Can we listen to the old guys?

I ran across this piece in the New York Times last week while I was sitting at my desk eating my sandwich and surfing around the papers and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.  Headlined “Elders of Wall Street Favor More Regulation” it discussed the  financial regulation reforms now stalled in the Senate.

Around the same time, Paul Krugman wrote a short entry in his The Conscience of a Liberal blog.

At this point the odds are that in response to the most devastating financial crisis since the Great Depression, we will do … nothing.

And while there is plenty of blame to spread around, it’s important not to be too even-handed. The fact is that the Democrat-controlled House has already passed a pretty good reform bill. But in the Senate, well, here’s what the FT reports:

Senate Republicans are resisting a fundamental tenet of the Obama administration’s financial regulatory reforms in another obstacle for the stalled legislative process.

Several aides from both parties involved in reform negotiations told the Financial Times that Republicans had opposed in private a plan to impose tougher capital and liquidity requirements on companies that posed a risk to the financial system.

That’s tantamount to opposing any real reform.

Into the fray step the old guys.  Old, white and mostly Republican (I presume).

Put aside for a moment the populist pressure to regulate banking and trading. Ask the elder statesmen of these industries — giants like George Soros, Nicholas F. Brady, John S. Reed, William H. Donaldson and John C. Bogle — where they stand on regulation, and they will bowl you over with their populism.

They certainly don’t think of themselves as angry Main Streeters. They grew quite wealthy in finance, typically making their fortunes in the ’70s and ’80s when banks and securities firms were considerably more regulated. And now, parting company with the current chieftains, they want more rules, Louis Uchitelle writes in The New York Times.

While the younger generation, very visibly led by Lloyd C. Blankfein, chief executive of Goldman Sachs, lobbies Congress against such regulation, their spiritual elders support the reform proposed by Paul A. Volcker and, surprisingly, even more restrictions. “I am a believer that the system has gone badly awry and needs massive reform,” said Mr. Bogle, the 80-year-old founder and for many years chief executive of the Vanguard Group, the huge mutual fund company.

Mr. Volcker, 82, signed up the support of nearly a dozen peers whose average age is north of 70 and whose pedigrees on Wall Street and in banking are impeccable. But while Mr. Volcker focuses on a rule that would henceforth prohibit a bank that takes deposits from also buying and selling securities for its own account — risking losses in the process — most of his prominent supporters see that as a starting point in a broader return to regulation. And most do not hesitate to speak up in interviews with The New York Times.

A younger elder, John Reed (he’s only 71) even talks about bringing back Glass-Steagall

Nor does it bother John S. Reed, a former Citigroup co-chairman, who played a role in building Citi into a powerhouse that mingled commercial banking and all sorts of trading activities. That mix helped to precipitate the current credit crisis, requiring a costly federal bailout of Citigroup, among others, in 2008.

Mr. Reed, now 71, was long gone by then, and from retirement he has second thoughts. He even thinks about resurrecting the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which prevented banks from engaging in any sort of trading activity involving stocks and bonds. (It was revoked in 1999, partly at the behest of Citigroup, then run by Sanford I. Weill.)

So going back to Krugman’s comments,

You might think that the GOP would pay a political price for this. But it already has its strategy: insist that black is white.

The right-wing group “Committee for Truth In Politics” seems to have taken the advice of the postmodernist Frank Luntz, and cast new regulations on Wall Street, which Wall Street is furiously attempting to kill, as a giant favor to Wall Street.

And they’ll probably get away with it.

Unless someone starts listening to the old guys.

Olympic Commentary

In the jingoistic world of Olympic sports, the United States is doing quite well in these winter games.  But you have to love some of the competitors – particularly those who seems to actually have lives outside of their sport.  I’m thinking here of Apollo Ono who after competing in the last games was on “Dancing with the Stars”.  It is a big deal that Evan Lysacek  is the first man to win gold in figure skating since 1988 when Brian Boitano (who now cooks on the Food Network) won in 1988.  I particularly like it when the three medal spots are held by three different countries.

But for Olympic commentary the Gold goes to Bill Littlefield of Only a Game.

“It’s all down hill from here,” he said. But that was not quite right.
Although it seemed to be as they sat, long night after night,
Upon the couch, before the screen, as gravity prevailed,
And down the hills on sleds or skis the athletes blithely sailed.

“It’s uphill in cross-country, and at least sometimes they go
Along a level bit of course, as if to bravely show
That gravity is not a factor in each winter game.”
She said this as they watched a skater flirt with all the  fame
That would descend upon her slender shoulders, should she be
Most wondrous of the skaters they were sitting there to see.

“And hockey,” said her husband. “They play that on level ice.
There is no downhill hockey.” And she said, “Yes, dear. That’s nice.”
And then the talking stopped again. For what was left to say?
As skiers skied and skaters skated, curlers curled away,
And hockey players, some of them outplayed throughout the games,
And outscored by a dozen goals or more despite the claims
That they deserved to be there on Vancouver’s shiny ice
Were paying for their presence an alarmingly high price,
At least in terms of goals surrendered. But the pair looked on,
As brightly-clad snowboarders first appeared and then were gone.

They’d watched, as well, the dancers, though the judging, as they’d heard,
Was sometimes as it should have been, and sometimes just absurd.
They’d watched the mogul skiers and they’d wondered how their knees
Could handle all the pounding that they took on those short skis.
They’d taken in the whole of what Vancouver had to give,
And learned that while the games were on, to watch them was to live.
They’d cleared their nights of other sorts of things they might have done,
Deciding that these winter games were all they’d need of fun.
And yet there lurked in both their minds a small, persistent voice
That whispered of the consequences present in the choice
They’d made to watch the Games each night, which they had done instead
Of reading something, cleaning house, or going up to bed.
“What will you do without the games?” the voice would start to speak…
And silently they’d think, “Shut up. We’ve got another week.”

Thank you, Bill.

Pitchers and Catchers Report Today

With the aging Celtics fading into an average team and snow on the ground outside my window, it is time to think about the Red Sox.

This was Wiley Miller’s Non Sequitur (which is set in Maine) from February 12.  Truck Day is when the equipment trucks load up at Fenway and head south.  People actually go watch and cheer.

The Boston Globe wrote

Sorry Punxsutawney Phil and your six-more-weeks-of-winter prediction, but if you live in New England and are a fan of Red Sox, a sure sign of spring has arrived — Truck Day!

But today is the day pitchers and catchers report which is yet another sign of spring to come.  A new season is always hopeful with new players and changes.  I understand that the Sox are going to be more defensive this year.  Just another thing to watch for as the season unfolds.

Will Dice-K stay healthy?  Do we have a shortstop?  Can Jacoby play left field?  What will happen to Mike Lowell?  Can Clay learn to pitch?  Will Pap get his groove back?  The answer to these questions and more as the season unfolds, but for now all things are possible.

Bayh Quits and will there be a Senator Mellencamp?

 Evan Bayh decided to call it quits in a decidedly weird and sudden way yesterday.  According to the New York Times Caucus Blog

The decision, which he announced at an afternoon press conference, came as a surprise to Democrats in his state who had already started working on his campaign.

In his remarks, Mr. Bayh expressed frustration at what he described as an increasingly polarized atmosphere in Washington that made it impossible to get anything done.

“For some time, I have had a growing conviction that Congress is not operating as it should,” he said. “There is much too much partisanship and not enough progress. Too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem solving.”

And while he complimented his colleagues in the Senate, he said that “the institution is in need of significant reform.”

He cited two recent examples of the Senate not stepping up – the voting down of a bipartisan commission to deal with the federal deficit and the stymied attempt to craft a jobs bill.

And so the Democrats will lose the Senator “least likely to vote with his party this Congress.”

The scramble to replace him on the ballot in the fall is on.  The deadline for filing to get on the ballot was today.  (Nice timing there Senator!) and no Democrat qualified.  I don’t know Indiana politics, but it seems unlikely that the primary date and thus the filing date will be moved.  So the state Dems say they can choose their candidate. 

Again, the Times

Now Democrats say they can select their choice, and attention has focused mainly on Representative Brad Ellsworth, a Democrat from Evansville, as well as Representative Baron Hill, Democrat of Seymour. Party officials say they are also exploring other, less well-known names.

One problem is that both Mr. Ellsworth and Mr. Hill plan to qualify this week as House candidates. Republicans say it will not be proper if they do so only to later pull out to run for Senate, leaving Republicans with their House and Senate candidates while Democrats play political musical chairs.

To Republicans, that approach is not quite fair and means that Democrats could actually gain some advantage by Mr. Bayh pulling out just before the deadline for qualifying and allowing Democrats to avoid a Senate primary.

Got that?  If the Republicans are right, maybe Mr. Least Likely to vote with the Dems has actually done something right.

John Nichols over at the Nation is reporting a rumor that some in Indiana are promoting John Mellencamp for Senate. 

The guy who put populist politics on the charts with a song title “Pink Houses” John Mellencamp performed at the White House last week, as part of a program titled: “In Performance at the White House: A Celebration of Music from the Civil Rights Movement.”

The Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame member sang the song “Jim Crow” with veteran folkie Joan Baez — as well as a terrific song version of “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize” — on a night that also featured performances by Smokey Robinson, Natalie Cole, Yolanda Adams, the Five Blind Boys from Alabama and Bob Dylan, among others.

That was powerful company, but Mellencamp was up to it.

For the past quarter century, he has been penning and performing smart, often very political songs — focusing on the farm crisis, economic hard times and race relations. He’s been a key organizer of Farm Aid and other fund-raising events for good causes, and he’s been a steady presence on the campaign trail in recent years, appearing at the side of numerous Democratic presidential candidates, including Barack Obama.

So, could Mellencamp perform in the U.S. Senate?

Could he be the right replacement for retiring Senator Evan Bayh, D-Indiana?

Don’t forget that Minnesota just elected Al Franken. 

Mellencamp certainly has the home-state credibility. Few rockers have been so closely associated with a state as Mellencamp with Indiana.

Mellencamp has a history of issue-oriented political engagement that is the rival of any of the Democratic politicians who are being considered as possible Bayh replacements.

And Mellencamp has something else. He has a record of standing up for disenfranchised and disenchanted working-class families in places like his hometown of Seymour, Indiana.

In other words, he’s worthy of the consideration that has led to talk of a “Draft John Mellencamp” movement. In fact, he might be just enough of an outlier to energize base votes and to make independent voters look again at the Democratic column.

Could we end up with Senators Franken and Mellencamp? We can dream anyway.

Josephine Tey and Dick Francis

I had just finished re-reading Josephine Tey’s Miss Pym Disposes when I learned of the death of Dick Francis.  While they could not be more different, both are favorites of mine.  Josephine Tey specialized in elegant stories with very little violence and no blood while Dick Francis always had a “tough guy” hero who at some point gets beaten up (or injured somehow) and has to be nursed back to health, usually by the love interest.  Tey wrote only eight mysteries between 1929 (The Man in the Queue) and 1952 (The Singing Sands ).  Francis, on the other hand wrote more than 40 beginning in 1962 with Dead Cert.

Dick Francis was the Queen’s Jockey and famous in British racing circles before he turned to write mysterties.  According to his obituary in the New York Times

…Mr. Francis was already a celebrity in British sporting circles. Named champion jockey of the 1953-54 racing season by the British National Hunt after winning more than 350 races, he was retained as jockey to the queen mother for four seasons and raced eight times in the Grand National Steeplechase.When Devon Loch, the horse he was racing for the queen mother in the 1956 Grand National, collapsed in a spectacular mishap just before he would have won, Mr. Francis feared, as he put it in his autobiography, that he would be remembered as “the man who didn’t win the National.” This setback, along with the accumulated miseries of injuries, forced him into early retirement at the age of 36.

The New York Times published this well known picture of Francis on Devon Loch, the Queen Mother’s horse.

Drawing on his experiences as a jockey and his intimate knowledge of the racetrack crowd — from aristocratic owners to Cockney stable boys — the novel contained all the elements that readers would come to relish from a Dick Francis thriller. There was the pounding excitement of a race, the aura of the gentry at play, the sweaty smells from the stables out back, an appreciation for the regal beauty and unique personality of a thoroughbred — and enough sadistic violence to man and beast to satisfy the bloodthirsty.

Mr. Francis was a formulaic writer, even if the formula was foolproof. He drew the reader into the intimate and remarkably sensual experience of the world of racing. His writing never seemed better than when his jockey-heroes climbed on their mounts and gave themselves up to what he called “the old song in the blood.”

This self-contained world was, of course, a reflection of a broader universe in which themes of winning and losing and courage and integrity have more sweeping meaning. As the critic John Leonard wrote, “Not to read Dick Francis because you don’t like horses is like not reading Dostoyevsky because you don’t like God.”

Tey also created worlds.  Each of her eight mysterties is set in a different world.  Although little is know about Tey (Elizabeth Macintosh), she was born in Inverness and attended a physical training college in Birmingham.  Miss Pym Disposes is set at a similar sort of college where the students (all young women) study to teach phys ed and practice what we would now call physical therapy.

The writer, Natasha Cooper, wrote in a short essay on Tey

Until I started to think about this piece I had always assumed that my devotion to Josephine Tey’s novels had most to do with the age at which I first read them. As an impressionable twelve- or thirteen-year-old I revelled in the gentle, unusually rational decency of her good characters and found the domesticity of her settings appealing. The elegant simplicity of her style makes her work easy to enjoy at any age and some of the novels, particularly Brat Farrar with its predominantly young cast, might well have been written specifically for teenagers.

But once I started to reread some of the novels the other day, I realised that there was more to my delight in her work. Her obsession with the masks people wear and the truths they hide is one that I share. All crime writers must be concerned with the ways in which criminals disguise themselves and are found out by their investigators, but Tey’s interest went beyond that.

…In Miss Pym Disposes she plays with the idea of misread identity in several different ways in the characters of the heroine, an easily mockable spinster who happens to have written a brilliantly successful psychology textbook, and the three physical training students who provide the murderer, victim and chief suspect.Like most of Tey’s villains, Pamela Nash in Miss Pym Disposes is beautiful, successful, adored – and so full of vanity that she cannot conceive of anything (even someone else’s life) being more important than her own wishes…

I also first read Tey as a teenager by discovering Miss Pym and Brat Farrar. 

As the Grumpy Old Bookman said in his 2005 entry

Josephine Tey, the English crime writer, died in 1952; but if you go to and type in her name, you get 172 results; and on you get 109. In other words, the lady is still in print, is still published in a wide variety of formats, still selling, and still being read. That being the case, it is worth having a look at her life and methods in order to see what might be learnt.

So celebrate Dick Francis by picking up one of his books (I particularly like the early ones) and rediscover (or discover) Josephine Tey both are well worth the time.

Puppies, Cats and Filibusters

Last night Rachel Maddow did this weird segment launching her contest to come up with a word that is less boring that filibuster.  Her theory being that the process won’t change until people understand what it is and they won’t understand it until we come up with a word that doesn’t put everyone to sleep.

Rachel explained this while running unrelated video of a puppy who kept falling asleep in a large pan of water.

So I tried an experiment.  Peter, one of the cats, was asleep on the end of the sofa.  I called his name.  He woke up and looked at me.  I told him I wanted to have a conversation about filibusters.  He promptly closed his eyes and went back to sleep.  Coincidence?  Probably.  I didn’t say the magic word, “food”, for one thing.  But it was kinda cute.

I’ve written about the filibuster several times in the past and despite what Harry Reid seems to want to do (which is nothing) something has to happen.  Did everyone hear President Obama mention many things which have passed the House and not the Senate during his State of the Union Address?  And it is sad that the Senate has to be threatened with recess appointments before they begin to confirm nominees.

Of all the suggestions, I think the best is not changing the 60 vote rule itself, but instituting the old talk until you drop rule.  No more going on to other business.  No more going home.  If you call for a filibuster, be prepared to talk.

Come on, Senate Democrats.  Stop looking like sleepy cats and puppies.

Sarah’s Hand

Everyone is making fun of Sarah Palin’s crib notes written on her hand when she spoke last weekend at the Tea Party Convention.  But is this really a good idea?  Will it, as Howard Fineman has said, solidfy her support?  Or will it lower her credibility?

Sarah Palin

I guess I’m part of the “elite intellectuals” that Palin supporter love to hate, but I can’t resist repeating some of the Palin jokes.  These are from Daniel Kurtzman’s Political Humor Blog.

“Maybe Sarah Palin would be smarter if she had bigger hands.” –Jimmy Kimmel

“I started doing a little something that is mighty helpful. When I come out here to tell the jokes, I have them all written in the palm of my hand.” –David Letterman

“On Saturday, Sarah Palin looked at notes written on her hand during a speech at the Tea Party Convention in Tennessee. Isn’t that wild? Oddly enough, she was reading, ‘Hi, I’m Sarah Palin.'” –Jimmy Fallon

“I wrote a few things down… eggs, milk and bread,” Gibbs said at a press briefing. “But I crossed out bread, just so I can make pancakes for Ethan if it snows. And then I wrote down ‘hope and change,’ just in case I forgot.”  [Robert Gibbs, White House Press Secretary]  Gibbs on tape.

And Jon Stewart.

Jon tStewart Mocks Palin Hand Notes