Monday, July 29, 2013

Hoarders - the Bank Holding Company version...

Americans, dragged down by a sagging economy, high unemployment and a rather astonishing number of people living at risk of poverty, have new reality show to watch: Hoarders - the bank holding company version.

Emboldened by bonuses supplied by the US taxpayer and bolstered by the lack of any oversight or consequences for reprehensible behaviors on Wall Street that led to the collapse of the economy, America's biggest "bank holding companies" are expanding their businesses. No longer content to supply loans and CDOs and synthetic CDOs, those clever Ivy-educated bankers are in the commodities storage business.

And they're hoarding these commodities like those hoarders you can watch on A&E.

What does this mean? Your cans of Pepsi, Budweiser and Heineken have just gotten pricier. And the hoarders on Wall Street have just gotten richer.

This Business Insider story quotes a Goldman Sachs "commodities strategist" on how  "for investors, the case for holding commodities as a strategic move is still clear...."

Of course a Goldman Sachs strategist will say that - they're in control of the strategy and the activity that will lead to rising prices for commodities that the bank holding companies are pushing from storage facility to storage facility. (Once the commodity reaches the actual market and is sold, the price can't go up any higher, an alarming thought for any Goldman strategist...)

John Oliver on The Daily Show refers to it as a "merry-go-round of metal," and notes that "the new version of Monopoly is actually perfect. You just move pieces of metal around and around in a circle, collecting money whenever you want, and it's guaranteed that nobody is going to jail."

New York Times has weighed in on this, noting that:
"Policy makers must thoroughly investigate the aluminum warehousing strategies to determine whether Goldman and other warehouse operators distorted prices. They should also take a fresh look at whether banks should really be in the business of owning warehouses and other physical infrastructure."
Fat chance! In 2009, Dick Durbin went on a radio show and said:
"And the banks -- hard to believe in a time when we're facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created -- are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place."
So they own Congress. And now they own the storage facilities that can be used to park various commodities. And there's nothing anyone can do to stop them.

Or wait... perhaps there IS an entity that can hit back at the bankers with equal force. Not Congress... not consumers. The white knights that may come to America's rescue could be other capitalists - like those at businesses whose bottom line is being reduced by the greedy bankers who are hoarding what they need.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

North Carolina is what happens when the Tea Party is in charge

The North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) has been exceptionally busy this week. They passed a budget that trashes primary and secondary education - siphons money from public schools to charter schools, offers no raises to teachers (who've been without a raise for years), offers no incentives for teachers to get a masters degree; removes the possibility of tenure from new hires.

And that's just education. And it follows remarks McCrory made earlier in the year about higher education in North Carolina, home to the first public university in the country:
“If you want to take gender studies that’s fine, go to a private school and take it,” McCrory told host Bill Bennett, a former U.S. Secretary of Education. “But I don’t want to subsidize that if that’s not going to get someone a job."

They've just passed one of the most restrictive voter ID bills in recent history (THANK YOU SCOTUS, NOT!)

They've also passed one of the most alarming gun bills in America - allowing guns in schools and on campus (in locked cars), allowing patrons to bring concealed guns into bars, and prohibiting local municipalities from regulating the presence of guns in their parks and on greenways.

More than 900 people have been arrested for peaceably assembling in front of the capital during Moral Mondays. Apparently, the constitutional rights of citizens only matter when it comes to the 2nd Amendment.

This is a state that has also made "disturbing" cuts to unemployment benefits.

Of course, the loudmouths in Raleigh keep talking about jobs... but never act to create them. 

One of the first acts of the newly elected Governor earlier this year was to give his cabinet a raise, "so they could afford to live...." 

Unfortunately, McCrory and his cronies are creating a state where only he and his buddies will be able to live. 

More on the actions of NCGA here and here.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

David Brooks completely misinterprets The Searchers

David Brooks was probably feeling very smart and intellectual and clever when he posted his most recent column. He links a great John Ford Western with a look at manhood today in America; he covers current unemployment stats, reflects on boy culture and school culture; he quotes the American Enterprise Institute along with lines from The Searchers. It's all in there.

The column is a muddled mess.

He opens with a rather vast claim: "As every discerning person knows, The Searchers is the greatest movie ever made."

Now I think we can say that discerning people know The Searchers is one of the greatest movies ever made. [I make that claim myself here.] But to assert as fact that it is the very greatest film ever made and to note that if you don't get that fact, you are not a discerning person - which is disdainful and argumentative - is perhaps not the best way to open this column.

He goes on to note that the close of the West has left American manhood in a perilous state:

Monday, July 15, 2013

On guns and groceries: a look at the Zimmerman trial...

Two days ago, as we were watching Saige: An American Girl, our program was interrupted to give us the verdict in a trial reflecting today's American zeitgeist - that violent and bloodied intersection of guns and race, the George Zimmerman trial. It was a very jarring end to the sugar-sweet American Girl story about the travails of a 9-year-old artist. My children were upset; they wanted to see the end of the movie; instead we all watched the verdict.

Today, as I ponder the news and analysis of this trial, I remain melancholy. Was it appropriate to let my 9-year-olds watch the verdict? What about my 13-year old? I remain torn about this. I know that as the verdict was announced, my three children wanted to know what happened. What was this trial about - a trial so significant it cut into the conclusion of an American Girl movie? After I explained the details, they did not understand how an armed adult could kill an unarmed teenager and be considered "not guilty." In our house, we talk a great deal about accountability for one's actions.

I find I don't understand a lot about this case. I don't understand why a man packed a gun alongside his grocery list (George Zimmerman claimed he was on his way to Target when he spotted the threat to the neighborhood.) I am repulsed and terrified by the idea that people are armed at the grocery store. I googled "taking a gun to a grocery store" today and came across this story - about a man who showed up at Kroger's in January with his AR-15 to promote his Second Amendment right to carry a gun (the semi-automatic weapon used in the Sandy Hook massacre.) According to the news story, even the NRA was not amused. But it was the man's legal right to do this.

I don't understand the threat posed by a 17-year-old in a hoody who was walking to his father's house early in the evening. In his call to the authorities, Zimmerman said "this guy's up to no good." Apparently, he was walking in the neighborhood "looking at all the houses."

And now that "f***ing punk" is dead.

The trial of George Zimmerman for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin is over and I have so many questions.