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The framers respected majority rule … January 4, 2012

Posted by WillardWhyte in 2012 elections, Financial Reform, Obama, Politics.
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… and built a government around it, one that has served us extremely well over our 230-odd years. They were careful to not design their government with slavish adherence to this rule,  building in numerous checks and balances on power — among branches, within branches and with frequent elections to reflect changing public sentiments.

Over time,  both the Senate and House arrived at rules, procedures and courtesies that allowed the machinery of government to move, with a very healthy respect for minority opinion and stature. This all came together to form a government that moved slowly, with consideration and conservation — by design.

The filibuster for centuries was the Death Star — the ultimate weapon for a minority in Congress to employ to draw a very firm line in the sand on a matter not routine, a matter that went to the very core of principle.

Of late, that weapon has become a tool used by the minority in Congress to impose its will on the nation, on matters large and small, petty and of portent. It no longer relates to principle, except by extension from a minor matter down a very long tortuous logic chain to a “principal” such as a question of the relative strength of government overall, perhaps, or of methodology.

It has been used to usurp majority rule and, with intent, to bring the functioning of duly elected government to a halt.

Today the President said: “Enough.” He went ahead and used his recess appointment power to install Richard Cordray as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a much-needed agency enacted into law in 2009.

Republicans who opposed the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill in 2009 lost that vote to a healthy majority after many compromises were incorporated into the bill to accommodate the minority’s views. What initially was proposed as a separate, standalone agency was moved within the Treasury Department — a concession to those who feared it could become a rogue operating on its own, with its own budget and no oversight by people with sufficient respect for the needs of lenders, be they banks, near-banks or the many non-bank actors making payday loans.

Some Republicans see no need at all for an agency acting to require fair, open and honest lending — and debt instruments a common person can understand. They have attempted for more than a year to overturn the majority verdict on this bureau with stalemate, backed by the threat of filibuster on any and all nominees to head this lawfully established agency. They lacked the votes to alter the enabling legislation, so they dug in their heels and refused to allow an up-or-down vote on the matter.

Now in nine months, the voters will listen to candidates for Congress, and all are welcome to discuss the merits of the law establishing this agency, any and all flaws in its establishment and propose any and all remedies. Perhaps their arguments will be telling and help win the election of a majority of like-thinkers to the House and the Senate — and perhaps even the White House.

At that point, they would be a majority backed by a clear vote and able to adopt a bill altering the current law. That’s how the Constitution set things up to work.

The minority view on a matter is not ignored or trampled. But the majority will holds sway until a new majority is elected and alters course.

A great many of the Republicans in Congress — and the voices over the air who urge them on — have worked now for more than a year to subvert the system that the Constitution established, many of them resorting to a suggestion that the vote of 2010 that granted the GOP a majority in the House came with a mantle anointing all of their views as blessed by a national majority.

Not so. Not so because the Founders were wise enough to not frame their government as a reflection of Parliament, to temper their democracy with systems that required the passage of considerable time to enable a majority voice to emerge fully formed, discussed and tempered.

The majority still rules in this nation and today the President spoke very forcefully in defense of that Constitutional concept — one the GOP with its long-running obstructionism has degraded to the detriment of the nation.

Voters who have watched this tyranny of a minority within a minority should mind the larger lesson: If this is how this party behaves with a share of power — with complete disrespect for majority rule — how do you think it would conduct business with majority power?

Clearly, the cadre sent to D.C. in 2010 have no respect whatever for any opinion other than their own, making them a danger to the nation and its people.

 

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Obama’s call to arms January 25, 2011

Posted by WillardWhyte in Economy, Obama, Politics.
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There will be those who say “how?” With a deficit in the trillions, and an accumulated pile far beyond even counting, when you come right down to it. With 9.5 % of us still out of a job.

But the President clearly “gets it.” He has some ideas, but realizes he and those on his side of our great political divide do not have all the ideas needed to build a new and greater nation — and world. He has some goals, in a line that comports to the world as he sees it. But knows this ranking is not the only set of priorities.

He calls it a “Sputnik moment” and it is that — a crossroads where we all choose whether to fight amongst ourselves for power and glory and bitty sized more of what there is, all on the way down to a scarcity world we should not care to visit; or together find a way to bear the burdens needed to restore sanity to a budget, while grooming a new generation of American leaders and innovators and building a new economic juggernaut — using people, enterprises and ideas from whatever color lips, in whatever dialect.

There are “big things” to be done. No one alone, no party in or out, can manage the task.

It is time to replace bitterness with diligence. And start laying the first course.

I’d take Tea Party-types more seriously … August 31, 2010

Posted by WillardWhyte in Economy, Obama, Politics.
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… if they every once in a while stopped their yammering about everything they don’t like in the world, everything they think is wrong with everybody but themselves and what all the government is doing that is communist and said — hey, this is a good thing and hey Mr. President, thanks for getting this done.

I’m talking about this:  Something that cuts through the accumulated sediment of decades of rules layered one on top of another in the interest of national security, many of which maybe made sense once but no longer do. The net effect will spark exports, reduce the trade deficit and — gasp — maybe allow some industries to expand output, requiring — double gasp — more workers.

Best said maybe by James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative group that advocates free enterprise and limited government.

“It really is a twofer,” Carafano said “It does stimulate exports and it does have security benefits.”

But it doesn’t stimulate random anger, doesn’t fit the “Obama-As-Socialist” narrative, so I’m not holding my breath waiting for Rush or Rupert Murdoch or even CNN to tell anyone about it.

And that is what’s  really wrong with the current political climate — it’s “all” or “nothing,” and that’s just propaganda that’ll get us nowhere no matter who is in charge.

Sadly, some shallow roots methinks July 24, 2010

Posted by WillardWhyte in angry rants, Economy, Justice, Obama, Politics.
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I’d like to think of myself as a “progressive,” probably because I really don’t want to think of myself as a “regressive.” It’s an ego thing, I guess.

But somehow, right now, with all that is going on, these folks  should seriously consider a “time out” for some rebranding, because I’m thinking that maybe they need to go with “Obsessives” or maybe “Obtusives.”

I say this because of her:

At the largest progressive gathering ahead of the 2010 elections, liberal activists huddled Friday in a session to plot strategy to protect Social Security from renewed Republican efforts to privatize the program. A woman stood up and asked: “Why is it with a Democratic Senate, a Democratic House, and a Democrat in the White House do we need to be worried about this?”

Hint to lady: Uh, maybe because in less than 8 months, you’re probably gonna find out — to skewer Mr. Meat Loaf — that One Out of Three is Bad.

And why is this? Apparently, the “netroots” are all enraged because the President and the Democratic Congress did not ram through gay rights laws, cap-and-trade emission regulations, more massive stimulus aid, some undefined dewy notion of “universal healthcare”  — and on and on. One “leader” said this:

“There’s a lot of Democrats I’ll be happy to see go,” Markos Moulitsas, founder of the Daily Kos blog said in an interview. “I’ll celebrate when Blanche Lincoln is out of the Senate. There is a price to be paid for inaction and incompetence. We’re not getting much done with 59 [Democratic senators], so if we’re down to 54, who cares?”

I do. I think tens of millions do. People who can define “progressive” as something that makes progress toward worthy things by placing one good brick upon another until a stout, even course is done. 

Not some wild-eyed barky so wrapped up in his own rightness that he would banish from the discussion anyone with a view even a shade away from his own angel-touched pearls.

You know folks, most of us “Obsessives” are trying to pay the bills out here, trying to make sure our kids grasp what they’re calling “math” these days and when we have a moment, do what we can for folks who got tossed to the curb when the economy and most of our future plans got hit with the Blue Screen of Death and we had to go to 1995’s System Restore Point.

And we all also are gasping for breath whenever we see THAT NUMBER — $1.7 Trillion, which is the current U.S. government operating deficit.

We are grappling with choices; in our own households and in the Common Household. That’s Job 1, even for those who would LIKE to avert global warming right now, make sure everyone who needs medical care can get it right now or snap our fingers and “deem” into reality “liberty and justice for all.”

I like to bay at the Moon as much as anyone in Etherland. And maybe I share a dream or two with you. But sorry sports fans, I don’t want you in charge at the moment. Nope.

Because you just aren’t paying attention to anything much beyond the sound of your own voices.

Methinks this also June 19, 2010

Posted by WillardWhyte in Economy, Greed, Justice, Obama, Politics.
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Sometimes it’s just better to let someone else say it, when they’ve said it about as well as you would have if you were paying better attention and were less lazy. So on the subject of  the FCC asking what people think about “net neutrality” options, I’m going to bow to Tony Bradley over at PC World.

The nut is here:

The bottom line is this: The FCC has a mission to fulfill and the court decision earlier this year in Comcast v. FCC challenges whether the FCC has the legal authority to effectively carry that mission out as it relates to broadband Internet. The FCC action on Thursday simply initiated a public discussion to review the pros and cons of various alternatives, and determine the best course of action. Businesses and commerce rely on the Internet. The FCC Notice of Inquiry offers an opportunity for all to participate in an open dialog and democratic process to determine what is best for the country as a whole.

Clearly, the big broadband signal providers don’t want that, and respond to a call for discussion with bluster, scare tactics and other sabre rattling. They know they are in monopoly control for the moment and anything that alters that in the name of the general good will be opposed tooth-and-nail.

But as I have said before, they are corporations acting as they are chartered to do to preserve every last ounce of benefit they can for that narrow group that owns a share of their soul. To expect less is living in denial. And I don’t advocate in any way altering that calculus.

But the discussion is not about that. It is what is best for you, me and simply millions of other businesses these six or seven could ruin, hamper or extort if the cop on the beat — the FCC — is not equipped with sufficient powers to preserve a “free” and “fair” market.

Not “taking over” the intersection, just coming up with enough rules so that the people with the Hummers aren’t the only ones who get through it alive.

Not part of the solution June 12, 2010

Posted by WillardWhyte in Healthcare, Justice, Obama, Politics.
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The healthcare reform measures now are part of the laws of the land, although a great many of the details, rules and ramification offsets are yet to be devised. Part of that process has begun with the release of a draft set of regulations governing how some aspects of the new law will apply to the many, huge employer-provided self-insurance plans out there that operate outside the state insurance regulation system. These are set up under a federal law that goes by the shorthand ERISA and cover more than half of the workers in the country.

The new law “grandfathers” most of these existing plans from most of the new regulations — unless the plans are changed so radically from one year to the next that they effectively become “new” plans. The draft regulations put out for comment are designed to draw a whole bunch of lines to determine what’s a continuing plan with some legitimate annual revisions and what’s brand new.

Most people covered by such a plan — I am one — know that your “coverage” changes quite significantly just about every year, as employers struggle to cope with rapid escalation in the cost of care. Premium share, deductibles, co-pays, lifetime claim caps, insured procedures and many other aspects rarely are the same one year as they were the previous year.

Which is why this Associated Press story pushed my buttons this morning. The whole focus on whether this aspect of the law makes a liar out of President Obama, who pledged many times that the reform bill would not prevent people from “keeping the plan they have now.”

Most people understood that to mean the law would not force anyone to get coverage other than what was provided by their employer, or to choose a different plan among options offered by their employer — in other words, would not force them to get “government” insurance or go out and shop all on their own.

And the law keeps that “promise.”

But it does not guarantee that the plan offered next year by employers will be the “same” as the one offered this year, because most of that decision still rests 100% with the employer.  And there are certain mandates that the law enacted across the board for all plans that must be absorbed into all plans — like covering kids until age 26 and not rejecting for pre-existing conditions. And those things may add some cost, though not a lot because kids 18-26 are pretty healthy members of any self-insured risk pool and costs normally are adjusted based on that risk pool’s real-world spending on claims the prior year.

But none of that stopped the Republican leadership in Congress  and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — the GOP’s “private-sector” mouthpiece — from jumping out and claiming this all makes Obama a liar and the reform bill a failure.

I say “mouthpiece” because the Chamber has become nothing more than a radical-Red slogan factory from the sidelines, exacerbating most public policy discussions with “same-old” unproductive crapola that just keeps us all from coming up with a workable solution. In this story, this role is clear: The Chamber spouts nonsense while the Business Roundtable, a hands-on group of business leaders, digs in and works to help create a set of regulations that will work to the greatest benefit of employers, employees and taxpayers.

Here’s a sampling of the all-politics whining from the GOP and chamber:

“What we are getting here is a clear indication that most plans will have to change,” said James Gelfand, health policy director for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “From an employer’s point of view that’s a bad thing. These changes, whether or not they’re good for consumers, are most certainly accompanied by a cost.”

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said it showed that Obama’s assurance that Americans would be able to keep the plans they currently have was “a myth” all along.

“Since its passage, Republican arguments against the bill have been repeatedly vindicated, even as the administration’s many promises about the bill have been called into question again and again,” McConnell said. “So Democrats may have passed this bill, but the debate is far from over.”

Mr. Gelfand: You and I both know that every plan offered by employers is going to “change” Jan. 1 — with or without this new law. No one out there was going to offer “the same plan” with not a word, a clause, an iota altered. So just shut up and go away, because you, sir, are part of the problem.

Sen. McConnell: The only “myth” involved in what Obama said is the fairy tale version of  “keep your plan” spun up by you and the Redlegs in your tent — a first-class Straw Man set up so you can get up on the stage again and again and try to deflect a worthy debate about what should be done to improve health insurance and healthcare. All you want to do is win more seats in November and the White House in 2012 and that “winning” strategy is now your only moral compass. So you go away too.

President Obama did not lie then and he is not lying now.

You two, however, are doing your level best to mislead to advance your own personal positions.

Fixing this — and doing it right — is hard enough without fraud artists.

We have Wall Street reform … May 20, 2010

Posted by WillardWhyte in Greed, Justice, Obama, Politics, Wall Street.
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… on a 59-39 vote a little while ago, with four Republicans on the Aye side and 2 Democrats on the Nay side. And the GOP is fully correct that the bill fails to tackle Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and that remains a task for Congress to take on. But we have reform, imperfect as it surely will be out of the chute. Now we must keep it — and that will be a very tall task.

This creates a new set of rules of the road, and some may need adjustment as the inevitable unintended consequences reveal themselves and demand redress, or the intended consequences prove too harsh — or restrictive. And that will require vigilance we did not see in the cops on the beat, most of which we left  in place to do jobs expanded beyond their shape when things went off the rails without an alarm 18 months ago. Congress and the financial press cannot fail in their essential watchdog functions either.

And all must also keep a keen eye on the larger scene, for money will flow as it will, and greed will drive the Masters to the edge of these new rules also, peering over, around and under for and edge, a crack, a flaw. New threats will emerge to markets that simply must be fair and police to remain open and healthy.

But this is a huge step. I applaud those who refused to say it is too hard — all 98 for this debate was constructive, productive democracy as I prefer it.

Let us pray that in the end result there is wisdom.

I’m left wondering … May 16, 2010

Posted by WillardWhyte in Education, Obama, Politics.
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… exactly what the point  of all the high drama was in this school in Rhode Island where the boss opted for the plan firing all the teachers to institute reform. Now, the teachers’ union has caved, accepts the plan for a longer school day, more tutoring and other stuff that, quite frankly, sounds awfully thin. Seems the teachers wanted 3 times what the district was willing to pay for extra hours devoted to duty.

So was it, after all, just about money?

The story notes that 700 people had applied for the suddenly vacant jobs, which the bounced staff also had the ability to take a shot at. While I’m generally a labor guy, this strikes me somehow as a lost opportunity, as there just might have been a bunch of people in that line of 700 who could have made a difference — not just in this school, but, by a powerful example, in a lot of other places.

And I also am a big teacher fan generally, knowing from my childhood as the son of a teacher just how tough and time-consuming the job is if the teacher is doing more than punching the clock. And if you’ll recall, this was a school where just 7% of the 11th grade students could pass the math test. And that’s 11th grade — a point at which you can be sure a slew of the more general failures had already cashed and fled to the streets. A wholesale experiment would not have been a big risk of tossing the baby with the bath.

I dunno. What happens in the classroom is but 30% of the learning process, they say — and  think they’re right. We’ve got to ratchet up what happens there, and figure out better what works better there. But my appetite is very limited for education reform as it is pitched today, because it rarely ventures very far from the schoolhouse.

It all has to reach the parents somehow. And we can’t fire them.

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.

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.