More Sunday soliloquys

I hope your weekends are going fabulously. For our Australian, Filipino, New Zealand et al friends, I hope yours was grand. Here are a few mix and match comments, around a theme of needed history lessons.

Speaking of that part of the world, my wife and I have fallen for an older Australian show called “Packed to the Rafters.” It lasted for about six seasons and our PBS station is doing reruns. The premise is during the housing crisis back in 2007-09 timeframe, a family called the Rafters have various adult children and even a widowed father living with them. They are an abnormally normal family during stressful times, so it makes for good theater. The writers are quite clever in focusing on one or two family members a show to reveal how they arrived to their present predicaments.

It seems the housing crisis was so long ago with the various travails we have had since then. What is interesting today is inflation is creeping up again due to guess what – housing prices going up. Hopefully lessons have been learned about selling mortgages to people that cannot afford them and then packaging crappy mortgage deals into investment products that understate greatly the risk. But, we seem to be people who are good at erasing history.

Yet, not only are we forgetting history, we have a concerted effort going on in the US to whitewash history, even if recent history, as if it did not happen. It is bad enough that Americans, as a whole, would fail miserably on history and geography lessons, but to avoid teaching some parts because it makes us look bad is just a bridge too far. While masking bad things is not new – read summaries about the Pentagon Papers, the banning of the song Strange Fruit,, the Freedom Summer murders, the Lavender Scare, McCarthyism, Native American genocide, etc. – there are parts of our history that don’t show up as much as they should.

Since we began with the housing crisis, let me close with real history lessons that do not get enough airplay. Two of the poster children for the housing crisis are Beazer Homes and Bear Stearns.

Beazer was a developer that would clear land and sell houses in a community fashion. It is reported they did not tell the prospective buyers the realtor, the inspector and the mortgage lender were all related to the Beazer business. So, many prospective buyers were sold a home that was more than they could afford, based on mortgage numbers that were presented as a perfumed pig, with variable mortgages so interest rates could go up 200 basis points each year, and a house that had few inspection issues. When the housing prices dropped beneath the mortgage owed, that caused an upside down financial dilemma. Many lost their homes.

Bear Stearns is an investment banker that no longer exists. It is reported they packaged these bad mortgages together in a bundle and called them Collateralized Debt Obligations or CDOs. The law of large numbers works only when good risks negate bad risks in large bundles, but if the majority of the risk is bad, that means the whole product is risky. Bear Stearns was over-exposed with these bad risks and it took them down. What is interesting is a financial analyst got a meeting a year before Bear Stearns collapsed and told the CFO they were going under. The CFO kicked him out and the man said he would bet against them and made a killing for himself and is clients betting that these over-leveraged entities would fail as housing prices declined. This is the theme of the movie ‘The Big Short.”

If we don’t know our history, then we will repeat our mistakes. And, as we speak there is a rise in white nationalism in this and other countries, people are trying to tell you the truth is not factual, and the financial markets cannot crash again.

Thoughts for Thursday – Conspiracies abound

Water, water everywhere. While the wildfires burn out west and in Greece, I live on the east coast of the United States and we are inundated daily with heavy rain. It feels like a wet version of “Groundhog’s Day,” where Bill Murray’s character relives the same day.

Here are a few random soggy thoughts for Thursday.

Conspiracy theories abound on the web. Yet, every once in awhile justice may be served. Alex Jones of Infowars is trying to stop a trial where he is rightfully accused of spreading a false story that the Sandy Hook shooting story is a hoax. As a result, these poor families who lost a child or adult relative, have to be taunted and harassed by Jones’ followers. This is far worse than the Westboro church that picketed military funerals because of the nation’s stance on allowing LGBT people join the military. Jones is touting free speech, but this man has caused mental anguish because of his blatant misuse of his voice and disregard of any common decency.

The US President continues to claim the Mueller investigation is a “witchhunt,” the same term that President Richard Nixon used to decry the Watergate investigation. So the day after President Trump says collusion is not a crime after repeatedly saying he did not collude, he wants to end the Mueller probe. Help me understand how a thin-skinned man was not aware of a meeting in a building with his name on it where he works and lives, attended by his son, son-in-law and campaign manager to get dirt to throw at his opponent, a favorite tactic of his? After his Putin fawning performance in Helsinki, I am 100% convinced POTUS is guilty of more than just obstruction of justice. This is certainly no witch hunt, says this former Republican and Independent voter.

Speaking of conspiracies, a bona fide real one was captured in the “Pentagon Papers.” While Nixon did his level best to prevent The Washington Post and The Nee York Times from publishing these stories, this conspiracy involved Nixon and his two predecessors (LBJ and Kennedy) fighting a battle started by Eisenhower. These Presidents knew the Vietnam War was unwinnable, but kept fighting it to avoid the disgrace of losing. Tens of thousands of Americans (and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese people) died after we knew the cause was lost. The North Vietnamese and Viet Cong were fighting for their country, while we fought for a corrupt leader sympathetic to the US. It was not in the Pentagon Papers, but years later it was discovered Presidential candidate Nixon secretely waylaid a peace deal underway, saying he could get better terms. Four years later and after more deaths, peace was brokered. Nixon denied this, but his voice was caught on tape as the South Vietnamese leader was being surveilled.

It should be noted that LBJ knew of Nixon’s “treason” as he called it, but chose not to bring it out, so as not to sway the election. It should be noted that Obama did the same thing when he knew the Russians were trying to influence the election in Trump’s favor. Both LBJ and Obama were wrong. However, while Trump tries to blame Obama for inaction, he was already touting the election was rigged. He was right – it was rigged to favor Trump.

That is all for this Thursday. Conspiracy theories abound. Most are only that. Yet, when they are true, they are whoppers. Usually the greater the effort to squelch them indicates their veracity.

Let’s Honor our Vets – Avoid Unnecessary Fights

On this Memorial Day, we honor our veterans who paid the ultimate sacrifice and who are no longer with us. And, we should. But, we must honor their sacrifices more by doing every thing in our power to avoid conflict in the first place and fight with purpose and planning when we cannot.

Many soldiers lost their lives in Vietnam, a war which fell out of favor as its purpose could not overcome the loss of life witnessed on the nightly news. And, in what may have been his worse abuse of power, which says a lot given Watergate, President-elect Richard Nixon purposefully and clandestinely derailed the peace process, so it could be accomplished on his watch. Many more Americans died as a result.

Later, we did not learn the lessons of fighting a war without clear mission and follow-up, by invading Iraq under false pretenses. We fudged questionable intelligence to invade and overthrow Saddam Hussein. A former Vietnam veteran and Congressman made an impassioned speech that if we invade, we need to be prepared to stay for 30 years.

We are now 14 years in and it looks like we will remain a while longer. We did not understand what success looked like, trusted the wrong advisors, did not understand the differences between Shia, Sunni and Kurds, and went in with too few troops and inferior equipment. General Shinseki resigned because of his disapproval of these last two reasons and our troops commonly referred to our efforts as a “clusterf••k.”

To honor our troops, we need to avoid fighting battles whenever possible. But, when we do send our troops in harm’s way, let’s make darn sure we have a clear cut plan, sufficient support and follow-up after the battles are won. Allowing the new Iraqi government to fire the police force from the Hussein days and to maltreat the minority Sunnis helped create ISIS.

We owe it to our troops to avoid risk whenever possible and to minimize their use of the term “clusterf••k” to define our modus operandi when we must fight needed battles. As General James Mattis said, if we lessen funding of diplomacy, we will need even greater funding of the military.

Death of an American hero – a real journalist

As many know, Ben Bradlee, the famous editor of the Washington Post during the Watergate story and Pentagon Papers passed away. His funeral service was held yesterday and attended by a who’s who list of journalists and others. Bradlee was amply played by Jason Robards in the movie “All the President’s Men,” which many folks said captured the essence of the man. He wanted to be the first with a story, but he also wanted to be accurate.

He gave the freedom to be reporters to his staff, but unceasingly challenged them to get it right. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were about to accuse the President of the United States with being a crook. So, they better make sure the story was correct. Bradlee asking them to continually verify the facts is what makes the movie version of what they did so compelling. If they got it wrong, it would have been a disaster. But, the fact that about fifty people, including Richard Nixon’s key lieutenants, went to jail showed they got it right. But, the other key was Bradlee backed up his reporters in the face of a mountain of criticism.

We should all have bosses like that. Watching Woodward and Bernstein speak with Charlie Rose about Bradlee, a telling comment came out of which we should remind all journalists and pseudo-journalists. Woodward said Bradlee was often known to say “slow down” encouraging the reporters to take their time to do the homework, do the reporting and tell the story to the public. We need this more than ever, as too many want a quick sound bite report, sometimes on a Twitter feed, which leaves context, depth and accuracy at the train station.

So, we citizens, voters, and readers/ watchers of news need to challenge ourselves to get news from sources that are more trustworthy and offer more in-depth news reporting. We need to avoid the sensational and question things. We need to slow down. We need to be truth seekers. We need to hold our elected officials accountable and ask more questions of them. Truth be told, with so much money in politics, the hypocrisies, poor decisions, and conflicts in interest are rampant and the stories abound. We just need to slow down and pay attention. Thanks Ben Bradlee. *

 

* More on Bradlee can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Bradlee#Other_work