Saturday, March 14, 2009

On dying, lying and reckless buying.

First up today, what does one say about this? (Maybe more to the point, what does it say about us?) I' a loss for words.


Also today, we have the culmination of the little exercise in which I involved you earlier this week. The level of participation wasn't quite what I'd hoped, but the input we did generate was quite clever, and I thin
k John Curtis (of Americans Against Self-Help Fraud) has done a nice job here. He's now formally accepting nominations for the "Scammys" ("Scammies"?). So click here and have at it!


Finally, once again Friday
the official word from the Obama White House was that America's biggest problem is fear, followed closely by negativity. Look, in a way, the man and his minions are correct: Fear and negativity are serious obstacles as we attempt to muster the collective will to pull ourselves out of this abyss. But if we widen the lens just a little bit, we come to see that blaming the magnitude of this crisis on fear is not's not unlike the father or mother who comes home from work to his child's birthday bash, sees hundreds of balloon parts scattered all over the house and says, "This place is a mess! No house should have balloon parts scattered all over it like this! We need to clean up these balloon parts!" And that may be true. But it's not the root problem. The root problem is that somebody, probably several somebodies, overinflated all those balloons to the point where they burst. If it hadn't been for that, the floor and furniture wouldn't be littered with tiny balloon parts.* Or maybe the analogy would be even sharper if the parent came home to the same scene except that the carpet, drapes and furniture were also soaking wet, perhaps even ruined. The real complaint in such a case isn't that people failed to sop up all the's that you don't have water-balloon fights in the house to begin with.

Needless to say, the imagery of bursting balloons is apropos.
Today's anxious, pessimistic ethos is what happens when you've lived way too long amid a climate of wholly excessive optimism...until something goes wrong and the whole shebang comes crashing down to earth. Quite simply, we wouldn't have fallen as far if we hadn't been so much higher on the mountain than we should've been. We had no right to expect an endless orgy of upward mobility, especially when so much of it was fake: We were over-mortgaged, over-bought, under-saved, etc. Property values would not now seem so dismal if they hadn't been so horribly overbid to start. As for the stock market, why was it above 13,000, given the precariousness of the nation's underlying financials? Those financials were there all along, after all; they didn't suddenly materialize on the day AIG went bust. Did marginal companies with little or nothing tangible to sell have any business trading at 40, even 50 times earnings...and sometimes much, much more? Sooner or later someone has to pay the piper.

Larry Summers says we need to restore the climate of hope, and there may be something to that. Let's just not restore the same climate of pathological hope that got us into this mess. A little bit fear isn't such a bad thing sometimes.

* Yes, I know: Today's balloons don't usually burst into dozens of little pieces; they just burst at one point, then the remainder buzzes off into oblivion. And I'm also sure there are far better analogies; maybe someone would like to suggest one. I'm pressed for time this morning.


Anonymous said...

The dying woman who wants plastic surgery has plenty of company. As creepy as it sounds, this stuff happens all the time. Have you ever heard of Sculptra? The FDA has approved of this filler only for patients with HIV - it adds volume to the face to combat Lipoatrphy - the gaunt look that comes with HIV-AIDS. Some people care about their looks (to the point of obsession) even when they are dead. Do you think the worms and maggots will care?

I guess the morticians will have less work to do in the future.

Anonymous said...

This is really creepy, Steve, about the lady who wants to look like Demi Moore when she dies. This makes me think also of Bela Lagosi who was buried in his Dracula costume.

The economy is pretty creepy too. I agree with you, the idea that everybody is entitled to everything helped put us in this mess. Our parents and especially their parents understood that you had to work hard just to have a chance at what you wanted out of life, and even that didn't guarantee that you'd get what you wanted. You lived the life you could afford. My dad used to say if you have to pay for it with a credit card you should think twice about whether you can afford it. Does anybody think that way anymore? They send charge cards now to college kids who don't yet have jobs and are facing thousands of dollars of student loans when they get out.

RevRon's Rants said...

The woman wants to die beautiful. Would that she could see herself through other eyes, because she would realize that she already is beautiful. It's easy for us to judge her decision, just as it's easy for us to flatly state how we would respond to a given set of circumstances we've never faced. And in most cases, we'd be dead wrong. We can roll our eyes at the apparent absurdity of her decision, but in the final analysis, we must accept that the decision is her own to make, and hopefully be able to wish the woman well, and to recognize just how much her mother must love her.

As to the hope versus despair surrounding our economic crisis, you already know my response, Steve. Balance. Sufficient hope and PMA to leave us the will to work our way out of this mess, but not so much that we start puffing ourselves into yet another bubble while ignoring all the "negative" elements that got us into trouble in the first place.

What the SHAM hustledorks (and, apparently, too many of the financial "experts") are so quick to forget is that "negative" and "positive" are flip sides of a single coin, and neither can exist without the other. The positive inspires us to live and act, while the negative restrains us from living recklessly.

Mike Cane said...

>>>Fear and negativity are serious obstacles as we attempt to muster the collective will to pull ourselves out of this abyss.

Sorry, Steve, but now you're sounding like one of the SHAMites you tear into.

When does it sink in this is a QUADRILLION DOLLARS hanging over our heads? How many links must I provide before you believe it? Tell me WHICH FRIKKIN SOURCE you will BELIEVE and I'll personally LOBBY that source to make it so!

The Size of Derivatives Bubble = $190K Per Person on Planet

Clicking your ruby red slippers together will NOT solve this, dammit.

People are JUSTIFIABLY fearful. Why do you think gun sales are through the roof? (No, don't play the frikkin Race Card or Fear of Blacks for that crap!) If anything, after Obama going all stupid and saying this past week things aren't THAT bad, I want a few frikkin guns MYSELF. He's just revealad to me -- and everyone else -- that hasn't a damned clue of the magnitude of the hell facing us.

Elizabeth said...

We can roll our eyes at the apparent absurdity of her decision, but in the final analysis, we must accept that the decision is her own to make, and hopefully be able to wish the woman well, and to recognize just how much her mother must love her.

Thank you, Rev, for this ounce of compassion.

Steve Salerno said...

Mike: Geez, at least read (and absorb) the post in toto before you climb all over me. Is that really what you made of what I wrote?

RevRon's Rants said...

"Thank you, Rev, for this ounce of compassion."

The way I see it, Elizabeth, compassion is the only response that has even a smidgen of integrity - to ourselves as well as our fellow humans.

Mike - Would you condemn a fireman who, in the midst of a horrendous drought, uses precious water to extinguish a blaze that would surely consume your home and all your possessions? My inclination is to allow him to try and do the job which the majority of voters hired him to do, rather than scream for his head a month into his term, before he's had a chance to fix a mess that's taken over a decade to create. Sadly, we will all be paying for the bailout for some time, but we've gone quite awhile, reaping benefits without paying the tab. The correction was inevitable.

And by the way... gun sales are skyrocketing primarily as a hedge against a universal gun ban that will never come. The NRA and gun dealers froth at the mouth anytime someone questions the intent of the Second Amendment, while at the same time, celebrating the increase in membership dues and sales that such political posturing incites.

Mike Cane said...

>>>Is that really what you made of what I wrote?

Obviously, yes.

The scale of this thing still isn't sinking in to you or most other people.

I am heartened though to see word is finally getting around:
Search Twitter: Quadrillion

This thing is unprecedented.

Steve Salerno said...

This thing is unprecedented.

Oh, I agree, Mike. Make no mistake about that.

Anonymous said...

Have you guys seen this?

If not - I'd love to know your thoughts


Steve Salerno said...

Londoner: I hadn't seen it, though you're not the first to mention it. This is very tricky terrain for me, because--as much as I detest the way some of the folks in power have plundered the U.S. economy by turning it into a giant slot machine that always pays--I'm very, very dubious about "agenda-based journalism." I do think that it's incumbent on the financial press to do a far better job of reporting behind-the-scenes facts. But I get uncomfortable when it comes to the sort of tone/edge that, say, JS took in this interview with Cramer (whom we've also discussed here on SHAMblog, of course). I'm not sure that it's up to journalists to decide what is right or wrong--even in cases that seem clear-cut, like with a Bernie Madoff. Because, as I've explained countless times before (and I've taken a lot of heat over it, too), once we give journalists license to cover the news from a "moral" perspective, then where do we draw the line, and who gets to draw it? It's one thing for commentators to call a spade a spade (and I must say, JS does a much better job of that here than any mainstream commentator I've heard to date). I just don't want to see this kind of coverage, freighted as it is with so much venom and judgment, on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, or hear it blaring at me as the headline item on ABC World News.

Once the news develops a "house style" according to the endemic political philosophy of the organization delivering that news, then you end up with a FOX or MSNBC. I mean, I love Bill Maher, but come don't want news channels sounding like Bill Maher, do you?

RevRon's Rants said...

"you don't want news channels sounding like Bill Maher, do you?"

Of course not. However, I do believe that commentators like Maher and Stewart provide an invaluable service by holding the supposed journalists' feet to the fire. Perhaps the knowledge that they are no longer afforded unquestioned credibility may inspire those "journalists" to actually report the news, rather than massage it to fit within their (or their employers') perspective. Nice dream, anyway...

Anonymous said...

Speaking of journalism and finances, I loved what Jon Stewart did on "The Daily Show" with CNBC's Jim Cramer. That was priceless .

Mike Cane said...

I don't see how anyone can call Stewart a journalist. Srsly?!

But given the disrepair journalism itself has fallen into, *in contrast* he appears like one!

Anyone who feels sorry for Cramer is anatomically deformed (translate!).

Newspaper after newspaper is dropping dead. Wail about the Internet Assassin all you want, but the same crap that did in the printed version WON'T be read online either.

Mike Cane said...

I should have paused 30 seconds before submit. I should have included this as additional evidence on the death of printed news:

The Covenant