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November 17, 2008

Befuddled in Frederick

Steven R. Berryman

What strange days we are living in. My sympathy goes out to those whose intellectual process it is to attempt to make sense of the world around them.


When the digging for substance becomes an impossible fool’s job, my temptation is to stop struggling and utter: “You….must….go on without me!”


But, what fun would that be?


My radio best friend, Bob Miller, scolded me on-air recently for being so down in my columns; he indicated that this fact alone could be making me part of the problem during our times of political change, financial meltdown, and all the unrest that goes along with the related uncertainties.


Well, I’m no Bob Miller, the BMOC at WFMD, but I am a thoughtful man and seek to reflect what I have taken in by writing. I was okay and prepared to put a column together on Saturday morning, as is my practice and then…


I found a jewel of an article on County Commissioner Kai Hagen’s Forum pages that can be accessed here: on a subject line that I had started called: The Financial Meltdown of 2008, under the Current Issues section. (You must Log In on this site, giving your first and last name, a current email address, and establish a username.)


There are currently 118 posts and climbing: some regurgitation, some comments, and some dialogue between frequent users with related links to good content.


Fred Ugast posted the link (on Mr. Hagen’s blog) to the most complete explanation of our current financial woes, or “meltdown,” that I wish I had never read. Thanks.


The End, by Michael Lewis, at ( absorbed my morning, took me off track, and at once thrilled me with insight, and burdened me with the most horrible glimpse of black human nature.


Mr. Lewis wrote the original whistle-blowing story exposing the fraud of Wall Street in Liar’s Poker in 1989. The link above takes you to a long extension of that cautionary tale taking you to the present day.


Take the time to read it and stop wasting your time watching the talking heads of mainstream media that speak only uncertain vagaries in worthlessly incomplete detail.


The truth is quite complex and rings clearly as a bell pealing. You will not like what you learn. That said, since we “own” the problems that President-elect Barack Obama will be grappling with, it is best to know.


A stock is but a chip in a poker game, and bears no relation to being “a piece of the rock,” as many assume. The game had been fully rigged. Without revealing too much, here are some highlights:


*The systematic fraud of the mortgage lending system actually encouraged sub-prime loans without basis. A strawberry picker in Bakersfield, CA, with an income of $14,000 per year and no English language ability whatsoever, was fully funded for a no-doc $720,000 loan.


*Loans like this were bundled together and called “BBB” rated, as in junk loans. A large percent of these securities where then relabeled as “AAA” rated via a technicality and sold off to institutions serving you and me.


*The insiders, anticipating the eventual failure of the repackaged loans through default, simply sold the bonds short. This means making a bet on their demise. When they lose, you win.


*The top bond rating company in America, Moody’s, is 20% owned by billionaire investor Warren Buffet. Internal conflicts there, along with greed, allowed for wholesale manipulation of the bond rating system and allowed this skullduggery to function, uninterrupted by government regulation.


The revolving door between Wall Street and government surely ensured this.


Much of the corrupted system had been known for years; nobody wanted to kill the golden goose that never stopped giving. Eventually, the system imploded under its own weight. The incorporation of investment houses, now defunct, meant that investors got left holding the bag.


The government recovery schemes now obfuscate for obvious reasons.


It would be very difficult to find a more disturbing example of “man’s inhumanity to man” in this insight into the evil side of human nature.


With the aforementioned in mind, and now better informed, we come to today’s headlines for the rest of our disillusionment.


Our government has now officially admitted that the much suffered over Troubled Assets Rescue Program (TARP) will not work, can’t work with transparency, and they never even bothered to set up a mandated oversight board. The last part was one reason this legislation stalled on the first attempt.


Does our electorate even remember back to the days of Candidates Obama and John McCain rushing back to Washington to bless the congressional rescue/bailout legislation? How about those self-congratulatory videos of Democrats backslapping over the passage?


And why were Republicans conspicuously absent?


The first big lie had been: “But we had to do something.”


The new justification for taking $700 billion of your dollars is to use them to purchase stock in troubled banks. There’s no comfort in this. Instead of buying worthless deeds, we now buy stocks in failing banks?


With no strings attached, and no “end game,” how can we hope for a favorable outcome this time?


Note: Simply identifying the recipient banks will cause the stocks to fall!


I suggest simply mailing the stocks directly to individual taxpayers in direct proportion to what they have been paying in taxes.


Here are some other uses for your money and mine:


Pay off General Motors and Ford to keep a failed business model in business. Where were these guys when my transmission died exactly out of warranty due to “planned obsolescence” – twice! Given the choice, automakers spent more on advertising and less on Research & Development to boost sales.


American Express surely deserves my sympathy for a bailout; especially after increasing my interest rate on a single late payment. And yes, Virginia, they still pay corporate bonuses in order to keep their great guys.


AIG Insurance still holds secret retreats and orgies out of sight, all with their cut of the TARP bailout monies. My sympathy for insurance companies knows no bounds. What is it that they contribute to society again? Why would we miss them?


Fannie and Freddie Mac? They were the perpetrators and facilitators of the mess!


But the world has gone mad. Get in line fast to get your share of the free bailout money. In front of you already are the cities of Philadelphia and Phoenix, as well as the State of California, let alone all of those altruistic corporations.


Be sure to get yours while the getting’s good.


Here’s a tip! Based on leaked information, be certain to be two months behind on paying your mortgage, and have over $10,000 on your credit card, or you will not qualify for other plans now under consideration!


Alas, we are reaping what we have sewn.


As always, I am:


Befuddled in Frederick.


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