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Listening To Smart People

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As the mid-term election cycle reaches its climax, we find ourselves exposed to an increasing amount of stupid pronouncements by desperate politicians, overworked commentators and plain-old idiots, who managed to attract the interest of television news personnel.  I was particularly amused by the recent outburst from Juan Williams about the fact that he gets nervous when he sees people in “Muslim garb” boarding a plane in which he is a passenger.  NPR saw fit to fire him for making a remark described as “inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices”.  Despite the widespread hand-wringing over the “bigoted” nature of the statement, I was more focused on its stupidity.  Does Juan Williams seriously believe that terrorists would board a plane dressed in Muslim garb?  I would assume that all terrorists learn in Jihad 101 that the traditional garb for airborne martyrdom is the Adidas warm-up suit.  Wearing “Muslim garb” for such an occasion would serve only as an offer to be waterboarded.

Another example of election year asininity is the thought that someone could get elected to the Senate by claiming that the incumbent opponent of said candidate “actually voted to use taxpayer dollars to pay for Viagra for convicted child molesters and sex offenders”.  It was beginning to appear as though stupid has become the “new normal”.

Finally, some fresh air came along when a few news outlets reminded us that there are still some smart people among us.  The Los Angeles Times was kind enough to publish an interview with Elizabeth Warren, conducted by Jim Puzzanghera.  President Obama decided to appoint Professor Warren to launch the newly-created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau out of fear that a protracted confirmation battle would ensue if he appointed her as director of that agency.  With non-stop news coverage currently focused on the recent disclosures of fraudulent conduct extending from the mortgage origination process right through the foreclosure process, it would seem that the election-eve interview would provide an opportunity to assail the targets of the new agency.  When asked whether she would support the scattergun approach of seeking a nationwide foreclosure moratorium “while bank paperwork problems are being worked out”, Professor Warren gave us a glimpse of some traits we haven’t seen in a while:  restraint and common sense.  Here is her response to that tough question:

This agency will not veer from its support of American families, whether it’s in the foreclosure crisis or elsewhere.  But no one would want this agency … to act before it had collected all of the necessary data and thought through the options.  The (state) attorneys general are moving fast, and at this moment, I think that’s the right response … with emphasis on “at this moment.”

Professor Warren wasn’t the only smart person to draw some curiosity from the ADD-addled news media this week.  My favorite stock market guru, Jeremy Grantham, released his latest Quarterly Letter on Tuesday.  Its Halloween-based theme made it impossible to overlook.  As usual, Mr. Grantham gave us his unique, brilliant perspective in exposing how the Federal Reserve’s reckless (if not actually criminal) monetary policy helped cause the financial crisis and how Chairman Bernanke’s anticipated move toward more quantitative easing could make a bad situation worse.  Here are a few gems from Grantham’s must-read essay:

And these are most decidedly not normal times.  The unusual number of economic and financial problems has put extreme pressure on the Fed and the Administration to help the economy recover.  The atypical disharmony in Congress, however, has made the Federal government dysfunctional, and almost nothing significant – good or bad – can be done. Standard fiscal stimulus at a level large enough to count now seems impossible, even in the face of an economy that is showing signs of sinking back as the original stimulus wears off. This, of course, puts an even bigger burden on the Fed and induces, it seems, a state of panic.  Thus, the Fed falls back on its last resort – quantitative easing.  This has been used so rarely that its outcome is generally recognized as uncertain.

*   *   *

And of all of the many mistakes of the current Administration, the worst, in my opinion, are directly related to this fiasco:  the inexplicable choice of Geithner, who was actually placed at the scene of the crime in New York and whose fingerprints were on the murder weapon, and the reappointment of  … gulp … Bernanke himself, about whose reappointment much juicy Republican criticism was made, all of it completely justified in my view.  There may, however, be a small ray of hope.  The recent Fed appointee, Vice Chair Janet Yellen, said not long ago, “Of course asset bubbles must be taken seriously!”  She also said, “It is conceivable that accommodative monetary policy could provide tinder for a buildup of leverage and excessive risk taking.”  Yes, sir!  Or rather, madam!  A promising start.  These sentiments, of course, are completely contrary to the oft-repeated policies of Greenspan and his chief acolyte, Bernanke.  Perhaps she will slap some good sense into her boss on this issue.

*   *   *

Since it is customary in polite society to apologize for causing distress, on behalf of the Fed, let me apologize for the extraordinary destructiveness of its policies for the last 15 years.  Bernanke’s version of an apology, delivered in January this year to the American Economic Association, was to claim that the Fed’s monetary policy during the 2000-08 period was appropriate, and that there were no major failings, such as missing the housing bubble completely, that were worth mentioning.  This stubbornness in the face of clear data is right up there with efficient market believers.  And very impolite indeed.

Now I have to go back to waiting another three months for Jeremy Grantham’s next Quarterly Letter.  As always, the current one will be tough to beat.  In the mean time, it’s nice to know that there are some smart people around, capable of providing solutions to our most pressing problems.  If only those vested with the authority to implement those ideas were paying attention   .   .   .



PSD

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October 23, 2008

It happened again.  Another conservative pundit predicted that Barack Obama would likely become the 44th President of the United States.  This time it was David Frum, appearing on The Colbert Report.  Frum stated that the McCain-Palin ticket is unlikely to win the election, unless Obama-Biden loses it.  With that in mind, Joe Biden has now begun wearing his Halloween costume.  He will continue to do so through Halloween weekend for the supposed purpose of entering as many Halloween costume contests as possible.  Halloween is on a Friday this year.  Biden has been entered in contests through Sunday night.  He will be wearing a ball gag in his mouth.  He will be carrying a card with the following explanation:

This is my Halloween costume.  I am the “ball gag guy” from Pulp Fiction.

After the Halloween costume contests, Biden will be able to remove the gag from his mouth during the wee hours of Monday morning.  On Monday, he will begin eating soft pastas and work his way up to solid food.  Tuesday won’t matter, since that will be Election Day.

Unfortunately, things look worse for Republican Vice-Presidential candidate, Sarah Palin.  I am reminded of her fate by the constant appearance of Brooke Shields on TV.  By now, most of the public might realize that Brooke is apparently suffering from Post-Stardom Depression (PSD).  This condition has ostensibly caused her to appear in televised Volkswagen commercials.  Poor Brooke!  Her self-esteem must have gone through the floorboards!  Isn’t there any medication that can help her with this?  Did Tom Cruise dissuade her from taking it?

Meanwhile, Republican operatives have already announced that Sarah Palin’s campaign outfits will be given to charity after the election.  At least Sarah managed to secure possession of “The Cards” (the cue cards from her appearance on Saturday Night Live).  After the election, PSD could likely put Sarah into a world of hurt.  Trig would be sitting in his playpen, crying … and Sarah would be sitting on the rec room floor, crying and hugging The Cards.  All will be lost.  She will be forced to return to her existence as the Governor of the State of Alaska.  Her attention will be abruptly refocused from the world’s most monumental crises, to the humdrum issues involving meth labs and snow machines.  She would, no doubt, do her best to cope with this malady.  She might go so far as to seek compensation for this unexpected hardship.  The Republican Party could hire experts to testify that PSD does not really exist.  Governor Palin might be forced to hire experts to dispute those opinions and, in the process, eventually be compelled to disclose personal records concerning the consultations between those experts and herself.  It could get really ugly.  The would-be “poster woman” of the future “gender-inclusive” Republican Party might end up being portrayed by her former advisors as just another “claimant”, attempting to milk the “frivolous lawsuit” system for all it is worth.

Many of us began to suspect that Sarah would get “thrown under the bus” after the election.  We became suspicious of this, once she was assigned to deliver the “cheap shots” against Obama in her stump speeches.  MSNBC’s Chuck Todd has already expressed suspicion that John McCain might be harboring resentment toward Palin, out of concern that she could be the reason for his diminished standing in the polls.  After all, most commentators believe her candidacy wasn’t McCain’s idea, anyway.  At the Republican Convention, Newt Gingrich did a lot of bragging that the selection of Palin was his idea.  Will this bragging continue after Election Day?

In the weeks ahead, the human tragedy could take its toll.  Will Sarah Palin be left in the ditch with PSD?  Will it be necessary for her to “eat crow” and capitulate to reliance on Barack Obama’s health care plan, to address PSD?  Regardless of what the courts might do with such a claim, karmic justice would prevail.

The Narrowing

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October 20, 2008

Halloween is less than two weeks away.  The theme of the perfect horror film for 2008 becomes increasingly apparent as I type this.  We can rely only on the YouTube medium to get this year’s best spooky thriller before the public in time.  Right now, the trees in our nation’s capitol are manifesting the multi-colored transition to autumn.  The time to shoot this movie is right now.  The time to get it before the public is right now.  The Narrowing has the potential to be the “fright film” of the decade.

The horror depicted in this movie is most troubling for the moderate Republicans.  On Sunday, October 19, millions of Americans watched former Secretary of State, Republican Colin Powell, a retired Army General, endorse Democratic nominee Barack Obama for the Presidency.  Among the reasons given by General Powell for his endorsement of Obama included what he described as “the narrowing” of the Republican Party during the course of this campaign.  On that same television program, NBC’s Meet The Press, conservative commentator David Brooks expressed his concern about “the narrowing” of the Republican Party throughout the current election cycle.  In his analysis of General Powell’s rationale for the Obama endorsement, Mr. Brooks said:

He (Powell) was attacking the Republican Party and the key word there was: “narrowing”.  The party is narrowing and leaving a lot of people out – people like Colin Powell.    . . .  They have to ask themselves:  “Why are we narrowing?”

*    *    *

A lot of people who were Republicans, feel like they have been left out  — not by McCain but by the party.  And if McCain has any blame, it is in the beginning of this campaign.  He didn’t say:  “I’m different.”  He didn’t break with the party.  He got sucked up (beautiful Freudian slip) – sucked in at least halfway into the orthodoxy of the party.  That’s narrowing.

As a movie, The Narrowing would feature mobs of “talk radio” – entranced people, wandering through the streets of our nation’s small towns and big cities.  There would be elderly men with racist-attired Curious George dolls.  They would speak with strange little voices, using the Curious George dolls as puppets to complain about how our nation’s public schools would be serving pigs’ feet and black-eyed peas to “red-blooded American children” for lunch.  The movie would depict elderly, white-trash women with “bed head”, repeating the rumor that Barack Obama is uncircumcised.  (It was actually Bill Maher who started this rumor.  In the movie, he would remind these women to include the aspect concerning the scent of curry.)  There would be pit bulls wearing lipstick with small “beehive wigs” and ersatz Kawasaki eyeglass frames, brought to animal shelters and veterinary emergency rooms after horrible maulings and other injuries.  These events would not have been caused from abuse by humans – but from attacks by irate Jack Russell Terriers and Border Collies.  Mobs carrying torches would be chasing after Peggy Noonan and Chris Buckley, yelling: “Traitor!”  John McCain would attempt to transform himself into “the old McCain of 2000” but it would be too late.

The film’s most scary moments would take place on Election Day.  Throngs of screaming people would be seen, running from polling places.  The Sarah Palin “wanna-bes” would show up to vote, not having washed their hairdos or having changed their clothes since Halloween.  The gasping exiles from the voting booths would complain of the overwhelming “homeless smell” carried into the polls by these over-ripe Palin impersonators.

At the conclusion of the film, the vanquished, moderate Republicans would be forced in retreat to the shelter of big cities such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and (gasp!) San Francisco.  They would form “cells” and organize plots to undo “the narrowing” and hopefully live to fight another day.

Meanwhile, here in “the real world”, The Narrowing is upon us.  It has become painfully obvious to the more astute members of the Republican Party and the conservative community.  If the GOP is to have a future, it must develop an immunosuppressive response to The Narrowing.

The Secret Candidate

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September 8, 2008

They’re out there … all around you.  You just don’t know who they are yet.  Right now, all across America, they’re out shopping for those Kawasaki eyeglass frames … trying to re-style their hair into that half-beehive/half-mullet look.  They’re the Sarah Palin wanna-bes — forcing their sons to join hockey teams – each hoping to earn that coveted title for herself:  “Hockey Mom” — a ticket to success in today’s America.  There is no question that Sarah Palin will be the most popular Halloween costume subject for 2008.  Beyond that, there are many thousands of American women, currently adapting their lives to accommodate Sarah Palin as their new role model.

The rest of us just aren’t sure we know who Sarah Palin is yet.  The McCain campaign is obviously training her on the difficult subject of interviews with journalists.  As of this time, there are no Palin interviews scheduled, other than the rumored possibility of an interview with ABC’s Charlie Gibson.  As I write this, McCain campaign CEO, Rick Davis, is holding out for “ground rules”.  I suspect that if the campaign’s senior strategist, Steve Schmidt, were to have his way, any such interviews would be tightly scripted and choreographed, with all questions and answers written in advance by Schmidt.  Meanwhile, Joe Biden appeared on the September 6 edition of Meet The Press.  Biden had to answer at least one question with:

I don’t know what Governor Palin’s position on this issue is, because I haven’t heard it yet.  I have to assume that her position will be the same as Senator McCain’s.

When asked about the impending federal government takeover of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Biden pointed out that he had just discussed the subject with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson on the previous evening.  I could not help but wonder what the hell Sarah Palin would have said in answer to that question   …  “Freddie Mac cracked a lot of sexist jokes at an Obama rally.  Didn’t he die recently?”

Nevertheless, we are beginning to obtain information about Palin for ourselves by using our computers over the Internet.  The mainstream media have nothing for us, other than the superficial biography offered by the Republican National Committee.  What we have initially learned is that Sarah Palin spent six years working toward her Bachelor’s Degree, while attending five different schools in that effort.  Many consider this as evidence that she may be significantly dumber than our current President.  Although I refer to Governor Palin as “The Gumball”, I don’t consider her six-year college tour as a justifiable basis for criticizing her.  Many of us who attended college either made school transfers ourselves, or had friends who did so  — at the cost of lost course credits.  For someone to change colleges five different times, yet graduate in only six years, is quite an accomplishment!  Congratulations, Sarah!

Additional information about Palin has been provided by David Hullen in the September 4 edition of the Anchorage Daily News.  Hullen quoted an e-mail written by Anne Kilkenny of Wasilla, Alaska, where Palin was formerly mayor.  Ms. Kilkenny was described by Hullen as a “stay-at-home mom, letter-to-the-editor writer and longtime watcher of Valley politics.”  This article and e-mail are essential reading for anyone with more than a nanobyte of curiosity about who Sarah Palin really is.  Before I quote a passage from Ms. Kilkenny’s e-mail … let’s revisit The Gumball’s quip about Barack Obama, included in her acceptance speech, as written by Matt Scully:

I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities.

Ms. Kilkenny of Wasilla informed us about the consequences for Sarah Palin’s failure to fulfill those responsibilities:

During her mayoral administration most of the actual work of running this small city was turned over to an administrator. She (Palin) had been pushed to hire this administrator by party power-brokers after she had gotten herself into some trouble over precipitous firings which had given rise to a recall campaign.

In other words, Palin’s duties as “mayor of a small town” had to be “outsourced” to someone else, because Palin was in over her head and on the verge of being recalled.  Was this administrator from Bangalore, India, by any chance?

As we learn more about The Gumball, we are repeatedly reminded of our current President.  Here’s another remark about Palin, from Ms. Kilkenny’s e-mail:

She’s not very tolerant of divergent opinions or open to outside ideas or compromise.  As Mayor, she fought ideas that weren’t generated by her or her staff. Ideas weren’t evaluated on their merits, but on the basis of who proposed them.

If you thought that John McCain was becoming a lot more like President Bush, Sarah Palin appears to have a head start.  No wonder she is being kept under wraps!

Many have criticized the mainstream media for “not doing their job” during the run-up to the Iraq war.  Those same news sources appear to be well on the way toward repeating that performance, as we enter the run-up to the Presidential election.