Monday, July 26, 2010

Week of 07/26/2010

Support Your Local (Consumer) Sheriff
– by David Matthews 2

In the movie “Boiler Room”, a young college dropout is introduced to a pump-and-dump trading company, and one of the key questions asked was “Is this legal?” He is then directed to a guy sitting in a closed-off room with a window and is told that the man is the watchdog for the Securities and Exchange Commission, there to make sure that everything is legitimate. The so-called “watchdog” is bored out of his skull.

That is apparently how the business world likes their “watchdogs”; all “watch” and absolutely no “dog”. Just sit there, read your newspaper, cash your paycheck, and WATCH as the financial world fleeces the rest of the world like sheep in a shearing pen.

Same thing with the government. They LOVE lording over people, but they don’t want to have anyone watching what they do.

So it probably should be to nobody’s surprise in 2008 when the Troubled Assets Relief Program was brought up to bail out Wall Street that they would put in a “watchdog” that had no power or authority to do anything to truly monitor and control $700 BILLION in taxpayer money is spent. The IDEA of a “watchdog” sounded good, but obviously neither Wall Street nor Pennsylvania Avenue wanted a REAL “watchdog” overlooking the bailout.

Unfortunately for the folks at both Wall Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, the person they picked for the “watchdog” position was someone who wouldn’t just sit back and read the newspaper and cash in their paycheck. Elizabeth Warren, appointed to the commission by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, told EVERYONE exactly what her job entailed. She made TV appearance after TV appearance telling people what they really didn’t want to hear… that her position is a joke, that she was never given any opportunity to really WATCH over the tax money as it was handed out like early Christmas presents, and that there’s absolutely nothing that she could do to make sure the money was used for what it was originally SOLD as being needed for.

Sure the American public was pissed about it, but, hey, what could they do? This was George W. Bush’s parting gift to Corporate America, and his final screwjob over the American people as their president. He was on his way out the door, and he knew that whomever took his place wouldn’t lift a finger to do the right thing.

Well Ms. Warren has been going about for the past two years, asking questions that nobody in power wants answered, and going on TV telling people what they don’t WANT to hear concerning their tax money. And she’s been talking about the need for a new sheriff for the financial world. A Consumer Protection sheriff.

Wait… isn’t that supposed to be the Department of Treasury’s job? Aren’t THEY supposed to keep an eye on the system for the average American? And what happened to the Securities and Exchange Commission? These guys were supposed to be regulating THEMSELVES to make sure they don’t go overboard, right? So how could they… OOOOOhhhhh… right… Goldman Sachs, AIG, “too big to fail”, K Street… sorry, for a moment I guess I forgot which groups I was talking about here.

A “Consumer Protection” position SOUNDS good on paper. It SOUNDS good when brought up as a sound-byte for the air-fluffed ego-driven media and their ten-second attention span.

Unfortunately this kind of idea is doomed to fail. And here’s why:

First and foremost is the simple fact that this idea is coming FROM WASHINGTON. Worse yet, it’s coming from a majority party that has an abysmal record of letting the American people down! Heathcare reform that doesn’t really reform, credit card protections that screw over the customers, promised aid that continually lapses because of both political incompetence and malicious brinksmanship… and now this same group wants to create a new government position to supposedly “represent the people”?

Remember all of those promises about healthcare that would be enacted? Single-payer, the public option, the elimination of loopholes and exemptions? Those weren’t forgotten. Those were sacrificed on the altar of political compromise. Did you think that “too big to fail” was somehow forgotten this time around? Or that the Volkner Rule was accidentally neutralized?

And behind those sacrifices in the name of “political compromise” was countless millions paid to lobbying groups. The K Street Empire was in full force, twisting more arms than a mobster convention, doing everything possible to minimize and castrate such reform on behalf of their clients. It is reasonable to presume that the only reforms enacted were the ones that K Street ALLOWED to be made, the ones that had a minimal impact on their clients, and the ones that gave their clients even MORE power and control over the masses than ever before.

Plus all we have to do is look at how the TARP system was set up in the first place to see how any future regulatory body would be considered. Zero accountability, zero control, zero authority… just a bunch of people sitting around asking questions and getting very frustrated over the lack of answers.

Oh, and remember the “pay czar”? The guy that was supposed to monitor the businesses that were getting bailout money to make sure they didn’t turn around and blow that money on executive bonuses recently announced that seventeen banks that got bailout money did just that. BUT he didn’t do anything about it except wag his finger at them. And neo-conservatives were screaming bloody murder over THAT?

Unfortunately, the flip-side to this is gross ineptitude from the government that the private sector has an equally abysmal record. Why do you think that the Federal Reserve has been fighting tooth-and-nail to prevent a full accounting of their actions? No doubt JP Morgan, who screamed bloody murder over the creation of the Fed a century ago, would be laughing from the grave if he knew how it would eventually be used.

The truth of the matter is that we wouldn’t NEED a so-called “Consumer Affairs” position if the private sector had the morals and the strength to truly regulate itself. Instead, they have long since sold their souls to the Cult of Capitalism and have pledged eternal profit at all costs, even if that cost is the stability of the civilized world.

And that brings us back to that brand new “Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection” and our yet-to-be-appointed sheriff. Like it or not, the job has been created and now it needs to be filled. Ms. Warren’s name has been bantered about to be the “perfect” candidate for the job, much to the regret of Treasury Secretary and boy genius Tim Geithner. Warren has certainly been the loudest voice calling for such a position to be created, and her two years of exposing her group’s inability to properly account for the TARP money certainly gives her the appearance of being a formidable defender of “We the Fleeced”.

But does that mean that she is the perfect candidate for THAT position?

Only if it does what it REALLY is supposed to do, which is very unlikely.

There are two possibilities here. The first is that the position actually has the power and the authority to do what it is supposed to do, which is stop Wall Street from fleecing the general public. If that is the case, then Secretary Geithner and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernake and their friends in Wall Street certainly DO NOT want someone like Ms. Warren in that position! Someone in that kind of position would make what they do a little more complicated.

The second possibility, and one that is a little more realistic, is that the position is just another “watchdog” gig that is all “watch” and no “dog”, just like TARP oversight and the “Pay Czar”. And if that is the case, then Geither and company most certainly DO NOT want someone like Ms. Warren in that position! They certainly do not need someone who will go in front of the media and point out that their position is essentially a joke and that there is nothing that they can really do for the American people and that they wasted all of that time, energy, and effort for nothing. That’s bad PR for Big Government.

Either way… let’s get brutally honest here… while Elizabeth Warren may seem to be perfect for the position of “Consumer Sheriff”, the very reasons WHY she is perfect for it are also the reasons why the political system and Wall Street would NOT want her anywhere NEAR that job. Either she would do too good of a job, or she would expose yet another political screwjob from a political party with a history of screwjobs.

There is a part of me that would like to see her get that position just to prove either theory to be true. Unfortunately, as a political cynic, I know there’s a strong possibility that we won’t see that happen, no matter how many people rally for her appointment.

In “Boiler Room”, the whole crooked business is exposed and the bad guys reportedly get arrested because the main character finally discovers his conscience (with a little encouragement from the FBI and his father). In order for this “Consumer Sheriff” to actually make a difference, that person would also have to have a conscience… something that power-mongers in money and politics sort of despise.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Week of 07/19/2010

Obama’s Worst Enemy: His Own Achievements
– by David Matthews 2

It’s sort of strange that comic book heroes can save the day by beating down the bad guy in the middle of downtown Main Street, and then, despite all of the damage done in the battle, there’s no talk about the after-effects. How about the people that had their homes destroyed? Their workplaces demolished? Their belongings ruined? Who ends up paying for that?

It sucks when you win all the battles, but still lose the war.

That apparently is the only kind of victory that politicians are concerned about… the ones on paper.

This is how “politics as usual” deals with a problem… first they get all concerned about it. Then they offer up a new law to “solve” the problem. (Never mind how many other laws are out there that are already dealing with the problem, they HAVE to come up with a new one each and every time.) Then they spend all the time in the world wrangling through it in the legislature to get it passed, making all sorts of deals just to get it through. Then they make a big production about getting it signed into law, claiming “victory” and reassuring the masses that the problem has been “solved” and they will never have to worry about it AGAIN!

Except… the so-called “solution” doesn’t do anything REMOTELY close to resolving the problem. In fact, it sometimes makes things even WORSE!

Somewhere in between concern and signage, the “solution” is silently neutered and neutralized. Lobbying groups re-write the language of the “solution”, deals are brokered, exceptions are written in, additional funding and “earmarks” are slipped in, all to get it to pass. At some point it stops being about actually “solving” the problem and it starts to be about getting in that short-term victory.

And the politicians don’t care either way! All they care about is getting to the big signing ceremony so they can declare the problem to be “solved”. In fact, it even works to the advantage of the career politician, because not really solving the problem means they can go back to it again and again and again.

THIS is “politics as usual”.

And unfortunately, THIS is also how President Barack Obama and his people are dealing with the problems of this nation.

As this commentator predicted back in 2008, President Obama would be on a marathon solution spree… namely the economy, Iraq, and then healthcare. Sure enough, Obama addressed each of these in order, got his little signing ceremony for each of them, and then wrote them off and moved on to the next “problem”.

But they didn’t really GET resolved, did they?

The economy certainly wasn’t “resolved”. In fact, there is every indication that things are getting even WORSE. The fraudulent promise of a “jobless recovery” has not happened. The businesses are not hiring people like they need to. The banks are not lending money like they promised to. Wall Street is rejoicing, certainly, and living it up like nothing ever happened, but Main Street is suffering because of it. The Associated Press is saying that foreclosures this year are already five times higher than the annual average and are expected to double that by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, the GOP, the Party of Insurrection, the Party of Misery and Destitution, is out there complaining about debt and the burden all of the people losing their jobs. They’re treating the unemployed as lepers, excess baggage in their grand schemes. They’re blocking all forms of help, letting those that truly need the money just to keep the bills paid to fall off the rolls and go away. Out of sight, out of mind.

Of course, President Obama could step in… but apparently he doesn’t think this is really as big of a problem as it seems to be. After all, didn’t he “save” the economy just last year? Didn’t he get that $700 Billion stimulus package enacted to go with the $700 Billion bailout of Wall Street just a few months earlier? That “should” have fixed everything, right? RIGHT?

Besides, President Obama has SO MUCH on his plate, doesn’t he? He just got his third major reform package passed… which doesn’t really reform anything per se. He has to deal with the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. He’s meeting with the G8, the G20, and the G-I-Don’t-Care groups to make sure that the foreign banks keep buying up our T-bills to finance our debts. And if he’s lucky, he might find a kitten up a tree or a puppy in a well to go rescue.

Hey, according to his advisors, he needs to go “solve” immigration next. That’s the “next big solution” for him to deal with. So for all those who need a job and are getting screwed over by the GOP, why don’t you call up Obama’s Chief of Staff… and hopefully you’ll catch Rahm Emanuel in between his gigs of playing kingmaker… and maybe he might pencil you in sometime around the middle of 2012 if you can hang in for that long. Meantime, I’m told selling pencils out of a tin cup is back in style. And at least when you get foreclosed upon while waiting for President Obama to decide whether to make this an issue to address again, you can say that you’re really an “urban outdoorsman” instead of just “homeless”.

Let’s get brutally honest here… President Obama’s greatest enemy is NOT the GOP. Nor is it talk radio, FoxNews, the Democrats in Congress, the liberal base, or, for that matter, the Tea Party and Sarah “Drill Baby Drill You Betcha” Palin. President Obama’s greatest enemy is HIMSELF and this demented idea that the problems of this nation can be solved in a checklist manner.

You can’t just “pass a law” and declare the whole thing “solved”, especially when you’re dealing with forces that simply REFUSE to play nice! What? You mean the banking industry would use the delay in new regulations to screw over the American people as much as possible? You mean healthcare providers would REALLY jack up rates ahead of your reforms and find as many loopholes as possible? Say it ain’t so, Joe Biden! Say it ain’t so!

In truth, you can’t just put a bandage on a problem like the economy and expect it to fix itself. Herbert Hoover tried that and we ended up with the Great Depression. The kind of fix that we need is ongoing. This isn’t a minor problem that be solved with the political equivalent of taking two aspirin and calling back after the elections. This is a catastrophic illness of society, and it needs to be addressed as such.

What makes matters worse for Obama is that this “paper victory” approach of getting the “solution” passed for the sake of getting it passed is precisely the kind of “politics as usual” situation he originally campaigned against. Getting a “solution” passed that only exists for the sake of appearances is not addressing the problem. It’s only giving lip service to it.

Political leaders are always obsessed with legacies, especially when they know that their time is at an end. The thing is, if they REALLY spent their time pushing for and enacting REAL solutions instead of phony ones, they wouldn’t have to worry about what kind of legacy they leave behind. The effects of those kinds of REAL changes would speak for themselves.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Week of 07/12/2010

– by David Matthews 2

It must be good to be Michael Steele.

The chairman of the GOP is either extremely delusional, or else he knows something about the nature of the party that allows him to stay where he is.

A year ago, Steele was seen as being nothing more than a token leader of the party. He was elected within the party not necessarily because of his leadership skills but more as a public counter to the newly-elected President Barack Obama. After all, it’s a little hard to say the GOP is the party of old white rich men when you have an African-American in charge, right? It’s a masterful PR move, if you think about it.

But any kind of credibility as a leader got pretty much shut down early into his tenure, when he DARED to insult the “mighty” Rush Limbaugh for being “an entertainer”. Limbaugh’s dittoheads screamed bloody murder and forced Steele to bow down to the mighty media blowhard.

And that was only the beginning of the confrontational statements and positions Steele made in the year since. Rumors spin of the GOP power-players neutralizing Steele’s authority, limiting his funds, doing everything possible to control him and reduce him to being a token figure, someone who is only there to generate money and dilute the liberal accusations of systematic racism.

In other words, to prove the critics right about Steele’s position.

That probably explains Steele’s confidence in the wake of yet ANOTHER bombastic statement of his. This time around, Steele was caught telling GOP supporters that the War in Afghanistan, which started back in 2001 under President George W. Bush, was “a war of Obama’s choosing” and not something that the US had “actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in”.

In other words, Michael Steele LIED.


Go ahead and let that sink in. HE LIED.

Either he had his head in the sand or up an orifice that would otherwise be covered under “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and had absolutely no idea of world events following September of 2001, or else he wanted to inflame supporters through an intentional Orwellian-level LIE.

And yet he’s out there right now, confident that he’s not going to lose his cushy position despite calls for his ouster by senators and influential conservatives. Worse yet, his LIE has been defended by the flakes of politics, namely Ann Coulter and Rep. Ron Paul. In fact this commentator’s fleeting respect for Paul has pretty much evaporated since the Texas politician came rushing to Steele’s aid on CNN.

I know that the GOP has a hard time dealing with things like FACTS and REALITY, but the FACT is that the War in Afghanistan WAS NOT a “war of choice”. That was where Al Qaeda was located in 2001, protected by their friends in the ruling Taliban. That was the justification for us going there and keeping troops there. The GOP CHOSE to abandon Afghanistan to go pick on Saddam Hussein. They CHOSE it! Michael Steele’s party CHOSE to engage Iraq while leaving Afghanistan unfinished. That is FACT. That is REALITY.

And you have absolutely NO CREDIBILITY WHATSOEVER if you cannot accept and acknowledge that! PERIOD! This is not about politics. This is now about CREDIBILITY. It is about INTEGRITY. It is about CHARACTER. You know; the very things that the conservatives all CLAIM to champion.

Yet somehow you have Steele making such asinine statements, knowing full well that anything he says cannot and will not be used against him in his own party. Senators and media personalities can call for his ouster, and he’ll still be there.

Even more surreal is the ramblings of Limbaugh himself, the man who pawned Steele last year, carrying on in a mocking tone as though HE has the final say on Steele’s tenure in charge of the GOP. In his own buffoonish way, Limbaugh essentially validated Steele’s earlier assessment of him.

It’s crazy. And yet it all makes sense when you accept one simple premise… that Steele’s position as leader of the GOP is nothing more than a sham. And this commentator suspects that Steele has finally recognized that as well, which is why he’s presuming that he’ll still be there after all of this blows over. He’s pretending to be bulletproof because he firmly believes that the GOP NEEDS him there.

Let’s get brutally honest here… it is truly a sad state of affairs for any political party to see their chief spokesperson, their leader, carrying on as though they are nothing more than a prop. A figurehead, at least, has an IMAGE to uphold. Apparently Steele doesn’t even care about that.

Maybe the various media personalities that infest talk radio and cable news can be expected to be nothing more than populist slime-mongering aggravators. Maybe that is all that can and should be expected of them given the history of that career going back to the days of habitual backstabber James Callender.

But true leadership, especially when it involves government, needs more than just populism, scandal, and hysteria. It needs character. It needs integrity. To claim that one’s outrageous statements should be tolerated because that person is supposedly not “setting policy” - which is precisely how Congressman Paul described Steele’s statement on CNN - is ludicrous. Steele needs to set the example for the GOP, and so far he is failing. And the more his party members bend over backwards to defend him, the less credibility they have.

This is one of the many consequences of having a political system dominated by two parties. America has a history of going through several political parties in its two centuries of existence, but these last two could very well spell the END of this nation. As long as people are force-fed the fairy tale that there are only two parties out there to choose from, we will continue to see character and integrity sacrificed on the altar of politics and the cultish demand of maintaining the status quo at all costs.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Week of 07/05/2010

Hope Is Not Enough!
– by David Matthews 2


Hope is…

You can figure out which version applies here.

I am tired of hearing about “hope”. I really am.

Hope is blind optimism, plain and simple. It is a belief that things will somehow get better.

Once upon a time, hope was good. It was healthy. It was needed. We spent seven years living in fear and despair. We NEEDED someone to bring a message of hope that things would somehow get better.

And it could have been ANYONE with that message. That’s the thing that conservatives and neo-conservatives failed to understand. The real secret behind Barack Obama’s success in the 2008 Presidential Election wasn’t just that the Bush Imperium was too tyrannical and the GOP were too corrupt and the economy was just too screwed. It was also a matter of the MESSAGE itself! Obama could sell that message, and he did just that all the way to the White House.

And for a while, it worked. People could carry on with that sense of optimism, that idea that things would somehow get better.

The problem is that hope only works for a little while. It’s like caffeine. It gets you pumped up for a little while, but if you’re already running on empty, you WILL eventually crash, no matter how much of it you consume.

You see… at some point, the promise of change and the promise of a better future needed to translate into ACTUAL change and an ACTUAL better future. It wasn’t enough to say that change was coming. Obama and his people had to BRING that change. They have needed to actually DO better, not just promise better, and they haven’t done it.

Change? Every attempt to change the way things operate in Washington has been cosmetic. Wall Street didn’t want change. The banks didn’t want change. The big corporations didn’t want change. They all loved that ongoing plutocracy and kleptocracy. Every proposal for change had been neutralized and negotiated away. And even when those changes were passed, as mediocre as they were, Big Corporate made sure that the American people SUFFERED for it at EVERY opportunity!

This is an administration that promised hope and then was sold hook-line-and-sinker on the FAIRY TALE of a “jobless recovery”. Obama is preaching that we’ve “turned the corner” with the economy. The good news is that he’s right… the bad news is that it is the corner of a cliff, and we’re heading OFF IT!

Oh yes, Obama got his token recovery program passed in 2009. And then he followed through with his political playbook and moved on to Iraq and then health care and then financial non-reform.

And yet despite the rhetoric, we haven’t really been getting any better. The smaller banks are still failing. Foreclosures and bankruptcy are still marching on. The job market isn’t really improving. Americans are still suffering, and things will only get worse.

To make matters worse, thanks to the Lenin-style mechanizations of the GOP and the gross incompetence of the Democrats in Congress, what meager unemployment assistance that currently exists is disappearing, not just once, not just twice, but repeatedly, month after month. And this is accompanied by the continual gloating and boasting and taunting by the saboteurs themselves, mocking the very hope that they have successfully managed to destroy with smarky little statements like “How’s that hopey-changey thing working for you?”

But in truth, they are able to get away with it, and to be pompous asses about it, because the people who PROMISED those better days FAILED to do their jobs in the first place. The Democrats KNEW about the nature of the GOP. They KNEW about the abusive nature of the corporations. The first time around could be considered a learning curve. Anything after that, though, is nothing less than indifference at best and malicious apathy at worse.

Let’s get brutally honest here… hope is not enough in this world! Hope does not pay the bills. It doesn’t put food on the table or keep you out of foreclosure or bankruptcy. It doesn’t do anything except give you encouragement.

Hope has an unwritten promise to it. Giving someone hope for a better tomorrow means that at some point, you have to do what you can to make that better tomorrow happen. You can’t just say that things will get better over and over and over again, especially when there is every indication of the opposite happening.

One of the cruelest, the most vile and despicable tricks in the world that one human can pull on another human is to give them a sense of hope, a sense of optimism, of something good happening to them, and then once they are given their trust and loyalty and fidelity, and firmly believe of that “something good” will happen, sit back and watch as that hope is dashed. There are people today who take great joy in playing these kinds of games. I’ve seen them first-hand. I’ve been a victim of their mechanizations. And that is what seemingly is happening today.

Hope is dying in America, if it hasn’t already been smothered to death. It is dying with every screwjob perpetrated by Congress. It is dying with every corporate criminal that doesn’t get indicted. It is dying with every layoff notice and every report of bad news. The longer this goes on, the more that hope dies in America.

And the question that the Obama people need to ask themselves is this: do they REALLY want to be around when hope finally and completely dies in this country? Do they REALLY want to be here when despair rules the day? Because when the people who are filled with despair start looking for someone to be held to account for it, the very first group they will look at are the ones who gave them hope in the first place.

In the meantime, I am sick of hearing about hope. I am sick of hearing about false and empty promises. If Obama and his people are even the slightest bit sincere about wanting that better future, then it is long since time to stop talking and to step up and actually deliver.