Friday, October 22, 2010

The best way to rob a bank is to own one

Y'all know there is no love loss between little 'ol AlexTangoFuego and the bankers and investment bankers and financiers of the world. I never did much like those guys when I encountered them whilst enjoying a single malt nightcap at the Caribou Club. I think back on that now and wonder whatever the fuck was I thinking to become a member of that "members only" bastion of conspicuous consumption and everything/one that is wrong with this world. I do remember why - thinking that it was good for business - to mingle and bullshit with potential clients. I did meet a few genuine and nice people there. A few. And far between.

The money pimps were mostly assholes. Par excellence. In a French accent. Driving through town in Lamborghini's and Ferrari's and Bentley's (apostrophes for visual effect) on Sunday morning to get donuts and coffee and the Sunday Times. Overcompensating and overconfident with regard to the bulge in their Prada jeans. That would be in the back pocket, in the "billfold" as they call it in west Texas. Too much money will make a man into an arrogant God-prick and a woman into a marquisetta whore to the highest bidder. It's sad, really, to see the people who sell their souls to the Almighty God-Dollar. Empty, sad souls set for life (in theory) in mega-big and not-so-big houses alike wondering where they took the wrong turn. Longing for love and life and music and dance and art and poetry. And love, one more time for good measure.

I like to think and believe that I was an undercover radical-leftist-hippie-socialist-commie-enviro-green-fundamentalist spy/recon guy collecting intel on how to bring it all down with a little C4 or a UHaul moving van full of fermented bullshit pumped down the red carpeted stairs under the caribou horn chandeliers. Or maybe I was collecting some sort of twisted CC experience for a screenplay, or a book, or a poem, or just a memory or two. Or maybe I was just trying to get laid. (grin)

Anyway, it's a small part of my life experience, that Aspen/Caribou Club experience is. Was. A very small part of me, but definitely nothing to do with who I have always been at my core. Thank God. Thank Gawd as Madeleine Murray O'Hair would say. I'm glad that time in my life is behind me - although I miss my true friends there - my tango friends. I miss them dearly.

I am happy to be getting back to my hippie roots these days, long hair and all. But that, my friends, is another story.

So, as usual, I digressed. Here's what I wanted to post, crossposted from The Huffington Post via - written by Dan Froomkin.

If it wasn't already blindingly obvious that pervasive fraud was at the heart of the financial crisis and the ensuing foreclosure catastrophe, you would think that the latest news -- that banks have routinely been lying their heads off in the rush to kick homeowners off the properties they fraudulently induced them to buy in the first place -- would pretty much clinch it.

And yet the mainstream media still by and large hasn't connected the dots.

What we are seeing all around us are the continued effects of a vast criminal enterprise that has never been brought to account, employing a process that, as University of Texas economist James Galbraith explains, involved the equivalent of counterfeiting, laundering and fencing.

So the person with the right expertise to lead us here is a criminologist -- in particular William K. Black, one of the few effective regulators in recent history (during the savings and loan crisis of the late 1980s), a notorious knocker of heads and currently professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and author of the book, "The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One".

I first interviewed Black in April, and recently checked back in and asked him about this ongoing problem of the mainstream media's inability to properly cover this story. He responded with this breathless and breathtaking list of failings (slightly edited for publication):

The things I think are critical and badly under-reported are:

1. The astonishing amount of mortgage fraud (literally, millions of cases annually) and how it hyperinflated the bubble and led to the Great Recession.

2. The fact that these mortgage frauds were overwhelmingly due to consciously fraudulent lending practices in which the CEOs of seemingly legitimate entities used accounting tricks as their “weapon of choice" to report higher profits and get bigger bonuses. (George A. Akerlof and Paul R. Romer got it right in the title to their 1993 article: Looting: The Economic Underworld of Bankruptcy for Profit.)

3. The disgraceful lack of prosecutions which has resulted from regulators virtually ending the practice of making criminal referrals and the pathetic March 2007 "partnership" that the FBI entered into with the Mortgage Bankers Association (the trade association of the "perps") that led the FBI and the Department of Justice to (implicitly) define out of existence fraud by the lenders (and to conceive of them as the "victim" -- which they are, but only of their controlling officers). Bush administration attorney general Michael Mukasey in June 2008 notoriously refused to create a national task force against mortgage fraud based on his claim that mortgage fraud was analogous to "white collar street crime."

4. The "echo" epidemics of fraud set off by the primary epidemic of accounting “control fraud". The fraud designed by CEOs in turn kicked off an epidemic of fraud among loan brokers and appraisers. Reporters should explore the concept of the Gresham's-style dynamic in which bad ethics were a competitive advantage and drove good ethics out of the marketplace.

5. The massive foreclosure fraud we are seeing now as another "echo" epidemic. To optimize their accounting control fraud, lenders gutted underwriting. That led to "fraud in the inducement" (vis a vis borrowers), endemic documentation problems, and an extraordinary numbers of defaults. The process required tens of thousands of real estate financing personnel to commit fraud on a daily basis as their core function. Some of these people are unemployed, but many are in the industry and are presently engaged in loan servicing. Now that their job is to foreclose on properties, there is no reason to expect that they would suddenly become honest, and they haven't.

6. The ongoing massive cover up of losses on bad assets, particularly by the “too big to fail” institutions, which I call “systemically dangerous institutions” (SDIs). Those institutions, along with Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke and Congress (at the behest of the Chamber of Commerce and with no opposition from the Obama administration) in April 2009 forced the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) to change the rules so that the banks do not have to recognize their losses unless and until they sell the bad assets. The implications of this cover up are large (and rarely reported). At the very least, it means that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's propaganda campaign about TARP saving the world at virtually no cost (perhaps even a "profit") is nonsense -- despite its success in influencing the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times. Consider:

A) The repayment of TARP funds does not mean the banks are healthy. Their asset values are often grossly inflated, which means their net worth is grossly inflated. That means that the claims that we have increased net worth requirements (and that Basel III will further increase net worth requirements) are false. Net worth requirements have meaning only if the accounting is honest

B) The repayment of TARP funds does mean that the banks are freed from any meaningful restraint on senior officer compensation. Note that absent the accounting lies the banks would often be reporting losses (and failure to meet required capital requirements, or outright insolvency) and could not pay their senior officers bonuses and would be subject to mandatory closure under the Prompt Corrective Action (PCA) law.

C) No commercial entity would have ever signed the TARP deals on the terms that the U.S. drafted for itself. The U.S. provided not only fresh money but an unlimited de facto guarantee (along with permitting phony accounting). If the U.S. had negotiated competently it would have owned virtually all the shares of every TARP recipient (which, of course, was a political impossibility).

D) The accounting lies are stalling the recovery. Markets cannot clear promptly when one creates an incentive to hold massively overvalued assets for years.

E) The losses are still there, but the taxpayers are on the hook via Fannie and Freddie and the Fed (which has taken over a trillion dollars in toxic collateral at grossly inflated values).

7. The continued absence of effective regulation. It should be scandalous that President Obama left in charge, or even promoted, the anti-regulators who permitted the Great Recession. The (failed) anti-regulator of Fannie and Freddie, for example, remains FHFA's acting director. This is significantly insane as a matter of both economics and politics. (The administration doesn't even seem to realize the issue of integrity.)

8. The crises of state and local government and the lack of a rational basis for Republican and Blue Dog opposition to the proposed revenue sharing component of the stimulus bill. The compounding insanity of the administration failing to fight for its concept and failing to make explicit how badly its removal would harm the recovery, employment, and vital government services.

9. The insanity of accepting mass, long-term unemployment rather than having the government provide productive jobs for everyone willing to work (as the employer of last resort).

I have nothing to add.

Crossposted from

Dan Froomkin is senior Washington correspondent for the Huffington Post.

And here's to the good bankers and financial folks of the world. I know it's never good to over-generalize - they are not all bad. Most of the folks out there have noble intent and are doing the right thing - trying to help people in the financial maze/ artifice of the world. I thank you for all of the rest of us. You know who you are.

Friday, October 15, 2010

21st Century Enlightenment

Matthew Taylor explores the meaning of 21st century enlightenment, how the idea might help us meet the challenges we face a cool animated video...

Brought to you by the folks at The Renaissance Society of America [RSA]...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Flower Duet from Lakmé

I coulda sworn I had posted something about this song in the past...Dame Joan Sutherland and I'm not sure who the other singer of my favorite songs...

Here is the info from my iTunes...sounds like it is the same it would be Jane Berbié...possibly...

Lakmé: Viens, Mallika, ... Dôme épais (Flower Duet)
Dame Joan Sutherland, Jane Berbié, Orchestre national de l'Opéra de Monte-Carlo & Richard Bonynge

Monday, October 11, 2010

You dance real good for a short lady, or Gomer Pyle disrupts the pista

Don't even ask what this has to do with Bayer Corporation manufacturing the neurotoxic pesticide that is killing honey bees...but that *is* the original source (in my head) for this little gem...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

10-10-10 October 10, 2010 + 350ppm

Yes, that's 10/10/10, representing today's date, October 10, 2010 and it's all about 350ppm or 350 parts per million.

Huh? Blah blah blahblahblah. Yadda yadda yadda.

I'm just going to give you the bullet points.

350ppm is the scientifically based target sustainable level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

From the website:

What is 350?

350 is the most important number in the world—it's what scientists say is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Three years ago, after leading climatologists observed rapid ice melt in the Arctic and other frightening signs of climate change, they issued a series of studies showing that the planet faced both human and natural disaster if atmospheric concentrations of CO2 remained above 350 parts per million.

Everyone from Al Gore to the U.N.’s top climate scientist has now embraced this goal as necessary for stabilizing the planet and preventing complete disaster. Now the trick is getting our leaders to pay attention and craft policies that will put the world on track to get to 350.

What is 10/10/10?

10/10/10, today, is a day of "work parties" around the world - in theory doing something concrete to help in the war on CO2 - in reality, largely symbolic to get the word out about the problem, both to world leaders and the citizenry, and the urgency of working towards solutions.

There will be around 7,500 "work parties" today in 188 countries.

I'm reading a great book on the subject. It's titled "Getting Green Done" by Auden Schendler, the Director of Sustainability for Aspen Skiing Company. It may be the best I've read on the subject.

And lastly, here is the gist:

American represent 5% of the world's population, yet we use 25% of the world's resources. Americans burn more fossil fuel per capita than any nation on earth - nearly 1 million btu's per person per day, equivalent to 100 pounds of coal, 1,000 cubic feet of natural gas, 8 gallons of gasoline, or 1 lightning bolt of energy per person per day.

The fact is, this is not sustainable. Not in the long term, and possibly not even sustainable in the next twenty years.

The fierce urgency of now. On a global scale.

Combined with a huge dose of hope. But here is my definition of hope:

"Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth's treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal... To hope is to give yourself to the future – and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable." [Rebecca Solnit]

Have a beautiful Sunday!

Flickr Link:

Saturday, October 9, 2010

How I came to love tango music...

El Caballero

I'm sitting here this morning, coffee and D'Agostino, reading a thread on a tango DJ list about dancers not knowing tango music. This is one instance where I'm talking knowledge versus knowing. There is a difference, but I talk about it elsewhere in this blog.

The writer, Joe Grohens, talks about how the vast majority of tango dancers don't really know tango music. They don't listen to it in their day-to-day lives, most likely because they don't own any. He posits that the only time most dancers hear tango music is at the milongas.

As a result, they hear it a few hours a week at best, but don't really know much about it. They don't know the orchestras, the song titles, or the names of the singers. They don't know the stories behind the songs, they don't know the history of the orchestras and the players. They don't know about the various recording companies and record labels during that time. I'm not suggesting that all dancers go to this depth. Some do, some don't, most are somewhere in the middle.

This was me six years ago. Not only did I know nothing of tango music, I didn't even know how to find any if I wanted to buy some. I had my one starter CD that our teacher burned for us to listen to outside of class.

Not only did I know nothing of the music, but I didn't like it. Yes, Alex the tango-purist-bordering-on-fundamentalist-milonguero-jihadist did not, at one time, in the beginning, even like tango music. I also didn't like the (men's) shoes, and took some cool Pumas to the cobbler to have the rubber soles ground off and leathers glued on. But that is another story. For another time.

I had a pretty good collection of interesting music on my computer & iPod, so I sifted and listened and listened and sifted to find songs with a four beat that my partner and I could practice to. Any songs. Borderline tango-danceable. Crap, really, as I think back on it.

I didn't "get" tango music. I couldn't find the beat. It was as if I couldn't...didn't hear the music when I was dancing. I was deaf, dumb and blind to the music - a fatal condition in tango.

Not just fatal as in a death-blow, but fatal as in squashed like a beetle on the pavement. Note that I didn't mean to squish him and I apologized to him after I took his innocent life. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust and covered him up with a bootkick of caliche.

I convinced myself I was a rhythmic retard. And I quit. Dropped tango cold turkey from my life. For six months.

When I came back to tango, I had six months of tangosmosis on my side. I somehow knew that I would have to wrap my head around this music. Wrap my head and my heart around it. And my soul. In that next year I figured out that it would take nothing less than absolute and total immersion in tango. I was determined to "get" this dance and its music. I had dis/misplaced dreams of mastering tango. I know better now. One never masters "El Tango". Anyway....

So I started doing the research on the internet. Quizzing my teachers and long-time dancers. Copping and copying CD's whenever and wherever I could. I ordered some CD's from Buenos Aires. I had people pick some up for me there and tote 'em back to the mountains. I saved up my money and bought tons of CD's when I went to BsAs. I searched the "World Music" sections of record stores every chance I got. I discovered some at the iTunes store.

I ended up with some garbage, some duplications of songs, but mostly good stuff. It was worth the effort. I have quite a collection now. For the past three or four years, I've been more selective in my acquisitions. I check the orchestra discographies online and do a little research to find the CD with the best (or my favorite) version of the song with the best sound quality.

Luckily, during that time in Aspen, I was in a position to do this "total immersion" approach. For three years. I didn't have a life. Tango was my life. I think there was a year in there that I listened, literally, to nothing but tango music. There were favorite songs that I would listen to over and over for hours thanks to the repeat setting on the iPod. Even when the iPod was off, the song was still playing in my head. Try it some time. Brainwashing by tango.

Another of my "total immersion" techniques was this - whilst I was dancing (and other times, too) I would transport myself, along with my partner, using pure-D abstract visualization, back to a milonga in Buenos Aires. Back to that time where an orchestra might have been playing live. I would visualize the milonga, the room, the decor, the other dancers, the clouds of cigarette smoke, the smells. I would transport us in my mind back to the 1930's or 1940's - reveling in the zeitgeist of that time. Imagining what it must have been like. Try it some time. It still works for me, sometimes inducing some strange and interesting feelings, for lack of a better word this early in the morning.

So that's how I came to love tango music. And I do love it. The good stuff. The real stuff. The Golden Age stuff. The Guardia Vieja stuff. "Old school" tango the youngsters call it now. Authentic. Vintage. Reclaimed. Historic. Whatever.

I realize the total immersion approach is not practical, and maybe not even healthy. There is a zone between that and zero. The productive middle ground. All it takes is one CD, or two, or five. You might get bit and collect 20 or 200. Find, buy, beg, borrow (but don't steal) or otherwise acquire some good Golden Age tango - from 1925 through 1955. Afterthought: Buy, buy, buy the music whenever you can. It's the right thing to do. Pony up your hard earned greenbacks - it makes the music that much more valuable to you.

And listen to it. Really listen. Hear it.

With a little knowledge of the music, you will be on the path to knowing tango.

Knowing versus knowledge.

And there is a difference.

Have a great weekend y'all. I'm back into carpintero mode. Closer to closing in the addition. Tango music wafting through the woods. Sawing and fitting and nailing and dancing tango and designing in my head.

More coffee. I need more coffee.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Alex's Top Ten Tango Videos

Most of you already know this about me (my favorite videos that I post over and over again every few months), but I thought I would collect them all into one post...for posterity...not in any particular order...

These videos are why I dance tango...or represent why I dance tango...this imagery, these couples, the songs, the movement, the grace and simplicity, the connection...all represent what "El Tango" is to me, how I choose to hold it in my heart/soul and in my life, until the end of my days...

You will note there are actually 11 videos...and one song, La Cumparsita, at the end...oh well, I couldn't keep it to 10...

And, the title of this post should read "Top Ten Tango/Vals/Milonga Videos" eleven...

Javier Rodriguez y Geraldine Rojas | Rodolfo Biagi's "Flor de Monserrat"

Osvaldo Zotto y Lorena Ermocida | en la Confiteria Ideal | Carlos DiSarli's "Indio Manso"

Murat y Michelle Erdemsel | Aníbal Troilo's "En Esta Tarde Gris"

Detlef Engel y Melina Sedo | Superslow milonga to Canaro's "Milonga Sentimental"

Thierry Le Cocq et Delphine Blanco | Superfast milonga to Canaro's "No hay tierra coma la mia"

Ezequiel Farfaro y Milena Plebs | CITA 2003 (I thin) | Milonga Campera to Alfredo Zitarrosa's "Pa'l Que Se Va"

El Maestro Carlos Gavito y Geraldine Rojas | en La Viruta | Osvaldo Pugliese's "Emancipación"

Julio Balmaceda y Corina de la Rosa | Denver's Cheesman Pavilion | Fleury's "Milonga del Ayer" (live solo by Gregory "Grish" Nisnevich)

Enrique y Guillermo de Fazio (Los Hermanos Macana) | Milonga to Canaro's "Reliquias Porteñas"

Sebastian Arce y Mariana Montes | A vals to Biagi's "Viejo Porton"

Carlos "Carlitos" Espinoza y Karina Antonucci | Enrique Rodriquez' "Danza Maligna"

And lastly, no dancing, just an appropriate last tango | Italian Tenor Tito Schipa singing the original lyrics version of "La Cumparsita", which happens to be my favorite version of all 45 (or so) versions of La Cumparsita I have collected...