Sunday, December 31, 2006

Another View of the Saddam Hussein Execution writer Juan Cole seems to think that Saddam's death was about revenge and not justice.

And, based on what Mr. Cole says, it appears that the execution had more religious significance than first thought:

The tribunal also had a unique sense of timing when choosing the day for Saddam's hanging. It was a slap in the face to Sunni Arabs. This weekend marks Eid al-Adha, the Holy Day of Sacrifice, on which Muslims commemorate the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son for God. Shiites celebrate it Sunday. Sunnis celebrate it Saturday –- and Iraqi law forbids executing the condemned on a major holiday. Hanging Saddam on Saturday was perceived by Sunni Arabs as the act of a Shiite government that had accepted the Shiite ritual calendar.

It certainly should not be the policy of the U.S. to promote religious divisions, whether intentional or not.

Asia Times Commentator Bearish

Global economy faces a dangerous year
By Jephraim P Gundzik

From the article:

America’s economic fairytale has turned into a nightmare and very few investors realize it. In addition to producing a sudden and sharp decline in household income by eliminating the prospect of new mortgage refinancing for many Americans, declining prices for new and existing homes will have a strong negative impact on the US financial system, severely restraining credit growth. Falling home prices, especially in what were once the hottest housing and mortgage markets in the US, have caused mortgage default rates and foreclosures to surge higher.

The combination of rising defaults, foreclosures and falling collateral values is beginning to weaken the balance sheets of mortgage lenders, including several of America’s largest banks. Growing weakness in the banking sector is very alarming. Banking sector and economic crises in many countries over the past 25 years can be traced to overly enthusiastic credit growth used to finance either capital investment or real estate speculation, or both. Japan offers a stunning example of what can happen after a real estate bubble bursts.

The Federal Reserve appears determined to let financial markets “self-correct” in order to adjust interest rates to changing expectations for economic growth and inflation. Self-correction is a defining feature of financial markets. However, with the Fed rudderless, it is very unlikely that this self-correction will occur in an orderly and gradual manner. Rather, such self-correction will be sudden and sharp.

This is very similar to what bloggers Mike Shedlock (Mish's Global Economic Analysis), Barry Ritholtz (The Big Picture) and Charles Smith (Of Two Minds) have been saying. Calculated Risk leaves it open as a possibility. The Housing Bubble Blog is warning about such a collapse in housing.

Mr. Gundzik is just one opinion from Asia. Other than Fox News, I don't know of any commentators that are taking a contrary view. Does this view represent the consensus of the investment community? It's that "such self-correction will be sudden and sharp" that has me leery of investing in the stock market right now.

Should Mortgage Brokers Steer People Away from High-risk Loans?

Elizabeth Warren asks the question: "If stock brokers must help investors with $100,000 to invest in the stock market avoid certain risks, should mortgage brokers be required to do the same for those borrowing $100,000 to buy a home?"

Click on the title link to see her argument for it.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Is this a Teapot Dome Scandal part deux?

From the New York Times:

WASHINGTON, Dec. 29 — The Justice Department is investigating whether the director of a multibillion-dollar oil-trading program at the Interior Department has been paid as a consultant for oil companies hoping for contracts.

The director of the program and three subordinates, all based in Denver, have been transferred to different jobs and have been ordered to cease all contacts with the oil industry until the investigation is completed some time next spring, according to officials involved.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation had not been announced publicly, said investigators were worried that senior government officials had been steering huge oil-trading contracts to favored companies.

Any such favoritism would probably reduce the money that the federal government receives on nearly $4 billion worth of oil and gas, because it would reduce competition among companies that compete to sell the fuel on behalf of the government.

If the allegations prove correct, they would constitute a major new blot on the Interior Department’s much-criticized effort to properly collect royalties on vast amounts of oil and gas produced on land or in coastal waters.

The Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service, which oversees royalty collections, is now the target of multiple investigations by Congress and the Interior Department’s inspector general.

Those investigations are focused on allegations that the agency ordered its own auditors to abandon claims of cheating by large oil companies; that the agency’s arcane rules for calculating sales value and royalties make it easier for companies to understate their obligations; and that the agency’s basic sources of data are riddled with inaccuracies and are unreliable.

Lex Taliones

Lex Taliones: literally, "Law as Revenge" (also known as "an eye for an eye").

News came late last night that Saddam Hussein was executed last night for crimes against humanity. I am still sorting out my feelings about the matter. One the one hand, I am not opposed to the death penalty; on the other hand, I think it should be used in only the most extreme circumstances. Having said that, lex taliones is not, in my mind, a good justification for the death penalty. I think that the death penalty should only be used as a means of protecting the public when no other means can be used.

I'll admit it is possible that Saddam was one of those cases. It is well-known that Saddam liked the Godfather movies and wanted to emulate the somewhat fictionalized crime-boss figure when he ruled Iraq. There is no doubt that Saddam was a bad guy and hurt -- even killed -- a lot of people wrongfully. But the question that Thomas Friedman of the New York Times asked was never answered: "is Saddam the way he is because Iraq is what it is, or is Iraq the way it is because Saddam is who he is?"

As I write this, I think of the short story The Lottery. And I wonder if Saddam Hussein became the scapegoat for an endemic problem in Iraq's culture. What if we find out that anyone who vies for power in Iraq simply becomes another Saddam-like figure?

The violence in Iraq has only gotten worse since we invaded. Law and Order have never effectively been established. You can say that it is partially our fault for taking in "just enough troops to lose." The country is falling, or has fallen, into civil war. Many Americans, like myself, cannot fully comprehend how people can have differences so great that they would be willing to kill entire neighborhoods -- even cities -- of residents because differences in race, tribal affiliation or religious beliefs. However, here in America we had a civil war over the issue of slavery -- which at the time had a connection to Southern Christians' reading of passages in the Bible that slavery was acceptable; and we enslaved an entire race of people because of the endemic belief that that race was inferior. We have come a long way since then.

Based on how things are playing out, things will only get worse in Iraq before they get better. That is, if they ever do.


A commentator over at Daily Kos who is from Cairo, Egypt, pointed out that the execution was carried out "on the most important feast in the Muslim calendar: Eid al-Adha, or Feast of the Sacrifice." He continued: "My neighbors here in Cairo must have been slaughtering their sheep just as the trap door opened. I wonder if they appreciate the irony."

Friday, December 29, 2006

Universal Health Care is the Answer

Poster Red Planet has made a comment on Universal Health Care over at Warren Reports. From his post:

Universal, single-payer health care (definitely NOT the industry plan) will free up hundreds of millions of dollars currently used unproductively to fund competing private health bureaucracies, their duplication of efforts, mass confusion, profits, coverage exclusions, payment dodges and legal entanglements. Universal, single-payer health care will relieve American employers of the unreasonable and unconscionable requirement to be the provider of good health for their employees, and free them to focus their human and financial resources on becoming better global competitors.

That's the crux of the issue. Insurance is supposed to be about shared risk. But the game among private insurers is to accept risk only from those who are at the least risk, and shun those who are at the greatest risk. So long as the game is competition among private employers and their private insurers, and the incentives for both are to shun risk, you can bet that those most at risk will have no coverage, or, if they do, their coverage will disappear as soon as those chronic symptoms take over their lives. Soon they, too, will be on Medicaid.

The only fair, equitable, practical and affordable health care system entails universal risk sharing, which results in a single-payer system.


You know, as I think about this, doesn't this sound like a kind of moral hazard that benefits health insurance companies?

New Bankruptcy Law Makes Credit Counselors Lose Money

From Credit Slips Blog:

The big news is the funding deficit the agencies report from providing bankruptcy-related counseling. Waivers of fees were given in about 15% of cases, and apparently even when fees are collected for pre-filing counseling, the agencies report a shortfall of about $12 in providing each session.

Yeah, but will they lobby Congress to repeal the new law? Probably not.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Is America Finally Ready for National Health Care?

From the article:

Few mention this, but the American healthcare system is something of a mistake. It blossomed out of a World War II tax reform meant to guard against corporate war profiteering. Liberals, with their usual combination of good intentions and inadequate foresight, imposed massive marginal tax rates on corporations, effectively freezing their profits at prewar levels. But the law had a loophole: Corporations could funnel their wartime riches into employee benefits, such as healthcare, thus putting the cash to use within their company. And so they did, creating the employer-based healthcare system.

But healthcare was simpler in the 1940s, and far less expensive. In the 21st century, it's not simple at all. Once a perk of employment, health insurance is now a necessity, and a structure that dumps such power, complexity and cost in the laps of employers is grotesquely unfair to both businesses and individuals. There's no logic to an auto manufacturer running a multibillion-dollar health insurance plan on the side; it should stick to making cars. There's no excuse for pricing the self-employed and entrepreneurial out of the market. And there's no reason the owner of a three-employee start-up should have to go to bed with a heavy conscience because his coffee shop can't pay for chemotherapy.

But health insurance is not only the inexplicable responsibility of business; it is a big business, which is why the system survives. The medical-industrial complex is a massive, remarkable beast, consuming a full one-ninth of the American economy and offering astonishing profits to many of the participants (indeed, Big Pharma was the most profitable industry in the U.S. from the 1980s until 2003, when energy companies wrested away the top spot). As with any lucrative industry, the winners are resistant to reforms, and they have a formidable army of politically lobbyists, PR specialists and image consultants helping to preserve their position, to preserve a mistake.


Surrounded by an unlikely array of union leaders and corporate chief executives, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has unveiled an inventive, comprehensive reform plan that would end the employer system forever. What businesses pay in employee premiums would be redirected to employee raises; insurers would offer their plans through state associations that would no longer allow price discrimination for reasons of health or job status; and everyone would have to buy in. Universal coverage would be achieved in under two years.

The most compelling evidence that resistance to reform is futile, however, is coming from the insurers themselves. Cognizant that Congress and the nation are tiring of the current dystopia, the insurance industry recently released its own plan for universal healthcare.

It's a bad plan, to be sure. Its purpose is more to preserve the insurance industry's profits than improve healthcare in this country. But the endorsement of universality as a moral imperative, and the attempt to get in front of the coming efforts at reform, mark the emergence of a distinct rear-guard mentality within the insurance industry. Their game is up, and they're turning some of their attention to shaping their future rather than betting that they can continue protecting their present.


Insurers want to retain their ability to discriminate against the ill and the old; conservatives want individuals to assume more risk and expense in order to force wiser health decisions; liberals want the government to guarantee universality and utilize its massive market power to bargain prices down to levels approximating those paid by other developed countries.

What's important, though, is that for the first time since the early years of the Clinton administration, these arguments are being made, and employers, insurers, politicians and, most crucially, voters are making their way back to the table.

The realization that our illogical, mistaken healthcare system can't go on forever has dawned, and so it will end. The question now is what replaces it.

No matter what you call it: national health care, universal health care / insurance, they are all basically the same concept. This is an idea whose time has come. The sooner we can get it, the better off we will be.

Debt Levels Rise Again

The Northern Trust, an investment management company, has put out a opinion paper in response to the Federal Reserve's flow-of-funds report. It can be found here.

From the paper:

Some might respond that with all the different sources of credit available to households today, they do not need to hold as large a ratio of liquid assets as in the past. To this I would respond with three counter-arguments. Firstly, households already have borrowed so much that their leverage ratio is at a post-WWII high (see Chart 13). Secondly, households have already borrowed so much that their debt service burden is at a 25-year record high (see Chart 14). And thirdly, residential real estate, which accounts for 30.5% of the total market value of household assets (see Chart 15), is the single largest asset in households’ portfolios compared with deposits, credit market instruments, corporate equities (about 44% of which are held on their behalf in pension funds and insurance companies) and other tangible assets. Of these other asset categories, residential real estate probably is the least liquid, aside from used refrigerators (other tangible assets). In sum, households have never been as highly levered as they are now or as illiquid as they are now, and their single largest asset is in danger of actually falling in value.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The New Apprentice

During the Christmas break, I did some resting and watched a little TV. A new commercial for Donald Trump's The Apprentice came on. According to the commercial, the winners get to live in a lavish mansion, while the losers will be destined to live in tents in less than ideal circumstances.

I have previously commented on Trump's new book with Robert Kiyosaki here and here.

Based on the commercial that I saw, I am starting to wonder if the wealthy aren't thinking that this is the type of society that we should create: the "winners" living in opulent luxury, while the "losers" should be relegated to living on the street, or at least in tents.

In fact, if you consider all of the "reality" shows that are on TV, you could get the impression that there is a kind of zeitgeist or milieu of the return of Social Darwinism. It seems to me that the movers and shakers of our society are trying to convince the masses that they all can win -- if only they apply themselves. However, if you play and lose, well then, to hell with you.

I don't know, but something seems terribly amiss with a culture that exalts such norms.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas!

And for your viewing pleasure, here is a video from TranSiberian Orchestra, who I saw in concert in Oklahoma City a week ago. If you ever get the chance to see them in person, don't miss it. It is a one of a kind show. Think of a Christmas rock opera that has everything: lasers, fireballs, lights and even a spaceship stage with two performers on it while it "takes off." Quite a spectacle to see!

The show was completely sold out. It took every seat in the Ford Center, which is just about Oklahoma City's largest venue. The mayor gave the Key to the City to the conductor.

Friday, December 22, 2006

An Old Short Story as an Allegory

I remember reading a short story back when I was in college many years ago about a woman who borrowed a necklace from a friend for a ball that she was to be attending later that evening. For all intents and purposes, the story goes, the necklace sparkled and appeared to be made of flawless diamonds. So, the friend lent the lady her necklace with the promise that it would be returned after the party. Somehow, when the lady got home, she noticed that she had lost the necklace.

Unwilling to admit to her friend that she had lost the necklace, she went to a jewelry store and bought a replacement necklace that looked just like the one she had borrowed. The necklace was very expensive. In fact, it was too expensive for her to buy with her meager savings. So she went and borrowed the money from several lenders, many of whom charged her usurious interest rates.

To pay for the money she had borrowed, she worked extra jobs, haggled on every purchase she made and had a hard time making friends due to her miserliness. She never married. She had grown wrinkly and gray quickly in life.

About twenty years later, she saw her old friend again. Her friend still looked young and beautiful, and had lived a life relatively free of worry. She told her friend about how she had lost the necklace, but had gone and replaced it with a new diamond necklace that was exactly like her friend's that she had lost. She told her how she had to borrow the money and had spent her life working the extra jobs and haggling to pay back the debts -- growing old before her time.

Her friend replied: "Why, you didn't have to do that! That necklace was just cheap costume jewelry."

It was a sad story. The woman had overpaid for the replacement of the necklace she had lost. She had borrowed excessively to pay for an object because she didn't understand its real value.

As I think about this story, I think about all of the people who overpaid for houses or who were steered into loans at interest rates that are far above what are warranted that will grow old before their time. They will have to work extra jobs, haggle on all their purchases and work to pay off debts that are more than they should have -- all because they didn't know that the house that they bought wasn't really worth what they thought they were.

Many times, the value that was placed on their home was based on many fraudulent appraisals. Some of it will be based on foolish speculation and mania. In the end, however, there will be a large segment of the population that will suffer the loss of enjoyment of life because they will be tied to the debt they incurred trying to buy a diamond house when the costume jewelry house will do just fine.

Don't feel less of yourself if you are wearing the cheap imitation jewelry to the party of life. When tomorrow comes, no one will really care whether you wore real diamonds or cheap imitations. The people who pay more attention to the ornaments you are wearing than the delight of your company, friendship and conversation have misplaced priorities anyway.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Mistletoe and Wine

Besides Mark Heard, another artist that I have enjoyed listening to is Cliff Richard -- considered to be the "British Elvis." He is amazingly 66 years old now. I have never seen him with gray hair. I wonder how much hair coloring he has to use to keep looking so young. (8^p)

Anyway, in the spirit of the holiday season, I present to you his Christmas hit, Mistletoe and Wine:

They Were Dreaming of a White Christmas

But I don't think this is what they had in mind.


Alas, I didn't feel or hear anything.


A client of mine who lives near the epicenter described the earthquake like a boom with about 5 seconds of a rolling, waving motion. She described it like "someone rolling a 1 ton bowling ball."

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Restrictions Ruled Unconstitutional

The Oklahoma Supreme Court yesterday ruled that limiting plaintiff's access to the courts in medical malpractice cases is unconstitutional.

From the article:

With eight of nine justices concurring, the court said the provision was a special law that unconstitutionally applies only to people filing medical negligence claims. People filing any other negligence claim don't have to comply with the provision, it said.

The law also creates an unconstitutional monetary barrier to access to courts because a person filing the malpractice lawsuit must spend between $500 and $5,000 for an expert opinion on the lawsuit's merit, the court said.

It also said the provision created a windfall for insurance companies that benefit from a decreased number of cases to defend but aren't required to implement post-tort reform rates that decrease medical malpractice insurance for physicians.

"These companies happily pay less out in tort-reform states while continuing to collect higher premiums from doctors and encouraging the public to blame the victim or attorney for bringing frivolous lawsuits,” the court's opinion stated.

The ruling grew out of a lawsuit filed in Okmulgee County by Monica Belinda Zeier against Zimmer Inc., and Dr. Theron S. Nichols over knee replacement surgery.

The trial judge dismissed the case because Zeier didn't have an affidavit from an expert that said the case had merit.

What will probably happen now is that the Oklahoma Legislature in its infinite wisdom will pass a new bill that says that all Plaintiffs in all lawsuits will have to obtain these expensive and pointless affidavits.

Hat Tip to Dustbury.

Real Estate Fraud Rising in the U.S.

From the article:

Real estate fraud has now firmly emerged on the FBI's radar as the country's fastest-growing white collar crime - all, in essence, polite forms of bank robbery. Industry losses ran to at least $606 million last year, it says. And the Treasury Department's suspicious-activity reports are up 35 percent this year. The Internal Revenue Service's criminal case numbers in mortgage fraud have been doubling every two years through the first half of this decade.

What is not stated is the rip-off of the American consumer as the inflated home appraisals push market values up beyond what is warranted -- and above what middle class Americans can afford. That does not even mention how many American consumers will be forced into bankruptcy because they, in their longing to buy a home, will have their dreams dashed on the rocks of the bankruptcy court because of exorbitant greed.

When homes are sold, the appraisal is based on camparable sales of other homes, or "comps" as they are known in the real estate industry. As inflated appraisals get factored into the market, other homes are expected to sell for similar prices.

Again, from the article:

In over 80 percent of the cases, scammers are helped by an insider, the FBI says. One of them was Jerome Mayne, a former loan officer who spent time in prison before becoming a motivational speaker in Eden Prairie, Minn. "The buyer they sent me was completely full of holes, fake everything, and I knew darn well that these guys were slippery enough to try to pull it off," says Mr. Mayne. A bottle of expensive booze and $500 cash helped grease the wheels, he admits.

Unraveling such gangs takes time and expertise, which has become the focus of law enforcement and industry professionals across the country. Working in their favor, at least, are solid paper trails.

"Usually when we complete an investigation, we end up with a spectrum of actors, from closing attorneys to brokers to appraisers, organizers, recruiters, and straw buyers," says Ms. Nelan. "It's fairly sophisticated, and it takes a lot of people to do it."

One of the toughest things for prosecutors is sorting out who's guilty. One group of recent perpetrators turned out to be clueless senior citizens in Alabama, who OK'd ploys to inflate their income in order to "invest" in real estate, says Linda Finley, a civil attorney who prosecutes such fraud cases in Atlanta. "It's gotten to the point where it's really hard to figure out who the actual victims are."

Another factor is the late-night TV ads and "motivational speakers" that touted how people became "overnight millionaires" buying and selling homes. I read somewhere that many of these motivational speakers were simply teaching people how to commit real estate fraud.

For more education on real estate fraud you can also go to the Flipping Frenzy website.

Christian vs. Christ Follower

Here are some videos that parody the Apple/Mac vs. PC commercials on TV. The videos contrast "bumper-sticker" Christianity with a more relaxed and "down to earth" concept of Christian living.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

I am like the guy on the right.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Collection Abuses by Medical Creditors

The post is found at Credit Slips. Credit Slips is a blog that focuses on debt problems, bankruptcy and collection abuses.


The voiceover has not been added yet; but it will be soon. Stay tuned.

Top forms of Mortgage Lending Fraud


If you are buying or refinancing a house, watch out for the "Dirty Dozen" tricks by finance companies.

The link is a Word document.

No Worries...

From Calculated Risk:

Dr. Christine Chmura, president and chief economist at Chmura Economics & Analytics, says the economic pessimists aren't looking at the complete picture. She writes in the Richmond Times-Dispatch: Consumer debt high, but there's more to the story.
"...the Fed reports that household debt service payment (interest and principal) of homeowner mortgages relative to disposable personal income was 11.6 percent in the second quarter of 2007, the highest ratio on record since the data were first calculated in 1980.

Combining mortgage debt, consumer debt and other financial obligations -- auto leases, rental payments, homeowners insurance, property-tax payments gives the broadest view of debt for households.

Once again the Fed reports that this debt-service ratio for households is the highest on record: 14.4 percent of disposable personal income.

Couple this information about consumer debt with a significant slowdown in home-price acceleration, and pessimists point toward a soon-to-occur recession."
But Chmura says:
"[The pessimists] haven't looked at the complete picture.

A full balance sheet reflects assets as well as liabilities. As of the third quarter of 2006, household assets were at a record $67.058 trillion. Rising values in real estate and equities contributed to the increase.

More important, net worth hit a record $54.063 trillion during the same quarter.

So ... when the bills roll in over the next month, just remind yourself that the consumer engine that fueled an expansion still has the ability to support more spending and keep the economy robust."
Never mind that Chmura mixes flows with stocks, more importantly she could have written this piece in mid-1990 - just as the early '90s recession started.

Poster Tanta's response.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Fahrvergnügen, Italian Style

Fahrvergnügen means "driving enjoyment" in German. I experienced true fahrvergnügen driving a Lamborghini Jalpa (pronounced "halpa") today. It was only for about two miles, and not very fast. But I figure I am part of an exclusive group of people who have ever driven a Lamborghini (maybe 10,000 people).

I am so vain. 8-)

My feet barely fit in the cramped, awkwardly shaped cockpit. Most cars' drivers' seat area is like a box. The Lambo's driver's area is shaped more like a trapezoid than a box. Your left left foot has little room to depress the clutch -- especially if you have big feet, like me. It is a good thing we took the top off; I would have had a hard time sitting in the car otherwise. Anyway, after a couple of turns (and subsequent accelerations), I started to get the hang of it. It was over quick.

At least I didn't wreck the car. Unfortunately for an owner of a brand new one recently, an escaping suspected shoplifter at the Sooner Mall ran into a brand new Lambo with the dealer tags still on it. Some people who saw the news story thought it was the car I drove. Nope. The owner told me that his was safely parked away in his garage when the incident happened.

The owner was much more adept of maximizing its performance than I. So much so that I was asking him to slow down. (I am such a chicken. I am probably not made out to own such hot performance cars; I am too risk averse.) He drove me down to Tecumseh and back. He then, on the way back, drove down a very hilly road (by Oklahoma standards). That made for a pretty exhilarating ride -- especially the way he drove. We came back by a school while it was getting out. The owner honked the special horn as we drove by. I think the kids got a kick out of it.

Ah, but a mere taste of the Good Life is about all us mere mortals can hope for. I got a taste today. Now I want more.

Now I just need to test drive a Ferrari. Even a low-end Ferrari, say a 308, will suit me just fine.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

JibJab's 2006 Year In Review

This comedy video goes very fast. You may have to play it several times to understand all the words.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Exciting Hornets Game

A last-minute ticket became available from the Oklahoma Bar Association for tonight's Hornets basketball game. The Hornets played LaBron James (aka the Cleveland Cavaliers). Actually, that isn't fair. The Cavs had three very good players: besides, James, the Cav's center, a 7'3" giant who towered over pretty much anyone else on the court, was also a great shooter in his own right; and some guy with a big afro was very effective as a rebounder and shooter.

In the end, the Hornets prevailed for two critical reasons, from my vantage point: their notorious Third Quarter Drought™ did not materialize, and LaBron James went stone-cold in the fourth quarter.

It was an exciting game throughout. It was close right up to the very end. For most of the game, the Hornets were struggling just to stay even. It also seemed like the Cav's shots came easy, while the Hornets had to struggle for every basket. The Hornets pulled ahead in the last three minutes and managed to hold on until the clock ran out. The win is even more impressive if you consider that the Hornets are missing three of their best players due to injuries.

Chris Paul (aka CP3 -- his initials plus his jersey number) led the Hornets with 30 points and was named the game's MVP. The Hornets are now 10-8. When Peja Stojaković comes back from his injuries, the Hornets are going to be one formidable team.

On the Fritz

Apparently, just today, another Colorado pastor has resigned due to -- how to put this delicately -- a "personal failure" relating to his sexual orientation.

I remember many years ago when a big name TV preacher/singer broke down and cried proclaiming "I have sinned against you, Oh Lord." This prompted Christian rock singer Steve Taylor (who was attacked by the same crowd for using rock music) to write a song about the hypocrisy of people like this living two lives: one public one, wherein they had a veneer of righteousness; and another, private one, wherein they lived a life exactly against what they preached about the loudest.

Actually, when I read the Gospels, I see a Jesus who accepts human failure without condemnation. They woman at the well, the woman allegedly caught in adultery and many others. The issue of homosexuality was never dealt with in the gospels. However, based on the treatment of other sexual issues that I listed above, I get the distinct impression that the corrupting influence of human sexual needs was not a major issue for Jesus. Why it has become such a major issue for modern evangelicals can be puzzling to outsiders. I grew up in that culture, but it has been so many years since I was part of that mindset that it doesn't make sense anymore.

So, for your viewership, Steve Taylor's On the Fritz:

You can find the lyrics here.

Manic Monday on India's Stock Exchange

The Bombay Stock Exchange (known there as a "bourse") dropped 2.9% today.

From the article linked above:

The 30-share Sensitive Index had tumbled by 537.76 points, the biggest intra-day fall since September 11, but gained partially toward the end but closed 2.9 per cent lower at 13,399.43.

Now the question is: will India's stock market have any effect on American markets? From what I was able to gather from the article, much of the decline was fueled by a large drop in banking stocks.

Stock brokers said RBI's decision to hike CRR of banks by 50 basis points to tighten liquidity and contain inflation, triggered the fresh round of selling, particularly in banking sector stocks by foreign funds and retail investors.

I think "RBI" stands for the Royal Bank of India and CRR stands for Cash Reserve Ratio. Although the acronyms are not defined in the article.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Elizabeth Warren on the Bankruptcy Hearings

And Bob Lawless of Credit Slips has his report here.

And here is the CNBC interview of the opposing sides.

The really short report is: the Republicans did a final-day hearing where they had lots of witnesses say what a great law this was.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

NACBA Press Release on Bankruptcy Hearings

Senate Bankruptcy “Hearing” Is Last-Ditch Effort By Credit Card Industry To
“Slap Some Lipstick On The Pig” Of Failed Law Changes

Republican witnesses either blindly support failed bankruptcy law changes or are industry shills; Senate hearing is typical of industry-dominated process that led to anti-consumer law.

See the rest of the press release at the link above. It is a Word document.

Elizabeth Warren on the Housing Crisis

On top of the link above, check out the article referenced in the New York Times(subscription required).

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Text from a Birthday Card I received...

Your birthday reminds me of that great Oriental philosopher.

Yung No Mo.

Happy Birthday.

Gee, thanks for reminding me.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Stop Buying Stuff

Saturday Night Live spoof skit of financial management.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Shape of Wealth

I decided to go shopping yesterday, and then watch of the OU-Nebraska Big 12 Championship football game. (For those of you who visit this site from out of the country, that is American football, which is similar to rugby -- not soccer.)

Anyway, I did a little more reading of the Why We Want You to Make Us Richer, er, I mean, Why We Want You to be Rich by Donald Trump and Robert Kiyosaki. In it, on page 46, Mr. Kiyosaki refers to a Changing Demographic of the American populace. He claims the American populace is changing from a rhombus-shaped society (I was planning to upload some images to assist me, but Blogger is not working right for some reason) to an hourglass-shaped society where there are many rich and many poor, but few middle class.

***Update*** Blogger seems to be working again.

I think he has the wrong shape. We are turning more into a triangle-shaped society. There are still relatively few rich, but there are more poor and fewer middle class. Many of the middle class are sinking into the lower classes. But the number of middle class Americans that are rising to the upper classes -- even upper middle classes -- is not increasing at same rate as those falling into the lower classes. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to show that the percentage of middle class Americans that are moving up is increasing at all.

Mr Kiyosaki goes on to say on pages 47-48:

The problem is our nation is filled with people like my poor dad -- a good man, well-educated, hard-working, yet expecting the government to take care of him when he retired.

He then says that all the money that the baby boomers contributed to Social Security has "disappeared into a Ponzi scheme."

What a canard.

I, for one, cannot figure out what is so wrong with creating guarantees for workers who have worked all their lives so that they can live out their last days in relative financial security. Not everyone can become a CEO, top athlete, movie star, a Senator or a big-business owner. Many people are quite content to be your Average Joe; and there is nothing wrong with that. The fact is that very few people are cut out by genetics or training for greatness.

Mr. Kiyosaki is starting to come off in this book as a snooty and pretentious elitist. The fact is that one of the best and most stable retirement guarantees is Social Security. It is not like the President of the United States and his administration can filch the Social Security funds like Enron or Worldcom executives did with their employees retirement funds.

Before you throw eggs at me, I realize you could argue that Congress is spending the Social Security money irresponsibly to lessen the current account deficit. But that is not quite the same as dumping the very stock in a company that you own while at the same time telling your employees to buy the stock with their retirement money. It is this very type of graft that discredits Mr. Kiyosaki's argument to make everyone responsible for their own retirement. What we need, if we are to keep retirement plans private and encourage people to invest their money, is to have laws that strengthen the ability to recover money that is misappropriated.