A blog . . . in spite of how pathetic blogging actually is.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Time Has Come to Actually Do Your Own Thinking

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."

Secretary Geithner's a nerd. You don't need to listen to him for very long to figure this out.

On occasion, my students will see me out and about. Often times, they freak just a tad. I should be home reading the U.S. Constitution . . . again, right? That's all I do in my spare time.

This is how I feel about Tim Geithner, only I picture him with his head buried in a stack of monetary policy papers. If I saw him at The Cheesecake Factory, I'd do a "No way Mr. Secretary! You come here?" so fast you'd swear I had an algebra test to go study for.

So, I humbly ask you to consider the following (even though no one in mainstream media has yet to seriously discuss it): Secretary Geithner, Lawrence Summers, and the rest of the President's economy God squad purposefully put out a vague plan for how to rescue our nation's troubled banks. I assume you know the market tanked yesterday, ostensibly off the news that the Geithner Plan . . . had very little actual news in it.

It's all quite plausible. You could almost hear Wall St. utter a collective, "That's it?" once the whole deal was put on the table.

Again, what I'm suggesting is that the Obama people knew a vague plan would have this effect, and so then they went ahead and announced it anyway.

CNBC's financial pundit brass looked like they were going to light up some torches and take to the streets at one point. Brian Williams was careful to make sure they got plenty of national news face time to vent. CBS, ABC, even Jim Lehrer's team joined in the fun. Outrage was en fuego. "Miscalculation," as a word, would have made you rich if you owned the intellectual property rights to its use. No one had anything to say but the following: The plan was too vague, Wall St. got spooked, and boy oh boy . . . can you believe we're in the mid 7000's now?

Here's what they should have been discussing. Guys like Geithner and Summers have conversations which inevitably involve statements like, "You know, if we put out something this vague, no one's going to like it. In fact, I think it'll send the markets down, maybe by a lot." I don't know who would have said this. Let's just pretend it was Summers.

So then Geithner (looking up from a monetary policy paper) would have replied, "Well, we could be detailed. We could level with them about what we expect to be the case, the actual situation. We could, uhhh, you know, tell it like it is?"

Then Summers would jump up on his desk and go, "Oh Great Hammer of Thor! No! No, I say!"

In other words, they weighed the two: Be vague vs. Be detailed . . . . and went with the former. This is a little bit like the 'logic' (ahem) behind intelligent design, but here goes: What can we conclude from what we don't see (aka, a detailed plan for our banks)? Don't like that one? Try this: How does a dentist give you a good feeling when describing the full process involved in your upcoming root canal? How much up front detail do you really want?

Consider the possibility (since our 'liberal' media won't) that Tim Geithner and Lawrence Summers might be smart people who look a few moves down the chess board. Consider that the vague plan route was a calculated risk, a lesser of two evils, a veritable punt . . . to the other side of their announced 'stress test' for American banks.

The stress test, one of the vague plan's few areas of clarity, is effectively going to amount to a full blown audit of the banks, ALL the banks, including the major leaguers like Wells Fargo, CITI, JP Morgan Chase, etc. Some of these guys behaved in a way that ought to rescind permanently the use of the word 'deregulation' unless assurances are given that there will still be a reasonable level of regulation on the way to attaching the "de" prefix. [NOTE to free market purists: I really used to be one of you. But if NINA loans can happen . . . No Income No Assets . . . then you need to rethink your views of government intrusion into market efficiencies if you're of the belief that government should be kept as far away as possible. NINA loans are efficient. I'll give you that. Know what else is efficient? A Luger discharged at the base of the skull. Word up: Efficiency for the sake of efficiency can lead to a closed casket. I'm being metaphorical, of course.]

The stress test portion of the Geithner Plan is in play because, deep down, we all probably know the jig is up. It's time to face the music. The stress test is indeed a full blown audit . . . of major leaguers . . . several of whom are . . . .

. . . insolvent.

That word deserves its own line. Do a 'one Mississippi, two Mississippi' . . . all the way up to ten. And think about the reality of a major banking system being insolvent for each and every Mississippi you utter. The time has come to actually think, people. Think beyond the CNBC outrage. Think about the odds of Geithner and Summers actually forgetting to include details in their plan? Really? You believe that? I don't think you do.

And again, think about several major banks in this country being . . .

. . . . insolvent.

I'm back to the same old theme now. If we don't start to change our reflex approach to everything under the identity politics umbrella then we deserve to become the big, fat version of Great Britain (aka, former power) we'll surely become.

What's happening right now is, unless you're my 92 year old grandmother, the most profoundly serious economic crisis you've ever seen in your lifetime. The reality of what confronts us is, to be frank, beyond what most of us are capable of digesting. Jack Nicholson said it best, "You can't handle the truth."

Think real hard before you disagree with me and say something like, "I can handle it! Let me have it!" You remind me of the kid in 'Searching for Bobby Fischer,' staring sternly at the chess board when, all of a sudden, the prodigy character offers him a draw with an extended hand. The kid refuses the gesture leaving the frustrated prodigy to simply say, "You've lost. You just don't know it."

GOP obstructionists adhering to nothing more than party-line rhetoric, shortsighted and reactionary media pundits neglecting to discuss what's being dealt with in this really pathetic blog post here . . . they ALL remind me of a bunch of naive English aristocrats heading off to Verdun in WWI.

They've lost. They just don't know it. They have no idea what we're all about to get into here.

They're stuck in an old model of partisan thinking . . . an old model of news analysis.

They're stuck in a pre-2009 mode of language.

They are, essentially, the unenlightened ones.

From James Carville to Karl Rove . . . from Bill O'Reilly to Keith Olbermann . . . and all of you who wittingly or unwittingly have learned your language from the political culture that's been shaped as a result . . . start speaking Sanskrit.

I'm serious.

Start speaking Sanskrit . . . or Latin . . . the dead language of your choice. I don't care. It'll work about as well, be just about as effective . . . as the tired words you spew or the tired news analysis you repeat.

The time has come to learn a new language. Quit your political party. Abandon your liberal or conservative or moderate label. Untangle yourself from the wreckage of a dead language which wraps itself tightly around identity politics.

The time has come to actually do your own thinking.


Traipseround said...

Dang, boy, that was a good one. But isn't there some hope here for those pundits??

I'm not quibbling with your analysis of the situation, mostly because I trust you and don't really know better myself, which is really pretty scary.

But here's my quibble. The dead language part. Now you may have been engaging in a little hyperbole. Props if you were. But I wanna know if you really meant this:
"They've lost. They just don't know it. They have no idea what we're all about to get into here.

They're stuck in an old model of partisan thinking . . . an old model of news analysis.

They're stuck in a pre-2009 mode of language.

They are, essentially, the unenlightened ones.

From James Carville to Karl Rove . . . from Bill O'Reilly to Keith Olbermann . . . and all of you who wittingly or unwittingly have learned your language from the political culture that's been shaped as a result . . . start speaking Sanskrit."

Just stickin' up for the media here... Aren't the Carvilles, O'Reillys, Olbermanns and Roves of this world just as capable of recognising the truths of this passage, if we just give them a little time to catch up?;)

looking for light said...

not unless it sells ad time

John Jacobson said...

I do think they (major media) are capable . . . and I think the GOP brass is capable too . . . but old habits die hard I suppose. That's more of what I'm getting at. Hell, if I'm capable then they sure are.

The combination of the biggest political party chasm in several generations AND the information revolution has produced a setting where way too many people are way too comfortable with the way things are. We have people OUR AGE who actually think this level of partisan heavy handedness and the realities inherent to a 24 hour news cycle . . . are normal.

Of course, it's all anything but normal. It's quite the unique combination . . . and it's barely old enough to be in high school by my watch.

The problem is right now . . . when something truly extraordinary happens . . . and the trappings of a 24 hour news cycle (with its genuine need to produce news . . . even if that news in its undigested form can't possibly be presented in a responsible way {I'm stealing from you now, by the way}) runs up against this seemingly die-casted hyperpartisan political culture. All of a sudden you have a nation that must adopt a new language for understanding as well as doing (legislative and executive) things . . . but we get stuck in the old language because the forces that be (created by the 24 hour newsertainment cycle and the uber-partisan political environment) want to hold us, lock us into that old language.

The hardest part is watching people use the old tricks, the old lines, the old modes of thinking . . . and knowing that they're just killing us, all of us, as a direct result of their inability to get outside the box.

In this metaphor, it's the box (old norms) that's bad. The box is not something we need to get outside of in order to free our minds for some good, old fashioned original thought. The box is about to have like ten rabid hyenas tossed into it. If we stay in the box, we're in for a real unfun time.

Paul said...

Ouch. That was no fun at all to read. But no fun as in ripping off a bandaid. Had to be said, had to be read.

Chnaski said...

I'm liking it that my son is in your class. Excellent post.

John Jacobson said...

Thank you. But, for the record, I'm NEVER opinionated like that in class.

And if I am, I want to know about it (I shouldn't be).

But again, thank you.

John said...

Why so serious? We're witnessing the death throes of capitalism here. I absolutely agree with you that this is just the tip of the iceberg, and most of the public doesn't realize it yet. But the economic meltdown really shouldn't be SURPRISING to anyone. Free market capitalism contains the seeds of it's own destruction - Karl Marx realized this 150 years ago. The only reason it's taken this long is that the machinations of the market are limited by the rate of global money transfer, and only recently has this become instantaneous. Finally capitalism can function at maximum efficiency, which means capital consolidation occurs at maximum efficiency, which, unfortunately for us, means that the value can now be sucked out of our national economy at maximum efficiency to be consolidated elsewhere.

I'm not advocating Marxist communism here, his view fell short of the implications of instant global information transfer as surely as Smith's did. What I am suggesting is that we, as a nation, need to realize that Smithian economics has been shown, both through theoretical analysis and historical fact, to be a severely broken system. Capitalism is not a force for freedom of the individual, it's a force for hegemonic enterprise; everyone's suddenly worried because the USA is no longer the hegemon.

I've been waiting half my life to say this: WE TOLD YOU SO!

As a side note, in my experience you were always neutral in class, sometimes to a fault - just because there are two partisan sides to a debate doesn't mean that one of them isn't just plain wrong, e.g. the wholesale deregulation the GOP has been pushing for the last thirty years or the social policy of cultural relativism above all else touted by the Dems (things like gender-/sex-based slavery ARE just plain wrong, and we SHOULD be toppling the theocracies that institutionalize them - same goes for clitoridectomies as a cultural practice all over Africa). Still, forcing your students to analyze the sides themselves is definitely more valuable than training them to accept the positions of authority figures without question. Also, the really interested students tend to engage you outside of class anyway.

But, yeah, once we accept that the system is inherently flawed and therefore beyond repair, we can stop looking for ways to fix it and start looking at ways to transition to something else without everyone starving.

John Jacobson said...

Music to my ears--> "As a side note, in my experience you were always neutral in class, sometimes to a fault"

Now . . . who are you?

I just find it nice to know who I'm engaging with in these back and forths.

It's the Facebook era people! We all are who we are. Anonymity is dead!