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March 11, 2010

A Bright Shiny Nickel


My grandchildren first spotted the old guitar in a closet during one of their weekend stays. Now, I hadn't touched the long forgotten instrument in years, but they insisted I play for them. So I played, poorly, very poorly, yet that mattered little to them as we had fun singing nursery songs. Ever since, that relic has become a bond between us.


They are now learning to play that guitar themselves. My granddaughter was first to ask this weekend, so she gained temporary custody for an hour. I watched as she practiced, tiny fingers working to master Lemon Tree. Her older brother came to the study, trying to convince her to relinquish the guitar so he could play.


I should explain a bit about my grandson. He is a master negotiator for an eight-year old. The quintessential used car salesman in short pants. He perfected his craft taking advantage of his younger sibling. Today, he cajoled, pleaded, bargained – all to no avail. She was resolute about using her full hour. She had learned about some of his deals sounding too good to be true.

Three years ago, the children and I walked to the corner market for ice cream on a warm June morning. The little one decided to save her fudge bar and put it in the freezer. The boy wolfed his down on the way home. That afternoon, he asked her if he could have her treat. She told him, "No." I thought the matter was closed until I heard water running in the bathroom.


As any parent can attest, five-year-old boys are not known for spontaneous cleanup. I peered around the corner and saw he was busily washing and polishing a grubby coin. Something was afoot. He went back to his sister and conned her into trading her ice cream for a bright shiny nickel. Only later did she realize that nickel wouldn't buy another ice cream.

I tell this story because of two men in recent headlines. The parallels between these two men cannot be ignored. Both men are master negotiators whose charm and smooth talk gained them great followings. Each made promises involving distributing billions of dollars back to those who would invest with him. Both offered plans that are fatally flawed and cannot be sustained without taking money from some in order to pay others, constantly repeating the process while doling out small amounts to maintain an illusion. Think of it as a giant game of monetary whack-a-mole.

The similarities between plans offered by Bernard L. Madoff and Barack H. Obama are striking. It is too late for those who lost fortunes to Madoff's shenanigans. There is still time for Americans to tell Obama, “No.”

Unless of course, Americans would rather have a bright shiny nickel.


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