Saturday, January 31, 2009

Wall Street Bandits Steal 18 billion Dollars

The Scoundrels of Wall Street, taking their cues from one of the seven deadly sins (greed), decided to dole out $18 billion they had only because of government bailouts. President Obama chastised them for this outrageous robbery, but to date than none of them have returned their bonuses. Nor are they likely to. Every major brokerage house, including Goldman Sachs, would be bankrupt were it not for the intervention of the federal government. But when former secretary of treasury Paulson handed them more than their fair share of $300 billion they knew exactly what to do with it. Keep it.

Should the staff of the brokerage houses and investment banks to be getting bonuses when tens of thousands of Americans are being laid off? This is a rhetorical question to everyone except those who worked on Wall Street. This is the gang that couldn't shoot straight, and shot themselves in the foot, in the leg, and finally in the head, so that they lost hundreds of billions of dollars on ill-conceived investments.

The doling out of billions of dollars of bonuses was justified based on the assumption that if these firms didn't give their best staff wheelbarrows of hundred dollar bills, then the staff would have gone to other companies. What companies? Bear Stearns is no more. Lehman Brothers is gone. Merrill Lynch has been absorbed. The survivors are cutting staff by the tens of thousands. Ah, but those staff that remain must of necessity participate in the $18 billion robbery.

This gigantic robbery comes at a time when Bernard Maddoff made $50 billion disappear in the greatest Pinza scheme in the history of this country, if not the world. Many people and charities have seen their life savings disappear. But robbery is a way of life in the investment world these days. An unfair statement? Ask the people who lost the hundreds of billion dollars by investing in Wall Street.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Republicans Batting Zero

Not one single Republican voted for the bailout measure approved by the House Of Representatives. To be sure, there were portions of the bill which were objectionable to the Republicans, particularly since approximately $200 billion of the bill is likely to become a permanent part of the budget. But the funding for the birth-control information was deleted, which was a main sticking point in the craw of most Republicans. But not one, even one, Republican was able to vote for the bill? Sounds like a solid party line stance. To what purpose?

Congressman Boehner recently said that the Republicans can't be the party of, "No." The Republicans did come up with some counterproposals, mainly in the area of tax cuts. "Instead of a tax credit for individuals making $75,000 or less or families making less than $150,000, Republicans would like to reduce the tax rate by 5 percent on those Americans in the lowest tax brackets, from 15 percent to 10 percent and 10 percent to 5 percent." It's nice to see the Republicans focusing on tax cuts for people making moderate to low levels of income. This is certainly a change from the Bush administration era when Republican tax cuts were targeted for the wealthy. Well maybe the Republicans aren't batting zero, but they certainly aren't scoring any runs. Reducing taxes will help people, but it certainly won't turn the economy around. Nor is it certain that the Democratic sponsored legislation will either.

One potentially hopeful sign was that several Republicans had less than nice things to say about Rush Limbaugh. These comments came about the same time that President Obama told Republicans in Washington to stop listening to the right-wing talk show host. Rush Limbaugh then went on to say that "The president wants him (Limbaugh) to fail." This is all grist for Rush Limbaugh's mill because there is nothing he likes more than controversy, especially when it's about him. Rush Limbaugh is entirely about himself and gives new meaning to the words "self-absorbed."

There is some expectation that a few Republicans senators will vote for the bailout legislation. Heaven forbid! Recently Mitch McConnell, a key Republican leader in Congress, pointed out that the Republicans run the risk of becoming a regional party if they continue as they have during the Bush administration. Republicans are reputed to stand for less spending and smaller government. That's an interesting concept, because even Ronald Reagan, who said that "government is the problem not the solution" ended up with a larger bureaucracy at the end of eight years than he started with.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Bailout Battle over Birth Control

Recent reports indicate that President Obama will not support the inclusion of birth control funding in the bailout legislation. He is reported to have talked to Representative Henry Waxman, chairman of the energy and commerce committee, about having this provision removed. The Republicans assert that birth control funding has nothing to do with the bailout. While this is undoubtedly true, the inter-party wars over birth control have reared their ugly head. The connection between conservativism and birth control is tenuous at best, since the majority of Republicans are not Catholic, even though the majority of Catholics use birth control. Oh yes, the majority of Evangelicals are opposed to birth control. Is the country to be governed by the beliefs of the Evangelicals? Did Nancy Pelosi actually say that birth control funding would be stimulating? Did Boehner actually say it wouldn't be?

With so much at stake it is amazing how the both parties have gotten themselves tied up over long-standing unresolved issues. Bush is in, birth control is out; Obama is in, birth control is in. Birth control funding will happen whether or not the Republicans like it, just not in the bailout legislation. Representative Boehner recently said that the Republicans can't be the party of, "No." Well, they appear to be that on both counts. Against birth control, and against the bailout. There also appears to be a prevailing belief among the Republicans the bailout won't work and the Democrats will be left holding the bag in the 2010 elections. If the bailout doesn't work, there will be little left of the economy of the country for either party to fight over in 2010.

So much for bipartisanship. Why is it necessary for the Democrats to put things in the bill that they know will anger the Republicans and why is it necessary for the Republicans to react in a Pavlovian manner? Whether or not the bailout will work remains to be seen. At least the Obama team is coming up with an overarching plan that will address the short-term and long-term economic issues through a diverse array of legislation and other activities. This is a significant improvement over former secretary of treasury Paulson "winging it" as he went along.

In these perilous economic times we need more grown-ups. As the president said in his inaugural speech, "Now is the time to put away childish things." How many from both parties will join the president in being a grown-up is yet to be seen.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

President Obama the Socialist?

When President Obama talked about sharing the wealth with "Joe the plumber," the dreaded "S" word, or socialism, suddenly became part of the campaign rhetoric. Senator McCain and Governor Palin were quick to label Obama as a socialist which any good American knows is almost as bad as being a communist, which is the same as being the devil. Webster's dictionary defines socialism as, "any of various economic and political theory is advocating collective or government ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods." For those who weren't paying attention, while the McCain campaign was hurling the odious accusation of socialism against President Obama, the Bush administration was in the process of taking over the banking system in this country. Excuse me? A conservative president taking over the banking system? Sounds a lot like socialism to me.

Following the government takeover of the banking system was the plea from the auto industry to be bailed out by the government. More socialism? And Obama hadn't even been elected yet.

Except for "real Socialists, who are small minority in America, and a few left-wing Democrats, who are probably Socialists, the overwhelming majority of Americans, including Democrats, are just fine with capitalism and don't want the government to own, administer, or distribute goods.

What gets a fair number of people agitated is the concept of "sharing the pie." In one of his broadcasts, Glenn Beck, who tends to the conservative side, said that he didn't want to share his pie, and that America is a bakery that can produce an infinite number of pies. That's a nice theory, but the reality is some people will always be left with the crumbs, and a more than a few people will have no pie at all. This country has been sharing the pie ever since Medicare was instituted, which still sticks in the craw of many conservatives who would like to roll back everything Lyndon Johnson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt implemented.

In President Obama's inaugural address there was no hint of socialism. In fact, Michael Medved, a conservative columnist, said the following about President Obama's inaugural address. "Meanwhile, the big speech also reassured Joe the Plumber and other nervous free-marketeers that careless campaign rhetoric about “spreading the wealth” might not, after all, constitute a major priority for the Obama administration."

To paraphrase President Obama the focus is not on whether the government is too big or too small, but whether it works.

To go back to Glenn Beck's metaphor about sharing the pie, extra slices have been given to special interests throughout the country's history. Farm subsidies are given to major corporations whether they need them or not. Municipalities give significant tax breaks to corporations to lure them to their area. So let's not pretend sharing the pie is all about socialism. If are going to share the pie lets do it more fairly.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

President Bush Celebrates Successful Presidency

At his last press conference, President Bush described the great successes of his presidency. Even though there was gasping, and cries of foul from most of the press, the president went on to list the accomplishments of his eight years as president of the United States. Among them are the following:

The short, successful war in Iraq that resulted in a democracy being established in less than two years, with a minimum of civilian casualties. The president also cited the fact that the war had come in well under budget, costing the American taxpayer less than $100 billion.

Tax cuts that didn't increase the deficit, but rather decreased the deficit to the point that were it not for the slight recession, budget surpluses would be part of the Bush legacy.

Leaving an economy that was basically sound except for the mild recession, which should not last more than a couple of months. The president cited the excellent work of Secretary of the treasury Paulsen and chairman of the Federal Reserve Bernanke in preventing the housing crisis from becoming more than a minor problem for the economy and the people of America.

The major accomplishment in reviving the status of American manufacturing was the reestablishment of General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler as the dominant automakers in the world. Each of the big three automakers is now thoroughly solvent and have taken significant market share from Toyota.

The president was also proud of his administration's ability to obtain the cooperation of Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees without the use of any coercive measures. Only one prisoner of war was ever housed at the Guantánamo facility, and that person had a speedy trial in the civilian courts.

President Bush spoke at length about his commitment to the civil liberties of all Americans and his refusal to use wiretaps and other covert unconstitutional surveillance techniques despite the pressure from the Democratic Party.

At the end of the press conference the president was given a standing ovation by all members of the press, many of whom shouted, "Four more years, four more years."

Friday, January 9, 2009

"Katie Couric Not Center of Known Universe”

The presidential election was decided over two months ago, but Governor Palin has kept talking. She continues to be as enlightening after the election, as she was before the election. In an incredible pronouncement, Governor Palin said, "Katie Couric is not the center of everyone's known universe." Astronomers all over the world immediately concurred with Governor Palin in her assessment. It is rumored that Katie Couric however were shocked to find out that she was not the center of the universe. This will no doubt put a damper into her next contract negotiations.

When Governor Palin was asked how she decided that Katie Couric wasn't the center of the universe, Governor Palin replied, "I just decided." End of discussion on that topic.

Still upset with what she feels was an unfair portrayal of her during it presidential campaign Governor Palin has been speaking her mind about the various injustices she suffered. In an interview posted on the Internet Governor Palin blasted what she says was the mainstream news media's regular use of unsubstantiated and often anonymous blogging in its reporting. If Governor Palin stands by her words, the one she used during the interviews she gave during the campaign, then there is no need for anyone to resort to anonymous blogging. Governor Palin came across in a way that enabled everyone to make a judgment about her capability to be the vice president of the United States. That judgment was a resounding NO WAY!

In our recent interview Governor Palin also said, "Of course I read newspapers," putting an end to the scurrilous rumors that the governor was a non-reader. While Governor Palin was having her say, she managed to take a shot at Caroline Kennedy. Governor Palin said "I've been interested to see how Caroline Kennedy will be handled. As we watch that, we'll be able to prove that there's a class issue here.” It’s not clear what class Governor Palin is referring to. Perhaps she's referring to the difference the way the press treats a self-described pit-bull soccer mom and a graduate of Columbia Law School. It wouldn't be fair to treat them differently. Would it?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Dick Cheney to be Appointed Ambassador to Klingon Empire

In his greatest display of bipartisanship, President Barack Obama announced today that Vice President Cheney would be appointed as the permanent Ambassador to the Klingon Empire. William Shatner was reported to be upset because he wasn't consulted about this appointment. A representative for President-elect Obama said it was fitting for Vice President Cheney to fill this important post even though it was hundreds of light years from Earth. The Klingons were reportedly delighted that Cheney would receive this appointment because they greatly admire his management style and skills and approach to handling people. Mrs. Cheney said she was looking forward to living on Klingon where she could eat blood worms and other rare delicacies unavailable on this planet.

Former secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, was considered for this appointment, but his decision to spend the rest of his life at a monastery high in the Tibetan Himalayas made such an appointment in possible. The Klingons expect that Vice President Cheney will be the helpful in their tactical negotiations with the Romulan Empire. Both the Klingons and the Romulans have had a long history of bomb first, talk later diplomacy. The Klingons felt that Cheney's background in this type of interplanetary diplomacy would be extremely useful. Vice president Cheney is also expected to provide expertise in the art of persuading prisoners of war to voluntarily tell everything they know with a minimum of damage to their central nervous system.

This is expected to be the first of many such appointments by President-elect Obama. President Bush is being considered as Ambassador to the Vulcans so that he may be able to share his advanced meditative practices. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, is reported to be interested in being ambassador to the Borg. After working within the Bush administration for eight years, working with the Borg should be a piece of cake according to an administrative insider.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Piggy Banks Flying in Frugal U.S.

The banks are not actually flying in the air to the best of my knowledge. However, they are flying off the shelves of stores that sell them. According to an article in Reuters, “(Wed Dec 31, 2008 2:34pm EST) "Recession-wary Americans embraced the virtues of thrift this Christmas, with stores reporting a clear rise in the popularity of piggy banks." Naturally, in New York City, designer piggy banks would be the most desirable. The article goes on to quote a New York City retailer. "We have been selling coin banks really well," said Laura Kellner at Kikkerland Design Inc. in New York City, whose stylish chrome pig is priced at $31.

Savings levels have increased markedly in recent months as households adjust to a yearlong recession and the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. In view of the level of most middle-class family incomes, a piggy bank seems to be an appropriate place to put extra savings in terms of what's left over after paying the monthly bills. Many families are not able to save any money at all. There are rumors that Wal-Mart plans to sell three dollar a piggy banks with billions of dollars of fake money. People shouldn't turn up their nose at fake money at a time when the country has learned that most of the major brokerage houses and major banks have been generating fake profits for some time.

Unfortunately, an increase in the savings rate is not necessarily good for the country. The Reuters article goes on to state, "If shock over the housing and stock market's losses sends the savings rate all the way back to the 11.2 percent notched in 1982, after the United States had endured two painful back-to-back recessions, it will prolong the current downturn." The whole business of what we should save is getting too complicated. For a long time the people of this country have been told we weren't saving enough. Now we are warned that if we save too much it will be bad for the economy. I think I'm going down to Santa Fe to find a monastery to hang out in for the next 10 years.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Freedom of Speech Stretched Beyond the Limits

The following is a quote taken from Media Matters. The post exemplies that there is nothing too obscene or flagrantly racist/sexist/etc. that some fool won't say it. Freedom of speech is not freedom to villify, dehumanize, or make racist/sexist comments.

"With attacks on autistic children, the poor, and HIV-positive basketball star Magic Johnson, talking heads showed that nobody was safe in 2008, no matter how unfounded and unseemly the smear. Progressive politicians, particularly Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton and President-elect Barack Obama, were also targets. Obama was called everything from a "pussy" (Don Imus), to a
"steamy crap sandwich" (Chris Krok). One commentator said Obama "fits the stereotype blacks once labeled as an Oreo -- a black on the outside, a white on the inside" (John McLaughlin), while others associated him with the Antichrist (Bill Cunningham, Chris Baker, Brian Sussman, others). Michelle Obama was also targeted, being described, among other things, as "Kim Jong-Il dressed up with a bit of Oprah Winfrey dressing" (Mark Steyn). MSNBC's Chris Matthews said Clinton's success is attributable not to her merit, but to the fact that "her husband messed around."