Archive for October, 2010

Truman’s dictum

October 31, 2010

If you run a Republican against a Republican, the Republican will win every time.

The craziness factor

October 30, 2010

Craziness is not new in American politics.  I remember the Joe McCarthy era, when otherwise sane people believed that President Truman was knowingly harboring Communists within his administration and patriots such as Dean Acheson and General George C. Marshall were secret Soviet agents.  The John Birch Society, which out-McCarthy-ed McCarthy, said President Eisenhower was a secret Soviet agent.  In their heyday, the Birchers represented a significant minority of American voters at that time.

I remember the Clinton administration, when otherwise sane people believed that President Clinton was a Soviet sleeper agent recruited on a trip to Moscow when he was a college student, that he murdered Vince Foster, that he was in cahoots with a drug cartel operating out of Mena, Arkansas, that his wife decorated the White House Christmas tree with obscene and blasphemous ornaments – it seemed as if nothing was too trivial or too far-fetched to throw at him.

Church sign in Kansas

Where President Obama is concerned, craziness is at high tide.

Some examples:  Is Obama a Communist, Fascist or Socialist? He is all three at the same time. President Obama is a MuslimWhy is a crescent on the U.S. Missile Defense logo? Obama may be (it’s hard to say) the love child of Malcolm X. It’s not the birth certificate, it’s the DNA.   Obama thinks like a Kenyan anti-colonialist.

Now, it’s true that crazy people can be found on all parts of the political map.  I know otherwise reasonable people who take seriously the idea that the 9/11 attacks were masterminded by President Bush or Vice President Cheney, which is just as crazy as any of the idea I’ve linked to here.  But although my political bias may affect my perception, I think the current right-wing craziness is something special.

The problem with the crazy people is that if you take the time to make the argument that, no, Obama is not really a Communist, fascist, socialist, secret Muslim jihadist or radical Christian black liberationist, you find you don’t have the time to talk about what Obama has actually done and said, including his very real failures.


Obama derangement syndrome

October 29, 2010

Obama as the Communist messiah

Obama as the angel of death


Democrats then and now

October 29, 2010

The Democrats in 2008 ran for office based on what they promised to do if elected.

The Democrats in 2010 are running for office based not on their record, but on what they say the other party will do if elected.

Conservatives and liberals: the difference (4)

October 28, 2010

Liberals are like a doctor who tells somebody with cancer of the brain to go and take two aspirin.

Conservatives are like a doctor who tells somebody with cancer of the brain to go and shoot himself in the head.

Things that are no longer important

October 27, 2010

Nobody I know cares that Carl Paladino, the Republican nominee for Governor of New York, and Rick Lazio, his unsuccessful rival for the Republican nomination, and Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic nominee, are all Italian-Americans.

Nobody I know cares that David Paterson, the incumbent Governor of New York, is an African-American who is legally blind.

Nobody I know cares that the U.S. Supreme Court is made up of six Catholics, three Jews and no Protestants.

I can remember when these things would have been all-important.  It is a reason to hope that the ethnic and sectarian conflicts of the present will someday seem equally unimportant.

Obama did actually cut the deficit a little

October 26, 2010

For what it’s worth, President Obama’s administration actually did succeed in reducing the annual federal budget deficit, although not by much.  Many of the charts and articles in newspapers are misleading on this point, because they count fiscal 2009 as the first budget year of the Obama administration.  Fiscal 2009 began on October 1, 2008, so it was the last budget year of the Bush administration.

The chart is based on a projection made last summer.  Click on U.S. deficit shrinks nearly nine percent in fiscal 2010 for the actual figures.

If, for you, the deficit is the big issue that overrides all others, the Obama record so far is not as bad as the Bush record.  And Obama’s problems are more the result of the situation he inherited than any particular thing he has done.  But the situation has to be dealt with. This is another one of these cases where not being as bad as President Bush is not good enough.


Exit Juan Williams

October 26, 2010

I don’t think any journalist or academic who is doing a good job should be fired for making a single offensive statement, however stupid.  In most cases, though, the statement that gets the person fired is not the real reason, but a last straw coming after a whole lot of other things.

One example is Lawrence Summers, who was fired as president of Harvard University after saying that women may have genetic limitations that keep them from the highest level of achievement in mathematics.  This came after he had antagonized just about every major constituency in the Harvard academic community.  Casey Stengel is supposed to have said that the secret of management is to keep the players who hate you away from the ones who haven’t made up their minds.  Summers hadn’t learned that lesson.  If he had, I think the controversy over his remark would have been allowed to blow over.

Some people seem to be able to get away with anything, and others lose their jobs over the least little thing.  In most cases, the difference has to do with their relative value to their employers.  There are exceptions.  Phil Donahue’s morning show was canceled by MSNBC in 2003, despite its being MSNBC’s highest rated show, because he was critical of President Bush.


Juan Williams

In the case of Juan Williams being fired by National Public Radio, the occasion for his firing was his statement to Bill O’Reilly on Fox News about how fear of people in “Muslim garb” was understandable.  I believe the underlying reason was the conflict of interest between his role as an anchor for NPR and his role as a commentator for Fox.  He took his credentials based on NPR’s reputation for objectivity and professionalism, and put them at the service of Fox News’ inflammatory propaganda aimed at stirring up ethnic and religious conflict.  NPR could have have tolerated this situation indefinitely.  Williams had to choose whether to be a journalist for NPR or a token liberal for Fox, and he chose the more lucrative option.

NPR put itself in a bad light in the knee-jerk way it responded to Williams’ statement.  It would have been smarter and classier to have quietly declined to renew his contract the next time it came up.  But I don’t think NPR would have acted as it did if management were not already displeased with Williams’ role on Fox.


Muslim garb

October 24, 2010

[10/24/10] Ex-NPR commentator Juan Williams last week commented as follows on Fox News.

I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous. Now, I remember also that when the Times Square bomber was at court, I think this was just last week. He said the war with Muslims, America’s war is just beginning, first drop of blood. I don’t think there’s any way to get away from these facts.

Click on Pictures of Muslims Wearing Things or look below to see pictures of people in Muslim garb.


John Scalzi on poverty and privilege

October 24, 2010

John Scalzi is a science-fiction writer who wrote an on-line essay, “Being Poor,” that has been widely copied.

Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs.

Being poor is getting angry at your kids for asking for all the crap they see on TV.

Being poor is having to keep buying $800 cars because they’re what you can afford, and then having the cars break down on you, because there’s not an $800 car in America that’s worth a damn.

Being poor is hoping the toothache goes away.

Being poor is knowing your kid goes to friends’ houses but never has friends over to yours.

Being poor is going to the restroom before you get in the school lunch line so your friends will be ahead of you and won’t hear you say “I get  free lunch” when you get to the cashier.

Being poor is living next to the freeway.

Click on Being Poor to read the whole thing.

Recently he wrote a new essay, “Things I Don’t Have to Think About Today,” which I think will also be widely copied.

Today I don’t have to think about those who hear “terrorist” when I speak my faith.

Today I don’t have to think about men who don’t believe no means no.

Today I don’t have to think about how the world is made for people who move differently than I do.

Today I don’t have to think about whether I’m married, depending on what state I’m in.

Today I don’t have to think about how I’m going to hail a cab past midnight.

Today I don’t have to think about whether store security is tailing me.

Today I don’t have to think about the look on the face of the person about to sit next to me on a plane.

Today I don’t have to think about eyes going to my chest first.

Click on Things I Don’t Have to Think About Today to read the whole thing.

Click on Whatever for Scalzi’s home page.

Money power and people power

October 22, 2010

The big new factor in the current election is not the Tea Party rebellion from below.  It is the corporate money revolution from above.

The game of politics has long been stacked to the advantage of corporations and multi-millionaires, but their advantage has been raised to a new level. The right-wing majority on the U.S. Supreme Court in its Citizens United decision earlier this year unleashed corporations to spend money without limit and in secret.  They lost no time in taking advantage of this ruling.

The Washington Post reported earlier this month on how the flood of corporate money is affecting the 2010 election campaign:

Interest groups are spending five times as much on the 2010 congressional elections as they did on the last midterms, and they are more secretive than ever about where that money is coming from.

The $80 million spent so far by groups outside the Democratic and Republican parties dwarfs the $16 million spent at this point for the 2006 midterms. In that election, the vast majority of money – more than 90 percent – was disclosed along with donors’ identities. This year, that figure has fallen to less than half of the total …

The trends amount to a spending frenzy conducted largely in the shadows.  The bulk of the money is being spent by conservatives, who have swamped their Democratic-aligned competition by 7 to 1 in recent weeks. …

Conservative groups such as Americans for Job Security and Crossroads GPS, an arm of the American Crossroads group, co-founded by former George W. Bush administration adviser Karl Rove, are organized as nonprofits and don’t have to disclose who is giving them money. Some liberal groups, such as the League of Conservation Voters, an environmental group, are also nonprofits but raise money on a much smaller scale.

One major player this year is the 60 Plus Association, an Alexandria-based group that bills itself as the conservative alternative to the AARP seniors group. In 2008, the group reported less than $2 million in revenue, most of it from direct-mail contributions.

This year the group has spent $7 million on election-related ads, according to its FEC reports. It also funded a $9 million campaign against Obama’s health-care overhaul in 2009.

Click on Washington Post for the full article.


Who owns Congress?

October 21, 2010

This chart is from the September / October issue of Mother Jones magazine, and reflects donations that individual Senators and Representatives have received over their entire political careers.

What it shows is that more than half the Senate and a third of the House of Representatives are more beholden to Wall Street than to any other interest, and that while about a third of the House members are primarily beholden to organized labor, that is true only of 4 percent of the Senate.

Click on Congress’s Corporate Sponsors for details.

Click on BP’s Favorite Politicians for a list that may (or may not) be surprising.


Obama deports more migrants than Bush

October 20, 2010


The federal government deported more illegal immigrants in fiscal 2010 (which ended Sept. 30) than in any previous year.  Nearly 400,000 illegal immigrants were deported.  While that is a lot, it is estimated that there are more than 10 million people residing in the United States who entered without proper documentation.  At the present rate, it would take 25 years to deport them all – assuming they weren’t replaced by additional illegal immigrants.

The Obama administration has continued to step up enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border, and has expanded the Bush administration’s Secure Communities policy, which helps local law enforcement officials identify illegal aliens among people arrested on criminal charges.

The big bottleneck in immigration enforcement is the same under the Obama administration as under the Bush administration – failure to appoint sufficient numbers of immigration judges to process the cases.  Immigration judges are officials of the U.S. Department of Justice, not part of the federal court system.

Surveys by the Pew Hispanic Center indicate that illegal immigration fell nearly two-thirds in the past five years, but this probably is due more to the bad U.S. job market than enforcement.

What all this shows is that, for good or ill, the Obama administration’s policy on immigration is a continuation of the Bush administration’s policy.


Fat cats and underdogs

October 20, 2010

President Obama was elected with the support of both fat cats and underdogs.  He raised more money than any President in my adult lifetime, drawing significant corporate and Republican support while arousing the enthusiasm of young people who’d never before participated in politics.

After he was sworn in, it seems to me that he had a choice of two alternatives.  He could have tried to lock in corporate support through a Democratic version of the Republican K Street Project.  Or he could have tried to mobilize his grass-roots supporters behind a public option in health care, a breakup of the “too big to fail” banks and New Deal-scale public works projects.

I have no way to know what was on his mind, but it seems to me he tried to have things both ways. I think he thought it was possible to reform health care, regulate the “too big to fail” banks and bring about an economic recovery without threatening the interests of his Fortune 500 supporters.

Now the elections are coming up.  The Republicans have regained their money advantage and the Democrats suffer an enthusiasm gap among their core supporters.  I think a great opportunity for progressives has been missed, and it may not come again anytime soon.


Republican presidential candidate quiz

October 20, 2010

Which of the following potential Republican presidential candidates is different from the others?

Newt Gingrich, disgraced former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Mike Huckabee, former Governor of Arkansas.

Mitt Romney, fomer Governor of Massachusetts.

Sarah Palin, former half-term Governor of Alaska.

Rick Santorum, former Senator from Pennsylvania.


Aesop’s fable of the Obama administration

October 19, 2010

A MAN and his son were once going with their Donkey to market. As they were walking along by its side a countryman passed them and said: “You fools, what is a Donkey for but to ride upon?”

So the Man put the Boy on the Donkey and they went on their way. But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said: “See that lazy youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides.”


Why we shouldn’t help the unemployed

October 18, 2010


Working class is middle-class no more

October 18, 2010

It is a proud boast of the United States that we were the first country, and for a time the only country, in which members of the working class could enjoy a middle class income and standard of living.  Unfortunately this is becoming a thing of the past.

What’s happening is well-described in an article by Andy Kroll on the Tom Dispatch web site.  Here are some highlights.

Sometime in early June — he’s not exactly sure which day — Rick Rembold joined history. That he doesn’t remember comes as little surprise: Who wants their name etched into the record books for not having a job?

For Rembold, that day in June marked six months since he’d last pulled a steady paycheck, at which point his name joined the rapidly growing list of American workers deemed “long-term unemployed” by the Department of Labor. In the worst jobs crisis in generations, the ranks of Rembolds, stranded on the sidelines, have exploded by over 400% — from 1.3 million in December 2007, when the recession began, to 6.8 million this June. The extraordinary growth of this jobless underclass is a harbinger of prolonged pain for the American economy.

This summer, I set out to explore just why long-term unemployment had risen to historic levels — and stumbled across Rembold. A 56-year-old resident of Mishawaka, Indiana, he caught the unnerving mix of frustration, anger, and helplessness voiced by so many other unemployed workers I’d spoken to. “I lie awake at night with acid indigestion worrying about how I’m going to survive,” he said in a brief bio kept by the National Employment Law Project, which is how I found him. I called him up, and we talked about his languishing career, as well as his childhood and family. But a few phone calls, I realized, weren’t enough. In early August I hopped a plane to northern Indiana.


Divergent thinking and educational paradigms

October 17, 2010

My friend Bill Elwell found this interesting.

So do I.  On the other hand, consider Weiler’s Law


The very model of a modern U.S. President

October 17, 2010

One of my Favorite Quotations is:

If you can laugh at something, it can’t hurt you.

It can kill you, but it can’t hurt you.

This video was written, directed and produced by Ronnie Butler, a Los Angeles-based actor and filmmaker.  Click on Ronnie Butler for his home page.

I found the link on the Rochester Turning web log.

Finagle’s Laws of Information

October 17, 2010

1.  The information you have is not what you want.
2.  The information you want is not what you need.
3.  The information you need is not what you can obtain.
4.  The information you can obtain costs more than you want to pay.

Waking Up Is Hard To Do

October 16, 2010

The performers are certified nurse anesthesiologists based in the Twin Cities who often perform at medical conventions.

Click on The Laryngospasms for their web page.

I thank my friend Jack Kashinsky for the link.

Mortgage sharks

October 16, 2010

I cited some stories of wrongful foreclosures in an earlier post.  Here’s another.

NO ONE TOLD Deanna Walters she was about to lose her home. Not when her mortgage servicing company foreclosed on it, nor when it landed on the county auction block and sold to the highest bidder. She realized what was happening only when a man taped a note to the front door of her well-kept house in a leafy corner of Stockton, California, last January. “My son went out and took it down,” recalls the 43-year-old single mother of two, “and that’s when he told me it was a ‘three-day or quit’ notice.”

Walters’ discovery that her home had been sold out from under her marked the low point of a four-year fiasco that began when Ocwen Loan Servicing became her mortgage servicer in late 2004. Through no fault of her own, Ocwen incorrectly processed or lost dozens of Walters’ payments and charged her more than $2,000 in late fees and thousands more in additional charges—all without notifying her. The Florida-based company tried to foreclose on her three times. After she paid more than $10,000, Walters figured things were settled. But Ocwen had other ideas.

via Mother Jones.

The article goes on to describe how borrowers are at the mercy of mortgage service agencies, which are not subject to effective federal regulation.  In Walters’ case, Ocwen went ahead and sold her house anyhow.

Testifying before the Senate banking committee last July, Diane Thompson, an attorney with the National Consumer Law Center, explained that servicers have an incentive to “push” homeowners into late payments: “If the loan pays late, the servicer is more likely to profit than if the loan is brought and maintained current.” After Ocwen auctioned off Deanna Walters’ house, it collected more than $3,500 from 36 different buyers’ fees, in a single day. …

Deanna Walters has sued Ocwen, and a judge has allowed her to stay in her home, even as the winner of the foreclosure auction is trying to charge her rent. …  A self-described “spitfire,” she is left to do her own legwork—”every day, all day long”—to save her home. “If you could tell me who I need to speak to,” she says, “I would be in a van tonight headed to Washington to figure this out.”

via Mother Jones.

And here is one Wall Street response.

The first thing that needs to happen, I think, is to get these people out of their homes,” a man wearing a bespoke blue-striped shirt, a Hermés tie patterned with elephants and Ferragamo loafers said recently. “Correct! I’ll explain,” the veteran member of a bank restructuring and advisory team said. …

via The New York Observer.

The article goes on to quote Wall Street bankers on the irresponsibility of homeowners who took out larger mortgages than they could afford to pay back.  Ken Bentsen, executive vice president of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, a lobbying group, said he hadn’t heard of any wrongful foreclosures and didn’t think it is a problem.  A former member of the Goldman Sachs management committee said the real scandal is allowing people not current on their mortgage payments stay in their homes because of paperwork mistakes.

“The question to me is not do you foreclose or do you not foreclose. The question is when and with what philosophy you foreclose,” the man on the bank restructuring team said. “If you want to reduce the amount of leveraged homeowners you have, you need to ultimately kick them out of their homes.” A colleague walked up: His recommendation was to burn houses. It would lower the supply.

via The New York Observer.


“Vote out all incumbents”

October 15, 2010

I was walking down one of Rochester’s tree-lined streets, enjoyed the beauty of the fall weather and the turning leaves, when I noticed a sign in a window – “Vote out all incumbents.”

Does this make sense?  Suppose you owned a business with 535 employees, and the business was failing.  Would you fire all 535 employees and hire 535 others at random?  If 10 or 20 employees are performing badly, the fault is probably with them as individuals.  If every single one is performing badly, there is something systematically wrong with the way the business is run.  You have to fix the system failure before you can judge individual failure.

Some years back I came to the conclusion that my plumber was taking advantage of me.  I stopped using him, and found another plumber, whose honesty and competence I trust.  If I judged plumbers the way some people judge politicians, I would have hired a fellow homeowner with no training or experience as a plumber, whose qualification was indignation at dishonest plumbers.

It is not enough for we the people to reject the choices we are offered, and hope somebody comes up with something better.  We need to figure out what it is we want, tell the candidates what we want, and use our votes to reward and punish.  One thing that I have learned in my 73 years is that if you don’t say what you want, you’re not likely to get it.

Taking root in the Flower City

October 13, 2010

Skyline of Rochester, NY

Before I moved to Rochester, N.Y., in 1974, I had lived all my life – except for college and peacetime military service – in or near Hagerstown in the western Maryland panhandle.  I was discontented in my work and had an opportunity to get a better job in Rochester, but before I accepted, I read books by Henry Clune and others to reassure myself that Rochester was a place with a history and identity and not just some sort of giant suburb.  Like many people in western Maryland, I had only the vaguest notion of an upstate New York separate and distinct from New York City and its environs.

I now have lived in Rochester more than half my life.  I think of Rochester as home and people in Rochester as “us.”  Rochester offers me everything I want in terms of what’s called “quality of life,” and yet it is a community of which I feel a part.

My friend Michael J. Brown, a lifelong Rochester resident, wrote an article in the Fall 2010 issue of Dissent magazine magazine about how living in one place relates to the ancient ideal of citizenship and what you lose when you sacrifice that ideal to the quest for status and success.

What’s at issue is the tension between belonging to a rootless professional culture and a rooted local one. The price of holding on to the latter may be exclusion from the status, power, and income the former offers. It’s not the case, however, that those leaving their childhood homes in places like Rochester are lighting out for wide open spaces where opportunity abounds and careers are simply open to talent. My peers are not leaving to pursue Jeffersonian independence; they’re leaving to enter large professional organizations in which they often become quite dependent—on the caprice of bosses, the vicissitudes of markets, the shifting terrain of mergers and acquisitions.

And this brings me back to how eager I am to tell people why I live in Rochester. It is not because Rochester affords me economic independence (though the low cost of living helps). There are surely capricious bosses and volatile markets here, too. But there is something else. There are the faces and the names of the people around me, each of which has a story behind it, each of which is a buoy anchored in the social sea, helping to orient me. There are the old buildings—the grand facades of high culture, the battered storefronts of the inner city, the sentinel-like pump house on the reservoir hill—to remind me of history and time. What is different in Rochester is that I own a piece of this place, and this place owns a piece of me. I’d like to suggest that this relation is the grounds for a special kind of independence.

via Dissent Magazine