Never run with the crowd. They're probably headed over a cliff.

March 2009 - Posts

How To Fix The U.S. Financial Problem

The reasons behind the collapse of the banking industry and its subsequent bailout by the government are going to be argued by pundits and experts for the next hundred years. There will be books written on it. It will be the subject of countless Ph.D. dissertations. Political candidates will reference it in their speeches – oh how they will use it in their speeches. But the root cause is easy: greed and dishonesty. But this should come as no surprise. If you went to college you should have seen it coming.

 I matriculated at Auburn University in the fall of 1983. Bo Jackson was a junior that year and the most impressive athlete I’ve ever seen. How that kid could run. I had done extremely well in high school and we were toe-to-toe with the Rooskies. The military needed scientists for weapons research so I enrolled in physics. It was a difficult program so I buckled down and studied hard. I enjoyed my college experience and it wasn’t all work, but for the most part I spent the next seven years pursuing my degrees and there wasn’t time or energy for much else. But this wasn’t true for everyone at Auburn.

 Along Magnolia Ave. and College St. were a number of large, manor houses, each of which had large, Greek letters on their facades. Kappa Alpha. Beta Theta Pi. Sigma Nu. Theta Chi. Lambda Lambda Lambda. (ß if you get that you are too old.) But I didn’t have time for a fraternity. Or the money. Nevertheless, on football weekends friends and I would sometimes go to their open parties which usually consisted of a very loud band – sometimes good, sometimes bad – with a lot of semi-drunk, underage people standing around holding plastic cups full of cheap beer. You remember the drill – or maybe you don’t.

 I got to know people and as it turned out, there were very few physics or math or chemistry majors in fraternities. There were some engineering and biology students who were members but not many. Far and away the members of these fraternities were studying various derivatives of business; banking, finance, business, political science, or whatever. And they didn’t just party on football weekends. It was every weekend – Friday and Saturday, and a few times during the week. And not only were most of the people there breaking the law by drinking underage, they weren’t learning very much either.

 Occasionally I would have one of these guys or gals in a class. Calculus, or physics, or more often, an elective like history. Invariably they would show up hung over, or not show up at all. At the time I wondered how they would pass the class and stay in school. But that wasn’t hard to figure out. They just cheated. I also wondered how they could afford to party so much. When I got to know some of them a little better I found out that too. When they ran out of money they called daddy and asked for more. Even then their grades were terrible and I wondered how they would be able to get a job. I didn’t figure that one out until after college; in business it isn’t so much a matter of what you know as who you know.

 Fast forward twenty years and we find that the people running the nation’s financial system are the same people who got business degrees in college. A bunch of spoiled brats who partied their way through school, didn’t learn much in an easy curriculum, called daddy every time they needed money, cheated on every test and assignment, and wantonly disregarded laws they viewed as outdated or inconvenient. And got away with it. Beginning to sound like a familiar bunch, isn’t it?

 I say the fastest way to fix this problem would be to kick these losers out and hire a bunch of scientists and engineers to untangle this mess. What is easier to understand, naked short selling or the Heisenberg Uncertaintly Principle? How to keep track of a million bank accounts, or how to keep track of a billion sub-atomic particles each doing something different? Going to the moon or thinking up some exotic financial derivative scheme? Figuring out exactly what North Korea’s military capability is up to, or booking a trip to the Caymans? Figuring out how to sequence DNA, or digging the toxic assets out of bundled securities?

Scientists and engineers are trained to work with huge amounts of data – far larger data sets than the paltry numbers used when dealing with money. The problems we attack are larger, far more complex with more variables, more unknowns, and in many cases, invisible forces acting on things we can’t directly see. Our understanding of mathematics is far more sophisticated than that of some business major. And for the most part since getting a degree in the hard sciences requires true discipline, we didn’t cheat our way through school.

When we needed a super weapon to stop a worldwide reign of terror who did we turn to? When polio was ravaging our children who provided the answer? When we asked what Saturn’s moon Titan looked like, who got the job done? Did business majors figure out the quantum mechanics that make computers possible? Did financiers determine the cause of global warming to give us time to fix it? Did political scientists deduce the structure of DNA? These problems are tough! The people who figured them out were smart, disciplined, and well-trained.

The world financial system is hosed. Similar scale problems include the German fiasco on the Eastern Front, the Soviet Union – all of it, global warming, and Reconstruction. Who do you think can fix it? Some guy who partied his way through school and has proven he can’t keep it straight. Or the dudes who figured out how to clone stem cells. I know where I’d put my money, and it ain’t on Wall Street.

-Futbol Guru,

The Three Dirty Words

The late George Carlin had seven dirty words. Seven words that you weren’t allowed to say on TV. The list is probably larger now, but you can also say them on TV. At least I hear them on TV regularly. If you are intersted in what they are you can look here.


A dirty word is a strange thing. In the end it is nothing more than a sound, usually but not always, made with the mouth. And when our brains hear this sound they go into a spasm. For social, racial, religious, or other reasons, as we integrate into a society, we are conditioned against certain noises.


These taboo noises can change over time. The N-word wasn’t taboo when I was a child though it was headed that way. When my father was a child it was simply a word. But the F-word was taboo when I was a child. It isn’t anymore, partly because it no longer refers to the sexual act but more than anything infers extreme hatred – or in some cases between friends, fraternal bond. It still isn’t dinner table language, and I don’t feel particularly comfortable using it in mixed language or around children, but by the time my kids are grown, that will probably have changed, too, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t.


Sometimes in politics there are dirty words too. Americans have some. And unlike the N-word or the F-word, I can write them on a blog and not feel… dirty. These words are socialism, communism, and nationalization. The S-word, the C-word, and the N-word. Interestingly, these all have direct parallels with actual, dirty words. Few words, over the last century, have conjured up more intense emotions than when leaders throw around the S, C, and N words. Whether the talk is directed at evil nations that use these dirty words, or domestic leaders thinking about them, the response is always explosive – just like with actual dirty words.


But like actual dirty words, these political dirty words aren’t dirty everywhere. Certainly in the Soviet Union the C-word wasn’t communism, but capitalism. And much of Europe is quite proud of its socialism. Much of the Middle East nationalized their oil industries in the last century, basically taking over the capital investments of foreign countries then contracting them to run the equipment.


Why the differences? Europe wasn’t always socialist. Prior to the October Revolution Russia was capitalist. China has a long capitalist history. And for a long time the Middle East was quite happy with foreign owned oil enterprises. What changed?


What changed was the same thing that is changing here. What is happening with AIG is why words like socialism, communism, and nationalism lose their dirty feel and are replaced on the taboo list by words like capitalism, profit, and speculation. What the west forgets is that the 1917 Revolution in the Soviet Union was economic as much as it was political. The wealthy industrialists in league with the White government had run the Russian economy into the ground through the same shenanigans that AIG is up to now. The public, the working class, the struggling masses, had been completely screwed and had had enough.


One of the most hated ‘classes’ of the Bolshevik Revolution were people they referred to as ‘speculators.’ Those who through their market speculation, drove the market in ways that benefited them financially, while contributing nothing yet causing extensive damage elsewhere. They then carried off their winnings on expensive European vacations or to summer homes on the Black Sea where they ate cavier and drove around in their cars and boats as if everything were completely normal. When the market finally collapsed the government tried to protect the business owners at the expense of the working class. By the time the communists took power the people were only too glad to have them! Of course the rest is history and we don’t want to repeat that though I fear we have already begun to.


I, personally, am enraged at what I am seeing. My own ‘wonderful’ company gave me a bonus of $450 this year – an insult and an outrage. I did some damn good work last year. A single bonus being given to one of these failed AIG speculators would allow me to retire my debt – including my mortgage – and take a couple of years off to pursue my (desired) writing career. And it is my tax dollars that are paying them! This malfeasance of government is the kind of irresponsibility that drives people to redefine their dirty words. I’m just about mad enough to kill. Put me in a mob and I might. President Obama knows this. He also knows he can’t do anything to stop AIG, but by using his bully pulpit to excoriate them he at least is tempering the rage. Will it be enough?


I’m a conservative and a capitalist at heart because I believe that what a man works for, and invests in, should come back to him. Cast your bread on the waters. In America today nothing could be farther from reality. Even the people I know who have become wealthy have used government money to do it. Modern industrialists have basically locked out the common man. To many of us ‘capitalism’ has already become a dirty word. And since we’ve already become socialist because the government is taking huge stakes in private firms, I would rather have the social services I have to pay for than have nothing. Especially since our retirement is also gone. Socialism, suddenly, is not such a bad word either. I can't even believe I'm writing this.


Nationalism? We’re already doing it. And why? Because American businessmen have become so insanely greedy that even government could do a better job. And that is saying a lot because government doesn’t do anything well except kill people and break things. Despite the illusion created by the movie Armageddon, NASA is in reality a complete joke. Contractors do and build everything at NASA. NASA engineers just go to meetings all day and talk about requirements and CDRLs. Health care is headed that way, too. The entire industry from the doctors to the manufacturers of cotton swabs is completely focused on profit, which is why you get terrible service at hospitals and offices.


Dirty words. They change from one generation to the next. They change through intense social upheaval. Where is the tipping point? How far can companies like AIG push before words that used to be 'bad' become 'good' and things start burning down. I hope we don’t find out because I like the old dirty words just fine.


-Futbol Guru,


The Religious Wrong and The Republican Retreat

Limbaugh was calling it, “…the end of the Democratic Party.” And so it might have seemed in 1994 to a party awash in victory and full of the hubris that comes with it. President Clinton had overreached with his gun control measures and secret health care meetings. His past was catching up with him – the affairs, the secret trysts, the not-so-secret trysts. He was lifting the ban on homosexuals in the military, giving the go-ahead on state-funded abortions, and had placed a number of far-left liberals in cabinet positions. The knee-jerk was swift with the Senate and the House of Representatives swinging to Republican control in an unprecedented single election.

And what was the overriding campaign message of the Republicans who swept to power? Family values. Almost to a person they claimed strong Christian values and a need to return to honesty and temperance in politics. And they were right. The flood was vast and nationwide at all levels of government, religious conservatives took offices from dog catcher all the way to Speaker of the House.

For a few years it seemed the nation had made a good choice. Certainly honest politicians are better than dishonest ones. And the old guard Democrats, in power for forty years, had lowered the bar of corruption to new depths. But in the end it was all an illusion. The Democrats who’d become so corrupt weren’t corrupt because they were Democrats, they were corrupt because their party had been in power for forty years and that’s what happens to any party in power for forty years. The Chinese have a saying, whom the gods wish to destroy they give forty years of success. Except in the case of the Religious Right it only took about fifteen.

So what happened? How did the Religious Right turn out to be the Religious Wrong? Within a few short years the new conservatives had become every bit as corrupt as their Democratic counterparts with affairs, lies, and scandals, even to the point of invading the wrong country! That’s a pretty big mistake. For a party with God on its side the fall was precipitous and catastrophic.

The answer is really quite simple and is based on the difference between religion and spirituality. While it is unfashionable to discuss politics and Bible in the same breath in this country, it is impossible to understand either without doing so. Religion is a system of rites and practices which dictate the practices of a group. Spirituality is a deep-seated, philosophical viewpoint that defines the worldview of an individual. Religion is a group activity. Spirituality is individual. The Religious Right was religious but not spiritual, a fact that is easily proven by their habits.

There was a time in this nation when the term Christianity went hand in hand with moderation. Not moderate in the political sense, but moderate as an approach to life, which is the basis of the message given by the founder of Christianity, none other than Jesus. Whether or not one believes Jesus was the son of God, it is very difficult to deny his historicity and his message of love and moderation. Indeed, one of his more well-known statements is that it is harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to go to heaven. He went on to say that this didn’t forbid wealth, but that wealth made the Christian walk very precarious.

In my experience with Christians over the last few decades however, very few of them practice moderation at any level in their lives. Indeed, they consider wealth – the very thing that Jesus said would keep them out of Heaven – as a blessing from God. From their houses, to their lifestyles, to their cars, to their kids, there are no practical differences between Christians and non-Christians. There is a lower incidence of sexual promiscuity among Christians and a mandatory Sunday morning club meeting, but that’s about it. And since they are every bit as fixated on wealth as their non-Christian counterparts, they also lack the one thing that Jesus said would set them apart from others; love.

The Religious Right that took over Congress in 1994 brought very little of the L-word to Washington. They did bring a lot of ideas about how a person should live their life, but other than their mandatory Sunday morning meeting and a strong outward revulsion to homosexuality, there was very little difference between them and their Democratic counterparts, many of whom also went to Church regularly.

I’ll go back to the Bible again. And this is important because whether or not you believe the Bible, it describes the lifestyle and philosophy that the Religious Right claim to embrace. Love, the Bible says, is essential to everything a Christian does. Indeed, without love, the scriptures go on to say, everything else a Christian might do will sound like a clanging cymbal. Now my son plays the cymbals in band, and I can tell you right now there is nothing more jarring and cacophonous than him walking through the house bashing those things together. The only thing you want is for him to STOP. And that was the reaction to the Religious Right when they came to town with their seemingly chaste lives yet were just as hooked on riches as anyone else and entirely devoid of love. They were a clanging cymbal. And it got old.

To make matters worse, they also brought a healthy dose of self-righteousness. While the Bible clearly states that it is those who are poor in spirit who will receive the Kingdom of Heaven, our new leaders and their ardent supporters across the hinterland were utterly convinced that God was on their side. And nowhere was this more apparent than in the actions of George II and many of his supporters who, I believe, felt he was ordained by the Almighty to smite the Arabs. It was on this basis that, even when it was glaringly obvious that he had invaded a nation unjustly and hundreds of thousands died, he remained convinced he had done the right thing. It wasn’t his decision, it was God’s, so how could it be wrong. After all, he prayed about it.

There are those who believe in a God and those who don’t. Those who profess Christianity and those who don’t. But for any of these groups it can’t be debated that true Christian behavior – social habits which are often practiced by other religions too – results in more efficient government, more honest business practices, and more peaceful interaction between people. Honesty, kindness, and mercy go a long way. But love and moderation are central to Christianity, and when you leave these out the philosophy becomes nothing more than a way to control groups of people and gain an advantage over them, which various governments the world over have been doing for over 2,000 years now.

 That is why the Religious Right became the Religious Wrong. And why they failed not only themselves but the entire nation. It is why they are no longer in power and indeed, why so many in the country and the world look at the Religious Right and turn their eyes from Christianity in general. Are they Christians? That’s not really up to me to decide, I’m not in charge of Christianity. But the next time you see some guy quoting from the Bible while trying to get himself elected just remember what Jesus had to say about politics: “     

-Futbol Guru,

The Religious Right and the Republican Revolution

Since the election of Ronald Reagan as President in 1980 the United States has seen a monumental shift of political power.


Prior to this the South had been a Democratic stronghold as a result of the Civil War. Even a hundred years after, it had not been forgotten that Lincoln, a Republican, had invaded and decimated the South over what is still claimed by Southerners as primarily an issue of states rights.


Following the Civil War, reconstruction policy, shaped by the victorious Republicans and enacted by unscrupulous carpetbaggers, stymied economic recovery of the south for generations. Mistrust of Republicans was widespread by the Democratic white population even as the Party of Lincoln was embraced by emancipated Republican-voting blacks.


This general separation of race and party affiliation held until the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 when his New Deal provided social programs to which the black population had access. While blacks did not leave the Republican Party en masse immediately, this was the beginning of the exodus. And even though it was the Republican Eisenhower administration that formally began the civil rights movement, it was Kennedy and particularly Johnson who parlayed it into a full-fledged welfare program complete with public housing and direct monetary disbursements. Seen by many blacks as directly benefiting them, the migration to the Democratic Party accelerated greatly.


What resulted, especially in the south, was a tense mix of politics that persisted throughout the sixties and seventies, with local Democratic Parties run exclusively by white men but supported by the vast majority of the Black population. This took time to correct and today we see these parties having become well integrated with a mix of leadership all the way to the top. For this reason it is generally believed that the rise of the religious right was in response to racial pressures when in fact, it was not.


As Blacks were leaving the Republican Party and flocking to the Democrats for economic reasons there were other very important social changes taking place. Most notably the counter-culture of the sixties that embraced faux-peace, tolerance, and came to symbolize the anti-war movement. Because the Democratic Party consisted primarily of liberals, who are less resistant to change, these counter-culture individuals found a much more comfortable home with than with the more traditional, conservative, Republicans irrespective of the changing racial makeup of the party.


But not only did these hippies, as they were called, bring their faux-peace-and-love agenda to the Democratic Party, they also brought high-profile drug use, widespread promiscuity, homosexuality, and other radical notions. Even a cursory examination of the Bible, however, shows that these thoughts and ideas are highly counter to Christian doctrine. Moreover, pro-welfare policies were seen by traditionalists as 'communist' leaning, and part of the tradition of the traditionalists is to reject anything that resembled policies of our sworn enemy, the Soviet Union. Over time these new arrivals to the Democratic Party, with their free-love, drug use, and social rebellion came into conflict with the old guard who still went to church and espoused capitalism. And as they began to infiltrate the leadership of the Party, their ideas started showing up on the platform, first in the North and steadily moving Southward.


This movement progressed and by the late seventies the Democratic Party had, among other liberal changes, become aligned with homosexuality, abortion, and socialism. It was becoming difficult to be a conscientious Christian and retain a Democratic affiliation. That is when the shift occurred. As the Democrat party moved more and more to the left, the Christian constituency of the Democrat Party rebelled and began leaving in droves. So many in fact that the majority of Southern Whites are now Republicans and the majority of Southern Blacks are now Democrats. A reversal of the situation less than 100 years ago.


While this was most pronounced in the south it happened across the nation and the result was what came to be known as “The Religious Right,” a class of religiously affiliated people who were literally forced out of the Democratic Party for ideological reasons. Its peak was probably during the Clinton Administration when numerous government figures changed party affiliation in response to well-known behavior of the then Commander in Chief. The result for the country was a huge displacement of Democrats in the 1994 election with both houses of Congress coming under Republican control.


In recent years it has become convenient for socio-political figures such as Jessie Jackson, Al Sharpton, Jerry Falwell, and George II to solidify their party base (and prolong their personal income engine) by playing race cards only adding to the myth of racially-motivated separation. And since this myth favors the Democratic Party, the Democrats have been more than willing to let it persist. The media, which also leans to the left, has completed the revision of history until it has come to be ‘fact.’ And like lemmings, the majority of the American public has dutifully joined their march towards the sea and the long drop that precedes it.


NEXT: The Religious Wrong and the Republican Retreat

Futbol Guru,

The Conservative Conundrum

Interesting news this week with various outlets reporting that President Obama may not be able to function in a press conference without a teleprompter. It makes me wonder exactly how much information he’s being fed, and what he actually knows. Remember the disastrous Sarah Palin interview when she didn’t know what the Bush Doctrine was? If she’d had a teleprompter with a savvy technophile on the other end she might have been able to fool us. Though Ms. Palin has great legs she wasn’t, and isn’t, ready to run the country. And despite Mr. Obama’s melodious voice I don’t think he’s ready either. I wonder who is actually running the country. Perhaps Joe Biden, Mr. Gravitas himself?


I was also a bit shocked this week when Mr. Obama signed the Omnibus Budget Bill behind closed doors. Or rather, his statement was surprising. He said it was a bad bill full of earmarks but that he was going to sign it anyway. Old business needed to keep the country running. The insinuation is that it is Mr. Bush’s old business even though it was a Democrat congress that drafted, crafted, and put the bill on his desk. He’s getting exactly what he wants and telling the country it’s a bad bill. Slick, but at least he’s being honest. It is a bad bill.


This is government at its worst. Bureaucracy run amok. Even the president is enacting legislation that he is admitting is bad. So why is he signing it? I sure wish I had someone else to vote for. But who?


The problem, for conservatives at any rate, is that there’s nowhere else to turn. Mr. Bush and his administration literally ran this country into the ground. What will crawl out of that smoking hole, if anything, no one can know. Sure there was some bad left-over, Clinton-era economic policy as regards lending, but the deregulation of the investment and banking industry let the wolves into the hen house like never before. And invading the wrong country sucked trillions from the national coffers. The combined effect along with a President who was seemingly uninterested in domestic affairs put us where we are today.


I had very high hopes in 1994. Conservatives, it seemed, were finally in control of the nation, swept to power on a wave of anti-liberal sentiment born of draconian gun control policies, nationalization of health care, and various social agendas (and other things) being crammed down everyone’s throat. But they quickly became comfortable in Washington and we soon learned they were no different than their predecessors. Newt Gingrich, Mr. Family-Values himself, was found to be having an affair even while he was leading the investigation into President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinski. Limbaugh, the voice of conservatives, became a drug addict and, seemingly unable to have a stable long-term relationship, divorced one wife after another. The religious right became every bit as materialistic and hedonistic as their liberal counterparts with the sole exception that they didn’t practice homosexuality. At least not in the open.


The problem with the conservatives can be best illustrated by Wayne Parker’s third (failed) run for congress in Alabama’s 5th Congressional District in 2008. He ran against Bud Cramer in ’94 and lost by a few hundred votes – mostly due to the NRA’s last-minute backing of Cramer. He lost again in ’96 by a larger margin. And when he heard Bud Cramer wasn’t running in 2008 he decided to run again.


It was a perfect opportunity for him since the opposition was weak and we desperately need a conservative in office here in North Alabama. Knowing Wayne from his previous bids, and hopeful of a strong campaign, I volunteered my writing and analysis. What did Wayne do? He went out and got the same people who led him to failure twice before, said the same things he said the previous two times, and failed again. I don’t know if my help would have made a difference but at the very least it would have been a fresh perspective on things. I have little doubt that this happened all over the country. Yes, Wayne is a decent guy and probably would have made a good congressman, but he and the Republican Party made the same fatal mistakes they made before. They’re like a bunch of lemmings – straight over the cliff.


Mr. Obama, on the other hand, is a fresh face. He isn’t from a political dynasty or a wealthy family. He’s not from Washington. He’s been a liberal all his life. But the people who control the party saw his talent and let him in. That is what separates liberal parties from conservative parties and why they stay in control most of the time. They know that new blood is the life blood of any organization. This doesn’t absolve them of bureaucratic tendencies, they have them too, but it manifests itself in different ways.


Now more than ever, conservatives, specifically the Republican Party, need to recruit new blood. They need new talent. Because the people in power right now have abused the public trust to the point that they are, in the words of Howard Dean, laughable. I can’t criticize Mr. Obama and then extol the virtues of the Republicans because they have none. They are the 2-10 coach criticizing his 1-11 replacement. There is no one to vote for. No one the average citizen can identify with or trust. No one from humble origins. No one from ‘outside’ Washington. No one ‘there’ because they are wise, and charismatic, and passionate. No statesmen. You say that Sarah Palin is new blood? We all know why she got picked. Because she’s sexy. She’s not new blood, she’s hot blooded. She got picked for the worst reason of all – Madison Avenue advertising. That’s even worse than the reason they picked George the II.


I guess it isn’t surprising the country is such a mess. The people driving the bus are only there because their daddy drove the bus. And if things don’t change, drastically, and soon, the bus is going to go right over a cliff like a giant, yellow, mega-lemming.


-Futbol Guru,