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Monday, March 31, 2008

Here we go again (2nd post in one day, too!)

Hud chief resigns amid criminal probe (don'tcha just love this Bush Administration?)

By PETE YOST, Associated Press Writer 1 minute ago

HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson, his tenure tarnished by allegations of political favoritism and a criminal investigation, announced his resignation Monday amid the wreckage of the national housing crisis.

He leaves behind a trail of unanswered questions about whether he tilted the Department of Housing and Urban Development toward Republican contractors and cronies.

The move comes at a shaky time for the economy, with soaring mortgage foreclosures imperiling the nation's credit markets.

In announcing that his last day at HUD will be April 18, Jackson said only, "There comes a time when one must attend more diligently to personal and family matters."

Some Congressional Democrats had pushed for him to leave.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton said that while Jackson's resignation is "appropriate, it does nothing to address the Bush administration's wait-and-don't-see posture to our nation's housing crisis."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said HUD will be called on to work with Congress on assisting refinancing for borrowers faced with imminent foreclosure.

The ethical allegations against Jackson "meant that the Bush administration's ineffective housing policies were being burdened by an even more ineffective HUD Secretary," Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said after Jackson's announcement.

President Bush called Jackson "a strong leader and a good man." Ties between the two men go back to the 1980s when they lived in the same Dallas neighborhood. It was Jackson's personal ties to Bush that brought him to Washington, where he displayed a forceful personal style at HUD for seven years, first as the agency's No. 2 official and since 2004 in the top slot.

Despite a strong commitment to housing for those in need, Jackson was capable of ill-advised public comments.

Last year, after the subprime mortgage crisis erupted, many policymakers underlined the disproportionate impact of the high-risk, high-cost mortgages on minorities and the elderly, who often are targets of predatory lending practices that lure people into loans they are incapable of repaying.

Asked about the problems with subprime mortgages last June, Jackson insisted that many such borrowers were not unsophisticated, low-income people but what he called "Yuppies, Buppies and Guppies" — well-educated, young, black and gay upwardly mobile achievers — with expensive cars who bought $400,000 homes with little or no money down.

In announcing his departure, Jackson said that in his time at HUD, "We have helped families keep their homes. We have transformed public housing. We have reduced chronic homelessness. And we have preserved affordable housing and increased minority homeownership."

Bush has been cool to the idea of a big federal housing rescue. "The temptation of Washington is to say that anything short of a massive government intervention in the housing market amounts to inaction," the president said recently. "I strongly disagree with that sentiment."

On Monday on his way out of the country for a trip built around a NATO summit, Bush said he wants Congress to modernize HUD's Federal Housing Administration, allowing more struggling homeowners to refinance their mortgages.

In October, the National Journal first reported on the criminal investigation of Jackson. The FBI has been examining the ties between Jackson and a friend who was paid $392,000 by Jackson's department as a construction manager in New Orleans. Jackson's friend got the job after Jackson asked a staff member to pass along his name to the Housing Authority of New Orleans.

In another instance of alleged favoritism that came to light in February, the Philadelphia housing authority alleges that Jackson retaliated against the agency because it refused to award a vacant lot worth $2 million to soul-music producer-turned-community developer Kenny Gamble for redevelopment of a public housing complex.

Jackson's problems began in 2006, when he told a group of commercial real estate executives that he had revoked a contract because the applicant who thanked him said he did not like President Bush. Jackson later told investigators "I lied" when he made the remark about taking back the contract.

The probe of Jackson's comment by the HUD inspector general ended with no action taken against him, but the investigators brought to light friction between the HUD secretary and some contractors who have long done business with the agency, a number of them donors to Democrats. On Monday, the IG's office said it had seen Jackson's latest remarks and "there is nothing more that we can add."

In the IG probe, some of Jackson's own aides contradicted his account of one incident in which investigators found the HUD secretary had blocked a contract for several months to one heavily Democratic donor. Jackson blamed his aides for the delay in the award.

Jackson was the first black leader of the housing authority in Dallas, where his integration efforts caused clashes with some local homeowners in predominantly white neighborhoods.


Associated Press writers Marcy Gordon, Ben Feller, Hope Yen and Devlin Barrett contributed to this report

Copyright © 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.
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Sunday, March 30, 2008


There are a few things I will never understand.

The first is Blacks or African-Americans in the United States who would be Republican--or politically conservative, for that matter. The Republicans once again showed their true colors in the last year, when they put off, almost permanently, the reenactment of the Voting Rights Bill. They didn't want to renew it. Fortunately, too much public opinion was against them and they weren't great enough in number in Congress. What more evidence would you need, given all the rest that is available from this Party? When they ran candidates for President this year, 12 middle-aged and older rich white males stood up. That's it. It's the party of the rich. It's the party of the corporation. It's certainly not the party of the downtrodden, neglected, denied, discriminated or disadvantaged.

A secong thing I don't understand is any person of not great means becoming a Republican. I can see being Conservative, especially fiscally Conservative--wanting to keep government small and out of citizen's lives but that's it. The whole thing where a great deal of Democrats became "Reagan Republicans" will forever baffle me. This seems, clearly, as a way to understand it, as a way of being "in the in crowd" for fashion's sake, just to be part of the greater whole. If that's the case, it's sad. Really sad.

Another thing I don't understand is any gay, homosexual, lesbian or transgendered person who could possibly be a member of the Republican Party, unless they're just rich, selfish, stupid or self-hating. The Republicans, Conservatives and Christian right has made it extremely clear that they aren't just against this group--they hate them, make no mistake. The evidence is, again, overwhelming. Forget that there are at least 300 species in nature (God's creation, if you're so inclined) and that homosexuality in humans transcends humankind down through time. These people think it's a new, degenerate choice that is against all that is right and good and they'll have nothing of it. And a gay person wants to be a part of that? Are you kidding me?

Another? Churches in the last decade getting "in bed" and colluding with the Republican Party doesn't make any sense. Sure, they've gotten their "faith-based initiatives" nonsense--and then got stabbed in the back by this current White House, from the "back room". The Republican Party and Big Business have so totally used these people and groups for their own big money uses, purely and simply. It was a smarter, more noble world, when the part of the Bible about a wealthy man having the chance of going to heaven, like that of a camel going through the eye of a needle, paraphrased. Where did that go? That's been completely, totally, almost irrevocably lost and no one remembers or laments it--but me, it would seem.

The last thing I don't understand is any Jew wanting to be a Nazi. Oh, yeah, but that never happens.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Fascinating new developments

Fascinating. Really. Are you watching this?

News just out this morning: The Fed is extending 100 more billion dollars to the banks come April, to "combat the effects of a credit crisis." You can see the whole article on Yahoo here:

First, of course, is the figure of an additional 100 billion dollars, for its sheer size. But there's much more to it than that.

With all these "fixes", most all of them by the Fed, though one of them, at least, proposed months ago by the private banks, is the fact that these huge amounts of money have to be extended, repeatedly, by the bank to the banks. It's extremely large, let's not pretend otherwise.

What that tells us is that the problems are extremely large, naturally. But, at the same time, I think the Fed and the media, both, are doing a magnificent job of not panicking or suggesting that you and I, the average "Joe" on the street, should be concerned in any way.

Let me say again, fascinating.

They need the situations handled and looked after, of course, but the last thing they want to do is create a "panic for the exits". This is a pretty fantastic balancing act. And since the man on the street isn't really paying attention--yet, anyway--it's been successful. If they can just keep up the preemptive solutions--without breaking the national bank--but also keep people from worrying or over-reacting too much or getting emotional or, worst, getting irrational, then they can bring this broken plane in for a landing.

God, I hope it's a soft one.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Back to more important things

Time magazine has two terrific articles out just now. One is by a soldier in Iraq, about the meaning of 4,000 soldiers dead due to the Iraq war. It's very poignant. You can find it at the following link:,8599,1725642,00.html

And the other, second article quotes Senator and Presidential Candidate John McCain as saying we need to "collaborate more with allies." You'll find it here:,8599,1725541,00.html

I'm more moved by the first, soldier's article, of course, but find this second one fascinating, too, because, if you'll recall, Senator John Kerry was "shot down", forgive the image, 4 years ago when he was running for President for saying just this. "Too wimpy" it was said. Too soft.

How far we've come. Now we think, after all this time and all the soldier's deaths and all the billions of dollars and materiel we've wasted--along with blowing up and destroying a country, only to have to put it back together--when we finally come back around to realizing that maybe talking with our allies was a good idea after all.

And not wimpy.

Watching PBS' "Frontline" series Monday and Tuesday night should have been required for all American citizens this week so we could all know where this Iraq war came from, what it's done and who's been responsible for what, including the lies and misrepresentations.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Careful what you wish for...

At 51 years, I'd not yet ridden on a train. The older I got, the more I made sure to announce this, at the appropriate time (I'm sure), should the topic come up.

Like seeing Paris (not) or travelling Europe, I thought it something important I should absolutely do. And the sooner, the better. It had to be fun and wonderful and thoroughly romantic and exciting. Right?

I should have given it more logical thought.

Being trapped on just a few train cars with Americans, alone, should have given me obvious pause. Far too obvious. And then stuck with them for hours? Waaaayyyy too obvious. With nowhere else to go? No escaping loud, boisterous people? What a fool I was.

The thing about being on a train in America today is that, for the period of time they are on these cars, the space becomes their living room--and we're all along for the ride. Everyone else is just a strange visitor that they can--and do--ignore. Want to take off your shoes? Go ahead! Little one want to run up and down the aisle the whole trip? No problem! Want to stop him? Certainly not his parents!

Is it just me or are we all raised, young, in one era so you grow up with those earlier, stricter rules, standards and expectations, only to assume the world will live up to them later in that same life? I think it's universal but, unless we're careful, we forget that that much earlier time--and its rules--are long gone. It's no wonder people want to stay home more, the older they get. Sure, there are the physical aches and pains of travel as you age that might make you want to stay home--and then there's missing your own bed--and the peace and quiet of home. But more than anything, I think, there is the over-arching desire to not have to put up with the rest of the world's noise and needs (read: crap). We get convinced we're right and that we understand the world and, finally, that the rest of humanity is wrong, misguided, loud and obnoxious.

It gets frustrating.

It can get maddening.

And then there's the fact that the trains are run by the US government. Yi. They are poorly run, for sure. They are dirty--inside and out. They are late. They are wildly inconsistent. One conductor runs the train his way. Another, completely his own and they don't have anything in common, for instance.

So, then, we are forced to be what we don't want to be. Forced to have what we either don't have or don't want to have--that is, patient and patience.

It reminds me of an old cartoon I saw years ago. Two vultures are seen sitting in a tree. One turns to the other and says "Patience my ass. I'm gonna' kill something."

That said, I did have a good time on the trip. Can you believe it? I just don't want to go by train in the United States again.

Now, the Orient Express--that's a different matter entirely.

Monday, March 17, 2008

From Michael, yesterday

I was reading tonight a website about the economic crisis. There was a statistic that helped me to realize how something like a crisis in home mortgages could trigger this whole economic crisis. Wrap your mind around this statistic: "Sonoma County borrowers pulled $8.3 billion out of their homes over the past five years, taking out more than 162,000 equity lines, according to estimates by Moody's"

Read that again. In just one county in California, ONE COUNTY! 8.3 billion dollars in home equity loans. And these aren't even mortgages, just home equity loans!!! So how much in all of California? I don't know, but one can extrapolate. Granted Sonoma County is a wealthy county just north of San Francisco, but think how many hundreds of billion of dollars in home equity loans must have been taken out in California in the past five years. And they're going bad! In addition to the subprime mortgages, liar loans, interest only loans, etc. You're starting to talk serious money. This statistic about one county helped me to understand how much money is involved and why it is taking down these financial giants.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Where did THAT come from?

Okay, it's history in the minds of most Americans now, if they noticed at all, but at the end of the week, if you were paying attention, you saw where, seemingly all of a sudden to us, the man on the street, Bear/Stearns, the huge New York investment bank all of a sudden had what was described--seemingly accurately--as a "depression-era style" run on the bank.

Holy cow.

Who saw that coming?

I heard it had been rumored for a while but if it was, it must have only been in the halls of financial institutions.

This is HUGE.

Who knew they were not only in trouble but BIG trouble? Sure the Fed and JP Morgan have stepped in and sort of cleaned up the mess but this creates big questions to be answered.

For one, how much is this gonna cost you and me, to clean up? How many millions of tax dollars are going to be needed to make this go away? Any? Lots? Not many? What? How much?

And for the much bigger picture, since we have heard rumors--many more, and bigger, but somewhat similar rumors--about Citibank being in either the same or worse trouble: is Citibank next? If not, why not? Can we be sure of that? And if so, why? Why would they be in good shape when we've heard differently out here and when Bear-Stearns--and others--have been or are in trouble? What can we believe? What do we know? What do we not know? What do we need to know? And we want--and need--to know it all and FAST, thank you.

And so, that begs more of the same questions about virtually all other financial institutions in the United States. Who's in trouble? Who isn't? What needs to be done? What's going to be done? Is anyone driving this bus?

And that seems to be the question I'm personally left with, time and again. That is, who's driving this bus? Who's in control? What are they doing? What are they going to do? Where are we going?

This comes straight out of this financial/subprime loans/financial institutions mess but can also be directly related to our situation in Iraq, don't you think? We know how we got here, of that we're sure. But, given that, where are we now? And, more importantly, what do we do now? How long are we going to be in Iraq? What's the plan? Is there a plan? I get the feeling that there isn't one. I get the feeling the press doesn't think there's a plan. I get the feeling that most of America doesn't think there's a good, intelligent, viable, affordable plan.

We all agree we can't go on sending American Troops overseas forever, even if we think they should have been sent there in the first place (which is pretty unbelievable to me, personally, but that's my opinion, though, God knows I'm anything but alone).

We also, I think, agree, as a country, that we shouldn't be putting money and materiel into the Middle East forever.

Did I say shouldn't? Hell, can't. We CAN'T keep putting our money into Iraq interminably. That makes no sense at all. There's too many things we can't afford already.

So, that said, we don't have a plan, right? We agree on that?

Well, for the further, last step, let's ask who's asking the questions? Who's asking what our plan is? Congress? Nope, I don't think so. It's an election year. They're busy or afraid to stir up any mess or both.

The media? Are they asking what the plan is? Again, a resounding no. They're asking whether Geraldine Ferraro is a racist. You know, the important questions. They're focused on the election of the next President (sort of). They can't be bothered.

So I say let's start asking the big questions, folks. Let's ask. Let's ask what we're doing in Iraq RIGHT NOW and what are we going to do in the future? Where are we headed? Oh, and how about "what makes sense for the country and the world?", while we're at it.

Surely someone out there has some ideas. And, God willing, answers.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Sobering thoughts to start the weekend

It just keeps gettnig better and better, doesn't it? (Read: worse and worse).

I had heard all the data and statistics already so I knew this stuff was out but still, it's pretty sobering, what the media reported today.

For one, there were "record" job cuts of 63,000 people from businesses last month. Yow. That hurt. (Frankly, I wish the media wouldn't even call it a "record job cut"--just say 63,000 people lost their jobs and don't put a headline on it. Not that it's the media's fault, don't misunderstand).

And two, Warren Buffett is now the top billionaire in the world, according to Forbe's Magazine.

No, I really am using that as levity. That is NOT the second-most important business article of the day. The information behind that headline is, though. Check this out:

In 2006, half of the top 20 billionaires in the world on Forbes Magazine's list were Americans.

Got that? Half. Fifty-percent.

Last year? One year later?


(Yes, that's f-o-u-r).

Another yow.

My reason is pointing this out is, yes, obvious on the face of it. Sure, fewer Americans are in the top 20 billionaires.

So what, right?

This isn't a "pity party", as my brother would say. And certainly not a sympathy gathering for the uber-wealthy.

My point is, the money is flowing OUT of the country and INTO others. Google "Dubai" if you haven't already. That's one of the biggest. Do a search for Exxon-Mobil's profits for the last 2 years. That's another. Check out China's growth for the last several years. You know where to look.

It ain't pretty, folks.

If it's hurting the uber-wealthy, it's gonna' really hurt those of us down here, eh?

And we've just started.

This is the top of the roller-coaster, I think, where you take that first, big, comforting deep breath. And then...

(I'd be happy to be--and hope I am--wrong).

Thursday, March 6, 2008

A Sign Of The Times

This comes from

Professor Depew is writing The Wrong Company for the Wrong Times.

There are perhaps few companies more directly associated with positive social mood and the long-running bull market than Sharper Image (SHRP). Yesterday the company filed for bankruptcy protection, citing declining sales and profitability.

With more than 180 retail stores, half of which the company will close, it would be easy to dismiss the company's descent into bankruptcy as simply another case of a company failing to adapt to a shifting retail environment fueled by changing consumer shopping behavior and online sales functionality; a sign of the times. Indeed, it may yet be a "sign of the times," but what sign, and of which times?

Sharper Image was born in San Francisco in 1977 as a catalog company selling jogging watches. Within 10 years the company emerged as a publicly traded pioneer in catalog shopping.

Now there is a good chance the company will forever rest beneath a granite-engraved epitaph portraying it as an iconic retailer of nothing but bull market frivolity; automatic massage chairs, vacuuming robots, turbo-charged nosehair trimmers, digital breath alcohol analyzers, whatever you don't need, whenever you don't need it, at prices you couldn't care less about because, hey, if you need to ask how much an electric peppermill that you don't need or want costs, you probably can't afford it anyway.

Sharper Image stores and products have always been busy, frenetic, mirroring a busy and frenetic social experience and the happy optimism of a bright social mood. Of course we need turbo-charged nosehair trimmers; or more precisely, of course we want turbo-charged nosehair trimmers. They're nosehair trimmers. And they're turbo.

Unfortunately, those days of consumer gadget frivolity are quickly fading, a victim of darkening social mood; confusion, lack of control and insecurity force changes in our perceptions that manifest externally as spacial reductions, limitations, the stripping away of clutter and excess that feels heavy, like a weight, like debt.

The new Sharper Image, the right company for the right time, would likely be a company devoted to a single product sold with a minimalist aesthetic via an old-fashioned medium, like, perhaps a company that sells jogging watches through magazine ads. Sounds familiar.

As I stare in amazement at products like the JumpSnap Ropeless Jump Rope I am wondering, How the heck did I ever get along without that? But somehow, as social moods have changed, it's no longer cool to be sharp.

Professor Depew had this take on sharper images and social mood:

One of the oft-discussed themes here in the 'Ville is the change in social moods the unwinding of our debt-based economy is likely to cause. Indeed, consumers' refusal to purchase ropeless jump ropes and other superfluous, overpriced gadgets shows this shift is already occurring.