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.

Chicago Pride (June 26, 2011)

 

 

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For members of the LGBT community, their friends, partners and loved ones (so basically, everyone in America), this is a great weekend. Not only did the nation’s most populous state, New York, pass 11th hour legislation on Friday night that certified equal marriage rights for all of its citizens, but throughout the country, there was some serious partying already planned in the form of various Pride parades and festivals.

This morning Chicagoans awoke to the second day of a two-day reprieve from cool temperatures and consistent storms, and took to the streets for the City’s annual gay Pride parade. Even without a high of nearly 80 degrees, half-naked, beautiful, intoxicated bodies would have filled the roads and alleyways of Boys’ Town, but tolerable conditions promised to take the revelry up a notch. Locals and out of town visitors felt the enhanced giddiness in the air. Pride festivities in the town with the second highest concentration of gays by density, coming in third place in overall population, are never a dour affair. But New York’s bipartisan acknowledgement of the community’s civil rights, coupled with the waffling President’s “evolvement” make clear that momentum is finally on the right side.

As I booted up my laptop this morning and accessed the New York Times online, I was reduced to a puddle by a columnist with whom I was hitherto unfamiliar, a writer by the name of Frank Bruni. He wrote this touching piece, which cogently expresses the collective intuition that New York’s law might be on its way to becoming the national paradigm sooner than we might anticipate. Hell, even a right-wing ideologue like Rick Santorum has had to go easy on the gay bashing. It’s increasingly socially unacceptable for one thing, and for another, proponents of discrimination are becoming aware that they have a hard time publicly articulating a rational viewpoint. Homophobia is falling out of favor in the mainstream in supremely rapid fashion, and even those who sit on the fence share a discomfort with speaking about it while the cameras roll.

In 2011, the marketing acronym WIFM (What’s in It For Me?) fails the litmus test when politicians adopt an intolerant social stance. People want jobs, they want an end to staggering, endless defense spending overseas while things fall apart at home, they want to pay less at the pump. They don’t want to see their sister (like hockey player Sean Avery), daughter (I am looking at YOU Dick Cheney) or best friend (me) hamstrung from enjoying everything citizenship has to offer because of who they love. Where is the need to protect the “sanctity” of marriage while Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani walk down the aisle three times?

Yep, change is in the air. When you have professional athletes, a stereotypically homophobic bunch, publicly defending the right of gays and lesbians to marry, pay joint taxes and raise healthy families, I have to tell you Intolerance, your days are numbered.

Earlier this month, the state of Illinois took its own imperfect step forward by passing legislation that permits civil unions for same-sex couples. There’s more work to be done, locally and elsewhere. But we can do it after running wild through the streets today. We’ve earned it.

Even the GOP Doesn’t Care What Rick Santorum Has to Say Anymore (April 9, 2013)

Rick Santorum Convention

Let us hearken back to the heady days of 2006, gentle readers, when former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum was universally considered a political punchline. That is the year the rejected lawmaker lost his re-election bid to Democrat Bob Casey by 18 overall points, struggling to connect with such obvious constituencies as conservative Catholics. The Washington Post ran a piece in early 2012 that characterized the defeat as such: “Santorum was left for dead rather early by the national Republican Party, which stopped running ads on his behalf a few weeks before the election because he appeared to be a lost cause.”

Unwilling to stay buried and sensing an opportunity to reclaim the political zeitgeist in the wake of the post-2008 Presidential election, Santorum once again foisted himself upon the nation as a shockingly credible candidate during the 2012 Republican primaries. What changed? The ascension of the Tea Party movement, which left a reshaped GOP with the impression that there was no such thing as a view too reactionary. Amongst a clown car’s worth of preposterous suitors that included Michele Bachman, Herman Cain and the also-back-from-banishment Newt Gingrich, Santorum managed to capture 11 primaries and caucuses, receiving over three million votes.

Unfortunately this brush with success erroneously convinced Santorum that his opinions and platforms are the stuff of mainstream, despite the wholesale rejection of his brand of neoconservativism in November 2012. Mitt Romney’s failure to connect with independent voters after shaking the Etch A Sketch, the frustration in divesting himself of the right wing albatross of orthodoxy hung about his neck, should have settled the question once and for all about the palatability of Tea Party values.

It seems that a number of Republicans, in an acceptance of Darwinian theory that would make members of the Westboro Baptist Church weep, have gotten the message. Notice the near-instantaneous party pivot on the subject of immigration overhaul and the reversal of Senators Rob Portman and Mark Kirk, who now favor marriage equality for same-sex couples.

Crackpots such as Rick Santorum, whose socially conservative views run the gamut from opposition to LGBTQ civil rights, rejection of a woman’s right to choose and a 1950s objection to the birth control pill, have once again assumed their rightful place (pun most certainly intended) on the political and cultural fringes.

So will someone please tell Santorum to shut up now? It’s over. A piece from writer Billy Hallowell, appearing on The Blaze website this week, bears the title Rick Santorum’s Dire Warning on Gay Marriage. Completely oblivious to the irony of the public’s double rejection of his policies (2006, 2012), Santorum nonetheless paints himself as a modern day Cassandra, predicting the collapse of the GOP if it does repent of its recent moves toward the social center.

Here is a summation of the failed politician’s advice to current GOP office holders: “I think you’re going to see the same stories written now and it’s not going to happen. The Republican party’s not going to change on this issue. In my opinion it would be suicidal if it did…Just because some of those things happen to be popular right now doesn’t mean the Republican party should follow suit.”

Did Santorum take the blue pill? It is precisely because the right has failed to move with the times and accept the changing demographics of the nation, that a slow, deliberate suicide has been evident. I personally don’t mind. Whatever finishes off this pathetic, extremist epoch in our two-party system so we can return to the checks and balances that once made our nation forward-thinking, is welcome. Increasingly, I am beginning to suspect that a growing number of Republicans feel the same.

So were I a member of GOP leadership, I’d be in search of chloroform and a dirty rag right about now. Is anyone still listening to this man? For a newly congenial Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s sake, the party of no-come-maybe, let’s hope not.

The Republican Party Resolves to Destroy Middle Class Once and For All in 2013 (December 27, 2012)

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Paul Krugman, the famed economist and Op-Ed columnist forThe New York Times, has, in recent years, coined quite a few clever nicknames for hypocritical fiscal conservatives. And in referring to fiscal conservatives, he does not write of the dying breed of Republicans like Bob Dole, the former Senator, Presidential candidate and disabled war veteran who was humiliated in public by his own party earlier this month.

Dole made a rare appearance in the Senate chamber several weeks ago in an attempt to promote passage of a seemingly benign U.N. Treaty, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Designed to improve access and mobility for the disabled across the globe, the treaty met with defeat from the crazed likes of political also-ran Rick Santorum, who decried the treaty on the catch-all Tea Party grounds that it posed a “direct assault on us and our family!”

It’s enough to make you wonder if Dole asked Santa for a time machine this Christmas so he could venture back to 1996 and fall off the stage at that rally directly onto Santorum’s delusional, useless noggin. It’s frightening to consider that in 2013, nearly 20 years after his failed bid for the Oval Office, Dole would be considered an unelectable liberal radical within his party’s ranks.

But I digress. When Paul Krugman writes of “deficit scolds,” “bond vigilantes,” and my personal favorite, “prophets of fiscal doom,” he refers to true charlatans like Congressman Paul Ryan, who wrote former President George W. Bush a budget-busting blank check for eight years, rubber stamping every unaffordable idea of which Dubya could dream, before suddenly putting on his serious monetary face the minute a Democratic President took the oath of office.

For months, nay years, we have been hearing from Ryan and his ilk that failure to address our long term budget deficits presents dire consequences, an imminent collapse of American security and respectability at a minimum if not an outright nullification of our entire way of life. As we moved ever closer to the edge of the fiscal cliff, the caterwauling grew louder…until it became clear that there’s just no way that President Obama is going to go against public opinion and leave the Bush-era tax cuts intact wholesale.

And just like that, the old fiscal cliff doesn’t seem so scary to GOP leadership. After all, when you come down to it, it’s not Ryan, Santorum or the one percent who will end up hurting if Congress blows past its 2012 deadline, right?

Those who booted up their computers this week to catch up on post-holiday news were greeted with headlines like this: “Senators Returning With Little Urgency as Fiscal Clock Ticks.” Writers Jonathan Weisman and Jennifer Steinhauer report “With just five days left to make a deal, President Obama and members of the Senate were set to return to Washington on Thursday with no clear path out of their fiscal morass even as the Treasury Department warned that the government will soon be unable to pay its bills unless Congress acts.”

Why the sudden move away from Republican baying about the dangers of falling over the fiscal cliff? Another writer for The Times, Nelson D. Schwartz, offers a possible answer: “Some hits — like a two percentage point increase in payroll taxes and the end of unemployment benefits for more than two million jobless Americans — would be felt right away. But other effects, like tens of billions in automatic spending cuts, to include both military and other programs, would be spread out between now and the end of the 2013 fiscal year in September.”

Why worry about what happens at the end of the year, in other words, when it is merely the unemployed and the working middle class who will take an immediate hit to their financial solvency? And lest anyone think the GOP is really troubled by the “automatic spending cuts,” it is best to keep in mind that the word “military” is the only one that gets their attention.

By now I really ought to be used to this sort of disingenuous skullduggery, the seamlessness with which members of the GOP establishment will hold the ENTIRE NATION and its future hostage in order to save some millionaires/billionaires a few bucks, but I must confess, I am not. I urge the mass media to give these tricks their proper title – treason.

Mitt Romney Shakes His Etch-A-Sketch, But Women Don’t Forget (April 16, 2012)

Frankly, I was surprised that Rick Santorum threw in the towel last week. The numbers made clear that a path to winning the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination was all but impossible for our favorite radical Christian, but the current slate of candidates have never gone in much for reality. I think it’s the practicality of the move that stunned me.

With Santorum disposed, Mitt Romney’s remaining competition includes King of Hubris Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, who indicated throughout the entire primary that he understood his campaign’s futility. Quite an inspiring duo aren’t they?

So the candidate nobody in the GOP really wanted, and for whom they still can’t get an erection, is on his way to accepting the nomination in scenic Tampa, Florida this August. Tampa, land of strip clubs and men in trucker hats, seems a fitting locale for a bunch of wealthy, mostly white, patriarchal ideology producers to anoint their sacrificial lamb.

Because now Romney has to shake that Etch-A-Sketch. Game on. (I bet Eric Ferhnstrom, Romney’s adviser and utterer of the ubiquitous sound bite that keeps on giving, wished for a time machine in his Easter basket.) President Obama long enjoyed the luxury of not having to address the freak show exhibits that comprised the Republican primary slate. But now that we’ve got something approximating a general election campaign, he occasionally has to tear his attention away from running a nation facing so many challenges to swat away jabs from Mittens.

To a point I sympathize with the Romney camp. Not only is their man dull as a butter knife (no insult to butter intended), which will only become more glaringly obvious when he enters the debate arena with the President, but he’s also saddled with a comical load of flip flops and rhetorical left turns. I don’t know how his staff will find time to prepare an offense when there’s so much to combat defensively: family dogs on the car roof, Romneycare and the good old Etch-A-Sketch comment just to pick a few easy cherries.

Romney has spent months and years pandering to the GOP power base, social conservatives who treat a belief in global warming or women’s reproductive rights as a “liberal” litmus test. There have been moments when I’ve pitied the open degradation of Romney’s integrity, his unwillingness to stand by his moderate record, but it doesn’t seem to bother him.

That type of radical right kowtowing may have seemed necessary until last week. But Romney has to face the rest of us now, the mainstream whose votes he needs just as badly. And given his limp track record for uniting his own party, Mitt has a tough slog ahead. How do you hit the reset button and arrive at anything approaching credibility?

President Obama excels at campaigning, to put it mildly. He is a wunderkind, an interview subject and debater able to convey intelligence and gravity as well as charm and humor. To watch him make mincemeat of John McCain on the regular during the 2008 campaign tempted invocation of the slaughter rule.

Mitt Romney is in for it. If nothing else, McCain has a personality and the deserved respect of his country as a decorated war veteran. Romney is a corporate viper, a smarmy, colorless ladder climber who approaches the Presidency like an item to check off his career bucket list. He will say anything to win the election, hitching his wagon to the notion that his fellow Americans are a bunch of ADD-afflicted sheep who will forget everything he has said and done in the past to accept his position of the moment.

I don’t think it’s possible to shake the Etch-A-Sketch hard enough to make the nation’s women forget the attacks on their rights this year. That’s slightly over half the electorate right there. Like I said, game on.