" will also want to know to what "radical aspects of Christianity and Judaism" my friend had referred to in their conversation at the table. (Remember, we are working on a Middle East Peace Education project. We at least know about the condition of the Palestinians since 1947.) He suggests that when she talks about violence she is referring to the "Crusades of hundreds of years ago," or the "Bombing of abortion clinics by people who are not really Christians" without noting the irony of his statement.
[If it is enough for him to say that the Christian bombers are "not really Christians" why is it not sufficient for Muslims to say that terrorists are not true believers in peaceful Islam?]

Finally, he refers to the use of rockets by Hamas being "defended against" by Israel.
[Though he does not acknowledge the many transgressions of international law, targeted assassination, continuing settlement in the West Bank, or the collective sanctions against the residents of Gaza that have been carried out by Israel in recent months, sometimes in retaliation, but most of the time which CAUSE retaliation. Here again, the ignorance of Americans from the failure of our Media to cover the facts on both sides is to blame. Only a person who had "never even begun to think" that Palestinians have been mistreated by the Israeli Government and its supporters would immediately assume that Hamas was the only violator here. As always, the ignorance of these people is breathtaking.]

Unfortunately, he exhibits what I have come to believe is a festering brew of sincere ignorance and innocent arrogance. People who think like this do not perceive themselves as arrogant, or innocent, or ignorant.

Of the books he has said his folks had read, only one,
The Looming Tower, by Lawrence Wright has any kind of respect as being solidly researched. It was the first book to actually track down the biographical information about the hijackers of 9-11-2001. Wright is a reputable journalist, but I am afraid that his thorough research has been used by conservatives to strengthen their argument that Islam is a violent religion. Wright's book was a best seller for many months after it came out.

As for the other books, they may be bestsellers on some right wing or conservative book club, but not bestsellers on the
NY or LA Times book lists, and you can almost tell from their titles which ax they have to grind.

Here in the US we have to deal an utter ignorance of the community they are fearful of, the usual racist mindset that insists that the people who are being discriminated against must be the ones to bend over backwards to assuage the ignorant fears of the people oppressing them (compare the old argument during the height of the militant civil rights era that the mainstream black community had to go slow, not rock the boat, and condemn the militancy of the more radical members of the group.)

It's not enough to have an Iftar dinner during Ramadan and show the man how ordinary and civilized--though different--the people at the dinner might be. No, he wants demonstrations and speeches by these people against the "terrorism" about which he has already made up his mind is a "central tendency" in Islam. I'm sure he was disappointed because there were no such diatribes at the dinner, not understanding what the Interfaith Council is all about, and not understanding that the notions of understanding and cooperation and common unity coming from the notion of all the "people of the book" are what was being celebrated. No diatribes against terrorism, of course, means that they
implicitly and silently support terrorism.

He and his compatriots have already decided that Islam is an inherently violent religion. Perhaps slow and steady education might help out, but I think that the essential problem is the mental mind set of the people he represents. They have no irony, they have no inner need to question their own assumptions, since they never understand that they are assuming. They do not have, for instance, that lovely impulse to want to understand that sent Malcolm X on his Haj and moved him from a narrow definition of Islam to a wider one.

What, you may ask, was the original response of my friend to his invitation to watch Obsession? Perhaps the greatest irony of all is that my friend had written to him the following:

For a film to focus strictly on one aspect, and of all aspects the most violent, and be distributed to people who most likely have no other knowledge of the religion I find to be very disturbing since it promotes a sense of hate and fear, dehumanizing the other, and not helping the work towards peace in anyway but instead promoting more violence. People need to be shown not just one aspect of a religion but all aspects, majority of which are very loving and peaceful.I have personally witnessed the extreme elements within the three monotheistic religions and the one thing I have learned is to never dehumanize the other, to work toward resolution in a non-violent manner for if I don't then there will be no hope for a peaceful future. This is something I always practice in all work.

You would have thought that this spontaneous eloquence on her part would have given him the impulse to reflect. Or even ask her to tell him more. No such luck. This encounter makes me see that overcoming ignorance and fear is the essential task of Interfaith Dialogue. He wants our mutual friend S. to speak to them, and I can only hope that when S. does he succeeds in his peaceful and gentle manner in convincing them of the truth regarding violence on both sides in Israel and Palestine. He wants "constructive dialogue."

If any one can do it, it will be our placid and sincere friend S.

More to post if I can when I find out how his talk with this group goes. In the meantime, I have bought some medjool dates and will have them for dessert.

Sep 23, 2008

Re: explanation for current economic mess

Friend DP sends me an article he got from a friend blaming the crisis for the financial meltdown primarily on the Democrats. My friend DP knows this is one-sided as it comes from a McCain supporter who works with him. DP needs a rebuttal, so I will give it a shot.

The article is "How the Democrats Created the Financial Crisis" by Kevin Hassett.
According to the article Democrats are all at fault because they supported Fannie and Freddie and the Republicans tried to "regulate" them. In fact, this guy says, John McCain supported the regulatory attempt.

Hassett's thesis:

Take away Fannie and Freddie, or regulate them more wisely, and it's hard to imagine how these highly liquid markets would ever have emerged. This whole mess would never have happened.

And he puts the turning point at 2005. Remember that. 2005.

Now this is hardly my area of expertise, and this fellow Hassett is a director of economic-policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, and a Bloomberg News columnist. Who am I to even take him on? But he has an axe to grind, since he is an adviser to Senator John McCain in this election.

Definitely not my area of expertise, but pretty quickly I find a bit of a primer and send it back to DP to give the other side of the equation:

An excellent review of Fannie Mae, short-selling and government economic regulation in "Shorts and Fannies: A brief History" by Robert Kuttner, July 22, 2008, American Prospect (web only).

And this also from the American Prospect (web only) to counter the charge and spread the blame around a bit: "The Conservative Origins of the Subprime Mortgage Crisis," by John Atlas and Peter Dreier.

Third, an article in which a famous Dem calls for regulation at a time well before the pivotal point in Hassett's article: "Getting Tough with Fannie" by Robert Reich, September 29 2004 (web only). Note the date on this one--before the crucial date of 2005.

I'm pressed for time with another project, but refer him to indexes in American Prospect, the Center for American Progress, The Nation, the Progressive Magazine, and I'm sure that Paul Krugman at the NYT would have something on this. I mean not my area of expertise, but I know immediately from reading the Hassett article that he's being disingenuous and therefore not giving the full truth.As I read, I get more and more annoyed. Even I know the guy is hyperbolating.

First, though Hassett talks about the bill to regulate Fannie and Freddie getting hung up in committee, but he doesn't give a breakdown of who was on the committee that voted the legislation down. He lists no names at all, no votes. Disingenuousness Number One is obvious: in 2005 the Republicans were still in control of congress, which means THEY ran the committee. Greenspan testified in 2005 to Congress, so why didn't the Republican-dominated Congress take some action? Further, if Greenspan thought they were out of line, where in the hell were the Republican-apointed regulators to get in there and kick ass? Nowhere, of course. The regulators were deregulating or not enforcing just as Bush/Cheney et al wanted them to do.

Now Disingenuousness Number Two from Hassett when he refers to the bill to regulate Fannie and Freddie:

But the bill didn't become law, for a simple reason: Democrats opposed it on a party-line vote in the committee, signaling that this would be a partisan issue. Republicans, tied in knots by the tight Democratic opposition, couldn't even get the Senate to vote on the matter.

Republicans, "tied in knots" by the minority Democrats? Yeah, right, the Republicans were in charge but they really weren't in charge! They had the majority. Note the slippery comment in Hassett's next Paragraph: "The Democrats and the few Republicans who oppose portfolio limitations . . " So who were these few Republicans? Again, the Republicans were in sharge, so why couldn't the Republicans-in-charge of Congress even bring it to the floor? Hassett sounds factual, but deep down he's not fessing up to the real truth. I hate to suggest that this same kind of omission operates all the time in Republican circles, but then on the other hand, it usually does.

The only conclusion to draw is that the Republicans didn't want to reform it. Here's a quote from an article reguarding regulation of GSEs (Government Sponsored Enterprises--to which Fannie and Freddie belong) in March of 2006, which, notice, is SEVEN months BEFORE the 2006 election, so the Republicans are STILL in charge:

The House passed a GSE reform bill, the Federal Housing Finance Reform Act of 2005 (H.R. 1461), in November. However, the Senate's reform bill--the Federal Housing Enterprise Regulatory Reform Act of 2005 (S. 190)--has been bogged down since it moved out of committee along a strict party-line vote over the issue of GSE mortgage portfolios (see Mortgage Banking, September 2005, p. 8; and December 2005, p. 10). Among other things, H.R. 1461 would give the new regulator the authority to set a clear definition of the secondary mortgage market and of mortgage loan origination, effectively establishing a "bright line" between the primary and secondary mortgage markets, which the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) supports. Despite the committee's fulsome intended agenda, the work accomplished last year by the committee gives GSE reform a "leg up," making the chances of moving a bill good, according to Banking Committee Communications Director Andrew Gray. Senator Shelby thinks the environment is right for moving a bill," Gray told Mortgage Banking. [My bold]

IT MOVED OUT OF COMMITTTEE. So in other words the Republicans got their way. So why couldn't the Republicans move it onto the floor of the Senate or through a conference committee and onto the President's desk for signature? I notice in the link in Hassett's article that

1) The bill had only two co-sponsors when introduced right at the beginning of the congresssional session in 2005 and that

2) it took McCain a full 16 months to sign on to the bill--just about the time that it was going down the crapper, and two months after the news clip info above.

So here's a questions for Mr. Hassett: where was Senator McCain all those months? And where were the other Republicans who were so hot to trot for keeping the Democrats from resisting the reform? Where was their co-sponsorship? Remember, this is Hassett's own link to the bill's sponsors:

COSPONSORS (3), ALPHABETICAL [followed by Cosponsors withdrawn]: (Sort: by date)Sen Dole, Elizabeth [NC] - 1/26/2005 Sen McCain, John [AZ] - 5/25/2006 Sen Sununu, John E. [NH] - 1/26/2005.

As for GREENSPAN, whose profligate interest rate lowering was being done year after year after year because he knew that the only thing to keep the economy going was to make money easier to borrow in order to continue inflating the housing bubble and have all that bubble refinance money and second mortgage to keep the economy going, well, Greenspan was just covering his ass in this congressional testimony.

Never forget, mes amis progressives: Greenspan under Reagan successfully proposed and engineered increasing the FICA tax on Social Security and stepping it up into the nineties, at which point if it had continued commensurate with inflation and cost of living and wasn't capped at $96,000 per year to give the rich guys a tax break, some surplus would have continued; however, after Clinton left office--recall Al Gore talking about lock boxing the social security funds in 1999?--the social security surplus was raided and spent by Reagan and Bush One, and Clinton, and Bush Two.

And of course, historically, in the late eighties and nineties, the big push to make Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into stock companies for the second mortgage market was on. Fannie became a GSE in order to lower the debt on the books under "Guns and Butter" Lyndon Johnson, Freddie later on. Rather than staying non-profit, they became a big profit "free market" in the best of all worlds: buying up all that securitized mortgage flop doodle and selling it to investors worldwide and the execs taking their big salaries; and everyone knew that if the two entities went down, the government would rescue them.

Privatization of profit and socialization of risk indeed. What do you think Bush et al were telling the Chinese and the Saudis and Kuwaitis to buy when they got annoyed that the ROI (return on investment) was so low on US Treasury bonds and they were trying to invest the dollars they had accumulated? Why, let's have you buy Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. From an article titled "Us Taxpayer Bailout of China Over Fannie Mae" July 11, 2008:

The top five foreign holders of Freddie and Fannie long-term debt are China, Japan, the Cayman Islands, Luxembourg, and Belgium. In total foreign investors hold over $1.3 trillion in these agency bonds, according to the U.S. Treasury's most recent "Report on Foreign Portfolio Holdings of U.S. Securities."

That is to say, the Chinese actually loan us most of the money we use to then buy our war material or other cash expenditures. The recent tax rebate incentive package meant to stimulate the U.S. economy (by getting us all to run out and buy $600 worth of Chinese crap at Walmart), was financed by, guess who? The Chinese!

China does not loan the U.S. money the way a bank loans money to an individual person. Instead, what China does is buy up U.S. debt in the form of mortgage-backed securities. China does this, not because China loves us so very much, but because, until recently, U.S. mortgage-backed securities were a great investment. The entire world widely assumed (until very recently) that U.S. homes only ever appreciate in value. Mortgage backed securities were a safe bet, and China made money buying them.

The fact that Chinese investment also allowed the U.S. financial system to function so that banks could extend credit to U.S. citizens and factories who then could buy up Chinese products by the ton, thus making a perfect economic circle, was frosting on the Chinese cake.

Found in "What does China Have to Do with the Fannie Freddie Bailout?"

And then this:
"China's investment in the ailing U.S.: Will Washington's big creditor turn away?" by Edward M. Gomez, a former U.S. diplomat and staff reporter at TIME in the San Francisco Chronicle, September 09 2008:


China is deeply invested in U.S. government debt; as of just over a year ago, "China owned $376 billion of debt issued by U.S. government agencies, principally Fannie and Freddie...." Late last month, China's central bank, the People's Bank of China, announced that "it had slashed its exposure to Fannie and Freddie to $12.67 billion...from $17.3 billion at the end of June."

and Second:

As the New York Times put it in a news report published late last week that made news in its own right, with other financial-news pages picking up the story, "China's central bank is in a bind. It has been on a buying binge in the United States over the last seven years, snapping up roughly $1 trillion worth of [U.S.] Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed debt issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Those investments have been declining sharply in value when converted from dollars into the strong yuan, casting a spotlight on the central bank's tiny capital base. The bank's capital, just $3.2 billion, has not grown during the buying spree...." As a result, now the People's Bank of China needs "an infusion of capital." It cannot just print more money, because that move would provoke inflation. "Instead, the People's Bank of China has begun discussions with [China's] finance ministry on ways to shore up its capital....The central bank's predicament has several repercussions. For one, it makes it less likely that China will allow the yuan to continue rising against the dollar....This could heighten trade tensions with the United States."

Is it any wonder that the stock in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have tumbled with that much pulled out? This is the big secret of the Bushies and the McCainiacs. We won't even talk about how Christopher Cox at the SEC has let all the illegal naked short selling go on for years and years because the regulator doesn't believe in regulation. (Wink wink nod nod as Monty Python would say.) And how naked short selling contributed to the plunges in stock of the investment banks that went under. Perhaps McCain can yell at the Chinese and fire them?

The fact of the matter is, for seven and a half years there has been no regulation of the sub prime mortgage-backed securities swindle despite calls from people on the left for reigning it in. So I read Hassett's article through and think about it and it looks reputable, but it's just partisan spin and slander with a veneer of supposed objectivity.

And finally where's this guy Hassett from? the American Enterprise Institute? give me a break. These guys are free market hypocrites of the worst sort. That Hassett is also John McCain's adviser tells you what axe he has to grind. His weaselly references obscures that it was the Republicans in 2005 who were were unable to get the bill onto the floor. Further, catch this bit of slyness: he has a link in his article to the membership of the Senate Banking Committee, but it's to the 2008 Democrats-led committee, not the Republican-dominated committee in 2005. That gives the impression that Chris Dodd (the current Chair) is in charge, when in 2005 it was Richard Shelby (who right now, to give him credit, is one of the few Republicans to think that Paulson is pulling a fast one).

Why didn't Hassett list all the committee members in 2005? If he did, he'd have to fess up to the fact that it was the Republicans who didn't want to reform the GSEs. He'd have to spread the blame on both parties (see quotes above) and therefore his thesis would have leaked like a cheesecloth diaper. This guy is willing to shade the truth for the sake of his argument, and while it appears to be "fact based" it just isn't.

Guys like Hassett are mental, ethical, and economic con men. And he writes for Bloomberg, for chrissake. So who is going to contradict him as his headlines reinforce the preconceptions of all the Capitalist kool-aid drinkers who read headlines only because they took an Evelyn Wood speed-reading course back in the 70s?

Yet, I believe this one article will get a lot of play over the next few days as the McCainiacs push it everywhere and no big media folks will bother to criticize it. Watch--he is the kind of guy NPR will have on in the next two days or so. And since Franklin Raines is black and did his shenanigans, they will try to show that he is Barack Obama's best buddy and thereby smear Obama with guilt by association a la the Reverend Wright template (I think Obama knows Raines, but don't know for sure.

I left that last one for my friend DP to check out. That was about the best I could do. I procrastinated on my pressing project, and by then I was pissed at Republican advisers to John McCain as well. So I went to bed.

Sep 22, 2008

A Message from my Friendly Capitalist

I have this very good friend--been a registered Independent for years--an old business friend of mine. We worked together for years at a couple of firms, we live in the same town and get together much less than I would like but regularly.

He took a bit of an offense at me sending around the Bernie Sanders piece the other day:

Is this the beginning of the liberals denouncement of their involvement? If so--it is very frightening. Why politicize this mess? The facts are, Congress--including Sen Sanders-- has not performed its most important and fundamental responsibilities--oversight and bring forth updated bills and regulations that could have simply stopped this greed.

What he does not remember, but should, because he is an independent like Sanders, is that Sanders has tried to exercise the oversight and perform. He's chewed bureaucratic butts for years. However, he read Sanders' proposal for an alternative plan as an attempt to cast blame and politicize the financial mess. I didn't read it that way at all. My friend wants us to "stop this divisive behavior and work together NOW."

And I have to love him when he writes:

There will be plenty of time to direct blame and analyze who those persons and companies are who were behind this Greed--right Angelo? [A reference to one of the greedy guts guys, Angelo Mozilo, one of the founders of Countrywide Financial] When the dust settles let's get all of the profiteers (so called executives) and get the tax payers' money back and file criminal actions against the despicable bunch of thieves. Signed, your friendly capitalist.

I gotta tell you it's delightful to see a capitalist write like this. So I wrote back to my friendly capitalist as follows:

I don't agree here--Sanders is one of the few people who has been against the madness all the way through, and has been quashed or shoved aside. This seems to me to be more populist than partisan. He's been pissed at Dems as well. The problem, as you and I agreed the other day is that the Dems are culpable as well--it gives me the willies (pun intended) to see that Robert Rubin and Larry Summers are big Obama advisers NOW and they were the ones who pushed through the repeal of the Glass-Steagall constraints in the second Clinton term--a few days after which Rubin resigned and took over CitiCorp, and then proceeded to merge it with Travelers.

Or Joe Biden pushing for that miserable revision of the Bankruptcy codes when the information about 25-30 % of the bankruptcies were due to medical catastrophes. Or Phil Gramm, who snuck in the 1999 budget the Enron loophole and the big loophole in the 2000 budget (that Clinton signed) to allow for subprime derivatives and CDOs and CMOs to exist without regulation of any kind. That's Gramm as in McCain's choice for Treasury secretary! and he's still advising McCain under the table, from what I can gather. So he got shunned after his "Nation of Whiners" comment two months ago. He's been a big shot at USB (Bank of Switzerland) since he retired from the Senate. And guess who came knocking at the door last night to get money from the bailout plan? USB.

These guys are pirates, and that's why I like Independent Bernie Sanders. You told me you've been registered as an independent as well. Meet Bernie. Best Senator around.

I think Bernie Sanders was pissed because Paulson (who came from Goldman Sachs, just like Rubin, came to Congress with an arrogant proposal that had NO real accountability (6 month reports to congress) and no recognition that abuses needed correction.

I think that what Sanders is trying to do is get some leverage on the matter and attempt to figure out a way to get some recompense for the bailout.

It's systemic--and actually, a risk avoidance philosophy is to bear part of the blame: suck people in on no down payments and balloons and assure them that the prices will keep rising and then jettison the mortgages to third and fourth parties, slice and dice--and destroy the relationship between debtor and lender that really kept it all in check.

I wouldn't worry about blame games--the guys who are responsible will get their fannies spanked and be embarrassed in Congressional hearings and then go to Greenwich for the weekend cocktail party at their country estate.

Believe me, I'm at the point of lesser of two evils--as you well know--and have been there for a good number of months. My prime reason for going with Obama is the Supreme Court appointments and some semblance of deliberation about foreign policy. The way McCain has gone into his temper tantrums this week about firing Christopher Cox at the SEC (and I really don't think he even understands why Cox should have been fired to begin with) and clearly showed that he doesn't even know who the prime minister of Spain is or that Spain is in Europe, not the Western Hemisphere, does not give me confidence.

I researched that the Navy's health service down in Pensacola has had a continuing study of Vietnam POWs which indicates serious longevity and health impacts for all of them, way worse than the general population, and when you take into consideration that McCain's grandfather died at 63 and his dad at 70, it makes me think about those actuarial tables more than ever.

Obama in contrast, held off deliberately until he could see the details of the plan and consulted with his old grey guys--Paul Volcker and Warren Buffet among them, before he said anything. That contrast tell me a lot. early middle age over old farts with a temper any day.

I still don't think I will convince my friendly capitalist to vote for Obama.

Sep 21, 2008

Go Bernie GO!

At last, a voice of reason emerges with a real plan rather than this bailout for the greedy guts guys:

Here's step Number One:

I have proposed a four part plan to accomplish that goal which includes a five-year, 10% surtax on the income of individuals above $500,000 a year, and $1 million a year for couples; a requirement that the price the government pays for any mortgage assets are discounted appropriately so that government can recover the amount it paid for them; and, finally, the government should receive equity in the companies it bails out so that when the stock of these companies rises after the bailout, taxpayers also have the opportunity to share in the resulting windfall. Taken together, these measures would provide the best guarantee that at the end of five years, the government will have gotten back the money it put out.

In addition--step Number Two is to repeal the deregulation that caused this mess; Three, create millions of jobs for the working families; and Four, break up the companies determined to be "too big to fail."

Read: "The Middle Class Must Not Be Forced to Bail Out Wall Street" by Sen. Bernie Sanders!

Progressives take note:

Have you noticed how politicians on both sides only refer to the "middle class"?

I doubt seriously that any of these ideas will be adopted by Obama if he wins, but nonetheless:

Go Bernie Go!

Sep 19, 2008

Re: Chicago Boyz

So my friend DP writes in an email:

Be vigilant! The financial crisis is likely another application of Naomi Klein's "Shock Doctrine" and the crisis will likely be used by this administration to put into place further laws and bailouts that will benefit the wealthy and hurt main street. Just wanted to throw this out to the group to get your reaction.

So I react:

BUT: Let's not forget that Obama's top economic financial advisers are Chicago School boys, so if they win caveat emptor and beat up on the Dems very hard--even to the point of demonstrations and hard lobbying--during November!! (December will be too late. Get some good guys in there and make sure Robert Rubin doesn't get back in to do his black fuggle magic.)

I supply a list of the Obama economic advisers and some dots to connect. First, from the NYTimes:

The Democrats, besides talking about a broader range of subjects, also have the freshest face among the top campaign advisers — Barack Obama's lead economist, Austan Goolsbee, a 37-year-old star professor at the University of Chicago (who writes a monthly column for The New York Times). The two men met when Mr. Obama was teaching at the law school there, and they both seem to favor achieving Democratic goals through market-oriented policies. As Mr. Goolsbee has written: "Moral exhortation doesn't change people's behavior. Prices do."

And next, a list from the blog
Economists for Obama:

Jason Furman (director of economy policy)
Austan Goolsbee (senior economic policy advisor), University of Chicago tax policy expert source
Karen Kornbluh (policy director)
David Cutler, Harvard health policy expert
Jeff Liebman, Harvard welfare expert
Michael Froman, Citigroup executive
Daniel Tarullo, Georgetown law professor
David Romer, Berkeley macroeconomist
Christina Romer, Berkeley economic historian
Richard Thaler, University of Chicago behavioral finance expert

Robert Rubin, former Treasury Secretary source
Larry Summers, former Treasury Secretary
Alan Blinder, former Vice-chairman of the Federal Reserve
Jared Bernstein, Economic Policy Institute labor economist
James Galbraith, University of Texas macro economist

Paul Volcker, Chairman of the Federal Reserve 1979-1987
Laura Tyson, Berkeley international economist, Clinton economic adviser
Robert Reich, Berkeley public policy professor, former Secretary of Labor
Peter Henry, Stanford international economist
Gene Sperling, former White House economic adviser

and a few snide comments from The Unrepentant Marxist:

--David Cutler: Harvard economist who believes that high health costs are good for the economy
--Jeffrey Liebman: another Harvard economist and former Clinton adviser who favors privatizing social security
--Austan Goolsbee has been a columnist for and the NY Times, as well as a standup comedian. His economics are not meant as a joke, as I understand it. His columns are written very much in the same vein as fellow U. of Chicago neoclassical economist Steven Levitt's Freakonomics," examining everyday problems such as "Why you get stuck for hours at O'Hare." Most are fairly uncontroversial except for the swipe he took at Michael Moore's "Sicko", whose single-payer recommendations violate his free market principles.

And very serendipitously, I can remind him to see Bill Moyers interviewing Kevin Phillips, who wrote the book that lays out the problems: Bad Money

And finally remind him that if he looks up these folks you will see it's not quite as bad as the idiot republicans on McCain's campaign like Phil ("a nation of whiners")
Gramm, now off the team for that comment, but a sure bet to be McCain's Secretary of the Treasury (shudder).

However, these include (Rubin, Sumnmers) some of the Democrats who during the Clinton administration accelerated the pump and dump economy of the last 28 years--especially Robert Rubin--and his "Rubinomics." The only people worth their salt are Galbraith and (not on this list) Joe Stieglitz and Warren Buffet; but of these last three, Galbraith is apparently only marginally close to Obama, Buffet has become a "senior adviser" (along with Paul Volcker) and the guys at the top of the list are all "free market" koolaid drinkers, none of whom really believes in a national health care program.

As I said, caveat emptor. Especially if you plan on getting sick or breaking your hip.

A history lesson. . . . or a black comedy

It is difficult when loved ones send xenophobic, racist diatribes to you. What can you say?  The latest I received from a far away relative was a piece called "What Thomas Jefferson Learned, a History Lesson."  I don't need to excerpt it. The argument can be summed up easily:  the Barbary War had a lesson for Americans: all Muslims are bloodthirsty interested only in killing, especially killing good Christian Americans. Keith Ellison, the Congressman from Minnesota is a Muslim, and don't be deceived: he is a secret terrorist and swore his oath of office on a Koran that belonged to Thomas Jefferson.

That was too much for me, and I lost my composure--it was late in the evening, my eyes were tired--and before I knew it had flung back to the loved one my own anger, trying to convert him to the correct and liberal, democratic, progressive, tolerant, human, rational way of thinking.

I pointed out that  Ellison is an American citizen, Catholic educated, and from a family who has lived in the US longer than ours. Look at this information from Wikipedia, I said:

Ellison's family has been in America since 1742. Keith Ellison, the third of five sons, was born and raised a Roman Catholic in Detroit, Michigan by his parents Leonard and Clida Ellison, a psychiatrist and a social worker respectively.  Ellison and three of his siblings became lawyers while the other became a doctor. One of his brothers is also the pastor of the Baptist "Church of the New Covenant" in Detroit, and the family has been involved in the civil rights movement, including the work of his grandfather as a member of the NAACP in Louisiana Ellison's youth was influenced by the involvement of his family in the civil rights movement, including the work of his grandfather as a member of the NAACP in Louisiana. He graduated from the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy in 1981 where he had been active in sports and the student Senate. At age nineteen, while attending Wayne State University in Detroit, Ellison converted from Catholicism to Islam. 


I found it interesting that Ellison could have left the very faith that we--my relative and I--had been brought up  in and that my relative still wholeheartedly embraced.  I reminded him that the Constitution of the United States requires that "no test"of religion be a requirement for public office. See article 6. Furthermore, the same amendment says you do not have to swear on a bible, only that you have to take an oath "or Affirmation." 

I wanted my relative to get real, to stick to the issues instead of these paranoid fantasies of fear. His email presumed that a particular Muslim personage in the 18
th century spoke for all of Islam back then and still speak for all of Islam today, and presumes that chosen phrases from some of the Barbary pirate's statements reflect current Islamic thought. All of which is to say that the writer of this piece knew very little about Islam and assumes that the most radical voices like Bin Laden, who have been rejected by mainstream Islam, especially in the United States, represent all Muslims. 

 On this basis of that paranoid thinking, as Ellison himself pointed out, Christians are terrorists because Timothy McVeigh was associated with a fundamentalist Christian sect. I asked if he had ever read anything by Keith Ellison.  Had he ever heard him speak?  I pointed out that  Ellison was just another politician from the liberal side of the spectrum, from a fairly liberal state, who's most concerned about the abuses of power that this current administration has perpetrated. [I should tell you here that he never responded to any of this information.]

What was of more concern to me was this: did my relative really think that terrorist criminals will be able to take over this country, rape our women, marry our little girls, and carry out a radical Muslim coup?  

Did he think that,  if the United States forces and their coalition of the willing in Iraq find it impossible to take over a country of 26 million (less 2.5 million refugees and 2.7 million internally displaced) with a force of 160,000+ troops and 100,000 hired mercenaries, that a few thousand criminals hiding in Pakistani caves had  their tanks and airplanes poised in Mexico and Canada and readying  for a takeover? Did he truly think that the conquest  would succeed?

And I told him that if he truly feared that a Muslim conquest of this country was a possibility, I questioned his hold on reality. The terrorists were criminals, I said,  and we have wasted 7 years and many many lives trying to fight them as if they were a belligerent country. I questioned Bush and Cheney's hold on reality as well.

Just prior to receiving this fantasy of Muslim conquest,  I had sent him something rational and relevant from a conservative writer. Maybe, I suggested,  he could send me some real political argument sometimes, like a conservative piece in support of McCain? or a rational argument from somebody in the middle or on the left why Obama will be bad for this country. Those I would gladly read, but not this stuff.

The more I read articles by writers on the far right of the political spectrum and so called "independent" white voters, the more I understood that some  folks just don't want some "uppity Negro" as president. In other words, too many Americans are being motivated by racism rather than reason.

And as I wrote I thought that until our generation finally died off  the United States will never be able to overcome its racist attitudes. 

[But as I think about it now, I believe that even the death of our generation will not rid the nation of racism. This doesn't bode well for any American.]

The paranoia is almost cartoonish. Certainly it is black comedy, the new remake of the sixties movie:  "the Muslims are coming, the Muslims are coming!"  The problem is, my relative wants to bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran, heh heh, just like his candidate.

I realized that all too many Americans, my  close family relation being included, need an enemy outside of us. Once that enemy is established, they enter their bubble. 

Well, of course, my passionate email reply  didn't help at all. My relative just got angry and insisted that we would never see eye to eye.  He still sends me xenophobic things. Racist things. Sentimental things from the fifties. Quizzes about Buffalo Bob and Howdy Doody.

 A good friend of mine tells me to just let it go, not to read the emails from the loved one far away. To understand that I am the one in control of my anger. True, true, I say. And yet--I think I want to proselytize.  My relative thinks I am blind to the danger of the Muslim conquest of America and the illegal alien hordes flooding into this country. And I ?  Well, I am no longer a religious person, but I can understand missionary zeal. 

I know that he is worshipping a false idol.  A missionary zeal indeed. But I don't believe in the power of prayer to convert him. And the religious metaphor is probably a bad one to use. But this does make me understand missionaries.  And so we will always be at loggerheads. 

It doesn't do either of us any good to rant. I should just have posted my thoughts on the blog and let it go, let it go . . . into the ether of the internet where probably no one will read this anyway,  rather into the inbox of the relation so far away.

A Conservative's Turn and Truing

Just ran across one of the first indications that Obama may be getting some traction among thinkers when I read: "A Conservative for Obama:  My party has slipped its moorings. It's time for a true pragmatist to lead the country," by Wick Allison.  Former editor of the National Review, one of the original Goldwater youth conservatives, Allison sketches out his long conservative history to explain why Obama strikes a chord in him he "hasn't felt since Reagan."

Three excerpts:

But today it is so-called conservatives who are cemented to political programs when they clearly don't work. The Bush tax cuts-a solution for which there was no real problem and which he refused to end even when the nation went to war-led to huge deficit spending and a $3 trillion growth in the federal debt. Facing this, John McCain pumps his "conservative" credentials by proposing even bigger tax cuts. Meanwhile, a movement that once fought for limited government has presided over the greatest growth of government in our history. That is not conservatism; it is profligacy using conservatism as a mask.


Today it is conservatives, not liberals, who talk with alarming bellicosity about making the world "safe for democracy." It is John McCain who says America's job is to "defeat evil," a theological expansion of the nation's mission that would make George Washington cough out his wooden teeth. . . . This kind of conservatism, which is not conservative at all, has produced financial mismanagement, the waste of human lives, the loss of moral authority, and the wreckage of our economy that McCain now threatens to make worse.

And finally the endorsement:

Barack Obama is not my ideal candidate for president.  . . . I disagree with him on many issues. But those don't matter as much as what Obama offers, which is a deeply conservative view of the world. Nobody can read Obama's books (which, it is worth noting, he wrote himself) or listen to him speak without realizing that this is a thoughtful, pragmatic, and prudent man. It gives me comfort just to think that after eight years of George W. Bush we will have a president who has actually read the Federalist Papers.

Now, I think that's a pretty good endorsement. I will have a lot to disagree with Obama about, particularly Afghanistan, but it's the sheer intelligence you have to admire, especially after the lack of it we have had to inure ourselves to for the past 8 years.

Sep 4, 2008

Slowly, Iraqi Refugees and their Story Receive Attention

A few weeks ago, Aaron Brown, in his new reincarnation on PBS, had an excellent documentary on the plight of the Iraqi refugees in Jordan and Syria. In my own small way, I have been making joint presentations with a colleague at small community meetings talking about our visit for almost two weeks in May, to Jordan and Syria. Some traction, I thought, is being gained.

Now, the latest issue of The Progressive (volume 72, no.9) has arrived, and the cover story is about the refugees. As we all know, the Progressive, Democracy Now!, or Wide Angle on PBS are hardly a presence in the national media. But who knows what further publicity the story will receive. We must keep paying attention to these refugees, who, I can tell you, dress like you and me, have sons and daughters like you and me, have no work, have aspirations for safety and success and a peaceful home in a country where they can make a living and raise their children in peace.

Many thanks to The Progressive and Elizabeth DiNovella for giving attention to this terrible situation, which would be similar to having 60 MILLION Americans (think Texas and California) fleeing to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean or internally migrating to other states. The United States has done little to alleviate the suffering and deprivation of the majority of these refugees in Jordan and Syria, nor has the Iraqi government, with all of its surplus, assisted its citizens.

Let us hope that the people of America will understand the situation and speak out for correction and reparations.