- The nonsense that Hillary's negatives are a guarantee that she cannot win. Please read this Gallup article from earlier this year that goes into some detail about what drives anti-HRC sentiment and how her favorables/unfavorables stack up. Also, just look at polls that show her tied with or well ahead of any other Democratic candidate in the primaries. And you might as well look at the polls that consistently show her beating the Republicans. In short, that dog don't hunt any more.
- Two from Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic. One is on the fact that, in Iowa, Hillary is getting standing ovations in her speeches, which one takes from the context that neither she nor the other Dems were getting before. The other is a sly observation that, at Edwards events (which are packed), you dont' see Illinois license plates in the parking lot. Once again, it appears that Obama is packing local events with out-of-state supporters to try to fool the news media into thinking his Iowa support is stronger than it is. As Joe Biden said, "Hello, Chicago!"
- Obama is sinking in polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, and is frantically starting calls to California to try to get Golden State voters to send in absentee primary ballots for him to lock in support before he loses.
- Here's a great question and answer exchange conducted by Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe with Hillary on presidential powers (you may have to register). Savage asked the exact same questions of all major Democratic and Republican candidates (links are on that page), and they are all worth a read. These are tough questions on the theory and practice of executive authority and all Democrats did very well. Read these questions in the context of Paul Krugman's newest article, The Great Divide, in the NY Times. Of the Republicans, McCain is troubling, Romney is horrifying, and Ron Paul meandering. Guiliani, Huckabee and Thompson would not even answer the questions. Losers.
- Will HRC win the Iowa caucuses? Much as I want to say yes, I think it is unlikely. She is making her rivals spend enormous amounts of time and money to eke out any advantage, which no one thought would happen (Remember? "Everyone hates Hillary!") and she will make a solid showing in the state, but I think it is unlikely she will unequivocally win. Her trend lines are back up, she has never faltered in Florida, Michigan, Nevada, California and New York, and Golden Boy Barry is finally having to answer real questions, demonstrating that he is simply too green for the White House at this time.
Sunday, December 30, 2007
Yesterday The Times published a highly informative chart laying out the positions of the presidential candidates on major issues. It was, I’d argue, a useful reality check for those who believe that the next president can somehow usher in a new era of bipartisan cooperation.
For what the chart made clear was the extent to which Democrats and Republicans live in separate moral and intellectual universes....
In fact, however, except for Mike Huckabee — a peculiar case who’ll deserve more discussion if he stays in contention — the leading Republican contenders have gone out of their way to assure voters that they will not deviate an inch from the Bush path. Why? Because the G.O.P. is still controlled by a conservative movement that does not tolerate deviations from tax-cutting, free-market, greed-is-good orthodoxy....
So what does the conversion of Mr. McCain into an avowed believer in voodoo economics — and the comparable conversions of Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani — tell us? That bitter partisanship and political polarization aren’t going away anytime soon.
There’s a fantasy, widely held inside the Beltway, that men and women of good will from both parties can be brought together to hammer out bipartisan solutions to the nation’s problems.
If such a thing were possible, Mr. McCain, Mr. Romney and Mr. Giuliani — a self-proclaimed maverick, the former governor of a liberal state and the former mayor of an equally liberal city — would seem like the kind of men Democrats could deal with. (O.K., maybe not Mr. Giuliani.) In fact, however, it’s not possible, not given the nature of today’s Republican Party, which has turned men like Mr. McCain and Mr. Romney into hard-line ideologues. On economics, and on much else, there is no common ground between the parties.
It really is this simple. The hyper-partisan movement conservatives have no interest in working with anyone who is not a lock-step believer in their rape-pillage-plunder agenda. They want permanent war, an obscenely wealthy upper class and a desperate, fearful, ignorant electorate.
Friday, December 28, 2007
News flash Barry: Bill Clinton was talking about the dangerous conditions in south Asia in the 1990s. I remember several statements by the Big Dog about the Kashmir region being the most dangerous place on earth because of the role it plays in the cold (and sometimes smoking) war between two nuclear powers, exacerbated by Afghanistan, a failed state infested with Islamic extremists who have declared war on modernity. That's why he kept trying to take out Osama bin Ladin. That's why he kept trying to keep on good relations with Pakistan under Bhutto, despite the deep corruption of her government - to reduce the tensions between Pakistan and India, to offer carrots and pry sticks out of hands, to prevent Muslim and Hindu nationalists from gaining the upper hand.
It was George Bush and the undead corpse of Cheney who have abused this part of the world, ignoring the dangers and offering incentives that destabilize it yet more. Then, when they realize how much they have fucked it up, they do what Daddy Bush did to the Shia in Iraq - tempt Bhutto back into the country to rouse opposition and then abandon her to be martyred.
Barry, meanwhile, has adopted the Bush/Cheney big stick approach to Pakistan, and advocated unilateral invasions and bombardment of a sovereign nation (Hmmm, where have I seen that happen before? I know, Iraq!) in order to get bin Ladin. Obama was burned in effigy in Pakistan for those words. Oh, yeah, great judgment on display there, Barry.
There have been blow-by-blow write ups of the hole Barry keeps digging himself into at Taylor Marsh, No Quarter, The Washington Note, Talk Left and The Left Coaster (to name only a few), addressing not just the Obama pratfall but other issues related to the very grave situation in Pakistan.
What I take away from Axelrod's idiocy is that Obama has just run, full-tilt, into the limits of his biggest claim to fame - the tired excuse that he wouldn't have voted for AUMF had he been in the Senate. On the one hand, nothing in his Senate career thus far, most especially anything connected to his foreign affairs work, provides any proof that he would have done anything different than Clinton, Biden, Dodd or Edwards. He talks a good fight, but his actions do not support his rhetoric. On the other hand, it is becoming painfully obvious that, aside from this one sound bite, he doesn't have much to say for himself on the foreign policy front. He surrounds himself with Clinton advisors after claiming he is going to do things a new way, he can't talk off the cuff on foreign policy matters without sounding like a moron, he says outrageous and inflammatory things about other nations, and he tries to wrap everything into this moldy blanket of "I would have done different than HRC," as if that is an answer to any substantive foreign policy challenge.
What the tragedy in Pakistan also points out is the limits of US power in foreign affairs, particularly after Bush/Cheney. We can't simply order other nations to do our bidding, as the neocons fantacize doing, and our ability to persuade and influence has been greivously reduced becuse of the neocon adventures. The US gains nothing by threatening other nations the way Obama did Pakistan. More to the point - Pakistan is not here to serve the US, or be a tool in our foreign policy. It's called sovereignty. We are dealing with other sovereign nations and it's time we acknowledge that truth.
Wes Clark gets it and that's why he is always talking about the centrality of diplomacy in rehabilitating US influence in the world. Diplomacy means understanding our own national needs and interests clearly enough to locate common ground where it exists and to contain conflict where it does not. It means treating others with respect, not babbling about your own wonderfulness, and it means understanding everything possible so that you are prepared to do the impossible when crisis arrives.
Sovereignty is also what underlay Al Gore's famous words from the Rolling Stone interview, back when I still hoped he would run for President, that we need to be sure that our manner of leaving Iraq does not create a worse situation than our invasion. Sadly, I'm not sure that is possible. This is what drives me crazy about "Troops out now!!!!" obssessives. They don't understand that by performing an unconscionable act of violence upon the people of Iraq and upon their nation's sovereignty, we have incurred obligations to both. We cannot simply throw them down, like toys we no longer want, and move on to the next imperial adventure.
HRC gets this, as do Dodd and Biden. It's more than just US interests at work here, it is also US obligations. That is why their responses to Bhutto's assassination were the best, because all three spoke from a position of respect for Pakistan and for Ms. Bhutto, recognizing the reality that we can only, ethically, offer assistance, not attempt to engineer the situation to meet US desires. This in contrast to the White House demanding that the elections go on, and most other presidential candidates trying to use it for very crude campaign advantage. While I admire Edwards' initiative in calling Musharraf, that was not something that a candidate should do in an international situation. Do a twist on this - how would you feel about Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney calling up a foreign head of state during an international crisis when a Democratic president is handling the situation?
What Bhutto's assassination does is raise the stakes in the most dangerous part of the world and quickly separate out those candidates who are ready to handle an explosive situation and those who simply treat it as another bit of campaign fodder.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
- Mixed citrus salad with pomegranate seeds
- Pan fried peirogi
- Lox and creme fraiche mixed with tarragon and dill
- Boneless leg of lamb, marinated in oilive oil, rosemary and a head of garlic, seasoned with salt and pepper.
- Potato and Onion Gratin
- Haricots Verts and Roasted Fennel and Shallots
- Sourdough rolls & butter
- Various red wines
- Coffee ice cream
- Assorted cookies
- Coffee and Bailey's
- 2 large fresh fennel bulbs, trimmed
- 3/4 lb shallots, peeled, and halved through the root end
- 5 Tblsp olive oil
- 1 lb haricot verts or very slender green beens, trimmed.
- Preheat ove to 450 F. (Note, you can roast at a lower temperature, it just takes longer)
- Cut fennel bulbs lengthwise in half.
- Cut halves into 1/2" wide slices, leaving them joined at the root end (they will fall apart a bit)
- Put into big bowl with shallots and toss with 3 tblsp olive oil
- Put shallots and fennel in a single layer on a baking sheet that has been sprayed with non-stick. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
- Put pan in over and roast until tender and golden, stirring every 10 minutes, about 35 minutes at 450.
- Cook haricot verts in large suace pan of salted water until crisp-tender, about three minutes. rinse in cold water and drain. Pat dry.
- Heat remaining 2 tblsp of oil in large skilelt over medium heat.
- Add all vegetables and heat through about 3 minutes. Put into bowl and serve.
- 3 lbs Yukon gold potatos, peeled and cut into 1/4" rounds
- 1 & 1/2 lbs yellow onion, sliced into thin rings
- 2 cups grated and packed Gruyere
- 4 oz. grated and packed Parmesan
- 1 & 1/3 cup heavy cream
- Put onions and potatos into a large suace pana nd cover with water (you may need two pans)
- Bring to boil, simmer 3 minutes, drain.
- Arrange half of potatoe and onion mixture in lasagne pan (11X14) .
- Cover with @ 1/3 of cheeses
- Put reamining potato and onion mixture on top of cheese layer.
- Pour cream over mixture and add salt and pepper to taste.
- Top with remaining cheese.
- Bake uncovered at 400 F. about 25 minutes until thickened.
- Broil until golden on top to finish.
Friday, December 21, 2007
There was a flurry of interesting posts in the blogosphere today all talking about "experience" as it relates to HRC and Golden Boy Barry, with an emphasis on foreign affairs. Matt Yglsias, quoted by Kevin Drum, trots out the tired old argument that HRC would very likely end up going to go to war to remain popular, yadda yadda, while Obama and Edwards will be willing to try "bold strokes" (we'll really try to ignore the masturbatory langauge here...) that will break open log jams in foreign affairs. Kevin respectfully disagrees:
And while Matt's critique of Hillary is persuasive, here's the flip side: do you think the world is really likely to be moved by bold strokes? It's possible that my skepticism on this is due more to our age difference than anything else, but I'd say the odds are slim. The institutional forces at work are huge, and I think they mostly respond to patient pressure, smart and knowledgable diplomacy, well-timed compromise, and a clear sense of how the world really works and where you can successully insert a helpful wedge. People who parachute into gigantic institutions — and this is the biggest institution of them all — thinking that they can cut through all the various Gordian knots with bold initiatives are likely to be disappointed.
Next up is Mark Schmitt in The American Prospect making sharp observations that the next Democratic President is going to need to work with a Senate where Republicans have 40 (or more) votes and can filibuster. It will take a negotiator and someone who understands "bipartisanship" to win over the needed 3-5 swing votes as well as hold the entire Democratic causcus. He thinks that Obama's experience as a community activist demonstrate he knows how to listen to the other side and will, with this demeanor, win over those votes. His chief piece of evidence is that Obama once drew HRC into a clumsy response to a debate question. (How this shows Obama can negotiate rather than take advantage of a gaffe, I'm not sure, either.)
I think Mark is formally correct, but willfully blind to the effort Hillary has made in the US Senate to make the kinds of connections and forge the relationships that will draw the fence sitters over to her side, as well as knowing what arms to twist to keep her own players on the right side of the game. But Mark is one of the few people out there to actually argue that involvement in the institution may actually be an advantage - in short, that "experience" is a clear advantage and virtue to possess.
My third read of the day was Joe Wilson's post on Larry Johnson's No Quarter blog, where he blasts the argument of people like Little Matt that there is some kind of virtue in being a clueless git in foreign policy. He is pissed off at those who airily dismiss significant, hands-on experience of foreign policy. It's worth an extended quote:
Wilson gets to the meat of the "experience" question - it's not just being able to pop off good sound bites during an election campaign. It's being well versed in the whys and wherefores of the foreign policy world (which last time I looked was waaaay bigger than just Iraq. ) Even as he himself opposed the Iraq war, he does not condemn HRC for having voted the way she did - he doesn't try to put her reaoning and larger concerns into a yes/no sound bite. Most of all, he points out the deep problem of going on "intutition" and engaging in "bold moves" when you don't have all the facts you need, are not trusted by foreign allies to have their interests in mind, and have not established an interlocking and coherent policy that actually advances the interests of the US. You end up threatening potential allies with bombs while conceding to much to foes.
Yesterday the London Times reported central questions about Senator Obama’s shocking dearth of international experience: “Fresh doubts over Barack Obama’s foreign policy credentials were expressed on both sides of the Atlantic last night, after it emerged that he had made only one brief official visit to London - and none elsewhere in Western Europe or Latin America.” It also reported: “Mr. Obama had failed to convene a single policy meeting of the Senate European subcommittee, of which he is chairman.”These basic facts, coming from a major foreign newspaper, are a sobering counterpoint to a gushing Boston Globe editorial that endorsed Obama for having “an intuitive sense of the wider world with all its perils and opportunities.” Intuition may be a laudable quality among psychics and palm readers, but for a professional American diplomat like myself, who have spent a career toiling in the vineyards of national security, it has no relevance to serious discussion of foreign policy. In fact, Obama’s supposed “intuitive sense” is no different from George W. Bush’s “instincts” and “gut feeling” describing his own foreign policy decision-making. We have been down this road before....
Senator Obama echoes and reflects the same attitude of contempt [voiced by Bill Kristol] for “on the ground experience.” Acting on his superior “intuition” he has proposed unilateral bombing of Pakistan and unstructured summits without preconditions with adversaries such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Kim Jong Il. As we have learned, the march of folly is paved with good but naïve intentions....
In the run up to the war and thereafter, I was in frequent discussions with senior Democrats in Washington, including Senator Clinton, and I was keenly aware of her demand for the full exercise of international diplomacy and allowing the weapons inspectors to complete their mission. Many of the most prominent early opponents of the war, including former General Wes Clark and former ambassador to the United National Richard Holbrooke support Senator Clinton for President, as do I. We do so because we know that she has the experience and the judgment that comes from having been in the arena for her entire adult life–and from close personal participation with her in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy. And we have trust in her to end the war in Iraq in the most responsible way, consistent with our national security interests.
We know that she has won and lost but always fought for her beliefs, which are widely shared within the Democratic Party. The battles she had been in have been fierce–and the battles in the future will be no less intense–and she has proven her steadfastness and is still standing. She does not have a cowardly record of voting “present” when confronted with difficult issues. She does not claim “intuition” as the basis of the most dangerous and serious decision-making. What she has is deep and vital experience, more important than ever in restoring our country’s place in the world.
Finally, here is Steve Clemons in his own blog The Washington Note, also commenting on the London Times article:
If I'm being asked to support Obama because of innate instinct, I refuse. I would say the same about Hillary Clinton if asked. What we need to know about all of these potential candidates is not only how they operate and work but what the basis of their experience is. Then, for me, I want to see some evidence that the candidate is thinking creatively about how to leapfrog out of today's national security and foreign policy morass into some more stable order that propels American and global interests back in a positive direction....And this brings us back to where we started, which is why experience matters, and why bold stroking of the alleged advantage of ignorance is not going to hack it, even as it leaves Barry supporters satiated. Experience does not mean what people think it means, or rather, we need a better working definition of "experience".
I hate this debate about experience vs. identity in making this choice. Both candidates have strengths and weaknesses.
But with me, experience -- or demonstrating bold capacity to requisition that experience -- is the primary driver of my political support. Obama supporters, I hope, will drop this cult-ish promulgation of identity politics and will get back on the experience track.
HRC detractors tend to reduce experience to its lowest common denominator - having been in the general vicinity of something for a while and having done a few things while you were there. Measured in this way, it is possible (by squinting really hard) to dismiss her activities as First Lady to insignificance (Shew was just playing hostess, like Nanacy Reagan!) and (by turning a blind eye) to inflate Barry's average legislative record into some kind of savant performance of mind-boggling brilliance and bipartisanship. (Aside - wait, I thought part of HRC's sins against the nation was that she was too bipartisan and tried too hard to reach out across the aisle? Oh, my head hurts.)
What Joe Wilson, Steve Clemons, Kevin Drum and many other bloggers are trying to point out is that what really needs to be discussed is what the Greeks called phronesis - wisdom in determining ends and the means of attaining them. The point is not just to take bold strokes, but to have done the home work, laid the ground work, made the connections, and have established, in Rummy's immortal and glorious words, what the known knowns, the knowns unknowns and the unknown unknowns will be. Bold strokes in foreign policy succeed because they have foundations beneath and channels in which to move. Those that aren't prepared end up like, well, Bush's current war. Or Bill Clinton's non-response to Rwanda. Machivelli famously says that fortune is tamed by those who have both the foresight to prepare and the virtu to act. You can't vote "present" when the unthinkable happens (WTC, Katrina, implosion of the financial markets) - you must act.
It's not just having an appropriate response to a particular event. It's about having a cascading set of possibilities and pathways that can come out of an very unexpected turn. Do you imagine that Al Gore would have failed to use the WTC attack to promote a bolder foreign policy, one that looked poverty, extremism, trade, and, yes, the use of natural resources and protection of the environment? Barry has a knack for giving compelling speeches, but the force of one person's personality is not foundation enough for a foreign or domestic policy platform.
HRC is the walking, talking personification of phronesis. It doesn't mean infallible, but it does mean fully aware of the world around her, the conditions on the ground and the possibilities on the horizon.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Then came the Iowa Straw Poll in Ames. The number -- and volume -- of the Paul supporters turned them into the talk of the political world on that blazing hot day in August. Some reporters gathered at the event openly wondered whether Paul would shock the world by finishing in the top three of the Straw Poll. When he didn't -- he placed fifth -- the buzz (at least among media types) died down. Paul's campaign seemed all talk and no action.I know who supports Ron Paul - the idiot programmers I work with. They are totally entranced by this guy who hates everything they hate and who wants to ensure they can be even less socially responsible than they currently are. I work with a weird group of people, individually pretty nice but whose view of the world is so warped and narrow I sometimes wonder how they navigate home at night.
That all changed on Nov. 5. In commemoration of Guy Fawkes' attempted assassination of King James I, the Paul network organized a fundraising bomb -- for lack of a better word. More than $4 million was collected online in roughly 24 hours, a stunning achievement for any candidate but especially someone with Paul's seemingly long-shot odds at the nomination.
Even then, however, it was easy to write Paul off. Other fringe candidates had been able to collect several million dollars form their efforts. Paul fit somewhat easily into the model of other perennial candidates like Lyndon LaRouche.
No more. Paul collected more than $6 million in a single day earlier this week (Dec. 16 -- the 234th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, natch). Paul campaign officials say that he will top $18 million raised between Sept. 1 and Dec 31, a total that will put him first or very close to the top of the fundraising chase.
Ron Paul pulls from a certain part of the "Independents" - people too disengaged from politics to have clear opinions, and just well off enough that they don't really connect with any strong interest group. They aren't "rich", but look in the mirror and see the next Sergiy Brin. The "Mexicans" are the source of the big problems, swiftly followed by the "gumnit" who is paying the "Mexicans" to move here and steal stuff. They pretty much all suffer from CDS. His unswerving opposition to the Iraq War has little to do with any opposition to killing strange brown people as it does with his deep rooted isolationism and xenophobia. In a weird twist, he is one of the few anti-religion candidates out there, which will also strongly appeal to a certain portion of the atheist left. Thus, he appeals to some fringe Democrats, especially single-issue voters, and has a substantial slice of the Republican pie. He does not have enough votes to win a major party nomination, but he could garner enough to force some intereting deals at the Republican convention. He can't win on his own - American as a whole is not that insane.
He is just monomaniacal enough to pull a Ross Perot and mount a third party challenge. Now, this might thrill some Democrats, who only see him pulling votes from the Republicans, but I think we need to look carefully at the way Independents may break if given a choice of Ron Paul. Dedicated Democrats wll not vote Ron Paul, wanting him to draw off Republican votes. Independents voting in the Democratic primaries, however, are not strongly attached to the party, and may very well go with Paul in the general election to register a "disgust" vote with mainstream politics.
This will not substantially hurt any conventional Democratic candidate as their support will be drawn from Dems and from moderate Republicans (a reverse Lieberman, if you will) . Clinton, Dodd, Biden and Richardson would not lose as much support from their party as Romney, Guliani, Mccain and Huckabee would lose from theirs. However, Democratic candidates who pull significantly from Independents will see proportionally more defections, especially as they will have to tack to the center for the general election. Kucinich, Edwards and especially Obama are vulnerable to a Paul third party run because they don't appeal to moderate Republicans as much and because the Independents who supported them as being "outsiders" are going to be turned off by moderation.
Paul can't beat them, but he can siphon votes away. If you have Mitt Romney, Barack Obama and Ron Paul all running in the general (and, hell, toss in Saint Ralph for good measure. The bastard says he's running.) , you have a situation similar to Bush I, Big Dog and Perot in 1992, except that Paul's demographic overlaps Obama's even more than it does Romney's. Add a little Nader magic to pull away the mindless moralists on the left, toss in six months of Republican race and religion bashing, a big heap of war equivocation, and you've got a razor thin Democratic loss.
Ron Paul is a bigger and more dangerous challenge to the major parties than is realized because of who he appeals to. He could pull away a big chunk of the Independents the Dems will need for the general election.
Monday, December 17, 2007
Do Obama supporters who celebrate his hoped-for ability to bring us together realize that “us” includes the insurance and drug lobbies?
O.K., more seriously, it’s actually Mr. Obama who’s being unrealistic here, believing that the insurance and drug industries — which are, in large part, the cause of our health care problems — will be willing to play a constructive role in health reform. The fact is that there’s no way to reduce the gross wastefulness of our health system without also reducing the profits of the industries that generate the waste.
As a result, drug and insurance companies — backed by the conservative movement as a whole — will be implacably opposed to any significant reforms. And what would Mr. Obama do then? “I’ll get on television and say Harry and Louise are lying,” he says. I’m sure the lobbyists are terrified.
As health care goes, so goes the rest of the progressive agenda. Anyone who thinks that the next president can achieve real change without bitter confrontation is living in a fantasy world.
Which brings me to a big worry about Mr. Obama: in an important sense, he has in effect become the anti-change candidate.
So what happens if Mr. Obama is the nominee?
He will probably win — but not as big as a candidate who ran on a more populist platform. Let’s be blunt: pundits who say that what voters really want is a candidate who makes them feel good, that they want an end to harsh partisanship, are projecting their own desires onto the public.
And nothing Mr. Obama has said suggests that he appreciates the bitterness of the battles he will have to fight if he does become president, and tries to get anything done.
I don't know if Edwards' angry ranting is truely the alternative Krugman believes it to be (refer to my immediately previous post on using the levers of government), but he is surely on to something about the nature of partisanship in the current political environment. I'm also not as sanguine as Paul about Obama's win should he gain the nomination, especially if Mitt Romney is the eventual Republican nominee.
The movement conservatives categorically reject any middle ground. It's their way or no way, as the record number of filibusters and other obstructionist shenanigans prove. There are a few, very few, Republicans left who might be willing to be be moderate, though most of them are at risk of losing their seats just as Lincoln Chaffee did, should they fraternize with the enemy. If there is division in the nation, it is due to the movement conservatives' refusal to live within the basic principles of law and civility.
The real point that Krugman fails to articulate here, though, in great part because of his over emphasis on populism, is that having a bully pulpit is no good if you don't have the knowledge and power to use the structure of the government to reshape both the process and public opinion. Obama seems to think that stirring appeals will do the hard work of governing for him. FDR not only stuck it to the fat cats, he did so by crafting a magnificent system that the conservatives still haven't undone. Neither Edwards nor Obama can speak about expanding the house that FDR built.
...there is a great deal I do admire in Hillary Clinton -- and one of the things that simply can't be disputed is her work ethic. I've met her a number of times, usually at receptions -- and each time I decided not to waste the moment with trivial banter but to throw an idea at her or mention a person or issue that would help me understand how real, how informed, or alternatively -- how contrived -- she was.There are several things to tease out of this dense post. One is that to get things done, you have to show up and do the people's business. Another is that big ideas become policy reality because they are backed by serious detail work. And, finally, the government is a system to magnify the exercise of power, and is the true tool for getting policy cemented into place. All the high-flown speeches in the world don't amount to a pile of horseshit without being grounded in the mundane machinery of the state. It matters that a legislator or executive understands how to make a large agency, such as FEMA, an effective operation. It is literally the difference between life and death.
Every single time she jumped on the issue I brought up and expressed two or three dimensions to the issue that showed she was deeply steeped in this or that policy. In my New America Foundation role, I helped build and support programs as diverse as debates about genetic scientific advancements to family work issues, health care, and wireless spectrum -- not to mention my own core interests in foreign policy, national security/defense issues, and international economic policy. Hillary Clinton and I have had quick encounters that involved her sharing incredibly diverse and serious policy commentary.
The last time I had such a discussion with her was after she had won her last Senate race in New York, and she and Bill Clinton were a bit early to a UN Foundation reception honoring Muhammad Yunus. We had a really interesting discussion about what should be on a roster of 21st century threats and how our national security and foreign policy resources should be reorganized to deal with future challenges rather than keeping vested interests tied to old threats well funded. Her quick grasp of what I was trying to get at -- and a detailed response that was serious and level-headed -- really surprised me as I'm used to politicians who typically have to fake their way through detail.
I get the sense that Barack Obama is also extremely intelligent, though I've not had the same kind of encounters with him that I have had with Hillary Clinton and thus can't give personal commentary.
But I am convinced of something about Hillary Clinton's commitment to use every lever and every aspect of government machinery to push her legislative and policy work that I'm disappointed to say that I can't find as strongly in Barack Obama's profile. My concern has to do with the fact that as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations' Subcommittee on Europe, Obama has held zero hearings -- at least that is how the record appears to me.
Compare this to the House Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Europe, which is having constant hearings -- or to the Senate Subcommittee's work before Obama became Chair -- or to a comparative commitment of Hillary Clinton on a Subcommittee she chairs, and the zero hearing detail is disconcerting.
HRC knows how to make it work.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
The nature of the hold movement conservatism has on the Republican party may be summed up very simply: Yes, Virginia, there is a vast right-wing conspiracy. That is, there is an interlocking set of institutions ultimately answering to a small group of people that collectively reward loyalists and punish dissenters. These institutions provide obedient politicians with the resources to win elections, safe havens in the event of defeat, and lucrative career opportunities after they leave office. They guarantee favorable news coverage to politicians who follow the party line, while harassing and undermining opposition. And they support a large standing army of party intellectuals and activists...This is what must be foremost in the minds of liberals whenever faced with a political choice. The right considers you an enemy that it is justified in exterminating. It does not want compromise, it will not honor any promises it makes, and it is dedicated to furthering its own agenda, period.
One last point; The institutions of movement conservatism ensure a continuity of goals that has no counterpart on the other side... In a now-famous 1983 article, analysts from the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation called for a "Leninist strategy" of undermining support for Social Security, to "prepare the political ground so that the fiasco of the last 18 months is not repeated." That strategy underlay George W. Bush's attempt to privatize the system -- and until or unless movement conservatism is defeated as thoroughly as pre-new deal conservatism was, there will be more attempts in the future.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Beyond their personal appeal, the candidates have outlined ambitious policy proposals on health care, education and rural policy. Yet these proposals do little to help separate the field. Their plans are similar, reflecting a growing consensus in the party about how to approach priority issues.
The choice, then, comes down to preparedness: Who is best prepared to confront the enormous challenges the nation faces — from ending the Iraq war to shoring up America’s middle class to confronting global climate change?
The job requires a president who not only understands the changes needed to move the country forward but also possesses the discipline and skill to navigate the reality of the resistant Washington power structure to get things done.
That candidate is New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
From working for children’s rights as a young lawyer, to meeting with leaders around the world as first lady, to emerging as an effective legislator in her service as a senator, every stage of her life has prepared her for the presidency.
That readiness to lead sets her apart from a constellation of possible stars in her party, particularly Barack Obama, who also demonstrates the potential to be a fine president. When Obama speaks before a crowd, he can be more inspirational than Clinton. Yet, with his relative inexperience, it’s hard to feel as confident he could accomplish the daunting agenda that lies ahead.
Edwards was our pick for the 2004 nomination. But this is a different race, with different candidates. We too seldom saw the “positive, optimistic” campaign we found appealing in 2004. His harsh anti-corporate rhetoric would make it difficult to work with the business community to forge change.
Unfortunately, for many Americans, perceptions of Clinton, now 60, remain stuck in a 1990s time warp. She’s regarded as the one who fumbled health-care reform as a key policy adviser to her husband, President Bill Clinton, or as a driving force in the bitter standoff between the “Clinton machine” and the “vast right-wing conspiracy.”
Her record in the Senate belies those images. Today, she’s widely praised for working across the aisle with Sam Brownback, Lindsey Graham and other Republicans.
Determination to succeed and learning from her mistakes have been hallmarks of Clinton’s life. She grew up in Park Ridge, Ill., graduated from Wellesley College and earned a law degree from Yale. As first lady in Arkansas, she was both strategist and idealist, borne out by her commitment to children and families. As the nation’s first lady, she in essence spent eight years as a diplomat, traveling to more than 80 countries and advocating for human rights.
In the Senate, she has earned a reputation as a workhorse who does not seek the limelight. She honed knowledge of defense on the Senate Armed Services Committee. She has proactively served rural and urban New York and worked in the national interest, strengthening the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
Clinton is tough. Tested by rough politics and personal trials, she’s demonstrated strength, resolve and resilience.
Can she inspire the nation? Clinton is still criticized in some quarters as being too guarded and calculating. (As president, when she makes a mistake, she should just say so.)
Indeed, Obama, her chief rival, inspired our imaginations. But it was Clinton who inspired our confidence. Each time we met, she impressed us with her knowledge and her competence.
The times demand results. We believe as president she’ll do what she’s always done in her life: Throw herself into the job and work hard. We believe Hillary Rodham Clinton can do great things for our country.
The comments are infested with trolls, of course, but the editors have fairly summed up the situation. The Democratic party is pretty much decided on an overall course of action and now they need someone in the White House who will fight for the agenda like nobody's business.
Then I read about the steroid abuse in major league baseball and my reaction is simply "Huh?" My coworkers are all in a tizzy over this, dashing between cubes to discuss the latestest revelation and emailing each other like mad. There's stuff on the home page of all the papers, people are arguing about it on the street and in the stores, and I am clueless. I don't know who the hell they are talking about, wouldn't know one league from another, and really don't give a shit if guys paid too much money to do pretty stupid sports tricks are doping.
So I guess that's how the politically disengaged regard politics, too.
Friday, December 14, 2007
I don't understand the problem with Billy Shaheen* saying that Obama's admission of drug use might turn out to be a problem in a general election. It's true, isn't it? It might be. Is it better to pretend that it won't and then find out later that you've just elected another right-wing extremist incompetent. The fact is we have no idea about any number of issues relating to Obama's potential vulnerabilities, and while I love the guy and think he would make one of the greatest presidents ever, I would like to have those answers sooner rather than later. Of course we'll never get them, but if anyone thinks that Republicans are only going to raise these issues because Clinton did, well, that person is stupid. It's rather childish to pretend that politics doesn't involve finding out bad things about your opponent and saying them. I say let's get everything on the table and let Obama deal with it.And then there is the far less sympathetic Charles Pierce:
I guess we're all supposed to be horrified this week that Hillary Clinton is acting like a tough political candidate. (If Matthews crosses his legs over his cojones any tighter, he's going to be doing the show as a soprano for the rest of his career.) I have grown a bit tired of the whole Obama-as-the-anti-Hildebeast meme, which the Obama people have determined is the non-Oprah key to his current surge. Indeed, Obama's campaign has begun to make my skin crawl a little bit. The we-are-the-world optimism that not only blinds him to the fundamental corruption of the regime he hopes to replace, but also makes you wonder if he's the guy to come in and throw daylight into all the dark corners of the past seven years. The willingness to employ Republican storylines on Senator Clinton and, far more seriously, on Social Security in an apparent attempt to win the vital Green Room Primary in Washington and to appeal to mythical "moderates" who don't exist and won't vote for him anyway. If we're ever going to get past the depredations of the Bush Administration -- many of which, I guarantee you, are still deeply secret -- it is an insufficient remedy to declare that the "politics of division" are now over and we will now reunite under a banner and move forward together. In the first place, there already is a conservative attack machine in place that will nuke whoever a Democratic president is the moment he or she lifts a hand off the Bible. Moreover, there must be an accounting if the corruption is to be cleansed and the constitutional order restored. There is no way to do this without an angry, bloody, and, yes, political process. The next president's most critical function in the early days is not to make us all feel good about our country again. It is to be the head of an informal national Truth Commission. I'm not sure if Obama even wants this job.Neither of these writers is an HRC fan, though Eric distinguishes himself by always speaking of her calmly and deliberately, his praise as much as his criticisms grounded in demonstrable facts. What Eric and Charles both point to is the cocoon that Obama has spun around himself. With Obama, there is a presumption that everyone agrees that any negative press is always illegitimate and a signifier of his opponent's fundamental bad faith and duplicity, while his own comparable attacks (see eRiposte of Left Coaster's latest for the run-down) are necessary actions to defend himself.
More disturbing is the way in which Obama doesn't seem to grasp the real task that faces any Democrat who can get his or her butt into the Oval Office - use the power of politics to restore the republic, taking it back from C+ Augustus and his fascistic kleptocracy. He doesn't seem to grasp (or care) that the nation is indeed at war, but it is a slow moving civil war of a privileged class against the rest and of reason and humanity against fundamentalist apocalypticism.
Obama seems to think that it is enough that he "isn't Hillary" to justify his claim on the presidency. It is unclear exactly he wants it for, except to cap off his glorious career. This is a demonstration of narccissism as great as W's - beacuse I'm sexy and give good oratory and I've decided it should be mine.
We can see from his oppo attacks on his competitors that he is quite comfortable with ruthlessness when it is to benefit himself. He evidently conducts oppo research against progressive bloggers who might be tempted to criticize him, rather than meet the criticism head on. But he doesn't appear to have any great desire to fight the deep wells of corruption on the other side of the aisle, preferring to tout his equivocal opinion on Iraq from years ago (and never once mention his current voting behavior) to exploit netroots HRC hatred than to actually create and explain foreign policy that would deal with the situation on the ground today.
He and his supporters are living in a cocoon of Golden Boy Barry's wonderfullness. It is supported by the Republicans he says he's going to fight, and spun to ever more glorious heights of gilded perfection by the media that transformed Gore into a loser and Kerry into a coward and wimp. The same media that is doing its darndest to ignore the vacuity and savagery of the current Republican field.
For those of us who keep in mind the political strategy Lee Atwater bequeathed to the movement conservatives, we all know what will be launched at Obama. Black druggie from the big city who is a closet Muslim, supports violating electoral laws and stuffing ballot boxes, and who will give away tax dollars to welfare queens and wetbacks. Don't think for one second they won't, or that it won't work. Even if he gets to the White House, this will be the constant refrain, with demands that he "prove" he's not biased to blacks, "illegals" (read - Latinos who don't vote Republican), single mothers, etc., etc. - in short, that he will throw the Democratic majority under the bus.
The cocoon is the fantasy of a large portion of the left that somehow they can all sing Kumbayah together and yet retain power. If only we get rid of the "dirty" parts of the party, we'll win on our virtue! Even Obama doesn't really believe that, but that's the campaign he is running.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
HRC has been accused of murders she didn't commit, thefts that didn't happen, skulduggery that never occurred and sexual proclivities we can only hope she took advantage of, and she's not whining about that. Every time someone waves a little negative press in your direction, you have the vapors. If you are such a freaking panty-waist that you can't stand the bald truth about the political disadvantages of your own drug adventures, step aside now.
Of course, the deep problem here is that Obama is little except his media facade, and if he loses that image of wonderfulness, he will drop like a rock. His big foreign policy claim to fame, having verbally opposed the Iraq War, is consistently shown to be worth very little. Susan UnPC, on Larry Johnson's No Quarter blog, has a long and detailed post about Mr. All Talk, No Walk. Some key paragraphs:
Read all of Susan's article. She goes into some detail about the lengths to which Obama has gone to avoid having any kind of political trail, and the ways in which he has failed to take a solid and defining role in foreign affairs, despite having been given a plum chairmanship of a foreign relations sub committee.
Obama is rising in the polls because he’s expressing FEELINGS that people WANT to hear. People are worn down by the last seven years, and they want to believe what they’re hearing from a hopeful, fresh candidate. The problem is, it’s just talk. Here are some pithy examples of (1) Obama as the triangulator extraordinaire, and (2) Obama as a do-nothing — yes, a do-nothing.
A do-nothing? You can’t even find it listed at his Senate Web site, but Sen. Obama is the chairman of the Subcommittee on European Affairs for the Senate Foreign Relations committee. That subcommittee oversees “U.S. involvement with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), relations with the European Union (EU), and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Matters relating to Greenland and the northern polar region are also the responsibility of this subcommittee.”...
Then there’s IRAQ, and Obama’s (and Oprah’s) incessant claim– as Oprah told the Des Moines crowd on Saturday, “long before it was the popular thing to do, he stood with clarity and conviction against this war in Iraq.”
In July of `04, Barack Obama, “I’m not privy to Senate intelligence reports. What would I have done? I don’t know,” in terms of how you would have voted on the war. And then this: “There’s not much of a difference between my position on Iraq and George Bush’s position at this stage.” That was July of `04. And this: “I think” there’s “some room for disagreement in that initial decision to vote for authorization of the war.” It doesn’t seem that you are firmly wedded against the war, and that you left some wiggle room that, if you had been in the Senate, you may have voted for it. (”Meet the Press,” 2004, via MyDD, Nov. 11, 2007)
“What would I have done? I don’t know” … “There’s not much of a difference” between him and George W. Bush … “some room for disagreement in that initial decision. …” If that’s not triangulation, I don’t know what is....
We Americans all love good orators. We yearn to feel our hearts soar with optimism. We flock to the “sunny” candidates like Ronald Reagan. We want to feel better about our country but — when we’re sober and reflective — don’t we really want the candidate who’s walked the walk.
Sen. Clinton has stuck her neck out — by voting against Gen. Casey’s confirmation, by voting against the attack-dog resolution against MoveOn.org and by voting on the Iran resolution. (Yes, the last was controversial, but remember that she was the first senator to warn Pres. Bush against taking military action against Iran and that she partnered with Sen. Jim Webb’s resolution to require Congressional authorization before any military action against Iran.)
Sen. Obama failed to show up for the MoveOn or Iran votes, and in effect lied when he lamely told Wolf Blitzer that he didn’t know the Iran vote was coming up and didn’t have time to get back from campaigning in New Hampshire. (In fact, all senators were informed the day before that the Iran resolution vote was to come up the next day.)
The opening point is very good and echoes what I said over a year ago in my post Avatar Politics from May 2006 - that what is fueling much of the netroots energy is a search for politicians who will become avatars of people's emotional reactions and act out in ways that give the spectator personal emotional satisfaction. Obama is surfing the upside of this desire, to find some actor on whom we can project our fantasized best self, and has everything to lsose should people stop doing this. He knows he has nothing to new or distinctive to offer on issues.
The point here is that Obama's campaign is keeping the media narrative on trivialities beacuse every time a substantive issue comes up, like health care or immigration or the future of Iraq, he has nothing worthwhile to say, just weaker versions of what every other Democrat is presenting. As long as the story is Mr. Wonderful vs. The Wicked Witch, he's got an advantage. When he stands up next to her and is forced to address policy, he too often sounds like the slow kid in the class. Biden and Edwards are far better off-the-cuff speakers and HRC is second to none in the ability to make very clear points about complex topics. All Obama can do is yell over and over that HRC is going negative.
I don't want "Hope" - I want a seasoned pol with a proven track record of supporting progressive domestic policies and initiatives at every stage of her public life.
Monday, December 10, 2007
It kicks off with Tanta of Calculated Risk with her post Bailouts and Bailins. Here are two key graphs:
So to get back to the "bailout" question: at the simplest level, what's going on here is that loans that were "insured" (or credit-enhanced) by the private sector are being refinanced into loans that are insured or credit-enhanced by the public sector. Therefore the risk is moving off the private balance sheet and onto the public one. The rewards--such as they are these days--are still firmly in the private sector. In that sense, you could call this a bailout: it's moving the risk of default.So, what's the deal here? If there really isn't any bailout going on, either of homeowners or of security investors, why even bother? Is it just to look like the adminsitration is doing something? That's what I initially thought until I came across Elizabeth Warren's post on TPM Cafe, The Sandbag Plan. She gets into the law side of things, specifically, what modifications to the law this plan is intended to forestall:
On the other hand, it only works if investors are still willing to buy Ginnie Mae securities or municipal bonds. There has to be some capital supplied. The idea here is that nobody's stupid enough to buy high-risk mortgages right now without government guarantees. So far--and I do stress so far--not even FHA has been willing to go down the road of upside down loans to borrowers who can't qualify with income docs. That's why the whole Paulson Plan is about, in essence, what to do with those loans. So FHA is "taking out" some pretty weak loans, but it isn't taking the weakest ones. The weakest ones get "the freeze" or the foreclosure. That is why this Plan is usefully described as not a government bailout. If FHA or municipalities would take all the toxic waste, we wouldn't need this Plan; servicers would just be busy refinancing. The Plan exists because there is a big pile of loans that do not qualify for any of those refinancing opportunities.
Ah, now we begin to see where the plan swings into action. The appearance of doing something is very much the point, in order to prevent something far more dangerous to Republican interests from taking root - changing bankruptcy laws to help the individual citizen out of crushing debt.
So why trumpet a plan that doesn't do anything? CongressDaily (no link) found the answer: "'Totally will sandbag the bankruptcy stuff,' one lobbyist said of the White House announcement." That's what the plan is designed to accomplish--kill off the bankruptcy proposal to deal with home mortgages...
In a piece entitled, "Bankers Hope Bush Subprime Plan Will Scuttle House Bill," CongressDaily reports that "the mortgage industry hopes a White House plan designed to aid subprime borrowers at risk of losing their houses will help scuttle congressional efforts to refashion mortgages through the bankruptcy code. . . The announcement comes as Congress moves ahead with plans to make it easier for bankruptcy judges to refashion home mortgages that are on the verge of foreclosure -- legislation bitterly opposed by the housing industry. Bankers said they hope to use the White House approach as a prime example of why the bankruptcy legislation should not move forward, emphasizing that a voluntary effort can cover many of the estimated 2 million subprime loans that are scheduled to reset to higher rates over the next two years."
Bankers evidently dislike the bankruptcy proposals because they give borrowers some real power: they can write down the mortgage to the value of the property, and they can rewrite the mortgage into a fixed instrument. "Voluntary," according to the banks, is much better.
This point was taken up by Paul Krugman in this morning's NYT column, Henry Paulson's Priorities:
The plan is, as a Times editorial put it yesterday, “too little, too late and too voluntary.” But from the administration’s point of view these failings aren’t bugs, they’re features.
In fact, there’s a growing consensus among financial observers that the Paulson plan isn’t mainly intended to achieve real results. The point is, instead, to create the appearance of action, thereby undercutting political support for actual attempts to help families in trouble.
In particular, the Paulson plan is probably an attempt to take the wind out of Barney Frank’s sails. Mr. Frank, the Democratic chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, has sponsored legislation that would give judges in bankruptcy cases the ability to rewrite mortgage loan terms. But “Bankers Hope Bush Subprime Plan Will Scuttle House Bill,” as a headline in CongressDaily put it.
(Note - Krugman appears to have been alerted to the CongressDaily post by Prof. Warren.) . Krugman goes on to identify three very serious consequences to the mortgage meltdown: 1) Major financial instability as banks and investors are hit, 2) the human toll of millions of citizens losing homes and all of the economic and social upheaval that will cause, and 3) the issue of justice as the people hardest hit are those who were scammed in predatory lending schemes, which makes the previous two problems deeper and more tenacious because of the corrupting influence on finance, personal and institutional. Krugman casts a jaundiced eye at which of these problems is actually considered a "problem" by Paulson & BushCo:
So there are three problems. But Mr. Paulson’s plan — or, to use its official name, the Hope Now Alliance plan — is entirely focused on reducing investor losses. Any minor relief it might provide to troubled borrowers is clearly incidental. And it is does nothing for the victims of predatory lending...
But won’t the borrowers gain, too? Not if the planners can help it. Relief is restricted to borrowers whose mortgage debt is at least 97 percent of the house’s value — which means that in many, perhaps most, cases those who get debt relief will be borrowers who owe more than their house is worth. These people would be nearly as well off in financial terms if they simply walked away.
And what about people with good credit who were misled into bad mortgage deals, who should have been steered to loans with better terms? They get nothing: the Paulson plan specifically excludes borrowers with good credit scores. In fact, the plan actually provides an incentive for some people to miss debt payments, because that would make them look like bad credit risks and eligible for relief.
Sometimes, the venality of the current administraiton is hard for even me to grasp, but it is important to understand that the sole purpose of these goons is to make themselves as rich and powerful as humanly possible, and that immiserating others is a feaature, not a bug. Krugman's point about not pursuing or defending against predatory lending practices takes on a very bitter edge when you read this post of a set of emails from a San Diego foreclosure expert, Ramsey Su, posted with permission today by Rich Toscano of Professor Piggington's Econo-Almanac. Don't let the cutsey blog name fool you. Rich is a serious financial analyst and Mr. Su has a keen eye for the self serving nature of the mortgage industry.
In this post, The Big Mortgage Bailout - The Big Lie, Mr. Su goes in depth on the plan itself in the context of who worte it and what they were trying to do. To start with, this federal plan is not to be found on the US Treasury website. It is on the site of aprivate industry group, the American Securitization Forum. It is composed of companies like Countrywide, Washington Mutual, Deutsche Bank, and the other players deeply complicit in creating the mess in the fisrt place. Mr Su echoes what we first heard from Tanata:
After going into more detail about the plan itself, Su sets down two scenarios to show how the borrowers - and the taxpayers - are left holding the bag:
On page 1, the scope of the bail out is limited to:
• were originated between January 1, 2005 and July 31, 2007;
• are included in securitized pools; and
• have an initial interest rate reset between January 1, 2008 and July 31, 2010.
Any reasonable person may ask: if the plan is intended to help borrowers avoid foreclosure, why would a government plan be limited only to loans in securitized pools? ASF answered this question on page 5:
The modification maximizes the net present value of recoveries to the securitization trust and is in the best interests of investors in the aggregate,
because refinancing opportunities are likely not available and the borrower is able and willing to pay under the modified terms.
Now that I have laid out the background, the bailout plan is much easier to understand. Every word in the proposal is intended to maximize the net present value of recoveries, nothing else. If you are looking for the section as to how it will help borrowers, let me know when you find it because I sure can’t.
And now were are back to Tanta and the reason why the effort is to take the very worst loans and move them into FHA backed workouts. The taxpayers take on teh risk for the very liekly to fail workouts, the barely scraping by borrowers who are trying to be responsible are screwed over for a few more payment cycles until they, too, fall into the FHA whirlpool, the big lenders get first servings at the payout table, and true reform that migth actually help - Barney Frank's revision to bankruptcy law - is sandbagged for at least another year and the ability of the government to regulate greed hamstrung again.
This is a brilliant two part scheme. Here is how I believe the scheme is intended to work.
Scheme Part 1: Say the subject property was valued at $100,000 with an 80/20 financing package in place. Now the property is worth $90,000. Using only the 1st lien, the LTV is only 88.9% ($80,000/$90,000), far below the 97% LTV. The idea is to get these suckers (borrowers) to refinance into one of those FHASecure while the 2nd lien holder agrees to subordinate to a new 1st. The old securitized 1st is now home free with a FHA/government bailout while the 2nd, though still in an over-encumbered position, has just received a reprieve. How brilliant.
Scheme Part 2: If the property has dropped to approximately $83,000 or below, then Scheme part 1 is not feasible. So it is best to keep this borrower paying in a 120%+ CLTV property. As you can see, with the property value so low, they know with certainty that a default would be a total wipe of the 2nd and a severe loss to the 1st.
This two part scheme assures that there are no crumbs left on the table for the borrowers.
Sunday, December 09, 2007
As we’ve seen the home foreclosure crisis these past few years build, the ripples from Wall Street we know, can have a significant impact on families far away in Pahrump, Nevada, where I recently was and other places that might never give much of a thought to what goes on here, but whose daily lives will be impacted. As we’ve seen with the home foreclosure crisis, too many American families are not sharing in the growth that is created and driven from this city.
Now, productivity has risen 18 percent among American workers over the past six years, yet wages have stayed flat, and family incomes have fallen by nearly $1,000. There are five million more people in poverty here in our country than there were in 2000.
On top of stagnant wages, we’ve seen a rise in economic anxiety. Students struggling with the skyrocketing cost of college, families burdened by health care costs, premiums have doubled in the last six years, and we see the increasing role that energy prices play in people’s lives.
Gas prices have doubled in the past seven years. Home heating costs continue to rise. In fact, the typical family is paying $2,000 more for energy this year than in 2000. That’s like a $2,000 energy tax - more than 3 times what the typical family got under the Bush tax cuts.
We’ve seen people hit hard by a deepening housing crisis. Families who’ve worked hard, thought they were doing the right thing. Who’ve spent years scrimping and saving to buy a house, but their dream of homeownership has turned into a nightmare of escalating payments and threatening letters.
In short, we’ve seen too many middle class families struggling in an economy that is simply not working for them right now. An economy that, in recent months, has been the subject of increasingly worrisome headlines about weakening consumer confidence, about a declining dollar and ballooning national debt.
Now these economic problems are certainly not all Wall Street’s fault - not by a long shot. But the reality of our interconnected economy is that what happens on Wall Street impacts main streets across America. It happens sometimes within minutes, sometimes over the course of months or even years.
If we’re honest, we need to acknowledge that Wall Street has played a significant role in the current problems, and in particular in the housing crisis. A "see no evil" policy that financed irresponsible mortgage lending. A bond rating system riddled with conflicts of interest. A habit of issuing complex and opaque securities that even Wall Street itself doesn’t seem to understand.
I believe we need a new beginning in our economic policy - one that strengthens our middle class and ensures that prosperity is widely shared, and is based on an ethic of shared responsibility. A new beginning that makes Wall Street shoulder its responsibility for this crisis, and that gives homeowners the breathing room they need. One that makes the most well-off among us pay our fair share and gives the middle class the help it needs for education, health care, and retirement security.
Our economy has been at risk by investment schemes aimed at making not just a few, but many extra dollars, and we need to start insisting on the right rules and transparency so this doesn’t happen again.
So I’m here today to call on Wall Street to do its part - to help end the foreclosure crisis that is devastating middle class families and threatening the health of our economy.
Notice the theme - New Beginning. She hits solidly on the fact that real income is not rising, higher education is more difficult to get and that ordinary living exspenses (exemplified in fuel costs) are growing. She also smacks Wall Street for mismanaging the mortgage situation, whcih echoes Tanta's argument on Calculated Risk that the people with the greatest access to industry information have a greater level of responsibility in this mess than ordinary borrowers.
Health care, education and retirement security. Be well, give your kids a good start, grow old with dignity. Not bad. As I've argued before, no one wants to give hand outs to "the poor" because, in today's America, the poor are non-whites and illegal immigrants. The successful social programs in America are those that are for "the middle class". And we just make sure that the middle class is a damn large and inclusive niche. Make the other guys argue for exclusion rather than single out groups for help that they can demonize.
But what about efforts to deal with the fallout for sales that were anything but conventional? I think Tanta of Calculated Risk got it most right when she said that the recent plan put out by the Preznit is not primarily intended to help borrowers in any significant way. It's intended to help banks and investors not lose their shirts, though it's unclear whether it can or will do that.
To learn more than you ever thought you could know about mortgages (from start to unsavory finish), check out Tanta's The Compleat Ubernerd series of blog posts explaining in layman's terms how the business works. I don't have anything intelligent to add to her incredible write ups.
The doom-n-gloom housing bloggers go apoplectic at the thought that someone who took out a bad loan might not suffer devastating consequences of their ill-considered actions. Me, I'm not such a Calvinist. There appears to be a heck of a lot of variation from market to market on this thing. It is clearly not just "subprime" and there will need to be a number of approaches to lessen the impact. I think it is in the interests of the country to reduce the cumulative effect of hosuing devaluation and loan failures, though there is less reason to be generous as you get closer to individual borrowers, lenders and investors.
One thing that is emerging is the way in which unscrupulous lenders targeted the elderly and people in bad financial straits, particularly in the midwest, and scammed them into refinance deals that never could have worked. It seems to me that if there is fruad on the lender's side, the lender must be made to bear the consequences of the deal, not the scammed recipient.
There is also a type of deal where the buyer and/or seller were engaged in fraud, and used the house transaction as a way to extract cash and walk away with it, fully intending to let the mortgage go into foreclosure. In these cases, jail time, plus fines, seizure of the properties for auction, and refusal to give any aid to banks who dealt with the fraudulent hucksters. Why? Because a bank's business is to weed out fraud and risk in loans.
Then you have the flipper market where people bought a house, held it for a short period, then expected to flip the property for a profit. Well, sorry, that's a plain old fashioned business speculation deal that went south and you lost. You lose your collateral and the investors who bought the mortgage lose the investment.
But what about the buyers in high priced markets who borrowed more than they could afford to buy a house? That is the biggest group here in San Diego. They bought to hold, they want to stay, but they simply don't have the cash flow to cover the inflated price. A significant number of them purchased based on undocumented income, i.e., they didn't have the income they said they did. Had the lending industry held to normal standards, there would not have been such a run-up on prices because there would not have been loans available for those amounts. That really is the central problem. Lenders created the situation. When the SO and I went in to finance our loan, the mortagage broker flat out said he could lend us more if we didn't provide any documentation. We knew better than to sucker ourselves that way and did a full-doc loan. Lenders were actively pushing people to misrepresent income and claim it was legal. Hell, I leased a car yesterday and the dealership said (for the credit applicaition) "Just write something down (for income). It doesn't have to be true."
So, while borrowers should have a better sense of what to and not to borrow, they are getting no help to figure out what they should do and are being actively directed into unadvantageous loans. In this case, if the loans can be adjusted to be workable, they should be. If they aren't, the borrower should not be penalized as much as the lender (and lender to me is both the mortgage broker and the bank providing the money). The imbalance in knowledge and power in the transaction is too great to make the borrower be the only one left holding the bag.
I haven't really addressed the investors in this, except to say that the companies slicing, dicing and repackaging the loans sure as shit knew (or could reasonably have been expected to know) that the gravy train would stop at some point.
Prices have inflated too much and too fast in some markets (like San Diego) and I can appreciate the anger of some bloggers who feel they have been priced out of housing because they wouldn't take out NINJA or Liar loans. Well, I'm also sorry to say that being left out of a bubble is part of financial life, and you have no choice but to twiddle your thumbs and rent (the way we did) for years until stagnation of home prices gets passed by inflation and you'll have enough to buy.
Or you could vote Democrat (I said this wasn't a *pure* political post...) and demand that there be some controls put on run-away wealth, laissez faire economic malfeasance and living standards for ordinary Americans. A stable, moderately regulated economy will provide the greatest benefit to the greatest number, though it will tend to put a crimp in the styles of get-rich-quick schemers at all levels.
On Being PartisanWe need someone who is polarizing, frankly. Someone who will draw a line in the sand and and say "Choose." No more mealy mouthed bipartisanship or healing national wounds or anymore of that crap. I want a fighter and someone who will never, ever, trust a damn thing the right says.
The progressive agenda is clear and achievable, but it will face fierce opposition. The central fact of modern American political life is the control of the Republican Party by movement conservatives, whose vision of what America should be is completely antithetical to that of the progressive movement. Because of that control, the notion, beloved of political pundits, that we can make progress through bipartisan consensus is simply foolish. On health care reform, which is the first domestic priority for progressives, there's no way to achieve a bipartisan compromise between Republicans who want to strangle Medicare and Democrats who want guaranteed health insurance for all. When a health care reform plan is actually presented to Congress, the leaders of the movement conservatism will do what they did in 1993 - urge Republicans to oppose the plan in any form, lest successful health reform undermine the movement conservative agenda. And most Republicans wil probably go along.
To be a progressive, then, means being a partisan - at least for now. The only way a progressive agenda can be enacted is if Democrats have both the presidency and a large enough majority in Congress to overcome Republican opposition. And achieveing that kind of political preponderance will require ladaership that makes opponents of the progressive agenda pay a political price for their obstructionism - leadership that, like FDR, welcomes the hatred of the interest groups trying to prevent us from making our society better.
If the new progressive movement succeeds, the need for partisanship will eventually diminish. In the 1950s you could support Social Security and unions and yet still vote for Eisenhower in good conscience, because the Republican Party had eventually (and temporarily) accepted the New Deal's achievements. In the long run we can hope for a return to that kind of politics: two reasonable parties that accept all that is best in our country but compete over their ability to deliver a decent life to all Americans, and keep each other honest.
For now, being an active liberal nmeans being a progressive, and being progressive means being a partisan. But the end goal isn't one-party rule. It's the reestablishment of a truly vital, competitive democracy. Because, in the end, democracy is what being a liberal is all about.
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Paul Krugman was one of the few national voices of opposition to movement conservatism in the darkest times of the Bush triumphalism. Before there was Daily Kos or TPM, there was Paul Krugman, the "shrill". There is NO ONE on the left with creater credibility. That he is a world class economist puts icing on the cake.
He has just written a book on the foundations of liberal politics in America, The Conscience of a Liberal, in which he identifies Social Security as the foundation of the New Deal and universal health insurance as the necessary foundation for beating back the movement conservative tide. He knows this subject inside and out. He supports all Democratic candidates who will defend Social Security and push for universal health insurance. I think he favors Edwards a mite, but he's not come out in support of any specific candidate. He wants the program and doesn't care who gets it done.
He has been giving Barry Obama some public smacks lately because Obama is running to the right on these two issues. The most recent slap was for attacking HRC and (to a lesser degree) Edwards for having mandates in their health insurance plans. Barry the Not-So-Bold seems to think we don't need those nasty mandates because he doesn't have them, and so his opponents are wrong to offer something he isn't offering. Krugman tells him to knock it off and quit undermining the cause. Obama replies by smearing Pual Krugman!
Dude, like, WTF? Krugman responds with elan and facts:
I’ll just outsource this to Ezra Klein.
Update OK, a bit more.
Here’s what I said about the Obama plan when it first came out:
So there’s a lot to commend the Obama plan. In fact, it would have been considered daring if it had been announced last year.
Now for the bad news. Although Mr. Obama says he has a plan for universal health care, he actually doesn’t — a point Mr. Edwards made in last night’s debate. The Obama plan doesn’t mandate insurance for adults. So some people would take their chances — and then end up receiving treatment at other people’s expense when they ended up in emergency rooms. In that regard it’s actually weaker than the Schwarzenegger plan.
I asked David Cutler, a Harvard economist who helped put together the Obama plan, about this omission. His answer was that Mr. Obama is reluctant to impose a mandate that might not be enforceable, and that he hopes — based, to be fair, on some estimates by Mr. Cutler and others — that a combination of subsidies and outreach can get all but a tiny fraction of the population insured without a mandate. Call it the timidity of hope.
On the whole, the Obama plan is better than I feared but not as comprehensive as I would have liked. It doesn’t quell my worries that Mr. Obama’s dislike of “bitter and partisan” politics makes him too cautious. But at least he’s come out with a plan.
And I was prepared to leave it at that — Obama’s plan was weaker than his rivals’ because it wasn’t universal, but I hoped that he would fix that in practice.
But then Obama started attacking his rivals from the right, denouncing their proposals using exactly the same false claims that conservatives will use to try to derail reform in the future.
And now, having been caught out on the facts, the Obama people respond with a personal attack, lifting quotes out of context to pretend that I never had problems with the plan. Something is very wrong here.
This is unforgiveable. Obama has just shown that he will say anything, no matter how untrue, to try to badmouth his critics. What his campaign has done is on par with the smears launched from right-wing think tanks against Prof. Krugman during the heady days of the "Mission Accomplished" media war. Aside from Ezra Klein, the leftwing blogs are shockingly silent on this bullshit from Obama.
I never thought I'd say this, but someone has to. I will not vote for Barack Obama - ever. He has shown himself to be opportunistic, deceitful, illiberal, and shallow. When he has an opportunity to go on the record, he ducks it. Being a sexy black dude who gives good oratory is not enough.
You have to actually be a liberal.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
This starts on Monday, November 26. Read that week and the next and keep on until the story line is done.
Trudeau's cartoon arcs on Bush's War are better than his magnificent work during Vietnam and the downfall of Nixon. The feckless administration, led by C+ Augustus and his ever-more-battered centurion helmet. The new breed of war profiteers, exemplified by Earl. The toothless press with their mascot, Roland Headley. People like Joanie and Mike and Mark who wonder how the world they won back from Nixon has become even more nightmarish. The children trying to find a cause in a world with out foundations. And then there is BD. And Boopsie. And Ray. And Elias. And Melissa.
And now Toggle.
He quoted James Fallows from The Atlantic saying that the NIE report, which showed that Iran's nuclear weapons program basically stopped in 2003 invalidates Hillary Clinton's argument in the recent NPR Democratic debate that good foreign policy takes carrots and sticks, which is why she voted for Kyl-Lieberman stating that the Senate considered the Iranian National Guard a terrorist organization. [Anglachel aside - I agree with that, the ING *is* a terrorist organization.] Fallows argues that since Iran abandoned the program in 2003, Hillary is wrong to be rattling the saber now.
Kevin then reminded us:
Iran's about-face on its nuclear program may have had nothing to do with Kyl-Lieberman, but surely 2003 rings another bell in the carrots-and-sticks department? There may have been multiple reasons why Iran shut down its bomb program, but I think you'd have to do some pretty serious special pleading to argue that our invasion of Iraq wasn't one of them. And if that's the case, it's pretty good evidence that sticks have a place in foreign policy, just as Hillary says.
This isn't an argument that the Iraq war was a good idea. It's an argument that once Bush made the decision to go to war, it was foolish not to take advantage of one of the resulting upsides. Iran was pretty clearly spooked after we crushed Saddam with such stunning ease, and was pretty clearly ready to do a deal with us. But the Bush administration was so blinded by its own world historical importance, and so dominated by triumphant neocon ideologues, that it refused to see the deal that was in front of its own face.
Um, well, kinda. Hussein didn't allow the inspectors back in until after the AUMF (AUMF joint resolution on October 10, UN Resolution 1441 on November 8, weapons inspectors back in Iraq November 27, 2002). Iran had a double incentive to discontinue their program - Hussein's bluff was called and the US was sitting right on their border with an army itching for a fight. In addition, Khatami was in power and he was looking for a way to normalize relations and further undermine the mullahs. If a normal administration had been in charge at that time, it could have been a win-win-win situation - the Taliban ousted, Hussein's bluff called and him humiliated, and Iran willing to come to the table to talk seriously about ending their weapons program.
It was not until after Bush had declared he didn't care what the inspectors said that we heard from Richard Clarke, who let the public know that the tue goal of the Bush administration all along had been Iraq. And, by then, there was a war juggernaut in place and rolling.
So, before dismissing anyone who supported AUMF, it is crucial to remember the difference that Bush brought to the table - a willingness to lie and misrepresent to get the most slender thread on which to charge forward into war.
I think Kevin goes too far in saying that the actual invasion of Iraq was in any way counter-balanced by the the cessation of the Iranian weapons program. The actual invasion was so completely beyond the realm of justifiable behavior that any positive side effects are cancelled out by the butchery inflicted on Iraq. Also, we have to look at how much Iran benefitted from the invasion in ways that do not brign advantage to anyone else.
But what the NIE demonstrates without a doubt is that serious diplomacy and strategic use of threats do work.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Barack Obama is running to win the Democratic primaries. He is not running to be President. He is incoherent on policy, has only one vote of any significance where he varies from HRC (and even that is an assertion, not a vote), and is putting more energy into stage management than into demonstrating why he should be entrusted with the presidency. Most of all, he is basing his campaign on running against his own party. That may endear him to netroots bloviators like Markos, but it leaves long-time liberals like me cold.Since then, far more serious sets of shenanigans have come to light.
First, it appears it is very easy to caucus in Iowa. You don't have to belong to the party holding the caucus (Republicans can go to Democratic caucuses and vice-versa), you don't have to be a registered voter, you do not need to be 18 that day and, evidently, you do not even need to be a legal resident of Iowa:
all citizens can participate as long as they sign a voter registration card, attesting to residency in the precinct and show that they'll be 18 by the general election.So, what's the problem? Barry Obama's penchant for importing supporters from other states.
He's gone on a major offensive to get Illinois residents attending college in Iowa (college students being a key demographic for him) to attend caucuses and vote for him. This is raising hackles in Iowa among some people because these students may in fact be registered to vote in Illinois and many will not be resident in Iowa after the current academic term. It is not very classy, but the students are currently in residence, and its possible they may vote in Iowa in the general. So, aggravating, but within bounds.
The newest rumors coming out, however, are that he is encouraging Illinois residents who do not and have no intention of living in Iowa to cross state lines the evening of the caucus and pretend to be living there (or attaching themselves to family who live there, such as a grandparent or a cousin) simply to cast a caucus vote. He is hitting up late teens (17 and 18 year olds) in particular, probably because they are dazzled by him, don't have much judgment and will go along with the trick.
Dumb, Barry. Really dumb.
According to the USA Today article I linked to (you can also look at this NPR article which says pretty much the same thing), it is evidently even easier to pack the polls in New Hampshire than in Iowa. Whoda thunk it? There also is commentary about the Republicans complaining about the lax standard for allowing participation and the likelihood of voter fraud.
This year, New Hampshire Democrats pushed through a change that some Republicans contend would enable campaigns to bus in people who could cast a ballot and then vote again in their real home states. "You can vote in New Hampshire without being a resident," said Republican state Sen. Bob Clegg. "You can vote in the primary because you someday may want to live here."And therein lies the rub.
The real issue is not that Obama will flood Iowa with pimply teens to overwhelm the choices of the good matrons of Pisgah. It can probably only work in those precincts that already safely support him, and that doesn't gain him any advantage. The issue is the incredibly ham-fisted and crude way in which the Obama campaign is trying to manipulate the vote by packing the caucuses the same way he has been packing audiences, and how the Republicans will make use of it when playing the race and illegal cards next November. This is a pattern of bad judgment.
Think like Karl Rove for a minute. (But don't forget to scrub your brain with bleach afterwards.) Vote fraud is one of their perennial hits with the public. In the South, it is a code for keep the blacks from voting. In the Sunbelt, it is a code for keep the hispanics from voting. I live in San Diego and our candidate, Francine Busby, lost her race and probably any hope of electoral office in any capacity by accidently telling a (legal) immigrant that he didn't have to be a citizen to "participate". She corrected herself on the spot, saying she meant he could work for a campaign, but it was still used by Brian Bilbray to say she had told illegals to vote.
It is a virulent and effective meme, and something the Bush Justice Department's Voting division has turned into an article of faith, that Democrats are purposefully allowing illegal aliens, convicted felons and other invalid people to vote. They have used this BS argument to justify purging voter rolls of eligible voters. It is part of their larger effort to disenfranchise the Democratis base as such.
So in stomps Barry Obama, loudly trumpeting how he is going to pack the Iowa caucuses with people from Illinois just like he has packed various dinners and forums and appearances with his bused in Illinois believers. As an added bonus, we have the specter of a black man busing his supporters into "white" areas to overwhelm the "real" citizens. Um, I don't think that is going to win over a lot of wavering Republicans, to be honest. I don't care if the perception is racist, retograde and just plain fucked up - it is how the Republicans will dog-whistle it.
What is the one issue every blogger of note has said is dangerous for Democrats? Illegal immigration, which is the main way Republicans are trying to expand their racist appeals (see everything Paul Krugman has written on the southern shift in voting, and my recent post Masked Racism), is going to be a field of IEDs for whomever wins the Democratic nomination. Obama has shot his mouth off about illegal immigrants and drivers licenses and is now showing his approval for voting hanky-panky in the pursuit of electoral success.
On one level, it is a self-defeating act, because he doesn't really have that much support and faking out votes in thte primary covers up weakness for the general. But on another, more improtant level, he has just handed his ass - and that of every other Democratic candidate - to the Republicans on the voting fraud issue. The story in the general is how the Democrats were manipulating the votes in the primaries and that they are going to pack the polls with illegal immigrant voters in November.
So, Barry Obama is joyfully embracing questionable voting practices and setting up the eventual Democratic nominee for a beating by the race-baiting Rovians.