Friday, December 24, 2010

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

That's Great...But Citi Still Sucks It!

Citigroup Stake Is Sold for About $10.5 Billion as U.S. Unwinds Investment

Citigroup Shares Rise After Bank Escapes U.S. Fetters

Glad to hear that the United States government - which bailed out Citigroup to prevent their collapse, thanks in no small part to their own ill-conceived policies - has divested its interests. None of this will benefit the American taxpayers though, whose money it was that bailed them out, or turn the economy around in their favor. Think Citi will treat its account holders better, like lowering their illegally raised interest rates or dismissing suits brought against those refusing to bow down to their strong-arm tactics? Doubtful. Which is why Citi still sucks it.

A Second Thought On TARP's Bottom Line

BofA, Citibank Often Tapped Fed Auctions During Crisis


©2010 Steve Sagarra

Sunday, November 28, 2010

November 2010 Was Only A Start

A laughable news story...


I quote, "America's political discourse is being crippled by talk radio and cable news shows." Really? Seeing how that the majority of mass media are left-leaning these days, that very well might be true. Unfortunately, it seems only the right-wing conspiracy sees it that way. Laughable.

According to Senator Jay Rockefeller, discussing Fox News and MSNBC, "It would be a big favor to political discourse; to our ability to do our work here in Congress; and to the American people, to be able to talk with each other and have some faith in their government and, more importantly, in their future." Really? The Congress has done nothing but screw the American people since its inception, with little concern over discourse concerning their future. Perhaps Senator Rockefeller should  not so obtusely bloviate so as to recognize that the American people do not trust their government to act in their best interest. Perhaps Mr. Rockefeller real interest lies in seeing to it that the stature of PBS – a station for which his wife, Sharon Percy, is CEO of its #1 station, and partially funded by the U.S. government – is far more greatly enhanced over all others? Simply to keep the American people in the dark about what their government is doing in order to maintain the faith of their, apparently dictated, future.

I also find it so very ironic that someone so hateful and racist as Al Sharpton is allowed to have a radio show to spew his leftist agenda, while calling for the ban of another who allegedly does the same. Simply because it is not aligned to the leftist agenda. How hypocritical, but what else would you expect from the likes of a leftist socialist like Sharpton?

This country is in trouble if we allow such behavior to continue. Political discourse has become nothing more than public bullying. I have never tolerated a bully in my entire life – even when getting my ass kicked in the process of standing up to them. But I stood up to them. And that is what the American people need to do.

Now. Not in the future. Now – before it’s too late.

©2010 Steve Sagarra

Friday, November 26, 2010

Whether Fight or Flight, the Threats Still Persist

What is the next step in the Useless Nations' decades-long, U.S.-led "police action" on the Korean Penisula, not to mention continuing sagas in places like Iran? At least, some people grasp the situation...

"The Irrelevance of START," Charles Krauthammer

"Nuclear Blinders," John Bolton (former U.S. ambassador to the U.N.)

"Why We're Always Fooled by North Korea," Michael J. Green

"North Korea Will Never Play Nice," B.R. Myers

Others, not so much apparently...
  
"U.N. Secretary General Eyes New Aid, Better PR Campaign, for North Korea" (Former South Korean Foreign Minister, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon)

"North Korea's Conistent Message to the U.S.," Jimmy Carter (former president of the U.S.)

"Crisis in Korea?," John Feffer

Friday, November 19, 2010

Student Body Scan Sham

Let’s see if I understand this correctly…ILLEGAL immigrants enrolled in California colleges will continue to receive reduced tuition, while LEGALLY-born U.S. students can expect an 8% hike to their tuition? Of course, the “undocumented” students will also feel the pinch to their in-state wallets as well. But let’s phrase the question another way…while American CITIZENS are harassed, manhandled and molested in their daily travels by airport security under the guise of “national security,” ILLEGAL immigrants will continue to be enfranchised with the benefits offered by the United States – that even a number of LEGAL citizens do not enjoy, and no less at the expense of American taxpayers – without so much as a single grope from Homeland Security?


Pardon my confusion, but what the hell is wrong with this scenario??? Did we suddenly wormhole to Bizarro’s Htrae, or more likely into The Twilight Zone? Is this a waking nightmare, from which there is no escape?

If nothing else, it is certainly a wakeup call.


(Okay, maybe not exactly what was meant by “wakeup call.” Now, if Hayden were a TSA agent - legal, illegal or otherwise - you think at least a few members of the "Don't Touch My Junk" crowd might be okay with a pat down?) 

©2010 Steve Sagarra

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Dose of Humble Pie

He believed Washington alone could mandate change to solve the problems of the United States and its citizens. He believed one political party alone could dictate that change, whether the American people wanted it or not. He believed he and his party were the voice of the American people. Now that the opposition has taken control of the House of Representatives, and achieved major gains in the Senate, how does that crow taste Mr. President?

With Republican gains in Congress, the agenda of President Obama and the Democratic party ostensibly has been demolished. The American people sent a clear referendum on the direction of the country, with a message that progress promised – by both Obama and soon-to-be former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi – has not been forthcoming. Mainly, because there has been no progress or even the hint of such. A multi-billion dollar, taxpayer-funded bailout of Wall Street, bankrupting public coffers in favor of the very instigators to the economic downturn? A GDP growth rate at a dismal 2%, ranking the largest economy in the world barely 15th – tied with Pakistan – in terms of growth? And the most telling, an unemployment rate hovering over nine percent – peaking at 10.1% in October 2009 – for the last 17 months, the second worse period since 1982? Compare that to 6.3% in June 2003, the highest ever reached during the much-maligned Bush era.

Faced with the political shift, Obama immediately danced the Potomac two-step in an attempt to portray himself as a centrist. A leader willing to compromise in the crafting of policy and legislation – a concept rebuffed during the first half of his term. Yet, by all appearances, he is still failing to understand the disconnect among voters. The lesson of the mid-term is not that his administration has not done enough; rather, that the American people do not approve of what has been done so far. Espousing a more moderate stance in defeat is hardly convincing that, overnight, he truly has turned humbly to the center for setting an agreeably bipartisan agenda, rather than just for his own political survival.


©2010 Steve Sagarra

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Man, For He Is the Devil's Pawn

Over the evolutionary history of mankind, humans have purportedly evolved from barbaric primitives to the civilized beings of today. A random scan of the daily headlines on any given day would paint a different picture. Our ancestors are perceived as creatures of lower intellect whose thought processes went no further than animalistic, survival instinct. For all their stone tools and cave art, they were primitives plain and simple. 

Yet, modern man is more savage than any other existent human species, and for one simple reason:  ostensibly more intellectually aware than our forebears, we still consciously commit acts one would attribute more to our primitive heritage than an industrialized society. Acts perpetuated for centuries, even though by now one would think we would know better. That is why I, like many others, hold humanity in contempt - there's no humanity in it, except perhaps in the distant past.

©2010 Steve Sagarra

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Perpetuating Intolerance, Post-9/11

I don't know who scares me more - Islamist extremists or Christian extremists. Frankly, I am not a fan of any fanatical extremism that has no room for alternative views. Especially those who spew hatred in attacking the very hatred they condemn in the other. Yes, the United States was attacked by such extremists on September 11, 2001, but by those submitting to a corrupt interpretation of Islam not shared by the majority who follow the religion. Does that condemn forever all devotees because of the few fanatics among them?

The Founding Fathers, indisputably influenced by Judeo-Christian beliefs, saw to it not to institute a state-mandated religion when establishing our founding principles. Thanks to that wisdom, today the nation is, in theory at least, a beacon of religious tolerance that allows all citizens to worship in their own way without fear of persecution. Even if that means following no religion. 

So, as small-minded Pastor Nutjob in Florida advocates literally torching that principle - the Nazis burned books too, including the Bible - and further inflame, perhaps irreversibly, already-tenuous relations with the Muslim world, let us revisit the wisdom of my personal prophet...


©2010 Steve Sagarra

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

President Obama’s Leadership Moment

On August 31, President Barack Obama addressed the nation concerning the drawdown plans of U.S. combat forces in Iraq. If history does not repeat, certainly it, as Mark Twain observed, does indeed rhyme. On several occasions in the history of the United States, a sitting president, as commander-in-chief, has had the dubious responsibility to conclude military operations initiated under their predecessor:  Harry Truman and the Second World War in 1945, following the death of Franklin Roosevelt; Dwight Eisenhower and the Korean War in 1953, having defeated Truman’s designate successor Adlai Stevenson; and Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War in 1973, after Lyndon Johnson’s deferment in seeking a second term. Now, President Obama faces the end of the campaign in Iraq, while remaining focused on the mission yet to be concluded there and in Afghanistan, begun under former President George W. Bush.

No consensus exists, and probably never will, concerning the Iraq War. On the right, it was a justified prerequisite to the overall goals of the global “War on Terror.” Perhaps ill-conceived, but essential nonetheless. On the left, it was needless, unwarranted and costly, particularly in the toll in human lives. Obama, sounding astutely presidential, acknowledged this divide that has existed throughout the country since 2003. Yet, with a clear admission acknowledging his predecessor’s intentions and the immediate outcome in spite of unforeseen challenges and setbacks, history is already turning in favor of former President Bush’s legacy over the Iraq War. Obama, much like Nixon in his “Vietnamization” speech at the height of that war’s divisiveness, outlined exactly what needed to be stated:  the United States, having fulfilled combat objectives that must now fall to the Iraqi people, will nonetheless continue an involved commitment to the long-term establishment of self-rule principles sowed by the Bush administration, and for which a new generation of brave men and women have made the ultimate sacrifice.

In South Korea, A Model For Iraq,” by Paul Wolfowitz

A Dicey Moment,” by Michael O’Hanlon

Obama Wrecked Iraq,” by John Bolton

Certainly, there are lessons for President Obama from past administrations that dealt with similar situations. Truman, as newly de facto leader of the free world, helped lay the groundwork in reconciliation toward former enemies Germany and Japan, establishing valuable ties in ensuing decades that still exist today. Eisenhower, despite criticizing the failures and quagmire that had become the Korean War, maintained allegiance to and support for South Korea in its struggle against the North, which continues to this day. On the other hand, Nixon, while adhering to campaign promises to end the Vietnam conflict, abandoned South Vietnam without the same commitment, and North Vietnam quickly overran the South only two years later. All one has to do is substitute North Korea and North Vietnam with Iran – no doubt itching to overrun Iraq, and the Middle East in general, if the U.S. commitment falters in the region.
          
©2010 Steve Sagarra

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Oxymoron: Government & Fiscal Responsibility

Is there such a thing as fiscal responsibility in Washington? Mort Zuckerman's analysis pretty much outlines that failure, with the Obama Administration egregiously maintaining the legacy. I've said it before, and I'll say it again - people in government do not care and are not looking out for the people who send them there. Plain and simple.


 ©2010 Steve Sagarra

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Ground Zero Mosque: Shameful or Essential?

On August 3, 2010, New York City's Landmarks Preservation Commission cleared the way for the construction of Cordoba House, or the “Ground Zero Mosque,” two blocks from the former World Trade Center site. The question being asked of the decision is whether it is inappropriate, and egregiously disrespectful, to construct a symbol of the very Islamist terrorists who attacked the United States on September 11 in such proximity to that hallowed ground? Or whether, in remembrance to those who died in the attacks, it can serve as a symbol of reconciliation and healing toward religious tolerance by such proximity to further and improve relations between the U.S. and the Muslim world?

Strangely, I am conflicted on the matter, maintaining that the many cannot, and should not, be held accountable for the actions of the few or the one. As farmers are apt to say, you don't punish your pig because it saw the fox enter the hen house. Yet, building a mosque so near the WTC site would be similar to constructing a Japanese temple near the U.S.S. Arizona memorial – commemorating those who perished in the Pearl Harbor attacks on December 7, 1941 – not long after the close of World War Two. Since 1945, Japan has become a valuable ally in all manner of speaking, particularly as a trade partner. Yet, except in the land of “what if,” no Japanese cultural center resides at or even near the Pearl Harbor memorial.


Throughout history, many symbols have been assailed and prohibited for their representative negative connotation:  the swastika and anything identifiable with Nazism; the pentagram, or five-pointed star, for its prevalence in the occult; and the Confederate flag for its association to slavery. A mosque, an unmistakable symbol of Islam, at Ground Zero is no different from any of these. Nevertheless, where do we, as Americans, draw the line between intolerance of an entire population and the upholding of republican ideals based on political and religious tolerance? Would the allowance of a mosque at Ground Zero differentiate the American spirit from the rest of the world, a negative symbol-turned-positive that speaks to our resolve and unity to adhere to these principles while still maintaining our perseverance and fortitude against those enemies who seek to destroy them?

As many intellects and observers have stated, remembrance of the past is vital to learning the lessons of history, the downside being that continual vigilance of the past is counter conducive to moving beyond it. Are we as a nation ready to move beyond September 11th, our nerves still raw almost a decade later? Are we benevolent enough to embrace a faith that harbors those who still desire to destroy us, and whom we still engage in combat?

Two differing opinions on the subject:


"Liberal Piety and the Memory of 9/11," by Dorothy Rabinowitz

"Broadway and the Mosque," by Thomas Friedman

©2010 Steve Sagarra

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Citibank et al: Bankers To The "Axis of Evil"?

We know now that "neutral" Swiss banks were complicit in dealings with Nazi Germany. This is a fact of the historical record. Certainly, it was not the first time in history for such unscrupulous activities, and surely it will not be the last. There should be little surprise then that today's banking institutions "unknowingly" funneled and managed the finances of our current enemies. Nonetheless, we should be diligent in making sure that it will not and cannot continue to occur at present. Especially those institutions, like Citi, who received an outlandish federal bailout from American taxpayers due to egregious activities and practices.


©2010 Steve Sagarra

Thursday, July 15, 2010

BP Oil Spill: Is It The End of Days?

"Sol vingt de Taurus si fort terre trembler, 
Le grand theatre remply ruinera,
L'air, ciel & terre obscurcir & troubler,
Lors l'infidele Dieu & saincts voguera."
-Complete Prophecies of Nostradamus, Century IX, 83 

Translation:

"The sun being in the 20th of Taurus, the earth shall so quake,
That it shall fill and ruin the great theatre,
The air, the heaven and the earth shall be so obscured and troubled,
That unbelievers shall call upon God, and his saints."

To be honest, I feel prophecy and biblical signs is a crap shoot - it all depends on perspective and interpretation. However, this one, from the master prognosticator Nostradamus himself, is at the very least too compelling not to contemplate. Of course, like a lot of his prophecies, the "20th of Taurus" could have two interpretations:  either April 20th, which is the start of the Tauruan month, or May 10th, which is the 20th day of the Tauruan month. For the record though, the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion which caused the BP oil spill occurred on...drum roll...April 20th. But look at it this way...if this all comes to fruition, we won't have to wait until December 21, 2012. After all, why procrastinate the apocalypse when it can be done wholesale now?

Just sayin'...and thanks for all the fishes!
There's also this nice nugget of doom from two years ago - As if Things Weren't Bad Enough, Russian Professor Predicts End of U.S.. With the economic collapse, racial hate mongering and general bitter divisiveness that has emerged in the past few years - certainly, the "hope & change" envisioned, and no doubt applauded, by some Americans - it seems almost beyond just a prediction.

See ya in another life, brotha!



©2010 Steve Sagarra

Monday, July 12, 2010

For Kiel Opera House, Redevelopment Saga (Hopefully) Over

There was always the belief that the Kiel Opera House would be reborn; it was just a matter of when. As these headlines indicate, that day has apparently dawned for St. Louisans who held to the conviction for revitalization of the historic downtown venue.



Kiel Opera House Gets New Name (STL Business Journal)

Website:  Peabody Opera House

[If interested in a history of the redevelopment nightmare since its closure, see my essay, "Personal Politics:  Revitalization of the Kiel Opera House".]

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

LOST Explained In Long Form

I was asked by a friend for a literary explanation, and I obliged. (And just for the record, I only did this as a writing exercise to see if I could actually summarize the main plot of "Lost." I am not obsessed...okay, maybe just a little.) Okay, here goes my best...

On the way to Los Angeles from Sydney, plane crashes on a mysterious island in 2004. Crash victims ("Losties") explore the mysteries as their back stories are told through flashbacks, eventually running afoul of two groups vying for control/protection of the island. Losties divide into two groups:  one, led by John Locke, stays on the island and the other, led by Jack Shephard, gets rescued. "Rescued Losties," 3 years later, realize they made a mistake (Jack yells, "we have to go back Kate!") and try to get back to the island, while "Left Behind Losties" meanwhile travel through time on the island caused by the island's mysterious energy. A group of Rescued Losties then make it back to the island and meet back up with Left Behind Losties - in 1977 - while the other half of Rescued Losties hook up with members of one of the groups vying for control of the island - in 2007. Detonating a hydrogen bomb in 1977, all Losties are reunited - in 2007 (Juliet simply says, "it worked," then dies). Losties do not crash on the island, instead landing at their original destination of Los Angeles and are no longer Losties...only problem being that the original Losties are still seen on the island as if nothing had changed. Losties, namely Jack, decide to embrace their fate to act as protector of the island, accomplishing that mission with a handful of Losties again leaving the island. In the final act, Losties are rewarded for their sacrifice in the protection of the island.

The End

Think this is a better, more visual recap though... 


©2010 Steve Sagarra

Monday, May 24, 2010

LOST Series Finale

Ever since the first previews and trailers for LOST in 2004, I was instantly hooked. The entire premise intrigued me, and for most of its six seasons it never disappointed. I became a "Lostie" (Evangeline Lilly and Maggie Grace being on the show may have helped a bit), and even helped recruit "Others." Now it's over. I was uncertain whether the series finale would be satisfactorily pleasing or bitterly disappointing. Would questions truly be answered, or answers left unquestionably vague? And would I be able to appreciate it no matter the outcome? So with those things in mind, this is my take on the finale...

It's basically the ending to Titanic, with the sideways timeline actually a self-created purgatory - and not some alternative what-if timeline - where their souls had to reconnect with each other and remember their lives together because of their special bond ("live together, die alone"). Everything that happened on the island was in fact reality, with the Ajira 6 (Kate, Claire, Sawyer, Miles, Lapidus and Richard) getting off the island and presumably living their lives until dying years later. Jack died on the island after doing what he had to do, and presumably Hurley and Ben then protected the island until presumably passing it on to someone else. Everyone else either died/lived during the course of the show as we saw (Shannon, Juliet, Sun & Jin, etc.), and their souls were there waiting for the souls of Jack and the Ajira 6 to join them so that they could all move on together. 

Truly, as Desmond often said, "see ya in another life, brotha."

So...a bitterly pleasant ending.
In a word, LOST was always about living - living with and for each other, living with our guilt and sacrifices. And living before the end comes, whether in an instant or years thereafter, by making the connections that matter the most. After thinking about it and reading the posts of others who have come to similar conclusions, I'm fine with that ending because of the journey that it told.

 

(But, in my opinion, they did borrow from James Cameron....)

©2010 Steve Sagarra

Friday, May 21, 2010

Un-American Americans?

As Ms. Malkin and Mr. Powers point out, it would appear ever more the case. Perhaps if President Calderon made Mexico a country where his own citizens would want to stay and the United States federal government enforced our laws against illegal immigrants, then states like Arizona would not have to pass laws to counter the problem. A foreign leader, whose country is the primary facilitator of illegals to this country, publicly condemning the actions of a sovereign state from within the very house of the American people? What gall.

Addressing the issue, two excellent columns for those tired of the America bashing...

"The U.S. Department of Blame America First," by Michelle Malkin

"Dems Stand and Cheer as Calderon Bashes Arizona Law," by Doug Powers



 

©2010 Steve Sagarra

Monday, May 17, 2010

Thwarting the Sheriffs of Wall Street

Did you really think I was done with this issue? Citibank and its associated Wall Street cohorts have been bad and need to be spanked like any spoiled child caught with their hand in the proverbial cookie jar. Having consulted with a genial attorney sympathetic to the cause, it nonetheless seems a snowball has a better shot in hell than a lawsuit – class action or otherwise – against the infernal region's spawn. Not for any lack of initiative or the odds of success, mind you; rather, the benefit versus the cost of pursuing such on an individual basis. By no means does that mean the fight is over.

If you happen to be in dire straits and at wits ends with a financial institution – say one that has bilked taxpayers and card members alike – file a complaint, as I did, with your state's Attorney General. Then, at least, there is the chance that the gauntlet will be taken up by someone with the authority, resources and legal backing to pursue the crooks. As a taxpayer, you pay for that sort of consumer protection. And even if it ends up going nowhere, there's at least the sense of self-satisfaction in the attempt to fight these modern-day robber barons and the economic servitude they represent.

After all, is this not why we keep fresh the idea in re-tellings and re-examinations of the tales of Robin Hood and his Merry Men? That people feeling pinched eventually will push back against those doing the pinching? Or is that just an untenable, too-idealistic fable passed through the centuries without any true merit?  

Missouri - Consumer Complaints

Nationwide - National Association of Attorneys General

©2010 Steve Sagarra

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Self-fulfilled Apocalypse?

Sorry, I already saw this movie. It didn't end well...for humans anyway. Scientists colliding energy particles that could generate black holes, the creation of Earth-born stars that could be unstable and nanobots that can work without human input??? These are only a few samples of what science is attempting, and only the tip of the iceberg. Am I rightfully paranoid of life imitating art, or should I just accept the advance of technology for the supposed betterment of humanity??? I've always considered myself a man of science, but I don't know...is it the end of the world as we know it, for good or ill? And should we be just fine with that?


©2010 Steve Sagarra

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Slow-Roasting the American Flag

This is still the United States, correct? On May 5 ("Cinco de Mayo"), five students at a California high school were compelled to either remove/turnout their t-shirts depicting the American flag or be sent home, due to an alleged disrespect toward "a Mexican Day and we were supposed to honor them." This is a clear violation of the students' freedom of speech, but since when have school officials ever cared about student rights? Even more, Cinco de Mayo is not even a national holiday in Mexico, being celebrated mainly in Puebla where the celebratory battle occurred, and has only gained commercialized popularity in the US thanks largely to the multicultural sensitivity movement. Frankly, the American flag supersedes all others, especially when displayed on the home front. As for the bigger picture, anyone who is an American patriot should be disturbed and reviled by this story.

California Students Sent Home For Wearing U.S. Flags On Cinco De Mayo (Fox News)


©2010 Steve Sagarra

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Arbitration Clause In Credit Card Agreements Illegal

A recent judgment in a class action lawsuit deems that major credit card companies - including the loathsome Citibank, who has refused the settlement in the belief they did nothing wrong (yeah, right) - "violated federal law by conspiring, with each other and certain non-defendants, to require that their cardholders (a) take all legal disputes to arbitration rather than court and (b) give up any right to participate in class actions against these credit card companies." You would think with the number of lawsuits filed just in the past few years, these institutions would learn that cardholders are fed up with their unscrupulous tactics. Then again, they obviously just don't care about their cardholders or the law.


©2010 Steve Sagarra

Monday, May 3, 2010

We The (Legal American) People...

There exists the American mythos that the United States is a nation of immigrants, openly welcoming “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.” Half of that idea is true – we are a nation of immigrants, at least as far as the non-indigenous are concerned. Openly welcoming new ones though? Hardly the case, if history is any blueprint. Over the past two centuries, all kinds of laws, regulations, restrictions and quotas have been utilized to limit the downtrodden, and even the privileged, immigrant to our shores – and these measures were geared toward those legally entering the country and seeking citizenship. As with any course of action, the effectiveness, not to mention the ethics, of these efforts brought both positive and negative results. [For more on this, read Roger Daniels’ fantastic history, Guarding the Golden Door:  American Immigration Policy and Immigrants Since 1882.]

As for illegal immigration, the issue has been a major one for over a century. Multitudes of lawmakers, lobbyists and citizens groups have campaigned for stricter enforcement, ever since the passage of the Page Act in 1875. Why, then, the shock and outrage regarding Arizona’s newly adopted legislation, “Safe Neighborhoods, Immigration, Law Enforcement”? After all, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (U.S. Code, Title 8) requires “every alien, eighteen years of age and over, shall at all times carry with him and have in his personal possession any certificate of alien registration or alien registration receipt card issued to him.” Thus, the law simply reiterates and enforces what federal law should already be doing, and what proponents of immigration reform have been advocating for years. According to the Department of Homeland Security report on illegal immigrants, Mexicans represented 62% of the unauthorized population in 2009. Further, the Mexican-born illegal population increased 42% over the last decade, followed  by Honduras and Guatemala. Is that profiling, or enforcement of the law?

Consequentially, a national issue has been forced upon local and state officials to act due to the inaction of the federal government to enforce the law. Clearly, the States are sending a message to Washington that it is beyond time to address the issue, rather than yet again turning a blind eye and letting it fester until too late. As usual though, the messenger is killed for delivering the message. Of course, Arizona is not alone, or even the first, to enact state-level immigration reform, nor undoubtedly will it be the last:

Number Of State-Level Immigration Laws Is Growing

Arizona’s Immigration Law Spurs Copycat Legislation

Founding Father Ben Franklin said, “there is no kind of dishonesty into which otherwise good people more easily and frequently fall than that of defrauding the government.” Being in this country illegally, no matter your character, is exactly that – a fraud that not only undermines the security of the nation, but also disregards the principles and rule of law to which every native and naturalized citizen pledges and is unconditionally guaranteed. While Franklin also maintained that, “those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety,” the safeguarding of liberty is primary to the continuation of the American people and its founding principles. Securing our borders against illegal immigrants, even if requiring a degree of infringement upon liberties, is not discarding our principles; rather, it is the preservation of those principles, by making certain of adherence to them. The real issue is finding a solution that protects the citizens of this country without allowing the exploitation of our generosity by non-citizens in extending these principles.

©2010 Steve Sagarra

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Roundup: Recent Financial Headlines

My only comment - former Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin, a major player in the 2008 financial collapse, has been affiliated with both Goldman Sachs and Citigroup in his private sector work. Unlike Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and Washington Mutual - all of whom suffered heavily thanks largely to economic policies of Rubin set during his tenure in the Clinton Administration, particularly the repeal of portions of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999 - the two financial giants survived the crisis. As of 2008, he received $50 million in compensation/stock options from Citi, who were receiving a $45 billion bailout from American taxpayers at the time. Interesting.

GMAC To Tap Citibank, Goldman Sachs For Advice On TARP Repayment

U.S. Take If It Sells Its Citi Stake To Settle Cost Of Bailout:  $8 billion

Citi 'Negative' On Subprime Mortgages As Early As 2006, Yet Firm Continued To Pump Out Subprime Mortgage Products

Goldman Sachs E-mails Show Bank Sought To Profit From Housing Downturn

Citi Distances Itself From Goldman’s Troubles
 

©2010 Steve Sagarra

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Bear and Grinning It

South Park Creators Warned Over Muhammad Depiction

Not an incitement to violence??? Then I must have misinterpreted the Theo Van Gogh reference. And is Muhammad a bear? Because I see a bear, which can only be a blasphemous representation if Muhammad were a bear. This is partly the reason I'm agnostic - organized religions fighting over nonsense that means nothing in the grand scheme of things. Would Muhammad really care? Would Jesus, or even the Buddha? There's been plenty of controversy over the portrayal of other religious figures on the show, particularly Jesus, but freedom of speech is freedom of speech. No one has the right - Constitutional or otherwise - to infringe upon another's right of expression, even if you disagree with what is said. That's part of our individuality, and every individual has their rights.

Again, though, I just see a bear...

©2010 Steve Sagarra

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Citibank Top Ten List

Ten reasons why, in my highly biased opinion, Citibank sucks. I am sure there are many more, and you probably have your own favorites as well.

#10 Too busy assessing late fees and increasing interest rates without warrant, Citi never sleeps.

#9 Bank of America already holds the title for "blows."

#8 Easy way to “earn” taxpayer money - but for $45 billion, they'd better do more than just “sloppy yawns.”

#7 No reasoning with customer service, which has only one reason:  frontline idiocy

#6 Loyalty means nothing, especially to long-standing account holders.

#5 The U.S. government owns 36%.

#4 Foreign investment firms, mainly based in the Middle East, own 26%.

#3 Even Ticketmaster makes fun of them for their unscrupulous tactics.  

#2 With their name on the Mets' stadium, suckage is practically a guarantee.

#1 After suffering through several historic crises, they’re used to being on their knees.

©2010 Steve Sagarra

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Citibank: Making Gordon Gekko Proud

If you read this blog regularly, you know that I have been in a dispute with Citibank for the past few months. As an olive branch to them, reluctantly gracious in refunding a few hundred dollars of unwarranted interest as a result of an equally unwarranted APR increase, I was going to make a payment that would bring my account up-to-date. However, their continual attempts to contact me by telephone concerning my now past due account after I informed them in several letters - including a "cease & desist" - that I would not pay due to their violations of the Card Member Agreement, which I have previously expounded upon, and would retain legal counsel over the matter, they also now have violated my consumer rights as governed by the Fair Debt Collection Protections Act. As such, I filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission due to their failure to heed the “cease & desist,” and may seek legal action concerning the violation separate from any class action lawsuit pursued in relation to the aforementioned ones.

What is not surprising throughout this ordeal is the attitude of Citibank, oblivious and unmoved by their actions concerning this matter. Why should they care about the problems of the indebted American people, when they had far worse problems requiring $45 billion in taxpayer money to alleviate them? After all, this is the same Citibank that moved operations to South Dakota in 1981 solely to take advantage of that state's maximum interest rate on loans - which, at the time, was the highest in the country. All in order to circumvent usury laws that made consumer lending an unprofitable business. As well, Citibank has been, and still are today, accused of improper assessment of late fees, settling a $45 million lawsuit over the practice in July 2000; part of the settlement included a proviso that Citibank would not assess late fees as long as payments were made by midnight on the due date. Just two years ago, the company settled a $14 million lawsuit covering 53,000 customers whose accounts were cleared of over-payments and double payments in an "account sweeping program" between 1992-2003. Like the bailout money, they obviously misleadingly believed the money belonged to them and not the people. Little wonder that Portfolio ranked Vikram Pandit, who received a total of $10.8 million in salary and stock compensation in 2008 as his company sank and sought federal bailout funds, the 20th worst CEO in America.

     

If you are feeling squeezed by a similarly unscrupulous creditor, here are some information/resources for fighting back against the greed and corruption that is Wall Street:

Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (HTML

©2010 Steve Sagarra

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Citigroup: Self-Absorbed Apologists

Citigroup Executives Apologize For Not Averting Market Crisis

Citigroup Executives Admit Regret But No Blame For Role In Financial Crisis

Too little, too late. Apology not accepted. You didn't get your bonus, Mr. Rubin? Boo hoo. The people who lost their livelihoods and their retirement from your admitted failures do not care. Taxpayers who had no say but all the stake in the $45 billion federal bailout do not care. And account holders who have had their good credit affected by unwarranted increases to APRs and unscrupulous strong-arm tactics that have effectively closed their accounts because of those actions do not care. Further demonstrating that Wall Street doesn't care. Not about Main Street. Only about Easy Street.


©2010 Steve Sagarra

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Citibank’s New Motto: Citi Never Takes Blame

In a previous post, I shared a letter sent to Citibank over an unwarranted increase to my annual percentage rate on my credit card. This is a growing occurrence for card members in recent months, even after legislation aimed at curbing the nefarious practices of financial institutions. In brief, I had opted out of any changes in terms to the card member agreement that would have astronomically increased my APRs in November 2009. This effectively closed my account. Then I opened my February statement, which reflected an increased APR at the default rate of 29.99%. Protesting the absurd, and unwarranted, increase, I refused to make a payment for the apparent violation of the card agreement on the part of Citibank. That pretty much catches you up on the story thus far.

After several recent inquiries, I finally received a reason for the increase. In one letter dated March 26, 2010, “S. Larson” (who seems a fictitious persona) states, “the increase was due to your default under the Card Agreement.” According to a supervisor I spoke with on April 3, the alleged occurrence for this default was the October 2009 billing cycle. My November statement does reflect that payment did not post until the day after the due date; nevertheless, when the payment post is not the problem of card members, especially when proper payment arrangements are made by the due date. In fact, in my case, two more payments were made on my part within two weeks of each other following the one in question.

However, a second letter, also dated March 26, 2010, and again signed by the peculiarly epitomized “S. Larson,” states the increase was due to my default for not making payment for the February 2010 billing cycle. This is true, as earlier stated, as I refused to make a payment due to the already increased APR. Nevertheless, as that billing cycle already reflected the increase, this would be impossible as the initial reason for it – which tells me Citibank is trying to cover for their failure to adhere to the card agreement. As such, I maintain, like many other card members also confronted with increased APRs, there was absolutely no justification for the increase, as I have never defaulted nor been late with a payment up to and including all billing cycles in question before it occurred.

A Rhode Island lawyer filed a lawsuit in November 2009 on behalf of a card member who faced the same problem with Citibank. According to the latest, he is trying to make it a class action lawsuit.

Lawsuit Filed Against Citibank For Raising Interest Rates

Citibank Raised Credit Card Rates Without Cause, Suit Says

No matter the case, all card members affected by the unscrupulous practices of credit card companies like Citibank should take up this gauntlet. The United States is known as a land of law; time for Main Street and the American people to take back this country by use of the law against Wall Street and their bailed-out, taxpayer-funded enterprises.

©2010 Steve Sagarra

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Health Insurance: Do It or Die?

Call me anti-authoritarian if you want, but I have never liked being told what to do or what I can and cannot do. Frankly, it bothers me when individuals – and especially groups of them on either end of the spectrum – try to do exactly that. Yes, I have my opinions and ideas on how I want to live, and how society could as a whole; however, that does not give me the right to demand that all have and adhere to the same. That is the compromise between majority rule and individual liberty – live and let live, even if you disagree with how each person does it. Defending to the fullest the right to do it.

Perhaps I have read too much Twain, Cooper or Alger, holding on to the archaic, frontier mythos that individuals, given the proper avenue, can lift themselves up by their own bootstraps. Individuals creating their own destiny, rather than having it decided for them. When society restricts those circumstances, to the supposed betterment of the collective, individual liberty is no longer. Government, especially one of a republican nature, does not exist to dictate our lives, but rather to ensure that we can live our lives. Live our lives as we, the people, see fit. Not vice versa.

With the push for universal health care, the government wants to ensure that we can live those lives. After all, a healthy citizenry means a healthy society. The latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.) show that there are just over 2.43 million annual deaths in the United States; heart disease and cancer, the two leading causes of death, account for half of these. Moreover, according to MSM reportage, 45,000 annual deaths are due to the lack of health insurance – touted as a leading reason behind the need for universal health care. But what about the 2.4 million who apparently, by mere deduction, had health insurance yet still ended up dying? How is forcing thousands of uninsured individuals to get health insurance stopping the death of millions?

It isn’t, plain and simple. All it does is allow the government to strip away another layer of our individual liberty in deciding our own fate, while not addressing the genuine cause for those deaths. Instead of billions of dollars spent on overhauling health care, why not fund research to find real cures to ailments like heart disease and cancer? One reason:  cures, as opposed to regular treatment and preventive management, are a detriment to the multi-billion dollar industries that treat, not cure, diseases. Can you imagine what would happen if a cure for cancer was discovered? For starters, a lot of medical specialists and vendors would be out of business – half a million people still alive being the only annual side effect.

Fact Check:  45,000 Die Because They Lack Insurance? Not So Much

No, the lack of health insurance is not what kills people. The thinking goes against the Hippocratic Oath that binds medical professionals to attend to the afflicted unconditionally. On the other hand, a federal mandate that forces Americans to have health insurance is yet another fatal blow to individual liberty, and a stepping-stone to the eventual death of the Constitution. But maybe I just do not like being told what to do, or how to go about living my life.

Copyright © 2010 Steve Sagarra

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Checks & Balances

With clear-cut committee provisioning still to hammer out, Congress’ passage of “Obamacare” nonetheless initiates sweeping changes to, and the nationalization of, health care in the United States. Nevertheless, in spite of President Obama’s signature signing the health care reform bill into law, it is not the law of the land just yet. For starters, a majority of the measures do not take effect until 2014. Before that fateful date, there are still avenues available to counteract its institution:  the initiative process, which is highly unlikely given the historical improbability of success; Congress itself reversing and repealing the law, which can only happen with sweeping changes to that bodies majority makeup in the November elections; and the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the law, which is the most likely if that body so chooses. Currently, the Supreme Court theoretically holds a 5-4 conservative majority, and it is inconceivable that Antonin Scalia, a strict interpreter of the Constitution, is not chomping at the bit for such a showdown of fundamentals.

14 States Sue To Block Health Care Law

14 State Attorneys General File Suit Against Health Care Reform Law

There is precedent. As President Franklin Roosevelt attempted to guide the country out of The Great Depression, the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional six of the eight statutes of the "New Deal" passed by Congress. Just two months ago, decades-old campaign finance laws were overruled, dismantling the McCain-Feingold Act enacted by Congress in 2002. In all, the Court has found just over 150 acts of Congress unconstitutional since 1789.

Though the government will commence immediate collection of taxes as outlined in the new law, four years is a long time for the enactment of intended changes. By then, it is conceivable that those opposed to the reforms will have overturned them. At least, conservative America – and the small businesses that will bear the harshest burden – can hope. Just don’t expect any previously collected taxes to be returned. Undoubtedly, those will have been spent already on bonuses for Wall Street executives, or at least for the government commissars overseeing them.

©2010 Steve Sagarra

Thursday, March 18, 2010

How Bills Used To Become Law

Like many kids growing up in the 1970s, I learned early about how laws are made in the United States from watching Saturday morning cartoons. Specifically, School House Rock's "How A Bill Becomes A Law." That is why like a lot of Americans, I am confused by the "reconciliation process" that could possibly allow the healthcare reform bill to be passed without going through proper channels or garnering the necessary votes for passage. Instead, Congress would "deem" the bill to have passed, and thus undermine the Constitution and everything for which it stands. I know Democrats like to tout that these (self-mandated) reforms are "for the people," but does this sound like government "of the people, by the people"? It certainly doesn't to me.

Yes, "deem and pass" has been used in the past to push through legislation, and so I agree with the cries of hypocrisy over the current furor. The real problem, for me and for many, stems from its use at all in any issue. Frankly, I don't see how it can even be considered Constitutional, with its circumvention of the legislative process and representative government; perhaps it needs to be judicially challenged. (Supreme Court? Hello?) With something as important as health care, the issue should not be forced by such a process but resolved through a vote of the entire Congress.

As a Wall Street Journal editorial points out, "Article 1, Section 7 of the Constitution says that in order for a 'Bill' to 'become a Law,' it 'shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate.' This is why the House and Senate typically have a conference committee to work out differences in what each body passes...If Congress can now decide that the House can vote for one bill and the Senate can vote for another, and the final result can be some arbitrary hybrid, then we have abandoned one of [James] Madison's core checks and balances."

Perhaps today's politicians need to re-watch some old-time Saturday morning programming.


©2010 Steve Sagarra

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Census Cometh (In Case You Haven’t Heard)

Exactly how much taxpayer money has been spent on getting the word out about the census? Super Bowl ads (knowing the NFL, I doubt they were free), radio spots and letters letting us know the census will be arriving soon. Taxpayer money...wasted again. At the very least, the money could have been spent on job creation - the buzz term of the Obama Administration, mind you - in hiring census workers to do promotional work. I highly doubt Ed Begley, Jr., is hurting for money. That is my criticism:  the spending of money on PROMOTING the census. This is not about doing the census, as mandated in the Constitution, because yes, as many point out, you do have to spend money to make money. This is the true point of the census. Nevertheless, $340 million simply to promote something we all know is coming? So many other things that could have gone toward.

The 2010 Census And Its $340 Million Campaign

©2010 Steve Sagarra

The Following History Has Been Modified To Fit This Curriculum

This is the reason I stopped pursuing a high school teaching degree in history. Though I lean toward the conservative viewpoint of the importance in teaching about those important figures and events that shaped our history, I also agree with the counterargument of teaching an all-encompassing history that does not gloss over key but neglected aspects. While in education school, one professor told me, knowing I had an interest in World War Two, that I might encounter a school district where I would not be allowed to teach about the Holocaust. I was flabbergasted by the revelation, unable to believe that such a key component to the subject could be left out of the curriculum. Yet, I eventually came to understand:  when the teaching, and subsequent re-writing, of history becomes arbitrary – chosen by "experts" with only certain, sanitized points taught – it is nothing more than an agenda. Plain and simple. It happened before in the fight over social studies curriculum, it is happening now and it will happen again. 



©2010 Steve Sagarra

Sunday, March 7, 2010

An Open Letter To Citibank

Citibank
Box 6000
The Lakes, NV  89163-6000

RE:  Violation of Account Terms

To Whom It May Concern:

As written in a letter dated November 12, 2009, to me concerning changes in terms, of which I have enclosed a copy for your edification, I phoned not once but TWICE in November 2009 to opt out of the changes and have my account closed under the current terms. Those terms were for an annual percentage rate in effect since December 3, 2008 up until the billing cycle ending January 22, 2010.

Nonetheless, my latest billing cycle ending February 19, 2010, reflects the increased percentage rate – at the default rate, no less – as if I were to opt in for the change. Again, I opted out of the change in terms, because quite frankly the increased annual percentage rate is absurdly ridiculous. Further, there is absolutely no justification for the increase in percentage rate, as I have never defaulted nor been late with a payment. You expected me as a cardholder to adhere to these terms, and yet you failed to do it yourself. As far as I am concerned, as is my lawyer, you have violated not only federal legislation aimed at reigning in such devious practices – not least of which is the failure to notify me of the increase in a reasonable timeframe, as mandated by legislation – but also the terms of the account agreement, and have therefore made it null and void.

As a journalist, I have covered many atrocious news items, but never have I been a personal witness to a thing as your practices that are nothing short of modern-day indentured servitude. You take taxpayer money to bail your asses out of financial troubles that were yours alone, and then expect the very same card member taxpayers to continue funding your enterprise through absurd means as astronomical percentage rates. Your company and everything associated with it makes me sick.

A cardholder since 1999, I am appalled at the treatment I have received over these past ten years. As such, you can go to hell before you get another dime from me, and I vehemently refuse to pay any further on this or any future balance due to your violations of the card member agreement. Be advised that my lawyer is currently drawing up papers to put forth a class action suit due to these violations.

Sincerely,



Citibank Sticks It To Customers - And Congress

©2010 Steve Sagarra

Friday, February 12, 2010

Defining Idealogy

Whenever socio-economic policies are proposed, certain expressions are tossed around to illustrate the implication of such measures on society. Reflecting on this situation, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to generate a basic meaning for each of the major political ideologies.

So, here goes:

      Communism:  You own nothing, and everything belongs to the State.

      Socialism:  You own what is granted, and everything given for the State.

      Capitalism:  You own what can be achieved, and everything ensured by the State.


Perhaps simplistic, but perhaps that is what is needed in times of socio-economic uncertainty. After all, if one fails to understand the terminology, how is one to understand the affect?

©2010 Steve Sagarra

Friday, January 29, 2010

Responsibly Righteous

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair maintains the stance that, as Edmund Burke stated, "all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." Too many times throughout history has such occurred. Thankfully there are, and were, those willing to stand up and do something, rather than questioning the doing of something.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hypocritical Blame Game

At the one-year mark, President Barack Obama is set to deliver his first State of the Union address. Over that time, Democrats have been apt to use the mantra - aimed squarely at the Bush Administration - that one cannot expect to fix in one year what took eight years to create. A position Obama is sure to utilize in his speech, while maintaining his hope for change rhetoric. Yet, Democrats cried foul on Republicans for the exact same stance at the one-year mark of the Bush presidency, which placed a majority of blame on the policies of the previous Clinton Administration for the state of the economy to the fight against world-wide terrorism. Though just a sampling, the routine laxity to address Iraq’s continual violation of U.N. sanctions, pushing legislation creating the housing bubble that led to the eventual market collapse and the failure to eliminate the threat of Osama bin Laden on multiple occasions when the opportunity existed - all labeled the fault of George W. Bush, not Bill Clinton, after one year in office, despite the facts to the contrary.

Now, with the tables turned, the Bush Administration still gets the blame after a year out of office. How can one administration be blamed for its predecessor AND its successor? To listen to Democrats over the past decade, Clinton and Obama have been the saviors of the United States. If that is not political hypocrisy, then nothing will ever come close again. Under such logic, Democrats want to take all the responsibility of success, and none of the blame of failure.

The thing is, each administration shares an amount of blame. Policies in each have caused problems in the attempt to address issues, and come down to the simple matter of taking responsibility for their failure – something Democrats are hard-pressed to accept. It is much easier to play the blame game than take responsibility for actions (or inactions). It will be interesting to hear what road – either the low or high – Obama takes in summarizing his first year in office, and the course to be taken thereafter. Because in the end, he will only have himself to blame.

©2010 Steve Sagarra