Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The big economic stimulus give away

The IRS started mailing the economic stimulus checks last Sunday, and Goldman Sachs has already compiled a list of the 10 companies that will benefit most from the extra cash: Cheesecake Factory, Best Buy, Darden Restaurants, Home Depot, JC Penney, Kroger, Kohl's, Royal Caribbean, Safeway, and, of course, Wal-Mart. (Wal-Mart was an easy guess considering that 8% of U.S. retail sales already go there.) Goldman Sachs' list looks a little strange to me. It includes no bars or lotteries. I guess you can get a drink at Cheesecake Factory or Darden, but geesh... who wants to? Also, Royal Carribbean? I know little about cruises, and have never been on one, but what's Royal Caribbean doing on Goldman's list? A $600 cruise? To where, Detroit?

In the same way that I wonder if anyone actually thinks the TSA makes air travel safer, I am amazed that anyone actually thinks a bunch of $600 checks will do the economy any real good. The money was ours to begin with. The government doesn't make real money, they just take yours and mine, though lately they have sure printed a great deal of fiat money, thus diluting what they left us. That fiat money, by the way, has largely gone into the balance sheets of financial institutions. The same guys that brought you those wonderful "liar loans" called ARMs, and passed the (promise of a) buck right along to Fannie Mae who paid them their cut and spread around the fiscal virus to investors in big packaged portfolios called mortgage derivatives. The virus spread like wildfire. Bear Stearns, the investment bank that you and I are helping to bail out, got a lot. China got some. Eventually and inexorably it all spread to you and me in the form of one the most greed festooned recessions in decades.

Oh, and the fiat money the fed is printing? Well, it comes vis-a-vis the declining fed rate, which was dropped another quarter of a percent just today. The fed rate is what bankers use to loan to other bankers, usually to help that banker meet his reserve requirements. The effect, however, is supposed to trickle down into the economy by stimulating borrowing to buy more consumer goods and capitalize enterprise. Let me ask you, has your credit card company offered to lower it's interest rate on balances held in your account? Have you tried to get a mortgage lately, or a small business loan? How about a student loan? The stuff grown men and women take seriously is really unbelievable.

As of last April 15th (tax day) the cost of the Iraq war had already been $522.5B. Today is the fifth anniversary of President Bush's "mission accomplished" speech made aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln in which he declared "major combat operations in Iraq have ended". That $522.5B is equal to $18.54 each for every person living in the U.S. That is your real cost if you are a taxpayer. The economic incentive package is supposed to provide $600 for each taxpayer, plus $300 for each dependent child. So for many of you, this all may seem like a good deal. Spend $18.54 and get back $600 or more. But don't forget to calculate the .0014% of an American military person's life that each and every person must bear. I wonder what is the cost of that? That is, of course, without calculating the cost of 1,205,025 Iraqi lives caused by the war there. But we shouldn't be bothered with that, right? Or how about the 309 other coalition troops? Peanuts yea? Maybe you feel, as some do, that those other coalition members are slackers. The stuff grown men and women do not take seriously is really unbelievable.

You know all those big Hollywood movies based on garish comic book story lines? I mean movies like “Batman”, “Sin City”, “Shoot em up”, etc.? The more I read the financial and political headlines the more I think we have entered a period of art imitating life. I can make more sense of a Salvador Dali painting then I can of what is happening today.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Cheese spread at 1 am

I know I am not supposed to do this. But when you can't sleep and you had Chinese food for dinner (which always leaves you hungry later) chances are you are going to raid the refridgerator no matter what your conscience tells you. Tonight was one of those nights for me. Foraging around the kitchen cabinets, and the refrigerator was yielding little in the way of appetizing selections. I had some wheat chex, an old standby for late snacking like this, but there was no milk. There were not any cookies in the cabinet, but even if there had been, there still would be no milk. The new jar of peanut butter beckoned, but because it was new it would leave too much evidence of my midnight run ...and of course, still no milk. Getting a bit desperate I took a second pass through the refrigerator. There, in the back behind some plastic containers holding mystery stuff, was a half consumed jar of "Best Food" cheese spread. Pulling it out from it's reclusive spot I noticed that there was a little bonus that came with consuming this pasty looking stuff.

Somewhere way back, perhaps it was in the 50s when Madison Ave. was riding the wave of "hidden pursuasion" and amidst the explosive opportunities of television, someone noticed that at home, they gave their kids milk in jelly jars. They did that because the kids had long before broken the entire set of drinking glasses they had purchased at Woolsworth. They weren't going to use their favorite highball glasses only to have them broken also. The solution was found in jelly jars. They worked, were good enough for the kids, and were free to boot. But someone doing that at home, took the idea back to their advertising office and invented the idea of making jelly jars that looked like drinking glasses. This idea led to increased brand loyalty because once you had one jelly jar glass, you obviously would want a full set.
It seems the idea still has legs and indeed, it was embodied in the jar of whipped cheese sitting in the fridge. All the better I thought as I liberated the cheese and popped the lid. A waft of sourish odor rose to my nostrils so suddenly I took a defensive step back. After relidding the offending goo, I searched for the expiry date. There it was, hidden in small print under the ingredients list. The stuff was older then my most comfortable slippers (and smelled about the same). So I happily ran the hot water into the glass feeling that, in any case, I had recovered a small treasure. It was a rather handsome thing after all, especially with the crud washed out of it. The shape could be described as a fat hollow stem at the base of an on-the-rocks glass. After admiring the now glistening bonus, I set it on the drain board and turned out the lights in the kitchen. The sour "cheese" odor had put me off my feed. (Note to self: keep something rotten in the icebox as a discipline aid) I wandered back to bed thinking about my good luck. I love free stuff.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Another attempt at a blog

A couple of years ago I made a second attempt at starting a blog on another convenient blog site. My first attempt was a sort of roll-your-own html which had collapsed under the weight of time consumption. With the second attempt I was pretty regular in my postings, which were aimed at family members back in the USA. I wrote as eloquently as I could about this and that. The problem was that no one ever wrote back (hardly)and that was an outcome I had hoped for. Maybe it was because much of what I wrote about in those days were rants about the things I missed, or complaints I had about politics back on the homefront. (I never have been very fond of "Dubya". He strikes me as a dangerous man. About 1/3 of the way into my time in Asia he went and pissed off the whole world which made Americans a bit unpopular in these parts. Besides that, his mother looks like George Washington. I mean really, are his parents a same sex marriage? Probably not, but I do suspect them of being first cousins or something. I mean...look at "Dubya".)
But I am straying. To get back on point: my intent here is to keep it light and post about a variety of topics that will be of interest albeit primarily to me. I'll comment on life in these parts and how, more often than not, the joke is on me. (This alone will yield vast quantities of material to write about.) As to readership, if that were the only reason for writing I perhaps should have a backup plan and start work on a porno site. But the truth is I am writing just to write. It is my way of relaxing and jelling various thoughts that come to mind. Among topics that may repeat will be music, cultural pecadillos, politics, history, books, films, technology, wine, poetry, traveling, photography, and SEX, SEX, SEX (just fishing for google hits...sorry.)