Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Is that a HELOC, or are you just happy to see me?

Tanta at Calculated Risk has posted a wonderfully informative piece, laying out what exactly the various types of loan types like balloons, subprimes, and the issues involved in refinance are, including a fascinating history lesson in mortgages and the issues at stake. She sums up a paticular issue I want to get into in the coming months:
And, predictably, we start talking obsessively about disclosures again. Of course loan disclosures can always be improved, but there gets to a point where some loan products are just simply so complicated that there isn’t any easy, clear way to explain them fully to most people. This is nature’s way of saying you shouldn’t offer those loans to most people. I have personally been known to get rather impatient with people who start nattering on about those stupid borrowers who took loans they didn’t understand (like balloons or IOs or OAs or whatever dumb thing we’re talking about). They weren’t supposed to understand them. By that I do not necessarily mean that they involve math-like concepts that are over a lot of people’s heads, although sometimes the weirder ones do. I mean that borrowers weren’t supposed to understand themselves. We were all supposed to look in the mirror and see the upper-middle-class people on TV sitcoms or financial-planning infomercials who will always be able to make those voluntary principal payments or handle those balloon payments or—snort—“invest” the principal portion of the payment in some fantabulous risk-free deal that made mortgage financing free after taxes or whatever that long song and dance is. You can write any pristinely clear mortgage loan disclosure document you want, but if the world keeps telling you it is your patriotic duty to confuse yourself with your economic betters, it won’t do you any good.

I can second this motion. I've had an ARM, a HELOC, and a balloon at one time or another in the last 5 years before I jumped into a fixed rate. My knowledge level of what was entailed by those products was not where it should have been. Fortunately, I was convinced that the party would eventually end, (thanks in no small measure to the clarion calls transmitted by s9 from his orbital redoubt), and escaped unscathed more or less. But I can tell you it's easy not to fully grasp what the risks are, and the "disclosure" process is not very enlightening, particularly since most brokers don't understand or don't want YOU to. The type of person who brokers loans is, and I'm being rather sweeping here, not ideologically predisposed to question the prevailing delusions about "innovations" and the new gilded age where risk seemed to be soley found in the rantings of mad socialists waving a copy of Das Kapital. My loan broker was convinced that democrats would destroy the economy with goverment regulation if they came to power. The idea that this unregulated ponzi scheme he was particpating in would do more damage than the most committed Marxist never occured to him. He was not unique in buying into this paradigm.

My purpose with posting this link is not just to start this discussion about this ongoing trainwreck, but to make the argument that what we have is not one of those neccesary bouts of "creative destruction" in the Schumpter sense, but really a failure of ideology. An ideology that posits that the market, any market regardless of complexity or history, functions best without regulation or oversight. The failure of this ideology, again, is the true lesson to be learned. Alan Greenspan's policy of living the Randian dream has produced what it always does, spectacular failure. Our challenge as liberals and progressive is to make this point clear. Unregulated markets, particularly in such essential areana's as credit and real estate, produce fraud and catastrophe for investor and homeowner alike. The lessons of the New Deal are still relevent as Tanta points out in her piece. And all the clever advertising about middle class homeowner as sophisticated loan expert and investor doesn't change that, or make people any smarter about these issues. Hell, even the "professionals" who were supposed to know what the score was were clueless. It's high time we had this discussion about what we can reasonably expect a regular person(s) to be able to sort out about money and finance.

So This Was Christmas

Dear Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine or Guardsman,

The editors of MojoWire have all been struck weak these past few days with severe gastroenteritis, so we didn't get this letter written before Christmas morning dawned, wherever you are... we're sorry about that. Not to steal any thunder or anything, but— you know— all three of us, at one time or another, have been stranded away from home, on Christmas, doing dirty business that couldn't wait or be delegated to someone else. I'm sure, therefore, that my comrades here won't mind if I write to you in the editorial plural.

We hope your Christmas didn't suck too badly. To tell the truth, I think we'd all have rathered you had a truly bodacious Christmas with all the trimmings and a nice, well-executed session of oral-genital stimulation just to round things out. We realize that a whole damned lot of you won't even be able to enjoy fantasizing about that. That sucks, it sucks mightily, and we just thought it might help to let you know that we empathize.

If you've read any of our archives, then you already know how we feel about The War and stuff. It might seem from time to time like we don't really give a damn about you— that every catastrophic clusterfuck that comes your way is just another reason for us to ring the bell, fire up the smoking lamp, and pat each other on the back about how we were right to make a protest all along— like it's some kind of gruesome game of Bingo for us, or something. If that's the case, if that's how you view what we write here, then we're sorry you feel that way. We never like making trouble when matters of "national security" are on the agenda. We do it because we feel compelled by a certain kind of patriotism to speak out, as loudly as we know how, when our country's political leaders have made, and continue to make, obviously disastrous decisions in matters of war and diplomacy.

"Our Country: Drunk Or Sober!" we'd say. Okay, that's kinda lame, but you get the point.

Anyway... we hope you had a good Christmas, or at least one as good as might reasonably be expected, given the externalities. We sure do hope your next one is a whole lot better.

That is all.

Friday, December 21, 2007

I'm Intrigued... Please, Tell Me More About How To Enlarge My Theme Park!

The things I get in email because my address is on public file as a Green Party regular and a supporter of various bomb-throwing dirty effing hippie causes...

The most recent one is highly amusing. It comes from some jackhole running under the name Jamie Court.Check out how this message opens, and let me know if you have the same reaction I did.
I almost crashed my hybrid when I heard the Environmental Protection Agency had killed California's tough new auto emission standards. Our Oilwatchdog project had just helped to keep that federal power grab out of the energy bill. And it was the second time this week that corruption in high office shocked even me.
Zomg. You almost crashed... wait... who the fsck talks like that?

I smell the evil stench of a gutless right-wing shills trying to skullfarm the Greens again. (One of their favorite dumbass tricks. Shame it's worked so well for them over the years.) In addition to the spoor of high-grade bullshit artistry in the copy editing, I'm also seeing telltale bits of code in the HTML source of the email that screams its origins in a boiler room operation run out of someplace without an extradition treaty with the U.S.A. (Hah. You wanted to make it hard for me to grab that image of you, eh Jamie? Try harder next time.)

So, immediately, I'm off to SourceWatch (and other similar sites) to find out who these jokers really are. Turns out, hey, they're not the evil bastards I thought. (They use very dubious bulk email practices, however, and that really looks bad for somebody purporting to be a consumer rights advocate.)

Still, look at where Jamie goes next:
Just two days earlier Governor Schwarzenegger and Speaker Fabian Núñez celebrated the California Assembly's passage of what they claimed to be historic universal health care reform. In fact, the anti-consumer bill would force families of two making $54,000 to buy health insurance without limits on premiums or requirements about the policy's benefits. Forcing patients to buy insurance policies they cannot afford and that do not protect them is hardly universal health coverage. (More on that lie here.)
Um, actually— I hate to be contrary, but it is a universal mandate. Agreed: it's just about the worst possible universal health care "reform" proposal anyone could possibly dream up, but it's not quite fair to complain that they're lying when they call it a "universal" one.
You can help us protect consumers from these threats and others in 2008. Please make a tax deductible contribution to FTCR today.

We don't ask often, but the end of the year is a moment when we need to gather our resources for the battle ahead.

It's been an honor and a privilege to rage for justice every day and set the record straight. And we hope to keep our uncompromising tradition of advocacy alive.

This week, for example, FTCR exposed how the big winners in the Núñez legislation also were the biggest contributors to his term limits extension initiative, Prop 93. Read our press release, yesterday's LA Times story, and watch Núñez respond on KNBC.
I don't know about you, but I'm shocked— SHOCKED, I say— to learn that politicking is going on in Sacramento.
It's outrageous that politicians believe they can fool people during the holidays because they think the media and the public are not watching closely. Well, FTCR is always watching and working to protect you.
I'll keep that in mind. By the way, where did you get my email address? I don't remember giving it to you, or inviting you to put me on your distribution list for likely suckers.
With your year-end tax deductible donation, we will be able to keep the spotlight on corruption and continue the rage for justice in 2008.

Happy holidays and thanks for all your kind wishes throughout the year.

Jamie Court
Jamie... do me a favor. Clean up your electronic messaging act, stop spamming people out of the blue with comically bad fundraising letters, and start paying attention to more important problems than yet another Schwarzenegger ballot proposition that probably won't win a majority of votes. I don't know... maybe you could pay some attention— even just a little bit of attention would be a start— to the ongoing fornication of the California budget by the governor's fiscal insanity.

Or something.

Oh, and whining about how Andy Stern is bad for unions is another great way to alienate friends and make new enemies. Just saying...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Democrats Brought Their Show To My Neighborhood

Last night, three of the Democratic Party campaigns nominating their candidate for President of the United States of America sent their local representatives to the monthly meeting of my neighborhood association. I dropped in on it to see what was up and how things were going.

Now, before I go much further, I should point out that I do live in a somewhat ethnically diverse neighborhood in San Francisco, but it could stand to have more Black and Latino people. It's got a pretty decent percentage of Asians in it, but it's certainly overweight with Whites and, worse, they absolutely dominate the neighborhood association. I looked around the room, and not a single face looked even remotely non-white to me. So— to be fair— I really should be saying that I dropped in on my local neighborhood white people association to see what the Democrats were telling them.

It wasn't all bad. It could have been better. I left more disappointed in the Democratic field than when I arrived.

The Obama campaign promised to send somebody, but they never showed. I know there are Obama supporters in my neighborhood. I see the campaign signs, and he came in second in the straw poll taken at the end of the evening (behind Edwards, who took almost 45% of the vote). I couldn't help but wonder whether the reason the Obama campaign didn't get their guy to the Taraval Police Station in time was that their campaign is badly in disarray, or if they deliberately snubbed the group on the [understandable] grounds that my neighborhood association is all full up with old, rich, white bitties whose greatest worries going into the February primary are all about whether their organic dog food is laced with melanine. If I were running the Obama campaign, I might be a little slow to kow-tow to that kind of audience too. Particularly, if I'm short of hands.

The Clinton campaign sent a pimply kid who couldn't have been much older than twenty, who didn't seem to understand that I couldn't care less why he likes Hillary— I wanted to know why I should write a check. (Do not tell me to write a check because you're swooning like the star football quarterback's prom date. I don't care.) They also sent a young woman with a fairly attractive appearance, but who was equally underprepared to speak coherently about her candidate. Yes, I understand how thrilled you were to be in the same room with Warren Buffett. Tell me why I should write a goddamn check, you blithering idiot. My take is that the Clinton campaign is phoning it in from San Francisco. Not a happy-making experience.

The Edwards campaign sent a very, very white and extremely well-prepared young man who, it seemed to me, was the only one in the room with a future in politics ahead of him. He managed to figure out what I was really asking about when I posed the question for all the campaign representatives to answer about how their candidate views religion and its role in forming public policy. He slathered on some nice rhetoric about how John Edwards likes to practice his religion in private, then he remembered the last clause in Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, which was pretty much the AAA answer I wanted to hear. The guy from Hillary's campaign was the most disappointing. He had nothing helpful to say. The guy from the Kucinich camp seemed thrown by the question and sputtered that people shouldn't be talking about religion in political campaigns. (My response to that: dude, it's too late to push that particular toothpaste back into the tube. We're going to have to talk about it, and I for one think it's about damned time.)

The Kucinich campaign sent an older white guy straight from central casting. He was an excellent representative for the Kucinich campaign, well-prepared, thoughtful and a good public speaker. His candidate has a few policy positions I don't like— in particular, I think his policies on free trade agreements is ill-informed and ideologically stale. He went off the rails a bit when he answered a question about "what does [the candidate] think about all the illegal immigrants." I'll be kind and just say that Kucinich's guy blamed NAFTA for all those phantoms that continually plague the slumbers of Lou Dobbs and his ilk.

The saddest moment of the evening for me came when the straw poll came in and not a single vote went to Chris Dodd. Bill Richardson got one vote, and Dennis Kucinich got another. The bulk of the votes were divided between Edwards and Obama with a not entirely bad showing for Hillary. Considering that Obama came in second without even bothering to have anyone show up and squid for him, I'd say he's doing pretty well West of Twin Peaks in San Francisco. I'm expecting the strong support for Edwards to start drying up after he gets pasted in Iowa and New Hampshire. I don't know where those people will go, but the cynic in me says they'd rather support a white woman than a black man.

At this point, I'm not sure I care much who the Democrats nominate. I'm going to hate him or her, whoever it is. It will take a monumental act of personal will for me to squelch my nausea and vote for them against whatever shrieking howler monkey the Republicans nominate. I feel the heartburn starting already.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Can Anybody Here Play This Game?

Further indication that CIA is collapsing. This ought to work wonders for their recruiting... wonderous piles of excrement. Yay.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Is this really a good idea?

I'm with Ezra Klein in asking, Is THIS really a good idea? If anyone has street cred on liberal side, it's the Krugman. Cranking out an attack like this isn't going to make me feel better about Obama's plan, mostly because Krugman is right. Mandates are essential to make universal coverage work. Personally, I think it would be better to expand Medicare to cover everybody and redo part D, but that's a tough political challenge. Obama is simply wrong on this, and please for the love of God don't pimp auto insurance as the basis of your argument. Mandates are the trade off for Community rating, among other things. Remember also the lesson FDR has taught us with Social Security. Bringing everyone into the system is the best way to protect it from poltical attack. It's at the very least a fair critique of his plan, this is not the way to address this with him. I cannot imagine what is wrong with these guys. Also, They need to get off the bong on Social Security.

Lies My President Told Me...

Okay, it should come as no surprise to anyone with an IQ equal to, or greater than, say, a carrot, that the President of the United States and his inner posse of flying monkeys and assorted vicious thugs, pimps and rubes clinging to what remains of the tattered coattails of this presidency... hold, on... lost the thread...

Oh yeah... the President's been lying again... This time? Iran!

That's right, do not adjust the vertical, do not adjust the horizontal (wow, did mojo just date himself, or what...). Your President is a lying to you about Iran.

Interesting story in the New York Times the other day regarding how the I/C came to change its mind about Iran's quest for nuclear weapons.

It is interesting to note the timing. Because according to the Times, even though the administration has had this information for more than a few months now, we are still hearing the fear pimpage re: The Iranian Flying Saucer Korps.

And apparently, according to further Times reportage, there was a meeting a couple of weeks ago that included Big Time, where the I/C had to break the news. Big Time threw a shoe over this, as might be imagined. He had to double his daily ration of kitten crushing and puppy kicking just to keep his shriveled up dog-turd of a heart from clawing its way out of his chest.

So now what? Well, they're not giving up on it, we can tell you that much. If you have about four and half minutes, get over to NPR and listen to this exchange between Rene Montagne and National Security Advisor Steven Hadley. Alas, I can find no transcript, but there are some priceless moments, primarily with Hadley doing a herculean job of trying to maintain the Iran-As-Would-Be-Nuclear-Bond-Villain narrative in the face of this new information.

As Hadley would have it, Iran is mere minutes from getting the bomb because they are enriching Uranium. Forget that there is no weapons program, they are enriching Uranium -- Boo! Eek!

That provides a pretty good moment of science fun, because if you're paying attention, you will note that Iran is "enriching" U to about 3.5 percent. About bare minimum for a running a reactor. To make a bomb, you need about 90 percent enrichment... and yeah, the tech jump between those levels is pretty steep.

Interestingly enough, last spring we were supposed to be treated to a new NIE regarding Iran and their thirst for the blood of the infidel. Yet, strangely, that report keeps getting pushed back. And now we know why; CIA among others were reassessing Iran's actual threat.

Now keep yer eye on the red queen...

All through August, 2007, we are being treated to bellicose bloviation from the White House and their minions about the threat of a "Nuclear holocaust" if Iran pursues nuclear weapons technology. However, it is at that time, the President has got the draft NIE in his hands saying "we assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007."

Even with this, the President is still trying to tell the American people and world that Iran is about to get the bomb. And even now that they have been forced into admitting that Iran is not seeking the bomb, they still want people to believe that Iran is a nuclear threat because it once had an unfulfilled program.

I wonder they will throw out next to try to convince us all that Iran needs to be invaded...

mojo sends

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Full Court Press

So... here I am watching Kobe Bryant of the Lakers absolutely school Marcus Cambee of the Nuggets in his own house, when I gloam on to this hideous story of Mike Huckabee and the parolee.
According to whatever accounts you read, he was either an innocent bystander in government, statutorily impotent and unable to influence the situation or an insensitive liberal criminal-loving drool-head who practically gave the parolee a new gun and a bus ticket to Missouri with a wink and nod. Hell, he practically told him to have a fun raping and killing spree..

Which is closer to the truth? I don't know, and frankly could not possibly care less. No, as a semi-professional watcher, what I care about is the timing of all this.

Welcome to the top tier Huck...

Now, all that said, I think I agree with Comrade Joshua over at TPM who says he is at least impressed with the cool manner with which the Huck's people are handling this so far, not to mention the Huck himself.

Regardless of any supposed inconsistencies in the guys story, he's being fairly smooth about this. Must be something in the water in Arkansas.

And again, I wade into the toxic swamp that is Free Republic to read the tea leaves; more to see what the trolls are doing. Because if this is going to propagate, then it needs to be pushed...

Here's what we come up with:
Posted by libstripper to faloi On News/Activism 12/05/2007 1:32:41 PM PST · 17 of 45

Harry Truman said, “The buck stops here.” Huckster, OTOH, has learned well from Slick and the Witch; he does his best to make the buck disappear entirely.
This is one example of "libstripper" a member since July, 2007.

Although, checking his post history he has been utterly silent until last week, when he started posting and commenting almost pathologically, and about every third post is something about how Mike Huckabee is a danger to himself and everyone around him.

I suspect there are others emerging from the shadows on other sites, giving similar run to the anti-Huck voice right now...

I'm not saying it's specifically anyone from the Giuliani campaign... I'm just saying it smells like rough trade to me, and it should to anyone who remembers the criminally insane political disease that was Lee Atwater.

A guy so full of treachery, his own physical brain poisoned and killed him in his sleep.

Okay Huck, now you see them... what are you going to do. Welcome to bigs, son...wear a cup...

mojo sends