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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Quote of the Year

by folkbum

Zbigniew Brzezinski to Joe Scarborough:
You know, you have such a stunningly superficial knowledge of what went on that it's almost embarrassing to listen to you.
I'ma copy that into the clipboard and just paste it everywhere in the right Cheddarsphere.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Dusting the Recession for GOP Fingerprints

By Keith R. Schmitz

Of course GOP politicians, right wing pundits and those who enable them will deny that their worshiping at the free market alter -- as they see it -- had anything to do with the current economic problems. Paul Krugman had been warning us or years about the pending collapse of the Bush pumped economic bubble but hey, who the hell is he, besides a Nobel prize winning economist.

Much of the malaise has been propelled by the subprime debacle. After the credit collapse, bear in mind the next domino to fall was the auto industry, whose prospective customers couldn't get loans to buy cars.

But of course the right acts like the rotting was bi-partisan. Why not? That's their job. They have been blaming all this going back to Carter. Why not pin it on Truman?

But a post on this blog lays out the case why the right owns this recession.
  • Did the 1977 legislation, or any other legislation since, require banks to not verify income or payment history of mortgage applicants?
  • 50% of subprime loans were made by mortgage service companies not subject comprehensive federal supervision; another 30% were made by banks or thrifts which are not subject to routine supervision or examinations. How was this caused by either CRA or GSEs?
  • What about "No Money Down" Mortgages (0% down payments) ? Were they required by the CRA? Fannie? Freddie?
  • Explain the shift in Loan to value from 80% to 120%: What was it in the Act that changed this traditional lending requirement?
  • Did any Federal legislation require real estate agents and mortgage writers to use the same corrupt appraisers again and again? How did they manage to always come in at exactly the purchase price, no matter what?
  • Did the CRA require banks to develop automated underwriting (AU) systems that emphasized speed rather than accuracy in order to process the greatest number of mortgage apps as quickly as possible?
  • How exactly did legislation force Moody's, S&Ps and Fitch to rate junk paper as Triple AAA?
  • What about piggy back loans? Were banks required by Congress to lend the first mortgage and do a HELOC for the down payment -- at the same time?
  • Internal bank memos showed employees how to cheat the system to get poor mortgages prospects approved that shouldn't have been: Titled How to Get an "Iffy" loan approved at JPM Chase. (Was circulating that memo also a FNM/FRE/CRA requirement?)?
  • The four biggest problem areas for housing (by price decreases) are: Phoenix, Arizona; Las Vegas, Nevada; Miami, Florida, and San Diego, California. Explain exactly how these affluent, non-minority regions were impacted by the Community Reinvesment Act ?
  • Did the GSEs require banks to not check borrowers credit?
The right wing has been telling us for years that we have to unleash the American economic engine. So they did it in Congress and with the regulatory bodies within the Bush administration. And it bit us in the behind.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

More failure from the right

by folkbum

Much of the month of December was cold and snowy. What do the bloggers on the right do? Suggest that "global warming" was disproved! Hurrah! Algore's a moron!

However, this week, we had near-record highs. From the right? Not a peep. FAIL.

Yet Republicans blame Fannie and Freddy

by folkbum

Here's another story about how all those poor black people crashed the housing market by getting risky loans through the Community Reinvestment Act. Or not:
Interviews with two dozen former employees, mortgage brokers, real estate agents and appraisers reveal the relentless pressure to churn out loans that produced such results. [. . .] According to these accounts, pressure to keep lending emanated from the top, where executives profited from the swift expansion--not least, Kerry K. Killinger, who was WaMu’s chief executive from 1990 until he was forced out in September.

Between 2001 and 2007, Mr. Killinger received compensation of $88 million, according to the Corporate Library, a research firm. He declined to respond to a list of questions, and his spokesman said he was unavailable for an interview.

During Mr. Killinger’s tenure, WaMu pressed sales agents to pump out loans while disregarding borrowers’ incomes and assets, according to former employees. The bank set up what insiders described as a system of dubious legality that enabled real estate agents to collect fees of more than $10,000 for bringing in borrowers, sometimes making the agents more beholden to WaMu than they were to their clients.

WaMu gave mortgage brokers handsome commissions for selling the riskiest loans, which carried higher fees, bolstering profits and ultimately the compensation of the bank’s executives. WaMu pressured appraisers to provide inflated property values that made loans appear less risky, enabling Wall Street to bundle them more easily for sale to investors.

“It was the Wild West,” said Steven M. Knobel, a founder of an appraisal company, Mitchell, Maxwell & Jackson, that did business with WaMu until 2007. “If you were alive, they would give you a loan. Actually, I think if you were dead, they would still give you a loan.”
One of the most amazing aspects of watching the present financial crisis unfold, for me, is the degree to which conservatives and Republicans refuse to place any share of the blame for the calamity on the people who actually caused it. The private sector is holy, and the saintly CEOs are mere victims of a grand scam perpetrated by the people who are now living in homeless shelters or cardboard boxes. Privately held banks and mortgage brokers were mere rubes in a fantastical scheme concocted by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (who were not even making subprime loans for most of the boom time) via Jimmy Carter and the aforementioned CRA. Truth is, there was big money to be made, personally and institutionally, by aggressively pursuing risky loans and securitzing them. The private sector followed that trail of money with abandon, and now, with tight credit throughout all markets, we are seeing the results.

I do not understand Republicans' refusal to recognize reality. I suppose that is one of the long-running themes of this blog, though.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Fake War On Christmas

by capper

In his most recent column for the misnamed Waukesha Freeman, Owen Robinson continues to hype the faux War on Christmas.

This is something the right wing feels they need to hype every year. The chief complaint is that some Freedom From Religion type of group protests governmental facilities used to promote the holiday. I have yet to hear of any of these groups that want to keep people from celebrating their religious beliefs in their homes or churches, just not using taxpayer funded facilities.

Owen's other complaint are the stores that chose to be inclusive of all of their customers, using the phrase "Happy Holidays" or "Seasons Greetings" as opposed to the exclusive, Christians only "Merry Christmas."

Nick Schweitzer does a pretty good job at refuting Owen assertions. He gives a history of this so called war, and then makes this excellent point:
Should a Jewish clerk be forced to say Merry Christmas to his/her customers? We seem hell bent on allowing Catholic pharmacists the right to not only refuse to give out birth control, but not even forward the prescription onto another pharmacy, so why should a Jewish or atheist clerk be forced to acknowledge your religion? And more importantly, why do you have the need to have others acknowledge it? I mean, it's nice when they do, and Owen tells a nice story of being wished Merry Christmas by a waitress. But he's not just talking about those random well wishes in the spirit of the season. He's also suggesting that the lack of those wishes constitutes a war on the season itself!
To paraphrase Nick's last paragraph, it appears that those asserting that there is a war is satisfied with the right to celebrate their holiday, but are demanding that others acknowledge and follow in line, at least for the season. In other words, they are asking for the equivalent of Affirmative Action for their religion, even though they are in the majority in this country.

I don't see anyone wanting to end the national day of celebration of Christmas. And trust me, outside of vital services like hospitals, firefighters, police and the such, the only places open from Christmas Eve afternoon to the day after Christmas are gas stations and movie theaters, and not all of those are either. However, I don't recall ever getting off of work, with pay, for Yom Kippur or Channukah. The banks don't close for Tet or Samhain.

If you practice any of these other religions, and you want to have the day to celebrate or worship in your fashion, you have to use your own vacation time, and the rest of the world carries on. However, if you are atheist or a non-Christian, and you want to do your grocery shopping or banking or whatever on December 25th, well, you're just SOL, fella.

I wonder how loudly the Christians would scream if they were required to use their own vacation time to celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas. The outrage would be deafening, to be sure. But if someone of another religion, or an atheist, would wish to have those equal rights to their beliefs (or nonbeliefs), well, that would be just absurd to them, or they would feel threatened by it.

There is no War on Christmas. At best, it could only be called a War for Equal Standing, which is what I thought this country was supposed to be all about.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Haiku for the Holidays, 12/26

by folkbum

The Poetry Club I advise at school is embarking on a "Haiku for the Holidays" project--dozens of holiday-themed haiku papered all around the building. Between now and the new year, I'll be occasionally posting some of mine.

A question, looking
At December's calendar
What's Boxing Day for?

He Saw His Sole

By Keith R. Schmitz

At least Bush has helped out one sector of the economy and has created jobs to boot (pardon the pun):
The footwear that robbed George W Bush of his dignity and landed its owner Iraqi journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi — who hurled them at the US President at a press meet in Baghdad — in prison, has yielded an unexpected bonanza for its maker. Ever since the incident, Ramazan Baydan, the owner of the Istanbul-based Baydan Shoe Company, has been swamped with orders from across the world.

In fact, Baydan has recruited an additional 100 staff to meet orders for 300,000 pairs of Model 271, more than four times the shoe’s normal annual sale, following an outpouring of support for Zaidi’s act, ‘The Guardian’ reported. Orders have come from the US and Britain, and from neighbouring Muslim countries, he said.

RIP, Harold Pinter

by folkbum

I'm a little behind, but I'm not on the internet much this week what with the holidays and the endless snow shoveling. But it seems Harold Pinter has died:
Harold Pinter, the Nobel Prize-winning playwright and screenwriter whose absurdist and realistic works displayed a despair and defiance about the human condition, has died, according to British media reports. He was 78. [. . .] Pinter, who had been suffering from cancer, died on Christmas Eve, according to the reports.
It may in part have been Beloit College's resident theatre folks' obsession with Pinter, but I read a whole lot of his plays in my young, formative years. I acted in a dramatic reading of The Homecoming and one of his shorter plays. I have enjoyed Mamet and Stoppard and all the other playwrights that followed Pinter, influenced by that distinct style of writing. Pinter's is a voice that will be sorely missed.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Haiku for the Holidays, 12/25

by folkbum

The Poetry Club I advise at school is embarking on a "Haiku for the Holidays" project--dozens of holiday-themed haiku papered all around the building. Between now and the new year, I'll be occasionally posting some of mine.

Kwanzaa, Eid, Christmas,
Haunukkah, Tet, others:
Rejoice a little.

Mortally Shamed

by capper

From Pundit Kitchen:



But remember, it is only when a Democrat may have lied (even if they have to lie to prove the supposed lie) that matters!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Haiku for the Holidays, 12/24

by folkbum

The Poetry Club I advise at school is embarking on a "Haiku for the Holidays" project--dozens of holiday-themed haiku papered all around the building. Between now and the new year, I'll be occasionally posting some of mine.

No one wants to be
The last one awake Christmas
Morning. Gift tags move!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Haiku for the Holidays, 12/23

by folkbum

The Poetry Club I advise at school is embarking on a "Haiku for the Holidays" project--dozens of holiday-themed haiku papered all around the building. Between now and the new year, I'll be occasionally posting some of mine.

In my neighborhood,
Some guy breaks in at midnight,
He’s dead, not Santa.

Outrage Fatigue 2: The Amateurs

by folkbum

But, again, there's voting, so go have fun. (Although eye-aversion will be required on occasion, I'm sure.)

Festivus

by folkbum

This whole blog is just one long airing of the grievances. The feat of strength is getting through the conservative Wisconsin blogroll without retching.

Where's my pole?

A Point Of Interest

by capper

Just a bit of trivia for Jay to be thankful for. This happened almost exactly in the same place that this did.

Let's be careful out there, shall we?

Monday, December 22, 2008

2008: Reflections, 2

by folkbum

We had to put up with a lot of crap this year. But that's another post. This post is about some things that I have enjoyed in the past year.
  • Sidral Mundet. This stuff is liquid crack.
  • Kodiak Cakes. Just add water, but the ingredients list is pure, natural stuff. No funny preservatives or additives. And they make durn tasty pancakes.
  • "Leverage." Earlier in the year, my wife and I were complaining that it had been a long time since the last good, fun heist-caper movie (the last one being The Bank Job). Then along comes this show. You should be watching it.
  • Susan Werner, Live at Passim, and Girlyman, Somewhere Different Now. It's rare that live albums accurately reflect the real nature of a performance, but, if I may speak as someone who has seen these acts live repeatedly, these do. Somewhere, in particular, could be verbatim any one of a number of Girlyman shows I've seen.
  • iPod Touch. For those of us who want the music and games of an iPhone, but don't use the phone enough to warrant this gadget's more expensive cousin.
  • Barack Obama kicked John McCain's ass. It wasn't even close.
  • This paragraph:
    In any case, it’s certainly weird that the areas most affected by the crisis are centers of populations and finance. You’d think the deep South would be the first to crash, with the Franklin Mint bubble taking out Waffle House and Cracker Barrel, whose collapse would wipe out the rustic knick-knack manufacturers, dropping the floor out from under the Beanie Baby speculators, and so on down the line until you reach John Deere, at which point it’s game-over for Amway, Carhartt, Philip Morris, Mary Kay, QVC, Bob’s Big Boy, and the whole line of dominoes leading from Bally/Midway and the rest of the video poker manufacturers to Winn-Dixie and Piggly Wiggly, and from there to one Branson concern after the next, wiping out Winnebago before toppling various Indian tribes and their casino buffet and dream-catcher keychain suppliers, landing subsequently on Disney itself, at which point the coastal elites would notice something missing but not be able to put their finger quite on what it was, until 3AM one night when they sat bolt upright in bed, saying, “Oh my God, whatever happened to the Jonas Brothers?
    It's so much better in context, but I felt it needed to be preserved here for posterity.
  • Paste magazine. I feel hip by association reading it. Plus there's free music.
  • Classic Slice Pizza. Best pizza in metro Milwaukee. Period.
  • Nothing Like the Holidays. I didn't see Four Christmases, but I am quite sure this movie kicks its ass. Go see it while it's still the holidays.
This is far from a comprehensive list, of course. But tell me--what was good in 2008 for you?

Driving a Dumb Bargain

By Keith R. Schmitz

How numb are we to the financial bailout?

The Bush administration has handed out $350 billion in emergency money to help out financial organizations in peril and to save our economy from supposedly going over the cliff.

Now what? The AP has inquired into where the money has gone -- something probably not done by our government to date -- and are hearing from the banks...nothing.

But we shouldn't be surprised. Regulation by the Bush administration of practically anything over these past eight years has been non-existent. Yes we can't.

$350 billion. It took the Bush administration about three years to painstakingly blow that much money in Iraq.

But here's the really amusing part.

Outrage II. The Big Three hat in hand approach Congress ask for dough to carry them over their financial troubles. True, these operations could have been better managed but what ran them on the shoals? Tight credit.

Why? Brought to you by...the financial meltdown -- perpetrated by the banks and financial houses propped up by the huge bailout. Your money as the local TV stations like to point out.

The circle will not be unbroken.

Here's where the irony thickens. Congress fell all over itself to help out the fat cats who produce essentially nothing and get rewarded billions for their so-called work.

The American auto industry -- and their unions -- get hauled up on the dissecting table with demands that every dime gets an accounting. These operations manufacturer something. We as a country have been falling behind in that category over the past few years as many of you know.

Blasted the most was the "bloated" union wages. Jim Cramer on Hardball has just pointed out that the pay given out to any one off the heads of the Wall Street firms is as much as a whole factory full of union laborers.

And we fretted after 9/11 that irony was dead.

Haiku for the Holidays, 12/22

by folkbum

The Poetry Club I advise at school is embarking on a "Haiku for the Holidays" project--dozens of holiday-themed haiku papered all around the building. Between now and the new year, I'll be occasionally posting some of mine.

The season demands
Peace on earth, good will t’wards all.
I demand a nap.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

2008: Reflections, 1

by folkbum

Last January 2, I made a bunch of predictions. How'd I do? Remarkably well. In particular, I very proud of #10. My predictions, with commentary in bold.
  1. An embarrassing number of these predictions will be wrong. Nine out of 29 (not counting this one) were wrong, so I would say RIGHT!
  2. Some conservative Cheddarspherean will misconstrue a cold snap as evidence that global climate change is imaginary, which will really just provide evidence of his or her scientific illiteracy. Here's one from recently. RIGHT!
  3. A Milwaukee-based conservative talk show host will say something worthy of a suspension--or dismissal--even in the eyes of many conservative fans. He will probably not suffer any consequences. Mark Belling has been a bad boy. His publisher had to make a significant retraction. RIGHT!
  4. One or more anonymous Wisconsin bloggers will un-anonymize themselves. Meet Tom Foley. RIGHT!
  5. One or more conservative Wisconsin bloggers will claim that Democrats stole one or more elections. Here's a current post doing exactly that. RIGHT!
  6. That particular widely-linked and widely-read conservative blogger that shall remain nameless (but Patrick McIlheran thinks he's interesting!) will continue to write posts that are racist, sexist, anti-muslim, or all three at once, and the right will keep reading him and thinking he's interesting. A lefty will slip up once and call somebody a name and suddenly the same righties will turn into the propriety police, citing that as an example of "the hate left." I know--deja vu. Boy, was I right on this one--kind of. This time, many on the right actually took what he wrote to be too far over the line. But he blew up his old blog(s) and is now blogging away again from a well-linked new home. I don't recall any left slip-ups, though. Still, point in may favor--RIGHT!
  7. The Iron Man movie will be universally panned. I based this on the trends. I was WRONG. I am anxious to see what they did to Watchmen, though.
  8. The Wigderson-Boots and Sabers feud will finally boil over. I don't know what will happen, but rest assured, Wiggy will be smirking when he types the tale. Here, for example, James blames Owen for every Wisconsin traffic fatality that will happen this year. RIGHT!
  9. Dennis Troha won't have Jim Doyle's smoking gun. RIGHT!
  10. Everyone will have a good laugh at how stupid some beauty queen is. I just didn't expect it would be the Republican vice presidential candidate. Wow. RIGHT!
  11. Ben & Jerry's will once again decline to name an ice cream flavor in honor of me. (And we all know "folkbum's bananas and nuts" would have been a hit.) Sadly, RIGHT!
  12. Party control of both houses of the legislature, both federally and in Wisconsin, will not change. WRONG, as I noted here I underestimated the Democratic wave here in Wisconsin.
  13. The Democrat will be elected president in November. Happily, RIGHT!
  14. Google will buy something else big and unexpected. Perhaps a small country. Hasn't been a great year for Google, what with Chrome tanking and all. WRONG.
  15. Steve Kagen will be re-elected, causing Kevin Binversie to nearly stroke out. RIGHT! on Kagen. Haven't seen Binversie around lately, so maybe ...
  16. Louis Butler will also be re-elected. Or, rather, elected, as he was appointed. WRONG. Biggest disappointment of the year.
  17. I will continue not to give a rip about any Wisconsin sports teams. RIGHT!
  18. George W. Bush will pardon fewer people than you expect, mostly because he's done such a good job obstructing prosecutions that not many people have been convicted. However, most of this list will get pardons in their Christmas stockings. The pardons haven't really started yet. WRONG.
  19. Eventually, every lefty blogger in Wisconsin will work for me. I still have time on this.
  20. I will continue not to be invited as a panelist on "Sunday Insight." RIGHT! And Sunday mornings are poorer for this.
  21. Milwaukee Alderman Michael McGee, Jr., will be convicted on most if not all state and federal charges. RIGHT!
  22. Tom Barrett will be re-elected--by a lot. RIGHT!
  23. Once again I will find myself too busy working this summer to respond to complaints about how I get my summers off. RIGHT!
  24. By the end of the year, we will still have very serious people telling us that "the next three months" in Iraq will prove to be the most critical. I haven't seen any of that lately, although Joe McGraham have just reassured us that 2009 is the pivotal year. WRONG.
  25. I will be able to eat solid food again. (So far in 2008, it's been iffy. Ugh.) RIGHT!
  26. Ryan Adams will put out three or four more records this year. It was just one. He's slowed down since he got clean. WRONG.
  27. The person I hope will win "Top Chef" won't. They never do. I'm like the kiss of death. Stephanie won! Glad to see her win, sad to be WRONG.
  28. The WGA writer's strike will eventually end, but only after people remember how stupid "American Gladiators" is. RIGHT!
  29. "The Simpsons" will continue to suck nowadays. RIGHT!
  30. The United States will win more gold medals than any other country at the Olympics this summer. WRONG. China won more gold, but we won more medals overall.

Profile Picture

By 3rd Way

I've never been a big fan of using a picture of yourself in your Blogger profile. But I have always been tempted to use a some what funny picture I have where I thought it looked like I was doing a Limbaugh impression. After the ultra schmoove college pictures of Obama were released this week I decided the resemblance between myself and Barry was too uncanny and I had to bite the bullet and include my picture in my profile.


Friday, December 19, 2008

I do have water, thanks for asking

by folkbum

But apparently many of my neighbors don't:
About 68 homes on Milwaukee's south side are without water while city crews repair a water main break this afternoon.

Resident are affected in an area from S. 13th to S. 15th Streets and Oklahoma Avenue to Ohio Street, according to Cecelia Gilbert, spokesperson for Milwaukee's Department of Public Works.
This is literally my neighborhood; my house is within the boundaries described here, but I guess we're on a different trunk line or something. Wow.

Haiku for the Holidays, 12/19

by folkbum

The Poetry Club I advise at school is embarking on a "Haiku for the Holidays" project--dozens of holiday-themed haiku papered all around the building. Between now and the new year, I'll be occasionally posting some of mine.

The holiday break
Is starting a bit early.
Let's go back to bed.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Haiku for the Holidays, 12/18

by folkbum

The Poetry Club I advise at school is embarking on a "Haiku for the Holidays" project--dozens of holiday-themed haiku papered all around the building. Between now and the new year, I'll be occasionally posting some of mine.

After a fresh snow,
Nothing makes an impression
Like me falling down.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Outrage fatigue

by folkbum

I mean, I was kind of vaguely aware that all of this happened, but seeing it all in one place is a bit overwhelming.

On the other hand, you get to vote, so that makes it fun!

Haiku for the Holidays, 12/17

by folkbum

The Poetry Club I advise at school is embarking on a "Haiku for the Holidays" project--dozens of holiday-themed haiku papered all around the building. Between now and the new year, I'll be occasionally posting some of mine.

Whoa, there, tipsy friend.
How many Santas d'you see?
Put down that eggnog!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cheney Makes the Case for His Own Impeachment

By Keith R. Schmitz

On ABC last night Vice-President Dick Cheney defended the decision to go into Iraq:
I think we made the right decision in spite of the fact that the original [intelligence estimate] was off in some of its major judgments.
It is more likely that Cheney wanted to invade Iraq and would have done it even if the intelligence showed Saddam Hussein was Mother Teresa. Again he makes the fine men and women working intelligence who are doing the job of protecting us out to be the fall guys. Valarie Plame was not exceptional in this case. What a class act Cheney is.

We all of have our ideas why we made this mistake -- other than the supposed threat of Hussein -- and all of them are probably right.

Even if Cheney and Bush had gone into Iraq for honorable, decent, constructive reasons the invasion was poorly planned, ham-handedly conducted and opened the doors to incredible corruption on the part of administration cronies. Over 4,000 of our own people have been killed, thousands more injured, thousands more of the reservists had their lives disrupted due to stop loss, scores of thousands of Iraqis killed and about two million displaced from their homes.

At the least honest leadership with character would have resigned in disgrace or a competent Congress - both on the Republican and Democratic side -- would have held hearings and meted out punishments and sanctions.

The New York Times on Sunday had an op-ed talking about how the Clinton impeachment poisoned our political process with the partisanship leaving little taste for another impeachment, this time for what looks like cause.

In the dwindling days of the Bush administration it looks like this inquiry won't happen. And let's be clear. An impeachment is only an inquiry, not a conviction, and should have been conducted to get to the bottom of this colossal mess.

The founding fathers put impeachment in place for a reason -- to prevent an out of control executive branch. If we fail to hold the Bush administration accountable for this and a bunch of other suspicious acts, the standard for impeachment will be so high that this Congress may have rendered that section of the Constitution effectively null and void.

Haiku for the Holidays, 12/16

by folkbum

The Poetry Club I advise at school is embarking on a "Haiku for the Holidays" project--dozens of holiday-themed haiku papered all around the building. Between now and the new year, I'll be occasionally posting some of mine.

I bought too much stuff.
My credit card is smoking
And Target's empty.

Monday, December 15, 2008

I hope it's not a ...

by folkbum

When the headline "Legislator arrested on OWI, pot possession charges" flashed up this morning, my first thought was "I hope it's not a Democrat, I hope it's not a Democrat." I am quite certain that my colleagues in the right half of the Cheddarsphere were thinking, "I hope it's not a Republican, I hope it's not a Republican."

Turns out, we can all breathe easy:
Rep. Jeffrey Wood, an independent from Bloomer, was arrested early Friday by the Wisconsin State Patrol. [. . .] Wood became the first independent elected to the Wisconsin Legislature in decades in November after he quit the Republican Party. Democrats who took control of the chamber recently made him a committee chairman.

Haiku for the Holidays, 12/15

by folkbum

The Poetry Club I advise at school is embarking on a "Haiku for the Holidays" project--dozens of holiday-themed haiku papered all around the building. Between now and the new year, I'll be occasionally posting some of mine.

I see you looking.
Don't even think about it.
That is my drumstick.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Cultural Exchange

by 3rd Way

Many of us knew the invasion of Iraq was a mistake from the start, the majority of us now think it was a misguided effort. One of the few positive things to come from this war is an exchange between American and Middle Eastern cultures. I hope some Iraqis have learned something valuable from the Americans working in their country. American journalist could learn a little something about the harsh reality Middle Eastern journalists bring to a press conference. According to the AP the disrespect shown to our president by a journalist during his farewell tour is a customary sign of contempt.

It was at that point the journalist stood up and threw a shoe from about 20 feet away. Bush ducked, and it narrowly missed his head. The second shoe came quickly, and Bush ducked again while several Iraqis grabbed the man and dragged him to the floor.

In Iraqi culture, throwing shoes at someone is a sign of contempt. Iraqis whacked a statue of Saddam with their shoes after U.S. marines toppled it to the ground following the 2003 invasion.


When future American politicians screw up as badly as Bush has and give unsatisfactory evasive answers to journalists questions I hope American journalists learn from their Middle Eastern colleagues and send a size 10 at their head. I just hope they can duck as well as Dubya.

Collateral Damage

By Keith R. Schmitz

Excellent piece by John Torinus in the JS Biz section about the harm caused by the attacks on the auto bailout package by southern Republicans in the Senate.

In their attempts to swing a knife at the car company unions, the caucus of Confederates will gash open the suppliers who feed parts, subassemblies and services into the auto industry.

Torinus reminds us who the real victims of scuttling the bailout will be:

Vendors produce about 70% of the parts that go into a new car, and they are almost always better managed than the automakers. In many cases, automakers outsourced parts to get away from the union and management problems of the car assemblers.

Companies such as Strattec and Johnson Controls are among the leanest and best manufacturers in the world. They are good enough to supply Asian and American car companies.

Yet top-quality vendors will suffer the most collateral damage from a meltdown in Detroit, a crisis caused in large part by mismanagement on Wall Street and in Washington, D.C., of the financial and housing industries. The same politicians wearing angel wings in the debate over the future of the auto industry were presiding when the financial crisis was being created.

It should be emphasized that many of the suppliers radiate beyond Detroit and a good number of them are here in Wisconsin. The car makers go into backruptcy and these fine companies will see pennies on the dollar for goods and services bought over the past months, blowing holes in the already fragile finances of these companies. The fresh start for Detroit would be fatal wounds for their suppliers.

This is yet another example how divorced many conservative, so-called "business-friendly," politicians are from not just from reality in general but business reality in particular.

You Deserve a Break Today

Bu Keith R. Schmitz

From the Washington Post by way of the dailybeast.com:
The government has not yet aided struggling homeowners directly, but the Fed is considering relief for credit card holders. The Washington Post reports the Fed will vote on Thursday "on sweeping reform of the credit card industry that would ban practices such as retroactively increasing interest rates at will and charging late fees when consumers are not given a reasonable amount of time to make payments." The proposal includes a ban on raising the interest rates on credit card debt unless the customer was more than 30 days late in paying the minimum. If the Fed approves, it will be, say consumer advocates, the biggest overhaul of the credit card industry in decades. "It covers a lot of issues and is really unprecedented in its scope," said the CEO of the American Bankers Association. "You add them all up, it's going to mark the beginning of a new market."
About time isn't it?

The amazing thing is that despite the free hand the credit card industry and banks had to literally rape card holders and their sky-high profit margins they enjoyed through financial and political power, the government had come in and rescue them. Government saves the butt of capitalism again, though the current one had much to do with the predicament.

And these perps walked away with a lot more than will be saddled on Detroit. What an amazing testimony to malfeasance and their enablers in government.

Yes, there were people who lived beyond their means using plastic and some personal responsibility is in order. But then there is the fact that about half folks racking up credit card debt was brought on by financial pressures fueled by health care costs. When their income wasn't enough these people turned to their cards to try to make it through on just basic living expenses. Not a good strategy but for many of them their only strategy.

These "Masters of the Universe" as coined by Tom Wolfe in "Bonfire of the Vanities" proved they more than anybody lack both professional and personal responsibility and have more than earned any regulations this Congress and administration can hammer out for them.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Quote of the Day

by folkbum
"I don't know what Sen. Vitter has against GM or the United Auto Workers or the entire domestic auto industry; whatever it is, whatever he thinks we've done, it's time for him to forgive us, just like Sen. Vitter has asked the citizens of Louisiana to forgive him, " said [Morgan] Johnson, president of Local 2166. Otherwise, Johnson said of Vitter, it would appear, "He'd rather pay a prostitute than pay auto workers."
I'm looking forward to Fred Dooley's support of Vitter's Democratic opponent in 2010.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Haiku for the Holidays, 12/12

by folkbum

The Poetry Club I advise at school is embarking on a "Haiku for the Holidays" project--dozens of holiday-themed haiku papered all around the building. Between now and the new year, I'll be occasionally posting some of mine.

Bad news from up north:
The reindeer are all on strike.
Call the Republicans.


... updated to add, I wrote this one on the fly this morning, not for the poetry group at school; I don't do politics at school.

Tanking the Economy for $800, Please, Alex

by folkbum

As you have probably heard, the Republicans (from states that have a heavy presence of Japanese and German car manufacturers, no less) in the Senate have blocked a GM bailout. This sank the US stock market yesterday and global stock markets this morning. Good job, boys!

They blocked the bailout legislation (literally 2% the size of the $700 billion bailout handed to the financial companies two months ago) for one basic reason: Not because the bailout is bad economics, not because the bailout isn't really necessary, not because the bailout was too big or too small. It was because the bailout didn't kill the union:
The failure to reach agreement on Capitol Hill raised a specter of financial collapse for General Motors and Chrysler, which say they may not be able to survive through this month.

After Senate Republicans balked at supporting a $14 billion auto rescue plan approved by the House on Wednesday, negotiators worked late into Thursday evening to broker a deal, but deadlocked over Republican demands for steep cuts in pay and benefits by the United Automobile Workers union in 2009.
Union-killing is a severe Republican fetish; it's among the strongest knee-jerk reactions they have to anything. The right of workers to band together collectively for their own common good is anathema to them; the right of corporations to screw their workers at will is sacred. How this is rational or healthy I just do not understand.

And, somehow, they have it in their head that the unions are what's dragging down American automakers. That's bogus:
Imagine that a Congressional bailout effectively pays for $10 an hour of the retiree benefits. That’s roughly the gap between the Big Three’s retiree costs and those of the Japanese-owned plants in this country. Imagine, also, that the U.A.W. agrees to reduce pay and benefits for current workers to $45 an hour — the same as at Honda and Toyota.

Do you know how much that would reduce the cost of producing a Big Three vehicle? Only about $800.

That’s because labor costs, for all the attention they have been receiving, make up only about 10 percent of the cost of making a vehicle. An extra $800 per vehicle would certainly help Detroit, but the Big Three already often sell their cars for about $2,500 less than equivalent cars from Japanese companies, analysts at the International Motor Vehicle Program say. Even so, many Americans no longer want to own the cars being made by General Motors, Ford and Chrysler.
Got that? The Republicans are blaming the union and the $800 per car for the financial woes of the Big Three. It shouldn't be that much of a surprise, I guess, as these guys are dumb enough, it seems, to believe that poor, inner-city African Americans buying houses under the Community Reinvestment Act somehow had the collective ability to sink the multi-trillion international credit market--despite the facts.

Face it, $800 per car is less than $20 a month on a car payment, barely a blip in the price of that $26,000 Hummer or $24,000 Impala (GM's best-selling sedan). It is not why GM or Ford or Chrysler can't move cars right now, and not why they have lost market share in the last two decades. John Cole, in the world's shortest three-act play, explains just how dumb it really is to think that. Forcing the UAW to take cuts over and above what they themselves have volunteered is not going to magically turn the US auto industry into a lean competitor; it will, instead, put even more Americans in line for medicare and other government assistance as the government butts in to disrupt the right of workers to bargain with their employers.

This is all prequel to the big fight in a couple of months over the Employee Free Choice Act, which anti-union Republicans will go to the mat hard over. More locally, the Wisconsin legislature might consider finally repealing the Qualified Economic Offer, the law that makes us teachers the only employees in the state (perhaps in the country) whose growth in compensation is limited by law. Local righties are already off and running blaming the teachers union for the end of the world if the QEO is repealed. (Visit the archives for a more thorough discussion of the QEO.)

I do not understand the anti-union fervor, and I likely never will. But let me draw a parallel. After Rod Blagojevich was frog-marched to jail this week, local libertarian Nick Schweitzer offered a post explaining, as he put it, that the Blago mess should "serve as a reminder to all those who seek to increase the scope of government influence in our lives, that this is what it leads to. Government takes our money from us... money that we would have directed to good economic use, and redirects it to places where there is political influence. The more money [we] give government, ostensibly for the purpose of the "common good", the more chance there is for political corruption to take hold in order to control that money."

The defense against an out-of-control government is easy and well understood, and that is to organize against it. Conservatives and Republicans (and even libertarians like Nick, though I don't remember him commenting on the specific case I will cite in a moment) are all about the rights of individuals to come together to work for common goal influencing elections and government. One Wisconsin group even went all the way to US Supreme Court this year to protect their right to organize and work collectively against the government.

The same complaints Nick has about government concentrating wealth and power into the hands of the few can be made about corporations, too. In deciding how much to pay workers, management can redirect the capital and line the pockets of the already-powerful. CEO pay has skyrocketed compared to the wages of the average worker, which have stagnated or fallen after inflation. All those years recently when we've been told the economy is growing, the growth has been at the top, with the upper tenth of the income bracket seeing huge gains while the rest of us treaded water. The remedy is the same as the remedy against government abuse of power--the right of the people affected to organize as labor against capital, to demand their fair share of the pie, to take the money that they have earned for the company and keep more of it for themselves.

For $800 per car, Republicans are willing to sink the economy in service to ideology. They are willing to protect the moneyed few against the rest of us by blocking the EFCA. They are out to limit the only way average Americans have to protect against and prevent the abuse of power in the private sector, consequences be damned. It's all about breaking the unions.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Haiku for the Holidays, 12/11

by folkbum

The Poetry Club I advise at school is embarking on a "Haiku for the Holidays" project--dozens of holiday-themed haiku papered all around the building. Between now and the new year, I'll be occasionally posting some of mine.

Stupid, stupid snow
Not enough for a snow day;
Too much to shovel.

Kernel Panic

by folkbum

I always thought Colonel Panic would be a good name for member of COBRA. But a kernel panic, on the other hand, is both real and unpleasant--and dogging my wife's iBook. We think we've traced it to the Airport card, but the ethernet port also seems to be failing. Last night was a late and unpleasant one.

Anyone want to buy $2000 worth of blogads so we can replace the computer? Anyone?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Didn't Know There Were That Many Commedians in America

By Keith R. Schmitz

According to the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, 18% of respondents said they would miss Bush when he leaves office.

Left Lane Not for Parking

By Keith R. Schmitz

Bet this is your pet peeve:
In these days of longer commutes and simmering tempers, nothing seems to set off already-testy motorists like the left-lane camper -- the guy or gal who drives in the passing lane and bars faster drivers from easily passing.
There oughta be a law? Hogging the left lane is an infraction in some states:
Some states are cracking down on left-lane campers, both to keep traffic moving and to tamp down the road rage that goes from zero-to-60 faster than ever before.
And not just legally:
"Any moving violation that applies points to a driver's record could affect that driver's car insurance rates," says Susan Gallik Rouser, a spokeswoman for Progressive. "And because left-lane driving would be considered as such an infraction, we would take that into account when renewing a driver's policy."
But Wisconsin has no law against dozing in the passing lane. And maybe it shouldn't, but this is an issue of courtesy that seems to escape some people. Not that drivers should speed, but this mindlessness translates needless frustration and sometimes into road rage when someone lets a parade assemble behind their car while yakking on the cell phone and caring less about their driving.

Haiku for the Holidays, 12/10

by folkbum

The Poetry Club I advise at school is embarking on a "Haiku for the Holidays" project--dozens of holiday-themed haiku papered all around the building. Between now and the new year, I'll be occasionally posting some of mine.

Coal-heavy stockings
Hung by the fire without care:
That’s a fire hazard!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Gooder Riddance

by folkbum

Here's a Blago thread so we can stop polluting the Tribune thread below. I hope impeachment is faster than the indictment was.

Haiku for the Holidays, 12/9

by folkbum

The Poetry Club I advise at school is embarking on a "Haiku for the Holidays" project--dozens of holiday-themed haiku papered all around the building. Between now and the new year, I'll be occasionally posting some of mine.

"Butterball Hotline,
How may I direct your call?"
Sweetest voice I hear.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Tribune Tanking

by folkbum

Apparently, the Obama Truthers didn't buy enough full-page conspiracy ads. I wonder how much it would cost me to get a sports guy for the blog?

Sunday, December 07, 2008

I think I just got rickrolled

by folkbum

In this morning's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Leslie Graves (owner/ operator of Wisconsin State Sunshine and Open Records) says she's never gonna give me up:
Still, if most bloggers are anything like me, we blog when we feel like it and then we go on vacation, try to give up the habit or our computer crashes. If the "Army of Davids," as Instapundit Glenn Reynolds describes the blogosphere, were all like me, Goliath often would fail to be slain.

I want professional journalism to prosper. I want its honorable goals and traditions to grow richer and become more widespread. I think our world will be better if this happens and much worse if this tradition declines.

But for now, I'm not willing to give up the Wigderson Library & Pub or folkbum to slow the decline.
Leslie earlier makes references to the "Start" menu which, combined with the noted reference to "computer crashes," makes me think we should all chip in and buy her a Mac. On the other hand, she has earned a place on the blogroll, soon as I get around to updating it. Time to take down the Wasserman banner, you know.

Got Depression?

by 3rd Way

Fed Reserve Chairman Bernanke claims there is "no comparison" between our current economic situation and the depression of the 1930's. There aren't many aspects of contemporary society that are directly comparable with the society of 70 years ago. It looks like the recession we are in is dissimilar from anything most of us have ever experienced, a black swan if you will. Thankfully we have systems in place to keep us from falling into a 1930's-style depression, but our economy is suffering from depression-style symptoms. The destructive cycle of shrinking unemployment devouring whatever is left of consumer spending is grinding this economy to a halt.

The optimistic seem to think the bleeding will stop in mid 2009. There is going to be a scary number of people unemployed or under-employed between now and then. Krugman and Obama are right that the best way to restart growing this economy is to put people back to work rebuilding our infrastructure. Increasing the national debt is a scary proposition, but refusing to act while the economy crumbles is even more frightening. If someone knows how to spur growth other than government spending after millions of families have seen dramatic decreases in their income and while every American household has watched the value of their life's savings partially evaporate please call Obama's office.

The song "Black Swan" off of the 2006 solo album from Thom Yorke, frontman for the world's greatest band reminds me of the situation we find ourselves in.

What will grow crooked, you can't make straight
It's the price that you gotta pay
Do yourself a favour and pack your bags
Buy a ticket and get on the train
Buy a ticket and get on the train

Cause this is f**ked up, f**ked up
Cause this is f**ked up, f**ked up

People get crushed like biscuit crumbs
And lay down in the bitumen
You have tried your best to please everyone
But it just isn't happenin
No, it just isn't happenin

And that is f**ked up, f**ked up
And this is f**ked up, f**ked up
This your blind spot, blind spot
It should be obvious, but it's not.
But it isn't, but it isn't

You cannot kickstart a dead horse
You just crush yourself and walk away
I don't care what the future holds
'Cause I'm right in your arms today
With your fingers you can touch me

I am your black swan, black swan
But I made it to the top, but I made it to the top
And this is f**ked up, f**ked up

You are f**ked up, f**ked up
This is f**ked up, f**ked up

Be your black swan, black swan
I'm for spare parts, broken up


Good Riddance

by folkbum

William Jefferson is finally out of the House o Representatives. My regret is that is wasn't a Democrat who beat him in the primary--we could have easily held the seat--but a Republican in the run-off. Oh, well, with him gone, we can work on taking back the seat in two years with a clean Democrat.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Tazinos

by folkbum

You should go to there.

I don't get any compensation for this kind of thing. I generally don't plug places, but this is a locally owned chain, and they use fresh organic ingredients as much as possible, and hot damn their pizza is good.

George Bush and the Iraq War

by bert
President Bush is busy trying to defend his Iraq War, both with his Saturday radio statement and in a speech Friday at a Washington think tank.

Pardon me for not sitting still for this.

I am happy that the chaos and death are declining in Iraq, and part of me just wants to see this current president go away soon. But the better angels of our nature also know that we shouldn't let Bush and his lapdogs reshape this colossal tragedy into the memory of a good idea. That might help Bush or the GOP but at the expense of the U.S. and human life. Just look at all the people, many born after 1973, who honestly think Vietnam is something to be proud of.

Professor Juan Cole does his country a valuable service by posting a lengthy rebuttal to the Friday speech, tramping with a pith helmet and machete right into the thick brambles of self-serving lies. At one point, Cole says this:

The whole farrago of illogical justifications makes no sense. Iraq had not done anything to the US in the way of terrorism and it was not pursuing weapons of mass destruction. So you can't put the Iraq War under this rubric unless you are being dishonest. Which Bush is.

In among the reasons and slogans used to defend the war, there are a few doozies more than all the other B.S. that grate against my common sense and clear memory. I'll give you three:

Doozy no. 1: We are winning in Iraq.

Clarity on no. 1: The saintly and infallible Gen. David Petraeus himself has said that the word "victory" will probably never apply to our dealings in Iraq. The Bush White House started one war to overthrow Hussein after clearly predicting the war would be short and that we would be warmly welcomed by Iraqi citizens. Bush even declared the mission accomplished.

After Hussein's government fell, then another war -- really, a number of wars from a number of nationalists and/or radical islamist groups such as Al-Qaeda-in-Mesopotamia -- disgorged blood and misery upon Iraqis and Americans for another four years. This second war was something our leaders never prepared for and never told us ahead of time that we would have to fight. That second phase is what is now subsiding. As others have also pointed out: If you are going somewhere and then accidentally drive into a ditch, the fact you finally extract yourself from the ditch is no cause for strutting and crowing.

Doozy no. 2: We have made the Arab and Muslim world better.

Clarity on no. 2: Despite high-flying goals of democracy, freedom or women's rights used to justify the Iraq War, the only fact used now to defend a claim of victory is a reduction in casualties. Most political outcomes are still too murky to predict, but one result already seems clear: That Iran will emerge as more powerful thanks to our help in substituting a fellow Shi'ite regime for Iran's secular enemy Saddam Hussein. Bush's staunch ally Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan now looks to be a major source of trouble for large swaths of the world. Bush also likes to cite Libya as one of the success stories under his watch. Yes, Libya has renounced terrorism, but, no, this change had nothing to do with our invasion of Iraq. It was largely Britain that brought Qaddafi into the light.

Doozy no. 3: Bush was wrong about Saddam's weapons, but many others including Bill Clinton and Europeans also mistakenly claimed he possessed more than he did.

Clarity on no. 3: Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Feith, and Wolfowitz wanted a war with Hussein in the worst way. They got one that way.

UPDATE: Digby today also rebuts the claim that Bush "kept us safe."

An Anecdote

by folkbum

This is our sixth winter in this house. We live in a very residential neighborhood with lots of kids around. In all the time we've been here, there has been a fairly regular stream of children wanting to rake our leaves and shovel our snow for some spending money--gotta afford those flamin' hots somehow.

This morning, just as I was getting set to bundle up to go shovel, the doorbell rang and I figured it was kids again, and I'd give them five bucks to do the front walk.

It was not kids at all, but a man, probably early 40s. Never before have the grown-ups been doing these little chores for money in this neighborhood, at least not that I've seen.

I know that data is not the plural of anecdote--and I didn't feel right about grilling the guy for his story and why he needed my ten bucks more than he needed a Saturday morning with his family--but this just kind of confirms on a personal level what we're hearing at the national level. Ten percent of mortgages are in foreclosure or behind on their payments. Almost 13% of Americans are un- or under-employed. We're in recession for real. And now it's showing up on my front porch.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Jury Duty

by folkbum

Today! I hope I get something interesting--or dismissed in time to get some shopping done.

... Ooooooh! And WiFi!

Lots of sitting around and then we were let go. SIgh.

RIP, Odetta

by folkbum

Another icon has left the building.

The Wall Street Journal must not listen to Charlie Sykes

by folkbum

If they did, their "MarketWatch" subsidiary wouldn't have done this:
Milwaukee moved up two spots on MarketWatch's best 50 U.S. metros areas for business, and outpaced cities like Austin, Texas, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Portland, Ore. The area moved up to 16th place in 2008, from 18th a year earlier.
Sykes--along with his bosses at the WPRI, Belling, the local conservative bloggers, the WMC, the MMAC, and many more--have all been hair-on-fire screaming about the business climate in Wisconsin and particularly in the the tax-island/ tax-hell of Milwaukee. Apparently, the numbers suggest otherwise, and MarketWatch recognizes that.

You'll note that I'm quoting above from a "newswatch" story from jsonline yesterday. I wanted to quote from their full article today about the rankings, but the paper seems not to have done anything with it today. In fact, here's the on-line business section as it looks right now:



Nothing about the MarketWatch rankings. I had to google news even to get to the whole list from MarketWatch. I'm not sure why the story is not important, why, after all the headlines about Milwaukee's poor business climate and the paper's editorial insistence that everything (like the sick leave requirments) will kill Milwaukee's businesses, they can't front-page some good news. Must be something going on above my pay grade.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

They will claim victory, too

by folkbum

Steve Benen--though by no means is he the only one--is befuddled by the right's insistence against all evidence to the contrary the Democrats are bringing back the Fairness Doctrine any second now:
ctually, that's not even close to true. Obama opposes the idea, Pelosi hasn't "openly stated" anything about pursuing this, and Reid's office told Salon that the Senate Majority Leader "is not contemplating anything like that." The "groundswell for reinstatement" exists only in the overactive imaginations of paranoid right-wing activists.

And yet, here we are. The [Media Research Center] is not only railing against a policy proposal that doesn't exist, it's created an organization committed to fighting a policy proposal that doesn't exist. To help in the endeavor against the imaginary foe, the MRC has roped in Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, Concerned Women for America, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, among others, to help.
Later, when the Democrats (who never promised to bring back the Fairness Doctrine and, in all earnestness, insisted they would not do such a thing) don't pass the Fairness Doctrine, this coalition will declare victory and insist they prevented the thing (which was never going to happen in the first place). In the meantime, the MRC has collected the names and email addresses of thousands of people that, during the next fund drive, they will hit up for dough, citing as proof of the organization's effectiveness the death of the Fairness Doctrine. Beautiful con, really.

Monday, December 01, 2008

I told you so3

by folkbum

I was hoping to see three of these today, since triads are infinitely more powerful than one-offs. And what do you know, three of them magically appeared:
  1. I told you so: "The National Bureau of Economic Research said Monday that the U.S. has been in a recession since December 2007, making official what most Americans have already believed about the state of the economy ."

  2. I told you so: "The Bush administration backed off proposed crackdowns on no-money-down, interest-only mortgages years before the economy collapsed, buckling to pressure from some of the same banks that have now failed. It ignored remarkably prescient warnings that foretold the financial meltdown, according to an Associated Press review of regulatory documents."

  3. I told you so: "We're told that our only options are to persist in carrying out torture or to face another terrorist attack. But there truly is a better way to carry out interrogations--and a way to get out of this false choice between torture and terror."