FortLeft

Today (May 11, 2012) JP Morgan Chase appears to have engaged in the same kind of behavior that lead to the 2008 meltdown and people are talking about reviving the Glass-Steagall Act.  I thought I should repost this from March 2009.

Yesterday one of my Random Thoughts was to ask if anyone remember when banks were banks and stock brokers were stock brokers.  A few hours later, Rachel Maddow had a piece on the Gramm Leach Bliley Act (GLBA) of 1999. According to the summary of the bill the first provision is

TITLE I — FACILITATING AFFILIATION AMONG BANKS, SECURITIES FIRMS, AND INSURANCE COMPANIES

 Repeals the restrictions on banks affiliating with securities firms contained in sections 20 and 32 of the Glass-Steagall Act.

(The GLBA also did some good things like require lending in poor neighborhoods which began to end redlining, but that’s a whole different story and discussion. It also…

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This is an excellent and important post about our freedon of expression. We are much too quick to want to ban anything that might offend us personnally. The Inferno is one of the great books of all times.

Prometheus Unbound

I feel personally broadsided. As someone who assigns Dante’s Divine Comedy (in Allen Mandelbaum’s great translation) to college students at least once every year-and-a-half or so, the following news headline, from London’s Telegraph, is disconcerting (to say the least):

Dante’s Divine Comedy ‘offensive and should be banned’

The headline represents the serious position of a (self-described) human rights organization, based in Italy, which is calling for Dante’s Divine Comedy to no longer be taught in schools and universities.  The “human rights organization” calls itself Gherush 92, and the Telegraph says it “acts as a consultant to UN bodies on racism and discrimination.”

I wonder how one actually gets a job consulting at the UN on racism and discrimination, but if I had such a job, here’s what I’d say about any proposal to ban a literary text like Dante’s Divine Comedy:

It is racist, discriminatory, and patronizing to assume…

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Wash your hands

The CDC says the best way to prevent swine flu is to wash your hands.  Here is a great story from NPR on washing effectively.

Grandma was right: If you want to prevent the spread of viruses, wash your hands.

But how long do we need to scrub? Preschoolers know the answer, and they sing a silly song or two to help them while away the 20 seconds that experts recommend.

Turns out that the “ABC” song is about right.  So pre-schoolers can practice hand washing and the alphabet at the same time.  But, as one of my co-workers said today, he’d get hauled away singing the alphabet song in the men’s room.  Allison Aubrey at NPR has a solution.

NPR’s reporters were quick to offer their suggestions: The chorus of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” is about the right length. Maybe the guitar riff from “Layla” by Eric Clapton, or how about that famous bridge in Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” about how “we will not let you go”?

For those more inclined to the theater, the first six lines of Lady MacBeth’s “Out, Damned Spot, Out” soliloquy clocks in at 22 seconds.

Also mentioned was “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” which is my choice only because I know all the words.  What ever you pick be sure to actually scrub and get the nails, the backs of your hands and between your fingers while you sing.

The Military Budget

President Obama said he expected to save money by withdrawing troops from Iraq (which savings will actually show up in the budget now that Iraq and Afganistan spending is no longer “off-line”) and that saving is part of how he proposes to spend on things we all want like health care, education, and energy efficiency.  That is all well and good.  But the elephant in the room (and I don’t just mean Republicans, but also Democrats with their own self-interests) is military spending.

Congressman Barney Frank has an article in the March 2 issue of the Nation in which he talks about military spending.  He begins

I am a great believer in freedom of expression and am proud of those times when I have been one of a few members of Congress to oppose censorship. I still hold close to an absolutist position, but I have been tempted recently to make an exception, not by banning speech but by requiring it. I would be very happy if there was some way to make it a misdemeanor for people to talk about reducing the budget deficit without including a recommendation that we substantially cut military spending.

As Congressman Frank points out there has been a huge increase in the military budget and not all of it attributable to the Wars in Iraq and Afganistan.

It is particularly inexplicable that so many self-styled moderates ignore the extraordinary increase in military spending. After all, George W. Bush himself has acknowledged its importance. As the December 20 Wall Street Journal notes, “The president remains adamant his budget troubles were the result of a ramp-up in defense spending.” Bush then ends this rare burst of intellectual honesty by blaming all this “ramp-up” on the need to fight the war in Iraq.

Current plans call for us not only to spend hundreds of billions more in Iraq but to continue to spend even more over the next few years producing new weapons that might have been useful against the Soviet Union. Many of these weapons are technological marvels, but they have a central flaw: no conceivable enemy. It ought to be a requirement in spending all this money for a weapon that there be some need for it. In some cases we are developing weapons–in part because of nothing more than momentum–that lack not only a current military need but even a plausible use in any foreseeable future.

It is possible to debate how strong America should be militarily in relation to the rest of the world. But that is not a debate that needs to be entered into to reduce the military budget by a large amount. If, beginning one year from now, we were to cut military spending by 25 percent from its projected levels, we would still be immeasurably stronger than any combination of nations with whom we might be engaged.

So are there any signs of hope that we might, despite what will be a conservative outcry about “keeping America strong” and the loss of jobs from miliary spending (can’t many of those folks shift toward developing good things like better batteries for electric/hybrid cars?) and so on?  Christopher Hayes  in a companion piece to Frank’s writes

Indeed, over the past year Defense Secretary Robert Gates has made a series of speeches about shifting resources toward nonmilitary international engagement, as well as reducing spending on outdated weapons systems. “The spigot of defense spending that opened on 9/11 is closing,” he told senators on the Armed Services Committee in January. “The economic crisis and resulting budget pressures,” he said, would provide “one of those rare chances…to critically and ruthlessly separate appetites from real requirements, those things that are desirable in a perfect world from those things that are truly needed in light of the threats America faces and the missions we are likely to undertake in the years ahead.”

Obama expressed similar sentiments on the campaign trail: “I will cut tens of billions of dollars in wasteful spending,” he said in a campaign video. “I will cut investments in unproven missile defense systems. I will not weaponize space. I will slow our development of future combat systems.”

Most recently, Rahm Emanuel hinted on Meet the Press that the administration might have the Pentagon in its sights as part of its promise to trim fat from the budget. “We have about $300 billion in cost overruns,” he said. “That must be addressed, and we will be addressing it.”

We seem to be getting some mixed signals, however.  William Lynn from defense contractor Raytheon who has been described by Hayes (and others) as “never having met a weapons system he didn’t like”  has been appointed deputy defense secretary.  On the other hand,  Obama has just appointed Ashton Carter from the Kennedy School to be Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.  As far as I know, Dr. Carter has mostly worked on non proliferation issues and has no ties to any defense contractors.

State Quarters

Yesterday Bob from FortRight brought me home a present.  It was the last quarter I needed to complete my collection of state quarters – the one from Hawaii!  I started collecting in 1999 and have circulated coins only.  None of this buying mint copies.  We found all of mine in change.

Have you noticed that President Obama is from Hawaii and got elected the year the state quarter was issued?  Pretty cool.

Anger: Can it win the election?

I think John McCain was projecting his own anger at the debate when he kept saying that Americans are angry.  I don’t think we are angry but we are frightened and anxious.  Harold Meyerson writing in the Washington Post called McCain an angry white man.  http://voices.washingtonpost.com/postpartisan/2008/10/the_final_debate_angry_white_m.html?

I thought for a while that McCain was going to trounce Obama with Joe the Plumber, but then he got angry and millions heard the names of the others that also served on the Community board with Barak and Bill Ayres.  And then when John McCain dismissed concern over the life of the mother and the protections that were being sought for her, I knew that he had lost the Clinton supporters who were still insisting they were voting for McCain.

I can’t really understand why McCain is behaving in what for him seems to be such an unnatural way.  If you look at his performanace on Letterman or clips of him at the Al Smith Dinner, he is quite funny.  But that’s not what you see on the campaign trail.  Obama, on the other hand, was self-deprecating and also funny at the dinner before moving into great remarks about the importance of service.  One gets the feeling that Obama knows who he is and is comfortable “in his own skin” as the saying goes.

http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/10/16/mccain-and-obama-palling-around-must-be-the-al-smith-dinner/#comment-642815

In the end, I don’t think the anger does anyone any good.

Media Coverage

I noticed an interesting statistic in Frank Rich’s column on Sunday http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/24/opinion/24rich.html?_r=1&oref=slogin which I just got around to reading last night.

But as Geroge Mason University’s Center for Media and Public Affairs documented in its study of six weeks of TV new reports this summer, Obamas’s coverage was 28 percent positive and 72 percent negative. (For McCain, the split was 43/57.))

I think this is in part because the TV continually reports on McCain’s advertisments which are increasingly negative. (Hey, John. What happened to your positive campaign?)  The pundits also fail to point out McCain’s falsehoods and flip-flops.  As I have written before when is the mainstream media going to report on Cindy McCain’s money and lies about her family?  (someone other than the New York Times, that is. ) I guess the humanitarian trip to Georgia is supposed to soften her image somehow.

Eric Alterman has some good things to say on this subject in The Nation. http://www.thenation.com/blogs/campaignmatters/348595

I keep hoping the media coverage of the Obama/Biden ticket will take a positive turn which will, I trust, lift the polls.

Good-bye Manny and is McCain actually the racist?

It was a terrific run – Manny Ramirez in Boston.  But all good things must come to an end.  Manny is a Dodger now wearing the blue of my childhood heros – Koufax, Drysdale, Podres, Wills etc.   Live long and prosper, Manny.  All you Dodger fans, have fun with him.

Mcain is acusing Obama of playing the race card:  I think it is actually the other way around. I’m thinking back to Doug Wilder’s election to Governor in Virginia when the polls indicated he would win by a comfortable margin and the election turning out to be very close, I get anxious about the election.  Is there still enough residual racism that McCain will be able to play to it?  Is this the reason the polls are so close?  Is the talk about Obama’s arrogance really a code for “he’s an uppity black man.?  Things to think about.

Tim Kaine and Barak Obama

Has anyone thought about the fact that Virginia governors cannot succeed themselves?  If Tim were Obama’s running mate and they were elected, Tim would be entering his last year as Governor in January 2009  He became governor in January 2006 (elected in 2005). 

Tim Kaine was the attorney for HOME in Richmond. VA when I was working there and we did several cases together.  In fact, he was a reference for me for the second job I had here in Boston with the Boston Housing Authority.  I can’t say what he would do for a national ticket, but Tim is thoughtful, smart, and committed to civil rights and still got elected in Virginia.  I can understand why Obama would feel so close to him and might want to have hime around to discuss things with.

Problems with the Sox and other important thoughts

So I turned off the game at about 8:30.  Dice-K was getting shelled.  First, Beckett pitched a not so great game and lost to the Yankees, now Matsuzaka.  Only Lester has done well this week.  Everyone is giving up homers.  And then there is Manny.  I don’t know what drives him, but he seems to have this need to shake things up.  Maybe he does this to keep himself interested and motivated.  I think this is the Angels’ year.

Was at a meeting today and we were wondering what effect the election will have on unfunded mandates for cities getting federal funds.  Everyone at HUD seems to have decided that now is the time to gear up enforcement and requirements pile up without regard to administrative cost or lack of staff.  Don’t think McCain will change much and it is hard to tell if Obama will put on his corporate hat and try to reduce requirements.  With a community organizer hat, it could go either way.