Saturday, September 20, 2008

Let's Talk About the "Dignity" of Cuba: A Vituperation

In his latest, the blogger in chief, aka fidel castro, ostensibly clings to the tattered dignity of Cuba by rejecting US aid, while pressing for a lifting, even if temporary (watch that camel!), of the embargo and the cash only terms of sales. He insists on the party line, which he may or may not have originated, that Cuba can not accept "charity" from a country which maintains an embargo against it. Cuba will, however, "purchase" what it needs. This posturing would be laughable if it were not so tragic, if 11 million human beings were not being held hostage to one man's vanity and a ruling cadre's obsession with power.

Memo to the uninitiated: Cuba does not pay its bills. If they could not pay in better times- better relative to, say, Haiti or Somalia- when they were still living off of the the century of development they misappropriated, how in the world will they be able to pay after having squandered those, the disaster magnified to unimaginable proportions by two hurricanes? As pointed out on Babalu, it would seem it is infinitely more honorable to steal than to accept humanitarian aid for a humanitarian crisis.

The "dignity" of Cuba would seem to be something trotted out arbitrarily. Apparently, it does not bother the regime when it goes hat in hat, begging, to countries around the world; when, infantile, it suckled on the Russian and now clings to the Venezuelan teat; when it turns its citizen-slaves into a cash crop like cattle or rice? What dignity, when he and his dim-witted cohorts have trashed one of the once premier economies of the region; when they have turned the Pearl of the Antilles into the Great Mendicant of the Caribbean? And the once yearly pilgrimage to the UN, sniveling about the embargo. What, is the UN really going to dictate to a sovereign nation with whom it can and cannot trade?

If they really cared about the dignity of Cuba, they would care about the indignities they have visited upon the Cuban people. They would free them to utilize their God-given talents. They would get out of the way and allow them the help they need to realize the most basic of living conditions, so that the people can recuperate not only from the hurricanes, but also from the half century maelstrom that has enveloped the nation. Dignity, my a__!

Economic Primer: Part II

At a time when large numbers of voters are apparently turning to the Dems because of the financial mess, it is ever the more imperative that voters educate themselves to what went wrong. It is a truism that an educated public is essential to democracy. Sadly, many of our mainstream media organs have turned into political propaganda arms of the parties. So it is terribly reassuring to run into Time's cover story this week. The story by Andy Serwer and Allan Sloan is a definite must read, containing the best explanations I have come across, particularly of the nearly incomprehensible credit default swaps.

As a matter of interest and a behind the scenes peek at what took place before the collapse of Lehman, you might want to take a gander at "How the Masters of the Universe ran amok and cost us the earth" at The Scotsman, a most interesting entry. Aw, I confess I really like the allusion, both to the cartoon and Bonfire of the Vanities.

So what is being done? In addition to the essential takeover of Fannie, Freddie, the infusion of capital into the system, President Bush yesterday announced a number of other steps. Read the text of his remarks here. My favorite section:

The Securities and Exchange Commission has issued new rules temporarily suspending the practice of short selling on the stocks of financial institutions. This is intended to prevent investors from intentionally driving down particular stocks for their own personal gain.
The SEC is also requiring certain investors to disclose their short selling and has launched rigorous enforcement actions to detect fraud and manipulation in the market. Anyone engaging in illegal financial transactions will be caught and persecuted.

Also of particular interest is the government's insuring money market accounts. In theory, money market accounts are not insured, although in some cases it is less clear cut. One money market fund already lowered the share redemption value from 1 dollar to 90 cents. Keep an eye on this one.

Now according to this article, the bailout could cost half a trillion dollars. I've seen estimates as high as a trillion. Which brings me to the reason voters need to know what is going on. The present Democrat proposals encompass increased taxes and increased government spending. Raising taxes in a time of economic difficulty would seem disastrous. As to increased spending, with the tab the taxpayers are going to pick up, it would seem more prudent to cut back government spending in all but the necessary. The government like any private individual is going to have to tighten its belt. Is it possible that Obama would react to present conditions by putting his greatest society package on hold? Possible. But what does he do about all those who voted for that agenda? ???

Friday, September 19, 2008

It's in the News, Che

I once knew an Argentinian whose every other word seemed to be "che," the expression not the murderer, which is incidentally how the murderer acquired the epithet. Reminds me of a cute story, cute at least to me. I was in Miami Beach during the height of the South American buying frenzy in the '80's, when this poor Argentian gentleman was abandoned by his family which was supervising the loading of their manifold packages, this being Miami. Unfortunately they left him in charge of the near life-sized inflated Shamu, the killer whale. My last glimpses of said gentleman had him sitting astride the beast, frantically rocking, as if it were a bucking Bronc, in a seemingly futile effort to deflate the beast while the crammed taxi awaited him, all the time lamenting "pero, che, quien se le occure comprar este bicho?"

That's it for the lighter note, unless you count Humberto Fontova's acerbic take on Benicio del Toro and the Soderbergh movie. Read his article on WorldNet Daily here. I can take consolation in this article from Spain I came across via Penultimos Dias which touching the movie asks whether it is not time to deconstruct the myth? After all if the Che had had his way, "today all of South America would be a pathetic Cuba." Article in Spanish here.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Political Pulse?

It's come to my attention that PBS, doubtless counting on the particular bent of their habitues, is conducting a poll as to the fitness of Sarah Palin for the office of VP. When I first received an email making the rounds, the number of 70% nay. Since then the situation has reversed. I am not telling you what you should think. I leave that to the other side. But if you should happen to support Ms. Palin, and even if you don't, you can vote here.

In other election news, I ran into a woman with a McCain/Palin shirt today and almost had a fit of the vapors. The impact of this run-in was furthered when there were a handful of McCain supporters with signs at a busy local intersection. We, of course, beeped, setting off a crescendo of car horns. It was marvelous.

H/T fermi

McCain's Take on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Circa 2005

I heard this yesterday and found it on Babalu today. Since the remarks are from 2005, it was pretty prescient of McCain who professes that economics is not his strong suit. By the way, go to Cigar Mike's post here to find the top recipients of the mortgage giants' money. (Boldface mine.)

The OFHEO report also states that Fannie Mae used its political power to lobby Congress in an effort to interfere with the regulator's examination of the company's accounting problems. This report comes some weeks after Freddie Mac paid a record $3.8 million fine in a settlement with the Federal Election Commission and restated lobbying disclosure reports from 2004 to 2005. These are entities that have demonstrated over and over again that they are deeply in need of reform.

For years I have been concerned about the regulatory structure that governs Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac--known as Government-sponsored entities or GSEs--and the sheer magnitude of these companies and the role they play in the housing market. OFHEO's report this week does nothing to ease these concerns. In fact, the report does quite the contrary. OFHEO's report solidifies my view that the GSEs need to be reformed without delay.

I join as a cosponsor of the Federal Housing Enterprise Regulatory Reform Act of 2005, S. 190, to underscore my support for quick passage of GSE regulatory reform legislation. If Congress does not act, American taxpayers will continue to be exposed to the enormous risk that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac pose to the housing market, the overall financial system, and the economy as a whole.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

How'd We Get Here?

Like those who touch Rumi's elephant in a dark house, it seems a whole mess of people are running around pontificating on the basis of a surreptitious feel of one portion of the pachyderm's anatomy. It's Bush's, no, Clinton's fault. It's a failure of regulators. It's those greedy Wall Street types. It's us.

Your erstwhile correspondent, knowing that these situations are invariably complex, has been investigating. I have no pretensions to great knowledge. This much is evident to any one who takes the time to read about the current situation. It would seem to implicate a whole host of characters. In 1999 President Clinton signed the repeal of the Glass Segall Act of 1933 which had previously separated banks from brokerages and left a regulatory open window, so to speak. In the race to get in on the scads of money from the Real Estate bubble, the instrument of choice was the bundled mortgages. The bundles contained all sorts of mortgages and were not easily quantifiable, obvious in hindsight. Mortgages were given to people who most obviously could not afford them. People got way in over their heads, taking on mortgages they could not afford, figuring they would hit a payday before their interest only ended. The present government coming off of the tech bust did nothing to staunch the flow. Let the good times roll. Alas, it had to end. The banks got hit; the mortgage companies got clobbered.

That would be bad enough, but the situation was further exacerbated by those bundled mortgages, now debt instruments, MBS's. Here it gets really complicated. There's them who bought them, and then there's them who insured them. Suffice to say, there were two problems. One, those mortgage bundles were essentially a pig in a poke. Second, things were so good that many a financial giant got a bit carried away in leveraging. In other words, they invested way more than even whatever they value they placed on the debt instruments.

Here's where the fear part of the fear and greed equation come in. As it became obvious that there were problems with the mortgages, their imputed worth plummeted, leaving the giants in the lurch, as in they didn't have the resources to meet their increased obligations. It's even more complicated still, but my point is that this is one failure that has many fathers. And before the Dems get all holier than thou, they, too, have been complicit. Take a look at the top five recipients of the largess of Fannie/Freddie. One's initials are B.O., pardon the double pun.

Now what is really scary is that the vultures are circling. Remember oil speculators? Now we have the shorts. Here's greed. We now have rampant rumor mongering, driving down the price of a company's stock and lining the pockets of those who have shorted it. At the same time, the declining share price forces the company to come up with yet more money to cover the difference. So in essence, a viable if not robust company can be trashed. They are systematically working their way through the weak and weakened. Lehman, done. Merrill Lynch made a deal with Bank of America. AIG had to be rescued by the Government. Now they're after Morgan Stanley. Washington Mutual is auctioning itself off, and Goldman is probably next. They're even after GE.

I go through this exercise because to use the current financial crisis as a Rorschach blot for a particular political point of view does the country a disservice and solves nothing. And because too often the news these days gives us slogans instead of facts.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Once When We Were Young and Foolish

Here's an interesting video of Dick Morris explaining how he became a Republican. What was interesting was how closely it paralleled my own experience. Yes, I not only once (once was enough) voted for Jimmy Carter, I actually voted for George McGovern. I also migrated to the Republican camp as I explained earlier here.

Every day, it seems, despite the liberal mind set that only illiterate louts differ, more and more celebrities are coming out of the political closet or seeing the light. One convert, David Zucker, to a more conservative point of view- I don't think he's a Republican- will premiere his new movie An American Carol on Oct. 3. Be there or be square. Go here, if you want to join the movement behind the movie and become an American Caroler.

Book Shorts

Both Stephanie Barron and Elizabeth Peters have new books out in which they bid adieu, at least temporarily, to their much loved heroines. After nine novels, Barron dispenses with her Jane Austen character, a foregone conclusion after- for obvious historical reasons- she killed off Jane's love interest, Lord Harold Trowbridge. Still, I miss Jane. Murder mysteries set in the court of Queen Victoria seem to be all the thing these days. See Anne Perry's latest. Barron's A Flaw in the Blood begins with a secret summons from Victoria as Albert lays dying. This time, however, the reception Barron's Patrick Fitzgerald receives is quite chilly and the midnight meeting almost gets him killed. So begins a race against death to unravel the mystery. I won't give it away, because it is surprising. Of interest is the appearance in the novel, although not literally because he's dead at the time of the events, of actual historical personage John Snow. Think cholera epidemic and last year's The Ghost Map.

Elizabeth Peters departs from the Amelia Peabody series to return to earlier heroine Vicky Bliss. I cannot tell you the paroxysms of delight I experienced when a discovered there was to be a new Vicky Bliss. The adventures of Ms. Bliss, coupled with the antics of Herr Doktor Schmidt, her romance novel writing boss at the Berlin Museum, as well as the regular appearances of bad boy John Smythe, make for entertaining reading. Alas, as Peters explains the question of time- Bliss hasn't aged in near a decade but time has marched on- in the foreword to The Laughter of Dead Kings, I find she cites "the horror in Iraq." If I wanted political commentary, I would not pick up a murder mystery. Is Ms. Peters only writing the book for those who oppose the Iraq war, or does she presume that anyone literate would be against it? As a consequence, I don't know if it was the annoyance which stayed with me or the new domesticity of Vicky and beau, but the novel did not warm up until the end. There were some nifty surprises, but I'd recommend the earlier ones.

Finally, the devastation left by Hurricane Ike is bad enough, but the storm reminded me of Erik Larsson's excellent book, Isaac's Storm, which details the 1900 hurricane which hit Galveston and killed over five thousand people. Cuba figures in that one, too. In the days before radar, a fatal decision was made to ignore the reports of a hurricane coming from the weather service in Cuba. If you like nonfiction and haven't read it, pick up a copy. It's worth it.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Today's Quote

Bottom line, if Barack and Biden get in office you’re going to need a case of lipstick because you’re going to be kissing a lot of gelatinous big government backside like never before.

-from the Doug Giles piece cited below.

Sunday Stories: Of Cosmetics and the Cosmos

Where to start? An embarrassment of riches this week.

Beyond the Atom. In an exciting development, scientist Lyn Evans, dubbed "Evans the Atom," may destroy the planet if he has not done so already. I'm only half kidding. Seeking to understand the beginnings of the universe, he and other scientists in what is billed as the world's biggest experiment began firing up a 17 mile collider near Geneva. Some scientists fear that the experiment could create black holes in the Earth. If nothing else, the "nerds in nightshirts" are having a lot of fun, witness the "Physics Rap" that has become an internet sensation. Cute Daily Mail article here with link to rap. Updated info from LA Times here, and Hawking's doubts that they will find the "God Particle" here.

About that Crack'd Mirror. Bush may have looked into his soul, but Putin looked to his sway. He maintains that Bush, while a nice guy, is not in charge: as he phrases it is "the court that makes the King." Read it at the Times, the Brit one.

A La Main left. Speaking of the arcane, Elizabeth Spiers in Fortune magazine does as good a job explaining the mortgage mess as I've seen. Basically if you bundle mortgages, you could be and were buying a pig in a poke. All these high falutin' things that are so removed from the source scare me. Remember those professors with the hedge fund that went bust?

Of Shiny Promises. Bruce Bialosky continues the pig metaphor in this article on TownHall in which he delves into the misleading Obama claim that he will cut taxes on the middle class. Seems 40% of Americans don't pay income taxes at all, but instead receive money from the government. The rationale is that they pay social security taxes. Obama would increase these payments and drop another 15% from the tax rolls. I'd like to know if its possible to get more back than you paid in. As Doug Giles writes in this, you can put lipstick on a socialist.... It smacks of income redistribution to me.

On the Gender Front. "Xena" Palin as this piece dubs her is apparently causing much disarray in the enemy camp. Seriously, Sarah Baxter in the Times, the Brit one, writes a pretty incisive and somewhat entertaining analysis of Palin's effect on the campaign at the moment. And as I suggested in an earlier post, Palin's candidacy and the response has led to a new examination of the gender question. Read Allison Linn's article on MSNBC here