New York State: Hillary’s Waterloo?

With a riled, educated electorate, New York State could be Hillary’s Waterloo.


The majority of New York State Democrats are anti-war and anti-fracking.

As I breathe the sharp, cold air of the Delaware River Valley, fracking pipelines and compressors are crisscrossing and dotting our State.  In the last week, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) overrode New York’s  investigations into plans for the building of gas infrastructure near the Indian Point nuclear facility.  The plant,  just 25 miles north of New York City, is old by any standards and New York Times articles have raised consistent concerns over its accidents, aging storage facilities,  leaks and other critical safety issues.

These are unfortunate events for New York State residents and they don’t bode so well for Hillary Clinton, either. The anti-war, anti-fracking base in New York is  effective, in gear and  has no love or trust for her. Her fracking inconsistencies and donations from the oil and gas industries make her suspect and since her pro-Iraq War vote when she was a New York Senator,  the belief that she’s a Hawk with bad judgment persists. Recent events in France and Belgium and the vehemence of her support for regime change in Lybia when she was Secretary of State have bolstered this opinion — especially since so many anti-war folks believe there’s a correlation between our Iraq invasion and the rise of ISIS.

Even without those considerations, many rural voters distrust Clinton. They pride themselves on reading people — on knowing whether someone is genuine or wearing adaptive camouflage. Many say they’re wavering between Trump and Sanders. Some supported fracking. Some are FOX-watchers. Some steal from Peter to pay Paul when the mortgage or rent is due.  There are enclaves of reactionaries who emphatically support militia-thinking. Most are tired of seeing their kids go off to war or jail instead of college and they don’t have the resources to fight the heroin epidemic that’s claiming their families.  They’ve lost farms, plumbing businesses  and have stopped chasing the American Dream.  They’re discouraged,  can’t afford the cost of local farm goods and feel betrayed by established political hacks.  Even when gains are made, belief in them is tentative and tinged with anxiety.

Into the mix have come urbanites with their more socially Liberal tendencies. For instance, Zephyr Teachout, a populist, pro-choice, anti-fracker,  did an amazing job against Cuomo in the last election despite people not knowing her,  Cuomo’s refusal to debate her and the relatively small size of her campaign war chest.

In New York City and its environs, voters are thoroughly awake to all things fracking, its infrastructure, methane, naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORMS) and gas explosions.  They’re particularly attuned to the threat of terror attacks, to economic collapse, Wall Street machinations, a friable Stock Market and affordable housing shortages.

Worse for Hillary, whether rural or urban, New York voters are familiar with the  candidates’ positions on those critical issues. With a riled, educated electorate, New York State could easily be Hillary’s Waterloo.

 

Tom Paxton’s We Didn’t Know


(The first time I  heard this, the Vietnam War was raging.  It was sung either by The Kingston Trio or The Chad Mitchell Trio.  It requires no imagination to substitute words like, “I guess we’ve  gotta’  drop those bombs if we wanna’  keep Iraqis and Afghanis  free.”  Or,  “Torturing prisoners is an Al Qaeda game and you can bet they’re doing the same.”    Citizens and policy makers  who stand in the way of  a just reckoning for those who ordered torture  are writing   verses for all our children, grandchildren and theirs.)

We didn’t know said the Burgomeister,
About the camps on the edge of town.
It was Hitler and his crew,
That tore the German nation down.
We saw the cattle cars it’s true,
And maybe they carried a Jew or two.
They woke us up as they rattled through,
But what did you expect me to do?

[Cho:]
We didn’t know at all,
We didn’t see a thing.
You can’t hold us to blame,
What could we do?
It was a terrible shame,
But we can’t bear the blame.
Oh no, not us, we didn’t know.

We didn’t know said the congregation,
Singing a hymn in a church of white.
The Press was full lf lies about us,
Preacher told us we were right.
The outside agitators came.
They burned some churches and put the blame,
On decent southern people’s names,
To set our colored people aflame.
And maybe some of our boys got hot,
And a couple of niggers and reds got shot,
They should have stayed where they belong,
And preacher would’ve told us if we’d done wrong.

[Cho:]

We didn’t know said the puzzled voter,
Watching the President on TV.
I guess we’ve got to drop those bombs,
If we’re gonna keep South Asia free.
The President’s such a peaceful man,
I guess he’s got some kind of plan.
They say we’re torturing prisoners of war,
But I don’t believe that stuff no more.
Torturing prisoners is a communist game,
And You can bet they’re doing the same.
I wish this war was over and through,
But what do you expect me to do?

Words and Music by Tom Paxton

Torture Photos: Is a public release necessary?


It depends on our purpose.

In October 2003,  The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)  sent  a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)  request to the Departments of Defense,   Homeland Security,  Justice  and several  other Bush Administration agencies.  The request was for  documents related to the US Government’s role in the torture and/or rendition of individuals in its custody.  The ACLU claimed,  “[The  Government has] failed to address the numerous credible reports recounting the torture and rendition of Detainees.  Nor have they explained what measures, if any, the United States has taken  to ensure compliance with its legal obligations with respect to the use of torture and the infliction of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or  punishment.  [And] to determine whether the United States is honoring its obligations under domestic and international law….”

Bush Administration officials refused to release the “torture photos” because, according to them,  the photos would inflame the Middle East, put unidentified individuals, groups and in-theater military personnel at risk and would run afoul of  international laws  prohibiting the public parade and humiliation of war prisoners.

In September 2004,  the US District Court in the Southern District of New York (SDNY) stated,  “Congress enacted FOIA to illuminate government activities.  The law was intended to provide a means of accountability, to allow Americans to know what their government is doing….  Yet, the glacial pace at which defendant agencies have been responding… shows an indifference  to the commands of FOIA.”  The judge also noted,  “As of today, eleven months later, with small exception, no documents have been produced by [the Department of Defense, et al].”

The District Court ordered the public release of  the photos after viewing a representative sample in camera (e.g. in the privacy of the Judge’s chambers).  Since then, the Federal judiciary has consistently ordered that the photos and other pertinent  documents be  redacted and released in compliance with national and international laws that prohibit the public humiliation of prisoners.

In August 2006,  the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the SDNY’s order to release the photos after  noting that the Bush Administration had interpreted certain legislative amendments to FOIA as “a diffuse and nebulous authority for keeping inflammatory information secret (though, curiously, only inflammatory information in law enforcement files).”  The Court continued, “Release of the photographs is likely to further the purposes of the Geneva Conventions by deterring future abuse of prisoners.”

On April 23, 2009,  the Obama Justice Department informed the Court that the Department of Defense would release its photos by May 28, 2009.

On May 13, 2009, nearly six years after the ACLU issued its first FOIA request, President Obama’s Justice Department informed the Court that the President had changed his mind,  “…upon further reflection at the highest levels of Government, the Government has decided to pursue further options regarding that decision…”  including a possible appeal to the US Supreme Court by June 9, 2009.

Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs expressed President Obama’s concern that release of the photographs would inflame the Middle East and increase the threat to US personnel serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The Obama team does not believe the Bush Administration adequately portrayed those risks in its Court filings and appeals.

Yesterday, The Huffington Post carried this ACLU response, “These photographs provide visual proof that prisoner abuse by U.S. personnel was not aberrational but widespread, reaching far beyond the walls of Abu Ghraib….  Their disclosure is critical for helping the public understand the scope and scale of prisoner abuse as well as for holding senior officials accountable for authorizing or permitting such abuse.”

The U.S.  Federal Rules of Evidence state, “Although relevant, evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice… or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.”  In short,  not all relevant evidence is equal or admissible. A judge must determine whether its value as evidence substantially outweighs its potential harm.

There’s also a notion in civil societies  that an inflamed person is unlikely to be judicious.

Is it reasonable to believe that “The Amorphous Middle East” would be inflamed by a 24-7  media blitz of photos in which an occupying military force tortures citizens of  foreign lands?  Will “The Amorphous Middle East” see the photos as evidence  of the  Bush Foreign Policy, distinct from Obama’s?  And,  will that Middle East view efforts to hide the photos as a continuation of Bush policies?

One friend I spoke with said she wants the photos disseminated publicly. “Maybe pictures will  make Americans feel shame.  Maybe pictures will provoke an American conversation about who we really are and what ethics we really believe in.  Maybe it’ll force the politicians to really do something.”

Maybe;  but I doubt  the photos will stimulate the American public to a greater outrage.   Many of the people I know have been outrage- saturated by a plethora of criminal actions and a dearth of incarcerations.  Thankfully, the ACLU has a ton of arrows in its quiver.

Germany was shamed after World War I and a handful of years later we fought World War II.   We fire-bombed Germany during World War II and held them to account at Nuremburg. Germany is now home to one of the world’s fastest growing populations of Skinheads and other xenophobes.  Whether or not  cause and effect can be proved  in those examples,  they tell us  that shame is not a cure-all.

Our purpose, as opined by  the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, should be to deter “future abuse of prisoners”  and to ensure, as the ACLU demands,  that  “the United States is honoring its obligations under domestic and international law….”

We have a system of justice intended to do just that.  We place the accused on trial.  We hear the evidence against and for  them.  We release or punish them.  As a matter of course,  we  parade our convicted felons publicly.  We hope that their shame will deter others – will demonstrate our adherence to the rule of law.

With that in mind, whether the photos are released publicly or viewed in camera or by a jury,  the real issue is not which evidence will be presented (there’s tons) but rather, will Donald Rumsfeld, George Bush, Dick Cheney, et al stand in the dock.  Will they be paraded publicly to cleanse rather than inflict shame?

A public trial of those who conceived and implemented the torture policy would stimulate a discussion about the American ethic and reassure the world of our honorable intention to uphold our ideals. Without that,  publishing the photos is just more Bread & Circuses and I fear, provocation.

******

Legal documents at ACLU website

House Financial Services Subcommittee Hearing


Here are high points of the Hearing I found interesting and some of my own thoughts. (Quotation marks are included where statements are actual quotes rather than the “sense” of what was said.)

BARNEY FRANK, Democrat & Financial Services Committee Chairman.   As major stockholders, the US Government should try to recoup $165 million in bonuses by filing  a lawsuit alleging “poor performance” on the part of  bonus recipients.  He also demanded the names of bonus recipients and updates when bonus recipients either return or refuse to return  bonus money. (Although New York’s Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is in receipt of these names, Liddy expressed a need to protect bonus recipients because of  deadly threats made against them and their families.)  (According to  the Center for Responsive Politics,  Frank received $202,548 in contributions from the Insurance Industry.)

OLYMPIA SNOW, (R) Maine.   Offered AIG bailout provisions which would have disallowed most of the oversized bonuses.  (Received $5,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.)

CHRISTOPHER  DODD, (D) Connecticut.  Snow’s amendment was (allegedly) struck by  Connecticut’s  Chris Dodd.  How he did it is unclear.  At first, he denied the act.  Subsequently,  he said  he received instructions from Treasury and/or The White House.  Regardless, striking the provision resulted in Congressional approval of bonus contracts entered into before February 11, 2009.  As a result,  165 million taxpayer dollars have been paid to architects of the debacle. Reportedly, Dodd received $852,556 from insurance lobbyists.  (Center for Responsive Politics)

STEPHEN LYNCH, Massachusetts:  “We amend  contracts all the time.  My auto workers were badgered and badgered….  These [AIG] guys lost billions of dollars  and still believe they’re entitled to these bonuses.” (Lynch  received $35,299 according to the Center for Responsive Politics)

PAUL KANJORSKI, Chairman, Financial Services Subcommittee on Capital Markets (D-PA).   Admitted to knowing about the incipient bonus payments  two months  ago and  “warned Liddy that  paying the bonuses would be a  big mistake.”  “You [CEO Edward Liddy] should have told the bonus recipients to ‘sue us.'”  (Kanjorksi did not mention warning anyone else and according to the Center for Responsive Politics, received $345,548 in donations from the insurance industry.)

Joel Ario,  State of Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner and  Chairperson of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.  Ario believes that AIG’s toxic holdings could be walled off from its healthy funds-at-large.   (NB:  Therefore, the company at-large could survive if its sick subsidiaries were permitted to fail.) (Also see: [Funny] Side of the [Wall] Street:  Obamanomics.)

Neither the Government Accountability Office (GAO) nor the federal Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS)  have investigated whether AIG fraudulently misrepresented its health and wealth at the time it was creating “retention” and other bonus contracts  “to the tune of $400 + million  with the division that was bleeding to the tune of $40 billion.”

Another committee member asserted, [“The distribution of these bonuses] borders on fraud and criminality.”

According to Scott Polakoff of OTS, his agency knew the risk of the credit default swaps  in 2004 and did nothing to avert the collapse.  OTS did not close AIG’s toxic financial products division even though “the agency had a complete picture and oversight authority” to do so.  Polakoff further stated that “OTS had sufficient  expertise and personnel” but in effect, since Congress didn’t instruct OTS to review the  bonus contracts before AIG’s bailout was approved, the agency didn’t do the research.

Rodney  Clark of Standard & Poor’s (S & P) rating agency was asked,  “How can we depend on you and were mistakes made?”  Clark answered, “Hindsight being 20-20…, our conclusions [of AIG’s solvent value]  changed rapidly once the market started to collapse.  Market values are important as a guideline.  We could not understand  how quickly the value of mortgage backed securities would decline….  (NB:  On what basis, then,  did S & P  justify its AA-  rating until  September 15, 2008 if ?)  S & P hedged its bets. Ratings are based on current value and  give prospective investors a factual basis for predicting future performance.)  Clark  went on to say,   “In 2008, excluding  investment losses,  AIG would’ve been profitable.”

Really?  Does that mean S&P didn’t see the looming  losses or didn’t consider them relevant to the total value of the company?  (See: Ratings Agencies falsify reports or search CSPAN’s  archives for quotes from ratings agents who knew full-well that the mortgage-backed securities were toxic but provided healthy ratings because…that was the outcome corporations paid them to obtain.  (See:  previously-cited statement from Joel Ario.)

Edward LIDDY,  AIG insurance Chairman & CEO (temporarily appointed  in 2008 to detoxify AIG).   Prior to Mr. Liddy  taking his witness  seat,  he was stopped by  “pink lady demonstrators” who questioned him (in part) about  consequences to returning war veterans whose savings were invested  with AIG.  If he answered, it wasn’t televised.

He did tell us that the risk to AIG was unacceptably high if we did not pay the $165 million in bonuses. “It was my determination,” he said, “that AIG-FP would unravel if employees weren’t retained to wind down the projects they were working on.  Which they did.  They’ve reduced $2.7 trillion in toxic assets to $1.6 trillion.  It’s my intention to reduce those debts, sell AIG’s insurance companies and strengthen the healthy portions of our business.  If we don’t pay our debts, that triggers bankruptcy. I’ve asked AIG-FP (financial product) employees to return a portion  of the bonuses.   Believe me, I wouldn’t have approved the contracts if I’d been CEO  at the time they were  created.”

Liddy further asserted that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke acquiesced to the  payment of retention bonuses.

“We didn’t tell Congress because nobody told us to,” Liddy explained.  “We’re partners with the Federal Reserve. They participate in  activities leading up to board meetings and they attend board meetings. I asked if they had comments  or different points of view as far as bonuses and everything else.  The Federal Reserve  did  not  disagree with our assessment that AIG-FN was at risk of jeopardizing the monies already given if we didn’t pay the bonuses. We were told by our attorneys that the contracts were unbreakable.  I assumed they shared  with Treasury and Congress information they gained from us.  The Secretary of the treasury did not know we were going to make the [bonus] payments though the Federal Reserve did.  It’s  up to the Federal Reserve to  discuss”  salient issues with the Secretary of the Treasury.

Later,  Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said he didn’t know about the bonus contracts until two weeks ago.

Countering assertions of possible fraud, Liddy said he believes,  “AIG was solvent when the retention contracts were drawn.”   (On what factual basis did he develop this assessment?  Or,  is he just repeating assessments  from ratings agencies which regurgitated AIG’s own corporate projections?  Isn’t that the same self-quoting claptrap that got us into Iraq?)

Liddy  continued,  “AIG has problems besides the mortgage-backed securities. There’s oil accounts and other  utilities in trouble.” (This appears to contradict his assertions of fundamental solvency.)

ED PERLMUTTER, Committee Member.  “There’s a whole fraud concept that says ya’ can’t be handing out bonuses when you’re insolvent.  I don’t think these bonuses should have been paid.”

Some legal issues, AIG’s Employee Retention Plan and relevant case and statutory findings.

Currently, some members of Congress are promoting tax legislation which would target bonuses paid by corporations that received stipulated bailout funds. Their idea is to re-appropriate the funds already disbursed. (There is every reason to believe such targeting is unconstitutional.  Seeing as how Congress writes the laws and  has more than its fair share of attorneys,  you’d think they’d know that.)

AIG-FP 2008  Employee Retention Plan, effective December 1, 2007

(Importantly, there is no signing date on the Retention Plan although it specifically covers 2008 and 2009.)  According to CEO Liddy’s Executive Summary of the retention plan in which he discusses the bonuses,  “The plan was implemented because there was a significant risk  of departures among employees at AIGFP, and given the $2.7 trillion of derivative positions at AIGFP at that time, retention incentives appeared to be in the best interest of all of AIG’s stakeholders…. This resulted in a $313 million total for 2008 and a $327 million total for 2009… The 2008 awards range from $1,000 to slightly less that $6.5 million.  Only seven employees will receive more than $3 million…. The retention plan is governed by Connecticut Wage Act.  (Section 4.04)”   (NB:  The law provides for the recovery of double damages and attorneys’ fees when wages are improperly withheld and the employer’s refusal to pay wages lack a good faith basis. Conn. Gen. Stat  sections 31-72.)  “In addition,”  states Liddy, “individual managers who decide to withhold wages that are due are individually liable for violation of the Wage Act…We have been advised that the bonus provisions of the American Recovery  and Reinvestment Act of 2009 prohibiting certain bonuses specifically exclude bonuses paid pursuant to pre-February 11, 2009 employment contracts.”  (Apparently, this is the  alleged  “Dodd Provision.”)

NB: The definition of “executive employee”  rests largely on whether an employee is salaried, is required to exercise personal discretion in performance of duties,  earns in excess of certain dollar amounts and has (usually) some supervisory responsibilities.

According to the Connecticut Wage Statute (sec. 31-71(e).  “No employer may withhold or divert any portion of an employee’s wages unless (1) the employer is required or empowered to do so by state or federal law and  (i) “Wage” means compensation due to an employee by reason of his employment.  (Italics added for emphasis.)

Liddy’s  Executive Summary referenced Schoonmaker v Lawrence Brunoli, Inc. 828 A.2d64 (Conn.2003). Schoonmaker established that double damages could be paid when salaries are withheld for reasons of  “bad faith, arbitrariness or unreasonableness.”

The courts have also established that, “Punitive damages may be awarded in suits in which it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s [employer’s] actions showed willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression or [lack of care] which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences. Under O.C.G.A. 51-12-5.1(b), it remains the rule that something more than the mere commission of a tort is always required for punitive damages. There must be certain circumstances of aggravation or of outrage.”

New York’s Attorney General Andrew Cuomo may attempt to use the Fraudulent Conveyance Act to recover the bonuses.

In order to pursue Fraud charges, “… the misrepresentation [or omission] must be made knowingly and intentionally, not as a result of mistake or accident; that is, that the person either knew or should have known of the falsity of the misrepresentation [or the false effect of the omission], or that he made the misrepresentation [or omission] in negligent disregard of its truth or falsity.

NB:  Under the Bankruptcy Code, insolvency exists when the sum of the debtor’s debts exceeds the fair value of the debtor’s property, with some exceptions. It is a balance sheet test. 11 USC § 101(32)

18 USC CHAPTER 47 § 1031 concerns  “major fraud against the United States”  and  is another  statute being considered by  New York State’s Attorney General Cuomo. It  provides  the following:

(a) Whoever knowingly executes, or attempts to execute, any scheme or artifice with the intent-

(1) to defraud the United States; or

(2) to obtain money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises.

Therefore, the two most important facts to ascertain  are,  “What was AIG’s actual state of solvency when the bonuses were contracted and did its officers misrepresent that state?”

More Answers Needed:

Which Congress people  received campaign finances from AIG and other financial corporations?  How much did they receive? How did those congress people vote or speak on salient congressional  actions?  (You can find some of the answers at  the Center for Responsive Politics and RollCall.  Feel free to vote accordingly in upcoming elections.)

At the time of AIG’s bailout or request for a bailout, what was the corporation’s actual worth?

Was the United States coerced by fear and intimidation into awarding bailout funds?

Besides Christopher Dodd, who was involved in exempting bonuses agreed to before February 11, 2009?   To  what extent were Treasury and The White House involved?

As always, you can view the hearings at CSPAN.

Bipartisanship: Lowest Common Denominator?


According to CNBC,  the  US Senate has pared Obama’s Stimulus Package  from $937 to  $780 billion.  A vote is expected Sunday because Congress needs to start its  recess ASAP. 

(Remember the expressed outrage when Iraq’s Congress took a vacation while its nation faced insurrection and bankruptcy?  Remember our Congress’  indignation that Iraq’s lawmakers had the chutzpah  to take a vacation while American taxpayers footed the bill?  Remember the purpled faces and bursting veins of our shining palladins?) 

Most economists  are pleading  for a Stimulus Package nearer  $1 trillion.   They’ve  tossed an  I Ching of  formulae  based on percentages of Gross National Product and investment/return ratios and are shrieking,  “The appropriation is  going backwardThe train is out of control!  The horses are stampeding!”   Not a catastrophic metaphor has been left in the box.  And yet,  Nero fiddles as Rome burns.

Additionally,  “Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry said the compromise price tag would be made up of 42 percent tax cuts with 58 percent in new spending.”  (CNBC)  

Most economists agree that tax cuts are anathema in times like these–like  a passenger trying to stop a run-away rollercoaster by dragging her feet on the track:  it’s a waste of time, it won’t work and the thing in need of  saving will get her legs broken.

Obama’s practice these past two years has been to watch his opponents crash of their own gravity.  He doesn’t participate substantially in that downfall.  (It’s a basic Gandhi/King principle; a kind of  Judo politic.) 

These past weeks,  President Obama has  hosted a bipartisan Super Bowl party and  two cocktail “parties.”  He’s  bearded the Conservative lion in its den down at Congress.   He offered a stimulus bill with enough tax cuts to raise brows in the pundit community and yet,  Senate Republicans and Conservative Democrats reduced the package  by another $150 billion.

Zero Republicans voted for the first compromise package.

Two or three are expected to vote for the Senate bill.

Has Obama sold our economic future down the tubes for the sake of a few bipartisan pieces of silver?  

Or, has he allowed knee-jerk naysayers with bankrupt economic policies to  dramatically and publicly shoot themselves in  both feet?

Obama’s slated to offer his Recovery Plan this coming Monday.   He wants the Senate to pass the Stimulus Package before that. 

If the Recovery Plan covers all the bases Candidate-Obama trumpeted the past two years, it will include more funds for health care, infrastructure, “greening”  and the consequent job production and training.  By the time the Recovery Plan is unveiled,  the “loyal  Conservative opposition”  will have been marginalized on  their own petards. 

If I sound like a True Believer, eschewing rebellion in the face of  Obama’s vows that, “Tomorrow, Tomorrow”  my reward will come tomorrow,  I apologize and propose this:

If  the Recovery Plan is more of the same  “bipartisan,”  lowest-common-denominator-political-toadying as offered by the Stimulus Package,  then every worker,  wannabe-worker, retiree, wannabe-retiree, student  and wannabe-student needs to march on Washington within the month.  We need to take our tents,  backpacks and firewood for cooking.  

And we must not accede to being penned like cattle behind officially-approved barriers.

The Week That Was: Words & Brainstorms


It’s been a  flurry all week.  Here’s a collection of pieces:

US Army and Marines report a sharp escalation in soldier and veteran suicides.  (LA Times)  Caregivers on the front lines cited, among other issues, more and longer deployments, family stress, hopelessness, drugs, alcohol and extreme psychological fatigue.

In the Senate Banking Committee Hearing (Chaired by Sen. Chris Dodd),  Paul Volcker, former Federal Reserve Chairman and Obama advisor offered,  “…other nations regulate the risk of  functions  rather than of entities  or particular business models.”  

 (Author note:  our present system regulates banks, for instance, but  the function of mortgage-backed securities slipped through the jurisdictional cracks of  twenty understaffed  regulatory agencies.  (See CSPAN videos.)

In the same hearing, Gene  Dodaro, Acting Comptroller General of the U.S. Government Accountability Office and Elizabeth Warren, Chair of  the Congressional Oversight Panel for the TARP  described faultlines in our financial structure and offered comments:  (1)  it’s inefficient, ineffective and inflexible; (2) it permits inadequate disclosures by credit institutions; (3)  the “financial illiteracy” of the populace  and inadequate disclosures by institutions combined to create predatory loans with incomprehensible terms; (4)  Federal and State jurisdictional issues created holes in oversight/regulation;  (5) institutions that originated loans passed the risk to other institutions without keeping “skin in the game”;  (6) we need  new ways to value  the debt because we don’t know who’s holding it or what it’s  worth;  (6)  current compensation models  encourage bad loans because there’s little or no  risk to the  originating broker. 

In an umbrella statement,  Dodaro described the current  financial model as pitting consumer protection against economic growth and urged Congress  to recognize that growth is impossible without the  trust and health of the consumer.

Senator Mark Warren referenced financial illiteracy  and  the  lack of regulation that’s allowed lenders and insurance companies to prey on our soldiers and their  families.

Witnesses in the hearing  concurred that:  (1)  we don’t know where the bailout funds are;  (2)  institutions who received funds feel no obligation  to reveal what they did with them; and regardless,  (3)  the bailout has not  significantly improved the flow of investments or loans; and (4) small business failures  and foreclosures are escalating.

Obama, stumping for the Stimulus Plan, described it as a strategy, not a piecemeal, temporary fix.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) told homeowners to stay in their homes when they’re foreclosed.  She told Amy Goodman (Democracy Now)  “…there’s a number people can call:  (888-995-HOME)  to get the proper legal representation so they can actually have the scales of justice be balanced rather than, now, all the power to Wall Street and none of the justice to Main Street.” 

(Author note:   When tenants were thrown out of their homes in the 1920s and ’30s,  their neighbors and activists overcame dogs, sheriff ‘s deputies and head-cracking batons to haul each other’s belongings back inside.)

Obama:  Companies  that receive TARP funds will limit executive compensation to $500,000.  This has caused corporations to worry they won’t be able to “attract the best talent.”   (Rewarding incompetence seems to have worked so well for all of us.)  

Aren’t our Graduate Schools  loaded with financial and administrative wizards?  Let them take take the mound and relegate  the Geithners,  Summers, Rubins and financiers to advisory positions in the dugout.  One idea is that executive officers be rewarded only after their policies result in  sustained profit growth over a number of years.  (No more $18 billion bonuses for collapsing a world economy in a single year.)

National Prayer Breakfast  and broadening of the old “faith-based” service model. My agnostic self is staying out of this one but my community organizer is shouting “hallelujah!”   (Perhaps the idea would be less offensive if we called it a “National Meditational Breakfast.)   “Community Service”  is, apparently,  fertile ground for another “Moral Majority” showdown.  It reminds me of  the efforts peace activists made  “to take back the flag”  after Bush invaded Iraq.  Obama’s model incorporates secular groups and recognizes a place for both secular and religious organizations.  My objection would be  to  religious bias dictating  what, how and to whom our civil services are provided.  (See:  First Amendment on separation of Church & State:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”)  Certainly, stringent guidelines must be enforced if  community service is to remain free of  religious dogma.

According to Bloomberg News  on February 4, 2009“Bank of America’s CEO (Kenneth Lewis) told employees that his management team and strategy have the board’s support and January results were ‘encouraging’ as turmoil in the credit markets eased.”  

The  very next day, “Bank of America’s  (BAC) shares  fell as low as $3.77 before finishing up 14 cents at $4.84.  The bank’s shares had fallen for five days prior to Thursday.”  (In the period from  January 1, 2009 to February 5, 2009 — 36 days — BAC has fallen from $14.08 to $4.56.)  No kidding,  some pundits are wondering whether Lewis is the “right guy for the job.”

Bank of America still won’t let people sully their great glass windows with community announcements.

Today,  “January’s sharp drop in employment brings job losses to 3.6 million since the start of the recession in December 2007 and…about half the decline occurred in the last three months.  January’s losses followed upwardly revised cuts of 577,000 in December and 597,000 in November.”  (CNBC

In an Orwellian way,  these unemployment numbers are good news because coincidentally, average hourly wages have risen from 0.3-0.4%  over last year. I guess that’s what happens when mass layoffs and retail closings  eliminate low wage earners from the statistical pool.

And finally, 14 year old actess  Dakota Fanning  strode  pencil-thin  onto the stage of late night television in a pair of  spiked heels.

Birthdays


It’s my birthday. I realized it last night when The Daily Show announced the date.

If it wasn’t for money being short, I’d be obnoxiously satisfied with my life.  There aren’t many rules and most of them are fluid.

The ironies that made me laugh when I was young are barely different now. (The Three Stooges were a favorite only because Dad banned them from the house.)

Humans mouthing Corporate Speak as if their edges have blurred  and people ganging up on weaknessthose things still knock me sideways.

Bank of America reminded me Monday how near the edge I am — even during my birthday week.

When I asked the teller if I could put a sign on the bank’s outside doors to let people know our food banks were running low, her face settled like a key in a hole.  “Bank of America won’t let you hang up a sign,”  she said.

Things have been marginal in the village for a while. The hardware store closed a few years ago, followed by two restaurants, a couple of realtors and a fitness center. There’ve been others but recounting the disappeareds doesn’t help.

Besides, it’s no different in your neighborhood. The locally-owned supermarket is penned on all sides by box stores. Artists sit in empty shops and the man who owns the health food store has aged this year. Our cashiers are teens whose parents are unemployed. The young guy folding clothes at the laundromat stares self-consciously at his feet. Neither he nor the cashier got their  college loans for next semester.

In all that economic want, our village sports three banks. One. Two. Three. In a rural village that can’t support a hardware store, we have a cornucopia of banks. The biggest is Bank of America though its stock is falling.

I stared at the teller and the blinding plate glass windows behind me. All that empty, pristine space.  Scenes from The Matrix danced in my headshards splattering like a crystal xylophone.  In another birthday year, I might have thrown a rock. I might have picketed. I might have railed at the stunned number-cruncher behind her knee wall.

I’m not a dewy-eyed optimist, but I like my birthday. I like the tasks that come with aging. I like the flow of breasts sagging and butts drooping. When I was little, I wanted to be Jewish. “How lucky,” I thought, “to celebrate for eight endless days and nights.”

That early disappointment in Chanukkah’s shortcomings  was surpassed the day I turned ten.    “Eve’s Curse” clamped my life in an iron jaw. It was ghastly. I knew what it was but thought of it  like Death–something for others, never me.

Being a girl wasn’t in my cards. I still smelled like a mushroom-y kid, for pete’s sake. My bath water still turned gray after a day in the barn or on the baseball field or climbing in the trees.

The next day – the day before I turned ten — JC called me a “girl” and I spent my birthday in detention for bloodying his nose.

But the deepest cut of all was to come. As Mom’s German chocolate cake melted on my tongue, Grandma snorted. She’d heard my whispered birthday wish. “The Cleveland Indians aren’t gonna’ let a girl be a ballboy,” she said, cuffing my head.

Ten years later, as I popped a slip of chocolate mesc in New Orleans and jumped into The Gulf, The Paris Peace Accords were being signed. Though it skipped my bedraggled mind  that day, I haven’t forgotten it since.

This birthday is something else. Barack Obama’s first interview as our President was with Al Arabiya. Conyers subpoenaed Rove again. Children around the world are being born and  named Barack.  George  Mitchell is on his way to the Middle East. Pastor Warren’s narrowness will fall of its own strictures.

The world is shifting and when we aren’t holding our breath, we’re clasping our hands in glee. I’m so pleased to have made it this far.

Happy birthday to me — for the next eight days.

Tips for Picking a President


I asked myself,  “Do the candidate and his Vice Presidential nominee understand  well enough  the pickles we’re in to describe  them coherently?”

“Do the candidate and his Vice Presidential nominee  point to our differences and exacerbate our  lock step outrage?   Or, do they identify our points of agreement and  stimulate rousing,  inventive problem solving?”

For the last several decades,  most of our  national discussions have been adversarial debates, framed as  “either-or” choices.  We’ve been herded by those narrow confines into separate fortresses: Tree Huggers vs.  Greedy Developers; Pro-Abortion/Pro-Choice  vs.  Pro-Life/Anti-Choice ; and High-Spending, Bleeding Heart  Liberals vs. Miserly,  Greedy Conservatives.

Signs of civility are creeping back into the discussions.  New starting points are being proposed and  more points of view  are being invited  to the table.  Will the candidates foster or stymie these efforts?

What radical old concepts can we hear if we listen closely?

That we are inextricably  connected —  for better or for worse.

That whether we’re rural or urban, we need  the roots and audacity that make us whole.

That the cockroaches  won’t mourn our passing  when we fail to teach our children science, philosophy, literature, the arts,  math and ethics.

That if we  enunciate  sane priorities  (ecological protections, fair wage jobs, vibrant schools, robust health care, nutritious food production and equal access to information) and  develop fair playing fields,  our bankrupt discussions of  low or high taxes and big or small government will be rendered irrelevant.  Instead,  we will talk about investments in our future and the benefits reaped.

That we are not heads-in-the-clouds intellectuals or pragmatic rubes.  We are dreamers and implementers.

That we are not insular Believers or snobbish Skeptics.  In times of threat, we all reach for familiar comforts, tending to  turn our backs to the storm and cast worried glances at strangers.

Faced with famine, dwindling resources and invaders who carried contagious diseases, the inhabitants of  “Easter Island”  (Rapa Nui)  turned on one another and plundered the lands of those who were killed.   Their cultural totems were destroyed by civil wars and the people were reduced and enslaved.

So I ask myself, have our fears so crippled us that we can’t learn  the lessons of history?

Will our next President encourage our unity or divide us so that only the wealthy prosper?

And then, I imagine Bruce Springstein as our Poet Laureate.