21 October 2009

Concrete metaphor, or something?

Bill Fisher said, among other things:
But it's pretty hard to imagine pursuing much happiness if you happen to get sick, get cut off by your health insurance company, and find yourself on your way to medical bankruptcy. Isn't that the point where we invoke that other piece of great American mythology -- the one that says now we circle the wagons, pool our resources, and find a way for all of us to help all our fellow citizens?

So, everybody that has one toss in a loaf or a fish, and we'll see what we've got to work with.

I'd think Christendom would be pretty much all over this sort of thing. Doesn't seem to be happening, outside the Sojourner's-style fringe. Is that the fringe? Is it in fact happening? Etc.

04 August 2009

Duelling North Korea experts

From an NPR Online NewsHour article on Bill Clinton's trip to North Korea.
B.R. Myers, an expert on the North's state ideology at the South's Dongseo University told Reuters that Clinton's visit allows the North to show its residents, who face deepening poverty, that the nuclear weapons program is making the outside world take it more seriously and the visit will be certain to be portrayed as tribute by the United States.


Yun Duk-min of the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security in Seoul told Reuters the visit held out the possibility of a dramatic turnaround by North Korea that could lead to a new phase of negotiations.

Who to believe? You get no help from the NewsHour. Are either of the experts any more than far-left/right loons (universities and institutes are not immune, right?)? No help from Reuters, either. Trust Reuters to vet their quotees? Beats me.

GE cheated, but promises to be good in future

From the gummint, via an NYT/Reuters item.

The SEC alleges that GE used improper accounting methods to increase its reported earnings or revenues and avoid reporting negative financial results. GE has agreed to pay a $50 million penalty to settle the SEC's charges.
The four accounting violations were:
  • Beginning in January 2003, an improper application of the accounting standards to GE's commercial paper funding program to avoid unfavorable disclosures and an estimated approximately $200 million pre-tax charge to earnings.
  • A 2003 failure to correct a misapplication of financial accounting standards to certain GE interest-rate swaps.
  • In 2002 and 2003, reported end-of-year sales of locomotives that had not yet occurred in order to accelerate more than $370 million in revenue.
  • In 2002, an improper change to GE's accounting for sales of commercial aircraft engines' spare parts that increased GE's 2002 net earnings by $585 million.

That comes to $1,155 trillion in oopsies in 2002-2003, so the penalty is about 4.5%.

On the other hand, that was six or seven years ago, there ought to be corrections for inflation, the time value of money, the proceeds of the benefit to GE, whatever.

I'm betting GE made money on the deal, over all.

So, GE fulfilled its moral and legal fiduciary duty to maximize shareholder value (for some definition thereof), and all is right with the ("free" market economic) world.

Capitalism == PerverseIncentive, I guess.

GE [...] consented to the entry of an order permanently enjoining it from violating the antifraud, reporting, record-keeping and internal controls provisions of the federal securities laws.

We promise never to do anything bad, ever again.

So that's sorted, then. Let's make Exxon be nice next--if they'll consent, of course.

03 June 2009

Greg Palast: Grand Theft Auto -- How Stevie the Rat bankrupted GM

Palast on "irregularities" in the GM bankruptcy, on BuzzFlash. Capital shall be served.

Here's the scheme: Rattner is demanding the bankruptcy court simply wipe away the money GM owes workers for their retirement health insurance. Cash in the insurance fund would be replaced by GM stock. The percentage may be 17% of GM's stock -- or 25%. Whatever, 17% or 25% is worth, well ... just try paying for your dialysis with 50 shares of bankrupt auto stock.

Yet Citibank and Morgan, says Rattner, should get their whole enchilada -- $6 billion right now and in cash -- from a company that can't pay for auto parts or worker eye exams.


The law is darn explicit that grabbing pension money is a no-no. Company executives must hold these retirement funds as "fiduciaries." Here's the law, Professor Obama, as described on the government's own Web site under the heading, "Health Plans and Benefits."

The primary responsibility of fiduciaries is to run the plan solely in the interest of participants and beneficiaries and for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits.

(The law in question is Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), circa '74)


Filching GM's pension assets doesn't become legal because the cash due the fund is replaced with GM stock. Congress saw through that switch-a-roo by requiring that companies, as fiduciaries, must

...act prudently and must diversify the plan's investments in order to minimize the risk of large losses.
By "diversify" for safety, the law does not mean put 100% of worker funds into a single busted company's stock.

and finally

And it's been a good year for SeƱor Rattner. While the Obama Administration made a big deal out of Rattner's youth spent working for the Steelworkers Union, they tried to sweep under the chassis that Rattner was one of the privileged, select group of investors in Cerberus Capital, the owners of Chrysler. "Owning" is a loose term. Cerberus "owned" Chrysler the way a cannibal "hosts" you for dinner. Cerberus paid nothing for Chrysler -- indeed, they were paid billions by Germany's Daimler Corporation to haul it away. Cerberus kept the cash, then dumped Chrysler's bankrupt corpse on the U.S. taxpayer.

("Cerberus," by the way, named itself after the Roman's mythical three-headed dog guarding the gates Hell. Subtle these guys are not.)

While Stevie the Rat sold his interest in the Dog from Hell when he became Car Czar, he never relinquished his post at the shop of vultures called Quadrangle Hedge Fund. Rattner's personal net worth stands at roughly half a billion dollars. This is Obama's working class hero.

29 April 2009

Sympathy minus empathy

I feel bad for you, but I don't really know why.

28 April 2009

Those ignorant atheists

Andrew O'Hehir's review of Reason, Faith, and Revolution, by Terry Eagleton.

Seems to be religion more as metaphor or symbolism or an analytic framework concerning the good life than as concrete reality.

Karen Armstrong, interviewed. Historian and former nun Karen Armstrong says the afterlife is a red herring, hating religion is a pathology and that many Westerners cling to infantile ideas of God.

Perceptions/impressions of classical music

Thesis: Carl Stalling has for-ever-after altered our experience of classical music.

Casual Fridays: Can we really tell what a musical work is "about"?, especially Sammy's comment and following.

Also, Even isolated cultures understand emotions conveyed by Western music.

Both from Cognitive Daily.