Cynical Synapse

Fri, 31 Oct 2008

Lower Oil Prices Make Arrogant Chavez Antsy

Filed under: Economy, Gas Prices, Hugo Chavez, Oil, Profiteering — cynicalsynapse @ 8:02 am

Personally, I’m lovin’ it, But Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez must be beside himself. This is the man who, last week, said he wanted to jail his main opponent.

Chavez has also asked OPEC, of which Venezuela is a founding member, to cut production. Seems poor Hugo’s not too happy with the falling demand and lower prices. And no wonder, since oil accounts for as much as 40% of Venezuela’s economy. He thinks he’s convinced the Russians to cut production with OPEC. In fact, the Russians are using Chavez. What started as business now has the added benefit of looking like saber-rattling as Russia’s reactions to US criticisms of actions in Georgia.

With gas prices averaging about $2.30 in my neighborhood, I’m not feeling the least bit sorry for Chavez. And I still won’t buy from Citgo.

Update:

This morning, I paid $2.259 for regular unleaded. This evening, I paid $2.219 and the station around the corner from my house was down to $2.159 for cash (and $2.199 for credit, which bugs the crap out of me, so I tend not to go there). So, poor Hugo must really be feeling the pinch. I feel so bad for him. Not!

Thu, 30 Oct 2008

Is Par Good or Bad?

Filed under: Paradoxes, People — cynicalsynapse @ 12:02 am

I was sitting in a meeting the other day and remark was made about something being not up to par. It occurred to me that we often talk about things that are sub-par. Both of these usages place a negative connotation on values below par.

Yet, in golf, a score under par is sought after. Doesn’t it make you wonder?

Sun, 26 Oct 2008

Foreclosures Looming for Transit Systems

Filed under: Business, Economy, Legal, Politics, Profiteering, Transit — cynicalsynapse @ 9:35 am

It’s bad enough that AIG failed, but now 36 transit systems may be at risk for billions of dollars. Apparently, years-old financing deals with banks, backed by AIG, are now subject to default because of AIG’s tenuous status. The problem, which could affect millions of subway and bus riders, was brought to light by the Washington Post.

It seems the transit agencies engaged in a once-common practice of selling railcars and other assets to banks who then leased them back. In the case of 3 dozen agencies, the deals were guaranteed by AIG who, as we know, can’t guarantee anything anymore. Never mind the $122 billion, and growing, taxpayer bailout of AIG, which doesn’t affect the transit financing deal. Apparently, while AIG still guarantees the lease payments by the transit agencies, AIG’s collapse permits the banks to demand immediate payment. The whole arrangement seems not unlike the subprime lending scandal. It’s a financial shell game with inherent risk. That must be why they stopped the practice.

The Treasury Department is looking into whether the $700 billion financial bailout could be used to fend this latest crisis off. And how could we have such a crisis when taxpayers ponyed up $85 billion in loans to AIG and gained a 79.9% stake in the company? Couldn’t that majority shareholder assume the guarantee on the transit leases? Just doesn’t seem like such a big leap to me. This is another of those “pay me now or pay me later” scenarios.

Affected transit systems include:

  • Southern California Regional Rail Authority (Metrolink) – Los Angeles
  • San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART)
  • San Mateo County Transit District (Caltrain) – San Carlos
  • San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission (ACE) – Stockton
  • Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority
  • North County Transit District (Coaster)
  • San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (MUNI)
  • Regional Transportation District – Denver
  • Connecticut DOT/Shoreline East Commuter Service – New Haven
  • Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) – D.C.
  • South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (Tri-Rail)
  • Miami-Dade Transit
  • Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Agency (MARTA)
  • Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District
  • METRA – Chicago
  • Chicago Transit Authority
  • Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority
  • MARC Train Service – Baltimore
  • Maryland Transit Administration
  • Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH)
  • Port Authority Transit Corporation (PATCO)
  • New Jersey Transit Corporation
  • Metropolitan Transportation Authority – New York
  • MTA New York City Transit – Brooklyn
  • New York City Department of Transportation
  • MTA Metro-North Railroad – New York
  • MTA Staten Island Railway
  • Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority
  • Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (Tri-Met)
  • Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA)
  • Port Authority of Allegheny County – Pittsburgh
  • Trinity Railway Express (DART) – Irving
  • Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County – Houston
  • Virginia Railway Express (VRE)
  • Sound Transit – Seattle
  • King County Department of Transportation/Metro Transit – Seattle

Hmmm. Maybe AIG execs spent $520 million on lavish retreats to strategize a solution to this latest impending fiasco the financial charlatans have wrought for us. Naw! I think maybe ACNN is right on the mark about why AIG execs are spending taxpayer money on parties.

Sat, 25 Oct 2008

Top 10 Heroes of 2008

Filed under: Life, People, Take action — cynicalsynapse @ 9:43 am

The votes still remain to be cast, so the order is not yet determined. But, the top 10 heroes of 2008 have been identified by a blue ribbon panel.

What’s important here is, while many of us focus on the negative and the personal, there are still those who see the bigger picture. Each of this year’s heroes will receive $25,000. The top hero, to be selected Thanksgiving Day Eve, will receive an additional $100,000. Be sure to cast your vote.

Fri, 24 Oct 2008

Top 10 Culprits of the Collapse—The Final Four

Filed under: Behavior, Business, Economy, Life, Politics, Profiteering, Rants — cynicalsynapse @ 7:54 pm

Top 10 of the Collapse

Here are the final four of Anderson Cooper’s Top 10 Culprits of the Collapse:

4. Angelo Mozillo—Former CEO, Countrywide Financial

3. James Cayne—Former CEO, Bear Sterns

2. Franklin Raines—Former CEO, Fannie Mae

1. You, the consumer!

So, it seems Anderson Cooper and CNN have more or less substantiated my opinion. Greedy businesses played the numbers game in a shady Enron-esque manner, which was facilitated by deregulation by Congress and poor oversight by government watchdogs. Add in consumerism in the form of more-house-than-I-should-be-able-to-afford and a desire for toys like boats, ATVs, snowmobiles, etc., and it’s no surprise.

Actually, what’s truly amazing is the house of cards lasted as long as it did before all the bubbles started to burst. Hang on, because there may still be more bursting yet. It’s not over until the the weight-challenged female vocalizes in melodic tones.

Thu, 23 Oct 2008

Going Ugly Early is Wise

Filed under: Behavior, Driving, Duh, Economy, Legal, Life, People — cynicalsynapse @ 9:42 pm

Yesterday’s MythbustersTM explored alcohol myths. Two to three beers will definitely put you over the limit.

Beer goggles are plausible, based on sober, buzzed, and drunk assessments of random facial pictures. Now, this is obviously subjective, but researchers achieved similar results in scientific studies. Mythbusters also showed coffee and exercise did not have a positive impact on reducing blood alcohol level. That still doesn’t mean those can help you drive safely if you’re already over the limit.

So, the moral of the story is go ugly early. Save yourself time, money, and maybe a DUI charge.

Tue, 21 Oct 2008

The Endorsement Avalanche

Filed under: Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 7:32 pm

Seems it doesn’t matter who won the last presidential debate. In any case, that’s a subjective opinion, so there isn’t really a winner or loser. Nonetheless, I thought McCain won, but the pundits apparently put Obama as the winner.

An Obama victory in the final debate would certainly support the apparent avalanche of endorsements we seem to be seeing now. Obama leads nearl 3 to 1 in newspaper endorsements. With the addition of prominent figures like Colin Powell, expect this avalanche to snowball.

Sun, 19 Oct 2008

Top 10 of the Collapse—Halfway Through

Filed under: Behavior, Business, Economy, Legal, People, Profiteering — cynicalsynapse @ 12:29 am

Top 10 of the Collapse

We’re more than halfway through Anderson Cooper’s Top 10 Culprits of the Collapse. Here’s what we have so far:

10. Joe Cassano, president of AIG’s financial products

9. Richard S. Fuld, Jr., President/CEO, Lehman Bros.

8. Chris Cox, Chairman, SEC

7. Phil Gramm, US Senator (R-TX)

6. Alan Greenspan, former Federal Reserve Chairman

5. Beazer Homes

Fri, 17 Oct 2008

Joe the Plumber, McCain, and Obama

Filed under: Economy, Michigan, Politics, Rants, Take action — cynicalsynapse @ 7:24 pm

A better title is probably “Nobody’s Perfect,” but that’s not likely to be as catching. In any case, it seems many things are not as they appear.

Turns out Joe the Plumber is neither Joe—his first name is actually Samuel—nor a plumber. At least he doesn’t have his own plumber’s license. Joe, er Sam, became a household name during presidential candidate debates on the 15th. Between them, John McCain and Barrack Obama referred to their Everyman no less than 32 times.

Even though “Joe the Plumber” would benefit from Obama’s proposed tax cuts, he’s opposed to tax hikes on making more than $200,000 ($250,000 per family). If Joe buys the company he’s thinking about and Obama gets his tax hike from 36 to 39%, Joe’s taxes will only go up no more than $900.

McCain claims to be standing up for “Joe,” saying he, and everyone, should be able to ask Obama tough questions. McCain says “Joe” was prompted by the Republicans but now he’s got the media in his front yard Obama’s campaign digging into his past. “Joe” is in the spotlight because McCain put him there. Apparently his campaign didn’t ensure “Joe” was squeaky clean. He appears to be an average Joe to me. He doesn’t need a plumber’s license since he works for someone else. Yes, he needs to pay his back taxes, but we’ve all had some rough spot to deal with. And while Obama’s campaign and the media may be dragging out those details, it was McCain that put “Joe” on point. I guess you’ve at least got to give the McCain credit for defending him.

Did Weather Underground founder Bill Ayers launch Obama’s political career as McCain said during the debate? According to the ABC News fact checkers, no. But there is a lot of overlap between Obama, Ayers, and ACORN. While McCain might not be accurate on his allegations, there’s enough to make reasonable people wonder what Obama’s agenda really is.

As for Obama’s denials of substantive ties to ACORN, it seems the Senator is not being truthful. Besides the motor voter law case, Obama provided leadership training for and both supported and was supported by ACORN. Then there’s that minor detail of Obama’s campaign giving $80,000 to ACORN and another $800,000 to an ACORN affiliate, supposedly to “get out the vote.” Helluva lot more than just a one-time attorney-client case. Does anybody know if Obama ate at the ACORN-sponsored breakfast during the Democratic National Convention?

“Joe” might not saying who he’s voting for, but here are some things to consider. Obama has lied about his ties with ACORN. McCain’s done a couple of things that caught his running mate off-guard, like when he pulled out of Michigan. What kind of leader makes such drastic decisions and leaves his entire staff in the dark? Voters don’t like being blown off. Obama’s pulling out of the primary didn’t sit well with me. Clinton’s leaving her name on the primary ballot, saying she didn’t want to alienate voters and then saying Michigan didn’t matter anyway actually angered me. So, McCain’s dissing Michigan is pathetic and short-sighted. Michigan’s economy is in the worst shape in the nation and to be so publicly dumped by the Republican candidate is to add insult to injury.

Interestingly, candidateAhmnodt Heare moved his headquarters to Michigan and car-hating Ralph Nader opened a Michigan office after McCain kicked the state to the curb. If you truly want change, vote for one of these guys and not for any of the incumbents. They’re the ones that brought us the trillion-dollar bailouts for banks, Wall Street, and AIG. How much of that did you get?

Mon, 13 Oct 2008

Sociopaths on the Roadways

Filed under: Behavior, Cars, Driving, Life, Rants — cynicalsynapse @ 10:56 pm

I spend about 3 hours a day on the road—mostly highway driving—so I’ve developed some farily intense opinions about other drivers. In August, i referenced another blog and noted stupid people shouldn’t get licenses. While there are certainly more than the fair share of stupid people out there, it’s not fair to them to not separate out the sociopaths on the roads today.

Before deviating to the deviants, however, the blog I was looking for in August was The Way We Drive Today. He gives a name—the force field effect—to a phenomenon that always puzzled me. I’ve always though the people who end up following me, even though other lanes are available, should give me a lottery ticket when I move aside and they suddenly discover open road ahead of them! Then again, these are, apparently, people who don’t even realize there are other lanes. What he refers to as “Can’t Pass Me,” I call it the Lemming Syndrome. It’s actually a corollary of the force field effect. Drivers with Lemming Syndrome don’t know there are other lanes, but a key feature of true Lemming Syndrome is being in the left lane. He also mentions the “can’t pass you” people, who pull up to you and match your speed. Eventually, you encounter someone slower in your lane and have to slow down. Sometimes these folks actually manage to pass you, but they pull into your lane and then slow down! I am truly amazed at how many people do not seem to know their cars are equipped with cruise control.

Beyond those core groups, two others really drive me bananas. They are:

Oh! I Must Be On a Freeway!These people come down the acceleration lane, maybe even reaching highway speeds (usually not, though). They merge into traffic and maintain their ramp speed for about a mile or so. Then, out of the blue, they decide they need to go 10 over the limit. What changed in the last mile, dude? Never mind that I’ve been on cruise control, waiting for you to make up your mind while traffic’s been stacking up behind me.

Slow Down for the Exit.Regardless of whether or not the ramp has a severely reduced speed, some folks start slowing down about a mile before their exit. Why? These are the same folks who hit their brakes on the highway even though the ramp is clearly designed to allow for adequate deceleration. Is this anticipation for lower speeds? Have they already mentally switched from limited access expressway to two-lane country road? Why do people pass you and then pull this stunt? Granted, some exits require slowing down before getting on the ramp, but these are the exception, not the rule. There’s usually no need to slow down before being in the deceleration lane—which is why it has that name!

The ones that truly annoy me, though, are the Roadway Sociopaths. These are the ones that have to move over as many lanes left as there are lanes available as soon as they get on the highway. They weave in and out of traffic as much as they think they need to in order to be first. They often zip from lane to lane, just to be first. Last month, I even watched one pass on the right shoulder just because traffic wasn’t moving fast enough for him. Hello! If traffic’s moving at or above posted speeds, there’s nothing to complain about! I admit, in my younger days, I was less patient and tended to try to find the fastest lane. Now older and wiser, I’ve accepted there is a corollary to Murphy’s Law that says the lane you are in will be the slowest lane. Thus, there’s no need to stress over other lanes. And, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve pulled up to the same red light one of these “rocket” scientists is waiting at, I’d have a free tank of gas! The added risk and stress just isn’t worth it, my friends.

Ancillary to the speed demons and the newly-merged who have to immediately move over as far left as possible are the last-second exit fiends. There are clearly those who didn’t realize this was their exit, many of whom were probably on cellphones. But, by and large, the majority are people trying to get to the front of the line by passing as many as they could before exiting. Without regard for humanity around them, they zip across two or more lanes of traffic to make the exit at the last second. Was the risk worth it? The maneuver could be successful each time you take it. But, is the risk truly worth it? For what, a few seconds at a traffic light at the top of the ramp? Why endanger the rest of us because you’re an egotist? I’d rather you were just stupid, but that BMW or Lexus implies otherwise. Intentional selfishness on today’s highways is just plain sociopathic.

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