Cynical Synapse

Tue, 27 Jan 2009

Rich Man, Poor Man, Liar Woman, Thief

Filed under: Bailout, Economy, Life, Politics, Profiteering — cynicalsynapse @ 10:07 pm

Most of us have heard that little limeric based on a British counting game. With a slight modification, it seems to fit some of the top news.

Rich Man

That would be financial whiz John Thain, former CEO of Merrill Lynch. This is the man who spent $1.2 million to renovate his office in late 2007. What could have been so drastically dysfunctional about his predecessor’s decor to justify that kind of expense? I realize the rich and powerful have their little quirks and can afford their little extravagances, but that money came from the bottom line. At the time, that was shareholder money. Now it’s taxpayer money.

John Thain alleges the economic times were better when he redecorated, but the fact remains he was at the helm of Merrill as the company sank further into the morass. When he was hired, Merrill already knew it had problems. He as much as says so when he blames Merrill’s losses on positions the company held before he took over in 2007. He claims Bank of America had “complete access to everything” but they must not think so, since they canned him last week.

Before Bank of America closed its purchase of Merrill Lynch, Thain accelerated bonuses to the tune of millions. His excuse? “If you dont pay your best people, you will destroy your franchise. Those best people can get jobs other places, they will leave.” Hello! Last time I checked, the entire financial industry was in ruins, so let them try to get jobs other places. And, truth be told, those so-called “best people” are responsible for this debacle!

Poor Man

All of us ordinary folk fit in here. With the ever-expanding wave of layoffs, those with jobs are fortunate, and those without are growing in number. Even so, those who created this mess are still in charge and doing what they were doing before. Pardon me, but those are the guys who should be looking for new jobs, not the layed off newspaper carriers or factory workers.

Liar Woman

Can you say “Secretary of State”? Hillary Rodham Clinton is such an obvious opportunist! I can’t believe New Yorkers elected her to a Senate seat, let alone she was an apparently serious contender for the Presidency! If she’s such a high caliber person, how could she have such a drastically different memory of her trip to Bosnia than the actual situation? During the campaign, this was supposed to be one of the things that set her apart from her competitors like, oh, say Barrack Obama. It set her apart for me because it was such a blatant falsehood!

There are others. Anderson Cooper notes Hillary seems to thrive on a facade of mistruths even if her intentions are good. I have absolutely no doubt that President George W. Bush’s intentions were nothing but good and what he considered were in the best interests of the US. But many of the same group who would point the blamethrower at him would also claim Hillary is the answer. I don’t mean to imply that President Bush was a liar. Rather, the point is, as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In Ms. Clinton’s case, I don’t believe those good intentions have any moral backing.

Thief

If you didn’t already know this label was proudly worn by Timothy Geithner, you’ve probably not been paying any attention to the news. Besides being President of the New York Federal Reserve when the financial meltdown occurred, he has his own personal tax issues. Excuse me, but this is the guy President Obama nominated, and the Senate confirmed, to oversee the resuscitation of the US economy? Beginning with the next $350 billion in the Wall Street bailout? Something’s wrong here.

I have to admit, I’m impressed by some of President Obama’s early actions. Although not empirically validated, it seems like he’s been diligent in addressing some of his campaign promises. In my mind, that’s a significant departure from past practices. But it also begins to feel a little like it’s part of one of those “_-a-day” calendars—don’t peak at tomorrow to see what campaign promise will be kept next. But with a liar to fix the US image abroad and a taxt cheat to repair the economy, are our eggs in the wrong basket?

Sun, 25 Jan 2009

Guantanamo—Not as Bad as it Seems

Filed under: Civil liberties, Global War on Terror, Justice, Legal, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 8:02 pm

While much of the world apparently views the detentions of so-called enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay as the quintessential Bush-era US arrogance, that may not be so true. It seems dozens housed there have been determined not enemy combatants, but face persecution or injustice if returned to their homelands. That’s the case with a number of Uighurs for whom there are demands for release and return by China. “The prisoners should be handed over as soon as possible to China, which will handle the case by law,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokewsoman Jiang You said. Remember Tiananmen Square?

Of the original 759 detainees brought to Gitmo—military slang for Guantanamo Bay Naval Base—only 245 remain. That means more than two-thirds (2/3) have been repatriated, adjudicated, or otherwise released. You don’t hear about those cases in the news. Instead, you hear about the minority that underwent intense interrogation, including the use of methods considered torture, such as waterboarding. Don’t misunderstand—I don’t condone torture. I also don’t agree with using some torture cases as a rationale to condemn the entire system or process. Consider Said Ali al-Shihri who was released from GITMO in 2006. Today, he’s a senior leader in Al-Qaeda in Yemen.

Regardless, President Obama signed an order to close the detention facilities at Gitmo within a year. That’s a tall order. The remaining 245 are the complicated cases. Think of it like OJ’s murder trial—you know he did it, but the evidence just doesn’t stack up right. Problem is, the Gitmo detainees aren’t committing crimes of passion. They’re intent on destroying a way of life—our way of life. Whether by suicide bomber or airplane hijacker doesn’t matter to them. What’s to be done with these hardcore enemies of civilized peoples?

Keep in mind the Gitmo detainees were primarily captured by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of the witnesses for the prosecution, if you will, are their countrymen. Some are still active in terrorist cells; some fear for their lives. Other detainees were picked up on the basis of intelligence—remember the Iraqi Most Wanted deck of cards? So, witnesses may be unwilling, unable, or just plain non-existant. Don’t forget terrorists committing crimes in other lands are not entitled to the protections of the US Constitution but should be no less culpable for their actions.

I think the key reasons Gitmo was selected for detaining enemy combatants are it’s outside the theater of operations (the Middle East) and it’s not on US soil. The latter is precisely why some argue the detainees are being denied access to US judicial processes. What these advocates forget is the US courts don’t have jurisdiction because the alleged crimes were not committed on US soil.

One thing is certain: the enemy combatant and detainee process has been less than transparent. This is, after all, uncharted territory. There are no clear lines of enemy and friend in the Global War on Terror because it’s not defined by territory like previous wars. The bad guys don’t wear uniforms and are not part of a state-sponsored military force. When captured, therefore, they are not prisoners of war in the sense of the Geneva Conventions. Should they just be shot as spies, which would be permissable? Our values would find that reprehensible, so they’ve been detained as enemy combatants. When traditional wars end, POWs are usually repatriated. That’s just not applicable here. Nonetheless, there should be some type of process to fairly and equitably handle the cases of the remaining detainees. Gitmo symbolizes that issue, but the detention camps are just the tip of the iceburg.

Thu, 22 Jan 2009

Geithner: Fox Watching the Hen House?

Filed under: Bailout, Economy, Paradoxes, Politics, Take action — cynicalsynapse @ 3:17 am

Let me see if I understand this. Timothy Geithner, President Obama’s nomination for Treasury Secretary, worked for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and was President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. This makes him a money guru, right? But, the same guy didn’t pay all of his taxes while an IMF employee and employed a housekeeper whose immigration status is questionable. Regardless of the legality of his tax situation, it’s clearly not morally correct. This is the guy to manage the $700 billion Wall Street bailout?

A key concern is Geithner prepared his own tax returns for most of his years at the IMF. There’s no second party to blame, yet his unpaid social security taxes didn’t matter until the IRS audited him. If he’s IMF and Federal Reserve material, he knows fiscal law, so the “I didn’t know” excuse doesn’t cut it. While some of Mr. Geithner’s past due Social Security taxes were beyond the IRS’ statute of limitations, he paid them only because of his nomitation for Treasury Secretary. Otherwise, they would still be taxes owed but never paid. That seems more like business as usual than change in government to me.

How much interaction do you think there is between the President of the Federal Reserve Bank in New York—Timothy Geithner’s present position—and the Wall Street investment firms and big commercial banks? I suspect quite a bit. In my mind, that puts Mr. Geithner right in the middle of the “perfect storm” which has yielded a global economic downturn. Is this the guy we want in charge of the $700 billion Wall Street bailout? Don’t forget, this package has still not trickled down to us, the average folk.

To be perfectly honest, it seems Obama wants to put a tax cheat in charge of the $700 billion bailout. Never mind whatever culpability the guy has for the current economic crisis from his tenure as New York Federal Reserve President. Oh, yeah, and let’s not forget he had a seat at the table in developing that $700 billion Wall Street bailout. The whole thing just doesn’t seem right; urge your senators to vote no.

Mon, 19 Jan 2009

“In the event of a water landing…”

Filed under: Behavior, Heroes, Life, People, Safety — cynicalsynapse @ 11:01 pm

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to that phrase, always dismissing it as the likely disaster it’s intended to negate. But Thursday’s crash into the Hudson was a true water landing, a testament to the professionalism of today’s air crews.

Call it luck or a miracle, but everyone on board US Airways 1549 got off the plane. Many attribute the outcome of this situation to pilot and Captain Chesley (Sully) Sullenberger III, a one-time USAF fighter pilot. Without a doubt, Sullenberger’s skills played a significant part in the outcome of this event. Putting an intact aircraft on the surface of the Hudson River provides a means for rescuing survivors.

That’s where the ferry boat operators and small craft owners came into play. Without regard to their own safety, they braved Jet-A to rescue Flight 1549′s passengers. Time of day, location, combined crew, and local bystanders combined to ensure a good outcome to this event.

Earlier this week, the Detroit area suffered some typical Michigan weather—icy and snowy beyond the routine. In one incident, a car spun off the freeway, resulting in injuries. While, unfortunately, more common than we should like, what’s notable is those who stopped to help. They were a retired National Guardsman, a current Guardsman, and the Michigan Guard’s active component Senior Army Adviser. What does that say about the state of today’s Military and service to country and state? Where was everyone else?

Tue, 06 Jan 2009

Oil and Gas Prices Make No Sense

Filed under: Business, Gas Prices, Hugo Chavez, Life, Oil, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 10:20 pm

I understand the concept of supply and demand. I also understand that filling stations need to charge prices based on next week’s requirements. That may partially explain why I paid $1.779 in Lansing MI this morning, but this afternoon the price was up to $1.999. What confuses me is I bought gasoline in Lansing this morning because the price in my northern Detroit suburb was $1.859. So, why is my neighborhood price still $1.859 (cash)?

Frequent readers will know gas prices are one of my “hot buttons.” I just can’t believe there was so much demand to drive prices to $150 or so a barrel and that demand has dropped so precipitously to less than $50 per barrel over the last year. Everyone wanted to go somewhere last spring but now they all want to stay home? There’s $100 difference in the price of a barrel of oil! I’m just not seeing the substantial changes in demand that first brought the high prices and now equate to the low prices. Something smells here, worse than the sulfuric smell of hydrocarbons.

Gas prices in my area had fallen to almost $1.50 per gallon before OPEC decided to cut production. Since then, they have gradually increased. Today, they jumped from $1.779 in Lansing to $1.999. What’s different today? Hugo Chavez said no more free heating oil. While I’m saddened by the additional strain on those truly in need, I take solace in the economic impact Venezuela’s “elected” dictator is feeling. His heating oil aid program for the Northeas program was merely propaganda anyway, an anti-Bush jab. In my mind, this makes Chavez no different than any other politician. Actually, it makes me wonder is this how Chavez is going to build better relations with President Obama in just a few weeks?

Sat, 03 Jan 2009

Not Bailing Fast Enough?

Filed under: Bailout, Business, Economy, Life, Michigan, Politics, Take action — cynicalsynapse @ 10:42 pm

A quarter ago, our representatives in Congress passed a $700 billion bailout package, with an added $100 billion in pork, in no more than 5 business days. Those same Senators refused to even consider bridge loans for the US auto industry even though the money involved only about 9.4% of the Wall Street bailout.

The Wall Street bailout is supposed to be a rescue plan but it seems Treasury Secretary Paulson doesn’t really have a plan. Never mind he was CEO of failed Goldman Sachs before his current gig.

So, the ship is still sinking because someone’s not bailing fast enough. Does anyone really wonder why? According to MSN’s 10 Worst Bailout Boondogles, beneficiaries of taxpayer rescue money have little or no fiscal responsibility. The MSN article’s extravagance adds up to at least $8.6 billion, spent on naming rights, bonuses, and other perks. Seems the financial elites never suffer.

Do any of these financial companies have detailed plans to return to solvency like the Senate demanded from the US automakers? How about Citigroup, which seems to need more and more taxpayer money, despite being awarded the contract for both US government fuel cards and official travel cards? Which such seemingly lucrative business, what justification does Citigroup have for sticking its oversized snout into the public troughs?

Maybe, if the banks were to loan money like the original bailout plan expected, the US auto industry wouldn’t be in the predicament it’s in now. And, even though Alabama Senator Shelby opposed the Wall Street bailout, he was one of the most vocal opponents to a US automaker bridge loan. This seems rather dis-ingenuous, considering the significance of the “transplant” auto industry in Sen. Shelby’s home state.

Besides the usual complaining, two tangible reactions come to mind. First, we can boycott Alabama products. While not aimed at the people of Alabama, such action is intended to hit Sen. Shelby’s state in the pocket book. Maybe then he’ll get it. A more constructive approach, though, is to Say Yes! to Michigan by buying local goods. Visit Buy Michigan Now! to register or find Michigan products.

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