Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Monday, December 21, 2009
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
I learned tonight that a half pitcher of Bud Lite equals 2 1/2 mugs and that's the perfect quantity to get on a good mad. I've been pissed all day, but it took the Bud Lite to get to a point to vent; to tell you what I think. I can't believe and I can't describe how disappointed I am that Joe Lieberman is holding the Senate Health Care Bill hostage. That mealy-mouthed, turncoat, slim-ball son of a bitch.
I've been told all my life not to curse, as much good as it's done to tell me. Use “another” word, they said. There's always another word that's just as appropriate, they said, so use it instead. But, sometimes there are no other words that fits the circumstances. I know, personally, people, family and friends, who can't afford health insurance. They sweep your goddamned floors, serve your goddamned meals, bring your goddamned drinks to your tables, sweep your goddamned streets and carry off your goddamned garbage. There are forty million of them. Their children are hungry... IN AMERICA! And the best you can do for them is force them to buy insurance from a goddamned insurance company that they don't want to buy from or can't afford to buy from? You bastard.
Howard Dean is right. The current Health Care Bill, without the public option or without the Medicare expansion, isn't worth the paper it's written on. It's just another boon for the insurance companies. Any law that “requires” a person to buy a product from a company or be fined by the government is unconstitutional. You can't force me, or anyone, to do that. You just try to make me buy it. I'll take your ass all the way to the Supreme Court, and even if that court demands I pay, I'll give them the finger too.
So, I have a message for you, slim-ball Lieberman. If I ever meet you on the street, I'm going to smash your effing face.
Saturday, December 5, 2009
...along with the hook and sinker for the American, Californian sucker. She has begun her run for Governor of California. Whitman hasn't voted in numerous (any at all?) elections because, “I was focused on raising my family, on my husbands career. We moved many, many times. And it is no excuse...” while all that time she was an executive of major companies, including Procter & Gamble, Hasbro, Disney and eBay. That doesn't sound like “focusing... on my husband's career.” What's his job, anyway? God? But, now, she wants to vote! I find it a little hard to swallow that she was too busy. So do many others, it seems, especially women who scoffed at the “too busy” idea and said they found time to vote despite juggling busy work and family schedules. How much more “busy” could she have been than the average Californian woman when she is chauffeured every where she goes. Did her chauffeur not know the way to the voting booth? How easy could it get? The facts are bubbling to the top of the typical Republican cesspool that say she's full of typical GOP blarney.
In her introduction ad to California voters she claims to bring “new ideas” to “build a New California... for small business, the backbone of California's economy” by “reducing taxes, government and spending.” Does all that sound familiar? It should, because that's exactly what Governor Schwarzenegger has been doing for the past six years. In January 2009, Schwarzenegger was faced with an over $20 billion deficit, but they did not raise taxes. Instead, they cut school programs, mentally challenged children programs, medical aid to the elderly programs, medical care aid to poor children and a dozen other “social” programs that affected the least fortunate in the state. In July 2009, Schwarzenegger was faced with another budget deficit of around $15 billion and once again called on the legislators to balance the budget on the backs of the poor, and again they cut social services, otherwise, Governor Schwarzenegger said, “I'll veto the bill.” And, the last I heard, January 2010 will bring even more cuts.
All the while, other “taxes” are being raised in other areas. For example, to ward off bankruptcy, cities and counties have been forced to raise local sales tax. Even voters, faced with county service cuts, are voting to raise county sales tax. Voters, it seems, see the problem clearly. And, Schwarzenegger raised “toll road fees” all over the state which, by the way, are paid by those who can least afford it. State income taxes that might effect those can can most afford it were not raised. It seems to me that the most fortunate simply don't want to pay for their state's well being. Republicans raise taxes; they just don't call it “tax.”
Jerry Brown, her Democrat opponent, get's it. He's said time and again that the thing that makes California a budgetary mess is that for the past 40 years, since Governor Reagan, we voters have been asked to do our legislators' jobs. We've been asked to vote, sometimes twice a year, on propositions that special interest groups have managed to add to ballots and spent huge sums of money to promote that we, the voters, really knew nothing about. Voters are nearly always ignorant of specific spending propositions that, if passed, become law. For example, if a special group wanted to fund a $10 billion overhaul of the state-wide water distribution system from the Joaquin County Delta, southern farmers and privately owned reservoir owners would pay minimum wage to gather signatures to put a proposition on the ballot to force the state to use tax revenue to pay for it. That, in turn, would become law and limit legislators ability to budget that $10 billion for any other, more important, state program. Of course, southern farming corporations and reservoir owners make millions from the law. There have been thousands of propositions of that kind and the end result is that our legislators are hamstrung.
Want a bullet train? Put a proposition on the ballot that forces the state to borrow $20 billion, by issuing a bond, so the state will have to pay off the bond with interest. More deficit. Want to give California's oil companies a monopoly? Put a proposition on the ballot that California's oil “only” come from oil refineries located in California. But, disguise the proposition as a “Green Energy proposition... because out of state, imported oil is bad ” so the voters believe they are voting for something good. Then, add a sales tax to the gasoline so it is the most expensive gas in the United States because, “we can't use another state's oil.” Oh, I forgot. Also give the oil companies a tax break on every gallon of gas produced in California “because they [the companies] are being limited in their ability to earn a profit,” which, by the way, tops $30 billion per quarter! Wow. If $30 billion profit per quarter isn't enough profit, imagine what “enough” would be.
So, has anything changed in Meg Whitman's message? Nope. Not a thing has changed. It's the same old Republican ideas and the same old hook, line and sinker for suckers.
Friday, November 27, 2009
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
I have a friend, Mark, who knows about the Blarney Stone, located in the Blarney Castle, Cork, Ireland. Most Americans know or have heard of the stone, but he was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, so he has better knowledge – perhaps first-hand knowledge. The legend is that if you kiss the stone, you get the gift of blarney, in other words, the gift of bullshit. As far as I can tell, he doesn't have the gift and he is about as straight shooter and honest as anyone I know. If I stretch what I know about him into an extrapolation, I suspect that most Irish are less full of blarney than Americans are and they have no need of the stone. The stone is really in the wrong country. Maybe we should move the stone to Washington D. C. There would be a lot more kissing the stone there.
In fact, Americans from all over the country may start a new tradition, nearly religious worship in nature, of a Hajj (pilgrimage) to the stone, much like the Hajj to Mecca, to get the gift of blarney. That would fit in to our culture; fanatically capitalistic or religious or nationalistic or a combination of two or more of these. Who would visit the stone most often? Republicans or Democrats? Salesmen, marketeers, CEOs? There would be a long line. I'm sure of that.
In its current location, it takes considerable effort to kiss it. In fact, you have to bend over backwards (you will have to scroll down to see a demonstration), literally, to consummate the act, sort of like having to bend over backwards to think up the bullshit many tell the American public. A Youtube demonstration of kissing the stone is an even better demonstration of the effort it takes. The stone's “gift” gives the bullshit artist a magical power so that the listener believes what they're told , at least if one is not careful about what one believes.
Mark tells me another story about the stone. He says that in the dark of night defiant young people visit the stone to piss on it. The more I think about that, the more I think that is justice for those who visit the stone in the light of day for the benefit of blarney. Perhaps he was one of those defiant young people and his honesty is a result of that act; sort of a reverse Blarney Stone “gift.” That, the pissing on the stone, could be just as much legend as getting the gift of blarney and perhaps deflects or diminishes the power of the gift to those who desire it. So, once the stone is moved to Washington D. C., we should continue the practice.
We should make it just as difficult to get the gift, i.e., having to bend over backwards, in the light of day and under the scrutiny of a video camera; so we'll know the identity of the bullshit artists. Then, in the dark of night, we'll allow all of those who are honest in the light of day, piss on the stone. I don't know if that will diminish the power of the bullshitters, but it sure will make me feel better about justice.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
If you read my last post, then you can probably guess my opinion of the Princeton Clarion Newspaper. But, I would not have expected this kind of writing:
“ Sunday, November 1, 2009
Princeton - A train parked at the Toyota Logicistical Services trainyard derailed on Friday night slamming into a building and several new vehicles, according to Kelly Dillon, Toyota spokesperson.”
Monday, November 23, 2009
I am fond of Gibson County, Indiana. I was born and raised there in the small town Owensville. So, I'm troubled when I hear of political shenanigans there. It appears that the county commissioners, and likely the county council, faced with a $800,000 county budget shortfall in a recession, is taking the opportunity of the Teamsters Local 215 year-end contract expiration for some county employee members to pull some union-busting shenanigans in the contract re-negotiations. The latest shenanigan is probably an omen of things to come; perhaps concocted, half-baked reasons for layoffs. There is hanky-panky in Gibson County politics.
First is to get to know the list of characters in this tragedy-comedy. The Teamsters Local 215 represents county employees working in the courthouse, the ambulance drivers, highway department and solid waste department employees; perhaps one-half of the county's 200 employees. Jailhouse workers withdrew from the union in 2001 and several other county departments are non-union. For the past few years, county union employees have agreed to more paid days off rather than receive raises in pay. As all county employees are treated equally, both union and non-union employees receive the same pay and generally the same benefits, so non-union employees have benefited from union negotiations. Union employees are covered by Central States Management health insurance and non-union members are covered by Warren Steinborn & Associates health insurance.
John Dyer, a local insurance agent who also handles the county seat, Princeton's, city workers insurance needs is the county's official insurance agent, according to this Princeton Clarion article, and who provides the Warren Steinborn & Associates insurance policy to non-union employees. It is my understanding that he is not the agent for the Union's Central States policy. The article explains that the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center caused a cancellation of the county's first responder worker compensation insurance. Wow! That a terrorist attack in New York City can effect little ole Gibson County, that has a total population equal to one city block in New York, sounds more like an insurance scam than it does reasonably thought out insurance company policy. One can imagine the nice not-so-little commission Mr. Dyer receives from the city's and county's insurance premiums; where a single city insurance premium cost rose $40,000 from 2005 to 2007 . As Mr. Dyer provides the insurance to both city and county governments, he likely has little need for individual customers. My guess is that he's a wealthy man.
Next in the comedy are the County Board of Commissioners, Bob Townsend, the GOP Commissioner's President, and Commissioner members GOP Gerald Bledsoe and Democrat Don Whitehead. Townsend's was first “elected” to the Commission by a “ Gibson County Republican Central Committee caucus ,” which may sound odd to those not informed about rural politics in America, but he was selected “by caucus” to fill a Republican seat when the incumbent, Linda Hoover, took a new job and moved out of the county. Both Townsend and Bledsoe were reelected, according to the Clarion “incumbents” headline, by county-wide election in 2008, but there is no indication that Bledsoe held a seat on the County Board of Commissioners prior to the election. Townsend's platform appears to be typical Republican, saying, “I pay property taxes,” indicating that those taxes are too high, but I'm told they were elected because they were better known than their challengers. I can hear the voters now, “he ain't screwed up yet, so he's okay for another term.” Once you get in these offices, it's difficult to be removed.
Next is the Princeton Clarion newspaper with two reporters, News Editor Andrea Howe and staff writer Travis Neff reporting on news and politics. One thing I noticed when reading many of these reporters' articles on county events is that they mostly write what people say and generally describe what transpired, like taking minutes of a meeting. None of the articles noted any contradiction to any opinion quoted in the articles nor was there evidence of investigations into claims made by the news-making participants. My sense was that the Clarion is more like a secretary taking notes than investigative reporting.
Both the Board of Commissioners and the County Council are Republican controlled and it appears that their decisions are based on typical Republican philosophy and what one would expect; pro-business, pro-management, low taxes on businesses, anti-union and smaller government and a general inclination of opposition to what might be good for the ordinary citizen and employee. None of the Clarion reports appear to investigate reasons behind Republican or business lead initiatives. For example, when the Highway Machine Company applied for a tax benefit because it was making a $6 million plant expansion in Gibson County and the Republican controlled council said, “it's a quantum leap in technology” and promised to take the company's “benefit statement” under consideration even though the expansion was only adding ten jobs over the next four years, the Clarion-Andrea Howe article simply restated what she was given by the council and the company. There was no mention of how the tax break would effect the county. Would the county receive more from taxing the ten added jobs compared to the tax break given the company? How would the county revenue be effected? One would think that the Clarion would at least investigate or quote the content of the benefit statement submitted by the company. And, as additional information, in the interest of transparency , Howe could have noted any contributions made by the company to any council member campaign for office and how the respective members voted on the benefit statement.
But, I get the impression that there is about as much transparency in rural Gibson County politics as there is in an illegal local bar, back and dark, poker room. What I find odd about the Clarion's report on the Board of Commissioner's public meeting on Tuesday, October 20, 2009, where 100 union and non-union county employees showed up to question the Commissioners about a leaked draft of the proposed changes to the Union contract, is that there is no mention or quote about what the leaked draft said. I guess I'm just naturally suspicious. Anyone reading my blog knows that I am not a Republican; at least not as long as they are mislead by their current fanatically-religious, Sarah Palin-infatuated, ideological stance they can't seem to shake. Every employee who voiced an opinion or questioned the Commissioners said, basically, “we want to do our part, pay our share and be fair about our needs and the County's needs. But, we don't want to be screwed, either.” And it was clear that many thought, based on the leaked document, that they were getting screwed. When questioned about a proposed $1,200 lump sum payment to offset an increase in insurance premiums each employee would be paying, another employee said, “Council members told her that they preferred the lump sum payment [to defer extra insurance cost to the employees] instead of applying the money to the insurance” A Clarion follow up with Council members appears to be called for. A lump sum payment is taxed, while an employer insurance premium contribution is not.
Then there is the particularly contentious and threatening letter that union employees received from “The Commissioners” on November 20, 2009 with their paychecks. And, I hate to waste space in this blog, but I feel that it's necessary to quote the entirety of this letter, verbatim. It's a poorly written letter, but worse than that; it is coercive and threatening. I apologize if I've mistyped or omitted any part of the letter. Here's the letter:
“ To the Union Employees of Gibson County
As you know the Commissioners are currently considering changes in the health insurance plan that have the potential to benefit the employees and the County. The County would like to have the health insurance coverage be an election made by each employee. Currently the Union requires that all members be covered by an individual premium, regardless of whether the employee has other options for health insurance. At this time it is unclear that Central States, the supplier of the insurance for the Union, is willing to make the coverage an individual option. The advantage, in electing not to be covered, is the employee will not be required to pay the $100 per month for health insurance required in 2010.
In order for the County to explore this option, the County needs to receive some basic health information from all union members. Without this information, insurance companies will not give the County a quote for covering the union members. This information will not be viewed by anyone in County Government nor at the local ONB office. This will be sent to companies so that they can make an informed bid on our insurance.
The information is needed now in order to get quotes by the end of the year. The prices we get at that time will determine whether we stay with the Union insurance or change to a different plan. No decision has been made at this time.
If you elect not to return the health insurance form, the County will assume that you have chosen to not take the health insurance supplied by the County next year. You may be responsible for all of your health related costs. We hope that you fill out the form and that we can get some good quotes that can benefit the employees and the County. If you do not have a form, contact your department head or Wendy Williams. If you have not already returned the completed form, please place the completed form in a sealed envelope with your name on the envelope and return it by Nov. 30 to Wendy Williams in the Auditors Office.
Gibson County Commissioners”
First, the idea that each employee must submit “basic health information” is troublesome. It is also clear that the Commissioners plan to discontinue the Central States union plan if they can. The “information,” it turns out, is very detailed medical history information on the primary policy holder and any family members covered by the Union's Central States insurance policies. Name, Social Security Number, address, date of hire, date employed full time, dependents, medication, medical procedures and a number of other medical information items that is very private. The form each union member must submit is a “Perico Life Insurance Company Individual Underwriting Questionnaire” and you can see the whole form here (pdf) . At the bottom of the form is this statement:
“ I hereby authorize any physician, medical practitioner, hospital, clinic or other medical related facility, government agency, insurance company or other organization or person that has any records or knowledge of me or any family member for whom coverage is provided under the aforementioned Employee Benefit Plan, to give Perico Life Insurance Company or their representative(s) any such information. A photographic copy of this authorization shall be as valid as the original.”
Wow! And, then the employee signs the form and authorizes release of all medical information from any source that has the requested information. Is Perico's “representative” John Dyer and will he see the detailed, private information? I would say that coercing employees to provide private, detailed medical history or “ the County will assume that you have chosen to not take the health insurance supplied by the County next year” is illegal. This sounds like Union busting to me. In fact, this looks like a good complaint to file with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for violation of the The Health Insurance Portability andAccountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy Rule. Prosecution under that law could bring a heavy fine, perhaps jail time and a good excuse to recall a Commissioner or Council member or two.
It turns out that “ONB,” cited in the letter, stands for “Old National Bank” and that is the location for the Dyer and Swift Insurance Agency, of which John Dyer is a partner. Nothing tweaks my senses like the smell of a rat, and I'm beginning to smell at least one and maybe more that probably amounts to a conflict of interest dealing with the so-called “county insurance agent.”
The Union didn't waste much time responding. Here's the Union response:
“ Dear Commissioner Townsend:
We are in receipt of a copy of your letter to the Union-represented employees which was attached to their paychecks November 20, 2009.
It is the position of Local 215 that an employee's choice of whether to participate in the census, so the County can “shop” for insurance, is voluntary. Any employee suffering adverse consequences as a result of failure to respond will be vigorously defended in the appropriate forum by the Teamsters.
The substance of the letter aside, the assertion that an employee not responding will be “assume(d)” to be declining health insurance is laughable. Employees covered under the union contract are governed by its terms, not by some retributive threat issued by the Commissioners.
We have provided you with information that in 2008 the County paid $1,138,420.00 in contributions to the Central States Health and Welfare Fund and benefits were paid on behalf of county employees and their families in the amount of $1,415,612.00.
Also provided to you was that from January 1, 2009 through June 30, 2009 the County paid $587,420.00 in contributions to Central States and benefits were paid totaling $709,620.00. So in an eighteen (18) month period the employees of the County have received $399,392.00 more in claims paid on their behalf than Central States has received in contributions. The County and the members of Local 215 are benefiting from the fact that the premiums charged by Central States are “community related” and not determined by each individual employer's experience rating.
It is unfortunate that you do not seem to see the benefit in this to all parties involved.
We remind you that the health care problem is a real, present, and national problem, and it would behoove you to work together with the representative of your employees rather than antagonize the bargaining unit, in efforts to deal with the issue.
We look forward to further discussion on this subject on December 1, 2009.
//s// Charles A. Whobrey,
President and Business Manager”
The Union letter clears up a lot for me. First is that it is clear that the Teamsters is solidly behind protecting its members rights. For another thing, the “Central States,” as everyone calls it, is a trust fund for Teamsters, formed under the Taft-Hartley Act, which attempts to balance the needs of labor and management, although the Act is more pro-management than pro-labor. The Central States Fund is a “community based plan” rather than individually based, so it should be ultimately cheaper than an individual policy and the amounts paid by the plan compared to County contributions prove this out. If the cost of non-union insurance is investigated, I suspect that it is more expensive for both the employee and County than the union insurance is. If that were known, one would think that more employees would prefer union membership and insurance. That the Commissioners would not see the benefit of such a plan for union members and there appears to be a campaign for individual plans bought through agent John Dyer that makes that conflict of interest rat stench more potent. Someone should look into that. In fact, it may be unlawful under the Taft-Hartley Act to prevent union employees from choosing the Central States Fund as their health insurer. I'm sure the union attorney will know that and be able to defend any union employee who chooses the fund.
Like I said, there's hanky-panky brewing in Gibson County. I wish the employees, union and non-union, good luck in the negotiations even though non-union won't be allowed in. Non-union employees, however, will benefit from the union contract as they always have in regards to pay; but health benefits could be another issue. Unions are the primary reason workers of this country have reasonable pay and benefits at all; otherwise, we would still be receiving the slave wages of the nineteenth century and zilch benefits. I hope to hear more about this case, hopefully better reported, in the Clarion, but I suspect the Clarion will continue to be a secretary for County Republican management rather than the investigative reporters they should be.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Here we go again. Steve Forbes' How Capitalism Will Save Us is on the shelf and it, according to sound bytes from his book promotion tour, claims that Capitalism will do what the title says it will: Save Us . How can we possibly believe that? Well, I fear that some people will read the book, or only hear about it, and say, “Yep. Let's take the country back!” Really? I think there's a little more to it than that.
I have to wonder whether the most important thing we have to live for is a capitalistic society where the most fortunate are allowed to run roughshod over those less fortunate. By the fortune of providence, Forbes has had an extraordinarily good life. He was lucky to be borne into a super-rich family, lucky to have attended the best schools and lucky to have the temperament and aptitude to become what he has become. But, Forbes is a libertarian, free, laissez-fair market guy. He was Senator McCain's economics adviser and he doesn't believe in government regulations on markets or corporations. He's a Reaganomics, deregulation guy. He doesn't believe in luck or chance in life. He believes he earned his fortune by his own effort and skills. That being in the right family, in the right place at the right time in history is beyond his thoughts. From what I've heard so far, his book is an extension of his campaign advice that he summarized several times during the 2008 presidential campaign; for example here in Forbes Magazine and here on National Public Radio. The book is just more detail along the same lines of thought. As a libertarian, it's funny that he's speaking out of both sides of his mouth.
On the one hand he believes as today's libertarians do: that the cause of the current economic recession is caused by bad government policy. He's right, but he cites the wrong reasons. He claims the primary cause for the sub-prime mortgage bubble was the Federal Reserve 1) printing too much money, and 2) not doing its job in regulating banks. That's funny considering it was a super-libertarian administration in office at the time the so-called offense was committed. Alan Greenspan fully admitted in a congressional testimony the he was wrong. He said, “I thought the market would regulate itself, that free market competition would prevent greed and corporations would self-correct misbehavior. I was wrong.” Alan Greenspan is, or was, a premier libertarian and believer in laissez-fair markets and that's why he personally prevented the Fed intervention when market indicators showed a sub-prime bubble ready to crash. He probably still is libertarian in spite of his admission that he was wrong.
The other thing that happened under a Republican, libertarian Congress was that important parts of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 that protected the ordinary man from wayward banks was repealed by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act ( Banking Reform Act of 1999) . What you really need to know is who wrote and sponsored these laws. The Glass-Steagall Act came out of the investigations into the causes of the Great Depression and was primarily written by Democrat and Republican members of Congress who conducted the investigation. The sponsors were Senator Carter Glass and Congressman Henry B. Steagall, both Democrats. The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act was written by lobbyist and corporate lawyers representing banking, both commercial and investment banks, and insurance corporations. It was sponsored by Senator Phil Gramm and Congressmen Jim Leach and Thomas Bliley, all Republicans. Phil Gramm took a high paying job with UBS after he left Congress, the Swiss bank whose lobbyist wrote the Banking Reform Act of 1999 . UBS, by the way, is one of the bank that recently opened its secret offshore accounts to the IRS to identify offshore tax evaders; 14,700 tax evaders took advantage of the IRS amnesty offer to avoid jail for tax evasion. That doesn't give a person a warm, fuzzy feeling for the ethics UBS practices, or the ethics of anyone associated with the bank. The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act loosed the banking dogs of greed on the world that allowed commercial banks to become investment and insurance banks; in other words, they began gambling in the dark markets of derivatives. It was the greedy banks that caused the Great Depression that the Glass-Steagall Act protected us from and with it gone, history repeated itself. It was the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act that let the banks nearly cause another Great Depression in 2008-2009.
In one breath, Forbes supports the government bail out, and in the next breath says “government should stay out of business,” an ideological position, not a pragmatic and reasoned stance. It seems that anytime we choose ideology over reason, we get ourselves in trouble. The fact is that libertarian ideology does not consider the less fortunate and when the proportion of poor in our population continue to grow, a tipping point will come where citizen income will be unable to support the country; tax revenue will not be enough for needed government services.
We desperately need government to sensibly regulate and, in some cases, provide services directly that protect the less fortunate, the poorest in our society, from the most greedy and the powerful monied interests. For example, government should provide the higher education programs, not private corporations, yet President Reagan privatized higher education loan programs and Sallie-May (SLM Corporation) made a fortune from college students who couldn't afford the high interest rates and punitive college loans. Government should ensure that all get reasonably priced healthcare; private insurance corporations cannot be trusted to provide that. Government should provide consumer protections from credit card and bank lenders because banks have no way, nor do they desire to, self-regulate the fees, interest rates, terms and amounts they provide in loans to citizens. These will forever be biased to their own purposes.
Forbes says the sub-prime mortgage crisis was caused by “a few greedy people.” From the number of banks receiving government aid and the number of banks being taken over by FDIC and the number of reckless and failing insurance companies, not only in the U.S., but all over the world; it seems to me that the crisis was caused by many greedy people. And, it hasn't changed after government aid. CEO's still get huge, obscene bonuses and stock options. Banks are still limiting credit, using high interest rates and extravagant fees and they're more interested in buying other banks (getting to big to fail) instead of serving those who deposit money in those banks or borrow from the banks. Insurance companies are raising rates. Drug companies are raising prices. These are just a sample. From high-tech traders, hedge funds, mutual funds and private investment bankers you see the same greedy practices that got us into this mess. I simply don't see the proof that capitalism will “save us.” That seems to be putting all our eggs in one philosophical basket.
So, what is the purpose of human life on earth? Is it servitude to corporations? Or, is it to have a chance for a good, if not wealthy then reasonably secure, life? Capitalism serves a purpose to provide a good life for many, not just a few. But, it seems to me that human tendency for greed and avarice needs a leash, and only good government can provide that. Forbes is all wet.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Sheesh... Talk about in-your-face advertizements. Yahoo has a new website home page and it is annoying. Every time you roll your mouse over a navigation link, a window spreads out over the entire page you're trying to read. What an annoying behavior.
And then there is this behavior. I followed a link to a story I wanted to read and the goddamned ad overlays half of the first paragraph with no way to close the ad. Ah, but there is another “roll your mouse over” trick to see the whole ad. Aren't we cute and tricksy?
I'm familiar with web designers in companies. Usually web sites are designed not by trained web designers, but by some over eager, self-absorbed and self-appointed designer in the Sales and Marketing Department whose only agenda is rising to the top. That appears to be the case at Yahoo, Inc.
There's two ways to pronounce “Yahoo,” in my opinion. First the “Cowboy” way, preferred by the company. Second is the way Dad may have read it; “Y ā y-hoo,” which he used to describe neighborhood hoodlums and unsavory characters in the community. In the community of web hosting corporations, Yahoo is a Y ā y-hoo.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Monday, November 9, 2009
Here is a perfect example of why you should turn Beck off. He's an idiot. He gives no more thought to what he's saying about the new generation (or anything) than a pig does. In fact, that's my opinion of him; he's a pig, grunting around the barnyard to get your attention.
Brother Dan made a comment recently that intrigued me that went something like this: “The new generation is interesting. Joni and Ryan (Dan's daughter and her new husband) have more close friends than I've ever thought of. When they go to Las Vegas, they go in a group of twenty friends, not one or two. When they go to a football game (from Chicago to New York) they go with twenty friends.” That's an interesting observation. What's more, it's my observation that “they” don't really care what we, the older generation, think about it, not that we think it's bad. At the same time they seem to respect the older generation, Dan and I, more than we respected our elders. They have a plurality view of the world; one of resigned to the condition of the world handed to them but at the same time “unafraid” of the mess they're getting. Joni and Ryan are the “Millennial” generation and it appears that they have other ideas that we might find interesting and that Beck is ranting (and opposed to) about.
According to historian Dr. David Kaiser's latest blog entry , the Millennials are coming into the workforce and political scene feeling “entitled.” That means to me that they're self-confident and they “ expect” to be treated with respect by their employers and politicians. They feel that they “deserve” better. The more I think about it, the more I agree with them. They are entitled to a better world and they do deserve respect.
I think the days when employers can do anything they want, such as discriminate, create unsafe work environments, mistreat employees and generally ignore employee needs are over. This new generation won't put up with it. But, instead of the court being the primary battle ground, they will simply leave for a new job making the employer irrelevant.
It's the same with politicians. This new generation is not going to put up with the old mud-slinging, corrupted and greedy politicians and their lies and half-truths. They will simply vote for someone else, making the politician irrelevant. It's also the same with Glenn Beck; they will tune him out.
Beck doesn't abide by this new generations' values. In fact, he's adamantly opposed. His rant is, “Get over yourself. Go out and get a fricken' job... what a bunch of pansy...get the hell out of my office... [these] people just go to work and they sit in their office and they do nothing!” Beck implies that the Millennials are lazy, pansies. He says, “ The Millennials that are coming in now, employers are beginning to realize that that is the future workforce and they want to shape the job towards their life rather than have their life adapt to the workplace. I mean, that's all well and good, but... get the hell out of my office.” Well, he's right. The Millennials insist that the job be shaped to their lives. It's about time. But Beck is wrong about them being lazy. The new generation is really saying, “we'll work for you and we'll do a good job and we'll make this company (or endeavor) profitable, but you are going to pay attention to us and our needs or else we'll make you irrelevant. If you don't like it, we'll find a place that does.” Dr. Kaiser quotes Beck's entire statement on his blog, if you can read the whole thing without making yourself sick.
I'm excited about this new generation. I know a few more who are part of it; Damon, Adam and Marcus, my wife's sons are like Joni and Ryan in many ways. Beck criticized them for “bringing their parents to their job.” It just so happens that Damon invited me to his job Sunday, a “parents day,” in Beck's words. I was impressed. Damon, who eats, sleeps and lives baseball, is making a living at what he loves. He, and a few entrepreneurs, have built a year-round sports training pavilion for kids, Cabernet Indoor Sports, out of a Costco Warehouse. On one side of the building is a 40,000 square foot area containing three huge soccer fields and the place was packed with Lacrosse girl teams playing indoors on the day I visited it. On the other side is over 30,000 square feet of space for baseball, including five batting cages, a pitching area and an entire regulation sized infield. Wow! It's just beginning and Damon would probably work for nothing, but last month he brought home $2,200. He helped build the pavilion.
Adam is in the middle of a transition. He's spent the past 2 ¾ years in Arcata, California, the home of Humbolt University where he earned his degree and graduated last Spring. He relocated back home to Castro Valley Sunday hoping for better employment. Like Joni and Ryan, he has many friends and he left many of them in Arcata, a somewhat painful experience. I get the impression, however, that he didn't really “leave” his friends since he will keep in contact; something I can't say I or my generation did when we left friends. Marcus works for the State Probation Department supervising juvenile delinquents at a “ranch.” He owns his own house, bought during the sub-prime boom so he's somewhat underwater, but he's keeping up payments and intends to keep the house. In other words, he's not slouching on his responsibilities.
I attended the wedding this weekend of Kelly and Jeremy, two more of this new generation. Jeremy is a farmer working with his father and grandfather on a 5,000 acre farm in southern Indiana. After rains in the spring and fall that delayed crop planting and harvest, he and his family have worked night and day to finish the harvesting Friday, the day before his wedding. Kelly graduated from Southern Indiana University with a Finance and Marketing degree and is now working for an insurance company. They start their married life with a house of their own and excellent careers and I haven't seen two people better matched for life together.
And not only these few impress me. As I watch Micheal Sandel's class at Harvard University, I can't imagine sitting in a class like that when I was young or saying something intelligent or even having the where-with-all to speak at all. But, those young people do. And, they speak intelligently. I'm impressed. They are motivated and energetic.
I can't imagine anyone calling these young people lazy or self-centered and saying, “get out of my office.” I think the “entitlement” they see as “owed” to them is the better world that we, the previous generations, should have created, but didn't. Now that they are entering the workplace and politics, they will do it themselves. I'd say that Beck is all wet and can yell (or grunt) all he wants, but he'll find his office empty while these young people will be moving on without him. I couldn't be happier about that. He's irrelevant.
Monday, November 2, 2009
We've listened to KGO 8:10 AM Talk Radio for a long time, but I've had enough. Aside from the fake controversy they like to fabricate, I've noticed an increase in scams being advertised on the station. I understand that a radio station makes money solely from advertising. And, I also understand that some, a few, scams may pass through the station's screening process. So, this morning I noticed an ad about making “$87/hr working at home” for which they gave a web link to a work-at-home scheme called Google Profits , which of course lead to three or four more schemes for making money at home using Google. It is a predatory scam, so I wrote KGO a note through the station's Listener Feedback about the scam and I went on listening.
Unfortunately for KGO, my sense of hearing was tuning in on its advertising and within 30 minutes I heard at least six more advertisements for scams: “I lost 47 pounds in Castro Valley,” “visit IncomeAtHome55.com to make $55,000 a year on the Internet,” and on and on. My last Listener Feedback was, “I've turned you off because you turn me off with your scam advertisements.”
I'm listening to KCBS 7:40 News Radio now. It doesn't have “Talk” in its title. It does news.
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Open Source is a term originally applied to software programming where the source code, that strange and hidden programming logic behind the scenes that makes the software run, is open to all programmers. Any and all programmers who know the programming language used for developing a specific software can access the programming code and change the software to do what he or she wants it to. Plus, the software is free for public use. There is no better example than OpenOffice.org that is available from Sun MicroSystems. It is a complete Office Suite that directly competes with Microsoft's Office, and it is free . I'm using it to write this blog post. Thousands of programmers who know Java and C++ , from all over the world and who probably don't know each other, have agreed to come together for one purpose to contribute their programming skills to build OpenOffice.org.
What makes OpenOffice better than Microsoft Office? Because the best of the best programmers in the world wrote the code. These programmers joined an honor system to participate in writing the code. They signed an honor agreement with Sun MicroSystem to do their best, to do no harm and to submit their work to a system of tests and quality controls in a specific process. In the process, all of the participating programmers improved their own skills tremendously. Everyone wins. The programmers became better programmers and perhaps got better jobs and the public who may not have had a chance or money to use an A-One Office Suite improved their own productivity by using OpenOffice; from writing documents or books or blog entries, working with spreadsheets, developing presentations or working with databases.
I know the first thing you're thinking is that “it's a scam.” I'm sure that there were a few programmers who joined to “get something” out of the program, such as the user's personal information or have the application keep track of the user. I doubt that their code made it through all of the checks and balances. For one thing, Sun MicroSystem will not want its name associated with an illicit endeavor. The threat of a law suit will keep the process honest. For another thing, the threat of having its name publicly smeared by some association with a scam is just not good business. In fact, Microsoft Office probably does more tracking while OpenOffice does none of that. So, OpenOffice is the real thing... it's open, it's good and it's free.
But, what's the big deal? The big deal is that it's a philosophy that will improve this world. It's an honor system and it's open and transparent; all who participated and all who use it are winners . I'm elated to see that Open Source is being applied to other areas of industry. Today's article, Everybody in the Pool of Green Innovation, in the New York times shows the way. Instead of competing for the top dollar and fame and greed, some of the best technology companies are coming together to collaborate. COLLABORATE, damn it! That's a Studs Terkel idea. Why don't you take an hour or so to listen to him? You might learn something!
These companies are making their patents open to the common ; the most skilled and the best engineers, technicians, physicist, scientist and mathematicians in the world, wherever they're at. And, from that source of the best knowledge, they will get the very best ideas and designs for improving the world. Everyone wins. We, the consumer, will get the best products. The engineers who participate will, at a minimum, gain world recognition with their peers and, perhaps, better jobs. Factories will be built to make the products. People will get jobs. Everyone wins.
I guess the last questions is: What will those free market, competition, cut-throat capitalist do with their time? Complain, I guess. That's mostly Republican Libertarians, anyway, and we can really do it without them. When I see articles like the New York Times articles, I get excited about the future.
Monday, October 26, 2009
The best place to start is to identify the players. On the pension funds' side is Indiana State Treasurer, Richard Mourdock, a geologist and Republican elected in 2006, and Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, also a Republican in his second term. Governor Daniels is noted for his staunch anti-union policies. In his first term in 2005, he issued an executive order that rescinded collective bargaining rights of 23,000 state employees. I noticed in a number of Indiana newspapers that both were frequently making the best of the Chrysler bankruptcy for their own publicity ratings. The three funds Mr. Mourdock represented were the Teachers' Retirement Fund, an $8.6 billion fund, the Police Officers' Retirement Fund valued at $3.1 billion and the Indiana Major Moves Construction Fund (for roads and bridge construction). The values come from audited state financial statements for fiscal year ending June 30, 2008 available at Indiana's web site. I could not find a financial statement for the Major Moves Construction Fund. According to a statement Mr. Mourdock made in his 2006 campaign, the fund has about $500 million in it.
On the corporate side is Chrysler LLC (Limited Liability Company) and private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management that owned and managed Chrysler. Investment bankers included JP Morgan, CitiGroup, Goldman Sachs Group and Morgan Stanley who bought Chrysler's debt in the form of Corporate Bonds.
Labor unions included UAW, International Union, Aerospace Workers, Asbestos Workers and others. The UAW had 6,000 member workers in Indiana alone and 54,000 total members in Chrysler plants. And then there were ad hoc committees representing a gaggle of creditors from hedge funds, private equity companies, car dealerships to individuals injured in Chrysler automobiles.
The U. S. Treasury represented the U. S. Government and the tax payers who loaned $2 billion to Chrysler to pay off its creditors and to help bring the company back to some level of viability that, in the end, the loan failed to do. The $2 billion represented 28.99% of Chrysler's total $6.9 billion debt, or 29¢ on the dollar.
Chrysler's road to bankruptcy isn't about the Great Recession of 2008. The recession just hurried it along. Chrysler started on that road long before. Chrysler's story is the same as Simmons Bedding Company's story that was told in the New York Times recently and the last straw that broke Chrysler's back happened when Cerberus Capital Management bought Chrysler from the German Auto Maker, Daimler, the maker of Mercedes Benz. Daimler's purchase of American Motors and 1998 merger was both courageous and bullheaded. It turned out that neither of the companies could get along and Chrysler's shareholders sued Daimler for fraud, alleging that Daimler mislead shareholders. But, Chrysler never made a competitive car and it was losing money like a sieve and Daimler was eager to get rid of it. Daimler sold Chrysler for a loss and that's what private equity firms are looking for; cheap companies that can be flipped for debt and new buyers. Cerberus Capital Management never intended to make Chrysler a profitable company. Its only intention was to make a profit at the expense of investors and employees.
And that's what Cerberus Capital did. It borrowed $6.9 billion dollars using Chrysler's assets as collateral. By the time of the bankruptcy, Chrysler's tangible assets were valued at $800 million, from what I can tell, an 8.6 to 1 debt ratio, even though court documents stated that Chrysler had assets of about $39.3 billion and liabilities of $55.2 billion; still a hefty $1.4 to 1 ratio and more than Chrysler could afford. Only tangible assets, things you can touch and use can be auctioned in a bankruptcy. In a normal bankruptcy Chrysler would have paid creditors 11¢ on the dollar. So, how did Cerberus Capital borrow so much on so few assets? In the first place it inflated Chrysler's asset values. According to Mourdock's congressional testimony [pdf], the total assets Chrysler (and Cerberus) claimed in 2005 before the recession were valued at $29 billion, but he testified that $3 billion of that was based on the imagined value of the Jeep brand name, assuming that the Jeep vehicle would continue to be sold and its popularity would continue into the future. So, $6.1 billion of the debt was based on intangible assets; things you cannot touch, feel, move, store, use or sell. The $29 billion was highly inflated. The inflated value, however, allowed Cerberus to sell the intangible debt to investment bankers and other investors in the form of corporation bonds and private shares, since Cerberus' new Chrysler was a private company and its shares were not sold on public exchanges. The sales pitch must have been very slick with lots of graphics, charts and numbers all showing a future profit. Cerberus paid itself fees for handling the purchase of Chrysler, packaging the debt into securities, i.e., bonds, and handling the sale of the debt. It also paid itself for managing Chrysler for the short period it owned it. So, Cerberus made a profit whether Chrysler went bankrupt or not.
I'm not able to find how much actual cash Cerberus received for the face valued $6.9 billion of bonds and stock, but there is a clue in the sale of the bonds that Mr. Mourdock bought from JP Morgan. Bonds are given a credit rating by Moodys and Standards & Poor from AAA, the highest rating, which usually pay the lowest interest and is the least risky, to Ca, that carry the most risk and earn the highest interest. Ratings AAA, AA, A and BBB are considered less risky, investor grade bonds and an investor can earn from 3% to 4% annually for AAA bonds to around 12%-13% for BBB bonds. Beyond BBB are the BB, B, CCC, CC, C, D and unrated bonds that enter the junk bond ratings. These pay enormous interest rates from 15% per year and higher and are the riskiest for not being paid at all in a bankruptcy. It is also usually true that the higher the interest rate, the shorter term for payoff. Ratings BB and lower usually indicate start up companies, companies with financial problems, such as Chrysler would have had when Cerberus bought it, and companies in highly competitive markets, which also could have included the automobile industry. Bonds rated C or D are worthless.
Mourdock paid $17 million to JP Morgan for $42 million in Chrysler Bonds on the secondary market, meaning that JP Morgan bought the bonds for less than $17 million and resold them to Mourdock on the aftermarket for a profit. Mourdock stated that the three funds he represented would lose a total $5.64 million if he accepted the Government's offer of 29¢ on the dollar of the total owed to the funds, $42 million. That meant that the funds would receive $12.2 million from the settlement and already had received $4.82 million in interest payments over a 20-month period. Depending on the term of the bonds, he was receiving between 18.2% to 23% annual interest on his investment. That's a very high interest rate and indicates that the bonds he purchased were high yield, speculative junk bond quality and very risky.
So, did President Obama screw the pension funds? It doesn't appear that way. It looks more like Mourdock got his just dues because he invested in risky bonds. Mourdock gave three reasons when trying to stop the bankruptcy sale of 20% stake in Chrysler to Fiat as ordered by the Southern Bankruptcy Court of New York. According to his congressional testimony (pdf), it was “the right thing to do” and “I pledged to uphold the Constitution of the United States.” His reasons for stopping the sale were: 1) the monetary loss to the funds, 2) the perceived violation of the law, and 3) general principals. Mourdock wanted Chrysler totally liquidated in bankruptcy and for the U. S. Treasury to pay Chrysler's loans in full, which meant that the U.S. Tax Payer would pay off his loan and Chrysler would cease to exist.
Since full payment from tax payers was out of the question, an irony I don't understand from a Republican who is against tax payer bail outs, Chrysler's liquidation was the only thing left to satisfy Mourdock. To send Chrysler into complete liquidation would have meant the loss of approximately 54,000 Chrysler jobs, 6,000 of which were in Indiana, and the sale of all of Chrysler's assets in auction to pay all of the creditors. Mourdock would then have received about 11¢ on the dollar instead of the 29¢ he received and he would have lost $13.2 million instead of $5.6 million. He argued that his loan had “seniority” over Chrysler employees and was, therefore, was a “secured” loan. The bankruptcy court gave seniority to the employees, similar to the seniority given to bank depositors over bank creditors in bank bankruptcies. Chrysler's sale to Fiat would guarantee that more employees kept their jobs and the UAW workers gave up $10 billion in future benefits to buy a 55% stake in the new Chrysler-Fiat company. This latter stake in the new company was what really “irked” Mourdock and other lenders objecting to the Fiat deal; they would not be stakeholders in the new company while the workers would be and this, they claimed, violated the “absolute priority” bankruptcy rule since they saw the workers as “junior creditors.”
Mourdock, therefore, claimed that President Obama's Administration violated the Constitution, Article I, Section 8, which says that the Congress will establish “uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States.” The article means that bankruptcy law will be established at the national level by Congress and not by individual states. Bankruptcy has, for 200 years, offered relief for creditors unable to pay their debts and that's what Chrysler's bankruptcy did. The Northern Bankruptcy Court of New York appears to have followed the established law since the Supreme Court's review of the objections did not merit a Supreme Court hearing. The fact is that the U. S. Treasury participated in presenting a restructuring plan to the court, which included the sale to Fiat, and the court accepted it. There was nothing more to it than that.
The last of Mourdock's reasons was “general principals.” What can one say about principals except that they are likely ideological? The fact is that Mourdock would have lost more for the pension funds by winning his argument and that speaks badly for his sense of responsibility for his fiduciary duties. He's not supposed to lose money if he can prevent it, and if he can't avoid it – then he needs to make sure the loss is as small as possible. He would also have cost 54,000 UAW members their jobs, and that doesn't speak well for a politician who needs votes for reelection. It also doesn't speak well for his sense of compassion for the working person. So, his only argument must have been that he opposed the Obama Administration as an ideologue; pro-business, libertarian and anti-union, anti-government and anti-Obama. He jumped on the anti-Obama band wagon. His congressional testimony stated that President Obama called his complaint “unpatriotic,” “greedy speculators,” and “unwilling to sacrifice.” Obama didn't call him “unpatriotic.” But, Mr. Mourdock's purchase of the bonds was highly speculative and could be greedy. His management of the Teachers' Retirement Fund, for example, shows that he regularly buys “junk” rated, highly speculative bonds for the fund. Of the $3.58 billion invested in bonds for the fund, $922 million (26%) are invested in high yield, high risk bonds rated BB through Ca and unrated ($786mil). I'm sure that the Chrysler bonds are in the latter.
It seems to me that Indiana voters elected the wrong person for State Treasurer. Mr. Mourdock is a geologist, not an accountant, banker or financier who one would expect to be more suitable in an elected financial office. He also holds ideology above his fiduciary responsibilities, similar to the man he works for, Governor Mitch Daniels.
References: Toledo Blade, MSNBC, Fox Business News, Wall Street “Deal” Journal, Richard Mourdock's Web Site, Diamler-Chrysler Merger, OutsideTheBeltWay Blog, President Obama's Remarks and Bloomberg News.