Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Financial Mess

Every business decision involves risk. With every business decision there are those who understand the risk, those who don’t understand the risk and those that aren’t even aware there is a risk!

Most business risks are fairly modest, but some aren't. Risks have two elements. The probability it will occur and the effect if it does occur. Rarely does it make sense to risk something with both a high probability of occurance and a catastrophic effect. Yet, amazingly, that appears to be precisely what the bright lights in the financial industry have done. Why? My bet is for a short term benefit.

Guess who usually gets screwed when a risk does result in a catastrophe and guess who rarely if ever gets screwed?

If life were fair those that understood the risk, yet choose to proceed anyway, would be the ones to pay the price when things go bottoms up. Unfortunately those are the only people in a position to insulate themselves and they’re usually pretty good at doing so.

The folks that take it on the chin are the other two groups because neither realized there was a potential storm on the horizon and I suspect that’s exactly what’s going to happen in the current financial mess.

I have three questions that no one seems inclined to answer.

Question #1 – Exactly how did we get into this mess?

No, I’m not looking for the trivial answer about high risk mortgage lending practices. What I would like to understand is why banks, traditionally the epitome of conservative stuffed shirtism, suddenly decided that high risk loans to people, who clearly weren’t going to be able to pay them back, was a good idea.

Allow me to suggest that end year bonuses figure in there somewhere. Nirvana in the business world is if you can find a way to reap the rewards while someone else shoulders the risk.

Question #2 – How are we going to insure that the assholes that made the decisions that got us into this mess get nailed rather than rewarded?

Yeah, I know, it’s not going to happen. These are precisely the guys that understood the risk and managed to insulate themselves. Probably a lot of them fled for greener pastures a long time ago. I can envision them clutching their ill gotten gains as they slink off into the night.

Question #3 – How are we going to make damn sure it never happens again?

This is sort of a key point to my mind. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. I’ve heard a lot about preventing looming catastrophe but little about making damn sure it doesn’t happen again.

What is so infuriating about this mess is the realization that the turkeys that caused it are most likely sipping Pena Colladas on their yachts, having long ago gotten out of harms way, and there isn’t a damn thing anyone can do about it.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The First Debate

Actually, I thought McCain did better and was a bit surprised when the consensus seemed to go to Obama.

Debates are all a matter of impressions because rarely does anyone retain any of the details. The impression that McCain needs to establish is one of an inexperienced Obama not yet ready for the Oval Office. The impression that Obama needs to establish is one of a McCain that has supported the disastrous policies of the Bush administration.

I thought McCain did a better job of establishing his impression. Perhaps having selected the “born in an igloo” Palin, who just came off two disastrous interviews and was nowhere to be seen at the debate, made it harder to make his points stick.

One thing Obama certainly did better was establish the claim that he was focused on helping the middle class. Good idea, but I still think he’s having a hard time making friends among older blue color white voters.

Why? Because not all that long ago bigots, and the then extreme right wing, made some reasonable headway with the line that the black civil rights movement was primarily aimed at taking away the jobs of white blue color workers. There are still some dim memories of that among today’s generation, the children of parents whose jobs were directly affected in those days.

Allow me to quote Phil Ochs from the song “Links on the Chain.”

“For now the times are tellin' you the times are rollin' on,
And you're fighting for the same thing, the jobs that will be gone,
Now it's only fair to ask you boys, which side are you on?”

Get it? The more things change the more they stay the same. Obama and the Democrats are on your side boys. Don’t fall for the lie.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Financial Crisis

I’m starting to get a little sick and tired of the word “crisis.”

Let’s hear it for the private sector. This “crisis,” as far as I can see, is the end result of years of corporate mismanagement and short term thinking.

American business has, for years, been in a “focus on the current quarter” mentality that sacrifices long term stability for short term benefit. We are now seeing some of that come home to roost in the financial sector.

I don’t have a problem with protecting working folk’s jobs but I’d like to be sure that the only ones to benefit from this won’t be the executive types whose incompetence led to the problem in the first place.

This whole thing smacks of a “persecute the innocent and reward the guilty scenario.” You can be certain if “downsizing” and “difficult cuts” become necessary, it won’t be the CEOs and CFOs getting the pink slips.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Crime in the United States 2007

The latest FBI report on crime in the United States is out. Both the violent crime rate and the murder rate in the United States went down. The violent crime rate went from 473.6 to 466.9 and the murder rate went from 5.7 to 5.6.

The lowest violent crime rate was in the Northeast at 372.4, followed by the Midwest at 411.2, then the West at 463.7 and, as usual, bringing up the rear was the South at 549.2. The violent crime rate went down in all regions except the South where it rose.

The Northeast also had the lowest murder rate at 4.1, followed by the Midwest at 4.9, then the West at 5.3 and, as usual, way behind the pack was the South with a rate of 7.0. Again, the South was the only region where the murder rate went up! Explain to me again how the death penalty and executing folks are deterrents?

New Jersey became the first state to eliminate the death penalty through legislative action a while back so the murder rate there must have sky rocketed right? WRONG! The murder rate went down from 4.9 to 4.4!

What about Texas, the execution capital of the United States? No change. The murder rate held steady at 5.9.

Just to put things in perspective, Louisiana had a murder rate of 14.2. It’s the only state with a murder rate over 10. Puerto Rico had a murder rate of 18.5 (but at least it went down from 18.8) and, my favorite, the District of Columbia had a murder rate of a whopping 30.8!

To put that in perspective, New York City, that hive of scum and villainy, had a murder rate of only 6.0 (don’t believe everything you see on T.V.), Los Angeles, that other hive of scum and villainy, a rate of 10.2, Dallas a rate of 16.1 and Atlanta a rate of 26.0 Then there’s always Newark with a murder rate that tops even D.C. at 37.1.

My town had a murder rate of 0.0 and a violent crime rate of 0.4.

Evidence, Reality and Rationalization

The Washington Post had an article Monday about a series of psychological experiments that the experimenters claim display some interesting results.

The experiments, conducted by political scientists at Yale, Duke and Georgia State seem to indicate that even when one finds out that something was wrong, it can still have an effect as if it were true.

In one experiment at Yale people predisposed to a certain position were given information that bolstered that position. As expected the percentage of folks holding that position went up. But, when given additional information, that demonstrated that the original information was false, the numbers didn’t go back to the original levels.

For instance, 56% of a group of Democrats disapproved of John Roberts, the Bush nominee for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, before being shown a NARAL Pro-choice America article that claimed Roberts supported “violent fringe groups and a convicted clinic bomber.” Not surprisingly the percentage who disapproved rose to 80%. When given information that the NARAL article was false, the disapproval rating only dropped back to 72%.

Worse were the experiments run by researchers from Duke and Georgia State. Those experiments appear to demonstrate that presenting evidence to someone refuting a belief can result in a “backfire effect” that actually strengthens the belief! The research further indicated that this affect tends to occur with Conservatives but not Liberals.

In other words presenting evidence to a Conservative refuting a position he holds isn’t likely to persuade him he’s wrong. It’s more likely to have him dig in his heels!

I could actually believe that. I’ve had too many arguments with Religious conservatives not to know that trying to get them to consider evidence is often an effort in futility. For years the Left has been trying to convince the Right with evidence and logic. These experiments indicate that might be a losing strategy.

This coupled with previous evidence which seems to indicate that conservatives also have a tremendous capacity to rationalize is, if accurate, something of a deadly combination. How do you reason with someone when presenting evidence to that person simply makes him cling more tightly to his original opinion?

Notice that I use a lot of “seem” and “appear” here. I haven’t actually reviewed the experimental protocols and I’m not aware that anyone has repeated or otherwise validated the results. It’s also unclear that all of the cause and effect is clearly understood.

For instance, showing people an article by NARAL with false information also conveys some accurate information. In this instance that NARAL disapproves of John Roberts in any event. That might have been enough to sway some folks regardless of the fact that the most extreme charges were false.

The results are interesting and can certainly be used to tweak the nose of your local conservative or religious fruitcake but I wouldn’t totally buy into them just yet.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Why Must I be Left in the Dark?

It’s time for another rant and rave about our less than stellar media. What is with these people? I get more information from snopes.com than I get from supposedly legitimate news outlets.

Let’s talk about Sarah Palin shall we? There’s are lots of things I’d like to know about Palin, just like there are lots of things I’d like to know about Joe Biden, but all the media wants to talk about is her 17 year daughter who happens to be with child.

Look folks, that’s a personal matter and none of your or my business so lay off it already.

There are things about Palin however that ARE reasonable to delve into such as:

- Does she really support, as has been reported, the teaching of Creationism in the public schools? If yes, if elected would she support the principle of the separation of church and state or would she undermine it?

- Does she really think, as has been reported, that Global Warming is a farce?

- Does she really, as has been reported, oppose abortion in all cases including cases of rape and incest? If yes, how does she justify this position?

- Did she really, as has been reported, try to get books she didn’t like removed from the town library and then try to fire the librarian when she refused to remove the books? If yes, what books, how does she justify trying to have them removed and how does she justify trying to fire the librarian?

- Does she, as has been reported, support abstinence only education which the major of health professionals say simply doesn’t work?

On the Biden side:

- Is he, as has been reported, a deadbeat who owes people money but won’t pay up?

I don’t know if any of these things are true or not but, if the media was doing its job, I would!

Friday, September 05, 2008

2008 NFL Predictions

I’ve decide to start making a complete fool of myself in September rather than waiting for later in the season. With this easily attainable goal in mind I present my play-off and Super Bowl predictions now. Of course I get a chance to do it again once the play-off picture is set.

AFC East: Patriots ------ NFC East: Cowboys
AFC North: Steelers ---- NFC North: Vikings
AFC South: Colts -------- NFC South: Saints
AFC West: Chargers ---- NFC West: Seahawks

Wild Card #1: Jaguars ---Wild Card #1: Packers
Wild Card #2: Jets ------- Wild Card #2: Eagles

AFC Champ: Chargers --- NFC Champ: Cowboys

Super Bowl Champ: Cowboys

Let’s see how many I get right (*chuckle*).

So Now What?

Ok, the convention shows are over, the confetti and balloons have been swept into the garbage bin and the tickets are set.

Sarah Pain has tuned out, at least so far, to be as good a pick for McCain as I said even though she’s probably not such a great pick for the country. At the same time I’m still feeling a little shaky about exactly where Obama is heading. I agreed with much of his speech but I found other parts promising more than he could possibly deliver.

My early enthusiasm for Obama has pretty much evaporated and I’m even beginning to think Hillary might have been the better choice. Ah well, too late for that now.

I find McCain to be not such a bad guy and in the final analysis I could probably live with him as President. I’m having more trouble with Palin, who supposedly supports teaching creationism in the public schools and thinks Global Warming is a farce. Then again, if you’re from Alaska I can sort of understand the Global Warming thing assuming you’re an ignoramus living in a trailer park swilling beers all day.

In general, Palin seems to not understand, or not trust, scientific input and that’s a really bad attribute. Just look at George Bush. Her acceptance speech was damn good if you’re into mocking satire but I saw little or nothing of substance in it. I think that sorts of sums up Palin in my opinion, all show and no substance.

On the other side Biden is solid. I just wish the ticket was reversed with Biden in the #1 spot and Obama the VP candidate.

Alright let’s move on to the debates. I’m fairly confident Obama is going to run rings around McCain. If there’s a danger it’s that he will come across as too slick and McCain will be viewed as plodding but steady and solid. There are a lot of people that would prefer the tortoise to the hare and with good reason.

On the VP side I think Joe is in for a tough night. Palin, because she’s a female, can say stuff that a man would never get away with (witness her acceptance speech) and just bring forth chuckles. If Biden goes the same route they’ll crucify him. Best bet there is for Joe to stick to the facts and just the facks. If she plays the mocking card again it will backfire if placed against someone else who’s addressing the issues.

Needless to say they’ll elect a Jewish Pope before I’ll vote for a Republican. The question is will I vote for Obama or sit this one out because I can’t support either ticket?

Thursday, September 04, 2008

It's Starting to get Scary

There are always nonsense e-mails making the rounds accusing politicians of the opposite persuasion of everything from killing cock robin to planning to sell national parks.

Typically they're a mix of true statements associated with positions the writer doesn't agree with and nonsense twisted or made up to frighten the ignorant (of which this country appears to have more than its share). There is one on snopes.com today (http://www.snopes.com/politics/obama/billbrown.asp) purportedly written by someone in the Billy Graham association (it wasn't though) describing the terrible things Barack Obama either believes in or has done.

The one thing that struck me was the item that "accused" him of being "a big believer in the separation of church and state."

Ten years ago openly attacking the separation of church and state would have been almost unthinkable. Now I'm seeing it more and more. In other news, apparently last year Sarah Palin made a speech calling the war in Iraq "a mission for God."

The most dangerous people in the world are those who are convinced that God is on their side.

Excuse me while I go get my AKM out of storage and check my supply of 7.62 mm ammo.