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Archive for April, 2010

hitting the fanI don’t think there was any doubt going in that it was going to be a grilling session during Tuesday’s Senate Hearings on the alleged fraud perpetrated by Goldman Sachs, but could it have gone any worse for them than getting confronted right out of the gate by an internal email describing one of the products they were peddling as “one sh*tty deal?”  Yes, it actually went there, and that tasty morsel became the de facto description of Wall Street’s dealings that would be repeated with vigor all day long.  Too bad it will live on mostly as the bleep heard ’round Wall Street, but you know it must’ve felt kind of good for some of these Senators to finally get a chance to call a duck a duck, without having to toe the politically correct line, instead toeing the “your words, not mine” line.
Sen. Claire McCaskill got in on the fun too, she conjured up bookies and enforcers in a fashion that would have made Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci proud, almost putting a forearm to their collective throat wanting to know about the “VIG” aka the “Juice.”  The casino and betting analogies would also haunt the rest of the day, much to the chagrin of Daniel Sparks, a Goldman Sachs Mortgages Department Head from ’06 to ’08.  He tried to get out of that scrum repeatedly, but finally succumbed in the end, under protest of course.
So what did we really learn?  We learned that there are ways to talk for hours and say very little of consequence.  We learned that Sen. Levin succinctly summed up the day when he said, “You’ve not answered the question as best you can, so let’s move on.”
But a few nuggets did of course shine through.  We learned that the words blame and fault were on the never-ever-accept list handed out by their defense attorneys.  We learned that a bonus structure that rewards people extravagantly when they do a poor job is not considered unethical in the world of Wall Street.  We learned that “Market Makers” can burn the candle from both ends and have no moral problem with leaving everyone else holding the middle when the flames meet – if they can get away with it. We learned that the art of moving and transforming money itself is our biggest American business, while making actual products and realizing revolutionary innovations are quickly becoming a smaller and smaller piece of the American pie. We learned that going forward, Computer Forensics in Manhattan may be a very good business to be involved in, judging by the chaos and accountability all of those “discovered” emails brought to light.  We learned that Wall Street definitely needs a new sheriff in town because they are only wrong if they get caught, and we learned that we better get over this self-defeating political showmanship going on in Congress right now and get some new rules of the road in place for the new sheriff to enforce…NOW!
Daniel Sparks did cough up one hard truth though when he was backed into a corner to offer his thoughts about what went so terribly wrong and almost sent our nation and likely much of the world spiraling into a full fledged depression, after several attempts to not answer yet another direct question, he finally yielded “credit standards got too loose.”  That’s it in a nutshell folks, and the way out is going to be a lot more painful than any of us really want to accept.
We all know how disproportionately the monetary wealth in America is distributed, very few have most of it and the many are fighting over what’s left.  Unfortunately, what’s left is far too often not enough to go around and so, the credit beast was born.  This particular beast is insatiable and it is as sinister as anything a nation can ever face. It is when times are bleakest and at their worst that this beast is fed the most, growing larger and more uncontrollable, gaining in strength and ferocity with every scrap thrown its way. But, eventually, and by design, there will always come a point when the beast’s appetite is larger than the meal you are able to provide to placate it.  This reality applies to everyone, individuals, small businesses, large corporations and governments. And once a scent trail leads to you, this beast will always return, wrecking more and more of your life until it gets its meal, or your soul, in full.
Containing and controlling this beast and the inherent mind-set that provides its sustenance, more than any other aspect of our economy, is going to be the Herculean task that needs to be undertaken.  And yes, it will take some real modern-day heroes to lead the charge, armed with new, stricter regulations on the free-for-all Wall Street has become for starters.  It will take heroes leading by the example of deeds and actions, not empty posturing and talk.   Taking responsibility will have to start with the hero in our own mirror and wind all the way up the chain to all of our legislators and not stop until it reaches President Obama himself.
In my view, the vicious cycle the credit beast preys on must be finally addressed. Credit can be wrecked in a day and it can take years to repair, magnifying exponentially even the smallest infractions and turning them into the very impediments that keep people from being able to climb out of the hole on their own.  If you lose your job through no fault of your own, you normally start out by draining your own savings nest egg, but this time it wasn’t enough.  So you may turn to a credit card to bridge the troubled times, but if those troubled times go on longer than your credit could afford, say because of a global financial meltdown or an event like 9/11 that reaches far and wide, you miss a payment.  Now crazy fees start to pile up and  the minimum payments quickly get even more out of control, compounding the problem, and more payments become late or missed completely.  You’ve tried to find a smaller place to tighten your budget, but the renter asks for a credit report and your report now says you are a bad risk, so you have to cross another place off the list and continue getting swallowed by the mounting debt you simply can’t afford right now.  This whole time you are looking for a job, but your potential employers also ask for a credit report.  Well, guess what, you are too big of a risk to employ now.
Is it really any wonder so many people just finally give up and give in and end up relying on tax payer dollars to survive? If you’re treated like some kind of common criminal often enough, eventually you start to believe that of yourself and your pride and character have taken such a hit, with no path to redeem yourself visible to you, that you just don’t care any more.  But, let’s say you managed to get back on your feet through some kind of divine intervention and pay off your debt, does the social stigma and limitations  caused by bad credit vanish as fast as they appeared, not by a long-shot. So how about some kind of Wipe-the-Slate-Clean act that would allow for some type of fast-track path to credit redemption.  You want to invigorate the credit markets? You want to help whittle down unemployment? Give people a fair shake at getting back in the game, even if life has thrown things like unavoidable illness or joblessness their way. Give them a reason to hope, a reason to try, and a reason to wake up and take on life again with zeal and enthusiasm.  This is not meant for the people that live to game the system, but for the honest, decent, hard working folks that just got caught up in an unavoidable circumstance that could really use some kind of break to get on back on their feet and regain their shattered dignity.
But now that I’ve gone off on a personal tangent, let’s get back to the battle at hand.  Since a recent Wall Street journal poll showed almost two thirds of Americans unified in anger that Wall Street needs reform, and we couple that with the fact that we have a bill waiting to be debated in Congress that is 80% to 90% percent agreed upon by both parties, what in the world is the hold up? How can anyone dare to stall just having a real debate about Wall Street Reform in the light of day?  That is the only way we can all weigh in with our voices to our legislators if we think the solutions they come up with are off track. The beasts we are facing should have been confronted yesterday, but weren’t, so enough with blind political obstruction already, it’s time some real work finally gets done.  After all, isn’t that why we elected them?
Whether you personally like him or not, this much is fact, our democracy chose Barack Obama to lead our nation, and barring some unforeseen calamity, he will be in the driver’s seat until at least January 20th 2013. He sold his vision of the future America should strive for on the campaign trail for almost three years and a majority elected him into power to accomplish it.  But he can’t do it alone.
 If you think we can wait to address anything of real consequence until 2013, be it the monumental tasks of job creation, Wall Street Reform, Climate Change, Renewable Energy, or Immigration Reform, go back and hide under the rock you call home because you must be crazy or ignorant and you certainly aren’t going to be much help to anyone that thinks the future should be met with progress, not stagnation. Just please quit being an obstacle if you are not willing to be part of a solution and let the wheels of progress turn, hopefully with both parties giving it their all to seize the moment and make tomorrow better for everyone, even for those of you wracked by fear of the unknown that need to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
The truth is, the sh*tty deals will all hit the fan eventually, and we’ve seen some whoppers already. It’s time to decide if you want to be in front of it, or behind it, when the sh*t hits again. But, if we can all stand together and not bow to the petty personal things that divide us like race, gender and party affiliations, maybe we can finally put an end to the fan-fodder once and for all.
How good would a day like that feel?  As pleasing as a cool breeze delivered by a clean fan on a hot day.  Much better than the alternative, don’t you think?
scalesI’ve recently found myself having second thoughts about the Tea Party Movement. They are not the threat tof the Democratic Party like I first imagined, they are its savior.  Not only are they destined to fail by design, they are going to drag the GOP right into the black hole with them, until the GOP throws them under the bus that is.  But, if the tone-deaf strategy the Republicans have embraced going forward after getting shown the back of Obama’s hand on Health Care Reform is any indication, not only will they not see the bus coming, they won’t even know there was a bus until they read about it in their government-paid-for intensive care suite.
Now I must first admit, I hadn’t taken the time to look into the Official Site of the American Tea Party Movement  because the vile behavior I’ve seen on display at some of their rallies already made my mind up that I am not even remotely cut from the same cloth.  The fact that they tried, and are still trying, to adopt the wayward Sarah Palin as their matriarch was also a distress flare so bright that a welder’s mask should be required to look directly at it.  But, I finally succumbed to the same primal urges that somehow compel me to peek at the carnage of a car accident as I’m slowly being waved by.
When I arrived at the site, the first thing I noticed was post after post of user submitted content, with topics about things like Global Warming alarmists, Castro-Care, American ignorance, Satanic Obama defying God in Christian America and a slew of others topics that are just so bang-zoom-to-the-moon out there to me, I actually found myself feeling pity above all else. But maybe that was just the luck of the draw, maybe I happened to make my first visit when the lunatics were rioting for control of the asylum.  So I went straight to the horses mouth, the mission statement.
Clocking it at just over 500 riveting words, the breadth of this glorious proclamation intended to define a movement can be further condensed to these three phrases, Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government, and Free Markets. In the name of fairness, you can read the whole thing yourself here .  It should take you all of three minutes to peruse the whole thing.  Personally I was hoping for more from a movement that claims to find its roots in the mold of our founding fathers, because those guys could really lay on the eloquence whenever their pen hit parchment.
Here is the problem though.  Where do they stand collectively on the society-defining major issues? Will they paint over their Pro-Life posters when it’s time to discuss the death penalty?  Will they be able to put a straglehold on the White Supremacists and Anti-Semite groups  that are using their rallies as a recruitment smorgasbord when the time comes to air their views on immigration and civil liberties? Will they successfully toe the line between the “tyrants” of our freely elected democratic government and their contradictory position that it is not actually a government of the people, by the people and for the people?  Will they embrace the fringe of their movement that are forming militias and contemplating acts of domestic terrorism?
They don’t know, they don’t have an answer.  They don’t have a leader and therefore no singular place to direct these kinds of questions, no one voice we can be directed to that can stand up and say THIS is what we are all about on any given issue.  They are of course against such hideous and violent idealism when called to the mat, yet they are powerless to control its spread within even their own ranks without a hierarchy in place to condemn or support such actions.
At this moment in time they are an exercise in irony.  Their biggest mouth-pieces right now are the bottom dwellers that are the poster children of hypocrisy.  People like Mike Vanderboegh, the guy who started the window breaking business at Democrat offices in the aftermath of the Health Care Reform vote, a guy that is living on the very government entitlements that he was forced to “fall back” on after a congenital heart problem made it impossible for him to work, all the while sticking the concept itself with a pitchfork every chance he gets, a guy whose brother is a US Army Lieutenant Colonel that calls the US government the enemy!
And don’t even get me started on these fools painting Hitler moustaches on posters of President Obama and calling his an agenda of Nazism, standing and walking shoulder to shoulder with some of the same pathetic hate-peddlers that emblazon themselves with swastika tattoos from toes to forehead and consider Hitler’s birthday some kind of solemn holiday, talk about hypocrisy.  In a logical world, shouldn’t they instead be bowing before Obama if they idolize and bear the mark of the guy they are so desperately trying to make him out to be?   These are the nuts falling from the nut tree right now and the gathering nets are filling up fast, all the while suffocating any struggling saplings that may have had at least some kind of reasonable hope to grow into a stout, respected tree on the American political landscape.
The GOP knows it too, they see in vivid color the backlash winding up.  They are very worried about the Tea Party fracturing the purity of their far-right-from-center conservative base as they watch them lock horns with the same, albeit loosely defined at the moment, conservative idealism of the Tea Party Movement.  To even loosen that once immovable cornerstone of the Republican party would be a harbinger of disaster.  But, at the same time, they are attracted to the fiery activism of a somewhat-allied grassroots movement like a moth is to a flame.  They saw firsthand the awesome force of the grassroots movement Obama started during his historic election and he’s been kicking their collective backsides with it ever since, and they are now desperately seeking their own foil to his power.  In the back of their minds though, they keep seeing what happened to the curious moth, so they have mostly kept the Tea Party at arms distance as best as they could so far, but the day is quickly coming when they are going to have to finally squeeze, or get off the pot.
If the Tea Party movement doesn’t swallow its own tail and finish the meal itself before November arrives, the Republican party is going to have to swallow whatever portion is left, and that will spell heart burn and upset stomach.  It will also cause those moderate and independent voters of a more delicate palate to be forced to find sustenance elsewhere. After all, it wasn’t spicy or novelty foods that made McDonalds number one in the world, it was the food that goes down easy, standard menu items that a great majority can bring themselves to swallow.  Our democracy bends to the same rule.
When Sean Hannity calls those at a Tea Party rally “a bunch of Tim McVeigh wannabes,” and they CHEER?!!?, most of the center lane starts reaching for the left blinker, the images of dead and anguished Americans doesn’t sit very well with true patriots and they don’t want anything to do with it, no matter how much they may have embraced some of the Tea Party’s basic principles and idealism concerning what the role of government should be in our lives.
Sarah Palin, and the Tea Party’s infatuation with her, is another wild card that I don’t think bodes well for the GOP.  If there is one thing time has testified to when it comes to Sarah Palin, she loves to follow the spotlight around and the almighty dollar has no truer servant.  When the flame of fame starts to dim, and by extension the money quits rolling in, she will more than likely reach for the kerosene bottle to get things going again, Palin-style.
I think that time will come when she inevitably finds it aligns with her best hopes for staying nationally relevant to finally step up and wholly take the reins of the Tea Party, and she will be taking a good portion of that conflicted conservative Republican base right along with her.  If they make her an actual candidate next year to run for the presidency on a third-party ticket, I assure you the scales of Demos vs the GOP stand no chance of tipping in the GOP’s favor. Even though the plurality of Americans from both parties think Captain Crunch is more than on par with Sarah Palin when it comes to taking the wheel of our nation to navigate the swirling, reef-laden waters of Washington, she will still tug at the heartstrings of the Tea Party faithful and siphon votes from the GOP.
So, to tie everything together, if the Tea Party can keep themselves relevant, and that will require naming some kind of leader eventually, the GOP is going to lose a good chunk of their most stalwart conservative supporters, and that’s bad news in political contests that are often won and lost by a razor’s edge.
If, on the other hand, the Tea Party consumes itself, most of the now vocal and FOX recognized “Tim McVeigh wannabes” are going to be forced to pick sides, and they are going to naturally gravitate to the same place they have always been, locked and loaded for the GOP, which means no net gain at all.  They will simply have managed to take the long scenic route, paying high tolls for using the road in the process, only to end this journey at the same starting line they have always just walked up to for free in the past.
But, do you think the worst and loudest elements of the Tea Party are going to ever magically close their mouths now that they’ve tasted the national spotlight of recognition? I don’t think so. And this will end up costing the GOP, in a guilt by association scenario,  the centrists needed to win big elections, a crucial group that they’ve had moderate-to-good success wooing in the past.
So what do you think?  Is the Tea Party movement really a threat to President Obama and the Democratic Party? To borrow a line from the queen bee Sarah Palin herself, I’m now thinking, “Hell No!” But it is one heck of a torpedo aimed at the USS Republican and it looks like sink or swim time is quickly approaching.  If they choose to swim, it is going to have to come in the form of participating in actual governing for progress instead of blind, status-quo obstructionism, it will be the only way they can hope to stay afloat, and that in itself would be good news for all of us looking to move forever forward.
I never thought I’d say it, especially without wincing, but here goes … “Gooo Tea Party!”