The creative spark

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morning-star

This weekend’s ear worm is Karen Carpenter’s version of Rainbow Connection, specifically this verse:

Who said that wishes would be heard and answered when wished on the morning star?
Somebody thought of that and someone believed it, and look what it’s done so far.

Someone was first with the idea that if he wished on a star and believed, that his wish would come true. He created this idea from two disparate objects — a wish and a star — out of nothing other than his imagination. At some point, he shared his fragile idea with someone else. And that someone else had a choice to either embrace it as a fantastic idea and fan it… or belittle it, ridicule it and kill it.

In that ever brief moment, the spark of a creative idea took hold. It was fanned with nothing more than a human belief that could not be verified. No ROI was produced, no matrices were created to measure against; just a spark of human thought against the wonder of the world that surrounded the thinker.

While frantically running errands on Thursday afternoon before our industrialized world decided that it would shut down at 5:00pm, I caught the middle of a discussion on NPR where a guest was talking about how music and arts are being systematically removed from school curriculum in favor of more STEM classes to comply with No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. (I can’t find the program; npr.org stinks as a curation site.) What we are doing is creating generations of human beings who do not value art or music.

What we are losing is the ability to create, recognize and fan the spark of creativity.

I’m going out right now and wish really hard on a star. Join me.

Enjoy the video.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PYuE2roIkH0

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It will soon be September

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It is mid August and it will soon be September.

I always get a bit nostalgic when September rolls around. It marks the end of summer but it also makes that calendar crease when the new year we were just celebrating tips into the bucket of another year gone by.

I get a bit lonely, but cheer up thinking about the smell of fall, the crackle of leaves, the feel of crisp morning air drawing inside my nostrils, the smell and feel of my favorite leather jacket that is about twenty years old and the holidays which are now right around the corner.

….

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A walk is not a walk when you are walking all alone

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Video find of the day.

Jamie O’Neal is the artist.

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Are you sure about that?

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Years ago, I was hired in from a field management job to a corporate training job. My job — or so I was told when they transferred me — was to take the training I had developed that produced rapid and reproducible results in the field and apply it across the country. What happened in reality was the training director who was currently doing train the trainer, sales and executive training was ready to move up and he wanted someone to replace him.

And do exactly what he was doing. Exactly how he was doing it.

I spent that first year learning how to be like him, how to deliver the training exactly as he was doing it. His method was very pedagogical. He would seat field trainers (who were used to working with their hands all day, assembling and repairing bicycles) in a classroom for 8-10 hours and “teach” them what he was certain of. For two solid days. And then send them back and expect great results.

….

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The stock market spiral. It may not be what you are being told

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Stock market downturn august 2011

The broadcast media loves a good, tight narrative. Here is the narrative for the stock market downturn for the recent events happening on Wall Street.

Congress squabbles over debt ceiling, Tea Party was obstinate about debt and deficit, we came close to default, S&P drops rating, stock market reacts. Package that up with some pundits, repeat over and over and it becomes fact. Next story.

Only part of this is true.

Here is what I think is happening with the stock market. It is about as simple as the narrative, but admits that human behavior is behind all the numbers so that is always scary territory for economists. But we’ll give it a go anyway.

In 2008, the economy came to a grinding halt. Millions of people lost their jobs, many were on their way to losing their homes and since poor people don’t spend money, millions of businesses quit stocking inventories.

Corporations shed jobs and cut expenses and immediately became more productive and profitable just in the way we measure these things. When the economy started growing slowly, they did not re-hire people; they replaced them with technology that shows up every day, do not need a medical plan and will never saddle the corporation with a pension plan. Investors like that so they buy more of that company’s stock. And they bought a lot in the past two years, pushing stock prices higher. Investors were getting richer.

But you can not cut your way to long-term profitability. The life span of a “cost-cutting to profitability” plan is about 18-24 months. After that, if you are not growing revenues, your profitability will start to decline. Business knows that but they also know that the average “dip” between recessions is about 18-24 months. After that, people get tired of austerity, they start spending, jobs get created and the economy kick-starts itself into gear.

Investors also know this, but they never know exactly when they should be selling the stock. But the smart ones know they will sell the stock eventually because companies will start hiring based on product/service demand and their stocks will take a hit before going back up. Investors hate when companies hire; it means lower short-term profitability and long-term obligations. They like to sell before that “hit” happens.

The underlying reason businesses are not hiring is because they have no need to hire. There are few customers on the horizon. Regardless of what the GOP spins about tax cuts and regulations, the number one — and only reason — businesses are not hiring is because they do not see any customers. Period.

Taxes and regulations are things to either comply with or figure out how to get around when you really, really want to get to the dollars on the other side. To date, I have not met a businessperson who does not believe that in his/her heart. Have you?

We are at about the 24 month mark when the economy should be swinging upward. Only it isn’t and the only organization with the will and means to spend money to get things kick-started — the US Federal Government — is now in a Tea Party-forced cost-cutting frenzy. Even if the President were to introduce a jobs bill, he could never get it funded. What the market heard during the debt ceiling debate and Mitch McConnell’s comments afterwards is the government is going to keep cutting way past the 18-24 month window. Way, way, way past.

“Holy crap!” think investors who are looking at history and know they are at or near the end of the “cost-cutting to profitability” plan of most corporations. “I’m not going to lose my butt in the private sector. I’m going to buy the most secure stuff that exists; US Treasuries.”

Standard & Poor’s did the only thing they knew how to do; lowered the rating for the US Government. Not entirely the best strategy, but they could do little else. S&P also gave a narrative as to why they did something, anything. But neither side heard the rationale. I’m not a fan of S&P as they have been wrong more often than right, but this time, I think they got it right, even if their math was off.

The problem does not lie in the math; it lies in the human assumptions behind the math.

And that is exactly what is going on, regardless of what rating Standard & Poor’s gives the US Government.

Now, all we need to do is package that in a nine-second sound byte.

*Sigh*

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The debt ceiling discussion as a household family meeting

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Friday, Standard & Poor’s downgraded the rating on the United States of America from AAA to AA+. Regardless of how you spin this or what you believe in the reputation of S&P’s ratings in light of their performance during the housing bubble with their ratings on the derivatives, the fact is that the markets depend on the ratings for investment decisions and it will matter. Let’s not dance around that fact.

But that is all for the media and politicians to argue about. We’re going to examine this in a slightly more pedestrian way.

It seems like the GOP loves to talk about the US economy in terms of a household. To keep in step with that metaphor, let’s peek in on the secret tapes of a family meeting that just adjourned at one of my neighbors down the street.

Dad: Ok, is everyone here? Mom, kids? The mortgage loan officer and credit card card companies? ….. do you want more tea?

Mom: Can we just get on with this meeting? I have a blog to write….

Dad: Ok, ok. As you know, 42% of our budget is dedicated to the mortgage. Since we’re cutting spending, we’re going to quit paying that. We might just send in the interest payment but we’re gonna have to crunch those numbers. And we’re going to further devalue the collateral value of our house by not repairing that gaping hole in the roof or patch the driveway. We’re probably not going to pay the credit cards, though.

And we’re spending far too much in food, so we’re cutting way back on everything….

Kids: But daaaaaaddddddd….

Dad: Hey, we have to cut the spending. The malnutrition that will set in may affect your ability to learn in school and I may get weak and fall down on the assembly line, but we have to cut that spending.

We’re also cutting off our medical insurance so if anyone catches anything, you’re just gonna have to ride out the symptoms. If it kills you, well, you just should have had stronger genes. Cable and telephone is going, to…

Mom: But what about emergencies? We’ll have no way to know if a tornado is coming or have 911 to call…

Dad: That is all in God’s hand now. If God wants us to survive a natural disaster, His hand will move us out of harm’s way.

…….

And the mortgage officer goes back to the bank and immediately draws up papers to call in the mortgage and the credit card companies cut the credit limit and raises the interest rate on the existing balances and any future spending.

Are we surprised that Standard & Poor’s lowered our credit rating in light of the people who claim to be the most responsible members of Congress were publicly debating whether or not the United States should pay its bills? That the GOP front-runner for the presidency publicly claimed to support default as a viable action? That the president who has been widely regarded as being able to win re-election in 2012 is now being reported by the media as having a plummeting approval rating and this challenger could win?

If you were a creditor of the United States, would you sit by and wait to see what happens?

Yeah, me neither.

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Henry Wood Detective Agency uncovered. A podcast with author Brian D. Meeks

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Henry Wood is suffering greatly from a festive night of saying goodbye to 1954. His world is one of black and white, right and wrong, but his life is about to change and there will forever be shades of grey. An average detective, with a passion for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Henry is about to be hired by a beautiful woman, to find her father and his journal.

Any novel is more than just the story and Rufus walks and talks with the author Brian Meeks. Here he is in his own words.

Henry Wood Detective Agency is available for Kindle on Amazon.com and Nook at BN.com.

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Google, hire an English major

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Watch this video resume. Then visit his web page.

And here is a comment I sent to Matthew Epstein this morning.

Cool resume, but the correct use of “bad” is the adverbial form.

“I want to join your product marketing team, badly.”

If you are writing copy, you can take some liberties, but should punctuate it differently as such.

“I want to join your product marketing team. Bad.”

My English Major oath would not let me let this slide. Sorry if you are feeling those usual, “who the hell does he think he is” thoughts most people feel when we point out a typo. Really, it’s for your own good. Learn from this. You want the advantage over others who won’t care so much about the details of craftsmanship. As Joseph Conrad writes in The Secret Sharer, “exactitude in some small matters is the very soul of discipline.” Google is an exacting company and will only hire those who subscribe to this life philosophy. Embrace it. (and read the book; it’s only 50 pages.)

And how is it that you have not gotten the “Cease and desist” letter yet from the Google Legal Team for registering a domain with “Google” in it?

Anyhow, I hope Mr. Epstein gets a job with Google and I hope they never regret hiring him because all of his copy is clean, tight and well-crafted.

You’re welcome.

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Baying at the moon

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I grew up in that period of awesome where kids thought walking on the moon was the best things anyone could ever hope to achieve. I was probably not ever going to get to the moon, but I wanted to see it.

I wanted a telescope. I wanted a telescope with enough power to see the flag Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planted on the surface.

That didn’t happen and hasn’t yet. Maybe someday.

….

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The Shawshank moment for America

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Red parole scene from The Shawshank Redemption

There is a scene in The Shawshank Redemption where Red is up for parole after serving forty years of a life sentence. A video clip is here (sorry, it wouldn’t embed.)

It occurred to me that this is the American People. We are tired, beaten back and “institutionalized.” No matter how passionately we care, how many hours we engage ourselves in politics to be a responsible citizen, how much we strive to play by the rules or play the game, we end up demoralized and tired.

So, Washington, go ahead and stamp your bills and play politics with our lives and livelihood. There ain’t a damn thing we can do about it anyway out here. All we are doing is wasting energy getting all tired out and all you need to do is keep up frustrating us until we give up.

You win, Washington. We just don’t give a damn any more.

But don’t forget how the movie finally ends. Red and Andy eventually win out as they found a way to live out their lives without any of the institutions that tried to control them.

I think I’ll start checking out as well. Keep stamping your forms and railing against those who “don’t love America” and quit wasting my time. I’m over here, busy marginalizing you.

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President Obama was a bad man on the twitter yesterday

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Barack Obama tweets GOP twitter accounts

Shortly after his speech yesterday morning, President Obama started tweeting out the twitter accounts of the Republican members of the Senate and House of Representatives on his twitter stream. All in all, he sent out about a hundred tweets throughout the day.

And some people got so enraged they unfollowed him. Mashable reported that he lost about 36,000+ followers.

Seriously. A handful of ideological lawmakers are holding the faith and credit of the United States of America hostage and you are complaining about an extra hundred tweets in your twitter stream? And the “bad twitter behavior” pisses you off more than what is going on in the House of Representatives right now?

You self-absorbed bag of bones.

Look around you. Being in the United States of America is what makes something like twitter even possible. Your being incensed that the president would dare send multiple tweets to sully the purity of your twitter stream are the threads that will undo what has been built by men and women who have endured far more than the annoyance of a few extra tweets.

Seriously, have a little perspective.

I’m beginning to think that social media is bit like giving a loaded gun to a monkey.

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The US Post Office mangled their good news again

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Owney the Dog USPS

Yesterday, The Rachel Maddow Show (with guest host Melissa Harris Perry) ran a story segment about Owney the Post Office dog. In short, a new stamp will be issued today with Owney’s image.

I’m not sure how easy it is for everyone else to get The Rachel Maddow Show to run a story about them, but they seem to be able to ignore any request from us at the Dog Walk Blog rather deftly. It might be the restraining orders, could be that we have not published any cool dog cocktail recipes or maybe they just don’t want annoying little English major sh*ts in the bullpen, correcting them at every turn..

I’m sure they have their reasons. Maybe you have to know someone, like Melissa’s dog Pebbles (does Pebbles have a twitter account?)

We got all excited and dashed off to USPS.com to buy a doghouse full of Owney stamps.

Nothing.

No promo, no front page links to the unveiling, nowhere to place advance orders. They received a ton of free media promoting a really cool story and they did nothing with it. Dogs have been maligned as tormenting carriers for decades and when they finally have a chance to make it right with the entire canine community, they blow it.

Eventually I found the Owney stamps in their store and placed an order, but I had to click around for a while. If anyone wants a personal note with an Owney attached, just DM me on twitter with a mailing address. When they come in, we’ll send them out.

No wonder the USPS finds itself closing offices, laying off workers and losing money. It is not competition from FedEx, UPS and email. It’s just not paying attention to the details.

BTW, here is the segment. And the 45322 post office has a sign that says “No dogs allowed.” Really.

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A rebuttal to the debt ceiling speeches

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Sean Francis expressed the mood of the country in a 138 character tweet

I was fidgeting around on what my response was to the speeches last night by the president and the speaker when this tweet by @SeanDFrancis popped into my stream. In 138 characters, Mr. Francis summed up the mood of the country and my response in one collective sigh.

Mr. John Boehner, President Barack Obama and the Tea Party; are you listening? This is your America. This IS the American People you continue to cite. We’re willing, we’re ready to do great things but we are all also so very, very tired. Like spinning our wheels in a pit of mud.

All we ask is that you quit pouring water in the dirt and build us a bridge so we can climb out. Did you understand that “balanced approach” metaphor?

Is this thing on?

P.S. And just in case you are thinking about emailing, calling or writing to Boehner’s office, don’t bother. He counts every contact as support for his cause.

.

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Turning scars into art – A podcast with Jane Devin

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Jane Devin, author of Elephant Girl

UPDATE: Jane’s book is now available for Kindle at Amazon.com. Other formats to follow, so please follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

I was following the babble of Neil Kramer one afternoon and one of his tweets led to me to Jane Devin. She was just another blogger who published articles on Huffington Post but anyone who could wrangle a byline on HuffPost was probably someone worth reading. I read her post there and click over to her blog.

I should have read in the reverse order.

I think I lost a few hours poring over the shards of her soul pieced together in the essays on her blog.

I learned that Jane recently took a nine-month road trip across America and wrote a blog about the experience. Following the road trip, she wrote a book, Elephant Girl, from the cab of a borrowed truck in a coffee shop parking lot. But if I say any more, it would ruin the story.

So, in her own words, Jane Devin talks to me about Elephant Girl. I hope you enjoy listening to her as much as I did interviewing her.

When Elephant Girl is published later this year, we will have information on how you can pick up a copy. It is an intense memoir of “a challenged life lived with imagination.” It is worth every minute your heart and soul will lose within its pages.

Editor’s note:
Jane has established a Facebook page for her book. Please like it.

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There is no right or left, only power. The real debt ceiling crisis

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us constitution article one

Before I begin, I would like to disclaim that I am not a Constitutional lawyer nor do I pretend to be. But I am an avid reader, one who has read a lot of literature surrounding the pre-Civil War through Reconstruction period. The “mood” of the country, including its values about government, is richly portrayed in these works. I can also read the Constitution, especially the plain language parts that have not been seriously mangled by case law.

Since the end of the mid-term elections last year, the media and Tea Party have been debating this issue of the debt ceiling, mostly as a taunting device against the Tea Party debt and deficit ideology. It made for a good story line of hypocrisy. Most Americans had never heard of such a thing before this, but it sounded bad. Real bad. And for the Tea Party, it also sounded like something that could be used for political leverage.

But since few Americans have ever read the Constitution, fewer still have any idea what the issue is really about. The issue has nothing to do with debt or deficits; it has everything to do with the separation of powers. Congress needs to avoid forcing the Supreme Court to “fix” a glaring hole that House Speakers have been successful at covering over since 1787.

John Boehner knows that. So does president Obama. And by sending a letter to the Speaker in January asking for a clean debt ceiling vote, Timothy Geithner demonstrated that he also supected how the markets would react if it were ever seriously brought to their attention.

And the Tea Party has done just that. Oops. Really, really big oops.

The Constitutional issue:
Article I, Section 8 gives Congress the “Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts” and “To borrow Money on the credit of the United States.” In short, it gives Congress and Congress alone the power to tax, pay debts and borrow. Despite what the Republicans would like all of us to believe, the president has no taxation, spending or borrowing power. Zip, nada, nothing.

Article 1, Section 9 says specifically, “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” That means that not even one dollar can be spent that is not appropriated by Congress. The president may have a discretionary budget for the various executive branches, but all of them exist and get paid for through the laws Congress passes.

The US Treasury is responsible for managing the money and cutting the checks, but it can only do so under the authority of the Congress. Blaming the president for spending is like beating up the newspaper boy for bringing me a paper with bad news in it. It is dumb and misdirected. But, since he is right there, he’s smaller than me, and there is only one of him, not 535, it is easier to focus my rage. The bottom line is the president has no legal authority to spend money the Treasury does not have.

Or does he?

The Constitution makes no mention of what to do if the Federal Government has run up bills because of laws enacted by Congress for which there is no money to pay. The Constitution says that only Congress can borrow money, but it does not obligate them to make sure money is there.

But then along came the Fourteenth Amendment that cemented the obligation of the United States to pay its bills for laws enacted by Congress. “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.” Still, it does not spell out specifically what to do if the United States Treasury runs out of money.

That, specifically, is the glaring hole raising the debt ceiling covers over and has for a very long time. Neither the Congress nor the President really wants the Supreme Court to decide how to fix this Constitutional issue. For each branch, it would be ceding power to the third branch; something that is even more loathsome to Republican legislatures (actually, all of them regardless of their party) than taxes.

More than likely, the Supreme Court would rule to compel Congress to act by either raising taxes or borrowing money to cover the shortage. And the debt ceiling approval from Congress would be lost forever as leverage. The House does not want to risk that.

But the Supreme Court could also rule that the Treasury Department can continue cutting checks without the approval of Congress, adopting the Gephardt Rule that had long been in place as law. Basically, the Gephardt Rule says by default, Congress is authorizing an increase in the debt ceiling when it enacts a new law. (More complicated than that, but you get the general notion. Google has more info.) That would put the president in the undesirable position of being responsible for increasing the debt and deficit of the United States of America. No more blame game. It would also destabilize the “borrow” powers, much like “declare war” and “wage war” is right now. Congress does not want to risk that.

The effect of pledges
I always found it somewhat perplexing that George W. Bush did not advocate to raise taxes after 9/11 to fund the War in Afghanistan when he clearly had the political capital to do so. Instead, Congress opted to borrow the money, mostly by selling US Treasuries to China. As it turns out, since most Representatives and Senators signed Grover Norquist‘s Taxpayer Protection Pledge, raising taxes was not politically possible. But borrowing money was. The pledge allowed for drunken spending by incurring unsustainable debt, but not increased taxes.

That was the first major step in plunging the United States into the debt it now finds itself. Add another unfunded war, Iraq and Medicare Part D on borrowed funds coupled with revenue reductions that Bush tax cuts created , the largely unregulated banking and mortgage industries and in short order, you clearly have a growing debt issue that is not easy to hide.

Follow the money
The first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton understood the United States of America was only as powerful as its ability to pay its debts. As a new country, the States could bluster all they wanted about life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, blah, blah, blah, but if it could not pay its debts, none of that mattered. The policy has held up well throughout history. We are after all, a market-driven race, sprinkled here and there with altruism. Sparingly.

But times have changed. The stock markets have gotten more global. There is no patriotism in corporations, only profit. The goal is to make money, whether you bet on or against the US Government. From what we have learned with the collapse in 2008, a lot of people can make a lot of money betting against the United States.

What has held and made Congress blink first in years past when the debt ceiling card was played with the threat of the Constitutional hole being exposed and the ability of the president to be able to clearly articulate the issue to the American people. Newt Gingrich tried it and quickly learned how skilled Bill Clinton was in talking plain language with ordinary folk. George Bush was never really challenged on raising the debt ceiling as he operated mostly with a GOP Congress, bound by the Norquist pledge.

But Barack Obama was something new. The GOP leadership — while apprehensive about going to the mat on the the debt ceiling issue — gambled that Obama would not be able to articulate the issue clearly enough to get the American people on his side. And they are kinda right. But what the “mature” GOP leadership did not understand fully is how cancerous and ideological the Tea Party would be.

I’m not sure if the legislators the Tea Party got elected are oblivious on the Constitution, are singularly focused on debt, deficit and taxes to the exclusion of their other responsibilities or are just stooges for the greater monied bosses that got them elected. I don’t believe in conspiracy theory, but I do believe in the power of mobs and the infectious contagion of simple ideology in favor of nuanced, reasoned thought. We are, after all, the country of fast food, the sound byte, CNN Headline News, Twitter and Snooki.

But the markets have become spooked, whether by sheer stupidity brought on by ignorance of the Tea Party-backed legislators or a long-formulated master plan I don’t know. And since we have ceded power of our credit over to the world-wide credit rating agencies (and kinda pissed them off with things like Dodd Frank) the great power of the United States of America is no longer really in charge of its own destiny.

What I do know is to follow the money and to ask who is likely to profit exponentially from the credit downgrading of the United States of America. I’m sure that is where we will eventually find our answer to what is really motivating the Tea Party, whether they are complicit or not.

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