Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Definition of "Chuztpah"

Thanks to my many Jewish friends in college, and since college, I have become familiar with a lot of Yiddish words. I love these words for a few reasons. They are fun to say, particularly in a comic sense, because you can really chew on them. Just try and say "putz" without laughing. And, some Yiddish words are just better at defining what you mean. For instance, I can't think of a better word than "schlepp" for what is describes.

One of those great words is "chutzpah", which can best be defined as nerviness. But you don't have to look it up in the dictionary, because Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter and his agent are the embodiment of the concept. The 36 year old Jeter, who hit .270 last year, wants a 4 to 5 year contract at $23 million per year, according to this story in today's NY Times. That's right, $23 mil a year for hitting .270, and having perhaps the least range of any shortstop in the American League.

Now Jeter has been a great player for the Yankees over the years, and the positive face of the team during his career there. His importance to the team over that time explains why the Yankees offered him $15M a year for 3 years, despite his age and decline. What makes this crazy is that he is bargaining with only one team, and has no leverage whatsoever. If he doesn't sign with the Yankees, a player of his age and skill would be lucky to latch on with someone for one year at about 1 to 2 million.

I imagine that Jeter is counting on Yankees fans, who love him dearly, to pressure the team into keeping their favorite player at any cost. And, the Yankees are the only team that could even afford the mistake of paying Jeter $15 million. But really, $23M? The Yankees have a lot of Jewish fans so I'm guessing the word "chutzpah" is getting thrown around a lot among them.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Another Big Company With Head Up Butt

Yesterday, after watching the mediocre comedy Due Date at the local Century Theater, which is one big company deaf to local tastes, I went into Borders Book Store to look around for a few minutes. This is in Boulder, CO. Not one of the outlying towns, Boulder. The People's Republic of Boulder. A town so smart and educated that 84% of us voted to oust Bush in 2004.

And what greeted me when I walked in the door? A display table proudly promoting the new books by George W. Bush, which for some reason is not called "How I Fucked Up the World", and Sarah Palin, whose book ought to be called "Just Because I Don't Know Shit Doesn't Mean I Can't Tell Everyone What to Do".

Malaria is more popular in Boulder than either of these two people, yet Borders was proudly displaying their books out front. After I stopped laughing, I went over to the counter and asked the staff "You guys know you are in Boulder, right? What's with the Bush/Palin display?". As I expected, it was a dictate from corporate. IN fact, they said they had been shipped a huge pile of the both books that they had no chance of selling. Great work Corporate! In a politically polarized country, you greet locals with the 2 books most likely to send them shopping somewhere else. Was there no room on the table for Glenn Beck's book?

This is a really bad example of management from above. I am sure that those 2 books are selling well in certain parts of the country, but how stupid can you be, to make a decision like that for every store. Wouldn't it make more sense to trust your local management to put out something more enticing to local consumers, which in this case would include a bowl of fresh excrement.

Borders is owned by K-Mart. Might want to short that stock!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Time s HAVE changed for the better!

Just the other day, I was talking about discrimination with one of my classes. One of the good things about kids today is that, for the most part, they are much more color blind than we are. They don't think having a black president is a big deal, and seem surprised when I tell them I was not convinced Obama would win until Fox News pronounced him the winner in 2008.

A lot of people, Tea Partiers in the lead, seem to believe there was some magical time when this country was much better off than it is today. Like when there was no income tax 100 years ago, and no Federal reserve. But ask yourself if you would rather be rich 100 years ago or middle class now, and you will see how silly that idea is. Of course, if you were not rich back then, life pretty much sucked for you. And if you were not white it was hell.

Although it sometimes seems we are getting dumber, we can at least claim to be smarter about some things. So, in contrast to the often dismal rants I put on this blog, today I GIVE YOU THIS LINK, with hilarious ads from the past that will make you cringe, but also realize some things are much better today.

Fixing the Budget Only Requires Guts!

Want to fix the Federal Budget? Sure you say you do, but do you have the guts? Probably, unless you are a politician.

There have been 2 proposals on how to cut cure the long-term budget cancer that we are facing, to keep us from becoming Greece in 10 years. Two bi-partisan committees came up with very doable proposals. They were do sensible that politicians in both parties quickly said there is no way.

How hard is this? Well, if you have the guts, not that hard. But, as an excellent article in today's Economix blog at the NY Times points out, our politicians claim to be deficit hawks, but when it come to actually making the tough decisions needed to get the job done, they turn into chickens. Don't expect the worthless scum in Congress to do anything sensible.

OH, and while I'm at it, kudos to the Tea Party crowd for getting the GOP Senators to pledge not to put earmarks in the budget. No one will stick to the pledge, but it will just show what hypocrites they are.

So, how do we fix the budget? Well, you can figure that out yourself. The NY Times put up the Budget Puzzle last week. I balanced it in about 3 minutes. Or, you can play Budget Hero (see link on the right). All it takes in the balls!

I'd be interested in comments from any readers who take the challenge.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Costco Comes Through!

Costco gave me $25 because they tried to kill my ex-girlfriend!

I guess that needs some explanation. Back in the mid-90's I dated a woman named Nancy for a few months. Not very serious, and we grew bored with each other, had an amicable split, and have remained friendly since. When we were going out, she was a single mom, and her ex was not always coming through with the child support, making her life difficult. So, I gave her the second membership card that Costco (I think it still might have been Price Club) gives you, a good deed that cost me nothing.

A few years later Nancy married a guy named Tony, who also has kids. They continued using the Costco card from me, which made sense since it was free and I had completely forgotten about it.

Maybe 8 years ago Costco came out with the Executive Membership, which, along with other small benefits, gives you 2% back on all purchases. When they tried to upsell me to this, I said there was no way I spent enough for it to make sense. But when the lady looked, she said I had spent something like $3000 the previous year. I had forgotten that Nancy, now in a family of 5 or 6, was using the other card. So I took the Executive membership, and now get 2% karma payback for a good deed done long ago. Whenever I see Nancy and Tony around town I suggest they need new tires and a big screen TV.

What does this have to do with poison?

Sunday night I got home and my neighbor had left a post-it on my door to call right away. He tells me that Costco had come to my house because I had bought some gouda cheese that day, and it had salmonella, and they wanted to take it back before I ate it and died. But I had not been to Costco that day, so I concluded it had to be Nancy.

I did not have her number, did not know Tony's last name, and wasn't even sure if she'd changed her's when they married. But, I found her in the phone book and called. She said Tony had eaten some cheese while watching football, but she thought it was not the gouda. Disaster averted.

The next morning, Costco calls and I tell them I got the message and Nancy has the cheese and knows not to eat it. He says he wants to bring a $25 gift card over for my trouble, and that he would also like to give one to Nancy, so I give him her number when he arrives.

The message in this is that Costco handled this as well as any company I have ever heard of with this type of problem. Coming to my house to get the cheese when they are concerned! Wow! Giving me a gift card just because they bugged me a bit? Very classy. Too many companies try to shun any responsibility in a case like this. They went out and fixed it as fast as they could. Think I will continue to shop there? I sure will, although maybe I won't be buying any gouda cheese there for while.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Did you know....

....that the Houston Stadium Authority, or whatever it's called, owes $32 million on the Astrodome, opened in 1965? And did you know that the initial debt on the building was $27 million? Amazing!

I have a great story to tell about Costco, but I'm tired so you'll have to wait until tomorrow.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Deficit Reduction: As If!

The President's Debt Commission released it's plan for reducing the deficit and the national debt yesterday. It has offended people on both the right and left, all of whom want to stick to their dogma instead of deal with real solutions to real problems. If you have the time, you can read the whole thing HERE.

The report would slay a whole barnyard full of sacred cows, which is what has everyone pissed off. It is obvious that Congress is too gutless, stupid and in the pocket of special interests to ever enact this plan, so why bother talking about it? Well, it is a demonstration of the type of measures that need to be taken if we are going to get serious about dealing with our present deficits, and our more frightening future debts if we don't fix health care, including medicare and medicaid, and social security and quit wasting money on crap that only makes our economy weaker like farm subsidies, and silly tax breaks like the mortgage interest deduction.

If you want to find out if someone, like a politician, is serious about taking on this problem, ask them if they are willing to do ALL (not just the ones that fit their partisan dogma) of the following:
1) Cut military spending, social security, medicare, farm subsidies
2) Make dramatic changes to our health care system the will bring costs under control, even if it means doctors and health insurers make less money
3)Eliminate industry specific tax breaks, including mortgage deductions
4)Reform our tax code, and raise taxes if necessary
5) Eliminate laws against gambling, prostitution and drugs that are unsuccessful, and waste taxpayer dollars on enforcement, when legalization would instead add tax revenue.

I am sure no matter who you are, you probably said "no" to something on the above list. And that's the problem. We add up all the "no's" and we do nothing, and the problem gets worse every year.


Don't believe me? Then play the very realistic BUDGET HERO and try to fix the budget while keeping your cows sacred (If you are a Macro Eco student of mine, this will be your homework soon). You might want to put away the sharp objects first.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Sarah Palin For Fed Chairman,(or is it Fed Mama Grizzly?)

It appears that Economists the world over have been wasting their time spending years studying monetary policy, writing papers, learning from history, and all the other silly time wasting things those damn, smartypants elites do. All you need to be qualified to run the Federal Reserve is a degree and communications,a tiara from winning the Miss Wasila pageant, a brain the size of a pumpkin seed and a contract with Fox News. Stupid PhD's!

In case you missed it, America's #1 Idiot Bitch (Sorry Michelle Bachman and Ann Coulter, but keep trying!) is now taking on Ben Bernanke over the Fed's plans to buy $600B in government securities as a way to stimulate the economy. As former mayor of Wasila she is certainly far more qualified than a jagoff like Ben Bernanke to make this decision, what with him only having been an Eco prof at Princeton and one of the world's leading experts on The Great Depression.

For those of you who have neither a beauty crown or a PhD in The Dismal Science, here is the deal. With the economy still in the dumps, unemployment at 9.6%, and no more fiscal stimulus likely to happen, the Fed is trying to expand lending by putting more money into the system. Bernanke would probably tell you that inflation remains very low, with deflation still a threat, so the risk of this action causing an inflation problem is low. People who oppose the idea, think it will cause inflation, and will not stimulate the economy.

The truth is, this action is very unlikely to not stimulate the economy AND cause inflation. Inflation can be caused by 2 things: increase in demand for goods and services, and increase in the money supply. In our current near-depression economy, the demand for goods and services is low. Bernanke hopes that more cheap money in the system will cause banks to loan more to businesses and individuals who will buy more. If this works, then inflation could happen, and the Fed would then have to take steps to slow this by decreasing the money supply and raising interest rates. So, we get inflation if it works.

If, as some people believe, people are just not ready to start buying again, no matter how much money there is available, then the money will just sit in banks reserves, causing no inflation. So, no economic recovery, no inflation.

Ben Bernanke believes 2 things about the great depression: That it was caused by the destruction of the financial system and price deflation, and he has, since the shit hit the A/C 2 years ago, pulled out all the stops to make sure these things don't happen again. In fact, as I told one of my students yesterday, Bernanke fears deflation even more than he fears beard mites. The Feds job description is to maintain high employment and low inflation. Right now we have high unemployment and near deflation, so he is doing what his job calls for him to do.

There, you now know more about monetary policy than a degree from the best communications school (which is not the U. of Idaho, where Palin got hers) will get you.

So, is Silly Sarah's opposition just a new far-right talking point? I don't watch Fox News, so I guess it might be something all the PhD's in lying on Fox are talking about, when they aren't spreading lies about the cost of Obama's trip abroad. Or, is it part of the GOP plan to keep the economy in recession for another 2 years so they can blame it on Obama, get and idiot like Palin elected, and REALLY ruin this country by finishing their plan to turn back the clock about 110 years on all progress we've made?

OH, speaking of good schools for the study of Communications, certainly Syracuse University would be among the contenders for that title. And I imagine the folks there are very happy about the recent election, since it means that an orange man (though not an Orangeman) will be Speaker of the House.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Random thoughts rattling in my head

Just a couple of things on my mind while wondering how the very moral Republican Party has to spend billions on ads that spread lies in order to win elections:

1) Saw a great show last night by an all women sketch comedy group called Broad Comedy, which is led by Katie Goodman, the daughter of NY Times columnist Ellen Goodman. It was a fundraiser for the Boulder Women's Health Center that I was invited to by Kip's best friend. I was expecting an evening of man-bashing, but instead was treated to a clever evening of sketches and song parodies, much like the shows in which I performed in the early 90's (except for the all-woman part). If they come to your town, check them out.

2) John Boehner and Mitch McConnell have been acting all week like they have been elected King. McConnell is particularly hilarious in that he seems to think he now runs the Senate, which is still majority Dems. These assholes are going to do a lot of Obama's re-election campaign work for them, as they overplay their hands a la Newt in the 90's. Read the exit polls fellas! America doesn't like you either.

3) Want to hear an intelligent discussion of Economics by two guys who disagree in general about free markets, but do so in an intelligent respectful way? Probably not, otherwise Fox News wouldn't be so popular. But if you actually want to learn something, go to Econ Talk and listen to host Ross Roberts, a professor at George Mason and a student of the Chicago school of unfettered free markets, which history has pretty much discredited, interview Australian economist John Quiggan, who has written a book called "Zombie Economics", which attempts to point out how some economic policies have been proven wrong, yet still bumble around. Many of his "Zombies" are the ideas Roberts still holds dear. So, of course their discussion devolves into shouting and name-calling, right? No, it goes just the other way, as they rationally discuss their differences and each tries to understand the other.

4) One of the basic principles of economics is that people face trade-offs. So, last night when a woman was talking about her very sick dogs who had eaten an entire bag of cocoa, I had this thought. A dog can lick his own junk, but eating chocolate can kill him. Now THAT is a trade-off!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Americans lack memories and understanding

The GOP has a 15 point edge over Dems in a poll taken over the weekend, on a national level. These are the same guys who led us into near depression, who let the banks create the bubble that burst and popped our economy, who started and did not finish 2 wars that have cost us about $1 trillion and thousands of lives. Does no one remember that?

America is angry, things are not going well, and the GOP has done a great job of selling Americans the completely wrong idea that is it the stimulus package and the health care bill that caused it all. Tea Partiers, may of whom never paid any attention before, are the most misled.

Here is a quick list of things that America in general seems to believe that is just plain wrong:

1) The Stimulus didn't work and was wasteful. Economists who have studies it say it did work, and that unemployment would have been far worse without it. While is certainly could have been designed far better, it was the right thing to do at the time. Yet people seem to be stupid enough to believe that it was supposed to get us back to 2006 overnight, after a free fall in the economy. If we had done nothing, the unemployment rate would be in double digits now, and kids would have very few teachers to complain about this Fall.

2) Democrats wasted tax money bailing out the banks. There are 2 things wrong with this one. It was Bush still in office when TARP was passed, although the Dems mostly supported this. More dangerous is the lack of understanding on how important the financial system is to our economy, and how letting it collapse in the 1930's caused the Depression the be so Great. Again, it could have been done better, and the people who caused the mess managed to bribe both parties enough to get off way to easily. But to have done nothing, which appears to be what the Tea-for-Brains bunch would have done, would have led to disaster. And notice it has cost far less than the $700B put at risk.

When the new Team Ignorance GOP gets to DC next year, look for things to get far worse. More pollution, less education, more God, less science, less rationality, more control of the country by big business. It is very hard for me to feel good about the future of this country.