B After The Fact

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Feeling Groovy

Last Thursday the Daily News ran a blaring headline saying something about horrible transit fare hikes, and demanded that readers call the Governor and various other Albany luminaries to save our fares. Phone numbers were printed.

Since it was so easy, I took the Daily News up on their kind offer, and called up all those nice folks and thanked them for standing tough on the issue of keeping the 59th Street Bridge toll-free.

For a lot of us living in the outer boroughs, all this noise about saving the MTA, and the current subway fare, by adding tolls to certain bridges is just another attempt to impose "congestion pricing," a concept that cannot die enough times to make me happy.

Under congestion pricing, under the plan to add tolls to the East River bridges, people are discouraged from bringing cars into Manhattan by the prohbitive cost. Instead, they are encouraged to bring their cars into my neighborhood, and neighborhoods like mine, which already lacks adequate parking, and bring their noise and congestion with them. Then they can take the subway into Manhattan.

How does the MTA propose to handle all these additional riders? By raising fares and cutting service. Apparently while the MTA spent the last decade complaining they had no money for capital improvements, they were actually taking the money they supposedly did not have, and investing it in real estate. So now, when they say they don't have any money, we're supposed to believe them.

Here's a novel idea. Why don't we audit the MTAs books? I'M ONLY KIDDING!!!

In the particular case of tolls on the 59th Street bridge, there is the added problem of no place to put the toll booths, so that people who must take the bridge no matter what the toll (including truck drivers), can turn Queens Boulevard into a exhaust-filled stand-still as they wait to pay their tolls and get on the bridge.

So thank you State legislators for hanging tough.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Natasha Richardson

From today's New York Times obit

"In the performance that made her a star in the United States, she played the title role on Broadway in a 1993 revival of “Anna Christie,” Eugene O’Neill’s grueling portrait of a waterfront slattern in confrontation with the abusive men in her life. Embracing the emotional wreckage that showed in her character’s face, she modeled her makeup each night on Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream.”

"Her performance, nominated for a Tony Award, was vibrantly sensual, and her scenes with her co-star, Mr. Neeson, were acclaimed as sizzling and electric."

I was there. I agree. I have never seen anything like that on stage, before or since.

"Enjoy every sandwich"

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Cheap Shots

If you owned a failing business which was doing nothing particularly useful -- lets call it AIG -- and your salesmen convinced the government of the United States to give it over $100 billion of no-strings attached money in order to save it, wouldn't you say you had a pretty good year, all things considered (like bankruptcy and indictments)?

Wouldn't you let those salesmen split a 1/10 of 1% commission?

Since when are companies, say defense contractors, who do business with the government not entitled to pay bonuses?

The rule of law -- because we have no good second choice.

Yeah, we could have found a legal way to hold up the bonuses and hired $100 million worth of lawyers (like me)to prevent the payment of the same amount of bonuses. And yeah, we could have found a way to negotiate a settlement. That means that every one of those executives would have had to hire a lawyer (like me). Lesson is that if you do business with the government, you better know that they are a group of lying jackals whose word is no good. A Republican wet dream, I know .. But still. There is much more important, and easier, work we all need to be doing now.

The problem it seems to me is that old chestnut -- never steal anything small. $100 billion is unfathomable. Even $100 million. But to say that 70-something people got $1 million each -- I can find my way to that sort of a number. And if I can find that number, I can get really really angry at it.

Read an op-ed from an employment compensation law professor in today's New York Times. I won't link it, because nothing in it reflects even a nodding acquaintance with reality. Yes, executive compensation agreements are terminable for "cause", but incompetence is never cause. Employee incompetence is the fault of the idiot employer who didn't know any better when he hired you.

Yes, fraud is grounds for termination of an executive compensation agreement, but no one at AIG committed fraud. You could say that the corporate culture at AIG was fraudulent, but it is hard to pin it on any one single person, or group of people, especially this group of higher-end, but not highest-end, people getting the bonuses.

It was obvious from the start that they were selling pie-in-the-sky. It was also obvious, because they said it from the start, where they thought they found the pie. And why some banks felt it was worth eating anyway.

We are learning the hard way that Ralph Nader was right when he said that from the point of view of the poor person looking at the economy that there is no difference between the Democrats and Republicans. Different special interests line up behind different parties, but they all are feeding at the government trough. Things are run in a certain way because they benefit the most number of people on both sides of the aisle.

One problem with what Nader was saying of course, is that he was the one saying it. The other problem is that his correct diagnosis always seemed to lead to the wrong medication -- admit that Ralph Nader is God, and leave everything to him.

Obama is not like Nader, and not like Bush. He does not run around pretending to be king. And even if he was inclined to do so, no one will let him. Tough for those who long for the good old days (like last year) when it was always Daddy's fault. Now it is all, quite obviously, on us. Some call that socialism. I call it democracy.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Three Quick Notes and an Old-Fashioned Blog Post


Governor Sanford of South Carolina wants to take the Congressional mandate money and do what he pleases. No surprise. Some say that the causes of the Civil War began with the South Carolina Nullification Crisis of 1832 where South Carolina asserted the right to its own tariff. President Jackson received Congressional authorization to invade South Carolina. Cooler heads prevailed. Draw your own conclusions.



Governor Jindal looked so clumsy on national television that it feels like the disgraceful things he said were underreported. He basically said that the incompetence of the Republican government during Hurricane Katrina was about the best you can expect from government. Like so many Southern politicians, and their camp followers, he believes government of the people is an oxymoron. Government is somewhere apart from the people. That was not the result of the Civil War. Which is most certainly never over. Especially now. Where thanks to folks like Rush Limbaugh (not to single him out), we are learning that the Silent Majority may no longer be either.



Obama made the point, in his joint address to Congress, in his education speech, and in several other places, that in American history great, expensive projects were completed despite other crisis. However Obama uses a poor example when he says that Lincoln built the Transcontinental Railroad despite the Civil War. Actually, the Transcontinental Railroad had been deadlocked for years because Northern Senators and Southern Senators kept fighting over where the railroad should be built. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, one of the great topics of the Lincoln study I've been doing on this blog, and one of the causes of the Civil War, might never have been proposed, but for the fact that Stephen Douglas needed to get land use in order so that he could press forward with the idea that the Transcontinental Railroad could start in Chicago. Once the Southern Senators went away, it became much easier to get an agreement and proceed. If they had waited for the Southern Senators to get back to Washington, the railroad might never have been built.


Old Fashioned Blog Post

I am looking for feedback on the following assertion, which I think is factually correct:

No President before Barack Obama has come into office on Day One facing a crisis so different from the issues that made him a Presidential candidate in the first place.


Lincoln, for example, became President after a campaign based on slavery and on states rights in the broader sense. Few expected secession to occur between the election and the inauguration, but it was an open threat during the campaign of 1860, and a logical, if unfortunate conclusion, of the election of Lincoln.

FDR faced a financial crisis different from the financial crisis occurring during the campaign of 1932, but the Great Depression were very much the issue during the campaign.

But I can't think of another President, besides Obama, who literally came into office on Day One with the world so different than it was on Labor Day of the Election Year.


Obviously, it is possible to disagree with President Obama's proposals on the tax code, on the environment, on health care, on energy and on education. However, these are the things Obama ran for President on. So I am a bit startled by the reaction of people that he should not pursue his agenda now.

The partisan response is that George W. Bush pursued his entire agenda after 9/11, and the same people complaining now did not complain about the idea that you could fight two wars and cut taxes at the same time. Where was their talk about irresponsible spending then? Why would you want to return the financial system to the way it was when the Republicans will simply destroy it again the next time they take power?

But I think a more honest answer is this:

Obama ran for President on a theme of "change". It seems now that some people thought he meant tweaking around the margins. And had the financial crisis not occurred, maybe it would have felt that way.

However, the reason why "change" resonated with so many voters is that despite the fact that the Reagan-Clinton-Bush system created many winners, it also created many losers. And many others who felt that there was something wrong somehow. "Change" resonated with so many people that even the Republican candidate ran on a theme of "change". People gave the Democrats 54% of the vote in an election where arguably the strongest available Republican candidate ran against the weakest available Democratic candidate.

Maybe the Silent Majority is no longer either.

Maybe the people who write for newspapers and write these blogs, and even those of us who claim to represent our own constituents and our own corporate interests and sponsors, maybe we are no longer the center of gravity in America. That is not to say that we cannot maintain our power.

President Obama has a Republican Secretary of Defense, most-likely a Republican Secretary of the Treasury, and, despite what the right-wing will tell you, a Secretary of State who comes from the conservative part of the modern Democratic Party. If these people cannot figure out how to restore the status-quo, then it's gone.

Lincoln’s “House Divided” Speech -- June 16, 1858 – The Vast Right Wing Conspiracy Excerpt

We cannot absolutely know that all these exact adaptations are the result of preconcert. But when we see a lot of framed timbers, different portions of which we know have been gotten out at different times and places, and by different workmen- Stephen, Franklin, Roger, and James, for instance-and when we see these timbers joined together, and see they exactly matte the frame of a house or a mill, all the tenons and mortices exactly fitting, and all the lengths and proportions of the different l pieces exactly adapted to their respective places, and not a piece. too many or too few,-not omitting even scaffolding-or, if a single piece be lacking, we see the place in the frame exactly fitted and prepared yet to bring such piece in-in such a case we find it impossible not to believe that Stephen and Franklin and Roger and James all understood one another from the beginning and all worked upon a common plan or draft drawn up before the first blow was struck.


While the opinion of the court, by Chief-Justice Taney, in the Dred Scott case and the separate opinions of all the concurring judges, expressly declare that the Constitution of the United States neither permits Congress nor a Territorial legislature to exclude slavery from any United States Territory, they all omit to declare whether or not the same Constitution permits a State, or the people of a State, to exclude it.


In what cases the power of the States is so restrained by the United States Constitution is left an open question, precisely as the same question, as to the restraint on the power of the Territories, was left open in the Nebraska Act Put this and that together, and we have another nice little niche which we may ere long see filled with another Supreme Court decisions declaring that the Constitution of the United States does not permit a State to exclude slavery from its limits. And this may especially be expected if the doctrine of "care not whether slavery be voted down or voted up," shall gain upon the public mind sufficiently to give promise that such a decision can be maintained when made.

Such a decision is all that slavery now lacks of being alike lawful in all the States. Welcome, or unwelcome, such decision is probably coming, and will soon be upon us, unless the power of the present political dynasty shall be met and overthrown. We shall lie down pleasantly dreaming that the people of Missouri. are on the verge of making their State free, and we shall awake to the reality instead, that the Supreme Court has made Illinois a slave State. To meet and overthrow the power of that dynasty is the work now before all those who would prevent that consummation.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Lincoln’s “House Divided” Speech -- June 16, 1858 – The Famous Excerpt

Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Convention.

If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it.

We are now far into the fifth year, since a policy was initiated, with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation.

Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only, not ceased, but has constantly augmented.

In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed.

"A house divided against itself cannot stand."

I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.

I do not expect the Union to be dissolved -- I do not expect the house to fall -- but I do expect it will cease to be divided.

It will become all one thing or all the other.

Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new -- North as well as South.

Have we no tendency to the latter condition?

Monday, March 09, 2009

From the Greatest Hits Collection

I wrote this post entitled "We Had Legal Opinions" in April, 2008, another time when there was a flare-up of the torture opinion issues.

My points then and now:

a. The President of the United States cannot hide behind the legal opinion of a government attorney. That is like you hiding behind the immigration status of your cleaning woman.

b. There is no such thing as a legal opinion unless the lawyer who wrote the legal opinion is somehow on the hook for the opinion.

c. I am unaware of any field of commerce where legal opinions carry more weight than in the oil and gas industry. It is small wonder that Bush and Cheney placed totemic power in legal opinions.

d. However, there are 125,000,000 Republicans in this country. Some of them have law degrees. And some small subset of those are Republican Congressmen. Someone should have gotten the word to the President and the Vice President that there is no legal opinion where there is no attorney liability.

e. The lawyers who wrote these opinions need to be held personally accountable. And if they were only obeying orders, then the people giving the orders have to be held personally accountable. In most instances, of course, this means some sort of civil damages. Sometimes, when an accounting opinion has lead to criminial fraud, the accountants have gone to jail. Here, where a legal opinion was used to turn our sons and daughters into torture machines, a proportionate penalty needs to be appllied.

f. It is nice to have truth squads about what happened in this or that war, but it is really too late. The time to have done this was two years ago, when the Democrats controlled the Congress, but didn't have the power to do anything but hold hearings.

g. If the Speaker of the House understood her job properly, she would realize that the purpose of being Speaker of the House is being Speaker of the House. The purpose is not to elect a Democratic President.

h. If the Speaker of the House understood her job properly, we would have already had these hearings, and people would already be paying penalties.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Lincoln at Springfield – June 26, 1857 (The Dred Scott Speech) -- Excerpts

There is a natural disgust in the minds of nearly all white people, to the idea of an indiscriminate amalgamation of the white and black races; and Judge Douglas evidently is basing his chief hope, upon the chances of being able to appropriate the benefit of this disgust to himself. If he can, by much drumming and repeating, fasten the odium of that idea upon his adversaries, he thinks he can struggle through the storm. He therefore clings to this hope, as a drowning man to the last plank. He makes an occasion for lugging it in from the opposition to the Dred Scott decision. He finds the Republicans insisting that the Declaration of Independence includes ALL MEN, black as well as white; and forthwith he boldly denies that it includes negroes at all, and proceeds to argue gravely that all who contend it does, do so only because they want to vote, and eat, and sleep, and marry with negroes. He will have it that they cannot be consistent else. Now I protest against that counterfeit logic which concludes that, because I do not want a black woman for a slave I must necessarily want her for a wife. I need not have her for either, I can just leave her alone. In some respects she certainly is not my equal; but in her natural right to eat the bread she earns with her own hands without asking leave of any one else, she is my equal, and the equal of all others.

Chief Justice Taney, in his opinion in the Dred Scott case, admits that the language of the Declaration is broad enough to include the whole human family, but he and Judge Douglas argue that the authors of that instrument did not intend to include negroes, by the fact that they did not at once, actually place them on an equality with the whites. Now this grave argument comes to just nothing at all, by the other fact, that they did not at once, or ever afterwards, actually place all white people on an equality with one or another. And this is the staple argument of both the Chief Justice and the Senator, for doing this obvious violence to the plain unmistakable language of the Declaration. I think the authors of that notable instrument intended to include all men, but they did not intend to declare all men equal in all respects. They did not mean to say all were equal in color, size, intellect, moral developments, or social capacity. They defined with tolerable distinctness, in what respects they did consider all men crated equal — equal in 'certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.' This they said, and this meant. They did not mean to assert the obvious untruth, that all were then actually enjoying that equality, nor yet, that they were about to confer it immediately upon them. In fact they had no power to confer such a boon. They meant simply to declare the right, so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast circumstances should permit. They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere. The assertion that 'all men are created equal' was of no practical use in effecting our separation from Great Britain; and it was placed in the Declaration, not for that, but for future use. Its authors meant it to be, thank God, it is now proving itself, a stumbling block to those who in after times might seek to turn a free people back into the hateful paths of despotism. They knew the proneness of prosperity to breed tyrants, and they meant when such should re-appear in this fair land and commence their vocation they should find left for them at least one hard nut to crack.