Mar 13

Please Hold: Let Me Connect You With Someone Who Doesn’t Care

In an amazing story based upon a 2009 scheme by J.P Morgan Chase and its credit card division, thousands of Chase customers were treated like so much disposable trash. In 2009 Chase was apparently desperate to sell off much of its bad credit card debt on which it had received court judgments to a third-party collection agencies for a significant haircut in its value. The problem: Chase had not verified the judgments, Chase knew it had not verified the judgments, and in some cases the customer was in good standing and Chase actually owed them money. One brave woman and several lower level employees came forward. The woman, Linda Almonte, was coerced into an unfair settlement with Chase following her termination for refusing to sign off on the fraud, and she now may in fact be held civilly liable for coming forward to tell her story. The Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act was in theory supposed to make it easier for whistle blowers to come forward by offering protections and sweetening the reward, however no serious enforcement action has been taken against Chase by any governmental agency at this point.

Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone also interviewed the woman, and his account can be found here.

Mar 13

Some of My Best Friends Are . . .

From the unexpected department, a new study out of Oxford University has found that certain beta blockers, normally taken to treat heart disease, drastically decrease an individuals likelihood to present racist beliefs on a subconscious level.

We at TPT strongly encourage the departments of water and power in several states, most notably Kansas and Oklahoma, to immediately replace fluoride with propranolol in their municipal drinking water supplies.  Moreover, whatever doctors are prescribing for heart disease in the deep south — where obesity runs rampant – should also be changed to propranolol. Come on ladies and gentlemen, where are all the former LSU Tigers cheerleaders and wanna be male models now selling drugs for AstraZeneca in between teeth whitening appointments and shooting Survivor audition videos? Get down there!

“Specifically, the drug blocks activation in the peripheral ‘autonomic’ nervous system as well as in the area of the brain responsible for fear and emotional responses. The researchers suggest that propranolol was able to minimize unspoken racial basis because such bias is based on automatic, non-conscious fear responses, which propranolol blocks.”

A poll found that in Mississippi and Alabama, the white vote for Obama in 2008 was barely above 10%. I would not accept any free coffee offered to you from Obama campaign headquarters in those states come election day if you’ve been planning on voting for Mitt Romney.

Mar 12

Frackolicious

Jeff Goodell over at Rolling Stone has a great piece quickly describing the flaws in Obama’s energy policy insofar as natural gas is concerned.

I would add that I believe the most dangerous problem with future natural gas exploration is dependence. The environmental consequences of natural gas are impossible to ignore, unless of course you have a financial interest in the noxious effluvium. I suspect that more study will yield even as yet unknown and undiscovered effects on the atmosphere and the earth.  If exploration is permitted to continue at its current pace, dependence upon the limited resource is unavoidable. Cars, boats, HVAC units, stoves, heavy machinery, buses, and myriad devices will be fueled by natural gas. Sooner or later the supply will not meet the demand, and exploration companies will seek out more dangerous and environmentally damaging means of extracting the gas. These same companies will also seek to do so in more controversial locations, both on land and at sea. The people, frightened by the prospects of more expensive natural gas, will capitulate to the pressure placed upon them by threats and slick corporate campaigns.

This is why it is so important to fund alternative forms of energy now, before we become dependent upon natural gas in much the same way that we are dependent upon oil and coal today. To do otherwise will certainly have extraordinarily horrific consequences for the earth and the living things inhabiting it.

Mar 12

Are you for Real Richard?

“I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” - J. Wellington Wimpy

Now that the The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a chief and is up an running, the agency has before it a pernicious group of financiers injecting poison into those of us the least able to absorb the venom. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look at payday loans and quickly ascertain how dangerous and despicable the system is. With a small amount of financial education, the vast majority of those needing the services of payday lenders could easily have their needs met through traditional banks and credit unions. However, with banks and credit unions now getting into the lucrative payday loan scheme themselves, we need a real sheriff to not only enforce the current rules, but to implement real fairness into this terribly unfair business.

So, Mr. Cordray, we know that the Federal Reserve wouldn’t touch this with a ten foot poll, and the FDIC is powerless, but you have some real power in this arena. You can make real change. You have support out here. Pay-day lending is a disgusting practice that traps people interested in short term help into long term misery. It’s usurious, plain and simple. Will you stop it?

Update 3/13/2012: Consumerism Commentary also has a good write up regarding pay-day loans here.

Mar 09

Bull!

Whitney Kisling over at Businessweek has authored a great piece examining the theory that behavioral economics is frightening people away from the stock market. While the S&P 500 has grown by leaps and bounds — 99% in 3 years — since the bottom of the crash, no one is throwing a party. Click the link above to read the full article.

One reason investors are shunning equities is that 2011 was among the most volatile years on record. Concern that Greece would default on its debt, efforts by China to slow the growth of bank loans, and persistently high U.S. unemployment helped send the S&P 500 down more than 19 percent from April to October—close to the 20 percent downturn that would have met the common definition of a bear market. “What you’re seeing is a gigantic exercise in behavioral finance,” says Brian Barish, president of Cambiar Investors, referring to studies that show investors feel the pain of losses more intensely than the pleasure of gains. “The ability to scare the hell out of people is much greater than the ability to attract them to equities.”

Mar 08

Pouring Down Economics

We have heard about trickle-down or so-called supply-side economics for decades, if not centuries now. The theory goes that if the wealthy are provided with lucrative tax breaks and major corporations are freed from the shackles of regulation, the economy will grow at a much faster clip, and the crumbs of that growth will rain down upon the starving masses. The masses of course would then rejoice and shower the brilliant policymakers with praise in the form of re-election. What we now know is that by any measure, the theory has been an abysmal failure. In fact, the economic plight of the poor and middle class worsens when the results of trickle-down policies are measured. What a PhD researcher might call an inverse hypothesis.

What we do know however, is what engulfs, rather than trickles, upon the poor and middle class when massive deregulation and changes in the tax code which encourage risky behavior are implemented. With the end of Glass-Steagal, and the deregulation of derivatives at the behest of Citibank, under Bill Clinton, the lowering of marginal income tax rates and capital gains tax rates on the wealthy, as well as significant loosening of the capital requirements on large banks under George W. Bush, the economy should have been downright hailing in bowling ball sized droplets wrapped in $100 bills on our heads, but it did not. Instead massive deregulation and tax breaks caused the wealthy to “innovate,” creating complicated derivatives and bundled investment products. MIT graduates, who formerly went on to discover galaxies, went to work for Goldman Sachs instead. When the bubble finally burst in 2007, the poor and middle class had no idea how much of the burden for cleaning up the mess would fall to us.

Obviously, the Department of Justice would jail many of the perpetrators, for there was certainly fraud committed. Surely even Tim Geithner could not prevent a straw man or two from being sent to the big house. At the very least, the public would be able to yell vociferously at our television screens as real investigations were opened, and Congress questioned the executives of the large banks and insurance houses under penalty of perjury. If Roger Clemens found himself on the receiving end of perjury charges as a result of congressional testimony, we could expect nothing less for the billionaire bankers. Alas none of this occurred. Instead, the executives were called to Capitol Hill to perform in a dog and pony show.  Congressmen and women would bark at the likes of Jamie Dimon in an effort to demonstrate to their constituents the feigned anger deep within them, while all the while almost no one ever intended to punish anyone, for anything, at anytime.

So, the poor and middle class are left to clean up the mess left by those so brilliantly trained at Harvard Business School and Wharton. It would be devastating if what we heard of most on the major news networks were the extent of the disaster – foreclosures and massive underwater equity in residential real estate mortgages. Millions of Americans owe more on their homes than its fair market value, nearly every cent of which is a direct result of the fraud perpetrated by the large banks and their mortgage originator bagmen. Millions face foreclosure due to unemployment or the failure of the banks to refinance their mortgages and reduce principal due. Because of new, albeit still paltry, capital requirements implemented by Dodd-Frank, the banks are reticent to write down the value of their mortgage portfolio, making even more foreclosures likely. Continue reading

Mar 01

Choking on Koch

On February 24th 2012, Philip Ellender, President, Government & Public Affairs of Koch Companies Public Sector sent a letter on behalf of David and Charles Koch to President Obama’s campaign director Jim Messina accusing the campaign of distorting its position on a number of issues in a letter sent to Obama campaign supporters.  The Koch brothers make an outlandish claim in response to the Obama campaign’s position that the Koch brothers “….business model is to make millions by jacking up prices at the pump….”

“For example, it is false that our “business model is to make millions by jacking up prices at the pump.” Our business vision begins and ends with value creation — real, long-term value for customers and for society. We own no gasoline stations and the part of our business you allude to, oil and gas refining, actually lowers the price of gasoline by increasing supply. Either you simply misunderstand the way commodities markets work or you are misleading your supporters and the rest of the American people.” Continue reading

Feb 28

Deal with it

So, NY Times readers, not only does the paper continue to employ Thomas Friedman and his opinion column for dummies wherein trite platitudes and unchecked claims of fact rule the day, we now have a columnist who declares that people with flammable drinking water should just stop stamping their feet and get over it.

Joe Nocera, a business columnist for the Times, writes today from his lofty perch that hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” isn’t going away and we should just deal with it. He claims that notwithstanding the already copiously documented environmental consequences and irresponsible behavior of the oil and gas companies extracting the buoyant blight from the shale rock deep below the earth’s surface, we should roll over and take it because “ that gas is too important to leave it in the ground.” Continue reading

Feb 28

Fair Measure of Damages

With growing pressure on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to reduce the principal balance on underwater mortgages across the United States, It’s imperative that we all understand the scope of the damage.

People did not act irresponsibly en masse:

The public perception endures that so many American’s bought homes that they could not afford, that a large scale reduction in mortgage principal would amount to a rewarding of those who  knowingly bit off more than they could chew.  This is simply not the case. To be fair, a small number or individuals and families borrowed against what they believed was real equity in their homes to purchase cars, boats, garden gnomes, and all sort of toys and gadgets. However, the vast majority of those originating mortgages during the height of the housing bubble between 2002 and 2006 did so in an honest attempt to purchase housing for themselves and their families at what they believed was a fair price. Continue reading

Feb 27

It’s the Thinking Stupid, Sweater-Vest Edition

Rick Santorum, fresh from castigating college graduates and accusing Barack Obama of hating plumbers, carpenters, electricians, and mechanics of all shapes and sizes, defended his remarks on Sunday’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos. First as a matter of housekeeping, and this should come as no surprise, Santorum took the President’s remarks completely out of context. More importantly however, he illustrated the Republican Party’s complete and utter lack of understanding of the purpose of education and their fundamental inability to see even the slightest distinction between any two things.

Santorum’s comments on Saturday:

“President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob.”

“There are good decent men and women who go out and work hard every day and put their skills to test that aren’t taught by some liberal college professor trying to indoctrinate them,” “Oh, I understand why he wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image. I want to create jobs so people can remake their children into their image, not his.”

On Sunday, Santorum refused to walk back his comments:

“I think because there are lot of people in this country that have no desire or no aspiration to go to college, because they have a different set of skills and desires and dreams that don’t include college,” Santorum said. “And to sort of lay out there that somehow this should be everybody’s goal, I think, devalues the tremendous work that people who, frankly, don’t go to college and don’t want to go to college because they have a lot of other talents and skills that, frankly, college, you know, four-year colleges may not be able to assist them.”

And:

“I mean, you look at the colleges and universities,  this is not something that’s new for most Americans, is how liberal our colleges and universities are and how many children in fact are – look, I’ve gone through it. I went through it at Penn State.”

“You talk to most kids who go to college who are conservatives, and you are singled out, you are ridiculed, you are — I can tell you personally. . . I went through a process where I was docked for my conservative views. This is sort of a regular routine. You know the statistic . . . that 62 percent of kids who enter college with some sort of faith commitment leave without it. This is not a neutral setting.”

For the record, what Obama actually called for, first in 2009 was:

“Tonight, I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma.”

Let’s put aside the blatant falsehoods and give Santorum some credit for his own education. One would have to assume that he knows most of what he said is pure bullshit. For example, he must surely be aware that there is absolutely no evidence that anyone is indoctrinating students at major universities in the United States with some liberal 99% serum, and almost no evidence that “62 percent of kids who enter college with some sort of faith commitment leave without it.”  However, bullshit or not, he misses the point of higher education entirely, and for that, he does his supporters, many of whom are in dire need of education, no favors.

Higher education is not about simply practically applying some set of skills to the labor market upon graduation.  One is free to attend a trade or vocational school, a community college, or embark on an apprenticeship at any point in their life. It need not be the second one completes high school, a point at which almost no one is actually psychologically mature enough nor emotionally prepared for a long term career of any kind.  In fact, in practice it is progressives who truly value the people who do the most difficult and back breaking work in America. It is progressives who fight for higher wages in the careers requiring the least education and the most labor intensive jobs in this nation. It is the Republican Party that seeks to manipulate the very lack of formal education in many folks to their own nefarious ends. That being said, I do not believe that Rick Santorum is bright or politically connected enough to be invited to the closed door meetings in which the conspiracy to limit access to education as a social strategy is planned. So his statements are nothing more than political pandering on the one hand, and a fundamental and sad misunderstanding of education on the other.

Education, more specifically higher education, is more than a means to an end. It is a pathway to a better and more well rounded life. College is where we learn about basic history, the system of government in the United States and differing systems around the world, basic accounting, literature, among many other disciplines that might just help a person in any career. It is where we are confronted by others who do not agree with us, or look like us, or think like us, and where we are forced to make decisions based upon this conflicting information.  There is no shame in not attending college in order to pursue a career. Santorum is correct in that not each and every person desires to be a doctor, lawyer, social worker, or teacher. Most importantly, and most downright frightening to Republicans and the 1%, is that college teaches us to question, to be curious, to not take each and every bit of information provided to us by those in power and simply accept it. We are taught to challenge information if we believe it to be false, and to fight to change public and private policies if they are unfair. Because of this, it is a fundamental right of all people to have access to affordable higher education. If one desires to become a carpenter, plumber, truck driver, or electrician, he or she will then have the benefit of new skills. Many of these skills will undoubtedly serve the person well in even these professions, most importantly if they become small business owners.

To Obama’s credit he hit back today saying:

“We’re talking about somebody going to a community college and getting trained for that manufacturing job that now is requiring somebody walking through the door handling a million dollar piece of equipment. And they can’t go in there unless they’ve got some basic training beyond what they received in high school,” Obama told the governors. “We all want American getting those jobs of the future, so we’re going to have to make sure they’re getting the education they need.”

Whomever chooses to forgo higher education is no less one of us, as we are all ultimately inherently equal, but to sell the idea that rejecting college is somehow noble, is indeed a dangerous and treacherous idea.

 

Feb 24

Operation Shoot Yourself in the Foot

Just days before the Michigan Republican Primary, the rumblings of Operation Hilarity grow louder and louder. While I understand the goal of this action and those similar to it, I oppose it both on principle and as a practical matter.

First, while the thought of the Republican candidates pointing their tiny little hypocritical fingers at one another for weeks or even months longer than would otherwise be the case in this primary is an exciting idea, there is no reason for progressives to get knee deep into the proverbial “fight fire with fire” muck normally espoused by the right and it’s mouthpieces. For lack of a better justification for my position, it’s simply bad sportsmanship. It lacks a certain intellectual creativity I rather expect from progressives.

Second, Rick Santorum could ultimately win. He could absolutely ride the tidal wave of the insane Tea Party, Shoot First Study Later, They Took ‘R Jaaaabs masses, now wrapped up to their armpits in the kelp of anti-intellectualism all the way to the convention and wind up the Republican nominee. Moreover, we must not forget that the United States electorate saw fit to send George W. Bush to the Oval Office, not once, but twice. Rick Santorum, assisted by some ridiculous foolishness in the Eurozone or continued mass speculation in oil futures and derivatives, could find himself with a majority of the Electoral College this November.

The alternative, should the moneyed interests cabal conjure a stew of economic uncertainly and false nationalism, is an Obama loss to Mitt Romney, which I find to be far more palatable. For if there is one thing I know about Mitt Romney, it’s that if the public winds blow forth a call for socialized medicine and a National Park made only of half-pipes, organic kale and patchouli gardens, that is precisely what we’ll get.