Posts Tagged ‘regulation

30
Apr
09

Specter’s Move a Reflection of Ugly Realities

MOTIVATIONS OF THE CONGRESSPERSON

I’ve said many a time and I’ll say it again: Congresspeople make decisions under the influence of one, two, or both motivations: either to achieve reelection or to land a cushy job once they have left office. This is why they have ceded all their decision-making powers to the

Ill take Jowls for 200, Alex.

I'll take "Jowls" for 200, Alex.

corporations that fund their reelection campaigns.

Specter’s turncoatitude is merely a reflection of this reality. Was his decision just a fulfillment of megalomaniacal goals? Yes, but he is no different than any of his colleagues. This will again lead me to raise the call for congressional term limits (though it would be nice to see them apply to the Supreme Court as well), which would limit the strata of ambition congress people may climb.

Specter wishes to remain in congress? Well, that’s just plucky for him. However, and feel free to correct me, I’m sure Pennsylvania has a multitude of qualified and capable candidates for Senate. And seeing as how Specter has enjoyed, what?, 30 years as Senator, isn’t about time for some new blood, fresh talent? As far as I’m concerned, seniority is overrated and Specter is acting more like a geriatric toddler than elder statesman.

SPECTER SQUEEZED OUT BY THE ELEPHANTS

And do you think Specter will deliver votes to the Democrats now that his head pokes out the ass of a donkey? Not bloody likely.

The center of the country has now headed back toward its previous center. Under the political climate of the last eight years, Nixon would have looked like a liberal and all the right wingers were claiming this is a center-right country. A shortsightedly inept commentary¬† – especially seeing as how the independents and moderates are now naturally waving blue flags because all the right wingers want to legislate our uteri and keep men from kissing each other because baby jesus doesn’t like it. The logical and rational no longer have a place in the GOP Circus Freak Show.

Specter is still a moderate, and his votes will reflect that. Now that the Repubs have no room for moderates, Specter is by design a Democrat and a natural illustration of this recent political shift of quite monstrous proportions.

ELEPHANTS BECOME OSTRICHES: ALL IS GRAND WHEN YOUR HEAD’S IN THE SAND (god, i am so awesome with the rhyming)

Academically and as a voter, I am not amused to witness the decaying of the Republican Party. I used to consider myself among its ranks and I’m acquainted with quite the few logical, Republican in-the-knows. Many are finding themselves more comfortable inside the confines of the Libertarian parameters now – and that’s extraordinarily fun for me to watch as a liberal. But the fracturing of the GOP is a symptom of how fringey, how cultish, how clinically insane a great many of my fellow Americans are. And that’s sad.

This Grand Party has a great cancer and it is the refusal of honest self-analysis. A reasonably-minded fellow could easily diagnose the cause of the Republican death spiral: its limited ideology fewer and fewer Americans share.

repubs-head-in-sandBut Republicans don’t see it that way. “Specter’s out? Good riddance! McCain lost? Hated him anyway!” Tom Delay, and what a specimen he is, graced Hardball with his presence today and said (now don’t drink anything at this moment because you might spit it out all over your keyboard) that the real problem with the Republican Party right now is NOT a failure of principles, it is a failure to communicate them. Mm-hmmm…Mkay…I hear that….Excuse me while I choke on the eyes that have rolled into the back of my head.

You see, the Republicans erroneously believe that simply because Bush was a big spender, deficit creator, Americans are fleeing the Right. Well, let’s take a tally: he was “strong” on defense (in the worst kind of way), he kept the government small in terms of regulation, he was as conservative on social issues as a president of booblical proportions can get, AND he lowered taxes (for the wealthy, who – by the way – doubled their wealth under Bushie Two Shoes while the rest of everyone watched their 401ks erode faster than Specter’s party loyalty).

Except for the whole spending thing, W. was a bona fide, ideological, stick-in-the ass, card-carrying member of the old white guy Gto-theOto-theP. Americans didn’t just reject his spending in this last election, they rejected all those other inherently flawed tenets of the Republican foundation.

The problem with Republicans is their principle. Their principle allows them no logical solution to offer for the dramatically diseased state of our health care system. And they only adhere to their principle of small government when it suits their purposes – which is many times not the case, such as farm bills and subsidies (ahem, fructose corn syrup). Then their “small government” banner drives us into the economic ditch through lack of regulation and their adherence to abstinence-only education translates into more teenage pregnancy with no government assistance after these babies have been pushed to have babies.

Republican principle and ideology is a failure of decision-making, of study, of analysis and of progress. It doesn’t work. The last eight years proved so. Specter’s defection is merely a symptom of this reality.

And now the Repubs are just sitting on their hands, praying to their precious baby jesus that Obama fails. Because only in Obama’s failure and the subsequent harm to this country could Republicans find their strength again. And from this atheist-leaning agnostic’s mouth: God help us if that happens!

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23
Feb
09

Best Videos From Last Week 2.23.09: Fox’s Right Wing Agenda, Concentration of Wealth, Regulation

There was some good TV happening last week, here’s what I found notable (hint – read the stuff at the bottom. really):

  • With more and more voters edging toward the left or moderate (and, ahem, away from the Radical Religioner Party), Fox is having a harder time hiding their right wing agenda. CNN’s Howard Kurtz catches the latest Oh No, They Didn’t! moment on Fox.
  • MOST WORTH WATCHING: I very much appreciated this 20 minute clip of Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski on Morning Joe as he discusses the concentration of wealth over the last few years. It is important for the public to understand that Republican policies enable the top few to get richer off the backs of the lower masses and unless we want the government to determine labor costs (we don’t), it is up to the public themselves to deflate the culture of extreme corporate wealth. Watch the video.
  • CLASSIC GO GET ‘EM! CLIP: Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero goes off on Fox over the suggestion that laborers have to shoulder the burden when companies lose competitiveness (many times due to executive decisions). Lots of talking over each other, which is annoying and Bernero obviously had an agenda when he went on the show, but still…it’s a good clip.
  • Repubs are already lining up their big guns against the upcoming attempts at health care reform. Some of the guns are not new and this one in particular, Betsey McCaughey, is having a clear problem locating the truth. Warning: it’s a Keith Olbermann clip, so if you don’t like him…watch the clip anyway.
  • IF YOU HAVE ITUNES: Dan Rather Reports aired an excellent program on the housing crisis with an even more excellent interview with TARP watchdog Elizabeth Warren. She is one of the few honest heroes of the Wall Street bailout. If you don’t have Itunes, you can get the transcript at the bottom of this page – I recommend the PDF version because the online version has formatting issues. Here are some highlights from the interview that are extremely worth a read:
    • RATHER
      Well, you’ve written– a great deal about family economics and the middle class. Are we in danger of– for all intents and purposes– losing the middle class? Or is that too much of a fear?
      WARREN
      No, I think that’s the real fear. So, here’s the– here’s what’s happened over a generation. Somebody out working 40 hours a week is making less than he was making 30 years ago. Household income has gone up a little. How? Because we put the second earner to work– if she could do it. But that has now flattened out. There’s no one else to put to work. We’ve put to work as many moms as we can possibly do. So, where we stand now is income has flattened out again. But core expenses; housing, health insurance, transportation, child care and taxes, because they’ve got these two salaries, have all gone up. And that’s left the basic family with less money than they used to have a generation ago. So, then we hit the skids of this recession. The bottom falls out of the housing market. They can’t tap home equity. These crazy mortgages for many of them are forcing their expenses up. They’re losing jobs. And that means we have not a few people, we have literally tens of millions of Americans, hard-working, play-by-the-rules, middle class people; people who got decent educations, people who got decent jobs, people who got married, moved out, bought houses, the backbone of what we are as America, those people are now hanging on by their fingernails.
    • RATHER
      If we lose the middle economic class do we have an America approaching anything what we’ve known in my lifetime and yours and our father and mother’s lifetime?
      WARREN
      No. It’s a different America. It becomes a two-class America. It may actually have a larger upper class. You know, maybe– maybe that moves to ten percent of the population who really do quite well. You know, the kids; you can send the kids to college with no debt and they graduate with no debt. They do fine. Nobody gets sick. You know, that’s the group that works. And then what we have is a big underclass. It’s folks who just live basically paycheck to paycheck. If– if you can hang on, if you don’t get a layoff or a cutback in hours
      RATHER
      Or you don’t get very ill?
      WARREN
      If– and one of the kids doesn’t get sick, if grandma doesn’t fall and break a hip, if you don’t get divorced or have a death in the family, you might be able to skirt through. But if anything goes wrong, you’re living one pink slip, one bad diagnosis away from complete financial collapse.
    • RATHER
      You did a special report on regulation. Take us back quickly over the last 25 years. What’s happened to regulation or supposed to have happened to regulation.
      WARREN
      So– so, here’s one way to look at it. In 1792 our young republic, George Washington is president, hits its first economic crisis. And credit markets freeze. Does this sound familiar?
      RATHER
      Yes, it does.
      WARREN
      And– it almost brings the country to its knees. And here’s what happens. About every 15 to 20 years we have another crisis. We call them panics. We have different names for them.
      RATHER
      Depression?
      WARREN
      Depression. But they happen about every 15 to 20 years for 140 years. The pattern is just unmistakable. Then we hit the Great Depression. And coming out of the Great Depression we put three new regulations in place; Glass Stiegel, which divides our community banks basically from the Wall Street investment banks, FDIC insurance, put money in the bank and know that it’s safe and some SEC regulations so you can invest on Wall Street and they can’t cheat you too directly. That’s what we put in place. For 50 years we have no bank failures, no major crises. It works. Now, there’s innovation. There’s change. It’s time to change regulations. It gets to be the early 1980s. And what do we do? Instead of saying new products, we need to change regulations to adapt, we take a different path. We say–
      RATHER
      We let banks to go in the insurance business and vice versa?
      WARREN
      Let’s deregulate. That’s exactly right. We begin to break down the old regulations. We say, “Who needs regulations? They’re so pokey. So old.” So, we go with this idea of let’s get rid of regulation and what happens? Late 1980s, savings and loan crisis should’ve been a warning. Late 1990s, remember long term capital management, hedge fund? Should’ve been a warning. But we let it go. Early 2000s, Enron, bad books, not telling the truth. Should’ve¬† been a warning. But we let it go. And where do we end up? In the biggest crisis since the– Great Depression. Markets are wonderful. They produce great wealth for us. But they are by their very nature something we call pro-cyclical. When they’re going up, they chase themselves up. Hey, wow, it’s doin’ great! Up they go. And when the go down, they chase themselves down. And they go lower than actual supply and demand would suggest. Now look, we can live in a world all ups and downs for the rest of our lives. We can say, “Who needs regulation? Let’s just ride that roller coaster wherever it goes.” But, you know, we have to remember when it goes down, it doesn’t just take down the people who gambled. It doesn’t just take down the people who invested on Wall Street. It takes down everybody who’s got a pension. It takes down folks who have jobs in construction industries and– and other industries that get hit by this. It takes down– in this case, it takes down homeowners, people who thought they were doing the right thing to protect themselves for the future. It takes down the prudent along with the gamblers and the wild ones.
      RATHER
      Which is where we are today?
      WARREN
      Which is exactly where we are today. So, we could say, “Hey, no more regulation. That’s fine.” But look what it’s brought us. We are not willing to let these big financial institutions fail. We’ve got this too big to fail notion. So we are going to shovel billions of dollars in their direction and still take the position we shouldn’t regulate them? I– this is a world that may be a lot of fun for
      the high flyers who get theirs and keep theirs. But it’s not a world that works very well for ordinary families.
24
Nov
08

Corporations Too Big To Fail

Here in the U.S., we celebrate unrepentant capitalism. Conservatives constantly ward against punishing success with higher taxes. Friedman and Greenspan followers across the land espouse unfettered, free market ideals.

Now, an unprecedented lack of regulation has brought many of these bastions of unfettered success to the brink of failure. Despite greedy management and poor decision-making, our government has deemed AIG, Citibank, and probably the Big Three too big to fail.

Question: Why should we allow these corporations to grow so big they hold the U.S. (and, thus, global) economy hostage? Why should we promote free markets that allow these corporations to be rewarded with tax payer money for years of shitty operations?

I understand the government must do what it must and shore up these weak giants. Wouldn’t it be prudent (I hate that word), however, to exert regulatory measures that prevent these corporations from being able to hold our country by the balls? From continuing this Corporatocracy of America?

28
Oct
08

Financial Meltdown Puzzle – Another Piece

There are a myriad of reasons out national economy has hit the skids (and is taking down the global economy with it). While Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are on the receiving end of partisan finger-pointing, they aren’t the entire story. Not even close. They were a symptom, not the cause.

In my quest for knowledge regarding this financial bailout, a main theme keeps emerging: lack of regulation. I’m sure you’ve heard the term.

Well, this weekend, 60 Minutes’ “The Bet that Blew Up Wall Street” gave a very comprehensive explanation of yet another piece of the meltdown puzzle: the legalization of the derivative markets, which basically “allows you to wager on financial outcomes without ever having to actually buy the stocks and bonds and mortgages.” Side bets.

The rocket fuel was the trillions of dollars in side bets on those mortgage securities, called ‘credit default swaps.’ They were essentially private insurance contracts that paid off if the investment went bad, but you didn’t have to actually own the investment to collect on the insurance.

Dinallo (Eric Dinallo, insurance superintendent for New York) says credit default swaps were totally unregulated and that the big banks and investment houses that sold them didn’t have to set aside any money to cover their potential losses and pay off their bets.

‘As the market began to seize up and as the market for the underlying obligations began to perform poorly, everybody wanted to get paid, had a right to get paid on those credit default swaps. And there was no ‘there’ there. There was no money behind the commitments. And people came up short. And so that’s to a large extent what happened to Bear Sterns, Lehman Brothers, and the holding company of AIG,’ he explains.

The derivative market, basically gambling, was illegal for most of the 20th Century. A few lobbyists and campaign contributions later and the lame duck Congress in 2000 – when Bill Clinton was president – signed the bill that reopened the markets for these side bets. Without regulation, there was no body to even track how many of these bets were made or for how much.

I wonder if this next Congress will allow the law to stand, thus continuing to weaken our fragile Wall Street.

In any case, it’s worth having the knowledge and understanding of the role these derivative markets played in the meltdown, so I’m including Steve Kroft’s piece because it truly was an eyeopener. Very much worth the watch:

You can view the video here or read the transcript here.

15
Sep
08

Common-Sense Regulation is a Good Policy

Republican philosophies colliding with reality: Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and, now, Lehman Brothers.

You hear it all the time from fiscal conservatives: limited government, free market, no corporate regulation. It sounds good. Hey, if these policies actually worked, I’d be all for them. Why would anyone want an unnecessarily large government? They wouldn’t. So, it’s time to acknowledge that Republican policies, when put into practice, do not materialize in a healthy economy. Today is Black Monday, but there will be many more black days to follow because of the George W. Bush economic policies (which McDumbass will continue).

The Nation, a leftie publication, offers a brief, but good synopsis of the evolution that lead to our current economic shitstorm. It’s an informative read, even if you hate italics:

The housing bubble was the result of the Ponzi-scheme antics of those other financial entities: commercial banks, stockbrokers and hedge funds, which were allowed in a GOP-deregulated market to get into the “swap” business. Through the rampant reselling of loans, the obligation to collect on a loan was divorced from the act of selling it in the first place, so who cared if the recipient of the loan was not at all qualified or the appraisal of the property value was inflated, as long as the paper was traded away, or insured, before the moment of foreclosure?

As with any Ponzi scheme, the perps, who included the legislators as well as the bankers who exploited the loopholes they provided, expected to bail long before the bubble burst. The role of the legislators, Republican-led but with far too many Democratic running dogs, was critical to the success of the scam.

The mortgage swaps distancing the originator of the loan from the ultimate collector were made legal only as a result of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which former Senator Phil Gramm, R-Texas, pushed through Congress just hours before the 2000 Christmas recess. Gramm, until recently co-chair of the McCain campaign, also had co-authored the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which became law in 1999 with President Bill Clinton’s signature. That gem, which Gramm had pushed for years with massive financial industry lobbying, destroyed the Depression-era barrier to the merger of stockbrokers, banks and insurance companies. Those two acts effectively ended significant regulation of the financial community, and no wonder we have witnessed an even more rapid and severe meltdown in housing values than during the Great Depression.

Not surprisingly, Gramm was rewarded for his service upon retirement as a senator and as head of the Senate Banking Committee with a top position at the Swiss-based UBS bank, which is close to drowning in the subprime mortgage nightmare he helped create. These folks have no shame, as was evidenced when the senator’s wife, Wendy, was named a director of Enron, whose roiling of the energy market had been made possible only through yet another provision of Gramm’s Commodity Futures Modernization Act.

Appropriate regulation is key to a healthy business sector that benefits the entire country, not just just the peeps running the show. Even the Democrats won’t tell you that because they are in big-business pockets as well and uninformed Americans have been duped into thinking that regulation inhibits growth. Not so, as proven by the fact that our economy grows more per capita under Democratic presidents.

Republican candidates and fiscal conservatives repeat the myth of trickle-down economics and oppose regulation, increasing the minimum wage and essentially “looking out for the little guy.” What they don’t share is that unregulated corporations collude, allow greed to motivate business decisions, lack transparency and horde wealth at the top, giving CEO’s outragous wages while the same companies’ bottom-level workers cannot even afford health insurance. These policies increase the wealth gap and weaken the middle-class.

Regulation needs to stop being a bad word. Common sense regulation protects the U.S. economy and Americans themselves. It is not bad for a corporation to profit. It is bad for a corporation to profit at the expense of employees and consumers.

09
Jul
08

Review: Maxed Out

Are documentaries getting better or is it just me? At least, they’re getting more interesting. Last night, I watched Maxed Out: Hard Times, Easy Credit and the Era of Predatory Lending (2006) and must offer my highest recommendations to those considering adding to their rental “queue.”

maxed out

While this documentary is certainly a biased vehicle through which writer, director, producer James Duncan Scurlock expresses his opinions on the unethical credit industry and the government’s collusion, it nevertheless provides an eye-opening paradigm behind the every-man’s everyday experience with credit card companies. If you think you have it bad, watch this documentary – for real – and you’ll feel like you’re living large and in charge. And happiness is all in the mind, which is why the Danish are on top of the world.

It’s easy to take away from Maxed Out the the significance of the lack of regulation of the unethical credit industry by the government. It’s so cute when the Republicans and Libertarians parade their free market ideals and forget that the human element prevents these theories from successfully materializing, despite all the good intentions and numerical data. And they want to open the health care industry in the same manner – unregulated, free market doctors, medicine, scalpels. Yeah, that will work out real well! Lack of regulation has proven so effective in the housing industry, which has resulted in mass foreclosures and helped initiate a recession, and global trade, which provides us Americans cheap consumer goods by taking advantage of poor working conditions outside of our borders. Don’t ask don’t tell and the like.

What we need is a combination of economics and anthropology. The human element – which differs from culture to culture – inhibits capitalism, socialism or communism in their pure forms. China has had to mix capitalism with their brand of communism. The U.S. will never fully achieve a free market system that does not victimize the lowest common denominator. Until economists and legislators alike realize this fundamental reality and Americans stop falling for the right-wing line that all their taxes and all the government regulation only benefit the undeserving over the hard worker, we’re going to have these economic meltdowns – most especially when a Republican Congress rubberstamps a Republican White House.

But I digress as I often do.

Maxed Out hit home for me especially as I am a poster-child for financial misunderstanding and irresponsibility. To put it mildly, I bit off more than I could chew when I was in college and partied like a rock star in my early twenties. And while it can take a week to ruin your credit, it can take a lifetime to repair it. The cards are stacked against you and the system is designed to squeeze every penny from your cold, dead hands. It’s grotesque.

As a wise, old 30-something (does 30 count as 30-something?), I have seen the light and rectified my ways. What I have taken from my experience, however, is the belief in the necessity of financial training for children – especially teens. We have typing class, calculus, electives, foreign languages and yet the very basics of money-management is exempt from regular school curricula. I’m very happy to have learned about STD’s and what PCP does to the human and mice brains. But the development of my adulthood would have been greatly improved had the Texas School Board of Education seen fit at some point to include information on CHECKING ACCOUNTS, OVERDRAFT FEES, FICO SCORES, etc., etc., etc…

Few other skills in life rank above that of money management and merely having a weekly allowance doesn’t cut it. I have no idea why there are not parents at every PTO meeting calling for the inclusion of such education. We are left to our own devices and my devices were fairly shitty. I’m improving bit by bit (my stepdad gives me a subscription to Money Magazine), but you know it’s a long, hard slog and watching college loan payments the size of luxury car payments head into the wind every month still stings.

Quality of life is determined by the quality of our decisions and the quality of our decisions is largely dependent on the quality of our training and education. I knew nothing of finance when I entered my twenties, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to let avoidable circumstances dictate the outcome of my financial existence.

So, be smart, get learned and watch Maxed Out. Cause that shit is crazy.




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