Month: February 2008

Economics Update

First and most importantly, GDP increased at an annual rate of 0.6% in q4. Seeing as how prices are increasing at an annual rate of greater than 4%, I would call this a contraction in real dollar terms.

Also, Initial jobless claims rise 19,000 to 373,000.

Moody’s is looking at downgrading Fannie Mae. Right now, it’s B+, which may be fine for a grade, but not so good for a financial institution.

Moody’s is probably thinking that they at risk of having problems if there is something like a margin call, as Thornburg Mortgage Inc. currently is. It looks like they will take a $300 million hit.

We also have a q4 loss of $2.5 billionfor Freddie Mac This goes along with Fannie’s $3.6 billion loss that I reported a few days back.

And just to show you that it isn’t limited to real estate, the credit crunch is forcing the Pennsylvania student loan program will stop making loans, at least for now, because the credit crunch is making money too expensive.

Republican Feel Underappreciated by Telcos

The Republicans are shocked that their efforts to cover-up illegal telco spying on Americans have gone unrewarded.

Despite their best efforts to get retroactive immunity to pass, they have not seen an increase in donation from phone and internet companies.

This isn’t surprising. The telcos know that immunity is to cover the collective asses of Bush and His Evil Minions, and that the Republicans will cover his ass regardless of whether or not they donate to Republican campaigns.

You see, the telcos are trying to rent Democrats, because they know that the Republicans are already bought and paid for.

Report: USAF Selects EADS for Tanker Deal

US Air Force makes a deal with foreign supplier

It’s a Malaysian news source, and I call bullsh$#. I just don’t see a way that a foreign contractor wins this outright, or even get over half of a split contract.

In either case, the winner(s) will be announced in the next week.

FWIW, the biggest critic of the original deal, which was largely a gift to Boeing, was John McCain, and he’ll be busy for the next few months.

Fannie and Freddie Near Deal to Clamp Down of Appraisal Fraud

New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and the GSEs (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) are near a deal on appraisal fraud and self dealing (see also here):

At its core, the deal would bar lending companies that sell loans to Fannie and Freddie from using preferred or internal appraisers who may be subject to pressure to overvalue properties. The deal would establish a “home valuation protection code” to set standards on compensation and independence issues, and it would create an institute with a separate board of directors to monitor complaints from consumers and appraisers, according to documents described to The Washington Post by a source not authorized to speak publicly about the issues.

If the agreement takes hold, Fannie and Freddie would no longer purchase mortgages from lenders who fail to abide by the standards, a powerful economic force that could influence the entire housing landscap

As Tanta of Caluclated Risk so eloquently puts it, “It appears that Fannie Mae has finished or nearly finished its review, and is about to ruin several very large aggregators’ and thousands of pissant brokers’ day with a new set of rules regarding how appraisals can be obtained and what affiliations between lender and appraiser are acceptable.”

Another Day, Another Alphabet Soup Collapse

A few days ago, I was wondering what a VIE (variable interest entity) was, and why they were collapsing.

Well, the Wall Street Journal now has the answer. VIEs are basically bonds where the interest rate is periodically refigured at auction.

Municipalities like them, because the interest rates are lower, both because they are more liquid, and because if interest rates rise, then they will follow.

They are basically the same as adjustable rate mortgages, only for bonds.

The problem is that no one is buying at auctions, and the banks have to cover the unpurchased bonds.

The difference between these and auction rate securities is that the banks have to purchase these from whoever wants to sell.

The interest spike is not as bad, these typically go up to prime, so it’s a jump from around 2% to around 6%, but the maturity date gets kicked up too, with 30 year bonds becoming 5 year bonds.

Expect to see more municipal bankruptcies as a result.

Obama Staffer: NAFTA Rhetoric “Not Serious”

This could be bullsh&^, or it could be some staffer or economic adviser freelancing.

Or the report that a staffer told the Canadian ambassador that, “criticisms would only be campaign rhetoric, and should not be taken at face value“, could be true.

CTV is fairly reliable, and I think that Obama is way to savvy to knowingly let someone do this, even if that [b]WAS[/b] his real position (which it probably is, he voted for CAFTA).

It’s simply too politically stupid.

I think that it was one of his economic advisers freelancing, and whoever it was, they should be fired today.

GOP to Congressinal Investigators: Piss Off

Well, after white house staff admitted using RNC emails to avoid the record keeping laws, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee requested backups of the emails.

Henry Waxman, the committee chairman, has now revealed that the GOP has told Congress to go pound sand, saying that they, “has no intention of trying to restore the missing White House e-mails.”

These folks are absolutely lawless.

Senate’s Reid Dares Bush to Veto Foreclosure Bill

I believe that this may be the fruits of the house telling Bush to pound sand on Telco immunity.

They did this, and then they went home, and the feedback from constituents was overwhelmingly positive, so now Harry Reid has found some guts on the foreclosure bill.

I think that Reid may finally get opposing that a president with a 19% approval rating, which makes Bush as popular as a home root canal kit, is a winning strategy.

Besides, this is something that is easily understood: It prevents foreclosures from creating instant slums, and it puts some of the onus on the banks, who were more financially knowledgeable than their victims.

Loan Portfolio Limits Eased on GSEs. Disaster to Follow

As a result of their accounting scandals Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac had their portfolios capped about 725 billion dollars, but regulators have now removed the caps.

This is, to quote Nietzsche, “Like the bite of a dog into a stone, it is a stupidity”.

The head of OFHEO, James Lockhart, will be eliminating the caps this week, and it looks like he will be reducing their capital requirements below the current 30% too.

Mr. Lockhart is an ass. At a time when the 2nd and 3rd largest borrowers in the world, after the US government, are facing a collapsing market, allowing them to go further out on a limb that is being sawed through is insane.

Rep. Markey Proposes Universal Access Bill for Wireless

Rep. Markey has consistently been at the forefront of such things, and how he has proposed the Wireless Consumer Protection and Community Broadband Empowerment Act, which calls for the following:

  • Adequate and plain English disclosures about contracts.
  • Provision of more detailed coverage maps.
  • Require the sale of plans without early termination fees.
  • Require phone carriers to sell “subsidy free” phones.
  • Give municipalities the explicit right to offer broadband services, preempting state laws forbidding this.

Seems like a good bill to me.

Apologist for Racism, William F. Buckley Dead at 82

My condolences to his family, but his record of endorsing racism and fascism should not be ignored.

He was a fervent supporter of Franco, and (of course) Joe McCarthy, and he kept himself amused by coming up with reprehensible justifications for Jim Crow.

Of course, he was well respected, because he was from the right family and went to Yale.

See Steve Gilliard’s post speak like a conservative where he quotes Buckley:

The central question that emerges . . . is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not prevail numerically? The sobering answer is Yes – the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race. It is not easy, and it is unpleasant, to adduce statistics evidencing the cultural superiority of White over Negro: but it is a fact that obtrudes, one that cannot be hidden by ever-so-busy egalitarians and anthropologists.

National Review believes that the South’s premises are correct. . . . It is more important for the community, anywhere in the world, to affirm and live by civilized standards, than to bow to the demands of the numerical majority.

The irony was that at the end of his life, he was abandoned by the Neocon community that he helped to create, because he actually had a bit of sanity.

Unlike, for example, Norman Podhoretz, there is every indication that he knew what he was doing and knew better (I’m talking about the appeals to racism here), but was too fond of his own words to do the right thing.

He was a good writer and a witty man though.

Major Props to Senator Ben Cardin

Earlier I wrote about my senator, Barbara Mikukski, and her voting for telco immunity, and the inadequacy of her response.

I also wrote to Ben Cardin, expressing my appreciation to him for voting against caving to George W. Bush. Major props to him:

Dear Mr. Saroff:

Thank you for contacting me regarding the President’s warrantless wiretapping program.

In February 2008 I voted against final passage of S. 2248, the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Amendments Act. The bill would have made permanent changes to the original FISA law in addition to many of the changes included in the Protect America Act (PAA). I am disappointed that the Senate has failed to a dequately improve the PAA which Congress enacted in August 2007, and which I also opposed . The PAA was intended to be a temporary solution to FISA, giving Congress the opportunity for a more careful consideration of amending the FISA law.

The President must have the necessary authority to track terrorists, intercept their communications, and disrupt their plots. Congress should make needed changes to FISA to account for changes in technology and rulings from the FISA Court involving purely international communications that pass through telecommunications routes in the United States . While we have a solemn obligation to protect the American people, we must simultaneously uphold the Constitution and protect our civil liberties.

After learning about executive branch abuses in the 1960s and 1970s, Congress passed very specific laws which authorize electronic surveillance. Congress has regularly updated these measures over the years to provide the executive branch the tools it needs to investigate terrorists, while preserving essential oversight mechanisms for the courts and the Congress. FISA requires the government to seek an order or warrant from the FISA Court before conducting electronic surveillance that may involve US persons. The Act also provides for post-surveillance notice to the FISA Court by the Attorney General in an emergency.

I am very concerned that the FISA law was disregarded by the Administration, and want to ensure that we put an end to this type of abuse. We are a nation of laws and no one is above the law, including the President and Attorney General. Congress has the right to know the extent of the warrantless wiretapping program and how it was initiated and changed over the years by this Administration.

I voted in favor of the Judiciary Committee substitute to the Intelligence Committee bill. The Judiciary Committee version strengthened Congressional and judicial review, including increasing the oversight by the FISA Court of the Administration’s wiretapping program. I am therefore very disappointed that the Senate rejected the Judiciary Committee substitute, and that the Senate has rejected numerous amendments – including an amendment that I had offered which would reduce the length of the reauthorization from six to four years – to improve this legislation.

I am hopeful that the House will make much needed improvements in this legislation during conference, and that I can support balanced legislation that gives the intelligence community the tools it needs to track terrorists and prevent attacks, while maintaining safeguards against the abuse of power by the executive branch. As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I will continue to work to ensure the safety and security of the American people, as well as their civil liberties. Domestic eavesdropping raises serious and fundamental questions regarding the conduct of the war against terrorism, the Constitutional and privacy rights of Americans, and the separation of powers between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Congress must continue to work to strike the right balance, and we did not achieve that goal with this legislation.

Thank you again for contacting me, and please feel free to do so again in the future.

New York Times Puts Siegleman News Blackout in Alabama In OP/ED

They write about the fact that WHNT, a CBS affiliate, went to black during the 60 minutes presentation of the politicization of the prosecution of former governor Don Siegleman.

Last two ‘graphs:

In 1969, the F.C.C. revoked the license of WLBT in Jackson after the commission established a systematic effort by the broadcaster to suppress information about the civil rights movement. Today, broadcast rules have changed, giving stations more leeway to decide what to air. Dropping a single report is unlikely to set the regulators in motion. Still, it would be deeply troubling if a partisan broadcaster could suppress information on the public airwaves and hide behind a technical fig leaf.

In this case, if the blackout was intentional, it may also have been counterproductive. Rather than take attention away from allegations that Mr. Siegelman was the victim of a partisan campaign, WHNT’s technical glitch seems to lend support to the charge.

Based on what is going on in Alabama, I’m coming to believe that this prosecution was driven by political considerations.

Otherwise, why would the GOP there be so freaked out and hypersensitive about this.