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Corbett Thinks Aloud...

Aug. 4th, 2010 11:04 am Question

Anyone still read blogs?

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Aug. 11th, 2009 03:17 pm If Americans Were As Healthy As They Are Stupid, We Wouldn't Need Health Reform At All

The level of ignorance on display in the health care debate is mind-numbing.

From "Death Panels" to "Keep government out of my Medicare," I can't help but think that we're completely doomed to continue our national slide, eventually making the 21st the century of the ascension of Asia. In essence, we're dooming ourselves because a large segment of the population can be so easily led by the irresponsible crowd of "No."

Some thoughts on particular parts of the "debate":

  • Death Panels: Seriously? I wager most of these people are also "birthers" and many likely also deny the moon landings.
  • Keep your hands off my Medicare: Hey, geniuses, Medicare is a government program. Of course, we all shouldn't be surprised by this nonsense, it wasn't but nine years ago that a guy running for president said that Al Gore "wants to run Social Security like it's some kind of big government program." The guy who said that ended up being president.
  • The Public Option: This isn't being set up as single-payer; it's being set-up to allow the government to broaden coverage from beyond government workers to offer it to all Americans. This isn't government-run health care, it's the best opportunity to force private insurers to actually compete. If your employer is super douchey and they drop your plan in favor the public option - guess what - they have to pay into the system, just as they do now to your private insurer, and you'll still have to pay the premium - like you do now - for coverage.
  • But, but, but the markets! If the markets were going to fix the problem, they've had decades to do so. They haven't, because for the markets there's isn't a problem. For individuals, there's a problem. And the markets aren't there to fix your problem; they're there to make a buck.
  • Townhalls: Guys, give up on this nonsense. The people coming and shouting down congressmen have no interest in listening to what is said and no matter what is said, they aren't changing their feeble little minds.

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May. 22nd, 2009 06:04 pm The Pigeon War

While I've never liked pigeons and geese, I've always had a fondness for the more visually-appealing birds like blue jays and cardinals, and, of course, ducks. Ducks, I'll always love. They'll always be on my side.

I don't care for geese because I find them to be the Republicans of the bird world - all they do is honk, attack even when unprovoked, and shit everywhere. For the most part, they haven't violated the Corbett-Goose Truce of 1999, which basically says they leave me alone and I'll avoid them as well.

Unfortunately, the pigeon lobby was effective in the late 90s in keeping their leadership away from the peace table, and so, through the years there have been confrontations. Let me be perfectly clear: each of the pigeon terrorist attacks against me have been unprovoked, with my intelligence group missing the signals that an attack was imminent.

In 2003, as I walked down 10th Street for breakfast from the diner, on a very snowy day, I was assaulted by a kamikaze pigeon, who slammed into the back of my head. Not knowing who - or what - was attacking me, I reacted, swinging my fist around and punching the bird (in mid-air) as it backed away. It fell to the ground, laying dazed in the blanket of snow on the sidewalk for a moment or two. I hurried into the near-by diner, to be haunted by thoughts of "oh god, what potential diseases did the pigeons attempt to infect me with?"

I raised the security level to red for several weeks, being cautious that another attack could be in the works.

But it wasn't. The pigeons, I learned, know how to be patient, how to bide their time and wait for the right moment to strike again.

And, as I became complacent over the years since that first pigeon attack, they plotted. And then they struck - this time another kamikaze dive-bomber hit me directly in the right temple as I exited Union Station in January. He really just winged me. Literally.

Again, I raised the security level to red. I also began discussions with the robins that returned to our backyard in February, in hopes I could persuade them to spy for me. I struck out with the robins. They wanted the backyard to return to its dog-free status, a compromise I simply could not make.

My attempts to use one member of the bird world against another must have rankled some feathers...

Today, as the sun was rising and I was enjoying my walk to the metro station, I was attacked by an unlikely ally of the pigeons: a blue jay, sitting high overhead on a power line, dropped a big bomb on my shirt sleeve. It hit me like a playdoh bullet in the forearm. I considered diving for cover, assuming it was just the first wave in an all-out bird attack; but I stood my ground, determined to stand my ground.

When I looked up, the blue jay seemed to nod to me, beforing flying off. I would know that look anywhere, having seen enough mafia movies: that was just a warning shot, next time we're coming for real.

I fear the pigeons are enlisting all the fighters they can, readying for all-out war. I only hope I'm ready when they come.

Current Mood: Security Level: Orange

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May. 20th, 2009 11:04 pm Corbett, Where Have You Been?

I haven't gone anywhere; I've been working on another writing project. I needed to trade off something, time-wise, and it turned out that the half-hour or hour I'd spend reading something online and then turning into a blog entry happened to be the time I could easily convert into a more, hmmm, let's use "useful" writing endeavor.

I'm still here. I'm still thinking.

And to quell a certain someone's concerns: my lack of writing blog entries has little to do with the change in government. To be clear, I'm absolutely not happy with Obama's unwillingness to go after torture and the illegalities of the previous administration. There are other issues I'm severely displeased about, including the purposeful avoidance of doing something about the nonsensical "don't ask, don't tell" and a forceful response to morons like Harry Reid about the closure of Gitmo.

I hope to return to more frequent blog entries soon. In the meantime, I'll just say that if the options were between keeping Gitmo open or finding a plot of land for a new federal prison, let's say on ranch land in Crawford, Texas, then I'd go with the latter.

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May. 11th, 2009 08:41 pm What Are These & How Do I Get Rid Of Them

First, the answer cannot simply be "Mushrooms. Eat them."

Now, take a look at what 10 days of rain caused in the backyard:


close up

the underside/gills

They are mushrooms. They taste like purple.

Now how do I get rid of them?

(Sorry for pretty poor quality... iPhone photos.)

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Apr. 2nd, 2009 11:38 am What Kind...

How to Win a Fight With a Conservative is the ultimate survival guide for political arguments

My Liberal Identity:

You are a Reality-Based Intellectualist, also known as the liberal elite. You are a proud member of what’s known as the reality-based community, where science, reason, and non-Jesus-based thought reign supreme.

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Mar. 23rd, 2009 08:51 pm I'm No Financial Wizard, But Here's What I Think Anyway

The original problem: Banks began lending to people they shouldn't have. The banks saw dollar signs when they should have seen stop signs. It was like a Nat Geo film of a shark feeding frenzy: the banks ignored the risks inherent in lending to those without income or in a sub-prime status because the addictive instinct for these guys is profit. Banks need to make money to be able to lend more money, after all. Yes, it really was that simple.

The deeper problem: Those mortgages are seen as assets (because if you default on your mortgage, they get to keep your house and you get to hurry up and find someone with a large truck to haul your stuff from the curb.) Now the bank has a real problem: they have an empty house, a money-making asset that isn't making any money. As bank-owned properties pile up near each other, the asking prices for the properties drop and the surrounding property values drop, leading to an even greater devaluing of all local properties. There's a tremendous amount of profit the bank has lost on this single mortgage that's gone tits up. Not only has the bank lost out on the gamble for homeownership-by-those-that-shouldn't, but now your home's value has dropped considerably as well. Oh, but it gets worse because...

The problem gets even more fucked up: Granted, to this point, it's sort of a no-brainer in that the banks brought this on themselves by throwing caution to the wind and not lending sensibly. As a nation, we've dealt with these kinds of banking problems before - most recently, the S&L issues of the Reagan years. But the problem is compounded several times in the whiz-bang 21st century era because of the rise of large financial bank-holding companies, hedge funds, large corporate insurance companies, and government chartered mortgage guarantee corporations. All of these their roles to play, but by-and-large what they all did was consolidate your mortgage and my mortgage and your never-employed neighbor's mortgage into something called a mortgage-backed security. These mortgage-backed securities were then sold as even larger assets to investors and banks as solid AAA-rated investments. Then insurance companies, like AIG, and others came along and made bets - they couldn't call it insurance because insurance is regulated by the government - called Credit Default Swaps (CDSs) that insured that these mortgage-backed securities would always make a profit and never lose money. Then there were default swaps on top of default swaps on top of default swaps.

Stop me when this starts to look like a house of cards. Oh, I suppose I should have made that suggestion right after the point where you take a mortgage with Bank A. Well, you know, if I had done that and if the world really worked that, a lot of already-rich guys on Wall Street wouldn't be as rich as they are today.

When The Cards Came Crashing Down: That house of cards began to fall when your unemployed douchebag neighbor walked away from the house he couldn't afford, defaulting on his mortgage. The millions who didn't understand the ramifications of No Down Payment, AltA, and Adjustable Rate Mortgages have made a massive impact as well. I already mentioned the problems that a default on the mortgage causes the bank holding the mortgage... and it doesn't really take a genius to see how that problem ripples upward through the house of cards built on top of those shitty mortgages: While the bank is losing money on the failed mortgage, the investment bank that owns the larger mortgage-backed security that includes that mortgage (or more typically, just a portion of that mortgage) is now taking a loss on the larger asset, which in turn means that investment bank can call up the guys at AIG and cash in on the default swap (that is: unregulated insurance on the mortgage security.)

But the insurance companies like AIG didn't have enough cash to pay out on the trillions - TRILLIONS - of dollars in credit default swaps that they made. If AIG could not make the agreed-to payments to the large banks and other institutions that held the mortgage-backed securities they owed, then those institutions would be in serious trouble of going bankrupt. The bankruptcy of investment houses holding trillions of dollars in mortgage securities would continue a cascading effect that would destroy the already troubled banks.

Ah, their arrogance and greed cuts them off at the knees, you say. Perhaps, but consider the consequences of the problem already: depleted bank reserves and so many defaulted loans brought the credit markets (that is, banks lending to other banks and thus lending to consumers) came to a screeching halt. Without a nearly flawless credit score, it's become nearly impossible to obtain a new mortgage, refinance at today's lower rates, or hell - even get a loan for a new car.

Consider this then: Because Bubba the Jobless down the block lost his home eight months ago and the bank has been unable to sell the property, like countless others, the property values in your neighbor (and many, many others like it) have plummeted. While the house was a great value and investment when you bought it five years ago, suddenly you're what's considered "under water". That is, the value of your home has dropped so much that you now have negative equity (meaning, you now owe more on your mortgage than the home can be valued at). Because of the broader problems in the markets and government intervention (has it really been helpful? For you?), mortgage rates are at a true low... but you can't do a damned thing to reduce your monthly payments because being "under water" means there isn't a bank or institution that would touch you. They aren't going to give you a loan to (re)purchase an asset (your house) at a price greater than it's actual worth (today). That is unless you are willing to pay off the full amount that brings you to current assessed value (PLUS the standard closing costs).

That's the situation millions upon millions of American find themselves in - through (largely) no fault of their own. They are right to be angry about the efforts to bail out the investment banks and insurance firms. [But we can't be too loud about it because these are the same firms that our 401Ks and IRAs and other investment and retirement accounts are invested in. Their downfalls could mean we're all working until we're 90.]

What to do then?

Again, it's been a while since I've said so (since the subject line, to be exact), but I'm no financial wizard and this is just my impression and could be totally off the mark.

The Obama Administration needs to stop concerning itself with the day-to-day will-they-or-won't-they failure options of the large institutions. Only by directing their attention to shoring up the mortgage failure problem itself, can the Administration hope to come out of this a winner.

But before I get to that, let me make a blanket statement about the institutional problem: Credit Default Swaps should be illegal. Period. I simply cannot see how a third party can wager money on an insurance policy for a asset that is, itself, not really an asset but a conglomeration of bits and pieces of smaller assets (in this case, mortgages). In my fucked up world where Mary McDonnell would be nominated for a Best Actress in a Drama for her work on Battlestar Galactica, such notions as Credit Default Swaps would be against the law.

When it comes to the mortgage problem itself - for those in good standing who have been accidental drag-alongs for this depression-in-the-making there's been little solace. And even less help. And, to be honest, this same thing could be said for the banks themselves. Sure the banks made many loans they shouldn't have, but those tend to be larger (national) banks. For smaller banks, they've been hurt by the ripple effect all of these troubles have caused.

It seems to me (again: no financial wizard) that if the government wants to help the banks and help homeowners, they should insist on a few conditions for the spending/acceptance of government funds (such as the $700 billion TARP fund). These are the conditions I think are lacking and could help alleviate some of the problems:

  • TARP for Closing Costs: It's prohibitive for far too many in-good-standing homeowners to shell out the $10k or more required out-of-pocket for closing costs to refinance at the today's lower rates. The government could insist that banks accepting TARP funds use a portion of those funds to cover the nonsense that makes up closing costs.
  • Closing costs incorporated into mortgage: This was a suggestion from Earl and after thinking about it, it seems pretty reasonable to me. The closing costs could easily be incorporated into the term of the mortgage without adding any truly substantial cost to the loan itself. It MAY require some additional financial expenditure up front by the bank issuing the mortgage, but I don't see how it could be a loss for them considering the length of mortgages.
  • Longer term mortgages for "under water" homeowners wishing to refinance: Again - far too many of those wishing to refinance to lower rates (thereby giving themselves possibly several hundred dollars a month... giving them additional spending capacity elsewhere) are unable to do so because they are unable to refinance. Homeowners "under water" should be able to have their mortgage term length adjusted (that is, lengthened) to accommodate a lower rate based on a 30-year-fixed mortgage but have the term extended up to a 50-year period. Such loans would have to include an option to pay off sooner without penalty. Such loans would be for the value of the home at it's original purchase price. The loan could be broken into two parts (or made as two separate loans): The current value of the home at a reasonable current rate for 30 years, with a possibly longer-term no-interest loan (backed by government guarantee) for the outstanding value of the original loan. (Example: You purchased for $400k; today's assessed value is $300k. Under today's rules, you couldn't refinance because you owe more than the property is worth. Under my idea, the bank could allow you to refinance the current value of $300k at today's rate, and allow (based on some scale) for a longer no-interest (government guaranteed) loan for the outstanding $100k in value lost.)

    This probably wouldn't work, but hey, I don't hear anyone else - especially the president, his administration, or congress - making any suggestions to help out the homeowners who have played by the rules but been screwed by the financial house of cards.
I should have no interest in the existence of AIG and the investment banks and gamblers like them, but, at the end of the day, we all sort of HAVE TO because of our retirement and mutual funds.

As I've said, I'm not a financial expert, but it seems to me that the continued loss of 600,000 jobs a month means what we've been doing hasn't been working.

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Feb. 12th, 2009 07:56 am Happy Birthday

Happy 200th Birthday to one of the greatest minds of recorded time, Charles Darwin.

charles darwin

Current Mood: happyhappy

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Jan. 20th, 2009 12:10 pm President Obama

That's all I wanted to write. Just to type it for the first time.

Current Mood: pleasedpleased

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Dec. 27th, 2008 12:20 am Local TV Station Websites

You know, I don't wake up every morning and think to myself "Hey - self - what can I bitch about today that I haven't bitched about before" but it's awful hard not to feel that way.

But there is something that absolutely bugs the living hell out of me - why, oh why, is it a fact - yes, a fact - that it is damned near impossible to find the actual schedule for a local TV station on THAT station's website?

Why can't there a big damned button that says "SCHEDULE" somewhere on the station's website? Am I asking for too damned much? I've thought this for a while, but this evening I'm simply, absolutely fed up. All I want to know, WUSA9, is whether the fucking Ravens game will be shown on Sunday afternoon or not. I know those tremendously talented local guys known as the Redshits are playing at the same time - and that contractual obligations may apply - but for the love of Christ (and it is the giving season) will you please add your goddamned schedule to an easy to locate and access place on your website? I shouldn't have to, with growing agitation and resentment, search through the sub-menus on your shitastic site to discover that "TV Schedule" (you are a TV station, after all) is located under the roll-over sub-men for - oh yeah, this is classic - About Us. What? Are you freaking kidding? The business analyst douches who are paid six figures to determine these website designs need to have to have a sit down with freaking reality. And such reality should include 36" aluminum baseball bats.

Honestly, am I asking for too much?

Update: After finally finding the location of the schedule on WUSA9's website, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Ravens game against the Jaguars is, in fact, going to be televised. While still severed displeased with the usability of the TV station's website, I am tickled I could possibly see my home-town team possibly make the post-season. Suck it Redshits.

Yeah, I probably overreacted, but honestly...

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