Mike the Mad Biologist

Kennedy and Summers: Two Bad Nominees

I agree with ScienceBloglings Orac and Mike Dunford: Robert Kennedy Jr. shouldn’t be in an Obama cabinet.

As far I’m concerned, Kennedy’s bullshit about thimerisol is every bit as ridiculous as creationism, except that it’s far more murderous. While I don’t think that would be an issue that he would deal with at Interior (but might be at EPA), irrationalism has no place in a Democratic administration. Could we wait a few months before we cede the intellectual highground? Related to this, Mike has a good suggestion:

If we want to effectively oppose this nomination, we need to bring in the entire scientific community. And we need to do it now. If the appointment is announced, it’s a done deal. There aren’t a lot of Democrats out there who are going to want to hand Obama an embarrassing public defeat on a high profile nomination right out the bat, and that number takes a dramatic drop when doing so would also involve simultaneously pissing off the Kennedys and Clintons.

So if you want to work to try and head off this potential problem, I’d suggest starting soon. One thing that might help is if you bring the issue to the attention of three or four people you know who would be interested in this, but who don’t read blogs. Have them bring in more of their friends.

Try to get them to get in touch with anyone they know who is involved in one of the major scientific organizations, or who is an editor for a major publication, or has political contacts. Let’s try to get those folks to put out the word that a Kennedy appointment to the EPA will cause problems down the road.

What? You didn’t think the work was done with the election, did you? OK, onto Summers as Treasury Secretary. Never mind that Summers, as president of Harvard, had a little ‘boys are smarter than girls’ eruption. His record isn’t that good:

Summers was one of the key proponents of the banking deregulation of 1999 that led to the current financial crisis. In addition, Larry Summers has argued that women are innately less gifted in science than men, that ‘Africa is Underpolluted’, that child sweatshop work in Asia is sometimes justified, and that job destroying trade agreements are good for America.

People get stuff wrong all the time. That’s not bad. But if you got the big stuff wrong, repeatedly, while being warned against it, you shouldn’t be rewarded with a promotion.

But there’s something else too. A while ago, the NY Times magazine profiled Summers, and he seems like a real asshole. The problem isn’t just that Congress won’t like him, but that I don’t trust his instincts. Ultimately, when the hammer drops, I don’t think he’ll side with middle class Americans. Sure, he’ll talk about the economy, but I don’t think that means people’s lives to Summers. There’s an anti-Summers petition here.

Instead, I like Sheila Bair, currently head of FDIC at Treasury. Not only does she seem to give a damn about, well, people, but she had the courage to do what she could to make the bailout work for people who have the misfortune of not being CEOs:

…one of the most obviously qualified candidates is a woman: Sheila Bair, the current Chairperson the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).

During ordinary times, the FDIC is a relative backwater, having to deal with minor policy tweaks or the failure of a small bank here or there. However, the housing crash has put the FDIC at center stage. Ms. Bair has been forced to arrange the takeover or merger of many of the country’s largest banks, including Wachovia, Washington Mutual, and IndyMac. The FDIC has been a key actor in containing the credit crisis.

In this process, Bair has shown a willingness to both confront the big Wall Street banks and to stand up for homeowners. When the FDIC took over IndyMac, one of the mass market subprime lenders, Bair ordered a moratorium on foreclosures on the mortgages held by the bank. She announced that the FDIC would arrange write-downs that allowed homeowners to stay in their home wherever possible. Bair has since been vocal in her criticisms of other banks for being unwilling to take the same steps.

Bair is a Republican, but in the world of Big Finance it is not clear that party affiliation makes much difference. Most of the public will probably care more about the fact that she has managed to steer clear of the Wall Street cesspool than whether she is a Democrat or Republican.

And she’s a Republican, which will make Compulsive Centrist Disorder sufferer David Broder cream his pants.

Erm, maybe that’s not such a good suggestion….

Comments

  1. #1 Moopheus
    November 7, 2008

    Bair? Eh. The main thing she seems to be learning trying to manage the mortgage mess is how unmanageable it is. A moratorium on foreclosures is actually not a good idea–it pressures the servicers financially, ties their hands, and when the moratorium is over, defaults go through the roof. The FDIC, like the other regulatory agencies, was slow to respond when there was a chance to control the damage. John Dugan at the OCC was the one pushing for controlling lenders.

    But yeah, Summers would be a pretty bad choice. Maybe we could get Volcker to come out of retirement?

  2. #2 Robert
    November 7, 2008

    “Job destroying trade agreements” – by which I assume you mean free trade agreements- *are* good for America and are even better for the global economy. Why lump good progressive economic policy in with his sillier comments?

  3. #3 jayh
    November 7, 2008

    The hubbub about the ‘women in science’ thing was ridiculous blowup; he actually made some very plausible suggestions about the outworking of behavior patterns that are simply politically taboo at the current moment. [Hopkins response I think exemplified the irrationality of the responses, not with science but with 'you're evil because we know what you said isn't true']. BTW he did NOT say women can’t do science, but he did point out several level headed reasons why (other than male conspiracy) there are fewer women in some areas.

    Alas, the fact that he’s apparently a bit hard to get along with probably helped.

    Some of the other quotes, if you look, amount to some pragmatic looks at difficult and emotional subjects. I don’t know if he’s a really good candidate, but we do need to step beyond some cherished ideologies to achieve progress.

  4. #4 Moopheus
    November 7, 2008

    Hey, I just saw a report that apparently Volcker is on the short list for Treasury. So now when I send a message about RFK, I’m going to plug Volcker at the same time.

  5. #5 jeff
    November 7, 2008

    Maybe we can get everyone to suggest at the transition website what a horrible idea Kennedy and Summers would be. Try Here: http://change.gov/page/s/yourstory

  6. #6 complex field
    November 7, 2008

    While Summers does have a tendancy toward malapropisms, he is an economist and some ideas in economics are, in everyday usage, a bit bizarre. I suspect that the underpolluted thing, for example, is a result of some arcane calculation, based on social costs and a bunch of other stuff, easily taken out of context or otherwise misunderstood.

    As to his policies, if he gets confirmed, he will have to bend to Obama’s agenda. Thus I am not nearly as worried about him as I am of Junior.

  7. #7 complex field
    November 7, 2008

    While Summers does have a tendancy toward malapropisms, he is an economist and some ideas in economics are, in everyday usage, a bit bizarre. I suspect that the underpolluted thing, for example, is a result of some arcane calculation, based on social costs and a bunch of other stuff, easily taken out of context or otherwise misunderstood.

    As to his policies, if he gets confirmed, he will have to bend to Obama’s agenda. Thus I am not nearly as worried about him as I am of Junior.

  8. #8 Troublesome Frog
    November 7, 2008

    I’m going to have to go with Moopheus here and say that anybody who thinks that a foreclosure moratorium or unwise loan write-downs will do anything to improve a banking crisis like this one does not have the temperament or grasp of finance to be Treasury Secretary.

    These things are only marginally less silly than John McCain’s idiotic, “Let’s just buy up all the bad mortgages at face value” idea that got him horsewhipped in the economics community. It was depressing watching the last little bits of Doug Holtz-Eakin’s soul escape through the top of his head while he tried to defend that one.

  9. #9 Bessest
    November 7, 2008

    As a woman trying to be in science, I totally agree with jayh. Based on the links provided, Summers seems to me to be simply devoted to logic, regardless of where it leads. We can’t just ignore stuff we don’t like.

    And do read the original memo (follow the links) behind the “Africa-is-underpolluted” brouhaha, particularly the last chapter. Summers is just one of those people who don’t get that irony can be defined as the thing that people miss.

  10. #10 justjake
    November 10, 2008

    Wow, an asshole disqualifying someone else based on the idea they might be an asshole.

    So you’re a dumbass too.

  11. #11 mirc
    March 10, 2009

    thanks

  12. #12 mirc
    March 25, 2009

    Thanks a lot.

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