30 September 2008

On the “contrived” necessity of state control

Regarding that previous posting: this posting at American Thinker hits on the subject of what I called the contrived necessity.

I’m reluctant to quote any of it here, because one must read the whole thing. But this bit will adumbrate where he comes from:

Before the 1994 Republican takeover, Democrats had sixty years of virtually unbroken power in Congress - with substantial majorities most of the time. Can a group of smart people, studying issue after issue for years on end, with virtually unlimited resources at their command, not come up with a single policy that works? Why are they chronically incapable?

Why?

One of two things must be true. Either the Democrats are unfathomable idiots, who ignorantly pursue ever more destructive policies despite decades of contrary evidence, or they understand the consequences of their actions and relentlessly carry on anyway because they somehow benefit.

I submit to you they understand the consequences. For many it is simply a practical matter of eliciting votes from a targeted constituency at taxpayer expense; we lose a little, they gain a lot, and the politician keeps his job. But for others, the goal is more malevolent - the failure is deliberate. Don't laugh. This method not only has its proponents, it has a name: the Cloward-Piven Strategy. It describes their agenda, tactics, and long-term strategy.

The Strategy was first elucidated in the May 2, 1966 issue of The Nation magazine by a pair of radical socialist Columbia University professors, Richard Andrew Cloward and Frances Fox Piven.
James Simpson, the article’s author, has a chart which he argues clarifies Barak Obama’s connection, via the Cloward-Piven strategy and the radical left. Decide for yourself how well he pulls it off:






Of course, you can really only do that if you read the article and follow the chart.

H/T: Gateway Pundit
29 September 2008

Self-government versus the police state

Rush Limbaugh and other conservatives, such as Glenn Beck, have objected to the bailout plan on the grounds that it is an unwarranted takeover of a great deal of our economy, making it ever more a command economy. Limbaugh cites the statement of purpose in the present bailout plan, as an abrogation of the constitution.

It may all be true. It may bring us one step closer to a police state. But the road to police states is paved with cobble stones of self-indulgence, the self-indulgence of those whose behavior (even if only arguably) more and more renders drastic action not only thinkable, not only tolerable, but even desirable. If the people will not exercise self-control, state control is inevitable.

And the culprit isn’t capitalism, as some have said. Capitalism is simply an extension of notions of freedom and ownership of private property. The problem is with some of the practitioners of capitalism, whose desire for more and more for the sake of having more and more. The problem is with an out-of-control entitlement bloc, asserting that it isn’t just a beautiful thing for people one day to own a home; it is a right, and government (which must ensure that we all get our rights) must provide for the acquisition of those homes. The problem is with greedy “grievance-mongering”, in the form of people claiming “aggrieved” status and demanding redress of these grievances and never being satisfied with any redress. It’s just another form of greed. In the same way that greedy capitalists can only pursue more money, greedy grievance mongers can only pursue more redress. (Enter Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, whose mission was to increase homeownership among minorities, who, recall, are never quite satisfied with their own form of “more”. Enter also, arguably, the Community Reinvestment Act, which was used to motivate banks into loaning money to people who really couldn’t pay them, by threatening them with “racism” otherwise. The banks – get this – really thought those loans should be paid! Racists.)

Why not capitalism itself? I admit my bias: I am a capitalist, a rabid capitalist – of the “Austrian” school. But I’m a Christian first, so when there are failures I must look to the human element, specifically the human heart. Speaking of the “failure” of the Law, in the book of Romans, St. Paul says it was weak. He doesn’t say that it was weak in itself. Quite the contrary, it is good and holy. The weakness of the Law is in the weakness of the flesh, the heart of the one under the Law, even the one who wants to obey the Law. The Law is good, but my state is so bad that the goodness of the Law is of little good to me.

So it is with capitalism. Liberty and private property in themselves are good. The weakness of capitalism is in the flesh. When capitalism is understood as liberty, as opposed to libertinism, it isn’t a problem. But when liberty – capitalism – comes to mean anything goes, the situation is altered tremendously. Like sexual license any all freedoms are to run rampant; any attendant responsibilities can be passed along elsewhere. The price for our limitless sexual expression: millions of dead babies. The price for limitless “capitalism” is perhaps just coming into focus. If millions of dead babies could exact the price they probably would. The victims of limitless capitalism have a voice; they also have a vote.

There is a price for failure to exercise self-control, which the Puritans (whom we love to hate) called self-government. We can control ourselves, govern ourselves; or we can be controlled. Limbaugh and others may object to the necessity, even if it is a contrived necessity; but the logic is inexorable. The history is incontestable.

Police states don’t just pop up out of nowhere. And they generally are not found where people govern their passions.
28 September 2008

Death to the world? -- Wisdom Sunday

Yes, in a manner of speaking.

The world is the general name for all the passions. When we wish to call the passions by a common name, we call them the world. But when we wish to distinguish them by their special names, we call them the passions. The passions are the following: love of riches, desire for possessions, bodily pleasure from which comes sexual passion, love of honor which gives rise to envy, lust for power, arrogance and pride of position, the craving to adorn oneself with luxurious clothes and vain ornaments, the itch for human glory which is a source of rancor and resentment, and physical fear. Where these passions cease to be active, there the world is dead; for though living in the flesh, they did not live for the flesh. See for which of these passions you are alive. Then you will know how far you are alive to the world, and how far you are dead to it. -- St. Isaac the Syrian


Relevant, for such a time as this.
26 September 2008
Although they made mention of fundamental differences between the two of them, the fact is there isn't much in terms of fundamentals. They both fundamentally agree that an economy can be managed; they both fundamentally believe in a command economy. They both fundamentally agree that the tax code can and should be employed to manipulate human behavior. (For example, they both fundamentally agree that the tax code can be employed to manipulate businesses into coming or remaining here and, more importantly, keeping or bringing jobs here.)

They both fundamentally agree that governmen can and should prevent recessions. They both fundamentally agree that government can and should provide healthcare, do various acts and things to ensure a college education for any one who wants one.

But they differ only over how to execute policies on which they fundamentally agree.

On the other hand...Obama does occasionally use language that makes his economics views seem more in line with socialist answers to economic questions, while McCain is pretty much Keynesian I think.

Whew! I'm glad that's over.

I want a drink.
McCain gives his resume again to make a guarantee. He knows how to heal the wounds of war.

These guys are both magic.
Another mini-speech by McCain.

Both of them are long on generalizations, short on specifics.
Yes, let's get healthcare for everyone. Let's also not ask why healthcare costs keep going up and up instead of, like most other things, down and down.
If we truly are focused solely on Iraq (think about what the word solely means) then why do we have even one soldier in Afghanistan?

Yes, yes, yes. Get Osama and it's all over.
Senator Obama, why are we just assuming that those nations are just unquestionable correct to respect us less? They could be wrong. I'm not saying they are wrong, just that they could be.
You too, Senator Obama. Yes or no. And then the elaboration.
I wish McCain could just have answered yes or no on another 911 and then do the elaboration.

Senator, yes or no.
I've been thinking: McCain just said that Russia was the unqualified aggressor in this. But Pat Buchanan thought otherwise.
I've looked. And I can't find any one of substance -- anyone who matters -- who has said unequivocally that we can drill our way out of this.
Oh, yes. Internation peace keepers -- they always work so well.

I suppose they might have better than Russian peace keepers.
Yes, it was really silly of the President to talk about looking into Putin's eyes and seeing his soul.

Good one, McCain: I looked into his eyes and saw K-G-B.

No kidding.

K.G.B. does stand for Kapitalist Good ol' Boy.
Oh, I see. We just explain to Russia that they can't just do this sort of thing.
Yes, sit down with someone who has called Israel a stinking corpse and wants to wipe it off it the map. That way we can find out how we can change their minds.
So, McCain must unquestionably yield to his advisors? What kind of leader is that?
One difference between the Soviet Union on the one hand and Iran on the other is Mutually Assured Destruction. It has never appeared to me that this certainty bothers Iran.
The War in Iraq has strengthened Iran? He can't be serious. He must mean that the war in Iraq has given Iran the excuse it needs to strengthen its position. Sure. I can see that.

Our efforts at isolation has excellerated the arming activities of Iran and N. Korea.

Iran, among others, has long wanted to obliterate Israel. If not by nuclear weapons then by some other means.
I don't know that Iran's neighbors will feel the need to acquire nuclear weapons, but I will go so far as to agree with McCain that they should, in prudence, try to get them.

A league of democracies?

Is that like the League of Nations? Yes, let's drop the "failed" Bush policies and employ the untterly disgraced policies of Woodrow Wilson.
In all honesty, Senator McCain, how can anyone know what will happen?
Great: the Battle of the Bracelets.

You just knew he'd go find one, too.

There we go with the eye off the ball business.

Get Osama and it's all over.

Yes, actually you do sometimes muddle through a war. The North really muddled through the Civil War until Lincoln found Grant.

What does he know about war anyway?
Now mini-campaign speech from Senator McCain.

I don't think this narrative about the bracelet is the best argument in favor of the policy. I don't think he's really hit on the real policy issue.
But troops ought to be on the defensive, Senator Obama. The alternative is preemptive assualt, which, I think, is wrong.

Well, we really had to deal with Musharaf. Not so much because yes he's a dictator, but he's our dictator, but because we really couldn't just replace him. At least, not for the same reason we brought regime change to Iraq.
Exactly: the strategy which Obama condems in Iraq is what he is essentially calling for in Afghanistan.

Obama ought to respond that at least Afghanistan was more directly implicated in 911.
No one said Iraq was directly involved in 911. What was said was the Saddam Hussein was a state sponsor of international terrorism.

We are supposed to get rid of "safe havens", which Iraq was, but we are not supposed to invade those safe havens.
There we go with another mention of bin Ladin. If we just get bin Ladin it will be all over.
Good point, Senator McCain: Obama concedes that the surge worked beyond our wildest expectations and would still vote against it.

However, I think to the earlier question about tax-cuts for the rich, McCain should have stayed with that issue a bit longer, rather than moving immediately back to ear marks.

Blogging the debate

Normally, I wouldn't live-blog anything, but I'm frankly bored. Each answer of each candidate to each question is a mini-campaign speech.

I'm at that point where Senator Obama makes reference to our failure to catch Osama bin Ladin; we took our eye off the ball.

Oh, yes, Senator as soon as we get bin Ladin terrorism will end and there will be peace in the valley.

Not quite innocent

Who fostered the cash-in culture in which both Wall Street profit mongering and Washington lobbying are nourished and thrive? We citizens did — red-state conservatives and blue-state liberals, Republicans and Democrats, alike. We may be victims of Wall Street greed — but not quite innocent victims.
Victor Davis Hanson weighs in with some blame:

The profiteering was not just the result of a few thousand scoundrels on Wall Street or in Washington, as greedy and as bonus-hungry as many of them no doubt were. Look at the housing market as a sort of musical chairs in which everyone profited as long he grabbed a seat when the music stopped. Then those left standing — with high-priced loans and negative equity when the crash came — defaulted and stuck taxpayers with debt in the billions of dollars. But until then, most owners who had sold homes cashed out beyond their wildest dreams.


Thousands of dollars in past profits are still in sellers' bank accounts or were spent on their own consumption. If the shaky buyer at the bottom of the pyramid should not have borrowed to buy an overpriced house, then the luckier seller higher up hardly worried that the cash-strapped fool was paying him way too much with unsecured borrowed money.


We created the cultural climate for this shared madness. Television shows advised how to "flip" a house after putting in cosmetic improvements. Real-estate seminars and popular videos convinced us that homes were not places to live in and raise a family but rather no different from piles of chips on a Vegas table.


We created the phony populist creed that everyone deserved to own a house. So lawmakers got the message to relax lending standards in service to "fairness." But Americans forgot that historically nearly four in 10 of us aren't ever ready, or able, to sacrifice for a down payment, monthly mortgage bills, home maintenance and yearly taxes — and so should stick to renting.

Oh, yeah, and people who followed the ages-old wisdom of the past and continued renting until they could afford to pay a mortgage were told they were throwing their money away. But not by banks: I know people who do believe that renting is throwing your money away.

If you’re one of those people try this experiment. Take the average monthly rent for a decent place in your area and run it through a paper shredder. That’s throwing your money away. On the other hand, when you get a place to live in return for that money it’s not throwing your money away. It’s an exchange of value. There is a difference. Not getting equity is not the same as shredding dollar bills.

Sure McCain ruined the bailout deal, but so what?

Democrats are talking as if the bailout deal on the table yesterday was a good thing. Some of us don’t think it was.

Dick Morris thinks McCain’s “insertion” of himself into the process was a stroke of genius:


McCain has transformed a minority in both houses of Congress and a losing position in the polls into the key role in the bailout package, the main man around whom the final package will take shape. He arrived in Washington to find the Democrats working with the Bush Administration to pass an unpopular $700 billion bailout. The Democrats had already cut their deal with Bush. The Dems agreed to the price tag while Bush agreed to special aid to families facing foreclosure, equity for the taxpayers, and limits on executive compensation. But no sooner had McCain arrived than he derailed the deal.

Knowing how unpopular the bailout is with the American people, the Democrats are not about to pass anything without broad Republican support even though their majorities permit them to act alone. Instead of signing on with the Democratic/Bush package, the House Republicans are insisting on replacing the purchase of corporate debt with loans to companies and insurance paid for by the companies, not by the taxpayers. That, of course, is a popular position. McCain would be comfortable to debate this issue division all day. And, if the Dems don’t cave into the Republican position, that’s probably exactly what he’ll do on Friday night’s scheduled debate in Mississippi.

But the Democrats are not about to be stubborn. They know their package is a lemon and need the political cover of Republican support. So the Republicans can write their own ticket…and they will. John McCain will be at the center of the emerging compromise while Obama is out on the campaign trail kissing babies. If the deal is cut before Friday’s debate, my bet is that McCain shows up in triumph. If it isn’t, he shows up anyway and flagellates Obama over the differences between the Democratic package and McCain’s.

I don’t know about a stroke of genius. But the deal was unpopular, and if McCain really did derail it (apparently, just by showing up and not really saying much) then so much the better.

Also, since Senators Obama and McCain are still senators, I don’t consider it a vice for senators to show up in Washington every now and then to do their jobs. They are still drawing salaries, are they not?

It’s fitting for Democrats to think people should still draw salaries for work they are not doing.

The manic gambling machine

The manic gambling machine

It wasn't that Wall Street's leaders deceived customers or lenders into taking risks that were known to be hazardous. Instead, they concluded that risks were low or nonexistent. They fooled themselves, because the short-term rewards blinded them to the long-term dangers. -- Robert Samuelson
Robert Samuelson traced some of “Wall Street’s Unraveling” on 17 September.

First, financial firms have moved beyond their traditional roles as advisers and intermediaries. Once, major investment banks such as Goldman Sachs and Lehman worked mainly for their clients. They traded stocks and bonds for major institutional investors (insurance companies, pension funds, mutual funds). They raised capital for companies by underwriting -- selling -- new stocks and bonds for the firms. They provided advice to corporate clients on mergers, acquisitions and spinoffs. All these services earned fees.

Now, most financial firms also invest for themselves. They use partners' or shareholders' money to place bets on stocks, bonds and other securities -- so-called "principal transactions." Merrill and other retail brokers, which once served individual clients, have ventured into investment banking. So have some commercial banks that were barred from doing so until the repeal in 1999 of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933.

Second, Wall Street's compensation is heavily skewed toward annual bonuses, reflecting the profits traders and managers earned in the year. Despite lavish base salaries, bonuses dominate. Managing directors with 15 years' experience can receive bonuses five to 10 times their base salaries of $200,000 to $300,000.

Finally, investment banks rely heavily on borrowed money, called "leverage" in financial lingo. Lehman was typical. In late 2007, it held almost $700 billion in stocks, bonds and other securities. Meanwhile, its shareholders' investment (equity) was about $23 billion. All the rest was supported by borrowings. The "leverage ratio" was 30 to 1.

Leverage can create huge windfalls. Suppose you buy a stock for $100. It goes to $110. You made 10 percent, a decent return. Now suppose you borrowed $90 of the $100. If the price rises to $101, you've made 10 percent on your $10 investment. (Technically, the price has to exceed $101 slightly to cover interest payments.) If it goes to $110, you've doubled your money. Wow.

Once assembled, these components created a manic machine for gambling. Traders and money managers had huge incentives to do whatever would increase short-term profits. Dubious mortgages were packaged into bonds, sold and traded. Investment houses had huge incentives to increase leverage. While the boom continued, government remained aloof. Congress resisted tougher regulation for Fannie and Freddie and permitted them to run leverage ratios that, by plausible calculations, exceeded 60 to 1.

It wasn't that Wall Street's leaders deceived customers or lenders into taking risks that were known to be hazardous. Instead, they concluded that risks were low or nonexistent. They fooled themselves, because the short-term rewards blinded them to the long-term dangers. Inevitably, these surfaced. Mortgages went bad. The powerful logic of high leverage went into reverse. Losses eroded firms' tiny capital bases, raising doubts about their survival.
On its face, it strikes one as a sly attempt at blaming this mess Gramm-Leach-Bliley, which permits investment banks to invest for themselves. What Samuelson really gets at is the foolishness of the investing, not the legality of it. The problem isn’t that investment banks are permitted to invest for themselves. The problem is that they invested foolishly.

Yes, the law permits foolishness.
25 September 2008

Better uses for $700 Billion

Forbes.com lists 7 better ideas for $700 billion in an article posted at MSN Money. Good ideas for the most part, but it still shares the same flawed idea: that the fed needs to spend that money in the first place.

It could be the "Austrian" in me, but if the money were to be spent for all that Forbes identifies, I'd like to all the dollars be private.

Even for the "infrastructure"? You bet, bid out contracts to build and manage highways and bridges. Yes, it will involve tolls, but at least when you drop the coins into the toilet bowl you can see where it's already gone.
24 September 2008

Why is anyone still listening to Paulson and Bernanke?

I can't stand listening to speeches, so I didn't listen to the President's speech tonight. But I am reading it. I've explained the President's "action" politics before, so I'm not surprised at what I've read so far. Inaction is not the answer, especially in an election year. We can't have more people losing their homes. Blah, blah, blah. But I digress.

As I started by asking: Why is anyone still listening to Paulson and Bernanke? That's the question Don A. Rich asks in an article posted at the Ludwig von Mises Institute web site.


Unlike the short-attention-span monkeys of Wall Street, the reasonable analyst will conclude that all the federal government's options for making up the difference between nominal and real values have bad implications for Wall Street.

Before moving on to a more formal analysis, the federal government is now admitting that the entire credit-generation process in the United States has collapsed. Going forward, that is bad news for the real economy — for the claims on the profit-generating capacity of the economy upon which the stock market constitutes claims. This is all bad news, not good news, for Wall Street.

More formally, there is a gap between the nominal and real value of debt instruments that across the entire credit spectrum easily exceeds $5 trillion, the risk of which the federal government has assumed.

There are three possibilities that in combination cover all the bases for possible governmental actions.

First, the federal government raises taxes to pay off the difference. That clearly isn't good news for Wall Street or the wealth-creation process.

Second, the Federal Reserve System prints enough money to prop up debt-security prices at nominal values over time, thereby bringing about equilibrium by raising the prices of everything else. A borderline hyperinflation isn't good news for Wall Street.

Third, perhaps in some instances the federal government seizes the assets of the financial industry at fire-sale prices, and therefore inflicts the loss on shareholders and private creditors in a bizarre form of monetary-policy-induced, catastrophe-driven socialism or fascism.

Well, that isn't good news for Wall Street and the wealth-generation process and, as the above scenarios cover all the possibilities, none of this is a good sign. It is a sign, rather, that we have allowed our monetary, fiscal, and regulatory authorities to lure us like lambs to the slaughter to the unwarranted socialization of the most important sector of the capitalist system.

In addition to the mis-behavior of people taking out loans they couldn't afford, lenders who lent to such people, politicians using number of home-owners as a measure of the success of their policies, among many others, pragmatism and vote-buying promises have been deadly. Coupled with the silly notion that there should not be things like recessions and depressions, these "action" politicians are embracing an expedient which ought to be unthinkable. I like to think of it as The Screw Deal.

There are alternatives to the measures the President is seeking. And I think they are far superior in many respects to the alternative offered by the President and his fellow travellers on this issue. But I'm certain they won't be implemented.

On the Blame Game, Paul Barret of BusinessWeek, contributes to the discussion, by offering his own take on "What brought down Wall Street?" It's a long article, but let me explain it this way. Just like people who ignore evacuation orders in the face of hurricanes like Ike, confident that, somehow, destruction will just blow right by them, too many people had the same sort of pipe dream financially.

The outsize appetite on Wall Street for hazardous mortgage-backed securities and even more obscure derivatives has had a lot to do with the people in the kitchen failing to understand fully what was in their recipes. All of this is painfully familiar to anyone who paid attention to past adventures with wizards who claimed their esoteric models had magically eliminated risk and uncertainty. Hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management couldn't imagine Russia defaulting on its debt, much as Lehman apparently couldn't conceive of housing prices across the country deteriorating simultaneously, followed by a paralyzing credit crunch.

For four years in the mid-1990s, LTCM boasted extraordinary profits based on supposedly flawless computer formulas devised by a team that included two Nobel laureates. But in the summer of 1998, Russian credit disintegrated, one of several concurrent global shocks that the LTCM crew had failed to factor into their algorithms. After losing more than $4 billion in a few months — in retrospect, the amount seems almost quaint — the hedge fund received a federally organized rescue, although it later shut down altogether.

Financial "rocket scientists," says Henry T. Hu, a corporate law professor at the University of Texas in Austin, have a knack for neglecting low-probability, catastrophic events. The smartest guys in the room at Enron similarly assumed away risks they didn't want to confront. "These models … work in normal circumstances but not during times of market stress, when it really matters," Hu says. "It is almost like a safety belt that only fails in a serious car crash."
When they say, "Peace and safety..." (see I Thessalonians 5.3).

Not even half-empty

This is a rant. I freely admit it.

Phil Gramm got in trouble for saying that we are a nation of whiners. That’s one of the difficulties in this country right now: people who complain about a man calling them whiners with no – absolutely no consideration – ever given to the question of whether the statement is true.

I don’t know how many people out of 300 million half to whine in order for us to be called a nation of whiners without the one who does so getting in trouble for it. But you have to love it when, in the course of a conversation which is not even political (yes, I have those sorts of conversations more than one might think) one mentions hearing a news story on the radio that, so far, about 93% of mortgages are still being paid, what is immediately shot back (and I do mean shot) is, “What about the 7%?”

If unemployment is at 6% and you point out that this means, thank the good Lord, that 94% of us are still working, you get told that you care nothing for your fellow man, or the plight of the poor or some such thing.

If you are told that such-and-such-a-number of people live below the poverty line and compare how relatively good the poor have it compared to what ‘poverty’ means in MOST OF THE WORLD, you will be told you have no compassion.

Quite obviously, for liberals, a glass half-full (or half-empty) is completely empty. Heck, a glass 93% full might as well be empty. News not 100% good is 100% bad. Moral or economic imperfection is morally or economically wholly evil. No surprise that these are the same people who, when it comes to things like race relations in America, do not acknowledge any improvement whatsoever. No surprise that, to them, we are losing in Iraq.

If the news is 7% bad, then there is absolutely, positively, without question or exaggeration, any good news. At all.

One wishes we could, and would, just stop listening to liberals. Nothing is, or will ever be, good enough for them. They want heaven on earth and until they get it they will insist they are living in hell.

Okay. Rant over.

Gramm-Leach-Bliley caused all this? Okay, but how?

[B]iology tells us that a high degree of habitual well-being is not advantageous to a living organism. Today, well-being in the life of Western society has begun to take off its pernicious mask. -- Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn, “A World Split Apart” (1978)

The question is how, exactly, a law allowing commercial and investment banks to consolidate caused all this.

While the media have been relatively quiet about Democrats who worked for or received money from Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, they apparently could not contain themselves when they stumbled across this bit of news:

One of the giant mortgage companies at the heart of the credit crisis paid $15,000 a month to a firm owned by Senator John McCain’s campaign manager from the end of 2005 through last month, according to two people with direct knowledge of the arrangement. The disclosure contradicts a statement Sunday night by Mr. McCain that the campaign manager, Rick Davis, had no involvement with the company for the last several years. Mr. Davis’s firm received the payments from the company, Freddie Mac, until it was taken over by the government this month along with Fannie Mae, the other big mortgage lender whose deteriorating finances helped precipitate the cascading problems on Wall Street, the people said.
By my math that amounts to less than $500K for the whole period. Well, that cinches it: Republicans are complicit in this mess after all. We all knew that; it was just a matter of finding the facts to fit the thesis.

In a real bit of journalism, Charles W. Calomiris and Peter J. Wallison explain why Fannie Mae and Congress are to blame. Frankly I find their case stronger because it doesn’t involve some insinuation of complicity by virtue of monies received:

In order to curry congressional support after their accounting scandals in 2003 and 2004, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac committed to increased financing of "affordable housing." They became the largest buyers of subprime and Alt-A mortgages between 2004 and 2007, with total GSE exposure eventually exceeding $1 trillion. In doing so, they stimulated the growth of the subpar mortgage market and substantially magnified the costs of its collapse.

It is important to understand that, as GSEs, Fannie and Freddie were viewed in the capital markets as government-backed buyers (a belief that has now been reduced to fact). Thus they were able to borrow as much as they wanted for the purpose of buying mortgages and mortgage-backed securities. Their buying patterns and interests were followed closely in the markets. If Fannie and Freddie wanted subprime or Alt-A loans, the mortgage markets would produce them.

[…]

In light of the collapse of Fannie and Freddie, both John McCain and Barack Obama now criticize the risk-tolerant regulatory regime that produced the current crisis. But Sen. McCain's criticisms are at least credible, since he has been pointing to systemic risks in the mortgage market and trying to do something about them for years. In contrast, Sen. Obama's conversion as a financial reformer marks a reversal from his actions in previous years, when he did nothing to disturb the status quo. The first head of Mr. Obama's vice-presidential search committee, Jim Johnson, a former chairman of Fannie Mae, was the one who announced Fannie's original affordable-housing program in 1991 -- just as Congress was taking up the first GSE regulatory legislation.

In 2005, the Senate Banking Committee, then under Republican control, adopted a strong reform bill, introduced by Republican Sens. Elizabeth Dole, John Sununu and Chuck Hagel, and supported by then chairman Richard Shelby. The bill prohibited the GSEs from holding portfolios, and gave their regulator prudential authority (such as setting capital requirements) roughly equivalent to a bank regulator. In light of the current financial crisis, this bill was probably the most important piece of financial regulation before Congress in 2005 and 2006. All the Republicans on the Committee supported the bill, and all the Democrats voted against it. Mr. McCain endorsed the legislation in a speech on the Senate floor. Mr. Obama, like all other Democrats, remained silent. (Emphases mine.)

As the fever to pin this entire mess on Republicans by way of Gramm-Leach-Bliley (which, in Senator Obama’s words, constituted the “de-regulatory steps that helped cause this mess") continues to burn, we can thank the New York Sun for digging up responses of Democrats like Charles Schumer to this legislation:

If we didn't pass this bill, we could find London or Frankfurt or years down the road Shanghai becoming the financial capital of the world. That has grave implications for all of America, where financial services are one of the areas where jobs are growing the most quickly, where our technology is way ahead of everyone else, where our capital dominates the world. And it would be a shame if because Congress has been unable to act that all those advantages were frittered away as they well could be in a global world by our failure to realize the problems that our existing antiquated laws cause us.

Gramm-Leach-Bliley repealed much of the Glass-Steagal Act, something for which those of us in any way connected or interested in finance were waiting a long time. (My connection and interest amounts to this: I was raised by business people. These matters were often the topic of dinner conversation.) And Schumer is right: he and others worked on Gramm-Leach-Bliley for around 18 years. Indeed I recall a conversation with an acquaintance of mine around 1988. I can no longer recall what I said, but it elicited this response: “You wait till they repeal Glass-Steagal. That’ll all change.” (Yes, I really have conversations like that in real life.)

President Clinton called Gramm-Leach-Bliley “a major achievement that will benefit American consumers, communities, and businesses of all sizes." (On that note, here’s a 13 November 1999 New York Times story about President Clinton signing Gramm-Leach-Bliley into law.) If conspiracy theorists can believe that the Bush administration orchestrated the 911 attacks, perhaps they can swallow a gnat such as that Democrats engineered this whole mess, beginning with Gramm-Leach-Bliley (which, you’ll recall, Senator Obama has identified as the epicenter of this quake) because they don’t like capitalism. After all, it is kind of funny that Democrat talking points sound an awful lot like communist talking points. (It doesn’t surprise us former socialists.)

One thing I don’t understand is this. The Left love to emulate Europe. As Rich Lowry points out here, when Gramm-Leach-Bliley was passed, Europe already had similar laws allowing financial institutions to engage in a wide array of ventures. Indeed, one of the purposes of Gramm-Leach-Bliley was to give us opportunity to compete with Europe. Now many of the same Democrats who sought passage of the act, blame the act for our present malaise.

Now, it may be that Gramm-Leach-Bliley is the cause. But that’s all we’re being told. What’s missing is the explanation of how Gramm-Leach-Bliley caused these problems. It’s one thing to say Gramm-Leach-Bliley causes all this; it’s another to explain how Gramm-Leach-Bliley caused this. Supposedly, Gramm-Leach-Bliley was an instant of “deregulation”. Fine. But how did this putative deregulation cause anything? Or, to put it better: What (if anything!) was formerly prohibited under Glass-Steagal, and now permitted under Gramm-Leach-Bliley, which would have prevented the present mess?

Politicians, when assigning blame are very good about employing generalizations and abstractions. Bush’s “failed” economic policies, in the form of “deregulation” under Gramm-Leach-Bliley are to blame. It sounds meaningful; but it isn’t. Gramm-Leach-Bliley caused all this. That sounds meaningful also; but most of the people listening have no idea what Gramm-Leach-Bliley is, much less what Glass-Steagal was. What’s needed here is not abstraction but concreteness.

Again, the question is: How, exactly, did a law allowing commercial and investment banks to consolidate cause all this mess?

23 September 2008

The love of money

I was asked by a friend over the weekend if I would be blogging on the present financial crisis, especially the subprime mortgage aspect of it.

I have been thinking about it, but whatever I would have written has already been written. I can blog on what I’ve been reading, however.

Kevin A. Hassett, of the American Enterprise Institute, writes on “How The Democrats Created the Financial Crisis”. Hassett’s article is worth reading not as an instance of more finger-pointing, but as an explanation which avoids tired, meaningless abstractions like “predatory lenders”, “‘failed’ economic policies”, and so forth.

Of particular interest is Senate Bill 190 (2005), an element of the President’s “failed” economic policies, which would have averted this mess:

For the first time in history, a serious Fannie and Freddie reform bill was passed by the Senate Banking Committee. The bill gave a regulator power to crack down, and would have required the companies to eliminate their investments in risky assets.
Different World

If that bill had become law, then the world today would be different. In 2005, 2006 and 2007, a blizzard of terrible mortgage paper fluttered out of the Fannie and Freddie clouds, burying many of our oldest and most venerable institutions. Without their checkbooks keeping the market liquid and buying up excess supply, the market would likely have not existed.

But the bill didn't become law, for a simple reason: Democrats opposed it on a party-line vote in the committee, signaling that this would be a partisan issue. Republicans, tied in knots by the tight Democratic opposition, couldn't even get the Senate to vote on the matter. (See also this related May 2005 article by Peter J. Wallison, also of American Enterprise Institute.)
But why would Democrats do such a thing? Obviously there must be something of value in all this for Democrats to do, and be responsible for. But what?

Here’s another interesting element from Hassett’s article. We are rather consistently informed about various Republican ties to “big oil” and “big pharmacy” and other “special interests,” unlike Democrats who, we are to believe, have no such ties. But as it turns out, for some reason Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had a penchant for giving money to politicians who protected them from regulation, including Christ Dodd and Hillary Clinton. Oddly enough, another Democrat makes that list: Barak Obama.

This article at Cyber Cast News Service explains yet another element of the whole story, the role of the federal government:

[According to Sheldon Richman]…government policy laid the foundation of this crisis more than 30 years ago when Congress passed the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977. This law forced banks to loan money to low-income borrowers as a way to ensure that financial institutions would “meet the credit needs of the local community.”

Under the Clinton administration, federal regulators began using the act to combat “red-lining,” a practice by which banks loaned money to some communities but not to others, based on economic status. “No loan is exempt, no bank is immune,” warned then-Attorney General Janet Reno. “For those who thumb their nose at us, I promise vigorous enforcement.”

The Clinton-Reno threat of “vigorous enforcement” pushed banks to make the now infamous loans that many blame for the current meltdown, Richman said. “Banks, in order to not get in trouble with the regulators, had to make loans to people who shouldn’t have been getting mortgage loans.”

This threat combined with the government backing of Fannie and Freddie set the stage for the current uncertainty, because the “banks could just sell the loans off to Fannie or Freddie,” who could buy them with little regard for negative financial outcomes, Richman said. (See also Stan Liebowitz, The Real Scandal; How the Feds Invited the Mortgage Mess [February 2008].)

On the other hand, against the idea that the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) is the cause of these problems, Robert Gordon offers this April 2008 opposing view. He holds that the lending institutions involved weren’t governed by the Community Reinvestment Act. “Most analysts,” he says, “see the sub-prime crisis as a market failure. Believing the bubble would never pop, lenders approved risky adjustable-rate mortgages, often without considering whether borrowers could afford them; families took on those loans; investors bought them in securitized form; and, all the while, regulators sat on their hands.” (One might think to ask just how Gordon knows that all these lenders believed the housing bubble would never pop. Anything’s possible, but most people in business seem to know that it is the nature of bubbles to pop. Frankly I prefer to think of it not in terms of bubbles, but rather musical chairs; it’s always just a matter of when and who’s going be left without a chair when the music stops. But I digress.) Gordon goes on to cite various sources to substantiate the claim that most of the institutions involved here were not under CRA law and any that were engaged in these loans during a period when CRA was being weakened. He concludes by saying, “Law didn't make them lend. The profit motive did.”

It sounds good. And it’s tricky to reason through. For example, one wants to say that if these lenders were motivated by the profit motive, then they would not have approved risky adjustable-rate mortgages, without considering whether borrowers could afford them. After all, if you want to make a profit lending money then you would consider whether a borrower can afford the loan. What profit is there in making such a risky loan? If one is going to lend money without consideration of the borrower’s ability to pay, one must think one is going to get that money from someplace.

Enter the investors, who purchased these mortgages in “securitized” form. Apparently, we are to believe that investors, people who want to make money, purchased mortgages without ever considering the borrowers’ ability to pay. A mortgage is an investment only if there is some reason it can be paid. One can easily blame the profit motive, as Gordon does, but the profit motive is usually what keeps people from making unreasonably risky investments. Here, I’m employing the term ‘unreasonable’ to refer to the probability of return on investment. A reasonable risk is one in which one has some reason for believing he shall see a return on his investment. A man who buys a mortgage with no idea of how he shall see a return on his investments, no idea about the borrowers’ ability to pay isn’t greedy; he’s bloody well stupid.

Why buy these mortgages? Someone had, or thought he had, some reason for believing he could make money buying a mortgages. This money can be made in one of two ways. He can receive the loan payments or he can turn round and sell the mortgage himself. If he bought the mortgage, as Gordon says, with no consideration of the borrowers’ ability to pay, then he must have thought he’d made his money selling it.

And at the top of the mortgage-buying food chain are Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, who hold eighty percent of all mortgages and who could buy these with little regard for negative financial outcomes because of implicit government backing. Of course, Freddie and Fannie, though government sponsored entities, are still private corporations. And that government backing was never spelled out in the law which created Freddie and Fannie. So we don’t know why they purchased all these mortgages. Or do we?

I agree with Gordon in part. Obviously, these loans were made by people who thought they could make money. But that same motive should really have kept these loans from being made. So while he may be right that CRA didn’t cause the crisis. He hasn’t told us anything by telling that the profit motive did.

I’m motivated by profit. And if I wanted to make money by lending money you can bet I’d not loan money to people I thought had little chance of paying it back. So we are still left with the question: Given the relevance of the profit motive, and given that it should really have induced no one to make such loans, why did people make such loans?

Think about the recipients of these loans. We are told that they are minorities who were preyed upon by “unscrupulous” lenders. Perhaps. But given that lenders need to make money and that they do so by receiving loan payments. This isn’t telling us anything either. However, if I were a lender, I can tell you one thing that would make me loan money to someone I wasn’t sure could pay it, especially if that person were a minority: the fear that my refusal to grant the loan would get me accused of racism. That would do it.

And that is where CRA may come in. The question is, How, if at all, could CRA have induced people to make these obscenely risky loans? According to Richman, the Clinton administration used CRA to go after banks who engaged in redlining in their lending practices. Most of those who were redlined were minorities. In the end I’ve heard and read the case for CRA’s connection, but so far I haven’t traced it out.

In related pieces, Glenn Beck lists the SEVENTEEN TIMES the present administration warned about the problems with Fannie and Freddie, explains who he thinks is responsible for the bank bust, and explains the back mess using a very imaginative analogy (hint: it involves Paris Hilton).

Finally, Cal Thomas gets at the spiritual roots of the entire mess, which demonstrates how everyone involved (borrowers, lenders, securitized mortgage purchasers) are all to blame. Like me, he’s Purtian-friendly.

Modern Western culture has been built on the success ethic, which says the acquisition of material wealth produces happiness and contentment and that the value of a life is to be measured not by one’s character, but the size of his bank account, the square footage of his home, the cost of his clothes and the cars in his garage. The Puritan Thomas Watson addressed this notion when he said, “Blessedness ... does not lie in the acquisition of worldly things. Happiness cannot by any art of chemistry be extracted here.”

Christianity Today magazine noted in a 1988 article, “The Puritan Critique of Modern Attitudes Toward Money”: “American culture has been strangely enamored of the image of ‘the self-made person’ — the person who becomes rich and famous through his or her own efforts. The idea of having status handed over as a gift does not appeal to such an outlook. Yet the Puritans denied that there can even be such a thing as a self-made person. Based on an ethic of grace, Puritanism viewed prosperity solely as God’s gift.”

The writer might have added that prosperity should not be seen as an end, but a means. Throughout Scripture, people are warned that money is a false god that leads to destruction. Wealth is best used when it becomes a river, not a reservoir; when it blesses and encourages others and does not solely feed one’s personal empire.

The modern business ethic seems to be to make as much money as possible, but with little purpose for making that money other than to enhance the wealth and status of those who make it. No wonder Paul the Apostle wrote that “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). It isn’t money itself that is evil. Money, like fire or firearms, can be used for good or ill, depending on the character of the person who possesses it. But money can be worshipped with as much fervency as that golden calf in Moses’ time. In Dow we trust!

Part of our problem is a failure to distinguish between needs and wants. Until the last century, most people were familiar with the Puritan ethic of living within one’s means. The Gilded Age in the late 19th century demonstrated the folly of rapacious living, yet the Roaring Twenties generation had to learn the lesson anew from the Great Depression.

Discontent, coupled with a profit motive, is a disaster just waiting to happen. It’s always just a matter of time.
21 September 2008

The church as a hospital -- Wisdom Sunday

In the Eastern Orthodox churches there exists the idea of the church as a hospital of sorts. In this hospital, by God's grace we put off the corruption of sin and are formed in Christ. Among Reformed, there really is not much talk of that, if there is any at all.

In his book The God Who is There, Francis Schaeffer povides a reformed perspective on the view of the church as hospital:

As orthodox evangelicals we have often made the mistake of stopping with individual salvation. Historically the word Christian has meant two things. First, the word Christian defines a person who has accepted Christ as Savior. This is decidedly an individual thing. But there is a second consideration as well. It concerns that which flows from individual salvation. While it is true that there is an individual salvation, and this is the beginning of the Christian life, yet nevertheless individual salvation should show itself also in corporate relationships. This is the Bible's clear teaching concerning the Church and what we find, in some measure, as we consider the Church at its strongest through the ages.

When man fell, various divisions took place. The first and basic division is between man who has revolted and God. All other divisions flow from that. We are separated from God by our guilt -- true moral guilt. Hence we need to be justified upon the basis of the finished substitutionary work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet is it quite plain from the Scriptures and from general observation that the separation did not stop with the separation of man from God. For secondly, man was separated from himself. This gives rise to the psychological problems of life. Thirdly, man was separated from other men, leading to the sociological problems of life. Fourthly, man was separated from nature.

According to the teaching of the Scriptures, the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ is meant eventually to bring healing to each of these divisions: healing which will be perfect in every aspect when Christ comes again in history in the future.

In justification, there is a relationship which is already perfect. When the individual accepts Christ as his Savior on the basis of the finished work of Christ, God as judge declares that his guilt is gone immediately and forever. With regard to the other separations, it is plain from the scriptural teaching and from the struggles of God's people throughout the best years of the Church, that in this present life the blood of Christ is meant to bring substantial healing now. Individual salvation comes with justification, and guilt is gone at once. Then comes a future day when my body will be raised from the dead and the other separations will be healed just as completely. Now, in the present life, when men can observe us, there is to be a substantial healing of these other divisions. Substantial is the right word to use because it carries with it two ideas. Firstly, it means that it is not yet perfect. Secondly, it means that there is reality. 1 Complete Works (1982), 164-65.
Note, this substantial healing that Schaeffer speaks of begins when one comes to faith in Christ. At that time, one is made a member of Christ's body, the Church. That substantial healing that we are to experience in the world, though incomplete, begins in the Church, as members of a body, not in our prayer closets as spiritual Lone Rangers riding along in our personal relationship with Jesus.

And if the Church is a place for healing, perhaps it would be appropriate to approach worship as therapy. But before we go too far with that idea the way it plays out in our culture, we should read the gospels for examples of people who approach Jesus fore healing. They do go to him for healing; and yet, not to be served, not to be entertained, not requiring that he sing in the musical style of their generation or put on a drama that touches them "where they're at". They come in devout humility, like a certain Roman centurion, asking for healing (and not for himself) by asking primarily for mercy (see Matthew 8.5ff). The centurion wasn't worthy to have Jesus under his roof. The Caananite woman asked Jesus to toss a few crumbs to her, a dog, by asking him for mercy for her daughter (see Matthew 15.22-28). The blind men, desiring to see, asked him for mercy (see Matthew 9.27).

During the course of worship, in some churches, at some point there is the recitation:

Lord, have mercy upon us
Christ, have mercy upon us
Lord, have mercy upon us
It is mercy that we need, healing, substantial healing, as part of our salvation. And there is, as Calvin says, no salvation -- no healing -- apart from union with Christ. That's where healing begins and ends. In worship, we who are united with Christ give to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit the glory that is due and which we are glad to give and which is part of our healing process because in order to heal we must die to ourselves. We cannot truly worship the Triune God if we are not dead and dying to self, if we are not repenting daily -- not just on Sunday.

Worship, bowing to the Triune God, is death to self. It has to be: it is life to self which perpetuates the divisions Schaeffer speaks of. It is life to self which obstructs healing.

Lord, have mercy upon us.
19 September 2008

Sure, blame God

So, Ray Bolz is gay. And, of course, God made him that way.

One of the problems of life from a Christian perspective is knowing where God's creative act is a reason and where the reason is simply that corruption which we inherit from Adam. We all -- yes, all -- have that area where we really, really, struggle. With me it's unlimited ambition and competiveness. With others it's unlimited sexual desire (in this case, heterosexual). When it comes to homosexual desire, however, this desire is singled out for special treatment. When it come to this desire it must be of God. It cannot be an area where one just happens to have his struggle against corruption.

One of my favorite poets is W. H. Auden. Auden was gay. He was also a Christian. I know what you're thinking. But in Auden's case he confessed it as a sin from which he could get free.

I don't post on this because I think homosexuality should be singled out for special treatment among sins. Rather, I've noticed the tendency on the part of a great number of Christians to place the responsibility for their failings at God's feet. Gay Christians aren't the only Christians who claim, "This is how God made me."

I really wish David would have blamed God for his dalliance with Bathsheba.

The problem, in many cases, is not that God made us with specific sexual desires. The problem is that we are born in corruption with sinful desires. Identify any element of God's will, and you will find someone, even a Christian, with a deep desire to disobey. Why? Because in that person's life the corruption into which we are born works itself out that way.

What separates gay Christians from other Christians is that other Christians really don't have to struggle in quite the same way. We can indulge our ambitions, our gluttony, our envy and employ all sorts of euphemisms to hide them. The gay Christian doesn't have any euphemisms to hide behind. And, really, we think -- employing our euphemisms -- that God made us that way, too.
12 September 2008

Okay, Jesus was a community organizer...of sorts

But so what?

Still ticked off about Palin's unflattering comparison of small-town mayors and community organizers, Democrats as everyone knows have rebuked Palin by "reminding" her that Jesus was a community organizer, while it was Ponitus Pilate who was a governor. Apparently, people who are community organizers are good and laudable just by virtue of being community organizers; and they are good because Jesus, a community organizer, was good. And people who are governors are bad and despicable just by virtue of being governors because Pontius Pilate, a governor, was bad.

Weren't Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton governors?

If you think about it, the mafiosi were community organizers. The founders of the Crips, the Bloods, the Gangster Disciples were all community organizers. I'm using the term "community organizer" the way Obama supporters use in the comments on the article I linked above. My purpose is not to liken Senator Obama to gang members. My purpose is to show that being a "community organizer" is not praise worthy in and of itself. And being a governor is no sin.

In all this, let it not be forgotten that Palin's remarks about a mayor being like a community organizer except having real responsibilities were in response to unflattering remarks made by the senator about small town mayors. I guess for community organizers and their fellow travellers it's always open season on small town mayors (and governors) while community organizers are on something like an endangered species list.

It is also true that the truth claim in Palin's remarks have not been denied. That is to say, we have yet to hear that community organizers have anything like the sort of governing authority and responsibility which mayors and governors have. So she's not in trouble for saying something untrue, just for saying something negative, something belittling, as opposed to something which clarifies an ostensible -- and relevant -- difference between mayors and community organizers.
11 September 2008

Vote for Obama because it’s what Europeans want

Well, that’s what some of us might want to do in response to a poll reported by Alexander Burns at Politico.com.

Forty-seven percent of Europeans believe an Obama victory in November would lead to a better relationship between the United States and Europe, versus just 5 percent who think Obama would weaken the trans-Atlantic relationship.


Now that has to make you stop and think. I know it has me. And what I’m thinking is this. First, it’s at least possible that the 5 percent who think Obama would weaken the trans-Atlantic relationship are the smart ones. Second, if an Obama presidency is the solution to U.S.-Europe relations, then the problem may be over-stated. (In other words, if Senator Obama is the answer, then it may be an insignificant problem.)

In all seriousness, a great deal of commonality exists between Europeans and Democrats. I noticed during my army days that Europeans and Americans looked upon the soviet bloc differently. It seemed to me that most of our European allies took a purely defensive posture against the soviets. There was very little interest in bring down the soviet empire.

Until Reagan, the U.S. were inclined to take a similar approach, peaceful co-existence, détente. Under Reagan, the policy changed. Peaceful co-existence, according to Reagan and his ilk, was not only not possible, the soviets were not really interested in it, despite their friendly talk. Communism is not a provincial attitude; it’s a world-wide mandate. The soviets had to be defeated somehow. Europeans, comfortable with détente, balked at Reagan’s aggressive moves (such as the placement of Pershing II missiles in West Germany in January 1984). The end of détente was an unwarranted and aggressive path to open war, a war of which Europe would bear the brunt. Who could blame them for opposing such moves.

And some Democrats in the U.S. balked right along with Europeans, caricaturing Reagan as having one hand in his jelly bean bowl while his other hovered over “the button.” (That was when they were not caricaturing him as stealing food from the homeless, sneaking back into the White House and eating it himself.) There was nothing wrong with peaceful co-existence, enforced by mutually assured destruction. Reagan was going to screw it all up, bring the entire world to the edge of existence.

Opponents of Reagan’s aggression had an understandable point. If you make clear to a nation, any nation, that you intend to take it down you must acknowledge that the nation in question will not just take it sitting down. Israel doesn’t. It was to be expected therefore that the soviets would respond with counter-aggression. War was inevitable; Reagan would be responsible.

That was then. Now, U.S. – Europe relations suffer because of what they think an “uncalled for” war in Iraq. It is a war based on baseless accusations, supposition, and desire for revenge.

Certainly, an Obama administration, if it keeps its promise to unceremoniously jerk troops out of Iraq, will certainly improve those relations. Too, Obama’s politics are much like most of Eurpope’s. They believe in material rights; so do Democrats. Most Americans believe in formal rights. So Obama and Europeans have a lot in common.

Anytime you do what someone wants you to do, you will improve your relations with that person. Pull troops out of Iraq, and relations will probably improve. (We’ll also probably have to stop dominating NATO.)

It would be nice to get along better with Europe. Right now, I’m inclined to think the price a bit steep. Also, Europeans’ attitudes, as expressed in the poll, assume that Europeans are correct in their view of the issues and that the U.S. are wrong. It could be that Europeans are wrong, in which case the current state of U.S. – Europe relations is their fault, not ours. (It is at least a possibility.)

In memory of the 9-11 attacks, but probably not a great idea

When talk began of building again on the site of the WTC, I hastily drew this preliminary sketch as I reflected on the event and what sort of building I'd like to see at the site. It wasn't done in earnest and really reflects only my attitude at the time. I called it, simply, Defiant Tower.


You can see why I wasn't in earnest when I drew it. My wife said, "It's obscene!" I freely admit that it is.

For that reason it would, of course, be entirely out of the question to build such a thing. It should probably have been out of the question to conceive, much less draw such a thing, especially given the meaning involved. I was really after something which says, "Up yours!" But we really don't have one, so this was as close as I could get. I suppose I could have sketched something which incorporated the peace symbol. I just wasn't feeling all that peaceful the day I drew this.

NOTE: I drew it in Microsoft Paint, rather than in my CAD program. That's why it's so rough.

09 September 2008

And I thought Palin was too kind

Richard Cohen thinks Senator Obama is being swift-boated.


Obama does not understand…he is being Swift-boated. The term does not apply to a mere smear. It is bolder, more outrageous than that. It means going straight at your opponent's strength and maligning it. This is what was done in 2004 to John Kerry, who had commanded a Swift boat in Vietnam. Kerry had won three Purple Hearts, a Silver Star and a Bronze Star and had emerged from the war a certified hero. It was that record his opponents attacked, a tactic Kerry thought so ludicrous that he at first ignored it. The record shows that he lost the election.
Actually swift-boating ought to refer to presenting missing details from an historical narrative which, though strictly true, is mis-leading. The swift-boaters’ claim was that certain elements were missing from the narrative which called into question whether his “certification” as a war hero was truly justified. I never bothered too much about the swift-boaters: Kerry’s war hero status was to me irrelevant; he could have been the Vietnam War’s version of Sergeant York for all I cared. But, Mr. Cohen ought to consider the possibility that what one asserts as a qualification or relevant strength for office is going to be attacked; one opens oneself up to such attack. It was John Kerry who made his Vietnam service and hero status an issue. The swift-boaters only responded to the claim.

Clearly, Cohen thinks any claimed strength must go unchallenged and accepted uncritically.

The McCain campaign is maligning Obama’s strength, his strength as a community organizer. Never mind that Obama just about asked for it by first maligning Governor Palin’s strength as a former mayor. Does that make the senator a swift-boater himself? Cohen apparently thinks it unfair to suggest that if experience as a mayor is irrelevant to the Vice-Presidency, then community organizing is irrelevant to the Presidency.

After all, one just has to ask just how relevant is the job of a community organizer to the office of the Presidency? I’m sure there’s some foreign policy experience in there somewhere.

With respect to the aforementioned Senator Kerry, “swift-boating” as Cohen defines it assumes that being a war hero was one of Kerry’s strengths as a presidential candidate. It wasn’t. In fact, being a war hero is even less relevant to the office than being a community organizer, or a mayor. Bill Clinton never served at all; much less was he a war hero. (As if!) But to Democrats during that campaign season, Clinton’s lack of military service was irrelevant. In fact, accusations of his being a draft dodger were followed by bumper stickers asserting, “My draft dodger [i.e., Clinton] is better than your draft dodger [i.e., Dan Quayle]!”

If Obama is being swift-boated then what is happening is that certain facts about what is a community organizer are coming to the fore; and they aren’t very flattering when compared to what a mayor does.

Swift-boated? Please. If one is going to assert that something about experience as a community organizer enhances the resume of a candidate for the office of President of the United States while being a small-town mayor does not, then one simply opens up oneself to just such criticism as Cohen complains of here. It means that people will ask, and answer the question: Just what the heck does a community organizer do in comparison with what a mayor does?

Whatever a community organizer does, we know at least one thing. We know that a community organizer has no governing responsibility or authority. That was pretty much what Palin said and which has Cohen complaining.

Note that Cohen doesn’t say that what Palin said is untrue, that is, that a mayor is like a community organizer except with actual (governing) responsibility. He says that pointing out this truth is an attack on one of Obama’s strengths.

Frankly, I thought the comparison, though dripping with sarcasm, was too kind to community organizers.

More of the same? Great, considering the alternative.

I love this ad.



If the alternative to someone who thinks (rightly, I might add) that the fundamentals of the economy are strong and who owns seven houses is Senator Obama then, yes, I’ll gladly take four more years of the same.

Besides, I reject the notion that anyone, even a President, has to be “in touch” with me and my problems in order to do the job. I don’t need anyone to be “in touch” with me; I don’t need anyone to “feel my pain”. I prefer someone who thinks that, as a science, economics is no more about the equal distribution of wealth than biology is about the equal distribution of intellingence. I prefer someone who does not think that government exists to do for you what you cannot, or will not do for yourself. I prefer someone who prefers statehood to statism, someone who thinks that the Constitution protects formal rights, not material rights.

I also don’t think that someone who can afford $18K to $20K for tuition to send his daughters to a private school, is really in touch with most Americans. He certainly is not in touch with me. I may not be struggling to pay my mortgage (yet!), but I certainly don’t have $20K to spend on tuition.

Now, getting back to that business about the fundamentals of the economy being strong: they are. The problem for Democrats, especially the more socialist-leaning types, is not that our economy isn't fundamentally strong. The problem for them is that our economy is fundamentally wrong -- because it is still fundamentally capitalist. They think it should be fundamentally Marxist. How else to explain that every so-called economic crisis is to them justification for making the economy more and more “social” (i.e., Marxist) in structure?

NOTE: One of the reasons I'm not stuggling to pay my mortgage is that I did not seek a mortgage I should have known I cannot afford. Neither could I have been pressured into an unaffordable mortgage by an "unscrupulous, predatory" lender: I have some backbone. Nor was I sold a mortgage, despite the huge risk, because of the minority group to which I belong (i.e., hispanic). I have a mortgage for the old-fashioned reasons: my income and my credit rating make me an acceptable risk.

Some of those who are struggling to pay their mortgages have themselves, not the "out of touch" Senator McCain, to blame for their present circumstances. The specific problem is one of the Seven Deady Sins: Envy.

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About Me

James Frank Solís
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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