by Gilles d'Aymery
Casse-toi, casse-toi alors! Pauvre con va...
—Nicolas Sarkozy, president of France, caught insulting a man on February 23, 2008. That individual had refused to shake his hand and told him, Ah non, me touche pas, tu me salis. (See penultimate paragraph.)
(Swans - February 25, 2008) SORRY, these are short Blips, possibly not fully expanded, but I'm afraid I've been distracted by a slight inconvenience...
REGULATORY SILENCE: Expectations for an answer to the question asked in the last paragraph of the February 11 Blips -- how much has the absence of regulatory processes contributed to the credit crisis? -- were pretty low in these quarters. Ideological libertarians could be anticipated to avoid that question, a toxic sludge to their hard-core beliefs, which posit that regulations are not only unwarranted but deadly stifling to liberty, property rights, the free market, and the god-given right to the pursuit of happiness -- the bedrock of civilization as they see it. Indeed, none addressed that question; not even the moderate libertarian from down under, who was the only one to respond to the Blips on a personal level but without touching the issue with a ten-foot pole. Still, Big Gav corrected me appropriately on subaltern issues raised in those Blips (see below). Emotional "Paulistas" might have answered the tease had they not been blasted by a bombshell on February 8, 2008. Their adulated hero, in his ceaselessly double-talk fashion, announced that he was pursuing the presidential nomination all the way to the Republican convention, but that since chances were slim that he would become a power broker, he had decided to downsize his organization, and, as his Texas congressional seat was being contested more ardently that he had foreseen, resolved that sharpened attention to his local reelection was now required. The savior of the land of the free, the bard and eulogist of the rEVOLution, added for good countenance that a devoted Republican soldier he was and a dedicated Republican soldier he would remain, shutting the door to any hope within the rEVOLutionary crowd of a third-party run. Evidently, regulations-or-not took a second, third, and fourth priority in that discomfited and parsing-of-late crowd.
PARSING THEY DID with an abandon that only the Internet and the Blogosphere can enable and amplify in an echo chamber where decibels do not count. Justin Raimondo, the somewhat-Pétainist (though, I'd bet unconsciously or unknowingly) paleolibertarian -- mind you, mixed with an American sauce of nativism and "freedom movement" leading to State's rights -- with a deeply-rooted inflection on what Richard Hofstadter once deemed "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," ranted about the betrayal and historical error of the would-be prophetic savior of the Old Right. (A week later, Raimondo softened his stand and suggested that after all Paul was up to the task and could perhaps be convinced to run as an Independent. Hope remains alive. Nasty minds saw a correlation between his change of heart and his quarterly fundraising drive, or it's simply a well-known trick to keep his followers in a trance -- go figure.)
THE IDEOLOGICAL undercurrents behind this particular chapel of the libertarian movement should not be extended to the entire movement, with its many factions that are quite puzzling. In the February 2008 issue of Mother Jones, under the heading "Libertarian Theology," the magazine listed no less than 12 subtypes: Anarcho-Capitalists, Minarchists, Cosmopolitan Libertarians, Economic Libertarians, Hippie Libertarians, Religious Libertarians, Gold Bugs, Objectivists, Neolibertarians, Paleolibertarians, Technolibertarians, and South Park Conservatives. L'embarras du choix! Now I understand better why I've always had some difficulty figuring out what libertarianism means, aside from the old aversion to big government.
BUT I STAND CORRECTED: My friendly correspondent, Big Gav from down under, assured me that "There were plenty of observers who were predicting disaster for both borrowers and housing markets during that time -- our financial daily down here (The Australian Financial Review) had a number of commentators who said so on a regular basis, and the paleolibertarians I mentioned before (in the form of what I think of as the Baltimore group -- The Daily Reckoning, Whiskey and Gunpowder, Financial Sense, Prudent Bear, etc.) were saying the same thing." To be fair to poor little me, when I wrote that "very few people saw the crisis coming," I had in mind Officialdom and the corporate media in the U.S. Some commentators (e.g., Paul Krugman) did write on the housing bubble and the risk of a credit crunch, but none to my knowledge foresaw the extent of the meltdown. (And I confess that the kind of Web sites and blogs my correspondent refers to are not exactly my cup of tea. I had never heard of them before. I plead guilty.)
THEN AGAIN, I should be forgiven for my deplorable libertarian credentials. After all, I am first and foremost a Naderite, not because I consider him a hero or a savior but because his rhetoric and his programmatic political platform suit my frame of reference. By the way, Ralph Nader has just announced that he will indeed be a candidate in the 2008 US presidential election. Check votenader.org.
ON THE ISSUE OF STUPIDITY, Big Gav graciously concedes that "calling people stupid is a little harsh," but after having read the story of one Don Doyle in The New York Times ("Mortgage Crisis Spreads Past Subprime Loans," February 12, 2008), I have to wonder whether Big Gav was correct after all. Mr. Doyle, a computer engineer at Lockheed Martin with a six-figure income, had a stellar credit rating. He was a prime borrower. In 1995, he and his wife bought a house in Northern California for $275,000. "The Doyles took advantage of the housing boom by refinancing their home nearly every year . . . . They invested much of the money in shares of companies that subsequently went bankrupt," and in 2004 they refinanced their home to help their daughter with her college tuition. Their current mortgage has ballooned to a hefty $740,000!!! As the higher rates have kicked in they are unable to afford the bigger variable payments. The value of their house has gone down substantially. They are considering or may be forced to file for bankruptcy.
COMPARE THIS with what my companion and I did. In 1993, we bought a small house with a big yard in the Bay Area. The price was right though the house and the yard required a lot of elbow grease, which we provided over the years. We took over a note for $237,000 at 6.90% amortized over 30 years but with a balloon payment due in January 2001. In the intervening years both my companion's (now wife) and my financial situation improved. Jan paid the monthly payments, which she could deduct in part from her taxes, and I paid back the capital. One year later, I was able to pay $12,500 against the note. One and a half years later, another $25,000, etc. By 1998, Jan increased the monthly payment by $240. Year after year we paid down the note, and in January 2001, after a last payment of $30,934.41, we were debt free and owned the house in full. Now it was not easy and we lived a rather frugal life (no vacations, no cruises, no new kitchen or bathroom, etc.) fixing what needed by ourselves, and subsequently with the help of two friendly neighbors who were much handier than we were (one was a first-class building contractor). I suppose this did not make us smarter than the Doyles, but it certainly brought a sense of (very relative) financial security. No debt, pay as you go -- an Old World motto.
MEANWHILE, it's no longer the BBB-minus subprimers (the folks with poor credit rating) who are destabilizing the financial market; genuine prime borrowers are also defaulting in ever larger numbers. Then the ball keeps rolling downhill taking in its wake corporate bonds, credit cards and auto loans, student loans, and even that little-known $300 billion market for auction-rate securities. Talk about financial security! What's truly galling is that, as usual, people like Jan and me will bear the follies of the Doyles of this world and the financial shenanigans concocted by the fleecers.
CLASSY POLITICIANS: Nicolas Sarkozy, the diminutive president of France, was caught insulting a French man who had refused to shake his august hand, telling Sarko, "ah, no, do not touch me, you're soiling me." The president, who's now famous for ill-tempered Gallic outbursts, told the irate man, "then take a hike, take a hike, asshole!" Can you imagine Charles de Gaulle using this kind of language? It reminds me of Dick Cheney throwing a blunt "Fuck you" at Patrick Leahy, the senior senator of Vermont, a couple of years ago. The French have long been importing the neoliberal order, the Big Macs, and the Hollywood culture; now their president is competing with America by bringing vulgarity to -- rather, slinging it at -- the people. Quelle dignité!
FINALLY, NOBODY'S PERFECT: A reader, Adam Addis, pointed out a typo, in French no less -- a gremlin that found its way into my spelling of C'est la vie... For eons I've added a cedilla to the uppercase C. Quelle honte!
. . . . .
C'est la vie...
And so it goes...
La vie, friends, is a cheap commodity, but worth maintaining when one can.the life line won't hurt you much, but it'll make a heck of a difference for Swans.