Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dear Tea Party, Stop Supporting Racists

One thing I keep hearing from people in the Tea Party is "The liberals and the media are trying to paint us as a bunch of ignorant racists to discredit our cause!"

I can understand the complaint. If I was accused of being a racist without cause, or being ignorant without cause, I'd be pretty pissed off as well.

But the problem is, the Tea Party isn't getting these accusations without cause. Now, I know, "Oh, well, that's just isolated pockets", or "The Tea Party has such a diverse membership you're sure to find some areas with problems."

Here's my problem: it's one thing if you have some lone wolf in the crowd being an asshole. That happens within every group. But when it's the candidates you support, when the crowd sits back and cheers it on or refuses to act against the racist violent members in their midsts, then you can't claim it's an isolated problem.

When the leader you pick says its easier for minorities to make money selling drugs than getting an education, then yeah - I'm going to say that the people who selected this man to run for office are racists.

Sharon Angle has an ad where Hispanics are patrolling the fence, here to take away jobs and college benefits from an all-white group of college students.

And another Sharon Angle ad that shows Hispanics as scary gang members and arrested while "US citizens" (aka - white people) live in fear of the scary brown people:

Angle, if you may recall, won her Republican primary thanks to Tea Party support. If this is the candidate that Tea Party members pick, then it's perfectly within reach to call the Tea Party movement racist for supporting racists like Angle.

When the NAACP issued a report showing how there were elements in the Tea Party movement that were racist, this was the perfect opportunity for the Tea Party memebers to say "Good! We can now find these members within our midst and evict them from the movement." And while there were some token dismissals, you still have some of the largest groups like Tea Party nation call for a Muslim free congress - and still enjoy the support of Tea Party members rather than moving to expel and reject such notions, you don't hear a peep.

You can't say that racism and bigotry are isolated incidents when the leaders that your group selects and supports are saying and doing the bigoted things. Now, I know, someone will say "But those are just isolated incidents! You're blanketing the whole party based on the views of a few!"

No. I'm basing the whole party based on the leaders that they choose. You may not be judged by the company you keep, but you should be judged based on whom you choose to lead your movement.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Immorality of Security Agencies

Last weekend I got new service with Verizon, and during the shuffle from one telephone service provider to the next my phone number was changed. They say it's going to take a week or so to get back.

In the meantime, it seems that our new temporary number has been leaked to every energy, lawn service, and home service company for 50 miles, all calling up to offer their assistance.

Most of these I give a "thank you, no, do not call again." A few when they try to push their "Free $50 gift certificate (with a $500 purchase)!", I tell them that it's against my religion to accept gift cards, since it interferes with our ability to worship Miyamoto and his most holy Mario Brothers.

But when ADT called about having a sign on my lawn - even if I didn't have the service, they'd give that to me for free as long as I put the sign on my lawn! I was very blunt that they should not call again, their services were not wanted, and they were to stop calling my house ever again.

"There's no need to be so rude about it," the salesman said. "We're not offering the service. We're working with the local police department in a marketing campaign-"

"You're working for a fucking evil company that wants to put a sign on my lawn to make people think that I support your taxpayer profiting company when I do not. Never darken my door with your shadow, and never take up my time with your phone calls."

And that's when I hung up.

Yes. I'm serious. I think that ADT and the other companies of their ilk are evil. They're as evil as health insurance companies, who stand to profit by finding ways to deny people's health care and pay CEO's multiple millions of dollars.

Think about what ADT does: they provide a service where you pay them every month, and when a smoke alarm goes off - they call the fire department. If a door opens when the alarm is set or a sensor detects a window is broken - they call the cops.

And I sit here asking - why am I paying you - to call the cops?

They show commercial after commercial of attractive white women terrified in their homes as a burglar kicks in the door the second their husbands leave. They cower while the alarm goes off, clutching children while ADT calls the cops.

And again, I wonder - why am I paying them to call the cops?

Why isn't this a basic service, where communities say "If you have the hardware installed, if the fire or break-in alarm goes off, the system auto-dials 911 and puts in a code that either says 'fire' or 'suspected robbery in progress'?

ADT is basically making money sitting between your home, and the services that your tax dollars pay for. They take in the profit when they're paid every month. According to David Cay Johnson, author of the book Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill), 99% of alarms generated by these security systems are false alarms, furthering costing the taxpayers even more money.

And there's no incentive to fix it.

So no, ADT, Brinks and the rest. I don't live my life cowering in fear. And I think your service should just be a part of a communities fire and police and other emergency systems. You can make money installing or selling the equipment, but after that, be gone.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Crazy Comes Full Circle

Several years ago I listened to a book on tape The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror. I hope any readers of this blog and the author will forgive me for any mistakes I make in referencing that book.

That said, there was a fascinating part discussing how the ideas of Millennial Rule propogated from one group to the next. The idea isn't new, but the most common thread starts with the Book of Revelations in the Bible. It goes something like this:

  • There's going to be a time of great trouble.
  • The world is divided into The Good and The Evil.
  • Eventually, the Evil will be destroyed.
  • Once all evil has been eradicated, there will follow 1,000 years of happiness and joy for the Good people left over.

In the case of the original story in Revelations, this was tied into the early Christian church and Yahweh worship. Eventually, everybody would believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of Yahweh and the Redeemer of the World, all the bad people would be cleansed off the earth, and everything would be awesome.

Ever since then, various groups tried to use this idea, only with changes, and with each adaptation the concept, the Good and the Evil was changed. You start off with Christians being The Good and everybody else being The Bad.

Then came along people like Lenin and Stalin. But in their view, it was the bourgeois (aka the rich and powerful) versus the proletariat (aka the regular/poor people). Once you got rid of all of the rich people and destroyed their power, then you'd have a utopia that would last for at least a thousand years.

Then the Nazi's came along, and they said "Oh, no no no. You guys have this all wrong. See, it's the Aryans who are the Good and the pure ones, and the Jews/gypsies/homosexuals/anybody but Aryans who are the Evil - especially the Jews. So if we just kill off all of the Jews, then anyone else non-Aryan, then we'll have a 1,000 year Reich where everyone will be happy."

Then, if my recollection of The Crisis of Islam is correct, this idea was then picked up by the Baathists. Certain scholars were in Germany as World War II was starting up,and when they returned to the Middle East they said "You know, these Germans have a great idea - only they got it all wrong. Clearly, the Arabians (or the Persians if you were in Iran) are The Good, and everyone else (especially the Jews!) are The Evil. So if we just get rid of all of the Jews and then the non-Arabians, only Good people will be left and we'll have a thousand years of peace."

Guess what happened when Al-Qaida popped up? In their case, The Good were Muslims (at least, their brand of Islam which was much more strict and something like you see the Taliban go by), and the Evil was everybody who wasn't Muslim - or their brand of Islam. Originally, they were attacking other Muslims in the Middle East, since if they could get rid of the "not strict enough Muslims" then they'd have peace. But then they decided that they had to get rid of the non-Muslims first, then go after the not-strict-enough Muslims - so Al-Qaida shifted its attention to the United States.

So where am I going with this? Well, it turns out that this crazy, stupid notion that if only you could get rid of (really, kill off) The Evil and then everything will be wonderful has once again returned to Christianity.

OK, it never really left it - there have been groups that have been looking forward to The End Of The World and the Destruction of the Non-Believers since at least 50 CE. This has been true in the United States, between the Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and so on.

That said, those groups have been fairly benign compared to the other groups I mentioned. However, the US is now facing a new round of crazy. Take Hawaii, where a candidate for governor who's a member of a church that is campaigning against witches.

Witches. In the year 2010. And not just witches, but they want to go about and "If you have any idols in your home, we're gonna burn 'em! If you have any witchcraft items in your home, we're gonna burn 'em!" It's what you see in the Tea Party/David Barton/Glenn Beck historical revisionism that tries to convince people that the United States was always meant to be Christian, that the Founders didn't want any other religion than Christianity - and if you're of any other religion, or believe set, or even don't have a religion other than Christianity: then you must be evil.

It's a notion that seeks to replace all knowledge such as in the Texas schoolboard system to get rid of the ideas of The Evil (aka - non-Christian), because if we could just get rid of those, then we'd have a perfect country and have 1,000 years of peace and happiness. It's the same thinking that produces people like Christine O'Donnell, a Senate candidate who doesn't believe that the 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits government from establishing religion. It's what leads people to make stupid comments like "Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims.".

The stupidity, the rank fearmongering isn't astounding. What's astounding is how many people are falling for it, and willingly embracing it.

It's the same old tribalism that "if only The Other" would

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Who's Holding the Foreclosure Bag?

Another day, another revelation regarding the utter clusterfuck that is the foreclosure crisis. Now we're learning that the original reason why the major banks were halting foreclosures was because they were using notaries to sign foreclosure documents without reading them or verifying that the documentation was complete.

One of the biggest issues with this is the entire idea of who actually has ownership of the title to a home. Usually, you go to the bank to buy a house. They give you a loan, and in return, they hold onto the documents that give them ownership of the home as verified by the local and state governments where the house resides. Once you pay off the mortgage, they transfer that paperwork over to you. If you sell the house, you transfer ownership of those papers to the new owner - or the new bank holding the mortgage.

Only the last decade saw mortgages traded between banks like they were Pokemon cards. They were sold off to major investment firms, slices up and sold into CDOs and other complex financial "instruments" - and it turns out that the important paperwork that actually defines who owns the home may have been lost in that process. And tracking it down can cost hundreds of man hours *per house* - if not thousands depending on the number of times it was traded about.

So when the banks went to foreclose on people, they submit paperwork to the courts saying "We own the house. This person has a mortgage with us, and they haven't been paying. So they must leave the house so we can take ownership of it and sell it to someone else instead. And here's the signature of the foreclosure agent in the bank who has reviewed this paperwork to verify it's all correct."

Two problems:

1. It turns out the foreclosure agents in the bank weren't reading the documents, because with 800 foreclosures to review a week, there was simply no time.

2. The banks in a growing number of instances are finding that they don't exactly know where the title of the house wound up, or if they were properly transferred ownership of the house. And in a time when so many companies have been going out of business - even financial ones - it may be impossible to find out who actually owns the house.


Now, here's where things get worse - turns out the banks have been drafting Wal-mart floor employees, line workers - anyone with a pulse who "review and sign foreclosure documents" without knowing what any of it means.

I get why they did it. The banks need an army of people who can just crank through documents, sign them, and then have them forwarded back to legal so they can kick people out of their houses as fast as they can.

Here's my question, though:

Who's legally obligated to pay the price for submitting fraudulent documents?

The second those documents hit the courts with the signature of "This has been properly reviewed and we own the house" and it's *not true*, that's fraud. So whom will the courts go after? The banks who hired people and submitted the documents?

My money is the banks are going to scapegoat the people they hired with the attitude of "Well, if you didn't understand it, you shouldn't have signed it. So now the judge is going to fine you for having submitted bad documents.

"Oh, and you're fired because you submitted fraudulent documents when we told you to."

I'm afraid we're going to see the latter more than the former. And I'd love to see our government prevent that from happening. It's amazing how when there's a financial collapse or toxic spill the CEO's and executives aren't under any criminal or financial blame - but I won't be surprised to see the grunt workers in this case get caught holding the bag for all the court fees when they come due.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Justice for Those Who Can Afford It

You know the idea that if you can not afford a lawyer, one will be provided to you? The part in the Miranda warning:

You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?

Now it turns out - who cares about getting an attorney if you can't afford it? Now you have states that are making poor people pay for their public defenders.

Hey - maybe we'll be able to use those modern debtor's prisons that are coming back into vogue.

Arresting CEO's - This Is What "Being on the People's Side" Looks LIke

Recently, there was a huge toxic spill that caused destruction of property. The material was released because of apparent negligence by the company storing the toxic material because they ignored safety regulations.

Now, if this was, say, the BP disaster in America, you know how it goes: there's some payments, massive ads run by the company that's hurting the environment telling people how they're helping, then a cover up.

Turns out - that's not how Hungary responds when companies spill toxic chemicals across their country. When a toxic spill harmed 150 people, the CEO of the industrial plant was arrested.

Boom. You want to screw with the environment? You get thrown in jail. You don't get to go around telling people how awesome you are, or how you're going to fix it while spending millions in TV ads. You are arrested for hurting people.

Symbolic? Maybe. But it tells every other would be polluter: This could be you. You will not get away, you will not go home to sleep in your comfortable bed while people suffer. You will be put into prison and be treated like the criminal you are.

Man. Makes you wonder how things might change in the United States if a few more CEO's of companies involved in criminal wrongdoing did a perp walk of shame.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Foreclosures, Judgments, and Congresses Betrayal

It's hard not to feel a bit irritated right now at the United States political system.

When the healthcare debate raged, Single Payer (where everybody in the United States would be signed up for Medicare) was off the table - couldn't even be brought up for debate. The same thing was true with the Public Option (which would have created a government run not-for-profit company). Or even stronger regulations on Wal-Street, or any number of things that "well, we can't get that past the Republicans or the Blue Dog democrats - bummer!"

Now, let's go into recent events. Those with memories lasting longer than a goldfish may remember there was a near financial meltdown of the financial industries, one caused by banks giving far too many mortgages to people who shouldn't have had them so they could sell the mortgages to investment firms on Wall Street. When this bubble finally popped, these financial institutions - which were also tied into people's retirement and pension funds - basically said "give us money or else the whole United States economy will collapse!"

So the American public did. And in return - well, the economy doesn't fall apart, but when it came time to help small business with loans, the response from the major banks was "Well, we're going to hold onto our money so we can buy out other places when *they* go under."

And then in the process, housing foreclosures started in. Attempts made by the Obama administration to curtail this were admittedly weak - but let's face it: the banks weren't interested in playing ball. Story after story of banks being unwilling to work with homeowners who are underwater or facing changing interest rates from mortgage.

Just when the foreclosures were rising - we find out that the courts have started paying attention and making banks prove that they actually own the homes they're foreclosing on. We're finding banks evicting people from houses they don't own.

In order to foreclose on a home, the bank has to prove:

1. That they actually own the home (remember - the homeowner is paying a loan on the house, and until it's paid off, the bank is supposed to own the home).
2. That the person they have the mortgage with is actually the person who signed the paperwork.

So imagine the shock and horror in the financial system when courts are actually making them prove they own the house in question - this after the years of trading houses back and forth like Monopoly cards. And to make matters worse, it turns out that the people working in the banks to review and sign the paperwork were signing the documents as complete without even looking at them. Literally thousands of foreclosure submissions to the courts were sent without the banks actually making sure they actually had the title to the home let along the proof they owned it.

Banks like Bank of America brought a halt to foreclosures at the realization that they courts could toss out their foreclosures. Attorney generals start launching investigations to see if there was fraud involved in claims to the courts that the paperwork is complete.

And then - along comes Congress to the rescue. Oh, they couldn't do Single Payer. They couldn't get a vote for weeks on giving the 9-11 first responders health care or voting on the budget increasing Bush tax cuts because the Democrats didn't have a spine.

Then along comes a bill that would say that courts have to accept the paperwork from banks as being properly checked as long as it has a signature of a notary. Oh, I know - the literal language just says:

Each Federal court shall recognize any lawful notarization made by a notary public licensed or commissioned under the laws of a State other than the State where the Federal court is located if--
(1) such notarization occurs in or affects interstate commerce; and
(2)(A) a seal of office, as symbol of the notary public’s authority, is used in the notarization; or
(B) in the case of an electronic record, the seal information is securely attached to, or logically associated with, the electronic record so as to render the record tamper-resistant.

Oh - sounds innocent. It just says that if a notary has signed it, then it shall be "recognized". The courts would have to accept it. All of the sudden, all of those problems with foreclosures would just go away - banks could submit their paperwork and the courts would have to accept it - and if there are any problems, well, how were we the banks supposed to know that the notaries didn't do their job?

That's not what bothers me. The major banks are crooked and out to make a buck for themselves and screw anybody else. But Congress passed this law in the Senate by Unanimous Consent - in other words, they didn't debate it. Just as the banks needed some help - along comes the Senate to pass a law that helps them.

No questions. No "hey, what's up with this?" Just "Oh, hey, sure - both Democrats and Republicans can get behind a bill that just happens to save the bacon of the major banks who don't want to hire the manpower to actually review their paperwork or verify they own the homes."

Heaven forbid the major banks that wrecked the economy, then got loans to save themselves, then refused to help out anybody but themselves now that they're faced with spending more money in verifying the paperwork they're submitting is correct, in verifying that the people they're throwing out of houses are actually the right people - instead, they can just get Congress to push through a bill that helps them.

It would be nice if Congress were on our side. It would be nice if I can believe it. But after years of Congress being unable to pass anything because "It's just so hard in the current climate" then turning around and passing something that helps out the richest and most powerful - well, I guess we know who's side Congress is really on.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Political Ad Spending up 5 Times since 2006. Elections Now Suck

I can not convey how bad this year is going to be for politics. Pre-Citizen United, the Supreme Court case that gave corporations unlimited spending powers in election. It might have helped if the Republicans hadn't at least blocked laws that would make corporations to name when they're sponsoring an advertisement.

But no - evidently that was too much to actually provide any kind of accountability. So now it turns out we've got 5 times more spending this year than in 2006. And over 80% of that is going to assist Republicans.

Well. Color me shocked, kids. I'm amazed that when corporations are able to spend as much money as they want, they'll blanket the airwaves to support the Republicans which line up to hand up the cash. Here's the sickest part to me:

One major player this year is the 60 Plus Association, an Alexandria-based group that bills itself as the conservative alternative to the AARP seniors group. In 2008, the group reported less than $2 million in revenue, most of it from direct-mail contributions.

This year the group has spent $7 million on election-related ads, according to its FEC reports. It also funded a $9 million campaign against Obama's health-care overhaul in 2009.

Amazing. They bring in $2 million from donors, yet somehow are able to find the money to pay for $9 million in ads. Gee. I wonder where the money could come from to protest health care reform. I can't think of anyone other than multibillion dollar insurance companies who might -might!- have an interest in fighting a health care bill that makes them pay out 85% of their revenue actually helping their customers.

Brave new world, kids. And it's going to suck.