Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Worst. Inauguration. Ever. Part II: The Reckoning?

My proper purple ticket

Perhaps you are one of the seven or eight people out there in the web-o-sphere that didn’t read of my less than happy happy joy joy inauguration day experience, or hear about the purple tunnel of doom, or purple-gate, or the bad side of crowds, in general. Well, have no fear, a congressional committee is here:

A report released by a congressional committee yesterday found that "flaws and shortcomings in the planning process" contributed to chaotic conditions around the U.S. Capitol for people trying to attend President Obama's inauguration in January.

Thousands of people complained that they were stuck in slow-moving lines or tightly packed crowds outside entrance gates to the Capitol area, causing them to miss the ceremony even though they had tickets.

An executive summary of the report said the main cause of the breakdown was a flood of people, many without the proper tickets, who overwhelmed the entrance gates.

The document also pointed to insufficient signs, poor coordination among law enforcement agencies and a lack of personnel to keep order and provide information to visitors. Officials at the multi-agency command center were not aware of the problems in some ticket lines, it said.

The report was drawn up for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies by several law enforcement agencies that worked on the event, led by the Secret Service. Only an eight-page executive summary was released because the full report contained sensitive security information, according to the committee.

The main cause of there being too many people for them to deal with was that there were too many people?

. . . no one could have possibly foreseen. . .

Maybe the actual report reads differently, but this summary basically puts everything in the passive voice. Memo to committee: Deficiencies didn't just “happen.” Who was responsible for not assigning personnel to direct the lines? Who made the decision to wait until after 8am to open the gates? (Note: 8am is the official story; I believe they opened later—more like 9am.) Who drew up the plan that had security at the parade four cops deep six hours before anyone was there while having zero police presence with the crowds outside the purple gate?

But, OK, the past is the past; we want to look forward—that’s what all the hip kids are doing—how can we turn the page?

The summary recommended setting up a high-level committee to oversee planning and improve coordination for the next inauguration and opening the ticket gates earlier. It called for turning over responsibility for giving directions and prescreening ticket-holders to the congressional and presidential inaugural committees, which could provide volunteers or hire staff for such tasks.

It also suggested that law enforcement officials monitor Twitter and Facebook to keep on top of developing problems.

We need a high-level commission to replace what exactly? Seriously, again, who was responsible for the shortcomings this last time? Will this commission replace Senator Feinstein’s committee? Will it have authority over the DC police? (I can’t wait to get my tickets for that turf war.) Dare I say, “you have to read the page before you turn the page?” Moving on. . . .

And, can you just see four years from now the DC police—or this commission—monitoring Twitter and Facebook, but by that point in history, we are all doing something completely different? I have a better idea: have people monitoring the situation by being there!

As to this "flood of people. . . not having proper tickets," think this one through. . . . Beyond my eyewitness view that everyone around me had purple tickets--we were waving them in the air and chanting, "we have tickets," after all—how many people who thought they were going to sneak into the section would have put themselves through this hour after hour? I would have had much better luck if I had given up my purported purple place of privilege and just hoofed down to the mall. Some I met actually did give up and do just that. If you were thinking that the place I was in was a shortcut to a better view, you would have been disabused of that notion within the first couple of the many couples of hours that most of us were there.

As predicted within hours of the original debacle, this investigation started with a faulty set of premises—that no one could have expected the large turnout and that only a few thousand ticket-holders were inconvenienced—and so it came to a faulty set of conclusions. (Jason Linkins and the gang at HufPo did a better job of assessing the scene within two days of the inauguration.) By not acknowledging the realities of the day, and by not asking who was responsible for the bad planning and decision-making, DiFi and friends have done little more than hand the problem off to the next Congress. . . and the next 10-20,000 poor bastards who will end inauguration day 2013 holding on to unused tickets and unpleasant memories.

Worst. Inauguration investigation. Ever.

* * *

Follow-up/update: I see the The Hill has also posted a story on this report (h/t Peterr). Though both the Washington Post (above) and The Hill were working from the same executive summary, the latter story has a very different emphasis from the headline—“Report: Poor communication led to inaugural snafu”—on down:

An insufficient number of law enforcement officers and the absence of a loudspeaker system led to thousands of ticket-wielding spectators being trapped in a tunnel as officials refused them entry for President Obama’s inauguration.

The problem wasn’t the situation; it was the response to the situation. Got that? Not a subtle difference.

The Hill also provides a link to the executive summary itself (warning: PDF). The ES is more comprehensive than either news article, and it does make a little clearer whom it recommends might be in charge next time (I still shudder at the thought of that turf war), but it maintains the passive voice I criticize above. The “snafu” was poor organization’s fault, it was a lack of coordination’s fault, a lack of loudspeakers’ fault, too many people’s fault—but it was no particular person’s fault.

However, they did get one thing right:

Both Feinstein and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), recognized that the study may not satisfy the thousands of people who were barred entrance.

Also, I have to link to this enormous overhead picture (third one down when you scroll), which shows that 20 minutes after the inaugural ceremony began, there is still plenty of room in one of the purple sections. To me, that says the problem is not that there were too many purple tickets handed out—the problem lay in someone’s lack of ability to get thousands with legitimate tickets from outside the gates, through the entry point (I say point, and not points, because, despite what DC police claimed, I saw with my own eyes that the second gate was not open), through the magnetometers, and into the open area. That takes planning, and it takes personnel, sure, but it is hardly an original problem—someone could have possibly foreseen. . . .

(cross-posted on Firedoglake)

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

It's Pitchfork Time in America

AIG hires extra security for its New York offices, newspapers and TV anchors talk of torches and pitchforks, and a senior US senator calls for executives to commit suicide.

And America, rather than ask, “Oh my god, what have we become?” instead, on the whole, screams “Hellz yeah!”

Senate Majority leader Harry Reid has vowed to introduce legislation within the next day to recoup those noisome AIG bonuses, and House Financial Services Committee member Brad Sherman is planning a bill to impose a surtax on executive pay for companies receiving federal bailouts. President Obama is asking his Treasury Secretary to pursue every angle to block payment of the AIG bonuses. . . at least the ones to the Financial Products division. There is, it seems, a contest to see who can claim their pound of flesh in more serious and severe tones.

All well and good. . . not the first time leaders have sought to ride the wave of public outrage. . . but where does it get us?

As onerous as the AIG bonuses are—which is very—they are but a tiny symptom of a thoroughly systemic disease. The $165 million in bonuses due this particular group at AIG make up less than one-tenth of one percent of the insurance giant's entire rescue “plan.”

Problem is, what’s needed is not a rescue plan; what’s needed is a complete restructuring plan to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.

When members of the Capital Markets subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee hold hearings on this bonus battle today (Wednesday), there will no doubt be no shortage of grand and angry words. Executives will be paraded before Congress, and while the seppuku knives will likely stay sheathed, the Representatives will each take turns verbally filleting these Masters of the Universe for all the world—and most of their districts—to see. All, of course, on behalf of the American people, so that these executives can know their—know our—rage.

To which I say: Don’t do me any favors.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

AIG: Putting the Racketeering Back in the Insurance Racket

So, late Saturday/early Sunday, we learn that AIG, already recipient of some $170 billion of US government coin, is set to pay out $165 million in something called “retention bonuses” to the people in the financial products unit, the very division that brought the insurance giant to its knees. Cue the righteous indignation.

Righteous, but also rightful—this dispersal is outrageous. But while most behind the microphones, on the opinion pages, and in the halls of Congress will declare this the height of hubris, or a simple “screw you” to the American people, they will be missing a slightly more nefarious conclusion:

These are not retention bonuses--this is protection money.

I had a drink with a friend last week--she works for the NYSE in Europe--and she commented that in her 15 years in the market, the march of "progress" has been about who can come up with the next gimmick, the next algorithm that is slightly more nuanced, complicated, and arcane than the previous. Anything that can give you an edge over your competitors. She said you can see similar growth curves repeated in each of the derivatives as they came along: a slow growth start, then a rapid, steep climb, and then a rapid leveling off, followed by everyone rearranging the deck chairs while they scramble for the next hot gimmick. CDOs, CDSs fall into this pattern.

Do not assume that Edward Liddy, the government appointed chairman of AIG, fully understands what went on within the financial products unit, do not assume he understands their "gimmick," but assume that he knows that something is up and that these bonus babies know what it is.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

What Dreams May Come? Rolling Back Media Consolidation and Reforming Campaign Finance in the Wake of Stewart and Cramer

Perhaps much of this has been said before, but some of the fallout from Stewart vs. Cramer—the calls for changes in the way business “news” is handled—puts some long-simmering arguments about media consolidation back on the front burner.

Media conglomerates do not exist to deliver news, they exist to deliver shareholder value. It is in their interest to fluff the stock market and to curry favor with government regulators so that they can continue to acquire, conglomerate, consolidate, profit, and pay dividends.

There are individual reporters that try to do their jobs, but increasingly with less staff and more demands for additional content. Reporters are rewarded and promoted more often these days not for their clips as much as they are for their rolodexes and their ability to serve the needs of the parent company as detailed above. It is natural for them to want to get ahead and ensure job security. Pissing off powerful contacts doesn't really meet any of these needs as the industry is currently structured.

Is there a fix for this? Yes, but it's a very heavy lift. Roll back media consolidation. Re-impose limits on ownership that existed prior to 1996. Take away special wavers for multiple major channels in single markets.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Meghan McCain: On Message

You didn’t really expect Meghan McCain, daughter of Senator John “yes, I may have lost, but I’m still a cranky, idea-free asshole” McCain, to break news during Wednesday’s appearance on MSNBC with Rachel Maddow, did you?

OK, yes yes yes, she has “taken on” Ann Coulter, saying writing out loud in The Daily Beast all the things that, well, 89% of the sentient population already knows. But hey, props where props is due: it’s not like everyone is blogging about how noxious Coultergeist is, now, is it?

So, it wasn’t “breaking” news that we got in a head-scratchingly super-sized double segment, but there was some refreshing honesty—or, if not honesty, at least a sort of self-awareness. You think that I’m going to mention hearing a McCain admit to zero understanding of “economic things”—nah, too easy. Truly old news. But, check this out:

I really think we’re on the precipice of possibly becoming a party that’s irrelevant to young people. It’s truly possible in the next election unless the right politician, the right message, and it starts with message, which I think people are missing, too. . . .

Well, Meghan, they very well might be missing the right message—there was that November election, after all—but that your Republicans are missing that “it starts with message?” We beg to differ:

[House Minority leader John] Boehner reminded Republicans that they are no longer in the business of legislating and should focus almost solely on communicating their message with voters.

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Friday, March 06, 2009

Rush, Republicans Gaze at Navels while America Looks Elsewhere for Leadership

Conn Carroll, quoting an Ann Althouse quip fed through the Instapundit filter, should know that two wrongs don’t make a, um, Next Right:

The White House, the DNC, and Americans United for Change are all apparently about to double down on their "Republicans equal Limbaugh" strategy. My thoughts on this are summed up by a comment on Ann Althouse's blog highlight by Instapundit: "Does anyone really think Team Obama's focus on Limbaugh reflects their success so far in office."

This should be the only talking point when conservative surrogates are brought on TV to talk about this compleltely [sic] fake controversy: The only reason the Obama White House is attacking Rush Limbaugh is because Obama already has been a complete failure in office. Since his election in November the market has lost 25% of its value and every single one of his policy announcements has only been followed by hundreds of thousands of more lost jobs.

Obama, the Democrats, and the left desperately want to change the subject from Obama's performance. That is why they are investing time, resources, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in demonizing Rush. How does any of this help the American people?

Representative John Boehner (Rushlickin’ – OH) seems to be reading off of the same fax (via Benen):

[I]n a carefully calculated campaign, operatives and allies of the Obama administration are seeking to divert attention toward radio host Rush Limbaugh, and away from a debate about our alternative solutions on the economy and the irresponsible spending binge they are presiding over. This diversionary tactic will not create a single job or help a single family struggling in today's economic crisis. And that is where our focus should be.

“Calculated campaign?” “Operatives and allies?” Puh-leez! The most calculated, orchestrated part of this whole hullabaloo is the daily gust of ill wind blowing from the blowhard himself—and Rush is going to ride the breeze for as long as he can.

The establishment media, never one to turn down an easy story controversy slap fight might be focused on Limbaugh—they are the ones that have asked questions of Gibbs, Emanuel, etc., after all—but "Team" Obama seems focused on fixing the fucking the disaster left to them by "Team" Bush-Cheney. The Recovery Act, the budget fixes—hell, the whole damn budget—today’s healthcare summit, Clinton’s Mideast initiative, the initiative to cut military waste, the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, this week’s release of the OLC memos. . . that's what the White House is focusing on.

Where is the Republican "loyal" opposition focusing? They are busy fearmongering about "socialism," saying "no" without proposing any implementable alternatives, and seeing who can kiss Rush's butt closest to his anus.

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