Thursday, October 30, 2008

Leila Abu-Saba "Hello Kind World"

Another gem from one of my reliably smart, upbeat, blogroll writers.
When you finish here, go read what she wrote about forgiveness.

I just wrote a post at Daily Kos in response to somebody else's "Goodbye Cruel World" Diary. The diarist was facing loss of job and house, and said she might not be able to go online any longer; hence "goodbye cruel world" of Daily Kos. I called my response Hello Kind World.

There's always hope. Let me tell you that I am living with metastatic breast cancer. When they found it last year, it had spread throughout my liver, a 1/2 inch tumor in my lung, and onto rib and spine. I am now 46 with two young sons and a loving husband.

I just finished eleven months of chemotherapy in which I got infusion every week, three weeks on, one week off. 33 infusions. Took the starch out of me (as well as all my hair down to the eyelashes). Pet CT Scan shows the lung nodule is gone - no trace of it; the bone lesions are sclerotic i.e. healing, not spreading; and the liver lesions are inert, back to scar tissue. Nothing "lights up", i.e. nothing is active and cancerous. My blood counts are now "stone cold normal" according to my oncologist. So I am off chemo and I get to go on about my life, under close supervision and taking oral medication.

Today I listened to my friend's feedback on the 260-page draft of my first novel, which I had finished writing during chemo. I'm ready to get to work on the next draft! Then I picked up my kids from daycare, fed them, checked homework, read to them and put them to bed, all by myself. (Hubby was at a work-related dinner). First time I've had them on my own in over a year. I handled it! I even enjoyed it, which means my energy level is good. This is a blessing and a reprieve.

Now let me back up and tell you about a family tragedy. 23 years ago my uncles and cousins in Lebanon were chased from their homes during a bad patch of the civil war. They all fled with what they could put in their cars. My 83-year-old grandmother refused to leave her house - hit my uncle with her stick when he tried to evacuate her. She was killed during a mob attack on the houses of our village. A Muslim friend (we're Christians) went in and found her the next day and buried her for us. Meanwhile my two uncles, their wives and three teenaged kids per couple were living out of their automobiles in South Lebanon. They got plane tickets and visas to the USA and arrived with suitcases and $3,000 cash per family.

My Lebanese-American father and American mother, state employees in NC, took out a lien on their house to help stake my uncles to small businesses. My uncles and their families shared a tiny rental home that belonged to another uncle. Ten people lived in a 3 BR house with one bathroom, after living all their lives in big spacious houses with gardens. My dad gave them $500 a month cash for groceries, and in 1985 that was serious money; he was still putting my brother through private college at the time.

My uncles lost everything. They had to start over in America where people saw them as foreign, alien. They had prestige in their traditional society but in America they were middle-aged refugees, nobodies. All of them - uncles and wives - buckled down to work.

In ten years they built successful businesses - a grocery store and a gas station - bought beautiful homes, and of course repaid all loans from my dad and others. All of them had to do manual labor: flip burgers, pump gas, sweep floors, make change for customers. They had been middle class, teachers and bank managers in Lebanon. They had to work hard with their hands and they did so. Their kids got educated and moved into the world as Americans, most of them with professional degrees and positions.

The sadness of my grandmother's violent death hung over us for long years, and yet I always feel she chose how she wanted to die. I think she understood what she was facing. She preferred to die on her farm than be an elderly refugee.

Friend, you are facing great loss, but you have so much. You have your health (I hope). You have your daughter. You have parents with the resources to take you in.

Last month I flew to Lebanon, not for the first time since the end of the civil war. I visited with those same uncles and aunts, now returned to their homes. They made plenty of money pumping gas and selling Wonder Bread in the USA, and have turned the wrecked shells of their war-scarred houses into mini-palaces. Their quality of life is fabulous. They miss their kids who all live in the States, but they are survivors. They enjoy the olive harvest and the friendship and community of our ancestral village. I saw people I had not seen in thirty years of war, dislocation, disease, family tragedy and more. I was so grateful that I got to make this trip - that I survived advanced cancer well enough to fly half way around the world to see my family.

This spring when my fingernails were oozing and I couldn't get out of bed from chemo side effects, when the liver counts stayed elevated and I fended off all talk of survival rates for metastatic patients, I held on to hope. I just knew I was going to get better. I can't worry about whether I'll live 20 years... I am living today, and for today there is always hope.

So please, friend, bless what you have and let go of fear for the future. Today is the only day you have got. You are breathing. Enjoy your breath. You are alive. Enjoy your life. You have a daughter and parents. Love them. Bless everybody who comes across your path. And the work? Whatever. Bless your work, too. Bless your town, your bills, your possessions. You are lucky to be here for all of it. If some of it gets taken away, well fine, something else will take its place. You are an amazing confluence of billions of variables and nobody else is having your life right this minute.

Enjoy! And don't worry about hope. Just breathe and appreciate your breath. Everything arises from that.

Hockey Mama for Obama








Senior Moment


Obama Speech in Kissimmee Florida

October 30, 2008
This post from May 23 is popping up in searches because Obama spoke in Kissimmee again yesterday, this time with Bill Clinton on the stage.
Here's a link to the Orlando paper's story about the event.
And here's a video of yesterday's event.
(The original post follows)

Obama was in Florida today where he also addressed the Cuban-American National Foundation, identified by Wikipedia as the most conservative of all Cuban American groups. The stated agenda for this group has been for years "dedicated to overthrowing the Cuban government of Fidel Castro and a transition to a pluralistic, market-based democracy in Cuba."


This gesture on the part of Obama is the equivalent of Daniel walking into the lions' den. One of Barack Obama's best lines has been "I'm not gonna tell you what you want to hear. I'll tell you what you need to know." He did it in many places at the start of this campaign, telling various groups who were not expected to be part of his constituency words they may n0t have wanted to hear (teacher and auto union groups, pro-Israel groups, wives of the Congressional Black Caucus, etc.) but need to know about his positions. As he has said in a few speeches, "They didn't applaud."


Those who accuse him of not being clear simply aren't paying attention. As Andrew Sullivan said, "There is a meme beginning to go around that he is vague and empty. If you do not know what Obama is proposing in many areas, it's only because you don't know how to use Google."


What he's doing is about as plain as it can get without showing all his cards before the game is in play. Like it or not, aggressive diplomatic negotiation is the man's strong suit. That quality, resisting the cowboy diplomacy we have had since 9/11, is not to be confused with weakness.


Current references to the Munich Analogy confusing diplomacy with appeasement are as disingenuous as mentioning Hitler and Nazis in an argument that does not include either of those terms. We need a corollary to Godwin's Law that covers the Munich Analogy when diplomacy is being discussed.


The general election has already begun. George Bush may be a lame duck, but he's still a loyal Republican and shrewd politician. He knows the power of Cuban American votes in Florida which have been the tail wagging the foreign policy dog in that state for the last fifty years. No candidate since Castro has been willing to risk the Florida electoral college votes by rubbing that fur the wrong way. I was surprised by the whole Elian Gonzalez denouement because Clinton had to make a tough choice: family values (unite the child with his father) or politics (tell Castro and his regime to go to hell). His choice, surprisingly enough, found enough support that when Janet Reno ran for public office she received a respectible number of votes. As the person executing the Elian Gonzalez affair she should have done much worse.


It is no acccident that the president saw fit this week to honor Willy Chirino, a Cuban American song writer whose Ya Viene Llegando is a kind of anthem for the Cuban American community. When I heard that Obama had been campaigning in South Florida my first instinct was to check out Val Parieto's Babalu Blog, gold standard for checking the pulse of that community, to see what the reaction might have been. That is where I discovered news of the White House event. Moreover, the blogmaster was a guest at that event and posted a moving dscription.


After being invited to the White House, after having met an incredibly couple in Matthew and Cathy, after standing just 20 feet from the President of the United States of America as he delivered a galletazo sin mano to raul and co, after meeting incredible men and women whose family members are incarcerated in Cuba, and after hearing Chirino perform Ya Viene Llegando at the event, I had the absolute honor and privilege to sing the Cuban National Anthem in the White House.
Think about that for a second, folks. Just imagine yourself standing there among all those people who work for the freedom of Cuba, in the halls of history, where portraits of the founders of this nation adorn the halls and walls and where most of the most important decisions for this country and the world have been made, singing Al combate, corred, Bayameses...
I could barely muster the words as I was so moved at the moment, and even as I stood there in the White House realizing that I know the history of this country much better than the history of Cuba, I have never, ever, felt more Cuban than in those few moments singing La Bayamesa.



It comes as no surprise that Obama's reception in some quarters of the Cuban American community was, shall we say, less than cordial. (Image at the link tells more about the source than I can describe in words.) But Obama's appeal to reason and diplomacy is why I prefer his approach to the macho efforts which clearly have not worked, given the decades they have been tried.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"There is something stirring in America."

Pollsters can be a tough lot, I'm sure. So can physicians, policemen and a bunch of other types. But sometimes they are just plain human. This snip from Sean Quinn at Five Thirty-Eight says it all.
The comment thread is okay, but the post and photos are excellent. They're on the road in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Read the whole post which ends with this...

Now I have a confession. Even Brett doesn't know this. I hope it doesn't lessen the professional work we're trying to accomplish in chronicling this historic election on the ground, but if it does, I'll live with it. There is something stirring in America.

Back at the rally, after the march had left MLK Gardens, I'd gone back for the car while Brett took photos, and I spotted a very old black man in a sharp Sunday suit walking slowly at the very back of the huge march. He hadn't yet arrived at the voting center, and I decided to find him when I got back.

I wanted to go talk to him, to ask him what this moment meant to him. He was a guy who you take one glance at, and know, that guy's seen it all. I wanted a quote. I had my journalist hat on. I thought, this will be great.

So when I got back to the voting location with the car, I went to find him in the line. Eventually I spotted him, and was ready to walk up the few feet between us and introduce myself when I stopped in my tracks.

A young black boy, no more than eight years old, walked up to this man, who was at least eighty. The boy offered the man a sticker, probably an "I Voted" sticker, but I couldn't see. The man took the sticker and paused. Silently, he looked down at the boy, who was looking back up at the man. The man put his hand gently on the boy's head, and I saw his eyes glisten.

I didn't ask the man for a quote. I didn't need to. I walked over by myself, behind the community center, and I sat down on a bench next to the track, and wept.

Spread the Wealth

From, October 28.
What he says.

The McCain campaign apparently has a new theme this week: attacking Obama for wanting to "spread the wealth." But it is not clear what that really means. Many Republicans have bitterly opposed the federal income tax since the 16th amendment was passed in 1913. Is McCain going to repeal the federal income tax? If so, how does he plan to finance the government? Or does he mean that the difference between the top rate of 39.6% under Bill Clinton and the top rate of 36% under George Bush is the difference between communism and capitalism? The purpose of the progressive federal income tax is to spread the wealth. That Democrats have supported a progressive income tax for decades is hardly news. Does McCain want to keep the tax but make it a flat tax (a la Steve Forbes)? No word on this. It seems this is just another desperate attempt to attack Obama rather than being a serious policy proposal for tax reform and it comes awfully late in the game. If McCain wanted to run on a platform of a flat tax, he certainly has had the opportunity, but until now he didn't bring up the subject.

Somebody got a problem with the Sixteenth Amendment?
I call tax loopholes and "subsidies" a form of circumventing the Sixteenth Amendment.

So much ignorance, so little time...


Saturday, October 25, 2008

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Noonan: A Separate Peace

Re-post time!
This link to a Peggy Noonan column three years ago is prescient in light of the current global financial train wreck..
First appeared October 28, 2005.

See from the Apocrypha, Wisdom 14:23 "...even though they live in a great war of ignorance, they call such evils peace."


Peggy Noonan's column is a litany of angst. It is titled A Separate Peace, but she might well have named it A Separate Piece.

The special prosecutors, the scandals, the spin for the scandals, nuclear proliferation, wars and natural disasters, Iraq, stem cells, earthquakes, the background of the Supreme Court backup pick, how best to handle the security problems at the port of Newark, how to increase production of vaccines, tort reform, did Justice bungle the anthrax case, how is Cipro production going, did you see this morning's Raw Threat File? Our public schools don't work, and there's little refuge to be had in private schools, however pricey, in part because teachers there are embarrassed not to be working in the slums and make up for it by putting pictures of Frida Kalho where Abe Lincoln used to be. Where is Osama? What's up with trademark infringement and intellectual capital? We need an answer on an amendment on homosexual marriage! We face a revolt on immigration.

...Our elites, our educated and successful professionals, are the ones who are supposed to dig us out and lead us. I refer specifically to the elites of journalism and politics, the elites of the Hill and at Foggy Bottom and the agencies, the elites of our state capitals, the rich and accomplished and successful of Washington, and elsewhere. I have a nagging sense, and think I have accurately observed, that many of these people have made a separate peace. That they're living their lives and taking their pleasures and pursuing their agendas; that they're going forward each day with the knowledge, which they hold more securely and with greater reason than nonelites, that the wheels are off the trolley and the trolley's off the tracks, and with a conviction, a certainty, that there is nothing they can do about it. [ed. She left out the most important elites of all: those whom we trust to handle our money. No further comment from me.]

I suspect that history, including great historical novelists of the future, will look back and see that many of our elites simply decided to enjoy their lives while they waited for the next chapter of trouble. And that they consciously, or unconsciously, took grim comfort in this thought: I got mine. Which is what the separate peace comes down to, "I got mine, you get yours."

America is navel-gazing from the top down. Ms. Noonan's column shows only the tip of the iceberg. It stands in sharp contrast, by the way, with the vision of the future I am getting from Virginia Postrel's The Future and Its Enemies which I am plowing through at a leisurely pace. Ms. Noonan comes across as a proto-stasist as she looks to leadership to organize everything better, clean up the mess, and put the trolly back on the track (her image, not mine).

Palin is to McCain what Harriet Miers was to Bush

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Socialism and Capitalism Comments: Robert Reich and Bernard Avishai

I don't have time to write but I do have time to read.
Two quickies. Here are my picks for this morning's best reading.

Go ahead and complain about socialism. Tell me about how great the capitalist system is.

Bernard Avishai:

Spreading The Wealth

In the early 1970s, when I was a young immigrant in Jerusalem, I found myself the head of my building's co-op committee. The job's main responsibility was collecting co-op fees (for heating oil, stair and entrance cleaning, etc.) from twenty-four immigrant families. Our mortgages had been heavily subsidized by the government; we came from all over the world. (One Iraqi family actually brought a lamb into the elevator at Passover, which never came down.)

On the whole, it was a pleasant job. The problems started with my "Russian" neighbors, from the not-yet-former Soviet Union. I would knock on their door and invariably get a hug and a sweet and a coffee. What I wouldn't get was the 50 pounds they owed to the building. "We refuse," they would tell me, "we hate socialism."

Eventually, only one tenant from Kiev held out, and we all decided to let it go. He had lost his job; back "home," he had been imprisoned by the KGB. When you are young, and up against world-historical injury, you accommodate the odd obsession. Besides, the stupidity of his reason for refusal made a great story. It was also world-historical, in a way. What better way to show the perverted political culture you had in the Soviet Union? Show what happens, as it were, naturally, when the basic principles of democracy (social contract, commonwealth, etc.) are not taught and aggressively defended?

I AM TELLING the story because I heard a debate Sunday on New Hampshire Public Radio between congressional candidates; and the Republican, Jeb Bradley said, among other things, that he was against new taxes of any kind because he was against "tax-payers bailing-out the government." The moderator did not contradict him, nor did his opponent. Nobody seemed to think this remark was just stupid.

The problem, you see, is not simply that Joe the Plumber does not want to pay more taxes, and McCain says he's right. The problem is that Joe the Plumber doesn't want to reconcile two contradictory goods in his mind at the same time (the good of having a few hundred more dollars, the good of having roads, more paying customers, etc.) and the media on his lawn says he's a "demographic." Jeb Bradley and his party take for granted that government, "Washington," is something other than the things we do together. This has been a kind of infection on our democracy since Ronald Reagan started playing George Babbitt. The question is, what has become of our immune system?

Robert Reich:

If They're Too Big To Fail, They're Too Big Period

According to Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, the biggest Wall Street banks now getting money from the government are just "too big to fail.” Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke uses a different euphemism – he calls them “systemically critical.” The point is that if any of them goes down, it could take the whole financial system with it. So we taxpayers have to keep them up.

We’re hearing the same argument elsewhere in Washington for saving General Motors. It’s just “too big to fail.” So Congress is considering a bailout that would keep GM afloat and sweeten a merger between GM and Chrysler.

Pardon me for asking, but if a company is too big to fail, maybe – just maybe – it’s too big, period.

We used to have public policies to prevent companies from getting too big. Does anyone remember antitrust laws? Somewhere along the line policymakers decided that antitrust would only be used where there was evidence a company had so much market power it could keep prices higher than otherwise.

We seem to have forgotten that the original purpose of antitrust law was also to prevent companies from becoming too powerful. Too powerful in that so many other companies depended on them, so many jobs turned on them, and so many consumers or investors or depositors needed them – that the economy as a whole would be endangered if they failed. Too powerful in that they could wield inordinate political influence – of a sort that might gain them extra favors from Washington.

Maybe the biggest irony today is that Washington policymakers who are funneling taxpayer dollars to these too-big-to-fail companies are simultaneously pushing them to consolidate into even bigger companies. They’ve prodded Bank of America to take over Merrill-Lynch and Countrywide. JP Morgan to acquire Washington Mutual and Bear Stearns. And now they’re urging General Motors to absorb Chrysler.

So we’re ending up with even bigger giants, with even more power over the economy and politics, subsidized by taxpayers, and guaranteed never to fail because they’re just ... too big.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Robert Reich: "...the Bailout of All Bailouts isn't working."

The news is not good.
Heck, it isn't even news.

...pouring money into these banks, expecting they'll turn around and lend to small businesses and Main Streets, is like pouring water into a dry sponge. Nothing will come out of it because Wall Street is so deep in debt that the banks are using the extra money to improve their balance sheets. They're hoarding it because their true balance sheets -- considering the off-balance sheet vehicles they created over the past several years -- are in such rotten shape.

In other words, taxpayers are financing a massive effort to save Wall Street's balance sheets from Wall Street's previous off-balance-sheet excesses. It won't work. It can't work. The entire effort is merely saving the asses of lots of executives and traders who got us into this mess in the first place, and whose asses should not be saved at taxpayer risk and expense.

What to do? Immediately require the Treasury to stop the broad Wall Street recapitalization, and require Wall Street to lend the money directly to Main Street. At the same time, force Wall Street to write down its true balance sheets: Let the executives and traders take the hit. Let their shareholders and even their creditors take the hit for Wall Street's collosal irresponsibility. This is the only true way to restore trust. It's also the only way to save Main Street's small businesses, homeowners, students, and everyone else.

I Am That One

The creative minds behind the community of are Sarah Ashby, Carlton Adams and Rachel Lee.

These twenty-somethings were tired of the negative messages shown on television and the internet, pertaining to the presidential race. They were unwilling to stand-by and not share the positive message of oneness that they knew so many desired to hear and see.

Their vision was to take a potentially divisive phrase such as that one and re-present it as something positive and unifying.

Inspired by the message of hope, change and community from Barack Obamas campaign, together they wrote and produced the I Am That One video and subsequently the website.

As the video illustrates, the creative team comes from different areas of the US (Atlanta, GA & St. Louis, MO) but agree that this political season should not perpetuate messages of mistrust, hatred and fear, but should offer personal messages & testimonials of what links us together.

The assumption that their generation is apathetic to what is going on has once again been negated. With a camera, laptops and a powerful idea, they are living that dream, rising up...insisting on new ideas.

I Am That One is by the people and for the people. Its an idea based on the opportunities everyone is afforded and the dream so many want to see come true.


Good work kids! You make me feel better about the future.

"We're voting for the n***er."

Urban legend?
Maybe so, but it's too good to pass up.
So a canvasser goes to a woman's door in Washington, Pennsylvania. Knocks. Woman answers. Knocker asks who she's planning to vote for. She isn't sure, has to ask her husband who she's voting for. Husband is off in another room watching some game. Canvasser hears him yell back, "We're votin' for the n***er!"

Woman turns back to canvasser, and says brightly and matter of factly: "We're voting for the n***er."

I, for one, can believe it. Having been reared in the South, this sounds completely credible to me. The now out of fashion "n" word was an everyday noun for some people in my family. As recently as two years ago I heard it used quite naturally by one of our most beloved uncles, now deceased, without a hint of what most people mean by the word "racist." For him it was nothing more than a noun.

That was my Dad's side of the family. Because of my mother, whose family was better educated, I was taught never to pronounce the word that way, being careful instead to say NEEgrow plainly and politely. It was always better, by the way, to say "colored" and the word "black," now a term of fashion, was strictly forbidden in polite company. Only ignorant people were used the word "blacks" when referring to Negroes.

My, how times have changed.

The world is watching.
This is a video from Al-Jezeera

It wasn't hard to find these people. They have been flocking to Sara Palin's rallies in visible numbers. I would like to call them a "lunatic fringe" but I find the same sympathies among my white peers. As with my father's family and my mother's more genteel expressions of race, the sentiments I hear are less savage but no less frightening.

I had to drop out of college after my first two years because I was a poor student and was uncomfortable with a growing total of borrowed money. I got a job doing semi-skilled labor in a paint shop where I worked about a year and a half before being drafted in 1965. No one where I worked suspected that I had been kicked out of my apartment in school because I had been picketing a segregated restaurant.

My days as a student protester and liberal activist were something I knew better than to talk about. I was working among a group of older, white adult Southern men, some of whom spoke with admiration about the KKK, not because of the anti-black actions of that group (by then it was becoming clear that the KKK was no longer to be admired) but because they remembered how vigilante justice had been used to correct men who abused their wives, or failed to support their families because of alcoholism. "After they got through whipping him, boy, he straightened up and did right."

When the time came to be drafted I was at some level glad to be out of there. Besides, I had changed my draft status to Conscientious Objector (which they also never knew) and I was ready to have that chapter of my life finished as soon as possible. The Sixties was no picnic for me, but I don't regret having been on the right side of several issues at the time.

So yes, today when I hear race being discussed I listen closely. Thankfully, most white people I know are light years of where they were years ago, but among the older generation and still, sadly, among some who are younger than me, I can still pick up wistful references to the past. And when I hear people speaking openly that they worry about Barack Obama's safety, I know well they they are serious. Many of them know as Southerners, as much of America cannot know, that his safety, even his life, could be in danger. And there are some -- not many, but it only takes a few -- who would not be disturbed.

I so want to believe that Barack Obama's campaign is "post-racist" but events of the last few days clearly indicate that it is not. Anyone who believes that racism is dead in America is living in a fool's paradise. It took Colin Powell to answer the criticism of Obama that "he's a Muslim" correctly.

"I'm also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say, and it is permitted to be said. Such things as 'Well you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.' Well the correct answer is 'He is not a Muslim, he's a Christian, he's always been a Christian.' But the really right answer is 'What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?' The answer is 'No. That's not America.' Is there something wrong with some 7-year old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she can be president? Yet I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion he's a Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists. This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

Followup, five days later.
This from Five

On the Road: Big Stone Gap, Virginia

Last week, Julie Hensley made one of her thousands of phone calls on behalf of Barack Obama. A woman answered. As Hensley ran through her short script, the husband impatiently broke in.

"Ma'am, we're voting for the n***er." And hung up.

Hensley wasn't having it. "I went and made a couple other calls but chafed over this absurdity," she told us, "so I called them back, as I still had a couple questions for the wife." This time the man answered, asked pointedly who she was, and when she replied he hung up again.

We continue to hear stories like these in Appalachia. Big Stone Gap, where Barack Obama's southwesternmost field office in Virginia sits, gave us our latest version.


...her story ended with a twist. A couple hours later during a pause in her dials, her phone rang. She recognized the number. "This is going to be good," she remembers thinking, getting ready to scrap.

It was the husband. He was calling for the woman on whom he'd hung up. She then got something she didn't expect -- an apology. Calmly, Hensley told the man she'd accept his apology on one condition -- he had to tell her who he was voting for.

"Oh, I don't normally talk about it but I feel like I owe you," the man said. "I am voting for Senator Obama." He asked if Hensley would like to speak to his wife, as he'd interrupted the original call. Hensley mentioned that she had been surprised when he'd called to apologize. Apparently the husband and wife had been talking the entire couple hours since the original call. "Did she get upset with you?" Hensley asked.

"What do you think?" the man replied.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Jill Biden at work

This came to my attention just now as I was recalling the Dream Act. No time to go into details here. The reader will have to do his or her own homework. This post is a glance at Joe Biden's wife. As I read I thought about the other vice-presidential candidate's spouse, affectionately referred to as "First Dude." Man, what a contrast...
Dr. Jill Biden is a professor of English Composition at Delaware Technical Community College whose husband, Joe, happens to be on the verge of becoming the next vice president of the United States. I refer to her that way because I sat in on a conference call with Dr. Biden this afternoon, and I can't remember when I've interviewed a public figure who sounded so much like the people I work with every day. Of course, that probably has to do with the fact that I'm also a teacher, and coincidentally, so were several other bloggers on the call. So what follows are notes on a conversation among mothers and teachers about education.
Biden, 57, who earned two Masters and a Doctorate while working full time and raising children, began by describing herself as, "the mother of three kids who are adults now and proud grandmother of five." She ticked off the stakes for women in this election, noting noting that more women primary breadwinners, taking care of parents as well as children. We still make 77 cents on the dollar compared to a man.
Despite the presidential campaign, Biden said she is still teaching four days a week, "because my students are also important to me." Over the last eight years, she said she has often seen students who can't afford books, or who have to interrupt their studies for financial reasons. Echoing recent news reports, she talked about the difficulty her students are having when it comes to getting college loans. According to Jill, “Barack and Joe understand because they had to overcome obstacles to get to where they are today.”
In response to a two-part question about the education of children of immigrants, Gray said comprehensive immigration reform will be a priority in the first term of an Obama administration. This problem is a by-product of failure to provide a pathway to citizenship. Obama introduced Illinois’ version of the DREAM act. He and Biden introduced Federal version of DREAM act. Has support from Republicans such as Hagel and Lugar. They think it’s an opportunity to do what’s right. She added that their education plan also includes vocational education. They are talking about various models of high schools as well as supporting vocational education in community colleges.
I don't understand how any informed voter can seriously...
Oh, forget it.
Forget I mentioned it.

Voter Registration, Elections, Fraud, Mistakes, Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

So much crap out there.
Pull on your boots before you pick up another paper.

Voter registration fraud is not the same as voter fraud, in which individuals attempt to fraudulently cast ballots. Voter registration fraud leads to inflated voter rolls, but has little effect on voter fraud.

Read it again.

Keep reading until it sinks in.

This might help.

The McCain-Palin campaign accuses ACORN, a community activist group that operates nationwide, of perpetrating "massive voter fraud." It says Obama has “long and deep” ties to the group. We find both claims to be exaggerated. But we also find Obama has understated the extent of his work with the group.

Yes, the Obama campaign "understates" the extent of his work with Acorn.

I'm an enthusiastic Obama supporter, but these last three or four weeks leading up to the election I have watched both sides of the contest get progressively ugly. I have no defense. For both sides it's now all about winning. This is another reason that politics and religion don't mix. When money and power are at cross purposes with principles, those principles will take a collective beating every time. A minority may not waver from principles (think Ralph Nader), but the main event will be all about getting votes.

Followup November 3

Read this:

National Identification Card

Know what's interesting?
Many if not most of the people complaining about "illegal immigrants" are the same ones who oppose a national ID card (while overlooking the privacy and abuse of power concerns enshrined in the Patriot Act). Go figure.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Nouriel Roubini on the coming recession

This man was a guest on Washington Journal last week and several callers recognized him and thanked him for his good advice. One man said that thanks to Roubini he had liquidated all his stocks last November and put his money into CD's/ Because of that move he didn't lose anything in the recent stock market crash. He remarked dryly that he didn't make much in interest, but at least he hadn't lost his capital.

This is a very smart man.

I found this video with a blog search. Roubini's predictions are not altogether negative, but it is not realistic to expect happy times in the near future.

Well, crap.Looks like that video is for sale and won't play past the first few minutes. I guess Charlie Rose has to pay the rent like everyone else.
Anyway, you get the idea.

Here is a link to the Washington Journal program.

The program was October 11 (scroll down), and to see the Roubini segment you must drag the timer to the second hour.

I would like to find a more user-friendly way to link this segment.

Here is a more recent appearance of Roubini...

After watching the news over the last week or two it is clear to me that the most broken part of the economy not being discussed is the crazy mixture of retirement arrangements that are supposed to take care of us when we can no longer be productive. In my case I have watched a twelve thousand-dollar savings set aside over the last five years shrink to about ten thousand dollars in value. That is one part of various IRA's and other stuff my wife and I squirreled away for retirement. I don't want to talk about the rest of the picture.

I am fortunate (literally, thanks to luck!) to be the beneficiary of TWO defined benefits pension plans, those old-fashioned arrangements rapidly being shed by all sectors of the economy in favor of so-called "employee-paid" plans.

This duke's mixture of plans includes Social Security, traditional IRA's, Roth IRA's, private plans sponsored variously by companies or unions, and, of course, the defined benefits plans like mine. This patchwork quilt has been cobbled together since the Great Depression as the needs became obvious and offered attractive political opportunities for this or that group along the way.

What is needed now -- and this is clear from the recent crash -- is that common stocks, euphemistically called "equities" by the peddlers who take their pound of flesh, as brokers do, no matter whether the market goes up or down.

Those old-fashioned plans with actuarial tables and capital reserves suddenly look as lot less crazy, don't they?

My naive dream is to scrap the whole mess and replace them with a single, solid national plan produced and administered by the already in place Social Security Administration. That body has been in business now for many decades, charged with keeping up with everyone in the country, even those not at work, by a numbering system that includes even aliens. They know who makes what, and keep financial records for everyone's lifetime.

Everyone in America with a SS number is taxed along with their employer, from the first earned dollar, with no deductions allowed as in the case of the additional "income tax."

The employers "contribution" is, in fact, a tax for each working employee. We can argue til the cows come home about whether the tax is "on" the employee or the employer, but the fact is that if the employee didn't work the expense to the employer would not exist and neither would the revenue to the Federal Treasury. As far as I am concerned, ALL that goes into the treasury is a tax, and it is a tax on the worker who triggered it.

Having said that, it is time to structure the books so that the "hidden" tax portion, the employer's contribution, be called what it is: a tax on the wages of the worker.

A true representation of Social Security would show up on the employee's stub as about seven percent of wages, not counting the other penny or so that goes to Medicare.

I see no reason that about a dime of everyone's earned income shouldn't be taken from the first dollar, just as we now do, with a federally-managed, iron-clad, portable for lifetime equivalent of the old-fashioned defined-benefits pension plans now going obsolete. This would put into place a solid base of care for eveyone, no matter how little they earned in their working years, that could reflect in part how much they were able to set aside during their productive years. As in the case of DB plans, the more you earn and the longer you work, the better your retirement benefits could be... and if you don't make it that far, thanks for your contributions to the good of the community. That's why it's called SOCIAL Security, not INDIVIDUAL Security.

Anyone who wants to feed an Individual Retirement Arrangement or put the rest of their next egg into "equities" is welcome to do so. I hope by doing so they will retire fat, happy and rich.

But for the great unwashed, it is time that a more sensible plan be put into place.

(I say the "great unwashed" because of the cap on the tax for those earning over a certain amount. One of the best-kept secrets in America is that those multitudes who toil away week after week, year after year making less than that cap never suspect that their better-paid bosses get a bonus every year as they sail past that point. I know because I paid the max into Social Security for over twenty years, Each fall when I got that bonus I looked around me in the cafeteria at what the rest of the world calls the " working poor" and knew that they would never know what it feels like to get an annual three percent boost in earnings just in time for the fall holidays.)

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Moises Campos Palencia and the American Dream

Grensboro, NC...

Moises Campos Palencia made a left turn that changed his life — possibly forever.

Police last month stopped Palencia, saying the light had turned red before he made it through the intersection.

Palencia didn’t get a ticket, but they found he had a standing deportation order dating to when he was a child brought here illegally by his parents.

Now the Greensboro business owner is sitting in a Georgia jail, hoping he can stay legally and wondering when he’ll see his wife and 4-year-old daughter — both U.S. citizens — again.

Palencia said his life is here, not Mexico.

“I went to school. I graduated. I started my business. I paid my taxes,” he said, speaking from a phone at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga. “I know that I haven’t done anything wrong in this country.”

The sudden separation is hard on them, he said. Hundreds of miles separate him from his family. His wife, Nayelli Rojas Campos , worries about keeping their car audio business going. His daughter wonders where her daddy went.

“I grew up here. I don’t have anything in my country,” Palencia said. “My wife is here. My daughter is here. It’s hurting us a lot.”

His story illustrates an often-murky situation experienced by immigrants brought here as children.

This story is linked by a recent YAR post that I am copying here. I'm tied up with work at the moment and don't have time to make a proper blogpost, but this is important.

I’m in the midst of a 5 day stay in LaGrange, Georgia hosted by the Alterna community as part of the Christian Peacemaker Teams steering committee meetings. Today I had the opportunity to interview Anton Flores, one of the founders of the community.

Anton has lived in LaGrange for 15 years and for 10 years he taught at LaGrange College. Today his full time, unpaid works is with Alterna. During the week, I’ve noticed he is often on his cell phone as he recieves calls from people in crisis. Whether it is legal, health related or housing crisis, Anton help Latino immigrants navigate the situation in this small town of 28,000.

A significant portion of Anton’s time is spent helping people caught in the legal system. Anton goes to court every week as an advocate for local Latinos who have been fined, most often for driving without a license (it’s impossible for those without documents to get one in Georgia). Anton estimates fines paid by immigrants and low income people in LaGrange each year to be at least $125,000, a sizable contribution to local government by a group that makes up only 5-10% of the population.

Last year Anton set up an office in a local Hispanic grocery so he could get to know the community. The arrangement was so successful in connecting with the Latino community, that he no longer needs to go looking for work. His work finds him on his cell phone wherever he is.

But Anton isn’t only content to fight fires. He also challenges the system that creates these crisis. In our conversation he described the paradoxes of the system that depends on undocumented immigrants for labor even in building military barracks and the LaGrange courthouse. Anton pointed to the way Atlanta heavily recruited Mexican immigrants as labor in the years before the 1996 Olympics as they struggled to make deadlines. Though the system needs the laborers, they are the ones forced to take all the risk. Along with crossing the border without documentation, they also must find false documentation. Anton described his experiences doing courtroom advocacy in which he watch a judge mock those who used false names in a way that made them out to be liars and untrustworthy. In reality, they were hard working, honest people forced into fraud by the system that needed them.

The video above from a vigil outside the Stewart Detention Center, where Anton regularly visits those detained in this privately run prison. One particularly painful and outrageous story he shared with me was that of Moises Campos Palencia. Moises’ parents brought him to the United States when he was nine years old. He grew up here, graduated from high school, married, started a business and had a daughter. Two months ago he was pulled over after running a yellow light. The police officer turned him over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and he ended up in Steward Detention Center. You can read more about Moises and his wife and daughter in this story in this newspaper article.
After Anton read this article he went to visit Moises at the detention center last month and introduced himself. Since he was hundreds of miles away from his family, Anton was one of the first to visit him. Though skeptical at first, within a few minutes he was crying as he shared his pain at his loss and separation from his family. As of this writing, Moises remains in the detention center.

Anton has also gone farther then that in his work with immigrants. He told me the story of his visit to El Sauce, Guatemala, a village in Guatemala from which over 60 people have immigrated to La Grange (out of a population of 140 families). Everyone in El Sauce knows someone in La Grange.

On one of his visits to El Sauce, Anton met with the family of a man who had been detained for false documentation. The man’s case was being processed very slowly as he sat in a US jail awaiting inevitable deportation. Anton took photos of his wife and daughter and shared them with the district attorney to remind him that the man was a father and husband with loved ones waiting for him. Once the district attorney saw the man as a human being rather then a criminal, the case moved more quickly.

I asked Anton about Anabaptist influences in his life. He cited reading Ron Sider in college and then his participation in a year long effort to plant a church with a Brethren in Christ minister. Though the church plant was not a success, Anton says, "I was hooked on Anabaptist ideas." Anton went on to explore possibilities for planting a Mennonite church in LaGrange, though that plan didn’t come to fruition. Despire his lack of a Mennonite church, Anton has developed many relationships with Mennonites. In fact he wrote an article for the Mennonite on just adoptions 4 years ago.

Anton has some useful observations based on his interactions with Mennonites, "A lot of Mennontie congregations have a difficult living into Anabaptist values because of the power of culture, especially a culture that is as individualistic as ours," Anton said. "What Anabaptist have to offer the 21st century is a sense of connectedness."

"[New Mennonites] are drawn to are the radical roots of what Anabaptism," Anton said, "these new Mennonites are often a prophetic call back to these roots in their churches."

For more on Anton and Alterna, you can read about the genesis of Alterna in his own words (along with a very cute photo of his family).

Thursday, October 02, 2008

"Hank" Paulson and Goldman Sachs

Sez here that Mr. Paulson, prior to becoming Secretary of the Treasury, was the happy recipient of some of those multi-million-dollar bonuses now going out of fashion...

According to page 20 the Goldman Sachs 10-Q regulatory filing for the first quarter of 2006:

During the three months ended February 2006 and February 2005, the firm securitised $19.25bn and $15.24bn, respectively, of financial assets, including $18.15bn and $14.43bn, respectively, of residential mortgage loans and securities.

Meanwhile, on page 22, we find that Goldman had big exposures to Variable Interest Entities “which primarily issue mortgage-backed and other asset backed securites and collateralised debt obligations”. The exposures included $22bn of CDOs, $2.9bn of “asset repackagings and credit-linked notes” and $6.5bn of “mortgage-backed and other asset-backed” securities.

Mr Paulson now declares himself shocked, shocked that structured finance was going on on Wall Street but he was there at the time, and the $18.7m bonus he received for the first half of 2006 presumably reflected it.

And what was he doing?

Guess? ___________

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Real estate bubble?

From this blog, July, 2006.
Anybody listen then?
I couldn't resist reposting....

The raising of interest rates on millions of adjustable rate mortgages over the next several years has all the makings of a classic horror story.

Is there a real estate bubble?
Google for yourself and see what others are saying. Money Magazine gets extra points for grabbing the most obvious headline, "Bubble Trouble." Great rhyme.

HenryCopeland posting at blogads caught this NY Times snip.

On a personal level, however, there is going to be pain as homeowners struggle to make higher payments. In 2003, of all new mortgages, 10.2 percent were interest-only, meaning the homeowner paid only the interest for the initial period of the loan. According to Loan Performance, a research firm, 26.7 percent of all loans were interest-only last year and another 15.3 percent were payment-option adjustable rate mortgages, which allow homeowners to choose how much they paid each month.

In some areas of the country where homes are expensive, these loans were highly popular. In most California cities, as well as in Denver, Washington, Phoenix and Seattle, interest-only loans represented 40 percent or more of all mortgages issued in 2005.

Traditionally, interest-only loans and adjustable-rate loans were used by people who expected to live in a house only a short time, but such loans have turned into “affordability products” as housing prices rose. The interest rate on the loans, while below that of conventional 30-year fixed-rate mortgages at the beginning, resets after 3, 5, 7 or 10 years, depending on the loan. So, homeowners who took out loans in 2004 could find, for example, that their initial 4.25 percent loan climbs to 6.25 percent or 7.25 percent next year.

Someone now paying $350 a month for a $100,000 interest-only loan could be facing payments of $680 both because of the shift to the higher rate and because the borrower would have to start paying off the principal as well as the interest.

Pay me no mind. I'm just an old guy playing with his blog.

Lots of people seem to be paying too much for property based on the Greater Fool Theory.

'Nuff said.

Neutron Loans

Here is one of the building blocks of what are now being called "illiquid securities"


From the NYTimes: How Missed Signs Contributed to a Mortgage Meltdown. Here is the quote of the day:

“All of the old-timers knew that subprime mortgages were what we called neutron loans — they killed the people and left the houses,” said Louis S. Barnes, 58, a partner at Boulder West, a mortgage banking firm in Lafayette, Colo.

“We call them neutron loans because they’re like a neutron bomb,” said Brock Davis, a broker with U.S. Express Mortgage Corp. in Las Vegas. “Three years later the house is still there and the people are gone.”


Post Turtle

Viral email blogging here...

A 75 year old Texas rancher caught his hand in a gate while working
cattle. The doctor sewing it up struck up a conversation with him.
Eventually the topic got around to Sarah Palin and her bid to be a
heartbeat away the presidency.

The old rancher said, 'Well, ya know, Palin is a post turtle.'

Not being familiar with the term, the doctor asked him what a post turtle was.

The rancher said, 'When you're driving down a country road and you
come across a fence post with a turtle balanced on top, that's a post

Seeing a puzzled look on the doctor's face, he continued to explain.
'You know she didn't get up there by herself. She doesn't belong up
there. She doesn't know how to get down, and you just wonder what
kind of idiot put her up there to begin with.'

H/T James