Failed Bailout and Credit Card Interest Rates

The $700 billion bailout plan was voted down today. Apparently Republicans in the House of Representatives were angry that Nancy Pelosi scolded them. That’s pretty much what Representative John Boehner said about why so many Republicans voted against the bill. You can read a transcript of her 16 minute speech here on The NY Times website. Boehner thought that the bill would have passed if Nancy Pelosi hadn’t made her speech.  I watched the speech and I thought she was awesome. I find it hard to believe that her speech so traumatized House Republicans that they could no longer vote for the bill. What a bunch of crybabies.

The vote was Democrats 140 yes and 95 no. Republicans 65 yes, 133 no. The bill is H.R. 3997: Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. It is an amendment to a bill called Defenders of Freedom Tax Relief Act of 2007 and the title of that bill is: To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide earnings assistance and tax relief to members of the uniformed services, volunteer firefighters, and Peace Corps volunteers, and for other purposes. Huh? I kid you not. Where did they get that bill title? Well, this OpenCongress website tries to explain it. It’s enough to make your head spin. I’m getting dizzy.

This is the bailout that a few days ago Bush said we urgently needed with no oversight or regulation attached to it. The House is going to take off tomorrow and Wednesday for Rosh Hashanah and reconvene at noon on Thursday. I guess they like to sleep late.

I love this quote in the New York Times, “This is a huge cow patty with a piece of marshmallow stuck in the middle of it and I am not going to eat that cow patty,” said Representative Paul Broun, Republican of Georgia.” Not even with an ice cold Coke to wash it down?

I was thinking that since they were working so hard on bailing out Wall Street that maybe they could give consumers a break on credit card interest rates too. I think that 30% is a little steep. I received an offer in the mail today for a MasterCard. It says, “save BIG on Purchases and Balance Transfers.” There is a 0% percent rate for the first 15 months. After that it goes to 8.99%. I am just going to round these numbers up, OK? Let’s make that 9%. If I take a cash advance the rate goes to 24%. Yikes. The default APR is 29%. Now to the fine print. If my payment is received late, I fail to pay at least the minimum due, my payment is not honored by my bank, or I exceed my credit line, the APR on all balances may be increased to the applicable Default rate, 29%. Ouch. I bet it is more like WILL be increased instead of may be increased. It sounds like extortion to me.

There are five states with no cap on interest rates. They are Delaware, Virginia, Utah, South Dakota and New Hampshire, the “Live Free or Die” state. Can you really live free if you are paying a 30% rate on your credit card? Arizona has a cap, but it is 36%. Nice.

The federal government used to have “usury laws” that set a limit on the amount of interest that could be charged on a loan. The federal usury laws were repealed during the Great Depression. I hope we don’t have to start referring to it as the 1st Great Depression. Many states had their own usury laws. In 1978, the Supreme Court ruled that a national bank could charge the highest interest rate permitted in its home state. It didn’t matter where the customer lived. has an interesting article about this called “The Pentagon as Financial Regulator.” It explains how credit card companies took advantage of this. Frontline on has a great article about credit cards too, “Eight Things a Credit Card User Should Know.”

I think that if we capped credit card interest rates at say 12%, consumers would get some relief and credit card companies would cut down on mailing credit card offers. That would make the postal workers who have to deliver all these offers happy too.

Have you ever heard of the Glass-Steagall Act? Me either. It was enacted in the Great Depression to prevent commercial banks from underwriting stocks and bonds. Frontline on has a shocking article about that too.  You might recognize some of the names that are mentioned in the article like Senator Phil Gramm and Robert Rubin, the Secretary of the Treasury. Glass-Steagall was watered down slowly over the years and finally repealed in 1999. The Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999 was enacted to replace Glass-Steagall. It replaced a good, common sense law with a bad one. It was enacted because hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on lobbyists to enable the merger of Citicorp and Travelers. The Secretary of the Treasury of the United States, Robert Rubin, accepted a job with the merged companies as soon as he knew Glass-Steagall was going to be repealed. It is an absolutely disgusting story and a perfect example of what is wrong with this country.

If you go to the United States Department of the Treasury website they paint a glowing picture of Rubin. It says that, “Upon Mr. Rubin’s retirement, President Clinton called him the “greatest secretary of the Treasury since Alexander Hamilton.” He didn’t retire, he went to work at Citigroup. Disgusting. This sort of thing should be illegal and it still isn’t. Why?

Here is another article about him in the New York Times. Apparently he is still at Citigroup, but he doesn’t know anything about what happened to the markets and it wasn’t his fault. He has made over $100 million since he started working at Citigroup. Not bad for a retired guy.

I’m voting for Barack Obama. You should too.

Say No to the Bailout

Bush wants to shove this bailout down our throats and he is in an awful hurry to do it. Bush basically wants us to give him a  blank check and trust him to do the right thing. And he wants it done this week. Alarm bells should be clanging all over the country. He has not done the right thing in 8 years. Why would he start now? I don’t trust him AT ALL and you shouldn’t either. He lied to us about Iraq, lied to us about the Patriot Act and he lied to us about the tax cuts for the rich that he rammed through Congress when he first took office. He is lying now. He has never apologized or admitted that he is wrong and he never will. He is a a national disgrace.

I guarantee you that the bailout will be worse than the problem it is supposed to fix. It is an absolutely stupid idea that will reward the greedy, incompetent, morons on Wall Street for being greedy, incompetent morons. It will stick hard working Americans with another bill that they can’t afford. Let all the bigshots on Wall Street pay for the bailout with the millions and millions of dollars in their golden parachutes. They screwed it up big time and will walk away laughing, live in luxury and let some man or woman making $12 an hour pay the tab. No way.

I am afraid that our representatives in Congress will not have the backbone to stand up to him over this. I don’t understand why. Oh, they might put on a little show and complain a little bit, but they will probably cave in and give Bush what he wants. I don’t have any confidence in them at all that they will do the right thing either. It would be nice to see, but they will probably roll over like they usually do.

Maybe we can inspire them a little. Let them know we will stand with them if they will stand up to Bush.

Write your Senators and Congressman today. Right now. I did it this morning. It’s easy. In a few days it could all be over. Tell them to say no to the bailout. Tell them to say no to Bush. Tell them to come up with another solution instead of sticking it to the little guy. Tell them to have a backbone and do the right thing.

You can find your U.S. Senator’s email address here. You can do this in 10 minutes or less. Let them know you want them to stand up to Bush and say no to the bailout.

You can find your Representative’s email address here. It’s easy and takes 10 minutes or less.

You can get phone numbers and call them at either link too and regular mail addresses, but this is all going to be over in a matter of days.

You can email both of your Senators and your Representative in the time in takes to watch 1 half hour sitcom!

While you are at it, send an email to Barack Obama and John McCain and tell them to say no too. I’m going to do that right now.

Paul Krugman was on The Bill Maher show Friday night and said, “We really need a better government than the one we’ve got.” I love it.

I’m voting for Barack Obama. You should too.

Note added on October 22, 2013: For more information about the political process, both major parties and how our government works visit


The Ignorant Little Man

I drove to Trenton, New Jersey this past weekend to attend a wedding in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania. My wife wanted to get her nails done Saturday morning. I dropped her off and told her I was going to drive to Bordentown to take some new pictures of a statue of Thomas Paine. I had previously photographed the statue several years ago.

Thomas Paine

I parked my car around 10:00 AM, got out and started to take my first picture. As I was lining up my shot I heard a voice behind me say something like “that guy has been photographed an awful lot.” I turned around to see who was speaking. I was wearing an Obama 08 sticker on my shirt (instead of a button) and an Obama for President baseball hat that my brother-in-law had given me the previous night. The speaker was a short, older man about 65 or 70, carrying a tall walking stick with a small American flag attached to it. I think he was wearing a red hat. As soon as I turned he saw my hat and said,

“Aren’t you an American? Are you going to vote for that n*****?”

I was stunned and revolted. The words hit me in the face. I didn’t expect to meet someone so ignorant on such a beautiful sunny day in historic Bordentown, New Jersey. He continued walking towards the end of the street and I said, “I’m voting for Barack Obama. He’s ten times smarter than McCain.” He turned at the end of the street and walked back towards me. He pointed to Thomas Paine and said “Who do you think he’d vote for? Ronald Reagan.” I could have reminded him that Reagan was dead, but I didn’t. I said that Thomas Paine would vote for Barack Obama. Then the ignorant little man said, “and he’s a Muslim too.” I said, “No. He’s not.” The ignorant little man continued walking and turned down a side street. That is the last I saw of him. I was really angry. I continued to take some pictures. I took my Obama hat off and put it on Tom Paine.

Statue of Thomas Paine wearing Obama for President hat

That ignorant little man hates Obama because of the color of his skin. He has lived 65 or 70 years on this good earth and not learned a thing. Apparently, he hasn’t even really looked at the statue and read the inscriptions. Double click on the picture below to enlarge it.

Thomas Paine and Abolition of Slavery

Thomas Paine was among the first in America to advocate for the abolition of slavery. He too would have been deeply offended by the words of the ignorant little man. Read Paine’s essay African Slavery in America on The words of the ignorant little man are remnants of slavery, segregation and Jim Crow that still unfortunately echo through this great country. We have come a long way here in America, but there is still a long, long way to go. Too many people still invalidate another person simply because of the color of their skin. People are who they are because of what is inside them and how they treat their fellow man, not because of their skin color.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said in his inspirational I Have a Dream speech, ” I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” We are not there yet. Dr. King was a courageous man. He was as brave as any soldier on a battlefield. He gave his life to free this nation from shameful behavior that divided it. This country is a better place because of him.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt was running for president in 1931, he was rarely photographed in his wheelchair. It was thought that some people would not vote for a president with a disability. He was elected president four times and guided this nation through the Great Depression and World War Two. I bet that some people, if they had known he was in a wheelchair, would not have voted for him. FDR was the right man to lead this country in very dangerous time.

If you are thinking of not voting for Barack Obama because he is black, think again. If you are thinking of not voting at all because you live in a “blue” state and Obama is predicted to win, think again. Who knows how many ignorant little men are lurking out there. Get out there and vote.

I hope the ignorant little man (and all the other ignorant little men and women), forgets to vote.

America desperately needs someone who can lead us through this mess.

I’m voting for Barack Obama. You should too.

John McCain, Bad For America

I find it hard to believe John McCain said Monday that the fundamentals of the economy are strong. Tuesday he explained that when he said “fundamentals of the economy” he really meant the American worker is strong. Huh? When I hear you say “fundamentals of the economy,” I don’t hear “American worker.” Say what you mean. So much for the Straight Talk Express. This is the guy who had Phil Gramm as his economic advisor until he called us a “nation of whiners.” Phil disappeared shortly after that remark. Gramm is high on the list of people responsible for the mess the economy is in now. He did a lot to make sure the markets weren’t regulated. Read this article in the New York Times or this one in The Huffington Post to find out that McCain “doesn’t really know about economics” and got his advice from Phil Gramm. Molly Ivins called Gramm one of the meanest guys ever to serve in the U.S. Congress. It is disgusting that McCain let Gramm come within 1000 yards of him. Carly Fiorina, the former head of Hewlett-Packard and a McCain supporter, said recently that neither McCain, Palin, Obama or Biden could run a major corporation. She couldn’t run HP either but she got a nice fat $21 million package when she was dismissed. Do you really want to elect a guy as president that graduated 894 out of 899 in his Naval Academy class? Haven’t you had enough of George Bush, our current “C” student President? Do you want to replace one incompetent fighter pilot with another incompetent fighter pilot and have another four years as disastrous as the last eight? Do you want to elect a guy who can’t remember if Iran is Sunni or Shia and needs smiling Joe Lieberman to remind him?

Smiling Joe Lieberman

I am going to vote for Barack Obama who graduated from Columbia and Harvard Law School and actually knows where the library is at both institutions. I want someone who can actually think.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said that he is still undecided about who he will vote for and wants to watch the upcoming debates. Didn’t he watch any of the debates leading up to the conventions? That wasn’t enough? Does he read a newspaper or watch TV? If you don’t know the difference between McCain and Obama by now you are not paying attention. I understand that he is a Republican and may not want the world to know that he is considering voting for Obama, but to say that you are still undecided? Retired General Wesley Clark is voting for Obama and here is a great story explaining why he is a Democrat.

Dr. Phil said on the Larry King Show that he doesn’t know who he is voting for yet either. Wow. This is a “no brainer” people. If you don’t realize yet that Barack Obama is light years ahead of McCain in the “smarts” department, you haven’t been listening.

In the movie “Moonstruck”, Loretta Castorini (Cher), slaps Ronnie Cammareri (Nicholas Cage) in the face twice and yells “Snap out of it.”

For all of you undecided voters out there: SNAP OUT OF IT!

I’m voting for Barack Obama. You should too.

The Power of the Ocean

Galveston, Texas

I find it hard to believe that 15,000 to 20,000 people stayed on Galveston Island after being told it was “certain death” to remain in the path of Hurricane Ike, a category 2 storm that was headed directly at them. What were they thinking? It has only been 3 years since Katrina. That was the last time a “certain death” warning was issued by the National Weather Service. That has to be a pretty vivid memory for anybody in the U.S. living near a coast in the path of a hurricane. The barrier island is 27 miles long, 1.5 to 3 miles wide and 6 to 20 feet above sea level. Galveston was only inches above sea level until after the hurricane of September 8, 1900 when recovery efforts that lasted 10 years, raised the height of the city. Some said Ike could be a category 3 storm when it reached land.The NWS was predicting a surge of water 22 feet high. That would put just about everything on the island under at least 2 feet of water. Authorities are saying that it will take weeks just to get the electricity back up and running. Who knows when the toilets will work again. How are you supposed to live like that?

Long Beach Island, New Jersey

My grandparents owned a summer house in Beach Haven, on Long Beach Island, New Jersey for many years. LBI is a barrier island like Galveston, 18 miles long, 1/2 mile wide  and 9.8 feet above sea level. The island was hit by the Ash Wednesday Storm on March 6-8 in 1962. This was not a hurricane, “only” a nor’easter. The storm lingered for 36 hours and caused incredible destruction on the island and the east coast of the United States. You can see photos of the LBI damage here. My grandparents were not in the house during the storm. This is the storm that everyone on LBI compares to recent storms. In 1962 the island was just beginning to be built up. Now, I think every square foot of space possible has a house or business on it.  Over the years, Beach Haven was threatened by several dangerous storms. My grandmother, who lived alone from the late 1970’s on, always refused to leave. My family would drive to her house and try to convince her to leave, but it never worked. We did, on occasion, move valuables to the second floor for her. My grandmother and the house always managed to survive undamaged.

The house was sold in the mid 1990’s and the new owners put it up on stilts. My grandmother\'s house in Beach Haven, NJ. The new owners put it on stilts.

The Power of the Ocean

I have a lot of respect for the ocean. I remember when I was in my early twenties, swimming at Beach Haven. I was with a young woman and we swam out too far.  I had not been paying attention. There was a lifeguard on the beach, but I don’t recall if he saw us or not. I could feel the ocean pulling us out to sea and I started to panic. I wanted to get back to the beach and the ocean was pulling me the opposite way. For a second, I thought of only myself. I was scared. I was going to have to let my companion fend for herself. It only lasted a second or two and it was a horrible feeling. Instantly, I overcame my fear and knew that I could not swim to shore and leave her. I got behind her and started pushing her back toward the beach. I was totally focused on each push and unafraid. It took a while but, somehow, that was enough and we made it to shore. I don’t remember what happened after that, but I have never forgotten that particular moment.

The Quarry

Years after the incident in Beach Haven, I was swimming in a quarry near Hillsdale, New York. I was in my forties, a smoker and not in the best of shape. There was a swimming section in the quarry that was roped off and a platform about 100 feet out towards the far edge of the swimming area. There were a lot of people on the platform and there was a lifeguard on the shore. I swam out to the platform and rested. It was a lot farther than it seemed and I was tired. When I tried to swim back, I tired really fast. I was half way back to shore and I was struggling to keep going.  I didn’t want to drown and all I had to do was yell or wave to the lifeguard, but I was too embarrassed. My embarrassment trumped my fear. I didn’t want to make a scene. It took me a few minutes that seemed much longer, but I stumbled onto the shore exhausted and very relieved.

I respect the power of the ocean.

Remembering September 11, 2001

Jeffrey Goldberg wrote an interesting article in The New York Times September 9, 2008 called, On Nov. 4, Remember 9/11. He says the most important thing the next president must do is prevent terrorists from detonating a nuclear device in the United States. It started me thinking about that day. I always thought that unlocked cockpit doors allowed the terrorists to hijack the planes . If we had locked the doors, they would not have been able to kill the cockpit crews and takeover the planes. I didn’t know that the doors probably were locked, but that one or more flight attendants had a key or access to one. The 9/11 Commission Report on page 5 says: ” We do not know exactly how the hijackers gained access to the cockpit; FAA rules required that the doors remain closed and locked during flight. Ong speculated that they had “jammed their way” in. Perhaps the terrorists stabbed the flight attendants to get a cockpit key, to force one of them to open the cockpit door, or to lure the captain or first officer out of the cockpit. Or the flight attendants may just have been in their way.”

An article on the website says “To avoid the risk of issuing tens of thousands (of keys) to flight attendants, major airlines, in accordance with the FAA/NTSB recommendation, put cockpit keys for the flight attendants in the first class compartment in containers near cockpit doors. As a “back-up”, also in accordance with another FAA/ NTSB recommendation, they gave flight attendants pre- arranged knocking codes to summon the pilots to open the door.” It sounds like hiding a key under the front door mat to me.

“On El Al flights, bulletproof cockpit doors remain locked from boarding until the last passenger has disembarked. It’s a simple requirement that ensures no terrorist can gain access to the controls”, according to an August 25, 2003 article in BusinessWeek. An El Al plane has not been successfully hijacked since 1968, 40 years ago.  A hijacking was attempted in 1970. El Al security officers on the plane, while in the air, shot and killed one hijacker and took the other into custody. The plane landed safely.

We made it too easy for the hijackers. If the cockpit doors were locked and secure, those evil, misguided, poor excuses for human beings, would not have been able to use the planes as weapons. Their mission would have failed and they would either be in prison or dead.

I’m certain we are not doing enough to inspect all of the cargo containers that come into this country. Every single container coming into this country should be inspected before it enters an American port and at a safe enough distance so that if it does contain a nuclear device, it won’t kill millions of people. Tax each container to pay for its inspection. It should be part of the cost of importing all that stuff from China and it will make American made goods more competitive. Figure out how to do it. Don’t tell me it can’t be done or it’s too expensive. We put a man on the moon, remember? Do it now. It’s already 7 years too late.

That is also why we need to secure our borders. We need to know who and what is coming and going. A secure border is also 7 years too late. We don’t need to build a brick wall around the country. We need to build a wall with our technology.

In his Democratic Convention speech, Barack Obama said, “John McCain likes to say that he’ll follow bin Laden to the gates of Hell – but he won’t even go to the cave where he lives.” Obama meant that bin Laden has been living in Pakistan for the past 7 years and we haven’t done enough to kill him.  Bush has been playing games with the government of Pakistan instead of going after bin Laden. Read “Right at the Edge“, by Dexter Filkins in the New York Times Magazine. We ignored the Taliban prior to 9/11/01. We attacked them and drove them out of Afghanistan after 9/11, but didn’t follow them into Pakistan and defeat them. We have attacked them there with Predators recently, but they appear to be prospering nicely. They are way too comfortable.

Bush said, shortly after 9/11,”We’re going to find those evildoers, those barbaric people who attacked our country, and we’re going to hold them accountable. We’re going to hold the people who house them accountable. The people who think they can provide them safe havens will be held accountable. The people who feed them will be held accountable. And the Taliban must take my statement seriously.”

Remember “Wanted: Dead or Alive?” Where is Osama bin Laden?

We citizens of the United States are lucky to have so many courageous soldiers and smart, dedicated leaders in our military. We have no right to ask them to sacrifice so much with one hand tied behind their back. If bin Laden is in Pakistan, let’s go get him. I have said, at least a few times over the past 7 years, that I won’t believe we are serious about defeating the Taliban and Al Qaeda until there are so many Predators flying over the Afghan-Pakistani border area that they are stacked up like planes landing at Newark Airport on a snowy day and birds can’t fly.

I’m voting for Barack Obama. You should too.

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