Bad Theater, pt 3

You know what we haven't talked about enough? Race in America. Well, we've been busy what with 9/11, the Iraq War, the destruction of the international finance system, and the paternity of Sarah Palin's baby. Really, it was hard enough surviving the "shredding of the Constitution" during the "worst presidency ever." Who had time to discuss race? Anyway, I seem to recall hearing something about race during the first OJ trial. 

Luckily for us playright Tracey Scott Wilson wants to challenge us and get the conversation going again with "The Good Negro."
The play, which begins previews on Tuesday at the Public Theater, imagines a troubled moment in the American civil rights movement, when an act of intolerance leads to riots and hate crimes in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963. Three black leaders try to rally their community, but their efforts are hampered not only by the K.K.K. and the F.B.I., but also by their own classism, infighting and vice.
It's just incredible how modern artists always manage to reduce every historic event - even the Civil Rights Movement! - to the trio of "classism, infighting, and vice." 
By staging laudable characters’ indiscretions, the play confronts what Liesl Tommy, the production’s director, calls “the idea of the good Negro,” which has become especially relevant with Barack Obama’s presidency. “It’s that old standard that in order to be worth something in this country, you can’t be ‘as good.’ You have to be better."

Yet Ms. Wilson’s past and sense of obligation almost kept her from addressing the complexity of civil rights leaders.

“I grew up as a preacher’s kid,” she said, “and King was idolized. Idolized. And I was always told as a child that you don’t air your dirty laundry. It was ‘Don’t throw it out there, because white people already think the worst of us.’”

Good advice that. Why bother having heroes at all? And, just so you know, the fact that there is a black American president, and American culture has developed to the point where a black woman can get a play produced in NYC with glowing support from the NY Times, does NOT mean that we must stop picking at the scab of racism. 

“We had some people who had been interested in the play say that it wasn’t relevant anymore because Obama was doing well,” Ms. Wilson said.

At that, Ms. Tommy chuckled, threw up her hands and said: “We were like: ‘What? Because Obama’s doing well, there’s no more racism?’ ”

Leaning forward, Ms. Wilson began, “The idea of ‘postracial’ to me is —— ”

“—— a fantasy," Ms. Tommy interjected.

Ms. Wilson added: “An insane fantasy. Like a ‘Star Wars’ fantasy. Racism is not going to end just because we have a black president. Real equality will come when black people can mess up just like white people and still succeed, and when a flaw in a black leader is not looked at as a flaw in the black race."

No one expects racism to "end" because of Barack Obama. But, some of us imagined that the endless b****ing about racism might have been rendered mute for at least a little while. Sounds like we need to be prepared for another few decades' worth of griping. 

Living Well The Chicago Way

Christopher Janus has died. 

A glad-handing force of nature to some and a press-savvy con artist to others, Christopher Janus cut a legendary swath through Chicago's art and business communities.
He had lots of $$, but no one quite knew where it came from 

A big-picture guy in culture as in business, he led delegations of noteworthy Chicagoans to Athens for democracy conferences, to Persepolis in 1971 for the 2,500th anniversary of Iran's monarchy and to China shortly after it reopened to the West. Yet many detected something not quite straight about the Bache & Co. broker.

"We never knew what kind of stockbroker he was -- maybe he never actually was one. That would figure, too," says Universal Press Syndicate columnist Georgie Anne Geyer, a longtime friend. "I have myself always mistrusted people who don't have a touch of larceny."

I love how would-be hard bitten journalists always manage to forgive certain types of larceny if it benefits them. Still, he knew how to enjoy himself
In his perhaps most famous exploit, he undertook a globe-trotting detective mission to discover the whereabouts of Peking Man, fossils of primitive man discovered in China in the 1920s and 1930s. The fossils disappeared in mysterious circumstances during World War II, and Mr. Janus seemed hot on the trail. That was shortly before he was convicted of fraud for the loans he took out to finance the venture. The fossils remain at large.
Of course, they do.

Should We Bother Being Outraged Anymore?

As much as $25 billion in preferred shares held by the U.S. government will be converted into common shares as Citigroup struggles to stabilize itself following more than $37 billion in net losses during the past five quarters.

Depending on how many current holders of Citigroup preferred stock agree to a similar move, the company's tangible common equity could surge to $81.1 billion from $29.7 billion at Dec. 31. That would reverse the recent slide in tangible common equity -- a gauge of what shareholders would have left if the company were liquidated -- that fueled a downward spiral in Citigroup shares.

The conversion leaves taxpayers exposed to the risk of greater losses. The government's preferred holdings had stood ahead of common stock in Citigroup's capital structure, meaning they were less likely to lose value if the company's woes continue to mount. In addition, by converting much of the U.S. stake to common shares, Citigroup won't have to pay the hefty dividend payouts that were attached to the preferred stock.

As George Washington points out, Citi has not just been nationalized. Its ownership is such that it has been internationalized. 

The U.S. now owns about 36% of Citigroup.

The Government of Singapore owns around 11%.

The Kuwaiti government owns about 6%.

And a Saudi prince owns about 5%.royal

That totals some 58% owned by governments and foreign ty.

At the very least, you would think "we" could use "our" ownership of Citi to force some changes at the top, but Sec. Geithner has decided that CEO Pandit is a man "we" can do business with. 

Well, then how about replacing the Board of Directors that governed Citi into its current mess? Apparently, the move to revamp - not replace - the Board "faces hurdles" Doesn't it always.

Cloak and Dagger

Marty Peretz is in high dudgeon over the appointment of Chas Freeman (which I discussed a couple days ago), calling Freeman a bigoted and out of touch advocate of for dictators and anti-Israelis. Peretz's dudgeon is much higher than mine, inasmuchas Peretz noisily supported Obama because he believed Obama's assurances RE: Israel.

Freeman's real offense (and the president's if he were to appoint him) is that he has questioned the loyalty and patriotism of not only Zionists and other friends of Israel, the great swath of American Jews and their Christian countrymen, who believed that the protection of Zion is at the core of our religious and secular history, from the Pilgrim fathers through Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy. And how has he offended this tradition? By publishing and peddling the unabridged John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, with panegyric and hysteria. If Freeman believes that this book is the truth he can't be trusted by anyone, least of all Barack Obama. I can't believe that Obama wants to appoint someone who is quintessentially an insult to the patriotism of some many of his supporters, me included.
Ah, innocence! Peretz is not just a liberal; he is a man of the Left. But, he is so far inside that he doesn't realize how much has changed since the Sixties. 

Peretz thinks liberals and progressives are instinctively pro-Israel. That was true once, but no longer. Spend a few years in San Francisco, and you will learn where the sympathies of the real progressives and liberals lie. And it ain't on the side of Israel. Just as an example, here is a report from Gaza that Medea Benjamin filed last week whererin she excoriates Israel for its recent attacks in Gaza. You might think it's easy to dismiss Benjamin as "one of those Code Pink whackos." Actually, she is a wealthy woman, welcomed at the highest reaches of SF society. If that's not enough, go to any anti-war demonstration in SF. There is always a sizable contingent of anti-Israel activists. They also fill lecture halls to hear professionals like Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein denounce Israel in the high flown language of the public intellectual. 

For people like Peretz, Israel is often a First Principle upon which the rest of their philosophy rests. And this is as it should be. Israel is an ally. It is the one nation in its neighborhood where Americans are welcomed with open arms. Indeed, there are a lot of Americans who spend many years living and working there. But, Peretz's "side" no longer supports Israel and in fact views her as an enemy. Forget Obama, look at how two of the progressive's institutions - the universities and the media - treat Israel. The emphasis is always on "apartheid," "jack booted" images and the like. 

Meanwhile, the recently departed "worst president ever," GW Bush was probably the greatest friend is Israel out of any US presidents. It is conservatives, especially those from the despised Religious Right, who have given Israel their full intellectual, moral, and financial support. 

Peretz says Freeman is "a new psychological type for a Democratic administration." I have no idea what this means. If the "type" is that of a WASP-y diplomat who managed to find common cause with America's enemies even as he occupied ever higher positions of power in the executive branch, then ... does the name Alger Hiss ring a bell? 

If It's A Victory, Call It A Victory

NYTimes thinks it's significant that John McCain supports President Obama's plan to wind down (but not eliminate) the US troop presence in Iraq. 

 President Obama heads to one of the nation’s most storied military bases Friday morning to unveil plans to pull most troops out of Iraq by August 2010 and he has support from an unlikely quarter — Senator John McCain, the Republican he beat in last year’s election.
That's because we won the war, goofball. 
Mr. McCain and other Republicans emerged from a meeting with Mr. Obama at the White House on Thursday evening reassured that the president’s withdrawal plan is responsible and reasonable. After securing assurances from Mr. Obama that he would reconsider his plans if violence increases, Mr. McCain and the Republicans expressed cautious support.
Obama is lucky George Bush took care of business in Iraq (if not on Wall Street). That he and his supporters can't admit this is pretty galling. 

It's A Budget Blueprint! Quickly! We Must Tell The People!

I can understand the NY Times being excited about President Obama's "budget plan," but really I don't think it deserves this:


Look! It's got a beautiful blue cover!

That's the sort of headline you expect when we win a war, or some hostages are released. This is nothing more than a 136-page proposal. 

I remember similar excitement about the Iraq Study Group. You know, the doc that everyone in the media-DC axis declared to be the "way forward," but which proved to be one of those things where you succeed by doing the exact opposite of everything it says. 

Stark Raving Green

I think Greens are starting to go a bit mad as they ponder the possibility that there is a US president who may entertain all of their darkest prophesies and buy into their maddest solutions. This lady takes the (yellow) cake: Yellow Is the New Green

In the industrialized world, most of us (except those who have septic tanks) rely on wastewater-treatment plants to remove our excrement from the drinking-water supply, in great volumes. (Toilets can use up to 30 percent of a household’s water supply.) This paradigm is rarely questioned, and I understand why: flush toilets, sewers and wastewater-treatment plants do a fine job of separating us from our potentially toxic waste, and eliminating cholera and other waterborne diseases. Without them, cities wouldn’t work.

But the paradigm is flawed (isn't it always?-Psota). For a start, cleaning sewage guzzles energy. Sewage treatment in Britain uses a quarter of the energy generated by the country’s largest coal-fired power station.

Luckily there's a "quick, elegant" solution. Lucky us!
IN the far reaches of Shaanxi Province in northern China, in an apple-producing village named Ganquanfang, I recently visited a house belonging to two cheery primary-school teachers, Zhang Min Shu and his wife, Wu Zhaoxian. Their house wasn’t exceptional — a spacious yard, several rooms — except for the bathroom. There, up a few steps on a tiled platform, sat a toilet unlike any I’d seen. Its pan was divided in two: solid waste went in the back, and the front compartment collected urine. The liquids and solids can, after a decent period of storage and composting, be applied to the fields as pathogen-free, expense-free fertilizer.
Yes, she wants us to store and recycle our urine. Please, God, can we have President Reagan back? Just for five minutes?

Good on Ya, Ticker Guy

Some of the best reporting and analysis about the credit crunch and stock market crash has been produced by Karl Denninger. Denninger is NOT a financial reporter. He is a businessman and investor who made his pile in the Nineties. Sometime in 2007, he began writing about bank exposure to subprime loans, and hasn't stopped. His tone can sometimes be heated and, back in October, it grew quite apocalyptic. Still, he is one of the few people following these events who has been able to understand what is happening and why the efforts of our government have been useless to stop the crisis.  

Denninger has now been awarded Accuracy In Media's Reed Irvine Award for Grassroots Journalism. His remarks at the awards dinner are worth reading and pondering

Private capital has fled our nation’s markets not only because of loss, but because of fraud, corruption and the willful blindness of our legislators and regulators.  That capital, contrary to popular understanding, forms the foundation of our credit markets; fully 2/3rds of all lent and invested capital does not come from banks, but rather from private investors and sovereign funds.  Our stock market has collapsed not because of economic recession but because that capital has retreated overseas or into the mattress where it cannot be stolen by those on Wall Street through their willing and complicit enablers in Washington DC.

Without that capital available to fund our economy, which government is incapable of replacing, we will experience a depression greater than the 1930s.

He has pointed words for those claiming the mantle of conservatism: 

Does not conservatism rest on the principle of the rule of law rather than the rule of man?  Do conservatives not argue daily for truth, justice, hard work and, as Ronald Reagan said, “rugged individualism”?  Is not the conservative movement supposed to be about full transparency in both government and finance, not layer upon layer of intentional obfuscation, deception and lies?

How did half of our nation’s population – the half that defines itself as conservative or moderate with conservative leanings – come to believe that it was ok to lie on a mortgage application?  To put together thousands of loans into securities that were so complex that the printed documentation spanned thousands of pages?  To sell a mortgage to a consumer knowing full well they could not pay.  To sell a security out the front door to a customer, while shorting it in the next room?

Good questions all. 

If You Can't Make It Here, You Can't Make It Anywhere

Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

Is this a joke?

Several hundred people packed a school auditorium in San Francisco's
Mission District on Wednesday evening to decry the city's treatment of
immigrants, making their case in front of a panel of city officials that
included representatives from the Police Department, mayor's office, school
board and Board of Supervisors.

That's right SAN FRANCISCO is bring accused of being "too tuff" on immigrants.

The mostly Latino crowd spoke out against the city's new policy of
automatically reporting undocumented juveniles arrested for a felony to federal
immigration authorities.

That's because we need them here to commit the crimes that Americans won't commit.

Guadalupe Carreno, a 15-year-old sophomore at June Jordan School for Equity,
said her family has been in limbo since January when her father was deported
after a raid at their Bayview district home. Now, Guadalupe and her two brothers
- ages 14 and 20 months - are waiting to see whether their mother also will be
forced to leave. The children are all U.S. citizens who have only visited Mexico
once or twice, but their parents came to the country illegally 20 years ago.
Guadalupe, an A student who has epilepsy, said she is worried about both her
education and her health if the family is forced to move back to Mexico
Honey, you can stay, but your parents are another story. By the way, it would be nice to know the purpose of the "raid" on your house. Without that fact, I feel like you're not telling the whole story. Really, though, you should be aware that your plight is little more than an excuse for US politicos to do a little righteous grandstanding.

The meeting, organized by the S.F. Immigrants Rights Defense Committee - a
coalition of more than 30 immigrants rights organizations, labor groups, faith
organizations and other activists - came two weeks after Supervisor David Campos
held a similar hearing at City Hall that focused on racial profiling. Campos and
three other freshman supervisors - President David Chiu, John Avalos and Eric
Mar - were in attendance. All four come from immigrant families.

The supervisors, as well as Phil Ting, the city's assessor-recorder, denounced
immigration raids and pledged to work on local and national reform to
immigration polices. Chiu called the raids "illegal and unconstitutional."

Could I have a cite for that, David? I can wait. I have allllll day, if you need extra time.

Rx for Rx

California is grappling with skyrocketing health care benefits to state retirees. You may have heard something about this.

State employees who have worked 20 years or longer now receive fully paid
premiums for their health care when they retire, while 90 percent of their
spouses' and dependents' premiums are paid by the state.

Employees working 10 years receive half that benefit, said Clark
McKinley, a spokesman for the California Public Employees' Retirement System.
The state Legislature is not considering changing those benefits

Yeah, God forbid these guys would pay for their spouses and kids' healthcare like a normal person. Or their own, for that matter.

The State Controller's "plan" does not inspire confidence.

Controller John Chiang wants the state to nearly double what it spends on
the benefits - to $2.7 billion a year - and invest that money. Earnings would
pay some of the future health costs and save the state $17 billion in the next
28 years, the report said.

Boy, I hope Chiang knows of some surefire "investments" where we can stick these billions.

The Hustle Is On

This is astounding if true. The Log Cabin Republicans have been credibly accused of being little more than a front group for Democratic activists

The amount of money that the Gill Action Fund has contributed to the Log
Cabin Republicans — about one-third of its total budget in some years — is
raising questions about Democratic influence over the GOP organization and its
search for a new president.

Tim Gill, founder and chair of Gill Action, is widely known for funding the campaigns of pro-gay politicians, many of them Democrats. He’s a wealthy entrepreneur and founder of Quark who has donated tens of thousands of dollars to various Democratic causes and candidates, including to the campaigns of Sens. John Kerry, John Edwards and Chris Dodd, as well as New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. Gill is viewed as publicity shy, but made a rare public appearance at last year’s Democratic National Convention in Denver where he lives.

Sources familiar with Log Cabin, who spoke to the Blade on the
condition of anonymity, said Gill Action’s contributions last year comprised
$250,000 of Log Cabin’s $750,000 budget. The sources said in 2007, Gill Action’s
donations constituted a similar percentage of Log Cabin’s budget.

I don't think "dirty tricks" quite does it. This is the tale of an organization with staffers, offices, a sophisticated media operation, and a wealthy donor. They also seemed to have instant media access whenever they made their frequent attacks on GOP candidates like Mitt Romney. (They also took their name from the defamatory rumor that Abraham LIncoln was gay, which perhaps should have been an indication that these guys were not entirely trustworthy). This is really a political fraud enabled by the media.

It's a free country, and "Gill" can do whatever he wants with his $$. But, it seems odd that a Democratic activist would innocently donate his $$ to an ostensibly Republican group. This warrants more attention.

All Apologies

Gabriel Schoenfeld takes to the pages of the W$J to fulminate against Barack Obama's Pick to Head the National Intelligence Council, Charles 'Chas' Freeman Jr. He would be the guy ultimately responsible for the National Intelligence Estimate. Some of the quotable quotes Schoenfeld picks out are unbelievable.

First, Freeman was the president of the Middle East Policy Council, which received the funds for its endowment from the Saudi King Abddullah with predictable results:
Mr. Freeman believes, as he said in a 2007 address to the Washington Institute of Foreign Affairs, that "Israel no longer even pretends to seek peace with the Palestinians; it strives instead to pacify them."
He also published the "unabridged" version of Mearsheimer and Walt's "Israel Lobby"
"No one else in the United States has dared to publish this article, given the political penalties that the Lobby imposes on those who criticize it."
That's right! Look out for The Lobby! It might lobby you!

And, of course,
The primary reason America confronts a terrorism problem today, he continued, is "the brutal oppression of the Palestinians by an Israeli occupation that is about to mark its fortieth anniversary and shows no sign of ending."
Which explains why there were so many Palestinians in on the 9/11 plot. But, Freeman's real talent is as an apologist for the Chinese Communist Party:
The specter of a Chinese threat, he remarked during a China forum at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in October 2006, is nothing more than "a great fund-raiser for the hyper-expensive advanced weaponry our military-industrial complex prefers to make and our armed forces love to employ.
Oooooo. It's that darn military-industrial complex. So much better if we could leave the nation's defense to the diplomacy-intelligence service complex.

I really hope Schoenfeld is simply wrong about this next one:
"The truly unforgivable mistake of the Chinese authorities," he wrote there in 2006, "was the failure to intervene on a timely basis to nip the demonstrations in the bud." Moreover, "the Politburo's response to the mob scene at 'Tiananmen' stands as a monument to overly cautious behavior on the part of the leadership, not as an example of rash action." Indeed, continued Mr. Freeman, "I do not believe it is acceptable for any country to allow the heart of its national capital to be occupied by dissidents intent on disrupting the normal functions of government, however appealing to foreigners their propaganda may be."
Are you kidding me?

This is the Owen Lattimore/Ramsey Clark view of the world. It goes against the instinctive foreign policy views of most Americans who (1) support Israel and (2) are repulsed by the Chinese state.

Leftists are often accused of being little more than naive pacificts. Untrue! They have very well developed views as to who our allies should or should not be. These views are sinister and unsavory to be sure, but it's important to have views to go along with their goals and opinions! Freeman, at least, is candid about his views, even if many of his colleagues are studiously circumspect in stating theirs.

Chronicle In Trouble

My local paper is in financial trouble and its owner Hearst Corp. wants 'significant' cuts

The Hearst Corp. on Tuesday announced an effort to reverse the deepening operating losses of its San Francisco Chronicle by seeking near-term cost savings that would include "significant" cuts to both union and nonunion staff.
In a statement, Hearst said that if the savings cannot be accomplished "quickly," the company will seek a buyer, and if none comes forward, it will close The Chronicle. The Chronicle lost more than $50 million in 2008 and is on a pace to lose more than that this year, Hearst said.
I know that I will lose my anti-liberal bias credibility if I say this, but...I like the Chronicle and would be sorry to see it go. It does a pretty good job covering state and local news. The Bay Area always has a couple spectacular murder cases going at any one time, and the Chron does a great job covering the legal and law enforcement issues arising from these. Its sports and arts coverage is usually very good, although music coverage is spotty, which is not good for a town with dozens of major acts coming through every week. And, the business section is excellent. Their coverage of local tech issues is especially good ... for a daily newspaper. Its website SFGATE is a great resource and one of the best newspaper sites in the country.

Of course, the Chron is hopelessly progressive in the worst "close Gitmo," "Bush Lied," "Republicans are evil" way. Their editorials are so predictable as to be little more than pro forma. It gives Robert Scheer column space, another disgrace. But, I don't read their editorials, or Scheer, so that's a wash.

A worse problem: they give waaaaay to much space and coverage to two progressive "issues:" the environment (especially open space and clean air) and gay rights (especially gay marriage). There were times in 2004 when it seemed like they had a front-page story on every gay marriage related court filing, along with the inevitable grim-faced press conference by various LBGT activists. It's not so much the coverage I object to, it's the uncritical nature of it. I am sure that the Chron would say that "our readers are interested in these issues," which is true, I'm sure, but there are plenty of readers who could really care less.

Their coverage of the recent budget fiasco was also weak. The Chron's approach to covering politics is to emphasize the "horserace" aspect, whether its the latest poll or the governator's efforts to find the "last Republican vote." Their coverage of substantive policy is spotty at best, unless there is a scandal or some other breakdown. This is undoubtedly because covering such matters would inevitably shine an unflattering light on their preferre policy choices, such as when an illegal alien who was a ward of SF's "sanctuary city" policy killed a local butcher and his teenaged sons.

Given the savings the Chron is trying to achieve, it's inevitable that further jobs will be cut, although the total staff is just a little north of 1500. This guy from the local teamsters is simply whistling past the graveyard:
Rome Aloise, secretary-treasurer at the Teamsters, added, "It remains to be seen what they think is needed. I'm a bit skeptical that any further cuts on the wage side and the staffing side will make up the difference that's needed when revenues are nonexistent. The problems are on the revenue side. The solution is not necessarily on the worker side. I'm hopeful they have some ideas, but I'm not optimistic."
Rome, ifee theree be no revenuee, then theree be no jobsee.

There was a strike about 10 years ago, back when the Chronicle and the Examiner operated under a joint operating agreement, and there were hundreds of union jobs at stake. The highly educated, middle class progressives on the staff had a ball playing at Harry Bridges for several weeks. They even published a wildcat edition of their newspaper, which even got delivered to my house a couple times (can't say the same for the "real" Chron). Now, however, there's not enough staff to mount a decent sit-in, let alone a major strike.

Spot The Scandal

Instapundit is highlighting this story about Christopher Dodd and his cosy Irish cottage. The "cottage" is actually quite sizable and is located in a fashionable weekend retreat area in the Irish countryside. Reynolds points to this passage:

Check out the picture of Dodd's "cottage" (provided to me by Rennie), where he spends summers and which is looked after during the rest of the year by a caretaker. It's not exactly the humble tumbledown abode with a leaky thatched roof, a fireplace with peat thrown on it and donkey tethered outside that the Senator might like you to envisage.

The nearby village of Roundstone is a celebrity hangout. When he's there, the Sunday Times reported in 2007, he's likely to "rub shoulders with [RTE's] Pat Kenny, Bill Whelan of Riverdance, Lochlann Quinn, the former AIB chairman, and the singer Brian Kennedy".

Given the Irish property boom, a conservative estimate would be that the house would be worth approaching $1 million, and very possibly much more than that.

But that is not the most scandalous aspect of the "cottage." If you click through and read the article at the link, you will learn this:

Dodd became part owner of the 10-acre Galway property in 1994 along with Missouri businessman William Kessinger, whom Dodd knew through investor Edward R. Downe Jnr, who had pleaded guilty the previous year to insider trading charges. The mortgage was listed as "between $100,001 and $250,000". Downe was a witness to Kessinger's purchase.

In 2001, Dodd circumvented the US Justice Department to help get his pal Downe a full pardon on President Bill Clinton's last day in office. The following year, Dodd bought off Kessinger's two-thirds share of the "cottage" for, Dodd said, $127,000.

Ever since then, Dodd has continued to list the value of the property as "between $100,001 and $250,000".

So what we have here is a combination of the Clinton pardons, tax violations, and yet another example of the beyond-cozy relationship between Dodd and the bankers he claims to regulate, and pompously excoriates in public.  And he has his BS "Irish cottage" so he can showily brag about his Irish roots. 

I should also add that this story was researched and "broken" by a Connecticut blogger. The story from which the above is drawn appeared in a British newspaper. But, the big league American press that worked itself into a frenzy over Sarah Palin's wardrobe is MIA on this.  

Dodd is like many leading Dems - like, say, John Kerry, Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, John Edwards, and 1000 others. A lot of Dem politicians have used their connections and accountants to come up with these sorts of cute tax dodges. A lot of Dems have made a lot of $$ over the years working at such quasi-public institutions like FINRA, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Sallie Mae, and the like. I'm sure they tell themselves that they are "doing good" unlike those greedy Republicans. In reality, they make an ostentatious show of progressivism and concern for the "workin' man" even as they use their political connections to make a quick buck. 

How long can this charade last?

UPDATE: This is too good to be true. Disgraced banker R. Allen Stanford Had Links to a Fund Run by Bidens:
A fund of hedge funds run by two members of Vice President Joe Biden's family was marketed exclusively by companies controlled by Texas financier R. Allen Stanford, who is facing Securities and Exchange Commission accusations of engaging in an $8 billion fraud.

The specific Bidens - Joe's brother James and Joe's son Hunter - deny even knowing this Standford fellow. "period, full stop" in the drama queen formulation of their spokesman. Uh huh. 

I Do Not Sniff The Coke

Tom Ammiano is beginning his term in the Assembly by proposing Assembly Bill 390, which seeks to legalize the growing and selling of marijuana. Mostly, this looks like a typical stunt by an SF pol trying to make a splash. There's a lot of natural resistance to pot legalization that you can expect from not just the GOP and law enforcement, but also some of the more temperate Dems. The only people who have shown any enthusiasm for legalization are Libertarians, progressives, and potheads in general; not exactly the Best and the Brightest. I have to wonder how hard Ammiano is going to push this.

Still, I think legalization is something that should be discussed seriously. Casual marijuana use in CA has effectively been decriminalized by state authorities (can't say the same for the Feds, who do most of the enforcement). Californians have supported medical marijuana initiatives not once, but twice, and by wide margins. And, there are a LOT of pot smokers out here; more than just potheads and deadheads loitering on Haight Street. You can find pot smoked at all levels of society, from the top to the bottom. It is so pervasive that you really can't call this law breaking; it's civil disobedience. 

The counter is that marijuana is a "gateway drug." Honestly, I don't believe this, but that's based solely on my observations in the field (strictly for research purposes, I assure you!), and anecdotal reports from satisfied users. And then there's this:

"The last thing our society needs is yet more legal intoxicants," said John Lovell, who represents the California Peace Officers' Association, California Police Chiefs Association and California Narcotic Officers' Association. "We've got enough social problems now when people aren't in charge of all five of their senses."
Those are the words of a man who has peeled a few faces up off the pavement. And, I think he captures my primary objection to legalization. We have spent the last 40+ years educating people about the dangers of smoking, and 25+ years warning about the dangers of drunk driving. Now, Ammiano proposes to legalize a substance that combines the intoxicating effects of alcohol with the potential health risks posed by smoking. 

(I know. I know. Pot proponents are always going on about how healthy their chosen libation is. Give me a break. Light use is perfectly safe, I'm sure, but I've lived in SF long enough to see how debilitating heavy pot use can be over the long term. It really does make you stupid and it really does hurt your lungs.)

To persuade folks like me, Ammiano says, "Think of all the $$ the state will make, both in job creation and taxes!" I hate it when progressives turn on their "green eyeshade" act. But, if there's one thing we've learned from economics, it's that artificially suppressing a desired commodity will not eradicate that commodity. It will, instead, distort the market for that commodity. And the marijuana market in CA is certainly the worst of all worlds. Right now, billions are being spent growing it, buying it, and prosecuting its possession and sale. The only people making $$ are unsavory criminals, hypocritical "medical marijuana dispensaries," and those guys who sell bongs strictly for "decorative" purposes. 

The state of affairs in the so-called Golden Triangle (Humboldt County and environs) is especially scandalous. Marijuana has become THE cash crop up there, at least in part because CA's environmental laws and buiness regulations have made "normal" farming and logging, which is what they used to in the Golden Triangle, prohibitively expensive if not effectively illegal. That's simply ridiculous. (then again, it might also mean that, were pot to be legalized, it would also become impossible to grow legally in CA. Oh, the irony!)

Anyway, I'm somewhat torn, but not really. The prohibition as represented by the War on Drugs has failed to eradicate the use of marijuana. Perversely, its use has only increased. I normally dismiss the efforts of the likes of Tom Ammiano out of hand, but I think his proposal - if it's a serious one - deserves attention. 

Encounters At The End Of The World

This is a rare year in which I actually managed to watch one of the nominees for Best Documentary before the Oscars broadcast. It was "Encounters At The End of The World," Werner Herzog's documentary about the people and fauna that live at the South Pole.

The film is probably best known for the underwater footage showing the odd, alien life forms that live out their lives essentially trapped under ice. The ice lets in quite a bit of light, so this footage is shot with an other-worldly glow. But, it should be mentioned that all of this footage was shot by avant-guitarist Henry Kaiser, whose day job is doing this sort of diving for bio research. Herzog has used this footage elsewhere in his work, but it is always worth seeing

The majority of the movie will be familiar to anyone who has seen one of Herzog's documentaries. Herzog narrates in his inimitable German accent, and is not shy about inserting himself into the story. He interviews the eccentric researchers and wanderers who are drawn to the US research outpost at the South Pole. Everyone Herzog talks to is highly intelligent and many have a touch of whimsy about them. Back in the States, they are undoubtedly Phd's and lecturers, moving quietly through the nation's university system. But at the Pole, they push themselves to the absolute extreme just to do research on seal milk. And, some of these folks also show signs of darker edges. A penguin researcher Herzog talks to seems to go slightly mad as he talks to Herzog, for example.

Although Herzog's work often touches on the environment, he is no Green. His great theme is that nature is too wild and untamable for humans to ever truly conquor. At one point he gripes about Western Greens who fight to save every silly little snail on the planet, but allow human languages to disappear without a trace.

However, Herzog has also caught the apocalypse bug that has taken hold among Greens and scientists. Everyone Herzog talks to in the movie believes that the world is coming to an end through global warming. After watching these highly intelligent people living in extreme conditions, it's not hard to see why they would start to think apocalyptic thoughts like this. Not sure if I'm convinced this should provide the basis for the "Green Economy" that we supposedly need to invest in.

of course, this movie didn't win an Oscar. For one thing, it grows progressively downbeat as the film goes on and the assorted researchers start to get a little nuts. And, Herzog's theme that nature is essentially untamable and inimicable to humans is not a message the typical America Green wants to hear.

Governator 2: Judgment Day

I'm planning to do a CA governor's race preview sometime in the next few months, but as there are some GOP hopefuls who are already making their pitches to GOP insiders, I thought I'd to a little preliminary commentary.

Meg Whitman told a packed lunchtime gathering that it is "time to run California like a business" and called for slashing the state's workforce in an effort to ease the state's financial crunch.
"Run California like a business." That's a hardy perennial among Chamber of Commerce types who look at the waste and inefficiencies of government and wonder why it can't run like Microsoft. Well, if you really are going to slash the workforce and reduce the size of CA government, you need to make sure you do it within 2 weeks of your swearing in ceremony or it will never happen. That should really be the lesson of the Schwarzenegger Years. He had a popular mandate to "blow up the boxes," but frittered it away over 3+ years of fruitless negotiations and "go nowhere" propositions. Meanwhile:
Steve Poizner took a hard line on immigration, telling a breakfast session that as governor he would send the National Guard to the Mexican border to shut down the flow of illegal immigration, which he called a threat to national security and California's economy.

"We absolutely need to secure our borders," he said, complaining that schools can't afford the financial burden of educating the children of undocumented workers.

Jesus, Steve, is it still 2006? Running against immigrants will do nothing for you or the GOP, except give Dems an excuse to run "GOP = racist" ads for another 10 years. People don't object to illegal immigration per se. They object to the EXPENSE of providing services to illegals. How about a proposal to turn over every illegal immigrant in a CA prison to the feds for immediate deportation? How about cracking down on "sanctuary cities?" How about finding common ground with poor blacks, who are beginning to compete for scarce resources with poor Hispanics? How about using the bully pulpit to encourage assimilation and English education? Really, GOP candidates should be banned from talking about illegal immigration unless they are prepared to detail what they intend to do with the millions who are here and not going away. Let's try to be constructive, here. 

I did like this from Poizner:

Poizner called the state's new budget "one of the worst public policy decisions in 50 years or more" and said he would not have signed it if he were governor.

He also argued that AB32, Schwarzenegger's landmark bill to limit greenhouse gases in California, is killing jobs in the state and is "misguided in many ways."

And I liked the cut of this guy's jib:
One man in the audience suggested that California should emulate controversial Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio and house low-risk inmates in tent cities to save money, 
And, Carly Fiorina is thinking of running against Barbara Boxer. I don't have a very high opinion of "Carly" as she spent too much of her time at H-P trying to show that she was a "tuff gal" who could make it in a macho world. Still, her wealth and gender would make her a strong candidate against Boxer, who has managed to stay in the Senate as much due to the poor quality of her opposition as anything else. The SF Chronicle must be worried too, because they include this priceless bit of editorializing in this "news" story:

But Fiorina opened herself up for criticism when she complained about CEOs taking huge golden parachutes.

"I believe as a Republican Party we can never defend greed and excess," Fiorina said. "And some of those executives have been greedy to a fault. Our economy is about accountability. So when somebody takes $40 million a year for failure, we cannot defend that," she said.

But she failed to mention she was herself criticized for leaving Hewlett-Packard in 2005 with a golden parachute that included $21 million in salary and an additional $21 million in stock options and pension.

Why the hell would she mention that? Was she under oath?

And, no SF Chronicle story about the state GOP is complete without a word from the Democrats' 200 year old state party chair Bob Mulholland, who is the Greg Packer of Chronicle GOP stories, and who is always willing to display the "sophistication" that Dems love to believe is the hallmark of their Party. 

"I love it when a billionaire talks about being with the people," said Bob Mulholland, campaign chair for the state Democratic Party. "Republicans don't fit the California voter. ... Poizner is out of touch with California, and Whitman is saying, 'I'm rich, vote for me.'

"They keep trying to buy an image like they're Mother Teresa," he said. "But they'll leave here more dysfunctional than they came."

Hey, Bob, bite me. 

Senate Reform, Pt 2

There's a movement afoot to draft Peter Schiff to run against Chris Dodd in the 2010 race for U.S. Senator from Connecticut. On the whole I support this. Schiff is famous as the guy who "predicted" the Crash of '08 and the subsequent cascade of failing financial institutions. Schiff did not do this from a perch in the Ivy League, but did so publicly and loudly on TV appearances on assorted cable shows. His prescriptions are right on 

1. Increase savings and production. People need to start saving and paying down credit card debt, and the US needs to become a net producer and manufacturer of goods once again.

2. Vote no on all bailouts. Instead, the government should begin eradicating grotesque budget deficits and national debt by reigning in profligate spending.

3. Allow the recession to run its course and rebuild quickly from a fresh start. “Let it collapse today so it can prosper tomorrow.” To use a crude analogy, wildfires are devastating in the short term, but they are extremely beneficial in the long run for the entire ecology. Currently, the trillions of dollars of new government spending is akin to pouring gasoline on the fire. It will only serve to exacerbate the problem and delay meaningful recovery.

4. Let the free market operate without inefficient, ineffective, and cumbersome government involvement. The government should enforce the integrity of free markets, not manipulate them.

5. Drastically cut federal spending. It’s time to quit over spending and over borrowing and start living within our means.

6. Cut corporate and personal income taxes to spur savings, job growth, and real industrial production.

7. Minimize corporate regulation. If you allow the free market to operate, businesses and banks which accrue massive debt will fail. More efficient and fiscally responsible banks and institutions will prevail and restore prosperity to the economy.

8. Restore the value of the US dollar. Since 2002, the US dollar has been devalued by nearly 30%. Put a stop to the Federal Reserve setting artificial interest rates and printing trillions of dollars out of thin air. Instead, get the Fed out of the markets and bring back balanced budgets, low taxes, and robust production.

Schiff also has the advantage of having a charismatic personality with oddly mesmerizing liquid-blue eyes. These would contract favorably with the bloated, corrupt Dodd. However, Schiff also has some things that work against him:

1. his father: Irwin Schiff is one of the nation's leading tax resisters and is presently serving a stretch in federal prison. The tax resistance movement is filled with oddballs and cranks, and I suspect Schiff rallies would feature a sizable contingent of these

2. his politics: Schiff is, at essence, a libertarian. He was linked to Ron Paul's presidential campaign for the GOP nomination. It is hard to imagine a majority of Connecticut voters pulling the lever for a Republican. While libertarianism is a legitimate movement, it is also filled with oddballs and cranks. Paul, for one, found himself linked tangentially to assorted white supremacists and neo-confederates. Schiff would probably have to run as an independent. 

3. his investors: while Schiff was "right" about the crash, he was wrong about what to do about it. He told his investors to get out of US stocks and any other dollar-based investments, because the dollar would suffer a catastrophic collapse. He was a big proponent of decoupling and urged a move into international stocks and gold. So far, this has caused Schiff's investors to do worse than the people who have stayed in US equities. The dollar has strengthened. Decoupling has not happened; instead, the dollar has become the ultimate safe haven. International stocks have fallen farther than those of the US. One can imagine the attack ad featuring the tearful old lady who "lost everything" because she "listened to Peter Schiff."

Still, the proposed Schiff Senate campaign is just the sort of thing that needs to be happening nationwide. There are a lot of smart, innovative thinkers in the US, but they are effectively shut out of the conversation in DC because they are not part of the political class. The likes of Chris Dodd will not go quietly. The likes of Peter Schiff should be encouraged to take a run at clearing out the dysfunctional elements of our government. 

Senate Reform

Russ Feingold wants to prevent another "Burris Moment" by amending the constitution to make it mandatory for states to hold special elections to replace Senators who leave office before their six-year terms are over. George Will counters that this is more progressive overreach and yet another display of Leftist disdain for the Constitution's state-federal division of powers. 

Will also puckishly suggests that we would be better off repealing the 17th Amendment and returning the power to select Senators to state legislatures. Will, who has lived in DC long enough to know better, seems to think that Senators will revert to their true status as envisioned by the Founders - that of "ambassadors" for the several states, who would be in DC to protect their respective states from federal depredations. Right, or they will be little more than emissaries instructed to not return without 100,000 hogsheads of pork barrel spending. 

A better solution for the Senate "problem" would  be to institute term limits for Senators. It is a crying shame that an effective President is forcibly retired after just two terms, while Senatorial deadwood like Strom Thurmond, Daniel Akaka, Ted Stevens, and Robert Byrd are returned to office decade after decade for no better reasons than inertia and the power of seniority. I'll even be generous and grant Senators a "limit" of 4 terms. That's 24 years; more than enough time to build up enough seniority to make a difference. 

For those who say Senators need more time to get "experience," I say, go read "Master of the Senate." LBJ entered the Senate in 1948 and had enough "experience" within 2 years that he was running parliametary rings around Old Bulls like Robert Taft and Richard Russell. Most Senators either enter the Senate after a decade in the House, or after holding state-wide office like governor or attorney-general. They don't need any more experience than they already have. But, we The People need a better manner to ensure the Senate is regularly infused with fresh blood. 

Oh for God's Sake

Stringent Hiring Rules Leave Treasury in Need of Staff  says the W$J. 

The Obama administration's tough rules about who it will hire and its increasingly rigorous vetting process are complicating Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's team-building efforts, government officials say, at a time when his agency faces a punishing workload brought on by the worst financial crisis in decades.
The delay leaves Mr. Geithner without many chief lieutenants while the Treasury is spending hundreds of billions of dollars to try to blunt the financial crisis -- and hustling to stay abreast of unfolding events. Mr. Geithner himself is taking on a bigger workload and relying on a skeleton crew of advisers, including some holdovers from former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's staff.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it's your 2009 Indispensable Man!

It's a paradox worth pondering that the ethics rules so beloved of good government types often lead to the exclusion of effective, ethical people from government. Instead, the government is often populated with people like, say, Secretary Geithner who are rendered untouchable so long as they meet the letter of the law; but, if they don't, then an "exception" will be made. I'd say the Treasury Department would be better off with fewer ethical hurdles and more streamlined hiring.

The Unkindest Cut Cuts Deepest

Matthew Kaminski Says Schwarzenegger's California Is the American equivalent of France.

Hey! Hey! There's no need to be insulting!

Sparks Along The Third Rail, Part 5

Michael Barone is nothing if not brave. He has run the numbers and discovered that the foreclosures that have been "devastating America" are a regional, not a national problem with four states- Arizona, Nevada, Florida, and California - accounting for 53%(!) of foreclosures, despite their containing just 21% of the population. On the other hand, 38 states with 60% of the population have experienced foreclosure rates that are BELOW the national average. We may have to go back to Gettysburg to resolve this.

I won't repeat Barone's analysis. You really should go check it out. But I will make the following comments:

1. Barone correctly notes that each of the Big 4 experienced property booms and, with the exception of CA, experienced a population boom as well. Actually, parts of CA like Riverside County in So. Cal. and Solano County in Nor. Cal. experienced population booms, which made up for a lot of the out flow from other parts of the state.

2. Each of the Big 4 experienced high levels of speculation in the residential real estate market.

3. Lastly, each of the Big 4 experienced high levels of Hispanic immigration. Interestingly, Texas and New Mexico, which have large populations of non-immigrant Hispanics, the foreclosure rate is well below the national average.

This touches on something that is often hinted at in coverage of the foreclosure crisis, but is rarely stated outright: that foreclosures arising from subprime originated, more often than not, with recent immigrants to the US buying homes that they couldn't afford. For example, this article in the NY Times about Washington Mutual's lax lending standards is a classic of the genre with its descriptions of subprime borrowers working as "gardeners," "maids," and even a "Mariachi singer." But no one really wants to say anything out loud because ... why, exactly?

The problem is not that immigrants were buying homes (although it was a problem that they were buying homes they couldn't afford). The real problems is the explosive mix of unscrupulous real estate sellers/speculators entering into sale agreements with immigrant buyers. I have had some exposure to the CA brand of real estate speculators through my practice. It is always a disturbing experience. These are people who literally pulled millions out of the real estate market in a short period of time. They would sell a home to anybody. They would sell a Hummer home to their grandmother if the finder's fee was high enough. For people like this, buyers with little experience with US-style mortgage financing, and poor to middling English comprehension - but who will work hard to provide a better life for their families - are a group ripe for exploitation.

Add to this the efforts of Hispanic-American politicians and pressure groups to expand home ownership, which is documented in this article, and it's hard not to make the connections: fee-hungry bankers and glory hound politicians made it much too easy for flim flammers to sell houses to people who ultimately couldn't afford them and certainly could not understand the mortgage documents that were securing the loans on their houses.

Yet, these are the groups most directly "helped" by Obama's housing plan. Three of these (bankers, politicians, speculators) are absolutely undeserving of any help, while the exploited buyers would be best helped by getting them out of those houses and into a residence that they can actually afford. The best way to do this is through foreclosure. The worst way is by "resetting" their mortgages (while retaining their artificially high valuations), so that they end up trapped in their homes as debt slaves to the banks that ripped them off in the first place.

But just as the post-9/11 TSA rules required everyone to be treated as a potential terrorist to be "fair," so the Obama housing plan insists on treating everyone - exploiters and exploited - equally out of an equally misbegotten notion of fairness. And, the 92%+ of mortgage holders who are not in default - along with all of us renters - are expected to add this to our tax bill without protest. Don't know how long that's going to last, but I wouldn't want to be the guy rattling the tin cup when Americans decide they are done with this brand of fairness.

When You Smile for the Camera, I Know I'll Love You Better

For those who get their political insights from ACORN flyers, bumperstickers, and Paul Krugman columns, Phil Gramm has become a kind of shorthand for "evil Republican" in finance crisis matters in the same way Dick Cheney provided the same associational shortcut for the Iraq War
Well, Gramm is not taking this lying down and has taken to the pages of the W$J to declare that Loose Money and Politicized Mortgages Caused the Financial Market Crisis. This really should be the formulation that any GOP'er who has to appear in the media should use when confronted by the goofs who say "deregulation" is to blame.
More interesting is the picture that accompanied Gramm's piece. Check out this rogue's gallery from 1999.
Yes, that's Chris Dodd and John Edwards lurking in the background. I'd say only 25% of the people in this picture are out of office. Those that are - like Clinton and Greenspan - may be out of office, but are certainly not out of public life.
I will stop myself from making the typical argument for term limits. However, I will point out that it is a weakness in our republic that - for all the talk of change that have accompanied the last 5 presidential elections, it's incredible how the same few thousand people return to DC year after year, regardless of the results of their efforts.

A Kinsleyan Gaffe

Opposition to the present policy of ad hoc bailouts and "stimulus" has collapsed the normal left-right divide. Roughly speaking, if you are a banker, a large manufacturer, a fiscally imprudent state government, a regulator, a union member, or simply poor, then current policy is working in your favor. If you are not a member of these select groups, you are little more than the account from which others are drawing funds.
Plenty of conservatives and libertarians are in the latter group. But there are increasing numbers of progressives and liberals who are beginning to wonder what the end game will look like. Today, Michael Kinsley becomes the latest to wonder how do we repay the stimulus spree?

But even if the stimulus is a magnificent success, the money still has to be paid back. The plan of record apparently is that we keep borrowing, spending and stimulating, faster and faster, until suddenly, on some signal from heaven or Timothy Geithner, we all stop spending and start saving in recordbreaking amounts. Oh sure, that will work.

There is another way. If it's not the actual, secret plan, it will be an overwhelming temptation: Don't pay the money back. So far, even as one piggy bank after another astounds us with its emptiness, there have been only the faintest whispers about the possibility of an actual default by the U.S. government. Somewhat louder whispers can be heard, though, about the gradual default known as inflation. Just three or four years of currency erosion at, say, 10 percent a year would slice the real value of our debt -- public and private, U.S. bonds and jumbo mortgages -- in half.

Kinsley is as much of an elitist liberal as you can imagine, but even he has enough knowledge of history, and a sense of the essentially tragic course of human events, to know that the US could easily slip into an Argentine-style default or a Weimar-esque hyperinflation.
Everyone who counts has been frantically running around the last 18 months trying to "save the banks" and "help the poor struggling with their mortgages." All of these efforts have failed. They spent much too long trying to "prevent a recession." That has failed (if it ever could have succeeded). Now, they are trying to "prevent a depression." I think we know how that will end.

The truth is that a lot of the regulatory and financial apparatus in the US is no longer working. And, why shouldn't it? Our current system with the Fed regulating interest rate and the Feds maintaining a heavy regultory presence in the banks and securities markets, was set up in the Wilson administration and perfected in FDR's. The financial sector built a business model upon that which reached its apogee in the Eighties.
These twinned elements worked well for decades. But, they are no longer working, mostly because there is no longer an daylight between the regulator and the regulated, and the regulators have no contact with the s0-called "shadow banking system" that threatens to overwhelm the real one. The frantic activity of the last 18 months is not the sign of a dramatic "rescue," but the death throes of a system that was born nearly 100 years ago. But, those who would reform it or rebuild are locked out of the room when it comes time to answer the question, "What is to be done?"

Bad Theater, pt 2

Michael Phillis' play 'Dolls' is about ... DOLLS!

The dolls in Phillis' new play are the means through which the viewer learns about their owner, an older gay man named Frank. Some of the dolls have been with Frank since his childhood; others are newer. They take on Frank's character traits - including a love of "CSI" and unhealthy snack foods - and they're all a little bit gay.
A little bit gay! Yes! Just innocent fun! But, be warned. Phillis' tale is one with dark edges: 
But while the dolls come to resemble their owner, and also follow the four doll rules - including "never let them see you move" and "even if you don't like the game, you still have to play" - they also have their own identities, independent of Frank. There's a caste system among them, and they deal with real-world issues like politics, war and civil liberties infringements.
"Civil liberties infringements" is Playwright Code for: "This is life during wartime in George W Bush's America." But, you should know that Phillis struggled mightily with his muse.  
"Once the idea had really (taken shape) ... it was almost like, wow, I can do anything with this idea," Phillis says. "And then right after that great realization, there was the, oh, my gosh, what am I going to do?"
Luckily for Phillis he always has Old Reliable to sell tix. 

Begun, the Clone Wars Have

Looks like Senator Palpatine is on another one of his foreign junkets.

It's Glamorous Until It Kills You

Jeez, you guys should check out Alger Hiss sometime.
The spy was discovered and arrested by the "Hezbollah intelligence service" (triple oxymoron alert!), and turned over to the "government." You realize it's the other way around, right?
And, in the "It's a small world, but maybe not" category: the spy is a cousin to one of the 9/11 hijackers.
The Levant really is a snakepit

A Man With a Plan

Obama's "mortgage rescue" plan is out.

The Obama plan will use $75 billion from the $700 billion financial bailout fund to match reductions lenders make in interest payments that lower borrowers’ payments to 31 percent of their monthly income. Under the program, a lender would be responsible for reducing monthly payments to no more than 38 percent of a borrower’s income, with government sharing the cost to further cut the rate to 31 percent.

Treasury will share the cost when lenders reduce monthly payments by forgiving a portion of the borrower’s mortgage balance, the government said. The program may help as many as 4 million borrowers, the administration said. The average borrower’s home value could be stabilized against a price decline by up to $6,000, the White House fact sheet said.

‘Aimed at Homeowners’

“We think it is accurately aimed at homeowners at risk that are most likely to represent avoidable foreclosures, so it is likely to have a maximum impact where the dollar is committed,” said Robert Davis, executive vice president of the American Bankers Association, in a telephone interview.

Banks accepting help from the government must adopt loan modification plans, the government said.

Companies that service mortgages will get $1,000 for each modified loan, and as much as $1,000 for three years when the borrower stays current, the government said. Homeowners also are eligible for $1,000 annually for five years for remaining current on their loans, according to the plan.

Mortgage servicers will get $500 and loan holders $1,500 to modify agreements as an incentive for the industry to seek out borrowers at risk of falling behind on their payments.

“The Obama team is betting that if they can afford to stay in the home month-to-month, that borrower is not concerned about what today’s value of the home happens to be,” Howard Glaser, former counsel to the secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said today in a telephone interview. “I think that’s the right bet.”

Mortgage Principal

Focusing on reducing the mortgage principal would have been a “prohibitively expensive proposition,” said Glaser, a Washington-based mortgage-industry analyst.

Treasury will increase the size of Fannie and Freddie’s retained mortgage portfolios, to $900 billion, allowed under the preferred stock agreement included in the September federal takeover of the two mortgage-finance companies.

“It is an indication they are not looking at shuttering them to move their responsibilities elsewhere

I claim no great expertise in this. My practice focuses on consumer debt like credit cards, car loans and the like. However, I do see two problems with the above, namely the presence of the words "Fannie" and "Freddie" in any rescue plan. Apparently, they are not going away until doomsday.
The crash originated with over-inflated residential real estate prices and the explosive growth of lender balance sheets. Obama's "plan" promises more of the same. Also, there appears to be no distinction made between people in foreclosure because they lost their jobs, and people in foreclosure because they lied on their loan applications and now owe more than they could have ever expected to pay back.
Finally, I have to wonder about how useful this can be for those being "helped." Yeah, they won't have to leave the homes that, truthfully, they can't afford. But, they are also going to be imprisoned in those homes until they pay off their mortgage. Foreclosure at least gets them out of there, and into something they can better afford.
My clients can get in over their heads with relatively low levels of debt, but once they do, they would be paying the bank back forever unless they do a BK, or get sued and reach some sort of settlement. You have to exchange the short term pain of a debt workout for the long term benefit of getting out from under the crushing weight of compund interest on the TV you bought 2 years ago. This plan short circuits this process for no better reason than some people seem to think BK's and foreclosures are "unfair" or "racist."
Making poor people into debt slaves; it's hard to see the "compassion" at work here.

Here's a slightly profance rant calling the plan BS! More Fraud Coverup! - from a guy who has been more right than wrong the last few months.

Here's an article from the W$J about some Americans, who are underwater but ineligible and are getting riled up but, honestly, Dems could care less about these folks.

No Rock Left Unturned

S.F. could face weeks without a police chief because they are conducting a "nationwide search"

This is the problem with the corporatization of government. Suddenly, everything turns into a "nationwide search." Are there superstar police chiefs out there, like superstar CEO's? I hope not.

There must be someone in the SFPD who could do a creditable job without having to go through a months-long "nationwide search" to replace the utterly unremarkable Chief Fong. A local would certainly be better able to deal with the innumerable anti-cop activists in SF. He would certainly be able to get through the City's warren of streets and neighborhoods without a map.

Kickin' the Can Down the Road, pt 2

They've done it. They found the "last Republican vote." Sen. Abel Maldonado from Santa Barbara has allowed the state Legislature to pass the emergency budget plan. The GOP may be the "party of the rich" in the popular mind, but it's the country club types like Maldonado who always vote for big government in the end.

Maldonado did not give away his vote for free. He had demands and they were met:

1. removal of the proposed 12¢/gallon increase in the gas tax. Well, that's OK. But all of the other tax increases - 1¢ on the dollar on the sales tax, increases in the vehicle fee/tax, and increases in the income tax - remain.

2. cancellation of legislative pay and per diems when the budget is late. Um, who cares? These are the sort of useless symbolic moves that impress good government types and no one else.

3. a June 2010 ballot measure to ask voters if they want open primaries for state officers. WHAT?! You could have asked for anything and you asked for "open primaries?!" Why is it anyone's business who votes for Democratic or GOP candidates besides the members of those parties? And what does this have to do with the damn budget?

There's a lot of voter support out there for someone who stands up to the bailout of bankrupt institutions like AIG, GM, or CA. But, clearly Maldonado is the one dumb son of a b**** who didn't get the word.
UPDATE: Maldonado is dumber than he looks. The gas tax was not removed from the budget. It was swapped out in exchange for a 0.25 percent increase in the state income tax rate, federal stimulus dollars and more than $600 million in line-item vetoes.

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