Archive for October 2009

Hard Decisions – Afghanistan

The President has a “difficult” decision to make on Afghanistan.  In my mind the difficulty is in doing the right thing as opposed to the easy thing.  It amazes me that anyone listens to John McCain who is demanding we honor General McChrystal’s request, who never saw the war on the ground in Vietnam, still thinks it was winnable, and had the Iraq war totally wrong.  He and others pushing for the easy way are the same folks who told us Iraq would be a cakewalk.  After all they lament, the general in the field has spoken so why don’t you honor his request?  The answer to that is fairly straightforward:  The general was given the mission to win the war and asked what do you need?  What do you think he wants?  But one has to step back and say, how many more troops for how long, how much will that cost, and do we have both a military and a public that can support that?  Oh and of course, is it worth that cost?

Tom Friedman, in his column, Don’t Build Up, answered these questions better than I could.  Probably the most insightful part of this editorial was his assertion that all the great strides forward between warring parties has been made by them, not some outside force.  That includes the “Awakening” in Iraq when the Sunni’s were already throwing out the Al Qaeda thugs and we just leveraged them.  Makes you pause when you recognize that our partner in Afghanistan is a totally dysfunctional government.  But what I found even more interesting was politburo minutes unearth in Russia of Sergei Akhromeyev, the commander of the Soviet armed forces, speaking to the Soviet Union’s Politburo on Nov. 13, 1986 about their war in Afghanistan.

“Our soldiers are not to blame. They’ve fought incredibly bravely in adverse conditions. But to occupy towns and villages temporarily has little value in such a vast land where the insurgents can just disappear into the hills.” He went on to request extra troops and equipment. “Without them, without a lot more men, this war will continue for a very, very long time.” (Transcript of Defeat).

Sound familiar?  Why then is it the easy decision to just send more troops?  Because politically, like the Russians, it is almost impossible to recognize our limits, if necessary admit defeat, and move on.  The trouble with making the easy decision is in the details.  How is the country going to afford this while nation building at home is our top priority?  How can a volunteer military and very few continue to bear this burden?  But what about all those generals and their advice?  They want to win; it is in their blood.  They were wrong in Vietnam and they are wrong now.  They are wrong because winning on their terms simply isn’t worth what it will cost us.  This is a political decision, not a military decision and is why we do not blindly follow general’s advice as the Republicans are urging.

Will President Obama summon the courage to do the right thing, instead of some political compromise to nowhere?  Well if what you hear coming out of the White House is that there will be some compromise additional troops, then no he will not summon the courage to ignore the politics.  He will once again try to accommodate everyone, and in the end promulgate another failed policy.  Whatever he decides, he certainly will have to support what he is doing by a detailed plan on the end game.  If he actually followed Tom Friedman’s advice he would face extreme criticism from the right on being weak.  But it was false bravado and weakness from these same actors that has us bogged down in this quagmire.  Real strength would be a President who knows our limitations, decides how to best move this country forward, and ignore politics of a failed policy that will kill more young Americans.

Finally let us remember what Afghanistan is.  It is a 5th century country run by a mobster.  The government by all accounts is part of the problem.  The Taliban are estimated at 20,000 strong and they are not some foreign invader.  Yes they are aided and abetted by Al-Qaeda, but as long as we are there, we are the issue.  So the reality is this is a 20 to 40 year problem.  We need to decrease our footprint, spend our precious treasury more effectively on keeping the Taliban out of total control, while we help in humanitarian efforts to educate the people so they can solve the problem themselves.  That is not more troops.  More troops is just kicking the can down the road over the bodies of more and more young Americans who will have died in vain.

Oh, and one more thing we continue to ignore.  The Taliban are a creature of our own creation.  We thought it was a good idea to provide religious fanatics with guns and rocket launchers so they could depose the Russians.  Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea.

House Health Care Reform – Public Option

If polls are to be believed, the majority of Americans want a public option so that they have choice in their health insurance choices. But the plans in Congress that have a public option will apply to less than 10% of the population. Now the Republicans and Conservative (NOT AS THEY ARE MISS LABELED MODERATE) Democrats oppose even this token and one has to ask why. Hopefully in the debates to come, more Americans will become aware that this very small public option is not enough and will demand more, while the forces of the status quo and industry sycophants start to get shunned. We will see who is awake in America.

The Problem with being a Conservative – Failed Ideology

On Meet the Press on Sunday, conservative Joe Scarborough was in a discussion about if the Republican Party is fracturing and he made this comment:  “ …when I, when I ran in 1994, the Republican Party on the state, national and local level tried to run against me a moderate Republican. And I’m not talking, I’m not talking abortion or gay marriage, I’m talking taxes and spending, small government.  That’s great to reinvigorate the base.

So other than the wingnuts who see black helicopters and socialism everywhere, the conservative revival according to Joe and many Republicans, will be based on tax reduction, minimal federal government spending, and small government, which is code for few regulations.  What I can’t figure out is why doesn’t anyone challenges this ideas as exactly how we got into the mess we are in today.   The Bush administration passed a tax break that emptied the treasury and set up our wild out of control deficits.  Oh by the way, this same administration and the Republican Congress went wild on spending including the Iraq war with absolutely no control.  Finally they couldn’t reduce the size of government so what they did was emasculate its ability to regulate and manage its affairs.  The outcome was disastrous from Katrina to the financial meltdown.  We have had no energy plan, no infrastructure investment, no climate control policy, minimal spending in R&D, assuming that somehow the market would solve all these problems.

Now one can surmise that all these tenets of the conservative mantra are based on faith in the market system and capitalism so lets examine this system and the conservative beliefs in it.  This can be summed up as let the market place, through capitalism, operate with a minimum of restraints and our economy will be humming.  But anybody who really reads Adam Smith and the Wealth of Nations understands that there is no such thing as perfect competition.  Regulations didn’t come first.  They came after gross abuses mandated them because of the public outcry.  Labor laws, safety regulations, environmental laws, truth in lending laws, monopoly laws, banking laws, handicap access, minimum wage, all come to mind.  Companies that worship capitalism are always maneuvering to stifle competition so that they will have an eternal competitive advantage.  Government’s role is to level this playing field and to curb the worst abuses.  Conservatives totally miss this.

So the bottom line is that regulations are necessary to level the playing field, keep honest competition a reality, and prevent unrestrained capitalism from abuses to the environment, labor, safety, you name it.  Now I will be the first to admit that there are many regulations that are counterproductive but at this juncture in our mess, it is clear that regulations and an effective government to carry them out are a given.  Then we can perform a careful assessment of what works and what doesn’t, and refine those regulations.  But a philosophy carried out in reality that hates government and all regulations will just return us to the Bush mess of 2007.

So much for the small government and few regulations.  What is required is effective government, but that is not what conservatives believe in.  Quite the opposite, they see government as “the problem”.  A philosophy that ignores reality is bound to fail when put into practice.  Does anybody remember the lessons learned from George Bush?  Oh, I know, most conservatives avoid confronting these realities by saying George wasn’t a real conservative.  It is denial at a humongous level.  It is humongous because I hear every day people say they don’t want government to run something.  They fail to understand that almost everything they have today from clean and adequate water supply, a reliable transportation system, to their education and medical insurance in old age is a direct result of government action.  They only remember the failures or hindrances they perceive, not the overall impact.

Now on the tax and spend mantra, what is meant is low taxes and little spending.  But as I have pointed out in other blogs (See Republicans Aren’t Evil are They?), investment is the lifeblood of businesses, so why wouldn’t it be the lifeblood of a country.  Low taxes in themselves are not an elixir.  Many studies have shown that lowering taxes too much has a detrimental effect on the long-term health of an economy just as raising them too high.  The other side of this coin is deficits.  The deficit is large and further growth of it scares everyone.  But we got that debt as noted earlier, not by investing in our future, but in tax cuts for the wealthy and failing to pay for proper investments in this country.  The conservatives would dry up any investment in our future and in fact mortgage our future on the present.  It’s called selfishness.  As noted in a News and World report, the USA has fallen from fourth to ninth this year as a rating of the richest countries in the world.  This has been a direct result of conservative economic policies we have followed for the last eight years.  The article notes that this is not because of the recession as other countries are quickly recovering and we are not.

Some of these measures that were evaluated to determine our status were jobs, poverty, education, economic growth, competitiveness, prosperity, health, and happiness.  Now we are falling in all these measures after eight wonderful years of conservative economic policy.  The deficit is scary, but we are going to need to make investments in the short term to create cash flow in the economy.   Unemployment will increase, along with foreclosures.  States see shrinking revenues for the foreseeable future, which means more cuts.  The fact that companies are showing more profitability will not solve these problems.  They aren’t selling more; they have reduced staff and work longer hours.  The stock market reflects the faux profitability of these companies and economists use these numbers to say we are in a recovery.  But if demand continues to shrink, no one is going to hire.  The real recovery will be when people have jobs and their purchasing power grows.  Right now it is continuing to shrink.  Simply reigning in government spending is going to worsen this cyclic problem.  That spending needs to be directed where it will be most effective and that is not in tax cuts.

So if you like where we have been, and you will if you are in the top 1% of income earners, then continue the conservative economic approach.  If you want to see us get out of this mess, then we need to think about new ways of doing business.  This is going to take smart investment by our government, and reasonable tax policies to implement this policy.  Instead we have conservatives promising us a return to wonderland if we will just re-embrace conservative hate-government, cut taxes, and spend little. I am not gullible enough to tell you that the Democrats have the answer, but we have tried the conservative approach and it has failed miserably   If you are that stupid to try it again, you deserve your fate.

Lieberman Will Not Support Public Option

Joe Lieberman has told the Democratic Party he will not support overide of a filabuster and will side with the Republicans on the Public Option. Strip him of any Chairmanships and power he has and throw him out of the caucus. He is a Republican and when the Democrats finally realize that he has always been a wolf in sheep’s clothing, they will be stronger for it.

One Last Look at Health Care Reform

The magic word in the health care debate is “the public option”.  But does anybody really know what that means?  I doubt it, so lets examine it.  You have heard Medicare for people under 65.  Well that is not quite right.  Medicare is free and was and is paid for by your and others contributions.  I probably have insurance closest to what they are talking about.  I am a retired federal worker so the government offers a multitude of programs from various health providers and they subsidize my monthly costs along with the ability to negotiate very good rates.  Oh yeah, their administrative costs are minute compared to the insurance industry’s. Those that would qualify for the government program would get roughly the same program and the subsidy would be dependent on your ability to pay.  But it must take all comers and all the policies are not priced based upon the status of your health.

Now there are a couple of things to notice here.  First and foremost, there is no government bureaucrat between my health care provider and me.  The badly misused term in this discussion, and I should say prejudicial term is “government provided health care”.  The government does not provide the health care; they pay for it, or in my case subsidize it.  My health care is provided by a private health care provider who negotiates with the government for one price to provide the benefits I selected.  I select my plan and that plan and its benefits are charged to the government and my contribution is billed to me every month by the government.  It is very small compared to what most people pay for private insurance.

Second, who qualifies for the government plan?  The present options being considered in Congress have only a very small segment of the poor who will get these benefits.  So just how is this going to help small business or others who need a real choice?  How will this small segment, estimated at 10% of our population who will actually have access to a public option provide real competition to the insurance companies?  Why shouldn’t everyone have that choice?  That one is beyond me.  Additionally, the plan the President favors, because he thinks it is politically expedient, is one that will not go into effect unless some sort of trigger mechanism activates it.  This one is destined to failure.  It might be the most politically feasible among the dinosaurs who rule in Washington, but how long do we have to wait for it to kick in and how can the medical Insurance companies game the system to prevent it from ever happening?  It is truly a bad idea when you consider how many people will die while we dither.

Third there is this idea of “a level playing field”.  Just exactly what does this mean?  Well the industry is concerned that the government can price the same plans that they are providing at significantly less than they can, so they want either the government’s ability to negotiate or the rates they charge limited to provide them a “fair” opportunity.  Now think about this people.  If you end up paying higher rates so that private insurance companies can maintain their profits, that is money that is not going to treat a segment of our population.  The other side of this coin is that if we keep making an artificial level at which private insurers can earn money, where is the incentive for all that innovation that competition is suppose to foster?

So is it any wonder that this whole debate is really being carried out in a fog?  Please define public option and how it works; define who qualifies for it; and please define what you mean by a level playing field.  And within this, let’s not forget what we are trying to do:  Universal coverage at the lowest price without affecting the quality of the care.  Probably the best way forward is Medicare for anyone who wants to buy in.  Cost of the insurance in addition to what you already have withheld from your pay and earnings would be prorated on your ability to pay.  Let the private insurers compete with that.  No leveling, and no restriction of the government’s ability to negotiate.  Small business could then buy their plans directly from Medicare and we are off and running with a dual track system and may the best man/plan win.  You still have competition in that each plan would negotiate with the government or insurance providers for the services they provide and the onus would be on them to find ways to economize.  Additionally the government could partner with some of the providers to come up with innovative ways to reduce costs and increase the quality of care.

But all this is too simple and straightforward when you are trying to maintain the health insurance companies gouging our economy and our future for their well-being.  Just try to keep in mind that these health insurances companies have had years and years to compete and innovate and they did not.  And those second homes and nice cars that all those health insurances executives have are paid for by the 40,000 uninsured Americans who die for lack of insurance every year.  Then the discussion gets fairly simple.

In my mind we are not going to get anything anywhere near what I proposed above and therefore it is destined to fail.  If we do not get that robust public option in the final bill, then I would recommend they vote it down.  Putting a failed plan into effect will just make the next round that much more difficult after thousands have died.  If it isn’t right, then don’t compromise for failure.  Hold out for a real plan that gives us real relief and moves us forward instead of some holding action that could kill reform in the long run.

Weekend Drive-By

If you want to be frustrated, watch the Sunday talk shows as we continue to miss the point and discuss the trivia.  The newspapers weren’t much better.  So for better or worse here are my Sunday thoughts:

  • Howard Kurtz of CNN’s Reliable Sources was working hard again at missing the point.  The first thing they discussed was whether the White House criticism of Fox as no longer a news channel was effective, instead of a real examination of how Fox manipulates the news.  Howard criticizes the lack of fact checking and he doesn’t do his own.  See The Fox Propaganda Network.
  • On the same program they discussed how the bogus story about the Chamber of Commerce reversing their stand on global warming and climate protection tricked the mainstream media.  I listened to a journalist whine about the pressure to get the news out fast.  Well, sweetheart, it isn’t news if it’s false.  They have yet to examine their role in this problem.  Their job is not to megaphone what other’s say, but to provide us with relevant stories that are fact checked.  The operative words here are relevant and fact checked.
  • The New York Times reported that small businesses are facing up to 20% increases in their health insurance costs with no real reason why.  Meanwhile that moron Mitch McConnell says he won’t vote for the health care reform bill because it would raise rates.  Let’s see, rates are going out of sight without reform, and he won’t support reform because it will raise the rates.  Hmmm.  Sadly the public option the glacial Congress is considering will not allow private business to be part of it.  This is such a no-brainer yet we just refuse to face a single payer system.  (Small Business Faces Sharp Rise in Health Care)
  • The Huffington Post (Leaderless) reported that our gutless President has decided to go with a Public Option that would only be available with a trigger mechanism.  Talk about failure to lead.  Meanwhile others talk about a public option with a “level playing field”.  What that means is raise the cost of the Public Option so the insurance industries are still able to rake off large profits.  When oh when will we figure out that providing health care is not appropriate to the profit motive, just like police and fire protection?
  • Meet the Press today did highlight one important fact and that is the Administration’s focus on executive pay in the banks is just eyewash and is not real reform.  Until they structurally reform the system so that nobody is too big to fail, the government will always be the lender of last resort.  See Regulating Banks.
  • In a really scary story, the New York Times (Prosecutors Turn Table on Student Journalists) reported that in Illinois, local prosecutors have subpoenaed the grades, grading criteria, class syllabus, expense reports and e-mail messages of the journalism students from Northwestern’s Medill Innocence Project, which has helped lead to the release of 11 inmates.  You can read the article, but what we have here is shoot the messenger, not examine the message.  To me it is clear they are trying to stifle this kind of embarrassment by trying to sully the program instead of dealing with the factual findings.  If you don’t see the connection to this and the State’s Secret Act and the problems with it, then call yourself a Republican.
  • Finally on a positive note, it was nice to see Frank Rich echo my sentiments about the media and the balloon incident (The Fox Propaganda Network), while Maureen Dowd echoed my sentiment that the Catholic Church is trying to recruit the small minded from the Anglican Church (Bashing Organized Religion).  Every now and then I actually hit on something.

Another week where the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, our President fails to lead, and the media and the nation continuing their glide to oblivion shunning critical thought.  All in all not many cheery thoughts.

Murder Incorporated

Jane Maher has written a wonderful article (“The Predator War” in the current New Yorker) about how the war on terror in Pakistan is really remote control assassination by predator drones.  She raises some disturbing questions we all ought to be thinking about.  Let’s start with the easier ones.

Let’s say you are in Afghanistan or even some parts of Pakistan and you have either a high value enemy combat or what appears to be enemy action like placing a bomb, in your cross hairs.  It’s a war zone and war is about killing so there are few that would object with this application of force.  What about collateral damage?  Well quite frankly if it is within the rules of war, you are not firing it at a hospital or an orphanage; it is no different than dropping a bomb.  It is part of war.

The next question in this scenario starts to muddy the waters.  Who decides to fire the rocket and what are the rules of engagement?  Is it the military who are trained in the rules of engagement and the War Crimes Act, or is the CIA, or is some contractor actively involved in this decision making processes.  Sadly I believe Jane Maher has raised serious concerns about private contractor involvement in this process.  Would we want Black Water involved in these decisions?  I guess the real question here is what is the oversight to ensure this is really a tool used by our military, in military action and not some assassination by the CIA or their contractors.  That question has not been publically answered.

The second issue is, is it effective.  Well, if you measure effectiveness by killing guys that are on our most wanted list, then we are picking off the head of the hydra.  But this measure of success is a function of Western thought about command and control.  Kill the brain and the body becomes immobilized.  But this is not a war of intelligence and rational thinking; it is a war of religious zealots.  The collateral damage most assuredly is creating more hatred than we are wiping out.  But what do I know.  I would refer you to the five part series that appeared in the New York Times of journalist David Rhode’s 7 month, 10 day captivity before he escaped from the Taliban in Pakistan (Held by the Taliban).

So even its use when the situation seems fairly straight forward raises serious concerns which we have been ignoring.  One thing you can say for the United States is that we are really good at ignoring our problems until they are almost unmanageable.  Another concern is the amount of battle fatigue that this is generating with the pilots.  These guys usually sit in Langley, or in the pentagon, or some facility in California, and after a shift, they go home to their families and normality.  It would appear that the contrast between civilized and uncivilized behavior (war any way you define it is uncivilized) puts tremendous pressure on these combatants mental state.  Most of us are not sociopaths.

Scenario number two gets even more problematic when this tool is used for assassinations outside a declared war zone.  Who of you didn’t watch the Bourne Trilogy where CIA bureaucrats started to decide who to kill, when, and where?  As I write this, they are working on smaller and smaller devices that can track and kill a person inside a building.  Anybody remember the Star Trek episode where Kirk and his crew were pinned down on a planet by these tireless killing machines?  Is that where we are going?  Once you get outside a war zone, when does civil justice get tossed for the expediency of a killing machine?  Who decides this and how?  What happened to a fair trial and the assumption of innocence?  Don’t bother to ask the Neocons, because their answer is the war on terror is everywhere therefore our power knows no bounds.

I find this whole thing troubling.  I worry about killing by video screen further and further removing the horror of war from our experience and make it so much easier to do, especially if we let the robots do it.  I worry about the idea that because it is effective in its task, it is considered an effective tool in the war.  It may be just the opposite and by continuing to use it, we delegitimize our moral claim of the high road and truth and justice.  I think we need to start talking about this and note that President Obama has authorized its use far more often President Bush.  Is President Obama really a deep a thinker that we gave him credit for?  As always, Congress is asleep at the switch.

The Fox Propaganda Network

We all have seen the news about the Administration calling Fox News what it is, a political arm of the Republican Party.  Last week the Administration put their new executive pay czar out for interviews, and because they didn’t recognize Fox as a news organization anymore, did not invite them.  The other networks objected and the Administration relented.  I guess their thinking was that if you can ostracize one news organization based upon its reporting, then you can control the media.  It is flawed logic and like when they totally failed us on WMD, they are making a very similar error here.

Now as the arguments go, the thought is that all the networks have their opinion shows and so what is the big deal, other than Fox is more anti-Administration than the rest.  If this were true, then the other media outlets that supported Fox in this tiff with the Administration would be correct in their stand against the Administration.  But that is not how Fox operates.  Fox has taken a page from Dick Cheney when he manipulated the press so successfully on WMD.

What Dick did was to leak a piece of intelligence that was false (yellow cake uranium) to the press, and then in interviews cite the source, say the New York Times, to say that reliable sources have identified this threat.  In effect he was creating a false rumor and then using it to manipulate the media into echoing this falsehood.  This is exactly how Fox operates.  Their nut-jobs like Beck or Limbaugh make some outrageous claim and then it is a running story on the real “news” shows all day on Fox.  This along with the documented instances where the news was a direct quote from Republican talking points, and the fact the network actively engages in fund raising and organizing to remove this administration certainly pushes them out of the category of a news organization and into the category of a propaganda arm for a political organization.

As I have chronicled in the past, most of the news media out there is deplorable with their failure to fact check their guest’s claims and allowing their statements to stand unchallenged.  But that is simply bad journalism.  But when a news organization takes a false statement and then heavily biases it with making it a running theme for the news day, interviewing only those that support these outrageous statements, it becomes propaganda.  So what the other news media outlets did in supporting Fox against the administration was not to defend access to the Administration, but for a media outlet to become a propaganda tool for a political party.  You think they would understand the difference between news and propaganda and how damaging it could be to the whole news business if this kind of propaganda passes as journalism.

You probably don’t remember when the Bush Administration ostracized Richard Engel of CNN after an interview with President Bush where he challenged many of President Bush’s statements about Iraq.  This was cited as an example of how the media must support reporters and their media owners who ask hard questions and challenge the Administration.  But there is a big difference.  Richard’s questions and challenges were based upon fact.  Much of Fox News stories turn out to be bogus or exaggerated.  So there is a big difference between taking an ethical stand where a media stands up to power with truth, and where a media continuously promulgates false information as propaganda and then is offended when access is denied.

The Administration needs to find its backbone and the rest of the news media needs to re-examine their logic and values if they don’t want to become just entertainers instead of journalists.  The Administration’s real fear is that if Fox is allowed to set the agenda on what is covered in the news, and the rest of the media follow them, real news is dead.  I agree with them.  Our country depends upon objective news to give us the facts about an issue.  If the news media becomes more and more a creature of the outlandish without real fact checking, then our media will be know as those guys who get the latest rumor to you first.  Maybe that is what they are now.

If you doubt we aren’t headed down this road think about how the balloon story that dominated the news last week.  This whole story was a hoax by a person who wanted more media coverage and the media, like deprived addicts needing a fix, fell right in line to maximize coverage.  Sooner or later they are going to have to step back and decide whether they are journalists with an extremely important role in our society, or they are part of our declining ability to think critically.  There latest stand with Fox News says to me we are headed for a train wreck.

Regulating Banks

Probably one of the reasons this is not getting much attention is because the financial guys start talking financial speak and we all drift off to la-la land.  But with banks resuming their same old practices of big bonuses based upon risky investments backed by our tax dollars, it is time to focus a little light down in this rat hole.  The good news is this is really a no-brainer.  We have two approaches here.  One is to leave the existing system as is and regulate the hell out of it, and the other is to break up the existing big banks.

Well actually there are three approaches because some of our really brilliant Republicans have proposed that we have no regulations. Republican Congressman Don Manzullo of Illinois, Patrick McHenry of North Carolina and Spencer Bachus of Alabama proposed an amendment that would allow agencies that watches over the financial sector to just die off after five years.  Ideology run amok once again.

I think we can all understand that pure free capitalism in this world runs amok every time.  If it is cheaper to pollute the environment and therefore you gain a competitive edge, you pollute the environment.  If you can rig bids by payoffs, you make payoffs. If it is cheaper to send our airliners to South America for their required yearly checks, you send them to South America. All these examples are true and are on-going.  The history of labor unions is based on corporations enforcing a slave wage because they could.  Need I mention the last financial crisis, or the fact that the rating agencies could make more money by giving the ratings the securities firms demanded?  Where the profit motive is involved, there is no morality and governments must regulate.  Money corrupts absolutely.

As I like to say the devil is in the details, so what kind of regulations.  “Aye, there’s the rub” as Hamlet would say.  What regulations would protect the public and yet not overly limit innovators to innovate?  The other problem with this discussion is that as Congress creates arcane rules, there is major room for mischief here.  Should we be controlling bank executive’s salaries?  Should we have a government regulator nix a deal if it is too risky in his eyes?  If we did that would anyone have funded Apple?

But I told you this was simple and it really is.  First we need clear simple regulations to address the obvious.  But the real solution, believe it or not, comes from Paul Voicker and Alan Greenspan.  NO COMPANY CAN BE TOO BIG TO FAIL.  In the words of the New York Times Article that interviewed him, “He wants the nation’s banks to be prohibited from owning and trading risky securities, the very practice that got the biggest ones into deep trouble in 2008. And the administration is saying no, it will not separate commercial banking from investment operations.   Mr. Volcker’s proposal would roll back the nation’s commercial banks to an earlier era, when they were restricted to commercial banking and prohibited from engaging in risky Wall Street activities. Mr. Volcker argues that regulation by itself will not work. Sooner or later, the giants, in pursuit of profits, will get into trouble. The administration should accept this and shield commercial banking from Wall Street’s wild ways.”

“The banks are there to serve the public,” Mr. Volcker said, “and that is what they should concentrate on. These other activities create conflicts of interest. They create risks, and if you try to control the risks with supervision, that just creates friction and difficulties” and ultimately fails.”

So we have a simple solution.  Insulate banks and the backbone or our financial system from the security market, and then let the security markets do what they do, and if they fail, boohoo.  One has to wonder why the Obama Administration is ignoring this sage advice and sticking with Timmy-boy and Larry-boy, both creatures of the status quo in the markets?  Or said more graphically. suckled on the fat tit of Wall Street.  These guys have never been you or me.  Remember who Paul Voicker was:  He was the one who raised interest rates back in the eighties and save us from inflation.  He knows what it is like to stand tough with an unpopular, but effective approach.  Oh could our President learn from this man.

By the way, the debate goes on, and if you are interested you can follow economist Paul Simon on the Baseline Scenario as this debate rages.  Trust me, it affects all of us.  Some think the banks are already headed down the road to even a bigger meltdown as we again incentivize risky behavior backed by the U.S. Treasury.  It is amazing to me that we keep turning to Wall Street experts, those morons who did not see this coming or didn’t care.

Bashing Organized Religion

As a confirmed atheist, this is not hard for me to do, but I love it when the Catholic Church makes it so simple.  In Wednesday’s New York Times there was an article, Vatican Bidding to Get Anglicans to Join Fold that told how “In an extraordinary bid to lure traditionalist Anglicans en masse, the Vatican said Tuesday that it would make it easier for Anglicans uncomfortable with their church’s acceptance of female priests and openly gay bishops to join the Roman Catholic Church while retaining many of their traditions.”

History does love to repeat itself.  Think about the Republican Party back in the 60’s during the civil rights movement and its evolved form today.  They hate gays, and the words “States Rights” really meant let us discriminate against blacks.  It pulled in all those southern Democrats who were concerned about this equal rights stuff whether for gays, women, or people of color.  The Catholic Church is taking a page out of their playbook.  Come into the fold where it is still okay to hate gays and think women are second-class citizens and you can do it under the guise of religion

Oh, I can hear you now.  “Wait a minute.  Shouldn’t religious belief be protected and if these beliefs are their holy dogma, shouldn’t we respect it?”  In a word, that answer is no.  One has to truly wonder about a religion that treats some people as second-class citizens and discriminates against others.  One has to wonder why in a world where our understanding of the human condition continually evolves, some organized religion’s views do not.  It makes you question their and their God’s ethics, much less their morality.   A god who tells me women are second-class citizens and that gays should not have equal rights is a god I would have no use for.

What I find so interesting in our society is that we feel we should be tolerant of this intolerance because of their religious status.  Whether it is the Muslim burka, or the Catholic denial of women in the priesthood, it is one and the same thing.  Women in their religion are less human than men.  We have countries such as France outlawing the wearing of the burka or even headscarves and many think this is a discrimination against the Muslim religion.  We even have worse misunderstandings of tolerance in some countries in Europe where beatings of wives or genital mutilation are ignored because it is part of their “culture and religion”.  It is the promotion of intolerance by being tolerant of intolerance.

I have no problem with people who distain gays or believe that women should be in a subservient role as long as they are not in a position to propagate their discrimination or to act out their discrimination.  If you don’t approve of gay marriage, don’t marry a gay.  If you don’t believe in abortion, don’t get one.  If you believe that women are subservient to men, well good luck in this society.  But if you attempt to promulgate these ideas to enslave others through our tolerance of your religious beliefs, we should show no tolerance.

So here we have the Catholic Church, like the Republican Party saying “bring me your huddled masses of intolerant people.  We will shelter you and embrace you.  We will reinforce and protect your misguided and damaging intolerance through religious camouflage and the rest of the world’s misunderstanding of tolerance.”  Isn’t religion great?  Where can we get some more of it?