Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others.—W. Churchill

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Congress Mortgaged our Markets

The financial markets in this country are weathering a severe storm. My strategy in life, modeled for me by some great people, has always been to face rough times with humor. Right now, though, is no time for a belly laugh, not with a lot of very good people watching their net worth slip through the netting and down the drain. But a chuckle is still appropriate, even if it comes with a grim echo.

The funniest gag of all comes from Nancy Pelosi, blaming the Bush administration for the collapse of the nation’s mortgage base. This occurred, she says, because of a lack of regulation and oversight. For people living out here in the real world, that is a real thigh-slapping screamer. What brought so many mortgage banks down was a surfeit of regulation and oversight, but regulation designed for goals other than fiscal security.

Look, anyone who has bought or sold a house in the last twenty years is well aware of the situation. The real estate agent or mortgage broker whom you work with will certainly clue you in to the existence of FHA mortgages, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. You, as a middle-class person, will be told that you must put up 20 percent of the cost of the home you purchase. It is possible also to pay 10 percent in advance and borrow 90 percent, but then you will have to pay a monthly charge above the mortgage payment. That charge is to pay for mortgage insurance, where the bank gets some additional degree of protection from loss in case they foreclose and the house only sells for 80 percent of value.

But if you are poor, the agent or broker adds, then you are in good shape. Between Fannie and Freddie they can lend you up to 95, 97 and 100 percent of the price.

Now, I have been both buyer and seller of real estate over these two decades, and I have been shaking my head quietly over this situation. It was clear to me, as it should have been to any responsible person, that this system was a disaster waiting to happen. There is a reason why banks do not agree to lend more than 80 percent of the value of the property, more than one reason in fact. Values often go down twenty percent on their own, and the value of a home in foreclosure is also hurt by the process. There is also a reason to demand that a buyer put up some money, more than one reason here too. It is important that a person has some ability to manage funds well enough to accumulate some; it also bodes well for repayment when the purchaser has put some of his own capital on the line.

The idea of helping a poor person get a house is wonderful, but it flies against some of the harder edges of reality. It could work in many cases, or even in most cases, but it puts the lender in the position of having no margin for error. As long as the borrower can keep his job, with a salary increasing in proportion to inflation, without radical new expenditures caused by illness, and as long as the house keeps its value, the result will be a win-win. But if any one of those elements takes a hit, the whole house of cards will come tumbling down.

Clearly, then, the only way this system works is by eventually pushing the bad debt back to the government. Yet the government bureaucrats do not have their own money at stake. What they do have at risk is their job if they cannot show Congress that enough poor people are getting into homes. An unhealthy paradox evolves, where the government worries more about pushing loans than about collecting loans. Lenders and brokers get the message, so they run around recruiting new buyers among the barely-employed. How could this fail to fail?

Fail it has. After years of scratching my head, trying to figure out how this works, I have achieved perfect clarity. No mystery here after all. The answer is simple: it does not work! Never did, never could have.

As with any crisis, the only hope is if the villains are correctly identified and blame is reasonably apportioned. What are the chances that Congress will suddenly hit themselves in the collective forehead and yell, “Eureka, two plus two equals four”? Now there is a thought that has to make you chuckle.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

No Gloating, Rethuglicans!

Well, that's what the leftosphere calls you. Rethuglicans, fascists, Nazis, whatever.

Yes, John McCain's Hail Sarah pass worked. Definitely. He threw it, she caught it.

McCain and the GOP were headed for a November drubbing on the order of Goldwater or the 2006 congressional elections. And now, McCain/Palin is even or even ahead in the polls of the popular vote, although the Electoral College remains problematic.

So a wipeout looks unlikely.

Gov. Sarah Louise Hussein Palin [R-Caribou Country] came out of almost-nowhere and found herself thrust upon the world stage. She's handled herself with other-worldly dignity, grace, and aplomb, far surpassing Barack Obama's at this point. But Brother Barack had the same sangfroid at the start of his journey. It's only recently that his wheels have begun to wobble, and his cool meter is pegging on "overheated."

Me, I think Sen. Obama is reaching his Peter Principle Point, where we all excel until we reach our level of incompetence and then sit and die there. Barack Obama's PPP is getting nominated by his party for president: think Adlai Stevenson, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, and Bob Dole before him---good men all. [Some notable omissions there, but let's move on...]

I could be proved wrong, of course, come November 5, 2008, although we all hope not sometime in December. Lord, can you please spare us that much? The Gore-ocrats are still whining about the year 2000!

John McCain himself will figure into this circus at some point, perhaps, being as he's the one running for president and all.

I think John McCain knows what he believes and who he is, and his opponent illustrates every day that he remains unsure of either one. Americans've had a radar for such distinctions for practically ever. We'll find out pretty soon if the American radar is still online.

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Sarah for Veep, and lest we forget, McCain for President

Well, John McCain's selection of Gov. Sarah Louise Hussein Palin (R-Alaska) makes me 0-for-4 in my prognostications. But that's cool. This is my favorite wrong one.

New polls give McC/Sarah a 4-point general lead and a 10-point lead among "those most likely to vote." Astonishing.

"The Democrats are in trouble. Sarah Palin has totally changed the dynamics of this campaign."---Willie Brown


Now, Willie Brown is mebbe the most astute politician I've ever seen. He was king of the California Assembly for so many years that California put in term limits just for him. Still, when the GOP finally won a 39-39 standoff in the state house---something I expect them never to get close to again in this writer's lifetime---WB peeled off a couple of GOP turncoats, put them "in charge," got himself declared "speaker emeritus," and kept control. It was a beautiful thing.
The old white boys got taken fair and square.---WB

Hehe, they sure did. The old white boys got mad instead of appreciating and applauding Willie's mastery of their own game. Did 'em no good, though: in fact, they downright disappeared, like Whigs or mastodons.

[Republicans are still rumored to survive in California, either as changelings like Arnold Schwarzenegger or as sasquatches somewhere out by Fresno.]

Anywayz, if party man and consummate pol Willie Brown---when he needed a new gig, he easily scored the mayor's job in San Francisco even though he was an Oakland man---says that this Palin thing has turned the game completely on its head, I believe him more than any poll or pollster or pundit or analyst. Willie is the best.

If Sarah can make it through her upcoming media colonoscopy---or if the press finally gives Barack his, which is way way past due (there are surely more "investigative" reporters in Alaska right now than were ever dispatched to Sen. Obama's Chicago)---well, you see where I'm going with this:

Election night 2008 celebrations will consume far more Budweiser than soy products. That would be good for America, I think---if not its bodies, its soul.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Combing Through the Whole Story

Yes, the piece you are about to read exemplifies the very reason you regularly make the trek to peruse this inimitable blog. Er, on second thought you have not been trekking here. On third thought, you may not be reading even this, having drifted away to greener pastures.

Anyway, you will notice in this item about Mackenzie Phillips being arrested for uncontrolled possession of a controlled substance that the spokesman for the LAX cops is Sgt. Holcomb. If you Google the earlier story about Britney Spears scuffling with a photog at the airport you will note the good Sergeant's role in that saga as well.

To readers of the Perry Mason series of novels, there can be only one Sergeant Holcomb, the bumbling cop who keeps trying to work his way up to Homicide and then gets demoted when Mason humiliates him on the witness stand.

If you Google the name Sergeant Holcomb, you will find tales of a number of heroes by that name, both soldiers and police officers, including some who were killed on duty.

But to actually have a police officer by that name in Los Angeles, where the Mason stories are based, is delightfully rich. We wish him well in the arduous world of celebrity law enforcement.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Keith Olbermann on Michelle Obama's Convention Speech


"I'm sounding borderline sycophantic on this, I know..."---K. Olbermann, MSNBC newsanchor


Not at all, Keith. Truth is your game, and Truth is your middle name. This is why you're such a respected journalist. Ed R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite or Rachel Maddow couldn't have done it any better. Go for it, dude.