President Obama’s Time Better Spent Wheedling Rather Than Weeding

March 22nd, 2009

Washington’s Not So Secret Garden” is the title of a “Room for Debate” article in today’s New York Times. Here is the comment I posted.

Why should President Obama have to spend any of his time weeding? They may be just another American family, but the South Lawn of the White House is not just another American lawn. Obama is entitled to spend his spare time as he sees fit. I doubt that includes weeding, unless one means wheedling things out of Congress.
(end of comment)

Maureen Dowd, in her column today, “Toxic R Us“, writes:

“The tableau of Michelle Obama hoisting a pitchfork on Friday with her sinewy arms and warning that the commander in chief would be commandeered into yard work left me wondering if the wrong Obama is in the Oval.
It’s a time in America’s history where we need less smooth jazz and more martial brass.”

Give me a break! Have we lost the ability to distinguish symbolism from substance? Admittedly, George W. Bush tried to merge them whenever possible. President Obama has to do the “heavy lifting” for the country, but this does not mean he has to wield a pitchfork.

The Merrill-Lynch-Mob

March 20th, 2009

Welcome to mob rule, as orchestrated by the House of Representatives, who yesterday created a “bonus tax bracket” of 90% on bonuses paid by certain companies receiving Federal Bailout money.

Forget about contracts, the rule of law, the fact that Eliot Spitzer engineered the departure of longtime AIG chief Maurice Greenberg by threatening a lawsuit he never brought, etc. Let’s just stick it to AIG employees, anyone we can find, regardless of what division of the company they work at and what their position is (was).

“Open Season” has been declared on employees at AIG, Merrill-Lynch (now part of Bank of America), Citigroup, and the like. This is not only irrational, but counterproductive as well. And don’t forget, many little people work at banks and other financial institutions.

We should focus on more serious issues, such as the firms that AIG is paying with the bailout money, but hey (hay?), it’s hard to stick a pitchfork into that!

 

NYT article

 

Why I Do Not Support President Obama’s Budget in Its Entirety

March 18th, 2009

Below is an article in the Detroit Free Press

March 17, 2009
Levin, others oppose adding gas permits to budget debate

BY ANDREW TAYLOR
ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON — Michigan Democrat Carl Levin and seven of his fellow Democratic senators are opposing speedy action on President Barack Obama’s bill to combat global warming, complicating prospects for the legislation and creating problems for party leaders.
The eight Democrats disapprove of using the annual budget debate to pass Obama’s “cap-and-trade” bill to fight greenhouse gas emissions, a measure that divides lawmakers, environmentalists and businesses. The lawmakers’ opposition makes it more difficult for Democratic leaders to move the bill without a threat of a Republican filibuster.
The budget debate is the only way to circumvent Senate rules that allow a unified GOP to stop a bill through filibusters.

“Enactment of a cap-and-trade regime is likely to influence nearly every feature of the U.S. economy,” wrote the Democratic senators, mostly moderates. They were joined by 25 Republicans. “Legislation so far-reaching should be fully vetted and given appropriate time for debate.”
It takes 60 votes to overcome a filibuster in the Senate, but Democrats and allied independents currently control 58 seats.
Under a cap-and-trade system, the government would auction off permits to emit greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. The auctions would raise almost $650 billion over the next decade, with the cost passed to consumers as higher energy prices.
The proposal is highly controversial, especially in heavily industrialized regions where people get their electricity from coal-fired power plants. Obama’s promise to use most of the revenue to award $400 tax credits to most workers hasn’t quelled the controversy since the increases in utility bills could easily exceed the amount of the tax cut.
The other Democrats who signed the letter, addressed to the chairman and top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, were Robert Byrd, West Virginia; Blanche Lincoln, Arkansas; Mary Landrieu, Louisiana; Evan Bayh, Indiana; Ben Nelson, Nebraska; Bob Casey Jr., Pennsylvania, and Mark Pryor, Arkansas.
The 25 Republicans were led by Sen. Mike Johanns of Nebraska.
The House and Senate budget committees are slated to vote on the resolution next week, with Senate debate scheduled for the week of March 30. (end of article)O

As part of the Obama “team“, I have received several emails urging me to support the President’s Budget. I do not support it in its entirety, for the reasons given in the above article. “Cap and trade” should be debated separately on its merits and not pushed through as part of the Budget bill. If it stays in, I trust that Senator Levin will vote against it, and I hope my other senator, Debbie Stabenow, and my congressman, Gary Peters will do likewise. This budget need not be swallowed whole. Long-term goals and their proper implementation should be properly debated. What’s the big rush?
article

Bonus Madness and AIG

March 17th, 2009

 From an article  in today’s Washington Post:

“Fed officials also hope to keep current employees with [AIG]. The senior executives whose decisions caused the company’s collapse are long gone. Most of those left behind are trying to unwind complicated derivative contracts. Completing that process correctly is essential to preserving as much value as possible for taxpayers, officials at both the government and AIG have argued. If it is mishandled, it could expose taxpayers to billions of dollars in additional losses.”

The “madness” I refer to is the fury of the people wanting the bonuses rescinded. Hey, this is [was] capitalism. People get rewarded handsomely, and when not properly regulated they may engage in risky financial activity which sometimes blows up in their (and now our) faces.

The staff at the AIG division that promoted these derivative contracts are now trying to unwind the damage that was done. Why should they be made scapegoats? Why should foot soldiers be blamed for an army run amok? They make a convenient target, but our wrath should be directed elsewhere. starting with Alan Greenspan and working down.

I Weigh In on Cramer vs. Stewart.

March 14th, 2009

Here is a post on E. J.’s precinct at the Washington Post, and my response.

“So, who’s to blame for the financial mess we’re in? Jon Stewart, the host of the Daily Show, called out CNBC, airing a viral video of a number of mistakes and overly rosy predictions made by the network as banks failed and the economy turned south. Jim Cramer, the host of “Mad Money,” shot back at Stewart, and the two finally met on the Daily Show last night. As Howard Kurtz wrote, “Jon Stewart wasn’t trying to be funny. Jim Cramer wasn’t trying to be obnoxious.” As with Stewart’s infamous Crossfire appearance (when he said “We need help from the media and they’re hurting us”), Stewart’s explicit goal was to criticize what he perceived as a failure of the media, with genuine anger and without satire. And Cramer sat and apologized. Did you watch the show? Do you think Stewart’s right that CNBC is part of the problem? Or has his popularity gone to his head? Posted by Alex Remington “

Cramer seems to have forgotten that he did have a rant in, I believe, August of 2007 about the unfolding subprime crisis, and that people should “look out the window” and see what was going on. Stewart didn’t play that clip. He brought down Crossfire, and now he’s targeting CNBC. He got into this because he was irritated when Rick Santelli didn’t appear on his show, cancelling at the last minute.

Bob Dole joked that the best place to get news these days is from comedy shows. A sorry state of affairs. I don’t see why CNBC should be singled out.

Robert Samuelson, with his distorted and “ideological” columns, has done far more damage than Cramer could ever do. His column in the current Newsweek is a good example. But Stewart can’t go after him, because that would take a lot of work and probably bore most people.

The real problem is not with the gang at CNBC, but with the “columnist kings” who can say whatever they want and are answerable to one. Another good example is Charles Krauthammer. (See the comment I posted about his March 6th column.) Michael Kinsley, on the other hand, always has sound arguments and doesn’t screw with the facts.

E.J.\'s Precinct

Karl Rove on White House “Attack” on Rush Limbaugh

March 12th, 2009

“The White House Misfires on Limbaugh” is the title of a column  by Karl Rove in today’s Wall Street Journal, in which he criticizes the recent White House “attack” on Rush Limbaugh and claims that it was meant as a diversionary tactic to keep the public from focusing on more important issues. Here is the comment I posted. (Don’t hold your breath waiting for it to appear.)

This is all very interesting, coming from Mr. Rove. Truly the pot calling the kettle black. I agree that the White House should not have gone after Limbaugh, but for a different reason. With all his ranting, promoting the “big lie”, distortions and hate-mongering, he is not just the “entertainer” he claims to be. He is more Josef Goebbels than George Goebel. This attack helps legitimize Limbaugh as a member of the public commentariat, as does the WSJ by running his columns. He should be ostracized as the pariah he truly is. Shame on the White House and shame on you.
(end of comment)

Listening to Limbaugh recently, he has suddenly become all sweetness and light, while still continuing his lies and distortions. I argued against going after Limbaugh, but who listens to me? This wasn’t just a misfire, it has backfired!

Update: My comment did in fact appear on the WSJ Forum

Charles Krauthammer’s Twisted Logic

March 6th, 2009

Charles Krauthammer, in his column, “The Great Non Sequitur, The Sleight of Hand Behind Obama’s Agenda” in today’s Washington Post, has twisted the logic in President Obama’s recent address to Congress. Obama is saying that changes in healthcare education and energy will help grow the economy, that they have been put off for too long in favor of short term goals. (Although dependence on foreign oil did have something to do with the current crisis.)

Obama’s argument.

PREMISE: Reforms in healthcare, energy and education were deferred in the past in favor of short term gains.

PREMISE: Search for short term financial gains without adequate regulation, and the lack of fiscal responsibility, got us into the current crisis.

PREMISE: Reforms in healthcare, energy and education will help grow the economy.

CONCLUSION: Therefore: In addition to reviving the economy, we must push for reforms in healthcare, energy and education to help insure our long term prosperity.

Not a non sequitur, Dr. Krauthammer.

Krauthammer’s version:

The logic of Obama’s address to Congress went like this:

“Our economy did not fall into decline overnight,” he averred. Indeed, it all began before the housing crisis. What did we do wrong? We are paying for past sins in three principal areas: energy, health care and education — importing too much oil and not finding new sources of energy (as in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Outer Continental Shelf?), not reforming health care, and tolerating too many bad schools.

The “day of reckoning” has arrived. And because “it is only by understanding how we arrived at this moment that we’ll be able to lift ourselves out of this predicament,” Obama has come to redeem us with his far-seeing program of universal, heavily nationalized health care; a cap-and-trade tax on energy; and a major federalization of education with universal access to college as the goal.

Amazing. As an explanation of our current economic difficulties, this is total fantasy. As a cure for rapidly growing joblessness, a massive destruction of wealth, a deepening worldwide recession, this is perhaps the greatest non sequitur ever foisted upon the American people.

Obama in his speech

 

The fact is, our economy did not fall into decline overnight. Nor did all of our problems begin when the housing market collapsed or the stock market sank. We have known for decades that our survival depends on finding new sources of energy. Yet we import more oil today than ever before. The cost of health care eats up more and more of our savings each year, yet we keep delaying reform. Our children will compete for jobs in a global economy that too many of our schools do not prepare them for. And though all these challenges went unsolved, we still managed to spend more money and pile up more debt, both as individuals and through our government, than ever before.

In other words, we have lived through an era where too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election. A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future. Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market. People bought homes they knew they couldn’t afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway. And all the while, critical debates and difficult decisions were put off for some other time on some other day.

Well that day of reckoning has arrived, and the time to take charge of our future is here.

Now is the time to act boldly and wisely – to not only revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity. Now is the time to jumpstart job creation, re-start lending, and invest in areas like energy, health care, and education that will grow our economy, even as we make hard choices to bring our deficit down.

 I rest my case

David Brooks Warns that We’re Up the Creek

March 3rd, 2009

In today’s NY Times column, “A Moderate Manifesto,” David Brooks “sounds the alarm” over the proposed Obama budget. He quotes a column in a similar vein by Clive Crook of the Financial Times, “The Budget Reveals the Liberal Obama”, in which Crook says,

“The draft contains no trace of compromise. It makes no gesture, however small, however costless to its larger agenda, of a bipartisan approach to the great questions it addresses. It is a liberal’s dream of a new New Deal.”

Here is the comment I posted.

“David Brooks, in this column, is giving fodder to the hard right. He is always thoughtful, but now he sounds naive.
“Barack Obama is not who we thought he was.”
Limbaugh will have a field day with that one. (BTW, RNC Chair Michael Steele just apologized to El Rushbo.)
It is worth noting that part of the tax code has always been for income redistribution. It is as American as Teddy Bears. (as in Teddy Roosevelt)
Obama presented his budget, so now “moderates” like Brooks should try to change what they perceive as its excesses. A good place to start would be with House Democrats. This administration believes in the democratic process, as opposed to the last one. So my advice to Brooks is to write (or e-mail) his congressman!”

Such gnashing of teeth! Doesn’t it break your heart? Crook even apologized to Republicans.
Brooks, Crook. Schnooks. Let the income redistribution begin!

That Cartoon. An Update

February 26th, 2009

Here is the statement from Rupert Murdoch in Tuesday’s New York Post about “that cartoon”.

“As the Chairman of the New York Post, I am ultimately responsible for what is printed in its pages. The buck stops with me.
Last week, we made a mistake. We ran a cartoon that offended many people. Today I want to personally apologize to any reader who felt offended, and even insulted.
Over the past couple of days, I have spoken to a number of people and I now better understand the hurt this cartoon has caused. At the same time, I have had conversations with Post editors about the situation and I can assure you – without a doubt – that the only intent of that cartoon was to mock a badly written piece of legislation. It was not meant to be racist, but unfortunately, it was interpreted by many as such.
We all hold the readers of the New York Post in high regard and I promise you that we will seek to be more attuned to the sensitivities of our community.”

I believe him. After all, the main author of the Stimulus package was Nancy Pelosi, so the chimp, in the cartoonist’s mind, was akin to one of those monkeys I referred to in my earlier post. It was too “overtly racist”, if you will, to refer to Obama. However, the key phrase in Murdoch’s statement is “sensitivities”. Old racist stereotypes die hard, and they are still alive in many people’s minds.

That New York Post Cartoon

February 20th, 2009

First, the cartoon, by Sean Delonas.

Second, the response by the Post to the criticism it received.

THAT CARTOON

Wednesday’s Page Six cartoon – caricaturing Monday’s police shooting of a chimpanzee in Connecticut – has created considerable controversy.
It shows two police officers standing over the chimp’s body: “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill,” one officer says.
It was meant to mock an ineptly written federal stimulus bill.
Period.
But it has been taken as something else – as a depiction of President Obama, as a thinly veiled expression of racism.
This most certainly was not its intent; to those who were offended by the image, we apologize.
However, there are some in the media and in public life who have had differences with The Post in the past – and they see the incident as an opportunity for payback.
To them, no apology is due.
Sometimes a cartoon is just a cartoon – even as the opportunists seek to make it something else.

Third, my attempt to logically analyze this.

I should point out the difficulties in trying apply logic to what is written in newspapers, let alone newspaper cartoons, but here goes.

The Post said that the cartoon was meant to mock an ineptly written federal stimulus bill.
Surely the caption gave the strong impression that the dead chimpanzee represented in some way the writer(s) of said bill. Now there’s that old joke about if you had enough monkeys on typewriters, one would do Hamlet. By the same token, one would do the stimulus bill. Is that where the cartoonist was going? One dead chimp to a lot of (dead) monkeys?

Then there’s the Post’s disclaimer that their apology doesn’t apply to opportunists looking for payback. So their apology only applies to people who were genuinely offended, as opposed to those who are always looking for ways to be offended by the Post.

But let’s ask ourselves, who in fact wrote the Stimulus Bill. Evidently it was written by Congressional Democrats and their staffers (the monkeys?), with guidance from the White House. However, at the end of the day, if one name has to be attached to the bill, it is that of our president, Barack Obama, who just happens to be an African-American.

Enter stage right the longtime racist identification of black people with apes of various kinds. So was the chimpanzee, and a dead one at that, meant to represent our president? If so, we should bring on the Patriot Act.

End of my analysis. To paraphrase Fox News, I pontificate, you decide.

PS. I’m sure you’re dieing to know where I come down on this. I think that, subconsciously, the cartoonist associated Obama with an ape, though not a dead one. Such associations should really be banished, even from humor. They just aren’t funny, not to mention disrespectful. The New York Post has plenty of other ways to spread its venom.
Cartoon by Sean Delonas