Thursday, January 26, 2012

White Knight or Sacrificial Pawn

I know there's been a lot of (deserved) angst regarding a potential agreement between the Obama administration, the Justice department, and the biggest financial firms.

The deal would go like this:

Justice Department(JD): Hey, major banks?

Major Banks(MB): (Looks up from eating a baby.) Yesssss?

JD: Remember how you made billions of dollars and then crashed the economy, caused massive unemployment and drove people's pension and retirement funds into a downward spiral?

MB: I kinda remember that. Something before I started making money hand over fist, made record profits and gave out bonuses to the highest people while laying off more people while asking for more tax cuts because without more money I can't employ people?

JD: Yeah, it was when you got a massive bailout so you were able to survive.

MB: I was forced to take that I'd have been fine without it!

JD: Whatever. Look, we did some checking, and looks like some of those billions of dollars you made came from fraud.

MB: Fraud? What's wrong with that?

JD: It's illegal.

MB: Really? Greenspan said that the market would correct fraud, that the market was everything, and Ayn Rand was soooo sexy -

JD: Nope - fraud is still illegal. Telling people their investment was good while you knew it was bad is illegal. Faking signatures on mortgage documents to change the conditions of a loan - that's illegal. Submitting paperwork showing someone is a good mortgage risk when you know they're not - that's illegal.

MB: But - I'm innnocent! It wasn't me - it was the one armed man!

JD: Yeah, well, I got word from my boss. Hold on.

MB: What are you doing - let me go - ow that hurts!

JD: I just slapped you on the wrist!

MB: But it stings so hard!

JD: Promise never to massively defraud people and institutions again?

MB: Oh I promise!

JD: Are you sure - because it seems like you guys are big on the repeat offenders list. You keep promising to change, get a fine, and then nothing happens.

MB: Really really we promise this time! Just don't let mean judges actually call us out on never actually fulfilling our promise to do better!

You get the idea. And it looked like the Obama administration was going to create a deal that would basically give a slap on the wrist to the financial firms - or even let states investigate the crimes.

This makes Obama's State of the Union address where he announced a financial fraud investigations team so interesting. And it's not just the announcement of this group - it's also who's heading it up.

Eric Schneiderman, Attorney General of New York State, has been very adamant about making the financial industry pay for their bad behavior. Only - it looks like this investigative task group has no interest in really doing anything interesting. Schneiderman might just wind up being a figurehead, lending his name to the project.

So which is it? Will he be the white knight to lead the charge against the giant vampire squid - or someone sacrificed to lend a vener of respectability to the cause?

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Scorched Earth Primaries and Republican Tactics

When Obama became President of the United States, there was much talk about an era of "new bipartisanship." He came in and started offering the hand of friendship, nominating Republicans for top offices like ambassadors and important policy decisions. His health care plan was crafted to mostly a wish list of Republican ideas - mandated health insurance, for example.

The Republican response was to basically say "If we don't get our way on *everything*, then you get *nothing*." Ideas they had championed for decades - Pay As You Go legislation to head off deficits, for example, ideas that Republicans proposed were suddenly voted against if Democrats were willing to go along with it. Chuck Grassley proposed mandated health insurance - then attacked it as unconstitutional and dangerous when Obama put it into the health care bill.

The plan seemed simple: All for me, and nothing for you. Not just nothing for you - the Republicans have spent nearly 4 years saying "Screw you" to everything and anything the Democrats propose, even if 24 hours before Republicans agreed with it. Every vote in the Senate is now cancelled unless Democrats can get a 60 vote majority. Every Obama nomination requires the same. Oh, did we pass a law saying there was consumer protections? Yeah, good luck getting anyone to fill the seat to head it up.

The idea is by denying Obama anything and everything, they can get what they want. And for the most part, it worked. When faced with blowing up the entire country or giving in to Republican demands, Democrats have decided not to let the entire system fall apart. So Republicans have learned the lesson: acting like terrorists holding a bomb to the United States will get you result.

And now - that mentality has struck the Republican primaries.

You have Mitt Romney, the would-be nominee. On paper, he doesn't look too bad. Republican who was in governor of a liberal state. Has enough money. No major skeletons in the closet. Clean cut. Looks nice.

And yet - he can't close the deal. Maybe it's the "I was for abortion now I'm against it," "My health care plan for Massachusetts which the Obamacare plan is based on is a horrible thing," "Gay marriage is awesome until I'm running for the Republican presidential ticket and then it's awful" issues. Or it's the "I only pay 15% in taxes and I have $200,000,000 in the bank - yet I pay less money in taxes than a secretary because that's totally fair because mine is investments instead of actual work." Maybe it's the Mormon thing - evangelicals have their scrotums vanish up into their bodies at the idea of a Mormon president ordering the US military to send Mormon missionaries two by two unto every doorstop in America.

Whatever the reason, the scorched earth policy the Republicans took with Obama - is now being visited upon Mitt Romney. Newt Gingrich is totally unelectable, he's been making racist comments about how "black people should stop asking for food stamps and ask for jobs" (Why black people, specifically, Newt? I mean, "poor people" is at least a Republican talking point for the lazy, but why are "black people" the ones not working compared to the what - "hard working white man on medicare who's not on the government dole unlike those lazy black people"?). Same with Senator Rick Santorum. You'd think that they'd fall in line, support their candidate's party-

And yet they are doing everything they can to destroy Romney. Calling him a "moderate liberal." Rick Perry is dropping out and going to support Gingrich. The conservative christian base is nominating anyone but "that Mormon" because well - you know. Mormons aren't Christians (even though they worship Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior from sin forever and forever amen - but that's not Christian enough for those folks).

From what I'm seeing, the Republicans are willing to destroy even themselves if they don't get what they want. "We don't want Romney, and we have this bomb set to go off if he's nominated."

I don't know if Romney could beat Obama in the general election. But at this rate, it won't matter if the Republicans are willing to destroy themselves.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Life - is like Minesweeper

We like to think that life is like chess. Everything is set up equally on either side, and it’s just our intelligence, our experience, our wits against the rest of the world. Against any and other comers, and we rise or fall based on how well we play.

I’ve learned that life isn’t like that at all. Life is more like Minesweeper.

Some of us were born under simpler, easier circumstances. Everything charted out for us, already set up with homes and school and contacts that make the decisions to easy. Oh, you have to guess a little - perhaps you’re born with a genetic deformity, but really - odds are, you’re going to come out on top.

But for so many of us, life is far more complex. So many choices. You have a strategy, you avoid the mines, use your wits. Eliminate what doesn’t work and find your path. Perhaps you’re smarter than other people and get further.

What you can never escape, though, is that sooner or later - you have to guess. There’s no way to logic your way out of it. You can apply statistics, reason, and all the rest to the problem. But at the end of the day, you’re going to look across your options - and you have to guess. There is simply no. Other.Way.

And odds are - you’re going to guess wrong. You’re going to fail if you want to win the game - or else you have to settle with what you have, and just let it be.

Maybe you’ll even guess right this time - but what about next time? Or the next?

Odds are - you’re not going to be on top. There is no luck, there is no destiny - you play every trick and idea and though you have, but ultimately - it comes down to deciding if you’re going to settle - or going to challenge life one more time and hope it doesn’t blow up in your face.