Monday, October 31, 2005

What a Waste 

This topic seems appropriate after my recent jaunt in Sin City.

What is morality? Dictionary.com defines it as,
  1. The quality of being in accord with standards of right or good conduct.
  2. A system of ideas of right and wrong conduct: religious morality; Christian morality.
  3. Virtuous conduct.
  4. A rule or lesson in moral conduct.
Any of these things are an opinion. The opinion of either an individual or a group (a town, state, country) as to what is "good conduct" or "virtuous". This has nothing to do with acts against another - such as rape, robbery or beating - these all are infringements on the liberties of others, but how we live with ourselves. Our own compass that guides us in our daily interactions. One person's moral code may require civil discourse, and opening of doors for ladies, and helping the elderly when crossing the street. Another person may fart in public, chew their food with their mouth open and swear like a drunken sailor. Two ends of the spectrum, but both should be legal and not infringed upon by a government entity, because it's how they choose to live their lives, and no one else's liberties are being infringed upon.

With very few exceptions, government should not intercede in how you morally live your life. I think a community has the right to say where a specific type of business may operate - via zoning laws - buy should not be able to totally ban a business simply because the bulk of a community finds the product offensive. And a government should NEVER be able to restrict the actions of a consenting adult in the privacy of their own home, unless those activities infringe on the rights of others.

The obvious issue would be pornography. If you or other consenting adults want to watch it in your own home, regardless of how disgusting is may be to others, you have - should have - the right to watch it. Child porn is another issue altogether, as a child is unable to legally make decisions for themselves, thus society has the duty to place restrictions upon the activities in which a child may participate - such as sex. Since the product was the result of an illegal act (a child having sex), the use of the product itself should be illegal.

When it comes to morality, no consenting adult should want government interference in their lives, regardless of where you reside in the political or morality spectrum. The reason is obvious: What the government deems moral today maybe deemed immoral by the government tomorrow, and your freedom to participate in that activity may be restricted, or made illegal.

I laid this detailed groundwork because the subject that sparked this post is a controversial one: Personal drug use.

I was directed to an article written by NORML, a pro-marijuana organization, and the information they cite in their article is very disturbing.
Nearly 800 thousand Americans were arrested by the morality police last year. Nearly 700 thousand simply for possessing the pot. Not for robbery. Not for rape. Not for murder. For choosing to possess, and ingest or sell a substance. That is disgusting.

Why should our government care what we put into our bodies? If I want to do crack, coke, heroin, opium, meth, uppers, downers - whatever - I should be able to do so. If I want to ruin my life - as I can legally do with alcohol - why should the government have the ability to stop me? I'm of legal age and I'm not infringing on the rights of others - Don't Tread On Me.

What is laughable, is that I CAN take all of these drugs and ruin my life right now if I choose, but I will also end up in jail if caught. The result is a skyrocketing cost of the drugs (gotta pay the drug-lords, doncha know), a pissing-away of tax dollars in pursuing me, pursuing my sellers and employing my jailers all for..... what social good? Some bureaucrat's idea of morality.

I find it so disturbing that Americans readily give up their rights to their own vision of the Pursuit of Happiness, because of some morality play by zealots. You would have thought we learned from the mistakes of Prohibition. Bad guys get rich and powerful, people still get their self-medication and tax dollars are pissed away trying to stop both parties of the transaction.

Don't we ever learn? You can't legislate morality. Show me a single morality law in America - a law based solely upon restricting the rights of consenting adults - that has ever been successful in ending an "immoral" behavior, and I'll paint my ass red and run through the park.

I'm very secure in the knowledge that my ass will never be seen in public (you're probably just grateful!). It would be equally nice to know that 800 thousand of our fellow citizens were secure in the knowledge that they could make decisions about their own lives and not have Nanny running them off to jail.

Let your legislators hear your voices.


Thursday, October 27, 2005

Little Sumthin Sumthin 

Nearly Unbearable Work Schedule.....

Still in Vegas, but thought I'd drop y'all a line with how things are going. I've got to admit, I miss the political banter and analysis. I've already made drafts of a couple of posts for when I return to the real world.

For those of you that have never been to Vegas, in a nutshell, It's A Trip. I'm staying at the MGM Grand, and have yet to leave the premises! It is truly a city within a city. It takes me a 15 minute walk to get from my room to the convention center for our classes, and this is all within the same facility. Unreal.

It's expensive as hell. Our first night here, I took 2 other employees out to dinner. Japanese restaurant. They each had chicken terryaki, and I had a sushi sampler. Two bottles of sake (375ml each). The bill (with tip): $320. Glad this was on the bank's tab!

They've designed this place so you never need to leave. Spa, restaurants, bars, gambling, shows, and yes, it wouldn't be Vegas without a wedding chapel.

Also, I have the coolest thing EVER in my room. When I first got there, I was a little disturbed by the design. When you walk in the front door, you're IN the bathroom. There are then little stalls for the shitter and the shower (awesome shower!). Anyway, I notice that the mirror is all screwed up. It's got what looks like the hole you get when you shoot a piece of glass with a BB gun. Right below this is a big black square, like someone scratched the silver off of the back of the mirror. I'm pissed off.

I then realize what this thing is. It's a frigging TV that's actually part of the mirror! It's not like it's inset in the glass where they cut a hole and glue in a set. It's inside the damned mirror. The BB hole is for the remote control commands. Check this out.

I've kicked ass and taken names playing poker. Played 3 nights; won 3 nights. People are so damned stupid to drink and gamble (I get one beer and nurse it for 4 hours!). Every once in a while they will catch a hand and win a few chips, but mostly, they're acting like broken ATM machines, dispensing money to all that ask. Must be nice to be rich to be able to afford that!

I'll see ya at the tables..... Uhm, I mean, see ya next week!


Thursday, October 20, 2005

Ya Gotta Do What Ya Gotta Do 

Cry me a river....

Posting will be very light, if at all, for the next week or so. Work calls. Today will be my last day in the office until Holloween, so I have a butt-load of stuff to get done today before I toil for my masters while on the road.

Tomorrow, I am being forced to play golf on the Monterey Peninsula - Carmel to be precise - in a charity golf tournament my bank sponsors. I'll then spend the weekend with My Baby at a spa. The things I do for this joint.....

Then, from Monday to Friday of next week, I have to attend a conference.... in VEGAS, baby! I'll have to put up with the offerings of the MGM Grand while trying to comprehend obscure banking software.

I am such a selfless kinda guy. Give, give, give all the time ;-)

See ya in a week.... (unless I pop in to gloat!)


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Back to 23: TK 

Put me in a funk all day

Yesterday, I was reading one of those posts where someone "tags" you. You then need to do something, and "pass it on". Cait had something similar, but it was voluntary. Out of curiosity, I went back to see what I had written on my 23rd post. Wow.

The rules were:

1. Delve into your blog archive.
2. Find your 23rd post.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions.

The post was simply titled, "TK". The fifth sentence was, "He was a black kid from Richmond, California."

Seriously, I got all choked up. Again. It's a post about a kid that found his way out of the ghettos, became a star athlete, became a true role model, showed what you could do with your life.

And how he was gunned down 2 days before leaving for a full-ride college scholarship to the University of Oregon.

What a waste, on so many levels.


Monday, October 17, 2005

Capitalism Sucks! 

At least that's how it's viewed here in The People's Republic

California has a special election coming up in November. I'm eventually going to write pieces on a couple of the propositions when we get closer to election day, but this one has just got my blood boiling.

It's Proposition 79. In a nutshell, it is about providing discount prescription drugs to poor folks. It has a competing Proposition, number 78 that will probably get my vote. It is targeted at truly poor individuals and families (Prop 79 sets the bar at $77,000 a year for a family of 4. That's too high, even here in California).

Anyway, Prop 79 also contains a section titled, "Profiteering From Drug Sales". Hmmmm, I sez to myself, what might the neo-communists be brewing with this little item?
Profiteering From Drug Sales. Existing state law does not limit the prices or profits that can be earned on the sale of prescription drugs in California. This measure changes state law to make it a civil violation for drug makers and certain other specified parties to engage in profiteering from the sale of prescription drugs.
I'm not sure what that means, "engage in profiteering from the sale of prescription drugs". Hopefully, the drafter of this proposition can clear this up for us poor, stupid, and apparently greed, Californians.
The definition of profiteering includes demanding "“an unconscionable price"” for a drug or demanding "“prices or terms that lead to any unjust and unreasonable profit."
Hmmm, how do you quantify "unconscionable price"? Who gets to determine what is an "unjust and unreasonable profit"?
Profiteering on drugs would be subject to prosecution by the Attorney General or through a lawsuit filed by any person acting in the interests of itself, its members, or the general public. Violators could be penalized in the amount of $100,000 or triple the amount of damages, whichever was greater, plus legal costs.
Oh. I see. So if I feel that I'm being charged too much, I now have legal standing to sue a drug company for some relief against their "unconscionable prices". Great.

What these pinheads don't understand is that the reason these drugs have been invented is because of profit. Period. The drug companies are not the benevolent entities, looking to help mankind fulfill it's promise.

No, they are corporations that dump BILLIONS of private dollars into Research and Development to find a cure for cancer or MS or AIDS or heart disease or erectile dysfunction. When they hit a "Home Run", they expect to be compensated for the effort. Our government established the Patent Office to allow people that invent new things, to have the sole right to sell the new invention for 17 years (it may be slightly different for drugs). And this system has worked.

Capitalism is the greatest motivator for innovation. People like to be rich. That's what the American Dream is all about.

Take away that incentive to innovate and here's what's going to happen: First, the drug companies will stop selling to Californians because of the cost of defending lawsuits. California will be shit-out-of-luck and will revert to some sort of third world state - never seeing newly invented, life-saving drugs.

If the neo-communists are successful in forcing prices down, the drug companies will go into "maintenance" mode, and stop innovating. We'll never see another new drug, because there will be no incentive to produce it.

We'll see how this proposition fares. We're flaky enough here in California to be swayed into voting for this measure. God help us if we do, because the drug companies certainly won't be helping in the future.


Friday, October 14, 2005

Camel Toes and Other Sexual Oddities 

Warning: This post constructed under the influence of a kick-ass Manhattan cocktail. OK, two of them.

You've been warned......

So. I'm over at Caits, and I see a post on Camel Toes. If you don't know what they are, check out this post. Yes, there is actually a site called The Camel Toe Report. I shit you not.

Anyway, I was enlightened to find out that there are male camel toes, so to speak, too. Being the curious gentleman I am, I check out, uhm, the pix.

I nearly busted a gut when I got to the final picture.

Look at the sack on this critter. Let's put this little fucker into perspective: His nuts hang to his knees. Yeah, go back and look again.

Look at his face. He knows he's packin' a wallup. He's got that same look in his eyes, as John Holmes had. You know the look: Don't bother, little fella, I've got ya covered....

Back to politics and econ next week! lol


Thursday, October 13, 2005

Our Iraqi Failure 

I just opened a can of worms over at Ravenwood's Universe, so I'm going to be a bit proactive and spell out why we have stepped on our own peckers over in Iraq, and if we had anyone in the US government with a lick of sense, we would not have gotten ourselves into this predicament. This soon-to-be quagmire.

OK, we went to Iraq, ostensibly, to fight terrorists. Now, even at the time of the invasion, our administration noted there were no solid ties between Iraq and al Qaeda. Although they clearly were trying to plant a link between the two in the American mind - which they did very successfully - the "official" line was that there was no real link.

So if we're not going there to kill al Qaeda ('cause they're not there), what is our goal, and how likely is it that it will be accomplished?

The "What is our goal" question may never be answered. Publicly, Bush said it was to rid the world of WMDs, making the world safer, to end Saddam's continued nose-thumbing at the UN resolutions, punishing a killer of his people, etc. All of these might be worthy goals, but none of them are the responsibility of the US. Even as the "last remaining super-power", we are not the cops of the world. They may have been on the periphery, but couldn't warrant an invasion.

There had to be something else.

No, it wasn't oil. While I'm not a fan of Bush's - for reasons other than this foray into Iraq - I don't think he's an intentionally dishonorable guy. Misguided and gullible, perhaps, but not intentionally dishonorable. What do I mean by "intentionally dishonorable"? Going into Iraq with the intent to steal oil, under the guise of The War On Terror, would be intentionally dishonorable. I think Bush had what he believed to be honorable intentions for Iraq, so he stretched the truth a bit to sell it to the American populous. The ends justify the means.

I believe he went into Iraq to spread democracy. Even if the true goal was the elimination of the items listed above, we certainly could not expect to go in, kick ass, then go home. No, building a democracy had to be part of the package.

"What a horrendous goal", you might mockingly cry. Save the sarcasm. Regardless of how honorable his goals - how noble his cause - it would be a waste of time, materiel and lives if it could not reasonably be expected to be accomplished.

With the methods Bush employed, it is not only unlikely he will succeed, it is virtually impossible.

With his tactics, for him to succeed, he will need to have an entire country renounce their religion. Islam and democracy are like oil and water. The two will never mix. One is a highly controlling, top-down hierarchy - no room for dissent. The other provides the power to the individual - it encourages dissent.

Anyone who has ever opened a history book or spoken to a Muslim would have known this. It's not like their philosophy was some deep, dark secret. People have accepted - embraced - this philosophy for fifteen hundred years. Why would Bush think he could get an entire country to change their religious beliefs and perception of the world in a blink of an eye? Or, if he understood this, why has he not used the only other viable option, that of total military rule, as was imposed on Germany and Japan, after WWII?

Look what has transpired. The Iraqis have a constitution. A constitution - which we strongly endorse - which states that Islamic law will trump constitutional law. So if the elected leader of the country happens to be a radical cleric - say one sponsored by neighboring Iran - and he doesn't like a provision of the constitution, he has the legal authority to supersede the constitutional law with Islamic law. Oh, and Islamic law is whatever is defined by the head cleric. So the value of the newly minted constitution is..... zip.

Most democracies are "organic" things. They grow by themselves. They can be fed and watered by others - nurtured - but they have to grow on their own. And it doesn't happen over night. There is not (and never has been) a single democracy in the world that emerged overnight simply because of the prodding of some greater power, unless that power had the will to totally control and govern during the "formative" years. Most democracies grow and continue to thrive because people want them to succeed. The US is the obvious shining example of this.

The "soil" in Iraq is not fertile for democracy. The people showed no signs of a desire for change. They had not yet reached the "tipping point" needed for a rebellion from their masters. Conversely, our military commitment to Iraq shows we have no desire to use the "heavy hand" approach to building a democracy.

So, since there is no internal Iraqi engine driving towards democracy, and we are not willing to force democracy upon them, the outcome will likely be....

another embarrassment... and waste of national treasure... and waste of American lives.


Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Uncomfortable Position 

How Far Should Nanny Go?

Last week, I did a post called Philosophic Differences, where I was discussing the differences between Republicans and Conservatives. In the comments section, I was having a chat with Guy and Cait. Cait made a comment about how if a person has 10 spouses, only the first one should be eligible for Social Security Insurance (SSI) benefits. Her point was that we should be free to have as many kids and spouses as we want, but society will only pay for the "first litter", so to speak.

I replied that I didn't think SSI should pay for anything other than retirement - that's what it was built for. It has grown into this bloated bureaucracy that is costing us an arm and a leg. I said that if the parents could not care for that child, that he/she should become a ward of the state. I still support that statement. I then said,
And yes, sterilization is part of the equation for repeat offenders - men and women.
And it's bothered me ever since.

I am a cut-it-to-the-bone kind of guy. Smaller government is the only "salvation" of this country. Keep Nanny out of our lives whenever possible. Don't tell me what I can watch on TV, what books I can read, what drugs I can ingest or with whom I can have sex.

Yet I'm advocating government sponsored sterilization. Hell, not just sponsored, but forced sterilization. I don't know if I'm really OK with that.

On the one hand, you have men and women that indiscriminately procreate without any intention of supporting the resultant children. They don't give a damn. They're "gettin' their nut" and moving on. Society is then burdened with providing the financial support for these kids. It's not their fault that their genetic donors are irresponsible.

On the other hand, how can you justify stripping a person of the most basic of functions? This would be the most extreme intrusion by Nanny into our lives. Who decides when you "fix" a person or just send them to prison (resulting in yet another ongoing maintenance cost)? After 2 kids? After 7?

I just don't know. It seemed so clear when I first wrote the words. It may be a necessary evil to help save our society and minimize the suffering of innocent children. It doesn't mean I have to like it.


Sunday, October 09, 2005

Pet Evacuations 

Our latest winner of the Spotlight On Stupidity Award

The trade of governing has always been monopolized by the most ignorant and the most rascally individuals of mankind. ---Thomas Paine

We have really lost our frigging minds. Tom Lantos, whom I can proudly (puke) claim as one of my fine Congressmen from California (shocking, I know), has decided that the pin-heads in Louisiana have stolen all of the Dumbshit Spotlight, and he needs to grab some for himself.

He's done a fine job with his latest proposal.

It seems that Mr. Lantos wants us to spend our hard-earned tax dollars to require that pets be rescued in a disaster. No, really. I'm not kidding.
Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., who encourages his staff to bring their dogs to work, has introduced legislation requiring state and local governments to devise emergency evacuation plans for pets, or else lose out on disaster grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
His rationale is that people are put in the position of having to make a personal choice about whether they should evacuate without their pets, or stay behind and face the wrath of a storm with their pets. Well, we can't have people making their own decisions, now, can we?!

If someone is so frigging stupid to risk their lives because of a pet, they are hereby nominated for a Darwin Award.

Now, I'm a pet owner, and have been my entire life. I love my dogs with all of my heart. They are almost a part of our family. But if Katrina is bearing down on my ass, and it's between me or a family member, and my dogs, well, they're going to the Great Kennel In The Sky.

What really burns my ass is the way this is being set up. Essentially, his bill says, "If you don't provide for the evacuation of pets, the Feds will withhold money for humans."

[Sigh] Damn, now there is another representative from The People's Republic of California that I need to work on getting removed from office. So many dopes, so little time....


Thursday, October 06, 2005

Big Oil and Your Mortgage 

It ain't all bad....

I've mentioned before that I'm a banker. Most of my career has been in either the high-tech end of the business or in the lending side. I recently took over the position of Chief Lending Officer at our bank. A huge part of my job revolves around breaking out the crystal ball to see how local, national and world events may affect our business.

The bulk of this is done in a committee called ALCO. That stands for Asset and Liability COmmittee. We had a very interesting meeting earlier this week, and I thought I'd pass along some of the information.

Most people have heard that the Federal Reserve Bank and Alan Greenspan have raised rates 11 times over the past 15 months. Each time they do it, the rates have grown by 0.25%. That may not seem like much, but over that span of time, this has been an increase of 2.75%. The increase has been made to the Fed Funds Rate, which now sits at 3.75%. This is the rate at which banks can borrow from the Fed. This, in turn, drives the rate at which we charge our best customers - our prime customers - via the Prime Rate. This is generally 3% above the Fed Funds Rate, so it now sits at 6.75%.

On the consumer side, the prime rate is generally used for short-term lending. Car loans, credit cards, home equity loans. These are generally more risky lending categories, so banks want rates to fluctuate as market rates change. This helps with our Interest Rate Risk calculations.

Historically, when the Prime rate has changed, there has been a corresponding change in long-term rates. These would include 10 year Treasury rates and in turn, mortgage rates. The rate changes might not be an exact parallel, but the trends would be the same. But that hasn't been the case.

In June of 2004, the 10 year Treasury was priced at 4.71%. Since then, the aforementioned Prime Rate has risen by 2.75%. During that same period, the 10 year Treasury has dropped to 4.36%, a decrease of 0.35%!

Obviously, something else is at play in the markets, and it looks like the "culprit" has been found.

The September 30th Wall Street Journal Credit Markets section headline blared, "Oil Money Funnels Into Treasurys". The sub-head read, "Foreign Petrodollars' Move Into Long-Term U.S. Bonds May Keep Borrowing Cheap".

And now it all made sense.

It's all a function of supply and demand. The article points out that for every $10 increase in the price of a barrel of oil, revenue to the oil producing countries increases by $300 billion! These guys are swimming in money. They have such astronomical amounts of excess cash reserves, that they are flooding the US Treasury market, pushing down prices. Money is cheap!

What does this mean to you? If you want to buy or refinance a house, you should be in pretty good shape for the foreseeable future. All of this foreign money is going into long-term Treasurys, so it will be staying put for a while.

This is good news if you're in the real estate sales business, construction field, or in any line of business that supplies the construction industry. It will also be good news for non-bank lenders.

On the flip side, it won't be so good for traditional banks or Savings and Loans. Our cost of funds are generally driven by short-term rates - Fed Funds or deposit accounts. These rates are going up, while at the same time the amount we can charge for mortgages is staying flat or decreasing. This is shrinking our margins. This is where we pay our salaries and make our profits.

Banks can try and lend with Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARM's), but it will be tough with non-banks offering 30-year fixed rate loans.

I'm glad my bank does very little consumer lending (we primarily offer different types of business loans). If I worked for a bank that primarily lent on home loans, I'd be a bit worried about my bank being around in a couple of years. It may get ugly out there, folks.


Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Philosophic Differences 

Conservative vs. Republican

On the way into work today, I was listening to one of the few conservative talk-radio stations in the SF Bay Area. Between portions of the show, they occasionally play mini-sermons from Rush Limbaugh. He'll give his opinion on this or that subject, usually railing against the evils of liberalism.

I should probably point out, I don't have an overly high opinion of Rush. I have found that those who tend to be "preachy" about how you should live your life very often tend to get caught with their pants down around their ankles - literally and figuratively. Jimmy Swaggart, Bill O'Reilly and Rush himself, all come to mind.

Anyway, his sermon today was about polygamy. It seems that some guy in the Netherlands has formed a civil union with two women (the Netherlands won't perform a marriage for this, but does allow the civil union). He ranted and raved about how this was immoral, and finished up with the usual line, to the effect, "Next thing you'll know, liberals will be saying it should be OK for anyone to marry a gerbil." Damn, this guy is an ass.

It got me thinking of the differences between Conservatives and Republicans. The dictionary has tons of definitions of Conservative. I tend to adhere to the definitions that lean towards moderation or limited use of resources. In a political context, it means smaller government, in every sense of the word.

I have found that Republicans, in general, tend to attach a definition more akin to "One favoring traditional views and values" or "tending to oppose change".

I think it goes deeper than that. I have found that it really means trying to make everyone live by their "traditional values". And that's where I part company with most Republicans.

I have what I believe to be traditional values. Honesty, respect, religiousness, hard work and integrity are all ideals I (at least try to) incorporate into my life, and which I have taught to my kids. But I would never try and force my lifestyle on someone else, especially through laws and regulations.

Society has the obligation to set the "Age of Consent" - usually 18. Until this age, it is presumed that you don't have the capacity to understand the potential ramifications of your decisions. But upon that age, you are considered an adult, and the government should have no right or desire to tell you how to live your life. If you want to have 10 wives or 10 husbands, go ahead. Why should society tell you how many spouses to have (or their sex), how many children to produce or the number of sex partners to grope?

It shouldn't. A truly conservative government only intervenes into the lives of it's citizens when the actions of one negatively affect another. You can shove the "Holier Than Thou" or "We know what's best for you" attitude right up your tightly-puckered ass.

And of course, Rush's "gerbil marriage" is an utterly fallacious argument. His pet gerbil is not a sentient being, thus isn't capable of consent.

In Rush's twisted world, if he got a little too frisky in the sack, his gerbil wife would not have the mental capacity to divorce his drug-addled ass. She might nibble his nuts off, though, so maybe I need to rethink my position....


Tuesday, October 04, 2005

If I Were Da Prez, Part II 

Yesterday, I discussed the first part of a list of things I think we need to do to make this country great again. That list was strictly about Smaller Government. Today, the list includes National Security and The Rest Of It.

National Security


Monday, October 03, 2005

If I Were Da Prez 

We Can All Dream, Can't We...

I was kicking around ideas with a friend a few weeks ago about what a political platform would look like were either of us to run for President. I put a little bit of though into it, and realized that my list isn't so much a platform, but a list of things I would change.

My list was grouped into 3 rough groups: Smaller Government, National Defense, All The Rest.

Here today are the planks on my Smaller Government platform:


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