I was very impressed with this:
This makes Obama only the second politician I can remember (after Bill Clinton) to do something musical in public and not come off looking foolish. I also love that he basically did it on a dare from whoever he’s talking to offstage.
I promised myself when I started blogging again that I’d stay away from overtly political posts, but I saw a couple of articles in the news lately that I found interesting in various ways, so I thought I’d share:
BP Makes Amends
When the oil spill first occurred back in April of 2010, environmentalists claimed the damage could last for years, if not decades. Economists predicted economic doom for the Gulf region, already damaged by past hurricanes and other natural disasters. But now, less than two years later, we read this in the New York Times:
BP has performed quite admirably in [the] aftermath. It has spared no expense in cleaning up the oil. It has set aside $1 billion to restore the environment and coastal ecosystem. It underwrote an advertising campaign to lure tourists back to the Gulf Coast. Today, less than two years after the spill, the beaches are sparkling, most fishermen are working and many of the hotels are full.
At the urging of President Obama, BP also agreed to set up a $20 billion fund to compensate anyone who could show that they’d been economically harmed by the accident. Ken Feinberg, the former administrator of the Sept. 11 victim compensation fund, was put in charge of the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, as it was named. Feinberg has since paid out $6.3 billion to nearly 200,000 claimants. Daniel Becnel, a lawyer who has settled thousands of claims, says that his clients often receive more money from Feinberg than they would have if they had gone to court. “You couldn’t have done a better job than Feinberg did,” says Becnel.
So kudos all around. BP, the corporate villain who was accused of caring more about profits than people, has done the right thing. Our government stepped in to help and actually made the process more effective and efficient than it otherwise would have been. And the people of the Gulf Coast worked hard, rebuilt, and are now reaping the benefits – despite a continuing tough economy.
The widening pay gap on Wall Street
We read all the time about big Wall Street bonuses and how those rich bankers take every opportunity to reward themselves with sky-high bonuses while “the 99%” suffer. But here’s a pretty clear depiction of how the financial crisis affected Wall Street firms:
Now, before everyone jumps all over me, I’m not suggesting that $128,000 is a small amount of money, or that the average Wall Street worker is suffering. But it is noteworthy that the average bonus dropped 44% when the crisis hit, and is still 28% below pre-crisis levels. And, according to the article, the 2011 bonuses will likely average $77,000-$90,000 (a 30-40% drop from 2010), or less than the immediate post-crisis figures of 2008. Again: my point is not to launch a telethon for the poor Wall Street bankers, or to suggest that someone making a base salary plus a $90,000 bonus deserves any kind of pity. Instead, I think it’s interesting to note that the industry does police itself pretty effectively when it comes to compensation, despite the lack of any major regulations requiring them to do so.
As an aside: the article attempts to call out Wall Street firms for paying their “top performers” higher bonuses than everyone else. Anyone who’s ever worked in a meritocracy realizes how hollow this criticism rings. Whatever the bonus pool – down 30-40% or up 30-40%, one should always expect the larger share to go to the strongest performers. That is, after all, why they call it “incentive compensation.” In a base+bonus pay model, a prominent reason for putting some portion of the pay “at risk” is to allow companies to reward strong performers relative to weaker ones. And, in a down year like 2011, I don’t think a reward of “same as last year” is overly excessive for those performing at the peak.
Another one of Google’s oddities struck yesterday: well over 500 of you wound up at my site by searching for “obama bracket” or something similar. I posted his 2010 and 2009 picks here in past years, and Google Images has somehow ranked me #2 in its search results for my efforts. So, while it might be too late, I don’t want to be the guy who disappoints 500 more people, so here you go. The 2011 picks from the Prognosticator in Chief:
(Click on the image to see it (a little bit) larger)
It’s become a bit of a personal, annual tradition for me to write something on the anniversary of September 11, 2001. Each one, quite obviously, is a little different, and reading through them all now (2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009), provide an interesting (at least to me) perspective on how one processes a traumatic event like this one over the years.
This year, I once again note the degree to which we are moving on. There will be memorial services of course, but the President’s remarks at his most recent press conference show the shift in emphasis:
I’ll have further remarks tomorrow, but for now let me just note that tomorrow is a National Day of Service and Remembrance and I hope each of us finds a way to serve our fellow citizens — not only to reaffirm our deepest values as Americans, but to rekindle that spirit of unity and common purpose that we felt in the days that followed that September morning.
As was the case last year, I think this is an altogether healthy thing. We should not forget; we should never forget. But there will never come a time when September 11th isn’t the anniversary of the attacks. If we use the occasion as an annual reminder to do something positive, like a National Day of Service, then the day won’t fade into obscurity the way that Pearl Harbor Day has, for instance. As the grief fades, this grim anniversary will come to stand as a regular reminder of the American values that were attacked that day. I can live with that.
Sadly, there’s something else to note about the ninth anniversary of September 11, 2001. The national spirit of unity and community that enveloped us in 2001 has, as one would expect, long since faded. But this year, somewhat suddenly and for no apparent reason, the opposite sentiment – that of hatred, cruelty, and division seems to have sprung up and captured the national spotlight. It is evident in protests, sometimes peaceful but sometimes violent, against the building of places of worship in America, and it’s evident in the suggested burning of sacred religious texts by those of different faiths. Again, I turn to the President’s remarks:
Anne Kornblut: Thank you, Mr. President. Nine years after the September 11th attacks, why do you think it is that we are now seeing such an increase in suspicion and outright resentment of Islam, especially given that it has been one of your priorities to increase — to improve relations with the Muslim world?
President Obama: I think that at a time when the country is anxious generally and going through a tough time, then fears can surface, suspicions, divisions can surface in a society. And so I think that plays a role in it.
One of the things that I most admired about President Bush was after 9/11, him being crystal-clear about the fact that we were not at war with Islam. We were at war with terrorists and murderers who had perverted Islam, had stolen its banner to carry out their outrageous acts. And I was so proud of the country rallying around that idea, that notion that we are not going to be divided by religion; we’re not going to be divided by ethnicity. We are all Americans. We stand together against those who would try to do us harm.
And that’s what we’ve done over the last nine years. And we should take great pride in that. And I think it is absolutely important now for the overwhelming majority of the American people to hang on to that thing that is best in us, a belief in religious tolerance, clarity about who our enemies are — our enemies are al Qaeda and their allies who are trying to kill us, but have killed more Muslims than just about anybody on Earth. We have to make sure that we don’t start turning on each other.
And I will do everything that I can as long as I am President of the United States to remind the American people that we are one nation under God, and we may call that God different names but we remain one nation. And as somebody who relies heavily on my Christian faith in my job, I understand the passions that religious faith can raise. But I’m also respectful that people of different faiths can practice their religion, even if they don’t subscribe to the exact same notions that I do, and that they are still good people, and they are my neighbors and they are my friends, and they are fighting alongside us in our battles.
And I want to make sure that this country retains that sense of purpose. And I think [September 11th] is a wonderful day for us to remind ourselves of that.
And in response to a later question:
We’ve got millions of Muslim Americans, our fellow citizens, in this country. They’re going to school with our kids. They’re our neighbors. They’re our friends. They’re our coworkers. And when we start acting as if their religion is somehow offensive, what are we saying to them?
I’ve got Muslims who are fighting in Afghanistan in the uniform of the United States armed services. They’re out there putting their lives on the line for us. And we’ve got to make sure that we are crystal-clear for our sakes and their sakes they are Americans and we honor their service. And part of honoring their service is making sure that they understand that WE DON’T DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN THEM AND US. IT’S JUST US.
[Emphasis added by me]
It’s easy to say that all of this is just politics rearing its ugly head right before a midterm election. But that was the case in 2006 and 2002 as well. And, one could argue, even more so the case in 2004 and 2008, when a Presidential election was on the line.
I think this is something else. A lot of people will believe just about anything they hear repeated enough times on television or the Internet, like the idea that the President of the United States is a secret Muslim who was born in Kenya, or that mosque-goers in lower Manhattan are the equivalent of Al-Qaeda terrorists. The media attention that naturally follows controversial speech provides cover for two kinds of people: those too lazy to think critically about “Today’s Top Story,” and those who actually harbor bigoted feelings towards entire groups of people who are different than they are.
I hope that September 11th truly becomes our annual reminder to “reaffirm our deepest values as Americans.” I also hope that in future years, it serves as a defense against those who would intentionally divide us for the sake of drawing attention to themselves, regardless of their motives. As the President also said repeatedly in his press conference, “We are not there yet.”
Here’s hoping we’re moving in the right direction.
God Bless America.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard that an Islamic group has received permission to build a mosque two blocks away from Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan. Everyone from Newt Gingrich to Sarah Palin to Glenn Beck has weighed in against the project, claiming that the mosque’s presence would be seen by some as a victory for the 9/11 terrorists. Others have taken a more passive-aggressive tack, claiming that they, personally, don’t mind a mosque, but that putting one so close to Ground Zero would be a cruel reminder of the attacks for the families of those who died there. A smaller contingent is in favor of the mosque, pointing out that one of the things the terrorists attacked on 9/11 is our freedom of religion, with which any American has the right to worship as he/she chooses.
Fortunately, that last group includes New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who, surrounded by religious leaders of many different faiths, gave an impassioned speech about religious freedom while announcing that the petition for the building’s landmark status has been denied, clearing the way for construction to begin.
Today, the New York Times ran an article about the woman in charge of the mosque project. Here are some things I learned from reading the article that I’m sure Newt, Sarah & Glenn don’t want anyone to focus on:
Some kids memorize the words to Elmo’s World. Some kids know all of the Jonas Brothers’ names. Then there’s this kid, who’s parents have taught him to memorize some altogether different fun facts:
Britain’s fiscal year has ended, and the results of its 50% tax on bank bonuses have been tallied:
LONDON—U.S. banks have paid the bulk of the £2.5 billion ($3.81 billion) the U.K. has collected from its bonus tax designed to curb excessive pay, hitting banks’ second-quarter earnings while creating a windfall for the U.K.’s new government.
The one-time tax to collect 50% of bank bonuses above £25,000 was introduced in December by former Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling, who initially estimated it would raise £550 million. . . The charge applies to all bank employees working in the U.K., regardless of where the parent company is located.
According to statements in the past few days from J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc., Bank of America Corp. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., the four banks collectively paid at least $2 billion toward the tax in the second quarter. The U.K. five major banks by assets–Barclays, HSBC Holdings PLC, Lloyds Banking Group, Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC and Standard Chartered–collectively paid about $1.1 billion to cover their bonus tax bills.
(NOTE: The Wall Street Journal may ask you to pay to read the whole article. Don’t – read it for free.)
So that’s $2 billion less for these banks’ (predominantly U.S.) shareholders, or $2 billion less in available capital to modify underwater (American) mortgages, or $2 billion less to loan to (American) small businesses – take your pick. Either way, it occurs to me that as an employee, shareholder and customer of one or more of these banks, the British government just levied a tax on me, even though I didn’t get a vote in their election. And the recently elected government is “warn[ing] the industry to be on alert for further taxes and regulations, particularly relating to compensation.”
Haven’t we been down this road before, England? Don’t you remember what happened the last time? I’m pretty sure it made all the papers. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go get myself a cup of tea…
It’s been quite a while since I posted about politics around here, but tonight I want to talk a little about two of the hot-button topics that have permeated politics in recent months: health care and financial reform. And while I’m at it, I’ll throw in a little about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, just for good measure.
Not interested? No offense taken. Move on to bigger and better things. Up for the discussion? Read on…
In the last three days, the post I put up a year ago showing President Obama’s 2009 NCAA Bracket received 565 pageviews (in the previous three days, it received seventeen). Since there’s so much apparent interest, here’s the 2010 version:
Have at it, folks…
I hate it when this happens. I hate it when everyone gets all over someone who I fundamentally disagree with on most things, but does so in a disingenuous way. Because disingenuity, particularly in the form of partisan spin, is more repulsive to me than political disagreement. And so I find myself wanting to defend someone I don’t like.
Here, word for word, is what Rush Limbaugh said about Haiti (the audio, in case you don’t believe me, is here):
Rush Limbaugh: OK, back to the phones or to the phones. We’re going to start in Raleigh, NC. Justin, you’re first today. Great to have you with us. Hello.
Justin: Mega-Rush, baby, ditto. My question is, why did Obama, in the soundbyte you played earlier, when he’s talking about if you want to donate some money, you can go to whitehouse.gov to be directed…you know, to direct you how to do so. Why would…if I want to donate money to the Red Cross, why do I need to go to the whitehouse.gov page and . . .
RL: Exactly. Exactly. Would you trust that the money is going to go to Haiti?
RL: But would you trust that your name is going to end up on a mailing list for the Obama people to start asking you for campaign donations for him and other causes?
RL: Absolutely right.
J: That’s the point.
RL: Besides, we’ve already donated to Haiti. It’s called the U.S. Income Tax.
J: Rush, my mother was going to be on a missionary trip. She was gonna leave at 4:30 this morning to go to Haiti from our church.
RL: That’s another point too. Churches…
J: No government money, Rush.
RL: There are people – exactly right. There are people who do charitable work every day in Haiti. It’s not as though…like Debbie Wasserman Schultz – “It’s our fault.” Like Reverend Wright – “It’s our fault. There’s no excuse for such poverty when there’s a nation as rich as we are so close.” There are people that have been trying to save Haiti just as we’re trying to save Africa. You just can’t keep throwing money at it because the dictatorships there just take it all. They don’t spread it around. And even if they did, you’re not creating a permanent system where people can provide for themselves. It’s a simple matter of self-reliance. Nobody takes that approach down there because this has always been a country run by dictators – incompetent ones…
Now, call me crazy if you wish, but nothing in this exchange suggests to me that Rush Limbaugh doesn’t think private individuals like you and I should donate to Haiti. In fact, it seems pretty clear to me that the opinion he’s expressing is that people, like the caller’s mother, who go to Haiti and help the people directly, are being more effective than our government is being by sending our tax dollars to their government. He’s suggesting that the foreign aid the United States provides to Haiti doesn’t make it to the people who are suffering, and so the Haitian people are better served by private individuals, churches, and the so forth donating time (and, presumably, supplies?) directly to the people who need it.
Now, I have no idea if he’s right about that, and I certainly wouldn’t take Rush Limbaugh at his word about anything. But I think it’s quite a leap to go from the above quote to “Rush Limbaugh [says] Don’t Donate to Haiti Victims,” which is the headline of the above-linked article.
Sadly, though, the public zeitgeist has been poured and hardened: Rush Limbaugh thinks we should just let the people of Haiti suffer. And, thanks to Pat Robertson’s preaching about “pacts with the devil” on the same day, the two men are now inextricably linked in every news article, suggesting that Limbaugh believes that Haitians are devil worshipers as well. To dispute this storyline is as foolhardy as spitting into the wind.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go wash my face…