I live in an urban "transitional" neighborhood in an urban Midwestern city. I bought a redeveloped home after it had been foreclosed on in 2004 - for 60% of its original asking price. Regardless of the sale price of the home - Zillow has it for 200% of what I paid. The (abandoned and falling apart) house next door is listed by Zillow as valued at 100,000. It just sold for 1,000. Yes, it just sold for 1% of he zillow stated value of the home.
Over the bush years, there seems to have been an escalation of leveraged corporate buyouts. Given what we learned about the "fancy" structures used to hide debt ala Enron, and what we have learned about the effect of easy credit (due to the feds low rate binging that led to lower concerns for the ratio of risk on financing that contributed to the sub prime crisis), I have had this long-standing worry.
So I did a little googling - learned some, but most of what I found went back to analyses of the junk bond era. So then I tried news.google - to see what has been written about the topic in the last month, as the severity of the credit crises has become more clear. Here are some of the items that I found:
Moody's Say Older Debt
May Carry More Risk
By ANDREW EDWARDS
March 13, 2008 11:42 a.m.
Moody's said many older corporate leveraged loans' terms were "relaxed" in the loose-credit markets of the last two years, implying that older-vintage debt deals may not be as safe as previously thought.
Loans from 2006 and early 2007 -- when buyout shops were piling on leverage willy-nilly, and second liens were in vogue -- were thought to be at the heart of the projected deterioration in corporate credit, but Moody's research implies that the trouble may go deeper.
"Because of the large number of easing amendments, these older-vintage loans should not be considered safer than those loans issued when looser lender protections prevailed," said Moody's Senior Vice President Neal Schweitzer.
The loans -- going as far back as 1999 -- were amended to alleviate "financial stress caused by deteriorating fundamentals or to accommodate merges and acquisitions or leveraged buyouts" in 2006 and the first half of 2007.
More at: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1205421169...
Note - that line - changing (relaxing loose credit standards) to finance debt - to accommodate mergers and acquisitions or leveraged buyouts. Does this mean that the lack of due diligence we have seen in lenders (from mortgage brokers, to the rating organizations and the investors) in the sub prime debacle was also running amok in corporate refinancing to allow for some of the mega mergers and buyouts of the last year or so?
Want to feel better? Some of the big players are now turning their eyes to the "opportunities" presented with corporate debt. Read on from just the other day:
Apollo Turns to Distressed Debt, Including LBOs (Update1)
By Jason Kelly
March 12 (Bloomberg) -- Apollo Management LP adapted to the leveraged-buyout freeze by investing $1 billion in distressed securities, including the debt of companies it already owns, founder Leon Black told investors.
``We are doing exactly what you would expect of us in this market -- using our distressed expertise and appetite for complexity to find investments in good companies that are available at significantly discounted levels,'' Black wrote in a Feb. 29 letter to clients of the New York-based firm.
Apollo's most recent funds are ``in very good shape,'' Black wrote, even though the buyout of real-estate services firm Realogy Corp. has been hurt by the worst housing market in a quarter century and its Linens 'n Things Inc. and Claire's Stores Inc. are struggling as retail sales growth slows. Fund V, a $3.8 billion pool started in 2001, has returned 3.5 times invested capital, according to Black. Holdings of the $10.1 billion Fund VI were valued at $1.5 billion above cost as of Dec. 31.
Black's view on distressed investing was echoed by Blackstone Group LP founder Stephen Schwarzman, who told investors on a March 10 conference call that his New York-based firm is eyeing leveraged loans it considers unfairly discounted by investors amid broader credit-market worries.
``Leveraged loans is a very interesting area and getting more interesting,'' Schwarzman, 61, said. ``Some of it is trading at distressed debt levels and it happens not to be distressed. It's a distressed market.''
more at: http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=206...
Sounds like more trying to make oodles of money, on "complex" structures and deals that no one can understand, in order to suck even more equity out of the overall economy - now with corporate entities being the target.
Now lets read an item about the firms that have been doing the buyout/merger mega deals of late:
March 11, 2008
Buyout Industry Staggers Under Weight of Debt
By MICHAEL J. de la MERCED
With their big paydays and bigger egos, private equity moguls came to symbolize an era of hyper-wealth on Wall Street.
Now their fortunes are plummeting.
Celebrated buyout firms like the Blackstone Group and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Company, hailed only a year ago for their deal-making prowess, are seeing their profits collapse as the credit crisis spreads through the financial markets.
Investors fear that some of the companies that these firms bought on credit could, like millions of American homeowners, begin to buckle under their heavy debts now that a recession seems almost certain. The buyout lords themselves suddenly confront gaping multibillion-dollar losses on their investments.
Blackstone and others argue they can run these businesses more efficiently — and therefore more profitably — than they could as public companies. Now, the bankers and investors who financed the boom in corporate takeovers are running for the exits. Loans and junk bonds that deal makers used to pay for the acquisitions — debts that must be repaid by the companies, not the deal makers — are sinking in value.
more at: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/11/business...
Folks, this is not being written about on the front pages, but buried more in business sections. This has the possibility of taking down a lot of businesses. While all the news is on the sub prime crisis and the buyouts (ala the feds) of the hedgefunds for the mortgage-backed debt, there is little attention to the activities that look like they are escalating. Much of this is being done by private equity groups - which I would guess means less regulation.
I call out to DU. Let's get educated on this ASAP. Then what? Call congress (hearings? Need for regulations?) Call the media? I don't know - but we saw the problems in the housing market two or more years ago when we (as a community) would write and warn about the dangers of the 'exotic' new lending for mortgages (new in that they did not used to be mass marketed) per the ARMS an no-down payments.
This seems to be a newer development - but one that could suck out the value of many, many corporations. And what would that do to the economy? There just isn't enough money to keep "buying out" the crises. I hate to sound alarm bells (when so many are already ringing). Or perhaps I am misreading all of this.
Let's not pander to the media game of focusing on individuals who are losing their home, who to readers look like:
duh, how did you possibly think you could afford *that* house.
Yes their were some greedy lendees. Yes there were foolish lendees. And yes their were some foolish, greedy "flippers" and developers who should have seen that they were putting themselves into a potential financial vice grip.
However - there are two points that are largely missing in the discussion on this board about these stories.
1) There was a serious problem with predatory lending in urban areas since the early 2000, where home owners in poor, minority areas were targeted (especially the elderly) and told how refinancing could help with current crises (health, and otherwise), where a lot of fraudulent practices per hidden fees, not explaining complex resets, etc. left individuals unknowingly exposed. There was WIDESPREAD fraud. And when states like Ohio, tried to pass laws to prevent predatory/fraudulent practices they were overridden at the federal level with the now familiar claim (per EPA using it elsewhere) that allowing states to have their own sets of differing regulations would be too difficult for the "industry" and it was better to have a single set of federal regs (much looser).
2) There was a serious need to fuel the housing "boom" by whatever means from both Washington and Wall Street. On the Washington side, go back to 2002 with a slowed (recession) economy and the reports month after month of the one sector that was "booming" was.... the housing market (refi for home improvement; refi for consumer spending; new housing) - it was what seemed to keep the "economy" running. There was an incentive to turn a blind eye, and indeed when the bankruptcy bill finally was passed into law - all efforts to crack down on predatory lending was thwarted.
On the Wall street side, after the corporate implosions of 2002 there was a skittishness about getting back into the market, especially for large institutional investors (think pension funds) - suddenly there was a growing demand for these "safe" new financial vehicles that purportedly would provide a steady flow of money to the investors due to mortgage payments, and were purportedly leveraged in a way to lower risk. There were tons of fees to be made from lenders, brokers, rating agencies, etc. The reports on how little oversight (as in fiduciary oversight) was exerted is shocking. However, it was a new money train and who would want to rain on that?
3) Blaming foolish, greedy or preyed upon lendees is misplaced when considering the whole debacle. Except for the flippers and developers - these were folks engaged in a SINGLE transaction. The mortgage brokers, lenders, etc. were engaged in hundreds, thousands or tens (hundreds?) of thousands of such shaky transactions. Which has the greater impact on the debacle and melting down economy? The individual lendee? Or the lenders who dropped previously accepted practices (such as employment and income verification, studying the debt ratio of the lendee, etc.) in order to "make the deal"?
Please do not take me for saying that lendees have no blame. Many were foolish. Just the premise of the ARMS, as they became known, made my skin crawl - as my risk adverse nature just thought it was crap shoot thinking to finance a home with these things. However when we talk about the overall problems and possible fault lines running throughout the economy, lets keep focused on the culprits. One faulty/foolish loan is the blame point? Or the thousands of loans, the intentional blocking of tightening regulations on lenders, the greedy and due diligence roles of lenders/investors/bundlers being dropped to keep the money train flowing?
Two articles today appeared - and pointed the direction of what should be dug into. The WaPo and McClatchy both talked about Rove's unprecedented use of Cabinet officials getting briefings - and then going to strategic campaign stops, with candidates, to announce federal monies being given to a district. While both stories make it clear that this level of politicking via the pubic purse is unprecedented. The stories were clear that the taxpayers were footing the bill for the cabinet member, but I don't know that the full extent of how the tax payer was footing the bill is clear to the reader.
A side note: I believe that the candidate/campaign would foot the bill for a regular campaign appearance, but at least at the presidential level - IF a stop is "business" (ala awarding a big pot of money) than the costs are not charged to the campaign. This would mean that the tax payer is likely paying for the cost of flying out the cabinet member (e.g., John Snowe) and his entourage, but probably also the candidate, the candidate's entourage, and related costs. Suddenly, we the tax payer, are footing the bill for a major campaign effort in key races for the GOP. Here is one area to explore, dear journalists... just how much were we paying for these visits in 2006, or 2004? How much of pure campaign costs were bourne by the tax payer? And that is just the smallest thing to note from todays stories.
There were a couple of things that jumped out at me, after I read and then pondered what I had just read.
1. Suddenly there is a whole lot of talk, in two different high-profile articles in two publications, about how very careful - indeed meticulous - Rove was about not violating the Hatch Act. Right. Were that the case, when the Lorita Doan/GAO /Scott Jennings story first emerged before sworn testimony to congress, this talk of how careful the political operations of Rove would have been bandied about.
Instead, months later, suddenly - all over the place we hear how careful and persnickety Rove was about being clear about and not crossing the boundaries into violating the Hatch Act. No, this is b.s. defense league rhetoric. In one of the stories (WaPo, I believe) the hat gets tipped as to where investigative journalists and congress (Wax man) should look. In several places it is stated and reiterated that the granting of monies was not politicized - just the ceremonies around giving the money. See, the grants are determined by a competitive grant process, and thus beyond reproach (shhh remember Reading First and the HLS local community grants?)
Okay, I will bite. I have been a grant reader/reviewer for a state dept of education and for the federal dept of education. On the one hand, there is a regimented review and scoring process, and grantees are able (or used to be able) to request the notes of the readers if they are turned down, so that they may improve those areas the next time submitting a grant. The point is that there is a process - and there are documents that include comments and scores for grants. Generally multiple readers read each grant and a score is given based on the average of raters. It can be a fairly fair process, but it can also be manipulated (knowing that a specific type of program is preferred by those above, even if it isn't written into the regs) and outright ignored. Note that the Reading First! Controversy stemmed from an unusually high preference rate for the programs offered by (big donor) specific publishers, and that was a program that involved a competitive grant process.
It would be easy (albeit very time consuming) to:
a) track down grant programs from which grants were given that were used in the Rove election shows (that is the staged campaigning via cabinet member to announce $$ coming into the district)
b) review applications, comments, and award/no award decisions.
c) did these grants follow accepted procedure (that is - the highest scored applications got the dough) or did some grants that became part of the Rove election shows ranked lower than some unfunded applications. Is there a pattern related to political districts (esp Rove's key battle ground congressional races) per the granting and denying of grant monies.
This is an important story ... if my suspicions are correct - that this orchestrated meme of how careful Rove was - and that the money wasn't given via politics at all... because this demonstrates the degree to which this White House has worked to make the federal government operate as a political machine. The public won't demand better in the future, if it isn't fully aware of how things have been operating. It underscores how winning elections is what matters to todays GOP, not governing. That the federal government is viewed as one big source of money for cronies like some gargantuan slush fund to feed the coffers of the GOP, rather than the business of protecting the interests of and serving the good of "We the People."
There is a second, more subtle, thing per the non-denials story... this isn't suggested directly, but certainly should raise some flags as to where to do more digging into the politicization of the federal government. In the discussions of the frequency of all Roves meeting with top Cabinet officials - again at a staggeringly breathtaking frequency when compared to previous administrations. One item points to the effectiveness of these meetings describing the "success" of the Rove political shows after meeting with Gail Norton - prior to the Rove meeting she went to five cities in two months (early 2004) and then between June and November (5 months) she goes to 37 cities ... 32 of which in election markets. Mind you probably at each stop she is doling out more money. Apparently Rove was very persuasive. So lets now cut back to the DOJ scandal and Monica Goodling.
In the DOJ scandal we learned of unprecedented communications between the political office of the WH (Rove et al) and the liaison's at the DOJ. Beyond the firing scandal we have since learned that dear Monica was engaged in doling out plum internships based on political credentials, she hired civil service employees based on political credentials, and she worked to reward and punish employees in the DOJ based on political performance.
How does that story fit? Look for the comparable positions in the different federal agencies. Look for increased frequency of communication, focus on those agencies who show up the most frequently in attendance in the briefings by Rove and Jennings. I would be shocked if there are not more Monica Goodlings out there - hiring based on political credentials and disciplining on political performance - esp, but not exclusively in the granting of big $$ grants and contracts, but also in spotty enforcement of various rules and regulations and other agency business.
Today's WH meme...yes Rove was more political "and better at it" than previous WH political operations chiefs - but he meticulously stayed in the Bounds of legality... is the very set of talking points that lead to a gold mine of stories. In each, please remember to point out to the readers that the "cost" of these programs (be it a grant given to a crony in a key district - depleting the source of money to go to those more likely in need to address whatever the grant program was created to address.) In short, the biggest cost is the degradation of federal govt services where the needs of "We the People" and "We the taxpayers" are secondary to the needs of feeding and supporting the GOP. The public deserves to really understand these stories.
If you do not believe in the responsibility of the Congress to provide oversight over the executive branch,
you do not believe in the responsibility of legislating laws lies with Congress (that is, that laws as passed by Congress are to be followed - not laws created extra-constitutionally via executive signing statement),
you do not believe in the responsibility of "the purse" (creating budgets and allocating monies) and instead pass that duty on to the administrative branch (approving verbatim all admin budgets, or abdicating the role in favor of corporate interests pre-written budgetary legislation),
than it would appear that you do not believe in the balance of powers between the three bodies of government as established in the Constitution.
The only conclusion to be reached is that you are solely in Congress for your salary and perhaps finding ways for self-enrichment.
In which case, we the people, ask you to step aside. We challenge members of your own party who do believe in the constitutional role of congress to challenge you in the next primary and we challenge members of the democratic (and other) parties who believe in the constitutional role of congress to challenge you (or whoever makes it out of your primary) in the general election.
You see, that We the People, still believe in our Constitution. We still believe in three co equal bodies of government that provide checks and balances over each other. If you persist in working to undermined the institution of Legislative Branch of Government, than you need to get out of the way for We the People to work to restore our government and the Constitutional system that underlies the legitimacy of our government.
Outside of right wing radio I have heard a few make comments, sounding sincere, expressing great fear that this country is about to be taken over by Jihadists. These folks genuinely fear that they will be "forced to convert" to Islam. Few say it outright, but each and every person who justifies the ongoing war in Iraq with the "better fight them there than here" have that same fear rooted in that sentiment.
To you I say: Under what circumstance could that *really* happen? Seriously. Where is the money, the military might, the manpower to take over the US, and impose a brutal enough occupation to force religious conversion of the US population and could sustain a takeover of the US govt. Seriously. Turn off the radio and Fox News. If you have to visit a few other churches and listen to some other pastors.
Those politicians pandering for votes push a "scary scenario" in order to get you to vote for them. Notice they never give you the scenario of *how* this "takeover" would happen. Notice that they don't dwell on their lack of confidence in the US people and the US military, as the supposed awful outcome the push to get your fear pumping - assumes that we, as a people, and our military and all civilian police forces would just roll over.
It is time to get passed accepting such ridiculous fear-mongering. Think about how absurd these scenarios really are. They are as absurd as the scary anti-Sandinista stories in the eighties which tried to convince the US govt that a very economically poor Cuba, and an increasingly economically challenged Soviet Union was going to take over Nicaragua, then take over a number of countries between Nicaragua and Mexico, and then takeover Mexico and attack the US from the taken over (conquered?) Mexico. That was absurd. It wasn't going to happen and it never did happen. Indeed the public rejected those fear projections and the Congress de-funded any efforts to fund the Contras in Nicaragua. Of course that White House didn't believe it had to listen to Congress and illegally sold weapons to the "enemy" (who just a number of years earlier held US hostages for a very long time) - in order to raise and then funnel money to the Contras - against the will of the people and the law of he land.
So here we are again. But there is a larger industry (folks making tons of money) in selling the fear. However if one starts pushing for any *rational* explanation of how this "taking over of America" by "Jihadists" could happen - there is none. Just jingoistic and cynical referrals to 911 - apparently thinking that no one noticed that we didn't collapse as a country, and weren't taken over and forced to convert religions as a result of 911. In no means do I intend to downplay the horror of 911 - just trying to point out at those who use the imagery today, often are selling an irrational fear - and often one that they do not share themselves - but it sure does help sell/make/raise money/get votes.
I know that typing this at DU is preaching to the choir. I just get so tired of hearing rhetoric that borders on this fear meme (esp the flypaper type rhetoric) - which is not nearly called out for the ridiculous tripe that it is. Politically inspired fear propaganda, which itself (the propaganda) is much more real than the fabricated "threat".
Let the bushyears end quickly, and let the malfeasance which has soaked through the GOP party take both the Cowboys and their whole party with them out the door of American Government - and far, far away from policy making and from microphones. A trip to the Hague would be an interesting stop along the way out of the door.
Over at TalkingPointsMemo.com - David Kurtz (weekend regular for TPM) has a very, very significant post that begins with the WaPo "Cheney's shadow hangs over the plame trial" (not exact title) article. Then goes on to their own digging at TPMMuckrakers into trying to find out who works at the Office of the Vice President (OVP) and instead stumble on what reads like a rather shocking writeup.
from the entry:
Since then, I've gone from being open to the idea of an Imperial Vice Presidency to being convinced that historians will debate whether something approaching a Cheney-led coup d'etat has occurred, in which some of the powers of the Executive were extra-constitutionally usurped by the Office of the Vice President.
Last week, in trying to break the lock on who actually works in the OVP--which the Vice President refuses to reveal--the guys at Muckraker stumbled across this entry from a government directory known as the "Plum Book":
The Vice Presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch, but is attached by the Constitution to the latter. The Vice Presidency performs functions in both the legislative branch (see article I, section 3 of the Constitution) and in the executive branch (see article II, and amendments XII and XXV, of the Constitution, and section 106 of title 3 of the United States Code).
It appears that Cheney's office submitted this entry in lieu of a list of its employees, as federal agencies must do. It sounds like something Cheney's current chief of staff, David Addington, might have written. Cheney and Addington have been the among the most powerful proponents of the theory of a "unitary executive," but there are indications that they have also advanced, though less publicly, a theory of a constitutionally distinct and independent vice presidency.
more at: http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/...
This is a *Must Read* and a Must Discuss. Please read the entry and come back and let us know what you think.
Constitutional showdown over the signing statements.
Ironic, because much of the coverage says that the Govt already has the power (granted needing a nearly always given warrant) to do this - and because some of the signing statements authority granted to themselves in direct opposition to the intent of the signed laws, this isn't quite as egregious. Egregious - yes - the *most* egregious?
Why would this one be *the* one? Timing. And who were sponsors of the law that this directly subverts - in the senate Moderate repubs who need bushco less than bushco needs them (Coleman and one of the Maine Sens), and one of the cosponsors in the House - Waxman - now back in charge of the committee on govt reform (key oversight)- who has already gone on record on this issue that if the exec branch were to act on the signing statement that they would be in violation of the law (ergo his gauntlet - that the congressional law - signed by the president - is the law... not the signging statement.)
Cheney and Addington are the two behind most of the signing statements - so why would they attach one to this - just when the dems take congress, one that allegedly isn't needed to do what they want to do (spy on mail) - on the surface it makes no sense. On the hubris and "bring it on" front - it makes a lot of sense. They are running out of time - I think they are now begging for a Constitutional fight because they are so egotistical and megolomaniacal that they believe that they would "win" - not just on this issue - but on the issue of the power of the signing statements... I think they know they have little time to leave much of a mark for "their" presidency and in their ideological desire to "strengthen" the exec branch - they want to leave this power and authority. A perverted legacy, if you will. However, I think that they will lose if/when the whole issue gets brought before a court (i.e., a case brought regarding the exec branch acting upon a signing statement authority rather than the actual law as passed by congress and signed into law.)
to get some airing. It appeared for exactly *one day* in the news. During the hearings the CIA reps who had been responsible for preparing the NIE explained that the form of the NIE that reached Congress was vastly stripped down from the original NIE that was reviewed (by the WH, I believe). What was stripped down were a lot of caveats and footnotes that qualified different 'claims' - explaining, for example, why X piece of intelligence may not be credible or may not have been verified by a second source. What was stunning was that when asked WHO had ordered and made the change - the authors/preparers of the report stated - on the record - that they really did not know how or why of at whose request the report as it was prepared for congress had been edited.
Significant in several ways - gets right to the heart of "everyone thought Iraq had WMDs" and that "people in Congress had the same intel as the WH" .... which is the core of trying to blame dems in congress equally as the WH - and framing the 'mistake' as bad intel that "anyone would have believed. It gets right to the point that NO what the WH had and what was given to the Congress was vastly different.
It also gets to the heart of the manipulation of intelligence to fool congress and the people as to the "why" of going to war (a story line much of the public now accepts thanks to the Downing Street Memos - but getting the details of WHO ordered the changes and what those changes were is important.)
Please Sen Rockefeller, *please* include what came from this part of the testimony and investigations in the final reports you release from this Investigation.
The public needs to understand it, and start recognizing it for what it is - empty rhetoric that often has no ‘reality’ behind its use. This was an early (and sadly effective) method of Newt Gingrich in his ascension to power. The idea, simply put, was to consistently use derogatory and demonizing terms to tag the opposition or their ideas/positions. Didn’t matter how ridiculous the terms were on their face value - just that they terms were used consistently and with vehemence. The point was that over time the public would come to perceive the imagery being created as reality. Reality didn’t matter. In lesser talented hands, the rhetoric is often laughable and absurd. Most people don’t really buy into the rhetoric of Rush or Coulter in a literal sense - the hyperbole is recognized. However the less clumsy, and those given more of a serious public platform (think Sunday am talk shows), have often been successful in perception management.
The Bush administration has taken this to a whole other level. Long before 911 and the blatant use of ‘fear’ and ‘security’ to sell nearly all of their policies and legislative efforts (think “energy security” among other early attempts at linking the GOP privatize and corporate welfare agenda as “security measures”) - the Bush administration had taken perception management to new heights. Read Joshua Green’s “The Other War Room” (link: http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/... ) which describes the use of Madison Avenue style methods of repackaging with words unpopular policies, and market testing to find the words that would “sell” the public on programs and policies - even when the policies (not popular) hadn’t changed. It is a great blue print for what we have seen foisted upon the public for years.
Why is this important for the public to understand? Because this type of public manipulation will reemerge, unless the public becomes savvy and calls to task those that try such cynical manipulations. Nixon wasn’t out of office for 6 years before the GOP came storming back with Reagan. I am pretty sure that it will be exceptionally difficult for a republican to win the next presidential campaign. However, I am concerned that an unaware public will write these awful years off to a couple of bad apples - rather than the detrimental policies of the GOP, and the cynical public manipulation used to sell such policies. This has been disastrous for our country and seriously threatens our political system.
Why talk about this now? Because huge swaths of the public are now cynical - particularly regarding bush and the republicans who try to push his policies. Now there would be more receptivity to understanding how we got to this point - and how to avoid it in the future. The level to which the contemporary GOP has taken the practice of Perception Management - and basing policies and actions, not on reality, not on studious debate of policies, but on their wanton lust for power and $ for their cronies, and then use PM to “sell” the public.
Netroots has grown in its ability to push conversations into the mainstream. This is one that is vitally important to scratch the public psyche, such that the term and what it means becomes part of the publics ‘conventional wisdom’.
Lets brainstorm some examples, lets start the conversation moving - and perhaps, just perhaps, we can grow the current public cynicism beyond disgust with the war - into disgust with the avarice and ongoing deceitfulness of the contemporary republican party.
Example 1) One very obvious example - a very telling public misstatement came in the early aftermath of 911 in a press conference held by then Sec of Homeland Security Tom Ridge. The press conference was to ‘inform the public of how to keep safe in the case of a terrorist attack’. Ridge slips up and states that the methods (duct taping plastic on all windows and doorways) had been tested on... focus groups. (er.. what was that again, Tom?) So what was the point of the press conference? Did the nation’s safety experts really believe that duct tape and plastic would keep the public safe? Or was it part of creating the “fear” reality in the public’s mind, that such an attack was likely? Why were the ‘safety tips’ focus-grouped/market tested? It only makes sense when thinking about the ‘Perception Management’ rules of governing a nation.
Just read an item on Media Matters about Cokie Roberts parroting the whole "if Lamont wins it signals chaos for the democratic party" line. According to Ms. Roberts this would force dems to "play to the base" which would hurt them in elections. Sam Donaldson, reportedly disagreed - pointing out that on the issue of Iraq (as if that were the only issue of discontent) - that being against the current policies in Iraq is not just "playing to the base" - it is playing to the sentiments of the general public.
Makes you want to tear your hair out.
Apparently many political pundits failed basic geometry.
a = b; Many previously considered "safe" republican seats are up in the air - or worse (for the GOP) starting to lean out of "toss up" and into blue territory. The constant meme from the punditry is that the public is unhappy with Bush, particularly but not only because of the Iraq war - and that it is showing up in voter sentiment against GOP congressional reps and senators. The theme (echoed even today in the Editorials of the GOP-favoring Washington Times) is that the GOP majorities are in jeopardy - and that the public appears to be very unhappy with the GOP, Bush and their policies/leadership. Cries of "potential disarray" in the party as a result of the outcomes of the elections are becoming more and more common.
b = c; Sen. Lieberman led Lamont in terms of favor with 'democrats' as recently as at the Connecticut convention, but has lost support and now seems to have a serious problem as poll after poll show him trailing Lamont. The punditry points primarily to the antiwar sentiment as a voice against Bush policies in Iraq - but is beginning to concede that other issues where the Senator is perceived to be too supportive of Bush are harming his reelection chances.
Here is where the punditry gets messed up (or, depending upon your read upon the punditry - where they intentionally try to muddy things up with a pro-GOP tilt). In the first scenario - it is the public's unhappiness with Bush and the GOP congress that supports bush that is the reason for the low GOP polls. Never is it suggested that the numbers are a result of fringe left-wing internet activists pushing the public opinion far to the left (as that would be absolutely absurd).
But somehow in the second scenario - it is rogue left-wing internet activists that are pulling the Dems in Connecticut far to the left... and a win for Lamont would signal that the left-wing internet activist will pull the entire party to the left and result in disarray. Somewhere along the "punditry logic" completely different reasons for the polling numbers exist.
Hey punditry - remember geometry? Let's see if this makes any sense.
A = B The public is very discontent with the war and with Bush policies. They are voicing a likelihood to vote against those who are seen as pushing the Bush policies. Thus, many republicans are in trouble in their election efforts.
B = C The public is very discontent with the war and with Bush policies. They are voicing a likelihood to vote against those who are seen as pushing... or enabling (and silencing dissent) the Bush policies. Thus, Bush's "favorite Democrat" who has voiced support for the president, his War policies and some of his other policies is in trouble with his election efforts.
C = A The public is very discontent with the war and with Bush policies...
ahem - is that difficult?
Posted by salin in General Discussion: Presidential (Through Nov 2009)
Sun Jul 30th 2006, 04:00 PM
Earlier this week I heard an odd short bit on the issue of W's signing statements. It was referred to as a partisan issue - ala tax cuts, with a clear cut 'democratic' position and 'republican' position. After I spit out my coffe... I spent some time reading and thinking. This is a constitutional issue.
The initial refutation, is the only one that appears to hold any water. It goes along the lines of this: The president, and the executive branch he leads, is not ACTING on the statements, rather these are just positions being offered so that if in the future the provision is tested in court, the executive branch opinion will be considered along with congressional intent. Indeed, if the statements do not impact upon the federal government carrying out laws as written by Congress then there is no real foul here, and no real crisis. That said, the big question needs to be asked: Do the signing statements have an impact upon how the executive branch carries out laws passed by Congress and signed by the President.
The following are the arguments that have been made in recent days. Pay attention, as you are likely to hear them more frequently. They are easily countered. If you have heard other arguments used to dismiss the 'issue' altogether - please add them to this thread - so that collectively we can counter those as well.
New Positioning #1: Claim: "the charges are overblown... while there may have been 800+ provisions to which signing statements apply... only 100+ distinct pieces of legislation are effected by signing statements."
The intent of the argument is to dismiss the entire issue by stating that "the media" or "the democrats" or now "the ABA" have overstated the issue and therefor there is no issue.
Response: The potential nullification of more than 800 provisions of laws passed by Congress (and signed into law by the President) is serious regardless of whether 100 or 800 distinct pieces of legislation are involved. If the signing statements indicate that the executive branch has nullified, and is acting upon its nullification of Constitutionally passed laws - then the executive branch is operating outside of the Constitution. The issue (and primary question) remains the same. In short, this is a typical right-wing straw man type argument via distract and dismiss. Sadly this approach has sometimes been very effective.
New Positioning #2: Claim: "This, like other political news, is simply about partisanship and is nothing more than 'politics as usual' ".
The intent of this argument is to cast out any independent thought, and to recast the issue as simply a dem say repub say (ala he says she says) argument - and thus allegiance should be to party, rather than to stand on the issue (or even understanding the issue.) This argument, like the above argument, is simply meant to distract and dismiss.
Response: The issue is about the Constitutional process for bills becoming laws, and the means for presidents to nullify laws (via veto) - which allows congress, when the will of the people is strong enough, to override that veto. This is not an issue with a republican and a democratic side. This is an issue (depending again on whether or not the executive branch is acting upon the signing statements) about the constitution. Does the president have to follow it or not?
When GOP congressional leaders, like Bill Frist, take up the side of the president - they are by action suggesting that parts of the Constitution no longer guide our system of government. And they are doing so WITHOUT following the guidelines set forth by the Constitution to change the constitution. There is a Constitutional Amendment process that requires a high degree of agreement across the country in order to change the Constitution.
In short, there is NO argument here - except whether or not the Constitution still guides our government. If and when this particular argument is made (that this is just more of the same old political games and partisanship) it is important to point out what is being implied: that following the Constitution is now a republican (no longer have to follow it) vs democratic (have to follow it) thing.
Seriously, the only question/response that has any legitimacy, is the one that was first raised when the issue came to light by Savage in the Boston Globe. This is the question that Sen. Spector should be pursuing: "How are the signing statements acting, functionally, in the administration's execution of laws passed by Congress (and signed by the President)?"
If the signing statements do not affect how the laws are carried out by the federal government, and instead simply function like a minority opinion in a Supreme Court case (that is they exist for advice and consultation in the future interpretation of laws in court cases), then really there is no serious Constitutional issue. There might be an issue as to whether or not this is appropriate, or as to whether or not they would actually used by the Courts to give equal weight with Congressional intent, but this does not make for a potential constitutional crisis.
If, however, these statements layout how the executive branch of government is carrying out laws - in defiance of congressionally passed (and presidentially signed) laws/wording, then the President and federal government are acting outside of the Constitution. In this case their actions will have nullified a major part of the provisions of the balance of powers granted by the Constitution.
A more snide person might then ask, if a President legislates by Executive Order, and willfully nullifies laws passed by Congress, then what role is congress playing? Oversight? Can one have oversight if the resultant laws are negated by executive signing statements? Budgetary/Purse Strings? If the current Congress hands over in full (or excess) any budget item requested, is it acting in any way beyond symbolic? Is it really functioning at all? Is Bill Frist, in his support of the administration's wanton use of Signing Statements, really acting in a way to nullify the role of Congress to the govt? An even more snide person might suggest that this is quite an interesting position to take as leader of the Senate who is not running for reelection in order to make a run for the White House. Opportunism? Or just really bad politics?
Back to the point at hand. The spin around countering the issue of signing statements is starting to mount. Personally, I can't think of a better time for this issue to fully enter the public's conscience, than just before a major congressional election.
So - amid the spin a new question for republican congressmen and senators arises: The Constitution - are you for it or against it?
recently. I took pictures, felt chills, and cried.
The ridiculous and callous approach of Bushco, from the first days of their 'ascendancy' into power, was to do "everything the opposite of Clinton." Regardless of the policy.
Perhaps they bought into the far-right radio spew that the only reason that Clinton became heavily invested in trying to broker lasting peace and moving toward a solution in the Middle East was "for his legacy". See, EVERYTHING, in the simpleton-rw-sloganeer's rhetoric is about THEM. According to their bs at the time, they had done such a great job tarnishing Clinton, that the only thing he had left (because the economy was in shambles and the reputation of the US was discredited internationally... NOT), was to chase a 'legacy'. It couldn't be a long view, that stability in the Middle East was vital - and a valid foreign policy goal. NO it was all for self-aggrandizement of Clinton- according to Limbaugh etc. Thus teambushTM was FORCED to drop the initiative, and indeed do nothing.
Heck, when Sharon marched into Ramallah on Easter Weekend, Bush sulked a day or so before making any public statement, and when he made a statement (sitting sulkily in his 'ranch' in Crawford)... he wove in pro-Iraq war sentiment... setting the stage for one of the more ridiculous arguments for going to war in Iraq (something that his administration had not yet disclosed to the public that they were planning) - "that the road to Peace in the Middle East, ran through Baghdad." Then, after some very brief intervention (sending a highly decorated military general - who was later publicly canned and maligned by Bushco by suggesting the war in Iraq that team bush was panting after - might not be wise, and might cost a heckofalot more than bushco was claiming) - teambush simply walked away. To do nothing. To once in a while rattle the symbolic saber, but to do nothing.
Now in some odd incoherent rambling, bush claims that he has had a policy all along (and thus it must be GOOD). It wasn't really "do the opposite of Clinton, for the sake of doing the opposite of Clinton" - as it appeared. It was thoughtful and intentional (yikes). NOW, according to jr., he has asserted that earlier efforts were sham peace - just negotiating for quiet periods... not really working toward a solution - and that HIS approach (er - the 'do nothing approach') really is the right one, because somehow doing nothing is geared toward addressing root issues (wtf?) that would eventually end up in REAL peace.
As I stood looking at the buildings where the Oslo Peace Accord was hammered out. I grew deeply sad. The efforts, granted had flaws, at the time held the promise of a new beginning point which could lead to some resolution - the hope of a solution and lasting coexistence and peace.
Now as things have spiraled out of control - as I recall standing looking at the buildings - I am angry at the ridiculous rhetoric of the right-wing media at the time that was geared to dismiss the efforts. I grow furious at the intentional neglect of jr. And I find the current, unintelligible explanation of the boyking that attempts to differentiate his "righteous" (and clearly so successful :eyeroll: ) policies from those of Clinton, reckless.
As I remember standing across the street, thinking wistfully of what could have grown from those beginnings - my heart grows heavy. We are far passed lost opportunities. It is hard to imagine that there was a point in time in recent history, where there was hope for peace in the Middle East. Sadly, I don't see it being possible while this crowd is at the helm here - with their habit of throwing kerosene onto incendiary situations.
I look forward to a day in the future, going back to that spot in the road. I look forward to again getting chills as I think about the beginnings for hope for peace and resolution - that at that point in the future are finally realized.
"You may say that I'm a dreamer, But I'm not the only One"... (J Lennon)
May this dream only be delayed/deferred - and not completely destroyed.
All this said, while folks here are currently divided over the actions and atrocities (whether they have been avoidable or not) unfolding, I hope that we can agree on the noble goal of peace and resolution - and keep an eye on that common dream.
There are a few academics who were quoted in the original Boston Globe story about the Signing statements (the one that first pointed out the more than 750 times). A couple of them have studied signing statements made by president's over the years. Find their names, and through their Univerisities find their faculty email address. Write to them (politely, of course) and let them know that you have been trying to become informed about the content of signing statements (your example of comparing those of Bush and Clinton), but the access point to find them that you use, no longer seems to work in terms of finding the signing statements. Call their attention to this, and ask them if they are able to find the signing statements through another avenue? If they use other avenues, and those are also seemingly scrubbed, than i would contact the original writer of the Globe story and tell him what you are discovering.
Sadly I have very limited time for follow-up, and limited net access for the short term, or I would do this as well. Given the energy that you are clearly already devoting to this (thank you for doing so!), perhaps you would be willing to pursue the avenue I suggest above?
Thanks for bringing this to our attention. I read your post and gasped. It would be beyond the pall if this is the case. This is more than 'secrecy'. This is an administration trying to centralize power in ways that make congress (and the courts) more and more irrelevant. If the existence of these statements of intent (how the Admin believes the law should be interpretted) can not be read, than it can not be determined whether or not they are acting on them, and acting against the laws passed by Congress, and then there can be no Court review. The signing statements themselves, seem to throw us into a Constitutional Crisis - however with the ability to check to see if/how the laws are actually being administered (the claim by the right is bush is just stating a contrary opinion, not that he is acting on it and thus there is no constitutional crisis) - is important. If these documents disappear as well, we might as well live in a dictatorship. The term 'coup' that was thrown around in 2000 at the point of the Supreme Court ruling in Bush vs Gore - takes on stronger and stronger implications. With that in mind, I hope that the documents in question have just been moved - and are still able to be found rather than having been scrubbed.
Thanks again for sharing and pursuing this.
IOW, the extra-constitutional activities of the administration in asserting powers not granted by the Constitution - are done under the Vice President, who has even less authority according to the Constitution. Or am I missing something here?
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