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.

Sunday soliloquys

Happy weekend to all, including our friends overseas where they are almost through. Today, I thought I would throw some random ramblings or soliloquys at you, hopefully brief ones.

  • why is a major whitewashing effort going on by one of its two political parties to make more not be aware that the US has an ugly racist past? I will paraphrase a recent banner over a picture of Dorothy Counts, a black teen who was vilified and spat at for being the first black high school student at a previously all white high school in 1957 in Charlotte. The banner said the folks who tried to prevent her from going to school with white kids are now advocating not teaching that they tried to prevent her from going to the school.
  • why is this same Republican party doing its darnedest to whitewash what happened on January 6, after claiming it was an ugly chapter in our history after it just happened? This is akin to the wizard telling us to ignore the man behind the curtain, but in this case, telling us the wizard had a role, then backing off months later. This process began well before January 6 and is still going on built on a Big Lie that the former president was cheated – he was not, he just lost because he got fewer votes.
  • why are Democrats routinely forming a circular firing squad to prevent legislation from happening? Please get the infrastructure bill over the goal line and pass something tangible, but short of hopes, on the tandem bill. The former is over due now. But, the Democrats will need prioritize on the tandem bill, as things cost money.
  • why are Republican states awakening the Kraken by pushing for more restrictive abortion rights in various states? The Kraken is women who do not like people governing their bodies more than they already do. I think women have gotten their hands around the current rules, but going further is a bridge too far. Even Republican leaders are worried over this push. They should be.
  • what I cannot understand is why even pro-life folks do not favor family planning efforts? The state of Colorado did a study a few years ago which revealed family planning efforts reduced the state’s health care bill, reduced the number of abortions, reduced the prevalence of STDs., and reduced the number of unwanted pregnancies. Other studies have shown a correlation with increased poverty and increased family size.

That is all for now. Have a great weekend.

If we don’t know our history, we are destined to repeat it – a much needed reprise

I read this week from an UPI article that 60% of millennials and Gen-Zers are unaware that 6 million Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust by the Nazis in World War II. I use the word “exterminated” as that is what the Nazis did by gassing Jews after they rounded them up. If the brashness of this statement offends – I apologize for the needed candor. It is meant to wake people up.

But, the Nazi genocide of Jews is among too many persecutions around the world and over time. The United States has had three persecutions of groups of people, two of which leading to many deaths. We should never forget these sad parts of our history or white-wash (word intentionally chosen) them away.

– European settlers of the US over time seized land from, killed many and moved Native Americans over the course of three centuries. Even today, Native Americans have to go out of their way to protect the rights granted when they were forced to move or areas dear to them were protected by law. It seems the pursuit of fossil fuel acquisition and transport usurps rights.

– Slavery of blacks in the US is well known and was the principal reason the Civil War was fought. Even the reason for the war was white-washed and taught as a battle for states’ rights in too many class rooms. This propaganda was to get poor whites to fight the battles of landowners to allow their richer neighbors to keep slaves. Slaves were treated and abused as property. Yet, after the reconstruction period was legislated away years later, an ugly era of Jim Crow laws began to suppress blacks and make/ keep them as second class citizens. I encourage you to read “To Kill a Mockingbird” or listen to Billie Holiday sing “Strange Fruit” about black bodies swinging in the trees regarding this hateful period.

– To protect them (and other Americans, as a stated reason), FDR ordered the encampment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. These folks and their families were taken from their jobs and homes and imprisoned in camps during the war. They were not killed, although maybe some were while trying to escape, yet their rights were taken away.

Outside of North America, USSR premier Josef Stalin rounded up and killed far more people as enemies of the state than Adolph Hitler ever did. Yet, it did not get the notoriety of Hitler’s heinous crimes of the holocaust. In the 1990s, Radovan Karadzic and the Bosnian Serb military commander, General Ratko Mladic, were among those indicted for genocide and other crimes against humanity as they captured and killed about 8,000 Bosniaks.

In 1994, a planned campaign of mass murder in Rwanda occurred over the course of some 100 days. The genocide was conceived by extremist elements of Rwanda’s majority Hutu population who planned to kill the minority Tutsi population and anyone who opposed those genocidal intentions.

More recently, in Iraq the Sunnis felt left out of the largely Shia governing body after Saddam Hussein was toppled. They made the mistake of inviting in Daesh to help them. Daesh conducted genocide against all who stood against them, with beheadings and terror, until they were contained.

Sadly, there is so much more. Often the conquering power or the group in power will suppress people in their own lands. The leaders of the Mongols, Romans, Spaniards, Greeks, Brits, Syrians, North Koreans, Russians, Chinese, etc. have put down dissidents or dissident groups or made them disappear. There is an old saying – winners write the history – so, written history may be kinder than oral history to the strong-arming

These sad events involve two themes – power and fear. The first theme is obvious. The second is an age old practice. Tell people to fear another group, tell them these groups are the reason for your disenfranchisement and the people will do what you tell them.

How do we avoid this? So-called leaders who tell us whom to fear, should be questioned. This is especially true if the voice is not one of reason or veracity. Fear is a lever to divide and conquer – we must guard against its wielders.