Monday, November 30, 2009

Looking Back on the Dubai Ports World Deal

or, Why Sometimes It's OK to Be A Little Paranoid.

Remember this story:

United Arab Emirates Firm May Oversee 6 U.S. Ports
By Ted Bridis
 Associated Press

Sunday, February 12, 2006

A company in the United Arab Emirates is poised to take over significant operations at six American ports as part of a corporate sale, leaving a country with ties to the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers with influence over a maritime industry considered vulnerable to terrorism.

The Bush administration considers the UAE an important ally in the fight against terrorism since the suicide hijackings and is not objecting to Dubai Ports World's purchase of London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co.

The $6.8 billion sale could be approved Monday and would affect commercial port operations in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia.

DP World said it won approval from a secretive U.S. government panel that considers security risks of foreign companies buying or investing in American industry. The U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment (CFIUS) in the United States "thoroughly reviewed the potential transaction and concluded they had no objection," the company said in a statement.

The committee, which could have recommended that President Bush block the purchase, includes representatives from the departments of Treasury, Defense, Justice, Commerce, State and Homeland Security.
And now today the government of Dubai has announced that it will not cover Dubai Ports World's debts.

Graeme Wearden reported for the
"The Dubai government said today that it will not guarantee the debts of the stricken conglomerate Dubai World as the city state's debt crisis continues to haunt the world's financial markets.

After the Abu Dhabi stock market suffered its biggest ever one-day fall today as investors returned after the Eid holiday, Dubai's top finance official appeared on Dubai TV to say that the emirate's government will not guarantee Dubai World's $59bn (£36bn) debts.

The statement suggests that creditors, which include leading banks, could face billions of dollars of losses as the conglomerate's worldwide property, industry and leisure empire unravels.

Abdulrahman al-Saleh, director general of Dubai's department of finance, said: 'Creditors need to take part of the responsibility for their decision to lend to the companies. They think Dubai World is part of the government, which is not correct,' he said.

'Dubai World was established as an independent company, it is true that the government is the owner, but given that the company has various activities and is exposed to various types of risks, the decision, since its establishment, has been that the company is not guaranteed by the [Dubai] government.'"

Now let's just pause for a moment and imagine.

If that "secretive US panel that considers security risks of foreign companies", the Bush Administration and Dubai World had gotten their way, a non-US owned company, whose own government describes it as being a "company (that) has various activities and is exposed to various types of risks"; and is carrying $56b in debt: would be responsible for "significant operations" at the ports of New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New Orleans and Miami.

Of course, anyone who expressed a concerned of the proposed Dubai Ports World deal of 2006 was labeled as protectionist and paranoid.

Makes you wonder how any of us survived the Bush administration at all.

But wait, are any of those same people still working at CFIUS?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Is A Crystal Vase Valuable If It's Free?

“Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces."
Matthew 7:6

For many years I thought that this verse of scripture was a little out of place. It immediately follows verses which caution us against being judgmental and precedes verses which teach us how to ask, seek and receive. I also thought that referring to dogs and swine was a little harsh.

I'm still not sure that I understand how the verses in Matthew 7:1-8 come together but I now understand that Jesus was just trying to make the point that not everyone is receptive to the gospel message and in those situations it makes no sense to press the point or be judgmental.

I also now understand that Matthew 7:6 has very practical, every day relevance. Simply put, gifts are not always appreciated by those who don't perceive their value. When this happens there is no sense in being upset about it or judging the person.

Here's an example. Many years ago, while going through a bout of depression, I gave a Mikasa vase to a friend. I'd had the vase for many years but at that moment, I just thought that this friend might enjoy it more than I. A few years later, I was in the friend's kitchen helping her entertain guests. I happened to look under her kitchen sink for a dish pan and, lo and behold, there was the crystal vase. My first thought was, "who puts a valuable crystal vase under the sink with their pots and pans?" But then I realized that it was my friend's vase now to do with as she pleased. But that incident made me think.

I've always believed that to whom much is given, much is required, a value instilled in me by my mom. So, over the years I've given away many items. When I replaced my computers I refurbished the old ones and passed them on. When I hadn't worn an item of clothing for a year or two, and it was still in great condition, I passed it on. Cookware, I wasn't using was passed on. If something was in disrepair I threw it out but if something still had value I passed it on. It just seemed like it was the right thing to do. I also applied this same practice to my time and professional skills. And I know that I'm not the only one who believes and does this.

However, now I know that not all of these gifts were appreciated, not because they were not valuable but because they were free to the recipient. The computer, leather suit or crystal vase suddenly was seen as not quite as valuable because they free. And that made me think, is that the way that we treat God's gifts?

How would we view Jesus if he were on the earth today? Would we think that he was less of a minister because he didn't have a mega-church or a big congregation?

After all, we only think that musicians really have talent if they have big recording contracts?

Poets and writers are only valued if they have published works?

Housewives are perceived as not making as valuable a contribution to the household as their working spouse.

And while the tasks performed by persons who care for our sick and elderly loved ones in nursing homes are perceived as "work", the same tasks performed for free by full-time home caregivers is not.

Is a crystal vase valuable if it's free?

Not everyone appreciates the gift of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. They don't perceive the value of the gift because it was done for free. There's no sense in judging them, threatening them with hell fire or beating them over the head with the bible. They're not ready to receive it.

And I guess that's where the "ask and keep asking" verse ties in.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Can We Say It Now?

Yesterday, ran a story titled, "Bailout Hasn't Checked Wall Street Risks, Warren Says."

My first response was, "Duh, and this is news."

Did anyone really think that the geniuses who made millions running their companies into the ground; who nearly brought global financial markets to a crashing halt; and who were bailed out in spite of their misdeeds were really going to change their ways.

Why should they?

Obviously, the message that they received from the TARP bailout was that their system worked. At least it did for them. And after all, since Wall Street drives the economy, they are all that matters, right?

In her article, Lorraine Wollert reported:
" Elizabeth Warren, a chief watchdog of the government’s rescue of Wall Street, said the $700 billion bailout hasn’t stopped the “culture of excessive risk-taking” that led to the financial crisis.

The Troubled Asset Relief Program also has “injected an unprecedented level of pricing distortions and moral hazard into the marketplace,” Warren said at a hearing today of the Congressional Oversight Panel on TARP, which she leads.

“Uncertainty persists about the stability of our financial institutions and whether they can survive without the benefit of government assistance,” Warren said.

The oversight panel heard testimony from economists about the effectiveness of the program. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner must decide whether to extend the rescue program beyond its scheduled expiration at the end of the year.

Warren said banks are relying on government aid and consumer lending to make money.

“That’s not a sustainable profit model,” she said.
So can we finally say it?

All together now:

An economy based primarily on debt and credit and very little production of tangible goods simply is not sustainable.

But this is what we have. A service economy that runs on debt and credit. An economy built on: financial schemes; health care for profit; outsourcing production; illegal labor: and most of all, GREED.

We just didn't learn our lesson. So now prepare yourselves for the rollout of TARP 2.0 aka TARP Reloaded.

In the following video from FireDogLake Elizabeth Warren provides an honest assessment of this situation.

I certainly don't have all the answers for fixing this problem. But I do agree with Albert Einstein who is quoted as saying, "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

And if TARP Reloaded fails, don't hold your breath for TARP Revolutions. That would be a contradiction in terms.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Snake is a Snake is a Snake

There are two sayings that you've probably heard a million times but they always bear repeating:

"Caveat Emptor: Let the Buyer Beware"
"Some people will do anything for a buck"

Often these two phrases go hand in hand especially when it comes to real estate.

By now you've probably heard of the "We Buy Houses for Cash" scam but just in case you haven't here's a little background.

Andrew Dunn reported the following in his article, "Home Scam Stings Owners":

"Typically, this is how the scheme works: A distressed homeowner, who can't sell his house and may be facing foreclosure, agrees to sell his home to a company in exchange for a small cash settlement and the title to the house. The homeowner doesn't realize he is still named on the mortgage. The company brings in a renter, who pays a significant deposit. The company may or may not continue to pay the mortgage. When it can no longer find a renter, it abandons the property, for which the original homeowner is still liable.

It's the latest in a number of schemes that regulators are battling as distressed homeowners look for a way out of an overwhelming mortgage or impending foreclosure. The N.C. Department of Justice has been cracking down on foreclosure “rescue” outfits that require an upfront payment and promise to work with a lender to modify a delinquent loan. Now it's also taking aim at businesses that promise to take over mortgage payments if the homeowner signs over the deed or title.

The businesses often start by sending letters meant to look handwritten that offer to buy the house and pay off the debt. They count on the stressed home seller to not thoroughly review the deal or hire an attorney to vet the contract."

Now here's the new twist on this scam.

The "We Buy Homes" snakes are now working with service contractors in order to get information on the homes that they want to buy.

For example, a homeowner may hire a painter, cleaning service, or handyman to perform routine services. That contractor then has access to the home and, in turn, feeds information on the condition of the home back to the individual/business who wants to buy the home. And in the age of the camera phone, the contractors can often supply pictures. The scam artist then mails the intended victim a letter stating that they will buy homes that have the specific flaws in the home. And of course, the majority of the targets for this scam are senior citizens.

Evil? You bet.

Well, I know that if you're a regular reader of my blogs you're never going to fall for this scam. But here's a little information that you can pass on to a friend.

"How to Protect Yourself From Scams" from
"If you need to sell a house fast, here are a few rules for protecting yourself from falling prey to a scam like these.

Only Work with Professionals

The best way to protect yourself from scams is to work only with professionals who have an established history of home buying. These days, anyone can order a book from an infomercial and become a "professional home buyer," but real professionals have been in business for many years and have closed millions of dollars in real estate transactions. Their primary concern is the health of their business, and they will not risk that by cheating you or otherwise treating you unfairly.

Check Out the Buyer

If you have any concerns about the buyer, don't hesitate to check them out. Contact your state Attorney General's office, your state's Real Estate Commission, or your District Attorney's Consumer Fraud Unit. If they are an established business, also check out the Better Business Bureau.

Always Understand What You're Signing

Not asking questions because you are afraid of looking stupid could end up costing you tens of thousands of dollars or more if you end up in a deal that wasn't what you thought it was. A lawyer or even your mortgage company can help you if you want professional advice from a third party. Never, ever sign a contract that you don't understand.

Get All Agreements in Writing

If a disagreement arises about a verbal agreement, the issue becomes your word against theirs and often must go to a court of law to be settled. Don't risk that. Insist that all terms be in writing, and don't agree to anything that isn't.

Be Willing to Walk Away

If you have any doubts about the buyer or the contract — or if it just doesn't feel right — just walk away. It's never worth the months (and maybe years) of future headaches to sell your house a few days sooner."

If you believe that you, or someone you know, is being targeted by "We Buy Houses" scammers, report them immediately to your state real estate regulatory board.

And just as a point of common sense, don't let just anybody into your home. I know, it's really a shame to live like this but the failure not to could have terrible consequences.

Related posts:

Caveat Emptor: Beware of Mortgage Modification Scams

Beware of Mortgage Leopards Trying to Change Their Spots

Everybody Takes Advantage of An Opportunity, Right?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

When Michelle Malkin is Right, She's Right

Ok readers, you can get up off the floor now.

I haven't suddenly lost my mind. But you know that I have to call them like I see them, even when it gets me into big trouble. So here goes.

In a recent interview with FoxNews on the topic of the tragedy at Ft. Hood, Ms Malkin stated:
"I don't think that we have to play games with the rush to judgment anymore. I think that the bigger problem for the American government and their culture post 9/11 is that there are too many people still doing the rush to white-wash."

She later states: "the red flags were missed and it behooves everyone in Congress and in Washington to figure out who dropped the ball."

Friends, when Michelle is right, she's right. Sadly, the rest of her argument misses the point and her statement is a few years too late.

During the rest of the interview, Ms Malkin blames the recent tragedy at Ft. Hood on "the military's worship of the "false god of diversity" which, in her opinion, was placed before national security.

First of all, that is an insult to the military and all of the servicemen and women whom Michelle Malkin constantly criticizes liberals for not supporting. Shame on her,

Second, I submit that it wasn't the military's worship of diversity but rather the Bush administration's rush to war with an all-volunteer military and a "see no evil" recruitment policy that opened the door to disaster.

In an April, 2008 post, I referenced a December 2006 article in the San Francisco Chronicle which raised very serious questions about the military's recruitment policy. In his article, "US is recruiting misfits for army: felons, racists, gang members fill in the ranks",
reporter Nick Turse wrote:
"After falling short of its goals last year, military recruiting in 2006 has been marked by upbeat pronouncements from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, claims of success by the White House, and a spate of recent press reports touting the military's achievement of its woman- and manpower goals.

But the armed forces have met with success only through a fundamental transformation, and not the transformation of the military -- that 'co-evolution of concepts, processes, organizations and technology' that Rumsfeld is always talking about either.

In 2004, the Pentagon published a 'Moral Waiver Study,' whose seemingly benign goal was 'to better define relationships between pre-Service behaviors and subsequent Service success.' That turned out to mean opening more recruitment doors to potential enlistees with criminal records.

In February, the Baltimore Sun wrote that there was 'a significant increase in the number of recruits with what the Army terms 'serious criminal misconduct' in their background' -- a category that included 'aggravated assault, robbery, vehicular manslaughter, receiving stolen property and making terrorist threats.' From 2004 to 2005, the number of those recruits rose by more than 54 percent, while alcohol and illegal drug waivers, reversing a four-year decline, increased by more than 13 percent.

In June, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that, under pressure to fill the ranks, the Army had been allowing into its ranks increasing numbers of 'recruits convicted of misdemeanor crimes, according to experts and military records.' In fact, as the military's own data indicated, 'the percentage of recruits entering the Army with waivers for misdemeanors and medical problems has more than doubled since 2001.'

One beneficiary of the Army's new moral-waiver policies gained a certain prominence this summer. After Steven Green, who served in the 101st Airborne Division, was charged in a rape and quadruple murder in Mahmudiyah, Iraq, it was disclosed that he had been 'a high-school dropout from a broken home who enlisted to get some direction in his life, yet was sent home early because of an anti-social personality disorder.' "

In that same post I mentioned, Paula Zahn's 2007 report on "Gangs in the Military". If you missed it, here's an excerpt from the show transcript:

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): No one knows for sure just how many gang members are in the military. By some estimations, it's less than 1 percent of all military personnel, hardly an epidemic, but enough to prompt the FBI to issue this report.

(voice-over): Gang members at military installations from Fort Lewis, Washington, to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, have been involved in drug distribution, robberies, assaults, and murder. According to this 2007 internal FBI document, the report found that gang activity in the U.S. -- quote -- "is increasing and poses a threat to law enforcement officials and national security."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Military men training gangsters on how to use weapons.

GUTIERREZ: An issue law enforcement is taking seriously.

Al Valdez (ph) is a former detective. He trains police around the country on gangs in the military.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not illegal to be a gang member in the United States. And it's a protected right. In fact, the head of Army Recruitment Command correctly states that. What happens is, they bring that gangster mentality within the military.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When these cats come back from -- these gang members come back from Iraq, we are going to have some hell on these streets, because these dudes are coming back with training that's on another level.

So, if the military was willing to overlook gang members, overt racists and felons, then it wouldn't come as a surprise to me if they may have overlooked an Islamic jihadist or two. To be clear, I said "IF".

Of course, Ms. Malkin may not read the San Francisco Chronicle or be a fan of Paula Zahn but there were other signs that the recruitment demands placed on the military by the Bush administration's rush to the war in Iraq and lack of an exit strategy would have serious consequences. Where was her concern then?

Oh yes, I forgot. Ms. Malkin was busy labeling anyone who expressed a concern about the war as a "traitor", "a coward" and "an enemy sympathizer."

Yes, when Michelle Malkin is right, she's partially right.
"The red flags were missed and it behooves everyone in Congress and in Washington to figure out who dropped the ball."

Related posts:

What Happens When Johnny Comes Marching Home

The Illusion of An All Volunteer Army

Friday, November 6, 2009

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz Sets the Record Straight on Health Care Reform

Rep. Debbie Wasserman (D-FL), one of the best spokespersons for the progressives, discusses the facts of the Affordable Health Care for America Act on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews. During this interview Rep. Schultz sets the record on questions about abortion and illegal immigration.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz to Rep. Bilbray: "You are entitled to your own opinion but you are not entitled to your own facts."

Financial Markets May Be Working Again, But Average Americans Are Still Waiting

First, let's get the partisan politics out of the way.

It might have been the Clinton or the Bush (41& 43) administrations that got us in to this economic mess. And the policies of the Obama administration may be: correcting the problem; making things worse; simply applying a band-aid to a knife wound; or, all of the above. Your view of today's economic news will probably depend on how you're affected by it and your political affiliation. But one thing is true. Wall Street may be recovering but the average American is still maneuvering on a slippery slope.

Less than two months ago U.S. President Barack Obama stated that all signs indicated that the economy was
starting to grow and financial markets were starting to work again. But while sending an encouraging message to Wall Street he did add the caveat that employment statistics did not indicate improvement and, in fact, could get worse over the next couple of months. This was the message that the President reiterated today.

No one should be surprised by today's announcement that unemployment has reached 10.2 percent.

Columnist Lynn Sweet reported on details provided by the Department of Labor:
"In October, the number of unemployed persons increased by 558,000 to 15.7 
million. The unemployment rate rose by 0.4 percentage point to 10.2 percent, 
the highest rate since April 1983. Since the start of the recession in 
December 2007, the number of unemployed persons has risen by 8.2 million, 
and the unemployment rate has grown by 5.3 percentage points.

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult men (10.7 per-
cent) and whites (9.5 percent) rose in October. The jobless rates for adult 
women (8.1 percent), teenagers (27.6 percent), blacks (15.7 percent), and
Hispanics (13.1 percent) were little changed over the month. The unemployment 
rate for Asians was 7.5 percent, not seasonally adjusted.

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks and over) was 
little changed over the month at 5.6 million. In October, 35.6 percent of 
unemployed persons were jobless for 27 weeks or more.

The civilian labor force participation rate was little changed over the month 
at 65.1 percent. The employment-population ratio continued to decline in 
October, falling to 58.5 percent.

The number of persons working part time for economic reasons (sometimes refer-
red to as involuntary part-time workers) was little changed in October at 9.3 
million. These individuals were working part time because their hours had been 
cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job.

About 2.4 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force in October, 
reflecting an increase of 736,000 from a year earlier. (The data are not sea-
sonally adjusted.) These individuals were not in the labor force, wanted and 
were available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. 
They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in 
the 4 weeks preceding the survey.

Among the marginally attached, there were 808,000 discouraged workers in October, 
up from 484,000 a year earlier. (The data are not seasonally adjusted.) Dis-
couraged workers are persons not currently looking for work because they believe 
no jobs are available for them. The other 1.6 million persons marginally attached 
to the labor force in October had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding 
the survey for reasons such as school attendance or family responsibilities."

Add to these numbers: the millions of workers who lost a job and replaced it with a lower paying one; the millions whose salaries have been frozen for a few years; the millions of retirees who lost a large portion of their retirement savings when the market crashed; the millions who lost a substantial amount of the equity in their homes: and, the Social Security recipients who will not get a cost of living adjustment (COLA) in 2010, and many Americans are still wondering when things will get better for them.

However, while many Americans are holding on by a life preserver the banking industry is preparing to throw them an anchor. Yes, the financial markets are definitely working again and working in the same old way.

Earlier today, Megan Woolhouse of The Boston Globe reported:
"Credit card companies are rushing to increase interest rates to historic highs of more than 30 percent, cut credit limits, and add new fees, even for customers who pay their bills on time.

Lenders are making the moves in advance of tougher federal regulations for credit cards scheduled to take effect on Feb. 22. The new rules will limit how companies can modify credit card agreements, specifically prohibiting them from retroactively raising interest rates and fees on existing balances.

US Representative Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the Financial Services Committee and is a leader in the effort to revamp credit card policies, said banks have 'abused’' the nine-month period granted them to re-tool their practices.

'I didn’t think they would be as blatant as they were about doing this,' he said. 'There’s no justification for raising rates retroactively. This is really just a way for them to make more money.' "

And by the way, have you noticed that gasoline prices are inching up?

Ok, I'm not going to say, "I told you...."

No I'm not going to say it. If you're reading this blog, I'd just be preaching to the choir.

Related posts:

Bill Moyers' Interview with Bill Black and How They Got Away With It

Saying "No One Saw This Coming", Just Doesn't Ring True.

Why So Many American Want Wall Street & The Banks to Suffer