Monday, September 29, 2008

Truth & Consequences

When the sky is a bright canary yellow,
I forget every cloud I've ever seen;
So they call me a cock-eyed optimist,
Immature and incurably green.

Don’t take this wrong, but there is a certain sense of relief that we find ourselves facing the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression at the same time that a significant percentage of Americans believe electing a hockey mom as Vice President is in the best interests of the country. The temporal joining of these two realities demonstrates that, in fact, fundamentals learned by paying attention in school trump the more visceral “wish it were so” by which Americans have been carrying on lately.

I’ve been struggling to get these thoughts down. The country’s financial situation has worsened on a daily basis, leaving each evening’s draft out of date. Today, the House of Representatives rejected the Bush Administration’s negotiated legislation intended to forestall the complete collapse of our economic system. Read that last sentence again. Whatever your politics, and whether or not we are, in fact, on the verge of financial Armageddon, the fact that Congress, responding to underinformed constituent concerns, declined to adopt remedial legislation and assumed the risk of the consequences, says volumes about the challenges we face.

I have heard people rant and rave and bellow,
That we're done and we might as well be dead;
But I'm only a cock-eyed optimist
And I can't get it into my head.

I’ve run out of time to share my pondering on these issues. I do not pretend to have a strong understanding on the underlying economics. Clearly, I am in good company in that regard. Accordingly, I’ve decided to go back to basics.

In grade school we were taught that if you spent more than you could afford you would end up facing dire financial consequences. Long before we grasped concepts like cash flow, operating expenses, and credit default swaps, my classmates and I understood debtors’ prisons. Charles Dickens’ graphic portrayals of the fate of indigent residents of 19th century London offered a clear warning about the evils of spending beyond your means. Personally, I might have made better decisions had the specter of prison ships harbored in Lake Minnetonka entered into the equation. However, I have never lost sight of the need to be able to fund the repayment of any debt incurred.

We are now reaping the consequences of a collective failure to adhere to the basic economic lessons learned in grade school. As offensive as I find it to spend tax dollars on a Wall Street bailout, particularly since it means those dollars will not be available to fund an Obama administration’s more progressive use of tax revenues, I am having a hard time scapegoating East Coast financiers. The “bad loans” from which the meltdown germinated were gleefully pursued by borrowers who knew, or should have known, that they were taking on debt they could not reasonably expect to repay.

I am aware that complaints abound over the practices of unscrupulous mortgage brokers. However, the scope of actual fraud and/or simple misrepresentations pale in comparison to the amount of arm’s length mortgage debt knowingly acquired under the assumption that constantly increasing home values and the availability of subsequent refinancing funds would eliminate the need to remember the lessons of grade school.

I am having trouble accepting Congress’ rationale for turning down the proposed fix, i.e., their constituency will not stand for a “bailout” of Wall Street. Whatever form the bailout takes, it results from demands for cheap and consequence-free credit by those same constituents. The crisis results from the elimination of meaningful regulation of the investment community by the same conservative Republicans who derailed the proposed fix.

The result, in my mind, causes Main Street’s complaints about Wall Street’s complicity in the current crises to ring hollow. The finger pointing at faceless “Wall Street” is a classic mechanism for not owning up to our own shortcomings. American consumers financed “have it all” lifestyles without regard to the consequences of any rough water in their vast pool of debt. Now the collective inability to service the outstanding debt has had a ripple effect that, with the convergence of all the waves of floundering debtors, has grown into a virtual tsunami.

I hear the human race is falling on its face,
And hasn't very far to go,
But every whip-poor-will is selling me a bill,
And telling me it just ain't so.

Under the Paulson/Bernanke proposals, as amended, the Federal government will replace the missing pool water on behalf of the pool owners and post lifeguards to prevent too much splashing in the future. Would be borrowers will be required to demonstrate the ability to swim before being allowed back into the pool. Effectively, consumers will be forced to take a hard look at the basics of taking on debt and to live within their means for the foreseeable future.

In the alternative, Main Street is clamoring for a painless fix. The vocal constituency that doesn’t want to see tax dollars used to solve our problems and provided cover for members of Congress who opposed the fix today needs to take the time to educate itself about the real causes and unavoidable consequences of the economic crisis. Which leads me back to Governor Palin.

In my mind, the clamoring for a painless fix and the enthusiastic support for Governor Palin share a common element: both are intellectually dishonest. We live in times where it is fashionable to forgo independent analysis and rely instead on the advocacy-driven opinions delivered in the form of sound bites and slogans. It is easier to think that evil Wall Street financiers can be held accountable for all our economic problems than it is to acknowledge the need to own up to our excesses and accept that consumers (
i.e., those who consume[d]) are going to have to contribute financially to the solution. It is easier to pretend that June Cleaver (with attitude) is qualified to serve as Vice President of the United States because it satisfies some visceral disgust with politicians than it is to think seriously about the implications of electing a candidate who is so inexperienced that Senator McCain’s campaign is refusing media access to her for fear of generating ridicule.

We might wish there were easy answers. We might wish that Disney’s screenwriters were scripting the life and times of the Vice President/President of the United States so there are nothing but happy endings. We might wish that a decade of unfettered access to credit markets resulted in nothing but responsible borrowing with no adverse consequences.

Unfortunately, in the real world, wishing doesn’t make it so. I learned that in grade school.

I could say life is just a bowl of jello,
And appear more intelligent and smart,
But I'm stuck like a dope with a thing called hope
And I can't get it out of my heart,
Not this heart. ("Cockeyed Optimist" by Rogers & Hammerstein, "South Pacific")

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sarah Palin CBS Interview by Katie Couric

I want to choose my words very carefully here. I am really trying to offer some thoughts on our financial crisis but the situation keeps changing making it hard to focus. I've tried to keep up with what our would be leaders are saying. To that end, I watched this clip of Katie Couric's interview of Sarah Palin. 1st. I have a new found respect for Katie Couric. 2nd. I find it impossible to write about our country's pending economic disaster after watching this clip and imagining what will befall this nation if Sarah Palin were to ascend to the presidency. If you don't have time for all 8 minutes, jump ahead to about 7:05 when Ms. Couric asks the governor about the bailout. I'm beginning to think McCain's request to delay the first presidential debate WAS a ploy to eliminate the VP debate. This is amazingly scary . . .

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Dear Sammy

I have not had the time I would like to continue to write for my Prairie Pondering blog. As my profile indicates, I like to write. However, my mailbox is so full of people writing me for advice lately that I’ve been distracted from the blog. To remedy the situation, and garner some sympathy from my readers who can share the enormous responsibility I’ve assumed by agreeing to respond to the letters, I’ve decided to publish a “Dear Sammy” column. Please use the comment box to let me know if you agree with my advice.

The first letter came from a former candidate for the DFL nomination for the U.S. Senate seat in Minnesota now held by Norm Coleman. She challenged Al Franken in the primary, but lost.

“Dear Sammy,
“During my recent campaign for the U.S. Senate, I had the chance to meet my opponent, Al Franken. He was so rude. He treated me like I didn’t exist. Now, many DFL’ers are expecting me to endorse Franken in his campaign against Norm Coleman and Dean Barkley. I’m still fuming at his rudeness. Do I have to endorse him?
“Lord of the Ringers”

Dear Lord:
The Rabbis teach us that the biblical admonishment to take an “eye for an eye” is a lesson in limits: you should not exact a punishment in excess of the wrong being righted. In other words, take no more than an eye for an eye. There is no obligation to insist on an actual quid pro quo to achieve justice.

While you don’t say specifically what Franken did that was “rude”, he was undoubtedly reacting to your decision to jump into the Senate race on the last day for filing, run negative ads that were so “rude” that the Coleman campaign used them in their own advertisements, and manage, with the assistance of a letter from the Coleman campaign to its supporters suggesting they vote for you to embarrass Franken, to garner less than 30% of the vote. Unlike Franken, you did not spend years preparing for the campaign, working to support other Democrats running for office, laying out detailed policies on how to address our nation’s ills, or offer a viable alternative to Norm Coleman. Your decision to run for office, apparently on a whim, jeopardized the opportunity to replace a Bush mouthpiece with a U.S. Senator who would not espouse conservative positions like a Dick Cheney lapdog.

On balance, I’d say that Franken’s “rudeness” was far less than the “eye for an eye” that you deserved. Go ahead and endorse him. Maybe he’ll recommend your father for a Federal judgeship.

This letter came from a friend of Nancy Reagan’s. I don’t know how she got my name. It might have been from the list of California attorneys on inactive status. Maybe she thought I didn’t have anything else to do, not realizing my Minnesota license is very active.

“Dear Sammy,

“My ex-husband has been telling the world about his fairy tale courtship of his current wife, pretending I don’t exist. For example, he told a television audience of tens of millions of people that he lied about his age when he met a fancy-pants heiress in Hawaii and began their great romance but neglected to mention that he was still married to me. I was at home, alone, taking care of our children while still dealing with the effects of a nearly fatal automobile accident that, according to my husband, made me something other than the woman he married. I’ve avoided discussing these matters in public. Should I go public and let the world know what a philandering S.O.B. he is?

“Ms. (ing) McCain”

Dear Missing,
This is a tough call. This isn’t the ‘90’s, when your husband’s political party insisted on posting a special prosecutor’s report on the Internet because the public had a right to know the details of the Democratic president’s illicit affair. You’re probably best off keeping the hush money from the GOP and let your ex and his botox beauty continue to live their Disney fantasy.

Eventually, the American public will be forced to look behind the curtain the Grand Oz Party has hung and figure out that the Straight Talk Express skipped the stop at “’til death do us part”.

The third letter in my mailbox came from a confused teen.

“Dear Sammy,

"I’ve grown up in a family with two working parents, neither of whom have been home much. When not working, my dad is off snow machining. My mom has been so busy with the PTA, my brother’s hockey league, government work and maternity wards, she hasn’t been around much lately. I tried to take up some of her hobbies to make her notice me, but it wrecked my social life. In fact,

I'm quick on the trigger with targets not much bigger
Than a pen point, I'm number one.
But my score with a feller is lower than a cellar-
Oh you can't get a man with a gun.
The gals with 'umbrellars'
Are always out with fellers
In the rain or the blazing sun
But a man never trifles
With gals who carry rifles
Oh you can't get a man with a gun.

“So, as long as mom never took any interest in my NRA activities, I slept with my boyfriend. It turns out you can get pregnant in a hot tub and then some guy Paris called a ‘wrinkly white haired dude’ told the whole world I was getting married. Worse, my mom is siding with the old dude. Who died and made her President?

“Here’s my question, do I have to set a date before the November election?

“Bristling Bristol”

Dear Bristling,
I’d wait. Depending on what happens in November, benefits for single mothers might be restored to the point where you don’t need to throw your life away just to pretend that “family values” have any meaning to a sexually active teenager. Good luck with the baby.

That's it for now. The rest of the letters are protected by attorney/client privilege. Let me know if you think I'm off base on the advice given above. Lord knows (pun intended) there are lots of opinions out there.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Even More Comic Relief with a Tinge of Sadness

My daughter sent me this link. Click here to view it. Another commentary not to be missed. Perhaps the most telling aspect of the link is the question at the end: Why do people respect intelligence in every other field but ridicule it in politics?

I've been wondering the same thing. After nearly eight years of broken English, we have the opportunity to elect a Harvard educated scholar who graduated with honors to lead our country. Yet Barack Obama, who not incidentally walked away from a mid-six figure salary to work to rebuild the community on the South Side of Chicago, gets no credit from the illiterati for having the intelligence to address our nation's problems.

More later.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

An Analysis of Sarah Palin from a Long Time Observer

By now you may have seen the e-mail circulating on the Internet regarding the qualifications of Sarah Palin from a longtime resident of Wasilla, Alaska. Anne Kilkenny's correspondence provides a detailed review of Governor Palin's performance in the various positions she has held leading up to her run for Vice-President.

Many have questioned the authenticity of the letter. It certainly reads like something that might have been fabricated by an Obama supporter. I came to believe that it was genuine when I listened to an NPR interview of the author. By "genuine", I mean that the author is who she says she is. I have not verified the accuracy of her observations. However, most of the observations are fairly subjective and capable of independent verification.

This evening I was catching up on David Emery's Urban Legend Guide, a good source for investigating the accuracy of matters popping up on the Internet or in e-mails (stay away from Nigerian government officials who offer you millions from that country's oil revenues in exchange for a little off shore banking assistance). The Guide raised the issue of Kilkenny's correspondence and verified that it was a legitimate document, not an Internet hoax. The Guide posts the Kilkenny letter in its entirety and, at the end, offers a bibliography with which to independently investigate the claims made therein.

It's worth reading if you haven't already done so. Kilkenny's letter addresses Governor Palin's
modus operandi as a mayor and as a governor. If true, you'll cringe every time you hear the governor or her benefactor, Senator McCain, brag about her administrative experience.

To read the Kilkenny letter, click here. When you're done, have some fun and explore the Urban Legend Guide to see David Emery debunk some commonly held perceptions about our world today that have assumed a mantle of respectability merely because they have been repeated often enough. I suppose that under that definition, the Bush Administration is the master at creating Urban Legends, starting with the whopper that W was elected president in 2000.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Little MORE Comic Relief

They just keep coming. A no nonsense presentation about why Palin should be president. Frankly, I agree with the logic. Click here for the latest.

By the way, when you've finished viewing the video presentation in the link, click here (in all seriousness) to do something useful for your country.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Little Comic Relief

In an effort to reduce my blood pressure before drafting the next installment of Prairie Pondering, I'd like to share one of the funniest clips I've heard in a long time. It is purportedly a recording of the voicemail conversation John McCain left for Sarah Palin when he called to ask her to be his running mate.

Click here for a link to the audio clip. Enjoy! Refer your friends and come back soon!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Rethinking the Wisdom of Abolishing Literacy Tests

We may have fallen prey to a Constitutional sleight of hand when we abolished the use of a literacy test to determine who was qualified to vote. While focusing on efforts to eliminate Southern states' discriminatory practices designed to prevent African American voter registration, we ignored the consequences of allowing the emergence of an uninformed, functionally illiterate, mob mentality electorate.

I'm talking about the Republicans.

I learned not to assume an informed electorate back in 1982. My father lost his bid to run as the DFL candidate for Minnesota Treasurer (after winning endorsement at the nominating convention) when he was defeated in the primary. Bob Mattson, a Florida barbeque restaurant owner won the primary while
still living in Florida by relying on nothing more than the name recognition inherited from his father, a former Minnesota Attorney General. Betty Wilson, the grande dame of Minnesota political reporters, later apologized to my father, telling him they did not take Mattson's candidacy seriously and, therefore, never bothered to report on it during the campaign.

Nothing compared to the disgust I felt over that outcome until I witnessed the enthusiastic support Sarah Palin has received over the past 10 days in her bid to be one very old heartbeat away from the presidency. I am personally deeply offended that Mr. "Country First" would stoop so low and put us all at risk just to shore up the conservative Republican base and inject some faux excitement into a lackluster campaign. I am even more offended that so many of my fellow Americans, freed from the shackles of having to demonstrate literacy as a condition of voter eligibility, choose to make no independent investigation of Governor Palin's qualifications for office and, instead, mindlessly repeat the spoon fed propaganda absorbed from the self-proclaimed straight talker at the head of the ticket.

Here's some "prairie pondering".

a.) It makes no sense for Republicans to be so excited about a Palin candidacy in light of their failure to more strongly support Governor Mike Huckabee during the primary/caucus process. Governor Huckabee and Governor Palin share the same evangelical Christian viewpoints. The obvious conclusion one draws is that Republicans are more concerned about style than substance.

b.) As I write this, it has been 10 days, 9 hours and 27 minutes since Senator McCain announced his choice for a running mate. It has been the same 10 days, 9 hours and 27 minutes, and counting, since Governor Palin has submitted to an unscripted news conference or one-on-one interview with the national news media. How can anyone in their right mind pontificate on what a wonderful candidate Governor Palin is when they have no way of knowing what she really stands for or how qualified she is? Every other candidate has been vetted
ad nauseum by the media and by those members of the electorate who opt to pay attention to the fruits of our Fourth Estate's labors. The McCain campaign's decision to limit Governor Palin's exposure to the public smacks of a Cheney-esque obsession with controlling the public's ability (forget "right") to know and should, in and of itself, disqualify either the old codger or his trophy running mate from seeking the public trust. The obvious conclusion one draws is that Republicans are more concerned about style than substance.

c.) Apparently, Senator McCain is in the "If you can't beat them, join them" camp when it comes to offering leadership to the country. After months of attacking Barack Obama for his celebrity status and insisting that the Democratic front runner, then presumptive nominee and now candidate lacks the experience to occupy the Oval Office, Senator McCain bet his candidacy on the human interest stories to be dredged from running with a modern day Annie Oakley. Six colleges in six years? Who cares? She can shoot. Doesn't believe humans have a significant hand in climate change? So what? She supports expanding drilling to the point that it will be someone else's problem by the time we run out of oil. No foreign policy experience? Big deal. W had rarely been out of the country before we elected him and that worked out okay. The important thing, according to Senator McCain, is that his running mate can get all cutesy when she delivers speeches written by President Bush's scribes, follow the script when out on the campaign trail, draw exuberant crowds of
illiterati who fawn over his pitbull with lipstick and cry "foul" and "sexism" in response to any legitimate inquiry about her qualifications. The obvious conclusion one draws is that Republicans are more concerned about style than substance.

d.) The Emperor is naked. Enough of this nonsense. I hereby impose a new literacy test on anyone desiring to vote for the next president of the United States. If you can't take the time to inform yourself about the respective candidates' positions, including the candidates for vice president, by READING some detailed, thoughtful, unadulterated analysis, you can't vote. If you insist on voting anyway, I will call you an idiot to your face. I've already implemented this policy and my phone has rung less often this past week.

I refuse to risk my future and my family's future on the mood swing of an uninformed electorate. If you qualify to vote under my proclaimed standard, you don't have to agree with me. You don't have to vote for the candidates I support. We live in a democracy and I'll gladly risk my future and my family's future on the decisions of an
informed electorate (however misguided). We now find ourselves in a situation where Republicans insist that Senator Obama lacks substance and depends entirely on style while they promote the candidacy of Governor Palin, who depends entirely on style and is sequestered from demonstrating any meaningful substance. It's time to crawl back through the looking glass.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. You may now vote.

Teaching Palin About Community Organizers


I'm working on a piece that does more than scream at the moon. In the meantime, check this out. It's not slick. It's not over produced. There's no American flag waving in the background. But it's dead on. Oh, and here's another question:

The space you see here used to be filled with a link to's clock ticking off the time since Sarah Palin had been chosen as John McCain's running mate AND the time since she had subjected herself to an interview with the mainstream media. The question referred to above (incorporated into the clock) was "Why won't Sarah Palin speak to the press?" On Thursday, September 11, ABC News began to broadcast a series of snippets from two days of interviews with Sarah Palin conducted by Charlie Gibson. Apparently, when it happened, took down the clock and the link, like the infamous bridge, went to nowhere.