Zippidy Doo Da

I'm not stupid, I'm from Texas!

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2009 Predictions

My crystal ball is cloudy, making predictions for next year difficult. I've had to resort to interpreting the turbid residue at the bottom of my cocoa cup. Looks like trouble:

1. Tent cities erected in Walmart parking lots called "retirement communities";

2. Victoria's Secret premiers line of bras made from pork products;

3. U.S. Catholic clergy issued tasers;

4. Toilet paper passes the greenback in currency value;

5. U.S. Congress denounces the Dallas Cowboys as a terrorist organization;

6. Rod Blagojevich eaten by marmosets;

7. Virgin Mary appears on Pres. Obama's discarded tuna melt;

8. Hugh Hefner's penis sues for abuse of corpse;

9. Pregnant Sarah Palin names child Na-Yok Ratha Montri Haeng Ratcha Anachak ;

10. Judge Chief Charly Hoarse named Man of the Year.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


I was at the hardware the other day and noticed that another bank had cropped up on the corner. The sign read “Patriot bank.” As one who has learned to be as suspicious of flag-wavers as I am of some who make a show of praying in public, I wondered what made this bank “patriotic?”

I miss the good old days, when it was in poor taste, and illegal even, to use the US flag for commercial purposes. Foley’s in Houston once paid a fine for using a flag image in their full page Fourth of July Sale ad. Imagine what that D.A. would do with the likes of Mattress Mack.

Today I see why this bank is so patriotic. The Treasury Department announced Friday that Houston-based Patriot Bancshares will receive $26 million of TARP bailout money. CEO William D. Ellis told the AP that they didn’t need the capital but had applied.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Shoes Still Dropping

Safavian convicted again in Abramoff scandal

1 day ago

WASHINGTON (AP) — A former Bush administration official has been convicted for lying about his relationship with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

It was the second time David Safavian had been convicted by a jury in the Abramoff lobbying scandal. Safavian's first conviction was overturned on appeal.

Safavian was found guilty of obstruction and making false statements to investigators. Each count carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

He was convicted of trying to hide his relationship with Abramoff and his participation in Abramoff's now-famous golf junket to Scotland with members of Congress.

The former chief of staff for the General Services Administration is the only person in the scandal to take his case to trial.

Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal jury has reached a verdict in the corruption trial of a former Bush administration official charged in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

The jury has deliberated since Wednesday on whether David Safavian lied to investigators about his relationship with the disgraced lobbyist.

It's the second time Safavian has gone to trial. His conviction in 2006 was overturned on appeal.
The former chief of staff for the General Services Administration is the only person in the Abramoff scandal to take his case to trial.

Others — including Abramoff himself — have entered into plea deals that involve assisting prosecutors with their investigation. Jurors were to report their verdict later Friday.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

More Wall Street Droppings

Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman writes this week about the exposure of investor Bernard Madoff’s ponzi scheme, and the price we’re all paying for the “financialization” of the US economy. Here’s some:

“Yet surely I’m not the only person to ask the obvious question: How different, really, is Mr. Madoff’s tale from the story of the investment industry as a whole?

"The financial services industry has claimed an ever-growing share of the nation’s income over the past generation, making the people who run the industry incredibly rich. Yet, at this point, it looks as if much of the industry has been destroying value, not creating it.

"And it’s not just a matter of money: the vast riches achieved by those who managed other people’s money have had a corrupting effect on our society as a whole.

"We’re talking about a lot of money here. In recent years the finance sector accounted for 8 percent of America’s G.D.P., up from less than 5 percent a generation earlier. If that extra 3 percent was money for nothing — and it probably was — we’re talking about $400 billion a year in waste, fraud and abuse.

"But the costs of America’s Ponzi era surely went beyond the direct waste of dollars and cents.

"At the crudest level, Wall Street’s ill-gotten gains corrupted and continue to corrupt politics, in a nicely bipartisan way. From Bush administration officials like Christopher Cox, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, who looked the other way as evidence of financial fraud mounted, to Democrats who still haven’t closed the outrageous tax loophole that benefits executives at hedge funds and private equity firms (hello, Senator Schumer), politicians have walked when money talked.

"Meanwhile, how much has our nation’s future been damaged by the magnetic pull of quick personal wealth, which for years has drawn many of our best and brightest young people into investment banking, at the expense of science, public service and just about everything else?

"Most of all, the vast riches being earned — or maybe that should be “earned” — in our bloated financial industry undermined our sense of reality and degraded our judgment.”

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Houston Janitors to Get Health Insurance

The Chronicle reports that the 5300 Houston members of the Service Employees International Union will begin receiving healthcare next month at their own midtown clinic according to the contract they won in 2006. Employees with at least six months on the job will pay $20 a month for insurance and clinic care with no co-pay. Employers will contribute $185 per month for each worker.

Under this contract, worker’s pay will increase next year from $7.25 to $7.75 an hour.

All this is happening without the catastrophic consequences long predicted by the business community, who have long maintained that super-minimum wages and union membership would be disastrous for the economy.

Now it’s turned out that the biggest threat to our economy was over-reaching by freebooting free-market enthusiasts and government de-regulators. Who figured?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Few Words From Glenn Beck

Hey all you sick twisted freaks!

Let's take time out from calling mentally retarded people to humiliate them with fake contest prizes to talk about some deeper truths.

I was watching "That's So Raven" with my son yesterday. This was real son/dad time that are the great moments of life. Ever since I stopped snorting cocaine and became a Christian, between radio, TV, book deals, movies, promotions, and personal appearances all over the country, I always have time for my kids. During a commercial I surfed over to Headline News and blood shot out of my eyes. I shoved my son's head into the couch cushion so he wouldn't see the horror. City workers in Orlando found the broken, decomposed remains of Caylee Anthony!

This can only mean one thing: the end of civilization as we know it. I've been telling everyone to get ready. We need a society to emerge from the rubble of our former world who can march into the new light ready to renew America's policy of arctic drilling and social security privatization. Ever since I gave up scotch and became a Christian, I've learned to cherish good old-fashioned American values, like species eradication and domestic surveillance as God's guiding principles.

That's why I have stocked bags and bags of shiny gold in my Utah compound. And you can too by buying gold today from our sponsors. Sure, you don't get any actual gold for your worthless hyper-inflated green-backs, just paper certificates. But possessing these will let you rest at ease that you and your's are protected by the most solid investment any post-apocalyptic mutant creatures can own for a life-time.

Many of you have followed my struggles with recovery from my recent brain surgery that left me with an agonizing, purulent, atrophic rectum; possible linked to my previous radical liposuction that left me 168 pounds lighter, and renewed my Christian faith in the LDS church. In my suffering I dreamed I exhumed my late grandfather so I could finally tell him how New Deal policies have left my asshole a rancid pudding-encrusted lump of bloody hamburger, and it stuck my like a thunder-clap that I would lead the chosen people to the new land where the mighty hammer of Jesus reigns.

But it might take a short time longer, and after great trials that will test our fate. That's why ever since I gave up being violently fisted by Samoan wrestlers and turned to Christ Our Lord, I stock my bunker with Outhouse Christian steaks and steak products. The juiciest, tender cuts of prime beef shipped with to your home by the people who know meat. Order today!

I think we almost ready for the prophecy to fulfill itself. My friends, as you hunker down in your backyard panic pits, clutching your guns, Bibles, penis pills, Flomax tablets, gold fillings and cri-packed meat, pray that the end comes quickly.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

It's Been Great?

Bush kept the American people safe after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, lifted the economy after 2001 through tax cuts, curbed AIDS in Africa and maintained the honor and dignity of his office.

Bush cut taxes after 2001, setting the stage for years of job growth. As for the current economic crisis, Bush responded with bold measures to prevent an economic meltdown.

"We feel the president's many accomplishments haven't been given the attention they deserve and in some cases have been purposely ignored," said Carlton Carroll, a White House spokesman.

"No one is required to recite the talking points laid out by the White House," Carroll said.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Gravy Train

Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt announced Friday that he will resign the office he was re-elected to just a month ago to pursue a “private business venture.”

This breaks the old record set by County Judge Robert Eckels, who resigned last year just three months after being re-elected. At least they left office before cashing in, unlike Commissioner Steve Radack, who managed a $120,000/year consulting gig while sitting on the Commissioners Court.

No doubt Bettencourt felt that he was at the top of his game, and that he’d be selling at the top of the market. He may have interpreted the election results to show that it’s all downhill here for Republicans, and decided to cash in while the getting’s good.

But voters should hold Republican officeholders to account for melding public service with self interest. Again, they’ve turned an elected position into an appointed one. It will probably cost millions just to remove his Bettencourt’s name from all the signage and stationery.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

US diluted loan rules before crash

If you have the misfortune to watch Faux News or listen to AM talk radio, you’ve probably heard pukes blaming the crash of ’08 on poor SOB’s that got big mortgages that they couldn’t afford. You’ll hear it said that Clinton and Rubin changed the lending rules so that banks were forced to make bad loans to poor and minority home buyers.

There were rule changes in the 1990’s to address the practice of redlining; that’s where the banks would refuse to write loans in low-income neighborhoods, essentially cutting them out of the map.

In this decade, lenders have founded a new abuse, called reverse redlining, where they ill-serve these same low income neighborhoods with high-interest loans, irregardless of the credit rating of the borrower. If you’re the wrong color, you don’t get good terms.

I won’t say that borrowers didn’t abuse easy credit, but if you look at the history, the numbers show that the sub-prime lending really took off in this decade, as banks and brokers got regulatory relief in Washington to turn the low end of the market into a cash cow. Lawmakers and regulators bought that old line about free markets and the invisible hand and agreed that the pencil pushers with the thick glasses had re-invented the wheel.

Following is a story from AP reporter Matt Apuzzo about the part that greed and ideology played in making this mess.

US diluted loan rules before crash
By MATT APUZZO – 3 days ago

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Bush administration backed off proposed crackdowns on no-money-down, interest-only mortgages years before the economy collapsed, buckling to pressure from some of the same banks that have now failed. It ignored remarkably prescient warnings that foretold the financial meltdown, according to an Associated Press review of regulatory documents.

"Expect fallout, expect foreclosures, expect horror stories," California mortgage lender Paris Welch wrote to U.S. regulators in January 2006, about one year before the housing implosion cost her a job.

Bowing to aggressive lobbying — along with assurances from banks that the troubled mortgages were OK — regulators delayed action for nearly one year. By the time new rules were released late in 2006, the toughest of the proposed provisions were gone and the meltdown was under way.

"These mortgages have been considered more safe and sound for portfolio lenders than many fixed rate mortgages," David Schneider, home loan president of Washington Mutual, told federal regulators in early 2006. Two years later, WaMu became the largest bank failure in U.S. history.

The administration's blind eye to the impending crisis is emblematic of its governing philosophy, which trusted market forces and discounted the value of government intervention in the economy. Its belief ironically has ushered in the most massive government intervention since the 1930s.

Many of the banks that fought to undermine the proposals by some regulators are now either out of business or accepting billions in federal aid to recover from a mortgage crisis they insisted would never come. Many executives remain in high-paying jobs, even after their assurances were proved false.

In 2005, faced with ominous signs the housing market was in jeopardy, bank regulators proposed new guidelines for banks writing risky loans. Today, in the midst of the worst housing recession in a generation, the proposal reads like a list of what-ifs:

_Regulators told bankers exotic mortgages were often inappropriate for buyers with bad credit.

_Banks would have been required to increase efforts to verify that buyers actually had jobs and could afford houses.

_Regulators proposed a cap on risky mortgages so a string of defaults wouldn't be crippling.

_Banks that bundled and sold mortgages were told to be sure investors knew exactly what they were buying.

_Regulators urged banks to help buyers make responsible decisions and clearly advise them that interest rates might skyrocket and huge payments might be due sooner than expected.

Those proposals all were stripped from the final rules. None required congressional approval or the president's signature.

"In hindsight, it was spot on," said Jeffrey Brown, a former top official at the Office of Comptroller of the Currency, one of the first agencies to raise concerns about risky lending.

Federal regulators were especially concerned about mortgages known as "option ARMs," which allow borrowers to make payments so low that mortgage debt actually increases every month. But banking executives accused the government of overreacting.
Bankers said such loans might be risky when approved with no money down or without ensuring buyers have jobs but such risk could be managed without government intervention.

"An open market will mean that different institutions will develop different methodologies for achieving this goal," Joseph Polizzotto, counsel to now-bankrupt Lehman Brothers, told U.S. regulators in a March 2006.

Countrywide Financial Corp., at the time the nation's largest mortgage lender, agreed. The proposal "appears excessive and will inhibit future innovation in the marketplace," said Mary Jane Seebach, managing director of public affairs.

One of the most contested rules said that before banks purchase mortgages from brokers, they should verify the process to ensure buyers could afford their homes.

Some bankers now blame much of the housing crisis on brokers who wrote fraudulent, predatory loans. But in 2006, banks said they shouldn't have to double-check the brokers.

"It is not our role to be the regulator for the third-party lenders," wrote Ruthann Melbourne, chief risk officer of IndyMac Bank.

California-based IndyMac also criticized regulators for not recognizing the track record of interest-only loans and option ARMs, which accounted for 70 percent of IndyMac's 2005 mortgage portfolio.

This summer, the government seized IndyMac and will pay an estimated $9 billion to ensure customers don't lose their deposits.

Last week, Downey Savings joined the growing list of failed banks. The problem: About 52 percent of its mortgage portfolio was tied up in risky option ARMs, which in 2006 Downey insisted were safe — maybe even safer than traditional 30-year mortgages.

"To conclude that 'nontraditional' equates to higher risk does not appropriately balance risk and compensating factors of these products," said Lillian Gavin, the bank's chief credit officer.

At least some regulators didn't buy it. The comptroller of the currency, John C. Dugan, was among the first to sound the alarm in mid-2005. Speaking to a consumer advocacy group, Dugan painted a troublesome picture of option-ARM lending. Many buyers, particularly those with bad credit, would soon be unable to afford their payments, he said. And if housing prices declined, homeowners wouldn't even be able to sell their way out of the mess.

It sounded simple, but "people kind of looked at us regulators as old-fashioned," said Brown, the agency's former deputy comptroller.

Diane Casey-Landry, of the American Bankers Association, said the industry feared a two-tiered system in which banks had to follow rules that mortgage brokers did not. She said opposition was based on the banks' best information.
"You're looking at a decline in real estate values that was never contemplated," she said.

Some saw problems coming. Community groups and even some in the mortgage business, like Welch, warned regulators not to ease their rules.

"We expect to see a huge increase in defaults, delinquencies and foreclosures as a result of the over selling of these products," Kevin Stein, associate director of the California Reinvestment Coalition, wrote to regulators in 2006. The group advocates on housing and banking issues for low-income and minority residents.

The government's banking agencies spent nearly a year debating the rules, which required unanimous agreement among the OCC, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Federal Reserve, and the Office of Thrift Supervision — agencies that sometimes don't agree.
The Fed, for instance, was reluctant under Alan Greenspan to heavily regulate lending. Similarly, the Office of Thrift Supervision, an arm of the Treasury Department that regulated many in the subprime mortgage market, worried that restricting certain mortgages would hurt banks and consumers.

Grovetta Gardineer, OTS managing director for corporate and international activities, said the 2005 proposal "attempted to send an alarm bell that these products are bad." After hearing from banks, she said, regulators were persuaded that the loans themselves were not problematic as long as banks managed the risk. She disputes the notion that the rules were weakened.

In the past year, with Congress scrambling to stanch the bleeding in the financial industry, regulators have tightened rules on risky mortgages.
Congress is considering further tightening, including some of the same proposals abandoned years ago.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Chupacabra Report

-Ben Bernanke spoke to the Austin Chamber of Commerce yesterday and Governor 39% Big Hair Perry was there grandstanding against Washington bailouts, an issue he thinks will help him against potential rival Senator Kay Bailey. A story about this in Sunday’s Chronicle rightly pointed out that Perry himself had ladled out $35 million in taxpayer money to two of the big players in the meltdown, Countrywide Financial and Washington Mutual.

-The trampling death of Jimbo Damour at the Black Friday opening of a Nassau County New York WalMart is a potent allegory for our consumer culture and it’s inherent violence. We stomp around the world to feed our manufactured appetite for cheap stuff and lots of it, and somehow fail to notice the bloodstains. Is this a great country or what?

-A Neal Peirce column last week about budget shortfalls in local governments nationwide has a story about Maricopa County Arizona Manager David Smith, who oversees a corrections system that spent $800 million last year.

“So Smith has launched a major prisoner re-entry program in South Phoenix, a 10-block area with 300 ex-felons and people still on parole. "We call it the $50 million ZIP code," he says, because of the costs the criminal justice system incurs there. Smith has co-located 15 services for homeless people in the area, partnering with churches and nonprofits. The program: help released prisoners get identification, find needed services, put some money in their pockets if they stay out of trouble and find jobs.”

This tracks a story line from the third season of “The Wire” where Police Major Bunny Colvin tries to get his law-abiding citizens some relief from the drug war happening in their neighborhoods by re-locating the hoppers dropping the bodies and the fiends shooting the dope to a burned out and vacant section of town that soon became known as “Hamsterdam.”

I don’t know if this is another example of reality aping fiction, or if this is something that author George Pelecanos saw happen in Baltimore or Anacostia. Go figure.