There was an error in this gadget

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The “Stimulus Package” Still Makes Me Angry

As someone who is part Italian and part Irish, I learned at a very young age that I needed to do my best to keep my genetic predisposition towards hyperanimation and anger in check. The presidency of George W. Bush has severely tested the limits of my personal patience. In most cases when I visit here, I have done my level best to be civil and to bury the more guttural speech that was part of my upbringing in Philadelphia.

Yes, the war, the constant stream of lies emanating from the White House and the eunuchs in Congress who call themselves Democrats all made me extremely angry to varying degrees, but I calmed down by telling myself that in the current climate in America, self-determination is the prevailing power. At the end of the day, I had the wherewithal to take care of myself with minimal interference. After all, fundamentally, this was still America.

Then came the "stimulus package", or as I now call it, that FUCKING stimulus package.

With this action, the powers that be in Washington, D.C. have now completed their conversion from freely elected representatives of the people to an Americanized House of Lords.

Let me start at the beginning. Whoever the person was who came up with Adjustable Rate Mortgages should go into the Legalized Grifting Hall of Fame, right next to the sonofabitch who invented auto leasing, which is basically selling the same car twice for its sticker price. Never mind the fact that the moment it gets a mile from the dealership, the car has lost 50% of its stated value. By all means, everyone needs an eternal car payment.

The mortgage industry peddled the American Dream to people who couldn’t afford it. The reason for this had nothing to do with altruism or building a better country or community. It had everything to do with bonuses to the individual mortgage brokers for getting a signature on several dotted lines.

Thanks to the changes in bankruptcy rules requested by the major banks that were fast-tracked through Congress a few years ago, the banks are now surprised to find that people are more than happy to abandon the houses that are plummeting to values below the purchase price. If you can’t afford the mortgage at an adjusted rate, the cost of that mortgage is more than the value of the home and bankruptcy protection is now off the table, why wouldn’t you abandon the house?

The fundamentals of the economy, thanks in large part to the upending of the mortgage market, are still a train wreck. The FDIC currently is making preparations for the failure of roughly 200 banks. In addition, they are making it known that they are looking for a separate entity to take care of the portion of bank failures that deals solely with mortgage losses. None of the banks are talking about the true indemnity of their mortgage debt, fearing a run. The brokerage houses that repackaged the lousy mortgages as now-worthless collateralized debt obligations are being propped up economically by China and other foreign "investors". The beginnings of the effect on credit card payments and car loans are now being realized, as the default rates for both are now climbing.

The solution of the Lords on High in Washington, D.C., after about 20 minutes of serious deliberation, is to throw money to the peasants so they can buy things they don’t need. This is apparently the panacea to all of our economic problems.

I am not a serf. I am not a person who needs to be taught how and when to spend my money for the sake of others. As an American citizen, it’s really fucking insulting that the leaders of my government now consider me as little more than an urchin in an orphanage who needs a handout. I never asked for charity, mainly because I DON’T FUCKING NEED IT!

My lack of spending is not the problem here. How about CEO pay? How about business regulations? How about the fact that whenever business leaders want a new perk or a fresh public mouthpiece, all they need to do is write a check to a legislator’s campaign fund and it’s blow jobs ahoy?

The people at the bottom of the poverty scale are getting $300, or as I like to call it nowadays (after a stop this morning on the way to work), 9 fill-ups of a compact car’s gas tank. For most people, that’s not even ½ of a month’s rent in an apartment. If it’s a mortgage you’re paying, $300 is about as potent as a fart in a football stadium.

In a previous diary about this same topic, I received many suggestions regarding what to do with the money, from charitable donations to political contributions (fat chance!) to those who agreed with me that the best way to stick it to the man is to deposit it and collect interest. My wife and I are slated to receive $1500, thanks to a combination of our wedded bliss and our 19-month-old son. In the end, my wife does the books, so odds are that she has an idea for the money that will trump any of my ideas. Wedded bliss; CATCH IT!

I do have a 4th option now though. If you can afford it, put it towards investments in other countries. Buy stock in a foreign country. My 401(k) offers me the option to invest in a mutual fund that puts 96% of the fund’s money in Canadian companies. Or better yet, invest in a social activism fund that shies away from companies that are bad for the environment or who sell things like tobacco products.

Why invest in a country that treats you as if you should be grateful that the Lords are borrowing against our collective tomorrows to throw you a few crumbs? The sweetest revenge is to send the money packing and find a way to make sure that it never ends up back in their grubby little hands.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Facts to Consider for Choosing A Running Mate

While the race for the Democratic nomination for president has yet to be decided, the choice of a vice-presidential candidate will soon be upon us. Unlike other topics lately (Clinton vs. Obama, Ralph Nader, "my candidate can beat up your candidate"), the few discussions undertaken thus far in this forum regarding potential running mates have been fairly civil, with many good ideas.

The purpose of this diary is the encouragement of a brainstorming session to put forth the pros and cons of potential Vice Presidential candidates from different segments of the Democratic Party. For purposes of organization, I have tried to put the groups in three categories, starting with:

Senators – The biggest positive to considering a Senator for your running mate is safety. There’s a clear voting record on issues that can be weighed easily as a positive or a negative. There is also a long list of senatorial running mates on the Democratic side, as every running mate going back to 1988 was a Senator at the time of their initial elevation to the ticket.
The big negative these days is the dire need for 60 Democratic votes in the Senate, and how taking a Democratic senator out of the mix affects those numbers. As it stands right now, we have two Democratic senators battling for the nomination. If one of these candidates wins the presidency, that creates a seat that will more than likely need to be defended within one year of the 2008 elections (I’m unsure of the state laws of Illinois and New York pertaining to this; I’m happy to accept help in this area). If either Clinton or Obama choose a sitting senator as the running mate, that creates two seats.
One name that is brought forth from this category is Jim Webb, a Democratic senator in a state that is narrowly Republican who has been a senator for all of 14 months. If the goal is 60 Democratic senators, it doesn’t make much sense to put Virginia back in play so quickly after a tremendous victory in 2006.

Governors – The last two candidates for president coming from the Democratic side that were declared the winner of a traditional election were both governors. This time around, the Democrats will once again have a senator at the top of the ticket. This is a unique time in that the majority of our current crop of Democratic governors offers some attractive choices for the VP slot. The positives are similar to choosing a senator for a running mate. Governors have a voting record that’s easily assessed, with the added advantage of a governor having once been a chief executive of a state. The fact that governors act as executives independent of Washington, D. C. gives them a unique appeal.
The one thought that gives me pause is the timing. 2010 is a census year, meaning gerrymandering and reapportionment are right around the corner again. While this process has become convoluted in the past ten years with Tom DeLay’s shenanigans in Texas, having a Democrat in a governor’s chair goes a long way in drawing districts that are favorable to Democratic house chances for the next decade. It’s great to get better Democrats in U. S. House seats, and nothing gives them a leg up better than a district drawn in their favor post-census.
All of my personal "sleeper" candidates for VP come from this category. I like Brian Schweitzer and Janet Napolitano, but I realize that they are way down the list of possible running mates that have been discussed.

The Sympathetic Unelected – These are defined as people well known in the party who don’t currently hold elected office. The two biggest people in this category are John Edwards and Wesley Clark.
The positive aspect of choosing an outsider can’t be dismissed in a year when the presidential candidate for the Democratic Party will be a sitting senator. The element of surprise tends to rear its ugly head from this group, as every fuzzy speech recorded on video before any trade group becomes fodder for criticism. People from this category would be chosen because they are so good a compliment to the top of the ticket, they can’t be ignored. Edwards and Clark both fit that description, though Edwards didn’t fare very well in this slot 4 years ago.

Everyone here has someone in mind. As long as we don’t make the Joe Lieberman mistake again, virtually any of the names flying around for Vice-President are well qualified and will be better than anyone John McCain pulls out of his ancient head. With the damage that George W. Bush has done to this country, and the work it will take to correct these same mistakes, there are now many more reasons to choose the Vice Presidential candidate wisely.

Monday, February 18, 2008

WI Primary: One Vote for Obama Tomorrow

It has been snowing off and on in Milwaukee since December 1st. Portions of the sidewalks here are now icy, thanks to a brief melt of snow yesterday. How this affects turnout for the Wisconsin presidential primary tomorrow in this area remains to be seen. I can tell you that speaking as a person who is 41 and whose polling place can be seen from his front door, I can predict one solid vote for Obama in tomorrow’s primary.

I’m a John Edwards guy. I have been ever since he announced his candidacy for Senate in North Carolina in 1998 against Lauch Faircloth, the guy who brought us Ken Starr. Edwards didn’t have traction, and thus he’s on the sidelines delaying an endorsement so as to play both sides of the fence until the voters have clearly chosen a candidate. I’m not waiting for the Edwards imprimatur. I’m now in Obama’s camp.

My wife is also voting for Obama, as is my sister-in-law, who shares the duplex we live in. Among my voting age friends who are actually registered to vote and are politically active, it appears to be a clean sweep. The balance of my voting age friends here are musicians, who either don’t care or have a philosophical objection to voting (PLEASE don’t ask me to explain that on their behalf; it makes my head hurt).

How my informal poll of the voters I know will affect the outcome in the rest of the state remains to be seen, but I feel safe in predicting at least a 5% margin of victory for Obama in Cheeseland tomorrow.

Obama was in town this past Friday at a rally downtown on one of the local college campuses. I was unable to attend due to my work schedule. Two of my friends in their early 30’s attended and reported that they seemed to be the oldest people there, which was not thoroughly unexpected given the locale. The energy level in the room was apparently inescapable. Later that night, they introduced me to the "Hope-O", which apparently consists of holding your arms above your head in the shape of an O, signifying Obama. This reminded me of a less-drunken version of the "E-A-G-L-E-S EAGLES!" chant from my days in Philadelphia, but it was charming nonetheless.

There are many different reasons as to why people I talk to prefer Obama, but a recurring theme is "we need someone new". Part of my initial reservations about Obama had to do with the idea of "how new is too new". Yet with Edwards out of the race, in my case, Obama was a natural second choice.

Hillary Clinton represents to me a walking and talking last hurrah for the Democratic Leadership Council and a generation of Democrats who came to power by acting like Republicans. In retrospect, who could blame them for inventing that model? Three lackluster presidential candidates in the 1980’s had all been trounced, as America (not me) embraced the senile daydreams of Ronald Reagan.

Thanks to George W. Bush, America’s view of Republicanism, to put it mildly, has changed dramatically. Despite his eternal POW status and the adulation received by him in the mainstream media, John McCain has a long legislative and quote record that flies in the face of virtually everything he delivers in his stump speeches. Add to that his advanced age and unevolved temperament and you have a recipe for a Democratic winner later this year.

Hillary Clinton now finds herself as a Democrat searching for a vision of a political moderate that no longer exists. Only the 25% that still backs Bush and Cheney want to talk about things like the evils of mass entertainment. When Clinton went after the video game industry last year, I wondered if her home in Chappaqua was actually a cave. After 12 years of South Park and about 10 years of Grand Theft Auto, the entertainment scapegoat has long since escaped from the corral. There are no Pavlovian dogs listening for that bell anymore. People now realize that those types of arguments are meant to distract from the fact that there has been a catastrophic redistribution of wealth in this country going on unchecked since Reagan took office in 1981.

If that wasn’t enough, the recent rhetoric coming out of the Clinton campaign regarding what is and what is not an important primary state is truly appalling. If I’m looking for an inclusive candidate, this is not the ideal message to be communicated.

As I slip down the icy pavement to my polling place tomorrow to retrieve a ballot from the nonagenarian poll worker sitting behind the table, I shall think of the ease of this decision. I had voted for third party candidates going back to 1984 until George W. Bush became the Republican nominee in 2000. The thought of Bush as my president was enough to vote for Al Gore, and then John Kerry 4 years later. Barack Obama is a candidate I can vote for enthusiastically, rather than the lesser of two evils. I respect those that would choose Clinton over Obama. I simply see the situation differently.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

If You Can, Put It In Your Mattress

So, here we are. The economy is crumbling into a recession created from a unique stew of governmental malfeasance, corporate greed and investor myopia.

George W. Bush’s all-purpose "solution" is the same play book we’ve seen since those heady early days of 2001; give businesses ridiculous tax breaks and send the poor a check equivalent to a fraction of the monthly rent.

No one in his or her right mind can actually believe that this is going to do anything worthwhile to stimulate the economy. The banks are busy cooking the books to hide their true exposure to failing mortgages. The brokerage houses are firing people they’ve already given 7-figure bonuses to for doing an abysmal job. Warren Buffett is offering to prop up the same banks and brokers by insuring their most valuable assets, because we all know that investing is no fun until one man is worth as much as 20 central African nations combined. With economic fundamentals this bad, a $300 check to a taxpayer is obviously not a panacea.

I write this knowing that I’m currently one of the lucky ones in this economy. I have a fixed-rate mortgage, no credit card debt, no outstanding medical debt and a healthy sum in a savings account. The stimulus check coming to my wife and family is welcome, for who in their right mind who’s not dressed in flowing robes would turn down a check for (I believe it’s going to be, with one child) $1500? (OK, maybe the Polyphonic Spree). Yet, we’re not hemorrhaging like so many others. Just because the government is stupid enough to bankrupt our country further by sending me a check doesn’t mean I should invest it in that same country’s economic infrastructure. I stopped buying U. S. savings bonds years ago for the same reason.

What I’m attempting to talk my wife into doing with our little slice of national economic mutilation is to put the money in our savings account. Rather than spending our money on a crappy product made in a Chinese prison, I’d rather that this check be the gift that keeps on giving. Before the banks go under due to their bad mortgage debt obligations and there’s a nationwide run, I’d like to squeeze a few dollars in interest out of the monocle-clad Monopoly guy that runs my bank. Nobody in his right mind is investing bank money in real estate ventures right now, so my bank will use that money as a tangible asset on the books until the bill comes due. When the real damage is revealed, I’ll make my withdrawal and stuff it into my mattress.

I fully realize that I am fortunate enough to do this, and that there are many people who will use the stimulus check to pay a circling creditor before they become carrion with a damaged credit rating. I would encourage those of you like me who can to hold onto the stimulus money as long as you possibly can. In this country, giving money to a consumer is equivalent to giving a junkie heroin. It’s time to go cold turkey. Ideally, I’d like to hold the money until January 20th, 2009 at 12 Noon when a Democratic President takes power. I’m not na├»ve to think that things change in five minutes on that date. I simply don’t want Bush to get any kind of boost whatsoever in the sunset of his mine shaft collapse of a Presidency.

If you have the economic wherewithal, think of yourself and that stimulus check in the same way as a horny but hopeful teenager with one wrinkled and aging condom in a wrapper in his wallet that has indelibly shaped an "O" into the leather. It’s been there awhile, and you don’t need it this minute, but just in case…