30 September 2008

The Tipping Point and Racial Ambivalence

The presidential campaign of Barack Obama, at its heart, has always been a calculated bet, a $500 million dollar gamble that enough racially ambivalent white Americans could see beyond tradition and precedent and measure Obama's candidacy in terms of the value it brings to the table instead of the history it makes.

Could they be wrong?

It didn't strike me how much of my life was spent around white people until I listened earlier this year as a black coworker chastised a white coworker for offering him some sliced watermelon she was sharing with the rest of the office.

"What do you look like, offering a black man watermelon? Don't you know that it's RACIST to assume I like watermelon?" He looked at me with a self-satisfied smirk on his face.

The woman, a pretty feisty New Yorker, looked bewildered while she backed away from him, her normal aggressiveness reduced to a few half hearted "ums" and "ahs" as the corners of her eyes crinkled in.

When she was gone, I looked at him. "You know, in the few seconds since you said "racist", I tried to remember the last time I've used that word. And you know, I couldn't remember when it might have been."

If you have a lot of white friends and acquaintances, especially those from Middle America, you are very, very rarely going to use the "R" word. Among the racially ambivalent, it throws up an instant barrier. So long as we dress alike, drive the same cars, have similar educational backgrounds and share similar dreams, racially ambivalent white people are okay with you. You will get a pass on your politics, even if they are Republicans, so long as you are a moderate. In fact, you are accepted into the fold as a neighbor, as a golf buddy, as a fellow cigar smoker or poker player precisely because of the moderation in which you seem to take all things in life.

But behind the casual intimacy of these types of relationships lies a surprisingly complicated combination of assumptions, misinformation, emotional needs, experiences and personality traits that all bear on an ambivalent white person’s thinking about race.

Psychologists Irwin Katz and Glenn Haas demonstrated in their research that anti-black attitudes correlated with white perceptions that blacks violate values related to the Protestant work ethic and that pro-black attitudes correlated with humanitarian and egalitarian values. They concluded that racially ambivalent whites can simultaneously possess both sets of attitudes. Their investigations showed that in this group, reactions toward a single black individual could be affected by a small push in either a positive or negative direction (e.g., slightly superior or slightly inferior credentials for a job applicant).

From my own experience in living rooms of friends here in Atlanta's northern suburbs, I have listened with my own ears as people we've known for years have begun to talk out loud about why they are either for Obama or considering Obama as their presidential choice. For the few Democratic diehards around here, there has been little visible resistance to the idea of Barack Obama as president. In some of the more moderate Republican households, which is the group who people the suburbs around me, there seem to those who are at least open to giving the idea serious consideration.

The neighborhood I lived in for ten years is only about ten minutes away from where I live now. The last time we were over there, during Labor Day weekend, we ended up in the great room of our old neighbors from across the cul-de-sac, talking about politics, something that had never happened in all the years we’d known them. It was interesting to hear the husband, who is some kind of research engineer, describe out loud to us why he was dissatisfied with what the Republicans had to offer, and how he was seriously considering voting for a Democrat for the first time in his life. He sounded more disturbed by the fact that the Republican candidates didn’t seem to measure up than he was about voting for a black man.

Is he going to campaign for Obama? Probably not. Is he going to wear an Obama t-shirt or button? I seriously doubt it. But in those conversations about politics, when no one black is around, I would like to believe that he would build a case for his candidate the same way he did on Labor Day weekend. Why is this important? Because Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, in pointing out some of the characteristics of the way we exchange information, laid out a fairly plausible theory that attempted to explain "the levels at which the momentum for change becomes unstoppable." This middle of the middle class, who tend to be the least dogmatic of any group, have powered a large number of the trends Gladwell explores in his book.

The biggest thing those who are racially ambiguous seem to have in common is that they have never found the need to hate black people or never were indoctrinated into a culture that promoted this kind of hatred. Extrapolating broad generalizations from specific incidents is a waste of time for people like this. If they pass one of the many black homeless people who stand at the end of in-town off ramps or in the parking lots of downtown gas stations, I am not automatically linked to that image.

But a realignment of the “natural order” of things in America can still be unsettling to people who, by and large in their day to day lives, don't have any real need to think about race. Which is why you will often hear the statement "I wasn't there when all that happened" when a conversation on race gets beyond the surface topics we've made it palatable to talk about, the ones that don't really ask any introspection from either blacks or whites, just an empathetic recitation of the Top Ten "Important Things Black People Have Done" list, or the obligatory adulation of the Top Three "Dead Black Civil Rights Leaders".

And if a discussion develops, like the one about Barack Obama in my old neighbor’s den, it will only go so far, because it can be hamstrung by the boundaries of the compartment their racial thoughts reside in. In that particular discussion about the election with our old neighbors, we went around the room a few times, each of us adding our own thoughts about Obama or McCain in a casual yet slightly measured way, as if we were around an imaginary conference table, weighing in on a corporate project. We hadn’t made it to the ten minute mark when the women started talking about the obstacle Obama’s race posed to certain voters. After a couple of minutes, the husband got a look on his face, a slight scowl about the temple that signaled he was getting tired of this. The next thing you know, we were talking about the trip to the beach we are going to take together next month.

Black People/Black Issue Fatigue Syndrome, which can either mean "we've spent enough time on this and need to get back to a neutral topic" or "I am uncomfortable with the direction this is headed", is one of those things when acted upon that gives the person expressing themselves this way a sense of getting back to some sort of middle of the road equilibrium. In times like these, in a town like Atlanta, black people, including myself, can get pretty aggressive when the topic of race is on the table. Should I have pressed my old neighbor that day to keep on talking until he could understand my outsized commitment to the Obama campaign effort? Was I a "sellout" for allowing him to change the topic so quickly?

In the coming weeks, this is where Obama will draw his greatest number of “undecided” or “on the fence” voters like my old neighbor. If Obama’s campaign strategists are right, the things that make Barack Obama an appealing candidate, those traits that have been on stage front and center during the Wall Street crisis and the recent debate, will do more than anything I could say towards helping those voters “get over the hump”. So if my old neighbor, or your neighbors or your co-workers who are white are willing to talk to you for five minutes about the issues they’ve been wrestling with or the idea of possibly supporting an Obama candidacy, collect those five minutes just like they were campaign donations. Say "thank you" mentally when they look at their watch. Better yet, think of these people’s time and their growing interest as casino winnings.

Because these are the things that happen when a $500 million bet begins to pay off.

29 September 2008

Can We All Just Get Along Already?

Racial comity

If you take a look at photographs from a year ago of just about any gathering of staunch Obama organizers or supporters around the country, before getting on the Obama bandwagon became fashionable, you will immediately notice, even in the urban areas, the significant number of middle aged white men and women who were smiling in the pictures, not because they were supposed to, but because they seemed to have finally been able to put into practice the philosophies they try to live by.

White people in America who have achieved a level of comity about race are a small but growing minority. They are the Peace Corp volunteers who go on a two year tour of duty and end up staying for ten years. They are people who care for the sick. They are the priests who serve in urban parishes. They are corporate executives who have avoided being indoctrinated into "meism". They are the scientists whose theoretical minds have reduced race to the trait that it is.

My own student council adviser back in high school was one of these people. She approached her council advisory duties with the intensity and zeal of a high school football coach. In a small town Southern high school where 90% of the student body was black, she tirelessly spent her time and effort to mentor and train my school's council members, inspiring us to participate in regional and national association meetings and leadership workshops.

We got to know each other pretty well by my senior year. One day she was upset about something another teacher had said to her about wasting her time with us, and needed to vent. I didn't realize until then that she had had to sacrifice a part of group identity in order to treat us the way she did. "There are some people in this town," she said that day, her mouth pursing in anticipation as she fumbled for her cigarettes, her eyes glittering, "who think I am wasting my time trying to work with you guys. It's because so many of you are black. They wonder, 'why does she do it?'"

"Why do you do it?" I asked her.

"Because somebody's got to do it," she said, her neck rearing back, her eyes still hot. "And I'm that somebody."

There are various studies that will tell you, with stupefying certainty, what percentage of the population falls into this group.

I don't believe them.

What I do know from my own life experience is these are the people who accepted racial reconciliation long ago, back when it wasn't fashionable, and in spite of the resistance of their relatives, their coworkers, their neighbors. It is as natural as breathing for them to be able to reach out their hands and their hearts to us.

They are avid practitioners of multi-dimensional conceptual thinking. They can hold positive and negative views of blacks simultaneously, and are able to acknowledge that having varied interests do not make black and white interests mutually exclusive.

But even progressive white people, as well meaning, as clear thinking and as open hearted as they are, often unwittingly replicate the structures and hierarchies of the status quo. An inability to conceive of or reproduce minority experiences first hand does not stop them from creating their own ideas of minorities from their own data or their own information gathering.

Because he doesn't acknowledge that he has much, if any, discernible capacity to discriminate by race, the white progressive feels that he no longer poses a threat to minorities, and in fact, may feel let down by those who contrive to accuse him of having any kind of racial bias.

If you are black, you have a good chance of knowing someone like this, no matter how you look, how much money you have, how much education you’ve got. They don’t pull any punches, and they don’t expect you to either. They often focus so intently on the human condition that in their presence the factor of race often recedes so much you forget, even if you are looking right at them, that they look different than you do.

The trait that distinguishes this small group from almost all other white people, in my opinion, is not their capacity for empathy, or their willingness to give you everything including the shirt on their back, but their belief in a universal subjectivity. My point of view is as valid as theirs is ALL the time, not when they feel like it, or because I am a recognized expert, or because I share the same social station, but because I am a human being.

The media has focused on the high percentage of black people who have voted for Obama, but these white people, even though they are only a small percentage of the population, still number in the millions. They are a large part of his real ideological base, and will have a huge impact over these next few weeks, above and beyond the number of raw votes they represent, on Obama's chances for victory.

Why are these people so important? Because without them, Barack Obama would have been back in the Senate months ago. It was people like these who gave Obama's campaign the time to attract enough skeptical blacks (like me) and ambivalent whites to give him the momentum he needed before the primaries. It is their experience as cultural translators that has enabled the diverse makeup of volunteers in this campaign to keep from being bogged down in petty misunderstandings.

Why am I saying this today?

Because somebody out here in this neck of the internet that attracts black bloggers and black blog readers needs to say it, and today, I'm that somebody.

28 September 2008

White Americans And The Politics Of Race: A 4 Part Series


I am approximately six feet tall – a little taller than the average American male, but not tall enough to really tower over a gathering of other adults. Every once in awhile, though, I find myself in a social situation where I am standing on a riser or a step or an incline that lifts me just two or three inches higher than my normal height. From the vantage point that someone six-two or six-three would have, the world looks entirely different. The people look different, as if I am getting to see another angle of who they are. Just that slight shift in my perspective lets me see, at least for a little while, what tall guys see when they look at the rest of us.

This is what is missing from the debate on race and the affect it is having on the presidential election - a comprehensive look at the perspectives of white people, including those who, despite similar political beliefs or party affiliation, are having a problem voting for Barack Obama. The punditocracy gives the topic lip service, jumping from the question of why this is a problem straight to their favorite labels – Soccer Mom, Walmart Mom, NASCAR Dad, Joe Six Pack, Ma and Pa Kettle, Evangelical voters, Values voters, Rural voters, Bubba voters – before spouting off a pat answer that assumes these voters are either in love with the idea of a black president, or ready to kill the first black president. But if black people, as we have been asserting for some time, aren’t monolithic, why should we believe anything different about white Americans?

So I started doing some research, even before the polls started to record the phenomena of white Democrats who could not fathom voting for a black man last week, just to see what COULD be going on with my white brethren. I ran into a very good sources, including one whose findings anchor this series, The Black Rage In The White Mind, by Robert Entman and Andrew Rojecki. Their study categorized white racial thinking in four ways:

    Racial comity and understanding

    Multi-dimensional conceptual thinking – can hold positive and negative views and acknowledge that having varied interests do not make black and white interests mutually exclusive.

    Racial ambivalence

    A complicated combination of assumptions, misinformation, emotional needs, experiences and personality traits that all bear on a white person’s thinking about race. Can sometimes allow him to deny the existence of racism.

    Racial animosity

    Persistent pathological biases that include stereotyping, denial, political rejection, demonization and fearful, angry emotions. Can include the extent to which white people see themselves as having group interests that conflict with those of blacks.


    Believe blacks share such homogeneously negative characteristics that they must be an inferior rank of human against whom discrimination is inevitable and justifiable.

To really have a chance at understanding the origin and motivations of these four different points of view, we’ve got to back up a bit and look at how we process the information we receive. One thing that all of these states of mind have in common are the basic cognitive functions of perception - attention and emotion - which are functions essential to an individual's knowledge of the world and themselves.

Hopefully, this exploration of racial thinking can utilize the traditional building blocks of perception to provide a clearer picture of how white Americans tend to think when they think about race.

Why is this important? Because in these final days of this presidential campaign season, when the "Racial Polarization" game begins in earnest, you will need to remember who the good guys are if you support Barack Obama. Because I've found myself beginning to do what a lot of you might be thinking - railing against white Americans as a group instead of railing against the individuals, black or white, or the organizations who threaten my candidate's chances.

Because in the end, even though black voters will be very important, without the scores of white voters, white volunteers, and white donors, Barack Obama would not have gotten this far.

From The Archives: The Series

Click On The Links Below To Access Each Article

White Racial Thinking In The New Millennium

Can We All Just Get Along Already?: Racial Comity

The Tipping Point: Racial Ambivalence

Afraid Of The Dark: Racial Animosity

Negroes Smell Like Copper: Racist Behavior

26 September 2008

Are You Suffering From Electile Dysfunction?

• Do you find yourself getting frustrated with your political opponent?

• Is it hard to maintain your concentration on current events ?

• Are you haunted by your choice of running mate?

• Is the leadership of your own party confused about your actions?

• Are you finding yourself unable to hang on to your core constituency?

You may be suffering from “electile dysfunction”. But you don’t have to suffer in silence.

Ask your doctor about LogiCalTM , a low dose anti-bullshit inhibitor safe enough for daily use. With LogiCalTM, you can regain the ability to make rational, clear-headed decisions when you’re ready. You can feel confident enough about keeping the lines of communication open between you and your party’s leadership to get everybody on the same page. Many users of LogiCalTM also report increased energy levels, regaining the ability to read entire three page documents word for word before losing interest.

Its not too late.

Talk to your doctor about LogiCalTM

**side effects may include hypersensitivity to bullshit, negative advertising, and bald faced lies. During campaign activity, if you become dizzy, nauseated, disoriented, or find yourself believing you have already won the election, call your doctor right away. Contact your doctor or seek emergency medical attention if you find yourself having an attack of conscience for more than four hours. Do not take LogiCalTM if you are also using maximum strength HeronexTM – this may cause a serious increase in erratic thinking.

25 September 2008

"Negro, Do You Know Who I Am?"

As I watched the predictable news pundit responses tonight about McCain’s Mississippi Maneuver, I was snatched back to the first of the year, when something between Obama and an agitated press corp made me compare Barack Obama’s reactions when provoked to the classic performances by Sidney Poitier in Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner and In The Heat Of The Night. Poitier’s characters acted as the moral authority in these pictures, rebuking prejudice through the only stance a black man could take in a movie in those days – coolly restrained rage crossed with a furious sense of righteousness.

There is a heightened level of agitation I am seeing, not just in John McCain, but in a large section of the American population, a visible anxiety about Barack Obama’s ever growing support that is now threatening to ratchet itself up to the next level – an outright racially based fear that these particular white Americans who say they support John McCain and Sarah Palin can’t seem to escape.

At the press conference he held yesterday to announce he was suspending his campaign to help his fellow senators wrestle with the Wall Street bailout plan, McCain’s eyes and his facial expressions told me what you already know - that his defiant stance was being backed by millions of his supporters, who had long been waiting for McCain to "show that uppity Negro" who was really in charge here. The way he looked at the camera when he said “I informed Obama of what I planned to do,” I could see his brain ticking – "negro, don’t you know who I am?"

I don’t have to waste time conducting any damn polls to tell you what kind of nervous jubilation is erupting in this segment of America tonight. For these people, McCain is their Great White Hope, the last obstacle between that black man and the Oval Office. So long as he doesn’t pop up as a suspect in the Jon Benet Ramsey case, he can do no wrong.

For Barack Obama supporters like me, watching their white hero in action, I get the same sense of preposterousness I have when I watch an obviously aged Clint Eastwood punch out men decades younger than him in his movies. But this preposterousness is laced with disgust, because I know the same thing you all know – white America has mastered the art of believing its own bullshit.

There is a scene in the movie In the Heat Of The Night, set in Sparta Mississippi, where a young, vigorous Sidney Poitier, who plays a Philadelphia detective, confronts the old Southern aristocratic banker who is responsible for the death of a wealthy progressive industrialist. Poitier got slapped hard across the face by the banker when he asserted his authority as an officer of the law, something the banker had undoubtedly done many times before to rebuke impudent, uppity blacks who threatened his way of doing business. It was Poitier’s arm slinging back automatically, as if by natural reflex, his brown hand cracking the aristocrat square across the face, that brings me back to this picture year after year.

I have watched this scene many times from the relative comfort of the new millennium, but isn’t until now that I really understand what that slap meant, and why John McCain is really doing everything in his power to avoid facing the movement that is Barack Obama. Suddenly withdrawing from the presidential debate to be held Friday in Mississippi has virtually nothing to do with the Wall Street crisis.

It was the white community's sense of shame that the civil rights movement exploited, because it was the only weapon they had. This white shame that the movement's organizers marshaled into a palpable moral authority literally disciplined America. This metaphorical visit to the woodshed is something these particular white people remember all too well, and are not interested in going through again.

To have to see that brown skinned face standing behind a White House podium for at least four years means that they are wrong, that their belief systems are wrong, that the bedrock of the principles by which they live their lives, which most certainly does not include any notion of true equality by black or brown people, are just plain wrong.

These are the things nobody wants to talk about, because the kind of kindergarten equality we have today is only tangentially related to an actual universal equality. Universal equality means anybody could potentially wield the power to retaliate, the power to dictate the agenda, and the power to rearrange the fabric of the lives we have come to believe are authentically American.

What black Americans want to see from Barack Obama, the thing that will let us finally look upon him as a fully formed man, are crackling, spontaneous reactions to this kind of bullshit, a reaction whose aggressiveness exploits the power behind him. A reaction that says in no uncertain terms that he means business.

His campaign managers know better than this, though. They know intimately the levels of depravity to which a lot of white Americans, including some of those who have decided to support Obama, can sink to in a hurry. So we won’t get to see Obama metaphorically cock his arm back when he is confronted with the rest of the bullshit that you know is about to come.

But what we will see is an increased level of agitation in McCain and his supporters as the eight million volunteers and the $400 million plus dollars that under gird the Obama campaign conspire to do what our standard bearer cannot – retaliate against the odious stench of race baiting, fight to dictate the American agenda, and work to rearrange the very structure of the lives we actually live until we finally begin to really become the Americans we think we are in our minds.

24 September 2008

Debate Delay Dicey Decision

Here I was, planning on giving up going to the first night of my college class reunion, S. beginning to get ideas about a debate party of sorts, when my boy John McCain's picture popped up as I surfed through the New York Times website.

"McCain Seeks to Delay First Debate Amid Financial Crisis"

I had just finished listening to our resident teenager explain to her mother, with the slick smoothness of a TV defense attorney, why it was perfectly okay for her to go shopping in the middle of the afternoon ON A WEEKDAY when she is flagging her economics class (is this some irony or what?). Although, according to her, her grade is low only because there are some "slight discrepancies" between what she "knows" and the right answers to the latest test questions.

So when I saw that headline, I felt like I was reading about the teen-aged version of John McCain.

Being unpredictable has worked for McCain lately, keeping the Obama campaign off its stride. But once McCain goes over the limit with these kind of decisions, he'll turn from maverick to menace in a heartbeat.

Does it really matter if he and Obama go to Washington? They've been briefed personally by the two architects of the bailout plan on a daily basis. They've focused almost exclusively on national issues the last few months, as opposed to issues that are germane to their constituents in Arizona or Illinois.

McCain is in a tighter spot than Obama. Oppose the bailout to distance himself from Bush, and the public outcry will be deafening. Vote for the bailout, even a new version, and the shadow of the Bush presidency he's been avoiding all summer will come back to haunt him.

If you live with a teenager, you understand the power of pretext better than just about anybody. The pretext of postponing Friday's debate...

...opens the door to postponing the vice-presidential debate with Sarah Palin, who has never debated anything ever on a national stage.

You do the math.

Something tells me that yesterday's fracas over access to the network feeds touched a nerve in someone behind-the-scenes.

Whether I'm right or wrong about this surely won't matter for long, though, as McCain and Palin are apt to change their minds back at any moment - just like our resident teenage diva.

23 September 2008

Sticking It To "The Man"

There was a Sprint commercial a while back that portrayed a CEO, grey haired, square jawed and in a pinstripe suit, sitting at his desk in his high rise office, playing with a new phone while one of his lackeys stood to the side.

"Is that a new Sprint phone?" the lackey asked his boss.

"Uh huh. With Sprint's new Fair and Flexible plan, no one can tell me what to do. I can talk when and How I want." The CEO turned to his lackey and sanguinely intoned, "it's my little way of sticking it to "The Man".

His lackey, looking bewildered, blurted out, "but you ARE "The Man".

The CEO stared straight ahead. "I know."

There was something in the absurdity of that exchange that has had me thinking of John McCain more and more these days.

The latest debacle in his logic-defying campaign has swirled around the refusal to allow any reporters to get within recording distance of Sarah Palin, his vice-presidential candidate, as she posed for photos with world leaders in New York today and tomorrow for a United Nations meeting.

CNN pulled the plug on its TV crew after its reporters were barred from attending, leaving the media and the McCain campaign to play a high-level game of cat-and-mouse that has ended with McCain capitulating, agreeing to give a fifteen minute press conference today at 4:00 pm, presumably with Sarah Palin in tow. This will be the first press conference McCain has given since August 13th.

In a lot of ways, McCain's actions over the last thirty days make me wonder when he will have to finally admit, like the CEO did in the commercial, that he is "The Man".

Homeownership Philosophy Americans Believe In Deeply Flawed





This is what you would see today if you could look inside my brain. This is the most ridiculous, most incredible part of the Treasury Secretary's proposed bailout plan that has seared itself deep into my synaptic nerves.

    "Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency."

It wasn't until I clicked my mouse on one of my archived folders last night that I realized demonizing Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's desire to operate a bailout fund was obscuring another part of the problem -that some of the fundamental philosophies American citizens believe in were also a huge contributor to this problem. The excerpts below were originally written between the spring of 2005 and the spring of 2007, just before the mortgage industry slump started, back when I was still an optimistic loan officer.


I spoke to a woman in Birmingham yesterday [April 2007] who was interested in obtaining a mortgage loan for a home she wanted to purchase.

She worked for the Social Security administration. She made $37,000 a year (if I remember correctly, I am rounding this number up).

She wanted to know if she could purchase a condo that was about to come on the market at a below market price - $240,000.

I don't know if any of you own a mortgage calculator, but a $228,000 loan at 6.375%, which is a tad below par on a eight story condo carries a principal and interest payment of $1,421 if it is amortized over 30 years. Kick in the mandatory HOA payments of $250 per month and the payment jumps to $1671. Add the escrow for property taxes of $150 per month and you get a grand total of $1821.

$37,000 divided by twelve gives you a gross monthly paycheck of $3083. This is before Uncle Sam, Uncle FICA and Auntie Healthcare get their cut.

The front end ratio on this scenario, which is the amount of the mortgage payment divided by the income, is a whopping 59% The back end ratio for this particular borrower would have been 80 plus percent.

To put those numbers in perspective, the traditional qualifying front end/back end ratios for conventional mortgage loans is 28%/36%.

FHA, which is a little more aggressive, states that it prefers ratios of 29%/41%.

Do you think this borrower cared about that?

Now in all honesty, there is more to her story. She has been promoted to a new job, which starts next week. She has two other sources of income, although there is no way to prove that she actually earns an additional $14,000 a year selling real estate and cleaning office buildings.

If we could show this income, her ratios would fall to a more sensible, although still high, 38%/53% ratio with a total income of $4800 per month.

Three weeks ago [March 2007], I could have canned the Suze Orman schtick, stated her income, and gotten her a 97% loan to value loan, even though her credit score is only 553.

The rate would have been somewhere around 8.5% to 9.0% - but only for two years. Then it would start to adjust, and adjustable rate mortgages practically never adjust downward.

So someone who could only put down $8000 would be struggling to make a $2203 house obligation - the new principal and interest payment at 8.5% is $1783 - mostly because the lenders who make subprime stated income loans had been pretty good at gauging how much we were fudging the income numbers to make deals work.

She doesn't sell a house one month - or two - or loses the cleaning contract, or gets sick and can only work at her desk job, and she is fucked. The lender is screwed. Her neighbors are screwed.

The upshot of all of this? My email box is full of emails from her, lambasting me for the "cautionary tone" I took with her regarding the challenges she faced, especially in today's lending climate.

Why does a woman who has been out of bankruptcy less than four years ago want to do this to herself? She is not alone - I have stacks of files on my desk of people who want to buy houses they can't pay for, with - what else - no money down. And credit that is anywhere from shaky to downright shitty. But do they take my counteroffers, good solid pre-qualification letters that show them what they can qualify for and get 6 or 7 percent fixed rate loans?

Hell no.


My best borrowers, believe it or not, are redneck men. Tradesmen, men who do the kind of work we'll always need, the kind of men who expect to work at least six days a week. They tell you up front, "hell naw, ain't no damn way I'ma pay more'n eight hunnert dollars a mont' for no damn houwse nowte."

These are guys who make 60K, 70K, 80K a year, and sometimes more, a whole lot more if they can get unlimited overtime. They don't dicker over a quarter point, so long as you lock them in at the rate you told them you would. And if you look at every mortgage they've ever had, even if they've been divorced, they are almost never late.


In the mortgage business, one of the newer products [Mid-year 2005] is an "emerging markets" loan, that overs 100% financing to people with marginal credit histories who have no savings if they have had a job for the last two years. Its very similar to the original FHA home loan, except FHA used to require borrowers to contribute at least 3% of the purchase price. At least, until someone came up with the idea of creating a quasi non-profit organization for the sole purpose of "gifting" the 3% to the buyer if the seller was willing to pay an administrative fee that essentially made the FHA loan a 100% product.

The emerging markets product goes FHA one better in is guidelines - if you have a borrower who claims to have a part-time job, you can simply write down the job title and are allowed to add secondary income in an amount up to 25% of the borrowers verified income, which is essentially a license to qualify an already marginal buyer for more house than they can afford.

Do you know who calls within six to twelve months of closing a loan to do a cash out refinance? These same people, who now have little or no equity, if they're lucky and the purchase appraisal wasn't puffed, who had no reserves to speak of when they bought the house, are now fucked - who can they call to help them out? If they knew anyone with any money, they wouldn't have needed a 100% loan in the first place.

But Nationsbank and Wachovia and Citibank and Wells Fargo and the mortgage business in general gets to wave a banner proclaiming their commitment to helping lower income, credit challenged borrowers live the american dream of home ownership, when they know damn well that these loans will be refinanced at sub-prime rates, which will jack the payments up even higher, turning what was supposed to be a families gateway to future security into a very expensive albatross that they will never actually own.


I'm in the mortgage business, and the loan I hate to make more than any other is the FHA purchase loan to a young black family who need to use a down payment assistance program to close the deal. Suze Orman is right - they have no business buying a house - the reason they're going FHA in the first place is because their credit was tore up from the floor up until they paid all their collection accounts. Which means they have no money left after making an earnest money deposit of $500 or $1000. NO MONEY. So after they've signed the paperwork and the funds to the seller have all hit the attorney's escrow accounts, they get a key to a house that they can't keep up if anything goes wrong.

Who do you think I hear from a year or two later, looking to refinance? Mr. and Mrs. Down Payment Assistance Program. They are in a jam, they are behind on their bills, the roof needed work, someone got laid off for a few weeks - all the things a cash reserve equal to three months mortgage payments (which is less than the traditional cash reserve definition of three months of household bills) would have probably cured.

If they had friends or family to turn to, they would have, but in most cases, they are related to the same people who couldn't help them put a down payment together for the house in the first place. The little bit of equity they have in their house is all they've got, but no home equity line lender will touch them. So they have to redo the entire mortgage to get their hands on four or five thousand dollars.

At the other end of the spectrum, I've done $250,000 loans at 12% for white people - business owners, no less - who offered me the obligatory bottled water (they had three cases in the pantry) while we filled out the paperwork. They didn't have any money either - just cash flow. And a tax lien only one brave Florida lender wanted to deal with. If they would cut out the trips and the extras, they could have rounded up the $400 a month payment they needed to make for just 12 consecutive months to the IRS to whack 4 or 5 points off that rate with a new mortgage. I guess drinking tap water is more passe than I thought.

The reality is, if you were to give the No Down Payment Family ten thousand dollars, or raise payday loan borrowers incomes by a thousand dollars a month, the same guys who always end up with all the money will soon have it. Mr. & Mrs. 12% only need $50,000 to retire their debt - might as well throw that one in as well - their travel agent has some brand new travel packages to the latest luxury hotspots.


Every other group in the animal kingdom accepts the fact that some of its members will occupy the low end of the totem pole, or remain at the bottom of the pecking order.

Blaming congress for our personal shortcomings isn't even a shot in the right direction. All of these ways to bleed a borrower dry depend on the borrower feeling the NEED for things they WANT. Nobody NEEDS a $1200 a month car payment, but you would think they gave BMW 745i's away around here the way they pop up at every stop light.

I can't think of one portable electronic device that is a necessity - including cell phones - yet most of us think we can't live without them, that our kids won't be safe if we can't have a way to instantly contact them at all times. Unless you work in the field, which most of us don't, you don't need them. I have a phone on my desk and two at home. When I forget my cell, I don't even miss it.

The most expensive meal I ever ate growing up cost less than ten dollars at the local Western Sizzlin'. My father could take all of us out for steak dinners on Friday nights for less than thirty five dollars. The last time we all ate together the bill was almost a hundred and fifty dollars at a casual dining restaurant - the kind of place we would have dressed up for thirty years ago.

$5 coffee concoctions, $100 athletic shoes, 80 inch TV screens - all of this good living everyday will kill us dead if it doesn't bankrupt us or smother us in our own fat first.

In the meantime, I will be watching Mr. Non-reviewable himself, Henry Paulson, author of "The Audacity Of Debt" proposal, like a hawk. Fixing a ridiculous situation with an even more ridiculous proposal is about as stupid as it gets. If all of these investment bank problems are surprises to the people who who run the banks, how do you even know if $700 billion is enough?

Because as bad as some of the loans were that I and my fellow loan officers made, every step of the mortgage process is, was, and always will be reviewable.

21 September 2008

The Fed's Bailout Plan: Illustrated Version


Section 1. Short Title.

This Act may be cited as ____________________.

Sec. 2. Purchases of Mortgage-Related Assets.

(a) Authority to Purchase.--The Secretary is authorized to purchase, and to make and fund commitments to purchase, on such terms and conditions as determined by the Secretary, mortgage-related assets from any financial institution having its headquarters in the United States.

(b) Necessary Actions.--The Secretary is authorized to take such actions as the Secretary deems necessary to carry out the authorities in this Act, including, without limitation:

(1) appointing such employees as may be required to carry out the authorities in this Act and defining their duties;

(2) entering into contracts, including contracts for services authorized by section 3109 of title 5, United States Code, without regard to any other provision of law regarding public contracts;

(3) designating financial institutions as financial agents of the Government, and they shall perform all such reasonable duties related to this Act as financial agents of the Government as may be required of them;

(4) establishing vehicles that are authorized, subject to supervision by the Secretary, to purchase mortgage-related assets and issue obligations; and

(5) issuing such regulations and other guidance as may be necessary or appropriate to define terms or carry out the authorities of this Act.

Sec. 3. Considerations.

In exercising the authorities granted in this Act, the Secretary shall take into consideration means for--

(1) providing stability or preventing disruption to the financial markets or banking system; and

(2) protecting the taxpayer.

Sec. 4. Reports to Congress.

Within three months of the first exercise of the authority granted in section 2(a), and semiannually thereafter, the Secretary shall report to the Committees on the Budget, Financial Services, and Ways and Means of the House of Representatives and the Committees on the Budget, Finance, and Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs of the Senate with respect to the authorities exercised under this Act and the considerations required by section 3.

Sec. 5. Rights; Management; Sale of Mortgage-Related Assets.

(a) Exercise of Rights.--The Secretary may, at any time, exercise any rights received in connection with mortgage-related assets purchased under this Act.

(b) Management of Mortgage-Related Assets.--The Secretary shall have authority to manage mortgage-related assets purchased under this Act, including revenues and portfolio risks therefrom.

(c) Sale of Mortgage-Related Assets.--The Secretary may, at any time, upon terms and conditions and at prices determined by the Secretary, sell, or enter into securities loans, repurchase transactions or other financial transactions in regard to, any mortgage-related asset purchased under this Act.

(d) Application of Sunset to Mortgage-Related Assets.--The authority of the Secretary to hold any mortgage-related asset purchased under this Act before the termination date in section 9, or to purchase or fund the purchase of a mortgage-related asset under a commitment entered into before the termination date in section 9, is not subject to the provisions of section 9.

Sec. 6. Maximum Amount of Authorized Purchases.

The Secretary’s authority to purchase mortgage-related assets under this Act shall be limited to $700,000,000,000 outstanding at any one time.

Sec. 7. Funding.

For the purpose of the authorities granted in this Act, and for the costs of administering those authorities, the Secretary may use the proceeds of the sale of any securities issued under chapter 31 of title 31, United States Code, and the purposes for which securities may be issued under chapter 31 of title 31, United States Code, are extended to include actions authorized by this Act, including the payment of administrative expenses. Any funds expended for actions authorized by this Act, including the payment of administrative expenses, shall be deemed appropriated at the time of such expenditure.

Sec. 8. Review.

Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.

Sec. 9. Termination of Authority.

The authorities under this Act, with the exception of authorities granted in sections 2(b)(5), 5 and 7, shall terminate two years from the date of enactment of this Act.

Sec. 10. Increase in Statutory Limit on the Public Debt.

Subsection (b) of section 3101 of title 31, United States Code, is amended by striking out the dollar limitation contained in such subsection and inserting in lieu thereof $11,315,000,000,000.

Sec. 11. Credit Reform.

The costs of purchases of mortgage-related assets made under section 2(a) of this Act shall be determined as provided under the Federal Credit Reform Act of 1990, as applicable.

Sec. 12. Definitions.

For purposes of this section, the following definitions shall apply:

(1) Mortgage-Related Assets.--The term “mortgage-related assets” means residential or commercial mortgages and any securities, obligations, or other instruments that are based on or related to such mortgages, that in each case was originated or issued on or before September 17, 2008.

(2) Secretary.--The term “Secretary” means the Secretary of the Treasury.

(3) United States.--The term “United States” means the States, territories, and possessions of the United States and the District of Columbia.

19 September 2008

SEC Fails To Regulate "Me, Me, Me" Brokerages

I was talking to S. Wednesday night during a commercial break, while we were waiting for Screaming Sean Hannity, who was oddly subdued, to resume interviewing Sarah Palin. I'd just come in from smoking a cigar and reading the New York Times - well, I'd smoked the cigar, but I hadn't gotten very far in the paper, not after I'd read in more detail what had happened at AIG.

The first commercial was for Pacific Life, the insurance company with the trademark scene they show of the whale diving into the ocean, its massive tail flipping over as it disappeared beneath the surface. I was instantly hot, not at Palin, but at the snow job I was smelling from the press about the AIG situation.

"You know, I'm no economist, no insurance company analyst, but when was the last time you heard of a major insurance company going under?"

S. had been on conference calls all day. She didn't answer at first, patting the dog beside her, with a look on her face that said "negro, I am through thinking for the day". When I opened my mouth to continue, I guess she figured I wasn't going to shut up about it unless she gave some kind of response. "Can't think of any."

"EXACTLY!", I said. "'Cause insurance companies have to have a certain amount of reserves to cover the losses their policyholders could have."

"But they do more than just insurance. They're all over the world doing all kinds of stuff."

"So what? Those are subsidiaries. Separate books."

"But don't they invest the reserves?"

"Yeah, but they can't put them into just anything. Insurance companies are some of the most boring investors out there. Even Warren Buffet doesn't screw around with that shit."

I may not have had a degree in economics, but I'd taken the Series 7 test enough times to know that the insurance industry's obligation to its clients required it to keep enough capital in reserve to cover claims - what the ratio was I had no idea, but I knew that for a company that size it should have been substantial.

Karl Rove's fat face popped up on the screen after the interview, looking like the cat who ate the canary that was George Bush's presidency. He proceeded to carry water for McCain, smirking as he lambasted Obama for taking contributions from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two institutions that were now high on each candidates reform list. When he sat his fat ass up there and blamed the ENTIRE financial crisis on the alleged shortcomings of the underwriting process, I had to get up and walk away.

You couldn't even get Desktop Underwriter, the proprietary underwriting system we use to determine whether or not a loan could even qualify to be sold to Fannie or Freddie, to take a sub-prime borrower. Alt-A products were as exotic as they got outside of FHA, and nobody was even doing any volume in FHA until last year, when there was no where else to take credit challenged (broke with low credit score) borrowers.

Blaming the government sponsored entities (GSE's) for the mortgage crisis was like blaming the U.S. Mint for your gambling losses in Vegas because they printed up the money. Subprime lenders went under because the default rate on the paper they were holding was ten times higher than the GSE's.

I fumed over this all that night and into yesterday, until I saw THIS headline at one of the sites I frequent:

    Ex-SEC Official Blames Agency for Blow-Up of Broker-Dealers

By the time I'd gotten through the second paragraph:

    "The SEC allowed five firms — the three that have collapsed plus Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley — to more than double the leverage they were allowed to keep on their balance sheets and remove discounts that had been applied to the assets they had been required to keep to protect them from defaults."

I started to get my equilibrium back. I knew damn well you couldn't have a collapse of this magnitude just because a few more loans than usual were late (default in mortgage biz lingo isn't the same as an actual foreclosure - it can also mean the loan is in technical default because the mortgagor is way behind). Over 95% of all mortgages purchased by the GSE's were still being paid on time.

I read a little further. A smile crept across my face:

    "The so-called net capital rule was created in 1975 to allow the SEC to oversee broker-dealers, or companies that trade securities for customers as well as their own accounts. The net capital rule requires that broker dealers limit their debt-to-net capital ratio to 12-to-1, although they must issue an early warning if they begin approaching this limit, and are forced to stop trading if they exceed it, so broker dealers often keep their debt-to-net capital ratios much lower."

A couple more paragraphs down, I hollered "I knew there was some kind of bullshit going on!"

    "Using computerized models, the SEC, under its new Consolidated Supervised Entities program, allowed broker dealers to increase their debt-to-net-capital ratios, sometimes, as in the case of Merrill Lynch, to as high as 40-to-1. It also removed the method for applying haircuts, relying instead on another math-based model for calculating risk that led to a much smaller discount."

Only five companies were eligible for this program when it was rolled out in 2004. Guess who these five firms were?

Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley.

The first thing that came to my mind when I read this was a quote I'd created as a part of a series of quotes that were sprinkled throughout a fictional story I'd published a couple of years back called The Black Folks Guide To Survival:

    "White folks, and white men in particular, have always found ways to alter, bend, or just totally ignore the rules they've made up when something doesn't suit them."

Real life wasn't imitating art here - I'd simply expressed as directly as possible facts that we all already knew to be in existence. And here was the SEC chairman, proving my assertion once again.

While you were on the internet at work, scrolling past ads extolling the wisdom, foresight and prudence of the companies managing your retirement money, your SEC chairman was waving his magic money wand over the capital accounts of these companies, effectively doubling or tripling their buying power without the addition of one red cent of actual money to their coffers.

He turned the cash they had into supercurrency.

If you've been in the financial services game long enough, even on the retail side, like I have, you had to learn the "Four C's" of a lending transaction - character, capacity, credit, and collateral. Ignoring any one of these items means you can't properly qualify the risk in front of you. In this case, the argument was and will continue to be that the track record and the reputation these companies possessed was the deciding factor in making a decision like this. THIS was the same criteria we used to make stated income loans.

Which made reading this morning's latest SEC announcement on The New York Times website temporarily banning short selling of financial stocks all the more ironic. The quotes from the chairman got me so jacked up I didn't even need any coffee this morning:

    "The commission is committed to using every weapon in its arsenal to combat market manipulation that threatens investors and capital markets"

Market manipulation is now the enemy, after you manipulated the make-sense rules that were already in place? Are these motherfuckers smoking crack?

The phrase "alter, bend, or just totally ignore the rules they've made up" will be reverberating through my head for the next few days as I watch these politicians and industry regulators who know better continue to point fingers at Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the subprime mortgage lenders who have closed down.

What do they think we are, idiots?


Keeping Our Heads On Straight

I am more than a little disturbed by the comment an anonymous poster left on yesterday’s post.

    "I'm having a problem with your premise ...

    You are suggesting that when a politician (and their party) declare themselves above the law in every definable way no one has a right to make public that politician (and party's) hypocrisy and malfeasance?

    It is precisely that "delicate sensibility" which leaves us now facing the possibility of ANOTHER FOUR YEARS JUST LIKE THE LAST EIGHT despite the carnage that has been wrought by the domination of republican policies for the past 40 years.

    Sarah palin used that email account for official business precisely because she believed she could get around the public records laws.

    Neither she nor her actions merit respect from anyone.

When I was on the grand jury panel here in Fulton County earlier this year, we had a lawyer in his fifties named “Roger” who was very, very big on due process and very critical of police procedure. I was the foreman, so I had to pay attention to every burglary, every robbery, every theft by taking, every minor traffic stop that was escalated to a felony by the possession of crack cocaine, all the mundane shit that doesn't even rate making the paper but is prosecuted none the less.

The jurors were more liberal than conservative, but after awhile, “Roger” started to get on everybody's nerves. Most of our cases were basic property crimes, with a little domestic violence thrown in for variety, a few shoot 'em ups, and the obligatory murder case of the day.

There was a particularly bad day, when “Roger” was a little testy, that he seemed to want to cross-examine the cop in every case, even when the perp was caught red handed and admitted to the crime. I got some coffee during a lull and was joined immediately by five or six jurors. "You've got to do something about ‘Roger’" they all pleaded. One guy, a pretty cut and dried fellow, said bluntly, "That guy is an idiot."

I thought “Roger” was an idiot myself - the only indictments we ever no billed were the ones where over zealous officers tried to make judgment calls that was not substantiated by any physical evidence or credible eyewitness testimony. These were the kinds of things you could see a mile away - even the people who were dozing off in the back row would wake up when we heard a case like this. Worrying about the intricacies of police procedure for a guy who was arrested on top of a building with a blowtorch, bolt cutters, and a bag with fifty pounds of copper fittings in front of a row of disassembled air conditioning units WAS a waste of our time - he and his lawyer could sort that out in front of a judge.

But I stopped everything, before we heard our next case, and gave a two or three minute speech to everyone about why we were there, why “Roger's” questions were within his rights as a citizen, and how his keen attention to detail helped me pay better attention to the presentations. As tired as I was of "Roger's" antics, as tired as I of signing indictment after indictment listing young black males as the defendants, I HAD to make that statement. This was not just our job, but our duty as jurors, our duty as citizens.

Just like it is with Sarah Palin's legal woes.

This anonymous comment took me back to that jury room. This is kind of thinking that happens when government becomes a large, distant, omnipotent entity that is disconnected from the individual citizen, even as it develops into an overriding force in our lives. As true as this may be, mob rule is the last thing this Brown Man wants to return.

Critical thinking, not testosterone laced posturing, is what we will need by the truckload these next few weeks.

Critical thinking and voter registration.


Now Bill O'Reilly's website has been hacked in retaliation for O'Reilly's stance against the hack of Palin's email account.

This is what I'm talking about.

We CANNOT stand for this Wild Wild West shit.

And I think that Bill O'Reilly acts like a complete and utter moron, "acts" because I know he knows better, to keep his show on the air.

18 September 2008

Resisting The Evil That Dwells Within

There are things we believe we are as Americans, and then there are the things that we really are, the things we really do, the things we really believe in that shape our daily lives. Which pretty much brings me to the point of this piece – it is those things we really believe that can allow us to act on our most basic, most primal urges.

I’ve been saying for weeks that we will know Obama is close to winning this election when we can hear the dogs barking and feel the sting of the firehoses.

I had no idea they would be electronic.

The rabid intensity of the peanut gallery that surrounds this year's presidential election has revealed a level of hatred and fear bigger than anything I’ve ever encountered in my whole life. Even on the talk shows, where there is usually an informal pecking order and some sense of decorum displayed by the panelists and guests, over the last week the discourse has gone beyond spirited debate, often becoming a frenzied free-for-all, with people speaking over each other or displaying intense and uncontrollable emotional outbursts.

The things we are stooping to saying to each other are bad enough. The things we are stooping to doing, like hacking into someone’s email account, are even worse.

I’m no fan of Palin. But her being an ex-cracker doesn’t scare me. I’m not going to riot if MCain and Palin win the election. I’m not going to leave the country if McCain wins and dies in office, leaving Palin as our president.

As stupid and as irresponsible as Palin was to conduct confidential business on a personal email account, something that anybody who has ever worked in corporate America knows is a security violation of the highest order, she does not deserve this. And if it turns out that this is really a political maneuver, a strategic tactic meant to confuse and diffuse the underlying issues, we do not deserve this.

Wlliam Golding’s book Lord of the Flies was mesmerizing the first time I read it as a teenager, not for the depictions of unchecked violence that a band of boys stranded on an island perpetrated against each other, but because the author had tapped into the depraved part of my subconscious in a way that made me realize how close to a savage barbarian I could have been if it weren’t for the boundaries of behavior my civilized community rigorously enforced among its members.

Too many of us lately seem to have lost the struggle to remain the ruler of the kingdoms that are our own minds, becoming mere servants instead, servants of those baser desires that lurk in its shadows.

This latent fear of man’s primal urges, if left unchecked, is what is at the bottom of the psyches of the twenty percent of white Americans who claim they are afraid of us because we are black. It isn’t the part of us they know and see everyday that is so scary, but the part they can’t see that they know must be in us, because it is in them, that makes us so frightening.

This feeling I have right now is the same.

It is probably more than merely coincidental that the metaphor of the pig is central to theLord of the Flies narrative, much as it has been central to the nonsensical venom that has been spewed the across the airwaves and on TV for the last week.

Moral suasion was the central tenet of the civil rights movement – the notion that what our forebears were doing had the persuasive authority of righteousness on our side, in spite of the rhetoric to the contrary that typified the movement as a subversive element that needed to be eradicated.

It is the remnants of this same sense of moral rectitude, at least in part, that is the impetus behind a lot of the momentum the Obama campaign has gathered this year. We’ve all heard it, or said it, from those who have exclaimed that they want to be “on the right side of history” to those who have extolled “it’s about time”. I’ve said these things and more myself, and can understand exactly why there is so much positive energy people are bringing to this campaign. In the battle of good versus evil, of might versus right, the choice I’ve made to support Barack Obama not only seems logical, it feels right.

But this feeling I have tonight, the one these anonymous criminals have unearthed, is wrong, not just because its against the law, but because it feels wrong, the kind of wrong that makes my head tingle, that makes my stomach churn.

This thing we are doing is hard, harder than hard. We will have remember, in the heat of the moments to come, to be true to the ideals that got us here.

Because on November 5th, I want to feel more than triumphant. I want to feel right.

17 September 2008

While Gotham City Goes Bust


Is the smell of RECESSION in the air?

Could the nation’s financial sector be ON THE ROPES?

Are our political candidates taking WALL STREET’S GURGLING as a green light?

Irritated intellectual types debate the underlying issues!

All day, everyday, for the foreseeable future!

Same bat time!

Same bat channel!

The guy who did the voiceover for the television show Batman had a voice that was more familiar to me than Walter Cronkite. There was something in that campy, over the top delivery style that appealed to my five year old self, and helped set the stage for the logic-defying feats and the ridiculously stilted dialogue that Batman and Robin, the Dynamic Duo, were going to perform over the next thirty minutes.

Thirty five years later, I’ve got my own VIP Waterford Kool-Aid pitcher from the Obama campaign, but even us Kool-Aid drinkers have to draw the line somewhere with our candidate. Obama’s broad generalizations that the state of our economy stems from specific incidents perpetrated by the Republican Party is a waste of time. He and his advisors have more than enough brain power to evaluate each and every incident of financial malfeasance on its own merits. And Obama’s smart enough to know how interdependent all the parts of our economy are on each other and the rest of the world.

    Commissioner Gordon: "Batman, you unscrambled that safe's combination in five seconds flat! How did you do it?"
    Batman: "With my Bat-Five-Seconds-Flat-Combination-Unscrambler, Commissioner."

So what am really I saying here? Is it time for Commissioner Gordon to shine the Bat Signal into the sky? If the Dow loses another 1000 points this week you'll be alright, even if all of your retirement savings are tied up in your 401(k). The weaknesses of our financial sector that is being reflected in the value of the stocks that make up the Dow index aren’t the real problem. The bulge of supply in our economy, like the bulge in the belly of a boa constrictor that has eaten too much, cannot be legislated away. Like the snake, the country will be lethargic and glassy eyed for awhile, until we digest what has been one of the biggest feasts in American financial history.

George Soros has made most of his fortune following a reflexive theory he has termed "boom/bust", that basically says that all systems are usually NOT in a state of equilibrium - they are usually teetering between one extreme or the other. Batman might have been able to subdue The Penguin or The Riddler in half an hour, but reversing this economic trend immediately is impossible, no matter what the candidates promise.

The only positive I can see out of all of this, from a political standpoint, is that it makes the population and our governing bodies more amenable to trying out things they never would have agreed to when they weren't in need. Do you really think half the stuff Roosevelt enacted would have been politically viable if we weren’t hurting so bad in the Thirties?

    Robin: "Gosh, there could be diplomatic repercussions if we fail this time, Batman."
    Batman: "That's not the point, Robin. What's important is that the world know that all visitors to these teeming shores are safe, be they peasant or king."
    Robin: "Gee, Batman, I never thought of that. You're right."
    Batman: "It's the very essence of our democracy."

Truth is always relative to your perspective. Jingoism often allows us to suspend our deductive powers of reasoning. Sound, reasoned critical thinking seems to have be on the endangered species list. TV sound bites, ultra extremist ideologies, and the need for "microwave" solutions have contributed to their rapid demise.

Whether we want to pull out of Iraq in the next 72 hours, or have a slew of the corporate terrorists who run Wall Street strung up by their toes by nightfall, we are going to have to sacrifice SOMETHING – something big and something long term - to achieve our stated goal of economic equilibrium. Self-righteousness might be the first thing on the list. In either case, the outcome is going to be ugly and bloody.

    Batman: "Nobody wants war."
    Robin: "Gee, Batman. Belgravia's such a small country. We'd beat them in a few hours."
    Batman: "Yes, and then we'd have to support them for years."

The proletariat (yeah, I’m talking about you, me, and the other 99% of the population, in case you are thinking “who, me?” as you read this) always has been and always will be abused.

Consumption of all kinds - food, fine cars, consumer goods, and bigger and bigger houses, for those of you who don’t watch cable TV - is the American way. Our entire economy, and the corporate success that is derived from it, is based on the masses (us) buying more and more of this type of stuff. I can't think of any society in history that has been able to peacefully make such a radical adjustment its learned habits, especially those that play such an important role in its corporate citizen's financial lives.

High minded ideals have been spouted by leaders since the beginning of time, but it is often those same men whose lives contradict many of the principles they purport to espouse.

    Batman: "That's one trouble with dual identities, Robin. Dual responsibilities."

Personally, I would be happy doing without a lot of the things I now enjoy, but its the consequences of the “doing without” kinds of changes in what the masses (us) see as the natural order of things that I believe my fellow citizens are most afraid of, even as we say are unhappy with the status quo.

In the meantime, to the Batmobile!

16 September 2008

"Sarah P. - BOO-yah!"

To the guys who think SportsCenter is all the news they need, which is a whole lot of guys of every political stripe, race, creed and religion, Barack Obama is the second most recognizable black voice in the country.

Stuart Scott, ESPN's hip, fast talking sports anchor, is the first.

"BOO-yah!" is his trademark, a verbal exclamation point, the equivalent of the cable news pundit "Gotcha!". Scott's fast paced, "let's get jiggy with it" style of delivery is the last thing that hundreds of thousands of men across the country hear before going to sleep.

After watching the stock market drop over 500 points yesterday, I wanted to see somebody putting some points on the board. So I turned to Monday Night Football. The Cowboys/Eagles game delivered just what I needed - four full quarters of offensive fireworks, with the Cowboys hanging on to a four point lead in the end to win it.

During the game, I was flipping channels back and forth during the commercials, alternating between CNN, CNBC, and the game. Larry King had his usual suspects on CNN, squaring off on the latest controversies between the Obama and McCain campaigns with the same old tired platitudes they’ve been pedaling for weeks. Larry Kudlow had his usual suspects on CNBC, each of them staring squarely into the camera to proclaim that they had known all along what was really wrong with the economy and how we could fix it in three easy steps.

Maybe, I said to myself as hit the remote to flip back to T.O. flashing his crocodile smile to the cameras after his first half touchdown, maybe we should take the experts on CNN and the experts on CNBC and swap them, the way they do on those reality shows like Wife Swap. As Stuart Scott and Emmitt Smith joked last night after the game, I wondered - just the thought of something like that happening in real life would be “sick nasty” – probably one of the only times in politics that a double negative could turn out to be an "unbelievably awesome" development.

I was thinking this only half in jest, though, because for the life of me, I can’t understand why McCain would put that tongue-tied benchwarmer Tucker Bounds out there in front of a camera trying to run interference for him when Tucker can barely remember which lie he’s telling tonight.

Why doesn’t McCain’s campaign have one of those square jawed, sharp eyed guys with the slicked down hairdos, the kind of guy who takes the art of telling a good lie seriously, the way they do on CNBC, instead of this rube? Why don’t they have a guy who looks like a real live Republican is supposed to look. Oh, I forgot, they’re all in high demand back at their day jobs on Wall Street, announcing that they will be “restating” the earnings they knew damn well their companies didn’t have in the first place. I hope they aren't on tomorrow night telling us how easy it is to "fix" the economy.

The fundamental changes that would have to take place in our modern American society are sacrifices most of us aren't willing to bear anyway.

I’ve been saying for awhile that when you start to hear those metaphorical dogs barking, when you start to feel those figurative water hoses stinging, you will know we are close. This thing we have all signed on for, to try to elect a black American to the presidency of the United States, is actually going pretty good. So good, in fact, that the people who want the opposition to win aren’t very happy right now. And a lot of them are on TV, masquerading as "fair and balanced" journalists.

Oh, they smile for the cameras.

They sit on the little TV news shows and puff out their chests and jut out their jaws and pontificate until it is time to go home.

But if you could see them off camera, after they’ve walked down the hall, after they’ve exited the lobby and are looking for their car, you will likely see that the smile has fallen, that the proud jut has taken on a dour droop.

In fact, they probably look a lot like most of us do when we leave work after a shitty day, exchanging our professional face for our off-the-clock one by the time we slide our seatbelts on. Kinda like the Eagles players did when they hit the locker room last night.

At the rate the McCain campaign is going, any day now I expect them to inform us that the earth has always been flat, and anyone who tells you any different is a part of an effort by the Obama campaign to “disrespect” their beliefs.

When I heard Ralph Reed’s high pitched voice earlier tonight on Larry King, asserting with righteous sanctimony that Sarah Palin was no longer going to testify in the Troopergate investigation because the investigation was tainted, my eyebrows went up. When he continued, adding that the investigation was being orchestrated by the Obama campaign, I understood right then why people throw things at their TV sets.

Are we back in the thirties? A white woman gets in hot water, doing something she’s not supposed to be doing, and what does she do? She hauls a black bogeyman out of nowhere.

Now that’s sick AND nasty.

I imagine, if I can only haul one more Sarah Palin analogy out of last night's game before your eyes start to glaze over, that it would have to be this one. In the second quarter, while the Eagles rookie wideout DeSean Jackson was taking it to the house on a 61-yard pass play, Jackson flipped the ball behind him in celebration a half a step BEFORE he got to the end zone.

What would Stuart Scott say during the Sarah Palin highlights after her last two weeks of running for the vice presidency?

"Sarah, baby, next time, wait until you actually BREAK THE PLANE before you start getting your groove on. BOO-yah!"

15 September 2008

Dense & Intense - This Week On The Web

In the course of keeping up with the news and doing research, I come across some great stuff you might not see in your hometown newspaper or on the nightly news.

Dense & Intense - This Week On The Web is a compilation of longer, more detail-oriented stories and humor pieces that caught my eye during the week.

This week has an unusually strong lineup.




"Democrats often seem to think of voters as consumers; they rely on polls to choose a set of policy positions that will convince 51% of the electorate to buy. Most Democrats don't understand that politics is more like religion than it is like shopping."

"Alaska Women Reject Palin" Rally w/PHOTOS!


"Despite overcast skies and a forecast for rain, there was a rally here today. Oh man, was there! In fact, it was by most accounts the largest protest rally in the history of Alaska. The Anchorage Daily News wrote that the rally drew an "estimated" 1500 people. Let me be clear: the organizers used a hand-clicker and counted at least 1,483 Alaskans, mostly women, who showed up to say that Sarah Palin does not speak for them. They also counted 93 McCain/Palin supporters."

Click Link Above For More Pictures

Why We Don’t Have Democracy


"My cartoons are pretty solidly left-wing; I tend to do a lot of cartoons about race, sexism, and economics."

Cartoons by Barry Deutsch

An Introduction To Framing And Its Uses In Politics


    "Carry out the following directive:

    Don't think of an elephant!

    It is, of course, a directive that cannot be carried out — and that is the point. In order to purposefully not think of an elephant, you have to think of an elephant. There are four morals.

    Moral 1. Every word evokes a frame.

    A frame is a conceptual structure used in thinking. The word elephant evokes a frame with an image of an elephant and certain knowledge: an elephant is a large animal (a mammal) with large floppy ears, a trunk that functions like both a nose and a hand, large stump-like legs, and so on.

    Moral 2: Words defined within a frame evoke the frame.

    The word trunk, as in the sentence "Sam picked up the peanut with his trunk," evokes the Elephant frame and suggests that "Sam" is the name of an elephant.

    Moral 3: Negating a frame evokes the frame.

    Moral 4: Evoking a frame reinforces that frame.

    Every frame is realized in the brain by neural circuitry. Every time a neural circuit is activated, it is strengthened."

Buy Obama Waffles Mix - Stereotypes are Free


"Boxes of Obama Waffles were available for sale at $10 each at the Values Voter Summit until Saturday afternoon when conference organizers shut down the booth."

Click Link Above For More Pictures

14 September 2008

66 Million Raised For Obama In August

Barack Obama’s fundraising generated more than 66 million dollars in August. An Obama aide said the campaign added 500,000 new donors to its rolls in August.

This shatters the campaign's previous record of $55 million. Obama’s ever growing base of contributors is now estimated to be north of 2.3 million donors.

Obama's total for August was almost $20 million more than the $47 million Republican rival John McCain raised last month.

Obama's campaign said that with the latest figures he had more than $77 million cash on hand.

The previous benchmark for the campaign to allow it to fully fund its projected fall budget of $200 million was a monthly fundraising goal of 54 million dollars between now and November. Now the Obama campaign indicates that they will need to maintain last month's level of giving in order to match revised estimates of the Republican's war chest for John McCain.

Bill Burton, a spokesman for Mr. Obama, said Sunday that the campaign would not file its report to the Federal Election Commission until Sept. 20, so a more precise analysis of how the money was raised will not be possible until then.