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How the Democrats Killed Roosevelt’s Dream of the Affordable Home

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Posted on Feb 18, 2011

By Robert Scheer

Editor’s note: The following excerpt from Robert Scheer’s book “The Great American Stickup” details the perversion of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. This is especially relevant given news that the Obama administration is abandoning those institutions, as explained in Scheer’s column here.

Chapter 7: Poverty Pimps

It’s the same the whole world over

It’s the poor what gets the blame

It’s the rich what gets the pleasure

Ain’t it all a bloomin’ shame?

That chorus of the nineteenth-century Cockney ditty “She Was Poor But She Was Honest,” detailing the travails of a poor lass whose life is ruined by the deflowering advances of a rich man, best captures the mainstream Republican response to the banking meltdown. Their defense has been to blame “bleeding-heart” liberals concerned for the poor for a debacle that occurred unmistakably on their watch, and in response to their antiregulatory ideology, but for which they shuddered to take responsibility.

The effort to shift blame from Wall Street moguls to the poor who took loans they could not afford, while illogical given the frenzy with which those loans were marketed, is also understandable as an act of political desperation. Blame those being swindled rather than the swindlers has been the mantra of America’s right wing bereft of any other explanation for the debacle that will allow them to continue their ways.

The Wall Street meltdown left conservative politicians and their ancillary pundits in the lurch looking for a culprit, any culprit—except the folks who run Wall Street, that powerful emblem and engine of American capitalism. Instead, they settled on an alternate bogeyman: government efforts to end discrimination in the mortgage markets and broaden home ownership to low-and moderate-income families.

The problem with the economy, they argued, was not greed or incompetence in the executive suites, but a misguided pressure to lend money to irresponsible poor and nonwhite people. Government influence on the mortgage markets, the logic went, had distorted the markets and created an unstable base of bad loans that, like a foundation made of sand, had sent the global economy sliding off a cliff at the first hard rain.

When the Bush administration was forced in the fall of 2008 to bail out the “government sponsored enterprises” or GSEs, as the mortgage buying companies of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are referred to, grateful conservatives finally had what appeared to be a convenient government villain. Working backwards from the GSEs’ founding mandate to support the market for middle- and low-income buyers by buying up mortgages from lenders and then repackaging them as securities, longtime critics were only too excited to blame do-gooder liberalism as the fly in the ointment of capitalism. Specifically, House Financial Services Committee chair Barney Frank was singled out as having pressured the GSEs to make loans to unqualified poor people—especially minorities—who then defaulted and caused the economic downturn.

“Taxpayers are now on the hook for as much as $200 billion to rescue Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and if you want to know why, look no further than the rapid response to this bailout from House baron Barney Frank,” wrote the Wall Street Journal in a September 9, 2008, editorial. “Mr. Frank wants you to pick up the tab for its failures, while he still vows to block a reform that might prevent the same disaster from happening again.”

The editorial is worth quoting at length because it summarizes a perspective broadly held and argued by conservatives. It correctly criticizes Frank for statements he made in 2004, when Fannie Mae revealed a “multibillion-dollar financial ‘misstatement.’ ” Frank had said that he felt that despite this, the mortgage lender was not a danger to taxpayers. “I think Wall Street will get over it,” Frank had said. The Journal mocked this response—”Yes they’re certainly ‘over it’

now that Uncle Sam is guaranteeing their Fannie paper, and even Fannie’s subordinated debt.” The newspaper then ridiculed Frank for his criticism of conservative economic policies, saying that what really blocked reform was Frank’s insistence that “any reform be watered down and not include any reduction in their MBS [mortgage backed security] holdings.”

Some liberal pundits, most notably the New York Times’ Paul Krugman, attempted to play down the role of Freddie and Fannie, arguing, incorrectly, that they only made proper “conforming” loans. But that was false, for the definition of conforming is whatever Freddie and Fannie approved of, and those turned out to be as disastrously irresponsible as any.

The free-market conservatives are right in criticizing those GSEs, for they were highly culpable, and the grand swindle could not have taken place without them. But they are wrong in describing the GSEs led by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as do-gooder public entities; in reality they are privately owned, profit-driven companies that richly reward their executives for stock market success. That is the source of much confusion in this debate; the top executives of the GSEs were compensated as handsomely, and often more so, than any other corporate executives, but because of their original government sponsorship, they made for convenient targets for the wrath of free-market ideologues.

The man who understood that best was a whistleblower in the mold of Brooksley Born. Like her, Armando Falcon Jr. was appointed by the president to regulate entities led by people who had the political clout to prevent any meaningful regulation. Falcon was director of the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO), the underfunded and government agency assigned to monitor the federal housing behemoths.

Thus there was considerable irony when, a year and half after the crash he had warned against, Falcon found himself on April 9, 2010, before the bipartisan Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, which included Brooksley Born, unraveling his part of this tale of woe. His testimony was a devastating indictment of the culture of corruption that was as bipartisan in origin as was the makeup of the commission now seeking answers. He had attempted to regulate agencies dominated by leaders drawn from Democratic ranks during a Republican administration, but as with Born earlier, he was done in by both sides.

Yet while Falcon had come to be supported by conservatives who never did have much love for the hybrid GSEs he was attempting to regulate, he was clear that the cause was not the pathetic ambitions of the ordinary folks attempting to buy homes they couldn’t properly afford. Rather, it was the greed of the powerful. Falcon cut through the false dichotomy that cast blame for the banking debacle either on the huge totally private financial moguls or their government-sponsored rivals but not both. He said they were, in terms of motivation and impact, one and the same.

Conservatives make much of the affordable housing goals of the GSEs, endorsed by George W. Bush as well as Bill Clinton, as the cause of the irresponsible lending that occurred these past decades. But Falcon in his testimony shot that one down. Asked by the commission to testify on the impact of those goals on the GSE issue, Falcon responded: “Your letter also asked me about the impact of affordable housing goals on the enterprises’ financial problems. In my opinion, the goals were not the cause of the enterprises’ demise. The firms would not engage in any activity, goal fulfilling or otherwise, unless there was a profit to be made. Fannie and Freddie invested in subprime and Alt A mortgages in order to increase profits and regain market share. Any impact on meeting affordable housing goals was a byproduct of the activity.”

1   2   3   4   5   NEXT PAGE >>>

Click here to check out Robert Scheer’s book,
“The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street.”


Keep up with Robert Scheer’s latest columns, interviews, tour dates and more at www.truthdig.com/robert_scheer.

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By stew gorry, June 23, 2011 at 12:45 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I would love to see a debate between Scheer and Clinton or Scheer and Paul
Krugman.  Maybe Scheer doesn’t realize it, but, the housing colapse didn’t happen
until 2007.  I guess that wasn’t sufficient time for the Republicans to act.

Report this

By Ben, February 24, 2011 at 6:10 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I wish people would define the terms they are working with. People talk about free markets that dont meet the (my) criteria for being a free market.

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oddsox's avatar

By oddsox, February 24, 2011 at 7:44 am Link to this comment

Lafayette wrote:
“Corporations are contractual entities, not civic persons and certainly not citizens of this nation. They do not have the right to vote and therefore should not have the right to fund elections.”

Exactement, mon ami!
My only addition would be that, unlike real citizens, corporations do not die.
All reasons why corporations should not be allowed to make political contributions.

Of course, this would not stop George Soros or the Koch Brothers or their kind, nor should it. 
Why raise taxes to fund elections, especially now?
I say the wealthy have a right to spend their money as they like—let them pour their billions into the electoral process. 
(Do I hear an “amen” from the purveyors of paid political announcements?)

But mandate their donations be individual and transparent.

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Lafayette's avatar

By Lafayette, February 24, 2011 at 6:51 am Link to this comment

ELECTION CAMPAIGN CONNIVANCE

Sam: The Democrats believe that access to lots of money is the way to win elections.

But it IS the way! That fact is plainly obvious.

So, what to do? Change the law that allows it. First, however, we need to ask that it becomes an election issue. Then we find who is for and who is not.

Then we vote for those who are for changing the law to limit contributions to, say, $100, per citizen - and budget the FBI to cull the list for multiple payments or false payment schemes.

Now do anyone in their right mind think that such is going to happen in this country? Now way, José.

The Vested Interests control Congressional power and that fact will not change until constituency mentalities change.

THE SUPREMES

Also, let’s stop the defamation about the Democrats being the only connivers. It’s the electoral funding system that is warped ... and you can thank the Roberts Supremes for having distorted it.

With their recent ruling on corporate contributions that, Abracadbra!, make corporate citizens into real citizens with the right to fund electoral campaigns with literally any amount of money.

Corporations are contractual entities, not civic persons and certainly not citizens of this nation. They do not have the right to vote and therefore should not have the right to fund elections.

But, it seems, they do have the right to manipulate the electoral process, which is unjust, meaning neither fair nor impartial.

ANOTHER WAY

If we have to raise taxes to pay for state and Federal elections, including electioneering, then let’s do so. At least, we, the people, will have control over the electoral process.

The last presidential election cost 5.3 billion dollars, both parties combined. The midterm elections cost 4 billion dollars. These numbers are hallucinatory. (Estimates from Jill Schlesinger, CBS News here)

The above values trend comparatively with past values over the past decade.

TEA-PARTY THIS

Think of the number of schools that could be built with $20B these past ten years in which we have had two PotUS elections and two midterms - which I total to between 16 and 20 billion dollars.

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By Samson, February 21, 2011 at 6:53 pm Link to this comment

Z1 asks: “Who exactly were these powerful people in
Congress who were doing the protecting? I think we
would all like to know, so we could do something
about them!”

Go to http://www.opensecrets.org

Two things there.  Lots of reports on which groups
are buying congresscritters with contributions.  Want
to know where the (reported) money is coming from? Go
look.

The other thing there is raw access to the FEC
donation reports.  You can type in the name of a
congress critter and see exactly who is giving them
money.  Or, you can type in the name of a contributor
and see who they are giving money too.  For example,
I entertained myself for an hour or so one day by
typing in “Erik Prince”, the founder of Blackwater.

The powerful people aren’t in the Congress.  The
powerful people are the people who control the money
that controls who’s in the Congress.  And you can go
look at at least the reported portion of this at
http://www.opensecrets.org

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By Samson, February 21, 2011 at 6:49 pm Link to this comment

How long will it take voters to figure out that the
Democrats are not on our side?

The Democrats believe that access to lots of money is
the way to win elections.  The Democrats suck up to
the people who have lots of money to get
contributions to win elections.  Then, after the
election, they serve those who gave them the money. 
If for no other reason than because they are already
asking them for more money for the next election.

The candidates with lots of money are not on our
side.

Do not vote for candidates with lots of money. If you
see them running lots of TV ads, then they’ve got the
money.  The money didn’t come from us folks
struggling to get by 0.36% of the American population
gives $200 or more to a campaign according to
opensecrets.org. 

When you vote for money, you vote to be screwed. 
Please stop voting for the candidates with money.

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By oddsox, February 21, 2011 at 5:42 pm Link to this comment

“... the government-sponsored housing enterprises were protected by powerful members of Congress and what turned out to be a strong guarantee that the taxpayers would cover their bad paper.”
—Scheer

Z1 asks: “Who exactly were these powerful people in Congress who were doing the protecting? I think we would all like to know, so we could do something about them!”

————-

as I see it, #1 for blame was George W. Bush himself
—his watch, the buck stops with him.
Even though Bush, like McCain, Greenspan and others, saw disaster coming, he should have been more forceful and taken the issue directly to the people instead of Dagwood Bumstead-ing it. 
Handled it a lot like Katrina, in my view.

As for Congress, IMO, Financial Services Committee’s ranking member Barney Frank deserves most notoriety.  He and Chris Dodd (Chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs) more than any others in Congress.  But also Obama as a Senator, Reps Maxine Waters CA, Gregory Meeks NY (tore Armando Falcon a new a$$hole when he called for more oversight), Lacy Clay MO, & Arthur Davis AL. 
To a lesser extent, NY senator Chuck Schumer, NV’s Harry Reid.

That’s my view, anybody else wanna weigh in here?

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By Z1, February 21, 2011 at 9:25 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Who exactly were these powerful people in Congress who were doing the protecting? I think we would all like to know, so we could do something about them!

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By oddsox, February 19, 2011 at 11:30 pm Link to this comment

Been trying to find a couple good links to share here: 
http://www.misterhobbes.net/mortgage-rate-resets-2011/
http://www.calculatedriskblog.com/2010/03/new-credit-suisse-arm-recast-chart.html

Unfortunately, the worst may be ahead for the residential housing market.

Over the next 10 months, over $400 billion in mortgages are scheduled to have their rates reset.  August 2011 will be the high point, over $40 billion that month alone. 

Most of these mortgages are Alt-A’s and Option-Arms, not Sub-Primes.  These resets could well send payments soaring, causing a new wave of defaults that could cause as much future damage as the subprime crisis already has.

With continued high unemployment and falling home prices, foreclosure estimates range from 9 million to 15 million over the next 4 years.  That’s 18%-30% of all mortgages.

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By oddsox, February 19, 2011 at 10:56 pm Link to this comment

“Character is doing what’s right when nobody’s looking.” —JC Watts

Lafayette, when I write that lack of applied oversight neither causes nor excuses bad behavior, the quote above is what I had in mind.

Let’s imagine you were kind enough to invite me into your home.  And then you left the room, whereupon I stuffed my pockets full with your possessions. 
Would your absence be the cause of my thievery?  Would it excuse my behavior?
(Would I be invited back soon?)

Ok, you catch my drift, I’m sure.

The bad behavior in this case was bad lending. 
Both bad loan products(Neg-ams, Alt-As & Option-ARMs) and unqualified borrowers (sub-Prime).
The common denominator shared by the lenders, execs, congressmen and borrowers was greed. 

US residential lending guidelines before 2000 and since 2008 are similar to France’s, as you describe them.
Sheer’s excerpt does a fine job of detailing what went wrong when stepped away from them.

He goes light, though, on the borrowers themselves, who share some of the blame for buying into “too-good-to-be-true” deals. 
Of course, Sheer is correct when he points out the borrowers paid the heaviest price.

He also goes light, in my view, on some of the Dems (Chris Dodd, Maxine Waters, others) who defended Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac when concerns WERE expressed and calls for more oversight WERE made.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MGT_cSi7Rs&NR=1
and more..
http://WWW.youtube.Com/watch?v=cMnSp4qEXNM&NR=1

This is old stuff, you’ve probably already seen it.

You may not have heard about what’s coming next, though. 
Watch for my next post…

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By Lafayette, February 19, 2011 at 1:14 pm Link to this comment

WHILST THE CAT’S AWAY

OS: While lack of applied oversight may enable bad behavior, it is not a cause.

There are a number of ways to interpret this.

If lack of oversight allows non-creditworthy people to obtain mortgages for which they cannot afford—then is it not a cause (of personal bankruptcy and foreclosure of assets)?

There must be applied a rule-of-thumbs. For instance, here in France, a credit-request must be well documented by the creditor. And there is a rule-of-thumbs applied, which is this: Your Net Monthly Income must be three times higher than your total monthly debt repayments.

If you make a false declaration of your total indebtedness, you commit a crime.

If this rule had been applied in the US, then there would have been no subprime market, no predatory pricing and, yes, far fewer foreclosures today. America was binging on cheap credit and the lack of regulatory oversight was also a key cause of personal bankruptcy.

so, what is the rule-of-thumbs stateside and why was it not applied - even encoded in regulatory guidelines?

Because whilst the cat’s away, the mice will play.

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By oddsox, February 19, 2011 at 9:47 am Link to this comment

Lafayette:
No disagreement here.
At the same time, remember:
While lack of applied oversight may enable bad behavior, it is not a cause.  Nor is it an excuse.

Fields had it right. 
He also said “Never give a sucker an even break,” but we’ll leave Leefeller to ponder that one…

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By Lafayette, February 19, 2011 at 8:11 am Link to this comment

OUR RUIN-NATION

OS: But take note, the injury was self-inflicted.
Most of these victims should have and could have known better.  Those who did are now in better position to purchase as prices have collapsed.

Yes - and if we maintain this Darwinian Theory (Survival of the Fittest) to all personal transactions, we won’t need a Consumer Protection Agency, will we? (Think of the budget savings that we can spend on a new engine for the F-35 fighter!)

No, that’s not the way to do it. What is necessary is called Due Dilligence in the matter of creditworthiness checks. Sufficient information already abounds about CreditWorthiness from various credit agencies. It should be, however, a mandatory check with any loan above certain amounts—accompanied by a copy of three last pay-slips (which are corroborated by the employer).

This Due Dilligence should be an integral part of any request for credit above certain funding amounts (particularly when the collateral is the purchased item) and those making the loans should be responsible (by law) for conducting said diligence.

Much has been covered in the Truth in Lending Act, but why the rules of that Act were not being applied is a matter of agency oversight. Which abounded in Lead-head’s Administration which favoured the least intrusion upon business prerogatives as possible.

We have seen the folly of such blind trust. But, can it happen again? You betcha, given the manner in which the Right genuflects at the altar of “Free Enterprise”.

Which could easily lead to our ruination, given how close we came recently when the children were playing with economic fire - with the intent of making a Quick-Buck.

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By chelseasbeach, February 18, 2011 at 7:23 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The Democrats ARE the Republicans.

Get off the duopoly merry-go-round.

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By oddsox, February 18, 2011 at 4:53 pm Link to this comment

“It only adds insult to injury to blame the unfettered greed of folks like Raines, and his congressional allies…on a concern for the low-income homebuyers who were their main victims.”

Agreed.  Insult to injury. 
Greed was the cause, the cast of snake oil salesmen was long (and well-listed by Sheer above).
And low-income homebuyers were the biggest losers.

But take note, the injury was self-inflicted. 
Most of these victims should have and could have known better.  Those who did are now in better position to purchase as prices have collapsed.

As the great 20th Century philosopher, WC Fields put it, “You can’t cheat an honest man.”

Ah, yes-s-s-s-s

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By zonadude, February 18, 2011 at 4:06 pm Link to this comment

Screw all the greed demons. Quite effortless and satisfying, to the “common” citizens. Simply, do not buy “property”. No mortgages, no money for the greedily obese criminals to gamble OUR shirts off our backs.

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By Azcat85, February 18, 2011 at 3:47 pm Link to this comment

“In 1996, HUD set a goal for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that at least 42% of the
mortgages they purchase be issued to borrowers whose household income was
below the median in their area. This target was increased to 50% in 2000 and 52%
in 2005. ” quoted from Lafeyette above. 

The paragraph says it all.  When you establish a goal that below median income
folks should purchase homes, it creates a frenzy to develop vehicles to enable
such irresponsible behavior.  Great fault on both sides.  By 2004 the damage had
already been down and the market was flooded with “magic paper” so that
everyone could “own” a home.

The public was duped by the snake oil salesmen again.

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By rollzone, February 18, 2011 at 1:57 pm Link to this comment

hello. wasted keystrokes, cowardly prose. will
GoldenSacks get off the hook? was the housing bubble
a bipartisan fraud to increase tax revenues? bundling
worthless derivatives was criminal, but what did that
have to do with Demoncrats? the artificial housing
inflation needed to be burst, and giving a hand up to
people unable to afford loans, may not have been the
best tactic- but who knew the Wall Street crooks
would then bundle, sell, and bet against these
shenanigans? home pricing needs more adjusting, and
then the dream will again be affordable. both
political parties were and remain, equally at fault.

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Lafayette's avatar

By Lafayette, February 18, 2011 at 1:47 pm Link to this comment

JUST THE FACTS, MA’AM

Some liberal pundits, most notably the New York Times’ Paul Krugman, attempted to play down the role of Freddie and Fannie, arguing, incorrectly, that they only made proper “conforming” loans. But that was false, for the definition of conforming is whatever Freddie and Fannie approved of, and those turned out to be as disastrously irresponsible as any.

Wrong, Mr. Sheer.

Fannie & Freddie did not issue non-creditworthy loans. It had some of the best paperwork (in the credit business) on the loans it issued.

Where it faulted is as re-insurer, urged on by the Federal Government (meaning HUD). Meaning it bought loans from credit institutions across the nation that were flatly fraudulent without the slightest due-diligence.

From WikiP:

In 1995, the GSEs like Fannie Mae began receiving government tax incentives for purchasing mortgage backed securities which included loans to low income borrowers. Thus began the involvement of the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac with the subprime market. 

In 1996, HUD set a goal for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that at least 42% of the mortgages they purchase be issued to borrowers whose household income was below the median in their area. This target was increased to 50% in 2000 and 52% in 2005. 

From 2002 to 2006, as the U.S. subprime market grew 292% over previous years, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac combined purchases of subprime securities rose from $38 billion to around $175 billion per year before dropping to $90 billion per year, which included $350 billion of Alt-A securities. Fannie Mae had stopped buying Alt-A products in the early 1990s because of the high risk of default.

By 2008, the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac owned, either directly or through mortgage pools they sponsored, $5.1 trillion in residential mortgages, about half the total U.S. mortgage market.  The GSE have always been highly leveraged, their net worth as of 30 June 2008 being a mere US$114 billion.

When concerns arose in September 2008 regarding the ability of the GSE to make good on their guarantees, the Federal government was forced to place the companies into a conservatorship, effectively nationalizing them at the taxpayers’ expense.

I will remind you that the 2004/8 period was during Lead-head’s (do no evil - unless you can get away with it) administration.

Many in Finance Top Management received million dollar bonuses for this sort of clearly idiotic Business Development on-the-fly. Again from WikiP:

The New York State Comptroller’s Office has said that in 2006, Wall Street executives took home bonuses totaling $23.9 billion. “Wall Street traders were thinking of the bonus at the end of the year, not the long-term health of their firm. The whole system—from mortgage brokers to Wall Street risk managers—seemed tilted toward taking short-term risks while ignoring long-term obligations. The most damning evidence is that most of the people at the top of the banks didn’t really understand how those [investments] worked.”

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By Leefeller, February 18, 2011 at 12:38 pm Link to this comment

Competition causes to much pondering, I hate spending all my time pondering on something. For instance like which WalMart should I go to or which cell phone service should I use?  Damn all the choices on Television create a pondering gridlock of their own, should I watch Oreally or Beck tonight, watching both is like placing my tongue in a light socket and my wife being in charge of the light switch.

If by some slim chance I am ever able to buy my own home, I don’t want to spend my time pondering over anything!

In my town, all the gas stations are Shell stations and the prices for gas are all the same, it is so nice,....no pondering here in Hoot Owl!

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By oddsox, February 18, 2011 at 11:01 am Link to this comment

Break up the too-big-to-fail lending institutions.
Not to punish them, but to create more competition.

Each entity to be licensed to operate in one state only.  Then let them pay their CEOs whatever their stockholders dare.

Use the 1985 AT&T breakup as a model and Trust-busting of the early 1900’s for inspiration and precedent.

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By thebeerdoctor, February 18, 2011 at 5:32 am Link to this comment

“give them a string of high p e ratios and a rising market it’s all free enterprise all they howl about’s government restraints interference double taxation, all free enterprise till they wreck the whole thing they’re the first ones up there with a tin cup whining for the government to bail them out with a loan guarantee so they can do it all over again…”

WILLIAM GADDIS, from JR

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