Traveling across America with a bike, a book & a German Shepherd to uncover the real story of the 2008 economic earthquake

New Trailer: Stories from Aftershock America

Here is the our film project in a nutshell, including some of the interviews and stories that have been shared with us. We want to hear your story too, so send us a note or make your own video!

A special thanks goes out to Carrie, Christina, Dain and Melody for sharing their stories.

WHCU Radio – Interview on September 10

logoWHCUJoe and Barbara were on the Morning Newswatch on WHCU radio out of Ithaca NY today. We are very appreciative for the attention and have heard a lot from people who listened in.

Here is a preview of the show…

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Listen to the entire broadcast!

 

Truth – who decides?

Who decides what is ‘truth’? Let’s look at the FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) and ‘truth’ claims from various parties. First, what is FATCA about? This is an act passed by congress and signed by the president in 2010. It requires foreign banks to notify the IRS about accounts held by U.S. citizens, of face stiff penalties. It also provides for reciprocity, requiring U.S. banks to notify participating countries the names of their citizens with accounts in U.S. banks.Microsoft Word - Document2

Big U.S. banks such as JP Morgan and Bank of America screamed very loud. Foreign banks such as Zurich Insurance Group and Hong Kong Securities Association were equally vociferous. The Florida Bankers Association, Florida real estate developers, Florida politicians, and regulators were every bit as aggressive in their denunciation of FATCA. All stand to lose substantial funds on deposit and/or available for use in various enterprises promoted, funded, and/or regulated by the above parties.

Why? Because many depositors, investors, buyers, sellers, and such do not tell their home country about the accounts, homes, businesses, et al they own/hold in foreign countries. People with lots of money of questionable origin and/or money never declared as income do not want their country’s taxing authority to know about that money. FATCA would put a big dent in both tax evasion and the hiding of illegal funds, on both sides. Suddenly, a lot that unknown-undeclared money would be very visible and tax cheats, drug lords, and people who have looted their governments could be identified and properly taxed and/or prosecuted by their home countries. But that’s a good out come for all, no? So who is complaining?

Well, Congressman Bill Posey of Florida wrote a letter to President Obama, claiming a truth, saying that enforcement of FATCA would “result in the flight of hundreds of billions of dollars from U.S. financial institutions.” Further he truth claimed that this publication of personal information of foreign nationals with U.S. banks accounts heretofore unknown could lead to “kidnapping or other terrorist actions” against these people in their home countries.

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky introduced legislation to repeal the act stating that it is a “violation of sovereign nations’ laws and privacy matters.” Congressman Posey wrote Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew stating that the FATCA specifics “themselves would not bring one penny into the U.S. treasury, they would discourage investment in the U.S.”

The certain parts of the statements from Congressmen Posey are bold faced judgments, i.e. ‘could lead to “kidnapping…’ and can be dismissed as such. But what about the rest? Is there any history to back up Posey’s truth claim about the flight of money? In the middle 1990s, the U.S. and Canada agreed to a similar reporting regimen. Canadians had roughly $1.9 billion USD on deposit in the U.S. in March 1996, immediately prior to the regulations being implemented. One year later, that number had risen to $4 billion. Perhaps that Canadian money was not of questionable origin, who knows? Still that’s a doubling of the total deposits of now totally visible money.

Microsoft Word - Document6Does that necessarily mean Congressmen Posey’s statement is false? No. But how could Congressman Posey know that the net funds on deposit in the U.S. by foreign nationals and/or organizations will decrease? How can his claim be a ‘truth’? Does he have other reasons for claiming such a ‘truth’ that might come from the various entities in his home state that benefit mightily from access to such hidden monies? Is the latest real estate boom in Miami funded by this pool of money? If those beneficiaries decide the ‘truth’ regarding this issue, then all his claims are true. If the citizens of the countries where this money originated have a say, then not true. So which group is correct? Does it ultimately depend on ones’ point of view?

No! Posey cannot know and therefore cannot claim that his statements are “true.” He may believe them to be accurate, but that doesn’t make them true. If the FATCA is fully implemented, then we’ll know how accurate or faulty his predictions were. But a truth, not hardly.

What about Senator Paul’s claim? We can legitimately ask Senator Paul if he has complete and precise information on the laws and privacy rules and regulations of the various countries impacted by FATCA. If he does, does he also have legal opinion and case history on these matters from the foreign nations affected? Does he have the same precise and complete data on legal opinion and case law from the U.S. on these matters? If he does, then he might be able to make a case for his legislation, might. In most contested legal matters in the U.S., ultimately a jury and/or a court decide what the truth is. Moreover, without going through this legal process, his “truth of the matter” is in reality nothing more than his opinion and personal preference on the issue in question.

Using this one very limited case, the evidence demonstrates that ‘the truth’ can be, and often is, independent of ones prejudices and preferences. As we well know, a ‘legal truth’ can change when the justices on the Supreme Court decide it no longer meets their interpretation of the law in question. But there are facts, truths that can be confirmed, or debunked, independently of a resolution in a court of law. When a truth is claimed, the claimant has the responsibility to provide evidence that can be confirmed or refuted in the immediate present. If the claimant has or offers no such proof, the “truth of the matter” is nothing more than an inference or judgment.

Microsoft Word - Document9The late Dr. Carl Sagan had the perfect device for separating fact (aka truth) from everything else. He called it his baloney detection kit. We’ll take a look at his device next time.

Reports – Inferences – Judgements –– What is the truth?

Who, or maybe what, determines what truth is? Is accuracy the same as truth? Can one person’s truth be another person’s lie? Does the truth have to be accurate? Permit me to borrow a statement from Bertrand Russell. “Every man is entitled to his opinion, no man is entitled to his facts.”

Since we’re attempting to examine the factual accuracy of claims being made about the ACA, let’s lay down a few rules regarding our discussion. We will divide what is being examined, the claim, into three categories – reports – inferences – judgments.

When one makes a report, the report must be limited to the retelling of an event as close as humanly possible including only the actions, ingredients, and (if present) the people or other living creatures that made up the event as it happened. If many different people observe this event, an accurate, or truthful, report of this event is one that could be agreed upon by all who were there.Rattlesnakes_EDJ

An inference is the act of drawing conclusions about the event that cannot be confirmed or denied based exclusively on the original event. An example might be as follows. A woman and a child are walking through a park holding hands (the report). The woman cares a lot about the safety of her daughter (or son). The second sentence contains both an inference and a judgment. How?

By simply observing the woman and the child walking through the park it is impossible to know what the relationship is between the woman and the child. So the #2 statement infers that a mother-child relationship exists. The relationship could be neighbor-child, sitter-child, older sister-child, and so on. The inference may, or may not be accurate (the truth). However without further investigation it is impossible to know. Perhaps in this case it doesn’t matter. However in the case of something as crucial as national policy and law, it matters!

The judgment part of the second statement (inference) is that the woman cares a lot about the safety of the child. The woman could be abducting the child. The woman could have mental problems and planning to torture the child, once in private, to placate some psychotic monster inside her head. Again, without further investigation and observation, it is impossible to know, or claim to know, what the woman’s feelings/intent are regarding the child.

If you observe a man wearing a red tie, what can you say other than a man is wearing a red tie. Anything more moves your statement from being a report to an inference and potentially a judgment. The man likes red ties. Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps on this particular day, he’s wearing the red tie he absolutely hates because it is the only tie not in the dry cleaners. So using the above criteria, let’s examine a couple of reports regarding the ACA.

One common claim, report, with many variations, is “the overwhelming majority of Americans don’t want Obamacare.” Let’s start with the claim ‘an overwhelming majority’. What constitutes an overwhelming majority? Is it 51%? How about 59%? No. What about 71.8%? And, is this overwhelming majority made up of people with or without insurance coverage provided by their employment? People over 65? People under 29? Whatever percentage might be agreed upon as overwhelming, how accurate is the polling that produced that number? As many recall in the last presidential election, there was polling that predicted an easy win by the Republican candidate, even on election-day after the early results showed the opposite outcome highly likely.

Further, did the ACA polling use neutral or loaded language? It has been demonstrated frequently that the “polling numbers” change when the language is altered between Obamacare and The Affordable Care Act. So the term-concept overwhelming majority is so nebulous, so loaded with variables, that one term alone renders the entire claim, at best, an inference.

Let’s look at “premiums for most people will come down/go up.” This claim has been used be both sides for months. Yet only since October 1 has anyone been able to sign up and therefore know whether their premiums will go up or down. Moreover, the result cannot be known until sometime in the future when enough people in enough states have signed up, been issued a policy, and have a known premium.

“This is a train wreck for the American people.”

“Obamacare will destroy the economy and cost tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of jobs.”

“Obamacare will drive up medical costs for all involved and is unsustainable.”

“The ACA will offer hope to millions of people…”

None of these are reports, none. All are opinions – necessarily inferences and/or judgments. Some may be more informed than others, but none are fact. And if we stick to our original premise, “no man is entitled to his facts,” we are left with just noise.

I will argue that making decisions based on the noise of inferences and judgments rather than verifiable reports (truth, facts, et al) increases avoidable risk. Also that the act of claiming fact when there is nothing but inferences and judgments, inflames passions and reduces our ability to evaluate the circumstances we face.

Most important, I believe, is whether you accept opinion/inference/judgment as fact, or not. When you have reports that can be independently confirmed or refuted, then the decisions you make are shaped by reality rather than fiction.

Can opinion – inference – judgment be the truth? That is a very interesting question. So next session let’s take a look at how ‘truth’ is defined, by whom, and under what circumstances.

Finishing up at sea!

Going on a tour on a big luxury liner is hard work! I mean we had to eat (way too much) pretty much any time we wanted. Sleep in our comfortable cabin bed or on deck chairs with plush cushions anytime at all. In our case, go to presentations from some very smart, very well informed people when and if we pleased. Go back and eat more. Watch sunsets that challenge the imagination in their grandeur and beauty. Trust me, this is hard work.SONY DSC

We had to walk around Quebec City and taste wine and eat freshly baked French bread. This was my very first tour of more than an hour or so on a boat where I wasn’t captain, galley slave, and deck grunt combined. Barbara had to keep reminding me, as we walked around the deck, that it was not my responsibility inspect the tenders and lifeboats to make sure they were properly lashed in place. It wasn’t easy.

We’re on the Via Canada Rail to Montreal now. So our seafaring days are behind us for at least the next 12 months. Permit me to offer this advice at the end of our 7 days at sea/visiting ports along the way. If you struggle at all with your eating habits and the results, stay the hell away from a luxury liner.
The next traveling leg of The Vote is China. I’ll be there from the end of October until just before Thanksgiving. So no more travel notes until I hop on Cathay Pacific. Look for lots of frivolous observations while moving about China, well, actually mostly just around Zhaoqing. Promise there will be notes and photos and maybe a recording or two of conversations with people we know in China.

The Secret Behind the Shutdown

A report in the Sunday NYT tells the story of how the current shutdown has been in planning for months and how private money has funded it. So lets ask this question again, does private money belong in the theoretically public domain of political decision-making? Let me be crystal clear I am talking about private money, not the private or collective voice of individual citizens.

What’s the difference? If I have an issue I want to argue for or against, I will expend some funds on a stamp, my Internet service, my phone service, et al to let my elected representative know where I stand. If I want to get friends or neighbors to join me in my argument, I will again spend some money for the above items contacting them and encouraging them to contact their elected representatives. All of these activities do indeed involve the use of “private money.”

However the private money I am referring to is money I or anyone else gives to others to influence the political process in my name. For example, taking such private monies to pay me and/or others to recruit people to back my point of view, and/or buy ads in public media where the intent is to manipulate the outcome of a political decision. This means private money for any organizations, be they political parties or non-profits or private agents (aka lobbyists) representing any particular argument. This includes any form of advertising, and/or direct contributions to a candidate or political party. I will argue that every decision made by our political institutions at every level directly affects the general public every time.

Wow! That’s damn near every political activity other than my picking up the phone or walking over to my neighbors and asking them to act. Yeah!

But how can I influence my representatives with my tiny little voice when the Club for Growth, or the AFL-CIO, or Mayor Bloomberg, or moveon.org can use millions to… OH! I get it. If nobody could spend money for their political cause(s) beyond getting people in their immediate circle of friends-relatives-coworkers involved, we’d all be on an equal footing when we came calling on our representatives.

YES!

But lets return to the existing situation as it relates to the NYT article on Sunday. If you are on the side cheering the shut down and the faction using that shut down as a tool to block implementation of the ACA law, likely you’re saying yes, yes, yes to spending any amount of money from any source. Those believing the shut down is bad policy and that the ACA has passed all the tests required for it to be the law of the land are definitely crying foul. Both sides are definitely aroused and this is in fact what the founding fathers wanted, active participation by an aroused and well-informed citizenry.

So lets explore some of the rhetoric used in this battle. It is hard to argue that the citizens on either side are not aroused citizens. Let’s concede that point, but how about the well-informed aspect of the equation? In this case, the Founding Fathers were very clear that well informed meant accurately informed. Who controls what gets said and how accurate that information (advertisments-talking points-et al) is what we’ll discuss in the next session.

Open Ocean

This is the very first time I’ve ever been on a pleasure cruise on an ocean going vessel. The MS Veendam is much, much bigger than the Goldwing. Until today, it was impossible to know when inside if the ship was under way or at the dock except for the almost imperceptible vibration of the screws cutting through the water when seated in the aft dinning room or on the head.

 This evening I can definitely tell we’re at sea. Just this moment we’re making 15.7 knots on a course of 1020. The apparent wind is about 350 off our starboard bow, blowing at a speed of 54 mph across the bow. The waves appear to be maybe 6’ – 8’ in height. The waves, other than the most gentle of nudges now and then, cannot be felt. However, this gigantic ship, with 12 floors, 9 above the water line, is heeled over to port about 50 or so. And that extremely noticeable!

Not the Ocean but Lake Michigan

Not the Ocean but Lake Michigan

Five degrees may not sound like much, but consider this.  In the Rocky and Cascade Mountains we recently journeyed through, a steep grade on those highways is 50 – 60. The giant 18-wheelers have to crawl up and are required to use a low gear on the way down. On the downhill lanes of these highways, there are several “runaway truck” exits. Anyway, a 50 to 70 heel, especially on a floating hotel, lets you know that your ship is in fact at sea and that the sea is mighty and you and your boat are very much at its mercy should mother nature decide you’ve been treating her badly.

Since I started writing, we’ve altered our course to 720 and are now making 16.6 knots. The apparent wind is now blowing at 30 mph at about 700 – 750 off our starboard bow. Our angle of heel has increased maybe 10-1.50.  The course projection on the GPS data screen in our cabin suggests we’ll hold this course for at least the next several ours. Dinner will be interesting, especially if anything slippery is on the menu.

We just left Halifax, NS, CA. Our next port of call is Sidney, NS, CA. Glacier Bay is close by. Our schedule tells us we’ll make port at 8:30 AM. This time I’ll try to get out on the deck in time to capture the morning sun on Glacier Bay. Look for some photos Tuesday afternoon.

 PS Got up, made it to the stern deck – the sun and the entire horizon were swallowed by the same storm that rocked me to sleep last night.

Government Impasse Turned Shutdown

The federal government is paralyzed. The House can’t seem to latch onto the current reality that the ACA was passed by them, and the Senate, signed by the executive office, challenged in our Supreme Court – and adjudicated to be Constitutional, and is in fact the law of the land. Yes it can be changed, even thrown out. However, until they, the majority in the House, can muster sufficient votes in both the House and the Senate, and put someone in the White House who will permit it to be changed or thrown out, it’s going to continue to be the law of the land.

The Senate can’t seem to find a way to convince the House that under its current leadership and makeup, defunding or delaying or otherwise interfering with launching of the ACA is not going to happen.

The White House can’t seem to make its case to either the House or the Senate that no amount of anything is going to goad them into permitting any changes whatsoever in the ACA until President Obama leaves office.

And way too many of us can’t grasp that no matter how loud we scream or stamp our feet in anger and frustration, or ache for the opportunity to sign up for coverage, nothing we do until the next election is going to change a damn thing.

Given those realities, what, or perhaps who is driving this seemingly mindless confrontation? If the forces wanting it (ACA), or wanting it thrown out had no ability to lob money into the fracas with the intent of imposing their way, would the debate be more civil? Would it be based more on existing evidence and the evidence that will come forth over the next several months rather than innuendo, imagined outcomes, and hyperbole?

Rattlesnakes_EDJFinancially speaking, who are the big winners? Losers? Does anyone know who will win or lose yet? Why are certain private groups with lots of money to spend putting so much money into the debate? It is impossible to know, yet, whether the ACA will work. Work in the sense that it tames the increase in medical spending some and provides coverage to individuals and families who are truly suffering from lack of medical care due to lack of insurance. And perhaps get enough additional people into the pool of insured citizens to make medical insurance affordable for both the insurance companies and our fellow citizens.

So if we cannot yet know the outcome, why so much money involved in the pushing and shoving? One constant we can count on is that if money is being thrown at the problem, politicians are going to listen to whoever throws the most money in their direction. They need the money to get reelected.

Let me pose this question then. If all this private money was out of the equation would we – everyday citizens, and they, our elected officials, be hearing the same stories we’re hearing today? If the debate were based exclusively on existing evidence and the new evidence being generated every day, would our federal government be shut down? Would we, and I mean you and me, be stuck with the bill we’re going to have to pay for shutting down our government?

We’re not idiots. Give us a chance to see what happens. If enough of us don’t like it ( ACA), we’ll vote in people in the next election who’ll get rid of it or change it to our liking. If enough of us like it, then will elect people who will keep it in place and perhaps alter it to make it more responsive to our needs. This is how a democracy is supposed to work.

In China there is a saying, zheng ming gai wo kan! Show me, put ‘it’ in front of my face, then I’ll believe you. Maybe we, the everyday citizens of the U.S., could benefit if we demanded this of all parties involved in this debate.
-Joe

Round-Up and Trip Home

Leg one is done. We arrived in Seattle with serious fanny fatigue and cold hands – the rain and fog stayed with us once we hit the Cascades. Never mind though, what a beautiful ride for that portion of the trip. Our last two days in Settle were spent seeing the Pike Place Market in Seattle and the Luther Burbank Park on Mercer Island. Both were enjoyable and it was good to walk rather than whiz down the highway at 70 mph for 5 or 6 hours.

We did make it back to Connecticut. What a difference. The West is mostly so dry, until you hit the western side of the Cascades. The Northeast is normally rather damp. Although this time, Connecticut at least, is dry as a bone.

We’ll have Ella photos up soon so you can check up on how the wonder dog did in Washington. We’ll also have some really cool video of our ride through sections of the Rockies and the Snoqualmie Pass in the Cascades.

EllaHotelBed_EDJWe stayed at a number of hotels. We want to say that he Holiday Inn Express locations we stayed in were really great with Ella, and the rooms were pretty decent too. The flight home was on Jet Blue. We want to say thanks to everyone at Jet Blue. From making the reservation to checking in to boarding to getting us to JFK – Ella weighs about 85lbs and when she stretches out, it requires a lot of room – everyone involved made all three of us feel welcome. The flight crew made it easy for both Ella and us and the passenger who shared our row. This is no small matter considering the level of service one usually gets on most U.S. airlines. Thanks Jet Blue!

We loaded the Goldwing and trailer on a Haulbikes tractor-trailer rig. Mike was the driver and captain of the operation. It was easy except for some recalcitrant windshield screws. They have quite an operation. Check out the photo. We’re looking forward to saddling up again in two weeks or so when the bike makes it home. We found out that Ella misses her trailer and roaring down the highway. So as long as there’s no snow or ice here, we’re gong to have to take her for a short trip at least once a week, forever it seems.

 Our next leg starts this coming Saturday. We’re headed out to sea with a group from the Nation Magazine. They have some pretty interesting authors giving talks. We’re planning on cornering both the speakers and our fellow guests to talk about the latest in the ongoing journey of a dysfunctional political system. We’ll have photos, video, and reports from the North Atlantic starting Monday evening.

 A note on the topic of getting private money out of politics. In every single community we visited, we found a discussion on this already underway. Sometimes it was just individuals chatting, but sometimes it was public discussions in public media. Maybe there’s more interest in and awareness of such a political future than we can see at the national level. Also, it’s hard for us to imagine that this latest tantrum in Washington is going to make many want to continue down the same path we’ve been on for the past 20 years or so.

 The next operation will be in China. I, Joe, am headed there the end of the month. I’ll be working with our associates at Spango, and chatting with all the expats. Their views on whatever comes of this shutdown and the debt ceiling confrontation sure to come by then might be interesting. Also, what is their thinking on 2008, its aftershocks and how we fund our political processes? Hopefully I can chat with some Chinese friends on how they view us – the U.S. and our current outbreak of political incompetence. I’ll send off some really interesting photos and video. Check us out daily starting November 1.

-Barbara

Story in Coeur D’Alene Press

Coeur d'Alene Press: Local News

 

We are in Couer D’Alene today, and the CDA Press gave us some press coverage, which we are very grateful for.

Read the full article here

Paying off the Rating Agencies

If you write a nice article about me, I’ll pay you $100,000. If the article is okay, but not great, I’ll pay you $10,000. If the article is critical, I’ll pay you nothing.

So if your company depends on getting paid for writing articles, opinions, what kind of article are you going to write?

Well, the rating agencies, Moody’s – Standard & Poors – Fitchs, write articles-opinions that they call ratings for investment products. And guess who pays them to write these opinions? The investment banks that issue the investment products. Hummmm?

When the economy imploded in 2008, the rating agencies were giving AAA ratings – that’s same investment grade they give U.S. Government securities – to just about everything Wall Street sent them. When all those AAA rated CDOs failed, what was their response?

You can go to C-Span and look it up, but here’s a quick review. “These were only our opinions and no one should depend on them for accuracy.” “We gave our opinion, nothing more.” “One should not depend on our opinions….”

Well, nothing has changed! Nothing! They, the rating agencies, still get paid by Wall Street to rate the investment products Wall Street sends them. And, when questioned, they claim it is only their opinion and essentially means nothing. Are we, the investors who put our savings in investment products for our retirement, supposed to rate these products ourselves? Or perhaps should the SEC and the CFTC demand that the rating agencies accept fiduciary (legal liability) responsibility for their opinions?