Friday, August 24, 2007

How did we get from there to here...

Everyday on the news, I see the talking heads freaking out about the mortgage market. All kinds of mortgage companies are going belly up left and right.

For the hand wringing and crying, I don't hear a single voice saying:
"Why don't we go after the fuckers who thought up these bad schemes and prosecute them?" The ugly truth is that if they were to go after them, the next obvious question would be "If this was going on for so long, why didn't people try to put the brakes on and make the process more sane? The easy answer to that question is simple: $$$$$ oh yeah, and a whole bunch more $$$$$.

If you don't have a clear understanding of the whole situation, let me help enlighten you with my equally dimwitted take on things.

Step 1. Person takes out one of these variable rate loans that has a clause in it that says "After X number of months/years/whatever the interest rate is going to go up like mad!". The person taking out this mortgage is making a bet that when X comes due, that a) the worth of their property will go up to an extent that they can refinance or b) their living situation will improve so that it won't be an issue.

Step 1a. (concurrent to the other step 1) Mortgage companies package these loans into securities and sell them on the market. Other people were buy these "packages" and putting them into portfolios, 401k's, pensions, etc. The mortgage companies themselves also hold onto a large portion of these loans and use them as a revenue stream and as an asset to borrow more money for more loans.

Step 2. The housing market doesn't perform to the hopes of the person. They're suddenly stuck with a ballooning mortgage payment and can't get the loan refinanced because no bank in their right mind is going to refinance on a property that's worth less than what the person took the loan out against. They end up defaulting or becoming terribly delinquent on their loan...

Step 3. Suddenly mortgage companies have a huge problem. Firstly, they can't borrow any money for new loans because their "assets" are too risky for banks to make a bet on. Secondly, they have a major cash flow problem because their operation is funded by the loans they own. According to an article in the new york times about Countrywide Home Loans 1 in 4 of it's sub prime mortgages is delinquent. Just imagine if one day 1/4 of your paycheck was missing...

Step 3a (concurrent to step 3). All those other financial institutions who build portfolios around these "junk" mortgages are in the same pickle. Their tangle assets are in reality false promises.

So what do we do about it? Do we let these institutions flounder and get what's coming to them, or does the federal government step in and prop these companies up?

Let's be completely honest about the whole situation. The companies who profited creating and selling these loans are going to get their asses saved. Your average American who had made the unfortunate mistake of getting one of these loans is FUCKED. You can expect that the government will loan these companies plenty of money at a really great rate. However these companies will then turn around and double fuck these people. They'll let you get out of your ARM loan, but only after agreeing to terms so draconian, defaulting will actually seem like an sensible option.

However, there are a group of people who blatantly lied on their loan applications and got loans that well exceeded their ability to pay them at full APR. Those people need to be prosecuted for fraud.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Wikiscanner is your friend

Apprently people who've been doing creative editing on Wikipedia didn't realize that when you hit the "save" button, the old version of the document, including your IP address and the original text gets saved.

Wikiscanner lets you go back in time and see comparatively what's been changed in an article. It also lets you search by IP range, so if you know the IP address range of some pharasudical company (which isn't hard to find) you can quickly see what changes they've made to wikipedia.

Needless to say, this tool has been used to expose some amazing acts of whitewashing by people / corporations / government agencies / etc.

What's that old saying "sunlight is the best disinfectant."

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

What I want out of a President...

I've recently come to the realization that all of our options so far for president suck.

I've come up with my list of issues and the stances I'd like to see our president take on them.

1. The Iraq situation and by extension our current military stance around the world.

We need to leave Iraq immediately. It isn't the pottery barn, it was broke before we showed up, we merely took the pieces and proceeded to grind them into a fine powder and snort it. Get the boots off the ground and provide the Iraqi military with logistical and air support only. Close Guantanamo bay and swiftly bring all the people there to trial. Find them guilty or deport them to their country of origin. We should also take a hard look at the troops we have stationed in South Korea, Japan, Germany, etc. We've also been involved in several peace keeping operations around the world, such as Haiti. Should Marines really be in Haiti right now?!? Or is this something better handled by the U.N.

2. A real foreign policy.

We need to start talking to everybody. The Palestinians, the Iranians, the Syrians. The enemy of my enemy isn't my friend. We are all in this together. Crazy as it might sound, we need to start doing the American thing and acting like statesman. That means going to places like Iran and saying "We want to have a dialog with you." "We have issues we'd like addressed, as do you, let's sit around a table like adults and hash things out". The worse case is that nothing happens. The best case is that real progress towards world peace occurs.
Yes, I understand this is a lofty goal, but your never going to accomplish anything sitting on our asses.

3. A real domestic policy.

It is a sad commentary on America when Prisons are considered a growth industry and there are more people incarcerated in the US than there are farmers.

Welfare: We need to scrap the current welfare system and start over. What we need is a system that works to turn people into productive tax paying citizens. Not a system that rewards people for staying in the system (such as having children) and works against people trying to get out of the system.

Immigration Policy: It's very simple. Kick out the ones who shouldn't be here. Improve our border security to keep out the ones we don't want here. Improve our INS system to let in those who will be productive members of society. As for the hollow argument that we need people to do jobs that we don't want to do, that's fine. They can get in line like the rest of people and enter our country legally. Owners of companies that employ illegal aliens should be put in jail and have heavy fines levied against them.

Education: I have no idea how to fix this mess. The comprehensive testing from No Child Left Behind seemed like a good idea, but it's forced teachers to teach to the test. The other weird thing is that schools that perform poorly get a boot to the head, not more help. Hence there have been instances of schools basically pushing children out the door who they know if they were to take the tests would bring their schools overall scores down. I would call that Leaving children behind but that's just me talking...

Science: We need to let the scientists be scientists. If they discover something surprising they should have the latitude to release it without fear it's going to get some government agencies panties in a bind. The politicalization of science in this country needs to stop immediately. Just because the scientific facts don't agree with our world view or makes the company who's funding your reelection look bad doesn't give you the right to suppress it.

Energy Policy: This country needs a definitive energy policy with the stated goal of getting this country firstly off of foreign oil and then secondly off domestic oil. This country has massive potential to use wind, wave and solar energy. We should work immediately to utilize these renewable resources. Once these resources are properly harnessed, existing dirty technologies such as coal and oil burning power plants should be phased out or converted to burn renewable resources (such as wood chips). To deal with the existing demand for petroleum products, R&D into technologies such as Thermal Depolyemerization should be pushed forward. While we're doing all of that, we should pass legislation that would impose fines and/or taxes on cars/trucks/suvs/etc that don't adhere to stringent MPG guidelines. The only way to get off of oil is to reduce our dependence on it. These should be vechiles that can be easily converted to pure electric as well.

Trade Policy: China joined the WTO, but so far has either stonewalled or flatly ignored it's obligations to this organization. We need to bring them into the WTO court and if China is unwilling to go along with its contractual obligations it needs to be ejected from the WTO, period. We need to stake out a policy of America first and figure out ways to keep Americans competitive in the global work place so that the hemorrhaging of American jobs can stop.

Agricultural Policy: One of this nations greatest assets is its farmers and the land they farm. We need to stop fucking them over and actually have a policy in place that lets people farm without losing their shirts in the process. Programs should be put in place that will let new farmers get into the business without having to take on massive amounts of debt in the process. We have been in the last 20 years been increasing consolidating our food supply. This is a bad policy for our nation and our food security. One small group of companies such as ADM shouldn't control so much of our nations food supply We should work to regionalize our food system such that a major catastrophe (or terrorist attack) in one part of the country won't effect the food supply in another.

Healthcare Policy: I haven't seen Micheal Moore's movie Sicko, but from what I've heard and the interviews that I've seen, I do agree with some of what he's saying. We need a healthcare system that at a minimum is non profit. I'm sorry, a system that's out to make a buck isn't going to be looking out for my best interests, it's going to be busy trying to figure out how to make money off of me. Hence in a non profit scenario a healthcare system would want to take proactive preventative measures, because it's cheaper than having to deal with my expense illnesses (that could have been prevented) I understand that something like cancer can't always be prevented, but many things (like heart diesease) can be. Also, fraud in the system has to be dealt with swiftly. People or organizations caught scamming the system should have the full fury of the law turned upon them.

That's just a few of the topics I'd like to see a future president tackle. I'm sure there's at least a dozen more that could be addressed.

Monday, August 20, 2007

A Beginning

Dear United States of America,

Please turn off your television, stop playing world of warcraft and please get mad. While we were distracted a bunch of criminals of the lowest caliber have stolen our country.

By waving the flag of fear in our face they have in our name commited acts of attrocity. The America that our fathers, grandfathers and forefathers fought and died for is near death.

They will scream from their bully pulpit that this is not the case and that America is stronger than it ever was, but they are only concerned about making themselves rich at our expense. They will send our children to foreign lands to fight their oil wars and grow their war profits.

Now everything I have said has been in the abstract, I think it important that we talk in the factual.

The biggest and ugliest of these is Iraq.

Let's talk about these weapons of mass destruction that we needed to invade Iraq to get rid of. Oh yes, the ones that were supposidely carted off to Syria or something before we showed up. Okay, so why haven't our intelligence assets in Syria found them. If they were that much of a threat and we knew they were put onto planes and flown out of the country why didn't we follow them? Do you really think the Syrians would have been in any better of a position to really stop us if we'd wanted them? Shocking we could have even used the carrot and stick with them...i.e "Give us the weapons or we'll demonstrate the effectiveness of ours..."

The other argument that I hear from people all the time is that thatey actually found weapons of mass destruction, is'ts just that the media is underreporting it. The problem I see with argument is that I don't see how the media could suppress something like that. I suspect if president Bush had gotten wind that they actually found any weapons he'd immediately hold a press conference and say "Haha, I told you there were weapons! You should have listened to me, I was right!" Needless to say, I'm yet to see such a press conference. Not to mention all those people who were for this war would be screaming is so loud that there wouldn't be a way it wouldn't be widely known.

People then go along and quote the Iraq / Al Quida connection. There has never been any evidence that Bin Laden and Saddam were ever even friendly. Considering that Saddam had a pretty secular government and Bin Laden's goals pretty much go against all of that... There's a good reason he ended up in Afganistan and not Iraq. Not to mention the fact Saddam was pretty much running a one man, one rule type government, do you really think he'd tolerate terroist training camps on his soil? The guy was such a control freak the only type of training camps he'd allow would have been the ones that he had complete control of and knew the loyalties of the people coming out of them. Needless to say, he already had plenty of loyal troops. He would have had no use for Bin Laden. The guy is a nutcase and a liability for any country he's in. Seriously, if you talked to the Taliban leaders now and asked "Knowing now, how the US was going to react to 9/11 and what the were going to do to Afghanistan in their pursuit of Bin Laden, would you have let him into the country?" You could almost bet the answer would be something like "Knowing now what we know, we would have kicked him out of the country the same way Saudia Arabia did." Think about it. The Taliban went from owning Afganistan to it being occupied by a couple different forign powers, all because of Bin Laden and his organization. You can argue that it didn't really work out that well for the Taliban. So, in a nutshell the Bin Laden / Saddam argument just doesn't make any sense.

Once the whole WMD argument fell through, the next argument that was brought up was the democracy argument. Needless to say, go watch this (don't worry it's short and SFW). I recommend that people go out and read Thomas Ricks book Fiasco.