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.

The Lavender Scare

My wife and I watched an informative documentary on PBS last night called “The Lavender Scare.” This show documents a lengthy period of US government sanctioned discrimination against homosexuals that lasted from the early 1950s to mid 1990s.

The scare evolved directly from the efforts of Senator Joseph McCarthy who led the “red scare” as he carried out communist witch hunts. He turned his eye toward homosexuals saying (without data) those who worked in the government were susceptible to communist blackmailers. Yet, unlike his communist witch hunt publicly dying due to his “lack of decency,” as the Secretary of the Army said, the Lavender Scare gained footing.

To my chagrin, I learned former General Dwight Eisenhower campaigned for President on this issue and signed an executive order in 1953 to identify and expel homosexuals from government positions. This saddens me because of the obvious discrimination, but also because the former General said earlier the UK team led by Alan Turing that broke the Nazi Enigma code saved 750,000 lives and shortened WWII by two years. Turing had to hide that he was gay, so Ike’s executive order in 1953 would have kicked Turing out of employment had he been his boss in WWII – what would have happened if Turing would not have been around to impact the war?

The fact this government sanctioned discrimination lasted until it was ceased by President Bill Clinton is a shame, as well. Multiple tens of thousands of excellent public servants were kicked out of jobs they loved and did well. And, many could not get good employment in the private sector due to their FBI file. One of those was an astronomer named Dr. Frank Kameny.

Yet, Kameny did not sit still. He became an advocate for gay rights pushing a ball uphill. He wrote letters to Congress members, some of which were caustically responded to giving variations of the same harsh response. He organized protests and would help those who lost jobs. And, he was able to save some jobs, one who spoke five languages and was later decorated for service to the NSA. Kameny was awarded the “Medal of Freedom” by President Barack Obama for being the grandfather of the gay advocacy movement.

Sadly, there is a movement today led by some exclusionary religious leaders to condemn gays and foment their discrimination. My thinking is this is a backlash to the US Supreme Court approving same-sex marriage a few years ago. But, it goes deeper than that with a president who has laid the groundwork for divisiveness to occur with impunity. He did not invent divisiveness, but is not preventing it either.

Let me be frank. We are land of freedoms and civil rights. Unless someone is harming you, you have “no standing” to deny the rights of others. I personally am offended by bigotry in the pulpit as I see this a a grievous dereliction of duty. Yet, that person has a right to say what he wants – provided he is not inciting violence or hate crimes. If the latter is true, then that is not a protected right.

Please watch this informative documentary. And, let’s do our best to avoid going back to this dark period. There was one gay postal worker who was to be expelled in the 1950s, but his boss stood up for him saying I know this, it does not bother me and he does a good job. The gay employee kept his job. We need more of that in our country and less of the hate speech.