Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Because We All Need a Laugh...

Hold on. Take a deep breath... Ralph Nader is running for president.

Remember (back in whatever month it was) when we announced it here, and I subsequently begged Mr. Nader to go home, or straight to hell, whichever was closest?

We'll I'll be damned.

He is still running, have a look here at this website.

I really don't have much to say that I haven't already said on the subject of Ralph Nader and the danger he poses to putting any Democrat in the oval office. There's certainly not much more I can say for the respect I have for him as our nation's preeminent consumer advocate and champion. The whole world owes him profound thanks for the seat belt. But seriously, he needs to stay home. Mr. Nader needs to stop being a dick, and stay home.

This is pathetic, disastrous egomania... So why can't I stop laughing?


Monday, September 29, 2008

It Ain't Over...

Truman holding up the "Dewey Defeats Truman" headline is one the most famous photos of the 20th Century. In the days and weeks leading up to the election it had been assumed that Thomas Dewey of New York would succeed Truman as the President. Truman has been thrust into the role when FDR died a few months into his fourth term and the polls showed Dewey with an all but insurmountable lead. It was assumed that Truman was in his last days as President. Truman embarked on a whistle stop campaign across the country in the week leading up to the election as Dewey worked on putting his new administration together. Truman took his message to the people and they responded. His middle class values and down home wisdom trumped the seemingly elitist Northerner.

The reason I bring this up is because of the current state of the polls which show Obama with a widening lead. Based on a couple of bad weeks for McCain, the national numbers are moving Obama's way. The upcoming Vice Presidential debate maybe another major turning point of the election. It would seem that Obama's lead, given the fact that we are only 5 weeks away from election day, would point to a victory on election day. I would caution against such thinking for a couple of reasons. First, the polls have shown amazing volatility over the past 6 weeks. Obama went from a 9 point lead (in the Gallup poll) after his overseas trip, to a 6 point deficit (after the Republican convention), to currently sporting an 8 point lead. That kind of movement should not inspire confidence in Obama supporters and it should provide some comfort to the McCain camp. There is more than enough evidence to show that a game changing event can and more than likely will take place before election day. Five weeks is certainly enough time for the numbers to swing ten points in either direction.

The second reason that I wouldn't get too comfortable if I were the Obama campaign, is that the American people are still not sold on Obama's "Americaness". His every appearance on TV is another opportunity for him to provide the opening that his opponents are looking for. One slip could prove fatal to his campaign. Obama has to navigate the next two debates with the skill of a brain surgeon. Not only does he have to show a grasp of the issues but to quote Eugene Williams of the Washington Post, he has to come across as the "least aggrieved black man in America". He has managed to walk that tightrope so far (with only the occasional bobble, e.g. the bitter comment), but he is far from the safety of the other side of the wire.

The McCain campaign surely has some more tricks up their sleeves. The problem that they face now is that the economic crisis has taken away their ability to drive the press coverage of the candidates. The press' focus is elsewhere, so any attack launched against Obama is simply not going to get the coverage that it would have if the candidates had the playing field to themselves. There is no one who is more hopeful that Congress will reach an agreement soon than John McCain. As he showed last week, his ability to affect the outcome of the debate on this topic is limited, so he has to hope for a quick resolution and a return to the days when the Presidential campaign was the lead story for the night.

I can't look into my crystal ball and predict the future, but I can certainly imagine John McCain's final appeal to the people will be based not on facts and figures but on emotion. I can imagine Senator McCain talking about his service to his country, his time as a POW, his fight to help the little guy against the greed and corruption in Washington and on Wall St. I can imagine him saying that this election is about who you feel more comfortable with in the White House. And I can imagine 50.1% of the people deciding that electing John McCain just makes them sleep better at night. Chaos doesn't always lead people to seek out something different, sometimes all they are looking for is something familiar and that is what John McCain offers. So when you look at the lead that Obama is currently enjoying, try and remember the election of '48 and try and imagine the look on Dewey's face when he woke up on that Wednesday morning and tried to understand what happened to the election that he supposedly couldn't lose.

There Is No Sex in the Champagne Room.

There’ll also be no help for the working people of the United States, certainly not with their own tax dollars anyway. No way, sucker. The taxes we pay are going to go help the wealthy stay rich. The executives in question will find another way to get compensated no matter what the politicians and officials are saying.

The Dow is down roughly 540 points as of this posting and falling steadily.

What would the nation do if the people who supported free markets and shimmied their way around whatever regulations exist actually lost all that money as a direct consequence of their actions? Heaven forbid they should face any consequences.

Wall Street needs to be stabilized, but I don’t agree with the plan on the table.

Apparently, I was a supporter of free markets all along, because I say, let them raise their own money, let them bail themselves out if Americans on the ground aren’t helped first. Americans who lost their homes were told “tough luck” for the past two years. Why aren’t the individual failures of all the people who have lost their homes considered a threat to the economy and the world, yet the people they owed money to are now deemed a penultimate priority? -A priority to be addressed with tax money taken from those same Americans?

I agree with President Bush that something needs to be done and soon. That “something” is offer a way out of debt to the American taxpayer who is fighting foreclosure. If that taxpayer is ultimately paying for it all, it should address him/her first. But our President laughs at deficits. He has a perfectly idiotic bravery in the face of this bail out that will add an additional $700 billion to our current national debt of over $9 trillion dollars and climbing.

George W. Bush, Nancy Pelosi, Hank Paulson, Ben Bernanke, Barney Frank, Chris Dodd and everyone in government voting yes to this plan want us to go screw ourselves, but not before we pay for this bail out. I’ve heard analysts supporting the plan repeatedly say that we should stop calling this a “bail out”. Well, what else should we call it? It’s not a loan.

The idea held up for the last 25 years by Reaganites and other free market capitalists, -that the markets will regulate themselves through a kind of Darwinian process where businesses that shouldn’t survive or that operate unfairly will fail- was clearly never intended to run its course by its most ardent supporters, they’re the ones asking for help.

The most egregious lie I’ve heard over the last couple of days is that the bail out could end up making money for taxpayers… but only if the loans and interest on them are fully repaid of course. Isn’t that what got us here in the first place? Why not give people the means to address their debt and save their homes, give judges absolute power to restructure the loans causing all the trouble?

Because working people don’t count.

We don’t count because we frequently vote against our own interests and focus on stupid things of no material consequence to our lives. Every idiot who came out to vote because they wanted to support candidates who opposed Gay marriage owe the rest of the nation an apology for electing these crooks who presided over this era of criminal greed.

This is not the way to bolster and stabilize Wall Street. It may actually allow the depreciations and losses in the real estate sector to freeze in place if not get worse. I’m not forgetting the poor saps like me with 401Ks, -but again it’s our money, our taxes, so it should help the people, the homeowners in debt first. There’s nothing in this plan that aims to safeguard retirement plans imperiled by Wall Street’s latest excesses in any case. Let this bail out “trickle up” to the investment banks instead. It’s more than they deserve but I guess they just don’t want to wait for it to trickle up… and they won’t have to, because again we’re a nation of suckers.

In conclusion I want to express this simple thought to you after years and years of us all being assaulted by or vegging out to television shows like “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”, “MTV Cribs”, “The Hills” etc:

It’s okay to hate the Rich.

They are not better than you.
They do not deserve more protection than you.
They are not entitled to your tax dollars.
They are not entitled to a different set of rules.
You will never be one of them.

It’s our love and worship of the Rich in America that emboldens someone like Henry Paulson to even try asking for 700 Billion dollars in taxpayer money with no questions asked, no accountability to anyone to spend as he pleases…

To that I can only say:
"Get the fuck out of here Mr. Paulson."

I mean seriously.

Horse Shit.

I’ve decided not to call this post “A Tree Falls in The Woods V” and instead to name it something more appropriate.

I’ll just open by stating there’s a lot going on these days, if I can be allowed the “easy out” of a criminally dull understatement. Washington Mutual, a savings and loan bank, possibly the biggest, has collapsed. The only surprise of the last 24 hours is that Wachovia was not sold to JPMorgan Chase, but to rival CitiGroup. The end of the investment banking economy on Wall Street seems to dwarf everything else on my horizon, and some of these mergers and acquisitions smell like flagrant antitrust violations disguised as rescues… But I think the founder and my co collaborator on this blog had always intended this to be a forum where the overlooked, the fictionalized, the distorted elements of our social and political lives could be set straight, brought back into focus and afforded their deserved centrality. I’ll put off writing about the latest developments in what’s left of the financial markets and the bail out agreement that nears completion to focus on something being swept under the rug while we’re all distracted by the legitimate panic over our economy.

So here goes: Henry Waxman, Congressman from California and the Democratic chairman of the he House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, subpoenaed Attorney General Mukasey in June 2008 for the transcripts of interviews with Vice President Dick Cheney as well as the transcripts of President George W. Bush’s interview with Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald -and most importantly the Grand Jury testimony of Karl Rove. This as you already know, is all because key Bush administration officials leaked Valerie Plame’s identity to journalists between June and July of 2003. This leak was the White House’s attempt to retaliate against her husband, Joseph Wilson, a former U.S. Ambassador, for aggressively criticizing President Bush’s knowing misuse of flimsy intelligence to justify the March to war in an Op Ed piece in the New York Times.

Valerie Plame’s name was revealed on July 14, 2003, by journalist Robert Novak, which effectively marked her and everyone she ever worked with still operating in the field for violent reprisals by enemies of the United States. It took a formal CIA complaint to the Justice Department to start a criminal probe into exactly who in the Bush Administration was/were responsible for the leaks.

-Yes, let that sink in: the CIA had to file a complaint against the White House.

AG Mukasey had advised President Bush to invoke Executive Privilege powers to stop release of the transcripts after the investigation began but Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald maintained all of these documents could be turned over to Congress, i.e. the representatives of the people of the United States under an authorization by the Department of Justice.
The week before last, the contents of Dick Cheney’s interview transcripts and the others related to this investigation were cited as “classified” for the first time. The Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel maintains that the documents are withheld because they contain information “protected from disclosure” by the National Security Act of 1947.

That is a bunch of Horse Shit.

In my life, there has not been a more criminal administration than the White House of George W. Bush. That’s no small statement considering I was alive (albeit a small child) during Richard Nixon’s presidency. These smug, impossibly rich elitists laugh at our laws and imperil human beings to suit their own ends. I’m talking about things like: Going after a guys’ wife because they can’t silence his criticism of them even though she’s a CIA Operative and her identity is supposed to be protected under our treason laws; I’m talking about sending young and not so young men and women to invade and police a country so that friends and associates of the Bush administration can come in on no-bid contracts that make the deficit skyrocket; I’m talking about going after people in our own government, in our own taxpayer funded intelligence apparatus; I’m talking about trying to rig the justice department so that it’s an instrument of their will and not an institution that safeguards the rule of law and the constitution for you, me and everyone you know and don’t know.

A federal judge ordered Vice President Cheney to preserve all documents during his terms as Vice President on September 20, 2008. Someday, the country will be allowed the privilege of knowing the truth about what these crooks did while they were in office to people like Valerie Plame and possibly others.



Friday, September 26, 2008

Grand Old Grandstanding

John McCain flew in to Washington yesterday (on his flying white horse) to save the day. Unfortunately for him, by the time he got to Capitol Hill, there was a tentative deal in place on the bailout. The dog and pony show at the White House included a bipartisan panel that basically discussed the deal and it became clear that House Republicans were not on board. Barack Obama did his best to try and form a consensus while John (Dirty Harry) McCain sat silently by. I find this kind of puzzling for two reasons. First of all, John McCain was the one who called the President and asked him to hold this meeting. And secondly, his entire reason for "suspending" his campaign was so that he could work on this problem.

I think it is clear that the House Republicans and John McCain are now playing politics. House Republicans have refused to even attend some of the meetings that were planned last night to try and work out an agreement. While John McCain refuses to articulate an opinion on either the original proposal or the compromise proposal. This is a tactic to try and prove his "maverick" status. He can say that he didn't just rubber stamp the proposal from the Bush administration and instead worked with Republicans to come with an alternative that was more beneficial to "main street" America. House Republicans can run against the Bush proposal to show their distance from the unpopular President.

I think that it's perfectly fine for Congress to take a good hard look at what is being proposed and what it means to the public, but while it may not take $700 billion to fix the problem, it is going to take genuine agreement on the Hill to come up with a solution. Stalling, refusing to attend or storming out of meetings is not helping us come up with a solution. That is just grandstanding (just like John McCain "suspending" his campaign as he continued to make speeches, run ads, kept all of his field offices open and his surrogates blanketing the news networks). I want the best deal possible for the American people, but what I don't want is for this to turn into a game of chicken with the economic future of the world at stake. The House Republicans, emboldened by the return of John McCain (who hasn't cast a vote in the Senate since April), have decided that they are going to hold these talks hostage until they get what they want.

I personally think that the Democratic leadership has been too quick to capitulate to the demands of this administration on far too many occasions. I think that any negotiations should include a serious consideration of the Republican alternative (which basically wants to set up a governmental "insurance" policy that could be partially funded by private investors). The Democrats in Congress have not shown the backbone to stand up for the citizens of this country. The Republican option may not be workable (and I really have no idea if it is or not), but it might contain some elements which can be included in the final Bill. The Democrats in their rush to meet the administrations Monday line in the sand, may have overlooked some alternatives which would make for a better piece of legislation. They themselves are now involved in some political grandstanding. Instead of recognizing an alternative proposal, they are basically pouting over the fact that some Republicans don't want to play ball.

This is an extremely serious situation (yesterday saw the largest bank failure in history) and must be dealt with quickly. However both sides have now hardened their positions and are holding the economic future of the world hostage to their egos. I'm not sure how this gets resolved, but I'm hoping that cooler heads will prevail. I look forward to the debate tonight and to listening to the solutions, to end this deadlock, that each of the candidates will put forward. Both Obama and McCain can come out of this crisis with an improved image in the eyes of the public, but it is going to take a show if real leadership and real sense that they are putting the country ahead of their individual goals. Grandstanding can get you headlines, but a display of leadership might just get you to the White House.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

You say Tomato

John McCain called off Friday's debate by saying that he didn't want to participate in partisan politics until this crisis had been addressed. He then said that he was suspending his campaign and flying back to Washington to help in the negotiations. I'm sure I'm not the only one who finds this almost laughable. John McCain is going to try and get into the middle of negotiations about a topic which he has stated, more than once, is not his strong suit. This is the same John McCain who hasn't made it to a vote in the Senate since April. This is the same John McCain who lobbied against the new G.I. Bill, then didn't bother to show to vote for it and then received credit for it's passage by George Bush. This is the same John McCain who didn't show up to vote on the new energy bill or the Medicaid bill. This is the same John McCain who just last week said that the "fundamentals of the economy" were strong. This is the same John McCain who was disciplined by the Congress for his role in the S&L disaster. This is the John McCain who now wants us to believe that his leadership is absolutely required to help out on a deal that according to those closest to the negotiations is practically done.

A spokesman for the McCain campaign said that perhaps the debate could be delayed until next week. Of course next week is the Vice Presidential debate, which the same spokesman said might also be "delayed" until the crisis was over. Now why on earth would they need to delay the VP debate? Could it be that Sarah Palin has to rush to Washington to help out in the negotiations as well? Oh, that's right, she's not a Senator. But apparently she would be so "involved" that the debate would be out of the question. It couldn't have anything to do with her invoking the prospect of a "Great Depression" in her interview with Katie Couric, could it? There's nothing American public appreciates more from it's leaders than for them to fill us with confidence by saying that we might be on the verge of the worst economic collapse that the country has seen in almost a century. Great work Sarah. The McCain campaign can't get you away from a microphone fast enough.

This gambit by McCain has been roundly criticized in the press as a "political ploy". I think that McCain was unprepared to talk about the economy on Friday night. The debate was supposed to focus on foreign policy, but with the current situation, it is clear that at least some of the time would be spent addressing the proposed bailout and the effect that it would have on the world economy. I would ask Senator McCain if FDR called for a timeout when Pearl Harbor was attacked, or did Churchill call for a timeout when London was bombed night after night? Did Kennedy ask for a timeout during the Cuban Missile Crisis? The answer, just in case Senator McCain is a little fuzzy on his history, is NO. To try and make the claim that taking two hours on Friday to debate with Barack Obama is going to somehow make or break and agreement on this financial bailout plan is absolutely ridiculous.

The McCain camp seems to be grasping at straws these days. McCain seems to change his strategy every day. One day he's against bailing out AIG, the next day he's for it. One day he wants to fire the head of the SEC and the next day he's saying what a decent man he is. One day he's all for deregulation and the next day he's calling for greater government oversight of financial markets. One day the financial crisis is a time for bipartisan efforts to deal with the problem and the next day it's all Barack Obama's fault. I'm not sure what's going on over at McCain headquarters but they could certainly use a timeout. Unfortunately, this is not a football game. The action cannot be stopped just because one party thinks that he needs some time off. Unfortunately for John McCain, we can't just call the whole thing off.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Where To Next?

Suzie Orman gets soundly ridiculed sometimes, as do most “inspirational speakers”. But I’m fairly sure she’s not taking any pleasure in what she must see as a reckoning of biblical proportions (Lehman Brothers is gone for Christ’s sake). She’s been telling Americans to avoid mutable credit agreements of any kind and to stop buying things they don’t need. She’s been telling people to save their money as often and in as great amounts as they are able. If anyone in America has earned the right to say “I told you so” she certainly has.

Today, Wednesday September 24, 2008 many economists and analysts are still saying that this crisis in the finance and real estate markets is not large enough to sink the American economy. Today, I’m still saying they’re missing the point. This crisis is a symptom of a larger economic catastrophe already happening. The American economy is imperiled by the weakened collective earning power of its individual citizens which has in turn injured those sectors of the financial markets that exploited them most severely.

The investment banks that have imploded over the last couple of months put a gun to their own heads by shifting to a “derivative” paradigm back around 2001. Investment banks had historically been institutions that made their money on deals and on facilitation of transactions. Around eight years ago by my estimates, they got swept up by a relatively new fad/scam that emerged after the Internet bubble burst. They decided to try and make money off of their own portfolios and the portfolios of other competing investment banks by structuring what are generally called “financial derivatives”. When people started walking away from the debts and letting mortgages go unpaid and those homes were foreclosed on, the investment banks with the biggest dependencies (exposures) to the real estate sector failed. Bear Stearns was among the first of the big ones to fail because they had “purchased” too many loans and mortgages that were “originated” by other institutions and subsequently went unpaid. This was possible because Bear Stearns and other Investment banks didn't know the details, history and solvency of the clients involved in the loans they bought. There was no "chain of origination", -to use a term I just learned yesterday and to coin a phrase I just made up.

The analysts said:
Bear Stearns was too big to fail. It’s gone.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were too big to fail. The government practically owns them.
Lehman Brothers was too big to fail. It is the greatest bankruptcy in history.
AIG was too big to fail. It’s being bailed out by the taxpayers and will probably be sold off in pieces.

The economists, regulators and government officials are telling Americans that this isn’t the same as the Great Depression. But saying a situation is “different” is a far cry from saying it’s “better”. Now, while unemployment is not nearly as high as during the Great Depression; that isn’t a watermark for normalcy or health on its own. What is happening right now is that individual wealth and earning power are dangerously out of scale with individual debt for most Americans.

One of my college professors Niki Logis, once said to me that “Science can not be allowed to develop without oversight because it doesn’t march on for the sake of human progress and the people’s well being, it marches on for the sake of itself.” Those words are painfully applicable to all the cynical rhetoric and cheerleading for unrestricted and deregulated business and markets over the last 25 years. Business only ever has “business” on its mind.

I don’t think Ronald Reagan wanted to see the economy fail. He and the other political stars of the right wing elite power base that have steered, inspired and supported deregulation didn’t do it to make anybody poor, or ruin anybody, they just didn’t take into account that it probably would. If it worried them, they showed no sign. There are no angels in this however. Fannie May and Freddie Mac sowed the seeds of this year’s collapse during the Carter administration and the subsequent ridiculous overdevelopment in the West in the 1980s. Democrats and Republicans alike failed to pass any meaningful regulation to control these “monsters in waiting” for decades. That’s not to say no one is to blame, just that very few in government can escape culpability for the negligence in question.

In my last two posts, it has not been my aim to make you think that the world is ending, just the world as you know it.

There have been other massive bubbles and financial implosions in my own lifetime: the Savings and Loan scandal of the 80s; the hedge fund crisis and crash of the Pacific rim markets in the 90s; the internet bubble of ’00; even down to companies like Enron and WorldCom. All of them were the result of unregulated practices and the appeal of “fast” money.
The difference is none of these brought down Wall Street.
None of these were bailed out.

If you’re like me, you might be wondering why it is that other commercial sectors don’t seem to be suffering or triggering such horrendous collapses and bankruptcies. The corporations that produce, manufacture and distribute goods and services for product categories like food and restaurants, apparel, toiletries and cosmetics, electronics and paid entertainment to name just a few don’t seem to be in trouble, some are even thriving.

That’s because Americans can still “pay” for those with credit cards…
Therein may lay the next financial disaster.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Poll Tax

This morning the pundits are once again falling all over themselves about a new set of poll numbers that show Obama leading or tied in Florida, Virginia and North Carolina. The bombastic Joe Scarborough declared that the race is over if Obama were to win those states (really? what a shock, Joe). These are the same pundits who just two weeks ago proclaimed that Obama was in serious trouble and that McCain seemed the likely winner. There are now so many polls that you can literally come up with any outcome that you would like. There are a number of sites that track the Electoral votes based on the polls and you while this week they have swung back in Obama's favor, you can certainly find sites that are projecting a McCain win based on the polls.

There are a number of factors that make polling an unreliable predictor of what will happen, but the most glaring of these is the fact that the election is still a month and a half away. I understand that the talking heads on TV have to have something to talk about every day and the seemingly endless polling gives them a topic to fixate on. The truth of the matter is that the polls pretty much show the race at exactly the same point as it was before the conventions. During that three week stretch, the polls bounced wildly between Obama and McCain. At one point Obama was up by as much as 8 points and then a week and a half later was behind by 10 points (according to Gallup). Now Obama appears to have a national lead of somewhere between one and three points. According to the pollsters, 20% of Americans have changed their decision on who they would vote for three times in the past month. I simply don't believe that there is that kind of volatility in the American electorate. In fact, I've never met anyone who is so malleable that they would change their vote as often as they change the toilet paper in the bathroom.

It is the mythical "undecided" voter who is supposedly responsible for the massive swings in the poll numbers. What I would like a poll to show me is exactly who this undecided voter is and what exactly it is they are undecided about. That would actually provide me with some useful information. In my opinion, constant polling (by every organization who has the money to commission one) feeds into the narrative of a volatile electorate. The news shows tell us every night just how changeable the situation is and they point to the polls to back up that story. It really is like one feeds the other. The news shows can always find a poll to back up their story. They cross reference different polls to illustrate whatever point it is they are trying to make. According to a Lifetime Network poll (Lifetime is doing polls now. What's next, the Food Network?), 42% of Hillary Clinton voters are not supporting Barack Obama. According to the Pew Institute that number is actually 22%, according to ABC 28%. This morning, Hillary Clinton was asked about the fact that four out of ten of her supporters are not voting for Barack Obama. A clear example of cherry picking a poll (and without a doubt the least reliable of the bunch) to back up a narrative.

I once said that momentum was the ultimate lie in politics, but I'm beginning to think that polls may now hold the top spot. I have never met an undecided voter. I have met people who didn't want to tell me who they were voting for because they didn't want me to form an opinion based on the answer, but I have never met an honest to goodness undecided voter. The fact that the undecideds/swing voter/independent voter has been getting so much attention this year is influencing more to claim that status. I myself am a registered Independent, but I am not a undecided voter. To me, the candidates positions on the issues are very clear and I can't imagine anyone actually who has actually paid attention for more than a minute is unaware of those positions. The decision should be fairly easy unless there are other factors that are influencing a voter that have nothing to do with the issues. Given McCain's age and Obama's race, we clearly have a unique situation, but I still don't think that would lead to such massive swings in the poll numbers. Obama has been black since the beginning of the campaign and McCain has been old since, well, he's just old.

The most recent polls say that this in once again Obama's election to lose. Of course, If you combine all the negative numbers that have come out on Obama (42% of Hillary voters won't vote for him, 30% of voters won't vote for him because of racial bias, 60% think he's less qualified for the job than McCain, 25% think his wife is un-American) then he really shouldn't have a chance to compete with McCain come November. However, if you give me enough time, I can come up with a poll that says the exact opposite.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Where We Are.

I didn’t think I’d be saying “I told you so” quite so soon, but here it is: Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, the two remaining preeminent investment banks of Wall Street have asked the government to let them become “traditional bank holding companies”, more like Chase and Citi according to the Wall Street Journal today.

The “House of Morgan” is all but gone metaphorically speaking, all that really remains are the bricks and mortar of its former incarnation. The Wall Street of Mellville, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, of Oliver Stone; -all of those “Wall Streets” real and imagined ceased to exist as we’d known them today. Nobody who’s heard the details of this situation and is looking around the corner at the new world that is emerging should be happy about this if they’ve got any sense. I say that as a proud, pro-union, working-class, Liberal.

Our Federal Reserve will now regulate these two institutions along with the other investment banks and brokerage companies that have been bailed out in recent days. The Bush administration may not have succeeded in destroying Social Security, but they have achieved, by luck, by criminal negligence, or both, the symbiosis of the people’s financial fortunes and the nation’s monetary health with those of Wall Street... or what’s left of it.

You break it you buy it.”… but taxpayers didn’t break anything… or did they? I’ll get to that a little further down in this post.

There are three major changes for Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs that I can see as the harbingers of things to come for what’s left of the investment community’s institutions that go down this road of bailout-preemption and taxpayer funded handout/loans: they can now accept deposits like ordinary banks; they will now be able to borrow from the Federal Reserve; they can now merge with other banks pending the usual antitrust scrutiny and assessments. This is all possible now because the Fed will regulate these giants and not the SEC.

I wrote recently that I believe this Finance and Investment Apocalypse is actually largely a product of a strange new “trickle up” dynamic. A dynamic whereupon the individual bankruptcies and foreclosures of the many, create the ultimate fall of the few who ride their backs and monetize their ability to pay and the time it takes them to pay for things. Someone with a lot more expertise and knowledge of economic systems and markets than myself needs to look at this failure and identify what part of this interdependence made it all fall apart: Did the overseas move of so many American jobs by corporations destroy American earning power to the degree that it then destroyed the revenue steam of investment banks dependent on those same Americans to pay their mortgages and interest? Or were there a myriad of economic factors at work? Are there more disasters related to the credit card industry and its debt-based revenue streams coming?

I have no idea. Every scenario seems as likely as any other to me at this point.

I, like many Americans, have more questions than answers. I’m profoundly worried by today’s news and what it means. If as Richard O’Connor once wrote in paraphrasing HonorĂ© de Balzac that “behind every great fortune there is a great crime” then what was the great fortune? What specifically is the great crime behind this unfolding collapse of the investment houses? The rising tide is too chaotic, too large and disordered to clearly see. But my most nagging question at this time is this:

Had the Bush administration managed to get all Americans to sink their retirement fortunes in the stock markets as they had intended, would they have been so quick to bail everybody out as they have with these companies?

In the interest of full disclosure, the funds in my own 401k are managed by Goldman Sachs.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Where We're Going.

It’s been real fun to hear John McCain and other Washington veterans disingenuously rail about Congress and how they aim to be agents of change. Senator McCain can start with himself, since he’s been in government longer than anybody running for office in the current Presidential election cycle. Once again, I have to remind myself that there are actually more important things going on than who gets to be the next president. Only a very few, but a few nonetheless...
It’s hard to believe my first post on this blog was not about the Iraq war, not about the incompetence of this administration, not about the criminality of the Bush cabinet, but a rant about a holiday.

February was a long time ago.

Just ask anybody on Wall Street. Ask anybody with a 401K plan, or any stock investments, or anyone who works in finance or media… ask anybody who owned a home. The third quarter of 2008 and the calendar year’s end will be marked by new and historic low points in the growing national financial disaster. I’m not making any real astute predictions there, but I have to tell you all it’s going to get much, much worse. The cumulating effects and radiating impact of the various elements of this financial-soon-to-be-economic crisis, (a trickle up disaster of sorts) threaten our country and the world as we know it.

In a strange twist of irony, Ronald Reagan’s fanciful trickle down theory of economics has been turned nightmarishly on its head.

Those trickled-down-upon masses, (those people ignorant of their choices, options and rights), fed the housing and mortgage finance boom of the last years. These citizens agreed to criminally usurious loan agreements and now have “cried uncle”. They can’t pay the absurd debts they accrued. They have been defaulting on loans for the last few cycles. Their homes are being foreclosed on, their property and possessions repossessed. The value of everything they “owned” is depreciating in a spectacularly destructive and infectious manner.
I say “infectious” because in America, depreciation sometimes happens in a staggeringly contagious mode of pathology: homes are foreclosed on/ neighborhood housing values plummet/ more homes are defaulted on compounding the loss of value for houses in neighboring areas/ small businesses serving neighborhoods fail/ more jobs lost/ more debt is defaulted on etc, ad infinitum. Perhaps consumers shouldn’t have been allowed to take on unsustainable debts, or sign horrifically progressive loan agreements in which the principal of the debt exists insulated by escalating interest charges.

The profits from this interest were greedily clamored for by investment banks and the lenders they gambled on. This profit has now evaporated.

The American financial markets and lending institutions are at the epicenter of a coming disaster, but in some ways they are only symptoms of the central disease:

…they have no money because the people they make money from, have no money.

The implosions of Bear Stearns, CountryWide, Fannie May, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers and now AIG are history making business failures, don’t let anyone tell you differently. Books will be written about it. These wipeouts are only the beginning…
As of September 19, 2008, it’s all being profiled as a financial collapse in the media, but soon it will metastasize into an undeniable “economic” collapse, a socio-economic collapse that will affect every man, woman and child… Why? -because it had always been a socio-economic collapse to begin with. Now that the lending institutions are failing, politicians are finally worrying about the average debtor, the rank-and-file human being at the start and at the end of this disaster: the jobless; the uninsured; the working poor; the overextended middle-class; and everyone who paid more than they should have to these financial institutions and lenders for homes that were either overvalued or predatorily financed.
The funny thing is, not only is the public ripped off by banks, not only is the public losing its money at the other end as more retirement plans depend on funds and 401Ks but the taxpaying people of this country are also going to bail the biggest of the market disasters out.
This used to be called, “getting screwed coming and going”. The government calls it “being responsible”.

I want someone, anyone, to explain to me how it is that these giant lenders and investment banks can collect all of the money and profits from their predatory lending but pass on the losses to the taxpayers. It’s criminal.

Filmmaker Patrick Creadon directed a documentary called I.O.U.S.A. that was in the official 2008 competition at the Sundance Film Festival. It’s a documentary that tracks David Walker, an important man I’d never heard of, unknown to anyone I know, even among the people who actually follow politics and government closely. Mr. Walker was the U.S. Comptroller General. Think of him as the one man ultimately responsible for watching federal public spending. Yeah, there’s actually a guy for that in America, and nobody knows who he is (He resigned in March 2008). Creadon’s documentary looks at our growing national debt and its consequences for the people and the country. Creadon illustrates how the alarming debts the United States owes to foreign countries are becoming impossible to pay off… sound familiar?

It is what is happening to us individually.

It's where we're going.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Country First

In today's edition of the Omaha World Journal Chuck Hagel (R) of Nebraska had this to say about Sarah Palin,

"She doesn't have any foreign policy credentials. You get a passport for the first time in your life last year? I mean, I don't know what you can say. You can't say anything."

"I think they ought to be just honest about it and stop the nonsense about, 'I look out my window and I see Russia and so therefore I know something about Russia. That kind of thing is insulting to the American people."

"But I do think in a world that is so complicated, so interconnected and so combustible, you really got to have some people in charge that have some sense of the bigger scope of the world. I think that's just a requirement."

"I think it's a stretch to, in any way, to say that she's got the experience to be president of the United States."

I appreciate the fact that there is at least one Republican member of Congress who is willing to put his country ahead of party politics. I know that there are more members of the Republican party leadership who must feel grave doubts about Sarah Palin. They have to speak up. This is no longer about partisanship. This is about the future of the country. This is about (to coin a McCain campaign slogan) putting "Country first".

There are multiple crises that the next President is going to have to deal with, from the meltdown on Wall St. to a foreign policy minefield. I cannot believe that there is one Republican member of Congress who can honestly say that they would be comfortable with Sarah Palin leading our country during these dangerous times. Obviously it is John McCain at the top of the ticket, but his choice of a running mate illustrates a serious lack of judgment. It shows that he is willing to put himself first ahead of his country. For someone so quick to wrap himself in the flag, it showed exactly where his loyalties lie.

The only question I have is, where are the rest of the principled Republicans? Anyone, anyone?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Morning in America

This weekend I found out that one of my best friends is going to be sent to Iraq. He is as a 42 year old, father of four and apparently our war effort just can't get along without him. The conversations I've had this weekend have been illuminating to say the least. I find that people who were optimistic that Obama would win or that Americans would be able to see past the color of a candidates skin are now only hopeful (and there is a difference) that will be the case. We have reached a point in this campaign where we are no longer able to look through rose colored glasses. This is as real as it gets. Our futures and the future of the world will be decided in the next 50 days. The American people need to wake up and realize what is at stake.

This is not a game. This is not a movie. This is not "Working Girl" where the plucky secretary is secretly the smartest person in the office or "Wall Street" where the evil, money hungry investor gets his in the end. This is real life people. Sarah Palin, who thinks that foreign policy experience is gained by her proximity to the remotest part of Russia, is actually in line to be Vice President! How can that not scare the shit out of everyone? How can the judgment of John McCain be trusted when his biggest decision to date was made not in the best interest of the country, but to serve his own ambition? Does this fill anyone with confidence? Does this make anyone sleep better at night? When someone who graduated from Columbia University and then went on to be President of the Harvard Law Review is deemed "elitist" and therefore unfit for the Presidency, yet a Journalism major from the University of Idaho and someone who finished 5th from the bottom of their graduating class are held up as epitomizing American values, then this country has clearly lost its way. There was a time when America valued the "best and the brightest".

There was a time when going to good schools and doing well at them was valued. Now the standard for leadership seems to be whether the person is someone you would like to have a beer with. When did America become the champion of such mediocrity? When did we replace competence with conviction. When did being thoughtful and right become the red headed stepchild to being confident and wrong? This country has just been through eight years of "leadership" which has led to America being involved in two wars (one of which was clearly a mistake), record home foreclosures, chaos in our financial institutions, less money for the middle class, high unemployment, record deficits, a widening trade imbalance, the national shame that was the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, a loss of respect among the international community, sky rocketing fuel costs, and on and on. This is the record the Republican administration has built and yet somehow the current Republican candidate is running on a theme of bringing change to Washington. Who exactly is he referring to when he speaks about change? Is he talking about his own party which has been in control of the White House for the past 7-1/2 years? Is he talking about the Republicans who have been in control of the Congress for 12 of the past 14 years? Who is he talking about? Does anyone else find this absolutely ridiculous?

The press has to do its job! There are not two sides to the truth. It is not up to the American people to decide the "truth". The press has to arm the American people with the facts and flat out state when someone is lying to them. That is their job. Their job is not be impartial with regards to the political parties, their job is to be impartial with regards to the truth. If the press gives equal weight to a lie, then they are essentially doing the job of a propagandist. They are perpetuating a lie to the benefit of an individual or group. The press should call each of the parties on their lies. That is being impartial. That is serving the American people. And that is not what they are currently engaged in.

I can only ask that the American people take a long hard look at the road ahead and think about who would is best prepared to lead us down that road. We face challenges that are going to require a lot of thought and debate. We are going to need a leader that not only understands those challenges, but has the strength to admit mistakes and change course when needed. The challenges ahead will require more than a Bulldog mentality (look at where that has gotten us), they will require intelligence and a nuanced approach in order to make America the place that the world looks to for moral guidance once again. We have been knocked off our stride by an approach that favored dogma over reality. The world is not black and white and you cannot govern as if it is without facing dire consequences. For the last eight years we have seen what that looks like and the question for America is do you want more of the same?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Tree Falls in the Woods IV

I’ve come back early from my sabbatical from the blog, -not because of the Sarah Palin circus, -and not because of this sad, puerile election cycle in which no one wants to acknowledge the immutable and disgusting factor that has long ago determined the eventual victor regardless of what any polls might say today. I am writing because of a far more important series of recent events that I see as a criminal attack on our Republic, its rule of law and its values.

Scores of journalists were arrested and detained at the recent Republican National Convention in St. Paul Minnesota. We’ve written extensively on this blog about the horrendous ineptitude and venal calculations made by the American media when covering an important news story, or ignoring historic crimes in the making.
Once again, an attack on our country’s foundation is getting no substantial media coverage. Crackdowns on citizens' rights in China receive more media coverage by our newspapers and news networks. Currently, there is no outrage. There is no investigation. There is numbing silence. What’s particularly gruesome about this; is that it concerns the Fourth Estate itself.

Wake up. The constitution you live under is now null and void and this is not America anymore.

Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner is about to commit what can only be seen as a violation of the Constitution in my estimation: she is in the process of deciding whether or not to press felony riot charges against several journalists. Anna Pratt of The Minnesota Independent is one of the few journalists discussing this as the civic disaster that it is. Pratt reported that AP journalists, AP photographers, along with local St. Paul Pioneer Press photographers, and even a New York Post photographer were arrested or detained. I am listing the names and their outfits here, if only to give you, both reader and citizen, some sense of the scope of this tragedy befalling our way of life in the United States:

Tom Aviles, WCCO photojournalist
Charlie B, MTV Think blogger, Viacom
Anita Braithwaite, Glass Bead Collective
Wendy Binion, Portland IndyMedia
Geraldine Cahill, The Real News
Eileen Clancy, I-Witness Video
Paul Demko, The Minnesota Independent
Amy Forliti, AP reporter
Ben Garvin, Pioneer Press photographer
Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!
Art Hughes, Public News Service
Suzanne Hughes, The Uptake, volunteer
Ted Johnson, Variety
Olivia Katz, Glass Bead Collective
Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Democracy Now!
Alice Kalthoff, MyFoxdfw.com editor
Jon Krawczynski, AP reporter
Joseph La Sac, Pepperspray Productions journalist
Ed Matthews, University of Kentucky photojournalism student
Jonathan Malat, KARE-11 photojournalist
Stephen Maturen, The Minnesota Daily assistant picture editor
Britney McIntosh, University of Kentucky photojournalism student
Matt Nelson, University of Iowa student
Jason Nicholas, New York Post freelance photographer
Mark Ovaska, Rochester freelance photographer
Christopher Patton, The Daily Iowan
Elizabeth Press, Democracy Now!
Matt Rourke, AP photographer
Sheila Regan, TC Daily Planet
Lambert Rochfort, Pepperspray Productions journalist
Seth Rowe, Sun Newspapers, St. Louis Park
Jeff Schorfheide, The Badger-Herald photographer
Mark Skinner, University of Nevada Las Vegas Rebel Yell reporter
Ania Smolenskaia, The Real News
Matt Snyders, City Pages
Nicole Salazar, Democracy Now!
Vlad Teichberg, Glass Bead Collective
Dean Treftz, U-Wire
Nathan Weber, Chicago-area freelance photographer
Jim Winn, University of Kentucky
John Wise, MyFox national editor
Dawn Zuppelli, Rochester IndyMedia

These are only the names I know of. Even Fox and its parent News Corp are trapped up in this Orwellian dragnet. Rupert Murdoch, who claims to love newspapers, doesn’t seem to think much of the rights they exercise and represent for Americans.
In the last three days, a few Democrats and Republicans, all of whom I count among my friends have said “it’s not so serious”, that I’m “overreacting because Amy Goodman was among those arrested”. Arrested, I corrected, in what I recognize as a clear misuse of martial power by the police.
Amy Goodman identified herself as "Press" and was immediately cuffed and led away: your right to know was cuffed and led away with her.
One friend of mine volunteered that the “reporters and photographers merely got swept up in the confusion”, that they were “too close to the action” and “had only themselves to blame”.
There is no such thing as “too close” for a reporter or journalist. If it’s up to police in riot gear to determine a reporter’s proximity to an event, than that my friend is the end of the country. I ask you my fellow Americans: How will we know the truth from the lie? How will we know anything at all?.…
I’d ask Republicans to consider:
What if police had arrested the National Enquirer reporters following John Edwards as he was off visiting the woman with whom he’d had an extramarital affair?
Would it have been a violation of the people’s right to know then?
I’d ask Democrats to consider:
What if police had arrested the reporters following the Jack Abramoff scandal?
What then?
But the reporters covering the preceding news stories weren't immersed in a riot you might say
well neither were the journalists listed above. They were covering protesters. They were covering a response by citizens that certain powerful people and interests did not want seen or heard. All we know was that many windows were broken by protesters, -and that's all we're allowed to know. Since when is it the police's job to decide who should see and report on an event? In my home town of New York city, it dates back to the Tompkins Square park riot of 1988. Twenty years ago.

I’d ask all of you to think hard about how much of our political system there is left to defend seven years after the attack on the World Trade Center Towers and on our Pentagon.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Bare Knuckle Fight

The campaign for President, which had already turned away from policy arguments, has now reached a new low. of The McCain campaign has now moved from ridiculous innuendo (Obama is too famous to be President), to straight out lies. In response to an a comment that Obama made about John McCain claiming to represent change ("...you can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig."), the McCain camp has put out an ad that claims that Obama made the comment about Sarah Palin. They also issued an angry press release demanding that Obama apologize for making a disparaging remark about the Republican VP candidate. The McCain camp also put out an ad claiming that Obama wants to teach sex education to kindergartners. This is also a gross distortion of the truth. The purpose of the bill that Obama sponsored in the Illinois legislature was designed to educate children about pedophilia so that they would be better protected against it.

The McCain camp is willing to go to any lengths in order to win this election. The response from the Obama campaign has been to try to combat the lies with the truth. However, they should know by now that once a claim has been made (true or not), a percentage of the public will believe it. They should know this because of what was done to John Kerry. Kerry responded to the swift boat nonsense by saying that the American people knew better than that. He was incredulous that he, as a decorated Vietnam war vet, should have to defend his record against a draft dodger who only faced shots from a tequila bottle during the Vietnam war. The public bought it though and the public is probably going to buy whatever lies the McCain camp can come up with between now and election day.

The Obama campaign is continuing to take the high road. They respond to every attack as quickly as possible with a press release, but they are clearly constantly playing defense. Obama's "rapid response team" is his attempt to try and avoid the fate that Kerry suffered. They do respond to every charge of the McCain team, but it is clearly not as effective a tactic as being on offense. Obama's responses to the attacks have been fairly tepid. When asked if Sarah Palin is qualified to be Vice President, he has deflected the question. He also refused to say that the Republicans are lying about him and his record. He has been, in my opinion, too reserved in his response. When you are being slapped repeatedly, the response should not be to politely ask the person to stop doing that.

This latest round of attacks make it clear that it's time for a change. It's time for Obama and Biden to stop complementing John McCain. McCain has certainly never returned the favor. The Democrats should stop prefacing their criticism of John McCain with "...we honor his service to our country", or "...John McCain is a freind of mine", or "John McCain cares about his country". Until now, the Democrats have brought a knife to a gun fight. It's time they even up the score. I am not advocating for the Obama camp to start lying about the Republicans, but it is time for them to stop pussyfooting around the truth. Sarah Palin isn't qualified to be President. I know she's running for Vice President, but she is only a "heart beat away" from the top job. Sarah Palin was for the "bridge to nowhere", she hired a lobbyist to help secure federal earmarks for ther small town in Alaska. These facts are not in dispute. The Obama campaign should call their remarks what they are, lies. They are simply lies. Obama's tax plan will not raise taxes on the majority of Americans, but McCain keeps on repeating that he will and polls show that a majority of the public believe it. It is a lie. It's time to call it what it is.

Barack Obama may not be able to win the election, but at least he can expose the Republican ticket for what it is. He has to call them out, in no uncertain terms, and make sure that the American people know what kind of people they are voting into office. He doesn't have to pull a Network moment (I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore), but he does have to show a little more spirit in defending himself. John McCain promised that he would run an above board campaign and he hasn't come close to living up to that promise. The actions of the McCain camp should release Obama to show a little more fight. It's time to take off the gloves. It's time to get serious. It's time to take the fight to them. And in the words of Kevin Costner in "The Untouchables", never stop fighting until the fight is done.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Access Denied

The McCain camp has decided to keep their shiny new car under wraps. Last night they said that Sarah Palin will not be available for any interviews. Not only for the upcoming week, but for the foreseeable future! This Sunday the other three candidates for the Presidency and Vice Presidency will be on the news shows answering questions and sharing their views with the American people. Sarah Palin will apparently be sealed off somewhere cramming for her final exam (which will come in the form of a debate with Joe Biden in October). She has a few short weeks to learn all of John McCain's positions on the issues (which is going to be tricky because John McCain and his staff don't always agree on what exactly those positions are) and absorb a crash course in international politics.

This lack of access to a candidate is surely unprecedented in recent history and it may be a first in Presidential politics. The McCain campaign is apparently so afraid of what Sarah Palin might say that they won't allow her to utter a word a public that hasn't been written for her by one of their staffers. John McCain, who once half jokingly said that the press was his base, is now deathly afraid of them. The McCain camp will claim that they don't want Palin to have to answer questions based on rumor and innuendo (and there is certainly a lot of that going around), but to deny the established news shows access to Palin as well demonstrates an extreme level of fear.

There are some real issues which I am sure they are struggling to come up with answers to. They want to make sure that they have consistent and defendable positions before they allow and to allow Sarah Palin to face the press. Her association with a political party that promoted the idea that Alaska should secede from the United States is one that comes to mind. Her husband was definitely a member of that Party and she may or may not have sympathies toward that group. The now infamous "troopergate" scandal, that she is currently under investigation for by the Alaskan legislature, is another. The list of earmarks that she sought as mayor is certainly an issue that she should speak to. Her family issues are inconsequential but there are real issues that the American people deserve to hear from her about.

The McCain campaign is attempting to create a new set of rules in the middle of the game. They scream from the rafters about what a fabulous pick Sarah Palin was (which is echoed by the right wing of the party), and yet they won't allow her speak for herself. The question is whether the press is going to allow them to get away with this. How can someone who is vying to become the Vice President of the United States be unable or unwilling to speak to the press? Even Dan Quayle (who may have been the dimmest bulb ever to hold the office of Vice President) spoke to the press immediately after he was named as the nominee. This isn't China.

I for one demand to hear from the person who might be called upon to lead this nation in a crisis. I think that the people should demand to hear from her as well. The press should demand to hear from her. This cannot be allowed to stand. Is Sarah Palin a puppet who can only speak from a prepared text? Isn't she supposed to be a maverick? Isn't she supposed to be an independent thinker? What are they so afraid of? The bottom line is that it doesn't matter what they're afraid of, the last time I checked this was still the United States of America and WE THE PEOPLE still have the right to hear from the people who are vying to be our potential leaders. Where the hell is the outrage in the press? Where the hell is everyone????

Have You No Shame

The Republican convention is now over and I'm sure the polls will return to their pre-convention state and show basically a dead even race. I did not spend a lot of time watching the convention, so I won't offer a critique of the speeches (because there's been enough of that already). What I will offer though is a condemnation of the Republican party for trying to use the tragedy that took place here in New York on September 11, 2001.

I happened to be downtown when the World Trade Centers fell and and to this day I don't have the words to explain exactly how that felt. To realize that thousands of people had lost their lives and that tens of thousands would be personally affected by loss of family members or loved ones was overwhelming. Our entire city along with the rest of the nation was in shock. At the time, it didn't matter what political party you belonged to, the only thing that mattered was the incredible pain and sadness that so many were experiencing. We grieved as a city and as a nation at the senseless loss of life and we grieved for the loss of our sense of invulnerability. America was no longer untouchable and our lives would never be the same again.

Last night the Republican party decided to use that horrific event as a tool to try and win an election. I don't understand the mentality of a group of people who would try and capitalize on the pain and suffering of an entire nation for political gain. The events of that day in September should be sacrosanct. They should not be used to try and scare the American people or to try and demonize a political opponent. The Republican party also seems to have conveniently forgotten a couple of important facts. First of all, there was a Republican in the White House at the time and that White House occupant (who spent 40% of his first 8 months in office on vacation), chose to ignore the warnings that a terrorist attack might be imminent. How on earth you turn those facts into a positive is beyond me. And why you would use one the most tragic days in the history of our nation to make a partisan appeal is equally puzzling.

The Republican party crossed a line that anyone with a conscience would have decided against crossing. The complete lack of human compassion and human decency that went into making this decision makes me wonder if this party, that claims to be the voice for all right thinking Christians in this country, have any understanding of what being "Christian" means. The Republicans have shown that this isn't a battle for the hearts and minds of America, this is a battle for our souls. And in that battle, they have demonstrated that they are willing to take this country to a very dark place.