Saturday, August 15, 2009

My Pal Qadhafi

Kevin at Rumproast catches Maverick Man makin' friends with that "smart power."

John McCain—Late evening with Col. Qadhafi at his ranch in Libya - interesting meeting with an interesting man.

I got ten bucks says Muhammar threw a barbecue for Johhny Volcano there.

And Kevin's right, if, say, Nancy Pelosi or Dick Durbin or even SecState Clinton, Big Dog Bill, or Wacky Joe Biden did this, the Sunday shows would have Conservatrons screaming that President Obama was selling us out for a copy of his Libyan long form birth certificate.

Where The Wildfires Are

As if California didn't have enough problems, it's wildfire season again.
Firefighters this morning were battling several large brush fires across California, including a wind-driven blaze in the Santa Cruz Mountains that was threatening several towns and forced thousands to evacuate.

Gusty winds continued to hamper efforts to fight the brush fires, and weather forecasters said the conditions should continue through the weekend.

The greatest danger is posed by the blaze burning north of Santa Cruz, which has destroyed two structures and consumed more than 2,800 acres and is 15% contained. Named the Lockheed fire, the blaze is being driven by heavy winds, and hand crews have experienced trouble reaching the fire lines. As a result, the fire is mostly being fought by air. That fire started Wednesday evening and is threatening Swanton, Davenport and Bonny Doon.
Keep in mind California's budget cuts mean fewer firefighters to try to prevent these wildfires from starting and fewer firefighters to stop these when they flare up. That means they'll spread further, do more damage, and possibly claim more lives.

You also have to keep in mind that decades of expensive wildfires have really taken their toll on the state as well. And in California, it's almost impossible to raise taxes. That means budget cuts for everyone...including firefighters.

Of course, the solution is more tax cuts, according to our Republican friends, right?

Still Crazy After All This Time

Via Yggy, WaPo columnist Rick Perlstein documents the history of the Wingnut throughout the decades:

In the early 1950s, Republicans referred to the presidencies of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman as "20 years of treason" and accused the men who led the fight against fascism of deliberately surrendering the free world to communism. Mainline Protestants published a new translation of the Bible in the 1950s that properly rendered the Greek as connoting a more ambiguous theological status for the Virgin Mary; right-wingers attributed that to, yes, the hand of Soviet agents. And Vice President Richard Nixon claimed that the new Republicans arriving in the White House "found in the files a blueprint for socializing America."

When John F. Kennedy entered the White House, his proposals to anchor America's nuclear defense in intercontinental ballistic missiles -- instead of long-range bombers -- and form closer ties with Eastern Bloc outliers such as Yugoslavia were taken as evidence that the young president was secretly disarming the United States. Thousands of delegates from 90 cities packed a National Indignation Convention in Dallas, a 1961 version of today's tea parties; a keynote speaker turned to the master of ceremonies after his introduction and remarked as the audience roared: "Tom Anderson here has turned moderate! All he wants to do is impeach [Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl] Warren. I'm for hanging him!"

Before the "black helicopters" of the 1990s, there were right-wingers claiming access to secret documents from the 1920s proving that the entire concept of a "civil rights movement" had been hatched in the Soviet Union; when the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act was introduced, one frequently read in the South that it would "enslave" whites. And back before there were Bolsheviks to blame, paranoids didn't lack for subversives -- anti-Catholic conspiracy theorists even had their own powerful political party in the 1840s and '50s.

The instigation is always the familiar litany: expansion of the commonweal to empower new communities, accommodation to internationalism, the heightened influence of cosmopolitans and the persecution complex of conservatives who can't stand losing an argument. My personal favorite? The federal government expanded mental health services in the Kennedy era, and one bill provided for a new facility in Alaska. One of the most widely listened-to right-wing radio programs in the country, hosted by a former FBI agent, had millions of Americans believing it was being built to intern political dissidents, just like in the Soviet Union.

So, crazier then, or crazier now? Actually, the similarities across decades are uncanny. When Adlai Stevenson spoke at a 1963 United Nations Day observance in Dallas, the Indignation forces thronged the hall, sweating and furious, shrieking down the speaker for the television cameras. Then, when Stevenson was walked to his limousine, a grimacing and wild-eyed lady thwacked him with a picket sign. Stevenson was baffled. "What's the matter, madam?" he asked. "What can I do for you?" The woman responded with self-righteous fury: "Well, if you don't know I can't help you."

And while Wingnuttery has been around for a very long time, the greater point Perlstein makes however is an excellent one: Democrats were able to beat back such stupidity before.

But in the age of the viral e-mail and 24-hour Village news cycle, liberalism is in mortal peril.

Liberals are right to be vigilant about manufactured outrage, and particularly about how the mainstream media can too easily become that outrage's entry into the political debate. For the tactic represented by those fake Nixon letters was a long-term success. Conservatives have become adept at playing the media for suckers, getting inside the heads of editors and reporters, haunting them with the thought that maybe they are out-of-touch cosmopolitans and that their duty as tribunes of the people's voices means they should treat Obama's creation of "death panels" as just another justiciable political claim. If 1963 were 2009, the woman who assaulted Adlai Stevenson would be getting time on cable news to explain herself. That, not the paranoia itself, makes our present moment uniquely disturbing.

It used to be different. You never heard the late Walter Cronkite taking time on the evening news to "debunk" claims that a proposed mental health clinic in Alaska is actually a dumping ground for right-wing critics of the president's program, or giving the people who made those claims time to explain themselves on the air. The media didn't adjudicate the ever-present underbrush of American paranoia as a set of "conservative claims" to weigh, horse-race-style, against liberal claims. Back then, a more confident media unequivocally labeled the civic outrage represented by such discourse as "extremist" -- out of bounds.

The tree of crazy is an ever-present aspect of America's flora. Only now, it's being watered by misguided he-said-she-said reporting and taking over the forest. Latest word is that the enlightened and mild provision in the draft legislation to help elderly people who want living wills -- the one hysterics turned into the "death panel" canard -- is losing favor, according to the Wall Street Journal, because of "complaints over the provision."

Good thing our leaders weren't so cowardly in 1964, or we would never have passed a civil rights bill -- because of complaints over the provisions in it that would enslave whites.

Sadly, those same leaders are now all but gone. They've been replaced by the Max Baucuses and Kent Conrads and Ben Nelsons and Blanche Lincolns of the world, men and women who are bought and paid for by their lobbyist masters, the only constituents that matter. Crossing them costs these people tens of millions of campaign dollars and their cushy Senate job as someone more willing to play the game is located and paid.

The health care debate, after all, is nothing more than a proxy fight between the drug companies and hospitals on one side and the insurance giants on the other, and so far the insurance companies are winning running away, through the power of the net and the "news". It was never about people actually getting sick and being able to afford coverage, after all.

That's just crazy talk. Can you imagine what would have happened to the Civil Rights Act of 1965 in 2009? Hell, as it is the Supreme Court keeps waiting for the test case to eliminate it altogether. Think about that.

This Week's Busted Banks

Another Saturday morning, another check of the FDIC's Failed Bank List. We've got five casualties to report from Friday, including the largest single bank failure of 2009, Alabama's second largest bank in Colonial Bank. Yesterday I mentioned North Carolina-based BB&T was buying the assets and branches and leaving the toxic mess to the FDIC, the FDIC has now confirmed the transaction. But there's a larger domino effect problem with Colonial going under:
The collapse of Colonial BancGroup poses another hazard to the still-shaky housing market: Mortgages could become even harder to get.

The Southern regional bank, based in Montgomery, Ala., was the largest remaining player in warehouse lending, which provides short-term financing to independent mortgage bankers. At one time, these mortgage bankers originated half of all U.S. home loans using these funds.

Today, the warehouse lending market is decimated. In 2007 it was worth an estimated $200 billion; now there is just $25 billion available -- 25% of which belongs to Colonial. With Colonial's failure, those funds could become even more scarce.

"It's like if they shut down half the concession stands at the baseball game," said Scott Stern, CEO of the Lenders One mortgage bankers group in St. Louis. "It means the guy who's last in line is going to have to wait a lot longer to get a hot dog, and in this market who knows what the price is going to be when he gets there?"

In other words the independent mortgage broker market is all but dead before this happened, now? That's bad, bad news for the mortgage market. What it means is the big boys are getting a larger and larger chunk of the mortgage game, the same big 19 banks that were deemed "Too Big To Fail" by the government. The rest of the financial industry is being consumed. A total of 77 banks have gone under in 2009. Many, many more will follow as competition is eliminated by consolidation.

The era of the local bank is coming to an end, folks. Over the next several years you will see larger and larger bank failures and consolidation buyouts. Those banks that the government saved with our money will flourish. Those not so lucky will eventually be squeezed out and bought out, or will go under as the commercial real estate market continues to disintegrate.

U.S. commercial real estate market values fell by more than 17 percent in the first half of the year, outstripping their decline for all of 2008, according to the Investment Property Databank (IPD).

Last year, values fell 12.2 percent, according to the report released Friday.

U.S. commercial real estate values in the first half of 2009 fell more steeply than UK values, said IPD, which analyzes commercial real estate data in global major markets.

"For global real estate investors this may come as a surprise, given that Britain was the most significant real estate market to suffer in 2008," IPD Managing Director Simon Fairchild said in a statement.

U.S. values in the second quarter declined by 6.9 percent, easing somewhat from the 10.8 percent drop in the first quarter, IPD said.

Less competition, higher fees, rates, and charges for you. After all, in some places I expect there to soon not be any competition, or just two or three megabanks controlling all the branches in one area. Credit unions will still be an option, but only if you meet the union's requirements. Most Americans will have little choice soon.

The consolidation of the industry continues.

StupidiNews, Weekend Edition!

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