Monday, January 31, 2011

Where in the World is Elizabeth Warren? (see update*)

Not only didn't she have a date for the State of the Union Prom last week, she didn't even get an invite. Consumer Financial Protection Agency founder and director pro-tem Elizabeth Warren was a no-show at the event, which was nothing less than a love-fest celebration of Big Business. Her presence might have ruffled some corporate feathers, and that would have taken the pep right out of the pep rally. I can't imagine Ms. Warren refusing to show up out of pique or protest over the night's theme. I can easily imagine, though, somebody at the White House subtly hinting that her presence might be a little...well - awkward for Big Boss Obama. Could that someone have been new chief of staff William Daley, late of JP Morgan Chase? That would be the same JP Morgan Chase which Warren recently took to task for the usurious mortgage rates it's been charging military families. JPM Chase is now trying to right its wrongs. Other than a terse statement to that effect, neither it nor Daley has had any comment. Of course, Daley has been sure to let us know he no longer has any interest, ties, conflicts of interest whatsoever with JPMC - that particular Big Bank revolving door has been slammed shut, by golly! He has been busily divesting himself of all his stocks and shares and quick as a wink, has pledged his allegiance to The American People. Uh huh.

But back to Warren. She's reportedly been interviewing replacements from among some State Attorneys General. They include failed Democratic senate candidate Martha Coakley of Massachusetts, who did such a bang-up job campaigning that she lost to the Tea Party in an ultra-liberal state. Thankfully, Coakley has said she has no interest in protecting consumers at the federal level.

That's not to say Warren still won't get the permanent job herself. Despite lukewarm support from Obama (she supposedly wouldn't survive the Senate confirmation process) at least one former Republican enemy has gone from stone cold opposition to at least a chilly, grudging sort of acceptance. Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX), though critical of the consumer agency itself, praised Warren for being "intelligent and a good listener." She recently met with the subcommittee on financial services investigations he chairs, and Neugebauer applauded her push to make mortgage disclosure forms reader-friendly. He even went on to say that while she wouldn't be his first choice as permanent agency head, neither would she be his last. Of course, as a member of the lower House, he has no say in the final confirmation.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Warren must still answer directly to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, recently named as one of the enablers of the financial collapse of 2008 in his capacity as chairman of the New York Fed. Geithner has made no bones about his lukewarmness toward Warren either.

As an aside, the Obama Administration seems to be trying to relegate Warren to the Circle of Wives of Powerful Men. She has joined Holly Petraeus, wife of David the General, in advocating for military families victimized by payday lenders and other financial predators. That ties in nicely with First Lady Michelle Obama's own outreach to the military, including her recent high-profile appearance on "Oprah." These fine ladies are latter-day Florence Nightingale-like celebrity social workers to the troops. They're also being used as tools to mythologize the wars into necessary battles for freedom, rather than the mercenary imperialistic enterprises they are in reality.

That said, I have absolutely nothing against military families - as a matter of fact, I think our soldiers are being treated abysmally both in terms of their meager salaries and the soul-killing endless deployments in useless wars. There is a shameful lack of cognitive rehabilitation treatment for their many brain injuries. A recent study showed more of them commit suicide than are killed in combat.

But to channel a federal consumer protection agency chief's efforts into such a narrow niche just seems like a PR ploy and a convenient way of keeping her out of the hair of the banksters - the oligarchs who are screwing 330 million of the rest of us, with unfettered and still- unregulated gusto, each and every day. If the Administration's tactic is to compartmentalize her in such a way that the public at large will cheer her efforts at helping those who "keep us safe", it seems to be working. I haven't heard many people ask, "Gee, whatever happened to Elizabeth Warren?" I've read one or two puff pieces about how great it is that she and the General's wife have forged such a noble partnership, though. It was, perhaps, her own idea to embrace the military to make her agency more Republican-friendly. (I don't buy that theory myself). She is not getting anywhere near Goldman Sachs, that's for sure.And the JPMorgan Chase mini-scandal was just one of those serendipitous, temporary embarrassments to the corporate-friendly executive branch.

Despite the Administration's obvious efforts to subdue and marginalize her, Elizabeth Warren is not going away. If there is any justice in the world, and if the United States has a prayer of survival, she will soon, by popular demand, be our first woman Treasury Secretary. Then she can run for President in four or so years, and win by a landslide.

*UPDATE 2/8/11 - See my Blog List at the bottom of the page for a link to the Consumer Financial Protection Agency's new website and blog. Now we know where in the world to find Elizabeth Warren!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Note About Comments

When I started this blog just about two weeks ago, I included a comments function without anyone being required to register or divulge identities. I am grateful for the many positive remarks posted, as well as the substantive criticism.

Unfortunately, as so often happens in anonymous internet world, some of the commenting has devolved into back-and-forth arguing and nitpicking among several anonymous posters - both about what I have written, here and elsewhere, and even about what other commenters have shared in this space. And then I found myself responding, endlessly, in my own comments threads! It was getting to be too close to what they call flame-warring, and I made the decision to delete a slew of these kinds of comments today. I have also deleted two comments, one of which contained a subtle threat (name-calling, followed by "stay safe")and another that was just plain nasty.

I hope everyone continues to feel free to contribute to this blog and share ideas. I will continue to moderate comments and delete those which just seem to harp on the same point, are grossly off-topic or veer off into what I think are superficial arguments. Thanks again, everybody, for your interest and support!


Everyone is welcome to email me privately at any time. ( I almost always respond personally.

From X-Files to I-Files: The Ministry of Truth is Out There

If you ever requested material from the United States government under the Freedom of Information Act, Darrell Issa wants to know who you are and what you wanted to find out. Ostensibly a move to make sure the agencies are complying with FOIA requests, it seems more like a data-mining, privacy-intrusion ploy. The new Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee wants to put the names of ordinary people on a Master List, and to find out what questions are secretly seething in their busy little brains. And, chillingly, in the case of journalists, what stories they might be working on, or in the case of civil rights activists, what evidence they may be seeking for whistleblowing cases or any number of instances of government wrong-doing. Students requesting information, scientists doing research, even people seeking to determine if they're even on an FBI watch list or have an FBI file. The potential victims are many, and the possibilities for abuse are endless. The not-so-subtle message: Ask Not of Your Country, or you'll be sorry. It's Big Brother come to life. Aren't Homeland Security and the NSA bad enough? X-Files: meet the Issa Files.

In a letter dated January 25 and addressed to the FOIA officers of 49 separate government sub-agencies, Issa demanded records for the past five years which include: the name of the requestor, the date of the request, a brief description of the documents or records sought, tracking numbers, what information was in fact provided and the date the request was closed if it is not in fact still outstanding.

The bulk of the information sought by Issa is from the Department of Justice. He wants to know the names of people who made inquiries on immigration cases, prisoners, Interpol, drug enforcement and violence against women, to name just few. He says he wants the names of citizens and the information they sought to make sure the government is serving them properly. If you believe that, you believe the GOP puts the interests of ordinary people above those of corporations.

People aren't exaggerating when they compare Issa to Senator Joe McCarthy. This guy isn't satisfied digging for dirt in the Obama Administration. He's digging away at regular people. I'm waiting for him to stand up on the House floor waving pieces of paper in the air and declaiming thousands of innocent Americans as enemies of the State for daring to ask questions or seek information. He may not be a paranoid alcoholic like McCarthy, but he is certainly drunk with power. He may not be a nicotine fiend, but he's every bit as creepy as the Cigarette-Smoking Man. His moment of public shame will not come a moment too soon. Where are Mulder and Scully when we need them?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Innovation Nation - Yay Team!

"We're determined to solve the world's biggest problems by putting our collective imaginations to work. Is it possible to change the world? We're doing it one idea at a time."

That's not an inspiring quote from President Obama's speech - it's the blurb from GE's webpage. You know, the GE multinatinional corporation whose CEO, Jeffrey Immelt, recently became the newest member of the White House economic team? Obama has openly embraced GE's mantra of "Imagination is Innovation" as his campaign kickoff theme, calling it "We Do Big Things." Kind of reminds me of the old GE TV commercial "We Bring Good Things to Life."

It was a great speech, pure Obama, and everyone is basking in the feel-good glow. In an email to his base this morning, he wrote: "The future is ours to win," (echoes of Doris Day's "Que Sera, Sera") and added a link asking supporters to sign up to volunteer. It looked a lot like the "change we can believe in" graphic, but replaced with the words "Win the Future". So...I guess it's Yes We Can, but in a distant land, far far away. It's all kind of Mystery Science Theater 3000-sounding. Syfy. The Twilight Zone. To Serve Man. We're "poised for progress," says he. Kind of like the pose those high divers strike at the Olympics, all hushed crazy-making anticipation, the long pause before the plunge. Poised, as in prelude. Very statuesque, camera-ready and theatrical.

"We must out-innovate the rest of the world." -- Barack Obama.

"Innovation = Imagination." -- GE.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Tea Party Congressman Calls Scalia Shallow, Extreme and Misleading

Lost in the controversy over whether Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia should have appeared before a private gathering of the Tea Party Caucus to speak about the Constitution was the unintentional dissing of the zany justice by a New York congressman, who called his talk "simplistic."

Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY), appearing at a press conference after the Scalia lecture, gushed about Scalia's "unique ability to discuss complex issues in a very simplistic manner, and with an unbelievable and profound respect for being apolitical."

Oops. Here are a few definitions of "simplistic" --

(Disapproving): too simple, not complete or thorough enough; not treating or considering all possibilities or parts...Characterized by extreme and often misleading simplicity, in a manner that simplifies a concept or issue so that its nuance or complexity is lost, or important details are overlooked. (

On second thought, Grimm probably is convinced that being misleading and extreme are praiseworthy qualities - think of those nonexistent Obama death panels and pulling the plug on Grandma, Kenyan socialist birtherism, and anything Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin have ever uttered.

There is still no word on what Scalia actually told the bozos. Let's speculate. Maybe "guns good, government bad?" In any case, he beat a hasty retreat afterward, probably looking for the most simplistic route back to the courthouse.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Tomchuck, Best Hair, and Who Cares

The big story on Tuesday night's State of the Union address is who is sitting with whom. The New York Times has an article Sunday about the mad scramble for seating partners. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is choosing self-imposed wallflowerdom at what is turning into Congressional Prom Night. He made the big reveal at one of the Sunday morning talk shows. I forget which one; they all blend into one huge blatherfest and they're much like the musical chairs game the politicians are playing in Washington. Celebrity politician guest-hopping from one softball interview to the next.

The first odd couple to grab the headlines about their big date were Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Tom Coburn (R-OK). In the spirit of celebrity name-blending, I hereby dub them Tomchuck (hope that doesn't make you up-chuck).

And what about this week's (and every week's) Senate prima donna, Joe Lieberman (?-CT). So far nobody wants to date him. But I hear he'll make up for it by grabbing two seats and spending the entire evening jumping back and forth between them.

Here's the bottom line. President Obama is evidently thrilled at all the attention the social life of the Congress is getting. It's all that much less attention the content of the speech will be getting from the TV pundits. The thrill Chris Matthews gets up his leg this time won't be from O - it'll be when the camera pans long and lustfully at Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), this year's perfect-hair shoo-in for Senate prom queen. Probably nobody will even notice if the president calls for more troops in Afghanistan, privatization of Social Security, the appointment of Lloyd Blankfein to a new cabinet post of Trickle Down Economics Chief and tax breaks for corporations which choose to outsource even more jobs overseas.

But the peak moment will have to be when Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) gives the Tea Party rebuttal to the Republican rebuttal to the president's speech. I can't wait to see how big she does her hair, whether she'll outdo Sarah Palin in octave-spanning, and if she'll be sporting a chic new designer flag pin. The TV tells us that kind of stuff is important, so it must be true.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Wal-Mart / Obama Connection

First Lady Michelle Obama’s ties to Wal-Mart are nothing new. She once sat on the board of directors of one of the retail giant’s major suppliers – a position she was forced to resign after her husband vowed never to shop at Wal-Mart because of its anti-union stance.

In the spring of 2007, as an Illinois senator beginning his presidential run, Obama told an AFL-CIO gathering in Trenton, NJ, there was a “moral responsibility to stand up and fight the company” and “force them to examine their own corporate values.”

At the time, Mrs. Obama was a director of TreeHouse Foods, an Illinois food processing company - a position she had held since June 2005. Its biggest customer is Wal-Mart. She earned $51,200 a year for the part-time gig, and also received $72,375 worth of stock options in her two-year stint at the company. In May 2007, eight days after her husband blasted Wal-Mart’s labor practices, she resigned. But she denied any conflict of interest as the reason. Asked if she quit because of her husband’s pro-union platform, she told NBC’s Robin Roberts: “Barack is gonna say what needs to be said,” and claimed she was leaving the board to devote more time to her daughters, in light of the stress of her husband’s candidacy.

In a separate interview later in the campaign, Mrs. Obama was asked if she shopped at Wal-Mart. “I’m more of a Target shopper,” she replied without elaborating.

Fast forward almost three years later, and Mrs. Obama is embracing Wal-Mart in its initiative to carry healthier food products with less fat and salt as part of her own “Let’s Move” anti-childhood obesity crusade. The New York Times and other corporate media outlets, including The Washington Post, dutifully parroted the press releases of both the White House and Wal-Mart: the actual process of offering less expensive, more nutritious foods will – you guessed it – be a gradual one. It’ll take five years, officials acknowledged. But it’s a “victory for parents and children”, said Mrs. Obama at a Thursday photo-op with CEO Bill Simon. As Simon praised the first lady as being the sole “catalyst” for the initiative, she added: “When 40 million people a day are shopping at Wal-Mart, then day by day and meal by meal all these small changes can start to make a big difference for our children’s health.”

There were no comments on the difference the addition of the second most admired woman in the world (after Secretary of State and former Wal-Mart board member Hillary Clinton) will make to Wal-Mart’s bottom line. There has been no official word from the White House on what, if any, concessions or tax breaks the retailer behemoth stands to gain due to its altruism. (We are still awaiting a response to a request for clarification from the White House).

But let’s examine a few factoids and connect a few dots. Right before the Christmas shopping season, the President held a closed-door meeting with Wal-Mart officials as part of his reach-out-to-businesses effort. The White House flatly refused to answer questions about what was discussed. A short time later, Wal-Mart raised prices on its toys, just in time for the Christmas rush. It then announced what is in effect a wage cut for its associates by discontinuing the $1 pay differential for Sunday shifts for workers hired after 2010.

To further serve the community (read: increase its stranglehold on global markets) Wal-Mart announced it will build more stores in so-called “food deserts” - urban and rural areas where there are a dearth of grocery stores. Presumably, New York City is one such barren moonscape in the eyes of Wal-Mart, because it has been one of the few surviving outposts to have successfully resisted efforts to let the retailer into its neighborhoods. Now that the Obamas are backtracking and becoming the First Family of Wal-Mart, do you think they’ll be putting any pressure on Mayor Bloomberg to get with the program? Stay tuned.

There has also been no comment from the Obamas on Walmart being the defendant in the largest class action bias lawsuit in history. The lead plaintiff in the case, a 60-year-old greeter named Betty Dukes, claims she was demoted over the act of taking a penny from a cash register without permission. There are millions of women in the case, and the Supreme Court now has to decide whether the women constitute a "class." Walmart stands to be out billions if they lose. Given the current make-up of the Roberts court, it should be a nail-biter.

Meanwhile, there is still no word on whether Mrs. Obama actually plans to forsake Target and begin shopping at Wal-Mart herself. As far as the President is concerned, he will likely stay true to his word that he will personally never shop there again - not that he has decided to alienate his corporate friends and side with the unions as he once promised to do - but because as leader of the free world, he need never have to physically shop anywhere, ever again

Monday, January 17, 2011

Let Them Eat Birth Control Pills - Or, Black and Bloomberg'd

Cathie Black, publishing maven turned Chancellor of New York City’s public schools, is still just a rookie, explains pal and boss, Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He was referring to her latest in a series of gaffes. It was of the triple-dog-cringe variety: at a sit-and-chat a few days ago, Ms. Black bemoaned the overcrowding situation at some local schools, and sniffed “Could we just have some birth control down there? (Lower Manhattan). It would really help us”.

At the same meeting, she anguished over the “Sophie’s Choice” she must face in taking from one school to give to another, apparently neither knowing nor caring that the Sophie heroine in the William Styron novel had to choose which child would die in a concentration camp. The city’s tabloids, the Post and the News, screamed "scandal" from their front pages, The NY Times posted a short blog in the City Desk section with her remarks memorialized via Youtube via the Tribeca Tribune, who scooped all of them.

Less offensive, but still gauche, was her cancellation of a trip to a Staten Island school because of a snowstorm. (Note: She and Bloomberg had decided it was okay for students and teachers to schlep to school in the foot-deep snow that day). But apparently, Black's helicopter was grounded due to poor visibility. And no doubt the chauffeur forgot to put the snow tires on the limo. That is presumably the same limo the NY Times photographed her entering last year, after she’d boasted about taking cabs everywhere.

Black and Bloomberg later issued one of those “sorry if you were offended” apologies. Apparently, she felt comfortable making her clever little remarks because her meeting happened to be with white, middle class Manhattan parents, who she assumed would be comfortable with a little harmless social class dissing. After the brouhaha that erupted when Bloomberg nominated her for the chancellor’s spot last fall, Ms. Black was given a waiver by the NY State Board of Regents as long as she got a minion to do her actual job for her. Sounds like she needs a fulltime PR minder as well. Not only had she no prior professional education experience, she had sent her own children to private schools, from K to 12. She is a private school product herself. If she took any classes in etiquette or tact, she was probably marked "present." They don't flunk you in those kinds of schools.

The whole nomenclature of New York state’s school administration is archaic and off-putting. Regents run things – just like they run things in monarchies. The royal/commoner dichotomy is engraved in institutional stone, separating the elite of the New York public secondary schools from the less academically endowed: high school graduates who take and pass a quota of college prep classes earn “Regents’ Diplomas.” The non-college bound are tossed plain old scraps of paper, known as "local" diplomas. It doesn't matter if they earned straight A's in their trade or technical classes. Someone scraping by with a C average in English lit or a foreign language is deemed better than a shop class genius. To add insult to injury, Regents grads' names are marked with shiny asterisks in commencement programs and the graduation announcements sent to newspapers. Class distinction starts early in the Empire State.

City Schools Chancellors are unilaterally selected by the Mayor. No national search, no promotion from within the ranks. Lord High Chancellor, Lord High Executioner, His Honor of the Forbes Top Ten, late retired Chancellor-cum- education propaganda chief Joel Klein at Fox News. Do you sense the same pattern as I do? Do you smell something rotten in Gotham? They are small circle of elites cushioned in a well-fortified enclave, surrounded by slums, crumbling schools and gang bangers.

Remember: “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can do neither, administer.” (Collet Calverley).

John Boehner's Killer Bill

Instead of calling it the "Repeal of the Job-Killing Health Care Bill" -- which is kind of a mouthful -- John Boehner should just call it the "Kill Bill". If he tries to say it three times fast, every hour on the hour, the repetition will perhaps lull people into sleepy acceptance of his convoluted thought processes.

Whose jobs will health care reform kill anyway? Maybe Mr. Weeper is worried about the CEO of United Healthcare Group, Steve Hensley, whose total compensation package totals $3.24 million. Health care executives rake in more dough than the run of the mill CEO, and now that the law says 85 percent of their profits have to go to patient care, they're getting worried about their bottom line. Of course, their own jobs won't suffer so much as a fiscal ingrown toenail, let alone be "killed". No, they're probably worried about having that much less chump change to hire some $10-an-hour claims deniers, I mean adjusters. And oh no! The bit about not being able to drop somebody's coverage if they get sick just went into effect too! Pity the poor for-profit health care provider. With all the money now going to pay medical bills, where are they going to come up with the extra cash for their tenth vacation home in this national state of emergency?

As Speaker John mutters "must kill bill, must kill bill," let's hope President Obama mounts his bully pulpit and denounces the Republican shenanigans for what they are -- pure, unadulterated political drivel. And let Mr. Boehner remember that the slapstick scenes in the film version of "Kill Bill" were inspired in part by that other classic of right-wing derangement, "Jackass:the Movie". Any suggestions for starring roles in the sequel?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Out, Out Damned Spot!

Blaming Sarah Palin for the Tucson Massacre is just as unfair as blaming Lady Macbeth for the mayhem at Inverness Castle.  All these two maligned ladies did was lay out the weapons: Sarah, her cross-hair graphics and Lady M, a few carelessly placed daggers.  Subtle hints do not a murderess make.
Along with their histrionics and lust for power, both women have a fixation with blood. Palin, subdued from her usual frenzied harangues, looked like a robot on tranquillizers  as she Youtubed herself into the queen of the martyrs and the victim of “blood libel” of the biased liberal lamestream punditocracy.  To give her credit, I doubt she knows the anti-Semitic origin of the phrase, but the blood part likely was what appealed to her.  And Lady Mac was  totally obsessed with blood, even to the point of sleepwalking and being unable to wash the imaginary stains from her hands. Sarah, of course, also had difficulty scrubbing her website clean of the infamous Cross-Hairs map.  It had already gone viral all over cyberspace. “Out, out damned cache!” could be heard echoing through the valley, according to Wasilla lore.

The Lady Sarah really doth protest too much, methinks, and all the sanguineous references in the world can’t mask the fact that this anti-mother/mama grizzly has ice water running through her veins and a stony heart totally lacking in the warmth of human kindness.