Sunday, July 26, 2009

Last Call

Jake T. Snake over at Whiskey Fire expertly sums up the real issue with the brouhaha over Skip Gates (emphasis mine):
This couldn't be a more no win situation for Obama. Liberal folks like myself want him to name the beast of racism and call us out collectively. People of a more conservative stripe want him to pretend that we are that beautiful shining example of a colorblind society that offers equal opportunity to all. You should pardon the expression, but it just isn't that black and white. We will spend weeks parsing which parts of this interaction belong to us as a society and which pieces belong to the individuals involved and probably still not understand the realities of the other side of the racial divide.

What intrigues me in these various opinions is that many of them seem to feel that Obama (and Sonia Sotomayor in her confirmation hearings) must abandon their own history/experience and the mental filters that creates and make all their "official" decisions through the prism of the default or "normal" setting of white, male, middle class and center right. These folks never acknowledge that this point of view arises due to a set of unique experiences that are no more or less valid than Obama's and Sotomayor's. This assumption of a default setting creates a blind spot in the collective consciousness where people can not even imagine how someone could see a situation differently. It is the O.J. Simpson trial all over where the ground between the polarized views is sparsely populated indeed. It is a considerable threat to have one's core assumptions called into question and so we should expect more squawking from those who want the default setting to remain invisible and assumed.

The process of racial understanding must begin with the realization that my truth might not be the truth or that there might be multiple truths in one situation. Scary stuff.

Truer words were never spoken this week, Jake.

Something to definitely think about. I honestly don't think the country is ready for a person of color to be President yet. The comfortable assumptions of quite a few people are being challenged by Obama's election. As a country, we're still struggling to adapt, but adapt we must.

Kicking and screaming, we are all being dragged into uncharted territory here.

Kent Conrad Reveals The Problem

Here's the real problem with the current crop of Democrats in Congress, brilliantly displayed by North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad:
A key Democratic senator in health care reform negotiations said Sunday that his party lacks the votes to pass a bill through Congress on its own.

Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota told the ABC program "This Week" that the issue affecting every American and more than 15 percent of the U.S. economy requires broad support.

Asked if Democrats could push through a bill without Republican support, Conrad said: "It is not possible, and perhaps not desirable either."

Let's back that one on up and take a look at that.

There are 255 Democrats in the House out of 435 seats, or 58.6%. There are 60 out of 100 Senators in the Democratic caucus right now, an even 60%.

58.6% and 60% majorities are not enough to pass legislation. In fact, Conrad doesn't say that "there's an issue" or "we don't have the support" or "we can't get this bill on the floor", he specifically says it is not possible to pass this bill without the Republican party.

Why is it not possible? It is more than possible to do so mathematically. But Kent Conrad is telling us that it isn't. He's telling us it is impossible, despite having such a large majority and a President of the party in the White House.

Why is Kent Conrad saying this? Which party does he work for? Which interests does he work for? How can he explain this statement to his constituents in North Dakota who do not have affordable health care right now?

Why is Kent Conrad worried more about Congressional Republicans than he is his own constituents?

And you wonder why I'm worried about the August recess.

Phoenix And Dragon Must Fight, It Is The Way Of All Things

Nouriel Roubini and Anna Schwartz go at it in the NY Times op-ed page today over whether Helicopter Ben should keep his job or not. Bloomberg runs down the play-by-play...but the sides aren't what you'd expect.
Roubini, the New York University professor who predicted the credit crisis, said Bernanke deserves another term for averting a “near depression.” Schwartz, co-author with Milton Friedman of a history of U.S. monetary policy, wrote that the Fed chairman should be replaced because of policy missteps and a failure to clearly articulate the central bank’s goals.

The 55-year-old chairman, whose term expires in January, defended the Fed’s unprecedented actions to restore financial stability in testimony last week before Congress and said the economy is showing “tentative signs of stabilization.” Bernanke has cut the benchmark lending rate almost to zero and flooded the economy with cash to counter the deepest recession since World War II.

“The Fed’s creative and aggressive actions have significantly reduced the risks of a near depression,” Roubini wrote in his opinion piece. “For this reason alone Mr. Bernanke deserves to be reappointed so that he can manage the Fed’s exit from its most radical economic intervention since its creation in 1913.”

He praised Bernanke for policies that were “not in the traditional toolbox of monetary policy,” including extending credit to investment banks, supporting the commercial paper market, participating in the rescues of Bear Stearns Cos. and American International Group Inc. and committing to the purchase of $1.7 trillion of Treasury bonds, agency debt and mortgage- backed securities.

On the other hand, Schwartz says Ben needs to turn in his copter keys.
Schwartz, 93, a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research and Friedman’s co-author on “A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960,” blamed the Fed under Bernanke for failing to warn investors of the dangers of investing in securities backed by pools of mortgages.

“Partly as a result of the Fed’s silence, investors who loaded up their balance sheets with these securities were ignorant of the great risks of trying to sell assets that are difficult to price,” she wrote.

She also said the Fed didn’t live up to its own rhetoric about the importance of transparency and “failed to articulate its own goals,” adding to volatility in financial markets.

In particular, she said Bernanke failed to explain why the Fed supported the rescue of Bear Stearns and not Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., whose bankruptcy in September 2008 added to the severity of the credit crisis.

When credit markets seized up last year, Schwartz said, the Fed “persisted in believing that the market needed more liquidity” when “the real problem was that because of the mysterious new instruments that investors had acquired, no one knew which firms were solvent of what assets were worth.”

I personally think that it doesn't matter much, anyone that Obama would appoint at this juncture would almost certainly be another Ben Bernanke, the same way Bernanke was another Alan Greenspan, so in that respect, Roubini is correct. Better the devil you know...and Bernanke did at least come to the conclusion that deflation is the issue right now, not inflation.

Still, everything Schwartz says about Helicopter Ben is true. The Fed still hasn't explained why they let Lehman go under to any satisfaction, and turned a blind eye to the complex financial instruments that got us into this mess.

Should Bernanke keep his job? Not my call. He says he has a plan to get us out of this mess...but much of the reponsibility for the mess falls on his shoulders to begin with. It's a tough situation, same with Tim Geithner. Somebody has to run the Fed, somebody has to run Treasury. The list of other candidates that would do anything differently? Almost nil.

Absolution Zero

Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, the anti-abortion organization that demonized George Tiller for decades, is just one of the many who seek absolution for Tiller's death in the NY Times.

“His is the only abortion clinic we’ve never been able to close,” Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, said in an interview.

Yet what thousands could not achieve in three decades of relentless effort, a gunman accomplished on May 31 when he shot Dr. Tiller in the head at point-blank range while the doctor was ushering at church.

Scott Roeder, an abortion foe with the e-mail name “ServantofMessiah,” awaits trial in the murder. In a jailhouse interview, Mr. Roeder did not admit guilt but told a reporter that if he is convicted, his motive was to protect the unborn, a goal seemingly advanced when the Tiller family closed the clinic.

But in the weeks since the killing, supporters and opponents of Dr. Tiller have been measuring the larger ramifications. Implacably divided for so long, they now agree on a fundamental point: Dr. Tiller’s death represents an enormous loss for each side.

Abortion opponents are bracing for a drop in support, especially from those in the murky middle ground of the debate. Worse yet, after years of persuading supporters to work within the law, they say they have already lost credibility among the most ardent abortion opponents who cannot help pointing out that one gunman achieved what all their protests and prayers could not.

“The credit is going to go to him,” Mark S. Gietzen, chairman of the Kansas Coalition for Life, said of Mr. Roeder. “There are people who are agreeing with him.”
The article goes on like this for eight pages or so, a hagiography of Tiller accompanied by mea culpas from the various players over the years that did their dead level best to portray Tiller as an inhuman killer.

What bothers me the most is the sense of false nobility these people have for Tiller, that the anti-abortion forces saw Tiller as some sort of noble foe, one worthy of their respect because even though they hated him, Tiller would not buckle under to them. It's a device they use to mask their own complicity in Tiller's death.

When Tiller was alive, they did everything they could to convince people that he was a mass murderer, some sort of Hippocratic Antichrist. When their protestations and promises that God would judge Tiller kept going unanswered, one man took it upon himself to judge Tiller for Him.

Now that he is dead of course, Tiller was a "respected enemy". Only after Tiller was murdered have his enemies magically rediscovered his humanity, the humanity Operation Rescue and others attempted to flense from Tiller, one strip of flesh at a time, for a good twenty years.

Poor Operation Rescue, at the mercy now of the beast it unleashed upon America. We are supposed to pity them, to feel sorry for them, and most importantly, to keep donating money to them. Let's not forget the issue here, with no Tiller to demonize and blood on their hands, who will donate money to keep them going?

The purpose here is to ask for forgiveness in the court of public opinion, forgiveness that will lead to dollars in the organization's coffers. They come not to bury a revered enemy, but to con you in to helping them survive to demonize the next doctor who still chooses to provide abortion services. When the next doctor or nurse is killed or the next clinic bombed, they will seek forgiveness again.

They always do. Users and manipulators always need those who can enable them. Tiller's loss really does hurt these their bottom line. So, they have to apologize and pray it never happens again.

They've been saying that for decades now.

Enablers wanted, enquire within.

Who Do You Antitrust, Baby?

Stephen Labaton's front pager on the Sunday NY Times details the Obama administration's efforts to actually investigate and move on the massive backlog of antitrust complaints from the Bush era. Naturally, after that section of the Justice Department being all but mothballed for years, the protests from both the business community and those who represent their interests in Washington are that once again, Obama's DoJ is doing too much too soon.
The more aggressive antitrust policy was described in interviews with officials at the White House, the Justice Department, other agencies and Congress. It is a major policy reversal from the Bush administration, which did not prosecute cases in which some dominant companies engaged in potentially anticompetitive behavior, often because those officials maintained such behavior was not harmful to consumers.

Democrats have spent years trying to gain the support of businesses, and the policy changes under way may have long-term political implications for their party. Some companies would like to see more aggressive antitrust enforcement against their rivals, while others could be hurt by it.

In some cases, though, the new approach is being opposed by administration officials. Some fear that the crackdown is coming at a bad time, as corporate America reels from the recession. Other officials embrace the Bush administration’s view that larger companies and industry alliances can provide consumer benefits by making their businesses more efficient.
Note the warnings and the argument here: Democrats are going to hurt themselves "long-term" and larger businesses with alliances between competitors are more efficient and better for the consumer.

Isn't that second argument completely rejected by conservatives when it comes to health care, public services, education, and other government functions as the reasons why government cannot do the job? I mean, aren't we saying here that it's alright for a bloated, huge monopoly or oligopoly to run anything as long as there's a profit motive involved? Is that the only thing that matters in the end?
One clash played out recently when the Transportation Department, rejecting many of Ms. Varney’s recommendations, approved an antitrust immunity request involving a global alliance of nine airlines; Continental Airlines wanted to join the alliance to share routes, marketing and revenue.

The antitrust division argued the immunity was unnecessary for approving the newly reconstituted alliance and that it could lead to rates rising from 6 to 15 percent for many routes, according to public filings. The Transportation Department rejected that analysis for most of the routes and instead endorsed a policy popular during the Bush administration that favored such industry agreements out of a desire for efficiency.

The disagreement became so heated that the president’s chief economic adviser, Lawrence H. Summers, was called in to mediate.

Administration officials said that Mr. Summers did not take sides in the dispute but urged the two agencies to reach an agreement as they sought to balance the interests of the industry against those of consumers.

In a second area, senior Democrats are proposing legislation to eliminate an exemption from antitrust law for commercial railroad companies. It would give the antitrust division the authority to scrutinize the railroads for anticompetitive practices.

The proposal, by Senator Herbert Kohl of Wisconsin, who heads the antitrust subcommittee, and Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, has been sought by a coalition of railroad shippers. But so far the administration has not taken a position on the measure.

In a third area, a White House effort to overhaul financial regulation, officials weighed but rejected a significant antitrust role as a way to reduce the size of large companies considered too big to be allowed to fail.

“The struggles between the expert agencies and the Justice Department get to the heart and soul of exactly what the competition policy of the Obama administration will be,” said Mark Cooper, an antitrust expert and director of research at the Consumer Federation of America, an advocacy group.

He added: “Now you have an antitrust division that cares about competition, and it is running up against the expert agencies that haven’t changed their attitudes yet.
Six months hasn't changed the prevailing attitudes in the rank and file levels of our federal cabinet bureaucracy yet. Everyone's got their own little fiefdom to protect and billions of dollars to guard. Antitrust is only a nuisance in the age of multinationals...unless you can use it to break your competition. Actually using it to benefit the consumer instead of the corporations who donate the big bucks? What kind of silly idealists in the Obama DoJ are there, anyway? Too Big To Fail doesn't just mean banks, you know.

It means everything. We have a government full of people who believe their job is to do nothing. No oversight, no regulation, no interference, no checks, no anything. Let the businesses do what they want and the consequences be damned.

Just like the banks in 2008. What could go wrong? The free markets know best, right?

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Miles Of Ice

An interesting story in the UK's Guardian today, the Obama administration has declassified several Bush spy satellite images, initially classified not for what they revealed about troop movements or terrorists, but what they revealed about shrinking arctic ice.

Graphic images that reveal the devastating impact of global warming in the Arctic have been released by the US military. The photographs, taken by spy satellites over the past decade, confirm that in recent years vast areas in high latitudes have lost their ice cover in summer months.

The pictures, kept secret by Washington during the presidency of George W Bush, were declassified by the White House last week. President Barack Obama is currently trying to galvanise Congress and the American public to take action to halt catastrophic climate change caused by rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

One particularly striking set of images - selected from the 1,000 photographs released - includes views of the Alaskan port of Barrow. One, taken in July 2006, shows sea ice still nestling close to the shore. A second image shows that by the following July the coastal waters were entirely ice-free.

The photographs demonstrate starkly how global warming is changing the Arctic. More than a million square kilometres of sea ice - a record loss - were missing in the summer of 2007 compared with the previous year.

Nor has this loss shown any sign of recovery. Ice cover for 2008 was almost as bad as for 2007, and this year levels look equally sparse.

Something's got to give eventually. The ice has been almost completely gone in the summer now for three years straight, and it doesn't look like it's coming back anytime soon. Enough events like this and the planet won't be able to rebalance itself without extreme instances of weather: super-storms, extreme heat and cold, ocean current changes, and more.

The effect on us will be devastating. But for years, Bush thought that nobody needed to know.

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