Archives for: February 2010
What do you do when you're the Democratic candidate for Governor of Illinois on the same ticket with a candidate that is completely unacceptable?
A generation ago, Adlai Stevenson III had just won the Democratic primary for governor. He had narrowly lost, in the opinion of some of us, in a stolen election 4 years earlier. Staffers for the opposing campaign were convicted of vote fraud. There was also evidence of vote counting machines skipping over punch card votes. This was 18 years before the Bush campaign organized mobs to intimidate registrars in Florida. This time, 1986, he was favored to win the general election.
But two Nazi-like extremists had managed to capture the Democratic nomination for Secretary of State and Lieutenant Governor. During the primary campaign, mainstream media had kept reporting that the traditional candidates for these positions were not opposed. Fact checking was about as prominent then as it is in what passes for journalism today. An underground movement of fanatics got the two nominated in a race most voters ignored as uncontested.
Stevenson refused to run on the same ticket as the two thugs. He formed a temporary party he called the Solidarity Party. Instead of winning, he got only 40% of the vote. He lost by doing the right thing.
This year, the successor to Governor Rod Blagojevich, who doubled as a comic-crook, Pat Quinn, faced a similar situation. A pawnbroker spent a load of money, money being the Supreme Court endorsed proxy for free speech, and got the Democratic nomination for Lieutenant Governor. It developed that a few years back, the fellow had been accused of holding a knife to a former live-in girlfriend's neck. The was just after a soon-to-be ex-wife accused him of violence and got a temporary order of protection.
Pat Quinn's solution may work out a lot better than the very honorable Adlai Stevenson. Rather than running as an independent, he was lucky enough to help convince the pawnbroker, accused batterer, to drop out. His official position was one of judicious neutrality. "I think he should come forward and tell us everything about his background. But anything dealing with that has to go through the [Democratic] state central committee. I want to see what Mr. Cohen has to say. I don't give opinions until I hear all the facts from the person involved." But he had to be hoping the fellow would jump off a very tall building into a glass of water.
Republicans are expected to use the scandal anyway. It's what they do. The pawnbroker's opponent is less than helpful. "We tried to warn the governor beforehand and they didn't want to listen to it."
It could be worse. It was a pawnbroker with an anger problem against women. It could have been Blagojevich.
It was not pay to play but sacrifice to serve. Rod Blagojevich wasn't possible in the old politics.
- - Former Senator Adlai Stevenson III (D-IL), April 9, 2009
Certainly I have a problem with the way some of my fundamentalist brethren distort other religions. Brit Hume goes on television to proclaim that Buddhism has no path to forgiveness or redemption. Slant Right's John Houk periodically directs Muslims on what it takes to be a true follower of Islam. Short version: become a terrorist. Houk protests that he is not a bigot, just because he hates all things Islamic. I am struck most by how fundamentalists manage to miss Christianity itself.
Bigotry against gays comes from many directions. Fundamentalists are especially fond of quoting Leviticus. Those passages contain a lot of shalt nots. Lobster is an abomination, as is crop rotation. Wearing two interwoven fabrics in the same shirt is a violation of God's will. But fundamentalists zero in on Leviticus 18:22 which prohibits homosexuality.
I find wisdom in Leviticus. It was written by men who were captives of the wisdom of their times, but it was inspired by God. Amid the outdated health instruction and ritual is an underlying theme that will always apply. Love God with everything you have. Love and take care of yourself. Love others. I read each chapter, and remember to take the various medications that keep me alive. I go to worship and try to keep in mind why I am there. My love for others is far from perfect, but I am growing. And I find this in Leviticus:
You see, the Bible, God's word, instructs me to devote time for prayer, witness for Jesus when I can, give blood, and always wear my seat belt.
Sentimental Favorite Wins
Nuggets of internet gold:
Ned Williams at WisdomIsVindicated likes much about Tea Partiers, but remains a skeptic. He then makes the mistake of quoting Charles Krauthammer. Ned may be the victim of some sort of self-confidence deficiency. He thinks more clearly and writes more skillfully than the fellow he quotes. So stop the pretense. I've read you off and on over the years, Krauthammer, and believe me, you're no Ned Williams.
Jack Jodell, friend of the working blogger, at THE SATURDAY AFTERNOON POST was moved by the Ed Show, broadcast from free health care clinic in Connecticut for the uninsured.
Slant Right's John Houk wise quotes George Friedman's newsletter, STRATFOR. I was entertained by an article Friedman wrote last year about Iran and Israel that basically said nothing much was about to happen. You have to admire someone who make an important sounding article out of move-along-nothing-here-to-see.
- David Everitt-Carlson of The Wild Wild East Dailies in Munich needs to travel to Amsterdam and will work for train fare. Beware automatic music on your PC speakers.
Have a safe weekend. Pray for those still in pain. A lot of them out there this week, the next few could find any of us among them.
Apparently, the weather outside is frightful in Baltimore
It's one of many nightmares parents of rebellious kids sometimes have. Suppose the best parenting does not eventually take hold. Suppose a child falls in with the wrong crowd. A lot of kids go through a time of testing, reacting against authority. They usually come out of it. Its often a part of growing up. But suppose your kid doesn't come out of it.
Occasionally, parents can find themselves in a variant of the nightmare. Suppose you suspect your kid has done something horribly wrong. Or might be about to do something wrong, something harmful to others, something deadly. The father of the Christmas underwear would-be-terrorist lived the nightmare, and did the right thing. He paid a visit to Nigerian officials to say he feared the worst. He ended up at the US embassy, talking to CIA agents. They apparently took him seriously, and a report went through channels.
Bureaucracies are often mysterious in their ways, and the information was shuffled amid wrong spellings and misfiling. After the capture, the President is said to have been furious. Presumably the next ominous report by a parent will be followed by vigorous action.
Al Qaeda takes its own breaches of security with a serious prevention policy. Recruits and their families are warned of the dangers of capture. Americans will torture those they catch, they are told, abusing captives to the point of death. One parent, it appears, did not believe those warnings. We can only hope other parents share that confidence in US conduct.
Republicans are furious at the Obama administration for not taking a harsher approach to the captured Christmas bomber and others like him. American officials have let it be known that the captured young man was not tortured. He responded to humane treatment by spouting information that proved to be useful and important. Eventually he stopped talking. So his interrogators performed what every police drama viewer recognizes as a signal for lasting legal trouble. They read him his rights. At that, he began talking again.
One critic, our own Senator, Missouri Republican Kit Bond is angry for another reason. He is irate because officials actually let it be known that the young man cooperated without being mistreated. Bond insists that “release of this sensitive information has no doubt been helpful to ... terrorist cohorts around the world.” His objection brings to mind two nightmare scenarios.
Suppose you are a father who only suspects the possibility that his son might do something awful. Are you more or less likely to go to authorities if you believe they will torture him to get information, as al Qaeda keeps telling you?
- Suppose your son does something particularly wrong and irresponsible. Suppose he even goes so far as to become an angry, partisan Republican member of the United States Senate.
How Did the Early Christians of Rome Defeat Pagan Sexuality?
- - Upcoming Family Research Council Event, February 25, 2010
The ebb and flow of political life is exciting. We watch with the enthusiasm of a rabid sports fan. It is, in some ways, about more than policy. It defines a relationship between each citizen and the society at large.
As Republicans prepare for ascendancy we can take some comfort in a political time line with an arc longer than a single election cycle. Over the last three decades, we have seen the pendulum swing somewhat wildly. We have gone from a Reagan revolution, complete with the public smashing of the Democratic Party, followed by the victory of Bill Clinton. Then the Newt Gingrich-led re-revolution, and the political scandals that we all thought would topple a Democratic President. The squeaking victory of Bush, bought with some muscle in the vote counting in Florida, overturned a narrow expression of popular will for Gore. 9/11 brought back Republican victory, followed by two elections favoring Democrats. And, of course, there is Barack Obama. In November, Republicans will very probably take the House, perhaps the Senate. So if you don't like who's in office, you can wait a couple of years.
Except, except. Under the surface, a process hides. Each Democratic swing has been more pronounced. Each Republican turn has been weaker. GOP bluster has not been matched by numbers. There is a reason that goes beyond the "R" or "D" behind the name of electoral hopefuls.
Beginning in the 1990s, the underlying trend became pronounced. Thoughtful blogger Steve Benen catches the edge of it, but only the edge, in his review of a poll of Republicans. "The results were discouraging," he says. It is true on several levels. More Republicans want to see the President impeached than not. A large number buy the myth that he was born outside of the United States. A sizable percentage think he hates white people, and that he wants terrorists to win. A huge majority of Republicans say he is a socialist.
Benen links to politico for a silver lining: "One of the lingering questions is whether these extreme beliefs will push more reasonable voters away from the GOP." He understandably bemoans what he calls the megaphone gap. Voters at large don't seem to notice the extremism of the GOP.
It is that very gap that is, over time, dismantling what used to be the Party of Lincoln. Technology is the fuel. Cable and internet now give conservatives the ability to shield themselves from the day-to-day news coverage that we in the reality based community follow. The extreme John Birch Society type conspiracy belief system is an important symptom, but not the only one.
Moderates were expelled, and the influence of conservatives grew in their absence. Mainstream conservatives are being driven out, and their flight leaves the GOP in the hands of an ever bolder extreme element. The party shrinks as a consequence. It's been going on for a long time.
Need encouragement? Don't watch the waves. Watch the tide.
I think that Barack Hussein Obama should be put in jail. It is clear that Barack Hussein Obama is a communist. Mao Tse Tung lives and his name is Barack Hussein Obama. This country should be ashamed. I wanna throw up.
- - One Time Rock star Ted Nugent, December 29, 2009
It used to be all the rage in Get-Rich-Quick circles. OPM stood for Other People's Money. Borrowing was the way to unimagined wealth. If you could attract investment, that was okay, but giving up control and even a portion of ownership was against the entrepreneurial spirit.
Borrowing was actually using OPM when you intended on going bankrupt or leaving town in the dead of night in the event things went sour. Paying the money back pretty much meant you were using your own money. Going under carried with it a series of hardships most folks would rather avoid.
As risk taking proved, well, risky, using OPM began to fall by the wayside. Fantasies tumbled like the walls of Jericho in the face of often harsh reality. Risk was often worth taking, but a hard, hard look was just plain prudent before an impulsive leap.
OPM got a little less tricky for banks. As regulations eased, and what remained was enforced reluctantly by the conservatives who were in political ascendancy at the time, banks began to take risks with the money depositors had entrusted to their care. After all, the money was insured, so nobody would get hurt in the event of failure.
It was called Proprietary Trading. It may seem wrong to many of us that someone in a position of trust could make huge profits with no risk, but it was happening. There are current moves to outlaw the practice, but Republicans are said to be skeptical and the process is slow.
It should not surprise us that enforcement was lax during the Bush administration. Although much of what went on was criminal and people went to jail, most of the damage was completely above board. If I want to impress important guests with a fabulously catered dinner, I am not likely to hire a vegetarian to cook the steaks. Turning government protection of consumers and taxpayers over to honest folks who simply believe regulation to be inherently evil was asking for trouble.
Republicans are emboldened by polls and a stunning election victory in Massachusetts. Their latest thrust involves a plan to bring back an old idea. Republicans say they want to privatize Social Security and replace Medicare with a system of vouchers. Market forces are inherently good, and if people wanting to retire or who are in poor health are given the right incentives, they will profit on the one hand from making really good bets with their Social Security benefits, and they'll save on the other by making those hard choices before going forward with medical expenses and costly prescriptions.
Society at large will get rich quick. It's OPR and OPH. Other People's Health is okay to risk. Other People's Retirement, too.
Just don't let either be mine.
I could list a hundred reasons why privatizing the TSA and holding individual airlines wholly accountable for their own security would be advantageous from the consumer’s standpoint...
- - Conservative J.E. Tabler, at David Horowitz's Newsreal, January 11, 2010
On Privatizing the Transportation Safety Administration
The United States Senate has always experienced its own bizarre form of corruption. The loyalty of 100 individuals, forced by constitutional circumstance into close quarters over a long period of time, becomes skewed away from constituents. A strange sense of family dominates what is said to be the most exclusive club in the world.
The bonding that results from a shared privilege is part of it. I recall my own student semester decades ago, watching the institution at work. Security was less of a byword in those days. It was not at all uncommon to bump into important people in the halls or even on elevators. Senators had their own reserved elevators, but some would occasionally take the public one, I suppose to show a sort of democratic spirit. That was the exception.
It was impressive to see the sort of efficient isolation at work. Even walking from one location to another, a Senator would be surrounded by a sort of traveling office. Staff members managed a paper flow as documents went into and out of Senatorial hands, augmenting discussions. Senators never opened doors. The traveling office handled that. If something needed signing, no stride was broken. A surface would appear, a pen would be produced, used by the Senator, and re-pocketed by an aide. The isolation was broken by the only regular association Senators experienced, that of each other.
The filibuster was one way the deliberative body stayed deliberate. Civil Rights legislation stayed bottled up as one or two Senators held up business by talking endlessly. The sole purpose was to take up time. The tactic was seldom used, partly because of the harm to the nation of extended stalling, but mostly because of the frailty of the human condition. Over time, Senatorial courtesy became exemplified in an overpowering sympathy for elderly colleagues pushing themselves to stand and talk for hours. A new practice refined the old tradition of filibuster. Now Senators may simply register an intent to talk forever, and the Senate adopts a polite fiction, holding up business as if they are indeed talking.
The loyalty of the tradition bound body extends to avoiding even bringing up matters that might embarrass fellow members. Al Franken introduced legislation supporting a teenage rape victim against the management of a military supplier who tried to prevent her from reporting the rape. Most Republicans backed management against the young woman. They were furious, but not at the rapists or the corporation in question. In their view, the real outrage was that their Senate colleague actually brought the issue to a vote. Senate tradition should have kept Franken from embarrassing them.
Republicans have become less idealistic, wishing aloud that death might overtake colleagues from the other side of the aisle. With the exception of newcomer Franken, the tradition lives mainly with nostalgic Democrats, longing for good old days among the good old boys. With the largest majority in generations, they are fleeced by flinty eyed opponents. Tradition lives.
The Founding Fathers would be appalled to learn that the framework they labored so valiantly to construct had been perverted by the filibuster.
- - Elliot L. Richardson, 2005
Let's say you're a huge investment company that is considering a series of stock purchases that are pretty big and kind of risky. That's classic capitalism in its modern form. People take risks. If they lose, they take a loss. If they win, we cheer their good fortune. We cheer because people play the game honestly, and we cheer because they win while obeying the rules.
But we also cheer because measured risk taking promotes growth. Goods and services are produced because of investment. Warehouses are filled because someone decided that anticipatory production was a worthwhile risk. People who could have faced severe financial hardship are employed because someone took a chance on the future of the American economy.
So, as a huge investment company, you carefully read the key indicators on each purchase. You survey the economy for whatever growth can be reasonably anticipated. You look at the prospects of the portions of the market that applies to each corporation you want to invest in. How realistic is the risk? What is the return if things play out well? You perform due diligence because either you or your clientele will be winning or losing real money on the basis of your judgment. You are willing to make educated guesses, but you won't take blind chances.
Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose, but you hope that with vigorous homework, years of experience, and luck, you will win more often than you lose. The faith is that you or your investors will come out ahead in the aggregate. But there are no guarantees.
But if, instead of an investment house, you are a bank, you still risk your own money and that of investors. But you also have access to deposits. There are some restrictions, but not too many.
You'll still perform every aspect of due diligence, of course. You'll look over key indicators. You'll survey the economy. You'll analyze the market. But you now have freedom that goes way beyond that of the typical investment firm. You can take risks you would never have taken with your own funds.
Because if you win, you will have all the rewards that classic capitalism can offer. And if you lose, the money you risked belonged to depositors. As long as their deposits are below regulatory thresholds, they can't lose either. Their deposits are guaranteed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Only taxpayers can lose and, of course, they don't count.
It's called proprietary trading. That's when banks can use insured deposits to bankroll their own risky bets.
President Obama has proposed a new regulation limiting the risks banks can take with money belonging to depositors and insured by the government. Republicans are skeptical. They are holding things up in the Senate. After all, Republican theology teaches that regulation is an instrument of Satan.
The details on the reform are sketchy, but the abolishment of proprietary trading would be a major blow to banks' profitability. Goldman derives about 10% of its revenue from trading for its own books.
- - David MacDougall, writing for TheStreet.com, January 25, 2010
Arguing that Banks should be allowed to gamble with FDIC insured
deposits for their own profits