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.