Ev’ry picture tells a story…

Dunnit?

Ever take part in one of those exercises in a college class where you’re shown a series of photos without any information or explanation – no text, caption, or context – and you have to figure out what was going at the exact moment the pictures were taken?

Well… I have some pictures here for us to look at… and mebbe together we can all parse out just what the heck was happening when they were taken.

At first glance it appears these pictures were taken at some sort of Congressional hearing, or perhaps a news conference…

Here’s the first one…

Senior Senator from Kentucky and Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-Wattles)…

What an odd gesture… what could Mitch be talking about? Is he making some sort of confession at this moment, divulging highly sensitive information?

Next up, we have…


California Congressman Darryl Issa (R-Corrupt) making an almost identical gesture to Mitch’s… take note the look of… discomfort… on Darryl’s face as he says his piece…

And then…

Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wanker) steps up to the microphone… and like Mitch and Darryl, Paul appears to be revealing some sort of personal secret…

Poor Paul’s is the smallest of the bunch, and by quite a margin… no wonder he ends up at home reading Ayn Rand night after night…

Finally… an unbiased, outside opinion is solicited…

That’s right… it’s Harvard Professor, consumer affairs champion, and current Senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren… simply confirming what all three men have already admitted… “Yes… they really ARE that small…” she seems to be saying…

And even though she’s just agreeing with them, all three men immediately haz a sad…

Poor Elizabeth… damned if she does, and damned if she doesn’t…

Apparently this moment is quickly followed by some sort of disturbance… someone else showing up, demanding to be heard…

Who else but noted pundit and oft-rumored tranny…

Ann Coulter… not only is Ann claiming she too has one, but that it’s… HUGE… and its two… uh… ‘accoutrements’…

… are equally oversized…

Now… I don’t doubt for a minute that Ann might actually have one, and that it’s bigger than the men’s… but THAT big? I do hafta call foul at this point…

Anyways… once word gets out that a live mic is up for grabs, others come running…

First Mitt Romney shoves and elbows his way to the stage… and not to be outdone, Mittens stakes his claim in the Size Does Matter Derby

And then, of course, last but not least…

Herman Cain arrives… naturally the Hermanator declares himself to be absolutely the biggest and the baddest and therefore hands down the most qualified of all to lead the country…

And so endeth our story…

Ev’ry picture tells a story… dunnit?

Ev’ry picture tells a story… dunnit?

Ev’ry picture tells a story… dunnit?

Disturbing factoid of the day…

28.6%…

That’s the number of homeowners estimated to be ‘underwater’ – owing more on their mortgages than their houses are worth – at the end of the 3rd quarter, up from earlier in the year.

By my calcs, that’s approximately 16.6 MILLION homes… currently worth less than their owners paid for them. And according to this year old article from Reuters

the total value of U.S. single-family homes tumbled about $798 billion in the fourth quarter (of 2010), according to Zillow. For the year, values fell by more than $2 trillion to $22.3 trillion.

Don’t know how much value has been shed this year so far, but if the numbers are up, it’s got to be at least in the multiple hundreds of billions of dollars, I’d reckon.

As they say in Scotland… Ouch’mon.

There are holes…

There are big holes…

There are really, really, big holes…

And then there’s this…

… a really, really, really big hole…

That’s the Bingham Canyon Copper Mine, southwest of Salt Lake City in Utah. The world’s largest open pit mine, the Bingham is two and a half miles wide, three-quarters of a mile deep, and covers approximately 1,700 acres, or a little over two and half square miles.

You gotta admit… that really is… quite… the… hole. I came across that picture by accident the other day, just surfing the Intertubes, and it kinda blew me away… that is one big farker, and man-made to boot.

It got me to thinking about the really nasty things that we humans do to our planet, and usually in the name of making as much money as possible, as quickly as possible, and the long term consequences be damned.

Another truly notable, really, really, really big hole that humans made is the grotesquely spectacular Mir Diamond Mine Crater, in Russia. The picture is real, btw… it has not been photoshopped for effect.

Located at Mirna in Eastern Siberia, the Mir is over 1,722 ft deep (1/3 of a mile) and has a diameter of 3,900 ft (3/4th of a mile). Helicopters are forbidden from flying over the Mir; several have been sucked in by the down drafts. Here’s more about the Mir if you’re interested, and here’s a nice collection of some of the biggest man-made holes on the face of the Earth, if you can stomach it…

Of course, not all holes are made just for money… some result when we disagree with each other…

This beauty…

… believe it or not, isn’t a picture taken on the face of the Moon, it’s the Sedan Blast Crater in Nevada, the result of a nuclear test back in 1962. If you look carefully at the picture, around five o’clock (lower right side) you can see a viewing platform for visitors, with the road leading up to it. Yes… the Sedan Crater really is that big. According to the good people of Wiki, “Because the craters at the NTS had features similar to the topography of Moon craters, Astronauts for Apollo 14 visited Sedan in November 1970″.

Though nowhere near the size of some of our other holes, it is still nonetheless impressive, considering it was created in mere seconds, the aftermath of this explosion

Here are some stats for you to grok over… the Sedan was a mere ten kiloton blast and still managed to move 6.6 MILLION cubic yards of dirt, or 12 MILLION tons of weight, and left a hole over 300 feet deep and more a quarter of a mile across…

That is one incredible hole… all the more so for being produced by flipping a switch, whereas the Bingham is the byproduct of a century’s steady mining. Here’s an overhead shot of the Nevada Test Area that’s home to the Sedan Crater… it’s like the Earth has broken out in some sort of nasty rash, huh?

Weighing in at niggling 10 kilotons, the Sedan would be considered tiny when compared to today’s bombs with their 10 megaton yields (that’s 10,000 kilotons…). You read that right… we now have nuclear bombs a thousand times more powerful than the Sedan, or Little Boy, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

I can only imagine the size of the hole one of those would leave in the Earth. And not only are some of those nukes a thousand times more powerful, we have, en toto, an estimated 8,500 of them and the Russians 11,000. Overwhelming, innit?

Here’s a truly frightening collection of atomic test photos… click on one of them and you’ll get a slide show… the pictures are even more impressive that way…

And yet all it took to produce this mess was eighteen guys with box cutters… go figure…

Then… there are other kinds of really, really big holes that human beings are capable of producing, intentionally or otherwise…

Like the kind our beloved banking class blew in the country’s economy back at the heights, er… the depths… of the subprime mortgage fiasco…

The above chart shows the value of the S&P 500 over the last ten years. Note the enormous slide in the index starting in late 2007 just as the economy was beginning to bear the first brunt of massive numbers of bad mortgage defaults, soon to be followed by even bigger losses due to bad bonds based on those bad mortgages.

The S&P 500 index is such a broad based index that it is commonly used to gauge the overall health of the stock market and even the US economy. Please note just how much it finally dropped at the low point in early 2009, losing nearly half its value.

Now THAT is one spectacular hole and represents several TRILLION dollars of value vanishing in a greasy puff of smoke. Thank you ever so much, Wall Street! No wonder Warren Buffet once described derivatives as “financial weapons of mass destruction”.

It’s now way half past 2011 and with an estimated million homes in foreclosure, several million more in the pipeline, and 870,000 already in the hands of banks, we’re STILL climbing out of that last crater and will be for quite some time to come…

And of course, the usual suspects (the bankers) saw nothing… heard nothing… and know nothing… ‘cept that CEO Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, the bank that has become the poster child for Wall Street shenanigans, has lawyered up…

And that other hole, earlier in the decade… around 2002 to 2003? That’s the hole blown in our economy by the dot-com collapse… again gratis our beloved banksters. And the smaller, yet significant drop in late 2001? That’s the aftermath of 9/11.

It makes one think… it do. It seems that as our machines grow more and more powerful and our ability to manipulate our environment increases, the potential for destruction, deliberate or otherwise, grows proportionally too.

Dr. Frankentstein, meet your monster.

I think it’d be fun to start a list of really, really big holes here… we could call it the “A List of Really, Really Big Holes”… but that’s too many words, so maybe we should just call it “The ‘A’ Hole List” for short…

Soooooooooooo… which really, really big holes do you think should be on our little A List?

***TRoS snaps fingers***

One more just came to mind… and this humongous ‘A’ hole definitely belongs on the list…

There… if that hole doesn’t belong, then none of them do… talk about yer weapons of ass destruction…

If You Think What’s Happening In Wisconsin Is Bad…

… wait until you take a look at the bill the Republican majority in Michigan is poised to ‘shove down’ the public’s throat

Unions and others oppose the legislation because it would give broad new powers to emergency financial managers, who are appointed by the state treasurer. Those powers include the ability to nullify collective bargained agreements, imposition of new agreements for those bargaining units which will have effect for as much as five years after the EMF leaves office and the ability for the manager to dissolve local governing bodies of schools and cities. The EMF would also have the power to eliminate any local ordinance or law he or she decides to eliminate.

(emphasis mine)

Good Lord… would this not establish a virtual Republican dictatorship in perpetuity, as long as Republicans can stay in office? Why even bother to hold local elections anymore, if a handful of ‘emergency financial managers’ answering only to the State Treasurer have nearly unlimited power to dissolve all and any local governments, eliminate any law or ordinance, and effectively break any contract they choose?

At this time the bill has been passed in both chambers of the Michigan Legislature and will assuredly be signed by Governor Rick Snyder as fast as possible, after some minor reconciliation… such as, whether a human being must declare a state of financial emergency, or can a CORPORATION or BUSINESS be vested with this power?

Yes, you read that right… depending on what Republican legislators decide amongst themselves, a CORPORATION may soon have the power to dissolve any local government in Michigan they deem to be in a ‘state of financial crisis’, send ALL locally elected officials packing, and install their own administrators in perpetuity, and all with the Governor’s blessing. No doubt, minority Dems will have NO SAY in the final decision.

Let the voiding and nullifications begin!

So much for Republicans and their endless shrieking about the ‘rule of law’… I guess it just pertains to THEIR rule of law. The rest of us? Clearly… not so much.

I can’t imagine this will make it past judicial review, which is almost assuredly coming as we speak. And I am ASTONISHED at the degree of arrogance Republicans put on display when they try such a blatant power grab as this. I’m beginning to think the excesses of the Bush Administration were simply a dry run for what they intended all along and now we’re getting the full-blown production.

Here’s what the ever-articulate Rachel Maddow has to say about it…

The good people of Wisconsin are now working to recall eight Republican State Senators. You can learn more about the recall effort here and here, or even donate and/or volunteer.

It’s on and they don’t intend to quit coming at us.

They will only be satisfied with complete victory and perpetual Republican rule.

Mere coincidence…or…separated at birth?

Hmmm…

First, the ‘official photo’ of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, from his government website…

Second, the Grinch, from Chuck Jones’ classic telling of Dr Seuss’ Christmas story…

And last, but not least, Chucky…

The same feverish glint in the eyes…

The greasy, self-satisfied, impish smirk…

Mere coinkidink???

Or in reality, are these three evil triplets… hideous demon spawn separated at birth?

You make the call!!!

One final observation, before moving on…

Please note, dear reader, how perfectly color coordinated the Speaker is in that photo… the way the orange of his tie is a dead match for the hue of his skin, and how the blue of the polka dots in the tie syncs up with the shirt and his eyes… it’s like he did it on purpose…

I Knew It! I Knew It!

All along, I’ve had this… gut feeling… that the current ‘official’ hysteria over public pension shortfalls was a manufactured, exceedingly artificial narrative, and now Paul Krugman agrees with me…

Citing an analysis of state pension shortfalls done by Dean Baker, Krugman says, “the official story these days — of years and years of huge giveaways to unions, resulting in gigantic, unpayable debts — is just wrong…” and then goes on to point out how the shortfall is mostly the result of the 2007 Financial Crisis we’re only now starting to emerge from.

As you can see from the above graphic, courtesy of Mr Baker’s report, much of the current pension shortfall can be attributed directly to the stock & bond market plunges of two years ago, and accordingly a pretty hefty percentage of that should have been recovered due to the recent extended rally in the same markets.

Per Baker’s report, pension fund assets would most likely be $850 billion higher if the funds had earned a rate of return the last three years just equal to 30 year Treasuries, and an additional $80 billion loss can be pegged to lower contributions by the states due to lower revenues. A total of approximately $930 billion, or almost the entire shortfall, a trillion dollars, as projected by some analysts.

In addition, Baker states that the “size of the projected state and local government shortfalls… for the pension funds is less than 0.2 percent of projected gross state product over the next 30 years for most states. Even in the cases of the states with the largest shortfalls, the gap is less than 0.5 percent of projected state product.”

0.2 percent of projected revenues, in other words, 20 freakin’ cents on every hundred dollars, if Baker’s figures and analysis are accurate… and if they are, so much for all the ‘Chicken Little/Falling Sky’ nonsense we’re being subjected to right now.

One question I do have is how much of the loss in various public pension funds’ assets can be attributed to the stock market decline, and how much was due to the collapse of mortgage bonds? Neither Krugman or Baker dive into this particular pool of water, and in his report, Baker only talks about losses, gains, and rates of return for stocks. It is my understanding that Iceland’s financial collapse was, in part, caused by mortgage bond defaults. I am also under the impression that public pension funds are prohibited from purchasing securities deemed too risky and that when the bond sellers were able to get the ratings agencies to give their new fangled ‘ financial products’ a AAA rating, they were free to sell those ticking financial shit bombs to pension funds.

I shall do more research on that as time allows.

In the meanwhile, Paul Krugman agrees with me…

Whaddya know, we’re being sold a bill of goods.

It’s out… the Final Report of Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission!!!

Following the near collapse of the US and world economies in the wake of the 2007 subprime mortgage financial crisis, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission was created by section 5 of the (Federal) Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009 to look into the causes of the crisis.

After more than a year’s worth of hearings, interviews with 700 plus witnesses, and reviews of millions of pages of related documents, the Commission has released its Final Report. I have to admit, I DO look forward to reading it in its entirety.

If you don’t feel like paying $29.00 for a hard copy, you can get a free pdf of the report here

I’d suggest just downloading it onto your desktop, so you’ll have it handy…

Welcome to the Rocket Docket

A specially designated, high-speed housing court, nicknamed “the rocket docket,” set up specifically to process legally murky foreclosures as fast as possible; presided over by an apparently uninformed, utterly disinterested, retired judge who openly states his only goal is to resolve an astonishing TWENTY FIVE CASES AN HOUR. In layman’s terms, this means he wants to ‘throw someone out of their home approximately every two and half minutes.’ This same clueless magistrate, moving so fast he can’t possibly give the cases coming before him even a perfunctory once over, threatens – THREATENS – to cite a defense lawyer with contempt for simply talking to a reporter in front of said judge.

 

 

Is this taking place in some godforsaken, Third World banana republic?

No…

According to Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi, it’s happening right here in America, in the so-called ‘Sunshine State,’ Florida.

The numbers are staggering:

In Las Vegas, one in 25 homes is now in foreclosure. In Fort Myers, Florida, one in 35. In September, lenders nationwide took over a record 102,134 properties; that same month, more than a third of all home sales were distressed properties. All told, some 820,000 Americans have already lost their homes this year, and another 1 million currently face foreclosure.

Nearly a million homes foreclosed on in 2010; another million coming this year; and almost all of those foreclosures fraudulent:

Virtually every case of foreclosure in this country involves some form of screwed-up paperwork. “I would say it’s pretty close to 100 percent,” says Kowalski. An attorney for Jacksonville Area Legal Aid tells me that out of the hundreds of cases she has handled, fewer than five involved no phony paperwork. “The fraud is the norm,” she says.

Out of hundreds of cases, less than FIVE were NOT fraudulent.

Those hundreds of cases were not just fraudulent, but blatantly, screamingly bare-faced fraudulent, based on documentation that makes such ridiculous claims it leaves you speechless… Continue reading

Now THIS is cool… a little pop quiz on the new Healthcare Bill via The NYT

I just came across this over at Crooks and Liarsa sweet, little, 10 question, true-or-false quiz about what’s in and what’s not in the new healthcare bill, via the New York Times. It’s pretty cool. There’s been faaaaar too much false information flowing around out there about this thing. I have to say… the more I learn about the actual bill… the more I like it!

How Health Care Reform Will (and Will Not) Change Your Life

Directions: Based on your understanding of health care reform, circle “T” for true or “F” for false for each statement.

1. Starting in 2014, most Americans will have to have a minimum amount of health insurance or else pay a penalty of $95 or .5% of household income, whichever is greater. T F

2. In the health insurance marketplace created by the reform bill, individuals and employees will be assigned insurance plans based on their needs, rather than choosing the plans for themselves. T F

3. In 2014, the government will launch a new health insurance company which will compete against private companies. T F

4. Under the new health care law, employers will be required to offer health insurance to all workers. T F

5. Starting later this year, the government will give tax credits to small business owners who want to offer their employees health insurance. T F

6. Despite the reform, insurance companies will still be able to deny an individual coverage based on his or her age and/or medical condition. T F

7. Under the new plan, federal money cannot be used to pay for abortions, except in cases currently allowed by law, such as rape, incest or when the pregnant woman’s life is in danger. T F

8. To pay for the new insurance plans, individuals and employers will pay premiums; the rest will be covered by new taxes on high-cost employer-sponsored group health plans and tanning bed use; additional payroll taxes for people who earn more than $200,000 per year, and fees to be collected from health care companies, drug makers, manufacturers of medical devices and insurance companies. T F

9. Starting in 2014, all illegal immigrants will be able to purchase health insurance through the government. T F

10. The health insurance reform will result in an estimated 16 million new Medicaid recipients. T F

You can find the answers over at the Times, in the fifth paragraph down.

After you take it yourself… and don’t lie about your score… ***raises one eyebrow***… pass it along.

This Is Worth Reading…

I came across this over at the Huffington Post this afternoon… James Zogby’s thoughts on Republicans’ behavior of late, and more specifically, around the debate and passage of the Health Care bill. It’s disturbing, to say the least.

Before dashing off to celebrate a hard fought victory in achieving health care reform, it is important to reflect on a deeply disturbing aspect of the debate that I believe spells danger ahead.

A Republican talking point repeated ad nauseam during yesterday’s debate pounded on the theme that they, and they alone, had the right to speak for “the will of the American people.” This took different forms: “the American people have spoken,” or “you (Democrats) are ignoring/imposing your views on the American people” or “the American people have sent a message,” etc. All making the same point — that the GOP speaks for the American people.

I’ve noticed the same tone in the comments of many, many Republicans, self-identified conservatives, and Tea Partiers the last few months… that they, and only they, are Real Americans. From Sarah Palin’s constant comments about what she considered the “pro-America” areas of the country to be, right through endless talk about Obama’s place of birth and whether or not he was even qualified to run for office, let alone hold it, up to Republican hyperbole during the debate over the healthcare bill.

Zogby goes on to say:

The idea that the minority party represents the “will of the people” (not some of the people, but “the people”) is the seedling of a totalitarian mindset. In this mindset — democracy doesn’t matter, ideas are not to be discussed, and opposing views are not to respected. What matters is that they alone have truth, they alone are metaphysically connected to the “mind of the people” can interpret their will, and because they have truth and speak for the people, others represent a threat and must be silenced and stopped.

I can only agree with Mr. Zogby on this. There is an increasingly ominous tone to the comments so many Republicans, conservatives, Tea Partiers, and anyone else who identifies with other side of our political spectrum are making.

We need to keep a watchful eye on this.