Back to the Pipe and the Pole

Here is a letter I received a few days ago from the President of my University.

Last summer, I formed an advisory task force to assist the University in developing a plan to prepare for probable reductions in state funding for higher education and to assist the University in developing a new instructional resource model. The task force consists of faculty, academic deans, administrators, and staff.

On December 18, 2010, the task force held an open forum. At that forum, Provost Mearns, who is co-chair of the task force, discussed the status of the task force’s efforts to assist in developing a contingency plan for next year’s budget. I attended the forum.

Since then, the task force has continued to provide me with additional recommendations. Those recommendations are detailed in a written report that is now available on the task force’s webpage.

This report recommends overall budget target ranges for each of the University’s major sectors: academic colleges, academic support units, and university administrative units. I have accepted these sector recommendations. In December, I provided differentiated budget targets to each of the vice presidents who manage university administrative units, and I directed them to prepare a contingency plan to meet their unit’s respective target. They have submitted their plans to me, which I am currently reviewing.

The task force’s report also provided specific recommendations about differentiated targets for each of the academic colleges. After developing a list of strategic factors and applying those factors to readily available data, the task force assigned each academic college to one of three groups, or bands. As discussed in the report, a college or an administrative unit can meet its proposed budget target through both permanent expense reductions and reliable revenue enhancements.

After reviewing an initial draft of the report, I met at length with Provost Mearns, Vice President George Walker and Tim Long, the University’s Budget Director, to review the strategic factors and the data relied upon by the task force to develop its differentiated recommendations for each of the academic colleges. In making my decisions, I relied upon the same strategic factors developed by the task force, including: how a college’s programs aligned with the University’s primary strategic goals; a college’s financial performance relative to the other colleges at the University; the extent to which a college has programs, including doctoral programs, with relatively few students; an assessment of the productivity and impact of the college’s research faculty; the success of a college’s students as measured by undergraduate retention and graduation rates and post-graduate licensing exams; and the ability of a college to develop differential tuition plans or increase enrollment above existing limits.

After this review, I accepted all of the task force’s recommendations with respect to the colleges’ budget targets, with one exception. I have delegated to Provost Mearns the responsibility of establishing differentiated targets for the various academic support units that report to him.

Provost Mearns has communicated the college targets to the deans, and he has asked them to provide him with their college’s plan by February 22, 2011. He has also directed the deans to consult with their respective faculties and staff in developing their college’s plan.

By early March, I anticipate that our collective strategy for meeting this financial challenge will begin to become more clear. Governor Kasich will present his proposed budget to the legislature on or before March 15. I anticipate that, when his budget is released, we will know much more about two of the most important factors that are driving this process: the approximate amount of any reduction in the state subsidy for higher education, and the limit on any possible increase in undergraduate tuition. By that time, we will also have had an opportunity to evaluate the various college and administrative plans that have been submitted.

When we have more information from the Governor, I will hold an open forum in March to discuss our University plan.

I know that this process is difficult and that it is causing some anxiety and uncertainty. I believe, however, that we have established a collaborative and transparent process that will enable the University to overcome this challenge. Indeed, I am encouraged by the constructive contributions that so many of you have already made to our contingency planning process. Therefore, I am confident that we will emerge from this process as a stronger institution — which is our goal.

Thank you for your service to our students, our University, and our community.

Indeed. To those of you who still believe in the American Dream, let me explain how it really works for you. Say Jane wants to grow up and become a Doctor. But Jane and her family live piss poor, so she works hard in High School, gets good grades in accelerated courses and takes part in track and cheerleading or some such other extracurricular nonsense that will look good on college applications. She gets accepted into a good school and manages to keep from getting pregnant. What a stand up gal Jane is, don’t you think? She gets some scholarships. Good for her! She gets Pell Grants and subsidized and unsubsidized loans through FAFSA. That’s our girl.

Before you know it she is accepted into Harvard Medical School and graduates with honors. Bravo! The problem is, now Jane has upwards of $200,000 worth of student loans to pay back. She gets married and begins practice as a pediatrician, her lifelong dream. But it will be a while before she begins to really rake in the dough and there are medical malpractice lawsuits on the horizon. Nonetheless, she and her husband, a college professor, are living well, having babies and attending church on Sundays. Everything seems fine until disaster strikes. Her mother is still piss poor and has just suffered from a stroke. A neighbor finds her laying face down in her apartment surrounded by urine and her own feces. Jane’s mother is admitted to the hospital and is soon discharged. Incontinent, paralyzed from the waist down and unable to take care of herself, Jane’s mother is just above the income threshold for medicaid and there are limited funds. She has no Health Insurance and therefore cannot afford to live in a Nursing Home or Assisted Living Facility, so Jane has to quit her job to take care of her mother, as her husband is unwilling to quit his. The financial problems caused by the fact that Jane can no longer supplement the family income as well as the demands of taking care of a sick elderly woman takes a toll on their marriage, and Jane’s husband starts banging his secretary. They get a divorce and the children are heartbroken. Jane is now a single mother with no job. She still has student loans and legal fees to pay back, no home because she can’t afford a mortgage, and three kids to put through college. Her oldest daughter Sarah is devastated by the break up of her family and commits suicide. Three months later, Jane’s mother dies due to inadequate medical care. Jane’s American Dream has turned into an American Nightmare.

Sounds extreme, right? Wrong. Things like this are happening everywhere. I can tell you that it is extremely difficult to pay for college, and I will explain why. Most people have an idea of the average college student’s financial situation. A freshman will have mom and dad foot most of the bill and private loans will take care of the rest, right?

Wrong.

Take me for example. I graduated from that Shithole High School a semester early with decent grades and community service. Go me, right? I figured I might as well try to go to college, so I briefly (and by briefly, I mean for about two seconds) thought about going into the military and even told the Hell Hole High School that those were my plans so they would let me graduate early. I took the ASVAB tests and got excellent scores, fielding calls from every military branch recruiter known to man telling me to join so I could become an officer. Of course, I am not going to go into the Military. I am a pacifist. So I changed my phone number to get rid of the recruiters and enrolled at the local junior college, with plans to save money on Gen Eds in mind. Problem was, my Dad makes too much money for me to get FAFSA and we are somewhat estranged. I had to work my tail off and go to School part time so I could get taken off of his tax returns, as a student has to be enrolled in school full time to be on their parents tax returns after they’re eighteen and to still be on their parents health insurance plan.

In any case, I no longer have Health Insurance but now that I’m off his taxes I go to School overtime, supplemented by a hefty financial aid award. But get this!

President Obama and his aides have spent a good bit of time over the last several weeks talking about the importance of education. Now they announce that they plan to cut spending on Pell grants, the big student-aid program that helps students in (roughly) the bottom half of the income distribution. As Jackie Calmes explains:

Pell grants for needy college students would be eliminated for summer classes, and graduate students would start accruing interest immediately on federal loans, though they would not have to pay until after they graduate; both changes are intended to help save $100 billion over 10 years to offset the costs of maintaining Pell grants for nine million students, according to administration officials.

Oh, fantastic! Keep in mind that my situation is not unique. Many students are like me, with families either too poor or too unwilling to help pay for school. I have a friend, for example, who had to run away from home when she was in Hell High School because her Step Father was beating her mother. She supported herself with two jobs and help from family and friends until she graduated, and now she has classes with me. I don’t know how she does it, because she is forced by FAFSA to file as a dependent even though she receives no help from her family and supports herself completely. She is awarded funds based on the assumption that her parents help her when in reality she has to pay for full time school as well as everything else.

And why is it that school is so expensive? Gods only know. The cost of living has increased exponentially since my parents were in college. It is easy for some stuck-in-the past 1950′s holdover to lecture one of us stupid delinquent teenagers about how THEY did it when they were our age so why can’t we? Well, I feel like saying to these idiots, you’re the ignorant fools who elected conservative Presidents and congresses for the past several decades and caused the inflation and budget cuts that led to all of these problems. Get over yourself.

Not only that, but tuition is obscenely expensive since now colleges are run more like businesses instead of academic institutions that shape young minds and prepare the leaders of tomorrow. I have to pay thousands of dollars for Professors to teach me the same bull shit I’ve been learning since the sixth grade (which is not to say I don’t learn a lot in College these days from certain professors, but I digress) and then once I and many students have paid several more thousands to complete an undergraduate degree two thirds of us STILL won’t be able to get a job. And people wonder why our education system is so behind.

Well, one might say, you may not be achieving all of your fancy starry eyed dreams but at least you are bettering yourself for the real world. Maybe you’ll be a hospital administrator instead of a chemical engineer but at least you have the right to a comfortable lifestyle and a reasonable retirement, right? Wrong.

So far, Obama has had the following “bright ideas” and has proposed them to Congress:

(1) Obama proposed (and Congress passed) a $112 Billion REDUCTION in revenues coming into the Social Security trust fund for this year; that is a cut of 30% in workers’ contributions to the Fund. I think we can be pretty sure this $112 Billion annual cut in Social Security taxes will be made permanent with the full agreement of Obama. It won’t take long, at that rate, for Social Security to drain its fund (and current surplus) and go out of business.

(2) Obama has proposed a 50% REDUCTION in federal aid to the program that helps poor people pay heating bills for their homes

(3) Obama is proposing that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac go out of business, which will make it harder — if not impossible — for lower-income and middle-income people to buy their homes instead of paying endless rents

(4) Obama is proposing that the interest homeowners pay for their mortgages NO longer be fully deductible on their income taxes. In the early years of any mortgage, the bulk of the monthly mortgage payment goes to pay the interest on the mortgage; having that great sum be deductible has made it possible for people to buy homes and not default on their mortgages when finances are tight (as they often are when new homeowners are just starting out).

The result of Obama’s “bright” ideas, numbers (3) and (4), will be to make it harder for current homeowners to SELL their homes, will DEFLATE the value of their homes, will cause more people to default on their mortgages, and will create a situation where communities will take in LESS in the way of property taxes because of the number of vacant, abandoned homes that will become liabilities.

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -
And Obama is doing all of this cutting less than two months after signing into law tax CUTS for the wealthiest Americans.

The Republicans have the EXACT right Democrat in the White House for their evil purposes. Obama is: (1) helping the Republicans realize their decades-long goal of destroying the Social Security program, (2) proposing policies that will create an even wider division between the “haves” and “have-nots” in America, and (3)proposing policies that will create a sub-class of Americans that the top one percent of Americans will be able to reduce to economic slavery.

That’s right. So long house in the ‘burbs. Bye bye white picket fence, 2.4 children and Labrador Retriever. S’later retirement fund, pensions, IRA. Hi poverty, what it do destitution? We’re the leaders of tomorrow. Nice to meetcha!

It just won’t do. Obama is a Republican Dream, not an American Dream. Why, just look at the cover of one of his famous “books.”

The Audacity of Nope

To Obama, this is the American Dream. Jane’s life would be everyone’s life with the policies he is currently championing. Can you believe this is happening? Well, I can. I’ve been saying who Obama is from the get-go. All it took was reading his idea of the American Dream in the pages of this book, where he talked about cutting Social Security and used Reagan as an example of a President to emulate. He’s stuck to his word, too. And has managed to unite this divided nation of ours- against him. On the 100the anniversary of Reagan’s whatever it was I was subjected to fawning book covers and pages about Obama’s hero for days. And now he is cutting Social Security with his bipartisan Republican pals, just like he promised.

I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t jive with the Obama the fauxgressives were selling us. This whole thing just isn’t going to work for me. I’m sure it won’t work for a lot of you, either, so run for office instead of electing more morons who will continue to pull this crap on us and expect to get reelected. My plan is to go to Law School and try to change these problems from within instead of sitting here and bitching about it.

But Isis, I can hear some people saying. Law School is expensive. You depend on those Pell Grants Obama and the Tea Party losers are cutting left and right and spending on unnecessary wars, a shitty Health Care Law and Michelle’s vacations in Spain to pay for your tuition, books and other fees. Won’t you be just like Jane, busting your hump for a dismal future? What are you going to do?

Well, shit. Whatever FAFSA doesn’t cover anymore I’ll supplement with scholarships. I just got a job that will pay for my Master’s Degree in Social Work so long as I get a good GPA. And certain agencies and non profits in my field of study will pay back all of my tuition if I end up working for them. As for the rest, it’s back to the pole and the pipe. And don’t think I’ll be the only one.

The future’s so bright, Obama’s gotta wear shades

"I see an empty suit . . ."


Would I joke about something like this?

A Forecast That Obama Could Love

THINGS are looking up for Barack Obama.

You might not think so, given the flow of news lately. His foreign policy has met with limited success, at best. And, back home, unemployment is mired at 9.6 percent. Earlier this month, in a major political blow, Democrats lost more than 60 seats and control of the House of Representatives.

So what is there for Mr. Obama and his supporters to cheer about?

Try this: Based on the facts at hand right now, Mr. Obama is likely to win the 2012 election in a landslide. That, at least, is the prediction of Ray C. Fair, a Yale economist and an expert on econometrics and on the relationship of economics and politics.

What’s the basis of this forecast? In a nutshell: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

To make a long story short, Mr. Fair thinks:

A) The economy will be booming again by 2012 and

B) Obama will be Mr. Popular again.

I’ll agree that if A is true then B is probably true too, but I don’t agree that A is true.

Maybe it’s true and maybe it isn’t. But there is a reason they call economics “the dismal science.”

Not all Democrats agree with Fair’s rosy assessment of the economy. If they did they wouldn’t be trying to preemptively blame the Republicans for it:

Matt Yglesias had an item the other day that went largely unnoticed, but which I found pretty important.

…I know that tangible improvements in the economy are key to Obama’s re-election chances. And Douglas Hibbs knows that it’s key. And senior administration officials know that its key. So is it so unreasonable to think that Mitch McConnell and John Boehner may also know that it’s key? That rank and file Republicans know that it’s key? McConnell has clarified that his key goal in the Senate is to cause Barack Obama to lose in 2012 which if McConnell understands the situation correctly means doing everything in his power to reduce economic growth. Boehner has distanced himself from this theory, but many members of his caucus may agree with McConnell.

Which is just to say that specifically the White House needs to be prepared not just for rough political tactics from the opposition (what else is new?) but for a true worst case scenario of deliberate economic sabotage.

Budget expert Stan Collender has predicted that Republicans perceive “economic hardship as the path to election glory.” Paul Krugman noted in his column yesterday that Republicans “want the economy to stay weak as long as there’s a Democrat in the White House.”


And now for something radical and extreme: Get rid of the 401K

Last weekend, I got polled.  Er, by Harris, the polling company.  I’ve been getting a lot of that lately.  Maybe being a middle class suburbanite independent Democrat-in-exile in NJ means I have finally arrived but it’s unlikely I fit their notions of the typical polling subject.  Well, not after this poll anyway.

The first question was about my attitudes towards the military.  Would I suggest the military to a young person?  As it happens, I’m a military brat, my family has a long tradition of joining up and I have current family members who are career military.  So, while a military career is not for everyone and it’s certainly more dangerous than it was 10 years ago, I wouldn’t rule it out for someone who doesn’t know what they want to do as a career.

That first answer seemed to have put me, a lifelong liberal, on the Tea Party branch of the decision tree.  Many of the other questions after that point were kind of insulting to the intelligence.  For instance, is someone arrested for a crime entitled to speak to an attorney?  Jeez, all those years of Dragnet should have sunk in by now.  Of course they are.  What about if the crime is serious or particularly heinous?  Um, yeah, that’s when you are most in need of one to defend you.  What about if it’s a TERRORIST???  Do they get to speak to an attorney on the government’s dime if they are accused of TERRORISM?  Well, Timothy McVeigh went through the process, was represented, had a fair trial and got what was coming to him.  I think the system can work.  Let’s not start making exceptions for alleged terrorists.

Anyway, that wasn’t the section that tripped my trigger.  No, the one that got to me was about 401Ks.  I don’t know what our brilliant braintrusts in the Democratic party are up to but if they are the ones who are suggesting that it would be a nifty keen idea to expand the 401K system, we might as well all just get used to an America whose salad days are over.  The poll question was something like, “Would you approve or disapprove of expanding the 401k system to workers whose employers would not be required to make a matching contribution?”

That’s a weird question for so many reasons.  The first one is, if you allow *some* employers to opt out of making contributions, wouldn’t you just give the rest of them justification for also opting out?  And what about the Enron-esque employers who match with stock?  But I digress.  Because the real employment trend is to make everyone contractors, freeing the corporation from actually employing and being responsible for the lives of the people who work for them.  So, maybe that’s where this question is coming from.  Say you are now a contractor, forced to go through some rent collecting middle man who acts as an intermediary between the corporate entity and your paycheck.  Now YOU are responsible for your retirement accounts, not the corporate entity.  So, does the old corporation have to match your 401k contributions?  Something to think about as the traditional bonds between employer and employee are redefined.

But that’s not why the 401K needs to go.  Now, I am not a financial wizard.  Far from it.  If you want that kind of expertise, check out Dakinikat’s posts, or Baseline Scenario or Naked Capitalism.  No, I am just Jane Bagodonuts from the burbs.  Nevertheless, blogging allows me to expound on any subject I like or don’t like.  And I have particular dislike for my 401k, may it grow and prosper.  Here are my reasons from a liberal perspective:

1.) It’s a Ponzi scheme.  Yep.  Unlike Social Security, which we are all required to participate in and which has actuarial expertise built into it and is a fall back retirement insurance policy, the 401k is for suckers.  It relies on lots of people dumping their investment dollars into pumping up the price of stocks.  When the baby boom generation starts to retire in earnest, it’s going to want to cash in, leaving us with funds with diminishing value.  UNLESS we get some other poor schmos who don’t have employer contributions to send their money to our 401Ks in return.

2.) Wall Street thinks the money in your 401K is there for them to use as gambling chips in some global game of roulette.   We saw this happen in 2008 when the subprime mortgage market collapsed but it’s not limited to the bond market.  Oh, sure, the stock market is more highly regulated but when the bottom fell out of the mezzanine subprime tranche CDO’s it took everything else with it.  Besides, who has time to monitor their 401K’s at every minute of the day?  Most of us follow the Ron Popeill method of financial investment: set it and forget it. Turning a bunch of naive amateurs into financial planners of their old age lifestyles has turned into a windfall for the predators on Wall Street.  What we don’t know can hurt us and we don’t know what they’re up to.

3.) Wall Street and the financial sector in general is like the Wild West right now.  Until there is more oversight and regulation, you just can’t trust them.  The constant infusion of cash to these testosterone poisoned, self centered, highly overrated gamblers who manage our money only encourages more risk taking and future financial collapses.

4.) 401Ks lead to employees betting against themselves.  The shareholder is the emperor.  The money we put into these funds increase when employers see staff as unattractive drags on the bottom line.  I’ve always preferred the word Personnel to Human Resources because it acknowledges that there are persons actually doing the work and that we are not just variable costs to be minimized for the benefit of the bonus class.  Nevertheless, when corporations cut staff, the stock goes up and everyone starts dreaming of their new retirement condo in Mexico.  That is, iff they have the privilege of actually retiring.

5.) 401ks lead to less innovation.  Well, if you have to cut staff to assuage the quarterly panic attacks of the shareholders, you don’t have people innovating for you.  It’s true.  People who no longer work for you are not required to do your thinking for you.  The people who are left are too busy preparing for their own “displacement” to do any real work.

6.) 401ks invite the bonus class to invest in emerging markets, not the American market.  They’re always chasing profits.  For themselves.  For you?  Ehhhhh, not so much.  Shareholders, that is the BIG shareholders, not you and me, have to be satisfied so the money must go somewhere.  Why not India?  Oh, sure, it means that the capital will be invested in a place that means more Americans will lose their jobs and potential American entrepreneurs will go begging for startup money. But that’s the nature of capitalism.  Suck it up.

5.) In order to get a break on taxes, which in my case are pretty ugly, you can’t take the money out until you retire.  You can borrow from your 401K but then, you have to make sure you stay employed so you can pay yourself back.  It’s not very liquid and most of us can’t afford to fund multiple retirement/savings/college funds.  In emergencies, it’s useless.

Now, I am glad that I have a 401K, for the short term forseeable future, and that my employer is rather generous in funding it.  But it’s all on paper as far as I’m concerned.  By the time I am ready to retire, it might be worthless.  Getting rid of them wouldn’t exclude investing in the stock market.  It would just not institutionalize it and make it an all-but-mandatory retirement strategy.  Maybe the financial sector would be a little bit more attentive to our needs if they didn’t have a steady stream of easy money flowing into their gargantuan gullets.  Maybe customer service would improve.  There might be incentives offered to attract your business.  Maybe the risky gambling addiction behavior would cease.

I dunno.  I can only speculate with my money averse mind. But the more I hear about the financial meltdown, the more I keep coming back to the 401K “instrument” as the root of all evil.

Get

Rid

Of

It

Dish: Health Insurance Reform

WHHHOOOOOOOOOO! Health Care Reform for white men has passed! The most historical event evah in the history of historicalness has occurred! A Democratic Congress and a Democratic President has made a Republican Healthcare Bill Law! Insurance companies will be able to not provide helpless children with adequate care at last!

All this change! All this hope! I can’t take it! I’m going to spontaneously combust!

The world is going insane, and while normally I like insanity, this is not the good kind. Obama has just passed national RomneyObamacare–a Nixon wet dream originating from the Heritage Foundation in the 1990s in opposition to Hillarycare, and yet lunatic “Tea Partiers” are running around vandalizing the houses of Congressidiots who voted for the heaping pile of shit, screaming that they are “socialists?”

Obama signs an executive order restricting women’s access to abortion, and so called “progressives” and “feminists” are having kool aid induced orgasms as they compare the passage of a Health Insurance Reform Bill that would be better served as toilet paper to the Civil Rights Act? What the fuck?

Well, maybe I’m being unfair. The Bill IS Historic. Historically shitty.

I find myself–and we all must admit that I am normally so cheerful and chipper, yes, you know you all love me– I find myself feeling gloomy. I’m walking around campus with my hands shoved in the pockets of my fake leather jacket with a cigarette hanging out of my mouth–and I don’t even smoke! Security officers are mistaking me for troubled youth and are performing random searches on me.

Well, I am troubled. I’m troubled about a lot of things, but in terms of politics and current events, I am troubled about the fact that, as MYIQ said a few weeks ago, there appears to be no end in sight.

But what really has me bummed out right now is the realization that there is no end in sight for the mess this country is in. The single biggest problem facing our nation is the illness in our political system. When I say “illness” I mean the equivalent of an inoperable cancer that has metastasized. If we fixed our political system then we would actually be able to do something about those other problems.

For most of my adult life I believed that the Democrats were the good guys so even when they were getting slapped around by the Republicans I could support them and hope that after the next election they would grow a pair and start standing up for the liberal ideals they campaigned on.

I finally realized that the majority of the Democrats who hold elected office are not only corrupt but they have the same agenda as the Republicans. Oh, the say they’re on our side, and when it’s time for them to represent us they might make some speeches andr play some parliamentary tricks but when the nitty meets the gritty they lose on purpose. Lots of times they don’t even bother to put on a dog and pony show anymore, they just vote to bail out Wall Street or take away our civil rights as if that’s what we wanted them to do.

Now as far back as I can remember the Republicans were corrupt and they tended to be pricks or assholes, and sometimes both, but they weren’t insane. Nowadays there’s a lot of GOPers that are crazy as shithouse rats. That not only includes the elected ones but the voters too. Then you got the tea baggers who don’t think the Republicans are crazy enough.

I can’t believe that I am living in a country–I country I have grown up loving with every fiber of my being despite its flaws–where this is happening. The passage of a bill that bails out the Health Care Industry is historic! And in honor of Women’s History Month we passed it on the backs of women and their reproductive rights! Cats bark! Fish have tails! Catholic Priests are ethical in their treatment of young children!

The whole world is going mad I tell you! MAAAADDDDD!

Of course, intellectually I understand, there is always hope. Democrats are going to lose a lot of seats in November and while the Republicans that come into office will be even worse, the door will open for real liberals, not phony “progressives,” to show Donna Brazile and Howard Dean’s “New Coalition” to be ineffective and thus we will be able to take our party back.

But sometimes, in this Golden Era of Hope and Change, politics just isn’t enough. For once in our lives, we needed policy. Good policy that would actually have given broke-ass students like me real Health Insurance. Just a few weeks ago, before my spring break, I came down with the flu and missed a week of classes I’m still making up. If I had insurance, I might have been able to get antibiotics and missed only one day, maybe two. This bill does nothing to help me. For one thing, I’ll be done with my undergraduates and possibly even my graduates by 2014. At this rate I’m going to have to start stripping for my ‘scrips, just like a number of poor senior citizens who will shortly be facing cuts in medicare due to this lame-assed bill.


Sometimes, I get tired. Sometimes, I don’t want to live life day to day anymore. Sometimes I think things will never get better. Trying to get something to eat, trying to fill up my gas tank–always being hungry, worrying about my mom, worrying about my friends, worrying about all the people around me at my school who are going through the same thing.

Sometimes, honestly, I’m just tired. And today, forgive me, but I have to lament over the fact that politics took precedence over policy. Sorry.

Remember When We Believed In a Place Called Hope?

Remember when Donna Brazile told us all that the Democratic Party was forming a New Coalition that was “…more urban, as well as suburban…” and that the party didn’t need gays, Hispanics, blue collar voters (more commonly known as Jacksonians) and us bitter, clingy feminists anymore? Donna was either flying high that night, or she was serious. We can safely assume she was serious, particularly after she wrote this gem in response to an innocent young voter’s (ie: me) inquiries about seating the delegates in Florida and Michigan.

As of today, I am not going to respond to any more anti American, Anti Democratic emails. Have a nice day.
I am sorry because you are sincere, but the Hillary forces are uncivil, repugnant and vile. When you come up for air and would like to email a person who cares about America and not just a personality, I will respond.
Thanks for your time and your interest.
Donna

This afternoon, in between being uncivil, repungant and vile and also hating America (and also toting a gun and being raycist), I came across this article on FB, which explains why the conventional wisdom about Obama’s current joke of a Presidency is, as usual, wrong:

The conventional wisdom is that Barack Obama’s decline in the polls represents a new, unexpected turn against him. But an examination of the results of the recent elections in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts suggests that what we might really be seeing is a return to the skepticism that significant portions of the electorate have showed about Obama from the beginning of his national career.

For six months during the 2008 primaries, Obama and Hillary Clinton crisscrossed the country wooing voters. Obama consistently failed to win over important parts of the Democratic base, even after it became clear that he was going to be his party’s nominee.

On February 5—Super Tuesday— Obama did poorly in both New Jersey and Massachusetts, losing to Clinton by 10 and 15 points, respectively. The exit polls were in line with Obama’s performance throughout the primary race: He did very well with blacks, wealthy voters, highly educated voters, and very young voters. He did poorly with working-class whites and older voters. In New Jersey, Obama was +20 among voters under the age of 29, but about -26 among voters over 50. In Massachusetts, he ran even with young voters, and -31 among those over 65. As for education, Obama was -41 among voters with only a high school degree, but ran even, or just ahead, among voters possessing postgraduate degrees. And then there was gender and race. In New Jersey, Obama was -19 among white men; in Massachusetts he was +1.

[...]

The question, then, is how these various coalition groups—the white ethnic enclaves, the Jacksonians, the suburban and industrial town voters—have reacted to Democrats since Obama took office. And the answer is: Without enthusiasm.

(Note: only cool young people like me and Regency voted for Hillary, but you all ready know that.) There’s usually no point in Nostalgia. But remember when the Democratic party was the party of the “Big Tent?” Remember when it was supposed to represent the interests of those who were “invisible,” as our Shero used to say? Remember the party that could overcome the labels and name calling defined by the Village and the Right Wing Noise Machine in service of things like Health Care for children, job creation, the environment and tax cuts for the Middle Class? I’m having a hard time, because it’s been a long time since the Big Dawg was President, and I was only an (adorable) little tot back then, but I digress.

The point is, the Democratic Party we once loved and belonged to bit the dust on May 31st at the RBC meeting, but we all know that. Its just that its only now, too late, that the rest of the world is realizing we were right all along about our beloved leader and the “New Coalition.” It is extremely enjoyable to relish in Donna and the rest of the DNC’s Karma, and it is at times satisfying to watch President Obama crash and burn, not because we wanted that to happen–Obama’s failure isn’t just dragging down his poll numbers, its also dragging down this country and all of the unemployed people who are struggling to make ends meet while Wall Street Bankers point and laugh at them from on high atop of their giant mounds of bailout money–but because it is only small consolation after having our vaginas compared to grilled cheese sandwiches (well, my vagina wasn’t compared to a grilled cheese sandwich, but I was still mad about the reference in general) and being basically kicked out of the party a lot of us remained loyal to our entire lives, despite it being such a hot mess.

However, vindictiveness gets us nowhere. The PUMA brand appears to have been usurped by disturbed lunatics such as the Hillbuzz boys, who now spend their days photoshopping pictures of Senator Claire McCaskill in pajamas and campaigning for conservatives like Sarah Palin, Scott Brown and Michelle Bachmann, and the Teabaggers Tea party is a front for the Right Wing.

Many have suggested forming a third party, but as Joseph Cannon explained third parties have been shown to be unsuccessful and their candidates are spoilers. Like it or not, we have a two party system and its going to stay that way. So what do we do?

The right wing nutsos — the Friedmanites, the libertarians — did not say: “We’re not getting what we want from the Republicans, so let’s form a new party.”

Actually, I tell a lie. Before the great takeover occurred, and during the days of Nixon, some right-wing ultras did go down the third party route. A Libertarian party was formed, and the American Independent Party did well in the ’68 and ’72 elections, under George Wallace and John Schmitz.

George is the one who made that remark about there not being a dime’s worth of difference between the two major parties. John is the one who said “If you’re out of Schmitz, you’re out of gear. And if someone doesn’t get that kid get to shut up, I’ll do it myself.”

Apologies for that digression. (If you weren’t alive at that time, you may be confused by the references.)

The reactionary element within this country achieved much greater success when it decided to take over the Republican party. They have now commandeered it to such a degree that John Schmitz’ son Joseph has a comfy place in it. (Joseph used to help run Blackwater and he was the DOD IG under W.) The fanatics not only took over the party, they also commandeered the national debate. They set the limits of permissible thought.

It’s time to take the party back from the “New Coalition.” Its time we gave Donna a fork and made her eat her words. Its time real liberals–and by real I don’t mean fauxgressives of the former Neocon variety such as Arianna and Morkos– I mean real liberals, took the party back from so called “Blue Dogs” and Howard Dean and his crappy “Fifty State Strategy.” Its time we got our party back. Because deep down, we know it still always belonged to us. One needs only to take one look at the flailing Obots on the Huffington Post and the Daily Kos to see that. I miss our “Big Tent.” Lets call it up and tell it to please come home.

I remember being a little kid and knowing I was a Democrat, because I thought that no matter what, I would never feel invisible if there was a “D” after my name. That was what I loved about the Democratic Party. Now so many Americans feel more invisible than ever. Even Wanda Sykes.

I miss my Clinton panties too.

Clinton isn’t out there preaching that only certain types of love are acceptable. He isn’t bemoaning what is wrong with our nation, but constantly emphasizing what is right with it. Clinton is not a gloom and doom kind of guy waiting for an imaginary apocalypse to free us from this evil world. Clinton prefers to see the good in people rather than the worst. The President is an almost idealized concept of an optimist who believes that as long as we are here, we might as well try to make it the best world that we can.

Most of us appreciate that. Because in the end, we, too, would like to believe that we are people who-though we are often flawed and all too human- struggle each day to make the world a little better than how we found it.

Clinton just seems more like one of us. He actually has facial expressions. He plays the sax. He eats at fast food restaurants and struggles with weight gain as a result. He gets all red in the face as he jogs around the block. He even makes bad choices when it comes to picking out which tie to wear for the cameras.

I don’t think anyone would call him a saint. And that is the number one reason that the Republicans hate him so very much. He isn’t a saint at all. Neither are we.

As Andy points out in the song, “He made too many enemies… Of the people who would keep us on our knees..”

And all the while that the Christian Coalition driven lemmings in our government have been harping on the fact that only a saint can run this country effectively, Bill Clinton has been proving them wrong.

And the Righteous Republicans really, really hate that.

Do you still believe in a place called hope? I think I do.

Blaming a Generation

civil war soldiers

One outrage after another. Obama’s recent defense of DOMA leaves a bad taste in the mouth. I won’t continue, I may start to blub again if I do, and I don’t feel like being smug anyway. Claiming that banning Gay Marriage is good for the federal budget, and then invoking incest and pedophilia does not warrant comments that aren’t X rated in nature, and this is a family blog.

But while I’m at it, I want to talk about something that I won’t be scoring any points for. In fact, I’m likely going to get Hell for this, but it needs to be said, and Little Isis can’t be polite and sweet all the the time when she has something to say.

It’s like this: since Bam’s victory in the General Election, there has been talk of “The Obama Generation.” Voters of my age group who tended to vote for him have been dubbed “Obama’s Youth Army.”

Well, for one thing, that sounds so militant. Who wants to be part of a “Youth Army?” Can you say cheesy? Besides, that is a loaded phrase with violent imagery, and I detest violence.

But I digress.

Thankfully, all this talk of “The Obama Generation” and “The Obama Era,” is dying down. Sadly, not because of the incredible corniness of those phrases, but because of what a disappointment my Generation’s alleged savior is turning out to be, only five or six months into his administration.

That’s the thing about Demi-Gods. They’re just human narcissists who are full of themselves, and the messianic imagery gets old after a while. My female friends who voted for the Chosen One will no doubt abandon their “Chocolate Fudge Sunday” in favor of the next big thing when it is no longer cool to like him. It’s like having a boyfriend who is great at first, because he’s, you know, so cocky and good looking. But then eventually you just cannot stand the sight of his smug mug anymore, because every time he opens his mouth to utter something stupid you must resist the urge to backhand him.

No see, there is a point. Since all this talk of “Youth Armies” and “Obama Generations” and “Obama Nightlights” and “Obama Thongs” and “Obama Midnight Movies,” there has been a trend among … people of a certain age group, I guess, to put the blame of Obama on us, that is to say, my generation.

Well, I take issue with that. (Note: I am not referring to most of the commenters here in this post. I have noted that you are all mature adults, and good parents to boot, and you seem to have a strong enough sense of history to realize it is a little more complicated than that.)

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“Don’t expect too much from me,” says the POTUS

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The B.O.T., Barack Obama Teleprompter.

I’m just lucky that I still have some Tums handy:

From Yahoo News/AP

Obama seeks patience, warns of expecting too much

LOS ANGELES – Facing largely adoring crowds far from Washington, President Barack Obama on Thursday asked Americans to back his far-reaching economic and health policies, but warned them not to expect too much from him or the federal government. With many Republicans and even some Democrats in Congress resisting his budget plans, Obama went into full campaign mode in California, using television, friendly audiences and his massive e-mail list to counter his critics.

Also known as propaganda units and NBC, owned by General Electric, a massive donor to Obama’s Presidential Campaign.

Without naming names, he mocked Republican officials who call his plan too costly even though they presided over huge deficits while they controlled Congress and the White House.

“Where have you been?” he said to several hundred people at a raucous town-hall meeting in Los Angeles. “What have you been doing?”

Was that on the Teleprompter?  (Who by they way, The B.O.T., a.k.a, Barack Obama’s TelePrompter, has a new blog all on his/her/it’s own, here).

In his second California town hall in as many days, Obama mixed cockiness with humility.

Humility only is shown when it’s on the B.O.T.

He told Americans not to expect “something for nothing” from their government. Improvements to the economy and health care will take time and require unusually large deficits for a while, he said.

Only if you’re AIG or one of the 13 bailed out conglomerates that didn’t pay taxes.

“Nothing is free,” he said. Responding to a woman’s complaint about cuts in jobs and salaries for teachers in California, Obama urged people not to ask the federal and state governments to cut taxes and improve services at the same time.

So which are you going to do, Obama?  You already promised that 95% of the population is going to get their taxes cut, which equals about $13 extra dollars a week to the average working American.  How about concentrating on the economy instead of picking out your NCAA teams? Nero Dribbles while Rome burns.

“At some point you’ve got to make some choices,” he told the crowd, which loudly cheered him repeatedly. Obama also asked the country for patience and forbearance. “We are not always going to be right,” he said. “And I don’t want everybody disappointed if we make a mistake.”

Uh, how many are you going to make?  I’ll leave to WMCB to comment on that:

WMCB, on March 19th, 2009 at 8:15 am Said: I point out to them that this ENTIRE election was all about what a big mess Bush would leave, and who had the experience and work ethic and smarts to clean up that mountain of mess. Obama and his supporters assured us all that he was fully aware of the scope of the task, and could do the job. Could do the job handily, with great success, like no other! So no use now whining “But…Bush left such a huge mess!” Yeah, dipshit, we knew that. Cleaning up that mess is the job he APPLIED FOR, and wanted so badly, and insisted he was qualified to do, so STFU and do it or face the people’s anger.

Oh but Obama needs a compass apparently:

The important question, he said, is “are we moving in the right direction” and is he keeping his main campaign promises.

Then there’s a little dribble of “Hope” for foreclosed homeowners:

Obama also announced fresh aid to struggling homeowners in California. He said California was receiving $145 million to help communities hardest hit by the home foreclosure crisis. He said the money would be used to buy up and rehabilitate vacant homes, and provide loans to poorer and middle-income families to help with home assistance. He announced a new Web site to help people around the nation:http://www.makinghomeaffordable.gov/.

We all here at the Confluence support aid to homeowners a la Hillary’s plan adopting FDR’s plan like she proposed in Fall 2008.  We believe that taxes are good if the general public is receiving and benefitting fromn these services, as all card carrying liberals that we are.  We know how important it is for the government to do FOR the people, BY the people.  But what Obama is saying is, “if we f___k up, hey, don’t blame it all on us” while AIG and and other bailout baneficiaries skip out paying taxes while taking the bailout money in hordes out of our Treasury. If we can’t count on our government, or expect you to do the right thing because appraently you’re pre-empting the clusterf__k you’ve created, President Obama, then WHO do we trust?  This happened on your watch not on Chimperor’s and Darth Cheney’s.

Is integrity above your pay grade?


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Tuesday Ramblings plus a Caption This Photo!

CAPTION THIS PHOTO:

whitehouse

Write your caption in the comments section!

Hello my dearest Conflucians!  We’ve been doing a lot of money talk here at the blog.   Even though I don’t know jack about finance or economics like my more illustrious brethren here, I thought I’d add my two cents (about what we all have in our wallets and purses now) regarding the crisis.

So, anybody feel that Obama brand of Hope pouring through your soul?

Yeah, me neither.

Instead, I feel fear and cynicism all rolled up in a ball of “f__k you” and it’s the same kind I felt during the Bush 2.0 years.

Remember 7 years ago when Bush took office and brought us the Iraq war based on false information?  Yeah, and 7 years later we are still fighting that war.   BASED ON FALSE INFORMATION.   From my view at the bottom of the totem pole, I can’t shake the feeling that our financial meltdown is engineered the same exact way the Iraq War was.  And since it’s Tinfoil Tuesday (h/t to Stateofdisbelief), I’m betting that all this financial meltdown is an illusion made to appear like a crisis/catastrophe.  Here’s a quote from Conflucian Resident Economist DakiniKat that really stuck out at me:

The market seems to have stabilized for awhile as Ben Bernanke has been giving speeches and making appearances every where he can.  For those of you  that really want to take on empirical studies in Economics (econometrics and all), this is a part of a strategy he outlined in  Monetary Policy.

From my simplistic, peasant, lay-woman’s point of view, Wall Street is just some glorified Las Vegas gambling casino without the neon lights and flashy shows, although it very well could be.   It’s all speculation, opinion-based gambling.  For example, if there’s a rumor that corn farmers are scared that next years crops aren’t going to be as plentiful as last year, suddenly you see corn stock (pun intended) plummet and by the end of the day thousands of workers are laid off.   All based on speculation.  There’s no gradual or incremental adjustment to curtail the possible loss of corn, no riding out the storm, none of those things.  Actions are taken swiftly and severely in a matter of hours.  You punch in at 8 am, rumor gets released at 9:30am, stockbrokers go bezerk on the trading floor by 10:00am and you walk out with a pink slip by 5:00pm.   Who suffers?  You and me.  Who started the rumor?   No one will ever know (because no one is held accountable anymore), maybe a sugar ethanol lobbyist firm, who knows?   Then the fear/hope peddling cycle goes wash, rinse, repeat.

Yet in the same way Wall Street reacts to bad news via the government, all it takes are positive words and Wall Street shall be healed.  Here’s what Big Dawg said:

It used to be gospel in the nation’s power center: Presidents didn’t talk publicly about what the markets were doing. The notion was that anything a president said on this subject could be too easily misinterpreted, sending Wall Street into a dive.

Now, former President Clinton says he thinks President Barack Obama should talk more optimistically about the prospects that the nation will recover from its current deep economic woes.

Remember Obama’s quote regarding pressuring Congress to pass the stimulus package because a failure to act “could turn a crisis into a catastrophe.” President Obama learned that fearmongering got Bush 2.0 what he wanted, so he’s continuing the fear-peddling push.  Scare the masses into submission!  Worked for Stalin & Bush 2.0.  F__k Hope.

Color me a rainbow of stupid, but I ask myself the following questions:

  • If Wall Street is the gear that keeps America afloat since so many of our conglomerates which own everything trade publically, why do they depend on the government for morale-boosting if they are that powerful?
  • Why is it that Wall Street trading goes up when positive words are spewed by the President and the Cabinet, or it goes waaaay down when negative words are said, like “stimulus package?”
  • Who the f__k is really in control?  Is it truly Wall Street?  Who controls who?
  • And why is it that the only people that are benefiting from everything are banking conglomerates? And like MYIQ said below, where’s the money?
  • Bush 2.0′s agenda was clear as a bell.  Bush 2.0 started a war to get the oil speculators going batsh_t crazy and hike the price of gas and oil, which made Exxon-Mobil and other oil companies VERY happy while many families around the world choose between fuel or food.   But what is Obama’s agenda? Instead of oil, Obama is favoring the super elite global bankers.   What is it that global bankers want?
  • And what happens to us, the people who sweat and bleed to make this country the great place it should and could be?

Well, looks like Obama and the O Cabinet are heeding Big Dawg’s words, because some of the pesky peons that Hillary and Bill understand so well  (i.e. the people footing the bill a.k.a you and me) aren’t as drunk on the Hopium as Obama (and the media) would like.  Daily Telegraph from the UK has this to say:

Barack Obama goes upbeat on economy after popularity declines

President Barack Obama has launched an upbeat strategy over the economy in the face of approval ratings that have dipped below those of George W Bush at the same stage of his presidency.

As well as sounding more optimistic, the president will push more aggressively against Republican critics – painting them as belonging to a “party of no” – and sharply remind the public that the problems he has to cope with were very largely inherited from Mr Bush.

Mr Obama is changing his rhetorical course after criticism from fellow Democrats, including former President Bill Clinton, that he has sounded too negative in the first weeks of his presidency.

This week he will speak forcefully to Congress and the public about the need to pass his $3.6 trillion budget, which will double the national deficit, while stressing his belief that there is hope ahead.

The new president has already told an audience of business leaders that the economic crisis “is not as bad we think”. Over the weekend, Mr Obama assured investors of the soundness of investments in the US economy, after Chinese premier Wen Jiabao expressed his alarm about the safety of the “massive” number of US Treasury bonds Beijing was buying.

“There’s a reason why even in the midst of this economic crisis you’ve seen actual increases in investment flows here into the United States,” Mr Obama said. “I think it’s a recognition that the stability not only of our economic system, but also our political system, is extraordinary.

“I think that not just the Chinese government, but every investor, can have absolute confidence in the soundness of investments in the United States,” he added.

And of course, let’s make China super confident that their investment in the US of A is safe and sound.   Ni Hao, Wen Jiabao!  A-OK in the USA!  Mi casa es su casa, right Wen?

But wait, here comes Larry to add his input as well:

Lawrence Summers, chairman of the national economic council, exemplified the administration’s new approach with a populist swipe at AIG for paying in excess of $100 million in bonuses to staff, despite receiving $170 billion of taxpayers money.

“There are a lot of terrible things that have happened in the last 18 months, but what’s happened at AIG is the most outrageous,” he said on ABC on Sunday.

Mr Summers has also said Americans are showing “too much fear” about the economy.

Ok, let me stop right there.  Larry Summers???  Populist???  Outraged over AIG getting bonus money from the bailout???  BWAHHAHAHA!!!!   Slap on the wrist for AIG!  Bad little bankers!   Americans showing too much fear?  So it’s now OUR FAULT we’re feeling fear?  BTW, China, it’s not our corrupt government giving banking conglomerates unlimited amounts of money that’s at fault, it’s our citizens freaking out over nothing!  Nothing to see here.

Earth to Larry Summers:  When you are at your job and 1/2 of the workers on your floor are suddenly asked to leave at the bat of an eye, wouldn’t you be afraid?   When you’ve scrimped and saved for retirement only to watch that 401K lose 10-15 years worth of investment, with businesses suddenly shutting down, industries coming to a screeching halt, wouldn’t you be afraid?   It’s like RD said this morning:  it’s financial terrorism.  And with oligarchal and misogynist assholes like Larry Summers (among the many in Obama’s cabinet), running this whole speculation game from his cushy office, betting on fear/hope and gambling away the future of America like a craps game in the Bellagio, I’m very frightened.  And there is nothing Larry or his puppet prince president can do or say anything to change that except saying the words “I RESIGN FROM OFFICE, EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY.”

Despite the control the financial sector has on the White House, Wall Street also controls the financial sanctity of our nation.  If all they need are inspiring words to invest and trade confidently for our nation to prosper, I hope that they can see these:

I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around [the banks] will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered. The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs.

  • Thomas Jefferson, (Attributed)
    3rd president of US (1743 – 1826)
  • Let Thomas Jefferson repeat that last part again:

    The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs.

    And with the 2 or 3 bailouts (I’ve lost count) – WE, THE PEOPLE, are the owners of these institutions.  We always had the power, it’s just that the perception buttons of hope/fear is what controls Wall Street and in turn, Wall Street controls our livelihoods and/or survival.

    And I’m f__cking tired of it.

    I was going to post Rage Against the Machine’s – “Killing in the Name,”  but for some reason the video’s not showing in the preview, so here it is.

    The financial machine  is killing the name of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  I don’t know what to do next, except the only thing people do when they’ve had enough.   Protest.

    PS:  To the Irish Conflucians, Happy St. Pat’s Day!

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    Obama: Financial Crisis is all about me.

    Yesterday at Obama’s appearance before the Business Roundtable (h/t msclutterbuck in comments),

    Richard Parsons, chairman of beleaguered Citigroup Inc., asked if Obama could offer some help in a national battle “between confidence and fear.”

    “A smidgen of good news and suddenly everything is doing great. A little bit of bad news and ooohh , we’re down on the dumps,” Obama said. “And I am obviously an object of this constantly varying assessment. I am the object in chief of this varying assessment.”

    “I don’t think things are ever as good as they say, or ever as bad as they say,” Obama added. “Things two years ago were not as good as we thought because there were a lot of underlying weaknesses in the economy. They’re not as bad as we think they are now.”

    Oh really? Does Dear Leader know about the Obamavilles popping up around the country?

    Tent city, Sacramento, CA

    Tent city, Sacramento, CA

    The sea of tents along Sacramento’s American River is growing by the day. Newcomers just pick a spot and prop up a tent.

    “Anywhere from 20 to 50 people a-week are showing up out here that just became homeless,” said one resident.

    Does he know that people in Elkart, IN have been reduced to begging for food handouts?

    Canned tomatoes for the hungry in Elkhart

    Canned tomatoes for the hungry in Elkhart

    Roughly 1,600 familes picked up food and other items sent by a charity to economically distressed Elkhart, Ind., which has an unemployment rate of 18.3 percent.

    The 13 semitrailers that came to Elkhart carried more than $2.1 million worth of food, enough to help sustain about 5,200 families for a week. In addition to those who picked up supplies Tuesday, Feed the Children arranged for shipments to 3,600 northern Indiana families.

    So no, Barack, it really isn’t all about you.

    Meanwhile, Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner is heading a staff of one and quite a few people are asking why Obama isn’t finding him any help.

    Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is supposed to have 17 top deputies helping him run his massive department. But none have been confirmed [1].

    “The secretary of the treasury is sitting there without a deputy, without any undersecretaries, without any, as far as I know, assistant secretaries responsible in substantive areas at a time of very severe crisis,” is how President Barack Obama’s economic adviser and former Fed chairman Paul Volcker put it a couple weeks ago [1]. He called it a “shameful” state of affairs.

    To hear Treasury officials tell it [2], there’s no problem. Geithner hasn’t been short on new plans or new billions for the financial sector in his first weeks on the job, they say. And he still has time for his morning workout [3].

    Well thank goodness Timmy can still find time for his morning workout. Maybe he and Barack should get together at the gym and come up with some names for those Treasury appointments? After all, even after they are chosen, they have to be confirmed by the Senate. And maybe they should try finding some nominees who weren’t in on causing the financial crisis in the first place–that might cut down on the vetting problems.

    Frankly, I find it embarrassing that the U.S. response to the global crisis is becoming a laughing stock among financial experts. And why aren’t the phones being answered at Treasury? The Brits have been complaining about this for awhile now.

    Check out this rant from Willem Buiter’s blog at the Financial Times.

    Since the Obama administration took over on January 20, the US Treasury has effectively been out to lunch. As widely reported (see e.g. this account in the Financial Times), Sir Gus O’Donnell (as cabinet secretary the top UK civil servant) has attacked the “absolute madness’ of the US spoils system, where a new Federal administration replaces the entire top stratum of the civil service with new officials possessing the right political connections and leanings. Quite a few of these top officials need to be confirmed before they can start working. This can take months. Many of the new officials have no political, government or administrative experience and spend most of their first months in office trying to figure out where the washroom is instead of designing and implementing policy.

    Buiter says the “spoils system” in the U.S. government which allows officials to appoint their unqualified cronies to positions that require real expertise has led to the “emasculation of US macroecononomic policy making.”

    The price of the US spoils system has been high, if the quality of economic policy making in Washington DC by the Obama administration is anything to go by. The Obama administration’s handling of the financial crisis and the recession-verging-on-depression has been surprisingly fumbling and kak-handed. The economic team should have hit the ground running following a lengthy transition period and the appointment to the top positions of experienced economic policy makers like Tim Geithner, Larry Summers, Peter Orszag and Paul Volcker. But there is little evidence of coherent teamwork. Instead we are treated to repeated examples of the Unfinished Symphony (Geithner) or of A Night at the Improv (Summers).

    In the US Treasury, Timothy Geithner has come up with a number of half-baked plans, under the grand umbrella of the Financial Stability Plan of February 10. These plans are not worked out to the point that they can even be evaluated properly, they are not costed properly and, except for the money left from the TARP and the funds approved by the Congress for the US$ 787 bn fiscal stimulus plan, they are not funded.

    That the half-worked-out fiscal-financial rescue plans of the US government are not funded is due to a deeper flaw in the US political economy than the spoils system. It reflects the extreme polarisation of American society and of the polity. This may have started as early as the Vietnam War years, accelerated during the Reagan administrations and exploded during the George W. Bush administrations. Almost any departure from the status-quo is subject to de-facto veto from some well-organised and well-funded special interest coalition. During times of war and economic crisis, policy paralysis is costly.

    But the fact that the economic plans of the administration are only half worked out is due to the fact that, except for the Treasury Secretary himself, the entire top of the Treasury is vacant. it is even possible that Geithner has to make his own coffee, a task normally delegated to a Deputy Secretary. This is an insane situation that no self-respecting country should allow to continue.

    With Geithner under-supported and over-worked, Larry Summers, Director of the National Economic Council, has jumped into the macroeconomic policy fray with gusto, but not, unfortunately, with the benefit and backing of careful analysis.

    Whew! That’s a scathing indictment if I ever saw one! Tim Geithner’s and Larry Summers’ ears must be burning. But I suppose if Obama read it, he’d just continue to preen and think it’s all about him. But while he’s focusing on “me, me, me,” the U.S. economy is crashing and burning. Is there anyone who can talk some sense into our narcissist in chief?

    A letter to President Obama (or should I say “Jock in Chief”)?

    (crossposted from Heidi Li’s Potpourri)

    Dear President Obama:

    One of your Cabinet Secretaries, Hillary Rodham Clinton, is striking a chord with women abroad and at home as she mixes in, with her discussion of global warming and economic security, the issue of women’s empowerment, as a matter of democracy and social justice. Might you consider taking a lesson from the Secretary of State? If you did, you would incorporate her message about the importance of women to democratic politics and economic security into every aspect of your own programs and many of your public statements.

    Those of us interested in the emancipation of American women would be delighted to hear you echo Secretary Clinton when she states, “I think that it’s imperative that nations like ours stand up for the rights of women. It is not ancillary to our progress; it is central” or “We have to highlight the importance of inclusion for women. We have to make clear that no democracy can exist without women’s full participation; no economy can be truly a free market without women involved.” (Secretary Clinton, February 20, 2009).

    You, Mr. President, are in a flurry of summits, initiatives, and speeches, leading up to the announcement of your budget this Thursday, February 26, 2009. Those who wonder whether you understand the significance of women in the U.S. economy need to hear you speak at home in terms your Secretary of State speaks abroad. We need to hear this partly because many of us doubt whether you are as forward thinking about women’s issues as we would expect a Democratic president who will be seeking our votes again ought to be but also because we doubt you are as forward thinking about economic matters as we expect a Democratic president to be. Women do not dominate the boardrooms and executive suites of Fortune 500 companies; they do depend heavily on Social Security; they are a major source of small business initiatives in this country. When you discuss “entitlements” or “business” this means something different to the majority of women than it does to the majority of men.

    Even in symbolic ways, we need you to do better if you want us to trust your commitment to women’s empowerment. Just recently you cooperated with Men’s Journal, a men’s lifestyle magazine, that along with so many other publications, decided to devote a cover story to you. This is the cover:Mj_cover

    For those who cannot read the headline, running alongside a photo of you holding a football in your hands, it says: “Barack Obama, Jock in Chief: His Moves, His Trash Talk & His Weekly Power Basketball Game.”

    Mr. President, I am not sure whether you are proud of being depicted as a trash-talking jock-in-chief – that seems to me to fulfill both sexist and racist stereotypes you yourself might find personally offensive. But the magazine editors certainly mean this headline to be laudatory, although they would never write the same sort of headline about a woman president or cabinet secretary and mean it to have the connotations of hipness and coolness they meant this one to carry. (“Trash-talking” is not a phrase used to praise powerfully positioned women.)

    You, Mr. President, could by word and deed use your bully pulpit to discourage this sort of sexist pigeonholing not only of yourself but therefore of what power is supposed to look like or be like. I have written before about the need for you to convene a Presidential Empowerment of Women Advisory Board, to be as significant and influential with you as you suggest your PERAB and PIAB (Economic Recovery and Intelligence boards, respectively). This is becoming more urgent, not less. If you want the American economy and American democracy to remain strong, you must empower the 51 percent of the population who are women to participate as fully and on fair terms in our society.

    Yours truly,

    Heidi Li Feldman, founder and president, 51 Percent

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