Eye of the Storm

The past few weeks have been a madhouse of large-scale emergencies all over the country.

A brief update from my last post: our world leaders and police still need supervision. But Officer Jeff Payne was fired from his part-time paramedic gig following retaliatory remarks made against Nurse Wubbels. He attempted to arrest her in July for failing to illegally providing a patient blood sample.

Moving on…Hurricane Harvey was the first major event of its kind to devastate the United states since Wilma in 2005. We had just a few days to grapple with that disaster before Hurricane Irma came along –  fatter and faster than Harvey, and currently wreaking havoc on the state of Florida. Both storms are historic and have left communities grappling with prevention and recovery. Scientists say we are in the middle of an active hurricane period which began roughly in 1995, when water temperatures began to rise due to global warming.

Click the hyperlink for an independently compiled list of charities working to provide relief to victims of Hurricane Harvey. Similar links for Hurricane Irma will follow in a later post.

A little bit of good news from last week: The House passed Trump’s deal with Dem brass (“Nancy and Chuck”) to allocate $7.4 billion to FEMA. A follow-up vote from the Senate increased the aid package to $15 billion, with four Texans voting against the plan (note: these politicians are from parts of the state currently unaffected by Hurricane Harvey). The maneuvers also allowed an increase in the debt ceiling, and avoided a government shutdown – until December anyway.

With many Republicans opposed to the debt ceiling extension, we have to wonder why Trump chose this path. Was it an attempt to seek favor in light of fervent public opposition to the repeal of DACA?  A big “eff you” to GOP leaders with whom the President is already at odds? Or is Trump actually concerned for the Americans who’ve been devastated by natural disaster? We have our doubts about the latter.

It’s worth noting that immigration debates sank candidate John McCain, and also created intra-party headaches for former President George W. Bush.  Is Trump enjoying tangling with a GOP that is splintering under leadership dissent? A man who boldly demanded a wall to keep immigrants out of the country is now throwing DACA over to Congress. What gives?

More updates on hurricanes, FEMA, and DACA in my next post.

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Missing the Point of the Anemic Housing Market (June 29, 2011)

Until four months ago, I had very little interest in real estate and personal finance news. I do not own a property, nor do I wish to, exist mostly off the credit economy grid and don’t have much of a head for financial statistics. That all changed in February when I was hired as a senior writer for a respected housing market and stock analyst. By day, I research, write and report on the numbers, which I don’t have to tell you folks, have been seriously depressing in recent years.

Typically, I try to keep my two writing worlds separate. In the evening and on weekends, I am preoccupied with theater, politics, urban agriculture and of course, myself.

Recently, because of immersion in the topics, I have come to understand that my disinterest in banking and housing limits my understanding of the full political scope. What could be more important, from a public policy perspective, than sustained, long-term unemployment and a pullback in available credit absolutely decimating middle class American families and their home values? Yet tragically, both political parties have chosen to ignore these truly pressing concerns in favor of epically immature posturing regarding gay marriage (Rick Santorum), Executive branch limousine rides (Michelle Bachmann) and pushing disgraced congressman Anthony Weiner out of office (Nancy Pelosi). While our elected officials play chicken with a vote on the debt ceiling, Middle America has been placed on the sidelines.

It has been nearly three years since the world learned that irresponsible, and in most cases criminal activity on the part of large Wall Street financial firms had brought the economy to its knees. To date the banks and their financial partners have had to pay the piper very little. But periodically, a wrist slap is handed out so that lawmakers and legal eagles can tout the appearance of justice to the voting public.

This morning, on the front page of the New York Times and other media outlets, we learned that Bank of America, the largest U.S. bank in terms of asset holdings, plans to set aside $14 billion to repay a group of critical investors as a resort of its malfeasance in bundling and selling high-risk mortgages.

Who are these critical investors, you may ask? According to reports, the claimants are “a group of heavyweight holders of the securities, including Pimco, BlackRock and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, that have been pressing for a settlement since last fall.”

Does anyone suppose that this group has been the real victim of Wall Street’s shell game? While it’s wonderful to hear that the bank is going to have to make some restitution, it is with the wrong folks. None of this $14 billion will ever reach the hundreds of thousands of American families who have lost everything because of the risks taken by a small group of arrogant charlatans.

Meanwhile, hopes for a housing market recovery, or even confirmation that we have finally reached the bottom, continue to be dashed. This week, CBS MoneyWatch reported that home prices in six cities fell to new all-time lows, and nationwide, home values are averaging 2000 levels. For those keeping score, that is 11 years of lost equity.

Who will finally decide that it is beneficial to the nation, and politically advantageous enough, to throw American homeowners a lifeline? Voluntary loan modification programs have proven to be a sick joke marked by millions of reams in lost paperwork. No one on Capitol Hill seems to want to touch the development of a plan to create jobs (which is the real key to getting the housing market back on its feet), and around we go.

It’s utterly disgraceful to have to endure the chronic bellyaching of Big Business, whining about the hostile corporate attitude of the Obama administration, while stories like this one go unheard.

Bank of America can spare the $14 billion. The nation’s middle class can no longer afford the loss of dignity, combined with collective callousness, bought on by the risks of elite cads who fail to connect with the real repercussions of their actions. And our public servants need to stop enabling this disconnect.

State of the Union (January 28, 2010)

obama-state-of-the-union

I listened to every moment of the President’s address before the joint houses of Congress (and a very dour and censured looking Supreme Court) last night. In many respects, I thought Obama did a great job. He said a lot of tough things that needed to be said, that most of us are aware of, but rarely hear come from the mouths of our elected leaders. Such as the fact that he has increased deficit spending in the last year, but felt that given the choice of two evils: letting America go belly up or adding to our long term monetary problems, he had no option but to go with the latter. He also reminded us, as God I have wanted Obama to do so many times in recent months, that a great reason everyone is so panicked about the deficit is because of the fine legacy of fiscal “conservative” George W. Bush.

In general, I thought our President came off as committed and firm, aware of his mistakes, but ready to get out there and keep trying, because damn it that’s what we elected him to do and America has some serious problems that need fixing.

As one of my young co-workers eloquently stated over happy hour beers last evening, “I don’t trust government, but I do trust Obama.” I think that about sums it up for me too, so while I felt somewhat re-energized after the President’s address, I felt the keen sense that his commitment to change is only as good as the worthless Congress whose help he requires to get things done. I am as liberal as they come, but I would be remiss here if I lay the blame solely at the feet of the minority Republican coalitions in the House and Senate.

In fact, the ironic feature of Obama’s address last night was that we could not, for one visual moment, get away from the symbol of Democratic incompetence and arrogant gamesmanship – that would be House Leader Nancy Pelosi. This woman is as guilty of anyone else on the Hill of misleading, disappointing and delaying the life improvement of so many Americans. As much as I wanted to let go and get into the rhythm of the diverse messages the President was disseminating (are we REALLY near the end of the hateful “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?”), it was hard to do with the constant presence of the elected official who failed to pass anything of strength or importance in the House this last year, despite the benefit of an overwhelming majority.

In fact I found that I was more attuned to the resurgence of hope that Obama was trying to engender when I left the room to fold my laundry and ready my things for the next work day. Eddie always watches the TV at top volume, a habit that normally irritates the beejesus out of me. However, on this occasion, Eddie’s hearing loss enabled me to take most of it in from the opposite side of the house, free of Nancy’s mystifyingly smug and empowered visage.

Joe Biden is pretty useless too. His penchant for foot in mouth PR gaffes has relegated him to status as the 21st century’s answer to Dan Quayle. However, it is his very lack of being able to affect anything that renders his image benign. Let him stand behind Obama and smile like the Ed McMahon to his Johnny Carson. But for the next State of the Union, can we find another seat for Pelosi?