| Sat Dec. 13, 2008 9:33 PM EST

SWOOPO....Via Megan McArdle, this has to be seen to be believed. has been around since 2005, it's almost literally a scheme for throwing money into other people's bank accounts for no special reason, and apparently it's still going strong. Details here.

At least Bernard Madoff's customers had the excuse that they didn't know what he was doing, but Swoopo appears to be pretty upfront about the whole thing. There's no excuse for not realizing what's going on except rank idiocy.

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Heroic Corruption

| Sat Dec. 13, 2008 3:06 PM EST

HEROIC CORRUPTION....One of the things that's made the Rod Blagojevich scandal so amusing is that Blagojevich wasn't just corrupt, he was comically, heroically, epically corrupt. It was the kind of over-the-top corruption you don't really expect to see outside an episode of The Sopranos or a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta.

But you know who else is like that? The credit card industry:

The Federal Reserve on Thursday will vote on sweeping reform of the credit card industry that would ban practices such as retroactively increasing interest rates at will and charging late fees when consumers are not given a reasonable amount of time to make payments.

....Among the many provisions is a ban on raising interest rates on existing balances unless the customer was 30 days or more late in paying the minimum....Banks would also not be able to treat a payment as late if the customer had not been given a fair amount of time to make that payment.

The proposal would also dictate how credit card companies should apply customers' payments that exceed the minimum required each month. When different annual percentage rates apply to different balances on the same card, banks would be prohibited from applying the entire amount to the balance with the lowest rate. Many card issuers do that so that debts with the highest interest rates linger the longest, thereby costing the consumer more.

Credit card issuers, of course, are swearing on their mothers' graves that these changes will doom the entire industry. They have to have the ability to retroactively change your interest rate just because they feel like it. They have to have the ability to treat payments as late even if customers haven't been given a fair amount of time to make the payment. They have to have the ability to apply payments to whichever balance is worst for the consumer and best for them.

Of course they do! Never mind the fact that these rules are so comically, so heroically, so Simon Legree-ishly unfair that most people think you're making things up when you tell them that not only are they legal, they're standard practice. And despite the protestations of doom, it's worth noting just how mild these proposed changes are. Card issuers can still retroactively change your interest rate merely for being late on a single payment, after all, which for some people amounts to a late fee of several thousand dollars. Ka-ching!

And while we're at it, note also that all the wailing and moaning over these new rules comes despite the fact that card issuers succeeded a few years ago in rewriting the bankruptcy laws to give them almost total protection from having to practice actual risk management. They prefer the version where they can give credit to anyone, raise rates whenever they want, and never lose a dime because even if you declare bankruptcy you still have to pay them off.

Universal default should be flatly banned. The 2005 bankruptcy law should be repealed. Credit card fees and interest rates should be brutally capped. Here's a decent start. Put that in your populist pipe and smoke it.


| Sat Dec. 13, 2008 1:00 PM EST

TRANSITION....According to the New York Times, the Obamas were hoping to move temporarily into Blair House before the inauguration, but it wasn't available:

The Obamas were told that they could move into Blair House on Jan. 15, but no earlier, because it is booked, an Obama transition official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "We explored the idea so that the girls could start school on schedule," the official said. "But there were previously scheduled events and guests that couldn't be displaced."

....White House officials said the protocol was that Blair House is available to presidents-elect starting Jan. 15, five days before the inauguration.

I'd never thought about this before, but this is sort of odd, isn't it? Wouldn't it make sense for the government to provide quarters for the president-elect starting right after the election? It doesn't have to be Blair House, though apparently it's pretty convenient since it's already inside the Secret Service's security cordon, but surely it makes sense to provide something. Maybe somebody ought to give some thought to changing this protocol in the future.

Post-Mortem Plastic Surgery? Yech.

| Fri Dec. 12, 2008 7:48 PM EST

According to Essence, we narcissists are now paying morticians to do plastic surgery on our corpses.

How, I wonder? Are folks leaving aside money with an attorney directing him to have our boobs lifted while we're on the slab? I can't imagine my loved ones caring enough to spend their own cash on my huge pores and even huger butt. I've often wondered about my own death, but never, until now that is, how'd I'd look when dead. Thanks Essence.

Good thing I'm going for cremation, because my kids would probably have me 'Petie-eyed' for my funeral.

Some Writerly Advice

| Fri Dec. 12, 2008 7:37 PM EST

First I saw this silly article about women foregoing bikini waxes.

Then I read a WSJ article on laid-off execs growing beards.

Pubic hair. Beards.

I never wrote one word about the biggest story of my early journalism years: Monica Lewinsky. The controversy itself was so unworthy and the topic so beyond covered, I decided I'd hold off until and unless I had something worth saying about that topic. I never did, so I let that big story go without my 'expertise'. So here's my advice to writers trying to get in on Obama's win and the economy's losses: If you don't have something worthwhile to say, it's ok to say nothing. Really. A decent idea, or a story more in your line, will come along.

I will give the hair stories this though: Both the men and the women in these pieces feel like "real" men and women letting their hair go natural. What's up with that?

Financial Illiteracy, Still Keeping Americans Poor

| Fri Dec. 12, 2008 7:19 PM EST

Given our economy, I'm with those who believe we owe our kids a thorough grounding in economics, both in elementary and high school. My kids, K and 2nd grade, make deposits in a local savings account every Wednesday, along with most other kids at the school. As I scramble around for money to tuck into their deposit envelopes Tuesday nights at midnight, I always think: Ok, this is a start. By fifth grade, maybe they'll be on to derivatives and exactly why they can never, ever trust the government with their money. As they age (our school is new and so far just K-2), we PTA Nazis plan to involve them in our fundraising activities, making budgets, figuring out profit margins, working the cash register, making change, deciding how to spend funds, etc.

Recently, an economist attempted much the same thing; he spent time teaching financial literacy to young mothers in homeless shelters, bless his heart. He learned many discomforting things (See his diary here) but I'm with him that one thing in particular is troubling. From the Economist:

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Torture Playlist: Trent Reznor Responds

| Fri Dec. 12, 2008 4:04 PM EST

mojo-photo-reznor2.jpgBack in February, we posted a "Torture Playlist" featuring songs that the American military had used to, um, "enhance" interrogations, including tracks by Eminem, Drowning Pool, Metallica, and Rage Against the Machine. As Jesse Finfrock covered here on Wednesday, musicians have joined forces with a human rights organization to put a stop to the use of music as torture. Now, Stereogum points out that another artist has joined the voices of protest: Trent Reznor, whose music as Nine Inch Nails was used to torture Chicago military contractor Donald Vance. Yesterday, Reznor posted an outraged message at his official website entitled "Regarding NIN music used at Guantanamo Bay for torture":

Tim McGraw Considering Run for Tennessee Governor?

| Fri Dec. 12, 2008 3:35 PM EST

mojo-photo-governormcgraw.jpgFrom The New Republic (via Vulture) comes this news that could restore the faith of Democrats appalled by the antics of a certain Illinois governor: Tim McGraw to the rescue!

Word in Nashville has it that Tim McGraw is seriously considering a run at the governor's mansion in 2010. He's been floating the idea for a few years now, but with the recent thrashing of lawyer Bob Tuke by Lamar Alexander in last month's senate race, Tennessee Dems have been casting about desperately for a high-profile Democrat not named Harold Ford to take on Bill Frist, who is almost certainly going to run.

While Vulture hopes that his run is "more successful than his attempt at 'funny SNL host,'" I'd say he just has to avoid, say, cussing out Toby Keith on a tapped line for not playing ball on his Country Music Awards pay-for-play scheme, and he'll be fine. The New Republic also reminds us that Governor McGraw means First Lady Faith Hill! Hey, how funny would it be to post one of their videos after the jump?

Friday Cat Blogging - 12 December 2008

| Fri Dec. 12, 2008 3:05 PM EST

FRIDAY CATBLOGGING....Like Rod Blagojevich until Patrick Fitzgerald got his mitts into him, Domino sees nothing but sunshine hanging over her. I'm pretty sure Fitz doesn't have her phones tapped — and in any case we all know that cats have interdimensional ways of communicating anyway — so I imagine her life will remain sunny and indictment free. Inkblot, on the other hand, apparently thinks someone is trying to watch us from behind our bathroom mirror, so maybe there's more going on here than I think.

Q&A: Mercury Rev

| Fri Dec. 12, 2008 2:15 PM EST

mojo-photo-mercuryrev.jpgWhat do you do if you're making experimental films in Buffalo and you need a cool soundtrack? Well, you grab some friends and start making music, and eventually you become Mercury Rev, a band whose combination of psychedelic experimentation and melodic purity have made them longtime critical favorites. While the combo has had a famously rotating lineup, the current core group of singer Jonathan Donahue, guitarist Sean "Grasshopper" Mackowiak and drummer/keyboardist Jeff Mercel has been intact since 1998's Deserter's Songs. The band released two albums in September: Snowflake Midnight and a free-to-download bonus album of instrumentals called Strange Attractor. They're currently in the midst of a US tour, and I managed to catch Mercel on the phone before a sound check in Chicago.