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Deem me up Scottie March 17, 2010

Posted by WillardWhyte in angry rants, Politics.
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Where to begin.

With the honest admission that if someone backed me up to a hot stove and said I had to cast a vote on “The Thing” pending before the House, I would have to side with the Ayes. Which, you know, should have been the point. Healthcare in this country right now is a God-awful, expensive mess and fixing it — ultimately — is very important to the general welfare of the nation, in human terms and to rebuild toward a prosperous future. And how to do that should have been a top-shelf endeavor for each of the folks elected to Congress. That was a big part of the 2008 mandate, though I doubt any in the millions who voted could honestly have said they knew how to go about it. Most  really didn’t care who came up with the fix.

How did it all turn into two testosterone poisoned freshman wrestling over who gets to hold the pretty girl’s stuffed bear while she rides the Cyclone, ending up ripping it limb from limb? One side petulently stamping its foot on the Constitution and the other side scooping it off the ground to make a paper doll out of the remains?

And is there no one in the Democratic camp paying any attention at all to what anyone on the surface of this piece of the Earth is saying about honesty, transparency and — at the very least — giving a good ball fake toward treating the rest of us like we’re ready for shoes you have to tie up?

“Deeming” the bill to be passed so your vote doesn’t have to be stamped on it — even though everyone knows that’s just Step 1 in a Two-Step process? You’re so pure that you simply can’t have your name attached to a “yeah” on a bill with even the slightest thing in it you can’t abide, when you know perfectly well before you vote that your next breath will be “yeah” on a bill getting rid of that very same yucky stuff? You just can’t eat if  the gravy leaks down the plate from the turkey and taints your peas? That’s a principled stand? So, to allow yourself to assume that beknighted position, you cook up a spectacular Pretzel guaranteed to smear mustard all over your best TV tie?

You think anyone, anywhere sent you to Congress to witness that act? You think they wouldn’t have understood why you voted as you voted — if you took the time to explain the final result? Here’s one character who really wants to hear you explain why this particular Hot-Dog dismount was:

A — Necessary.

B — Good strategy.

C — Something you were able to do with a straight face.

D — A strong argument supporting Darwin’s Theory.

Let me make it simple for you: You have turned a debate on something serious, important and really hard to grasp in the first place into a laugher about whether or not you, too, are a liar, a scam artist, on drugs or just the south end of a northbound mule. Nice work, Butch. Way to frame the debate.

And then you also have to rope in the “saved money” from the student loan bill in order to make the overall legislation “revenue neutral.” Another trick, this one roping in some of the wonderfully creative accountng standards that made Lehman Brothers a name we shall cherish til death do us part.

 Whatever happened to:

 “I firmly believe this is the best bill we could win agreement on and it is a good start.”

“I think we need to use the process we are using in order to bring this matter to a decision made by the majority vote the Founders wrote into the Constitution.”

Then you trot home, defend those two statements to the hilt with facts, persuasion and faith — and then stand for an up-or-down verdict from us.

Is that really too much to ask for God’s sake?

Goodnight Gracie.

But it’s just a bill … March 15, 2010

Posted by WillardWhyte in Economy, Obama, Politics.
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There is an awful lot to like in the proposed legislation Sen. Chris Dodd proposed today, a bill that already sports the shine of consultation with others of a different mind, a recognition  that evoltionary change  is the wisest course and fueled by a sense of urgency.

Although I have no way of knowing this, I sense that this also is a bill owing greatly to the efforts of Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who may yet vote against it even though he supports much in it. If nothing else, this is a prime example of how this system should work, even if this bill fails to pass into law and even if it does not accomplish everything we might wish for it.

And this I say even of a bill not blessed by a “bipartisan” label, for Sen. Dodd and Sen. Corker worked diligently to get there, but finally agreed to disagree. As gentlemen and, I would say, patriots. They deserve our applause.

I still suspect the Consumer Financial Protection Agency is best established as a standalone entity. If it is to start its life inside of the Federal Reserve, it will fall upon the President and the House and Senate oversight committees to make sure its budget is sound, its authority is not stiffled and its import not lost upon those in the prime seats.

And we still need to see a strong initiative in the control of derivatives trading, not allowing a needed way around the full transpaency of clearinghouses for some instruments to become a loophole that dooms orderly markets that allow investors — and systemic overseers — to have the knowledge needed to avoid bubblicious temptations and shell games.

But the proposal is comprehensive with civil enforcement teeth, includes a firm “Volcker rule” prohibition on banks or near-banks from gambling with publicly guaranteed deposits or liquidity, addresses the abuses by ratings agencies and provides a path for easier stockholder objections.

I’d love to hear what others think of this, knowing that in each caegory what the bill proposes most likely falls short of the firmness some might prefer. But to me this seems a strong stab at responsible controls designed to restore open and honest dealings while preserving plenty of room for markets to make the calls. A cop’s bill. 

Of course, the bill now is a target, with swarms of well-paid jackals ready to knaw and knaw until bone gives way and marrow is consumed. Rep. Frank promises full and open Conference to meld House proposals with this bill, should the Senate move it across the aisle. We would hope that Sen. Corker, for one, gets his day at the mike.

The rest, I suspect, will be up to the President — and us. If we want reform we had better well clammor after it now.

Congress ready to abdicate March 6, 2010

Posted by WillardWhyte in Musings.
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It appears ever clearer with each passing day that there is no commitment to any type of meaningful financial reform in Congress. This is doubly true for reforms that would provide any dependable seat at the table for consumers — by that I mean families who borrow or invest in annuities, IRAs, mutual funds, 401Ks or 526 student loan funds, individuals and small business operators who borrow short or long-term, or taxpayers whose money (current and future) is increasingly pledged as a backstop to the next disaster from Wall Street.

The loud debate on healthcare — while necessary as a critical piece of legislation nears a vote — has all but drowned out the slow, steady and continuing retreat from measureable steps to address the problems that allowed markets to crash and seize, and then thrust the world economy into a tailspin that only recently found bottom.

The most visible sign is the withering of the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA), a concept in full retreat soon to be buried in some garage in suburban Virginia with a sign out front noting which of the seven agencies that failed to do the job in the last 25 years won the fight for control of the new “cop” on the beat. The most effective arrow in the quiver of opponents of an agency whose SOLE duty is consumer protection in financial markets has been the suggestion that a new, costly bureaucracy would “burden” people and “small businesses” and place a drag on the economy. More Big Government. More Socialism. My favorite is this from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

“… protecting consumers is a critical part of financial regulatory reform, but creating more big government and more red tape with the CFPA is the wrong approach. This new agency will impose new burdens on small businesses and consumers, and their ability to invest, create jobs…”

Yes, having a separate agency with its own budget, clearly written authority answerable to the President is much more burdensome to the very people its mission calls for it to protect than having the budget split seven ways, the authority — and responsibility and accountability — splintered in the back offices of seven agencies whose primary missions are designed to maintain a healthy banking/investing environment. The only way that saves any money is if the budgets for those seven bureaus in the seven agencies don’t add up to what would be spent in one independent Agency.

Now the Chamber is claiming that small businesses across the country are clamoring against the CFPA for this reason. We know this from Ryan McKee, senior director for the U.S. Chamber’s Center for Capital Market Competitiveness. And his job, I’m sure, puts him in everyday contact with small businesses on Main Streets across the country for whom Capital Market Competitiveness is a real big concern.

I think not, because I think a lot of those small businesses, particularly ones who have relied on revolving credit or lines of credit, would simply love to have a dependable cop making sure the loan agreements are in everyday language, with no hidden fees or conditions or fraudulent claims, no back-office tricks that turn an on-time payment into a default.

The truth is that the financial industry is a major player at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s picnic and small businesses are not. And the same is true in Congress — with Democrats and Republicans. Which is why consumer protection, the separation of banks from investment houses and insurance companies also will not occur, even indirectly through what is now known as the Volcker Rule. The order of the day in the money markets remains “buyer beware,” and any substantial reform is doomed because it might cost money and it might hinder “innovation.” That means outsized risk — now drawing even more heavily on bank deposits and supported by federal government guarantees. Steps not even designed to treat the causes of the collapse and certainly unlikely to prevent the next debacle. Steps designed not to prevent behavior that risks another “systematic failure” but to erect a wall of public money to prevent such behavior from bringing the whole house down.

Congress is not studying and considering financial system reforms, or deciding what should be legal or not. It’s yelling at Toyota not with just one committee, but with three. It’s filibustering an extension of unemployment benefits. It’s playing to the cheap seats with whatever seems like the flavor of the day, hoping we all will fall for the same old Red-Blue dance in six months.

Financial reform legislation will pass when the financial industry gets done wrestling within its own ranks and tells Congress what is allowable, what won’t be a “drag on the economy” or hinder “global competitiveness.” They won’t even wonder for a moment what’s needed to make it less tough for a bakery down on Main Street to hire another counter hand. If you’re looking for an answer to a question like that, they’ll tell us where we can find that garage in the boonies with the guy who raises his hand at the Federal Reserve Board’s conference table to ask if something’s a square deal for the consumer, the stockholder or the taxpayer.

Here’s hoping that little guy holds his bowl way up high.

Once again I plunge … March 1, 2010

Posted by WillardWhyte in Education, Obama, Politics.
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… into a realm I know a little about, making me dangerous.

I normally am conservative when it comes to actions that seem to have little more going for them on the surface other than disruption for its own sake. On first blush, the actions of school officials in Rhode Island discussed here would seem to fall into that category.

 Among all the teachers let go, I’m sure there were some good ones, I’m sure there were a bunch who really wanted those kids to learn and who really wanted to change things so that many more than 7% of 11th graders passed the annual math test. And I hope there was more to the administration’s plan than just keeping kids — and teachers — in school longer and requiring more tutoring.

But I also agree with the President when he says that 7% is attrocious goal-attainment that other school models with similar populations have far exceeded. And time waits for no student.

So maybe the good teachers, the ones committed to the success of the school and its students should reapply, as they can, and be part of a brand new approach — a case of the old needing to be dispensed with to make way for a new green shoot.

That shoot also has no guarantee of success and faces tremendous difficulties and odds stacked against it.  But maybe a very clear, very strident message needed to be broadcast. You are either part of the solution on this one, or you must be viewed as part of the problem.

That’s hard, but rebuilding this nation is going to be hard. And it’s all hands on deck with tools necessary for the task.

Independence seems the key word here March 1, 2010

Posted by WillardWhyte in Economy.
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I’ve kind of cottoned to FDIC Chair Sheila Bair as the whole financial world ducked down the rabbit hole and then popped back out all shiny fresh and clean as a hound’s tooth, seemingly little worse for wear. (Alas! Poor Lehman! We hardly knew ya.)

She may be the last voice arguing for an independent consumer financial protection agency to look out specifically for consumers as we move forward with cards, loans, mortgages, IRAs and all the other financial instruments people we hardly know push under our noses, many times when we are not in the best of circumstances. She went to bat for this idea again today.

I’m not sure where I come down on this, but I sense that if  I had to make a choice I’d opt for an independent cop on the beat, not a “bureau” down the hall from where the boys are huddling over what’s best for the global financial system.

So I am just left with the feeling that if anyone down there is looking out for me, it’s Sheila. Not that she’s right, necessarily, because this is way out of my pay grade. Maybe it’s just the way they seem to just want her to go away and stop fussing over what Dodd and the GOP are workin’ up on this one.

Money can’t buy me love? March 1, 2010

Posted by WillardWhyte in Justice.
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But it can buy you a “Get Out of Jail Free” card here in the US of A. I cite this as an example.

Doesn’t sound like anything criminal was going on here. A hefty fine — two bucks for every buck raked in with this sweet little offshore arrangement.

Of course, no person authorized the dispatch of millions to the Swiss account. No corporate counsel authorized the establishment of the offshore shell corporations funneling cash to “marketing advisers,” otherwise known as Bag Men. Nothing to see here, people!

 Sigh.

This isn’t change March 1, 2010

Posted by WillardWhyte in Obama, Politics.
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I say this with a deep degree of sadness, because I did want to believe that 2008 was about altering the way things have been for far too long. But this is not change we can believe in, and letting a bunch of Reds and a bunch of Blues join in naming a panel such as this doesn’t make the end result any different. You can call it bipartisan, but it really isn’t. It’s one “party.” And you know what?

You and me? We ain’t invited.