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Friday, December 19, 2008

Baath Revisited

Sigh. We've yet to see how serious this is, but the fact that the Maliki administration is concerned about a Baath Party resurgence is pretty frightening, That said, the Maliki administration is probably corrupt to the bone. It just goes to prove another of my long standing maxims--this from Robert M. Pirsig of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance fame:
"There’s no villain, no ‘mean guy’ who wants them to live meaningless
lives, it’s just that the structure, the system demands it and no one is
willing to take on the formidable task of changing the structure just
because it is meaningless ... The true system, the real system, is our
present construction of systematic thought itself, rationality itself, and
if a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left
standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory."

It's just that simple. And the reason, Middle East experts were saying before we ever invaded, what a stupid idea it was. Democracy came to Europe after two thousand years of war. Democracy was exported to the Americas by the Europeans. If the Middle East wanted democracy they'd have moved to it generations ago. Eastern civilization is much older than ours in many respects. Even so, let's hope they don't produce another factory. Enlightened leadership is what they need-whether or not its democratic.

The City Sinks Deeper

So, I'm glad to see, again, I wasn't wrong. The city was filthy with Madoff's "money." The NYTimes reported that dozens of major New York developers had given this guy money. That whole building projects might be in jeopardy because there's no more collateral. I am a bit surprised--I thought it was lawyers and auditors who were mostly going to take the hit for this. Seems like the other New York thing, real-estate has come to bear. Everybody knows this guy. And the people who didn't know him personally, wished they knew him. Even the doubters.

I've heard a few things which are disturbing. Some are saying the SEC's days are numbered. Remember, one of the principal reasons for establishing the SEC was to monitor the investment houses (which they stopped doing about thirty years ago, but now really have no excuse since there are no investment houses.)

If the SEC was dismantled--there would have to be a replacement. Securities, particularly after this debacle could not go unregulated. So they'd refit it, give it a new name. But who would they hire? The same administrative staff, the same investigators. Who, afterall, could take their place? The auditors? Clearly not. A new breed of investigator has to be born. Hire me. Not only do I want to investigate fraud, I have a natural distrust of big business, but at the same time, I'm extremely idealistic. I do think there are ethical businesses. Moreover, I think that there are plenty of businesses which have philandered ethically, which can be won back.

A little shamless self promotion. So what? I observed a few months ago that accountants are trained not to care. Or, more accurately, to only rely on the information they receive. They feel that it is not their job to make sure that companies stay on the straight and narrow. Just to add up figures, and ask questions when things don't add up. They only report to the company. And if the company doesn't like it, they can just find new auditors. And the auditors don't have to report anything, and in fact, would be liable if they did. So there is no accountability for fraudalent behavior according to the normal model. The only body that regulates financial statements is the SEC. The PCAOB and FASB make rules, but no one is required to submit anything to them. And who makes their rules? The big four, and a hodgepodge of former SEC staffers.

This sounds bad. I don't think the SEC is crooked. I don't think the auditors are crooked. I don't think the PCAOB or the FASB is crooked. What I think is crooked is the idea that business, and "The Market" is a self-regulating machine. It just ain't true. And if it were--the self regulation occurs only when people are injured. When shit like this happens. Well, to a certain extent, I think that's true: people forget, and markets are cyclical. The system operates well for a time, people get comfy, forget, and then the market crashes. Ostensibly, this happens every generation. Happened in 1830s, 1840s, 1870s, 1930s (earlier for europe) 1970s, 1980s (gulp!) and today (those dates correspond loosely to economic troubles--particulary for the earlier years) So with all that, you might assume that this has to happen. And be particularly glad when it does. As it is, young"ish" investors today stand at the threshold of a really prosperous time. With all the promised regulation, we should be looking at a period of real prosperity, not market inflation. I mean a period of epic growth, like after WWII.

Not to underscore the gravity of the situation, but we are nearing the bottom. Not of the recession, but of the market bottom. Up until now, all the news we've been reading has been backdated. Meaning, we're reaping what our economic masters had sewn two-three years ago. I think there may be a couple more revelations. That the Fed has created new rules for the credit card companies speaks volumes of this. Citibank got a bailout but before the layoffs happened. I don't know what to think about that. Bad news delayed is worse news. But bad news is bad enough. Neither the insurance business nor the credit card business have really faced the music yet. Bailout or no, they will. Both are inflated, both are fairly corrupt. Again--not as in "evil" but in the fact that they've operated sub rosa for too long.
At anyrate, it's like the old Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times." Let's hope we stay above board. I'll close with a thought I wrote to AM-NY (who declined to publish it--ever since I quarreled with the editor they've ignored me) "As for the mistaken impressions about Darwinism and adaptation, mutations are random, and though success will be determined by survival, who and what survives is largely a combination of the randomly selected attributes that make up each individual (read: mistaken analogy.) In other words, good luck" To wit. The survivors of this latest revolution will have been in the right place at the right time--that's all. The tycoons of the future will have acted.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Briefly on the New Budget

So we've been hearing about it for weeks, and finally Patterson released his new budget. It should surprise no one. Still, we hear the usual griping. Everything, pretty much, is being taxed. Except for two things which disappointed New Yorks keep forgetting.

1) Income Tax. HAS NOT BEEN RAISED. So as long as you spend less, stop feeding your vices, you should be ok. It may well come to Income tax being raised. Doesn't it always? But for now, be grateful.

2) Income Tax for the very rich. This I really don't get. Nothing's changed, some capital gains stuff that's all. The super rich of New York have certainly taken a hit. Their real estate and their equities have taken a nose dive. But for anyone who makes over 200k, their current tax load really isn't fair. After all, they own their property, and they're receiving all the benefits of ownership, while the majority of us wriggle in our extremely high rentals.

I'm sure Patterson had his reasons, but we ought to know them too. Let us decide whether or not to let them off the hook.

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Blog for Blogojevich--A Moment of Clarity

I had a moment of clarity this morning while shaving. Everyone is playing all high and mighty about the scandal of Rod Blogojevich attempting to sell Obama's Senate seat, but the fact of the matter is that every single governor would do the same. Oh they might not sell the seat for money, but they're selling it. It's the political process. And it's happening here in New York too. It's an appointed position. That means it's up to the state executive--not the people.

It's one thing that has surprised me about the Obama's and the DLC's choices over the cabinet appointments. Either Obama is very smart and he's eliminating competition in the Senate in his own party, or he and the Democrats are shooting themselves in the foot. There will be an election in two years, and if the wind isn't whispering, Obama, Obama, we're going to have at least four Senate seats in contest to political newcomers. That's a dangerous gamble, and a surprising one. Sure, a little personal ambition is understandable. But denuding the Senate of all its ranking Democrats is a mistake. That's why Reps are around, that's why old Senate members who've lost their seats are around. Look at Tom Daschle, a party man through and through, except when he helped impeach his own President, and lost his seat for all his good service in 2004.

I digress. Here's the thing people. In the game of politics, it's all about doing your time, or being so wealthy that you don't have to do your time. You can be rags to political riches, but you have to do your time. And everysingle Obamite, Howardian, and Clintonian who did his time on three different campaigns, who went to GWU or Georgetown and worked for his Congressman (I confess, I did it too.) Every single one of them, if he works hard, and kisses enough tuchus, will get his Party reward. That's really all Blogojevich is doing here--he got greedy and stupid by offering a price tag for the seat. But really, it just officially commodifies what everyone ought to have suspected all along.

I don't have a problem with the system. If I'd been patient, and stuck with it, and had been willing to do the time--I'd be a part of it too. But I wasn't. But this is what makes democracy. As one of the characters in Candide said, (I paraphrase) "I hate the English for their party spirit." I didn't understand that phrase until I went to a couple of College Democrat meetings in college--a breeding ground for America's next political generation--partisan, cynical, and willing to scratch anyone's back*. You can't be an automechanic or a paralegal and expect to be part of the system unless you put yourself into the system. And that means behaving like you would in any club or social activity: Reciprocation.

*One other observation about the College Dems: It's the only organization I've seen where cynicism is codified as form of zeal. How can you be zealous about cynicism? Isn't that sort of a contradiction in terms? It's not that they don't have ideals--it's just that rather than the ideal being the motivator to achieve political power, political power is the motivator for having the ideal. I suppose that's naive of me, but I've never understood the desire for political power. The love of the masses I've known well--I was an actor. But if one hates being a follower, how can one have any respect for those for whom he is the leader?

It should surprise no one. It's not news, it's not even worth your attention. Not when there are asshats like Madoff and Drier to kick around.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

This City is so Fucked

Marc S. Drier is slime. Amazing slime, slime that sticks to the wall, but still slime. Bernard L. Madoff is slime mold. Here's an example of a really smart guy, who proved the hypothesis I've been selling to nobody for years.

Nobody would buy.

I've been saying it to anybody who will listen, and for years people would tell me I was crazy. Maybe I am, but it seems to me that cheating is the rule of the jungle. Think for a second of all the myriad ways in which you cheat. You cheat on your taxes, you spent an hour buying Christmas gifts on instead of working, you stole office supplies. All really minor shit. But minor people can only steal minor shit. People like me and you, we only have the opportunity to steal pencils, or soda. But the higher up you Becket would say, "The bigger the man, the fuller he is, and the emptier." Think about it, you have a pie chart, if you cheat like 1%. Well, a pie chart of me and just about anyone else would look the same. But if my pie chart represents only a hundred dollars, only 1 dollar of that is a fraud. No one cares about a buck. But when your pie chart represents 100 million...well you get the idea.

I've had very impressive financial people look at me and scoff when I've said this before. EVERYONE IS IN ON IT. And it's not paranoia, it's not a delusional fantasy. It's a question of philosophy. Well, now it's pretty much Q.E.D. not one but every investment bank is gone now, bought, closed, or firesaled. Everyone of them was in on it. Here's the thing...and this is why those impressive people were wrong. When I told them that EVERYONE was in on it. They mistakenly conflated evil with fraud. They thought that the balance of people were good (loosely defined as not fraudalent). And I agree with them. But the question is one of perception. Everyone was selling these shitty securities. Everyone knew about it. The problem wasn't that these people were evil, that would be a ridiculous notion. There is no evil. What they were was in too deep. It was a mob mentality. The fire at the end of the hall was the knowledge that this thing was just too monstrous to stop. So why not go for all the gusto they can grab? And when things were up, who would care? They could buy that new cellphone without a second thought. I see law students and busboys with 3G phones. Seriously, and in New York, that's totally unremarked on.

That's what's so fucked up here. We're all complicit. I walk down my street, and I can point out the investment bankers. I can point out the UES moms who quit their career to raise their kids, with rocks that could take out an eye at forty yards. They took the money, and when the money keeps rolling in, you don't ask how. Go over to the gallery openings every Thursday in Chelsea. With paintings that run from $500 to $50,000 or more, who's doing the buying? We're all complicit. Go out to Brooklyn, maybe pop over to Metropolitan Ave and have a few drinks. Those trendy, scarf clad kids? They're in on it too. They might bitch and whine about the have's and the have not's, but where have they been for the last 16 years? To be sure, there are always exceptions. And none of these people (including myself) are bad or awful people. We really all just fell into complacency. Our literary critics have been warning us--so have the historians, but intellectuals are effete snobs, and they don't really contribute anything anyway.

It's times like these where I stare out at my city, and think, this place just ought to be bulldozed. You know what's worse? Having written that sentence, a shiver of fear ran through me. Of course, I want nothing at all to happen to my city. I love it, and everyone in it. Even the crooks and the frat boys, the sorostitutes, and the lawyers, i-bankers and everyone between. But in this country today. I know full well that there are people watching us. And I'm too small of a fish for people to care about now. But god help me if something happened. Can I write that? Another thing I spent the last eight years telling my conservative friends, who repeated like robots, "I've done nothing wrong, I've got nothing to hide." So what? When you can't speak for fear of reprisal, you are no longer living in a democracy.

Please Obama et. al. fix this. We need regulation, and we need to know what's going on. We need a free press that is solvent and able to withstand the rigors of litigation.

And this is just too rich, Milberg LLP, formerly known as Milberg Weiss Bershad and Schulman before three of the four went to prison, is representing the misled investors!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Oprah's Sizing

I am not a fan of pop culture. Not because I hate it or anything, I actually think it produces a lot of good art, and I think it says a lot about the zeitgeist of the times. I don't like it because it's part of groupthink, buying into it, talking about it, criticizing it (as I am right now) is all a part of it. So, typically, I ignore it to the best of my ability.

But I saw something that really pissed me off today. Arguably one of the wealthiest, most powerful black women is on the chopping block again because she's gained 67 pounds. This is disgusting, it's woman who did the interview, and it's largely women who are reading it. Get over yourselves. Almost all of the powerful men in the world are rotund. You'd never hear a peep about one of them. Unless they were morbidly obese, like President Taft. This is part of the culture I'll never understand. My honey watches these TV shows with thin women parading themselves around and then hates herself for being normal. Do I give a rats ass about Oprah's weight? No way. In fact, the fact that she's "ashamed" of it makes me respect her a lot less. I know this is a typically male perspective--but it's the kind of thing that I see all the time. And my sex will get the blame for it. But I don't care, except to say, don't waste my time with it. I read the gossip pages because it's a 45 minute ride to work, and there's only 20 minutes of news in the daily. And I feel guilty if I don't take a paper from my newslady in the morning.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Who killed Jdimytai Damour

Freakonomics did a recent post on this.

I just want to say. I blame the po-po. I hate crowds, I hate shopping, I hate getting jostled and bumped around, snarled or yelled at.

That's why I live in Manhattan.

Here in Manhattan, if you have a crowd of even a hundred people gathering, anywhere on the island, you can bet that the police will be out in force. All I can say is that the police had hours to get to the site. I don't know why they didn't. I've heard nothing yet about where the police were. I've heard Walmart blamed, I've heard the crowd (also rightly) blamed, I've even heard Jdimytai blamed for not knowing crowd control procedures.

I'd like to add a few culprits to the list. The Long Island police.

It's not Walmart's responsibility to provide security for a thousand people. That's ridiculous. I don't care much for the company, but really, this isn't their fault. Even if they did lie about the deals.

Harlem Negaissance

As some of you know, I lived in Harlem for the better part of six, ALL of that time was spent during the "Bush Boom" which was really a hold over from the "Clinton Boom" without the balanced budget and added regulation.

(Hat tip to Don Hamerman for the photo, check out his fancy photo blog. And Don, I found your photo randomly on the internet, just contact me and I'll take it down if its a problem.)

During that time, I was beaten twice, mugged once, had my cell phone stolen from me, and was chased down the street three or four times. I'm not bitter, in fact, on the one occasion I probably could have, I decided not to participate in an investigation, despite several calls from police. I knew my attackers were just teenagers, 19, 20 tops.

What really got me during those heady years of investment banker excesses and massive condos springing up from the discarded shells of old tenement buildings was that people would always tell me, "Harlem's coming back!" "Harlem's getting better," and even my old neighborhood was dubbed a fancy new marketing name, "SpaHa," for Spanish Harlem. We know that white people can't stomach spanish speaking peoples. Ink was spilled and the talk was talked.

But what really happened? Why was I so cynical? Why did I think all the rumors were bunk?

I lived it. I lived the dream, people. Harlem is a neighborhood with a lot of history, a lot of really amazing people, really spectacular family life, and it has all the issues that a lowerclass, poorly educated neighborhood has including, crime, drugs, teenpregnancy and gangs.

Like everything Bush era'd, excuse my poor pun on the word "error," (I felt I needed to explain that one) the new Harlem Renaissance was totally half-assed. Oh! I know, let's build a lot of fancy, super expensive condos that no one can afford to buy, and then, when the neighborhood becomes great, we'll be even richer! This is the way the developers thought, "If you build it, they will come." Well this ain't no field of dreams. At least not until election night. The problem with top down development is that it depends on people moving into a neighborhood because the asset itself is deemed a much higher value than its buy-in price. I looked into buying one of those condos, and there wasn't a single one under a half a million. Very pretty, very modern, all new fancy appliances, and the nearest grocery store was a rat infested, leaky roofed, oddly smelling C-Town. 15 blocks and three avenues away a beautiful pathmark lurked. But who walks 30 minutes to get to the grocery store? Who walks back? People who can afford half-million dollar condos, the feeling went. Well, they had buyers, and now they don't.

Lehman brothers bankruptcy, and the end of the investment bank took care of that. It was a vain dream anyway. For years people have been talking about a new new Harlem Renaissance, and the simple fact is that the original renaissance was an outgrowth of the beautiful, intelligent, artistic, and ingenious people who lived there, who grew up there, or moved there during the boom to contribute. Not bought there, and spent money there.

If I were a developer, and this is one of my dreams I'm sharing with you, I would have done things differently. People want to live in the West and East village because it is the center of the city. There are things to do, and things to see, not just fancy restaurants and successful businesses--that all happened later. What made people move there was the chance to do art, the chance to be a part of something amazing. And the fact that living there was dirt cheap. Nothing these days is cheap. I was talking to my uncle the other day, and when he told me that the government was practically giving Ph.Ds away when he was a young man, I could have cried. What an awful place we live in now.

The Raving Leftatic plan for Harlem: Invest in the community that lives there now. Not just the natives, but also the students, and the migrants who live there because they can't afford the nicer neighborhoods. Attract artists. Gut a building or two, make them art studios, rent control them. Talk it up, let the artists move in. There are artists there already, help them. Sponsor a yearly art fair. Let their positive, energy create something that people want to visit--not just live by. That is the secret to neighborhood revitalization. If I'd had that opportunity when I'd lived there my whole life would have been different.

The fake boom is over, but the next few years will really determine the course. Will the neighborhood go to seed again? Will Bloomberg forget it, and bring the po-po down town to protect his constituency? Or can we finally clear the way for real development. Based on real people, who live there and need it most.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Hitting the Bottom

This is an ongoing argument in our household. One of us believes that bad news in the market place leads to an ever growing spiral, loss, and bankruptcy. The other, namely RL, that the market cannot really start to rebound until all the bad news is out, and the nay sayers have had their fill.

I get the argument she makes, and my pay check depends on large part the extent to which we can prove that to be the case. Let me flesh that out a bit. If Jamie Dimon, Paulsen, or even Oprah Winfrey, or any well-known public figure, tomorrow declares that the price of eggs will go down. Then the stock price of eggs will go down tomorrow, not because of internal market forces, the cost of production, shipping, etc. Merely because the bad news hit the market and people said, I'm getting out now. For this reason, she says, people who are in such a powerful position should prudently, shut the hell up.

I disagree. On a couple of different levels. First, the matter of market disclosure is a sticky one for us. It's one thing for a totally random person like Oprah to shut the hell up, but a completely different thing for say, the CFO of Bear Stearns to shut the hell up. That is, in fact, against the law. This is why Ralph Cioffi, and Mathew Tannin of Bear Stearns fame will face a superceding indictment in January. What I've learned from my accounting classes, is that it is perfectly justifiable for internal management to conceal some things from their investors. Within reason. The problem comes when people are concealing too much. Which has clearly been happening for some time. You will see some changes in accounting next year. In fact, I think the next two years will see some changes in mark-to-market accounting.

Here's another thing: in securities law, when we talk about loss, we talk about inflation. Not to be confused with endless printing of money, or the fed lowering interest rates (again and again and again.) An analyst will take the average price index and compare that line against the inflated stock. The difference, therefore is the inflation. Look at the chart to the right. The top line is JDSU stock price, the bottom line is what the market was doing at the time. The difference is the stock inflation. Now clearly, this is but one stock. What happens when the market itself is inflated? Well that's what we're seeing now. Paul Krugman had a good op-ed on this recently. But this is the crux of why I think we need to hear the badnews all of it.

In a bull market, if a firm says they have bad news, (they're not going to hit their quarterly marks for instance,)the marketprice of the stock drops. In a bull market, that is considered really bad news. This prompts firms to lie about losses. And they do, routinely. Because everyone else is, and they know that if they're the only one being honest, the market will reward them by taking away their financing. This happened most recently in the tech industry in the 90s. Almost every single major tech firm's stock was wildly inflated, and they all were having similar difficulties. Too much stock, obsolesence costs, flat-lining sales.

But what I'm saying, is that in a bear market, bad news is actually good. After 6 or 7 years of rampant inflation (and some analysts argue as much as 10 years) the more bad news we get, the more the marketplace actually begins to represent reality. Then, we can start building profits again. To the right you see the inflation in the stock market--the housing bubble. This gives you an idea of how far we have to go before we hit the prices that we ought to be at. Still, things could get worse. Here's where I'm coming from: most of the blogs, and news that I've read for the 8 years have pointed irrevocably toward this moment. The BLS publishes this information every quarter for christsake. Everything's rosy, but the middle and lower class have less and less in their pockets. Well now they know. And that's a good thing. News will continue to be morose and desperate for at least two more quarters to come. But that doesn't mean that the news makers are responsible for the slagging market. These factors have been building for years, and the spinning, pontificating, talking heads have finally begun to notice. Bonddad has been talking about this stuff for the last two years, so a certain amount of realization has to occur. And the worse people's expectations become, the more tension can be released in the market.
Best buy made this prediction yesterday. And that too was good news. For the last decade creditcard use has quadroupled. What did you expect? If wages have gotten lower with inflation, who was doing all the buying? We were, on our credit cards. Well, people have finally wised up, they see debt as a problem now and they're getting help. So of course sales will be down. We want predictions to be honest and realistic. This was the market check that people like me have been expecting for years. Of course, I never dreamed that investment banking industry would be completely destroyed, but, frankly I won't miss them. They brought this on themselves, and they paid the consequences. And reaped the rewards. So if bear markets are like the brush fire that levels the forest, then we can look forward to a nice long period of clean growth coming.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

When everyone finally went to sleep, I wept too

I'm pissed. I was excited to make an election day blog, but on top of the accounting test I have to take in 7 hours, I just got a 72 page brief dumped on me. So I can't take long. Suffice it to say, as my one and only said last night, "At least for this one night, everything is possible." She's right. Also, Charles Blow's piece in the Times said it right.

"They were the souls of those whose bodies littered the bottom of the Atlantic,
whose families were torn asunder, whose names were erased.
They were those
who knew the terror of being set upon by men with clubs, of being trapped in a
torched house, of dangling at the end of a rough rope.
They were the souls of
those who knew the humiliation of another person’s spit trailing down their
faces, of being treated like children well into their twilight years, of being
derided and despised for the beauty God gave them."

I think it's a bit cheezy to talk about the past this way--but he's right. And it's funny to think, that people like me may have to shed twenty years of cynicism: twenty years of knowing that people are lying to you at worst, and exaggerating the truth at best. My parents berate me for it all the time, but they grew up with FDR, Lyndon Johnson and Kennedy. I had Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush. And I was too young to know anything about Carter, who is a great man in his own right. So how could I know? How could I believe in anything other than hopeless fantasy?

It's hard to shed that. And I'm right not too, but at 9:38 this morning, it's hard not to dream that the world we liberals have fantasized about for a decade can come to pass. A world where Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, Women, Men, Gay and Straight, all have equal rights before the law. A world where the rich take care of the poor, educate them and raise them up, so that they can in turn help their brothers to stand. A world that doesn't use and annhilate other peoples, where diplomacy and virtuous stands against tyranny aren't confused with wars of attrition and corruption. A world where people are free to believe in whatever form of spirituality to which they ascribe. A world where science, reason, intellectualism, and art, aren't scorned as elitests or feared as Utopian frauds. A world in which we are merely one of thousands of species inhabiting with guardianship the beautiful, beautiful Earth, and can help her recover some of her lost grandeur. A world where the sick can be cured regardless of caste, class or creed. A world where a lost generation of incarcerated criminals can be rehabilitated and reintroduced into a society that never gave them a chance.

I know it won't be easy, I know it probably won't happen. But the byword of his campaign has been hope. And what started as a small candle in a dark and breezy room, is for at least last night and today, a blazing fire. Another cheezy expression comes to mind, "It's always darkest before the dawn." So it goes. America faces the greatest challenges it has in thirty to fifty years. And it won't be easy. But you always start with one step, and as I choke up here right now, it all starts with the simple words, that an elegant Barack Hussein Obama gravely intoned last night to the crowd, "Yes, We Can."

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Cell Sell Phenomena

With all that's going on--I really ought to be blogging more. But grad school and work demands are strong. And when they aren't demanding, someone else is.

After reading the article in Today's New York Times about the next big wave of the fiscal crisis hitting--that is the credit-card crisis. I can't help but feel a little validated. I've been writing letters to the editor, letters to Nancy Pelosi, Chris Dodd, the Times, and an assortment of websites and blogs about this topic. I call it the Cell-Sell Phenomena.

I didn't buy my first cell-phone. My parents got it for me because they could never get a hold of me. Either I was in class, rehearsal, meetings, or just not returning their calls. You can see the allure, put the thing in the boy's pocket, and let maternal guilt do the rest. By and large it worked.

When I moved to the Big Apple two years later, I learned a most amazing thing. Verizon 'owed' me a phone. This was literally something for nothing. I couldn't believe it. I took the opportunity and got a fancy new phone. And signed up my parents for another three year contract at a higher rate. Ooops.

Even so, here in New York, I kept seeing people with fancy phones. Brand new phones. People I knew, had a new phone every six months or so. Some had purchased them off Amazon, or Craigslist, or eBay. But I never understood it. Unless you've been on your plan for at least six months, you have to pay outright for a new phone. $100 to $300 dollars. If your phone broke, they'd replace it. For free. So who needed to buy phones that often?

You see the same thing with the iPod. A new release per year. We all assume that the technogeeks go out and get the latest and greatest, but when I see the dishwasher at my old restaurant sporting an iPhone, I have to wonder what's going on? This is the Cell-Sell phenemenon. The likelihood, that you or someone you know, is buying new consumer goods for no other reason than to have the latest technology in your pocket. I try not to reproach the sexier half of the populace, but I think that they are equally responsibile for this alarming trend. Fashion is notorious for replacing perfectly good clothing every season. It's ridiculous. Furthermore, and I fully admit this is sexist, but the propensity of women talking on the phone certainly made the Cell-Sell revolution occur much quicker. But there was one other thing, and this unlike women, fashion and cell-phones, is fairly well documented: People are buying these luxury items on credit.

Here's the thing: When I grew up, you used a thing until it broke. If the cost of repairing it was significantly cheaper than the cost of buying a new one, then and only then did you buy it. Think about the refrigerator. That is not an item you replace every year. And it costs a lot. But as tech prices have come down, and technology is cheaper here in the States than it is almost everywhere else. So you don't need a new phone, but it's so easy to get one, so why not? For years I've felt like a cranky hermit, wearing my T-shirts until they're threadbare, keeping my CRT monitor until it felt like even the mice in my building had thinscreens.

Whose laughing now? Whose laughing now!!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I Had my First Centrist Thought Today

And I got a chill...

So, as you know, I just finished reading the Power of the Vote by Doug Schoen. Doug Schoen, for those of you haven't been following along is the political pollster of Penn, Schoen & Berland, the Democratic political polling and strategy outfit that advised, Koch, Clinton, Corzine and Bloomberg.

He makes a lot of points in the closing chapter about how Democrats should position themselves in the 2008 race. This book was written before the race started, and makes no mention of Obama or HC. One of them that actually makes sense to me is this: Doug is a centrist. And he feels that one reason the Dems lost touch with the electorate is that they failed to appeal to the middle class. The Dems had considered their base the lowerclasses and so their messages had been spun toward them. In fact, he claims that the middle class does not identify with messages of public welfare at all. And why not, under the tax schematic of the last ten years, the middleclass has paid for the brunt of welfare, social security, medicare and medicaid. It doesn't matter that these services are there for them if they fall below the line. But I think that this will matter more now. For ten long years the Middle has strove to hang on, with wages actually slipping below the rate of inflation. And they've done it by living on good credit. With the mortgage meltdown--those turkeys are coming home to roost. Troubled banks are calling in their loans, trying to raise capital for their mistakes, forcing more and more people in the economic median to the edges. Regardless, the middleclass doesn't consider itself the lowerclass. In fact, they pride themselves on where they are. They're educated, extremely hardworking, and feel themselves to be positive roll models for their children. They don't want a handout, but they do want help. They want more of their own income. They want help repaying their loans--they don't like to be in debt and are not necessarily comfortable with it. So when Doug Schoen says the Dems have to position themselves for this, he makes a sound point. The Democrats have to be the party of fiscal responsibility. That means promising a balanced budget, but it doesn't mean wealth redistrubition.

That was my big centrist thought. When I read an article about the convention this morning, and I heard those sorts of ideas being bandied about, it suddenly occurred to me that the man is absolutely right. Look--I hate the fact that certain executives live in an entire different stratosphere from the rest of us. But can I really espouse taking their money away? Well--in some cases I can. The Bush tax cuts NEED to go. And the Clinton tax, needs to be made stronger to help the middle and not shield the uberrich. However, in general, I want to make money too. It's a betting against the house, I know, but in every American there is that seed of hope that one day, they might make it to that top 1%. People revere Warren Beatty, and Mike Bloomberg like they're some sort of god. This is the convoluted logic that the Republicans have relied on for years. You and your spouse can bring in under 50Gs together, but if you work hard, and believe in the American Dream, you too can live like a King. And the unbelievable credit market showed that it could indeed happen to a guy like you. And now its gone.

The populist rhetoric is important to me--but appealing to the middleclass is of the highest importance for this race.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Accounting 101

So this will be the first blog about my new subject of education: Accounting. That's right, the Master's begins.

That's actually misleading, actual graded classes won't start until next week, but I started the precursor class.

Enough intro, to wit, I was inspired/disturbed by something I read in the intro papers. Something our teacher spent some time on as well. I guess I was pretty naive, because I thought that Accounting was something that one did, simply as a matter of course in business. You have a product, you need to sell it, you've sold it, you need to keep track of it. You paid X amount on it to get it off the ground, you want to determine if it was worth it. Weeeelll, that's part of it. But no--the line that struck me was the open admission that the purpose of tax accounting is to exploit the tax system. That simple.

I have to admit, I was a bit horrified. Sure I know the drill, people do all sorts of things, usually harmless to avoid paying taxes. But that tax accounting says it, openly and unapologeticly, struck me as rather frightening. If the accounters aren't making honest accountants, than who is being honest?

Now, the professor made a point on this subject that in my naivety, helped shed a little light on the predicament. Remember, that when Moses came off Mount Sinai, he wasn't carrying a tax code. These things didn't come out of thin air. Nor do they come from basic economic principles. They came from the government and the people. So the rules are already sort of busted. I mean, clearly the government looks out for its own interest, the people theirs, and no one really gives a shit about the big picture. And from this constant warfare of 250 million interests plus however many corporations are out there, a tax code is hacked into shape.

So if you think about it, exploting the code is really the only way to gain fair treatment. I thought about trying to change the wording. If exploiting is in its commonality, a rather gross term, then maybe learning the code would be better. But no. Because it just doesn't make the point. The system is a crazy, controvercial, often conflicting set of rules, that no average person could ever navigate without extensive training. And lets face it--is Joe Average going to do that? Hell no! My office mate goes to H&R block every year. They do her taxes. I use Turbotax. My girlfriend is the only one I know who actually sits through the damn thing and calculates it herself.

So I'm okay with "exploiting the tax code" now. It isn't exploting like how the diamond merchants exploit the Congo, it's maneuvering, completely legally, and completely justly, to maximize your gain. Plain and simple.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Doug Schoen-Business Consultant

So I was struck in the head today by an idea that is in no way novel--but the implications of which had not really occurred to me.

So get this--Doug Schoen, the Democratic political consultant who helped Clinton get reelected in 1994 had worked with Dick Morris. Everyone knows that. Dick Morris also helped Clinton get elected as governor, and for his first term. Everyone knows that too. What I don't think we all knew was that Dick Morris worked on the 1994 campaign--while at the same time working for some very important Republicans in the Congressional run that same year!

All of which goes to prove what Doug was talking about in the preceding chapter of his book, The Power of the Vote, that advertising campaigns are political campaigns. They're not just similar, sort of passing likenesses. With the one immediate distinction that advertising decisions are rarely made on the fly. But sometimes they are too.

We all know that politics is a business. But are we all really prepared to accept that Democrat and Republican are really just brand names? On the surface, it sounds pretty obvious. To the extent that the consumer, I mean the public, buys into the advertising of a political campaign, then yes, name recognition, slogans, party ideology, and the endgame "the vote," are all facets of the identity of "The Party." But isn't having an ideology more than simply being a consumer? I mean belonging to a party doesn't necessarily mean that you share all the tenets of a certain ideology--but it is inavoidable to commute some of those tenets to a person when they claim membership in one of those parties. So then, "liberty, equality and justice for all," really are quantifiable objects--to be bought, sold, traded, inflated, refined and all the other fantastic things we do with products. Again, a cynic would simply state, "well...duh," and I get that. But that isn't my point. The point is the language of the thing. For an idea to be an idea, it has to share a similarity with another term, and it has to have a distinction, however grey. If ideology, government, and democracy itself are really just facets of capitalism at large, then the parallels must hold true throughout history--not simply just

This topic needs to be refined, but I have to work.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Iraqi War Coverage Sucks Purple Toes

I wrote this letter to the Washington Post Ombudsman

Two U.S. Soldiers Killed as Iraqi Council Member Opens Fire After Meeting

By Ernesto LondoñoWashington Post Foreign Service Tuesday, June 24, 2008; Page A08

Please look into this story. I have several complaints with it. First of all, the story isn't on just this one incidence of violence. About half-way down through the story, it turns about to be a hodgepodge of news of violence over the last few days. While I certainly have no problem with this type of story, (obviously there is enough violence to go around) I tuned into the story because the headline makes it sound like a city council member shot U.S. soldiers. If Christine Quinn went on a killing rampage, it would be a full story, not a news blurb. Obviously, New York and Baghdad are in no way comparable but the story does not purport to answer any of the basic questions. In fact, the story is terribly written. None of the paragraphs follow and it seems, that the author might just be mad if this is his idea of a narrative.

The lead is straight forward enough: "BAGHDAD, June 23 -- Two U.S. soldiers were killed and three were wounded Monday when a council member opened fire on them after a meeting in a small town south of Baghdad, the U.S. military said." But the sentence uses the term "council member" to denote...what? A City Council member? Do they even have such things in Baghdad? The story NEVER reports on this, instead going off on a aimless meandering trail of blood and gore throughout the Iraq. I had to go to the CNN report to find out more information, only to find out that their own reporting is actually worse The Post story does say that the council member was local tribal leader, but it says nothing about the distinction between the two. It is entirely likely that local religious, ethnic groups have put people on the city council, but then the story should indicate upfront, that the council is a farce, and that council members are often AK-47 wielding madmen (freedom fighters) out for vengeance. I read the story expecting to hear outrage from Maliki, and the U.S. government. Admittedly, it is silly of me to expect that City Council Members in Baghdad should be held to the same reporting standards as Council Members in Baghdad, but making the difference clear is the job of the reporter and the paper.

Instead the story goes on a three paragraph tear about a Canadian man who has nothing to do with the story at all. The very next sentence, made into a shiny new paragraph indicates that "The FBI sent a team of agents to Baghdad to investigate the shooting. None of the guards has been charged." Aside from the spectacular use of grammar (which I can't prove isn't correct, but seems highly unnecessary regardless) the sentence doesn't tell us which shooting! The shooting in the headline would be nice--but I think he's actually talking about a Blackwater shooting in September.

The last few paragraphs of the story are verbal diarhea of random reports and statements that have NOTHING to do with the headline. Or if they do--it certainly isn't explained. I mean, maybe I've critically misunderstood the issue. Maybe somewhere it's clear that this is not a news story, but that's also not my fault. I am a young man of average intelligence, with the documents to prove it, if I can't read this story, then there's something wrong.

I feel for your reporters there, really I do, but its your name in "Journalism" at issue -- and journalism that ain't. Fortunately for you most people don't read anything about the Iraq war. However, this story was picked up by several bloggers, and passed around. All announcing the same bizarre half-baked headline.

For your information the CNN report is worse, they spend less then fifty words describing the headline
"Officials: Iraqi councilman kills U.S. soldiers"
then launch into a mortar attack that occurred on Sunday. What's worse is that this event killed 10 Awakening Council members. A quick read of their story would indicate that it was one of these Awakening Council members who shot the U.S. soldiers. However, it's an entirely different attack. They might be linked but the reporter certainly doesn't say. The point is--I think that this is not a news story: It's a disbatch. So bill it that way. Eliminate the headline, make it News at the front. Put large bullet points between each one so that the reader can easily ascertain that the items are not connected.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Happy Nuptials Jenna

I find myself weirdly happy for George Bush today, as the New York Times reports on his daughter's nuptials. I don't like the man, he is dangerously delusional. But I can't help but feel sympathy for the man. He's been a fuck up his entire life, and being a president hasn't changed that. I have no doubt that when his impressive array of handlers leave his side as he exits the office, that he'll find some other impressive way to fuck up. However, he's like Homer Simpson that way, the only good thing he ever really did was bring children into the world. I don't like Jenna, and I know that she and her hubby are going to spawn Bushies that will continue to plague the earth for generations to come, but for now? It's a wedding. Throw your glass back and shout huzzah!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Closing the Book on State of Denial

So I finished Bob Woodward's State of Denial a couple days ago. Time to sum up. The book did change certain views I have on the Iraq War. But more importantly, it affixed blame for the Iraq fiasco on the shoulders of three individuals, Rumsfeld, Feith, and Bush himself. Though there are many people who took a lot of blame for poor decisions, it is clear what Woodward himself thinks. And the title itself applies unquestionably to those three in particular.

So where does that leave Darth Cheney. Well...not explicitly anywhere. Woodward makes a couple of references to him, and his power--but since the Man of Darkness lives behind shut doors, no light is ever cast on him. He does not interview. And when he does, he only interviews on shows that ask him softball questions, or won't or can't hold him down when he squirms. The man is iron hard, and his rhetorical skills, though often blunt, run rings around the idiots that interview him. All of this makes him extremely hard to pin down. It is clear, however, that Rumsfeld and Feith are HIS MEN. Rumsfeld is no subordinate to the Cheneymonster, but he was proposed by him. Feith, certainly a toadie, was under direct control. Wolfowitz...again, here Woodward really leaves a gap. Paul Wolfowitz really ought to have his feet held to the fire. He's a Cheney Man through and through--and you just don't see his handprints where they rightfully ought to be.

Regardless, I was hardcore anti-War before I read the book. I am no longer as certain. The case for going in was, and remains ridiculous. But the case for no longer as clean cut. My gf believes in the "you break it you bought it" school. And I might be coming around. The fact is, I think Iraq is bankrupting the U.S.. I think this will be made abundantly clear in the coming recession. When the government reaches into its coffers to bail out the banks, and finds nothing...well then it might be a total collapse. Right now, I'm just waiting to hear for JP Morgan to post losses. Then the Fed will have to fork over 30bn and then things will start falling fast. I'm getting far afield. There are many great reasons to leave--but are they responsible reasons? The potential for wholesale slaughter is potentially very high if the U.S. leaves. Woodward makes that pretty clear. This is even now more true since Moqtada Al-Sadr's militia seems more powerful then the Iraqi government. The second we pull out, the government, already corrupt, will either collapse, or elect the man PM. Depending on how nuts he is, you could see mass religious killings of the entire sect. Worse, it is abundantly clear now that Iran is funding the insurgency in some part. Woodward talks about IED's and how they are becoming increasingly complex. Made with materials that aren't household--and can puncture through the armor of an Abrams tank. The interesting thing is that this actually constitutes an act of war. And there seems to be a lot of evidence for this--not just WMD sort of evidence, but real evidence. Why would the neo-cons not want to go to war with Iraq? They do--but the administration absolutely can't. Which leads me to my next point.

The big surprise for me was that the liberal cry of "occupation" actually was wrong. Rumsfeld himself never wanted to occupy the country! Completely the contrary, if he could have gotten the U.S. out two days later he would have. He's famous for saying, it's "time to take the training wheels off." He said this repeatedly, by which he meant, time for them to pedal on their own. The problem with Rumsfeld isn't that he wanted an occupation, but that he never planned for one. All of his work, and all of his measures were aimed at a speedy exit. Which, of course, was why it failed so dramatically.

The other thing that jumps out at me, and I've commented on this before, is that the management was and remains so staggeringly bad. Every couple of months, an exasperated Rice would send someone over to Iraq, almost always someone new, someone "fresh" to give her an accurate assessment of what was going on. They always came back with the same information. No electricity, no security, no communication between the branches of the military and the civilians who ran the American agency which ran the country. All the time the same information, and they'd hold meetings with everyone. Bush, Cheney, Rice, Hadley, Wolfowitz. Even Gingrich! And still--nothing ever got done. Nothing ever changed. Still nothing has changed! To me it smacks of the Business school ethic of outside consultants. They charge an arm and a leg, make a lot of grandiose promises, and mostly they annoy and complicate procedures for their trouble.

All in all, I need to read a lot more on the subject. Some questions:

1) What happened after? State of Denial leaves off while Rumsfeld was still in office. What has happened in James Baker's watch?

2) What about the torture? Woodward barely mentions it. Maybe he didn't have a problem with it, I don't know, but it hardly figures at all in the book. Who knew? When? What did they do then? What are they doing now? How many people have been prosecuted? Who hasn't?

3) The military. A lot of this book talks about the relationship between Rumsfeld and the military. I'd like to know what was the overal state of the military before the invasion, including moral, recruitment, and finances, and what is it like now?

4) The pentagon. Woodward talks a lot about Rumsfeld and the Pentagon. Rumsfeld was reforming it. Well it's pretty clear that he was a shitty manager. What did he do? Can it be undone? Should it be undone? This is the administration of loose ends. Where are they, and who will tie them up?

5) some point, we have to know about the man. History demands it. I'm sure he has deleted his correspondence, but there have to be records out there. Even if it's ten years from now--we need to know. Woodward makes one comment that alludes to him toward the last fifty pages of the book that is particularly illuminating. He asked Rumsfeld what role Cheney had (I'm paraphrasing here) and Rumsfeld replied, "Oh, minimal, its not like he ever tried to upstage the president or back him into a corner." Woodward wonders...what kind of VP could even conceivably back the Chief Executive into a corner? It begs the question--you don't need to rule with an iron fist to not be in control. For that matter, the neocons all say that Cheney backed off in the second term. What does that mean? Is it true?

6) Feith. Someone needs to document the immense failures of the guy that General Franks called a fucking idot. Someone has, rather. I just need to read it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The logic of the American Voter

I think people suffer from a basic logical slip when it comes to voting. This slip is based on a poorly made argument resting on faulty assumptions. The underlying assumption to voting for many people is that, voting is only worthwhile if they get the thing for which they vote. This is why so many of the arguments that people use to convince people to vote fall short of convincing. Since people apply this sort of cost benefit analysis to voting, democracy will always lose. "If my candidate isn't elected, going to the polls was a waste of my time." Even though voting in many districts takes as little as ten minutes, the time involved doesn't make a difference--because they feel that they can't win.

Let's look at American Idol. Though I have no statistical evidence to back this up--I think the argument holds true. If people truly believed that their contestant couldn't win I think it likely that wouldn't vote in American Idol either. In fact, I think this happens fairly often. Voter A likes contestant Z. However, Z is roundly known to be a poorly ranked contestant and is likely to be kicked off regardless. Again--not wanting to be a loser, or have sided with a loser, or to not have their "vote" count. They'll pick between contestant X and Y, because one will certainly win, and since the contestants clearly ARE NOT equal, one MUST be better then the other. However, clearly Idol and shows like it, have different formats. Instead of being asked to vote only once, or twice (as in a primary) they are asked to vote again and again, each week. Instead of starting with one or two choices, they are provided with 10 to 20 choices. Evidence, biased or not, is provided each week for the viewer to make his choice. Keep in mind, that not every viewer is voting on every candidate each week. In shows like the recent Bravo "Make Me a Supermodel" the judges pick a number, two to four choices for the public to choose from each week. As a parenthetical, it is important to note the obvious: voting more frequently garners care/loyalty/interest and demand. If American idol style voting had been carried out with the 9 or so presidential candidates each week, I think it fair to say that rather a larger percentage of the populace would be voting more often. After all, regardless of whether or not your candidate wins--the sheer number of votes give you more chances to win. All of this to say, the assumption in American voting is that you play to win, and only to win.

Since American Idol style election voting is not practical, nor even necessarily desirable, all of this is a moot point. The American voter can only win--if he picks the candidate that the evidence shows is likely to win. Unfortunately, winning has nothing to do with policy or belief. Nor do we have any justifiable way to show whether or not the evidence is true, and in fact, have every reason to suspect that it is not. All of this proves one thing: the American voter is in fact a Nihilist.

The popular definition of nihilism is not the philosophical definition. People often commute a belief 'in' nothing, to mean that nihilists hate 'everything.' This is not the case. A belief in nothing is actually nothing, and is logically impossible unless the following conditions are met: If person A believes in two things, X and Y, and X and Y lead person A to conclusions 1 and 2, that person is not a nihilist. But if person A believes in two things, X and Y, and X and Y leads to conclusions 1 and not 1, then person A is confronted with a problem. He has chosen to accept X and Y as true, but finds that they cannot be true together, and since they cancel each other out, A is left believing nothing and is therefore a nihilist.

Our premises
1) the American voter believes there is only one point in voting, namely, winning.
2) In order to properly vote, you must believe your choice is right.

So, now with candidates A and B.
A is the favorite
B is not.

If the voter believes in premises 1 and 2, then he will not vote.

If he believes that A is the favorite and his rational choice is A, then clearly, he need not vote. While voting in this case certainly commutes winning, our voter is clearly sure that A is the favorite. Since voting is only worthwhile if he wins, then in this case, he need not vote at all, for he has already won. The rational voter has reason to believe this to be the case. After all, he has voted infrequently, sometimes rarely, and sees clearly that people are still elected to office by vote. Assumption? Someone out there is voting. The reasons for their votes don't matter, so long as our potential voter believes he is winning.

If he believes that A is the favorite, but that his rational choice is B, then clearly, he need not vote. B is not the favorite, therefore the only way to vote and win is to vote for someone he does not believe in. In a field of three or more, this voter might still vote, after all, he might not like A, but C might not be that bad, and if C is not the favorite, but more popular then B, then there is still some chance that he might win. But based on the evidence in this situation the voter clearly cannot win, and will therefore not vote.

So who votes then?

Clearly the people who do not believe in premise 1. There are all sorts of premises we could insert here. I don't want to waste your time with more logical arguments. Suffice it to explain why I vote: It was explained to me, and proven logically, that the purpose of voting is not winning, but fulfilling an obligation to which we owe the state. The state grants us freedom for one reason, because it requires the participation of its citizens to function.

In the end, all systems rely on trust and fear. If Donald Rumsfeld doesn't trust the Pentagon to make choices, then let him reform it, but if even after his reforms he still cannot trust it, then it means that all decisions must be made by him. Certainly this is too tedious, cannot and will not happen. So you get what we had here. Even the lowest echelons of decision-making, such as how much packing tape to buy would ordinarily be made by a manager who was managed by someone else. If the hierarchy is robbed of authority, then on and on down the line, there is no authority. How can the manager know how much packing tape to buy? What kind? How much budget? Who buys the packing tape? No one, unless there is a direct order because there is no more packing tape to be had. In the case of fear, Saddam's reign was primitive and barbaric, but again, things functioned at some level because not only would Saddam kill you if you didn't do it, he'd shoot your entire family, including your cousins, aunts and uncles. Not the model of efficiency, but it certainly provided a rational motivation to buy the packing tape, even if it was the wrong tape.

That's from the top down. But we live in a democracy, which is supposed to be from the ground up. If we elect our local representatives, and our national representatives, and cease electing them when they cease to represent us, then the government will continue to function in our interests. The moment we stop voting, is the moment when democratic government begins to fall apart. Since there are fewer votes to be cast, then an interested party can essentially buy an election by simply retaining more people to vote for him. This is one of the reasons that the Christian right attained such power in the U.S. A centrally controlled group of people, who do not have much power nationally, will operate as a voting bloc for any party who purports to defend their interests--if no one else votes, you get the picture. Though this may not at first lead to the fall and dispersion of government, eventually, through intentional dismantling or plain neglect, the institutions that engender the government will begin to decay. After all, a government that is not elected by the people at large, has no reason to look after the interests of people that did not elect it.

I think people have lost sight of the fact that voting isn't actually a right, per se. Back when voting was the right of only propertied white men, it was still a right. But with universal suffrage, voting is no longer the same. After all, it is difficult to believe in existential rights, when your brother is every man. Definition requires boundary. When there are no boundaries, then definitions become hazy. Since value is conferred on that which is rare andnot necessarily that which is useful, like gold, then when everyone has rights, the perceived value decreases. Clearly there are better ways of assigning value: oil is only valuable depending on it's use. Since there is never a time where oil will not be useful it will always be valuable. Rights do not compare in the same way, because it is very difficult to ascertain "rights" being used, as such they are hard to value. The right to assembly is a good example. But if that right is guaranteed all, who would treasure it? Start gunning down certain groups of people who are not allowed to assemble, and suddenly value is conferred.

Rights are peculiar that way...certainly no rational human being would disagree with my right to breathe air. Unless, of course, I should one day decide to breathe water instead. Then my right to breathe air, would no longer become just a right, but an expectation, a consideration, or ... an obligation. To whom? Again, to the state. You think your mother raised you, and your father provided for you. Your mother nurtured you, your father protected you. But you're wrong. Your love of family is nice, but misplaced. Your mother gave birth to you, but the state provided for your healthcare and education. It doesn't matter if the hospital was privately owned, because the hospital itself is protected and nurtured by the state. And without the state, that hospital itself would not be there. Look at the state of Iraqi hospitals, the state cannot provide properly for them, and so they are a shambles. Even if you've gone to private school, again, that school was zoned, likely given government permission or subsidies, grants. And even if it wasn't, you drive on a road that the government provided you to get there. And even if they didn't, you'd be driving a car that the government has certified to be safe. Your father provided for your welfare? Maybe, maybe not. Directly, if your father couldn't pay for your subsistence then clearly the government paid for you. If your Daddy's rich, and your Mamma's good lookin' the government still paid for your education. After all, even if the entity that schooled you is not a direct arm of the state, then the state did in some large way pave the way for that institution to exist. The ivy league? Them too. Every institution in the country relies on government grants to pay for research. The long and short of it is that everywhere you look your obligation to the state is manifest. And the only way in which you can truly pay back the state is by serving in combat, serving as a teacher or bureaucrat, or by voting. If none of those three suit you, you damn well better be voting.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Spitzeus Spitz on Zeus, and gets the Prodigal Sack.

The Fall of Spitzer reads like an epic Greek myth. Spiztius, the man who fought with giants, earns the favor of the father-god, Zeus--who always prefers the mighty. Spiztius smiling with Zeus many blessings, and full of hubris, is a pompous and pious man. Meanwhile, Hera, the jealous wife, catches Zeus canoodling some water nymph along the river Archeron. To wreak her revenge, she decides to snare the mind of Spiztius by using his hubris against him. She convinces another nymph, Kristenides, and her blond sister, Kristedavises to wash each other's hair along the river. Spiztius happens to be walking by, castrating rapists as he goes, when he sees the girls and is instantly taken by lust. He ravishes them along the river (or rather they ravish him, because we all know how lusty river nymphs can be). However, Kristenides and Kristedavises are actually Zeus's distant cousins. (There are less then a hundred characters in the Greek Pantheon, so they're all cousins.) When the profligate Zeus finds that Spitzius has wronged the virtue of his cousins, he is outraged and immediately makes the man a constellation: nine stars, an outline of a man chasing the diminishing specter of his own piety for the rest of time.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Renewed Outrage

I'm at the point in State of Denial where Woodward talks about the 2004 election. It's a riveting read, in part because I remember that election more strongly then any prior political experience save back for when I worked for Congress. It kills me. It just does.

So as you know, the Kerry campaign was planning on challenging the election. I even recall him doing so, for a couple of hours. They had a couple of good reasons: The first being that several hundred thousand provisional ballots hadn't been counted. According to election law, as I understand it through Woodward's analysis, if it's a close election the provisional ballots should be counted. I do not know if they have to be counted in such an event. Merely that it is an option. The second reason was the vast voting irregularities we all remember hearing. Lines of hundreds of people in Democratic districts waiting in the cold to vote. Many of them not getting their chance. We all thought, that even if the election didn't turn out the way we'd hoped--at least those concerns would be redressed. If I had to stand out in the cold or rain for six or eight hours, I'd be pissed. I don't frankly know what I would have done--maybe start a revolution.

Here's the kicker and this is what caused the "renewed outrage." 1) In the White House, things were tense, a huge discussion between Dan Bartlett, Bush and Rove among other's including Mary Matalin. In that discussion, the question was whether or not to "declare an early victory." And attempt to preempt the electoral mess that would result. Jim Frances, who'd run Bush's campaigns in Texas, wanted the speech--thinking that they wanted to get the numbers out there. Start winning hearts and minds and all that rot. Their reasoning at the time was this: Bush was ahead by 140,000 votes or so. There were only 250,000 provisional votes. Kerry would have to get most of them to win. It seemed a sure thing. But if Kerry contested, that would bring the whole thing to a standstill, and Bush would be embroiled in yet another legal battle with every lawyer in DC. The fighter in Bush agreed with Francis' assessment. Dan Bartlett and Steve Hadley, used everything in their personal arsenal to fight that. Bartlett, who later confirmed this as his finest moment said, "You cannot go out there and put the crown on your own head. You just cannot do it." How telling. How fucking fucked up is that? Goddamn! Someone actually had to tell these people that? As a piece of strategy, I can certainly understand Francis' point--preempting the facts with false facts--changes things. It persuades people, and in effect, changes facts. But that the word crown was used as a metaphor--absolutely horrifying, and absolutely unsurprising.

First off, the whole lawyer thing. People love to hate 'em. And I agree, you can hate the process, to some extent. But people forget. It's there for the redress of grievances. Fergawdsakes! Spurn the advances of your own lawyers sure, but ignore them and you have no legal standing whatsover!

The second thing, is what Woodward reports about Kerry's decision. His decision, which the candidate recounted as the only truly "presidential" moment he got to face, was to back off and accede. He saw the ballot problem. And he considered going out to Ohio, camping out with the disenfranchised voters. What happened?

Well as I understand, it was some hazerai about gentlemanly conceding. Doing the Right Thing. Not leaving the nation without a president during the midst of an occupation dubbed War. What a shitshow. Kerry can feel all grand about it if he likes, but his concession robbed thousands of Ohio voters of their rights. That isn't the Right Thing. Why am I writing this now? Why rehash it? Because there's this notion in America that if we don't have a "leader" the country will collapse in rebellion, every state will secede, there will be vicious mobs roaming the streets, "cat's and dogs living together...mass hysteria" thank you Dr. Venkman. It's totally ridiculous. Many of us knew then that the president wasn't providing any real leadership in Iraq (or anywhere else). Does it take time for a bureacracy to change over? At the top levels, yes, but it's not like the people at the post office were going to throw off their shackles and revolt. This whole notion that Democrat leaders have that they have to choose for the good of the country, choose solidarity. Fuck that! He chose, and it cost America 4 more years of it's verifiably worst leader in 200 odd years of history.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Bats, Frogs, Chinook Salmon, & Bees

These are all species that seem to be disappearing. And rapidly. It's so infuriating, and so horrible it makes me want to cry. And McCain has the nerve to declaim against government spending on the environment. And it is all happening so fast. And with so little notice. Well, here are some good articles.

Bats. Frogs. Chinook Salmon. Bees

I have a private fantasy that I'll share with you. In many fantasy novels, the magic generally flees before evil is defeated. And then? It flees totally. This is most evident in The Lord of the Rings. The book starts out with talk about the war with Sauron, which took place a thousand years before the present, when there were at least three elven kings. The dwarves were a mighty nation, living in two separate places on the continent, the Ents were a much larger population, and the Hobbits, well, they were quiet as usual. Point is, the dwarves begin to die off, they war with each other, with the hosts of mount Moria. They grow insular and retreat into their mountains. After the War of Five Armies, the dwarves of Thorbardin nearly vanish. So that by the time of the second war with Sauron, they barely lift a hair to help. Most notably, the elves begin their portage, and eventual voyage to the Summer Isles, leaving Middle-Earth behind.

And if this were the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, these animals would be fleeing the coop before an intergalactic highway built by the Vogons would go straight through the Earth.

Well, we don't have magic obviously, but maybe, all these animals. Maybe they're like the elves, dwarves, hobbits, and ents of Middle Earth. Maybe they're all boarding some magic crafts somewhere and leaving this world behind. How sad and tragic to think of our world without any animals save ourselves and the ones most direct to our subsistence. This begs the question of whether or not the world CAN survive on such a small circle. Still it's nicer to think that maybe they're all running off somewhere then dying, as those bats are doing, by the thousand.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Bombing of Bear Stearns

Hat tip to Sox First blog for the photo and some ideas.

So yada yada, the whole financial world is rocked by the sudden and surprising dissolution of Bear Stearns yesterday. The deal must have been hush hush, most of the employees had no idea. And is it any wonder? They own 30% of the stock.

So now what? JP Morgan bought them out. For 2$ a share, what a lark! Now I don't know nothin'. But explain to me, why JP Morgan would buy a company that is leveraged out the ass in Prime Mortgages? Isn't that the whole cause of the meltdown? Do they think it's going to get better soon? Afterall, with thousands losing their jobs, it certainly won't be increasing the budget of middle America. Personally, I can't see how things will recover until we can start moving money into the hands of the people who really control the market, namely the consumer. Some of my favorite blogconomists have been predicting this fall for a full year. And it just seems once again, like the really smart powerful players all missed the party. I mean...come on! Ponzi sound great if you can get out before the house of cards collapses. But when you're a bank--you don't ever get out. Not if you don't want to screw over every single client you have.

Well, at any rate, it isn't for me to moralize on a subject I barely understand. I am dead curious about the fallout of this. Some are predicting bigger losses for the other financial houses. Will Merrill start divesting? Will Deloitte and Touche be tarnished? PWC? AM New York said that the city will feel this. but really, will it. One thing's for sure, there's a whole lotta real estate opening up in midtown.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Let me be the first

To coin the name of Ashley Dupre's first Album: Spitz or Swallhoes

It's the Social Network morons

Having viewed, like the other 4 million people Ashley Dupre's myspace page I can't help but think. What sort of high priced call girl service allows the girls to keep myspace pages? For someone like Elliot Spitzer, who was famous for blustering, "Get me the Emails!" in many securities fraud suits, you'd think he'd have vetted the place first. Moreover you'd think if anyone knew that the IRS monitors payments over 10 grand, it would be him.

It just stinks. It stinks to heaven.

Not that he's not guilty. You know, here's the thing. American businessmen all over the world are using services like these every day--and in fact, many are probably using mafia connected services, like the Russian mob, or the Triads. But you don't hear about them. First, no one cares about "the faceless American businessman." Second, the mob owns their girls. Human trafficking is a huge problem in the States. The girls don't have lives--this is of course is the real problem with prostitution. The propensity for women to be abused and to have their civil rights abridged, restricted or degraded. This is why most civilized nations have banned it. That being said, New York City, and America in general offers an entirely different form of prostitution. We have televised date shows, where women compete for a man, and if they win, receive piles of cash. In effect, to hit it off, (and sleep with) the bachelor. Women in this town go to extremely expensive bars, where they meet extremely wealthy men, who take them out spend money on them, and take them home. Every night. For them, this is totally normal behavior. They of course, aren't necessarily going to meet men in hotel rooms, minus the booze, minus the club. But then again, when their clients aren't the Governor of New York--I'm sure those restrictions are loosened.

Sigh. I'm making excuses for the man. I shouldn't do that. But I can't help it--when you see the pictures of wall street rejoicing, you can't help but think--goddamn it!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Spitzer Resigns

So he's out. I hadn't really been looking forward to blogging on this subject. There will be plenty of people eviscerating him, excoriating the party that vouched for him, and his electorate that voted him in. Fewer certainly, have been defending him, but they are out there.

I don't want to do either of those things. I expect that a lot of my posts, as some already have been, will be shouting for the resignations of corrupt Republicans. So, it is my duty, to at least comment on Spitzer.

I'm glad he resigned. I do think there was the potential for a great governor in him. Some have told me, and I agree to an extent, that his reputation as a "bulldog" would have isolated him, and made him an inept governor. While there certainly have been many cases of that happening. Urbane politicians only excel at getting one thing done: Nothing of consequence. So I'm sorry he'll be leaving. However, a man who rails and pontificates on morality and greed, has to live up to a certain standard. And if the man believed in prostitution, he should have been pressing for it in the legistlature--not in hotel rooms.

That being said--I do feel a bit sorry for him. Silda Spitzer, or Wall Spitzer, is a beautiful woman, and he has produced three beautiful daughters. But, maybe the man had certain special sexual needs, that he just couldn't ask his Harvard educated, blue-blood wife to fulfil. I don't make excuses for him, but I think it behooves us to have some sympathy. I won't get any more graphic then that--but provided his needs fall within the realm of legality, then-maybe he should be forgiven in the sense that sexual preference is a condition of life on this planet. He obviously didn't choose his preference when he chose his wife, and that's unfair and unfortunate for everyone involved.

Anyway, I mostly feel rotten for his wife. Who, afterall, is really bearing the brunt of all this. His shame will ruin him--that's his fault. Her shame is his fault too. And his kids shame, his fault too. The man has a lot to answer for--I can't even begin to imagine it.

On the upside--we have Lt. Gov. Paterson set to be sworn in on Monday. Provided he's not neck deep in corruption as well. I am hopeful for Paterson, though I don't know too much about him. I think it's neat to have a blind, black governor. We will have to see how things proceed.

The Straight Talker

First--I'm a little bleary today, so excuse me for any mistakes or gaps in logic.

So McCain made a shot across the nose of research spending. It's a campaign ad, so it's the usual fare. I guess what gets me is it's the usual sort of Republican rhetoric that harkens back to the days of Newt. In a way, it's good to see were on regular footing again. Spendocrats and Defeatocrats. I don't mind it so much cause the rhetoric is old, tired. It's still effective, but it doesn't have the glitz of the freshly minted pejorative. Don't worry, I'm sure we'll start seeing them soon.

What gets me about this whole thing is that the ear mark problem has nothing to do with money set aside for research. For 8 years the Republicans have been siphoning funds away from the NIH. Research money that really ought to go medical study. The ear mark problem is for the side projects that give money to Congressmen's constituency. Here are some notables, compiled by ThinkProgress:

42. Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) used his seat on the House Appropriations Committee to steer earmarks towards to one of his closest friends and major campaign contributor. [Link]

45. Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) earmarked funds to increase the property value of lands that he later sold for a profit. [Link]

55. Rep. Katherine Harris (R-FL) accepted contributions from disgraced lobbyist Mitchell Wade and MZM, Inc., her largest campaign contributor, in return for a defense earmark. [Link]

63. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) secured a federal earmark to increase the property value of his land and reap at least $1.5 million in profits. [Link]

I mean, that's what I think about when I hear the word earmarks. Frankly, I think spending 3 million dollars on compiling the DNA of bears is a wonderful thing. God knows that they, like every other animal save homosapiens, will be extinct in fifty years. Or relegated to zoos and circuses. And the fact is--I might know some of the poor gradstudents who will be receiving that money. And they deserve it goddamn it!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Drinking water t'aint no suprise

I'm feeling pretty clever about that title. But seriously, people--drugs in the water? Get your heads out of your asses! I'm glad the AP has drawn some attention to this--but as Sam Becket would say, "Use your head, you're on Earth, there's no cure for that!"

So get this, the AP says that trace amounts of many different kinds of pharmaceutical drugs are in the water supply for 41 million Americans. Frankly, the study only included the water supply of 41 million people, otherwise it would read 300 million.

This might come as a surprise to some people, but literally everything is connected! You don't need to be a scientist to figure that out. Spit on the ground, where does it go? Are you suggesting you know how to destroy matter?!?

Entire undersea environments are being destroyed, every goddamn day as millions of metric tons of farm waste get spilled into the rivers and oceans. And it does two things! 1) sinks into the ground and enters the water table (your wells) or it evaporates into the air and rains down on top of you (your reservoirs). Here's another little tidbit. Unless you're buying organic meat products, every ounce of protein you take in from an animal has been pumped full of antibiotics before it was even killed. You think those antibiotics disappear when the animal dies? You think that "honest business" or "honest government" cares about protecting your health?

Conservatives make the argument that a good customer is a live customer, is a healthy customer. So big business has a necessary interest in keeping you healthy. But Big Tobacco is the first example of how this is patently untrue. Countless millions go into pulling the wool over American's eyes, and you know what's really a shame? Those same industries could put that money into R&D to actually make their products safer. They choose not to.

Alas, you know and I know that legislation will get proposed. It will be weak and inneffectual, because the politicians have to do something. They get their props, and then the lobbyists get to it. And afterward, if it even passes, the agencies with the authority to enforce it will be given neither the money nor the manpower to do their jobs.


As someone who has tried repeatedly to gain employment with them, I can understand why anyone might think that the following comment is made out of hurt, or anger at rejection. So let me just state for the record. I like the organization very much, and I think they do an excellent job of rounding up the political news of the day.


Many liberals have made the argument that to combat right wing influence in the media, we need to strike back with our own invective and framing. I support this so long as invective means passion, and framing means critically deconstructing the pathetically obvious attempts at changing news by choosing what to report on, and how to report on it.

Sometimes ThinkProgress goes to far. And they do what all partisan's do--I do it too--make blanket statements, over exaggerate, and see things in a way that only someone whose only perspective is from one extreme. This conflagration over Rep Steve King, for example. I in no way defend Steve King for making a very obvious smear attack on Obama. However, as a matter of fact, the man's name does not shout, "I am a Christian!" Of course, what a man's name connotes is really immaterial, but that's not the point here. The difference is a question of perception. My name does not shout "I am an atheist!" though it should, in fact with influences from several cultures, really shouts, "mumble-de-mumble." Did I think the man was Muslim when I first heard his name? Not at first, but when I learned he was black, knowing a smidgeon about Black history, I thought, well maybe he is a Muslim. Nothing wrong with that at all. The point is, ethical considerations aside, it is a reasonable inference to draw. And so criticisms on Steven King on that one point, aren't necessarily fair.

The "dancing in the streets" comment is a slur because King infers that the terrorists will be thrilled that Obama would be president. The initial premises being, terrorists are bad. The things that badpeople like must be bad. The bad people are Islamic. All bad people who are islamic, like all other people who are islamic. Obama's name sounds Islamic. Therefore, Obama must be bad.

However, reasonable logic shows on examination that neither of those premises are accurate and therefore the conclusion to be similarly flawed. However, it is nonetheless also true, that for a great many Americans, those premises are fundamentally true. So from a fairly small-minded perspective King's point is true.

From my own perspective, it is definitely true. All thinking people will be dancing in the streets when a Democrat is elected President of the U.S.

Premises (All people are capable of rational logical thought, unless physically, or emotionally incapable. Providing terorists are physically and emotionally fit, they are capable of rational logical thought. The U.S. policy in the middle east is repugnant and ought to be changed. A democratic president will commence a policy shift in the Middle East.)

This post started with me criticizing ThinkProgress' methods. Allow my digression. As a useful tidbit of information, this serves to show the electorate several things. 1) Steve King is a true to form Republican circa 2000. 2) Steve King is biased against Muslims--not that he hates them--but that his conclusions depend on erroneous and biased assumptions as demonstrated above. (The gentile who says "Jews are smarter then gentiles," is biased, even if his rhetoric is in this case complimentary to the offending population.) And another would be that 3) Steve King conflates a vote for Obama with a vote for terrorism. 4) Steve King, who knows better, serves to strengthen the Islam smear against Obama. (the logic of which I won't even touch!)

As a news item, those 4 points are useful--if you're Iowan, or have general concern over the media's campaign and election treatment against Democrats. If you're Iowan, vote the bastard out. (Some Thinkprogress staff or readers might be) .If you're concerned about the Right Wing Media putting a frame on the campaign, then lambasting the man--misses the point. The man can be challenged on his arguments, not on his rhetoric. And ThinkProgress uses it's own rhetoric by following the "terrible" smear with updates, and more news coverage. The fact of the matter, is Steve King is a Republican, he did what Republicans do. And in all likelhood, his constituency agrees with him as they voted for the man. So don't waste your time or mine denigrating the man. I don't give a hoot about Steve King unless he's done something illegal. Do what MediaMatters does--collect the information and publish a dispassionate review of it.

Show a video showing all of the conservative commentators, and all of the statements they make that you disagree with for a particular network, but the constant updates over a relatively minor rhetorical trick that should come as no surprise? You're smart people Think Progress, move on.

Friday, March 7, 2008

The Repubs Finally Get Digital

So get this, after years of moaning about how the blogosphere has been overwhelmingly leftist, the GOP has finally gotten with the digital age.

It's true. Government propaganda is top down. And there are only so many ways wingnuts can deep throat the words of the President, and General Petraeus. Actual discussion is the nature of democracy and is of course will always be more open and liberal.

Still, this was troubling to me--not because there was anything wrong with it--Just because I know that my Party will utterly fail in responding adequately. Moreover, the GOP will get these websites up and running, the media will do specials on them, and it will be made to look as if these are "real" people setting up "real" websites. They aren't.

If the GOP begins to claim that they are, then they will have done something wrong. However, no doubt, the Press, when it comes time, will skip the job of actually asking questions, and will simply report what they read as if it were true. So again, the GOP, won't have actually done anything wrong. Afterall, it's not their fault that the Press is inept.

Of course, they won't be right. They would still be liable, but wiley GOP lawyers will no doubt weasel their way out of that with little difficuly. Afterall, what's a little campaign grease compared to Telecom Amnesty.