Arrogant ain’t in it! Where’s the outrage?

Pardon my Christmas spirit, but these bastards are despicable – DESPICABLE!

I say screw you – go under – but first, give us every damned penny back or go to jail!

I’m talking about those fat-cat jerks on Wall Street that are making the jerks running the car companies and flying their private jets to ask for handouts look like pillars of good sense and common decency.  As the Associated Press reported:

WASHINGTON — It’s something any bank would demand to know before handing out a loan: Where’s the money going? But after receiving billions in aid from U.S. taxpayers, the nation’s largest banks say they can’t track exactly how they’re spending the money or they simply refuse to discuss it.

“We’ve lent some of it. We’ve not lent some of it. We’ve not given any accounting of, ‘Here’s how we’re doing it,'” said Thomas Kelly, a spokesman for JPMorgan Chase, which received $25 billion in emergency bailout money. “We have not disclosed that to the public. We’re declining to.”

Boy – I was angry yesterday – I’m past angry today. No kidding. I have a life. I enjoy it. And I’ll continue to enjoy it having gotten this off my chest. But any time I see a chance to open my mouth and deny these bastards anything, I’m taking it. Any time I can urge my Congressman and Senators to vote to regulate these people until their nuts are in a vice and being cracked, I’m taking it. They can’t take my money, then throw me a one finger salute as thanks! ANd if their too incompetent to know what they did with the money, then they sure as hell deserve to be out on the street corner selling pencils, and curling up on a park bench at night.

Hey – anyone watch the Giants/Panthers. Wow! One of the best games I saw this year. Loved the ending. Love running like that – brings me back to the days of the Green Bay Packers with their guards pulling out and leading the way for Paul Horning.  You know what – I sense ahuge irony building. The Giants almost beat the Pats at the end f the season – thenbeat them in the SUper Bowl. Bet the Giants meet the Panthers again inthe playoffs – and bet the Big Cats win.

Big cats – yeah – why am I talking about this? Just trying to lower my blood pressure. Get back to Christmas and building my astronomy Web site and taking the puppies for romps in the snow, and . . . Boy they’re lucky most people don’t look at the news at this time of year!

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Bah! Humbug! This makes me angry – very angry!

Banks that are getting taxpayer bailouts awarded their top executives nearly $1.6 billion in salaries, bonuses, and other benefits last year, an Associated Press analysis reveals.

The rewards came even at banks where poor results last year foretold the economic crisis that sent them to Washington for a government rescue. Some trimmed their executive compensation due to lagging bank performance, but still forked over multimillion-dollar executive pay packages.

Benefits included cash bonuses, stock options, personal use of company jets and chauffeurs, home security, country club memberships and professional money management, the AP review of federal securities documents found.

So is this still going on after the bailouts? Not entirely clear, but it seems to be. Have any of them ever been asked to give any of it back? Are you kidding. These people aren’t repsonsible for anything they did!

I hate exorbitant pay for ceos. I hate it when they thought it was OK because it was “private” industry. Hey – there’s no such thing. We’re all interconnected, as we’re finding out so painfully. We always have been. Private industry is an illusion. People complain about public employees – and sometimes with good reason – but we need to keep in mind that public employees also pay taxes and most of the money the government spends goes to “private” companies which pay executives ridiculous salaries. Government spends roughly one-third of our tax dollars on public employees.

You say “more power to him” when a baseball player makes a ridiculous salary. I say bullshit! I don’t watch much baseball , but it doesn’t matter. I still pay for that salary.  I pay more for the bread I eat because my bread company thinks it has to advertise on the baseball games on TV. And they dish out more advertising dollars because the base owners contracting with the TV stations pay more to broadcast the games because the players – and owners – make more money.  We kid ourselves with this private vs. public crap. We’re all part of the same economic system – anyone rips off the system and we all end up paying. So whle I don’t drive a Chrysler, the salary of the Chrysler ceo still ha a small, but real impact on me.

Now it was hard to make that case before – but if the public can’t see it now, they’re blind, because your tax dollars are going directly into the overstuffed, obscene lifestyles of the rich and not so famous. Read this AP story and weep. My country club is my back yard.  I drive myself. My private plane has a wing span of 78-inches and I fly it with a radio control box – total cost? $150. Come on folks, why do you tolerate taking your hard-earned dollars and baling out these losers – these people who do nothing when they should do something and do something wrong when they eventually do make a decision. But they’re not losers. They’re stealing our tax dollars and using it to sustain their greedy lifetsyles having already made it more difficult for us to earn money by their incompetence.  Geeeesh! Grrrrrrrr.

No _ I am not complaining about bailouts per se. I understand that the survival of some companies may be critical yo you and I. But that is exactly because the economy is so interconnected. Pribvate business is really  public business. Hell, we’ve been bailing out certain farmers – those supposed rugged individualist types – for deacades. Stop kidding yourselves.

What I’m complaining about is a few, greedy individuals making exorbitant salaries for doing no more than anyone else and not doing it very well. Maybe we tolerate it because we think some day we’ll win  the lottery too – we’ll become the ripper rather thant he ripee. In that case, we’re trapped by our own greed – and pretty stupid to give in to fantasies that have little chance of fulfillment.

There are simple solutions to this. Just place upper limits on earnings. We cna do it with the tax code.  No one earns millions of dollars a year. No one has that much to contribute to society by what they do. And the people who do contribute significantly – people like cops on the beat, teachers in over-crowded classrooms, nurses in short-handed hospitals – don’t get paid for what they contribute while some guy playing games, manipulating paper, makes millions. Am I talking class warfare or communism? Of course not. There is plenty of room for salary differentials and legitmate reasons for them.

Some people work harder, some people work longer, some people require a ton of education before they can begin to earn – and some people simply do things better than others. I  have no objection to reasonable salary differentials. What do you think? Do you know someone who is worth ten of you? Do they do ten times the work? Have ten times the skill? Maybe.  But I don’t think there’s a person on this planet who is worth 400 average, hard-working people – or anything close to it.

Blame the greedy, blame the idiots, blame “The Decider”

Yeah, the buck stops at the top and the self-styled “Decider” had all the wrong ideas at all the wrong times for all the wrong reasons. Here’s how the NYT explains it in a beautiful analysis today:

From his earliest days in office, Mr. Bush paired his belief that Americans do best when they own their own home with his conviction that markets do best when let alone.

He pushed hard to expand homeownership, especially among minorities, an initiative that dovetailed with his ambition to expand the Republican tent — and with the business interests of some of his biggest donors. But his housing policies and hands-off approach to regulation encouraged lax lending standards.

Mr. Bush did foresee the danger posed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored mortgage finance giants. The president spent years pushing a recalcitrant Congress to toughen regulation of the companies, but was unwilling to compromise when his former Treasury secretary wanted to cut a deal. And the regulator Mr. Bush chose to oversee them — an old prep school buddy — pronounced the companies sound even as they headed toward insolvency.

bush_homeHow could one affable, good ol’ boy from Texas screw up so many things so quickly? Good question. But he didn’t do it alone. He had a whole host of enablers who elected him to office twice without ever looking at his resume. If they had, they would have seen that what George Bush did as president is exactly what he has done all his life: Time and again he was elevated to a position he didn’t deserve by his father’s influence and money, screwed things up royally, then turned to his father’s buddies – including the bin Laden family – to bail him out. Only difference this time, is we’re the folks doing the bailing!

Hey – let’s look what else Texas has given us – I mean,  how about them Cowboys!? America’s team playing it’s last game in hole-in-the-roof stadium. (Yeah, so god can watch his team!)  Yeah – and in the last quarter they give up  back-to-back touchdown scampers of 77 and 82 yards from scrimmage?

Hey, how about them Lions?! Wonder if the Big Three Idiots fly in to watch their team? Does nothing good come out of Texas these days? Or Detroit? As the NFL teams go, so goes their states? Hmmmm . . . Maybe we need to root harder for the Pats.

See why I seek solace in the night sky, coming back to “reality” only  once in a while to look at a football game? Every time I look at the “real” news, I see something like the preceding. Yeah, I saw a lot of this coming. But there’s little comfort in knowing that the nightmares you had in 2000 were an accurate preview of the country in 2008!

Believe me – I hope that the Miracle Man can perform miracles. But he’s the ultimate version of the kid who is given a barn full of manure for Christmas and immediately grabs shovel and with a smile says – “There must be a pony here somewhere!”

Arghhhhhhh . . . and speaking of shovelling crap, I’m guessing his new chief of staff didn’t emerge from the Chicago sewer system without some of the smelly governor’s slime sticking to him. Damn!

ooops –  I forgot – major mood shift time Merry Christmas . . .

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I know, I know . . . some folks don't like snow. Sorry. I love it! Gives the world a major do over! Hmmm. . . maybe that's the derivation of "snow job?" Ah what the heck - grin and bear it 😉

BLAGOJEVICH – a criminal we can laugh at, but . . .

Boy is Frank Rich on target this morning! After pointing out what a sick clown Blagojevich is, he brings us back to reality.

What’s really laughable is how bipartisan the Chicago criminals are. Blagojevich is a Democrat and Democrats should take their lumps for his criminal idiocy and hubris. But he campaigned on a “restore honor” policy, much as George Bush did, and both did as much damage to the office they sought as their predecessor – and in the case of Bush, far, far more. But you have to laugh at the absurdity of a Democratic governor being prosecuted for corruption while his predecessor, a Republican, watches the procedings from his jail cell.

The scary note in all this for me is Barach Obama. I love the guy, but if he waded through this cesspool and stayed clean he really does start to look like the Messiah. Walking on water is one thing – walking on crap and staying clean is quite another! But I digress. Back to the basic point of Frank Rich and the entertaining sideshow Blagojevich is providing:

But the entertainment is escapist only up to a point. What went down in the Land of Lincoln is just the reductio ad absurdum of an American era where both entitlement and corruption have been the calling cards of power. Blagojevich’s alleged crimes pale next to the larger scandals of Washington and Wall Street. Yet those who promoted and condoned the twin national catastrophes of reckless war in Iraq and reckless gambling in our markets have largely escaped the accountability that now seems to await the Chicago punk nabbed by the United States attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald.

Read the rest here.

Uh oh – forget the bailout – Detroit already sat on its brains too long!

I read Friedman’s column this morning with that mixed feeling you get when you suddenly meet the future and find it both exciting and devastating because there is something here that feels right, big time, and makes the auto industry bailout feel wrong – big time – and that means we’re in for one of those painful life lessons.

Bailout foes have been focusing on the sense of moral outrage we all feel for salvaging the bastards who made a lot of money while sitting on their brains. That’s a mistake. They need to focus on the Ipod. The real future comes at you from directions you don’t anticipate, but when you see it, you know it, and Friedman sees it and describes it well. Here’s how he sums it all up at the outset after bemoaning Detroit’s lack of initiative.

Why do I bring this up? Because someone in the mobility business in Denmark and Tel Aviv is already developing a real-world alternative to Detroit’s business model. I don’t know if this alternative to gasoline-powered cars will work, but I do know that it can be done — and Detroit isn’t doing it. And therefore it will be done, and eventually, I bet, it will be done profitably.

And when it is, our bailout of Detroit will be remembered as the equivalent of pouring billions of dollars of taxpayer money into the mail-order-catalogue business on the eve of the birth of eBay. It will be remembered as pouring billions of dollars into the CD music business on the eve of the birth of the iPod and iTunes. It will be remembered as pouring billions of dollars into a book-store chain on the eve of the birth of Amazon.com and the Kindle. It will be remembered as pouring billions of dollars into improving typewriters on the eve of the birth of the PC and the Internet.

Did you get that – my emphasis added – the thing about the “mobility business.” Now that’s what I mean. People get all wrapped up in the technology. They mistake the artifacts for the art. Librarians got all in a tizzy a decade ago as the web came on the scene. They thought they were in the book business. They were in the information business. Information storage and retrieval. That’s the skill they brought to the table. The technology used is secondary. Same with traditional paper media. Newspapers are not about printing presses and turning trees into pulp. They’re about filtering information and presenting it in digestible – meaningful – chunks. And the auto industry? it’s a misnomer. It’s the mobility business. it’s about freedom of movement at low cost.

Friedman’s examples are beautiful, his column on target – if I were investing in such things I’d put my money on “Better Place.” I’m not into speculative investing these days – haven’t been for some years – but this new company has the kind of thinking that is so far beyond anything coming out of Detroit these days it’s laughable. And the whole show is a prime example of how the fatcats are their own worst enemies – and ours, too, when we let them hold our future up for ransom this way. Congress and the white House are about to invest in the printing press.

I keep remembering a good friend telling me over and over again about a decade ago when I tirelessly promoted the Web that yes, it sounds like a good idea, but no one knows how to make money off it. Don’t worry – they’ll find a way, I said, and they did – ways like Amazon and Ebay and others most of us never dreamed of at the outset. And Better Place sounds like the outfit that may have found the way to make money off of the electric car – not by inventing a better, more efficient battery, but by coming up with a whole new business model. Ipod indeed!

Yes the failure of the auto industry will hurt a lot of people a whole lot – and all of us a little – but throwing good money after bad doesn’t solves anything. You can get them to cut salaries and end ridiculous perks, but you can’t get them to think tomorrow because that thinking had to be done yesterday and it wasn’t.

Ehhh . . .is this bad? Really bad?

From this morning’s Washington Post:

Retailers posted the worst November sales in more than 30 years yesterday, as holiday shopping not only failed to lift the economy but showed that the financial crisis is further distressing everyday consumers.

About 30 major companies — including Macy’s, Abercrombie & Fitch and Target — posted sales declines at established stores. Overall, retail sales in November fell 2.7 percent compared with the same month last year, marking the second consecutive negative month, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers, a trade group.

I have a problem here. I don’t mean to appear unfeeling. I know that a worsening retail situation will hurt a lot of people who live on the margins.I feel for them much more than I feel when I ee the stock market going down and people like me lose some networth. Yeah, I’ve also seen this slumping economy cut my own net worth by something approaching half, but it’s all paper value. Doesn’t impact me right now in real ways.

But when the first alarm went off in September I immediately put planned major purchases on hold. My gut instinct then was this is what everyone would do – or most people – and the result would be it will make the situation worse.

And so it has. But is this bad?

There’s a part of me that is screaming “wake up America! You could be a world leader. You may be the major hope of civilization, if not our species. You – America – may hold the key to massive problems with the environment going haywire and radical religious elements expressing their fear as hatred in violent acts. ”

Yeah – part of this waking up business was electing Barach Obama president. But in the end this isn’t about him – it’s about us. He knows he can’t do it all – he just thinks he can inspire us to do it. So a big part of this waking up is us starting to take the world seriously again. Many of us have been living in a ridiculous dream world where houses keep getting bigger to hold the pile of stuff that’s under the Christmas tree which also keeps getting bigger. And, of course, China is pumping in goodies here as if our appetite for anything and everything is without limit. And it would seem to be.

So maybe we need a wake-up call to put the brakes on this wild, unfettered consumerism? That should have been obvious when Bren and I – mostly Bren – spent so much time this summer cleaning out the basement. It should be obvious when you look at all the “garage” or “tag” sales. It should be obvious when you see you can buy things, like telescopes, that are the same size and power – and the same price – as what you paid 30 years ago.

Yesterday a nice old guy called me to tell me he had bought a new telescope for $15. He admitted he knew nothing about telescopes or astronomy and he didn’t have any plans for this one, but he had looked at the Moon and Jupiter and Venus the other night – and when he saw this telescope, well he couldn’t resist. He just had to know what it was you could buy for $15. And it was a lot. I think my first telescope was much like what he bought and I paid at least $25 for it and that was half a century ago.

But we know why the prices are low. We know other people are living like hell so we can live like kinds. W know the world has a very unlevel playing field, but we don’t like to think about it. We know we’ve stoppe making thng and jobs have been outsourced overseas and we owe a ton of money to China. We know people in other countries are living in poverty making us toys and stuff – but we don’t like to think about it. We’ve been having a ball!

My mother used to tell me I was “spending like a drunken sailor” when I was a kid and blew my allowance on something silly. Well, an awful lot of us have gotten awfully used to spending like drunken sailors. So maybe a few percentage points drop in retail sales is a good thing. Maybe we’re starting to understand we don’t need all of this stuff?

Hey – maybe we are actually making some judgments between those two critical words – “want” and “need.” Maybe we’re developing some self discipline.

Is this funny? Well, if it is, I’m laughing at myself because my last post was about being disappointed with FedEx for not keeping me well-informed about where my most recent toy is. Yeah, if I’m honest, it’s a “want” – not a “need.”

But I have reigned in my spending at least by the amount consumer retail sales are falling, so I’m doing my share 😉

But seriously – we may be seeing just the start. This could get serious. It could get ugly. But it also could be that cold slap across the face that we all need to come to our senses and start paying our dues as a society. Maybe in the end we’ll look back on this and as retail sales – and the economy – slumps, we’ll say “thanks, I needed that.”

Then again, maybe our changes now will be too little, too late. This does feel like we’re at a hinge in history – but a rusty one. Maybe this is just the “gloomy Gus” in me. See, I thought I saw this slump coming years ago. For the past five years I’ve been toning down my investment – modest as they are – and putting my life savings into conservative stuff with no chance of making more than about 5 percent. This wasn’t because I know a lot about the economy, nor because I have a better crystal ball than most – it was just simply a gnawing feeling that we were all living too high on the hog and someday that little piggy was going to go to market without us.

Stupid, vicious and did I say stupid yet?

I like the way this Black Friday insanity story begins:

From the Great Depression, we remember the bread lines. From the oil shocks of the 1970s, we recall lines of cars snaking from gas stations. And from our current moment, we may come to remember scenes like the one at a Long Island Wal-Mart in the dawn after Thanksgiving, when 200 frantic shoppers trampled to death an employee who stood between them and the bargains within.

It was a tragedy, yet it did not feel like an accident. All those people were there, lined up in the cold and darkness, because of sophisticated marketing forces that have produced this day now called Black Friday. They were engaging in early-morning shopping as contact sport. American business has long excelled at creating a sense of shortage amid abundance, an anxiety that one must act now or miss out.

The story goes on to dwell effectively on our obsession with things and shopping for them and how this is driven by business and advertising. But I don’t buy it’s conclusion for a minute:

It seemed fitting then, in a tragic way, that the holiday season began with violence fueled by desperation; with a mob making a frantic reach for things they wanted badly, knowing they might go home empty-handed.

With me that somehow leaves the impression that there was some rationale – even some justification – behind this frantic, mob action. I think it’s the phrase “fueled by desperation” that gets me. If it were a bread line – yes. But these people were in line for bargains on items I would wager most did not, in any real sense, need. They were dealing with manufacturered wants and their wants got way out of hand. Hell, their wants were out of hand as soon as they got up at 2 am so they could be in line at 3 am. Doing thata lone should make us question our sanity long before we trample some poor guy to death.