Inside Job - the Documentary

‘Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! Matt Damon wants to interview me. Me! He’ll autograph one of his pictures, and (blush) he’ll probably want one of my own. After all, he’s reached the top of his field and I’ve reached the top of mine.’

But wait! Matt Damon is interviewer for a movie called Inside Job. About the root causes of the 2008 financial collapse! [the one replaying in Europe at this writing] Aren’t you worried that he may ask embarrassing questions?

‘Nah! He’s just a dumb actor. What does he know? I’ll razzle-dazzle him. He may be good at pretending to be a successful person, but I’m the real thing! He’ll be thrilled to meet me. Not a problem. I’ll generously grant him a few minutes of my time.’

But it turns out that Mr. Damon is not so dumb after all. Plus, he’s a quick study. Plus, he’s been coached by the best. It’s just my guess, but I think the filmmaker used him as bait, to lure in unsuspecting hotshots. You never see his face, just like in the old days when you never saw a newsperson’s face—before they immodestly decided that they themselves were also news and so had to have their mugs on screen. But with Mr. Damon, it’s back to the old ways; you never see him, you only hear his voice.

And if Glenn Hubbard (Chief Economic Adviser to the Bush administration and Dean of Columbia Business School) fell for the Damon bait, I’ve no doubt he’s lived to regret it. “This is not a deposition, sir,” the cornered Hubbard huffs, getting hot under Damon’s unrelenting questions. “I was polite enough to give you time, foolishly, I now see. But you have three more minutes. Give it your best shot!”

I knew he was toast the moment he said it. If only I could have warned him. Words like that don’t work. I know, because years ago I used those exact same words on Mrs. Harley when she was ragging on about some shortcomings that she imagined I had. It’s amazing what a woman can do in three minutes!

But Mr. Hubbard is not the film’s villain. Not by any stretch. He has a role, but it’s only a tiny one. He’s in a cozy “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” society, that’s all, which nets him a good chunk of change. ($100,000 to testify in defense of a couple hedge fund managers, who were nonetheless convicted of fraud) But that’s very small potatoes compared to the massive misdoings that Inside Job lays bare. All the really big fish were smart enough to lay low—they weren’t taken in by any ‘Oh boy! Let’s talk to Matt Damon!’ ploy. They have enough dough to buy and sell a hundred Matt Damons.

Painstakingly, Inside Job lays out what led up to financial disaster in 2008. “This crisis was not an accident,” the film asserts. “It was caused by an out-of-control industry. Since the 1980s, the rise of the U.S. financial sector has led to a series of increasingly severe financial crises. Each crisis has caused more damage, while the industry has made more and more money.”

Back in the day, the film explains, if you wanted to buy a house, you approached a bank for a loan. And then for the next ‘what seemed a lifetime’ you’d pay off your mortgage. The bank was careful loaning you money because it was their money. They wouldn’t loan it if they thought you might not pay it back. Isn’t that simple? It had been that way forever.

But starting in the 1980’s investment banks went public, raising millions from the stock market, and came up with new ideas to make money. Since Americans had never defaulted on their mortgages—I mean, who wants to lose their home?—even in times of crisis, it was the absolute last expense one would renege on—why not buy those mortgages from whoever wrote them, then sell them to investors in the stock market, reaping a fat commission on the way? Of course, no investor’s going to buy a single mortgage, but if you bundled them up several thousand at a time, then it became something people would invest in! Brilliant! Profitable! A win-win! Did anyone see the flaw?

The mortgage writer held that mortgage for only a short time. He sold it to an investment bank straight away, who also held it only a short time. The bank put it on the stock market for individual investors to purchase. So, in time, it occurred to these two middlemen that they needn’t worry too much about whether the mortgage could be repaid, so long as they could stick it to some investor further down the line, who was removed from the original translation and might just assume that it was a sound investment! Especially if outside authorities—call them rating agencies—like Moody’s, Fitch, and S&P—assured them that those investments were absolute rock-solid. Rating agencies did just that! After all, they drew their fees from those very same investment banks bundling the mortgages, and money blinds people. If they ever came to have misgivings as the mortgage quality deteriorated, they chose to look the other way. Such investments enjoyed the highest ratings right up until they crashed.

And crash they did. Financial types were enticed by fat commissions. Over the span of two decades, it became easier and easier to get a mortgage. People could do it with limited income, sometimes even with no income, since it got so that oftentimes nobody bothered to check if the applicant was creditworthy or not. Home prices began rising so quickly that people would buy one, even if they couldn’t quite afford it, with the notion that they could flip it for a big profit in just a few months.

Here’s Alan Sloan, senior editor of Fortune Magazine, interviewed by Inside Job: “A friend of mine, who, who’s involved in a company that has a big financial presence, said: Well, it’s about time you learned about subprime mortgages. So he set up a session with his trading desk and me; and, and a techie, who, who did all this – gets very excited; runs to his computer; pulls up, in about three seconds, this Goldman Sachs issue of securities. It was a complete disaster. Borrowers had borrowed, on average, 99.3 percent of the price of the house. Which means they have no money in the house. If anything goes wrong, they’re gonna walk away from the mortgage. This is not a loan you’d really make, right? You’ve gotta be crazy. But somehow, you took 8,000 of these loans; and by the time the guys were done at Goldman Sachs and the rating agencies, two-thirds of the loans were rated AAA, which meant they were rated as safe as government securities. It’s, it’s utterly mad.”

They were called CDOs, “collateralized debt obligations.” There’s more. By 2006, the big investment banks realized the CDOs they sold were risky and might fail, so they began buying insurance, called credit default swaps (CDS) from AIG Insurance, so that they would reap a profit if the CDOs really did go bust. Obviously, they stopped selling those toxic CDOs, right? Nope. All the while they continued to market CDOs as a high-quality investment! Meanwhile, they continued to buy CDSs till it dawned on them that AIG itself might go bust (which did happen). So they insured against even that!

But wait! Could all this possibly happen under the watchful eye of regulators? Again and again, Inside Job reveals how regulators saw all this developing—and did nothing. One such regulator, a former Fed banker, is convulsed with the worse case of the stammers I’ve ever seen trying to explain his role to Matt Damon: “So, uh, again, I, I don’t know the details, in terms of, of, uh, of, um – uh, in fact, I, I just don’t – I, I – eh, eh, whatever information he provide, I’m not sure exactly, I, eh, uh – it’s, it’s actually, to be honest with you, I can’t remember the, the, this kind of discussion. But certainly, uh, there, there were issues that were, uh, uh, coming up.”

The top investment bank executives all steered clear of Matt Damon, correctly smelling a rat, but they couldn’t really avoid Congress. The film provides footage of these big-time bankers being grilled by various legislators. Watch them squirm! It’s loads of fun. But don’t kid yourself. They only squirm to a point. And a little squirming can be endured if you’re nonetheless walking off with a personal profit of millions, even billions of dollars.

Another aspect of the film which has a curious effect: Whenever you see a picture of some people, and one of them is the United States President, and the camera begins to zoom in, you know it’s going to zoom in on the President, until presently the other nobodies fall of the frame. Inside Job zooms in on the other guys, all high-powered banking types who, the inference is clear, are really running the show. Here is footage of Ronald Reagan and his Treasury Secretary, former Morgan Stanley CEO Donald Regan, and it is Regan who is the focus. There is Bill Clinton side by side with his Secretary Treasurer, then Goldman Sachs CEO Robert Rubin, and it is Rubin who takes the spotlight. Ditto for George W. Bush and later Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson; the same for Barack Obama and Tim Geithner, former President of the New York Federal Reserve branch. Who is not reminded of Amschel Rothschild’s words of almost two centuries ago: “Let me issue and control a nation’s money and I care not who makes its laws.” Democrats in power? Republicans? Doesn’t matter. “It’s a Wall Street government,” says Robert Gnaizda, former director of the Greenlining Institute, with no reform in sight.

 

***~~~***

 

Trashing bankers was manifestly the way to go in late 2008, and Jehovah’s Witnesses are nothing but opportunists when it comes to finding topics of discussion. I had no overwhelming love for bankers in the first place, so I improvised the following:

“Hi. We’re speaking today about a group of people no one likes,” I began my house-to-house presentation. “Bankers.”

The householder replied: “I’m a banker.”

“No, no, no, I’m not talking about you...” I backpedaled. “I mean big-time bankers!”

“I’m a big-time banker,” she pursued. “So are all my family.” For crying out loud! What are the chances? Believe me, there was nothing about the street to suggest big-time bankers lived there. I still think she was pulling my leg, but you won’t have to stretch your mind too far to picture that the call sort of fizzled.

My companion was mortified. He still brings it up to suggest how embarrassed I must have been. But I wasn’t. Light and semi-flippant is the way I like to go; that way you can readily retract if you see you’ve missed your mark. It is exactly the right tone to cut through apathy, cynicism, or dullness, and we have a lot of that here in the United States. Plus, if you find you’ve come across a different type of person, you can immediately modify your tone. This will not work everywhere. It might not even work in most places. In some places it will come across as downright rude, but in the U.S.A, at least where I live, it’s just right, at least for me. It doesn’t work for Mrs. Harley, but then, her approach doesn’t work for me. We all have to make the most of the personalities we have.

I was aiming that day to speak of security, specifically financial security, since it didn’t seem to exist just then. Remember, the whole world was on the edge at the time. “World on the Edge,” were the cover words for The Economist Magazine, presented with such gravity that I almost thought I had picked up my latest Watchtower by mistake.

The 65th chapter of Isaiah points to happier, more secure times, and I wove this into my presentation: “And they will certainly build houses and have occupancy; and they will certainly plant vineyards and eat [their] fruitage. They will not build and someone else have occupancy; they will not plant and someone else do the eating. For like the days of a tree will the days of my people be; and the work of their own hands my chosen ones will use to the full. They will not toil for nothing, nor will they bring to birth for disturbance...”

Many people sense today that they are building and planting so that someone else can live the good life. Protesters were then camping out on Wall Street and major U.S. cities, angry about the top 1% of the population controlling 99% of the wealth. President Obama was preaching for all he was worth about creating jobs, jobs, and more jobs. Was it an ill omen for him that even Steve Jobs died while he was doing so? So it seemed that folks might be receptive to this Bible promise recorded in Isaiah, that under God’s Kingdom rule, they will see good for their hard work, rather than finding that they just dig themselves deeper into a hole while someone else sees good for it.

Recall that the banks had just been “bailed out.” They’d been given massive cash transfers, funded by the taxpayers, and taxpayers weren’t happy about it. Would anyone bail them out of their money troubles? Or would those banks, now that they had been saved, go easy on the small fry indebted to them? Not a bit of it! Instead, they began tossing people from their homes, as the housing market collapsed, jobs withered, and folks fell far behind in their mortgages. Yes, they booted them out right and left until someone uncovered a law that said you actually had to read documents you were signing when someone’s home was at stake. Banks weren’t doing that. They were robo-signing. The courts said they could no longer carry on like that. So they had to hire people to actually read the stuff, which slowed them down a bit. But only temporarily.

Doesn’t this just make one’s blood boil? Doesn’t it call to mind Matthew 18:23-34?

“…the kingdom of the heavens has become like a man, a king, that wanted to settle accounts with his slaves. When he started to settle them, there was brought in a man who owed him ten thousand talents [60,000,000 denarii]. But because he did not have the means to pay [it] back, his master ordered him and his wife and his children and all the things he had to be sold and payment to be made. Therefore the slave fell down and began to do obeisance to him, saying, ‘Be patient with me and I will pay back everything to you.’ Moved to pity at this, the master of that slave let him off and canceled his debt. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves that was owing him a hundred denarii; and, grabbing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back whatever you owe.’ Therefore his fellow slave fell down and began to entreat him, saying, ‘Be patient with me and I will pay you back.’ However, he was not willing, but went off and had him thrown into prison until he should pay back what was owing. When, therefore, his fellow slaves saw the things that had happened, they became very much grieved, and they went and made clear to their master all the things that had happened. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘Wicked slave, I canceled all that debt for you, when you entreated me. Ought you not, in turn, to have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I also had mercy on you?’”

As one senator (Ron Paul) pointed out, since the total bank bailouts eventually came to $17,000 per person, with no discernable economic benefit, you might have just given the money directly to the individual Americans. The results could hardly have turned out worse, and might well have turned out better. Debts would have been paid down, new purchases made, small businesses started. So that’s why I led off with my “bankers” presentation. It’s not something I would ordinary do.

Inside Job went on to win that year’s academy award for best documentary. Director Charles Ferguson, accepting his prize, delivered the only serious line during that entire star-studded silly night: “Forgive me, I must start by pointing out that three years after a horrific financial crisis caused by massive fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail, and that’s wrong!” The pinnacles of human achievement rise ever mightier, but so do the wrecking balls to level them all in an instant. Perhaps the following excerpt from his movie is the most telling:

Charles Ferguson: “Why do you think there isn’t a more systematic investigation being undertaken?”

Nouriel Roubini (professor, NYU Business School): Because then you will find the culprits. (November 2011)

From the book TrueTom vs the Apostates!

00


Offering my Sacrifice to the Gods

Volkswagen is ending production of the New Beetle, first begun in 1997. That beetle was the reincarnation of the original Beetle, which was itself ended in 1978. Every hippie on earth drove a Beetle back in the day.

It’s time. It is a smart move on Volkswagen’s part, for reasons beyond mere sales. With people routinely screaming that their opponents on anything are ‘like Hitler,’ you know it is only a matter of time before a company offering a car that actually was inspired by Hitler is subject to wrath itself.

I never owned a Beetle, but a friend did. My car was a 64 Rambler Classic station wagon. I decaled a bumblebee stripe around the rear end, wagon and all.  Sometimes we took my car and sometimes his as we explored the old logging roads in the Adirondacks during college days. Many of those roads would disintegrate into pure forest when they reached back far enough.

Emerging from a quasi-road onto a dirt road only slightly more real, my friend, who was driving, asked: “Anything coming your way?” “Just a school bus,” I said, and he laughed, for we were in the middle of nowhere. He pulled out and a school bus took off his front bumper.

I did have a Kharmann Ghia afterwards, which was a sportier Volkswagen offering, and I have two memories of it. The first is when I was alone with it performing the same house-to-house ministry I do now, decades ago when I was much dumber than I am now. Now, VWs barely heated at all. So I had gotten it into my head that maybe a portable kerosene heater would be a good idea; I could roll the windows down a bit for the fumes. As I do even today, I waited till I actually needed it, on one frigid suburban street, to try it out. I didn’t want to fire it up right there in the car. At least credit me with not being that dumb. I lit it outside, and a two-foot high flame shot into the air because I had not done it right. What would any homeowner glancing out the window have thought? “Oh, man, another religious nut, this one offering sacrifice to the gods!”

The other memory that lasts of my Karmann Ghia is when I pulled into my folk’s drive right behind their station wagon. No sooner had I shut the engine off than the backup lights of wagon ahead came on and my brother launched out and into my headlights like a rocket for Saturn. This is the same brother who took my stamp collection and who cheats at Scrabble. I didn’t have a lot of dough back then, so I fiber-glassed over the two gaping holes and bought two truck-mounted headlights and mounted them between front side fenders and hood. The car looked like a frog. I drove it in field service afterwards until I got rid of it, but I was always careful to avoid the street in which I had sacrificed to the gods.

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Climate Change and Global Warming: To Be or Not to Be?

The former local weatherman, Kevin Williams, tweets a photo of all his weather chums at a restaurant. "Aha!" I said. "I KNEW it. It IS a cabal! There IS collusion!" He liked that.

Now, I happen to know that Kevin Williams thinks global warming is a hoax. It is no secret. He is very open about it. He follows and sometimes retweets content of the man-on-a-mission climate change denier JWspry. (NOT, so far as I know, any connection to the JW of Jehovah's Witnesses) So I tweeted: "Are they across the board on global warming or on the same page, one way or another?"

No answer.

So I tweeted: "Ahh. Avoiding the answer to that question is the key to continued cohesion. Probably as it should be. Not everything has to be a fight."

He liked that one.

Untitled

Of course. You can't fight all the time. People believe what they believe, according to how they interpret the facts. Or more likely, they believe what they believe, and then spin the available facts to give themselves intellectual cover. We are not nearly so unemotional as the champions of critical thought would have us believe. We are dominated by emotion forged in experience and we thereafter consult our brains to make it fly logically.

It is even as the Bible says with spiritual things. "Prove to yourselves the good and acceptable and perfect will of God," says Romans 12:2. "Taste and see that Jehovah is good," says Psalm 34:8. What if someone tastes and sees that he is bad? Other than to advise he check his taste buds, there is little you can do about it. So don't get into judging. Present your version of truth as persuasively as you can and leave it at that. God knows whether he is a Trinity or not. He also knows whether he exists or not. Let him sort it out.

I asked Kevin (or was it JWspry?) about a previous post I wrote of how there was now 'Weather on Steroids.' He said it all depends upon what is reported. If you eagerly report all record highs and ignore all record lows, it does create that impression. Reporting means a lot. As Florence was churning over the Atlantic to deluge the Carolinas, everyone warned how it was especially fearsome because it was gathering strength over exceptionally warm waters made so by climate change. In fact, they were exceptionally cool waters and the surprise was that it became such a monster despite that.

Every time we hear, "it was the hottest summer since the year such and such," that means it was hotter in that year, and if anything, we are witness to global cooling, with lower highs. The stranded polar bear photo has admittedly been misrepresented, Al Gore's 'Inconvenient Truth' book has been lambasted for mishandling data to paint dire scenarios which have not panned out. To the extent emotion is the true driver in human affairs, Upton Sinclair's quote is the one to watch: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it." Big money is involved, either way, in climate change.

Me, I don't go there. It's not my cause. If humans are not ruining the earth in a Revelation 11:18 scenario via global warming, it is not as though they are too responsible to ever ruin the earth; it is that their combined activity is not powerful enough to do it. They are ruining it in plenty of other ways. To the extent 'ruining the earth' reflects the ruining the earth scenario of Genesis 6, it is not environmental factors at all being spoken of, but violence. Do we live in a violent world today? Tell me about it.

 


Oxycotin

I beat CBS to the punch by two years in what they said about the Oxycotin pharma fraud. It is in the Prince chapter of Tom Irregardless and Me, there because Prince died a victim of that fraud. Since the Prince chapter is Chapter 1, it is even in the free preview section.
 
I didn’t mention the company or the drug by name. I followed the lead of Watchtower publications, which I have come to understand their reasons mostly through imitating them. You do not name a villain, for as soon as you name one, you create the impression that removing that villain will fix things. Instead, if you should succeed in taking him out, another villain immediately steps into his shoes and the play continues with barely a hiccup.
 
It is the play we are watching, not the heroes and villains in it. You do not have to know the names of the actors to follow the play – it can even be a distraction if you do. The names don’t matter. If one actor doesn’t show up for curtain call, they simply plug in a substitute, and the play continues.
 
'Tom Irregardless and Me', in the Prince chapter, quotes a Dr. Johnson, who wrote to say he was
 
“forced to paint an unflattering picture of the industry that I have been a part of for the last 15 years. I wish I could tell you that this epidemic was due to an honest mistake. That the science was unclear or had mixed results that only later became evident. But I can’t. I also wish I could tell you that the only reason the problem persists is a ‘lack of physician awareness.’ But I won’t. The reason this opioid problem started and the reason it continues is sadly for the most American reason there is - business.”
 
At one time, Dr. Johnson points out, American doctors prescribed opioids as did doctors everywhere: for pain relief from cancer or acute injury. He then tells of a drug company, introducing a new opioid product in 1996, that swung for the fences. It didn’t want to target just cancer patients. It wanted to target everyone experiencing everyday pain: joint pain and back pain, for example:
 
“To do this, they recruited and paid experts in the field of pain medicine to spread the message that these medicines were not as addictive as previously thought...As a physician in training, I remember being told that the risk of addiction for patients taking opioids for pain was ‘less than one percent.’ What I was not told was that there was no good science to suggest rates of addiction were really that low. That ‘less than one percent’ statistic came from a five-sentence paragraph in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1980. It has come to be known as the Porter and Jick study. However, it was not really a study. It was a letter to the editor; more like a tweet. You can read the whole thing in 90 seconds.”
 
The CBS story of 5 days ago reveals a former drug rep of the company who spills for them.. I had it all two years ago, and it is even more damning. I didn’t put it in the book because illuminating Prince’s JW life was the object of the chapter, not crusading against pharma.
 
In fact, not only was the drug far more addictive than doctors and reps were led to believe, but the pain relief it delivered only lasted a few hours, not the 12 that was advertised. Yet, when complaints of such were received, the company would not permit reps to advise patients take it more often, since that exposed the fact that the much more expensive drug was no better than what was already being used for pain. Instead, the advice was to increase the dosage, and that obviously served to intensify the addictive quality. Prince and millions like him got hooked on a drug that the doctor prescribed, and when doctors started to get squirrelly, withholding supply for fear of what they were unleashing, these ones were driven to the black market to find substitutes.
 
It is here in the first chapter, Prince, which, to my knowledge, is the most complete, and perhaps only, published collection of the artist's JW experiences and interactions. And it is in the free section.
 
https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/686882

American Motors

“Brakes are a little squishy on the [then 24-year old] Buick,” I said to my wife, Mrs Sheepandgoats. “Would you run it down to the repair shop first thing in the morning?” But she never made it! Backing out the driveway, the brakes failed completely, and she smacked right into a parked car. In front of a police car, no less! The officer emerged. What was that all about, he wanted to know. Upon being told there was no brakes, he, like all guys rescuing the girl, declared he would move the car. A minute later he got out, pale-faced. There's no brakes on this car! he said.

If you've never had brakes fail completely on you, be assured there's no sensation quite like it. It almost seems as though the car speeds up when you hit the pedal. Of course, this doesn't happen anymore, because, in 1965, one American car manufacturer introduced a technological solution, the dual brake master cylinder.

Q: Which American car manufacturer, in 1965, introduced the dual brake master cylinder?

a) General Motors
b) Ford
c) Chrysler

The answer is d: none of the above.

It was tiny American Motors, IMG_0329 out of business since 1985. So says radio mechanics Click and Clack, who used to ridicule the brand mercilessly.

You know, for the longest time I've wanted to write about American Motors, since these are the cars I was too familiar with growing up. Our family owned several of them. To be sure, that desire to write about them is fading, so I better hurry up and post something before it dies completely. After all, isn't it a bit self-indulgent for some aging guy to go rattling on about the cars he had growing up? And who cares, anyway? Moreover, much of the world would consider it unspeakable luxury to be growing up with, not one car, but two, in the family, as our family did. “You Americans are so spoiled,” a visiting African brother said. “Not only does each family member have his own car, but you have garages to put them in. In Africa, four families would live in that garage!” It's an uneven distribution of wealth, that's for sure. But these days Americans are falling behind the material times, while other countries are rapidly up and coming, building highways which immediately fill with cars.

Besides, from time to time, I used to come across old guys in the ministry who would carry on and on about their Studebakers and Desotos and Packards, and what wonderful cars they were, and how they were ahead of their time. They were also ahead of my time, and so I was only vaguely familiar with those makes. But I do know American Motors. Should I now do my bit for automotive history and spill what I recall about the brand? I think so.

I write this post as Toyota grapples with allegations of sticky accelerator pedals. There's been an evolution. At first, they denied everything and attributed all problems to driver error. But then Akio Toyoda, CEO of Toyota, went before Congress to tearily beg forgiveness for his jackrabbit cars. However, since then, the Massey mine collapsed in Pennsylvania and the BP oil spill occurred in the Gulf of Mexico. Thus, Akio Toyoda is twice replaced as the World's Evil Businessman. Freed from the glare of adverse scrutiny, Toyota has gone back to its initial tactic in dealing with sticky accelerator pedals....blaming the victim! So says this story, anyway. Trouble is, I'm not at all sure that's not the correct approach. It's impossible to tell. What with lawyers and gold-diggers, you never know if an unsafe spree is genuine or if it's a tiny glitch exploited beyond all bounds by opportunists. No one ever said all Toyotas run away on you.....worst case scenario is an extremely tiny percentage. Now, I work with a woman whose car also accelerated by itself, climbing an embankment, when all she wanted to do was shut it off; the tire tracks are right outside the office to prove it. It's happened several times, she told me. A cynic (or sexist) might suspect the “nut behind the wheel”....can't this woman drive?....but frankly, knowing her, I doubt that's the case. And.....gasp!....her car is not a Toyota! It's a Honda! Moreover, she took it to the dealer, and they, not being the evil businesspersons of the moment, didn't fix it for free, as Toyota would have. They charged her $700!

But in my day, if you bought a clunker, you bought a clunker. Tough luck! There was no such thing as auto recalls. I have vivid memories of my dad repeatedly aligning the front wheels of his 1960 Rambler American, a car he swore must have been built with “spare parts.” He wore out front tire after front tire, and did not succeed until he learned to ignore the company specs and improvise his own alignment! This American was our first “2nd car.” Up till then, we, and virtually every other family, existed on one car per family. But in the early 60's, “compact” cars were introduced, with the marketing notion that a family might actually buy more than one car, and the idea quickly became reality. Of course, our main car, the car supplemented by the Rambler American, was also a Rambler, a 1958 Rambler Classic.

Most of the psychological hangups I have today trace directly to how, as a child, my people drove Ramblers. Classmates tooled around in deliriously long chariots capped with tailfins on which you could impale a buffalo. Me....I was stuck with boxy toasters that got good gas mileage. Getting good gas mileage is a virtue today, but only a wus cared about it in the sixties. However, my mother was short. She couldn't see over the wheel of most cars, but she could in a Rambler, in which you sat up high. So it was nothing but American Motors for us! Forced to drive these cars, is that how I acquired my life-long habit of sticking up for the underdog? Because, as a teenager at school, you had to defend your families' choice of vehicle, even if you secretly longed for them to show some class and buy a Mustang. And like Johnny Cash sang: “I knew you had to grow tough or die!” [A Boy Named Sue], did defending Ramblers make me tough.....willing to ignore popular opinion? I don't think I'd overstate the case, but maybe I shouldn't understate it, either.

And I'll defend them still, even though it's been 25 years since their demise. Even though I know, deep down in my heart of hearts, that they don't really deserve defending, or at best, deserve it only partially.  After all, aren't they Mormon cars?....something I never even suspected until I saw the Mormon missionaries all tooling around in AMC Hornets....whereupon I discovered that founder George Romney (father of 2010 Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney) was a Mormon. So let Mormons defend them. Of course, I don't know for sure that Romney's AMC successors were Mormons, but why else would the church buy a fleet of Hornets?

Despite the recession of 1958, with George Romney at the helm, Rambler sales increased, while every other make decreased. This landed him on the cover of Time Magazine. The following year, sales doubled, and they nearly doubled again in 1960. Romney retired in 1963 to try his hand in politics, and he later commented that the company's undoing was to abandon his focus on economy in a quest to be like the big boys with a full line-up of cars.

To be sure, AMC's perennial lack of financial resources often showed, and the company's full line-up is an odd mixture of innovation and dud.  The Marlin is a good example. Originally a cool idea (see illustrations), the company didn't quite have the resources to pull it off, so they settled for a dud. The same thing happened with the Pacer, which sold like mad in its first year or two, and then virtually stopped.

Some of the handsomest cars in the 60's were by American Motors....I think of the 68 Javelin, for instance.... but also, truth be told, some of the ugliest. Lacking funds for proper retooling, AMC would start with an attractive product, and then add more chrome and crud with each succeeding year till you could barely stand to look at the result. Popular Mechanics, in 1967, quoted someone saying the Rambler Rebel was the best-looking new car around...“hard to believe it's made by American Motors.” But by 1975, just look at the monstrous mess (pictured) they'd turned it into:800px-1975_AMC_Matador_base_Sedan_beige_left-front-550x275   
(And that green 61 Ramber American, pictured above.....Lord, what an ugly car!) Ironically, though, the coupe version of the same car was thoroughy cool.

But some models, ridiculed today in movies like Wayne's World, were, at the time of their introduction, thought cute and innovative.....the Gremlin and the Pacer, for example. The Gremlin actually won top honors at Consumer Reports in its first year, a recommendation most out of character, as the magazine rarely had anything good to say about the brand. (It's competitors, Chevrolet Vega and Ford Pinto, weren't around yet....tiny American Motors had beaten them to the punch) And the Ambassador, I thought, was downright handsome.....a poor man's Cadillac, someone called it, in the same way an AMX was a poor man's Corvette. I bought a used one of my own while in school.

The fourth Rambler our family owned was a 66 Classic. It's the same model which drove the Beatles onto Shea Stadium the year prior. Now, this makes no sense at all. Why weren't they driven afield in a Cadillac? This was the British Invasion, after all. The Beatles were the sensation of the decade. But later I learned that promoters of the time didn't treat rock stars in the worshipful way they do today. They didn't spend a lot of money on them, though God knows, they made enough off them. That's why you always hear of rock and roll artists of the 50's and 60's going down in plane crashes. Promoters lined up the ricketiest, cheapest airfare available, not the whispering limo-planes you might suppose they would charter. Rock groups were put up in hotels, to be sure, but not really great hotels....just functional ones. Did promoters figure that rock and roll groups were just kids, and you didn't spoil kids? Or were they all just a bunch of amateurs? A Rambler was plenty good enough for them. Incredibly, the Beatles later played centerfield at a St Louis stadium in the pouring rain.....they got drenched....because management didn't want to pay the $400 required to erect an awning for them. They could have been electrocuted. (see The Unseen Beatles, a BBC DVD, 2007) No wonder youthful musicians loathe the music industry.

And get a load of this nutjob, who claims an AMC Hornet was the best Bond car ever. James Bond, you'll remember, drove Aston Martins, and Lotus Espirits, and BMW Z sportsters. You wouldn't think he'd be caught dead in a Rambler. But in the 1974 film Man With the Golden Gun, James Bond jumps a river in his AMC Hornet X, all the while spiraling a complete 360 degrees around. An Astro Spiral Jump! None of those pampered pricey “pretty boy” cars came close to such a stunt. It was plain ol bread n butter American Motors what done the deed. (Be sure to play the YouTubes on the linked-to post)

Actually, I call this fellow a “nutjob” tongue-in-cheek. I like him. I like his blog. In “researching” this post, I found myself again and again searching though his material, almost to the  point of.....why go anywhere else? He freely admits to being a compulsive automotive nerd given to recording trivia of  lackluster vehicles that other authors would sensibly leave to rust in peace. I'm sorely tempted to spend hours and hours and hours perusing his blog, but of course, I don't. I have to write about God.

Long after I left the family home, when I should have known better, and had no plausible excuse, I bought a used 1983 Concord, pictured here in a Bill Vance post. Such was the hold that the AMC cult held over me, a cult I might never have broken away from had not the company been absorbed by Chrysler, which promptly discontinued all AMC cars. The model I bought is the same of which Car and Driver (2/78) once wrote “You have the eerie feeling in steering the Concord down the road that somehow, something isn’t quite right, isn’t quite integrated.” Actually, I didn't notice that. But, in time, the car developed a discouraging habit of stalling on right turns. I did notice that.

.................................

OH NO!!! Cars II, the movie, is due out in June of 2011, and it appears that both Gremlins and Pacers are cast as villains! I tell you, life is unfair, pure and simple.

 ...............................

[Edit 12/12/2010:  Oh, very well. Here it is, the song Little Nash Rambler.]

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Tom Irregardless and Me     No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash


The Military-Industrial Complex and Jehovah's Witnesses

During the Vietnam war, America's younger generation broke from the older, and broke decisively. Student protesters besieged the White House, chanting "Hey Hey LBJ, How many kids did you kill today?" President Johnson's successor, Richard Nixon, fared no better, since his name suggested the clever, if obscene, "Dick Nixon before he dicks you." Mohammed Ali was drafted into the military and refused to go, famously declaring "no VietCong ever called me nigger." Exactly. What quarrel did he have with people halfway around the globe? Bigger concerns back home. If the 'kings' couldn't get along, how did that become his problem?

Back then, you heard a lot about the military-industrial complex, that cozy relationship between big business, the armed forces, and government, each feeding the other, thus facilitating perpetual war. Young people signaled they resented the manipulation, and would no longer stand for it. But where did that expression come from - military-industrial complex? Probably some long-haired, over-educated peacenik?

In fact, for those who believe in stereotypes, it came from the most unlikely of persons: Dwight D Eisenhower, nicknamed Ike, who served as Supreme Commander of Allied Troops during World War II. Afterwards, a grateful United States elected him President in 1952 and again in 1956. In his 1961 farewell address to the nation, he cautioned of a growing military-industrial complex.

Now....this is not the type of warning you'd normally expect from a general or President. Patton wouldn't have said it. Nor would George Bush, who landed on that aircraft carrier crowing "Mission Accomplished!" Ike's children said Eisenhower originally intended to warn of a military-industrial-congressional complex, but he dropped the last term, for fear of annoying Congress.

But maybe that warning from the President is not so strange, considering Ike's background. Cruise the internet and you will find sites that describe him as the nation's only Jehovah's Witness President. Here, for example. I mean, it's right there on the internet, so it must be so, but could it really be? Jehovah's Witnesses don't usually join the military, let alone become Supreme Commander of Allied Troops. Nor do they enter politics, let alone become President.

As is often true about things pertaining to us on the internet, it's not true, but there's a grain of truth to it. Ike was raised in a Witness home, or at least, his mom was very active in the faith, though apparently not his dad. When Ike was a boy, his home was used for meetings. Ike and his brother left the Witnesses, but his mother remained active until her death. In the mid-seventies, Modern Maturity magazine ran this quote from Melvin Eisenhower, Ike's brother:

Mother and Father knew the Bible from one end to the other. In fact, Mother was her own concordance: Without using one, she could turn to the particular scriptural passage she wanted. . . . We had an ideal home for I never heard an unkind word between Father and Mother. They lived by the cardinal concepts of the Judaic-Christian religion. (as quoted in Awake magazine, 4/22/75)

Yeah, that pretty well fits the profile of an active Witness. They usually know that Bible inside  out.

During the Presidential election campaigns, Ike wanted to win. So did his handlers. Therefore, he played down his Witness connection, which would surely have sunk his campaign. (See Melvin's quote above, where the faith is cryptically referred to as "the cardinal concepts of the Judaic-Christian religion." Don't you think he'd just say "Presyterian, if that's what it was? Doesn't it look as though he's trying to avoid mentioning something?) Ike let on he was raised 'Protestant' - a good catch-all term at the time for anything not Catholic or Jewish. I can't fault him for this. I mean, I can just see those political cartoonists skewering a Witness background....frankly, even I would have enjoyed a crack at it. There would be Ike and his wife standing in front of the White House, holding up the Watchtower.  The emblazoned cover would cry: Can Presidents Bring Peace? Oh, yeah, they'd have had a field day with it!

Come to think of it, doesn't military-industrial-congressional complex sound a lot like the big business, big government, big military triumvirate that Jehovah's Witnesses used to carry on about?  Or was it that big government and big military were combined as one, with the third slot going to big religion? I forget. That terminology (but not the thinking behind it) was dropped decades ago; old-timers still use it, but their numbers are dwindling fast. Ah, well, no matter. Close enough. I'll grant JWs credit for the phrase. As already stated, you'd normally expect a general and President to be cozy with any military-industrial-congressional complex. You wouldn't expect them to warn against it, as if like a prophet.

So maybe that JW background left its mark, after all.

Somehow, this all reminds me of Joel Engardio, another fellow who was raised a Witness, but who left because he wanted to make the world a better place now, rather than want to wait for some intangible God's Kingdom to come around and do it. Mr. Engardio is today a well-respected NPR journalist;  a few years ago, he produced a documentary film about us called Knocking, one of the few fair shakes we've ever had from the media. I wrote about it here. (Another, more modest 'shake', is here.)

Did Eisenhower, too, leave the Witnesses because he wanted to make the world a better place now, and not later? After all, it seemed to most of the free world that civilization was at stake during the 2nd World War. World War I was billed as the war to end all wars. Alright, it hadn't turned out that way, but maybe one more try would do it. Besides, what choice was there? One had to respond to aggressors. Such was popular sentiment.

If so, Ike must, at least sometimes, have had second thoughts about the pathway to a better world. In the wake of the battle of Normandy, wasn't it he who wrote, 'one could walk hundreds of yards and step upon nothing but rotting human flesh'? And from his farewell 'military-industrial complex' address to the nation

Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose. Because this need is so sharp and apparent I confess that I lay down my official responsibilities in this field with a definite sense of disappointment. As one who has witnessed the horror and the lingering sadness of war -- as one who knows that another war could utterly destroy this civilization which has been so slowly and painfully built over thousands of years -- I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight.

Yeah, don't we all. Does anyone think, though, that through human efforts, it's any closer in 2009 than it was in 1961?


 

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The Oct 15, 1980 Watchtower tells of a WWII soldier who became one of Jehovah's Witnesses while enlisted. Efforts to speak with his superiors about his new-found neutrality went nowhere. So this fellow wrote Eisenhower's mom! Sometimes you have to do that.

One especially testy exchange turned around quickly:

As I entered the headquarters tent, where all the “top brass” had gathered, I didn’t salute.

One of the officers said: “Don’t you salute your superiors?”

 


“No, Sir.”

 


“Why not?”


Respectfully, I gave my reasons, based on my understanding of the Bible. At that the officer said: “General Eisenhower ought to line you Jehovah’s Witnesses up and shoot you all!”


“Do you think he would shoot his own mother, Sir?” I asked.


“What do you mean by that?” he shot back.


Reaching in my pocket and taking out Sister Eisenhower’s letter, I handed it to him. “I just received this letter from the General’s mother while waiting for you to call me.”


As he read the letter, which you see reproduced on the opposite page, the other officers also gathered around to look at it. Thoughtfully, and with a greatly changed attitude, he handed it back to me. “Get back to ranks,” he said, “I don’t want to get mixed up with the General’s mother.”

 

 

 


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Abilene, Kansas.
                                    August-20-’44.
Mr. Richard Boeckel.

Dear Sir:-
  A friend returning from the United Announcers Convention of Jehovah’s witnesses, informs me of meeting you there. I rejoice with you in  your privilege of attending such convention.
  It has been my good fortune many times in the years gone by to attend these meetings of those faithfully proclaiming the name of Jehovah and his glorious Kingdom which shortly now will pour out its rich blessings over all the earth.
  My friend informs me of your desire to have a word from General Eisenhower’s mother whom you have been told is one of the witnesses of Jehovah. I am indeed such and what a glorious privilege it has been in association with those of the present time and with those on back through the annals of Biblical history even to Abel.
  Generally I have refused such requests because of my desire to avoid all publicity. However, because you are a person of good will towards Jehovah God and his glorious Theocracy I am very happy to write you.
  I have been blessed with seven sons of which five are living, all being very good to their mother and I am constrained to believe are very fine in the eyes of those who have learned to know them.
  It was always my desire and my effort to raise my boys in the knowledge of and to reverence their Creator. My prayer is that they all may anchor their hope in the New World, the central feature of which is the Kingdom for which all good people have been praying the past two thousand years.
  I feel that Dwight my third son will always strive to do his duty with integrity as he sees such duty. I mention him in particular because of your expressed interest in him.
  And so as the mother of General Eisenhower and as a witness of and for the Great Jehovah of Hosts (I have been such the past 49 years) I am pleased to write you and to urge you to faithfulness as a companion of and servant with those who “keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus”.
  There can be no doubt that what is now called the post-war period is the “one hour” mentioned at Revelation chapters 17 and 18. Ten here being a symbol not of just ten nations but rather of the whole number or all of the nations, then if we have a real League of Nations acting efficiently as a super guide to the nations of earth at the close of this war that should be ample proof.
  Surely this portends that very soon the glorious Theocracy, the long promised Kingdom of Jehovah the Great God and of his Son the everlasting King will rule the entire earth and pour out manifold blessings upon all peoples who are of good will towards Him. All others will be removed.
  Again may I urge your ever faithfulness to these the “Higher Powers” and to the New World now so very near.

  Respectfully your in hope of and as a fighter for the New World,

  Ida E. Eisenhower

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Tom Irregardless and Me    No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

 

 

 

 

 

 


Rationalism, the Third World, and Bible Principles

At first it appeared the countries suffering the most would be the "guilty" countries - the ones whose banks invented the super leveraged credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations - the ones whose governments and citizens were head over heals in debt - the ones whose people had replaced the Bible with Consumer Reports. "Responsible" countries, those operating a surplus, whose citizens were frugal, such as China, Japan, and Germany - would emerge relatively unscathed. Ah, but it was not to be! The latter countries have suffered as much or more. Their strong balance sheet comes from exports, and now who remains to buy their goods?

But the really innocent countries - the third world countries - fare the worst by far. There, the downturn doesn't mean tarnished golden years. It means lives lost. Seldom are cause and effect linked so clearly - most often there is sufficient disconnect so that the connivers on top can remain oblivious to the havoc they wreak below. But not this time.

Economist this week considers the plight of Africa, (The Toxins Trickle Downward, 3/14/09) where in recent years, millions have inched their way above the poverty line, only to be shoved firmly beneath it again. Such countries are impacted in three ways: 1) credit market are closed to them, as they are riskier borrowers, and financial aid from wealthier countries wither, 2) commodity prices have collapsed, and commodities are usually their primary exports, and 3) remittances from citizens working abroad have dried up. The World Bank reckons these three factors will account for 200,000 - 400,000 lives lost, all children.

It's rare that the failure of human rule is shown in such stark relief, with consequences so directly traceable. How damnnable that people nonetheless prefer it to God's rulership as outlined in the Bible, as advertised by his Witnesses, and as practiced by the Christian organization. Here's an excerpt from someone who has left God - our God, no less - Jehovah, to embrace atheism. He gushes effusively about his new "rational worldview" (I have greatly condensed certain remarks, and to be fair, you might want to see them in their context here. The author includes a number of his gripes about Jehovah's Witnesses - mostly exaggerated drivel, in my view, that I may respond to if asked - likely in a separate post.):

 

Rationalism for me means a life of pure freedom. ..... But this means that this life that you’re living now is the most precious thing you’ll ever have. .... Because there is no Big Daddy to appease or suck up to, or be afraid of, you should be nice to people because it’s nice! You should treat people like you want to be treated! You should not steal or murder because it hurts people, and hurting people is wrong. Always. No one needs a god to tell them this.....

Being a rationalist....If you say something irrational or realise the error in your own thoughts, a red flag immediately raises. .....rationalism is a worldview with no drawbacks, and only positives. It encourages honesty and truth.....It promotes interest in the common good...

 

How lofty and soaring the words sound! How much crap they are in reality! As the "African" example shows, people use their "pure freedom," to grind others into the dirt, and not to "treat people like you want to be treated!" (an exclamation mark, no less....oh, the joys of rationalism!) They are not "nice to people." They "hurt people," two to four hundred thousand of them, even though "hurting people is wrong." Plainly, we do need a "big Daddy to appease" and a "god to tell" us how to live.

If you had had a son or daughter high up in the banking world, who was devising the complex financial instruments that would ultimately ruin us all, you would have carried on about how well junior was doing for himself, how respected he was in the business world, and so forth. Even experts in the field had not a clue they were playing with dynamite; if they had, they would have cashed out their investments before the markets plunged.

The fact is that humans were not designed to rule themselves. It's an ability they do not have. Whether through greed, ignorance, pride, or some mix of the three, the record of human rule aptly illustrates Jeremiah's words:

I well know, O Jehovah, that to earthling man his way does not belong. It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step   Jer 10:23

A major theme of the Bible is that God has designed rulership which will one day replace human rule. He will bring it about himself, and those who have sided with him will be mere bystanders. In the meantime, these latter ones declare this government by God:

And this good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.    (Matt 24:14)

Today, the organization of Jehovah's Witnesses govern their affairs in accord with Bible principles, which provides a hopeful foregleam of life under that Kingdom rule. It's well known that racial and tribal divisions - the ones tearing apart the world - utterly fail to divide Jehovah's Witnesses. It's well known that when natural disaster strikes, (for example, Katrina) teams of volunteers promptly care for their own, rebuilding homes while governments are yet twiddling their thumbs. It's well known that Kingdom Halls in the third world are often the most impressive building in town, far more than what the locals could afford - due to a sharing of resources and building talent from wealthier countries.

All this provided through an organization which counsels, which directs, which disciplines its own, which insists on members living by Bible principles. Grousers, such as one may find online, launch blistering attacks at this, for it seems to impede their freedom, and this they will not tolerate, even in trivial matters. But our "economy" works to the good of third world countries, rather than trampling them underfoot.

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Tom Irregardless and Me     No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash


Alan Greenspan and the Financial Black Hole

As the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva was about to become operational, dire warnings appeared on the internet. Scientists had been salivating about their Collider for the longest time. At last they’d be able to simulate conditions from the Big Bang and learn…..well, all kinds of things about physics. But worrywarts fretted that these wise ones would instead open up black holes right here on terra firma….and swallow up everything! Two fellows in Hawaii even filed a “cease and desist” lawsuit, but the far away European scientists pooh-poohed it all. Not to worry, they said, any results of their tinkering would be at the subatomic level. Nonchalantly, chuckling at these unscientific nutjobs, they flipped the switch….and half the world’s wealth promptly vanished into a financial black hole! The week ending Oct 10 was the worst week for U.S. stocks since 1914  [!]

SIR - Can it really be a coincidence that within weeks of the Large Hadron Collider being switched on for the first time a financial black hole has appeared in the universe? - Barclay Price, Edinburgh     (letter to editor: Economist)

And from the Yahoo question board:

How did the Large Hadron Collider cause the biggest stock market crash in History?

Apparently taking this for a serious question, people wrote in to say that 1929 and 1987 had seen larger single day crashes, that the market slide had begun a year ago, and that real estate and bank shenanigans, not physics, has caused the meltdown. And besides, like all new projects, the Collider didn’t go online as scheduled, but glitches and difficulties kept it under repair from the start.

But let these apologists say what they will….it was those infernal scientists! They can’t leave well enough alone. Always have to mess with things. Just like when my son used to work the car window up and down, up and down, and I’d tell him not to because he was going to break it. And do you know what happened? Exactly…..and I was out the cost of a new window motor. Of course, breaking a car window motor is not as serious as destroying the entire worldwide financial system, but the principle is exactly the same and I wasn't happy.

In the aftermath, Alan Greenspan testified before Congress:

“We are in the midst of a once-in-a-century credit tsunami. Central banks and governments are being required to take unprecedented measures. You, importantly, represent those on whose behalf economic policy is made, those who are feeling the brunt of the crisis in their workplaces and homes. I hope to address their concerns today.”

This is the same Alan Greenspan whose voice to the financial community used to be like that of God, the only difference being that God knew what he was talking about. Not that Mr. Greenspan wasn’t bright and competent and all…..it's just that it took only a single flaw to bring down a whole lifetime of work. As chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, he’d issue statements at least once a month when setting interest rate policy. He’d make the statements incomprehensible….it was almost a game. He’d rehearse them in his head. If they could be understood, he'd rework them. Finance people would strain to discern his real intent, but of course, the task was impossible….by design. Far from becoming fed up with such obscuration, they took it all for brilliance! I mean, any street person would recognize a con-job in two seconds flat, but the bankers hailed it as wisdom from on high. After all, they were making tons of money. Did anything else truly matter?

Mr. Greenspan’s successor, Ben Bernanke, is more straightforward. Mr. Greenspan himself became that way addressing Congress. He dropped the smart-alecky double talk. His words were clear. And not very pretty.

“Given the financial damage to date, I cannot see how we can avoid a significant rise in layoffs and unemployment. Fearful American households [not to mention….which he didn’t…the rest of the world] are attempting to adjust, as best they can, to a rapid contraction in credit availability, threats to retirement funds, and increased job insecurity. All of this implies a marked retrenchment of consumer spending as households try to divert an increasing part of their incomes to replenish depleted assets, not only in 401Ks, but in the value of their homes as well.”

No more smug cuteness building indecipherable word castles. For, alas, “those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholder’s equity (myself particularly) are in as state of shocked disbelief.”

Then Mr. Greenspan discusses what triggered the collapse: factors involving CDOs, already discussed here.

And…

“It was the failure to properly price such risky assets that precipitated the crisis. In recent decades, a vast risk management and pricing system has evolved, combining the best insights of mathematicians and finance experts supported by major advances in computer and communications technology. A Nobel Prize was awarded for the discovery of the pricing model that underpins much of the advance in derivatives markets. This modern risk management paradigm held sway for decades. The whole intellectual edifice, however, collapsed in the summer of last year because the data inputted into the risk management models generally covered only the past two decades, a period of euphoria.”

Note the absolute failure of the best and the brightest - the cream of the crop of human experts. A Nobel Prize was awarded, for crying out loud, for the economic model that would subsequently ruin us all! This was the not work of con men, but of the most learned, the most highly educated (the most profit-driven?) persons of society. And the final admission is staggering: nobody thought to test the model outside of partytime - “a period of euphoria.” Nobody thought that the real world might be different than the party world!

Isn’t there some scripture somewhere about how you can’t trust “nobles” as far as you can spit?

Do not put your trust in nobles, nor in the son of earthling man, to whom no salvation belongs.
 His spirit goes out, he goes back to his ground;
       In that day his thoughts do perish.   Ps 146:3,4


And doesn’t this validate how Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t bow and scrape and slobber over today’s higher education?Instead they extract from education the ability to make a living, while drawing on other sources for wisdom.”

After his statement, the House Committee grilled Mr. Greenspan for awhile, forcing him to admit:

“I found a flaw in the model that I perceived is the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works. That’s precisely the reason I was shocked…I still do not fully understand why it happened, and obviously to the extent that I figure it happened and why, I will change my views.”

I was going to offer up some feeble joke about how the flaw he didn’t reckon on was the Hadron Collider. But I won’t do it. The whole mess is too serious and sad.

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Tom Irregardless and Me     No Fake News but Plenty of Hardship


Wealth Distribution and the Jubilee

I plucked the latest Economist from my mailbox and thought I’d picked up the Watchtower by mistake. “World on the Edge” read the headline. Sure enough, on the cover was a silhouetted figure peering fearfully over the edge into the chasm below. And the edge was crumbling. Such illustrations have become commonplace in these recent days of financial meltdown.

A week or two ago, news anchor Suzie Gherow asked her economist guest (alas, I forgot his name) if he could come up with a moral to the unfolding crisis. He observed that many peoples worldwide look to the American economic system as a model to admire and emulate. He wondered if they would still do that "when they see how badly we’ve behaved.” As if responding to cue, Vladimir Putin, of all people, recently accused: “Everything happening now in the economic and financial sphere began in the United States. This is not the irresponsibility of specific individuals but the irresponsibility of the system that claims leadership.” I read this in an on-line newspaper. It included comments. Most bloggers agreed with Putin.

At any rate, government leaders are scrambling to come up with innovative solutions, doing things that not long ago would have been unthinkable…..countries assuming their banks’ bad debts, even nationalizing the banks….a partial nationalization here in the U.S, which is close to heresy in the land of free enterprise. One almost thinks of those verses that tell how mountains and hills during the “last days” would melt. The very institutions that seem to us as solid and unshakable as the literal mountains seemed to ancient peoples, are indeed shaking quickly.

In such a climate, it becomes crucial to assign blame. With that in mind, the appropriate committee of Congress (the House Committee on Government Reform) recently grilled Lehman Brothers ex-CEO Dick Fuld. For the most part Mr. Fuld outmaneuvered them. There’s a lot of Congressmen on that committee, and they all had to have their crack at him, so they weren’t allotted too much time apiece. Mr. Fuld succeeded in running out the clock…..repeating questions aloud, questioning premises, answering slowly and deliberately. Plus, there were not a few windbags among those politicians who wasted much of their time formulating their questions….you know, with prefaces and addendums and things, the way politicians like to do. Too, the Reprentatives were so wrapped up in their own questions that they didn't listen to answers of other people's questions. Thus, there was much repetition.

While Mr. Fuld was being interviewed, CNBC reported that a sore Lehman employee had socked him in the kisser some days ago while he was working out at the company gym!….a move he apparently did not outmaneuver.

Depending upon who you listen to, Mr. Fuld conveyed genuine remorse for Lehman’s demise. On the matter of compensation, however, he didn’t budge an inch. Though he made tens of millions of dollars in the very year his company tanked, that was proper remuneration, he insisted. After all, he pointed out, had the company remained solvent, he would have made much more. But this didn’t sit too well with the general public. If I had a dollar for every gripe I’ve heard about “obscene profits” of the big bankers, I, too, would have obscene profits and people could gripe about me.

When the new system at last arrives…..the government from God that the Bible speaks of and that Jehovah’s Witnesses advertise……will there be “obscene profits” in the hands of a very few? If the economic system handed down to ancient Israel is any guide, the answer is no. The Jubilee provision would see to that.

Every 50th year of that ancient agrarian system was the Jubilee year. At that time, each Jew was restored to his or her original allotted land inheritance. Through an interplay of hard work and dumb luck some would have prospered in those 50 years, others would have declined, maybe to the point of becoming impoverished. Land might well have been bought or sold. But not in perpetuity. On that 50th year, all things were set as at the beginning. Thus, while one would be rewarded for one’s work and business acumen, there would never take root a permanent underclass, nor a permanent wealthy class…..a situation characteristic of most societies today.

Some aspects of the cycle repeated every 7th year. Due to debts incurred, a Jew might even sell himself into slavery to one of his more prosperous neighbors. Laws regulated against mistreatment; moreover after seven years at most, the individual was set free, and that with a gift (from the prior owner) to assist him in starting anew. Again, neither a perpetual privileged class nor a locked-in poverty class could ever take root under that God-given arrangement.  Even were a man to squander every opportunity he had, the law was such that his children would still live to see equilibrium restored.

Awhile back I ran a post entitled Slavery in the Old Testament, intending to counter those critics who rail against the Bible for acknowledging and regulating slavery, rather than forbidding it. The post clarified the nature of OT slavery and, to my surprise, some commented that such slavery sounded pretty good compared to the plight of the homeless today, or even the working poor. Screecheven broke it down into figures which I will reproduce, confident he won’t mind:

“In the US minimum wage is currently $5.85 an hour. Lets suppose that you work 2 jobs; one FT and one PT. So 12 hours at that pay is $70.20 before taxes. After taxes are withheld, you have $56.87 a day left. You spend $65 (you have a cheap one) at your doctor's office. You get lucky and only spend $4 on the antibiotics that you need. You also are forced to take 3 days off from both jobs while you recover. Total cost is $239.58. That's four and a half days of pay. So if you have rent of $650 monthly, $135 monthly utilities (phone, electricity), $100 monthly food, $50 transportation costs. Now, in the above scenario, you have $200 left over every month. However, if you lose one of your jobs, suddenly you're short almost $200 monthly. What if you have a kid? 2 Jobs may not be an option and then you have to pay for daycare. Then you hear "go back to school." Yet if you have to take remedial classes to catch up, that adds to the expense (grants alone rarely cover everything). I guess the whole point of this rambling is that to overcome poverty in this world takes an astounding amount of sacrifice and will, with no guarantee of success. In fact, you also don't get real medical attention because the medical bills can pile up. I've seen and experienced the difference in medical care that you receive when you can afford to pay the bill vs not. It's actually a worse situation today…”

About a third of all those in Congress are millionaires, with a higher proportion in the Senate. Less than 1% of the general population fall into that category. It doesn’t give confidence that one might get justice from these guys, does it?….how many of them can even imagine how ordinary people live? Yet their wealth is dwarfed by that of the high-profile bankers who have lately been testifying before them….guys like Dick Fuld. A little Jubilee might work wonders today.

Of course, it could never be superimposed upon today’s society, just as Jesus said: one can’t pour new wine into old wineskins. The prevailing system wouldn’t accommodate it, few folks today have dispostions that would tolerate it. But those trained in Bible principles today should be amenable to it or whatever economic system God provides in the new order. There’s no telling to what degree, if any, God’s new system will draw from that ancient Jubilee arrangement. Nonetheless, the arrangement does offer a glimpse into Jehovah’s thinking.

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Tom Irregardless and Me     No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash


Bailing, Bailing, and Bailing

It seemed certain that the House would pass the bailout bill, but it almost didn’t happen. It took two tries.

Conservative House members cited their constituents, who demanded by a 9 to 1 margin (if not more) that the plan be rejected. The threat of another Great Depression didn’t faze them. Bailing out Wall Street bankers just made their blood boil! Would those same bankers bail them out if they fell behind in their mortgages? HA! Out on the street they would go! Ask anyone who’d been late with a credit card payment and in consequence seen their interest rate jump from 10 to 30%, and that with the bills deliberately arriving only days before payment was due……no, there was not much sympathy for big-time bankers. Tuesday (9/30/08) that bailout package went down by a 228 - 205 vote.

But the stock market immediately dropped 800 points. And small businesses back home were promptly frozen out of credit markets as banks simply stopped lending (even to entire states, like Schwarzenegger’s California). By Friday the Representatives were in a different mood and signed off on a slightly revised bill. Sixty of them had changed sides. The new vote was 263 yea, 177 nay.

The nature of the revisions is significant. The approved package took up 450 pages, whereas the initial proposal took up 3. You can read three pages; Representatives did and concluded the bill stunk. But do you seriously think these guys are going to read 450 pages? In a two day period? You just check to see that your own pet project is in there, and sign on the dotted line. Incredibly…..I mean, this is truly astounding, given that life or death for the entire worldwide financial system was purportedly at stake….Congresspersons loaded up that final bill with pork….a few million for this favored project, another few million for that one….same as they always do! Total added cost: $100 billion! PorkFor example, it was stipulated that from this point on, government subsidies for mental health disabilities were to be on par with those for physical disabilities. (though perhaps addressing mental disabilities isn't so dumb an idea in the wake of the current meltdown)

And they nearly came to blows blaming each other. On the very cusp of that first vote, the Democratic House Speaker nancy Pelosi launched into a bitter tirade blaming the entire mess on the Republicans and its President in particular. At that point it’s said that some of those Republicans who were prepared to vote “yes” dug in their heels out of sheer partisan spite and switched to “no.”

It is still to be seen if the world’s financial system begins to stabilize or if the woes have only begun. But either way, this past week has not been kind to human governments or those who put their confidence in them. Instead, its played into the Bible theme that Jehovah’s Witnesses have been advancing forever, that humans do not have the ability to rule themselves. They simply don’t have it, same as they don’t have the ability to fly or walk through walls. Avarice, arrogance, corruption, or just plain ineptness wins out every time.

JWs are the only major faith I know of that takes this position. All others assume, to a greater or lesser degree, that God is backing the present human system of governments. As if to illustrate, after that second vote the House Minority Leader John Boehner reminded all of the U.S. currency motto: in God we trust. “We’re going to need his help,” he warned his colleagues. (Privately he called the bill a "crap sandwich.") But the present system of worldwide rulership….scores of independent nations eternally pushing and shoving each other… isn’t God’s system. Rather, it finds its roots ages ago in rebellion against God’s own sovereignty….as shown way back there in the Adam and Eve account. After a sufficiently long (thousands of years) trial period during which the unsuitability of human rule makes itself blatantly clear, God intervenes with his own kingdom, which is really no more than a restoration of his original purpose. The “Lord’s prayer,” which everyone used to know, informs that his will is done only when his kingdom comes (as opposed to patching up disintegrating human governments):

                                                your kingdom come,
                                        your will be done
                                        on earth as it is in heaven
       Matt 6:10

Or as foreshadowed in Daniel 2:44: 

In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.

Announcing this kingdom is what Jehovah’s Witnesses are all about. Lots of people….most people by far…don’t really want to hear it. But there are some who do, some who respond to the JW invitation to a Bible study, and some of those who….recognizing a message that is found nowhere else….attach themselves to the faith.

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Tom Irregardless and Me     No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash