Friday, August 31, 2007

The Surging Truth Will Out

We are winning the war in Iraq. We are winning because GWB and his generals tell us we are winning. We have previously made missteps but everything is on track now. The insurgency is on it's last legs. It's only a matter of time before things are under control. The Iraqis are building a functional coalition from which they can effectively govern the country.

We have heard these same statements from the administration since the beginning of our military involvement in Iraq. It's different this time, though. Something has changed. Through the first three years, one of the main points the administration pounded away on, over and over, was that the troops, the enlisted combat troops, on the ground in Iraq, supported the mission and wanted to stay to complete it. They have stopped saying that. Have you noticed. I have.

I don't think that support for the war was ever as universal as the administration made it out to be among combat troops. I do think they saw the mission in Iraq as their job and kept their opinions to themselves and their mouths shut, the way soldiers always have. I think the administration realizes that as the years drag on and more and more Iraq veterans rotate out of the war zone and then out of the military, they will begin to give vent to their true feelings. They will express their opinions about the reasons we went to Iraq. They will express their opinions of the strategies employed by their military leaders. They will express their opinions of the competence and character of the officers that led them. They will express their opinion of exactly what was accomplished by the sacrifice of their youth and blood and lives.

No, the administration no longer talks of the support for the war by the troops on the front lines. Make no mistake though. We are winning. GWB and his generals tell us so. The insurgency is on it's last legs. It's only a matter of time. And money. And blood. And lives.

What do Cowboys, Lumberjacks and Hard Rock Miners all have in Common

Time to weigh in on the Larry Craig situation.

Here's a guy who is obviously gay and has been all his life and yet he has always played by the rules that society has set for him. He obviously believes strongly in family values. He is obviously a religious person. He has demonstrated beyond a doubt that he believes in the conservative political philosophy he espouses. He has devoted his life to public service. He doesn't believe in gay marriage or domestic partnership or the open acknowledgement of homosexuality as a legitimate sexual preference. He married a widow lady and raised her children as his own. He represented his constituency, in Congress, in a manner that pleased them for a generation. He has repressed his sexuality and become exactly what society, as he understands it, wants him to be, a toilet queen. He feels most comfortable and sexually responsive, engaging in anonymous sex, in the restrooms of transportation terminals. Even while engaged in this gritty and nefarious pursuit of toilet sex, he remained polite and gentlemanly. He did not expose himself. He made no lewd proposition to another. He made his approach through a carefully choreographed and time honored code, known only to other homosexuals and in this case, undercover police officers. In this way was he exposed, his secret life brought to light, his career ruined.

Now he will be forced to resign. His old friends and colleagues in politics will shun him. If he returns to his home in Idaho, he will be a man alone and apart. The double standard by which he has lived all his life, will now condemn him to a life ostracized by those he has served so faithfully. Ted Stevens, who stole billions, remains a powerful senior Senator. David Vitter, who admitted to having sex with prostitutes, after having been exposed by a notorious madam, remains a Senator. Larry Craig is guilty of a far greater offense, he is gay in a World that believes it to be an offense against God.

Hundreds of closeted gays remain in the upper hierarchy of the Republican party. They will do nothing to help Larry Craig. There is nothing they can do. I hate those fundo-fascist, Bible thumping, Republicans. I suspect when they meet Jesus on the other side of the Pearly Gates, he'll want to have a little talk with them about respect for the sexual preferences of others.

Bailout Who?

Ben Bernanke, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, has lowered interest rates and has signaled that he will continue to do so, to keep the stock market liquid. This action has the effect of propping up the practice of making highly leveraged and unsound investments by Wall Street fatcats. It also drives pension funds and more modest private investors into riskier areas of investment, in an effort to meet their obligations. It causes inflation, so that people who have spent their lives saving, end up with nothing. It is a bail out of the wealthy, at the expense of those of more modest means.

President Bush has announced that he will relax the standards that the Federal Housing Administration uses to insure mortgages. This does not so much mean that the homeowners who have been enticed to borrow too much easy money from Wall Street, will be able to keep their homes. It means that when they finally lose their homes, It will be you and I, Joe Taxpayer, who takes the loss.

It's clear that the Bush Administration is worried about the wellbeing of it's constituents an is taking action to protect them. Unfortunately you and I are not members of that constituency.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Two strokes is about as much as an old man like me can handle

I drive a 1986 Honda Spree. It looks like an old Vespa, only smaller. The body is made out of cheap, pliable plastic. It has a 49cc 2-stroke engine. The transmission has no gears. It has essentially two speeds, stop and 26 mph. It gets around 90 mpg. I use a gallon of gas a week or less. It costs $40 a year to insure and $40 dollars a year to register. If you tried to ride it in traffic, you'd be dead in a week. Where I live, all the streets have bike lanes. Nobody much uses them, so I do. It's illegal but the cops don't bother me. Works out well for both of us. It has a little rack on the back. When I go to the store, I bungee a plastic milk crate to the rack. That and the little backpack I habitually wear, holds everything I'm ever likely to purchase. I paid $300 for it. In three years, it's never given me any mechanical problems and doesn't seem like it's likely to soon.

For the size of the engine, it's not fuel efficient, or low emission. I don't care. Honda currently makes some really nice small urban motorbikes in Southeast Asia. They are fuel efficient, 4-stroke, water cooled, fuel injected. They are clean burning and FAST! I'd love to buy one of them. They won't sell them here. They would certainly cut into the sales of the larger bikes that they do sell here. You can't even pay to have one shipped over, it's illegal. You wouldn't want to anyway, no parts, no service would be available. When government and corporations tell us that they are working hard to provide clean, fuel efficient vehicles for us, they are lying through their teeth.

I don't care about global warming or the depletion of fossil fuels. Why should I? I'll be dead in 20 years or 76 years old, which, let's face it, is the same as. I just want to get around town in the cheapest most fun way possible. I'll just keep ridin' the Spree.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Republicans can always win

We generally think of the Republicans as a political party and technically, that is what they are. They are more than that, however. They are a coalition. A construct of several groups, each with a specific area of concern. They are apathetic to areas of policy outside their specific concerns but are willing to support the agendas of others, as long as those others reciprocate.

The first group is composed of those people with high net worth and actively involved in consolidating and increasing their wealth. Their primary interest is to be able to engage in their commercial activities without regulation, intervention or oversight. As a voting block, their numbers are insignificant. The contributions that they make are purely financial. They hedge their bets and will support anyone in power but prefer the Republican party because of it's greater pliability.

The second group are the neocons. They are highly educated and extremely intelligent. They are well represented in the most respected, admired and productive segments of society. Their sole concern is that the State of Israel be preserved, nurtured and protected, at all costs. The tremendous respect they command makes them invaluable as molders of public opinion. Their intelligence, knowledge and skill allow them to generate coherent policy and direct it's implementation.

The third group are the xenophobes. These people feel discriminated against and threatened by, their peers in society who may not share their same set of beliefs or origins. Their primary motivator is fear. They fear the known. They fear the unknown. They fear what will happen. They fear what will not happen. Their fear makes them easily led. They want, above all else to preserve what they have, no matter how little or insignificant it may be. This is a constantly shifting group. If they lose their fear, they fall away. If they become more afraid, their numbers swell. They are an easy group to manipulate, because the worse you make it for them, the stronger they believe.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Something's Wrong With The Beaver

My wife and I have lived in our place for twenty years. At this point, we've been here longer than anybody else in the neighborhood. It's a beautiful place, quiet, spacious, nicely landscaped. Nobody thinks of our town as luxurious, partly because it's next to Newport Beach, which, on a per square foot basis, is as expensive a place to live as you can find anywhere in the country. It's pretty nice, though. I don't care how much my place is worth. I don't care if property values plummet, though I suspect they won't stray too far down. I'd never move.

Next door I have a retired Air Force O-6 who used to fly B-47s for Curt Le May. He and his wife have 5 or 6 children, all grown up and out a generation ago. He and his wife are the children of Mexican immigrants. Next to him is an old Marine Gunny, 30 years in and 30 more as a civilian DOD contractor, all in the Far East. His wife is Korean. They have kids almost as old as me. Next to them is a young, 2nd generation, longshoreman. His wife is Vietnamese. They have a 2 y/o daughter.

On the other side, the house is shared by 4 very nice young men, attending beauty college, over in Costa Mesa. Hardly even know they're there. Next to them are 4 more nice young men, only not quite so young. Kind of super-annuated skater boys. No drugs but I'm pretty sure they're filming porno in there on the weekends. We have to keep on them about parking violations and the beer bottles and cigarette butts get a little thick out front sometimes. They police them up the next morning, usually.

Across the street is a lesbian lady of color. Big corporate exec. Travels the World on business. Very down to earth. Never flaunts her material success. Next to her is an older gentleman and his wife. They are almost never there. Their children are all police officers in local communities. They spend most of their time up in Idaho, in a place with no phone or mail service, so they say. I suspect he has a military title but that it isn't used outside the compound. He and the corporate lady next door are thick as thieves. She watches his place for him when he's gone.

Just another SoCal neighborhood in the 21st Century. We all pretty much get along, just like Rodney wanted. I'm sure glad I don't live somewhere out in the middle of America, in the middle of all those Baptists and Pentecostals, with all their trashy, hateful, behaviour. I know it makes me a bigot but a person has got to maintain some standards and a little peace of mind is important when you get older. I guess what I mean is, a person reaches a stage of life when they want to be with their "own kind".

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Geniuses, Hard At Work

This doesn't have to be a long post at all. It's pretty self explanatory.

Capital One, the credit card giant, is closing down it's mortgage business, because it's too risky.

They would rather concentrate on their much safer core business, holding huge amounts of completely unsecured consumer debt.

Smart move.

I think I'll take my life savings and load up on their stock.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Gee! I'm Glad Those Nice Policemen Didn't Get In Trouble

About a year ago, I posted about the police force in my town and how they have a habit of using unnecessary lethal force, notably when witnesses are not present. In this case they gunned down a high school girl, distraught from a sexual assault, earlier in the night. The ER doctor who examined the corpse documented 23 bullet holes in her body.

The "impartial" investigation of the case, by the county sheriff, found the shooting to be justified and no disciplinary action was taken against the officers involved. There were several officers on the scene, with two discharging their weapons. She was, at the time, menacing them with a 3" paring knife, from her Mother's kitchen.

I recently read in the paper, that to avoid going to court, to defend the officers actions, in a lawsuit brought by the girl's family, the city has offered a $2,000,000 settlement. Seems like a lot, for a justified shooting, although it does work out to less than $100,000 a hole.

Gee. I'm glad those nice policemen didn't get in trouble.

Thailand Remains Our Friend.

Elections were held Sunday in Thailand, to ratify a new constitution, authored by the military junta, which seized control from the democratically elected government earlier this year. The new constitution calls for a nominally democratic government, while actually leaving it in control of officials appointed by the judiciary, drawn from the same pool of hereditary elite as the military officers who make up the junta. The vote on the new constitution passed with ease, considering that the previously elected majority party has been outlawed and it's leaders muzzled by threats of detention and retaliation against their families.

Thailand is and remains America's staunchest political ally in Southeast Asia. The military coupe transitioned the country into autocracy without a peep from the Bush administration and virtually no coverage in the American media. Thailand has a strong economy and a rapidly developing industrial base, though they still rely on their traditional mainstays, smuggling, piracy and the slave trade for most of their economic strength.

Bangkok, the capital, is where the junta draws its strength from. Bangkok is the shipping point for opium distillates from the fields of the Golden Triangle. It is the clearing house of pirate booty from all over Asia. It is a Mecca for sex tourists and pedophiles, the World over. It is, in short, the preferred recreational destination for American military personnel, corporate executives and especially clergy, now that they cannot rape young American boys and girls with impunity.

It is good to know that Thailand remains our friend.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

We Certainly Deserve Whatever Terrible Times Lie Ahead.

We don't have much of a savings rate in this country. Most families just get by. They have a car and a house that they owe money on. They pay a lot of taxes. Property taxes. Sales taxes. Income taxes. Gas taxes. Social Security and Unemployment withholding come out of their checks every week, right off the top. Those are taxes too. By the time they get down to the money they have left to feed their families, it isn't very much. Not enough. It isn't that they don't want to save. They do. Save to give the kids a good education and a decent start in life. Save for their old age, so they won't be a burden. Those things are important. The money is just not there. Ya do the best with what you can, today. You hope maybe there will be a little left over to save tomorrow.

There are people in this country whose lives aren't like this. Percentage wise, they aren't many but there are a lot of people in this country. There are hundreds of thousands of them, maybe even a million or two. They have real nice houses, more than one. They have shiny, expensive cars, more than a few. Boats, nice ones. They travel, a lot, 1st class. Golf, twice a week. Pick up the tab for lunch with the guys, more than I make all week. Their kids go to Name schools. Their shoes aren't made in Bangladesh. It's all about percentages. Percentage wise, they don't pay many taxes. Percentage wise, they don't spend that much on their very comfortable lifestyles.

These people serve an important purpose. They hold America in trust for us. They own the land. They hold the stock in the companies where we work, of the banks that loan us money, the companies that sell us gas, the hospitals where we go when we're sick, the cemeteries where we're buried when we die. These people control the Capital that make our way of life possible. They take the risk. They need to be protected. Like the whales. Like the redwoods. Like the spotted owls. They are the foundation of our social ecology. Think green. Green is the color of life. Green is the color of money. Same thing.

We have done the Capitalists an insult. We have borrowed too much, for too long. More than we can pay. More than we are worth. We have lived our lives and fed our children with their money and now we can't pay them back. They are left holding worthless paper. An empty promise, from those for whom they have held America in trust, for so long. I feel so ashamed. We certainly deserve whatever terrible times lie ahead,

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Tiny Bubbles in the Wine, Tiny Bubbles Make Me Feel Fine

Just taking a break from cleaning my neighbor's pool, lounging on my deck, enjoying a cold drink. I wonder if there really is anything to this whole real estate bubble theory some people are talking about? My condo is pretty nice. Good neighborhood. Nice weather. Couple miles from the blue Pacific. They have been going for $600,000-$650,000. Still, It's nowhere near as nice as the house I grew up in a few miles away. I wonder how much that's worth now? My parents paid $17,000, late in 1959.

It seems to me that the Japanese had a situation like this in the eighties. Yeah, I remember now, they were selling each other urban real estate, generating inflated equity, and leveraging the equity to buy more inflated real estate. I remember a Japanese real estate investor saying, with a straight face, that a several square block area in the center of Tokyo, was worth more than the entire state of California. It all came unraveled in 1990. Real estate values dropped like a shot. They had some problems with bad real estate loans, too. Not really a stock market problem. All the economic fundamentals were good. They did have to lower interest rates to Zero, where they pretty much are to this day and the Nikkei 225, almost two decades later, is still less than half what it was then.

It's not the same though. The Japanese economy is not the same as ours here in America. Do you want to know why?


News from the Western Front

Unless you have perfect credit and you want to borrow less than $400,000 you ain't going to get no mortgage, baby. You can find a few houses in the LA basin for less than half a mil but you better be ready to invest in body armour and pittbulls. Not many houses are going to be changing hands any time soon. New construction for less than $500,000, forget about it. Housing starts may look good for the last couple of months, housing finishes are going to be another story.

Three more months, tops, a whole lot of real estate professionals are going to be out of a job. Escrow officers, loan officers, and a raft of related workers, ditto. The construction trades are shutting down. Lumberyards and building supply houses will go into moth balls. When the construction trades come to a halt, so do the remittances to Mexico and Central America. Instant recession for our neighbors to the south. The sale of the durable goods that go into the domiciles that change hands? Nope. And on, and on, and on.

Unemployment is going to start going up. Money is tight. There's going to be less of it around. SoCal is a service economy. Mostly, we make a living out here cleaning each others pools. Can everybody say, domino effect?

There's nothing to worry about. We've had this kind of thing happen before. We just need to generate some liquidity. No problem.

I've got just two words to say to you.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Summer Song

It's summertime. The best time of the year. you can keep your winter sleigh rides, autumn leaves and spring wildflowers. Summer is long days and warm nights, the beach, no school, first loves and last freedoms.

Back in the days of AM radio, they used to play little pop songs especially suited for summer. Usually, by the end of the season they began to wear on you. Sometimes a lot earlier than that. Some of them, you cherish all your life. It may be the song. It may have more to do with the memorability of the summer during which it was popular.

My all-time favorite is "Brown Eyed Girl", by Van Morrison. I don't even remember what year they first started playing it. Sometime in the late sixties, I think. I wouldn't want to be 35 again, or 25. If it could be 1969 again and I could be 17, that's a different story.

What's your favorite summer song?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Karl, we hardly knew ye

A lot of left wingers are going to be real happy that Karl Rove is going back to Texas to "spend time with his family". I'm not one of them. Karl doesn't make political policy or decisions. I don't think he's personally political at all. He works with public relations and advertising. He didn't have anything to do with the war. he got involved with Plamegate only after it became a public relations problem. He is a master of dirty tricks and personal smears but that is the meat and potatoes of partisan politics today, on both sides of the fence. You can't criticize him because he's better at it than anybody else.

Karl was responsible for the perception that GWB was a regular guy, down to earth, self depreciating, with a wry sense of humor. I think that in coaching the President to show these traits to the public, some of them might actually have rubbed off on the unfortunate dolt. It might have at least, temporarily, made him a better, more reflective and empathetic person. Who will do that for him now?

In his public life, Karl has been positively shy. He does not make bellicose, doctrinaire, pronouncements. He doesn't respond to personal attacks. He is not afraid of innocent sponaneity. I thought his pogo dance, on the podium of the recent Washington annual press dinner, did more for the image of the administration, than a hundred "mission accomplished" speeches ever could.

He doesn't cultivate that macho, "chickenhawk", schtick. He doesn't gild his image with phony academic degrees. He doesn't make a beeline for the spotlight at every opportunity. He never portrays himself as the long suffering martyr. In short, he never does for himself, the things he is so good at doing for others.

Karl, we hardly knew ye.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

A little too stable

Max Weber postulated well over a century ago that the State is defined as the monopoly of force within defined territorial boundaries. Nobody has come up with a better definition yet.

As long as they have plenty of force, dictatorial states have no problem maintaining power. Democratic states have a harder time but since they are operating under a consensus, need less force. When consensus is no longer possible, democratic states have two options. Find a new consensus or become dictatorial states. We have frequent elections, here in America. This is our mechanism for maintaining consensus.

The left is afraid that the right will foment a military coupe or subvert the electoral process and thereby remain in power indefinitely. The right is afraid that the left will make voting mandatory among the general population, knowing that the larger percentage of the non-voting underclass will support the left's more liberal social entitlements.

What's going to happen, instead, is that the governmental establishment will co-opt the political establishment, of the right and left, so that it doesn't really matter who gets elected. Things will pretty much continue on, the same.

Voila, dictatorial state. Take a close look at your elected representatives in Washington and tell me it isn't true. Look at the front runners for the next Presidential election. If they were any more dumbed down they'd need feeding tubes. Can you think of one real change in policy thats happened in the last several years? The only thing that's changed about our government is more.

More power. More money. More control. MORE FORCE.

The last thing we need to worry about is the stability of our government. Unless you think it's a little too stable.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Buddy, can you spare a dime.

The administration has been wheeling out George W. Bush the last couple of days to tout the strength of the US economy. At least they say it's Bush. I personally think it may be some kind of Max Headroom/Meet Mr. Lincoln video enhanced robot.

He says that the US can handle the current market volatility. He says that the US economy is the envy of the World. He says that inflation is under control. He says we should lower corporate taxes and leave corporate CEO and big player compensation alone. What a maroon.

The US doesn't produce anything. Home ownership is beyond the reach of the working family. Those that do own homes have been leveraging them for years to finance a lifestyle they can't afford. We import most of our fuel, durable goods, consumables and even an increasing percentage of food stuffs from foreign markets. The top 1% of the population controls all of the countrie's wealth and resources. The rest of us actually owe more than we're worth. Most people have virtually nothing put away for retirement and expect that the Government will take care of them.

The dollar, increasingly, is worth garbage opposed to foreign currencies. Market strategists continue to expect strong consumer spending, even in the face of evidence that the American consumer is tapped out. The American consumer will continue to spend, as long as credit is extended and payment is delayed.

The mortgage market is in shambles. Credit card debt will be next. Consumer spending will follow. The American economy is not the envy of the World.

Hey, don't you remember, they called me Al. It was Al, all the time. Say, don't you remember, I'm your pal. Buddy can you spare a dime.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Someone is in for a surprise ,soon

I was reading an article on market analysis on the Fox News site today. The gist of it was that there is no real threat to the markets or economy from the sub-prime meltdown. The default of sub-prime mortgages, they say, is manageable. The problem is psychological. Earnings are high, as is employment. Corporate balance sheets are flush. They are missing something, I think. They aren't looking at the way people are living. They aren't listening to what they are saying.

A lot of people say they are worse off than previously. Even though employment is high and income is up, a lot of people say the economy is already in a recession. What's going on? Are they dim?

The truth is, people can't afford their lives. Even though they have income and benefits, they can't afford the things they need. They need a car, so they go into debt to buy it. They need a house, so they go into debt to buy it. The house and car note, as well as the attendant costs of operation and ownership, eat up most of their income. To obtain the other necessities of life, they use their credit cards. When the credit card debt becomes unmanageable, they refinance their home and pull out equity to defray costs. Their already unmanageable mortgage becomes more unmanageable. They get promotions and raises at work, they moonlight. These people don't golf, don't dine out, take vacations, buy nice clothes, or send their children to private schools.

Fast forward 20 years. They are making more than twice what they used to make but the house that they paid $150,000 for is now in hock for $500,000. Something went wrong with the last car before the 72 month payment schedule was over and now they owe $20,000 on a car that cost $14,000 and is worth $6,000, maybe, at 13%. The credit card debt is worse than ever. What can you do? The money always runs out before the end of the pay period, way before. The oldest boy is married now, with two kids and lives in an apartment. He's a good boy. He and his wife live like church mice but it's soccer season. The kids need shin guards, shoes and uniforms. They also need dental work. What are you going to do?

What's going on here is a lot more than psychological. George Bush and his rich friends are driving along in the beautiful, barge-like, SUV of State. The stereo is playing some sweet sounds. The cell phones are out. The air conditioning is blasting. There's a case of cold ones in the cooler. The engine is running sweet and the fuel line is still full but the tank is empty.

Someone is in for a surprise, soon.