Archive for March, 2008

From a reader –

Read his editorial in The Washington Post:

Predatory Lenders’ Partner in Crime

How the Bush Administration Stopped the States From Stepping In to Help Consumers 

By Eliot Spitzer

Thursday, February 14, 2008; Page A25 Several years ago, state attorneys general and others involved in consumer protection began to notice a marked increase in a range of predatory lending practices by mortgage lenders. Some were misrepresenting the terms of loans, making loans without regard to consumers’ ability to repay, making loans with deceptive “teaser” rates that later ballooned astronomically, packing loans with undisclosed charges and fees, or even paying illegal kickbacks. These and other practices, we noticed, were having a devastating effect on home buyers. In addition, the widespread nature of these practices, if left unchecked, threatened our financial markets.

Even though predatory lending was becoming a national problem, the Bush administration looked the other way and did nothing to protect American homeowners. In fact, the government chose instead to align itself with the banks that were victimizing consumers.

Predatory lending was widely understood to present a looming national crisis. This threat was so clear that as New York attorney general, I joined with colleagues in the other 49 states in attempting to fill the void left by the federal government. Individually, and together, state attorneys general of both parties brought litigation or entered into settlements with many subprime lenders that were engaged in predatory lending practices. Several state legislatures, including New York’s, enacted laws aimed at curbing such practices.

What did the Bush administration do in response? Did it reverse course and decide to take action to halt this burgeoning scourge? As Americans are now painfully aware, with hundreds of thousands of homeowners facing foreclosure and our markets reeling, the answer is a resounding no.

Not only did the Bush administration do nothing to protect consumers, it embarked on an aggressive and unprecedented campaign to prevent states from protecting their residents from the very problems to which the federal government was turning a blind eye.

Let me explain: The administration accomplished this feat through an obscure federal agency called the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC). The OCC has been in existence since the Civil War. Its mission is to ensure the fiscal soundness of national banks. For 140 years, the OCC examined the books of national banks to make sure they were balanced, an important but uncontroversial function. But a few years ago, for the first time in its history, the OCC was used as a tool against consumers.

In 2003, during the height of the predatory lending crisis, the OCC invoked a clause from the 1863 National Bank Act to issue formal opinions preempting all state predatory lending laws, thereby rendering them inoperative. The OCC also promulgated new rules that prevented states from enforcing any of their own consumer protection laws against national banks. The federal government’s actions were so egregious and so unprecedented that all 50 state attorneys general, and all 50 state banking superintendents, actively fought the new rules.

But the unanimous opposition of the 50 states did not deter, or even slow, the Bush administration in its goal of protecting the banks. In fact, when my office opened an investigation of possible discrimination in mortgage lending by a number of banks, the OCC filed a federal lawsuit to stop the investigation.

Throughout our battles with the OCC and the banks, the mantra of the banks and their defenders was that efforts to curb predatory lending would deny access to credit to the very consumers the states were trying to protect. But the curbs we sought on predatory and unfair lending would have in no way jeopardized access to the legitimate credit market for appropriately priced loans. Instead, they would have stopped the scourge of predatory lending practices that have resulted in countless thousands of consumers losing their homes and put our economy in a precarious position.

When history tells the story of the subprime lending crisis and recounts its devastating effects on the lives of so many innocent homeowners, the Bush administration will not be judged favorably. The tale is still unfolding, but when the dust settles, it will be judged as a willing accomplice to the lenders who went to any lengths in their quest for profits. So willing, in fact, that it used the power of the federal government in an unprecedented assault on state legislatures, as well as on state attorneys general and anyone else on the side of consumers.

The writer is governor of New York.

US investigates Taiwan arms error

The US says it has launched an investigation after four fuses for intercontinental ballistic missiles were mistakenly sent to Taiwan.

The shipment, which should have been helicopter batteries, was made in 2006 but only discovered last week.

The Pentagon says no nuclear materials were shipped and the parts have been returned to the US.

The issue of US arms sales to Taiwan is sensitive as China regards the island as a renegade province.

Second blunder

The BBC’s Jane O’Brien in Washington says senior officials have described the incident as “disconcerting” and “intolerable”.

Taiwan had pointed out the error, but owing to a two-year miscommunication the US administration remained unaware of it until last week.

The shipment had been sent from a US airbase in Wyoming.

Our correspondent says the components are not in themselves nuclear material but do form part of a long-range missile system that could deliver a nuclear weapon.

Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne said: “It is a component for the fuse in the nose cone for a nuclear system. We are very concerned about it.”

President George W Bush and the Chinese government were informed about the error.

Beijing vehemently opposes US arms sales to Taiwan and has threatened to attack the island if it declares independence.

The mistaken shipment is the second blunder in recent months.

Last August a B-52 bomber flew across several US states mistakenly armed with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles.

Historians might argue over ranking, but there’s no doubt he has been an unmitigated disaster.

Mar 22, 2008 04:30 AM


Columnist

The Toronto Star 

Historians will argue over whether George W. Bush is the worst president the United States has ever endured. But that is not the point. Five years after Bush’s ill-starred invasion of Iraq, three years after Hurricane Katrina and seven months into the unravelling of the U.S. financial system, the point is that the 43rd president of the United States – regardless of his ranking in the pantheon – is a unique and unmitigated disaster.

Whether Bush is more of a warmonger than James Polk, who in 1846 manufactured a crisis with Mexico in order to seize what is now California, more tolerant of cronyism than poker-playing Warren Harding (1921 to 1923), or more unlucky than William Harrison (he died after catching cold at his 1841 inauguration) is interesting but irrelevant. What we do know is that this president, this “decider” (to use his favoured term), decided his way into a war that has destroyed the nation he was allegedly trying to free, destabilized further an already rickety Middle East and given Islamic terrorism a whole new raison d’etre.

Bush is not the first U.S. president to take a cavalier attitude to civil liberties. Abraham Lincoln did so during the Civil War, while modern presidents reaching back to at least John Kennedy and Dwight Eisenhower have sanctioned the use of illegal assassination.

During the 1960s, when Bush was still a hard-drinking frat boy, American experts operating under presidential authority were teaching enhanced torture techniques to their Latin American counterparts. Bush didn’t initiate the practice of extraordinary rendition – sending suspects abroad to be tortured. That honour goes to Bill Clinton.

In short, the road to Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay was open well before Bush took office in January 2001. But the current president has soared to new heights. His predecessors at least had the grace to be embarrassed about dabbling on the dark side. By contrast, Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney positively gloat about their attempts to subvert human rights.

True, most of the bad press against Bush stems less from his actions themselves than from the fact that they have failed. Had Lincoln lost the Civil War, history might well have treated him as a bum. Had the U.S. succeeded in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush might be considered one of America’s great presidents.

But Bush did not succeed there, or indeed in most of his efforts. With a few notable exceptions, such as stacking the Supreme Court with conservative justices, his record is one of failure. His attempt to beef up the government-subsidized health-care system for seniors has bogged down in confusion. His thrusts at social security reform were stillborn.

An alleged fiscal conservative, he drove the U.S. treasury into deficit to pay for his wars and tax cuts.

Part of the reason is ideology. Bush did little when Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans, in large part because he does not think governments should involve themselves in matters of social welfare. His efforts in the current financial crisis are equally half-hearted and for much the same reason.

But there is something else, something disturbingly feckless about Bush. This has nothing to do with his malapropisms (“The only way we can win is to leave before the job is done”), his insistence on snuggling into bed early every night or his alarming propensity for bicycle accidents.

At a very basic level, Bush is incompetent. He likes to play at commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces. But in any other country a commander-in-chief who orchestrated an adventure as disastrous as the Iraq war would be court-martialled.

He clearly has a native cunning that stands him well in the game of politics. But at a deeper level, there seems to be something missing – a neural disconnect in his brain that at crucial moments causes him to be divorced from the constraints of rational thought. How else to explain the abrupt turnarounds such as his 2003 decision to disband the entire Iraqi army (a decision that fuelled the subsequent insurgency) just a few weeks after agreeing that these forces should be kept intact?

In some public events, he seems fully at ease. But in others – particularly his infrequent, televised press conferences – he seems to be observing events from another dimension.

Among U.S. historians, it has become great sport to rank the country’s presidents. Bush vies with many for the title of absolute worst – from Ulysses S. Grant, who oversaw a post-Civil War era so corrupt it was known as Grant’s Barbecue, to Richard Nixon of Watergate fame, to Herbert Hoover, the hapless president in charge during the stock market crash of 1929.

But Grant, Hoover and even Nixon did not do as much damage worldwide. Americans may still be debating Bush’s legacy. I suspect the rest of the world has made up its mind.
Thomas Walkom’s column appears Thursday and Saturday.

Body of War

A film by Ellen Spiro and Phil Donahue

President George W. Bush is deeply saddened by the 4,000 U.S. troops who died in Iraq and assumes responsibility for the decision to begin the war, the White House reported on Monday.

The president said he mourned all the lives that were lost in the Iraq battles and sent his sympathy to all the families affected by these losses.

“It’s a sober moment, and one that all of us can focus on in terms of the number of 4,000,” White House Dana Perino said, referring to the explosion in Baghdad on Sunday, which killed four more U.S. soldiers, raising the death toll to a new tragic number.

“The president feels each and every one of the deaths very strongly and he grieves for their families,” Perino said, according to Reuters. “He obviously is grieved by the moment but he mourns the loss of every single life.”

The number of 4,000 deaths came a few days after President Bush had declared in a speech, on the fifth anniversary of the Iraq invasion, that the United States was on the way to victory and that he had no intention of withdrawing any of the troops from Iraq.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino informed, though, that president Bush might reconsider his decision by Friday. He might continue withdrawing troops after an initial drawdown from 158,000 to 140,000 troops is completed in July.

“The president has said the hardest thing a commander in chief will do is send young men and women into combat, and he’s grieved for every lost American life, from the very first several years ago to those lost today,” Perino said, according to the Associated Press.

The U.S. death toll reached 1000 in September 2004, 18 months after the invasion started. Then it climbed to 2,000 in October 2005 and to 3,000 in December 2006. It has reached 4,000 on Sunday, after a roadside bomb killed four U.S. soldiers and wounded another in Baghdad. The bomb exploded near the soldiers’ vehicle, while they were patrolling in southern Baghdad around 10 p.m.

iraq_soldier_cries.jpg

Published: March 16, 2008

WASHINGTON

Everyone here is flummoxed about why the president is in such a fine mood.

The dollar’s crumpling, the recession’s thundering, the Dow’s bungee-jumping and the world’s disapproving, yet George Bush has turned into Gene Kelly, tap dancing and singing in a one-man review called “The Most Happy Fella.”

“I’m coming to you as an optimistic fellow,” he told the Economic Club of New York on Friday. His manner — chortling and joshing — was in odd juxtaposition to the Fed’s bailing out the imploding Bear Stearns and his own acknowledgment that “our economy obviously is going through a tough time,” that gas prices are spiking, and that folks “are concerned about making their bills.”

He began by laughingly calling the latest news on the economic meltdown “a interesting moment” and ended by saying that “our energy policy has not been very wise” and that there was “no quick fix” on gasp-inducing gas prices.

“You know, I guess the best way to describe government policy is like a person trying to drive a car in a rough patch,” he said. “If you ever get stuck in a situation like that, you know full well it’s important not to overcorrect, because when you overcorrect you end up in the ditch.”

Dude, you’re already in the ditch.

Boy George crashed the family station wagon into the globe and now the global economy. Yet the more terrified Americans get, the more bizarrely carefree he seems. The former oilman reacted with cocky ignorance a couple of weeks ago when a reporter informed him that gas was barreling toward $4 a gallon.

In on-the-record sessions with reporters — and more candid off-the-record ones — he has seemed goofily happy in recent weeks, prickly no more but strangely liberated and ebullient.

Even though he ordinarily hates being kept waiting, he made light of it while cooling his heels for John McCain, and did a soft shoe for the White House press. Wearing a cowboy hat, he warbled a comic Western ditty at the Gridiron Dinner a week ago — alluding to Scooter Libby’s conviction, Saudis getting richer from our oil-guzzling, Brownie’s dismal Katrina performance, and Dick Cheney’s winsome habit of withholding documents.

At a dinner on Wednesday, the man who is persona non grata on the campaign trail (except for closed fund-raisers) told morose Republican members of Congress that he was totally confident that “we can retake the House” and “hold the White House.”

“I think 2008 is going to be a fabulous year for the Republican Party!” he said, sounding like Rachael Ray sprinkling paprika on goulash. That must have been news to House Republicans, who have no money, just lost the seat held by their former speaker, and are hemorrhaging incumbents as they head into a campaign marked by an incipient recession and an unpopular war.

If only they could see things as the president does. Bush, who used his family connections to avoid Vietnam, told troops serving in Afghanistan on Thursday that he is “a little envious” of their adventure there, saying it was “in some ways romantic.”

Afghanistan is still roiling, as is Iraq, but W. is serene. “Removing Saddam Hussein was the right decision early in my presidency, it is the right decision now, and it will be the right decision ever,” he said, echoing that great American philosopher Dan Quayle, who once told Samoans, “Happy campers you are, happy campers you have been and, as far as I am concerned, happy campers you will always be.”

W. bragged to Republicans about his “considered judgment” in sending more troops to Iraq and again presented himself as an untroubled instrument of divine will. “I believe there’s an Almighty,” he said, “and I believe a gift of that Almighty to every man, woman and child is freedom.”

Although the president belittled the Democrats for their policy of “retreat,” his surge has been a temporary and expensive place-holder for what Americans want: a policy to get us out of Iraq.

“Has it allowed us to reduce troop levels to below where they were when it started?” Michael Kinsley wrote recently. “The answer is no.” Gen. David Petraeus told The Washington Post last week that no one in the U.S. and Iraqi governments “feels that there has been sufficient progress by any means in the area of national reconciliation.”

Maybe the president is just putting on a good face to keep up American morale, the way Herbert Hoover did after the crash of ’29, when he continued to dress in a tuxedo for dinner.

Or maybe the old Andover cheerleader really believes his own cheers, and that prosperity will turn up any time now, just like the W.M.D. in Iraq.

Or perhaps it’s a Freudian trip. Now that he’s mucked up the world and the country, he can finally stop rebelling against his dad and relax in the certainty that the Bush name will forever be associated with crash-and-burn presidencies.

Whatever the explanation, it’s plumb loco.

NYTimes 

“Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives. I think we’re being run by maniacs for maniacal ends and I think I’m liable to be put away as insane for expressing that. That’s what’s insane about it.” – John Lennon, before his murder by Mark David Chapman.