December 31, 2007

Why Ron Paul is NOT a civil libertarian

Contra claims his followers make, by sponsoring this Congressional bill to keep the Supreme Courf from adjudicating state cases on abortion, First Amendment issues, sexual orientation, privacy rights, etc., Paul has shown he’s really a states-rights paleoconservative dressed up in libertarian drag.

And, yes, taking Glenn Greenwald at his word that he’s not supporting Paul’s campaign, why couldn’t he hold up Dodd and especially Kucinich more, and Paul less, even if they’re getting less MSM publicity, as legitimately injecting discussion about American imperialism into the presidential campaign, especially since they’re Democrats and we know no Republican is going to retreat from American imperialism?

I think Glenn’s been great on civil liberties issues, as well as American imperialism issues, the past few years, but, beyond that, to the degree he’s talked about other policy issues, I pretty much disagree with most of his stances.

Let’s remember Greenwald is ultimately a libertarian, and so on fiscal, regulatory, socioeconomic and other issues, he is NOT going to be a progressive.

In the latest ‘shock me’ news from Pakistan

First, it’s alleged that Rawalpindi’s police chief, and not Benazir Bhutto’s husband, blocked an autopsy into the exact cause of her death. And, in the totally unsurprising, President Pervez Musharraf sounds like he’s going to (indefinitely?) delay the Jan. 8 parliamentary election.

So, will Bush/Condi Rice actually do something beyond hand-wringing, like cut aid to Pakistan, or something even more serious, like a mild, but visible, set of limited sanctions against the country, up to working behind the scenes to encourage Musharraf to resign?

This is doubly true now that Britain’s Channel 4 has aired video footage clearly showing Bhutto being shot before the explosion. Gun-wieldng hitman are definitely not the mark of al-Qaeda; I would guess the same to be true of Islamist groups inside Pakistan.

That, the blocked autopsy, (her widower, Asif Ali Zardari, has said the family was against exhumation because it did not trust the government) and the refusal to use international help to investigate, all point to some degree of Pakistani government connection, if not outright collaboration. Simple hand-wringing just won’t cut it.

Meanwhile, political opponents inside Pakistan, and not just Nawaz Sharif, are calling for Musharraf to step down and be replaced by a national unity government. In U.S. politics, its interesting that this was the position adopted by Bill Richardson, then some other “second-tier” Democratic presidential candidates; however, none of the Democratic “big three,” nor any Republicans, have taken up that position.

From where I stand, the tepid response of the Democratic “big three” is yet another reason to question just how much newness they bring to foreign policy, and another reason to not vote for them.

Bloomberg run: Would it hurt Dems or GOP more?

It looks more and more likely New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will run for president. So, as I rhetorically asked about the “Mitt Romney” Christmas card a couple of days ago, cui bono?

I think which party benefits depends on the candidates, though, given Bloomberg’s stance on most social issues, he seems more likely to take actual or potential Democratic/Democratic-leaning independent votes than GOP ones.

If Clinton gets the Democratic nomination, even if her “divisiveness/Clinton history” negativity is overrated, it’s not non-existent, either. I think Bloomberg takes a heavy cut into her vote.

Edwards would probably be hit second-hardest, and Obama the least hard of the top three Democratic candidates.

On the GOP side, it would be hit hardest if Huckabee is nominated. Given that the non-Mayberry conservative hardcorers are already piling on Huck in National Review and elsewhere, some of them will see Bloomberg as solid enough fiscally to jump ship.

I think Romney and Giuliani are hit somewhat, and that McCain, rightly or wrongly seen as a “straight shooter,” gets hit the least.

Meanwhile, former Missouri Senator John Danforth summed up where many more moderate GOPers feel:
Danforth said he remains a Republican but finds little cause for optimism among the current GOP candidates. "My party is appealing to a real meanness," he said in an interview, "and an irresponsible sense of machismo in foreign policy. I hope it will be less extreme, but I'm an American before I'm a Republican." Danforth has also written critically about the impact of religious conservatives on the Republican Party.

Yes, John, but did you pull the lever for Shrub in 2004, or at least stay home if nothing else? And, let’s not forget that you’re the senator who foisted Clarence Thomas on us. Even if you couldn’t have seen everything about him in advance, the man showed his intellectual dishonesty in advance of his confirmation by essentially denying he’d ever been helped by affirmative action.

In addition, as Steve Benen points out at Washington Monthly, in comparing Unity ’08 to most Democratic candidates, at least, the movement’s focus on “bipartisanship” is a problem in search of a solution, as Obama, Edwards and Richardson have all pledged to have Republicans in their cabinets. (Whether such a pledge is a good idea, and whether “bipartisanship” is such a good idea, is another question entirely.

Update: Per Glenn Greenwald, the simplest characterization of Bloomberg is either as Rudy Giuliani with much more money, or a kinder, gentler, neoconservative.

That second characterization is especially apt.

Bloomberg gave blank-check support to the invasion of Iraq, on that issue, and, as far as being in the Israel lobby’s corner, gave blank-check support to Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon.

December 29, 2007

Merry Christmas, South Carolina, from ‘Mitt’

In the latest in a long tradition of South Carolina mudslinging, voters there got a Christmas card purporting to be from Mitt Romney. The catch? It claims to be from the Boston (Mormon) Temple and it’s filled with comments from The Book of Mormon and Mormon leads not the Christian Bible.
“We have now clearly shown that God the Father had a plurality of wives, one or more being in eternity by whom He begat our spirits as well as the spirit of Jesus His first born, and another being upon the earth by whom he begat the tabernacle of Jesus, as his only begotten in this world,” reads one passage from Orson Pratt, cited on the card as an “original member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles.”

Obviously, it’s a fraud, but, to use the Latin, “cui bono,” who did it?

My No. 1 guess — Rudy Giu-lie-ani, or an official or unaffiliated surrogate.

McCain, for all his faults, just doesn’t seem the type to stoop that low, even through surrogates. Besides, he’s surging. Ron Paul’s libertarian faith-based campaign believes wishful thinking, or the power of the will, can win elections. Fred Thompson’s probably too stupid.

So, that leaves Rudy, right? He’s slipping in the polls, and he certainly does have the personality to pull something like that.

But, so does somebody else: Mitt Romney

Remember, Mitt’s own staff was a suspect in the anti-Romney Iowa robocalling this fall, still unresolved as to who did it. And, besides the personality (though less of a hatchet man than Rudy), the poll slippage and everything else describes Mitt as well as Rudy.

Interesting… your vote?

Nepotism among Bhutto assassination fallout

Benazir Bhutto’s 19-year-old son, Bilawal, reportedly will be named the new head of the Pakistan People's Party. Uhh, in a democracy, you’d actually have a caucus of party leaders or something, even in an emergency like this, and you certainly wouldn’t give the reins to a 19-year-old kid.

That’s even worse than Rajiv Ghandi being named his mom’s successor as head of the Congress Party in India.

December 27, 2007

Citi to double housing-related writeoff

A little over a month ago, Citi said it was probably going to have to write off about $8 billion in bad loan debt, much of it housing related. Turns out the real answer (for now, anyway) is going to be more than twice that much.
Citigroup Inc. could write off as much as $18.7 billion in the fourth quarter, wrote Goldman analysts William F. Tanona, Betsy Miller and Neil C. Sanyal in a note to investors late Wednesday. If it does, they say, the bank may be forced to lower its dividend by 40 percent.

Citi has about $55 billion in exposure to subprime mortgages, about $43 billion of which are collateralized debt obligations, or CDOs, that have mortgages underlying them.

“We still believe it will be a couple of quarters before the current credit crisis is fully digested by the markets,” the Goldman analysts wrote.

After the November announcement, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority bought a $7.5 billion chunk of the bank, a 5 percent investment. If the writedown is this bad, Citi will probably need another investment at least that large.

Of course, with that type of bleeding, that means it will be a buyer’s market for any chunk of Citi. And, that’s true in spades if Citi, as is likely, also has to cut its dividend significantly.
CIBC World Markets Corp. analyst Meredith Whitney has said for months that Citi's dividend should be on the chopping block. Earlier this month, she wrote that along with cutting the dividend, Citigroup should raise at least $30 billion in additional capital and sell at least $100 billion in assets.

And, it’s not just Citi. The same Goldman analysts expect Merrill Lynch to have to write off an additional $11.5 billion. Of course, the more these investment banks bleed, and the more their value drops, the more it becomes a falling spiral.

Rall: Is Dems’ “No to Iraq, yes to Afghanistan” any better than Bush?

Bhutto assassination seems to confirm his take

His succinct answer? No. First, Ted Rall makes the case this is the wrong war in the wrong place:
In fact, Osama bin Laden was in Pakistan the whole time U.S. forces were “looking” for him in Afghanistan. So was Al Qaeda, and most of its training camps. The money for 9/11 came from Saudi Arabia. The hijackers came from Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Being fought by the wrong military:
I’m not convinced the military can fight terrorists. Blowing up schools and weddings is a lousy way to fight Islamic extremism. The history of counterinsurgency shows that it’s easier to kill your enemies with an open mind than with bombs. But if you’re determined to go the military route, you’d be better off taking on Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt — in that order.

Rall says he expects little different from both Democratic Congressional leadership and presidential candidates.

But, he notes that some educated voters are starting to see things differently.
Not everyone is falling for the Democrats’ “forget their war, let’s fight our war” spiel, though. A letter to the editor of the Times began: “I hope that when the Bush administration and NATO conclude their analyses of the Afghanistan mission they will reach one inescapable, common-sense conclusion: that Western-style democracy cannot be militarily imposed on a culture that is based on tribal loyalties. Maybe at that point, our nation and the world will be able to finally use our economic and human resources in a more efficient manner.”

Personally, I accepted the war in Afghanistan when it started, though I wasn’t gung-ho about it.

But, if you look at things today, short of pumping far, far more troops in their than the Soviets ever did (extra troops needed to offset the Soviets’ indiscriminate use of mines), we don’t have a chance in Afghanistan.

And, getting back to Rall’s initial point, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan shows that fighting in Afghanistan without doing anything about Pakistan is like Sisyphus vainly pushing the rock up the hill.

I would say that we should privately give Afghan President Hamid Karzai a Dec. 31, 2009 deadline (very generous) for us wrapping up our presence in Afghanistan. We then should get serious with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and threaten not just a cutoff of economic aid, but a push for international sanctions.

Your latest upbeat economic news

Home prices fall for the 10th month in a row AND, the price drops are spreading to broader swaths of the country. The October drop-off was 6.1 percent from a year ago.

Yale economist Robert Schiller says the falloff from the June 2006 peak of the housing bubble is the worst since World War II.

For details of how the housing bust is hitting southwest Florida, pretty much ground zero of the bursting bubble, read here.

“Texas — it’s a whole other country” (for killing people)

The Texas slogan literally rings true, sickeningly, in the area of capital punishment. Texas has executed more people this year than all other death penalty states combined. Of course, when you have a state with an appellate jurist, Judge Sharon Keller of the Court of Criminal Appeals, who deliberately closes up shop at 5 p.m. to prevent a death penalty appeal that is based on an expected Supreme Court review of lethal injection, that says something about the state’s judicial system, as does this:
The rate at which Texas sentences people to death is not especially high given its murder rate. But once a death sentence is imposed there, said Richard C. Dieter, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, prosecutors, state and federal courts, the pardon board and the governor are united in moving the process along. “There’s almost an aggressiveness about carrying out executions,” said Dieter, whose organization opposes capital punishment.

The rest of the nation is seeing the light, more and more, but not Texas.

And, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

December 21, 2007

Green Party presidential candidates announced

1. Jared Ball, independent journalist; radio host (WPFW 89.3 FM Pacifica Radio in Washington, D.C.), hip-hop scholar, assistant professor of communications studies at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Md.

2. Elaine Brown, 2005 Green candidate for Mayor of Brunswick, Ga.; former leader of the Black Panther Party; organizer of Mothers Advocating Juvenile Justice and National Alliance for Radical Prison Reform.

3. Jesse Johnson (YouTube clip, not official website), 2006 US Senate candidate and 2004 gubernatorial candidate for the Mountain Party in West Virginia (now affiliate state party of the Green Party of the United States); filmmaker.

4. Kat Swift, Kat Swift, Texas Green organizer; former Campus Greens leader; activist with Clean Money San Antonio and San Antonio Democracy Now.

5. Kent Mesplay, 2004 candidate for the Green presidential nomination; former president of Turtle Island Institute; environmental engineer, alternative energy activist; California Green organizer.

6. Cynthia McKinney, former member of the US House of Representatives (Georgia), 1993 to 2003, 2005 to 2007; former member of the Georgia House of Representatives, 1988-1992.

7. Ralph Nader, 1996 and 2000 Green candidate for President; 2004 independent candidate for President; consumer advocate (Howie Hawkins of the Green Party of New York State has consented to serve as a 'placeholder' candidate until Mr. Nader announces his intentions for the 2008 election).

I’m going to offer my take, as a 2004 Green Party voter, and financial contributor once since then.

I’m going to start with the bottom two candidates on the list, intentionally put there by my precisely because they’re the only two known to non-Greens.

I doubt Nader will get the nomination, just as an official Green caucus denied him the 2004 nomination. However, I would be shocked if he actually harnesses his ego enough not to run an independent campaign.

Cynthia McKinney? Stereotypes and smears related to 9/11 aside, her temper, and sense of entitlement, do concern me. She also (and this coming from someone who doesn’t come close to supporting the Israel lobby) can flirt with the boundaries of something approaching anti-Semitism.

So, let’s look at the not-so-famous candidates.

I’ve already seen a copy of Brown’s platform. She tries to out-Sweden Sweden by calling for a $25/hour minimum wage. Given that, even for full-time employees, U.S. per capita income isn’t a lot more than that, and is a lot below that in the heartland, this isn’t close to realistic.

I have a bit of familiarity with Swift. Clean money is a good emphasis and I don’t see anything wrong with her.

Mesplay, with his background in alt-energy, has a strong “core Green” issue, and one of importance.

I know less about Ball (though a real journalist from Pacifica Radio can’t be too bad, IMO) or Johnson.

More info on all candidates is here.

Lakota declare themselves separate nation – free Leonard Peltier?

Noting multiple broken U.S. treaties, and citing Article Six of the U.S. Constitution and the Vienna Convention of 1980, the Lakota have declared themselves independent. Longtime American Indian Movement activist Russell Means delivered the proclamation:
“We are no longer citizens of the United States of America and all those who live in the five-state area that encompasses our country are free to join us.

“This is according to the laws of the United States, specifically article six of the constitution.

“It is also within the laws on treaties passed at the Vienna Convention and put into effect by the US and the rest of the international community in 1980. We are legally within our rights to be free and independent."

What’s next?

Free Leonard Peltier!

No, seriously. Free Leonard Peltier, or at least give him a new trial. Besides, he’s no longer a U.S. citizen right?

Beyond “gimmick” status, maybe this will have benefits such as jump-starting the stalled lawsuit against the Department of Interior for mismanaging Indian tribal fiduciary investments, and forcing more seriousness about Indian rights in general.

At the same time, does Means really want to try to go back to pre-Columbian North America? Sure, you’d have no smallpox, measles, etc., as well as no white folks around, but, you’d also have no horses, no guns and no smelted metals.

California to sue BushCo over EPA waiver denial

As I noted earlier this week, the Environmental Protection Agency, in wake of the new energy bill and its higher car mileage standards that Congress just passed, denied California (and 12 other states wanting to piggyback) a waiver to institute new standards on carbon dioxide emissions.

Well, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t taking it lying down. He says he’s going to sue.
“I am extremely disappointed by EPA's decision to block the will of millions of people in California and 16 other states who want us to take tough action against global warming,” Schwarzenegger said in a statement.

“I have no doubt that we will prevail because the law, science, and the public’s demand for leadership are on our side,” Schwarzenegger said.

Fortunately, with the BushCo clock running, the EPA will have a new chief in place by the time this suit progresses very far.

December 20, 2007

Yet another empirical swift kick in the pants for Charles Murray and “The Bell Curve”

Romanian children moved from orphanages to foster care show a 12-15 point gain on IQ, if placed before the age of 2.

So much for that high heritability of “q,” a mythical intelligence factor that’s never even been proven to exist.

What happens if all those CDOs are uninsured?

It’s quite possible. Today, bond insurer MBIA announced it has more exposure to collateralized debt obligations than its entire net worth.
MBIA said it has exposure to $30.6 billion in complex mortgage securities that it insures, an amount that eclipses its entire net worth, … (including) exposure to $8.1 billion of collateralized debt obligations, or CDOs, including mostly risky debt known as CDO squared, or CDOs backed by other CDOs, it reported on its Web site late on Wednesday. The company's net worth as of September 30 was $6.5 billion.

Meanwhile, Morgan Stanley’s mix of real indignation over the under-insuring, mixed with faux indignation about another company besides Morgan Stanley cutting corners on investments, sounds like it comes straight from a reel of “Casablanca”:
“We are shocked that management withheld this information for as long as it did,” Morgan Stanley said in a report, referring to the CDO-squared exposure.

Shocked that there’s gambling in this loan-based securities establishment!

Meawhile, Bear Stearns posted its first quarterly loss in history.

I’m sure the bulls on the Street are trying to do their latest spinmeistering as we speak.

December 19, 2007

EPA proves it’s part of BushCo, rejects California CO2 wavier

The Environmental Protection Agency, using what opponents claim is bad math to downplay the mpg effect of California’s desire to regulate automobile CO2, has officially rejected California’s waiver request. It was the first time EPA had fully denied a California waiver since Congress gave the state permission to seek them in 1967.

EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson claimed it was too piecemeal a solution (duhhh, Congress’ explicit intent of the waiver allowance being ignored) and that the new fuel economy bill (which is actually voluntary for years and which California backers say will be slower to improve mpg than California controlling CO2) should override California’s request.

Evolution’s acceleration and the evolution of religious belief

Recent news that the pace of human evolution may have accelerated in the last 40,000 years, and accelerated a lot in the last 10,000, seems like it would fit both with books I’ve read on cognitive science and evolutionary psychology’s connection with religion by others such as Scott Atran and Pascal Boyer, but also with the dating of cave paintings in sites such as Lascaux.

Now China wants a piece of the U.S. financial action

Just weeks after Singapore and the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority became major investors in cash-strapped financial institutions, China is getting in on the action.
Morgan Stanley, the No. 2 U.S. investment bank, reported a $9.4 billion writedown on Wednesday from bad bets on mortgage-related debt, leading it to take a $5 billion infusion from an arm of the Chinese government.

China Investment Corp. (made the) investment in Morgan Stanley. China's government-controlled investment vehicle will hold no more than 9.9 percent of the investment bank once its investment converts to common shares in 2010.

Several points to note. One, the writedown is three times what MS had previously warned of just a month ago.

Two, if the writedown problems are continually that bad, as every financial institution weighing in on the matter of their books in the past 30 days have said, just how shaky is the system?

Three, as I’ve talked about before, just how much will foreigners try to invest in U.S. financial institutions? Will the Securities and Exchange Commission weigh in, or drop some hints? Or the Fed? Or Congress?

Paul Kennedy spoke about issues like this in his magisterial book, “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers,” too.

December 18, 2007

J-school 101 should teach you not to editorialize like this

In a story about the failure of a revenue-neutral bill to change how the alternative minimum tax falls, AP writer Jim Abrams uncorks this whopper:
Failure to enact AMT legislation before this session of Congress concludes this week would be a political disaster for both parties, but especially for majority Democrats.

No empirical evidence or even political analysis to justify this statement. And, where’s his editor’s blue pencil?

FCC: Big Media can now be Ginormous Media

The Federal Communications Commission, on a party-line 3-2 vote, will let broadcasters in the nation’s biggest cities also own newspapers.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin disingenuously claims that shrinkage in the newspaper biz makes this a safe move.

Of course, that’s exactly the opposite of true. Big Media, by newspapers, is a smaller pie than before; even in the nation’s 20 largest metropolitan areas, not all have multiple daily newspapers, and, of those that do, some of them have two newspapers in joint operating agreements.

The discussion and debate was rancorous:
The Democrats blasted the chairman for making changes to the proposal "in the dead of night" and just before the meeting that created new ownership loopholes instead of closing them, as he pledged during a recent hearing on Capitol Hill.

“Anybody who thinks our processes are open, thoughtful or deliberative should think twice in light of these nocturnal escapades,” said Democrat Jonathan Adelstein.

The Democrat said Martin's proposal “will allow for waivers for six new newspaper-broadcast combinations and 36 grandfathered stations.”

In places like here in Dallas, where The Dallas Morning News and WFAA-TV, one of the grandfathered stations, use this to lay off more employees, do “package” coverage, and shamelessly market each other while refusing to include each other in media criticism and critiquing pieces, shows just how wrong this is.

And where was the Fed with these lending controls five years ago?

If St. Alan Greenspan had proposed these checks on subprime lending, especially unscrupulous subprime lenders, we never would have had the housing bubble, followed by collapse, we’re now facing.

The Fed NOW, finally, is considering:
_restricting lenders from penalizing certain subprime borrowers — those with tarnished credit or low incomes — who pay off their loans early. The restriction would apply to loans that meet certain conditions, including that the penalty expire at least 60 days before any possible payment increase.

_forcing lenders to make sure that subprime borrowers set aside money to pay for taxes and insurance.

_barring lenders from making loans when they don't have proof, or verification, of a borrower's income.

_prohibiting lenders from engaging in a pattern or practice of lending without considering a borrower's ability to repay a home loan from sources other than the home's value.

Heck, if some other Fed governor had proposed these ideas five years ago, St. Alan probably would have ignored him or her.

But, anointed by Republicans and DLC/Clintonite Democrats, he was able to get away with economic adventurism.

BushCo lies on the domestic front

Housing starts remain at a 16-year low, Christmas spending is weak, and people are concerned but, according to our MBA Prez (who was probably partying through his macroeconomics classes), the economy is “pretty good.” Keep talking up the economy like you talk up Iraq and it will really tank.

December 16, 2007

Ron Paul-heads at it again

Fake campaign support forum websites appear to offer fake support to just about every GOP candidate except Ron Paul, Sarah Lai Stirland reports:
FredThompsonForum.com is one of a small network of sites with prime domain names, like RudyGiulianiForum.com and MittRomneyforum.com, that have sprung up this year and share uncanny similarities. They use the same forum software, are hidden behind anonymous domain-registration services and are served by the same hosting company with a common internet IP address. ,,,

Texas lawmaker Ron Paul seems to have escaped the phenomenon. A Ron Paul forum hosted from the same IP address, and with the same layout as the others, is packed with genuine supporters in earnest discussion. The registered owner of that domain did not respond to interview requests from Wired News.

But, the tables recently got turned.
Already known to a handful of political bloggers, Wired News learned about the forums last week, after outraging many Paulites by reporting on a flurry of deceptive spam promoting Ron Paul's candidacy. Apparently in retaliation, a RudyGiulianiForum.com member posed as this reporter and posted a message to the forum boasting that the story was a “fake,” and had supposedly been written in exchange for payment from Giuliani supporters. “Hopefully, it will help accomplish your goals,” the post read, signing off with this reporter’s name.

Long-time forum members played along. The message board thread was later deleted, but not before fooling other Ron Paul supporters, one of whom produced a YouTube video offering the spoofed post as proof that Wired News was on Rudy Giuliani's payroll. The video enjoyed wide circulation online (including on Wired Digital's own Reddit news-aggregation site) and had been viewed more than 16,000 times by Monday afternoon.

So much for that extra moral integrity Paul-heads would bring to the campaign, right?

To Mitch Albom: Do you actually have an opinion on steroids in baseball?

Albom, whether through writing a column weeks in advance, channeling Morrie some Tuesday, or whatever, gives us a Dallas Morning News "on the one hand, on the other hand," column rather than actually telling us how he feels? Here you go.The intro, with the first hand of his “on the one hand, is reprinted; my replies follow:
Below are two lists. Why Steroids Matter. Why Steroids Don't Matter. Get a pencil, and circle the statements you agree with.
WHY STEROIDS DON'T MATTER
• 1. It's not illegal to use them if you have a prescription.
• 2. There was no testing in baseball until a few years ago -- well after many of the athletes cited in the Mitchell Report allegedly used them.
• 3. The misconceptions about steroids are insane: When properly used, they are not health-threatening.
• 4. Athletes always try to get an edge.
• 5. What about "greenies" -- amphetamines -- which players took for years? Should every player who took them be black-marked and asterisked?
• 6. What about caffeine? Doesn't that give you an edge? Some players gulp coffee or take caffeine pills. Should they be black-marked too?
• 7. If steroids were so bad, why did coaches and managers look the other way for so long?
• 8. If steroids were such an advantage, why were many of the players in the Mitchell Report unexceptional talents, some even journeymen?
• 9. Baseball is entertainment. You pay to see a show. The summer of 1998, when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa had their record home-run chase, was a glorious time. What's bad about that?
• 10. These guys are grown men.
• 11. It's unrealistic to test every player for everything.
• 12. Human growth hormone is not an illegal steroid. You can use it if you get a prescription.
• 13. Many nonathletes swear by HGH for healing and slowing aging.
• 14. Who cares about baseball records? You can't compare eras anyhow. They used to play fewer games. Blacks weren't allowed until the 1940s. All records are relative.
• 15. The general public is sick of this story.

1. Unscrupulous docs will write unscrupulous prescriptions.
2. Lack of testing doesn't make the illegal legal.
3. Different steroids have different effects, and weren't using them for normally prescribed reasons.
4. So, we stop checking athletes?
5. Yes, so we should up enforcement and checking on amphetamines without ignoring steroids.
6. Caffeine? OK, Chuck, Mitch Albom's officially a douchbag at that point.
7. Cuz coaches want to win? Duh. Why did Belichick have a spy camera? Mitch is now douchbag squared.
8. AAA players were hoping to lock down a big-league shot.
9. More excuse-making.
10. Arguable.
11. Bullshit. Although the Olympics isn't perfect, it tests a lot more than baseball.
12. Ditto for No. 1 on prescribed steroids.
13. Just because a quack doctor makes quack claims.... how many players wear magnetic bracelets or other quackery?
14. Another non sequitur excuse
15. Sounds like the Bush Administration saying "move along" from its latest scandal.

December 15, 2007

BushCo’s latest dodge on the CIA waterboarding tapes trail

The administration told Judge Henry H. Kennedy it didn’t have to turn over info about the tapes because the Justice Department was investigating the matter itself.. You know the rest of the drill.

AG Mike Mukasey does a pro forma investigation. (He’s already told the Senate Intelligence Committee to buzz off.) Says he finds nothing.

Case closed.

December 14, 2007

Support presidential debates and discussions on science issues

We need science-literate, science-honest leaders at the top, above all in the White House. That certainly doesn’t include George W. Bush’s lies on environmental issues, nor Mike Huckabee’s denial of evolution — nor does it include Dennis Kucinich with claims to have talked to a UFO, for that matter.

Anyway, click here to call for a presidential debate on science and technology.

GOP: It’s OK to play the class warfare card, but only in our primaries

Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson have no problem bashing Mitt Romney as rich.

But, if some Democrat would say this against Romney, should he get the nomination, then Democrats would of course be practicing “class warfare.”

And, some Rethug will probably come up with the line that “playing class warfare helps the terrorists.”

The Preznit, true to form, is even a hypocrite on baseball

President George W. Bush says the use of steroids in baseball, as revealed by the Mitchell Report, has sullied the game. What a piece of crap.

I have no doubt that Canseco is right, and that you, Mr. W., full well knew at least the basics of Canseco teaching people like Raffy Palmeiro to shoot one another in the ass with roids while you were managing general partner of the Texas Rangers.

Greenspan uses the R-word

Well, it must be economically official. If St. Alan says recession chances are “clearly rising” then you can make economic book on it.

Of course, St. Alan also engaged in some spinmeistering to keep his halo polished:
Greenspan again rejected criticism that his policy actions helped to feed a housing boom that eventually went bust. Critics say Greenspan held interest rates too low for too long after the 2001 recession.

To have prevented such euphoria in housing that fed a bubble in prices, Greenspan said the Fed would have had to jack up interest rates so high that it would have damaged the economy. “That would have broken the back of the economy, and brought the housing boom down,” Greenspan said.

In a word, bullshit.

First, the Fed has regulatory powers St. Alan rejected using. The Wall Street Journal has more on how St. Alan deliberately rejected the idea of more regulatory policing of lending institutions way back in 2000. And, as the Journal points out, there's a need for it.

Second, Fed could have coordinated policy with agencies such as the FDIC, in areas beyond Fed direct regulation, including jawboning these institutions not to lower the monetary reserve margin backing up their loans, for starters.

Third, St. Alan could have used the Fed bully pulpit to beat down the excess of subprime mortgages, as well as exotic mortgage-based investments such as CDOs, which were predicated on the mortgage boom.

And, in refutation to what St. Alan says about bringing the housing boom down, the housing boom is being brought down now, with more pain likely, and/or another bubbling elsewhere, than if you, YOU, had acted sooner, St. Alan.

I’m sure Andrea Mitchell will NOT be reporting on this.

E.U. has simple CO2 plan for cars

Its mandatory car CO2 emissions restrictions is set to go into effect. Meanwhile, our Congress can’t even agree on upping mpg standards, let alone even consider adding a CO2 standard.

December 13, 2007

BushCo pots and kettles, international division

In the wake of Argentina trying to extradite a citizen the U.S. is putting forward as a witness in a case accusing four others as being illegal foreign agents of Venezuela, State Department spokesman Sean McCormick had this to say:
“We have talked about (Venezuela’s) interference in the affairs of other countries. They have tried to insert themselves into various elections throughout the region and in several cases it has backfired.”

Just like your tacit support of the Venezuelean coup against Chavez backfired, eh?

Here it comes: foreign bank buy-ups

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority’s $7.5 bil buy into Citigroup got all the publicity, but Singapore bought a $10 bil chunk of UBS recently, too. It’s striking to note that both purchases were made on terms that put the American companies’ stock valuation at little above junk-bond status.

So, what’s next? A tightening of the lending spigots. Singapore didn’t get to the level of development it has today by throwing around nickels like manhole covers.

Maybe, the venerable Singaporean practice of caning will get exported the boardrooms of UBS and other American financial institutions while we’re at it. It couldn’t hurt.

E.U. to call Bush out on climate

Unless Bush agrees to specific emissions cuts at Bali E.U. members are threatening to boycott U.S. led climate talks next month:
“No result in Bali means no Major Economies Meeting,” said Sigmar Gabriel, a top EU environment official, referring to a series of separate climate talks initiated by President Bush in September.

“We are a bit disappointed that all the world is still waiting for the United States,” added Humberto Rosa, Portugal’s Secretary of State for Environment. Portugal holds the rotating EU presidency and Rosa is the EU’s chief negotiator at the Bali talks.

Meanwhile, we’ve already got the White House spin accusing the E.U. being the obstructionists.
”I think those that suggest that we magically find an agreement on a metric when we are just starting ... that in itself is a blocking effort,”said Jim Connaughton, the chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. “We need to free up this conversation so we can have the deliberation to find as much consensus and collective engagement.”

Puhleeze.

Because of this, I doubt it will change anything in Washington if the EU boycotts Bush’s charade. The only thing that might actually work is if World Trade Organization rules allowed tariffs to address pollution or CO2 levels, but, unfortunately, that ain’t the case — yet.

I think the next round of General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, or GATT, talks, needs to discuss exactly that.

When Democrats fight ain’t so pretty either

House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel? Senate Democrats have “Stockholm syndrome” for caving to Senate GOP filibuster threats all the time.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid criticizes Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s “iron hand” style of government. (Oh, if it were only true, Harry. You must be confusing her with former GOP Speaker Dennis Hastert, or his power behind the throne, Majority Leader Tom DeLay.)

Neither side of the Capitol Dome has done itself much credit. The latest anti-results:
Democrats in each chamber are now blaming their colleagues in the other for the mess in which they find themselves. The predicament caused the majority party yesterday surrender to President Bush on domestic spending levels, drop a cherished renewable-energy mandate and move toward leaving a raft of high-profile legislation, from addressing the mortgage crisis to providing middle-class tax relief, undone or incomplete.

And, the backbiting probably isn’t dying down. Not after comments like this:
Reid has let his own frustration show. After Republican senators accused Pelosi of lying about her intentions on a comprehensive energy bill, the majority leader offered a backhanded defense.

“I can’t control Speaker Pelosi,” he said on the chamber floor. “I hope everybody understands that. She is a strong, independent woman. She runs the House with an iron hand. I support what she does, but no one needs to come and tell me I didn’t keep my word.”

There’s plenty of blame to go around here. First, on Reid’s side, besides his anti-filibuster all-nighter on Iraq spending, he still hasn’t figured out enough sneaky tactics to counter GOP filibuster threats. Surely, Robert Byrd, “Mr. Senate,” could tell him a trick or two.

If nothing else, why doesn’t Reid threaten to do what House Appropriations Chair David Obey plans? Gut any Senate spending bill of earmarks until Republicans start squeaking. It WILL work.

Look at the water bill that Congress recently re-passed to override a Bush veto for the first time. If there’s money involved, the GOP will listen.

On Pelosi’s side, part of it is that a number of freshman Democrats are fairly conservative. At the same time, she pissed off many of the definite liberals, before taking over, by how much, besides impeachment itself, she seemed ready to rule off the political table.

Two-thirds of Pakistanis want Musharraf out — will he go?

An International Republican Institute poll has the details:
The poll showed more than two-thirds of Pakistanis opposed Musharraf's move on November 3 to impose emergency rule and suspend the constitution. He then cracked down on the media, detained thousands of opponents and replaced the Supreme Court. …

The poll underscores Musharraf's slumping popularity this year as the armed forces struggled with growing militant violence, while his attempt to remove Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry backfired and sparked widespread street protests.

But, with Chaudhry and other judges still in lock-up, how can anything result but the rigged election most Pakistanis exist?

We’ll see just how committed to democracy BushCo is by the statement Condoleezza Rice makes after the election.

And here’s why talking about “core inflation” is so stupid

In making many of its inflationary statements, the Commerce Department talks about “core inflation,” which includes the stereotypically-phrased “often volatile” food and energy costs. Folks like the Fed follow along The reason behind November’s 3.2 percent jump in wholesale prices put the kibosh on that:
Wholesale prices shot up 3.2 percent, the biggest jump in 34 years, propelled by a record rise in gasoline prices.

Given our just-in-time retail delivery system and the amount of retail goods we import, it’s ludicrous to exclude energy prices from inflation talk.

With inanity like this, the U.S. won’t necessarily have to worry about the E.U. so much

The new European Union reform treaty was signed in Lisbon, Portugal, due to Portuguese vanity, despite an EU requirement that all such treaties be signed in Brussels, Belgium.

So, the E.U. will have a “re-do” signing ceremony in Brussels. Portugal had the rotating presidency of the E.U. and insisted the treaty be signed there. Meanwhile, E.U. government is itself split, with its parliament meeting in both Brussels and Strasbourg, France.

We’ll also see just how serious the E.U. is about global warming if/when it agrees to tackle/eliminate some of these redundancies.

In any case, while the E.U. rightfully regulates business in a way the U.S. doesn’t, it will hamstring itself with stuff like this.

December 12, 2007

Levin trying to gut energy bill and Bush is piggybacking

Sen. Carl Levin is reportedly trying to jigger things, in the name of getting EPA and the Transportation Department on the same page, to restrict the ability of California to enact more stringent pollution controls, most namely, now, on carbon dioxide.

Shock me that a Michigander in Congress would do this, even after this backdoor gutting of the bill had already been shut down in the House.

Of course, the Polluter-in-Chief is ready to go along for the ride.

Both Levin and Bush argue that just one agency should have actual authority over mileage and related issues, and both want to put EPA in a purely advisory position.

Shockingly, this comes after the Supreme Court ruled this summer that EPA can regulate CO2; tie that with the EPA letting California set more stringent pollution rules, and you have the basis for California to set tougher CO2 standards, and for states that have EPA waivers to follow California on other issues to do so here.

In essence, both Levin and Bush want to do an end run on the SCOTUS ruling, pull the rug out from under California and tag-along states, and keep CO2 regs off the U.S. table – period.

Don’t believe the lies about wanting to coordinate government agencies; it’s all about gutting CO2 regs.

More proof the dollar is going in the crapper – will OPEC follow?

Russian oil and gas giant Lukoil is discussing denominating its sales in rubles by 2009.

OPEC members Iran and Venezuela have already said that oil consortium should switch to the euro for similar reasons, but OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia has put the kibosh on that, so far.

However, if other Russian oil and gas companies follow Lukoil into ruble-land, or even the Euro-zone, the pressure on the Saudis to at least do dual denomination, as in the old, pre-1970s OPEC doing dollar-pound sterling dual denomination, will increase.

Waterboarding update – maybe Mike Hayden needs a taste

First, if the White House has been court-ordered not to destroy torture-related evidence, it’s a clear lie for Bush to say “I didn’t know anything about waterboarding.”

Second, I posted earlier this week that third-party countries that cooperate in CIA renditions might have more tapes. Well, we don’t know that yet, but the fact that the waterboarding incidents occurred in other countries was the legal loophole the Spook Shack used to avoid court order about not destroying the tapes:
(T)he tapes themselves were never brought onto U.S. territory; they were kept, and later destroyed, at a secret location overseas. At one point portions of the tapes were electronically transmitted to CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., so a small number of officials there could review them. A counterterrorism source, who also asked for anonymity when discussing this subject, said that there was no reason to believe that any recordings of such an electronic feed still exist.

That said, I’m of the opinion that more stuff still does exist overseas in black-site countries, and, as I posted earlier, that the Spook Shack likely would have transferred technical physical custody to torture partners as an extra layer of legal CYA at some point.

Hell, for that case, maybe individual CIA agents went Abu Ghraib and whipped out their own cell-phone cameras or something.

Anyway, whether any more such tapes exist or not, here’s how the Clusterfucked Idiots’ Agency’s stance on the tapes we know once existed all played out:
The CIA destroyed the tapes in November 2005. That June, U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. had ordered the Bush administration to safeguard “all evidence and information regarding the torture, mistreatment, and abuse of detainees now at the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay.”

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler issued a nearly identical order that July.

At the time, that seemed to cover all detainees in U.S. custody. But Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the terrorism suspects whose interrogations were videotaped and then destroyed, weren't at Guantanamo Bay. They were prisoners that existed off the books — and apparently beyond the scope of the court's order.

Leading the Head Spook to defend his agency thusly:
CIA director Michael Hayden told the agency in an e-mail this week that internal reviewers found the tapes were not relevant to any court case.

A sweet-and-sour legal bankshot.

But, this thing might not be over:
Attorneys say that might not matter. David H. Remes, a lawyer for Yemeni citizen Mahmoad Abdah and others, asked Kennedy this week to schedule a hearing on the issue.

In legal documents filed in January 2005, Assistant Attorney General Peter D. Keisler assured Kennedy that government officials were "well aware of their obligation not to destroy evidence that may be relevant in pending litigation.”

Assurance from the Department of Justice?

I’ve got BushCo DOJ “assurance” in one hand, and a warm, steaming pile of crap in the other. How do you tell the difference?

It’s simple – the warm, steaming pile of crap still has more substance.

Beyond that, here’s an idea. Let’s waterboard Hayden until he pleas guilty to perjury and/or obstruction of justice, along with former CIA operations chief Jose Rodriguez, the man who signed off on destroying the tapes. And, they admit to any more tapes or other evidence.

It’s called “poetic justice.”

Update: Hayden knew of the existence of the tapes before becoming CIA head:
Hayden said he learned of the terrorist interrogation videotapes more than a year ago in his tenure as principal deputy director of national intelligence, a post he held from April 2005 to May 2006. He said he did not know that the tapes were being destroyed.

Bush still has wool over the eyes of at least one Iowan

On the Iowa campaign trail, at least one Iowan still believes has basically decided to tell Bush and Congressional GOP to “stick it” on a new budget. Tired of bad-faith negotiations from the White House, he’s going to craft a new budget that meets the WH overall bottom line, while stripping out every earmark necessary to meet that bottom line, as well as a bunch of Bush priorities.
“Keeping the tax cuts permanent — I’m middle class and we’re the ones that benefit from the tax cuts. I’m afraid of a president who will put those taxes back up,” said pastor Chris Magnell, 34. “Fiscal issues are probably number one for me.”

Geez, is it any wonder Republican candidates blather about further tax cuts with sheep like this? I hope you’re enjoying the extra $50, at most, in your paychecks this year while the CEOs of the companies who made your kids’ Christmas toys are taking tens of thousands in tax cuts to the bank.

When Republicans fight: don’t you love it?

So Mitt Romney is blowing a gasket because Mike Huckabee asks: “Don’t Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?”
Of course, it’s a lie. Jesus and Joseph Smith are brothers, according to Mormons. (C’mon, we all know that.) And Jesus had multiple Mormon wives — Mary Magdalene, Salome, Mary and Martha the sisters of Lazarus. (C’mon, we all knew that, too.)

Given the, not rough edges, but more willing rough elbows of the Huckabee campaign, a claim this blunt doesn’t surprise me at all. Huck’s shown he’s willing to get the brass knuckles out. (Sidebar: doesn’t this say something about Arkansas politics and politicians?)

And, sure, Huck is speaking in “code words” to evangelicals. But, Mitt, did you audience-test your “JFK speech” in advance of giving it? I can’t believe you really thought that it would tamp down rank-and-file conservative evangelical skeptics, let alone outright critics, to give such a speech without actually talking about Mormonism. OK, so you didn’t see the Huckabee Surge™. But, if this was supposed to be a pre-emptive speech, you should have anticipated something like this.

Does the WTO allow carbon cap-and-trade “tariffs”?

I’m afraid that or something similar is the only way the European Union and the United Nations will get a breakthrough on post-Kyoto global warming efforts, as essentially demanded by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The sensible EU position, opposed by the U.S., Japan and Canada:
The European Union wants a reference by industrialised countries that a cut of 25-40 percent in their emissions by 2020, compared to 1990 levels, will be a guideline for the post-2012 haggle.

The United States, Japan, Canada and others however are against that.

“We want to be sure that the text that we have before us is going to be neutral — it will leave all options on the table and, again, will not prejudge outcomes, which should be something that comes at the end of the two-year process,” said US negotiator Harlan Watson.

For “prejudge outcomes,” read, “not force the U.S. to take serious action.”

Also still on the table: how much and what sort of help developed nations should offer developing ones.

That said, there is one big problem with the Kyoto framework — its lumping of all but the most prosperous nations into one “developing nations” grab bag. China, India and Brazil may not be the U.S. or E.U. member states, but, they’re not Zimbabwe, Bolivia, or Myanmar in terms of development, either. I think a post-Kyoto round does need to two-tier “developing” nations.

December 11, 2007

Boy, is John Edwards wrong – or deceiving – on Iraq

In an interview today, Edwards claimed there’s not that much difference among Democratic candidates on Iraq and that voters know that:
“My instinct is that most caucus-goers think any of us will end the war.”

Just plain wrong. You’re one of the three Democratic “front-runners” who do NOT have a plan, desire, goal, or intention of getting us OUT and not halfway out of Iraq. No exceptions, no stipulations, nothing short of getting us out qualifies as getting us out.

Yes, let’s do some WTO judo on China

A California group, California First Amendment Coalition, is pushing the feds to file a World Trade Organization complaint against China. The grounds? Internet censorship by Beijing is restraint of trade.

Any chance of this flying?
CFAC’s petition rests heavily on arguments first put forth in a 2006 paper by Tim Wu [CQ], a professor at Columbia Law School. In that paper, Wu argued that international trade laws offered companies some protection against government censorship, particularly in cases where this tactic was used to shield domestic companies from international competition.

However, Wu cautioned that WTO members have generally said censorship is a political and not a trade issue. But, he also noted in his paper that the WTO’s Appellate Body has shown an inclination to make broad rulings on such issues.

That said, this is a poor, backhand way to try to get at countries like China for the human rights violations that are often linked with censorship. And that’s why Slick Willie Clinton deserves to rot over the WTO as well as NAFTA, as do Members of Congress from both parties, but especially Democrats, who signed off on both agreements.

Sarkozy’s Libya cuddle-up doesn’t please his own party

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he was “resigned”. to Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi’s visit to Paris while President Nicolas Sarkozy's junior minister for human rights said France shouldn’t do business with Gaddafi without getting more human rights guarantees. I guess Sarko really is trying to be more like U.S. leadership.

More seriously, can Sarko risk alienating too much of his Cabinet this early in his administration while dealing with the transport strike and other domestic issues?

Greedy Street gets drawn up short

Wall Street dropped like a rock today after the Federal Reserve only cut the prime rate (and discount rate) a quarter-percent rather than a half-percent.

The Street turned on a 240-point dime, falling from 40 points up to 200 points down after the announcement. Apparently, the Street is greedy for anything that will liquidize, or re-inflate, or even re-bubble, the credit market, ignoring that oil prices are likely to at least stay somewhere in the $85-90/bbl range, that the European Central Bank, while not raising rates, refused to cut them last week, and that European inflation concerns may constrain the U.S. from doing much more.

Of course, the Fed may make another quarter-point cut later; Fed Governor Eric Rosengren wanted a half-percent cut today.

That said, since it was just a quarter-point cut, and the ECB dog didn’t bark last week, the dollar probably won’t slump too much lower.

Sports-newspapers conflict of interest: the bottom line

How can newspapers truly claim to cover sports impartially, when you have a media-sports team ownership conflict of interest lie this:
(Being a director of the Boston Red Sox) was not the first time (former Senate Majority Leader George) Mitchell would have a financial stake in a baseball team. At the same time he joined the Red Sox, Mitchell was a member of the board of directors of the Walt Disney Co., the parent company of the Anaheim Angels and eventual 2002 World Series champions. He has been on the Disney board since 1994, and was chairman at Disney from 2004-06.

But from the beginning, the Red Sox sale was a particularly sensitive issue for Selig. The commissioner was accused of engineering the $660 million Red Sox transaction to the Henry group, while various other competitors to buy the Red Sox, such as HBO and CableVision founder Charles Dolan, believed the Henry group's bid had not been the highest. Dolan reportedly believed he had outbid Henry by nearly $100 million, and a bid by Miles Prentice was said to be the highest, at $755 million. Selig denied any involvement in managing the sale of the team or that he favored Henry, who had owned the Florida Marlins, or Werner, who endured a turbulent experience as owner of the San Diego Padres during the early 1990s when baseball was embroiled in a rift between large- and small-market franchises. Selig, who was fond of Werner, watched the bitterly divided owners push Werner out of the game in 1993 and told him he would run a team again one day.

In the days following the sale, Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly announced an investigation of the transaction on the grounds that the Yawkey Trust, the charitable foundation that held the team following the 1992 death of Jean Yawkey, was entitled to the highest bid. Reilly threatened a lawsuit against the Red Sox and Major League Baseball, depending on his findings. The Boston Globe, which holds a 17-percent stake in the Red Sox through its ownership by the New York Times Company, referred to Henry's purchase as "a bag job." The Boston Herald called the sale, "the fix." Ultimately, Reilly did not take legal action after the Henry ownership group agreed to increase its charitable contribution to the Yawkey Trust.

So, you have Disney, with multiple media ownerships, above all, ESPN, controlling the Angels. You then have the Boston Globe, via the New York Times Company, with an interest in the Red Sox, which not only raises Red Sox conflicts of interest, but, given the Times is in New York, Yankees conflicts of interest as well.

But, it’s not just MLB. The Dallas Morning News at one time owned a share of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks.

If major professional sports leagues, above all MLB, had any guts at all, they would ban media ownership of sports teams, period.

Freddie Mac leaking money, pushes back on lenders

The latest home-finance bad news, as well as the answer proposed for it, are certain to add weight to the housing bubble anchor.

Freddie Mac expects to lose an additional $5.5-$7.5 million over the next few years, beyond the $4.5 million it’s already lost this year.
"I honestly think it's going to get tougher before it gets better," Richard Syron, the company's chairman and CEO, said in a discussion with financial analysts in New York.

Hello, presidential candidates, are you listening?

Meanwhile, Freddie Mac is protecting its own bottom line:
Syron's remarks came a day after Freddie Mac and its larger government-sponsored rival Fannie Mae said they are changing their criteria for purchasing delinquent home loans they've guaranteed, in order to reduce the number they buy from investors.

On Tuesday, McLean, Va.-based Freddie Mac announced it was imposing a 0.25 percent fee on all new home loans it buys or guarantees with settlement dates starting March 9, matching an earlier move by Fannie Mae. Both companies have begun adding surcharges on loans to borrowers with credit scores below 680 and who are borrowing more than 70 percent of the home's value.

This can only push the price of new loans up further, while making banks and other lending institutions even more nervous about iffy loans they have on the books dating from March 9 to the present.

We’re going to see more and more financial CYA like this in the coming six months or so. Financial bulls who claim housing market recovery is “just around the corner” are full of it.

Was waterboarding taping also outsourced?

With one new “war on terror” detainee claiming to have his torture videotaped, we have to wonder how many videos are out there.

And, just who all may have them.

First, the story:
The former prisoner who reported seeing cameras, Muhammad Bashmilah of Yemen, was seized by Jordanian intelligence agents in 2003 and turned over to the C.I.A., according to an investigation by Amnesty International, the human rights advocacy organization. He was flown from Jordan to Afghanistan in October 2003 and held there until April 2004, when he was flown by plane and helicopter to a C.I.A. jail in an unidentified country, Amnesty found. Mr. Bashmilah and two other Yemeni men held with him were flown to Yemen in May 2005 and later released.

Note that he was held in an unidentified country. He may have been taken back to Jordan. Maybe Egypt. Maybe one of the Eastern Europe rendition sites.

Since we know about rendition itself, here’s a possibility:

Given that Bashmilah said he was taken to "an undisclosed country" during the time he said he was taped, maybe the CIA had intelligence officials of this country officially do the taping. That would be another way of trying to keep tapes hidden from U.S. oversight.

Maybe Jordanian or Pakistani intelligence, or Egypt's, has whole libraries of torture tapes. Although Bashmilah saw a full setup, maybe yet other detainees had interrogations, ones that included torture, taped on hidden cameras.

And, as TPM Muckraker notes, there may be more tapes that are still in CIA hands.

Obey calls out Bush on budget

House Appropriations Chairman David Obey has basically decided to tell Bush and Congressional GOP to “stick it” on a new budget. Tired of bad-faith negotiations from the White House, he’s going to craft a new budget that meets the WH overall bottom line, while stripping out every earmark necessary to meet that bottom line, as well as a bunch of Bush priorities.
“When the White House refuses to compromise, when the White House continues to stick it in our eye, I say to hell with it.”

And, he’s prepared to wait Bush out:
“If anybody thinks we can get out of here this week, they're smoking something illegal,” he said.

Especially given that, barring some surprise change, whatever budget the House passes is going to add massive Iraq funding in House-Senate conference anyway, I’m in favor of the budget getting stuck for several months, not just a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, at least a few House Republicans ARE sweating:
“There are a lot of people who were very disappointed last year when nobody got any earmarks. If they do it again for the second year in a row, it will be a very bitter pill to swallow,” said Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), an appropriator who complained that he could lose $400,000 he needs for the Abraham Lincoln bicentennial celebration, slated to begin Feb. 12.

LaHood is not the only Republican appropriator who is angry at the White House and at GOP leaders who have refused to negotiate with Democrats on domestic spending levels. In recent days, Rep. David L. Hobson (Ohio), ranking Republican on the Appropriations subcommittee in charge of energy and water projects, had a heated discussion with House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), arguing that Boehner should come off his hard line.

Rep. James T. Walsh (N.Y.), another senior Republican appropriator, took to the House floor to argue: “If the proposal is to split the difference, to reduce the amount of spending above the president's request by $11 billion, I would advise the president to take yes for an answer.”

Right now, there’s not enough movement to create a veto-proof majority, but the longer Congressmen have to withdraw from pork addiction, the more antsy they will get.

December 10, 2007

Did the Snooze pull a fast one on the Trinity Toll Road?

It sure looks like it. Imagine waiting until a day AFTER Nov. 6 Prop. 1 vote to reveal that, sometime in October, a representative of the North Texas Tollway Authority Chairman Paul Wageman had specifically undercut Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert’s claim that the Trinity Toll Road’s price was locked in (follow the Observers sublink to the Snooze’s original article
NTTA Chairman Paul Wageman said last month that the agency would build the road only if it is viable -- meaning it produces enough in tolls to pay for construction. He said if the costs continue to rise above the current estimate of $1.29 billion, the agency may ask its partners -- including the city and the Regional Transportation Council, which sets priorities for the entire North Texas area, to increase their investments in the road.

But, now, Snooze reporter Bruce Tomaso is claiming the price is still locked in for the city of Dallas, although his exact phrasing leaves plenty of wiggle room.

And, pre-vote, Snooze ME George Rodrigue owned up to “garden-variety mistakes.” He didn’t mention “sitting on the truth for a month until after we know we’ve won the election to preserve the Trinity Toll Road.”

There’s a phrase for bull… like that…

Now, it may be true that Dallas winds up paying no more. But, it also may be true that it gets some significant sticker shock.

And, unfortunately, too many south suburban leaders went along for the ride, not that their comments probably were a six-point sway in the Dallas voting.

Yes, Ted Rall IS hopeful about print media

In fact, and perhaps surprisingly after the first two parts of his series on print’s status today,, he’s actually kind of bullish:
some types of papers are prospering and growing. I believe that the business of printing news on dead trees will emerge from the current shakeout more profitable than ever. This will be thanks to three emerging trends:
• Big National Newspapers
• More Small Local Papers
• Freebie Dailies

At present, the biggest 50 dailies (“A” papers, in industry jargon) dominate the landscape. Below them is a swath of dailies in midsize cities (Akron, Austin, Albuquerque). Small town, suburban and rural dailies, weeklies and bi-weeklies, whose focus is highly localized (“New Stop Sign Stirs Controversy”) —the “C”s — bring up the rear.

During the 20th century, most newspaper profits were generated by "B" papers. This is the market segment that has been hit hardest by the Web. Free online classifieds has decimated advertising revenues. Neither beast nor fowl, the midsize dailies’ attempt to balance local, national and international coverage pleases no one in an environment where highly customized news consumption is available to readers online--for free. (Publishers were idiots for giving away their content, but that's another column.) MyYahoo feeds me the latest headlines from Itar-Tass and Agence France-Press every morning; how could the Dayton Daily News, the paper of my childhood, do as well for this half-Frenchman with a Central Asia obsession?

Rall expects the future American newspaper market to look a lot more like Europe and Japan — a smaller group of definite “A” or even “Super-A” papers, and then a bunch of “C”, or maybe, in my view “B-lite,” papers. A two-tiered, not a three-tiered, market.
The Wall Street Journal and USA Today already print multiple national issues. In the era of “Super-A” papers, sure, you could see a few others joining them, and perhaps co-opting some of the traditional “B” papers with new versions of old-time joint operating agreements (Detroit News/Free Press, Denver Post/Rocky Mountain News, the Seattle and Salt Lake City papers are among those that have JOAs).

But, will this be a good thing?

Well, there, the answer is No, according to Rall:
None of this will improve the quality of journalism. “Ultimately [free dailies] will breed in people the idea that news shouldn't cost anything, even that news is cheap,” points out media commentator Roy Greenslade. “But in fact, news, done well and properly, requires investment and money. They will no doubt tell us what happened —but news should also tell us how and why things happen. I fear that approach will be lost.”

It will. It’s a trend that began decades ago, when newspapers closed overseas news bureaus and eliminated long-term investigative journalism to cut costs, and started embracing elites rather than exposing them. And it’s terrible for our society, culture and politics. Government and business will face even less accountability than they do today. Democracy will lie in ruins. The print newspaper business, however, will be going gangbusters.

I don’t doubt Rall is right. That said, I found this third part of his series a letdown, in several ways.

First, he’s by no means the only columnist to analyze the shakeout of the news business in a similar way.

Second, after talking about how the Internet would affect privacy issues in the future, and how this might affect media, in parts 1 and 2, we didn’t hear a single thing about that in this third part.

Ted, you can do better than that… that’s not like you to start an idea and let it dangle.

Two big NOs to the mortgage freeze

Bill Fleckenstein has a laundry list of reasons to oppose it.

They include the possibility that it will further deflate values, more than doing nothing would, and encourage further irresponsibility, including from the holders of doggy mortgages:
This bailout will complicate the lives not just of homeowners but of anyone who touches the mortgage paper after them. Allowing someone to pick whatever mortgage rate they'd like to pay will solve nothing. It will only make mortgage-backed assets worth that much less, with the very stocks that rallied recently on this idea being the ones negatively impacted.


Jon Markman agrees and for similar reasons :
Have we completely lost our common sense? Is it really desirable to provide easier money to people and companies that got into trouble by abusing their access to money in the first place? And is it really a good idea both to cancel mortgage bondholders' contracts for the sake of an adjustable-mortgage-rate freeze and to provide a couple of years of grace for stressed-out home borrowers who are likely to eventually default anyway?

Personally, I think they’re right. I don’t doubt that I’m more politically liberal than either one of them, but, liberalism doesn’t equate to irresponsibility or free passes.

If that’s not enough, Markman says we could stand to learn a lesson from Japan:
Postponing the undeniable anguish involved in making participants own up to debt-fueled losses is exactly why it took Japan more than a decade to shake off the bursting of its own credit bubble back in 1990. Interest rates were cut essentially to zero, but because moribund banks and real-estate tycoons were given government stipends, they drew funds and attention away from more-productive uses, and the country entered a recession that haunts Japan to this day.

Plus, Markman points out, in the future, holders of mortgage-based securities will demand a higher risk premium. (Now, on the other hand, that’s going to be true anyway.

Beyond that, he says we should expect a spate of lawsuits before this is all over.

And, in yet more cheery news, auto loan delinquencies are their highest in a decade and look like they will continue to rise.

WaMu making HUGE job cuts

Per the AP:
Washington Mutual Inc., the nation's largest savings and loan, said Monday that problems in the mortgage and credit markets are forcing it to close offices, lay off more than 3,000 workers and set aside up to $1.6 billion for loan losses in the fourth quarter.

That’s not the half of it.

I’ve already read a bit of speculation that WaMu might have to board up ALL the windows. If that’s the case, the subprime crisis/housing bubble has officially become the worst economic problem since the two Arab oil embargos, and threatens to become the worst since World War II.

To say the least, WaMu is once-burned, twice-shy:
After dismantling much of its subprime mortgage operation in September, Seattle-based WaMu will now get out of the business entirely. The company said it will close about 190 of its 335 home loan centers and sales offices, shut down nine call centers and eliminate 2,600 home loan workers and 550 corporate and support jobs.

That, in turn, tightens the credit market, with less money for residential loans. And, all the slashing still won’t stanch the bleeding:
For the first quarter of 2008, the company said it expects loan losses to total $1.8 billion to $2 billion. Loan losses will remain high throughout the year, WaMu added.

Actually, I think WaMu will become a takeover target sometime next year. And, given that they’ve already dipped their toes in the water by propping up Citigroup, don’t be surprised if investors from Abu Dhabi or elsewhere in the Arab world try to get a piece of the action, if only most indirectly and discreetly.

And, that’s not the only rocky financial news of Monday. Bank of America shut down a major institutional investment fund Pthat was leaking like a sieve:

December 09, 2007

Wind power: more potential than many may claim?

As the House and Senate are probably headed toward a watered-down compromise on an energy bill, this news from Great Britain should make people pay attention to alternative energy.
Every home in Britain could be supplied by wind power alone in 2020 by making full use of the wind-swept seas around the country, Energy Secretary John Hutton said on Monday.

Every home. Yes, Britain has a lot of wind from the North Sea and North Atlantic. But, we have plenty of wind on the High Plains, and a fair amount in some other parts of the country.

Yes, the High Plains are away from much of our population, but let’s look at other places.

The fire-inducing Santa Ana winds of Southern California? Sounds idea for wind-generated electricity.

We can’t accept a watered-down energy bill. Too much is at stake.

Iraq War affecting global warming

I didn’t realize just how much fuel our troops were using until Michael Klare spelled it out. Try 16 gallons of oil per soldier per day — four times what we used per soldier in the Gulf War, and equivalent to the average daily use of the entire nation of Bangladesh.

Besides the massive amount of CO2 for global warming this generates, it also illustrates something else.

We can’t fight our way to oil independence. The world’s most oil-dependent army has the greatest risk of grinding to a halt.

Klare says that the Iraq War has been the single biggest detriment to the U.S. addressing global warming. I’d say the same about Peak Oil.

December 08, 2007

Once again, Dems to just cave on Iraq

The Senate is going to pass a government-wide appropriations bill that will include Iraq money without a withdrawal timetable, goal, suggestion or other strings.

The House will pretend to save face. Speaker Nancy Pelosi will have it pass a version of the bill that has no Iraq spending. Once it gets to the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid will let Republicans attach an Iraq spending amendment. When the bill goes to House-Senate conference, the House will “quietly” accept the Senate version.

Does Pelosi really think she’s fooling anybody? Is she that dumb in this day and age?

Bisphenol-A comes under Canadian scrutiny

That includes Mountain Equipment Co-op, Canada’s largest outdoors retailer pulling Nalgene bottles from the shelves.

Considering studies as long ago as 1936 suggested bisphenol-A might be an endocrine disruptor, it stands to reason that a modern, thorough, in-depth study not sponsored by the plastics industry is exactly what we need to determine just how much bisphenol-A can leach out of polycarbonate bottles. Too bad we still can’t get that in the U.S.

December 06, 2007

Recession more likely — and around party convention time

Moody’s expects a nationwide housing price drop of 15 percent by 2010 and a California/Florida drop of as much as 30 percent, with full recovery not until 2010.
House prices are forecast to fall 13% from their peak through early 2009. After accounting for incentives home sellers are offering buyers, effective declines peak-to-trough will total well over 15%, the report said.

Punta Gorda, Fla., and Stockton, Calif,, are the hardest hit markets in the United States, with price declines from peak-to-trough forecast at 35.3% and 31.6%, respectively.

"This is the most severe housing recession since the post-World War II period," Moody’s Mark Zandi told Reuters.

Remember, the freeze doesn’t apply to already-delinquent homebuyers, nor does it apply to upside-down loans. And, at a 15 percent drop, not to mention 30 percent in California and Florida, many loans will be upside down.

As for a recession possibility?

The same Moody’s report says housing will knock 1.5 percentage points off economic growth next year, most of that by before the end off summer.

So, a recession — right around the Republican and Democratic national conventions. And, a “reset freeze” that’s like a Band-Aid on a horror flick chainsaw wound.

Mitt Romney likes Muslim prayer

Just not in his would-be Cabinet, I guess. And, Mormonism? He treads even lighter than I expected. Among the highlights from his “JFK speech.”
And in every faith I have come to know, there are features I wish were in my own: I love … the commitment to frequent prayer of the Muslims.

Followed by the prerequisite bashing of a secularist straw man:
We separate church and state affairs in this country, and for good reason. No religion should dictate to the state nor should the state interfere with the free practice of religion. But in recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America – the religion of secularism. They are wrong.

Then, the Religious Right pandering:
Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our constitution rests. I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from 'the God who gave us liberty.'

In other words, “I’ll appoint judges who keep the church-state ‘wall’ pretty low.”

Then, the Declaration of Independence and Constitution get fused:
It was in Philadelphia that our founding fathers defined a revolutionary vision of liberty, grounded on self evident truths about the equality of all, and the inalienable rights with which each is endowed by his Creator.

We cherish these sacred rights, and secure them in our Constitutional order. Foremost do we protect religious liberty, not as a matter of policy but as a matter of right. There will be no established church, and we are guaranteed the free exercise of our religion.

The Constitution nowhere grounds any of our rights as being endowed by a Creator. Nice sleight of hand. (Of course, liberals can conflate the two documents, too.)

Then, the anti-terrorist pandering:
Infinitely worse is the other extreme, the creed of conversion by conquest: violent Jihad, murder as martyrdom... killing Christians, Jews, and Muslims with equal indifference. These radical Islamists do their preaching not by reason or example, but in the coercion of minds and the shedding of blood. We face no greater danger today than theocratic tyranny, and the boundless suffering these states and groups could inflict if given the chance.


Final note: “Mormon/Mormonism” only mentioned once, in passing, in comparison to JFK’s Catholicism. As I said, even lighter than I expected.

Foreclosures hit record high in third quarter

By percentage points, the rate of homes in foreclosure jumped 20 percent from the second quarter to the third.
The Mortgage Bankers Association in its quarterly snapshot of the mortgage market released Thursday said that the percentage of all mortgages nationwide that started the foreclosure process jumped to a record high of 0.78 percent during the July-to-September period. That surpassed the previous high of 0.65 percent set in the prior quarter.

Defaults also hit an all-time high:
The delinquency rate for all mortgages climbed to 5.59 percent in the third quarter. That was up from 5.12 percent in the second quarter and was the highest since 1986, the association said. Payments are considered delinquent if they are 30 or more days past due.

Homeowners with spotty credit who have subprime adjustable-rate loans were especially hard hit. Foreclosures and late payments for these borrowers also reached all-time highs in the third quarter.

All of this puts the “rate reset freeze” into starker relief.

Remember, it does not apply to homes in mortgage default, let alone all the way past that into foreclosure.

At the same time, this will probably increase pressure for a Fed rate cut. That, in turn, will probably tank the dollar.

December 05, 2007

White House OKs mortgage rate reset freeze — so what?

The good news? It’s for five years.

The bad news? As preliminary reports indicated the freeze in adjustabale rate mortgage rate resets only applies to homeowners current on their mortgages.

Nor, of course, do we know if ARM –holders who get a five-year grace period will actually learn the discipline it takes to handle a merely delayed, not eliminated, rate reset when it comes down the road.

If not, we’ve just shuffled trouble off to Buffalo, where it will keep growing in the dark.

And, this freeze also assumes lenders will be highly willing to refinance. Well, given what we’ve seen so far, that may not be quite so true.

First, lenders just have not been that anxious to move on this issue.

Second, this may be a situation similar to where people take out six- or seven-year car loans and are, in essence, “upside down” on the vehicle, especially if they want to resell before paying the note off. Something similar may be happening in the case of some houses.

Or, related to that, if a house has lost that much value, investors who bought loans that are now nonperforming would have to agree to eat a loss.

And with slice-and-dice collateralized debt obligations never priced to market, the word “crater” immediately comes to mind in thinking of their potential value in such a situation.

Beyond that, banks and other lending agencies will surely be asking for proof of insurance when a borrower wants to re-fi to a straight-up mortgage. Well, getting back to my early point, what if that ain’t happening, or they ain’t making the grade?

That said, allowing courts more power over renegotiating loans, at least in bankruptcies, would leverage mortgage-buying speculators more.

On the other hand, some economists say that would make lenders more nervous about making loans, which would then make them more pricey.

And, bottom line: people who have paid off loans may not want any sort of bailout that comes out of their wallets.

No word as to whether or not BushCo supports allowing courts more latitude in resetting delinquent mortgages, which is under discussion in the Senate.

Romney: Heavy on religious liberty, light on Mormonism

It looks like that will be the thrust of Mitt Romney’s ”JFK speech,”, to be given at the George Bush Library in College Station, Texas
“'This speech is an opportunity for Governor Romney to share his views on religious liberty, the grand tradition religious tolerance has played in the progress of our nation and how the governor's own faith would inform his Presidency if he were elected,” said Romney spokesman Kevin Madden in a statement.

“Governor Romney understands that faith is an important issue to many Americans, and he personally feels this moment is the right moment for him to share his views with the nation,” Madden said in his statement.

Notice how Madden carefully phrased his statement.

He’s going to talk first about religious liberty and tolerance, then how his own beliefs will inform his presidency.

The second graf has him saying faith is an important issue to many Americans. But not, his faith.

Now, that may be parsing a lot out of one word, but somehow I really doubt Mitt Romney is going to explain Mormonism.

Ancient gold tablets, magic spectacles, Jesus making a junket to America? Not likely to be heard.

Conversion pressures on American Indians in the West? Blacks as “second class Mormons” until the 1970s? Not likely to be discussed.

Nor are we going to hear about celestial marriages, baptisms for the dead, secret temple ceremonies, or those temple undergarments.

Not that most of this stuff is really, that much sillier than the beliefs of other organized religions, at least in their more literalist leanings.

But for the Christian fundies Romney is courting, their beliefs are improbable precisely to show the power of God. Mormonism’s tenets? That’s just human lunacy.

It’s all whose ox is beng gored.

December 04, 2007

Dollar woe to get worse?

Jim Jubak said a probably interest rate hike by the European Central Bank while U.S. financiers pressure the Fed for another rate cut will be the perfect storm for the dollar’s continued slump.
What has changed so much in just three weeks? Inflation in Europe has picked up and is now above the range the European Central Bank has said it will tolerate. There's a good chance the bank will raise short-term interest rates to 4.25% from 4% when it meets Thursday.

With U.S. interest rates on hold or headed lower, the result would be another big boost to the euro, another hit to the dollar, a continued move away from the U.S. dollar by central banks in Asia, Russia and the Middle East, and higher prices for gold and, more importantly, oil.

Jubak focuses on Germany, the largest EU economy. Inflation there is at a 13-year high. Meanwhile, unemployment is at a 15-year low. (That’s a further sign that U.S. conservative and neoliberal/DLC bashing of “European economic “woes” is full of crap.)

Because of such low unemployment, the ECB has no pressure against hiking interest rates.

Plus, unlike the Fed, the ECB is actually eyeing inflation as well as the credit crunch.

Result, if the ECB does as expected? The dollar will fall more, gold will climb, and more foreign countries (read: China and OPEC members) will be more tempted to dump dollars for euros.

Additional loopholes in the CAFE bill

Gregg Easterbrook notes that the ramp-up to 35mpg, rather than requiring incremental increases on the way, is entirely voluntary until 2020. (Scroll about halfway down the page.)
And, that’s not all. It also has a waiver provision!
But TMQ is hugely suspicious, and hopes the media will watch the specifics of the bill carefully. The mpg legislation the Senate already has approved requires a one-third improvement in fuel efficiency — but nothing becomes mandatory until 2020, meaning Detroit could continue to do nothing for 13 years. Worse, the Senate version has a waiver provision that says that if the new standards prove too onerous, automakers can ask they be waived before 2020. That is a formula for what Washington specializes in: the appearance of dramatic action while nothing actually happens.

(Automakers drag their feet, then demand a waiver.) In January, George W. Bush proposed, and Barack Obama endorsed, new mpg rules that would take effect right now, mandating a 4 percent annual improvement in fuel efficiency until a one-third overall betterment is achieved. How often do a sitting conservative president and one of his leading liberal opponents agree on something? The Bush-Obama mpg reform would have gone into effect immediately, with immediate positive results. I worry that what Congress ends up enacting on mpg will be a make-believe bill that sets lofty targets but has no teeth. And I worry that the mainstream media, excited by gaffes and scandals but endlessly bored by the details of public-policy proposals, will be too gullible to notice the difference between real mpg reform and make-believe.

Easterbrook goes on to note that cars now don’t meet the current 27.5mpg average. Since the government reformulated its fuel-economy tests closer to real-world standards, I have no doubt that’s true. I also don’t doubt that current standards probably aren’t being enforced that well by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Finally, he blames the increase in auto horsepower over the last decade or so as being a contributor to road rage. Hmm….

December 03, 2007

“The Pope of the Fed” still proclaims infallibility

Former Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan finally admit there’s a housing bubble. But, “me responsible?” No way.
Said the former Federal Reserve chairman: "Markets are becoming aware of the fact that the decline in housing is not stopping. . . . I have no particular regrets. The housing bubble is not a reflection of what we did, as it is a global phenomenon."

Greenspan's conclusion is not accurate. But before describing why, I find it interesting that he said the words "housing bubble." Recall that as the housing bubble was raging and he was still Fed chairman, he argued that real estate could not experience a bubble because all housing markets were local. He specifically cited the impossibility of arbitrage between Portland, Maine, and Portland, Ore., as though that was an impediment to a bubble.

In essence, Greenspan won’t admit that his policies “delocalized” the housing market, either, by artificially inflating the housing sector, which then brought in all the financial institutions who came up with the ideas for their wacky collateralized debt obligations.

Greenspan is now trying to pass the buck globally:
Now he's making the argument that not only is there a housing bubble but that it's been a worldwide housing bubble. Well, this is a rare occasion where he is right. It is a worldwide housing bubble. But that does not mean he was a hapless bystander as the bubble developed. Just the opposite is the case.

One reason for the global housing bubble is that the dollar has been the world's reserve currency, with parts of South America, the Middle East and the Far East linking their currencies to ours. As such, the weak dollar has been a conduit for spreading easy money globally. Therefore, although Greenspan did not directly cause the housing bubble in Europe, his pursuit of wildly indulgent monetary policies at home were transmitted abroad. That did not exactly hurt the development of a housing bubble there.

Exactly. Greenspan’s part in the eventual weakening of the dollar has helped export the larger American financial problems that stem from the housing bubble.

Meanwhile, Saint Alan chose to be a bubble-inflator and a false prophet, already a year ago:
On Oct. 9, 2006, at a financial conference in Calgary, Alberta, he said: "I suspect that we're coming to the end of this downtrend, as applications for new mortgages, the most important series, have flattened out. . . . There is a good chance of coming out of this in good shape, but average housing prices are likely to be down this year (meaning 2006) relative to 2005. I don't know, but I think the worst of this may well be over."

It’s clear, based on his history, that Greenspan was blowing smoke up the housing market’s collective skirt.

Bill Fleckenstein concludes his column by telling us exactly what the Fed needs right now: A Paul Volker to make the country take its medicine.

Yet more credit crunch fallout — businesses as financiers

The amount of major companies that have their own credit arms is staggering. Sony, for example, makes more from financial matters than it does from Sony Pictures.

Here’s the bottom-line story:
How big is financing in the economy? One way to measure it: 18% of the $13 trillion market value of S&P 500 companies is for the financial sector. That bulge is a big part of why the market has been choppy since last summer: Credit problems are dragging down the banks, brokers and insurers. Another measure is profits. The finance sector accounts for 28% of the index's combined $748 billion in earnings for 2006. Those earnings are likely to be down in 2007 when writeoffs are included. Neither of these percentages for financial services includes the financial activities of companies like Sony and GE.

Here’s another way to look at how much is riding on the soundness of borrowers. Debt at U.S. households, governments (state and federal) and nonfinancial businesses now stands at 217% of gross domestic product, up from 141% a quarter of a century ago. So a small rise in interest rates or in defaults is likely to have a bigger impact than it once would have had on business bottom lines and consumers' ability to spend.

In short, as shown by the subprime crisis extending even to Narvik, Norway, with bad CDO investments that city made, there’s a lot fewer barricades to financial problems rapidly spreading. It’s like the Dust Bowl Midwest, after farmers had removed windbreak trees in order to plant crops row to row. That was fine and dandy — until the dustbowl hit, and eastern Colorado wound up landing in places like Ohio or even further east.

Paul Kennedy, in “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers,” said that with countries in the past such as Britain and Holland, a seminal turning point was when they moved from making money off of making things to making money off making money.

Well, we’re definitely moving that way ourselves.