Friday, April 18, 2008

Taxpayers Subsidize Richest Americans

The NYT reports that several hedge fund managers took home over a billion dollars in pay last year. It says, "Combined, the top 50 hedge fund managers last year earned $29 billion." Interesting that the $29 billion figure almost exactly matches the $30 billion bailout of Bear Stearns. It's more than a coincidence.

The hedge funds don't really do much useful. They don't make anything; they don't start businesses. They don't even pretend to make businesses more efficient, as private equity funds claim to do. They are basically gambling institutions, betting on various, esoteric market fluctuations. So, when they win, somebody else loses, because they are not creating wealth; they're just taking somebody else's wealth. So, the winners made $29 billion and the losers got bailed out to the tune of $30 billion by the taxpayers. The taxpayers are contributing to the unprecedented transfer of wealth from the lower and middle classes to the super rich.

Carter's Courage

Jimmy Carter has a lot of courage to take on the American Jewish community's virulent, racist, Zionist, hate-filled campaign against the Palestinians. This blog by Marc Ginsberg is just one example of the hate expressed toward him by Jews. Don't be fooled by the "more in sorrow than in anger" tone of the blog. It's a hate screed. The ironic thing is that as the Jews have garnered more and more power in the US, so that both the Republican and Democratic parties support Israel unquestioningly, the US has lost more and more power in the world, partly because of the hateful, racist, Israeli-inspired policies it pursues in the Middle East.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Maureen Dowd, Deer Hunter

Maureen Dowd's column in the NYT is the first I have seen that mentions the "Deer Hunter" movie. She says Pennsylvania is Deer Hunter country. What does this mean if it's not something weird having to do with bitterness and guns. Is it common for Pennsylvanians to play Russian roulette? Do they just naturally love Russian roulette like they love their God? Did Maureen and Hillary learn to play Russian roulette with their dads out behind the vacation cabins their grandfathers built? I don't think the characters in Deer Hunter would have been playing Russian roulette if they hadn't been messed up by the Vietnam war and faced a pretty depressing situation at home in Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

New Jewish Lobby

The Washington Post reports that liberal Jews have created a new lobby, J Street, to compete with AIPAC. This sounds great; we'll see how it works in practice. It seems true that there is much more political debate about Israel's future in Israel than there is in the US, where AIPAC is the only Jewish lobby, and AIPAC means Zionism supported 100% by the US.

Here's Mother Jones report of the new lobby.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

McCain and Charlie Black

The NYT features lobbyist Charlie Black's prominent role in John McCain's presidential campaign. I didn't know that he got his start with Jesse Helms, Lee Atwater, and other assorted right wing zealots. Not a good sign for me, since Jesse was a virulent hater of the State Department and an author of the Helms-Burton Act, which was one thing that encouraged me to get out of the Foreign Service.

While I was assigned to the US Embassy in Rome, an Italian contact whose little daughter had been denied a US visa under the Act remarked to me about how it penalized the children of those it targeted. I found its operation to be very similar to the way the Nazis targeted Jews in Italy during World War II as described by Herman Wouk in Winds of War and War and Remembrance. I was not happy that the US was punishing children for the "sins" of their parents.

Plus, as I said earlier, I am not happy about lobbyists having big roles in presidential campaigns, especially of someone like John McCain, who claims to be the king of straight talk. The Black connection seems to indicate that McCain has swung hard to the right. I worry that although he has a history as a maverick, he was neutered by George Bush in the 2000 campaign when Bush beat him in South Carolina by claiming that McCain's adopted daughter was actually a black bastard conceived out of wedlock. Now, to see McCain fawning over Bush is more than I can take. Plus, I hate seeing him get his Middle East policy whispered in his ear by Israel hawk Joe (Bomb Iran) Lieberman.

Barack, Hillary and the Deer Hunter

All of this political talk about Obama's description of Pennsylvanians as turning to religion and guns because they are bitter about how life has treated them sounds like it's straight out of the movie "The Deer Hunter." I find it strange that none of the talking heads I have heard have mentioned the movie. It's probably because it's about the Vietnam war and nobody except John McCain was involved in it. McCain's experience was hardly typical; he had little in common with the characters in the movie although they also were POWs. McCain came from a patrician family; his father and grandfather were admirals. Like John Kerry (not one of my favorites) he became a Congressional military aide when he came back from Vietnam. He didn't go back to a working class family in a steel mill town. As a returning hero, he didn't have any moral qualms to deal with when he came back, unlike the average grunt who was fighting in the jungles of Vietnam one day and back on his hometown streets two or three days later amongst cohorts who had avoided service in Vietnam. I don't think there are many ordinary Vietnam vets among the talking heads on TV. One is Sen. Chuck Hagel, but he's the exception who proves the rule, and I don't think he was on today. I think it is significant that he has not endorsed McCain, a fellow Republican and Vietnam vet.

If Hillary knew about the movie, she would probably see herself as the Meryl Streep character, but she is more like the wealthy Meryl Streep character in "The Big Chill," who owns the ante-bellum plantation house in South Carolina where the movie takes place.

Anyway the Deer Hunter is certainly about Pennsylvania and guns, and to a lesser extent about religion. Ironically, Obama doesn't seem to know about it either. He could simply reply to Hillary that if she doesn't understand what he is talking about, she should watch the Deer Hunter.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

House Value Graph

Just for anybody who missed it, here's the Shiller graph of the bubble in house prices. It looks like something unprecedented has occurred, so that unwinding or popping the bubble may take a while and be fairly disruptive.

The Fed and the Markets

Although I have been critical of the Fed for not worrying more about inflation, there's no doubt that its main concern should be to avoid a financial meltdown that could lead to a depression or a breakdown of the financial markets. My main complaint is not with the Fed, but with Congress and the Administration for cutting taxes on the wealthy so drastically while waging very expensive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are shuffling money by the handfuls from lenders in China to Republican war profiteers, including Dick Cheney.

The Fed may have prevented the onset of a major financial crisis due to the subprime mortgage situation. Nevertheless, America is still sitting out there -- exposed because of its huge indebtedness. Runaway inflation will reduce the size of the indebtedness over time, but not in the short term (hopefully). Therefore, we remain at the mercy of the Chinese and the Arabs, our largest creditors. It's unlikely that they want to destroy the US for financial reasons; they would stand to lose a lot of money by doing so. But if the political/military situation goes downhill, they might try to destroy the US economy for geopolitical reasons. China is now feeling a lot of international pressure over Tibet, as well as the traditional US pressure over Taiwan from the Republican right. There is some small risk that China could retaliate by dumping all of its US dollar investments, triggering a collapse in the dollar's value and perhaps pushing American interest rates into the stratosphere.

Alan Greenspan claims in the Financial Times that he's not responsible, and he's not the worst culprit, although the FT columnists have some legitimate gripes about his performance. But one thing he did which was very bad was to come out in favor of the dangerous Bush tax cuts because he claimed he was afraid that America would end up paying off its debt. In retrospect his claimed fears had no merit, and were no doubt expressed to please the political powers, Bush and company. By sacrificing his integrity for political expediency, he ensured his share of the blame for America's financial debacle.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Lobbyists and Presidential Candidates

Two recent articles illustrate the extent to which lobbyists dominate Presidential campaigns. One hope for Obama is that he may be less influenced because he has been in Washington for less time and thus the lobbyists have had less time to get control of him.

The New York Times reported on the role of Hillary Clinton's chief strategist, Mark Penn's, lobbying firm's role in getting US approval of the Columbia free trade agreement. It sounds like his firm, Burson-Marsteller, has lost its contract with Columbia at the same time Mark Penn has lost his position with Hillary's campaign.

Meanwhile The Nation reports on the role of the lobbying firm of one of John McCain's insiders, Charlie Black, in making Ahmad Chalabi one of the most important men in Iraq. Black is a principal at Black, Kelly, Scruggs & Healey, another one of the most powerful lobbying firms in Washington, which is also owned by Burson-Marsteller.

It looks as if Hillary and McCain are not masters of their own destinies, but are rather tools of backroom masterminds intent on bringing Washington under their control. It appears that Burson-Marsteller is America's Rasputin.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Israel, Jews, and the US Election

It appears that there are a substantial number of American Jews who oppose Barack Obama because of what they perceive as his position on Israel, as reported by The Nation in "(Some) Jews Against Obama. As the article points out, there is no basis for most of their concerns. This was followed up by a Nation article on "Smearing Obama" that said a particular target of the false smears against Obama were directed at Jews.

Meanwhile, Mother Jones reports that Hillary is pandering to American Jews and Israel by taking a position that Israel should have "an undivided Jerusalem as its capital." This appears to mean that she believes the Palestinians have no right to any part of Jerusalem. By deciding one of the major issues beforehand, this makes talks on peace between Israel and the Palestinians virtually pointless. The problem with Hillary's position on Jerusalem is illustrated by Helena Cobban's recent posting on Jerusalem, for example.

Finally, John McCain's recent visit to Israel appeared designed to pander to American Jews. Besides visiting the Holocaust memorial in his yarmulke, he seemed to be getting his foreign policy advice from Sen. Joe Lieberman, who advocates an American war with Iran on behalf of Israel. The sight of Joe whispering in John's ear about what to say about al-Qaida in Iraq was not a pretty sight.

I'm reminded of the movie Bulworth, where Warren Beatty's senator character says something like, "My staff knows they always have to put the rich Jews on my campaign schedule." Hillary and McCain need that "rich Jew" money. Obama has enough money coming in from regular people that he doesn't have to pander to any particular group. Thus, it appears that the Jews fear him because they are afraid that they can't control him, as they do Hillary, McCain, and most Presidents, certainly including George Bush, whose Middle East policies are blatantly pro-Israel, to the point of arming Fatah Palestinians in the hope that they will kill Hamas Palestinians.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Wall Street vs. Main Street

The economy lost 80,000 jobs and the stock market barely went down. To me this signifies the disconnect between Wall Street and Main Street, the rest of the country. It's fairly typical that bad news for middle America is good news for Wall Street, but with everybody concerned about the financial turmoil on Wall Street and the potential recession for the whole country, that attitude is particularly poignant. Wall Street is happy that jobs are being outsourced to China and India because it reduces labor costs. Detroit and the rest of the rust belt is already suffering from this Wall Street attitude, but the pain is spreading to the rest of the country outside of the playgrounds for the rich, like Manhattan, Beverly Hills and Aspen. Meanwhile, the fat cats on Wall Street, who got us into this mess, just got bailed out to the tune of $30 billion or more, while the average Joe, who has just been minding his own business, will get a tax rebate of $600 or so.