RSSCategory: Consumerism

The Free Market Problem

April 27, 2011 | By | 3 Replies More
The Free Market Problem

Paul Ryan and his supporters are trying to sell their spending cut and lower tax program and they’re getting booed at town hall meetings.  They’re finally cutting into people’s pockets who can’t defend themselves.  They thought they were doing what their constituency wanted and must be baffled at this negative response.

Okay, this might get a bit complicated, but not really.  It just requires a shift in perspective away from the definition of capitalism we’ve been being sold since Reagan to something that is more descriptive of what actually happens.  Theory is all well and good and can be very useful in specific instances, but a one-size-fits-all approach to something as basic as resources is destined to fail.

Oh, I’m sorry, let me back up a sec there—fail if your stated goal is to float all boats, to raise the general standard of living, to provide jobs and resources sufficient to sustain a viable community at a decent level.  If, on the other hand, your goal is to feed a machine that generates larger and larger bank accounts for fewer and fewer people at the expense of communities, then by all means keep doing what we’ve been doing.

Here’s the basic problem.  People think that the free market and capitalism are one and the same thing.  They are not.  THEY ARE CLOSELY RELATED and both thrive in the presence of the other, but they are not the same thing.

But before all that we have to understand one thing—there is no such thing as a Free Market.  None.  Someone always dominates it, controls it, and usually to the detriment of someone else.

How is it a free market when one of the most salient features of it is the ability of a small group to determine who will be allowed to participate and at what level?  I’m not talking about the government here, I’m talking about big business, which as standard practice does all it can to eliminate competitors through any means it can get away with and that includes market manipulations that can devalue smaller companies and make them ripe for take-over or force them into bankruptcy.

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My favorite billboard ever

February 8, 2011 | By | 3 Replies More
My favorite billboard ever

Here it is, my favorite billboard.

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Beware Little Brother

December 27, 2010 | By | 6 Replies More
Beware Little Brother

Paranoia waxes and wanes in this country, but let’s set aside the propensity for some media personalities of late to fan the “they’re out to get you” flames. Even with the ubiquitous presence of Youtube videos from cell phone cameras and more heightening the sensitivity of everyone not a celebrity to the truth that someone is always watching, I’ll submit that few are aware of this surreptitious encroachment on our privacy…

Eva Galperin, at the Electronic Frontier Foundation writes in a commentary entitled “What is Traitorware?“:

Your digital camera may embed metadata into photographs with the camera’s serial number or your location. Your printer may be incorporating a secret code on every page it prints which could be used to identify the printer and potentially the person who used it. If Apple puts a particularly creepy patent it has recently applied for into use, you can look forward to a day when your iPhone may record your voice, take a picture of your location, record your heartbeat, and send that information back to the mothership.

I am a dinosaur when it comes to coding. I used to be able to reverse engineer programs to figure out how they worked – for fun or to learn a neat method, not for malicious purposes; it’s like taking apart a laser pointer or a DVD player…just a curiosity. But today’s software and hardware have too many hooks into other libraries, chips and Skynets. I have an iPhone to which I accede an agreement to 47+ pages of terms in order to use the only resource for loading applications (that would be the ever frustratingly inept coding known as iTunes) unless I want to jailbreak it. Uh, not today.

And for that, plus my microwave, camera, and who knows what else, I yield my privacy.

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Ads they don’t run any more

December 17, 2010 | By | 1 Reply More
Ads they don’t run any more

They don’t run these sorts of ads anymore. I remember many of these sorts of ads. It’s amazing how far we have come in the past 50 years, and this gives me a glimmer of hope for the future.

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Looking for Jesus at Christmas

November 19, 2010 | By | 1 Reply More
Looking for Jesus at Christmas

Because Christmas is quickly approaching, I decided to start looking for Jesus in the easiest places to find large numbers of people: big box stores. More specifically, I’m looking for large images of Jesus, not thumb-sized Jesus Babies tucked away in a little mangers.

I started my hunt at Lowe’s two days ago. I found huge Santas, reindeer, snowmen, elves, penguins wearing hats and fashion-model angels, but no Jesus. How odd, that when a celebration is supposedly only about Jesus, you won’t find any prominent images of Jesus. You’d expect to see huge inflatable images of Jesus on the roofs of the stores and on their parking lots. You’d expect to find life-sized Jesus images on people lawns. You’d expect to see large statues of bloodied Jesuses on crosses, his alleged moment of glory. But, except for those little Jesus babies you might find in an occasional manger kit, that doesn’t really feature him, you won’t find Jesus, even though he is the purported reason for all the fuss. Nor will you find stores promoting his alleged teachings. Such strange compartmentalization.

Why is it that we don’t see a life sized Jesus statue trying to get us to buy that new iPod? Or a Jesus image urging us to buy a life-sized Santa? Apparently, the image of Jesus doesn’t sell plastic goods and gadgets. Is that because Jesus is never alleged to have said anything about going into debt by buying lots of consumer goods. Is it because it would be tasteless to buy all of this crap with the image of the alleged creator of the universe, the man who allowed himself to be tortured to save your eternal life, staring at you?

Or is it because we don’t really believe the things we say about Jesus, and that we actually don’t believe in Jesus, but we only believe in belief?

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The Dollar Got More Annoying

November 18, 2010 | By | 6 Replies More
The Dollar Got More Annoying

This is not about the falling value of our currency with respect to the rest of the world, but rather a reprise on my 2007 post, In God We Trust wherein I complained about the propagation of the cold war addition of God to our money in the latest series of presidential dollar coins. The had stamped “In God We Trust” around the edge, along with the date.

But the latest dollars have God on the face, and hide the date and the uniquely and importantly American “E Pluribus Unum” on the edge. Do they think that Sacajawea trusted in in the Old World God?

I really think that we should get rid of the old cold war legacies, and take God back off of our money and back out of the pledge to the flag (as I discussed in
The Changing Recipe of Pleasure Lesion Stew). One could argue that this would show the world that we are confident of our faith, instead of protesting it too much.

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Lessons Learned?

November 7, 2010 | By | 2 Replies More
Lessons Learned?

What can be drawn from this recent election that speaks to America?

To listen to the bombast, this election is all about money. Who has it, where it comes from, what it’s to be spent on, when to cut it off. An angry electorate looking at massive job loss and all that that implies tossed out the previous majority in Congress over money. This is not difficult to understand. People are frightened that they will no longer be able to pay their bills, keep their homes, send their children to college. Basic stuff. Two years into the current regime and foreclosures are still high, unemployment still high, fear level still high, and the only bright spot concerns people who are seemingly so far removed from such worries as to be on another plain of existence. The stock market has been steadily recovering over the last two years. Which means the economy is growing.

Slowly. Economic forecasters talking on the radio go on and on about the speed of the recovery and what it means for jobs.

Out of the other end of the media machine, concern over illegal immigrants and outsourcing are two halves of the same worry. Jobs are going overseas, and those that are left are being filled by people who don’t even belong here. The government has done nothing about either—except in Arizona, where a law just short of a kind of fascism has been passed, and everyone else has been ganging up on that state, telling them how awful they are. And of course seemingly offering nothing in place of a law that, for it’s monumental flaws, still is something.

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The Pundit’s Whine

October 29, 2010 | By | 2 Replies More
The Pundit’s Whine

I try to ignore Glenn Beck. I think he’s pathetic. All he can do is whine about things he quite often doesn’t understand. For instance, his latest peeve has to do with being bumped out of line by science fiction. Yeah, that’s right. Glenn Beck’s book Broke has been number 1 on Amazon for a while and it apparently got beat out finally by a science fiction anthology.

His complaint that this is from “the left” is telling. First off he’s trying to make it sound like some profound philosophical issue, that a science fiction collection outsold his book on Amazon. (He also noted that the Keith Richards autobiography bumped him as well and please note the twist he gives that.)

Why the Left? Is science fiction a left-wing thing? I know a lot of SF writers who style themselves right-wing, libertarian, conservative, etc. Some of them are very good, too, and I have read some of their work with pleasure. Unless they were writing from an overtly political stance, I found no reason to call them on their “rightishness” because they outsold another writer’s work that might have been a bit leftish. This is just a silly complaint and displays an obsession with partisan politics or just immaturity. This is, of course, Glenn Beck we’re talking about, who seems to find more reasons to evoke Nazi similes than any other pundit I know of and has occasionally shed tears over the abuse he sees our great country enduring from the left.

But this is ridiculous. Because isn’t this…I mean, Glenn, isn’t this just the free market making itself heard? Your book can’t stay number one because that would belie the whole principle of competition you claim to believe in. Everybody who works hard and honestly should have their shot at being number one for a little while and this anthology is a poster-child for hard work and perseverance because, well, it’s self-published! It doesn’t even have a major (or minor) publishing house behind it! It got there all on its own, man! This is the flower of the free market! David whupping Goliath’s ass! This should make you proud!

No, he berates it because it has to do with death or the culture of death, which he equates with left-wing politics somehow. And for good measure drags Keith Richards into the whole death equation.

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An outrageous prediction regarding millions of illegal foreclosures conducted by banks

October 13, 2010 | By | 7 Replies More
An outrageous prediction regarding millions of illegal foreclosures conducted by banks

We now know that many of the “foreclosure experts” who were signing many thousands (perhaps millions) of affidavits that allowed banks to kick delinquent homeowners out of their homes were utterly unqualified to understand the sorts of technical information they were spewing while under oath. In short, the banks were allowing and requiring incompetent employees to lie under oath in order to allow foreclosures to go forward:

In an effort to rush through thousands of home foreclosures since 2007, financial institutions and their mortgage servicing departments hired hair stylists, Walmart floor workers and people who had worked on assembly lines and installed them in “foreclosure expert” jobs with no formal training, a Florida lawyer says. In depositions released Tuesday, many of those workers testified that they barely knew what a mortgage was. Some couldn’t define the word “affidavit.” Others didn’t know what a complaint was, or even what was meant by personal property. Most troubling, several said they knew they were lying when they signed the foreclosure affidavits and that they agreed with the defense lawyers’ accusations about document fraud.

Even under the assumption that many or most of these homeowners were actually delinquent, this is incredibly disturbing. Richard H. Neiman, New York’s top bank regulator and a member of the Congressional Oversight Panel, a federal bailout watchdog, has expressed concern:

“In recent days, it has become apparent that a number of mortgage loan servicers have submitted affidavits or other foreclosure documents that appear to have procedural defects,” the Conference of State Bank Supervisors said in a statement. “In addition, many affidavits may have been signed without a notary public being present.

NPR has provided a more detailed description about the kind of people who served as “robo-signers”:

ARNOLD: [T]his GMAC employee told him that even though he was supposed to be certifying the accuracy of the documents in a homeowner’s file…
Mr. COX: He said he that doesn’t look at them. He doesn’t bother to go search them out in the computer to look at them.
ARNOLD: And Cox said the sheer volume of foreclosures appeared to make doing a thorough job impossible. Stefan testified he’s signing between eight and 10,000 documents a month.
Mr. COX: That works out to be about one a minute. Some of those loan files contain a hundred or more documents.
ARNOLD: Housing advocates call employees like this robo-signers. They say they barely have a chance to glance at all the documents that they’re asked to sign.

These fraudulent foreclosure cases are hitting the courts all over. And they should, because many of these homeowners were lied to on the way in (about “yield spread premiums” and exploding ARM’s and hidden penalties), and now they (and the courts) are being lied to on the way out. In fact, based on my personal experience as a consumer lawyer, the lies on the way in, and the shodding servicing, led to the foreclosure.

Here’s a synopsis of a lawsuit filed Oct 1, 2010 by Center for Responsible Lending:

Five Maine residents filed a complaint today against GMAC Mortgage, LLC (GMAC) on behalf of themselves and a class of Maine homeowners, alleging that the company routinely and systematically files false certifications that it has a right to foreclose on Maine homeowners, and false affidavits when asking courts to enter foreclosure judgments.

The homeowners complain that GMAC files these false documents knowing that the courts in Maine will rely on them in deciding whether foreclosures can go forward and in allowing GMAC to sell their homes. Depositions of GMAC employees revealed that they do not verify the truth of information necessary to give GMAC the right to foreclose when they sign these court documents and that these improper practices have been in place since at least 2004.

This situation is horrendous. It justifies impolite synonyms for banks: house-jackers. Banksters. If you cringe at this language and consider it overbroad, ask yourself whether “innocent” bankers knew of this problem and whether they often discussed it at the country club with the evil bankers. And they didn’t step up and report it. Consider also that the banks so often preach the importance of the “letter of the law” when slapping huge fees and penalties on home-owners, even when the homeowners are only a day late with their payments. Now here are those same banks, absolutely unable to establish a chain of title necessary for a foreclosure, but they utterly don’t give a rat’s ass about the letter of the law, because this archaic rule (letter of the law) is now a burden to the banks.

From the perspective of the banks, the solution to the problem that they can’t figure out how to establish their case in the context of the convoluted system that they themselves created, is to systematically lie under oath. Over and over and over. And now that the banks have been caught by the national media, and because the media is paying attention, the politicians also need to pay attention to this problem, and everything has become awkward for the banks. Very Inconvenient. They might have to pay big money to send thousands of lobbyists to Congress to fix this problem. And then they will have to jack up their rates and penalties and other tricks and traps to pay for those lobbyists.

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