Sunday, October 30, 2011

Was Shakespeare a Fraud? The Monty Python View

The movie Anonymous is out now. It's a dramatic take on the old issue of whether William Shakespeare really wrote the plays and sonnets attributed to him. This is an issue that former US Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has spent most of his adult life examining. It's something I spent two minutes on a time or two listening to this Monty Python bit called Stake Your Claim. The thing that I find so shocking is that Youtube doesn't have English language video of this bit, so the English is dubbed on the German Python television special. I think there is a conspiracy among "truthers".

Now that's what I call entertainment.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Is Portfolio Recovery Associates one of the 100 BEST Small Companies in the US?
The Googleteer checks it out.

Portfolio Recovery Associates, Inc. has been named by Forbes magazine as one of the Top Small Companies in the US. If you are a consumer lawyer, you are already headed for the vomit bag - but it gets worse. PRA made this list in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010.
You have to wonder if Forbes got their lists mixed up. The Googleteer(tm) wondered. He flew in the window after a much overdue vacation and did the following search

"portfolio recovery associates" (complaint OR complaints)

More than 69,000 hits.

These complaints are not frivolous. PRA is among the worst of the "bottom feeder" or "zombie" debt collectors. Just last year, Portfolio Recovery Associates was in the news for using affidavits signed by Martha Kunkle to prove its debt. Who is Martha Kunkle? she was a woman who died more than a decade before her signature was affixed on the affidavits.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Grammar Alert:
"Americans Driving Less Miles" - Ouch

There are many links to a news story that says Americans are driving less. There's nothing wrong with that. You can say Americans are driving fewer miles. That's okay too. You shouldn't say "Americans are driving less miles." That just hurts my ears. It's just another weird convention in the English language. "Less" can be an adverb, as in "Steve stinks less than last week." It can be an adjective also, but only when describing a noun that isn't being separated into tangible fixed units. In other words, you can use it with "love" or "credibility" or even "water" - when you aren't breaking it down into units. "There's less water in the pool right now."
Boy, you'd think these people never heard of Al Yankovic.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Conan takes on the iPhone 4s

One of my colleagues just got an iPhone 4s. Why don't you get one, Steve? Are you kidding me? I can't even stop watching the squirrels. Giving me an iPhone with Siri would be like giving Charlie Sheen a million dollar gift card to Meth, Coke and Beyond. Here's Conan O'Brien's take on the iPhone 4S.

Friday, October 21, 2011

English Lesson of the Month: WTFC?

The lesson that I learned this month is not to use the acronym WTFC in an email. The reason: the recipient might not know what I'm talking about. I could be talking about Wintrust Financial Corporation. I could also be talking about the "not for profit" Women Together Fighting Cancer, a/k/a the "other" pink ribbon charity. Dear readers, the next time one of your learned correspondents sends you an email with WTFC? Ask him or her whether he or she means Wintrust Financial Corporation or Women Together Fighting Cancer. Stomp out ambiguity before it spreads.
Mr. Green in the Drawing Room with a Frozen Armadillo

From Fox News, in Texas (and only in Texas hopefully) a man was accused of beating a woman with a frozen armadillo.

I think it was a wise person named Steve Altland who said, and I'm paraphrasing:

"If frozen armadillos were outlawed, only outlaws would have frozen armadillos."

Truer words were never spoken.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

GM to Finance Cannonball Run Remake?

New York magazine is reporting that General Motors is in talks to finance a remake of the 1981 movie Cannonball Run. Some say that the original Cannonball Run is the worst movie in the history of the world. Some say Cannonball Run 2 was. (I say that honor goes to Little Buddha.) Naturally, if the general is paying the bills, this will be a GM product placement extravaganza. One can only imagine the venom expressed on talk radio when a "Government Motors" movie debuts.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Bank of America no longer largest US Bank

It was news today that, thanks to "shrinkage", Bank of America is no longer the largest U.S. bank. That title now goes to J.P. Morgan Chase. Don't worry BofA, you're still the worst. - So you have that going for ya.

Bank of America also reported that they made their first quarterly profit in a long time - $6.2 billion worth. They also fessed up that that profit was due to an accounting adjustment and gain on sale of assets. The accounting change should come as no surprise. I have long suspected that BofA outsourced its accounting to the Bizzaro world. As recently as this past July, Reuters reported that Bank of America, along with other top banks , continues to use robosigners to sign massive quantitites of mortgage documents. Keep in mind, robosigning isn't the problem as much as it is the symptom of a problem; and that problem is that the paperwork supporting Bank of America's loans all to often doesn't support Bank of America's loans. The financial press has been rationalizing that everything will be fine with Bank of America, because if worst comes to worse, it could just bankrupt its Countrywide division. Not so fast says really smart financial blogger Alison Frankel. She says one trial court has already decided that BofA's acquisition of Countrywide was a "defacto merger", and as such, can't be separated from Bank of America as a whole.

Anyway - time for the marginally relevant video of the day.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Bob King's Father Couldn't Be Prouder of Him

Autoblog Discusses UAW Politics

If you want to read about the current state of UAW politics, click on this article at Autoblog. I'm all for disclosure, but, judging from the picture, Bob King is getting a little too personal for my tastes. Might there be a little bit of exaggeration there, Bob?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Can Bank of America Bankrupt Countrywide to Avoid Insolvency?
- Not So Fast Says Legal Journalist Frankel

Alison Frankel must be the smartest journalist on the planet when it comes to legal matters. She writes a blog for Reuters called On the Case. Recently she commented on speculation in the financial press that Bank of America could dodge insolvency by separating what used to be Countrywide and bankrupting that unit only. Ms. Frankel considers that unlikely to work and points out that at least one New York Trial Court has already treated the Countrywide acquisition as a "defacto merger", which would prohibit BofA from separating the Countrywide mortgage business for a separate bankruptcy.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Why the Proposed $20 Billion Attorneys General Mortgage Settlement Stinks

It's hard to get a handle on the scope of the whole the banks dug for the entire economy in their mishandling of mortgages from 1990 or so to 2007. Incompetence and self-dealing across our financial community resulted in a vast wealth-distruction machine that not only cost more than 20% of our national wealth, it left us with broken institutions, no confidence in our economy, and, to top it off, it left millions of Americans with no home equity, no mobility and no ability to chase new economic opportunities. The best way to get a general picture is to look at the decrease in the value of your home and look at the increase of homeowners who are now trapped by negative equity. Wall Street and national demonstrations notwithstanding, President Obama still doesn't seem to get why he has lost so much support and credibility with the left two thirds of the American constituency (Forget the right third, they never liked him in the first place.) when he still seems to support letting the banks walk away with slap on the wrist for dragging the economy under. (Here's my prescription for Obama: fire Tim Geithner, you'll see your poll numbers go up 10% immediately, and you'll probably start getting some good advice once and a while.)

Rolling Stone writer Matt Tiabbi does an excellent job in a brief article that describes in plain English why the proposed $20 billion settlement between the 50 attorneys general and the big banks would end up as a bailout that dwarfs TARP. In essence, it would mean allowing the banks to pay $20 billion and walk away from more than $1 trillion in potential losses. Quoting:

How? The math actually makes a hell of a lot of sense, when you look at it closely.

Any foreclosure settlement will allow the banks to pay one relatively small bill to cover all of their legal liabilities stemming from the monstrous frauds they all practiced in the years leading up to the 2008 crash (and even afterward), when they all schemed to create great masses of dicey/junk subprime loans and then disguise them as AAA-rated paper for sale to big private investors and institutions like state pension funds and union funds.

To recap the crime: the banks lent money to firms like Countrywide, who in turn created billions in dicey loans, who then sold them back to the banks, who chopped them up and sold them to, among other things, your state’s worker retirement funds.

So this is bankers from Deutsche and Goldman and Bank of America essentially stealing the retirement nest eggs of firemen, teachers, cops, and other actors, as well as the investment monies of foreigners and hedge fund managers. To repeat: this was Wall Street hotshotsstealing money from old ladies.

later in the article. . .

[Just one] settlement, covering 22 mostly private plaintiffs, cost one bank, Bank of America, nearly half the size of the entire proposed AG settlement. This is from the Times story about that deal, in June:

In a research note, Paul Miller of FBR Capital Markets projected that Bank of America could face a total of $25 billion of losses from the soured mortgages, the most of any of the major banks.

So a private analyst this summer was estimating that just one bank, Bank of America, could face more in damages than the Obama administration and the AGs are now trying to “wrest” from all the major banks, combined, for all their liabilities.

Just a few days ago, news of more such suits came in. An Irish company called Sealink Funding is suing Chase and Bank of America, seeking $4.5 billion combined in connection to losses in mortgage-backed securities sold to them by those banks. Meanwhile, a German bank, Landesbank Baden-Wurttemberg, is suing Chase for an additional $500 million in losses.

These huge amounts – a few billion here, a half a billion there – are coming from single companies, directed at single banks. And think about the Bank of America settlement for $8.5 billion: what’s the usual payoff in a lawsuit settlement? Ten cents on the dollar? Five?

In fact, the settlement amount in that case was just 2% of the face value of the loans when they were securitized ($424 billion), and represented just 4% of the principal still outstanding ($221 billion).

Why do those figures matter? Because the way these securitizations were structured, legally, Bank of America is obligated to buy back any loans that were sold fraudulently at face value – that is part of the legal language in the “pooling and servicing agreements” under which all of these mortgages were pooled.

So minus a settlement, Bank of America – one bank -- had a potential liability of $424 billionjust from its Countrywide holdings! And it got off for $8.5 billion, a major victory.

All of which puts in perspective the preposterously small size of the proposed AG settlement. $20 billion would be a lousy number if we were just talking about Bank of America. But all the big banks combined?

OMG - Brad Pitt TOTALLY LOOKS LIKE Elizabeth Warren

Brad Pitt

Elizabeth Warren

Tom Cruise, you stay out of this.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Michelle Bachmann Gets Equal Time
- at Bad Lip Reading

"... and when I buy stickers for folks in prison, I bring milk - not backyard meth." That's what I call a role model.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Flat Rock to Build Fusions

There is a tentative deal between Ford and the UAW, but not many details have been released other than there will be bonuses and promises of job preservation/creation. Some of those jobs will be at the assembly plant at Flat Rock Michigan. Flat Rock currently assembles the Ford Mustang and the (slow-selling) Mazda6. Earlier this year, Mazda announced plans to pull out of the joint venture Flat Rock plant. Without new product, this would leave the already underutilized facility operating at well less than half capacity.

The tentative contract would call for moving some production of the hot-selling Ford Fusion to Flat Rock. Currently the Fusion is assembled in Hermosillo, Mexico, and because it is not assembled by the UAW or the CAW, it is not on the UAW's approved vehicle list. The next generation Fusion is set to go on sale early next year as an early 2013 model. Since the Mazda6 is built on a version of the same platform as the Fusion, we can hope that UAW-built Fusions start rolling off the assembly lines either concurrently with or shortly-after their Mexican-built counterparts.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Stick a Fork in the AG Mortgage Settlement
- It's done

California attorney general Kamala Harris announced that her state was pulling out of the proposed 50 state settlement with the major mortgage servicers. Since New York and some other states had already pulled out, the loss of California suggest that there really isn't the possibility of a deal worth doing -- if there ever really was one.

This is both good and bad news for borrowers who are behind. It is good news because you don't have to worry about a broad release of claims that could take away foreclosure defenses. It is bad news because without broad-stroke handling of numerous claims, we aren't going to get to any solution fast of our foreclosure mess.
Elon's coming
Tesla Model S Has it's Coming Out Party

The Telsa Roadster, the company's first vehicle, was designed to sell in the hundreds. The new model, the Tesla Model S is designed to sell in the tens of thousands.

This weekend Tesla CEO Elon Musk held a coming out party for the Model S, which will go on sale next year, at the former Toyota/GM factory in Freemont, California where the car will be built. The audience included media and hundreds of future customers who have already put deposits down on the S. Even though the S will go 0-60 in the 5s, and have at 160 miles of electric range, Musk highlighted the carrying capacity of the car, packing 8 folks and their luggage in the car as it drove on stage. Official seating capacity is 7 including a 2-child back jump seat.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Rick Perry

"Is that a pledge pin I see on your uniform? A pledge pin! On your uniform!"