Monday, September 29, 2008

Bailout Is Unsavory, But Doing Nothing Is Worse

By Manifesto Joe

There's plenty of blame to go around now, and yours truly is going to be among the first to point a finger. Back in 1984, I had a political opinion column for a short time (until we got a Republican owner) for a small-town daily paper. I was forecasting 24 years ago that the trend toward deregulation was a recipe for disaster.

OK, I told you so. Now we've got an economic train wreck, though, and blame should be sorted out later. Let's clean up the damage first.

Today the U.S. House defeated the proposed $700 billion financial markets bailout, 228-205. To set one piece of the record straight, the opposition was about two-thirds of House Republicans and about 40 percent of House Democrats. Call me distrustful, but I suspect that the House Republican opposition had less to do with small investors and borrowers on Main Street and more to do with big campaign contributors on Wall Street.

I don't enjoy seeing the latter bailed out any more than anyone else with a populist streak. But it's times like these when Americans should see clearly what it means to be a "community." Rich or poor, or in between, we sink or swim together when it comes to national survival. Irresponsible wealth is mostly to blame for this. But as one of those small investors and borrowers on Main Street, I can tell you that my future, and that of others like me, will be the likely price of inaction.

There will be no way for lawmakers to work out an ideal solution for this. But this bill sounded somewhat reasonable, based on general descriptions available since yesterday.

Congress returns to session Thursday. If there was ever a time to call and e-mail your congressperson, this is it, and in favor of action, not inaction. These louts have pensions and health care for life -- they don't have to worry about where their food and medicine are coming from. Let's get them back in Washington and at the table, to forge an acceptable compromise.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

An Era Of Re-Regulation? Progressives Shouldn't Celebrate Too Soon

By Manifesto Joe

So, deregulation in America is supposed to have died last week? Not so fast. Laissez faire, historically, is one of those economic notions that's sort of like Jason in those bad splatter movies -- it keeps coming back.

I don't doubt that, no matter which candidate is elected president in November, deregulation will be a somewhat untouchable position for a while, where financial markets are concerned. Until several years pass, and the $700 billion payoff at taxpayers' expense is complete, we won't hear much about it.

But this is a zombie that's a re-animator's dream, having risen from rigor mortis again and again. It's a toxic idea has always served the interests of the moneyed class in most societies. Even after being repeatedly discredited by financial crises such as this one, and many before, it only takes a generation or two to resurrect it with as much "credibility" as ever.

As a one-time college textbook editor, I worked with economists, and found them to be largely a priesthood of ideologues. Their ideas don't have to bear strong resemblance to events of the real world. Among many, if not most of them, the "free market" is a quasi-religion, to be challenged only at the questioning of one's intellect and/or sanity.

Interestingly, most of them, even the "free-market" disciples, agree that the looming $700 billion taxpayer bailout of the U.S. financial system is necessary, though perhaps a necessary evil.

We come back to a condition of humans never liking to admit they are wrong. We also come back to old wisdom that one shouldn't bite the hand that feeds one. Most professional economists have "invested" a big stake in "free-market" theory, and their sources of income -- universities, "think" tanks and such -- generally expect them to maintain a certain ideological purity.

When current events fade into history, don't be surprised if we have a lot of economists, and compliant lawmakers trolling for right-wing votes, who want to start deregulating everything yet again. To broadly paraphrase the poet Santayana, most people do not remember the past, and they are therefore condemned to repeat it.

I'll steal another line, this one paraphrased from Citizen Kane: You're going to need more than one lesson, and you're going to get more than one lesson. In this case, the "you" is the American people.

What happened during the past 30 years was widespread economic amnesia, even among the alleged experts. What was forgotten was people's natural inclination to grow greedy and behave badly when not subject to certain restraints.

It's easy to blame the people who signed on to unsound subprime mortgage loans, who ran up vast credit-card debt, and so forth, if you look at the situation in just one dimension. What about the predatory lenders who offered them all this credit they could never have gotten 30 years ago?

I remember being quite impressed in the spring of 1978, as I approached graduation from college, at being offered my very first gasoline credit card. It was a big deal. "We believe that people about to graduate from college are good credit risks," I was told. Years later I was offered an actual Visa card, and the line of credit was pretty modest.

Now, all you need is a pulse. My 81-year-old mother, in assisted living, is getting solicitations. It would be possible for her to obtain one of these cards and run up a $10,000 tab in a hurry, then default. What would they do? Ruin her credit? Garnish her Social Security check?

The fault ultimately lies with greedy lenders. The great unwashed are always an easy target for blame, but the people in the suits don't have to make such absurdly generous offers to hapless people. This go-round, they approved loans and gave out other credit like it was lunch, with no thought for when the bills came due and they had to actually collect.

A wonderful analogy came from Kathleen Day, a spokeswoman for the Center for Responsible Lending, a consumer-oriented research group. In a Monday piece from McClatchy Newspapers, she commented on the regulatory lapses:

"The job of regulators is that when the party's in full swing, make sure the partygoers drink responsibly. Instead, they let everyone drink as much as they wanted and then handed them the car keys."

Here's the link to the complete article.

It is important to note that Bush, possibly the Herbert Hoover of this generation and much worse, has nevertheless planted seeds for an eventual revival of the old market mentality. One couldn't expect a mediocre-at-best product of privilege to do otherwise. Here's some of what he had to say, as reported by The Associated Press:

The president favored government intervention even though it opened him up to criticism from financial conservatives who are raising their eyebrows at the pricetag of the bailout plan. "Look, I'm sure there are some of my friends out there saying, `I thought this guy was a market guy. What happened to him?'" Bush said.

"Well, my first instinct wasn't to lay out a huge government plan," he said. "My first instinct was to let the market work until I realized, upon being briefed by the experts, of how significant this problem became."

In other words, this is supposed to be an anomaly, not the logical outcome of unregulated capitalism, even though we've seen it in history over and over. Here's the full AP article about Bush's take on this, if you can stomach it.

It would be desirable in many ways to just let the avaricious fatcats go under amid this excess, but that can't be. There are dogmatic libertarians who actually think Americans could be that stupid, both individually and collectively. But we can't afford that. It comes to a kind of economic blackmail -- the risk is too great for too many people who had nothing to do with the bad decisions on either end of the credit process. So, the fatcats will be bailed out.

The hope, against hope, is that "we won't be fooled again." That they won't be able to sell this bill of goods to the next generation in 20 years, and that our own generations of today won't forget. That the libertarians will finally learn that their naivete assumes marketplace self-policing that neither people nor institutions will ever do.

Maybe, just maybe one day, we'll learn. Keep a close watch on your retirement investments in the meantime. Here's one more thought-provoking link by Steve Fraser that I urge the reader to ponder.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Latest Gaffe: McCain Apparently Thinks Spain Shares A Border With Venezuela

By Manifesto Joe

This is a little scary, sort of like having the ignorance of Bush and the senility of Reagan both rolled into one overage candidate. During an interview, John McCain doesn't appear to have caught on as to who Spain's leader is, apparently confusing Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez or Bolivia's Evo Morales.

This is part of a transcript from an interview on Miami Spanish-language radio, as reported by Sam Stein of The Huffington Post:

QUESTION: Senator, finally, let's talk about Spain. If you're elected president, would you be willing to invite President Jose Luiz Rodriguez Zapatero to the White House to meet with you?

MCCAIN: I would be willing meet, uh, with those leaders who our friends [sic] and want to work with us in a cooperative fashion, and by the way, President Calderon of Mexico is fighting a very very tough fight against the drug cartels. I'm glad we are now working in cooperation with the Mexican government on the Merida plan. I intend to move forward with relations, and invite as many of them as I can, those leaders, to the White House.

QUESTION: Would that invitation be extended to the Zapatero government, to the president itself?

MCCAIN: I don't, you know, honestly I have to look at relations and the situations and the priorities, but I can assure you I will establish closer relations with our friends and I will stand up to those who want to do harm to the United States of America.

QUESTION: So you have to wait and see if he's willing to meet with you, or you'll be able to do it in the White House?

MCCAIN: Well again I don't, all I can tell you is that I have a clear record of working with leaders in the hemisphere that are friends with us, and standing up to those who are not, and that's judged on the basis of the importance of our relationship with Latin America, and the entire region.

QUESTION: Okay... what about Europe I'm talking about the President of Spain?

MCCAIN: What about me what?

QUESTION: Okay... are you willing to meet with him if you are elected president?

MCCAIN: I am willing to meet with any leader who is dedicated to the same principles and philosophy that we are for human rights, democracy and freedom, and I will stand up to those that do not.

McCain's campaign is trying to cover their collective ass by making out that their 72-year-old candidate meant to say this, apparently spanking Spain for doing mean things to the U.S. like pulling their military contingent out of Iraq and such. Here's the Huffington Post link that gives the McCain campaign version of things, along with the transcripts and the broadcast. (Notice that the McCain spokesman refers to Zapatero as Spain's president, rather than the prime minister.)

A big problem with that explanation is that McCain talks like he thinks Spain is part of Latin America. Or maybe not -- the radio reporter didn't get that impression. Anyway, nobody seem to know exactly what kind of fool McCain is here -- a senile Reaganesque one, a natural successor to an inflammatory fool like Bush, or some of both.

There was more foolishness in the interview. McCain's suggestion that the Calderon government in Mexico is a friend of the U.S. is a bit of a stretch. The right-leaning Mexican governments of recent years, unwilling to undertake desperately needed economic reform, have proved more than willing to export their unemployable people to the U.S., to maintain an arrogant economic oligarchy that creates that situation, and then to characterize Americans as xenophobes and bigots for questioning that condition. With friends like those, give me Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales anytime.

Meanwhile, the Republicans have a standard-bearer who can't seem to function well without a teleprompter. And he chose a shockingly unqualified small-state governor as a running mate in an obvious bid to placate the GOP fundamentalist right wing.

All this reminded me that I have a couple of good recipes for gazpacho. I hear they make it mighty tasty down in Bolivia.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

James McMurtry And Peter Anderson Tell It Like It Is: 'We Can't Make It Here Anymore'

Great award-winning song by Austin resident James McMurtry, with a 2006 video by Peter Anderson that does it justice. Posted on YouTube. -- MJ

Monday, September 15, 2008

Ever Notice There Aren't Many Libertarians After A Hurricane?

Manifesto Joe Interviews A Libertarian

Question: When natural disasters like hurricanes occur, doesn't this show the need for a reasonably strong federal government, strong in the right kinds of ways, to help those who have lost virtually everything?

Answer: A government that is big enough to give you everything you want is also powerful enough to take away everything you have.

Q: I'm talking about people who no longer have anything. It was the hurricane that took it all away. Their houses are gone. Their possessions have been swept away. To whom do they turn, if not government?

A: Themselves. This country was built by independent, resourceful, self-reliant people. The weak ones died off, and the strong survived. The pioneers weren't crybabies, whining for a handout, after locusts destroyed their crops. They tightened their belts and survived until the next crop came in.

Q: Historians say a lot of homesteaders had to go back East after catastrophes like that. And then, I doubt that they did well. We have no way of knowing how many starved or died of disease. Would a little disaster aid from a bigger federal government have been a bad thing then?

A: Those people knew the risks when they staked claims as homesteaders. Besides, remember that the land was given to them by the government. Just about anything government does, beyond the bare basics, turns out badly. And again, I'm just not concerned about weak people. Let them die off. Then, they're not a burden on taxpayers like me.

Q: This seems to have less to do with people being strong or weak as it does with people being lucky or unlucky, regarding hurricanes, locusts and such. What's your take on luck?

A: Luck has nothing to do with it. Successful people simply know how to work hard. They make their own luck.

Q: It's pretty challenging to work hard when you haven't eaten. If a swarm of locusts eats up your crops, and you have little to eat, doesn't this put you at a natural disadvantage versus someone who's "luckier"?

A: We obviously disagree about luck. Bad luck is a delusional excuse for failure. I don't know anybody who hasn't had some bad luck in their lives, but the strong work hard and overcome these obstacles. That's their natural advantage.

Q: So you're saying that some people are just naturally superior, and they deserve to survive and ultimately prosper because of natural selection? The social Darwinist thing?

A: Quite so. I have no time or money for the weak, or even the mediocre. Excellence should be the thing we cultivate. And that's best done in free markets.

Q: Back to the hurricane victims. There were a lot of swank subdivisions wiped out entirely by Ike. These were fancy homes before the storm. Aren't a lot of those folks the strong, successful ones you laud? And now back to luck. Wouldn't you say that theirs was pretty bad this time?

A: They don't need to whine about it, and I dare say many won't. They'll just rebuild.

Q: With government help?

A: In some cases, yes. But that's just people naturally taking advantage of opportunities. America is, after all, the land of opportunity.

Q: Hold the phone. You're saying it's OK for an upper-middle-class family, left homeless by a hurricane, to accept government help? Does that mean it's OK for the poor to accept it, too? According to your view, shouldn't they all be "self-reliant" and turn it down?

A: In a perfect world, that would be true. But you may have noticed that this world is far from perfect. In a perfect world, no government of any kind would be necessary.

Q: So you're admitting that government is at least a necessary evil?

A: Yes. And the best government is that which governs least. It limits itself to just taking care of the basics.

Q: Does that include disaster aid, for rich and poor alike?

A: If the aid is there -- in an imperfect world, it makes sense to take it.

Q: Did you go to college?

A: Yes.

Q: How did you pay for it?

A: I worked at part-time jobs.

Q: And that was all?

A: Well, there were student loans. I paid them all off. No thanks, of course, to the onerous tax burden from the federal government.

Q: These loans were available thanks to government programs. Legislation was passed, and funds were appropriated. This happened by design, not chance. If this hadn't happened, how would you have paid for college?

A: I would have found a way. The strong overcome obstacles.

Q: Like hurricanes?

A: Yes, to name only one kind.

Q: But you say very little good ever comes from government. Would you say that government lending you money for college resulted in something bad?

A: Even a blind sow finds an acorn now and then. There were a few people like me who took the loans and turned out well. Many just squandered the money. I saw it.

Q: I took the loans, plus grants and scholarships, paid the loans off, and haven't done badly, either. Looks like more than a few of us did well enough, paid the loans back, and got into a higher tax bracket so that we could help the next generation of less fortunate people like us. And we can also afford to help hurricane victims. But, back to education -- I've talked to young people who have told me that a lot of the college aid programs that our generation benefited from aren't there anymore. The programs were slashed again and again, and now there's not much money left. Shouldn't today's less advantaged young people have the same opportunity?

A: It's a hard world. Our generation was ...

Q: Lucky?

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Not Only Does Palin Kill Bullwinkle, She Spends Taxpayer Money To Slaughter Wolves And Bears

By Manifesto Joe

Stated upfront, I'm not anti-hunting. In my home state of Texas, the November-December ritual of deer hunters coming out to waste Bambi does serve an ecological purpose. The land can't support all the deer here, so annual culling actually helps.

So, it didn't shock or dismay me to hear that Klondike Hottie and her family are moose hunters. But what you are about to see on this video is disturbing. As Alaska governor, Sarah Palin has a record of supporting and bankrolling, with taxpayer money, barbaric aerial hunting of wolves and bears. This was posted on YouTube by defendersactionfund:

I know this isn't going to persuade very many people who were prepared to vote Republican anyway. The modern GOP isn't known for its empathy for wild, feral animals, unless you count Ann Coulter.

But to anyone who might still be fence-sitting, take note: Sarah Palin is a public official who may not even recognize that animals feel pain. And even if she does, she obviously doesn't give a wolf's ass.

To donate to Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, here's a link. They're trying to finance the airing of a TV ad about Palin's record on this issue.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

It's Worse Than I Thought: Inside Sarah Palin's Real Church, And This Is No Joke

In my previous post, I was making sport of Sarah Palin's holy-roller roots with the snake-handling images and such. But as details emerge, the real picture isn't funny at all. It's downright frightening. The Pentecostal church she belonged to, and basically grew up in, is linked to the "Third Wave" movement that has long been condemned by even the main line of Assemblies of God as heretical.

This was posted on YouTube by bruceewilson:

And, here's a link for more on the subject. -- MJ

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Inside Sarah Palin's Church: They Believe Prayer Can Convert Gays Into Straights

By Manifesto Joe

You read it right. Yahoo! News ran a piece from The Associated Press delving into Sarah Palin's background in organized religion. She used to be a Pentecostal (Assemblies of God).

You know -- it's that highly emotional Protestant denomination that is OK with speaking in unknown tongues and faith healing. Where I come from they are often referred to as "holy rollers" because of their habit of writhing about in the aisles when possessed by the Holy Spirit.

A few years ago she sort of switched to an "independent evangelical" church. (I thought that was basically what Pentecostals are.)

But, her current church embraces -- pardon the choice of words -- the Focus on the Family program that stresses prayer to help homosexuals become heterosexual. (But not practicing hetero until after marriage, of course.)

My question is: After this miracle of conversion, do they still have to handle the snakes?

There are subgroups among Pentecostals, mainly those in the South and Appalachian regions, that are into handling venomous serpents. Members have also been known to drink strychnine as a demonstration of faith.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

A Weekend Jazz Classic: Charles Mingus And Gerry Mulligan Together In 1975

Here are two of the greats of modern jazz, together, albeit late in both careers, for Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, written for the late, great Lester Young.

Mingus, in addition to being one of the most skilled stand-up bass players, was a most gifted composer, largely considered second only to Ellington in jazz history.

If you dig it, enjoy. -- MJ

Friday, September 5, 2008

Peggy Noonan, Mike Murphy Voice True Views About Palin On Hot Mike

This has been out for a day, but in case you haven't heard it, WSJ columnist Peggy Noonan and right-wing pundit Mike Murphy talked their way into a hot corner with hot mikes on, expressing candid observations about GOP veep nominee Sarah Palin. Here's the video, courtesy of WMAL News on YouTube:

Sweet drams, and dreams. -- MJ

Thursday, September 4, 2008

An Intriguing Postscript: 'The Real Sarah Palin'

Here's a most interesting link regarding Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, McCain's VP choice. The picture that emerges is that of a ruthless, right-wing, fiscally irresponsible opportunist who abysmally mismanaged her hometown on her way to some sort of national prominence. -- MJ

Palin, In Acceptance, Shows One Republican Qualification: She Knows How To Lie

By Manifesto Joe

Listening to Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's acceptance of the GOP vice presidential nomination was mildly entertaining. She's no spellbinder, but she delivers a fair speech. So much for form. As for substance, she already shows one great qualification to be a leading Republican candidate: She can lie to millions of people without a blink.

I kept hearing something about Obama planning to raise Americans' taxes. All kinds of taxes, on all sectors. Palin even brought up an example of her sister and brother-in-law (no, not that one) who were starting up a small business, a service station. How would things get better for them if their taxes were to go up?

The problem: Nobody, certainly not Obama, has been talking about that. I clearly recall Obama saying during the primaries that, with perhaps a few variations, he would favor a reversion of the federal tax burden to where it was during the Clinton years.

My wife and I have had something pretty close to a median U.S. income for over 20 years now. I clearly remember 1993, and the passage of the Clinton tax plan (by a margin of one vote in the House). I recall the Republicans' dire predictions for the economy, and how it would be wrecked, and how everyone's taxes would go up.

I also remember what happened to our taxes after the Clinton plan really went into effect. Our taxes DIDN'T go up. The rates DID go up on some very high-income taxpayers -- and within a few years, the federal government had not only a balanced budget, but a surplus.

Sounds like a great point of return. Here are Obama's actual positions, as detailed on his Web site.

Now, as for Palin's "executive" record on taxes?

As an example, I'll refer to the condition in which she left her hometown on her way to Juneau:

Palin Left Wasilla $20 Million In Debt. As mayor of Wasilla, Palin cut taxes while simultaneously expanding the town’s operating budget by almost $2 million. She ended her term in 2002 with Wasilla $20 million in debt. [Anchorage Daily News 10/23/06; the Politico, 8/29]

Thanks to fellow bloggers Yellow Dog and Warren Street for leading the way to this tidbit from Think Progress.

It appears, from this, that Sarah Palin has one other prime qualification for the Republican big time. She doesn't think you always need revenue to run a government entity. That puts her squarely in the economic camp of Republicans of the past 30 years. And it puts her, more importantly now, in the camp of the born-again supply-sider John McCain. Reaganomics III, anyone?

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.