Archives for: October 2011

Making Indolence Profitable

The good news is that it appears all that yammering done by the OWS crowd on the evils of capitalism, is just that, yammering, and when the rubber meets the road, they understand the value a buck as much anybody, whew, I was worried there for a while.

The 99%, no, not this guy:

but those Che wearing Mao quoting souls actually braving the elements (hey, it beats working for a living), have come up with an idea that could put a little scratch in their pockets:

Occupy Wall Street is looking to make its mark — on everything from tote bags to t-shirts.

The Occupy Wall Street movement applied for the trademark to its name on Oct. 24, filing for the use of the mark on its website, in periodicals and newsletters, and on clothing and bags

Hawking T shirts and tote bags, is there anything more capitalistic then that?

What’s that old saying ,”If you can’t beat then, join them”?, depending on the profitability of this new venture, some of these guys just might graduate to the 1%, then they could be the enemy.

Once this idea grows roots and the OWS stores are as ubiquitous as Starbucks, you think if I went inside and bought a bunch of crap on my new OWS credit card, then, in keeping with the spirit of debt forgiveness (one of their big platforms) I tell them ,”Hey guys, I’m with you, credit cards are extensions of the power banks have over us, they keep us down and impoverished, debt forgiveness for all”, then stiffed them on my bill, I’m sure they would understand. Power to the people.

Dr. Cain and the Women

At the risk of flooding the zone with three post in a short time, I did want to open a thread on the sexual harassment allegations against Herman Cain. The claim is that he paid two women in response to harassment claims. I’ve found his response very believable and straight-forward: he claims he was falsely accused but his trade group settled without his knowledge.

We’ll see how this shakes out. I’d say I don’t believe someone would go to press with this unless they had the evidence, but I remember Dan Rather’s memos.

And Burn the Banks Down

Part two of my posts on housing and banking.

If you want to know why I have some shred of sympathy for OWS despite some of their repugnant behavior (that Kos link is priceless, BTW), here is the reason:

Liberal protesters “occupying” Wall Street hate the big banks, which they see as the engine of capitalism. But conservatives ought to hate the big banks because they are the enemies of capitalism.

In addition to the Fannie/Freddie conforming loan increase I blogged about below, Bank of America moved $55 trillion in derivatives to an arm that is backed by the FDIC. We, the taxpayer, are now on the hook for their speculative bullshit. I’m no fan of Glass-Steagle but … Jesus, can’t we do something about that?

But it gets even worse:

A Government Accountability Office report highlighted plenty of conflicts of interest at the Federal Reserve. New York Fed official Stephen Friedman was on the board of Goldman Sachs and actively buying up shares of Goldman while the Fed moved to give Goldman special access to its lending windows.

JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon sat on the New York Fed’s board while the Fed was pouring billions of bailout dollars into JP Morgan and granting JP Morgan special regulatory exceptions.

How is this not a crime? How is not corruption that so many in the regulatory agencies have now found six- and seven-figure jobs in the very industry they refused to crack down on? Maybe there is no technical law being violated. But can we not pass a law requiring public officials to stay out of industries they regulate for at least five years? Can we not at least shame these corrupt douchebags for their repellent behavior?

The banking industry is a bigger problem than ever, not withstanding the sack of shit called Dodd-Frank. As John Huntsman recently pointed out, the taxpayers’ exposure on the big banks has only increase since the crisis. The “too big to fail” banks control more of the industry than ever before, having used TARP mainly to buy other banks. And as Russ Roberts points out, we made sure that banks and their cronies got 100% of their money out of the financial crisis. Many avoided having to taking losses at all on the financial crisis they gleefully participated in and made tens of millions off.

Look at those links I just put up. Russ Roberts is anti-Keynesian free market economist. John Huntsman is a fiscally conservative Republican. Tim Carney is a libertarian. These are not dirty hippies saying “fight the power”. All three are free market believers who are saying what OWS is saying — enough is enough.

Now OWS and the Left are wrong on what do about the banks. Forgiving student loan debt would hurt the banks, but it massively unfair to people who paid for their own education. Forcing banks to write down mortgage principal is another bad idea that would either require a gigantic violation of contract law or, effectively, the government bailing out the banks again on their bad mortgage debt. Maybe Matt Yglesias is right that we need to change the way banks account for their gains and losses, but that’s a long-term fix.

Break the big banks up. “Too big too fail” is too big to exist. The right time to do this was when they came begging to us for TARP. But we can’t afford for another financial bubble to blow up in our faces. This time, it will be even worse. This time, it may break the whole damned system.

I’d say this is one of those time when the free market has failed, but it’s not. It’s one of those times when the unfree market has failed. TARP and regulatory capture created these monster banks from corruption and influence-peddling. It’s time we turned the clock back on that.

Blow the Houses Up

This is the first of two posts, one on housing, one on banking. I’ll post the second one shortly.

Just when you thought it was safe to get back into the financial waters our dumbass government decides to resurrect the housing bubble — or at least try to.

First, there is the effort to maintain the high limit on conforming loans — that is, the loans that Fannie/Freddie will backstop. The upper limit on these loans recently declined from $730k to $625k (preferably on its eventual road to $0). But the Senate has passed an extension of the high limit under the apparent impression that poor people need the lower interest rates that come with conforming loans to buy their million dollar homes. Fortunately, the House is less keen on this idea.

And yet, it only gets better! Here comes Johnny Isakson (R-Real Estate Industry) with the SAVE Act. What the hell is the SAVE Act? I’m glad you asked.

The SAVE Act would require lenders to take into account, when underwriting the loan, potential savings from various energy savings features of the house. If a new appliance reduced your electric bill, Congress would require that the lender allow that ”savings” to used to bid for a higher priced house. The impact of the bill would be to allow for even higher debt-to-income ratios on the part of borrowers, as if high mortgage to income payments has had nothing to do with the mortgage crisis we are in.

Perhaps worse the bill would also direct appraisers to include energy savings into the value of the house. Sadly this is anything but “sensible accounting”. As any decent appraiser knows, a house is worth what someone will pay for it, not what the value of various improvements are. That’s why most residential appraisals are based upon comparable sales, and not simple cost or revenue accounting (marginal theory of value, anyone?).

My desk has a dent from me banging my head on it every time I read these stories. Is this not what got us into this mess? Complicated loans that no one understood that were predicated on the idea that housing prices would go up? Now we’re getting complicated loans that no one understands predicated on the idea that “green technology” will make houses more valuable. My developer in Texas trumpeted green building methods. It was nice but it didn’t make us pay more for the house. My current house is about as green as a black steer’s tuckus on a moonless prairie night, but I still bought it because the neighborhood was perfect. If green housing is worth more to buyers, the market will tell us.

No one in Congress is qualified to run the housing market. They need to stop pretending they can before they fuck things up even further.

Tebowing

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OK, here’s the question, say you got a job but you are not very good at what you do (we will pick at random, oh, being a quarterback in the NFL), you got the support of your boss and your co workers and you are really trying, but not cutting it for the simple fact that your skills are lacking and sub standard, but instead of the usual grumblings and……wait for it……Monday morning quarterbacking, the folks turn your name into a verb, and a new movement is created, but the movement kinda makes fun of you, are you insulted or elated?

Here we go:

Introducing Tebowing. It’s like planking, but dumber.It wasn’t enough that Tim Tebow dominated NFL headlines for a week with his comeback win over the Dolphins on Sunday. No, “Tebow” has to be a verb now, too.

What does it mean? To Tebow is “to get down on a knee and start praying, even if everyone else around you is doing something completely different.” That’s according to Tebowing.com, your new Internet home for Tebowing.

And if you go to tebowing.com, you see more of it in action.

I gotta tell ya, this is cracking me up.

Yesterday the Detroit Lions not only put a pasting on Tebow, but decided to get into the act:

Tim Tebow, being a spiritual guy, takes it all in stride, and so far (wait till he strings 3 losses in a row together) the fans are OK with it.

Tebow had a monster career in college, but literally hit a brick wall with The Broncos, and he’s not the first. He is a good athlete but can’t read defenses, and is not accurate in his passes. His work ethic is good so maybe, with practice, he can learn these skills.

There has been a lot of controversy over the years (Kurt Warner?) concerning sports figures thanking God or Jesus after a victory (like he really cares about some dumb sporting event). As long as what they are doing is legal, I got no problem with athletes trying to get “an edge”, thank whoever or whatever you think helped you get there. New #1 in tennis, Novak Djokovic, has been very vocal about his new gluten free diet and how that has propelled him to the top.

Whatever your motivation, and if the fans can get a little fun out of it, contort away. But the movement is not complete until there is photo documentation of some couple Tebowing mid coitus, Tebowing on top of the Empire State building, one on the top of Half Dome, and a tebower mid bow in a barrel going over Niagara falls.

iphone Help

I put it off as long as I could but the day of reckoning has arrived.

I think everyone pretty much knows that I am the dinosaur of the group, a baby boomer who is on the descending side of that bell curve. Although there is a definite advantage to being old-er (no commute to work for me, no worries about providing for my family, don’t have to suck in my gut when a pretty girl walks by) the down side is that old adage about teaching an old dog new tricks is steeped in reality. Learning anything technological is harder. Yeah, I got a Kindle, but all that other space age gadgetry, and the majority of stuff most people do on computers, it’s all Chinese to me.

The other day my wife and I had “the talk”, we are all getting new iphone 4s’s. As my pulse raced and beads of sweat dripped down my face, the reality that I will now have to learn something new caught in my throat. I’m a dumb phone guy, always have been, now I have to enter the 21st. century. Sure, I could ask my kid how to work this damn thing (why is it that teenagers instinctively know everything about electronic gadgets?), but if I’m to retain any semblance of self respect, I need to show some level of competency.

So I need help. I figure most here have iphones (or equivalent), any preference on providers? I assume that they all provide the same speeds for data, does it come down to coverage? Although I have read that other smart phones (like the Samsung galaxy 2S) provide a nice alternative, she has made up her mind to go with Apple, that’s what her friends have, so that is not negotiable. Any opinions on what size I should get? We are going with a family plan, 3 phones, the kid is getting the 64mb, I won’t be downloading movies or songs, will the 16 mb work for me? The cheapest data plans offer 2 gigs of data per month, is that sufficient (naturally we have to sign up for 2 years, so I want to get it right)? My understanding (could be all wrong) is that every thing you do with a smart phone, you do through an app that you have to download, what apps do you guys like the best and use the most often?

Reading technical manuals send me into epileptic fits, it will probably take me a month or more to get through this one, are there any things I should master first, aside from turning it on, making a call, or bringing up the web?

We all most evolve (Damn you, Darwin) but some of us are dragged kicking and screaming. Thanks for any help or advice in advance.

Disclosure, With A Kicker

The system is broke, no doubt about it. Many of the OWS crowd believe that it is broke beyond repair. I think it is repairable, nothing that some honesty and integrity in our leaders would not fix. But here’s the rub, much like Abraham bargaining with God over the fate of Sodom, where finding only 10 righteous men would have saved the city, finding leaders, anywhere with honor and integrity is proving difficult.

We all remember the Bell, Ca. scandal, where the mayor, city manager, and several city council members were all arrested for corruption, having inflated salaries, 4-5 times what would be considered normal for that job. But this isn’t like robbing a bank, they got their money semi legally (hence, the broken system), you can bet their defense will be as simple as this, they negotiated in good faith with the city to obtain those salaries, nobody put a gun to the heads of the city officials that accepted their contracts, the city was willing to get robbed and handed over the money month after month.

Shortly after the Bell scandal California controller John Chiang decided he would post all public employee salaries on his website, so now if you are a public employee anywhere in California, citizens have instant access to what you are making, about damn time.

But just because that information is available does not mean that some public employees want it disclosed, and some will even go extra ordinary lengths to keep their gravy train under wraps, including threatening those that ask the ridiculous, a little transparency wrt their employees:

It goes like this: Libby questioned the high salary and benefits of the city manager in the small Riverside County town of Indian Wells and was subsequently fired by his private employer after the city manager complained about him. Libby needed to learn “that such public discourse comes at a price,” the city manager wrote in a letter to Libby’s employer.

The price Libby paid was to lose his job as a bank vice president.

When Libby started poking around Indian Wells, population 5,000, in August, the city manager, Greg Johnson — who has since resigned — quickly went on the offensive. How dare Libby inquire about Johnson’s $283,000 salary and lucrative benefits, which that included free carwashes and something called “VIP” medical treatment at a hospital should he need a doctor.

Haddon Libby is a guy just like all of us, he lives within the system, takes pride in his community, and cared about that community. Whatever the impetus was for him poking around to see what his city officials were making (all citizens should be as curious) once he found out it became instantly apparent that the city could not afford such a lavish salary with benefits, many of those benefits are enumerated in the article.

When Libby filed a Public Records Act request with the city for more information, Johnson replied to it, copying Libby’s boss at First Foundation Bank, calling the $8 million estimate a lie and saying, “I guess we have a problem.”

Then, according to his lawsuit, Libby’s boss told him to “tread carefully” and that he would get fired if he exercised his right to sue the city for more information about Johnson or even just met with the manger.

The City Manager is the CEO of the city, he is not elected like the mayor, he has to have the education and training to do the job, he is the most powerful city official. And you would be surprised how much city managers get paid, I was. But salaries for this position do vary widely, usually commiserate with the size (population) of the city. Indian Wells, population 5000, should fall within the low end of the spectrum, it doesn’t. My little town, pop. around 25,000, pays it’s CM 237K (it’s the Bay Area, figures). The low end of most Ca. cities is around 180K with what Johnson was making as the Cadillac plan.

The amount in of itself is not that outrageous, it is in the ball park of other cities, but clearly, Johnson knew that there were too many cookies in his hand and was willing to do whatever it took to keep the information private.

Libby persevered (good for him) and was subsequently fired. The good news is that Johnson resigned (scumbag) and Libby is suing both the city and his employer for wrongful termination. Here is hoping he wins a boatload of money in judgment.

But governmental corruption is like cockroaches, for everyone one you see, there is a half a dozen hiding behind the refrigerator. This stuff goes on all the time and there are probably hundreds of Johnson’s out there, and we can’t count on Haddon Libby to visit every city in America spotlighting government malfeasance for us, we have to do this ourselves.

The smaller the government, the more transparent it is, that is why the Tea Party has it right, reducing the size of government and limit their power to only what they need to do their job, and most of the OWS is not. Destroying capitalism, or perversely perverting it (forgiving your debt to the detriment of the loaner) is not the way to go.

Deserving Of a Broken Skull?

The one nice thing about trolls, me being a “glass half full” kind of guy, is that sometimes in their delusional rantings, they do stumble upon a story worthy of reviewing. Sure, they get their facts wrong,and even when presented with the facts usually come up with a bass ackwards conclusion (you would too if you barely had 2 firing synapses to rub together) but the initial event that lights their fuse did occur, so we can start with that.

We can all agree that Scott Olsen got his bell rung:

A clash between Oakland police and Occupy Wall Street protesters left an Iraq War veteran hospitalized Wednesday after a projectile struck him in a conflict that came as tensions grew over demonstration encampments across the San Francisco Bay Area.

Scott Olsen, 24, suffered a fractured skull Tuesday in a march with other protesters toward City Hall, said Dottie Guy, of the Iraq Veterans Against the War. The demonstrators had been making an attempt to re-establish a presence in the area of a disbanded protesters’ camp when they were met by officers in riot gear.

Interesting wording ,”to re-establish”, in other words, the crowd, under legal precedent and police protocol, was verbally warned that they were in violation of the law (several ordinances are in play here, from organized protesting without a permit-yes, you do need one, just ask the Tea Party, trespassing, loitering, vandalism, noise or trash violations, blocking public access, even park ordinances, etc). A sufficient time is given for the crowd to comply, two more warnings are given with the last two coupled with a list of actions that will happen if the crowd does not disperse and go home. This particular crowd did initially comply, but some tried to re-establish, and Scott was part of this crowd.

Something (unk. what object) hit him in the head and broke his melon. Some of those rush to judgment types are sure that it was a police teargas canister. Problem is, the crowd was throwing rocks and bottles themselves, so nobody knows:

The good news is that Scott was rushed to the hospital and his condition is improving.

A full investigation (level one, reserved for when officers are injured or killed) is on going, and hopefully they will find out exactly what struck Olsen.

But here is the curious part, both sides are going through extra ordinary efforts to make Scott the focus of this incident, not the initial act. You got demonstrators like this who are attempting to make him out as a good guy. Ditto with the right wing blogosphere, digging deep to come up with some truly nasty stuff, here, here , and here. It’s like if they can drudge up dirt that paints him as douchebag, drug addled, sissie boy who could not hack the Marine Corp., then somehow the tragedy of the incident will be mitigated, and that broad brush can be used to paint all the protesters as snivelling lazy degenerates, maybe even deserving of what they get.

I don’t think this is the right’s (those lapping up the story and running with it) finest hour. Yes, I think some responsibility lies with those dunderheads that not only did not leave but returned, putting themselves in harm’s way by their reckless actions. But nobody deserves getting their head broken.

Crowd control is not something they leave to chance but train for it. Given the volatility of the situation, large crowds, not all speaking with one voice, and many spurred on to violence thinking their unanimity will protect them, a greater tolerance is usually exhibited.

But when the crowd degenerates into bottle and rock throwing (please tell me again how these folks are just like the Tea Party), then the kidd gloves come off, and folks are going to be arrested.

More US Deaths In Afghanistan

Here is a question for the group ,” Does anyone think that Afghan forces will ever be combat ready and able to defend their own country against the Taliban? Does anyone think that the Afghan people will gain the will and the desire instilled by nationalistic pride to fight for and protect their own nation? I ask these questions because if the answer is NO, to either, then what’s the point?

At least 13 U.S. troops were killed in Kabul on Saturday when a suicide bomber struck a vehicle in a NATO military convoy, a U.S. military official said.

Details are sketchy, could be more US deaths and certainly more NATO and civilian deaths.

We see this phenomenon all the time in the investing world, called the sunk cost fallacy, where good money is thrown after bad because any diminution would be a sign of failure or a mistake, so instead of admitting a bad hand and folding, we go all in hoping (praying) that some serendipitous event will save us. We see this all time with economic aid, backing the wrong regime, the wrong tin horned dictator because at the time it seemed like a wise move. But when conditions change and events turn against us, the aid continues because, well, we stop it would prove that we (the government) was wrong, and would erode the confidence of the folks. With Afghanistan , it is too late.

Afghanistan is doomed because on both sides of the equation, ours and theirs, there is no credible foundation of competence. On Our side, we have this:

Washington has indicated its willingness to negotiate with Taliban leader Mullah Omar and now regards his involvement as crucial to the prospects for peace in Afghanistan, Hillary Clinton has said.

And on their side, we have this:

Afghanistan would back rival Pakistan in a war with America, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Sunday.

What’s the old saying, “With friends like these……………….”?

Playing from a position of weakness, America has never been able to trust Karzai for the simple fact that he is a weasel, he is untrustworthy. State has always assumed that democracy is hard, an acquired skill with a sharp learning curve, but under proper supervision, boat loads of cash, and the patience of Job, something could be cabled together to resemble a free democratic state.

A worthy endeavor, and deserving of our patience and money, initially. But more and more stuff has been revealed about Karzai. He has always played both sides against the middle, taking our money and aid while offering to do our bidding, but ditto that with Iran, who’s interests are a bit different then ours.

Factor in that the Taliban is supplied with substantial funding from the local drug trade, and who is the head honcho, the Tony Montana of the drug trade? Karzai’s little brother. This “intimacy” that Karzai has with the Taliban, is not a secret, yet, we play ball with him like he is on our side, how stupid. Drugs and billions in cash flow in and out of Kabul, right under our noses, but he let’s us play soldier in his back yard, so we don’t interfere. But he does interfere with us, hindering out capabilities by demanding that the NATO led coalition stop carrying out night raids and limit airstrikes.

As it stand now, the official hand off date is 2014, the full transfer of the security responsibilities to the Afghan government, with the proviso that if the situation warrants and they are not ready, we stay longer, how encouraging? 9 years of training their security forces already, training folks who’s allegiance is a total crap shoot, training Afghans who is just as likely to turn that gun around and shoot his trainer, or after learning everything he can about our training and methods, go join the Taliban.

I think it is time that American forces apply my Iraq Doctrine, that we will stay in your flea bitten sand chocking loyalty challenged country but here is the deal, American forces stay behind great big walls, secured from suicide bombers, and we advise, that is all we do, advise. The heavy lifting, the going out on missions, going into harm’s way and doing the actual fighting, that is all on you. It is your country, it’s time to fight for it.