Posts Tagged ‘Bailout’

Optimistic v. Pessimistic Views of the Financial Crisis

Wednesday, October 1st, 2008

An optimist thinks this is the best of all possible worlds, and a pessimist fears he may be right.

Mortimer Zukcerman responding to an especially astute and frightening description of the current financial crisis while moderating a panel of economic experts for the Council on Foreign Relations.

A Prophecy in the Guardian

Wednesday, October 1st, 2008

John Gray, an author of big ideas with a focus on the apocalyptic and the grand sweep of history, has a must-read article in the Guardian. He calls it “A shattering moment in America’s fall from power.” He writes as if history is already written – and his examples are often petty and overblown. His piece reeks of self-importance and schaedenfraude. His big ideas seem more glib than profound.

And yet, his piece demonstrates two things.

First, his view is, I think, broadly reflective of how much of the world sees what is happening – with regional and cultural factors leading to the emphasis of slightly different aspects of the story. The Chinese would focus on the lack of centralized government oversight of the economy; the Europeans would see the lack of regulation and welfare programs; the Arabs would see the decadance. But in every telling, the story is the same – an empire is felled by it’s arrogance; the forces that led it to worldwide domination came back to destroy it.

That is what I found profoundly interesting about John Gray’s piece – that he was able to convey to me a sense of distance from the events taking place just a few blocks from where I work – a distance that allowed him to be smug and to “see” the future – a future that is very bleak.

Second, his piece does accurately reflect one way we could go as a nation. It can serve as a warning. Not a warning like Warren Buffet who called mortgage-backed derivratives “financial weapons of mass destruction” five years ago – but a warning that, like any real prophecy, is a vague and distrubing vision. The details may be wrong – but the vision is powerful – and it is entirely plausible.

It is a piece I would reccomend partisans of both the left and right read – and the muddled pragmatists in the middle too.

The trends Gray sees are really there – even if he uses a bit of poetic license in describing them.

John McCain: Gambling With Our Futures

Monday, September 29th, 2008

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Obama:

I read the other day that Sen. McCain likes to gamble. He likes to roll those dice. And that’s OK. I enjoy a little friendly game of poker myself every now and then. But one thing I know is this – we can’t afford to gamble on four more years of the same disastrous economic policies we’ve had for the last eight.

Obama seems to have read this article in the New York Times:

Senator John McCain was on a roll. In a room reserved for high-stakes gamblers at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut, he tossed $100 chips around a hot craps table. When the marathon session ended around 2:30 a.m., the Arizona senator and his entourage emerged with thousands of dollars in winnings.

A lifelong gambler, Mr. McCain takes risks, both on and off the craps table. He was throwing dice that night not long after his failed 2000 presidential bid, in which he was skewered by the Republican Party’s evangelical base, opponents of gambling. Mr. McCain was betting at a casino he oversaw as a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, and he was doing so with the lobbyist who represents that casino, according to three associates of Mr. McCain.

The visit had been arranged by the lobbyist, Scott Reed, who works for the Mashantucket Pequot, a tribe that has contributed heavily to Mr. McCain’s campaigns and built Foxwoods into the world’s second-largest casino. Joining them was Rick Davis, Mr. McCain’s current campaign manager. Their night of good fortune epitomized not just Mr. McCain’s affection for gambling, but also the close relationship he has built with the gambling industry and its lobbyists during his 25-year career in Congress.

The article also could have mentioned that McCain’s recent moves – from suspending his campaign to picking Palin could also be included among his “gambles”.

Of course, his decision to blame Pelosi for the bill’s failure isn’t a gamble – it’s just ridiculous, a desperate attempt to distract the country from this latest incident in which his party has place ideology above country. Combine this with McCain’s apparent propensity of over-personalize conflicts and crises, and you get an idea of what a disaster a McCain administration would be.

This guy wasn’t even able – after he put himself on the line and went to Washington and acknowledged something had to be done – to get a significant minority of his party to support any sort of compromise on this issue. The Republicans demonstrated today that they are not willing to make the difficult choices needed to lead.

But better days are coming:

The skies look cloudy and it’s dark. And you think the rains will never pass. But these too will pass: a brighter day will come.

Ideology Above Country

Monday, September 29th, 2008


[Image courtesy of Barack Obama over at Flickr.]

[digg-reddit-me]Jim Manzi over at National Review‘s The Corner calls the House Republicans’ actions today “Irresponsible Folly” and writes:

Well, apparently the House Republicans have decided to run a neat little experiment to test the actual odds of the current financial crisis turning into another Depression in the absence of a bailout plan.

Kathryn Jean Lopez – also at The Corner – tries to spin this as proof of the Democrats’ lack of unity and suggests this wouldn’t happen under a Republican Congress.

Other Republicans are apparently attempting to blame their votes against the only plan to stave off another Great Depression on a few comments made by Speaker Nancy Pelosi in her speech to introduce the bill.

Marc Ambinder asks: “Where were you when the world economy collapsed?” That might be overdoing it a little. But not by much – seeing as the Dow is down over 5% as we speak and the S&P 500 and Nasdaq are down almost 7% each.

Regardless – it seems certain that McCain failed in this – and deserves a good deal of blame for this failure.

The Democrats gave up a lot in order to win over some Republicans – but now it looks as if they’ll have to ditch them and pass a much more left-friendly bill. That leaves them without political cover on an issue that isn’t politically popular. But it is the only responsible thing to do, which is why I have confidence the Democrats will pass something.

The Republicans today have proved that they will place ideology above their country. They have proved that they will place politics above their country. Whether they voted against the bill because of their fundamentalist belief in the power of markets or because they wanted to be on the short-term popular side of a major issue is unclear. Presumably, it is a combination of both.

But they have proved that they are not willing to be grown-ups and accept the pragmatic best alternative when there are no good options. They do not take responsibility for any portion of the chaos which deregulation has contributed to here. They have not proposed some better, other plan – they have instead just been oppositional – representing the final deathblow to conservatism as a governing ideology.

This is the latest in a series of events – where conservatives have placed ideology above country, and ignored the pragmatic solutions to hard reality. From Iraq – where ideological certainty led to insanely rosy projections of the post-war period; to Iran – where diplomacy was rejected out-of-hand, and Iran’s offer to cut back on their nuclear program as part of a comprehensive discussion of US-Iran issues in 2003 was ignored; to the constant prescription of tax cuts in the face of mounting deficits; to the opposition to any pragmatic solution to the immigration problem.

It’s not that there weren’t good reasons to oppose this bill. It’s that the Republicans were unwilling to take the basic responsibility needed to govern.

Barack Obama meanwhile, says the bailout will go through. Not because he likes it – but because, as distasteful as it is, it’s necessary. As Obama said, speaking in the midst of a storm yesterday, “The skies look cloudy and it’s dark. And you think the rains will never pass. But these too will pass: a brighter day will come.”

It’s not the rhetoric that matters as much as the tone. Obama’s calm, measured, steady public presence, even in the midst of a storm, contrasts with McCain’s hysteric, dramatic, volatile one.

The Price of Panic

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

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Seeing this headline in the New York Post made me furious. The Democrats – and a number of Republicans – are insisting on some basic accountability measures and a pledge that they will be able to pass some sort of relief for those affected by the crisis who aren’t millionaires. Each of these requests is reasonable. The first request is absolutely essential. The Post‘s attempts to “stampede the herd” into accepting whatever it is Paulson wants are dangerous.

Everyone from Newt Gingrich to Paul Krugman to William Kristol to Matt Yglesias to NRO’s Yuval Levin has urged caution and some sort of oversight mechanism as the least.

The proposed bill would give Secretary Paulson authority to “take such actions as the Secretary deems necessary to carry out the authorities in this Act,” giving him extremely broad powers to unilaterally control the market in addition to the $700 billion. In addition to these dictatorial powers, Paulson would be granted legal immunity for all of his actions:

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.

Although I doubt Paulson would use this crisis to personally profit – nothing in the law would prevent him. And if he did, no action could be taken against him. This is incredibly reckless.

This law would remain in effect for two years – which would allow Obama’s Secretary of the Treasury as well as Paulson to, in exercising authority under this law, do virtually anything and be immune from any consequences.

This is how the Patriot Act was pushed through Congress in the dead of night, with no one reading the weighty tome. This is how democracies are given away in a moment of crisis, in that Roman tradition of granting a temporary dictatorship over Rome until a crisis passes. Power is never given away easily – and so, in the end, the democracy with temporary dictators became a permanent dictatorship. In this age of terrorism and globalization, the crisis is never fully past us; and a new one is always on the horizon.

I don’t think anyone has any definite idea about what will work in this situation. And this is a time for pragmatism, not ideology. But even – and especially – in a crisis, there must be accountability and limits. This fear-mongering by the Post and other Republican puppets represents the worst impulse we can have at this time. We must act quickly but deliberately – because in our understandable haste, we might accidentally give away more than we intend.

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