Wednesday, January 28, 2009

And now, from sunny Ohio…

President Obama’s stimulus bill might or might not look the same tomorrow as it looks today.  There will surely be much negotiating before the final bill reaches the President’s desk.

What is amusing is the early posturing of the borrow-and-spend Republicans who managed to escape the wrath of the electorate in November.  These solons oversaw the largest expansion of government debt and growth in decades, and now they’re quibbling about “grass” and “contraceptives.”  (Google Boehner if citations are needed.)

Especially amusing is watching Congressman Boehner of Ohio play the role of fiscal watchdog.  The amusement stems, however, from his makeup, not from his philosophy.

Has there ever been a darker “white” man who lives, ostensibly, in Ohio?  Especially in wintertime?

One wonders how much of his 24 hour day Boehner spends in a tanning salon.  And to what purpose?  To look darker than Mr. Obama?  Maybe.  He only needs an hour or two more.

Trust, but verify the source of that tan.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Sophistry in Politics

There is no Constitutional requirement for truth to trump sophistry, Dear Gentle Reader(s); although perhaps the case can be made for one in the case of political pundits.  There is a hue and cry when a reporter lies in a Pulitzer Prize winning article or a memoirist lies in purported recollection or, like Clifford Irving, a biography which really isn’t.  Who gets hurt in those instances?  People in some power who were hoodwinked.  Eh.  Caveat emptor.

Who, though, gets hurt when political pundits use clever arguments against progressive social policies which, on close scrutiny, are possibly misleading?  Poor people, for whom of those progressive policies are developed, are generally the ones hurt.  Take, for example, Thomas Sowell’s latest effort in, “Lured to Disaster,” an argument against the concept of “affordable housing.”  In it he asserts ‘Behind the housing boom and bust was one of those alluring but undefined phrases that are so popular in politics-- "affordable housing."

Sowell offers his own childhood living conditions to prove that responsible people, who live within their means, do not need to have a law saying “It is somehow the taxpayers' job to make up the difference, when someone chooses housing whose cost exceeds that magic number.”  That’s hardly the idea behind “affordable housing.”  At least, it’s not the only idea. 

In Cathedral City, California, affordable housing is used when developers seek public assistance for housing projects.  A developer wants to build a 100 unit housing tract using tax incentives.  Application is made, and, for the consideration of say, 1 out of 10 units to be classified “affordable,” permission to build and to utilize tax incentives is granted.

That is a far cry from the criminal mortgage lenders of the past years who led us to the current housing bust and thus to the financial boondoggle in which we find ourselves.

Sowell’s admonition that people should only buy or rent what they can afford is valid.  Affordable housing programs, used with responsible developers and consumers, expands the number of those responsible people and are also valid.

Sowell knows this.  One wonders why he takes this particular tack.

Trust, but verify.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Oy! They have ‘em, too!

Remember those “end days” Christianist fundies, Dear Gentle Reade(s)?  It turns out (although one shouldn’t be surprised given our general lack of knowledge of Islam) that there are a Moslem equivalent:  Islamic apocalypticists.

Andrew Sullivan has a posting about this distressing phenomenon.

The I.A.s “believe an end-of-the-world battle between the forces of good and evil is forthcoming.”  Further,  in the “past two decades have seen a spectacular rise in the scope and popularity of apocalyptic literature of interest to Islamists.

Imagine.  Each of the extremist sects in the two most bloody religions in the history of the world has a fight between good and evil marking time in the wings.

It could well be a mistake, DGR(s), to pooh-pooh religious fundamentalists of any stripe.  They do not bode well for the future.

Trust, but verify.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

And the days dwindle down…

Small steps, Dear Gentle Reader(s), might be frustrating—why aren’t they bigger?—but they are necessary.  When they happen they must be noted.

Hie thee, then, to U.S. Centcom’s website for a story about the opening of a school for girls near Baghdad.

In the twilight of the current administration, some small steps of atonement are present.  They are the silver lining to an otherwise dreary picture.

Trust, but verify.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Screwing the Pooch: The Later Years

Wellllll, Dear Gentle Reader(s), the Soul-selling by the Republican Party in 2000 is still lurking and ready to bite just about everyone on the posterior.

The New York Times reports today that the Supreme Court of the U.S. has just given official record keepers a green light to do sloppy work. 

Some schnook was arrested, tried, and convicted on the basis of an outstanding arrest warrant which had been withdrawn but not purged from the relevant computer system.

Granted, a guy who was doing the wrong thing was caught and punished, but the manner of the “catch” is what should concern us.

This should concern us:

“When police mistakes leading to an unlawful search are the result of isolated negligence attenuated from the search, rather than systemic error or reckless disregard of constitutional requirements, the exclusionary rule does not apply,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote in an opinion joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.


The vote was 5-4.  Here’s a point in dissent reported by the Times:

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter and Stephen G. Breyer dissented. “In my view, the court’s opinion underestimates the need for a forceful exclusionary rule and the gravity of recordkeeping errors in the law enforcement…Negligent recordkeeping errors by law enforcement threaten individual liberty, are susceptible to deterrence by the exclusionary rule, and cannot be remedied effectively through other means,” Justice Ginsburg wrote.

The majority has ruled, in effect, that there is no compelling reason to avoid “recordkeeping errors,” hasn’t it?  It isn’t hard to imagine the mischief which this ruling could cause.

To start, “purged” arrest warrants could be deliberately left in the system for years under the guise of insufficient personnel to clear the backlog.  And that comes without much thought.  An ingenious mind could come up with many reasons to delay purging computer systems.  Further, since so many computers have so much information about our lives at hand, what “recordkeeping errors” by other governmental entities might be brought to bear on 4th Amendment issues?

Thanks, Republican Party and the 2000 Supreme Court.  The damage done to the body politic will long endure. 

For certain, it will last long past next Tuesday.

Trust, but verify—even the Supreme Court. (Alas)


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Monday, January 12, 2009

OK, Andrew. But, who’s left?

Now that the election is past and the current neo-con Administration is down to two weeks, Andrew Sullivan, Dear Gentle Reader(s), is reverting to form (pre-2003 bash-Democrats-regardless-of-responsibility form, that is).

Sullivan notes an “experiment” by Mother Jones in which it took the magazine’s staff just 27 minutes to apply for a TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Program) bail out.

Well, we all know how well managed the TARP $350 billion has been mis-handled.  Sullivan, though, ends his piece with, “The Democrats are back, aren't they?”

Nice, Andrew, except for the fact that the program was largely the product of Treasury Secretary Paulson, not the Democratic Congress.

It isn’t that the Democrats are “back,” Andy.  It’s that the Republicans haven’t left yet.  Andrew doesn’t like the Republicans, and he’s already dishing the Democrats.  It’s lonely on the fringes.

For more nuanced minds, let’s see how the remaining $350 billion are controlled before we dump on the Democrats.

Trust, but verify.


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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Um…Huh?…How rich and how thick is the layer?

Technorati Tags: ,

What, Dear Gentle Reader(s), is meant by “…richly layered in 24 karat gold…”?

And would you spend $9.99 for a Kennedy half dollar so enhanced?

Trust, but verify.

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Friday, January 9, 2009

Good News Cocktail—with a lemon twist

How much, Dear Gentle Reader(s), of the current fiscal mess is the result of unscrupulous lenders hoodwinking easy marks into buying a house for which they were financially unqualified?  Enough to have made the rest of the financial community sit up and take notice.  And the reverberations from that mess will be felt for some time.

One would think that a lesson learned would be that instances such as the housing debacle the dupes need to be protected if for no other reason than we need to protect ourselves from their follies.

In the news today is a story about a “cramdown” proposal for restructuring mortgages.  In effect it would mean that bankruptcy judges could possibly rule that a mortgage must be reduced in order to fit the financial abilities of the mortgagee.

The proposal for this ability to restructure has been on the table for a couple of years.  The mortgage industry has lobbied against it.  (Duh!)

In a surprise move,though, Citigroup has decided to back the measure, with a condition.  Actually, two conditions:

In a statement, Citigroup said it would support Durbin's legislation provided that it applied only to mortgages in effect before passage of the act. To be eligible, borrowers would have to contact their lenders and try to work things out before filing for bankruptcy.

The company also said it would support the proposal only if a provision was eased that would void the mortgage if the lender was found to have violated consumer protection laws.

So, future mortgages would be exempt, and if the lender were a crook (of sorts) the mortgage would be exempt. (In the past there were precious few consumer protection laws, and that’s what put us in this pickle.)

The exemption of future mortgages is arguably a step backwards.  If the lenders were doing due diligence in the first place, the mortgages would have been sound,and we would be continuing on the path to prosperity, rather than bemoaning the largest loss of jobs in recent history.

Some Republicans in the Congress have sided against the beleaguered homeowners in the past; they continue to do so relative to this change in the bankruptcy laws.

Many of us might bemoan a “nanny state,” but, when the nanny is ultimately protecting our particular national interests, it might serve us well to give the ol’ girl some space to do her job.

Trust, but verify.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

From the horse’s mouth

Here, Dear Gentle Reader(s), is the link for US Centcom’s discussion of the U.S. Forces’ return of the “Green Zone” in Baghdad to the control of the Iraqi government.

The story is the Pentagon’s view. 

Trust, but verify.

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Friday, January 2, 2009

Foot (Hoof) in (and) Mouth Disease

Alas, Dear Gentle Reader(s), the waggish variation on Hoof and Mouth Disease can strike too often where one would hope it wouldn’t.

Take (Please!) the kerfuffle in which Senator Harry Reid, the Majority Leader of the Senate, finds himself.

Shortly after the indictment of Governor Blagojevich on  December 7, Mr. Reid indicated that the Governor should not appoint a successor to President-Elect Obama’s senate seat.  He eventually indicated that any appointment by Blagojevich could well not be seated by the Senate Democratic Caucus.  Those senators would have “to determine whether such a person should be seated."

So, what next?

The good governor, true to his nature, took the dare and appointed Roland Burris, an Illinois political figure—who happens to be an African American.  (Uh-oh!)

Already race has entered the equation—Burris would be the only African American senator (just as Mr. Obama was). (Not that there’s a Constitutional requirement for racial or ethnic balance in the Congress.)

Further complicating the issue for Mr. Reid is the fact that there is no clear authority given to the Senate to refuse a legally appointed/elected person from being able to serve.

One would think that Reid would have learned an obvious lesson from the immediate past—that of reserving statements which are more bumper sticker epigrams than wisdom.  Remember the recent “dead or alive” and “mission accomplished?”

Perhaps in some instances we should re-phrase the Reagan dictum to read:

Keep quiet and then verify and then trust.

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