Wednesday, March 18, 2009

We All Deserve His Silence

Yesterday George W. Bush said yesterday that current President Obama "deserves my silence." In general, this is not a point of view I support. I don't think that a former president should go from leader of the nation and leader of the Republican Party to complete silence in the two minutes it takes the next president to say his or her oath.

But I'll make an exception in Bush's case. Given that he was one of the worst presidents in American history, it's save to say that we all deserve silence from George W. Bush.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Apple of My Eye

Today's the 17th anniversary of my marriage to Mrs. RSI. It's hard to believe that we've been married that long. It's even harder to believe I'd ever get it together enough to be married for that long.

But it's a very nice feeling.

She's definitely the Apple of My Eye.

What's Next for Republican Campaign Trackers--Sexual Assault?

Republicans in Congress just don't get it. More than 2/3rds of the American public just doesn't want "more of the same" from them. The public doesn't want the Republicans to stay mired in right-wing ideological rigidity, doesn't want the Republicans to be maintain an attitude of relentless aggression, and doesn't want the Republicans pulling one cheap stunt after another against the Obama administration and the Democrats.

Today's manifestation of GOP obtuseness is the practice of using Congressional staff members as "campaign trackers" to track Democratic members of Congress and try to provoke them into saying something that can be used against them in negative ads.

The National Republican Congressional Committee is sending out video "trackers" to ask provocative questions of Democratic members of Congress. The trackers, who are congressional committee staffers, were earlier reported by Congress Daily, a specialty publication distributed largely on Capitol Hill.

NRCC spokesman Paul Lindsay told McClatchy that Democratic complaints were "whining," adding that "The modern-day world of campaign politics demands that we track our opponents' steps and missteps. We have nothing to hide when it comes to asking tough questions, but it appears that Democrats do when it comes to answering them."

One target of this form of stalking is conservative Pennsylvania Democrat Chris Carney:

Rep. Chris Carney was walking down a Capitol Hill street when suddenly — bam —
an anonymous Republican with a video camera who'd been following him asked him a question that was intended to embarrass the Pennsylvania Democrat.

The interviewer asked first about a single provision in the massive economic stimulus bill, then asked if Carney was going to be "ready to vote tomorrow."

An irritated Carney answered: "Like I told you before, if I see the damn package, I'll have an answer."

The whole idea is to get Democrats to embarrass themselves under stress and hopefully cost them re-election the same way George Allen ruined his career by referring to a Democratic videographer as a "macaca."

Given that they're now stalking people, one wonders how far Congressional Republicans are willing to go. Are they going to start shouting provocative insults to see how Democrats respond? Perhaps they'll go ahead and just start assaulting Democrats to see if they're "tough enough" to defend themselves or whether they're "committed enough to gun rights" to carry a pistol on them?

Maybe the Congressional Republicans will really "push the envelope" and start sexual assaulting Democrats on the streets in order to tape the response.

They could call it "Porn Politics."

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Learning from Those Big AIG Bonuses

Ok! I get it. I get it. The Obama administration is trying to preserve the American financial system by NOT fully nationalizing AIG, Citigroup, and other zombie institutions.

The problem from the Obama point of view is that most financial institutions were invested in the mortgage-backed securities and credit default swaps of companies like AIG. Why not? They were all under pressure to produce big profits and all this stuff looked like easy money. So, they all got in. Now, Goldman Sachs and I would think all kinds of hedge funds, pension funds, and mutual funds would go down the bankruptcy toilet if the government nationalized AIG and Citigroup and then sold their financial assets.

And that would wreak even more havoc on the whole global economic system.

Like I said I get it.

But there's been a big price to pay.

The $165 million, $450 million, or $1.2 billion that AIG is paying out mostly to people in the Financial Products Division that lost perhaps hundreds of billions of dollars illustrates one of the fundamental weaknesses of the Obama approach.

It leaves the toxic business culture of American financial institutions in place.

The 10, 50, and 100 million dollar bonuses available to financial services executives are a significant factor in the current crisis. With huge bonuses out there for the taking, executives at companies like Bear Stearns had a juicy incentive to make the kinds of speculative, high yield investments that could lock in the big profits for the company and get a nice bonus slice for the account executive. As the housing bubble inflated, the men and women who got in and got in big got all the bonuses and all the promotions while the guys who were cautious got fired.

The Darwinism of Speculation--I imagine that's how people like Alan Schwartz of Bear Stearns and John Thain of Merrill Lynch and million dollar redecorations got to the top.

What the big AIG bonuses show is that these kinds of people are still dominating office culture at AIG and are probably still dominant at other companies as well.

If the Obama administration had fully nationalized, most of the people and most of the business culture of the financial industry would have been flushed down the toilet in the wave of bankruptcies.

The collateral damage to the economy might have been too much, but caution and prudence would have ruled the day.

Now that it looks like many of the financial industry people and a lot of the speculative business culture are going to survive, it seems likely that the pressure toward big-time speculation is going to start re-building as executives look for ways to start earning big piles of bonus cash again.

The best thing the Obama administration can do now is double down on financial industry regulation as the most effective way to impose caution and prudence.

Obama can start by writing legislation to outlaw the kinds of mandated bonuses that are written into AIG contracts. If AIG contracts require millions of dollars in bonuses for certain levels of sales, they are encouraging toxic levels of speculation and putting the whole economy at risk for crashing.

Those kinds of contracts should be banned.

The pervasive abuses of the federal government bailout by the financial industry are certainly outrageous and the AIG bonuses should be cancelled.

But the abuses should also be seen as a learning opportunity for the Obama administration as it figures out the best way to regulate the financial industry in the future.

One place to start would be executive bonuses.