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.

Inauguration Jubilee: Pastor Warren’s Incoherence

“We will hold out our hand  if you are willing to unclench your fists.”

So said  President Obama in his Inaugural speech.

So said civil rights activists to Pastor Rick Warren.

They said it after he likened  controlling  one’s homosexuality to controlling one’s promiscuity.   Just say  “No,” is Warren’s breezy prescription for slicing and dicing one’s  own sexuality.    “I think that’s part of maturity. I think it’s part of delayed gratification. I think it’s part of character.” Only, it’s not “delayed gratification,” is it?  His prescription is for a lifelong self-rebuke.

“Ah hah!”  you say.  “‘Pastor Rick’ would support  gay marriage if he thought  ‘gayness’  was a birth defect rather than a noxious choice.”

You’d be wrong.  He’d still oppose it because he’s  “… opposed to the re-definition of a 5,000 year definition of marriage….  Historically, marriage is a man and a woman.”

Warren enlarged the thought,  “Opposition to same sex marriage is shared by a majority of Americans and by President-elect Obama — and is based on Biblical teachings.”

And,  according to a  Time article,  Warren e-mailed a statement to his 30,000 members urging them to “vote yes on Proposition 8 — to preserve the biblical definition of marriage.”

(I’m not sure how  Pastor Warren feels about    Abraham, the famous patriarch who fathered   three great religions with three different and concurrent wives.)

Coincidentally,   in the Curry interview,  Reverend Warren stated, “I don’t think gay marriage is any threat to marriage.  So that’s not why I’m voting the way I did. I think divorce is a bigger problem to marriage than anything else.”  (Curry-Warren interview transcript)

So?    “No harm,  no foul”  is  one of our earliest legal tenets.  Our courts  simply do not weigh the legal merits of   hypothetical cases.  They do not engage in judicial review.  They like  their plaintiffs  harmed and bleeding from some dastardly act.  If  hetero marriages aren’t  threatened by gay marriages and there’s no demonstrable harm to non-gays  and there’s no apparent legal basis for heterosexuals to oppose gay marriage,  why did Pastor Warren work so hard to eradicate gay marriages in California?    “Warren says he joined the fray out of a concern if Proposition 8 wasn’t passed, pastors would lose their right to preach about the Biblical definition of marriage. But many constitutional experts say that fear was totally unfounded and gay rights leaders saw Warren’s stance as an infringement on their civil rights.”   (Curry-Warren interview transcript)

According to Pastor Warren, then,  he’s afraid that if gay marriage is legalized, he’ll be arrested for preaching    the Biblical man-woman version.   As absurd as that sounds, it’s heartening to know he cares for someone’s civil rights.

In the  Baptist Press, Pastor Warren is quoted as saying,  “This [gay marriage]  is not a political issue, it is a moral issue that God has spoken clearly about.  There is no doubt where we should stand on this issue.”

And then,  he used his pulpit  to rouse  30,000 church members against the law of the land.

According to most commentators,  in  a follow up to his Ann Curry interview,    Pastor Warren equated  gay relationships with  pedophilia,  polygamy/bigamy and incest .  What he actually suggested was far more bizarre:   that legalizing homosexual marriages  might open the door to legalizing   incestuous, polygamous  and  pediophilic (sic)  marriages.  (YouTube)

That’s right:  legalize  gay marriage and the justice system will run amok.  All manner of sinners will want to marry.  If you doubt his logic, I refer you to the  film, Reefer Madness.  It’s an old docudrama about what happens to people who smoke marijuana.

It’s distressing  that President Obama would appoint an invoker who’s illogical and incoherent.  Just as distressing is  Pastor Warren’s use  of his  tax-deductible ministry and Biblical verses to change our civil laws.

Even when King Henry VIII of England was ex-communicated by the Pope, he refused to cede his civil supremacy to the  Catholic Church.  For sure, some of  Henry’s  stubbornness was due to a lack of healthy male heirs and his desire to divorce-at-will, but  in the end,  King Henry rejected  Papal dominion over  England. It was an act of defiance at a time when people  feared Hell and The Church at least as much as they did  Henry.  After all, the Pope could condemn the entire country to burn in Hell  for eternity.

Henry’s great battle with the Church was one reason our founders codified the independence of  our secular state.

By all means, President Obama should  invite Pastor Warren into the tent.   I’ll work with   anyone willing to feed the hungry or save the planet,  but our spokespeople must not  be the kind who deny civil rights to  our fellow-toilers.

And, in case it isn’t clear,  it stresses my good humor that while  our states and municipalities face  gross  revenue shortages,  Pastor Warren’s   endorsement of Proposition 8 was made publicly and from his pulpit. He used his position as a  minister of a charitable-tax-deductible organization  to support passage of a public law on Biblical grounds.

On the other hand, maybe  Rev.  Warren’s  Invocation  is  the sound of  a  politically savvy  fist unclenching.   He  asked God to forgive us    “When we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the Earth with the respect that they deserve….”

Is Pastor Warren  unclenching his fist or is he positioning himself to better dictate  the degree of  “respect”  the rest of us deserve?

LATE NOTE:   Please check with your local food pantries and soup kitchens.  The ones in my village are running on empty.  According to Reuters,  Cash America sees lower Q4 profit, cuts 2009 view.  Cash America operates pawn shops and provides cash advances.  “…fourth-quarter earnings were also hit by higher loss rates for its online cash advance product and heavier discounting to clear inventory during the Christmas season.”  In other words,  people  couldn’t afford to  re-pay their loans, redeem their lost valuables or to buy Christmas presents at their local pawnshop.

1.   Text of  Pastor Rick Warren’s  Inaugural Invocation or search at Associated Press.