Saturday, May 10, 2008

Well, This Is Ugly!

I guess you can add this to the Big Shitpile, as my buddy Blogenfreude likes to call it:
US banking giant Citigroup has said it wants to sell $400bn (£205bn) of assets over the next three years as part of its bid to return to profit.

It has $500bn of "legacy assets" that it wants to reduce to $100bn.
(ed. note: term of art: "legacy assets" = bad loans and investments)

For the largest bank in America, if not the world, to write off $400 billion dollars (roughly the GDP of Indonesia) is a serious blow to any "economic stimulus" the Fed rate cuts have provided. To make up for this slashing, Citigroup will likely have to cut jobs, raise fees and find new sources of income (read that as: dip deeper into your pocket). Particularly in light of the fact they've lost $15 billion in the last six months, and probably will post a loss for the second quarter again (even allowing for this announcement), this does not bode well for the American economy.

We need only look to Japan in the late 80s and early 90s for a lesson in this scenario: overvalued real estate creating speculative purchases creating a banking crisis (Shinsei Bank, I should disclose, is a holding of mine through a private equity venture, and is only getting back on its feet now) creating economic stagnation despite an equivalent prime lending rate of zero percent.

When your government is practically *giving* you money and your economy can't stir itself, that's a deep, deep depression.

A trailing economic indicator of any recession is the stock market indices. In Japan's case, a recession that began in 1989 didn't bottom out in the Nikkei until 2003.

Keep that in mind, since economists and Republicans tout the S&P 500 or the Dow as a marvel of the American economic engine.

Will we be hit as bad as this? Probably not. The American economy is more globally oriented today than the Japanese economy was in the 90s, altho the Japanese had strengths that America never really implemented (the keiretsu), and the real estate bubble doesn't seem to have affected commercial real estate here, as it did in Japan.

But make no mistake: the warning signs from Japan should be heeded.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) One should never piss off the aides of a former President, even a fictional one. Maybe even particularly a fictional one!

2) If the rationale presented is legitimate, then I have found the first thing I can agree with Dumbya on, in principle. At a time of soaring food costs, farm subsidies make little sense anymore, in general (I'm sure I haven't thought this through enough to be more specific).

3) I can break both the food crisis and the energy crisis in one fell swoop: ban corn syrup additives. If you look at any food label now, chances are in lieu of sugar (which is not produced domestically but in Hawaii and a few other limited locales) you'll find corn syrup. By banning corn syrup, you'd reinforce the Hawaiian economy, plus free up enormous amounts of American corn for food and ethanol.

4) It does appear the deck is stacked against Hillary. That said, she should not and will not give up the fight until Denver.

5) But I suppose I should be nicer to Obama, even if he is a conniving blaggard with a heart of stone. What say you all?

6) He did, however, come well short of endorsing Obama. My suspicion is, if Obama hadn't betrayed a deep hatred of the working class, Edwards would have endorsed him before Tuesday's primary in NC.

7) Probably sucks.

8) Definitely sucks.

9) Uh oh..."quarantine" is never a word you want to read in a headline.

10) If $120 a barrel was about the breaking point for $4 a gallon gaasoline, what's the increment to $5 a gallon? Strictly on a guess, I'll go with $130/bbl

11) This volcano in Chile might be more devastating than anyone suspected.

12) Blowing up a forest is probably a dumb way to call attention to an ecological crisis. Just a thought.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Turning Up The Heat

It's not like this was either unexpected or unfair:
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Hillary Clinton supporter Harvey Weinstein threatened to cut off contributions to congressional Democrats unless House Speaker Nancy Pelosi embraced his plan to finance revotes in Florida and Michigan, three officials familiar with their conversation said.
'Nuff said.

If the Democrats have any chance of winning in November, irrespective of who is the nominee, then Florida and Michigan have to be allowed to have their say in the nominating process or precious votes will peel away.


The history of the primary shuffle that created this mess is one that sees the direct involvement (in Florida) of the Republican-led legislature, who moved the Florida primary up knowing full well the rules of the DNC stated that Iowa and New Hampshire were entitled to first votes.

Knowing full well the Democratic National Committee would have to invalidate any primary held, and unseat any delegation chosen, the Republicans could then run ads in this crucial state, reminding voters there how little the Democrats care for Florida's concerns.

And they'd be right. And it would be hard for any candidate to argue against that, and would require enormous amounts of time and money, both of which will be in short supply come the fall.

Michigan is a slightly different case, since it was the Democratic party, along with a Democratic governor, but a split legislature. Here, the party proposed the move, and took it to State Supreme Court, in an effort to enhance Michigan's role in the primary process.

Granholm, it should be noted, has endorsed Obama, who's campaign has worked hard behind the scenes to deprive 25,000,000 Americans the right to vote for a Democratic candidate for President in this critical election.

That's less than one percent of the American population. It makes you wonder what they're so terrified of. But I digress...

There are myriad reasons for either doing a revote or allowing the current primary results to stand, and not one single legitimate reason for denying the vote to these two critical states to the economic and political future of the nation.

Weinstein recognizes this and is offering to privately finance the elections (with some small help). While Obama and to a lesser extent, Clinton have raked in gobs of cash, the DNC is actually running behind its previous contribution levels (probably a result of Obama's fund raising drying up the well...there's talk he's negotiated a fundsharing deal with Dean).

Weinstein's solution is the best possible one out there: re-run the primaries (since that would place them well behind the February 5 deadline), and allow those results to stand.

What is Obama so scared of?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Scandal That Wouldn't Die

You wonder how much more of this story will pop up in the general, should Obama finally secure his victory:
For any spiritually minded, up-wardly mobile African-American living in Chicago in the mid-1980s, the Trinity United Church of Christ was—and still is—the place to be. That's what drew Oprah Winfrey, a recent Chicago transplant, to the church in 1984. She was eager to bond with the movers and shakers in her new hometown's black community. But she also admired Trinity United's ambitious outreach work with the poor, and she took pride in upholding her Southern grandmother's legacy of involvement with traditional African-American houses of worship. Winfrey was a member of Trinity United from 1984 to 1986, and she continued to attend off and on into the early to the mid-1990s. But then she stopped. A major reason—but by no means the only reason—was the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

According to two sources, Winfrey was never comfortable with the tone of Wright's more incendiary sermons, which she knew had the power to damage her standing as America's favorite daytime talk-show host. "Oprah is a businesswoman, first and foremost," said one longtime friend, who requested anonymity when discussing Winfrey's personal sentiments. "She's always been aware that her audience is very mainstream, and doing anything to offend them just wouldn't be smart. She's been around black churches all her life, so Reverend Wright's anger-filled message didn't surprise her. But it just wasn't what she was looking for in a church." Oprah's decision to distance herself came as a surprise to Wright, who told Christianity Today in 2002 that when he would "run into her socially … she would say, 'Here's my pastor!' " (Winfrey declined to comment. A Harpo Productions spokesperson would not confirm her reasons for leaving the church.)
Now, Oprah's reasons might indeed have nothing to do with Wright, this is true.

But doesn't this put a pin in the story of Obama's "Oh, I never heard him say anything untoward!" lame dismissal?

See, this is what I don't understand: I've attended services at any number of black churches, for any number of different occasions: weddings, funerals, Sunday service, major holidays like Easter and even one or two standard services.

I've heard some of the fire and brimstone speechifying. And I've even heard some parts that made me, a typical white person, cling tightly to my religion and guns, frustrating me and making me feel a bit bitter for being white.

And I'm not a regular attendee of a large black congregation, so how in the world did Obama miss some of Wright's more...colorful...sermons?

Did he maybe sleep through them? Not likely. It's hard to sleep in a black church. Pastors usually don't drone on.

Now, it's likely true that Obama, who came to the church as an agnostic/lapsed Baptist (parental religions), found a different kind of fulfillment from it than Oprah did. A guidance, if you will.

I don't know. Maybe he never attended service. Maybe his indoctrination into the religion happened over late night poker games in the rectory. Hey, it could happen!

But I find it hard to believe that a black politician fro Chicago's South Side had never heard Wright sermonize or speak words of hate about America.

The GOP is waiting to spring this issue in the fall, that much seems certain, and the way Obama has shifted his story..."Well, I would have quit the church if Rev. Wright hadn't retired by the time I came to that decision" just ripe for a swiftboating by the same people who broadcast over and over John Kerry's "I voted for the war before I voted against it."

And frankly, I don't want to have to sit through that film again.

(h/t not_over_it)

Monday, May 05, 2008

Look Out! He's About To Blow!

Gee...poor Barack Obama...looks like he can't stand the heat in the kitchen after all!
Barack Obama is struggling to contain his anger and frustration over the constant barrage of questions about his character and judgment, his wife has revealed.

Michelle Obama lifted the lid on the irritation felt by the leading Democrat candidate for the White House at the way anti-American outbursts by his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, have dogged his campaign.

He is said to be itching to turn all his fire on John McCain, the Republican candidate, who is benefiting most from Mr Obama's protracted tussle with Hillary Clinton.

Mrs Obama told a rally in Durham, North Carolina, on Friday that only her husband's desire to change US politics had helped him to control his feelings: "Barack is always thinking three steps ahead – what do we need to do to make change."
How nice! He's sacrificing his ulcers for you to be safe from the future!

Of course, it would be really nice if, instead of hiding what he's plannning, he actually sat down and told us specifically what he intends to do, how he intends to exercise his judgement and...

Oops! There's that word "judgement" again!

What is it that Obama is not getting? Which part of "he was my pastor for twenty years" is inconsistent with weighing heavily in how people are going to look at his ability to find counsel when things are a little above his head?

I watched Obama on the Today Show, with Matt Lauer asking some softball questions, and Obama kind of came off as lost already when Lauer asked the same thing that Charles Krauthammer asked: "How does one explain campaigning throughout 2007 on a platform of transcending racial divisions, while in that same year contributing $26,000 to a church whose pastor incites race hatred?...As if the character and beliefs of a man who would be president are less important than the 'issues.' "

These are more important issues than might at first glance seem, some of these questions. If John Kerry had been vociferous early on in his defense against the Swift Boat smears, the 2004 election might have been very different: it would have been far harder for Bush to paint Kerry as "out of touch with real Americans, this elitist product of Ivy League colleges who took the easy way out in Nam so he could windsurf off Martha's Vineyard during the summer recess."

Nevermind that the actual picture of Kerry was very different.

See, here's the thing: since 1960, there have been only four elected Democratic presidents. Of the four, three out-Bubbaed the Bubba the Republicans put up against him!And even JFK was a certified war hero who had a strong case to be made that he was a man of the people.

A Democrat who can be shown to be out of touch with the American people is going to lose a general election, period. Further, the elections of 2006 showed that Democrats made the greatest gains in red states and red territories running on a centrist, populist platform of guns, spending, and judgement/values/religion.

None of which Obama has frankly embraced fully, except religion, but that issue's now in peril from Wright. Even his ridiculous stance on the gas tax, which I might normally agree with him on, is running the risk of coming off as pedagoguery, a lecture to us peons from our betters.

I believe where Blogtopia (© Skippy the Bush Kangaroo) gets it wrong is in believing that after eight years of George W. Bush, the nation is ready to swing around completely.

It's not. The country's mood is on a pendulum, not a roundabout, which means we'll have to content ourselves with small steps in a conservative country where people DO have guns and DO go to church and if you want to be elected nationally, you damned well better not poo-poo that!

Or lose your temper at it. Or send your wife out to ask for our pity.