Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Fencing Us In

While driving home from a visit to New England, my wife and I encountered the classic DC traffic jam. Now we used to live in the DC area, so we were intimately familiar with the changing traffic scene in DC. When we arrived in 1969, traffic was bad. But then the transit authority began adding bus routes, and finally, in 1973, the Metro began construction, bringing to the region, one of the finest public transit systems in the Nation. Still, the traffic grew worse year by year. By the time we left in 2000, it had deteriorated to the point that it rivaled the mess in Los Angeles.

So, we kind of knew what to expect, except the DC area can still surprise you. As we traveled down the I-95 corridor from Baltimore on Sunday at midday, we expected an increase. We entered the 495 beltway around DC and headed for the I-95 exit headed south towards Richmond. We exited 495, entering what is known affectionately as the “Springfield Interchange”, a monstrous interchange of highways and byways that is one of the two or three worst traffic areas in the country. We think it has been under construction since the Civil War (but I exaggerate).

But I digress.
As we entered that nasty little traffic region, there were four or five lanes of traffic, all full of vehicles of every description, and traveling along at a top speed of 15 miles per hour, with frequent speeds of 0.5 miles per hours. So, traveling at such speeds, the mind wanders I guess. Suddenly, I had the answer to one of the Nation’s most vexing problems—illegal immigration.

Suppose, I pondered, we simply moved the Nation’s capital to, say Nogales, AZ, or maybe even to El Paso, TX. That way, we wouldn’t have to build that wall all the Texan and Arizona republicans keep yelling about. Instead, we would be building an impenetrable barrier—traffic. No Mexican drug lords could possibly slip through something as tight as the DC Springfield Interchange traffic mess. And, with the capital there, the entire border corridor would become one gigantic traffic jam, much like the current Boston to Florida mess. Think of it, one huge interstate highway stretching the entire length of Texas, Arizona, and California right at the border, full of lobbyists driving their Hummers. Who could get through that? And because of all the Congresspersons, the President and his VEEP, the Secret Service would be all over the place.

So, in addition to convincing the illegal population and the drug pusher population that coming in would be too costly, since they couldn’t penetrate the traffic jams (it would be like trying to penetrate the Hollywood Interchange at 5:00 PM on a Friday evening, only 24-7). My guess is they would all go elsewhere, maybe Canada (sorry my Canadian friends).

Oh, and my plan has yet another advantage. Remember all that whining from Arizona, Texas and Alaska, about seceding? My guess is that the Republicans from the border states would simply be too busy commuting to still keep up their incessant whining. And how could they secede anyway, if they have the Nation’s capital in their midst?

So, see, being stuck in traffic isn’t all bad. The mind keeps working, and every once in a while, a truly brilliant idea emerges (or maybe a truly stupid one . . . I have been listening to whiny republicans too long and I can’t keep straight the difference).

Monday, June 14, 2010

Teabag Anger

I just finished reading yet another article purporting to describe and understand why the teabaggers are so furious about everything. What gives rise to this almost visceral anger? The author’s answer is that the teabaggers feel betrayed, almost like a lover betrayed. They have lost control of their beloved, the country that existed in their imaginings—the one that gave them Hummers in which to cavort and thumb their noses at the common people.

This explanation has some substance to it, but I am thinking that it lacks one element—race. Imagine the high school football quarterback, in love with the high school prom queen. He’s cruising through high school, the BMOC, and nobody better get in his way. Suddenly, his sweetheart tells him that it’s over, their nice romance. It was great while it lasted, but she’s fallen in love with someone else—not just anyone else either. She has fallen for the star football running back, who happens to be a straight A student, and, ahem, BLACK.

“Excuse me, honey, what did you just say?”

”You have fallen in love with who?”

She confirms, as he begins to sweat, and then stammer, and then he walks off in a cold fury.

Now, what does he want to do? Get on with his life? Nope.

He wants to trash her . . . and him.

What he wants is his old life back, the one without the Black guy.

The big problem here is, what do we think he will do next?

Will he try to off the Black guy?

Stay tuned to Faux News Network's newest drama, for the next chapter of:

Teabagger, A Love Story.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Rituals seem to dominate much of the world. Most of organized religion lives by rituals. Much of life in 12th century places like Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq are dominated by rituals. Many of these rituals create havoc for the inhabitants of these places. But not all rituals are negative.
I find now, in the twilight of our retirement lives, that rituals are coming to occupy a growing and cherished place in our daily life. Each morning, we awaken at 6:00 AM to the sounds emanating from our clock radio, NPR or BBC informing us that the world is awake and perhaps we should consider joining it again. We stir, and finally crawl out of bed. When it is very warm, as now, we often decide to take our 4.5 mile walk at this early hour, before it is simply too hot for us aging mortals.
The cats join our deliberations, reminding us that they need care. Then there are all the blinds to open, informing the world outside that we are now one with that world.
After they exact their daily ritual feeding, we enter the sultry out-of-doors. But our walk carries quickly to our Greenway, a walking and biking trail carved out of waste land by the city. It is a place with much shade, provided by trees and extraordinary vines climbing everywhere. We walk, but we listen, as the birds begin to call one another—their version, I suppose of twittering or texting—ever so pleasant. We look for the Greenway cat, a sweet little thing that seems to demand attention as walkers pass by.
We return, an hour plus later, sweaty but feeling like we have done something good for ourselves. After showering, we begin another daily ritual, the careful preparation of our cappuccino, and our smoothie. The cappuccinos, when completed, is a work of art, unlike anything at Starbucks. They are tiny by comparison, but wonderfully crafted, and delightful to observe. We click our cups and toast each other—“to us” we say ritually.
Then we move outside with our cups to sit by our pond, toss a handful of food to our growing collection of koi’s, who swarm like piranha’s at a feeding frenzy. Then they slow down as the food disappears, and we sit and watch, and sip our cappuccinos slowly, chatting quietly, watching for critters—a hummer, perhaps, or the dragons flirting with one another. Birds swoop around us to alight at one or another of our several feeders. The birds chirp loudly, singing to one another and to us as they also announce that the sun has risen. We watch as flowers in the pond, the lilies, open in front of our eyes, and the sun begins to cause everything to come alive. We sit, becoming one with our little natural retreat.

As we finish our daily pause, we return to our little house to break our fast with a smoothie and some fresh fruit, a feast coming now from our local farmers, who, thankfully, grow these marvelous and succulent goodies—berries, apples, peaches, plums.
The day has now commenced and we can go about our business of living—Carol quilting, or working with the children in our grandchild’s school, me observing with my camera, or playing with my "artful observing".
At the end of the day, the blinds are drawn closed, to tell the world that we have now withdrawn. We go to sit in our hot tub, to soak, amidst bubbling jets, and to chat about what happened that day. After we are quite relaxed, we don some “night clothes”, pour a glass of wine, and repeat our daily toast, “to us”, we say. Then we go outside to sit again by the pond, to talk with our friends--the birds, the koi’s (they all have names), and occasionally to our little frog, Jeremiah.
As the sun sets behind the trees, we retreat to our little nest on the second floor to dine, and to watch a film before retiring, the rituals ending with a good night, and cuddling before falling asleep.
So, rituals, I conclude are important. They add to the glue that holds this couple fast together after nearly 55 years, amidst all the nonsense the world continues to devise and throw at the world’s inhabitants. The rituals help to deflect the junk dreamed up by the idiots, people like Rupert Murdoch and his merry band of lunatic actors, and the Teabaggers, and the Sarah Barbies and the other racist morons, you know, the power addicts who care not about community, or honest rituals, or love. We ignore all of them.

Friday, June 11, 2010


I awoke with a start last night. I had been dreaming that we lived in Nazi Germany and I was trying to get a letter of transit and a ticket to escape. I was surrounded by Nazi troops, one of whom was a doctor, and I was pretending to be a doctor also, so as to gain his empathy to help me leave. Then, I awoke, suddenly. Whoa . . . what was that all about? In a stupor, I arose to find the bathroom, less because I had to relieve myself than to escape from the dream.

In thinking about the dream, it seems clear that I am being drawn slowly into an awareness that our Nation is beginning to fail. What we once had as a nation was a sense of community, being part of this great country. It is not that we had no faults when I was young, and the world was new. Rather, we were trying to deal with them, while simultaneously working together to fight off our enemies, which were legion. That was then; this is now. Now is a time when everyone is panicked about something, and nobody is willing to engage in civil discussion or debate about anything. Everyone seems to prefer yelling, as though everything is broken and there is no longer any hope. Contributing to this all-panic-all-the-time mood in the Nation is the Faux News Network, Rupert Murdoch’s attack team attempting to bring this nation to its knees. Rupert’s face should be on the FBI’s Number 1 Enemies List. But Rupert is exploiting that little chink in our armor called the First Amendment. Freedom of the Press is one of our most precious assets in this nation, but it turns out that it can also be used as a weapon to destroy us as well.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

The First Amendment was crafted to protect citizens against the tyranny of the state—our government. I doubt that the authors considered the possibility that, when fueled by endless cash from unscrupulous barons, it could be used as an engine of attack.

We are witnessing now the inevitable result of almost 30 years of government deregulation, beginning with St. Ronald and continuing through George I, William of Clinton, and greatly expanded under Dickie Bird (Darth Vader) Cheney and his talking dummy, Little George. The last eight years prior to the arrival of President Obama, saw the almost total dismantling of any attempt at regulating private business in the interest of the public. So, of course, the financial system collapse, Great Depression II, and now the destruction of the Gulf of Mexico were entirely predictable effects of these hands-off policies.

The private sector, when left to its own devices, will always head toward the extreme edge of sanity, diving off that cliff like lemmings, mainly because of two factors: 1) the Peter Principle; and 2) Greed. Now, having produced this orgy of destruction, one might have imagined that the Nation would be moving towards a more cautionary stance, seeking to control the worst instincts of private sector robber barons. But no, instead, we have the Tea Baggers, and the likes of Sarah Palin and her colleague in destruction Lisa Murkowski, pressing for more oil drilling in sensitive regions and less regulation. The Tea Party seems especially weird, given that they seem almost anarchic, yet display signs of hysteria when the Government fails to do something, like fix the oil leak currently destroying the Gulf. They of course also famously demanded that we keep the government’s hands of their Medicare.

These groups would be mostly laughable, except when amplified and fueled with huge cash resources by Rupert Murdoch and his Faux News Actors like Glenn Beck. For reasons beyond my ken, a very large percentage of the voting public seems to have abandoned whatever thinking faculties they possess and actually appear to believe the curious twisted line of drivel gushing out of the Murdoch pipe-of-lies. Faux News motto: “We make stuff up, so you don’t have to.”

So, what does any of this have to do with my dreams about living in Nazi Germany? Well, I think that I am seeing in the Murdoch-created crowd of hysterical anarchists a similar kind of culture as we witnessed during the 1930s in Germany. There is within this group a substantial element of jingoism mixed with racism, a near fury at our Black President, and at other things foreign—Mexicans and their illegal forays into the US, Muslims who did after all attack us, and even those nasty socialist Europeans.

Whether this group continues to be fueled and amplified by Murdoch, and whether it avoids imploding on itself, may well determine the outcome of our next election, a fateful one indeed; because we are being told simultaneously by many credible sources, that unless we act quickly and intelligently on reining in our mountainous debt, credibly transforming our financial system, and dealing intelligently with the global climate issues, our political problems may be overwhelmed by global crises that are out of our control.

Lastly, we know for a certainty that the world will run out of petroleum. Unless we begin investing in new technology that transcends petroleum, we will in the not too distant future be literally running on empty, and Hummers may become curious museum artifacts.

So, while I dream, and awaken in a cold sweat, the Murdoch fiddlers continue to fiddle, while our modern day Rome burns merrily away.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

On Ponzi Schemes

I’ve been thinking lately about Ponzi schemes. Maybe it’s all those discussions from learned people about the economy, and about the role played by bankers, the go-to Ponzi guys of the Bush years. So what am I thinking about Ponzi’s, and what the hell are Ponzi’s anyway?

Charles Ponzi (March 3, 1882 – January 18, 1949) was an Italian swindler, who is considered one of the greatest swindlers in American history. His aliases include Charles Ponei, Charles P. Bianchi, Carl and Carlo. The term "Ponzi scheme" is a widely known description of any scam that pays early investors returns from the investments of later investors.

Bernie Madoff receives credit for hosting perhaps the largest Ponzi scheme on record, larger in financial terms than the original. But I take exception to awarding old Bernie the prize. Consider for a moment what is going on in a Ponzi scheme. The Ponzi Master seeks to extract wealth from potential investors by promising them returns on their investments that are unreasonable on their face. In short, the investors should really know better, but their greed gets the better of them. They invest because they want so badly to believe the Ponzi Master knows something nobody else knows, so they give him their money. Initially, the greedy ones are repaid; they seem to get rewards, paid out of new sucker money.

Eventually, the scheme collapses and all of the investors realize that they are dopes and they have lost their investment capital. These schemes collapse because the supply of fresh money begins to dry up, preventing the Ponzi Master from paying out the grand returns from the fresh money. Typically, the schemes collapse rapidly, once they begin unraveling.

Why do these schemes work? Two things seem to drive Ponzi schemes:

1) Faith in the Ponzi master. People know the person and consider him (they all seem to be men) as a person of integrity, and a person who is shrewd within this domain, i.e., finances.

2) Greed. People basically know better, but their basic greed gets the better of them. They want so desperately to “grab the brass ring” that they will do truly stupid things to get on board.

Now, what does this have to do with anything? Yeah, yeah, we know about Ponzi schemes. Bernie taught us all. Well, I have been thinking lately that Bernie was really a piker. Compared with, say, the Pope, or the Grand Ayatollah, or other figures of like stature, Bernie was just a bit player in the grand world of con-men.

Organized religion has functioned for a couple of thousand years, the grandest Ponzi scheme ever devised. What happens in organized religion?

1. A priest basically promises, in exchange for money and authority over your personal affairs, that he will deliver to you a certainty about your afterlife. Whether it’s that you will be able to meet and greet the Maker, or that you will acquire wings and a harp, and fly around on clouds, or that you will be able to chat it up with your long dead family members, it’s all guaranteed. Plus, they toss in certainty about what will happen if you don’t pony up. Eternal damnation and the “fires of hell.” Now, some of the promises get a little bizarre. Consider what Islamic terrorists promise the poor bastards who strap on dynamite vests so they can blow up innocent children in a marketplace. If they are willing to do that, hey, they are going to get 71 virgins in their afterlife. Not sure what they promise the real virgins who promise to blow themselves up, but what the hell, it must be good.

2. Once you sign up, the priests devise continued rituals to keep you within the fold—they devise, for example, theatrical performances of song and dance that would delight almost anyone. They also devise rules to keep you within the group—rules of behavior that prevent straying. The rules are complex and multifold, so that people routinely break them, but then go to the priests for absolution. Sometimes, absolution is granted for a fee, mostly though the absolution requires little more than agreeing with the priest that you were naughty and won’t do it again. Sometimes, of course, the priests torture and then kill you, just to show they’re serious.

3. And then, just before you die, the priests put on another ritual show by granting you absolution for all your past sins, allowing you to relax just before relaxing forever. As the assembled onlookers gape, the priest performs the final ritual, ending just after the person passes forever from their grasp. These final rituals are intended to reassure the onlookers that the priests still retain ultimate authority over your earthly existence and your passage into the next life (or afterlife as the case may be).

4. But the rituals and the theatre are simply devices to keep the faithful entertained until they die. At that point, the ultimate payoff should occur, except for one little problem. Nobody ever comes back to talk about it, so the Ponzi Masters never get outed as charlatans. It’s the sweetest con in the history of the world. No one can ever sue them, because no one can ever discover the con. You need to die first and then, well, who will ever know?

So, I think we need to take our hats off and give a Stephen Colbert Tip of the Hat to the grand Ponzi Masters of the world—priests everywhere. You rock guys!

Goodbye BP

So, good old Mr. Bernanke, the grand vizier of high finance in this country, has pronounced the economy to be gaining strength and is on the road to recovery . . . except for one minor problem, trivial really . . . the “recovery” seems to be without any jobs. Now don’t that beat all . . .

So, our economy is on track to begin growing again, but our unemployment rate will continue for the foreseeable future to be over 10%. Just to be clear, that’s 10%, or more than double what it was under President Clinton. Black unemployment was over 15% in May, while Hispanics were 12.6% unemployed.

I am tempted to say, “so what would cause us to grow jobs as well?”

The problem seems to be that we don’t actually make anything anymore. What burst last year? Two things happened; the housing bubble, hyperinflated by fraudulent banking practices, imploded and collapsed, along with the banking industry—at least that part of banking connected with defrauding the public. Those twin collapses threw millions of people out of work. So we have the people who were carpenters, roofers, electricians, etc, suddenly out of work, and the guys who engaged in issuing fraudulent loans also out of work (well, some of them anyway). Then, of course, all the people who provided services to those people, were also tossed into the street, since nobody needed their services.

So what will it take to get those people back to work? Well, I assume they will gain employment once the housing market goes from a surplus of housing to a scarcity of housing in, say, five to ten years. We’re talking about people with either a limited skill set, or no skills. It was never easy for them to become employed, and it won’t be any easier any time soon.

But, since we don’t make anything, having decided that low cost was the sole criterion of goodness, and we can’t match the low cost of the Chinese, we’re unlikely to be able to build a jobs base quickly. Unless that is, we begin building things nobody else is building, i.e., things that have no established cost base yet. So, maybe the path to a growing economy with a growing jobs base is public investment in new technology. During the First Great Depression, also brought to you by our grand financial wizards during the 1920s, we had to begin using public investments to re-employ people. Then we did things like build roads. We could I suppose repeat that experience (we've tried the other solution--making War, but that isn't really helping as it did during the 1930s and 1940s). But, I think that public investments in technology that leads to clean, petroleum-free energy would be a preferable course. Watching a PBS broadcast about recent happenings, they showcased an island in Denmark that has eliminated their petroleum based economy and gone exclusively to solar and wind power, supplemented by other minor approaches’ such as burning hay, which they produce normally. Perhaps we need to rethink our dependence on the BPs of the world, and begin to move forcefully past the energy of the 19th and 20th centuries to the energy of the 21st century. We’ve done it before in other fields. It’s way past time we started to renew ourselves as a nation of innovators, and shed our recent past as a Nation of Ponzi Masters.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The BP Roller Coaster

OK, guys, Top Kill didn’t work, so what’s next? Any ideas, here? Pass the whiskey bottle.
OK, here’s my idea. See, we take a really large charge of dynamite, and ignite it, and cover the whole mess with tons of dirt, and . . .
Hold it, hold it. We already tried burying it in dirt. That was Sam’s idea, and that didn’t even slow it down.
OK, so how about this . . . we shoot one of those bombs at it that penetrate the earth before exploding. That way, we will bury the damned thing in dirt way down below the gusher at the surface.
Hmmm . . . What happens if it just creates an even bigger hole and keeps on gushing?
I need a swig, pass the bottle . . .
So, no ideas?
Well, I hate to suggest this, but maybe we could con someone who has his finger on the red button to nuke it. That would create a big hole, but it would then collapse on itself and bury the whole mess.
Ahem, wouldn’t that just make the entire Gulf radioactive?
Yeah, but it wouldn’t be us doing it . . . the Prez would have to authorize that, and then it would be his fault.

And so it goes in the upper echelon conference rooms of the British Petroleum corporation.
So, I’m wondering now, since these bozos seem not to have a clue what they are doing, what happens if they just run out of ideas (not that they've had any actual, you know, ideas)? What’s the worst case here, and is anyone willing to prepare for that worst case? As I see it, we need to know how much of the black stuff is down there, and what would happen to the Gulf if it all just continues to pour out. Suppose it’s Christmas 2010, and it’s still pouring out unchecked? Or, maybe December 2011. What happens then?

Is BP willing to buy out Louisiana, and all the other states that border the Gulf? Oh, and what about Mexico? Is BP willing to buy out Mexico?
And then what do we do? Just mothball everything that touches the Gulf, and hope that maybe in a couple hundred years, good old Mom Nature would have dissipated the oil?

The clock is running out guys.
Does anyone out there know what to do here?