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Obama Fatigue

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Since President Obama first assumed office, it hasn’t been too difficult to find harsh criticism of the new administration.  One need only tune in to the Fox News, where an awkward Presidential sneeze could be interpreted as a “secret message” to Bill Ayers or George Soros.  Nevertheless, with the passing of time, voices from across the political spectrum have joined a chorus of frustration with the Obama agenda.

On February 26, 2009 – only one month into the Obama Presidency – I voiced my suspicion about the new administration’s unwillingness to address the problem of systemic risk, inherent in allowing a privileged few banks to enjoy their “too big to fail” status:

Will Turbo Tim’s “stress tests” simply turn out to be a stamp of approval, helping insolvent banks avoid any responsible degree of reorganization, allowing them to continue their “welfare queen” existence, thus requiring continuous infusions of cash at the expense of the taxpayers?  Will the Obama administration’s “failure of nerve” –  by avoiding bank nationalization — send us into a ten-year, “Japan-style” recession?  It’s beginning to look that way.

By September of 2009, I became convinced that Mr. Obama was suffering from a degree of hubris, which could seal his fate as a single-term President:

Back on July 15, 2008 and throughout the Presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised the voters that if he were elected, there would be “no more trickle-down economics”.  Nevertheless, his administration’s continuing bailouts of the banking sector have become the worst examples of trickle-down economics in American history – not just because of their massive size and scope, but because they will probably fail to achieve their intended result.

Although the TARP bank bailout program was initiated during the final months of the Bush Presidency, the Obama administration’s stewardship of that program recently drew sharp criticism from Neil Barofsky, the retiring Special Inspector General for TARP (SIGTARP).  Beyond that, in his March 29 op-ed piece for The New York Times, Mr. Barofsky criticized the Obama administration’s failure to make good on its promises of “financial reform”:

Finally, the country was assured that regulatory reform would address the threat to our financial system posed by large banks that have become effectively guaranteed by the government no matter how reckless their behavior.  This promise also appears likely to go unfulfilled.  The biggest banks are 20 percent larger than they were before the crisis and control a larger part of our economy than ever.  They reasonably assume that the government will rescue them again, if necessary.

*   *   *

Worse, Treasury apparently has chosen to ignore rather than support real efforts at reform, such as those advocated by Sheila Bair, the chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, to simplify or shrink the most complex financial institutions.

*   *   *

In the final analysis, it has been Treasury’s broken promises that have turned TARP – which was instrumental in saving the financial system at a relatively modest cost to taxpayers – into a program commonly viewed as little more than a giveaway to Wall Street executives.

It wasn’t meant to be that.  Indeed, Treasury’s mismanagement of TARP and its disregard for TARP’s Main Street goals – whether born of incompetence, timidity in the face of a crisis or a mindset too closely aligned with the banks it was supposed to rein in – may have so damaged the credibility of the government as a whole that future policy makers may be politically unable to take the necessary steps to save the system the next time a crisis arises.  This avoidable political reality might just be TARP’s most lasting, and unfortunate, legacy.

Another unlikely critic of President Obama is the retired law school professor who blogs using the pseudonym, “George Washington”.  A recent posting at Washington’s Blog draws from a number of sources to ponder the question of whether President Obama (despite his Nobel Peace Prize) has become more brutal than President Bush.  The essay concludes with a review of Obama’s overall performance in The White House:

Whether or not Obama is worse than Bush, he’s just as bad.

While we had Bush’s “heck of a job” response to Katrina, we had Obama’s equally inept response and false assurances in connection with the Gulf oil spill, and Obama’s false assurances in connection with the Japanese nuclear crisis.

And Bush and Obama’s response to the financial crisis are virtually identical:  bail out the giant banks, let Wall Street do whatever it wants, and forget the little guy.

The American voters asked for change.  Instead, we got a different branch of the exact same Wall Street/military-industrial complex/Big Energy (BP, GE)/Big Pharma party.

Another commentator who has become increasingly critical of President Obama is Robert Reich, Secretary of Labor in the Clinton Administration.  Mr. Obama’s failure to push back against the corporatist politicians, who serve as “reverse Robin Hoods” enriching CEOs at the expense of American workers, resulted in this rebuke from Professor Reich:

President Obama and Democratic leaders should be standing up for the wages and benefits of ordinary Americans, standing up for unions, and decrying the lie that wage and benefit concessions are necessary to create jobs.  The President should be traveling to the Midwest – taking aim at Republican governors in the heartland who are hell bent on destroying the purchasing power of American workers.  But he’s doing nothing of the sort.

As attention begins to focus on the question of who will be the Republican nominee for the 2012 Presidential election campaign, Obama Fatigue is causing many people to appraise the President’s chances of defeat.  The excitement of bringing the promised “change” of 2008 has morphed into cynicism.  Many of the voters who elected Obama in 2008 might be too disgusted to bother with voting in 2012.  As a result, the idea of a Democratic or Independent challenger to Obama is receiving more consideration.  Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi recently provided this response to a letter inquiring about the possibility that Elizabeth Warren could make a run for the White House in 2012:

A few months ago I heard a vague rumor from someone who theoretically would know that such a thing was being contemplated, but I don’t know anything beyond that.  I wish she would run.  I’m not sure if it would ultimately be a good thing or a bad thing for Barack Obama – she could fatally wound his general-election chances by exposing his ties to Wall Street – but I think she’s exactly what this country needs. She’s totally literate on the finance issues and is completely on the side of human beings, as opposed to banks and oil companies and the like.  One thing I will say:  if she did run, she would have a lot more support from the press than she probably imagines, as there are a lot of reporters out there who are reaching the terminal-disappointment level with Obama ready to hop on the bandwagon of someone like Warren.

If Elizabeth Warren ultimately decides to make a run for The White House, Mr. Obama should do the right thing:  Stop selling the sky to people and step aside.


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Trouble Ahead For Congressional Democrats

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September 2, 2010

Quite a number of commentators have expressed shock in reaction to a recent Gallup Poll pitting a “generic Democrat” against a “generic Republican” for Congress.  As of August 30, the Democrat was trailing by a huge, 10-point margin (51% to 41%).  Gallup described it as “the largest in Gallup’s history of tracking the midterm generic ballot for Congress”.  An examination of the graph reveals that the hypothetical Democrat’s 49-43 lead in mid-July was lost approximately one week later.

There has been widespread speculation as to the cause of this reversal of fortune.  Byron York wrote a piece for The Washington Examiner, which considered a more recent Gallup Poll, pinpointing the particular issues where the Republican position was more popular.  Mr. York then provided his own opinions as to why and how the “generic Democrat” was faltering on some of these issues.  With respect to the economy, York said this:

In October 2006, Democrats held a 53 to 37 lead over Republicans on the issue.  Now, after Democrats passed an $862 billion stimulus bill and touted 2010 as the “summer of recovery,” Republicans hold a 49 to 38 lead.  Democrats have gone from having a 16 point lead to being 11 points behind.

As for the problem of corruption in government, York gave this interpretation of the polling results:

Back in ’06, a large majority — 51 percent to 28 percent — trusted Democrats more than Republicans to deal with the issue.  Now, with Democrats facing high-profile ethics proceedings in Congress, Republicans hold a 38 to 35 lead.

The subject of terrorism was another area where Mr. York offered his opinion on the public’s renewed preference for Republican stewardship:

Just before the ’06 elections, Democrats held a 47 to 42 lead on protecting against terrorism.  Now, after Ft. Hood, Detroit, and the Times Square bombing attempt, Republicans hold a 55 to 31 lead.

I have a different perspective on what has been motivating the voters to favor a “generic Republican” candidate.  Given the format of the poll, I believe the responses are rooted in archetypal motivations rather than the positions and actions of individual candidates on particular issues.  For example, consider the timing:  Late July was when President Obama was taking his umpteenth vacation and playing golf for the zillionth time.  Democrats from the Senate (more so than Congressional Dems) had just sold out to Wall Street by completely eviscerating the so-called, financial “reform” bill, making it as much of a farce as their healthcare “reform” artifice.  The two “reform” shams were widely perceived as a betrayal of the Democratic Party “base” by both houses of Congress as well as the Obama administration.  The aggregate impact of those two legislative hoaxes impacted the public’s understanding of the extent to which corruption and economic irresponsibility were apparent in their Democratic leaders.  I don’t believe it’s so much a problem with excessive spending (i.e. stimulus efforts) as it is with plain-old sleaziness.  “Countrywide Chris” Dodd’s skullduggery is more likely seen as a serious problem than the antics of Charlie Rangel and company.

President Obama’s inability to take a decisive position on anything – his constant attempts to travel up the fork in the road – are recognized as weak leadership, which is then reinforced as a trait of all Democrats.  The constant golfing and vacationing during this crucial period have helped augment the image of a dilettante — as well as an ineffective and/or unconcerned official.  As a result, voters are less confident that these leaders can protect them from terrorism.  When a terrorist succeeds, that event magnifies the perceived weakness, regardless of whether and how many other attempted terrorist schemes may have been thwarted under the current administration.

Meanwhile, pollster Nate Silver has come along to tell us that we’re all reading too much into those recent Gallup Polls.  In an article for The New York Times, Mr. Silver benefited the rest of us with his unique Brainiac perspective:

The reasons for the Democrats’ decline are, as we say in the business, overdetermined.  That is, there are no lack of hypotheses to explain it:  lots of causes for this one effect.  The economy?  Sure.  Unpopular legislation like health care?  Yep.  Some “bad luck” events like the Gulf Oil spill?  Mmm-hmm.  The new energy breathed into conservatives by the Tea Party movement?  Uh-huh.

And this hardly exhausts the theories.  An inexperienced White House that has sometimes been surprisingly inept at coping with the 24/7 news media cycle?  The poor optics associated with Democrats having had a filibuster-proof majority in theory, but not always in practice?  All of the above.

These causes can’t be so easily untangled on the basis of polling evidence; there’s really no basis on which to evaluate the competing hypotheses.  This is particularly so given that different types of political events aren’t isolated from one another — health care reform might have been unpopular, for instance, but the reason for its unpopularity may ultimately have been the economy.

For this reason, we can be skeptical of two types of analysis: claiming that Factor X definitely isn’t contributing to the Democrats’ troubles, and asserting that it definitely is.

Regardless of the cause, the Democrats are headed for serious trouble in November.  As far as I’m concerned:  It serves them right.




BP Buys Silence Of Expert Witnesses

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July 22, 2010

You might be familiar with the manner in which British Petroleum has been silencing potential witnesses to the extent of damage caused by the Deepwater Horizon disaster.  A typical example was recently discussed by Anne Macquarie of the Nevada Appeal:

I have a friend who has been working for the last month for a private contractor, doing wildlife inventories in areas affected by the oil spill.  I asked her if I could talk to her about what she saw down there and share it with Nevada Appeal readers.

She told me she’d been required to sign a confidentiality agreement.  She couldn’t talk to anyone about anything she did there.  I didn’t push her — times are tough and I sure didn’t want her to lose her job.

Anticipating criminal prosecution and a nearly infinite number of civil lawsuits, BP has begun a campaign of signing-up as many potential expert witnesses as can be found, not only to testify on BP’s behalf in the numerous proceedings – but, more importantly – to buy their silence.  Litigation attorneys often refer to this tactic as, “buying experts off the street”.   Precious little attention has been focused on this activity.  Dylan Ratigan has exposed it and CBS News briefly touched the subject.  Other than those instances, the mainstream media have not discussed this ploy – at least as of this writing.   Here’s some of what CBS had to say:

BP has been trying to hire marine scientists from universities around the Gulf Coast in an apparent move to bolster the company’s legal defense against anticipated lawsuits related to the Gulf oil spill, according to a report from The Press-Register in Mobile, Ala.

Scientists from Louisiana State University, Mississippi State University and Texas A&M have reportedly accepted BP’s offer, according to the paper.

The federal government is expected to file a massive Natural Resources Damage Assessment lawsuit against BP, and it’ll have to draw on large amounts of scientific research to build its case.

*   *   *

Robert Wiygul, an Ocean Springs lawyer who specializes in environmental law, said BP is in effect denying the government access to valuable information by hiring the scientists and adding them to its legal team.  “It also buys silence,” Wiygul told the Press-Register, “thanks to confidentiality clauses in the contracts.”

Scientists who sign the contract to work for BP will be subject to a strict confidentiality agreement.  They will be barred from publishing, sharing or even speaking about data they collected for at least three years.

George Crozier, director of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, who was approached by BP, told the paper:  “It makes me feel like they were more interested in making sure we couldn’t testify against them than in having us testify for them.”

The original story for the Alabama Press Register was written by Ben Raines.  His article included this interesting aspect of his investigative work on the piece:

BP officials declined to answer the newspaper’s questions about the matter.  Among the questions:  how many scientists and universities have been approached, how many are under contract, how much will they be paid, and why the company imposed confidentiality restrictions on scientific data gathered on its behalf.

Coincidentally, CBS also provided us with the perspective of musician/performance artist Laurie Anderson on this subject.  She appeared on David Letterman’s Late Show on July 14 to perform a song entitled, “Only An Expert”.

On July 21, Bloomberg News televised an interview with Matthew Simmons, founder of the Ocean Energy Institute.  Among the subjects included in the conversation was the topic of BP’s confidentiality agreements.  If what Mr. Simmons said is correct, BP’s legal defense efforts will become futile once the public realizes “we have now killed the Gulf of Mexico”.  At least on that one point, the cretins at BP are probably not the only individuals who are hoping that Mr. Simmons is wrong.



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