Archive for April, 2010

Cry Me A River

April 30, 2010

Yes, Siree!  Cry me a river, not of pristine waters, but of toxic sludge.

Calls for “investigations” plus all the alligator tears in the world, AFTER THE FACT, will not do.  Will we ever learn from our past experiences?  Not if money is involved.  Money is the ultimate opiate, wiping out any vestiges of reason, logic or ethics.

As the BP oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico continues to spew oil, the toxic sludge creeping ever closer to land, now only hours away from our shores, the head of BP is calling for any and all help that can be mustered:

An executive for BP PLC, which operated the oil rig that exploded and sank last week, said on NBC’s “Today” that the company would welcome help from the U.S. military.

“We’ll take help from anyone,” BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said.

How come, when BP built this rig and the nearby states approved its construction, our captains of industry and our lawmakers could anticipate only the huge revenues this rig would generate and NOT the possible personal and environmental disaster that might ensue?  How can a giant oil producer such as BP not be required to have a plan for such a disaster as we are now witnessing?  What?  BP can revel in the money they make from producing and selling oil, but not have a plan on hand nor equipment in place, IN ANTICIPATION of a plausible occupational hazard while our powers-that-be in our industries and government find this scenario just fine and dandy?

Do you think it reasonable that now all of their cries for help should be heeded, much less paid for by our federal government, i.e. the taxpayers?  Although I must admit, President Obama said yesterday that BP will be responsible for the costs of cleaning up this mess.  And what of those tony Nantucket residents who are yelling and screaming against the wind farm that was just approved to be built off their manicured shores?  No wind power because it might be an eyesore to property owners (I personally think the windmills are fantastic and beautiful to look at.), but offshore oil drilling is just super, at least until some catastrophe hits.  Besides the total lack of any anticipatory analysis and preparation, these builders and politicians, the movers and shakers that drive our economy, are just whacked out of their tiny, little minds.

Aren’t we also then, for electing them?  Whether it is fancy-schmancy investments that defy definitions or legislative processes that reward special interests or hateful laws that are reminiscent of totalitarian regimes, when, do tell when, will we say “Enough’?  How many times have we been down this road already?  And how many more times are we going to allow these old situations to pop up again and again, these oft-repeated scenarios that have a special place reserved for them in Hell?

Cry me a river, but by all means let the oil and money still flow.

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Weekend Funnies

April 30, 2010

INTERESTING HISTORY LESSON


Railroad tracks. This is fascinating.

Be sure to read the final paragraph; your understanding of it will depend on the earlier part of the content.

The  US  standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches.. That’s an exceedingly odd number.

Why was that gauge used? Because that’s the way they built them in  England , and English expatriates built the  US  railroads.

Why did the English build them like that? Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that’s the gauge they used.

Why did ‘they’ use that gauge then? Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing.


Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing? Well, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of the old, long distance roads in  England , because that’s the spacing of the wheel ruts.

So who built those old rutted roads? Imperial  Rome built the first long distance roads in Europe (and England  ) for their legions. The roads have been used ever since.

And the ruts in the roads? Roman war chariots formed the initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels. Since the chariots were made for Imperial  Rome , they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing. Therefore the  United States  standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches is derived from the original specifications for an Imperial Roman war chariot.. Bureaucracies live forever.

So the next time you are handed a specification/    procedure/process and wonder ‘What horse’s ass came up with it?’, you may be exactly right. Imperial Roman army chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the rear ends of two war horses. (Two horse’s asses.) Now, the twist to the story:

When you see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, there are two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRB’s. The SRB’s are made by Thiokol at their factory in  Utah  . The engineers who designed the SRB’s would have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRB’s had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site. The railroad line from the factory happens to run through a tunnel in the mountains, and the SRB’s had to fit through that tunnel. The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad track, as you now know, is about as wide as two horses’ behinds.

So, a major Space Shuttle design feature of what is arguably the world’s most advanced transportation system was determined over two thousand years ago by the width of a horse’s ass. And you thought being a horse’s ass wasn’t important? Ancient horse’s asses control almost everything and ………


CURRENT Horses Asses are controlling everything else.

EXPECTED MERGERS

For all of you with any money left, be aware of the next expected mergers so that you can get in on the ground floor and make some BIG bucks.  Watch for these consolidations:

1.  Hale Business Systems, Mary Kay Cosmetics, Fuller Brush, and W.R. Grace Company will merge and become:

HALE, MARY, FULLER, GRACE

2.  Polygram Records, Warner Brothers, and Zesta Crackers join forces and become:

POLLY WARNER CRACKER

3.  3M will merge with Goodyear and become:

MMMGood

4.  Zippo Manufacturing, Audi Motors, Dofasco, and Dakota Mining will merge and become:

ZipAudiDoDa

5.  Fedex is expected to join its competitor, UPS, and become:

FedUP

6.  Fairchild Electronics and Honeywell Computers will become:

Fairwell Honeychild

7.  Grey Poupon and Docker Pants are expected to become:

Poupon Pants

8.  Knotts Berry Farm and The National Organization of Women will become:

Knott NOW!

And finally …..

9.  Victoria’s Secret and Smith & Wesson will merge under the new name:

TittyTitty Bang Bang

Fixing Finance: Not So Complicated

April 29, 2010

Don’t ever say that I failed to explain things.

I came upon a Bob Schieffer interview of Bill Clinton on NPR radio yesterday.  In general terms, the program dealt with our economic meltdown and specifically, they discussed the culpability of Goldman Sucks (GS) in that near collapse.  Listening to our 42nd President was like a light bulb going off in my head.  Beside the fact that Clinton is an enormously smart person, he also has the gift to translate that intellectual capacity into language that all of us can understand.  This is called communication.  Thus, let me enlighten you a bit on the financial subterfuge that is eating our economy alive.  Here is what Clinton taught me.

Oh wait.  First let me tell you what Clinton did NOT say.  This bubble composed of sub-prime mortgages had its starting point with unscrupulous lenders and stupid, greedy lien holders, i.e. individual home owners.  The mortgage lenders never qualified their customers in a thorough and accountable way.  Additionally, those seeking the loans knew damn well that they would never qualify for the size of the loan they were seeking, much less with no down payment.  So they agreed to adjustable rate mortgages.  These loans enabled them to afford the monthly payments at a lower rate for a few years.  Then, the APR would soar to a ridiculous amount which in no way, shape or form could be covered by the earning power of these home owners.  And this was in good times.  God forbid, their financial situation deteriorate ever so slightly, and they would face certain foreclosure.  So right from the get-go, these aspiring homeowners had no more qualifications for these loans than did a rock, but the lenders approved them, including in that agreement a huge increase in their interest rate that would kick in about five years down the road.  Unscrupulous lenders and stupid borrowers.  Clinton left this first step out of his analysis, so I felt you should know what Square A was.

Let us move on to Square B.  What Clinton did say on the program was that futures and hedges were devised to protect producers, whether they be farmers wanting protection for their from bad weather or manufacturers who want protection against currency fluctuations.  These intentions were founded on real economic purpose, which is the key concept here.  Clinton admitted that GS probably did nothing illegal; but their hedge funds and derivatives had no underlying, intrinsic value.  Their investment packages were composed of bets upon bets upon bets, with no economic purpose other than to generate fees for the investment banking firm.  Clinton said this was their greatest sin, peddling worthless securities from the beginning.  Absolutely no economic purpose.  This is the point where, as a last resort, morality enters the picture.  However, morality cannot be legislated, so new regulations must be undertaken to try and short-circuit the lack of ethical behavior.

His antidote?  Regulation that would require banking houses to back up their offerings with a much higher down payment.  These highly leveraged deals must not be supported with just thin air, but with real assets behind them.  Kind of like the solution for those individual home owners who mortgaged away their lives without any collateral behind their loans.  Clinton also said that the banking houses must provide much more accountability and disclosure on the instruments they offer for sale.  Specific information on the make-up, quality and viability of those items grouped together in an investment “package” must be included.

This reminds me of my call yesterday for re-vamping the blue sky pre-offering period into a much more aggressive interval for real exploration, discovery and fact-finding about the issue about to be publicly offered.  Here is the formal definition of blue sky laws:

State securities laws designed to protect investors which require sellers of new stock issues to register their offerings and provide financial details on each offering. The term is said to have originated from a judge who claimed a that a new stock offering had as much value as a patch of blue sky.

Hell: the blue sky period should not be a time of serene quietude.  No way.  It should be a down-and-dirty series of days for getting the real dope on what is being offered, who stands behind it and the ethical history of the underwriter.

Such are the remedies that Clinton suggested.  They make a lot of sense to me: a higher dollar-value of collateral to back up these dubious investments coupled with additional regulation that requires complete disclosure on what those investments actually are.

It goes without saying that these principles of sound investing should also be applied to the individual who attempts to partake in our financial markets.  From individual levels to the very pinnacle of institutional levels, total disclosure, transparency and due diligence must be the pre-requisites for involvement.  If these standards are not adhered to right from the beginning, all the crying later on of “No fair”, “I was robbed” or “Save me” will be meaningless and laughable.

They say our economy is looking up: jobs are somewhat rebounding, corporate earnings are posting excellent gains and consumer optimism is enjoying a rebirth.  Faith in the economy is picking up.  Don’t kid yourselves.  If the bedrock of our economy, its financial institutions, cannot or will not clean house, that house will come tumbling down.  It will not matter if this structural flaw is real or just perceived.  The perception of danger will be quite enough to take our breath away.

The Fallacy of Blue Skies

April 28, 2010

Blue skies, nothin’ but blue skies, from now on ……..

If the SEC believed their charges against Goldman Sucks (GS) were solid, verifiable, that they would “stick”, that they would end up in a punishing civil verdict against the investment banking firm, they would have levied a fine against GS to begin with.  These charges have a very good chance of being overturned in favor of GS.

For every security, IPO, or market transaction, there is a buy side and a sell side.  Hedging one’s bets is one of the most common strategies on Wall Street.  The conflict is that when people lose money, all of a sudden they get morality.  There has never been much of that on Wall Street, and certainly  when new products are introduced, any existing morality falls by the wayside in an effort to sell the product.  Read Steven Pearlstein’s article and then tell me that something other than the desire to make buckets of money was the real motivator in the Wall Street debacle.  In fact, the only issue open for discussion should be if GS didn’t pull off this sub-prime mortgage caper, another firm would have.  It is like a house of prostitution: any requested service, regardless of its morality or safety, will be delivered for the right price.  Everything is for sale if the money is there.

GS does not believe they were at fault for not scrutinizing the individual loans in these subprime mortgage packages.  They may have a point.  Do you think that every new issue represents a sound, stand-up entity?  No way.  The IPO is just a method for that company to raise capital and for the underwriter to collect a huge fee.  The real value of the new company and its publicly traded shares is just another way to generate cash across the board.  It is not a statement on the solvency, social worth or morality of that company.  The market will determine the real value of the new company once the shares start to trade.

In fact, if Wall Street finds itself short of sellable products, they will create new vehicles to maintain their steady stream of fees and income.  Thus, derivatives of every size, shape and sort.  The shortcoming that is just as much in play here as the risky underlying securities is the desire for everyone to hop on the bandwagon.  As long as they made money, they never questioned the underlying value of the “security”, underwriters, issuing company and individual investors alike.  However, the entire sub-prime market collapsed, people lost everything and now “morality” becomes the issue.  Sorry: too little, too late.

GS characterizes their role in all of this as that of a middleman, i.e. structuring investment opportunities but not condoning the investment itself.  In fact, how many prospectuses have you read that clearly state that the underwriter is neither condoning nor condemning the sale of the soon-to-be issued securities?  That is why we have a “blue sky” period, right before the shares are released for sale.  This is a quiet period meant to let nature take its course until the market itself can determine the true value of the shares.

Whether GS is just the middleman or the pusher of evil pills will become clearer.  I do understand the nature of the dilemma: is the investment bank really just a conduit for creating new capital or is it intentionally misleading the public by marketing valueless investments in their goal attainment of more revenues?  I think we will not get a definitive answer.  Thus, the SEC will go down along with its charges against GS, who will experience a renaissance revival in structuring even more dubious investments.

I do not know what the answer is.  Will more regulation help?  I doubt it, because new financial instruments will be designed to hedge those exact regulations. Can morality be legislated?  I cannot put my finger on exactly the malfeasance of GS, but I know it is there.  That is the catch.  The SEC knows it and GS knows it.

One answer might be that the blue sky period should be turned into a rip-roaring, rollicking “red sky at morning, sailor’s warning” period.  Instead of forcing a deliberate time for quiet contemplation of the impending offering, perhaps we should designate this pre-offering period as a time for true disclosure.  Investment bankers and brokers should be encouraged to address every aspect of this new issue.  Every rumor and innuendo, as well as the facts and the figures, should be made public.  Loudly and clearly.  That, my friends, would be true due diligence.  It just does not make sense that a quiet period prior to selling new shares is beneficial to all those involved, especially the buying public.  This is the sticking point: the blue sky period is there to benefit the seller of the shares, but certainly not to inform the prospective buyers of possible risks.  Sometimes, the opposite result is actually realized in the place of the desired result.

The saving grace of these charges will be if President Obama can use the ugly facts, figures and deals to influence those Congressmen to vote for financial reform.  It is a wonderful trick of fate to have the Congressional hearings of GS paired perfectly in time with the push for financial reform.  Of course, the next question will be: what shall we reform?  If we cannot articulate what the fault of GS was, how are we ever going to correct it?

As with the blue sky example above, by supporting one side of an issue, the opposite desired result sometimes occurs.  By slamming fiscal reform across the board, the GOP might be shooting themselves in their feet.  Simon Johnson’s article lays out that possibility.

Something stinks in Denmark —- and on Wall Street, Portugal, Spain and Greece.  Unless we get to the bottom of what already happened, we will not be able to issue corrective measures.  But this time, the SEC will lose, GS will “win” and  all the rest of us Americans might reap the benefits of this debacle, in the form of new legislation.  Any takers for investments that securitize risks and rewards of new legislation?  Even if we do get new laws , how about offering derivatives that hedge our bets against the chance of effective policy changes?

Blue skies, nothin’ but blue skies, from now on.

From Rep to Rap

April 27, 2010

Wait.  Things get even better.  The irony and hypocrisy in my life is an omen for our nation’s financial crisis.

As of last night, every single Republican senator voted against taking the issue of fiscal reform to debate.  Public opinion has not yet become quite harsh enough to force the GOP to actually fight for the side of what is just.  Maybe the financial markets, what with the near collapse now of not only banks, but also countries (such as Greece, Spain, Portugal), will experience a tumble within the next few weeks that will force our narcissistic GOP to have a second look at fiscal reform.  Maybe, maybe not.

My dealings with my bank can only spell doom.  Mind you, the bank’s name is People’s United Bank.  Honey, they wouldn’t know what a real person was if they were smacked across the face with such an example of living humanity.   Listen to this.

So we are just about to set a closing date for the transaction when the same, infamous corporate robot informs us that she needs to verify our term and place of employment.  Reasonable.  So being the three-man show that we are, I told her that I could verify that for her.  She responded that she needs to talk to the HR department within our organization.  I had to take a deep breath at that point.   As I said we are a three-man operation.  We are not an organization, nor do we have an HR department.  We talk to each other, no doubt a practice that has no place in today’s world.  This concept was utterly foreign to Little Miss Robot.  Two of us have been employed there for 27 years, and the third employee has had a tenure of 13 years.  The robot Googled our office and saw that there was a partner, and couldn’t he verify the employment dates?  I said, “Ah, but if he only could!  He has been gone from our employ for five years.”  Little Miss Robot (You’ve heard of Lady Gaga?  This is my very own Lady Robo) responded, “But that’s not what Google says.”  Just shoot me now.  If Google says it is true, so be it.  To make a long story short, she insisted that the 13-year employee verify the work records of the two 27-year employees.  No gap of logic there.  It is a succinct formula for doom when the goal of a specific task is the fulfillment of red tape rather than a resolution.

The lawyer, our “advocate”, is no better.  He swears that he has been in our corner, exemplified by the hours he has billed us.  Another misconception: billable hours have no relation to the actual conflict resolution.  To the contrary: the more resolution is avoided, the more billable hours accrue.  The time expended by our attorney is actually inversely related to the timeliness and effectiveness of the solution.  As if billable hours justifies due diligence!  Dare I label this a conflict of interest, or go one step further and call it a black hole for ethical, professional behavior?  Call me crazy, but even David Brooks of the New York Times calls this reversal of sanity a farce:

And as for Fabulous Fab, he seems to be the product of the current amoral Wall Street culture in which impersonal trading is more important than personal service to clients, and in which any product you can sell to some poor sucker is deemed to be admirable and O.K.

In this drama, in other words, the establishment was pleasant, respectable and stupid, while the contrarians were smart but hard to love, and sometimes sleazy.

(The entire article is linked below.)  If this is the case, I would rather be a stark raving mad lunatic than be considered sane in the current topsy-turvey world in which we live.

No wonder financial institutions and now, entire countries, are collapsing.  There is no regard for human communication.  Rather, people work to fill out corporate/government paperwork and neatly place them in the proper slots.  Never mind that while the slots are getting filled up, no relevant information is actually being discovered.

So watch carefully how the GOP will either go down with their platform of bucking anything Obama, or if they will respond to the needs of their constituency.  One or two more financial crises is in the cards in order for the GOP to respond appropriately.  Nothing, absolutely nothing, will deter them from sinking the Obama ship except maybe, a huge hit to their own pockets and a tidal wave of anger from the people.

Do not let anyone tell you that all the drama of the last two years hit us without any warning.  There was plenty of signs.  The signs are still out there, but are continuing to be ignored.  This sticking-our-heads-down-a-hole to avoid a damaged rep is apparent in other areas, beside the financial world, as well.  How ironic, or better yet —- predictable — is it that within a week of President Obama’s push for more domestic, offshore drilling, an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded and is now creating an oil spill of epic proportions?  Even as we speak, the Huffington Post headlines read, “SPILL BABY SPILL”.

Yes, the United States should assume a greater portion of risk and responsibility for providing their own energy needs instead of just buying what we need from foreign countries, all the while letting those countries take all the environmental and personal hits.  Now, on the verge of expanding our energy production, the United States has to face up to the dangers of that responsibility or look for other, alternative methods of furnishing themselves with cleaner energy.  The oil rig explosion was a tragedy.  Yet, it couldn’t have happened at a more opportune time.  This is a warning signal.  Will we heed the call?

Similarly, the new immigration law in Arizona is precisely the catalyst we need to reform and adopt a sensible policy.  Where this law is so counter-productive to the real reform we need, its Nazi tone will force us to be reasonable.  Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post makes the case for this.  As with the energy dilemma, this immigration issue also teeters between doing what is right and what is necessary to correct a bad situation.  However, “leaders” such as John McCain, only add insult to injury in the quest for a fair, effective policy:

And what is the deal with Sen. John McCain? The self-proclaimed practitioner of “straight talk” was once a passionate advocate of sensible, moderate immigration reform. Now, facing a primary challenge from the right, he has praised the new law, which is as far from sensible and moderate as it could possibly be. Are six more years in the Senate really worth abandoning what seemed like bedrock principles? Or were those principles always situational?

Whether our problems result from ignorance, greed or just playing the game of “going along to get along”, our day of judgment is nigh.  People’s United Bank (is that ever an oxymoron), the GOP senators (and our  own Democrat, the lovely Ben Nelson), our energy mavens and immigration experts better wake up and smell the roses.  Any policy cannot be made in a vacuum of ethics.  Try as they continuously do, the selfish goals of our Powers That Be will be their downfall.  Doing what is right in banking, government, energy issues and immigration policy is not an easy or cheap undertaking.  But that is not an acceptable excuse for not doing it.

The bankers, lawyers and policymakers will discover that their sterling “reps”, when beholden to special and personal interests, are actually going to be their “raps”.

POSTSCRIPT:

For those of you who will jump on me for my broad generalizations of entire professions such as banking, law and politics, please know that my above experiences were mine and mine alone.  I am sure there are honest bankers, lawyers and politicians; I just haven’t found any swirling around my universe yet. But hope springs eternal.

Further, in the three hours that have lapsed since my original posting of this article, know that the bastions of finance are on the firing line in Congress, the market is off about 140 points, Standard and Poor’s has lowered the rating on Portugal’s debt and has also downgraded Greece’s debt to junk status, the oil is still leaking into the Gulf and the President of Mexico has severely criticized Arizona’s new immigration law.  Omens?  Signs?  How blind can we be?

The lunatics are out walking the streets and running our world while the sane ones are all locked up in the asylum.

POST POSTSCRIPT:

It is now six hours after I initially wrote this post.  Here’s an update:  the stock market fell over 200 points in response to not only our crumbling financial infrastructure, but also due to collapsing governments around the world.  Oil continues to spill into the Gulf of Mexico, and American citizens in Arizona are being arrested for looking “un-American”.  To top it off, guess what our Senate has been up to?  Democratic as well as Republican senators are now introducing a bill that would alter gun ownership in Washington, D.C.  Included in this bill are provisions to allow semi-automatic weapons, not require registration for any guns and permission to keep any and all guns in one’s house loaded at all times.

This is what is first and foremost on our lawmakers’ minds at this time.  Hell: if we cannot fix the system, let’s just allow everyone to blow it to smithereens.

The Cemetery Ladies Revisited

April 25, 2010

I cannot believe I found it.  What is not on the Internet?

Regarding my post of 4/23/2010 about my horrendous week, specifically the incident with those New Jersey dollies at the cemetery, please view this excerpt from the classic movie, “Moonstruck”:

When I described the aggression of the roller derby queens staffing the office at the cemetery, the person that came to mind was this Chrissy in the movie, the girl who works at the bakery and is in love with the Nicolas Gage character, Ronnie Cammareri.  At about 4:40 minutes into the video, Chrissy says her famous (to me) line about how tormented Ronnie is.  This is exactly how the sweeties at the cemetery speak.  Once again the phone number there is 201-262-1100.  Call it, listen to the recording and re-live the angst of “Moonstruck”.

From Waterloo to Wonder

April 24, 2010

You wanna talk about Waterloos?  Fine.

This new discriminatory Arizona law will be to immigration reform what Lehman Brothers, Citicorp, Goldman Sucks, etc. were to financial reform and  what 50 million uninsured Americans were to health care reform.  A sure-fire catalyst for change.  This is a good thing.  The Arizona statute is as unconstitutional as things get.  Sometimes, it takes an event, so harsh and oppositional to what is just and right, to serve as a wake up call to finally produce reasonable reaction.

Yes, our federal government has been lax in making immigration policy and certainly in enforcing it.  Witness the state of California, whose bankruptcy was in no small part related to having to provide education and  health care to their illegals.  Surely though, these illegals also contributed to the state’s economy in a positive way, by providing cheap labor.  However, for a state, especially a border state, to have to shoulder the costs of implementing what is definitely a national policy, is unfair and  fiscally impossible.

Remember in my post of 4/11/2010 I called for some pundit to create an appropriate nickname for the Obama agenda, similarly to the New Deal of FDR or the Great Society of LBJ?  Of course, the “big four” elements of that still-to-be body of legislation (health care, fiscal reform, immigration reform and energy/climate control) is still only 25% completed.  If Obama can get these four problems dealt with, his legacy will be remarkable.  My husband has come up with the term “The New Century” for this Obama package and a friend has suggested “The Real Deal”.

Granted, each agenda item will be deemed successful or not based on degrees.  For example, HCR was a landmark piece of legislation, although rife with compromise that resulted in just the very first, preliminary step to a truly comprehensive plan our nation really needs for decent, affordable care.  Now our Congress is facing the same dilemma with their consideration of financial reform.  Should the bill confront only derivatives, or should it cover a wider scope for financial regulation?  The bill will not be complete or perfect, but I sure would like to be a fly on the wall in the Senate when those self-serving Republicans vote against this reform.  Rotten eggs and tomatoes will hardly fill the bill for their comeuppance.

The last two items, immigration reform and environmental control, will complete President Obama’s historic agenda.  Critics will be many, because everyone will not get all that they want.  Such is life.  Although the Obama years are still in their infancy, have a look at some of his accomplishments so far in his 15-month tenure.  Remember:  success should be judged in degrees, not absolutes:

via The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan by Andrew Sullivan on 4/22/10

Bernstein seconds me:

[T]his has been, so far, a very productive Congress.  Note that he’s now rated by Politifact as having fulfilled over a fifth of his campaign promises (and about a third if compromises, such as state instead of national insurance exchanges, are included), for what it’s worth.  That’s without the big items still out there: banking (fairly likely), climate (still unlikely, but not impossible), and immigration (I’d be shocked)…am I missing any?  And it’s also without all the small things that will happen.  Of course, that alone doesn’t make Barack Obama a successful president, whatever that means.  But those who are focused only on what hasn’t happened, or what has been compromised, are missing the big picture here.

Here we are a year and a half in and what do we see?

An end to illegal torture of terror suspects. A beginning to a saner method of detaining, trying and convicting terror suspects.

Adept handling of the worst financial crisis and recession since the 1930s, leading to a profitable bank bailout (excluding Freddie and Fannie) and a return to growth. Check.

Salvaging of the automobile industry, which is now showing signs of life.

Passage of an ambitious stimulus package that has helped repair many crumbling parts of the US infrastructure and poured money into green industry.

The biggest social policy reform since LBJ – guaranteeing access to health insurance for all Americans.

Financial re-regulation of an out-of-control Wall Street, and the beginnings of real scrutiny (see Goldman) of the self-serving corruption at the heart of the financial industry.

Repaired relations with Russia, leading to a new START treaty, and better relations with China, leading to a revaluation of the yuan.

Joint Chiefs’ endorsement of ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

A tough re-balancing of the US position in the Middle East, away from the Likudnik-oriented jerking knees of the last eight years, and an assertion that US foreign policy should be conducted to advance the interests of the United States, not the interests of a belligerent faction in a foreign country.

My view is that Obama should aim for immigration reform next. Why? We need it. And it will force the GOP into an even whiter, nastier, angrier posture as they fight for the midterms. The long-term damage to the GOP among Hispanics will cement Democratic electoral dominance for quite a while.

Change we can believe in? How much more could you possibly have asked for in eighteen months?

This is a dramatically effective administration.

So folks, go with the flow.  The immigration law in Arizona will, in the end, provide the United States with the push it needs to address and correct current policy.  It will undoubtedly get ugly along the way, but the uglier it may get, the better the fix.  Ultimately, let’s turn our Waterloos into miraculous victories for the betterment of each and every one of us.

From Crisis to Cocoon: The Electronic Repudiation of Humanity

April 23, 2010

Yesterday I posted “The Funny Before the Storm”.  Here comes the storm.  Let me move through this post because I almost busted a gut, the agita and aggro were enormous,  and I really do not want to re-live all the stress that befell me.  Alas, some of the issues are still not resolved.

America has become such a burgeoning repository for “bigger is so much better”, bureaucracy and bullshit.  With the widespread use of voice mail and Email, the depersonalization of our nation is just about complete.  The two electronic types of mail have allowed our government, retail outlets, service enterprises and corporate entities to discard any semblance of responsibility in honoring a contract or obligation.  Why be answerable to any committment if you can hide behind empty electronic conduits?

Allow me to share with you the events of the past week that have brought me to the edge of sanity.  By the way, I have been told that my responses to the various acts of incompetence were a violation of polite protocol.  Thus, the guilty parties once again avoided resolving the initial issues that caused me to cross the line of political correctness (God forbid) by responding to my “sarcasm” rather than their substantive mistakes.  Great avoidance strategy —- for them.

At work, I was due a credit by one of our vendors who supply us with electronic assistance.  I spoke with the VP (VPs, especially executive VPs, seem to be a dime a dozen) and she agreed the charge was inappropriate and that she would credit our account accordingly.  A month passed, and I received a new bill, still without the credit.  I spoke again with the VP and told her an Email to whomever was in charge of issuing credits was not resolving the issue.  I told her that she would have to get up from her chair, walk over to the person in charge of issuing credits, actually speak and communicate with another human being and wait there until the feat was accomplished.  She called me back in ten minutes, said I had been right and voila, I got my credit.  My dear managers: requesting something by Email is not the same thing as getting the job done.  It is simply passing the buck.

Without providing details, know that I had business with a bank, one with which I have had a seven-year, active relationship.  Documents needed to go back and forth, but a sweet, saucy little gal decided to put these docs into the electronic ether world (perhaps “netherworld is a more apt term), passing them on to some other buck-passer and considering her job done.  Twice these papers sat, on her desk and in Email, for three weeks.  Finally , an executive VP called her and got the ball rolling.  This VP thought I was out of line by suggesting that perhaps she should make contact with this do-nothing employee.  After all, it seems the greatest care must be taken not to step on your co-workers’ toes or violate the “chain of command”.  Servicing the client does not hold any water.  Corporate correctness is so much more important than fulfilling a client’s contract.  The term “service” is as dated and useless as is the rotary phone.  To make a long story short, after having experienced the incompetence of the employee-conduit (An empty job justified by what?  Who was this cutie pie sleeping with at the bank in order for her to keep this job despite her deep incompetence?  For every month of her delaying tactics in preventing this new loan, at a lower rate than the old one, of raking in the higher fees from me, was she cut a bonus check borne on my back?) the VP went back and threw the final resolution right back into this idiot’s hands.  You know you are really in trouble when the problem gets assigned to the “conflict resolution” department.  Then when I exploded at the repeated stupidity of management, I was deemed the person doing the violating instead of being violated.  Never mind that their practices of incompetence were so deep that they bordered on unethical; no Siree.  It appears my honest, angry response was the crime here.

Third example.  The gravestone for my Dad has been completed since late January.  However, the employees of the cemetery in N.J. needed some spice and drama in their lives.  I guess you could chalk this up to the fact that they deal with dead people all the time, which does not lend itself to excitement.  At any rate, it has been almost three months and the powers-that-be at the memorial park have yet to prepare the foundation so that the stone can be installed.

I want you to call this main number for the cemetery, 201-262-1100,  and listen to the recording.  I promise you: no live human being will ever answer the phone.  It will always be a recording.  Experience for yourself the authoritative, commanding aggression of the New Jersey roller derby queen.  Talk about creating firewalls.  Would you even attempt to take your inquiry even one step past this warrior?  I did.  I was also called “sarcastic”, the crime of the century.  Not the fact that the monument for my father’s grave has been sitting around for three months.  Call the number.  Get your laughs.

Finally, I was tortured this week by my health insurance company, who, after one month of trying to rectify a prescription order, still has not delivered any resolution.  The firewalls established by Wellpoint are so deeply ingrained that even their own executives cannot get past them.  I have spoken with so many VPs that it would make you dizzy: the VP of Pharmaceutical Services, the VP for Prescription Fulfillment and the VP and Manager for Pharmaceutical Solutions.  Trust me: there is no “management” going on and there certainly has been no resolution.  Hell, these executives, masters of passing on the contractual servicing of their clients, wouldn’t know the meaning of the words management and resolution if they smacked them squarely in their faces.  They know, as well as I know, that by delaying any corrective measures, their goal is the hope that the policyholder will just give up.  They picked the wrong policyholder this time.  Do me a favor: give VP Mike Lindsay a call at 972-599-6258 and tell him to A) return my calls and B) get on the stick and comply with his contractual obligations.  I have had it.  Time for me to go public.  All reason has failed; the time for reciprocity of harassment has come.  I appreciate your support.

Finally, the nonsense and avoidance practices of health care insurance companies are disgusting.  My experiences aside, I have always preached about the folly of electronic medical records, mainly because I believed that one’s medical records should remain private, not floating out there in the electronic ether world, just ready to be accessed by anyone, especially one’s own insurance company, who will use it against the policy holder to either deny or rescind coverage.  With the passage of the HCR bill, mandating that everyone must be covered and no insurance company may refuse insurance due to a pre-existing condition, my initial opposition to electronic records supposedly has no more validity.  Wait:  read this article about Wellpoint (not them again — the irony of it all) cancelling the coverage of their clients who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Additionally, a recent report has admitted that the mistakes made by doctors and health care professionals using electronic records has been substantial.  Perhaps the physician did not bother to check the name of the file on his computer before writing a prescription.  Perhaps he forgot to advance the screen from an earlier patient’s records, and the records on his screen are not at all that of the patient he is currently seeing.

O the humanity!  Or lack thereof.  That is clearly the problem.  There is no humanity in electronic medical records.  The publicly stated (over and over again) purpose for digital medical records was to make it less likely for doctors to make mistakes.  It appears the opposite is true.

In fact, in our hip, electronic, modern world there is no longer the need for contact and communication.  The new World Order is to go electronic, as if by doing so the problem has been resolved.  When life, government and business are wholly focused on the biggest (and thus, supposedly, best) scenario as possible, the advent of electronic transmission of information takes precedence over delivering the requested, necessary action.  Quality is abandoned for quantity.  No humanity there.  Passing the buck has become our national excuse for fulfilling one’s job description.  Purpose is subjugated and absolutely secondary to the digitization process.

Enough.  On with my battles.  Sorry to have unloaded on you.  I am going to try to attain cocoon status now for the weekend.

POSTSCRIPT:

Flash! This just in: the cemetery just called me and the foundation has been installed.  But please do still call the cemetery to hear that wonderful recording.  The amazon on the tape is ten times more New Jersey than any of Springsteen’s women.

The Funny Before the Storm

April 22, 2010

I am planning a post on the depersonalization of the corporate world, retail outlets,  service enterprises and even law firms.  Needless to say, my week has been a bloody mess, and the stress almost ate me alive.  Just preparing the post has caused me to feel nauseated.  So in anticipation of my next, very serious post, here are some laughs for some anticipatory relief.

Lipstick in School (priceless)

According to a news report, a certain private school in  Washington was recently faced with a unique problem. A number of 12-year-old girls were beginning to use lipstick and would put it on in the bathroom. That was fine, but after they put on their lipstick, they would press their lips on the mirror leaving dozens of little lip prints. Every night the maintenance man would remove them, and the next day the girls would put them back. Finally the principal decided that something had to be done.

She called all the girls to the bathroom and met them there with the maintenance man. She explained that all these lip prints were causing a major problem for the custodian who had to clean the mirrors every night. (You can just imagine all the yawns from the little princesses.) To demonstrate how difficult it had been to clean the mirrors, she asked the maintenance man to show the girls how much effort was required. He took out a long-handled squeegee, dipped it in the toilet, and cleaned the mirror with it.         Since then, there have been no lip prints on the mirror.

There are teachers.. . . and then there are educators.

Love At 36,000 Feet

A man boarded an airplane and took his seat. As he settled in, he glanced up & saw the most beautiful woman boarding the plane.

He soon realized she was heading straight towards his seat. As fate would have it, she took the seat right beside his.

Eager to strike up a conversation he blurted out, “Business trip or pleasure?”

She turned, smiled and said, “Business. I’m going to the Annual Nymphomaniacs of America Convention in Boston .”


He swallowed hard. Here was the most gorgeous woman he had ever seen sitting next to him and she was going to a meeting of nymphomaniacs.

Struggling to maintain his composure, he calmly asked, “What’s your business role at this convention?”

Lecturer,” she responded. “I use information that I have learned from my personal experiences to debunk some of the popular myths about sexuality.”

“Really?” he said. “And what kind of myths are there?”

“Well,” she explained,” one popular myth is that African-American men are the most well-endowed of all men, when in fact it is the Native American Indian who is most likely to possess that trait…

Another popular myth is that Frenchmen are the best lovers when actually it is men of Jewish descent who are the best.

I have also discovered that the lover with absolutely the best stamina is the Southern Redneck.”

Suddenly the woman became a little uncomfortable and blushed.”I’m sorry,” she said, “I shouldn’t really be discussing all of this with you.. I don’t even know your name.”

“Tonto,” the man said, “Tonto Goldstein, but my friends call me Bubba.”


Goldman CEO to Perform Community Service as Treasury Secretary


‘Will Do Less Harm’ in New Post, Says Treasury Spokesperson

NEW YORK (The Borowitz Report) ­ In a settlement of the
government’s securities fraud case against Goldman Sachs, the
bank’s CEO, Lloyd Blankfein, has agreed to perform two years of
community service as Treasury Secretary of the United States.

At a press conference in New York, Mr. Blankfein said that as Treasury
Secretary he would “continue to do God’s work as I did at Goldman,
but at a significant pay cut.”

A Treasury Dept. spokesperson said that by performing community
service as Treasury Secretary, Mr. Blankfein will be able to do less harm
to the economy because he will have significantly less power than he had as
Chairman of Goldman.

His experience at Goldman, however, will be “invaluable” in his new
role as Treasury Secretary, the spokesperson said: “Lloyd
Blankfein’s years of marketing worthless securities have prepared
him for the important task of selling Treasuries to the Chinese.”

Mr. Blankfein is the latest in a long line of Goldman chairmen to serve
as Treasury Secretary, although he is believed to be the first to do so
while wearing an electronic ankle bracelet. More here.

The Haircut

One day a florist went to a barber for a haircut.

After the cut, he asked about his bill, and the barber replied, ‘I cannot accept money from you. I’m doing community service this week.’  The florist was pleased and left the shop.

When the barber went to open his shop the next morning, there was a ‘thank you’ card and a dozen roses waiting for him at his door.

Later, a cop came in for a haircut. When he tried to pay his bill, the barber again replied, ‘I cannot accept money from you.  I’m doing community service this week.’ The cop was happy and left the shop.

The next morning when the barber went to open, he found a ‘thank you’ card and a dozen donuts waiting at his door.

Then a Congressman came in for a haircut. When he went to pay his bill, the barber again replied, ‘I cannot accept money from you. I’m doing community service this week.’ The Congressman was very happy and left the shop.

The next morning, when the barber went to open, there were a dozen Congressmen lined up waiting for a free haircut.

And that, my friends, illustrates the fundamental difference between the citizens of our country and the politicians who run it.

BOTH POLITICIANS AND DIAPERS NEED TO BE CHANGED OFTEN AND FOR THE SAME REASON.


Many thanks to my humor editor, Ms. Seven Striper and her assistant Lilleyhope.


The Height of American Justice

April 20, 2010

This past weekend, I watched a remarkable documentary on public television.  It was titled “Locked Out: The Fall of Massive Resistance” and was produced by the University of Virginia Center For Politics along with WCVE PBS Richmond.  The program follows the legal, civil and personal battle for school integration in Virginia.

As I watched, I felt disoriented and sucker-punched.  Why?  The ugly, ugly words coming out of the mouths of Virginia’s leading politicians, law and order types, teachers and just regular citizens took my breath away.  As if those times weren’t bad enough, I felt as though I was re-living that prejudice and ignorance today as I listen to the tenets of the Tea Party, militia groups and still and yet, our leading politicians.

To hear speakers from 60 years ago espouse defamatory words about American citizens who just happen to have dark skin made me wince.  There were politicians in high office, i.e. the Governor, who swore that, even after the passage of Brown v. Board Of Education of Topeka in 1954, integration would never happen in Virginia.  If it took armed state militia and a closing down of all public schools, so be it.  It did, but the state government had to bow to the new federal law.  However, to hear mainstream, elected leaders calling integration “not democratic” or saying that segregation was one of the mainstay founding principles of this country was reason and justice twisted about as far as discrimination and hatred would permit.  The argument for states’ rights in support of segregation was as lame then as the states’ rights platform is today for gun ownership or against mandatory health coverage.  Show me one major issue or event where the cry for states’ rights was actually made FOR rights, rather than AGAINST them.

My stomach turned over and over as I listened, but also because today’s Tea Party and militias condemn our government in its entirety using the same anti-government catch phrases.  Even the GOP, in all of its offensive whining and sore-losing tactics over health care reform, has echoed similar foul responses that demean and distort our Constitutional principles.  “Repeal and reform” is just a cover-up for saying, “Get that Darkie out of the White House.”

You know that is their ultimate purpose, proven once again when Senator Mitch McConnell continues to accuse the administration’s attempts at fiscal overhaul to be just another way of bailing out the large banks.  McConnell continues to rant about how “un-American” financial reform is.  Nah.  He and his cronies want to see President Obama go down, back to the plantation.

I urge you to find a copy of this documentary and watch it.  Perhaps the part of it that had the greatest emotional impact on me was to watch these “locked out”children repeat the lessons taught by their parents, lessons calmly, reasonably, yet persistently encouraging their children to walk up that hill to that new school.  Yes, they instructed the children to say nothing, just keep on walking.  The wisdom of those parents is really what won the day for all minorities trying to get a fair and equal education.  There was such strength, quiet as it might have been, in the teachings of the parents.

Frank Rich, in his Op-Ed article in the New York Times this past Sunday, confronted this same issue of prejudice disguised as Americanism, only difference being he cited these blatant examples from recent days.  Today, a giant of an educator and civil rights activist, Dorothy Height, passed away.  Her 98 years on this earth should be honored by instructing those who deem their biased, militant America to be the America of all of us, to take their narrow, self-serving ideas and stick it where the sun don’t shine.  We should never cave in to these reactionary, self-loathing, miserable people.  Ever.

Rent it, buy it, watch it: “Locked Out: The Fall of Massive Resistance”.  Then, thank your lucky stars we have such an intelligent, calm President who is without a doubt, the product of all the battles for equal rights that came before his time.   There is no better antidote than President Obama for what ails us.