The Big Short:The Dunning-Kruger Effect Part IV

 Posted by on January 21, 2016 at 12:03 AM
Jan 212016
 

The Big Short

Christian Bale as Dr. Michael Burry in The Big Short 

Introduction

In the first three parts of the Dunning-Kruger effect, we’ve explored the cognitive landscape of individuals who are unable to recognize their own ineptitude; and a corollary of the effect, those who wrongly assume that their competence comes as easy to others as it does to themselves. Both can be considered metacognitive deficiencies:  a lack of awareness of self on the one hand;  and a lack of awareness of others, on the other.  In Part IV, we look at an example of the consequences to society as a whole of these deficiencies by focusing on the systemic meltdown of the world economy in 2008, through the lens of the film, The Big Short.

The Big Short: A Wicked Dramedy for our Times

While there’s been no shortage of post-mortems on the cause of the Great Recession, the most entertaining has to be the new movie The Big Short, a Golden Globe and Oscar nominee for best film, based on Michael Lewis‘s book of the same name. The film follows three sometimes inter-related investment entities as they uncover the massive fraud that had taken over the real estate industry, and their efforts to profit from that knowledge. That a morality tale emerges in the wake of their pursuit of “price discovery,” a traditional goal of the free (unmanipulated) market, is just icing on the cake.

The protagonists include Michael Burry, M.D., played by Christian Bale, the only character identified by his real name; Brad Pitt, whose character is based on Ben Hockett, an arbitrage analyst for Deutsche Bank who advises a couple of his young neighbors working out of their garage in Berkeley, CA. doing business as Cornwall Capital  (in the film, they’re located in the much more photogenic Boulder, CO;  Ryan Gosling, whose character is based on Greg Lippmann, a subprime loan trader who worked at Deutsche Bank; and Steve Carell, who plays a character based on Steve Eisman, the managing partner of FrontPoint Partners, a private hedge fund working under the umbrella of Morgan Stanley.

Collectively, they pulled back the curtain of illusion that shrouded the rotten foundations of the mortgage bond industry. In so doing, they helped expose the systemic effects of greed, stupidity, denial, and fraud among the self-proclaimed masters of the universe who run the Wall Street casino. When the dust finally settled from the 2007-2008 crash,  the damage to the U.S. economy, according to a study by Congress’s General Accounting Office, was $22 trillion.  By comparison, an entire year’s GDP is roughly $13 trillion.

The Mortgage Bond Industry

The modern mortgage bond industry has been around since at least the creation of Fannie Mae in 1938 during the Great Depression. (In the 19th century, the collapse of railroad mortgage bonds contributed to the financial panic of 1857;  and mortgage back securities (MBS) contributed to the Great Depression that began in 1929.)  For thirty years, the modern MBS was considered to be a bullet proof investment, and a very lucrative one at that, helping to double Wall Street’s share of the nation’s GDP from 20% to 40% during that time.

By packaging individual mortgage loans into bonds, lenders can more easily replace money they’ve lent to individual borrowers.  It also has the effect of expanding the number and type of lenders beyond the traditional neighborhood savings and loans (which had its own industry-wide collapse in the 1980s, requiring a $124 billion bailout from the US taxpayer).  And most importantly to Wall Street, they generate huge fees and bonuses.

Mortgage bonds are comprised of thousands of individual loans of varying quality and credit worthiness.  They are stratified into so-called “tranches,” and then sold in a secondary market. In return, buyers receive regular interest payments, basically pass-throughs from borrowers’ monthly payments. Traditionally, an MBS consisted of 65% A to triple-A graded loans, and the remaining number various categories ranging all the way down to triple-B rated, aka “subprime loans,” which traditionally made up 5% of an individual bond. Those ratios would change drastically as the credit bubble expanded, with subprime accounting for 25% of the total.  Yet somehow, those bonds were still being rated triple-A from Standard and Poors and Moodys, Wall Street’s major bond ratings agencies. (More on their key role in the Great Fraud in Part V.)

Dr. Michael Burry

Burry started out as neurologist who just happened to have an affinity for numbers. An asocial loaner with a glass eye and Asperger’s syndrome, he spent his time poring over corporate 10k filings and other sources of investing information, relieved by periodic poundings on his drum set to heavy metal music pumping through his headphones.  He began making stock market trades during the long, wee hours of his internship, and posting them on a tech stock message board during the heyday of the dot-com bubble.

Bored with medicine, Burry started Scion Capital in 2001, a one-man firm located in San Jose, CA.  Using a modest amount of family money, he quickly racked up a highly successful stock picking and trading record. He created his own blog, where he wrote about his theories of investing.  By checking the server domains that his anonymous readers were logging in from, he realized that a lot of his followers were big Wall Street firms.  One regular visitor was Joel Greenblatt, author of You Can Be a Stock Market Genius.  Greenblatt called him up one day and told him that his firm, Gotham Capital, would like to buy a quarter of his company for a million dollars.

Other money came pouring in.  Three years later, Burry was managing $600 million, and turning new money away.  Instead of taking the usual 2% off the top as other hedge fund managers did, he charged actual expenses only, usually well below 1%.  In return, he required that individual investors give him complete autonomy, meaning that they couldn’t withdraw any of their money for at least a year, or as many as five.  This latter provision would prove crucial when the shit hit the fan in 2007-2008, when the financial firms whom he had bet against delayed paying up by manipulating the markets long enough to recover some of their losses.

In his capacity as a private fund manager, Burry dared to go where no one had gone before. He actually bothered to look inside individual mortgage bonds and analyzed their thousands of individual loan components. (Something that the bond ratings agencies were supposed to do, but didn’t.)  What he found stunned him— the credit quality of a large percentage of the individual borrowers was atrocious;  and was no way reflected in their parent bonds’ ratings.

So he decided to bet against the conventional wisdom that had suffused the mortgage bond industry for decades, whose major players were as oblivious to the accumulating risk as fish are to water.  That is, until they find themselves flopping around on a fishing boat deck wearing a barbed hook lip ring.

While his detailed research turned up traditional indicators of value— court rulings, deals with other companies, government regulatory actions, etc.— it was a macro indicator that really got Burry’s attention. Living in Silicon Valley, the heart of the high tech/internet industry, he couldn’t account for the fact that despite the bursting of dot-com bubble in the spring of 2000, which resulted in the loss 0f tens of thousands of high paying jobs, home sales seemed unaffected.  In fact, houses in his area continued to appreciate. Intrigued, he started looking under the hood at the engine that was then driving the real estate juggernaut.  He concluded that rising prices were being fueled by bogus loans. When the bubble finally burst, home prices fell some 50%, leaving the mortgage bond industry in tatters.

The Great Vampire Squid

In his analysis of the Great Recession, Rolling Stone investigative reporter Matt Taibii famously branded Goldman Sachs as:

the great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”

The Big Short' Vampire Squid

Shorting a stock involves borrowing and then selling it, with the expectation that you can repurchase and replace it later at a cheaper price, pocketing the difference.  No such mechanism existed for shorting subprime loans.  Tranches of these “dog shit” loans (as Steve Carell’s character so artfully describes them) were hiding in plain sight. But they were protected by their consolidation into large triple-A rated mortgage bonds, which never, ever failed.

So Burry approached Goldman Sachs in early 2005 and asked them to create him a specialized financial instrument that would allow him to bet against the subprime industry.  They just about laughed him out of the room.  In the film, they initially try to talk him out of his plan, but he remained unmoved. Given that the equivalent cost of a swap on a triple-B subprime loan was about ten times the cost of insuring a triple-A tranche;  and the odds of a triple-A loan defaulting in the first year was about one in 10,000, they were only too happy to separate this fool from his money.  So they opened their gigantic maw, whipped out their blood funnel, and set out to suck him dry.

Credit Default Swaps

After months of legal wrangling, Goldman created  “credit default swap” targeting the subprime market. While credit default swaps existed to insure whole bonds, no such policy existed to insure just their subprime components, at least any that had the specificity that Burry required. Without that specificity, his whole investment thesis would be for naught if he was proven right in the market but unable to collect from the financial entities underwriting his swaps.  Additionally, a lack of standardization would make it more difficult to sell them to other investors as the market for these novel products matured;  that is, when the rest of the Street removed their blinders and jumped in with both feet.

A key difference between Burry’s new, limited swaps and those used to insure whole bonds was that his were “naked swaps.”  This meant that he had no ownership interest in the underlying collateral used to secure the loans comprising the mortgage bond;  i.e., borrowers’ homes. If a whole mortgage bond fails, its collateral has to be liquidated, usually through a tedious and costly foreclosure process. (Different states have different foreclosure laws, which added immensely to the complexity of sorting out the fubar post-crash wreckage.)

Without (ahem) exposure to the collateral underlying the loans, Burry’s naked swaps were guaranteed 100% of their face value.  In contrast, liquidated mortgage bonds might only recover 50% of their value, and take years to unwind, generating significant legal fees along the way. (Okay, now that we’ve opened that metaphoric door, we might as well quote legendary Wall Street investor Warren Buffet: “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.“)

Just as important, Burry’s swaps were to be paid off incrementally as given tranches of subprime loans defaulted— no messy foreclosure process required. Under normal circumstances, the top-rated tranches of a bond are settled first, leaving whatever crumbs are left for the triple-B cellar dwellers to scrabble over.  This pecking order would prevail in the Great Liquidation to follow.  But that was of no concern to Burry.  He had already successfully whistled himself past the chilly Wall Street graveyard and into the warm, loving embrace of Scion’s bank.  Fending off lawsuits threatened by his own investors to return their munny during the nadir of the Great Unraveling, Burry eventually returned to them an astounding 489% on their investment.

With his novel credit default swaps, a new instrument for betting against the real estate industry was born.  In effect, Burry had created a completely new market.  How many people in history can lay claim to that?

Herewith ends Part IV.  In Part V, we continue with our exploration of the events that precipitated in the Great Recession, and try to answer the question:  To what extent was the biggest economic collapse in 78 years a product of simple greed and  fraud;  and how much a product of the Dunning-Kruger effect― a cognitive brain fart of massive proportions, characterized by incompetence and denial.

CRUZ a fiction

 Posted by on January 15, 2016 at 10:19 AM
Jan 152016
 

“I believe in Sen. Cruz because he believes what he’s saying.”

Barry Lee Senchunt, Ted Cruz supporter

Flannel CruzTed Cruz seeks out familiar backdrops, which tend to show off his ugly, ill-fitting wardrobe and help disguise his tiny shoulders.

 This.

Sometimes David Brooks writes something so completely out of touch with reality that the reader’s heart breaks at the pathos of it all, like you’re watching a baby duck with a broken wing trying to fly. Then you remember that he’s paid handsomely by The New York Times and given one of the largest platforms in the country to spout of (sic) his ill-informed opinions, and it’s right back to be (sic) angry again.

I’m not sure what “readers”  is talking about;  maybe it’s those readers who don’t notice all her typos;  but most of the people I know limit their reading of David Brooks‘ shit simply because they value what they’ve gone to the trouble of putting into their digestive tracts, and prefer it stay there.  And no, not a baby duck, either.  Maybe a wounded starling, or some other rat-bird.  Not something that stirs our compassion, but our loathing.

The  Brutalism  of  Ted  Cruz

Most of us recognize a repulsive scumbag amoral bully when we see one.   Using governmental power to take a petty thief to the supreme court to enforce an unjust sixteen year sentence on a man who had already served six fucking years of his life for shoplifting a calculator— a crime which carried a maximum two year sentence— well… that sort of hideousness is reserved for creatures like Raphael Edward Cruz.  And the more you learn about this loathsome gaggle of neurons the more your reaction to him should be something like this.

Citizenship

CamoCruz

If you want to see the camo, you must click it.

Contrary to Republican conventional wisdom, wearing the ugliest flannel shirts manufactured on the planet does not make you American.  Dressing up in camo and grease paint with a bunch of professional duck killers who shoot buckshot into water fowl does not make you American.  Being conceived by Americans on American soil technically qualifies you as an American.  Being born of an American womb somewhere else on the planet, not so much, maybe.

Republicans, like our boy Raphael, built and stoked the birther fires to burn President Obama at the stake.  And now with wry amusement and disdain, Democrats are watching the same sort of bigotry towards immigrants that Cruz has been campaigning on, being applied to himself.

Christian Evangelicals

1119216As Brooks said in a moment of clarity, Cruz “sows bitterness, influences his followers to lose all sense of proportion¹ and teaches them to answer hate with hate.”  Not exactly real Christian values.  So why is it Evangelicals continue to be so easily duped by loathsome callow scumbag politicians who mouth Christian values, but would probably push others out of the way to pound the nails into the hands and feet of their Lord and Savior?

Like every single one of the Republican pretenders to the throne, Cruz loves him some fear.  He can hardly get through an attack on Obama without expressing the virulent brutality that oozes from the dark lord Lucifer hisself, and threatening to destroy some things or some bodies in the name of divinely inspired peace and love.¹

Goldman Sachs Loan

Ted Cruz:  The New York Times is a commie rag.  Also David Brooks is a douchebag.  I was born a poor black child.  In Canada.  So of course I had to take money under the table.   My wife has naught but a good Republican cloth coat.  And my kids had a dog. Named Checkers.  Which was delicious.

Driftglass

¹ See “carpet bombing,” “glowing sand”

The Dunning-Kruger Effect: Part III

 Posted by on January 10, 2016 at 12:01 AM
Jan 102016
 

obamaguns dunning-kruger
A commentary video from the NRA claimed that President Obama stood in front of “the wrong people” when delivering a speech about gun violence before gun violence survivors, and that instead he should have stood before “the groups he is really helping: gang members, felons, and repeat offenders.” Media Matters

Introduction

In Part II of the Dunning-Kruger effect, President George W. Bush was presented as an example of a leader who couldn’t recognize and accept his own limitations, and was thus easy to manipulate. His position as president of the United States (and his mediocre IQ) made him especially vulnerable to sophisticated Wag the Dog operations designed to portray him as the kind of competent, intelligent leader he wasn’t. The apparent strategy of his handlers was to keep him tightly scripted and out of the public eye as much as possible. To that end, George  spent 407 days out of his office during the first three years of his presidency, at either his fake ranch in Crawford, Texas, or the Bush family retreat at Kennebunkport, Maine. (Remember the fake turkey he presented to the troops in Iraq? Symbol: meet reality.) By contrast, President Barack Obama, spent some 125 days out of the office over a comparable length of time.

While work habits can tell us something about a president’s general cognitive approach to problem solving and crisis resolution, they are other data points worth considering. They include: staff choices, the ability to delegate, the degree to which they write their own speeches, and intellectual curiosity. (Hint: One of the nicknames Bush earned for himself was “Incurious George.”)
Poster Chiled for the Dunning-Kruger effect

What Me Worry?

Perhaps the most telling comparison are the two men’s respective psychological profiles. In 2004, Dr. Justin Frank wrote his classic book Bush on the Couch. I was quite intrigued by the original and look forward to reading the revised edition published in 2007, which among other things describes Bush’s “telling habits and coping strategies—from his persistent mangling of English to his tendency to ‘go blank’ in the midst of crisis.” Remember his deer-in-the-headlights look when an aide interrupted him to tell him that the World Trade center was burning while he was reading My Pet Goat to Florida school children?

I also look forward to reading Dr. Frank’s analysis of President Obama, Obama on the Couch, published in 2012, and comparing the two in a future post (or five). For now, a blurb relevant to our current discussion will have to suffice.

 “Dr. Frank argues that the President’s decisions are motivated by inner forces – in particular, he focuses on Obama’s overwhelming need to establish consensus, which can occasionally undermine his personal—and his party’s—objectives.”

In Dr. Frank’s own introduction, he notes that Obama’s passion to find common ground actually makes Tea Party types even crazier, which goes a long way towards explaining their vehement resistance to everything he proposes. What makes their fanatical opposition all the more remarkable is that it reaches its greatest intensity when it concerns an issue that they themselves supported in the past, some ten in total to this accounting at Electablog. These include: the individual mandate at the heart of both Obama Care and Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts health  care plan; donor disclosure in campaign financing reform; clean energy measures; changes in Medicare to save $700 billion; creation of a deficit reduction commission; and background checks for gun purchasers. (For the latter, see also: Republicans-suddenly-turn-against-enforcing-existing-law-on-guns-because-Obama). In other word, they are incapable of taking Yes for an answer.

Obama and Dunning-Kruger: A Psychological Corollary

Being investigations into human behavior, cognitive studies are designed to be nonpartisan (maybe not always successfully so, but at least they try). A related corollary of the Dunning-Kruger findings that I believe President Obama is representative of can be found in the following observation:

The miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others.

I once commented that if the young “Barry” Obama, growing up in Hawaii, had gone to a public school instead of the sheltered confines of a private school, he would have graduated a lot tougher, street smart kid. As such, he would have learned to better divine the malicious intent of others. I lived on Maui during the seventies when “Kill Haole Day” was an annual event celebrated in the public schools; when it was open-season on “heepies” like me. Hippies were perceived as weak, shiftless, nudist drug addicts who had taken over some favorite local beaches, and were thus fair game.(Imo, we were proxies for many otherwise justifiable local discontents, like the invasion of hotel industry that paid shit wages and, of course, high-end housing developers.)  I learned pretty quickly to recognize “the evil eye” and other signs of imminent danger, a cognitive skill that me daddy ironically called “native intelligence.” I can  think of a few times when a single “miscalibration” would have resulted in serious harm to my person.

During his early years in the White House, Obama was seemingly the last person to grok the fact that the Right Wing hated his guts and would do everything in their power to destroy him and his presidency, notwithstanding the obvious signs that were out there. Beginning with his inauguration, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell set out to derail Obama’s legislative agenda. This despite the  fact that the country was reeling from the economic catastrophe of the Great Recession,  a moldering shit sandwich that Bush left Obama in an Oval Office desk drawer. It took an extraordinary level of denial for Obama to have thought that the Rethugs would willingly compromise on policy differences and work for the better interests of the country; that his charm and intellectual acuity would win the day; that he could get the leopards to change their spots. It was only after the 2014 elections that he began disabusing himself of this near fatal cognitive “miscalibration.”

Really, all he had to do was pick up the phone and call “the first black president,” Bill Clinton, for an inkling of what was to come. (If the Clintons had procured  even a small royalty from the sales of books, videos, t-shirts, bumper stickers, etc., from the cottage industry that institutionalized “the politics of personal destruction,” Hillary could never have claimed that they left the White House “dead broke.” As if….)

Recently, it was reported that―horror of horrors!Obama doesn’t watch enough cable news, and therefore doesn’t understand the nation’s concerns about  terrorism. Instead of spending critical time listening  to self-promoting, bloviating talk show hosts dedicated to the failure of his presidency (consequences to the country be damned), Obama prefers to listen to the nation’s 17 intelligence agencies for information about threats to the Commonwealth. These include dangers from ISIS/Daesh/ISIL, Russian military machinations, China’s growing power and influence, the national security implications of global climate changemass killings, the growing anti-government militia movement, etc., etc.

Some, like me, would consider eschewing the manufactured reality of the cable news media-industrial-complex a feature and not a bug, but what do we know.

Another corollary:

…highly skilled individuals may underestimate their relative competence, they may erroneously assume that tasks which are easy for them are also easy for others.

One of the most frequent criticisms of Obama is that he is arrogant, aloof, detached, and, clench your cheeks,  professorial. He analyzes a problem, comes to a logical conclusion, and expects every one else to do likewise, once they’ve been presented the facts. But for those with a different point of view and a different agenda, No Drama Obama is out of touch, especially with the nation’s  feelings about terrorism. And according to two time presidential candidate and loser, Mitt Romney, out of touch with reality itself.

Gun Control: Obama’s Dunning-Kruger Breakaway Moment

Terrorism aside, the issue that has finally forced Obama to transcend his “miscalibrations” about the competency of others to realize their own stupidity is, tada―gun control.  His new, tougher attitude towards the gun lobby was on full display Thursday night at a “Guns in America” town hall meeting at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, hosted by CNN. Author of Idiot America Charlie Pierce has the coverage:

“Yeah, I meant what I said,” Obama said when asked about the op-ed by moderator Anderson Cooper. “And the reason I said that is this: The majority of people in this country are a lot more sensible than what you see in Washington.” Obama singled out the National Rifle Association as one of the “loudest, shrillest voices” against gun control and told the audience “[that] the way we break the deadlock on this issue is when the NRA doesn’t have a stranglehold on Congress in this debate.” To that end, the president said, “I want to throw my shoulders behind those who want to solve problems, and not those who want to get high scores from an interest group.”

It should be noted that the NRA chickened out when CNN invited them to attend the discussion. And that a new CNN poll shows that 67% of Americans support the gun control measures Obama announced this week. Pierce broadens his field of fire by taking the media to task for their enabling role in keeping the crazy going crazy:

Moreover, he was taking no guff from Cooper on the subject of why people believe nonsense about what his real plans are. Glory hallejujah, said I. Somebody finally is taking the Third Great Premise of Idiot America—Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is determined by how fervently they believe it.—seriously enough to refute it.

This is just beautiful. The president is telling members of his own party to man up and support mild gun safety measures of which nearly the entire country approves, and he’s telling the media to stop enabling crazy people simply because their madness is so sincere.

Certainty is the mother of sincerity. As Mark Twain observed:” 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.” And a corollary from A Compendium of Wise Sayings From George Costanza, also applies: “It isn’t a lie, if you believe it.” Cue music from Fleetwood Mac: “Tell  me lies, tell me sweet little lies…”

In close, we must ask: When will individual members of the NRA realize they are being used as dupes by the gun industry to jack sales? They should be less concerned about Obama taking their guns away and more concerned about the NRA and Fux News taking away what’s left of their common sense.

Case in point:

    According to a Fux News host,  Obama used a raw onion to fake tears while talking about school kids dying

Next, in Part IV of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, we look at the new film The Big Short, for an example of how incompetency at the highest levels of government and industry is not only excused, but rewarded.

The Powell Memo: Part II

 Posted by on December 31, 2015 at 12:05 AM
Dec 312015
 

 

Repug2016Clowns

Awaiting the release of the new 2016 GOP clown car (lap band belts included)

In the Powell Memorandum, Part I, we explored the path to plutocratic power, beginning with a secret memo that future Supreme Court Justice Lewis f. Powell, Jr.  presented to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on August 23, 1971. The second stage of its realization was embodied in the US Supreme Court decision in Citizens United. And the third stage awaits fulfillment with a hoped-for victory in the GOP’s bid to win the White House (as well as maintaining control of the other two branches of government). It is to this third stage that we now turn our attention.

Hyperbolic, inflammatory rhetoric has been the hallmark of the 2016 GOP presidential primaries to date. For example: Marco Rubio‘s charge that President Obama is destroying the U.S. military; Rick Santorum‘s charge that the Obama administration is bringing in “radical Muslims and LGBT refugees to remake the country and undermine cultural values; Donald Trump‘s slurs against that Mexicans are rapists and criminals; Mike Huckabee‘s contention that there was no difference between President Obama’s handling of Social Security and Medicare and a Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme; Ben Carson‘s claim that the Egyptian pyramids were actually grain repositories built by and for the Jews; and Ted Cruz‘s promise to carpet bomb ISIS to see if he can make sand glow in the dark. None of this manipulative language targeted at the GOP id is likely survive the end of the primary elections.

However, the policy implications of this kind of craziness on the GOP platform is a clown car of a different color. With the advent of Superpacs, a consequence of the Supreme Court’s infamous ruling in Citizens United, marginal candidates who would have previously dropped out of the running for lack of funds, can now soldier-on right into the Republican nomination convention. Instead of their delegates being liberated, i.e., up for grabs, will they now remain under his or hers control, and by extension, the control of the candidate’s  anonymous Big Money contributors? That’s a crucial question confronting Reince Preibus and the GOP establishment in the weeks and months to come. A brokered convention with  muscular Superpac component is shaping up to be the political equivalent of a Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome sequel.

Traditionally, any candidate coming into the convention with less than a clear-cut majority has had to cut deals behind the scenes. This has taken the form of promised appointments to a future Republican administration, and/or incorporation of cherished policy positions into the GOP general election platform. Now the equation has changed. Now the smoked filled rooms will likely be filled with Superpac proxies for plutocrats like Sheldon Adelson, David and Charles Koch, Texas oilmen, real estate developers, Wall Street banksters, and hedge fund managers, who find their previous influence enhanced. Example: they can now effectively double-dip by giving the maximum personal donation, as well as by channeling funds anonymously through specialized 501(c)(4)s, aka “social welfare organizations.” (Is that last designation irony, hypocrisy, or self-parody? We report, you decide. )  

The promise of the majority in Citizens United that their ruling would maintain transparency in the political process may go down as the Court’s greatest helping of rationalized bullshit ever. An example of just how easy it is to skirt campaign financing disclosure rules was demonstrated by the Kochs in California during the 2012 financing ballot initiative, for which they were fined a measly one million dollars. Pocket change for the Koch brothers and other aspiring plutocrats, merely the cost of doing business in the Citizens United enabled dark-money universe.

It’s been a pretty straight line from the Powell Manifesto, to Citizens United, to the rise of anonymous billionaire financed Superpacs. As the crowded GOP presidential race has shown, there are no shortage of opportunists willing to prostitute themselves for a place at the table. So crowed in fact that debate organizers have been forced to add kiddie tables at each one the debates.

KidsTable2016Were’re Number One! We’re number One! 

While the the herd is being thinned (Rest In Pieces: Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Lindsey Graham, Rick Perry, George Pataki) many Superpac contributors may yet show a profitable return on their investment. Especially if the 2016 GOP convention in Cleveland this coming July becomes a brokered affair, where even a few Superpac committed delegates would be worth their weight in gold. Of course, that assumes a fact not in evidence: that there are any neutral brokers left in the party are acceptable to the Establishment Repubs on the one handMarco Rubio, John Kasich, Chris Christie, and Jeb!?! Bush; and on the other, right wing extremists that are currently leading in the pollDonald  Trump, Ted Cruz, and Ben Carson who collectively out-poll their Establishment rivals 3:1 (according to the latest CNN/ORC poll).

That said, the influence of Superpacs may end up being less than originally expected. One need only look at the biggest Superpac spending to date, some $50 million for Jeb Bush, and the meager results they’ve  produced thus far; and the success of the Un-Superac candidate, Bernie Sanders.

As for the rest of the GOP pack, Jim Gilmore, Mike Huckabee, and Rand Paul, none of them seem to have a chance, especially if they don’t have significant Superpac backing. As for Carly Fiorina, she seems to be in the race only to improve her Q rating and corporate speaking fees, since she won’t even bother to post any position papers on her web site.

What started out as a messy GOP presidential primary looks like it’s going to get a whole lot worse. But as anyone who listens to the right wing noise machine knows, it’s all Obama’s fault. That’s been their default position for even self-inflicted wounds like the Trumpenstein monster they created, poised now to burn their laboratory/house to the ground.

Pass the popcorn, the pitchforks, and the torches.

Lifeboat Ethics For Compassionate Conservatives?

 Posted by on December 20, 2015 at 10:12 AM
Dec 202015
 

There are no Compassionate Conservatives in lifeboats…
or anywhere else.

Compassionate Conservatives?Confronted with the ethics of other in a lifeboat of their own making, five “leaders” tell it like it is. . .

In Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1944 film, Lifeboat, a few British and U.S. civilians, a German combatant, and a couple merchant marines are stuck in a lifeboat* together after their ship and a U-boat sink each other in combat.  It was highly controversial back then, and our updated contemporary version is too;  it goes like this.

It seems the USS GOP, an aged and fossilized frigate of the past, had been gradually filling up with bilge from Fox News and Rightwing radio for decades, but nobody thought to purge any of the foul brew until it was far too late.  The GOP began floundering after Captains Bush and Cheney abandoned ship in 2008.  As she lay wallowing keel up, a lifeboat of the GOP was launched containing a few of her “finest” officers.  Our metaphorical film begins with this lifeboat drifting aimlessly in a moral sea of polarized propaganda.

DAS LIFEBOOT

The scene begins with “Rubio,” the spawn of illegal Cuban immigrants turned naturalized Americans, being pulled aboard the lifeboat, but when the “Others” see he is kinda brown, they accuse him of being a possible Muslim terrorist infiltrator, despite his finely tailored Cuban fishing ensemble, and it’s suggested he be thrown back into the shark infested waters.  He denies being a Muslim or a terrorist, claiming instead to be a hapless immigrant patriot off a sinking Cuban fishing boat.  A vitriolic debate erupts with one Teddy Cruz, a creepy weakling derp with a smart mouth and an assault rifle, born in Canada of, yeah, another Cuban father, and an American mother;  but he demands this Cuban be thrown out of the boat to be eaten or to drown, whichever comes first.

Surprise surprise, some of the Others object!  And you might think, well hey, there’s some “compassion” for you right there;  but you would be wrong.  An obscenely wealthy real estate narcissist, Donald Trump, and a disgraced and bitter ex-CEO, Carly Fiorina— who conveniently speaks “Cuban”— instinctively realize they need someone to keep the boat clean for them, so serve them, to empty their shitpots;  they insist he be allowed to stay.
Ben Carson, a black man, who was allowed to stay because he was the GOP ‘s corpsman and seemed to know his way around the privatized medical kit, shrugs his agreement.  Cruz and Rubio are immediately put on salary by Trump to use the boat’s oars— not to make way— but to keep out any small-o “others”— you know— anyone lost at sea who may try to climb onboard.

Fiorina, it seemswhose primary concern at first was a run in her stocking, has managed to bring her luggage with her.  Soon it becomes apparent she is obsessed over (supposedly) having seen a video in which a fetus is sold one piece at a time by evil liberals. She claims to have the proof in her luggage, but can’t actually find it when asked, and her endless daily bleating about it provokes a series of escalating altercations with most of the men-Trump-who want to use her for bait use her for food when the time comes.

Our film then follows the lifeboat cohabitants as they attempt to organize and mete out their rations, set a course for still waters, green pastures, and, you know— coexist to stay alive.  With the exception of Trump, they start out being good-natured and optimistic about getting rescued and making their lives “great again.”

About every half hour Trump makes it clear to everyone that he is “astonishingly wealthy,” and if he gets all the food and fresh water he wants, he assures all of them that those who “treat him right” will later see his wealth “trickle down,” so to speak, upon them all.

In a grandiose ceremony, Trump writes a ridiculously large I.O.U to Cruz on a piece of toilet tissueif Cruz will provide him with all 99% of the lifeboat’s food and water.  Cruz and his assault rifle takes charge, rationing what little food and water they have accordingly, with 99% going to Trump, and the rest to himself, Fiorina, Carson, and Rubio.

As the days drift slowly on, the backstories of each of their characters are scrutinized;  divisions of race, religion, sex, economic status, and nationality are brought up from the dark depths to the surface.  But they soon descend into deception, fear-mongering, and ugly bigotry with each other.

Rubio, who has been secretly consulting a compass, wrests the assault rifle away from Cruz during one of their debilitating daily debates.  It turns out Cruz‘s assault rifle was never actually loaded, because he never had any real ammunition.

Early the next morning before the gray dawn, as the Others are sleeping fitfully, Carson, who has only survived onboard because of his skills with the knife he keeps up his sleeve— and more recently his drinking of copious amounts of seawater*— catches Rubio sneaking a sip of bottled water he had secreted in suitcoat of his tailored Cuban ensemble.

*The salinity of seawater is almost four times that of our bodily fluids.  Unchecked, the net transfer of water from the inside of your cells to the outside will cause the cells to shrink— and shrinkage is never good.  Dehydration sets in;  depleted body fluids;  muscle cramps;  dry mouth;  and yeah, thirst.

The body tries to compensate for the fluid loss by increasing the heart rate and constricting blood vessels to maintain blood pressure and flow to vital organs. You’re going to feel nausea, weakness, and delirium.

Thus Carson, babbling incoherent word salad about Rubio to his drowsy fellow travelers, is too delirious to be taken seriously;  they return to their slumber, even as Ben gets bumped off the stern, and quickly sinks out of site.

When a brutal sun eventually awakens the Others, and finding no one to carry away their fetid bedpans, they turn to question Rubio.  When they notice that his upper lip is actually sweating— like Richard Nixon’s used to do when he was lying— Cruz discovers his hoarded bottles of Poland Spring water in his jacket.  In a spasm of anger led by Fiorina, they descend upon him as a group, beating him with their fists and Fiorina’s luggage, and throw him overboard.
Then Trump personally strikes him numerous times with one of Ben‘s boots to prevent him from re-boarding and, as he struggles to stay afloat in the murky water, Trump, in mock disillusionment of Rubio‘s behavior, laments to Fiorina and Cruz: “He was such a terrible person. What a loser. What do you do with people like that?  What else can you do??  We have no choice!  We   have   no   choice.”

Rubio is suddenly bitten in half by a huge great white shark.

 

Within a few hours, the Others are spotted by yet another Cuban fishing boat, to which Rubio had been steering them.  But before they can be picked up, the fishing boat is sunk by smart bombs from a U.S. drone.  A  lone survivor, a frightened young Cuban seaman floating in the wreckage, grabs hold of their lifeboat.  The surviving passengers begin debating whether to bring him aboard, or just bash his face in with a boat oar, when they are distracted by another approaching vessel— the USS Iowa.  The Cuban sailor, seeing his chance, suddenly pulls a gun on them, but is surprised by Fiorina‘s luggage against his skull, and is disarmed.  Cruz gets the sailor’s handgun and gives it to Trump.

The sailor asks, “Aren’t you going to kill me?”  Trump waves the gun at him and mocks him in a high pitched whine, saying, “‘Aren’t you going to kill me?’  Didn’t you try to kill me??  What can you do with people like that?  What else can you do??  We have no choice!”

Lifeboat Ethics?

How can we expect rich white men, who are not even prepared to pay their fair share of taxes to help those less fortunate than themselves, to suddenly decide to give up their lives for people that they may very well despise— brown people, black people, lesbians, Muslims, Syrians, atheists;  others.

Tough times call for tough decisions, and after the last Republican debate it’s clear they think things couldn’t be worse.  We’re at WAR they said.  Immigrants are flooding across every border day and night, 24-7.  And even if only ONE OF THEM eventually turns out to be a terrorist, well, we’re all fucked.

It’s painful to live in fear.  But Republicans, it seems, will not live any other way, refusing to see the world as nothing but a threatening, horrifying catastrophe;  with death and destruction looming over every new horizon.  You know, they only need enough “other” people to keep them comfortable in their quarters, to bring them their food and water, to keep their boat from sinking.

What do you do with people like that?

 

 

The Shocking Truth About Donald Trump

 Posted by on December 15, 2015 at 12:00 AM
Dec 152015
 

Donald Trump Shocking Truth

Donald Trump: Running for Honorary Caliph?

Bush They LiveThe movie They Live provides another example of  how life imitates art

In John Carpenter’s classic sci-fi movie They Live (1988), a race of evil aliens has secretly taken over the planet. They maintain control by broadcasting stealth radio frequencies that not only makes them look like human members of the ruling class, but encodes subliminal messages into various advertising media to manipulate the populace, commanding them to obey, consume, and reproduce. Only by donning specially crafted lenses can their wearer remove the subliminal filters to see what lies beneath.

Subliminal messaging has a well-documented history in advertising. In politics, it is referred to as “dog whistling”, the use of code words and phrases to arouse and manipulate specific emotions like fear and prejudice in the subconscious of their target audience. The target audience of the traditional GOP establishment (i.e., rich Wall Street Yale grad types) has shifted over the decades, necessitated by the need for securing a greater number of votes from the peasant class. Getting people to vote against their own interests while maintaining the tax breaks, corporate welfare, and other privileges of the Ruling Class is as much an art as it is a science. That’s why master propagandists like Roger Ailes get paid the big bucks.

In the 1960s, their target audience was the so-called Yellow Dog Democrats, who felt betrayed by President Lyndon Johnson after he signed the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. Imagine the blow to white Southerners’ self-esteem when they were forced to share things like restaurants, public drinking fountains, the education system, and the voting booth wit dem damn darkies. This is turn gave rise to a sense of victim-hood, fomented and exploited by politicians, authors, and media personalities to further their own interests: getting elected to public office, selling books, and increasing their Q ratings. In the succeeding decades, other voting demographics have been targeted: fundamentalist Christians and Evangelicals (who had traditionally avoided politics); and anti-government Tea Party types who, much to the chagrin of the Ruling Class, have become powerful enough to dominate the primary process.

Enter billionaire real estate mogul and reality television show star Donald “Your Fired!” Trump, whose primary business interest these last few years has been the building and selling his personal brand (as has his fellow GOP presidential contenders, “outsiders” Ben ‘The Knife” Carson and Carly “Corporate Wrecking Ball” Fiorina). What many pundits had initially dismissed as a clever, inexpensive, marketing scam has morphed into a situation where Trump, who has expanded his lead over the rest of the GOP field in most state and national polls, is suddenly a serious possibility for becoming the GOP nominee. (Much to his own surprise, I’d wager.)

Conspiracy theories abound. One casts Trump, a long-time friend of the Clintons and a donor to their foundation, as their Trojan Horse, a clever device to divide the Republican Party. Last week there were rumors that GOP insiders are frantically plotting their first brokered convention since 1976, a possibility that had Ben Carson saying he would bolt the party along with Trump and run as Independents if the democratic delegate election process was aborted by the Powers That Be. (Romney to the rescue?)

Donald Trump for Honorary Caliph!

But perhaps the most exotic conspiracy theory portrays The Donald as Secret ISIS Agent Trump, whose pogrom against Muslims will have the effect of driving recruitment for Daesh/ISIL/ISIS to unprecedented levels. Of course, this doesn’t have to be a conscious betrayal, just the inevitable karmic repercussion of The Law of Unintended Consequences of Infinite Dickitude.

Beyond the immediate political repercussions of The Donald’s call for preventing all Muslims from entering the country, there are sociological, geopolitical, and financial knock-on effects as well. Consider just the sociological ramifications of his call to, among other things: register Muslims in a centralized government database; put their mosques under surveillance; and flag their drivers’ license with their religious affiliation. (He hasn’t yet suggested they wear yellow (or green) crescents sewed on the outside of their clothing, but following the inexorable laws of political pornography, there’s still plenty of time for that.) I mean, what could go wrong? Why shouldn’t that inspire America’s 3 million Muslims to identify potential terrorists in their own neighborhoods, despite being suspected of being potential terrorists themselves?

Since the Paris and San Bernardino atrocities, attacks against Muslims and their mosques have increased dramatically. (One baseline being a 2014 FBI report of 154 hate crimes perpetrated against Muslims). These include the throwing of a pig’s head at the doors of a Philadelphia mosque; the arson attack on a mosque just 90 miles from the site of the San Bernardino mass murders by Daesh linked extremists; and the vandalizing of two other California mosques.

Then there are the geopolitical consequences. For example, Juan Cole reports:

After criticism from both the left and the right, Donald Trump tweeted Thursday that he will delay his visit to Israel and Jerusalem. The wealthy business tycoon and apparent presidential candidate had previously stated that he planned to visit the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and then force his way into the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam.

As for the financial repercussions, consider just the ones that effect Trump alone.

Prominent UAE-based businessman Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor has ruled out any chance of working with US presidential candidate Donald Trump, saying he doesn’t trust him anymore. Branding billionaire Trump “the biggest enemy of Islam” over his call to ban Muslims from entering the US, Al Habtoor said he was no longer supporting his bid for power.

In August, Al Habtoor wrote an opinion piece criticising US president Barack Obama for the rise of ISIL and saying Trump would be a welcome breath of fresh air and was “someone prepared to put their money where their mouth is”.

But in a video interview with CNN, Al Habtoor said: “I view him as the biggest enemy of Islam. He is a man supporting ISIS… he is encouraging them, this is what they want to hear.”

Earlier in the year Trump called Mexicans “drug traffickers and rapists,” demanding that all 11 million of them be deported. This helped secure the support of David Duke’s KKK,; as well as the Hitler Party, as announced by the neo-Nazi website, The Daily Stormer. The wannabe Storm Troopers doubled down last week with the headline:

“Heil Donald Trump—the Ultimate Savior.”

The good news is that Trump is throwing away the stock-in-trade Republican dog whistle, used traditionally to evoke the entrenched racism and religious bigotry of the knuckle dragging portion of its base. No need now for subtext, nuance, magical sunglasses, or intricate subliminal messaging to reveal what lies beneath.  Instead, The Trumpster is telling his target audience exactly what they want to hear: Muslims are out to kill us, and only he can make us safe.

The bad news that in the process he is letting slip the dogs of war. This of course plays right into the hands of the ISIL and their ilk, whose apocalyptic fantasies are woven around the instigation of a religious war with the Christian West,Clash of Civilizations, to use the classic neocon formulation.

As the great existential philosopher Pogo put it: We have met the enemy, and he is us.

FASCIST (Updated)

 Posted by on November 20, 2015 at 5:00 PM
Nov 202015
 

Trump Fascist

“We’re going to have to do things that we never did before. Some people are going to be upset about it, but I think that now everybody is feeling that security is going to rule.”
— Donald tRump

 

Betty’s Pie Whole is the last place on earth that you would expect to find a copy of FASCIST magazine. It’s strictly a place for stuffing delicious pie into one’s pie hole.  That’s it.  So finding this cover of FASCIST staring up at me from a booth seat was sort of like finding a piece of fresh ‘n gnarly roadkill stuck to a church pew;  emphasis on “pewww.”

But there it was.  And being me, I was compelled to pick it up.  As you can see, the cover is, well, Damaging.  If I have to explain that, you wouldn’t understand.  I started paging through the Mag after ordering a strawberry-rhubarb pie, to find Trump saying, “We’re going to have to do things that we never did before. Some people are going to be upset about it, but I think that now everybody is feeling that security is going to rule.”  He’s right; I’m upset; he’s ruining my pie fest, and my country.

Yesterday, Trump apparently refused to say how his Muslim “registry” would be different from the Nazi’s policy of forcing Jews to register. The New York Times:

When asked how a system of registering Muslims would be carried out — whether, for instance, mosques would be where people could register — Mr. Trump said: “Different places. You sign up at different places. But it’s all about management. Our country has no management.’’

Asked later, as he signed autographs, how such a database would be different from Jews having to register in Nazi Germany, Mr. Trump repeatedly said, “You tell me,” until he stopped responding to the question.

Public Policy Polling completed just yesterday found that 27% of likely Republican primary voters support shutting down all mosques in the U.S.  Just 38% said they opposed the idea, and 35% were too busy searching for their own butt to even answer.

So Ima have to get back to you on this, after I read the mag, drink some wine, and I have some pie to finish; but I’ll tell you this.  I’m already intellectually apoplectic over Trump’s comments, and just forget about Carson’s comparison of Syrian refugees to rabid dogs.  These nut jobs have already ruined the holidays, not to mention the next year of our lives.  Bet on it.

Fear mongering is like sex for Republicans, and they just can’t get enough of it.  I think it’s about absolutely time to bring the hammer* down on their little we we’s… there’s no place for this shit in America.

*Yeah, a two pound hammer.


UPDATE:

Let’s start with a few facts.

AP  JULIE PACE and JILL COLVIN

Trump was pressed on the idea of a registry by an NBC News reporter Thursday evening while the candidate campaigned in Iowa. Asked if there should be a database system for tracking Muslims in the United States, Trump said, “There should be a lot of systems, beyond databases.”  The reporter asked if that was something Trump would put in place as president. Trump replied: “I would certainly implement that. Absolutely.”

Trump also told the reporter that Muslims would “have to be” registered and said that the registration process could occur at “different places.”

So let the weaseling begin.

In an interview on Fox News Channel on Friday evening, Trump tried to clarify his position. “I want a watch list for the Syrian refugees that (President Barack) Obama’s going to let in if we don’t stop him as Republicans,” he said.

As “Republicans”;  not Americans. Because Americans don’t play that shit.

“I want to have watch lists. I want to have surveillance. I mean, we’re not a bunch of babies,” he said.

Not a “bunch of babies”?  Sigh.

Trump has also voiced support for closing certain mosques as a way to contain the terrorist threat in the U.S.

The House passed legislation this past week essentially barring Syrian and Iraqi refugees from the United States. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has slotted the bill for possible Senate consideration, though it’s unclear whether the chamber could get enough votes to override a threatened veto by President Barack Obama.

The Republican candidates’ unified criticism of Trump was striking.

His rivals have vacillated in how they have handled other inflammatory comments from Trump, apparently wary of alienating his supporters while increasingly concerned that he has held his grip on the race deep into the fall.

Other perspectives.

Civil liberties experts said a database for Muslims would be unconstitutional on several counts. The libertarian Cato Institute’s Ilya Shapiro said the idea violates basic privacy and liberty rights.

Marci Hamilton, a Yeshiva University legal expert on religious liberty, said requiring Muslims to register appears to be a clear violation of the Constitution’s protection of religious freedom.  “What the First Amendment does and what it should do is drive the government to use neutral criteria,” Hamilton said. “You can use neutral criteria to identify terrorists. What it can’t do is engage in one-religion bashing. That won’t fly in any court.”

Hubba hubba.  Reality.

Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton, at a Tennessee rally Friday evening, said, “Mr. Trump has attacked Mexican immigrants, he’s attacked women, and now he’s attacking Muslim Americans. At some point you have to ask yourself, is that the kind of country we are?”

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said Trump’s words were “outrageous and bigoted.”

One of those comments actually gets right to the point.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich said requiring people to register with the federal government because of their religion “strikes against all that we have believed in our nation’s history.”

See?  At least one Republican is able to state the obvious.

Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon who has challenged Trump’s lead in the GOP race, said the U.S. should have a database on “every foreigner who comes into this country,” but he rejected the idea of tracking U.S. citizens based on their religion.  “One of the hallmarks of America is that we treat everybody the same,” he said. “If we’re just going to pick out a particular group of people based on their religion, based on their race, based on some other thing, that’s setting a pretty dangerous precedent.”

Because, picking out a particular group of people— “foreigners”?  “…based on their religion, based on their race, based on some other thing”— some thing like, say, being immigrants, or refugees, who don’t want their children to die in a senseless war—  “…that [is] setting a pretty dangerous precedent.”  Could his soft-pedaling of racism and bigotry as “setting a pretty dangerous precedent” be meant to ease the shock of America’s actual values on the Republican base, who Carson and Trump are depending on to win the nomination?

“Old things are passing away;
behold, all things are becoming new.”

Perhaps.  But Fuck that.  Any candidate—Republican or whatever— willing to take a dump on our values for political gain, for fear of the “foreigner”— must, as the seer of old said—  pass away. And I say, good riddance.