Archive for September, 2008

Remain Calm?

Ladies and gentlemen: Do not panic. I repeat: do not panic! However, I feel it is my duty to tell you that if you do not accept this bailout package immediately and without question, you will be subject to the consequences of a hideous financial meltdown which will make our earlier mortgage crisis look like a  check-cashing fee instituted by your local bank, which, by the way, may or may not be open for business, or may now be owned by an investment firm (unless your bank went ahead and bought an investment firm – or maybe Warren Buffet bought them both, in which case we can all rest easy because the man’s resources are unlimited, aren’t they?)

At any rate, as I said: Do NOT panic. We are going to get through this, maybe even rise above this, unless we first sink into a depression the likes of which will make the Depression look like a late charge on your credit card, whose line of credit, by the way, has been cancelled.  And no, we are no longer accepting mortgage payments made on your credit card; in fact, maybe we’ll just cancel your card and take your house. By the way, is your house worth anything – or at least more than the firms we’re bailing out?

Oops, I said bailout, which a guy at a bar the other night told me was absolutely the WRONG term to use. It’s the responsibility of the government to fix the economy by whatever means necessary, he said, and that’s what we’re doing. Shoring up free markets (or the free-market economy; I get confused) is the government’s job, whether it’s bailing out – er, temporarily investing – in the airline, auto or finance industries. By the way, the guy was an investment advisor, bless his little heart and he didn’t look the least bit worried, which made me feel better about the bailout – damn, I mean the taxpayer investment.

Okay, the price tag seems a little high and the powers granted to the Treasury Secretary seem a little, er, powerful but, as my guy at the bar pointed out, who better than someone who used to run Goldman Sachs. You see how well they’re doing; Warren Buffet likes Goldman. The current governor of New Jersey was also president of Goldman Sachs at one time and you see how well New Jersey is doing – number one when it comes to the state deficit. Go Jersey!

Anyway, yeah 700 billion seems like a lot of money but it really isn’t. I mean, it’s not quite three times as expensive as the Iraq war has been and while that’s supposed to bring us long-term peace and security and a return to our former glory around the world, this investment is going to bring us stability and security and the assurance that once the big boys get back on their feet and start spending all that money on crappy mortgages (ours) and second homes in the Hamptons (theirs), some of it will trickle down to you and me. Can’t wait! Sure, the oversights seem minimal and it’s not clear what we, the investors get out of it but it’s absolutely imperative we don’t start making rules which might scare the big boys away.

See, that’s why it’s so important for the American people not to panic and not to ask too many questions either. Come on, do you understand derivatives? Does Congress? Gimme a break. Besides, as my barfly friend reminded me, Congress people, they’ve got, like, ten things on their plates. Better to rely on Paulson. Bet he knows what a derivative is.

Anyway, the good news about this plan is it’s really shaken things up in Washington. We have Democrats who hate the plan but might support it, although they hate Bush, think the amount is atrocious, distrust the powers granted to the Treasury Secretary, want to know why we can’t help people defaulting on their mortgages and wonder why the Republicans won’t support it. We’ve got Republicans who hate the plan and won’t support it because they’ve suddenly remembered they hate government intervention almost as much as they hate government oversight. What kind of politics the Administration is practicing is beyond anyone’s ability to comprehend at this point but it appears to be primarily about the politics of fear, at which they excel. But no need to panic.

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There’s so much news to which I could endlessly hyperlink but I’m going to believe my readers are already staring at the headlines, mostly in disbelief. Of paramount concern right now is the economy, especially amidst the bailouts. Although I’m the farthest thing imaginable from an expert, I’m trying hard to follow the helpful articles I’m reading in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and various on-line sites. Rare kudos to the media for trying to make the explanations as simple as possible.

Of course, foreign affairs, while not dominating, remain always-important and ever-present, considering that bombings continue in Iraq, the latest apparently targeting not only American and British troops but also cooperating Iraqui security forces.

There doesn’t seem to be any upside to the news this week, except there could be. Maybe, just maybe, the candidates will be allowed to – or forced to, depending on how you see things – return to discussing serious issues.  Maybe we’ll be able to drop the faux insults and counter-charges and stupid – yes, stupid, focus on personality and who’s hot and who’s hip.  Maybe we can lose the idea that we should vote for someone like us – politicians aren’t like us.  Maybe we can prove Tucker Carlson, the conservative pundit, late of Crossfire, wrong when he says Americans aren’t interested in issues, only in entertainment.

I propose a different litmus test for all candidates in the final weeks, one that should have been  the ONLY test all along. I say we look at our candidates’ KNOWLEDGE. On one hand, that seems obvious, yet we don’t seem to place much value on it. Some would argue that, with all the experts around, the President and Vice-President don’t have to really KNOW all that much.

I ferociously disagree. I want people who can listen, who can learn, who can be taught and are willing to devote time to conceptual thinking. I want people who have at least a basic grasp of economics and tribal conflicts that inflame so many regions of the world. They don’t have to be experts but they have to know enough to know which experts to call upon.  

I want a President who’s smart. Yes, smart; someone  who thinks it’s important to know things, who isn’t afraid of mastering the details, someone able to listen to and work with other smart people. I don’t want anyone who seems to be stubborn, closed-minded, or hard-wired to a single point of view. I don’t think making major stumbles that reveal a lack of understanding on important issues is endearing or entertaining and I don’t think pointing it out is elitist, biased, “liberal”, condescending, or hate-mongering. If anything, it’s patriotic.

I’m tired of apologizing for admiring people with background, with learning, with – here’s that word again – KNOWLEDGE.  Even David Brooks, a writer whose opinons I don’t usually share, pointed out in his Op-Ed column the other day: “Democracy is not average people selecting average leaders. It is average people with the wisdom to select the best prepared.”

I just hope we stop entertaining ourselves long enough to start practicing democracy

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Still Here

When I woke up this morning, I noticed I had the usual aches and pains, along with arms, legs, a head, a torso – in short, a corporal presence. This indicated to me that I had not been swept into a large black hole inadvertently caused by Large Hadron Collider. Notwithstanding the infinitesimally small chance this would have happened, some Internet wags have been having fun predicting the end of the world. Well, the super-sized particle accelerator went live today somewhere near the French-Swiss border, which is six or seven hours ahead of us. Since I woke up at seven AM, I figured I was safe. Now it’s 1 PM and I’m still here.

My first thought was, “Thank goodness.” My second thought was, “Damn, I have to go through another 9/11.” 

It’s been seven years since my husband was killed by an airplane commandeered by terrorists and flown into one of two World Trade Center buildings in Lower Manhattan and I still haven’t sorted out the shock, the violence, the grief and the historical significance of the event. I try to keep the public and private aspects of my experience separate like a good reporter who happens to get shot while covering a shooting war. I’d like to look at how the event affected Americans and U.S. policy and events that unfolded afterwards without circling back to my personal loss but I don’t know if I ever could, even if anyone could ever let me. This was a public death and while there are days when I have to strain to recall the day my father or my mother died, I will always know when my husband was killed, just as I will never know the exact circumstances.

So what should we do on September 11th? I never know what to say when I’m asked but here are some thoughts: Read up on the event or attend a lecture or discussion. Perform an act of kindness or charity. Engage yourself in the world. Count your blessings. Hug your kids – or someone else’s. Contact your friends. Appreciate the moment. Reflect on the meaning of life.  Practice tolerance. Stay calm. 

It’s as good a set of activities as any I can think of, not only for 9/11 but for any and every other day of the year.

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The storm in New Orleans that wasn’t (well, it was but it wasn’t so awful as to wreak utter havoc. However, it was just strong enough to show that the levees still aren’t adequately reinforced) also served to delay the GOP convention, which allowed George Bush to not show up, citing “pressing business” in DC. Now the GOPs just have to deal with Palin.

Honest to God, I don’t know what to make of this imbroglio. Yes, children of the candidates should be off-limits and so should questions about family dynamics and so should the religious beliefs and practices of the candidate unless they involve ritual sacrifice or devil worship, I suppose.  The truth is, however, they haven’t been for some time. I am kind of surprised about charges of sexism flying around, not because I don’t think it exists but because those tossing out the accusations are being hypocritical. Aren’t we allowed to ask questions? Good lord, after the long and drawn-out brouhaha over whether Obama spent twenty years in a church with an angry inflammatory pastor, aren’t we allowed to ask about Palin’s involvement in the firing of a state employee who had supposedly refused to fire the trooper who just happened to be her soon-to-be-ex brother-in-law? Aren’t we (at least if we have a certain take on where the Almighty fits into politics) allowed to look at her public statements about the Alaska pipeline and the Iraq war being “God’s will?” Why is it okay to question one candidate’s “otherness” and not another’s judgment?

Both parties are guilty of what my dad used to call “the pot calling the kettle black” but I find it exceptionally ironic that the party that has no problem questioning the patriotism and family values of members of the other party is crying foul over the raised eyebrows. Still, I want it done. War, foreign policy, the economy, universal healthcare, the environment and the type of Supreme Court Justices we might expect to be nominated: there are, underneath all the rhetoric, two distinct positions on these and other issues. Let the positions come through so that we can all make our decisions in (relative) peace.

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