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Friday, May 23, 2014

Italy Puts The "I" in "PIGS"

If you are struggling to boost your GDP in a failing economy, when all else fails, pad the numbers! Evidently, Italy isn't the first country to use "creative accounting" when the GDP number is less than stellar. Sadly, it looks like the United States was the first to add random items to the balance sheet to make them add up to a better total.


According to Slate, back in April of last year, the United States decided to add "intangibles" to the GDP number which increased our economic output by 3% overnight.
 http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2013/04/nipa_revisions_bea_will_treat_intangibles_as_capital_goods_and_boost_gdp.html
They added items such as books and movies to the GDP number. The only issue being that they had to estimate the value of these entities. Ca-Ching! I wonder if I need to apply for a loan, if I can add future raises, or future potential income to my salary too? I love this kind of math!


So what about Italy?  I agree with the article below from Zero Hedge.  Italy certainly takes the cake for style, by adding productivity from illegal entities.  I wonder if the USA will follow suit. Hey, at least prostitution, gambling, and now marijuana are legal in some parts of the country.  Desperate times call for desperate measures. Besides, its easier to cook the books than to actually grow an economy these days. Ciao!



http://mobile.bloomberg.com/news/2014-05-22/cocaine-sales-to-boost-italian-gdp-in-boon-for-budget.html

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Devil Goes To Harvard



Making headlines this week was Harvard University. As reported by the Boston Globe, they sanctioned a university club to hold a "black mass, all shrouded in the cloak of "education, and cultural understanding." A black mass is a satanic ritual which directly mocks the Catholic mass. Yes, evil is so cunning, even our educational elite could be actually convinced to worship the devil. (Boston Globe article link: http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/05/12/cardinal-sean-malley-expresses-disappointment-harvard-decision-allow-black-mass-campus/tUjYx2817C65LAHousRIeP/story.html


In ironies of ironies, the president of Harvard University is named Faust, Drew Faust. (For those who don't know, Faust is the central character in a German story and opera. He is a scholar who sells his soul to the devil, really, I'm not making this up.). Faust, true to his name, was initially defending the decision to go forward with the black mass. In the article, Faust was quoted as saying, "vigorous and open discussion and debate are essential to the pursuit of knowledge, and we must uphold these values even in the face of controversy." My, he speaks with a forked tongue.

This black mass was to be staged on campus by the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club, which according to the Globe, "has continually urged critics to widen their understanding of satanic worship." Maybe while we weren't paying attention, the devil went to rehab?

The central questions one would ask is "how do you get a prestigious university to not only allow this to take place, but to sanction it as well?" The answer is so common, it is pathetic that Harvard fell for it. Evil never comes out and tells you they are evil, they always mask themselves in something good. (remember the bible verse "woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness. - Isaiah 5:20) I think the 2014 NBC remake of "Rosemary's Baby" should be required viewing for all of Harvard University. The Harvard folks need to ask themselves, how does evil mask itself in good? They say things like "this performance is a part of a larger effort to explore religious facets that continue to influence contemporary culture." or "many satanists are animal rights activists vegetarians, and artists with a strong sense of community." Actually, that explains A LOT! (Maybe my previous article regarding the animal rights activists attacking the horse and carriages in NYC should have taken a different direction.)

The positive part of this story is what caught Harvard off guard, the groundswell and outcry from students, alumni, and the general public. There was a petition that amassed 60,000 signatures against the black mass. Harvard had to retreat and pull the plug. It makes for a happy ending, seeing good triumph over evil in the truest sense. The Harvard Extension Club, with no place to go, asked the Middle East Club to utilize their space, they wisely turned it down. They settled for a Chinese restaurant and were reportedly seen just drinking beer.

I never was one to fear "the devil" or even think about the concept, even though I am a pretty regular church goer. Frankly, talk of the devil tends to bring me back to the days of the Church Lady on Saturday Night Live. In this modern era it seems almost passé to some degree. I am starting to question my own beliefs after this incident. It seems clear the devil is making a comeback, and he's not just going big...he's going to Harvard.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Bring Back Our Journalists


Last Sunday May 4th I read the op-ed article in the New York Times called “Bring Back Our Girls” which was about the kidnapping of the Nigerian teenagers.  The article stated that the girls were taken in the beginning of April. (They were taken on April 14th in fact.) This story wasn’t a hard news story, it wasn’t on the front page at all.  It was buried deep  in the “Sunday Review” section, the opinion section, back on page 11.   These girls have been gone for almost a month, and this small article is the first I have heard of their disappearance. Read the story here: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/04/opinion/sunday/kristof-bring-back-our-girls.html?_r=0


All I could think after reading the article is “why hasn’t this been reported by anyone?” And, “why is this the first time I am hearing about this?” CNN has become a laughing stock of the cable news networks  as they have run 24/7 coverage of the missing Malaysian plane.  Even President Obama took a swipe at them at the Annual White House Correspondents dinner as he joked that he had to go to Malaysia to get CNN to even cover him and that they were still looking for their table.  (Note to CNN: we get it, the plane is still missing, no one knows where it is, move on until you actually have breaking news.) This made me question why.  Was it because more people were missing on the plane? Actually, there were 276 teenage girls taken by the militant group Boko Haram in Nigeria, there were 239 people aboard the missing Malaysian plane. Did they just need to fill air time, and this was the easiest way to do it?  Is it because they have reduced their number of reporters so much that they didn’t even know about these missing girls?

The small opinion piece in the New York Times didn’t go unnoticed amazingly. The small article started a groundswell on social media starting the hashtag of #BringBackOurGirls. It is because of the influence of social media that this story is finally getting the attention it deserves. It is no wonder that Pew Research recently reported that about 50% of Americans are getting news from social media. http://www.journalism.org/2014/03/26/8-key-takeaways-about-social-media-and-news/  I would argue that groups are going to social media to try to get their stories out because they can not do so via traditional channels.  I personally have been seeing Twitter feed for weeks regarding the uprising going on currently in Venezuela.  They have been protesting in the streets for weeks, people have been killed and jailed. I finally read a news report about it 6 weeks later.

The truth is, the ratings for cable news channels are going down, for some channels more than others.  Pew Research recently completed their “State of the Media” report for 2014 where they reported that the big three cable news stations are all losing viewers.  http://www.journalism.org/2014/03/26/state-of-the-news-media-2014-key-indicators-in-media-and-news/  The big three CNN, FOX News, and MSNBC lost 11% of their viewership combined in 2013.  The biggest decliner was MSNBC which lost 24%, followed by CNN at 13%, and lastly FOX at 6%. Fox however had more viewers total than CNN and MSNBC combined.

When I started this blog, I spent a lot of time worrying about the layout, the pictures, the colors….all of which you may have noticed or not.  A friend said to me that none of that matters in the end, that it was the content that will drive readership.  Truly, I know he is right.  What applies to me also applies to the major news networks.  When they stop running the same stories 24/7, report all of the news, do solid, unbiased investigative reporting, and bring stories that move people to care, people will tune in instead of tuning out.  They have more than a job, they have a responsibility to shed light on the stories of our world.  If the news networks want to bring back their ratings, they first have to bring back our journalists.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

And The Winner Is: The UAW!


And the winner is: the UAW!
By: @Irish_in_LA


I recall several times over the last few months, maybe more, President Obama touting the success of the bailouts. I don’t see it and I’m tired of the spin I keep hearing and reading about this major failure. Like what we’re seeing with the homeowners defaulting on their post bail out loans, GM and Chrysler are dying, just more slowly than they would have without the bailouts. We’ve lost $14.1 billion dollars, a crushing 18% loss, on those two car companies alone.

An AP report http://m.apnews.com/ap/db_268743/contentdetail.htm?contentguid=g3Xq1GOA and several others following it today delivered the bad news. GM needed $49.5 billion in 2009, given through the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). The government considers roughly $12 billion lost or written off. Chrysler also received $12.5 billion, and US tax payers lost $2.9 billion in that transaction. We’ve lost $14.1 billion on these two car companies alone!

In total, auto manufacturers and related companies received $79.7 billion, of which the government has received $59.1 billion in repayments. The government has lost nearly $40 billion to date on their bail out investments via TARP. Of the $475 billion the Federal government spent, the majority of the $40 billion in losses and write offs is attributable to the auto industry and American International Group (AIG). AIG received $68 billion and lost $13.5 billion. Interestingly, the government also spent $7.8 billion helping taxpayers with upside down home loans. Apparently we’ve lost $1.2 billion on those loan modifications, and most of those borrowers have defaulted or are on the verge of doing so.

So where are these companies right now? Was the investment, and subsequent loss worth it? GM (NYSE: GM) stock experienced a meager 5 year positive gain of 0.82%. The current owner of Chrysler, Fiat (NASDAQOTH: FIATY) in the last 3 years has a gain of 0.08%. They just finished their five year merger, and Chrysler will soon be listed once again on the NYSE. Guess what sort of increase Ford Motor Co (NYSE: F) has had in that same time period, with no bailout? Their stock has increased in value a whopping 170.07%!

Speaking of US taxpayer losses, I recall in the beginning how the United Auto Workers union (UAW) lobbied alongside GM’s management for the bailout. The bailout benefitted the UAW far more than GM. The union was granted preferential treatment by the U.S. Government rather than having to accept standard bankruptcy concessions. This was under the guise of preventing massive job losses. Extra subsidies of $26.5 billion went to the union. The US government didn’t have to lose money on their investment in the car companies, it turns out. They bailed out the UAW, perhaps, some suggest, as political payback.

Because of the preferential treatment, instead of having the same status as the other unsecured creditors in the bankruptcy, they recovered a much higher proportion of debts the car companies owed them. In another article I read (http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2012/06/auto-bailout-or-uaw-bailout-taxpayer-losses-came-from-subsidizing-union-compensation) researchers point out that bankruptcy brings down uncompetitive wages to competitive levels. GM workers received no pay cuts, and that the cost of subsidizing UAW pay and benefits accounts for the entire loss.

A Brietbart article quoted President Obama stating the following:

“When I took office, the American auto industry – the heartbeat of American manufacturing – was on the verge of collapse.  Two of the Big Three – GM and Chrysler – were on the brink of failure, threatening to take suppliers, distributors and entire communities down with them.  In the midst of what was already the worst recession since the Great Depression, another one million Americans were in danger of losing their jobs.

As President, I refused to let that happen.  I refused to walk away from American workers and an iconic American industry.  But in exchange for rescuing and retooling GM and Chrysler with taxpayer dollars, we demanded responsibility and results.  In 2011, we marked the end of an important chapter as Chrysler repaid every dime and more of what it owed the American taxpayers from the investment we made under my Administration’s watch.  Today, we’re closing the book by selling the remaining shares of the federal government’s investment in General Motors.  GM has now repaid every taxpayer dollar my Administration committed to its rescue, plus billions invested by the previous Administration.”

President Clinton was also quoted: “Less than five years later, each of the Big Three automakers is now strong enough to stand on its own.  They’re profitable for the first time in nearly a decade.  The industry has added more than 372,000 new jobs – its strongest growth since the 1990s.” Truth is a net 4,000 new jobs, not the whopper stated here. The numbers he quoted are fuzzy math interpretations from a Bureau of Labor Statistics report.

Obama was also quoted saying: “When things looked darkest for our most iconic industry, we bet on what was true: the ingenuity and resilience of the proud, hardworking men and women who make this country strong.  Today, that bet has paid off.  The American auto industry is back.

For our autoworkers and the communities that depend on them, the road we’ve taken these past five years has been a long and difficult one.  But it’s one we’ve traveled together.  And as long as there’s more work to do to restore opportunity and broad-based growth for all Americans, that’s what we’ll keep doing to reach the brighter days ahead.”

It would be nice if everything were so rosy, but look at what’s really going on with GM. There was a cover up of a major cross product defect, leading to a massive recall and a loss of some $1.4 billion, essentially wiping out any profits they might have had. Fiat gobbled up a number of brands, including Chrysler, and continues a long, painful road back to better sales. It’s an unsure bet at best right now whether either of these two survive in the end. My bet would be they don’t. The UAW has destroyed the companies for short term gains at the expense of long term employment of thousands of people. The government set a horrible precedent by bailing out these and the other companies. They know nothing about running profitable businesses, and should not have involved themselves in them. It’s unfortunate that all of us must pay such a heavy toll for a union’s greed and politicians’ favors.

We’ll see what happens down the road.


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