Sunday, January 30, 2011


It's funny how seemly disjointed things come together to give us a jolt of inspiration or renewal, or both; reminding us of something old and forgotten, of something we knew, or insight into something new. I finally watched the movie "Invictus," directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. In my opinion, Clint Eastwood is one of the greatest directors, Morgan Freeman is about the best actor out there, and Matt Damon is no slouch. In the movie, Morgan Freeman plays Nelson Mandala just after he was elected President of South Africa. Mandala's big problem was how to unite his country and he chose the national Springbok Rugby team as a tool to do that, inspiring the team to come from a beaten down, unlikely winner to winning the world cup. It is a powerful movie.

Invictus means "undefeated" in Latin. It is also the name of a poem that inspired Nelson Mandala to stand and keep going while he was in prison, when all he wanted to do was lie down and stop. The poem was written by William Earnest Henley in 1875 just after his leg was amputated below the knee and he was at a low point in his life.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
Henley's low point was the result of life's misfortune, tuberculosis. Mandala's low point extended over thirty years in prison, the result of injustice, apartheid and hate. Of the two, injustice would be harder to take and harder to forgive, yet Mandala used the poem to inspire him to forgive, to bring his nation, black and white, together. The poem and his life testify to the human will to rise up and defeat misfortune.
Perhaps that's the way we need to look at Egypt. After many years of injustice and oppression, and untold empty promises, Egypt is exploding into revolution. I'm glad that it is happening while the World Economic Forum is watching from Davos, Switzerland, where the top 2% wealthiest are. They announced yesterday that "unless the poor are not provided an opportunity for a bigger piece of the pie, there will be more uprisings like Egypt." I thought that was obvious. We can only hope that Egypt becomes a liberal, and peaceful, democracy. It may not.
The United States is going in the opposite direction, but as far as I can tell, the people don't know the way out. The ranks of the poor are increasing, not decreasing, mostly because of lowered wages, lack of jobs and a huge gap between the poor and the rich and low tax rates on the rich. The middle-class is disappearing. The top 2% wealthiest own 80% of the wealth. And budget cutting is being done on the backs of the poor, only to make them poorer with less and less means to bring them back. Revolution is coming. Who will win? A dictator or democracy? With the airwaves muddied and skewed to the Right by propaganda, I'm guessing a dictator. The rich will not give up that dime until their mansions are burned.
Oh well, I have my own problems. The other day I was talking to my daughter about an anxiety attack I had. She said, "Oh Pop, don't worry about getting old," among other advice. When did you become so wise, Pam? Invictus. A good poem.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Rumors of Secrets Confirmed

If you are like me, then you too have wondered about those rumors of secret CIA experiments with mind-bending drugs, such as LSD. I remember reading about them back when Timothy Leary was news, in the 1960s, and here and there since then. And, even though newspaper articles seem to have confirmed those experiments, I still wondered, not entirely convinced. Apparently, the rumors were true, as is documented in the case of Dr. Frank Olson, an Army Biochemist (Biological Warfare) who died by jumping, or by being pushed, on November 28, 1953 from the tenth floor of a New York City hotel. The question was: Was he killed, and if so, why? I guess a book, "A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olsen and the CIA's Secret Cold War Experiments," answers that question, as well as a number of other questions into the CIA's use of potent drugs in its Cold War experiments.

Apparently, the CIA slipped Dr. Olson, and others, a dose of LSD without their knowing it in a meeting between the CIA and Army Bio-Warfare experts at Fort Detrick, Maryland. Slipping Dr. Olson the drug without him knowing it was a criminal offense, an important point twenty-two years later. That's because when more facts about Dr. Olson's death came out, his family sued the government for more compensation, $3 million to be exact, but the government, specifically the Justice Department, quibbled over that amount. The DOJ wanted to settle for less. Ha. If only those "facts" were not so inconvenient! The Olson family would not settle for less, or at least for the amount the DOJ wanted to settle for. So, the CIA and two guys in President Ford's White House, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, were scrambling to cover it all up without going to trial.

Now isn't that interesting? Good 'ole Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld pop their heads out of the black-ops abyss! The problem was whether or not Dr. Olson committed suicide while "in the course of his employment," as covered under the Federal Employee's Compensation Act, and which was the authority for the monthly spouse compensation, $752, paid to Mrs. Olson since 1953, or whether he was murdered to cover up the CIA criminal act of giving him that secret dose of LSD.  There was even a bigger problem! If all of that came out in court, even twenty-two years after the fact, would the court side with the CIA and DOJ, or would it side with the Olson family? The CIA's legal counsel concluded that an appellate court, after learning the facts, would probably decide for Mrs. Olson; that Dr. Olson did NOT die in the course of his employment. And, if the Olsons won the suit, would other, even more bizarre, experiments come to light, such as the one on a French town in which 500 French citizens were subjected, unknowingly, to mind-bending drug experiments? Whew!

And so, it appears that Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld and a few more CIA and White House characters conspired to hide the CIA's tricks and treats, as this document (pdf) says.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised after watching Cheney et al for eight years from 2000 to 2008. What really disappoints me is that there are too many books I want to read and not enough time to read them. I'm in the middle of one, have two in the queue, and I really want to read this one too. There is no time left.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

An Astonishing Irrational Rationalization - The State of our Union

I'm always alert for new, truth-telling websites, that speak truth to power on one subject or another. So, this morning I listened with interest to a host interview Andy Worthington, a British investigative journalist, who has spent considerable time investigating the conditions and prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. According to Mr. Worthington, there are approximately 160 prisoners that remain there, of which approximately 35 or so actually have a proven connection to Al Qaeda or to a terrorist event or group and who should stand trial. So, why are the other 130 or so kept in prison?

It turns out that over 600 prisoners who have no connection to terrorism have already been released back to their home country and who, it has been determined, were only in prison because they were sold to U. S. authorities through a "buy a prisoner" scheme that we, the United States, created early in the Bush Administration by Chaney, Rumsfeld, et al. The deal was that we will pay $5,000 to anyone identifying an Al Qaeda terrorist, or any other terrorist. So, halfway around the world in Afghanistan and Iraq, where $5,000 is like a million dollars, and a person can buy a house, a car and live a year in comfort on that money, a person can sell his neighbor out to U.S. black rendition sites and prisons just by claiming he or she is a terrorist. That person, more than likely innocent, goes to prison, subject to untold interrogations and is held in prison without habeas corpus rights while we watch stupefied and dumb struck to faux-Doctor Phil embarrass a troubled married couple or Bill O'Rielly crucify an unsuspecting victim in his so-called culture war on national television.

And then comes the rationale for holding innocent prisoners from the Right, an astonishing irrational statement but which is the rationale used by conservatives in Congress and state governments that have refused to allow trials under our criminal justice system. I paraphrase: "Even though we don't know whether these prisoners are terrorist, and can't know that until the facts are presented to a court, we don't want a trial to be held in our civilian courts because they are terrorist. And, we can't release those who are innocent of any terrorist charge what so ever, confirmed by a complete lack of evidence or evidence that proves beyond any doubt, because we have radicalized them in our own rendition and prison system and we estimate that forty percent of those we release will now join a terrorist organization, even though recidivism in the 600 we have already released has not occurred nor is there any evidence that any of those 600 have joined a terrorist organization."

I guess we can now be jailed because of what we think or if in someone else's mind it is thought that we will fall in a percentage of people who will, at some concocted time in the future, commit an act of terrorism.

We have lost our way. That is the State of our Union.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Japan - A Whole Other World

What happened to Dave? I can hear it now, the whispering that Dave has gone nuts. I was going against the cultural grain. I was marrying a Japanese. And, no matter how much they tried to hide their feelings, their true feelings came through; a slip here, a word there. I got the hint. I exceeded the bounds of normalcy and they didn't like it and they couldn't get over it. But, if that wasn't enough, there was one more thing that astonished my family, at least in my imagination, perhaps more than marrying a Japanese, and which this series of stories about Japan will eventually describe to the best that my memory can recall: I became a Buddhist. I have to warn you. By the end of these stories, you will not have a satisfactory answer if you're looking for a reason. All I can tell you is that my sojourn into both of those experiences certainly was interesting. The truth is probably that I got some rebellious satisfaction out of imagining all of the fuss back home. On the other hand, everyone back home were more than likely carrying on their normal lives and not giving me much thought at all. Whatever the case, I have no regrets.

Being faced with racial prejudices was inevitable, I believe, since I married a woman of a different race. I think I can honestly say that race never occurs to me unless someone else brings it up, putting the subject in my face, either directly or in subtle hints or innuendo. When I hear someone bring up the subject, make a racial comment for or against racial conflicts or circumstances and then say that they're not prejudiced, I am barely able to not laugh out loud, and sometimes I do laugh. There are some, relatively few I think, who are silent on the subject, never claiming prejudices one way or another, who appear to not be effected by most, if not all, of those feelings or cultural lessons, or whatever it is that causes racial prejudices. I appear to have been one of them, but I have to add a caveat to that. For example, for a number of years after two assignments in Saigon, I was very critical of Vietnamese generally for a while. I eventually figured out that what I really disliked was not the Vietnamese people, but the South Vietnamese government that cheated us and the circumstances that got us into the Vietnam mess. Another example was that it didn't take too many visits to Olongapo to turn me against Filipinos to some extent, but I had to deal with the contradiction that I had some very good Filipino friends. So, in the end, I came to realize that it wasn't Filipinos I disliked, it was the corruption and poverty that created a city like Olongapo. Rumor was, back then, that Naples, Italy was the sister city to Olongapo in regards to corruption, prostitution and crime. That raises the question that had I visited Naples, would I have disliked Italians? Sailor towns like Olongapo were very rough cities. Japan and the city Yokosuka, however, was an entirely different world and I fell in love with the place.

When I arrived in Yokosuka, Japan in cold November 1966, I figured that I had toughened up and knew what I was getting into; just one more place that I had better watch out for the bad guys. My skin was pretty thick and I was alert for scams, cheats, pickpockets and criminals. I had already narrowly escaped four or five times nearly getting killed or injured in Saigon, Vietnam. I had barely escaped or been sucked into four or five bar fights, just as dangerous as Saigon bombs, in Olongapo, Philippines, Saigon and Hong Kong; some I tried to escape from but couldn't, and some that my big mouth precipitated. I'd been taken by sly bar girls and ripped off by shrewed card players and con artists, and had my wallet stolen by slick-fingered pickpockets on Shit River Bridge. I'd played tricks on shipmates on the USS Princeton that backfired and made me sick with worry and got me a chewing out by the CO and XO. I spent an evening at a police station on Sunset Strip in Los Angeles for loitering (there must have been thousands of loiterers on Sunset Strip in LA) and was late getting back to the ship, which prompted another visit to the XO. And, I stumbled into a couple of motor cycle gang hangouts in Long Beach and only God and good luck got me out of those messes. If anyone accused me of not praying, I can tell them that that is an absolute falsehood. I prayed many times and with such sincerity that I could have put a preacher to shame - and I always promised something if I could just get out of the scrape I was in. So, when I checked in to the Branch Oceanographic Office at Yokosuka, Japan, for two years of shore duty, I thought I already knew what to expect in Japan and I could handle just about anything that came my way to keep out of trouble. It would be no different than those other sailor towns, whether in the U.S. or overseas. Just another sailor town.

Within a few days, I was bewildered and confused about Japan. I didn't make friends with other sailors immediately since most of my coworkers had been in Japan for awhile and they already had ties that kept them busy. So, I explored the base and Yokosuka alone for that first week or two. It didn't take me long to visit Honcho Street, the nightclub district, that just happened to be less than a hundred steps outside of the main gate to the base. But, of course that's where it was at. I didn't expect anything less. It shouldn't be a surprise, either, that the nightclub I chose to hang out in over those first few months was nearly the first one on Honcho Street from the main gate; The Eagle. Nobody can accuse me of taking the long, roundabout path for a beer or entertainment. I took the shortest distance from A to B.

I've always had a knack for quickly picking up the language of the country I visited, whether Vietnam, Philippines or Japan. It didn't take me long to speak a limited vocabulary with the correct tone inflection and without an American accent. I had a selfish reason for doing that. I learned early that the best way to endear oneself to the natives of a country is to speak and act like they do; to mimic them. Within a few visits to the Eagle, they knew me and they called me by name; Dabu-San, pronounced Day-bu-San, Mr. Dave. They couldn't pronounce the "ve" in Dave. In a few more visits, Dabu-San became Dabu-Chan. Chan is a term of endearment reserved for trusted good friends and family, close to a literal translation of "Dear friend." I was hooked.

My hard-nosed tactics to avoid buying drinks didn't work in Japan, such as "sit there if you want, but I'm not buying drinks." That usually brought laughter and the joke was on me. They knew better than I did that I wouldn't stay or come back just to sit alone at a table. I changed tactics. "Okani nai," I learned to say, "no money," to which they responded "Uso, Dabu-Chan," that I learned meant "You lie, dear friend Dave." Uso could be an accusation of an outright lie, an insult, or a small white lie, depending on the tone. "Uso!" with an abrupt exclamation was an insult. "Usooo," with a rise and fall in tone, meant a small white lie and was not an insult, especially when said with an endearing term like Chan. In a matter of weeks, I learned a half-dozen or so words and phrases, gestures and customs that are the most prominent in Japanese daily life and all of it had to do with courtesy, etiquette, honor, duty, loyalty, filial piety and respect, a glimpse into Bushido, literally "The way of the warrior," a code of conduct woven into the culture that the Japanese live in. My Japanese education began.

It wasn't enough to simply learn the behavior and language. When and how to use them and with what inflection was just as, if not more, important. "Go-me-na-sai," (Sorry) was more formal than "Go-men Nei" said to a closer friend, and if you said "No, i-eh (ee-eh)" respectfully, you needed to add sorry, literally "I'm sorry, but no." Everyone bowed, a slight bow was fine unless in a formal setting, then a deeper, stiffer bow was required, but both should be sincere. "I-ra-shai!" (Welcome!), a store clerk or owner shouted with a bow, each time I entered a Japanese establishment, to which etiquette required a "Thank you," "Do-mo-a-ri-ga-to," formally or "Do-mo" informally. My baby-face looks and my quick study of the language always got giggles and twitters from the Japanese around me. I guess I haven't lost all of it to forgetfulness. In Sweden last year while I was waiting on the hotel patio for Chris, two Japanese women sat down as I was getting up to go back inside, and one ask me for a light. I lit their cigarettes. "Do-mo-a-ri-ga-to," (thank you) one said, and bowed slightly. "Do-i-ta-shi-ma-shi-te," (you're welcome) I said, and returned the bow. Both were giggling and talking excitedly as I walked back into the hotel. Such a small effort to learn what I could of another culture and language had a huge effect. It didn't take me long to make Japanese friends on Honcho Street. I never sat alone whether I bought the drinks or, as it turned out, they did.

I lost my wallet in that first or second month in Japan. Fortunately, I had learned long before I came to Japan to never carry my Military I. D. Card in my wallet, since the first thing a pickpocket will take is the wallet. I carried my I. D. Card safely in my jumper or shirt pocket. Losing it would cause me untold disciplinary problems and typically a Personnel Office was in no hurry to replace a carelessly lost I. D. Card. "Tough shit," they said, "you can pick up your card next week," which usually meant that I would be restricted to base until I got a new one. I couldn't get through the gate without it. And, of course, my punishment for being careless could have been another 30-day restriction on top of that. We protected our I. D. Cards.

Losing my wallet was only a temporary setback. I discovered the loss that night as I undressed for bed. My first thoughts, after a few strong words of disappointment, was likely that I would spend my time on base until the next payday, eating at the base cafeteria and getting what entertainment I could from free base activities. I had no money. Really. But, the next day, Rick, another Yokosuka-based sailor who had become a friend that I met at the Eagle, stopped by my workplace and told me that the Eagle bartender had my wallet. And, since the Oceanographic Office was relatively small, consisting of three large rooms, one the Officer in Charge's office, one a reception/Yeoman office and the last where I and two coworkers worked, the long chart room where we kept the maps and ocean charts and all of our inventory, requisition and report records, everyone heard Rick's announcement that my wallet was found. Everyone gathered most mornings in the chart room for coffee and conversation, chatter and a general bull session. If there ever was a Navy office where a group of sailors had so little to do to stay busy, it was that office. Something new to talk about was like a new treat thrown to a pack of wolves; they were on it in seconds. I, the green and inexperienced newbie to Japan, was the treat and "they" were the wolves. They immediately got to the point. It went something like this.

"Don't sweat it," Lieutenant Charppels said, "you'll get everything back." Charppels, our Officer in Charge, was a Mustang, a naval officer who came up through the enlisted ranks, a Quartermaster, the Navy's shipboard navigator. Nothing could rankle him and he never got excited. He had a trophy case full of tennis trophies from competitions between U. S. bases located in Japan. He could also pitch the fastest under-handed softball pitch I've ever seen. "Can you catch a softball?" he asked early after I arrived. "Sure," I said, so I was his catcher when he practiced. The first time he stepped off about forty feet in the chart room, in an isle between the wall and the chart shelves, I asked, "Are you sure you don't want to go outside?" I was worried that he would throw a wild pitch and hit a shelf and there would be no telling where the ball would go. "Nope," he said, "I won't hit anything but your glove." And, he did. Also on that occasion, after the first ten or so pitches and he began throwing faster pitches, he must have noticed the look of pain on my face. "Do you want more padding in that glove?" he asked, "get some paper towels and fold them up in your glove. That will take some of the sting out of it." It did, but my hand was still as red as a beat from catching his pitches. He had served on a number of ships in the South Pacific during World War II and eventually ended up on a Patrol Torpedo Boat (PT Boat) in the same squadron that President John Kennedy was in.

"Careless!" said Petty Officer First Class David Middleton, my immediate supervisor. "You need to pay more attention. You should be restricted to base," he said, in his usual condescending tone. He preached along that line for five minutes. Middleton was a hard on my case, daily, and by then I knew that I'd never be able to please him. He checked everything I did down to the "t." If we had a rare busy day, perhaps issuing twenty or thirty charts, he would review every single stock card for mistakes after I recorded the issue quantity, recalculated high, low and order limits and typed up orders, if needed. If he found a single mistake in thirty issues, he made me do all thirty again. He rarely found a mistake, perhaps one every three months or so. About a year later after having gone through his checks several times and he ordered me to redo all of the work, I had had enough. I asked him, "did you just go through all of the cards for today?" "Yes," he said. "And, you found only this one that needed redone?" I pointed to the erroneous card. "Yes," he said. "Then I'll redo that one. You can kiss my ass for the rest of them." We each had a private discussion with Lieutenant Charppels over my sudden rebellion. Middleton's daily audits didn't stop, but I never had to redo all stock card entries when he found one or two mistakes. It was Middleton who suggested that I was available for the 1967 five-month temporary duty and second assignment to Saigon. I didn't care much for Middleton. In fact, he became my example of a supervisor I never intended to be. In later years I took every opportunity to counsel supervisors who acted like him. Middleton was married to a Filipino and rarely left the base.

Riley and another David, both Yeomen, and Jeff, a Quartermaster, all agreed with Charppels. "You'll get it back," they all said. Yeoman Riley, unlike the rest of us who did occasionally have work to do, had absolutely nothing to do, or perhaps it is better to say that he did nothing productive whether he should have or not. He spent all day, every day, sitting in the reception area reading the Stars and Stripes Newspaper looking for English and grammar mistakes, and searching for an article to read to his English as a second language class that he held in the city. He loved to find a funny or ironic newspaper article and read it to us. Personally, I've always had difficulty getting a good understanding when listening to somebody else read something, but Riley expected either immediate laughter or a full discussion. I guess I didn't meet his expectation since I usually didn't try to participate. I once went with him to his English class to a very cold, unheated classroom. It turned out to be a place where Japanese spent most of their time conversing in English, with very little instruction or guidance from Riley, and they paid him for it. I was disappointed. Riley was unmarried and lived in the barracks. I never saw him with a woman, American or Japanese, or in a club. My opinion at the time was that he was a little strange. He was also cheap. He wouldn't spend a penny if he could help it or if he could get someone else to pay.

David, our second Yeoman, and a Seaman, the lowest rank in the office, was the office gofer. He typed all letters and messages, picked up and delivered the mail, made the coffee, picked up supplies and took care of any administrative duty that needed to be done. He rented a house off base and, over time, had various roommates that came and went. I recall that he had a girl back home, so he spent nearly all of his time either at his apartment or at work. He never complained, did his job, and waited for his enlistment to end. Occasionally, him and I would have dinner at the off-base Enlisted Club and take in a show at the Rendezvous Room; a touring band, singer or comedian sponsored by the USO.

Jeff, our Quartermaster, was the busiest of all. He processed the monthly oceanographic chart corrections, the long printouts of pen and ink changes to ocean navigational charts. The Washington D. C. Oceanographic Office sent corrections to be made in ink to charts instead of printing new charts. He complained constantly of how minor some of the corrections were, such as a depth correction of only a few feet in deep water. What did a few feet matter in 400 feet of water? "Idiots!" he'd yell and go on for thirty minutes about the idiots in Washington, and he refused to make those kind of corrections. Other changes, however, kept him casually occupied for fifteen to twenty days a month processing an entire list of corrections. Jeff was newly married to a Japanese a few months before my arrival. He planned to leave the navy when his enlistment was up and return to Nebraska or Kansas (I recall one of the western plains states) with his wife. After my experience with a non-English speaking wife, I always wondered how he faired.

So, the discussion that morning went on for an hour, engraved in my memory mostly because of Middleton's criticism. He was relentless, while Charppels tried to calmly temper Middleton's preaching. It was Charppels' point that the Japanese honor-based culture simply didn't allow for theft in the society and Middleton, while not quite disagreeing with his boss, blamed me if my wallet was found by that rare Japanese thief. "Ah, things happen," Charppels would say, dismissing Middleton's criticism, but Middleton would aim his response at me. But, after it was over, I gained a deeper understanding of Japanese culture rather than focusing on Middleton's opinion. That night I returned to the Eagle and retrieved my wallet. Not a thing was missing, nor had the bartender opened it or counted the money. "How much is in it?" I asked him. "Yosh! Wa-ka-ta-nai!" he said, emphatically, "What! I don't know!" That "Yosh!" has various meanings, in this case a challenge to a question about his integrity, in others it might emphasize determination in achievement or battle. It's a masculine term, usually used by men. There is really no literal translation in English. Fortunately by that very early date, I knew enough to say, although somewhat inappropriately but innocently, "Go-me-na-sai, oni-san," mimicking what I'd heard, roughly translating to "I apologize, honorable brother," and I bowed slightly. He laughed, "call me Tanaka-San," he said in English. I searched him out many times to have a beer with him over my years in Japan long after I left the Eagle behind. He was always happy to see me.

Japan went through a significant cultural change as a result of the post-war occupation, mostly because they discovered that Americans were not the devils they thought we were. In the 1950s, they began to copy American fads, pig tails, bobby socks, rock and roll, and industrial methods and trends. By the '60s, young Japanese were into the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the American hippie movement and industry was on its way to surpass American industry from junk products to high quality products. By 1966, there were three really hot night-life spots in the greater Tokyo area: Yokosuka, where Japanese could experience the latest American trends directly from American sailors; Yokohama, a 30-minute train ride from Yokosuka where four or five popular nightclubs were located and popular Japanese bands played, mocking the Beatles, Rolling Stones and others; and the Tokyo Ginza that had the best nightclubs, restaurants, department stores and high fashion shops in Japan. All of these places were within a short train ride of each other. Poverty was not a major issue in Japan. Girls gravitated to the hot spots for fun, adventure and excitement, not because they were forced to by poverty like they were in the Philippines or Vietnam. So, we had easy access to transportation, the trains and Japanese cars, and we never had a problem finding a girl and a place to go. It was a completely different atmosphere and culture for me. I could drop my guard and enjoy myself - safely. What a time!


Monday, January 17, 2011

Wishy-Washy on Wikileaks

Personally, I consider Julian Assange a common thief. But, I have to admit, I can't wait for the release of this stuff, BBC News - Wikileaks given data on Swiss bank accounts. I hope we see some outrageous data on some very influential people so we can fire them, take them to Internal Revenue Service Court, tax the hell out of them, audit the hell out of them and once and for all get our money back. I hope we can boot any politician out of office who helped rip us off, too. And, finally, I hope this stuff educates all of us.

I had mixed emotions over the release of the diplomatic cables, but it was those cables that led to the overthrow of Tunisia's government and, according to what I've read about that government, that wasn't a bad thing. And, it sure was interesting to learn that President Bush was personally involved in getting our New Zealand Embassy to block the showing of Micheal Moore's documentary in New Zealand. And then, he had Karl Rove do a poll in New Zealand to see if our embassy's actions had affected his "popularity" in New Zealand. Huh? Bush is more concerned with what New Zealanders think than the other pressing matters in his office? I have to agree with Mr. Moore; it's paranoia in the White House.

So, we'll see if Wikileaks has any de-mythifying news about bankers and companies that evade enormous taxes through their Cayman Island post office boxes. Don't we already know?


Thursday, January 13, 2011

I guess it's all over but for the singing fat lady.

According to the news so far, we can't blame the volatile rhetoric for Laughner's massacre. And, Sarah Palin set the record straight; it's all the fault of the media's blood libel, said with narcissistic certainty. So, we can go back to hating with our conscience clean.

Well, I'm not sold yet. I'll bet my social security check that Laughner was stimulated by the political right-wing vitriol. Somewhere, someplace he was exposed to hate speech, maybe as far back as the Tea Party town hall meetings. I seem to remember a lot of anti-government shouting at those meetings. I also heard that he doesn't watch television, but a person doesn't have to get the hate messages from television. He could get them at the kitchen table from his parents or friends, passed on from the usual suspects.

Because nothing else makes sense. I think everyone knows Laughner is crazy, unbalanced and delusional. I don't think there is any doubt about that. That was obvious from the outset. But, the questions that come to mind are: Why did he pick Congresswoman Giggords' small gathering? If he's angry at his college, as I've heard, why not pick the college? Or the teacher who wouldn't teach with him in the class without police escort? What set him against the specific target he chose? I don't believe he chose it in a vacuum. Something set him off against Giffords, perhaps pushing him into the lucid dreaming we're told that he did. After all, he said himself that he "planned it" and specifically called it an "assassination." Where did he get those ideas? Thin air?


The KGO News, er I mean No-News Team

Simply amazing. The KGO Morning News Team of "Jen and Ed," Jenifer Jones-Lee and Ed Baxter, no-clue news team did it again. This time I think they've given me the final clue to the mystery of "why" they don't have a clue. They spend their time in a bubble or asleep. They are so focused on following the morning schedule of advertisers and announcements that they don't pay attention to the state, national or world news at all. They haven't got a clue at what's going on outside of their little world.

It was only a simple question that did it for me. They were interviewing a Congresswoman, whose name they mangled so I couldn't catch it, about the vitriol in the public debate, when Jones-Lee ask, "So, do you think the vitriol has increased lately or has it been around a while and we just didn't notice it?" DIDN'T NOTICE IT? HUH? Where in hell has she been? A person had to have lived under a rock for at least fifteen years not to have noticed it! And, that the vitriol is getting worse.

Well, there it is, people. The reason KGO is turned off at my house. It hasn't got a clue. Someone there needs to fire a few people.


Monday, January 10, 2011

The Words of Hate

I've been listening to the news since the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, the Congresswoman from Tucson, Arizona, and the killing of six innocent people and wounding of seventeen others at her gathering in Tucson. It seems to me that we, our news agencies and various spokesmen, are incapable of telling ourselves the truth. I'm not hearing the obvious. From what I hear, everyone appears to be side-stepping the issue. I hope the truth comes out as the investigation proceeds into the motivation for the shooting. I think we will have to take the word of Jared Laughner, the shooter, as the truth and I hope he tells the truth. I think we'll hear that the political hate-speech rhetoric motivated him to shoot Giffords. Can there be any doubt of that? Can there be any doubt about who speaks the hate-speech? Can we possibly deny to ourselves where the speech comes from?

What if he says that he's obsessed with Sarah Palin? Palin's website displayed an image of Giffords' district overlaid with crosshairs recently. Palin's spokeswoman said that the crosshaired-image of Giffords' district is not the crosshairs of a rifle sight, but the crosshairs of a camera. Really? How many people believe that? How many people would have immediately thought that the crosshairs were the crosshairs of a camera when first seeing the image? Wouldn't a rational person think "rifle sight" crosshairs? Or when Palin encouraged her Tea Party candidates to "reload" and keep fighting during the mid-term elections, is there any doubt about what she meant? Can we convince ourselves that she wasn't talking about reloading a rifle or pistol? But, of course she was talking about guns. Who can self-delude themselves into not believing that? If he claims he's obsessed with Palin, how can Palin deny that her rhetoric doesn't motivate or cause violence?

Or, what did we think when Tea Party candidate Sharon Angle, the Republican Senate candidate for Nevada, said that we should take a "Second Amendment solution" to those Democrats serving in Congress? The news agencies fully explained what she was talking about; the Second Amendment to the Constitution is the right to bear arms, weapons, and she was saying to use guns against members of Congress. Can we possibly delude ourselves into thinking that she was not saying that we should shoot them? Did we agree? Would we have voted for her? Proudly? Smiling or laughing in front of our neighbors, and, by the way, our children who undoubtedly learned a valuable lesson on hate and America? Doesn't it sound as if Sharon Angle is the one who is unbalanced?

Or, what did we think when Michele Bachman said that Democratic Congress men and women should be investigated for anti-American activities and views? Can we possibly delude ourselves into thinking that she wasn't calling Democrats in Congress anti-Americans, and that they should not be punished? Is that not McArthyism? Wasn't it hate-speech? Isn't it her view that is really anti-American?

Or, when Pam Geller started the Muslim hate campaign against the New York Mosque and Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin and the entire Fox News fanned the flames of hate and millions got on that bandwagon and even Tobie Keith's anti-"rag-head," patriotic songs were played for all to hear, including our children. How many were proud to be on that bandwagon? Wasn't there a pause, a thought in the mind of those who jumped on that something was wrong? That the Muslim-hate wasn't what America stood for? Can we possibly deny that it wasn't hate-speech? Was it something to be proud of? Was that something we were proud to teach those around us?

I believe that to deny that Laughner wasn't motivated by hate-speech or that the hate-speech doesn't cause violence or to dismiss this type of rhetoric as "just politics," or saying that "everyone does it," and to be silent when it occurs, or to make any other self-denying excuse, makes us just as culpable and complicit in the act of violence as those who speak it and those who commit the act. We allow the rhetoric to continue. Our silence also allows those around us, our children, our grandchildren, our friends, to believe that this rhetoric is acceptable. We approve of the hate-rhetoric by our silence. Silence and denial allows us to deny the truth. We should be able to discern the truth. We should pass on the truth, even when admitting the truth is a confession that we've been lying to ourselves. I don't believe that Democracy and silence are synonymous or can exist together.

Isn't it obvious that those who speak the hate are not for America? Isn't it obvious that they are only doing it for their own gain? Their own riches? Their own ratings?

Are we not capable of telling ourselves the truth? According to much of the news over the past two days that seems to side-step the truth and not quite name the usual sources of the hate rhetoric, perhaps we're not. At least, you won't hear me approving the hate or staying silent about who encourages it.


Friday, January 7, 2011

War with the Odorous Ant

We have pesky little Odorous House Ants. Millions of them, apparently in several colonies. These little pests are about 1/8 of an inch long and they get into everything. Try to find out how to get rid of them and you get a million web sites all recommending store-bought baits, a caulking gun (for filling the million holes they enter through), insecticides and a number of other things to buy from Home Depot. I've been buying that stuff for years and I've never been able to get rid of the ants. In fact, it's so bad that I think the name should be changed to Onerous Ants. Onerous means burdensome, oppressive, troublesome while Odorous means sweet smelling, but the only time they are apparently sweet smelling is when they smell like sour butter when they're crushed.

I decided to take the war to a whole new level a few weeks ago by spending as much time as I needed to to figure out how to kill these boogers. I did lots of web searches and ask everyone I met. Someone, obviously smarter than I am, mentioned Boric Acid, so I went shopping for Boric Acid. As far as I can tell, Boric Acid isn't sold in stores - anyplace. So, I wasted a week trying to figure out where I could get some. It turns out that Boric Acid isn't called Boric Acid on the shelf. It's called Sodium Tetraborate and it is the ingredient in Borax, that old time 20 Mule Team product and it is used for laundry additive, and cleaning all kinds of things from toilet bowls to carpets and rugs. Go figure. Safeway sells Borax in a four pound box. That's enough to last twenty years of Odorous Ant wars.

Next came the question of how to kill ants with it, and the answer comes from the usual suspect, Wikipedia, of course. Thunk - smacking myself in the forehead. Duh! Find Boric Acid in Wikipedia and go to Insecticide and it tells you: "Mix 1 teaspoon of Borax (Boric Acid aka Sodium Tetraborate) with 10 teaspoons of sugar in 2 cups of water, stir, then soak cotton balls, or wadded up paper napkins, toilet paper or paper towels in the mixture and set it out where the ants can find it." Easy as pie.

The little devils just love the stuff. It seems to attract them and they'll nose right up to it, spend a minute or two, presumably sucking it up, then go back to their nest. That's what you want them to do, take the poison back to their nest and pass it around to their little household, including the queen. But, you'll have to watch them march to and fro a minute or two. You don't want to mix it so strong that it kills them before they make it back to their nest.

The first day I was amazed at how the chemical warfare seemed to be working. Overnight the ants disappeared and I thought the war was won. But, the little devils were just faking me out. I put out fresh bait and they came back. But, they don't seem to be as lively as they were the first day, and some are a little wobblier than others. The kitchen colony, for example, can't quite make it back to the colony today, even though the mixture in the kitchen is the same as the one in the bathroom where the ants seem to be a little livelier, although slower than the first day.

I think I'm winning the war and all of those store-bought baits didn't help at all. I can't wait until warmer weather when I can spray bushes and trees around here to get rid of the whole neighborhood of Odorous Ants. Take that sucka!


Thursday, January 6, 2011

Transfer of Power - Viewed from the Outside

Two guys watched the transfer of power to the new Speaker of the House. They shook their heads and looked, perplexed, at each other. The new Speaker, third to the most powerful seat in the country, was crying... President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin thought, simultaneously, "the guy will be a pushover."

Two guys watched the transfer of power to the new Speaker of the House. They shook their heads and looked, askance, at each other. He was crying, blubbering... Hu Jintao, President of the Republic of China, and Xi Jinping, Vice Chairman, Republic of China. They smiled at each other. Things are looking up for China. They can't wait until they get the new Speaker in a negotiation room. Visions of concessions fill their heads.

Dimla Rousseff watched the new Speaker of the House make his first speech. She was a little shocked. "Is he an alcoholic who can't control his emotions? What am I to think of the United States?" she asks herself. Dimla Rousseff, the newly elected President of Brazil.

Prime Minister Netanyahu turns the television off, in disgust. "That's pitiful," he says, "the new U.S. Speaker of the House bawling like a baby. Give me a break!" Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel.

Naoto Kan embarrasses easily when he sees human weakness, or behavior that might be seen as weak. He was raised in a society where the Bushido creed, the Samurai code of courage, loyalty, honor and self-control ingrained in his culture. "Why is he crying?" he asks, astonished. He turns the television off. "Why would we listen to that man?" the Prime Minister of Japan, asks.

And so, around the world, world leaders watch, some embarrassed, some appalled, some laughing, none impressed by the new Speaker of the House taking up his gavel. What a joke.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The American Dream

The term, "The American Dream," was first coined by a Wall Street Investment Banker, James Truslow Adams, in 1931 in a book he wrote titled The Epic of America. Before his book, nobody had heard the term. The idea was that everyone should have the opportunity for a better life according to their ability, a conservative idea, and it included the grand concept of homeownership for everyone, a liberal idea. Oddly, Adams is not known as an Investment Banker, but as an author and historian. Most of his ideas were liberal. Education topped his list of critical necessities. He seemed to think that the American Dream had everything to do with education, and lacking an education destroyed the dream. He said:

"There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live. Surely these should never be confused in the mind of any man who has the slightest inkling of what culture is. For most of us it is essential that we should make a living...In the complications of modern life and with our increased accumulation of knowledge, it doubtless helps greatly to compress some years of experience into far fewer years by studying for a particular trade or profession in an institution; but that fact should not blind us to another—namely, that in so doing we are learning a trade or a profession, but are not getting a liberal education as human beings."

In other words, while we're learning a trade for making a living, we cannot forgo the liberal education that teaches us about our history, our government, our Constitution, our laws, our society and our culture so we can live in our society. He sure knew what he was talking about. I've never heard so many misquotes and concocted ideas on our history, government, the Constitution and our laws and society than I have lately. And, since I too missed that liberal education, either because it wasn't provided or because I didn't pay attention, I find that, if I want to know the truth, I have to verify nearly everything I hear from the right by studying books, essays and newspapers that I should have read years ago. Usually what I hear from the conservative right nowadays turns out to be hogwash. It seems to me that we didn't listen to Adams. We skipped the liberal education part sometime over the past 50 or 60 years. I have in mind those emails I get every once in a while quoting Thomas Jefferson or John Adams or other influential person in our history, usually misquoted or taken out of context, that supports some concocted right-wing idea, and, of course, the occasional brainless comments by John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, et. al.

Mom and Dad bought their first house, on the corner of Brummitt and First Streets in Owensville, Indiana, in 1948. Dad was thirty-nine years old and Mom was thirty-six. I was four years old and Jeannie, my younger sister, was not yet one year old. Durward, my older brother, was fifteen years old. Joan (Jo-Ann), my older sister, was eighteen and married with their first child, Diane, who was about one month younger than Jeannie. We moved from the last house at the end of South Main Street, across the tracks, to a "this side of the tracks" house. We didn't get any richer, though. I'm not sure where we fell in regards to the poverty line. Perhaps we were only a hair above the poverty line, barely making the middle-class. It's always nice to be a notch higher than the worst, at least. Dad, who worked at Servel, a P-47 Fighter aircraft manufacturing plant during the war, had been laid off and had gotten a new job at the Hardware Store owned by Byron Marvel. He bought the house from Byron with a loan he got from the First National Bank of Owensville. The bank held the mortgage document. Dad could have, if he wanted, walked three blocks to see that document. Things were looking up, considering what Mom and Dad had gone through for the previous twenty years; the Great Depression from about 1930 to 1940, then World War II for five years and then two or three years of getting back to normal. Dad used to say that during the Depression, "we didn't have a pot to pee in." By 1948, we at least had a pot. By 1948, we were living the American Dream.

I guess, however, that Dad's American Dream and John Boehner's are different. According to Boehner, and the Republican Talking Points making the rounds nowadays, Dad was lazy. In fact, according to Boehner's standards, there were a lot of lazy people in Owensville in those days. He says that those who take unemployment are lazy and those on welfare are lazy. Of course, there was no unemployment compensation or welfare payments in those days. But, there was a lot people who needed them during the 1930s. Dad and Mom were not alone in their struggle during those years. However, it seems that according to Boehner, if a person doesn't somehow become the Speaker of the House or a company CEO, they are lazy. I find that insulting. I would never have believed that Dad was lazy, as I would never believe that all of those people I knew in Owensville were lazy. I don't recall a single person in Owensville that was lazy, although I do recall one or two who were affected by disease, such as alcoholism, that kept them poorer than others. Many in Owensville lacked an education that would have given them a better living wage, but they weren't lazy and I wouldn't say that they lacked ambition. And, besides, a high school education was a good education in those days and Dad and Mom had that.

What really made it possible for Dad to buy the house were laws passed in the 1930s to fix the credit problem and to get money circulating again, to keep banks open and lending and to keep businesses solvent. Does that sound familiar? The Wall Street Barons had all of the money, like they do today, and people like Dad had none and as long as Dad had no money, he couldn't spend any. To fix it, President Roosevelt raised taxes on the rich to as high as 90% and Dad's taxes were minuscule. Roosevelt's idea regarding the wealthiest was that they couldn't make a fortune in a vacuum. They had to have a free country and free citizens who bought their products to make all of that money, and in that case, they owed something to their country for the privilege of becoming wealthy. That's a strange idea today. Another thing Roosevelt did was create the Social Security System to support the elderly. He couldn't let them starve and he needed a way to open up jobs for younger people, so his New Deal system provided a way to retire the elderly with a pension. And, then there was homeownership. Roosevelt needed a way to guarantee more homeownership, a better way than simply leaving it up to the market. It was a new idea, never tried before. But, there were a whole host of problems.

The problem was that when a Savings and Loan (S&L) or a bank loaned out the money for a mortgage or farming or any other reason, it had to wait a long period of time for the loans to be paid back before the money was available again for another loan. A bank in a small town like Owensville, like many banks and S&Ls across the country, could run out of cash periodically. This was especially true when the cash accumulated on Wall Street and didn't circulate back to the local communities. Back then, large companies were taking money out of communities. That, too, should sound familiar. I don't recall if Dad ever said that there was a run on the Owensville bank, but I'll bet it didn't have a lot of cash on hand in the '30s. Roosevelt changed all of that - The New Deal.

From the 1930s onward, a number of laws came out that protected the ordinary guy like Dad from Wall Street. The Glass-Steagall Act (1933) set up the Federal Depository Insurance Corporation (FDIC) that insured all bank deposits, up to a point, so that bank customers wouldn't have to resort to bank runs to get their money back. It also restricted commercial banks from investment risks, so Dad's money in the bank wasn't being used for Stock Market gambling. Blue Sky laws made it impossible for Wall Street to sell risky debt investments to state fund and pension fund managers, investments such as Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs) and Credit Default Swaps (CDSs); although neither of these investment instruments were around then, Wall Street had other tricks then. They always have tricks. Usury laws, some of which had been around forever, were tightened to lower the limits to how much interest could be charged people like Dad. Included in all of the laws passed to help the lower and middle-class income people like Dad was the National Housing Act, 1934.

The National Housing Act created the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation, to keep the S&Ls afloat, and, in a 1937 change to the act, the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae). Fannie Mae was supposed to keep the money circulating regarding mortgages. If the loan was a conforming loan, an FHA insured loan, and after WWII, a VA insured loan, Fannie Mae would buy the mortgage, package it in a bond, called "Securitizing" it, then sell the bonds to investors. The local bank could then continue to make loans from the money received from Fannie Mae and Fannie Mae would get its money from investors and a big circle would be formed to go on and on. A conforming loan was a generally a 30-year loan given to a person who could afford to pay it off, which usually meant that the monthly payment, interest, insurance and property tax did not exceed 33% of take home pay, good credit considered. All of this made it possible for Dad and Mom to buy their home at 311 Brummitt Street, a long way from Wall Street. Dad expected that his children would be able to do the same in their time. Joan and Durward probably did, as any of us would have been able to do if we bought homes before the 1980s. Anyone of us who bought homes after that were taking our chances in the open market. As time passed, the more open and hostile to us ordinary consumers the market became.

The chinks started appearing in the armor in 1968 when Congress chartered Fannie Mae into a Government-Sponsored Enterprise, a GSE, which essentially made it into a privately owned corporation that competed with Wall Street in the secondary mortgage market, that "Securitizing" of mortgages. It later became a publicly traded company. Boy, did that ever make Wall Street jealous. The big banks, J.P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs, First Boston, Salomon Brothers wanted in on the mortgage market. That's where the money was and the Baby Boomers were coming. The Boomers would need a lot of homes, but Fannie Mae had the market cornered.

In the late '70s, Lewis Ranieri, a mathematical genius physicist and Solomon Brother mortgage bond trader, Larry Fink at First Boston who would later found BlackRock, and David Maxwell, the CEO at Fannie Mae got their heads together to get Wall Street more involved. Ranieri put the risk-model-physics equation together and Fink invented the "Tranch," and the two together essentially invented Wall Street securitization of mortgages. Maxwell wanted Wall Street involved so he could sell more mortgage-packaged bonds. From that point on, the actual holder or owner of a mortgage that was packaged in a "Tranched" bond couldn't be identified. A tranch is separating various mortgages into different investment instruments, like splitting a typical 30-year mortgage into a 5-year investment, a 15-year investment and a 30-year investment, so different investors would have different products to meet their needs. The "Derivative" instrument is invented.

So, with the Wall Street door open a little more, Fannie Mae started passing more conforming mortgages to Wall Street, Solomon Brothers and First Boston for packaging. But, Wall Street (Ranieri and Fink) were still not happy. Fannie Mae still had a hold on the market. Investors wouldn't invest in mortgages unless they came with some form of guarantee, either a high credit rating from Moody's, Standard & Poor's or from Fannie Mae with its government-backed (taxpayer) guarantee, even though the government guarantee wasn't written in law or anywhere else. And too there were those pesky Blue Sky laws that restricted the large pension funds from investing in any mortgage bond that wasn't guaranteed by Fannie Mae. Wall Street's hands were still tied.

So, lobbyist from Ranieri, Fink and Maxwell ganged up on Congress after President Reagan took office to change the law. Two guys in the Reagan Administration helped, David Stockman, Reagan's Budget Director, and his deputy, Larry Kudlow (now a CNBC pundit). Ironically, Stockman now says the GOP destroyed the U.S. economy. I guess he forgot his involvement. The selling points were "The American Dream" and "homeownership." Nobody in Congress wanted to go against that. They had voters to worry about and their next election. And, so President Reagan and the Congress removed the Blue Sky laws that forced Wall Street to "warn" investors of the risk and that prevented big pension funds from investing in junk bonds and they did one other thing. Congress "officially" made the credit rating companies, Moody's and Standard & Poor's, and later Fitch, the United States Government's "Official" government rating agencies. Whew! Anything these guys said was gospel, or so said Reagan and the Congress. There would be a "homeownership disaster" if the changes in law were not passed, they said, so they were passed. Wall Street had a party!

Another law that helped Federally Chartered finance companies, banks, is the Depository Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control Act in 1980. It exempted finance companies from State Usury laws, so they could charge as much interest on a loan as it could get away with. Except for "loan sharking" criminal laws, the United States has no federal usury law except for that exemption. But, that didn't save the S&Ls, and as they fell apart in the '80s, a new mortgage brokerage company materialized to replace them, a company that didn't need cash on hand to make a mortgage loan. These companies borrowed money cheaply to make the mortgage and resold it quickly to Fannie Mae or an Investment Bank, like Solomon Brothers, so that they could repackage the mortgage into a security for sale to an investor, after, of course, getting Moody's or Standard and Poor's to give it a triple-A rating. Whoala! CountryWide came into being, along with a thousand other loan brokerage companies more than willing to sell a mortgage to an unsuspecting sucker, or a second mortgage or refinance a house to pay off bills, whether needed or not, all without one iota of thought about the American Dream or homeownership. Only one..., well two things mattered; money and power. Money, money, money and power. Slowly, these new companies became more eager to sell a home to people who couldn't afford them, the "sub-prime" market, people who had no credit history, didn't pay their bills and had a hard time making it from payday to payday. New loans were invented, the Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM), Balloon Payment, Pre-pay Penalty Loans, and then finally the Interest Only-Balloon Payment Loan. Gotcha dude! The "sub-prime" had hit the streets, those loans to people laying below the credit limits, those who really couldn't afford a house payment. After all, it was the American Dream that mattered, wasn't it?

But, after all of that, Wall Street Banks still had a few problems. First was the risk on these things, these new "derivatives." They didn't like taking the huge risk and neither did investors. In the early '90s, J. P. Morgan came up with a solution. Along with a complicated physics equation, it invented the Swap, the Credit Default Swap. This instrument let J. P. Morgan "swap" the risk of a CDO to some other company or investor. The other company, such as AIG, was paid a fee to take on the risk, an insurance policy of sorts. If all went well, and the homeowner paid his bill, AIG stood to make money. If the homeowner defaulted, AIG would lose and have to pay J. P. Morgan the money that J. P. Morgan lost. No risk investing! Wow! AIG didn't have a clue. J. P. Morgan then made thousands of swaps on the same investment, sort of like "looking at yourself in two mirrors where you can see yourself through one mirror in the other mirror" (from the referenced book below), it goes on forever. J. P. Morgan couldn't lose, unless of course AIG couldn't pay. Then everyone lost. And, they did.

The other problems banks had was the Glass-Steagall Act, even though by the '90s they were getting around it. It prevented the commercial bank, the bank that Dad used, from investing in the new derivatives, the CDOs and CDSs. Alan Greenspan, Federal Reserve Head, magically reinterpreted the Act, however, and let them do certain things the Act actually denied them. Greenspan is a free-market guy. And, too, the banks got their London or Japan office to do the investing so they could circumvent the law. If they didn't, they said, they would miss making all of the mortgage money, because those sub-prime mortgages were getting hot. Who could have imagined that a house could actually go down in value. Didn't they always go up?

In 1998 Senator Phil Gramm, a Texas Republican, co-sponsored a bill to repeal most of the Glass-Steagall Act so that all banks could gamble in the stock market, and specifically in the mortgage derivatives. Clinton signed the bill in 1999. The last wall had fallen. The hogs were loose.

From 2000, we then had eight more years of the same people who did all of the things that caused the Great Recession of 2008-09, and still going. After a short reprieve of a Democratic controlled Congress, they are back again, taking over the House of Representatives today, January 4th, 2011. We really have to get smarter before next year's election. I don't see that happening, however.

Reference: "All the Devils are Here" by Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera. Great book! But, it will make you sick. All the Devils are back.

Dad didn't have a degree in Physics or Risk Management or Finance or Business Administration like I suppose those guys above do. They have degrees in how to make a living. Dad's degree was in how to live. Frankly, I think Dad was smarter. I have to agree with Mr. Adams, except I would add: A person shouldn't be allowed to have a degree in how to make a living, unless they first get a degree in how to live. I don't see that happening, either.