Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Maybe they should rename Twitter "Trump's Trumpet"

Between recent coughing spells (bronchitis) I've seen a bit more of the news than normal.  Of course, in the US, "news" today means whatever Donald Trump has said or done, and not much else.  I've always been a big fan of raking public servants over the coals when they do something stupid or dishonorable (pretty much ALL of them are by now quite crispy), but every now and then one surprises me and I'm happy to give 'em an attaboy.  So....



Oh, The Donald, The Donald....how could you?  You picked Steve Mnuchin, one-time Goldman Sachs Director of Mortgage Backed Securities, later to pick up broke subprime lender IndyMac for pennies, rename it OneWest, then get into the robo-foreclosure biz, ignoring any law that got in his way on the road to a tidy multi-billion dollar profit, to be our Secretary of Treasury?  Off to the burn pit, Prez-elect Trump!



But then Prez-to-be Trump selected Marine General James "Mad Dog" Mattis to be his pick for Secretary of Defense.  I've read up on Gen. Mattis and found that by virtually every measure he'll be an exemplary gentleman who will give his Commander-In-Chief good counsel, looking for ways to avoid using the sword, but who would, if necessary, field a kick-ass, disciplined force.  Two-thumbs-up Mr. Trump!



And he's given us SC Governor Nikki Haley, who has expertly negotiated her way through some VERY difficult and varied constituents back home, as his choice for UN Ambassador.  Kudos!



But then he's gone and picked long-time bureaucrat (and wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch...gag...McConnell) Elaine Chao to be Secretary of Something-Or-Other.  Meh....



I can't get a handle on Gen. Michael Flynn, Trumps pick to be his National Security Adviser.  Those who know him well say he's a top-notch intelligence guy, but has a crazy, somewhat  scary side to him, too.  My antennae is up on this guy.


But Gen. John Kelly seems like an excellent pick for Secretary Of Homeland Security.  From what I've read, he gets very good marks from all sides.  Another Kudos Mr. Trump!  I'd trust him with my homeland.  :)

Notice all the Generals?  Is that a good thing, a bad thing, or what?  Good leadership, or a barracks coup in the making?  Beats me, but I think I'd rather see them than a bunch of the same old #$%^& bureaucrats who have already run us into the ground.

Oops, sorry.  That was the cynic in me coming out.  Your thoughts?

S



Friday, November 18, 2016

Penny wise and pound foolish



This just in:  Facebook has announced that early in 2017 it would begin repurchasing $6 Billion of its own stock.  The report went on to say that Facebook has amassed a sizeable stockpile of cash in recent years, currently $26 Billion in cash and other short term investments.  FYI, Apple currently has an estimated $200 Billion in cash reserves, mostly overseas, and Google has roughly $83 Billion cash on hand.

Other notable corporations with large cash stashes include Chevron with $43 Billion, Conoco Phillips with $45 Billion, Ford with $51 Billion, Exxon Mobil with $52 Billion, Cisco with $56 Billion, Microsoft with $73 Billion, GE with $122 Billion, and Berkshire Hathaway with $162 Billion, give or take a few coins.

Most of this isn't literally green cash sitting in a bank vault somewhere, but money placed in "short term investments".  These investments offer a very modest return, but with so little investment opportunities out there today, this is the best they can do.  Oh, and they're buying back their own stock with some of their moolah, too.

My purpose here isn't to scold them for being so profitable.  I'm actually quite happy for them.  I bring this up because the new Trump administration will soon begin implementing some of their campaign promises, including major tax cuts.  Some, of course, will go to the middle class, but as most taxes are paid by the rich, they will get the lions share of the new tax cuts.

The justification given for these tax cuts is that the rich, lets call them the "investor class", will use this money to fund new start up companies (hoping some will turn out to be the next Apple or Google), and to help existing companies modernize and expand.  In theory all this investment will create NEW JOBS!

Except....the investor class doesn't need any new windfall tax cuts to fund these new businesses.  They can't even find a good place to invest what they have parked around the world right now!

WE ARE ABSOLUTELY SWIMMING IN LIQUIDITY!  All a tax cut now will do is put more money in the hands of those who don't need it, widening the income inequality that already exists, and increasing resentment and hostility between the super wealthy (the 1%) and the masses.  This is called "killing the golden goose", or a short sighted action that destroys the profitability of an asset.  And can you imagine the shortfall (deficit) this will mean to the Treasury?  It's greed, pure and simple!

Instead lets spend that money on fixing our crumbling infrastructure (highways, bridges, ports, etc), or investing in a better educated work force.  The wealthy will definitely benefit from that, too, as they....as we ALL should. 

No, I'm not trying to spread some sort of socialist message here.  I'm not suggesting we take away what the wealthy already have.  I'm just trying to head off a revolution that may be coming sooner than we think if we don't wise up.  Just level the playing field so the masses can afford to buy what the wealthy are selling.

As my daddy used to say, "A little piece of a BIG pie is better than a big piece of NO pie."

S

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The End Is Near! Or not.


Our long awaited presidential election is finally over.  I've heard all the gloating from the winning side, and the moaning from the losing side.  Here's my pragmatic take on where we are and where we might be going:

Some seem to be holding out hope that enough of the Electoral College electors will at the last minute change their vote from Trump to Clinton to enable her to be declared the winner.  Technically possible?  Sure, and tonight's winning lottery numbers will be....

Protesting is fine.  It's a way to show those in power that all the people matter, and that even the losing side must somehow be accommodated, too.  But violence is stupid.  It just makes the protesters look like a bunch of kooks.  Lets stay away from that, OK?

I'm personally very concerned when one party controls the House AND the Senate AND the White House.  IMO neither party should ever be given that much power.  Our Founding Fathers envisioned "checks and balances", but this current monopoly of power gives us neither.  Those among us who can still think straight should hope the Democrats gain control of one house of Congress in the midterm elections in 2018.

I've heard it said many times that the job (the office of President) shapes the man, meaning that once taking office and the new President sees what all the job entails, he will put away his rose colored glasses and deal with reality.  Trump once famously said that he knew all about ISIS, more than the generals even, and that he would "bomb the hell out of them".  (ISIS, not the generals *snort*)  Now that he's getting intelligence briefings and sees what is really going on in the world, and learns all about the ramifications of even a tiny misstep, I'm hopeful he'll choose his words and actions more carefully.

I believe it was in his party acceptance speech that he said something conciliatory about the LGBT community.  He received a polite response from the delegates, for which he thanked them.  I don't think he has intentions to pull their rug out from under them.

He's going to build a wall.  Right, and I'm going to be an astronaut.  Increased border security, sure, which isn't a bad thing, but the expense and logistics and material/manpower issues that would be required to build his wall are just beyond reach at this time.

He's going to have an undocumented alien roundup and send them all home.  Who's going to do the rounding up?  Where are we going to hold them awaiting their deportation?  Do they get their day in court?  Do they get a court appointed attorney?  Will there be any lawsuits/injunctions to stop him?  How long will all that take to clear the courts?  Always remember the old saying, "The wheels of Justice turn slowly".  Some sort of compromise will have to be worked out involving registration, work permits, etc.  Again, the job will shape the man.

Trump said just yesterday that he might keep parts of Obamacare.  I think he's already figured out that literally declaring it null and void can come back to bite him in the butt.  To do that would send our entire health delivery system into turmoil.  He might see to it that it's heavily amended, which it desperately needs, and to save face he might declare the new improved plan Trumpcare, but who really cares?  (The people already know it was President Obama who started the health care reform ball rolling.)  The important thing is the people will have access to the care they need.

On and on....he'll soon realize that words, and actions, have consequences.  Consequences that he really won't want to deal with.





Thursday, November 10, 2016

Our runaway freight train


I just heard on the news that President-elect Trump will need to hire 4,000 new people to staff his administration so he can "hit the ground running" on January 20.  This is normal.  All presidents hire their own people for key positions.  Obama did it, George W did it, Bill Clinton did it, on and on.

But here's the problem:  They're just putting their people at the helm of already dysfunctional departments of government.  For as long as I can remember candidates have promised to "fix" the government, then get to Washington and appoint their people, who proudly put their names on the doors....but then little of substance ever changes.

The departments are so vast they just chug along on their own inertia.  It's like a 2-mile-long freight train.  It's hard to make it go faster, it's hard to stop it, and it's impossible to steer it.  Every new president just puts his engineer up front to monitor the same old gauges.

Consider this....by almost any measure the Department of Veterans Affairs is broken.  It exists to extend benefits, primarily health, disability, and education benefits, to our former service men and women.  There have been complaints about the long wait times and often poor care at VA hospitals since I was a little boy, and any correspondence with them for anything often takes weeks or even months.

The current Sec of Veterans Affairs, Robert McDonald, is the former CEO of Proctor & Gamble.  His predecessors were Eric Shinseki, James Peace, and Jim Nicholson, all retired military officers, and Anthony Principi, a government lawyer.  Four of the five no doubt think like bureaucrats. And by definition the career civil servants over each sub-segment of the VA are also bureaucrats.  Is it any wonder they can't fix it?

Can anyone think outside the box?  Could we break up this massive department into smaller groups of specific disciplines, then put recognized experts in those disciplines in charge?  No more career bureaucrats, no more political cronies.  A lawyer shouldn't run a medical school, and an engineer shouldn't run a museum, right?

"Fix" does not mean just re-shuffle the same old worn deck.

S




Monday, November 7, 2016

DON'T VOTE! You'll just encourage the bastards *


Boy did they blow it.  The Democrats, I mean.  They could have chosen any number of big names from their party who could have easily defeated Donald Trump, but instead they gave us Hillary Clinton, a woman reviled and distrusted by millions.



Boy did they blow it.  The Republicans, I mean.  They could have chosen any number of big names from their party who could have easily defeated Hillary Clinton, but instead they gave us Donald Trump, a man reviled and distrusted by millions.

Will this be our new normal, or as an alternative, might we take a closer look at Independent Bernie Sanders playbook?  Without passing judgement on his political agenda, just look at how he seemed to stay above the name calling and kept on message.  And he didn't have to sell his soul to special interests to do it.  Instead he raised his funds from the people, a few bucks at a time.  He was sincere, and his followers were, and still are, passionate.

Hopefully the Democrats will pass his torch on to someone similar in 2020, and the Republicans will find their version of a conservative, sincere, incorruptible Bernie, too.  Imagine a campaign where candidates can argue their positions forcefully, but without all the shrill yelling.  A campaign where both can tell the special interests and Super Pacs to F__K OFF!

I think it's possible.  I think the American people have been seriously traumatized by this Election 2016, and will go to great lengths to see that it doesn't happen again.  Until then, IMO we're stuck with our current virtual (?) civil war, and four lost years of two-party stalemate.

I've had enough of this crap!  Are you with me?

S

* Of course, DO vote, but never forget!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Next you'll want me to pick tonight's World Series winner, right?

If Carnac The Magnificent did politics....

Time for some rank amateur, next-to-worthless political prognostication from yours truly.  The US Presidential / Congressional elections are exactly one week away, The Donald is still groping women out in his bus according to Hillary Clinton, and Hillary is already taking reservations from her Banker buddies...cha ching...for overnight stays in the Lincoln Bedroom according to Donald Trump.  For us the choice is simple: Would you rather die from a venereal disease or a stab in the back?

My timeline:  If Donald Trump wins we'll see some almost immediate riots / civil unrest, primarily in the inner cities where minorities will see his election as the first step to rolling back their civil rights.  That won't happen, of course, but that will be their perception.

If Hillary Clinton wins there will be civil unrest, too, primarily from those who suspect she will immediately start to work abridging their Second Amendment rights. That won't happen, of course, but that will be their perception. 

And Carnac saaaaaays....Hillary Clinton by a nose.

The House of Representatives will stay in the hands of the Republican Party, but that Party will be in total chaos.  The only organized faction of the surviving GOP will be the Brown Shirts...er...the Tea Party.  Their agenda item #1; wrestle the Speakers gavel away from Paul Ryan and pass it to one of their knuckle draggers.  Agenda item #2; begin setting up special investigation units to see what misdeeds they can pin on President Hillary Clinton.  She will prove to be a "target rich environment".

The Senate races are a tough call.  I suspect the Republicans will keep their majority standing, but only barely.  If they do, nothing their archnemesis Hillary Clinton requests will ever get a committee hearing, much less a Senate floor vote.  The Supreme Court, already one member short, will likely stay that way (or get worse as more vacancies open up due to the old-timers there now clocking out).  Republicans (Tea Party members or those intimidated by the Tea Party, which is all the rest of 'em) will never vote for a nominee they feel might overturn Roe v Wade or Citizens United, upset the Second Amendment status quo, etc.

The economy will turn south, more than anything because we've been on a winning streak for a historically long time and are due a correction.  Hillary won't notice because she'll be too busy shaking down The One Percent.  She will get blamed for the recession, as Presidents always are, and her approval rating will plummet. 

The House Tea Party will initiate an impeachment hearing against President Clinton, and will vote "aye" 20 minutes later.  They know there is no way the Senate will vote by a 2/3 majority to convict her, but that's OK with them.  They just have a sharp stick and they want to poke it in her eye.  It will be the centerpiece event of their Annual Summer Family Picnic.

For the next six months the news will revolve around nothing more than the upcoming Senate impeachment trial.  We might get a few days of "other" news following a terrorist attack somewhere, or if California goes missing after an earthquake, but that's about it. 

In the interim, while we're busy lobbing stink bombs at each other, the banks will quietly continue their march to complete domination of us all, the insurance companies will continue to merge, first into the Big Eight, then the Big Four, and finally the Big One.  Same with Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Ag, etc.

OR

We'll grow some balls, round up all the above mentioned "deplorables", and ship them all off to a newly renovated (kidding) and restocked (with bread and water) Alcatraz.

Now, is that a happy ending or what?  :) 

S



Sunday, October 30, 2016

Be afraid, a__holes. Be VERY afraid!


Have you heard the funny saying, "Some people are alive only because it's against the law to shoot them"?   I think they were referring to bankers.

Now and then I tend to get off on a vitreol-laced rant about The Banksters.*  Some have asked me why I get my panties in such a wad over them?  Fair question.  Here's why:

Back during the Great Depression thousands of banks went broke, with depositors losing their life savings in the collapse.  The misery was unimaginable.  To restore confidence in the banking system, FDR/Congress did things like create the FDIC (to insure that even if banks go broke in the future, the depositors will still get their money back), and passed the Glass-Steagall Act.  This separated the commercial banks (like the First National Bank of Gooberville) from the investment banks (think Shark Tank in a 3-piece suit).

Commercial banks were regulated, only allowed to loan to solid, credit-worthy borrowers, usually for things like homes or cars or small businesses.  These were usually to locals, and the borrowers were well known to the banks.  It was safe, but not all that lucrative for the bankers. Investment banks could gamble big on just about anything, but with their higher risks (they weren't covered by FDIC insurance) came much higher rewards, too.  This separation worked well, but by the 1980's the banks were wanting to be unshackled, and finally, after intense lobbying, Glass-Steagall was repealed in 1999, and off to the casino they went.

They began an intense home loan campaign, and they had many well-qualified takers.  But after a while all the well-qualified borrowers who wanted a home had a home, so the banks lowered their standards and kept throwing out money.  Not long after, they ran out of even marginally-qualified borrowers, so they just kept loaning to anyone who could fog a mirror.  

If borrowers couldn't afford to make payments based on a 6% interest rate, they gave them a 2% loan....for 4 years, then it skyrocketed to make up for the early-years rate-break.  The banks frankly didn't care if the loans were paid back or not, as they had devised a way to pass along the risk to investors downstream.  They took all their loans, sliced them and diced them, and repackaged them as "derivatives".  These were essentially packages of 10,000 little pieces of 10,000 separate home loans.  

Problem was, the investors they sold them to (often employee pension funds, etc) couldn't easily figure out which homes they had an interest in or who owed them, which is exactly what the banks were hoping for.  The banks LOVE working in the dark!  The senior banksters made literally $$$BILLIONS of dollars for themselves personally with this fraudulent scam!

By 2008 the House of Cards collapsed, and investors worldwide were holding worthless paper.  But....haha....the banks were, too!  They still had BILLIONS in their loan portfolios waiting to be sliced and diced, but the collapse happened before they could get them all out the door.  Oops!

Here's where it gets personal for me:  In their typical bureaucratic knee-jerk over-reaction, the banking regulators pretty much told banks to say "NO" to any real estate loans.  Unless the borrower was solid gold and had a HUGE down payment...NO!  This applied coast-to-coast, regardless of whether an area participated in the fraud or not.  WTF?

Many in my industry were forced to close their doors, losing everything.  (We managed to stay afloat because over the years we had developed nice relationships with many affluent professionals who didn't need any bank financing.)  Plumbers who might once have had 20 employees could then only afford to keep 3 or 4.  The same with electricians, insulation and drywall contractors, etc.  It was to them like Armageddon.  Then it spread to our neighbors who might have needed to sell their homes for whatever reason, but couldn't because there was little mortgage financing available.  They were all defaulting on their homes and cars left and right, EVEN THOUGH THEY HAD NOTHING AT ALL TO DO WITH THE BANKSTER'S FRAUD!

Meanwhile, while millions of middle-class families were being devastated, the guilty bankers still had their ranches in Montana, their estates in the Hampton's, and their penthouse apartments on Fifth Ave.  They still vacationed in Europe, still bought Bentley's, still had their hundreds of millions of dollars hidden away from possible angry plaintiffs. AND  NOT  ONE  EVER  WENT  TO  PRISON!  Their lives didn't suffer one twit!

And they're still at it today.  They still put together fraudulent deals, pricing in a few hundred million bucks to cover the fines they know the Feds will slap on them....not bad considering the few $$$BILLION they scammed in the process!

I truly believe a day of reckoning is coming. At some point in time fed up middle class Joe's and Jane's will invade the Ivory Towers and haul these well-scrubbed criminals off in chains.  And there will be rejoicing in the streets.  :)

S  

*  Not all bankers are Banksters.  The little guys and gals at the local corner bank are NOT who I'm speaking of here.  I'm talking about the BIG BANKS....B of A, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citibank, Goldman Sachs, Capital One, Morgan Stanley, etc.