Tuesday, January 26, 2010

YouTube Tuesday: Fear the Boom and Bust

So what do you think? Are we spending way beyond our means in an effort to try to generate a healthier economy? Are we suffering from a spending hangover, the cure to which is nationwide deleveraging and building up savings?

Don't know? Not sure?

Well maybe this old-school hip-hop throw down between John Maynard Keynes and F. A. Hayek can help you decide. Two of the great economists of the 20th century lay down the beats in this production from EconStories.tv

Pay close attention for the appearance of Ben Bernanke and Tim Geithner pouring drinks from behind the bar at The Fed.

Hat tip: Planet Money

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Surely some revelation is at hand

Uncle Nick was kind enough to point out one of the money quotes from the ongoing Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission hearings headed by Phil Angelides (a Democrat from California, which has one of the brokest-ass budgets in the country, so you know this guy has the fiscal street cred).

Here's the quote:
Wall Street is in effect selling cars with faulty brakes, and then taking out insurance on the buyers.
The statement was directed at Lloyd Blankfein, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs (and budding Bond Villian). Remember, this is the same Goldman Sachs that was making $100 million a day just a few months after taking a $20 billion bailout payment from you and me.

Just to make sure that sinks in, they were bringing in 100,000,000 dollars A DAY.

Anyway, Blofeld's Blankfein's response to the quote above was basically "I don't see anything wrong with that."

The temerity of these bank executives during the hearings would be comical if it weren't so enraging. C-Span has video of the hearing on their website. If you feel the need for a quick hit of Hulk rage, I highly suggest you watch. Skip through the first 40 minutes or so since that's just the bankers reading their prepared PR statements.

In the meantime, here's an example of why The Onion is the smartest news source. EVAR. Jon Stewart is getting his ass kicked by these guys.

In The Know: Are Politicians Failing Our Lobbyists?
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Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Doomsday Cycle

Yesterday I mentioned that "the system" is broken, and I realize that is a gross overstatement of the obvious. But I want to be clear that I'm not just talking about the electoral system.

I'm referring to a socio-political system as a whole that allows -- actually encourages -- an unchecked collusion of industry and government. It is what will cause the eventual catastrophic decline of our Republic (if you can still call it that).

About a year ago, when we were in the heat of bailout fever, I was having a discussion with a friend of mine over lunch. We were trying to figure out whether the long term affects of bailing out companies that make poor management/business decisions was worth the short term gain of saving jobs.

You see in order for our system to work, failure is essential. Companies must be allowed to fail, to be punished for their failures by losing their assets and financial fortunes, in order to serve as an example to other companies of what happens when you employ risky business practices.

But, going back at least to the 1970s, we've seen more and more bailouts, followed by admonitions and vows to "never let this happen again," accompanied by additional layers of regulation.

But then when that regulation fails, additional bailouts are forthcoming, more regulation is added, and the cycle begins again. Businesses take bigger risks because they know the taxpayers will have to bail them out. In the case of the latest crisis, banks could be doubly assured of a bailout since Goldman Sachs has basically purchased the entire executive branch as well as key legislators.

The point, as Logtar stated in our lunch conversation, is that it's dangerous to socialize risk. But you don't need to take his for it.

In an editorial in Financial Times, superintelligent economists Peter Boone and Simon Johnson, gave a name to what is happening in the U.S. financial sector: the Doomsday Cycle.

They draw a parallel of the cycle described above -- risk, failure, bailout, repeat -- to what happened when the USSR finally imploded.
During the final years of communism’s decline, Soviet bureaucrats argued for futile tweaks to laws that would crack down on speculators and close “loopholes” – all in the vain hope they could keep the unproductive system of incentives intact. The US, UK and key European countries are now making the same errors. Rather than recognizing the dangerous systemic failures in our financial system, their leaders are proposing bandages that can – at best – only postpone another, possibly much larger, meltdown.
You should read the entire piece (free registration may be required). The authors make many good points, not the least of which is that the proposed wrist-slap or regulatory "reform" is nowhere near enough to limit bad business practices, let alone stop the Doomsday Cycle.

Rather, we need to make risky business behavior more painful by NOT BAILING BUSINESSES OUT!

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mass appeal

A lot of my friends who had bought into the Obama promises back in 2008 are pretty bummed today with the loss of former Senator Teddy Kennedy's key Senate seat to Republican Scott Brown.

They have concluded, rightly in my opinion, that the election is a message to the ruling party that they are already corrupted by their own power, they they have sold out to special interest groups at the expense of their constituents.

The two key sentiments I've read are that "there is no difference between the Republicans and Democrats" and "the next 7 years will be politics as usual."

If -- and it's a monumental IF -- there's going to be real change, it's important for more and more people to realize this.

Republicans shouldn't be patting themselves on the back too much either. I don't care enough to look into it, but I would bet my mortgage that this Brown character is just as big of a sellout as any Kennedy ever was.

What I want people to begin to understand is that all people are the same. And the people who actively seek political power are more "the same" than most.

The problems here is systemic. It seems like a painfully obvious thing to say, but money is a corrupting influence in both parties. A lot of people who view politics as a spectator sport think their "team" is beyond reproach. But how can we expect representatives to have any clue about the real America when nearly half are millionaires and they are being courted 24/7 by billionaires?

It's nearly inexplicable that more voters don't see how unsustainable this system is.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Celebrity chef to visit KC

I'm no foodie but I like food and do eat. I also read. And I read something about eating that I thought I'd pass along to you people who are foodies (You know who you are. Always eating at restaurants and watching food TV).

The Shawnee Mission School District's culinary arts students ("culinary arts"!?? In my high school we had "home ec") will hit the kitchen with "world renown Mediterranean food expert" Gregory Zapantis next week at the Broadmoor Bistro.

Personally, I've never heard of Zapantis. I don't watch the Food Network, or Americas Next Top Chef, or Culinary School Survivor. I used to watch Iron Chef when it was the overdubbed Japanese version. That was some funny cooking.

Anyway, apparently Zapantis is a bigshot New York chef who specializes in Greek seafood
Zapantis’ passion for Greek flavors and deep knowledge of fish seasons, textures, boats and even the special techniques used by fishermen throughout various parts of Greece, has earned him 2003 “Best Chef Mid-Atlantic” by the James Beard Foundation, among many other honors.

Zapantis was born and raised in the Adriatic fishing village of Skala, on the Island of Cephalonia, Greece. Coming from a long line of Greek fisherman, Zapantis’ love of fish was sparked while learning to fish with his father.

It was at his family’s dockside tavern, however, where his mother and grandmother allowed him to cook and his passions really took flight.
Zapantis will be at the Broadmoor Bistro on Jan 19. Unfortunately the evening is already sold out. Guess I should have told you guys sooner.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Death of a blogsman

It's only natural that when a man reaches advanced age, he begins a more serious consideration of his own mortality.

In the case of XO, a person who basically has one foot in the grave already, that consideration made him reconsider his "end of life" plan. And it's a surprisingly good plan. For someone of XO's questionable mental state it shows some unexpected clarity of thought.. even something resembling logic, which is new for him.
But my BFF's mom started talking about how her sister was going to donate her body to science and how they would pay for the cremation and send your ashes back home...

... instead of paying thousands or tens of thousands of dollars to a funeral home to host a maudlin weep-fest, all my survivors need to do is make a phone call.
So yeah, donate you body to science so med school students can cut you up and learn about surgery by removing all of your internal bits. Finally, XO will be contributing to society!

But -- not to throw a monkey wrench into the plan -- I'm not sure if XO has looked at the option of promession.

From what I can tell it's a pretty new thing, patent pending and all. But for people like XO, it may be just the scratch for that end-of-life itch. It has the added bonus of being "environmentally friendly" -- and let's face it, incinerating a corpse isn't exactly kind to Mother Nature, what with all of the ashes and soot, not to mention the amount of carbon it takes to produce enough energy to burn a body completely, believe me I know.

Essentially the promession process consists of freezing your corpse in liquid nitrogen, then shattering your frozen body, T-1000-style, with a sudden vibration.

Your shattered mortal remains are freeze-dried to remove any residual moisture, then any metals are removed (including those two titanium hips that XO received a couple of years ago).

Now, XO is nothing but inert organic material -- which is pretty much what he is now -- but when he's buried, this material is readily biodegradable. The nutrients are returned to the earth to be used as worm food, plant food, or even marijuana fertilizer.

Now that's what I call dust-to-dust.

Anyway, just wanted to put this option out there. It still seems overly complicated compared to my own plan, which is to just have someone toss my bloated corpse out of moving pickup into a ditch along a lonely county road somewhere in Northwest Kansas.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

YouTube Tuesday: Epic FAILS 2009

YouTube and other online video sharing services have become a real boon to people like me who like to get all of our rubbernecking done at one time.

This 2009 FAIL Reel is really hard to watch in places. But it's also really hard to not watch. My personal favorite moment is the roundhouse kick that comes at 1:45. And I put the number of broken noses at about 10. This is great documentation of Darwinism at work.

BTW: I noticed that in a lot of places this is getting taken down from the video sharing sites due to "terms of use violations" -- not sure what that is, but this might already be deleted by the time you read this. Rest assured, though. It was awesome.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Random Photo XXIII: Ice pix

Hey good news guys! The weather man says we have a slight chance of seeing above-freezing temperatures today. Hurray for good news!

But just to season the celebration with a pinch of cynicism, I should point out that while we're expecting a high today of 33 fabulous degrees, Base San Martin in Antarctica is looking at a balmy high of 42 degrees today.

That's right, it's still colder here than it is in Antarctica.

With that, here are a few shots of the icicles that formed as a result of the glacier in my front gutters.

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Thursday, January 07, 2010

Look for that silver lining

Hey guys. I don't know if you realized this or not, but we're in the midst of a pretty nasty national economic recession.

We have been for the better part of two years. Now, we could spend a lot of time talking about who did what to whom to cause the economic meltdown in the first place (it was politicians and investment bankers, btw). The truth is, pretty much everyone played some part in what I call Economageddon (but mostly it was politicians and investment bankers).

But who likes to focus on blame and bad news. Not me. Rather, let's consider what we need to do to dig ourselves out of this hole. Now some people -- namely everyone in any governmental position of power -- think the best way to dig ourselves out is to keep digging deeper. They theorize that spending more money that we don't have will miraculously translate into everyone having more money in the end.

Interesting theory.

But there are also a lot of people -- namely millions of ordinary, hard working Americans -- who realize that spending what you don't have is kind of what got is into this mess in the first place.

This is the good news. This is the silver lining. Because even though it’s a bitter pill and it means we'll have to live with spending less and having less "stuff", it is the path back to economic solvency.

I recently discovered Mike Mandel's blog (great analysis on economic/financial data) and found the chart illustrating household borrowing over the last 20 years.
As you can see, household borrowing has fallen precipitously over the past three years. I mean, that graph looks like the wall of the Grand Canyon. I think the only thing that fell faster in the last two years is Mark Mangino's popularity in Lawrence.

The keen observer will note that household borrowing has fallen so much that it is now negative. That's right, for the first time in the Age of Information, American households are saving money. We're slowly digging ourselves out of the debt hole we've dug over the previous decades.

Of course, this isn't the whole solution. Our government leaders are still spending way more money than we have, which is actually reducing our national net savings despite what individual households are doing.

But my hope is that we're seeing a shift in attitude. That people are accepting the fact that we can't continue to spend what we don't have. And with time and enough ridiculous bailouts (yes, that's California looking for a handout), this attitude will trickle up to the boneheads who hold the power of our national purse.

It's not going to be easy. A cool 70 percent of our economy comes from consumer spending, and with consumers saving more and spending less there will have to be some major adjustments. But that's the pill we have to swallow.

And it won't be quick. Hell, I don't even know if it will happen in time to avert the global social breakdown (currently scheduled for the third quarter of 2013, fyi).

But it's a good start.

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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

My international influence widens

Just a quick update on my diabolical Plan to Take Over the World:

In 2009 I made a series of moves whereby I placed some of my minions in the upper levels of key international governmental and quasi-governmental organizations. No need to get into too much detail. Suffice it to say that when the time comes, you'll know who they are.

But be that as it may, it's always good to run a few test scenarios to make sure your organization is functioning well. And I'm just going to let you in on a test I ran recently to illustrate my point.

You may recall back in 2009 there was a worldwide freakout about a nasty little virus we knew as Test Virus 1108 H1N1, or the Swine Flu. Now of course I'm not going to take direct responsibility for the production and release of this viral strain (at least not in a public forum like this, wink wink). But I will say that the presence of the Swine Flu gave me just the opportunity to test my moles in the international governmental organizations.

Last October, when I wrote a post about getting a flu shot, I included a clandestine message...
They started out a few years ago with the "Bird Flu" (later called "Avian Flu") that was killing people in Asia. Nobody was scared of it when it was just called "H5N1." But when the media got it's talons on "Bird Flu" -- well, there's a hook you can build some hysteria around.

This year it's the Swine Flu -- very catchy. Gets the media excited. Gets the citizenry in an uproar. Gets some much needed demand for the pharmaceutical industry right in the middle of a consumer recession.

Ah, now we're getting somewhere. It's How to Survive a Recession 101: Create A Demand For A Product For Which You're The Only Provider.
And I'm happy to report that one of my operatives (codenamed "Wardog") in the European Parliament picked up on my message and has spearheaded an official inquiry to investigate the whole Swine Flu scam.
The Council of Europe member states will launch an inquiry in January 2010 on the influence of the pharmaceutical companies on the global swine flu campaign, focusing especially on extent of the pharma‘s industry’s influence on WHO. The Health Committee of the EU Parliament has unanimously passed a resolution calling for the inquiry. The step is a long-overdue move to public transparency of a “Golden Triangle” of drug corruption between WHO, the pharma industry and academic scientists that has permanently damaged the lives of millions and even caused death.
So there you go. Phase 2 of my Plan to Take Over the World is well underway as my operatives move to seize control of the World Health Organization and the Kansas City Missouri Parks Board.

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

YouTube Tuesday: Chet Baker sings

I'm trying to make an effort in the new year to be less cynical and lighten the mood around here. But it doesn't help when my iPod, set on shuffle, drops a melancholy Chet Baker on me.

This song goes out to everyone who lost someone close to them in 2009. Come back tomorrow for something a little more fun, but for now just enjoy the blues.

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Monday, January 04, 2010

Stupid like a FOX

A lot of people missed it last week -- at least I haven't read much local commentary about it -- but there was a bit of corporate cock wagging in the broadcast media realm that was pretty ridiculous.

Of course, it all beings with Rupert Murdoch, head honcho at News Corp which owns a bunch of crap including the FOX TV networks (and, incidentally, The Wall Street Journal).

The 30-second version goes something like this: Murdoch thinks his networks' programming is so awesome that he should get an extra $1 for each of Time Warner Cable's subscribers for the privilege of carrying this supposedly awesome content. Don't pay it, and Murdoch pulls the plug on all FOX programming.

According to my inside sources, Time Warner Cable has roughly 14.5 million subscribers. So, doing some quick math, that's about $14.5 million bucks worth of blackmail. Of course TWC is balking at this. Seems taking a $14.5 million out of their $1.2 billion in income is just too much to swallow -- even though they would surly pass that ransom on as higher costs to their subscribers.

Now I don't really have any love for either company (although I do like The Wall Street Journal). The TWC cable/internet service we get at home manages to frustrate me on a weekly basis. And as for FOX, well, I consider their programming to be at least 25% responsible for our accelerated cultural decline.

So it's easy for me to say a pox on both their houses.

But it strikes that this move by FOX is a bit shortsighted. Their argument is that they have totally awesome shows and they point to ratings of American Idol and 24 as proof.

But let's face it, they would have near the ratings they have were it not for those shows being available on TWC. Yank those show from TWC and two things will happen:
  1. The collective IQ of TWC subscribers will begin to go up as a result of not wasting time with American Idol, Glee and Fox News Channel, and
  2. The ratings and accompanying ad revenue of those shows go down as a result of being in 14.5 million fewer households.
I suspect that both parties already know this. They need each other like a couple of symbiotic parasites.

Oh well. As long as I get my college football.

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