Monday, February 23, 2015

Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson to receive freedom of speech award - Toledo News Now, News, Weather, Sports, Toledo, OH

Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson to receive freedom of speech award - Toledo News Now, News, Weather, Sports, Toledo, OH

I wonder how many of those applauding Phil Robertson and thinking it proper that he receives a 'Free Speech' award were among those screaming for censure and boycotting of The Dixie Chicks, when they dared to criticize then-president Bush?

And how many of them also appreciate the irony of Phil Robertson getting an award for 'Free Speech' when he is in fact paid tons of money for his speeches and books and TV 'reality' show? Very little that he does is for free.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Sunday, February 15, 2015

That whole smoking issue

America Won the Battle against Smoking but Risks Losing the War


According to The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids:

Total State Tobacco Revenues FY2000-2014 $390.8 billion

Total State Tobacco Prevention Spending FY2000-2014 $8.9 billion

Just a bit over 2% of the revenue spent on attempts to prevent people from acquiring the smoking habit.

Could it be that the states aren't really that interested in getting everyone to stop smoking?

That they want to have it both ways: tax the sin, but continue to milk the sinners, to fill in budget holes left by their failure to seriously address the needs of their constituents?

Remember that huge tobacco settlement? That huge pile of money that was going to enable states to fund anti smoking programs, and to help pay the health costs incurred by state's citizens?

But they are not required to spend their $7 billion in settlement
money on tobacco cessation -- a sore spot among some of the attorneys
general who negotiated the deal. As a percentage of overall tobacco
revenue, states spent only about 2 percent of it fighting tobacco use.
The money instead went to a variety of other needs, from state literacy
programs in Colorado to a teacher retirement fund in West Virginia to
shoring up Medicaid in others.

In 14 states and the District of Columbia, at least a quarter of
tobacco settlement money is going to pay off debt on tobacco bonds that
gave those states money upfront in exchange for a portion of the annual
proceeds from the settlement, according to data compiled by ProPublica.
In eight of those states, 100 percent of annual proceeds are going to
debt service. Ohio is one of them.

Under former Gov. Ted Strickland, Ohio sold tobacco bonds in 2007 to
finance new schools and tax cuts. Shortly thereafter, as the recession
applied budgetary pressure, spending on tobacco prevention began to fall
steadily from a $60 million a year high in the early 2000s to almost
nothing today.

So, the money coming in today was spent years ago. We borrowed against our future. And, as happens so often when Wall Street gets involved, all the rewards flow to them, all the risk stays with the borrower.

Wall Street came knocking with an offer many state and local
politicians found irresistible: Cash upfront for those governments
willing to trade investors the right to some or all of their tobacco
payments. State after state struck deals that critics derided as “payday
loans” but proponents deemed only prudent. As designed, private
investors — not the taxpayers — would take the hit if people smoked less
and the tobacco money fell short.

Things haven’t exactly worked out as planned.

ProPublica analysis of more than 100 tobacco deals since the settlement
found that they are creating new fiscal headaches for states, driving
some into bailouts or threatening to increase the cost of borrowing in
the future.

One source of the pain is a little-known feature found
in many of the deals: high-risk debt that squeezed out a few extra
dollars for the governments but promised massive balloon payments, some
in the billions, down the road.

These securities, called capital
appreciation bonds, or CABs, have since turned toxic. They amount to
only a $3 billion sliver of the approximately $36 billion in tobacco
bonds outstanding, according to a review of bond documents and Thomson
Reuters data. But the nine states, three territories, District of
Columbia and several counties that issued them have promised a whopping
$64 billion to pay them off.

And the rich [the investors] get richer

As of this year, at least one out of every three dollars coming in
under the settlement is pledged to investors, according to bond
disclosures and payment data from the National Association of Attorneys General, which tracks the flow of funds.

sure winners so far: Investment bankers from Citigroup, the now defunct
Bear Stearns and others who, along with consultants and lawyers, have
pocketed more than $500 million in fees for their financial engineering,
ProPublica estimates. They now stand to make more as the governments
look to rework old deals and try to get even more tobacco cash upfront.

And the impossible odds are stacked outrageously in favor of the investors and the firms that broker them:

Most of the deals involving CABs sold right before the 2008 financial
crisis, ProPublica found. As the horizon darkened, the market for them
began falling apart, with one lone buyer keeping Wall Street’s CAB
machine going. Pitch documents show that bankers pressed the states to
act fast before the window shut.

“We are confident that we can
stimulate demand,” Bear Stearns bankers told Ohio prior to a $5.5
billion tobacco bond package championed in 2007 by then state Treasurer
Richard Cordray, who these days heads the U.S. Consumer Financial
Protection Bureau.

Ohio’s tobacco deal was the largest ever. It
included CABs that brought in $319 million in return for an eventual
$6.6 billion balloon payment — a nickel on the dollar. Bear Stearns,
Citigroup and other Wall Street firms made about $23 million in fees on
the transaction, according to the bond offering document.

Meanwhile, the e-cigarettes are flourishing. Un-taxed. Pretty much un-regulated.   And who's behind the e-cigarette industry?

No surprise, it's our old friends, the tobacco companies.

The three biggest tobacco companies — Altria (Philip Morris), R.J.
Reynolds and Lorillard — are investing heavily in e-cigarettes, creating
their own product lines and buying up whole e-cigarette companies.

E-cigarettes: un-taxed, un-regulated, and advertised all over the place. And with names like Bubble Gum, Fruit Loop, etc: aimed directly at the minds and lungs of kids. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

A rising tide?

I’ve just been out shoveling again.
And experiencing a weird phenomenon.
The path that runs between house & garage, to my back door: I laid it down many years ago, and either it has sunk or the surrounding ground has risen. Anyways, at a point about 1/3 of the way along the path, for a space of about 6’, I’d get a melty puddle about an inch deep [did you know that snow melts from the bottom? I figure that’s where the water was coming from, melting piles of shoveled snow]. And if it got cold after the puddle collected, I’d have a nice short little ice run-way.
So, after the first snow this year, I got enough 2 & 3” thick concrete blocks to span the length of that low spot. I was just out shoveling snow, and guess what: there’s slush on top of those concrete blocks.  I’m starting to think that no matter how high I would build up that path, water would find it’s way to the top.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

The Wall Street Takeover of Charity - ProPublica

The Wall Street Takeover of Charity - ProPublica

Donor-advised funds run by huge money management firms are exploding.

Fidelity Charitable runs the second-ranked charity
in the United States, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy,
behind United Way Worldwide. Charles Schwab's is fourth and Vanguard's
is 10th.

Instead of donating directly, people are donating to a Wall Street firm, which 'manages' the donated funds:

 People aren't literally giving to these companies. They are setting up
accounts at these firms and then disbursing the money, advising on which
charities get how much.

Meanwhile, the wall street firms are collecting fees from the donated funds management services: and holding onto those funds instead of passing them on to charities. 

Yup, Wall Street will not be content until they have figured out a way to collect fees from every little bit of our lives.

Rent to Own: Wall Street’s Latest Housing Trick - ProPublica

Rent to Own: Wall Street’s Latest Housing Trick - ProPublica

Yup, rent to own your house. And end up being screwed over, just as do the people renting to own their gadgets and home furnishings. they pay through the nose, because they haven't the means to save enough to buy direct, but succumb to the urge to have the same stuff as everyone else does.

Rent to own a home has so many more sinister aspects to it. Almost everyone needs a place to live. And so many more people find themselves struggling to make it day to day: there's nothing left to save for a downpayment on a home. They can barely find enough to pay the rent: if they can find a place to rent, at a price they can afford, as the vultures on top swoop in to buy up properties.

Oh, the whole thought of this is making me too distraught to continue. I despair of the future of our civilization. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Koch Brothers' network will drop almost $1 billion on 2016 election - CBS News

Koch Brothers' network will drop almost $1 billion on 2016 election - CBS News: David Koch, seen here with his wife Julia

well, gosh darn it, he's been married to the pretty little lady for a few years now: maybe he's just looking for a nice anniversary gift. "Look here, honey, I bought you a country! "

I just love the insidious creep of the credit card industry into all aspects of our lives

How big banks turned prisons into profit centers |

This issuance of funds only as credit or debit card bothers me no end. Unemployment wages, welfare funds, rebates and refunds.  All done now via 'pieces of plastic' instead of 'pieces of eight'. 

So now the issuer can wash their hands of the matter, for a fee I imagine. And the recipient is left to discover for themselves the hidden costs.

The big money people are constantly on the hunt for new ways to scrape off their fees and service charges from the hands of the working people.  To ever increase their share of our pie.