Friday, December 30, 2016

You're born, you do stuff, you die

I have a question for you, two actually:  Do you like your job, and do you have any regrets about your chosen career field?  Seems to me you can like one without necessarily liking the other.

What prompted this post is an email I received today telling me another of my competitors is now out of business.  I say "another" because over my nearly 45 years of being in the custom homebuilding business I've seen many more competitors close their doors than survive.  In fact, thinking back on all my professional contemporaries from 30 or 40 years ago, I can easily count on one hand those who have survived this far with me.

But I honestly DO like what I do....most of the time at least.  I like building things.  To me it's like figuring out how to assemble a giant 5,000 sq ft 3D puzzle.  Some are easy, some keep me awake at night wondering how I'm gonna get tab A into slot B.  But in the end it really is gratifying to drive through a neighborhood where I built 5 or 10 or 20 years ago and say to myself, "I built that one, and that one, and...".  

But then there are the frustrations, too.  Like how today building isn't as much about knowing how to actually build, but knowing how to maneuver your way through the bureaucratic / regulatory jungle.  And the financial uncertainties!  O M G!  A few good years can bring a pot 'o gold for sure, but you can just as easily get blindsided by some near-cataclysmic world event (think 9/11) or giant fraud that can cause the world's economy to crater (think 2008).  There is no linear route to success, regardless of how hard you work.  Grrrr!

Oh well, another one bites the dust.  And now that he's moved on, someone else will probably come along tomorrow with a great "new" business plan which he's too ignorant to realize is the same business plan that's been tried over and over for years and NEVER worked.  DUH!

So do I like what I do?  You bet!  Would I choose this career field again if I were just starting out?  In hindsight, seeing how things are today vs how they were 45 years ago when I began....no way in hell!  

How about you?  Do you like what you do specifically, and are you happy with your career field?

S


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Kudos, or cause for concern?


Today I was reminded of a situation, several actually, where foreign immigrants here in my area have done exceedingly well since coming to America.  They all happened to involve Asians or Indians (but it could have been any nationality) who made their fortunes in retail businesses such as convenience stores, grocery stores, liquor stores, home furnishings, women's fashions, etc.  They all worked extremely hard, long hours, and saved virtually every cent they made.  Being hard working and frugal seems like great virtues, right?  But is it really?

What they all seemed to have in common was that they were from countries where poverty was the norm and you either had to work yourself to near exhaustion or you starved.  That's the only way they knew how to live.  Entire extended families moved here together, pooled their meager cash, and started a business.  Mom and dad, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins, and spouses worked in shifts keeping their business open sometimes 24-7.

The entire family might have only a couple of vintage cars and live in the same house.  They never went out for dinner or enjoyed any recreational activities.  It was just work, eat, sleep when you could, then start the process over the next day.  The kids would go to school, do their homework, then work their shift at the family business.  They were allowed no extracurricular activities.  It was a brutal schedule, but it paid off monetarily.  Over time they became quite well-to-do.

I've seen this personally when selling homes to them, sitting on college scholarship committees, etc.  Understand, this is not to say ALL immigrants live like this.  Many quickly adapt the "American lifestyle" (which in retrospect might not have been the wisest thing).

But think of the big picture:  How can established businesses here now compete with their extreme work ethic and pay "brother-in-law" wages that almost demand a communal lifestyle?  Aren't these the conditions that spawned labor unions a century ago?  If everyone is working extreme hours and pinching every penny, would our economy collapse?  Will this become more common with our next incoming wave of immigrants?  For capitalism to work, enough people have to spend to keep the cycle going.

Where is the fine line between working hard, living modestly, and saving vs enjoying the fruits of your labor, ie: living one family per residence, each adult having a car, enjoying eating out occasionally, taking a vacation, etc?  Will we someday find an economic equilibrium (statistics say we may be doing that right now), and if so, how much social upheaval, either locally, regionally, or nationally, will this transition cause our society?

I don't have an answer.  It obviously isn't a black or white issue.  Your thoughts?




Monday, December 26, 2016

A historic date in history....


It was 25 years ago today the Hammer and Sickle flag of the USSR was lowered for the last time over the Kremlin in Moscow.  On that day the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was officially dissolved.  A political movement that began with a bang, literally, 70+ years earlier ended with just a whimper.

I just finished listening to a fascinating 6-part podcast series (Dan Carlin's Hardcore History / Blueprint for Armageddon) about The Great War, aka World War I, and how it changed the course of history from June 1914 to this very day.  As it pertains to Russia, the short version:

Unable to withstand the hardships and hunger of everyday life in war-weary Russia, by 1917 the people seized control and, after a series of revolutionary consolidations, the USSR was born.  By the 1980's the old Communist revolutionary zeal was long gone, and their system, which was slowly withering away, was as rotten as the Czar's was back in its dying days.

Russia to this day seems to have a never-ending inferiority complex.  They SO want to be a respected world power, but they simply have never quite been able to pull it off.  You can only rule by intimidation for so long, and by the late 1980's they were losing their iron grip.  Unable to afford an arms race with the West, with a population begging, then demanding a better life, and with nations on their periphery they had effectively controlled since the end of WWII now beginning to stand up to them, the hopelessly exhausted USSR finally lost power.  

Their last (nominal) Communist leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, after desperately trying a series of life-saving institutional reforms, finally accepted the inevitable and officially dissolved the Soviet Union on December 26, 1991.

Most reading this probably haven't given the passing of the USSR much thought since that historic day 25 years ago.  But at least one person, one Vladimir Putin, probably hasn't let a day pass since that event 25 years ago without thinking about it.  And he isn't smiling.

S


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Old men and their games


Ho Ho Ho....Merry Christmas.  Let's take a second to listen in to Prez-elect Donald Trump and Russia's Vladimir Putin exchange Christmas Good-Will-To-All wishes.  It went something like this:

Putin:  "We have bigger, better nukes than you do."

Trump:  "Only until January 20th, Pootie.  Then I'll call your SS-18 and raise you a ballistic missile submarine!"

So let the games begin.  

This war of words is almost comical.  Despite our crushing national debt, the US could still, if it wanted to, spend $$Billions to expand our nuclear arsenal.  But we won't because we don't need to.  The Rooskies simply don't have the financial resources to engage with us in an arms race.  They have trouble just meeting their weekly payroll!

And besides, nuclear weapons have lost much of their "fear factor".  Here's the deal....nukes aren't the "deterrent" they once were.  For a country to be taken seriously when they rattle their nuclear sword they must have two things:  1, lots of nukes (which both of us have); and 2, THE WILL TO USE THEM (which neither of us has).

In 1946 we alone had nukes and we'd just shown the world we weren't afraid to use them.  "Back off or you're next!"  A couple dozen years later both the US and the USSR had more than enough nukes to wipe each other out, and we settled into the world of MAD, or Mutually Assured Destruction.  Both sides understood that if they unleashed their nuclear arsenal, they would themselves be a smoking hole in about 30 minutes, so neither side dared try it.

By 2016 we have become so "risk averse" that as often as not our FA-18's flying over bad guy territory return with all their weapons still on their wings.  We're afraid of "collateral damage" if we miss and take out so much as a popsicle stand.  There's no way in hell we're going to send a nuke into Tehran or Pyongyang or even Moscow or Beijing, nor will they hit NYC or Washington or London.  World opinion would universally yell at us and make us cry!

More than likely we'll settle back into the old Cold War practice of combat-by-proxy, such as we're seeing now in Syria, and/or most menacing of all, cyber-warfare.  We should be more frightened of our electricity or our ATM's going down than we should be of a nuclear mushroom cloud over Topeka.

So relax, lets just sit back with a box of popcorn and watch Trump and Putin play "mine's bigger than yours."  *snicker*  Life goes on.  :)

S


Monday, December 19, 2016

Trust Putin at your own risk


I remember somewhere back during our recent presidential campaign when Donald Trump referred to Vladimir Putin as a "great leader", and his critics and political opponents went wild.  "How could he call Putin, a certified gangster if there ever was one, a 'great leader'" they asked.  How? Simple....because Putin IS a great leader.

When we think of a leader we think of someone good and virtuous and kind.  Webster stops short of that.  It defines "leader" as (1) :  a person who directs a military force or unit (2) :  a person who has commanding authority or influence.   It doesn't say anything about being good or virtuous or kind. 

Just like Adolf Hitler was obsessed with restoring Germany to its place at the pinnacle of the World Order (as he saw it at least) after WWI, Vladimir Putin is today obsessed with restoring Russia to the superpower status it enjoyed during the heyday of the Soviet Union.  He famously once called the breakup of the Soviet Union "the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th Century."

Everything I've read about Putin suggests this is all he thinks about.  If he makes a deal to sell oil or natural gas, for example, he sees it only as a means to an end, that being to return Russia to its glory days. He tolerates his oligarchs because he sees them as influential political allies.  He can count on them to stamp out dissent, thereby keeping their fortunes intact, and keeping his dreams of national glory alive.

There is no appealing to Putin's "good side" because he doesn't have one.  Dubya Bush said he looked into Putin's eyes and "saw his soul", and felt he was a man he could trust.   Barack Obama had his "Russian reset" back in 2010 where he hoped to reestablish good relations with Russia.  Both failed miserably.  Putin can't be trusted, and he doesn't care about being liked.

Putin's modus operandi is to nibble away at his neighbors by annexing area where he can (like Crimea), just like Hitler annexed Czechoslovakia, and stirring up trouble in other areas like Ossetia (part of Georgia) and Transdniestria (part of Moldova).  Many believe he has the Baltics in his sights again, too.  He is slowly-but-surely trying to reassemble the old Soviet Union, and he's using his feared KGB persona to "command authority"....Webster's definition of a "leader". 

My fear now is that President-elect Trump will try to make Vladimir Putin a partner, like he makes influential foreigners partners in his property deals.  He'll expect his Sec of State Rex Tillerson to smooth talk Putin into a win-win "deal".  I don't think that's a concept Vladimir Putin can grasp.  

The smart money says we would be wise to NOT turn our back on him.

S

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Someone well above my pay grade is probably losing a lot of sleep

It seems that 17 separate intelligence services have connected the dots and deduced that Russia's Pootie-Poo Putin hacked the emails of the Democratic National Committee, Clinton campaign manager John Podesta, and no telling what all else.  I also seem to recall reading that the Germans, the French, and other European countries have reason to believe the Rooskies are meddling in their upcoming elections, too.  In response, just a few days ago Prez Obama said we will respond "at the time and place of our choosing."  Oh yeah?

Pay attention, folks....from low intensity email hacking to elaborate cyber-sabotage, this is the new face of warfare in the 21st Century.  For a surprisingly small investment, the US, or any country for that matter, can destroy any another country, regardless of how big or powerful they might be, without ever firing a shot.  Some geeks in a dark room with a few computers can pull off the [almost] perfect crime.  Actually I don't know if it could be done by just a few geeks or if it would take a small army of geeks, or whether it could be done using a few Dell's or HP's or requires a super computer, but it CAN be done. 

Remember back in 2010 when the US with Israeli help....or was it Israel with US help?....unleashed the Stuxnet virus on Iran's nuclear enrichment centrifuges and burned up a thousand or so of them?  Now think how far cyber-warfare has advanced in the time since.  The US and the Russians, and no doubt the Chinese, Koreans, Iranians, and a few other barely-out-of-Third-World-status countries, can electronically set each other back 50 years with just a few keystrokes, and it's virtually impossible to tell who the bad guy is.  Who do you strike back?

And here's where the West is especially vulnerable:  Virtually every home, school, business, factory, port, car, truck, bus, train, and plane in the advanced world is connected and at risk, while much of the rest of the world lacks our degree of technological sophistication.  We're simply a more target rich environment.

The Soviet Union collapsed when they had to choose between "guns or butter".  The government chose guns, while the people were desperate for butter.  The people won.  Today the choice isn't one or the other.  Even North Korea's Kim Jong Turd can wield power far beyond his two-bit dictator status.  While it's possible to bomb a nuclear weapons facility, or a missile launch site, or an airbase, how do you know which geek in what room is the one that needs a good spanking?

Interesting times, eh?  Stay tuned.  I'm pretty sure this is all Bill Gates fault.  ;)

S



 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Real, or is Rod Serling just playing with our minds again?


As you may have read in the news, Prez-elect Donald Trump is strongly considering ExxonMobil  CEO  Rex Tillerson to fill the position of Secretary of State.  The argument for him is that he has developed a close relationship with Russia's Vladimir Putin and others of questionable repute, and has a foot already in their door.  The argument against him is that he has a close relationship with Russia's Vladimir Putin and others of questionable repute, and already has a foot in their door.  Those supporting him say that, yes, he is a super-smart businessman and negotiator who has used his skills to benefit ExxonMobil, and he will now be able to use his skills to benefit the USA.

And this, my friends, is the central issue in my dim view of "globalization".  What this argument essentially says is that Exxon is looking out for Exxon, and IBM is looking out for IBM, and Caterpillar is looking out for Caterpillar, etc, and if that means throwing the interests of the United States, the country that has allowed them to grow and thrive, under the bus, so be it.  Shareholders come before fellow countrymen and taxpayers.

I fully understand the Genie is never going back into the bottle.  Globalization is here to stay.  Yes, it has enabled us to buy everyday stuff at Walmart far cheaper than if we made it here, but because of the wet blanket it has put on American worker's incomes, we HAVE to buy stuff cheaper because that's all we can afford.  We're not really any better off.  Well, a few high up the food chain ladder might be, but it has not been across-the-board beneficial to most of us.  We have more cheap "stuff", but at what cost?  More stuff does not necessarily equal a better life.

Have you ever heard of The New World Order?  I have, vaguely, but if I step back and look at where we are today and where it looks like we might be headed, I have to wonder.  Here is the NWO, condensed version:

The conspiracy theorists say The New World Order is a secretive power elite with a globalist agenda that is conspiring to eventually rule the world.  They see this as the culmination of history's progress. Many influential historical and contemporary figures have therefore been purported to be part of a cabal that operates through many front organizations to orchestrate significant political and financial events, ranging from causing systemic crises to pushing through controversial policies, at both national and international levels, as steps in an ongoing plot to achieve world domination.

Worst case, if I stand back and squint just right, I can sorta see some of this happening right now.  Best case, I advise just kicking back and enjoying (?) the ride, 'cause there's no way us peons are going to stop it.




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 advisor 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....

Late edit:  I just learned she sits on the Board of Wells Fargo Bank.  More coals on the fire!



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 Kudo 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 recycled #$%^& 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.




Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Competition is GOOD!

Competition

I just saw an American Express ad on TV urging its members to do business with small, local businesses and not just the mega corporations.  Awww....it's that nice of them, looking after the little guy like that?  How sweet.  What's that....ulterior motive?  Why yes, yes they do.

This reminded me of a conversation I had with a high-up-the-ladder marketing guy with Lowe's a few years ago.  He told me that consumers had the impression that, because of their volume, Lowe's (and Home Depot) received better pricing from appliance manufacturers than the smaller local retailers.  He said that was not true, and that they in fact paid a bit more.  I asked why that was?

He told me that the two large box stores combined already accounted for something like 50% of all appliance sales.  The appliance manufacturers understood that if they allowed the small retailers to disappear, and Lowe's and HD had it all to themselves, the two big boxes would effectively OWN the appliance makers.  They would bark "jump", and the manufacturers would have to reply, "how high, sir?"  Therefore they gave the small retailers a slightly better price to keep them competitive and in business. 

Until recently American Express was the only credit card the giant members-only store Costco accepted.  Ten percent of all Am Ex cards were issued thru Costco, and 20% of Am Ex total loan portfolio was with Costco.  Feeling like they had the power to pull American Express's strings, Costco demanded that Am Ex cut their processing fee and raise their rewards program, both benefitting Costco and hurting Am Ex.  

American Express realized the folly of having too many of their eggs in one basket and bid Costco adieu.  Now they're trying to boost their business with thousands of small retailers so as to never be held hostage like that again.  And that's, as Paul Harvey would say, "The rest of the story."

So with this in mind, please tell me why we let the Big Six banks (JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley) control roughly half of all American banking, with the other half divided up among roughly 6,000 "others"?  Tell me again why we shouldn't break up the Big Six?

Who do YOU bank with?

S

Monday, October 24, 2016

Hillary's worst nightmare



Saturday Night Live's Hillary Clinton: "You have a choice in this election.  You can vote for a Republican, or you can vote for Donald Trump."

Hillary Clinton is enjoying an embarrassment of riches.  She has her limited hard-core base of traditional Democrats, the support of maverick Democrat (?) Bernie Sanders and most of his millennials....and the support of much of corporate America.


Wikileaks has given us the transcript of what Hillary told a group of Goldman Sachs VIPs in a speech they paid her a cool QUARTER MILLION $$$ to hear.  That is....big shock....that she is a two-faced politician.*

During her primary campaign against Bernie Sanders she wanted us to believe she was a progressive's progressive.  Even after she took him out she enthusiastically embraced Bernie's "break up the big banks, no (TPP) trade deal, free college for everyone, etc" agenda.  She even agreed to make it a part of the official Democratic Party platform.  But what about what she told Goldman Sachs, and by inference the business community?

She told them that she had a face for public consumption, and a face for behind the magic curtain, and it was the latter that they should pay attention to.  Yes, she would push for "banking regulation", but the banks would have a say in writing it.  Which really meant "don't you guys lose any sleep."

At the time she said that Republicans were firmly in control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives.  If she could some day become President she could deliver on her promise to her progressive friends to champion their traditional Democratic values, all while knowing a Republican controlled Congress would never go along with any meaningful change in the status quo.  Win/win....votes from traditional Democrats, money from traditional Republican business interests.  SWEET!

As it now turns out several years later she appears to be coasting to a presidential victory, and the odds are pretty good that she might, just might, get a Democratic Senate, too.  

But what if the Democrats could pull off a modern miracle and win the House of Representatives also?  Her Democratic faithful/Bernie Sanders coalition would then expect her to live up to her promises to them....she would have the votes in Congress to do pretty much whatever she wanted....while the business community would still be expecting her to stand aside for them, too, and they don't take kindly to being stiffed for a couple of hundred million $$$.  YIKES!

Hillary's "happy dance" could well turn into a "tap dance".  Hey, stranger things have happened.

S

* I know, I know.  I used "two faced" and "politician" in the same sentence.  It goes without saying, huh?  :)