A Little Bit Personal

•September 9, 2009 • Leave a Comment

 

I have shied away from talking about personal matters on this and my other blogs recently.  I currently have a lot going on in my life, and there isn’t much of it that is good.  I don’t anticipate there being much interest in such matters from my readers, so I have refrained from such matters.  I have a few that I have written, but I think that I will post them on my Love and Peace blog sometime. 

I have 118 blog posts written and saved as drafts in Windows Live Writer.  I haven’t set publish dates for them (man, that feature is so awesome!  It’s like blogging in the future!), but I will be doing that this week sometime.

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Trash the Diatribe; Mull the Ideas

•September 7, 2009 • Leave a Comment

 

Rudy Ruiz recently wrote a very thoughtful and accurate opinion article last week that asked the question:

Why has it become so difficult to even consider changing our minds about important issues?

The current debate over healthcare reform has really pushed this notion in front of the public.  There has been a shift, especially recently, wherein politicians refuse to budge from their stance (almost always partisan) as the notion of changing your mind has been deemed to mark you as a “flip-flopper.”  This negative connotation, rather than potentially marking you as a rational individual, carries with it the wrath of an overzealous public.  Once again, Washington isn’t about doing what is right for its constituents, but rather staying in power so that they can do what is right for themselves and their friends.

This close-mindedness is being driven into the public consciousness by our leaders.  Consider this recent example of U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann rallying conservatives to block the healthcare reform bill and any other Democratic initiatives:

[she warned] the proposals “have the strength to destroy this country forever.”

“This cannot pass,” the Minnesota Republican told a crowd at a Denver gathering sponsored by the Independence Institute. “What we have to do today is make a covenant, to slit our wrists, be blood brothers on this thing. This will not pass. We will do whatever it takes to make sure this doesn’t pass…”

Bachmann:  "Slit our wrists; be blood brothers"

I believe that the absolute best example of close-mindedness and outright absurdity comes from Republican Senator Charles Grassley.  This is absolute proof that our leaders aren’t our leaders, but instead are interested in only themselves and partisan politics:

In an interview today on MSNBC’s "Morning Meeting with Dylan Ratigan," Senate Finance Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R) said he’d vote against any health-care reform bill coming out of the committee unless it has wide support from Republicans — even if the legislation contains EVERYTHING Grassley wants.

"I am negotiating for Republicans," he said. "If I can’t negotiate something that gets more than four Republicans, I’m not a good negotiator."

When NBC’s Chuck Todd, in a follow-up question on the show, asked the Iowa Republican if he’d vote against what Grassley might consider to be a "good deal" — i.e., gets everything he asks for from Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D) — Grassley replied, "It isn’t a good deal if I can’t sell my product to more Republicans."

In short, Grassley says he’s willing to walk away from legislation in which he gets everything he wants.

GOP Support Most Important to Grassley

I don’t mean to pick on the Republicans, as I don’t like the Democrats particularly either.  It just so happens that they seem to have thrown a rod lately in their behavior regarding healthcare reform.  Let’s get back to Rudy Ruiz’s article and extrapolate it a bit more towards the general populace.  He contends that three factors exacerbate this paralysis by lack of analysis: labels, lifestyles and listening.

First, the labels ascribed to many potential policy tools render sensible options taboo, loading what could be rational, economic or social measures with moral baggage. This narrows our choices, hemming in policy makers.

Second, our lifestyles favor knee-jerk reactions. The way we think, work and live in the Digital Age demands we quickly categorize information without investing time into rich interaction, research and understanding.

We’re hesitant to ask questions because we don’t have time to listen to the long, complicated answers that might follow. And we lack the time to fact-check competing claims. In our haste, it’s easier to echo our party’s position than drill down, questioning whether party leaders are motivated by our best interests or the best interests of their biggest contributors.

Third, we tend to listen only to like-minded opinions as media fragmentation encourages us to filter out varying perspectives

Rudy Ruiz: Open Your Minds America

We live in a hectic world where our time is being stretched increasingly slim.  New advances enable us to do more, but at the expense of free time.  It is important for people to realize that the key to any intelligent, important decision is to gather as much information from BOTH sides, analyze it, and then form your opinion.  Given the lack of time in our lives, people take the easy way out, and merely puppet the ideas of the people whose ideology it is they follow.  If we are ever to succeed as a nation, then this practice must end. 

And as an aside- I frequently debate people who are uninformed on issues and merely spout rhetoric, and to those of you I kindly ask:

If you are going to defend a position, defend it relative to your knowledge on the subject.  Thank you.

New Levels of Greed and Depravity

•September 6, 2009 • Leave a Comment

 

robberbarons

Wall Street has never been shy about skirting ethics to make money.  Nor have they ever lacked creativity in ways to create wealth out of nothing.  The current crisis is a direct result of that behavior.  Given the housing sector crash and its effect on the securities market due to the mortgages being bundled into mutual funds/etc. they have had to find new ways to create wealth out of nothing.  Well, I must say that they have reached a new low.  They now are planning to carry that practice over to “life settlements.”  Here is a brief synopsis:

The bankers plan to buy “life settlements,” life insurance policies that ill and elderly people sell for cash — $400,000 for a $1 million policy, say, depending on the life expectancy of the insured person. Then they plan to “securitize” these policies, in Wall Street jargon, by packaging hundreds or thousands together into bonds. They will then resell those bonds to investors, like big pension funds, who will receive the payouts when people with the insurance die.

The earlier the policyholder dies, the bigger the return — though if people live longer than expected, investors could get poor returns or even lose money.

Either way, Wall Street would profit by pocketing sizable fees for creating the bonds, reselling them and subsequently trading them.

 

Investment Bankers Betting on When Sick and Elderly Will Die

These are called viatical settlements and they became popular in the 1980’s during the AIDS epidemic.  They fell out of favor for a time, but it looks like they are about to come back into vogue.  While I don’t really care for the idea of purchasing someone’s life insurance at a discount, to profit from later, I am more concerned with a side effect of this practice.  It will raise insurance premiums across the board for the public.  Wall Street will see this as a win as well, since earnings at insurance companies will increase, and while they get to double-dip, we get screwed over.

Even more alarming, is that this is the EXACT same practice that threw us into our current economic crisis.  It is merely the insertion of life insurance policies for mortgages.  The practice of creating wealth out of nothing other than manipulating the system needs to stop.

Al Franken Sets an Example

•September 5, 2009 • Leave a Comment

 

Since I don’t pay WordPress to embed videos, I will share the link:

Al Franken Sensible Debate

Think what you will about Al Franken, but in this case he proves to be a sensible politician.  He is likely the only one.  The novel idea of having a DEBATE over the issues in a sensible manner without mudslinging freak outs, is very refreshing.  Kudos to him.

Pandemic Bill Allows Authorities to Detain Without Warrant

•September 5, 2009 • Leave a Comment

riot-police-2

I can’t believe that I am even writing that sentence.  There is currently a “pandemic response bill” making its way through the Massachusetts state legislature that allows authorities to forcefully quarantine citizens in the event of a health emergency, compel health providers to vaccinate citizens, authorize forceful entry into private dwellings and destruction of citizen property and impose fines on citizens for noncompliance.

Refusal to comply carries penalties of imprisonment of up to 30 days and fines of $1000 per day.  Here is the bill for those that want to read it:

Pandemic Response Bill 2028

Here are some of the highlights:

    • to require the owner or occupier of premises to permit entry into and investigation of the premises;
    • to close, direct, and compel the evacuation of, or to decontaminate or cause to be decontaminated any building or facility, and to allow the reopening of the building or facility when the danger has ended
    • to decontaminate or cause to be decontaminated, or to destroy any material;
    • to restrict or prohibit assemblages of persons;
    • to require a health care facility to provide services or the use of its facility, or to transfer the management and supervision of the health care facility to the department or to a local public health authority;
    • to control ingress to and egress from any stricken or threatened public area, and the movement of persons and materials within the area;
    • to adopt and enforce measures to provide for the safe disposal of infectious waste and human remains, provided that religious, cultural, family, and individual beliefs of the deceased person shall be followed to the extent possible when disposing of human remains, whenever that may be done without endangering the public health;
    • to procure, take immediate possession from any source, store, or distribute any anti-toxins, serums, vaccines, immunizing agents, antibiotics, and other pharmaceutical agents or medical supplies located within the commonwealth as may be necessary to respond to the emergency;
    • to require in-state health care providers to assist in the performance of vaccination, treatment, examination, or testing of any individual as a condition of licensure, authorization, or the ability to continue to function as a health care provider in the commonwealth;
    • to waive the commonwealth’s licensing requirements for health care professionals with a valid license from another state in the United States or whose professional training would otherwise qualify them for an appropriate professional license in the commonwealth;
    • to allow for the dispensing of controlled substance by appropriate personnel consistent with federal statutes as necessary for the prevention or treatment of illness;
    • to authorize the chief medical examiner to appoint and prescribe the duties of such emergency assistant medical examiners as may be required for the proper performance of the duties of office;
    • to collect specimens and perform tests on any animal, living or deceased;
    • to exercise authority under sections 95 and 96 of chapter 111;
    • to care for any emerging mental health or crisis counseling needs that individuals may exhibit, with the consent of the individuals

Source:  World Net Daily

I encourage you to read the full article as it discusses the unreasonable power grab by government, the risks of getting vaccinated, and the fact that immunity from a vaccination doesn’t last nearly as long as immunity from natural exposure.  Does anyone remember a few months ago when they were saying H1N1 was not a big deal?

That is the part that really bothers me.  We were told, and still are by the CDC, that H1N1 isn’t much worse than normal influenza strains.  There is some growing evidence that this may not be the case as deaths are up: Swine Flu Kills 625 Last Week.  I wish that there could be some consensus on the matter.  I believe that there will be a lot of sick people, and that there will be a lot of deaths, but that the deaths are merely the result of scale.  I am all for voluntary immunization for those that want it, but I am very leery of forced immunization.

Dissatisfaction with our Leaders

•August 31, 2009 • Leave a Comment

 

A Rasmussen Poll recently highlighted some interesting information regarding our opinions of the jobs that our elected officials are doing in Washington.  Among the highlights:

    • If they could vote to keep or replace the entire Congress, just 25% of voters nationwide would keep the current batch of legislators.
    • 57% would vote to replace the entire Congress and start all over again.
    • With Democrats controlling both chambers of Congress, it’s not surprising to find that the number of Democrats who would vote to keep the entire Congress has grown from 25% last fall to 43% today.
    • 70% of those not affiliated with either major party would vote to replace all of the elected politicians in the House and Senate. That’s up from 62% last year.
    • 69% of GOP Voters say Republicans in Congress are out of touch with the party base.
    • Fifty-nine percent (59%) now believe that members of Congress are overpaid.
    • Seventy-five percent (75%) say members of Congress are more interested in their own careers than they are in helping people.
    • (Most shocking-sic.) Despite these reviews, more than 90% of Congress routinely gets reelected every two years.

57% Would Like to Replace Entire Congress

I would like to ask you why you think it is that we keep electing people whom we think so lowly of?  Why do we elect people who we presuppose to do a bad job and that work only to further their own interests?

I can speak with first-hand knowledge on the overpayment issue.  I have met and interacted with our representative, Mary Hubler, and I find her to be the best example of many of the ills mentioned in the survey.  She tours the state, meeting the same groups, attending the same dinners/events/etc., pays lip service to the popular causes, and she backs those who back her.
Mary Hubler’s Voting Skew

It was expected when the Constitution was written that there would be a 50% turnover rate in the House of Representatives each election.  This lasted for 100 years until the New Deal era when turnover plummeted. 

The culture of power, protection, and in-your-face croneyism, was exemplified the other day by Sherman Frederick.  He was flouting his power to the Las Vegas Review Journal over some print that disagreed with him and his (well-funded) stances.  Having lost the memory of the free press, apparently, he remains staunch and pig-headed about the entire ordeal.  Here is an excerpt from the Las Vegas Review Journal’s recent statement:

But to fully capture the magnitude of Reid’s remark (and to stop him from doing the same thing to others) it must be called what it was — a full-on threat perpetrated by a bully who has forgotten that he was elected to office to protect Nevadans, not sound like he’s shaking them down.

No citizen should expect this kind of behavior from a U.S. Senator. It is certainly not becoming of a man who is the majority leader in the U.S. Senate. And it absolutely is not what anyone would expect from a man who now asks Nevadans to send him back to the Senate for a fifth term.

Read the full article.

Those are clearly fighting words.

An Adjunct to High Frequency Trading

•August 30, 2009 • Leave a Comment

 

Recently, I posted some information about how companies use High Frequency Trading techniques as a way to reap profits by acting as a middleman of sorts.  They are able to get between orders being placed in nanoseconds, affecting the price that you and I and mutual funds pay.  Through the wonders of croneyism in our society amongst those in power, there are no laws against this practice.  Here is a review:

HFT computers can detect large buy orders for a stock, the kind of buy orders mutual funds make, even when the funds try to disguise them. The HTF system can then purchase that stock before the mutual fund’s order is executed. The fund ends up paying more per share, and the HTF traders pocket the difference.

This isn’t illegal; it’s akin to cutting into a long line at the supermarket. And it’s just as infuriating. "It just ticks off mutual fund managers who feel their stock moves against them every time they show up," says Al Berkeley, chairman of Pipeline Trading Systems, a trading service designed to help institutions and brokers outsmart HFT systems that try to detect their orders.

How much does all of this cost mutual funds in higher stock prices, or lower prices when they sell? It’s not clear, but one study by the Tabb Group estimates that high-frequency traders made about $21 billion in profits last year — much of that at the expense of mutual funds.

Wall Street’s High-Tech War on Investors

As unfair as that sounds, there is an even more blatant abuse of the financial system called flash orders.  Flash orders are essentially the very quick display of trading orders to a select few group of insiders.  In an effort for small, upstart exchanges to compete with established ones like the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and Nasdaq, they offer these flash orders to large customers in the hope that they big customers will split the fees with the small exchange.  A primer:

Smaller exchanges have to pass along big orders to the big exchanges if it looks like they can’t fill them. To avoid this loss, they "flash" these orders to big customers for less than half a second. The hope is that big players will help fill the order, splitting the fees with the small exchange.

But this also gives the insider an advance look at a trading price you and I never see. Mind you, it’s a half-second advantage; you and I couldn’t do anything with it anyway. But those with HFT systems can.

Wall Street’s High-Tech War on Investors

What’s more, is that the HFT systems are so fast and powerful that they can search the market every few milliseconds and have the ability to sense the supply and demand for a given stock.  They can then use this information to purchase the stock with a limited supply and sell it for a quick profit.  Here is how it works in graphical form:
How Flash Orders Work

When it came out, and the SEC offered lip service to the issue, all of the exchanges said that they would stop providing them soon.  I would advise people not to hold their breath.  There is a lot of money and lobbying in this sector, and money trumps reason in our country in almost all instances.