Thursday, September 30, 2010

The political pendulum

Barry Ritholtz wrote a scathing political article the other day, entitled 'The Left Right Paradigm is Over: Its You vs. Corporations'.  If you intend to vote then you owe it to your country to take a minute and read that article.  If you identify yourself as a Democrat or Republican then Barry and I think that you are still in denial.

If you think that one party is 'for the people' and the other party is 'for business' then you need to get your head out of the sand and go look at the voting records.  Both parties are for business, because it is business that donates missions of dollars to their slush fund campaigns.

I'm not a big fan of the tea party.  Mostly what I see from the tea party is knee-jerk reactionary rhetoric, and little to no substance.  My biggest concern about Obama was that he sounded great but had very little in the way of realistic substantive policy ideas.  The policy ideas he did relate were impossible (close Guantanamo, leave Iraq and Afghanistan, universal healthcare, etc.)  The tea party is reacting to Obama by trying to sound as smooth and offering the similarly (but generally opposite) vague and impossible policies.  There has to be another way.

I ran into a website from a guy who is trying to establish a third way: Moderate  Here's the description from the About page:

Too often our political parties and elected officials have been unduly influenced by the extremes of the Far Right and the Far Left.  We'd like to change that.
We are Americans who believe our elected officials should be less concerned about the welfare of their political parties and more concerned about the welfare of their nation.  We should be Americans first and Democrats / Republicans second.
We are voters who believe our government can serve a valuable purpose in our lives.  Americans should be guaranteed every opportunity for success.  However, Americans should not be guaranteed success for every opportunity.
We are aware history has shown candidates of the major political parties often catering to the extremes of their respective parties during the primaries and then aligning their views more with moderates when approaching the general elections.  Unfortunately for moderates, this has left us with a choice of the "lesser of two evils".  We want to develop a greater presence during the primaries so that more moderates are selected as candidates.
We have less need for public masters and more need for public servants.  We are a well-educated, compassionate group of men and women of all ages, races, colors and creeds.  We are knowledgeable of today's events and are able to generate informed opinions.  We expect our elected officials to heed the voices of their constituents rather than the voices of special interests.
We have learned from our friends of the Far Right and the Far Left that we need to be as vocal and passionate about our views as they are of theirs.  For our views are no less reasoned than theirs.  Our goals, no less important.  Our beliefs, no less honorable.
We are moderates.  And we vote.

I'm not positive that this is the right answer, but they are on the right track.

By the way, if you care about the economy, business, and politics then Barry's blog needs to be on your daily reading list.  His only bias is that he wants the market to perform better.

Good men

I found a new website the other day.  It's a new magazine called 'The Good Man Project'.  It's focused on the positive and uplifting aspects of manliness.  Honor, integrity, strength, respect.  No lingerie photos.  No pro sports talk.

What does it take to be a good man?

There is something of a liberal slant.  It's not religious at all.  But real men should feel right at home.

I have a few half-finished blog posts that I am thinking about submitting there instead of posting here.

Yes, I write on most days.  When you don't see a new post here it's because I couldn't finish the article I was writing.  I have no deadlines or goals other than my own need to produce and eye for quality, so I only publish a post when I feel it is done enough.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The future of work

I found an interesting article on RedHat's site discussing the ways in which the workplace will change with the presence of the Facebook generation.  None of this is surprising to students of Future Shock.  But it is much clearer and more concise than anything Toffler ever wrote.  If you plan on working with or for these innovators, then I would suggest that you give the article a little attention.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Jon Stewart is awesome

Jon Stewart's critique of the Obama administration is hilarious and spot-on.  Go and watch!

I'm proud to be an American!  Freedom of speech is wonderful.  Seriously, click and go watch.  I wish I could embed it here, but Comedy Central won't let me.

Obama's wars

Bob Woodward's new book is due to hit the shelves next week.  The advance word is that it is much like his previous books: the line is blurry between the parts that someone specifically told Bob and the parts that Bob made up to form a narrative.

This article outlines a few of the bombshells in this book.  At first glance it seems pretty damning.  Certainly the egotistical infighting among the staff is not what we were lead to believe we would get from this administration.  But it only shows that this administration is much like all of the previous ones.

In my mind the biggest two points are:
* Obama is laser-focused on getting out of Afghanistan.
* Obama would rather be seen as losing the war in Afghanistan than stay and finish it.

I disagree with him.  But that is what he promised he would do during the campaign.  I must admit that I am surprised that he is actually committed to that course--that it wasn't just an empty campaign promise.  I do think that this demonstrates one of the biggest weaknesses of this administration: they set their goals and made their campaign promises without any plan for how they would actually accomplish any of it.  So they are genuinely surprised when there is no acceptable path to their goals.

I admire the fact that he is trying hard to accomplish his stated goal--withdrawal from Afghanistan.  But I wish he would have asked someone if it was possible before he set that goal.  And when he found out that it wasn't possible, I wish he would have chosen a goal that he could accomplish.  In my mind, that will be the legacy of this administration.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Janis Joplin sang that "freedom is just another word for 'nothing left to lose'"*.  I've always liked that definition, because it recognizes the fact that we are owned by our stuff and our attachments.

In my Bible study this morning we were reading Psalms 118.  In verse 5 it literally says "the Lord answered me in a wide open place."  The NIV translates that to say "He answered me by setting me free."  That really struck me as a great translation.

We all live in cages.  This body is a cage.  We are trapped by the frailties of this world and our own limitations.  We struggle and cry for freedom.  Cages are limiting.  But they also provide safety.

Maybe the best we can ask for is a larger cage.

If my cage is big enough then I can live out my days without ever seeing the bars.  There are limits, but I never experience those limits.

That would be good enough for me.

* "Me and Bobby McGee", written by Kris Kristofferson

Thursday, September 16, 2010


One of my key themes for Democracy 2.0 is ending high-level corruption.  This story jumped out at me as particularly emblematic of my concerns.

A senior representative calls and leaves a voicemail for a lobbyist asking for campaign donations.  She cites things she has done for the lobbyist in the past and promises more goodies from the stimulus spending.  If you have ever had any illusions of the innocence of lobbying, this should open your eyes.

Our current election process is so dependent upon cash that it creates a race to the bottom for corruption.  Each candidate has to work to out-corrupt the others to get the cash that they need for their campaign.  This is exactly the opposite of the system we should want.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I don't want this job!

Funniest tragedy I have seen in a long time

Democratic staff members in Washington are beginning to wring their hands and worry about losing their jobs.  Ha!

They should have thought about that before they ignored the will of the people and passed massive graft for the financial services and healthcare industries.  I'm no big fan of our current corruption-laden two-party system. But this one thing works.  If you don't do what people want then you will eventually lose your cushy job.

This quote really irked me, though:
“I think people underestimate how disastrous this could be,” said one House Democratic aide, whose member faces an uphill climb. “The job pool could shrink tremendously, and then the available jobs will be in very high demand. All sorts of people who are overqualified for things could be looking for jobs.”
This person is grossly out of touch with the reality on mainstreet.  I can't help but think that you would not be facing this problem if you had fixed this problem for others.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Mortgage modification, and the failures of government

I'm coming up on the first anniversary of being downsized.  God is good, and we've been getting lots of help from friends and family.  We've been very careful about doing anything that would impact our credit score.  We worked very hard years ago to clean up our credit, and we don't want to go through that again.

We have applied for a federally-assisted mortgage modification.  There are two programs, HAMP and HARP.  If you can figure out the difference between these programs please let me know.  All I could figure out is that no one at Wells Fargo seems to understand them.

Our mortgage is with Wells Fargo.  To say that Wells Fargo is disorganized on this would be a gross understatement.  I talked to 4 different people and they all told me completely different things:
* I can't qualify for HAMP because I'm not late on a mortgage payment.
* I should apply for HARP first, because it offers deeper modifications.
* I can't qualify for HARP because I'm currently unemployed.
* I have to apply for HAMP first, for some reason that was never clear.

I'm fairly confident that all of those are incorrect.  But I can't prove it.  Every person also gave me a different list of paperwork to fill out and information to send in.

I eventually talked to a guy who actually processes applications for the HAMP program at Wells Fargo, and he told me that he thought I would qualify.  So I decided to give it a try.  The list of paperwork he asked for was different from the paperwork that previous people had asked for, but I decided to just do what he asked for.

That person took my information over the phone and sent me out some paperwork on the process.  I got a call the next day from a different person in that same department who told me that he had been assigned as my case worker.  I got his direct phone number--something everyone else had claimed they could not give out--everyone else was based in a call center that only accepted randomly-distributed calls.

I received the paperwork, filled out my parts, and returned it.

Then the phone calls started.  Wells Fargo's HAMP group has an automated dialer that apparently calls everyone in the program randomly.  I've been called twice in a day a few times.  I've gone 3-4 days between calls a few times.  The first call was mildly interesting.  They asked if I got the paperwork and when I thought I would send it back in.  I sent it back in a few hours later.

The next few calls were wastes of time.  They simply said that their paperwork-receiving department must still be processing the paperwork.

Then I got a call telling me that they had received the paperwork, and that it looked complete.

Then I got a call telling me that I was missing my last two pay stubs.  I informed the person that I am currently unemployed, and that my last pay stub is from almost a year ago.  Per the instructions in the paperwork packet, I only provide pay stubs if I am currently employed.  "Oh.  I guess you are right.  I guess we don't need anything else from you."

After that the calls began to take on a comical tone.  They are just calling to tell me that they don't need anything else from me.  Now I recognize the number and try to save them time by asking, "Has something changed, or are you just calling me again to tell me that you don't need anything else from me?"  That usually elicits a laugh.

In the meantime I have been calling my self-professed case worker and primary point of contact.  I'm at least 12 voicemails deep on him.  His outgoing voicemail message says that the current date is August 23rd, which is about the first day I spoke to him (the only time I have spoken to him.)  I'm assuming he was let go, or something.

This morning I received yet another automated call.  And this lady told me that I had a new assigned case worker.  She gave me his phone number.  I just left him a message.

While we have been playing the phone aggravation game, Christy found an interesting article that basically accuses all of the major banks of outright fraud in their administration of the HAMP program.  You can read the article for the details.  Here's my short version:
HAMP is a two-stage process.  If you qualify you get a three-month trial period at a lower mortgage amount. If you make those three monthly payments on time then you get a permanent modification.  The government is theoretically paying the difference between your full mortgage payment and your temporary mortgage payment for those first three months.  And, theoretically again, the government and the bank are both contributing to the permanent modification.
The accusation is that people who qualify for HAMP and make their three temporary monthly payments are being rejected from the program and not getting the permanent modification.  And then the banks are pushing the houses into foreclosure and demanding that the borrower also repay the difference between the normal and temporary mortgage payments for those three months.
Apparently there are a few lawsuits started, and at least one that is looking for class-action status.  The banks' argument seems to be that they are never guaranteeing people that if they qualify for the temporary program then they will qualify for the permanent modification.  The banks are further claiming that their HAMP contract is with the government, and if they are breaching that particular contract then the borrower has no part of that contract and cannot sue.

They are probably legally correct about that second point.  I would advise them that being legally correct and being right are two different things.  But the courts will side with them on that point.

On the first point I'm sure that they are wrong.  I made a copy of the intro letter and HAMP application instructions that they sent me.  I redacted out my personal information and scanned it.  I've posted it in a PDF file, here.

What you will see on pages 2, 3, and 8 are sections that I have starred where they describe the process.  They clearly state that if you pay the three temporary payments on time then they will perform the permanent modification.  There are no further qualifiers.

If push comes to shove then they will probably argue that these instructions are not legally binding, they are just marketing fluff.  But that argument has failed before.  The courts will be less inclined to give the banks that pass.

The banks should instead just plead incompetence and start modifying those loans.  They won't do it.  But that is what they should do.

So, why do the banks cheat like this on the HAMP program?


The government forced the whole mortgage modification mess down their throats.  It is costing them lots of money to pay for the staff to administer this circus.  They are losing money with each modified mortgage--the government isn't paying for the entire loss.

When they modify a mortgage that mortgage gets removed from the tranche it was in as part of a CDO.  They are piling up losses in their CDO businesses, with no end in sight.

Christy suggested that we back out of the HAMP program.  As soon as I get to talk to my case worker I will ask point-blank about guarantees and additional qualifiers.  If he equivocates then I will almost certainly back out and put the house on the market.

What's the lesson here?  Government cannot effectively regulate business.  It's not for a lack of will.  Business is just too complex and adaptive to be mastered by a lumbering bureaucracy.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The human animal is complicated

Grab a few tissues and watch this video.

I found this on Fark, proving once and for all that Fark is not only a cesspool of stupidity.  Carly's website is here.