Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The American Myth

Once upon a time there was a land of plenty and it was called America.

For more than a century, America held its brilliant torch high and boldly announced to the world: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me…”, never believing that many of its very own could work hard and become just that: tired, poor, homeless and tempest-tossed.

On its maiden voyage to America in 1912, the RMS Titanic hit an iceberg. The grand ship’s SOS distress signal swiftly surrendered to the sea along with 68% of her passengers. This tragedy sadly pales in comparison to today’s economic Titanic which has collided head-on with the massive iceberg effects of deregulation, and is swiftly sinking – nose down and props up in stink bug position.

America’s economic ship began to visibly take on water as deregulation seeped throughout the energy and utility sectors, and we got our first real glimpse of the end with the Enron fiasco in 2001. As the systematic deregulation of our financial systems surged forth, monopolies steadily squeezed out healthy competition and the notion of self-regulation proved to be oxymoronic.

Many of the economy passengers on board America’s modern-day Titanic have already been tossed overboard and feel abandoned, with new ones joining them under water every day. They appear to have little choice but to desperately cling to the side of the sinking ship.

With this changing of the tide have come the waves of opportunistic bottom feeders, rising to the surface, intent to prey upon those desperately holding on in order to benefit financially from their misfortune by offering the empty promise of a life raft…for a non-refundable, no guarantees, paid-up-front-and-in-advance fee, of course.

The overwhelming eruption of various niche scams designed solely to take advantage of our current economic SOS - restructuring, modification, workout, and employment recruiting services that expect payment of substantial up-front fees and premeditatively provide little but hollow promises - reveals an unsettling lack of social cohesiveness or sense of community, let alone any rudimentary compassion for the suffering of another.

Some might simply dismiss this as just another face, or extension, of the very greed that created the crisis to begin with.

In the rear view mirror we can plainly see how Black Tuesday on October 29, 1929 ushered in a decade long Great Depression which bred a survival psychosis of holocaustic proportions that permeated core belief systems at a cellular level for the next 3 generations.

Should history prove itself an accurate gauge, it would stand to reason that the emotional repercussions of today’s Great Depression will likewise deeply influence the core belief systems of generations to come. The immediate effects of the now emerging survival psychology will undoubtedly result in the loss of an entire generation of 30 to 40-something investors who’ll no longer trust the broken system, let alone choose to invest in it.

While this lost generation of investors may cautiously elect to opt out of what used to be considered the American dream, they’re still indisputably left carrying the bulk of today’s economic collapse and financial crisis on their backs.

What do you believe is worth investing in today?

For more ways to think rich, see our ‘In The Rear View Mirror’ December 28, 2008 posting “Why Bernie Made Off With 2008".

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Devil’s in the Details (DS)

We had a dream……and in that dream we saw Bernie (see definition below) stretched out on his bunk after suiting up in the standard issue baggy brown uniform of his new Metropolitan Correctional Center home. His arms were folded beneath his head as he stared blankly at the empty mattress resting on the bunk above him, barely two feet from his face. He was waiting for the cell doors to release for the Center's pre-dawn breakfast call, and the start of a new day on the inside.

Unquestionably Bernie’s current situation was a far cry indeed from the $7 million Upper East Side penthouse apartment he’d been accustomed to. Lifestyle adjustments needed to be made, especially since his new home work detail assigned him to Biffy Patrol.

In our dream we could see confusion ripple across Bernie’s face when the prison Custodial Super slapped a large rolling mop bucket and toilet brush into his hands. Without expression, Bernie walked into the janitor’s closet to collect whatever else he thought he might need to properly clean something he’d never cleaned before in his life.

Bernie was clearly ignorant to the world of cleaning products, and before anyone would even suspect what he was unwittingly capable of that day in the janitor’s closet, he’d whipped up a chlorine bleach-ammonia cleaning concoction which rapidly created a noxious gas that overpowered and expeditiously knocked him to the floor, thus ending his life here on Earth.

Bernie briefly lay unconscious before the ethereal lights began to flicker as his life force separated from the 70 year old body with finality. Out of no where appeared Charles Ponzi, Bernie’s personal escort and Angel of Death, with outstretched hand.

Ponzi ushered Bernie through a misty elevator door and pressed the button going “down”. Bernie would now be answering to a new overlord, the Prince of Darkness, in a personal hell of his own creation. Mr. D (as the Prince liked to be called) had a friendly chat with Bernie as they walked down a deep corridor lined with doors on both sides. Every door they passed was numbered “666”.

When Mr. D finally stopped at the door numbered “666” belonging to Bernie, he opened it and extended his arm in a welcoming gesture of entry. Bernie’s mind swirled with déjà vu’ as he found himself walking right back into the very 7-1/2’ x 8’ janitor’s closet he’d just died in. His new work detail would keep him busy for an eternity, for he was to count out $65 billion dollars, one penny at a time.

And then we woke up and realized that the IRS has collected tax revenue for decades from Bernie’s investor clients based upon illusionary gains reported for investments they never even had. We suspect hell will need to freeze over before the IRS gives any of that revenue back.

But what we really want to know is which one of Bernie’s little helpers will be the next to follow his lead?

For more on Bernie’s life behind bars, see our ‘Dream Sequence’ February 2, 2009 posting “Camp Fed Takes The Triple".

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Barbie, BFF

It was our understanding that one major economic motivation for paying bailout mega-bucks to rescue the Big Banks was so they could turn around and lend that money back to us. Recent experience has shown this plan to be highly flawed however, because the Big 3 have flatly refused to finance our replacement car, credit report dispute notwithstanding.

Luckily our old friend Barbie preferred driving the Jeep and generously offered us her classic pink corvette convertible to drive as long as we liked. Nostalgia ensued when she handed us the fuzzy pink key chain.

Over the last half century, we’ve together witnessed our “Beaver Cleaver” society morph into a “Z Generation”, and although many of us oftentimes feel left behind, our friend Barbie has admirably kept pace without missing a beat.

Fresh out of Willow, Wisconsin, she burst onto the public scene in the late 1950’s. She was already ahead of her time and everybody wanted what she had. To achieve the iconic status she did typically subjects one to perverse microscopic scrutiny and interminable pea-green-with-envy attacks. Barbie was no exception.

She purchased her Malibu Dream House in 1962 and led the charge for equal rights when she found her voice in 1968. We cheered her on as she blazed trails through the 1970’s as a PanAm Stewardess, an Astronaut, and even an Olympic Skier. Barbie showed us there was no limit to what we could do when she deftly mixed her many formidable careers with rock star partying, silver lame’ and platform spiked heels through the heady disco days of the 1980’s. The 1990’s then saw her serving our country in every branch of the military, doing the rodeo circuit as Western Barbie, and traveling the country on her Biker Barbie Harley.

Regrettably Father Time spares no one and to fully embrace life’s natural cycles can be difficult at best, so it’s no surprise that at 50, she secretly knows herself as Menopausal Barbie, while the media proceeds to sneeringly refer to her as Cougar Barbie. Frankly, those new tattoos she just had to get the other day did nothing to favorably replace the snipy Cougar reference with a more fashionable Inked Barbie.

The corvette’s engine purred like a kitten when we turned the key but was promptly drowned out when an old cassette tape stuck in the tape deck began to regurgitate the screaming voice of Tyra Banks out of every loud speaker: “Body Image! Body Image! Body Image!”. Tyra’s tyrannical loop about girls growing up too fast in today’s culture with unrealistic ‘perfect’ body expectations has merit to be sure, yet it seems a little late for her to be preaching from that altar - especially since Tyra made her fortune long ago with a Victoria's Secret soft porn body image she can no longer maintain. Clearly Father Time knows everybody’s address.

Pulling away from Barbie’s Dream House, we couldn’t help but sadly glance in the rear view mirror at the large “For Sale” sign posted on her front lawn. Even with all of her work experience (seems her curriculum vitae never included Wall Street Banker Barbie), Barbie managed to end up with an Option ARM mortgage and was forced to sell her dream house in a down market or lose it to the bank in foreclosure.

Relocating to West Virginia was definitely out of the question. The Barbie Ban Bill was just passed and a restraining order had been placed upon her measurements. She’s Outlaw Barbie now.

The end of an era is upon us.

The feminine form has historically proven to be a direct reflection of cultural priorities throughout the generations, and somehow Barbie shockingly became emblematic of what was considered perfect female form for nigh 4 generations, albeit unrealistic and unattainable.

Perhaps it’s time for our old friend to embrace her age with dignity and bow out gracefully. When Barbie's image finally becomes passe’, who will boldly step into her high heeled shoes?

Learn to play Big 3 monopoly in our ‘In The Rear View Mirror’ January 13, 2009 posting "What Comes in 3’s?"