Friday, April 24, 2009

One would think this Washington Post headline "Auditor: 'Hundreds Of Billions' Of Bailout Could Be Lost To Fraud" should have drawn some interest. Yet, I typed in" TARP" into google news right now and this story does not even come up in the top 30-40 stories. Noo bloggers are really covering it. Amazing.

Perhaps this is because we just assume there will be fraud, or feel powerless to stop it. More likely is the media doesn;t know how to spin it into a story of good and evil. It is just sad. But what if I told you that the loss of "hundreds of billions" of taxpayer money will come from the basic way the program has been set up by Geithner and Co (not fraud) and can pretty simply be made a thousand times better.

I actually listened to Obama's "inspector general" of the $700 Billion TARP fund on CSPAN today (Neil Barofsky) and he explained how the problem is the fundamental design of the program, whereby the buyers of "toxic assets" will inevitably be the ones who own other similar assets (big fund managers). They will be able to basically set the price of these assets higher putting our money at risk and then pawn off their current worthless assets for this higher price. We get stuck with assets worth diddly squat in the end. The game was designed for Wall Street, not the taxpayer.

We are about to get robbed for a sickening amount of money, and are being told exactly how it is going to happen. Not one thing will likely happen to prevent it. Is this a joke? We hire a person to tell us how we are going to get screwed and we can't even get it together enough to put a condom on.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Obama and Chavez's "Ghetto Handshake"

About an hour or two ago, I heard that Obama and Hugo Chavez shook hands. Of course, I had to find the photo. When I saw it I just KNEW that this (handshake in a room where everyone is shaking hands) will soon become a BIG right-wing rallying cry.

It is still very early, but the first video that pops up on Youtube already (like an hour after the shake) is titled "Obama Happy To Greet Dictator Hugo Chavez With A "Ghetto Handshake." Within an hour on Youtube, Obama is called an "anti-Christ," "evil" and "scary". Someone calls for his forced removal from power.... for a handshake.

Without any video to really see if Obama gave a "ghetto handshake" - or just an awkward clasp - I predict we may have another "bow" moment at hand. You've got the race element, the socialist element and the blame America element all in one glorious photo.

Reports say Obama went across the room to greet Chavez. After shaking hands, Chavez said "I want to be your friend" and something about desiring a better relationship. Obama supposedly did not say anything - he smiled and walked away.

Politically, Obama may suffer in the short term as the photo will ricochet across the world. People who don't know the name of the Venezuelan capital will tell us how terrible this is for our foreign policy. But, in fact, this was a genius move by Obama. To tackle Cuba and Chavez pro-actively, rather than being on the defensive for the Summit weekend, is brilliant strategy.

All the countries in Trinidad want a new US relationship with the region. Most importantly, that means an end to the idea of intervention in the internal affairs of others. That means money and support for subversion (Cuba, Bolivia), that means support for military coups (Venezuela 2002), that means orchestrating the forced removal of a sitting President (Haiti), that means an end to using aid and drugs programs for political reasons (Ecuador and Bolivia).

In the end, Obama will be judged by historians in this country and abroad by the result of his policies. But a sector of people will always be fooled by theatrics and symbols. We know what Obama really thinks of Hugo Chavez (an "obstacle to progress") and what Chavez thinks of Obama ("ignorant about Latin America"). Whether meaningful change is on the way or not, and both sides are able to find a common ground, this week will be remembered for its glimmer of hope.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Obama Does the Bare Minimum on Cuba

You would have to be deaf, dumb and blind to not realize that Cuba has become THE issue facing Obama in Latin America, particularly in the run-up to the Summit of the Americas next week in Port of Spain, Trinidad. A drumbeat of Latin & Carribean leaders and organizations have made clear they see Cuba as issue #1 in proving whether the US foreign policy attitude towards the region has really changed. After all the noise, there was no question Obama had to do something before the summit.

Today's announcement of the lifting of travel and remittance restrictions for Cuban-Americans (only), as well as some other minor things, will be scoffed at by the region, who demands the wholesale normalization of relations, not only with Cuba, but also Venezuela, Bolivia and others. Many Republicans (include Richard Lugar) and even most of the well-know "Cuban dissidents" will be disappointed - insisting, rightly, that the rights of US citizens to travel and buy things from somewhere should not depend on whether we like socialism or not.

In addition to the paltry actual policy change, the attitude of the announcement will be poorly noted in the region. Obama's spokesman really went out of their way to frame this shift as part of the same old same old. The rhetorical goal is "changing Cuba" by "opening up space" between the Cuban people and Govt. They now expect Cuba to "respond meaningfully" to this minor correction of a Bush-era mean spirited anti-family policy.

This prioritization of one class of Americans (Cuban) with full rights and the rest of us, without, needs to be condemned. So does the policy of having 2 sets of Cubans - Communist Party member and non. Did that policy work well in Iraq? I thought I might be able to send some "humanitarian" goods to my doctor friend in Havana now - but he is/was a UJC member. This Administration wants to have it both ways.

I am glad to see that US telecom companies will be able to connect the undersea fiber optic internet cable b/w the US and Cuba. But the stuff about allowing US satellite TV to operate in Cuba seems designed to provoke and ignorant of the fact that a key issue for Cuba is the presence of US propaganda (TV Marti) that is allowed to illegally penetrate the country via Direct TV.

"Certain telecom devices" will be allowed to be donated also. That is good - but it is too bad that the trouble of a "license exemption" will be needed. I hope that all groups wanting to donate to Cuba are treated the same. But it does not look like that is in the cards, as the prohibitions will remain on sending anything to charitable, religious or educational groups "administered or controlled by the Cuban Government." Seems as how the US can create a definition to include most of those groups that way, the vast majority of aid will still be banned. The real attempt here seems to be to create a class of organizations dependent on donations from the US.

The "Fact Sheet" and the Briefing both included calls for Cuba to reduce the "usurious" fees Cuba charges on all dollar exchanges. How absurd. The 10% fee is for changing dollars into Cuban currency (not remittances directly) and is hardly usurious. Never-mind, that in Miami, private businesses take up to 40% of the total amount as a "processing fee" ($20 on a $50 remittance).

And jeez, Obama needs a new spokesman. that guy is clueless. He didn't even know that Cuba is not in the OAS and won't be present at the Americas Summit.