Politics, open government, and safe streets. And the constant incursion of cycling.

Month: September 2008 Page 1 of 11

The More You Know . . .

This video of today’s re-entry by the ESA’s Jules Verne (unmanned) spacecraft is amazing.  (Yes, it was supposed to burn up).  Beautiful, really.


Meanwhile, There’s No Gas in Georgia . . .

I was on the phone with family in Georgia the other day, and I was asked if we were having gas shortages in DC, too.  Huh?  Apparently there’s been massive gas shortages in Georgia for a couple weeks now.   You’d think we’d hear more about that, no?

Shanah Tovah!


Akihabara: Lost in Trancelation

I have been lucky enough in my life to have traveled a fair bit, and never do I enjoy it as much as when I feel like I’ve been thrust into an entirely different world.  My passage through Akihabara definitely qualifies.  Beyond writing about my extraordinary hotel, I’d never really planned to write here about my (brief) time in Tokyo.  This piece on Akihabara, however, caught a specific portion of it rather well (there is more to it, of course, but the writer captures a central characteristic), and I just had to share it.  I’m going to quote you this bit:

Now we have some serious business to attend to. Kay wants to buy a waterproof DVD player that she can hang in her shower, so she leads us into one of the electronics stores. It’s like a giant carnival midway, a bombardment of flashing lights, posters, banners, screens, loudspeakers, and hucksters with microphones, creating sensory overload that reminds me of the slots section of a Las Vegas casino. The store has an advantage, though, in that its Japanese-sized patrons are only half the size and weight of American consumers. Thus, the aisles can be minimized, allowing less room for people and more floor space for flashing, screaming, blinking, booming, chanting, blaring audio-visual and computer-driven devices.

But it’s the sexual vibe that the author captures so well.  If you’re at all curious, check it out.

Photos from my 2004 visit.

Trying to Understand the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act

I wrote this last night, and never finished it up:

You know TARP, right?  No?  Barring a name change, I can almost promise it will become one of the most used acronyms in American political conversation for years to come.  TARP is the Troubled Asset Relief Program (i.e., the Bailout).

Good thing, because we’ve got a new name this morning: Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008.  While I thought that opposition to the originally proposed Paulson plan was a no-brainer, I’ve been trying to find decent analysis of the latest iteration.  So far, this piece by Steven Davidoff has been one of the most forthright:

In the end, the bill is largely what Mr. Paulson wanted, with some interesting side bars. The House put in some oversight, but judicial review of the Treasury secretary’s actions is still subject to an “arbitrary and capricious” standard. Moreover, the executive compensation and the equity purchase provisions are so watered down that they are not likely to be implemented with respect to any participating company.

It’s not a terribly long or dense analysis – I urge you to read the whole thing for yourself.  It ends with this:

If the bill is passed in this form, the Democrats will claim a victory through these executive and corporate governance provisions as well as the warrant provisions. But Mr. Paulson can decide how much of these warrants to take, and the executive compensation and corporate governance provisions are unlikely to be implemented for any companies. The bill is not much different than the original proposal — just 107 pages longer. Ultimately, the credit markets are frozen and we need this plan, but the authority provide the Treasury secretary and the potential scope of this program is troubling.

I’m still inclined to stand against it.  Sure would like to see a convincing argument for it, though.

Update: Krugman thinks that it’s the best viable bill the current political circumstances can produce.  Weak tea, indeed.  (This is what thinks would be ideal, the politics of it aside.)

Update II: This post has already been copied and posted to some site with the url – troubled-asset-relief-program.net.  And already, I’ve gotten traffic from J.P. Morgan as a result.  Hey, people, get back to work!

It’s All CRA’s Fault!

Let’s start by putting aside what CRA (Community Reinvestment Act) is code for in much of the public conversation and take the argument at face value.  Here’s the terribly popular video that seems to be so convincing to so many:


I think it’s terribly well done as a persuasive piece.  But what of its primary claim?  I asked a friend who works as an analyst in the financial industry (and has a default distrust of government) for his take on it:

My take on this is – ‘BULLSHIT’

It is rather easy and convenient for the right to turn this around and blame the Community Reinvestment Act.  The problem is not that the CRA encouraged subprime loans but rather the CRA said that loan in your communities to people who can afford it.  The same bankers who used to whine about the CRA being a burden on their business, are now complaining that the CRA caused the bad loans.

No, their greed and shit risk management systems originated the bad loans.  They did not care cause they were passing the buck on down to Wall Street.  The mortgage brokers, lenders, bankers, Wall Street – everyone got carried away by greed.  If you had to pinpoint a problem I think the main culprit would be the leverage that the investment banks were allowed to have on their books.  The fallout we are seeing is a major form of deleveraging.  It is bad oversight by the SEC/OFHEO/Treasury/Fed – everything was being done under their noses, but they still allowed the crazy levels of leverage on the balance sheets.

Irresponsible borrowing was encouraged by irresponsible lending, which was encouraged by the investment banks willing to grab ‘any’ mortgages, so they could package them and sell them to investors.  The rating agencies are to blame as well.  They had the most amount of information on these structures and the underlying mortgages, but yet they kept rating them AAA.  Bullshit.

The Wall Street investment banks were so levered up (putting very little of their own equity) cause they thought the mortgage flow would never cease, and they could keep on borrowing to no end.  The river of money was flowing and being fed by the investment banks, and everyone washed their hands in that river – the local banks, Fannie and Freddie, the mortgage brokers, the home buyers and the rating agencies.  The source was Wall Street, not the CRA act.

The central point of his analysis – the obscene levels of leverage – isn’t some recently cooked up response to the CRA argument.  We’ve been talking about it for years.  Everyone’s known about it for years.  Yet people still – in pursuit of that next dollar – closed their eyes and dumped more into instruments that might as well have been boxes of fairy dust.  The CRA didn’t force that.  No one did.

There’s also a lesson here about the dangers of unsustainable borrowing, but that’s a topic for another day (and hopefully some time before China decides that it’s had enough).

Update: the original video was pulled and replaced with a second version.  I’m not sure of the differences between the first and second version, but it appears to be substantively the same.

Socialists of the World, Unite!

I’ve got a deep and sincere dislike for lazy cynicism, but that’s about all I’ve got right now:

The [British] government was this morning expected to nationalise buy-to-let lender Bradford & Bingley, as the global credit crisis deepened with the giant European banking group Fortis also being partially taken into public hands late last night.
[ . . . ]

The crisis spread to Belgium where Fortis, its biggest private employer, became the first big European casualty of the credit crunch. Last night a deal was reached between EU and national banking officials and Belgian, Dutch and Luxembourg ministers; the three governments will pour €11.2bn into the bank.

Anyone know how to play the fiddle?

Change A Few Nouns, And This Would Be “Terrorism”

Not sure what to say about this.  I’m not a fan of slapping the “Terrorism!” label on things that are better described as the criminal acts of local assholes, but I can only imagine the national news coverage of this had we switched the ethnicities of the perpetrators/victims, and called the place of worship by another name.

For Arlington Democrats Who are Considering Volunteering – Oct 1st Meeting

I’m not much for using Blacknell.net as a reprint service, but I suspect this will be of interest to many of my local readers:

1 ) Please help us spread the word that our upcoming ACDC [Arlington County Democratic Committee] meeting on Wednesday, October 1st will be dedicated to volunteer outreach activities.  The meeting will be held at our normal location – NRECA Conference Center at 4301 Wilson Blvd.  The meeting begins at 7:00pm with important updates on our Get Out The Vote (GOTV) activities between now and the election.  The second half of the meeting will be focused on volunteer activities.  During this portion of the meeting you will have an opportunity to visit different stations to directly help or learn about how you can participate in critical volunteer needs.  We hope you will plan to attend and encourage you to bring a friend.
Here are some of the volunteer activities that will be highlighted:

A) Stamping Envelopes – we need volunteers to stamp envelopes for our Dollars For Dems fundraising and absentee voting mailing

B) Individual Fundraising Challenge – learn how you can easily raise small dollar donations from your family and friends to support our GOTV activities in Arlington

C) Election Day Official – find out how you can serve as an election official to educate and process voters to help minimize the lines we will face at the polls

D) Metro Voter Registration/Absentee Voting – learn how you can assist in our efforts to promote voter registration and absentee voting at Arlington Metro Stations.

E) Building Ambassadors – if you live in a locked building, found out how you can make a difference in this election by serving as a Building Ambassador

F) Canvassing and Phone Banking -  sign up to talk to your neighbors through weekend canvassing or weekday phone banks

G) Rides to Voter Registrar’s Office – you’ve heard of Rides to the Polls, find out about how you can get involved in our new Rides to Registrar program

I hope DC metro area residents will consider making Arlington/NoVA their home base for any volunteering related to the national election.  We already know how DC and Maryland are going to turn out, and running up the margin there won’t really matter.  However, it will matter in Virginia.   The higher the margin in NoVA, the better the chances are of Virginia’s electoral votes falling into the Democratic column, come election night.

10:15/Saturday Night: Hey, Little Girl

Oh, the iterations this entry went through.  From a band I just discovered a few hours ago to . . . well . . Bruce.  And what I’m going to leave you with isn’t even embeddable.  Tonight’s track is the warble-to-make-you-feel-old I’m On Fire.

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