Monday, December 29, 2008

Point - Counterpoint, Part 2

The debate in the previous post was continued during a dinner last night that I had with my antagonist, Jack Connelly. As you can see, the discussion continued beyond the dinner.

The Aftermath... My Black Bear Hunting Excursion: [on Route 9 in Boston] went so-so. I think I got the bear in the knee. The bear acted as though it was only a nick. [The rabbit I ordered was good.]

The Bear attributes to me thoughts and feelings I do not have. The Bear seems to want to stay seven steps ahead of me. Says to me: 'Well that's the only logical conclusion of what you just said!'.... - when it's neither 'logical'.. nor 'the only'.

I came to a realization while chewing on my rabbit: The Bear wants me to put all my chips on either Black or Red. i.e. With the Bear, 'playing a number' is a very bad thing. e.g. I should not think that, on the whole, Regan, Bush-I and Clinton were good Presidents and that GeoW & JimmyC were not so good. Instead, I must chose sides.... either I'm a good-guy Dem - or I'm a dirty, no-good, low-down, tax-adverse Republican. [Note: I liked Geo-I... even after he broke his 'read my lips' promise.]

Seemingly, because I refuse to pick a side resolutely, the Bear tags me as "judgmental". I enter a plea of Guilty to the Bear's charge - I am judgmental. I judge our government's actions - case by case - based of what I perceive to be the merits of each action - or lack thereof... without regard to party. I - as most Americans - will continue to do so.

Note to Bear: Re: your earlier comment on 'being mugged by a bureaucrat': Let me harken back to the Greek philosopher who opined: 'Anyone under 25 who is not a liberal has no heart. And, anyone over 25 - who isn't a conservative has no mind.'

Along my judgmental lines, the House, out of which all spending comes from [unless someone held a Constitutional Convention when I was asleep] ... has been in the control of the Dems for a while. As such, BarneyF, whom I've long, long admired, needs to get used to being in responsible charge. And needs to begin governing effectively - and not just complaining/ finger-pointing. [p.s. You, too, Bear - Stop 'apologizing for the Republicans'. I can tell you as many Administrative horror stories from the Clinton days!]

Thanks for the Tom Friedman article..... on the whole, it seems to state the obvious.

p.s. I never remember professing to be a socialist in the 60's or 70's - seems you've been attributing things to me for some time. That said, if you want to put the tag of 'Marxist' on me... then or now, I may agree. There is a serious difference. Karl Marx had a clue - and gave room to capitalism... Lenin, Stalin Mao, et al... who professed 'socialism' did not. [These latter folks being the one's who were not in favor of a secret ballot.... a la President Obama?]

p.p.s I was not referring to the two page 'bail-out' bill/ act, but to the two page application to get the 'do-re-mi' !
[That's what I read... a two page "Application".]

p.p.p.s. Bear, If Congress cannot get a $700B spending bill right.... other than to make it hundreds of pages more.... - what is it you expect they can get right? Hmmm.. maybe it is time for a Constitutional Convention... - or at least a Presidential Line-Item Veto? [If not under President Obama... - then when?] -- Before or After the next Tea Party?


Next topic to juxtapose? -- FDR sounds a bit like Judge Bork & VP Cheney here.
FDR's Court Packing Speech Mar 1937 --


Great dinner last night as always....until that family moved in next door forcing us to moderate our tone.

Let's start with the factual issue. I won't put words in your mouth. Here's your statement verbatim:

Along my judgmental lines, the House, out of which all spending comes from [unless someone held a Constitutional Convention when I was asleep] ... has been in the control of the Dems for a while. As such, BarneyF, whom I've long, long admired, needs to get used to being in responsible charge. And needs to begin governing effectively - and not just complaining/ finger-pointing. [p.s. You, too, Bear - Stop 'apologizing for the Republicans'. I can tell you as many Administrative horror stories from the Clinton days!]
First off, there is no constitutional requirement that all spending comes from the House. Here's the relevant passage from the Constitution (Article 1, Section 7):

Section 7. All bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other Bills.

Spending bills fall under the category of "other Bills." So, neither Barney's Committee on Banking nor the House in general have any unique Constitutional status as to the sequence of legislation on anything other than tax bills. All those bills come out of the Ways and Means Committee.

And the Democrats have been in charge for all of two years, after six years of complete Republican dominance in Washington, with a Republican President who can veto anything they do. I don't think they can be assigned significant responsibility for our current plight.

Secondly, while you may dispute my information on this, I can say without fear of contradiction that, in Washington, Barney Frank is considered one of the most effective and constructive legislators in the U.S. Congress, House or Senate, by practically all close observers of Congress. These include Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives, academics, think tankers and the media. These opinions are based upon observations of him chairing committee hearings and markup sessions and negotiating legislation that actually gets enacted, not based on media interviews, during which he can be impatient, arrogant and rude. The fact is that he enjoys the respect, if not always the affection, of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle. He gets things done. This is a fact, whether you accept it or not.

Here's how he's described in the Almanac of American Politics, the political Bible in Washington, which is edited by Michael Barone, a well known conservative commentator:

“Frank listens to others’ arguments and engages them in his inimitable rapid-fire delivery. In the 2006 Washingtonian poll of staffers, he was voted the brainiest, funniest and most eloquent member of the House. He is admired even by Republicans for his intellectual rigor and honesty; at the same time he is a wily political operator. He does not profess to be a political theoretician, though few in the House exceed him as such.” Almanac of American Politics 2008

More broadly, I've been thinking since dinner about the real source of our differences and here's my theory. While we differ philosophically, of course, our deeper dispute is a forest versus the trees situation. It was telling when I asked you what political leaders you respect and your first answer was specific acts by specific leaders. When pressed, you then identified Reagan and Clinton. But even then you based your judgment on very specific achievements, not on their broader philosophical approach. I imagine you in a forest sitting on your - yes - judgmental perch, declaring that you like that tree, but you don't like that tree and, based on some information you've received, you are disgusted with a tree in the next forest that you've never seen personally.

In my mind, the more important questions are the approaches politicians and parties take to governing, not this particular decision or that performance in a press conference. I will acknowledge that Reagan had some good qualities and would even acknowledge that his handling of the Soviet Union was effective (although I would argue he was most effective in taking yes for an answer from Gorbachev, against the wishes of his more reactionary staff). But the "forest" of the Reagan presidency set us on a path that has led to this moment of crisis. Because government "is not the solution, it's the problem" we have starved our public infrastructure and schools, vastly increased the division of wealth and diminished our ability to compete economically in the 21st century, all on the altar of lower taxes.

One final point, as to Marx, my recollection of his view was that he "gave room to capitalism" only to sow the seeds of its own destruction. Mao, Lenin and Stalin sought to short circuit the process and go to socialism before capitalism ran its course. And FDR saved capitalism by using government authority to smooth the edges of capitalism and thereby prevent this process from leading to its inevitable destruction, as per Marx's forecast.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Point - Counterpoint

The following is an excerpt from a 20 year political debate I have been conducting with a very close friend from my old neighborhood. Actually, the debate has intensified in recent years as he has moved to the right while I have arguably moved to the left. Mainly, we debate for the sake of debating. God forbid we ever find agreement.

Still looking learn what's going on in the confusing world of economics?
Still looking to give Paulsen & Congress a break - because 'they are trying' ?
Still want to 'save Detroit w/o conditions' - to show we care?
Perhaps, wondering a bit about where the 1st 1/3+ of a TRILLION - of our kids money - went?

If the attach'd cartoon wasn't so accurate, it might be funny.
On to more 'effective/ strategic' regulation.

Send in the next Trillion and 1/2.
--> Where do I get in line?

:-)) J

PPS Got a notice from the [a government agency] yesterday. Certified mail. Thick envelope. Took me 20 minutes to read, re-read and then some time to realize that what they were telling me was: what they told me over the phone two weeks ago ---> that they would NOT be freezing our bank account afterall. [A very cold note - w/o apology.... after I spend 2 hours pointing out their mistake. This is becoming a more regular occurrance.]

OOPs! ... Gotta go... It's now past time to fill out another NEW government form.
The newest one in MA - to show what a good employer we are w/ regard to Health Insurance.
It's being done under a threat of many thousands of dollars in penalties and fines.
Instead of once a year... the new thinking is: 'Get 'em to do it once a quarter! Yeah that's the ticket! We can yank in more money, faster that way!"

If you think I'm exaggerating - see the revisions to the reporting requirements of the MA Universal Healthcare law!

PS We are one of the good-good-good guys..... Far above any penalties... etc.
Yet..... here I am.... another bureaucrat's form..... on their time-table.... under threat of retribution...

BILL - HOW & When the heck does this Stop?


I profoundly disagree with you about the attached cartoon. It is not only accurate, but hilariously funny. Thanks for sending.

On to politics. I find it deeply ironic that, in the same message, you complain about the lack of accountability on the bailout. Then move on to complain about all the government forms you have to fill out. How do you think the government imposes accountability? It's by forcing people to report what they are doing. That is usually accomplished through the use of "forms." I'm sure if Congress demanded a raft of reports on the bailout, they would have been criticized for requiring a bunch of bureaucratic crap that would probably have slowed the injection of capital into the system and thereby be blamed for its failure. The fact is, they can't win.

Here's a Tom Friedman column that has something for both of us. I agree with it totally. I would simply go further to say that the conservative, anti-government philosophy that has ruled our politics for the last thirty years has wrecked our country. Because of that philosophy, we haven't invested in the kinds of things that will keep us competitive in the future, i.e. infrastructure, education, research and development, etc. We've been told that the private sector does everything better. And while the private sector has focused on quarterly profits (real and imagined), the country has gone to hell in a hand basket. Unfortunately, until recently, the decline has been too gradually to notice. Now, everything has come home to roost and everyone is noticing. Hope it's not too late.

As to your apparent view that everyone, absolutely everyone, is screwing up, I just think a little humility is in order. This is uncharted territory. I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt to people whose motives are pure and hope they combine good motives with the judgment and intelligence to do the right thing most of the time. That's why I glad Barney's in the center of this. And, it's why I continue to believe we that have, in Obama, someone uniquely equipped to handle this situation.

I may be wrong, but I don't presume to have an alternative.


Bill Black

Bill, point-by-point/ high level....

FIRST - [personal matter]

SECOND - Yes, the cartoon is accurate - but it points out 'an on-going sad state of affairs.' Nothing funny about that.

THIRD - $350B given out by Congress to several organizations on the basis a one-time TWO PAGE application - without any need to explain what they did with MY & MY KIDS DOUGH ... because their management failed. And THEN I, despite my doing 'the right thing' - before being told to do so - and succeeding at it.... must now fill out a VERY DETAILED 12 page form quarterly... and at considerable cost.... meaning money taken out of my people's pockets... in the middle of severe recession...

And you find my DISGUST surprising? Wow!

I never said anything about a 'raft of reports'.... that said... perhaps you think the 'little guy' is better equipped to fill out rafts of reports? Under threat of severe penalty? [Did I tell you of [a government agency] swooping in and seizing over $30k of our working capital two years ago... after we complied with every single request they made [600 hundred pages+ at a time] ... multiple times? Yes, we did get our money back.... after nearly two years of dispute.... and after engaging attorneys and accountants, and my time and others in the office. At the cost of a several thousand uncompensated dollars in expense... and nary an apology (save the finger-pointing back-and-forth within [a government agency]).]

You ever hear of the Boston Tea Party?

That little diddy I sent you about having to read and re-read another threatening letter - that actually said 'all is forgiven', is but one little thing from the government... that's going to break the camel's back.

As to your view that people in government 'ought to get the benefit of the doubt'. please start subscribing to a local/ small business newspaper or two. Or for that matter turn on CNN once and a while - of late even they are getting the drift. [and a "DC drift" it is!] Humility? How about some effective, strategic government regulation? Congress putting its head in the sand - even in these tumultuous times - doesn't work for me.... even if Georgey-Porgey is going along.

Look out! I may be hunting Black Bear over dinner :-)


p.s. Sadly, regarding Barney of late.... he still seems to be on the campaign trail. Whether he's on CNN or Fox, every paragraph seems to start with a 'finger-point' across the aisle. Someone needs to tap him on the shoulder and explain that the election is over ... and it's now time to begin governing.... a la President Obama.

p.p.s. Again, I'm becoming more and more impressed w/ Obama [and his wife]. Which I could never say about her highness who said - after she & Bill were in office - 'damn the small under-capitalized, if they go under, they go under ' // -- and later 'I dodged the bullets' - aka -- HillaryC

p.p.s... No one noticed !!! I told you in an earlier email... I noticed Considerable Pressure was being put on banks, at least locally, during their mergers, to make loans they did not want to make.... but made in any case to curry local favor. Was front page of the Boston Globe! --> Tip O'Neill and his friend RR had it right.... 'politics is local'..... DC has got to get this.


You remind me of those Republican congressman (and there are many) who make an exception for their intense opposition to all social spending to support federally funded research on a disease that has struck some member of their family. Their policy preferences are driven by the lens of their own personal experience.

Your understandable outrage at the abuse you've taken from a government agency has apparently overwhelmed your political views. I remember Jack the socialist from the late sixties and early seventies. It's like the old line (paraphrased), "a conservative is a socialist who's been a bureaucrat." And I just want to apologize to you, on behalf of the conservative Republican philosophy under which this agency has operated for the last 8 years, for all the grief you have endured. Actually, if I were a conspiratorialist, I would suggest that the behavior of this agency was the inevitable result of a philosophy of government that is either indifferent or hostile to the idea of competence. The average Republican officeholder would hear your tale of woe, nod sympathetically and say, "See, we told you government is incompetent." A responsible Democratic officeholder would try to fix the problem, dedicated as they are to the belief that government as a force for good in society.

But let's get all this anecdotal stuff out of the way. I hereby stipulate that government agencies misbehave and I oppose any government action that has caused you unfair pain and suffering...and expense. Now, can we get back to arguments based on principles.

As to Barney, a continuing irony. You fully utilize your right of free speech to declare every government action with which you disagree as the result of corruption or stupidity, but you deny Barney the right to criticize Republicans when they are not acting in good faith. I'd like to see the specific quotes that lead you to believe that Barney is acting as if the campaign is still going on. The fact of the matter is that Barney put his career at risk to help a Republican President whom he loathes dig out from an economic mess that this president created. This is no exaggeration. Barney did a poll two weeks before the election that showed his re-election was uncertain because of his leadership on the bailout. That's a fact. He is an outspoken man who calls them as he sees them. His reputation in Washington among responsible Republican legislators is that he is someone who works constructively across the aisle. But, yes, he does issue pointed barbs to make his political points. His most recent famous barb actually annoyed both the outgoing and incoming administrations, i.e. "Mr. Obama overstates the number of presidents we have right now." No, Barney is no Obama. I admire them both. But they are different people with different roles in this crisis. As I've said, I trust Barney's motives and intelligence implicitly and I don't want him to muzzle himself. I want to know what he thinks. I've always found that both educational and entertaining.

And you have to give up the canard that the bailout was based on a two page bill from the Treasury Secretary. Yes, Paulson sent a two page bill, which the Democrats expanded into a 200 page bill that included as many safeguards as were possible in the short, crisis-driven atmosphere in which the bill was passed. You can argue whether those safeguards were sufficient. But you can't argue that they didn't try to impose them.

Bill Black

Real Smart Guys Investment Bank

Check out this presentation that gives the best explanation of the current financial mess that I've seen. Very funny, but very accurate. It's mentioned in the post above.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Magellan Tour

It is always hard to get back into the blog rhythm after you've been away. But, I'm back, blogging from Hong Kong on an interesting trip that will have taken me around the globe in 5 days when I'm done.

I have pictures and videos and which I plan to assemble and post on my 12 hour flight from Hong Kong to Chicago. This post is for the purposes of getting back into the swing of things. I'm getting picked up for the airport in 20 minutes. So, this'll be it for now.

Stay tuned.