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On a lighter note

The reviews are in, and THIS is the movie to see.

According to the critics true Trekkies will hate this movie because it’s cool and exciting to watch.

(I really hope there are no Trekkies here, cuz I could use a few flame-free hours.)

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Keeping your eyes on the prize

All of us have issues we care about, some more than others.  Some of us have one or two issues we are very passionate about.  That’s usually a good thing, unless our passion causes us to lose perspective.  It becomes a problem when we are so emotionally invested in an issue that we can’t tell friend from foe, and it becomes a serious problem when we start attacking our allies because they disagree over strategy or tactics.

The Civil Rights struggle was fought on three fronts.  There was the legal front, where court cases were filed challenging discriminatory laws.  One of the big victories in that front was Brown v. Board of Education which reversed Plessy v. Ferguson and struck down “separate but equal.”

There was the political front, where blacks were encouraged to vote and politicians were pressured to pass new laws. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed racial segregation in schools, public places, and employment, and Voting Rights Act of 1965 eliminated discriminatory practices that kept blacks from voting in many states.

The third and arguably the most important front was the battle for public opinion.  Led by Martin Luther King this effort set out to win the hearts and minds of white America and convince them that segregation and discrimination were wrong.  They used a strategy of peaceful non-violence, where all the hatred, anger and violence flowed one direction.  It was enormously successful, as love literally conquered hate.  In a few short years racism went from being common and in many places enforced by law to being socially unacceptable everywhere.

Racism isn’t dead, but it’s been driven underground.  But another form of bigotry is still out in the open, although it too is under assault.  That bigotry is homophobia.  The good news is we appear to be reaching a tipping point where the last vestiges of legal discrimination will be wiped away.  The bad news is we aren’t there yet.

Women are the majority in this country.  If every woman joined with all the others and voted as one for the same woman candidates they would hold every elective office in this nation within six years.  In just four years they would hold the White House and would control Congress.  The only remaining stronghold of male domination in politics would be the life-tenured judiciary.

African Americans are about 12% of our population and LGBT’s about 3% so neither group can prevail politically just by standing united.  Nor can they count on the law because as 52% of California voters showed last year the law can be changed.  That’s why the battle for public opinion is so important.

In this kind of civil rights  struggle there are basically five groups of people:

1.  Those whose rights are directly affected.

2.  Those whose rights are not directly affected but who support those who are.

3.  Those who are ambivalent or uninterested in the struggle.

4.  Those who mildly oppose group #1, mainly through ignorance and inertia.

5.  The haters

Groups #1 and #2 are already allies united in the struggle for equality.  In order to prevail they need to win the support of enough members of groups #3 and #4 to achieve a majority.  That’s the tipping point.

During the Vietnam War there was a saying:

If you have them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.

History shows that theory didn’t work out so well.  Winning “hearts and minds” means getting people on your side emotionally and intellectually.  To appeal to someone’s intellect you use facts, logic and reason.  Far more important is to appeal to their emotions, because when you have them by the heart their minds WILL follow.

In order to win their hearts you have to get past fear and ignorance and gain their sympathy.  You have to replace the derogatory stereotypes and caricatures in their minds with images of real people.  You have to make friends with them.

Dale Carnegie’s classic “How to Win Friends and Influence People” didn’t have a chapter called “Get Up in Their Faces and Call Them Names.”  I’m pretty sure that scaring the bejeebus out of people wasn’t one of his recommendations either.  That’s how you harden peoples’ hearts against you.

This brings us to Carrie Prejean, whose 15 minutes of fame are unfortunately not over yet.  To say we should ignore her is not to defend what she said, it is a recognition that to continue to attack her is counterproductive to winning anyone’s heart or mind.  She is young and pretty and attacking her will only make people feel sympathy for her.

Her position on gay marriage is shared by a lot of people, including President Barack Obama.  Ignore her and she will go away.  Focus on people who actually hold power instead.

That brings us back to my original point about being so emotionally invested in an issue that you forget who your friends are. Just because your friends and allies don’t turn the knobs up to 11 doesn’t mean they aren’t really your friends and allies.  Nor does their telling you to back off a little or to focus your attention elsewhere mean they want you to STFU.  The disagreement is over strategy and tactics, not the ultimate goal.

This principle is not exclusive to any one issue.  Keep your eyes on the prize and win.


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Friday: Free Milk and a Cow- Reprise

The stress tests are finished and the verdicts are in:  The Bankers Have Won.

James Kwak and Simon Johnson of Baseline Scenario have a not-to-be-missed post that lay it all out:

In short, relationships between the government and the large banks have never been closer, with large amounts of money flowing in one direction, and complete co-dependency going in both directions. Those relationships are not entirely friendly, which is not surprising. In any crisis when public resources are called on to bail out the private sector, not all of the oligarchs will survive; Bear Stearns and Lehman have already vanished. But the winners – which should include Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase and Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman – will emerge even more powerful and influential than before.

In rejecting “nationalization” (regulatory takeover and conservatorship), the government has not ensured a private, properly functioning banking system. Instead, it has muddled into a broken-down, undercapitalized system that is nominally in private hands, but is able to tap the state for apparently limitless support. And to date, that support has flowed on one-sided terms, with the taxpayer accepting downside risk but limited upside potential. No wonder bank shareholders are comfortable with this outcome.

As a result, the banks have largely preserved their existing management teams and bonus plans: on Wall Street, first-quarter accruals for bonuses returned to the levels of the glory years of 2006 and 2007. Creditors and counterparties have been kept whole, most notably through the AIG bailout. And shareholders have seen their share prices supported by the promise of sustained government support. The incentives we have ended up with are more similar to those of a nationalized system than those of a free market. Instead of state-owned coal mines run for the benefit of miners (the U.K. in the 1970s) or state-owned oil and gas companies run for the benefit of bureaucrats (the Soviet Union in the 1980s), we have state-backed banks in the U.S. run for the benefit of bankers and their creditors.

The smart economists in the Obama administration must know what is going on. But having insisted that large bank takeovers are tantamount to nationalization and therefore off the table, the administration is betting that the financial system will repair itself – or “earn their way out,” as StatsGuy put it.

This is possible. With the competition in both investment banking (Bear Stearns, Lehman) and mortgage lending (most of the specialist mortgage lenders) gone, the survivors all enjoy larger market shares and higher prices, contributing to their somewhat healthy profits in the first quarter. Even the large banks that receive the lowest grades in the stress tests will be given relatively cheap capital by the government; Treasury will use its resulting stakes to apply behind-the-scenes pressure to the banks (more government influence), but without taking decisive steps to clean up bank balance sheets. Instead, it will hope that the PPIP will do the trick, using cheap government financing.

According to Paul Krugman, H. Rodgin Cohen, once nominated by the Obama administration for Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, is to have made the following statement recently. “I am far from convinced there was something inherently wrong with the system.”

In short, the Change! that we all Hoped for last year is that the Democratic party is now firmly in the hands of the Republicans.  Well, that’s what it looks like to me.  I imagine that the smart, techy, creative class Republicans and Wall Street types didn’t much like living in the 14th century with the fundamentalist Goddies of their own party.  They weren’t into war either.  And they could see that the Republican party had sort of dug itself into a hole with Bush, DeLay and all the creepy GOP politicians who had issues with diapers and tapdancing in men’s bathrooms.  (not that there’s anything wrong with tapdancing in men’s bathrooms but if you’re going to do it, for gawdsakes, get a room)  The Republican party became so declasse.  How does one keep mainlining money when you’re no longer on the A list?  Hey!  Why not take over the other guy’s party?

We should have seen this coming.  Actually, I think *we* did see this coming.  The traditional media is owned and operated by big corporations that love neo-feudalism and cut-throat competition where winner takes all.  So, when they started praising Barack Obama like he was the second coming of Jesus, our antenna started to twitch.  This was a media that was so in the tank for everything Bush for eight straight years and was opposed to everything Democratic, in their words “liberal” for eight years before, that their support of anyone would have to have been seen as self-serving.

But there were warning signs before the 2008 election.  There was Joe Lieberman, for example.  Ned Lamont won the Democratic primary in CT in 2006 but it was Lieberman who got the support of the party in the general.  It was almost like the primary never happened.  The party did what it damned well pleased.  It was followed up with last year’s presidential primary where once again, the party chose the victor and bent over backwards in the most obvious way to finagle the numbers so that Obama’s disastrous experiment of forgoing the Michigan primary was not held against him.  But there’s more!  Now, we have Arlen Specter, newly minted Democrat who is having problems adjusting, given a guarantee by the party that he won’t face a primary challenger for the Democratic nomination for Senator next year.  Yes, the governor of PA has just decided that voters need not apply, their choices have been made for them.

Maybe these party officials think they are doing us a favor by removing what must be an agonizing and difficult responsibility from us.  Maybe they think we are too immature and untrustworthy to handle these decisions ourselves.  I thank them for my part but I don’t need the kind of guidance they are providing.  But maybe they think they can now get away with it.

I was watching Frost/Nixon the other night and one of the characters, a research assistant, tries to explain to Frost why it was so important to nail Nixon publicly.  It was because he  committed constitutional crimes and letting him get away with it with a pardon would come back to haunt us in the future.  And it did.  We don’t hold anyone responsible anymore for anything.  Nixon got away with Watergate, Reagan and Bush with Iran/Contra, Bush II with torture.  We let the Savings and Loan crisis happen and didn’t learn a thing from it.  We watched the debacle at Enron and Tyco and clicked our tongues in sympathy for the employees that lost everything.  But the finance industry at large has adopted Enron’s Wild West risktaking and accounting practices.  And now, no one will be held accountable but the taxpayers for the trillions of dollars lost.

It didn’t have to be like this.  We could have gotten off the emotional roller coaster last year when there was time.  We could have asked the party what we were going to get in exchange for nominating this neophyte with the pockets overflowing with cash.  We could have set conditions for his nomination, raised a ruckus when our votes were callously thrown away.  We could have held the party accountable for the decisions it was intending to make.  We tried.  We were called racists.

This is what happens when you don’t ask for anything in return for your vote.  Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?

And there is no such thing as being a little bit pregnant.  We are all now well and truly fucked.


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