Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Under Your Very Nose

I'm a lover of words.  My kids have often tormented me about how I always have a story about where something came from--the derivation of a word, or a story about its use.  They say I'm a "font of totally useless knowledge."    I told my youngest  some years ago it was ok, because I had a ten year old who knew how to use the word "font."

So, as a lover of words, when I read in an essay the non-word, "myscopic," I was intrigued.   The essayist said it was a word his dad had used, and I gathered that it was a pun on the word "myopic," which of course means near-sighted, as in, only able to see what is under your very nose.  I'm very myopic--can't see two feet in front of me without glasses or lenses, but myscopic is, I gather, a little different. 

Apparently, this man's dad had coined this word to refer to those parts of reality that are in your face, or right under your nose.  And because I found this word intriguing, I'm going to expand upon it and extrapolate the term myscopy,  which is the practice of closely examining that which is right under your nose.

Myscopy.  Humans are very untalented at myscopy.  We zip past all kinds of myscopic reality all the time.  You might have noticed that many times you do something, like drive home, and you don't actually remember the detail of doing it.  You can sort of prove you did it, because you're home, in your driveway, in your car, and you are in fact behind the wheel, but as far as being able to say exactly what happened during that drive, not so much.  It is as if you sleepwalked there.

I've been known to do something similar in other situations, like at the grocery store.  I find myself on an aisle that I always go to, but I can't for the life of me remember deciding to go there, or why I decided to go there.   

When I was in law school, one of my professors did a demonstration about the powers of observation, where he had some people run unexpectedly into the class, steal something off the professor's desk, and run out.  Then we were all supposed to write down a "witness statement" about what we had seen happen.  We couldn't agree on what the people looked like, what they were wearing, what they had taken, or even whether they were male or female.  Apparently, people have mental "sleep in their eyes" most of the time.   The failure of myscopy.

We need to develop our skills in myscopy.  We need to focus on what is under our very noses because that's the only stuff we actually have a chance to participate in, change, or really enjoy.  When we zoom from thing to thing, speeding past the scenery like a revolving movie set, we get there all right, but only to find we don't even remember the drive.   And so, we wind up living only slivers of our lives--only really focusing on the parts where we're sitting on the driveway confused about how we got home.   The rest--probably 90 percent--is just a blur.

With a consistent practice of myscopy, we can learn to slow down, shut down the distractions, and LOOK at stuff.  We can examine that which is under our noses.  We can take a moment to pay attention to the lady in front of us in the checkout line (hell, we could even say hi, if we were feeling REALLY daring).  We could notice the sky, how the air smells, what kind of car is in front of us, that cute baby in a stroller, or maybe even how it all makes us feel.  We could actually experience our lives instead of mindlessly trading them in for a blur on the way to the driveway or the grocery aisle.   And, if what we see is good, we might just enjoy it more.  And if  what we see is bad, we might just be moved to try to change it.

So now that I've stolen a word, I'll paraphrase a slogan.   Myscopy--just do it.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Be The Weed

My daughter's poetry class is turning out to be great blog fodder. 
by Julio Noboa Polanco

Let them be as flowers,
always watered, fed, guarded, admired,
but harnessed to a pot of dirt.

I'd rather be a tall, ugly weed,
clinging on cliffs, like an eagle
wind-wavering above high, jagged rocks.

To have broken through the surface of stone,
to live, to feel exposed to the madness
of the vast, eternal sky.
To be swayed by the breezes of an ancient sea,
carrying my soul, my seed,
beyond the mountains of time or into the abyss of the bizarre.

I'd rather be unseen, and if
then shunned by everyone,
than to be a pleasant-smelling flower,
growing in clusters in the fertile valley,
where they're praised, handled, and plucked
by greedy, human hands.

I'd rather smell of musty, green stench
than of sweet, fragrant lilac.
If I could stand alone, strong and free,
I'd rather be a tall, ugly weed

As I read this poem, it occurred to me that it drew a distinction virtually lost in our current culture.  You see,  most people in our society are flowers.  

They look good.  They encase themselves in the 'right' clothes, the desireable homes in fashionable neighborhoods and the 'car of the year.'  They get plastic surgery, take diet hormones, and inject strange substances in their wrinkles,  to try to buff away any sign of uniqueness and outrun all evidence of the lifetimes and experiences that they should be celebrating.  They turn themselves, at great cost, into little more than manufactured goods.  Pretty and packaged.

They live in clusters in cities, in an atmosphere of relative plenty, like that fertile valley.   They're fed and watered by the work of others, rarely appreciating where their food, clothing, or stuff comes from, and not much caring, either.  They are tended by their jobs, their pensions, government programs and the wealth that we in our country take so much for granted.  They're even admired by those who self-righteously proclaim that they have all this because they're 'exceptional' or because they 'deserve' it. 

But, it's becoming clearer by the day that they too are chained to their 'pots.'  Races, ideologies, political parties, social classes, modern-day tribalism and a hundred other meaningless distinctions are used to set them apart--to keep them neatly in their places, waiting for the next visit from the gardener.  Few would know how to sew a garment, cook a meal that doesn't start in a package, grow a head of lettuce, or milk a cow.  Many can't start a lawnmower or change the oil in their car.  Few understand the the markets for goods that they trade ignorantly in every day.  And few would care to learn.  So they trust, blindly, that someone will come and tend them.

 They are grown to be picked with greedy human hands.  They get tended as long as they're useful and not too much trouble.  The gardeners let them work, to help the garden profit, but when times get a little harder,  and there's drought, they're the first to go.  When some employer or politician says that promises made won't be honored--for wages, security, pensions, or prosperity, the helpless flowers will sit for a while in their pots, perhaps screaming bloody murder--but nevertheless still stuck in their pots because they've never known or wanted to know what it was like to grow anywhere else.  For a while they will cling to a life with no blooms and little verdance, and then, when no gardener arrives to save them, they will shrivel and die. 

I may be biased, I'll admit.  I can't think of a single person I've ever known who would say I'm a flower.   My whole life, I've been a half-step off the beat.  I didn't do it on purpose--there was a time when I would have given anything to be beautiful and feminine and stylish and to fit someplace.  But I never looked right in the 'right clothes.'   I never found friends in the 'right neighborhood.'  And when, briefly, I lived in the big house, it never felt like home.   I've always been a little too blunt, a little too plain, and a little too open about my eccentricities to really seem like one of the gang in the pots.   It seems I'm a weed.

Reading this poem helped me to embrace my slightly weird weediness. And not a moment too soon.  As our systems--political, economic, and social--begin to break up,  I'm grateful that I never fit in the pot, because the days of pots being nice places to live are just about over.  And the folks who will grow through the surface of the stone and thrive will be the weeds.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Are We There Yet?

The cliche of the family road trip always has the family just pulling out of the driveway when the kid in the backseat says, "are we there yet?"    It's not just realistic, it tells us something about human nature--we're always looking somewhere else.  Not now--not at the present.

I'd like to take a moment today to invite you to look back and forward and then put your attention on right now.  Here we go.

Remember the morning of September 11, 2001.  The  press and government sources quickly pinned responsibility for the attacks on muslim 'extremists' and the march toward war and the ironically named Patriot Act was under way.  

We had to go to war,  first in Afghanistan, then in Iraq, then in Afghanistan again (and Egypt, and Syria)  they said, to be safe.    But then, because a single crazy person could still take a bomb on an airplane, we had to forego rights, to be searched and scanned before getting on airplanes, to be safe.  And we need to catch these guys before they get to the place with the bomb or the gun--we had to have pretty much global surveillance, to be safe.   We had to be wary of all muslims because they are all warlike jihadists, and we must suspect them to be safe.   It was all a journey toward safety.

Now think about the future we're headed towards.  Our president has claimed the "legal" authority to murder an American citizen, but he says the legal reasoning that authorizes it is "classified."  Congress has passed (and the President says he will sign) a law allowing American citizens to be imprisoned, possibly for life, with no proof, no charge, no trial, whenever the president decides to accuse someone of "substantially aiding" terrorism  (you tell me, does criticizing the U.S. government "substantially aid" al-Qaeda?).  

In our future, we'll have a court ruling that the American people have no right to choose what we eat or drink. We'll have decisions saying that, without any probable cause, a government can put a GPS device on your car and track your every move.   We'll have the law that they can come into your home with a warrant they write themselves and search for God-knows-what.   And we won't be able go out in the street and protest what we don't like about our government without getting beaten, shot with tear gas canisters, and pepper sprayed because they don't like what we're saying.

In our future, we'll  get stopped at checkpoints, groped and scanned before boarding a plane, surveilled at every turn.  We have no privacy in our phone conversations, our email,  our cars, our internet habits, or even our homes.  

So now I'd like you to focus on the present.  For over ten years now, we've fought the 'evil muslims,' we've enacted all the legislation, we've been subjected to the searches, the surveillance.  We're spending over $700 billion a year on "defense" that includes offensive wars all over the place.  We have a military expenditure that is greater than all the other nations on earth combined, and more than four times as much as our next biggest competitor, ChinaWe've dropped millions of tons of ordnance on Iraq and Afghanistan, killed hundreds of thousands of people in those countries, and effectively changed the governmental regimes there.

So here's the question--are we safe yet?

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Way Things Are, or The Death of a Liberal

Over the past few days, I've had some communications that have made me realize just how unaware and uninformed people are.  It's political silly season again, and people are once again throwing out sound-bite ideas as though a three word phrase, or a one-sentence idea is all we need to come back from the abyss we're staring into.  Interestingly,  the phrase or idea is always deceptively simple and appealing to people who don't want to face the complex and behemoth problems of a system gone terribly wrong.  They're all ideas parroted from TV ads or think tank talking points like 'tax the rich' or 'end foreign aid' or 'cut waste fraud and abuse.'  My one-word response:  hooey.  Believe me, I don't like where I've wound up in this little research project.   I'm pretty liberal in my thinking--I like a government that helps people, and my conclusion is oddly conservative, in the old-fashioned meaning of conservatism.  But facts don't lie, and politicians do.   So here goes:

We have gotten here--and here is a whole lot worse than where we were when I voted in my first Presidential election--through a whole bunch of Congresses (some controlled by Ds, some controlled by Rs), lots of different Presidents (some Ds, some Rs), and a lot of changing conditions (my first cell phone was the size and weight of a brick and my first computer didn't have a hard drive), so the decline is not due to who's in office, who controls Congress, or any housing/financial/whatever bubble. It's a systemic problem.

After the facts, I will offer my not terribly humble opinion about what that problem is.


48 percent of all Americans are either considered to be "low income" or are living in poverty.

Approximately 57 percent of all children in the United States are living in homes that are either considered to be "low income" or impoverished.

There are fewer payroll jobs in the United States today than there were back in 2000 , but we have added 30 million extra people to the population since then.

About  20 percent of all U.S. adults are currently working jobs that pay poverty-level wages.

In 1980, less than 30% of all jobs in the United States were low income jobs. Today, more than 40% of all jobs in the United States are low income jobs.

The total net worth of U.S. households declined by 4.1 percent in the 3rd quarter of 2011 alone.

48.5% of all Americans live in a household that receives some form of government benefits. Back in 1983, that number was below 30 percent.

According to a study that was just released, CEO pay at America's biggest companies rose by 36.5% in one recent 12 month period.

The "too big to fail" banks have grown larger than ever. The total assets of the six largest U.S. banks increased by 39 percent between September 30, 2006 and September 30, 2011.

Between 1979 and 2007, net income for the top 1% income earners in the U.S. grew by about 275%, while net income of the bottom 20% of earners grew by only 18%.

The six heirs of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton have a net worth about equal to the bottom 30 percent of all Americans combined.

Right now, spending by the federal government accounts for about 24 percent of GDP. Even in 2001, it accounted for just 18 percent.

For fiscal year 2011, the U.S. federal government had a budget deficit of nearly 1.3 trillion dollars. That was the third year in a row that our budget deficit has topped one trillion dollars.

Bill Gates' entire fortune would only cover the U.S. budget deficit (not the whole budget, just the shortfall) for about 15 days.

The U.S. government has now accumulated a total debt of 15 trillion dollars. This amounts to about $48,850 for every man, woman, and child in America, and a little more than $195,000 for a family of four. That's more than most people's house is worth.

If the federal government began right at this moment to repay the U.S. national debt at a rate of one dollar per second, it would take over 440,000 years to pay off the national debt.  But of course, we're not beginning to repay it--we're incurring more at a rate of  over $41,000 per second.

Out of a total 2011 budget of about $3.7 trillion, the U.S. spent $738 billion (almost 3/4 of a trillion)on the military, almost 19.4% of the total budget, and slightly more than half of all discretionary, non-entitlement spending. By contrast, the combined amount spent concerning natural resources, agriculture, education, and energy is less than $196 billion. Social Security and Medicare combined total about $1.24 trillion. Interest on the debt is about $251 billion, all by itself.

Notice that to eliminate the annual budget deficit (balance the budget) and pay interest on the debt, without raising taxes or affecting military spending would require complete 100% elimination of Social Security and Medicare, plus another $60 billion of cuts in discretionary spending.   Or, you could cut around 88% of all non-military spending except interest on the debt, Social Security, and Medicare--that's every federal agency from the FDA to the EPA to the FBI, and all the other letters of the alphabet.  88% 



Over the last couple of decades, regular people have been taking it in the shorts. There are fewer jobs available and more people competing for them; the jobs that are available are increasingly insufficient to live on; and regular people are losing net worth (wealth).   Meanwhile, big banks, big business, and the rich are doing just great, thanks.

The reason is that the system is rigged.  The government has, for a long, long time expanded its power so that it can enact policies that benefit the high end at the expense of the low end.    When we have unending wars for 'security,' who dies?  Regular people.  Who makes a lot of money?  Big military contractors and the banks who own the Fed, who manufacture the money for the war and charge us interest on it.   When we offer tax breaks to oil companies, who pays in the form of decreased revenue?  Regular people.  Who benefits?  Oil companies with record profits and the banks who manufacture the money for the deficit spending and charge us interest to use the fruits of our own labor.

When we set up regulatory systems, regular people pay for them, both with their tax money to run the agency, and then with higher prices as big companies raise prices and blame it on increased regulation (e.g., the healthcare law has resulted in huge increases in health insurance premiums, and hasn't even gone into effect yet).  Then companies use some of  their increased profits to pay the regulators to look the other way as they screw the regular people  (did the massive regulatory system stop BP from using a broken blowout preventer?)  So basically, with regulation, we pay the government to help business screw us.

Even entitlement spending that is "for" regular people winds up going to the top.  When my mom and dad get their social security check, they're not putting it away getting rich--they're spending it at Walmart. When Medicare pays for their doctor visit or their prescriptions, that money goes to ensure the continued (record) profits of Big Insurance, Big Healthcare, and BigPharma.  And, we still get to pay interest to the big banks who own the Fed on the money they manufactured for those benefits to be paid.

So you see, it doesn't matter whether we buy warfare or welfare, R or D.  Like a casino, the odds are fixed in favor of the house--the people at the top always win.   As I opened my thinking to not just accept partisan accounts of what's going on, but really analyzing it, I've been becoming more aware that the system--financial, business, and political--isn't working for regular people because it's been hijacked by the powerful and carefully, slowly, intricately been designed, precisely NOT to work for regular people.


We only stop digging the hole we've been making by taking big cuts in the whole budget--the military, every agency, Social Security, Medicare, the whole shebang--cuts of 40% overall would be required to eliminate the deficit. And then we'd have to figure out where to come up with $50k each to pay the debt. But between you and I and the lamppost--as long as we have the current political and financial system, that's never going to happen.

The numbers make clear we can't fix this problem by raising the retirement age, cutting waste fraud and abuse of Medicare, ending welfare or foreign aid, or by taxing the rich (much as I'd like to), or any other goofy bumper sticker solution that most of the politicians are setting forth. To try to do so makes as much sense as saying, 'well, the roof is shot, the foundation's crumbling, the plumbing doesn't work, and it's a fire hazard, but otherwise, it's a good house.' The truth is that the house is a wreck from top to bottom. To fix it, you've got to build a new house, not install new curtains.

So, basically, we have to get a new political and financial system!

We've got to stop thinking in terms of Ds or Rs. The Ds and the Rs, with very few exceptions, work for the same people, and it isn't us. 

We've got to stop thinking of and listening to how to tweak the current system. The current system is set up to do one thing: no matter where the money goes first, to make sure it ends up the same place--at the top.

We've got to stop pretending that raising taxes on the wealthy, or taking little bites out of this budget or that budget is going to change anything.  The numbers make it clear that's like spitting in the ocean.   

In short, we've got to stop clinging to the very institutions that are robbing us and the world of prosperity by systematically funnelling resources to the most powerful, the most unscrupulous and the most ruthless. 

And so, a lifelong registered independent with liberal ideals has become, in less than a year's time, pretty much a libertarian, because the ONLY way out of this mess is a convergence of the following three things:

1) to end the system of banks printing money and charging us interest on their imaginations (see my series on Money if you don't understand this statement);

2) to stop the money in politics where the big money interests pay legislators to make policy that funnels money up; and

3) to cut entire swaths out of the federal government--BIG swaths, and then let people and state and local governments have back the authority to handle more of their own affairs, where the politicians are closer to the folks where we can keep an eye on them.

Then we have to get real.  We can't bomb our way to peace.  If we could, then war would have long ago ceased.   We can't borrow our way to prosperity.  If we could, wouldn't a $15 trillion debt mean our economy was booming?  We can't control every bad thing happening in the world with laws and regulations.  If we could, wouldn't drugs, child abuse and air pollution all be gone?

We can't fix the world when our own country is horribly broken, and as long as we think we need to fix the world, it's going to stay broken. We can't grab and scratch and claw for more, damn the consequences, and then lament that others grab and scratch and claw back. And we can't turn over our lives to other people, turn up the TV and ignore it for 40 or 50 years and expect that when we tune back in, it will all be as we want it to be. 

We must begin to engage.  We must think more deeply than liberal vs. conservative, black vs. white, D vs. R, rich vs. poor.  Those distinctions, like all others, are used merely to set up false conflicts that distract us from the real issues--and always have been (see my post called The Arch).  We must see that the world is not a series of bumper stickers, but a complicated and easily imbalanced system.  We must stop thinking that big problems have easy, painless answers.    We must see ourselves as we are--as parts of progressively larger entities--communities, countries, a world.

And finally, we have to start thinking and acting on the principle that what's good for all is good for us, because ultimately, the whole world will drop to the level of the lowest, and right now, that's pretty low.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Good Day

I've mostly ignored the world today, which explains much of why it's a good day.  And then, when my youngest came home, she had written a poem at school.   I wish I were as good a person as my baby is.  I wish everyone were.

I Am

I am joyous and free-willed
I wonder how people can be so cruel
I hear the cymbals of joy over the bells of mourning
I see the love of animals, persistent, even to those who are touched by evil
I want to break away and fly free
I am joyous and free-willed

I pretend to be calm and humbled when inside I feel fireworks
I feel like I can soar at times
I touch sorrow each day but continue on my journey
I worry I will have to leave my mother's side one day
I cry at others' sorrow and pain
I am joyous and free-willed

I understand imperfection and embrace it
I say everything has love
I dream of a carefree world
I try to ignore the pointless things of sorrow
I hope I never lose my spirit
I am joyous and free-willed

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Oath

When people become U.S. Citizens, they take this oath:

I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the armed forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.

When people enlist in the active military service, they take this oath:

I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

When people become police officers, they take an oath something like this:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution
of the United States and the constitution of this state, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of ______ according to the best of my ability...

When I became an attorney (and every state requires a similar one), I took this oath:

I solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Colorado, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of an attorney and counsellor at law to the best of my knowledge and ability.

Many readers of this have probably never taken any of these oaths, but if you are a citizen of the U.S., you should consider whether you are ethically bound to any less standard than someone who moves here from another country.  I'd say no.

Notice that none of these oaths say that they will do so, unless Congress passes a law to the contrary, or unless it will get me fired, or unless anything.  

It's time that all of us live up to our oath, actual or assumed, and defend our Constitution from its enemies.  Right now, most of its important enemies are in Washington DC.    

It's way past time, folks. 

Friday, December 9, 2011


A week or so ago, I posted on the subject of cats, and how humans could learn a thing or two about what love really is from the furry, sometimes annoying felines.  Now it turns out that even rodents can teach us how to be better people.

The journal Science is reporting today that recent studies at the University of Chicago prove rats have empathy for the suffering of fellow rats and will act to alleviate it.    Researchers Jean Decety, Peggy Mason, and Inbal Bartal placed pairs of unrelated rats in cages for 2 weeks to get to know each other. They then put one of the rodents into a small plastic tube inside the cage.  The tube was fitted with a door that would open when it was bumped from the outside.  Not surprisingly, the trapped rats gave out ultrasonic distress calls, which, it turned out, were responded to by their free rat buddies.

In the studies, three-quarters of  rats with trapped cagemates learned how to open the door.  Only one rat in six without a trapped cagemate learned to do this, showing that rats whose friends were trapped were motivated to learn how to free them.

Moreover, each free rat who learned to open the door kept liberating its trapped cagemate again and again, as many times as its buddy was trapped, which researchers felt ruled out mere curiosity as the motivator of the free rats.  The rats freed their trapped friend even when the trapped animal exited into a separate cage, showing that the free rat wasn't only acting to get itself the reward of companionship.

And the rats freed trapped cagemates even when they had the option of bumping open an identical container to obtain chocolate, their favorite treat, demonstrating that their motivation to help was at least as strong as their desire for self gratification with food. In fact, half of the time they even shared their chocolate, leaving some for the trapped rat.

So, even RATS seem to be able to set aside their own selfish desires, show empathy for the suffering of others,  and help one of their own kind in distress.     I wonder when people will catch on.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Hard Truth

I don't go to a lot of movies in theaters.  The huge visuals and way too loud soundtracks are too much for me, so when I do go, the experience is always memorable, no matter what the movie is like.   One I especially remember is Titanic; the sequence where the ship is going down has been stuck like a sliver in my brain ever since.  That's the part where the people in the few lifeboats feverishly paddle away from those dying in the freezing water.   Watching that scene was, for me, like someone hitting me in the gut.  The visual image confirmed all too graphically that humans would turn away from their fellow men and women just that callously,  and later they would say they couldn't have done anything because they might also have died if they helped.

Of course, that had already been proven again and again.  There was WWII, when soldiers killed millions of innocent people because they were told to, and lots and lots of regular people stood by as a dictatorship took hold.  Then they watched their neighbors get herded into ghettos and concentration camps and many just went on with their lives, presumably making up some reason in their mind why they didn't need to do something.  Later they would say there was nothing they could have done because they might also have died if they tried to help.  Of course, there was similar silence when Japanese Americans were herded into internment camps, only the silence wasn't blamed on death, but "safety."

There was Vietnam, where officers gave, and soldiers followed, illegal orders to massacre civilians.  Some lost their minds later after it caught up with them what they did, but others probably told themselves that it was ok because they were just trying to stop Communism, or they were just following orders, and they might have died or gone to prison if they tried to oppose those orders.

And there's every day for the last 20 or so years, where we see reports of genocide, war, displacement, disease, abject poverty, and famine.  Bosnia.  Sudan.  Somalia.  Haiti.  And most of us--me included-have stood by and watched.  Were we on the phone every day to our representatives in Congress?  Not me.   Were we foregoing luxuries like cable or video games and sending every available dollar to help feed the people?  I didn't.  Were we protesting to demand changes in foreign policy or the end to the wars?  I haven't.   Joining the Peace Corp?  Not I.

And now, there's our government, which is gradually taking more and more liberties with human rights--ours and others'.   They've bombed villages full of civilians, and we allowed it, saying they 'must have been terrorists."  When images appear that show small children dead or with their limbs blown off, do we insist that it stop, loudly and persistently, because clearly these babies cannot be terrorists, or do we look away, and call them 'collateral damage?'  

When grave questions have arisen about the official story of the Oklahoma City bombing, or 9/11--questions that make clear the official story cannot possibly be true--do we demand action?  Or do we look away, afraid that if we learn the truth, it might force us to do something we don't want to do--like re-examine everything we've believed to be true?

When civil liberties like privacy of email or phone conversations, or freedom of speech is abridged in the name of  'security,'  have we screamed bloody murder and demanded it to end?  Or have we said, "well, that's not so bad if it keeps us safe, and anyway, it will only hurt people who are up to no good?"

As it has become clear that millions of Americans, who have lost their jobs in the last years due to globalization, the banking crisis, and so on, have we acted?  Have we compassionately sought to help by donating to food banks, or advocating for relief efforts, or helping people we might know personally?   Or, have we sought to blame them, or said, 'Phew!  Glad it's them and not me" and gone back to our Facebook? 

I know what I have done--not much, compared to what I could have done.  And, I'll bet there are people reading this right now who, if honest, would have to give the same answer.   And there are a couple of things I'm absolutely certain of, after living the life I've lived:

1)  The world is getting more and more harsh and wicked and out of control, not because of governments or shortages or global warming, or some other conveniently-out-of-our-control-excuses, but because people are showing less and less human decency and caring.  We are all too willing to close our eyes to injustice and hardship and suffering that's affecting someone else, but not us--yet;

2)  The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.

The examples I've given show me that  we have the world we deserve.  We live in exactly, precisely the reality we've created with our own actions and inactions.  We tolerate horror, so we live in it.  We engage in division and hatred, and so we experience it in return.  We've made a world where things are a lot "fairer" if you're one kind of person or living in one kind of place, and much less fair if you're not.     The big problem for most  average Americans right now is that we are, for the first time, becoming the latter.  Not surprisingly, we're not liking it much.  Averting your eyes and paddling past the people in the water is a much better plan from the perspective of the lifeboat.

The problem is, the only way this cycle stops is if it stops for everyone.  If it's ok to paddle past anyone, eventually that anyone is going to be us.  If we close our eyes to injustice or unfairness against someone we don't like or don't know,  the standard is set.  And eventually, it will be us who are not liked or known.  If bombing babies is just 'collateral damage,' eventually it will be our babies.  The universe is cyclical.  What goes up comes down.  Tides that go out always come in.  And what we sow, eventually, we will reap.

This was the long way of saying something that has been said for a long time--Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.   That said, here's the hard truth:  If we expect anything to change, the first thing we have to change is us.

It's True

You're only paranoid if they're not really out to get you.  :-)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Peace on Earth

It's December, and the mad rush of people scurrying to buy this year's version of the Cabbage Patch Kids or Tickle Me Elmo is supposed to be upon us.   I've never understood the psychology of buying whatever is said to be the hottest new thing, and I've certainly never understood the buy now pay all year mentality of Christmas.  So the headlines about what a mad success the retail holidays are this year are perhaps a bit lost on me to begin with-but this year it's even more true.

On Black Friday this year, as is our custom, my family and I studiously avoided the mall.  We did a little grocery shopping, went to the park for a walk, and played games at home.  The thing that surprised me all day that day was how mild the crowds looked everywhere we drove past.  The mall had parking spots.  The Target store was downright civilized.  Traffic was reasonable all over our city.  Then we got home and I looked at the headlines of mad crowds and people pepper spraying each other and excellent retail sales, and I thought it must be a fluke. 

Since then, I've been shopping a couple of times.  Both times, stores weren't crowded; there were lots of sales, but fewer shoppers.   My own online retail business is distinctly average this year.  Not a lot worse, nor a lot better than previous, so I'm not buying that everyone is shopping on line.

Here's my theory.   I think that people may be getting it, finally.   There are always going to be those who get up at three in the morning to get an Xbox or a talking teddy bear, but I think people are shopping less this year.  Maybe the knowledge that the world is swirling round the cosmic bowl is causing a moment of reflection in American humanity.  Maybe people are seeing the stupidity of buying plastic crap with a plastic card and spending two or three months eating macaroni and plastic cheez food product to be able to pay for it.  Maybe the knowledge that our elected representatives have voted to be able to pick us up and toss us in the slammer for life by merely calling us a name is putting a damper on our acquisition instincts.  But I think people are getting it.  I certainly hope so.  After all, according to the story, Jesus was born in a stable, not a food court.

If we can't make it happen anywhere else maybe we can at least make it happen at the malls--Peace on Earth.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Arch

One of the strongest forms in architecture and engineering is the arch.  It's been done, in various ways, since the Roman Empire. 

The idea is that all the operative forces push against each other--side to side shear on each side pushes inward toward the middle of the arch, and the downward force of gravity presses down and out.  It makes a very strong portal. 

Interestingly, it also makes an incredibly strong political positioning strategy and way to divert forces around a central core of what someone really wants to get done.  Here's how it works.

Friday, December 2, 2011

I Feel Better

Recently, I have been facing a real problem.  I've found myself really really liking a Fox News contributor, Judge Andrew Napolitano.  I've even linked to a couple of his segments on this blog.  I've never liked a Fox News contributor before, and it's something of an existential crisis. 

Then, on top of that, I've found myself seriously thinking that the only candidate I might be able to vote for next year is Ron Paul, because of his stance on monetary policy, and especially the Federal Reserve.   Cognitive dissonance with my usually sort of left-leaning self. 

Today, I feel better.  My favorite person today is Jon Stewart.  Watch this .

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


I'm going to go out on a limb today.  Some who read this post will undoubtedly say that I'm being paranoid--that I'm nuts.  My response is:  maybe, but that doesn't mean I'm wrong.

Today my post will be about some of the many ways that ordinary Americans are being marched to our own demise by our own government.   In many ways, the government is being assisted by our own stupidity, blindness, and refusal to wake up and see the darkness that has been gradually taking over our society and the world for the last few decades.  We are living in a police state, and if we don't quickly quit squabbling with each other over meaningless distinctions, join forces, and stop it, there will come a time when it can't be stopped.
Here's some evidence.

The government has criminalized protest protected by the First Amendment.  We can look around each day and see the headlines of  police being used to break up peaceful Occupy protests, brutalize protesters, and arrest both protesters and even journalists covering the protests.

The government is trying to criminalize citizens recording police interactions in public.  Recently, a 41-year-old auto mechanic in Illinois was charged with five Class One Felonies and faced 75 years in prison.  What was his crime? He videotaped police who came to his home and place of business and seized several unregistered cars that he was trying to repair. 

Prosecutors actually charged this man with sufficient offenses to result in a life sentence--for recording police on his own property.   After an Illinois trial-court judge threw out the case, holding the law that was used to be unconstitutional, the prosecutors plan to appeal.    Similar incidents are happening all over the U.S.  See here, and here, and here, and here and here.  What possible motivation would government officials have to want to put people in prison for documenting police behavior?   Suppose it's because they want the police to be free to abuse and even kill people and then be able to lie about it, as they did routinely before everyone had cell phones to prove their misconduct?   Interestingly, at the same time it's trying to stop us from recording cops whose salaries we pay, while doing their jobs as 'public servants,' the government is successfully contending that we regular people have no expectation of privacy in public places and so they can surveil us all they want with hidden cameras, GPS devices put on our cars, and other devices, all used without warrants or suspicion of wrongdoing.   Something about geese and ganders comes to mind, but of course, common sense means nothing.

The government is trying to stop people from having their own independent food sources.  We are $15 TRILLION (and counting) in debt; schools are cutting staff, increasing class size and cutting out buses; cities and counties are too broke to keep street lights.  So, why are government officials wasting time and effort trying to stop people from drinking milk, having barbecues with fresh garden produce,  and taking supplements?   Why is the government allowing huge companies to patent naturally occuring genes (yes, like DNA) of plants, animals and humans?   My own opinion is that they are trying to gain the ultimate control over us--to tell us that we do not have the right to decide what to put in our own bodies, unless it is that which generates maximum profit for their corporate overlords. 

The government is trying to revoke the rights of the American People to be free from unreasonable search and seizure and to a trial when accused.  Yesterday the Senate defeated an amendment to SB1867, the National Defense Authorization Bill.  The amendment proposed to remove new language in the bill that would allow the military to indefinitely detain any person, even an American citizen, anywhere in the world, even on American soil, without charge or trial.   Some have argued that the bill doesn't actually mean that, but one of the bill's primary proponents, warmonger Lindsey Graham (R, S Carolina), has stated on video that  believes it does.  I've read this section of the bill (section 1031).  As a formerly practicing attorney, I can say that I believe that's exactly what it means--the government can grab you and toss you in prison forever if it says you pose a terrorist threat.   The Senate will vote on the bill, still containing the detention language, later this month.

The government has already claimed the power to 'legally' assasinate American citizens.   Several weeks ago, the Obama Administration carried out the summary assasination of  American citizen Anwar al-Aulaqi, with a targeted drone strike in Yemen.  When asked to legally support its decision to execute an American without a trial, the administration said that its legal reasoning was "classified."  Isn't that convenient?  Murder someone, then classify the justification for it, so it can't be legally challenged.  If another government did this, we'd condemn them and impose sanctions for human rights abuses. 

I'm sorry to sound like one of the 'crazies.'   I've been a left-leaning centrist my whole adult life.  I squawked as much as anyone during the Bush years.   I don't live in a 'compound,' and I don't own a hundred guns.  But I'm starting to believe that the conspiracy theorists are right.   In fact, I know they are.  Look above.  If the conspiracy is to intentionally, sytematically strip rights from the American people, then it's fairly clear, isn't it?  They not only plan to kill Americans--they have.  They're writing into law that we have no right to a trial, and they don't have to prove anything before they throw us in prison.  They're systematically eroding the general Constitutional rights we thought we had, and trying to make it more and more difficult for anyone to catch them in abuses.  Is this the action of a benevolent governing body?  Or is it more akin to the action of war-mongering, power-drunk shills for the ruling financial-military-industrial complex who want to wage perpetual war to get rich and steal resources,  quash the rights of anyone who says to stop, and quash the spirit and health of everyone else who's not yet screaming their heads off?

I know which I'm betting on.

So, what do we regular people do?  Well, our enemies' best weapons are the ignorance, apathy, and silence of the many.  They can't beat an informed public, so they've co-opted most of the biggest sources of information and given us unending ways to distract ourselves from the truth of what's happening.  So far, they've been able to characterize anyone talking like I am now as a nut or an extremist, but that won't fly when lots of people start hearing and speaking the truth.  We're all not nuts.

So, first we stop being ignorant.  Tune in.  Stop looking exclusively at the mainstream 'news' media, which is owned by the same financial-military-industrial complex who's hijacked our government.  Seek out information from all sources, especially the alternative ones who have no financial interest in the game.   Read.  Listen.  And, above all, THINK.

Second, talk about it.  Bitch, moan, and complain about it.  Put your Senators' and Representatives' emails in your address book and use them often.   If you read about something you think is wrong, email the proper officials to demand it stop.  It takes about 2 minutes to search for and find a public official's email online.  Tell them we know what they're doing.  Talk about it around the water cooler.   Make comments on news stories online.  The powers that be have their shills there to make it seem like all reasonable people think its just wonderful that we're killing people left right and center to be "safe."  Let other people know if you don't agree.

Third, don't voluntarily give them your money.  If you still have accounts with any of the big banks, close them.  Use a local credit union or small, locally-owned bank instead.  Stop being the mindless consumer, especially just to save 9 cents a roll on paper towels.  Buy little, and what you do buy, buy locally whenever you can.  Shop second hand or thrift stores.  Plant a garden and grow your own safe, healthy, non-GMO food, or buy it from a CSA, a local farmer, or farmers' market when you can.   There's no reason to give them the profits they are using to buy our government and destroy us.  

Fourth, stop fighting each other.  The Tea Party started from the same principle as the Occupy Movement--that the system is gravely, seriously broken.  We may disagree about what would be better, but couldn't we work that out AFTER we get rid of current bankster-bought mess we've already got?   Ever hear that old saying, the enemy of my enemy is my friend?    Remember who the enemy is.

Finally, don't hate, don't fear, and don't give up.  Hate and fear are their game, not ours, and as for giving up--well, there's still more of us 'crazies' who want to live peacefully and be left alone than there are the 'sane' people who are out blowing up the world.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What The Fed Didn't Want Us to Know-And Why We Need to Know It

From Bloomberg, yesterday:

The Federal Reserve and the big banks fought for more than two years to keep details of the largest bailout in U.S. history a secret. Now, the rest of the world can see what it was missing.

The Fed didn’t tell anyone which banks were in trouble so deep they required a combined $1.2 trillion on Dec. 5, 2008, their single neediest day. Bankers didn’t mention that they took tens of billions of dollars in emergency loans at the same time they were assuring investors their firms were healthy. And no one calculated until now that banks reaped an estimated $13 billion of income by taking advantage of the Fed’s below-market rates, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its January issue.

Saved by the bailout, bankers lobbied against government regulations, a job made easier by the Fed, which never disclosed the details of the rescue to lawmakers even as Congress doled out more money and debated new rules aimed at preventing the next collapse. . .

The size of the bailout came to light after Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, won a court case against the Fed and a group of the biggest U.S. banks called Clearing House Association LLC to force lending details into the open.

The Fed, headed by Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, argued that revealing borrower details would create a stigma -- investors and counterparties would shun firms that used the central bank as lender of last resort -- and that needy institutions would be reluctant to borrow in the next crisis. Clearing House Association fought Bloomberg’s lawsuit up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the banks’ appeal in March 2011.

$7.77 Trillion

The amount of money the central bank parceled out was surprising even to Gary H. Stern, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis from 1985 to 2009, who says he“wasn’t aware of the magnitude.” It dwarfed the Treasury Department’s better-known $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. Add up guarantees and lending limits, and the Fed had committed $7.77 trillion as of March 2009 to rescuing the financial system, more than half the value of everything produced in the U.S. that year.


The criminal banking cartel who controls the Federal Reserve and who has bought our corrupt government, pretty much from top to bottom, fought like a lioness, all the way to the Supreme Court, to protect its secrets--that it committed half the entire country for a year to bail out a handful of huge foreign-controlled banks and keep them from facing bankruptcy when the magnitude of fraud they perpetrated on investors threatened to come to light.  It wasn't just TARP.  It was trillions of dollars of free money lent to the banks to shore up their balance sheets so they could continue to rape and pillage our economy without consequence. 

If you read on through the article, you'll see more, like this:  Following this enormous gift, courtesy of you and I, the American taxpayer, the criminals went on to earn $13 Billion in profits, and still manage to pay their employees fully twice as much as the average worker in the U.S.  After being understood as 'too big to fail,' so as to have a perpetual gun to the heads of every person on the planet, who can't let them go bankrupt without setting the world economy on fire, the six biggest criminal firms in the criminal banking enterprise GREW by almost 40%.   We took away their derringer and gave them a 9mm to hold to our heads.

The point?   It's this:

The only political action that matters right now in the United States is to dismantle this Mafioso banking cartel and break the stranglehold that it has on our government and us.  Everything else, liberal or conservative, amounts to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Monday, November 28, 2011


I confess, I'm a dog person at heart.  But since I've been about 18, through a variety of circumstances, I've almost always had cats too.  Cats are infuriating creatures.

Have you ever noticed that cats are intent upon loving people, whether the people want them to or not?  They twirl and rub in and out of your feet while you're walking.  They do that weird kitty head-butting thing to your face while you're trying to watch a show.  They lick you with that creepy sandpaper tongue that gives any human with nerve-endings instant shivers. They come to wake you up at 5 a.m. on a Saturday by lying down on your chest and purring out an absolutely crazy-making declaration of affection/demand for attention.  Often, it seems, cats will become more intent on loving someone if that person doesn't like them.  My mother, for example, is totally creeped out by cats.  Every cat I've ever had has made a bee-line to her to love on her whenever she visited.  It was like they all knew that she disliked them, and so it was a challenge they couldn't turn down to love her in spite of her antipathy.  Cats are affirmatively, stubbornly, annoyingly, loving.

Another notable thing about cats is their complete refusal to be compliant.  Hence the lament, "It's like herding cats."   You can teach a dog just about anything with consistency, praise and food.  Cats, not so much.  It's not that cats are dumb--they understand perfectly and they'll do what you ask--if they want to.   Otherwise, you're toast.  You can bat a cat halfway across the room each and every time it tries to jump on the counter for two decades, and it will still stride into the room right in front of you and jump on the counter if it feels like it.  I know; I've done it.   

Cats have a way of defying you right to your face, without malice so much as a genuine conviction that you should be on their side anyway, and so it's ok.  I had a cat years ago who loved little balls of tinfoil to play with.  I showed him a game once where he would lie on his side and I would toss him a ball of tinfoil and he'd bat it back to me--right at me, in the numbers every time.  He loved this game.  I thought it mildly amusing for the first 3 or 4 thousand repetitions.   Any time he felt like playing, he'd go find a ball of tinfoil somewhere around the house, and he'd bring it and drop it right in front of me.  Then he'd stare at me.  If I didn't go for the staring, then he'd try sidling up to me, rubbing on my leg.  If that wasn't sufficient to start the playful juices, he'd try meowing loudly, head-butting, licking, biting my hands, or lying down on my book or keyboard or whatever was taking my full attention away from tinfoil tennis.   This could go on forever and no matter how hard I tried, I never got that cat to give up his plea for tinfoil tennis without incarcerating him in another distant room where I couldn't hear his beating on the door and his yowling.  He never gave up.  Ever.

So, here's the reason I'm talking today about cats.  We need to learn a lesson from them.  For quite a while now, I've talked about things that are wrong in our world.  Corruption, greed, inequity, violence, prejudice, etc. etc. etc.   Those of us who aren't 'bad' people sometimes feel overwhelmed by how much has gone awry.   Sometimes it's hard to know what to do.  Every day, there seems to be another disclosure of how terribly broken our society is.  But, last night, I hit upon the answer.  We need to behave like cats.

First, we need to demand what we want.    We need to drop our tinfoil ball at the feet of the powers that be and dare them to ignore us.  If they don't listen, we need to systematically ratchet up our demands.   If necessary, we need to keep yowling until they lock us in a distant room, and then we need to beat on the door and yowl some more.  Never give up.  Ever.

Second, we need to stop being compliant with the things we see in the world that we know are wrong.  We need to start refusing to be herded--into the fear-mongering games, into the us-vs.-them mentality, into hatred of anyone who sees things differently, into wars we know are pointless and stupid.  We need to get where we're going like cats.  Don't believe them when they tell you no--they'll come around.   Start toward your goal, and if someone opposes you, go there FASTER.   Zig and zag if you must, but . . . Get. . . Onto. . . That . . .Counter.

And finally, we need to affirmatively, stubbornly, annoyingly love.   And not just the people who love you back.  Love the ones with antipathy for you especially.  You know why?  Well, there's that whole religious thing--love your enemies, and all that.  It's cool. It's evolved.   It's even a good idea.

Maybe just as importantly,  it works.  Why do you suppose that Jesus has gotten such high billing in the spiritual world for the last couple millenia?    He wasn't some celebrity or high roller; he was just some scruffy peasant from the sticks.   And it wasn't because he died, either--for peoples' sins or otherwise.  Think about it--it wasn't uncommon for people to get executed by the Roman Empire. It wasn't even uncommon for it to happen by crucifixion.  Dying was pretty easy to do back then.   What made Jesus a legend, whether you're a Christian or not--what makes pretty much everyone acknowledge Jesus' influence was that he did something amazing-- he loved.  He not only didn't fight the Romans or the Sadduces or the Pharisees--he forgave them.  And in doing so, he won even though at the time it might have looked like he was overwhelmed by the darkness he faced.

Remember the iconic image of the young man who marched out in front of the tanks at Tianamen Square?  He didn't walk out there with a suicide bomb or an AK47.  He chose the path of peace in an insanely violent circumstance.  No one has reported conclusively who that man was or what happened to him.  It's possible that the Chinese government took him out of public view and killed him.  But he won.  No one who watched what he did can ever forget it, and oddly enough, China began to change, not so very long later.

Besides Jesus and the Tank Man, there are lots of examples of people who won by loving like cats--Mother Teresa, Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, and so many others. They all just refused to buy the idea, popular in their surroundings, that someone else was in control of the matter.  They became people who changed stuff not by shooting or bombing or burning or even screaming, but by just patiently continuing to 'purr' their message of love, justice, equality, or fairness until the other side started to give up and love them back.
So I've decided.  We need more cats.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

I Like this Guy

The world truly has changed.  A commentator on Fox News is fast becoming one of my favorite people.  Yikes.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Brave New World--Do Something NOW

Just about completely under the radar, the Senate will be taking up a bill for a vote on Monday or Tuesday.  This bill, SB 1867, is one of the insidious 'anti-terrorism' measures for which our government is becoming infamous.  A provision in this bill provides that people inside the United States can be considered 'terrorists' and detained indefinitely by the U.S. Military, without charge or trial.   This is true whether the person is an American citizen, or not.   Read more here.

This gem, drafted in secret by Sens. John McCain (R, Arizona) and Carl Levin (D, Michigan), in the latest in the American Government's declaration of war on the American people.  Mark Udall, a Democratic Senator from Colorado, has proposed an amendment that would delete the language permitting indefinite detention of Americans in America and replace those provisions with language requiring Congress to review detention power.

If you are  willing to take your chances on being sentenced by the military to life imprisonment for the crime of being called a terrorist by our government, then do nothing.    If you'd rather that you and your children not be subject to life sentences by fiat of the federal government, contact your Senators and Representatives and request that they vote for the Udall Amendment to SB 1867.  Then forward the link above to everyone you know and ask that they do the same.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The New Math

Just a tidbit today.  The 'mainstream media' has finally decided it must report on the successes of Ron Paul or risk losing its iron grip on the mostly anesthetized minds of Americans.  But, not to be said to be too honest, here's the way MSNBC presented its own polling results.

See the bars?  Apparently, some time since I took math in college, 14.5 percent (Romney's second place result) became HALF of 57.3 percent (Paul's winning result). 

All I've got to say is anyone the crooks dislike this much must be worth a second look.

M-O-N-E-Y (Part 6)

For about a week now, I've been posting about the U.S. Monetary system--its history, and a quick primer on how it works.  In technical terms, my descriptions obviously had holes you could drive trucks through, but I hope they have been informative.  Today's post will be the last in the series, and the most important.  Because today, I need you to ponder one additional point.

That point is simply this.  The central banking system--in the U.S. it's the Federal Reserve--has one purpose and one purpose alone.   It is not to stabilize economies.  It is not to ensure the flow of credit.  It is not any of the grand purposes we've been told it's all about.  Its real purpose is to put the control of money in the hands of a few powerful people who can then use their great wealth and power to buy and sell businesses, governments, the press, and, most importantly, us. 

The original architect of this system was a very wealthy German banker back in the 18th century, a man named Mayer Amschel Rothschild.  Here's what he said about it:  "Permit me to issue and control the money of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws."   That's because he knew that with control of the money, he could buy the cooperation of the people who make the laws. 

Since the United States was formed, banking interests, including generation after generation of the Rothschild family, have pushed to have a central bank.  The First Bank of the United States was formed in 1791, with a 20-year  charter that lasted until 1811.  When it was proposed, smart people like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison immediately and vociferously argued that the Bank (and the tax that was levied to finance it) was unconstitutional.   And the guy who was the mouthpiece for the banks who wanted to "control the money" of the nation, Alexander Hamilton, basically argued, "well, the Constitution doesn't actually say we can't."  That argument should have been seen as the tripe it was, since the Constitution enumerates the powers that the government will have, with all the rest of the powers reserved to the sovereign states and the people.  But, ultimately, Hamilton wheeled and dealed, and essentially bought the support the bank needed.   The United States bought its shares in the bank with money borrowed from the bank.  An excise tax was levied to pay back that money, and the first iteration of the American people as debt slaves to big banking began.   The First Bank of the United States dissolved when its charter ended in 1811.   Needless to say, the bankers were not happy--their cash cow had died.

Interestingly, shortly thereafter, a war broke out--the war of 1812, and the country struggled to have enough money to fight it, issuing Treasury bonds and scratching and clawing for the funds.  It is said that the banking House of Rothschild nearly single-handedly started that war, instigating the British Parliament to try to retake the Colonies.   Deeply in debt from the war, in 1816 the U.S. chartered  the Second Bank of the United States.  President James Madison signed the bank into law exprssing his hope that it would stem the tide of devastating inflation that had occurred with the issuance of the huge war debt.  The Second Bank of the United States dissolved when its twenty year charter expired in 1836.   Andrew Jackson, then-President of the United States, had argued against re-chartering of the Bank, because he said
  • It concentrated the nation's wealth in one institution,
  • It opened the government to control by foreign interests,
  • It served mostly to make the rich richer,
  • It exercised too much control over Congress,
  • It favored northeastern (business and finance) states over southern and western (agricultural) states,
  • A few wealthy families controlled it.
Yup.  Also interestingly, during the fight over whether to renew the Bank's charter, there was an attempted assisination of Jackson.  An unemployed housepainter tried to shoot him, but two pistols he used both misfired.  When caught, the painter said he'd done it because with the President dead, "money would be more plenty."  I wonder where he got that idea. 

The country popped along for quite some time without a central bank.  There was inflation and bank failures and so on, and then in 1907, the Panic occurred.  The Panic of 1907 started when a lot of Wall Street Banks lent money to a group trying to corner the market on copper by buying up the stock of the United Copper Company.  The takeover failed, and the banks, who had overextended (basically stole depositors' money) to finance the scheme, suddenly faced bank runs as it was exposed they didn't have enough money left to pay deposits--sound familiar? 

The answer to the self-induced banking panic was provided by some rich bankers and their pal in Congress, a guy named Aldrich.  Central Banking!  Specifically, the Federal Reserve.   President Woodrow Wilson signed the Fed into existence in 1913, and the rest, as they say, is history.  Throughout the history of the Fed, it has engineered financial 'growth' and collapse.  When it prints lots of money, there are inflation and 'bubbles,'  and then the bubble pops--like the 1920s stock market bubble whose collapse caused the Great Depression, and the 1990s housing bubble, whose collapse is causing the Depression now. 

The thing that has stayed constant throughout is that the banks make money--lots of it.  How can you miss when you loan a country its own money and charge interest on it?    The only time anyone's made a serious bid to take back the power over our money supply was when President Kennedy signed Executive Order 11110, in June, 1963.  By that order, he essentially bypassed the Fed, and said the government could issue  money, called silver certificates, on its own authority, without "borrowing" it from the Fed.   This imminently sensible thing to do (even the Crazy Al type furniture dealers know you save money when you 'cut out the middle man' ) would have put the Fed out of business.  Oddly enough, Kennedy was assassinated a few months later, and President Johnson didn't share Kennedy's zeal for taking back monetary sovereignty.

Keep control of the money, and keep control of the nation.  The bankers know this--have since the 1700s.  Can't understand how our Government could make such a mess of the economy?  It's easy.  They did what they were told by their banking masters--spend a lot, 'borrow' it from the Fed and make the public pay back made-up-Monopoly-money (together with interest) with real work, products, and services.   The result is a never-ending cycle of ever-increasing debt, whereby the entire population becomes nothing more than debt slaves to the banks.

So here's the deal.  I'm tired.  I'm tired of believing in a country where elected officials consider the public's opinion irrelevant because we don't have millions to throw at their campaigns or fancy million dollar 'consulting' gigs for them and their families, like the people who "control the money".  I'm tired of laws being only enforced against the people who can't pay to get a pass, because they don't "control the money."   I'm tired of this system where both of the 'major party' candidates are always purchased in advance by the same people--the people who "control the money."   I'm tired of the people who "control the money" pitting the people who don't against each other and then laughing as they steal us blind while we're otherwise occupied hating each other.   I'm tired of the people who "control the money" starting wars so they can sell the government arms or planes or mercenaries, while ordinary people die for their profit.   I'm tired of being sold by my government to the highest bidder.  And the highest bidder is always going to be the one who controls the money, just like old Mr. Rothschild said.

I'm tired.  And I'll bet you are too.  And we really don't have to take it anymore.   Send people to read this series.  Stop ignoring the evidence that we're being played for patsies.  And realize that knowing what they're up to gets us half the way to winning.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

M-O-N-E-Y (Part 5)

Over the last few posts, I've reviewed the history of money and central banking in the U.S.,  the systematic devaluation of the dollar as a fiat currency since the 1970s, and the artificial growth in the currency supply created by fractional reserve banking.

So we now understand that the Federal Reserve is not actually owned by the government.  It is owned by 'member banks' in the Federal Reserve System--private banks.  The private banks are then in turn owned by shareholders--mostly rich people--some of whom are American, but many of whom aren't.

We saw in part two how the creation of the fiat money system led to the devaluation of the dollar, the magical inflation of prices for stuff that people buy, and to the huge inflation of home prices we came to call the housing bubble.

Next, we learned how the banks got themselves in a crack--through the legalized Ponzi Scheme called fractional reserve banking, in which, by design, there is never actually enough money in the banks to pay their obligations to depositors.  This shortfall, as we've seen, gets bigger whenever a loan defaults, which happens all the time, so it just keeps making the system rack up larger and larger shortfalls.   But it does result in a whole lot of money getting lent out, at a profit.

And last time, we learned about derivatives, a creature of legal maneuverings, where banks manage to get money they've loaned back quicker so they can loan it again for another profit while transfering the risk of default to investors who buy the derivatives.  And we saw how this practice led to worse and worse lending practices until the whole scheme crashed in 2007 and 2008.

So now, we'll have a look at how the banking system has, so far, managed to avoid responsibility for all of its thus far greedy and irresponsible behavior. In common parlance, we can refer to this as the bank bailouts.  

Fall, 2008.  Due to the popping of the housing bubble and the other bad practices we've already talked about, the big banks and financial service companies found themselves with a whole lot of worthless assets in the form of pools of loans that weren't paying and way too little capital to meet their obligations.  One went bust--Lehman Brothers.  Then politicians ran around for a few days with their hair on fire, screaming that we couldn't let the banks go broke; they were "too big to fail."

Then Treasury Secretary  and bank fairy godfather Henry "Hank" Paulson (a very rich guy who was once Assistant Secretary of Defense and who once succeeded the now-clearly-criminal Jon Corzine as CEO of one of the largest financial services companies in the world, Goldman Sachs) came up with a "plan."  It was called TARP, or the Toxic Asset Relief Program.  In brief, this program worked like this:

1)  The Federal Reserve would push a button on its super-money-making computer and miraculously create a whole lot of previously non-existent money (more than 3/4 of a Trillion Dollars' worth);

2) This would devalue all of the dollars that were already outstanding in the economy, because the Federal Reserve doesn't have a super-product-and-service-making computer to miraculously create any additional value in the form of products or services to go along with the imaginary money;

3a) In theory, the new imaginary money would be lent to the U.S. Treasury to be used to buy back "toxic assets,"  that is--assets that weren't worth anything because they consisted largely of huge pools of loans that either were, or were about to be, in default.  This did not happen.  No one has been willing to say exactly why (in fact, very few have even asked), but I find it likely that the reason was that if the government owned these "toxic assets," people within the government might actually be foolish enough to go and try to collect them.  Then, I think they'd find out that they were, in a legal sense, just as imaginary as the money--that is, that the supposed rights associated with the assets to collect on debts were unenforceable because they hadn't been structured properly, and that the quality of the assets was so poor that it would have opened up all the banks to lawsuits for fraud or possibly even criminal theft; so...

3b) In practice, the imaginary money wasn't actually used to buy those worthless assets, but instead was just lent to the banks that were "too big to fail," so that it would not become immediately apparent that they were completely underwater and unable to pay their obligations.  This is called insolvency, and usually is when you file bankruptcy, unless you are "too big to fail." All the big banks had to take the money, because if only the ones that were completely broke took the money, then we'd all know who was completely broke and it would show us where all the bodies were buried.   We needed to loan this money to the banks, it was said, so that they would have enough money to continue lending money to businesses and consumers and get the economy going again.  Unfortunately, the banks just kept the money and didn't loan much to anyone; so... 

3(c) In practice, the Federal government borrowed imaginary money from the Federal Reserve (which is, in fact the banks) to lend back to the banks, who didn't loan money to businesses or consumers much, but did manage to make sufficient profits so they could pay nice dividends to the rich guys who own most of the stock in big banks and and pay extremely nice bonuses to the rich guys who run the big banks.

4) We would then proceed to ignore the fact that when you are insolvent, borrowing more money does not actually improve your financial condition, since each dollar of loan money (asset) comes with an equal or greater (with interest) obligation to repay the money (liability).

5) We would also proceed to not ask ANY questions about where the money went, because the Federal Reserve and the Treasury don't actually want to tell us, and the rest of the government doesn't really want to know, because then they wouldn't be able to take campaign donations from the crooked ones any more.

6) American taxpayers will then dutifully pay taxes to pay back the big banks' loan back to themselves, plus interest, which will mean less money for all that frivolous stuff like roads and schools and police and fire protection, and pensions for people who paid in their whole lives in return for a promise they'd get a check when they are old, and so on.  This is called 'austerity.'

And now that this has worked so well here in the U.S., we want to do it on a global scale, in the form of the IMF and World Bank making similar loans to Greece, Italy, Ireland, Portugal, etc.

American ingenuity, exported once again.

Monday, November 21, 2011

M-O-N-E-Y (Part 4)

In the past three posts, we've talked about the history of money in the U.S., the creation of a fiat monetary system, and the inflation that occurs with such a system, and the Ponzi Scheme known as Fractional Reserve Banking.   Today our topic is derivatives.  Before your eyes glaze over, buck up.  We'll learn this hideously--well, hideous-- subject in the form of a fairy tale.

Once upon a time, there was a bank, and this bank made money by taking in deposits from customers and then lending that money to other customers for a fee called interest.  The bank did ok.  A lot of the time, the deposits it took in were free.  People just put their money in the bank to be safer and more convenient to use, and the bank didn't pay them any interest in return for holding their money.  Sometimes those people would even pay a fee to the bank for holding their money for them.  This fee was called a service charge. 

Other deposits, the bank had to pay for.   The people who owned the money would agree that they wouldn't take the money out for a while, and in return for that promise, the bank would pay them a small amount of interest--maybe a couple of percent per year. 

Whenever the bank had deposits it would lend that money out to another customer.  It would figure out how much it had to pay to get the deposit, and then it would charge more to the customer getting the loan.  Not a whole lot on each dollar, but there were a LOT of dollars, and so the bank did well and made a profit.

But the people who owned the bank, its shareholders, didn't think they were making enough money and they threatened they would take their money and buy shares in a company making televisions or something flashier than a bank unless they started to make more money on their investment.

So the bank figured out that lending money and waiting years for it to be paid back was just too slow.  The bank got the idea that if it lent the money and charged some fees and so on and then turned around and sold the right to be paid back to someone else, it could get a little profit from the fees up front and a little profit from the sale of the loan, and then it could turn around and lend the same money again and make more profit.  So it started to sell loans to investors like Fannie Mae and FreddyMac and other banks who had some extra money lying around.   This worked especially well when interest rates were falling, because the bank could make the loan at say 8 percent interest and charge a 1 percent fee to make the loan, and then if interest rates had fallen in the meantime, it could sell the loan for a premium because the investor couldn't get 8 percent on new loans--it might only get seven. 

Soon, though, interest rates weren't falling anymore, and the bank couldn't charge much premium to its investors anymore, and so it was only making a little bit on its loan sales.   And the bank's investors said they were going to take their money and go invest in a company that made DVD players, or something flashier unless they started to make more money. 

So  the bank started to make loans that it could charge higher interest for.  People who had some credit problems, or people who didn't have much money to put down on their purchase were willing to pay more interest!  The bank knew that the risk of those people not paying their loan was higher, but they also knew that they were going to sell the loan and it would be someone else's problem to try to collect it, so the bank didn't mind.  But eventually, the investors started to say, 'wait a minute,' these aren't good quality loans, so we're going to pay less for them, and the bank only made a little bit on each one.

And after a while, the bank's shareholders got tired of only making a few percent in dividends and they threatened to sell their shares and invest in a company making i-pads or something flashier than a bank unless they made more money.  And so the bank thought and thought.  

And a bright young analyst said to the bank, "Hey!  What if we put a whole bunch of these loans in a pot and chop them up and stir them so that no one knows exactly which loan is which.  And we'll do all the paperwork and collecting on the loans, so that no one else knows who the borrowers are or whether they are good or bad borrowers.   And we can still charge the borrowers the fee up front for loaning the money in the first place.  And we can charge a fee to the investor for the servicing of the loans.  And we can also sell the loans for a premium, because we'll say that there's so many loans in the pot that while one or two may default, overall, the percentage that will pay will make up for it."  And the bank said,  "Good idea!  We'll call the pot a Collateralized Debt Obligation.  I'll go have lunch with my friend the credit reporting agency and I'll get them to say that this pot is a VERY SAFE INVESTMENT."   And so the derivative was born.

And the bank did very well.  It collected money from the borrowers. It collected servicing fees.  It collected premiums on the loans,  because they were said to be VERY SAFE INVESTMENTS, and it always got paid back its principal too, because it sold the pots of loans before any could default.   And this worked for quite a while.  Whenever business would slow down a little, the bank would make up an even gimmickier kind of loan to attract more customers to borrow.  After a while, the bank was making loans for really high interest rates to people it knew were lying about how much money they made and whether they could pay back the loans, but the bank didn't care, because it was going to chop them up and sell them in pots. 

And since the investors who bought the pots couldn't ever see the actual paperwork on the loans, no one else knew that they were low quality.  Every so often, loans would default, but because of inflation, the collateral had gotten to be higher priced, and so the bank would sell it off for enough to pay most or all of the loan, and no one was any the wiser.

And then, one day the bank got up and read the newspaper and it said that its friend the big bank, the Federal Reserve, had been printing so much money, and its friend the government had been spending so much money fighting wars and paying people not to complain about the wars that the debt of the United States was REALLY REALLY BIG. 

And investors were saying the the United States couldn't pay all that debt, and some investors stopped loaning money to the United States anymore at all.   And suddenly, investors wouldn't buy its pots of derivatives anymore because they were worried about the economy.  And it kept getting worse and the bank had to keep the loans, but it knew that a lot of them were bad loans.  And as people got more worried, they borrowed less, and as they borrowed less, the bank made less money, and so on, until the bank wasn't making even enough to pay back the deposits it owed to its customers--it was BANKRUPT. 

And the bank couldn't let everyone know that it had been making and selling really bad loans and telling buyers that they were REALLY SAFE INVESTMENTS, because that would be FRAUD, and the bank would go to jail.

And so the bank went in its office and shut the door and cried.   And after a moment, the bank's fairy godfather appeared.   The fairy godfather said,  "Hi.  My name is Hank Paulson.  I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you."  And the bank knew it was all going to be ok.