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    • The Torture Culture
      Ok, here’s the deal: Torture does not work to get information. Period. You do not torture people to get information, you torture people to send information, or rather, to send a message. What is that message? (Originally from Dec 16, 2010, but it seems worth re-upping for a new generation of readers – Ian.) We Torture People […]
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I’m not an economist but…

…I read Krugman’s latest post on Conscience of a Liberal this morning about the recent actions of the Fed to raise interest rates.  I’m scratching my head over this one as well because the economy, as I see it, is still in the dumps and I’m still meeting plenty of people who think the economy sucks and unemployment is too high and self-employed people are hurting and it’s just pretty fricking awful all over the damn place.  So, I’m going to guess that the actions of the Fed are in response to something Wall Street is doing as they take advantage of The Market and everyone else in the world.  Are we experiencing another housing bubble? Are the hedge funds still accumulating foreclosed properties like there’s no tomorrow, driving up the cost of housing for everyone else?  I was lucky to get my house but I knew there were a lot of other offers on it and the only thing that gave me an edge is that I had cash and was an owner who was actually going to, you know, live there.

Anyway, I’m going to guess that there’s something afoot that I haven’t paid attention to that is on the Fed’s radar and since bankers, brokers, hedgies and the bonus class are the only people we bail out and go out of our way to not inconvenience, the rest of the world’s billions will just have to suck it up.  If our lives become even more difficult and strained, well, tough titties for us. We must not make it hard for the yacht owners to pay their kids private school tuitions or wives go without the underpaid au pairs for even one summer.  And since the vast majority of us do not occupy the ranks of the “not to be inconvenienced” group, it should come as no surprise that the consequences of the Fed’s actions on OUR lives is of no concern to it.  Of course, impoverishing the real market is eventually self-limiting and self-correcting, as Jefferson once wrote, but people will put up with a lot of shit before they throw the bastards out.

Or is there a political element to this strategy?  Is it still the plan to inflict as much suffering on average Americans as possible so that they will snap and take any measly short term relief in exchange for giving up whatever is left of the tattered social safety net?  If I were going to gut social security, this is not the way I would do it.  No, I’d wait until the economy was growing like Topsy and everyone was fat and happy and only then spring it on us that we’d have to give up social security.  But maybe these guys think Fear, Uncertainty and Dread will be more effective.  If we plunge back into recession because of it, will the Democrats catch the blame, along with all the bad stuff headed their way over Obamacare?  Time will tell.  But one thing is for sure.  The rest of us must still pay for the outrageously reckless behavior of a handful of selfish, greedy sociopaths.

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Save your breath, Obama fans, this one will change your mind

Wall Street wants a cut of Atlantic City’s market

If it weren’t enough that we bailed out the finance industry, gave them billions of dollars, took their toxic assets off their hands, compensated them for their bad bets and ignored every other blessed thing in the country while the bankers plaintively whined, “But what about *me*!?”, the bankers new plan for the elderly and retired people is really the worst.

According to the NYTimes (and they are no Romney fans, let us note), the Obama administration is fully behind the finance industry’s plan to market securities to the elderly and retired people.  You know, those people in your family who watch Fox News, buy gold coins from Glenn Beck and stock in Israeli oil companies?  Just think about it, some massive pension funds gave money to Goldman-Sachs for hinky securities, the brokers called them “muppets” and got away with it, and Goldman got a slap on the wrist when the pension fund lost a ton of money.  Now, multiply that stupidity across a whole nation of elderly former supermarket cashiers and bus drivers with little nest eggs that they are setting aside for themselves and their children’s inheritance.

And the Obama administration is giving this scheme its blessing:

Bipartisan majorities in Congress and President Obama are to thank for this development. Bowing to the financial industry, they joined forces last April to pass a law that requires the Securities and Exchange Commission to lift the ban on mass advertising of private offerings.

The S.E.C., for its part, made matters worse this week when it proposed a rule to implement the law that utterly fails to address the fact that ending the ban will make everyday investors more vulnerable to fraud. While the commission has no choice but to lift the ban, it does have leeway to write the rules to decrease the threat to investors. It has not used that flexibility.

For instance, while the new law allows for mass advertising of private offerings, it also says the buyers of such securities must be “accredited investors,” generally defined as those with at least $1 million in net worth (not counting a home) or at least $200,000 of yearly income. The law also says that private stock issuers must take “reasonable steps” to verify that investors qualify as “accredited.” But the S.E.C. did not impose or even suggest verification procedures to ensure that investors meet the criteria.

Now, if this were a rule that allowed average people access to valuable IPOs, that would be one thing.  I’ve always thought it was unfair that only certain already rich people had access to inside information that would allow them a head of the line pass to make a killing.  But that’s not what we’ve got here.  What we’ve got is a way for the finance industry to sink their teeth into our future inheritances while potentially leaving our elderly parents destitute.  Someday down the road, we’re going to hear some young, hotshot, banker asshole in a bar say something about how it’s not his responsibility to save stupid people from themselves.  He’s in it for himself and he didn’t do anything illegal.  He’s just smarter than the suckers who bought what he was selling.

So, there you go. Obama, instead of leveling the playing field and making sure that all investors get stellar service from accountable brokers, is doing exactly the opposite, as if investing in the market was just what everyone wanted to do with their retirement savings.

I don’t like the way this is sounding.  Why would any senior citizen with a comfortable living from pensions and social security need to risk any of their money on the market?

Unless some of that comfortable living shrinks up and dies away and they need to find some way to replace it?  Doesn’t this sound like the brute force way to privatize Social Security?  Make your Social Security payment so tiny that you are forced to risk money on  the stock market?  Like involuntarily forcing you into 401Ks with risky mutual funds just when you should be sticking it all in a boring, plodding annuity?

It sounds like a finance industry wet dream, like introducing the gambling addicts to a whole new casino.  Instead of rehabbing them, Obama will be enabling them further.  The bankers will not be curbed in the least, nor will they be held accountable when millions of people lose everything they own to them.  I can almost picture them in a room with Obama, talking about “what everyone already knows.  Social Security is dead. We have to force the public to face up to it and give them an alternate way to make money.”  The sociopaths in the bespoke suits and manicured hands look at the president in what passes for what they call sincerity.  They nod gravely at one another.  Well, what can they do?  The world is changing.  Ohhh, so THAT’S the Change!™ Obama was always talking about.

You know how I know that this is the kind of conversation they’re having?  It’s because this is the same schtick I and my colleagues heard from our 401K managers in a seminar on all the fantastic new products they were rolling out to us a few years ago. “Social Security is going to be a thing of the past.  Where else are you going to go?”  They *almost* made it sound like they were doing us a favor since there wouldn’t be any social security anymore.  And then I thought, how do they know that?  Who told them?  Is that part of the plan??  Deliberately remove this leg of the retirement stool and force us all into risky mutual funds?

So all you Democratic loyalists who are screaming about how the Republicans are the worst people on earth and how you can’t trust them and OMG, if you don’t vote for Obama, we are all well and truly *f^&$ed*!, you can save your breath.  He has betrayed you.  You’re just sticking your fingers in your ears singing “la-la-la, I can’t hear you”.  He will never be YOUR president because you ask nothing of him.  And once he has you in his win column, he will ignore you and move on to the tougher nuts, the religious and the libertarians.  He is exactly the same kind of president to the liberal Democrat that Romney will be to the liberal Democrat.

Democratic loyalists need to ask themselves what they are going to get out of this and they should pay attention to who the Obama administration is courting.  You will only get what you want from the party if you deny them  what they want.  Otherwise, why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?  The scare tactics don’t work on me because I’m not a fricking pushover.

Stop acting like stupid mooning girls with a crush on a player.

The Democrats in Exile theme song:

Arrogance, Insanity and Sociopaths

Back to the basement for more disinfecting, etc.  In the meantime, I’ve been checking out videos of Varna award winners.  The International Ballet Competition at Varna, Bulgaria every year attracts the best and brightest in the ballet world.  These young dancers go on to professional careers as principal dancers in companies all over the world.  And some of them still look like they’re having fun years later.  Here’s Michele Wiles, former Varna winner and principal dancer at ABT, checking out a slow motion camera:

I love to see people doing what they love with intensity and passion.  When they have obvious gifts, it’s hard not to be fascinated with them.  People who have a vision, perserverence and a fanatical devotion to perfection are charismatic and it’s easier to tolerate their faults.

Take Steve Jobs, for example.  The CEO of Apple recently stepped down presumably because his health was getting in the way of his work.  That must be maddeningly frustrating for a guy at the top of his field at a very creative period of his life.  Joe Nocera has a column in the NYTimes that describes Jobs’ working style and his less than diplomatic management style:

 The businessman I met 25 years ago violated every rule of management. He was not a consensus-builder but a dictator who listened mainly to his own intuition. He was a maniacal micromanager. He had an astonishing aesthetic sense, which businesspeople almost always lack. He could be absolutely brutal in meetings: I watched him eviscerate staff members for their “bozo ideas.”

The Steve Jobs I watched that week was arrogant, sarcastic, thoughtful, learned, paranoid and “insanely” (to use one of his favorite words) charismatic.

The Steve Jobs the rest of the world has gotten to know in the nearly 15 years since he returned to Apple is no different. He never mellowed, never let up on Apple employees, never stopped relying on his singular instincts in making decisions about how Apple products should look and how they should work. Just a few months ago, Fortune published an article about life inside Apple; it opened with an anecdote in which Jobs cut his staff to ribbons for putting out a product that failed to meet his standards. But his instincts have been so unerringly good — and his charisma so powerful — that Apple employees were willing to follow him wherever he led. Apple will miss those instincts.

The guy never mellowed.

Atrios wrote today about sociopaths, the politicians whose goal seems to just get elected and don’t really care about stuff.  It’s hard to know whether he’s referring to the current Republican slate or Obama himself.  I’m not sure these people are sociopaths.  That would require a charm offensive of some sort and from where I sit, none of the people running for president so far have an excess of sociopathic charm.  The Obama contingent of 2008 were clearly mesmerized by something else because, trust me, guys, he wasn’t at all charismatic in 2008.  Obama’s success derived from a slick marketing campaign with a clever aspirational appeal and not from any intrinsic strengths or gifts on the part of the candidate.

We could take a lesson from Jobs.  Charisma comes not from some syrupy appeal to bipartisanship or the reflected light of the thousands of upturned faces of Christian fanatics.  It comes from the drive to produce something new and different, something that no one has ever seen before, something that will hit the reset switch of what is expected.  People like Jobs don’t like compromise, especially when that compromise interferes with the idea in their heads.  That is what makes a leader.  A leader can afford to be a little arrogant and demanding.  Leaders are out in front.  They shift to a higher energy level and expect us to keep up with them.

What we’ve got here in the presidential candidates of 2012 is not so much a collection of sociopaths but a bunch of uninspiring radical conformists.  They aspire to nothing, they pander to all.  They are no leaders.  The sociopaths are the ones standing behind them.  There’s not much we can do about the Republican slate of candidates.  The whole party is speaking a different language and lives in a parallel universe.  The Democrats are a whole other story.  It’s still possible to take this campaign season up to a new energy level.

Think Different.