Thursday, October 2, 2008

"We demand that big business give the people a square deal... return we must insist that when anyone engaged in big business honestly endeavors to do right he shall himself be given a square deal." - Theodore Roosevelt

"We wish to control big business so as to secure among other things good wages for the wage-workers and reasonable prices for the consumers. Wherever in any business the prosperity of the businessman is obtained by lowering the wages of his workmen and charging an excessive price to the consumers we wish to interfere and stop such practices. We will not submit to that kind of prosperity any more than we will submit to prosperity obtained by swindling investors or getting unfair advantages over business rivals." - Theodore Roosevelt

I love Teddy Roosevelt. He was a Republican, and I very much admire him. He was a conservationist. He broke up large corporate monopolies. He was also a bonafide racist. Of course, Teddy Roosevelt would be the first person to honor that I believe that. He believed that it was treason to speak anything but the truth about the president, good, bad or indifferent. So when did this all change?

You see, I have been hearing some very disturbing things lately, and I can no longer keep quiet. It started in the irrational ravings of one Ms. Ann Coulter. Rumblings from disgruntled right-wingers trying desperately to salvage their party views on deregulation and make them sound sane in the face of overwhelming evidence that a market run amok will eventually collapse in on itself. Ms. Coulter attempted to carve her own twisted world view into a valid point - the housing crisis, credit crunch and subsequent market collapse you see, have nothing to do with the industry and everything to do with affirmative action.

Now, if you are a thinking person, you are as confused as I was when I started reading the article. I have to confess here that I do read the occasional Ann Coulter lunacy and intermittently turn away from rational television to listen to the mouth-foaming, kool-aid drinking dogma of Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity. I like to know what the other side is thinking. Sometimes, I even find things I agree with (which I am sure would surprise the right as well as the left.) I also have to confess that I sometimes find myself disagreeing with the far left and have to turn off Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann and seek out the quiet serenity of a good book. Political pundits from either side will wear on most of us after a while. But I digress...

Ann Coulter's point was that the good people at the well meaning mortgage companies and investment banks had been duped by left-wing extremists into giving good solid mortgages to "less qualified minorities" and that they had been encouraged to use non-traditional means of approving these mortgages "such as having a good jump shot". The hateful assertion that only minorities are poor or unqualified for mortgages, or that political correctness has already "ruined education, sports, science and entertainment" aside, where does this woman get her facts? I had initially dismissed this article as the frenzied gibbering of an angry right-wing neo-con with a racist belief system. She obviously is mentally unbalanced and belongs under observation at a mental institution, preferably heavily sedated. Then I heard these assertions repeated by another pundit. And another. And another...

What is going on?

First of all - FACT (These, contrary to what Ann Coulter thinks are things that can be backed up and proven...) People of all races, colors and income levels are loosing their homes in this foreclosure crisis. It does not discriminate.

FACT - The "affirmative action" legislation that Ms. Coulter is referring to is the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 "intended to encourage depository institutions to help meet the credit needs of the communities in which they operate, including low- and moderate-income neighborhoods, consistent with safe and sound operations."- That was 30 years ago. Most of the first mortgages offered under the guise of this act ARE PAID OFF. 30 years is a long time. 30 years ago, someone bought a house at a standard fixed rate, paid their mortgages and lived in their homes with no problems (otherwise this melt down would have occurred decades ago... Seriously. Decades.)

FACT - People of all races colors and income levels were sold ARMS. I know a few. A few middle class white people with good jobs and great credit. They were sold the ARM with the line that it would be in their best interest, because one couple in particular had planned to move after a few years, before the ARM hit. These friends had asked about a fixed rate mortgage and had been sold (by a mortgage broker on a commission) an ARM with the rationale that it will save you money. Of course, they had planned to move for a job, that didn't materialize because the big company this young man worked for decided that their programming jobs would be better served overseas. So his work went away. He found a job that paid him a third of what he had originally made. They were still making their payments. They were doing fine.

Then their Adjustable Rate Mortgage rate adjusted. Their previously affordable house payment doubled. I don't know about you, but if my mortgage payment doubled, I would loose my home too.

I know another couple (again, they are white middle class two income household - registered and proud Republicans) sold an ARM so that they could "flip" the house they were buying. They bought one house, worked on it and sold it at a profit after a year. They bought a second house and did the same. The third time, they bought the house, the property values started to drop and the market slowed. They couldn't sell and lowered the price. Then the young man got really sick (cancer is a bitch). He couldn't work. He was on chemo therapy. They started eating into their savings and all of the profits from previous "flips". His medical bills piled up. His wife lost her job (again due to outsourcing) and they lost their insurance. She took the first thing she could find. They were going to be stuck in the house for a bit longer than they had planned, but, they reasoned, they could always re-finance. That is what their mortgage broker had told them.

Only they couldn't re-finance because by this time, their credit was shot. Mounting medical bills and lowered incomes were taking a toll. Then their ARM hit and their mortgage went through the roof. They lost their house. Then my friend lost her husband. She moved back to Indiana to live with her mother. I don't hear much from her these days.

These are two of the stories from people that I PERSONALLY KNOW. I am just one person. How many more of these tales are there? The race of my friends had nothing (absolutely nothing, Ann Coulter, you coward) to do with them loosing their homes. Circumstances changed and they could no longer afford the mortgages they had been sold. Both couples would have been able to afford the initial mortgage payments for a long time. Both couples would have been able to afford a regular rate 30 year fixed mortgage. The ARM killed them. The funny thing is that both middle class white couples would have been able to afford the ARM rate before loosing their income to illness and outsourcing. Life is funny that way.

If the problem had really been dead-beat minorities as so many on the right-wing espouse, then why were these people able to make their initial payments? Then when the ARMs adjusted, they still struggled to make their growing mortgage payments. These are not deadbeats. I will say this once, and I mean it: BROWN SKIN DOES NOT EQUAL DEADBEAT. BROWN SKIN DOES NOT EQUAL BAD CREDIT. Anyone and I mean anyone who ascertains that it does is a racist. That is all. If you, Ann Coulter, and your mealy-mouthed band of followers continue to preach that brown people are bad people, then get a hood and join the Klan, but stop trying to pass yourself off as a decent human being.

I wish I could get paid as much as that woman does to state my opinion and pass it off as fact. But I can't be that mean. I can't be that hateful. I would like to sleep at night and be able to look myself in the mirror in the morning. I have MORALS. (Yes, those of us on the left have morals. We love our spouses. We love our children. We believe in God and Jesus. We go to church. We pray. We do all of the same things in the same communities as the far right, but our voices get drowned out by the constant temper tantrum throwing right wing. For all of the talk about the liberal media, I would like to know where to find it. I can count ONE radio station and ONE television station that cater to the left wing view point. The others are centrist or so far to the right that there is nothing even slightly moderate about them. Thank you Fox News.)

FACT - Let's do some math. The average price of a single family home in Denver, CO was $279,000.00 before this melt down began. However, the average wage for a family of four in Denver, CO was $37,000.00 You are only supposed to spend 3 times your annual income on a house. Three times $37K is $111,000.00 You cannot purchase a house in Denver for $111,000.00 any more. Not even in a ghetto (trust me I looked high and low... this is why I am still renting.) Soooo... the average family cannot afford the average home. That is unsettling to say the least. Home prices have skyrocketed (along with the prices of everything else from gas to milk) and wages have remained stagnant.

How can these families afford these homes? Enter the ARM. Slick mortgage brokers on heavy commissions come in and tell the hopeful families (of ALL races and colors and income levels) that they too can afford their dream home. All they have to do is sign the Adjustable Rate Morgtage. It starts at a ridiculously low APR and will adjust after a set period of time. Sure, the broker tells them, that will raise the payments, but not until after a set period of time. They can re-finance before that ever becomes an issue, right?

He offers them a deal. A $279,000.00 home at a ridiculously low interest rate - say 3.5%... let's see... that makes their house payments roughly $1250 a month. That's reasonable! Right? After all, under a standard mortgage payment, we would be looking closer to $1600 a month. After 5 years we can re-finance before that arm hits. Of course, they don't really understand that re-financing is a lot easier said than done, and any change in their credit status can affect their ability to refinance.

And $1250 may look reasonable on paper... after all, at $37K a year, they get roughly $3000 each month - that leaves plenty left over for food and gas and bills and car payments and pediatrician visits and a family vacation... right?

Wrong. Most people (for whatever reason) don't really think about TAXES. This family is actually taking home about $2400 a month - which means that they are spending HALF on their housing. That same family would never qualify for $1200 in rent. They could manage $800 or $900 tops. This family will barely be scraping by once their mortgage is covered. Most people turn to credit cards for everything else. Now their debt to income ratio is way too high to re-finance.

It's a struggle, but they cover that mortgage payment. Until that ARM hits. Suddenly they are facing a 10% mortgage with a payment of $2450... that is almost double. Some people face almost triple the costs. If this family was taking home $2400 before and scraping by with a $1200 mortgage, now they are falling behind. Now they are in the hole. Now they can't even afford simple things like electricity or enough food. Now they are in the position where they are going to loose that house.

This is the scenario that is playing out all across the country. It has nothing to do with race and everything to do with greedy bankers. The first mortgage payment was netting the bank roughly $800 a month in interest alone. Of course once the ARM hit, the bank earned four times that amount. No wonder everyone wanted to get in on the mortgage act.

These products were sold indiscriminately to home buyers, with the knowledge that no one will read the lengthy mortgage documents when they are closing on their homes. If you are reading this blog and you did, pat yourself on the back for your intelligence and your diligence. You are part of about 2% if the population. Should people better understand their own mortgages before signing the paperwork - absolutely. I am one liberal who also believes that there is personal responsibility in this mess, and if you loose a house that you probably shouldn't have bought in the first place, well, maybe next time you will think things through.

However, I still believe it is wrong to trick people into products that they cannot afford. Housing prices skyrocketed because all of the sudden thanks to the ARM, people began to believe that they could afford a huge luxury home rather than a modest starter house. In our instant download society no one wants to wait for anything. People leapt without looking and without realizing that the only parachute around was attached to the back of the CEO of their bank and it was made of solid gold.

The rest of us paupers were expected to feed their gluttony, and god help us, we did. And we continue to. We turn to each other and point the fingers at those like us who made mistakes - either through our own hubris or because they were flat out conned. Instead we should turn and look at the people who control the banks and Wall Street and the major corporations. To the people who own so many houses they loose track. Those are the real culprits. Those are the people who deserve the finger pointing and the burden of this responsibility. Of course, they will never get it. They will send out their trained dogs to tell us that brown people caused this mess and that we should hate each other. Pay no attention, they say, to the man behind the curtain. It is a cheap ploy beneath the dignity of any thinking American. It is a ploy designed to incite blind hatred of brown and black people. And right now, I can think of one very prominent black person that the right wing is (rightfully) terrified of. This was a ploy that worked very well for Hitler when he chose to blame the German economic crisis on the Jewish people. Of course, far be it from me to actually compare Ann Coulter to Adolph Hitler. She just uses the same tired tactics.

Despite our political differences, I believe that we are more alike than we are different. I believe that Ann Coulter and those like her represent a diminishing fanatical fringe who have had their day, fouled in our collective nest, and now we have to clean it up in spite of their incessant squawking. And we will, because we are Americans: left, right, and center.

And we deserve better than that kind of messy backward ideaology.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The best way to appreciate your job… to imagine yourself without one. – Oscar Wilde.

This morning on the way to work, my husband was lamenting about his job. He said that he didn’t particularly like the uncertainty of not knowing precisely what his bosses really wanted. He doesn’t appreciate being made to feel that his job is in jeopardy every time one of his bosses chooses to “talk to” him, and feels unsteady and unstable. My response to him was “Welcome to the working world.”

After all, just yesterday I was pulled aside by my bosses for a minor transgression. They told me that while I am a valuable member of the team... yadda yadda yadda. I have to admit, when I got the email requesting the meeting – at the end of the work day – I had convinced myself that my desk would be boxed up when it was done and security would be waiting to escort me out of the building. Of course this didn’t happen. Instead, I spent a very unproductive half hour discussing insignificant bullshit with my two bosses. But before the meeting, I had almost worked myself into a blind panic. What if I lost my job?

Huh? I HATE this job. You don’t understand the vehemence with which I pronounce my revulsion. I have been close to walking off several dozen times in the past few months. Sometimes I have to swallow an enormous amount of pride to go back in the next day. I fight this feeling every morning. It gives me heartburn. If I could, I would scribble a short resignation (something along the lines of “I quit effective now.”) and walk out. It would feel good. No, scratch that… it would feel incredible.

For a little while… After the initial euphoria of “I don’t have to work” wore off, the blind panic of “I don’t have a job” would set in. I know me. I would hyperventilate and more than likely vomit. I would start to shake and I would go cold all over. No job means no money means no cable, no power, no car, no gas, no rent, no food. Sure my husband is working, but he doesn’t earn nearly enough to support us. We would end up living in the car, or worse, in a box on the street! I wouldn’t be able to see past that horrifying image. I would feel responsible for our dire circumstances. I would be crippled by the guilt. I would require medication and hospitalization, neither of which we could afford. Oh, God… we wouldn’t have health insurance! My migraines will return! My husband’s diabetes will run amok! There will be great pain and suffering!

Breathe, Dawn. Just breathe for a moment. All is well. You are still gainfully employed. You still have health insurance, and money for food and gas and bills and the car. All is well. All is well. All is well.

The above scenario plays itself out in my head and keeps me in line (most of the time…) I would bet that I am not alone. (Holla at me if you have ever panicked at the thought of being let go and being out of work). I go through most days blissfully unaware that the headsman’s axe could fall at any moment and cut me from the dubious comfort of my work-womb and send me screaming into the world blindly unprepared. I would recover (as would any of us) but it would take some time and it would take a toll. Every now and then I feel the full force of that uncertainty that sits in the back of my mind. Most of the time I can ignore it, but every now and then I feel it.

And, the shit rolls down hill. My boss hears something from her boss who heard something from her boss who heard something from her boss who heard something from the CEO. I am at the very bottom rung of that ladder. The CEO has a bad day and I end up envisioning pink slips and unemployment lines. That is no way to live.

I am convinced that we prepare for this from infancy. Think of the words to that most famous lullaby:

Rock-a-bye baby
On the tree top
When the wind blows
The cradle will rock.
When the bough breaks
The cradle will fall
And down will come baby
Cradle and all.

What kind of terrifying image is that for a sweet innocent baby? What else could we be saying other than the world is an uncertain place and so is your place in it? Aren’t we all sitting out on a limb someplace, where even a gentle wind can send us tumbling back down to earth? Financially speaking, I know that most of us are living paycheck to paycheck. We don’t save much if anything, and we wind up working for pennies on the dollar compared to what we are worth.

Welcome to the working world.

As I told my husband that we all go through his uncertainty at some point, it dawned on me…


Why am I doing this? Why is he? The steady paycheck? They can take that away at a moment’s notice. We are at-will employees. I have to tell you, I don’t like being at someone else’s will. If my life here is uncertain, wouldn’t I be just as well off being my own boss? Don’t I have the ability to do that? Don’t we all have the innate ability to follow our own creativity and desires down a more logical path? Wouldn’t we be better off if we did, or at least tried?

Wouldn’t we?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

My cat!!

I swear this is a study of our furry feline Alpha....

I swear it is.

Ha ha ha ha ha HA!

Sorry - been a little busy... I will resume regular postings next week. In the meantime, enjoy. I laugh every time I watch this. (Especially when Amy Poehler breaks off a piece of the podium...)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

Dr. King would be proud today.

We should all be proud today.

Today, in Denver, history is being made. 45 years to the day after Dr. King delivered the immortal “I have a dream” speech, for the first time in our nation’s history, a black man will be accepting his party’s nomination to run for the office of President of the United States.

Almost 400 years since the first slave ships landed in the Americas, 145 years after the Emancipation Proclamation and only a generation removed from segregation, we are finally starting progress toward a future forged in hope.

It is no secret that I am a big fan of Barack Obama. It is no secret that I am liberal in my leanings. It is no secret that I am a life long Democrat, and proud of that fact. However, I think that all of us need to take a few moments, regardless of our personal political leanings, to recognize the significance of this day. Take a few moments to appreciate the history that was made yesterday as the Democratic Party voted to nominate the nations first black Presidential nominee. Take a few moments to recognize the absolute significance of Barack Obama accepting the nomination 45 years to the day after Dr. King delivered his famous speech. Take a few moments, my fellow Americans, and feel proud.

Today I am truly proud.

I am proud that this history is being made by my political party (hey – at least I am honest about it!). I am proud that this history is being made in my home town of Denver. I am proud of the speeches that were made this week. I am proud of my country and my countrymen. I am proud that I have gotten to witness this day with my husband who was moved to tears by the events of the week.

I can get cynical sometimes, when I see thoughtlessness and when I see ignorance. I tend to throw up my arms in frustration, and can at times feel indignation and anger toward people who want to judge me or my husband by our skin color rather than by who we are and what we have accomplished. It can make a nice girl turn militant and can leave me looking for La Raza so that I can be with La Gente until it’s time for La Revolucion.

But today, I have hope. Today I have pride. Today, I think we are closer to realizing Dr. King’s dream than we have ever been in our history. Maybe one day we truly will be a nation that is able to judge people by the content of our character rather than something as superficial as skin color.

It is my dream too. I have the same dream because the great Dr. King dreamed it for all of us. He spoke about it with such passion that we all know those words. They resonate to the very core of who we are as a nation, stripping us bare to the harsh reality of who we were, and showing us the dream of who we might one day become.

So today, as we reflect on the dream in light of the events of the day, remember how far we’ve come.

And how far we still have to go.

The full text of Dr. King’s speech is available here.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.

Big Brother is watching you.

Do you ever feel like you have to look over your shoulder constantly because you are being watched? I’m not talking about a conspiracy theory Orwellian kind of being watched (although that would certainly make an interesting topic for discussion… maybe later). What I am referring to is the kind of watched where some nosey character actually physically watches you. This person watches your every move: what you do, where you go, who you talk to, what you talk about, what web sites you visit, what kind of work you do, how often you pee. Almost like a stalker, only this person watches you in plain sight.

Shit! Hold on….

I had to go because she was watching me again, and I am sick and tired of it.

I have an at-work stalker.

Well, not a “stalker”, really. “Stalker” gives this particular moron too much credit. She is more of an at-work “teacher’s pet” only the “teacher” doesn’t really like her, so doesn’t pay attention to what she does or says. So no matter how much she tattles, no matter what kind of tantrum she throws, it falls on deaf ears. I continue to do what I do, because my manager trusts my own work ethic more than she trusts the word of a loud-mouthed busybody.
Only the whole thing makes me rather uncomfortable.

I feel like I have no privacy. Really, how much privacy should we expect at work? Certainly the company can confront me at any moment about how I spend my time. They can pull internet records, phone logs, emails, documents, etc at any moment. And what would they find out, you may ask? That I do more than my fair share of work, that I am efficient, that I help out where I am needed, and that when I have down time I read the news on CNN and check my hotmail. I sometimes update my blog during lunch when I feel like sitting at my desk. I come in on time, stay late when it is needed and am not adverse to coming in on a Saturday or Holiday when necessary. I only take the allotted lunch time and take one 15 minute break every morning. I hardly ever take an afternoon break. I rarely make mistakes in my work, and if I do make an occasional error, I learn from it and never make the same mistake again. That is what the company would learn from me.

If the company watched me as closely as my new best friend seems to, it would also learn the following things: I drink 2 cups of coffee and a bottle of water every day. Or a soda and a water, or tea… I drink something caffeinated and water every day. Sometimes I stare into space when I feel fried. I take vitamins every morning. I listen to my headphones while I work and tap my feet to the music. I am a sucker for Peanut M&Ms and arrange them into color groups on my desk before eating them. I talk to my husband once a day and clean my desk once a week. I bite my bottom lip when I am trying to figure out a problem. I talk to my brother over the cubicle wall. I put lotion on my hands every time I come back from the bathroom which is approximately twice. I play with my earrings and twist my hair. I chew my nails. I keep my supplies in the middle drawer of my desk rather than the top drawer. I put my pens back in the cup every night.

What does she gain by watching me?

Every week in our meeting, she sits in her chair, smug as can be and starts out her list of grievances the same way.

“Some people seem to have too much free time…”

In case you were wondering, I am “some people”. She has decided that because I have time to get water and pee, I have time to take on more of her work. She feels that it is dreadfully unfair that I should get to take a lunch and a morning break. After all, she is the only one entitled to such frivolity. Also, she feels that “some people” are making mistakes (that aren’t being made), “some people” take too much time off (forgive me for getting married in April), “some people”, “some people”, “some people.”

Blah Blah Blah.

My first thought is that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. After all, I don’t really care if she comes in late (she does), if she takes a lot of time off (she does) takes long lunches (she does) or if she often needs help getting her own meager work done (she does.) I notice, but I don’t say squat, because it isn’t my place, my business or my concern. I go to work, do my work, collect my pay and go home. I don’t need to “one-up” anyone. Maybe this makes me a bit too arrogant, but I know in my heart that I am better than this place and better than my co-worker. As my brother counseled, you do kind of have to feel a bit sorry for her. A very little bit. After all, if taking me down is really all she has to look forward to, her life must be quite small.

Of course, my second thought is, “Butt the hell out, lady”. The thing that threw me over the edge was being accused of not spending enough time at my desk. Then, the other day, she started making derogatory comments about me. Nice. Really freaking nice.

To answer the unasked question – I already discussed the matter with my manager. She assured me that the problem wasn’t mine, but the young lady in question. She told me not to worry, that she will handle it. I have yet to see evidence that it is being handled.

I mentally gave her until the end of the week. Tomorrow is Friday. (Thank GOD!). We’ll see.

Perhaps all of this is just a sign that I am long overdue to seek greener pastures.