Saturday, February 14, 2009

Bonus Limits Good for Wall Street

Congratulations to Chris Dodd for sneaking a provision limiting Wall Street and big bank bonuses into the final language of the stimulus package. According to the New York Times:
The restriction with the most bite would bar top executives from receiving bonuses exceeding one-third of their annual pay. Any bonus would have to be in the form of long-term incentives, like restricted stock, which could not be cashed out until the TARP money was repaid in full . . .

The decisions of certain Wall Street executives to enrich themselves at the expense of taxpayers have seriously undermined public confidence,” Mr. Dodd said Friday. “These tough new rules will help ensure that taxpayer dollars no longer effectively subsidize lavish Wall Street bonuses.”
Dodd's bonus restrictions and the Obama administration's salary restrictions ($500,000) will both contribute to restoring the financial industry to health. It's unfortunate that Dodd posed his bonus restictions in terms of public anger over companies using government money for enormous bonuses (i. e.. "public confidence"). Bonus payments of millions and tens of millions were a big part of the self-destructive dynamic with Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, and Merrill Lynch. The possibility of landing such high bonuses was a huge incentive for Wall Street executives to inflate the CDO and credit default swap bubbles that created the crisis. If the market is going to be re-established on a healthy basis, the huge bonuses have to go.

Restricting Wall Street salaries and bonuses is not only just, it gives financial companies an opportunity to reestablish themselves on a firmer foundation.

My Real Opinion of that Tina Fey Impersonator

A commenter on my last post challenged me to give my "real" opinion of Sarah Palin:
Go ahead and admit it, you think Sarah is kinda hot, in a wolf killin you betcha kind of way.
Actually, I think Sarah Palin is about as cold a cold fish as you can get. Still, I have to admit that I feel sorry for Palin now that she has to go through the rest of her life as a Tiny Fey impersonator.

Sarah Palin: Agent of Liberalism?

According to campaign manager David Plouffe, Sarah Palin was a dream come true for the Obama campaign.

Here is Plouffe on Gov. Sarah Palin: "Vice presidential picks rarely but sometimes make an electoral difference. Our view was it probably wasn't going to matter that much . . . . This was the one exception to that. It did have an effect."

"She was our best fundraiser and organizer in the fall."

Given that Sarah Palin was as an inspiration for the Democrats, it may turn out that she was a double-agent all along. In other words, Democratic leaders might have surrepticiously promoted Sarah Palin for the vice-presidential nomination and steered her toward the worst sort of "red-meat" conservatism as a way to motivate Democratic voters.

If they did, it was brilliant. Sarah Palin was Obama's biggest asset over the final six weeks of the campaign.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Obama vs the Root Canal Party

The 789 billion dollar stimulus package passed the House and Senate today.

Basically a victory for the Obama administration. They haven't been in office a month, but they've passed a major piece of legislation to go with S-CHIP.

That's getting things done and that's why Obama's approval ratings are high and Congressional approval is rising.

Obama also got credit for reaching out to the Republicans.

Republican spinners like Karl Rove claim that the GOP was able to seize the narrative. The Republicans exercised enough influence over the process to turn the whole process into the political version of a root-canal.

And that's pretty much where the Republicans are right now. They aren't going to be able to win much, but they can take all of the fun out of winning for the Democrats.

In other words, the Republicans have become the Root-Canal Party.

More Right-Wing Wars

I don't know why the right gets upset when people call them "war-mongers." After all, they're currently waging war on the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress. There's also the various on-going wars against liberals, immigrants, gay people, and racial minorities.

And that's not to mention that the wars against popular culture and science.

Maybe the right should "bundle" all their wars together and just call it the "Eighty Percent War," or the war against non-conservative America.

Oh yeah, Bill O'Reilly just declared war against the New York Times for referring to him as a white supremacist.

Hard to see where the Times came up with that.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Republican Party's Long War

Andrew Sullivan is somewhat surprised that the GOP has launched "total war" against the Obama administration.

I don't know why.

The Republican Party has been waging total war against the Democrats ever since Newt Gingrich first announced that "politics is war by other means."

Of course, it should be mentioned that the Republicans are losing the war.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Killing The Favre Legacy Project

Don Banks of wonders in Brett Favre's one year jaunt with the New York Jets was worth it.

The answer is Yes! Yes! Yes!---a thousand times yes.

Thanks to Brett's end of the year melt down with the Jets, there will be a lot less Favre idolizing among football writers.

And that will be a major blessing for sports fans.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Gates and Lincoln: The Pictures Tell the Tale

The 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth is this Thursday. I'm not nearly as big a fan of Abraham Lincoln as Barack Obama. Presidents and big-time political leaders are much less interesting and important to me than the people I see in the street, meet in the store, or have contact with on the internet. My students and the people I encounter on the internet are a lot more interesting than either George Bush or Barack Obama. The same's the case with historical figure. I'm far more fascinated with the workshop drinking, street scenes, and volunteer fire companies of 19th century Philadelphia than I am with Lincoln or any of the political figures of the time.

But although I'm not super-fascinated by either Obama or Lincoln, I have to admit that I am interested in Obama's fascination with Lincoln. That's especially the case in relation to the questioning of Lincoln's image as "the Great Emancipator" that has come up in relation to Obama. Henry Louis Gates, jr. argues (via the African-American Political Pundit) that Lincoln is a more complex figure than was indicated by the popular black idolatry that he saw toward Lincoln as a youth in West Virginia.
I first encountered Abraham Lincoln in Piedmont, W.Va. When I was growing up, his picture was in nearly every black home I can recall, the only white man, other than Jesus himself, to grace black family walls. Lincoln was a hero to us.
Gates goes through several vignettes showing Lincoln's evolution from the white supremacy of his 1858 Senate campaign to the 1865 speech in which he suggested that black soldiers and other exemplary African-Americans should be able to vote.

That was the speech that spurred John Wilkes Booth to murder Lincoln three days later.

For Gates, as for Frederick Douglass and W. E. B. DuBois, much of Lincoln's greatness lay in his ability to wrestle with his white supremacy and come to view support for the African-American cause as the right thing to do. As a result, Gates believes that Lincoln is more interesting than the idolizing pictures on the walls of black homes suggest.

I'd like to suggest that it's really the pictures on the walls of those black homes that are the important thing in considering Lincoln and that Gates should have paid more attention to them.

What the pictures of Lincoln in those black homes accomplish is to conquer Abraham Lincoln on behalf of black history. In those pictures--"the only white man other than Jesus"--the black families of Piedmont, WV represent Abraham Lincoln as the Great Emancipator. Whether Lincoln himself knew it or liked it, he ended up allied in the great cause of abolition with David Walker, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and William Lloyd Garrison. Moreover, the pictures on those walls portray the Emancipation Proclamation as the most significant dimension of Lincoln's career and prioritize the ending of slavery as the most important issue face by Lincoln or any politician of the time.

It's also important to understand that the pictures Gates saw were also contemporary to the African-American families who put them on their walls. Lincoln's emancipation of the slaves in the past was part of the contemporary struggle against segregation. Just as the pictures portrayed Lincoln's past in terms of Walker, Garrison, Douglass, and Truth, they portrayed Lincoln's post-humous future in terms of W.E. B Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X. From the perspective of the pictures, Lincoln was a crucial figure in the history of the African-American struggle for racial justice and the African-American struggle was the most important thing about Lincoln.

Why is this a conquest? Lincoln himself might have thought of "preserving the union" as his primary task. Others might view Lincoln in terms of his efforts to conciliate the white South or in terms of his leadership of the war effort. But the theme of Lincoln as the Emancipator won out as the primary focus of our nation's questions concerning Abraham Lincoln. For more than a century, Lincoln's role as Emancipator was more black history than anything else, but the black historical interpretation of Lincoln has become the dominant interpretation. The pictures Gates saw on those walls have conquered.

Gates sees a little bit of this when he emphasizes the need to "hear Lincoln’s words through the echo of the rhetoric of the modern civil rights movement, especially the “I Have a Dream” speech of Martin Luther King Jr."

But if Gates had understood that the modern civil rights movement is the primary lens through which we now understand the historical significance of Abraham Lincoln, he might have had more appreciation for the pictures he saw as a kid.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Contra Bill Clinton--Victory Not Yet Here in Culture Wars

One of the questions that has arisen concerning the election of Barack Obama is just how far the U. S. has come on all the issues connected with the culture war that's been going on from the late 1960's to the present.

According to Bill Clinton, victory has arrived:

Former President Bill Clinton told Virginia Democrats Saturday that the party has won America's long-running culture war but has to make sure not to squander
it with partisanship.

Clinton told more than 3,000 people at a party fundraiser that the nation's natural political base shifted back to Democrats for the first time since 1968, thanks to protracted Republican mistakes and the belief that President Barack Obama represented the solution.

He said Obama's election shows Americans at last are welcoming diversity and accepting differences, the opposite of the political dynamic he said Richard Nixon first used in 1968 to lock in a white, conservative voting bloc that kept Virginia and
the South reliably Republican for two generations.

My own thought is that we actually haven't come that far.

Yes, Obama was elected but what exactly did that mean in terms of race relations. My guess is that white supremacy has thawed enough that a Magic Johnson/Colin Powell type black guy could get elected president at a time when white elites were thoroughly discredited (even in their own eyes).

It also means that there's a larger middle-class pool of African-Americans out of which leaders like Obama can emerge.

That's certainly something, but Obama's election doesn't mean that African-Americans still aren't stereotyped or subject to police violence and arbitrary arrest. It doesn't mean that larger parts of the African-American population are no longer isolated in urban ghettos or racist areas like the rural South. It also doesn't mean that African-Americans are no longer followed in stores or discriminated against in hiring or promotion either.

The election of Obama is important, but the "race war" isn't going to be won until African-Americans enjoy the full benefits of American society.

The same could be said in relation to gender and sexual orientation. Gay people have made a lot of progress over the last 40 years, but the culture war over homosexuality won't end until lesbians, gays, bi-sexuals, and transexuals have full marriage rights and are fully mainstreamed into American society. In relation to gender, the situation is probably worse in 2008 than it was in 1988. Women have more opportunity but the religious right, the porn industry, and sexual violence seem to have grown faster than the opportunities.

It's fair to say that progress has been made in the various culture wars, but "victory" is a lot further off than Bill Clinton's comments would indicate.

The Traitor Republicans

HuffPO has a "GOP Senators Face Party's Wrath For Supporting Stimulus Bill" headline for the three Senate Republicans lining up behind the stimulus package. They would be Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.
But I don't see a lot of wrath yet.

Ron Paul spoke against the Republicans "caving" and Fox ran an interview with Collins in which she indicated that Republicans might be unhappy with her.

But I don't imagine that there will be a whole lot of talk about "treason" from offical Republican circles.

After all, Collins and Snowe could just as well declare themselves independents.

Snowball Effects in Houston

How does the recession squeeze? In Houston, the bankruptcy of the LyondellBasell Chemical company means that the company can't pay property taxes to local school districts. The San Jacinto College district could lose up to 4% of its budget for example.

But that's not the only source of pressure on school budgets.
Also facing pressure from the state to cut spending, district officials are looking at ways to trim the budget without affecting students. Among the possibilities are eliminating vacancies in noncritical positions and curtailing travel and professional development, Lynn said.
The affected Houston school districts aren't in a "state of crisis," but the recession pushes schools in that direction by multiplying the financial pressures on them.