Thursday, March 26, 2009

Business: Are all the people at AIG bad guys?

The Federal Government, the media and the people are angry at AIG about the bonuses.

But is there more to the story than the image of pitchfork and torch carrying crowds marching down on the people who say let them eat cake?

I heard on a political talk radio program that an AIG executive published his resignation letter explaining the context of his bonus that is now vilified by everyone.

While looking around for information on the story, I came across this Campbell Brown clip:

A little more digging yielded the letter published in the New York Times. Excerpts:
After 12 months of hard work dismantling the company - during which A.I.G. reassured us many times we would be rewarded in March 2009 - we in the financial products unit have been betrayed by A.I.G. and are being unfairly persecuted by elected officials. In response to this, I will now leave the company and donate my entire post-tax retention payment to those suffering from the global economic downturn. My intent is to keep none of the money myself.

I take this action after 11 years of dedicated, honorable service to A.I.G. I can no longer effectively perform my duties in this dysfunctional environment, nor am I being paid to do so. Like you, I was asked to work for an annual salary of $1, and I agreed out of a sense of duty to the company and to the public officials who have come to its aid. Having now been let down by both, I can no longer justify spending 10, 12, 14 hours a day away from my family for the benefit of those who have let me down.

You and I have never met or spoken to each other, so I’d like to tell you about myself. I was raised by schoolteachers working multiple jobs in a world of closing steel mills. My hard work earned me acceptance to M.I.T., and the institute’s generous financial aid enabled me to attend. I had fulfilled my American dream.
........
I have the utmost respect for the civic duty that you are now performing at A.I.G. You are as blameless for these credit default swap losses as I am. You answered your country’s call and you are taking a tremendous beating for it.

But you also are aware that most of the employees of your financial products unit had nothing to do with the large losses. And I am disappointed and frustrated over your lack of support for us. I and many others in the unit feel betrayed that you failed to stand up for us in the face of untrue and unfair accusations from certain members of Congress last Wednesday and from the press over our retention payments, and that you didn’t defend us against the baseless and reckless comments made by the attorneys general of New York and Connecticut.
.........
We have worked 12 long months under these contracts and now deserve to be paid as promised. None of us should be cheated of our payments any more than a plumber should be cheated after he has fixed the pipes but a careless electrician causes a fire that burns down the house.

Many of the employees have, in the past six months, turned down job offers from more stable employers, based on A.I.G.’s assurances that the contracts would be honored. They are now angry about having been misled by A.I.G.’s promises and are not inclined to return the money as a favor to you.

The only real motivation that anyone at A.I.G.-F.P. now has is fear. Mr. Cuomo has threatened to “name and shame,” and his counterpart in Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal, has made similar threats — even though attorneys general are supposed to stand for due process, to conduct trials in courts and not the press.
........
...I have decided to donate 100 percent of the effective after-tax proceeds of my retention payment directly to organizations that are helping people who are suffering from the global downturn. This is not a tax-deduction gimmick; I simply believe that I at least deserve to dictate how my earnings are spent, and do not want to see them disappear back into the obscurity of A.I.G.’s or the federal government’s budget. Our earnings have caused such a distraction for so many from the more pressing issues our country faces, and I would like to see my share of it benefit those truly in need.

On March 16 I received a payment from A.I.G. amounting to $742,006.40, after taxes. In light of the uncertainty over the ultimate taxation and legal status of this payment, the actual amount I donate may be less — in fact, it may end up being far less if the recent House bill raising the tax on the retention payments to 90 percent stands. Once all the money is donated, you will immediately receive a list of all recipients.

This choice is right for me. I wish others at A.I.G.-F.P. luck finding peace with their difficult decision, and only hope their judgment is not clouded by fear.

Mr. Liddy, I wish you success in your commitment to return the money extended by the American government, and luck with the continued unwinding of the company’s diverse businesses — especially those remaining credit default swaps. I’ll continue over the short term to help make sure no balls are dropped, but after what’s happened this past week I can’t remain much longer — there is too much bad blood. I’m not sure how you will greet my resignation, but at least Attorney General Blumenthal should be relieved that I’ll leave under my own power and will not need to be "shoved out the door."

Sincerely,

Jake DeSantis
How much should these folks be paid?

How much is 10-14 hour days for a year worth?

Should their compensation be set by the outraged public and angry government officials?

Do we feel that sports figures get paid too much money?

The fact is they do something very few people can do.

Likewise, the world of high finance is opaque to most of us; thus, only a select few actually know how to do it.

How much do they deserved to be paid?

Maybe the picture of them being all bad guys isn't the whole story?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Sports: Meanwhile in the other basketball tournaments

At the NIT, the 8 teams are filling out the quarter finals.

6 are from the big conferences: Auburn, Baylor, Kentucky, Notre Dame, Florida and Penn State.

San Diego state awaits the winner of Davidson vs. St. Mary.

UPDATE: I don't have cable tv but I just found out the game is being broadcast on the internet on ESPN360.com! At the moment, St. Mary is up 10 with a little under 4 minutes to go. Patty Mills has a double double and is looking strong.

The CBI is in its final four: Stanford, UTEP, Oregon State and Richmond.

The CIT is in its final four as well: James Madison, Belmont, Bradley and Pacific.

And in the world baseball classic, as of this post, its gone into extra innings with Japan and South Korea knotted at 3.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

LA Scene: Did you know that there is an election on 3/24/2009?

There is an election to file the 26th State Senate District seat in Los Angeles.

The seat is vacant because Mark Ridley-Thomas won a seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

Who is trying to get his old job?

Well, the guy with the cash is Curren D. Price, Jr. who was a state assemblyman. I've gotten many, many, many mailers from his campaign.

I got one piece of mail from Jonathan Friedman who say on his web page: "Los Angeles native Jonathan Friedman is a Chartered Financial Analyst and an expert in tax policy and financial issues."

I have not received any mailers for the other six candidates.

Mike Davis has a few paragraphs in the voter booklet. He is also a state assemblyman like Price.

Robert Cole also has a few paragraphs in the voter booklet. He has worked as a staffer in a Congressional House office, a California Assembly office and a local government commission.

Saundra Davis is the Vice President of the Board of Education for the Culver City Unified School District.

Cindy Varela Henderson is an Peace and Freedom party activist.

Nachum Shifren is a LA Public school teacher and is also known in the community as "the surfing Rabbi" with interests in fitness and nutrition.

Mervin Leon Evans is a management consultant.

Here is a web page with all the candidates listed and a brief description of them.

This LA Times item survey's the field and covered a candidate forum.

Who would you vote for?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Sports: UCLA 65 VCU 64

It was close down the stretch.

UCLA had a small to medium sized lead much of the second half but toward the end, it got way too close for comfort.

I'm sure many a Bruin fan wore a hole in the carpet pacing the floor while watching or listening to the game!

And about half the fans of post-game Bruin talk were reciting the mantra, survive and advance while the other half a were complaining that Howland can't coach.

Ridiculous.

Lute Olsen, the now retired dean of Pac10 college coaches (25 years at Arizona) won one national championship.

Roy Williams (21 years of coaching at Div. 1 at Kansas and North Carolina) has one national championship. Expectations are pretty high for UNC this year so Williams might win his second.

33rd year coach Jim Boeheim has led Syracuse to one national title.

Ben Howland coached 5 years at Northern Arizona, 4 years at Pittsburgh and is in his 6th season at UCLA. 15 years. Let's give the guy a little more time before saying the guy can't win "the big game."

Can Howland coach?

I suppose one could dispute his playing his starting 5 so many minutes. But who are you going to play when the game is on the line?

Freshman point guard Anderson had 4 turnovers in 6 minutes. He was able to give Collison a little bit of rest but he was clearly rattled by the pressure of the big stage.

Keefe and Roll got some decent minutes to rest the starters.

I was surprised to see that Lee didn't get a few minutes to spell the starters.

Gordon might still not be 100% so he didn't see any game time either.

I assume the final sequence worked out the way Howland drew it up.

He normally puts one of his bigs on the man inbounding the ball. But since he wanted to delay Maynor getting the ball, he doubled him up so the ball entered elsewhere but Maynor got it on the pass but some clock was lost. Collison played him close and once Maynor crossed half-court, Shipp briefly doubled him chewing up a some more time.

And what can you say about Collison?

In the final part of that sequence, he didn't buy the fake and stayed with Maynor on the shot without fouling and the shot fell short.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Culture: NBC's "Kings"



When I had heard that a tv show set in a fictional modern setting was starting up based loosely on the story of David from the Hebrew Scriptures, I admit I was a bit skeptical.

The opening episodes started on Sunday night and I caught only the last part of the show. It was interesting enough that I went to Hulu to see the whole episode.

The pacing is at times uneven and some connections to the original David story are a little too cute for its own good (e.g. the hero is David Shepherd and the enemy tanks are called Goliath) but the human drama of political intrigue, courage, brokenness and faith mixed with terrific performances by Ian McShane (King Silas) and Chris Egan (David) drew me in.

I'll be checking in on Kings as it unfolds.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sports: 2009 NIT Bracketology

For this season's NIT projections go here. This post is last year's.

Feel free to join "RR Readers" at Yahoo! Fantasy Sports Tournament Pick 'Em '09 ... where NIT fans pick'em!
Group ID: 67330
Password: madmarchness
Winner gets a token prize from my prize drawer!

Watching the NCAA bubble? Or are you here for the NIT bubble?

8:30 pm Sunday - NIT Bracket is available!

How did RR do this year?

I got 29 teams out of 32 correct.

My missed calls:
Arizona - went up to NCAA
Maryland - went up to NCAA
Wisconsin GB - went out of NIT

Replacing those missed calls:
San Diego State - NCAA bubble burst
Duquesne - my #1 just out of NIT team
Nebraska - my #2 just out of NIT team

Not bad for a non-sports journalist blogger in pajamas, eh? 8-)

Will see if I'm back at it again next year!

Until then, enjoy the Madness of all FOUR tournaments.

10:45pm Saturday - next update will be after NIT brackets (ESPNU at 9pm EDT Sunday) are announced. Hope you have had some entertainment value here and got in some kibitzing with fellow fans of your favorite team. Here's hoping your favorite team winds up somewhere and gets to play some more! Good night, where ever you are!

Sunday scenarios:
ACC: FSU vs. Duke - no effect, both teams going to NCAA
Big10: OSU vs. Purdue - no effect, both teams going to NCAA
BigWest: CSUN vs. UOP - CSUN loss, CSUN into NIT as a #8 seed bursting a bubble team out of NIT
SEC: Miss St vs. Tenn - MSU into NCAA with win. Could push South Carolina down to NIT and burst an NIT bubble team out of NIT. Tenn is a lock for NCAA.
Southland: UTSA vs. S.F. Austin. If UTSA wins, SFA gets #7 seed in NIT bursting a bubble team out of NIT

NCAA teams that could get pushed down into the NIT if Miss St wins SEC:
Texas A&M, Dayton, Boston College, South Carolina
I think South Carolina is the most vulnerable of this group.

Projected NIT field:
1. Florida
2. Miami-Florida
3. Arizona
4. Georgetown
5. UAB
6. Baylor
7. St. Mary's
8. Creighton
9. Maryland
10. Penn State
11. Notre Dame
12. Virginia Tech
13. Kansas State
14. Tulsa
15. Northwestern
16. Illinois State
17. New Mexico
18. Auburn
19. Kentucky
20. Niagara
21. UNLV
22. Washington State
23. Davidson - auto bid lost in semis
24. Rhode Island
25. Mississippi State - win on Sunday they are in NCAA!
26. Providence
27. George Mason
28. Wisc. Green Bay

29. Big Sky - Weber St - lost in semis
30. OVC - UT Martin - lost in semis
31. Atl Sun - Jacksonville - lost in finals
32. MAC - Bowling Green - lost in semis

Boldfaced teams are on bubble watch

Outside NIT looking in:
Duquesne
Nebraska
Stanford
Cincinnati
Houston
UTEP
Vanderbilt
Mississippi

Probable Single Bid Conferences:
Teams that win their regular season conference title but fail to gain the automatic bid to the NCAA get an automatic bid to the NIT.
Big West - CSU Northridge, Sat vs. UOP
Southland - Stephen F. Austin, Sun vs. UTSA

They got their ticket to NCAA!
Big South - Radford
MVC - Northern Iowa. Will MVC#2 Creighton get into the NCAA?
CAA - VCU. Will #2George Mason get into the NIT?
MAAC - Siena
WCC - Gonzaga. The question is #2 WCC St. Mary.
Horizon - Butler lost to Cleveland State but should be in as an at-large
Summit - North Dakota St
Sun Belt - Western Kentucky
Northeast - Robert Morris
Patriot - American
Atlantic 10 - Xavier lost in semis but get NCAA at-large
Am East - Binghamton
CUSA - Memphis
MEAC - Morgan St
WAC - Utah State
SWAC - Alabama State

Other NIT Projections:
NIT-ology
NIT Bracket Project

Informational Links:
National Invitational Tournament
NIT schedule
NIT selection procedures
Short version: Teams that win their regular season conference title but fail to gain the automatic bid to the NCAA get an automatic bid to the NIT. The best teams left out of the NCAA get invited to the NIT until they have 32 teams. In theory, the CBI (16 bids) could invite the same team as the NIT but last year (first year of CBI) there was no reported overlapping invitations. Teams that miss the NCAA and NIT can be invited to the CBI which takes 16 teams or the CollegeInsider.com post-season tournament which takes 16 teams also. In theory, the CBI and CollegeInsider.com could offer competing invitations.
College Basketball Invitational
CBI schedule
CollegeInsider.com tournament

Monday, March 09, 2009

Money: Jim Cramer of CNBC in an ongoing beef with the Obama Administration

I don't have cable tv to watch CNBC and his show is on during my typical work day.

However, I have seen the show on occasion when I've been on holiday or sick at home with the flu.

I have to say his hyper style is entertaining for a handful of minutes but it is a bit much.

However, he does have an interesting life story and clearly he has fans as his show has been on for some time.

Recently, he has criticized the actions of the Obama administration and now is in a verbal firestorm as the WH has belittled him and allies of the WH have taken their gloves off to land some punches.

Cramer is fighting back.

Here is one of Cramer's online responses and here is another.

Below some excerpts from the two Cramer links above:
President Obama's team, unlike Bush's team, demonstrates a thinness of skin that shocks me. When I somewhat obviously and empirically judged that the populist Obama administration is exacerbating the crisis with its budget and policies, as evidenced by the incredible decline in the averages since his inauguration, I was met immediately with condescension and ridicule rather than constructive debate or even just benign dismissal. I said to myself, "What the heck? Are they really that blind to the Great Wealth Destruction they are causing with their decisions to demonize the bankers, raise taxes for the wealthy, advocate draconian cap-and-trade policies and upend the health care system? Do they really believe that only the rich own stocks? What do they think we have our retirement accounts in, CDs? Where did they think that the money saved for college went, our mattresses? Do they think the great middle class banks at the First National Bank of Sealy and only the wealthiest traffic in the Standard & Poor's 500?"
........
But stocks, along with housing, are our principal forms of wealth in this country. Only the people who have lifetime tenure, insured solid pensions and rent homes but own no stocks personally are unaffected. Sure that's a lot of people, but believe me, they aspire to have homes and portfolios. If we only want to help those who have no wealth to destroy, we are not helping the majority of Americans; we are not helping the broader population.
.........
Don't get me wrong, Obama was dealt a terrible hand by the previous croupier. But this administration's handling of the banking crisis, something that has brought Citigroup (Stock Quote: C), Bank of America (Stock Quote: BAC), Wells Fargo (Stock Quote: WFC) and even JPMorgan Chase (Stock Quote: JPM) to their knees, has been devastating. The indecision of Geithner, who has floated to the media every single idea in his head, only to announce none orally, has created a vacuum that has allowed short-sellers to dictate policy.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Faith: Can we trust the Gospels?



Have read parts of The Case for Christ.

The little graphic above is my attempt to summarize some of the ideas from that book.

The New Testament Scriptures, as written works of antiquity, stand strong on three counts:
(1) Their closeness relative to the events they describe. Within a century (fragments of Gospels) and a few centuries (complete Gospels).
(2) The number of copies. Homer's Illiad comes in a distant second with 650 ancient copies.
(3) The consistency of the copies. Its estimated that they are about 99.5% in agreement with each other.

As you can see from the graphic, we don't have the actual original Matthew-Mark-Luke-John Gospel accounts of Jesus.

The art and science of textual criticism tries to piece together the original Gospels from the copies.

The late Bruce Metzger who died in 2007 was one of the most noted scholars of textual criticism. Though the copies of the Gospels aren't perfect, Metzger retained his Christian faith.

One of his students, Bart Ehrman eventually lost his faith owing to the discrepancies of the Gospel copies.

A readable assessment of Ehrman's critique was posted by Mark D. Roberts.

Faith: Koukl on the Question of Doubt



Koukl's opening line: 85% of Christians report experiencing doubt 15% are lying about it.

Indeed, as a person on the journey of faith in following Jesus, I don't experience 100% certainty.

I admit I have doubts. Not constantly but often enough that it sometimes bothers me.

Part of it is emotional. Just as we sometimes wonder if someone loves us or whether we love them, there simply are day-to-day variation in our emotional states. Thus, it is often said, love is a commitment not just an emotion. And so it is with faith. We may feel the emotion of faith and hope and certainty. But sometimes we don't. And when we don't, we have to decide do we live out that faith as a commitment to it or cast it aside as our emotion pulls us down?

As I see it, "Christian theology" provides a way of looking at the world and it seem to correspond pretty well. Christian faith recognizes the fallenness of humanity. Christian faith asserts that God has sent Jesus to restore our brokenness. I would think most people would acknowledge the first statement but might not accept that Jesus has materially changed the status quo.

There are many intellectual reasons for believing that Jesus actually existed though some argue he was a fabrication of some first century Jews who invented the religion of Christianity melding pagan and Jewish ideas. Some argue that Jesus did exist but that the theology that grew up around him was a distortion. This is the "Jesus to Christ" idea where Jesus is some historical Jesus we only partially know from the New Testament Scriptures and that Christ the Lord God and Savior of the World theology was layered on top of Jesus' actual teachings.

There is intellectual warrant to believe Jesus existed but obviously any theological significance to Jesus is an assertion of faith.

What we can say is that clearly something very unusual happened.

There were other claimants to Messiahship and they all wound up dead during that time. Thus, why did Jesus' claim to Messiahship endure while others did not?

Likewise, there were other stories of people rising from the dead and divine incarnations. Yet, none of those stories has birthed a religious movement.

Is this proof?

No. But it does indicate something very unusual happened.