Daily Archives: 06 May 2015

Why Is Carly Fiorina Running for President?

Carly FiorinaIt’s a big week for diversity in the Republican Party. On Monday, Ben Carson announced that he is running for president. And then Carly Fiorina announced that she would too. Reince Priebus must be so happy. Now we will have a black and a white woman to stand on the debate stage with all the white guys. It will be the Republican Party’s way of showing they not only allow African Americans and women in their party — they also allow them to run for president! There’s just this one small problem with that: neither of these token candidates have any actual experience in government.

Because I am a Californian, I want to focus on the strange candidate who is Carly Fiorina. Here main claim to fame is that she is rich. She got rich by being a very bad CEO for Hewlett-Packard. But we must give credit where it’s due. She was given the job because she had clawed her way to the top the way most people do in business: by being exceptionally ruthless and amoral. None of that turned out to be of much help in running HP. The truth is that rock star CEOs are almost all about myth. Running a company is nothing magical — HP had problems and it continues to have problems. I don’t think Fiorina should be disqualified from being president because she managed HP badly. I think she should be disqualified for other reasons.

Republicans (and to a large extent, Americans in general) think that governing is easy. Anyone can do it. It’s just common sense! So why is it exactly that people like Sam Brownback do such a bad job of governing their states? Recently, the state of California got a good opportunity to test whether governing is something that just anyone could do. We let Arnold Schwarzenegger — regardless what you think of him, a smart guy — be governor. And he was terrible. So we elected lifelong politician Jerry Brown. And he got the state in order. Skill and experience matter.

But Republicans refuse to believe this. And so they continue to push candidates who don’t know anything about governing. Thus Fiorina can run for president without anyone thinking that it is strange. But it is strange — especially after 2010. That was when she ran for Senator in California against Barbara Boxer. Fiorina lost that election by 10 percentage points. Again, that was in 2010 — the best year for Republicans ever. The previous time that Boxer had run during an off year, she won by the same amount against the uninspiring Matt Fong.

My memory of the race was that most people in California knew Fiorina’s record and they weren’t impressed. It is also the case that she did not line up with Californians on social issues. I think by that time, most of the state was embarrassed about the anti-gay Proposition 8, but Fiorina was an outspoken supporter of it. She was also anti-choice (although against personhood laws). And she was basically a global warming denialist. All these things hurt her in the eyes of Californians. But they are doubtless helpful in her quest for the Republican presidential nomination. And this may be why Meg Whitman isn’t running for president. In addition to her full-time job of bringing down HP, she’s pro-choice and that would never fly running for president as a Republican.

It is widely thought that Fiorina is really running for vice-president — like John Edwards in 2004. But again, she has no experience. Other than being a woman who is willing to recite the same tired Republican talking points, what does she have to offer? Not much.

Putin’s View of America

Fyodor LukyanovHe’s utterly anti-American, deeply and sincerely. And it’s not about Obama or Bush or Clinton. It’s about his perception of America as a destructive power.

The most interesting foreign policy statement he made was published one week before his third term began in 2012. The article, “Russia and the Changing World,” was extremely interesting and substantial. He expressed everything that happened after. His core perception was that the United States is a country that misuses its might and creates even more chaos in the contemporary world, which is anyway very chaotic and unpredictable. Americans, by what they do, just worsen the situation.

The idea was not to challenge America, but to protect Russia. This is how he sees the world, with the United States as a really destructive and destabilizing power.

—Fyodor Lukyanov
“Hillary Is the Worst Option”: How Moscow Sees American Politics

Ben Bernanke and Modern Patronage

Ben BernankeEdmund Tylney was the Master of the Revels for Queen Elizabeth. Basically, he was the state censor; he made sure that the theaters weren’t showing plays that were going to start uprisings. As a result, he made a lot of money. All the plays had to be funneled through him. And one can say he did a pretty good job because there weren’t any revolutions during his life. Now you might wonder just what qualified Tylney for the job. And the answer is: nothing. He was well connected. Like most people at that time, he got rich by having the crown dictate it. We don’t have a crown here in the United States, but nothing else has changed.

As you may have heard, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke is now going to be a senior adviser at Pacific Investment Management Co (Pimco). And this is following on the heals of his becoming a senior adviser at Citadel LLC. He is also a Distinguished Fellow at the Brookings Institution. I don’t know if he is still a professor at Princeton. All these impressive titles don’t seem to require much work. Most people can only manage one job because, you know, they are expected to actually work. Color me skeptical, but Bernanke works more or less the same way that Edmund Tylney worked.

No one has a problem with Bernanke’s blog at Brookings — where he posts as much an article a week. (I hope he isn’t taxing his heart!) Actually, people have been fairly happy about it. No less than Paul Krugman likes what he’s reading. But as Matt O’Brien noted, the gigs at Pimco and Citadel are a different matter, “Bernanke hasn’t disclosed the terms of his compensation, but it’s safe to say that if hedge funders are willing to pay him $200,000 just to dispense his wisdom over dinner, they’d be willing to pay him a lot more to do so on a regular basis.”

National treasure Mark Thoma is a bit concerned about this situation, Ben Bernanke’s Bad Example. It isn’t just about the optics. But they are bad enough. In the next year, Bernanke is likely to make as much as his combined net worth to this point. This is cashing out big time. But Thoma is concerned that with Fed board members coming in for short periods of time and then cashing out, single presidents will get to pack the Fed with their own members, reducing the institution’s independence.

I’m not sure that it matters. As it is, the government appointed members of the board only slightly outnumber the voting members of the banking community. As corrupt as was the patronage of Elizebethan England or Great Depression Chicago, at least people complained about it. Now the basis of our entire finance system is a patronage scam and everyone thinks it is great. Or they don’t think about it at all because they are too busy looking for a job because the Fed has decided that high unemployment is far better than a tiny amount of inflation.

Dean Baker had the ultimate reaction to the news that Ben Bernanke was going to get a couple of patronage jobs, The Man Who Completely Missed the Housing Bubble and Was Convinced Financial Disruption Would Be Restricted to the Subprime Market Deserves Two Seven-Figure Sinecures? He wrote:

This incredible negligence has had a devastating cost for tens of millions of people in the United States and around the world. And for this he deserves two-seven figure sinecures? This sounds like a case of the soft bigotry of incredibly low expectations.

I talk about this all the time. There are the “right” kind of people and the “wrong” kind of people. The “wrong” kind of people are held to impossible standards and given endless lectures about how if they only acted more like the rich, they too would be rich. The “right” kind of people are never allowed to fail, and when they are rarely called out on their misbehavior, it is brushed aside as a minor thing, “Boys will be boys!” Clearly, Ben Bernanke is the “right” kind of person. Nothing too good can ever happen to him. And nothing bad will ever be allowed to happen to him. I’m sure that Edmund Tylney would have heartily agreed.

History Didn’t Start Last Week in Baltimore

Baltimore ProtestYesterday, I wrote, Sam Harris’ Limited Tribalism. In it, I knocked him for starting the course of injustice at the attacks on 9/11 — as though there were no history before that. Any reasonable person should understand that the people who attacked us — rightly or wrongly — thought their attacks were justified by earlier actions. Similarly, the United States always dated the Cold War back to the Soviet takeover of East Berlin. But the Soviet Union dated it back pretty much to the beginning of its own existence. The same thing goes on in the Israel-Palestine conflict. This isn’t to say that one starting time is more valid than another. But the starting time determines who the heroes and villains are.

As a result, I was very pleased to see that last week, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote, The Clock Didn’t Start With the Riots. Obviously it didn’t. But just as obviously, those who claim that it did are trying to define a narrative. To take an extreme example, I’m sure that throughout the German establishment in the late 1930s, people referred to the Jewish resistance as a bunch of terrorists. And just like now, the establishment wants to claim that while the African American community may have some grievances, this violence is unacceptable. Of course, when the violence was being acted on the African American community day after day, the establishment didn’t care enough to make grand pronouncements about how violence is never acceptable.

The following cartoon featuring Martin Luther King Jr has been making its way around the internet. It is from the time when he was doing all the work that people now whitewash into inoffensiveness so that even Republicans can celebrate him. It features a reporter talking to King, who says, “I plan to lead another non-violent march tomorrow.” Around them is a city on flame. What’s even more interesting is that someone at the time wrote on it, “How can you, a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, be such a deceitful hypocrite. You’re not fooling anyone but yourself in your nauseating talk about non-violence.” There is more, but you get the idea.

Contemporary MLK Cartoon Before He Was Whitewashed to Irrelevance

When I look at the history of African Americans, I see a continuum. It is much the same as the treatment of the poor generally, in that it shows how the power elite manage to constantly adapt to threats they see. But for black citizens, it is at a much worse level. First there was slavery. Almost immediately after its abolition, other means of control were established — most notably Jim Crow laws. After the civil rights victories of the 1950s and 1960s, the power elite again adapted in the form of economic segregation, the “war on drugs,” and the continued assault on voter rights. But these don’t lead on the evening news. In fact, they are never even mentioned.

My older sister — who doesn’t pay attention to politics — asked me why people were rioting in Baltimore. She had heard about that and that it was based on the police killing some kid. But she asked, “Don’t they see that this is counterproductive?” That’s the way most people look at it. Of course, the protests were going on for more than a week before there was any violence. It just didn’t get the kind of blanket coverage that is necessary for it to become big news.

The main thing is that the protests — peaceful and not — are based on a longer view of history. America generally has the memory of a scorpion. If someone hits us, we have no memory of doing anything to have caused that — because we have no memory at all. But we need to develop a memory. Because lacking a memory just allows the power elite to continue to oppress us. We don’t treat the African American community in Baltimore bad because of the way it sometimes acts out; it sometimes acts out because we treat it badly.

Morning Music: Dayna Kurtz

Dayna KurtzI don’t generally like it when someone recommends a singer or a song. Usually, it is just someone with a slightly unique voice or more often well produced sound. And while I appreciate all that, it means nothing to my life. There are lots of people with great voices and there are even more great producers. What I crave is honest music simply performed. I would choose Jules Shear’s The First Freeze After The Fall any day before The Buggles’ Video Killed the Radio Star.

It is in this context that I present to you Dayna Kurtz. She is an amazing talent — both as a writer and a musician. And here she is off her DVD, Postcards From Amsterdam — Live in Concert. She’s doing the song “Touchstone” off her album, Otherwise Luscious Life. I especially like the simple slide guitar work:

H/T: Ryan Hall

Anniversary Post: The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of WrathExactly 75 years ago today, The Grapes of Wrath won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It is such a great book, which shows humanity at its very best during the hardest of times. It’s remarkable that just a couple of years later, Ayn Rand would publish The Fountainhead — the psychopathic answer to it. A book that answers Steinbeck’s question, “What is it to be a human?” Rand’s answer: to act like a reptile.

The book starts with a drought and ends with a flood — and through it all, the Joads manage on. I am, I suppose, an optimist. I actually think that the Joads are a good representation of who we are as a species — flawed and slow to learn as we may be. It goes along with my 95/5 theory. I think that 95% of all people just want to live their quiet lives. All the problems in the world are due to 5% of the people who ruin everything for the rest of us. A great deal of cultural effort goes into explaining how we would be lost without that 5% — too much effort if it were such a social good.

What most struck me when I first read The Grapes of Wrath was the ending. I don’t think there has ever been such a beautiful ending to a novel. A Tale of Two Cities is also great. It’s ending is beautiful, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” But it is pale compared to this, which still makes me cry:

For a minute Rose of Sharon sat still in the whispering barn. Then she hoisted her tired body up and drew the comfort about her. She moved slowly to the corner and stood looking down at the wasted face, into the wide, frightened eyes. Then slowly she lay down beside him. He shook his head slowly from side to side. Rose of Sharon loosened one side of the blanket and bared her breast. “You got to,” she said. She squirmed closer and pulled his head close. “There!” she said. “There.” Her hand moved behind his head and supported it. Her fingers moved gently in his hair. She looked up and across the barn, and her lips came together and smiled mysteriously.

Happy anniversary to the public acknowledgement of the greatness of The Grapes of Wrath!