October 24, 2008

A Tale of Two Joes

a tale of two joes
(click the image to enlarge)

[ Tom the Dancing Bug: Joe Six-Pack and Joe the Plumber Talk Taxes ]
Source: Salon

October 19, 2008

Colin Powell’s Endorsement


(video courtesy of MSNBC)

I knew you had it in you, Colin.

See, this is an incredibly important endorsement for me. I’ve looked up to Colin Powell since I was a child, when he worked with my mother when my father was stationed in Germany, and as I read his books and watched his historic career and meteoric rise. I saw one of the closest people I could ever call a role model, and while he and I have disagreed on policy and politics in the past, I’ve always looked up to him as an example of someone who can do what they set their mind to – an example of how high hard work and perseverance can get you, even in the face of overwhelming odds and not being armed with the privilege that others enjoy.

If I weren’t already absolutely sure which lever I’m planning to pull this fall, I would be now.

[ Colin Powell’s Endorsement ]
Source: MSNBC

A Message to Sarah Palin

…from women everywhere.

Absolutely stunning, and incredibly inspiring. If you haven’t had a good, hard look at Sarah Palin’s record, you should – it’ll only steel your resolve to vote against her this election season.

October 15, 2008

What Breed of Liberal are You?

How to Win a Fight With a Conservative is the ultimate survival guide for political arguments

My Liberal Identity:

You are a Reality-Based Intellectualist, also known as the liberal elite. You are a proud member of what’s known as the reality-based community, where science, reason, and non-Jesus-based thought reign supreme.

Take the quiz at www.FightConservatives.com

October 12, 2008

White House Overhauling Rescue Plan

If you were paying attention to the financial news yesterday, you saw a very odd thing: Henry Paulson channeling Warren Buffett. It was remarkable!

To understand exactly what I mean here, you need a primer on the financial crisis, so lets get that out of the way as painlessly as possible. A lot of people have made the financial crisis out to be something heavy and difficult to understand, but it’s really really not:

**

So back during the mortgage boom, lots of people were buying houses. Home prices were up, people were taking out mortgages, it was a good time to buy because of the low interest rates, but it was an even better time to sell because your home was suddenly worth way more than you thought it might have been. Banks were literally thowing money at people who simply couldn’t pay it back, but that was okay because they were dumping those mortgages into tidy little packages and trading them on the market. These packages were called Mortgage Backed Securities (you may also hear terms like Commercial Paper for items like these, but all you need to remember is that these are the ITEMS being traded, okay?).

These Mortgage Backed Securities were essentially thousands of home loans being rolled together and sold as packages on the market for people to invest in: businesses invested their pension plans, local governments invested in them to pay for transportation or infrastructure projects, you see where I’m going. The METHOD in which these items were traded were called Credit Default Swaps, which are a type of insurance; where if one of them goes bad, it doesn’t affect the overall value of the entire Security – when a city government buys into one to pay for a bridge, for example, they’re hoping that the value goes up or at least stays the same – they give the Security to a creditor, who then gives them cash to pay for the bridge. But because these Swaps aren’t really insurance, they’re not subject to government regulation, and the banks and financial institutions that are selling and trading these don’t have to make sure they have enough money to back them up if, for COMPLETELY HYPOTHETICAL EXAMPLE, all of the mortgages and paper in the Security tanks.

And what’s what happened. Suddenly, instead of having one or two bad apples (mortgages) in your bunch (the Mortgage Backed Security), the whole damned thing was bad, and the banks (first it was IndyMac, then Bear Stearns, then Lehman Brothers, then AIG, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and all of the other banks that have gone south or been bought) started freaking out. They needed cash, and lots of it, to make sure they could cover their losses if their Securities turned up worthless, and they looked around and didn’t find enough. They got scared, they started selling stocks and assets they had on the market – the market plunged – in many cases, the financial institutions still didn’t have enough cash, and they started to fail and file for bankruptcy. In some cases the government helped (AIG, for example), in other cases, they didn’t (Lehman Bros).

So, without cash and unable to back up these failing Securities, the banks and everyone who could feed money to them started drawing cash out of the market, causing the stock markets around the globe to tumble. Banks needed cash to make sure they stayed afloat – real capital – not stocks that may or may not pay off in the future, and they needed it now. Thus the market seemed to careen off a cliff.

**

Still with me? That about does it for your primer. Now let’s fast forward to recent events and pick up the story from there:

**

In the background during all of that time, the government is drafting a $700 Billion bailout plan to save the banking and financial industry. The money will be used to buy up all of those worthless Securities that are causing so much heartburn for the banks. The plan is that if the government owns them, they can sort out how much they’re worth and sell them off later, without stressing out the markets and freaking out the banks. They could let the market stabilize, and people could re-invest in stocks instead of trying to make sure they had good, liquid capital – aka: cash. Sounds like a good plan, right?

Not so much. Essentially what the plan meant was that instead of the banks with these Securities that seemed to be tanking in value on-hand, it would be the government that owned them, buying them off the banks with taxpayer money. The Securities would still be worthless, and the mortgages that were failing and the millions facing forclosure or homes that are now worth less than the mortgage on those homes would still be failing and still be declining in value.

At the time that Henry Paulson is arguing his plan to buy up these Securities from the financial sector, Warren Buffet is out bargain shopping and eating up pieces of failing financial firms with his own money and he gets to thinking: the problem here is that the banks just don’t have the capital to cover these Securities if they fail. It’s hard to know how much they’re really worth, but wouldn’t it be more helpful to just inject the cash directly to the banking system and into the banks themselves, giving them the capital to cover their bets and making them comfortable enough to reinvest their assets into the market?

Some people agreed, myself being one of them, but by and large, the plan as Paulson wanted it went forward on Capitol Hill, mostly by strong-arming Congress into voting for it. Once it was passed, people got to thinking about how exactly they were going to buy up those securities….and then the markets kept failing. The fact that the government planned to take those debts off the financial sector’s hands didn’t seem to help. And what’s worse, the problem started to spread around the globe.

Suddenly markets in Europe, Asia, and Russia started to tank. The EU got to thinking of a rescue plan of their own, but because their economies and financial systems were so fragmented, they didn’t get too far; but they did decide that whatever they did, they’d rather follow Buffett’s suggestion than Paulson’s. And while they were at it, they were going to tighten the screws of regulation on the financial sector, and since they would be investing so heavily in the banks, they’d have a say in how the banks were run.

The idea suddenly looked like a brilliant suggestion back here in the United States. Somewhere in a comfortable seat, watching the markets plunge, perhaps smoking a fine cigar, Warren Buffet was waving his hands wildly shouting “I JUST SAID THAT. THAT’S WHAT I WAS TRYING TO TELL YOU 2 WEEKS AGO.”

So Paulson gets on stage yesterday and says that they were looking at both options, whether they wanted to mop up these securities specifically, or just inject cash into the banks so they could calm down, reinvest, and figure out the worth of their Mortgage Backed Securities later.

The difference between the American and European plans were simply that even though the government would be a principal shareholder in many banks, they would be non-voting, not sit on any boards, and have no influence over the running of the bank, for fear of nationalizing the banking system (which personally I think is a bad idea – if so much taxpayer money is going into the banks, the government should damn well have a say in how that bank is being run). It wasn’t the way they wanted to do things, Paulson said, but they would look at it.

And then this happens today. I suppose Paulson isn’t finished channeling Buffett yet. Or maybe Paulson decided to check his messages and give old Warren a call back to see what he thought.

[ White House Overhauling Rescue Plan ]
Source: The New York Times

The Straight-Talk Express Breaks Down on Birth Control

Sometimes I almost feel bad for the guy when he not only doesn’t remember his own voting record (must be all of that “experience”) but when he can’t come up with a comprehensive stand on a critical issue to women across the country:

Millions of Americans are more than aware of what John McCain is sadly not: the fact that most insurance companies in the country are more than happy to pay for Viagra for men, but refuse to cover birth control for women. It’s a long-standing outrage, and poor sleepy John doesn’t even seem to understand the question, much less know the answer.

The video is part of NARAL Pro-Choice America’s “Meet The Real McCain” campaign, which we’ve covered before not once, but twice.

NARAL has a petition going to get the issue of birth control into the third and final presidential debate, and I’d urge everyone to sign it; not because McCain is weak on the issue, but because the American people have the right to know where a candidate for the Presidency stands on the issue.

[ Meet The Real McCain: Where’s the Straight Talk on Birth Control, Senator? ]
Source: NARAL Pro-Choice America

12 New Stomach-Turning Revelations About Sarah Palin

I really wish I were done with Sarah Palin, but she makes writing this stuff too easy. Most of these revelations aren’t really new; the number twelve that I’ll spoil right now is something I’ve come to call “Rape-Kit-Gate,” because while the media seems to not like discussing it, and some people seem to think it’s been “debunked” somehow, the truth stands:

Sarah Palin, as governor of Alaska, made rape victims pay for their own rape kits, used to collect evidence that could identify and prosecute their attackers:

12. The Rape Kit Story: Not Getting the Media Attention It Deserves

OK, we’ve reported on the rape kit story before, so it’s not exactly a revelation, but the fact still stands that this is a terrible story that deserves more attention, especially given very recent developments. Eric Boehlert over at Media Matters has discredited the claim (used as an excuse by many media outlets not to report on the story) that Palin’s rape kit story has been, well, discredited:

Writing for the Huffington Post’s Off the Bus, and crossposting at Daily Kos, (Jacob Alperin-Sheriff, a 20-year-old blogger and junior at George Washington University) posted by far the most specific and factual analysis of the rape kit story in terms of Palin’s role as mayor and the final say she had over the budget.

Combing through Wasilla’s budgetary documents, which are posted online, Alperin-Sheriff showed that Palin had clearly signed off on a fiscal-year budget that reduced by three-quarters the amount of money the town set aside annually for rape-kit costs and that the rape-kit reduction was spelled out before the fiscal-year 2000 budget was approved by Mayor Sarah Palin on April 26, 1999.

And yet the corporate media says nothing. Of course, perhaps if Palin offered a little more access to the media, they’d be able to ask more questions about this disturbing fact. Until then, there are many in the independent media, like the filmmakers at the Wasilla Project, who are asking: If someone’s home is burglarized, the tools of investigation are not paid for by the victim; why was rape considered different in Wasilla?

Good question. The others are equally interesting and unsettling, but some of my favorites that didn’t make the list are the fact that Sarah Palin has called Afghanistan “our neighboring country,” which shows a frightening lack of global knowledge for someone who thinks they’re qualified for the Vice Presidency, and the fact that Sarah Palin can’t name a single supreme court case other than Roe v. Wade. Not Plessy v. Ferguson, not even Brown v. Board of Education. Now that’s scary.

Check out the entire list at Alternet; there are some eye-openers there, like Palin using oil-industry scientists for a state-funded study on climate change, and the fact that Palin seems to think that being gay is a choice. Not to mention she says she has “a gay friend” that no one can seem to find.

[ 12 New Stomach-Turning Revelations About Sarah Palin ]

States’ Purges of Voter Rolls Appear Illegal

Ah, the tried and true Republican technique to win contested elections: keep them from voting, cry voter fraud, and then make sure you have a posse ready to challenge every minority voter who appears at the polls on Election Day. It’s worked for them in the past in Florida and Ohio, and they’re trying to do it again.

Usually it’s the same old run around. The Democrats accuse Republicans of voter intimidation, and Republicans accuse the Democrats of voter fraud. There’s just one problem – there’s never been proof of voter fraud, of any of these “rise from the grave” voters that Republicans love to believe exist. There’s actual video, on the other hand, of Republican thugs and operatives harassing registered voters at the polls who are there to cast their ballots.

And now they’re at it again, good and early during the run-up to the election. When there’s not enough time to challenge it, start purging the rolls of registered Democrats for reasons that would never stand up if there were time to challenge their actions.

The New York Times story below is far too kind to the Republicans for this; they claim that the actions aren’t being taken by any particular party, but it’s absolutely clear whose motis operandi this really is.

[ States’ Purges of Voter Rolls Appear Illegal ]
Source: The New York Times (courtesy of TruthOut)

McCain’s Supporters Feed on Hate

If you’ve been paying attention to any media other than the mainstream media these past several days, you’ve been hearing all about the horrible things that McCain and Palin supporters have been crying at rallies for their candidates. Both of them have been on the attack lately, trying to direct the focus of the political debate to Obama’s personality and the lies that they’ve been spreading to date (seriously, you can’t make this up – one glance at FactCheck.org proves the point that McCain has been running a dirty, mudslinging campaign – but that’s what you do when you know you ca’t talk about the issues) instead of focusing on the issues that affect the American people, like jobs, the economy, the housing crisis, health care, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and so on.

Let’s do a quick rundown of some of the commentary we’ve heard. For example, this incredibly frightening video comes from Blogger Interrupted, who recorded McCain/Palin supporters making some of the worst racist and ill-informed statements I think anyone could possibly make in public.

This was linked over at BoingBoing earlier this week, and I think I share the opinion of the poster – these are people who wear their own ignorance, blind stupidity, and hatred as badges of honor. Some of the commenters are spot on when they point out that this is indicative of how the Republican Party is out-of-touch with the majority of us, but those of us that they are in-touch with are the type who gleefully look down on people who are intelligent, believe that being worldly or being well traveled, read, or versed are bad things; they’re the bullies in the schoolyard who would rather make fun of someone who used a big word than learn what it means for fear of opening their eyes.

That all being said, some of those same commenters point out that Democrats supporting Obama must be similar in some fashion, and frankly, I think that’s trying to level the playing field in the pure interest of fairness. If the people at Obama rallies were just as misinformed, ignorant, and hateful as these people are, it’d be all over right-wing blogs and news sites, and I assure you it’s not. This truly is how the right behaves – ignorance is intelligence, right is left, wrong is right, war is peace, and hate is love. Scary, isn’t it?

Here’s some more:

[ McCain-Palin Rally Attendees Say Incredible, Ridiculous Things ]
Source: Alternet

So where’s the McCain campaign for all of this? Surely you’d think they want to wage a respectful campaign, one with a high standard of decency and a departure from mudslinging American politics that Americans hate so much. They’d denounce this kind of talk and tell their supporters to take the high road, right?

Not so much:

[ Is the McCain Campaign Behind the Hate Speech at Rallies? ]
Source: Alternet

Yeah – pretty bad. Not only is the McCain camp defending the hate speech of its supporters, but they’re likely implicitly behind it. The entertaining thing about this aspect is that while they decry the media for “gotcha journalism” (also known as “reporting what you say” in reality-based circles), they’re all about hate speech instead. Typical Republican party line – they only support the freedoms they’re using and agree with, as long as it works for them.

That’s okay, the high-road man himself, Joe Biden, has some choice words:

[ Biden: Palin Must Condemn Supporters’ Hateful Obama Attacks ]

Joe Biden lashed out at Sarah Palin on Wednesday, calling her recent rhetoric “ugly” and “mildly dangerous,” and expressing shock that the Alaska Governor did not interrupt recent rallies when supporters shouted hateful attacks about Barack Obama, including “treason!” and “kill him!”

“I watched the news and I heard a couple people hollering from the audience semi-vile things about ‘terrorists,’ things like that,” Biden said on NBC’s Today show. “The idea that a leading American politician who might be vice president of the United States would not just stop mid-sentence and turn and condemn that — it’s just a slippery slope, it’s a place that we shouldn’t be going.”

Biden repeated the sentiment on ABC’s Good Morning America:

“I think it goes way too far. Look, this really is a case where, when you don’t have anything to talk about, attack — and it gets really over the edge,” he said. “I mean, some of the stuff she’s saying about Barack Obama and the stuff that people are yelling from the crowd, if she hears it, she should be at least be saying, whoa, whoa, whoa, that’s overboard. But this is volatile stuff.”

Obama, for his part, is doing exactly what he should be doing: talking about the issues, campaigning like a sensible person, and ignoring this all together. Frankly, he has plenty to talk about, plenty that the people need to hear. What they don’t need to hear is the static coming from the McCain and Palin campaigns and their lynch mob.

That being said, there’s even concern on both sides of the aisle about the tone that the McCain campaign has taken:

[ Bipartisan Concern About the Dangers of McPalin’s Hate-Mongering ]
Source: Alternet

Republican Frank Schaeffer:

John McCain: If your campaign does not stop equating Sen. Barack Obama with terrorism, questioning his patriotism and portraying Mr. Obama as “not one of us,” I accuse you of deliberately feeding the most unhinged elements of our society the red meat of hate, and therefore of potentially instigating violence.

[snip]

Stop! Think! Your rallies are beginning to look, sound, feel and smell like lynch mobs.

The worst part about this is that knowing John McCain, and knowing how much air is circulating between Sarah Palin’s ears, neither of them will be willing or able to take this advice.

Even McCain’s own campaign is having issues with the negative tone they’re taking these days:

[ McCain’s Camp Divided Over Dirty Attacks on Obama ]
Source: Alternet

That’s when you know you’re in trouble. They’re even interested in digging up the Rev. Wright story because they know there might be some more milage in it. That’s horrifying, and not in terms of what it might do to Obama, in terms of how horrifyingly low the Republicans are willing to go. These are the same people who openly claim there will be riots and a “race war” if Obama doesn’t win in November, and these are the same people who are ocmforted by the notion that if a Black man is elected President someone will just assassinate him.

The ignorance is stifling here folks, and it’s not to be ignored. These are the people who definitely plan on going to the polls this fall. If for no other reason than to raise your voice to counter theirs, you should head there as well.