AIG, Ed Liddy, and Me in NYC, Part II

Righteous indignation sometimes inspires us to actions that we wouldn’t normally consider doing – like traveling to New York City to stage a lone protest in front of the headquarters building of the world’s largest insurance company – AIG.

Commentary By: Richard Blair

I spent my St. Patrick’s day in New York City, tilting at a very large windmill – American International Group.

After a weekend of stewing about the outrageous bonus payments that a group of top AIG execs received, I decided on Monday that I wasn’t going to simply sit behind a keyboard and vent my outrage any longer. So, on Tuesday morning, I hopped on one of the Chinatown buses that runs between Philadelphia and NYC (what a great deal – $20 round trip, and I didn’t have to drive!), and headed for AIG’s corporate headquarters at 70 Pine St.

The walk from NYC’s Chinatown to the financial district isn’t particularly far – probably less than a mile – but there’s so much in the city for the senses to take in that it seems longer. As I made my way down Broadway from Worth St., I decided to take a short detour down Fulton, and walked over to the World Trade Center area. I’ve been to NYC many times since 9/11, but never visited the site to pay my respects.

WTCWhat started as a quick side trip up the block to view a recent gash on American history became almost a quest. The area is totally fenced and blocked, and there just isn’t a good vantage point to scope out the construction / reconstruction activities from street level. So I headed down Liberty St. toward the West Side Highway, through throngs of construction workers at lunch, headed up the stairs toward the 1 World Financial Center building, and was finally able to get a fairly decent view from the skyway to 1 WFC.

It struck me how so little has really been accomplished at the site in the 7-1/2 years since the buildings came down. Certainly, there have been many logistical and political issues involved in the reconstruction, but when you actually see the hole for the first time, it’s surprising that there has been so little local or national will to rebuild the area.

As I left 1 WFC, making my way toward Broadway I walked past the many small stores and eateries at street level. I tried to visualize what it must have been like to be a cashier in one of those shops when the towers came down, and I wondered how long this whole section of lower Manhattan had been basically uninhabitable before the bodegas and restaurants could reopen. My mind wouldn’t wrap around the imagery, so I let it go, but I clearly need to revisit that entire corner of my head sometime in the future.

NYPDHeading back down Broadway, I noticed a police car – no, two – no, three or four – with their light bars blinking near the corner of Cedar. I knew that I was getting close to Pine St., and there were news reports that security had been ramped up at all AIG facilities due to threatening emails and phone calls. Was the NYPD presence part of the security response?

As I turned down Pine St., it was clear that the cops weren’t on the street for AIG, because there didn’t appear to be any security personnel in view as I walked toward the headquarters building, two blocks distant. In fact, except for a small placard on the front of the building, and the address being stenciled on the window of the lobby coffee shop, I would have missed the building entirely. That’s the way the canyons of the financial district unfold.

70 Pine St. NYCI stopped in front of 70 Pine St. to take a picture. It’s a huge building, but has a deceptively small entrance for a 66 story skyscraper. From inside the building lobby, through a single revolving doorway, a security guy watched me warily as I snapped the photos, but I continued moving. I circled the block, and stopped in a Duane Reade drugstore to pick up a piece of poster board. Outside of the store, I pulled a Sharpie pen out of my backpack, created my sign, folded it, and put it in my pack. The logistics of my protest were now in place…


Thursday, March 19th, 2009 by Richard Blair |

AIG Loses Some Cover in Court Decision

The story gets worse for AIG, with Andrew Cuomo getting a New York Supreme Court ruling which will back his subpoena of the other day. Meanwhile, we’re not focusing on the real issue across the business world, that marketing trumped core business principles. AIG offered new insurance products that weren’t properly vetted. We need to bring the guys in green eyeshades back.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

Richard wrote the other day about Andrew Cuomo demanding the names of those receiving bonuses at AIG. Heck, those bonuses, presumably claimed for “merit” at a company that received 182 Billion in bailouts – they’re today’s biggest story. AIG’s Chairman and CEO Edward Liddy made a complete hash of his testimony yesterday, claiming the performance bonuses are legitimate, but also saying he’d asked his executives to give some of the money back. Ludicrous reasoning there, and while it has been reported, the media seems to have given Liddy a pass. Certainly GOP Chair Rush Limbaugh is defending Edward Liddy and those bonuses, and many of the rest of the Republicans are dishonestly blaming Christopher Dodd.

Let’s get this straight. It is very simple. AIG performed miserably last year with the highest quarterly loss in the last quarter ever seen in the history of business. They performed so miserably they needed a bailout, a fucking HUGE bailout. That someone at AIG thought it was OK to give out bonuses is a sign of just why AIG hit the Guiness Book of World Records under the category of quarterly losses – they’re making stupid business decisions.

Hey, and here’s another stupid business decision. They blew off New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo when he asked for a list of the names of those who were raking in the bonuses. It doesn’t do to get Andrew Cuomo mad. And yesterday Andrew Cuomo got a court decision that helps him in investigating AIG. Remember when he asked for details on those last minute Merrill Lynch bonuses and Bank of America, new owner of the failed Merrill Lynch, told Cuomo to take a hike? Well, New York State Supreme Court Judge Bernard Fried has ruled and forced Bank of America to comply. From ABC News:

Attorney General of New York Andrew Cuomo took Bank of America to court to force them to reveal the information, after the bank said it was proprietary. But Wednesday New York State Supreme Court Judge Bernard Fried denied Bank of America’s motion to keep the names secret saying the Attorney General of New York has the “authority to decide whether the information he gathers as part of his investigation should be kept secret or public.”

Wednesday’s decision could set a precedent on the issue of revealing bonus details to the public. Cuomo has also subpoenaed AIG to reveal the names and amounts of the controversial bonuses issued late last week to members of their Financial Products division, blamed for the insurance company’s disastrous losses in 2008.

“Today’s decision in the Bank of America case is a victory for taxpayers. Let the sun shine in. Justice Fried’s decision will now lift the shroud of secrecy surrounding the $3.6 billion in premature bonuses Merrill Lynch rushed out in early December,” said Cuomo following the decision.

“Bank of America chose litigation over transparency and we are gratified that this tactic has failed. AIG should take heed and immediately turn over the list of bonus recipients we have subpoenaed. The deadline for responding to our subpoena is tomorrow. More litigation is not the answer – it is time for AIG to come clean,” he warned.

AIG is certainly going to have to attend to Cuomo now. Whether Cuomo has a legal case is another matter. Still, AIG and the marketing of insurance products needs to be exposed probably more than those bonuses. It appears they did little in the way of investigatng the risks involved in insuring sub-prime mortgage backed securities, an investigation that used to be at the heart of the insurance business. That was the job of those guys with the eyeshades in the back room – to figure out whether the risks were worth it. Instead AIG appears to have let marketing create newer and riskier products, and then to pay the marketing “geniuses” huge bonuses for their steady insurance acumen. What a mess.

Meanwhile, folks everywhere are being foreclosed upon, including churches. And AIG executives, flush from years of insane bonuses, sit pretty.

Thursday, March 19th, 2009 by Steven Reynolds |

AIG Headquarters for Sale

$100 million seems like a bargain for a 66 story skyscraper in the canyons of NY City’s financial district…

Commentary By: Richard Blair

AIG HQAs I reported last night, the American International Building, AIG’s world headquarters at 70 Pine St. in New York City, is up for sale. According to the NY Post:

Bonus-bloated AIG is trying to scrape up another $100 million or so bucks by selling its 66-story Art Deco headquarters downtown…

AIG hired Cushman & Wakefield, whose brokers, Darcy Stacom and Bill Shanahan, sent out an e-mail to prospective buyers Monday boasting of the “breathtaking views” from the site, 70 Pine St.

But AIG probably will get only a fraction for the 77-year-old building that it would have gotten when the real-estate market was booming.

Industry sources said 70 Pine could have fetched around $320 million then. Now AIG will be lucky to pocket $100 million…

Cripes, that’s hardly even a dent on the bonuses the company paid out this past Friday. Still, the building might be a bargain – in fact, maybe one of the AIG bonus babies could use the cash they raked in this past Friday as a down payment. There’s a condo building next door (56 Pine St.), where a studio apartment goes for over $400,000.

Since the American taxpayer now owns 80% of AIG, does that mean we own 80% of the equity in the building?

Update, 2:15PM: 16 hours after a blogger broke the story, AP goes with it. They were in error, claiming the NY Post broke the story. I’m sure that they regret the error.

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009 by Richard Blair |

AIG, Ed Liddy, and Me in NYC

Ed Liddy, CEO of AIG, certainly wasn’t expecting me to come calling at AIG Headquarters in New York City today. Maybe that’s why he didn’t come down and speak to me?

Commentary By: Richard Blair

Editor’s update, 3/19/08: I wrote the post below on Tuesday evening, and have since written a lengthy piece on my trip to AIG headquarters in NYC, and posted it here. Enjoy…

It was a long, but ultimately satisfying day on the streets of New York City’s financial district. On Wednesday, I’ll write at length about my trip, but for starters, here’s a quick picture taken opposite AIG’s headquarters at 70 Pine St. around 2PM this afternoon:

Richard at AIG headquarters

I stood in that place for about 4 hours, directly in front of the small entrance to the huge American International Building (which I learned was up for sale). It was impossible for anyone exiting or entering the building to miss me. Some of the stares were precious. Some of the comments I received moved me. But no one ignored me, and no one went out of their way to aggravate me.

Interestingly enough, I had a couple of experiences heading to and returning from AIG that were also worthy of mention. I’ll roll the whole thing up for ASZ readers on Wednesday morning.

While I was in NYC and incommunicado today, a bit of AIG news broke, via a report from New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo:

Fresh details, meanwhile, pushed outrage over AIG ever higher: New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo reported that 73 company employees received bonus checks of $1 million or more last Friday [emphasis mine]. This at a company that was failing so spectacularly that the government felt the need to prop it up with a $170 billion bailout.

So, the bottom line is that the bonus payments were fait accompli, and the money was in employee’s bank accounts well before this story broke on Saturday.

Good luck on recovering that money, Secretary Geithner.

The political kabuki theater continues – only the actors have changed in 2009. The basic script is relatively intact.

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009 by Richard Blair |

The Absence Of Angels In America: An Argument For Anarchy?

Philosophers have long debated the question, “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”. In these moments of economic peril and in light of our advancing animosity, perhaps the question should be, “Are there any angels in America?”. Better still, “Could today’s anarchists be tomorrow’s angels?”.

Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

At this unprecedented economic juncture, the inertia that accompanies our adherence to accepted, acrimonious, and antiquated algorithms has, by attrition, abrogated the principles of osmotic parity that have the potential to prevent our collapse…a collapse that would undoubtedly be defined by our dogmatic deification of unchecked political capitalism…a lecherous linking that history would likely depict as the opportunistic and incestuous appetite of the “ruling” class to copulate with corporate concubines in order to share in the symbiotic perks of prostitution that permeate the shameless pursuit of power and profit…absent a sufficient appreciation for the ameliorative aspects of altruistic governance and the shared success it should support.

When government is little more than the means to obtain or hold political power, it has become, by its very existence, the prevailing argument for the initiation of anarchy.

The aforementioned dysfunctional formulation of governmental “order” is antithetical to the symmetry oft associated with the social contract defined by our forefathers. As such, one can reasonably argue that our recent and rampant self-serving configuration of capitalism may well precipitate the initiation of anarchy as the means to destroy an unintended and unabated disease.

In this current conflation of chaos…a top of the pyramid chain letter economy powered by a Ponzi scheme psyche…perhaps anarchy (disorder) can actually be the means to “order”…an antidote that purges political prevarication…a virtual vaccine that seeks to supplant a systemic infection whose signature symptom is a seemingly endless urge to usurp utilitarianism.

The virulent nature of this virus leads many to seek the leverage that accompanies the disparate distribution of power and profit. It transforms those it touches into careless arsonists who peevishly persist in passing it on…thus acting as accelerants for an approaching anarchy.

Those in the media who promote political pettiness in order to insure the flow of dollars to the kingpins of corporate capitalism simply serve up the obnoxious oxygen that insures the ignition of inequity. Instead of enabling erudition, their lamentable locution does little more than circumvent any commitment to cerebral acuity or empathic expression.

In its final iteration, capitalism unchallenged becomes the hemlock of homage to the advancement of ad hominem histrionics that serve as a shortsighted and circuitous sheepskin shell designed to disguise the dogged drive for the lion’s share of the spoils…despite the derivable certainty that such shenanigans assure the anarchy that an adherence to such an ideology will undoubtedly advance.

In the 1993 Broadway play, Angels in America, the perilous and poignant promise of Kushner’s millennium is exemplified as a society of individual’s who, despite their awareness of their ailments and the attendant adversity, come to celebrate diversity despite its innate complexity…embrace redemption and reconciliation regardless of their unequivocal elusiveness…and endure their ongoing agony in the hopes of occasional ecstasy. His notion of the future is predicated upon the simple theory that our destination emerges when our dances of deception are dutifully debunked.

Fate is the fallacy of fools. The maelstrom of the millennium no longer approaches…it has arrived. We must shape tomorrow or it will consume us. What began must end. The future is now…or it will never be. Choice is the wisdom and the wherewithal to adopt anarchy when the continuation of the status quo insures its inevitability.

Cross posted at Thought Theater

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009 by Daniel DiRito |

Pete Sessions (R-TX) Learns from the Taliban

Pete Sessions compares the Republican obstructionist position concerning the stimulus bill to the insurgency of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Really, he did! Well, we successfully pinned the “culture of corruption” tag on the GOP a few years ago, and Sessions opens us up to coining another tag. How about “The American Talibanskis?”

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

Pete Sessions is a a Representative from Texas. Waco. Maybe that explains it. He’s also Chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee. The other day he likened the House resistance to the stimulus plan to Taliban insurgency. I’m thinking there are no lessons one wants to learn from the Taliban, but Sessions went there, really he did. From Hotline:

Frustrated by a lack of bipartisan outreach from House Democratic leaders, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said House Republicans – who voted unanimously last week against the economic plan pushed by President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – will pitch a “positive, loyal opposition” to the proposal. The group, he added, should also “understand insurgency” in implementing efforts to offer alternatives.

“Insurgency, we understand perhaps a little bit more because of the Taliban,” Sessions said during a meeting yesterday with Hotline editors. “And that is that they went about systematically understanding how to disrupt and change a person’s entire processes. And these Taliban – I’m not trying to say the Republican Party is the Taliban. No, that’s not what we’re saying. I’m saying an example of how you go about [sic] is to change a person from their messaging to their operations to their frontline message. And we need to understand that insurgency may be required when the other side, the House leadership, does not follow the same commands, which we entered the game with.”

What this is is a pouty Republican whine gone wrong. No, I don’t think Sessions means that the Republican Party is just like the Taliban, but it is clear he has learned the lessons of the Taliban, lessons the Bush Administration did not learn, thus failing to wipe them out. Maybe Sessions sees himself as a glorious freedom fighter who when he takes charge will force women into bhurkas. Heck, I don’t know. The guy really pulled a stupid one here.

But this really is just a whine. His poor party was not invited to control the legislation. Barack Obama invited all sorts of Republican leaders to the White House, travelled to and made unprecedented trips to the House and Senate to consult with Republicans, and Sessions is whining that he and his fellow insurgents couldn’t control the election. Hey, maybe if they hadn’t supported Bush as he trashed the constitution, ran up record budget deficits, ruined the economy (I could go on), then Sessions and his cohorts wouldn’t have lost so many seats in the House and Senate. After all, that’s the real reason they aren’t controlling the legislative agenda. That’s how it works in our democracy, after all, the ones who got the votes run things. Hey, Pete – tough!

But let’s be clear. Sessions’ statements about running his Party as if it were the Afghanistan-based Taliban insurgency is in fact the new core value of the Republican Party. Obstruction is the word of the day, and has become the core ethic for the GOP. As Eric Cantor describes it, it is the political strategy of “Just say NO!” Here it is from the Washington Post:

Three months after their Election Day drubbing, Republican leaders see glimmers of rebirth in the party’s liberation from an unpopular president, its selection of its first African American chairman and, most of all, its stand against a stimulus package that they are increasingly confident will provide little economic jolt but will pay off politically for those who oppose it.

After giving the package zero votes in the House, and 0with their counterparts in the Senate likely to provide in a crucial procedural vote today only the handful of votes needed to avoid a filibuster, Republicans are relishing the opportunity to make a big statement. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Tex.) suggested last week that the party is learning from the disruptive tactics of the Taliban, and the GOP these days does have the bravado of an insurgent band that has pulled together after a big defeat to carry off a quick, if not particularly damaging, raid on the powers that be.

“We’re so far ahead of where we thought we’d be at this time,” said Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), one of several younger congressmen seeking to lead the party’s renewal. “It’s not a sign that we’re back to where we need to be, but it’s a sign that we’re beginning to find our voice. We’re standing on our core principles, and the core principle that suffered the most in recent years was fiscal conservatism and economic liberty. That was the tallest pole in our tent, and we took an ax to it, but now we’re building it back.”

The second-ranking House Republican, Rep. Eric Cantor (Va.), put it more bluntly. “What transpired . . . and will give us a shot in the arm going forward is that we are standing up on principle and just saying no,” he said.

We succeeded in the last several years in attaching the phrase “culture of corruption” to the GOP brand. Now it is time to find a new phrase. The “Architects of Obstruction?” There’s a good one. But I’m thinking you all can do better. Think of it as thinking up a band name for a punk rock group. It has to be offensive and descriptive at the same time. “The American Talibanskis” might be a good name. But I’m never any good at this. You all feel free to come up with some suggestions, willya?

Monday, February 9th, 2009 by Steven Reynolds |

Capitalism At The Crossroads: Time To Wing It?

History has long recorded humanity’s dabbling in the elaboration of the latest “ism”. Rarely do we recognize the demise of one “ism” in the midst of the emergence of its replacement. While America debates the Obama administration’s stimulus plan, we seem reticent to discuss the merits of capital “ism”. Doing so could be an important step towards embracing the underlying humanism we frequently ignore.

Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

In Beckett’s “Waiting For Godot”, time is both passed and suspended in anticipation of arrival. Neither the passage of time or the thoughtless suspension of its value is a worthwhile endeavor…yet so much of the human condition is spent accordingly.

Fortunately, the ebb and flow of life frequently compensates for this miscalculation and we are rarely forced to face the futility of our allegiance to being unaware.

At the same time, history, in retrospect, has meticulously recorded such periods of ambiguous angst with the application and affirmation of a seemingly all-encompassing “ism” of merit. Sadly, we humans rarely understand our migration from one “ism” to the next…at the moment it transpires…frequently leaving us in the same suspect and suspended scenario as those waiting for the transformational Godot to arrive.

America, in its quaint yet quixotic commitment to the courtesan we call capital “ism”, is being confronted with such a stretch of meaningless moments…waiting anxiously and aimlessly for the arrival of someone or something to remove the paralysis that permeates our propensity to participate in the chain letter economics that powers our Ponzi scheme psyche…even though we “share” in the ironic experience of watching our pyramid collapse under the weight of its own egocentric and ignoble ideations.

Two events provide perspective on our predicament – one a calamity and the other a harbinger of hope. The former, 9/11, brought us together long enough to offer consolation and condolences before scurrying out the door with our credit cards and the cash created by our homage to home equity high jinks…in hopes of perpetuating perceptions rather than recognizing realities.

The latter, the safe landing of an aircraft on the Hudson river and the preservation of every single passenger’s life, allowed us to reconnect with the principals and perseverance associated with the mythical America and the essence of the collective spirit that had come to define it…all of which evaporated so quickly following 9/11.

Here’s the problem. Today, Captain Sullenberger’s landing on the Hudson is no longer just a job well done or an act of American stick-to-itiveness; rather it must be morphed into an extraordinary act of unexpected hero “ism”…a deed beyond the pale…an act of selflessness in a society all about the self. In America, tragedy is synonymous with litigation and triumph with accolades…both of which have material enrichment as their expected outcome. Hence American decency is but a function of fault or fame…not an intrinsic component of character.

As such, in this dark hour of economic uncertainty, the core constructs of capital “ism” still trump our actual ability to embrace the noble identity that gave it life. Like spectators at a Gladiator match, we sit on the sidelines of our “Super Bowl” society admiring the exceptional athlete or the precise pilot…ever focused on the means and methods to our own nascent notoriety…never mindful of the inevitable intersection of motivation and moral maturity.

Let me be clear, when I mention moral maturity, I am not invoking an absolutist ideology or an adherence to religion; rather I’m imploring us to understand the essence of our shared humanity. Moral maturity is not the means to superiority…it is the simple act of enabling and embracing equality in lieu of cachet and celebrity. In fact, doing so not only fosters an appreciation of altruism over the accumulation of assets, it disarms the drive for deification by substituting the satisfaction of service for the seemingly endless search for the satiation of selfishness.

Should there be any doubt as to the dubious nature of our situation, and therefore our ever expanding and suspect sense of entitlement, look no further than the latest Gallup Poll on the merits of the President’s stimulus plan. Only 38% of respondents believe the stimulus plan should be passed as proposed by Barack Obama. Another 37% are in favor of a stimulus plan but they believe it must include major changes.

While the majority of Americans favor Congress’ passing some type of stimulus plan, there is remarkably little confidence on the part of the public that the plan would have an immediately positive impact on the U.S. economy. Americans are also pessimistic about the plan’s potential positive impact on their own families’ financial situations.

There’s only one way to interpret these numbers. Self-interest is the primary motivation that drives debate in America. Confronted with the worst economy since the Depression, and an uncertain future, most Americans cannot view the stimulus plan absent the bias of the status quo…and most of our elected officials must be included in this group. The shortsightedness is astounding.

A comparison may help explain my concerns as well as my contention that capital “ism”, in its current form, is no longer viable. Let’s start by assuming that our economic situation is dire. If so, then one should be able to construct a scenario to evidence the gravity of this moment as well as the complacency that has grown out of our commitment to the tenets of capital “ism” as they have existed since the Watergate years.

For this exercise, let’s assume that NASA has identified an asteroid heading towards earth in ten years and that its trajectory puts the U.S. at great risk. Now suppose that in response, our government decides to establish safe shelters in all major metropolitan areas. Logically, one should be able to presume that Americans will get behind the effort and pitch in to insure that the country is prepared for the worst. One should also be able to expect that individuals will put self-serving objectives aside in hopes of achieving maximum safety and survival. In other words, while some people might feel slighted by the placement of shelters…or other aspects of any response plan…the gravity of the situation undoubtedly dictates that such concern is set aside in order to work towards a collective solution to an anticipated crisis.

Notwithstanding, I’m of the opinion that our adherence to a “me first” mentality may well preclude our ability to react effectively to this or any other plausible threat. Therein lies the inability to visualize the risks of maintaining our seemingly insolent and intransigent mindsets. You see; the instincts we momentarily demonstrated in the aftermath of 9/11 still exist. Unfortunately, the fact that we so easily slipped back into more of the same doesn’t portend well for addressing the current economic crisis…a crisis that is more than a glitch in the U.S. economy…a crisis that won’t be solved by imploring Americans to go shopping…a crisis that is the leading edge of a reordering of the world and the manner in which we humans serve as stewards of this earth…and therefore whether we will be purposeful proponents for the ongoing existence of humankind.

The fact that so many of us latched onto the “Miracle on the Hudson” as a tangible measure of the enduring human spirit serves to illustrate the paradox we seem so unwilling to acknowledge. On the one hand, we marvel at the fact that a trained pilot was able to land an airplane on water…yet we forget that absent years of training…a concern by the flight crew for the safety of their fellow man…and finally…the presence of wings…it not only couldn’t have successfully landed on the water…it would have been unable to support and sustain the 155 individuals who stood upon those wings while waiting (and believing) that kind and compassionate passers-by would come to their aid.

America is a plane in trouble…but our fate need not be dependent upon the heroic acts of a select few. At the same time, we must be wise enough to listen to those who may have more insight. This plane of ours will never achieve a safe landing if each of its passengers demands their turn in the cockpit…regardless of ability. The role of being a good citizen is also an act of hero “ism”…even if it means sitting quietly in coach while the pilot brings us to safety or helping an elderly passenger make their way onto the wing once the plane has landed.

America can no longer wait for our Godot to arrive. We needn’t a savior or a heroin…we needn’t aspire to the adulation we believe accompanies a seat atop the pyramid…we needn’t support or negate our leaders based upon political ideology…Godot is every man and every woman…Godot is merely a belief in each other predicated upon the notion that we grant the humanity we seek…Godot need not come if he is already here…Godot does not exist if we need him…humanity does not exist if we betray it.

If we humans are too survive, it’s time for us to wing it…which is nothing more than believing that the service of humanity floats all boats…as well as the plane in which we are all passengers. Fighting over the stimulus plan while the plane is crashing is absurd. Human “ism” may lack the glitter and glamour of capital “ism”…and it may mean less in a few pockets but more in most…but it may well be the only remaining “ism” of consequence.

Its merits will never be fully known if its value is never fully affirmed…yet it has always been there for us to accept. If it isn’t adopted in the here and now, history will fail to recognize and record it. You see, in the absence of humanity, there is no future. If there is no future, there will be no history. In the end, all “isms” lead to the same destination. We can travel willingly or we can jeopardize our very existence. The waiting must end…the wings exist. There’s room for everyone.

Cross posted at Thought Theater

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009 by Daniel DiRito |

Pet “Value” Returns After Being Missing for Eight Years!

The Republicans are opposing the Obama fiscal stimulus package, pretending they have been for fiscal sanity all along, ignoring they played vital roles in George Bush’™s destruction of our economy. Now they want to use opposition to the plan as a political weapon, caring more for political power, once again, than for the good of the country.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

I remember the story of the Incredible Journey from my youth. Two dogs and a cat, mistfits of sorts, got lost, and their journey was to find their family. It was made into a Disney movie, all sweetness and happy endings. A fable really, of the tender values of a pet, the neglecting of those values, and then the values themselves coming home. There were dangers along the way for those animals, but the story ended as all fables do, with a happy reunion and love all around. Kumbaya, kumbaya, kumbaya!

GOP values of fiscal responsibility have been lost through neglect for lo these eight years of the disaster that was the Bush Presidency. While Mitch McConnell might want to blame President Bush for all the GOP troubles, there is no disputing that McConnell and his fellow GOP Congressional and Senate leaders have led the way in neglecting fiscal responsibility. The result is a US economy torn by GOP incompetence, a credit crisis, rising unemployment, layoffs, bankruptcies, etc. But wait, here’™s the news. Republicans are once again claiming they are the party of small government and fiscal responsibility, just days after the man they aided and abetted in neglecting those values has helicoptered off to Crawford, TX.

I’™m here to tell you, obstructionism is not a value. And there’™s no sign that the pet values of the Republican Party have actually come returned. Still, those Republicans, on a fantasy trip of their own, are planning on claiming those values once again, without once referring to their own orgy of excess over the last eight years. From the Washington Post:

‘œHow about those House Republicans?’ cheered Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), a vocal small-government advocate, at a Heritage Foundation appearance yesterday.

‘œHouse Republicans said we would stand up for American taxpayers at this time of economic hardship for our nation. And last night, standing together, that’™s exactly what we did,’ House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) wrote yesterday in a memo to his colleagues that was released to reporters. ‘œI am proud of our team.’

Republicans credited their leadership team for keeping them united in the demand for more tax cuts and less spending in the bill, providing a boost for Boehner, who three months ago faced questions about whether he could retain his position as House Republicans were headed for another election marked by heavy losses.

As the vote on the bill neared, Republicans expected overwhelming opposition, but party leaders also anticipated at least a handful of defections.

Conservative talk show hosts whipped up opposition to the bill, and Republicans said they received dozens of e-mails and phone calls about it, almost all voicing opposition. In a meeting with congressional leaders, Obama warned against following the lead of conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh. But on the day of the vote, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) was on Limbaugh’™s show, laughing as the host referred to the ‘œporkulus’ bill.

To allow these Republicans to have any say in righting our financial condition in this country, to have any say in fiscal policy, when they can’™t even acknowledge their own major role in the fiscal disaster before us, is akin to allowing the schoolyard bully to be made hall monitor. That these men who have lost their fiscal bvalues can go on Rush Limbaugh’™s show and laugh at the only ones attempting to right this sinking economic ship is far more shameful than CEOs getting bonuses. These folks are now trying to use the economy for their own political gain. That much is clear. From the Associated Press:

Republicans began pushing back Thursday. The two concessions were mighty small, they said, and Democrats ignored the GOP’™s alternative package that included more tax cuts and less spending, especially for programs with no obvious promise for stimulating the economy quickly.

Having Congress do nothing is not an option, ‘œalthough sometimes our Democratic friends would like to present the false choice,’ Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., told reporters.

If a Democratic measure fails to improve the economy, Kyl said, then in about six months Republicans will ‘œbe in the position to say, ‘We didn’™t have the input into this that we needed, and that’™s why it hasn’™t worked.’™’

We need to be very clear here. The American people will not put up with the likes of Jon Kyl and his Republican co-conspirators playing politics with out money, with our jobs, and with our economy. Certainly the press cannot be counted on to call the GOP on such a mendacious political posture, so the word needs to start from here, from the blogzome, where reality is far more real than are the fractured fables by which the Republicans seem to live.

Meanwhile, the fiscal values Republicans once cherished are still wandering int he wildreness. What really returned to the GOP stable was Bill the Cat in Rovian drag. Ack!

Friday, January 30th, 2009 by Richard Blair |

Prism Prison: In Search Of Rainbows?

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. In stating as much, they omit the fact that the absent heart may be neither fond nor profound. Hence in many cases I suspect it is but momentarily vacant. Such is the explanation for my period of absentia from blogging.

Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. In stating as much, they omit the fact that the absent heart may be neither fond nor profound. Hence in many cases I suspect it is but momentarily vacant. Such is the explanation for my period of absentia from blogging.

With that stated, my return to writing is an exercise in conflict. Specifically, in the aftermath of the November election, I’ve been in search of vision…the ability to see beyond my own malaise in order to capture the essence of the existential angst that envelopes my own psyche and leads me to conclude that all is not well in the evolving identity we define as the human condition.

In order to offer insightful observations on this or any other subject, I frequently travel the only path I’ve found fertile enough to germinate a glimmer of advancing awareness…isolation. You see, I’m convinced that the momentum of our fundamentally mundane and mechanical morass is the very means by which we find ourselves disconnected from that which can keep us traveling towards a more meaningful and noble destination…a more perfect humanity and the sustaining spirit that would invariably accompany it.

The election of Barack Obama, on its surface, incites hope, which is as it should be. On the other hand, the circumstances that led a majority of Americans to effect his election require a more thorough examination…one that respects, retains, and relies upon the missing elements alluded to above…that being both the curiosity and the cynicism necessary to move us forward while simultaneously forcing us to question the prudence of our precarious path…the one we’ve traveled to get here as well as the one we’re still walking.

Let me be clear. In stating my clearly cautionary pessimism, it should not be construed as an indictment of our newly elected president or his aspirations for our advancement, which he so artfully outlined during an inspirational campaign.

Notwithstanding, in light of our unprecedented economic uncertainty, I suspect we are a society and a world in the throes of an inevitable sea change…the kind that history so aptly tells us has the potential to signal the death knell of an antiquated “ism” or to embolden the emergence of one that has not yet been defined. At the same time, history also tells us that the gravity of these tipping point events is rarely identified at the time of arrival.

For the seeker…a moniker to which I aspire (redundant and ironic)…travails and time are intertwined in an effort to envision what exists around the bend while lacking tangible evidence. It’s the equivalent of reading a book and predicting the ending without having read the intervening chapters…a feat that defies logical construction yet one that is achieved and that is frequently recorded by historians as the astute observations of a visionary…all of which illuminates the unfortunate predicament of the seeker.

The seeker assumes the role of a prism…demonstrating a willingness to see what went before, endeavoring to receive it as real while hoping to tease essence out of its obviousness in order to emit something that is more than the sum of its observable parts…only to be defined as an instrument of distortion…despite the fact that the vision that the prism (the seeker) emits is wholly constructed from reality…though ordered in ways that defy convention and incite accusations of engaging in acts of incantation or pessimistic prognostications.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite expressions, “Everything’s shit…until it isn’t”. The prism realizes that the reverse is equally profound, “Nothing’s shit…until it is”. Those who are able to ascertain these moments of transformation are met with ire in the here and now…and then…at some point in the distant future…the still blind byproducts of humanity’s persistent progeny proclaim the prescience of the prism…and history’s equation remains intact.

Unfortunately, the seeker rarely has the satisfaction of witnessing the affirmation of his or her hypothesis. Death has long since consumed what remained of his or her human form. As such, all that is the tragic nature of the human condition is affirmed in a legacy of legitimacy never lived…though dutifully recorded years hence by virtual stone tablet statisticians in a surreal semiconductor society.

The heart stirs…though the circuitous circumlocution of the human condition remains elusive. A bend approaches…the seeker seeks.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009 by Daniel DiRito |

Bloated Rhetoric and PR Sinks the Big 3 Bailout

This bailout of the Big Three automakers is not an easy issue, and their flying in three seperate private jets is just part of the problem. Americans will take this hit, including the unions and including the notion of both jet pooling, carpooling and a commitment to mass transit. This is an opportunity Bush will shrink from, as have the Dems, so far.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

I am reminded of those dancing hippos in Disney’s Fantasia. Everyone is dressing up nice, flying on their fanciest corporate jets, puffing themselves up before the camera. Congressmen, Titans of failing industry, Senators, Talk Show babblers, Union Leaders. It’s all a dance with far more attention to the drama than to the facts of the issue. Will a bailout help America? Isn’t that the most basic issue here? It seems much less the focus today than that a potential candidate for President in 2012, Mitt Romney, has come out against the bailout in the New York Times. This has become far more a PR and political event than a rational and steady examination of the economic advantages and disadvantages, as far as I can tell.

On the PR side, the Big 3 Execs should certainly have jet-pooled to the hearings in Washington. Oops! Tres stupide, non? We just got out of an election where the word “elitist” is being thrown around like confetti and the boys from Detroit each take their own private jet to DC? Hey, don’t get me wrong, I believe in companies using private jets. I am the son of an executive and I flew on those jets with Dad for several years, at least a half dozen times. I have no problem with the use of private jets, but GOOod GOD, MAN, FIRE YOUR PR PEOPLE NOW! Mr. Wagoner, Mr. Mulally and Mr. Nardelli, get a clue.

How about those bloated salaries? Do you think, Mr. Wagoner, that it is unfair of we who you are asking for a handout ask about your pay? (Forbes rates it around $14MM last year.) Mr. Mulally? ($21.7MM in 2007.) As far as creating a little tiny bit of goodwill in front of Congress and the Senate is concerned, these guys should have opened with a description of plans already underway for scaling back pay of executives, including themselves. They did not, but instead showed up in a phalanx on private jets. That PR blunder is overshadowing the issue, and part of delivering a message is managing such distractions.

More bloviation comes from the Senate, where Harry Reid is passing the buck to George Bush and to a GOP proposal. Hey, Bush has got the cash now in that $700BB bailout package they don’t seem to be spending, and he’s still in charge. There aren’t two Presidents at a time, after all. Bus will do the sensiblwe thing, right? Can you say “Heck of a job, Pausony?”

This is a debacle in the making with no easy solutions. The potential impact is devastating, whether we go through bankruptcies for the Big Three or whether we bail them out. The State of Michigan could go under, we could lose millions of jobs, and inaction or the wrong action could trigger a deep depression. Or so the bloviating is warning us. It’s time for a steady hand, and that hand we elected doesn’t enter office until January 20th. But let me suggest a solution.

Someone should take charge. The salary and pension structure at the Big 3 is the problem, and if there is a bankruptcy, then the Big 3 would be able to bargain hard for concessions. Bankruptcy has its perils, however, in that people likely won’t buy cars from companies in peril, as they are worried about warranties and the like. Bankruptcy is rightly seen by the automakers as the first step towards collapse. Whoever takes this by the horn needs to offer a way to keep the auto companies viable for the long term, and that means massive UAW concessions. Nope, that’s not going to make the unions happy, but it is reality. It’s time to mandate a government controlled reorganization tied to a bailout, a reorganization tied to cuts in pay and pension reform for the entire auto industry. If this means an equity stake by the government, just as we now have one in much of the banking industry, then so be it.

Bold? You betcha! Politically risky, since it stomps on the unions like a bug? You betcha! But let’s look at some positives about the US Auto Industry. JD Power’s evaluations of the quality of the cars themselves are as high as they’ve been in a long time. The productivity of American auto workers is high, though their salaries be bloated. What is needed here is a plan that addresses costs for the auto industry both short and long term, that addresses the need to turn the industry radically towards energy efficiency and new energy technologies, and that injects buying power into the hands of American consumers. Only government action can do such a thing, and only bold government action.

I imagine at Barack Obama headquarters, where today they are focused on Janet Napolitano, our soon-to-be Secretary of Homeland Security. It is time for Barack Obama to call up Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman, investment genius Warren Buffet, and the rest of his stellar economic team and ask what the bold plan should be, the nuts and bolts of it, and then take that plan to the people. I can hardly blame Obama if he does not push this hard, given that he is not President yet, but it seems to me that the time is here for action, and nobody trusts Bush. This one will ultimately be in Obama’s hands, so maybe it is time to act now so that Bush and the GOP don’t dig us a deeper problem.

Hey, check that out. A confirmed liberal, I just proposed a plan that smacks the unions hard and blames Democrats in Congress for passing the buck. Of course, I also blame the Republicans for ineptitude. Still, this is not a partisan issue. It is about our entire country potentially going into a depression, not a mere recession. That means drastic action, guided by the smartest men and women out there, needs to be put on the table and now.

Thursday, November 20th, 2008 by Steven Reynolds |
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