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NYC looking North from the EMPIRE STATE BUILIDING. Photo by DAVID ILIFF, license HERE (proportions slightly altered from the original photo)
Early to bed, and early to rise,
Makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise
- Benjamin Franklin.
I don’t see it.
- George Washington
Now both of these are high authorities – very high and respectable authorities – but I am with General Washington first, last, and all the time on this proposition.
Because I don’t see it, either. . . .
Put no trust in the benefits to accrue from early rising, as set forth by the infatuated Franklin – but stake the last cent of your substance on the judgment of old George Washington, the Father of his Country, who said “he couldn’t see it.”
And you hear me endorsing that sentiment.
Mark Twain, “Early Rising, As Regards Excursions to the Cliff House,” MARK TWAIN IN THE GOLDEN ERA 1863-1866.
When the economy tanked we all remember how Wall Street continued to give excessive bonuses to its executives in the face of huge losses in their divisions and accounts.
If there is any question that Mitt Romney is a creature of the same out of touch Wall Street culture, here is some further evidence.
The collective wisdom is that the Republican convention didn’t do much for Romney and friends, and it will most likely be remembered as the convention of the empty chair. The campaign as a whole has not been well run. But this didn’t stop old Mitt from handing out a slew of bonuses right after his nomination at the convention, when there was no evidence that his “executives” had been successful.
Another set of expenditures is likely to draw grumbles from Mr. Romney’s allies given his campaign’s current struggles: The day after accepting the Republican nomination, Mr. Romney gave what appeared to be $192,440 in bonuses to senior campaign staff members. At least nine aides received payments on Aug. 31 well in excess of their typical biweekly salaries, including $25,000 each for Matthew Rhoades, the campaign manager; Lanhee Chen, a policy adviser; and Katie Biber, the general counsel. Rich Beeson, the political director, received $37,500. (“Low on Cash, Romney Tries to Rally Donors for Final Phase,” New York Times, September 20, 2012.)
Mitt (Leopard) Romney won’t be changing his spots anytime soon. You can take that to the bank.
Why did Mitt Romney cross the road?
To avoid 47% of his fellow Americans.
We have all heard how furious the Wall Street big wigs are supposed to be at Obama. He is going to regulate us to death, kill the Market, etc. But it’s a good bet when dealing with Wall Street to avoid the rhetoric and follow the money. Forget Wall Streeters’ personal feelings about Obama and the Democrats. It’s clear that they don’t think that the world will end with an Obama reelection. Not only is the Market doing very well right now with Obama leading in the polls, it appears that traders are already betting with their electronic greenbacks on the reelection of the president.
Jeffrey Kleintop, chief market strategist at LPL Financial, has developed an index that tracks how well industries are doing that would benefit from either a Republican or Democratic win in November. The index is clearly showing a move toward the Democrats. You can find the latest report at
An article by Mark Gongloff, “Wall Street May Hate Obama, But It’s Betting On His Victory,” summarizes what Klientop has been up to.
I’ve been thinking about how the Supreme Court made it possible for rich donors to give millions and millions to political causes, which typically turn out to be candidates in some shape or form, who turn out to be mostly Republicans. This led me to start thinking about how money could help my blog. However, giving money away to people who visit UP@NIGHT wouldn’t work because it could get too expensive. But a couple of years back I noticed that if I put pictures of money on a post, it would often get tons of hits. It seems that people were coming to see or use images of money. So why not have a post of images of different denominations in order to lure people to my blog. It’s a lot less shameful and expensive than what is going on in the political arena. And so here it is, my ad, the money post.
But Jim Messina, the manager of the president’s re-election bid, said the discord among Democrats in Washington did not reflect what campaign officials were hearing from rank-and-file supporters of the president through nightly telephone calls and door-knocking.
And here are comments from Plouffe, Obama’s top campaign strategist, same piece.
“There’s a lot of enthusiasm, and I don’t see anything as contentious as this coming down the pike in terms of an intraparty situation,” said David Plouffe, a senior adviser to the president. “There will be a unified, motivated and very aggressive Democratic Party supporting the president next year.”
Just tell me it ain’t so, Joe (Biden)…..Is this really the line that Obama’s team is going to take: Democrats aren’t that unhappy with the debt deal and there isn’t any deep frustration? It’s only Washington Dems who are pulling their hair out? Heaven forbid!! This could be the beginning of the end if they really believe this. And if it is just a cover, it’s lame. There is a real problem “out there.” They need to address it.
Much more to the point were comments by Tom Strickland, found in the same article.
“There are parts of the base that are discouraged,” Ted Strickland, a former Democratic governor of Ohio, said in an interview. “I don’t know that it’s the result of any personal animosity toward the president, but going forward it’s going to be important for him to inspire us, lead us, challenge us and be a real leader.”
Nostradamus meets the Grim Reaper
This is an actual headline from an article posted on Bloomberg (News) at 7:21 this evening, September 1st, 2010: Economy Avoids Recession Relapse as Data Can’t Get Much Worse
The first lines of the article explain:
The U.S. economy is so bad that the chance of avoiding a double dip back into recession may actually be pretty good. The sectors of the economy that traditionally drive it into recession are already so depressed it’s difficult to see them getting a lot worse, said Ethan Harris, head of developed markets economics research at BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research in New York. Inventories are near record lows in proportion to sales, residential construction is less than half the level of the housing boom and vehicle sales are more than 40 percent below five years ago.
This is not from a skit on Stewart of Colbert. This is from a leading publication on business on a day that the Stock Market rallied. (I wonder what they will be writing when it retreats, again.) So, let’s get this straight. We are not going to have another recession, the dreaded double-dip, because things are already too bad to have one. How then do we characterize our current economy? Oh, I could think of a few words, but so can you, dear reader.
Things can get worse. Here’s the ticket: The Republicans win the House this fall and things completely stall out as the GOP offers (once again) the panacea of tax breaks for the wealthy as the cure for our economic ills.
(Btw, the name of the person featured on this $10,000 bill is Salmon P. Chase. If you don’t believe me, click here. He was a Secretary of the Treasury and a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Coincidence. I think not.)
In the New York Times on Sunday, January 24, 2010, Thomas Friedman writes in his piece, “More (Steve) Jobs, Jobs, Jobs, Jobs,” about programs that can be helpful in getting the economy moving. For example,
Obama should make the centerpiece of his presidency mobilizing a million new start-up companies that won’t just give us temporary highway jobs, but lasting good jobs that keep America on the cutting edge. The best way to counter the Tea Party movement, which is all about stopping things, is with an Innovation Movement, which is all about starting things.
Fine. Let’s support programs that can provide education and opportunity. But Friedman also gives the president some advice.
Well, here’s my free advice to Obama, post-Massachusetts. If you think that the right response is to unleash a populist backlash against bankers, you’re wrong. Please, please re-regulate the banks in a smart way. But remember: in the long run, Americans don’t rally to angry politicians. They do not bring out the best in us. We rally to inspirational, hopeful ones. They bring out the best in us. And right now we need to be at our best.
This is a bad piece of political advice. It pretends that one can decontextualize a politician’s responses and hides behind the phrase “in the long run” in order to do so. President Franklin Roosevelt sounded pretty angry when he spoke to the nation about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor—you remember, “a date which will live in infamy.” And then there was his cousin, Theodore. He got pretty angry at those old monopolies in order to help pass some progressive anti-trust laws. In general, can you imagine how the American people would react if an American president did not get angry at a perceived threat, domestic or foreign, to the well-being of the nation?
To say that Americans don’t rally in the long run to angry politicians is one of those innocuous truisms that mean little in the real political world, for everything depends on what one means by “the long run.” (As Keynes said, “in the long run we’ll all be dead.”) In the short run, and medium runs, the American people surely do rally to an angry president, as long as they can connect with the anger. They also rally to presidents who know when to get angry and when to be inspirational. (Presumably this would mean getting angry on and off, so it would sort of be in the long run.) Oh, yes, and then there are those presidential moments that combine anger and inspiration.
Since the statement about anger is so obviously off the mark and hackneyed, one might be inclined to look for some other motivation for Friedman tossing it out. Here’s my guess. Friedman is scared that if Obama goes too far in attacking the bankers a rift may develop between his administration and the wonderful world of capital. And then America may find itself falling behind foreign nations in the new flat world of economic competition that we face. According to Friedman, entrepreneurs, who at some point will require capital, are the movers and shakers in this world, and it will be a pretty scary place for those places and persons who aren’t on board in terms of the new world order.
But back home, in the meantime, Obama only gets to use the bully pulpit with one hand tied behind his back while he is trying to back Wall Street down. (Note Machiavelli here: it is better that the prince be loved and feared.) Friedman wants Obama to re-regulate the banks. In the real world of American politics just how is he supposed to accomplish this without some heavy duty support in Congress? And given the special interests standing in the way of reforms, you can kiss them good-bye if the American people don’t get sufficiently excited about the issue to get their representatives worried about reelection.
I have a piece of advice for Mr. Friedman and I hope that he won’t mind. It is in the spirit of his advice to the president: Don’t worry! Obama won’t forget about being loved over the long run.
UPDATE, January 27, 2010
For readers who may have felt that I was being a bit unfair to Friedman by claiming that he may have been motivated by fear, I suggest that you check out his column today, “Adult’s Only, Please.” Here is an excerpt. Catch the last line. (He does acknowledge that Obama might be justified in being a bit peeved by the way some on Wall Street have behaved, but hey, just let’s not make them too angry. And if you do, well, you are not being an adult, which of course Friedman is.)
Lately, we’ve seen an explosion of situational thinking. I support the broad proposals President Obama put forth last week to prevent banks from becoming too big to fail and to protect taxpayers from banks that get in trouble by speculating and then expect us to bail them out. But the way the president unveiled his proposals — “if those folks want a fight, it’s a fight I’m ready to have” — left me feeling as though he was looking for a way to bash the banks right after the Democrats’ loss in Massachusetts, in order to score a few cheap political points more than to initiate a serious national discussion about an incredibly complex issue.
President Obama is so much better when he takes a heated, knotty issue, like civil rights or banking reform, and talks to the country like adults. He is so much better at making us smarter than angrier. Going to war with the banks for a quick political sugar high after an electoral loss will just work against him and us. It will spook the banks into lending even less and slow the recovery even more.
I am a professor by trade. I like the idea of making people smarter (or perhaps I should say, better educated), especially over the long run. But I think we all know the danger of coming off like a professor discussing fire codes while the house is burning down.
Spoiler Alert: Do not read if you have not seen the final BSG episode.
Okay, we can all breath a sigh of relief. BSG, which began in the shadow of 9/11, ended its last episode with images of a beautiful summer’s day in New York City. We have, if you will, a degree of closure, and with humor. Some, however, don’t appear to be clued in.
GINIA BELLAFANTE of the NY Times (March 20, 2009) writes in her review of the final episode, “Show About the Universe Raises Questions on Earth,”
But the show could not break with the genre’s tradition of hokey, hopeful earnestness. Landing finally on a pastoral facsimile of Earth, the human-Cylon partnership vows to start anew with pledges not to let science outpace soulfulness. One hundred fifty thousand years later, a city of neon stands on the green terrain — as well as the assumption that we won’t make all of the same mistakes over again.
Wrong, wrong, wrong. The show does not end on a note of hokey, hopeful earnestness. It ends on a comedic one that frames questions that it raised about technology and the environment (especially in the last episode) in a satisfying fashion. How so? Setting right two basic errors in Bellafante’s review will get us off to the races. First, the crew of the BSG was not on a facsimile of Earth. Had this been the case, the conclusion would have made little sense and lost its punch. No, the crew had found good old terra firma. Second, there is no assumption that our species won’t make the same mistakes all over again. As a matter of fact, all we are told is that there is a chance that we will not do so, because not all complex systems behave identically. And the possibility that the future might be different from the past is only offered after seasons of hearing over and over again about the myth of eternal recurrence; it has all happened before and will happen again. Yada, yada, yada. If anything, the latter was overplayed and hokey, not the “assumption” about the future in the last scene.
But what Bellafonte really misses, and which says a great deal about how we should now understand the trajectory of the show, is the sense of humor displayed at the end of the final episode, one that we had not seen sustained earlier in the series. The remnants of the human race find an idyllic ancient earth and proceed to give up their technology (by sailing their ships off into the sun–yes, a bit corny). All hope for humanity seems to lie in a kind of pastoral utopia. But then a green Central Park appears and the “angel” versions of Balter and Six are found in present-day Times Square. They are seen standing and looking at a magazine article at a newsstand (how New York/how urban!) about a 150,000 year old Eve that had been discovered by scientists. This Eve is clearly supposed to be the child Hera that the crew of BSG rescued. During this scene Ron Moore, in classic Hitchcock fashion, appears. (Ronald Moore was the executive producer and a writer for the series. He worked on the script for the finale.) Baltar is wearing his oh so urbane sunglasses, and is in one of his dandyish outfits (which is pretty funny in itself given that it’s a hundred and fifty thousand years since we first saw him dressed to the nines). Six is dressed in NY model mode. They saunter off. A discussion ensues about whether humanity will screw things up again. Not necessarily is the word, but certainly no guarantees. During these last eight or so minutes, we hear “All along the Watchtower” playing from a boom box, and we are shown playful toy robots, some of whom are dancing. The scene is bathed in color. I won’t go into any more detail. Suffice it to say that it is in stark contrast to the deep darkness of almost all of BSG, and this darkness is stripped away not only by urban sights and sounds, but by humor.
There is a serious point here. One can read BSG as an anti-technological jeremiad. I mean, for gods sake, Adama wouldn’t even allow wireless communication on the BSG for fear that the Cylons could hack into the computer system. And of course there are those all too deadly Cylons, etc. Yes, the relationship to technology was always more complex than this in the series. But in the last 30 minutes of the show they really had us going. It looked as if the series had been hijacked by an anti-urban, technophobic wing of the Green Movement, offering us a pastoral utopianism in the tradition of Thoreau and friends. Return to the land, build cabins, love nature, destroy your technology, leave your cities, etc. Instead, by having the show end in the Big Apple (get it/Apple, Eve), after a clearly respectful treatment of the wonders of nature, there is acknowledgment of the need to preserve nature and that human beings are social/urban creatures, that is, they “inevitably” build cities full of life, sound, fury, color, and playfulness. The message is not especially hokey: we have to hope (and by implication, work) in order not to screw things up again given the powers that our species can unleash. Here’s Moore on the topic:
TVGuide.com: Why did you choose to end the show with Six and Baltar walking through Times Square?
Moore: Two things: One, Dave Eick and I had the image of number Six walking through Times Square in her red dress a couple of years ago. We thought potentially that that was just a great visual note to end on. And that also came out of the idea that we eventually wanted the show to directly relate to us. That the show was always intended to be relevant and be current to our society and lives and that it wasn’t completely escapist — “Oh here’s a story about a bunch of people who are not related to us on Earth at all.” We wanted it to ultimately circle back and say look, these people were our forbearers[sic]; in a real sense what happened to them, could happen to us. Look around you. Wake up. Think about the society that you live in and we wanted to make that literal at the end. TV GUIDE March 20th, 2009.
My understanding is that this show was still being written during the American election. The last sequence may have been shot after Moore knew Obama was going to get the nomination. Perhaps we will hear from the people at BSG about whether the American election had an impact on the finale.
P.S. This was a TV series that was broadcast and developed over some five years. It can’t be judged by the standards of a two hour movie. And science fiction, at its best a genre of ideas as well as action, is extremely difficult to pull off in a visual medium. All in all, BSG had a pretty damn good run. And the values of its cast are worth noting. Here is Edward James Olmos, Admiral Adama, and members of the cast at the UN on March 18th, 2009.
At today’s Congressional Hearing:
“We are meeting today at a high point of public anger,” said Mr. Liddy, a former chief executive of Allstate who was installed as A.I.G.’s chief when the Federal Reserve announced its rescue package. “I share that anger. As a businessman of some 37 years, I have seen the good side of capitalism. Over the last few months, in reviewing how A.I.G. had been run in prior years, I have also seen evidence of its bad side.” NY Times, March 18, 2009.
I watched a good portion of Edward M. Liddy’s testimony before Congress today. I hadn’t planned to. I got caught up. Liddy took on the job of CEO at A.I.G. for 1 dollar a year. He appears to be a man sincerely dedicated to the service of his country. However, while by no means clueless about the possible reaction of the American people to the AIG bonuses, he did not realize that his arguments amounted to telling the American people that we had been blackmailed. If he hadn’t agreed to pay the executives of the compromised division their bonuses, they would have walked, AIG would have tanked, and our economy would have headed into a death spiral. Or so he claimed. Liddy needed to retain these folks. And he could only do so by paying out millions. (Yes, he made it clear time and again that there were contracts that had to be honored, but as congressmen pointed out, the company could have chosen not to pay and accepted the possibility of being sued.)
“Of the 418 employees who received bonuses, 298 got more than $100,000, according to the New York attorney general, Andrew M. Cuomo. The highest bonus was $6.4 million, and 6 other employees received more than $4 million. Fifteen other people received bonuses of more than $2 million and 51 received $1 million to $2 million.” NY Times, March 18, 2009
The danger to the nation due to a complete financial collapse is far greater than the danger of terrorism. And this is just what Liddy was claiming might happen if these executives walked and AIG tanked. So we have people dying in the fight against terrorism, but we have others insisting on the entire amounts of their bonuses in order to cooperate and prevent financial ruin. As patriotic Americans (that is, those who are Americans), they should have offered to work for a small portion of what they were being paid, especially the top earning executives.
Each contract with each employee had its own unique structure, reported Liddy. They simply couldn’t hold back the funds. However, today he reported that he has asked the executives to return 50% of the money. They don’t have to, but as good Americans they might. (Why didn’t he ask this of them last week? or a month ago? or ask for more?) Think about this, as you think about all those who are on the street without jobs, including Wall Street people. Think about the sense of entitlement that these AIG executives have. Think about why so many of us didn’t see this sense of entitlement as dangerous to the well-being of our nation until very recently.
The American people have been sold a bill of goods for almost two generations now, and it goes something like this: if we take advantage of the magic of the market, if we just look out for number 1, the free market will reward us as a nation. Yes, there are folks in the military who sacrifice, and there are those who volunteer for civilian service, but at the end of the day we serve our country and communities best by seeking our own fortunes.
I am putting this too starkly you say? Perhaps. But it became the mantra of Wall Street. And as they once said about GM, what’s good for Wall Street is good for America. Just watch those 401k’s grow, and never take any money out of them. The market always makes a profit in the long run. (Of course what they forget to tell you is that the long run can be very long indeed.)
The party’s almost over, as so many have declared. The party, however, is not just about living the high life in good financial times. The party is about having a set of beliefs that comfort and aid us in getting on in the world. And one set of these beliefs has involved the goodness of capitalism and the free market. We have spoken about them as if they are gods. They are not. Capitalism can be an exceedingly productive economic system, but only when operating under proper guidance and regulation. There are no free lunches and there are no entirely free markets. Believing so is exceedingly dangerous, especially when this ideology replaces our common sense about the sacrifices and labors required to build and maintain communities and a nation.