Monday, April 26, 2010

Week of 04/26/2010

Selective Reality
– by David Matthews 2

Imagine telling your friend that the Earth is flat, that the Moon is made of green cheese, and that you can run across a deep chasm if you just run really, really fast and don’t EVER look down!

Your friend would probably think you were full of it. Maybe a little tipsy. Or maybe just being silly, right?

How about if you started sending that friend some email messages supposedly “proving” that the Earth is flat, and we were never really on the Moon because it IS made of green cheese, and, oh yeah, that bit about running across a chasm was supposedly proven, but that YouTube pulled the footage. And no matter how many times your friend tells you that you’re full of it, you keep on sending them the “proof”.

That must be a really good friend for that person to put up with that from you on a continual basis, especially if he or she doesn’t believe a single bit of what you’re shoveling.

But what if other people believe the same thing you’re sending your friend? What if there is a whole network of people who will swear that the Earth is really flat, that the Moon is a giant cheese-ball, and that running really fast over a cliff without looking down will defy the laws of gravity? You send them that stuff and they’ll probably be sending back replies like “O-M-G! I knew it all this time!” and then forward it on to their friends.

And yet… does that make ANY of it true?

Let’s suppose half the world’s population believes these things to be true… does that mean that NASA is one big scam agency working in cahoots with the mapmakers? Does it mean that people could instantly defy gravity just by not looking down?

Probably not.

So why do we continue to behave as though anything could be possible simply through larger and larger numbers?

Somewhere out in cyberspace is an email message being sent over and over and over again to friends, family members, coworkers, and social associates. This message claims to have the “smoking gun” that Barack Obama was NOT born in the United States and therefore CANNOT be President.

Unfortunately this “smoking gun” is riddled with so many inaccuracies that it cannot be taken seriously. Plus, when you examine the source of the so-called “smoking gun” you learn that it was nothing more than an April Fool’s Day joke from 2009. Even the website itself proudly says “Really Now, We Do Not Exist”.

And yet it doesn’t matter… because that same email will be spread over and over and over again to like-minded people who will believe without any additional proof put before them that it is real, and that the Office of the President of the United States is being occupied by someone who is ineligible to be in that position in the first place.

Even worse, it is merely one of several messages spread using manipulated images and wild rumors spreading the same message. And no matter how many times it is debunked and refuted and proven to be false, these messages will continue to be spread around and accepted as gospel.


Because it is convenient for certain people to believe it to be true.

Let’s get brutally honest here… some people in this country CANNOT get it into their heads that Barack Obama, a Democrat of mixed-race, actually WON the 2008 Presidential Election and is now President of the United States. They REFUSE to admit that he even could be a contender for the office, much less win it. But they cannot out-and-out SAY that because it looks bad for themselves. So rather than admit to it, they have to latch onto ANYTHING that could possibly negate the election.

They NEED to believe that Barack Obama somehow is not the legitimate leader of the United States because then they don’t have to worry about disrespecting the office that they would otherwise worship. They can bad-mouth the man without worrying about bad-mouthing the office or the government, because, in their minds, he doesn’t belong there anyway.

And so when someone comes up with the suggestion that Barack Obama wasn’t really born in this country, and offers ANY kind of evidence - even if that evidence is fake - they will immediately accept it as truth without any hesitation. They won’t fact-check it. They won’t look it up to see if it is true. They won’t do these things because it just happens to fit into their biases. They will, instead, straighten up, smile, and as they forward that message on to everyone they know, they will tell themselves that their biases have just been vindicated.

Mind you this is not just limited to Barack Obama. Democrats were saying something similar with George W. Bush in the last election. They couldn’t get it out of their minds that their champion, Al Gore, LOST the election in 2000 through the fiasco in Florida. And so they would be favorable to anything that could suggest ballot tampering, anything to suggest vote manipulation, anything to suggest that the results of the election were rigged in favor of the GOP.

And it’s not just involving politics. We do the same thing with religion, with our favorite sports team, with our friends, and certainly with family. We filter reality through our biases, refusing to accept anything that could detract from our affection of something, and all the while eager to accept even the mere rumor of impropriety of those things we object to.

But when it comes to President Obama, the level of manipulation that is being employed to validate that bias against him is borderline obsessive. Unlike the Democrats with George W. Bush, the opponents of Barack Obama seem to have no stopping point, no depth that is too low for them to sink to.

And while the obvious solution would be to simply make Barack Obama’s Hawaiian complete birth certificate publicly available, this commentator suspects that even THAT would not quell the rumors and electronic forgeries. Once made public, the doubters and deniers would simply claim that it was a forgery, otherwise it would have been made available years ago. That would again open the door for them to unleash yet another barrage of false and carefully doctored documents spread electronically through those already prejudiced to accept them as truths.

That makes someone like myself wonder… how far WILL this go? And at what level will the manipulation and lies sink to before the reach the level of the absurd, where they become the equivalent to the cartoon-like thinking that you can defy gravity by simply running very fast and not looking down?

We may choose to decide which parts of reality we wish to accept, but that doesn’t mean that we are not still bound by the parts that we refuse to accept. If you run off a cliff, then you are going to fall, no matter how fast you run, or whether or not you look down. You can get a hundred billion people to believe that our moon is made of cheese and that our world is flat, but that doesn’t mean that either of them really are such. Likewise, no matter how many people question the legitimacy of the person who is currently the President of the United States, that doesn’t avoid the fact that what they are engaging in is willful disrespect of the office and of the system of governing itself.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Week of 04/19/2010

Washington: Stop Stringing Us Along!
– by David Matthews 2

There is nothing more infuriating than a relationship that is based on some distorted concept of “kindness”.

Take, for instance, a relationship between a socially-awkward lonely guy and a beautiful woman. For the lonely guy, this is the relationship that he’s always dreamed of. But for her it is a relationship of convenience… and only at HER convenience. There may be something at first. She may initially find his attention endearing. She may like the fact that he is fawning over her, curious about every aspect of her life, concerned about her well-being, and eager to be there for her to help solve every problem and support her in her times of need.

But she doesn’t love him. In fact in most instances she is just biding her time until someone more attractive comes along. Someone she truly desires. Someone that is all that she ever wants. And the lonely guy will never BE that person, and she knows it. So she’ll string him along, playing up to his need to be appreciated, his need to be loved, tossing out the occasional hug or kiss, holding his hand like a high school romance, but never really giving him what he truly wants or needs. She will never give him her heart, even though she has already taken his.

Even worse is when she DOES find that certain someone she really wants, but she still doesn’t want to let go of the fawning lonely guy. Maybe he’s giving her money, helping her pay the bills, giving her gifts, and she certainly doesn’t want those to end. She loves the attention he gives her… and all she has to do is keep him thinking that the feelings are mutual… even if they clearly aren’t.

That, I feel, is the kind of relationship America has with our current White House leadership, especially when it comes to the economic well-being of those who need help the most.

This past week, President Barack Obama signed into law yet ANOTHER jobs bill. This would be the fourth or fifth or sixth… I’ve lost track… since he took office in January of 2009. They all sound the same… extending unemployment benefits “X” number of days, offering help to those who truly need it, encouraging businesses to hire more people. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Except they all have a short-term expiration date to them. It’s always a month, or two months. And then they have to do the whole thing all over again.

There are just two MAJOR problems with this.

First, every economic advisor says that America is dealing with a LONG-TERM unemployment problem. What part of “LONG-TERM” does an otherwise intelligent person like President Obama NOT understand? Short-term fixes WILL NOT be enough!

Secondly, and most devastatingly, is that every time the expiration date runs near, Congress is always adjourning without passing the needed extensions. The career obstructionists known as the GOP are woefully guilty of maliciously carrying out a scorched earth policy to let each and EVERY extension expire, putting MILLIONS of Americans who truly need that assistance in jeopardy until Congress reconvenes.

It is easy at this point to just pin the blame on the scorched-earth vandals. The GOP helped to CREATE the mess that America finds itself in, and they are guilty of doing everything in their power to ensure that the misery continues no matter the cost. To call them “obstructionists” is being too kind. Their actions are borderline nihilism.

But in truth the blame falls rightly on President Obama and the Democrat-run Congress. They KNOW the GOP are intentionally sabotaging the economy. They KNOW that the GOP will let every extension to help out Americans expire. They KNOW that the GOP’s actions will cause misery and anger. And yet they continue to play this game over and over and over again. They continue to string Americans along, offering momentary assistance, and then watching as the GOP lets that assistance expire before offering yet another “lifeline”.

The first time around could be considered a misunderstanding.

The second time around could be considered accidental.

The third time around is incompetence.

The fourth time is nothing sort of malicious.

Let’s get brutally honest here… President Obama and the Democrat-run Congress need to STOP stringing Americans along concerning the problems of this nation!

The problems with unemployment are NOT short-term, and it high time that the President Obama and House Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Reid RECOGNIZE that and actually come up with LONG-TERM solutions to deal with this LONG-TERM problem!

This idea that additional unemployment assistance should be provided on a month-to-month basis is nothing short of an INSULT to the very voting public that put these people in power in the first place!

You tell me, Washington elites: how is it that tax BREAKS can have a TEN-YEAR life expectancy to them… that even the most repressive laws on the land can have FIVE YEARS before they get renewed…but unemployment assistance for a LONG-TERM unemployment problem can only get two months at best?

Even if the Democrats try to excuse this gross legislative incompetence as being some sort of political tactic it only serves to undermine their own integrity and credibility. Once it has been established that the GOP are evil to the core and hate Americans, it is the responsibility of the Democrats in Congress to do everything they can to MINIMIZE that threat, not to ENCOURAGE even more of it.

Senate Majority Leader Reid needs to actually DO HIS JOB for once and make it his mission in life to ensure that those extensions be passed BEFORE members of the Senate adjourn. No more procedural holds. No more lone-vote obstructionism. He needs to start talking about providing extensions for YEARS, not weeks or even months, but YEARS. If the problem will take YEARS to fix, then he needs to make sure that every bill to extend benefits lasts that long. Anything less than that is GROSS INCOMPETENCE and he needs to join the ranks of the unemployed if that doesn’t factor into his veal-fed brain.

Likewise, as the symbolic leader of the Democrats, President Obama needs to get into his thick skull that this kind of ongoing ineptitude does far more damage to the American people than anything that the GOP has come up with so far. He needs to bring his party’s powerbrokers in line and recognize that this is not a game and that they are dealing with MILLIONS of American families, not to mention registered voters, that will be keeping this in mind come election time. If they have nothing but time on their hands come Election Day, they will vote accordingly, and that does NOT bode well for the Democrats.

America deserves far better than what it is getting right now from the career politicians. It has lost far too much already, and unfortunately it stands to lose far more as long as the career politicians in Washington continue to play this endless game of unrequited affections.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Week of 04/12/2010

The Sheep-Herder
– by David Matthews 2

This is a story about lost sheep.

Now let’s get brutally honest here… this is really about people, not sheep, but in way too many situations we allow ourselves to be treated AS sheep, so the best way to get this message across is to use that which we sometimes behave as.

Well, that and it’s easier to use the sheep analogy than to talk about lemmings… because it’s easier to see ourselves as sheep rather than as lemmings.

But back to the story…

Once upon a time there was a place called the Republic Sheepranch, and they prided themselves in having the biggest and the best flock of sheep in the whole world! They took great pride in showing off their finest sheep, and in showing off the best byproducts of that flock. Their wool sweaters and jackets couldn’t be beat, and of course their lamb chops were the pride of the nation! Famous chefs would swear by the meat that came from the Republic Sheepranch. And of course the ranch owners took great pains to make sure that their flock were the best. No defects. No black sheep whatsoever! Only the best can be seen in their pens.

Unfortunately the ranch fell into a state of disrepair. Years of arrogance and confidence got the better of them. They stopped caring about the sheep and instead rested on their laurels of past achievements. The sheep were being abandoned, abused, malnourished, and once every Saturday night after some hard drinking some of the ranch hands would take some of the sheep and… well, it’s “don’t ask, don’t tell”.

So one day after years upon years of abuse and maltreatment, the sheep had enough. They decided to flee to greener pastures. They knew those pastures were out there. They just had to get past the grazing fence.

Fortunately for the sheep, the ranch hands really didn’t care too much about the fence, and as luck would have it, the back end of the fence was so badly deteriorated that it just took one nudge to topple it over. And with that nudge, the sheep were free!

The ranch hands, of course, were too apathetic to even realize that most of the flock had fled when the time came to bring them back into the pens. It was only when it was time to start sheering that the help discovered that the sheep were free and running loose.

Meanwhile the sheep were enjoying their newfound independence. They were bleating loudly and proudly about how they were free and they weren’t going to take any more abuse ever again!

But some of them wondered what to do next. Sure they all wanted to go find greener pastures, but then what?

“Who cares?” bleated the rest of the sheep. “We’re free! That’s what matters! We’re never going back there ever again! No way, no how! We’ll kick anyone who tries to corral us again! We’ll head-butt and gnaw on them and make them bleed if they ever try to pen us down.”

Every so often some wandering shepherd from another ranch would see the renegade flock, but the sheep made it quite clear that they weren’t going to go back to another pen ever again! They would charge at anyone who tried to approach them and then laugh at their victory.

Back at the Republic Sheepranch, the owners were upset at the ranch hands for their incompetence. They didn’t mind the abuse or the maltreatment or even that little drunken Saturday night “don’t ask, don’t tell” time, but the one thing that they couldn’t tolerate was letting the sheep escape.

One ranch hand suggested that they all go out and bring the sheep back, but the owners knew that it wouldn’t work. The sheep had tasted freedom and they weren’t going to go back without a fight. But the owners knew precisely who to call to resolve this quickly.

Meanwhile, the liberated sheep were feeling a little lost and aimless. They enjoyed some of the benefits of the wild grass outside of the ranch, but they really hadn’t found those promised “greener pastures” that they firmly believed would be there.

But then one of the sheep bleated that he knew where there was such a place. He was there. He knew where to find it.

He was somewhat large for a sheep, and somewhat thick and ugly too… and the other sheep really had their doubts that he knew where this promised place was. But the longer they stayed out in the wilderness, running from the dogs and the people trying to corral them again, and the more and more meager their grass became, the better the story sounded to the flock.

Finally out of sheer desperation, the flock turned to their oversized brethren and said “Let’s go! Show us this pasture before the dogs and the humans catch us.”

And so the large sheep led the flock up the stream and over the hills and through the briar patches that nicked their coats.

“Come on, come on!” bleated the large sheep to the flock. “It’s just over the bend.”

Some of the sheep began to get suspicious. “This looks familiar,” one of them bleated.

“It only appears that way,” bleated the large sheep in reply. “Come on! We have to hurry before nightfall, or else the dogs will find us!”

As the sun began to descend, the flock ran as fast as their little sheep legs could carry them. The larger sheep pushed them further and further into the woods.

“Come on! Come on! We’re almost there! Don’t stop now! We’re so close!”

Finally a hill could be seen through two large bushes.

“We’re there!” cried out the large sheep. “It’s just over the hill! Hurry! Hurry! Get on through! I’ll make sure the rest catch up!”

The sheep began to bleat with joy as they raced past the bushes and over the hill into the clearing beyond. This was it, they believed. This was their promised land! This was their endless fields of green grass and clean spring water and no drunken humans to abuse them. No more talk about mutton soup or lambskin coats or sweaters.

But then the sheep cleared the hill and they stopped in shock and horror at what lay ahead of them.

They were back at the Republic Sheepranch!

They had been led around to a side of the ranch they hadn’t been to in years, tracked around land that seemed familiar to them because they had originally seen it from the OTHER side of the range.

The flock tried to reverse themselves and head back out, but the other sheep were still stampeding in. It was only after the bulk of the flock had made it through the gap that the large sheep that had led them back made it through.

There was a vengeful look on the face of the flock. They had trusted the large sheep with their newfound freedom and he betrayed them.

But that shock turned to horror as the large sheep stood up on his hind legs and said in a very human voice “NOW!”

And with that, two ranch hands came out from the shrubs and closed the gap with all-new fence.

The “sheep” that they believed would lead them to the promised pasture was in fact a human that was especially skilled at appealing to the sheep and in convincing them to do whatever needed to be done. In fact he was so good at his job that some people thought he was half-sheep himself.

The ranch hands weeded out the most aggressive of sheep from the flock, the ones that they knew could lead such an escape. The rest of the flock didn’t know what would happen to those sheep, although they did hear about a new recipe for mutton stew. Besides, they were too busy facing the sheering razors as their coats were trimmed down almost to the skin to get out the briars..

Time would pass, and the whole matter with the “sheep-herder” would soon be forgotten. Any talk of escape would be nothing more than an idle fantasy for these sheep. After all, why would they want to leave? Sure the sheering razors were rough, but life outside with the briars and the dogs was even worse. Here they had grass and water and security, and every so often they would have to endure some abuse… and some of that “don’t ask, don’t tell” time. A small price to pay, they rationalized, for the “privilege” of being there.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Week of 04/05/2010

End The Financial Lottery Game
– by David Matthews 2

There’s an old joke about the farmer who supposedly gets a message from God to sell his farm and all his belongings and fly on out to Las Vegas. God then tells the farmer to go to a specific casino, to a specific roulette table, and to bet everything he has on a specific square. He does everything as requested, except the ball lands on a completely different slot. He loses everything, and at that point God only says “NUTS!”

Well, imagine doing that every day on the assurance that you COULDN’T lose. And then you take the money and you roll it back into another wager that you believe you COULDN’T lose.

Sounds like a really sweet deal, huh? It’s a real money-maker of a program. Provided, of course, you didn’t lose.

Welcome to Wall Street’s most infamous scheme: the credit default swap.

Here’s how it works: a credit default swap is basically an assurance. You can apply it to anything that you want. For instance, you can put $50,000 on the belief that the sun will rise tomorrow morning and guaranteed by the next morning you’ll get that money back with interest.

But that example is just too simple. It’s extremely unlikely that the Earth will suddenly stop spinning, or that the sun would disappear. How about adding some real RISK to the equation? How about… putting some money up on the promise that your neighbor will keep paying his mortgage payments on time? Or how about a whole neighborhood?

Sounds like a sure bet, right? Everyone in the neighborhood making their mortgage payments on time, no delays, no foreclosures...

Yeah, if it was before 2007, it would be a sure bet. Operative word being “BET”.

Because that’s all that a credit default swap really is, folks. It is a WAGER. It is a GAMBLING BET! And it usually is a wager on something that is considered a sure bet. In this case, it is the WAGER that a segment of the populace will be able to keep up with their mortgage payments.

And that wouldn’t be too bad except that people then MARKETED these wagers on Wall Street! Investment firms used this as part of their portfolios. Retirement accounts counted on these wagers to pay out.

And it all relied on people being able to keep paying their mortgages.

But what if the bottom falls out from under that idea? What if people suddenly found themselves overwhelmed by the tricks and “Gotcha gimmicks” of some of these mortgages? What if people lost their jobs? What if they couldn’t afford to keep up with the payments? What if there were… foreclosures? Like… the kind of record foreclosures that began in 2007 and continued on through to 2008?

Then the people holding those credit default swaps would have to pay up. If they had the money to, that is. If they didn’t make the mistake of the farmer in betting everything they had.

And they did. And they went begging to Washington for a bailout.

And we gave it to them. Hundreds of billions of dollars in money that we really don’t have went to Wall Street bailouts over the so-called “toxic assets” in October of 2008.

In other words, we covered their losses.

Oh, we gave such “noble” reasons behind it. We said that we NEEDED to do this or else the whole financial world - the backbone of this nation - would have collapsed. That was also the justification for the URGENCY of this measure. It not only NEEDED to be done, but it NEEDED to be done immediately.

So we did it. Once again we rushed head-first into the fearmongering rhetoric that defined the eight-year imperial reign of George W. Bush and pledged hundreds of billions of dollars that we did not have into covering those bets for Wall Street.

WELL... actually there was talk about BUYING those toxic assets outright, but once we bought into the fearmongering rhetoric and committed ourselves to the bailout plan, Wall Street’s best friends in the White House changed their minds and just covered the bets.

Now you would think that Wall Street would learn their lesson… right? You would think that after being burned as badly as they did that they would take this bailout as a wake-up call and change their ways and find other ways to make their money, especially since the threat of even more foreclosures is still present.

Maybe they WOULD have learned that… if we didn’t bail them out.

But because we did bail them out, they didn’t learn their lesson. The toxic assets are still in play. Banks and Wall Street are still playing their legalized gambling games.

And now, after pulling off the big healthcare reform coup, the Obama Administration and the Democrats in Congress are looking at reforming the financial world. And unfortunately they’re making the same mistakes as not only their predecessors, but also the same mistakes of their previous pet project.

The 2008 Bailout created a watchdog group that was all “watch” and absolutely no “dog”. Banks took the money, used it however they felt they needed, and then continued to play the same games as before to pay off the money so they wouldn’t have to go through any “gotcha” conditions afterwards. The financial death spiral continued unabated.

So how does any of that change with Barack Obama in the Oval Office? It really doesn’t.

First of all, this whole reform package has to go through the same people in Congress that handled the 2008 bailout and the follow-up bailout in 2009. You know; the ones that created the useless watchdog group with no power or authority. Despite their tough-talk and their empty promises to “hold Wall Street accountable”, these guys have a history of bending over backwards for the Wall Street lobbyists more times than a room full of Romanian gymnasts trying out for the Olympics.

Remember the last time they wanted to help out the “little people” with the banks? Credit card reform that really wasn’t too much of a reform, but it gave the banks the perfect excuse to further screw over their customer base.

This commentator has little hope that the proposed Consumer Protection Agency could help the great unwashed from what’s been going on in the financial world, especially given the abysmal history of such empty promises.

Remember Sarbanes-Oxley? Even though the Security and Exchange Commission was given unprecedented power to seize a failing business and exile the inept executives from ever holding an executive position ever again, they have NEVER USED IT! AIG, Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley, Countrywide, any number of major bank failures could have been given that kind of “death penalty” approach under already-existing laws. So why weren’t they? They had the power to step in and stop these failures. Why didn’t they?

And what about some of the most egregious abuses? What about the credit default swaps? What about the Wall Street Lottery?

Well, as this commentator understands it (and it could still be subject to change), Washington plans on leaving the lottery in place. “Too big to fail” is still the operative motto in Wall Street, on K Street, and up and down Pennsylvania Avenue.

Let’s get brutally honest here… we don’t DESERVE better from Congress… we NEED them to DO better! The Wall Street lottery needs to end, or at least be tapered. If they continually expect the taxpayers to come running to their rescue with money that we do not have, then that help cannot be in a vacuum! There MUST be consequences!

The Great Depression that scarred the world in the 1930’s was created partially because of war debts but also because the institutions that were in place to supposedly prevent such a financial meltdown FAILED to do their jobs. Wall Street ran rampant, financial abuses were encouraged and rewarded, and then everyone acted surprised when the bill came due in October of 1929.

So why we are surprised that history is REPEATING itself over and over again? Clearly the people who PROMISE to prevent it are FAILING to do that, and as long as they are allowed to remain in positions of power and authority and in continual DENIAL of that reality, they will CONTINUE to drive not just the United States, but also the rest of the world, in to an endless spiral of misery and destitution.

Much like the farmer at the beginning of the article, the joke’s really on us… because the people whispering in our ears to sell our belongings and bet them all on a roulette spin are certainly not God, and this is one kind of wager that we certainly should NOT be covering.