13 October 2008

Quick Hits

* It came out this weekend that General Motors had merger talks with Ford from July to September that ultimately terminated when Ford decided that it had a better chance of surviving alone than while merged with GM. GM is now in merge talks with privately held Chrysler given a 50-50 chance of producing a merger.

* Wells Fargo has received FTC (i.e. anti-trust) and Federal Reserve (i.e. banking regulatory) approval for its acquisition of Wachovia. The FDIC had brokered a deal with Citigroup including a substantial (up to $300 billion+) guarantee of troubled assets to sell Wachovia, but Wells Fargo bid more money and didn't require a federal guarantee after the deal was announced.

Court action to enjoin the Wells Fargo acquisition quickly fizzled. Citigroup is purportedly still planning on suing. A Letter of Intent directed Wachovia not to shop itself. If the Wells Fargo offer was solicited, then the Letter of Intent with Citigroup may have been breached. Presumably, the damages would be disgorgement of the additional purchase price received from Wells Fargo in excess of that offered by Citigroup (possibly a few billion dollars). But, the deals aren't exactly comparable -- Citigroup would have made an asset deal, possibly for less than the entire business, from which Citigroup the entity would have benefited directly. Wells Fargo appears to be buying stock in exchange for its own stock which will pays off stockholders at a value that has declined a few billion since the deal was struck due to declining Wells Fargo share prices. Wells Fargo isn't bound by the Letter of Intent, so Citgroup is left suing defunct Wachovia.

The Wells Fargo-Wachovia deal also casts doubt on the notion that a massive guarantee from the FDIC was really necessary to deal with Wachovia's impending failure. This casts doubt in turn on the good judgment of federal officials in extending major assistance to failing financial firms. Such a lapse is certainly understandable, given the apparent urgency of the situation, but is still worth noting in hindsight to educate future decisions to take action.

* Columbus Day is observed today. The holiday's popularity and observance has waned. Every year, the Columbus Day parade draws protests, although this year there were no arrests in Saturday's downtown Denver parade (compared to 83 last year), and the parade itself has probably suffered as a result. The federal government and state offices observe the holiday, but many local governments, including RTD and the City and County of Denver have chosen to all but ignore it. Only Aurora is giving the holiday full recognition. Even the banks are split over whether or not they will observe the holiday.

I don't think that anyone doubts that the first contact between Europe and the New World that Columbus led in 1492 was significant (yes, Lief Erickson may have made a brief visit that wasn't sustained and didn't have much of an impact about five hundred years earlier). Indeed, it changed the world.

While Columbus and the explorers who followed him were critical in bringing deadly diseases to the New World, and in bringing Syphilis back to Europe from the New World, using this fact tag him with responsibility for genocide, as many activists for indigenous peoples do, overstates the case.

The people of the Old World developed immunity to a great many serious disease associated with the husbandry of animals that migrated to humans during several thousand years of Neolithic to Medieval agriculture. The people of the New World were not exposed to them, due to their different modes of agriculture, so they vulnerable to the diseases, and they received several of these diseases in forms mutated to overcome even immune systems that were used to the diseases all at once. Millions of people in the New World died as a result. Essentially, the Native Americans suffered plagues already endured by ancient Old World people's like the Hittites, Sumerians and Egyptians that are lost to history and had long since been recovered from by 1492.

But, the germ theory of disease was not formulated in 1492. No matter how good or evil the intentions of the people who came to the New World bearing those diseases, the massive spread of killer New World diseases was an inevitable result of any significant first contact between the two peoples in an era of 15th century medical knowledge.

The European explorers certainly used every break they got to their advantage to assert a dominance that they felt that they were entitled to achieve. And, they had no qualms about ruthlessly subjugating the people of the New World whom they encountered for the advantage of their distant rulers. But they were conquerors, not genocidal killers bent upon destroying the people that they found. There are certainly instances in history, like organized groups of English colonists who hunted aborigines in Australia like game, that fit a genocidal mold, but Columbus and the early European explorers and conquistadors, do not fit that pattern.

Still, I can't say that I see a compelling reason to have a Columbus day holiday as a celebratory event any longer. Better to make it a day of solemn reflection upon our past and the tendency of hubris to produce unintended consequences, than making it a day for celebrating the triumphal march of progress.

Links to New World-Old World divides on food, disease and animal species are also found here.


NewMexiKen said...

Believing we need more holidays rather than fewer, I've thought American Indians should quit protesting the Italian-American holiday (which is all Columbus Day really is) and instead lobby for an American Indian holiday.

The day before Columbus Day would be an ideal choice.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Cesar Chavez day is the replacement holiday, for the most part.

A holiday, viewed at the level of Italian-American holiday that you put it in, is an symbol of cultural arrival. Hispanics have arrived, Native American clout continues to dwindle. While the numbers of Native Americans hit bottom and then recovered, the Native American community that remains has grown increasingly diffuse, and those who have remained apart in reservations seem to have dropped further into privation, at least in relative terms.