Thursday, March 29, 2012

FOX NEWS KILLS?

An elderly women passed away on February 16, 2012. Her death is signficant because after she fell ten days earlier she refused to go to the doctor because she didn't want "Obamacare" to get all her information.



Whatever ailments or complications that came after her fall, the fact remains that they were all left unchecked. Her daughter, Tracy Knauss, posted this in her Facebook page.


... when she fell ten days before she died, she refused to go to the doctor because, "I don't want Obamacare to get all of my information! she declared, recalling the warnings from FOX News "anchors." She was emphatic.

Karoli, from Crooks & Liars wrote this:


Don't write this woman off as some ignorant back-country hick. She clearly wasn't. She owned a company at one time. She paid attention to events and politics in the news, or at least, in the news as she understood it. She, like most of her neighbors, voted Republican. But until Fox News came along, Republicans weren't stupid. They had different philosophies about government and its role, but they weren't blatantly invested in advancing a lie-based ideology until Fox News came along.

As she made out her will she told her lawyer, "I don't want any of my money going to the Muslim Brotherhood!" One could assume that, as a follower of Fox News, she's referencing our "Muslim President."

I'm not privvy to the entire story (perhaps she had serious medical problems before). But her sentiments and her refusal to act can't be overstated. Living your life according to misinformation which is spit out to pursue a political agenda does a disservice to every American in the country.

Mainstreaming ignorance, fear, and stupidity is not what the 1st Amendment is supposed to be about.

- Mark

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

HOW GOLDMAN SACKS YOUR PORTFOLIO


What are three quick ways to climb the corporate ladder at Goldman Sachs?


According to former Goldman Sachs executive director, Greg Smith, you need to do the following:


1. Persuade clients to invest in the stocks or other products that Goldman is trying to dump.
2. Even if it's wrong for the client, sell them whatever will bring the biggest profit to Goldman (i.e. “Hunt Elephants").
3. Secure a desk where your job is to trade any illiquid, opaque product with a three-letter acronym.

Got that? You sell Goldman's garbage. Or you find suckers clients with deep pockets (like local governments) to buy up risky but potentially "high yield" products. Even better, you can specialize in selling products that federal regulators find difficult to track and, only with great difficulty, can assign blame.

You shouldn't be surprised by any of this (nor be swayed by Goldman Sachs' lame response to Smith). Michael Lewis wrote all about the culture and practices of Wall Street that Smith discusses in Liar's Poker ... back in 1989!



Regardless of what people like Alan Greenspan say, the collapse of 2008 was not an aberration. The looting of America is deliberate, and has been going on for quite a while now.

- Mark

Friday, March 23, 2012

ARE CERTAIN CHRISTIANS UNAMERICAN?

When our nation was born the idea that opportunity and equality of man were sacred. Liberty and tolerance for ideas, new and old, would be encouraged. Fresh from a colonial experience that shoved hierarchy and privilege down our collective throats, the Founding Fathers wanted to demonstrate that we could make our way without the guidance of a clueless aristocracy or judgmental priests.

Not surprisingly, both clergy and monarch warned of anarchy if we didn't do things their way. Filled with threats and predictions of failure, the Founding Fathers were unmoved.




In fact, they were so confident that humanity could find its way without recourse to feudal customs and commands they drafted a new constitution explaining how it should be done. Our new constitution not only anticipated a "zeal for different opinions" - which was frowned upon and stifled in feudal Europe - but they drew it up in a way that guaranteed our collective "passions" would boil over into contentious "factions."

Take that, ancien régime.




It didn't matter whether things boiled over when it came to issues like religion, government, or wealth. The Founding Fathers understood that they would. But they also understood that our national experience would be a much richer one if the "propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities" was encouraged, and even fed. This was the thinking that gave us the freedom, liberty, and tolerance we enjoy today. It's what holds our "Shining City on a Hill" together, for the world to see.

I bring this up because, philosophically and intellectually, we all have to come to terms with people like this ...




But, wait, there's more.

What are we to make of other people like Pastor Terry who claim to love America but are much more specific in their hate and intolerance for large segments of ordinary Americans? Jon Stewart's done an excellent job outlining the paranoia and fear that certain segments of society have with those who are members of - or who identify with - gays, liberals, Planned Parenthood, the entertainment and news industry, the poor, tenured professors, unions, trial lawyers, community organizers, federal employees, the SEIU, the 50% who pay no income tax, activist judges, and global warming advocates.

No wonder the United States ranks #1 when it comes to anxiety disorders. Large segments of our population claim to love America, but actually hate Americans. The interesting thing is that many of these people claim to be followers of Christ.

Instead of embracing the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses yearning to be free, many of Christ's followers in America possess a sense of tolerance and mercy that's more akin to this ...



So, here's what I'm thinking.

Whether it's Dennis Terry, John Hagee, or any number of the preachers of division and intolerance out there, one thing is clear: If they're going to claim to love America they need to learn what it actually stood for in the eyes of  the Founding Fathers.

Is that asking too much?

- Mark

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

THE SCIENCE BEHIND PREJUDICE

Want to understand the science behind prejudice? It works something like this ...

From ScienceDaily.com, we learn that under certain conditions routine and habit actually help people cope and function better. What this means, for example, is that the Cave Man who burns himself and learns to stay away from fire is doing a good thing. Initially this is rational.


Over time these kind of routines and understanding lay the foundation for habits, which initially help those who work or see the same thing everyday. They understand certain cues and know how to respond or act.

However, as adapted habits become routine they slowly leave those who make snap judgments (which is good initially) at a disadvantage because their routines lead them down a path where they learn nothing new. The end result is that they miss many opportunities.


The Cave Man who never uses fire to cook meat, to light the night path, or as a weapon did not evolve, or survive long. Fear and ignorance become the ugly step-sisters of habit and routine.

The evolution of prejudice and bias evolves in a similar fashion. Read about it here.

- Mark

AND THEN THERE WAS LIGHT ... WHY WE HAVE SEPARATION OF CHURCH & STATE



I’m a Catholic. When I was young I went through the communions and other rituals of the Catholic faith. This helps explain why I believe there is something greater than all of us out there. Common sense tells me there’s something else more powerful than what we can know, or understand, at this time. This means, yes, I pray, almost every day. And I pray for others.

Still, with this, I’m pretty sure I don’t “measure up” to the standards of contemporary Christians who believe they know a Man of Faith. But, then again, I’m not too sure many Christians can pass their own standards of “works” and piety (or hypocrisy, which the Bible has much to say about).

This is just one of the reasons why I believe it is a big mistake for any group - and not just Christians - to try and mix religion and politics. There is no set mold for what constitutes a man of faith, a good Christian, or a good Catholic. Public policy is difficult enough without dragging God into our public debates – either as cover for a specific policy, or to suggest that God is on your side.

The Framers of the Constitution understood these dynamics, very well. We often lose sight of the fact that differences in faith led Europeans to lie, cheat, scheme and to viciously fight one another for generations. Indeed, toward the end of one of their seemingly endless wars of religion – the Thirty Years War – the Europeans finally said, “Enough … let’s create a system of sovereign nation-states where each state is free to worship as they see fit.”

And just like that, the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) became the first multi-lateral treaty. It was created because of the need to keep religion out of the political arena. It also created our modern nation-state system.


The Framers saw this, and understood how religion might be used to divide our new nation. They understood that the human condition is so flawed that religion and state institutions could be manipulated if spiritual purity tests were brought into the public square. They understood that faddish ideas and religious passions often run amok, and cloud our judgment. They also understood how all of this had set back human advancement in the past.

The pursuit of moral universalism has done more to hold humanity back than the pursuit of knowledge.


To understand the intent of the Framers when they wrote the Constitution we don’t need to pour over their political speeches, or read their letters. To be sure, they can be helpful. But they can also be confusing because of their differing views, and political aspirations.

This is why, if we want to understand the intent of the Framers when they created the Constitution, we should be reading The Federalist Papers rather than turning to their personal letters.


The Federalist Papers, for those of you who've forgotten, were a series of articles written by the Framers (John Jay, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton). They addressed the human condition. And the Framers weren't really impressed. This helps explain why they created distinct levels of government, with so many checks and balances.

Specifically, the Federalist Papers tell us that “if men were angels” there would be no need for laws (or government). But we’re not angels. So we need laws. We need checks on government power. And we need competing institutions to help oversee both the laws and the government. Why? Because we're really not as good as we'd like to think. In this respect, as Federalist #51 points out, modern government is a reflection of man and all the weaknesses inherent to the human condition.

What’s critical to point out here is that prayer and faith – of any denomination – are not mentioned in the Federalist Papers. As the defining pieces that explain the historical and political roots of the American Constitution, this says everything.

What the Federalist Papers tell us is the Constitution was designed to act as a firewall against human failings, and not as an incubator for Christian beliefs.

How do we know this? I'll be discussing this in a talk that I'm giving in Bakersfield tomorrow (March 21). I'll try and post an abbreviated version of my comments here on Thursday.

- Mark  

INTERESTING READS



* A great piece that explains why Dodd-Frank Act is more comedy than legislation here ...

* The Top 5 Tax Myths (lies) to Watch for this political season ...

* Yet another study linking modern conservatism to low I.Q. scores here ...

* Look what Countrywide has tried to bury ... an internal data base containing records of mortgage fraud.

* A nice review of the "sweep it under the rug" mortgage settlement.

* Barry Ritholtz discusses math illiteracy by the very people who should know better.

- Mark

Thursday, March 15, 2012

DEBUNKING THE JOB CREATORS MYTH (and "trickle down" too)

By way of Digg. The one question that should do away with the job creators myth (but it won't) ...



Oh, as an aside, the "job creators" myth is just another way of selling "trickle down" economics. And we all know how that went ...





- Mark

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

RICK SANTORUM ... RAISING (LOWERING?) THE BAR ON IGNORANCE

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum says that in order for Puerto Rico to be admitted as the 51st state in the union they would have to make English their "official" language. Seriously, Rick Santorum claimed that in order for Puerto Rico "to be a state of the United States, English has to be the principal language."

I'm not sure, but I heard that if Puerto Rico didn't make English it's official language it would be admitted as a slave state. You know, to balance out all those Canadians who want Canada to become a state while continuing to speak Canadian.

I know, I know.

But think about it. Rick Santorum should know this stuff. He was a U.S. Senator. He went to law school. He supposedly read the U.S. Constitution. He should know something about the law.

Sigh ...



I already made Santorum the week's village idiot a few weeks back. He must be bucking for village idiot of the season (a new category), which takes a whole lot of dummy to achieve.

Suggesting that becoming a state in the Union means that English "has to be the principal language" is not the sign of genius. This is especially the case since Santorum has had many other gaffes of this magnitude. ¡Que pendejo!

We just might have our first seasonal village idiot. Stay tuned.

- Mark

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

OBAMA A MUSLIM? HE IS IN THE DEEP SOUTH

If you live in the South and want the rest of the country to stop thinking of the region with outdated stereotypes, and un-flattering caricatures, something needs to happen with how the majority of Alabama and Mississippi citizens look at the world. According to Public Policy Polling the vast majority of people in Alabama (86%) believe President Obama is a Muslim, or are not sure. Fully sixty percent do not believe in evolution.

For their part, eighty-eight (88) percent of citizens polled in the state of Mississippi believe that President Obama is a Muslim, or are not sure. Sixty-six percent of those in Mississippi do not believe in evolution either.


In the FYI category, sixty-seven percent of those who live in Alabama believe that Alabama's new immigration laws are a good thing for the state. The reality? Several recent studies show that Alabama is clearly worse off, with departing immigrants leading to a decline of as much as 6.2 percent (between $5 and 10 billion) in economic activity (stuff like this doesn't help either). Things got so bad that even legal immigrants left the state after the immigration law was passed.

Final FYI ... the vast majority of citizens in both Mississippi and Alabama have a favorable opinion of Rush Limbaugh.

- Mark

Monday, March 12, 2012

EXPLAINING OIL PRICES ... THANK YOU WALL STREET SPECULATORS

Robert Reich, former U.S. secretary of labor, and the author of "Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future," has an excellent op-ed article explaining the source of rising gas prices. It's tied to excessive speculation on the oil futures market. Here's a snippet of Reich's article ...

**************

... Demand for oil isn't rising in any event. Oil demand in the United States is down compared with last year at this time. The American economy is showing only the faintest signs of recovery. Meanwhile, global demand is still moderate. Europe's debt crisis hasn't gone away. China's growth continues to slow.

But Wall Street is betting on higher oil prices.





Hedge-fund managers and traders assume that mounting tensions in the Middle East will hobble supplies later this year. They figure unrest in Syria may spill over into other countries. Or Iran will try to carry through on its threats to block the Persian Gulf. Or Israel will try to take out Iran's incipient nuclear facilities, setting off rounds of retaliation.

Wall Street speculators also assume global demand for oil will rise in the coming year as American consumers bounce back to life. They figure Europe's debt crisis will be resolved. And they assume China's central bank will make money more readily available, thereby sparking faster growth in China. These are just expectations, not today's realities. But they're pushing up oil prices just the same, because Wall Street firms and other big financial players now dominate oil trading.

Where there's money to be made, Wall Street will find a way of making it. And when it comes to oil, so much money is at stake that gigantic sums can be made if the bets pay off. Speculators figure they can hedge against bad bets.

Financial speculators historically accounted for about 30 percent of oil contracts, producers and end users for about 70 percent. But today speculators account for 64 percent of all contracts.



Bart Chilton, a commissioner at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission - the federal agency that regulates trading in oil futures, among other commodities - warns that too few financial players control too much of the oil market. This allows them to push oil prices higher and higher - not only on the basis of their expectations about the future but also expectations about how high other speculators will drive the price.

In other words, a relatively few players with very deep pockets are placing huge bets on oil - and you're paying.

Chilton estimates that drivers of small cars like Honda Civics are paying an extra $7.30 every time they fill up - and that money is going into the pockets of Wall Street speculators. Drivers of larger vehicles like the Ford Explorer are paying speculators $10.41 when they fill up.

Funny, but I don't hear Republicans rail against Wall Street speculators. Could this have anything to do with the fact that hedge funds and money managers are bankrolling the GOP as never before?

Wall Street isn't bankrolling Democrats nearly as much this time around because the Street is still smarting from the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law pushed by the Democrats, and from President Obama's offhand remark in 2010 calling the denizens of the Street "fat cats."

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission is trying to limit how much speculators can bet in oil futures - a power it was given by Dodd-Frank. It issued a rule in October, but it won't take effect for another year. Meanwhile, Wall Street has gone to court to stop the rule.



The gas wars may come to a screeching halt before too long, anyway. The Street is placing so many bets on rising oil prices that the slightest hint the speculators are wrong - almost any sign of expanding supply or declining demand - is likely to set off a sharp drop in oil prices similar to the record one-day fall on May 5.

But that's small comfort to tens of millions of motorists who are paying through the nose at the gas pump right now. Meanwhile, rising gas prices are wagging the election-year dog.

Just remember what's really causing them.

**************

- Mark

UPDATE (8-06-13): More on the orchestrated speculation here.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

HEALTH CARE COSTS IN AMERICA

A coronary artery bypass in the "liberal welfare" state of Germany costs $16,000. In the "free market" United States it costs $68,000.

Via the Washington Post, here's an interesting and useful interactive detailing medical procedure costs in the U.S. versus other nations around the world ...




 
- Mark

Monday, March 5, 2012

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIALS OPPOSE "WAR OF CHOICE" IN IRAN

When it comes to Iran it looks like we're reaching back to the past (again) ...

As the debate over Iran heats up - and on the day same day that President Obama is to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahua - a full-page ad opposing intervention at this point was published in the Washington Post. It features former senior U.S. military and intelligence officials who argue that military action against Iran is "not only unnecessary" but "dangerous." One time chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, is among the signers.



The ad was sponsored by the National Iranian American Council, and signed by the following former officials:

* Major General Paul Eaton (USA, Ret.)
* Tom Fingar, fmr. Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Analysis
* Lt. General Robert G. Gard (USA, Ret.)
* General Joseph Hoar (USMC, Ret.)
* Brig. General John H. Johns (USA, Ret.)
* Maj. Gen Rudolph Ostovich III (USA, Ret.)
* Paul Pillar, fmr. National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia
* Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson (USA, Ret.)

If you want to know just tactical one reason why why this group might oppose going after Iran - especially with nuclear weapons - check out this clip from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

- Mark

MT. RUSHMORE'S NEVER ENDING STUPIDITY

Commenting on Rush Limbaugh's never ending stupidity, this op-ed is another gem from the LA Times' David Horsey ...



- Mark

Friday, March 2, 2012

DOW 13,000 ... WHY SHOULD WE CARE? (besides the fact that we're paying for it)

The stock market has hit 13,000. What an unexpected turn of events (wink, wink). So, should we all be happy campers? Well, OK ... Yipeeeeee!

Well, ummm, wait a minute. Didn't I already say this was going to happen? And for all the wrong reasons too? Oh, yeah, I did. Several times. In the last half of 2011 I wrote several posts where I predicted that market players would become the beneficiaries of additional money dumps from the Federal Reserve. That is, the bailout gravy train (known as Quantitative Easing III) would continue for Wall Street.



And it happened, just as I said it would (this is getting way too easy).

If you want to take a look, here's what I wrote back in AugustSeptember and in December of 2011. In all three posts I said we would have another money dump that would benefit Wall Street. Specifically, here's what I posted in December.


* The Federal Reserve was lending dollars to European central banks.
* The idea was to put enough cheap dollars into European central banks so that they will lend to European domestic banks.
* This was necessary because if European banks, who need dollars, can't borrow dollars cheaply they would begin dumping (selling) U.S.-denominated assets, like U.S. stocks, mortgages, and corporate loans (among others).

Because European banks would be able to borrow dollars cheaply they wouldn't have to sell U.S. assets in the immediate term. This would benefit U.S. markets because by making dollars available in Europe the Europeans wouldn't have to start dumping U.S. stocks and bonds in order to secure dollars to pay off dollar denominated obligations.

This process would help maintain (or inject) confidence in the U.S. stock market, and stave off a Wall Street fire sale, and potential market collapse. This should come as no surprise. It has worked in the past (except when QE I was announced because of how inept Washington was during the last months of the Bush administration) ...




And what do you know? Just as we saw with previous money dumps (called Quantitative Easing I and II), we're getting to see yet another sign that the U.S. economy is recovering (cough, cough) after the Federal Reserve made it clear that they would make cheap money available to Europe in December of 2011. This, in turn, has kept Europe's financial institutions from dumping U.S. denominated assets. The U.S. stock market has thrived ... as expected.


The point is this. Dow 13,000 is being backstopped by you and me (I'm not convinced by the European swap talk either). Put another way, today's market rally is artificial and inflated by the Fed's money dumps.

Worse, as one European bank chief, and the Wall Street Journal's Simon Nixon have made clear, by continuing the money dumps we may be just sweeping the day of economic reckoning under the rug. More to the point, now that the Greenspan Put has gone global the seeds of the next crisis are now being laid.

Sigh ...

- Mark