Sunday, March 29, 2015

Lucero: Llorar

Rancheras were made fun of by us East Los kids, and I suppose the obviousness and sometimes corniness of these popular Mexican songs brings that on. But, like American pop songs, every once in a while, good stuff shines through.

Here's the pretty and popular Lucero, singing a tale of love lost, first in the studio version, then live.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

David FeBland

Artist's Statement

Some years ago, I began to produce paintings that expressed my best and worst impulses set out in the context of public spaces. It was time to give my inner devil an airing. Making virtue of vice, I imbued anonymous figures with swaggering power, elevated faceless nobodies to subject status and filled the streets with stalking female mastodons, all in the service of getting even.

Well, adversity loves company and, living in New York, I found myself in the perfect place to observe the tribulations of others while forgetting about my own. So many nuisances at a stone’s throw.

Those paintings were dark, crowded and monochromatic. As I became more and more absorbed in the project, I found an unexpected conflict beginning to emerge. As I fell more deeply in love with the act of painting, my work became more resonant. My brushwork, palette, depiction of light and air……the paintings were becoming more, well beautiful. Today I see the disconnect between some of my subject matter and my method of depiction as a source of strength…and subversion. It’s a willful act of seducing the viewer into staying with me in the picture.

My work explores the ever-modulating space between aspiration and reality. Its an uncomfortable space for some, that sense of not quite being where or what you think you are – a mental state filled with frisson not unlike the combustible edge of colliding urban neighborhoods, its corporeal equivalent. After depicting just such city spaces for many years, I grew to realize that the concept of an Edge - or more precisely the gap between them - was as much a state of mind as a physical reality and therefore eminently transportable. And so you see before you paintings embracing a variety of settings reflecting my everyday life, my travels grand and mundane, realized and imaginary.

Many of these paintings may look like directly observed events, but they’re not. I make liberal use of the infrastructure of the world around me and, using a variety of sources including memory, produce paintings that are entirely studio inventions. My paintings reflect the insights and doubts many of us share but often can’t find the language to express. I’m luckier than most because over time I’ve developed the voice to articulate these ideas. In fact, I’d say that my paintings are all about the small idea. If my work is successful, if it has significance, then each painting represents a building block which, when seen over the life of a career, serves a greater purpose, a larger idea that is expressed in the fullness of time.

David FeBland
July 2005

Saturday, March 07, 2015

There's a sucker born every minute: The Beanie Baby Bubble

A new book by Zac Bissonnette goes into the Beanie Baby Bubble uses that manic time to delve into the why of collective mania. Today, with bubble mania alive and well around every corner, we now have skinny jeaned pencil necks creating fart eraser apps market valued at $50 billion. Does this make sense any more than losing one's mind over dumb stuffed animals?

Think about another bubble burst phenomenon:
...the power of the revolutionary new technology, assisted by artful manipulation of public perception by interested parties, induced a collective hallucination that made investors ignore such considerations. They persisted in ignoring them for several years, until ... the inevitable disaster struck. [emphasis mine]
Sound familiar? It should. But this isn't the dot com fiasco, nor the runup to EM08. It isn't this century, nor even the last. Citation's here.

A running point I have with my friend, TB, is given all of the psychopathic activity in finance, for instance hedge fund managers that get an edge via inside info, that casinos and card rooms by comparison are beacons of fairness and honesty. Someone who sits at a poker table in Vegas can be very sure that the game is a fair one, because it's not only highly regulated, but policed and prosecuted. Not the owners of this world. Evidently they can stomp around at will, free to create mayhem without fear.

Fear. It's an important aspect of EM08. The trillions hoovered up in the EM08 tsunami have created a vast divide in America, one that I find it hard to believe we'll ever recover from. I'm no math wiz, but the numbers on every front are terrifying. On the street, it's created a culture of fear among the working class, specifically about the present and down the line for their kids and country. Back on top, the evil empire dines on toro for a snack, and there's an utter lack of fear.

I've said before that I believe EM08 is three phases: The run-up and crash of '08, and the second phase, maximum extraction, which we are now in. That means power is doing everything it can to grow bigger and badder, and the evidence is overflowing.

Digression: Check out the Dan Dimicco interview from yesterday. I find his straightforward take not only refreshing, but pragmatic and on point. This country is at a crossroads, and the way we turn in the next few years are crucial. Dimicco reminds me of my mother's generation; no horseshitting around, let's get to work and produce. Let's unleash positive energy in the form of creativity and innovation bolstered by hard work. In a word, let's get our entrepreneur on.

Instead, the bureaucrooks went all in with a bunch of psychopathic criminals, the true super-predators, and we have what we have. It's sad.

And what of EM08's third phase? I used to say it'll be "Judgement Day" or some other dramatic sounding turn, but of late I've begun thinking that maybe phase two and three are a synthesis. In other words, maybe we're already in the crash. It's the feel good crash, buoyed by the collective, proven American ability to believe that somehow, someway, we're, *I*, am going to make it. As I've noted before, some historians believe the second most influential Nazi was Goebbels, which is a way of taking us back to the top: "assisted by artful manipulation of public perception by interested parties." To not know the tools of the devil is to be subject to them. Ask Eddie Bernays, behind the curtain.

Which reminds me of the saying, the most enslaved is the slave that believes he is not enslaved. Or is unaware of or willfully ignores it.
Plush Life
Why did people lose their minds over Beanie Babies?

Beanie Baby Spree 
A 5-year-old boy holds an armful of Beanie Babies while shopping with his mother at the Zany Brainy Toy Store on Sept. 2, 1999, in Brentwood, Missouri.
Photo By Bill Greenblatt/Getty Images

In July of 1999, I traveled with my family to Tenby, Wales. The town is said to be picturesque, but I have no memory of its scenery—except for a small toy store we passed on our drive in. As soon as we settled into our hotel, my sister and I begged our father to trek to the shop and search for the Britannia Beanie Baby, sold exclusively in the United Kingdom. The Britannia bear wasn’t just a toy, we explained; it was an investment, projected to be worth thousands of dollars within a decade. Our father capitulated and bought us each a Britannia bear, which we dutifully kept in mint condition with the tag intact, reveling in its rarity while dreaming of the day it would be a hugely valuable collector’s item.

One month later, the company that developed Beanie Babies abruptly announced that it would stop producing the toys at the end of the year, both anticipating and precipitating the burst of the Beanie Babies bubble. Sellers panicked, buyers lost interest, and by the start of the new millennium, Beanie Babies had swung from an economic and cultural phenomenon to a tired punch line. Today, the Britannia Beanie Baby sells for $10 on eBay. My own Britannia lies buried in a box in the back of my closet along with hundreds of other Beanie Babies, where it has sat, untouched, for 15 years.

From this distance, it’s easy to laugh at Beanie Baby fever, to mock it as just another pointless fad in a chintzy, hollow decade. But in the latter part of the 1990s, Beanie Babies were so much more than a fad: They were a mania, an obsession that ensnared not just gullible children but also otherwise responsible adults who lost all sense of perspective over these plush playthings. People sold—and bought—some rare Beanie Babies for $5,000 each and expected others to skyrocket in value within a decade. (Collectors were careful to keep each toy’s tag attached and protected by a plastic case; a Beanie Baby’s worth was said to fall by 50 percent once the tag was removed.) Looking back, it’s clear that the Beanie Baby craze was an economic bubble, fueled by frenzied speculation and blatantly baseless optimism. Bubbles are quite common, but bubbles over toys are not. Why did America lose its mind over stuffed animals?

Zac Bissonnette’s new book The Great Beanie Baby Bubble does an excellent job explaining the basic economic factors behind Beanie Babies’ success. Ty Warner, the mastermind behind the toys, had a remarkable talent for manipulating supply and demand. (He’s also a borderline recluse and a profoundly troubled man; among other things, Warner repeatedly dated the same women as his father—at the same time—and became a plastic surgery addict.) First, Warner understuffed his toys so that they were flexible and “looked real,” in his words. Second, he sold only small batches of each new Beanie Baby to independent businesses, refusing to supply large quantities to big-box retailers and fixing the price of each toy at $5. Third, Warner “retired” every animal after a fairly short amount of time, introducing a new toy in its stead. This strategy created a near-hysteria each time a Beanie Baby was released, sending fans rushing out to local stores to buy the new toy before supplies disappeared forever.

All of this explains, in simple market terms, how Warner manipulated supply and demand to build a frenzy for his product. But Bissonnette’s book is disappointingly short on psychological explanations for why Americans were eager to shell out at least hundreds of millions of dollars for rather conventional toys. (The total spent on Beanie Babies is unclear because ever-secretive Warner refused to release his company’s earnings.) In one sardonic passage, Bissonnette cites Sigmund Freud’s belief that “the root of collecting” lies in “sex and toilet training,” as “the collector … directs his surplus libido into an inanimate object: a love of things.” Bissonnette also hypothesizes that collecting Beanie Babies “reflect[s] a regression to the soothing and comfort provided by objects during childhood,” and that the acquisition of a scarce, valued item activates our endorphins.

While Freudian theory hasn’t held up well to scientific analysis, some sort of mental disturbance might account for the more extreme cases of Beanie Baby addiction—like the retired soap opera star who lost his children’s six-figure college fund investing in the toys, or the man who committed murder over what a detective described as a “Beanie Baby deal gone bad.” But does it really explain what sent millions of Americans—soccer moms and CEOs, blue-collar workers and yuppies, Ph.D.s and high-school dropouts—utterly bonkers over a brand of plush stuffed animals?

Maple the Bear was the first to go. 
Frances Mountain, left, sorts out Beanie Babies with her ex-husband, Harold Mountain, in a Las Vegas courtroom in 1999. The couple was unable to split the collection by themselves, so they spread it on the courtroom floor and divided it up under the judge’s supervision. Maple the Bear was the first to go.
Photo by Reuters

A paper by David Tuckett and Richard Taffler, two economics professors with training in psychoanalytical theory, suggests Bissonnette’s conjecture isn’t that far off. Tuckett and Taffler specifically examine the dot-com bubble, but their theory applies to all modern bubbles. According to the economists, humans occasionally view exciting new creations as “phantastic objects,” which overwhelm us and skew our sense of reason. Our brains begin to tell us that by obtaining these “magical” objects, we will achieve some profound level of satisfaction—something akin to transcendence. The thrill of the chase then muffles our ability to rationally evaluate the actual worth of the object, and others’ willingness to go along with our fantasy reinforces our suspension of logic.

All this theorizing may sound like so much argle-bargle. But the meat of Tuckett and Taffler’s thesis builds on a famous theory of bubbles by renowned economist Charles Kindleberger. According to Kindleberger, every bubble has four basic stages: a grand new development that shocks the market; “euphoria” over that development; a sudden “boom” in sales and speculation; and, eventually, panic when the bubble bursts. Tuckett and Taffler approve of Kindleberger’s model, adding a coda—“revulsion”—to describe the collective hangover society experiences when it realizes it has invested in junk.

In the Kindleberger model (with the Tuckett/Taffler twist), Beanie Babies are a kind of magical object whose plush perfection captured the imagination of a small subset of early adopters. Soon Beanie Baby collectors sprang up to spread the toy’s transcendent joy, and then everybody needed each new Beanie Baby to complete his or her collection. But Warner limited the number of each animal produced, leading both buyers and sellers scrambling to purchase new releases and, in the process, wildly overvaluing their worth. Eventually, the fantasy faded—for most people, after all, Beanie Babies do not bring about nirvana—and the bubble burst. Buyers lost interest, sellers struggled to offload their surpluses, and the whole country felt rather gross about fixating on stuffed animals.

Andrew Odlyzko, a mathematician and bubble expert, proposes a simpler theory explaining speculative panics in his study on the British Railway Mania of the 1840s. Odlyzko credits Railway Mania in part to a “collective hallucination,” an extreme form of groupthink wherein a significant chunk of society feverishly buys into a shared dream with no regard for the skeptics and naysayers. (Some scholars think Jesus’ resurrection might have been an acute instance of collective hallucination.)

The existence of groupthink has been confirmed in a rich assortment of studies, and Odlyzko’s theory expands the idea to economic bubbles. Under his analysis, the initial coterie of Beanie Baby collectors comprised an in-group that shared the great secret of Beanie Babies’ worth. As more people discovered the toy, they yearned to learn this secret and partake in the impending financial success of the Beanie Babies market. Soon, millions of Americans were gripped by the conviction that they had discovered an easy path to personal wealth. And thanks to their collective hallucination of Beanie Babies’ worth, none of these collectors ever realized that the only thing driving the Beanie Babies market was their own conviction that the toys were valuable.

These theories may explain the mass delusions that enabled a large chunk of the country to believe that a $5 Beanie Baby could eventually be worth thousands. What they never quite get at, however, is that initial spark of fascination: how the ineffable appeal of Beanie Babies turned them, and not one of a thousand other 1990s trends, into a collective mania. That allure can probably never be quantified.

But those who once loved Beanie Babies may still remember it. I certainly do, because I remember when I got my very first Beanie Baby. I was 7 and had just woken up from adenoidectomy surgery to see a family friend through the anesthesia haze. She leaned over my bed and laid Bruno the Bull Terrier Dog by my head. I grabbed Bruno, closed my eyes as the room started spinning, and threw up. Bruno stayed with me through my convalescence, and long after I lost interest in Beanie Babies, he remained perched on my nightstand. There was something sweet and comforting and innocent about him, something so tender and gentle and warm. Bruno was the kind of toy Ty Warner was trying to make for children when he accidentally created a speculative mania for adults.

In 2013, Warner pleaded guilty to tax evasion after admitting to hiding millions of dollars in a Swiss bank account. He was sentenced to probation but may face years of prison time if the Justice Department’s appeal is successful. Bruno the Bull Terrier Dog now sits at the back of my closet with hundreds of other floppy, forlorn toys. Today he sells for 36 cents, with the tag still attached.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Message for America: Nucor & its Ole Skool Ways

Good interview with Dan Dimicco. He speaks forthrightly and plainly about America, which is refreshing.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Lance Thomas' Attitude

Perseverance and hard work are often touted as the roads to success. But I remember once as a kid I hit a rough patch. It was a confusing time, and I reached out to someone who told me, "You're doing a lot of the right things, except perhaps the most important one; The way you look at things. Attitude is altitude, and altitude is consciousness."

5 Years After NCAA Title,

Thomas Embraces Long Road to NBA

Ten minutes. In reality, it was a matter of seconds but for Lance Thomas, Gordon Hayward’s halfcourt attempt lingered in the air for an eternity before the ball painstakingly made its way to the basket, clanged off the rim and fell to the court.

The buzzer blared, signaling Duke University’s two-point victory in the 2010 NCAA championship game over Butler University. Jon Scheyer jumped on Thomas’ back in celebration, sending his co-captain to the ground in a burst of chaos and excitement. Thomas hit his head on the court.

“I opened my eyes and confetti was falling all over me,” Thomas said. “It was amazing.”

Five years later, Thomas remembers the vivid details of the moment from his space in the New York Knicks’ visitors locker room at TD Garden. He has played in just two more games in the NBA than he did during his four-year career at Duke – a slower paced journey than he expected, but one he has embraced.

Thomas knew when he lifted the trophy the night of April 5, 2010, it did not guarantee him a spot in the pros. He returned to campus (with a hero’s welcome) to complete the semester and graduate. As June neared and NBA hopefuls prepped for the draft, Thomas did not expect to hear his name called. He had averaged 4.8 points and 4.8 rebounds as a senior, a ways away from strong consideration.

Thomas still believed he could play in the NBA, though. Instead of the draft, he viewed the D-League as his best route.

“I wasn’t really a guy who was on the radar like that,” Thomas told Basketball Insiders. “I was a proven winner, but I wasn’t really putting up NBA numbers to put myself in position to be drafted in the first round or anything like that. My main thing was, I just wanted the opportunity to show that I could be an NBA player. When I had the opportunity to play in the Development League, I was like, this is a no-brainer. I want to do that and try to prove it.”

Thomas was selected by the Austin Toros in the second round of the 2010 D-League draft. He was far from Cameron Indoor Stadium, but he described the Toros fanbase as “very great.” He wasn’t there for the hoopla anyways. Thomas credits the coaching staff for working extensively with him on the skills he needed to take the next step and making him feel like he had a chance to accomplish his goal.

“It’s competitive,” Thomas said of the D-League. “It’s like a bunch of crabs in a barrel. Everybody wants to get to the NBA.”

The following summer, he was named to the U.S. team for the 2011 Pan American Games, a squad made up of D-League players during the lockout. From there, he received a training camp invite from the then-New Orleans Hornets. Thomas bounced around between the Toros and the Hornets before earning an NBA deal for the remainder of the season after a pair of 10-day contracts.

“A lot of days are tough,” he said. “ There are days when you just never know what’s going to happen – the trade deadline is coming up, the last two days of your 10-day contract, things of that nature. I’ve never been a guy to look over my shoulder. I just go for it. I never wonder what if.”

Thomas appeared in 106 games for the now-Pelicans over three seasons, averaging 3.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in 12.4 minutes. When the team released him in November of 2013, he decided to pursue basketball in China for the Foshan Dralions.

“Of course you always miss (the NBA),” he said.

He was determined to make it back. Last September, the Oklahoma City Thunder signed Thomas. He averaged 5.1 points and 3.4 rebounds in 20.5 minutes over 22 games, including 13 starts, before being traded to the New York Knicks in January as part of the Dion Waiters-Iman Shumpert-J.R. Smith deal.

The changes weren’t done yet. The Knicks waived him two days later, only to re-sign him on a pair of 10-day contracts. The New Jersey native is now posting a career-high 9.3 points and 3.4 boards in 24.6 minutes in his latest stop close to home.

Teammate Quincy Acy, who competed against Thomas in the Elite 8, has seen growth since their college years.

“He brings his hard hat to work every day,” Acy said. “He mostly played the four in college and now he can guard the one through five. That’s a testament to his hard work. (His journey) says a lot about him, his perseverance and his will to get where he wants to go. Nobody can tell him what he can’t do.”

Thomas understands success in the NBA is a process. He has never been one to rush his progress and is willing to be patient, putting in the work necessary to stick in the league. Knicks guard Shane Larkin noted the extra time he spends at practice and describes his work ethic as “100 percent pedal to the metal.”

“I never expected anything; I’ve never been like that,” Thomas said. “I’ve always wanted to take the next guy’s head off if I’m competing against him. I think that’s what’s fueled me to continue to play this game. My competitive nature and drive has gotten me where I’m at.”

The memories of winning a national championship at Duke will always be special to Thomas. The sound of the final buzzer and downpour of confetti are still clear in his mind after journeys through the D-League, NBA and overseas. He wants to be remembered as a person who “worked his butt off, and on top of that he’s a winner.” If that means paying his dues over the past five years, he’s all in.

“I really have no regrets with how my career has turned out,” Thomas said. “It’s been unique, to say the least. Everything I’ve had or accomplished in life has never been laid out on the red carpet for me. I think all the things that have been thrown my way in regard to this game makes my story that much better.”

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Bureaucrooks, Terror, and Trash

If you're going to sin, sin against God, not the bureaucracy; God will forgive you but the bureaucracy won't.
--Hyman Rickover

Today, the poster child for "terror" is ISIS. But here's a fact: Assad killed and terrorized in excess of ISIS. So did Pol Pot, one of the most vile pieces of crap in history, but we didn't care to give the latter any attention at all, and Assad is alive and well, with nary a mention these days in the msm.

Next year marks a watershed: the richest 1% will own 50% of the wealth. (1) In my mind, it doesn't take much to see what's going on, but Graeme Wood, in a multi-thousand word screed in The Atlantic, has upped the ante: the real terror lies out there, and its face is brown, strapped and alien. To misunderstand ISIS as fundamentally Muslim is to miss the mark.

While talking with an old college buddy about the Wood article, we came to a conclusion, irrespective of Wood's take: while we'd want to kill ISIS if they moved into our hood, it isn't privileged kids beheading and pillaging. By and large, these kids of ISIS -- and Boko Haram, Al Shabob, Al Qaeda... -- are poor. The brothers, cousins or cronies of Bin Laden -- let's not forget, he was a billionaire -- don't pick up AKs or strap on C4 and blow themselves up. But then, neither do the sons of Congress.

And it's not a simple matter -- as a recent cartoon illustrated -- of providing jobs. Social order is a complex thing. This is why "revolution" is far more than just chopping off -- beheading -- Mussolini's dome and dragging it around. Take a look at one element of modern society, trash, the non-human kind, in a de-stabilized environment, whether seized or undergoing the ousting of a despot:

1. Who's going to pick up your trash, and who's going to manage that?
2. Where's the money come from?
3. How's that money raised?
4. Who's responsible for doling it out?
5. Who does the accounting?
6. Where's the infrastructure; trucks, fuel, repairs, truck parts, supplies, let alone human resources like drivers, mechanics....
7. And, the rub perhaps lies in, how are you going to feel when the trash has piled up after a couple of weeks? A couple of months? What if it starts to smell like a barn, 24/7?

Multiply this by many times to account for the myriad things cities have, and of course, this social organization opens the door for death by bureaucracy. It's a tough slog, but the reality.

To put this in perspective, the Dodd-Frank Bill is 2,300 pages. The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission's report is 500 pages with 80 pages of notes. We're talking paper, TONS of it. The reality is that you and I know no one in their right mind is going to read either of those. And yet, both are related to the most monumental event of our time.

One more thing the bureaucrooks are great at: hoovering up your money. So much so that Cali now has more bureaucrooks than those in manufacturing.

This is where we are. This is what they do.

Why Does Maryland Have The Most Millionaires Per Capita? The Answer Might Make You Angry

The fat cats in Washington D.C. are living the high life, and they are doing it at your expense.  Over the past decade, there has been one area of the country which has experienced a massive economic boom.  Thanks to wildly out of control government spending, the Washington D.C. region is absolutely swimming in cash.  In fact, at this point the state of Maryland has the most millionaires per capita in the entire nation and it isn’t even close.  If you have never lived there, it is hard to describe what the D.C. area is like.  Every weekday morning, hordes of lawyers, lobbyists and government bureaucrats descend upon D.C. from the surrounding suburbs.  And at the end of the day, the process goes in reverse.  Everyone is just trying to get their piece of the pie, and it is a pie that just keeps on growing as government salaries, government contracts and government giveaways just get larger and larger.  Of course our founders never intended for this to happen.  They wanted a very small and simple federal government.  Sadly, today we have the most bloated central government in the history of the planet and it gets worse with each passing year.
If you were to ask most Americans, they would tell you that the wealthiest Americans probably live in cities such as New York or San Francisco.  But thanks to the Obama administration (and before that the Bush and Clinton administrations), the state of Maryland is packed with millionaires.  In particular, the Maryland suburbs immediately surrounding D.C. are absolutely overflowing with government fat cats that make a living at our expense.  Every weekday morning, huge numbers of them leave their mini-mansions in places such as Potomac and Rockville and drive their luxury vehicles to work in the city.  As the Washington Post has detailed, at this point approximately 8 percent of all households in the entire state of Maryland contain millionaires, and the rest of the area is not doing too shabby either…
In Maryland, nearly 8 out of every 100 households in 2014 had assets topping $1 million, giving the state more millionaires per capita than any other in the country, according to a new report from Phoenix Marketing International.
The rest of the Beltway isn’t lacking in millionaires either: The District and Virginia ranked in the top 10 among those with the highest number of millionaire households per capita in 2014. In Virginia, which was No. 6 on the list, 6.76 percent of the state’s 3.17 million households are millionaires. And in the District, which rounds out the top 10, 6.25 percent of its more than 292,000 households are millionaires.
And while not too many of them are millionaires, your average federal workers that toil in D.C. are doing quite well too.
Once upon a time, it was considered to be a “sacrifice” to go into “government service”.
Not anymore.
If you can believe it, approximately 17,000 federal employees made more than $200,000 last year.
Overall, compensation for federal employees comes to a grand total of close to half a trillion dollars every 12 months.
In fact, there are tens of thousands of federal employees that make more than the governors of their own states do.
Does that seem right to you?
If you want to live “the American Dream” these days, the Washington area is the place to go.  Just check out the following description of the region from the Washington Post
Washingtonians now enjoy the highest median household income of any metropolitan area in the country, and five of the top 10 jurisdictions in America — Loudoun, Howard and Fairfax counties, and Falls Church and Fairfax City — are here, census data shows.
The signs of that wealth are on display all over, from the string of luxury boutiques such as Gucci and Tory Burch opening at Tysons Galleria to the $15 cocktails served over artisanal ice at the W Hotel in the District to the ever-larger houses rising off River Road in Potomac.
And of course let us not forget the fat cats in Congress.
According to CNN, our Congress critters are now wealthier than every before…
The typical American family is still struggling to recover from the Great Recession, but Congress is getting wealthier every year.
The median net worth of lawmakers was just over $1 million in 2013, or 18 times the wealth of the typical American household, according to new research released Monday by the Center for Responsive Politics.
And while Americans’ median wealth is down 43% since 2007, Congress members’ net worth has jumped 28%.
Not only that, there are nearly 200 members of Congress that are actually multimillionaires
Nearly 200 are multimillionaires. One hundred are worth more than $5 million; the top-10 deal in nine digits. The annual congressional salary alone—$174,000 a year—qualifies every member as the top 6 percent of earners. None of them are close to experiencing the poverty-reduction programs—affordable housing, food assistance, Medicaid—that they help control. Though some came from poverty, a recent analysis by Nicholas Carnes, in his book White Collar Government: The Hidden Role of Class in Economic Policymaking, found that only 13 out of 783 members of Congress from 1999 to 2008 came from a “blue-collar” upbringing.
But even though almost all of them are quite wealthy, they don’t hesitate to spend massive amounts of taxpayer money on their own personal needs.
For example, according to the Weekly Standard, more than five million dollars was spent on the hair care needs of U.S. Senators alone over one recent 15 year period…
Senate Hair Care Services has cost taxpayers about $5.25 million over 15 years. They foot the bill of more than $40,000 for the shoeshine attendant last fiscal year. Six barbers took in more than $40,000 each, including nearly $80,000 for the head barber.
And in one recent year, an average of $4,005,900 was spent on “personal” and “office” expenses per U.S. Senator.
So the grand total would have been over 400 million dollars for a single year.
That seems excessive, doesn’t it?
And even when they end up leaving Washington, our Congress critters have ensured that they will continue to collect money from U.S. taxpayers for the rest of their lives
In 2011, 280 former lawmakers who retired under a former government pension system received average annual pensions of $70,620, according to a Congressional Research Service report. They averaged around 20 years of service. At the same time, another 215 retirees (elected in 1984 or later with an average of 15 years of service) received average annual checks of roughly $40,000 a year.
If you can believe it, there are quite a few former lawmakers that are collecting federal pensions for life worth at least $100,000 annually.  The list includes Newt Gingrich, Bob Dole, Trent Lott, Dick Gephardt and Dick Cheney.
Of course the biggest windfalls of all are for our ex-presidents.  Most Americans would be shocked to learn that the U.S. government is spending approximately 3.6 million dollars a year to support the lavish lifestyles of former presidents such as George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
1. Richest 1 Percent To Own More Than Half Of The World's Wealth By 2016, Oxfam Finds

Friday, November 28, 2014

Ronda Rousey: Judo Fundamentals

Here's a pretty good breakdown of Ronda's core judo skills. As usual, fundamentals form the basis in any art, and she's no exception.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Vague yet Good but there's Ackman

Hank told me that an analyst by the name of Richard Vague was on Book TV talking about EM08, specifically, on re-structuring the debt so that the economy could get back to spending instead of tightening its belt. I don't know how long C-Span leaves this up, but Here's the link.

While what Vague proposes is much more sensible than the insanity of the Bush2/Obama admins and Bernanke/Yellen Feds, the essential problem is this: it's socialist and utterly, completely unfair. Particularly with what we now know about the massive fraud and non-disclosure (in particular, ninja loans, robo-signing and not disclosing the real state of toxicity on behalf of Merril when then BoA Chair/Pres.CEO Ken Lewis and Merril CEO John Thain held their dog and pony press con announcing the takeover of Merril by BoA which subsequently and justifiably -- led to shareholder litigation).

(I do think his theory of meltdowns being the result of non-governmental debt -- a better way, methinks, of describing it, rather than constantly differentiating and synthesizing between "private and business" -- is interesting and makes sense. I'm going to sit with it a while.)

A much saner and fairer strategy is converting debt to equity. In other words, the bondholders have to take a loss (at least temporarily) or, in the popular parlance, take a haircut. I remembered hearing this the first time from Pershing Square's Bill Ackman on the Charlie Rose Show from April 24, 2009.

Bonds, like equities, are bets. And sometimes, you lose a bet. Plain and simple. But listen to these segments and you'll hear them all concur that the bondholders would rather take money from us to cover their losses. Duh. That frickin' Bill Gross plus Mohammed El-Arian probably got on the horn to Bush 2 and Bernanke as well.

Yet, it is kind of amazing to hear this level of frankness on the Charlie Rose Show. I think that worthless Sorkin is the one who calls out Gross. So maybe he's a little less worthless.

The other notable thing is the ersatz nattering by Sorkin and Kate Kelly, the former the NYT's econ wunderkind -- don't ask me why -- and the hopelessly lost (irrelevant? afterthought?) Kate Kelly of the WSJ. Watch her as the director cuts to her as Ackman schools the audience on why debt to equity makes sense. She looks like a freshman witnessing Wittgenstein.

THIS -- Ackman's lesson -- was THE way to have handled EM08. Not socialism, which both parties have their hands in. By the way, I'm attributing this strategy to Ackman but am aware this is just a bankruptcy re-structuring. Makes sense to me.

Note: I couldn't find the entire segment, but these two parts have Ackman kicking ass. The difference in gravitas between him and the others -- and that includes Nobel Laureate Stiglitz -- is remarkable. Now notice: Sorkin and Kelly? Journalists. Stiglitz? Academician. Ackman? Entrepreneur.

Nothing wrong with the other professions, but after listening to these clips, who do you think has a grip?

He can be controversial, as his recent bouts with Herbalife attest to, but in mere months after the fall of 2008, Ackman had the way out.

Talk about a missed opportunity. 


Friday, September 05, 2014

The Finished Product: Auntie Frances

Frances Sumiko Yoshida-Wiley

Since the Wileys lived 2,000 miles away, we rarely saw one another, but the news of Auntie's passing of course still hurts us all out here in Cali. So, I told my cousin Kim that while I wanted to memorialize her mom, it then hit me; with such limited interaction, what would I say? I'd pretty much committed my Wiley recollections when writing about her son, cousin Joey.

Given that my approach would have to be wide-angled, where's the hook? More, is such an approach worthy? In the end, ascribing thoughts and feelings to someone you've affection for and have very limited interaction with is tough.

But this is Ma's sister.

The ego pushes on, but honestly, because I feel so strongly about the Yoshidas, and in this moment, my mother's sister, that generation and their time.

So here's to some reaching, some talking about Auntie via indirect lenses. After quite a bit of pondering, I think the heart of it is this American story whose great chapter is coming to a close. Like Ma's passing, the Yoshidas – the Nisei -- mark a unique time in American history, where rising from the depths through a get it done attitude into cool, fresh air was done en masse. I, and all of my cousins, are the fruits, the living embodiment of an America that was. Not earth shattering, but it's our story.

The saying is, you can't choose your family, but the Yoshidas are lucky; we come from solid stock. The family huddles don't happen anymore, so, yes, here's to nostalgia. Really, it isn't so much about nostalgia, but reverence. I can see how that sounds corny, but I'm long past the point where what the Yoshidas slogged through impressed me. Romantic, yes, and not wide-eyed, but a bit misty-eyed.

There's all of that and the practicality of speaking from the heart about a woman I barely knew but am bound to through blood and affection. My mother's sister.


Auntie said something the last time I saw her in Chi: I'd kill for my kids, and it's something that's always stuck. While the context is lost, the intensity isn't; she meant it with every fiber. I'm agnostic when it comes to astrology, but it does seem that the nature of us Cancers is to feel intensely; you see, here's something Auntie and I share besides blood: we have the same birthday.

Having read Auntie's bio forwarded by Kim made me smile: intellectual prowess, artistic bent and a touch of precociousness – chutzpah, maybe...? – stood her out among 7 brothers and sisters.

Auntie on the left bent over leaning on May, Ma on the ground. The BEST.
Her siblings shared that penchant for cracking up duly noted when writing about Ma. Seems whenever the Yoshida sisters got together something would set them off, and Auntie Frances, Auntie May and Ma seemed to always be removing their glasses at some point, crying tears of laughter. Since I was an only kid, the Wileys or any family that rolled through LA, would
May, Frances, Ross, Ma, Kathy. Auntie's already got the bug!
invariably stay with us, so ringside seats seeing these scenes play out are enduring memories. Luck's given us Yoshida cousins a great family – and stor
ies -- separated by geography but united by such a great spirit.

When the Wiley brood rolled through LA back in the day the cousins stayed with us, and I went from an only child to swimming in cousins. There's a couple of good stories in there. Here's one; Ma and Auntie had us boys in the bathroom prepping us for a bath. So, I stripped down to the tighty whiteys and then stood up straight. Auntie, a shock of hair across her face, was bent over, going through the task that for her was by now routine, busily pulling up Larry's or Jimi's – or both! -- t-shirt over his head. I think Joey was already butt naked.

Auntie: C'mon Geoffrey!
Me: Uh....
Auntie: (not missing a beat) Oh! You haven't got anything I haven't seen, and if you do, show me!

Amidst her intellect and artistic leanings, I think that straightforward pragmatism is something her generation had, but in many ways, is lost today. Yeah, life's uncomfortable at times and can be tough. Shut up and play yer guitar!

America recently crossed a milestone: More of us now live in cities than rural areas. Coming up in Lindsay, the Yoshidas were country as all get out, and so it was with Auntie developing her dislike of chicken from plucking them. There's much more, of course, even in the face of my romanticizing the Brokaw dubbed 'Greatest Generation.” Bottom line, I'd bet that not one of the 25 Yoshida cousins has ever plucked a chicken (at least willingly), much less experienced a day of hunger.

Despite the betrayal of her country to her family, Auntie Frances got on with it. She couldn't have been happy about the prison camps (let's call them what they were), but her drive to excel was evident; her masters from Chicago and especially her 8 kids, the ones she'd kill for. And a gaggle of grandkids.

It's funny how getting older brings the essentials into focus, nearer, and yet still beyond reach. Why are we here? Auntie Frances and her generation didn't beseech the heavens from rooftops, nor did they indulge in selfies much less in “finding themselves,” but just got on with business. “No monku-ing” was their motto. They are the last of an America that needs some of that old school grit now.

We watched Michael Jordan perform jaw-dropping feats, but hidden away are the endless days and nights of practice. The Malcolm Gladwell codified "10,000 hours" minimum practice it takes to become good at something.

I hated every minute of training, but I said, 'Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.
--Muhammad Ali

So, there's the finished product that was Auntie Frances, a drive to excel and the bevy of good people she produced and helped. It's not the spotlight or in the championship ring. It's pulling off my cousin's t-shirt as a little kid to get ready for a bath. It's being mad at Joey and trying to whup his butt but giving up and flopping in a chair because he was making her laugh so much. A shock of hair and the Yoshida love of laughter. 

No, it's not the bright lights, it's answering life with getting down to it. Being a country girl from Lindsay, what's hidden is the practice, those plucked chickens.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Jay Adams

We weren't really surfers in the traditional sense you know? We're from VENICE.
--Skip Engblom

[Jay's] the original.
--Shogo Kubo

[Jay's] the real thing, an original seed, the original virus that infected all of us. He was beyond comparison.
--Stacy Peralta

It's fitting that R.I.P. is "rip," because that's what this LA legend did.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Ten Trillion Reasons

Your money at work. For them.
It's all about getting information...they call it trading stocks, but it's really trading information. That's what we were doing.

--Turney Duff, former Galleon trader

Just peeped Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street, and I'd bet the average person would say it's about the craziest story ever. I'd get that. But Jordan Belfort's slimey infomercial rat-a-tat buggery is chump change compared to the black hole that's the state of finance now.

Yesterday, Frontline aired To Catch a Trader, whose bullseye was puss sack Stevie Cohen (SAC Capital). Given that I've devoted a good amount of time to looking at finance now, not much these days surprises me. One thing did; "expert networks," camouflage for leakers on the inside who personally profit by leaking info (in advance, of course) to traders.

Turney Duff related how he picked up a call intended for Rajaratnam with a tip on Amazon. Raj wasn't around, so Duff took the call and the info. It being his first experience with insider rigging, he hung up and wondered what he should do.

He ended up placing a bet and "making" 500 g's in 30 minutes.

But it's what Duff says after this that's key, and I paraphrase: "I thought, 'Gee, if I could get a call like this every day, I could be a great trader too.' So I determined that I needed my own 'whisper guy' too."

Poker players don't cheat. In fact, gamblers are, at least when it comes to gambling, some of the most ethical and honest people I've ever encountered. But in this EM08 world where up is down, gangster dons like JPMC, Goldman and HSBC get away with historic looting, while nothing is done to police them -- even in the wake of their historic crimes! Meanwhile, walk into a Vegas casino and you'll have a camera up your ass and are surveilled at every turn.

Today, about half a decade after EM08's initial rumblings, we've reached another historic mark: aggregate U.S. debt (fed, state, muni, mortgages, student loans, credit cards, auto...): sixty trillion. There is, simply, no turning back.