The Fifth Estate?

15 04 2009

“What the hell is this Accounting and Auditing Act of 1950, 31 USC 714(b) stuff? I can’t find it anywhere!”

The news media has carried the reputation of the 4th Estate of the U.S. democratic process (1st, 2nd, and 3rd Estates being Congress, the Supreme Court, and the Office of the President – seriously, you should know that.) The idea is that news media kinda keeps the other three honest by reporting on what’s going on – so “they” don’t slip anything past “us” while “we’re” hard at work as doctors, nurses, electricians, sanitation workers, maids, librarians, plumbers, teachers, or “Senior Associates” at XYZ company.

With all the hoopla surrounding the Federal Reserve, Government Accounting Office, and T.A.R.P. (Toxic Asset Relief Program) which resulted from the crash of last October, a lot more light has been shed on how powerful the Federal Reserve is. Specifically, they really aren’t part of the balance of powers that hold accountable the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Estates to one another – nor are they truth-seekers for publications like (insert favorite newspaper or news television show here). In particular, the Accounting and Auditing Act of 1950 has been cited recently as a major part of why the Federal Reserve is so special. Unfortunately, THOMAS (the public online component of the Library of Congress) only goes back to 1982… so where are we supposed to find the AAA of 1950 that everyone’s talking about???

Well, here it is, straight from the Office of the Law Revision Counsel, U.S. House of Reps (which is why it looks like crap…):

    31 USC Sec. 714                                            
    Sec. 714. Audit of Financial Institutions Examination Council, Federal Reserve Board, Federal reserve banks, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and Office of Comptroller of the Currency
      (a) In this section, “agency” means the Financial Institutions
    Examination Council, the Federal Reserve Board, Federal reserve banks, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the Office of Thrift Supervision.
      (b) Under regulations of the Comptroller General, the Comptroller General shall audit an agency, but may carry out an onsite examination of an open insured bank or bank holding company only if the appropriate agency has consented in writing. Audits of the Federal Reserve Board and Federal reserve banks may not include – 
        (1) transactions for or with a foreign central bank, government of a foreign country, or nonprivate international financing organization;
        (2) deliberations, decisions, or actions on monetary policy matters, including discount window operations, reserves of member banks, securities credit, interest on deposits, and open market operations;
        (3) transactions made under the direction of the Federal Open Market Committee; or
        (4) a part of a discussion or communication among or between members of the Board of Governors and officers and employees of the Federal Reserve System related to clauses (1)-(3) of this subsection.
      (c)(1) Except as provided in this subsection, an officer or employee of the Government Accountability Office may not disclose information identifying an open bank, an open bank holding company, or a customer of an open or closed bank or bank holding company. The Comptroller General may disclose information related to the affairs of a closed bank or closed bank holding company identifying a customer of the closed bank or closed bank holding company only if the Comptroller General believes the customer had a controlling influence in the management of the closed bank or closed bank holding company or was related to or affiliated with a person or group having a controlling influence.
      (2) An officer or employee of the Office may discuss a customer, bank, or bank holding company with an official of an agency and may report an apparent criminal violation to an appropriate law enforcement authority of the United States Government or a State.
      (3) This subsection does not authorize an officer or employee of an agency to withhold information from a committee of Congress authorized to have the information.
     (d)(1) To carry out this section, all records and property of or used by an agency, including samples of reports of examinations of a bank or bank holding company the Comptroller General considers statistically meaningful and workpapers and correspondence related to the reports shall be made available to the Comptroller General. The Comptroller General shall give an agency a current list of officers and employees to whom, with proper identification, records and property may be made available, and who may make notes or copies necessary to carry out an audit.
      (2) The Comptroller General shall prevent unauthorized  access to records or property of or used by an agency that the Comptroller General obtains during an audit.

So, basically, “fuck off, I do what I want.” Sounds like Cartman legislation. “RESPECT my AuthORitEYE”…

What’s interesting is that section (c)(3) states that the Fed is NOT authorized to withold informaiton from any committee of Congress that is “authorized to have the information.” Not that they have to volunteer to help, just that they can’t withhold information, if asked by the right people.

That has to include the T.A.R.P. Oversight Committee I think, since it is stipulated within the T.A.R.P. document that every 60 days it has to check in with Congress and let them know how they’re doing.

So…what does any of this mean? Well, for starters, it means that the United States is going through a big financial shift. I know, “Shock! I had no idea!”,  but bear with me:

Financial “trouble” is what people with large financial losses are going through. The average Jane is going through something different. And that could be a good thing.

What this means, among other things, is that there is essentially less money to go around right now: less money to create jobs, less money to continue funding already existing jobs, and less money to spend on little things like a new TV or more clothes or weekend trips up the coast. What possible silver lining could there possibly be within this clusterfuck of a situation?

The answer: Boycotting will work better ever before.

Stay with me: boycotting products (for whatever reason you have) largely depends on the size of the impact grabbing the company’s attention. This is complicated by the fact that so many large companies that sell products in the U.S. (not necessarily U.S. owned/run/operated) retain WAY more customers than they lose week to week. But what this recession is forcing everyday people to do is re-prioritize their spending habits, which includes buying less of some of their favorite products, if at all.

In a financial climate where reliably long-term, repeat customers want to buy something but simply can’t, protesters of that product are uniquely positioned to strike at the company’s biggest weakness: their revenue. The recession will necessarily undergo a survival-of-the-fittest period during which giant companies like Coke and McDonald’s would “feel” ANY boycotting more than it has in decades. And that doesn’t mean you have to go without soda – just don’t buy THEIR soda. Giving to a competitor is even worse than not buying anything at all, because while the first company will suffer a loss of revenue, the competing company will gain revenue and thus tip the scales even more.

If you ever wanted to boycott a product for any reason, now is the time to do it. Every penny counts all the time, but right now every penny feels like a dollar to these companies. That is the power that a financial shift gives to those people with hardly a penny to spare.


Women and Children Last

31 01 2009

On Thursday President Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Act – just a day after The Medicaid Family Planning State Option was stripped from the $819 billion stimulus. Does President Obama think that buys his administration enough political capital to yank Family Planning funding from this economic stimulus package?

Women’s health just lost out. The Medicaid Family Planning State Option, a simple, commonsense measure that would have expanded access to health care to more women in these increasingly desperate times, has been stripped from the economic stimulus bill.

The reason? It was a victim of misleading attacks and partisan politics.

As ThinkProgress points out, “… conservatives are distorting and simplifying the facts…. this measure would not only aid states, but also provide preventative, cost-saving health care to help low-income women support their families and keep working.”

So $819 billion is ok – but $819.2 billion is ridiculous? Actually, come to think of it, that sounds a hell of a lot like spending $50 on a date and then penny pinching by buying a cheap brand X condom.

House Republicans are the iceberg to Obama’s Titanic.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) falsely claimed that the Medicaid Family Planning State Option would cost hundreds of millions of dollars — when the Congressional Budget Office estimates it would save the federal government $700 million over 10 years.”

Immediately following Obama’s meeting with Congress, Boehner said, “How can you spend hundreds of millions of dollars on contraceptives? How does that stimulate the economy?”


I like jokes, which is why I was able to survive Bush’s administration, but Representative Gingrey (of the 11th district in Georgia) is making the old argument that providing access to contraceptives will encourage people to have more sex, and that having more sex is bad. It’s one of those ideas that makes your brain do a double-take. Having sex twice a week for a year using a 97% effective condom is much safer than having sex once a month without protection. Just is. If you think sex is evil, that’s a different argument, which I will be happy to hear – because I like jokes.

Garbage in, garbage out

Republicans who opposed family planning funding in the stimulus tended to represent states with the highest STD rates.

Not counting AIDS (which gravitates mostly to major cities in Texas, Florida,  Illinois, Massachusetts, and New York), the rates of infection for Gonorrhea, Syphilis and Clamydia are highest in red states:

Gonorrhea: Seven out of the top ten states (Mississippi, S. Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, Tennessee and Missouri) are red.

Chlamydia: Six out of the top ten states (Alaska, Mississippi,S. Carolina, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee) are red.

Syphilis: Five out of the top ten states (Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, Texas and Tennessee) are red.

Commenting on the inclusion of The Medicaid Family Planning State Option for the economic stimulus bill, an investment of $200 million which would save states money in the long run because they would not be burdened by unplanned childbirths by families who cannot afford to take care of children:

“Indeed that may stimulate something,” Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, “but I don’t think it’s going to stimulate the economy.”

Like I said, I like jokes.

And in honor of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, a final moment of zen:

Rush Limbaugh said that if Pelosi “wants fewer births, I have the way to do this and it won’t require any contraception: You simply put pictures of Nancy Pelosi…in every cheap motel room. … That will keep birthrates down because that picture will keep a lot of things down.”

Original Planned Parenthood article:

RIP Ms. Kemp

14 12 2008

Jan Kemp

A powerful woman. A hero.
May she rest in peace.

The passing of Jan Kemp at age 59 barely moved the needle this week in the sports world.

That’s wrong.

Buffy, Bella, or Britney

26 11 2008

In my world, you’re a Buffy, a Bella, or a Britney.

Last night I saw the movie Twilight at my local delapidated movie theater. Contrary to my expectations, it was entertaining and fun, aside from the series of inside jokes so often invoked in film adaptations. Was it a film adaptation of the Manifesta? No. But, it had important shades of grey.

BuffyWhat struck me was not how sexist or anti-feminist it was, but rather how decidedly middle of the road it was. Or, better put – its message was as confused as its target audience.

The tweens and teens I grew up with, in the ancient 90s, were mostly spoiled white children of richer-than-average-yuppie-corporate-moms and reformed-hippies-turned-homemakers. In the Buffyverse, they would be known as Cordelias. There was a smattering of Willows, but most non-Cordelias more closely resembled Faith. In many cases our moms were sort-of feminists, with a pragmatic twist. For others, well, the battle was a little more up-hill. What many of these young women had in common, however, was an ambivalence about the world and their role in it. Was it a struggle? Was it a playground? Was it a stage? Was it a series of problems waiting to be tackled? Was it a wasteland of people lining up to betray you? Was it waiting to be conquered, or to be overcome?


The questions a young woman asks herself around this age are near the beginning of a powerful journey into adult life and all that comes with it. For those of us raised in suburban, conservative, corporate households, with varying degrees of family dysfunctionality, the choice to even question the world around us can be perilous for our family harmony. It isn’t a step to be taken lightly, especially without supportive peers. Chances are, if you’re questioning the world in which you were raised, you’re also questioning the world that your friends enjoy – a delicate balancing act, to say the least.


The first steps of any jouney may appear indistinguishable from the first steps of another. What Twilight illustrates – without judgement – is the muddiness in which these first steps are made. Not every step will be a wise one and not every part of the journey will showcase your inner strength. Despite that, we drag ourselves out of bed, onto the bus, into each class, trying to find the next vine in the jungle.

Some of us gravitate toward Britney Spears, others cling to Buffy Summers, but almost all of us have had our Bella Swan moments. Twilight may not pick up where Buffy the Vampire Slayer left off, but it leaves open the opportunity to explore a world different from the one in which we were raised. For the children of conservative suburbia, even the smallest window can turn into a portal of salvation. Every step counts.

That being said, adult women who cross my path are basically in the Buffy, Bella, or Britney categories. At least the Bellas have a chance.

“Everything is life or death when you’re a sixteen year old girl.” – Joyce Summers

Great, But Not Good Enough

22 11 2008

Have you seen the 1980s movie, Wildcats? I just bought a copy from the garage sale that is our local Circuit City and I was watching it tonight. In one scene, Goldie Hawn has to outlast every single guy in a race in order to be good enough. While it is in fact a work of fiction, it elegantly illustrates the unreasonable standard to which women are being held twenty years later. It isn’t enough that we’re as able as any – we are asked to be better than any other.

The sexism in our culture has become subtle, but distinct nevertheless. Instead of facing outright discrimination by being told a woman “cannot” do a job, we hear that she is not qualified “enough”. The ability to perform a job is the single greatest criteria to which any applicant should be judged. It is unfair to ask that a woman not only be able to do the job, but that she needs to do it better than any man who might want it – ever.

The thing is, if employers wait long enough, eventually will they find someone even more qualified to fill a position than the person they were going to hire. On a long enough time line, if the most qualified applicant is a man, eventually a woman will come along who is even more qualified – and vice versa. If an accomplished woman applies for a job, and no other applicant can boast better qualifications, shouldn’t she get the position? The answer is yes, but an employer can simply decide to continue searching – not just for a better applicant, but for a better applicant who is a man. This is the important distinction, which should not be confused for lowering standards or not choosing the most qualified applicant. What we are seeing is that employers are finding women who could do the job well, and better than any man who has applied, but the employer actually wants to wait to find a man. It is this desire to wait for a man rather than hire the adequately qualified woman that is most concerning, and testifies to the still present sexism in our culture. Just ask Hillary Clinton.

Women do not have higher morals than men, we do not have more intelligence than men, and we do not have better ideas than men. What we do have is high standards, intelligence, and good ideas. It is time, right here, right now, to end the fairy tale standards to which women are being held.

Hillary Clinton: Why She is Uniquely Qualified as Secretary of State

21 11 2008

THANK YOU Jennifer Donahue!

It’s like there is this glossing-over going on, and that somehow HRC is just barely qualified to even be in any elected office, instead of being an international figure and one of the most significant, living or dead, women’s rights leaders.

I know no one likes talking about sexism anymore, because clearly women are allowed to hold the jobs and offices of men, so sexism is over (insert sarcasm here). Though the strategy may take a more subtle tone (“I’ve got nothing against a woman, but She’s not *qualified*” – “Well, she isn’t less qualified…” – “Not good enough!”), it exists in many homes across our nation. Some women are having conversations with their men and discovering they don’t see eye-to-eye afterall. We’ve been resting on our Third Wave laurels, and it’s time to dig in our heels again. Whatever happens with Hillary Rodham Clinton next, the supporters around the world of women’s rights will be watching.
More on Hillary Clinton
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Reconciliation without Truth

21 11 2008

“Why not repeat the truth? Barack Obama’s election was a real breakthrough, without precedent–something he did by himself with the help of a million workers who were not working for Hillary Clinton.”

See, now when I read something like that I feel really pissed. The only reason (ok, the biggest reason) a lot of HRC supporters voted for BHO was because she encouraged it. Clinton asked them to support the Dem nominee and vote BHO – and a lot of supporters did. The vast majority, in fact, of former Hillary supporters swung hard right and voted Obama. This was out of loyalty to Clinton, not Democrats in general. Disregarding that voting block and saying, “Hey, we coulda done it without ya!” seems really stupid. If for no other reason, it fortifies that group of voters into looking for another candidate in 2012 and undermining Obama’s efforts in the years to come. And if he hadn’t needed them, he wouldn’t have bothered recruiting Hillary during the campaign.