Friday, October 31, 2008

The Community Reinvestment Act

Wow. Right wing media would have us believe that the credit crisis can be blamed on minorities and poor people who couldn’t afford their mortgages (via the “democratic congress who forced banks to make loans to people who couldn’t afford them”). Their basis for this claim is the Community Reinvestment Act which was enacted in 1977 by democratic president Jimmy Carter and was intended to prevent discrimination in mortgage lending and encourage banks to make loans to customers who reside within the community that they operate.

Two of the most glaring problems with trying to blame the CRA:

1.) Only 20-25% of the bad loans behind the crisis were made by depository lending institutions that are subject to CRA. That means that 80% of the subprime mortgages had nothing to do with the CRA.

2.) Banks that were subject to CRA loans were substantially less likely than other lenders to make the high cost, high risk loans that fueled the subprime mess. CRA lenders were more than twice as likely as other lenders to hold originated loans in their portfolio (as opposed to selling them off to Fannie, Freddie, or other mortgage buyers). In fact, CRA loans were generally less risky and less likely to foreclose than other mortgages.

This is just more evidence of the right’s pathological inability and/or unwillingness to correctly identify the true source of a major disaster and hold the appropriate parties/policies accountable.

Some useful information that you won’t hear on Fixed News or talk radio:

http://www.businessweek.com/investing/insights/blog/archives/2008/09/community_reinv.html
http://www.newsweek.com/id/162789
http://www.newamerica.net/blog/asset-building/2008/its-still-not-cra-7222
http://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/2008/04/yet-again-it-wa.html
http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=did_liberals_cause_the_subprime_crisis
http://www.reuters.com/article/pressRelease/idUS135259+07-Jan-2008+BW20080107

Monday, October 20, 2008

Proudly Unpatriotic

I just read an article on Politico discussing Cindy McCain’s emerging new role in the campaign as she transitions from the reserved but supportive wife with minimal involvement, to another republican pit bull with lipstick. It’s noble of her to step up her efforts and help her husband try to resuscitate his ailing campaign. But her approach just reinforces the increasingly evident fact that the GOP just doesn’t get what this election is all about.

After two weeks of dismal polls you would think the republicans would have figured out by now that vitriol does not trump substance and angst does not substitute for relevancy. Sure, there is a certain “base” of conservative voters that love nothing more than to work themselves up into a hysterical frenzy, shouting epithets like “Terrorist!” and “Socialist!” or even “Muslim!”. There is no doubt that these folks eat up the pit bull tactics but really, were these people’s votes ever in question? Does stoking the emotional fervor of a group who was already going to vote for you anyway really accomplish anything politically?

Cindy McCain made the statement “I have always been proud of my country”, implicitly taking a jab at Michelle Obama. Well of course it’s always been easy for her to feel proud of her country. She is a child of privilege. She’s white. She’s never been made to feel like less of a human being because of her socio-economic status or skin color. In short, her country has always been very good to her. Other Americans can’t say the same thing but that doesn’t make them less American. Turning a blind eye to reality is not a patriotic act. This country is great but not perfect and it doesn’t make one a traitor to acknowledge the imperfections and even to express a little righteous anger when you’ve been on the wrong side of our nations flaws.

The right wing implicitly tries to label anyone who disagrees with their narrow perspective as un-American. Apparently they would have us live in a homogenous society where nobody questions the traditional values of the state and every good and patriotic citizen conforms to the status quo. But wait a minute…doesn’t that smell a little like communism?

Despite our alleged “Christian values”, this nation has been responsible for a number of stunning acts against humanity. I wonder how the conservative traditionalists reacted to the first person who spoke out against slavery. Time and again I’ve wondered how Christian America accepted slavery as a legitimate social arrangement. Actually, I don’t wonder. I can hear it now as the first few brave souls who questioned slavery were labeled anti-American, unpatriotic and even un-Christian. Interestingly, the first people that did speak out against slavery were Quakers from Pennsylvania – or, as the fundamentalist Christians called them – hellbound sinners of a false faith.

I’m digressing but it bears mentioning that the Bible and religion in America have been used to justify numerous atrocities, from slavery to war to not allowing women to vote. Somebody stood up to question each of these and in each case was labeled as a threat to normal and decent society and yes, as unpatriotic. They were labeled as dangerous radicals and were not only verbally attacked but were physically attacked and even killed…by good, upstanding and patriotic Christian citizens.

Am I unpatriotic for bringing these things up? Am I unpatriotic for questioning the actions of my government and acknowledging injustice and inequity when I see them? I wonder if a man who acknowledges that he has a drinking problem should be labeled as self-loathing for recognizing his addiction.

What the republicans and the far right fails to recognize is that admitting one’s faults and failures is a strength not a weakness. It’s how you get better. It’s how America became great in the first place. We’ve made some mistakes in the past and we are making some in the present and the true patriots are the people who can recognize this and acknowledge when change is needed. There are people who fear and will fight a change in the status quo. These are the people at the top, the elite, the Cindy McCain’s.

Apparently there are two kinds of elite when it comes to the political argument. There are the Cindy McCain’s and the George W. Bush’s who were born into wealth and privilege; they are elite. And then there are the other ‘elites’. The Michelle and Barack Obama’s who weren’t born into any kind of privilege and worked against all odds to obtain degrees from prestigious universities –institutions normally reserved for the first kind of elite – are the second kind of elite. It should not be surprising at all that the second kind of elites would be more prone to making valid criticisms of their country. It hasn’t coddled them because of their birthright but in fact has done the opposite. Does this make them unpatriotic? I’d argue that the answer is no. It makes them honest. The truth isn’t always pretty and as a rule, the truth is going to upset someone.

America can still be a great country. I’m not proud of what has become of us over the past eight years and if it makes me unpatriotic to criticize and hold accountable those who were responsible, then let me state here for the record that I am proud to be unpatriotic. This country is growing and changing right now and it’s going to make some people very uncomfortable. That first breed of elites will fight change tooth and claw but the rest of us…well, we will welcome it.

Cindy McCain, call me any name you like. You and I live in two different Americas and we have two very different definitions of patriotism.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Sublime Hilarity (Stream Of Consciousness)

We fill up pages and time litters the sidewalks of our Eden. The art of procrastination is on display, naked like the wilted leaf on the path to nowhere. You might get lucky enough for half a second to realize you are nothing. The platitudes and admonitions may be exposed to the light and evaporate like condensation from a can of cold brew. You might find yourself upon a precipice and then again, you might have the good fortune of walking through the valley of the shadow of death in nothing more than your underpants and a pair of cheap sunglasses. You might realize you are Don Quixote and those windmills are real smart asses. The stars poke through the black canvas one by one…are they laughing at you? More importantly, are you laughing at them? Humor lurks behind every rotting corpse. That may offend you. If you let your thoughts just go where they will, you just might offend yourself. This is life and there are no sidelines to sit on. Better to find that out the easy way than to have the teacher catch you sleeping and embarrass you in front of the class. We can sift through this charade of plastic pink flamingos together or you can go it alone. It’s not hard to see if you would only remove the metal bucket from your head. It will be much easier to sleep when it’s not there for other people to bang on with their wooden spoons. It’s not so funny now is it? Wrong. It’s funnier now than ever. You’re clever. So am I but what good has that done either of us? We both piss into the same wind and the wind gets the last laugh. Ah, if only the wind could be bottled up and sold at convenience stores or taken with bread and wine on communion Sunday. Contemplate. Meditate. But don’t procrastinate. I can say it with a straight face but that’s about it. If we only knew, we’d be laughing right now too. Two stars might collide but that would be less significant than either of us feeling the vibe. I can dig it. I can roll with it. I’m willing to let the sand slide through my fingertips and down into the trembling Earth, with all it’s wanton hypocrisy, with all it’s perfunctory grace. If it were any more graceful, surely one of us would have dissolved into a beam of sunshine by now and confused the hell out of the peanut gallery. Shhhh.. .Can you hear that? Dead ass silence dishing out wisdom for free. Go ahead, take a peek out the window. The moon ain’t countin’ no age. The flowers still bloom when the stock market crashes. You might Botox that expanse between what you wanna see and reality but…that shit’s just poison. You’d do far better by tying a rope to one leg and hanging upside down from a towering tree in an invisible forest. The world only has any hope of making sense when seen upside down. So go on ahead. Climb up that tree and tie the knot good. You’re gonna be there awhile. Screw the neighbors. They only give you bad looks because you mirror their own inanity back to them. It’s like that when the circus comes to town and you are the freak show.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Starbuckanoia

It wasn’t the first time he had privately entertained the possibility that aliens could be the controlling agency behind the Starbucks phenomenon. Ludicrous, he thought. Absurd, he said to himself. He didn’t even know that he believed in extra terrestrials. Well he did actually, but he couldn’t be sure that they had visited our little patch of paradise in the galaxy, much less have infiltrated Starbucks. My God what people will believe…he thought this to himself also. But there was that Phoenix lights thing. I mean, like thousands of people saw that, right? He’d even seen the video of those strange celestial formations taking shape over that desert metropolis. Something was surely parading itself with intentional fanfare and he found laughable the government claim that it was all just military flares.

This kind of thing grated on him constantly… dumb, implausible explanations by supposed authority figures or agencies. Even more befuddling to him was that there was a certain mentality in the human psyche that sat rapt like a trained pup, ready to eagerly swallow any tidbit of comforting explanation that was tossed down by these presumed benevolent purveyors of (dis)information. This attitude pervaded so many aspects of life for those disposed to this gullible and incurious way of thinking. Religion. Education. Commerce. Morality. How so many people could willingly allow their opinions and viewpoints on these and other important subjects to be spoon fed to them by someone else was a disgrace.

How did I even get on this train of thought? he asked himself. Oh yeah, Starbucks and aliens. It could be possible. $2.45 for a clear plastic cup with some ice and green tea inside? And what was tea when one really thought about it? Water! So $2.45 for a throw-away cup full of flavored water. That wasn’t even the kicker though. One could procure this exact green tea from any grocery store for about $3.40 a box. A box made about twenty cups of tea, or ten the way he used it. No matter how one sliced it he had just paid one dollar less for a single cup of tea than he could have paid for ten cups of tea.

He pondered this and all the sub-thoughts that went along with it. Shame. Guilt. Embarassment. These all naturally flowed as he remorsefully contemplated his actions. And the really bad part? He had that same tea at home, readily available and easy to prepare. Home was less than seven minutes away. But by some act of demonic influence or alien possession he had just paid $2.45 for this cup of tea. WTF? He thought. What’s become of me? Damn, I’m starting to think in text messaging! This troubled him further.

One could lament over this sort of thing for hours if allowed to indulge and wallow in self-pity. He knew this and disciplined himself to move on mentally. But the episode did solidify the alien possibility in his mind. He had just willingly engaged in a bizarre, irrational, and disconcerting act that worked directly in the interest of Starbucks and against his. What kind of otherworldly voodoo could be responsible for this?

And have you seen the people that work at Starbucks? So annoyingly perky with that tenuous fa├žade of cool trendiness. Who would intentionally act this way in public? He scolded himself for being so judgmental. They’re just people, he thought to himself. Just doing their job. They probably have new hire orientation classes where they teach the Starbucks attitude.

“Whatsup dude. What can I get started for you today?” Well gee dude, why dontcha go right ahead and just yank my wallet out of my back pocket and then smack me upside the head for good measure…okay? Thank you. I’ll pop back in tomorrow so we can do this again.