Saturday, September 7, 2013

Not Larry Summers . . . Please !!

President Obama is said to really like and admire Larry Summers, and it is widely assumed that he will probably nominate him to be the next Chair of the Federal Reserve.

That would be a huge mistake.  I join the loud chorus (a New York Times editorial yesterday, a large number of members of Congress, many economists) wanting to beg the president not to do it.   Here are my reasons:

1.  He is a brilliant man but a badly flawed human being -- a bully and a misogynist who was given a vote of no confidence by the Harvard faculty when he was the university president, largely for his maladroit handling of a famed African-American faculty member.   He also made remarks that got women in an uproar.

2.  As Secretary of Treasury under Bill Clinton, he helped dismantle the bank regulations that played a big part in the 2008 financial collapse.   As the Times editorial says,  "His record on financial regluation is abysmal, and he has not acknowledged the errors."

3. The Times makes the case that he does not have the temperament needed for a Fed chairman.   "He is known for cooperation when he works with those he perceives as having more power than he does, and for dismissiveness toward those he perceives as less powerful.  Those traits would be especially destructive at the Fed . . .  Putting Mr. Summers in charge would risk institutional discord or worse, dysfunction."

4.  His past connections with Wall Street firms, and his subsequent tendency to tilt toward their favor, are worrisome.

5.   If that is not enough, the Times goes further and says that Mr. Summers "has also shown indifference to the effects of economic decisions on ordinary people."

Any one of those reasons should disqualify this brilliant, flawed man, in my opinion.  I hope President Obama listens and asks himself why he wants someone that so many people urge him not to appoint, with such good reasons.   Instead I urge him to appoint the first woman to head the Federal Reserve, the highly qualified Janet Yellen who does not have ties to Wall Street and seems to have all the qualifications that Summers lacks.


Friday, September 6, 2013

The Syrian dilemma -- it gets worse

At the time, it seemed a good idea to have Congress debate and vote on the president's plan for airstrikes against Syria.

Now, with what seems almost certain defeat, the dilemma just gets more complex.   What is the message to Assad and to the world if Obama gives in and doesn't attack?   And what would be the reaction here at home?

And what is our humanitarian position then?

Here are some of the agruments I've heard opposing airstrikes:

1.  Although we react with horror to the use of neurotoxin gas, the number killed is miniscule in comparison with those who have died in Syria by conventional weapons.   Why does this cause us to retaliate, if not before?

2.  There are atrocities all over the world, every day.  We can't solved them all.

3.  Why spend all that money on missiles to send a symbolic message to a country that poses not threat to us, when we're cutting food stamps to our own hungry people and reducing jobs for teachers and first responders?

On the other side, proponents point out that many of the same people who were hawkish for us to take out Sadaam Hussein -- who had used chemical weapons -- are the same people who are condeming similar action by President Obama.   Is it simply because it is Obama?

Another good point:   the red line is that chemical weapons -- like torture and nuclear weapons -- are violations of the rules of war, agreed to by nearly 200 nations.   If you let Assad get away without any consequences, will that simply embolden others to be more aggressive -- say, Iran?

I do not know the answer.   I would not want to have to make the decision.


Thursday, September 5, 2013

A puzzling observation

An article in the New York Times business section raised an interesting question:

Given the unfettered pipeline for corporate money to politicians as the result of the SCOTUS Citizens United decision, why is it that big business hasn't bought a better Congress?
"From overhauling immigration laws to increasing spending on the nation's aging infrastructure, big business leaders have seemed relatively powerless lately as the uncompromising Republicans they helped elect have steadfastly opposed some of their core legislative priorities. . . . 

" . . . if companies could purchase the Congress of their choice, it's unlikely they would buy the gridlocked Congress we have.   The seemingly inexorable rise of political partisans . . . suggest that corporate money may be playing a much smaller role in the political process than expected." 
This is especially surprising in light of the unprecedented amounts of money flowing into political campaigns.   But, as it turns out, not so much of it is from corporations per se -- only $75 million outright to federal campaigns in 2012.

Perhaps corporations have been giving too little, this article suggests.   "Their money was swamped by that of big individual donors who are more ideologically extreme.  In 2012, the top 0.1 percent of donors contributed more than 44 percent of all campaign contributions."

So, according to this thesis, we need not fear Big Business and Big Pharma as much as the super-wealthy Koch Brothers and the Sheldon Adelsons of the ideological right wing.

Yes . . . but.    This does not take into account the money corporations spend on lobbying.  It is looking only at campaign contributions.    It's still a lot of money corrupting our political process, wherever it comes from.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Maverick/chameleon #3

I may have to change what I call Sen. McCain.

This afternoon he wound up voting for the very resolution he said this morning that he could not support.    This was the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voting to send it to the Senate floor.

So -- perhaps not maverick, nor chameleon -- but whirling dervish (with apologies to Sufis).

Why do I care what McCain does?    Because he could be so much more than he is if he were consistently and reliably a bipartisan partner.   It must be maddening to those trying to work cooperatively with him.    Is he your best friend -- or does he stab you in the back?


PS:   The committee vote was 10 to 7  (7 Democrats and 3 Republican for;  2 Democrats and 5 Republicans against;  1 Democrat voting "present.")

Maverick/chameleon #2

Well, that didn't take long.   Less than 24 hours after I posted about McCain and his changing positions on attacking Syria, he's changed again.

Today he has announced that he opposes the current Senate bill, because it doesn't go far enough.   It limits the president's action to a 90 day window;  after that he would have to seek further authorization.

So 24 hours after saying it would be a catastrophe if Congress doesn't authorize the strike, he's saying he opposes it -- at least as currently being considered.

Does this make him a chameleon?   Or is he just a hawk who is sticking to his principles?

As attractive as he sometimes seems, I don't trust him -- and I think with good reason.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Maverick or chameleon?

Sen. John McCain used to enjoy the sobriquet "maverick," and he often did confound expectations with his sometimes contrary (contrary to his Republican colleagues, that is) positions on issues -- campaign finance, climate change, immigration.   But then he reverts to voting with his colleagues on some important issues that seem to cast doubt on his maverick status.

More and more he seems more like a chameleon, because you never quite know what spots he's going to wear.   Last week, he was in all-out hawk high dudgeon over our failure to intervene in the Syrian civil war.   Then he softened it to saying he would vote against the president's proposed surgical strike plan because it doesn't go far enough.   Now he's reversed that, saying for Congres to vote no on supporting the plan would be "a catastrophe."

As if to reinforce this "good McCain" persona, today he echoed his finest moment during the 2008 campaign when he corrected a woman at a rally, who had claimed that Obama is a Muslim.  On Fox News today, he challenged a reporter's condemnation of Syrian opposition groups who shout "Allahu Akbar" (God is Great) when watching a government fighter jet being shot out of the sky.   "I have a problem helping those people screaming that after a hit," the news host said.

McCain rose to the occasion: 
Would you have a problem with an American person saying ‘Thank God? Thank God?  That’s what they're saying. Come on! Of course they're Muslims, but they're moderates and I guarantee you they are moderates.”
It's good that Sen. McCain stands up to bigotry at times.   I just wish he would do that all the time.


Monday, September 2, 2013

Labor Day lament

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s campaign moved beyond the 1963 March on Washington, where the emphasis was on equality in civil rights.   In the years to come, his focus broadened to include economic and job equality.

On this Labor Day, let's take a moment out of the 50th anniversary commemoration of that March and the Voting Rights Act to think about economic equality.

As we've been told over and over, the disparity between rich and poor has grown enormously in the past decade -- and it gets worse each year.

These two thread were linked in some telling statistics:

The minimum wage, when adjusted for inflation, has actually declined in the 50th year since that 1963 March on Washington.    At the same time, the concentration of wealth in the top 1% has grown obscenely.


Liz's sad campaign for the senate

Liz Cheney is running to represent Wyoming in the U. S. Senate.   So far, her campaign has seemed lackluster . . . even sadly miscalculated in some respects.

First, trying to unseat a popular long-term senator in a state that highly prizes home-grown loyalists, while having just established residence in the state less than a year ago, seems foolish.  Only the hope of her ancestral presence in the state and her father's connections and money make it seem even possibly viable.

But then Liz just seems to keep making mistakes.   First was the fishing license debacle.  Does she even like to fish?.   I thought it was sister Mary who did guy-things with their Dad.   Liz applied for a fishing license -- not knowing that you had to be a resident for a year, thus emphasizing her outsider status in the media.

There have been some awkward moments in her trying to establish herself as a Wyomingite.  Despite the long family connections, Liz herself grew up in suburban Washington, D.C. and does not seem the Wyoming type.  Her career has been in the State Department and as a TV commentator, where she has that same grating persona as her mother.   She spouts knee-jerk conservative positions that often sound silly and without the gravitas her father speaks the same lines.

Now -- probably a political calculation -- she has revealed a family split on gay marriage.   She maintains the she is "not pro-gay-marriage."   Is that different from being against it?   Or is it a cutesy political trick?  She says it should be left to the states -- which is what people say when they're trying to have it both ways.  

Apparently her lesbian sister Mary isn't going to keep quiet about it.   She posted on social media that "Liz is dead-wrong" about this.    Daddy Dick had at least had the guts to say, in his V.P. debate way back, that he thought anybody ought to be able to marry whomever they wished.

So there.   Go back to Washington, Liz.   You're miscast as a Wyoming gal.   They don't need you to parachute in and try to supplant their popular senator.   You seem opportunistic and greedy.

And . . . one more favor.   Stay off the tv talk shows.  You only appeal to the angry right-wing crowd;  and that's a losing bunch, despite the noise they make.