23 September 2008


It might be easier to simply state who isn't to blame for the current financial meltdown that is in some way going to screw almost all of us:

Honest, not overly greedy bankers, brokers and CEOs. Believe it or not, there are some.

Honest members of congress and scrupulous regulators. Well, I'm not so sure there are any of those. But I can always hope. Do they even allow that ancient Greek guy with the lantern to wander the halls of Congress?

Honest realtors. There must be some. I know of at least a couple who have tried to discourage potential customers from buying houses that they couldn't really afford.

Informed, careful borrowers and home buyers. Yep, there are some of these folk, too. People who know how to balance a checkbook better than the government does.

Of course it's a whole lot more fun to cast blame, to give the finger to the crooks, miscreants and feckless morons who got us into this fix. Who are these swine (I shouldn't say that, I like pigs)...Who are these evildoers (to lift a phrase from one of the chief evildoers himself) and fuckwits?

Our lame duck, shit for brains, president. He may have put aside his coke habit and disco shoes in the late '80s, but he's done his best to promote the ugly attitude of "greed is good." His profligate spending, at the same time as his slavish devotion to tax-cutting - mostly for his cronies and those of his ilk - have led the country into a state where if it was a corporation it would have no choice other than to file for bankruptcy.

Our corrupt, lobbyist tit-sucking, pipe-dreaming Congress. Maybe it's an honest mistake - fat chance of that - maybe they are a glass-is-half-full crowd on the Hill and they think that people are basically good and that left alone to their own devises they will be honest and good and work for common benefit. Why else would they be so quick to deregulate as much as they could - not, in itself a terrible idea - but without realizing that deregulation requires oversight and that some things actually do work better when they are regulated because otherwise bad people will, oddly enough, do bad things that throw it all into imbalance.

Alan Fucking Greenspan. Yeah, we all loved him when things were cruising nicely along and housing prices and stock prices were booming and the dollar was strong and all that. And yeah, he coined the term "irrational exuberance" to warn us all that we might be cruising for a bruising. He should have listened to himself. He kept lowering interest rates, over and over and over again and that just added rocket fuel to all of our irrational exuberance. And when the rocket ran out of gas before getting into permanent orbit - watch out below. What he was pushing was the financial equivalent of crack.

Corporate irregular regulators. In spite of what the white haired, ill-informed old fart running for president has to say, not so much the SEC. Sure there were plenty of artificially inflated stock prices on the market, but that was due to the artificially inflated economy as a whole, not so much to stock fraud, which is what the SEC is supposed to oversee. But, in spite of deregulation and in spite of Executive, Congressional and Corporate efforts to thwart the work of corporate and financial regulatory agencies, those agencies do actually exist and they could have done something, or at least said something. Instead, they just rolled over and allowed everyone to get away with whatever they wanted.

Greedy, short-sighted, thieving corporate executives. They've been so busy lining their own pockets that they have come close to killing the goose that's laying their own golden eggs. Of course they don't really mind, because they've stacked the deck so that even when they fail, their fall is cushioned with ludicrously large payoffs for having screwed up, or in some cases, having been caught cheating. They have no incentive to do good for their customers, the economy as a whole or even their own shareholders if they can still rake in seven, eight and nine figure severance packages when they fuck up.

Stupid, complacent, short-sighted shareholders, especially institutional shareholders. The first line of defense against corporate fuck ups shouldn't have to be regulators, it should be corporations' own shareholders. They have more at stake and so they ought to be more vigilant than anyone else when it comes to oversight. Mom and pop shareholders with their small portfolios are pretty much just along for the ride, they have no clout. But institutions, with their large portfolios, can make a real difference in corporate governance, if they can see past the quarterly reports - which they usually can't because they tend to suffer from the same willful myopia that infects too many corporate executives. If major shareholders see something going on that might hurt the long term prospects of a company, even if it looks good in the quarterly reports, they need to throw the bums out, and they need to take away the perks of failure when they do. When they don't, they're making their own bed of nails, and helping to make ours, too.

Speed freak, action-junkie greedy speculators. There are some very good uses for financial instruments like short selling, derivatives, hedge funds, etc. When they are used properly they help keep markets stable. But when people start seeing them as the means to turn a quick buck, and they all start piling on at once to try and move the market rather than adjust to it or simply to protect themselves from its fluctuations, they can quickly destabilize the market. Some of these assholes, too many of them, prefer volatile, wild markets, that's where they make the most money.

Greedy, lazy and corrupt realtors. Not everybody should buy their own home. Plenty of people can't really afford it. For other people, it doesn't make financial sense in their current circumstances. But there are more than enough realtors out there who are happy to convince them otherwise. They want their commissions. They get those commissions no matter how bad a deal gets made, so long as the deal gets made. A new homeowner can default on their loan a month after escrow closes, and it's no concern to the realtor who put together the deal. Their check is already banked.

Crooked, slimeball mortgage brokers. The greedy, uncaring realtor's best friend. They knew what they were doing but they didn't care. "Of course you can afford this house. I know a guy. First month's free." They knew they could package all those crappy loans into big juicy bundles that helped pump up the quarterly reports that everyone paid so much attention to and sell them on the bogus basis that, "sure, some of these are gonna crap out, but it's a risk worth taking because of the ones that won't fall apart and the property market's gonna keep going up anyhow, right?" Yeah, right.

Venal, loan-sharking credit card pushers. Just like some people can't actually afford to buy a house, some people ought to live on a "pay as you go" basis. It's got so that you don't even need credit to get a credit card. Whoopee, free money! At least that's what all those TV ads and credit card pushers on college campuses would like us to believe. Two percent APR for balance transfers. Oh boy! What they do is no different than what a heroin pusher does, only its more profitable.

Media fuckwits and pundits (which ought to be a swear word unto itself.) I don't give a shit whether they're liberal or conservative, what they mostly are is stupid and unable to live up to the task of being the most important watchdog this country ought to have. Analysis? "We don't need no stinking analysis," is what they'd say if they were honest, since that seems to be their real attitude. Why weren't all the so-called experts warning us all about this stuff for a long time now? Surely they weren't that stupid as to buy into it all? Well, apparently they were that stupid. They just got hypnotized by all the big numbers, because they figured that was something they could get their audiences all jacked up on. If mortgage brokers and credit card issuers were pushing heroin, the media's been shoving meth crystal into our brains.

You and me. (Well, not so much me, the only debt I've got is a good, solid mortgage that I can afford. I don't even use credit cards.) Now don't get me wrong, some people have little choice but to use credit cards, and for some people it does make sense to do almost whatever they have to, to buy a house. But let's face it, buying a house is, for most people, the biggest, most important expense they will ever incur. While there is plenty of blame to go around, part of that blame must be shouldered by people who leapt before they looked. When you're about to spend the most money you've ever spent, on something of vital importance to you and your family's future, you have to do your homework. If you don't understand something, you need to get it explained to you in a way that you do understand. If something seems too good to be true - "Credit, income, job? Oh, you don't need those to buy this house, I can get you a mortgage without even filling out any paperwork." - you need to assume that it is too good to be true. And if you don't, you're being a fool and you need to share in the blame when things go wrong. Even in a market where everyone is for the most part honest, the concept of "let the buyer beware" is vital to its smooth running.

Yes, we have a lousy educational system in this country, especially when it comes to teaching people about such things as fiscal responsibility. (And it's not like the government is setting a good example, either.) But everyone, when doing something, anything, significant, has to bear at least some responsibility for knowing what they're doing.

And yes, there are unscrupulous people out there who will lie to you, or at least deceive and confuse you, to get you to do things that aren't good for you. And if you're not aware of that already, grow up, fast. Con men have long been successful preying on the unthinking greed and stupidity of their victims. That's what's been going on in huge parts of the housing and credit markets. Sure, the con men are bad guys and ought to be stopped, locked away if they've actually violated any laws. But that doesn't entirely let their victims off the hook for being greedy or stupid or culpable in the mess that this country now finds itself in. "I didn't know that I should try and understand all that confusing paperwork involved in the biggest expenditure of my entire life, and the mortgage guy said I didn't need to," is an excuse that doesn't cut it.

Do I even need to say anything about people who max out their credit cards buying shit they don't really need and can't afford: giant flatscreen TVs, gas-guzzling SUVs, cruises, lost weekends in Vegas, whatever? And then they transfer the debt from one card to the next, maxing out one higher credit limit after the next, until they can't do that anymore and presto chango they're in some sort of huge financial trouble and contributing to the economy's problems when they default.

There are plenty of people who have no choice but to resort to credit cards to pay for legitimate necessities: food, clothing, housing, transportation. And those people are exempt from what I'm about to say.

But there are plenty more who have overextended themselves on consumer crap because they think that's their god given right as Americans - the most powerful, richest people on the planet. To them, I'd like to shout out a hearty - FUCK YOU! If there was any way to cut you morons out of any bailout programs, I'd be happy to do it.

For that matter I'd be thrilled to cut pretty much any of the miscreants listed above out of any bailout program. Or at least limit their participation in it to the bare necessities for preventing a total economic meltdown. I'm not sure how, or if, that could be accomplished. But it seems like giving Bush and Paulson carte blanche to do it the way they want to is just going to encourage too many of these crooks and cretins to eventually do the same things all over again.

03 September 2008


Because her mom, Sarah Palin, candidate for vice president of the United States, as governor of Alaska, cut state funding for teen pregnancy programs.

Because her mom has strongly opposed sex education in public schools - something that has been shown over and over again to reduce the incidence of teenage pregnancy.

Because her mom has strongly opposed access to information on contraception, as well as contraception itself, to teenagers.

Because her mom is opposed to legal abortion, even in circumstances such as pregnancy resulting from rape or where a continued pregnancy threatens the life of the pregnant woman.

Need I also point out that less funding for teen pregnancy programs, lack of sex education and lack of information about and/or access to contraception all result in more abortions, not fewer abortions.

Sure, I feel bad for Bristol Palin and the young fellow who is no doubt being herded into a shotgun wedding. What they are going through ought to be a family matter and none of the rest of our business. What they do about their problems should be their own personal choice.

But it is our business for the very reason that Sarah Palin wants to create a world in which none of us have the personal choice to deal with these same sorts of problems in the way that we want to. She wants a world in which these problems crop up more frequently, not less so, because she lives in some fantasy Christian world in which faith and "morality" trump reason, logic and practicality.

Now that she is the Republican candidate for vice president, running with the oldest man to ever run for president, her medieval, ignorant nonsense cannot simply be dismissed as a matter of her, and her family's, personal choice. It is not merely the lunatic raving of some nutjob religious crank on a street corner; or even the silly notions of the ill-informed soccer mom next door. It is something that could have a very real impact on every one of us.

I feel bad for Bristol Palin. I feel bad for her because she was raised in "the bosom of a loving Christian family" that did its best to keep her in the dark about the real choices that all people ought to be able to make for themselves in an informed manner. Now that family is having to deal with the real world consequences of their ignorance. And the fact that they are, and that Bristol's mom wants to be elected to within a fast-aging heartbeat of the most powerful job on the planet, seems pretty damn relevant to me.