Monday, March 28, 2011

Ebay and Paypal on Agnosticism and Plaigiarism

Heard in an interview on CNBC radio: "We are agnostic about how a customer funds a PayPal account." -CEO of Ebay/Paypal, John Donahoe.  That is quite a turn of phrase, using that word "agnostic" in a business sense. Quite literate, I would say. His point was that a customer could fund the PayPal account using credit cards, debit cards, banks, etc. Ebay didn't care which. Mr. Donahoe was explaining that Ebay has acquired some companies that will help them move more into brick and mortar payment transactions. The idea is security and PayPal wants to be the holder of your wallet, so no one will steal it.

First, the turn of phrase is so unique, is Mr. Donahoe that brilliant? Well, no. Just eleven days before in this article:  "The benefit to the services mentioned above [PayPal is one mentioned above] is that they are all account agnostic—it doesn't matter whether you have accounts with Visa, American Express, Bank of America, ING Direct, or any other financial institution. "   Quite a nice phrase that! Mr. Donahoe must have committed it to memory and then it just popped out of his mouth like it was his own, uncredited.

Secondly, agnosticism towards payment methods really doesn't mean PayPal would be favoring a type of payment as PayPal does when it nudges a customer to use bank accounts and presumably save PayPal a transaction fee with the credit card.

When trying to add funds on PayPal, this is what I get:

Agnosticism on a very limited scale. Nudge nudge, psst use your bank account, not your credit card. There is no option I can see for that.

When buying from a store, maybe you can use your credit card?

I have a $4 balance. It HAS to be used first. No exceptions to this. Ummm. What about my credit card? Only if the funds are not available in my bank account? That's not agnostic. Notice the small insignificant blue colored link "change" right by payment methods. It is not included as an option in the list of options (actually there is only one button signifying no choice, just move on), "Change" is disguised as a link. But here I could change my payment method THIS TRANSACTION ONLY to my credit card. There is no provision for making a credit card the primary source for the future. Your bank account must always be your primary source. I am forced to remember to click the little blue "change" each time. In the beginning you had to have a bank account to start a PayPal account. I think it might be different now. My advice, don't put a bank account on PayPal no matter how many times they nag you for it. The website is designed to nudge you in the right direction (bank account) and PayPal nudges like an enforcer for a protection racket. And, if you don't have a bank account listed they nag you like Lieutenant Columbo for you to add one. They used to be even slimier making the insinuation that you were not covered by PayPal's automatic transaction insurance if you didn't use a bank account. "Geez, it would be a shame if something were to happen to your fine establishment's brand new HD TV set."

Agnostic towards credit cards? I think it looks a little more like a modified atheistic approach towards certain types of payment methods. But that phrase John plagiarised sounded pretty darned good. In fact, I kind of wonder whether that article 11 days before started the whole acquistion cycle. Perhaps the whole business strategy is borrowed.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Hats Off

Heard on CNBC radio on the Fed's announcement of quarterly news conferences: "Hat's off to the Fed on this transparency."  "Well, you know I think Chaiman Bernanke wanted more transparency from the beginning."

Ok, it's not hard to guess why the Fed is willing to introduce more transparency with concrete details of the $3.5 trillion secret Fed loans about to come out. The anti-Fed group will be having a field day. Like Saudia Arabia the Fed is making concessions in advance of the uprising.

If Chaiman Bernake actually wanted transparency, why would he hide the $3.5 trillion in loans? Why, I suppose it was because the public was about to vote for the Presidency and this would have actually become a campaign issue, ie., it would be transparent to the voters. It would have been a transparency that would have insured that every last American would have known the level of financial crises being passed on from the outgoing administration.

Hats off with pom poms shaking to CNBC's transparently cheerleading comments.


In the latest round of union busting since President Reagan's efforts, Reagan International airport doesn't have enough flight controllers to avoid the recent sleeping incident. That is bittersweet irony, surely. We might be able to cut staff at many airports since two planes landed fine without a controller. In this one person midnight shift, do you suppose the person gets 15 minute breaks and just leaves the station unmanned, say, during breaks in the flight schedule? Does the lone controller eat a meal at the radar screen or just leave things at prescheduled slow times hoping there won't be some unforeseen emergency landing needed? It is fairly remarkable to think about. Surely no liquids must be allowed during this shift anyway, because when nature calls particularly loudly, what would happen? A call down to the rental car folks to take the helm for a minute or two? Depends, I guess.

Salt Problems

More Japan nuclear problems:  from having had to pour sea water into reactors salt buildup on rods may stop water's cooling ability which could cause rods to melt, causing... etc etc etc.
Oh, for the days when a meltdown was "just a meltdown".

Just as in 3 Mile Island and Chernobyl, the events are fluid and unpredictable. Anyone that says they know something is just guessing. The only thing to know is that you can't possibly know.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Japan: A Chip Off the Old Block

" unhealthy alliance between regulators and power plant operators."  Underscore the word "unhealthy."

Thankfully things are looking up over there except in the trust category. Trust is just another word when it comes to making money.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

From Worse to Bad

I usually get my news from Google news. Headlines have been abysmal until just the other day when the three news stories highlighted were Japan got electricity to it's cooling systems, the UN gave it's approval to the no fly zone and enforcement thereof, and the Wisconsin law was temporarily put on hold by a judge. Wow, a trifecta, well temporarily.

Now Obama is under attack from the extremes of both parties. CBS online asks if the President's move is constitutional. I don't know... the last President I checked took that Commander in Chief stuff to stratespheric levels. And didn't the War Powers Act, intending to limit presidential powers after Nixon, still allow the President to bomb the heck out of anyone he wanted to for 90 days. I think he has to inform congress. Why ask if it's unconstitutional?  That's just entertainment.

Just a while back Obama's adminstration's foriegn policy was on the ropes because he didn't strike quickly enough in Libya. That's entertainment!

Plus, we haven't declared an actual war since World War II. I remember filing catalog cards for books on the Vietnam War that instead had the subject "Vietnam Police Action." No kidding. The Korean War was a police action.
 Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) told Hotsheet today that it's an "indisputable fact" that President Obama committed an impeachable offense by authorizing a military attack without congressional approval.
"The next question is what does Congress do it about it," Kucinich said, adding that he hasn't said he's introducing a resolution for impeachment.  source
Hmmm. Impeachment already?

Some Republicans, meanwhile, are also calling for congressional approval if America is going to war, among them Sen. Richard Lugar. GOP Rep. Walter Jones has complained that Congress has effectively been "neutered."  source
Well, duh, yeah, You guys were effectively neutered about everything under the sun when votes in the Senate came to need 60 votes every time. It's permanent filibuster. The fringes of the Democratic Party came out of the woodwork for every last vote even when when the Dems had a super majority. The way you guys get along, neither party can effectively pass anything of substance. Heaven forbid we actually need you for something important. Just saying...

sweN xoF  I was surprised to read an article by a Fox News tech guy that criticized free market forces. Am I dreaming?
"Of course you'll hear plenty of other cliches as Wall Street attempts to defend the acquisition -- from which it will glean hefty profits -- including that AT&T had to "buy it or build it." That's a telltale phrase used by companies to defend an overpriced acquisition. Unfortunately, you may be paying for it in the future."
How did this guy get on the Fox News website? When did profits become bad in our free market system? Clearly the underlying cause cannot be a lack of government regulation or any flaw in the free market.

AT&T needs T-Mobile for more network infrastructure (as well as the sliver of bandwidth T-Mobile owns) to help it's customers with their bandwidth problems on their Apple products, and to get more coverage in rural areas. Having to compete with Verizon's newly successful push into smart phones makes this takeover of T-Mobile a good thing to do for AT&T. It's just a lot easier to provide services and goods to customers if a company is bigger. A company usually can also provide customers better services if the competition is trampled or annexed. What does this Fox techie want, the government to step in and stop this acquisition?

I'm being mostly facetious. The Fox guy is correct. Less competition will mean higher prices down the road for consumers. The stock price for Verizon went up, not down. Why?  Less competition from little guys and Verizon has effectively shown it can compete with AT&T. So, now, Verizon can have a better chance of raising prices with the competition thinning out. Also, this means that the third true big guy, Sprint, might be looking to further thin out the competition to build itself up to become an effective player with the new bigger guys on the block.

Smart phones shook up the cell phone market a great deal and the little companies, they just can't keep up with the big ones. Capitalism usually leads toward monopoly, it is one of my never punctured beliefs. Government regulation will probably help lessen the impact of this consolidation of companies by imposing requirements for AT&T before the acquisition can be finished. They might have to divest themselves of some customers, or something, to satisfy the FCC. These will be small enough concessions for AT&T to handle while keeping their eyes on the prize -- less competition, more power to compete with Verizon. Having lost their monopoly on the Iphone while at the same time encountering stiff competition from Verizon's Android :

AT&T suddenly buys T-Mobile. AT&T is very familiar with monopolies, whatever their flavor.

Good Judgements

Obama is criticized by congressional Republicans for not acting in Libya quickly enough, then criticized by Republicans for acting too quickly because he didn't consult congress. What he did do was get the international support we never had for Iraq. Days before, when it looked like UN support was all but impossible, the press was digging a foreign policy grave for the policies of the Obama administration.  If you can't see it by now, Obama acts deliberately, carefully, and pragmatically and is usually right in the long run.

And finally finally finally we are back to important economic news!!!  The Fed will release the detailed records of the 3.5 trillion dollars of hidden money they used to stop international financial collapse during bailout one. link The Supreme Court did not side with the financial industry possibly because they have no use for political donations. Unfortunately politics is not out of the equation as Fox News and Bloomberg seem to be very interested in the information. At first glance, I would say the Tea Party is the reason for this. Like I said before, many of the Tea Party folks I met in the beginning seemed to really hate the Bush era bailouts. But assuming the Fed looked at the numbers and correctly loaned out the 3.5 trillion in hidden funds (we sure don't want anyone to panic about anything) a depression of immense magnitude must have been avoided, lessened, evaded or delayed. To me this was the story no one looked at when we first learned of the huge amount of money needed to right the ship. Perhaps, with embarrassing details about specific financial organizations, the story will have more potential of reaching the general public.

But, my suspicion is that there are things that might well cause the Fed itself a lot of embarrassment (secrecy about committing our country to 3.5 trillion in loans not being bad enough on it's own) after being scrutinized by the Fox News spotlights. Tea Party agenda does seem to be the abolition of central planning which the Fed's control of the money supply represents in the strongest of ways, and have this planning replaced with anarchy, otherwise known as laisez faire capitalism. And Fox News looks more and more like the Tea Party.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Known and Unknown

Rumsfeld's book is so far not nearly as sleep inducing as George W. Bush's. I'm impressed so far. His website has lots of capabilities that actually makes the George W. Bush Library website look a little humdrum.

George W. Bush Presidential Center:
The Rumsfeld Papers:

While the general glossing over techniques are also present in Rumsfeld's book, they seem much more effective. Rumsfeld portrays himself much better as a man of ideas caught up in events. President G. W. Bush in his book seems to lack the "man of ideas" part of that equation.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Japan nuclear crisis, Pt. 2.

People panic even in faraway places where they are basically safe and don't need to panic. Iodine is hard to find on store shelves. People are ineffectively stockpiling iodized salt (this would do no good.) These are the stories on the Japan nuclear disaster in the press today. Meanwhile there are articles that try to calm people, (readers and viewers that were previously told about the clouds of radioactivity heading their way) stating that "This is no Chernobyl"   

Or there is this idea that the fears outweigh the risks:  It's really not difficult nor expensive to buy a bottle of iodine, but...  they want us to believe that Chernobyl was not as deadly as popularly believed to stop people from what? Buying iodine? Oddly, the automobile breaking systems on Japanese cars are also probably not as deadly as popularly believed. If you have ever heard that audio recording of the family that died trying to get on the freeway... you know the visceral nature of fear.

The idea that fears now outweigh the risks is on the exact opposite tack from the early stages of the crisis. Didn't the risks in the beginning (risks that actually became more and more apparent as time went on) outweigh the fear, rather than the other way around? People's fears were calmed by a belief in their government's statements that downplayed the crisis. Remember the workers who cleared the rubble after 9/11 and their health problems? I think possibly here is another example of how the risks outweighed the fears. These were fears that were certainly not fanned by New York officials who knew the risk, knew the danger, and warned none of the hard working men. Risk is very risky to measure.

Interviews I have seen on television of the Japanese public have given me one general impression. While not wanting to believe their government is misleading them or withholding information, they believe that the government trusts too much in the electric company's statements and statistics. The government there is not as responsible for problems as we think our government is in America.

When a drug company withholds information from our government, we blame the regulating authority for lack of diligence (this even after cutting the regulating authority's budget to critically low levels.) No one goes to jail. The drug companies are free to lie and falsify data all over again the next time. There is another crucial example - when the finance companies were encouraged by the government to help with increasing home ownership in America, the companies did so in incredibly irresponsible ways. Home ownership is honestly quite a good thing. People settle down, feel like they have something to work for, feel like they have something to protect... the benefits are amazing. However, the finance companies didn't stop with just helping people, they helped themselves to the money they believed was raining from the sky (money that might otherwise be doing good in the world.) They begin to trick people into loans they could not afford. They hinted that no one was checking the salary figures in the documentation. They encouraged people to buy houses using "teaser" rates. (Here is where I get all worried and upset. Why isn't anyone in jail who had anything to do with loans clearly marked as fraudulent... "teaser?" What values have changed here that no one is in jail for this?) Who is to blame? A little more than two years ago it was the Republicans, recently it was the Democrats. The companies? Why, they were lured by the government (Senator Barney Frank is my all time favorite nonsensically picked usual suspect) to cause this depression.  Through no fault of their own these companies invented all these confusing and blatantly dishonest mortgages, packaged them into securities that looked oddly as if they were designed to fool the ratings companies, and passed the risk off to others, purely by chance. Buyer beware.

Using what little knowledge I have of the Japanese people, I would say that the reason they distrust the companies instead of the government, is that they usually put their trust in these companies. In business school we learned of this feeling of extended family which Japanese workers had with their companies. Japan was our biggest competitor when I was in business school. So, it makes sense to me that when you find out there is reason to mistrust, it is the people you trusted that you must blame.

There was once a cigarette named "Barclay" that had a filter that "coincidentally" fooled the FTC machines that were supposed to measure tar content.  If I remember right, the filter had holes that funneled outside clean air through the filter and thus reduced the amount of smoke coming out upon each inhalation. It did a great job of this on the tar measuring machine, but that all changed when the cigarettes were pressed between actual human lips. At that point the moisture from the lips would collapse these airways thus providing more "taste," an industry advertising catchphrase to denote nicotine and tar amounts. Sound like a jailable offense? Especially considering how many Americans died each year and trusted the government data on tar content figures?  Nope, I think it took a lawsuit to even stop the company from making the things that obviously were made just to fool the measuring machines, to fool the government.

I see no real difference in the press coverage of Japanese events lately than I did before. At what point again do the Japanese start to trust the what they are told? And I have said before, I do not put this past our own government who did the very same thing during the 3 Mile Island incident. Perhaps there should be a color coded system to distinguish levels of misinformation. "It's ok, the crises has passed, we are at Condition Green, you can go back to trusting now." Condition Red would mean "We're telling you this utter propaganda for your own good, or capitalism's own good. We are lying so badly now we're not even sure why."  We may be at condition "orange" right now. "We are now telling you a larger part of the truth so that you won't panic when you justifiably should because what we said earlier was utter balderdash and you know it."

From what I gather, there are specific reasons this crises is very different from Chernobyl. Some are good, some are bad. The reactors are newer in Japan, were built to better standards, and have much better containment possibilities. Yet, there are many more reactors at risk this time. To my mind, only one containment vessel needs to be breached sufficiently so that workers will be unable to go near the area. And I believe it will be harder to ask workers to commit suicide here than it was in a Russia* which, at the time, placed much more emphasis on the interests of the many over the interests of the few. There are lots of differences I see.

I confess, I may be talking out of my hat on this but what is there in the news that gives anyone calm? "Scientists say..."  Scientists have said so many contradictory things in my lifetime that I have become completely unresponsive to newspaper articles that quote scientists, or that write advisory articles based on what they believe scientists have discovered. Television is far worse than news articles. Facts seem like playthings to television anchors. The number of times a lady in an intentionally short dress says "But I was under the impression that..." or "Here is a breathtaking fact..." should tell you that they are not specialists in knowledge. They seem to be basing their education of the public on things they have learned on the job. And their job is finding new and shocking facts, or finding a new angle on an old fact. To put it bluntly, entertainment is their specialty; what they have learned about life is merely coincidental and only comes in handy to further entertain. Is there any reason to doubt that their out of touch audience might panic at the wrong times and fail to panic at the right ones?

*After writing this I heard "pop" stories later in the day portraying the heroes (which apparently only number 50) who were working on the nuclear problem despite the risk to their own health and the effects this might have on the lives of their families. They are very brave, indeed. And they are very self sacrificing so I am probably wrong about this assessment that Russia could more easily convince people into giving up their lives for the safety of the general populace. But I swear, my hand to God, the press compared these people to kamikaze pilots of WWII. Beyond the blatantly obvious racism implied by the use of this term which was most widely known and used at a time when the Japanese people were considered to be less than human, even the analogy between the suicide bombers of WWII and those of  9/11 seems fairly hard to miss. I was stunned. The suicide bombers of 9/11 were oddly labeled cowards, not heroes. (Rumsfeld objected to the use of the word "coward," to describe them, by the way.) I know that the kamikazes were not particularly thought of as heroes by my father, who fought in WWII. I am aghast that right wingnuts were circulating the false email and tweet fact that someone at CNN had used the term "Godzilla" while a few days later numerous news sources can't resist using the term "kamikaze" to descibe very brave men and women.

Also,  I heard a Star Trek Spock analogy as well today. Remember Mr. Spock dying in the radiation to save the many over the one?  Entertaining news people remember this, too.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Watching the steadily worsening nuclear reactor situation in Japan following the earthquake and tsunami has heightened my feelings of frustration with the world. Here is willful misinformation from official government sources due to political and social reasons. At each stage the dangers have been understated. Examples like "chest xrays" were used to make people feel better. Although I can't remember explosions the last time I had my chest xrayed, I can guess I would probably have left the vicinity of the xray room pretty quickly had there been any.

I guess I kind of expect government sources to be pretty unreliable most of the time. Politicians are often making comments that make no sense at all. They don't even have to correct themselves after the fact. George W. Bush's autobiography was so interesting as it was kind of a parallel universe to my previously understood world.

But when is it appropriate to do the political equivalent of yelling "Fire!" in a crowded, yet, furiously burning theater? Apparently it involves considerable political restraint. If you overestimate the number of people that need to be evacuated, you might suffer from overreaction to the crises which would harm the nuclear industry. But we have been here before. Three Mile Island, Chernobyl...  the press and government were found to be lacking in their publicized portrayal of the potential danger for people surrounding the area. Documentaries showed us later just how terrible and irresponsible it all was.

Newscasters appear on television and give their ideas about just how yucky it may well turn out. Many have been merely parroting the facts they have recently read about nuclear meltdowns. One anchor breathlessly said "Cooling systems were the fault in all three of these incidents." (I think this was CNBC and had to do with the stock market. Perhaps there was profit to be made in shorting cooling system companies.)

When the actual experts get on television they hesitantly tell how bad they think it could get. From an entirely different viewpoint than I had seen up until this time, midway through the crises, I heard one analyst say (I'm paraphrasing) "A meltdown is just that, a meltdown of the nuclear materials. If the containment shell holds up, this means nothing but a broken reactor." I guess that makes sense absent explosions and tsunamis and stuff. I want to see this guy go in there and hug the containment dome for all of us. No doubt he is probably right, but I'm not so sure we can trust him with my pet turtle, Gamera.

It's ok, everyone stay in your houses. The circle of people needing to evacuate kept growing. Some were told to stay in their houses and not go outside. Close the windows tight. Be sure to hang your laundry indoors. Hmm. Really? Are you totally sure it's not time for me to run for my life? Maybe it's too late to run for my life and the best I can do is stay indoors now?

I have watched a lot of seasons of the television program 24. Each time I watch a season I curse myself for watching something that seems to have as it's political agenda the justification of torture. Yet, I find myself intrigued by the "real time" thing and I watch. However, another political agenda that may be in the show, perhaps unintentionally, is the idea that we never want the public to panic. It seems to me that in one season, a nuclear bomb had actually exploded in Los Angeles and all the way leading up to the explosion, no one later to be killed was warned to be in panic mode.

I feel very paranoid about the world now. Oh, it may seem like paranoia to someone who is not paying attention. Car makers once thought we needed these headlights for our safety: 

headlights with little headlight windshield wipers. I saw one on my walk this afternoon on a Volvo parked along the road. At the time these headlights were made, drops of rain were considered dangerous in obscuring the light. But the hazy plastic covers of today?

Hey, no problem. Smoking cigarettes outdoors in New York, illegal. Roasting a goat on a spit on the corner of 5th Avenue, no problem.*

The question of who to trust and what danger lurks out there seems very real to me. This is because the people who are telling us about the danger appear to be untrustworthy and illogical. Later there will be a documentary on Japan's nuclear crises exposing just how untrustworthy and illogical (as with 3 Mile Island and Chernobyl.) But by that time it will have been too late. Similarly the same television that told you to be sure to contact your doctor about the need to take a particular drug will later be telling you to contact a lawyer if you took the drug.

Here is one of my favorite passages from Joseph Heller's Catch 22 set in World War II. This is when Yossarian is finally confronted with his constant paranoia that people are out to kill him: 
"They're trying to kill me," Yossarian told him calmly.
"No one's trying to kill you," Clevinger cried.
"Then why are they shooting at me?" Yossarian asked.
"They're shooting at everyone," Clevinger answered. "They're trying to kill everyone."
"And what difference does that make?"
There is no sense in worrying why someone is not telling you the truth. You don't need to judge whether someone is lying (intentionally not telling the truth), is misinformed, doesn't have foresight, is misguided in ideology or is just a very trusting person who follows common wisdom. It is just not a value judgement when you are making the final decision about whether to flee for your life.

I sometimes actually feel guilty that I researched particular things that others do not know. They get perturbed with me because my politics aren't the same as theirs and I usually won't give in. But... I have to make the call based on what I think is correct. I have only myself and my reasoning abilities to trust.

Since I was a young boy the question of Federal entitlement programs was a problem. I grew up in an atmosphere of thinking that Social Security, Medicare and all the rest would probably not be there when I was older unless we did something about the system. Not surprisingly, we didn't do much. No one wanted to give up some of their current money to plan for the future people that would also need money. Not only did they not want to even out the benefits over time, they actively tried to get their taxes cut so that now we have to add interest onto debt. It has reached it's tipping point as far as I am concerned. When you have borrowed tons of money in the past and now have to borrow to keep the whole system afloat, that is most likely the tipping point. When former Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld was recently asked on David Letterman whether the budget could ever be balanced he replied in that folksy voice we had grown accustomed to at his news conferences (before being ushered out of town) "Well sure." He drew out the word "sure" in such a nice calming old person kind of way. "Well, sure..."

Mr. Rumsfeld's next arguments should logically be to support his "Well, sure." He stated that in his day, under President Jimmy Carter, I believe he said, (although it might have been President Ford) he remembered when people were all up in the air (he forgot to say "henny penny," I love that one) over the first time the entire budget had crossed the 150 billion mark. Now it was, what? In the trillions? Did Mr. Rumsfeld just tease me with calmness only to intensify things before inevitably turning on the juice to the electrodes attached to my nether regions? I didn't really understand his point if it was meant to calm. More likely, it was meant to subtly point out the perceived out of control (Obama) budget we now find ourselves in. Never mind the economic collapse and the money we were forced to spend to keep the economy afloat; never mind that Rumsfeld's wars were an intrinsic part of that collapse. Again, it doesn't matter why they are wrong. It only matters that you must choose when to run for your life.

I must admit it was relaxing while being lulled into complacency by President George W. Bush's autobiography. I secretly liked that alternate universe where everything fits into place neatly. I remember this as a child. Watergate seemed like a standard event. It's the feeling that everything in the world is just the way it is supposed to be. The war in Vietnam seemed just another example of an ordinary event that fit into a giant puzzle that my parents knew all about, or that someone must, if not them. It's that kind of childish feeling that everything is alright that gets lost with time and age and I feel the weight of responsibility that was on my parents' shoulders on my own shoulders.

At first I wondered why this Japanese nuclear thing seemed so central to my life. I was Googling the news even in the beginning when there was basically nothing new to read from one article to the next.  Now I realize why it touched a nerve with me. It's that fear that at any moment I myself will need to run for my life while others are lulled. That is the stress I have felt for a long time now.

Next I'm reading Donald Rumsfeld's book. Wish me luck. As I mentioned, he was on David Letterman a few weeks ago selling his book. He seemed very calming, and charming with is wide old man smile. Perhaps I will sleep better after everything is explained calmly and a little more thoroughly by someone from the alternate universe.

Rumsfeld has entitled his book Known and Unknown. One of his classic moments of his press conferences was when he laid out a system of intelligence. He said there were known knowns, things we know we know. There are known unknowns, things we know we don't know. And finally there are unknown unknowns, things we don't know that we don't know. He fears this last category the most. I beg to differ. I submit with the 2 words of his title switched around like that, there is one more category he intentionally did not consider that is much more fearsome. This would be the "unknown knowns." These would be things we think we know that we don't really know; or put another way, things we don't know that we think we know. These are the things that we are lulled into believing which are just incorrect. This category, not even mentioned by Rumsfeld was obviously neglected so that we could all sleep at night. It's one thing if the demon is things that we don't know about and have no way of knowing about. Really, just go on to sleep.There is no sense worrying about things you have no control over. However, it's another thing entirely to believe there might be known things that we are somehow missing, and that we truly need to stay up late at night and worry about. Maybe she was right. Maybe I do have bad breath and just haven't considered the possibility. Maybe economics books are correct and we can't keep borrowing and starting wars. Or our true peril might not be foreign enemies, but our own economy....  where is my Ambien?

*David Letterman.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Rand Paul on Jon Stewart's Show

And the winner in making Rand Paul look foolish is...  steel drum roll, please (Caribbean style, my cruise is so close...)  David Letterman. Yes, even with David Letterman's straightforward admission of his own ignorance, Dave wins!!! He let Rand be Rand and didn't act as if he were talking to a particularly knowledgeable person. Letterman-Rand looked appropriately more idiotic when compared to Stewart-Rand.

That said, Jon Stewart did more than just lose this contest. In the beginning of the interview, it felt like he was giving folk hero status to Rand Paul as he began with praise of Senator Paul as being the "Walkiest of the Talkers." Apparently, Jon Stewart believes that extreme positions mean action, when in fact, extreme positions lead to inaction. It's the people in the center who decide things and get things done. The wingnuts rarely affect policy and certainly affected no policy here. What Stewart must have thought about before he and his writers decided how to set up something funny, was that Rand Paul did not compromise his principles, extreme and wacky as they are. The specific that Stewart was referring to is Senator Paul's position that $500 billion should be cut (from discretionary spending and apparently some from defense) not the $100 billion that the rather extreme Republicans put forward. (It's still depression folks, tightening the belt is as dangerous as say, tightening my own actual belt.) It certainly was not the 60-whatever billion that they could afford to pretend-cut. They didn't have to even actually have the cuts take effect and they still couldn't imagine putting more than that small amount on the plate for voters to consider. A question screamed in my head: if Goldman Sachs is right about the country losing 700,000 jobs in the case of the originally proposed $100 billion dollar cut, would that mean that 3.5 million jobs would be lost with Rand Paul's 5 times multiplied cuts? Instead Rand Paul was Rand Paul Bunyan - a walkin' and not a talkin'.

Following this, Stewart proceeded to have a discussion with the Senator that made Senator Paul's ideas look downright cozy. Get me a cup of tea and join me by the fireplace. I used to suffer through these embarrassing interviews when I watched the show regularly. A time or two Stewart would make headlines, good and bad, with his self righteous and sometimes intellectually pure challenging of his guests. But only so many controversial guests will show up before they get wise and stop selling their book via The Daily Show. As a consequence Stewart usually has intellectually satisfying softball interviews with the hardball wingnuts. Rachel Maddow rarely gets to book anyone to interview from the right wingnut kingdom, because she remains Rachel Maddow. Jon Stewart morphs into a slightly more intellectual version of Larry King.

Stewart seems to know his stuff about the effects of capitalism. He makes a few hesitantly polite intellectual remarks then allows his guest to make sweeping statements like, for instance, the theory that capitalism had nothing to do with financial crises, it was the central banks (Fed). For some reason it doesn't occur to Stewart to zero in on this. Did the central bank actually go out of their way to create credit default swaps and force the banks to package mortgages into securities that were designed to be rated AAA by the rating services? Was it too much regulation that allowed the rating services to get into bed with the bank? Or did this inevitability happen based on the capitalist system of the free market's brand of regulators (ratings services) making profits directly from the people they were regulating?

Looking at the extended version of the interview, it seems that the things that were edited out were done so because Stewart had not gotten a laugh line through. Pretty much every laugh line remains intact in the final edit of the tape that made the air. What didn't make it to air was a longer polemic discussion on capitalism, which was obviously where Mr. Paul wanted to take it and where Stewart decided to let him go (yeah, we can talk about that.) The extended version makes a lot more sense and Stewart doesn't look quite so milk toasty. But he has already allowed Paul to make sweeping statements without countering them specifically, while mildly suggesting that a few of his own ideas about capitalism might perhaps - a little bit here and there at times and so forth- be relevant. It's obvious these are strongly held views that are weakly stated.

The odd thing to me was the juxtaposition of the interview next to a preceding joke in which Stewart had made fun of the fact that Wisconsin Republicans, via Fox News(like) Network, had made it known that $7.5 million was needed to clean the Wisconsin capital when in fact the number was in the hundred's of thousands. Stewart lampoons this with the spectre of a news story about a grizzly bear attack that really turns out to be a hamster attack. Very funny indeed, but with the interview of Rand Paul, Stewart makes the same mistake in magnitude interviewing a mountain lion like it was a cuddly house cat. Throughout the interview Stewart appeared to be compromising on an equal basis with the extremities of political thought. This is the same interview Stewart has done countless times before to proactively cajole the extremists onto his show for ratings purposes. Very seldom is Stewart actually confrontational. He gives logical arguments and then seems to be bending over backwards to give some space for the illogical arguments of his opponent, as if we can all just have a gentleman's agreement with the ridiculous. Appeasement for ratings.

Just to illustrate how wacky the things are that get across to viewers in his interviews, I'll again point out the $70,000 figure that Rand mentions as our median income.* Where does this come from? Senator Paul had used this statistic on Letterman's show. It is wacky. Then word for word the same argument is put forward on Stewart's show. Letterman had already said that there seemed to be something wrong with Senator Rand's numbers but he wasn't smart enough to know what it was on the spot. Letterman had logically singled out this factoid for public skepticism. Had Stewart done his homework? Was Jon Stewart ready for this now that the figure had been quoted on Letterman previously and held up to public ridicule? Stewart let it pass by as smoothly as if it had been said on Fox News(like) Network. If my research is correct Stewart could have nailed him to the wall on a specific number. He had foreknowledge of the factoid and chose not to research it.

Senator Paul also wanted to cut defense. It's the Tea Party's apparent admission that President George W. Bush was a total buffoon when it came to defense (the size of the spending being buffoonish), but not tax cuts. Questions are begged like neon lights. Go for it!

To Jon Stewart's credit, he corrected a few points that probably would have gone uncorrected by others but the manner with which he made these slight corrections was akin to "Excuse me Sir, but you are talking about money that was spent on stimulus as if that stimulus weren't necessary. But other than that -cough cough-huge cough-monstrosity of a cough-misrepresentation cough- we are in a complete gentlemanly rose garden of dynamic similitude, dude."

Further illustrating just how wacky things can get in the only moderately challenging seat opposite the "liberal" Stewart in this gentlemanly interview, Senator Rand Paul actually got across the statement on the air that the financial crises was caused by too much regulation rather than lack of it. Rand Paul's world takes a little explaining here. I think I understand it pretty much. His concept (being so extreme as to believe that a lack of capitalistic anarchy would result in a bunch of lawless but satisfyingly moral and market perfect Goldman Sachs type operations) is that we have mucked capitalism up with government. Well, yeah, I guess since about 1929 there has been a trend of mucking up, at that. But it was always mucked up, the populace believing in things like fairness and stuff. The point is that throwing the economy to unfettered capitalistic profit making "banks" is an extreme view and always has been since the first time someone started lending more than the amount of reserves in their bank while simultaneously ignoring religious moral teachings of the day saying "Ussery, schmoossery." Actually, there has never been a time that anarchic capitalism was purely unmucked.  One reason this might actually seem logical is that there is a very volatile supply of money that depends on how much banks lend. Then it depends on how much people spend that borrowed money in ways that the money goes right back into banks that lend beginning the next vicious circle. (The circle... the circle of banks.) People borrowing money to speculate in real estate and stocks, then making profits for these very same banks, adding to their reserves which they then can lend to more speculators has been the constant threat to the economy, and finally to the waitress who is out of work and had nothing to do with the process.

Even this assumes a little governmental regulation called a "reserve requirement." It's volatile WITH the government mucking it up with a reserve requirement. The waves of ups and downs are awesome, dude. Imagine banks being allowed to lend millions with no money required in reserve. Waves heck, let's go surf that Tsunami, dude. Let bank freedom ring!

In history, when the government ignored the financial industry they inevitable cooked up a depression. This extremely extreme view, that if we took away their regulations, banks would follow hygienic capitalistic successes and failures with little consequence to the common waitress, is probably babbled everywhere Senator Paul goes. Perhaps, Jon Stewart does a slight bit more nudging than some other interviewers on these points. He has some stock statements of his own, but he is hardly the paragon of liberalism he would like you to believe he is, without having to actually say it. Neither is he very intellectual although he seems to be and presents himself as such. The audience obediently applauds when Stewart seems to make any point that is understandable to them. There is no intellectual discussion of the Fed and moral hazard (something that would test Paul on whether he truly understands his own theory) just a search for the next laugh or applause line.

While the Daily Show is very funny when it is not trying to do interviews, there is an agenda that is portrayed to the max. Then the interview comes and it's as if the agenda turned out to be fairly meaningless, apparently designed only for laughs not true social change. In all honesty I haven't watched a Daily Show for a while. The interviews are the most uncomfortable part of the show to someone like me who stressed himself out over politics a few years ago. I'm happy Jon Stewart helped my side in some areas of politics, I'm unhappy he turned against his own side when he lacked enough jokes because of the loss of the self lampooning President George W. Bush. I'm unhappy his rally in Washington didn't even try to encourage people to vote.

Before 2008 Stuart ruthlessly criticized the Democrats for being "do nothing." The Republicans now in control of the House are doing the same nothing, just louder. Rand Paul isn't walking, Jon. But when the Democrats did what they could, made the deals they needed to make to get past the hopelessly inactive (60 votes out of 100 makes a majority in passage of all bills) American governmental system, they were criticized again by Stewart for their compromising.

I guess I understand that Stewart is just doing the compromising that he himself thinks is necessary to get both warring sides together. But he doesn't seem to remain consistent in a daily format. Stewart just seems irrelevant to me, compromising to make the most radical Tea Party member look sane. Not calling him on his outrageous statements from the past did a disservice to those watching. Stewart's compromising is not really about getting people together though. One goal is to keep the ulraliberal appeased with a few funny zingers, almost inside jokes that only they can understand. (I'm cool. I get what Stewart is saying.) And the other goal is to get people to watch who don't truly understand but tuned in to see Rand Paul. This group saw on their televisions a Rand Paul who was teaching a clown and the nation. David Letterman, even more than the Daily Show has to rely on guests to be a draw for his show. Somehow he managed to be Krusty the Clown in tripping Senator Paul. While Stewart has his intellectualism on display in his clown act, Letterman is very self-deprecating as he kicks the pee out of his guest with his big clown foot.

My theory is that a far right wing guest goes on left wing shows to get people to buy their book that ordinarily wouldn't think twice about passing it up. It's a vast market they would never reach. The point at which they might lose is when they look silly to their built in book buying constituency. Rand knew he was in danger on Letterman. He came out punching with a zinger message from Al Franken, who agreed to officially mentor the freshman Senator Paul, quoted as saying Letterman was not funny. "But don't tell Letterman that." For Stewart, Senator Paul had no zingers or jabs. Rand and his publicist must have known they were on friendly ground for their book selling stand.

At one point Stewart said "You want to abolish the Fed, right?" Rand's father wrote a book with the extremely extreme concept of completely abolishing a central regulating authority for the financial sector. Rand did not take a bite from the apple. Stewart allowed him to gloss over the topic. All was well.

One Daily Show a month is a bit much for me when relevant questions are basically written on billboards behind the guests' heads while Jon Stewart has a tea party with the Tea Party.

* I've looked far and wide... 

 Personal income:

Median personal income for the population age 25 or older.

 The overall median income for all 155 million persons over the age of 15 who worked with earnings in 2005 was $28,567.

Household income:

This graph is interesting because it has the figure 70,000 somewhere in it. :) If I'm making this out right, if we single out Asians in America in 1999 as a group, they actually reached Paul Rand's $70,000 figure. This is household income which is apparently actually $49,777 in the year 2009. Household income is usually used rather than individual but heck, I have looked everywhere for that $70,000 figure Rand Paul states. It is nowhere to be found in the USA. Half of American citizens could not possibly be paying 97 percent of the taxes if the half mark is $70,000.  I don't think it's true even if $50,000 is considered as the median. The bell curve skewed though it is towards the rich, still has to be in effect.

The odd part about Rand Paul's argument is that the more the bell curve is skewed towards the rich, the more taxes they pay and the more it looks like they are paying "all" the taxes. That is, the greater the disparity, the worse the damage to the middle class, the better the odds are that rich people will indeed be paying all the taxes.

Back in Charge with Nothing to See Here, Move Along

There was a very disturbing Rachel Maddow special last night. Yes, the Wisconsin Republicans belatedly figured out a way to strip unions. Hmmm.. and why didn't anyone figure this out before? Just cut all the pretenses about balancing the budget, which required the wayward Democrats, and just vote on the part that takes people's rights from them Done deal. Honestly, I can't figure out why they didn't do this earlier.

In Rachel Maddow's "special report" she pointed out how many of the states controlled by Republicans were stripping unions (which avoids their money in the next election supporting Democrats) and coming up with ingenious voter suppression techniques to make sure it is much harder for college students and the poor to vote,( assuring many less votes for Democrats in the next election.) Using the powers of control over local governments to accomplish all this points out why they have wanted less power in federal hands and more in the hands of local governments. The issue of "jobs" seems not to be the first thing they worry about. Its getting re-elected that matters from the first moments of power.

All of this is anxiety ridden so I will probably not be writing much more on this. But who knows? They are surprising sometimes. It reaches into economics, which I am focusing on. For instance, in basic terms what has happened in Wisconsin is playing itself out in lots of states. I don't mean just stripping unions but a redistribution of income from the middle class to companies and the rich. First come the tax cuts for corporations, then comes the "crises" of the budget deficit (caused in part by the new tax cuts) which requires all kinds of social issues to be taken up which have nothing to do with the budget (the right to collectively bargain is only one of the social issues. "Voter fraud" is another issue that lends itself to laws making it harder for Democrats to vote.) These moves under the guise of "crises" (you gotta love Rachel's spinning red warning light) end up moving money from the middle class to the rich. Just as the Bush tax cuts continue to bite into the revenues while the rich get the vast proportion of the tax breaks (we went through this logic in spades but it didn't seem to help). Now the states add on tax breaks for companies just before they announce a crises in which the middle class government employees have to pay up.

As we have seen, if you attempt to let tax cuts expire, it amounts to raising taxes in the logic of politics. It doesn't matter how bad the crises, how much we desperately need to pay for our government (the only guys that could keep us from utter chaos in the financial markets), there is always the argument that you can easily cut government to pay for the tax cuts. It doesn't matter that only 18 percent of the government is actually available to cut. It doesn't matter that the interest we are paying increases. Basically nothing factual matters a heck of a lot. Cutting taxes for the rich and the corporate rich is part of the gleaming city on the hill. Allowing corporations to spend as much money on elections as they wish is another part of the gleaming city on the hill. Smacking unions so they will not have funds to compete with corporations in spending just makes the city gleam all that brighter. And making it hard for the Democratic base to vote shines up that city so much you can put your money into stocks of companies making sunglasses.

However, just as letting tax cuts expire is akin to raising taxes, the Republicans may find repealing health care reform is akin to cutting benefits. Perhaps they can rush into national office quickly enough to nip this in the bud with all these newly finagled new fangled ways of suppressing voting and increasing corporate campaign contributions. Whatever it takes, I guess.

I have for a long time said how much I was in favor of helping our companies all we can. But... is it really wise to help them in the order by which they spend money on campaigns? The help they are now getting by funding these Republicans into office is directly associated with the benefits that are now being bestowed on them. Is that the way we are going to compete with Chinese capitalism?

Wisconsin enticed me into watching political programs and eventually I'll pull myself back out (for my health if nothing else). However, there were some astounding things that made the crises ridden Republicans so disingenuous that I was heartened by the obvious absurdity. In Texas there was talk about exempting the senior citizens and firearm owners from the voter suppression techniques. Seriously, people who owned firearms would be exempt for the reason that?? Well voter suppression techniques only work if they are targeted and seniors and guntoters are definitely not people you want to discourage from voting if you are a vote suppressing Republican. But even more astounding was the fact that unions that supported Governor Scott Walker in his campaign are exempted from having their collective bargaining rights taken from them.

It is an awe inspiring city on the hill. But I'll try to get back to less topical things and allow the rest of you to fight it out. My aimlessness is so much more important than my logic. There aren't even ideologies being played out here. Nothing to see here. I'll just move along. Nothing to see. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Rand Paul on Letterman, part.3

(R/Ky) Senator Rand Paul's intellect is as marginal as these differences on who pays the income tax in the chart above. Again, we have a slightly progressive or redistributive system but nothing like Senator Paul's statement on Letterman:  “If you look at the taxes, if you look at the income tax, the top one percent pay about a third of the income tax. The top 50 percent -- those who make $70,000 and above -- pay 96 percent of the income tax, so the middle class and above are paying all of the income tax.” Again, according to Tea Party folks, Senator Paul was giving Dave an economics lesson. He must be related the the gym coach that taught me economics in 9th grade. (Economics and Government seemed to be the bailiwick of gym teachers who apparently were force by some rule to teach some class other than gym. And today we have a nation of gym coach economists and voters.)

Senator Rand Paul is certainly his own man in his nitwittery. In the article below he shows that he has no clue about the fragile recovery wanting to nip it in the bud. We know the cuts of the Republicans would cost 700,000 jobs, we know that we are barely recovering now, and we know that all economic thought on the issue of depressions has the expansion of the monetary supply as the only remedy beyond soup lines.

Notice also the skewed bell curve in the above chart. At the highest level, we are measuring the top 1% of the people. Notice how large the percentage of total income that falls into this small 1% elite group. The next largest group represents the middle of the bell curve and is comprised of 20% of the people. My main practical experience with bell curves (other than learning about them academically) was when teachers graded on a curve. If grades were handed out on this bell curve, professors would probably be fired for grade inflation.

Ringing in my ears is the argument that people earn their money in a fair capitalistic system and there should be a flat tax. I would like to give my first use in this blog of an obscenity in response to this, but I'll refrain. Money makes money, money buys influence that makes more money, money controls the political process, money buys education, money buys healthy food for kids and the education to feed it to them, money buys power clothes, money buys power lunches, and money makes the world go round the world go round the world go round. Fair enough? Besides, how could you doubt Liza Minnelli?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Department of Corrections

Well, surely I knew I would make a mistake once in a while. The most polite guy in the world, mentioned in an earlier post, is still the most polite guy in the world but he doesn't raise horses. I think he just rides them, maybe owns them. Since I was talking about the importance of agriculture in a way, to my defence his occupation is a bit homophonic to argriculture. He doesn't really have anything to do with "farms" but more "pharms" being a pharmacist. If you think I'm being a bit too homophonic about this, you may be right. But I am grasping for straws here because I absolutely detest big pharma. Honestly, if there is someone worse than the guys that are making millions on the backs of the poor honest investor, it is a person who makes money by pricing the drugs for people who might need them to stay alive.

Having said that pharmacists themselves have run the gamut from being really wonderful to being just a little uncaring. I doubt my guy is uncaring. To illustrate the difference between large drug companies and the local pharmacist, let me illustrate the process of "evergreening" once again taught to me altruistically by a pharmacist. Evergreening is the process where a drug which is about to go generic, makes some small change (the change aparently needed fortunately just before the threat of generics) in a drug to make it a brand new drug. A pharmacist once explained this to me about a drug I was taking. The new form had very little difference from the old form and added no medical benefits. It was sort of a refined version of the old drug which had the same ingrediants but didn't have a few unnecessary ones. It would be like if you ordered ice tea with lemon. The caffeine effect would be the same with or without the lemon but I'm not sure I want to pay an extra $100 a pitcher for the lemon to be extracted.

Keep in mind pharmaceutical companies want the price to be as high as possible because a great deal of the time the consumer is not paying for it anyway, it's the government (medicare d) or an insurance company. Why do some pharmaceutical companies advertise that if you are poor and cannot pay for your drugs they will try to help you? Because they want as few dissatisfied customers as possible to weaken any political base that might form against them. The drug companies get plenty of money from other sources by charging an exhorbitant amount.

A pharmacist, if loyal to his company (say Target) also wants you paying as much as possible, but these people are actually human beings who see very clearly the difference in their clientelle, the ones who get their drugs cheap or free, and the ones who obviously are paying dearly for the same drug. They start to become altruistic and hint at generics that might do almost the same thing, or whatever they can.

My polite guy? I'll wager he is as altruistic as they come and didn't need much goading. And Auburn University, yes, it does have a pharmacy school. I won't press my luck and find out where this guy graduated from. :)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Banks Back in Charge

Originally written 2/13/11

I am a man of more than a few credit cards, and a history of having more than average amounts of plastic. Really the cause was not my need for credit but those introductory offers and the points they offer for simple transactions. The credit card company might give me 2 free hotel nights if I acquire their card and use it a time or two. Sounds good, OK. Or perhaps they will give me a 50 dollar gift card, or 10 percent off of a department store purchase. Ummm. OK. So I use them, collect points or whatever, and I pay each card off completely by the end of the month. Some become my regular cards, and some not. I even pay them off several times a month just to make sure I know just how much money is in my bank account and how much is outstanding. Online payments make this process very easy. Somehow my mind works differently from many other folks I know. When I charge something I expect I'll be paying for it very soon. If I go into debt, I expect I'll be paying a lot more than the purchase price in front of me. So, unless it's an important investment, I don't go into debt to buy something. It seems easy enough to understand but people vote who do not understand these things, thus, our country is operating as if it is in that cycle just before bankruptcy where one borrows just to pay the interest. And we don't even get points for charging it.

When I buy something, no matter how small with a credit card, I sense I will have to pay for it very soon. It helps to wean oneself entirely off the paper money. It's unsanitary anyway. I admire people who use debit cards, but there is no profit in that. At least they pay it off without interest. But if it weren't for the fact that money is physically dirty, why would a person use "pointless" debit cards?

This way of thinking comes from the skinflint in me. The penny pinching inner me came naturally. My mother helped me to understand that frugality was necessary in life. She lived through the first, less organized financial collapse. As with many of my mother's teachings I veered away from them as I got too smart for my dockers only to be jerked back to reality by some event. In the big learning lesson, I had spent all my savings, I had nothing, and I learned fully exactly what I needed to learn. I was not rich, I could not have everything I wanted and if I was ever going to have a modicum of anything I wanted, I had better get this financial act together.

The other lesson that I learned from being on my own (which is a digression itself) was in the fact that dust had an existence beyond the hypothetical. My mother had kept our home spotless. I found that something was wrong with the apartment I now lived in. It was an odd apartment being originally designed as an apartment for roommates. The original setup had two doors, one for each roommate to enter unobtrusively. This apartment had two bedrooms with on suite bathrooms and there was a shared area in the middle with a living room and kitchen. It would be ideal for roommates each having their separate entrance and the ability to block off the private areas of their bathroom and bedroom. Yes, it was an awesome idea whose time had apparently not come. Man's inhumanity to man apparently caused many problems with renting these units. So, the apartment management decided to split the units in a messy divorce. One party received a full one bedroom apartment while the other party received a bedroom a closet and a bathroom and no control over the thermostat. Because of this shared thermostat, the apartment management was gracious enough include the electricity as a fixed part of the rent, alimony for the poor soul with no kitchen.

The cheapness of my side of the structure, bedroom bath closet combo, aptly named a "hotel room," was oddly one of the contributing factors to my financial downfall. My first experience with real life, my first home away from my parents, was a fantasy of being flush with money due to my cheap living arrangements, a full scholarship to college, a vacuous personal life, a part time job, and a student grant from the government called BEOG, now called Pell grants that are not nearly as generous. Life would not be this monetarily kind to me for many many years until finally I retired from my first job.

Yet. somehow, something was wrong with my cozy little hotel room. I couldn't put my finger on it, then I did and it came up dusty. Dust was appearing everywhere. It was on my TV, it was on my furniture. My first thought was the shared central air conditioning as there always seemed to be a temperature problem. But no, my neighbors didn't appear to be sanding furniture all day. As time went by, I realized something significant about life. It was dusty. All the time my mother had spent dusting the house wasn't because she had nothing to do. Even when she was sick she dusted, I guess. It was always a spotless dust free house. I just took it for granted that life was this way. Just as I took my bizarre income and outflow pattern as a standard.

This positive cash flow was not to be my future. Later I crashed by extending myself well beyond my means monetarily and emotionally. I learned the hard way as I pulled myself up with a full time job and a full time class schedule. Never again would I think myself invincible. The fun I had had spending money was tragic really. So, I learned rapidly about interest on car loans, and interest on credit card debt. Soon it became a battle against all debt because it didn't take me long to see that interest on my debt was buying nothing. Once I took out a student loan, just so I could buy a bed. The interest was small and it was an investment that would give years of service. I fought hard against credit card interest, hardly ever running a balance. Thus, I became a skinflint.

Recently, I have noticed a bit of a pattern to my physical mail. Since putting my name on the "Do Not Mail" list, many things have been weeded out. Some things not so much. I guess it's similar to the "Do Not Call" list that keeps the phone pretty quiet except for people trying to collect money from the person who previously owned the phone number. If we knew where Christa was, we would tell you, I promise. And then there are the robocalls, which are mostly political and nasty. It's hard to believe anyone has the right to telephone me and call someone else names and basically accuse them of crimes like rape and child molestation on a tape recording, but political people must have an out. If only they would talk to me, I'd be happy to straighten them out that they didn't seem to care about these crimes until just before the election, and I don't vote for people like that. Silly of them.

Despite the amount of mail weeded out from being on the elite Do Not Mail list, I still get things and because of the general lack of clutter, I see patterns. Clearly organizations like AARP are not worth giving money to. They waste it in direct mailings to make more money. It's kind of a one person victim mailing ponzi scheme. They take your money then they try to gain more money with it by mailing you more things. If you buy more things, they mail even more offers. I only gave to AARP because of their courageous stand on health care reform. Now they seem as sleazy as the health insurance companies.

I have to digress here despite the fact that this whole entry is a digression. Maybe I should call this journal "Michael's Digressing Blog." My amiable blog could be called "Michael's Much Less Depressing Blog." But, digress I will to include a humorous incident about financial guys. Wanda has a nice new car. It is truly awesome. But because it is so awesomely new, she doesn't want me to put our lifetime subscription Sirius radio in it. The radio has all those wires for the antenna, and power and audio, etc. So I inherited the radio in my car. It is wonderful. I wondered what listening to CNBC radio would be like after the collapse had taken them completely unawares. Here is the single most ironic thing I have ever heard. I can't find a transcript online but I'll quote as closely as I can. "Bernie Madoff has called the entire government a Ponzi scheme. What does it say when Bernie Maddoff calls what you're doing a Ponzi scheme?" Replies from co-hosts all coming at the same time were inaudible, but insistent, as this wise pundit continues and talks over them to say, "Bernie Madoff has credibility in Ponzi schemes." Imagine this: Bernie Madoff had credibility in this guy's world. People like Berni Madoff are just entrepreneurs and pioneers of new strategies to this guy. Proficiency in lying creates credibility about lying.  Next they went to commercial and I had to go to work where I didn't cheat people, my own knowledge of Ponzi schemes a little less credible because I was not running one.

During the campaign I gave money to candidates Barack Obama and Al Franken. These were certainly no mistakes in charitable giving. I helped elect the best president I have seen in my lifetime and oddly, the 60th vote in the Senate to help health care reform pass. My money could have been parceled out no more wisely. I'm especially proud of the Al Franken victory, delayed though it was by lawsuit after lawsuit, I had helped influence those few votes that put him over the top. Me personally. Al said so. :)  After this I received no wasteful physical mail fundraising efforts, it was all done by comparatively free email. The one piece of physical mail I can remember was an invitation to the inauguration. Of course, the whole country was invited, but it was nice to have a keepsake and it was much appreciated.

However, back to my physical mail pattern, I'm really strict about charitable giving. I do nothing through the mail because, as it bothered my father before me, so it bothers me now that charities waste so much money on direct mail advertising. I'm sure it pulls in the big numbers. But anonymous money in a Salvation Army bucket at Christmas time surely is used better than gifts I might give that are wasted on soliciting me endlessly by mail.

As I get more and more physical mail, the patterns develop. I can trace many letters to a single mistake. After the inauguration I was email solicited by "President Obama" to give money to a charity or give of my time on the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. But it was a link to a third party charity website. They asked my address and put me on a mailing list. Liberal causes and even a few not so liberal causes like the NRA solicit incessantly. My original donation is dwarfed by their expenditures on just mailing to me alone. It seems the smart thing to do would be to give some insignificant amount to the charity you are against, and watch them spend their other members' donations on your non patronage. This wasteful mail is coming with less frequency over time as I never reply with money. My strict code is finally making headway.

A major pattern has occurred with AT&T. They send a bimonthly mailing (like clockwork) with the same exact correspondence -- to the word. It always says that someone at AT&T has analyzed my account and has found a way to save me money, (which actually would cost me much more money because they are not considering my bundled Internet.) AT&T is one of the worst organized companies I have ever dealt with. They might send you to 10 different people in one phone call and still not fix your billing problem. It is unreal. Many of the customer service reps will sympathize with you but they have no solution to your problem, just another person to try. The letter coming on a regular basis with no change in wording clearly states that someone has been analyzing my account and is signed by that person. Perhaps there is a bank of bill analyzers that is sending me and other customers letters every other month, each one not knowing what the other is doing, but I doubt it. Why the same wording? If the last 30 (they have sent this letter for years) have not worked on me, what is the chance the next one will work with the wording exactly the same as the last failed 30 attempts? Plus my bill must include a cost for their inefficient direct mailing. And finally, do they think this helps their reputation? One lie after another, or one lie over and over again as it were, just to try to get me to increase the amount of money they can siphon from me. It's not much of a leap for me to feel they are not just being capitalistic in their game, but being plain shysters. My trust of the moral values of their company is less than zero at this point.

AT&T mailings are like having a subscription to a magazine that has only one issue to mail out over and over. Direct-TV is the next worst. They send me a monthly solicitations but they change ever so slightly each time. So, even though they are monthly they seem to be slightly more relevant than AT&T's. Credit card solicitations go in waves. I assume this has something to do with my presumed credit worthiness based somehow on the fact that my name is in a lot of databases with my many historical credit cards. Or they might be patterned upon seasonal factors relating to their rising and falling need for debtors.

Credit card mailings have various patterns but the one that completely disturbs me. so much so that I wrote this rambling narrative is the recent influx of "checks" from the credit card companies. I remember this barrage from the past but not the post economic apocalyptic past. Every credit card, every last one it seems, has sent me these fake checks in the last few months. They are actually "cash advances" disguised as checks. Surely most of us know this by now. I fell for it just once when I was in my "hotel room." Thankfully it was a small amount and I cleaned it up in a month or two so I was back to interest free charging. I just remember "Never again will they fool me" as my lesson. Since then, credit card companies have probably wasted enough postage and materials to send me these checks to buy a large screen TV or two or three. Someone must be falling for these predatory lending practices or I wouldn't be getting this many. Even with their reduced mailing fees, charities are getting wind that I'm not responding, but the credit card companies sent me bundles of these things lately.

My resurgence of anger with them is directly correlated with the resurgence of these tactical mailings. I am guessing the previous year's lack of these checks was a reaction to the financial collapse. They must have been looking more closely at their customers' ability to pay, needed to shore up their reserves, or feared legislation on predatory lending. Unfortunately, I doubt very much they fear much of anything now as witnessed by this tidal wave of fake checks. I'm guessing it's their recent realization that after the recent elections they are solidly back in charge.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Rand Paul on Letterman, part 2

My example of why Rand Paul's argument should be taken with skepticism, to put it mildly, was really not strong enough. I intentionally made it as simple as possible. My example had the median income at 5 and the top amount earned at twice that number or 10. The unfortunate fact is that the median income statistic we have is $52,029   Think of that as my "5" in the example. My "10" in the example would be around $104,000.  That is, in my example we were excluding a great deal of people making hundreds of thousands of dollars, or millions or billions, which would only serve to make my example more skewed towards the rich paying a greater and greater percentage of the taxes. You see, this would happen anyway. Yes, Mr. Paul, the middle class and the rich would pay much of the taxes.... fairly, even without progressive rates. Progressive rates have generally been pretty popular in the past. Regressive taxes like sales taxes also exist. I'd like to think that when Mr. Paul says "all" of the taxes, he neglected to say "Federal taxes" in the excitement of the moment, rather than to guide us to some odd conclusion.

My example also assumes an even distribution of amounts, when actually the distribution falls on a bell curve of sorts. That is there are more middle class than poor, and more middle class than rich.Rand Paul: "The top 50 percent -- those who make $70,000 and above -- pay 96 percent of the income tax, so the middle class and above are paying all of the income tax." Why does he choose $70,000? If we want to say 50 percent above and 50 percent below, we must use the median income not an average or whatever figure he used. I've looked everywhere for this 70,000 figure. I can't find it. That inflated figure coupled with a statistic calculated from a lower figure of 52,000 just makes it seem like rich people are paying more, I guess. I'm really not sure about this seeming deception.  If $70,000 and above paid 96%, imagine how much more of that bell curve you could use to boost that 96%  figure upwards assuming the real median income or 52,000. At that rate, the word "all" might be close to accurate. Smell something funny? Here I am channeling David Letterman. I don't know where the figure came from even after research. Letterman: “I think there's something wrong with those numbers. I don't know what it is exactly, but I'm pretty sure there's something wrong with them.”

Regardless about the funny business, as we have seen, median incomes can be tricky to work with. I could have weighted my example, it could have been:

Lower 50 percent:
Person 1: income 1 dollar, tax 30 cents
Person 2: income 1 dollar, tax 30 cents
Person 3: income 1 dollar, tax 30 cents
Person 4: income 1 dollar, tax 30 cents
Person 5: income 1 dollar, tax 30 cents

Upper 50 percent:
Person 6: income 1 dollar, tax 30 cents
Person 7: income 1 dollar, tax 30 cents
Person 8: income 200 dollars, tax 60 dollars
Person 9: income 200 dollars, tax 60 dollars
Person 10: income 200 dollars, tax 60 dollars

Median income 1 dollar
Percent of tax paid by lower 50 percent: 1.2%
Percent of tax paid by upper 50 percent: 98.8%

Believe me, using the average figure of $60.21 wouldn't help much in Rand Paul's statistical palace using this example. The downside for those bottom 50 percent is, at most, 0. The upside on those in the top 50 percent is endless. These are just examples I remember from economics classes in the late 70's. I made them up based on my memories of my business statistics teacher's blackboard.

Did Rand Paul just make a mistake being so far off when he quoted the median income? Did he have a different source? Does it matter anyway? Consider this chart that shows how much richer the rich have gotten:

Inflation adjusted percentage increase in after-tax household income for the top 1% and the four quintiles, between 1979 and 2005 (gains by top 1% are reflected by bottom bar; bottom quintile by top bar.
Now I'm not all that bright but I know these statistics have been around for a while. Unless the Tea Party is composed entirely of the top earners in our country, why wouldn't Americans be a little upset that their paychecks have basically gone nowhere, while the upper 1 percent have... well, look at the chart. I didn't make that up nor go on a talkshow with it. So why wouldn't we want these elites who got their money through elite methods (such as selling mortgages with teaser rates) available only to them? When they go broke, why shouldn't the top 1 percent bail themselves out? Some of them made and still hold fantastic sums of money that they made in their shell games with teaser rates on mortgages for the poor and middle class. Is the principle of fairness so important to our economic system that it rules out common sense. We have been fair enough to the rich and look what they did with it. Let these guys pay for bailing out our car companies and banks. Yet, unprecedented astronomical executive compensation  with cut rate taxes continues for them.

Why do a majority of the bottom 99% vote with the upper 1% despite what has been done to the country by the elite scam artists of the financial trade?

Long ago in college my government teacher pointed out that racism was the main factor in Alabama for the rich persuading the poor whites to ignorantly vote with the rich and against their own pocketbooks. I hope that is not the founding principle of the Tea Party, but the incendiary origins of the party would open this to question. I'm sure there are plenty of nonracist Tea Party people who just see an easy answer, are infuriated with the Republicans, and grab for the easy answer. It seems like a hunt for some simplistic ideology that they can understand. However, easy answers that actually work are harder and harder to come by, believe me.