September 24, 2008

Nexus of capitalism

How about capping everyone's post-tax income, earned and otherwise, to say... I'll throw out some arbitrary figure... $5 million? I mean, who really needs more than five million dollars per year? I mean, even figuring conservatively, you can bank a half million and leave your kids a nice nest egg after you croak following 40 years of hard work.

Why do people need to make millions upon millions of dollars? People like Oprah and Bill Gates do good for our world, but really, do they as individuals need all that money? How about throwing anything additional you make into a tax-deferred (or lower-rate) trust fund that you can use to fund combating AIDS, establishing your own Grameen Bank, and the like?

Why am I asking this? There has been some discussion on Capitol Hill about restricting the salaries of CEOs whose companies buy into the mass-bailout to $400,000. I think that the ceiling is too low. While I would like to see them have to limit themselves, living in a place like NYC makes it difficult it get by on such a relatively low salary... although I'm sure that they do have some significant savings to help pay the bills for an extended period.

You know what, I don't care. $400,000 it is.


September 23, 2008

Against the Bailouts

Public opinion polling has revealed that the American public is split on the issue of whether or not the federal government should bail ailing financial companies out of the mess they helped to engineer. I am of the portion of America which believes that bailing out financial companies is a bad idea of the first order.

Why oppose federal bailouts of companies?

In bailing out companies who have engaged in business and accounting practices that were confusing at best and spurious and mendacious at worst, the government is giving tacit approval to allowing either ill-conceived (at best) and corrupt (at worst) business practices to continue. While I do not believe that the government should sit on the sidelines and allow the "natural" course of economics to take its course, I do think that bailing out the companies responsible for getting us into this position, causing us to even be having these discussions, is foolish policy and enables criminals to continue swindling the public. Around a decade ago, the Republican-led Congress, with the approval of the Democratic President Bill Clinton, passed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which repealed key provisions of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act. The Glass-Steagall Act did many things, perhaps most importantly establishing the FDIC, but it also set barriers between commercial banks, investment banks, and insurance companies. These barriers helped to prevent the vast amounts of collusion that have hence occurred.

Firstly: What I then propose is a return to a regulated system of banking, one in which roles are defined for banks and they may not collude with other types of financial institutions (including other types of banks).

Another cause of the current economic situation was the development of complex financial instruments that passed the burden of debt was person to person, without diffusing the risk in assuming the debt. Once these debts started to go bad, ie groups of high-risk mortgages going unpaid, financial institutions were left holding the bag of bad debt they knowingly purchased. One can argue the cause of bad debts, from predatory lending to borrowers knowingly providing lenders with fraudulent information. However, the end result is the same.

Secondly: Additionally, I propose that the federal government introduce guidelines to lending and prohibit payday lending at usurious rates (and I will define that as any interest rate on money above 39.99% APR). Borrowers who knowingly provide fraudulent information in order to obtain credit must be punished in criminal or civil proceedings. Also, the complex financial instruments that developed in this period, collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps, need to fall under regulatory watch so that an explosive period of growth in the future doesn't precede a collosal collapse like the continued collapse of the last year. The government needs to evolve and be able to meet the challenges posed by evolving markets.

Thirdly, from that last point: the government and its regulatory agencies need to be able to know what they're dealing with and have the capacities to keep up with an ever-evolving financial system. That government doesn't need to own companies like AIG, that should only be an action of last resort when a company is on the verge of collapse and that collapse threatens to take down the rest of the economy; rather there must be oversight by parties independent of the organizations being watched over. That's right: you can't have the former head of Alcoa try to regulate Alcoa in an unbiased manner. The last eight years have shown us the results of government and corporate collusion; we have a war in Iraq and this mess to prove it.

So, for better or worse, here is where we are. The President and his cronies (Paulson et al) are trying to foist a $700 billion bill on us, the tax payers, while letting the CEOs and other individuals responsible for creating this catastrophic mess off of the proverbial hook. It's not fair to us, the taxpayer, or to us, the consumer, to let this happen.


September 14, 2008

Grilling Sarah Palin

UPI may claim the banner of 100 years of journalistic excellence, but that estimation is immediately brought into question when you reach "no bloopers" in this article. Let us reveal the "blooper" of Palin's interview:

Not being able to identify the Bush Doctrine.

The title of the UPI interview suggests that the media's "grilling" of Sarah Palin may backfire, but I need to ask: when did the grilling ever start? Sure enough, the media has obsessed about Palin's personal life, the incogruence of letting her daughter have the choice of keeping her child of ending the pregnancy which making very clear that she wants to deny all other American women of that choice... etc. But the media have let McCain and Palin go on carte blanche long enough when it comes to the issue of being qualified enough to be within a heartbeat of the Presidency. Issues such as her ability to grasp important international matters within the context of the last eight years (see: Bush Doctrine) have been lightly touched, if at all, by the major networks prior to Gibson's interview. Issues like her lying about going to Iraq and qualifying that as her foreign policy experience (she actually was on base in Kuwait) and going to Ireland (which was waiting on the tarmac in her airplace - presumably while she was "going to Iraq") and also qualifying that as foreign policy experience have not been touched.

Forget that the campaigns closest of surrogates (Cindy McCain) implied that by living close to Russia, Sarah Palin had foreign policy experience (apparently Canada doesn't count). Forget that a hockey mom's lipstick is the only thing separating her from a pitbull. The McCain campaign has again and again tried to foist these lies about Sarah Palin on us, all with the hopes that the media won't do their job and that Americans will ignore all of the true issues which matter (the war, the economy, health care) and think rather about electing Miss Wasilla 1984 to be the first female vice-president... all the while letting the oh-so-skilled hands of John McCain and his minions toy with the levers of government... while Sarah Palin waits in the wings.


September 11, 2008

I heard the news today, oh boy...

A very evangelical Christian woman just told me that there's going to be a lunar eclipse on the 30th, per the "Jewish" calendar and that the calendar said it was going to be the Jews' first coming of Jesus, the Christians' second coming, obvi.

Does anyone else know about this or has heard about this from a Jews-for-Jesus-esque group? This same person also is telling me that she's reading the Bible in Hebrew w/o any sort of background in Hebrew. People are crazy and will believe anything they want to believe, seems to me.

Well, Wikipedia isn't turning any information regarding an eclipse on the 30th. She said it'd be a red moon. Maybe she's confusing it with Rosh Hashanah, which starts at sundown on the 29th. In any case. Jesus is coming for Rosh to nosh, guise!!!!

So to all my Jewish readers, l'chodesh tov... and since the high holy days are near: l'shana tova.

You can paint a turd pink...

... it doesn't mean it'll taste like cotton candy.

The fact remains that although Governor Palin defies the conventional wisdom of what a conservative is "supposed" to look like, she still tows the Republican ideological line. So yes, Senator Obama had it right: a pig can wear lipstick, but it's still a pig.

By the way, isn't it funny how Senator McCain can use the same expression in reference to Senator Clinton (in the primaries re: HillaryCare) and come away from it clean? Anyway, no being petty. Not on this day.

Today is the 7th anniversary of the attacks on the Pentagon, World Trade Center, and downing of United Airlines Flight 93. Two years ago I wrote at length over the matter but last year I said nothing. Let it not be said that I didn't mind the day and take a moment for pause and reflection, like I did today.

It's funny how time sometimes dims the past or exaggerates it... but not that day. I was 17 years old... and I can still remember everything as if today were September 12, 2001.

Sleep didn't come to me that night but for one hour. I remember being glued to CNN and MSNBC... while speculation ran wild as to who did it, why, and what the response was going to be. Journalism didn't exist that evening... it was all speculation and opinionizing. It laid the groundwork for the current standards of journalism on television.

There were many seeds sown on that day... seeds of hatred, seeds of anger, seeds of distrust, seeds of... practically everything. And those fruits have come to bear different results since that day. Sown were the seeds of two wars - three if one counts the War on Terror - and all two (or three) are still being fought to this day. Sown were the seeds of manipulation by those in power, preying upon the fears of the public that somewhere, somehow, terrorism was going to hit again at any given moment. There were people putting duct tape around their windows and door... trying to protect themselves.

Sadly, they had already been infected. Infected with fear, these people were driven to do any and everything that the government suggested to keep themselves safe from the spectre of terror.

We are told that the greatest remedy to terror, to tyranny, is freedom.

Where is our remedy?

September 2, 2008

Thoughts and prayers

My thoughts and prayers are going out to all victims of Hurricane Gustav. Luckily Gustav was only a SS-2 storm when it made landfall west of New Orleans yesterday... damage, from what I've heard, appears to be minimal and flooding has been due to heavy rainfall and not as a result of systemic failures in the levee system...

The eastern seaboard of the US is now holding its breath for two troublesome spots: Tropical Storm/Hurricane Hanna and Tropical Storm Ike. Per National Hurricane Center official forecast, Ike appears to be making a beeline to the Bahamas and any forecasting beyond that would be purely speculative venture. Hanna, on the other hand, seems to be parked over the Bahamas, wobbling before setting about on its predicted path, which, per NHC forecast, is towards the SC coast, potentially as a major hurricane. I have doubts about the forecast strength of Hanna, as it looks like it's still undergoing significant shearing in its northern quadrants.

The RNC is going to get rolling today, taking yesterday off to show "solidarity" with citizens being affected by Hurricane Gustav... and getting them off the hook of having W speak. Incidentally, over the roar of Gustav coverage, news broke yesterday that Sarah Palin's 17-year old daughter is pregnant and will be marrying the child's father....