Thursday, April 29, 2010

An Independent Candidate...Oh My!

(In the interest of full disclosure, let me say right off the top that I am a Florida native. Born, raised and still live here. I love this state and can remember when you could still see the ocean from Collins Avenue. And I have seen governors, Senators and all manner of politician come and go. This IS Florida, after all. Oh, I am registered No Party Affiliation. I vote my conscience. Party affiliation is not a factor to me.)

So Charlie Crist is going to break the shackles of the almost incestuous 2-party system in Florida and run as an independent. On his own record, without the big hitters coming in for him. Without the giant money people and without the largess of this state's remarkably corrupt and self-centered 2 political parties. About time someone stepped out.

Needless to say, the recriminations flew in from both parties almost immediately. And on a vileness scale of 1 to 10, most were 12's. The Democrats accused Charlie of trying to steal their voters. Their voters? They own them? Some kind of blood pact perhaps? More on that in a bit. They said he was pretending to be one of them just to win. The Dems also tried to pretend that Charlie never once agreed with them, which is ironic since Crist's GOP primary opponent - Marco Rubio - has successfully overtaken him by saying just that. Democrats quickly made it clear that nobody could help or show support for Charlie and any that did would be fired - or in the case of elected Democrats, given the old Lieberman Treatment.

By the way, this is one where the Democrats are the innovators. Tossing good candidates and office holders under the bus to satisfy the extreme left. Like little children with matches, they never seem to learn that they get burned every time.

The GOP prohibited anyone working for them or volunteering for them to help Crist. Phrases like, "...well, it is obvious his first loyalty is not to the party," were very common along with the too tired "Republican in Name Only." OK, I can see the don't help the opponent thing. Makes some sense. But the loyalty thing? His first loyalty is supposed to be the the state and the people - not the dumb party. And the RINO line. Seriously, is there some kind of entry qualification to be an actual Republican? Does the "big tent" have an entry minimum?

The GOP has now taken to catering to the extreme right. They obviously do not remember that every time the Dems did this, it cost them. I am guessing knowledge of political history is not on the GOP entry qualification form.

My favorite is both sides declaring Charlie to be an unpopular governor. Funny, because almost every Floridian I know likes the guy. Thinks he has done a good job. Most folks think he has come down on the side of the people regardless of the party's position repeatedly. He supported the stimulus because Florida needed the money.

This is the Republican governor of Florida that called the FBI in to investigate spending irregularities at the Florida GOP - which was being run by his longtime friend, Jim Greer. Now that is actual governance. Impressive, too.

Some said he called them in to embarrass Rubio, whose name came up in the whole credit card thing. Probably not. First off, Rubio still has some explaining to do on those charges and he should also have to explain why, on expenses that were paid by the party and the state due to "accidental filing," he chose to reimburse the party and not the state, which needs every dime. I guess his first loyalty is pretty obvious.

Crist also negotiated a deal with the with the Seminoles to get a cut of their gaming profits even though the GOP led legislature and GOP Attorney General were opposed. Why. Well, the state needed the money and the Seminoles, who already had the gaming licenses were offering hundreds of millions of dollars. He fought the legislature and Attorney General (who wants to be governor by the way) and eventually got everyone to the negotiating table and got a deal. Signed it just this week. More money for the state without raising taxes. Republican enough? Apparently not.

Charlie also told the self-proclaimed fiscally responsible (they aren't) GOP led Florida legislature that they could not dip into dedicated trust funds to balance the budget. That money has a purpose and he would not let them reroute it to hide their bad judgement. He also routinely vetoes their little unnecessary pet projects.

Now, to be fair, I think Jeb Bush was an outstanding governor for this state. Except for a couple of issues, he did us right. Saw this state through 9 hurricanes in 2 years and never once did we whimper for help. He often stood against his party, and more than once, his brother George. With few exceptions, he acted in the best interest of Florida.

In the interest of balance, let's spend a minute on the Democratic candidates. Won't need much more. There are actually 2. Kendrick Meek, who poorly represented me in Congress is the Florida Democratic Party's choice. He has an opponent, but in true Florida Dem fashion, he is being squeezed out. That would be former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre. It is a shame the Dems are so short sighter. Ferre was a good mayor and a good guy. He would be a very good Senator.

But the lords of the Florida Democratic machine have spoked and Kendrick gets the nod. Meek announced he would vote for Health care before there was even a first draft of the first bill. He voted for TARP. He is a pure party line guy and therefore useless to me, and most likely the rest of the nation. We don't need another blind, deaf voting robot in Congress. Meek needs to go home to his mother - a great woman and one of the great leaders this state has ever had - and learn about governance and not party loyalty. he needs to learn that people and not platforms come first.

On the GOP side, we have Rubio. The former Florida House Speaker who rammed through massive tax cuts without matching spending cuts. The Speaker who oversaw the conversion of state run Citizen's Property Insurance from the insurer of last resort the the state run insurer of first choice. Yep. A lot of Floridians now have RubioPlan Homeowner's policies. One really big hurricane and Florida is financially toast.

To overtake Crist, Rubio just kept using a photo of Charlie embracing Obama. Used all of the tired talking points about working with the enemy and so on. And it worked. Of course it worked. Why? Because he catered to the extreme right of the party - those with the biggest anger. Great campaign strategy, but bad governance policy.

I will take one Rubio issue away from the Dems. They have a problem with Marco getting a plum job at Florida International University after steering millions to the school. I don't because the school is in his former district as are a lot of the students and any university would want a former high ranking elected official on staff. It is actually good for the school, which serves a lot of South Florida kids with a quality education.

Back to the core issue here. The decrepit, corrupt, failing 2 party system. At the core of America's problems lies the 2 parties. They are so caught up in winning the next election that they have totally abandoned the people. All either party gives a hoot about is winning at any - and I mean any - cost. Both parties cater to the extremes, or as they euphemistically call it, the base. And the primary system, at least here in Florida, is designed to offer up the most electable and not the most capable. Often the best choice is not available come the general election.

The parties regard registered voters as property. Both the Florida Dems and GOP refer to "their voters," as if there is some kind of contractual agreement when you register to vote. Actually, the national parties do the same. But they tend to tilt heavily to the extremes of their crowd and just assume everyone else is along for the ride. They openly despise folks that vote for the other party in general elections. Phrases like, "traitor to the party," and "RINO," are too commonly used and too casually used. See, if you are a registered Republican or a registered Democrat, they just assume you will vote for their ticket. Because they think they own you. Because to the party leaders, your loyalty is to them first and not America first. Because their loyalty is to the party first and America second. Listen to them. Party this, party that. Other party always bad. Blah, blah, blah.

Like in this Senate race. The better choices would be Crist or Ferre. Both have excellent records in elective office and both have reputations for true bipartisanship - something neither Meek or Rubio even pretends to know. And until today, we were going to be stuck with that. Until Charlie, acting on what he thinks best serves Florida, took the chance and walked away from the parties. Personally, I intend to vote for him unless one of the others can prove himself the better candidate for Florida, and not the national party agenda.

While working on this, I noticed an interesting ballot item coming up in California. I know, California. But sometimes, they do have good ideas. California Lt. Governor Abel Maldonado is pushing proposition 14. Open primaries. And the top 2 vote getters advance to the general election.

I like this. It eliminates the primaries being all about the extreme right or left (depending on the party) wings and serving up the least desirable. It opens up the field to all evenly. I am sure that both Republicans and Democrats will disagree with me here, but you would expect them to fear the demise of their control over the ballot. At the very least, it deserves a serious look. It has to be better than what we have now. Because what we have now would force me to choose between Meek and Rubio - 2 seriously unqualified candidates with nothing of their own and no concern for their would be constituents.

Come 11/2/2010, vote the lot of them out. All of them. Let's really send a message to the parties that they will not forget. Let's make them take notice of us, the actual people. The governed. The ignored.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Goldman Affair

Sometime in a hearing room, long ago (or so it seemed by the end of the hearings) Carl Levin called in the kids from Goldman Sachs for a little chat. By chat, I mean hearing and by hearing, I mean group interrogation.

A lot of the media coverage centered on Levin's use of the word "s****y" as quoted from a Goldman e-mail. And while it was a direct quote, it had the unfortunate side effect of shoving the real information out of the way. I am sure that much will be made of the use of that word by the media. Whatever. Oh, except for CNBC's Jim Cramer. Stop apologizing for these guys, will you? Nobody wants to buy junk or crap. Nobody. Seriously, you sounded like an idiot.

What I saw was a rare peek into the inner workings of both Washington and Wall Street. And let me tell you, it is not a pretty sight. As a serious believer in free enterprise and a free market, I was interested to see how the Senate would come down on the issues surrounding Goldman. Between the push for the Financial Reform bill and midterm elections around the corner, one would expect a lot of posturing. And posturing we got.

The Senators get to tell their constituents that they stuck it to Wall Street and the Wall Streeters get to tell their pals they stuck it to the Senate.

However, we also had a look at how it really works when it finally came down to Carl Levin and Lloyd Blankfein. Before we got to that, there were panels of Goldman executives doing their absolute best to not directly answer a lot of questions, most of them loaded or too technical for actual comprehension.

We had the mortgage trader who was not sure what a stated income loan was. We had the division manager who really didn't see how packaging troubled loans with solid ones to get a good credit rating was a problem. We had the Senator who wanted to somehow get one of the execs to take the blame for the entire financial crisis. We saw the Senator who wanted to try to defend Goldman without defending them. We had hours of this stuff and more.

We also had a couple of interesting and informative points. One came when the trader who built the security that is at the heart of the SEC lawsuit against Goldman admitted he allowed the hedge fund manager to help designate the contents of that security knowing the hedge fund was going to bet against it be shorting it heavily. Sadly Claire McCaskill moved onto other matters rather than dive into that point. Full disclosure - I caught that when pointed out by FBN's Eric Bolling who made no excuses for Goldman and had good words for Levin. How refreshing.

Another was the blatant admission by a Goldman manager that he would select the bond rating firm that would give him the better rating. That also did not get the scrutiny it deserved

But the real look at how it works came when it was Levin and Blankfein. The heart of Levin's questioning was about the inherent conflict of interest that Goldman and all investment banks have.

In getting there, we had our peek behind the curtain. Levin came prepared with mountains of notebooks. Depositions, reports, e-mails, charts, tables and indices. And he made sure Blankfein had all the same documents. Frequently a staff member would whisper in Levin's ear when he had asked a question. Often Levin corrected himself.

When confronted with internal e-mails from his own staff calling securities crap and worse, Blankfein seemed to not know much. There was a lot of "I don't know," from the guy who supposedly knows it all. Blankfein actually said he had no idea that certain pension funds can only invest in AAA rated items.

And that is how it works on Wall Street and in Washington. They actually don't know. On purpose. Back just a few years ago, this was called "plausible deniability." Now it is business as usual.

Levin and Blankfein went around for quite a long time. I saw a CEO trying to look cooperative without cooperating and a Senator trying to look fair minded without any real fairness intended. Put them together and you had 2 masters hacking away at each other with carefully crafted and molded questions and answers.

When all was said and done, Levin made his point about conflicts of interest and intentionally selling junk. Blankfein managed to not actually admit to any of that while acknowledging it.

I recently posted that I thought the civil case should have been a criminal case. Now I am not so sure. I still believe that Goldman will settle for a pile of money and no admission of wrongdoing. But that will be a matter of convenience and not contrition.

But criminal? I just don't see it. Blankfein has a veritable army of lawyers to keep his firm right on the edge of legality. Not so much ethical, but legal. None of the stuff that came out today was an out and out violation of the law. Most of it was highly unethical and some of it just plain wrong, but not illegal. I have to correct myself from my earlier post on this point.

And therein lies the other peek at the inner working of Washington and Wall Street. They know exactly where the legality line is and pay platoons of people to keep them on the good side of that line. There is really no line for ethics to worry about. The powers that be in DC and on Wall Street know this. And they take full advantage of it.

You can't legislate ethics or morality. Either people are ethical and moral or they are not. That is where our political and business leaders fail us over and over. They trounce ethics and morals. Ignore them. But they always pull up right at the legality line. A false apology and back to business as usual.

We are the ethical and moral measures for these so-called leaders. We get to make that call. Whether it is at the ballot box in November or that proxy vote that you get with your stock holdings. We measure and rate them with our votes.

While I cannot vote to fire Lloyd Blankfein, I can vote to fire my elected officials, and I fully intend to do so. I think it is time to replace the whole lot of them. And that will put the Wall Streeters on notice that the new government is not going to play patsy and roll over. All of the bribes - sorry, campaign contributions - will be for naught.

As a member of the board of the USA (all 300 plus million of us) I move that we elect an entire new Legislative Branch. Do I hear a second?

Arizona and Immigration

As is well known by now, the state of Arizona has enacted a very tough and controversial immigration law. Unfortunately for all involved, nobody seems able to set aside the partisan junk ball long enough to really look at what this law means.

Politicians have drawn predictable partisan lines. Obama has already criticized it without offering help to Arizona. In fact he has asked the Justice Department to expend resources to look for illegality in the law. That is stupid. Tell the Justice Department to prosecute and deport the illegal immigrants, not launch a politically charged investigation. Even the Catholic Church in the person of Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles has weighed in with their own inflammatory language, calling it Nazi-like.

Before I start, it is important to acknowledge that Arizona has become the virtual epicenter for illegal immigration and seen its crime rate skyrocket. The people of Arizona have been pleading with the federal government for several years to help. None has been forthcoming. That is not the fault of any single administration, although one US Senator from Arizona's unreasonable anti-earmark stance may have cost the state. That, however, is not the point here.

One note - I will not use the term "undocumented alien." The correct term is illegal immigrant. The politically correct habit of softening the words is pointless.

Let's break the law down into its main components:

1) Illegal immigration is now a crime in Arizona, punishable in state court.

2) All immigrants are now required to carry documentation with them at all times. Failure to do so is now a misdemeanor.

3) Local and state law enforcement officers are now required to detain and verify immigration status where a reasonable suspicion (probable cause) exists that they are illegal immigrants.

4) Citizens are now entitled to sue local, state and federal law enforcement agencies if they feel the police are not adequately enforcing immigration law.

Before we look at each of the above, I have to react to the preemptive charges of profiling being leveled at Arizona state and local law enforcement officers by the political spitballers. These charges and accusations are simply offensive to the Arizona law enforcement community. Until there is evidence of profiling, accusing police of doing so is in fact (and ironically) profiling of a different type. The law enforcement officers in the state of Arizona are professional and dedicated. Accusing them of other behavior before it happens with no evidence is wrong and offensive to the very people sworn to protect all.

Similarly, the racism, Nazism and such charges are not even mildly helpful and only serve to further inflame an already hot topic.

Let's look at this law:

1) Illegal immigration is now a crime in Arizona, punishable in state court.

This is not really a problem at the Constitutional level. Many federal laws are repeated or enhanced by the states. Gun laws are a good example. New York State requires far more than just a federal background check to buy a firearm. The question here is what will Arizona do with those it arrests. They do not have the authority to deport an individual. That is reserved to the federal government by the Constitution. They can only incarcerate them or turn them over to the federal authorities. And, since the federal government has pretty much shown it cannot handle the situation adequately, that will leave Arizona to make some tough decisions. However, under the 10th Amendment, they get to make that decision.

2) All immigrants are now required to carry documentation with them at all times. Failure to do so is now a misdemeanor.

Again, an extension of federal immigration law, which requires all legal aliens to have their ID card on them and produce it on request by appropriate authorities. The issue here is for actual US citizens who cannot be required to carry ID. In this case, we have to trust the professionalism of local law enforcement. If (and I mean if) there are reported and documented abuses, then there is something to talk about. Cardinal Mahoney's unfortunate declaration on this subject is not only wrong, but somewhat ironic coming from an organization that routinely casts out those it does not like with zero due process and no chance of appeal. Perhaps the Cardinal's words could also be applied to the Church's refusal to give Communion to those it has political disagreements with.

3) Local and state law enforcement officers are now required to detain and verify immigration status where a reasonable suspicion (probable cause) exists that they are illegal immigrants.

This one is where the professionalism of law enforcement counts the most. Pretty much every officer knows what probable cause means. What has been bandied about are the unfortunate statements of goofball politicians talking about attire and appearance or the stupid declarations of those like Cardinal Mahoney. Well, those politicians, prelates and pundits are not sworn officers and will not have the burden of enforcement. This requirement is no different than the requirement to stop and examine suspected drunk drivers. Again, until proof exists of profiling or other abuses, one has to assume the professionalism of local law enforcement.

4) Citizens are now entitled to sue local, state and federal law enforcement agencies if they feel the police are not adequately enforcing immigration law.

This one is troubling. Established law clearly does not allow suing law enforcement for crimes not prevented. In fact, law enforcement is indemnified - and with good cause - from such legal actions. Allowing lawsuits for a perceived lack of enforcement not only creates a whole new genre of junk litigation, but will also consume untold millions of dollars from already stretched budgets. Allowing people to sue because they feel the police are not preventing crimes or adequately enforcing laws is a very dangerous and counterproductive precedent. In case nobody has noticed, our law enforcement agencies - especially at the local level - are already tasked with more than they can handle. Adding this threat of litigation harms their ability to act in accordance with all of the laws. In effect, this last bit would tend to cause local law enforcement to put this law first, just to avoid the lawsuits.

When all is said and done, the Constitutionality of this law is sure to land at the Supreme Court. Until then, it might be better to understand that the people of Arizona elected that legislature and governor and demanded action. The people of Arizona are the only ones that can change the legislature and governor. It is to the people of Arizona that the legislature is responsible. Not to me in Florida or Obama in DC or Mahoney in California. Not to the pundits in New York or the gadflies everywhere.

I would also add that I am a regular visitor to the Phoenix area and can only say good things about the state and its people. I cannot recall a single negative incident or encounter with local law enforcement. It is a very nice place filled with largely quality folks.

The fact that this law passed in the heat of a very hotly contested US Senate campaign is one to note, but that does not take away Arizona's rights under the 10th Amendment. To repeat a point from the top, the good people of the state of Arizona have been begging for help from the federal government with no response. So they turned to their state government for help. And they have gotten it. Whether it is what they wanted is up to them.

Before the rest of the nation starts the flaming spitball fight, it would serve us all to take a deep breath and see how the law is actually put into effect. At the very least, it is unfair to the good people of Arizona to make them the latest object to be used in the ever more disgusting partisan game. As the blog title says, it is not a game. It is governance.

And in this case, the governance of Arizona by Arizonans.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Get out of my oven!

Yesterday, while making dinner, I was hit by what has to be mommy government. I was roasting some potato planks in the oven when the thing decided that it had passed "normal broiling temperatures," and locked itself shut to cool down - with my potatoes inside and rapidly charring.

We pulled the manual out to look it up and discovered that this is one of those "built in safety features," that nobody really wants or is even aware of. I tried to research this and find out if there was some regulation in place, but one look at the various regs involving electric ovens and my eyes crossed.

Now I have no problem with reasonable safety regulations for the manufacture of an appliance. In fact, I am sure that some of those have prevented fires and serious injury. However, the idea that there is a "normal broiling temperature," which is not specified in the manual, is somewhat goofy.

I am certain that behind this is a set of government regulations and/or nonsense lawsuits. And that is where I draw a line on my kitchen tiles.

It is one thing to require that an installed electric oven have a tip-over preventing bracket. It is totally another to determine what is too hot. And yet another to not give me a way to override it.

I cannot say for certain that there is a government regulation involved, but I look at my charred potatoes as a metaphor for the ever-growing nanny state attitude that big government has. This is not a partisan thing. Looking at regulation dates, both parties have passed lots of silly regulations designed to protect us from ourselves.

Some of these make sense, like auto shut-off for gas appliances when the pilot goes out. Some are just plain invasive and not needed like locking my oven when it thinks it has gotten too hot. It is as if mommy government assumes we are all addled 6 year old children incapable of taking care of ourselves. The same government that cannot balance a budget, meet a deadline or answer a phone call.

The hazard of this nanny state thinking is obvious and scary. On the course we are now following, we will need government approval on the food we eat (salt content, fat content and so on), the TV we watch (V-chip), the clothes we wear (endless regulations), what we drive (CAFE standards), and so on. Mommy government wants to make sure that we cannot harm ourselves by accident and in the process is hobbling our ability to do anything.

The pending financial reform is a prefect example. There is a lot of good in there. Most of it deals with transparency for the investor. That is a good thing. The lack of transparency in derivatives was a part of what caused the "meltdown." However, there is a lot of not so good and some flat out bad.

The worst of it is the bailout fund. This in effect codifies and legitimizes "too big to fail." That is a very bad thing. It ensures that the biggest banks will be able to continue bad business practices and shaky investing with the comfort that mommy government will be there to pick up the pieces without penalty. By legitimizing the Paulson-Geithner-Bernanke lie about too big to fail, mommy government pretty much gives a pass to any large institution. Without the possibility of failure, success is meaningless.

After trillions of our dollars have been poured into this rat hole, Congress wants to set up a permanent payola plan for them. Instead of enforcing the existing laws and regulations, the plan appears to be to create new ones that do nothing different except create a pile of money that can be handed out with no review or authorization.

In the same way that my oven locked itself when it thought the temp was too high, this fund will pay out when some unaccountable administrator thinks the risks are too high for SELECTED companies. Right, selected. So if my company (admittedly tiny) is on the brink of failure, I am left out to dry. But if one of mommy government's selected favorites gets into trouble, they will have this money handed to them rather than pay the price of failure.

In case nobody is a student of history, Andrew Jackson vetoed the charter of the Second National Bank of the United States in 1832 with the following statement:

"Gentlemen, I have been watching you for a long time and I am convinced you have used the funds of the bank to speculate in the bread staff of this country. When you won, you divided the profits amongst you and when you lost you charged it to the bank."

History does repeat itself, and the bailout fund is just what Jackson railed against - socialization of the losses. In effect, preventing the largest banks from burning themselves, just like my oven.

Well, mommy government - stay out of my oven and get pout of the banking business. Let me burn my potatoes if it suits me and let the big banks fail if it suits them.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cowardice Central

It is not often that I comment on cartoon shows, but Comedy Central's recent decision to bleep the word Mohammed from South Park was an act of extreme cowardice in my opinion. Now, to be fair, this is based on comments on the South Park web site and not any official comments from the cowards at Comedy Central.

I am a sort of fan of the show. A lot of their humor does not work for me, but a lot does. I enjoy their mocking of celebrities, religion and society in general. I thought their take on sex addiction was epic.

Last week, the cartoon show featured a collection of religious icons including Jesus, Buddha and Moses. All were equally and brutally mocked. And it was funny, as intended. However Mohammed, while enumerated among the group was depicted as a box with the word "censored" in it. After the episode aired, South Park's creators received death threats from radical Muslims.

This in itself is an age old problem. The issuance of death threats at the drop of a joke. The proof of amazing intolerance by a few members of an otherwise decent and peaceful religion. And the ongoing acceptance and tolerance of these threats. The response to these has become one of acquiescence. Comedy Central is the latest to fold. This is not a matter of respect for a religion. South Park makes no such claim. In fact, it is hard to find any religion or institution they have not mocked.

In the newest episode that aired Wednesday night, Comedy Central not only continued their prohibition on showing Mohammed, they also bleeped the actual word. This is the same network that decided that "son of a b***h a**hole," is okay for broadcast. At first, I thought it was the show's creators extending a joke, but it was not. It was, as it turns out Comedy Central yielding to threats.

I am not a fan of the phrase "...then the terrorists win," but this is a prime example of just that. If by just issuing threats, they can void free speech, then who wins? Not us, that is for sure.

What makes it worse is that these threats of violence have been tolerated for centuries by civilized society. This is not the first time and I am sadly certain it will not be the last. At some point, someone other than a Danish cartoonist will have to stand up and refuse to yield to this thuggish behavior. At some point Americans will have to stand and say, "Go ahead and try."

Unfortunately the suits at Comedy Central apparently contain no spine. They yielded immediately. And they did not even have the courage to say so. They just folded right up. Apparently they forgot that the show in question is a cartoon featuring 4 elementary school kids. Apparently they forgot all about their right to free speech. Apparently they forgot that we do not yield to threats and such. All they thought was that they were scared of the nasty terrorists and folded like a cheap suit.

Well, this is just plain wrong. While our men and women in uniform are in harm's way halfway around the world defending these rights and freedoms, we have an obligation to respect and honor their courage by having some of our own. Comedy Central failed this test.

While most of us are not in harm's way and fighting real battles with real weapons in real uniforms, we are all, to a large extent in the fight. For those of us here, we need to stand up to the thugs and violent radical Moslems. We need to let them know that we as Americans do not fear them and will not yield to their intolerant demands. And if this means death threats, then it means death threats.

Had any of my Jewish ancestors yielded to these threats over the centuries, Israel would not exist. Yet the Israelis persevere and go to work every day under real threats from an enemy just over the hill. They fight every day and by simply standing up to the thugs, they win every day.

Comedy Central does a disservice to Americans by their shriveling cowardice. I only hope that some member of our government has the stones to say this publicly. To call out the thugs and violent extremists.

If they do not, then as much as I dislike saying it, this round will go to the terrorists. And that is just not acceptable, or to paraphrase South Park, "Oh my God, they killed free speech!"

"Those bastards!"

(Update: Since I wrote the above, the creators of South Park issued a statement saying that Comedy Central not only bleeped "Mohammed," but also the closing speech which was about not yielding to hate and intolerance and did not mention Mohammed at all.)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Barney's Kangaroo Court

So Barney Frank held another show hearing yesterday. This time, he gaveled in a hearing on the collapse of Lehman Bros. Because only by looking backwards can the Congress move forward. Given that there is now the bankruptcy auditor's report on Lehman, I had to wonder what the point was. After all, Richard "I know nothing" Fuld wasn't going to say anything of any significance given that he faces civil and - hopefully - criminal prosecutions.

Also featured in yesterday's waste of time and money were the three regulators who were supposed to know what was going on. They would be the ever incapable Bernanke, Geithner and Schapiro. And they could not be expected to have anything new or useful either. After all, they exist solely to protect their phony baloney jobs.

So what was the point?

Well, after 2 rounds of speeches disguised as questions it became obvious. Barney wanted another round of partisan finger pointing and sniping. The phrase "members on the other side if the aisle" was more common than any other. Not one member of the committee failed to jab at the other side of the aisle.

In the meantime, while the feckless members of Congress on the dais proceeded in their all too common partisan slap-fest, the 3 failed regulators got another free pass courtesy of Barney and company. In their testimony, none of those 3 took any responsibility or even attempted to point out their own agencies' failures. Looking at them, they resembled nothing more than one of those goofy "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" posters.

Bernanke claimed to know nothing. Geithner claimed to lack the authority and Schapiro claimed to have no regulations. All of which struck me as odd given the civil prosecution of Goldman.

By all accounts, Lehman cooked the books on a quarterly basis to hide their true financial condition. This was the "Repo 105" method where they transferred their debt off balance sheet to another company set up specifically for this and then brought it back after the quarterly reports were done. This is exactly what sent Enron execs to jail.

Yet, the 3 regulators claimed no authority to deal with it. In fact, today, Schapiro had the audacity to propose even more regulation to prevent what is already an obvious fraud. She seems to think that the existing regulations do not prohibit this, even though they clearly do prevent it.

And all of that said, I am stuck wondering which was the worst part of yesterday's episode of the Barney Frank show. The total shirking of responsibility by Bernanke, Geithner and Schapiro or the endless partisan sniping by the committee. If I have to choose, it is going to be the partisan sniping.

"The other side of the aisle" is a meaningless phrase when discussing events that affected all Americans. It is a waste and a travesty when discussing a large part of the cause of the economic mess we find ourselves in. See, recession and unemployment have no party affiliation. They hit Democrats and Republicans equally hard. All Americans are paying for this mess.

Yet, the Congress cannot seem to put the partisan nonsense aside and actually do their jobs. Jobs that they, unlike millions of good hard working Americans, still have.

So while the 3 failed regulators are a problem, it is the Congress from which the real problem arises. It is the endless partisan needling that paralyzes any recovery. It is the constant finger pointing and insult hurling that prevents any serious growth.

Come November, it is time to lay off all of them. Every Member of Congress that is running needs to be unemployed. At the very least, we will create 435 new jobs.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Civil Fraud?

According the the Wall Street Journal today, the Securities and Exchange Commission has charged Goldman Sachs with "Civil Fraud," for part of their role in the whole mortgage backed securities/collateralized debt obligation mess that was at the center of the financial crisis.

Civil Fraud? Why not criminal charges? Why not a referral to the Justice Department for an indictment? Well, it is simple and sad.

By going with civil fraud - the equivalent of a lawsuit - the kids at Mary Schapiro's SEC get to look like they did their job when they have not. By going with the tough sounding civil fraud method, Schapiro gives the thieves at Goldman an easy and painless out. Schapiro basically gets to look heroic while making sure her pal Blankfein never has to break a sweat on this.

Why? Because within the next 12 months, Goldman will quietly settle with the SEC for a relatively small sum and not have to admit any wrongdoing. That is what almost always happens in these "civil fraud" cases. And once the settlement is paid and the papers signed, Goldman can go right back to the same stuff they were doing, but this time with impunity. And you can bet that the settlement will somehow be paid with our money.

Had Schapiro actually done her job at any level and brought criminal charges against Goldman executives, they would have had to defend themselves in a public trial. No secret settlement deal (likely to be announced on a Sunday). None of this pointless "without admitting any wrongdoing" that is so popular among the financial regulators.

In effect, Goldman will be paying the government to go away. With Mary Schapiro's blessing. By not having to defend their criminal actions, Blankfein and his band of financial pirates can happily sail off and look for other victims to pillage.

Given that the "financial crisis" cost the taxpayers of this country trillions of dollars and millions of jobs, one would hope that the lazy regulators might wake up and actually enforce a law. Throw handcuffs on Blankfein and see how he looks in an orange jumpsuit.

I find is somewhat mystifying that a CEO can go to prison for an umbrella stand, but not for literally fleecing a nation by illegally manipulating markets to maximize profit at the cost of their own investors and clients. In case nobody remembers, the execs at Enron went to jail for doing pretty much the same things.

Yet Blankfein (Goldman), Fuld (Lehman), Schwartz (Bear), Lewis (BofA), Mozillo (Countrywide), Thain (Merrill) and the rest are going to get away with it if the ever lazy and incompetent Schapiro has her way. She has no interest in actually enforcing the laws she has sworn to uphold. Her interest is in protecting her friends. Just like Bernanke, Geithner and the rest.

See, they think and say that their first priority is to protect the banks and Wall Street pirates. Not so. Their actual job - were they to do it - is to protect us from them.

But that won't happen. Not with this already failed crew. They showed us that in 2008 when they all ignored Lehman's manipulations and Lewis' lies. Mozillo's amazingly corrupt practices. Schwartz's criminal declarations of fiscal health while his firm was on life support. Dimon's manipulation of government to enhance his firm at our expense. Schapiro's total ignorance of Madoff and Stanford's fraud.

This I put squarely at the president's feet. He kept Schapiro and the rest of the gang that couldn't regulate in place. He rehired them from the Bush administration. After their failure was obvious. He has allowed the regulators to continue to not do their jobs while seeking more regulation to be ignored.

I have said it before and will say it again. We do not need more regulation or new agencies. There are already more than enough laws, regulations and agencies. We need effective agencies, regulators and enforcers. Not the Wall Street CEO sycophants we now have. We need actual people of integrity in these positions and not recycled failures like Schapiro, Geithner and Bernanke. This is Obama's failure and only he as president can fix it by firing this lot.

I challenge the president to fire these losers and hire people that were not at the core of the meltdown. People that do not cower when a Blankfein or Dimon speaks.

And come November, we need a new Congress. One that will actually take these clowns to task. A Congress that will stop dragging CEO's to meaningless hearings held for the sole purpose of saying they held a hearing. A Congress that will drag Schapiro in and ask her bluntly, "So when do you intend to actually enforce a real law?" A Congress that will ask Geithner why he cannot use existing regulation. A Congress that will call Bernanke out for concealing the shell game the Fed has played with our money.

At this point, my attitude is that if they were in office in 2008, then it is time for them to go. All of them. Because they all knew the game that was afoot and they all ignored it, lied to us and then went home to stash their loot.

Come November, the most important qualification for elective office is to not currently be in elective office.

Come November, we the long suffering people will have to effect the change we want ourselves. One vote at a time at the ballot box.

Come November, the choice is ours. More of the same lies and diversions or a government that actually works.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Financial Reform - the New Partisan Idiocy

So the self-proclaimed leaders of Congress tromped down to the White House to discuss the financial reform legislation currently being slammed through Congress. And, predictably, both sides immediately abandoned the truth.

Pelosi called concerns over bailouts "laughable." How dare her. Seriously, how dare the false queen call our concerns laughable. What next? Cake? Even Obama is concerned over future bailouts and has asked for a bill preventing them and eliminating the whole "too big to fail" lie created by his financial advisers (more on that hypocrisy later.)

I wonder if Pelosi laughed at Obama. Probably. She has already thumbed her nose at the Constitution and abandoned her sole job as Speaker - to chair the House - in favor of cheerleading speeches on the floor of the House. Remember "I want to thank...." during Health Care? This is the same Pelosi that thinks any money spent on national defense is too much, but money lavished on her rich pals on Wall Street is

On the other side, the ever increasingly hypocritical McConnell complained of the bill setting up endless bailouts. Really? Now he cares? Roll the tape back to the 2008 TARP push. Who did the pushing in the Senate? McConnell. He was the one that talked about the collapse of the economy. McConnell was the one that said if we did not hand over trillions to the crooks on Wall Street, the economy would collapse. The same McConnell who now professes to dislike bailouts.

Dodd cooked this mess up. Chris Dodd, the man from Insuranceland. And it was cooked up quickly, incorporating ingredients from Geithner and Bernanke. Remember those 2? They are the ones that allowed the mess in the first place. The same 2 guys that abdicated their responsibilities as regulators. The same 2 guys that promised transparency and then fought it endlessly.

What needs to be regulated is Bernanke's Federal Reserve. Just last week we learned the extent of the Fed's purchases of "toxic assets" via the "Maiden Lane" vehicle created solely for the purpose of hiding the scope of Bernanke and Geithner's lies. The Federal Reserve now actually owns a shopping mall that defaulted on one of those mortgages. The Fed holds shaky mortgages on resort hotels around the workd, strip malls, failed housing developments and Lord knows how many sub-prime and alt-A notes. They don't even really know.

Bernanke secretly bought any and all. Part of the deal with their fair haired pseudo-hero Jamie Dimon was that the Fed would take all of the risky investments off of Bear Stearns' books and then gift Dimon with it at virtually no cost and with a clean balance sheet. At the time, Geithner was the principal regulator for Bear and Dimon's JP Morgan. Somehow, he managed to not notice or mention the movement of these assets to the Fed.

Yet, the proposed bill does nothing about this. It does not even address the growing problems with the Fed's bloated and shaky balance sheet. In fact, all it does is create a new regulatory authority. An unneeded one.

That should be the issue. Not Pelosi's "let them eat cake" attitude or McConnell's false concern about bailouts. The issue should be how did the regulators fail to see the problem coming and why are they still not enforcing existing law.

Ken Lewis should be awaiting trial. As should Fuld, Thain, Blankfein and Dimon. So should Paulson, Bernanke and Geithner for their hands in covering this up. They all broke existing law. Current law. Laws that are still being ignored by the regulators and Congress.

We need the existing laws and regulations enforced. Instead, we have a Congress again more interested in themselves. More interested in sound bytes and nifty hearings.

Speaking of those show hearings, why do we not have the failed regulators down there explaining how they failed in their jobs? Why do they even still have jobs?

That answer is easy. They still have jobs because the elected folks who are supposed to be on our side are not. Obama rehired all of them except Paulson. Dodd, Boehner, McConnell, Pelosi and the rest of the 530 failures on the Hill prefer to skewer bankers and investors rather than go after their pals in government.

This is not a partisan matter. This is a matter of a Congress that has failed time and again to seek enforcement of the laws they create. This is a matter of an administration that kept the same team that already blew it in place. This is a matter of an incompetent Fed Chariman and his pet Treasury Secretary.

We do not need this bill, nor do we need further regulation. At least not until someone explains why the existing regulations were not enforced.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Taxation Vexation

As one of the millions of self-employed, I dread taxes. We not only have to pay what the rest of the suffering masses do, but we also get slammed with the self-employment tax. Not being a financial whiz like Little Timmy Geithner, I don't have the privilege of "forgetting" that one. In fact, contrary to the claims of the now Treasury Secretary, Turbo-Tax repeatedly asks and reminds me about it.

So I did the government's bookkeeping and wrote a ludicrously large check (as compared to my recession hammered income) to Uncle Sam and sent it off. Like most taxpayers, I am not too happy about it. Of course, that is the half of us that actually pay taxes.

While reviewing the forms, I caught the news story about Exxon not paying any US taxes. I suppose I should be upset, but I assume Exxon is operating within the law. Needless to say, politicians are having a field day with this one. The same corrupt gang that wrote this obscenely convoluted tax code that allows Exxon to skate while requiring me to pay. So, I am not upset at Exxon. Nor any of the others that will not have to fork over a dime this year.

I am, however angry at those loons in Congress who set the table for the annual tax "roast and then claim to be upset about it." The same members of Congress that give themselves special deductions.

All of this got me to thinking what it is I don't mind paying for and what I do mind paying for. Here they are:

What I don't mind paying for:
National Defense
Law Enforcement (including jails)
Education (although the overblown costs for this are just disgusting)
Roads/Transportation (but not airports - they need to be privatized)
Consumer Protection (as in drug approvals and product regulation)
Arts and Humanities (seriously, I have no issue with this one)
A Safety Net (for the least fortunate who really do have nothing)
Pure Scientific Research
Parks and Forests

What I mind paying for and would rather not:
"Wellness" Programs
College Loans
Union Anything
Congressional Perks and Salaries
Postal Service (let them go private and duke it out in the free market)
AmTrak (Make them private)
Airline Protectionism
Hospitals (privatize)
Airports (again - privatize)
Sports Stadiums and Arenas
Pension Guarantees
The Federal Reserve (all of it - wasting my money)
Subsidies to private companies for anything
Cell Phones for all but the highest ranking officials

I am sure there are more for both lists, but I think this makes my point. We are paying for literally everything now from wooden arrows to private sector research projects. Not on either list are those things we get from government, but pay a direct fee for like trash pickup and water service.

What it boils down to is that we - the taxpayers - are pretty much required to foot the bill for stuff that we cannot ourselves afford and that we do not want. While we must pay our taxes (unless one is a government bigwig), we do retain the power to toss these free spending clowns out. And I do mean both parties. The GOP abandoned their fiscal conservatism for a decade and made a huge mess. Democrats took over promising to clean it up. What they really did was cover it with a blanket of fresh money. Our money.

Come November, tell them goodbye at the ballot box. Like any functioning company, we should fire the non-productive workers and replace them. And nowhere is less productive than Congress.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Acting Like Adults?

As soon as Justice Stevens has announced his retirement, I fully expected the flaming spitballs of hate to reach epic levels in the Senate. After all, a Supreme Court nominee is always a vigorous debate. And it should be. However, I am more than happy to say that I was incorrect thus far.

The media and the pundocracy have been using hyperbolic phrases that would lead one to believe duels were just around the corner. Much to the circling media's chagrin senior Republicans had a sudden outbreak of statesmanship. Most refused to even discuss the potential nominees until the president actually names one. While all promised a thorough review, they also promised a dignified one. Even the filibuster waving Kyl took a very professional stance, promising a review of the nominee's court decisions and other writings.

While the media pandering and ranting is certainly not helpful, it is their absolute right to look and sound like morons using terms like "battle lines," "court wars," "fight of the decade," and so on. Imagine the disappointment at MSNBC, Fox and CNN when the GOP refused to take the bait.

As I thought back on previous court confirmation proceedings, it dawned on me that almost all of the serious histrionics have come from Democrats. Bork, Thomas, Estrada, Alito and so on. I am not saying any or all were right or wrong for the court. That is the Constitutional duty of the US Senate.

What I am pointing out is that, while the Republicans in the Senate have certainly flung their share of trash around over Health Care and the rest, they seem totally capable of proceeding on the nomination in a dignified manner suited to the importance of a justice on the US Supreme Court.

In fact, even Justice Sotomayor received fair and appropriate treatment from the GOP Senators. Even those that voted against her for political reasons cited her excellent record as a judge.

To be fair, it has almost always been Democrats that step way over the edge on court appointments. Most famous is the treatment Justice Thomas received from Lieberman's committee. Robert Bork was brutalized. Estrada shoved aside for honoring attorney-client privilege. Democrats almost always want court nominees to opine on law, when they know full well that a good jurist will not express an opinion on any matter they might have to rule on.

This is not to exonerate Republicans completely. They will most certainly want to know about key issues and will almost certainly decry the lack of answers to opinion type questions. They will almost certainly try to stop any nominee for political reasons. That is the nature of the US Senate - one of the very reasons the Founding Fathers created our system of checks and balances.

But it is the approach they are taking now that is worthy of note and applause. At last, they are acting like adults. Mature adults, acting responsibly. It is a rare sight these days and one to be savored, especially when put to the backdrop of Chuck Schumer's screaming concern over carry-on baggage.

So, I applaud those GOP Senators that have urged a proper and dignified approach. That have refused to pre-judge a nominee not yet named. Like them, I eagerly await the named to come and look forward to a dignified approach to the nominee.

I only hope they remember this the next time a piece of legislation rolls in. Perhaps they can actually participate in the legislative process.

Monday, April 12, 2010

I forgot this in the last post

Looking over my last post on the airlines, I realized I left out one very important point: Government needs to stay out of this. Apparently Schumer wants to pass a law specifically prohibiting carry-on baggage fees. Well, he could not be more wrong. This is a matter for the free market to settle. Not the incompetent US Senate.

It is about time that Schumer and the rest of that useless gang on the Hill realized that they are not there to reactively regulate everything. And certainly not something as petty as airline baggage fees.

Let the passengers decide if they want this. If any of those fools on the Hill have even one minute of hearings on this thing, I say take the cost out of their paychecks.

Airline Fee Games

Perhaps one of the most entertaining stories of the last week has been Spirit Airlines' decision to start charging for carry on bags that have to go in the overhead compartments. The screaming and wailing was both predictable and silly. Let me first say that Spirit and the other air carriers can charge whatever they want. We, however, get to reply by simply finding another airline.

The real problem with this new fee? It further highlights the airline industry's inability or unwillingness to simply charge a fare that is based on their cost. For a very long time, the airlines have competed by lowering fares and lowering fares and lowering fares. No eye towards cost or profit. At least not a priority. In the course of cutting fares, they actually hurt themselves and now are looking to replace that revenue with these fees.

Some will look all the way back to deregulation of fares and such and blame that. Not so fast. It was the airlines' decision to offer below cost rates that led them here. And those costs include fuel, landing fees and the ever bandied about union contracts. All of those cost factors were ignored in the race to fill seats, even if they are given away well below cost.

It is only in the last year or two that the airlines decided to charge for checked baggage. That almost made sense. After all, checked luggage entails handling and staff. As someone that travels a lot, I generally check my bag. It is just easier. However, most travelers responded by trying to fit a week's worth of stuff into the overhead.

This, of course, led to the endless wait to get on and off the plane while some passenger attempts to jam their grand piano into the overhead to save the $25. And the airlines stopped verifying the size of carry on luggage lest they upset a passenger by enforcing a regulation. And passengers started bringing larger and more items on board.

Here is where, once again, the airline industry proves to be relatively bad at running an actual business. Rather than tack on all of these little fees, they could have simply raised the average fare a few dollars. Imagine if American Airlines (the innovator in baggage fees) had simply added $15 to every ticket sold instead of the checked baggage fee. Nobody except a handful of people would have even noticed, let alone made an issue out of it. After all, you still have to get where you were going.

But they didn't for fear the other airline might not raise the fare and so on. Even though there are limited numbers of flights to every location and the traveler really has little choice most of the time. In fact, they set about leaving fares artificially and sometimes ludicrously low. Not only low, but just goofy in some instances.

Here is a great example of goofy. I can go from Ft. Lauderdale to Dallas on a direct flight for the exact same fare that I would pay to go Ft. Lauderdale-Atlanta-Dallas. Look at a map and explain that if you can. Over a thousand extra miles and not one extra penny on the fare. I know - spoke and hub. But the direct flight simply costs less. Less fuel, less landing fees, less aircraft, less crew. Rather than charge me what it really costs, the wizards that run the airlines see no problem here.

And rather than simply raise all fares to compensate for fuel and other costs, they decided to start adding "optional" fees. Luggage, food and in at least one case, restroom access. Rather than understand the mindset of their customers and the general consumer objection to these little fees, they just blundered ahead.

And now the newest fee - Spirit's overhead compartment fee. What makes this all the more entertaining is watching the airline try to explain this stuff somehow. And what makes it even more fun is knowing that all they had to do was simply raise the price of the average ticket. No announcements, no press releases. Just raise the fare. Nobody would have commented and there would be no furor.

Airlines are running on a flawed business model that makes their primary product - seats on the flight - a loss leader while trying to recoup that with these nickel and dime fees. In other words, they continue to pretend to offer deals that are really sucker deals. Almost like the used car salesman who offers you the car for $5,000 plus a key charge, plus a charge for talking to you, plus a charge for the paperwork, plus a fee for the showroom decor and so on.

As an advertising/marketing professional, I can tell you without a flinch that consumers are far more accepting of an overall price increase reflecting known costs than nickel and dime "add-on" fees. Sure, nobody wants to pay more, but they will if it seems fair and appropriate.

Here is an example. About a year ago, Starbucks raised their prices about 5 percent overall. They did not issue a press release. The employees at the store simply said, "Well our costs went up." People complained for about 10 minutes. Then they ordered their beverage of choice. Now, imagine if they had decided to add a 25 cent cup usage fee or 30 cents for a carry tray for multiple drinks of 10 cents of a sugar packet. The screams would have been deafening.

Well, this is the new airline business model. Sell a discounted non-refundable seat and then charge for every little thing to make up the loss. It is only a matter of time until you are charged every time the flight attendant talks to you.

The airlines have now painted themselves into a corner with low fares and high fees. The joke - once you add it up, it costs just what it would if they charged what the seat was really worth had they simply raise dthe fare to a realistic level.

Friday, April 9, 2010

You Can Bank on the Lies

I just reread my post from yesterday and want to point out that I am not a financial professional in any way. To be totally honest, I don't really understand a good portion of the mumbo-jumbo uttered by the masters of deception in the financial industry. What I do know, however, is when someone is lying. And these guys have been lying at levels that would make Nixon blush.

This morning, the Wall Street Journal reports that the biggest banks - Goldman, JP Morgan, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, et al - have been manipulating their balance sheets to make their financial condition look better than it really is. To be specific, they are moving debt around at the end of the quarter for reporting purposes and then putting it back after the reports are published.

In other words, they are cooking the books to make investors and regulators happy.

Sound familiar? It should. Just a few weeks ago a report was issued pointing out that this is exactly the behavior that sunk Lehman Bros. The Lehman report even let us know that the liars at the top of Lehman had a named procedure for this - "Repo 105."

Well, it seems Mr. Fuld at Lehman was not alone in this sham of a scam of a lie. In fact, based on the Journal's report, it is a common practice. Even everyone's fair haired boy Jamie Dimon at JP Morgan uses this tactic to enhance the numbers. Considering that Dimon may be history's largest recipient of government largesse in the form of Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual with tax dollars guaranteed to back up any losses, this is particularly wrong.

Not illegal, mind you. Barely legal, yes. Unethical, yes. Wrong, yes. But legal. Apparently, the bankers and Wall Street kids have twisted the laws to the point where cooking the books is now legal. And folks wonder why the banks are spending millions on an ad campaign against any kind of new regulation.

Before I go on, let me simply say that I am not in favor of a new agency or extensive new regulation. I believe that we have a ton of regulations already. What we don't have is willful enforcement. What we have are lazy regulators, a complacent government, a corrupt congress and a blind Federal Reserve. We need to close some loopholes in the regulations, but that is all. No new agency, and not a total revamp of the regulatory morass.

Congress can stop with the bogus show hearings and get to work today on establishing a serious investigation. Not more hearings where the Fools on the Hill recite prepared 3 minute questions leaving no time for an answer. Not more of the "J'accuse" style hearings so popular. What we need and still don't have is a forensic style investigation. One run by folks not seeking reelection and not looking for a big job on Wall Street. All Congress cares about is the next election. The only way Congress could be more out of touch would be if they were literally blindfolded.

In a previous post, I suggested that Dr. Elizabeth Warren and Fox Business' Eric Bolling (also a lifelong investor by trade) head up the investigation. Why those two? Well, they are pretty much the only 2 voices that are honest about this stuff. Warren already heads a commission to oversee TARP. She has never once hesitated to call it the way she sees it. Bolling is literally the only financial reporter to be honest about the way his friends deceived a nation. In other words, honest folks that have no secondary agenda. It is not a matter of conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican. It is a matter of honesty.

Back to the machinations of the financial industry. One has to ask why this behavior is not being more strongly investigated. Why it took this long to surface. Well, it is simple. The so-called regulators at the Federal Reserve saw it happen, but decided it belonged to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC felt it was a Fed issue. Truth? Both are so deeply intertwined with the entities they are supposed to regulate, they cannot see the violations for the cocktails. Or, as I like to put it, both the regulators and the regulated all belong to the same club.

So when the seemingly heroic Dimon makes his case against regulatory reform, what he is really saying is that he does not want to lose his ability to manipulate the numbers his shareholders see. He does not want to admit that his seemingly solid company is no more solid than Lehman was. Same for Blankfein at Goldman. He keeps sending out letters and press releases talking about fixing things and being more "transparent" but he is not. While proclaiming transparency he is cooking his books, too.

As we approach the April 15 tax deadline, American taxpayers are reporting honestly their income and expenses. Why? Because the IRS - the principle regulator for personal finance - can and will find any cheating. As they should. Like it or not (and nobody does) that is the law right now.

But, for some reason, the large banks and Wall Street firms do not feel this obligation. Why? Because their principle regulators are not so interested in regulating or honest reporting. Why? Because Fed Chairman Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Geithner have been in on this little game all along. They knew about it back at the beginning. And if they suddenly take action, then they will have to recuse themselves at best - if not resign in disgrace - because they helped game the system for their pals.

This is not a partisan issue. Geithner was president of the New York Fed when the big banks were cheating and gaming the system. It was his job to regulate them. Yet Lehman, Bear and the rest were allowed to run wild. Paulson - the ever present architect of this lie - was Treasury Secretary. He was point man on the scam of a generation. And Bernanke? Well, either he is a total fool or simply a very dishonest man. Either way, he is not doing his job as regulator. In fact he constantly seeks to protect these banks by hiding their transactions and interest free borrowing.

All of them promised transparency. And all of them immediately sought to thwart that. Here we sit, 2 years later, and we know nothing more of what really went on. No criminal investigations. Not even the blatant stuff like Fuld and Schwartz lying to shareholders about their companies. Not even Ken Lewis, who actually admitted to lying and concealing the real costs of the Merrill deal.

Where is the administration on this? Well, they want all new regulations and agencies. Without even a clue as to what is needed. They seem to think that somehow creating a new agency will be a magic wand and simply stop the bad practices by its very existence. They are wrong. The people Obama has hired to look at this are all part of the same crowd that got us here. We don't need a new agency.

We need the existing ones to do their existing jobs. And that is exactly what the administration won't do. Point out the failure of government. Thus we still have Geithner, Bernanke, Schapiro, Rubin and the rest of the usual suspects. Why Obama appointed them is beyond me. They already had failed. So, in traditional government methodology, they got promoted rather than fired. Obama routinely points to the "previous administration." Memo to the president - you hired most of that "previous administration's" financial/economic team. It is now the current administration and still ineffective, incompetent and likely corrupt.

So again, I have to call for that independent investigation. If I am right about Bolling and Warren, they will proceed independently anyway. They do care about the truth and do care about transparency. They care about getting the truth and creating an environment where I can safely invest and not worry that some Jamie Dimon type is really just scheming to take my money.

Until there is an open investigation outside the Congress and administration, we should wait. One of the biggest failures of government over the decades has been the tendency to leap before they look. To do something - anything - so they look good. Well, right now, government doesn't look any too good. Nor do the banks.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Meanwhile, Back at the Banks...

While the politicians and media are all wrapped up with their traditional silliness ranging from the obsession the media has with Tiger Woods (just another pathetic excuse for a human who cheated on his wife) to Jon Kyl's promise to filibuster the non-existent Supreme Court nominee, the banks and Wall Street have been happily continuing to rig the system and prvent an actual investigation of just what happened.

Before I get there, I have to comment on the 2 distractions above. The media obsession with this sad excuse for a man, this adultering pig is simply nauseating. And the delicacy with which it is handled is baffling. The same media that will call folks racists and fascists without a flinch seem unable to call Woods what he is. An adulterer. Plain and simple. He cheated on his wife. Why this is somehow the lead story everywhere is bad enough, but the fact that the cowardly media (all sides) prefers terms like 'womanizer,' 'philanderer,' and the ever ludicrous 'sex addict,' to the more accurate adulterer eludes me. Call things what they are and stop the excuse factory. I will happily say it - Tiger Woods is a disgusting pig that cheated on his wife repeatedly. A serial adulterer. All this clown is addicted to is the adulation of his fans.

As to Kyl's promise of a filibuster, this is perhaps the final proof that the Senate is now officially pointless. There is no vacancy on the court and no nominee to discuss. So why would Kyl make such a stupid and empty threat? Because he has no interest in governing and lots of interest in pulling in campaign cash. Democrats should not be happy or feel somehow vindicated. Democrats invented the concept of skewering Supreme Court nominees with Bork and Thomas. All Kyl is doing is elevating the art of silliness that seems to pervade the Congress these days. Threatening to stop a nomination that has yet to be made for a vacancy that has yet to exist? Excellent job Senator! You have managed to turn nothing into something just to avoid the simple fact that this Congress is a failed body and a corrupt one. Kudos to to the man with the giant pile of poop.

And while these distractions dominate, the folks on Wall Street and at the big banks continue to lie and threaten. Earlier this week, Wall Street's new fair haired wonder boy, Jamie Dimon (who was gifted Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual) stated that any new regulation might cause credit to become unavailable. In case Dimon has not noticed, credit is still hard to get and getting more difficult. What Dimon meant was that regulation would hamper his ability to continue to lie to shareholders and the public.

What he really meant was that he and his cohorts had invested a lot in corrupting and baffling the existing regulators and they did not want to have to actually follow the rules. If they followed the rules, why the fear of a consumer protection agency for financial institutions. As we all know, the law abiding need not fear the police.

And today, the liars from Citi stepped up and apologized for what happened there, while claiming to not know about it. Well, Mr. Prnice and Mr. Rubin, how could you not know there were tens of billions of dollars in risky assets on the books? Because someone said so? Aren't you supposed to know this stuff? Aren't you supposed to have independent auditors look at it? Or are you simply lying some more to avoid admitting that you made a walloping huge paycheck out of trashing an entire economy.

What Prince and Rubin really mean is "We knew, but we were making a lot of money and really didn't care all that much about anything else." What they are really saying is "We are so sorry we got caught."

And therein lies the real problem. Nobody has been caught. No investigation. No forensic examination of who did what. As long as people like Ken Lewis, John Thain, Lloyd Blankfein, Alan Schwartz and Bill Fuld are able to simply lie and not get called out, the system will continue to fail the investors and depositors. These guys lied endlessly. And boldly. And, apparently, without penalty.

As long as Geithner and Bernanke are running the regulatory scheme, there is no regulation. These are the same 2 that let it run wild in the first place. The same guys that were in on every Sunday decision. Every decision to send my money to the crooks on Wall Street to cover their bad bets. Somehow and for some inexplicable reason, Obama left these 2 in charge after they proved their incompetence.

And still no real investigation. No independent look at what, how, where and why. We already know who. Geithner and Bernanke fear an actual independent investigation. They know that it will inevitably point out their failure. The bankers fear an investigation. They know it will inevitably point out their lies.

And the administration and Congress? They just hope it will go away. They fear the bankers. They don't fear us, though. And come November, we need to remember that they work for us and fire them. All of them.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Oil, Salaries and Silliness

As I was watching a favored financial show this morning, 2 debates jumped out at me. Both seemed relatively silly and after a little thought, I decided both were silly.

First up is the price of oil on the various markets. Well, guess what. The price is up. And talking heads are lining up to blame "speculators." Maybe they need to define what a speculator is before spouting off. From my perspective, speculator is another name for an investor. And, like all investors - large and small - they want to to see their investment increase in value.

Since the topic is oil prices, all manner of goofiness intrudes. The most common thread in these debates is the intentional running up of the price by 'speculators.' Well, that is just plain goofy. Any object is only worth what someone will pay for it. Period. You may think your fancy watch is worth $250,000, but until someone hands you a quarter-million, it is not worth anything. Same with oil futures.

They are only worth what someone will pay. If I hold oil futures that I paid $75 a barrel for, and want to sell them at a profit, then I need someone willing to pay more than $75. Basic market principle. If buyers only want to pay $70, then I get to choose to keep them or trade them at a loss. If buyers want to pay $80, then I get to make a profit. But, until I actually sell them, they are not really worth anything to me other than a barrel of oil.

And that is what drives oil prices - a willing buyer. There is no evil plot to raise oil future prices. There are, however, willing investors to pay the current price. Otherwise it would fall. Since the price seems to be rising, I can only assume that there are willing buyers at the current price.

If nobody wanted to pay the price being asked, then the price would drop. Same with everything from milk to gold. To somehow single out oil because of its importance and claim that price rises are somehow artificial is to basically deny the reality of a capitalistic society. Oil futures are traded on an open market. Sellers and buyers come together and agree on a price. Now, the reasoning the buyer has for paying that price is varied and, frankly, not significant.

Much like everything else in our society, oil is more about hyperbole and blather. A political point to be scored and recorded. Reality - just another commodity on the market. Traded daily and priced daily. Don't like the price of oil? Don't buy it. Simple market economics.

Which brings me to paychecks. Reports out over the last day or 2 indicate that Wall Street and the banks are set for a record total payroll. Thee will be much screaming and pontificating about the evils of high pay or the virtue of high pay. Either way, it is a silly debate. Unless a firm is still on the public dole (TARP, et al) then what they pay their people is between employee and employer. In the case of public companies, the employer side includes the shareholders.

And there will be the usual moaning about CEO pay, trader pay and so on. Who cares? Does anybody bemoan the leviathan salaries celebrities and athletes pull down? Not like the CEO pay screaming. And who does this screaming? Well paid TV talking heads. If you ask one of them how much their paycheck is, they won't tell you. They will tell you it is none of your business. And it is not. Nor is anyone's paycheck a topic for public banter - unless that paycheck is somehow funded with tax dollars - be they public employees or TARP babies.

But the yelling will commence and go on. Pointlessly, I might add, since no company seems to set its pay practices based on public opinion. Nor should they. As long as they are using their own money, companies get to pay their people what they want. That is how it works in the private sector.

Which brings me to my last point this morning - public employee pay. This is our business since it is our money. There was a time when the phrase "public servant" had a meaning. It meant someone working for the government at a lower than average pay level because it was public service. No more.

Government workers at all levels are out earning private sector employees. When you add in the benefits packages government workers get, the difference is startling. It would be all too easy to simply blame Obama and go to lunch. But this has been building for years and years. Not just at the federal level. State and local are just as bad or worse.

Now Congress wants to get into the act. The same Congress that automatically gets a pay raise every year unless they vote not to. The same Congress that earns around $175,000 each for what is effectively a part time job. Yes, part time. They only actually meet 40 weeks a year and then only 3 or 4 days a week. Talk about overpaid.

This is really a simple one. Freeze all government salaries until they get their budgets under control. Including the endless flow of perks and privileges to the 530 members of Congress. Them most of all. They created this mess - let them suffer the price for it.

Better yet, come November, lets fire the lot of them.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Of Thin Skins

As the political discourse in this country continues to degrade into a schoolyard mud fight, one thing becomes more and more apparent. Our politicians, all of whom seem fully capable of launching insult after condemnation after slur also seem increasingly incapable of tolerating any directed at them.

Once upon a time, in a land right here, when a politician launched an attack, they expected and were able to handle the inevitable reply. They knew that the price of low ball politics was to be subjected to the same. Not so much anymore.

Now, we have a new breed of politician. One I call the bold coward. Those lovely elected officials and party operatives that freely and constantly sling mud. The ones that cannot utter an entire sentence without somehow slipping in an insult or 2. Yet, these same bold insulters become whimpering cowards when they are on the other side of the insult.

For 8 years, Democrats attacked President George W. Bush as unelected, selected, stupid, racist, and yes, a Nazi. And for 8 years, Bush withstood all of that with nary a whimper. Sure the party folks made noise. At the same time, the Republican led Congress was able to tolerate their share of insults. So were the Democrats.

While the nature of the politics grew uglier, at least they were all able to take what they dished out.

Somewhere along the line, that changed. The majority in Congress passed from corrupt Republicans to corrupt Democrats. And in that change, the ability of these self-proclaimed adults to take an insult evaporated. Sure, they could still dish it out, but they could no longer take it.

By the time we got to the 2008 election, politicians had become fragile china dolls who appear to shatter at the first sign of an insult. Oh, they can still dish them out, and more vile than ever, but they can no longer take them. Every insult, every comment, every negative remark became a cause unto itself, as if the mere hurling of an insult was somehow an evil act - but only to the recipient.

Nothing is quite as illustrative of this new syndrome as the now obligatory "president as Hitler" imagery. I personally find it detestable and would not use it. However, our Constitution guarantees the right to use such imagery, and as much as I dislike it, I defend it.

For 8 years, Democrats/Liberals used the Bush as Hitler stuff. They reveled in it. And for 8 years Republicans/Conservatives complained that it was wrong and inappropriate. They talked about putting our troops at risk by undermining a war time president. Words like sedition and treason were flung about. Democrats pointed to the First Amendment only to have the reply about aid and comfort to the enemy.

Then came 2008. Now, Republicans/Conservatives are using the Obama as Hitler imagery. It is still wrong, still inappropriate and still Constitutionally protected. But now, Democrats cry foul and Republicans point to the First Amendment.

In other words, a big steaming pile of self-righteous hypocisy.

Both sides were able to dish it out all day, but neither seems able to accept it with grace.

I am reminded of a situation I was in in 2004. I was attending the NRA Convention in Pittsburgh on behalf of a client. As is usually the case, anti-gun rights protesters has lawfully set up their protests outside. During the Convention, a reporter asked me what I thought about allowing the protests. I replied that it was a sign that America was healthy. That, while I disagreed with them, I respected and defended their right to lawfully protest. And, in fact, I found it heartening that our country allowed this. Well, that was one frustrated reporter. I failed to give him the fiery retort he needed for his broadcast. I failed to hurl an insult back. And I took the insults from the anti-rights folks in stride. After all, they do get to have an opinion, too. The report never aired. Not enough meat on those bones.

Well, in the ensuing 6 years, it has become the standard reply to cry foul, whimper about nastiness and then hurl an insult.

A serious case in point is the accusation of racism/sexism. This has now become the standard reply. Don't like Obama? Racist. Don't like GOP Chairman Steele? Racist. Don't like Pelosi? Sexist. Don't like Palin? Sexist. And so on.

Is there racism and sexism in America? Of course there is. Only an idiot or a liar would say otherwise. However, it is not the driving force it is made out to be, nor is it the basis for the preponderant majority insults and anger. The real basis for the anger is the mismanagement of our nation. By both sides. Americans are angry about bailouts. Angry about deficits. Angry about Wall Street and the banks. Angry about the economy. But mostly, angry about the endless sea of lies.

Here is a hard truth for most of the political coward class to swallow - most Americans don't like any of you. Not racist, sexist or any other '-ist.' We just don't like the way you run our country. This applies to both parties. My problems with Obama are issue based, the same way as my problems with Boehner are issue based. I could not care less of they are purple with diagonal pink stripes. It is what they are doing that I don't like.

So when an Eric Bolling (Fox Business) goes after the administration, he is doing so because he disagrees with the policies they have in place and Bolling's perception of Obama's stewardship. And, likewise, when a John Stewart (Daily Show) goes after Steele, it is over policy and stewardship. Not race. Not even close. Neither Bolling or Stewart are racists. They are simply expressing their opinions.

Who cares if a member of Congress shouts out during a speech? Seriously. So what? Yet, this gets more media attention than the ongoing investigations into members of this horribly failed Congress for corruption. One hyperbolic speech about Republican Health Care ideas being fatal and we forget that members of the Congress routinely lie about the money they claim to not be taking.

Perhaps if more of the political class could take an insult without running home to mommy, we might accomplish something. And if they cannot, then let them run home and stay there. We need adults in charge and not whimpering cowardly bullies.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

And the game resumes unimpeded

So the Health Care thing passed and was signed. Did that slow the endless flinging of insults back and forth? Nope. Did it even mildly lessen the exaggerated claims by both sides? Nope. In fact, it intensified them. Let's look and laugh before proceeding:

Democrats maintain that spending what will likely be trillions will somehow save us money. Right. And overdrawing my checking account will somehow pay off my mortgage. Seriously Nancy, we are not that stupid. They also continue to soft pedal the individual mandate as somehow a good thing, even though individual mandates are almost always a bad thing. Think poll tax, except bigger and badder.

Republicans continue to bray about a government takeover of the health care system. Yeah. Except for the obvious fact that the law actually props up the private health insurance industry by establishing exchanges where these private companies can sell their policies. The only difference between the New York Stock Exchange and these insurance exchanges is what is being traded. Remember NYSE determines what can be traded there.

Perhaps my personal favorite is the contention that members of congress and the president should be required to join the "ObamaCare plan." What plan? That obvious silliness aside, I happen to agree that members of Congress should have to shop the actual private health insurance market. Just like I had to.

The President of the United States is another matter. Regardless of who the president is, I want her/him to have the best of the best. As it is right now, the president has military physicians assigned. As it should be. And former presidents deserve whatever we can give them as thanks for a thankless and fairly brutal job.

OK. I am hoping this is my last piece on Health Care. We need to move on to other issues that are still pending. Other things that will affect us more directly and rapidly than the health care thing.

Like oil exploration. This one seems almost scripted just for me. A president who was opposed to offshore exploration and drilling in and near the US announces that he has looked at it again and changed his mind. Right. Obama announced that the Republicans were right about this. Not in those words, of course. Heaven forbid any politician credit the opposing party with anything. However, it seems to me that this is a lot more flexible and open to ideas than the GOP claims.

So what happens? Spitballs flung immediately and steadily. The GOP in the person of several (R) members of that disgusting body known as Congress immediately yelled "flip-flop." These are the same lame-brains that were yelling, "Listen to our ideas." Now that Obama has, they need to condemn their own ideas. Some called it a fake. Some said it didn't go far enough. And some even complained about lawsuits yet to be filed by private organizations as if Obama controlled them. Apparently, "Drill, Baby, Drill," only counts if a Republican says it.

Democrats? Oh, grow up Democrats. This is no longer the 1960's. Oil is not going away anytime soon. And like it or not, American needs oil. We can buy it from hostile Arab nations or try to use what we have here. Almost immediately after Obama's announcement, the condemnations were rolling. Seemingly adult Democrats reacting as if struck physically. And by what? by a president governing an entire nation and not just the Democrat part.

There is an old chunk of political wisdom that I learned from Hubert Humphrey - if both sides are angry, then it must be the right thing. Well, both sides are angry, which leads me to think this makes sense.

Let's look at Obama's energy stuff - nuclear power plants (long the Dems' most hated idea) and now offshore exploration. Both ideas called for by Republicans in the 2008 election and now condemned by the exact same Republicans when enacted by a Democrat president. And the Democrats? Well, they still want that magic energy solution. And nothing else. They condemned the nuclear and the oil decisions.

Democrats need to take a much firmer grasp on current reality and stop the dangerous pretense of creating a utopia by simply demanding one. The endless call for "clean, renewable energy" sounds great. Except for one thing. It does not yet exist in a form that is affordable for the average American. And Cap & Trade is just stupid right now. We can ill afford to further constrain energy companies in the fantasy name of "carbon emissions."

While research is vital and important, so is a continuing energy resource. Stopping further oil development in lieu of a not yet existing solution is crazy talk. So is condemning the idea of expanding oil exploration simply because of the party affiliation of the person who called for it.

Republicans, who have spent the last year crying that Obama didn't want to hear their ideas now complain when he does. Pick one, kids.

Both sides need to take a long time out in the corner until they learn to play well with others. That is exactly what the Congress is. 530 (as of today) kids who do not play well with others. I suggest we treat them as such.