Monday, April 28, 2008

America ... two easy steps.


As of the end of March, 2008, there were ...2.3M that are empty and for sale. That adds up to a vacancy rate of 2.9 percent, which is the highest, reports Bloomberg, "since the bureau started keeping count in 1956." 2.2 million homes were vacant and for sale one year ago.


According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Second Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, released in March 2008, "the total number of homeless persons reported on a single night in January 2006 was 759,101."

Assuming that number bears some reasonable relation to reality, that would mean there are 24 unoccupied homes for every homeless person in the United States.

If you have a more succinct summary, please share it with the class.

Update: As sharp-eyed reader Byronius correctly notes, Andrew Leonard's math (and thus in effect mine) is off by an order of magnitude or so -- the numbers show 2.3 homes per homeless person.


Update #2: This doesn't quite top the homes/homeless thing as a totemic moment, but still speaks volumes:

The mortgage industry, facing the prospect of tougher regulations for its central role in the housing crisis, has begun an intensive campaign to fight back.

As the Federal Reserve completes work on rules to root out abuses by lenders, its plan has run into a buzz saw of criticism from bankers, mortgage brokers and other parts of the housing industry. One common industry criticism is that at a time of tight credit, tighter rules could make many mortgages more expensive by creating more paperwork and potentially exposing lenders to more lawsuits.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Hillary meets the Rapture

Watching Hillary's bizarre, opportunistic travels through places like Richard Mellon Scaife's offices, an analogy struck me.

Think about the bizarre alliance between millennialists like Rev. Hagee and the pro-Israel cabal. The folks who are just sure the Second Coming is both prophesied and imminent are Israel's bestest buddies -- not because they like the Chosen People (Jews, after all, reject their most basic beliefs, and are going to end up in Hell as a direct result), but because the Rapture monkeys are sure that war in the Holy Land will trigger Armageddon, and usher Jesus back to earth.

Why do the Joe Liebermans and AIPACs of the world allow themselves to be used for this obviously hostile purpose? Because of the benjamins, natch. The Reverend Hagees of the world get to help bring on the End of the World; The friends of Israel pocket some serious walking around money in the meantime. Everybody is happy -- well, other than the thousands or millions who would die if the Rapturers got their wish.

Now think of how all those same nutjobs are suddenly embracing Hillary Clinton. The dynamics are essentially the same. Scaife et al. are playing classic the-enemy-of-my-enemy tactics. They know that Obama is going to be the Democratic nominee, and that Hillary's delusions cannot change that fact. But they also know that feeding those delusions is a great way to accomplish their underlying goal -- rough up the inevitable nominee, sow havoc among Democrats, and thereby help John McCain.

In both cases, one party to the exchange is delusional, while the other coolly calculates the benefits that come from flattering the crazies. The objective absurdity of what Hillary and Hagee hope for is the very engine that makes both juggernauts go.


Friday, April 18, 2008

Circlejerkular reasoning

George Stephanopoulos defends his role in the craptacular debate thusly:

“The questions we asked were tough and fair and appropriate and relevant and what you would expect to be asked in a presidential debate at this point,” he said. “The questions we asked…are being debated around the political world every day.”

I couldn't have said it better myself. He unabashedly admits that the reason for wallowing in stupid right-wing talking points is that all the other kewl kidz are wallowing in stupid right-wing talking points. And, of course, we would be naive to expect him to rise above such turd-licking.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Senator Tweety

Chris Matthews told Stephen Colbert that he wants to run for Arlen Specter's Senate seat. (He didn't actually announce, of course. He just used that hypothetical, coy evasiveness that is so common among the unannounced candidates who troll for money on "hardball."

First reaction -- yechhh.

Second reaction -- well, that explains a lot. It explains his toadying. It explains his unwillingness to be more than the James Lipton of political talking heads.

And third, paradoxically, he might do less damage in the Senate than he does now.

But most importantly, perhaps, it shows how the talking head class sees itself as essentially interchangeable with the people it covers. Chris Matthews does not see himself as a representative of the audience seeking answers from the ruling class. he sees himself as a member of the ruling class who shapes the (non-)answers his fellow rulers deign to offer to the rest of us.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The real Marie Antoniette

You have probably seen how Clinton, McSame and the MSM are all in a tizzy about Obama's allegedly "elitist" insights into Middle Murka.

Well George F. Will has yer elitism right here, pal:

During presidential elections, when candidates postulate this or that "crisis" for which each is the indispensable and sufficient cure, economic hypochondria is encouraged, so a sense of suffering is rampant. Recently the Wall Street Journal, like Joseph Conrad contemplating the Congo, surveyed today's economic jungle and cried, "The horror! The horror!"


So far during this "crisis," the homeownership rate has declined just three-tenths of 1 percent since it peaked in 2004. At 67.8 percent, it remains higher than it was when President Bill Clinton left office.

Subprime mortgages are a small minority of mortgages, and only a minority of subprime borrowers are not making their payments. Casting this minority of a minority as victims of "predatory" lending fits the liberal narrative that most Americans are victims of this or that sinister elite or impersonal force and are not competent to cope with life's complexities without government supervision.

If there is a more blatant "let them eat cake" moment from this year's silly season, I have not seen it.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Last Redoubt

President Bush says he knew his top national security advisers discussed and approved specific details about how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency, according to an exclusive interview with ABC News Friday.

...Bush told ABC News White House correspondent Martha Raddatz, ..."yes, I'm aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved."
My understanding and commentary have followed a depressing arc over the almost four years I have been at this. First, I blamed the Bush Administration for its endless and unprecedented wrongdoing. Then I blamed the media for its bias and failure to report that wrongdoing. More recently I have been forced to confront the fact that the truth has gradually come out, and is now available to all who would but seek it, but that our citizenry no longer cares.

With this ABC story, it seems to me that this journey is complete. The President of the United States has freely acknowledged complicity in war crimes. The press has reported that searing, unfathomable truth. It is now up to the opiated masses.

Again: the President of the United States has not merely admitted that his underlings have broken the law, and crossed moral lines universally thought inviolate only a decade ago; the President of the United States has just admitted his own participation in and approval of those transgressions. I submit that further reporting about his malfeasance is now superfluous -- what could possibly top that?

If George Bush is not impeached now, then he is right about what America truly is. If Rice and Rumsfeld and Tenet and the rest are not indicted, then the American people thereby are -- indicted for their complicity and acquiescence in the brutality done in their -- in my -- name.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Jersey watch

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

There goes the Eichmann defense

In dozens of top-secret talks and meetings in the White House, the most senior Bush administration officials discussed and approved specific details of how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency, sources tell ABC News.

The so-called Principals who participated in the meetings also approved the use of "combined" interrogation techniques -- using different techniques during interrogations, instead of using one method at a time -- on terrorist suspects who proved difficult to break, sources said.

Highly placed sources said a handful of top advisers signed off on how the CIA would interrogate top al Qaeda suspects -- whether they would be slapped, pushed, deprived of sleep or subjected to simulated drowning, called waterboarding.

The high-level discussions about these "enhanced interrogation techniques" were so detailed, these sources said, some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed -- down to the number of times CIA agents could use a specific tactic.

The advisers were members of the National Security Council's Principals Committee, a select group of senior officials who met frequently to advise President Bush on issues of national security policy.

At the time, the Principals Committee included Vice President Cheney, former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft.


Critics at home and abroad have harshly criticized the interrogation program, which pushed the limits of international law and, they say, condoned torture. Bush and his top aides have consistently defended the program. They say it is legal and did not constitute torture.

"I can say that questioning the detainees in this program has given us the information that has saved innocent lives by helping us stop new attacks here in the United States and across the world," Bush said in a speech in September 2006.

In interview with ABC's Charles Gibson last year, Tenet said: "It was authorized. It was legal, according to the Attorney General of the United States."

And by what means did the A.G. tell the Administration that it was legal?

Yoo who...

The real story, pieced together from many hours of interviews with most of the people involved in the decisions about interrogation, goes something like this: The Geneva decision was not a case of following the logic of the law but rather was designed to give effect to a prior decision to take the gloves off and allow coercive interrogation; it deliberately created a legal black hole into which the detainees were meant to fall. The new interrogation techniques did not arise spontaneously from the field but came about as a direct result of intense pressure and input from Rumsfeld's office. The Yoo-Bybee Memo was not simply some theoretical document, an academic exercise in blue-sky hypothesizing, but rather played a crucial role in giving those at the top the confidence to put pressure on those at the bottom. And the practices employed at Guantánamo led to abuses at Abu Ghraib.

There is a move afoot for a sliver of accountability -- to push Boalt Hall Law School to dump Yoo. Where he belongs is on the faculty at the law school inside San Quentin.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

An ad from Salon

After we went to so much trouble to get him locked up?

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Eichmann in Berkeley

Were she still alive, I have no doubt that Hannah Arendt would be writing about John Yoo as the modern exemplar of the banality of evil she wrote about more than 40 years ago.

From Wikipedia:

In her reporting of the Eichmann trial for The New Yorker, which evolved into Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963), she coined the phrase "the banality of evil" to describe Eichmann. She raised the question of whether evil is radical or simply a function of banality - the tendency of ordinary people to obey orders and conform to mass opinion without critically thinking about the results of their action or inaction.
I try not to view every new adversity as an echo of the Holocaust. And in the grossest sense, of course, neither our current straits nor anything else that has happened since can compare. But I don't think comparing Yoo to Eichmann is too farfetched.

To these eyes, the pseudo-reasoning by which Yoo endorses torture and the enables the trashing of the most fundamental Constitutional protections is hard to distinguish from Eichmann's bureaucratic and logistical contributions.

There was an article in the California Lawyer magazine a few months back about Yoo and his strange presence at the Boalt Hall School of Law (it does not seem to be available online). Some of his ideological opponents talked about what a pleasant fellow he is.

Well I guess that settles that. And who knows? Maybe someday he will let us know that when he destroyed our national honor he was only following orders.

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