Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Saturday, August 06, 2011

We All Loved Lucy

Today is the 100th anniversary of Lucille Ball's birth. She died in 1989 at the age of 77 of an aortic aneurism.

Lucy was a remarkable woman. She wasn’t simply a television phenomenon; she was beautiful, smart, and talented. I read her biography when I was in my twenties and found her story incredibly inspiring.

She was born in Jamestown, N.Y. in 1911. Her father died of typhoid fever when she was four. He worked as a lineman for Anaconda Copper and they moved around quite a bit. The day he died, a picture fell from a wall and bird got trapped in their house and from that day, she developed a fear of birds.

She took her father’s death and other family calamities bitterly. “There’s always a hammer,” she said. (In 1927, her family suffered misfortune when their house and furnishings were taken away in a legal judgement after a neighborhood boy was accidentally shot and paralyzed by someone target-shooting in their yard, under Ball's grandfather's supervision. The family then moved into a small apartment in Jamestown. Yet she was no quitter. At 19, she became a model, posing as the Chesterfield Cigarette girl. Her grandfather, Fred Hunt, who often took them to vaudeville shows, saw that Lucy had talent and encouraged her to perform to perform in school plays.

Her mother, Dee-Dee, remarried and the couple left Lucy in the care of her stepfather’s parents, who were strict and Puritanical. They frowned on frivolity and vanity and only had one mirror in the house. When they caught Lucy admiring herself in that solitary mirror, she was punished.

However, Dee-Dee’s new husband, Edward, was a Shriner. When his organization needed female entertainers for the chorus line of their next show, he encouraged his 12 year-old Lucy to audition. While she was onstage, this was a brilliant way to receive praise and recogntion.

In 1927, Lucy dated a gangster’s son by the name of Johnny DeVita. To help break the relationship up, DeeDee took advantage of Lucille's desire to be in show business and allowed her to go to the John Murray Anderson School for the Dramatic Arts in New York City. There, Lucy met fellow actress Bette Davis. Lucy went home a few weeks later when drama coaches told her that she “had no future at all as a performer.”

Lucy was determined to prove her teachers wrong, and returned to New York City in 1929. She landed work as a fashion model. Her career was thriving when she became ill with rheumatoid arthritis and was unable to work for two years. She moved to New York City once again in 1932 to resume her pursuit of a career as an actress, and had some success as a fashion model for designer Hattie Carnegie and as the Chesterfield cigarette girl. She began work on Broadway under the name Dianne Belmont. She was hired—but then quickly fired—by theatre impresario Ear Carroll from his Vanities, and by Florenz Ziegfeld from a touring company of Rio Rita.

She was let go from the Shubert brothers production of Stepping Stones. After an uncredited stint as one of the Goldwyn Girls in Roman Scandals (1933) she permanently moved to Hollywood to appear in films. She appeared in many small movie roles in the 1930s as a contract player for RKO Radio Pictures, including a two-reel comedy short with the The Three Stooges in Three Little Pigskins (1934) and a movie with the Marx Brothers in Room Service (1938). She can also be seen as one of the featured models in the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film Roberta (1935) and briefly as the flower girl in Top Hat (1935), as well as a brief supporting role at the beginning of Follow the Fleet (1936) another Astaire-Rogers film.

Ginger Rogers was a distant cousin of Lucy’s on her mother's side of the family. She and Rogers played aspiring actresses in the hit film Stage Door (1937) co-starring Katharine Hepburn. In 1936, she also landed the role she hoped would lead her to Broadway, in the play Hey Diddle Diddle, a comedy set in a duplex apartment in Hollywood. The play premiered in Princeton, N.J. on Jan. 21, 1937 with Lucy playing the part of Julie Tucker, one of three roommates coping with neurotic directors, confused executives, and grasping stars who interfere with the girls' ability to get ahead. The play received good reviews, but there were problems, chiefly with its star, who was in poor health. The playwright wanted to replace him, but the producer, said the fault lay with the character and insisted that the part needed to be reshaped and rewritten. The two were unable to agree on a solution. The play was scheduled to open on Broadway at the Vanderbilt Theatre, but closed after one week in Washington, D.C. when the leading man suddenly became gravely ill.

Lucy was signed to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in the 1940s, but she never achieved major stardom from her appearance in those films. She wwas known in many Hollywood circles as “Queen of the B's”—a title previously held by Fay Wray - starring in a number of B- Movies, such as 1939's Five Came Back. Like many budding starlets Ball picked up radio work to earn side income as well as gain exposure. In 1937 she appeared as a regular on The Phil Baker Show. When that completed its run in 1938, Ball joined the cast of The Wonder Show, starring future Wizard of Oz tin man Jack Haley. It was here that she began her 50-year professional relationship with Gale Gordon, who served as the show’s announcer. The Wonder Show only lasted one season.

In 1940, Ball met Cuban -born bandleader Desi Arnaz while filming the film version of the Rodgers and Hart stage hit Too Many Girls. At first, Arnaz, six years younger than Lucy, wasn’t interested. When they met again later that day, the two connected immediately and eloped the same year. Arnaz was drafted to the U.S. Army in 1942. He ended up being classified for limited service due to a knee injury. As a result, Arnaz stayed in Los Angeles, organizing and performing USO shows for wounded GIs being brought back from the Pacific.

Lucy filed for a divorce in 1944. Shortly after she obtained an interlocutory decree of divorce, however, the couple reconciled with Arnaz. Aparently they believed that it was less socially acceptable for an older woman to marry a younger man so they split the difference in their ages, both claiming a 1914 birth date until this was disproved.

In 1948, Lucy was cast as Liz Cugat (later “Cooper”), a wacky wife, in My Favorite Husband, a radio program for CBS Radio. The program was successful, and CBS asked her to develop it for television. She agreed, but insisted on working with Arnaz. CBS executives were reluctant, thinking the public would not accept an All-American redhead and a Cuban as a couple. CBS was initially not impressed with the pilot episode produced by the couple’s Desilu Productions company, so the couple toured the road in a vaudeville act with Lucy as the zany housewife wanting to get in Arnaz's show. The tour was a smash, and CBS put I Love Lucy on their lineup. The show was not only a star vehicle for Lucille Ball, but a way for her to try to salvage her marriage to Desi Arnaz, which had become badly strained, in part by the fact that each had a hectic performing schedule which often kept them apart.

Lucy told her biographer that early in her career she met some of the great comedians from the silent film era. Hollywood was filled with many beautiful starlets – and many casting directors who took advantage of that beauty. She knew if she was to make it, she had to develop a skill many beautiful actresses wouldn’t dream of attempting – comedy.

Her comedian teachers taught Lucy to take a pratfall or a pie in the face with courage and dignity. She had to be a trouper. One of the most difficult things any actress – especially one who’s beautiful – is to invite audiences to laugh at her. Lucy realized that comedy was simply a talent to get her up the ladder in Hollywood, but a gift.

Laughter is generally considered hostile. But Lucy recognized that it was also a human necessity – a release for tension. In her biography, she recognized that comedy was a sacrifice, particularly for an actress. However, she also regarded that ability as a gift, something to give to her audiences. So she contorted her beautiful – and flexible – face into various expressions of dismay, horror, simplicity, and infantile pouts that made generations of audiences laugh.

Lucy laughed all the way to bank with Desilu Productions, which was responsible (thanks to Desi) for innovations in camera technology (the ability to actually record television) and a number of successful television programs, including Star Trek.

Lucy has been my role model for years (much to my mother’s dismay). In Lucy, there was a generous nature and a savvy intelligence determined to overcome setbacks, pick herself up from the pratfall, and continue on. Laughter was music to her ears.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Early Frost

“To preserve our independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt…I am for a government rigorously frugal and simple.”  - Thomas Jefferson

Autumn is arriving early this year.  The leaves around the pond are dropping from the trees (albeit, due to lack of rain) and the Dow Jones is dropping precipitously early this year as well.  Usually, though it’s not unheard of, we only see these kinds of jaw-dropping, fall-off-the-cliff drops around the end of October, when companies put out their third quarter reports.

Art Cashin, director of floor operations at UBS Financial Services told CNBC, “We’re not steering this bus; it’s all coming from Europe.  We’re hearing reports of funds drawing out of European banks and we’re pretty close to something that might turn ugly.  It may translate into a strain on the financials system and earnings on the multinationals, which have been carrying the load for Wall Street.”

Wall Street is worried about the jobs reports due out today; word is, it too, is ugly.  No one has to tell anyone how ugly it is in this office; they’ve already been given the bad news.  While the company has given us plenty of time to figure out what to do about, what can they do when there are so few jobs out there?  Companies are abandoning our state in droves.

While I can sympathize with my co-workers, what I can’t understand is their attitudes.  Instead of battening down the hatches and preparing for a storm, they’re going on expensive holidays, taking “weekenders” in the City.  Flying to the Caribbean and Cancun.  Mom called up last night asking if I was watching Tale of Two Cities on TCM.  I had to remind her that I had cancelled all but my basic cable.

I probably could have found the movie on NetFlix, but the truth is I was engrossed in finishing Reckless Endangerment.  She tisked at me sadly and hung up.  I don’t dare tell her how many books I’ve purchased.  She was always disappointed that I wasn’t a better student and doesn’t think I’m really very smart.  Wouldn’t she rather I improve my mind than let the television eviscerate what’s left of it?

Mom cheerfully announced at dinner last night that General Motors’ stock was up, even though the Dow Jones dipped so far down that all the past years’ earnings were wiped out.  Gee, that’s great that GM is on the mend.  Too bad it took billions of dollars of taxpayer subsidies to rescue companies like GM from their conscienceless unions.

We wondered if my brother hadn’t jumped off the roof of his office building yesterday at the news.  Wall Street panicked at the notion that the unemployment rate is still rising.  What did they expect when we have an idiot president who, one day after signing a bill that will leave us in perpetual debt, announces that he believes the wealthy ($250K and up) and businesses should pay their “fair share” – 50 percent of the budget.  Did Obama expect employers to hold an office party at this “good news?”  “It’s only a correction,” said some unknown economics pundit.  “Don’t panic.”

Well, he needn’t worry.  My co-workers aren’t panicking; they’re planning vacations.  Tequila, anyone?

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Addicted to Freedom

“One word of truth shall outweigh the whole world” - Russian proverb, quoted by Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn

On the very anniversary of the death of  Nobel Prize-winning author Alexander Solzhenitzyn, who died at age 89 on Aug. 3, 2008, a mere two months before our 2008 financial collapse  – in one of the oldest propaganda ploys in the book, MSNBC trotted out some quack psychiatrist to declare Tea Party members mentally unstable.

According to Dr. Stanton Peele, a psychologist and an “expert on addiction,” we are, “pursuing goals that can't be achieved. It's sort of like a child who has some kind of fantasy, and they keep asking you to give them things to acquire that, but it's impossible to arrive at the goal that they want. The idyllic paths that they are pursuing probably never existed and certainly not something we can reach right now.

“They [The Tea Partiers] are adamant about achieving something that's unachievable, which reminds us of a couple of things.  It reminds us of delusion and psychosis.  It reminds us of addiction because addicts are seeking something that they can't have.  They want a state of happiness or nirvana that can't be achieved except through an artificial substance and reminds us of the Norway situation, when people are thwarted at obtaining something they can't, have they often strike out and Norway is one kind of example to one kind of reaction to that kind of a frustration.”

Peele’s flabbergasting evaluation reminds us of Progressives who adamantly seek a government-run utopia, an artificial paradise if there ever was one, and which not being able to obtain through democratic means, they’ve lied, cheated, stolen, and gotten several generations of young people addicted to drugs in order to obtain it.  Hordes of beer sodden college students and the equally inebriated Media hailed Obama as some sort of “Messiah.”  And they call us delusional.
In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970, Solzhenitsyn quoted a Russian proverb: “One word of truth shall outweigh the whole world.”
His obituary in the UK Times read, “Those words succinctly encapsulated his literary creed.  In a country where autocratic leadership had long obliged the populace to seek more inspiring government, Solzhenitsyn, like Tolstoy, Dostoevsky or Akhmatova before him, became a vital source of spiritual succour to his huge circle of readers.”
That “more inspiring government” led to a ban on all his works of publication, beginning with A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962).  The story, set in a Soviet labor camp in the 1950s, describes a single day in the life of an ordinary prisoner, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov.  Published in the Soviet magazine Novy Mir, it was an extraordinary event in Soviet literary history—the first time an account of Stalinist repression had been openly distributed.
Despite the ban imposed on all his works after the publication of A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Solzhenitsyn was very widely read – in photocopied samizdat form (a key form of dissident activity across the Soviet bloc in which individuals reproduced censored publications by hand and passed the documents from reader to reader) – in his native Russia. He was also the only Russian writer to achieve the best-seller lists in the West, and sold more than 30 million books in more than 30 languages.

He spent much of his life in confinement – both enforced and self-imposed.  He was a
a passionately committed writer who believed it was his moral duty, in the face of systematic totalitarian obfuscation, to record Russia's 20th-century experience for posterity.

In his online autobiography, Solzhenitsyn wrote:

I was born at Kislovodsk on 11th December, 1918. My father had studied philological subjects at Moscow University, but did not complete his studies, as he enlisted as a volunteer when war broke out in 1914. He became an artillery officer on the German front, fought throughout the war and died in the summer of 1918, six months before I was born. I was brought up by my mother, who worked as a shorthand-typist, in the town of Rostov on the Don, where I spent the whole of my childhood and youth, leaving the grammar school there in 1936.
Even as a child, without any prompting from others, I wanted to be a writer and, indeed, I turned out a good deal of the usual juvenilia. In the 1930s, I tried to get my writings published but I could not find anyone willing to accept my manuscripts. I wanted to acquire a literary education, but in Rostov such an education that would suit my wishes was not to be obtained.  To move to Moscow was not possible, partly because my mother was alone and in poor health, and partly because of our modest circumstances.  I therefore began to study at the Department of Mathematics at Rostov University, where it proved that I had considerable aptitude for mathematics.
But although I found it easy to learn this subject, I did not feel that I wished to devote my whole life to it. Nevertheless, it was to play a beneficial role in my destiny later on, and on at least two occasions, it rescued me from death. For I would probably not have survived the eight years in camps if I had not, as a mathematician, been transferred to a so-called sharashia, where I spent four years; and later, during my exile, I was allowed to teach mathematics and physics, which helped to ease my existence and made it possible for me to write. If I had had a literary education it is quite likely that I should not have survived these ordeals but would instead have been subjected to even greater pressures.
 Later on, it is true, I began to get some literary education as well; this was from 1939 to 1941, during which time, along with university studies in physics and mathematics, I also studied by correspondence at the Institute of History, Philosophy and Literature in Moscow.

In 1941, a few days before the outbreak of the war, I graduated from the Department of Physics and Mathematics at Rostov University. At the beginning of the war, owing to weak health, I was detailed to serve as a driver of horse-drawn vehicles during the winter of 1941-1942.   Later, because of my mathematical knowledge, I was transferred to an artillery school, from which, after a crash course, I passed out in November 1942.   Immediately after this I was put in command of an artillery-position-finding company, and in this capacity, served, without a break, right in the front line until I was arrested in February 1945.
This happened in East Prussia, a region which is linked with my destiny in a remarkable way. As early as 1937, as a first-year student, I chose to write a descriptive essay on "The Samsonov Disaster" of 1914 in East Prussia and studied material on this; and in 1945 I myself went to this area (at the time of writing, autumn 1970, the book August 1914 has just been completed).

I was arrested on the grounds of what the censorship had found during the years 1944-45 in my correspondence with a school friend, mainly because of certain disrespectful remarks about Stalin, although we referred to him in disguised terms. As a further basis for the "charge", there were used the drafts of stories and reflections which had been found in my map case. These, however, were not sufficient for a "prosecution", and in July 1945,  I was "sentenced" in my absence, in accordance with a procedure then frequently applied, after a resolution by the OSO (the Special Committee of the NKVD), to eight years in a detention camp (at that time this was considered a mild sentence).

I served the first part of my sentence in several correctional work camps of mixed types (this kind of camp is described in the play, The Tenderfoot and the Tramp).  In 1946, as a mathematician, I was transferred to the group of scientific research institutes of the MVD-MOB (Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of State Security). I spent the middle period of my sentence in such "SPECIAL PRISONS" (The First Circle).   In 1950,  I was sent to the newly established "Special Camps" which were intended only for political prisoners. In such a camp in the town of Ekibastuz in Kazakhstan (One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich), I worked as a miner, a bricklayer, and a foundryman.  There I contracted a tumor which was operated on, but the condition was not cured (its character was not established until later on).

One month after I had served the full term of my eight-year sentence, there came, without any new judgment and even without a "resolution from the OSO", an administrative decision to the effect that I was not to be released but EXILED FOR LIFE to Kok-Terek (southern Kazakhstan).  This measure was not directed specially against me, but was a very usual procedure at that time. I served this exile from March 1953 (on March 5th, when Stalin's death was made public, I was allowed for the first time to go out without an escort) until June 1956.  Here my cancer had developed rapidly, and at the end of 1953, I was very near death. I was unable to eat, I could not sleep and was severely affected by the poisons from the tumor.
However, I was able to go to a cancer clinic at Tashkent, where, during 1954, I was cured (The Cancer Ward, Right Hand). During all the years of exile, I taught mathematics and physics in a primary school and during my hard and lonely existence, I wrote prose in secret (in the camp I could only write down poetry from memory).  I managed, however, to keep what I had written, and to take it with me to the European part of the country, where, in the same way, I continued, as far as the outer world was concerned, to occupy myself with teaching and, in secret, to devote myself to writing, at first in the Vladimir district (Matryona's Farm) and afterwards in Ryazan.

During all the years until 1961, not only was I convinced that I should never see a single line of mine in print in my lifetime, but, also, I scarcely dared allow any of my close acquaintances to read anything I had written because I feared that this would become known.  Finally, at the age of 42, this secret authorship began to wear me down. The most difficult thing of all to bear was that I could not get my works judged by people with literary training.  In 1961, after the 22nd Congress of the U.S.S.R. Communist Party and Tvardovsky's speech at this, I decided to emerge and to offer One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

Such an emergence seemed, then, to me, and not without reason, to be very risky because it might lead to the loss of my manuscripts, and to my own destruction. But, on that occasion, things turned out successfully, and after protracted efforts, A.T. Tvardovsky was able to print my novel one year later. The printing of my work was, however, stopped almost immediately and the authorities stopped both my plays and (in 1964) the novel, The First Circle, which, in 1965, was seized together with my papers from the past years. During these months it seemed to me that I had committed an unpardonable mistake by revealing my work prematurely and that because of this I should not be able to carry it to a conclusion.

It is almost always impossible to evaluate at the time events which you have already experienced, and to understand their meaning with the guidance of their effects. All the more unpredictable and surprising to us will be the course of future events.
We’ve followed the Soviet model in ruining our country with debt and the Progressives are following the Russian model in demonizing dissent.  Peele was a guest of MSNBC host Martin Bashir.  Bashir urged Peele to psychologically evaluate supporters of the Tea Party.
“It reminds us of addiction because addicts are seeking something that they can't have," Peele said. "They want a state of happiness or nirvana that can't be achieved except through an artificial substance and reminds us of the Norway situation, when people are thwarted at obtaining something they can't, have they often strike out and Norway is one kind of example to one kind of reaction to that kind of a frustration.
“They are adamant about achieving something that's unachievable, which reminds us of a couple of things. It reminds us of delusion and psychosis," Peele continued.  “They want no new taxes because they seek some kind of idyllic past.  No new taxes won't bring them economic recovery so they will have to turn their attention to some other supposed method of attaining that until they go through all of them.  Perhaps they can push through all of them.  Perhaps people will become discontented and people are likely to get riled up, and it could become a very angry movement; it could, potentially, become a violent movement.”
The Progressives are going by the book.  Everything we didn’t think could happen here in America is happening.  Now we have psychological assessments of dissenting voices by the Men in the White Coats.  The banning of books can’t be far behind.  If they can get away with banning french fries and Twinkies, and numerous other items and activities, it’s only a small step to book banning.  Because it’s unconstitutional, they must find other means to ban dissenting writers.  The Net Neutrality law is one way.  We have a bad economy and municipalities will gladly shutter their libraries and sell of their books rather than demand that an angry union take a pay cut.  Young people are being weaned off printed books through the e-book.  Don’t get me wrong; I have a tablet myself and I love it.  But I can see down the road where books, or at least authors like Solzhenitsyn will be banned from school and university libraries.

We have to put our “LikeMinds” together and prepare for this eventual disaster.  We must muster courage, for no doubt, the future book police will find excuses to raid our homes and private libraries and fine or jail us, as they jail Christians in China for holding church services in their homes.

The appearance of this quack psychiatrist on MSNBC is the first warning sign.  They evidently find us more dangerous to their cause than they’re willing to admit.  They know we’re not afraid of them.  They want to make sure that the general population is, though.  They’ve evidently realized what we knew since 2009 – the average Joe Six-Pack and Soccer Mom Jane are our targets.

What our Tea Partiers don’t yet understand is just how critical the written word – in its most protectable form, the printed book – is to a republican society.  Democracies are illiterate mobs run by an educated elite.  In a republic such as ours, everyone has the same access to knowledge.  Our taxes pay for those libraries and are one of the best uses of our tax dollars.  Don’t let any Liberal argue you into a corner that you’re threatening the libraries.  They’re the ones threatened by the public library, not us.  In fact, they know just how important libraries are to us and that’s why they try to shut them down during a fiscal crisis.

Still, it’s a government-run entity and we should worry about government overreach reaching into our libraries and removing so-called “anti-government” books like “The Mind of a Conservative” by William F. Buckley, Jr., or “The Wealth of Nations” by Adam Smith.

The writing is on the wall, the lunatics will soon be rampaging through our libraries, and the Media will be blacklisting authors.  Read the signs of the times.  They want to break us of our “addiction” to freedom and reading for ourselves is one of the most individualistic, though anti-social (in their eyes) acts we can perform.  The addiction we must break is to relying on the television for all our information, especially stations like MSNBC.

It’s better to read a good book than to be in bad company.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Hedging Their Votes

One of the surprises for New Jersey Tea Partiers in the passage of the debt ceiling bill was that our illustrious senators, Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg, both Democrats, voted against the debit ceiling bill, while the RINO rats in the House were piling on board the sinking ship.

Doesn’t make much sense.  At least, not if you think like an ordinary person.  Is it because Menendez and Lautenberg know that the entire N.J. senate and assembly are up for election this year?  Are they trying to appear more responsible than they really are?  If the Democrats are so confident that this was the right thing to do, why weren’t their New Jersey senators on board with this?

Have they finally discovered our state Tea Party’s real intentions – to educate our neighbors by arming ourselves with information and knowledge, particularly of the Progressive’s various misdeeds?  Do they realize we’re more knowledgeable about propaganda than they gave us credit for?

No one should ever underestimate the power of the Tea Parties.  Or try to guess what we’ll do next.  If you think we’re going to tell you more than what I’ve stated here, you need to return to your crystal balls.  Evidently, the pundits and politicians have a very low estimation of our intelligence and our power to influence.  We knew from the first Tea Party rally that it was going to be a difficult fight.  We’re in this for the long-haul and we’re going to do everything within our “meager” power to win, your money, bribes, powerplays, and campaign warchests notwithstanding.

You have the money; we have the truth.  Guess which one is more powerful.  We know that your power is in the weakness of the masses.  To you, the typical American is a lazy, overweight couch potato addicted to television, who spends too much money on the wrong things, doesn’t care about the past, and doesn’t want to worry about the future.  They don’t want to know about how you’re stealing them blind because they don’t think there’s anything they can do about it.

The closet conservatives and the RINO Republicans tend not to vote in great numbers.  They don’t know what’s going on, haven’t bothered to find out, even though it’s so easy with the Internet, and abdicate their rights as American citizens.

Well, the Tea Party is the rooster at their window, crowing the sleepyheads awake.  We intend to be something of a nuisance to them and you’ll urge them to shoo us away.  But we’re going to keep right on crowing until they do wake up and do something about that monstrous nuclear reactor in Washington that’s ready to explode with toxic regulations that will take centuries to decompose.

Sorry to disappoint you, but we know very well yesterday wasn’t a victory of any sort, though we did succeed in moving the bar to the right a little bit, at least.  We’re not crying in our tea, any of us.  We’re planning our next steps.  If you're in New Jersey, join me and others at Like Minds.  We'll be meeting soon to discuss strategy.  But everyone is welcome at our Like Minds Facebook page:!/pages/LikeMinds/230204393683475?sk=wall

To paraphrase John Paul Jones when told by a British captain to give it up:  “We have not yet begun to fight!”

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Revenge of the "Cheerleaders"

Perhaps they’re being facetious (yes, hobbits know what that word means), but Progressive pundits across the land are congratulating the Tea Partiers for their “victory” in protesting the successful passage of the Default Ceiling bill.

They’re patting our backs in condescension.  In the House, the bill passed 269-161 along a coalition of RINO Republican/Democrat party lines, with only the Tea Party candidates still opposing it.  There’s no balanced budget amendment.  There will be not one but two debt ceiling increases in the double trillions.  The president will be allowed to appoint his super committee to assume the task of discovering revenue (raising our taxes).  The extended Bush tax cuts will stand in for bona fide tax increases.  In short, as Emily Miller notes in The Washington Times:

President Obama wanted three things from the debt-ceiling fight: trillions in new borrowing authority, status quo [business as usual] on spending and no more drama before his shot at re-election. He got everything.”

But even Republican pundits are patting our curly little heads for putting up good fight – and now we can go back to our hobbit holes and read fairy tales to our baby hobbits about how Pres. Obama and Congress saved the planet.  Or, you can go home tonight and read Reckless Endangerment by Gretchen Morgenson and Joshua Rosner.  Seriously, my good hobbits, read this book as soon as you can, while there’s still something left of our economy and still time to combat a second Obama presidency.

Morgenson is a New York Times business reporter.  But don’t let that worry you.  Rosner is partner at Graham Fisher & Co., an independent financial research consultancy firm.  He advises global policymakers and institutional investors on housing and finance issues.

Together, they tell the tale of the 2008 financial crisis.  The story begins a long time ago, in a culture far, far away in the 1930s with the signing of the Glass-Steagall act which regulated banks and mortgage companies.  At the same time, FDR created Fannie Mae (The Federal National Mortgage Association), a GSE (government sponsored enterprise) created to help out homeowners in crisis during the Great Depression.

In 1968, changed Fannie from a government agency into a partially private entity that issued common stock to public investors.  Fannie’s brother, Freddie Mac, was born in 1970.  Created by an act of Congress as competition for Fannie, Freddie was a public company like his sister, but with government perquisites (executive bonuses) for those who managed it.

Every story must have a villain, and the Sauron of this story is James A. Johnson.  He earned his master’s degree in public policy at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University.  He joined the anti-war movement, attending a strategy session on Martha’s Vineyard.  He was Bill Clinton’s roommate at Georgetown University.  Johnson worked on the campaigns for Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern, and Walter Mondale.

Johnson’s ambition was to be White House Chief of Staff.  Only his candidate lost.  So he went into investment banking instead.  The head of Fannie Mae, David Maxwell, knew his institution needed political protection.  Officials were talking about removing Fannie’s lucrative benefits.  Maxwell needed a political black knight.  He asked Johnson to do some “analytical work…at Fannie Mae” to help chart its future course.

Johnson started calculating and stumping, while Maxwell prepared to retire, leaving Johnson as his heir apparent.  A master of political patronage and populist spin, Morgenson says, Johnson took the sleepy little mortgage lending utility to new heights, “protecting – at all costs – the company’s government ties and the riches that sprang from them.”

Investors were willing to put their stock in Fannie Mae because they had a false impression that if it failed, it still had the full-backing of the U.S. government.  “Fannie Mae could raise money from investors who were willing to buy its debt at lower yields than they would from fully private and riskier companies.”

She goes on to write, “Fannie Mae routinely claimed that it passed along every penny of its cost savings to the homebuyers in the form of lower mortgage rates.  This allowed the company to argue that any change in its status would result in higher housing costs for everyday Americans.”

However, the company was siphoning off billions of dollars every year.  Johnson used the money for influence peddling among politicians both Democrat and Republican (interestingly, it was only the Republicans who went to jail in the end – Barney Frank, Saruman to Johnson’s Sauron – came away unscathed and to this day indignantly defends Fannie and Freddie).

Housing for moderate and lower-income constituents provided enormous political capital for Congressional representatives and they eagerly took the bribes, attended the Fannie Mae ribbon cutting ceremonies, and prevented any legislation damaging to Fannie and Freddie from passing through the House.

Meanwhile, Johnson and his executives were becoming incredibly wealthy from all those government perquisites.  Johnson left Fannie Mae in 1998, along about the time Marvin Phaup of the CBO (Congressional Budget Office) began a fearless analysis of Fannie Mae’s finances.  Turned out, Johnson had made many friends among subprime lenders and their defenders, such Henry Cisneros, Clinton’s HUD Secretary, and regulators like Timothy Geithner of the Federal Reserve Bank, Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, and Andrew Cuomo, another HUD Secretary under Clinton, and now governor of New York.

Then there are the big three ratings agencies:  Moody’s, Standard & Poors, and Fitch Ratings.  Not only did they not do their due diligence, but they were in bed with the subprime lenders, giving the institutions triple A ratings they didn’t deserve.  A good deal of money is to be made in the ratings business, as Morgenson observes.  The more mortgages a bank could sell to investors the better, and the ratings agencies had their share of cookies in the cookie jar.

Everyone needs to read this book as soon as they can.  These same ratings agencies have been threatening the United States with a visit from the Credit Fairy.  We should be asking ourselves, “Why?”  Beyond the obvious fact that we owe trillions in debt to foreign investors, we could pay the debt off.  What’s going on?

The Senate is jubilant over the passage of this debt ceiling bill.  No doubt, they’ll rush it express over to the White House, with an even more jubilant signing ceremony.  Morgenson and Rosner include photos in this financial tell-all.  One of those photos is from a 1999 ceremony with a group of cheerleading, chortling regulators, senators, and so forth, congratulating a beaming Pres. Clinton for killing the Glass-Steagall Act.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Hand-Me-Down Knowledge

E-book readers and tablets are all the rage these days.  Rather than loading your house with tons of dust-collectors, you can call up Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations or J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings with a slight tap of the tablet.

There is a catch, however; you have to buy Amazon’s Kindle e-book device.  The cheapest version is $114.  The complete trilogy is $18.99.  You can keep for as long as your device has the memory for it.  But the Lord of the Rings is a huge book.  You won’t keep it for any longer (unless you’re a Frodo fan) than you would a typical library book.

The quarterly tax bill arrived this weekend.   The tab for the library is $53 per quarter and will rise with inflation.  Libraries have been quietly closing since the beginning of this current economic crisis.  Writers have a tendency to be possessive of their books, keeping the most useful for reference.  We look for the newer books on sale and online and older volumes at library and garage sales.

I spent this weekend finishing up on my purchase of the Conservative and history essentials.  I also bought two more bookcases in which to place my treasures.  Columnist John Derbyshire wrote in the National Review that a friend of his, in moving from England to France, moved five tons of books.  Derbyshire measured his own collection.  Using a tape measure and a bathroom scale, he writes:

“Reckoning an average 15 pounds to the foot, my 250 feet of shelved books comes in at close to two tons.”

Having the essentials at hand, once my job disappears next March, I will have to rely on my tablet, my public library, and the college library, which is only about 20 minutes away.  How glad I am thatI  listened to my mother and went to a local college.  Imagine trying to use the library at, say, The University of Southern California?

In another cost-cutting measure, I chopped off the cable this weekend.   I felt sad at the prospect of being so poor in the future that all I’ll be able to afford is the basic cable (all local news and some Spanish channels) and the Netflix on my Roku.  It meant buying yet another device, just like the tablet, but at least I own it.  My savings realized comes to about $35 a month, taking into account the Netflix subscription, and the increase by the cable company in my internet and telephone prices.

It’s not so bad, really.  While I can’t get Fox News on cable, I can still get it on my computer or my tablet.  For free (other than the cable charge).  The tablet, it turns out, is a very handy device for checking on the weather or the local news while I’m watching a movie, or more likely, reading. There’s an even an app that offers 100,000 free books.

The upfront investment in tablets, books and bookcases is expensive, but I expect it will pay off in the long run.  For one thing, I foresee in America’s socialized future only two sorts of workers:  the service people (i.e., hamburger flippers, order takers, Wal-Mart greeters) and the government elite who will tell us what to think and do.  They will also need an assortment of scientists and engineers to “save the world.”  My nephew, happily, falls into that second category.  But he’s dissatisfied.  He’s really interested in history and politics.  Once he’s through with his engineering master’s and is safely ensconced in his job, I intend to set him on the path to a doctorate degree in his favorite subjects.

The worry is that once the Socialists complete their “transformation” of society the first thing to go will be the dissenting books.  As the Communists tore down statues of local heroes in Eastern Europe and replaced them with statutes of Lenin, they will tear down the culture of Western civilization and replace it with a fictional utopia.

My alma mater doesn’t even have any sort of Republican or Conservative club.  You couldn’t get any of those kids to read Adam Smith or William F. Buckley Jr., even if their books are offered for free on e-book.  The Progressives did too good a job of brainwashing them.  Still, we must break through that mental wall somehow.  We can’t do that if we don’t have the concrete information in hand.

Memorizing quotes from the Founding Fathers is all well and good, but there’s a linguistic concept called “Telescoping” that says oral traditions only encompass a scope of only about 200 years and whatever came before is lost.  They must read it for themselves and internalize the information.  Reading is very much an individual act, regularly and thoroughly denounced by society, while hypocritically espousing its virtues.  Liberal elites are filmed in front of shelves full of books to let you know how smart they are; they don’t want us to be as well-read as they are, though.  In fact, to them, the idea of “hobbits” reading Plato’s Republic is simply laughable.

In clearing space for my book collection, I came across a now-ancient cell phone from the 1980s.  We laugh at such technological relics.  Indeed the old cell phone is useless, dependent as it is upon electricity and technology.  That’s not necessarily the case with the manual typewriter, transmission, or lawn mower.  Or the printed word.

We’ve traded self-reliance for self-indulgence and are caught in a trap of our own making.  We pity the poor souls who tear themselves away from cable television, balk at the notion of cars with roll-down windows, and consider book-reading quaint and boring.

With our country facing a deluge, you might want to read at least your car manual and have one of those emergency hammers ready to break that window you didn’t want to have to roll down yourself.  Don’t get me wrong; I love the ease of being able to roll down my passenger side window with the push of a button.  Still, I worry about the rainy day when the electronics fail and the interior of my car is inundated with water.