Archive for July, 2008

  • Rob Spectre
  • 30
  • Jul
  • 08

The Guardian is running a story about legislation currently being drawn up in Russia to outlaw being emo.  The Duma held a hearing entitled “Government Strategy in the Sphere of Spritual and Ethical Education.”  The effort specifically was intended to amend the current strong regulations against skinheads to include kids sporting “black hair with fringes that cover half the face.”  Judging by the current laws against skinheads, should the bill pass emos would be banned from schools and government buildings as well as face heavy censorship of emo websites.  The sponsors of the bill are aiming for passage by the end of the year.

One could easily herald the Russian legislature for this forward thinking bill.  “At last,” a reasonable person would declare.  “One government is ready to do something to rid us of the terrible plight of emo.”  The bill itself is favored undoubtedly by many in the country.  It makes perfect sense in the context of modern metropolitan Russia.  Having some first hand knowledge of their revulsion of emo, the staggered march of Western pop culture around the globe makes this legislation arrive exactly at the point in Russia when the Fall Out Boy record got played one time too effing many.

Photo by Rob Spectre

Photo by Rob Spectre

However well intentioned, this law is fundamentally wrong.  What the Russian legislature is failing to consider is the effect that likening emo culture to criminal neo-Nazi elements will have.  During my entire stay in Russia I saw Nazis only one time, who were competing for protest space in front of a mall on St. Petersburg’s Nevsky Prospect.  In the wide swath of that city that I explored, I only once encountered any skinheads and only then in a pathetic, comical setting.

Emo in Russia, on the other hand, is a very public phenomenon. On the bus, in the metro, at McDonalds; these fuckers are everywhere.   Any public place is filthy with them.  They are always eating their Chicken McNuggets, always crying where everyone can see.  I don’t know when the last was that Dashboard Confessional came to play Piter, but if her streets are any indication the scalpers must have made enough to live on for the rest of the year.  Their ubiquity is what draws the ire of the legislators and of the public.

If emos were placed in the same category of skinheads, they would virtually disappear from the public eye.  This result may seem to meet the government’s goal, but if we cannot see the emos, how will we be able to beat the shit out them?  Without them congregating conveniently in public places, the effort to locate and pummel these emos will unfairly burden concerned citizens nationwide.  The results will be the same as the neo-Nazis they tried to eradicate ten years earlier; the symptoms would fade but the disease would still remain.

Outlawing emo will not eliminate emo, it will only make it harder to find.  Sadly, emo is not something we can destroy through politics.  It must run the natural course of any annoying fad.

But in the meantime if we can’t get rid of emos, we should at least keep them easy to find, and consequently, easier to kick in the face.

  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Technorati
  • Rob Spectre
  • 28
  • Jul
  • 08

The White House released today its projected budget deficit for next year, in effect the coda of the Bush Administration’s economic legacy. Dubya will be serving up a record $482 billion steamer on the Oval Office desk to welcome the next guy, beating his previous worst in 2004 by nearly $70 billion. The projection measures in nearly twice as large as the worst deficit suffered by the Clinton administration of $255 billion, which was itself a hand off by Bush the First. Squandering an inherited $128 billion of budget black, Bush seems to be indicating a family trend in the management of our tax dollars.

The new numbers from the administration’s Office of Management and Budget as published were actually inaccurate as they did not include $80 billion in war costs. In violation of new Congressional directives, the OMB accounts these costs as separate from the national budget – something that office has never done before. Bush’s crew is treating the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as superfluous line items; the projection itself suffers from the Bush spin machine in a damage control effort that began as soon as the numbers left the accountants’ calculators. This is a new low for the executive branch of government. They have gone from simply making up facts to changing deliberately the ones that exist.

The projection serves as the nail in the coffin of the Bush family legacy. The recipient of four consecutive years of surpluses and the largest expansion of wealth in human history, George W. Bush became president at the helm of an American economic juggernaut. Unable to levy the same blame on the external forces his father suffered, Bush the Second mortgaged our generation’s economic future to win two elections. When taken in the context of the budget up and downs of the past two decades, it seems he has succeeded in creating his very own economic phenomenon.

Source: OMB

Source: OMB

Call it “the Bush Curve.” Illustrated above, the US budget surplus or deficit is graphed for two decades. Highlighted ironically in red, the Bush Curve can be observed. For a family that identifies itself as conservative, the tale of the tape is contradictory. In the past 20 years, we can see that the lowest valleys of our government’s fiscal responsibility belong to the Bushes. When taking the longview of the actual data, the conclusion of their effect on our financial well being becomes painfully obvious. Without a Middle East peace deal, conclusion to Iraq, or apprehension of the perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks, we are left only with the tab of what he spent. The legacy of Bush is a budgetary black diamond.

I breeched the subject of politics one time with my grandpa when I was in college. Though certainly knew where he stood with the current state of country music and his long standing affection for Dolly Parton, it was something that never came up while we were playing Johnny Cash tunes. Before Dubya stole the election of 2000, he’d say something that resonated during Bush’s reign.

“Rob, I don’t really know anything about politics,” his teeth grinding at the word. “But I do know whenever a Democrat was in office, I always seemed to have a job.”

  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Technorati
  • Rob Spectre
  • 27
  • Jul
  • 08

Over the weekend, the FDIC seized control of two West Coast banks and the 28 branches under their control. Executing a swift sale, the ink was barely dry on the seizure when the whole mess became Mutual of Omaha’s problem. Another fire sale transaction brokered by the US Government, the deal is nowhere near as severely undervalued as JP Morgan’s purchase of Bear Stearns but cements the dangerous precedent it set. With the memory of the savings and loan meltdown of the late Eighties still fresh in the minds of the financial community, the Bush administration’s economic bench is focused on damage control. This summer they are saying goodbye to the free market and sending out the lifeboats by the bunches to prevent a nuclear economic event in an election year.  But, in their haste to reinforce confidence in the nation’s financial infrastructure, are they only mortgaging today’s problems for tomorrow?

With billions in losses serving as distraction, it is easy to miss the huge boon these emergency sales represent.  For pennies on the dollar, well-capitalized firms are sucking up competitive share and appearing to be heroes while they do it.  It is certain with the trillions in exposure to a housing sink that is only getting started that IndyMac won’t be the last or the biggest banking failure we see this year.  If the modus operandi of federal involvement holds, the landscape of the financial industry will see sweeping consolidation.  The piper is going to come demand his payment of hundreds of institutions that went for the easy buck during the housing boom, leaving firms with even a little more diversity a fertile acquisition market with the United States government serving as the dealmaker.  Buys that would have required long and expensive courtships with unattractive terms become wholesale bargains; deals so desperate they beg a gun to be pointed at the head of the seller.

Make no mistake, these fuckers are getting paid.  After this crisis abates, outfits like JP Morgan and Mutual of Omaha will have cut out huge swathes of competition while the government absorbs the risk.  In times like these, they are the moneychangers on the temple steps, endowed with a divine charter to sell hope to the people for a cut in their dreams.  These folks aren’t acting out of charity; they know exactly the bargain they are getting.

Realistically, though, there is not much of an alternative.  With only $15 billion in its insurance fund, the FDIC’s options are limited to quick turnarounds.  Should a string of six or seven medium banks or two or three big ones reach a critically undercapitalized state, the money for the insurance that the FDIC provides dries up quickly.  Should a single dollar of a single deposit be lost in a failure in the United States, the nation would suffer an epic failure of confidence. The mass withdrawl that would follow would turn credit crunch into credit meltdown as no one in the States would have a dollar to lend.

Given such weight of failure, these fire sales seem justified, even wise.  But in the long run, the money saved from failure today may get swallowed in monopoly tomorrow.

In the words of the Zenmaster, “We’ll see.”

  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Technorati
  • Rob Spectre
  • 25
  • Jul
  • 08

An exchange in conversation that serves as a rightful remembrance of those who come first.

Dude: “38 Studios… Isn’t that Curt Schilling’s game studio?”
Rob: “Yeah.”
Dude: “I met Curt Schilling once.”
Rob: “Yeah?”
Dude: “He was a *huge* dick.”
Rob: “Yeah, he can be that way.”
Dude: “I don’t understand how a guy can be like that.  Okay, you won a World Series.  Doesn’t mean you can be an asshole.”
Rob: “I don’t think you understand.”
Dude: “What do you mean?”
Rob: “He didn’t win a World Series.  He won the World Series.”
Dude: “Oh, because it was Boston.”
Rob: “You still don’t get it.   Let me break down the hierarchy of importance in New England.

  1. John F. Kennedy
  2. Curt Schilling
  3. Jesus”

Dude: “Jesus Christ is only number three.”

Rob: “Well yeah, after Brady lost the Super Bowl.”

  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Technorati
  • Rob Spectre
  • 23
  • Jul
  • 08

CNN’s special investigations unit reported earlier this month that the Federal Emergency Management Agency failed to distribute a whopping $85 million in relief items such as one-use cutlery, coffee makers, pillowcases and other household items purchased for victims of Hurricane Katrina. Held instead in a warehouse in Mississippi for two years, the supplies never made it to victims in Louisiana, the state hardest hit by the Category 5 hurricane. In order to escape the $1 million a year FEMA was charged for warehousing the supplies, CNN discovered FEMA marked the hidden cache of supplies as surplus and gave it all away. Recipients include 16 states (not including Louisiana) and several federal agencies.

Photo by Jason L. Gohlke

Photo by Jason L. Gohlke

After the CNN report, it now seems that the agency responsible for managing the inventory – the General Services Administration – made a mathematical boo-boo in the accounting. After further investigation, GSA is now reporting that the total in the two warehouses was a smaller, but still batshit crazy $18.5 million. The explanation for the error is typical of the federal competence in even the smallest details of this disaster:

The General Services Administration over-counted cases of toilet paper, plastic sporks and other cutlery, by mistakenly counting a single item as being worth as much as multiple items contained in a package of goods.

For example, each spork was assigned the value of an entire case, inflating the original estimated value of the supplies a thousandfold to $36 million from $36,000. Packs of toilet paper originally estimated to be worth $1.5 million dropped to about $18,000, and plastic cutlery kits, from $6.3 million to about $25,000.

Missing in their report is how $18.5 million in supplies sits in a warehouse one state over for two years after Louisian goes underwater. 18.5 multiplied by any number over 100 starts to look mighty helpful when one’s entire town is below sea level and sees twenty feet of rain in a day. How does one go to that warehouse, look at those boxes and summon the will to act?

Further, how the fuck does any person think they’re sitting on $36 million in sporks? It’s a detail of this story that only gets more crazy as one breaks it down. The number and the word doesn’t even go together. Thirty-six million dollars. Sporks. When placed in such proximity, they leap off the page and stab you in the eye.

How many people looked at that inventory? The supplies were for FEMA, managed by GSA, and put in a private warehouse. With three organizations – one paying for it, one managing it, and another warehousing it – at least three separate offices must have had this accounting. With three offices, two of them belonging to the federal government, it is not unbelievable to suggest as many as a dozen people saw a sheet with the contents of those warehouses.

A dozen people who saw the amount of “thirty-six million dollars” and the word “spork” and didn’t say shit. It gets more absurd relative to the value listed for the other items. Out of an $85 million supply, these yohans thought for two goddamned years that 42% of it was in sporks. Even taking the relative value out of consideration, $36 million makes for a fucking insane amount of sporks. Is it possible for any one entity to have that many? Let’s do the math.

Solo Cup Company is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of single use paper, paper and foam goods, as well as the nation’s biggest producer of sporks. Last quarter, they reported $461 million in revenue. Since it is not explicitly reported, let’s say for the government’s sake that sporks constitute a generous 5% of Solo Cup’s total sales. In order to have the number they thought, FEMA would have to buy every last fucking spork made by Solo Cup for five months. The people who make sporks do not ever have at one time the amount of sporks that FEMA genuinely thought it had.

I wonder how those conversations at the FEMA water cooler went.

“Hey, Frank. What do we got at that warehouse in Mississippi?”

“Shitload of sporks, Eddie.  Shitload of sporks.”

  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Technorati