Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bail Out Double Standard

My comments on former (yes) GM CEO Rick Wagoner stand. The former CEO was a part of the problem and not the solution and if we are going to bail any company out, holding those who were in charge while the economic ship if you will was sinking only makes sense. I don't feel sorry for Wagoner. He deserved what he got.

MSNBC talk show hosts David Shuster and Keith Olbermann, however, do raise a point that cannot be ignored. On their respective shows ("1600 Pennsylvania" and "Countdown") they both pointed to the disparity in treatment between the auto makers and the financial institutions. The conditions Obama imposed upon the automakers were not imposed upon the financial institutions. No contracts were re-written. Obama's team did not pressure those who received multi-million dollar bonuses to give them back in return for financial aid. No CEO was forced to step down. The financial institutions were, in fact, given a lot of money with no questions asked.

Obama has created an opening for the Republicans because a lot of the people our president is asking to give back (Wagoner excepted) are blue collar workers. Unions have to renegotiate their contracts and retired workers may have to re-enter the work force as legacy costs are re-adjusted.

These modifications are, to be sure, warranted. The taxpayer is, after all, bailing out the auto companies so imposing conditions designed to assure the company's survival (and hence, further our chance to recoup the money loaned) makes sense.

The disparity in treatment, however, is striking. Wagoner is no victim but he is, as of today, the only one which the president held accountable for his actions. The auto company's contracts with the unions will have to be adjusted, but they are, to date, the only ones which are seeing their contracts adjusted. It doesn't seem fair, particularly when the typical blue collar worker who could barely afford a cut in pay is forced to do so while the bankers on Wall Street who could afford to give up their bonuses isn't being asked to do so.

There will be hell to pay in November if the Democrats do not get their act together. The populist outrage that helped Obama win his presidential election could be used to remove them from Capitol Hill. Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain got himself into trouble for consorting with the wrong allies. His allies told him that the fundamentals of the economy were strong when they clearly weren't (unless of course, employment is of no concern to the average working man or woman). He said we needed more tax cuts, tax cuts that largely benefited the rich, and less spending when we needed create more jobs. McCain didn't get it.

But Obama's team doesn't seem to get it either. New York's Attorney General Andrew Cuomo upstaged the president last week when he, and not Obama, got some (albeit only some) of the bonuses returned. Obama's anger (to the extent that he ever displayed any over any issue) came too late and was over too early to be believable.

Now he goes after the union workers, after inviting the CEO's of major Wall Street firms over to the White House for a meeting?

If the Democrats lose their house and senate seats this fall, they will have no one but themselves to blame.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Change We can Do Without: Immigration Raid Shift

Cutting back on immigration raids? Arresting the illegals can lead to testimony against their employers.

I think its time to put these guys out of business. And the "breaking families apart" claim is bogus. The American family member or members is more than free to move to the illegal immigrant's country. Had the illegal immigrant stayed in his or her country in the first place, or had he or she entered this country the legal way, this "breaking families apart" issue would not exist.

GM CEO - Buh bye

We as of yet really don't know why the CEO was asked to step down or what the president was looking for from Chrysler and GM but I really don't feel sorry for Richard Wagoner, who presided over G.M.'s collapse. He deserved to go in either case.

The president's bailout plan has yet to be unveiled but it is nice to see the president, for once, hold those who are responsible for this failure accountable.

Broken Promise

Disappointing. Very disappointing to say the least and if I recall correctly (verification will require the transcripts once posted), the question concerned the expenditures related to enforcing the policy as it stands which raises the follow-up not asked -

why are we spending money decreasing the size of our armed forces and not spending money to increase the size of our armed forces?

Gregory, Geithner, and McCain

from "Meet The Press"

MR. GREGORY: And to that point, are you this morning providing a guarantee to those investors that the rules of the games will not change? If they make money in these transactions, that Congress won't try to go get their gains and change the rules?

And to that point, are you this morning providing a guarantee to those investors that the rules of the games will not change? If they make money in these transactions, that Congress won't try to go get their gains and change the rules?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: We have to do that or they won't come. And it's a simple proposition. Again, for these, all these programs to work, all these programs to work...

MR. GREGORY: So the rules of this, of this program won't change?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: No, they cannot change.

I don't know what to think about this passage. Yes. Rules cannot be changed mid-stream so David Gregory's concern is valid a valid one but I really wonder where his sympathies lie. Note the bold-faced portions:

SEC'Y GEITHNER: David, how could people not be angry with this? With the challenges we're facing now as a country in part because of risks our financial sector took on, how could people not be angry? But our obligation and our deep obligation responsibility is, again, to try to fix this problem so that the trauma in the financial system is not causing more damage to the lives and fortunes of Americans and businesses across the country. That's the most important thing we do. Everything we do has to be judged by the test of whether we're getting the economy going again and recover...

MR. GREGORY: Well, and that's all fair. But if you were so outraged, why didn't you say that then? Instead, you said, "I was outraged and we should try to get this money back." The government knew about these bonuses several months ago.

SEC'Y GEITHNER: Look, we had no good choices in that context, David. These were contracts written before the government got involved, before Ed Liddy became CEO of AIG.

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

SEC'Y GEITHNER: We're a nation of laws. We cannot get the economy going again if there's an expectation the government's going to come in and break contracts. Just not a tenable thing to do. But what we did is--and we had no good choices, David--was when, when I was informed about the details of those provisions, we moved very quickly to ask that they--those that could be renegotiated get renegotiated, the government get those--or reduce those payments going forward. And we're going to use the authority we have to go recoup those payments where we have a good legal basis for doing that. And you've already--we're seeing a lot of those payments returned. But the important thing is going forward that we establish clear conditions, clear rules of the game, prevent this kind of compensation practice in the future from coming back and putting our system at risk. And we want to make sure that where the government is putting up assistance for these, for these banks, that that assistance is going to get lending going again...


SEC'Y GEITHNER: ...not to enrich the people that helped get us in this mess.

MR. GREGORY: But, but my question is, is this: If you thought this was so outrageous at the time, why didn't you put this on the agenda then? And if you felt that you didn't have any good choices, that you really couldn't dissolve those contracts, then when it came to light, why didn't you and the president stand up and say, "This populist anger is understandable, but you have to understand it has to be put in context and it has to stop"?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: Well, that--but that's what the president did say. And again, we're trying to make sure that people understand...

MR. GREGORY: The president said, "We shouldn't govern in anger," and then he said, "Yes, I'm angry, too. I don't want to quell the anger." You said this was outrageous.


MR. GREGORY: Did anybody stand up and say, "Let's put this in context. We didn't have good choices. This is not worth getting so upset about"?

I swear, something is wrong with him. He didn't even remind Geitner of the pressure Congress put on Chrysler and General Motors to renegotiate contracts there before they got a bail out.

Then Gregory failed to correct the record or at the very least, challenge SEnator John McCain's (R-Arizona) assertion that Obama would not talk with the Republicans:

"There was never any serious negotiations over the stimulus package, over the omnibus spending bill. Now there doesn't seem to be any on the budget. Those are all party line votes. There's not the negotiations. And I--look, I'll take blame on our side for maybe not being more forthcoming, but really the president does beat the drum and sets the pace. And so far there has not been not an instance where they sat down across the table and said, "OK, what do you want? What are you demanding here? What do you think is best?" And including some of those concerns as we come--as we move forward with really large, encompassing packages about the future of this country."

Did not Obama invite the Republicans to the White House to talk about the stimulus package?

Regulation Plan Opinion

It's rare, but there are times when I wholeheartedly agree with what The New York Times editorial writers have to say. No caveats whatsoever.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Old Politics on Regulation Fight

Not surprising but quite distressful. We need a new, far more intrusive regulatory regime in place and of course the businesses that are too big to fail are fighting Washington's plans tooth and nail.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The AIG Letter Frisked

Here is the letter, uninterrupted, in The New York Times. It is also posted below in full, with my comments added in bold-faced.

"DEAR Mr. Liddy," (and editor and people who read this paper and the whole wide world).

It is with deep regret that I submit my notice of resignation from A.I.G. Financial Products. I hope you take the time to read this entire letter. Before describing the details of my decision, I want to offer some context:

"I am proud of everything I have done for the commodity and equity divisions of A.I.G.-F.P. I was in no way involved in — or responsible for — the credit default swap transactions that have hamstrung A.I.G. Nor were more than a handful of the 400 current employees of A.I.G.-F.P. Most of those responsible have left the company and have conspicuously escaped the public outrage."

So he, an executive vice president of AIG's financial product unit no less says and no, the outrage has been directed at anyone who took a bonus New York's attorney general, among others, is pressing for the names of everyone, those there and those who left the company, who took their bonus.

"After 12 months of hard work dismantling the company — during which A.I.G. reassured us many times we would be rewarded in March 2009 — we in the financial products unit have been betrayed by A.I.G. and are being unfairly persecuted by elected officials. In response to this, I will now leave the company and donate my entire post-tax retention payment to those suffering from the global economic downturn. My intent is to keep none of the money myself."

"Geee. He makes it sound like he was merely a cog in a flawed system even though he served as an executive vice president and had experience dealing with the capital markets industry."

"I take this action after 11 years of dedicated, honorable service to A.I.G. I can no longer effectively perform my duties in this dysfunctional environment, nor am I being paid to do so. No. He was paid to sit there, to be "retained" if you will, whether he did a good job at AIG or not."

"Like you, I was asked to work for an annual salary of $1, and I agreed out of a sense of duty to the company and to the public officials who have come to its aid. Having now been let down by both, I can no longer justify spending 10, 12, 14 hours a day away from my family for the benefit of those who have let me down."

"You and I have never met or spoken to each other, so I’d like to tell you about myself. I was raised by schoolteachers working multiple jobs in a world of closing steel mills. My hard work earned me acceptance to M.I.T., and the institute’s generous financial aid enabled me to attend. I had fulfilled my American dream."

"I started at this company in 1998 as an equity trader, became the head of equity and commodity trading and, a couple of years before A.I.G.’s meltdown last September, was named the head of business development for commodities. Over this period the equity and commodity units were consistently profitable — in most years generating net profits of well over $100 million."
Profitable on the books, profitable based on false growth, mind you.

"Most recently, during the dismantling of A.I.G.-F.P., I was an integral player in the pending sale of its well-regarded commodity index business to UBS. As you know, business unit sales like this are crucial to A.I.G.’s effort to repay the American taxpayer."

"The profitability of the businesses with which I was associated clearly supported my compensation. I never received any pay resulting from the credit default swaps that are now losing so much money. I did, however, like many others here, lose a significant portion of my life savings in the form of deferred compensation invested in the capital of A.I.G.-F.P. because of those losses. In this way I have personally suffered from this controversial activity — directly as well as indirectly with the rest of the taxpayers."

oh boo-hooh. Many Americans who do not have his kind of money are also losing out. Thousands of GM workers took a buy-out of $20,000 and a $25,000 voucher to pay for a car purchase. This package was offered to all who took the bail out, whether they were industrious, hardworking individuals. Everyone is forced to cut back. States are furloughing workers. Union leaders are renegotiating their contracts with their workers' employers. Teachers may get laid off in California (whether they are good teachers or not). Taxpayers are paying for your company's undeserved but needed bail out. Everyone is suffering and most lack the economic cushions people like Jake Desantis got at AIG.

"I have the utmost respect for the civic duty that you are now performing at A.I.G. You are as blameless for these credit default swap losses as I am. You answered your country’s call and you are taking a tremendous beating for it.

But you also are aware that most of the employees of your financial products unit had nothing to do with the large losses. And I am disappointed and frustrated over your lack of support for us. I and many others in the unit feel betrayed that you failed to stand up for us in the face of untrue and unfair accusations from certain members of Congress last Wednesday and from the press over our retention payments, and that you didn’t defend us against the baseless and reckless comments made by the attorneys general of New York and Connecticut."

"My guess is that in October, when you learned of these retention contracts, you realized that the employees of the financial products unit needed some incentive to stay and that the contracts, being both ethical and useful, should be left to stand."

Either that or he thought AIG would get away with it because no one would pay attention.

"That’s probably why A.I.G. management assured us on three occasions during that month that the company would “live up to its commitment” to honor the contract guarantees."

I don't see what the fuss is if he is accepting a dollar a day pay.

"That may be why you decided to accelerate by three months more than a quarter of the amounts due under the contracts. That action signified to us your support, and was hardly something that one would do if he truly found the contracts “distasteful.”

That may also be why you authorized the balance of the payments on March 13.

Right but he is making my point. AIG was oblivious to the cultural backlash. Its leaders were caught with their hand in the cookie jar they thought they were entitled to be in. We are dealing with an amoral cultural environment where the rich buy their way out of trouble and look out for each other while the typical middle and working class men and women lose their homes and jobs. They lived in an environment where it was considered okay to gut workers' wages to cut costs and save troubled companies but it was not okay to ask the white collar management-level official (and up) to share in the sacrifice.

At no time during the past six months that you have been leading A.I.G. did you ask us to revise, renegotiate or break these contracts — until several hours before your appearance last week before Congress.

Was Mr. Desantis paying attention when the General Motors, Ford and Chrysler CEO's were were hauled before Congress and pressed to cut costs as a part of any bail out? Did he not hear our legal representatives berate them because they flew to Washington in their private jets? Was he not listening when they were chastized and pressed to renegotiate contracts with the auto workers? Did not Mr. Desantis think for one moment that the same could be asked of him should the government offer the company he works for a bailout?

"I think your initial decision to honor the contracts was both ethical and financially astute, but it seems to have been politically unwise. It’s now apparent that you either misunderstood the agreements that you had made — tacit or otherwise — with the Federal Reserve, the Treasury, various members of Congress and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo of New York, or were not strong enough to withstand the shifting political winds."

"Financially astute?"

"You’ve now asked the current employees of A.I.G.-F.P. to repay these earnings. As you can imagine, there has been a tremendous amount of serious thought and heated discussion about how we should respond to this breach of trust.

As most of us have done nothing wrong, guilt is not a motivation to surrender our earnings. We have worked 12 long months under these contracts and now deserve to be paid as promised. None of us should be cheated of our payments any more than a plumber should be cheated after he has fixed the pipes but a careless electrician causes a fire that burns down the house."

I think the autoworkers who renegotiated contracts would say they deserved their earnings. I'd think the workers who are being furloughed would say the same thing.

"Many of the employees have, in the past six months, turned down job offers from more stable employers, based on A.I.G.’s assurances that the contracts would be honored. They are now angry about having been misled by A.I.G.’s promises and are not inclined to return the money as a favor to you.

A "favor." That's how Mr. Desantis sees it. Returning the money to the company should be viewed as a "favor" to the company as opposed to it being the only ethical thing to do for the people who are doing people like him the favor of bailing the company that he works for out. Yes, we are doing ourselves a favor too in the process but the fact of the matter is that AIG owes us more than we owe them. It, not the taxpayer, caused this problem and we, the taxpayers are the ones stepping in to fix it.

"The only real motivation that anyone at A.I.G.-F.P. now has is fear. Mr. Cuomo has threatened to “name and shame,” and his counterpart in Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal, has made similar threats — even though attorneys general are supposed to stand for due process, to conduct trials in courts and not the press.

That's right. Mr. Desantis & company have no ethical code that would motivate them into surrendering their bonuses. The communal ethic (the "I am my brother's keeper" ethic) is foreign to them.

"So what am I to do? There’s no easy answer. I know that because of hard work I have benefited more than most during the economic boom and have saved enough that my family is unlikely to suffer devastating losses during the current bust. Some might argue that members of my profession have been overpaid, and I wouldn’t disagree.

That is why I have decided to donate 100 percent of the effective after-tax proceeds of my retention payment directly to organizations that are helping people who are suffering from the global downturn. This is not a tax-deduction gimmick; I simply believe that I at least deserve to dictate how my earnings are spent, and do not want to see them disappear back into the obscurity of A.I.G.’s or the federal government’s budget. Our earnings have caused such a distraction for so many from the more pressing issues our country faces, and I would like to see my share of it benefit those truly in need.

"On March 16 I received a payment from A.I.G. amounting to $742,006.40, after taxes."

Pretty hefty sum coming from a company that is all but broke don't you think? And mind you, this is net, not gross pay.

"In light of the uncertainty over the ultimate taxation and legal status of this payment, the actual amount I donate may be less — in fact, it may end up being far less if the recent House bill raising the tax on the retention payments to 90 percent stands. Once all the money is donated, you will immediately receive a list of all recipients.

This choice is right for me. I wish others at A.I.G.-F.P. luck finding peace with their difficult decision, and only hope their judgment is not clouded by fear.

Mr. Liddy, I wish you success in your commitment to return the money extended by the American government, and luck with the continued unwinding of the company’s diverse businesses — especially those remaining credit default swaps. I’ll continue over the short term to help make sure no balls are dropped, but after what’s happened this past week I can’t remain much longer — there is too much bad blood. I’m not sure how you will greet my resignation, but at least Attorney General Blumenthal should be relieved that I’ll leave under my own power and will not need to be “shoved out the door.”

It should never have been his choice to make and it should never have been his money to donate.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Obama's Economic Press Conference

Transcripts can be found here.

The good questions:

1. Jennifer Loven of the Associated Press

Thank you, Mr. President. Your treasury secretary and the Fed chairman were on Capitol Hill today asking for this new authority that you want to regulate big, complex financial institutions.

But given the problems that the financial bailout program has had so far -- banks not wanting to talk about how they're spending the money, the AIG bonuses that you mentioned -- why do you think the public should sign on for another new sweeping authority for the government to take over companies, essentially?

Not that Obama answered the question poorly. He handled it well (by noting that AIG was not regulated like a bank would) and he answered the follow-up well by suggesting that the FDIC's history in regulating banks should bolster our confidence in the government's ability to regulate these non-bank banks.

2. Jake at (I don't know):

Thank you, Mr. President.

Right now on Capitol Hill, Senate Democrats are writing a budget. And according to press accounts and their own statements, they're not including the middle-class tax cut that you include in the stimulus, they're talking about phasing that out, they're not including the cap- and-trade that you have in your budget, and they're not including other measures.

I know when you outlined your four priorities over the weekend, a number of these things were not in there. Will you sign a budget if it does not contain a middle-class tax cut, does not contain cap-and- trade?

Good one but here's an even better one:

3. Chip Reid:

"Thank you, Mr. President. At both of your town hall meetings in California last week, you said, quote, "I didn't run for president to pass on our problems to the next generation."

But under your budget, the debt will increase $7 trillion over the next 10 years. The Congressional Budget Office says $9.3 trillion. And today on Capitol Hill, some Republicans called your budget, with all the spending on health care, education and environment, the most irresponsible budget in American history. Isn't that kind of debt exactly what you were talking about when you said "passing on our problems to the next generation"?"

and the follow up was just as good:

"But even under your budget, as you said, over the next four or five years, you're going to cut the deficit in half, then, after that, six years in a row, it goes up, up, up. If you're making all these long-term structural cuts, why does it continue to go up in the out-years?"

I love it when reporters expose contradictions. Now, in his response, Obama said we need to grow in order to pay up the debt and in order to grow we have to invest in energy, and transportation or reform health care we won't grow. He doesn't actually answer the question to Mr. Reid's satisfaction but there might not really be such an answer. Obama may even have tacitly accepted the reporter's premise - that he may be passing a problem along to the next generation. The president said he doesn't know what the economic conditions will be like 10 years from now. I guess he believes there is no good option. Passing these problems to future generations may be unavoidable.

That said I want Reid asking questions at every press conference. He knows what he is supposed to do. David Gregory. Move over. Let's ask Mr. Reid if he'd like to host "Meet The Press."

4. Ed Henry of CNN:

Thank you. Mr. President. You spoke again at the top about your anger about AIG. You've been saying that for days now. But why is it that it seems Andrew Cuomo seems to be in New York getting more actual action on it?

And when you and Secretary Geithner first learned about this 10 days, two weeks ago, you didn't go public immediately with that outrage. You waited a few days. And then you went public after you realized Secretary Geithner really had no legal avenue to stop it.

And, more broadly, I just want to follow up on Chip and Jake. You've been very critical of President Bush doubling the national debt. And, to be fair, it's not just Republicans hitting you. Democrat Kent Conrad, as you know, said, quote, "When I look at this budget, I see the debt doubling again."

You keep saying that you've inherited a big fiscal mess. Do you worry, though, that your daughters, not to mention the next president, will be inheriting an even bigger fiscal mess if the spending goes out of control?

Very good "gotcha" question. Obama is being asked whether he understands the public's mood and why Cuomo upstaged him by pro-actively fighting to get the bonuses back while Obama is arguably sitting on his hands.

Obama gave an uncharacteristically snappy answer but the damage was already done and the point about Obama's failure to reign the executives in was made.

5. Stefan Collison:

"Mr. President, you came to office pledging to work for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. How realistic do you think those hopes are now, given the likelihood of a prime minister who is not fully signed up to a two-state solution and a foreign minister who has been accused of insulting Arabs?"

The Not Good-Not Bad Questions

1. Lourdes of Univision

"Thank you, Mr. President. Today, your administration presented a plan to help curb the violence in Mexico and also to control any or prevent any spillover of the violence into the United States.

Do you consider the situation now a national security threat? And do you believe that it could require sending national troops to the border? Governor Perry of Texas has said that you still need more troops and more agents. How do you respond to that?"

2. Mike Allen of Politico.com

"Mr. President, are you -- thank you. Thank you, Mr. President. Are you reconsidering your plan to cut the interest rate deduction for mortgages and for charities? And do you regret having proposed that in the first place?"

Glad Obama stuck to his guns on this point.

3. "Thank you, Mr. President. A recent report found that, as a result of the economic downturn, 1 in 50 children are now homeless in America. With shelters at full capacity, tent cities are sprouting up across the country.

In passing your stimulus package, you said that help was on the way. But what would you say to these families, especially children, who are sleeping under bridges and in tents across the country?"

What is he supposed to do? Let everyone move in to the White House?

The bad questions:

1. Chuck Todd of NBC:

Thank you, Mr. President. Some have compared this financial crisis to a war. And in times of war, past presidents have called for some form of sacrifice.

Some of your programs, whether for Main Street or Wall Street, have actually cushioned the blow for those that were irresponsible during this economic period of prosperity or supposed prosperity that you were talking about.

Why, given this new era of responsible that you're asking for, sacrificing to participate in this economic recovery?

Obama's response was of course a reasonable one. The middle class working families are already sacrificing. Duh. The autoworkers at GM are sacrificing in terms of pay cuts. California is furloughing its workers. Many have lost their jobs. Should they sacrifice their lives Mr. Todd?

2. Major Garret of FOX News:

Good evening, Mr. President. Thank you.

Taking this economic debate a bit globally, senior Chinese officials have publicly expressed an interest in international currency. This is described by Chinese specialists as a sign that they are less confident than they used to be in the value and the reliability of the U.S. dollar. European countries have resisted your calls to spend more on economic stimulus.

I wonder, sir, as a candidate who ran concerned about the image of the United States globally, how comfortable you are with the Chinese government, run by communists, less confident than they used to be in the U.S. dollar and European governments, some of them center-left, some of them socialist, who say you're asking them to spend too much?

Oh dear. What do we call those who are to the left of the commies? What do we call them? What do they call themselves? Why should we even care?

3. global currency?

The reporter must come from WorldNetDaily.

4. Ann Compton:

"Yours is a rather historic presidency. And I'm just wondering whether, in any of the policy debates that you've had within the White House, the issue of race has come up or whether it has in the way you feel you've been perceived by other leaders or by the American people? Or has the last 64 days before a relatively colorblind time?"

We are in the midst of a financial crisis and she wants to waste everyone's time with this question?

5. John Ward of The Washington Times:

"In your remarks on stem cell research earlier this month, you talked about a majority consensus in determining whether or not this is the right thing to do, to federally fund embryonic stem cell research.

I'm just wondering, though, how much you personally wrestled with the morality or ethics of federally funding this kind of research, especially given the fact that science so far has shown a lot of progress with adult stem cells, but not a lot with embryonic?"

what is he going to say? That he isn't give a f---?

Meghan McCain: Generational Change

"We have a very big generation gap between me and my father. Yes, we discuss them. He's very open-minded. I was raised in an open-minded home. I was raised a Christian, but I was raised open-minded Christian -- one to accept people, love people, not pass judgment. ...

I believe in gay marriage. ... I personally am pro-life, but I'm not going to judge someone that's pro-choice. It is not my place to judge other people and what they do with their body."
Meghan McCain on Larry King

I don't know what to think about her statement. Yes, it's nice to see that she believes in privacy rights and gay marriage. She's definitely far more enlightened than her father. It's the way she explains her differences that gets to me. "We have a very big generation gap." Duh. He's 72. She's 25. Age is no excuse for backing discrimination.

Would we overlook a former KKK member's anti-black rants just because he or she was raised at a time when subscribing to such racist views was deemed acceptable?

Gainesville Vote

Gay, lesbian and transgendered Americans who live in Gainesville can sigh with relief now that today's vote to overturn the city's gay and transgendered rights' ordinance was voted down by a healthy 16.64% point margin.

Charter 1 supporters said the measure was designed to bar pre-op transgendered Americans (men and women still trapped in the wrong body) from using the public restrooms of a member of the opposite sex. That was, however, merely the pretext they used to remove from gay, lesbian, and transgendered Americans, any and every protection the city offered them from employment and housing discrimination. (Gainesville sexual orientation-based discrimination in employment and housing. Charter 1 was, in effect, overly "protective" insofar as it permitted discrimination in matters that had no bearing on as well as the problem it was purportedly designed to solve.

It was designed to be overly broad. The anti-gay wing of the conservative movement wanted to legalize anti-gay and anti-transgendered discrimination and thought it would be easier to win Gainesville voters if they could hide behind the bathroom argument.

This wasn't really wasn't fair to voters who, while they for good reason objected to letting pre-op transgendered men in women's bathrooms (and pre-op transgendered women in men's bathrooms), supported lgbt rights in general. These particular voters were forced to either vote for anti-gay and anti-transgendered discrimination to protect the sexual privacy expected in the bathrooms or vote against upholding the single sex use of public bathrooms.

The legitimate concerns regarding the pre-op transgendered person's use of the public restrooms could and should be addressed either through a separate, narrow amendment or city ordinance that does not remove the job and housing protections now in place. The ordinance route is preferred for two reasons: (a) ordinances can easily be fine-tuned and (b) ordinances cost less since there are no expensive election campaigns.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Three Immigration Stories in The New York Times

Context matters.

One story concerns those we shouldn't in slightest feel sorry for. They knew the risks and entered this country illegally. We should do everything we legally can to make them feel unwelcome.

The second story concerns a group we invited into this country to save them from a civil war. We invited them into this country so they would survive Liberia's civil war. Though we have a right to send them back to their home country, we should, out of the goodness of our hearts (it would seem cruel forcibly kick out those we had invited to relocate in the first place), grant those who had registered with the proper authorities a chance to seek permanent residency should they seek it while shipping those who did not follow the rules back once they are caught.

A third concerns the refusal to grant permanent residency to the non-American member of a married couple it would normally grant if the couple were of the same sex. If this country is going to put its interest in restricting immigration to the side in cases where two people of different nationalities fall in love by granting American member of the heterosexual family the right to sponsor his or her spouse, it should remove the restriction on sponsorship for the homosexual family. The forced separation of the couple or the forced relocation to a jurisdiction that is more accepting is no less burdensome when it is imposed upon a gay couple than when it is imposed upon a straight couple.

Classic Revenge

Admirable. One town's Board of Architectural Review Review denied the owner of a hunting and fishing business his expansion proposal so he closed shop and leased his building to sex shop.

I love it. And Michael Zarlenga freely admits why he picked it.

“I’m happy they’re there from the standpoint of the ruffled feathers that it gives to the neighbors.”

Revenge can be so sweet.

Obama's "Katrina"

"Six weeks ago I wrote in this space that the country’s surge of populist rage could devour the president’s best-laid plans, including the essential Act II of the bank rescue, if he didn’t get in front of it. The occasion then was the Tom Daschle firestorm. The White House seemed utterly blindsided by the public’s revulsion at the moneyed insiders’ culture illuminated by Daschle’s post-Senate career. Yet last week’s events suggest that the administration learned nothing from that brush with disaster." columnist Frank Rich in The New York Times

I largely agree with this column. The administration could try to downplay the bonus issue all they want. Yes the money spent on "retention bonuses" are a drop in the bucket. It doesn't matter. People are angry and they are angry because they see the very people who brought this economy down make out like bandits at taxpayer expense while they lose their 401K savings.

The president has to somehow recoup what was the companies paid in retention bonuses. He should pressure AIG officials into renegotiating the contracts of those still working at the company and condition on the outcome of such negotiations.

Executive Pay Part of Plan

For the most part I am pleased about what I am reading in The New York Times. I do however, wonder if the president is has the constitutional authority to regulate the pay of corporations that do not receive financing from the government. It's one thing to impose pay limitations on companies that need the taxpayer funding to survive (and I am all for this); quite another to impose such pay limitations on companies that are thriving in an environment free of governmental aid.

Those who support across-the-board pay limits should ask themselves if they are establishing a precedent that a future Republican administration would use to impose limitations on union wages.

Don't think it won't happen. Remember the outcry from Republican senators coming from non-union auto worker states.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

"Class Economic Rape"

That's what Keith Olbermann calls it in his must-seespecial commentary.

"What is so damaging about this isn't the money -- which is almost trivially small compared to the many hundreds of billions we've already committed. The problem is what appears to be the president's mortifying impotence in the face of bankers and financiers who created the problem. The president speaks and acts for the federal government, which is to say, the American people, who have mobilized more than a trillion dollars and all powers of the state to repair the damage emerging out of the financial sector. And with all that, he's jacked up on a employment agreement between a company the government now owns and derivatives traders who sank the world economy and may quite likely be looking at criminal charges for their activities in the not too distant future?" - Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo

Senator Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut) points the finger at Treasury officials whom, he asserts, instructed him to remove language that allowed AIG among other large financial institutions previously awarded a bailout, the ability to give their employees million dollar bonuses and Arianna Huffington at The Huffington Post believes him.

Yes. Obama and his economic advisers deserve some of the blame but Senator Dodd does too. He, after all withdrew the measure from the bill. He could have fought for it. He is paid to craft and vote on legislation that purportedly benefits the public good. He is not paid to serve as the president's patsy.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Obama's Pastors

One of the pastors our president apparently prays with is the homophobicBishop T.J. Jakes. I wonder if the president challenged him on his stance on homosexuality and his attitude towards his son's intimate needs.

Obama could pray all he wants but it would be nice to see him elevate a pastor whose views are more inclusive than oel Hunter or T.J. Jakes.

Sexist Republican Dream?

"The Republican brand used to have cachet. To worship in the Episcopal Church, to have a wife in the Junior League, to vote Republican: these things were once the marks of bourgeois success." - Austin Bramwell at NewMajority.com

I guess women don't count in Brmawell unless he is referring to Republican lesbians (and why would they vote Republican?).

"The Axis of Upheaval"

"In Bush’s telling, this exclusive new club had three members: Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. Bush’s policy prescription for dealing with the axis of evil was preemption, and just over a year later he put this doctrine into action by invading Iraq.

The bad news for Bush’s successor, Barack Obama, is that he now faces a much larger and potentially more troubling axis—an axis of upheaval. his axis has at least nine members, and quite possibly more. What unites them is not so much their wicked intentions as their instability, which the global financial crisis only makes worse every day."
- Niall Ferguson in Foreign Policy

The dire situation in Somalia, among other countries, is described.

The Employee Fair Choice Act

Last week, Democratic members of the Senate and House of Representatives introduced legislation its union contributors and constituents have been championing for the past two years. The Employee Free Choice Act of 2009 (EFCA), which currently has 40 (including Senator Edward Kennedy) co-sponsors in the Senate and 223 (including Representative George Miller) co-sponsors in the House, would amend the National Labor Relations Act by so that union supporters could bypass the secret ballot election employers may insist upon before employees can unionize if a majority of the workers sign onto a unionization authorization card. President Barack Obama reportedly supports this measure.

The card-check process works like the petition process that is used in many states. Union sponsors, like the sponsors of the (seemingly) thousand initiatives and referendums in California, canvass their community (in this case the union supporters' co-workers) to collect the signatures they will need to hold the referendum (in this case, the secret ballot for workplace unionization). If unions gather the prerequisite number of signatures, they can hold an election.

Currently, union backers can ask the National Labor Relations Board to order a reluctant employer to hold an election for unionization once they submit a card filled with 30% of the employees' signatures but they can and in many cases wait until they gather the support of a majority of the employer's workforce when a positive outcome isn't in as much doubt.

An employer can, on his her or its own, waive the need to hold such an election under current law and recognize the employees' decision to bargain through a union. Typically the employer would, however, insist upon an election to buy them the time to peel off some of the union organizers' supporters.

EFCA would keep the 30% threshold where it but let the union supporters effectively bypass the secret ballot process altogether if they can gather the signatures from a bare majority of its employers.

Its proponents say this measure is designed to off-set the intimidation workers who want to unionize face as soon as they submit the card to the NLRB. Service Employees International Union (SEIU) President Andy Stern told MSNBC talk-show host Rachel Maddow last Monday that the employers will hire anti-union consultants. Employees will be called in to one-on-one meetings with their supervisors, people who it should be noted evaluate their job performance, to convince them to vote against unionization by telling them that if the unions had their way, workers may have to be laid off or wages gutted:

What I always say to people, if you want to know what goes on for workers who want a union and you are a regular person, go tell your boss tomorrow that you want to have a union. And the bell will ring, and all of a sudden, these anti-union consultants will arrive. All of a sudden, you‘ll have these one-on-one very special meetings with your supervisor, who will tell you how this is really a bad idea.

Thirty percent of the elections have workers fired simply because they want to have a union. Ninety-two percent have these private captive audience meetings that are illegal in an election for your senator or congressman, but happen every day on work places. So, it is a reign of terror that comes down.

The bill's opponents say this bill will cripple small businesses, lead to the creation of a socialistic or socially democratic welfare state not unlike those now in existence in Europe, and at minimum, instill within the anti-union employees a culture of fear since they will be pressured into signing a card for unionization lest they be ostracized by their co-workers. Like the worker who crosses a picket line, the employee who opposes unionization will be called a "scab."

His or her co-workers, the bill's opponents argue, may refuse to talk to him or her, talk behind his or her back, refuse to take their work breaks with him or her and make derogatory comments that turn his or her working environment into a "living hell." While such opposition might seem unreasonable to the union backer (unions do, after all, fight for higher wages and larger health benefits packages) it is not unheard of. Unionization does have its costs in terms of fees which the worker who opposes unionization may feel he or she cannot support. The new worker may not want to antagonize his or her supervisor lest he or she be given a poor job evaluation.

The bill's proponents say this bill does not eliminate the secret ballot; it merely shifts the decision-making process from the employer to the employees. Neither side's claim regarding the secret ballot rings true.

Expressed concern for the workers' privacy coming from the bill's opponents ring hollow. Many employers have moved their manufacturing operations overseas where they are not required to pay their workers minimum wages and health care benefits that are comparable to the ones offered here while other businesses that have not closed shop rely upon a class of illegal immigrants they can stiff given their illegal status.

The opponent's also dramatize the role which the secret ballot plays in the unionization process. Whether this bill is signed into law or not, employees will still be confronted with a union organizer's request to sign a union authorization card and they will question whether they can withhold their signature without being ostracized or sign it without incurring their supervisors' wrath.

Proponent's claim that the bill does not eliminate the secret ballot is only literally true. The secret ballot is altogether bypassed if and when the union can submit the signatures of a bare majority of workers at a given plant, facility or company. Though the ballot can still be utilized when the union's proponents gather 30% of the workers' support, union supporters probably wouldn't risk a vote with so few supporters.

The Employee Free Choice Act would raise in importance the card-check stage of the process by putting the employee who is confronted by the union organizer in an even more uncomfortable position than he or she is under the current provision. Under the current system, the employee could tell the union organizer that he or she would secretly vote to organize but doesn't want to risk the supervisor's wrath, even if he or she was going to vote against the bill. Likewise, the employee who would comfortably vote for union organization (and strongly supports it) might otherwise refrain from signing the card-check authorization for lest he or she incur the supervisor's wrath.

Congress should vote against this bill, eliminate card-check and in the alternative, write a bill which mandates annual or biannual elections at working facilities where the employees are not represented by a union. To eliminate the coercive elements of one-on-one meetings, Congress could mandate the video-recordings of all one-on-one meetings between a supervisor and his or her employees to ensure that when accusations of corporal misconduct occur the offenders are penalized severely.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

AIG Rewarding Failure

"We cannot attract and retain the best and brightest talent to lead and staff the AIG businesses -- which are now being operated principally on behalf of the American taxpayers -- if employees believe that their compensation is subject to continued and arbitrary adjustment by the U.S. treasury," AIG Chairman and CEO Edward M. Liddy

He must be talking about the "best and the brightest" who did not run AIG into the ground right? Um. Don't count on it.

Obama's Education Speech: Change I'd Like to Believe In

For decades, Washington has been trapped in the same stale debates that have paralyzed progress and perpetuated our educational decline. Too many supporters of my party have resisted the idea of rewarding excellence in teaching with extra pay, even though we know it can make a difference in the classroom. Too many in the Republican Party have opposed new investments in early education, despite compelling evidence of its importance. So what we get here in Washington is the same old debate about it's more money versus more reform, vouchers versus the status quo. There's been partisanship and petty bickering, but little recognition that we need to move beyond the worn fights of the 20th century if we're going to succeed in the 21st century. President Barack Obama

So what is he calling for?

1. a bill that establishes a grant program that rewards states that develop plans improving upon their early childhood education.

2. linking No Child Left Behind funding to results in childhood education to encourage states into raising their standards for success

3. investing in data systems that track student progress

4. carrots & sticks for teachers (treating them as "professionals")
a. extra pay to math and science teachers to fill in teaching gap
b. teacher mentoring
c. merit pay - extra pay based upon student results
d. abolishing/revamping teacher tenure (failure should not be rewarded)

5. charter schools -
a. calls on states to lift caps on # of charter schools'
b. calls on states to impose rigorous standards, "selection & review process"
so that failing charter schools are closed and successful ones preserved

6. More hours of Learning - longer days or longer school seasons
7. Affordable college education
a. simplifying loans
b. Pell Grant Raised
c. $2,500 tuition tax credit for working families

Now, if only the Democrats who spend too much time championing the school-funding-with-no-strings-attached approach and the Republicans who who spend too much time championing the accountability-with-no-resources-to-help-schools approach would listen to him. And now, if and when he is confronted by the naysayers and demagogues from from both wings, Obama fights back.


The San Francisco Chronicle, of all papers, is taking the same approach but the editorial writers too, would like to see his actions speak louder than his words.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

More on Stem Cells

Third, Levin describes the moral question this way:

If (as modern biology informs us) conception initiates a human life, and if (as the Declaration of Independence asserts) every human life is equally deserving of some minimal protections, government support for the destruction of human embryos for research raises profound moral problems.

I cringe at this interpretation of the Declaration. Levin believes that equality means a five-day-old embryo has the same right to life as a 5-year-old girl. I just can't buy that. I'm a gradualist. I value the five-day-old embryo because it's on its way to becoming the 5-year-old girl. But it's not there yet. It hasn't acquired the sentience and cognition that characterize a full-fledged human being.

The Declaration says we're created with an unalienable right to liberty as well as life. But that hasn't stopped us from regulating liberties in proportion to maturity, as we do, for example, with curfews and driving. Why can't we exercise the same discretion with respect to life? Yes, life is a more basic right. But maybe that just means that instead of drawing lines after birth, as we do with liberty, we should confine our line-drawing about life to the period before birth.

Slippery slopes run both ways. Let's call that Human Nature's second law. If we don't draw moral lines against the exploitation of embryos, we may end up obliterating respect for human life generally. But if we're so afraid of that prospect that we refuse to draw lines permitting the use of any embryos under any conditions, we may end up obliterating the moral difference between embryos and full-grown people. Liberals should think seriously about the first scenario. Conservatives should think just as seriously about the second."

Will Saleton
at Slate.com/span>.

I've made a similar argument here. William Saleton refers to the human embryos as "the beginnings of people." Yes. They are, but I would go further by suggesting that they are only the "beginnings of people." We are talking about the research and destruction done to human blastulas, or, at most blastocyists - collections of non-differentiated cells - and as collections of non-differentiated cells homo sapiens at this stage of development lack a central nervous system and anything which suggests they are sentient:

"A blastocyst is an embryo with a ball of 40-50 undifferentiated cells and cavity arranged into the inner cells that will later develop into fetal tissue and the outer cells which will form the placenta. The blastocyst is an embryo at its earliest stages - usually 4 to 12 days old. It lacks the nervous system that would allow it to react and respond to their surroundings through taste, touch, sight, or sound (the neural growth process starts two weeks after ovulation), or a respiratory system.

Like the quasi-living "virus" (or some chemical reactions) but unlike an embryo at an older stage of development, fetus, or a human being after childbirth, the blastocyst's growth process can be shut on or off. Remove the embryo from the uterus and growth stops. It's growth can be frozen at will. Re-implant it within a woman's uterus and the growth process will continue as it had before (though I guess the environment which allows it to grow can be re-created in the petri dish).

It could split in two and provide the pregnant woman with twins but the two could reunite into one embryo before its fate is determined through further cell division and differentiation. If the two were to reunite would either one of the twins have died? No. The blastocyst's growth process could be turned on or off as noted above. The behavior more closely resembles that of two chemicals that are combined and react to their new surroundings, are then separated from one another, and then brought back together."

Doing violence to living organisms which feel and fear nothing is like doing violence to paper. No one is hurt (for how can non-sentient organisms be hurt?). Their potential is denied but that, for something which lacks the ability to expect or desire it, is no loss.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Stem Cell Research Relief

Today, President Barack Obama lifted the restrictions his predecessor placed on the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. In his announcement, the president acknowledged the limits of such research throughout his speech while, at the same time, forcefully making the case for such research:

"The full promise of stem cell research remains unknown," Mr. Obama said. "Medical miracles do not simply happen on their own. They result from painstaking and costly research - from years of lonely trial and error, much which never bears fruit - and from a government willing to support that work."

This should be recited as the stem cell advocates' support whenever the "pro-life" advocate who opposes stem cell research says we have seen some promise with the successful transformation of some adult stem cells into embryonic stem cells. Yes. Scientists have made some progress working with adult stem cells. And yes, scientists may find more promise dealing with some of the recited diseases that bewitch us altering stem cells than they would while testing embryonic stem cells. Scientists might find the cure to more diseases through adult stem cell research. Then again, they may not.

We don't know when that research potential will be exhausted and we probably wouldn't know for a very long time. We couldn't know, for as the president noted in his announcement, the discovery process involves a lot of trial and error. In some cases, adult-stem cell research might lead to more promising results but circumstances might lead scientists at other research facilities whose focus lies with a different set of genetic diseases to work with embryonic stem cell research.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Les'bean Shock

Rod Dreher loses it big time. Letting your boyfriend and his friends decapitate your own mother seems more shocking than living in a bisexually-tolerant climate and note that the daughter in this case had a boyfriend. Does Dreher believe her "choice" of being in an opposite-sex relationship played a role in murder? Obviously he believes it was the bisexuality but no such connection is made or even hinted at in the article.

Saturday Night Live Skits

There were three political skits performed on Saturday Night Live last week. Barack Obama's "Hulk" like transformation into "The Rock" was pretty dumb, Geitner's appeal for ideas was pretty good and Michael Steele's electrode was a riot.

Two Interesting Posts

I apologize for the light blogging this week. Hopefully that will change this week. In the mean time I would like to point any and all readers to two totally different articles in The Atlantic

The first concerns the economy, and how America's metropolitan centers will change in the aftermath. Richard Florida's prognostication? NY, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles and other mega-cities with diverse "metabolic" economies will survive. St. Louis, Detroit, and the sunbelt cities that thrived from housing construction and artificially rising home values will suffer for a longer period of time (Phoenix and Las Vegas are specifically cited).

How would Florida deal with the mortgage crisis? Move away from the ownership society, which "distorts" the shape of the economy in his view:

So how do we move past the bubble, the crash, and an aging, obsolescent model of economic life? What’s the right spatial fix for the economy today, and how do we achieve it?

The solution begins with the removal of homeownership from its long-privileged place at the center of the U.S. economy. Substantial incentives for homeownership (from tax breaks to artificially low mortgage-interest rates) distort demand, encouraging people to buy bigger houses than they otherwise would. That means less spending on medical technology, or software, or alternative energy—the sectors and products that could drive U.S. growth and exports in the coming years. Artificial demand for bigger houses also skews residential patterns, leading to excessive low-density suburban growth. The measures that prop up this demand should be eliminated.

If anything, our government policies should encourage renting, not buying. ...

... The foreclosure crisis creates a real opportunity here. Instead of resisting foreclosures, the government should seek to facilitate them in ways that can minimize pain and disruption. Banks that take back homes, for instance, could be required to offer to rent each home to the previous homeowner, at market rates—which are typically lower than mortgage payments—for some number of years. (At the end of that period, the former homeowner could be given the option to repurchase the home at the prevailing market price.) A bigger, healthier rental market, with more choices, would make renting a more attractive option for many people; it would also make the economy as a whole more flexible and responsive.

Next, we need to encourage growth in the regions and cities that are best positioned to compete in the coming decades: the great mega-regions that already power the economy, and the smaller, talent-attracting innovation centers inside them—places like Silicon Valley, Boulder, Austin, and the North Carolina Research Triangle."


The second article concerns the debate over the gay person's place within the Anglican Community and the means by which Archbishop Rowan Williams moves the dialogue toward gay affirmation at a glacial, or Burkean evolutionary pace.