Thursday, August 27, 2009

Suffering Fools

What a foolish nation we must appear to be to the outsiders on this planet. Not long after the death of elder statesman Ted Kennedy, a champion of the underdogs in society, and promoter of healthcare as a national right, proponents of Obamacare dared suggest Congress pass “Kennedy-care” Legislation as a tribute to the late senator.
Nevermind most of these eggheads haven’t read the bill.

I had a dream last night: Nancy Pelosi had been called on the carpet before a tribunal of decision-makers. She’s sitting behind a long, low table, surrounded by fawning members of the media, camera’s clicking an popping as she leans into a large, silver microphone. The head of the Tribunal bangs his gavel for order in the large hall so that the hearing may begin.

It’s Fred Gwynne in his role as Judge Chamberlain Haller from “My Cousin Vinnie,” and he’s looking down on her from behind the bench, and he says, in that rich, southern baritone drawl, “Mizz Pelosi, before we get stahted, I need to ask you one question.”

Nancy Pelosi looks up at Judge Haller, and he asks, “Have yew read this heah healthcare reform bill, ma’am?”

Speaker Pelosi pauses…the camera’s click and whir again as she leans into the microphone, and answers, “No, your honor, not all of it, but I am sure most of my youthful staff has read most of it.”

"Did you say "youts?"

BANG! goes the gavel, and Judge Chamberlain Haller’s voice booms throughout the hall, “Adjourned!”

“Young lady,” he intones, looking down at Nancy Pelosi, “you’d best read this piece of legislation covah to covah before you come back before this court. Is that cleah, Mizz Pelosi?”
And about that time, my alarm went off.

I guess we make the rest of the world laugh.
Or scratch their heads in wonderment.

Here’s another example.
Bloomberg News reported this week Switzerland’s chief negotiator in the UBS AG tax case said the U.S. Internal Revenue Service may request names of American clients from other banks after the Swiss government agreed to hand over UBS account details. The IRS plans to target more banks, law firms and entities that help Americans hide assets.

Swiss banks manage about 27% of the world’s offshore wealth, and it’s believed that tax evasion through offshore accounts robs the U.S. of $100 billion annually. Guess when you’re doling out billions of dollars to banks and carmakers, you’ve got to collect every Swiss franc you can convert.

UBS will provide Swiss authorities with details of 4,450 accounts where “tax fraud or the like” is suspected…

Meanwhile, from the Deparment of “Do as We Say, Not as We Do,” in Washington, The Federal Reserve argued this week that identifying the financial institutions that benefited from its emergency loans would harm the companies…

“The immediate release of these documents will destroy the board’s claims of exemption and right of appellate review,” quoth a motion to stay the ruling. “The institutions whose names and information would be disclosed will also suffer irreparable harm.”

The Fed’s “ability to effectively manage the current, and any future, financial crisis” would be impaired, and “significant harms” could befall the U.S. economy as well.

So on the one hand, you’ve got the US Government suing and prevailing against the Swiss Banking system to release the private details of US Citizens with Swiss bank accounts…and at the same time, the Federal Reserve says they don’t have to tell the American Public which banks were the beneficiaries of tax bailouts to keep the skunks in business.

Yeah, that's really squared away.
The Fed has refused to name the financial firms it lent to or disclose the amounts or the assets put up as collateral under the emergency programs, saying disclosure might set off a run by depositors and unsettle shareholders.

Bloomberg News sued on Nov. 7 under the Freedom of Information Act on the premise that the public interest in disclosure outweighs the banks’ interest in secrecy.” The Court rejected the Fed’s argument that the records should remain private because they are trade secrets and would scare customers into pulling their deposits.

Senator Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who sponsored a bill to require the Fed to submit to an audit by the Government Accountability Office, uttered the question that was on everyone's mind: “What has the Fed got to hide?”

“The time has come for the Fed to stop stonewalling and hand this information over to the public.” He’s right.

One attorney for the group had the inspiration to say, “Experience in the banking industry has shown that when customers and market participants hear negative rumors about a bank, negative consequences inevitably flow…”

I’m thinking experience going forward in the banking industry is going to show that what customers desire most is transparency, with a close second place for some consistency in their dealings. It’s not just a little hypocritical to force Swiss banks to give up their secrets, while at the same time feigning trade secret protection on this side of the Atlantic.

For the record, The Clearing House Association LLC, an industry-owned group in New York that processes payments between banks, filed a declaration that accompanied the request for a stay. You might be interested to learn the members of the Clearing House include ABN Amro Holding NV, Bank of America Corp., Bank of New York Mellon Corp., Citigroup Inc., Deutsche Bank AG, HSBC Holdings Plc, JPMorgan Chase Inc., UBS AG, U.S. Bancorp and Wells Fargo & Co.

Where's Judge Haller when you need him?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Looking at Lockerbie

Abdel Baset al-Megrahi killed 270 people in 1988, but today is the beneficiary of extraordinary Scottish mercy.
The AP reports Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill is allowing al-Megrahi, who is terminally ill with prostate cancer, to return home to Libya on "compassionate release," in time for Ramadan.

"Our belief dictates that justice be served but mercy be shown, [and] Mr. al-Megrahi now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power," the Justice commented.

al-Megrahi has been serving a life sentence for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in which 259 people aboard perished, most of them Americans, along with 11 victims on the ground.

There is a palpable level of public outrage over the release of al-Megrahi.
Two thoughts:

There is no wrong, no ill-deed, no sin that cannot be forgiven. There are conditions to receiving that forgiveness—it’s not automatic, and it’s not free.
It cost a life.
Whether you kill one person or 270—you can be forgiven.

Secondly, Scotland is proving it is bigger than this worthless piece of human trash by showing him more mercy than he ever imagined; certainly more compassion than he showed the people on Flight 103.

With the media hype and wall-to-wall coverage of his released, it may well be the ultimate irony that al-Meghrai may wish to be back in protective custody before this is all over.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Father of the Bride: Going Postal

Over the weekend I changed my initials:
From FOG, or "Father of the Groom," I have now become FOB, "Father of the Bride." The next wedding is 9 1/2 weeks away.

As you can see, I don't even closely resemble George Banks from the movie series of that title.
I do drive a sporty two-seater, but there the similarities end. I do not own a tuxedo, and will not be singing Tom Jones songs in the attic of The Clanton Hacienda.

The FOB has many duties, but the Prime Directive is to Stay Out of The Way. The Secondary Directive is to be as useful as possible, even if it means leaving the house.

I went to the Post Office today to get some special stamps for the RSVP-cards that will be going out this week in the invitations to my daughter’s wedding…wanted something classy to match the theme of the occasion: A wedding cake stamp, perhaps, or a couple of love birds.

Postage for a Postcard is now 28-cents, and I learned the Post Office doesn’t just print up a bunch of different stamps for a specific denomination—because, as we all know, the USPS is always jacking with the rates… that's another rant for another time (what would George Banks do??)

In my neighborhood near Greater Tomball, there is a fairly large post office. Lots of PO boxes, and a good sized lobby. I walked in the door to become 15th in line, and with three Postal Employees at the front counter, I figured, I’m in and out in ten minutes.

The Postal Worker in Window #3 announced she was accepting mail call slips only, and would not be handing transactions requiring money.
An interesting concept…and particularly frustrating because none of the fifteen in line were there for mail call slips—we needed to spend some money.

Occassionally, some lucky-duck would wander in innocently and get served right away…if she remembered to look up and announce her purpose in life, as defined by the Post Office for the day.

So, I stood in line for nearly a half hour, while the two other clerks diligently—and cheerfully—waited on the restof us, while Miss Mail Slip Lady dutifully handled Mail Call Slips.
Both of them.

Have you ever wondered what goes on behind that wall at the Post Office—the one the postal workers are standing in front of? For all the stamping and tossing of parcels and pieces of mail behind them, into the bowels of the Post Office, I have rarely ever seen anything going on back there. Or heard anything happening, lately. Most Post Offices I've been in lately are quiet as a tomb. Maybe the Mail Fairies come out at night and sort that stuff.

When I finally reached the glorious portal to the service counter, and described what I was looking for—a classy, 28-cent stamp for wedding invitation RSVP’s, the postal worker looked at me with a somewhat condescending expression, and intoned that there was only ONE 28-cent stamp, take it or leave it: A polar bear, leering from an Alaskan-blue background. Didn’t exactly say “come to our wedding” to me. No, this stamp said something more like, "we're coming to your wedding, and we're going to be hungry as bears..."
I know what George Banks' reaction would be to that.

So I thanked the thankless postal worker and walked out of the Post Office into the rest of my life.

Within fifteen-minutes of being home, I found on the Internet the exact stamp I was looking for: An ornate pewter heart on a 42-cent stamp in sheets of 20. Ironic, don't you think, that the Mail Service is losing market share to the Internet, even cannibalizing its own customer base:
The website was for the USPS online.

I wonder if the Mail Slip Madame might also take on the responsibility of announcing that the Post Office has only one style of postcard postage stamp, when people come into the lobby.
She could say that in between her announcements for mail call slips, only.
Would be about as effective.
But I’ll bet it’s not part of her job.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

He Said She Said: Congressional Hypocrasy

Believe nothing against another but on good authority; and never report what may hurt another, unless it be a greater hurt to some other to conceal it.
--William Penn

There is much vitriol being dished out as various legislative issues work their way through the halls of power in Washington.
I fear that participants in these battles oft times lose sight of what is really important—which is serving the best interests of the people who sent them there to represent them.

Neither party is guiltless in this:
Each side is trying to gain a pointless advantage over the other, and clawing away at one another in the process. What's left is a gaggle of bruised and bloodied reputations, and laws imposed which have neither teeth or benefit for the public.

The more I see about what goes on in our nation’s leadership, the more convinced I become that a reasonable limit on the terms of service is needed to replenish the political gene pool with fresh talent, while flushing out those who would become career politicians, more concerned with winning the next campaign than being champions for causes important to their constituents’ well-being.

Case in point: Remember the huffing and puffing in Congress last year over the heads of the Big Three automakers’ use of private jets, and their audacity in flying to Washington in Gulfstreams to ask lawmakers for bailout money? When asked which of the CEO’s would be willing to give up their private jets in return for financial support to keep their companies afloat, none of the exec’s raised their hand.

“It’s almost like seeing a guy show up at the soup kitchen in a high hat and tuxedo,” said New York Democrat Rep. Gary Ackerman. “Couldn’t you have downgraded to first class or something, or jet-pooled or something to get here?”

Fast forward to August 2009…

The House of Representatives has approved nearly $200 million for the Air Force to buy three elite Gulfstream jets for ferrying top government officials and Members of Congress. The Air Force had asked for only one Gulfstream 550 jet (MRSP = $65 million).

According to, the House Appropriations Committee, "at its own initiative, added to the 2010 Defense appropriations bill another $132 million for two more airplanes, and specified that they be assigned to the D.C.-area units that carry Members of Congress, military brass and top government officials."

How did this happen? Because, in the infallible opinion of the Committee, the extra planes are deemed an "expansion of an existing Defense Department program," which magically transforms the money from an earmark to someother vaguely-classified appropriation, effectively closing down the rules on disclosure and transparency about who authorized the spending.

If you're needing further jusitifcation/rationale (and Congress apparently does), please note the cost of the plane is chump-change compared to "the cost to the nation if a top official were taken hostage or harmed taking a commercial flight to a dangerous region of the world." Or travelling back to a hostile home district.

John Pike, director of explains this logic “applies to the top members of the executive branch more than it applies to the Member from the 13th district of Illinois.” Military officials “need a long-range airplane — and [it’s] better to fly them on a small one than a big one.”

Pike says it's not reasonable to expect a three-star general and a staff of five people to attend meetings around the world with several stops in far-flung locales while traveling on commercial airlines. Apparently, the rationale extends to the ruling class in Congress, too.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Bravo, Mr. Clinton

I am dismayed that some are attempting to politicize former preisdent Bill Clinton’s role in today’s return of captured U.S. Journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee: There is no question that the “right connections” were exploited to effect their release from North Korea.

However, it has been clearly stated from the beginning that Clinton’s part in this story has been one of a private citizen of the United States, admittedly with considerable resources, using a private aircraft and his personal appeal to the North Korean leadership.

That Mr. Clinton hails from the left side of the political spectrum in this country carries absolutely no weight in North Korea. That he was an effective president in terms of managing the relationship between the U.S. and that country speaks volumes—evidenced by the immediate release of the U.S. Journalists.

For those hailing from the right-end of the political rainbow to call “foul” over Mr. Clinton’s trip to Pyongyang is wrong-headed, mean-spirited, and insulting.

The bottom line is this: Mr. Clinton got them out; adhering to the official government line was not working. And which one of you, having the same resources at your disposal, would have done any differently?

In the final analysis, when called upon to serve, Mr. Clinton did what Americans do best in such circumstances: Ability + Opportunity = Responsibility.
Bravo for him, and the rest of you negatoids—shut up.