Friday, September 19, 2008

"One Trillion Dollars" 

From a 2007 C & L post:

One of the folksy, “gosh durnit, that president sure is a funny feller” anecdotes in Robert Draper’s new book about George W. Bush, Dead Certain, is that Dubya is a big fan of Austin Powers and in particular, the character of Dr. Evil, imitating him often along the corridors of the White House.

News Item! Paulson Plan could cost $1 Trillion:

Congressional leaders said after meeting Thursday evening with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke that as much as $1 trillion could be needed to avoid an imminent meltdown of the U.S. financial system.
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Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” said lawmakers were told last night “that we’re literally maybe days away from a complete meltdown of our financial system, with all the implications, here at home and globally.”
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The solution being proposed by the Bush administration is the most expensive bailout in the nation’s history, sharply curtailing the ability of the next president to push for tax cuts or new spending.


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Cost Extravaganza-to-the-Gulf 

From Editilla's Noladder blog, we found a news update on projected levee protection costs for vulnerable South Louisiana.

[The Morganza-to-the-Gulf levee project] actually got the green light from congress in 2007. At that time, the Army Corps of Engineers estimated the cost of the job at about $800 million. According to the levee district, a few months later the Army Corps came back with a new cost estimate, jacking up the price of the job to $11 billion. Now, the project is in limbo again.

Editilla asks, "What kind'a shake'down bully'punk horse'shit Extortion is this?" Good question.

Corps of Engineers District Commander Col. Alvin Lee says the higher cost estimates reflect the new post-Katrina design criteria -- to build flood control levees bigger, stronger and higher.

“Using more resilient materials, better clay materials to build the levees,” said Lee. “We have post-Katrina costs that have increased after hurricane Katrina to build those levees. That's really what's driving up our costs.”

$10 billion for "better clay" and other "post-Katrina costs"? Can we get an itemized breakdown for this estimate? Will it increase another $10 billion after Gustav and Ike?

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The Dukes of Moral Hazard 

Just three good ole boys, never meanin' no harm...

Seems that a big "troubled asset relief program" is in the works, that will require hundreds of billions of tax dollars. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson gives us a preview of this giant government intervention into the market, below, but first I want to refresh everyone's memory about Rep. Richard Baker's post-Katrina/Rita housing recovery plan. Here's how the T-P described Baker's plan in early 2006:

Baker's bill, which enjoys broad bipartisan support among Louisiana politicians and planners, would create a public corporation financed by the sale of federal bonds. A board appointed by the president would use the proceeds to offer buyouts to the owners of flood-damaged homes for at least 60 percent of the equity based on pre-Katrina value. It also would pay off the mortgages, heading off a possible wave of foreclosures.

Unlike the block grant approach, Baker said the corporation would attempt to recoup some of the money -- and fuel the economic recovery of the region -- by selling tracts of land to developers who would rebuild communities according to local plans.

As you may recall, the White House strung Louisiana's leaders along for months, before ultimately killing the bill's chances. The Bush administration said they "didn't want government in the real estate business". They were worried about the cost of such a bailout. They didn't want "another layer of government" in the mix. Alright. Just keep those words in mind as you read these excerpts from Hank Paulson's statement from this morning:

Despite these [recent bailouts], more is needed. We must now take further, decisive action to fundamentally and comprehensively address the root cause of our financial system's stresses.

Gotta love when appointees in a "conservative" administration become "root causers".

The underlying weakness in our financial system today is the illiquid mortgage assets that have lost value as the housing correction has proceeded.

"As the housing correction has proceeded?" Weren't you telling us that it was bottoming nearly two years ago?

These illiquid assets are choking off the flow of credit that is so vitally important to our economy.
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As we all know, lax lending practices earlier this decade led to irresponsible lending and irresponsible borrowing.
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A similar scenario is playing out among the lenders who made those mortgages, the securitizers who bought, repackaged and resold them, and the investors who bought them. These troubled loans are now parked, or frozen, on the balance sheets of banks and other financial institutions, preventing them from financing productive loans. The inability to determine their worth has fostered uncertainty about mortgage assets, and even about the financial condition of the institutions that own them. The normal buying and selling of nearly all types of mortgage assets has become challenged.
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To restore confidence in our markets and our financial institutions, so they can fuel continued growth and prosperity, we must address the underlying problem.

The federal government must implement a program to remove these illiquid assets that are weighing down our financial institutions and threatening our economy. This troubled asset relief program must be properly designed and sufficiently large to have maximum impact, while including features that protect the taxpayer to the maximum extent possible. The ultimate taxpayer protection will be the stability this troubled asset relief program provides to our financial system, even as it will involve a significant investment of taxpayer dollars. I am convinced that this bold approach will cost American families far less than the alternative - a continuing series of financial institution failures and frozen credit markets unable to fund economic expansion.
This huge new government program previewed by Bush's Treasury Secretary will relieve big banks of the risk associated with the "troubled assets" in their investment portfolios. It will cost hundreds of billions of tax dollars. Yet, after the unparalleled devastation of Katrina/Rita and the Federal Flood, the innovative program Rep. Baker introduced in 2005 was torpedoed by the Bush administration. See, they didn't like the bureaucratic implications of Baker's bill, or the precedent, or the possible price tag. It didn't comport with their conservative "philosophy".

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Smooth move ex-lax®... not at all Geritol® 

From Nola.com:

A pair of high school seniors are fighting expulsion and criminal charges after officials at their Metairie school discovered their "senior prank:" a pan of laxative-laced cupcakes left in the teachers lounge.
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Officials determined that [two seniors at Patrick F. Taylor Science and Technology Academy] cooked up the scheme, the police report said. They were booked with mingling harmful substances, punishable by up to two years in prison and a maximum fine of $1,000.

"Mingling harmful substances"? Two years in prison? For Ex-lax cupcakes? I mean, what's next? Are we going to imprison teenagers for pissing in the party punch, or doing the stink palm? And if "mingling harmful substances" is such a crime, shouldn't the authorities do something about this unholy "Chelada" concoction being marketed nationwide? (Only $2.99 per for a 24oz can of Bud Light mixed with Clamato juice. Reviews here.)

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You can take the boy out of Indiana, but you can't take the Indiana out of the boy 

I don't know precisely what I mean by that title phrase, but I like to say it because I was born in Columbus, Indiana-- the "Athens of the Midwest". I grew up in Florida and went to college in Tejas, so I can't properly call myself a Hoosierleanian. But still, I've always had a fondness (from afar*) for the plain speaking folks in Indiana. There's not a lot of dark sarcasm in those towns, which is kind of refreshing to me, because I practically subsist on that stuff.

Anyhow, back in May, Hoosierleanian Editor B. made some political prognostications about whether Indiana and Louisiana would be "in play" in this year's presidential race. Editor B. wrote:

I think Indiana will not be in play. The Republicans have had Indiana locked up in presidential races for as long as I’ve been alive. Indiana will go to McCain. Easy call. Obama supporters in Indiana might as well not even bother to show up at the polls, because it’s winner take all.

Not so fast, my friend! Obama leads in the latest Indiana poll, 47%-44%.

In the comments section to that post, I took issue with Editor B's analysis. And since current polls make those comments appear insightful, I will therefore link to them. (Otherwise, I would leave them alone.)

As for Louisiana, E at WCBF brings us the latest poll results from the Pelican state, and they're much better for Obama than I would've expected-- Barack's "only" seven points down. Perhaps that will give pause to some potential Nader voters, who assume their vote doesn't "count" in red states.


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* and I'm sure when S. Louisiana has washed away, and I'm old and living the "simple life" in small town Indiana, eating bland potatoes and meat, I'll bore everyone with my sappy wistfulness for the time I spent in Southern Louisiana. I'll sit in my rocker, and say crap like "You can take the boy out of New Orleans, but you can't take the New Orleans out of the boy".

If Obama somehow prevails in Indiana on election day, I will sob uncontrollably in profound joy. That would mean so much to me.

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One of these things is not like the others 



Found at The Big Picture, where commenter ambivalentmaybe says "What the hell is 'New Orleans' doing in that line? Was the cartoonist pressed to show some sort of 'balance' between large for-profit corporations, on the one hand, and an American city devastated by Army Corps of Engineers malfeasance?"

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Will reading a blog post send you to hell? 

Margaret Cho defends her Christianity and lashes out at her critics in a very not-safe-for-work-or-church manner. If you choose to read her post, and subsequently find yourselves surfing the sulphurous waves in the lake of fire, YRHT accepts no responsibility.

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Thanks to the Big Event for further endangering my salvation.

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Pouring ice cream into a cone of recycled newspaper 

The Times Picayune's Monday opinion page is an abortion. And I've already complained about that. But now Da Paper is going to raise its daily retail price from 50 cents to 75 cents a copy.

I'm one of those guys who, instead of subscribing, goes down to the corner store each day with two quarters and purchases a paper. It gives me a chance to "donate" a little extra to the T-P, and an excuse to grab a caffeinated beverage of some sort, and mix amongst my (fellow) great unwashed New Orleanians. Well, it looks like that daily habit will have to be adjusted. For me, an extra quarter a day for a newspaper is the tipping point. This Monday, when I picked up the paper and saw the flimsy-ass "Metro" section, I realized: the Daily Monopoly is no longer a "bargain" at retail prices. The Monday edition is not worth 75 cents to me. The Sudoku puzzle is not challenging, and the Metro section is so thin you couldn't even stuff a floodwall with it.

Granted, as T-P columnist James Gill wryly notes, Monday morning features an extravaganza of Saints coverage, with enough analysis and factoids to kill a water buffalo at forty paces.

There must be a few people around here who don't give a fig for the Saints. Lord knows how they cope with the Monday paper. After the Buccaneers game Sunday, with Gustav and Ike competing for attention, the Saints commanded more than half of page one and great swaths on the inside of the news section. Readers could turn to sports for acres more.

If newspapers reflect the interests of their readers -- and they'd be pretty dumb not to these days -- the Saints are very serious business around here.

"If"... that's funny.

Now, I give a fig about the Saints, and I give several more figs about Saints fans... but a serious paper like the T-P shouldn't insult its readers with such a scant Opinion page followed by an overstuffed Sports section with three or more epic columns discussing what exactly won or lost the Saints game ("It was the defense!" "No, it was the offense!" "No, it was the [insert pet reason]").

The T-P's new "Monologues" section is what really gets me. It's a short little insipid "viewpoint" that is printed at the bottom of the Monday opinion page, below the T-P editorial and Letters to the Editor section. The T-P hoped that readers would find the Monday Monologue "engaging".

I can only speak for readers who breathe through their noses, but let me just say that the weekly Monologue is not "engaging". It's awful-- hideously boring and trite. I get more weekly insight from Baby Bop. Take Monday's Monologue, for example. It's about "Cone Fatigue".

Uncertainty doesn't begin to capture the emotional toll that the [hurricane track] cone takes on a person. Cone of anxiety is more like it. Or cone of impending doom.

What an original insight! (Someone tell the New Orleans Levee, maybe they can find a way to perfectly satirize it!) Actually, Chris Rose wrote about the cone back in August. Well, Rose didn't write about it, he vaguely quoted someone else:

In his recently blogged essay "The Cone of Insanity," my friend Mike Gio tackles this vocabularic phenomenon:
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"OK, most of us don't have degrees in meteorology and certificates in storm prognostication, but you don't have to be Nash Roberts to know that when something is simultaneously referred to as the Cone of Uncertainty and the Cone of Probability, something ain't quite right. What's next? The Cone of Confusion? The Cone of Contradiction? The Cone of Complete Cluelessness?"

Somewhat originally, Chris Rose went on to say:

I couldn't have said it better. And I don't know about you, but it all makes me want to go to Creole Creamery and get a couple of cones of mint chocolate chip and stuff myself silly until I forget all about this Gustav thing.

Now, look at how Monday's Monologue concludes:

Still, I had grown very weary of the cone halfway through the Ike watch. Then I wandered into Creole Creamery. Their Cone of Uncertainty is a heavenly combination: chocolate-lined waffle cone filled with cafe au lait ice cream and topped with Oreos.

Now that's a cone almost anyone could love.

Jeebus. The T-P wants us to pay more for an opinion page that recycled a viewpoint from a columnist in the T-P Living section who recycled that same viewpoint from a Gambit blog post... and after "digesting" this re-regurgitated sweetness, we can't even (easily) recycle the damn newspaper itself!

Urggh! I wish I could think of a place Uptown where I could soothe my frustrations by devouring yummy iced dairy products.

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Here's a thought: why don't y'all scrap the Monday Monologues section, and instead quote a choice snippet from one of the Nola.com blogs? No one I know regularly reads or links to the T-P blogs, but they're not that bad-- certainly no worse than the Monologues-- and they could use the promotion.
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Fun fact! About a month ago, the oyster family walked into Creole Creamery. The Food Network was in there, setting up lights and cameras, about to film a segment for a show, and we were the only customers in the place. As my young daughters eyed the various flavors of ice cream, the Food Network director came up and asked us "How would you like some free sundaes?"

"Yaaay!!" my daughters shouted.

The director explained that we'd be filmed for a TV show, and my wife Lovely got all excited. "This could be my big break" she exclaimed, half seriously. So, while deciding what sundaes we should get, the cameraman whispered something to the director. They both looked at us while whispering back and forth, and then the director walked over and said: "Umm, actually, we're going to take a pass. Yeah, sorry about that. Thanks." Then he walked away and made a phone call.
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Update: post title has been changed

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

"What do you think this car runs on... God's own methane?" 

The person John McCain designated as America's most knowledgeable energy expert believes that dinosaurs (whose fossils help comprise our fossil fuels) coexisted with humans. She once saw a picture of a fossil with a human footprint on it, or something.

Maitri discusses the folly of this, and talks right down to earth in a language that everyone here can easily understand:

There is no oil for conservatives if they don’t agree that the earth may be billions of years old and don’t cease and desist with this intelligent-design-in-science-classrooms crap. After all, the gasoline that fuels the average vehicle comes from reservoirs that are anywhere between tens of thousands and tens of millions of years old. Fossils, creatures that evolved, are utilized as horizon markers that tell us where to drill. Without a geologic time scale that spans eons and eras, there is no geology and paleontology. Without geology and paleontology, there is no reaching oil. Without oil, there is nothing to put in the car.


Please note: "geology and paleontology" are not to be confused with "gerontology and palintology". Totally different.

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Update: Alternate post title: "The Fossil and the Creationist". Seriously, Gov. Palin's father was a science teacher and Gov. Jindal was a biology major. Palin and Jindal are the GOP's rising stars, yet they have to kowtow to the Bible literalist base of their party to advance their careers. Why is that?
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Cross-posted at First Draft.

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title ref

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Update 2: Drive By Blogger reacts.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

500 point haircuts are an aphrodisiac 


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This is my reactionary spin. There are many like it but this one is mine. 

Why does the intro video at GoArmy.com show a "terrorist fist jab" at the 28 second mark?

A patriotic American wants to know.

Remember the origins of that incredibly stupid episode? It came from a deleted comment at Human Events.

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"Stop blogging right now!" 

Majikthise collects a number of allegations from yesterday's NYT article on Palin's executive leadership. Here's one:

[F]our months ago, a Wasilla blogger, Sherry Whitstine, who chronicles [Gov. Palin's] career with an astringent eye, answered her phone to hear an assistant to the governor on the line, she said.

“You should be ashamed!” Ivy Frye, the assistant, told her. “Stop blogging. Stop blogging right now!”


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Sherry Whitstine is a conservative blogger, btw.

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I bet I know where you got dem white shoes 




They were on Wall Street, but you got a little drunk, and you scuffed 'em up, and stepped in a puddle of blood, and now they're ruined and you have to sell them for pennies on the dollar.

Bloomberg:

Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., the fourth-largest U.S. investment bank, succumbed to the subprime mortgage crisis it helped create in the biggest bankruptcy filing in history.

The 158-year-old firm, which survived railroad bankruptcies of the 1800s, the Great Depression in the 1930s and the collapse of Long-Term Capital Management a decade ago, filed a Chapter 11 petition with U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan today. The collapse of Lehman, which listed more than $613 billion of debt, dwarfs WorldCom Inc.’s insolvency in 2002 and Drexel Burnham Lambert’s failure in 1990.


WSJ:

The American financial system was shaken to its core on Sunday. Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. faced the prospect of liquidation, and Merrill Lynch & Co. agreed to be sold to Bank of America Corp.
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Lehman, a 158-year-old firm that started as an Alabama cotton brokerage, and Merrill, with its trademark bull logo, have been pillars of Wall Street for much of the past century. With the demise of Bear Stearns, three of the Street's five major independent brokers could end up disappearing, leaving only Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley.
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The convulsions could lead to even tighter credit, higher borrowing costs and moribund capital markets, as securities firms and commercial banks try to further limit risk and preserve capital. Those moves could cause the U.S. economy to slow further.

For over a year, Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson told us the housing market had bottomed, and that the economy is strong enough to "power through" the correction, and that the correction was "largely contained". Sir-mix-a-lot never saw so many pleasing sugarplum bottoms.

But recently, Hank "I get sprung" Paulson has had second thoughts, and has finally walked back his rhetoric. Is it possible that Paulson, a Goldman Sachs executive genius , underestimated the ramifications of the widely foreseen housing/credit bubble? (Unlikely.) Or did he see it like everyone else, but was not permitted to publicly recognize the reality of it? (Ding ding ding!)

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As I've said before, John McCain's economic advisors are dangerously stupid. And if Sarah Palin believes Alaska is a "microcosm" of America, I'd love to hear her describe which part of the Alaskan microcosm is like Wall Street, and what her solution to the housing/credit bubble would be.
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Update: Sen. Obama's statement on the latest financial crisis is here.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Washington Hogettes need lipstick 


Battered Saints may have their hands full this week.

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Update: Saints surrender nine point lead in fourth quarter, and lose to 'Skins 29-24. As I said before, an un-alloyed Reggie Bush highlight is a very rare thing.

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