Category Archives: Politics

a question for the economic smart people

Okay, so I’ve been keeping up on the coverage of the economic disaster we’ve been having by reading The Consumerist and listening to This American Life, and trying to catch up on NPR’s Planet Money. And I’ve got a question, but I’m not sure where to ask it.

The problem as I see it is that we have a bunch of banks that are exposed to unknown risk by having sold credit default swaps and mortgage-backed securities. Nobody is able to say how much each bank or other organization is worth because while you have the list of assets that do have a value on them (standard stocks, buildings, equipment, whatever), you then have these other lists of assets that nobody can assign a value to because:

  1. for the credit default swaps, nobody knows who’s going to go under next so nobody knows if a credit-default swap that was sold for $10 million might require a payout tomorrow of $1 billion or more, and
  2. for the mortgage-backed securities, nobody really knows which mortgages are low-risk and which aren’t.

The way I see to resolve these items, while probably not easy or attractive for anyone involved, is for each bank and investment firm to drop their drawers and expose everything. Every credit-default-swap exposure, every investment, every mortgage they offered, every little piece of land and equipment they own needs to get published. Giant text file, giant spreadsheet, whatever. This will expose trade secrets and probably other things that each organization would probably rather remain unscrutinized, but at this point it’s either do this or the organization may not survive to exploit those trade secrets.

I can’t find the reference now [update: here’s one, about the Reconstruction Finance Corporation], but I seem to remember reading that in the 1930s after the bank runs of the late 20s, the US government set up a commission to do a full audit of every bank, where every bank was laid bare to this commission and either certified solvent or not. That sounds like a good start.

If not done by the government, then maybe it can be coordinated by the Treasury and someone can set up a huge Amazon Mechanical Turk job or something. Imagine that — “Save the economy! Read two pages of this bank’s financial statement, add up the numbers, get paid ten cents, and help certify these banks!” The best reference I can find is from the New York Observer, in 2002, after the Enron scandal, calling for a Board of Audit. Yeah, it goes against the grain of every self-respecting capitalist who worships at the altars of Reagan and Thatcher, but I ask you, where is your god now? Oh right, he’s prolonging the crisis by randomly dumping wheelbarrows of money at your doorstep.

At the very least, someone needs to be going through all the mortgages that make up these mortage-backed securities and doing the due-diligence that should have been done in the first place. Pull all the paperwork, call everyone up and ask for paystubs and tax returns, run the credit checks, and assign each mortgage a real risk value. Then, at least, you’ll know how many loans were worthless, and how many were real loans to people with the means to pay them back.

So if these are the ways out of the mess, why isn’t anyone doing it? Maybe things aren’t quite bad enough; but if you have roaches or flour moths in the pantry, the only way to get rid of them is by pulling everything out, cleaning the pantry, closely examining everything you’ve got, putting the bad items out with the trash, and putting the clean items back in the pantry. Only then will you get rid of the pests, and there’s no other way to do it.

I realize it’s not my industry and I don’t have any real connection to the financial world other than hoping I (along with everyone else) don’t get screwed by what goes on with it, but it seems like most folks are just sitting with their heads in their hands and hoping that the badness will somehow blow over and get better. I don’t think that’s the answer, and while right now it seems like this might help, I’d love to know how I’m wrong.

godwin’s law for politicians

I may have posted about this before. Every now and then, I hear something that reaffirms my belief that there should be a Godwin’s Law for politicians. Godwin’s law states that eventually, as a debate runs out of steam and real arguments, someone will compare the other side to Hitler, or the Nazis. This usually means that the side making the comparison has run out of actual arguments and has resorted to personal attacks.

Today on the radio (on the morning edition of The California Report, I think) I heard about the debate for California’s SB1437 in the state Assembly. In arguing against the bill, one Republican stated something to the effect that “If this bill were in effect and Adolf Hitler was gay, you could not say anything bad about him!”

The truly sad thing is that this person said it with such vitriol and apparent passion that it seems like he actually believed it was a valid argument against a bill that basically says “you cannot base treatment or judgement of a person on whether they are gay, straight, or otherwise.”

Please can’t we just make it a rule that, like in Usenet, if a politician or activist brings up Hitler, it means they’ve run out of valid arguments and automatically lose?

I found my Harris’ment

One or two of the three people who read this blog may remember that in early June I got Harris’ed — called by the pollsters and asked a bunch of questions.

I found a link to their press release for that poll here.

The most interesting thing about it I found was the table of “What do you think are the two most important issues for the government to address?” answers — they didn’t prompt, just took whatever you had to respond to. One of mine was the economy; I forget the other one, it might have been healthcare.

I find it very interesting that only 1% of people said that moral values or family values were an issue that needed to be addressed. They polled 1001 people; that means that a maximum of 15 people (1001*1.499% to allow for rounding) said that that was a big issue. Same sex marriage didn’t do much better — it got 2 percent, so maybe a whopping 25 people (1001*2.499%) said that that was a big deal. Even terrorism only got 4 percent — a whopping 45 people.

What did weigh on people’s minds? The war, immigration (sigh — all the press and jibberjabber it’s been getting would be driving that), the economy, and healthcare. Yet oddly enough, one hears more about Congress focusing on the tiny 1% and 2% issues, not the ones people are really worried about.

Just thought I’d throw out that observation.

a collection of two

So here’s some stuff I’ve been thinking of and/or found over the past week. Okay, two things.

When it comes to evolution, right-wing nutjobs (I hesitate to call them Christians) think that it’s not real, and God created everything in a matter of days. However, when it comes to gays and lesbians, these same people think that being gay is a choice rather than a result of a person’s biology because there’s no way that that sort of behavior could have survived evolutionary selection. You can’t have it both ways, folks; time to rein in the stupid and actually think about your positions for a change. (I have nothing to link to for this; it’s just an opinion I’ve formulated while reading some of the stuff that people on the right spew.

The other cool thing I found was a group of people who a) build tesla coils, and b) the subgroup who modulate the frequency of the coils according to MIDI input. I’m linking to a forum thread because I don’t want to deep-link to anyone’s videos, but check out some of the videos there. The heavy-metal-guitar-like noises are actually the sound of the electricity coming from the tesla coil.

That’s kind of it for now. I’m sure other exciting things are happening, but my brain has melted in the heat, so I can’t come up with any now.

culture of selfishness

So here’s a meme (woohoo! Web2.0 point!) that I’ve been thinking about for a while.

There’s been a whole lot of political hoo-hah lately about trying to distill out the essence of each side (dem vs repub, liberal vs conservative, etc. etc.) and I think I might finally have something. It hit me whilst I’m supposed to be doing my Japanese homework.

The basic difference between republicans and democrats appears to be a general culture of selfishness versus a culture of generosity.

Think about it. The big themes of late of the Republican Party (ignore the ‘smaller government’ stuff, it’s not happening) have been:
1) Lower my taxes
2) Make me feel secure (even if you have to screw someone else over to do it)
3) Make my friends rich (subsidies, bailouts, more tax cuts, laws that unbalance the market)
4) Immigration restriction (this land/services/whatever is mine, you can’t have any)

Whereas the Democratic platform appears to be more oriented towards generosity:
1) Invest in schools, social services, universal health care, so that those without trust funds can benefit from them and ‘move up’ in the world
2) Raise the minimum wage, expand worker safety (can anyone say “mine accident”?), do that health care thing again
3) Level the playing field between all competitors (compete on merit rather than cronyism), and remind the world what “free market” actually means.

These points are more complicated than the Republican ones, but rather than the end result being “I and my buddies get something”, the end result will be “If it’s fair, everyone has a shot at getting something”.

That’s not to say everything in the Democratic platform is good; indeed, not everything in the Republican platform is bad. But I don’t think the difference gets more basic than this.

Denny Crane!

So every week lately we’ve been watching Boston Legal with some friends. It’s not really my kind of show; my SO likes things like Law and Order, and Monk is actually somewhat decent. But at least the Shatner moments provide some comic relief. You know. Denny Crane!

We played しりとり (shiri-tori), the Japanese game where you have to come up with words whose starting syllable matches the last syllable of the previous word. For instance, start with かさ、then go to さくら、then go to らいしゅ、and so on.
Decent game, plus it helps one practice hiragana.

Maybe tomorrow will be more exciting.

Hurricanes are punishment for voting for Bush in 2000

At the risk of sounding like an inflammatory left-wing nutcase, I propose the following:

The fact that Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana, among the other southern gulf-coast-area states, have been through three hurricanes in the past few weeks and are gearing up for their fourth must be a punishment from God for voting for Bush.

Hey, if Jerry Falwell and other right-wing nutjobs can claim that God is on their side, then why can’t I?

Morning Fix Lives! (sort of)

So Mark Morford’s semi-daily newsletter The Morning Fix is only partly dead, and might return soon. Articles here, here, and here outline what happened; some uptight weenie with a misguided sense of humor and no clue as to what real journalism (well, freedom of speech at least) is about decided to try and shut the Fix down. It sounds like they’ll be back, though, and Morford might even get a print column out of it. YAY.

I hate when humorless people try to get stuff like this shut down. Is someone taping your eyelids open and forcing you to read it? No? Then sit down and shut up. Thank you. Drive through.

a post, a post, my noodle for a post

Bad butchery of Shakespeare. But, I’ve been threatened with bodily violence if I don’t post again soon, so here we go.

Not much to say, really, other than me being annoyed in general with politicians as usual. I suppose I can deliver my hopes for 2004 (since of course nobody else has posted anything remotely similar yet).

  • Tom Daschle, Nancy Pelosi, and other congressional democrats grow some balls and start actually derailing stupid Republican legislation, rather than trying to claim victory because one part of what actually passed wasn’t quite as much of a right-wing giveaway as when the bill started out,
  • The democratic presidential candidates who aren’t Howard Dean realize that by attacking Dean they’re undermining the democratic party in general and helping Bush,
  • that the news media will stop giving Bush such a free ride and start paying more attention to issues that are far worse than getting sexual gratification in the White House,
  • the American People will wake up to the fact that the Republican Party and Bush do not, in fact, have their best interests at heart, and will vote the bastards out come fall 2004,
  • and that I’ll post more on my blog.

(I’m not too bitter, am I?)

Anyhow, hopefully more intelligent and supported and less ranty stuff in future, and not too long from now.

Right wing contradictions..

I’ve been a bit busy with work and such to write, unfortunately — I’m about two posts behind my goal of two posts a week. I want to write something about having a Governator, but that will come soon enough.

For now, have a listen to the October 8th show of Fresh Air on NPR. Host Terry Gross interviews Bill O’Reilly of the Fox News Channel, and O’Reilly loses it near the end. It’s 40 minutes long, but worth it. (Their server seems to be a bit slashdotted now, unfortunately — apparently people have discovered the interview. }:>)

It’s interesting how O’Reilly seems to be finding his style in other people, but outright refuses to see his style in himself. I also find it amusing that he seems to be blustering his way through justifications when people point out his inconsistencies. Bravo to Gross for confronting O’Reilly as hard as Al Franken does.

(Something I forgot to mention when I originally posted this, I got the pointer at the Fresh Aire interview from Joe Conason’s Journal on Salon. Thank $deity for editable weblog posts. }:>)