Archive for March, 2009

A Liberal Patriot

March 30, 2009

Oh no!  Write this day down in history: I beg to differ with Paul Krugman.

Today in the New York Times, Krugman speaks of how “tarnished” the United States has become in the eyes of the world, especially Europe.  I will give that one to Krugman.  We deserve some dirt on our faces.  However, no one forced other countries and their corporate entities to follow suit.  Credit Lyonnaise, Societe Generale and RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland) all had their own pigs at the helm.  Certainly, from their governments to their board of directors to each and every employee, they did not have  their hands tied above their heads and placed on a water-board to follow the same greedy, speculative path that the good ole’ USA had chosen.  There were ALWAYS options, such as assuming regulatory, corporate and individual responsibility.  So no, Mr. Krugman, this time you have gone overboard.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/30/opinion/30krugman.html

In my opinion, Europe has always shown a lack of guts and backbone, instead sitting by and watching whatever outrage (the Nazis marching in to Czechoslovakia in 1938, Poland in 1939, the monstrous murder of six million Jews right in their own backyard, the German occupation of France during WW II, the blitzing of London during that same time period, the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 —– should I go on or is that enough?) visited their lands.  Furthermore, I have observed that once Europe chose to be just a bystander to events happening on their continent, they then bitched and moaned, turned tail, and whined and cried that the U.S. needs to come save them.  And we did.

Well  Mr. Krugman, I take exception to that tack.  It is time for each and every country, corporation and individual to save themselves through intelligence, responsible policies and dedication to the fight for what is right.  By stupidity and greed, the U.S. almost brought down its own house.  Looks like our European counterparts blindly followed suit, and now want to blame our country for their sheep-like actions.  This time Europe needs to stand on its own two feet, not exemplify its typical cowardice, take the necessary punches and blame for allowing the same garbage that the U. S. allowed to get by them, all for the sake of personal enrichment.  Mr. Krugman, Europe, as well as our own nation, needs to pay the piper.

On another point, I believe that Krugman will be proven wrong.  Everyone and their mother are predicting an angry backlash towards President Obama and our nation once he hits the European shores for the G20 economic summit this week.  I foresee the people of Europe rallying around Obama, not trashing him.  They will turn on their own leaders who, like the null and void GOP and such companies like GM and Chrysler, have not done their homework and instead rely on their stunning good looks   (Ha!) to get them a huge infusion of government money to avoid any real work to change the financial particulars of their companies and the necessary innovative responsiveness that the future requires.  Taking public money to maintain the same old status quo does not a turnaround make.  In government as well as finance, we have seen a total abrogation of anything that resembles responsibility, both here and across the pond.

Good on ya’, Mr. President, for firing Rick Wagoner’s ass at GM.  He has had months to come up with a viable plan to save his company and place it in the running for future industry innovation and leadership.  Leadership begets leadership, and Wagoner has not delivered.

President Obama has delivered and will continue to do so on many fronts.  He has taken the mantra of responsibility from his and Michelle’s personal realm, by refusing the allotted $100,000 to renovate the White House’s living quarters and instead will spend their own money, to the corporate world by giving GM and Chrysler 30 to 60 days to get their act in gear or  undergo restructuring, to showing the world that yes, we have a leader, and a damn good one, in the United States of America.  He has guts and conviction, something historically missing from “the continent”.  Watch what happens when he makes his sojourn to Europe.  Obama will set the stage for global cooperation, economically and ideologically, by his example of sacrifice and vision.  Europe is going to have to take the same difficult steps we must to assure a fruitful recovery.   Krugman is wrong: there will be tremendous support for this man who will turn out to be not only our great hope, but also that of the world.

I am annoyed at Krugman for slamming our country so quickly and completely.  Who says a flaming liberal can not be a patriot?**

**The term “liberal patriot” is not an oxymoron.  Here is an example of what is an oxymoron.  Having lived in the D.C. metropolitan area for over two decades, I often drive by the CIA headquarters.  Years ago, that facility was renamed The George Bush Center For Intelligence, referring to the first President Bush.  That, my friends, is an oxymoron, equating George Bush with any degree of smarts.  However, little did I realize until his son, George W. assumed the presidency, that the CIA’s new name wasn’t so bad.  Everything is relative, and George the Second made his father seem like a genius.

Weekend Wackos

March 28, 2009

Let’s hear it for those wacky, wily and widiculous Republicans.  They want to return to power so badly that they present empty (literally) political ploys which have translated into twisted rationalizations and ended up as mere delusions.  But hey!  President Bush, at the height of his unpopularity, still scored favorable ratings of around 25%.  New York’s Governor Paterson recently posted a 19% favorable rating.  So it appears that even in the worst of times, at the nadir of public servants’ performance records, about a quarter of Americans are still supportive of incompetence, mismanagement and laziness.  And the GOP is thrilled with that.

Michael Steele, head of the GOP, put forth that his gaffes are actually carefully planned strategies, not incidental, but totally purposeful.  I do not believe this for a minute:

http://blow.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/03/28/steele-ridiculous/

Can you imagine if Steele was ever elected President, and committed some atrocious act of policy and then came back and said, “I was only testing the waters”?  Yikes!  He may be able to fool himself, but he dare not throw that baloney at me for even one second.

Perhaps the piece de resistance is the budget the GOP brought forth.  It included very few actual numbers, but instead, was an 18 page whatever, a pledge to Republican principles without any numbers.  No numbers in a budget?  Eighteen pages to describe the largest budget in the world?  Am I missing something here?

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/26/AR2009032603694.html?sub=AR

So welcome to our world, where 25% of us will always be there for the nothingness that passes as leadership and government.

POSTSCRIPT

Lookee what I found:

Wage Sanity

March 27, 2009

The United States needs to set the example of waging peace through its yet-to-be rediscovered use of sanity and prudent simplicity.

Nationally, the issue that caught my eye today was the banking fiasco.  Specifically, from Madoff down to the most general problem of the financial industry, a certain sweeping aside of ethics coupled with a dearth of oversight and regulation, has permitted we humans to corrode our financial bulwark.  How did this happen?  Is human nature to blame?  Dan Ariely is a Professor of Behavioral Economics at Duke and also heads up the MIT Media Lab program called eRationality.  Listen to his talk on the “human fudge factor” and his interpretation of how individual, personal recklessness became institutional, largely anonymous negligence:

I have no taste for leveraging myself.  However, I do understand that on a much broader basis, i.e. that of huge corporations, governments, the free flow of credit and liquidity are essential for commerce and productivity to be beneficial.  However, I daresay that I have often wondered, even before this crisis set in, why our banks, indeed almost all of America’s businesses, feel they must be in a mode of constant growth and expansion.  What ever happened to our friendly corner bank where a local could walk in, open a savings account (Remember Christmas accounts?), arrange a fair mortgage and/or a business loan with the bank officials and develop an actual relationship with that bank that, in the long run, would benefit the local consumer as well as the bank itself?  I recall the times way back then when your local bank knew their geographical area of service better than anyone else.  They made their loan decisions based on that knowledge, actually did their due diligence, cared about the outcome in terms of the entire community and had a tangible interest in that community prospering.  It is difficult to recapture the past, but Paul Krugman in today’s N.Y. Times makes similar murmurings about the banking industry:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/27/opinion/27krugman.html?_r=1

The hell with Krugman’s Nobel Prize: it is his common sense and basic value system that impresses me.

Internationally, there is much talk on Afghanistan.  As I  have written about many times, world peace will happen when economic and political stability take hold.  Guns, bombs and militaristic nation building will never have any long lasting, transformative effects.  It is only when aid, starting on the level of each individual, offers hope and change for that one life and then works its way up through society, will afford us a peaceful world.

There is an annual meeting called the Camden Conference that takes place in Maine.  The Camden Conference was “founded in 1987 (Coincidentally the same year that AIG christened its financial products unit.).  The Camden Conference is a nonprofit, non-partisan educational organization whose mission is to FOSTER INFORMED DISCOURSE ON WORLD ISSUES.”  This year’s meeting just took place and its title was “Global Leadership and the U.S. Role in World Affairs”.  All the participants’ speeches  are linked below:

http://www.camdenconference.org/camcasts/428/keynote-address-foreign-policy-challenges-facing-the-new-administration

I tuned in to NPR to hear a large portion of former national security adviser Brent Skowcroft’s lecture.  An audience member asked the question as to why we called the fight against terrorism the “war” on terror.  He claimed that by assigning such incendiary descriptions we actually add fuel to the fire and this process prevents us from coming up with viable solutions.  Skowcroft agreed that we need to sit down and talk with our enemies in order to understand the underlying rationale for their behavior.  Language goes a long way in setting the stage for cooperation.  He said that suicide bombers are not born with the intention of blowing up themselves and innocent others.  This final tactic goes against all that is human nature, and if we could offer understanding, support and help to these needy people, we might be able to alter future death and destruction.  Simple, right?  We need to give it a go.

Today, President Obama gave his Afghanistan review.  Certainly our business-as-usual efforts of military seek-and-destroy methods in Iraq were not very successful.  To tear down a government and society is not the way for a better path to democracy and freedom.  Thus, this administration, I think, knows the importance of trying other, less antagonistic, ways to foster peace and prosperity.  If individuals and entire nations are taught how to prosper economically, usually a sane political atmosphere will result.  To those ends, Obama went with VP Biden’s emphasis on building up Afghanistan’s (and, of course, Pakistan’s) infrastructure from within, to stabilize that country with the aid from abroad but the efforts of their own citizens.  This policy was in contrast to that of Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Gates and General Petraeus, who all favored a militaristic nation building assault.  In the end, the result will be the same: a stabilized Afghanistan that can rule responsibly its own show.  The necessity of sending an additional 4,000 American troops to Afghanistan is understandable, as Obama made clear today.  He wants these troops there to shore up the Afghan security forces.  How ingenious:  Obama is using the military to BUILD UP, not to TEAR DOWN.  Of course, it would be so much more impressive if we could set the standard by choosing sane and reasonable tactics, as opposed to bombardment and terror, to foster that process.

At any rate, Obama is looking at this situation somewhat differently than anyone else has before.  He  is certainly entertaining innovative courses of actions.  I think he gets it that in order to stem hate, terrorism and destruction, to quell the forces that fuel al-Qaida and the Taliban, first we must sit down and talk to these people and find out their motivation.  I can guarantee that it will almost always go back to economic hardship, which translates into radical political activism.  I hope Obama will stick to his guns and NOT use guns.  Instead, I hope he uses his head.  The number three person at the Pentagon, Michele Flournoy, Undersecretary for Policy, is a superb example of the type of person, with a whole new mindset, we need to set the course in our peace seeking international policy.  With people like Flournoy offering advice, Obama may be able to make peace rather than war.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=102416426

Overall, by rediscovering old policies that worked and revamping new policies that have not yet been tried, the United States has the chance to be a leader again both nationally and globally.  We can show everyone else, BY EXAMPLE, the purposefulness and longevity of the principles upon which our country was founded over 200 years ago.  We need to wage sanity.

POSTSCRIPT

Life and the world around us are malleable; they are what we make it.  Does this movie trailer for “Where the Wild Things Are” remind you of anyone special?

Frost Heaves

March 23, 2009

Perspective. In order to get through life’s trying times, perspective, welling up from common sense and humor, is imperative.

In Maine, there is a winter phenomenon called frost heaves. A frost heave is basically a bump in the road. Water seeps under the pavement, then freezes and expands as winter sets in. The result is a huge bump in the road. These frost heaves make driving in Maine during the winter a whole lot of fun; it is better than a roller coaster, including the unexpectedness of the bumps but not the severe turns and violent ups and downs of a real roller coaster that would put me in physical therapy for months . It is not all fun and games though. Once winter passes, the ice underneath the road surface melts, the ground becomes soft and the road usually breaks up. Thus, repaving is necessary.

So it is with our crisis of confidence today. We must be willing to accept the bumps in the road and carry on to fulfill the larger picture. Facing up to this AIG bonus scandal is like moving through the various stages of facing death: first there is denial because we are stunned, then we become angry as all get out, followed by a willingness to bargain, then depression, but finally we accept the facts. Sustained anger and revenge are just not healthy for any of us. It is not that President Obama does not care about AIG’s missteps. It is just that he refuses to let their thievery prevent him from getting done what needs to get done. He grounds himself in plain old common sense. Further, his media appearances are not meant to make light of the situation, but through his use of humor, to diffuse it.

The following links will help to handle the outrage we all feel at this financial and ethical debacle. In no way do I use these examples as a means of belittling the severity of this crisis. Its effects must not be minimized. But a break in our anger is healthy. I have always admired Judge Judy, first and foremost for her groundedness, her common sense. Last week she had a sit-down with Larry King and they discussed all matters from AIG to Bernie Madoff to the Octomom. Judge Judy is one smart cookie who definitely has a productive perspective on life.

http://www.cnn.com/2009/SHOWBIZ/TV/03/17/lkl.judge.judy/index.html#cnnSTCVideo

Perhaps her words that stick in my mind best, is when asked to analyze President Obama’s Presidency so far, are that there is no doubt that he is “well-intentioned.” Even though there is a lot that needs fixing in our country, I am confident that Obama wants the best for us. How heroic of him to undertake this metamorphosis that ranges from a change in our fundamental values to health care reform to energy independence to climate control.

Frank Rich of the New York Times echoes my take on this situation:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/22/opinion/22rich.html?_r=1&em

Our nation needs to face directly, all at one time, all that ails us. Our old and ongoing policies (or lack thereof) have weakened us. President Obama is correct when he says that to ignore these problems might just drag us all the way down. These issues are too important to be put on hold once again.

The other part of perspective is humor. President Obama and Judge Judy both value the power of a good laugh. I am sure that in light of the serious issues facing them, humor serves to keep them sane. Humor is my first refuge from getting out from under misery. NPR had a show on Saturday called “Wait Wait….Don’t Tell Me!”. It is a weekly review of current news and listeners call in to participate in different games. The most recent panel included three comedians along with the moderator. I haven’t laughed so hard in months. If you can find a half hour or so to just chill and recoup your mental health, go to this link and have a listen. I promise you will not be disappointed:

http://www.npr.org/templates/rundowns/rundown.php?prgId=35

The best part of this show was the prize they offer to winning contestants. No bonuses, no stock options and no bull sh**. Instead, one of the participating comedians will record a message on the winner’s answering machine. That, my friends, is innovation.

As with Maine’s frost heaves, whose annual appearance provides me with so much fun, come spring the piper must be paid. So it is with all these problems we face as a nation. Bump after bump in the road must not prevent us from getting to the finish line. We need to follow President Obama’s lead and take stock, get some perspective on the whole picture. Common sense and humor will make that road a little bit more palatable.

Heave ho!

Blind Faith

March 20, 2009

Our government and Congress have not done their homework and are now scrambling like the idiots they are to enact more off-the-cuff, ill-thought-out fixes.  For Heaven’s sake, take a breath.  Think it through and stop all this action in the name of blind faith.

George Bush, Number 43, swathed his total being in blind faith.  Whether he had blind faith in religion, in the goodness of the American people or in the sanctity of American commerce, he used this “higher calling” as an escape to avoid the issues at hand.  When blind faith, such as “God will take care of post-Katrina New Orleans” and “we need to let our economy find its own way, without regulation or oversight”, is an excuse for intellectual analysis and remediation, all hope is lost.

Enter Barack Obama.  Not perfect, but so much better that what came before him.  Can he control idiots like Christopher Dodd and Tim Geithner, who taper legislation any way they choose so that any iota of fair play, common sense and protection of the American taxpayer is guaranteed?  No, President Obama missed that boat.

However, recuperative measures are still available.  When AIG failed, the government was not allowed to treat AIG as they did the banks.  This is because, by definition, AIG is not a bank; it does not take deposits.  The only alternative was to loan them scads of money or have then declare Chapter 11 and reorganize.  I am increasingly of the mind that AIG should have been allowed to go bankrupt.  Sweep the parlor, sweep it clean, so no dust can be seen.

Levying a 90% tax on the AIG bonuses is just a punishing, retaliatory measure that Congress hopes will save them face.  Furthermore, this action goes against an item of constitutional law, called a bill of attainder:

Bill of Attainder

Definition: A legislative act that singles out an individual or group for punishment without a trial.

The Constitution of the United States, Article I, Section 9, paragraph 3 provides that: “No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law will be passed.”

“The Bill of Attainder Clause was intended not as a narrow, technical (and therefore soon to be outmoded) prohibition, but rather as an implementation of the separation of powers, a general safeguard against legislative exercise of the judicial function or more simply – trial by legislature.”  U.S. v. Brown, 381 U.S. 437, 440 (1965).

“These clauses of the Constitution are not of the broad, general nature of the Due Process Clause, but refer to rather precise legal terms which had a meaning under English law at the time the Constitution was adopted.  A bill of attainder was a legislative act that singled out one or more persons and imposed punishment on them, without benefit of trial.  Such actions were regarded as odious by the framers of the Constitution because it was the traditional role of a court, judging an individual case, to impose punishment.”  William H. Rehnquist, The Supreme Court, page 166.

“Bills of attainder, ex post facto laws, and laws impairing the obligations of contracts, are contrary to the first principles of the social compact, and to every principle of sound legislation. … The sober people of America are weary of the fluctuating policy which has directed the public councils.  They have seen with regret and indignation that sudden changes and legislative interferences, in cases affecting personal rights, become jobs in the hands of enterprising and influential speculators, and snares to the more-industrious and less-informed part of the community.”  James Madison, Federalist Number 44, 1788.

Speed  must not be the overriding factor is setting AIG straight.  Yesterday’s Congressional act in passing this 90% tax was allowed merely one hour for discussion.  A bill of attainder is legislative punishment without the benefit of a trial, which violates our Constitution.  We rushed into passing TARP on that fateful Friday in the fall of 2008.  We rushed into passing the stimulus package in February without allocating enough time for Congress to thoroughly read through the act and follow up on its actual content AFTER it emerged from committees.  Now we are rushing to enact legislation to fix all that went before.  Oy vey.

No wonder President Obama has taken to the road.  Washington is out of control.  He is taking his case to the people, in his best campaign style.  Yesterday he held a town hall meeting in Los Angeles and his sheer magnetism and common sense once again awed his audience.  Their gratitude and relief that he is our President filled the hall.  He stated his case, and I paraphrase, on the issues at hand: “To kick these problems down the road for another four or eight years is not a solution.  Our problems have been ignored for too long.  We must face them and solve them now.  The same holds true for Afghanistan and Pakistan.  To those who say I am too ambitious, I say we need to take on all of these problems at one time and that time is now.  This is what leadership is all about.”

President Obama’s critics have no clue as to what leadership is, having banked on their blind faith and having slept along with Bush for the last eight years.  So of course we are in a mess.  Obama wants to resolve these issues and is planning a media blitz in the next week to pave the way for the passage of his budget.  He is taking his all-inclusive budget directly to the people.  Genius.  He is selling his agenda with a large dose of honesty.  He said yesterday that it is not going to be pretty, it is going to cost a lot of money and people are going to be angry.  This is however, the time and place to face, head-on, health care reform, energy independence and climate control.  These are attached to his budget and without any timidity or modesty, Obama is going to use this mandate, this political capital, of the first year of his Presidency, to get this budget passed.  His chance for future success will never equal his current popular power.

One more thing: all the money in the world and every ounce of deceitful blind faith will not make Humpty Dumpty whole again, domestically or globally.  AIG did not manage their own money well, so is it any surprise that they are squandering our government’s funds?  Similarly, this principle applies to our international dealings.  The U.S. is currently throwing huge sums of money at Pakistan, but not specifying any means as to how they should spend it. Yesterday, NPR had on a Pakistani national (forgive me, I couldn’t write down his credentials as I was driving) who pleaded and begged for the U.S. to designate specific projects that the money should be spent on, i.e. schools, bridges, utilities, or roads.  We are currently sending our aid down a black hole in Pakistan.  Even though they supposedly have a civilian government, it is the military and radical Islam elements that truly rule the country.  Thus, our financial help is being routed to exactly those causes that we are trying to erase.

AIG , Pakistan, unrestricted funds, no oversight, a financial black hole, blind faith.  Such are the guiding lessons of today:  accepting dubious innovation and unfettered speculation over careful planning,  instituting quick fixes to stem the initial horrors and calling on blind faith to see us through.  President Obama is trying to stem this ethical holocaust by bringing our fundamental values back into play.  His mission seems earnest, his honesty intact.  The naysayers would have you believe differently because the solution is not going to be quick or easy and will make every one of us question all that went before.  If you have any doubts about President Obama’s intentions, have a look at this video:


Then read these lyrics to “The Innocent Man” by Bill Joel:

Some people stay far away from the door
If there’s a chance of it opening up
They hear a voice in the hall outside
And hope that it just passes by

Some people live with the fear of a touch
And the anger of having been a fool
They will not listen to anyone
So nobody tells them a lie

I know you’re only protecting yourself
I know you’re thinking of somebody else
Someone who hurt you
But I’m not above
Making up for the love
You’ve been denying you could ever feel
I’m not above doing anything
To restore your faith if I can
Some people see through the eyes of the old
Before they ever get a look at the young
I’m only willing to hear you cry
Because I am an innocent man
I am an innocent man
Oh yes I am

Some people say they will never believe
Another promise they hear in the dark
Because they only remember too well
They heard somebody tell them before

Some people sleep all alone every night
Instead of taking a lover to bed
Some people find that it’s easier to hate
Than to wait anymore

I know you don’t want to hear what I say
I know you’re gonna keep turning away
But I’ve been there and if I can survive
I can keep you alive
I’m not above going through it again
I’ve not above being cool for a while
If you’re cruel to me I’ll understand

Some people run from a possible fight
Some people figure they can never win
And although this is a fight I can lose
The accused is an innocent man
I am an innocent man
Oh yes I am
An innocent man

You know you only hurt yourself out of spite
I guess you’d rather be a martyr tonight
That’s your decision
But I’m not below
Anybody I know
If there’s a chance of resurrecting a love
I’m not above going back to the start
To find out where the heartache began

Some people hope for a miracle cure
Some people just accept the world as it is
But I’m not willing to lay down and die
Because I am an innocent man

I am an innocent man
Oh yes I am
An innocent man

Have we become so tarnished that we can not tell the forest from the trees?  Have we become so jaded that we are willing to go along with the emptiness of blind faith rather than take a deep breath and dive into new possibilities?  Get some guts, America.  Your President has.




Stumbles Versus Free-Fall

March 19, 2009

Jeezy Wheezy, are we ever up to our necks in trouble. But keep the faith; we will come out to the other side of this better. We certainly cannot be much worse off than we are now.  Understand and accept that there will be stumbles on our path to ethical and economic health.

I hope the government now knows the foolishness and danger inherent in allowing corporations unfettered growth. This protest against immenseness  has been my credo for many months. This is particularly important because the lawmakers have had no clue as to what constitutes abuse of power. Let me explain.

AIG basically became two companies in 1987 when they created their financial products unit.   Alongside of this new unit, they maintained their longstanding, steady, highly capitalized and profitable insurance business. It was this sexy financial products unit that poisoned the well by selling esoteric, unregulated, preposterous financial investments. Their losses were so enormous that the toxicity spread to the entire organization. Furthermore, the poison then spread from AIG to many of the other financial institutions, such as Goldman Sachs and many major foreign banks, that purchased these trumped-up, emperor’s- new-clothes investments.  However, I for one would like to know who authorized TARP and stimulus funds at 100% on the dollar to be paid to major financial houses and global banks.

Our government’s blindness to the danger inherent in these behemoth corporations and the havoc they were wreaking with their ridiculously risky investments only compounded the peril. Congress decided in the fall of 2008 that they needed to take immediate action to fend off a total collapse of our economy. They figured that the risk of waiting was greater than the risk of making the TARP funds available. So one Friday afternoon, they passed the first installment of TARP funds, allocating a large portion to AIG. They had not done their diligence. They knew only that these companies were so large that fear ruled the day. The chance that there could be a domino effect if even one company was allowed to fail was so frightening to the lawmakers that they could not wait even two days to discuss this plan in more detail. Instead, they authorized the release of funds without any restrictions. The deal was done and these Congressmen could now take off for the weekend. Mission accomplished. Hmmmm….. Where else have I heard that phrase?

I just heard on the morning news that Fannie Mae is about to distribute retention payments of $470,000 to $611,000 to four of their key, “essential” employees.  I beg of our Congress: if these bonuses are truly retention payments, please put on the books some requirement that these employees must stay on at the company for at least a year. or two. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Have we not learned anything yet, or shall we continue in this war of fear overwhelming reason and preparedness?

In all fairness, you should also know that the dire straits at AIG were well known by the mid 1990’s. Two presidents and numerous congresses chose to ignore the warning signs and just hope for the best. That party is over. President Obama has his work cut out for him. He is acting out of a real desire to save this country. However, even though we need to recognize that he was handed this mess when he took office, any missteps on the road to recovery can be fatal. It is not like we have been through this scenario before. Obama needs some leeway, much more money and firm support rather than an all- encompassing criticism to get him and us past this depression made so much worse by the selfishness, ignorance and corruption that precipitated it.

Mistakes will be made along the way. Accept them and move on. I know in my heart and mind that this President has no ulterior motive or hidden agenda in his efforts to rectify this situation. He is as honest as the day is long. Does that mean that he and we will not stumble along the way? Absolutely not.

Trust me: Obama’s stumbles will look like gifts compared to the past leadership we supposedly had.  The United States’ economy has been in free-fall for a long time now, mainly due to the money-grubbing, thrill-seeking  financial industry coupled with the tacit approval of our government. The justification was that while there were no regulations to rein in these dangerous practices, we were in an up economy, so the consequences were secondary to all the money that was being reaped in.  “Raped” is definitely a more appropriate term.

Above all, Obama must save the banking industry, as it is the bedrock of our economy.  Even though the banking framework stinks from the top to the bottom, he must forge ahead to rescue it.   This is one of those inconsistencies that we must accept.  But he must also attach to those measures certain restrictions that will forbid any tomfoolery and theft of taxpayers’ monies.  Indeed: save the system but not without a thorough sweeping out of the malevolent forces that caused its near collapse.

This is a tough order to fill.  Obama will do it.  I will take his stumbles any day over the wild free- fall we have had over the last decade.  Gimme shelter.

Anger Aside

March 18, 2009

The biggest danger we face now as a nation is our anger.  The deserved outrage at AIG for dispensing huge bonuses with our tax dollars must be kept in check so that this recovery may take hold and have a chance of success.  To let our disgust rule the day, like water seeking the lowest level, would be self-defeatist and imperil our existence as America as we have known it.

Perhaps a short history of AIG is in order.   AIG is a company that wrote insurance policies.  Yes, they were always huge in size, but they were diligent about the policies they put in place and had actuaries doing what actuaries do.  AIG was a pillar of financial repute, a very conservative, strong company that had assets of one trillion dollars.

Two things happened to change the steady course of AIG.  First, AIG set up a new financial unit dedicated to investments.  Getting carried away with the creative side of their inventiveness, AIG got on the bandwagon by selling such garbage as derivatives and futures on those derivatives, i.e junk being covered up by more junk.  Given the creation of this new unit, AIG became, in reality, two companies: the steadfast, stodgy, blue chip insurance arm, and then this riding-high, thrill-seeking, financial unit.  The risk they undertook was huge, all in the hopes of a large payout.  It was this financial products division that incurred the $500 billion of losses and brought down the entire company with it.  The cowboys poisoned the suits.  Secondly, in the mid 1990’s, legislators both Democratic and Republican, chose to de-regulate, or completely ignore, the creative, never-been-seen-before financial products that were hitting the market.  They were of the mind that government interference would be ineffective plus any fraud that would result from these activities would be worked out by the market itself.  Not too different from the GOP stance today, right?

The result of this supposed regulatory benign neglect coupled with a corporate greed incentivized by performance compensation, was the catastrophe we see before us today.  However, we must clean up this mess, not ignore it, in order to save ourselves.  The bonuses that AIG paid out to those exact people in the financial products unit who sucked the system dry is the icing on the cake.  The payments are being justified by being labelled as “retention payments” rather than bonuses.  The government and we taxpayers now own 80% of AIG.  The argument for these bonuses was that it was necessary to keep a number of AIG’s employees in place because they are the only ones who know how to unravel the web of huge risk and deceit they created.  So do tell: will these risk-takers be as dishonest in the undoing as they were in the doing?  Furthermore, eleven of these employees who received over one million dollars each have up and left the company anyway.  Retention payments?  No way.  Just as Tim Geithner and our white knight government was lax in delving into AIG’s contractual compensation obligations BEFORE any bailout money was offered, so too are they guilty now of fulfilling those retention payments without a new contract that actually assures retention.  What a web we weave.

Nevertheless, number one on the agenda is that our banking system needs to be saved, and then completely overhauled.  This is not the time to cut and run.  I did not have an affinity for Tim Geithner before, and I still do not.  Ditto for Larry Summers.  I am on the fence about Ben Bernanke.  We have heard many excuses for these outrageous bonuses because the people in charge, such as the ones I just mentioned, did not want to panic the American people.  Puhleese.  Certainly all three men knew about these bonuses before AIG was given our money, but in their infinite wisdom, decided to keep the truth from us to keep us calm.  There is nothing to be calm about!  Their cover-up has only added insult to injury.  That, my friends, is the main source of outrage Americans are venting today.

We will always have crises; it is part and parcel of living and existing.  The definition of the word crisis includes the element of surprise, of not expecting at all the event at hand.  9/11 certainly was atrocious, but the mind-numbing effect was its total unexpectedness.  The same holds true for our current crisis of domestic, fiscal terrorism.  America was flying high, on bloated housing values, reckless compensation packages that fostered unethical business practices and products and an unregulated government that did not want to be considered intrusive.

This current economic crisis is now a fact.  All the king’s men can sit around and contemplate what went wrong and blame our new President for its occurrence; hindsight is 20/20.  Humpty Dumpty will never be able to be put back together again (thank Heavens!), so President Obama is in the throes of devising a new system.  This will take time and money.  The only constant of a crisis is its unpredictability.  The American people deserve an administration that will adjust and adapt to whatever crisis is at hand.  With that in mind, President Obama is trying his best to deal with each issue that comes up, and everyday there is a new surprise.  Additionally, let’s not kid ourselves: we will need a lot more bailout and recovery infusions than have been already authorized.

It is so tempting to want to have the heads of those embroiled in this crisis.  Hold up: this time in our history calls for a coalescing of forces, not a splintering into a million different, conflicting groups.  Shame on those 15  moderate Democratic congressmen for forming a separate entity today to “solve” the problem.  Idiots!  They need to get behind their President, not sabotage his efforts or put up obstacles to his real desire to right these wrongs.  Make no bones about it: we are in a depression, economic in nature but caused by greed, corruption, lack of oversight and an inordinate degree of risk taken to haul in mountains of riches.  Unless we can reinstate ethical considerations, we are lost.

I said it before and I will say it again: President Obama is the only ray, and a sliver at that, of hope we have to come up with answers to our problems.  Despite the daily occurrences of new, surprising information, he is the only one who embodies the intellect, calmness and honesty necessary to get a handle on and remedy what ails us.  It is imperative that our people and lawmakers support him.

President Obama deserves this shot, as do the American people.  Anger must be put away on the shelf  for a later inventory-taking.  Right now we need to address the empty pantry.

FOR YOUR READING:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/18/opinion/18friedman.html

Worrywart

March 16, 2009

I fret too much and too often.  I am a worrywart.

Overall, the Federal Reserve leader Ben Bernanke’s interview on “60 Minutes” last evening was forthright, rational and uplifting.  There were two tidbits that he spoke about though that caused me some agita.  To begin with, Bernanke said of this recession, in response to Scott Pelley’s question:

“What are the dangers now? What keeps you up at night?” Pelley asked.

Bernanke answered:

“I think the biggest risk is that, you know, we don’t have the political will. We don’t have the commitment to solve this problem, and that we let it just continue. In which case, you know, we can’t count on recovery,” Bernanke said.

Remember right before we entered into our current war with Iraq and Colin Powell  said that the most important element that will decide our course of success will be the “generational commitment” to our fighting in the Middle East,  to promoting democracy and nation building in that region?  Taking his cue from Boss Bush, Powell went on to comment that the American people do not have a proven history or taste for patience and fortitude with regard to long, drawn out and deadly wars.  He asked for the public’s support should the Iraq war drag on.  And so it did, despite Bush’s lack of foresight, intellect and propriety when he announced a few months later, aboard an aircraft carrier , “Mission accomplished.”

Last night we heard Bernanke speak  again about America’s need for long-term commitment, this time to the recovery plan, not an egotistical war.  Even though Bernanke inspired a whole lot more confidence than Bush did, I shivered a little at his verbiage and concept because it echoed those of Powell.

The second comment made by Bernanke that caused me some nausea was:

“But the ….  final thing I’d just like to say to the American People is that I have every confidence that this economy will recover, and recover in a strong and sustained way. The American people are among the most productive in the world. We have the best technologies. We have great universities. We have entrepreneurs. I just have every confidence that as we get through this crisis, that our economy will begin to grow again, and it will remain the most powerful and dynamic economy in the world.”

Once again, the superlative is the only way for America to survive and exist and, as we have witnessed this last year, it is this exact superlative principle that almost was the death of America.  Why oh why, must we always have uninterrupted growth?  Why oh why must we always be the “best”, the “most dynamic and powerful” force in the world?  Perhaps our habit of setting up impossible standards has been the real culprit in creating our culture of greed and corruption, and thus, our fall from grace.  Let us be content with a stable economy, one that shows steady growth, but not persistent, explosive, unregulated and suspect expansion.  We have learned firsthand the kind of trouble that can cause.

Thus, I worry.  Are past practices always indicative of future results?  Yet I am hopeful for Bernanke’s and Obama’s recovery plan.  I will suspend my negativity and place some trust in their hands.  Certainly these men both bring to the table personal qualities that are far removed from those embodied by Bush.  In fact, President Obama finally came to the party today when he addressed AIG’s outrageous behavior, as reported by Jonathan Weisman of the Wall Street Journal:

President Barack Obama, trying to contain a political firestorm, said he has instructed Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner “pursue every legal avenue” to block $165 million in bonuses to American International Group executives who were in part responsible for the company’s near collapse.

“This is a corporation that finds itself in financial distress due to recklessness and greed,” Obama planned to say ahead of announcing a plan to rescue small businesses through a raft of new lending options, according to prepared remarks released by the White House. “Under these circumstances, it’s hard to understand how derivative traders at AIG warranted any bonuses, much less $165 million in extra pay. How do they justify this outrage to the taxpayers who are keeping the company afloat?”

“This isn’t just a matter of dollars and cents. It’s about our fundamental values,” he added.

Hallelujah!  Glory be!  Imagine that: fundamental values.  So I will hope for the best but continue to worry about realizing the worst.

The Real Anarchist

March 16, 2009

My husband says that I am the face of anarchy.  I told him in response, if I am the face of anarchy, what is AIG?  A Daily KOS reader commented on my post “Sabbath Sunday Service”:

You will really enjoy your cell at Leavenworth. No seriously–did you withhold your taxes when Bush was killing innocents in Iraq?  If not, this is a silly threat and you’re fighting the side that is trying to fix our problems.  Understandable, but silly.

So besides being an anarchist, I am also silly.  That is okay with me.  What the hell is AIG doing here?  Their contractual agreements to pay these bonuses originated before the bailout, so they think this money, MY MONEY, actually allows them to forge ahead with the very practices that got them in this hole in the first place.  I may be a raging, inane protester, but stupid I am not.  Robert Reich says it best below.  If you have ever read any of my links, you MUST read this short commentary:


It appears that our government is still acting out of fear, rather than in strength of what is right, in accepting AIG’s pathetic explanation for their bonus policies.  Our great constitutional government was hoping to short circuit this continuation of greed and corruption by SHAMING AIG into taking the proper course of action.  In fact, on Sunday’s political talk shows, Larry Summers and Ben Bernanke both admitted that they are very angry with AIG and its leader, Mr. Liddy.  Oh yeah —– Mr. Liddy said it is imperative that these promised bonuses get paid so AIG could retain their “best” talent.  Honey pie, if that is the best talent, we are in deep, deep trouble.  Shame is appropriate, but what is really needed IS temporary nationalization, a boot in the can for Liddy and a sweeping out of this incredible talent.  A poll today showed over 80% of Americans are mad as hell not only at AIG., but moreover at our government for sitting by  AIG, offering tacit consent, to abuse our hard-earned money.  My dear President Obama, as you yourself said in many of your campaign speeches, “Enough is enough.”

AIG is an organization of rip-roaring idiots who are calling our bluff because of their size.  Screw their size.  Do we castigate them by merely saying “Shame on you” like we do in the case of a disobedient  pre-schooler, or actually put an end to their reprehensible actions?  Do we condone their behavior, past, present and future, by simply playing the shame game, or do we include, right from the beginning, new rules, conditions of acceptance of bailout funds, under which these companies MUST abide?  The answer seems pretty clear to me, even as anarchical and silly as it might appear.

AIG IS THE ANARCHIST, not Yo Mama, and our government is a complicit partner.  Get it straight.  Somebody has to.

Sabbath Sunday Service

March 15, 2009

Frank Rich of the New York Times has his hot Sunday stuff today:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/15/opinion/15rich.html

Culture wars, shmulture wars.  Religion and right wing exclusionary ideology are substitutes for the financially and intellectually destitute.  Those GOP leaders, Limbaugh and Gingrich, have SIX marriages between them.  Need I say more?  How many babies in the Palin family were really born out of wedlock?  Need I say more?  None of this would matter except for the fact that these bastions of religious, ethical and moral platitudes are totally void of any of those principles themselves.

Let’s take it down a notch.  NPR has a “Tiny Desk Concert” program where various members of the arts visit the NPR offices and perform.  Back to basics: small is beautiful.  Life can be manageable.  Ultimate reward comes from individual connections.  Less is more.  Tom Jones rocks, especially in his last song here:

Finally, my Sunday worship would not be complete unless I include my confession that I will withhold the appropriate amount of taxes owed to Uncle Sam that amounts to my share of the bailout funds given to AIG.  Ask me if I care whether or not my whole life’s employment history, my superb credit rating, my hard-earned financial independence, my respect for the letter of the law and my moral backbone will go down the toilet.  AIG is using my honestly earned and well managed tax dollars to pay out bonuses to the very people responsible for the downfall of their company and possibly our economy.  My reaction is not anarchy;  AIG’s cheating and lying ways ARE.  So how come I will be thrown in jail, after ignoring IRS penalties and accrued interest, and AIG is rewarded for their behavior?  Why is my protest punishable but AIG’s initial and ONGOING fraud acceptable?

AIG announced this morning that they will trim their bonuses by 30%, after Tim Geithner applied some pressure.  Not good enough.  That is still like “being a little pregnant.”  Oh, I almost forgot in light of my Sunday service:  Newt, “Poppin Fresh” dough boy Rush, certainly that righteous Palin family and AIG are allowed to be “a little pregnant”.  Yo Mama is not.

This is not a “culture” war; it is just simply an all-out war of individual responsibility versus institutionalized lawlessness.  This is true blasphemy, a disdain and disregard for the laws of our land, plain and simple.  My very own government is ordering me to support illegal and immoral practices.  It is one thing to contribute my tax dollars to the efforts of running a viable country.  It is totally another thing to require my tax dollars to help poison the system.  No culture, no government, can make me participate in that fraud.  What?  Is this the Nuremberg defense, i.e. “I only did what I was told to do,” all over again?  I was brought up much better than that.  I was taught right from wrong much better than that.  I have lived my life in support of lawful and moral credos much better than that.  I have raised my two children, the true bastions of all that is good, much better than that.  My “culture” barometer has been honed by a well-lived, principled life and I will not go against it, even for my “country”, whose ongoing survival seems to now be based on illegal activities.

So they might as well come and get me.  Just shoot me now.