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Onanism Open Thread

You celebrate your birthday your way.

Franz Kafka International Named Most Alienating Airport

Break out of ennui and use this an an open thread. Feel free to post Kafkaesqe, terrifying, alienating links or otherwise comment on the meaningless nightmarish quality of human existence.

I’m No Economist, but I Think We Need Prosecutions!

The face of greed

The face of greed

I’m hooked on the economics blogs these days. Blame Dakinikat for starting me on a (probably hopeless) quest to understand the economic meltdown. I have been mathphobic since the eighth grade when I was horribly traumatized by algebra. And geometry! Don’t even get me started. When I was an undergrad, I was forced to take two math classes–basic math and statistics. Fortunately, those of us in the psych department were assigned a good humored, patient professor who cracked jokes about our having post-traumatic stress from high school math and had developed simple ways to explain mathematical concepts. Thanks to that kind and supportive professor, I was also able to survive two mind-numbing semesters of graduate statistics without too much anxiety.

Despite my lifelong troubled relationship with numbers, I am determined to understand what is happening to our economic and political systems to the best of my ability. These days, when I first get up, I open up The Confluence (my home page), quickly see what’s happening and then I check all my favorite econ blogs to find out the latest news and views.

This morning via The Market Ticker, I found this ABC News story on Joseph Cassano. (By the way, Cassano donated $2,500 to Obama’s primary campaign and $2,300 to his presidential campaigns. Isn’t $2,300 the maximum?) But back to ABC News:

The FBI and federal prosecutors are reportedly closing in on the AIG executive whose suspect investments cost the insurance giant hundreds of billions of dollars. The government is investigating whether or not 54-year old Brooklyn-native Joseph Cassano committed criminal fraud in virtually bankrupting the company. Continue reading

Inside the U.S. Treasury

Don’t worry, you won’t have to pay it back.  (Your grandchildren will get stuck with the tab)

From McClatchy News:

Welcome to life in Mendota — the unemployment capital of California. With a 41 percent jobless rate, the town’s social fabric is tearing at the seams. Alcoholism and crime are on the rise. To save money, some mothers wash and re-use disposable diapers. Unemployed men with nothing to do wander the streets and sit on benches.

Why did I bring that up?  Because Mendota listings are in my local phone book.

Globalizayion

I'm this many

I'm this many

Today is my birthday.

I was raised in a fundie Christian church that taught me how the Hebrews were delivered from bondage in Egypt and led by Moses to Mount Sinai where Yahweh entered into a covenant with them that gave them the land of Canaan.  I learned that under Joshua the Israelites begin the conquest of their Promised Land, including the dramatic battle of Jericho.  It wasn’t until I got older that it occurred to me that the Canaanites were God’s children too.  Couldn’t He have given them some unoccupied land instead?

The church I grew up in was very pro-Israel, seeing the restoration of it as a nation as a sign of the imminent Second Coming.  Most of my life the news and media treatment of Israel and the Israel/Palestine conflict has been very pro-Israel.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie that presented a pro-Palestinian point of view, but I’ve seen lots of depictions of Palestinians and other Arabs as terrorists.  Not without reason, for I also recall seeing news reports of Palestinian Liberation Organization terrorists committing numerous acts of violence including hijackings, bombings and the horrific massacre at the Munich Olympics.

The I/P conflict has been going on since before I was born 49 years ago.  Several times during my life the conflict has broken into open warfare involving Israel, the PLO, Egypt, Syria and/or other neighboring states.  Rarely has there been any progress towards achieving real peace in the region and there hasn’t ever been more than brief lulls in the violence.

I majored in history and I am aware of the Diaspora and the two millenia of pogroms, inquisitions and other anti-semitic attacks against Jews in Europe and elsewhere.  I studied Hitler and the Nazi era which included the Holocaust.  I also studied the history of Islam and the Crusades, but I confess I am no expert in those topics, nor am I an expert in the current conflict.

The area I live in has few Jewish or Palestinian people, so with the exception of the best boss I ever had (a survivor of Kristallnacht) and some former next-door neighbors who were Palestinian Christians my relationship with anyone from either group has been fairly rare but positive.

To me anti-semitism is like pedophilia – I know what it is but I don’t understand how someone can be that way.  I find ideas like the “Jewish Banking Conspiracy” and the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” absurd and the denial of the Holocaust deranged.

If I had to rate my position on the I/P conflict with +100 being totally in support of Israel and -100 being totally in support of Palestine I would give myself a +25 meaning I lean in favor of Israel.  That number does not reflect my position on every sub-issue but is an average.  However there is no sub-issue where I am pro-Palestinian, I range from neutral (zero) to +50 on everything.

If you are wondering why I don’t “fully support Israel” it’s because I am an American and the only country I am loyal to is the United States.  But I don’t fully support this country either – especially not when it commits war crimes and torture or when it discriminates against women, LGBT’s and minorities.

I also have issues with Israel, like when it commits espionage against us as it did with Jonathan Pollard and Lawrence Franklin.  I am concerned about the influence of AIPAC on our foreign policy (I am concerned about the influence of other groups, foreign and domestic, as well) and the attacks on the appointment of Chas Freeman to the National Intelligence Council.  But having issues or concerns is not the same as opposing Israel – I don’t.

I believe that Israel has a right to exist and that Jewish people everywhere have the right to live in peace and safety, free from discrimination or threat of violence.  But I believe that for everyone else as well.

So I am upset and outraged at the people who wish to accuse me of antisemitism or “Judeophobia” because I don’t support Israel as much as they do or agree with them on every related issue.  The accusations against me (and others here at The Confluence) range from weak to non-existent and include the defense of other people’s right to express a contrary point of view and bizarre conclusions drawn from obvious typos.  And lies – lots of them.

They say it’s okay to criticize Israel, but if you do you’ll never hear the end of it.  Any information that is critical of Israel is anti-semitic propaganda.  If they say someone of something is anti-semitic and you don’t agree they claim you are being offensive and hurtful.   If you obect to their tactics they claim you are trying to silence them!

The liars know who they are.  Their stance is akin to the Obama supporters who accused us of racism for not supporting Obama.  As far as I am concerned they can all go Cheney themselves.  I will not STFU nor go away.

Happy Freaking Birthday to me.

(comments will be heavily moderated on this post)

Tuesday: Reboot

(Early morning meeting.  This will be quick)

Nicholas Lemann, who I know nothing about, has written Mad and Madder in The New Yorker that hints at why Obama may be reluctant to nationalize the banks.  Well, *another* reason that is independent from the fact that his banker backers have him by the junk:

Bank nationalization would drive the stock market down and increase the agita of people with 401(k) plans. Moderate Democrats in Congress would further soften in their support for the Administration’s legislation. The price of bank nationalization might be Obama’s super-ambitious plans in other realms, which, if history is a guide, are likely to pass only in this first year of his Presidency. If they do pass, he will have generated tax revenues from affluent people for social purposes far beyond those of the House’s tax on A.I.G. bonuses, and he will have significantly eased the distress of people who can’t get good health care or education. That is a lot to put at risk.

Ok, the first part of that sentence makes sense; the second part is utter bull$#@&.  It’s the plunging 401K values Obama’s worried about.  Well, not exactly worried about.  Obama doesn’t really worry about people who makes less than 7 figures a year.  But revolutions happen when the middle class gets fed up with being treated badly.  As Thomas Jefferson wrote once upon a time: “all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”  Yep, we can hold out a long time as long as its the usual suspects that get the shaft.  You know, the perpetually poor, the undereducated, the ne’erdowells.  But when the value of middle class property starts to fall, “when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

So, maybe Obama’s strategy, and we have to assume their is a point to all of this even though there is no policy that we can detect, is to make sure that the middle class doesn’t lose its temper.  Plunging 401k’s would definitely make some people peevish, including moi.  However, if we descend into the semi-darkness of a Japan style “lost decade” where the already devalued 401k’s do not regain any of their value, just so that the bankers don’t have to eat their losses, that would piss me off more.  Maybe Obama figures that his chances of being a president when that happens are very slim.  Fine.  But don’t expect your picture on any stamps or money.  Your name will be “Bush”.

No, what we need is a reboot if there’s any chance to salvage the 401K system.  Of course, I would willingly forgo it if someone would just give me a fricking pension I could live off.  The rally of the stock market recently, I suspect, was partially the result of 401K contributions from bonuses that got disbursed in March.  It’s not going to last.  The market is going to start sinking again and stay there.  And then, people who were about to retire are going to get angry anyway.

Then it won’t be long before the anger spreads upwards to the smelly bourgeoisie.

Hmmm, NYC or Philly?  NYC or Philly?

Hmmm, NYC or Philly? NYC or Philly?


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The He-Man Woman Haters Ride Again!

heman

Misogyny never dies.  From Greg Sargent:

Is the Rush Limbaugh strategy giving way to the Sarah Palin strategy?

Multiple Democratic strategists say the party plans to increasingly elevate Palin in the same manner it has employed Rush for weeks, using her high-visibility, her social conservatism, and memories of her harsh attacks on Obama during the campaign to tar the GOP as partisan, obstructionist, and backward-looking.

James Carville, a key architect of the Limbaugh strategy, says Dems will be seeking to elevate Palin more and more, because she’s “an identifiable person who has a hook,” unlike GOP leaders like Eric Cantor and Mitch McConnell.

“Her name conjures up all kinds of reactions in people’s minds,” Carville told me, adding that her association with the campaign will be used to portray the GOP as hidebound and to alienate moderates. “She’s an uncomfortable figure for a lot of Republicans,” Carville says. “They want to move beyond her. We like her.”

“Luckily, she seems to present us with an opportunity every few days,” added a senior Dem strategist. “You could say it’s a turkey shoot.”

I guess this is part of the neverending campaign.  Obama needs to run against somebody so he can tear them down to make himself look good.  But Rush was apparently too tough for Teh Precious so he’s gonna try beating up on a woman instead.  Last time I checked the strategery of targeting the Big Fat Idiot only succeeded in pushing Limbaugh’s ratings through the roof. 

Let’s hope this plan is equally successful.

pds

TOTUS Speaketh:

obama080630_1_5601

From the transcript of Obama’s announcement on the auto industry:

And so today I’m announcing that my administration will offer GM and Chrysler a limited additional period of time to work with creditors, unions, and other stakeholders to fundamentally restructure in a way that would justify an investment of additional taxpayer dollars. During this period they must produce plans that would give the American people confidence in their long-term prospects for success.

Now, what we’re asking for is difficult. It will require hard choices by companies. It will require unions and workers who have already made extraordinarily painful concessions to do more. It’ll require creditors to recognize that they can’t hold out for the prospect of endless government bailouts. It’ll have to — it will require efforts from a whole host of other stakeholders, including dealers and suppliers. Only then can we ask American taxpayers who have already put up so much of their hard-earned money to once more invest in a revitalized auto industry.

Big Tent Democrat respondeth:

I missed President Obama’s speech demanding “painful concessions” from Wall Street. I missed President Obama’s condition for Wall Street bailouts that “creditors [must] recognize that they cannot hold out for the prospect of endless government bailouts.”

You voted for him BTD, we didn’t. 

We wanted a Democrat but noooooo!

————————————————————————————-

UPDATE:

“Rick Wagoner will leave his post as CEO of bailed-out General Motors with a $20 million retirement package, the company’s financial filings show.

Although the Treasury Department has barred GM from paying severance to Wagoner or any other senior executive, Wagoner is eligible to collect millions in retirement benefits from his former employer, according to the documents reviewed by ABC News.”

Hey Rick!:     ‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^›

(h/t Sam)

sacrificet

Monday: Who appointed the financial wizards as Gods anyway?

Greed is Good Gekko

"Greed is Good" Gekko

Automakers are on the frontpage of the NYTimes again today.  It looks like someone is trying to replace the finance giants smarting asses with a new whipping boy.  Who can feel much sympathy for the guys who ran Detroit?  They’ve known for at least 30 years that the oil would run out and that we would all have to switch over to more fuel efficient cars.   Back in the early eighties, they had even made some lame attempts to produce some of them.  But they were poorly designed, half-hearted attempts, as if someone was forcing them to eat spinach.  The Japanese killed them in the small car area and that, combined with an oil glut, caused the automakers to forget all about fuel efficiency.  They partied like it was 1999.

Of course, it is the union workers who have to pay for that.  Well, naturally.  It goes without saying.  Why does it go without saying that the unions must pay for the mistakes of the guys in the boardroom?  I don’t know.  It just is.

And now, bonddad at Huffington Post tells us we shouldn’t get down on the finance guys either.  They provide a valuable service:

But that does not mean that finance in and of itself is evil or that all people involved in this area of the economy are corrupt. I have often read the criticism that “The US doesn’t make things anymore” as if creating financial structures is somehow less valid than making a physical good. In fact, both activities are equally valid and should be treated as such. Individuals who prudently manage other’s money and take well-thought out risks provide a valuable service to the economy; they should not be publicly vilified because other members of their profession have made huge mistakes. In essence, there are good practitioners and bad practitioners in any profession; but the presence of bad practitioners does not nullify the contributions of the professions as a whole.

In addition, many finance people provided invaluable advice to their clients throughout this recession — advice which preserved their client’s money during an incredibly difficult time. Market watchers such as Barry Ritholtz, Mish Shedlock and Tim Iacona all provided invaluable advice to their clients and the public at large. Yet the criticism of finance groups all people in this industry together — or provides asterisks and caveats regarding industry professionals who are agreed with while still spilling a fair amount of bile at the industry as a whole. Throughout this recession I am often reminded of the public’s attitudes about criminal defense lawyers — a profession which is ridiculed and roundly criticized on a regular basis until you need one. Then you can bet your bottom dollar that you want Johhny Cochran at your side saying, “If the glove does not fit, you must acquit.” The point is broad brush strokes about any profession are inappropriate at best.

In short, Dr. Krugman’s analysis is wrong. Securitization has provided many benefits to the economy as a whole. It is not the sole problem with the current situation; we arrived at out present crisis because of a combination of numerous ill-thought out events and decisions. Finally, finance is not in and of itself bad and not all “wizards were frauds.” Securitization has been around a long enough time to indicate that properly done it does not pose a threat to the economy as a whole. The current mess is not solely caused by securitization, but instead a combination of many inter-related events.

In short, I respectfully disagree with Dr. Krugman’s analysis.

Is it true that the US doesn’t make things anymore?  Probably not.  Oh, sure, we don’t really make the world’s steel, appliances, furniture, textiles, computers and now, cars.  I think we can still give the world a run for the money in munitions, aircraft and pharmaceticals.  Agriculture is still pretty strong, though it’s mostly owned by big agribusiness.  But mostly, we have a lot of small businesses and the service industry.  Thank God we still have the finance industry.  It would never put out shoddy or poorly designed products like the auto industry.

Heck, didn’t we all gladly turn in our pension funds for cash-balance plans that we could manage ourselves?  And weren’t the finance wizards so very helpful in telling us how to set up our 401k’s that would steadily grow and grow and grow until we were 65?  And didn’t we listen to them when they told us that we didn’t put aside enough for our retirements and we should put more and more and more of our compensation into the stock market that, over many decades has shown only to increase in value?  Surely, they deserved all of the fees they wracked up whenever there was a transaction.  Surely, the work they did warranted the billions of dollars in bonuses.  It is very hard to skim money off the top of all those trillions of dollars of our hopes and dreams of adult communities on the golf course of our futures.

What I can’t understand is how they managed to appoint themselves Gods in the first place.  And was there a plan to first convince us to fork over our cash and then defraud us of the profits or did it just “happen”?  The rise in the financial genius class happened right about the time Reagan took office.  Reagan who preached “rugged individualism”, “voodoo economics” and the Laffer Curve. What we have 30 years later is a stratified society, a true class system, where the finance giants justify their existence in life as creating wealth, mostly for themselves.  What is their purpose in life really?  Who would be harmed if we got rid of the whole lot of them?

Let’s try that thought experiment.  Without the finance Gods handling our money we might still have pensions.  We might be making more money because the investor class wouldn’t be cheering for the increase in quarterly earnings that happen every time a company announces a layoff.  We might not have to have teleconferences at ridiculous hours with programmers in India.  People who need to get stuff done at work wouldn’t have to spend half of their time negotiating contracts with outsourcers, trying to get multiple contractors to handle what a single full time employee with benefits used to handle.  We might be making more fuel efficient cars if CEO’s had spent less time resisting the future, skimming the profits off the top, and more time encouraging the design of cars that would take advantage of that future.  But that would require hiring more designers and letting them design instead of figuring out how to make changes without incurring any additional expense.  They might have gotten good at car design, had they been allowed the creativity and money to do it.  We might have a Michigan that doesn’t resemble Blade Runner.  We could have dispensed with Six Sigma, “rank and yank” and other silly management theories that justified the MBA’s existence and wasted our precious time.  Workers everywhere could have been spared the biz speak jargon than made our ears bleed and meant that our pink slips were right around the corner.  We could have actually been rewarded for the work we did instead of being subjected to the stress of “what have you done for me lately?”.

That last question has been the focus of the finance giants for the last 30 years.  The finance industry has been focussed on their own bottom line with such intensity that producing anything of value has been an afterthought, just like the lives of the people who were affected by their machinations and securitization have been an afterthought.  And we can’t heal ourselves as a nation until we ask the finance giants “What have you done for me lately?” and impose the same performance based standards on them that they’ve forced on us for the last 30 years.

It’s time for a performance review.


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Evil Lesbian Apologizes For Wreaking Havoc

I thought love meant never having to say you’re sorry?