—   STUPID   RULES   U.S.   —

follow the rules

Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former.

—Albert Einstein

Pokeman Go

"Its sort of like imagining you're going to have a battleship and then ending up with a rubber duck." - Shane Saxon

Global Warming for President

"Donald Trump Digs Coal"

Mike Pence's acceptance speech as candidate for Vice President at the Republican National Convention, July 20, 2016.

The American Dream Delusion

How to play for the winning team

Amazon raises the bar

...anyone who does not want to work in Amazon's pressure-cooker atmosphere can go somewhere else. What is disturbing, though, is that Amazon is just the leading edge of a widespread phenomenon: a rapid shift away from treating workers as full human beings with lives apart from their labor and toward a work world where even smart, loyal employees are interchangeable and expendable cogs in an endlessly grinding machine.

What, ultimately, is the point of all this high-intensity labor, 16 hours a day most days of the year? If it is to make men such as Bezos extremely rich, it has done that, but what is in it for the workers who devote their lives to his vision for two or three years and then wearily stumble away from the company? Have they built something important and soul-enriching? Or did they just shave some minutes off the time it takes to fill the shopping carts of impatient, lazy consumers?

David Horsey, © Los Angeles Times, Aug 18, 2015

Huckabee - Champion of Women's Libido

"Let's Take That Discussion All Across America"

Los Angeles Times, 1/24/2014

We all say stupid things once in awhile, but we're not all former Governors and Republican presidential candidates. Mike Huckabee now stands center stage on StupidRules.us in the Republican "war on women."

Speaking at the Republican National Committee's meeting in Washington, the former Arkansas governor and Fox commentator bared his teeth at Democrats who, he said, "think that women are nothing more than helpless and hopeless creatures whose only goal in life is to have the government provide for them birth control medication. Women I know are smart, educated, intelligent, capable of doing anything anyone else can do. Our party stands for the recognition of the equality of women and the capacity of women - that's not a war on them, that's a war for them."

Had he stopped there, he might have escaped the fury of more than one half of the electorate. But he didn't stop there.

"And if the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it - let us take that discussion all across America," he said.

Thank you, former Arkansas Governor Huckabee, for proving to the world once again that Stupid Rules U.S. Now, about that libido of yours...

Huckabee on the Stump
Mike Huckabee speaks at the Republican National Committee in Washington on 1/23/14. (Susan Walsh / Associated Press)

Cancer Fund of America

the one percent charity fundraiser

My old phone without caller ID rang at 8:15 PM and I picked it up. Cancer Fund of America. The woman was pushy, putting words in my mouth. She wanted a donation. "So I'll mark you down for $30." "No, I'll look you up on the web and call you back," I said. She continued to make assertions - unusually assertive for a charity. I got off the phone and started digging. Something about the persistence of the caller sparked my curiosity.

First I checked the display window on a newer phone with caller ID. "Cancer Fund" had called me two weeks earlier from (408) 552-3800 - Silicone Valley. I googled and found an article by St. Louis Better Business Bureau. Almost no money goes to direct aid to help people with cancer. The BBB found that more than 99 percent of all cash donations to the organization pay professional fundraising costs, salaries for charity officials, consultant fees and other expenses related to the charity's operations.

Charitynavigator.org reported the following income statement for Cancer Fund in 2010:

  • Total Revenue Fiscal Year Ending 12/2010 - $23,782,835
  • Total Expenses Fiscal Year Ending 12/2010 - $22,778,475
  • Excess (or Deficit) for the year - $1,004,360

Federal records report that Cancer Fund of America reported they raised slightly more than $17 million in 2007. It donated $54,000 in cash to unrelated groups or individuals - or about 3/10 of 1 percent. Of that $54,000, however, $50,000 went to a court directed cancer charity as part of a settlement with the Georgia Governor's Office of Consumer Affairs. The state alleged that the charity gave out deceptive and misleading solicitations to consumers.

The BBB article describes James T. Reynolds Sr., president of Cancer Fund of America, Knoxville TN, his wife Rose Perkins, who heads Children's Cancer Fund of America in Powell, TN, and his son James T. Reynolds Jr., president of Cancer Fund of America Support Services in Knoxville. The various Reynolds family cancer funds collect millions through aggressive phone solicitation, donate less than 1% of the cash they acquire, and capitalize on the kindness of strangers who answer their phones when the display reads, "Cancer Fund."

How to Annoy Your Neighbor

Acting on a Tip, LA Police Fire Teargas

The Los Angeles Times reported on April 25, "Acting on a tip, SWAT officers fire tear gas into a Van Nuys apartment unit as they search for a reported second gunman after an LAPD helicpoter was fired upon. No gunman was found."

LA police act on a tip

If the cops knock on your front door, they need probable cause and/or a search warrant to enter your domicile. But firing teargas cannisters through the window - any tip will do.

If the tenants don't emerge from this as millionaires, they have the wrong lawyer. I hope none of my lazy neighbors has too many beers during the game and calls in an anonymous tip about "me and my shadow" to the SWAT team.

Spare Change?

The U.S. borrows $1 million every 20 seconds

The New York Times reported that the United States economy is valued at about $4 trillion. China is number two at $1.33 trillion, followed by Japan at $1.28 trillion. Forecasts predict China will surpass the United States as the world's biggest economy in 2030 - twenty years. Think back to 1990 — twenty years. In just a blink of the eye, less than one generation, the U.S. will slip out of its dominant role. Last year, China started advocating that the dollar must be phased out as the world's primary reserve currency.

JPMorgan Chase has assets of $2 trillion. If you combined the assets of Chase and BofA ($2.22 trillion), you would have the world's largest economy. Of course, banks don't squander half of their annual budgets on military expenditures, as the U.S. has done for so many years. Banks pay their executives. WaMu paid Kerry Killinger over $100 million to fly WaMu into the ground. So in the long run, the banks will prosper and bankers will grow fabulously rich while the U.S. skids into second place, behind China—and it will happen on our watch.

U.S. lawmakers are debating spending cuts and budget reforms as they seek agreement to increase the $14.3 trillion debt limit before August 2, the date on which the Treasury Department said it will have exhausted its borrowing authority. Apparently borrowing $3 million per minute, 24 hours a day, adds up. Half of the U.S. budget is for military. Maybe we should let China step up to the bully pulpit for the next twenty years.

Stupid is as Stupid Does

Thought for the Day

I'm not quite as smart as I used to be, but I'm not nearly as stupid either. I have more trouble recalling names but I have forgotten most of the faces of people who annoy me. I no longer keep track of every expenditure, but I don't have as much money to spread around.

Gulf Oil Spill was BP's Little Secret

British Polluters: No time for science at BP

While the oil plume spread in the Gulf of Mexico, an unprecedented ecological disaster, BP refused scientists access to measure the amount of oil gushing from their well. "We don't care," they seemed to be saying, "and you don't need to know." BP is the largest oil producer in the United States.

New York Times, reported on Sunday, May 16, 2010:

Scientists studying video of the gushing oil well calculated that it could be flowing at a rate of 25,000 to 80,000 barrels of oil a day (The higher figure turned out to be correct). But the government, working from satellite images of the ocean surface, calculated a flow rate of only 5,000 barrels a day.

BP resisted entreaties from scientists that they be allowed to use sophisticated instruments at the ocean floor that would have given a far more accurate picture of how much oil was really gushing from the well.

BP (Big Petroleum) said that knowing the size of the disaster would merely detract from the response. With such reasoning, it is no wonder that BP is so disaster-prone.

Ben Bernanke Goes One More Round

U.S. Economy Reeling

Ben Bernanke confirmed

Washington has given $$trillions to Wall Street since Barack Obama assumed the highest office in the land. The unemployment rate is 20% and we are shedding jobs at a greater rate than any time since the crash of '29. The United States is destined to borrow money at the rate of $2 billion a day for the next ten years. The U.S. debt will be $15 trillion next year—$50,000 for every American. Add to that our personal debts, and even George W. Bush must be flabbergasted. The United States is underwater.

So it must be time to stay the course.

"Ben Bernanke has provided wisdom and steady leadership in the midst of the financial and economic crisis," President Obama said on Jan. 28 after Bernanke was confirmed by the Senate for a second term as head of the Federal Reserve by a 70-30 vote—the weakest margin in the Fed's 96-year history. At a closed door ceremony, Bernanke told staff when he took the oath that one of the Fed's challenges is to protect its independence from Congressional meddling.

His confirmation came just one day after Obama called upon Congress in his State of the Union address to freeze federal spending—except military spending. "Starting in 2011, we are prepared to freeze government spending for three years. Spending related to our national security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will not be affected."

The U.S. defense budget for 2010 is reported by the Defense Department to be $664 billion. The total amount spent on world defense budgets was $1.55 trillion in 2008, according to the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London. The U.S. spends almost as much on "security" as all of the other 191 countries in the world combined and maintains a military presence in 120 countries in order to defend our fair, nay, blushing, nation. No wonder we're broke. Obama also promised to invest in "clean nuclear power plants...and clean coal technologies." He didn't offer a definition for clean. He also didn't mention the word environment in his speech, which is rather sad.

Anyone with a computer can see what happens when a nuclear power plant goes wrong: search Google maps for "Chernobyl" and choose the satellite image. Notice how blurry it is when you zoom in closer than an elevation of one mile. Now find the borders of the blurry region, where you can zoom in to an altitude of 100 feet. The blurry region is the "dead zone," or the Zone of Alienation, an unpopulated region 40 miles (60 km) in diameter which was once home to 120,000 people living in 90 communities. Fewer than 400 people live there now, mostly elderly residents who returned after the evacuation in 1986. It has some of the richest farmland in Europe, and it is patrolled by Ukraine's Ministry of Emergencies and Affairs of Population Protection from Consequences of Chernobyl Catastrophe. Clean nuclear power is a myth. For a fascinating pictoral visit to the dead zone, see Elena Filatova's photo tour. It will take some time, but whenever you feel uncomfortable, just chant this Administration's mantra, "Clean nuclear power, clean nuclear power."

Or how about "Money talks." The nuclear industry has spent over $600 million on lobbying and nearly $63 million on campaign contributions over the past decade, according to an analysis by American University's Investigative Reporting Workshop. Congressional candidates received $3.5 million from nuclear interests in the first fix months of 2009. It's a good investment. President Obama has just set taxpayers up for another bailout with his proposal to triple government loan guarantees for new nuclear plants from $18.5 billion to $54 billion. If I could invest $3.50 and make $54,000 overnight, I would consider that a good investment.

Bob Chapman wrote in the International Forecaster on Jan. 23, 2010—

Few professionals are yet willing to admit we have been in a depression for the last year. The worst sin was the criminal securitization of mortgages and the deliberately criminal mislabeling of their ratings. Then making matters worse those who sold this toxic garbage to their clients such as Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase and Citigroup were shorting (betting against) the product that they had just sold to their best clients. What kind of monsters are these people? Unethical doesn't go far enough. It was criminal. These are the same characters, along with the Fed, and others, who gave us the dotcom boom and collapse and then foisted the real estate boom on our economy.

So we're in a depression, we're spending more than half of our money on war, aka security, the banks are stealing every loose nickel, and now they are ramping up to tax everything we buy as they set up the carbon exchange market in Chicago. The people are being fleeced, fooled, and mesmerized by celebrities who teach us to see ourselves the way a camera would see us, mindful of how we hold our head, inventing movies that feature us as stars. It's time to wake up now.

The Face of the Great Recession

Jan. 27, 2010

On January 26, 2010, economist Mark Schneipp, Ph.D. said, "Policy mistakes in September and October 2008 pushed the economy into the Great Recession...Capitalism is self correcting. It doesn't need a stimulus from government."

So when US Treasury secretary Hank Paulson presented the Bush administration with a choice between a $750 billion bailout of Wall Street and a Depression, he tanked the economy. The Bush administration and Congress discussed the possibility of a breakdown in law and order and the logistics of feeding US citizens if commerce and banking collapsed as a result of financial panic.

Henry Paulson, US Treasury secretary

Making his first appearance on Capitol Hill since leaving office, Paulson testified to a House Oversight Committee on July 16, 2009, "When a financial system fails, a whole country's economic system can fail. I believe we could have gone back to the sorts of situations we saw in the Depression." Time named Paulson as a runner-up for its Person of the Year 2008, saying, "If there is a face to this financial debacle, it is now his." Paulson was Chair and CEO of Goldman Sachs before serving as United States Treasury secretary under President George W. Bush.

Schneipp predicted that the $862 billion spent on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a.k.a. the stimulus bill, will eventually have an impact on the economy, but he concluded that it would have been cheaper to send everyone in the United States a prepaid credit card with equal shares of the stimulus package—about $2,800 for every man, woman and child.

The Upbeat and the Downbeaten

Jan. 7, 2010

I read this story in the New York Times:

Despite extensive government intervention in the housing market, some policy makers at the Federal Reserve are worried that even more might need to be done...Unease is growing that a tentative comeback in the housing market could fall apart as a tax credit for home buyers expires and the Fed's program to hold down mortgage rates comes to a close.

Other signs of stress in real estate have become apparent in the last few weeks, although most economists say any downturn will be relatively mild.

The Fed has been buying $1.25 trillion of mortgage-backed assets to ease lending markets and keep longer-term rates low—a program that is winding down and scheduled to end by March 31.

So the government is doing a lot, we are told, but there is growing unease whether the comeback we are enjoying will persist, but any downturn will be relatively mild. Relative is relative. If you're a Rockefeller, life is good.

The Times benignly referred to $1,125 billion of "mortgage-backed assets." (I have trouble grasping the concept of a trillion dollars. A thousand million is a billion; a thousand billion is a trillion. What am I supposed to do with twelve 0's?). Those "assets" are the securitized mortgages we're reading about, and didn't the 150-billion-dollar-bonus babies on Wall Street refer to them as "toxic waste" while they were marking them up and selling them to retirement funds as Triple-A bonds?

There was another story told in the New York Times a week earlier on December 30 that is not rippled with unease that the downturn might turn out to be slightly more vexing than "mild." In New York City, 20,000 homeowners faced foreclosure in 2009. With an average household size of 2.6 persons, 52,000 people felt the terror, anger, shame, and grief as they faced the prospect of being kicked out of their homes. Lenders offered new or trial mortgages to just 3 percent of New York homeowners who sought help. Nationwide, lenders have cut three-month trial deals with 759,000 homeowners, but they have converted just 31,000 of those to permanent new mortgages—that's 4 percent. So if you're facing foreclosure in the Big Apple, you have 3 chances in 100 of being offered a trial mortgage, and 4 chances in 100 of converting it to a permanent new mortgage. That adds up to 12 chances in 10,000.

New York state law requires lenders to negotiate with troubled borrowers in court. Leonard N. Florio, a court-appointed referee, oversees such sessions in a dusty room in Queens. "I have yet to see an attorney for a servicer cut a deal," he said.

Here's an article by Chris Hedges (Pulitzer Prize 2002) that might interest you:
"Wall Street Will Be Back For More". Matt Tabbi wrote a scathing article in Rolling Stone about Goldman Sachs: "The Great American Bubble Machine."         - Stephan Choiniere

Thank you, Stephan. I hope all the lawyers who work for the banks will read Hedges' article, as well as their investigators, paralegals, secretaries, and most of all, their clients. A recent lecture by Chris Hedges also helps to place our current crisis in an historical perspective, and reveals the unconscious forces that cause so many Americans to keep their heads in the sand.

Send me an email so I can post your comments on this blog.

Grand Theft of the American Dream

Courthouse in Santa Barbara

Houses are going like hotcakes at 1 pm on the Santa Barbara Courthouse steps. Here are dates of the public auctions listed in the "legal" newspapers on January 6, 2010:

January 2010
4, 5, 6, 7, 8
11, 12, 13, 14
18, 19, 20
25, 26, 27

These auctions list 43 foreclosures.There are eight legal newspapers in Santa Barbara County that publish Notices of Trustee's Sale:

News Press
Carpinteria/Summerland Coastal View
Pacific Coast Business Times
Santa Barbara Daily Sound
Santa Ynez Valley News
Lompoc Record
Santa Maria Times

Public Auction in Santa Barbara

Have you ever attended a public auction on the courthouse steps, where your neighbors' houses are being transferred to the banks almost daily in foreclosure sales? Here is a photo taken January 5, 2010, of Santa Barbara County's leading public auctioneer at work, a handsome fellow with a trim goatee dressed in T-shirt, levis, and sunglasses at the entrance to the courthouse as he reads a script that starts off something like this:

"I do have clearance. It is a total debt bid, address purported to be 1310 State Street in Santa Barbara. If you want to bid you must have cashier's checks acceptable to the trustee for any bid that you make before you make that bid. Any bid you make will..."

...and then the words go by so fast they blur together.

937,000 foreclosure notices were posted in the summer quarter of 2009 (July 1 to September 30) in the United States; that is 72,000 per week or 14,415 per day. Another army of refugees moves out of their homes and into the streets every quarter in the world's richest country.

But the second wave of foreclosures is now starting to hit. In a "60 Minutes" segment on December 16, 2009, investment fund manager Whitney Tilson told Scott Pelley that we are about halfway through the bursting of the real estate bubble. Defaults in subprimes mortgages approached $1 billion. Now the Alt-A's and the Option Arms are about to adjust, leading to additional damages of $1.6 trillion. Tilson predicts that 70% will default.

California will be especially hard hit. It had more than its share of Option Arms and Alt-A's because the real estate prices were so high. Every homeowner felt like a millionaire—just like in the movies.

Chase Bags WaMu for Less Than $2 Billion

JP Morgan Chase Bank

This is from Bill Moyers on December 18, 2009:

Only around 31,000 homeowners have received permanent loan modifications under the Obama administration's $75 billion plan. Lenders claim that the low success rate is due to the failure of borrowers to send in the necessary paperwork.

Wall Street's earnings surged to $50 billion in the first 3 quarters of 2009. Wall Street bonuses for employees in the New York City may be as much as 40% higher that in 2008. According to the non-profit Americans for Financial Reform, Wall Street is paying itself $150 billion in bonuses. That is enough money to prevent all foreclosures for four years.

JP Morgan Chase is paying its executives $29 billion in bonuses for 2009, the highest ever paid by the bank and an increase of 28% from the previous year, when 1,626 JP Morgan bankers took home bonuses of more than $1 million each. The bank received $25 billion from the US Treasury's Troubled Assets Relief Programme (TARP).

The website of Americans for Financial Reform reports, "Countrywide CEO Angelo R. Mozilo was paid $244.8 million in the two years leading up to his firms demise; former Lehman Brothers CEO Richard Fuld received $246.3 million in the three years preceding his firms bankruptcy; and former Merrill Lynch CEO Stanley O'Neal received a $161.5 million golden parachute when he was removed in 2007. The next year, Merrill Lynch was sold for a fire sale price.

The UK Telegraph reported on Dec. 16 that receivers in the WaMu bankruptcy case (which was filed one day after the FDIC transferred WaMu's assets to Chase on Sept. 25, 2008 for $1.9 billion) have now alleged that Chase launched a PR campaign to drive down WaMu's value before they took over WaMu - the largest saving & loan.

In fresh filings in US bankruptcy court, WaMu's receivers allege that JP Morgan disclosed confidential information "to government regulators, ratings agencies, media and investors in an effort to harm WaMu by driving down WaMu's credit rating and share price."

JP Morgan expressed an interest in rescuing WaMu in early September but the courtship came to nothing. However, they apparently took the confidential information and used it against WaMu. Following a series of damaging downgrades from credit ratings agencies, the smaller bank's shares plummeted, leading to its eventual collapse.

The bank was seized by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) on September 25, 2008, and JPMorganChase the same day acquired its assets in a government-brokered fire-sale for $1.9 billion. WaMu's shareholders were stuck holding the debt.

Chase picked up WaMu's 2,200-branch network - much of which was on the West Coast where his Chase retail format was under-represented - as well as its $310 billion of deposits and $176 billion of mortgage book.

I wonder what the WaMu-now-Chase properties are worth on State Street at Victoria and at Hope. Multiply that by 2,200 branches, add $486 billion in deposits and secured loans, and you have a very good deal for slightly under $2 billion brokered by the FDIC - which was hailed at the time as a necessary move to save the free world from financial freefall.

The FDIC didn't have a license to steal WaMu's assets from its shareholders and give them to Chase for less than half a cent on the dollar, so here's what the FDIC must have been telling us:

  1. The 2,200 branches were valued at less than $1 million each;
  2. The deposits belonged to the depositers, not WaMu; and
  3. There were no mortgages on the books.

Why would there be no mortgages on the books? Maybe WaMu never "owned" those mortgages. Maybe they passed them off to Wall Street as quickly as they wrote them, taking a commission on each deal but keeping the promissory notes and deeds of trust off their balance sheet—in which case, they acted like a Fuller Brush salesman who works on commission but never owns the brushes. Then how could WaMu or Chase foreclose on some family's residence if they never owned the promissory note? Good question. Keep asking those good questions, and don't give up your home without a fight.

Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner spends more time on the phone with Wall Street than Capital Hill. In the first seven months of Geithner's tenure, his calendars reflect at least 80 contacts with Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, and Citigroup Chairman Richard Parsons or Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit.

Geithner had more contacts with Citigroup than he did with Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., the lawmaker leading the effort to approve Geithner's overhaul of the financial system. Geithner's contacts with Blankfein alone outnumber his contacts with Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.

©2016 Douglas Gillies | All Rights Reserved