Crisis? What Crisis?

I have a piece on San Diego’s pension fund discomforts and budgetary woes today in the analog edition of CB.  Check it out here.

And what’s all the pension fund  hoo-haw about, anyway?  I thought that fiasco was over?  I mean, wasn’t it only the chicken little likes of fringe thinkers  at Voice of San Diego or The Reader or the whacko lefties  at at  CityBeat who cited—get this—official facts and figures to foolishly warn that the pension was still heading full-bore into multi-billion dollar oblivion? After all, banishing Mike  “The sky is falling and bankruptcy  still looms” Aguirre from public life was by itself supposed to solve any lingering pension problems.  Did you hear our now erstwhile city attorney  Jan  “the Ferret man”  Goldsmith  saying anything a pension crisis during last year’s campaign—or ever since?

Back when Mad Mike was warning the pension deficit could drown the city in red ink the total magnitude of the problem as around a billion dollars.  Now we awaken from slumber (or, better said, personal financial nightmares) to discover that the deficit has swollen to over two billion dollars?  Where was the screaming along the way?  True, it was little less than a year ago that Joe Esuchanko, a consulting actuary for the City of San Diego, dropped his little bombshell about the pension deficit exploding four times faster than local home prices were imploding.  But the city council spent more time taking one last opportunity to bash Aguirre back then  for running hundred thousand dollar office benefits than deal with Esuchanko’s stark numbers so how serious could the problem be?

I seem to recall reading a piece by local icon of intelligence Don Bauder last spring in which he was pointing out how bad the pension fund already was—and how much worse it was going to be—but then the fund’s actuary (I think it was) stood him up for an interview and never got back to him.  Correct me on this if I’m wrong—I’ve been going through back issues of the Reader looking for the exact quote.  But that was months ago.  We’re only having a kinda public awareness of this now?

Meanwhile Pension Fund Hefe  David Wescoe seems complacent about two billion dollar deficits.  According to him, the chasm of debt due to the crash of the pension fund portfolio is simply a natural fluctuation of the market which will no doubt right itself in the long term.  Of course that is what the pension fund management said back in 2002—when the pension debt was half of what it is now.  Inspires confidence, doesn’t it

And the worst  Jay Goldstone is worried about is laying off another 300-400  jobs because they had to kick the $30 million they had to give to the Pension kitty in any event?  The city’s required pension fund contributions may routinely top a quarter billion per year over the next decade to maybe 20%-25%  of their total unrestricted general fund  outlays!  At the rate things are going in a few years, the city may only be able to employ 300-400 people, total.

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot

Hi reader gangos of mine.  Now that I’m back blogging more regularly for a while let me put a challenge out there for you – particularly those of contrary views to mine.  How about we see if people writing comments can try and  generate a few dozen (or a few hundred) words that form real content and demonstrate (as I would expect from my students) evidence of critical thought?  Unlike the last couple of comments posted by others to the blog, for example.

Don’t get me wrong:  I appreciate ANY comments.  It means someone is reading this stuff and I’m not just spray painting the ozone with my punditical forays.  I’m just asking you if you could up the amps a little bit.  Don’t just tell me I’m a pompous jerk (heck, that’s a given—who else but  us PJs spend their precious time blogging, for heaven’s sake?  We’re pompous enough to think anyone gives a flying fig….).  Don’t just tell me you are laughing your posterior off.  Tell me and the other readers WHY this is the case.  What’s the logic?  Where’s the evidence?  With a little thought I’m sure that some of you out there should be able to really eviscerate me.  Heck, I  find holes in my logic all the time. So let’s engage in, at least on occasion, something approximating  thoughtful and civil discourse.  ‘kay?

And, if you don’t want to—if you prefer the polemical and the pungent—well, then, keep on commenting anyway.  But do know I might be pushed to the point of dropping the big ‘ol “nanny-nanny-boo-boo” bomb on you from time to time.  (I apologize to any of my readers of tender heart whom I may have offended with such coarse language.)

Dancing With the Devil

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So Tom Delay knows how to dance?  Whodathoughtit? Whodathoughtanyonewouldcare?  But, boy, have the pundits and newslite shows lit up on this one.  And why not?  Tom Delay  shaking his booty in heels is at least as entertaining in an “ain’t that bizarre way” as a little dog dancing in a red dress on youtube.  (Truth be known I feel worse for the dog than Delay.)

Delay was doing more than a little tango, though.  He was doing nothing short of the Republican Reputation Restoration Rumba.  That’s where a Republican who has done something pretty darn not good goes public in an act of “darn, that guy is so contrite he’s willing to blow his dignity right out the window” and ends up reputationally refurbished and ready to run again.

Why it was just a scant 57 years ago this week—right as Tommy Tune Delay was learning his cha cha—that Tricke Dickie played checkers on national TV and saved his political bacon, thereby launching the modern genre of political resurrection through public humiliation.   Ho apropos is that?

Delay is by no means the only Republican since Nixon to stage a redemption comeback on the political theater of the absurd’s stage.  Heck,  Newt Gingrich (as in  lost the second most powerful position in American government after leading his party to political disaster after  trying to  impeach the President for lying about an affair while having an affair that would ultimately result in his second divorce)  has been flaunting himself as the heir apparent of a Republican party in retreat on every AM talk and Fox news show he can be booked on.  Now if he can only get himself booked on American idol the nomination will be in the bag.    And let’s not forget that Sarah Palin (before giving up on being a governor so she could get lucrative speaking fees for talks to Asian businessmen) actually preemptively restored her rapidly declining political panache with one well placed appearance on SNL.  If she’d only done a couple of cheers in high heels she might be in Joe Biden’s tights right now.

Indeed, there have been so many Republicans (Craig, Sanford, et. al)  doing the mea culpa mambo in recent months that they could all get together with Delay and do a special edition of Dancing With the Stars:  A Chorus Line. 

And, yes, there are more than a few Democrats who, over the years, have had to make their own humiliating amends with the public they’d betrayed.  None of them, though, have been able to dance their way back into the public’s heart like  Fred “The Hammer” Astaire.   So what’s a little political corruption way back when  when the man can dance right here and right now? 

Welcome back Tom, you tap dancing fool.  All is forgiven.  Now if they could only get George W. in spandex….

Go Fish

fish-in-newspaperFish left such a thoughtful comment to my last post that I had to take the time to address in an illustrious fashion.

Dear Fish,

You smell like a three-day-left-in-the-sun-real-world-version-of-your-online-avatar.

Sincerely,

Lunacy

No, no. that’s not what I really meant to say.  As far as I know Mr. Fish (who should really pal around with Mr. Chips) is a paragon of hygiene and Body Shop botanical splendor, the mental images of sub par dentistry and grimy fingernails his less than genteel online manor suggests notwithstanding.   A serious statement (or as close to one as Fish seems capable of tapping out with a solitary finger) deserves serious response.

What did then Candidate Obama mean –and his supporters hope for—when promising change?   That would be Change from the worst economy produced by any two term president in modern history?  (And no, this is not the Obama recession any more than the first two years of the Gipper’s Administration are called the Reagan Recession.)  This is not the verdict of left wing hippy type intellectuals.  Check out former Bush speech writer David Frum’s comments last week in which he pointed out:

In terms of income growth and poverty reduction, Bush performed worse than any two-term president of the modern era. Even in the best year of his presidency, 2007, the typical American household still earned less after inflation than in the year 2000. The next year, 2008, American households suffered the worst income drop since record-keeping began six decades ago.

Or maybe it’s change from a litany of some of the biggest mistakes made by any modern administration as summarized  by Craig Newmark, a list which includes:

• Going to war on false premises;

• The greatest disaster relief failure in American history;

• Controversial (and, one might add, potentially dangerous and often unconstitutional assertions of Executive Power;

• Becoming the first administration in modern US history to overtly condone torture;

• Unprecedented politicization of the departments of the Executive Branch (can you say Justice) and political patronage appointments of demonstrably incompetents (see number 2 above) ;

• Fiddling while Wall Street burned and then putting out the fire with a trillion dollars in public money; and

• Gutting environmental policy while exposing millions of Americans to increased health and quality of life risks.

Or how about change in simply ending what an overwhelming numbers of professional historians (more than any other president at this point in the post-presidency) call one of the worst administrations in history.

Of course my own personal favorite bit of change:  having a president who can now use the language of Shakespeare without making the Bard want to switch to French.

Fish,  read a book.  Read history.  Read SOMETHING other than right wing blogs perused while listening to right wing talk radio.  Obama is not the best thing since sliced bread.  He is not the Messiah.  He is making plenty of what I consider to be significant mistakes which all into question his ability to produce the change his supporters hoped for.  But by any objective standard he is so far performing better than his predecessor.  That is a good thing.  Democracy worked.  The people spoke and maybe things improve.

So Fish, I sign off with YAJSCIIYLKJARRWTIJWTDYIMY.EHOC.*

Best, Lunacy

(*You are just so cute in your little knee-jerk and rude reactionary ways that I just want to dip you in my coffee.  Extra hot, of course.)

I

New York (Times) State of Mind

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A set of articles in Saturday’s and Sunday’s NYT weave an interesting story, though the paper of national record doesn’t actually connect the dots.  Indeed, the first two page one articles from Saturday pretty much contradicted each other.  Joe Nocera, in his “Talking Business Column” presents an amusing argument that  Lehman Had to Die So Global Finance Could Live”.  According to jolting Joe, then Treasury Secretary Henry “Damn the Cost, Full TARP ahead” Paulson had to let Lehman collapse (and bring the commercial paper markets and, with it, the global economy, a half-heartbeat away from a full on financial heart attack) in order to create enough of a crisis atmosphere so as to make the resulting TARP bailouts politically doable.  Rahm Emanuel says never let a good crisis go to waste.  Apparently Paulson’s motto was “never let the lack of a good crisis get in the way of making a great crisis.” 

Now, I might quibble with Nocera’s leap of faith argument that the decision to euthanize Lehman was a cold, calculation on Paulson’s part.  At the time lots of heads smarter than mine were scratched trying to find a rhyme and reason as to just whom the Bush team was saving and whom they were leaving to the wolves.  So maybe this is so much seeing faces in clouds on Joe’s part, crediting more calculation to Paulsen’s actions than are due.  Who knows, maybe someday a tell-all memoir will come out saying that Paulson didn’t save Lehman’s because their CEO stole a pudding off his cafeteria plate at Dartmouth.  On such capriciousness have the wealth of nations hinged on occasions past. 

Nor do I disagree that the collapse of Lehman was the direct, The-End-Is-Here, moment that compelled the Democratic Congress to shell out almost a trillion dollars in the peoples’ money essentially to Paulson’s personal checking account so he could dispense it to whom he chose, how he chose, without accountability or liability.  Under no other circumstances short of extra-terrestrial invasion  by the Piranha People of Proxima Prime could I imagine a Congress so scarred as to capitulate on their fiduciary obligations so totally and readily. 

No, my beef is with Nocera’s conclusion  that  Paulson’s actions in letting  Lehman die so as to secure TARP to allow Wall Street to live was a good thing.  I think it just as likely that, had a bailout of Lehman under terms more stringent than, say those applied to AIG, been conducted in early September last year the ensuing panic would not have occurred.  Instead, a much more gradual unwinding of the toxic  mortgage-bundled securities lacing bonds portfolios across Wall Street  might have been addressed  without the crushing  credit crunch that actually occurred.  Moreover, with the luxury of time a bailout of Lehman’s might have allowed, Congress would have been less hasty—or panicky–in  passing a trillion dollar, no strings give away to the same Lords of the Universe who brought the financial universe crashing down. 

But, then, perhaps that was precisely the Paulson point.  Perhaps Paulson wanted a crisis so severe, so abrupt, so catastrophically precipitous that he could force a blank check out of Congress to give to his homies on Wall Street (which was—and no doubt will be again in the future—the Paulson family’s true home address)  with far less restrictions than any parent puts in place before handing a twenty over to a teenager.  Wall Street got the bailout and the right to continue business as usual.  Which, according to the front page article above Nocera’s, is exactly what they’ve done. 

Meaning “Nuttin.”

The article,  “A Year Later, Little Change on Wall Street” details just how little impact having crashed the family economy into a tree has had on the boys of finance.  As a result, a trillion dollars latter,  the American people have bought themselves nothing back bankers ready to do it all over again.  

Meanwhile Peter Goodman’s an article in the next day’s Sunday  NYT  Magazine,  (Big Spenders, They Wish)  underscored the impact of our last generation of Finance Uber Alles  public policy:  the hollowing out–and possible collapse–of the American Middle Class.  (You remember the Middle Class – the people upon whose shoulders and wallets the economy and this little thing called “democracy” have historically rested?  My, but they were SO 20th century.)  As Goodman reports, all one  really has to know about the inequity and long-term stupidity of the last twenty-five years of unabated supply-side economics is this:

 “Many [in the middle class] have lived beyond their incomes simply because incomes have been outstripped hby the costs of middle-class life. By the fall of 2008, most American workers were bringing home roughly the same weekly wages they had earned in 1983, after accounting for inflation.”

 

But at least Wall Street is alive and kicking.  That would be, kicking us in the head.

Perhap’s Nocera’s title should have been “Lehman had to die so Wall Street didn’t have to change a thing.” Or maybe better yet, “Lehman had to die so Wall Street could keep on raking it in from the rest of us.” 

 Quick, knave, findeth me my editorial pen…

Dennis Praeger Was Still Wrong. (Sorry, Mike)

Got this blast from columns past the other day and thought it worthy of response.

 Mike recently wrote:   I know this is an old post but it seems to have an omission in it that is important. Some Italians were placed in custody in the US during WWII. This makes your argument the way you posed it a lot weaker.

So, my response to you, Mike:

Mike,

I fear you are making the logical misstep of arguing from the particular to the general–a tactic common in the world of AM talk and shock politics.  This is where, because you can find a few cases of something, you can argue they represent the general population of the same.  A classic recent example of this was Rush Limbaugh’s assertion that,, because one white kid was beaten up on a bus by one group of black kids, all white kids on busses are at risk being beaten up by all black kids. (Limbaugh gave us a double whammy of fallacy in this one,  basically arguing that the white kid was beaten up because the black kids saw him as racist which, in the structure of his argument, was then taken to mean that all white kids will be seen as racists by all black kids and, therefore, will be beaten up.) 

Yo Rush.  Go ride a bus.

Comparing the domestic treatment of Italian Americans to Japanese Americans during WWII isn’t exactly comparing apples to oranges but it is at least comparing apples to pears.    On November 7, 2000, Congress passed Public Law 106-451 which stated that:

“The story of the treatment of Italian Americans during World War II needs to be told in order to acknowledge that these events happened, to remember those whose lives were unjustly disrupted and whose freedoms were violated, to help repair the damage to the Italian American community, and to discourage the occurrence of similar injustices and violations of civil liberties in the future.”  

The act apologizes for the treatment of Italian immigrants and Italian Americans during the war, describing their treatment.  About 600,000 Italian resident aliens — non US citizens and actually citizens of a country we were at war with–were considered “Enemy Aliens” and subjected to profiling, review and restrictions.  They were not, however, rounded up in mass and sent to isolated detention facilities.  According to the  New York’s John D. Calandra Italian American Institute, which hosted an exhibit entitled “When America’s Italians Were America’s Enemies”

“In New York City, home to the nation’s largest Italian American population and led by Italian American Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, Italian immigrants were photographed, fingerprinted and registered with the Department of Justice and the FBI.  The government told Italian resident aliens to stay off the streets after dark. Daytime travel was restricted. To walk the streets or subway to work, Italian resident aliens in New York City carried bright pink enemy alien passbooks, with photo ID and fingerprint.  Failure to produce the passbook upon demand of a government agent often resulted in arrest. Spoken Italian in public places was officially discouraged by the Federal government.  In Washington, D.C. the attorney general decreed that an Italian resident alien’s  “enemy alien” status alone was tantamount to probable cause, effectively suspending the Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable search and seizure. Under this decree, search warrants could be obtained without any showing of suspicious activity or evidence of a crime.  Authorities in New York City and elsewhere raided more than 2,900 homes of Italian immigrants who did not hold American citizenship.  They seized flashlights, cameras, binoculars, firearms and short wave radios.”

Indeed, as both the exhibit and the public act report, up to 2,100 immigrants were detained for months or even the duration of the war, in some cases.  About 10,000 Italian-American families were relocated from sensitive areas on the west coast.   In this a portion of the Italian-American community had experiences comparable to those of the Nisei (where pretty much the entire community of west coast Japanese Americans – 120,000 people – were interned in government camps.) 

So, first, you are in error comparing the scope and content  of the treatment of Italian immigrants and Italian Americans citizens to that of Japanese American citizens.  What happened to the Nissei was an order of magnitude greater.  More importantly, though, the treatment of Italian Americans only underscores the racial nature of the security measures adopted after Pearl Harbor.  Today, when our kids check those dumb “race” boxes on their school forms, they check “white” if they are French-American, German-American, Italian-American, Luxembourgian-American, etc.  After a twentieth century of suburban churning, the differences between different European nationalities has been bleached out to simply white. Sixty years ago this was hardly the case.  My dad, may he rest in peace,  used to tell a joke about an Italian American (which he was) going down to the deep south to train for the Army (which he did) during the war (in which he fought):

“A swarthy Italian-American GI gets on a bus in Biloxi in 1942.  Bus driver looks at his dark skin and gestures with his thumb, saying ‘back of the bus, back of the bus.’  The fellow protests, ‘I’m not black, I’m Italian!”  The bus driver looks at him, thinks for a moment and says, ‘Off the bus.  Off the bus.” 

In 1942 being Italian—whether American or Immigrant, was to be a garlic eater, a dago,  a wop – in other words, an Other—to many “real Americans” and Italian-Americans suffered indignities and inequalities for decades.  All based on their Italian heritage (e.g., their race.)  Please let us not forget that the term “race” not to long ago didn’t just apply to issues white, black, brown and yellow.  The English thought the Irish were an inferior “race”.  The Nazi government thought every race other than German was inferior.  What we now call ethnic identities used to be considered racial identities. (This shift, in some ways, is actually a sign of progress, twisted though it might seem.)

In short,  the  treatment of Italian Americans and Japanese Americans was driven, ultimately, by racial distinction.  Now it is true that several thousand http://www.traces.org/germaninternees.htmlhttp://www.traces.org/germaninternees.html#mce_temp_url#were also interned during the war, and that their families were allowed to accompany them into internment whose members included US citizens.  Yet these German-American citizens entered internment by choice—as twisted and forced as the choice might have been.  Most of the Italian Americans and all of the Japanese Americans interred had no such choice. 

So, I stick by my original argument.  Dennis Praeger says more sensible things per syllable than any of the other AM talk jocks.  On the issue of Japanese American internment not being racist, he’s full of hooey.