I Want a Bailout


Suppose it’s August 2007. You apply for a line of credit against the equity in your existing home. CitiBank approves a line of credit that allows you to invest in some undeveloped property and still have something left for building a modest vacation home where you can be near your family for part of the year.

Fast forward to November 2008. CitiBank sends you a letter. It claims that the venerable financial institution has reviewed your assets and concluded that you are no longer in a position financially to meet payments on the balance of your line of credit, should you wish to borrow that money. They’ve decided to zero out your balance, effective November 5. The letter you hold in your hands arrived by regular mail on November 6.

You’re stuck. You have a piece of property with no prospect now of building. It’s unlikely that you could sell it for what you paid for it a year ago. And, in any case, you don’t want to sell it; you want to pursue your dream. But CitiBank has revoked your line of credit. This despite the fact that you’ve made all your monthly payments on schedule for over a year.

You wonder what changes in your financial situation could have reversed CitiBank’s kind disposition toward you. And then it occurs to you. Maybe it’s not your financial condition that has them worried, but their own financial condition that has them over the barrel. Maybe they’re afraid you’ll write a check against your line of credit and they won’t be able to cover it.

Sure enough, a week later you learn that CitiBank has recently laid off tens of thousands of employees and that they lost billions of dollars during the past twelve months. “Aha!” you think. “So that’s what happened!”

Is it any consolation to know that they freaked, and then dissembled? Of course not. You’re still stuck. You secretly hope that CitiBank will be held accountable, that maybe the CEO will have to look for work.

And then you learn today that CitiBank has been offered a bailout, because the economy needs it. Isn’ that nice?

The above scenario has been played out for countless customers of CitiBank. The details vary but the shenanigans are the same. Some customers “took out” a line of credit to have greater security for a rainy day. Others to meet expenses for children in college. And others to make essential repairs on the only home they’ll ever own. Every one of the customers victimized by CitiBank’s recklessness deserves a bailout as much as CitiBank. But what are the chances they’ll be getting a letter in the next week saying, “We’re happy to announce that your original line of credit has been reinstated?”

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Bill O’Reilly Goes Over the Top on the Angry Factor


Bill O’Reilly is “looking out for you.” This, of course, presupposes that he knows two things about you: what you care about—your values, your priorities, that sort of thing—and what’s good for you.

Recently he’s been interviewing (interrogating?) guests about the economic fiasco brought down on us by recent events and the agents behind those events. He now suggests (“suggests” is too mild here) that “the people” are angry. They’re angry at the government and all those CEOs who get paid scandalous amounts of money, because we now have to pay for the bailout we didn’t choose. In fact, “the people” are so angry that the economy is pretty much the only thing that matters to them right now. And “right now” is an election period.

OK. Time for a deep breath. Are people angry? I suppose so. Are they seething with anger? Are they so preoccupied with the state of the economy that anger is their dominant emotion right now? I don’t see signs of that among the people around me. It’s possible, of course, that O’Reilly knows “the people” better than I, though I am one of “the people.” I suspect, however, that O’Reilly’s schtick self-selects for people who fit a certain profile and who may be as angry as O’Reilly says they are.

I like it that O’Reilly pursues his guests with decent follow-up questions and exposes the “spin” for what it is. There isn’t enough of that in the media. I often cringe at the way O’Reilly conducts business on his show, and there are times when I wish he would ask more penetrating questions than he does. That’s right, more penetrating. But I digress.

I don’t presume to speak for “the people.” Speaking only for myself, I acknowledge my frustration with government and with this bailout/rescue idea. I’m not pleased with the way my family has been and will continue to be affected by the screwball decisions that have been made and will continue to be made. But Bill O’Reilly goes too far in representing the level of my frustration. Call it anger if you like, but my feelings about this are not so viscerally combustible that the economy is the only thing I care about in this election. I’m beginning to think it’s a media ploy, oddly endorsed both by Bill O’Reilly and by those he calls “the mainstream media.” I hope I’m not alone in this. I hope our economic woes have not lit such a fire that we are blinded by them and indifferent about other major challenges that we face in this country, other issues of long-term significance. I refer to the conduct of war with our enemies, the character and experience of our leaders, the future composition of the United States Supreme Court, and much else besides.

We’re at a place today where the media are telling us, “It’s the economy stupid.” And when the media are telling us what we’re supposed to think and feel, in that inimitably condescending way of theirs, I get suspicious. I don’t like being told how I feel when it’s not how I feel, and I don’t like being called stupid—especially by the media.

Was Obama Really as Comfortable as He Looked in Last Night’s Debate?


To me, last night’s debate was the third—and, mercifully, the last—in a series of lackluster debates between senators Obama and McCain. But somehow the media have managed today to cull from the regurgitation of campaign sloganeering some rich moments truly worthy of playback. Maybe it wasn’t so lackluster after all.

Could McCain have done better? Pretty much everyone agrees that he missed opportunities. That’s interesting. It means two things. The first is that McCain has a platform of strength that might really resonate with people if he could only launch his case with compelling pizzaz. Second, Obama has opened himself to some pretty withering criticism that McCain has been reluctant to exploit.

Contrast Obama. What opportunities did he pass on last night? Could he have made his policies more compellingly attractive than he did? Could he have put McCain on the defensive? I don’t think so. Obama did what he could, and all that he needed to perhaps.

Once again, Obama “looked presidential.” But did he feel as comfortble as he looked? The question can’t really be answered objectively, except by Obama, and we all know what he would say. But Obama will raise taxes during “the worst economic crises since the Great Depression”; and McCain made that stick. Obama has fraternized professionally with people most of us wouldn’t shake hands with; and McCain reminded everyone that we still don’t know who Obama really is. McCain was unequivocal in his pro-life stance, and missed an opportunity to demonstrate how radically pro-choice Obama really is. But this was not a comfortable topic for Obama. He had to nuance his way out of the spotlight while McCain beamed confidently in the background.

Obama is counting on his lead and the lateness of the hour to carry him to victory. From this point on it’s a matter of damage control. That’s one thing McCain really doesn’t have to worry about. The most seriously debilitating event for his campaign was the egghead announcement by Hank Paulsen that the sky is falling and the whole world is going to go bankrupt. Paulsen’s alarmist tactics and his timing could not have been worse. You have to wonder if he isn’t a liberal democrat himself, given the tone of his message and the nature of his proposed solution—socialize the entire market in America.

The irony is that Obama is specially vulnerable on this point, if the message gets out. He wants bigger government on every flank and surely relishes the opportunity to preside over the socializing of medicine, our economy, education, and who knows what else. But people are ticked off at government right now. It can’t be just the Republicans and the Bush administration they distrust, but the whole lot of them. So bigger government portends more to be angry about as the months and years tick by.

Obama has two other things to be worried about before the election: Nancy Pelosi and Harry Read. It is an undeniable fact that under Obama our government would be on the verge of its most controlling ever. The democrats are pro big-government. Pelosi and Read, party leaders in their respective houses in Congress, and Obama are democrates, and they are among the most liberal democrats. This is a frightening prospect for anyone who wants government to downsize.

The only way that Americans across this country can prevent unchecked government by tax-and-spend democrats is to vote for John McCain. That’s bad news for Barack Obama, and a reason to be uneasy, even if he looks presidential.

Ka-ching! Stock Market vs. Credit Market


Near as I can tell, the “bailout,” “rescue,” or whatever, is about shoring up the “credit market.” Banks have to make loans, and they have to have money to make loans. Some pundits are saying that the stock market plunge we’ve been seeing, including the dramatic dive happening today, is not a measure of the prospects for this $700 billion rescue gamble. That’s because they’re splitting off what’s happening on Wall Street with the real problem that is all about credit.

I’m not convinced that the two are unrelated. I’m more inclined to think that the near-panic we’re seeing as people pull their money out of stocks means that people will be very slow to take out new loans, even with the bailout/rescue.

Who wants to borrow money in today’s climate? Time will tell.

Ambivalence about the Congressional Vote for the Not-a-Bailout


Credit is unquestionably tight right now. Individual stock portfolios are in the pits—seemingly bottomless pits. The faux buoyancy of our politicians has evaporated (except Sarah Palin’s buoyancy, which seems anything but faux and far from slipping). Nobody knows whether the $700 billion “bailout” will accomplish much, or even whether it is a bailout or something else.

And I do mean nobody. Nobody has effectively explained how this infusion of government cash is supposed to help the situation. On the other hand, nobody has effectively explained how individual taxpayers could actually be hurt by the action that was taken.

But almost everybody has an opinion about the decisions made in Congress—being either emphatically for it or unequivocally against it. How can this be? What do so many people know and understand that completely evades me?

I’m ambivalent. But that statement has to be qualified, for two reasons. First, I’m not ambivalent about the “pork” or “earmarks” that were weaseled into the legislation. I hope we find out specific ingredients that have no real place in this bill-cum-law, and that we learn by name all those who “porked out.” I hope we find out before the election so we can vote on our representatives with real knowledge of their principles and behavior.

House Speaker Pelosi promises a “bright light of accountability” for greedy Wall Street denizens. But is she willing to shine the same bright light on the doings of Congress to get this bill passed? I’m skeptical. And I wonder if Pelosi herself could be in jeopardy in the November election.

Second, I believe the Fed, the Treasury, the President, and both houses of Congress acted precipitously and pumped hysteria into the atmosphere and needlessly panicked the rest of us. This resulted in self-fulfilling prophecy on fast forward. The market imploded. And we’ll all feel the reverberations of that. Maybe the government needed to step in, maybe not. But this was heavy-handed.

Finally, while I’m ambivalent the general action taken, I’m not indifferent. And if I knew more than I’ll ever know about what just went down, I probably wouldn’t be ambivalent at all.

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Source for “Helicopter Ben” sketch above: UrbanDigs.com

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