Archive for the ‘deceit’ category

Thrice Before Cock Crow

July 31, 2016

Donald Trump, back when life was just tyrants and skittles:

“I do have a relationship, and I can tell you that he’s very interested in what we’re doing here today,” Trump told Roberts, when asked about his relationship with Putin. “He’s probably very interested in what you and I are saying today and I’m sure he’s going to be seeing it in some form. But I do have a relationship with him and I think it’s very interesting to see what’s happened…

…I mean look, he’s done a very brilliant job in terms of what he represents and what he’s representing,” Trump said. “If you look at what he’s done with Syria, if you look at so many of the different things, he has really eaten our president’s lunch, let’s not kid ourselves.”

Donald Trump this morning:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let’s talk about Russia. You made a lotta headlines with Russia this week. What exactly is your relationship with Vladimir Putin?

TRUMP: I have no relationship with Putin. I have no relationship with Putin.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But if you have no relationship with Putin, then why did you say, in 2013, “I do have a relationship,” in 2014, “I spoke–”

TRUMP: Because he has said nice things about me over the years. I remember years ago, he said something, many years ago, he said something very nice about me. I said something good about him when Larry King was on. This was a long time ago. And I said, “He is a tough cookie,” or something to that effect. He said something nice about me. This has been going on. We did 60 Minutes together, by the way, not together together…

To his credit, The Clinton Guy Shocked By Blowjobs (™ Charles Pierce, but too damn good not to steal) pressed the Incompressible Jizztrumpet* just a wee bit on that bit of revisionist Trumpismo:

STEPHANOPOULOS: But– I– I just wanna clear this up. Because you did say, on three different occasions, you had a relationship with him. Now you say there’s none.

TRUMP: Well, I don’t know what it means by having a relationship…

Stephanopoulos asked Trump three times in all to square that circle, and by interview’s end, the mangled apricot hellbeast seemed to realize he had a bit of a problem, leading to this weak finish to the line begun above with “Well, I don’t know…”

I didn’t meet him. I haven’t spent time with him. I didn’t have dinner with him. I didn’t– go hiking with him. I don’t know– I– I wouldn’t know him from Adam except I see his picture, and I would know what he looks like.

rembrandt peter christ

Beyond looking on in awe at the sheer speed and volume of Trump’s lies (a strength to date, but, I’m coming to think, a growing liability in the general election phase), there’s the meat of the interview, and his attempt to have it both ways on the Ukraine and Crimea:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Then why did you soften the GOP platform on Ukraine?

TRUMP: I wasn’t involved in that. Honestly, I was not involved.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Your people were.

TRUMP: Yes. I was not involved in that. I’d like to — I’d have to take a look at it. But I was not involved in that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you know what they did?

TRUMP: They softened it, I heard, but I was not involved.

STEPHANOPOULOS: They took away the part of the platform calling for the provision of lethal weapons to Ukraine to defend themselves.

Why is that a good idea?

TRUMP: Well, look, you know, I have my own ideas. He’s not going into Ukraine, OK?

Just so you understand. He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right?

You can mark it down and you can put it down, you can take it anywhere you want.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, he’s already there, isn’t he?

TRUMP: OK, well, he’s there in a certain way, but I’m not there yet. You have Obama there. And frankly, that whole part of the world is a mess under Obama, with all the strength that you’re talking about and all of the power of NATO and all of this, in the meantime, he’s going where — he takes — takes Crimea, he’s sort of — I mean…

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you said you might recognize that.

TRUMP: I’m going to take a look at it. But, you know, the people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were. And you have to look at that, also.

Now, that was under — just so you understand, that was done under Obama’s administration. And as far as the Ukraine is concerned, it’s a mess. And that’s under the Obama’s administration, with his strong ties to NATO.

So with all of these strong ties to NATO, Ukraine is a mess. Crimea has been taken. Don’t blame Donald Trump for that.

The key soundbite, of course, is “The people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were.”

There’s more:  Stephanopoulos’s failure to press Trump on taxes (the Weasel-headed Fucknugget trotted out the audit excuse again, and Stephanopoulus let it pass); Trump’s claim he has no business ties to Russia, no debt, the claim “I’m so liquid, I don’t need debt,” and the truly bold lie, “If I need debt, if I want debt, I can get it from banks in New York City very easily.”  Err, not so much. Note also that Trump’s sole remaining big-bank lender isn’t exactly robust.)

All of which is to say that while Capt. Khan’s parents make the overarching argument against Trump the person as president, this Russia stuff, and the question of who owns Donald Trump is the drip, drip, drip tale that reminds us that Trump the policy-maker poses a clear and present danger to American and global security.

In IOW, my friends, this interview is the sound of a story with legs.

*I find as I check the source that I misquoted yesterday’s invective.  It was Cheeto-faced, ferret wearing shitgibbon, not as I had it:  “Cheetos-faced, ferret-topped shitgibbon.  The singular cheeto is clearly better, but I think ferret-topped scans better, so there.

Image: Rembrandt van Rijn, St Peter’s Denial, 1660.  It will reward you to click on the link and look at a full rez version of this painting.  Jesus being led away in chains on the right whilst Peter goes “No, no, no….” in glorious chiaroscuro.

Advertisements

What Does The Fox Say? (Zombie Goebbels Is Taking Notes Edition)

December 22, 2014

No, I don’t think that title is hyperbole.

Via Talking Points Memo, here’s how a Fox affiliate “informs” its viewers:

A Fox affiliate in Baltimore aired a segment on Sunday showing footage from a “Justice For All” demonstration in Washington, D.C. in which it edited a chant to sound like protestors were shouting “kill a cop.”

“At this rally in Washington, D.C. protestors chanted, ‘we won’t stop, we can’t stop, so kill a cop,'” the WBFF broadcast said.

But the full footage, flagged by Gawker on Monday via C-SPAN, revealed that the chant was “we won’t stop, we can’t stop, ’til killer cops are in cell blocks.”

On being caught lying on the air, this is how the station responded:

We aired part of a protest covered by CSPAN that appeared to have protesters chanting “kill a cop”. We spoke to the person in the video today and she told us that is not what she was chanting. Indeed, Tawanda Jones, says she was chanting, “We won’t stop ‘til killer cops are in cell blocks”. We invited Tawanda to appear on Fox45 News at 5:00 and Fox45 News at Ten tonight for an interview so we can discuss the video and the recent violence in New York City. She has kindly accepted and we will bring you that tonight.

This is, of course, a double-dip of the bullshit.  You can listen to the raw and edited clips at TPM.  When you do so, you’ll see that there’s nothing but a lie in the phrase “appeared to have protesters chanting “kill a cop”.”

The Fox affiliate in Baltimore edited audio to create a statement no one said, one certain to inflame anger.  Most important, as the GOP-led bullshit hailstorm around “anti-cop rhetoric” begins to founder on the fact that people like DiBasio, Holder and Obama didn’t utter any, audio like this provides an answer to folks like me and many here.

We say “show us this anti-cop stuff.”  Give us links that plausibly tie those of us who argue that cops have been shown to be able to use excess force with impunity to the deaths of those two officers in Brooklyn.

They say, “let’s go to the videotape.”  Which they manufacture.

Fox 45 Baltimore is a local broadcast station.  As such, it is subject to licensing by the FCC.  Once upon a time, it might have been possible to mount at least a vaguely threatening challenge to its license renewal for sh*t like this.  The Reagan Revolution, aided by the GOP Congress under a Bill Clinton who did not wield a veto pen, has made that essentially impossible, while ensuring that broadcast TV will ever-increasingly belong to our oligarchs.

The FCC’s vision of the public interest standard ­ and how to achieve diverse programming — underwent a significant transformation in the 1980s. As new media industries arose and a new set of FCC Commissioners took office, the FCC made a major policy shift by adopting a marketplace approach to public interest goals. In essence, the FCC held that competition would adequately serve public needs, and that federally mandated obligations were both too vague to be enforced properly and too threatening of broadcasters’ First Amendment rights.(17) Many citizen groups argued that the new policy was tantamount to abandoning the public interest mandate entirely.

Pursuant to its marketplace approach, the FCC embarked upon a sweeping program of deregulation by eliminating a number of long-standing rules designed to promote program diversity, localism, and compliance with public interest standards. These rules included requirements to maintain program logs, limit advertising time, air minimum amounts of public affairs programming, and formally ascertain community needs.(18) The license renewal process — historically, the time at which a station’s public interest performance is formally evaluated — was shortened and made virtually automatic through a so-called “postcard renewal” process.(19) The FCC also abolished the Fairness Doctrine, which had long functioned as the centerpiece of the public interest standard.(20)

In 1996, Congress expanded the deregulatory approach of the 1980s with its enactment of the Telecommunications Act.(21) Among other things, the Act extended the length of broadcast licenses from five years to eight years, and instituted new license renewal procedures that made it more difficult for competitors to compete for an existing broadcast license. These changes affected the ability of citizens and would-be license applicants to critique (at license renewal time) a broadcaster’s implementation of public interest obligations. The 1996 Act also lifted limits on the number of stations that a single company could own, a rule that historically had been used to promote greater diversity in programming.

The results? Unsurprising:

The range of programming has expanded as the number of broadcasting stations and other media has proliferated over the past twenty years. Yet market forces have not necessarily generated the kinds of quality, non-commercial programming that Congress, the FCC and others envisioned.

In any event, it’s not clear to me that one false report would have cost anyone a license even in the good old days (get offa my lawn!) — but this one is egregious.  It’s shouting “Fire!” in an uningnited croweded theater.  It’s gasoline on the bonfire.  It’ s vicious and abhorrent.

And you know the worst thing.  I’m not nearly as surprised as I wish I were.

Forget it, Jake, it’s Fox.

[no pic today — recovering from minor surgery and can only concentrate in intervals — doing the pic search is a bridge too far.  Sorry]

 

Send in the Clowns: Upper Class Twit Edition

July 19, 2011

I cannot tell you with what malicious glee I read this in the Guardian.

That House has taken the unprecedented step of publishing a “cease and desist” letter on its website demanding that Lord Christopher Monckton, a prominent climate sceptic and the UK Independence party’s head of research, should stop claiming to be a member of the upper house.

The letter, sent by David Beamish, clerk of the parliaments, to Monckton last Friday and now published on the Lords’ website, states: “You are not and have never been a member of the House of Lords. Your assertion that you are a member, but without the right to sit or vote, is a contradiction in terms.”

His Lordship, for those of you not up on one of the sillier turns of the very serious business of climate denialism, is a former hack (in the British sense) who worked in Maggie Thatcher’s policy shop.

That experience, like his education fully prepared him for the job of analyzing the various technical disciplines that go into making climate change predictions.  Monckton possesses an MA in Classics from Cambridge (less impressive than it sounds: Cambridge awards MA’s to any BA who survives the completion of their undergraduate studies for for six years after matriculation), which accompanies his diploma in journalism studies from University College, Cardiff.

Undeterred by any possible lack of knowledge or technical training, Monckton has been one of the stars of the denialist circuit, and no wonder.  He’s a snappy dresser, he talks funny — in a good, Peter Wimsey kind of way, and, by gum, he’s a lord.

Of course, no one loves a lord more than the common folk who inhabit the (former) colonies…

…which is why he was the perfect figure for the Republicans on the Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support of the House Committee on Ways and Means to invite as their sole witness  to a hearing in 2009, during which he was slated to “debunk” the threat of anthropogenic climate change.

Of course, hilarity ensued.  Now Monckton has a famously thin skin — when you question his questionable “science” he threatens to sue.  And if you doubt his qualifications, why, he’s a member of the House of Lords.  A Peer. One born to rule.  Hemce  this exchange:

When asked by ABC Sydney’s Adam Spencer if he was a member, he said: “Yes, but without the right to sit or vote … [The Lords] have not yet repealed by act of parliament the letters patent creating the peerage and until they do I am a member of the house, as my passport records. It says I am the Right Honourable Viscount Monckton of Brenchley. So get used to it.”

Or not.  As the letter Mr. Beamish sent to the Second Viscount of Cloud-Cuckoo Land went on to say:

“I must therefore again ask that you desist from claiming to be a member of the House of Lords, either directly or by implication, and also that you desist from claiming to be a member ‘without the right to sit or vote’. I am publishing this letter on the parliamentary website so that anybody who wishes to check whether you are a member of the House of Lords can view this official confirmation that you are not.”

Monckton at this point can fairly be viewed as pathetic.  It’s reached the point where Monckton’s use of a thinly modified version of the emblem of the House of Lords is being examined to see if it is a breach of Britain’s trade mark protections — for which offense penalties can extend to six months in jail.

No sympathy here, or rather bucket-loads of vicious pleasure.  This, after all, is someone whose contempt for the hard work of actually mastering a complex technical field has lead him to advance positions that display reckless disregard for the health and wealth of billions.

Not to mention he’s the kind of asshole who would juxtapose the image of a climate scientist with whom he disagrees with that of a swastika.

So raise a glass to jeer at yet one more poster-child for the ills of a heriditary aristocracy.

<div align=”center”></div>

Image:  Joshua Reynolds, Portrait of Thomas Bruce Brudenell-Bruce, later 1st Earl of Ailesbury, in Peer’s Robes, 1776

Mr. President! We Must Not Allow a Gemeinschaft Gap!* (David Brooks Agonistes.)

April 18, 2011

Plenty of ink has been spilled on David Brooks channeling of poor little Paulie Ryan’s bruises. All of the scorn and ridicule is fair.  David Brooks is an innumerate hack propelled by some actual skill, but lots more good luck and well timed sychophancy into a position of influence in which he can do real damage.

But I don’t want Brooks’ jaw-dropping:”let’s do lunch” inanity to obscure the fact that the column as a whole is almost a type specimen of the kind of fundamental intellectual dishonesty that characterizes his work pretty much across the board.

My usual response to something like this would be roughly 4,000 words of high dudgeon.**  Real life intervenes however, to everyone’s benefit, so I’ll just hit a few of the high spots in a column so full of wrong it could power Sarah Palin’s teleprompter for a year.

The first, and in some ways the most significant failing in this piece actually does emerge in that “why won’t mean Obama coddle some guy who’s trying to kill everything his administration has done.”  The high Broderism is obvious — did anyone ever doubt that Brooks was going to grab for Broder’s mitre with all the ravenous zeal of a hyena in an abbatoir?

But the deeper problem lies with what Brooks reveals here of how he views his relationships with sources.

For many reasons I share with our own Aimai a reverence for I. F. Stone.  As she and I have discussed him off-line, one of Stone’s most significant attributes was his view of sources.  They were tools, in the neutral sense of the word…not friends, never people whose regard for you mattered.

Here’s Stone himself on how he did his job of conveying a world-view through facts:

My idea was to make the Weekly radical in viewpoint but conservative in format. I picked a beautiful type face, Garamond, for my main body type, and eschewed sensational headlines. I made no claim to inside stuff—obviously a radical reporter in those days had few pipelines into the government.  I tried to give information which could be documented so the reader could check it for himself. I tried to dig the truth out of hearings, official transcripts and government documents, and to be as accurate as possible. I also sought to give the Weekly a personal flavor to add humor wit and good writing to the Weekly report. I felt that if one were able enough and had sufficient vision one could distill meaning, truth and even beauty from the swiftly flowing debris of the week’s news.

For Brooks — not so much.

The implication running through his work, and certainly the offending column — at least as I read it — is that we, his readers, should accept Brooks’ authority because of his personal connection of Paul Ryan, that emotional understanding that enables Brooks to grasp Ryan’s (notional) interior life, his beliefs and motivations.

That’s not how its done. In fact, a desire to be welcomed and valued by the players condemns one to being played.  It’s a death sentence if your goal is to do journalism, to be someone who can recognize and reveal uncomfortable truths.  Once you care what the people whom you cover think of you, you’re finished.

In Brooks’ case, it seems to me that he consciously conspires in his own capture.  But even so, there are costs that he can’t avoid.   Much of what is stupid and wrong in his work (and there’s a lot of it) derives from the way he’s convinced himself that what he believes and feels is true, before or without ever delving into the facts behind the feelings.  His “friends” assure him of his wisdom, which seems to be good enough for him, and the result is that odd feeling of weightlessness and divorce-from-reality that threads through his increasingly forgettable work.

For some examples, just from this one column, let’s look at Brooks description of the five things that Paul Ryan believes.

First, he believes that aging populations, expensive new health care technologies and the extravagant political promises have made the current welfare state model unsustainable. Fundamental reform is necessary or the whole thing will collapse, here and in Europe.

Second, he believes that seniors and the middle class cannot be excused from the benefit cuts that will have to be imposed to rebalance these systems. Third, he believes that health care costs will not be brought under control until consumers take responsibility for their decisions and providers have market-based incentives to reduce prices.

Fourth, he believes that tax increases should not be part of these reforms because the economic costs outweigh the gains. Fifth, he does not believe government can nurture growth and reduce wage stagnation with targeted investments.

There is the overt problem that these “beliefs” are brought to us not from Ryan — no quotes, no links to speeches, no nothing — but rather from Brooks himself, playing the ventriloquist.  This is a conventional hack novelist’s trick:  you put all the best speeches — the ones that convey what you really think — into the mouth of the character you like best (see Galt, John, e.g.).

But beyond that, there is another conspicuous failure of writing and reasoning here.  It too turns on the word “believes.”

When Brooks uses that strategic term, he is saying that what matters is what Ryan accepts as true, not what is.

The moment one lets the spell of his easy-listening prose break, though, it becomes obvious that Brooks wants us to then draw real world conclusions based on these “beliefs.”  Once that shoe drops, it becomes clear that one can — and thus must — put Brooks’/Ryan’s claims to the harsh test of  empirical tests.

Which, because of reality’s well known liberal bias, is not pretty.

For example: until Ryan, and Brooks, can explain why the Scandinavian countries are able to deliver first class health care and outcomes at lower cost to all their population, the first of the Ryan articles of faith must be judged false.

You could say that the American system as currently organized cannot do so — that’s obviously true.  But that just shifts (or should) the question from deciding, as Ryan does, to whom to deny care (who to allow to die before their time) to the real issue:  how to advance the health care reform in this country begun last year to the point where we can approach the outcomes of our competitors.***

Note here one more bit of Brooks’ rhetorical trickery.  For four out of the five avowals in Ryan’s canon, Brooks stops with the one-line statement of faith.  Here, though, he adds a second sentence, presented as a declarative statement: “Fundamental reform is necessary or the whole thing will collapse, here and in Europe.”

Brooks might argue that it is clear from context that this not something he’s claiming himself — it’s still what Ryan believes.  But the effect of slipping a bald line like this into the midst of a list of contingent claims is to give that one statement more authority, and Brooks is too skilled a writer not to know this.  The point, of course, is to advance a claim not in evidence in the hopes that no one will ask him for its bona fides.

I’m asking…or rather I’m telling him that the collapse he predicts is far from being a law of nature.  “The math” tells us no such thing.

I’ll try to speed this all up from here.  Onto number 2 in Brooks’ version of the Ryan catechism, that the middle class and the old must sacrifice benefits (die early) to close the health care cost gap.  Really?  Actually, this is wrong in at least two ways.  First, as lots of folks have noted, there are a number of different paths to control deficits.  The choice is one of values, not, again, of “the math.”

Second, it once again conflates a fiscal issue with one of substantive policy:  there are approaches to containing cost that examine, for example, the incentive problems that arise from paying by the procedure and not the patient.  Here Brooks, using Ryan as his ventriloquist’s dummy, takes as given that the only path to cost control is a broad benefit cut.  Again, on the face of it, a lie.  (Note, I’m not saying that health policy alone can reduce the rate of medical inflation; just that the assertion that there is only viable approach to doing so — radical rationing (old poor people must die) — is based on nothing but ideology contradicted by experience.

And so on.  You can hit the same highlights with the other three:  all of them rely on assumptions not in evidence and are either contradicted or compromised by readily available data.  I won’t go through the exercise here, leaving that to you readers, and I’ll similarly skimp on the fictions on Brooks’ version of  Obama’s thinking, noting just one  deceit/howler.  He writes:

Obama does not believe in relying on market mechanisms to reduce health care costs. Instead, he would rely mostly on a board of technical experts, who would be given power to force their recommendations upon Congress.

Two things: note the asymmetry between “does not believe” and “would rely…on.”  It would be correct to say that Obama recognizes that market mechanisms are one tool to control health care costs — this is why, for example, he viewed health care exchanges as a critical element in the health care reform.  It would also be correct to say that Obama’s administration, like most Americans, understands that  the “market” in health care is so far from that economist’s spherical cow, the “free market,” as to require real regulation and oversight — in which that independent board would play an important role.  It is wrong to say that Obama’s administration sees that board as its primary tool for cost containment.

This cod-on-a-slab flopping around in an effort to paint an utterly economically conventional President as some socialist dupe highlights Brooks’ problem:   modern conservative economic, policy and social ideas are based on a religious commitment to a few revealed ideas.  To defend them is difficult-to-impossible if one actually does the work to see what, say, actually happens to revenues at different tax rates (number 4 in the theses that Ryan/Brooks nails to the door above).  So, if you are Paul Ryan you simply ignore the data of the last thirty years, and if you are David Brooks, you happily serve as an amplifier for such fictions in the service of the false narrative.

This is what makes Brooks such a disastrous member of our power-elite.  He is, he says, one of the vital “Hamiltonians, who believe, with Ryan, in market mechanisms to allocate resources and control costs and also, with Obama, in government’s ability to selectively nurture prosperity.”

In itself that sentence is an insult to poor Alexander Hamilton, whose grasp of English prose was sufficient to avoid contradicting himself in the space of a score of words or so.  But it’s real purpose is not to make sense, nor to make a meaningful historical connection.  Rather, it is, again, to put the willfully know-nothing Brooks in a position that the reader will accept as above the fray.

But facts do matter.  And that is why friends do not let friends get misled by David Brooks.

*See this:

<div align=”center”></div>

**So it’s roughly 2K.  Sue me.

***I’m not going to go medieval on the other sin Brooks commits here: conflating medical care for the aged and the disabled with “welfare” as it’s been popularly maligned.  Welfare has already been framed as theft by the (undeserving) poor (with all the overtones of race and crab-barrelling that form such a large part of the Koch-ist propaganda machine). Social insurance, available and availed on by all is something that the American people by a wide margin (unsurprisingly) tend to value.  The hope of the right is that such support could be undermined by the guilt-by-association burden that would come if somehow we could all be persuaded that the provision universal health care to the aged  is somehow going to lead to more moochers eating my steak or something.  Brooks is trading in such class/race war code words here, and should be ashamed of himself.  Which statement, of course, also contains an assumption not in evidence:  that Brooks possesses the capacity to experience that emotion.

Images:  Lovis Corinth, In the Slaughterhouse, 1893.

Caravaggio Saint Jerome, c. 1605-1606.

Time to Go Viral: Mark Twain Was Right/Eight False “Facts” On Which To Fight This Election

October 24, 2010

Via Digby, I came across Dave Johnson’s essential piece, “Eight False Things  The Public “Knows” Prior to Election Day.”

Here’s the link, and here’s the core of the post:

1) President Obama tripled the deficit.
Reality: Bush’s last budget had a $1.416 trillion deficit. Obama’s first budgetreduced that to $1.29 trillion.

2) President Obama raised taxes, which hurt the economy.
Reality: Obama cut taxes. 40% of the “stimulus” was wasted on tax cuts which only create debt, which is why it was so much less effective than it could have been.

3) President Obama bailed out the banks.
Reality: While many people conflate the “stimulus” with the bank bailouts, the bank bailouts were requested by President Bush and his Treasury Secretary, former Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson. (Paulson also wanted the bailouts to be “non-reviewable by any court or any agency.”) The bailouts passed and began before the 2008 election of President Obama.

4) The stimulus didn’t work.
Reality: The stimulus worked, but was not enough. In fact, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the stimulus raised employment by between 1.4 million and 3.3 million jobs.

5) Businesses will hire if they get tax cuts.
Reality: A business hires the right number of employees to meet demand. Having extra cash does not cause a business to hire, but a business that has a demand for what it does will find the money to hire. Businesses want customers, not tax cuts.

6) Health care reform costs $1 trillion.
Reality: The health care reform reduces government deficits by $138 billion.

7) Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, is “going broke,” people live longer, fewer workers per retiree, etc.
Reality: Social Security has run a surplus since it began, has a trust fund in the trillions, is completely sound for at least 25 more years and cannot legally borrow so cannot contribute to the deficit (compare that to the military budget!) Life expectancy is only longer because fewer babies die; people who reach 65 live about the same number of years as they used to.

8) Government spending takes money out of the economy.
Reality: Government is We, the People and the money it spends is on We, the People. Many people do not know that it is government that builds the roads, airports, ports, courts, schools and other things that are the soil in which business thrives. Many people think that all government spending is on “welfare” and “foreign aid” when that is only a small part of the government’s budget.

This stuff really matters.

Yes it does.  I stole as much as I did of Johnson’s work because it matters so very much.  Go to his place to read the whole thing.  Then steal it too.  Let’s make this thing go as viral as we can in the nine days we have left.  I’m just sick of this election turning on lies; I’m sick of our country being bought and sold on the cheap.  Time to hit the bad guys every way we can — the high road, with facts like these…and Aqua Buddha too, over and over again….

So:  I’m going to twitter this, I’m going to stick the reference in every open thread of the blogs I visit that I can, and I urge those of you with the stomach for the comment threads on the other side of the fence to post it there too.  Post it in comment threads at MSM newspapers, at the CNN sites and so on.  Maybe we can get someone who hasn’t quite lost their mind to the other side to read it, and vote accordingly.

BTW:  for those who aren’t up on your Mark Twain aphorisms/cliches, the reference in the title is to this quote:

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble.  It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.

That quote alone would make him the patron saint of much of what this blog is about — so in homage, this image:

Just a bit of homage, ya know.  Not bad for a man of 48.  I should look so good….

Image:  Mark Twain shirtless, c. 1883.

Lest We Forget: How The Banks Are REALLY Screwing Us In The Foreclosure Mess

October 23, 2010

Everyone, and I mean everyone you ought to be reading, has been working through the mechanics and the meaning of the foreclosure fraud being performed on the nation by our biggest banks.  For a quick overview, head on over to Rortybomb, just read your way down, and check out Naked Capitalism as well.  I promise you, once you start down the trail of links, you’ll have days of infuriating study ahead of you.

But for all the justified outrage at the simple disdain for the concept of property rights and the rule of law* there’s something else being missed here, something that astute observers have commented on, but that seems to be a bit obscured as we all, understandably, rubberneck in horror at the trainwreck that the major banks have made of the foreclosure process.

And that is that the entire foreclosure endeavor is in fact a huge imposed cost on American homeowners and our economy; it almost certainly runs against the long-term interests of the financial system as whole, whatever the incentives may be for individual companies (and it may well be a long term fail for many of the short-term beneficiaries as well).  Foreclosure as it is being practiced now is likely to be a net negative for homeowners now, to the point that subsidizing in some way those who got into trouble is economically rational, even if it might be galling to those who’ve paid up and gone about their business.

At least, that’s how I read this paper by John Campbell and Stefanio Giglio and my MIT colleague Parag Pathak, “Forced Sales and House Prices.”  It uses an ingenious trick to isolate the implications of forced foreclosure sales for prices of both the foreclosed home and nearby properties by tracking such sales in comparison with other forced sales, like those that follow the death of an owner.

Their results are of a sort fairly common in applied or empirical economics:  quantifications of the seemingly obvious.  Foreclosed properties sell at a deep discount to their local markets and in doing so, drive down the values and sales prices of nearby homes.  Money quote:

We find that foreclosures predict lower prices for houses located less than 0.25 mile, and particularly less than 0.1 mile away. Although foreclosures and prices are both endogenous variables, the fact that foreclosures lead prices at such short distances does reinforce the concern that foreclosures have negative external effects in the housing market. Our preferred estimate of the spillover effect suggests that each foreclosure that takes place 0.05 miles away lowers the price of a house by about 1%.

Not the sexiest prose in the history of styli and tablets, I’ll admit, but the point is clear enough: this study found that foreclosures sell at 27% discount to the unforced sale price, and that the loss to the seller (the foreclosing banks) is compounded by a loss to every homeowner in the neighborhood.

As foreclosures mount, that loss grows — and, the study found, such effects are often concentrated in lower-priced neighborhoods, which is to say that when scum like those dispossessing Kirk use fraud and deceit (advising him to skip a payment to start up the loan modification process, only to use the action taken on that advice to begin the process of seizing Kirk’s home) — and thus maximize their short term return by dragging out a foreclosure process, they are imposing a charge on every homeowner and every bank lending on homes in Kirk’s neighborhood.

Expand your view to the country as a whole and you see that over the last decade, the banks lent recklessly, leveraged insanely, and then resorted to a range of unsavory-to-illegal manouvers to limit exposure to the consequences of decisions that, taken altogether, effectively bankrupted the US and much of the world’s financial system.

They have received enormous sums to prevent an overt bankruptcy, and in response have pursued tactics that do untold harm to thousands, perhaps millions of American citizens as they foreclose on the properties they recklessly exposed themselves to over the last several years.  As they pursue those foreclosures, those banks have both deceitfully tripped some homeowners into default (see Kirk, above) while performing multiple frauds and failures to proceed in a legal fashion in a sequence of actions that looks suspiciously like a fee-maximizing game of delay.

In  so doing our financial lords and masters harm us all by slashing yet further the value not only of homes in default, but those of hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of homeowners who had nothing to do with either the bad loans in the first place or the foreclosure fiasco now taking place. This is effectively not so much as a tax as a taking — one that reduces the wealth of millions of Americans who don’t have scratch to spare thank you very much

Duncan Black (can’t find the link in haste…will try to dig it up) among many others have been screaming for years that the appropriate policy from both a social and an economic point of view has been mortgage cramdown — I’d add you’d need a (non-kangaroo) court-supervised dispositions of the properties too far underwater to permit any reasonable mortage adjustment to save the day.  But whatever the details, there is a growing body of work that suggests it would be cheaper for our country, if not for an individual bank or holder of an ill-begotten MBS, to keep people in and maintaining their homes while not imposing what amounts to a huge fine on every nearby homeowner who has kept their property out of default.

And that is not just this DFH talking.  This is the clear implication (expressed in a rather different language than the authors of the original work would use, no doubt) of the soberest of sources, two Harvard and one MIT economist, as respectable a set of oracles as you could possibly hope to find.**

One last thought:  There are those (as noted below — see the Wall St. Journal) who argue that the foreclosure documentation mess is merely a matter of trickery and delay on the part of those who shouldn’t have bought houses in the first place, and that,in the words of the Journal,  “the bigger damage here is to the housing market, which desperately needs to find a bottom by clearing excess inventory and working through foreclosures as rapidly as possible…”

If, however, you live in the reality based community, and not in the ideological bubble chamber that is the Journal’s — and the modern GOP’s — true home, then you would read things like the paper cited above, and maybe think twice before suggesting that the best outcome for America (and maybe the banks too, in fact) is to accelerate a process that destroys value for homeowners who are not in arrears, in the process of depressing the country’s real estate market for years, at least.  Just a thought, you know.

*One of the weirdest things about the whole housing mess to me has been the wholesale abandonment by the alleged “conservatives” among us of any commitment to — or even basic understanding of — the idea of property rights, contract law, and the roles and duties of parties to contracts governing real property.  We have McArdle outraged that folks who got their sums wrong walk away from mortgages — as if the banks did not have a full, contractually specified recourse, to take possession of property they were supposed to have exercised proper caution in evaluating.  We have the Wall St. Journal dismissing as mere sloppy paperwork sustained, widespread and long-lasting fraud by the major banks in their attempt to pursue contractual remedies to which they are not entitled.  It seems to me that there is nothing more likely to produce a long-term threat to the American real estate market than confirming the belief that one of the biggest risks in home purchasing is that your lending will f**k you over.  Yet the Wall St. Journal thinks it appropriate to dismiss criminal conspiracies by banks as mere high spirits.  Astonishing — but worth remembering the next time that paper opines on the sanctity and infallibility of “free” markets.

**I hope it is obvious, and if it is not, let me make it so here: every interpretative statement and every conclusion not drawn from a direct quote from Campbell, Giglio and Pathak is mine and mine alone.  If I’ve made analytical errors, they are mine, not theirs; if you dispute my characterizations or conclusions, your beef is with me, not them.  To give you just another taste of their reasoning however, here’s one more passage from the concluding section of the paper cited above:

Our results cannot be definitive on the causality from foreclosures to house prices, but the combination of timing effects (stronger from lagged foreclosures than from future foreclosures) and geographical effects (stronger at extremely short distances) suggests that there is reason to be concerned about spillovers from foreclosures to neighboring houses…

The authors are cautious writers.  They make it clear, however, and they quantify their reasoning, that foreclosure does damage to the sales price of both the defaulted property and the neighborhood.  As I say, a quantified glimpse of the obvious — but it is often necessary to prove what you know, both so you can say so with authority, and because every now and then the obvious is false.  Just not this time.

Images:  Winslow Homer, “The Camp Fire,” 1877-78

Dorothea Lange, “Migrant family from Arkansas playing hill-billy songs. Farm Security Administration emergency migratory camp. Calipatria, California” 1939

Too Busy To Post, Too Enraged Not To Note The Latest Bit of Fraud/Nonsense–Mortgage Backed Securities/Foreclosure disaster edition

October 13, 2010

On multiple deadlines today, but I couldn’t resist this juxtaposition.

First, this, from two weeks ago (h/t LegalForesicAuditors.com):

NEW YORK — JPMorgan Chase has temporarily stopped foreclosing on more than 50,000 homes so it can review documents that might contain errors.

JPMorgan’s move Wednesday makes it the second major company to take such action this month, underscoring a growing legal problem. The issue could stall an already overloaded foreclosure process.

…..

JPMorgan acknowledged Wednesday that its employees signed some affidavits about loan documents without personally verifying the files. These affidavits verifies the accuracy of the loan information, including who owns the mortgage.

….

In some states, lenders can foreclose quickly on delinquent mortgage borrowers. But 20 states use a lengthy court process for foreclosures. They require documents to verify information on the mortgage, including who owns it. Florida, New York, New Jersey and Illinois are the biggest states with this process. 

Christopher Immel, a Florida lawyer who represents homeowners, said people who already have lost homes could sue their lender, alleging errors in documents.

In August, a judge in Duval County, Fla., ruled that JPMorgan could not foreclose on two homeowners. The reasoning was that Fannie Mae carried the mortgage on its books and JPMorgan Chase only collected payments on the loan. JPMorgan Chase had identified itself as the owner of the loan.

….

More lawsuits could come soon.

In May, JPMorgan employee Beth Ann Cottrell said in a deposition that she and her staff of eight signed about 18,000 legal documents a month without reviewing every file. In a similar testimony, GMAC employee Jeffrey Stephan said he signed 10,000 documents a month without personally verifying the mortgage information.

And then there’s this, hot of the intertubes via NYTimes.com:

JPMorgan Chase kicked off what was expected to be a mixed quarterly earnings season for big banks on Wednesday with a 23 percent increase in third-quarter income.

After powering ahead for the last year on the strength of its trading operations, JPMorgan topped investor expectations with the help of improvement in its credit card business and a gain from money it had previously set aside to cover possible losses from bad loans.

Net income rose to $4.42 billion, from $3.58 billion a year earlier. Earnings were a $1.01 a share, handily topping analyst forecasts for 88 cents. Earnings were 82 cents a share in the period a year ago.

The Times piece does note the fact that the bank faces significant costs and potential liability as it confronts the failure of its foreclosure process, and it quotes JPMorgan’s new CFO trying to discount the implications of this issue, saying “The whole mortgage issue costs us so much money now, to me it [the foreclosure SNAFU] is incremental.”

Just two quick thoughts:

1:  Given the different avenues through which JPMorgan is exposed to potential liability (as holder of delinquent loans, and through its role in the making of the market in mortgage backed securities affected by flawed documentaton — see this excellent series for more), the confidence expressed by the CFO in question, Mr. Douglas Braunstein, reminds me of this moment of assurance:

2:  What justification can anyone provide for the ongoing employment and wealth of the management of the major US banks/investment houses?

And to add just one more query in the spirit of honest curiousity:  what rationale is left for avoiding a modernized version of Glass-Seagall?  Commercial lending is a public utility, and needs to be both regulated and guaranteed as such.  Everything else can be at one’s own risk — but the two activities have to be kept separate, not just by alleged Chinese Walls, but institutionally, at the level of holding of capital and the existence of public insurance/guarantees.

Tell me, anyone, why this is wrong.

All of which is to say that before the Obama adminstration or Congress starts immunizing the big Wall St. firms from the consequences of what appears to be a decade of profiteering on real estate fraud, we gotta take the current structure down to the foundations.

Carthago Delenda Est.

Image:  Vincent van Gogh, “The Cottage,” 1885.