Thursday, April 29, 2010

Cause Marketing

I love this kinda stuff.  I love selling because I love the feeling that I can turn NO into YES; that I can turn words into money.

When you get good at anything, you gain a certain power over others.  You get called first for a job interview, or the cabinets you build show up in the best kitchens or the people you work with come to you for help and guidance.  Whatever.  The better you are at what you do, the more power you have because of it.  But power is a dangerous thing.  You have to be wise and circumspect about how you use it because what happens when power is misused always turns out to be really really bad.

Here's one illustration (one of my all-time fave movies)

And here's a story from the real world.
Emotional manipulation works. That is why so many entities are using it against us at every turn. Pinkwashing, greenwashing, cause-related marketing, industry-funded front groups with deceptive names spewing extreme political claims, politicians making weird, baseless statements about proposed legislation -- they all get the desired results. Some legislators still try to use facts, reason and truth in public discourse, but there are now so many strident, paid corporate and political messaging efforts going on that stimulate people to react from their gut and not think, that reason, truth and facts are now weak public voices by comparison.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

This Is Really Bad

More On Arizona

Maybe that should be Moron Arizona.  Too much of a cold shot?

Now that the backlash has a lot of people whipped up into a mild Anti-Arizona frenzy, the Op-Ed editors are jumping into it with an attitude of "what they did was dead wrong, but understandable". (Editorial Roundup)

Sorry, Arizona, but fuck you.  Sorry, Minutemen, but fuck you.  Sorry, "Conservative Values Voters", but fuck you.  For 30 years, you guys have been voting for an agenda that drains government resources away from providing services like border security, and now you're all pissed off because your borders aren't secure?  You've pissed and moaned for 30 years about Intrusive Government or Incompetent Government or whatever, and you've stayed home on election day or you've voted for these assholes; but now you're acting surprised about what actually happens as a result of getting what you said you wanted!?!  I repeat: fuck you.

You wanted "common sense" and "straight talk" and "leaders who're just like me".  You spent an awful long time listening to and nodding at and forwarding emails that spouted racist and eliminationist bullshit.  Well now that bullshit has been made into law, and you're gonna cry about it?  One more time: fuck you.

As usual, the really good reporting on the background and history of this crappy law is being done by the loonies on the left.

Ten Years Of Hell

Posted today at Balloon Juice:

Check out these facts from economist Andy Xie:

1) Housing prices are up 50% in the past year in some parts of the country.

2) Housemaids are asking for time off so they can return to their village to buy an
apartment before it is too late.

3) Sales girl urges: Buy two! In a few years time prices will rise so much it will be
like getting the other apartment for free.

4) Banks offer unlimited credit for real estate purchases because the central bank is
flooding the market with stimulus money.

5) Local governments are addicted to the revenues from the property sales tax and will
do whatever it takes to keep the bubble going.

6) One local official caught owning 24 apartments. Wonder where he got the money?

7) Real estate mania has now spread beyond the cities to dusty rural towns.

8) Government works to free up as much land as possible for development.

9) In some markets land is so valuable it is worth more than the improvements.

10) Foreign money is flooding into China to participate in the bubble and the yuan
appreciation against the dollar that everybody says is sure to come.

I’ll Tell You When Chinese Bubble Is About to Burst: Andy Xie

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Quote Of The Day

"Anyone who stops learning is old; whether at twenty or eighty.  Anyone who keeps learning stays young." - Henry Ford

Bring The Stoopid

OKLAHOMA CITY, April 24 (UPI) — Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry said he vetoed a bill that would require women to go through ultrasound examinations before abortions to avoid a court fight.

Henry Friday also vetoed a measure that would have banned wrongful birth lawsuits, The Oklahoman reported Saturday. Such suits are brought by parents of children born with Down’s syndrome and other congenital problems that were not diagnosed during pregnancy.

Henry, a Democrat, said the first bill was likely to involve the state in expensive litigation. He also described the bill as too sweeping because there are no exceptions for victims of rape or incest.

“State policymakers should never mandate that a citizen be forced to undergo any medical procedure against his or her will, especially when such a procedure could cause physical or mental trauma,” Henry said.

For the wingnuts who are in favor of these intrusive extra procedures: How do you square this with your steadfast opposition to Government-mandated Healthcare?

Bring The Stupid

We spent a whole year arguing and campaigning and angsting over Healthcare Insurance Reform, just to find out that there's already a brilliant and simple way to solve the problem?

As usual, a Republican has the answer for us.  "Sue Lowden is running for Harry Reid's senate seat in Nevada, and she knows exactly what we need to do.

You go, girl.

Samba Pa Ti

Possibly the best instrumental ever. Certainly top 5.

Angry Eyes

Loggins & Messina nearing the height of their powers - one of my all time faves.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Keep On Tryin'

One of Poco's best.  And from a time when the artists could actually lay it all down in a few takes without having to go back and redub a thousand times.

Just A Quickie

Today, the governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer, signed into law a complete piece of crap ("Immigration Reform Bill") that requires cops to stop anybody they think might be in the US illegally.  "I best be checkin'  them papers there, Chico".

For me, the fact of it is bad enough, but part of the governor's remarks afterward were to the affect: "we've been waiting and waiting for someone in Washington to do something about illegal immigration; they weren't getting it done, so we had to do it ourselves".

So OK, just for a moment, let's ignore the fact that you've enacted a law that basically makes it illegal to be deeply tanned, and try to concentrate on the remarks.  Am I to understand that this governor has NEVER criticized a political opponent for "wanting a government solution to all our problems"? ..."always looking to Washington for help"?  This kind of politician is true a set of core beliefs only when it is necessary to collect dollars or votes.

These people have no soul and no honor.

We Are So Fucked

We've legalized bribery; we've integrated bribery into the system. It doesn't look quite like what we've always assumed bribery looks like and so we don't call it bribery, but that's what it is. It's bribery.

We won't get anything of real value out of Washington, or any other legislature, until the enormous flow of cash is throttled back. And that will take our elected officials too long to accomplish. As soon as somebody stands up in the speakers' well and declares his intent to change this corrupt system, the monied interests will come down on him like The Lord's burnin' rain (courtesy of SCOTUS and the Citizens United decision). The dirty tricks and the slander and the negative ads will make him out to be the worst thing since Herpes, and the next election will see him replaced by somebody who is a little more pliant and open to the manipulations of our corporate masters.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Gotta Love This Guy

I wonder how long it'll take our "leaders" to shove him over the cliff and get back to suckin' Wall Street's dick.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Bring The Stupid

Hands Up

I'm just gonna run this whole post from Balloon Juice.  It pretty much says it all.

Via Memeorandum, this interview with FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair, which had this snippet:
If this had been law prior to 2008, would we have seen the bailouts that took place? Would we have seen capital injections into banks?
BAIR: No. You could not do an AIG, Bear Stearns, or any of that. Those were all one-off things, capital or asset guarantee transactions. This bill would only allow system-wide liquidity support which could not be targeted at an individual firm. You can’t do capital investments at all, period. It’s only liquidity support. No more capital investments. That’s banned under all circumstances.
You can do systemwide liquidity support. But you can’t do anything on an individual basis. They would have to be generally available.
Do you see any way left for the government to bail out a financial institution?
BAIR: No, and that’s the whole idea. It was too easy for institutions to come and ask for help. They aren’t going to do that. This gives us a response: “Fine, we will take all these essential services and put them in a bridge bank. We will keep them running while your shareholders and debtors take all your losses. And oh, by the way, we are getting rid of your board and you, too.”
The whole idea is to get market discipline back.
That’s what ending “too big to fail means.” It means debtors and shareholders understanding their money is at risk and especially the debtholders starting to look at the balance sheet of these big institutions and asking their own hard questions instead of relying on government support.
When Mitch McConnell took to the cameras spewing his Frank Luntz talking points, this is what pissed me off the most (once you get past the instant “CAN’T YOU MOTHERFUCKERS EVER TELL THE TRUTH ABOUT ANYTHING!”)- what he was doing was trying to kill a bill that would end the bailouts. And if he succeeded, he would be doing the banksters bidding.
They don’t want what Bair just described. They like things just the way it is right now- they can put a gun to the head of the economy and tell us “If I go down, I’m taking everyone of you with me.” They like how things went down the last time- Goldman got every penny off their bets with AIG, all paid for by you and me. Then they went around and lavished huge bonuses on themselves when they weren’t busy writing whiny op-eds about how unfair it is everyone hates them.
With this bill, if the legislators and regulators have it right, these scumbags screw up again, they get wiped out. Shareholders get destroyed, and the board is replaced.
Wall Street and the bankstas don’t want that- which is why they flew Cornyn and McConnell to NY, told them they would bankroll the Republicans if only they killed this bill, and McConnell went right to the Senate podium and lied his ass off. Not only was he lying, but he was doing everything he could to make sure there would be bailouts forever. Understand what he was doing.
It’s just that simple. McConnell was selling the country and the American taxpayer down the river for a chance at flooding the airwaves with campaign ads funded by Wall Street, made possible by the right wing Supreme Court.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Young Turks

Not usually this straightforward; and not quite the perfect articulation, but damn - we're gettin' closer.

What's Wrong With The South?

We've had more than our share of cringe-worthy moments of late; especially here in Virginia where we get to stand in slack-jawed stupefaction every few weeks watching our Governor and our Atty General make themselves (and the rest of us) look like complete dicks.

They started out by issuing an executive order telling the whole state bureaucracy that they don't have to worry all that much about discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Next up: Ken Cuccinelli decides to sue the Obama Administration to prevent implementation of Healthcare Reform.  And to top it off, his office then says it only costs us the $350 filing fee.  I called his office 6 times and can't get anybody to answer any questions or call me back.

Then Governor Bob issues a proclamation designating April as Dumbass Redneck Month.

Most recently, any ex-felon in Virginia who wants to get back his right to vote has to write a letter to the government in Richmond explaining why he deserves the same rights as everybody else, now that he's paid his debt to society.  Can you say, "literacy test"?  I knew you could.

I get a weird feeling that there's something about the culture down here that makes this kind of Fantasy-Land-Alternate-Reality thing more probable.  It's certainly not particular to The South, but maybe Southerners are a little more susceptible to the temptation to revise the parts of their history that don't fit well with the basic human need for self-esteem.

A few examples:
Slavery was and still is often referred to as "our peculiar institution".
Secession and armed rebellion (aka Treason) becomes "defense of our homeland against an invasion from the north".
Rob't E Lee - a slave owner fervently in favor of beating slaves to keep them in line - is later said to be an abolitionist.

I think it also has something to do with wanting to let yourself off the hook.  If the truth about who you are and where you came from always seems to point up the fact that you're just the latest in a long line of assholes, you have to be looking for a little relief.  If somebody comes along and spins out a version that helps you feel a little less shitty about it all, then you're probably not going to be overly concerned that he's just makin' shit up.

It still makes me a little nuts, but I think I can understand it.  And that gives me a slightly better chance to counter it.

Read this from Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Logical Extreme

Ten Years Of Hell

These posts are usually about bad news or warning signs, but this one looks like a win - at least they've managed to forestall a real meltdown in Greece for a year or so.  Unfortunately they haven't fixed the problems of the debt itself - problems that could still bring it all crashing down - problems that the banks are helping to create.

The biggest threat to our economic wellbeing is our inability to deal with all the debt we're piling up.  We can't just push "The Reckoning" farther down the road.  We can't keep borrowing, thinking it'll get better if we just wait for inflation to catch up with us; or that the economy will "grow us out of trouble".  We can't go on thinking we never have to worry about paying any of it back.

So Greece is settled down a bit, and now everybody seems to be worried about Portugal, but the real problem may be right here at home.

We dodged a bullet (for now anyway) by pouring massive amounts of dollars into the banks. We haven't fixed anything yet, but we're still standing - so far.

I've been mostly worried that the next shoe to drop will be Commercial Real Estate - one estimate is that by next year, half of all commercial real estate loans will be underwater.  We'll see; and it'll be a big fuckin' problem if it comes to pass, but it's nothing compared with everything bad that can happen if there are many more stories like this one in Birmingham AL.

In 1996, the average monthly sewer bill for a family of four in Birmingham was only $14.71 — but that was before the county decided to build an elaborate new sewer system with the help of out-of-state financial wizards with names like Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase. The result was a monstrous pile of borrowed money that the county used to build, in essence, the world's grandest toilet — "the Taj Mahal of sewer-treatment plants" is how one county worker put it. What happened here in Jefferson County would turn out to be the perfect metaphor for the peculiar alchemy of modern oligarchical capitalism: A mob of corrupt local officials and morally absent financiers got together to build a giant device that converted human shit into billions of dollars of profit for Wall Street

As usual, I hope I'm wrong, but I fear I'm not.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Ten Years Of Hell

When the crash (and then possibly, the revolt) finally gets here, maybe it won't be so bad that the mob just burns everything down - but that's not how it usually plays out.

If any system of government/economy is to sustain itself over time, there has to be a broad appreciation for a kind of Societal Extortion.  The top tier (where all the money and power is) has to figure out a good way to buy the cooperation and the acquiescence  of the lower tiers.  The mob below has to be pacified somehow.  The Tsars and the Caesars and Kings and Emperors tried various things - sometimes they just hanged a bunch of peasants and burned out their settlements to keep them bottled up, but the really  smart ones built roads; or they put on elaborate shows; or they portioned out grain directly to the people; or they allowed some freedom of commerce.  They knew that even as absolute rulers, if they wanted to stay in power, they had to have the rabble's approval to some extent.

We've evolved a different system here in the US.  We use a lottery system to determine whether or (usually) not someone else is allowed to move up a rung or two.  We call it "The American Dream", but it's set up as the same very exclusive club as any previous system of ruling class(es).  It's just that here you get to pretend that if you work really hard, and if you adhere to a strict code of self-reliance and rugged individualism, then you can rise out of your lowly station and take your place among the Ruling Elite.  It may have been more possible not all that long ago, but in the last 30 years, the transfer of wealth to the upper echelon has been accelerating, and is approaching a point where the Great American Middle Class could actually be in danger of collapse.  From here on out, it's all just a shot in the dark.

And here's the kicker:  Most of us have accepted the notion that what we have here is a Meritocracy.  ie: "If I earn it, then I get it", which morphs into, "I have it, therefore I've earned it".

And the flip side is "If you don't earn it, then you don't get it"; which then morphs into "Your life is shitty, therefore you've earned a shitty life".

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Newness Of It All

I picked a different look for the blog because I wanted the wider aspect.

If it doesn't work for you, lemme know - not that I intend to do anything but ignore your complaints, but hey.

Just pretend you're in one of those meetings at work where The Suits say they're soliciting your input on this important issue, but you know deep down that they're just giving you a chance to agree with decisions they've already made.  Yeah, like that.

Crock Of The Week

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Tro Da Bums Out

Since the beginning of 2009:
-we've averted a true economic catastrophe by stabilizing the banks.
-the economy has posted positive growth for 4 quarters in a row.
-we were losing 700k jobs per month, and now we're adding 100k.
-the car-making industry (and all the ancillary businesses) are coming back.
-green business is beginning to take hold and expand.
-troop levels in Iraq are being drawn down.
-DOW is up 3,000 points in the last 12 months.
-American prestige and public image have improved a jillion percent.
-32 million more Americans have a chance to get health insurance, and insurance companies can longer engage in some of their most egregious practices.
-the scope of the world's most destructive weapons is being rolled back.
-taxes for 95% of all Americans are down.

So of course there's only one thing to do - we need to find the assholes who did nothing but fuck everything up and put 'em all back in charge!  Yeah, we should do that.

Don't get me wrong - we still need to clear out a whole big bunch of moldy old politcos who've been around way past their freshness dates.  Let's just try to remember how we got to this dance, and who brung us.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Bring The Stupid

Lots of talk about cutting back on "government spending".  Whenever some politicians want to score a few points, they start screamin' about spending - even tho' by this time, everybody not living in caves has to know that the guys doing the loudest screaming are the ones who ran up the tab in the first place.

I've said it before - what EXACTLY do you want to cut?

Here's a look at what big bunches of people in this country think we should carve down.

At what point do we realize just how misinformed we are, and start to demand better?

Sucks To Be Them

There's a coup or a rebellion or a full blown revolution or something going on in Kyrgyzstan and nobody noticed.

There's no mineral wealth to get excited about; the country occupies no big-deal strategic space; there are no important roads or other lines of communication; and if the US hadn't established an air base at the capital city's airport (using it as a big staging area for our efforts in Afghanistan - and overpaying for it as usual BTW), we wouldn't know anything about anything going on there.  But the really big thing that they don't have is - Twitter!  Which is why we're not getting much in the way of "reporting".

If the News Poodles want the story, they'll have to work to get it;  so of course, that means we'll hear practically nothing about it.

Monday, April 5, 2010

A Case In Point

In a previous post, I said I think all the politicking and all the media attention are aimed at boosting ad revenues and/or contributions to a candidate or a cause.  In the last several days, it's come out that Sean Hannity and Ollie North are in some trouble because of the way their "charity", Freedom Alliance has been very lucrative for somebody, but hasn't managed to distribute much of their revenue to the people they say they're trying to help.

Details are still a little fuzzy as to how closely Hannity and North are to the everyday operations.  But when your charity delivers less than 10% of the proceeds to your intended beneficiaries, you might have a serious problem.  The benchmark for reputable charities is a split of about 25% for overhead and 75% of the collections paid out to the donees.

According to their  2006 Tax Return, they pulled in almost $11 Million, but they doled out less than $400k (about 3.8%).  The rest was spent on a variety of "admin" things, some of which were all about taking really REALLY good care of Hannity and his entourage.  ie: "a fleet" of high-end SUVs for transportation, several hotel suites, Gulfstream V airplanes, etc.

Freedom Alliance defenders claim that the money not paid out has been going to establish an endowment, but the tax records for any of that stuff haven't surfaced yet.

For me, this has the same kind of mild stench that goes along with what we've seen from Ollie North before.  Back in the early 90's (as I recall), North needed to make bunches of  money in a relative hurry because he'd been booted out of his semi-cushy government job at the White House, and wanted to get into politics.  He became the front man for a body armor manufacturer, which apparently put out a really good product, but it was something like twice the price as the nearest competitor's gear.  The market for this product is pretty well limited to government entities, and as hard as it seems to believe, there are actual rules about spending tax dollars carefully, so these purchases are put out to bid.  Well, Ollie's company doesn't really stand a chance in a straight-up contest, so they hit on a truly brilliant plan: Fund Raising!

Part of the deal that you propose in your bid is to do a charity fund drive in support of the local police department that you're trying to get to buy your body armor. (BTW - it's important for you NOT to mention that one thing making body armor necessary for the local cops is that your Fund Raising/Consulting firm is also doing a lot of work for the NRA to make sure the bad guys have plenty of weapons and ammo; but that's another story, and of course one thing has nothing to do with the other - doesn't everybody know that?)

Anyway, here's how it works.  Ollie's bulletproof vest costs $2000 and the other guy's vest costs $1000.

Ollie's bid says he'll sell his vests at $1000 each, but the customer agrees to hire Ollie's   Marketing Team to conduct a fund raising campaign that will not only make up the difference in his unit price, but also put a bunch of dollars into the Widows & Orphans Fund.  So The project kicks off, and when it's done, Ollie's made his $250k profit on the body armor, but that's just the start.  He's also pumped another $1 Million or so into the cops' charity, and taken a slice of that for himself as well - probably close to another million bucks.  It seems everybody got something good, but in fact, the tax payers actually volunteered to get hosed.  Don't get me wrong, the people got some value for their money, but where they could've paid $1,000,000 for 1000 bulletproof vests, they "chose" instead to pay closer to $3,000,000.

If you offer to make a donation to the Widows & Orphans Fund in exchange for a sweetheart deal, they call it Bribery and sometimes you go to jail.  But if you work it so the average citizen makes the donation, well - then they call it civic-minded and noble.

Attract the crowd with a political or charitable pitch, and then soak 'em.  Bait Ball.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Rhetoric

A little something's been rollin' around in my brain for a while.  Whenever somebody proposes some new policy, or a new law, or a change in the way we've been doing things, it attracts all manner of wackos who lately have seemed always to state their opposition in stark and apocalyptic terms.

"This Healthcare Reform thing will kill your grandma."

"This bill will mean that tens of thousands of new IRS agents will descend upon us to collect the crushing new taxes."

"Regulation on the banking sector will drive up the cost of credit and make it impossible for small business entrepreneurs to get the capital they need."

"The changes in the student loan programs will mean the loss of thousands of good paying white collar jobs."

Here's a point:  My crystal ball hasn't worked since I got it; and if theirs works a lot better than mine, then why the fuck didn't they see some of this shit comin'?

These are basically the same guys who told us almost 10 years ago that emptying out the US Treasury thru multi-trillion-dollar tax cuts would usher in a period of prosperity that would rival the golden-est of the golden ages.  Oops.

Some of these same guys told us that invading Iraq would stabilize the entire region, prove that Saddam had WMD, show the world we were the good guys, cost a few billion dollars, be over in a year or two, etc, etc.  Oops.

Their track record sucks - why should I take their word for any goddamned thing now?

I think tho' that these people aren't all that interested in the law that passes or doesn't pass; they're not terribly concerned about the unintended consequences or the legal ramifications of anything they do - they care about being able to use the issue for raising money.  Because money keeps them in front of our eyeballs, and staying in front of us is what keeps them in power.  Marketing works.

They spout some shit - it could be crazy or it could be profound; it doesn't matter as long as it draws a crowd.  Then the Eyeball Wranglers (marketing departments, programming execs, news poodles, bloggers, etc) swarm to the scene to see if they can grab a few bucks by selling something to the rubes.  Whenever I see a political rally or a protest or whatever, it always makes me think of the nature shows where the predators herd the school of fish into a tighter and tighter group - until it's easy pickin's for the dolphins and the sea birds and the seals; then the whale comes thru and snaps up a giant mouthful.  When you see people flocking to a politician or a cause, think "Bait Ball".

And here's something else.  As a result of having given ourselves over to the Market Predators, our standards really are lower than they used to be.  40 or 50 years ago, the average guy had a better shot at being able to keep up with most of what the politicians were trying to do.  I think maybe because politicians were still at least trying to be Citizen Legislators - people who interrupted their 'regular careers' to serve a few terms, or who really didn't intend to make a career out of holding a particular political office.  Over time, the world gets more complicated; the problems get more complex; the solutions get thinner because they have to cover a wider range of interests; everything is so intertwined, whoever wants to take a policy position has to know his shit.   In the meantime, the average guys who aren't in office have to stay pretty damned busy to make the money they need just to keep up with whatever market they're chasing, and they don't have the time or the energy it takes to dig into the issues and figure out for themselves which way they want their candidates or representatives to go.  Politicians and their Operatives get more sophisticated and better at what they do, and the voters get less sophisticated, and before you know it, we have people voting for candidates and policies that are diametrically opposed to their own interests because they get sold on the idea that it should all be easier.

Eventually, we'll look back and we'll be able to see clearly that the emergence of candidates like George W Bush and Sarah Palin was no accident.