Uncomfortable conclusions

Matt Taibbi has a follow up to his Secrets and Lies of the Bailout article in the Rolling Stone.  This one, called “One Broker’s Story” is about the consequences of the bailout to ordinary brokers as a result of asymmetric information.  Neil Barofsky hinted at this in his book Bailout when he described all of the money that the government let the banks have access to.  It amounts to trillions and trillions of dollars.  It’s a little like opening the bank vault doors to people who have a habit of setting money on fire and telling them, “We know you didn’t mean to burn up everyone’s nest eggs.  Now, don’t do it again.”

Trillions and Trillions.  Imagine all of the money that the Republicans are constantly going on about in the deficit crisis hysteria and multiply it my several times over.  The social security shortfall requires a minor adjustment, a teensy tweak.  But the amount of money we have thrown at bankers and allowed them to access whenever they want is vastly, vastly larger.  When it comes right down to it, the bankers pretty much own the money supply.  They can tap into it whenever they want, charge interest on money they lend to others on money they got virtually interest free, and they don’t have to tell you about it.

The hapless broker in Taibbi’s story didn’t know that the bank he worked for, Wells Fargo, had access to all this cash.  He was looking at the fallout of the 2008 disaster, estimated the financial solvency of all of the major banks and decided to short them because he figured it was only a matter of time before they started falling like dominos due to the weight of all their bad assets.  But the broker didn’t know that all these banks had nothing to worry about because not only did the US government bail them out, it covered up their problems and then opened the money sluice to them in perpetuity.  So, stocks continued to climb in spite of all evidence to the contrary and the broker lost his shirt and everyone else’s shirts he did business with.

He only found out when Bloomberg filed a FOIA to obtain information on where all the bailout programs money was going.  The banks and the Treasury (and the White House, I’m sure) were hoping to keep it a secret as long as possible.

What the stock market is showing everyday is an illusion.  The banks are doing well because they’re being propped up by our money.  That is the observation.  The question is, why?  Why are we allowing the banks to have so much money?  Why aren’t we letting the market suffer?

I think it comes back to the 401K and IRAs again.  So many of us have so much of our money locked into the market instead of pensions that if the government let the market sink to its natural level, there would be a social and political crisis.  It is a vicious circle.  And we can’t take our money out to start new businesses or pay debts or just live without paying punitive taxes.  Those taxes virtually guarantee that the money stays in the market.  So, the government has to prop up the market until it can’t be propped up anymore.  That should happen when the next bubble bursts on Wall Street.

Taibbi finishes the post like this:

This is the real problem with the bailouts, and the issue we tried to underscore with the “Secrets and Lies” piece. With their hide-and-seek policies, bogus stress testing and stubborn insistence on calling failing banks healthy and publicly endorsing other such fibs, the architects of the federal rescue (from both the Bush and Obama administrations, as well as from the Federal Reserve) created a two-tiered market. The new economy has two classes of investors: those who know the real numbers, and those who don’t.

So while the proponents of the bailout will argue they were a success, and the covert and overt federal support helped bring the Dow all the way back from below 7,000 to above 13,000 – seemingly a good thing no matter how you look at it – there’s another bitter reality, which is that the bailouts officially created a sucker class.

When banks started making fortunes again in 2009 and beyond, it wasn’t a victimless situation. There were losers in this trade, too. Hartzman and his clients are examples of the kind of people who lost when the government made decisions about who’s entitled to the truth and who wasn’t. As one former hedge fund manager put it to me recently, “Joe Sixpack has no chance in this market.”

We are the sucker class.  Well, some of us are suckers.  Some of us weren’t suckered into voting for Obama either time.  Ultimately, the responsibility for this fiasco falls on his shoulders and those of the people he hired.  And the people who unquestioningly supported him.

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And about that $1Trillion platinum coin, mint the damn thing already.  As Krugman pointed out yesterday:

There seem to be two kinds of objections. One is that it would be undignified. Here’s how to think about that: we have a situation in which a terrorist may be about to walk into a crowded room and threaten to blow up a bomb he’s holding. It turns out, however, that the Secret Service has figured out a way to disarm this maniac — a way that for some reason will require that the Secretary of the Treasury briefly wear a clown suit. (My fictional plotting skills have let me down, but there has to be some way to work this in). And the response of the nervous Nellies is, “My god, we can’t dress the secretary up as a clown!” Even when it will make him a hero who saves the day?

The other objection is the apparently primordial fear that mocking the monetary gods will bring terrible retribution.

It sounds like another civility bluff to me.  The bullies announce they are going to steal your lunch money, push you down in the dirt and stomp on your face but if you protest or come up with some clever workaround, they start heading to the fainting couch with the vapors.

Normally, I’d say that this kind of silliness with the coin is just going to make the matter worse because who in the world will take us seriously.  But there shouldn’t be any real economic fallout, so mint the damn coin.

On the other hand, maybe we should just call their bluff.  Let them wreck the economy, pull down our credit rating, sow chaos and confusion and ruin people’s lives.  I’m sick of Republicans pulling this shit.  They need to be terrified of the consequences of their actions for a change.  If you mint the coin, they’ll just come back with something else to hold hostage.  So, let the babies have their way and get the end of the financial world over with.  It’s out of control and an unmitigated disaster and it’s going down eventually anyway.  Why prolong the suffering.  Let’s just lance the boil now and start over.   I want a capitalism without exploitation.

Reboot.  Do it now.

The NYTimes editorial fearmongering women for Obama

Maureen Dowd, one of only two females out of 12 op/ed columnists at the NYTimes

I guess the ladies will have to rescue Obama after all.  Today’s NYTimes editorial is all about those meanie Republicans who want to reinstate the Mexico City Rule and take away all our reproductive rights.

First, it should be noted that if you don’t want to lose your reproductive rights, don’t vote for downticket Republicans.  Oh, sure, there are pain in the ass anti-choice Democrats who should NEVER get another term but there are far, far more Republicans who are adamantly anti-choice.  And anti-labor.  And anti-consumer protections. And pro-neo-feudalism. And pro-war and authoritarianism.  And anti-Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.  By the way, did you know that Medicare only got passed in the 60s when the number of Republicans in Congress was decreased to such an extent that they didn’t have the critical mass to obstruct it?  Yep, you can look it up.  Here’s a BBC-4 Witness segment on the birth of medicare and what it took to get it passed.

In short, just about everything Americans like had to be passed when Republicans were down for the count.  Otherwise, their method is obstruct, obstruct, obstruct.  It’s what they do.  So, if you vote for a downticket Republican or a Tea Party Republican, that’s what you’re going to get.  They’re into austerity and redistributing wealth -upwards.

Does that mean you should vote always for the Democrat?  Well, until there are more third party downticket candidates, yeah, probably.  I don’t like it either.  But for sure, voting for a downticket Republican is going to mean more austerity for YOU and not for their rich friends.  You can choose to ignore the evidence and history if you want but them’s the facts.

Second, who is in the White House makes absolutely no difference this year.  I know Democrats say that it does but there’s no evidence of that.  We’ve had 4 years of Obama and he unmasked himself during the first debate.  He doesn’t fight for Americans.  He capitulates to Republicans.  He doesn’t exercise his veto pen enough and he was quite happy to leave the Bush Conscience Rule on the books.  Oh, sure, he tweaked it but he didn’t remove it.  And in my opinion, removing it is significant.  As long as the Bush Conscience Rule is around, women will never be sure that their reproductive decisions can’t be overridden by someone else.

Now, I understand why the NYTimes would be carrying Obama’s water.  It’s not that the Times is particularly liberal.  But the paper of record does tend to put a socially forward face on it’s wealth protection policies.  It doesn’t like to think of itself as backwards like the Republican bible-thumpers and who could blame it?  It’s gauche and stupid and deliberately ignorant to be a Republican supporter these days.  Sorry, Republicans, but that’s the truth.  Of course, none of that matters if you win, right?  Then you can shove your ignorance on everyone else and make them eat it and that will make you feel better.  But it means that you WILL impose austerity on everyone, including yourselves, if you vote for downticket Republicans.

But at the top of the ticket?  Makes not a damn bit of difference.  And the reason it particularly makes no difference to women is because no one has to take women seriously.  They can scream about reproductive rights until their blue in the face.  Without someone taking you seriously, you get nowhere. And in the past four years, no one has been taking women seriously.  And a lot of the blame for that can be attributed to the Democratic leadership.  They allowed a pattern of sexism to develop since 2008 that has been unprecedented.

Let’s just put aside the 2008 primaries where Obama routinely attempted to diminish his opponent by saying things like,” periodically when she’s feeling blue“* Hillary goes negative, it was Obama’s intention when he took office to make sure the jobs programs were tailored for men because he was concerned that they would feel bad if they were encouraged to go into pink professions like nursing (It’s in Ron Suskind’s book, Confidence Men).  And he also made the White House a “hostile working environment for women” (Anita Dunn said this in Suskind’s book)  He also ignored the advice of Christine Romer, Sheila Bair and Elizabeth Warren, each one of whom had to go through Tim Geithner to get anything done.  Tim Geithner, if I recall correctly, was one of the guys who piled on Brooksley Born, the head of the CFTC back at the end of the Clinton years who wanted to regulate derivatives.

Obama was the guy who hired Larry Summers who once famously said that women didn’t have the same intellectual capacity in math and science as men. (guys, don’t try to sugar coat this.  I’ve read the transcript and he sure as hell said that and meant exactly what he said.)

The whole atmosphere in the past four years has changed towards women.  Tell me, ladies, am I just imagining that?  Are men more likely to act like you don’t have a brain, treat you dismissively and cut you off in conversations?  I’m talking about just conversations on the phone not in person where they can’t see whether you are too old to pay attention to.  It’s gotten to the point where I’m already prepared to battle when I place a phone call.  I’ve seen it happen to women at work and just casually.  We have lost whatever mojo we fought so hard to get over the past 50 years.  No wonder the Republicans think they can run over our reproductive rights.  We don’t count anymore and there are very few champions in the Democratic party who are powerful or interested enough to stick up for us.  It would be nice if we had more women running for Congress this year as Democrats but even that is hard to find.  The Democratic leadership in Maine decided it would put their money behind a guy who wasn’t even in their party rather than run a woman from their side for the Senate seat that Olympia Snowe is vacating.

We can’t even get above 17% representation in Congress, which is one of the lowest female government representations in the developed world.  It shouldn’t be any wonder why nothing that is important to us gets passed.  We can’t get economic reforms we like, the jobs programs we like, the wars we hate to stop or protection of our social insurance programs.  No one takes anything we want seriously because we don’t have the critical mass in Congress to change anything.

We have fewer women in government than Pakistan

Voting for Obama isn’t going to change that.  In fact, the only thing that will change that is running more women for office and in order to do that, we need to get more authority. And in order to do that we need to have a greater voice in the opinion pages of the countries papers and online news sources.

And if that’s going to happen, maybe it should start with the New York Times, which has a male to female ratio of op/ed writers of 10:2.  That means that men are 5 times more likely to have their concerns represented on the New York Times editorial page every week than women.  And one of those women is Maureen Dowd whose schtick has been to pile on the women that the guys hate.  That seems to be a survival strategy. (And how did that work out, Maureen?)  I can’t think of one unambiguously feminist voice on the pages of the Washington Post or New York Times on a regular basis nor do I see any parity at all when it comes to representation.

So, if the New York Times feels so strongly about the fate of women’s reproductive rights, now would be a good time to add more women to its editorial lineup.  May I suggest dumping Douthat or Brooks?  Or both?  Then, hire someone like Digby. I’m a little tired of the Ezra Kleins, Kevin Drums and Matt Yglesias types getting all the peach positions.  It’s time for the New York Times to practice what it preaches and hire some women.

Otherwise, I can’t take it seriously.

*You know the level of sexism is bad when Andrea Mitchell notices.

Neil Barofsky’s book is depressing.

Summary: Obama appointed the Mafia to run the Treasury.

You know it’s bad when your Democratic Special Inspector General for TARP who was appointed under Bush says the Obama Treasury appointees are worse.  Not only that but the HAMP program was constructed in such a way as to encourage mortgage foreclosure fraud by the servicers. Tim Geithner is not a nice guy.  Oh, no, he isn’t.  He’s a sociopath.  It’s just bad any way you look at it.  We’ve been had.  The banks own everything.

I don’t know if I can handle Sheila Bair’s book, Bull by the Horns, as well.  It might be too much.

Don’t let anyone fool you.  The good guys have left the administration with a couple of exceptions.  The rest have to go.  Clean them all out.

Tim Geithner and the Orient Express

The suspects arranged themselves on both sides of the aisle

Neil Barofsky who wrote the recently released book, Bailout, wrote a short review/impression of Sheila Bair’s new book, Bull By The Horns.  Both books cover roughly the same time period, during the financial meltdown and its immediate aftermath.  As Barofsky notes, he and Bair come from different sides of the aisle and have different experiences as public officials.  But they are united in one thing- their opinion of Tim Geithner.  Says Barofsky:

her observations and interactions with the Geithner-led Treasury Department and her thoroughly captured fellow regulators are strikingly similar to mine.

She too was cursed out by Geithner and subjected to many of the same dirty political tricks.  She also bore the brunt of misleading media attacks. She came to the same realization that I did that large chunks of the government were far more interested in preserving the status quo of the big banks than serving the broader interests of the American people.  And she similarly recognized that Treasury’s mortgage modification program was never really designed to fulfill the administration’s promise to help millions of homeowners.  Bair looked at the same bailout landscape that I did and saw the same favoritism toward Wall Street and betrayal of Main Street.

The day Bair’s book was released a journalist friend emailed me that she thought that Bailout and Bull by the Horns share “the same utterly surreal quality” and that I would “like it a lot.”  She’s right.  It’s always nice to find out that you were not the only sane person in the asylum.

So, add this latest book to the pile, including Confidence Men by Ron Suskind, that paints Tim Geithner as the guy who refused to flip the switch or throw the big bankers off the bridge in order to save the rest of us.

Speaking of trains, the theme of Geithner being a complete bastard deserving of some nasty fate reminds me of the Murder on the Orient Express.  In it, the body is discovered to have been the victim of not one suspect but all of them.  Each one of the aggrieved attempts to murder the victim by stabbing, unaware that someone else had gotten there first.  In Geithner’s case, he has managed to survive so far, like just another one of the vampires that the Democrats foolishly invited into the house four years ago.

But with each volume that recounts that tale from a different perspective, the personalities and actions of the players become clearer and the motives easier to understand.  Tim Geithner is the hand of the financiers, sent to the malware president they installed to make sure that their interests were protected even if that meant turning the country into a broken banana republic with decaying infrastructure, a ruined technology and industrial sector and a permanent underclass.  It remains to be seen which suspect will deliver the fatal stab but there’s no shortage of remaining suspects.

This is pretty bad, people.  The Obama administration has been worse than we anticipated.

The attempts of the Obama campaign to scare working class women into supporting him over Romney should be seen in the light of what he has failed to accomplish for them in the last four years, largely through the machinations of Tim Geithner.   Those Democratic loyalists who have been carrying the campaign’s water, spreading a steady stream of attacks on Romney, portraying him as indifferent to their plight, have been remarkably silent about what Obama has done for them.  Four years ago, they might have said that the jury was still out on Obama’s performance and there was still a good possibility that he would be their Democratic champion.  But in October 2012, the mystery is gone.  It is a bitter triumph if the campaign’s mouthpieces have managed to convince blue collar women to ignore their lying eyes and accept a manufactured reality.  The money must be really good and, you know, the health insurance premiums must be paid.

All of the lamenting about what Obama will do in his second term obscures the fact that these bloggers did absolutely nothing to challenge the party when they had a chance to make a difference.  Instead, they allowed the party to use their blogs as a means of disseminating manipulative propaganda while ignoring all of the administration’s collaboration with the banks to make those women’s lives harder.  It’s all crocodile tears and prostitution.

Ultimately, it is Obama who is responsible for appointing Geithner and allowing homeowners and businesses to get used by the banks.  Now that we have a better picture of what went on in 2009-2010 when Obama had a political full house and many executive branch tools at his disposal, it’s impossible to deny that he served the financiers.

If you serve Obama, you are serving the banks, just like Romney will.

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And here is Sheila Bair describing what she would have done to Citibank.  If you were a shareholder, it was a fairly terrifying scenario but given how badly Citi was mismanaged ($800 billion?? How is it possible for an entity not a country to rack up that much money in bad assets?), ultimately necessary.  Tim Geithner cut her off at the pass.

The NYTimes finally puts LIBOR on the frontpage

It took long enough.  This article even starts poking around the edges at the Federal Reserve Bank of NY:

As big banks face the fallout from a global investigation into interest rate manipulation, American and British lawmakers are scrutinizing regulators who failed to take action that might have prevented years of illegal activity.

Politicians in both London and Washington are questioning whether regulators allowed banks to report false rates in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis and afterward. On Monday, Congress stepped into the fray, requesting information about the role of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, according to people close to the matter.

 [...]

On Monday, the oversight panel of the House Financial Services Committee sent a letter to the New York Fed seeking transcripts from at least a dozen phone calls in 2007 and 2008 between central bank officials and executives at Barclays.

“Some news reports indicate that although Barclays raised concerns multiple times with American and British authorities about discrepancies over how Libor was set, the bank was not told to stop the practice,” Representative Randy Neugebauer, a Texas Republican and the head of the House oversight panel, said in the letter, which was reviewed by The New York Times.

Tim Geithner was the head of the Fed in NY during the time frame in question.  It is hard for me to imagine that he didn’t know that LIBOR was being manipulated.  We have already heard the panic defense, that if the true LIBOR rate was known, a financial apocalypse would have swiftly followed.  But it’s the aftermath of the manipulations when the panic had subsided that intrigue me.  Tim Geithner gave a lot of advice to Obama that was very friendly to bankers.  But he must have known that a couple of banks, like Citigroup, were insolvent.  Yet instead of nationalizing those failed banks, we merely stress tested them, bought their toxic assets and bailed them out.

Much of our current unemployment woes and struggling economy can be traced back to those early days of the Obama administration when we saved the bankers and ignored everyone else’s needs.  There were many smart people who were in favor of being more aggressive with the bankers and making a strong case for a bigger fiscal stimulus package.  They were ignored.  You can blame the Republicans, if you are so inclined.  But let’s remember that the Democrats were in charge in the first two years.  We can only speculate how they might have come together to push financial reforms and New Deal programs if we had only known how serious the situation was.

Hiding the true nature of the financial collapse from our elected officials amounts to a coverup, in my humble opinion.  It’s a coverup that cost many of us our houses, jobs and security.  Heads have got to roll for this one and THIS time, we have to demand that the parties responsible are held fully accountable.  There has to be real reform and perp walks or our present economic environment will never get better.

Yes, it sucks for the White House that it all comes to light in an election year.  What can I say? When you sell your soul to a bunch of people who have more money than God, they usually expect something significant in return. It looks like they got it.

Has someone found a smoking gun?  Reuters reports that Geithner had a “Fixing LIBOR” entry on his calendar in 2008.  Does that mean fix the rate or fix the problem with banks manipulating the rate?  Such ambiguity.

In early 2008, questions about whether Libor reflected banks’ true borrowing costs became more public. The Bank for International Settlements published a paper raising the issue in March of that year, and an April 16 story in the Wall Street Journal cast doubts on whether banks were reporting accurate rates. Barclays said it met with Fed officials twice in March-April 2008 to discuss Libor.

“FIXING LIBOR”

According to the calendar of then New York Fed President, Timothy Geithner, who is now U.S. Treasury Secretary, it even held a “Fixing LIBOR” meeting between 2:30-3:00 pm on April 28, 2008. At least eight senior Fed staffers were invited.

It is unclear precisely what was discussed at this meeting or who attended. Among those invited, along with Geithner, was William Dudley, who was then head of the Markets Group at the New York Fed and who succeeded Geithner as its president in January 2009. Also invited was James McAndrews, a Fed economist who published a report three months later that questioned whether Libor was manipulated.

It doesn’t look like LIBOR got fixed.  But clearly, Geithner knew what was going on.  And if he didn’t have a come to Jesus meeting with politicians right after he took office to explain how dire the situation was, then what can we conclude except that he was operating in the bankers’ interests at the expense of ours?

This s^*( is serious.  It affects mortgages, credit card rates, student loans and economic health and every decision that has been made in the past 4 years.  The timing is even crucial.  These meetings were taking place in the middle of the primary season when money was pouring into Obama’s campaign coffers from Wall Street and crazy Obots were screaming for Hillary Clinton to quit the race even as she was still winning big state primaries.  We know from other sources that the meltdown started in 2007.  So, even our primaries might have been affected by the shaky bank situation.

Darrell Duffie, a Stanford University finance professor who has followed the Libor issue for several years, said that he believed regulators were “on the case reasonably quickly” after questions were raised in 2008.

“It appears that some regulators, at least at the New York Fed, indeed knew there was a problem at that time. New York Fed staff have subsequently presented some very good research on the likely level of distortions in Libor reporting,” Duffie said. “I am surprised, however, that the various regulators in the U.S. and UK took this long to identify and act on the misbehavior.”

Surprise!

One last thing: If Geithner want to fix LIBOR in April of 2008, why did it take the CFTC to launch an investigation about it in March of 2011?  You’d think something as big and potentially litigious as a LIBOR scandal would have prompted swifter action. The fact that that didn’t happen suggests there is some bigger thing that is being covered up.  I can’t imagine what it is but it must be huge.

Hmmm, the financiers seem to be undermining business

It takes the Brits to put the pieces together and spell-it-out for the terminally slow Americans.  This piece on Business Secretary Vince Cable’s revelation is from the Guardian this morning:

Britain’s banks are “throttling” the economic recovery because of an anti-business culture which focuses on short-term profits, the business secretary, Vince Cable, has said.

As Ed Balls warned of widespread outrage if the ousted Barclays chief executive, Bob Diamond, receives a £16m pay-off, Cable accused banks of undermining multibillion-pound measures to help businesses.

Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show on BBC1 on Sunday, the business secretary said: “The real problem at the moment is that the banks – because of their existing culture, which is frankly anti-business, obsession with short-term trading profits, not focusing on the long term – are throttling the recovery of British industry.”

Tell me more:

He said: “There has been a breakdown in the mechanism, in the transmission. It just doesn’t get through to companies. We are going to ensure that the new money that the chancellor and the governor of the Bank of England talked about at the Mansion House does actually directly reach the companies.

“Given that our leading banks are, frankly, throttling recovery by not making business lending available, particularly to small-scale companies, we now have to focus single mindedly on that task. How to make sure that the additional money gets through to business.”

The business secretary indicated impatience with some of his Conservative colleagues, who were wary of state intervention, as he praised the scheme by his predecessor, Lord Mandelson, to revive the car industry.

Aaaand?:

Highlighting the importance of working in collaboration with business, he said: “Laissez-faire just doesn’t work. When you are making big long-term investments you have to have the government and the private sector working together. It has been a great success story in the car industry, similarly in aerospace and life sciences and others.”

Well, it *used* to be a great success in the life sciences business but no longer.  Mr. Cable might want to check in with the people who live and work around Sandwich, if there are any left.  A lot more government intervention will be required if Britain and the US ever expect to be on top in that area again.

In conclusion:

The shadow chancellor had earlier warned Diamond against accepting a £16m pay-off from Barclays. Balls said: “People will look at that and think that is totally outrageous. It is outrageous that somebody should stand aside because the board decides there is a problem and then get a payout which is off the scale for anything normal people will receive in their life times.

“The shareholders are going to think really hard about this. The government will need to look at this and talk to the shareholders. They clearly talked to the shareholders about Mr Diamond.”

Indeed, the shareholders should think long and hard about a lot of things.  For instance, do we need so many people to be trading their defined benefit pensions for 401Ks that will be used by the banks as a constant, monthly replenishing source of money with which they can gamble?  Do the hard working people of America need to also be the same shareholders who cheer at a bump in their portfolios at the same time they fear for their jobs (so other 401K shareholders can get a bump in their portfolios)?  By the financiers’ logic, the 401K will achieve its maximum value as the number of workers approach zero.  How did we get talked into this scam in the first place anyway? It sounds so stupid and self-defeating that we should all have our heads examined.  Oh, sure, there’s nothing wrong with investing if you have the money to do it but to use Wall Street as your primary source of retirement income?  Let’s face it, we are morons.

The politician that proposes a mechanism that allows us to convert our 401Ks to pensions gets my vote.

Anyway, it’s good that someone in government, well, someone else’s government, has finally made the connection between incentives for short term profits and an anti-business atmosphere.  Perhaps the Brits are finally waking up to the idea that all of the deficit reducing austerity measures are meant to do only one thing: increase the wealth of the wealthy at the expense of everyone else, including Main Street businesses.  I don’t expect Republicans will acknowledge that this is what is leading to so many layoffs and dragging the economy down.  For that matter, I don’t expect Democrats to acknowledge it either.  And from what I can see on the frontpage of the NYTimes, this is something that the city elites don’t want to talk about.

By the way, why do I have to go all the way to London to get any new information on the LIBOR scandal?  Why exactly is there so little coverage of the LIBOR scandal in American newspapers? Who are they trying to protect with this “nothing to see here, move along” attitude?  Anyone want to take a guess at this?  And did you know that the CFTC started investigating the LIBOR manipulations back in March of 2011?  That means they must have been aware of it before that time.  THAT means that when Occupy Wall Street was righteously indignant at Zuccotti Park and was getting beaten up by the DHS and smeared by our elected officials, the Obama administration was well aware that there had been fraudulent interest rate manipulation on an enormous scale.  Those same students who can’t pay their huge student loans with their high interest rates are the same people who were potentially harmed by these manipulators.  Why was it so necessary to kick people when they were already down on Wall Street’s behalf?  And knowing this, do we have any reasonable expectation that Barack Obama will hold Wall Street accountable for what it has done to our economy and our futures?

Why so much silence from our elected officials?  And what did Tim Geithner know and when did he know it? Inquiring minds want to know.

Oh, and I ran across this bloke on twitter.  Is he representative of the British public?  Because he is asking a very good question about why the scandal is being handled like an internal governmental investigation instead of a judicial inquiry.  It’s similar to what we are doing here.  That indicates that they are trying to prevent too much public outrage and real reform.  But if the general public gets the gist of the scandal as well as this guy does, then how long will this stay contained?  And what effect will it have on an election year?

Ponderables: Part the second

Here are the things I am wondering tonight (in no particular order):

Is it possible for someone in Kansas to deliver a large galvanized tub of margaritas on the rocks to Katiebird so she can sit in it during the heatwave?

What did Tim Geithner know and when did he know it?  As the head of the New York Fed during the dark days of the financial collapse, he must have known that US banks were dicking around with the LIBOR rates.  And if so, is this the part of the reason why he decided to “stress test” the banks without the help of the FDIC?

Why is the “paper of record” silent on LIBOR?  Right now, it’s got some hit piece on Hillary making her look like she is single handedly negotiating the next foreign trade agreement with China when the truth is a lot more complicated than that.  But WHY is the NYTimes complicit in smearing Clinton when it could be having a veritable feast with the LIBOR scandal?

Why is the full tube of unused caulk in the basement dried up and unusable?

Has anyone grouted tile before?  BTW, here is an excellent step-by-step instruction video on how to tile a backsplash from Amy Matthews and DIYNetwork:

What projects are you working on?

Point – Counterpoint on Getting Away With It

Paul Krugman and Robin Wells have written a review of three recently released books (four if you count Mann and Ornstein’s book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, which I have read and highly recommend).  The title of the piece, Getting Away With It, focuses primarily on Noam Scheiber’s book The Escape Artists: How Obama’s Team Fumbled the Recovery on the Obama administration’s capture by the financial elite in the immediate aftermath of the financial collapse of 2008.

I haven’t read the books they reviewed yet but my Audible credits are coming around tomorrow.  However, I do have some differences of opinion on some of their interpretations.  Maybe this has something to do with the fact that Krugman and Wells live in Princeton and don’t visit the central PA too often so they’re not exposed to how the Tea Party contingent really lives.  Even I don’t know that mysterious tribe all that well but I’ve had to sit at holiday dinners with them so I have a bit more of a clue.

First, there is criticism of Cory Booker and Bill Clinton’s defense of Mitt Romney’s role in Bain capital.  Krugman and Wells think this has something to do with Clinton and Booker’s sympathy with the finance industry.  I’m not so sure.  Instead, I’m reminded of something James Carville said recently:

In focus groups of Pennsylvania and Ohio voters, the Democracy Corps found an American public that is struggling to pay for everyday items and racking up student debt. Regardless of their education or economic status, these folks haven’t seen signs of an economy recovery – and don’t expect to see one anytime soon.

“These voters are not convinced that we are headed in the right direction.  They are living in a new economy – and there is no conceivable recovery in the year ahead that will change the view of the new state of the country.”

Even so, write the authors, these voters don’t know all that much about Mitt Romney. And, what they do know about him isn’t all that positive.

“Respondents immediately volunteer that Romney is rich, out of touch, and in the pocket for Wall Street and big finance. ”

The voters in these focus groups sound a lot like the Wal-Mart mom’s we listened to last week: they know that three years may not be enough for Obama to have fixed the economy, but they don’t know what he’ll do to make it better.

That means, say Carville/Greenberg, Obama shouldn’t try and beat Romney on the “are you better off than you were four years ago” argument. Instead, they should try to beat him at the “how are you going to make things better over the next four years.”

“It is elites who are creating a conventional wisdom that an incumbent president must run on his economic performance – and therefore must convince voters that things are moving in the right direction.  They are wrong, and that will fail.  The voters are very sophisticated about the character of the economy; they know who is mainly responsible for what went wrong and they are hungry to hear the president talk about the future. ”

It is true that voters and campaigns are more complex than they are often portrayed in the media. That said, elections are also pretty simple. Voters are either happy with the status quo or they aren’t. When they aren’t happy with what’s happening to them now, they look to their other options.

So, if voters already know what Romney is and who is responsible for the mess we’re in, then clubbing them over the head with Romney’s history with Bain Capital, or his adolescent insensitivities or his absent minded treatment of the family dog or Anne Romney’s horses and houses, is a wasted effort.  What voters want to know is what Obama is going to do about the lousy economy and the more the Democrats keep harping on Romney’s business and family, the more angry they’re going to get that Obama is evading the question.  So, Ok, Romney was a businessman and he was very good at his job.  Let’s move along now because the election is getting closer and the Democrats have yet to seal the deal.  How is Obama going to fix things?  What is his vision of America?  Where are we going?  If he can’t give a convincing answer by November, he’s out of there.  (But why wait?  Why not replace him now?  But I digress)

The middle section where Krugman and Wells detail how Geithner ran the show for the banksters and Obama tried to negotiate with a party that doesn’t believe in negotiations has been done before in Ron Suskind’s book, Confidence Men.  I don’t think there’s anything new here except that Krugman and Wells confirm what all of us have been thinking.  Obama as a politician sucks.  He squandered his Democratic majorities and his famed “judgement” lead him to appoint political asskissers like Larry Summers and finance industry mole Tim Geithner.  Their opening critique of Thomas Frank’s book Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right sums up why this was a very bad combination:

Frank focuses on what is, as he says, “something unique in the history of American social movements: a mass conversion to free-market theory as a response to hard times.” It is indeed remarkable. After all, for three decades before the financial crisis American politics and policy had been increasingly dominated by laissez-faire ideology, by the belief that markets—and financial markets in particular—should be allowed to run free. Then came the inevitable crash. But far from demanding a return to stronger regulation, much of the American electorate turned to the view that the crisis was caused by too much government intervention, and rallied around politicians aiming to dive even deeper into the policies that led to crisis in the first place.

How did this happen? Frank’s answer is that it was the bailouts that did it. By doing things Geithner’s way—by bailing out the bankers without strings or blame—the Obama administration left an understandably angry American public with the correct sense that someone was getting away with something. And the right proved adept at exploiting that sense. The famous February 2009 rant by CNBC’s Rick Santelli that started the Tea Party movement was a denunciation of TARP, the big bank bailout passed in the waning days of the Bush administration (although a plurality of voters believe that it was passed under Obama). True, Santelli focused all his ire on a tiny piece of TARP, the planned aid for troubled homeowners (aid that mostly never materialized), not the much bigger aid for banks. But at least he was blaming someone, which the Obama administration was refusing to do.

And by the time Obama began, tentatively, to suggest that some bankers might have misbehaved a bit, it was too late. The entire Republican Party and much of the electorate had settled into a narrative in which the financial crisis of 2008—a crisis that followed fourteen years of hard-right Republican congressional dominance and eight years in which hard-line conservatives controlled all three branches of government—was caused by…too much government intervention to help the poor and, especially, the nonwhite. As Frank writes:

“Back to the usual, all-purpose culprit: government…. The feds forced banks to hand out special loans to minority borrowers…and…the entire financial crisis was a consequence of government interference.”

Moving along to Thomas Edsall’s book, The Age of Austerity: How Scarcity Will Remake American Politics, they get only part of the mental picture of the Republican party voter.  There is a dominant narrative of scarcity, which is ridiculous because there’s plenty to go around if the wealthy would just get off their massive piles of ill gotten booty.  Edsall says the Republican party voter is also scared of losing dominance:

So where does the embittered politics come from? Edsall himself supplies much of the answer. Namely, what he portrays is a Republican Party that has been radicalized not by a struggle over resources—tax rates on the wealthy are lower than they have been in generations—but by fear of losing its political grip as the nation changes. The most striking part of The Age of Austerity, at least as we read it, was the chapter misleadingly titled “The Economics of Immigration.” The chapter doesn’t actually say much about the economics of immigration; what it does, instead, is document the extent to which immigrants and their children are, literally, changing the face of the American electorate.

As Edsall concedes, this changing face of the electorate has had the effect of radicalizing the GOP. “For whites with a conservative bent,” he writes—and isn’t that the very definition of the Republican base?—

the shift to a majority-minority nation [i.e., a nation in which minorities will make up the majority] will strengthen the already widely held view that programs benefiting the poor are transferring their taxpayer dollars to minority recipients, from first whites to blacks and now to “browns.”And that’s the message of Rick Santelli’s rant, right there.

Now, the GOP could in principle have responded to these changes by trying to redefine itself away from being the party of white people. Instead, Edsall writes, the response has been to “gamble that the GOP can continue to win as a white party despite the growing strength of the minority vote.” And that means a strategy of radical, no-holds-barred confrontation over everything from immigration policy to taxes and, of course, economic stimulus, some part of which would be paid to minorities.

Ok, this is where I think it would help for Krugman and Wells to visit Central PA.  I don’t doubt that the Republican voters in the South (and Arizona) are very concerned with brown people.  It is an irrational fear with some historical roots in segregation in that part of the country.  But the irrational Republican leaning voters that *I* have to put up with aren’t bothered by immigration or african Americans.  Noooo, they’ve got their knickers in a twist over the degradation of the culture from loose women and gay people.  They’re concerned that the Christians are losing their edge and immigrants are probably a lot more religious than the young’uns who believe in evolution that they pick up in those satanic public schools.

I appreciate Robin Wells’ perspective on the south and racial tensions that linger and I’m not denying that this is what is motivating nuts in Alabama to turn school kids into the INS.  But it’s not the South everywhere and the operatives in the Republican party are very good at picking at the fears of an older generation that sees itself besieged.  It watches way too much Fox News than is good for it and is scared to death of death. They’re consumed with stories of pedophiles, violence, rape, murder, burgled houses.  They’ve lost the ability to connect cause with effect.  The world is mysterious and chaotic.  The Republican party is worried about losing its numbers because these older, easy to manipulate voters are dying off and the new American voters that are rising to replace them are Internet babies who aren’t particularly religious, are open to gays getting married, like their contraceptives, thank you very much, and are pretty comfortable with diversity.  If it were only white people, they’d still have time, but it’s all this modernity that’s creeping in with the information superhighway that is dooming the Republican party.

It’s not that the Republican party is becoming a refuge of white voters. The problem is that the Republican party becoming the party of the id.  Every phobia, prejudice or dark archetype that lurks in the human soul is being given permission to run free without any inhibitions.

The guy I wrote about the other day, Bryan Fischer, even admits that this is part of the plan.  He is going to make it safe to discriminate against gay people.

Democrats are missing the point here.  It’s not just race, and by the way, it is perfectly reasonable to disapprove of Obama’s performance without being a racist or harboring racist tendencies.  Krugman knows that the Republican party is insane but he doesn’t realize that the way they’re doing it is by giving their voters permission to act like barbarians and making it feel like civilization.  There is no one responsible in the Republican party who is calling a halt to the bad behavior.  So long as that continues, the party will continue to devolve into a mob of human animals all seeking their own power.  They’ve only got a small window of opportunity to kill the New Deal so the operatives have to amp up the crazy now.

If there were a God, now would be a good time to ask for his or her intervention.

The fate of civilization is in the hands of air traffic controllers

There are some pretty good posts this morning that really should be read.

Avedon Carol writes about the wealthy and well connected and the centrists who deceive for them.  In “Did I say ‘overlords’?, I mean ‘protectors’ (Avedon is a Chiron Beta Prime fan), she writes :

The arch-conservatives believe that the rich – the aristocracy – should run everything, and the rest of us should be “losers” who are poor and miserable and have to live a hard-scrabble existence in which we literally have to beg them for jobs, alms, and mercy. They recognize that the world can be ordered differently, that there can be democracy and freedom and a decent living for everyone, they just think it shouldn’t be that way, it should be their way, because they are morally better than us and should be able to lord it over us. They have worked tirelessly (and effectively) for more than 30 years to undo democracy, and they knew just what they were doing.

The Centrists, by their statements and position papers, believe this choice no longer exists – that the “new rules” of “globalization” mean that democracy and a better life, decent wages, worker safety and all that jazz are just no longer possible. We will have to live according to the desires of the arch-conservatives – not because it is morally right, but because there is simply no other option. We are no longer in an aberrant situation where democracy can be a realistic hope and workers can be treated like human beings. We “have to” “compete” with China, and that’s that. Somehow, these centrists have all managed not to notice more than two centuries of American and European history and thousands of years of world history, not to mention many changes in their own lifetimes. They have failed to read any economic charts or to make any coherent conclusions about the direct and visible results of policy choices.

Avedon goes on to suggest that the Centrists in charge are being deliberately deceptive or they wouldn’t be doing this because it’s stupid.  I’m not so sure about that.  I think the problem is that the nation became stratified when we weren’t paying attention.  I noticed it when I visited the executive office building half a mile away from the labs.  The suits aren’t like you and me.  They have no idea what we do and how much they depend on us.  Well, they might get a clue if they are ever diagnosed with a cancer whose program was disrupted by multiple mergers and layoffs and stupid pet MBA tricks, but I digress.

There is a class system in the US.  It started with the financial overlords and is now filtering its way down to everyone.  I blame Jack Welch.  He started the ridiculous “rank and yank” performance system that major corporations and Enron have taken such a shine to.  That system supposedly rewards competitiveness and drive but what it really rewards is loyalty.  The more you suck up to the person who ranks you, the better the chances that you will keep your job.  And the people who rank you are more likely to reward people like themselves.  It’s human nature.  So, the corporate aristocracy tends to make corporate aristocrats.  When it gets to the labs, it gets really ugly because then people start to hoard resources.  Stabbing colleagues in the back to make them look bad so you can look good to the people who can reward you becomes a real art form in the lab.  The problem is that all this politicking doesn’t lead to any real work.  When your livelihood depends on where you went to school and what your pedigree is, it doesn’t matter so much what you do once you get a job.  It’s a self perpetuating caste system.  America did not become a great nation by using a caste system.  It became great by breaking it.  Some of our best innovators weren’t even college graduates.  Think Edison and Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.  Today, those guys couldn’t even get an entry level position in their own companies.

So, the stratification and castification of American culture has been happening right in front of us but we haven’t seen it, mostly because we don’t come in contact with the classes very often.  I didn’t know that the executive building cafeteria served gourmet entrees and had a registered dietician on staff to customize your lunch.  I didn’t know that they could still send packages internationally at vastly reduced costs through the company mail system but that the lab rats couldn’t.  And I didn’t know how snippy and insulting the purchasing department could be until one of its members humiliated a PhD biologist for having the temerity to ask what SAP stood for during a presentation of the kludgy application during a NEW, new purchasing procedures rollout.

Those people up the road don’t know who you are.  You work with your hands or you deal with customers or you’re in a smelly lab with gross ecoli thingies, whatever those are, and they don’t see you, especially if they don’t have to.  And the centrists come from this class of people.  Things get done and chickens get shrinkwrapped into neat, sterile packages and drugs get synthesized but those people up the road have compartmentalized the process and do not associate *people* with the outcomes.  I recently met a former pharma advertising person working in an apple store.  He can’t find a job after his layoff (but I’ll bet his severance package was much more generous than mine) so he works at apple part time.  He says he was laid off because there was nothing in the company pipeline.  I will venture that he had never until that day ever met someone who had worked on that pipeline.  I was that person.  So, I asked him if maybe there was nothing in that pipeline because of all of the mergers and re-orgs and laying off people like me meant that research was broken?  Did he even know that 100,000 of us scientists were laid off right now, NOT working on the pipeline?  He got a funny look on his face.  I think he finally got it.  But it takes a guy losing his cube in the executive office building and who now works at an apple store for the classes to finally get to know one another.

The other two posts are by Matt Taibbi who I think might even come from the 1% but has a conscience in spite of it.  Well, he seems to have grown a conscience since 2008, for which we can be grateful but we are still stuck with Obama.  Anyway, he comes down hard on Obama and Tim Geithner in Government-Enron Style where he writes:

In other words, Geithner and Obama are behaving like Lehman executives before the crash of Lehman, not disclosing the full extent of the internal problem in order to keep investors from fleeing and creditors from calling in their chits. It’s worth noting that this kind of behavior – knowingly hiding the derogatory truth from the outside world in order to prevent a run on the bank – is, itself, fraud!

This is exactly the mindset that led Lehman to the abuses of the “Repo 105″ accounting trick, in which loans were disguised as revenues in order to prevent the outside world from knowing the dire state of the bank’s balance sheet.

Now Obama and Geithner are engaged in the same sort of activity, only they’re trying to prevent a run not on an individual bank, but the entire American financial services sector. Geithner seems really to believe that if fraud were aggressively policed, and the world made aware of the incredible extent of the illegality in our markets, that international confidence in the American financial sector would plummet and our economy would suffer – and suffer, incidentally, on Barack Obama’s watch.

Better, apparently, the Band-Aid the problem now, and let the real mess happen later on, on someone else’s watch, or at least in a second term, when there’s no need to worry about re-election.

I’m particularly worried about this since so much of my savings is tied up in my 401K and as far as I can tell, the 401K system is a racket.  It’s the way middle class people can get a tax break, now, in exchange for putting their life savings, and all of the extra money they have, in the hands of sociopaths with a pathological gambling addiction.  Remember, they don’t know us because they never bother to meet us so all that money has no real meaning to them.  It’s just like the instant $200 Monopoly money given to them through our paycheck withdrawals.  It’s an automatic “Pass Go and Collect”.  It just shows up in the accounts.  The brokers don’t wonder how it got there.  They don’t think about what workers had to give up in real time to put away those hundreds of dollars a month for the future.  The future happens to other people.  Finance people live in the present.  They deny themselves nothing.

The other Matt Taibbi post is about the clueless plutocrats in A Christmas Message from America’s rich.  Some of these insults from the 1% have appeared elsewhere but Taibbi drills down to the real message the rich are sending us:

People like Dimon, and Schwarzman, and John Paulson, and all of the rest of them who think the “imbeciles” on the streets are simply full of reasonless class anger, they don’t get it. Nobody hates them for being successful. And not that this needs repeating, but nobody even minds that they are rich.

What makes people furious is that they have stopped being citizens.

Yes, that’s the problem.  The rich have stopped being citizens.  They see themselves as citizens of the world.  They can move their pawns around a global chessboard and so far, the nations of the world have been unable or unwilling to stop them.

That got me thinking about a proposal I have floated before.  If they’re not going to act like citizens, do we really have to let them live here?  I wouldn’t want to propose violent actions, because that would be wrong and no one wants another round of the French Terror.  Ok, some people do but not me.  No, in fact killin’s too good for some of them.  What I would prefer is if they had an extended vacation to some tropical destination, like, oh, I don’t know, the Cayman Islands, perhaps?  In fact, why don’t we let the union first screwed by the 1% and their bought and paid for president have the first crack at this?  When ever a 1%’ers private jet checks in for a landing, divert the plane to the Cayman Islands.  Let’s let the rich hobnob with their own class.  They can spend more time with their money.  And they don’t really need satellite or underwater cables to carry their internet traffic.  Just cut them off.  Let the predators play a game of real-life Survivor on Grand Cayman where they can fight each other for the best views and snorkel sites.  in fact, why not relocate the support staff?  It’s not their fault the rich have to go somewhere.  Then the bankers and brokers and investment class can clean their own toilets and administer their own antibiotics and mow their own golf courses and maintain the water treatment plants.

Well, it’s a start.  We still have to figure out a solution for the yachts, though those yachts ain’t going nowhere without a crew.  If I were a crew member, I would revel in my new found power.  While the rich dudes are asleep in their sleek, mahogany paneled staterooms, just cut the engines and abandon ship.  Yeah, take the only lifeboats with you and the keys to the helicopter.  Pull the fuses out of the electrical panels and consign them to the watery deep. Disable the GPS devices.  After you take the best wines and delicacies, dump all of the food overboard.  Let them float for a few days.

If they’re really as smart and successful and productive as they claim to be, they’ll figure out a way to get out their predicament.  But while they’re working on that, we’ll have time to blockade their way off the islands and bar their entrance to any port.

If they’re not going to be good citizens, they can’t have a country.  We’ll lease the Caymans to them for $500,000,000,000/year.  After a few years, they should be reduced to the economic status of Haitians.

Told’ja

So, the truth comes out about what it’s like to work as a woman in the White House. In Ron Susskind’s new upcoming book, Confidence Men, Women in Obama’s White House felt excluded and ignored:

A new book claims that the Obama White House is a boys’ club marred by rampant infighting that has hindered the administration’s economic policy and left top female advisers feeling excluded from key conversations.

“Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President,” by journalist Ron Suskind due out next Tuesday, details the rivalries among Obama’s top economic advisers, Larry Summers, former chairman of the National Economic Council, and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. It describes constant second-guessing by Summers, now at Harvard, who was seen by others as “imperious and heavy-handed” in his decision-making.

In an excerpt obtained by The Post, a female senior aide to President Obama called the White House a hostile environment for women.“This place would be in court for a hostile workplace,” former White House communications director Anita Dunn is quoted as saying. “Because it actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women.

[...]

It says that women occupied many of the West Wing’s senior positions, but felt outgunned and outmaneuvered by male colleagues such as former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Summers.

“I felt like a piece of meat,” Christina Romer, former head of the Council of Economic Advisers, said of one meeting in which Suskind writes she was “boxed out” by Summers.

Dunn told Suskind that the problems began during the 2008 campaign. At one point she was viewing a television ad with other campaign officials and was shocked to see no women in the spot.

“There isn’t a single woman in this ad,” Dunn said. “I was dumbfounded. It wasn’t like they were being deliberately sexist. It’s just there was no one offering a female perspective.”

The ad was later reshot, with women included.

“The president has a real woman problem,” an unnamed high-ranking female official told Suskind. “ The idea of the boys’ club being just Larry and Rahm isn’t really fair. He [Obama] was just as responsible himself.”

Based on interviews with more than 200 people inside and outside the White House, Suskind’s book comes as Obama faces the lowest poll numbers of his tenure, and deep discontent over his economic policies.

According to the book, female staffers, like Dunn and Romer, felt sidelined. In November 2009, female aides complained to the president about being left out of meetings, or ignored.

Dunn said in the interview that her husband, now-White House lawyer Bob Bauer, was “surprised to see me as someone who could be talked over in meetings.”

The short story, it’s typical corporate under-the-radar discrimination.  The women staffers and cabinet members will no doubt be told that they are being too sensitive or paranoid but after their work fails to get the recognition it deserves or requires, she’s going to feel the stress of always being on the outside looking in and missing the crucial milestones necessary to get a promotion and exercise power.  When the crucial decision making meetings happen, she won’t be aware of them.  They might be impromptu, like during lunch at a table where few women are invited to join.  Or at golf games.  Or a meeting may be arranged where the scheduler has a propensity for the hierarchical and no juniors are invited, most of those juniors happening to be women.  Or the female staffer may need to gather information and sends out a survey email, which for some unknown reason, several more senior sycophants fail to respond to.  Or at a department meeting during your presentation, the guys talk over you or interrupt you or speed up your presentation or slow it down so they can ask you questions that were not in the scope of the presentation.  If you’ve been taking data, you’ll have realized by now that men rarely receive this kind of treatment, but it all contributes to making you look just a little bit unprepared or not quite knowing what’s really going on (because you weren’t there when they told the guys what was really going on).  Heck, you’re lucky you get a chance to present at all.  The stars get their 45 minutes of fame at every meeting while you have to book a slot months in advance.  That kind of stuff.

Oh, Ladies, I have seen it all.  These are deaths by a thousand paper cuts.  It’s disrespectful, isolating, humiliating and prevents you from looking like you’re doing your best job.  But it’s not grabbing and propositioning.  Without the sexual aspect, this more pernicious and devastating career stalling form of discrimination never gets the proper attention it deserves.  The fact that this is happening at the Obama White House does not surprise me at all.  I’ve seen this report coming for two years now, ever since the bunch of guys who run Obama’s campaign thought it would be a great idea if Michelle took on a more traditional first lady role.  Let her stay at home with two school aged adolescents who no longer require full time care.  She can garden in her spare time and lecture all the other mothers about nutrition.  It so fits the upper middle class suburban mother demographic.  Her sphere of influence is to set an example of what a demure, respectful, “had my fun in my career but now find complete fulfillment as a full time mother with a lot of time on my hands to make you feel inadequate as a mother” should be.  This is the game in the suburbs, who can outmother.  Who chauffeurs more, who is more alert to safety issues, who sets more limits on their childrens’ {freinds, TVtime, sugar ingestion, independence}  She is a throw back to the woman who defers, whose identity depends on her husband.  I’m sure the evangelicals are eating it up with a genuine jesus plated spoon.  But her example does not help the women who are tasked with working with her husband and his cabinet.  The specter of Michelle, digging in the garden like a good PTA mom, contributes to an attitude that women don’t put their careers first.  They can’t handle it.  They’ll stress out and go home.  But the worst type of stress is caused by male generated obstructions that keep you from getting your work done efficiently.

The kind of behavior described in Susskind’s book results in a lot of lost opportunities.  There won’t be a lot of thinking outside the box if half of the staff doesn’t get heard or taken seriously.  It’s a waste of talent.  It costs us money.  Think of Christina Romer, giving the right answer as to the size of the stimulus package, overridden by Geithner and then having to fight for the privilege to give her input during meetings when guy after guy were called on and she was passed over.  If I were her, I’d be pissed.  But let me guess what happened when she brought it up.  She was told she wasn’t being a team player, that she was too sensitive.  What she really meant to say was, “I had something important to say and now you are going to make your decisions without hearing it”.  And they probably did.  Romer stuck it out for a couple of years and then had enough and went home.  It’s real discrimination all right but there’s no definition for the disrespect and dismissal that happens day after day.  It’s pervasive and nebulous.

What could the White House have done differently?  Well, first, it could have refrained from running such a bloody relentless, sexist campaign.  Second, it could have instituted a training program and guidelines and hold violators accountable.  That might have included instructing male staffers to answer all phone calls and emails promptly no matter who was requesting, it could have monitored the response time to those requests and analyzed the data to determine who were the biggest offenders, if could have had meetings videotaped and analyzed for inappropriate indifference to the input of female attendees or interruptions of her presentation.  It could have analysed the words used to comment on the presentations of men and women.  A computational linguist might have been hired to to this.  The White House might have made a rule about golf outings.  All golf outings must be composed of equal parts men and women.  Same with any on-site activity.  Male or female only lunch groups should be discouraged.  It’s hard to monitor off-site activities but any opportunities that result in the male staff taking their shirts off in a bar while their female companions remain clothed should be discussed as to the messages sent to all members present and the public at large.  How about a dress code?  You can’t force guys to take off their ties but there has to be a female equivalent to give them power.  Find a way to get rid of symbols of male authority and female subordination.

Have training sessions that explain how damaging it is to refer to assertive women as “not team players” or “hard to work with” or any other code word used to undermine her authority.  For too long, women are coached to walk a thin line and never be too assertive or two passive so as to not upset the mens folk.  It never works.  Women can always be criticized for something.  This coaching of female staff is completely wasted because the violators of creating this hostile workplace (and trust me, it is very hostile) are never held responsible for their behavior.  That behavior makes it very difficult for women to present their ideas and work in a manner that will be recognized and will get things done.  And when you hire women on your staff and let the men act like cock-of-the-walk assholes, the only ideas you’re going to get to work with will be the ones generated by cock-of-the-walk assholes and women will despise you because none of your solutions seem to have anything that will make their lives better.

What we’re seeing at the White House is the same kind of cut throat, kill your enemies behavior seen in corporate culture.  That culture is exacerbated by the business school class that is always trying to climb over the broken back of the person who stands in their way of the next position up the ladder.  It seeps down to all levels of the corporation and becomes intensified among the rank and file where keeping one’s job becomes a vicious and nasty game of musical chairs.  Most upper managers are men and they identify with men and many women are left without mentors or the respect they need to stay in the game.  That’s why you can see departments lose 80% of their women staffers during a layoff and never blink an eye.  Of course, some areas and fields of expertise are different than others but when the women of MIT set out to document the atrocities, they found that it wasn’t just all in their heads.  It’s real.  But it can be fixed, if there is the will to do it.  It doesn’t look like the White House thinks this is an important issue to tackle.

The fact that it’s happening at the White House and that Obama hasn’t done anything in 3 years to mitigate it, speaks volumes to me about just what kind of president he is.  Corporate, sexist without even knowing it, probably dismissive of complaints, oblivious that there’s a problem at all and incurious about why it is that so many of the people he promotes and listens to are male.

Ladies, we KNOW these guys.  Why in world would we ever want to vote for another man for president is beyond me.  Obama seems to be taking this country backwards to the 60′s.  He has learned nothing.  And sexism, far from being unimportant in the whole scheme of things, like rescuing the economy, it is the linchpin as to why the economy is in as bad shape as it is.  Sheila Bair wanted to nationalize the biggest banks, Christina Romer wanted to double the stimulus package.  They were both overruled.  The next in line to be press secretary, Karen Finney, was passed over so that Jay Carney, a dude on Biden’s staff could take the position.  What happened there?  What was even more shocking is that Nancy Pelosi wasn’t initially invited to the talks about the debt ceiling crisis.  That’s inexcusable.  No-, really, I’m amazed that the media let them get away with that.  The only person who seems to know how to command attention and respect in Obama’s cabinet is Hillary Clinton.  And we don’t even know the whole story there.  (I’m betting she doesn’t put up with un-returned phone calls and emails)

This book should be good.  I’m using one of my last 2 audible credits to snag one.  But if I were one of the Obama girls who latched onto him to look cool and aspirational instead of old, stupid and menopausal, I’d be feeling pretty stupid right now.  Big mistake.  Massive.

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