Thursday, April 30, 2009

Show Us Something, Hil

We tax all the others and pass the revenue on to you

We hoped the economy might give Hillary some cover while she made quiet progress in foreign relations. That's not been in evidence yet. Sure, the prez gave some DVDs to Britain's Gordon Brown but he's already on our side.

Hillary gave a nifty desk button to Russia's president Medvedev. It was supposed to say "re-set" in Russian, as in American-Russian relations (and how cutesy was that?) but it actually said "overcharge". Medvedev had to explain it all to her in English. You'd think we could hire translators at least as competent as the guy they're supposed to communicate with. SecStates, too.

That's the small stuff, of the kind we're not supposed to sweat. Hil just laughed and clapped her hands. No big deal.

But the big stuff isn't any more promising. "Re-set" Medvedev has stationed Russian troops at the Abkhazian and South Ossetian borders of Georgia, the sovereign country in which those disputed provinces are located.

Not only that, Russian troops are stationed in more traditional Georgian territory that Re-set agreed to pull back from as part of ending last August's war. What are we doing about it? Nothing. Russian hegemony is carrying the day and all meaningful opposition has left the field.

Win one for America, Hil. Any one will do as long as it signals substantive progress in American foreign relations. Stop blaming Bush and Condy, even though you mostly supported them while they were in office. Show them and us how you can do your job better than your predecessors ever did. Show us the power of your dialogue and reason. Show us why, of all 315 mil of us, you were chosen to be SecState. Show us something. Please.

I don't think that's coming any time soon from the senator who was shot at by a sniper in Bosnia. Oh, right, that never happened.


It would have been difficult to design a path out of communism worse than the one that has been followed.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Chrysler Bankruptcy

We tax all the others and pass the revenue on to you

The prez and TimmyG told us the auto bailouts were loans that were going to be repaid because now we have a stake in the outcome. Really? Now Chrysler is bankrupt and we have whatever creditor status we (the US gummint) are allowed, probably not "secured creditor" status because there was nothing left to secure our loans or otherwise give us a priority over other lenders. Since we were likely the last major lender, our money is just gone. Gullible junior creditors lose big time in most bankruptcies.

The new spin is that the NEXT Chrysler loans must be repaid before Fiat completely takes over. Fiat? See my March 29 column. "New" taxpayer money will be repaid in that case, but not ALL taxpayer money. Fiat will get to keep the "old" money. It's a Ponzi scheme in reverse, paying off new investors with old investors' money. BernieM is smiling. We've been reverse-Madoffed. Hide the kids.

The prez and his auto committee are going to save Chrysler by giving it away. Destroying a village in order to save it comes to mind. Fiat gets 35% now in return for "billions in cutting-edge technology", the rest later. Think about that a moment. Chrysler is getting auto tech from ... Fiat!

Chrysler had real cutting edge auto tech help when Daimler inexplicably bought them. It didn't help a bit. Daimler gave up its residual claims as part of the proposed bankruptcy restructuring. You can bet that the surviving Daimler execs are toasting themselves for finally getting out of a mess they should never have gotten themselves into.

You heard it here first: Chrysler won't be getting any meaningful auto tech from Fiat. If Fiat had much significant cutting-edge auto tech, Toyota already would have bought it. Isn't it likely that Fiat will get more tech help than it is supposed to give, thereby further weakening Chrysler in support of Fiat? It is. This will be a parasitical relationship rather than one of mutual benefit.

The prez smiled when he boasted of how the Canadian gummint is helping with the restructuring. He didn't mention the USD $400 mil Canadian tax lien up there, probably because it pales in significance compared to the overall package. Canada will get paid before we do.

The prez says this bankruptcy is "not a sign of weakness" and that it is "for limited purposes". Well, sorry, that just ain't the way it works. Chrysler will either fail in bankruptcy or succeed by renegotiating or voiding its debt and contracts, including salaries, pensions and health insurance. A judge will decide and s/he won't prefer one group of same-class creditors over another.

Chrysler management would be in gross neglect of its duties to do otherwise. Pretending that the bankruptcy only targets a few recalcitrant creditors -- unnamed evil hedge funds and scurrilous investment companies -- doesn't mean that it's true. You mean hedge funds like the one Chelsea Clinton works at? But I digress. Even Dems want to get rich quick.

I don't make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts. --
Will Rogers

A Note Of Grateful Thanks

My darlin' wife has been ill. Breast cancer. It's a dreadful diagnosis and a painful journey.

She -- Edythe -- underwent a partial mastectomy and lymph node section two days ago. Result? The best of all possible outcomes. Complete removal of the tumor and zero cancer cells found in the lymph node. Chemo and radiation will follow but they will be more cautionary than treatment.

Second time around for Edythe, who was given "less than sixty days to live" back in 1996 when she was diagnosed with a different stage-4b cancer. The thirteen years since have been just about perfect, with no serious after-effects of her extensive and painful treatments then.

She has had two major advocates: Skilled physicians and loving friends... and family. For the efforts and prayers of both groups, thank you.

Edythe has been blogging about her cancer journey at . Check it out.

I'm sure I'm not as grateful as I should be, but I'm as grateful as I can be.

Gratitude is one of the least articulate of the emotions, especially when it is deep. -- Justice Felix Frankfurter

Friday, April 24, 2009

Debt and Credit

We tax all the others and pass the revenue on to you

I've got 2-3 credit cards. Maybe you do, too. I never quite seem to get them all paid off at once and my creditors love me for that. Every now and then I get an offer for a new card with certain incentives if I accept it. Occasionally I do exactly that. I (actually, my darlin' wife) mostly check the interest rates that go into effect after the initial period and if they're better than what I'm currently paying I go with the new card. I'm not clear on what that does to my credit score and I don't much care.

Point is, they're my credit cards. They're a deal I made with my lender(s) when I wanted something I didn't have the ready cash to buy. I didn't save, I borrowed, and there's a cost to borrowing. It's called interest and it has been around for millennia. People who lend have a right to profit from their risk-taking and I have a duty to pay them.

So what is the prez doing calling in the leaders of the big credit card companies for a scolding about interest rates? Has he nothing better to do these days than give us a show of support for us to pay less to our lenders.

Lesson 1: If you don't want to pay interest, don't borrow money.

Lesson 2: If you want to borrow significant money, shop around for the best deal. The best deal as in the lowest interest rate over the entire time you agree to owe the money, not in free toasters.

Lesson 3: If you ignore lessons 1 or 2, don't come to me asking me to pay your bills when you can't. I probably won't willingly do it.

Prez, don't protect me from the lenders I seek out, nor my lenders from me. We don't need that protection and you've got two wars and an economic crisis to worry about.

Don't protect me from the auto industry crisis. If GM didn't put money aside during the good times, tough. Someone will still make cars.

Don't protect me from insurance investment schemes that I don't understand. I shouldn't be investing in them in the first place... and I know it. My various insurance policies are between me and my insurer and it's really none of your business, kind of like my credit cards. Stay out of it.

Protect me from fraud, aggression and evil and I'll take care of my day-to-day business on my own. It's been that way all my life and it has worked out OK.

Provide a safety net for those unfortunates who are truly incapable of fending for themselves. Count me in for a full share of that cost. Protect me from those who would manipulate the system to take advantage of others' safety nets.

Lead me and lead my government. I accept your leadership role.

Don't be my daddy.

Holocaust vs. Genocide

We tax all the others and pass the revenue on to you

Yesterday, April 23, was the day set aside to remember and honor Holocaust victims, International Holocaust Day. It is right to remember the millions of innocents who were slaughtered by a criminal regime led by psychopathic monsters from hell. Our prez conscientiously reminded us "Never again". He sat on Capital Hill and listened as speaker after speaker warned of the peril that Iran poses to the existence of the state of Israel. Fair enough, and so noted. This day of quiet remembrance should go on forever.

Today, April 24, is the day set aside to remember and honor the 1.5 million innocent victims of the Armenian Genocide. "Uh, the what?" do I hear you say? On this date in 1915 the Turkish pasha signed an order to exterminate all Armenians and he started with those in his government and army. Murder is the only word that fits the individual heinous crimes and genocide is the only word that fits this persecution in its entirely.

Here's what our prez said in part (thank you, AP) about the Armenian Genocide in 2008 during his campaign:

"Two years ago, I criticized the Secretary of State for the firing of U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, John Evans, after he properly used the term 'genocide' to describe Turkey's slaughter of thousands of Armenians starting in 1915. I shared with Secretary (Condoleezza) Rice my firmly held conviction that the Armenian Genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence. The facts are undeniable. An official policy that calls on diplomats to distort the historical facts is an untenable policy."

Thousands? Try 1.5 million. Yeah, can't be expected to remember details like that. Can't be expected to remember campaign promises like that, either. Now our prez shares with his predecessors a stubborn and irrational refusal to call the genocide a genocide.

It happened. I've seen the proof and you can, too, if you visit the Genocide Museum in Yerevan or any number of websites. One picture in the museum, "The Hanging of the Doctors", will haunt you forever, but don't avert your eyes. That's what we're talking about here. Genocide. There simply is no other word.

We stood with the new German governments after WW II as they anguished their way through recognition of the Holocaust and today Germany is one of Israel's staunchest allies. We stood with South Africa as it confronted its recent past with truth commissions and free elections. We are helping rebuild Cambodia even as it faces the reality of its killing fields.

Whither Turkey? Are we so afraid that Turkey will somehow fail us or turn away from us if we call their act of genocide by its name? Why? Sure, Turkey is a useful ally but the last time we relied on Turkey, in 2003, it turned its back on us in favor of its own perceived national interests. The 1.5 million genocide victims deserve better than to be sacrificed yet again for oil and market access to their murderers.

Turkey, born in the blood of its own Young Turks at the passing of the Ottoman Regime, should face its past much like the US had had to face its history of slavery. It existed, it was a horror, we ended it on our own and we learned from it. Imperfectly, to be sure, and slowly, but the learning and improvement continues to this very day.

Turkey, I implore you. Explore your past and comes to turns with the Armenians and the genocide you inflicted on them. They deserve it and so do modern Turks.

Twice shame on Turkey. Once for the genocide and once for intimidating the United States into holding its tongue over your acts. Shame on our prez for continuing to bow to Turkish demands, especially when so many western nations have recognized the genocide for what we all know it was.

It's time to stop bowing, prez, and this is a good place to take a stand.

Genocide. It's too awful to ignore.

* * * * *

"I won't be wronged, I won't be insulted and I won't be laid a hand on. I don't do these things to other people and I expect the same from them." ... John Wayne as John Bernard Books in the movie "The Shootist"

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Caroline vs. Bush

We tax all the others and pass the revenue on to you

Downthread, Anonymous reminds us that George W. Bush was a little short of credentials himself when he ran for GovTex in 1994. Anonymous commented on my April 15 observation regarding Caroline K's socialite life of entitlement having confused her into believing she could be a senator. No, wait, an ambassador... to the Vatican... no, wait, maybe somewhere else. Oh, never mind. And why those high offices? How about, because there's no higher office in America that she can be given or sold.

True, sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and we note the convenient gender reference there. And although we admit to certain political biases this is not a political party-slanted platform. We just call 'em like we see 'em and that's how we see CK, a preening political hack-in-waiting. Waiting for, say, Uncle Teddy's seat to open up.

Anonymous conveniently ignores the one big difference between CK's entitlement attitude and George Bush's own life of smug entitlement. The difference is that Bush actually had to win both a nomination and an election before he could call himself a governor. He had to win a second election before he could call himself a two-termer.

Caroline doesn't want to bother with all those pedantic little details. She wants her new friend the governor or her new friend the president to just give her what she wants, a senate seat or an ambassadorship. Elections are only for little people like us. "Come ON!" Stamping her little feet and squinting her eyes, "Don't you guys know who my father was?"

In an election, you have to put up your accomplishments and agenda and intangibles against the other guy's and let a universe of voters decide whom they want, or maybe just whom they hate the least. Bush did that, CK doesn't want to. BIG difference. Even her role model, the anachronistic Uncle Teddy, had to be elected by a willing constituency. His re-elections cast at least as much doubt on the sanity of Massachusettians (c'mon, what are they really called?) as Bush's do on Texans'.

Anonymous, you're welcome to pitch in here any time you want, and the more often, the better. Personally, you'll make it more interesting for me if you have and share a supportable argument or opinion or at least compare apples to apples or ask interesting questions. You didn't do that this time and you cast some doubt on your honest intent.

Our constitution protects aliens, drunks and U. S. senators.
Will Rogers

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Prisoners Of Our Own Choices

We tax all the others and pass the revenue on to you

There have to be consequences for everything we choose to do, right? Otherwise, they wouldn't be choices. There would be no "road less traveled", no results to rue or bring pride.

We have almost complete freedom to make our choices. Quit school or attend; drug or don't drug; pay or steal; work or sloth; persevere or quit. Once having made them, we are usually stuck with the consequences.

To complicate things, there is no guarantee of equality of results for efforts, only equality of opportunity to achieve. That angers some people who believe that effort must be rewarded. No, it may be and it may not be. No guarantees. In outcome-based education it didn't matter if you spelled it "skool" or "school". If you knew what one was and could say the word, you passed. But that's not the real world.

Let's agree on this: Self-esteem doesn't bring achievement; achievement brings self-esteem. The most profound bore is the one who brags about what he is going to do rather than what he has done. Even knowing that, I occasionally succumb. Maybe you do too, but it is fatuous and it distracts us from the business at hand.

One problem is that we are prone to asking those who made prudent decisions to bail out those who made outrageously bad decisions. When winter comes, we ask the ants to bail out the grasshopper. That goes against the notion that there are consequences for bad decisions.

The financial and automotive industry debacles are the self-inflicted products of a nearly endless series of bad choices. SUVs made more money than hybrids, so GM built SUVs even in the face of dramaticlly reduced demand. "Financial products" produced incredible profits that could never be explained or justified with the expectation they would continue to baffle investors forever. Those who invented and manipulated both of those markets were as guilty as Bernie Madoff of stealing others' futures. Now the scams have been exposed as naked greed and investors and bankers alike are failing. We are expected to ignore their enormous profits from before they were exposed as if they hadn't been exposed at all.

Don't fall for it. These thieves took their vacations at St. Moritz, built their political careers, bought their islands and jets and palaces while we weren't looking and now, like Madoff, they want to keep at least some of the loot and be forgiven their roles in the theft. They expect us to be prisoners of our own choices while they are forgiven theirs.

* * * * *

Are you tired of Caroline Kennedy yet? CK is a perennial under-achiever who has lived on her father's legacy her entire life. Yes, she has a few credentials but was an Ivy League education such a stretch goal for her? Nope. Quick, can you name any of her achievements? Me neither. Her self-esteem didn't bring her achievement and her lack of achievement seems to have lowered her self esteem. That's predictable for anyone.

Her "I think I'll start at the top" approach to life led her to think that she could be a senator without ever having a meaningful job beforehand and an ambassador with no meaningful credentials at all. The ambassadorship isn't quite as much of a stretch as lots of those are nothing more than political patronage anyway, but to the Vatican? You really do have to believe there are no consequences for your actions (think abortion, planned parenthood and the like) to think that the Pope might want you at court.

We don't use the term derogative term "socialite" much any more but Wiki has a useful definition:

A socialite is a person who is known to be a part of fashionable high society because of his or her regular participation in social activities and fondness for spending a significant amount of time entertaining and being entertained. Some socialites may choose to use their social skills and connections to promote and raise funds for various charitable or philanthropic activities. Socialites are usually in possession of considerable wealth, whether gained by inheritance or otherwise, that can sustain their steady attendance at social functions.

Go away now, Caroline. Go back to your estates and your pampered self-indulgence and your socialite elitism. You weren't born to lead, you were only born to spend. You've made your choices and now, like us, you are a prisoner of them.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

You're Completely In Charge -- Of You

We tax all the others and pass the revenue on to you

Banking is a good business that helps us individually and collectively. Good banks make it through hard times. Always have. Witness Wells Fargo's $3 bil in profits just announced. They tried to decline TARP money but were pressured to accept it. Why? Can't make the others look bad by comparison, I guess. Makes it too easy to ask why we're giving all that bailout cash to bad banks. My own bank, Umpqua Bank, makes money and treats its customers like family. Shouldn't that be the norm?

Well, why are we giving away all that money? If a bank, car maker, securities dealer or whatever is failing, let them fail. That's how capitalism works. That's how America works. If an industry has worth, the remaining competitors will pick up the pieces. Want some proof? Banks are already buying "toxic assets" on the open market. Maybe they're not so toxic after all. If an industry is marginal in the first place, why should the government want to prop it up?

Investors make money and they lose money. Workers get jobs and we lose jobs. These are universals. We don't make parts for non-existent refrigerator manufacturers just to keep a ramshackle plant open, we move on and do something else. We don't have cradle-to-grave security because we rejected it as a society in favor of individual opportunity to succeed.

The mother of a friend of mine in Macedonia was a collective factory worker, a weaver in a textile factory. The collective failed and the new government's privitization plan sold her, on credit, a couple of the same looms she had worked on in the factory. She set up a tiny shop in her home and has expanded it repeatedly. She worked hard and succeeded where the collective had failed. Her rugs and woven products found a ready market for quality textiles at good prices both at home and abroad. I'm proud to own a small example and I'm proud of her success.

Her family raises goats, too. Hard work but it pays off in sales of animals, milk, cheese and whatever other goat products there are. BTW, goat cheese is far better than the mass-produced cheese-like substances that assault our taste buds. Try it. Good stuff.

The point is, we are all responsible for our lives and our futures. You aren't the government's problem. It refuses to take responsibility for you. You aren't too big to fail. They don't care.

We will fail, all of us. That's another universal. We all will experience sorrow and frustration and pain. We'll all be scared. The measure of us all is "Then what did you do?" My friend in Macedonia couldn't go on welfare. They don't have that concept. She picked up the pieces and charted a new course for her life and she has succeeded. She didn't get TARP money or a bailout... and she didn't give up. She has lots of lessons for all of us.

Sing it, Sinatra:

Will you remember the famous men
Who have to fall and then rise again,
So take a deep breath
Pick yourself up,
Dust yourself off,
And start all over again.

And "tranche"? Nothing you can't spell will ever work. -- Will Rogers