Archive for March 25th, 2012
Racism in America: President Obama’s Double-Bind on Trayvon Martin
When the president took a question on the Trayvon Martin case yesterday, he responded carefully:
President Obama did not mention race even as he addressed it on Friday, instead letting his person and his words say it all: “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”
…“I can only imagine what these parents are going through. And when I think about this boy, I think about my own kids,” Mr. Obama said. “Every parent in America,” he added, “should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this and that everybody pulls together — federal, state and local — to figure out exactly how this tragedy happened.”
The tragedy is not just that a young boy was murdered in cold blood. The tragedy is that the police have so far left the murderer free to kill again. They haven’t held him accountable for his actions. That’s why the federal government is involved.
The president’s response was tempered, which is appropriate considering that the case is under investigation.
“I’m the head of the executive branch and the attorney general reports to me so I’ve got to be careful about my statements to make sure that we’re not impairing any investigation that’s taking place right now,” he said.
But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t received criticism.
Boyce D. Watkins, a Syracuse University professor and the founder of the Your Black World coalition, said Friday in a Twitter message, “If Trayvon’s mother were white, would Obama give her a call?”
Dr. Watkins, in an interview, called Mr. Obama’s statement “a step in the right direction,” but added that the president could “squash a great deal of the criticism” with a call to the parents. And while applauding Mr. Obama’s comment that his own son would look like Trayvon, Dr. Watkins said the president’s remarks were characteristic of how Mr. Obama talks to black people.
“That’s what I would refer to as a standard political smoke signal that President Obama sends through the back door to the black community,” Dr. Watkins said. “He communicates to the black community in code language. That’s a subtle way of saying, ‘I know this kid is black.’ ”
Everyone knows that Trayvon Martin was black. What the president was saying is that this case has hit him on a personal level because he can really identify with the mourning parents. For Newt Gingrich, this is appalling. Here’s what Newt said on the Sean Hannity Show:
“It’s not a question of who that young man looked like. Any young American of any ethnic background should be safe, period. We should all be horrified no matter what the ethnic background,” Gingrich said. “Is the President suggesting that if it had been a white who had been shot that would be ok because it didn’t look like him?”
“That’s just nonsense dividing this country up. It is a tragedy this young man was shot,” Gingrich continued on Hannity’s show. “It would have been a tragedy if he had been Puerto Rican or Cuban or if he had been white or if he had been Asian-American of if he’d been a Native American. At some point we ought to talk about being Americans. When things go wrong to an American. It is sad for all Americans. Trying to turn it into a racial issue is fundamentally wrong. I really find it appalling.”
So, the president, by not specifically mentioning race, was trying to turn a racially-motivated murder into a racial issue. At the same time, prominent members of the black community are criticizing him for not being explicit enough and not interjecting himself into the story sufficiently. It seems that the president cannot win.
Gingrich’s comments are particularly egregious and opportunistic. People are murdered all the time. What makes the Trayvon Martin case noteworthy is that the police know who the murderer is and have so far simply refused to arrest him. It is highly unlikely that a white boy, even one wearing a hoodie, would have been followed, harassed and shot to death, but it is completely unthinkable that a white boy’s death would not have resulted in an arrest.
Bad things happen. Slightly crazy people get it in their head that they’re Charles Bronson and start shooting innocent civilians because they think they look suspicious. We have ways of dealing with that. It’s called the criminal justice system. That system isn’t working in this case because the victim is black and his parents are black.
Everything about how the police behaved in this case indicates differential treatment. They assumed the boy didn’t belong in the neighborhood, that his parents didn’t live there. They didn’t try to contact his parents and let him sit in the morgue with a ‘John Doe’ tag on his foot. They simply accepted the murderer’s claim of self-defense at face value, even though they knew that he had pursued an unarmed boy against their advice, shot him, and killed him.
A transcript of the murderer’s 911 call shows that Zimmerman referred to the victim as “these assholes” that “always get away” and possibly said “fucking coons.” It’s hard to make any kind of argument that the victim could have been “Puerto Rican or Cuban or…white or…Asian-American,” as Gingrich suggests. The racial animus on the tape is obvious.
He was gunned down because he was black and Zimmerman assumed he was an “asshole” who didn’t belong in his neighborhood. But, again, racially-motivated murders happen quite frequently. The reason the president is talking about this case is because the police didn’t do anything. That’s the reason the whole nation and the world are talking about this case. And if Newt Gingrich thinks that white parents would be treated this way, he’s delusional. But Newt doesn’t think that. Go to the comments section at Fox News and start reading some of the 10,000 hate-filled comments about the president’s remarks on Trayvon Martin and you will understand exactly what Newt Gingrich is doing.
© 2012, agentleman.
A Single Hedge-Fund Hustler Makes More Than 85,000 Teachers: Why Are Our Priorities So Messed Up? By Les Leopold
This obscene distribution of income is what we get for failing to rein in Wall Street.
Why is America’s distribution of income so colossally obscene? You have only to look at Forbes most recent listing of the top 40 hedge fund moguls – men who, like Pharaohs, sit on top of our income pyramid. Together their personal income from hedge fund hustling was $12.8 billion in 2011.
The top hedge fund guru, Raymond Dalio, the founder of Bridgewater Associates, hauled in $3 billion, which comes to a whopping $1,442,308 an HOUR, (assuming he worked 40 hours a week for 52 weeks.)
It would take the typical U.S. family 29.2 YEARS to earn as much as Mr. Dalio earned in one HOUR.
How much is $3 billion per year?
It’s hard to wrap one’s head around a number as large as a billion. Here’s some context…
- That’s as much as 60,673 typical U.S. families earn: Just think about that for a moment. One person earns as much as sixty thousand hard working middle class families.
- That’s enough to hire 85,911 entry level teachers: While we’re laying off teachers right and left to close budgets that were destroyed by the Wall Street crash, Wall Street’s top hedge fund manager earns as much in one year as tens of thousands of entry level teachers who on average earn $34,920 a year. That what we get for failing to rein in Wall Street.
- That’s enough to hire 17,143 pediatricians: How is it possible for money managers to be as “valuable” as thousands of doctors who protect the heath of our children and earn on average $175,000 a year?
- That’s enough to wipe out the student loan debts for 120,000 graduates. The average loan burden for graduating students is now $25,000. One year of income from Mr. Dalio could wipe-out the entire average student debt of 120,000 graduates.
- That’s enough to wipe out the negative equity of 46,153 average homeowners: Today there are approximately, 11.1 million homeowners who owe more on their mortgages than the home is worth. The average negative equity is $65,000. The top hedge fund guru’s yearly income would cover the negative equity of 46,153 of those homes. And the irony is that Wall Street crash is directly responsible for the creation of the housing bubble and the crash of home value.
- That’s enough to cover the per person average health care costs of 397,984 Americans. America has the most expensive health care system in the world at a per capita cost of $7,538. Yet one hedge fund manager makes enough to cover the health care costs of nearly four hundred thousand Americans.How can that be?
- That’s more than the Gross Domestic Product of the 5 poorest African nations combined: The following countries have a combined GDP of less than $3 billion as of 2010; Liberia, Seychelles, Guinea-Bissau, Comoros, Sao Tome and Principe. Together these five nations have a population of 6.3 million. One American equals 6.3 million Africans?
- That’s enough to feed 62 million hungry school children for a year: Our obscene distribution of income becomes even more obscene when compared to world hunger. What a top hedge fund manager makes in one year could feed 61.9 million school children from all over the world for one year. What he makes in one HOUR is enough to provide a nutritious meal to 29,748 hungry kids every day for one YEAR.
So what’s a Hedge Fund?
No, it’s not a wholesale gardening business. Hedge funds are exclusive investment funds for the very wealthy and for large institutional investors. It’s for people who believe that they are entitled to earn a much higher return than the rest of us. Hedge fund managers usually earn a 2 percent fee each year on all the money that is invested plus 20 percent of the profits.
How do they earn so much and is it justified?
It’s hard to figure out what hedge funds actually do to “earn” their riches. It’s even harder to justify it. Their specific investing strategies and tactics are closely held secrets. The financial press tells us, however, that these are the best and the brightest investors in the known universe. They are geniuses, we are told, and we should admire their prowess. But more than a few hedge funds also have been implicated in a slew of questionable activities:
- Leading up to the crash, government investigations now reveal that hedge funds partnered with large banks to create mortgage-backed securities that were purposely designed to fail so that they could bet against them and win big. One such guru hauled in a billion dollars through one rigged bet.
- Hedge funds have been implicated in many insider trader scams. Raj Rajaratnam, the former head of the multi-billion dollar Galleon hedge fund was convicted for amassing more than $70 million of ill-gotten gains. He now is serving a 12 year sentence. More than 50 other hedge fund traders have pleaded guilty.
- Some hedge funds engage in high frequency trading where they use high speed computers to get in front of trades made by the rest of us. It is estimated that they extract from $8 to $20 billion per year from every-day stock market investors through this questionable process.
- Hedge funds sometime engage in illegal rumor mongering to manipulate prices of stocks…..for fun and profit.
- Hedge funds often trade on information gleaned from “political intelligence” analysts — people paid to hang around Congress and pick up information about upcoming legislation. The Senate passed a bill called the “STOCK ACT” that, among other things, would have forced them to register as lobbyists, but industry lobbying killed the provision in the House version.
- Hedge funds are the institution of choice for creating Ponzi schemes. Think Madoff.
Do they at least pay their fair share of taxes?
No. Hedge funds take advantage of the “carried interest” loophole which allows much of their income to be taxed at the 15 percent rate instead of the top rate of 35 percent. Each time Congress tries to close this outrageous loophole, hedge fund money and lobbying makes sure the bills fade away.
Are they worth their billions?
There’s supposed to be a connection between what a person earns and what that person contributes to the economy. Free-market theologians believe that the markets always determine true value – so if you earn a billion dollars, by definition, you must be providing a billion dollars worth of value. But markets are not always the correct indicators of value. When companies have monopolies, for example, they extract extra money from the economy without producing additional value. Economists call that a “rent.” We call it a rip off.
Hedge funds may be engaged in the biggest economic rip off of all – extracting billions in exchange for creating little or no value to society. In some instances – as in the case of creating rigged bets that helped crash our economy – they create negative value. Perhaps the best way to view hedge funds in general is that they collect hidden taxes from the rest of society through their financial machinations. Their profit is our loss.
What do we do about it?
There’s only one real solution: A financial transaction tax on all stock, bond and derivative trades. Such a financial sales tax would extract about $150 billion a year from Wall Street. Overstuffed hedge fund elites would earn much less.
No one deserves to make $1,442,308 an HOUR. But every child deserves decent health care, a good education and enough food to eat.
© 2012, agentleman.
BOSTON — When Gov. Mitt Romney signed legislation in April 2006 requiring most Massachusetts residents to have health coverage, Senator Edward M. Kennedy stood by his side, beaming like a proud father. They were onstage at historic Faneuil Hall in Boston, a setting that had a special resonance for the two.
The Long Run
Rivalry and Partnership
Twelve years earlier, they shared that stage as opponents in a bitter Senate race. Back then, Mr. Romney accused Mr. Kennedy of waging “untrue, unfair and sleazy” personal attacks. Now, the Republican governor was introducing the liberal Democratic senator as “my collaborator and friend.”
Mr. Romney’s complicated relationship with Mr. Kennedy, from campaign foe to health care partner, helped shape both his political career and his image. Today, as a Republican candidate for president, he is courting conservative voters, a constituency that does not look kindly upon Mr. Kennedy or the Romney approach to health care, which will come under scrutiny again this week when the Supreme Court takes up challenges to a similar measure championed by President Obama.
But try as he might to distance himself, Mr. Romney cannot escape Mr. Kennedy’s influence. On the campaign trail, he uses the senator, who died in 2009, as a foil, denouncing Mr. Kennedy’s “liberal welfare state” policies and boasting of how Mr. Kennedy “had to take out a mortgage on his house to make sure he could defeat me.”
He has said losing to Mr. Kennedy was “the best thing” that could have happened to him, “because it put me back in the private sector.”
Mr. Romney’s attempt in 1994 to “out-Kennedy Kennedy,” as people here say, led him to take stands on issues like abortion and gay rights that he has since backed away from, giving rise to accusations that he is a flip-flopper. Mr. Kennedy’s tough campaign advertisements, which portrayed Mr. Romney as a cold-hearted financier, rattled him, and his bruising loss in the race “viscerally pained” him, one friend said.
But he emerged tougher, convinced that it is better to punch first than to counterpunch later — lessons his campaign is putting to use today.
“Romney was the young up-and-comer in ’94 who thought that the aging champ had lost his edge and was then surprised to get knocked out,” said Rob Gray, a Republican strategist who advised Mr. Romney in his 2002 race for governor. “That certainly caused him to reassess how any future campaign should be built.”
The two men could not have been more different. Mr. Kennedy was the back-slapping Irish pol with the rakish past; Mr. Romney the upstanding businessman who viewed Mr. Kennedy with some disdain. While they eventually joined forces, theirs was a transactional relationship. Despite Mr. Romney’s glowing Faneuil Hall introduction, they never truly became friends.
“I just don’t think they spoke the same language,” said Scott M. Ferson, a former Kennedy aide and Romney neighbor who became a bridge between the two.
They did extend courtesies to each other. Mr. Kennedy lent his support to the construction of a Mormon temple in Belmont, Mass., a project just minutes from Mr. Romney’s home and dear to him. Later, as governor, Mr. Romney turned up during the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston for the dedication of a ribbon of parks named for Mr. Kennedy’s mother, Rose.
But it was their work on health care, a lifelong passion for Mr. Kennedy, that may have had the most enduring impact on Mr. Romney. The legislation gave him national standing to run for president in 2008, only to emerge as a political liability in the current campaign in a way that neither man could have foreseen.
“It’s an irony with a capital I,” said Jeffrey M. Berry, a political scientist at Tufts University who followed their careers. “From the grave, Ted Kennedy is involved in the Republican race for the presidency.”
Mr. Romney and Mr. Kennedy entered the 1994 Senate race as strangers, but their families had been circling each other for decades.
Mr. Romney was 15 in 1962, when Mr. Kennedy was first elected to the Senate. That same year, George W. Romney, Mitt’s father, was elected governor of Michigan; Mr. Kennedy’s brother, President John F. Kennedy, campaigned for his Democratic opponent. Decades later, the elder Romney — who had once worked with Senator Kennedy on legislation promoting volunteerism — prodded his son to run for the Senate seat Mr. Kennedy occupied.
Mr. Romney, groomed for politics, told friends he was intent on running for office while his father, then 86, was still alive. “Almost like a passing of the baton,” said Geoffrey S. Rehnert, a former partner of Mr. Romney’s at Bain Capital, the private equity firm he co-founded.
The idea was not entirely far-fetched. Mr. Kennedy was at a low point in his career. He had recently remarried, but had yet to turn around his reputation as a drinker and a womanizer. Mr. Romney, by contrast, was “the man with a Mr. Clean image,” as Mr. Kennedy wrote in his autobiography, a faithful Mormon who shunned alcohol, a successful businessman and a father of five.
“He thought he had a moral high road,” Mr. Rehnert said, “that this was a guy who was past his prime.”
If Mr. Romney took a dim view of Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Kennedy believed that Mr. Romney had a “caricature image” of him and was underestimating him, said someone close to the senator, speaking on the condition of anonymity. The 1994 race gave Mr. Romney, a political novice, his first chance to explain his views to voters. As a Republican in liberal Massachusetts, he had little choice but to run on a socially moderate platform. But Todd Domke, a Republican strategist in Boston, believes that Mr. Romney’s advisers were too willing “to package him” as a proponent of abortion rights and gay rights. (Mr. Romney’s chief strategists in 1994, Charley Manning and Robert Marsh, did not respond to messages seeking comment.)
“He has paid the price ever since,” Mr. Domke said.
By September 1994, with Mr. Kennedy tied up in Washington working on President Bill Clinton’s health care bill, polls were showing a tight race. Alarmed, the Kennedy campaign sent a video crew to Indiana to interview factory workers who had been laid off by Ampad, a paper products company that had been acquired by Bain Capital.
The resulting advertisements featuring struggling, angry workers sent Mr. Romney’s ratings, and his confidence, sliding. “He looked like someone who had seen a ghost,” said Joseph Malone, a Republican and former Massachusetts state treasurer, who ran into Mr. Romney soon after the commercials ran.
Those commercials are still having an effect on Mr. Romney today. “They seeded the public perception of him as a takeover artist who made his money stripping companies and firing people,” said Robert Shrum, the Kennedy strategist who produced them.
Mr. Kennedy’s strong debate performance in late October in Faneuil Hall also caught Mr. Romney off guard. On Election Day, Mr. Romney lost, 58 percent to 41 percent. Later, over dinner with Mr. Malone, he lamented that he had failed to define himself.
“He said, ‘What disappoints me about this race is that there really isn’t a lasting memory that people would have about me and what my candidacy stood for,’ ” Mr. Malone recalled.
Six years passed before Mr. Romney and Mr. Kennedy appeared in public together again.
Mr. Romney’s Mormon faith had been a contentious issue in their campaign; a Kennedy family member had challenged some Mormon practices, and the senator failed to condemn the remark. But in 2000, when the Belmont temple was dedicated, Mr. Romney gave Mr. Kennedy a personal tour. Mr. Ferson, who arranged it, recalled them as “extremely gracious to one another, and a little nervous, too.”
But there was no hint of nervousness at the 2004 Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway dedication; Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Romney and their wives shared a table for six at the celebratory luncheon, along with Nick Littlefield, a Kennedy confidant, and his wife. It was “a very congenial time, a comfortable time,” Mr. Littlefield said.
Mr. Romney did not make health care a cause when he ran for governor in 2002. But by the fall of 2004, changing circumstances in Washington pushed him into it — and into a partnership with Mr. Kennedy.
Years earlier, the senator had negotiated a deal with the federal government that waived certain rules, giving Massachusetts flexibility in administering its Medicaid program and extra money for hospitals that cared for the poor. But the waiver was set to expire, and President George W. Bush’s administration wanted to cut off the money, depriving the state of $385 million a year.
As a Republican governor, Mr. Romney could have made his case by himself to the Republican administration in Washington. But Mr. Kennedy had pull in Washington and was close to Tommy G. Thompson, the health and human services secretary under Mr. Bush. The senator’s involvement gave Mr. Romney “political cover,” said John McDonough, a professor of public health at Harvard who ran a health care advocacy group at the time.
“If worst came to worst,” and the state lost the money, “he had a partner holding the bag with him,” Mr. McDonough said.
In January 2005, on Mr. Thompson’s last day as health secretary, the two men persuaded him to let Massachusetts redirect the money to cover the uninsured. The state promised to enact legislation doing so within a year.
For Mr. Kennedy, the agreement seemed a path to universal care; if Massachusetts passed a bill, he reasoned, it might serve as a template for national legislation. Mr. Romney, though, viewed health care as a fiscal, not moral, concern. He saw a financing system that was “opaque and creaky,” said Tim Murphy, his former health secretary, and thought he could do better.
But with Democrats in control of the state legislature, Mr. Romney had little hope of passing a bill on his own. Mr. Kennedy worked lawmakers behind the scenes, writing notes, cajoling, making telephone calls and stepping in when negotiations between House and Senate Democrats broke down.
Unlike Mr. Romney, who often had trouble putting lawmakers’ names with faces, Mr. Kennedy “knew all the members on a first-name basis,” said Robert E. Travaligni, a Democrat and former president of the Massachusetts Senate.
Mr. Kennedy’s style seemed to rub off, if only a little. Early one Sunday, when the bill seemed in danger, Mr. Romney showed up unannounced at the homes of Mr. Travaligni and Salvatore F. DiMasi, the House speaker, to urge them to push the talks forward.
“It was a nice personal touch,” Mr. Travaligni said, “something he hadn’t demonstrated he had a desire to do or a fondness for.”
For both the senator and the governor, the health bill was a crowning achievement. Yet today, as Mr. Romney struggles to defend the Massachusetts law while arguing that he would repeal the federal one, he is not eager to talk about his partnership with Mr. Kennedy. Last fall, at a debate in his native state, Michigan, he was asked about it.
“Thanks,” Mr. Romney said wryly, “for reminding everybody.”
© 2012, agentleman.