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Author Topic: A good discussion of the root cause of the economic collapse of 2008
Greg Davidson
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In response to Mayor Bloomberg's comments that government was responsible, Andrew Sullivan group-sources some data-based responses, as well as the following explanation that I believe is fairly clear and comprehensive:

quote:
high-risk loans --> mortgage-backed securities --> collateralized debt obligations --> credit default swaps --> synthetic collateralized debt obligations

This is the supply chain that inflated the bubble and eventually caused the collapse. Because many different people and organizations were involved, you can make a credible-sounding case that any of them was responsible - from AIG to Lehman Brothers to Standard & Poors to Countrywide to the immigrant fruit-picker with the liar's loan. Of course, we hear all of these various players blamed at various times by various people. And of course, in precipitating the collapse each did play a critical role - probably a necessary role in its unfolding as it did. But that doesn't mean that each is equally responsible, any more than your employer is responsible for your car crash - if he hadn't decided to rent that specific office space, you wouldn't have been in that exact spot on the highway at the exact time the guy next to you swerved while trying to text his mistress.

Then who is responsible? I think there are a few factors to consider: 1) where was the real scale and risk created in the chain? 2) where was the real impetus - who was creating/accelerating the "pull?" 3) who should have known better? I think the answers to these questions point squarely at Wall Street and AIG, and to a lesser extent the ratings agencies. Sub-prime lenders were dirtbag cheats, and many high-risk borrowers were foolishly irresponsible, but that doesn't make them responsible for the collapse, just among those morally at fault - a subtle yet important distinction.

1) There were a lot of high risk loans issued during the 2000s, but Wall Street took something big, made it enormous, and connected it into the fabric of our economy.

Wall Street firms were regularly leveraged 30:1 or more making big bets on their MBS/CDO factories, putting at risk their legitimate function of supplying credit to Main Street (the legitimate part being a miniscule fraction of their overall profits). Furthermore, vehicles like synthetic CDOs allowed the scale of the bubble to be increased by orders of magnitude - the equivalent of having 50 homes in a fire-prone neighborhood, but with 100 insurance policies on each and a lively market of bets on which will burn down first. If this were just a sub-prime housing crash, it would have hurt (think dot-com crash), but it wouldn't have brought the global financial system to its knees. That required Wall Street and AIG, with the ratings agencies helping along the way (by convincing institutional investors that all was safe).

2) It's a little counter-intuitive, but Michael Lewis describes it well in The Big Short. This wasn't a bubble driven by the front of the supply chain - borrowers and lenders - but instead pulled from Wall Street. If Wall Street weren't buying all these bad loans, the bubble would have been pretty short-lived and small. It was the ability to buy a pile of **** and sell it as gold that drove the entire chain - Wall Street alchemy enabled by the ratings agencies. You could buy sub-prime MBSs low and sell them high as CDOs to unsuspecting investors (and even better, insure them for cheap with AIG). This created an insatiable appetite for trash loans, which created a frenzy by sub-prime lenders to do anything and everything to feed them, including ever-lower standards and outright fraud. The demand for loans also helped drive up the housing market, which reinforced the cycle and hid the risks in the alchemy. You could argue that the ratings agencies were most at fault here, but a closer look reveals that they were full of second-rate analysts (always have been) duped by first-rate quants at the Wall Street firms, and pressured by those firms to stay in line or else lose their business (credit to Lewis here again).

3) Some have argued that borrowers should have known better than to sign up for loans they couldn't afford. I agree, but this argument should be strongly tempered by the realization that each time someone risked their home and credit rating there was a lender putting up hundreds of thousands of dollars on the same deal. Is it really fair to expect that the poor schlub should have known better than the broker, the underwriter, and the institutional investor? And when the quants and sales desks at the big Wall Street firms created and hyped these financial vehicles of mass destruction, duping ratings agencies and institutional investors alike, is it really fair to say that they were just making markets and all the counter-parties should have known better? In this respect, only AIG rises to the same level of blame as the Wall Street "wizards" - not just for issuing insurance policies on assets they clearly didn't understand, but for issuing so many for so much. At a certain point, you've got to take a closer look.


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Pete at Home
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Was there really no action, no change in legislation or executive policy, which led to the high-risk loans in the first place?

Or even some actions taken by the government that led the banks to believe that the government considered them "too big to fail," and that they could take risks with impunity, knowing that big brother would rescue them from any fall?

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Greg Davidson
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There was action taken by government that contributed - I think the author of the above comment reflects that, but also has criteria for relevance:

quote:
1) where was the real scale and risk created in the chain? 2) where was the real impetus - who was creating/accelerating the "pull?" 3) who should have known better?
As to your second comment, I find it interesting where you place causality:

quote:
Or even some actions taken by the government that led the banks to believe that the government considered them "too big to fail," and that they could take risks with impunity, knowing that big brother would rescue them from any fall?
If the hypothesis is correct that the banks took risks because they believed that they were too big to fail (and I am not sure that is the case), I do not think hat they would attribute this to the random actions of big brother. Instead, I would imagine that they would attribute the situation to the effectiveness of a concerted effort by big business to influence the political process to support the goals of corporations relative to other national interests.
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Pete at Home
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quote:
I find it interesting where you place causality
I'm amused that you find that interesting but I'm glad that you noticed. [Smile] It takes some people far more years on this forum to notice that certain persons in the rear view mirror are more liberal than they appear. [Razz] While I'm a cultural centrist with a fairly legendary history for heated argument with certain leftish members of this forum, I believe that when it comes to economic policy, that my own views are more liberal than your own. Surprised?

Greg, I suspect that you and I are fairly agreed as to whom the cause and blame belong. The difference in our approaches is fairly subtle. While you seem most interested in this thread in asking "WHO is to blame for this situation," the question that most interests me is WHAT can we do to the system to prevent them and others, from EVER doing this to us again?

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Pyrtolin
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I think the best overall solution would be to fully recognize money as a critical public utility, and from there implement regulations to make banks and most of the financial markets serve as service providers for public benefit rather than private profits.

As a society we gain no benefit from financial innovations that are designed to enhance profits to a small number of shareholders, as any such profits directly reflect less public utility.

Risk/return in finance should always be a wash; profits and additional leisure should only come from improvements to production.

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Pete at Home
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Back in the 1990s, the People's Republic of China shelled enough bribes into our electoral system to actually buy their candidate into the oval office. There was a slight scandal when this came to light, but the Republicans (who were probably bought off by the same party) were more interested in investigating Clinton's love life. The PRC called in its favor by obtaining from Clinton the technologies necessary to manufacture ICBMs that can hit our country.

In my own view, the difference between the PRC and the Banks is that the PRC hasn't used a weapon of mass destruction on us yet.

If the PRC can do this to us, if the banks can do this to us, then perhaps we should get around to patching up the system when any Supervillain with a billion dollars can pull up at the federal drive-thru and order themselves one US president and a Senate majority to go.

Remember the good old James Bond Supervillains? Dr. No? Blofeld? SPECTRE? SMERSH? Remember their far-out schemes? Imagine a James Bond movie plot where SPECTRE says, today, rather than trying to purchase nukes, or running a therapy chalet where we hypnotize women to become sleeper agents to bring down the world agricultural system so that we can sell food at an obscene sum, why don't we just buy off the US government and then have them give us all their money? The movie would have flopped. The idea that the US would fall for that is too stupid to believe.

And yet ...

[ November 08, 2011, 11:40 AM: Message edited by: Pete at Home ]

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ken_in_sc
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Chris Dodd and Barney Frank caused this. The fact that their names are not mentioned in these postings is amazing.
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TomDavidson
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I don't see why you think Dodd and Frank are more responsible than others. It's not like excessively lenient home lending is at the root of the problem.
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Greg Davidson
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Pete, I do find myself in agreement with you freequently, but then you go ahead and make a bats--t crazy [Smile] comment like:

quote:
Back in the 1990s, the People's Republic of China shelled enough bribes into our electoral system to actually buy their candidate into the oval office. There was a slight scandal when this came to light, but the Republicans (who were probably bought off by the same party) were more interested in investigating Clinton's love life. The PRC called in its favor by obtaining from Clinton the technologies necessary to manufacture ICBMs that can hit our country.
First, Chinese campaign contributions were not the 1st, 2nd, 3rd of even 20th most important factor that got Clinton elected.

Secondly, the whole scandal about Hughes Aerospace people giving ICBM technology to the Chinese was based on some very flawed reporting by the New York Times (in 1999 I believe it was); as a consequence of Congressional over-reaction to this inaccurate story we got the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (or ITAR) passed into law. This really is an example of wasteful government regulation - it precludes Americans from even asking any questions of foreign suppliers (or foreign prime contractors who might want American products) until the Americans have gone through a 4-6 month process getting authorization from the State Department. A tremendous boon to all of America's foreign competitors, and most countries don't even want to deal with the hassles of working with American suppliers.

Edited to insert smiley icon

[ November 08, 2011, 11:26 PM: Message edited by: Greg Davidson ]

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Greg Davidson
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Back to the main point, if the root cause was the financial industry, I'd say that the point of departure should be the regulations that had previously worked (Glass-Steagall) and I'd say that anti-trust regulation could be employed to break up the "too big to fail" firms.
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Pete at Home
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quote:
Originally posted by Greg Davidson:
Pete, I do find myself in agreement with you freequently, but then you go ahead and make a bats--t crazy [Smile] comment like:

quote:
Back in the 1990s, the People's Republic of China shelled enough bribes into our electoral system to actually buy their candidate into the oval office. There was a slight scandal when this came to light, but the Republicans (who were probably bought off by the same party) were more interested in investigating Clinton's love life. The PRC called in its favor by obtaining from Clinton the technologies necessary to manufacture ICBMs that can hit our country.
First, Chinese campaign contributions were not the 1st, 2nd, 3rd of even 20th most important factor that got Clinton elected.
I phrased that wrong; they probably bribed both sides, like Gallo Wine which was a top 5 contributor to both Clinton and Bob Dole.

But you either entirely missed the point, or are dodging the point, that the money bought political influence. To the detriment of our country.

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Greg Davidson
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I am not sure the degree to which the money supporting one cause is countered by the money supporting the competing cause, and so that the net vector isn't so much for specific petitioners as it is generally in the direction of those who have money.
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Pete at Home
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quote:
Originally posted by Greg Davidson:
I am not sure the degree to which the money supporting one cause is countered by the money supporting the competing cause

How in Moloch's name did you derive that from what I said?

My point is that we need to fix the system so that money doesn't so easily buy political influence. I thought you'd agree with that point.

Hell, I thought it pretty much was your point. Surely you weren't being so shallow as to suggest that election-buying is fine but we just need to get rid of Republicans.

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Greg Davidson
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Just talking past each other - I do think that campaign finance reform is very important, and a root cause of our problems. But I don't agree that Chinese influence buying shifted policies as compared to any other interest. For all that China might have wanted to push American policies in one direction, there was probably a lot of contributions pushing American policy in opposite directions. The only interests that don't get represented are the ones that do not have the money to compete, which generally means the interests of the bottom 80% of the American population.
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Pete at Home
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"But I don't agree that Chinese influence buying shifted policies as compared to any other interest."

Maybe you're right. Maybe we're so bloody stupid that we'd have given the Chinese that tech even without the bribes that they dumped into the system.

But it seems more likely to me that the Chinese would not have dumped so much money into our political system unless they believed that they were getting something out of it. Here's the trichotomy as I see it:

1. (most likely) the Chinese got something for their money.

2. The Chinese got ripped off, put money into the system and got nothing back.

3. (least likely) The Chinese put millions into the system out of pure good will, not expecting any quit pro quo.

Which option do you think most likely, Greg?

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Greg Davidson
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A lot of the money just counters other money - up to a certain threshold, everyone is playing defense (trying to get as much access as their competitors to avoid adverse actions). Money has grown worse and more insidious over time, but if you are referring to Clinton, the level of influence in 1992 was less than today.
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Pete at Home
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Do I understand you correctly when you say that bribes are OK so long as they only counter other bribes?

What other sorts of immorality do you justify in the name of balance? Is this why we hear lefties comparing the number of deaths in Iraq to the numbers killed on 9/11 ... like would it have been OK to go murder up to three thousand Iraqi civillians but not more?

I grew up in Mexico and heard that sort of rationalization all the time (and look what sort of sheetfest corruption got them into) but I never thought I'd hear it said so brazenly in gringolandia.

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Greg Davidson
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I was not making a point about whether campaign funding is morally acceptable, I just disagreed with the degree of causality that you ascribed to Chinese donations to the Clinton campaign in influencing US governmental policy.
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Pete at Home
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So you agree with one, that the Chinese got something for their money? And that this is a bad thing? But you simply disagree that the influence actually purchased was as extensive as I outlined?

If so, then fair enough.

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Greg Davidson
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Yes, I can agree with that formulation.
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Pete at Home
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Yay.

Like I said, I may very well be wrong about Clinton and precise influence extent of the PRC bribe. My point is that the problem is systemic rather than political. And (here I thought that despite our differences in acceptance of various authoritative pronouncements) I thought you'd be tickled by my statement that IMO Wall Street and American Banks are a greater threat to our country than the People's Republic of China.

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Greg Davidson
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No tickling here, alas. The financial industry and banks do perform functions to the health of America - they just should be better regulated to avoid the abuses.
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Pete at Home
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Greg, how do we meaningfully regulate an entity that exercise such a degree of control over our government? Aren't you ... asking hens to regulate the wolves and foxes?
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Greg Davidson
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It is very difficult - those pushing for excessive favoritism for Corporate interest invariably have essentially full Republican support and often have at least partial Democratic support. The only hope is to support Democrats, particularly the large majority who will, upon occasion, oppose Corporate interests (and this also means ignoring dog whistle distractions funding by corporate dollars to hide the stark truth)
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Grant
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quote:
Originally posted by Greg Davidson:
It is very difficult - those pushing for excessive favoritism for Corporate interest invariably have essentially full Republican support and often have at least partial Democratic support. The only hope is to support Democrats, particularly the large majority who will, upon occasion, oppose Corporate interests (and this also means ignoring dog whistle distractions funding by corporate dollars to hide the stark truth)

LOL.

The plan: Vote Democrat

I will admit that the vast majority of support for the BCRA was from the Democratic party. [Smile]
In the absence of any other REAL plan, "Vote Democrat" is better then nothing if your goal is campaign finance reform.

I got a better one though, heh heh.

How to win the war in Iraq, cir 2004: Vote Republican!

LOL. Better then no plan at all right?

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Greg Davidson
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Grant, I do not understand your comments.

Are you asserting that BRCA (McCain-Feingold, I had to look it up) created more net harm than benefit? If so, could you specify your arguments? And what fraction of all legislation concerning Corporate power do you believe BRCA represents?

It seems you are asserting that the voting associated with BRCA disproves my point. But there is either no substantiation or I am too obtuse to see it - could you please clarify?

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Grant
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That's cause you're looking for a fight, Greg.

The only major piece of campaign finance reform that I know of is the BRCA. In my mind the major responsibility for the passage of the BRCA is due to the democrats in congress, because the republican support for it was weak.

I don't see where the confusion is in the statement:

"I will admit that the vast majority of support for the BCRA was from the Democratic party."


You asked:

"Are you asserting that BRCA (McCain-Feingold, I had to look it up) created more net harm than benefit?"

No. Where did you get that from my post?

"And what fraction of all legislation concerning Corporate power do you believe BRCA represents?"

I have zero clue, but I'm sure you'll tell me that the Republicans tried to block every single one of them, and you're probably right.

"It seems you are asserting that the voting associated with BRCA disproves my point."

Exactly the opposite. What was unclear?


The entire point of my last point is that it sounded very dubious. Pete asked you a "how" question. Your response was:

1. It is hard
2. Vote Democrat

And that was it.

Now if you walked up to the local dogcatcher and asked him: "How are we going to catch all these dogs that are running around?" And his response was "It will be difficult, but voting for me is the best thing you can do about it." What would you think? My first thought would be "This dude doesn't have a clue how to catch these dogs, but he definately wants to keep his job".

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TomDavidson
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The reason he's confused, Grant, is that it would seem that one obvious first step would be to vote for the party that not only talks about but is more likely to vote for bills aimed at reducing corporate money in politics. Voting for a party that has come out in favor of increasing the amount of corporate money in politics would be a bad way to start.
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Grant
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quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:
The reason he's confused, Grant, is that it would seem that one obvious first step would be to vote for the party that not only talks about but is more likely to vote for bills aimed at reducing corporate money in politics. Voting for a party that has come out in favor of increasing the amount of corporate money in politics would be a bad way to start.

Uhhhhh. That's why I said:

"In the absence of any other REAL plan, "Vote Democrat" is better then nothing if your goal is campaign finance reform."

I hereby pledge, that I will only vote for the candidate who accepts the least amount of private campaign contributions in the upcomming 2012 Presidential election, if Tom and Greg pledge to do the same.

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TomDavidson
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No, see, that's just stupid. Vote for the candidate who promises to vote for actual limits on private campaign contributions. Because as you may have noticed, thanks to the Supreme Court, it is now impossible to tell prior to an election which candidate has received the most private money.
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Grant
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quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:
Vote for the candidate who promises to vote for actual limits on private campaign contributions.

Ehhhhh. I never vote for the candidate based on what they promise. I try to vote for the candidate based on what they have actually done, rather then what they say they're going to do.

I'm more of a resume type of guy rather then an interview guy. The guy with the best interview is basically the guy who can best BS me.

Like for instance, McCain and Bush were both instrumental in passing the BRCA [Wink]

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JWatts
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But Grant, Left wing politicians never lie.

And if they do lie, it's a small fib for the betterment of all and thus it doesn't really count.

PS And what is BRCA?

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Grant
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quote:
Originally posted by JWatts:

PS And what is BRCA?

As Greg stated, BRCA is McCain-Feingold. I use BRCA cause I'm afraid I'll mispell "Feingold" and because it's shorter.
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Greg Davidson
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Grant, you keep talking in metaphors, and I don't want to put assertions in your mouth, so beyond something about dog catchers, what is your point? Tom (no relation) Davidson states my point pretty well, although I would amplify it to recommend voting for the party most likely to support legislation that limits excessive corporate power. The legislation is not just over campaign cash, there is other legislation where the excessive Republican preference towards corporations and those who control them is evident. Once of the most egregious examples was Republican opposition to limit the bonuses paid to the Wall Street executives in companies being bailed-out by the taxpayers after they created the world-wide economic collapse. For a convenient moment the Republicans argued about the sanctity of contracts (meaning the employment contracts that promised those executives such bonuses), but for some reason they did not extend that sense of sanctity a month later to the case where it was necessary to break the contracts with auto-workers as part of the auto bailout.
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Grant
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quote:
Originally posted by Greg Davidson:
Grant, you keep talking in metaphors, and I don't want to put assertions in your mouth, so beyond something about dog catchers, what is your point? Tom (no relation) Davidson states my point pretty well, although I would amplify it to recommend voting for the party most likely to support legislation that limits excessive corporate power. The legislation is not just over campaign cash, there is other legislation where the excessive Republican preference towards corporations and those who control them is evident. Once of the most egregious examples was Republican opposition to limit the bonuses paid to the Wall Street executives in companies being bailed-out by the taxpayers after they created the world-wide economic collapse. For a convenient moment the Republicans argued about the sanctity of contracts (meaning the employment contracts that promised those executives such bonuses), but for some reason they did not extend that sense of sanctity a month later to the case where it was necessary to break the contracts with auto-workers as part of the auto bailout.

Don't worry about it, Greg. It wasn't important. I was simply amused by your answer. If you don't see the humour in what you said, that's alright, you don't need to. Sorry about the tough metaphors. I'll try using more similes tomorrow.
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Greg Davidson
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Sorry, I did include the possibility that I was being obtuse - for some reason, I have only been checking in here when I am really tired...
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Grant
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quote:
Originally posted by Greg Davidson:
Sorry, I did include the possibility that I was being obtuse - for some reason, I have only been checking in here when I am really tired...

No need to apologise.

Ali G says: "respekt".

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TomDavidson
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quote:
I try to vote for the candidate based on what they have actually done, rather then what they say they're going to do.
*grin* I'll admit that it helps that Feingold was my senator. At least until the Supreme Court vomited up Citizens United.
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