Wednesday, April 28, 2010

California Proposition 16 is a Fraud - Don't Vote for It

My buddy Mark sent me a copy of an email he's been getting saying "PROTECT YOUR RIGHT TO VOTE," vote Yes of Proposition 16. It's a fraud, folks. It is funded by Pacific Gas & Electric Company. PG&E wants you to approve a California Constitution Amendment to require two-thirds vote in your local community if your community wants to develop new sources of electricity, such as through Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) Program. Your community could, then, get cheaper electricity through the CCA.

But, if you approve Proposition 16, you will forever have to have two-thirds of your voters approve new electricity needs for your community. If you can't, you have to get your electricity from Pacific Gas & Electric, at their price. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to get two-thirds approval for anything.

This proposition is not about democracy. It's about forcing PG&E down your throats.


We Give Credit Rating Companies and Big Banks Way Too Much Credit

Let me see if I can follow this trail. In this article, Stocks slump as Greece debt downgraded to junk, Standard & Poor's "dismissed the suggestion that its announcement caused [market] turmoil Tuesday" while markets on both sides of the Atlantic took a 2% dump and the two portfolios I try to manage took 3.5% hits. It seems to me that S&P's statement is categorically wrong; the article title is right - "stocks slump as...." John Chambers, S&P's Chairman, says, "Ratings just hold a mirror up to nature. The fate of Greece is in the hands of policymakers." Huh? What the hell does that mean?

Do they mean to tell me that several years ago when Goldman Sachs, etal., scammed Greece into taking a huge loan it couldn't pay back (and they knew it and bet against it) and Goldman helped Greece hide its staggering debt from the European Union that Standard & Poor's investment grade rating at that time was a mirror of nature? How, exactly, was that? A little birdie told them Greece's bonds were investment grade back then?

So, now Chambers absolves himself of any responsibility because the "fate of Greece is in the hands of the policymakers." Nope, he's just a guy doing normal business. Can't blame him.

That's pretty much what we heard from Goldman Sachs executives yesterday as they testified to the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations after, of course, they rehearsed how to avoid, delay, dance-around and side-step answers. And, when they couldn't delay an answer any longer, they gave technical responses that amounted to, "we were just managing risk when we hedged our bets by shorting CDOs that we sold to investors." There you go. It's just a normal course of business that they sell one thing to investors in one office, leaving out meaningful details in the prospectus, and betting against them in another office down the hall. It's not their problem if the investor didn't get the whole story. Just like it wasn't their problem that the European Union didn't know they were hiding Greece's debt. Is there anyone who doubts that we need finance reform? Only Republicans and Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson, apparently.

Was it only about two years ago that Goldman Sachs rushed to make itself a depository bank so it could stand in line at the Fed window for zero interest government loans? Taxpayer loans? Is my memory accurate on that? If so, you wouldn't have known that by listening to them yesterday. Not one word out of their mouths gave any indication that they were more than an investment bank or that they had any obligation to depositors, like you and me who may have had money in their bank. I didn't, but I hope you get my point. They called themselves a depository bank for the sake of getting free-money government loans, but that didn't change their normal course of business. It appears to be that the normal course of business is actually collusion and corruption in the finance industry, scamming investors and depositors.

Oh well. I know the real problem. The real problem is that I forgot to set aside two cups of coffee for my wife this morning and I, on top of my normal share, inadvertently drank them instead. I'm too wired at the moment to think about this stuff.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Immigration Law Revised

Has anyone else noticed how quickly the history of United States Immigration Law has been revised in the past few days? I'll swear that two days ago this country had immigration laws, but you wouldn't know that this morning. In the past two weeks Arizona made its own immigration law that, according to the Rachel Maddow Show, one of the most factually accurate shows on television, was at least partially written by a racist non-profit Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) organization, and the arguments for immigration laws have moved from "enforcing our laws" to "this country must have immigration laws." And, this morning I hear that Senator Lindsey Olin Graham, Republican of course from South Carolina, has crossed his arms and stuck out his bottom lip, pouting, and said in effect in a whiny, childish voice, "I won't work on the Climate Change legislation until this country has immigration laws." That's breath taking.

And if that wasn't enough, and as a complete show stopper for the Party of "No," Senator Mitch McConnell, Senate Republican Minority Leader from Kentucky, said words to the effect, "This government shouldn't be making immigration laws. That should be left up to the individual states." If Graham's statement was breath taking, McConnell's sucked the oxygen out of the atmosphere. We are now 100% polluted... climate change is complete.

Neither of these idiots know anything about the Federalist Papers that, by the way, explain why our founding fathers created the United States in the first place. In a sentence, they did it TO CREATE A CENTRALIZED GOVERNMENT SO THE STATES WOULDN'T BE GOING WILLY-NILLY DOING THEIR OWN THING. For Christ's sake. Could it be any clearer? The most pressing problem they had after the Revolution, way back then, was that the lose confederation of states, each doing its own thing, creating their own laws, was a mess. PLEASE read the first paper written by Alexander Hamilton. He stated the reason in the first sentence. And, another by the way, Hamilton created our Federal Finance System AND taxes to "sustain the federal government." So, pay your taxes. And, a third by the way, you implicitly agreed to abide by the Constitution when you were born in, or naturalized under our immigration laws by, this country. So, get with it or leave it.

How time flies. Was it only yesterday when I was trying to understand "epistemic closure" as it applied to the Conservative Movement, the GOP, Palin, Limbaugh, Beck and rest of the gang? It is a condition in which valid "knowledge" stops growing because information, influence, beliefs and ideas are false or based on "Bush's gut feelings," and one simply accepts what their told without further research, or information is accepted because, as a Stanford University document suggested, "a warm feeling between the toes." In other words, just because you heard the word "freedom" at the pool hall or the Limbaugh radio show doesn't mean that you know what it means. I suggested that epistemic closure could be described as "brain dead." Brenda suggested an alternative "ignorant" and I agreed that would do too. But, maybe I was a bit hasty. The word ignorant implies that there's a way out. That education cures ignorance. Brain dead, on the other hand, suggests that there is nothing else that can be done, except, of course, voting these idiots out of office. So, I'm going back to my original thought. They're brain dead. Ignorant doesn't explain the phenomena enough. The only solution is to vote them out of office. We could elect a single-cell amoeba and get better results.

And, for God's sake, don't go to Arizona anymore. It doesn't need or deserve our tourist dollars or business, since nobody will be working there anymore. All their laborers will be leaving the state. You won't be waited on if you stop to eat there. Oh, and stop talking about "Irish" immigrants, as I heard someone mention - sort of lumping all immigrants in an illegal pot. In addition to Jose and Jesus, who I think very highly of and who don't need their papers checked, I know an Irish immigrant too, who is a better American than all the Tea Partiers put together. You'll really piss me off if you start picking on him.


Monday, April 26, 2010

If I could see into the future...

...I would have known ten days ago that the U.S. to sell 1.5 bln Citi shares in first round - MarketWatch (Symbol: C) of common stock today, so that I would have waited to buy it after the U. S. Treasury drove the price down - so that I will gain more when it goes back up. If only - so that. Oh well. I'll wait.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

My New Heroes - Margaret and Helen

Sometimes I come across or I'm referred to a book, an article, an opinion, a magazine, a blog or some kind of media that reminds me that all I'm doing is "trying," and not making any real headway. My editor, the "other" Dave, has problems with English grammar, word selection, dyslexia, phonetic issues, etc. My paragraphs are not whole, or are too "whole." Wrong subjects. Wrong conclusions. Or, simply nonsense that, after a little thought, I would retract or write differently.

So, sometimes I see a better way and I try to change, to follow a style and perhaps be better. But, this blog by Margaret and Helen can't be beat. It is unique and I have to say that it's perfect. So, I'm going to continue to do my best, but I'm going to spend a lot of time reading Margaret and Helen.

Thanks, Brenda, for sharing this blog. Love it. It goes to the top of my blog list.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Following the Russians - USS Lockwood FF-1064 And The William Tell Overture

This story, China Expands Naval Power to Waters U.S. Dominates -, reminds me of following the Russians while on the USS Lockwood, between 1975 and 1978. China says it's building up its Navy for defensive purposes, of course, to protect its sea lanes in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Every country says they do these things for defensive purposes. But, it's not. There are no modern weapons for defensive purposes, they are all for offense. That's where the deterrent is. If we're not already, we'll be following the Chinese too. It was the same during the Cold War while I was aboard the USS Lockwood.

I've said before that "nothing happened" on that ship, but that was only in the context of writing about dangerous ships I've been on. Something always happened. The Lockwood was a relatively modern ship in 1975, sporting the Battle "E," for Battle Excellence, on its bridge and with an array of impressive weapons, from an automated five-inch gun to guided cruise missiles and torpedoes and the dreaded Phalanx gun. The ship was built for dual purposes, both anti-submarine and surface warfare, and it had a helicopter that could handle "over-the-horizon" targeting. The Battle "E" said we were good at our job, too. But, it's odd that with all the missiles that gave us the ability to shoot from a good distance, that it was the relatively small 20mm Phalanx that we cared most about. You can get an official and more technical description of the Phalanx on Wikipedia, here.

But, you'll probably understand my description better. The Phalanx was a fully automated Gatling gun that could fire so many 20mm rounds, 3,000 per minute, in close combat that not much could get through or close to us without being blown to bits. It could literally "saw" off the top of an approaching ship's conning tower in seconds. It could also shoot down any incoming missile. The only way to defeat it was for an enemy ship to fire ten or more missiles at us, and even then the Phalanx could destroy most of those. So, it was a big deal to us. It allowed us to follow the Russians with a degree of confidence that we were safe or at least could handle anything they threw at us. And, that's what we did; we followed the Russians after the end of the Vietnam War in April, 1975. We followed both surface ships and submarines.

We searched for and found submarines with two sonar systems, one attached to our hull and the other we lowered into the water to depths of six or seven hundred feet, our variable depth sonar (VDS). The VDS allowed us to find those submarines that tried to run silent beneath the Thermocline, an inversion layer in the ocean, or any deep body of water, that distorts sound. The Thermocline is a relatively thin layer of water between the top warmer, rougher water and the colder, calmer water below. To our hull sonar, a submarine running below that layer could be miles away but sound like it was only a mile away or vice versa, a mile away but sound ten miles away. Sometimes we couldn't hear them at all through the layer by using only our hull sonar. But, the VDS could listen below that layer and pinpoint a submarine relatively quickly. We would wait for a submarine leaving Vladivostok, Russia, on the western coast of the Sea of Japan and track it for hundreds of miles.

But, the Thermocline was a problem, too, because we were on top of it - in the rough water while that submarine was moving along nicely, in relative comfort. Once in a cold, winter storm in the Sea of Japan, while listening for subs, our VDS cable jumped out of its pulley. Here is a picture of a VDS similar to the Lockwood's. You may be able to see the problem. The VDS is housed in a cage inside the ship, so if the cable becomes loose in rough seas, it has a tendency to flop around inside that cage and entangle itself around several pieces of equipment. It's like throwing out a three or four ton fishing line and then trying to thread the line on to the reel. Then, too, the ship cannot move forward when the cable is loose and there's nothing worse in rough water than having to stay in one spot. Staying in one spot makes the waves just that much bigger.

So it was on that day, when the waves were at least 20 feet high and were crashing through our open VDS door and the water was near freezing, that we had to stop the ship to see if we could get the VDS cable back on its track so we could continue sub searching. Some of the crew were getting seasick, a condition that is both nausea and dizziness and one has no sense of up or down, left or right. The ship was bobbing and rocking like a cork. I went aft to see if I could help, but I immediately saw that I couldn't. The Commanding Officer, Executive Officer and Senior Chief Sonar Tech Bob Bolin were in the cage trying to push the cable onto the pulley as the ship rolled and bobbed. There was only room enough for three people in the cage at best times. It was very crowded in the cage with the loose cable and waves crashing through the back door. As the aft went down, the cable loosened somewhat and, gauging the opportunity, they pushed the cable toward the pulley. As the aft went up, the cable tightened and they stood back to avoid being trapped beneath it. They tried that for nearly an hour. Cutting the cable wasn't an option. That would mean an inquiry, losing the Battle E, and probably meant our Commanding Officer would lose his job. The VDS was a multi-million dollar piece of equipment and losing it would not sit well with Pacific Fleet. Finally, the movement of the ship, the cable and the waves came together perfectly and the cable flipped into place on the pulley on its own. Pure luck. We didn't lose the VDS, but there was enough damage in the VDS cage that it couldn't be used until it was repaired on our next Yokosuka in-port period.

In 1975 the ship had a "Theme Song" contest to choose the song we would play at appropriate times, such as underway replenishments when coming alongside an oiler or supply ship or entering our home port, Yokosuka, Japan. The crew was to vote on the nominated songs. One of the songs suggested was the "William Tell Overture," the theme song for the Lone Ranger of the 1950s and '60s. As a Department Chief Petty Officer, and since I had good communications with most of the crew, I knew the crew would not choose that song. "Midnight Special," by Creedence Clearwater and "Already Gone" and "Take it Easy" by the Eagles were my favorites, with a preference for "Already Gone." Black crew members nominated the "Soul Train Theme Song," by the Soul Train Gang, but it wasn't lively enough, I thought. We needed, I thought, a heavy metal or heavy rock sound - something loud. I can hear it now, "I'm already gone. I'm feeling strong. I'll will sing this victory song... The letter that you wrote me..." Wow, what a good theme song! Imagine that song playing when crashing through the waves, bow breaching, the sun shining and the sea a dark blue with white caps frothing, and the ship close by envious of our theme song! That's bravado! Alas, according to the Commanding Officer, "William Tell Overture" won the contest. Almost immediately we heard, "The voting was rigged!" from sailors all over the ship. Or, "What a dorky song. That's embarrassing." It was, never the less, from that day forward, our theme song. But, there came a day that we were happy with our theme song, because it was recognized the world over while the others we might have chosen were not.

A year or so later the Lockwood was tasked to trail a task force of Russian ships in the South China Sea. It took us several days to catch them. I'm sure they could see us on radar long before they saw our ship, but I think we saw them first, both on radar and by sight. As we approached them from under the horizon, we saw a plum of black smoke on the horizon in front of us. The word spread that a Russian ship was approaching at full speed, so many of us went topside to watch. But, all we saw was the black smoke on the horizon. It turned out that the propulsion system on their ships was pretty antiquated, a combination of diesel and steam which, when moving at their highest speed, belched black smoke out of the stack like an old locomotive. The Lockwood's propulsion system was a modern 1200 pound per square inch steam turbine system that gave out some smoke a minute or so on going to full speed, but as fuel and speed settled, the smoke dissipated. We saw them coming a long way off. The Russian ship, a guided missile cruiser I believe, wasn't going to ram us, of course, so we held our course and speed. We passed each other, and waved to each other, with a little less than a hundred feet between us. Then, we settled in watching their operations.

The black smoke was the source of humor on the Lockwood and most of the crew, especially the chiefs, began thinking that we had nothing to fear from the Russian Navy. We would prevail in any battle. That point was brought home again when we watched their underway refueling. In fact, we thought the method they used was funny. Perhaps they saw us laughing on the main deck. Maybe that pissed them off.

Our method of refueling involved pulling along side the oiler (loud speakers playing our song), about thirty or forty yards between ships, and we usually kept good speed, about twenty miles an hour. (Speakers off) The oiler shot a "shot-line" over to us that was attached to a larger rope, and we pulled that across and hooked the rope to a padeye. Then came the five or six-inch hose across on pulleys that we connected to the fuel receiving valve. The hose was hoisted high on the oiler on a boom, and once the fuel began flowing, the hose became a siphon and the vacuum helped speed the oil flow. We turned on the valve and received the oil. The whole thing took us about 30 minutes and we were gone, speakers on, on our way. There was a big advantage to doing it this way. First, it was important to maintain speed and both ships could go faster, if necessary, to avoid any hostile ships in the area. Also, we didn't look like we were refueling on radar. With two ships that close, we just looked like a larger ship. Second, we could disconnect everything within seconds and both ships could escape in different directions, if necessary.

But, the Russians had a different method. The Russian oiler slowed to a crawl and let out about one hundred feet of the refueling hose to trail behind, floating on the water. The ship getting the fuel pulled up to the end of the hose and sailors on the bow of the ship tried to hook the hose. It took about twenty minutes just to hook the hose. Then the sailors hoisted the heavy hose to the main deck, approximately twenty-five feet and pulled it to the valve and then began taking on fuel. Since the hose was lower than both ships, the fuel pump on the oiler had to work harder to push the oil and, therefore, took longer to fuel the ship. The whole refueling exercise took approximately two to three hours per ship. Meanwhile, we watched, waved, took pictures and laughed occasionally. Their method was so archaic that someone suggested that they were deceiving us, hiding their true method of refueling. But, the more we watched, the more we were convinced that we were watching the real thing.

 After nearly a full day of watching them refuel and, whether the Russian cruiser captain was angry at our laughing, or wanted to show off or to play, we saw the cruiser come up to full speed, black smoke rolling. It made a hard right turn to our rear and then a hard left turn to come up behind us, straight at our fantail. We increased speed, but stayed below full speed as the cruiser approached. In the last minute, within thirty yards of our fantail, it swerved to the left to come up along our port side. We, then, increased to full speed, about thirty-two mph, but the Russian was a mile or two faster and came along side, near enough for sailors on both ships to see each others' faces clearly and to see the concern that we were getting too close for comfort.

How close was he? Probably not much closer than the first time he passed us. My memory is faulty about that. It's like a fish story. The more it's told, the bigger the fish gets. I don't believe either captain wanted to create an international incident, so that line wasn't crossed, unless you consider that the Lockwood being in the area in the first place might be crossing that line. Both ships held a steady course. Then, to the surprise of sailors on both ships, the William Tell Overture began playing over our loud speakers. They knew the song as well as or better than we did, since it was written in Europe for the 1839 "William Tell Opera." Several sailors on the cruiser gave a thumbs up, a sign of appreciation.  Everyone on both ships had a good laugh. Gradually, both ships pulled away from the other and we went back to watching each other. We didn't arm the Phalanx for that encounter.

We appreciated the song more, after that. I wonder if Chinese sailors will know the song. Of course, unlike the Russian ships, the Chinese ships will be as new or newer than ours. Let's hope a song makes a difference.

Hi-yo Silver, away...


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Bonus by The Numbers

I remember getting bonuses and stock options at the last two companies I worked for, if we met our numbers. My last company was better at that than the former one was. The bonus I received was usually around 10% of my salary. The “ numbers,” though, were always a mystery to me. What numbers? Was it simply being profitable? Or, did we have to “beat the street?” Beating the street is when we did better than Wall Street analysts predicted, as if they knew anything. They were never right. I also wish I had kept those first stock options I received when the stock price was real low. I would now have a good sized chunk of change. But, I spent it.
Take Goldman Sachs, for example. Analysts predicted that its revenue would be around $10 billion in its first quarter of 2010. Well, it released its 2010 Quarterly (Q1) financial statements today and its revenue came in at $12.78 billion, way above analysts' estimates. I guess that means big bonuses, and that appears to be the case. The first thing that grabs me is the size of the amount set aside for staff compensation, i.e., bonuses and presumably salaries and benefits, $5 billion according to this article, a whopping 39% of total revenue. The next thing that's surprising is that at around $161.00 per share, Goldman's stock is cheap since it is only 6 or 7 times earnings, depending on where you get your stock quote. If Goldman's P/E ratio was around the industry average, approximately 22.7, the stock price would be around $570. So, if you bought 100 shares, you could expect to turn your $16,100 into $57,000 in a relatively short time. That's tempting. It's also a good time for Goldman to get the stock option letters ready so they can be sent to select employees when the stock price hits a low point. If the CEO gets one million shares, he can make $410 million over the next year or so, assuming he can exercise the options. Companies always take advantage of low stock prices to issue those stock option letters.

$12.78 Billion
1 st Quarter 2010
Number of Employees

Revenue per Employee
Industry Avg Rev/Employee
As of 12/31/09
Compensation set aside
$5 Billion
1 st Quarter
Compensation per Employee


Net Income
$3.3 Billion

Net Income/Revenue
Revenue less Compensation
Shares Outstanding
526.3 Million

Earnings Per Share (EPS)
1 st Quarter 2010
Stock Price

Price to Earnings Ratio (P/E)
Gross Profit Margin

Operating Profit Margin

Net Profit Margin

The compensation set aside from the first quarter gives each employee $156,250. That's probably close to the average Goldman salary. So, the compensation taken out of this coming quarter needs to cover benefits, probably another 30% of salaries, and after that it's all gravy – bonuses.
But, the SEC civil suit is likely to encourage the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) to sue as well, since it was the biggest loser, $841 million, in the Abacus deal. Then there is IKB Industrial Bank of Germany. Britain and Germany had to bail out those banks, so those countries may be in line to sue Goldman or worse. So, Goldman doesn't yet know whether it's better to settle or fight, although it says it's going to fight. It would be a good time to be a fly on the boardroom wall for the final answer: Will the stock price go lower? Or higher? It's too soon to tell. I think it will go lower, so hold off on buying it, if your conscious will allow you to buy it at all.
But, the numbers sure look good. It looks like Goldman is going for a record bonus year, at least 25% above its past five years, not counting 2008 when it apparently had a very low year. The average labor cost for 2006 through 2009, excluding 2008, was $15.9 billion, 25% of the average revenue of $65.6 billion per year. At $5 billion per quarter this year, it will exceed the average labor cost by $5 billion for the year.
Then there are those enormous profit margins and those are only the numbers from 2009. What would the gross profit margin (GPM) be if the first quarter of 2010 is included? I can't get my mind around an 80.29% GPM when $5 billion are retained for compensation. There's something obscene about that. It looks too much like greed to me.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Noam Chomsky - "Hegemony Or Survival"

Well, before I say what I want to say about the book, I need to state a caveat, i.e., that I've just added Google's "adsense" to my blog, and specifically Amazon's book finder which gives you a link to buy the book. Both Google and Amazon pay me if you click the ad link or buy the book through Amazon, probably pennies in both cases. But, please don't do that for my benefit. I don't need the money... at least not yet. If you live close to Castro Valley, you can pick up the book at the Castro Valley Public Library, which is where my copy of the book is going after I loan it to George and he finishes reading it. I'm sure your library has a copy, too.

So, what about Noam Chomsky and his book? It took me a long time to read it because I was interrupted by a home remodeling project that caused us to move furniture (and stuff) around, and around again, enough that I lost track of it several times. Anyway, I finally finished it.

I guess what surprises me most about the information "out there" on Noam Chomsky is the suggestion that he's an anarchist, i.e., someone who promotes a "stateless society." Ha! That sounds like Tea Partiers to me. I found him to be the opposite, someone who advocates that we come to our senses for the good of our society, government and country. That's not anarchism to me. That's common sense, unless the dictionary I'm using is nonsense. I believe the book explains a lot about the fog we're in, the same fog that Robert McNamara spoke about in his "Fog of War," where he finally admitted that the Vietnam War was a bunch of hogwash, illogical logic; that our reasons for the war were just more ideology that turned reasoning on its head. The fog that lead us into Iraq and Afghanistan was no different. The end result, however, is that we've made things worse. Collateral damage and water boarding are acceptable when they shouldn't be. And, people around the world are more afraid of us than of Al Qaeda and, in fact, our invasions caused more to join Al Qaeda than any Muslim appeal for Al Qaeda. Had we limited our response to Al Qaeda to criminal investigations and prosecutions, Al Qaeda would have slowly withered away.

Anyway, it's a good book and worth reading. It makes me more skeptical, if that's possible, of what I hear are our reasons for supporting one foreign policy or another; such as our blind Israel support, our Iraq invasion and plans, or the Afghanistan surge. But, what I really think about when I read books like Chomsky's is the hero's welcome Owensville gave to its returning, dead solder and Lafayette's welcome to its returning war, living hero, or when I hear, "thank you for your service." Do younger people, perhaps as young as Mason, Owen, Brayden, Edward and David, watching these events confuse a hero's welcome with glory? To go die for your country? Right or wrong? To those Owensville parents, the question as to whether it was worth their son's death will never be answered out loud, but they know in their hearts that it wasn't. To the troubled mind of Lafayette's young man, he will know, if not now then someday, that it wasn't worth it. So, all the gestures and words are really empty, unless they are followed up by trying to prevent empire foolishness when there was another choice. In all of our wars after World War II, there were other choices. Save the "thanks" for the WWW II vet.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

My BS-O-Meter is Pegged Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire from the US Senate To California Prop 16

Whenever I hear Mitch McConnell say he's "for" bank regulation, but just can't accept the Democrat version and would rather kill it than make it better, my BS-O-Meter pegs to the far right. What he's really saying in this article, McConnell Criticizes Democrats’ Financial Regulation Plan -, is that he doesn't want any bank regulation at all. It was, after all, the Republicans who repealed the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 that had banks under control. Once that happened, banks were free to become To-Big-To-Fail. So, when McConnell speaks, I check him out at or They're understaffed, so there's nothing there yet on McConnell's latest BS. His purpose is to kill any regulation - don't believe him.

Then there is California Propositions on the ballot this year. Anyone who followed our budget problems this past year should know that California is hamstrung by voter approved propositions that amended our state Constitution to the point that Governor Arnie and our Legislature can't manage our budget. So, now we have Proposition 16 and this so-called "Tax Payer Right to Vote" ad (right-click and open in a new tab or window).

The sad part is that nobody disagrees with the ad. Everyone wants democracy and "voter" involvement. Unfortunately, it is for that reason it is likely to pass and modify our State Constitution. And, then we are in deep trouble. Proposition 16, and here, says that a municipality, such as Los Angeles or San Diego, cannot develop its own electrical power source, through a "Community Choice Aggregation Program," for the good of its citizens unless it has an election in its local communities and gets two-thirds voter approval. Otherwise, the city or county must choose Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) or Southern California Edison for any new power it needs. PG&E has spent $28.5 million on the Prop 16 campaign. The ad is not allowed to be played on radio stations because it does not comply with California disclosure law. But, it's on television and most voters will never know what's behind it. It's a bad idea and I think we'll get what we deserve for not being diligent. I think we're past the point of fear of becoming a banana republic; we're already there. Just call us Nicaragua.

The irony is that the proposition will only require 50% plus one voter to pass, but after that it will require 66% to get new power to a community. Go figure out that math. Then there's the math on your electricity bill, such as how much are "you" paying for this ad?


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Fourteenth Banker Blog - An Interesting Blog

I ran across this blog while reading Huffington Post, The Fourteenth Banker Blog. It's written by a banker. I hope it helps change banking.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Underway At Last - To The Murry Incident

I've started this blog entry several times and maybe this version will be it. Instead of making a mountain out of a mole hill, let me say that 1965 Long Beach wasn't very exciting. The word at the time was that it was either a “sailor's town” or a Hell's Angels town, or both. Looking back, it probably didn't matter whose town it was, it was boring and not a nice place to live or visit, unless you wanted a pawn shop, a bar or a porn movie. I reported aboard the USS Princeton home-ported in Long Beach in September 1965 after a month leave (a Navy vacation) and a year in Vietnam. I'd had enough of Vietnam, at least being “in-country,” and really wanted nothing more to do with it. At the time, I blamed the generals and admirals for the war. But, years later I figured out that it wasn't them at all; it was civilian leaders and their concocted ideas that get us into silliness. The generals and admirals simply follow orders, even stupid orders.

But, as usual, I was lucky when I started my USS Princeton tour of duty. I was assigned as the financial records keeper, the OPTAR, Operating Target, Storekeeper, a position usually given to more qualified and experienced Storekeepers. The OPTAR was the ship's checkbook and its keeper had better have his stuff all in one sock. I had doubts, but I wasn't going to argue about it. I immediately knew that I would be excluded from the usual menial duties, such as three month mess deck duty pealing potatoes or scullery duty, and the quarterdeck watch in the cold and rain or hot muggy days. Instead, I would be a duty Supply Office Storekeeper, a pretty cushy job, every three days. That was okay with me. Loggins was the senior duty Storekeeper in my duty section and he brought his guitar for those slow duty nights. So, I became interested in buying a guitar in those first few days on the Princeton. Loggins was a very good guitar player and played with a country-western group around L.A. But, he was teaching himself folk music, specifically Bob Dylan. I understand now why both he and I liked Dylan – Dylan couldn't sing worth a dime. Neither could we. My playing never got better than playing rhythm, of sorts, while his continued to improve. It wouldn't surprise me to hear that, after leaving the Navy, he made a living playing in a professional band, but not as a singer.

Staying on ship 24/7 was not an option for sanity, however. I did go into Long Beach. A Saturday night at the YMCA and spending time at the USO was not unusual for me. One trip to “The Pike” was enough, however. The Pike was where the carnival was with the typical rip-off booths to win a stuffed doll of some kind or ride a ride. I didn't need a doll and wasn't interested in the rides. The Pike also had a heavier concentration of bars, along the route to the carnival, that catered to Hell's Angels, and Hell's Angels didn't like sailors, so it wasn't the best place to be. If I had to walk The Pike and noticed more than a few motorcycles, I took a detour.

Only three memories stand out in my mind about Long Beach that lead to the conclusion that went to my head at the time: that I had a nice butt. Joan once told me, when I was complaining that summer about being too skinny when I grew about six inches between my Sophomore and Junior high school years, that the only thing holding my pants up was my butt. I didn't know it was a compliment at the time. I wouldn't have gotten that particular compliment in my baggy Dress Whites. So, these events occurred after October 15 th , the day we finally changed into Dress Blues that fit me a thousand percent better. All pay-grades below Second Class Petty Officer were required to wear a dress uniform on liberty (remember that term? - it's an evening or weekend on the beach) in those days.

On one occasion, I was walking back to the ship along Ocean Boulevard, probably to catch a buss to the base, when I heard a woman behind me say, “Nice ass.” I couldn't keep myself from turning to look at, 1) who said it, and 2) who she was talking to. I saw a young, nice looking woman about my age walking with a big, burly guy wearing a leather jacket and about one hundred pounds heavier than I was. I turned and kept walking. “ Stuck up, too,” she said, which confirmed, to me, that she was talking to me. I kept on walking, about 100 times more self-conscious that probably added an extra twitch in my step... and butt.

The second time occurred at the USO as Gary Cook and I entered to get a morning cup of coffee. I seem to remember that he and I were complaining about the lack of girls in Long Beach and a waitress overheard our conversation. She said something like, “it shouldn't be a problem for you with that nice ass.” Cook burst out laughing and said something like, “him?” in a disbelieving tone. Well, if you live with a bunch of guys who need an excuse to pick on someone, don't tell them personal secrets or give them an excuse. Cook, of course, couldn't keep his mouth shut back on ship. From that day until I left the ship I heard “nice cheeks” more than I cared to.

The third time just made matters worse since I was once again with Cook. We stopped at a coffee shop for breakfast and we were in line to pay our bill. As we waited, we were both watching a very pretty girl in line behind us through a mirror along the wall. And, she knew we were staring at her. The next thing I knew, she said, “nice ass,” and grabbed a hand full of my butt. I jumped, and probably yelped out loud, and Cook burst out laughing again. Once again, he couldn't keep his mouth shut on ship. My “nice cheeks” fate was sealed.

In a San Francisco incident, however, Cook got his comeuppance in a most embarrassing way, and it added to my own embarrassment somewhat. In December 1965, after my 21 st birthday, the ship went to San Francisco for a week of R&R, rest and recreation. We may have thought we were smart and worldly, but we were about as na├»ve as we could be. The Hell's Angels was something we understood and could avoid. San Francisco held a new surprise on our first night there that we hadn't anticipated. We decided to go bar hopping, the “we” included myself, Cook, Mike Dover and Patereau, all of us now over 21 years old. As soon as the brow (gangway) dropped, we were on our way to the latest center attraction in those days, Haight and Ashbury, the center of hippie-dom and free love. We'd already heard about the place although it wasn't as famous then as it would later become.

At first we had a good time. We had drinks at four or five bars and talked with several girls our age, but who didn't quiet meet the criteria to divert any of us from our bar hopping. By ten or eleven that night, all of us were feeling pretty good and we had wandered out of the Haight and Ashbury district into the Market Street area (my memory is foggy on where we were, though). It was about that time that Cook spotted a very good looking, tall woman entering a bar that had a bouncer at the entrance, Pinocchio's. The bouncer, we thought, made the bar a little more upscale. Cook lead the way, with Patereau right behind him, never wanting to be left out. The bouncer smiled and opened the door for us and we walked in, but we all stopped simultaneously about ten feet into the bar. Something was wrong, but I don't believe any of us could say what was wrong at that instant. The woman Cook had been watching came up to him and said something like, “come on in, honey,” and she grabbed him in the crotch. I wouldn't call Cook shy by any stretch and he, as I could have guessed, grabbed the woman back in the same location. Then he yelled, turned and grabbed Patereau's and my arm and pulled us toward the door. At that instant it dawned on me what the problem was – it wasn't the type of bar we expected. It was a gay bar. The woman wasn't a woman. As we left as fast as we could, someone yelled, “Hey, nice ass, come on back.” The bouncer laughed as we hurriedly walked away, just barely keeping ourselves from running flat out. We were sober by the time we walked aboard the ship about twenty minutes later. Cook told us that he'd kill us if we said a word about it on ship. None of us did, although I had every right to.

By February the single guys in our division were ready to leave for the Western Pacific. We'd had enough of Long Beach. We stopped in Hawaii for a few days to load a battalion of Marines, about 3,000 men, and the battalion equipment, and to load last minute supplies that we would not likely find in WESTPAC. The Supply Office was hopping. Four or five of us spent a few nice days on Waikiki Beach and at a new, at the time, U. S. Army hotel on the beach, the Hale Koa . It is a five-star rated hotel specifically for U. S. Military personnel on the beach near downtown Honolulu. Beer at the hotel was half the price of anyplace else in Honolulu.

We pulled into Subic Bay, Philippines a little over two weeks later and I was introduced to Olongapo City, Shit River, Monkey Meat and Manila Rum, not necessarily in that order. First things first, however, was getting a few emergency parts on board, and that meant “Walk Thrus,” that is walking an order through the Subic Bay Supply Depot. I volunteered just to get out of the office. Of all of the Supply Centers and Depots I've dealt with, Subic Bay was the worst and my experience with it on that first day in port left a lasting impression; pack a lunch, if you can, if you have to order anything from the Subic Bay Supply Depot. It's going to take a while and you'll run all over the place needlessly. So, my first working day in Subic Bay was spent mostly walking, with a few short rides, about ten miles between warehouses and the central requisition office, spread all over the base, trying to get a part. The one bright spot was that I found a small on-base restaurant that served a new treat that I hadn't tried, lumpia, a Philippine egg-roll. Lumpia, with the sweet sauce, was delicious. I must have eaten about thirty or forty of them for lunch, I was that hungry, after a very long, 100 degree day walk. All I got out of it when I finally returned to ship with the part was, “Where in the hell have you been?” My uniform was drenched with sweat. I didn't volunteer to walk thru anymore orders after that.

It's ironic that if you Google “Subic Bay Philippines,” one of the images returned is of two sailors at a bar table with three bar girls. Ironic only because anyone except a sailor would not expect to see that kind of image from the search. If you were there back then or had seen a single picture like that, then you've seen every picture ever taken in Olongapo. That's the way it was. Those two in the picture may have had wives back home, who may now be seeing for the first time their husbands with bar girls on their laps. My advice is don't get your panties in a knot. It isn't worth the fuss. It's the way it was. That was Olongapo in the 1960s, one long red clay, unpaved street of bars with bar girls. It was a rough city. It is no longer that way. I believe it is a resort now, and probably a nice, tropical paradise to visit.

On that first visit, the Princeton was tied along the Cubi Point Pier, near the air strip, to unload the planes we carried and a long way from the main gate and main street into to Olongapo. We had to walk a mile to catch a bus that ran every thirty minutes and stopped every five minutes along the way. By the time we arrived at the gate, sailors were hanging on the sides of the bus and it was so crowded, in 100 degree weather, that we all needed another shower. Finally we reached the main gate nearly one hour after we left the ship. Then came the inspection on leaving the base, “put your watch in your pocket or hold it in your hand,” “put your ID in your sock,” “if you're going to hang your wallet on your belt, make sure to slip it between your pants and your belt,” (Dress Whites had no rear pockets) on and on, we were checked for a proper uniform as well as getting advice on keeping our stuff. We soon learned why. The next gauntlet was over the Shit River Bridge, and that's precisely what it was, Shit River.

Olongapo had no sewage system, so all sewage drained to the bay via the river. In the river children in bum-boats begged us to throw them money. There were twenty or thirty children on the bridge for every one in the boats, simply a swam of kids, all reaching their hands around our faces, slapping our pockets and patting us on our backs or butts. These were terribly poor people, so we frequently gave in to their pleas. But, we also held on to our wallets, watches and ID cards, or tried to.

Cook learned that one could easily be distracted crossing the bridge. We had already exchanged money, bought a fist full of Monkey Meat on sticks at a street vendor, made it to our first bar and ordered drinks, approximately fifteen minutes, before he realized that his watch was missing. I don't think the fact that the watch was gone bothered him as much as figuring out how they took it without him knowing it. Those kids on the bridge were extremely skilled pick pockets and jewelry thieves – and you wouldn't feel a thing. While you were giving them a dollar out of sympathy, they were taking your $50 watch. Ten minutes later, the watch was on sale at a street vendor.

If I had to name the best things about Olongapo and Subic Bay, I think I would say Monkey Meat, Lumpia and the Enlisted Club on base. It never dawned on me in the first year or so of visiting Subic Bay that monkey meat wasn't really monkey meat – it was pork. It was very tasty, barbecued meat on a stick; a shish kabob. Buying a dozen sticks going into Olongapo and again when returning to base after a hard night of partying was the best. Frequently, a dozen wasn't enough and I usually lamented not buying more. Everyone did it. Lumpia was just as popular at the tiny on-base restaurant. Everyone ordered it, it was always in short supply and you couldn't find an empty seat in the restaurant from morning to night.

But, if you wanted to party, the Enlisted Club was the place to go, on-base, just inside the main gate. The club usually had the best touring bands, for example Chicago in 1969, and it wasn't unusual to start the night at your own table and by the end of the night have most tables shoved together into one huge table to make a bigger dance floor and the party was notched up to high gear. The girls were there for fun, not business, and many girls who worked or lived on base were there. It was a better environment.

There were bad times in Subic Bay, as well. There were several race riots on base in '65, made up mostly of drunken sailors, especially when the Princeton was in port. There was also the problem of marines and sailors mixing. Fights were common. Then there was the USS Evans accident in 1969. The Evans was a destroyer that collided with the HMAS Melbourne, an Australian aircraft carrier, and was torn in half by the collision. The forward half sunk, killing around 80 sailors, but the afterward half was towed to Subic Bay and tied to the Ship Repair pier for all to see. The surviving sailors were hospitalized at the Subic Bay Hospital and it wasn't unusual to see and talk to them at the Enlisted Club, some of them wearing hospital issued clothing and slippers in those first weeks after the accident.

Subic Bay served a purpose, I thought, and that was relieving the stress of the gun-line, especially for Marines who had it a lot tougher than sailors did. The only person that I knew of who didn't take advantage of Subic Bay was Murry. He was an odd bird. He didn't seem to fit in the Navy camaraderie that the rest of us shared. Perhaps that was the reason we, well I went along with it so I guess I'm just as much at fault as the primary perpetrator, did what we did that got several of us in a load of trouble.

One evening as night approached and the Marines were forming in the hanger bay with weapons and packs and helicopters were positioning for loading and takeoff for a beach assault, several of us were lounging in the Supply Office when Murry walked in. “Murry!” Patereau, I believe, said, “Where have you been? They're looking for you.” Who's looking for me, Murry said. “The XO. You're supposed to go ashore with the Marines for supply support,” Patereau said. “They're waiting on you in the hanger bay.” Well, Murry left like a shot and everyone laughed. But, Murry didn't come back. An hour or so later, the ship's Chaplain came into the office and ask if we'd seen Murry. We hadn't since he had left an hour earlier. He left and returned about fifteen minutes later; Murry couldn't be found and he was worried. We began to worry, too, so we began our own search, two guys headed for the storerooms, and I and Dover, I think, headed for the catwalks around the flight deck, one of Murry's favorite quiet places.

An hour later we were all back in the Supply Office still unable to find Murry, and we were sweating. Crap! What if he actually did go ashore with the Marines, somehow? How could that happen? We called our division officer and he got the entire division, about 25 men, out of bed and we all searched the ship. We mustered at the Supply Office an hour later and still no Murry. We asked the Officer of the Deck in control tower to announce for Murry to report to the Supply Office. But, he didn't come. Our worst fear was that he fell overboard. Finally, close to midnight, Patereau told our division officer what happened and he took us, the five culprits, to the XO's stateroom-office. The XO listened to our story and it was about as somber in the room as you can imagine. He gave us a short lecture, told us that Murry could not have gone with the Marines and told us that, since a beach assault was in progress and Marines were engaging the Vietcong, the ship could not go to a man overboard condition to search for Murry. Compared to the danger for the Marines, Murry was expendable. I felt the blood drain out of my face when he said that. The XO hoped, he said, that Murry could stay afloat through the night until morning when he could be better seen and the ship could send a couple of small boats to search for him. Meanwhile, we, he said, should think about court marshal. My stomach was in such a knot that I couldn't swallow. On our way back from the XO's stateroom, we called Patereau every name we could think of and we would have likely killed him if we could have. Patereau was as pale as a sheet. None of us slept that night. I stayed in the Supply Office nearly the entire night.

The next morning we were hoping to hear something about Murry, but the hours passed. About two in the afternoon, I was called to the XO's stateroom alone where he and the ship's Chaplain were waiting. The XO said only, “It isn't funny, now, is it Clark?” No sir, was all I could say. I had never felt worse. The Chaplain then told me this story. The evening before, a marine Lieutenant had ask him to look into a young sailor, Murry, who was standing in ranks with the Lieutenant's squadron waiting to be loaded on helicopters. Murry was wearing dungaree trousers and a t-shirt. The Marines he stood with were in full battle dress. The Lieutenant, he said, reported that the sailor said he was supposed to go ashore for supply support. The Lieutenant was concerned that Murry was unstable, considering his uniform, in contrast to the marines' uniforms, and the seriousness of Murry's intent to go with the marines. After hearing Murry's story, the Chaplain took Murry to an empty officer stateroom to spend the night and made sure he had soap, towel and a razor to take a shower. He ordered Murry to stay in the room until he said he could leave. In the meantime, the Chaplain, XO and CO decided to let us sweat a while. “Do you have anything to say?” the Chaplain finally ask me. I'm glad he's okay, I said. The XO told me not to say anything to anyone and then told me to leave.

Patereau was the last to be called to the XO's stateroom. He was physically ill, he was so worried, as he left the Supply Office. When he returned, he was elated and relieved that nothing had happened to Murry. Patereau wasn't court marshaled, but he was restricted to ship for thirty days, one of several restrictions he received. Patereau took Murry under his wing for the rest of the WESTPAC cruise, although Murry never went on liberty with us. But, Murry's life became a lot easier after that. If you wanted to say something to Murry, you had to go through Patereau first. Murry became a policeman in Florida after he left the Navy a year or so later.


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Dan's Stolen Card and Equifax's Free Credit Report Scam

Today, Dan blogged about his stolen credit card experience, at DAN CLARK: STOLEN CREDIT CARDS, and he's turned into a "credit card bill checking nerd," he says. He's got it right as far as I'm concerned. You really need to check your cards yourself.

You may have heard the singing group commercial, "" thing. It's not free. In fact, it's a scam. Equifax, the super big credit rating company, runs it. Recently, the Federal Trade Commission took Equifax to court to have it change the web site since the FTC authorizes only one web site for free annual credit reports, here, as required by law. Since Equifax was determined to keep its scam going, it changed its web site to charge you $1.00 for a charity donation, which Equifax writes off of course, to satisfy the law. But, even that isn't all that you'll pay for if you get a credit report from its site. You will also have to sign up for "credit monitoring," for about $15.00 a year (could be per month - I'm not sure). You may not even know you signed up for the charge. (Note: I have a tool added to my browser that measures the "trustworthiness" of a web site, the "Web Of Trust" tool. Green for trustworthy, Yellow for watch out, Red for terrible. It gives Equifax's web site a Yellow - Watch Out!). So, the "FreeCreditReport" is not free.

As for Equifax monitoring, I don't believe it either. About a year and a half ago I received a letter from a company (I've forgotten its name) that informed me that my personal data was stolen and that they arranged with Equifax, Transunion and Experian, the three credit rating companies, to monitor my credit account. So, every month for the past 1-1/2 years I have received an email from Equifax saying "nothing has happened" to my account. But, that isn't true. In the past 1-1/2 years I've had to replace a lost credit card, I've charged my card to ship to family addresses (shipping to other addresses should be top of the alert list) and I've created a new bank account. None of these things caused Equifax to alert me of a change in my account, yet these are the things that should be reported to the account holder.

So, I'm with Dan. Go look at your credit card accounts yourself. Also, use the authorized FTC web site to get an annual free credit report. That's the only place that's authorized by law.


Saturday, April 10, 2010

CNBC Nonsense and 5 Myths about your taxes

In my last post I claimed that CNBC is full of sh*t. Here are 5 Myths about your taxes from the same source (The Tax Policy Center) that Erin what's-her-name of Street Signs, CNBC, claimed as her source for taxing rich Americans 60% or more. All she is doing is creating yet more myths. Americans with incomes of more than $1 million pay around 27% tax. Add state taxes, around 2% to 3% more, and you get around 30%. Also, anyone who makes more than around $100,000 does not have to pay Social Security Taxes all year long. For example, a person who makes less than $100k pays a little over 8% all year, but someone who makes more may pay 6% or 5% Social Security Tax.

So, it's bunk. Go make a million if you can. You get to keep the rest of it.


CNBC Nonsense...

This is nonsense, but it's typical of CNBC.

Let 'im Go

If you read this story: Federal judge orders release of Guantanamo Bay detainee, then you should also read this story. The government is appealing the judge's ruling in the first story, but I don't know why other than we're afraid of our own shadow. We don't need to waste money on these guys.


Friday, April 9, 2010

Net Neutrality is Good for Business and People

I guess the judge held to a strict reading of the law in this case, Net neutrality faces serious setbacks - Yahoo! News: "Net neutrality faces serious setbacks," i.e., that the FCC did not have the authority to force net neutrality on Internet Service Providers (ISPs). If he didn't follow the law, then he's as blind as a bat to the huge benefit of net neutrality and he's probably in Comcast's, lobbyist or Republican's pocket. I hope Congress gives the FCC the authority to do that, in clear, uncertain terms, but I doubt that it will since it will probably require 60 votes in the Senate and the "No" party will vote against it, probably because Sarah Palin will be against it. I'm sure that her idea of the Internet goes no farther than twitter and Facebook. She has no idea of the billions of dollars of business done over the internet that, due to the court ruling, is throttled by Comcast, AT&T and other ISPs. She would also have no idea on how beneficial the Internet is to keeping people informed, but if they were informed they wouldn't be following her.

Personally, my hope is for new technology and Google. For example, CISCO and Juniper are testing 100 gigabyte per second (roughly 100 billion bits) routers, the next generation routers. CISCO says its router can handle 322 terabytes (you can download the entire Library of Congress in a few seconds), if, of course, you're connected to other equipment that can produce that speed. These routers solve the traffic jam on the Internet; all wires meet at the router, sort of like 32 or 64 high speed highways meeting at the same intersection. Comcast and AT&T have stacks of slow routers in their data centers. When they use next generation routers, all of their excuses for limiting Internet use are moot. Of course they will make you and me, the customer, pay a heavy price for that.

That's where Google comes in. Google thinks that the Internet should be free, a really novel and counterintuitive idea. It has two projects that they hope makes this happen. The first is its "Open Source" project that Google keeps software programmers updated on in its own (don't click unless you're a geek) blog. It's all pretty technical, but the gist is that for any software and/or equipment (Google phone) that Google gives away or sells, any programmer in the world can contribute to it. I could, for example, write a program or a section of a program, give it to Google and Google could then upload it on its phones and everyone could run it; free of charge. Google gets some of the best programmers in the world to contribute because programmers are geeks and they can't let an improvement pass them by - that's why Google programs are among the highest quality programs available. I believe that each contributing programmer gets a share of the profit generated by the program.

The second project is Google's free Internet access project. Google is testing this concept in several communities around the country. For example its free service to Mountain View, CA, is one such test. Google believes that, if the Internet is free to everyone, business increases, advertising increases, more people buy and use services that result in increased commerce for everyone. So far, it's proving to be true.

By the way, you can use a good office suite open source program, OpenOffice, instead of Microsoft Office, right now - and it's free. Sun Microsystems started this project and Oracle owns it now. It doesn't have all of those "security" issues that Microsoft Office has. The only thing I've found that it doesn't do is suggest grammatical corrections like Microsoft Office does. But, I was never sure Microsoft was correct anyway. I'll probably stick to what I learned from Mildred Armstrong - well, maybe not, but it's not her fault.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Oil turns higher after Fed minutes - MarketWatch

Let's see... There must be a joke here someplace. PBS Nightly Business Report says that oil is going higher and that it's not demand and it's not capacity. Oh, it's traders, BUT the report says that it's not speculators, but only traders betting on future demand. Let's see, if I take away demand and I take away capacity and I make sure I have "speculators" definition right; "a financial action that does not promise safety on the initial investment along with the return of the principal sum. Speculation typically involves...the purchase of assets [oil] a manner...deemed to have...a significant risk of the loss of the principal investment..." sort of like if the demand doesn't materialize and those traders lose their money. lol! That must be the joke. A speculator is a trader betting on future demand for the asset they bought.

Here we go again. Speculators are driving the price of oil up. The joke's on us.

Oil turns higher after Fed minutes - MarketWatch: "SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) -- Crude-oil futures made a fresh attempt at gains Tuesday afternoon after minutes from the latest Federal Reserve interest-rate meeting, released at 2 p.m. Eastern, showed officials watching the economy for signs of whether to tweak their pledge to keep rates very low for a 'extended period.' Some warned against an early start to rate hikes. After initially deepening losses, oil for May delivery added 20 cents, or 0.3%, to $86.84 a barrel. June gold traded electronically rose $1.80, or 0.2%, to $1,137.8 an ounce from a floor settlement of $1,136."

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Companies Externalizing Costs - Who Keeps Them Honest?

If you read as much as I do about Innocence Projects, environmental lawsuits and other civil lawsuits taken on by nonprofit groups to correct a social injustice or to free an innocent person or clean up a mess, you would know that most of these projects are staffed by volunteer law students or university law clinics that want to correct a wrong. You would also learn that in most cases the government or corporate defendant yells bloody murder and accuses the universities or nonprofit agency of "liberal bias." It never fails. Why is trying to correct an injustice or a wrong a liberal bias? Why isn't it "the right thing to do?"

In every environmental case I've read about, I invariably find that the company tried to externalize costs by having somebody else pay for its environmental mess. Companies do this all the time, externalize their expenses for things they don't want to pay for. Usually, tax payers clean up the environmental messes. In this case, University of Maryland is taking on Perdue, the huge chicken producer, and two Perdue farmers who dump their chicken manure and other waste into the Pocomoke River that flows into the Chesapeake Bay. The US Government and states and counties around the Chesapeake have spent billions trying to clean up the bay so that the Chesapeake Oyster and Shrimp will make a comeback - for food. The cleanup also makes for cleaner water. Everyone should want that.

But, that doesn't seem to be the case. This article says somebody is against it. School Law Clinics Face a Backlash - "ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Law school students nationwide are facing growing attacks in the courts and legislatures as legal clinics at the schools increasingly take on powerful interests that few other nonprofit groups have the resources to challenge."

Perdue's Chairman went to Maryland's Legislature to ask for help fend off the law students. Read on and you see who is helping get a law passed to limit the University of Maryland, a Republican, "Michael D. Smigiel Sr..., who represents areas along Maryland's upper shore of the Chesapeake Bay, questioned whether such clinics should be taking sides on controverisal issues." In Louisiana, the oil and gas industry is fighting Tulane University by the same method, through the state legislature. And, guess who's behind that. "'There is no reason that tax money should pay for these law students to act like regulators,' said State Senator Robert Adley, a Republican who submitted the bill in response from his state's oil and gas industry."

There is another way companies externalize costs, and that is by having tax payers ultimately pay welfare to those people who lost jobs in the recession. That happens when a person who should be getting unemployment insurance payments is cheated out of those payments by companies who fight the insurance claim. Companies pay the unemployment insurance, and it is cheaper for them to fight the laid-off worker's claim, as this NY Times article explains. In this case, Equifax, the credit-rating giant, bought Talx Corporation (made up of attorneys), to specifically go after the niche market of litigating unemployment claims for corporations. Every unemployment claim denied means lower unemployment insurance cost to the company. The Federal Trade Commission and the Labor Department are trying to fight Talx, on the one hand Equifax/Talx has monopolized the market, violating anti-trust laws, and on the other Talx causes each claim such delays and creates such a hassle that the laid-off worker simply gives up or runs out of money during Talx's constant appeals.

A PBS Newshour interview, on April 2nd, shows the problem. Only 60-65% of the unemployed in the United States actually receive their benefit, while 95-97% in Europe receive theirs. Among other problems, it pays companies to challenge as many claims as possible.

You get only one guess at which political party had more to do with our current unemployment system than any other. Yep. Republicans, and probably a Blue Dog Democrat or two. If corporations are supposed to pay for these things, why do we keep voting people into office who help them make us pay for it?