Saturday, February 7, 2009

I blame Obama

Tom and Raeanne visited tonight. As always, the conversation got around to politics. Tom called the democrats in the house and the senate "the most feckless group of people imaginable." Tom's lost that sense of optimistic hope so many felt upon the election of President Obama; he feels weary.

"Well, not ALL of them. There's Dennis Kucinich" I countered (Gwen More, Nick Rahall and Maxine Waters too).

But I put the blame for the sagging popular support for the stimulus package on squarely on President Obama. HE is the leader. HE must be the one to make the case to the American people. And that shouldn't be very difficult, if he were to be breathtakingly honest.

More of this later today.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Where the money goes

At Counterpunch, Robert Bryce has written a harsh indictment ethanol citing more than a dozen sources which document different aspects of hidden costs of the ethanol "scam." The following statistics scream out about the injustice of wealth distribution around the world.

[I]n the U.S. only about 6.5 percent of disposable income is spent on food. By contrast, in India, about 40 percent of personal disposable income is spent on food. In the Philippines, it’s about 47.5 percent. In some sub-Saharan Africa, consumers spend about 50 percent of the household budget on food. And according to the U.S.D.A., “In some of the poorest countries in the region such as Madagascar, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, and Zambia, this ratio is more than 60 percent.”

Disasters foretold

What if a former politician gave a speech foretelling the disasters of Bush administration's Iraq policies and tax and budget proposals and nobody listened? Al Gore did just that in August 2003.

"Here is the pattern that I see: The president's mishandling of and selective use of the best evidence available on the threat posed by Iraq is pretty much the same as the way he intentionally distorted the best available evidence on climate change and rejected the best available evidence on the threat posed to America's economy by his tax and budget proposals," Gore said.

The Bush administration, Gore said, employs a "propaganda machine" that engages in "a systematic effort to manipulate facts in service to a totalistic ideology that's felt to be more important than the mandates of basic honesty."

So a mere five and a half years later, the main-stream media fed public has:

serious difficulty recognizing the mishandling and selective use of the best evidence available on the threat posed by Iran, Hamas and Afghanistan,

serious difficulty recognizing the distortions of the best available evidence on climate change

little if any idea of the warnings raised about the damage that would be inflicted upon the American economy by the Bush tax cuts and phony budget proposals

The mainstream media - press, TV and radio - serve as a tool for the interest of the corporate, financial, infotainment, educational and military elites whose vested interests devolve to maintaining the status quo: those with the most wealth to get ever more of it; those in power triangulating schemes to keep and expand it.

The MSM is a perpetual propaganda machine engaged in a corrupt and persistent effort to manipulate facts in service to an ideology that benefits the powerful few to the serious detriment of most.

Don't expect our elected democratic officials or the so-called liberal of the MSM to address this. By definition these too are elites.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Our psyche's Prime Directive

Jonathan Schwartz offers this remarkable and chilling insight into the nature of the beast. Take the time to read the whole piece.

It's hard to belong to a species that often acts with such berserk cruelty. We don't just cause each other horrible pain; we do it gratuitously, far beyond what's necessary to reach any of our conscious goals, and in fact to the point it's completely counterproductive for anything we believe we're trying to do.


It appears that, for humans, once you've started down the road of hurting someone, you must continue. Indeed, you must hurt them even more to prove to yourself these people deserve to be hurt. That's because our psyche's Prime Directive is to preserve our self-image at all cost.

Due to the Prime Directive, when we hurt others our psyche tell us that our victims are dirty thieves. After all, they are trying to steal our most valuable possession: our self-image. And what do you do to dirty thieves? YOU PUNISH THEM. And when they try to make you feel bad about this new punishment, this just goes to show what giant dirty thieves they are, so you must PUNISH THEM MORE.

One of the commentators included this "joke" to further illustrate the point:

An Irishman has been bayoneted by a British soldier, and as the Mick dies slowly in a ditch the Brit kicks him over and over, cursing him and wishing him a painful, slow death. With his last breath the Irishman asks, "Why are you so angry at us?" The Brit leans down, whispers, "You swine, we will NEVER forgive you for what we've done to you."

Another commentor linked to an earlier Schwartz posting inspired by excerpts from a Molly Ivins piece:

[M]ost people have a very hard time forgiving those whom they have deeply wronged. I know that's sort of counterintuitive, but think about some of the bad divorces you have known. When we have done something terrible to someone, we often need to twist it around so it's their fault, not ours

Sunday, February 1, 2009

This is mostly disgusting - but a tiny bit scary

This editorial illustrates just perfectly why the New York Times is forever being lambasted for being part of the omnipresent liberal media:

Last week at the National Press Club in Washington, a group seeking to speak for the future of the Republican Party declared that its November defeats in Congressional races stemmed not from having been too hard on foreigners, but too soft.

The group, the American Cause, released a report arguing that anti-immigration absolutism was still the solution for the party’s deep electoral woes, actual voting results notwithstanding. Rather than “pander to pro-amnesty Hispanics and swing voters,” as President Bush and Karl Rove once tried to do, the report’s author, Marcus Epstein, urged Republicans to double down on their efforts to run on schemes to seal the border and drive immigrants out.

Absolutely love the headline for the editorial:

The Nativists Are Restless

Reinforcing it for Thomas Friedman

Thomas Friedman's NYT's editor was really lying down on the job today. One comes to expect such idiotics from Friedman the Flat Earther.

[W]e’re going to have to get used to a loss of trust. All those rock-solid people and institutions that we trusted with our money, our pensions and our kids’ piggybank savings — like Citigroup, Merrill Lynch, Bank of America — do not seem trustworthy anymore. Never before in my adult life have I looked around at every bank in my town and said, “I’m not sure I wouldn’t prefer to put my paycheck in a mattress.”

Tom, Tom, Tom, you moron: you really don't grasp the full import of what you write. Cash your paycheck first bozo. Then take the cash and put it in a mattress. Finally, make a note to remember which mattress you put the money in.

The recent $50,000,000,000 ponzi scheme made it real for Friedman:

The Bernard Madoff scandal, of course, has only reinforced that loss of trust. His degree of betrayal — his alleged willingness to embezzle the life savings of people whom he had known his whole life — is so coldhearted that it charts new territory in human behavior. He’s on his way to becoming an adjective. Money managers are already being asked prove to prospective new clients that their internal safeguards are “Madoff proof.”

Hmmm ... about that new territory in human behavior. There have always been people willing to embezzle the life savings of others. A man once blew up an airplane to collect life insurance on his mother. That sounds pretty cold hearted.

The ACLU is out $850,000 on account of Madoff, per one of their phone solicitors who contacted me last night. The Guardian noted a while back that

[h]is alleged victims include hundreds of charitable institutions, investment firms and wealthy private investors.

An earlier NYT story indicates that Madoff's early appeal was to people who wanted to be in with the in crowd:

Initially, he tapped local money pulled in from country clubs and charity dinners, where investors sought him out to casually plead with him to manage their savings so they could start reaping the steady, solid returns their envied friends were getting.

Then, he and his promoters set sights on Europe, again framing the investments as memberships in a select club.

Perhaps in a Friedman world, the wealthy would never cheat the wealthy, at least not out of their life's savings. Well, not any more in Friedmans' world:

I knew B. Ramalinga Raju, the Satyam chairman accused of embezzling $1 billion from his own company. What’s really sad is that I didn’t get to know him through his business but through an interest in his family’s charitable work. They created India’s first 911 emergency system in their home state and call centers in Indian villages, so young people there could get service jobs. Was all that a fake, too? Or was he just an embezzler with a good heart? Don’t know. When you can’t even trust a person’s charitable work, you’ve hit a new low.

Those who have been embezzled out of their life's savings, THEY have hit a new low. Friedman's new low seems to have been hit because elites are embezzling billions. Perhaps they should just make theirs the old fashioned way: off the backs of slaves, indentured servants, and sweatshop workers. Or lobbying the government to reduce the tax rate on hedge fund managers wages, salaries, bonuses and tips to 15%.

If you can't trust the wealthy to look out for the interests of the wealthy, just who CAN you trust? Perhaps nationalizing all those financial institutions that are technically insolvent might not be the worst way to go.

None of the banks contacted for this story would discuss how their actions might affect credit scores

A Boston Globe article tells us that some credit card issuers (American Express Company, Bank of America Corp and CitiBank, Eastern Bank owned by Barclay Card U.S. are all cited as examples) are restricting lending. Ostensibly these lenders are

seeking to reduce their debt exposure, are shutting off and limiting consumer credit card lines, even for many customers who carry low balances and pay on time

While merely two years ago almost anyone could get a credit card, those halycon days when the credit card companies wanted everyone to swim in the comforting waters of the fast and easy credit river, the water flows have changed so that

drowning in debt and soured investments, lenders are seeking to stop consumers from running up big balances in hard times, bills they might not be able to pay

While not mentioning any such companies by name, the Globe notes the irony that some of these companies reducing credit card lending took government bail out funds ostensibly given to free up money for lending. Furthermore this move to limit lending might

damage cardholders' credit ratings by making them appear to be riskier borrowers

(E.g., a $1,000 balance on a $10,000 maximum card is using 10% of their limit, but the same balance on a $2,500 max goes to 40%. Which, perhaps not coincidentally permits the companies to charge higher interest rates.)

One of American Express Company's 10-year clients had both her personal and business credit cards put on hold pending submission of two year's tax returns, plus three months of pay stubs and bank records. Upon being contacted by the Globe, the company refused to comment on this particular case.

Some of the corporate lines given for these actions include:

"Though we continually look at the credit limits we offer card members and review them on a case-by-case basis, we are being more targeted in response to economic conditions," ... "This may also include cancellations."

And then again, it just may include raising interest rates.

We're taking a more aggressive look at accounts in order to control risk in the current environment

Okay, "risk control" sounds like they want to eliminate the riskier credit risks. Citibank says:

"We have taken actions such as lowering credit limits, adjusting rates, tightening credit standards, and closing inactive accounts, particularly in certain geographies and where we can use mortgage data to enhance our decision-making capabilities."

Closing inactive accounts makes sense. That way people won't suddenly go to the inactive accounts to get credit they won't pay back. But note very carefully that part about "adjusting rates." ADJUSTING RATES means INCREASING RATES. Let there be no questions about this.

The Globe also notes that another phenomenon fueling these credit reductions:

as investor demand for credit card debt that is usually packaged into securities has plunged, banks are being forced to keep the debt on their books longer

Oops. Trying sell a stream of future credit card repayments as a bond with a price set to yield a "guaranteed" rate of return is not so compelling in an environment where

banks and credit card companies are reacting to an increase in the number of cardholders who fail to pay their bills. For example, American Express said it wrote off 6.7 percent of its $63 billion US loan portfolio in the fourth quarter, up from 3.4 percent a year ago. To counter such losses, some institutions, including Citibank, have raised the interest rates they charge certain customers as a way to generate revenue

Remember too that the credit card companies "get it" on both ends. Their card-holders pay back the loans with interest if late, but also, the seller pays a fixed amount per transaction plus a percentage of the sale.

This article reads sympathetically to the credit card issuers. Note the subheadline:

Fear excessive use amid hard times

But this nugget is very telling:

None of the banks contacted for this story would discuss how their actions might affect credit scores.

The company that calculates scores, Fair Isaac Corp., said it is examining the impact that creditline cuts are having. The results are expected to made public within the next month and could lead to a shift in the way scores are calculated. Still, Fair Isaac spokesman Craig Watts defended banks' moves to reduce credit lines. "It's only unfair if you regard credit as a right instead of a privilege," Watts said.

Spokesman Watts is perhaps being disingenuous. One consequence of reducing the maximum limits will be to reduce the FICO scores as a de facto means to increase the appearance of a riskier looking client thus providing the rational for increasing the interest rates on all customers, except those who don't need the credit card in the first place.

So sweet and yet, so sad

Natalie's daughter, a freshman at a large Midwestern university, recently got a job at an outdoor hunting and fishing store. For her first job assignment she donned an elfin hat and worked as Santa's helper, helping kids write letters to Santa, obtaining an e-mail address to forward the requests to the parents.

The new elfin one was surprised and put off to learn that elves could not touch children, and that if the children wanted to sit on Santa's lap, the adult accompanying them had to lift the child. This is a sad societal comment.

Natalie told me the sweet part of this story, about the young boy whose one wish for Christmas was a picture of his mother. Try to imagine all of the six to nine year old children you know, and then try to imagine how many of them would ask only for, a picture of their mother for Christmas.

But this is also the bitter-sweet part of the story, for it tells a tale so sad. This young boy knew he would not see his mother at Christmas, that she would not hold him, that the best he could hope for was a picture.

More important than any toy, any material thing, was a picture of his mother.

We'll never know his mother's fate, nor will we know of this young boy's fate. We do know this young boy loved, and loved deeply.

In our best moments, we love.

And when we lose one we have loved, we can remember; we can remember our best moments together, when the love was shared.

An idiosyncratic genius

At a Christmas party this evening, (Tom needed sudden gall bladder surgery in December moving back their annual party plans) we were treated to a delightful anecdote about Frank Lloyd Wright.

The story-teller grew up in one Frank Lloyd Wright house in River Forest, and then moved into another FLW home after selling the first house before it was even advertised when a neighbor, upon hearing that they were moving said, "We'd like to buy your house."

The architect would periodically return to houses he had built. For the more famous houses, the returns were regular, and announced; for the less famous houses, he would arrive unannounced, sometimes accompanied by a guest, ring or knock at the front door, and upon being admitted, would take off to inspect his creation, as if he still owned it (which in a way, he still did).

One evening lat in his life he made just such an arrival, and upon being admitted, wandered off, as was his wont. As more and more time passed, the great man had not returned, and his hostess become concerned. She searched the house for him, finally coming to a closed bathroom door upstairs, behind which she could hear the sound of water. She knocked on the door. "Come on in," said Frank Lloyd Wright robustly responded. So she did, and was surprised to see him taking a bath.

"This has always been my favorite bathroom," he said, "and I wanted to take a bath in it."