Friday, September 28, 2007

2007 Top 25 Richest Americans

The Forbes Magazine 2007 List of 400 Richest Americans has been released. I have pasted the top twenty-five here for you.

Rank, Name, Worth (in billions), Age, Home, Affiliation

01 William Gates III $59.0 51 Medina, WA Microsoft
02 Warren Buffett $52.0 77 Omaha, NE Berkshire Hathaway
03 Sheldon Adelson $28.0 74 Las Vegas, NV casinos, hotels
04 Lawrence Ellison $26.0 63 Redwood City, CA Oracle
05 Sergey Brin $18.5 34 Palo Alto, CA Google
05 Larry Page $18.5 34 San Francisco, CA Google
07 Kirk Kerkorian $18.0 90 Los Angeles, CA investments, casinos
08 Michael Dell $17.2 42 Austin, TX Dell
09 Charles Koch $17.0 71 Wichita, KS oil, commodities
09 David Koch $17.0 67 New York, NY oil, commodities
11 Paul Allen $16.8 54 Mercer Island, WA Microsoft, investments
12 Christy Walton & family $16.3 52 Jackson, WY Wal-Mart
12 Jim Walton $16.3 59 Bentonville, AR Wal-Mart
12 S Robson Walton $16.3 63 Bentonville, AR Wal-Mart
15 Alice Walton $16.1 58 Fort Worth, TX Wal-Mart
16 Steven Ballmer $15.2 51 Hunts Point, WA Microsoft
17 Abigail Johnson $15.0 45 Boston, MA Fidelity
18 Carl Icahn $14.5 71 New York, NY leveraged buyouts
19 Forrest Mars Jr $14.0 76 McLean, VA candy, pet food
19 Jacqueline Mars $14.0 67 Bedminster, NJ candy, pet food
19 John Mars $14.0 71 Arlington, VA candy, pet food
19 Jack Taylor & family $14.0 85 St Louis, MO Car rental
23 Donald Bren $13.0 75 Newport Beach, CA real estate
24 Anne Cox Chambers $12.6 87 Atlanta, GA Cox Enterprises
25 Michael Bloomberg $11.5 65 New York, NY Bloomberg

A billion dollars just doesn't go as far as it used to. For the first time, it takes more than $1 billion to earn a spot on Forbes magazine's list of the 400 richest Americans. The minimum net worth for inclusion in this year's rankings released Thursday was $1.3 billion, up $300 million from last year.
See the entire list here.

Dick Mac Recommends:

A People's History of the United States
Howard Zinn

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Pearson Wins An Evil Victory

I have always assumed that Roy L. Pearson, Jr., the jerk attorney in Washington, D.C., must be getting some sadistic pleasure from torturing and harrassing the owners of his local dry cleaning establishment.

He has won. The family he has been harrassing is closing the dry cleaning shop at the center of the lawsuit.

Pearson is everything that is wrong with America and he represents nothing that is good about us.

Targets of Judge's $54 Million Suit Over a Pair of Pants Calling It Quits

New York Lawyer
September 19, 2007

By The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- The owners of a dry cleaner who were sued for $54 million over a missing pair of pants have closed and sold the business involved in the dispute.

The Chungs' attorney, Chris Manning, is citing a loss of revenue for Custom Cleaners and the emotional toll of defending the lawsuit.

The trouble began in 2005 after a pair of pants the plaintiff brought to the cleaners in Northeast Washington went missing. But a week later, the Chungs said the pants had been found. Roy Pearson, an administrative law judge, said those were not his pants and decided to sue.

The lawsuit originally demanded $67 million but was reduced to $54 million. A judge rejected it in June.

Manning said the Chungs have closed two of their three dry cleaning businesses since the lawsuit began.

Dick Mac Recommends:

The Greatest Songs of the Seventies
Barry Manilow

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

New York Knows How To Say No, Thank You

As reported in the New York Times last Friday, the New York State Health Department has rejected $3.5 million of federal money to fund abstinence-only sex education campaigns.

Dr. Richard F. Daines issued a press release denouncing the Bush administration's idiotic abstinence education as "ideological" and with no basis in scientific fact. (Granted, science clearly has no role in the current administration.)

It is so refreshing to see that, every now and then, a thinking person gets into a position of power.

September 21, 2007
New York Just Says No to Abstinence Funding

New York is rejecting millions of dollars in federal grants for abstinence-only sex education, the state health commissioner, Dr. Richard F. Daines, announced yesterday. The decision puts New York in line with at least 10 other states that have decided to forgo the federal money in recent years.

New York has received roughly $3.5 million a year from the federal government for abstinence-only education since 1998. The abstinence program was approved as part of welfare overhauls under the Clinton administration and was expanded and restructured under President Bush.

In a statement posted on the Health Department's Web site, Dr. Daines said, "The Bush administration's abstinence-only program is an example of a failed national health care policy directive." He added that the policy was "based on ideology rather than on sound scientific-based evidence that must be the cornerstone of good public health care policy." More

In his statement Dr. Daines also says:
Beginning October 1, 2007, New York is redirecting state funds to expand comprehensive sexuality education in schools and other community settings that will provide teens with medically accurate information and life skills to equip them with the necessary tools that they need to make the crucial healthy life choices needed for a healthy adulthood.

See that! You elect a Democrat and people with brains start making logical decisions based on facts!


Dick Mac Recommends:

Sometime in New York City
John Lennon, Yoko Ono, The Mothers

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at Ground Zero?

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, asked the United States Secret Service to arrange a visit to Ground Zero and lay a wreath while he is in New York City to address the United Nations.
White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said a visit to ground zero "is a matter for the city of New York, but it seems more than odd that the president of a country that is a state sponsor of terror would visit ground zero."

Yet, we let allow the current president of the United States visit Ground Zero and he has turned this country into a state sponsor of terror. Why the double standard?

And so what if Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would use it for his own political ends. Rudy Giuliani does it all the time and he has no more right to exploit Ground Zero than anyone. Exploitation of the crimes committed on September 11, 2001, is vulgar. What more could we expect from George Bush, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or Rudy Giuliani?

I don't want Ahmadinejad at Ground Zero, but not because of some bogus reason like 'state-sponsored terrorism' (as if there is another kind), or political opportunism. I think Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should be prevented from laying a wreath at Ground Zero because I am convinced he would then say that the wreath is a memorial to the hijackers, not the victims of their crimes. And that would be the most vulgar exploitation of Ground Zero.

Dick Mac Recommends:

America Alone
Stefan Halper, Jonathan Clarke

Monday, September 24, 2007

Do Not Call Registry Listings Set To Start Expiring

Did you register with the Do Not Call registry? The Registry, established in 2003, was established to prevent telemarketers from harrassing you.

When you registered, your request was vaild for 5 years. This means that those of us who registered in 2003 will drop off the list in 2008, and teh calls will start flooding back in.

Congress is in a masturbatory process to figure out what to do. Shall they force people to re-register or have the registry automatically extend infefinitely? The obvious answer is the latter, but I've never accused congress of understanding the obvious.

I have not missed the telemarketers. Have you?

To guarantee that you continue to appear on the Do Not call list, then go to, select "Verify A Registration." You will receive an email that confirms you are verified for another 5 years.

Don't delay. Do it now!

Dick Mac Recommends:

The Greatest Songs of the Seventies
Barry Manilow

Friday, September 21, 2007

Tedious Terrell Owens

Instead of the initials T.O., I think we should all start referring to him as T.T. for Tedious Terrell.

T.T. was fined $7,500 for another ridiculous touchdown celebration.

T.T. is quoted saying:
It's kind of hard to understand the rules. It's like you can't do nothing no more. . . . Dude, it's like they're trying to find any way to take fun out of the game. So I'm kind of limited right now as far as what I can do.

Actually, T.T., football was more fun to watch before you and other shitheads started these ridiculous end zone celebrations.

These displays are not fun, they are embarrassing. You and others who perform this stupid ritual look like little girls in the playground have a bickering match with another group of little girls over an ice cream cone, or a boy, or a tube of lipstick.

I can barely watch NFL games anymore because of the ridiculous show-boating. Grow up. You are an adult millionaire. Show a modicum of dignity and self-respect. Act like a professional man.

What you do, T.T., is not entertaining. It is tedious. You are bad for football. The NFL has suffered by hiring assholes like you.

Dick Mac Recommends:

The Greatest Songs of the Seventies
Barry Manilow

Thursday, September 20, 2007


In 1997, David Bowie hosted and performed in a star-studded benefit concert for Save The Children, in celebration of his fiftieth birthday. I never heard the total amount raised, but it must have been significant, because the evening featured Bowie performing with Frank Black, The Foo Fighters, Sonic Youth, Billy Corgan, Robert Smith, and Lou Reed in his first public appearance with Bowie in over twenty years.

The show sold-out Madison Square garden.

David Bowie, whose work for Save The Children has been known for over a decade, has stepped-up to the plate again by donating $10,000 to a legal defense fund for six black teens charged (most as adults) in an attack on a white classmate in the tiny central Louisiana town of Jena. The fight which landed the black teens in jail was perpetrated by both sides, black and white, and was instigated by white teens hanging nooses (a centuries-old racist image in the South) from a tree under which they believe only whites should be allowed in the shade.

A protest march today, Thursday, will march past the tree that became the focal point of the current racial tensions. Well, the protesters will march past what is left of it.

The tree on the campus of Jena High School was a gathering spot for white students. When a black student asked school officials if blacks could sit there too, three nooses were found hanging from the tree.

The tree was cut down during the racial turmoil that ensued.

The white teens have not been charged with any crime, but the black teens are being tried as adults and one has already been found gully. Though a higher court has overturned the conviction, prosecutors have filed appeals hoping to have the conviction upheld, and the defendant faces 15 years in prison.

The white kids walk away.

Of course.

This is America.

Irrespective of guilt or innocence, the matter at hand here is that there is no equity. The laws of Louisiana are being enforced selectively.

Thank God for men like David Bowie. Others should step forward, too.

Rocker Donates to Jena 6 Defense Fund

David Bowie donates $10,000 to defend US accused

David Bowie Donates to Defense Fund in Racially-Charged Brawl

Thanks to Adam for sending this along.

Dick Mac Recommends:

Diamond Dogs - 30th Anniversary Edition
David Bowie

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Dullness Of Conservatism

Conservatism needs to be dismantled for many reasons, not least of which is the irreversible impact it has had on the American economy.

But, mostly, conservatism needs to be dismissed because it is dull. It's boring. The people who have become famous in the wake of neo-conservatism are all dullards: Dennis Miller, Hillary Clinton, Rush Limbaugh, Christopher Hitchens, and Elisabeth Hasselbeck, to name a few. Dullness is simply the order of the day for conservatives (neo- and old-fashioned).

Now and then, somebody speaks up (besides me).

Recently, I got an unlikely hero in the form of Barry Manilow.

I have always been told that Manilow is an amazing performer, a true professional, that his show is one of the best in the business. I believe everyone who tells me this, but I have never taken in his show. His material is just a little too . . . what's the kind word? . . . soft, for me.

Earlier this week, Manilow posted on his website:
Hey guys,

I wanted to let you know that I will no longer be on The View tomorrow as scheduled. I had made a request that I be interviewed by Joy, Barbara or Whoopi, but not Elisabeth Hasselback. Unfortunately, the show was not willing to accommodate this simple request so I bowed out.

It’s really too bad because I've always been a big supporter of the show, but I cannot compromise my beliefs. The good news is that I will be on a whole slew of other shows promoting the new album so I hope you can catch me on those.

See, Latest News at

And in another statement on Monday, Manilow is quoted on saying:
I strongly disagree with her views. I think she's dangerous and offensive. I will not be on the same stage as her.

That's a pretty bold statement from someone I have always assumed has nothing to say.

Conservative views are dangerous, because they are always about restricting the freedom of others under the guise of "protecting" America, or marriage, or children, or some other hot-button topic. Conservatives want to block a woman's right to reproductive freedom, and the rights of homosexuals to enjoy the Constitution, they want to cut funding for eduction, and limit the rights of workers to a fair wage and safe workplace.

Conservatives want everything to be like it was in feudal times, and that is bad for America. Just look at what Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II have done to America. They have almost destroyed our nation, our national heritage, and our national culture. They have sold us to the highest bidder, regardless of long-term consequences.

And dullards like Elisabeth Hasselbeck help promote this mentality, this movement, this scheme. And people like Elisabeth Hasselbeck need to be marginalized and stopped before America is destroyed from the inside and out.

I say, three cheers for Barry Manilow!

Read more at Yahoo!

Dick Mac Recommends:

The Greatest Songs of the Seventies
Barry Manilow

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

More Censorship

Last Sunday night I watched the finale of "Design Star" with Mrs. Mac. I was hoping that Kim won, and I admit to going to the website and voting for her. Kim won.

The show ended and the cable surfing started.

My wife and I both grew-up in Massachusetts, so we are marginally New England Patriots fans. But the obvious blow-out of the San Diego Chargers by the second quarter made Sunday Night Football a boring option.

I had already seen this particular episode of the 2007 World Series of Poker. So I kept surfing by that.

Fox Soccer Report was delayed a half-hour to accommodate United Soccer Leagues' post-game celebration of the first round of their playoffs.

Mrs. Mac did not insist on further HGTV viewing, and we landed on the Emmys being broadcast by Fox.

The Edie Falco category was happening when we surfed in. I like Edie Falco a lot and assumed she would win the award. She didn't. Sally Field won.

I like Sally Field. She was Gidget and The Flying Nun when I was a boy, and she had a comeback in the 1980s, when comebacks were hard to come by.

As usual, she was very excited and a bit discombobulated. In her acceptance, she thanked everyone and said the award was shared with all mothers, especially those whose children were in harm's way, like at war. Then she went on to say that if mothers ruled the world then . . . and the broadcast cut away. They were censoring her remarks about war.

Word from the Fox apologists is that they censored her because she used the word "goddamn" or some version of taking the Lord's name in vain. They insist that Fox did not censor her because of her opposition to the war.

This is bullshit, of course.

If she had said something like "I share this award with mothers who hate these goddamn hippies protesting the war. . . " you can be certain that Fox would have let that through.

But, because she (like all decent people) is opposed to this war, she was censored.

Censorship is dull.

I want to hear what people have to say, no matter which side they pretend to support. If I am stooping so low as to watch the Emmy Awards, you might as well broadcast what these people are saying!

Sally Field is a winner, we should hear what all the winners say. And if television can't broadcast the remarks of the winners then they should stop broadcasting the awards. Or maybe I should just stop watching them (especially if they are on Fox).

Field has another memorable award speech

I have written about censorship in the past:

Project Censored

Shortbus Censorship

Net Neutrality

Dick Mac Recommends:

The Gospel According to St. Matthew
Pier Paolo Passolini

Monday, September 17, 2007

Sixty And Still Kickin'

Some people never tire or retire.

O.J. Simpson, at sixty years old, is nobody's hero.

Irrespective of his acquittal on charges of murdering his wife and her friend, he is "known" by all in the world to have killed them. A judge in a civil court found him liable for his wife's death, contrary to the outcome of the criminal trial.

When wrongful death is a matter at hand, there are generally two court proceedings: a criminal proceeding, at which someone is found guilty (or negligent); and a civil proceeding, where damages are awarded because of such guilt (or negligence). Usually, a guilty finding in the criminal arena leads to a judgment on behalf of the plaintiff in the civil arena.

Simpson enjoys the opposite of the usual.

Raising the money to pay-off his children's grandparents for the death of their daughter (his late wife) has not been an easy task. Simpson has tried all kinds of hair-brained schemes, including an attempt to publish a book describing how he would have killed his wife had he wanted to. That scheme is almost sinister, and it is certainly creepy.

There have been television shows, almost like telethons, to raise money.

He is unwelcome most everywhere and cannot find the kind of work required to pay the money he owes.

He has owned impressive sports memorabilia, his own. He claims that some of the items have vanished from his possession and he wants them back.

When a sports memorabilia dealer moved some of that memorabilia into a Las Vegas hotel room, Simpson took the opportunity to retrieve them. He went to hotel to politely ask that they be returned. The transaction did not go smoothly and Simpson is alleged to have attempted to coerce the holders of the memorabilia in a not-so-polite manner.

He is alleged to have used guns. He denies the presence of firearms.

This will be a fun story to watch unfold!

O.J. Simpson arrested in Las Vegas robbery involving sports memorabilia

Dick Mac Recommends:

Essential Sly & Family Stone
Sly & Family Stone

Friday, September 14, 2007

You might be a Redneck if . . .

A little rain doesn't spoil the fishing . . .

You carry your front porch with you . . .

You take fashion tips from your husband. . .

You wear a shirt like this for your engagement picture, and your fiance looks like she's 12 . . .

Your wedding picture looks like this . . .

And your wedding cake looked like this . . .

Your doghouse looks like this . . .

Your pickup looks like this . . .

You have a deer's butt for a door bell . . .

Or if your wife is quoted in the local paper saying . . .

Thanks to Elaine for sending this along!

Dick Mac Recommends:

The Best of Miss Peggy Lee
Peggy Lee

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Texas Oilman Oscar Wyatt

So, a Texas businessman is being tried, and may very well be convicted, of doing oil business with our enemies.

This could be a joyous time in American jurisprudence.
Texas oilman trial hears conversation with Saddam
By Edith Honan
Wed Sep 12, 8:44 PM ET

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Prosecutors played a tape on Wednesday of a conversation between Saddam Hussein and Texas oilman Oscar Wyatt, who is accused of paying bribes to Baghdad to win oil contracts.

Oscar Wyatt, an 83-year-old oil tycoon, faces five counts in Manhattan federal court, including engaging in prohibited financial transactions with Iraq, deals alleged to have violated the U.N. oil-for-food program.

The U.N. program was designed to provide humanitarian assistance to Iraq while it was under international sanctions.

Prosecutors played the tape of the 1990 conversation among Wyatt, Hussein and former Texas Gov. John Connally in a bid to establish the oilman's long-held close ties with the Iraqi leader and his government.

Wyatt and Connally, who died in 1993, had traveled to Iraq in a successful bid to free U.S. citizens held in Baghdad just before the U.S. operation to dislodge Iraqi forces that had invaded Kuwait just months earlier.

"...the American people did not want, were not prepared to die for oil," Hussein told Wyatt and Connally, according to a transcript of the conversation from prosecutors. "You know, you know Mr. Wyatt that the Iraqis sold one third of their oil exports to the United States until the second of August." More . . .

Is a Texas oilman really going to be convicted of collaborating with our enemies? No! Oscar Wyatt was doing business with Saddam Hussein, who posed no threat to the United States. This guy is being railroaded into prison to keep people from looking at the real problem: Texas billionaires doing business with Saudi Arabia, our real enemy.

Never forget that the money used to fund terrorism against the West comes, almost solely, from Saudi Arabia. Never forget that the people leading the alQaeda movement against Western Civilization are Saudi. Never forget that the men who flew planes into the World Trad Center towers were Saudi. Never forget that the people leading the charge to massive oil price increases are Saudi.

And who are the Texas businessmen who have been in business with the Saudis longer than any others? Without naming names, one family fancies itself as president-makers and the other fancies itself a family of presidents.

People who did business with Saddam and people who do business with Hugo Chavez in Venezuela are not betraying the American people. The worst violators of America's trust are the businessmen doing business with the Saudis.

Dick Mac Recommends:

House of Bush, House of Saud
Craig Unger

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Is Tardiness Next To Godliness?

A priest was being honored at his retirement dinner after 25 years in the parish.

A leading local politician and member of the congregation was chosen to make the presentation and give a little speech at the dinner. He was delayed, so the priest decided to say his own few words while they waited.

"I got my first impression of the parish from the first confession I heard here. I thought I had been assigned to a terrible place. The very first person who entered my confessional told me he had stolen a television set and, when questioned by the police, was able to lie his way out of it. He had stolen money from his parents, embezzled from his employer, had an affair with his boss's wife, taken illegal drugs, and gave VD to his sister.

"I was appalled. But as the days went on I knew that my people were not all like that and I had, indeed, come to a fine parish full of good and loving people."

Just as the priest finished his talk, the politician arrived full of apologies for being late. He immediately began to make the presentation and gave his talk.

"I'll never forget the first day our parish priest arrived," said the politician. "In fact, I had the honor of being the first one to go to him in confession."

Moral: Never, never, never be late!

Thanks to Tricia for sending this along.

Dick Mac Recommends:

A Minister, a Priest, and a Rabbi
Al Tapper

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Another Year

We've all had the conversation that starts with the question: "Where were you on September 11, 2001?"

It has replaced the questions about your location when Kennedy was assassinated (I was in first grade and they sent us home); and where were you when Nixon resigned (I was at the Clark's house on Seaverns Avenue).

As I've posted before, Mrs. Mac and I were working in London. Our return to New York was already planned, but everything went awry.

We eventually returned to our apartment in Manhattan on September 26th, more than two weeks after the World Trade Center towers came down. The city was still in shock. There were terrorism scares on a regular basis. The smell of pulverized concrete, burning plastic and human decomposition continued to waft through the air.

Today, New York is pretty much back to normal. The major difference is that huge sums of money (your tax dollars) are wasted on bogus security systems that keep nobody safe.

During the Summer of 2003, I had my nephew visiting from Boston. We were visiting Ground Zero when all the electricity in the city went out.

People took it in stride. People responded exactly how people will respond to any crisis. Irrespective of planning and signage and rules and laws and security forces, everyone does the same thing: they look after themselves.

People have contingency plans that are thwarted by logistics as soon as disaster strikes. No amount of readiness makes us immune from disaster.

The crimes committed on September 11, 2001, were beyond the pale.

We are not safe.

No amount of money funnelled from the Treasury to security contractors is going to make us safer.

The police do a good job. Any decisions, policies, or programs that divert resources away from local police departments' ability to protect their constituents is money poorly spent.

The criminals attempting to harm citizens are usually thwarted by local and regional police agencies, not international security contractors.

Support your local police. Resist those who would move our security money to a federal agency or security contractor: those people cannot keep you safe.

America is no safer today than it was on September 10, 2001. We need to defund the Department of Homeland Security. Eliminate it. We need to release the law enforcement agencies to do their jobs without the interference of those politicians.

Organizations like Giuliani Partners (who only exist to steal our law enforcement funding) need to be exposed as opportunists.

Stop the madness.

Don't be afraid.

Embrace life.

Get a passport.

See the world.

Let the criminals (Republicans and Muslims alike) see that we do not fear them.


Live well!

Remember September 10th (Published September 11, 2006)

Dick Mac Recommends:

America Alone
Stefan Halper, Jonathan Clarke

Monday, September 10, 2007

Don't Call It Predatory . . .

. . . call it legal!

Hell, everyone wants to live the American dream and if you don't earn enough money to participate, there are plenty of banks happy to loan you the money you need to keep up with the Osbornes, or Joneses, or Simpsons, or whomever your supposed to keep up with today.

And just because your a subprime borrower, don't let that stop commercial banks from taking advantage of what little you earn!

Everyone needs a place to live and there are plenty of banks ignoring state banking laws who are happy to take your money. And, eventually, your house.

The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of bad banks treating Americans badly. What more could you expect from a conservative bench?

You are an American. You exist only in the vacuum of the open market. You are worthless, unless you are worth a lot of money.


Leaving the Subprime Fun House
Cassandra Jones Havard


As consumers are waking up to a world of crashed housing markets, bad loan pileups, and countless dollars spent in the weird fun house of "subprime" lending, the Supreme Court has made things (not) a bit easier.

The Court's April decision in Watters v. Wachovia, although it establishes new precedents in the mortgage industry, cannot be called consumer-friendly. If you want fair play when you take out a house loan, the justices seem to be saying, hire a lawyer to cover every move you make. Otherwise, you're on your own.

In Watters, the Court ruled that a federal banking agency, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, has sole authority to regulate the activities of a national bank's state-chartered mortgage subsidiary.

This is not a victory for meaningful oversight, even with the agency's June 29 statement about predatory lending. The agency announced a new cooperative regime with state agencies to comply with federal consumer protection standards. The current OCC regulations, which became effective in 2004, declare that states may not impose "burdensome" consumer protection requirements that would "interfere" with the ability of national banks to make loans.

Ironically, the decision comes at a time when regulation of mortgage subsidiaries has been lax and consumers virtually unprotected in the home mortgage market. Values of real property are plummeting in most markets across the country, and the nation is experiencing a flood of bankruptcies, loan defaults, and tragic consumer errors by loan seekers.

The Supreme Court is not solely to blame for this, of course, but its Watters decision is part of the problem, and the ruling comes at a particularly unfortunate time when serious banking reform is urgently needed.


Wachovia Mortgage, initially a state-chartered, nonbank subsidiary of Wachovia Bank, made loans in Michigan for six years before becoming a wholly owned operating subsidiary of Wachovia Bank in 2003. It then notified the Michigan Office of Financial and Insurance Services that it would continue to issue mortgages without registering with the OFIS. (Thanks, guys.)

The subsidiary justified its decision based on the OCC's regulation that bars state officials from suing in state or federal court to enforce laws against national banks and their operating subsidiaries.

Michigan's OFIS commissioner, Linda Watters, responded by telling Wachovia Mortgage that it was violating Michigan laws and would have to discontinue its operations in the state. Wachovia Bank and Wachovia Mortgage filed suit, arguing that the OCC was the appropriate regulator of both the federally chartered bank and the state-chartered mortgage subsidiary.

The case worked its way up to the Supreme Court. Consumer protection groups were rightly looking to Watters to clear up the muddy lines between national and state banking laws—lines that were having an adverse effect on the housing market through the out-of-control behavior of subprime lenders.

Clarity, yes. Satisfaction, no.

The Supreme Court held that the National Bank Act gave national banks the power to engage in real-estate lending through an operating subsidiary, and state law cannot significantly impair or impede this power. Accordingly, the Court concluded that "state regulators cannot interfere with the ‘business of banking' by subjecting national banks or their OCC-licensed operating subsidiaries to multiple audits and surveillance under rival oversight regimes."


From Michigan's perspective, the statute in dispute made perfect sense. It protected Michigan's interests in overseeing any and all banks doing business there. Both consumers and businesses there could rest assured that the state could investigate if a bank or subsidiary operating there was behaving in a predatory manner by offering equity-stripping, abusive loan products.

Seems like a good idea, especially in a state with a volatile economy driven largely by the auto industry. The last thing it needs is any bank making a lot of really bad loans. Both state-chartered and federally chartered banks and their subsidiaries are making lots of those. Certainly the state of Michigan has an interest in protecting consumers from possible exploitation by investigating consumer complaints.

America's dual banking system is a model of cooperative federalism. Banks may choose to have either a federal or state charter and thus choose whether they will be regulated by the state or federal banking laws. (All banks, however, are subject to the capital reserve requirements of the Federal Reserve and to examination by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.) But state law still applies on lots of issues.

The real economic problem, lurking beneath the statutory pre-emption debate in Watters, is how to regulate predatory lending. Predatory lending is making loans with terms structured to harm borrowers, usually without transparent pricing.

That's a consumer law issue—which is "quintessentially" addressed by the states, as Justice John Paul Stevens put it in his minority opinion. Yet the Court removed the ability of states to address the problem, at least when it occurs with wholly owned subsidiaries of national banks.

Watters is a change in the status quo, and not for the better. What Watters changes, however, is perhaps even more fundamental. Now what we have is a tilted playing field between the states and the feds, with the feds getting all the best shots. Now only the subsidiaries of state-chartered banks are subject to state statutes, such as the Michigan one allowing consumers to seek an investigation of a bank's subsidiary.


Adding to this grievance, the Court's decision fails to consider the OCC's inherent conflict of interest.

After all, what is the OCC's role in the whole of the banking system? It's really to regulate national banks. Instead, it has become protectionist—promoting the interests of national banks over those of state banks.

In this scheme, federally regulated banks have a competitive edge in an economically vigorous industry, because the OCC has issued regulations that exempt national banks from complying with state predatory lending laws. They can drive out competition from state-chartered subsidiaries. Smaller state-based banks are particularly vulnerable. And when the state banks are forced out, a less competitive market hurts consumers because they have fewer lenders and products from which to choose.

We've seen how this regulatory framework operates in the past decade. Consolidation has been the watchword among this part of the financial industry, as smaller, state-based banks have been bought out by "mega" corporate entities. Certainly these megabanks don't feel all that beholden to the consumer--protection laws of Iowa, South Dakota, or Michigan. They do what they do—grow, then grow some more.


All this bank consolidation has not been good for the economy. Right now, we're suffering through an immense crisis in the mortgage sector. As the subprime market collapses, an estimated 1.1 million homeowners face foreclosure and financial ruin. Obviously, no regulatory body at any level has properly handled this situation.

Now, parts of the industry itself are brushing off the dirt and trying to repair some of the damage. Just days before the Watters opinion, Freddie Mac announced plans to dedicate $25 billion to refinance a portion of those ripped-up subprime loans. As incredible as that amount is, it's hardly enough money to fix the problem.

Moreover, the June actions of the OCC itself indicate that something must be done. No supervisory body, state or federal, can continue to ignore the devastation as people's financial lives are ruined by reckless lenders.

Industry proponents like the decision in Watters. Yet they're honest enough to admit that some egregious behavior has taken place in the mortgage business, and they know it needs to be addressed.

Watters was not the way to go if the goal is to stop abusive and bad lending practices. And perhaps this is not an issue for the courts.

Congress must step in and address the problems of unfair lending in the subprime market. Predatory loans won't stop until brokers and lenders have more regulation. Congress can shift the balance.

A partial solution that gives borrowers more recourse is to regulate mortgage brokers to have a fiduciary duty to borrowers. This duty to act in the best interest of consumers would take away the mortgage brokers' incentive to make abusive loans that harm consumers.

Consumers also deserve transparency in all loan transactions, with simple terms and contracts that state clearly, accurately, and specifically the fees, interest rates, and how much the broker is being paid.

We've had our run of fun in the banking industry for a long time now. It hasn't been good for a lot of folks. Here's hoping Watters is the last case of its kind for a long, long time. And Congress fixes the problem before it's too late.

Cassandra Jones Havard is an associate professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law, where she specializes in banking, contracts, and business organizations.
(Reprinted without permission.)

When will this stop? Will deregulation ever be re-examined? Will banks ever be held accountable for their immoral practices? Will Americans continue to elect conservatives like Mitt Romney, Hillary Clinton, and the rest, and watch them destroy what is left of the American Dream, American Freedom and the free market?

Will this ever come to an end?

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Friday, September 07, 2007

Luciano Pavarotti, 71, "It's A Man's World"

Luciano Pavarotti died on September 6, 2007.

Pavarotti's death is to opera as Rudolf Nureyev's death was to ballet. Opera is not the most accessible art form in the popular entertainment market, neither was ballet, but Pavarotti, like Nureyev before him, made it completely accessible to the average consumer.

I have never been an opera queen. But I do own a couple of opera recordings and I have attended the opera and I like opera. I like Bizet and Puccini and the really accessible stuff.

I grew-up listening to my mother's scratchy box-set of Carmen on the record player.

I have been entertained by Leontyne Price and Luciano Pavarotti, and am a fan of them both.

Most people know that Pavarotti performed for many years with the successful "Three Tenors" trio that included Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras. That group released the best-selling opera record of all time. And most people know he did many duets, as well.

From CNN via Deatwatch Central:
Tenor Luciano Pavarotti dead at 71

(CNN) -- Famed opera tenor Luciano Pavarotti, who appeared on stage with singers as varied as opera star Dame Joan Sutherland, U2's Bono and Liza Minnelli, died Thursday after suffering from pancreatic cancer.

Pavarotti, who was 71, died at his home in Modena, Italy.

The portly singer retired from staged opera in 2004, but was on a "farewell tour" of concerts when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2006 and underwent emergency surgery to remove the tumor.

Although the remaining concerts of his tour were canceled, his management said that he hoped to resume the tour in 2007.

But in early August, Pavarotti was hospitalized in Modena with a fever and released 17 days later after undergoing diagnostic tests.

Pavarotti is survived by his wife, Nicoletta Mantovani, and a daughter, Alice, along with three grown daughters by his first wife, Adua Veroni, whom he divorced in 2000, and a granddaughter.

Much as the star power of Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov revived widespread interest in classical ballet in the 1970s and 1980s, Pavarotti's beaming charisma and bravura style captured the attention of the late-20th-century audience for opera.

Widely considered the greatest tenor of his time, Pavarotti began his life modestly in Modena, the son of Fernando, a baker and amateur singer, and Adele, who worked at the local tobacco factory.

"I dreamed to become a singer when I was four and I hear my father singing in the church with a beautiful tenor voice," he told CNN in a 1991 interview. "And I say to myself, well, let's try to do something."

The young Pavarotti -- who played soccer with his town's junior team -- joined the church choir with his father and traveled with him to Wales, where the singing group won first prize at the Llangollen International singing competition.

Although the experience left Pavarotti enthralled with singing, he graduated from the local teaching institute in 1955 and taught elementary school for two years, then worked as an insurance salesman.

He continued his vocal studies, however, working first with with Arrigo Pola and then with Ettore Campogalliani.

Then, in 1961, Pavarotti won the prestigious Concorso Internazionale and made his operatic debut at the Reggio Emilia Theater as Rodolfo in Giacomo Puccini's "La Boheme." His fame spread throughout Italy and then throughout the European continent as he made his international debut in Giuseppe Verdi's "La Traviata" in Belgrade.

When Dame Joan Sutherland brought him onstage with her during a performance of Gaetano Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor" with the Greater Miami Opera in 1965, Pavarotti began his American career. He debuted at New York's Metropolitan Opera House three years later, and eventually marked 379 performances there, including his final opera, Puccini's "Tosca" in 2004, in which he performed as the painter Mario

In between Pavarotti sold millions of records and raised millions of dollars for charity through benefit concerts, often sharing the stage with pop stars as well as other opera singers.

Of his recordings, 1990's "The Essential Pavarotti" was the first classical album to reach No. 1 on Britain's pop charts, where it remained for 5 weeks. 1994's "The Three Tenors in Concert," with Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras, remains the best selling classical album of all time.

Pavarotti joined with Domingo and Carreras in 1990, and although critics complained that Pavarotti's vocal skills were waning, the trio performed together for 14 years.

Among his charities were a 1995 "Concert for Bosnia" that raised $8.5 million and other concerts that raised $3.3 million for refugees from Afghanistan and $1 million for refugees from Kosovo.

In artistic terms, Pavarotti brought to the stage a voice neatly suited to the traditional bel canto, or "beautiful singing" style, essential to 17th-century Italian opera.

As much about intensity as pitch, bel canto focuses the voice, concentrating the sound with both outstanding warmth and agility. So demanding is this work even of the best singers that Pavarotti in concert recital could be seen rising to the balls of his feet during the most challenging passages.

A long, white handkerchief always hung from one hand as he sang, his eyebrows arched high in the effort, forming an expression seemingly of surprise at his own success.

From his small beginnings, Pavarotti rose to great heights, performing in front of 500,000 people in New York's Central Park -- a concert seen by millions on television -- and before another 300,000 at Paris' Eiffel Tower.

He won countless awards and honors -- including five Grammys -- and was named United Nations Messenger for Peace by then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan. He launched an international competition, The Pavarotti International Voice Competition, in 1982. He even founded a teaching facility for young singers in his home town.

His signature aria, Puccini's "Nessun Dorma" from "Turandot," was chosen as the theme music for the 1990 soccer World Cup, hosted by Italy. He also performed the aria at the opening ceremony of the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin.

The great singer was also known as an equestrian expert, organizing one of the international show jumping circuit's most important competitions, the Pavarotti International, in Modena. Coinciding with that event, Pavarotti also staged an annual charity concert, Pavarotti and Friends.

When cancer finally stopped Pavarotti from singing, it was only the second interruption of his career.

"I think I just stop for one year when from a kid I become a man and the voice is changing," he said in 1991. "I was an alto and become a tenor and that is the only time I think I remember to have stopped singing. Otherwise I have sung all my life."

Amid reports this week that his condition was worsening, it was announced in Rome on Tuesday by Italy's cultural minister, Francesco Rotelli, Pavarotti is receiving a newly created prize for excellence in cultural achievement.

The New York Times' Alan Riding pointed out in a February article that ironically, the modern-day popularity of operatic work has prompted the building of new opera houses in many major centers including Copenhagen, Tokyo and -- coming next year, Beijing -- at a time when the repertoire remains rooted in centuries-old work and the costs of production make tickets prohibitive for most younger would-be audience

For opera to survive today, Riding wrote, it needs not only new music but also "exciting young singers." Pavarotti was that singer, in the right place and the right time for his generation.

Although "Nessun Dorma" was probably his best known recording, as well as performing with Bono and Liza Minelli, Pavarotti performed the following duet, which is one of the most important recordings of all times:

God bless James Brown and Luciano Pavarotti, may they rest in peace.

Thanks to Adam for the link.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007


Let's start by being clear about a couple of things:

Republican senator Larry Craig is not gay.

The sex that Larry Craig wants to have in public toilets is not gay sex.

Sex cannot be gay. The adjective "gay" refers to people and culture, not sex acts.

Homosexual and gay are not the same thing. There are many homosexuals who are not gay.

There are many homosexuals that are actually straight (Larry Craig, for example).

A man having anonymous sex with another man does not make him gay; even though some gay men have anonymous sex.

When homophobic television personalities like Bill Maher and Chris Matthews go on and on about gay sex, they expose their small-mindedness, ignorance, and show themselves as little men.

Referring to Larry Craig as gay is inaccurate.

Gay is a cultural label, not a sexual label.

Now, let's move on.

I have always hated the right-wing tactic of accusing liberals of flip-flopping when liberals use their intellectual powers of deductive reasoning and change their position on an issue.

Right-wingers can't ever change their minds.

On August 1, 2007, Senator Larry Craig, 62, pleaded guilty to a charge of misdemeanor disorderly conduct following his June 11 arrest at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. I believe he pleaded down from a charge of lewd and lascivious behavior.

Craig pleaded guilty.

Then the senator resigned.

Then he said he wasn't guilty.

And he said he shouldn't have pleaded guilty.

Now he says he doesn't want to resign.

Now that is flip-flopping!

Why are his actions more accurately flip-flopping? Because he is a liar.

Thinking people who change their minds are not flip-floppers. Liars who change their minds are flip-floppers.

No matter what Bill Maher, Chris Matthews or any other television personality might tell you about Larry Craig, please remember these things:

Craig is not gay, he is straight. He is married to a woman.

Craig was cruising in an airport toilet, propositioned an undercover cop and was arrested.

Craig pleaded to a lesser charge to avoid an embarrassing trial.

Craig is a liar.

Larry Craig needs to resign, and needs to leave public life and have a good talk with his Creator. Then he should make whatever changes in his life are necessary to stop being a lying, hypocritical, sexually-compulsive man.

Here's some news about him.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

"Well, where I come from . . . "

According to Associated Press reporting on a new season of the television show "The View,"
Whoopi Goldberg used her first day on the daytime chat show Tuesday to defend football star Michael Vick in his dogfighting case.

Goldberg said that "from where he comes from" in the South, dogfighting isn't that unusual.

"It's like cockfighting in Puerto Rico," she said. "There are certain things that are indicative to certain parts of the country."

Well, where I come from, husbands beat the shit out of their wives and children, but we consider it morally repugnant and criminal. Just because it was being done by a bunch of Irish Catholic drunks who were used to doing it and figured it was OK, doesn't mean it was OK. Beating a wife or a child is wrong and is condemned.

I have always been a big fan of Whoopi Goldberg, so her defense of dog killing is a bit odd to me. I am hoping it is being taken out-of-context, and I sure hope she isn't defending him just because he's a rich black guy; because, no matter what Michael Vick thinks about dog-fighting and the torture and murder of dogs that goes along with it, dog-fighting is really bad.

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Monday, September 03, 2007


Perhaps the best quote of 2007:
"You know the world is going crazy when the best rapper is a white guy, the best golfer is a black guy, the tallest guy in the NBA is Chinese, the Swiss hold the America's Cup, France is accusing the U.S. of arrogance, Germany doesn't want to go to war, and the three most powerful men in America are named Bush, Dick, and Colon." - Chris Rock, Comedian, February 28, 2007

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