Saturday, October 4, 2008

The truth about Obama's nonexistent ties to 1960's terrorists

Chicago Tribune reports on the truth of Obama's non-relationship with Bill Ayers:
Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin on Saturday accused Democrat Barack Obama of "palling around with terrorists" because of an association with a former '60s radical, stepping up an effort to portray Obama as unacceptable to American voters.

Palin's reference was to Bill Ayers, one of the founders of the group the Weather Underground. Its members took credit for bombings, including nonfatal explosions at the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol, during the Vietnam War era. Obama, who was a child when the group was active, has denounced Ayers' radical views and activities.

While it is known that Obama and Ayers live in the same Chicago neighborhood, served on a charity board together and had a fleeting political connection, it's a stretch of any reading of the public record to say the pair ever palled around. And it's simply wrong to suggest that they were associated while Ayers was committing terrorist acts.

. . . .
By Jim Kuhnhenn, AP writer, in the Chicago Tribune.

This is an old lie that was discredited long ago in the presidential campaign. It speaks volumes about Palin's lack of character and truthfulness -- of which there already is much evidence.

Hey There Joe Six Pack

Eileen and Ann Fontaine found this remarkable essay, "Hey There Joe Six Pack." (at If for some reason someone gets here without having been to Eileen's blog, please be sure to read the essay. It's one of the best things I've read about the heart and soul of what's going on with the elections.

The Christain "Right" takes on the Alaska Legislature in Troopergate

Just when you thought that things were quieting down a bit in terms of totally weird and scary news about Sarah Palin, there's more. The Liberty Legal Institute, a private legal aid organization that supposedly defends religious rights, is FUNDING the court action brought by five Republican state legislators to STOP the legislature's Troopergate investigation. They just lost round one in the trial court, but the Alaska Supreme Court has agreed to hear an expedited appeal so they can decide the case by next Thursday, the day before the legislature's investigative report is due to be published.

Read the whole story and updates at The Immoral Minority, "Republican stormtroopers, the dark side of the force, and the future of our country"

See also Shannyn Moore - Just a Girl from Homer, who gives further details and a heartfelt Alaskan reponse in "GET THE F*%# OUT OF MY STATE!" She quotes the following concerning the Liberty Legal Institute:
"The question the list raises is what interest does this firm have in the firing of a Police Commissioner in Alaska? Nothing in their past or in their charter shows an interest in such cases. They have no offices outside the state of Texas and work only pro bono cases related to civil liberties.

Enter the Arlington Group.

LLI is a member of the 75-member “Arlington Group”, a Washington-based, religious-right consortium which seeks to influence government policy on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. The Arlington group was founded in 2002 through the joint effort of powerful members of the religious right including Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, Chuck Colson, D. James Kennedy, Gary Bauer and Rod Parsley.

The groups first director was James Dobson. Although very influential then and now, the Arlington Group famously stubbed it’s toe when they threatened, in 2005, to oppose President George W. Bush’s Social Security Reforms if he did not come out strongly against same-sex marriage. The media was angered and the compliance of the Bush administration failed to stem the tide of same-sex marriage legislation.

The Arlington Group effectively limits its self to what its members agree on. Pooled resources go toward the election and appointment of judges with anti-abortion and anti-same-sex marriage records. The group does discuss the possibility of getting behind a particular candidate, but it is not necessary that they agree. They are very effectively tied into a couple of very narrowly defined issues with which all members totally agree. The election of politicians is basically a means to the end of those politicians appointing judges who share their agenda.”

[from Daily Kos]
This is too much for me, a lawyer and defender of civil liberties and religious freedom, a little old white lady who attends church weekly, who is mad as hell and ain't going to take this stuff anymore! These folks who pimp and distort religion, not to mention threaten the future of us all, believers and atheists alike, have got to be defeated. Off to plant my yard signs and write some letters. You can do the same at

And don't forget the real defenders of freedom of thought and belief - the American CivilLiberties Union. Among other things, they are fighting the new, revised (and not so improved) FBI guidelines on investigating anyone they suspect might be involved in terrorism.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Good reads from the U.K. on the U.S. bailout

"Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad," Willem Buiter, Financial Times.

"Unprincipled Madness," Tony Curzon, Open Democracy. An excerpt:
Both [Frank Shostak and Amn Pettifor] have the sense that the financial system has produced an illusion of wealth while actually, in important ways, eating at the core of what makes for a good society.The difference comes in a disagreement about the nature of the good society, and not in the analysis of what has gone wrong with our own bad societies. Pettifor stands for social equity, Shostak for market-faith. Pettifor goes much further in her analysis of the manufacturing of demand for debt through consumerism and her analysis of the distributional consequences of low input price for banks (in the form of cheap money) and high output prices for banks (in the form of expensive consumer debt).

Nevertheless, Shostak and Pettifor are in a strange analytical agreement over the mechanism of the mess we're in. It is therefore slightly less surprising that many Republicans and many Democrats voted against the bail-out: the orthodoxy at the centre of American politics is under attack--under an analytically similar attack--from both left and right. The vocal voter phoning in to their Representative is pretty likely to be able to justify a strong sense of indignation against the bail-out, whether they are free-market mystics or Democratic progressives. Buiter correctly identifies some of the anti-bail-out sentiment as "mad but principled"'. If the shrinking centre-ground means that it is made up of the "unprincipled but sane"', it may be time to abandon the centre and to have the real argument over the shape of the good society.
Tony Curzon's RSS feeds here, which includes the Becker - Posner blog (Chicago), where Judge Posner offers this remarkably clear summary of the current crisis:
Banks (broadly defined to include investment banks and the many other lenders) borrow--bank deposits, for example, are loans to banks--and then lend out what they have borrowed. As a result, their loans are much larger than their capital assets (cash, a building, etc.). If their capital shrinks in value, they have less protection against the possibility that the loans they make will not be repaid in full. If a bank's capital is 10, and it borrows 100 and lends 100, and the persons or firms it lends to return only 90, its net worth will fall to zero (10 [its capital] + 90 [the value of its loans] - 100 [the amount it owes its depositors] = 0.

Banks in recent years have increased the ratio of their loans to their capital because borrowing costs were low and financial experts thought they had discovered ways of reducing the risk of leverage (that is, of borrowing). Many of the loans were mortgage loans, and the value of those loans fell when the housing bubble burst. (Risky, and in some cases deceptive, mortgage practices had contributed to the bubble.) What made the situation worse was that rather than retaining the mortgages that they originated, banks (especially the major ones) sold the mortgages in exchange for securities backed by the mortgages. Those securities became a part of a bank's capital. The value of the securities depended on the value of the mortgages that the entity issuing the securities had bought; those mortgages were the entity's assets. As that value fell, the bank's capital fell.

The mortgage-backed securities achieved geographical diversification of mortgage risk. But the housing bubble, though not geographically uniform, was sufficiently widespread that geographical diversification did not reduce the risk of mortgage defaults sufficiently to avert the fall in the value of mortgage-backed securities.

A complicating factor was that the value of those securities was and is very difficult to determine, because each security represents a share in pieces of many different mortgages. The bank that owns the security cannot readily determine the value of all those different mortgages, since it has no direct relationship with the mortgagor, having sold the mortgage to the entity that issued the mortgage-backed securities.

Because the banking industry (and remember that I am defining "banking" very broadly, basically as all lending) was highly leveraged, and because much of its capital consisted of securities very difficult to value, the bursting of the housing bubble reduced the capital of the banks, but by an unknown amount. The reduction and uncertainty have curtailed lending by reducing the capital cushion that a bank needs to reduce to an acceptable level the risk that some of its loans will not be repaid. That is the "credit crunch," and it is painful because so many individuals and businesses borrow to finance their activities.

Ordinarily one would expect a credit crunch to be self-correcting. As lending dropped because of the fall in bank capital, interest rates would rise and this would attract more capital to the financial markets. We have seen this process at work in Warren Buffett's $5 billion investment in Goldman Sachs. Buffett has capital, Goldman needs it, so Buffett gives it to Goldman in exchange for preferred stock (which is really a type of bond but one that does not have a term--it is never repaid) paying a handsome interest rate.

But Goldman is pretty healthy. Many lenders have so much of their capital tied up in mortgage-backed securities or other novel forms of capital that are difficult to value that they cannot attract new capital at a price that would enable the lender to continue in business. The sale of the securities would just expose their lack of value. . . .
From the "$700+ Billion Bailout - Posner"

My kind of bailout

(When was the last time anyone saw a prayer like this from a main character in a movie?)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler

Serious times call for hilarious satire.

Paul Newman - Road Altanta 1976

Jerry Garrett writes in today's New York Times ("Thanks for the Lift, Mr. Newman") of his first assignment covering an auto race -- the 1976 SSCA championships races at Road Atlanta. That year Paul Newman won his first national championship, competing in D production with a Triumph TR6. I was there to watch a Jensen-Healey, which my traveling companion (and later to be husband) had worked on back in the shop and as crew for some regional races.

Even then I was a great admirer of Paul Newman as an actor. But that was the first time I learned anything about what kind of person he was. He was around the track all weekend, kept pretty much to himself and, amazingly, no one tried to bother him. On Saturday we walked right by his small motor home, and saw him and Joanne Woodward relaxing and sitting in folding chairs, oblivious to everyone around them. Later when I saw him standing near the track, I was struck by how handsome he was, a natural grace and ease evident even when he was just hanging around, hot, dirty, and in the usual disarray of drivers who change in and out of their driving suits.

What I saw and later heard was very much in keeping with what Garrett writes about the banquet held afterwards (when we were long gone on the road back to Wisconsin). Garrett recalls:
I will always remember that after he won the S.C.C.A. D Production championship in 1976, he and his wife, Joanne Woodward, unexpectedly attended the tacky victory banquet that night. It was held at the area’s only chain hotel. Mr. and Mrs. Newman refused to receive any sort of deferential treatment. They sat at a round table with other racers and mechanics. They stayed for the whole program, even though Mr. Newman received his award before some others. And they politely consumed perhaps the worst banquet meal I’ve ever been served: canned peas, scalloped potatoes and some sort of overcooked meat that didn’t look, smell or taste like chicken.
(Read the rest for a great closing line).

As years went on I read more about Newman and Woodward, their unassuming ways and concern for others. I also was deeply impressed by Newman's acting in his later years, especially The Verdict and Nobobdy's Fool. He had the uncanny ability to get under the skin of these later, vulnerable, flawed, yet fiercely noble characters. He seemed to understand them at their best and their worst. Those characters were very much like my first husband, the guy with the blue eyes, the quirky smile, and the passion for car racing, whose heart was always with the underdog and hand always ready to help a stranger, but who could never quite hold his own in life. Remembering Paul Newman, I remember him as well and that first weekend we spent together in Atlanta. May they both rest in peace.

All about greed?

"The essence of this crisis is lack of knowledge, including the inability to know who owes what to whom, and where risk resides." (George Will).

There, finally, someone has said it. It's not likely to get anyone as pumped up as those pointing the finger at all those terrible, greedy people on Wall Street and in government, including usually thoughtful people like Cokie Roberts, who said, "I'd like to see the CEOs of these companies marched down Wall Street in sackcloth and ashes," and similar remarks from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and Jim Wallis. Yet in the end, this is what needs to be addressed -- the nuts and bolts of the crisis.

Don't get me wrong. I have no doubt that there are plenty of bad actors involved in the mess -- people who fraudulently obtained and sold mortgages, those who engaged in all sorts of sharp trading and leveraging to maximize personal wealth and/or to bail themselves out before the markets collapse. But this persistent notion that the financial crisis is simply the result of Those Other People, the evil, greedy ones, taking advantage of all of us poor innocents, is, dare I say it, ridiculously naive. Even for those not well versed in economics, it should be clear that the reason why this crisis is hurting all of us and may yet do much worse damage is because our lives, our jobs, our wages, our spending, and our choices are all inextricably intertwined with both the financial markets and all the economic activity they represent -- activity, which on good days, they may even facilitate. We have benefited, as well as suffered, from the markets, and we cannot simply walk away from them and pretend we can live as we have without them.

Yes, those who have committed fraud and other crimes should be caught, prosecuted, and punished. But it is telling that much of the angry response from so-called "Main Street" is not only lashing out at anyone they think they can blame but also a flat-out refusal to consider this a community problem that requires hard work and sacrifice from everyone. People want and expect someone else to suffer, so catching the bad guys, removing them from power, stripping of them of wealth, will somehow make things all better, or at least make us feel good.

What is missing in all this is the recognition that a big part of the problem is due to the lack of knowledge among seller and buyers of the real risks involved in their trading, the lack of information about or security for what they were selling, and the lack of a mindset that asks tough questions, looks beneath the surface, and can grasp complex connections. Instead of demanding that the people in charge of our economy get smarter about what has happened and about what needs to be done to both mitigate our present losses and prevent future ones, we just want to keep shouting "off with their heads" while we, like many Republican Congressmen, put ours in the sand.

Unfortunately, "smart" does not sell well. While the allure and charm of Palin has faded with her recent stumbles, there still is a great deal of sentiment for the quick fix and disarming the bad guys. And it is not just on the political right. Now we have even the left-leaning religious folks and pundits moralizing as well, as if suddenly we are going to close down Wall Street and live happily ever after, consuming only what we need and buying and selling those tangible necessities while looking people straight in the eye -- all of which will happen if only we can get the terrible, greedy others to stop doing whatever it is that they do that we don't fully understand.

These folks seem not to have heard of Original Sin. Human beings generally act out of self interest, even though at times they can be taught to see that their self-interest requires sacrifice, deferral of gratification, and working together with others -- at least as long as they can see that there are controls, laws or regulations, that will help curb the excesses of those who want to jump ahead and accumulate all for themselves. And it's not just Them who are afflicted, it's all of us.

We are not going to solve the current financial crisis by finding and stringing up the bad guys or by rejecting all advice or knowledge from those who were involved in managing large corporations, buying and selling assets, and officials were supposedly regulating these activities. We are not going to solve the oil crisis or our problems with foreign countries by pretending that we do not have to make changes in our own lives and make sacrifices, even when we can justifiably point to others to blame for part of our problems.

Instead, I think we have to first start getting smart and valuing those who are smarter and more knowledgeable than we are. That does not mean bowing to the experts, but rather seeking out those with both intellectual and moral integrity, those willing to admit wrong and to learn from their mistakes, as well as those of others. Knowledge and critical thinking must be valued, not denigrated, and the quick-draw, shoot without thinking or blinking, McGraws set aside.

Commonsense is needed, as well, but not at the expense of knowledge and real expertise. Commonsense should help us put aside ideologies and the moralizing that goes with them, Left and Right. Good, carefully targeted regulation is wise -- excessive, burdensome, and mindless bureaucratic regulation is not -- and it is very difficult to know what the difference is without trial and error, openness and a free flow of information.

Maybe some of these goals are unrealistic, as well. But as long as the public keeps cheering and booing, from all sides of the political spectrum, seeking to identify and destroy their own brands of demons and witches, we have no hope of getting beyond this crisis and instead may find ourselves lost in turning against each other.

Although I agree that the church is and has been largely irrelevant in all this, I do not think it is helpful for its leaders to now brandish their own ignorance about the workings of the market economy, while, in the meantime, many live off investments and endowments and some do a poor job of managing their day-to-day financial operations. Instead of scorched earth sermons against greed, why don't we hear more about truth, integrity, humility, and knowledge? Instead of mapping out and locating the demons on Wall Street, why don't we look at some of the demons within ourselves, the ones that do not want to give up our cars and the oil that currently runs them, the ones that do not want to pay more for locally grown foods or services, do not want government regulation when it affects our own backyards, and do not want to suffer or sacrifice in any way as long as we can find others who can suffer for us? Church physicians and moralists, heal thyselves. Meanwhile, let's get to the hard, practical work of gathering the best information, fixing what we can and planning for the future accordingly.