Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Last Call

Yeah, this story has me hopping mad.  Turns out the banks had some help selling subprime garbage to minority groups, in particular Wells Fargo had radio host Tavis Smiley on their payroll selling crap loans during the housing bubble and now I can't think of anyone else who deserves the lawsuit against them as a result.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions:

As the housing market began booming in the mid-2000s, Wells Fargo & Co. teamed up with prominent African American commentator and PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley and financial author Kelvin Boston, the host of “Moneywise,” a multicultural financial affairs show, to host something called “Wealth Building” seminars in black neighborhoods.

Smiley was the keynote speaker, and the big draw, according to Boston and Keith Corbett, executive vice president of the Center for Responsible Lending, who attended two of the seminars. Smiley would charge up the audience — and rattle the Wells Fargo executives in attendance — by launching into a story about how he hated banks, and how they used to refuse to lend him money for his real estate projects in Compton, Calif., and elsewhere. After Hurricane Katrina, Smiley also emphasized the importance of building assets and wealth, saying those who had done so were able to leave New Orleans, while people with nothing had to stay behind, Boston said.

Seems like a good plan, until Wells Fargo went in to close the sale.

But what appeared on the surface as a way to help black borrowers build wealth was actually just the opposite, according to a little-noticed explanation of the “Wealth Building” seminar strategy, contained in a lawsuit recently filed by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

Wells’ plan for the seminars all along was to target black borrowers for higher-cost subprime mortgages, not for wealth-building, the suit charged. And the seminars were a part of the bank’s overall illegal and discriminatory practice of steering black and Hispanic borrowers into riskier and more expensive loans, the suit said.

“According to a former Wells Fargo Home Mortgage employee, one of these ‘Wealth Building’ seminars held in Maryland was planned for an audience that would be virtually all African American,” the suit said. “The plan for the seminar was for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage employees to talk about subprime mortgages, although they were directed by Wells Fargo Home Mortgage to use the term ‘alternative lending’ when marketing these products.”

The former employee, who is white, was scheduled to speak at the seminar, but was told by a manager that she was “too white,” and that only black employees could make presentations, the suit said.

Yeah, in other words, Tavis Smiley and Kelvin Boston  got paid to bring in the marks and Wells Fargo bagged subprime loans as a result.  Boston seems to be throwing Smiley under the bus pretty quickly in this story, and Smiley has said very little.

If I didn't think Smiley was a brazen opportunistic asshole before, I sure as hell do now.  Not everybody that ruined the economy for minorities was white, folks.

About As Bright As A Potted Plant

Because the Winger mindset is that everything political must be motivated by the unending desire to win more power, the only possible explanation of the "horrifying" exchange between the President and a Google employee named Doug Edwards at yesterday's LinkedIn town hall in Silicon Valley where Edwards asked the President to raise his taxes is that the employee had to be an obvious plant in the audience.

Oh, liberals gushed when a rich audience member asked Obama that question today. It seems relevant to point out that this rich liberal is Doug Edwards from the Obama-friendly and regulation-friendly Google.

Edwards has given $300,000 to politicians since 2000 -- every single dime to Democrats. He specifically said he wanted his higher taxes to cover Pell Grants.

Oh, the abject horror of that!  The wingers are in full poutrage mode this morning, with FOX Nation calling Evans a plant and Malkin shrieking about President Obama possibly doing something Bush 43 did for eight years without a peep out of her.

The Right's position on taxes is that every successful businessperson in the country succeeded in spite of them, not because of services and programs funded by them.  The fact that Massachusetts Dem Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren dared to call out conservatives on this has clearly struck one hell of a nerve, and the President took up Warren's argument yesterday at the town hall event.  Greg Sargent:

Conservatives have offered a number of responses to this argument. Some have insisted that if wealthy people like Buffett and the former Google exec want to pay higher taxes, by God, they should go ahead and pay higher taxes. But this badly misses the point: These men are making an argument about the imperative that their whole income group do more to help solve our fiscal mess, not just about their own desire to chip in more themselves. 

And that's what the modern GOP can't comprehend, the notion that with great wealth in society and the power and freedom that wealth brings there comes responsibility to help maintain that society.  Since as I mentioned before the only possible motivation in the GOP worldview is self-aggrandizement and the relentless pursuit of more wealth, it's simply a foreign concept to many of them.

It all comes down to whether or not you believe society's wealthy should work to make the system capable of producing more like themselves, or to do everything they can to produce fewer so that wealth stays with those who have it, and by dint of possession are those most capable and worthy of having it by making sure it's not "malinvested" with the unwashed, unworthy masses.

Or, as the joke goes, American exceptionalism means a bunch of people who were born on third base in life believing they got there because they hit a triple.

He's Just Doing His Job

Behold the power of the free market libertarian utopia.

While European government and financial leaders are scrambling to prevent a financial crisis in the Eurozone that would likely throw the global economy into even more turmoil, stock trader Alessio Rastani took to BBC today to tell the world that traders were looking forward to the possibility of a second big recession. “For most traders, it’s not about – we don’t really care that much how they’re going to fix the economy, how they’re going to fix the whole situation,” he said. “Our job is to make money from it.” Rastani, who also claimed “Goldman Sachs rules the world,” said, “Personally, I’ve been dreaming of this moment for three years…I go to bed every night and I dream of another recession. When the market crashes… if you know what to do, if you have the right plan set up, you can make a lot of money from this.

Of course if you're not in position to take advantage of another recession that will likely wreck our economy for another decade or more, that's not really Alessio Rastani's problem now, is it?  There's no wrong or right, no black or white, only green green green.  That's the best part about the GOP "wreck the economy by making sure nothing gets done to prevent another financial crisis" plan:  if you know the catastrophe is coming, you can make money off of it.

Hey, that's all that matters, right?  Rest of the planet gets brutally Darwined and you win.  His job is to make money.  Who cares if people get destroyed while doing it?  It's your fault for being too poor not to play the game and win.

Bowels In An Uproar Over Juice

Fruits and veggies are helpful at preventing certain diseases.  Many components of fruit are helpful at preventing bowel cancer, including rectal cancer.  A new study suggests that fruit served in the form of juice may backfire, the sugar content actually raising the risk of cancer without the nutitional benefits that offset the risk.

As a diabetic, I can chip in on this to a degree.  I have to offset the nutritional value of sugary foods to make good choices.  Juice is a no-no because it offers no fiber or other benefits from fruit, so I have to get my vitamins from whole oranges and apples.  One thing the study overlooked was low-sugar offerings.  Mott's apple juice has a variety that has all the nutrients but half the sugar. 

There is a disclaimer in the article that explains this is a new study, and that it is difficult to measure food's affect on health when we eat a varied diet.  Some patterns emerge overall, such as limit red meat and increase fiber, but even red meat has a place in our diet, just in a smaller amount. 

It might just be that I am overwhelmed by the studies, but it seems to me every food has a benefit and a downside.  After all the studies are categorized and analyzed, I imagine the end result will still be "eat well and with variety and moderation."  Good advice then and now.

What Bon Would Like To Ask Candidates

It's time for all the politicians to start aligning themselves and we'll soon be bombarded by what every candidate says and how we all feel about it.  I thought I would get ahead of the curve and throw out some questions that would get to the root of some issues, at least for me.  Interviews are all a shell game now, misdirection combined with banter, and a slick talker can move past a question without saying anything... usually by making it into a similar but safer topic.

I know this isn't covering everything.  I don't even mention jobs or the economy, because I want to ask questions that might be missed, not the ones that every single interview will cover.  After you cover the obvious, there are always some frequently missed questions.  Here are a few of mine:

  • Instead of your list of what Obama has done wrong, what do you plan to continue?  We can't expect much when the entire country reboots every four years.  What is going in the right direction, and what should be done to continue it?
  • What are you going to do to protect our privacy?  The Patriot Act is a big deal, and it was supposedly for a specific purpose that has long since passed (it was weak to begin with).  Are you going to give us our rights back and defend us against powers of abuse?  People need peace of mind and protection. Still, in my opinion this was the worst Bush-ism that Obama failed to put right.
  • Rather than what you believe (though of course that is a point of interest), do you plan to respect our right to be different?  Instead of restricting rights and legal recognition of lawful citizens, do you plan to represent all Americans?  Do you think it is right to allow one section of Americans to tell another how to live their personal lives, or are you finally willing to allow gay families to be acknowledged as Americans?  I mean, they pay taxes, fight in our military, teach our children and save our lives in hospitals.  Do you believe they deserve a voice?
  • What are you going to do to bring the country together?  What are your plans to empower the working and protect the poor?  What incentives are you going to bring that will change the state of life for hundreds of thousands of hungry people?
  • How have you handled mistakes in your past?  Everyone has them, that's not the concern.  But were they buried in lies and outrage, or dealt with quickly and professionally?  Are you the type to pretend you're perfect, or are you a realist and able to react quickly when you see an adjustment is required?

Those are the things I'd like to know about, even though it isn't nearly the equivalent of foreign policy or economic balance.  It speaks to me about their views and the things I can expect from them.  I got a taste of what it was like to have a mature, thoughtful leader, and I hope we continue in that direction.  The bottom line is how are they going to bring us together, and how are we going to climb out of this mess?  It's going to take more than an endless supply of bullshit to get that done.

What are you guys watching for?  We should assemble a few points to follow as we go into 2012.  What is on your minds?

Shutdown Countdown: Here We Go Again, Part 5

Looks like the Dems held their ground on the FEMA/disaster relief provisions in the Senate and the Republicans have caved totally with a 79-12 vote.  So how did the Dems win?

What ultimately broke the impasse was FEMA's announcement Monday that it won't run out of funds early this week -- a presumption House Republicans had hoped would force Senate Democrats to accept a partisan budget cut, on the threat that disaster victims would otherwise be deprived of assistance for days or even weeks.

Indeed, according to a Senate Democratic aide, FEMA has assured Congress that they will be flush through the end of the fiscal year on Friday night -- no need, in other words, for a supplemental funding bill.

When the need for emergency funds disappeared, though, so did the GOP's leverage and at the last minute Reid introduced a compromise: Clean legislation to fund the government -- including more money for FEMA, no offsets.

In other words, Republicans clearly overplayed their hands and got burned.  Dems presented a united front and the GOP had nothing to fight with.  Imagine that, Dems.  Despite the truly stupid notion that standing up for something as controversial as a clean disaster bill was picking a fight (because in Washington, the Dems should always cave to their Republican betters in the name of bipartisanship) Harry Reid and company got it done.

Well played, Mr. Senate Majority Leader.  This one is a solid win for the Democrats and for the American people.  Let's see more of this spinal fortitude thing, please.

That's the good news.  The bad?

Under the terms of the agreement, the Senate nixed all of the plans at the center of last week's government shutdown fight. In its place, it passed legislation to fund the government through mid-November, setting up the possibility of yet more bickering and brinkmanship about the budget in six weeks

So yeah, I'll pick up with Part 6 of this series in November.  Hooray.

Denial Is A River In Wisconsin, Too

Looks like I have to throw another brick at PolitiFact.

The Democratic Governors Association said Walker "is denying Democrats the right to vote."

It can be argued that Wisconsin’s photo ID law will lead some people who tend to vote for Democrats to stop voting. It’s certainly true that most Wisconsin residents who don’t have a photo ID will have to get one in order to vote.

But words matter. The association goes too far in saying Walker is denying Democrats the right to vote. That is simply not the case.

We rate the claim as Pants on Fire.

Really?  Because it seems to me the entire purpose of every Republican-born voter ID law is to indeed deny traditional Democratic groups from voting.  It indeed places barriers interfering with the right to vote, and does it in such a way that it reduces turnout for Democrats.  Hell, PolitiFact freely admits that much.

The DGA’s evidence essentially amounts to a prediction that the photo ID law would cause some voters who tend to back Democrats to stop voting. Giangreco replied by saying: "I think that the (photo ID) law is tantamount to denying people the right to vote."

It seems to me that it's at worst half-true by PolitiFact standards, but that in an of itself would be a tacit admission that the sole purpose of voter ID laws in red states is to reduce turnout among Democrats.  Lord knows we can't have anybody fact check that particular claim.  Better to call it Pants on Fire lie and dismiss the controversy altogether.

Funny how that works.  Claiming something factually incorrect that "goes too far" is the standard for the dreaded Pants On Fire rating at PolitiFact, even if there's some truth to the matter as the site admits, but apparently that standard doesn't apply to Herman Cain, Rick Perry (who gets several passes), Orange Julius, or for a crapload of Michele Bachmann lies.

Go figure.

Moving Forward At Your Own Perry-il, Part 9

A two-fer for Rick Perry idiocy today at people are starting to take a closer look at how the Texas Republican has really run the state as Governor, and the results are frighteningly bad.  First, he has a Bush-like crony capitalism problem:

In 2008, Larry Soward, one of three commissioners on Texas' environmental regulatory agency, cast the lone dissenting vote against licensing a controversial low-level nuclear disposal site in far West Texas.

Looking back now, Soward says, "it didn't take too much of a rocket-scientist" to conclude that the project — pushed by one of Gov. Rick Perry's biggest political donors — would ultimately be approved.

Dallas multibillionaire Harold Simmons' successful quest to build the Andrews County facility is encountering renewed scrutiny now that his political beneficiary is a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.

Simmons has donated $1.2 million to Perry's gubernatorial campaigns since 2001 to become Perry's second-largest individual contributor, according to Texans for Public Justice, a state watchdog organization. He also has donated $100,000 to an independent political action committee that sought to wage a write-in candidacy for Perry in the Iowa straw poll this year.

And second, his state appointments have no problem taking tens of millions away from Texas schools to give it to oil refineries.

Three commissioners appointed by Gov. Rick Perry may grant some of the nation's largest refineries a tax refund of more than $135 million , money Texas' cash-strapped schools and other local governments have been counting on to help pay teachers and provide other public services.

The refund would mean more pain for some communities after a year in which state lawmakers had to grapple with a $27 billion shortfall and slashed spending on public schools by more than $4 billion. Nearly half the refund would be taken from public schools, and those in cities where the refineries are based would be hurt the most.

"We were already cut at the knees as it is, but more cuts? It's appalling," said Patricia Gonzales, a single mother of 13-year-old twins at Park View Intermediate School in Pasadena, a refinery town just south of Houston. Gonzales was just elected president of the school's new parent-teacher organization, which was formed this summer after the state budget cuts left the school lacking everything from pencils to paper towels.

Sorry, Texas schools.  $4 billion in cuts to education isn't enough, we have to give tax refunds to oil companies and yank even more money from your budget.  Tough.  That's what Republicans do to public education: if you were meant to go to school, God would have made your parents rich enough to afford a private one.

Rick Perry's Inconsequential America rolls on...



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