Wednesday, December 24, 2008

God Bless

Today, the StarTribune, our local daily paper, had an outstanding editorial reminding us of Charles Dickens' wonderful advice to live fully, laugh often, and love deeply.

Contrasting that was a piece by Declan McCullagh on CBS News online (CBSNews.com), advising us to save rather than spend. While I understand Mr. McCullagh's warning to us all that failing to look out for our future, and succumbing to hedonism is a sure path to ruin - I think he misses the mark about what we are striving for during Christmas.

The goal is not to buy merchandise, or ingratiate the corporate barons, the goal is to give to the world, to reflect Christ's love not just to the to the people around us, but to ALL of us - unreservedly, unabashedly, and most of all Joyfully. In fact, it may be that Christ's greatest gift was helping us to learn and know that the gift WE receive from giving, the warmth, the friendship, and the affirmation of the better part of ourselves, exceeds beyond measure the value of any material thing we could possibly receive.

As well, the goal is to make the world just a little bit less cold, a bit less inhospitable to those who otherwise suffer its cruelest blows during the coldest months. We are to welcome into our hearts their needs, and love them as we would ask to be loved, to love them as neighbors - as Christ loves us.

And so, rather than asking God to bless America - a silly song, and an exclusionary notion if ever there was one, I instead choose to quote Tiny Tim.

(May) God Bless us, Everyone!

Monday, December 22, 2008

You don't say?!?

Congratulations to "60 Minutes" for finally putting voice to what most of us realized years ago.

Our Airport security measures are theatre.

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/12/18/60minutes/main4675524.shtml?tag=topStory;topStoryHeadline

The natural conclusion, by the way, is that Al Qaeda certainly COULD have attacked us, but didn't. The natural question is, why not? (and no, I don't mean to imply collusion between Bush and the Saudis)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Convergance of Law and Justice

One of the recent accomplishments of Man has been the definition of basic human rights by the United Nations.

Among those rights, by the way, was the right to information - to give you an idea of the depth of thought they, the UN Council on Human Rights, went to.

This list of rights followed a basic tenet of philosophy, namely, that certain rights are of a 'higher order' than other rights. For example, the right to life is a higher liberty than say, the right to free access to information. While they UN Council did not in any way 'score' rights, they did tend to enumerate rights in an order of importance.

Why this matters is that ethical theory has evolved to the point where certain acts are seen as good, and proper, but also which can be subordinated or even violated if some higher order good is to be preserved.

An example would be, while honesty is certainly a good and decent thing, if you would cause the loss of life by honesty, then dishonesty is permitted, according to current ethical theory. The examples, such as when is deadly force permitted, all now tend to extend from this idea of 'higher order' ethical theory.

This does NOT argue for ends justifies the means approach, as Benthemite philosophy does. It would not allow for the killing of 20 to save 200 - as the taking of life is still the taking of life, the numbers saved are of no value if the only net result is the saving of other life. Conversely, if 200 will die regardless, but by taking 200, 2000 would live, then clearly, not acting and allowing 2000 to die, when the fate of 200 is already sealed, would be murder by ommission.

Why does this matter?

It matters because we have learned that our actions in World War II, bombing Tokyo, Nuremburg, or Dresden undert the auspices of 'total war' as defined by William T. Sherman, or denying the enemy the ability to fight, or even as we said then, that you can't significantly distinguish women and even civilians from the warmaking ability of a nation, in fact was unethical. It was NOT necessary to firebomb any of those cities. Nor was there really any ability to justify that our bombing was reasonably part of making war upon a nation which had attacked us, so it could not be justified under self-defense.

I met an Isreali, who, in an attempt to justify their war in Lebanon in 2005, reminded me of the 'genocide' (as he called it) which the US inflicted upon Japan in the bombing of Tokyo. He assumed I did not know of it. While I did, I also did not defend it, and countered that comparing oneself to Satan hardly makes one a saint. Our actions were, in historical hindsight, something for which our Air Force leaders would have been tried (successfully) for war crimes had we lost the war. However, to the victor goes the right to write the history books, and so our actions were not seen with the ignominy they might have justly earned had the outcome been different.

Why do I bring this up?

Osama Bin Laden quoted our justification for the attack upon the World Trade Center with nearly EXACTLY the language we used to attack Germany and Japan during World War II. In Bin Laden's mind and the viewpoint of his followers, he was making war upon our ability to wage war, no differently than we did upon Japan. He could, in his eyes, no more easily distinguish between civilians and the military support mechanism they worked within than we could in Dresen or Tokyo. When we justify our righteous anger at Bin Laden for attacking civilians, we seem unaware of our own history which gave him license (in his mind) to do so.

Our words, our actions, were used against us.

Except...in the case of our bomber pilots, our war leaders, we were less than mature in our philosophical understanding of higher order good, the limits which warfare MUST be fought under, the constraints of civilization upon a nation unless it desires those same horrors visited upon it by future history. While I don't excuse Hap Arnold or Gen. Harris for their actions, there were NO militarily viable targets in Dresden or Nuremburg - I can at least say that I believe FDR and Churchill were not aware of the reasonable likelihood our actions would someday be used to justify attacks upon us.

However, Bin Laden MUST know this. He is well educated, he is very bright. Yet, he seems unconcerned that his actions nearly gaurantee his main goal, a self-governing Saudi Arabia, free from foreign influence, and also his secondary goal, a Muslim Middle-East driving the Isralis into submission if not into the sea, are virtually assured to never be sustainable.

Saudi Arabia is surrounded by more powerful neighbors, only the US military safeguards its corrupt aristocracy against change. The world looks upon SA as a morally stunted, backward and repressive state, mostly uncaring should anyone desire to change its borders - except for oil. That oil will keep the ravenous wolves at the door - keep the US and its allies in place helping the aristocracy stave off change, until oil is no longer there, or no longer needed. Then, the wolves defending the government will be traded for wolves which will change the government.

The brazen conduct of Al Qaeda, and generally of terrorists, in not acknowledging the growth in wisdom around the need for observance of basic human ethics - has already abandon concern for the plight of terrorists, and mostly, for the plight of the Palestinians. The only concerns which are sometimes fostered actually are sympanthy generated by repressive conduct by the Israelis, the underdogs have become the bullies sometimes - and so the world has a SMALL bit of sympathy for the Palestinians. YET, the world will not soon allow the destruction of, or oppression of, the nation of Israel or the Jews who reside there.

Indeed, OBL's failure to understand the world has moved past his form of warfare, is his own undoing. As he is smart, and educated, the only conclusion which can be made is that he depraved, if not insane. He is no longer rational. Clearly he learned to not trust the US during his days as a Mujahadeen - but he's turned that distrust into blind lust for racial/religious purity. Such purity, like the concept of bombing civilians as militarily justifiable, is a notion long past its time.

The question which remains is this, when will this country, this United States, become aware of that which we can recognize Bin Laden has failed to recognize. When will we as a people begin to undertand that human life has a value which is equal, no matter the birth location, ethnic background, economic class or circumstance, as life just outside our front door? We ask the world to stand by us, as we have the right to do, to stop terrorism, yet we STILL (at least until the election of Obama) seem convinced US lives are somehow 'more sacred', and since they are, the impact to the world of our conduct is less of a concern than loss of US life/lives.

Clearly, ethical conduct has evolved to the point we understand that life is life, that tolerating inhuman, cruel conduct in the name of defense is flawed, even evil. Clearly law has evolved to the point that such conduct will/should result in criminal punishment of such acts. Clearly we can see this - clearly law and good are moving together. Clearly justice, not just law, has become a paramount HUMAN concern. The competition between good- that which harms least, and evil, that which harms most, is a race we cannot afford to lose. Clearly we must learn from history, and never again embrace the ideas which laugh at Abu Ghraib, or the deaths of 'a necessary' number of civilians in colateral damage.

Clearly, as a nation, it is time to move ahead and away from the false idol of war, for war is at best terrible, and at worst, the evil which will destroy us. Clearly not doing so is no less than insane.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Heart of Darkness (part 2 of 3?)..

I'm still contemplating how to end this, but since I said I'd write this, here's the next installment...


The Heart of Darkness (continued)


During 2001, and more emphatically again in 2003 and 2004, some forward looking economists started warning of a default crisis, and debt/liquidity ‘problem’ at Fannie and Freddie. The President took some note, but only in that he, and his fellow corporatists, wanted to free GSE’s from needing to purchase FHA loans on the secondary market by requirement. They didn’t seek to regulate the conduct of banks originating loans, and they certainly paid no heed to the obvious warning signs of flat wages and skyrocketing healthcare costs (or the less obvious but more ominous signs of rampant HELOC business among high credit worthy customers on existing properties, coupled with raids made by those same customers on IRA’s and 401k’s).

Those signs pointed strongly to the weakened state of the US middle-class. They pointed out that, contrary to current popular conservative talking points, “Joe 6 pack” wasn’t out buying over his ‘means’ or living beyond his income, but rather, his costs had exceeded his income. What he once could afford, had become unaffordable due to climbing gasoline, food, energy, education, and daycare expenses. He took out a home equity loan or line of credit (HEIL/HELOC), not to really to go to Bermuda, but just to afford a car when his old one finally crapped out, or to pay for his mom’s hip surgery, or to pay for his daughter’s in-state, land-grant university tuition. Very often, when he took out that loan, he did so with an ARM, assuming that rates would stay low (or maybe praying), and hoping, perhaps against his own better judgment, that a raise was ‘just around the corner’, or ‘better days were ahead’ as he/she was so often promised by the ‘rising tide’ crowd. The tax cuts of Bush were cold comfort (at $1500/year for the average family of 4) against an average increase in JUST energy costs of $3000/year, especially when the ‘cut’ was really just a loan taken out against his kids share of the public debt.

Finally, the country had been cutting discretionary government spending virtually without abating for 30 years, except in the area of schools – where it swung wildly between large cuts, and occasional large increases. Bridges, highways, power-grids, sewers, service buildings all were on subsistence level budgets, meaning the potholes got fixed, but the underlying roads very often never got improved, and too often got replaced much less frequently than needed. Road structures didn’t keep up with population growth, congestion magnified, and all the while tax base, the real ability of the middle-class to pay for the government they needed, eroded. Those at the top, while paying roughly double the percentage of taxes they did in 1981, paid HALF as a percentage of income of what they paid in 1981. The only reason their portion of taxes doubled, is that their incomes grew four-fold, while taxes were cut in half.

The consequence was the perfect confluence of less real ability to sustain government, less interest in oversight as ‘neo-conservative’ scorn overtook policy-making in regulatory bodies, and lower expectations of participation and support by those with the only remaining ability to support the system that had lavished wealth upon them.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

AWESOME!!

Today is a bright, shining moment in our history. It is, to borrow a idea, the dawning of our second youth, or perhaps, the start of a new maturation. We have once again shown that a people where slavery divided us bitterly, cost us lives and honor, can rise above our past to a better future.

I congratulate Barack Obama - his decision to run in 50 states was, along with Howard Dean's, brilliant. I congratulate the American people who, through $10 and $20 contributions leveled a playing field long set against them, but mostly I congratulate our nation on showing compassion for all is truly an American trait.

Finally, I congratulate and applaud John McCain, his acceptance speech was nothing short of breath-taking - we saw the man I've come to admire - we saw the man as he should be remembered.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Predictions

I read Scott Elliott (aka the Blogging Ceasar) - pretty religiously. He's a conservative, but honest - no, really. I would have guessed, two months ago, that Barack Obama would win in a squeeker, because the nation was in an economic trough - at best. Further, Obama frankly conveys more confidence than McCain, who comes across surley, angry, and without much forethought.

I also told my father about 6 months ago that I thought Obama had a slim chance of a landslide, if the nation felt energized by his candidacy for the kind of shift away from economic feudalism that he talks about, but I suspect strongly doesn't mean.

Unlike some on the right, when things shifted away from Obama briefly after the Republican Convention, I did not think they were likely to stay that way, and I surely (unlike one M. Berg) did not think the outcome was going to be either a McCain victory narrowly, a McCain landslide, or maybe an Obama narrow victory. That kind of pathetic 'cover all bases' prediction is absurd. I felt it was still most likely that Obama would win close.

I am happy to admit mistakes, and Scott Elliott has suggested I am likely in error.

These were Scott's words yesterday:

"Eight days from Election Day, here is this blogger's conclusion: Barack Obama will win this election in a landslide. He will capture at least 350 electoral votes and win the popular vote by 7% or more. McCain may benefit from some measure of the Bradley Effect, but that advantage will be overwhelmed by African-American turnout, Palin-induced defections by moderates, and under-funded, unenthusiastic GOP get-out-the-vote efforts. This week's update shows Obama with a 375-163 electoral vote edge. The actual result may be a tad closer, but I'd be less surprised if his victory surpassed even that landslide tally. "

Obviously, while I respect McCain - other than his rather snotty campaign and penchant for using simpleton rhetoric - I still believe Obama will stand in the way LESS than McCain from fundamental restructuring of our nation's objectives which are necessary to right the ship - and so I hope Scott is correct.

That said, I'm still on the sidelines about the outcome. I think Obama will win, but I don't put much past the likes of Rove, and his numerous clones on the state level around the nation. I also am loathe to see one party rule all. While the neo-cons seemed all fat and happy with that idea when it was THEIR party in charge, I think the nation runs best when there is a check on excessive anything - including governmental plans to correct all ills.

We'll know in 7 days...

The Emperor has no make-up

You know what the difference is between a Hockey Mom and George Bush?

..
.
.
Lipstick

If the right ever wonders why Sarah Palin was a lousy choice, and will be an equally lousy candidate for President, it's because she's a carbon copy of George Bush. They say she's their new hero, and they also say they've learned their lesson with Bush. Clearly though, if she's their new champion, they've learned nothing at all, which pretty much makes them Pitbulls, or Hockey Moms, I never could tell them apart.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Stevens found guilty

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/10/27/politics/main4548608.shtml?tag=topStory;topStoryHeadline

Today, Ted Stevens, R-AK, a 40 year veteran of the US Senate, was convicted on charges of lying about inappropriate gifts. Perhaps others to the left of the extreme right will celebrate, I will not. It is a sad testimony to the corrupting power of power and money. It is a dark spot on our collective Democracy's integrity. It is certainly NOT the case that Democrats are immune - my only comment on that score is this, when you believe in unbridled power, in 'getting the government out of the way', and that 'government IS the problem', it certainly speaks to a mentality that suggests using power is good, getting paid for it is better, and rules against either are a nuisance. That said, it's an attitude that transcends party.

Antonyms

What is the opposite of communism? Meaning, what is the opposite of perfectly even pay and distribution of wealth?

If Marx's axiom "From each acording to ability, to each according to need", is the philosophical heart of pure communisim, then what is the other extreme?

If the other extreme perhaps is the hyper/over concentration of wealth and goods in the hands of one person (or a very limited few), what do we call that? Is that a good thing?

The line of the right today is that any discussion of taxing the rich is communism/socialism, my reply is, what is the opposite, what is it that you desire? No control? Meaning, in effect, no restraint on the ability of the powerful to control things further, to concentrate wealth further, to acquire further, far beyond the level which we'd consider ethical, fair, or just.

If communism is the left end of that scale, what is the right end? Fascism? That's not really applicable, perhaps it's feudalism?

So, in contrast to communism, the right would promote feudalism, the excessive concentration of wealth into the hands of only a very very small few.

Why is pursuing something in the middle, wrong? When did abandoning a concern for what will benefit the most, without unfairly stripping those with the best ideas of ANY ability to be fairly compensated, when did that become wrong?

The obvious answer is, it didn't, but we've forgotten it and instead use increadibly base and foolish arguments like taxing the rich in measure to their benefit, as socialism. No one said they'd be stripped of all assets, no one. When it was enacted in the 30's, 40's and 50's (meaning higher tax rates), no one called it communism then. It wasn't, and we understood it. It was recognizing those with the most, have the most ability to pay, and vapid questions from air-head reporters to Joe Biden don't suddenly make progressive taxation anything akin to communism - but even if it did, is feudalism somehow better? Has it worked any better?

Clearly not, but given we don't understand that each extreme is a problem, we don't understand that the opposite of perfectly even distribution both exists, and is wrong, well clearly we don't even know what the definitions of simple words are anymore just as we don't grasp basic economic theory any more.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Heart of Darkness (part 1)

Some bloggers, and for that matter, just any writers, say things well with few words. Many say only a little bit about big subjects. The following will be broken up into 2 or 3 parts as I craft it.. I apologize in advance to those who may find it too long.

The Heart of Darkness

The 1979 film “Apocalypse Now” was based upon a book written by Joseph Conrad about a rogue Colonel (Walter Kurtz) who, upon seeing the futility of the Vietnam War, uses his relations and knowledge of the Hmong tribesmen to carve out a fiefdom in remote Laos. The book certainly takes liberties, but still is a poignant reflection of the gross ineptitude of the military leadership and growing apathy of the soldiers and even that same leadership about the endless war. This book was titled “The Heart of Darkness.”

As some may know, I work in financial services. I spent 10 years or so working for a major US Bank, as a technology project manager. In this role, I was peripherally exposed to the products and motivations of various lines of business within a large corporate bank. Thus, I know little compared to the experts, but perhaps more than those who do not work in banking.

I moved then into a two year (plus) stint as a consultant at a large brokerage firm in the Twin Cities where I implemented a brokerage to bank sweep product. It was on this project where I learned what things like “Mark to Market”, “net asset value”, “FINRA” etc... meant. I was again, not an expert, but increasingly became more fluent in the vagaries and driving interests of brokered deposits and ‘cash products.’ I am grateful to those people who put up with my patently ignorant questions and educated the rough boy from IT about why ‘spread revenue’ meant more than the actual rate of compensation.

The past several months I have worked for a Washington D.C. based banking services firm. I have come to know several very smart, well connected people in the cash management of brokerage products world. They include a former head of the OCC, a vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, and another of the FDIC, a senior OTS regulator, and several others. They have been very kind and patient with the ‘farm boy from Iowa’, and have helped to bring me from neophyte, to merely na├»ve’.
It is with this understanding I am going to attempt to express my feelings about the financial disaster looming for the United States. I don’t pretend to know all, anyone, other than maybe someone like Warren Buffett or Henry Paulsen, who would do so is at best a deluded fool.

The path we have willingly walked down for the past 30 years or so is one where we have accepted as fact that unions had vastly overreached, where the stock market was the best measure of the health of the economy, where one change in valuation of inflation, unemployment, or debt, which masked the comparative and relative underperformance of the economy was entirely acceptable. We had a nation where productivity climbed 50%, but wages adjusted for hours worked and evaluated based upon the advancing age of the American workforce, fell 12%, including benefits like healthcare coverage by employers.

We saw a vast shift in the division of the profits of the fruits of labor, going from 75% (or so) going to labor in a recovery, to around 39%. We saw dramatic motivation for those with large capabilities to accumulate power and wealth, pass tax cuts which incented them to do ever more to capture and hold on to larger shares of profits. We saw CEO’s convince first their peers, then shareholders, then the people that profitability was king, and compensation tied to short term spikes in cash flow were both warranted and wise. We saw a world look with confusion and then growing angst as we became ever more focused on short-term gain at the expense of long-term sustainability.

And so, in 2001, we passed further tax cuts, following on the heels of further bank deregulation, whereby those with vast fortunes had more cash, but had little reason to invest in jobs in the US. The promised ‘rising tide’ never arrived. It was less costly and more profitable to instead invest in building factories in China or India or Indonesia. No thought was given to the loss of jobs, and thereby purchasing power, as the technology jobs fled overseas. The assumption by each company was that such losses, on a macro scale, would never impact them. There would still and always be the ability to purchase at a high price, the goods produced offshore so cheaply. The impact of overseas labor on wages was a good thing, not bad, in their eyes, as it lowered production costs, and increased the pattern of putting more money in their (ownership’s) pockets at a higher and higher rate. The ‘golden goose’ of the US economy, the middle-class, was assumed immune to the twin pressures of offshore labor creating stagnant wages, and ever higher healthcare, daycare, food, and energy costs.

The funds accumulated at the high end needed a home – a home outside China, and so as good investments became saturated with capital. As more stable areas for investment became saturated, and demands for ever higher returns became the rule of the day, less stable products, with both high return potential and high risk, were seen as acceptable. Partly this was because there was a vast ‘secondary market’ where such risk could be quickly offloaded, and partly this was because real estate was seen as likely to continue to increase in value, making any default risk mitigated by the appreciation of the real estate under lien. No one much heeded warnings that a decade of low interest rates during rapid increases in wages in the 1990’s, was a potential recipe for an inflated real estate market. Few worried about the impact of requiring the GSE’s of Fannie and Freddie to purchase FHA loans that had been initiated by risk lenders. Fewer still questioned Alan Greenspan, or the market's use of confusing vehicles like securities derivatives and credit default swaps.

(To be continued...Part 2 is in the works)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

When all you have is aspirin

There is an old adage, "When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."

For Republicans, during the last 28 or so years, the only prescription for improving the economic fortunes of the nation has been smaller government, including the meme' that lower taxes stimulate growth, reinvigorate a sagging economy, or are the right action to take when the economy is moving along well as the government no longer needs the receipts (as shown by the surpluses created during boom times).

In short, for every situation, tax cuts are the remedy. They are the aspirin to every problem. They are the ONLY solution worth discussion, every time, all the time.

Today, the solution Bob Dole recommends to John McCain, for McCain to solve his financial crisis "crisis", by extolling.. you guessed it - MORE Tax cuts. We'll deficit spend our way out of debt apparently. The other thing McCain should do, according to Dole, is to suggest that Obama will (fear factor) 'oohhh scarrry' - raise taxes.

Now Obama, for his vapid part, is promising tax cuts too.. as if that's the prescription for this mess. A $500/year cut or even $5000/year cut, won't solve the problems, as those are ALSO lost services, but the real point is, a tax cut is NOT the issue, problem, solution, resolution, or even germane to the problem we face. The problem we face is having too much money at the top, chasing too few real investments BECAUSE those what gots the money don't want to spend it to create jobs, pay better, build infrastructure or improve the economy on-shore. That's got little if anything at all to do with tax cuts, except in that those who have benefited by this skewed system over the past quarter-century, have, as a percentage of their income, paid less and less and less (in taxes, in salary to workers, in infrastructural investment) - leaving workers further behind, the infrastructure crumbling, and the nation in debt up to its hairline.

Tax cuts are no more a cure-all than is a federal program for every ill. Done at the wrong time they destroy the credit base of the economy AT BEST, and at worse, put the nation on the road to ruin if done poorly - meaning if done by offsetting lost revenue with merely printing paper. They are a zero-sum-game in most respects, until they squelch out investment, which NEVER happened in any of our lifetimes. During the 50's, corporate and personal income taxes were FAR higher on those making the most (and on corporations), yet we boomed. There were clearly other factors (like lack of competing industry in some nations), but people STILL invested - because make 30% of 1,000,000 is still far better than making 0% of 10,000,000.

But the real point is, they AREN'T the cure all for THIS problem. Getting investors to invest in jobs on shore, protecting the American workforce force from what is essentially slave labor in Africa, or near slave labor wages in China, and having an adequate tax base to pay for public health care, public schools, and public infrastructure upon which to conduct trade, That's the start of a real change. Boogey-man theory about tax increases aside, it's time to recognize we don't have either a nail to hit, or a headache to treat. We have a need for an arc-welder, and we need to cure both corporate myopia and the cancer of unbridled greed.

Livin' in (not so) Silent Desperation

One of the things generally to admire about John McCain, was that after the South Carolina push-polling ambush waged by George Bush in 2000, McCain swore he’d never engage in that kind of conduct. As a reminder, that was the state race where Bush’s camp called voters asking if they’d still vote for McCain if they knew he’d fathered a colored child out of wedlock.

In April of this year, he described the focus by Hillary Clinton’s campaign on Rev. Jeremiah Wright as the kind of politics that represent what was wrong with politics in America.

Over and over again during the past weeks, McCain has normally stayed away from and above direct, personal attacks on Obama.

I guess, however, when you are trailing in the polls, especially in the electoral college math, it’s time for promises, as well as ethics, to take a back seat to propaganda, distortions, and lies.

On Saturday, Sarah (I’m just a good ol’ country Gal) Palin, described Obama as “Palin’ around with terrorists,” in reference to the fact that Obama once sat on a local charity board with Bill Ayers. Bill Ayers was a former leader of the Weatherman (a radical group from the 60’s which blew up a statue, and planned further attacks, including potentially attacks on persons – though none were ever carried out. Two of the group’s members were killed assembling an anti-personnel device.

Now here’s the rest of the story, Ayers gave himself up to authorities in 1980, was charged, however, the charges were dropped for prosecutorial misconduct. He was never tried, never convicted of ANY crime. All evidence available suggests Obama knew him at best peripherally, however, Ayers did host a fund-raiser at his house for Obama in 1995. Anyone with half a whit of knowledge about politics knows those fund-raisers are held at DOZENS of houses, and the candidate very frequently doesn’t know the person more than just as a ‘Hello, thanks for hosting” kind of relationship. Associated Press, as well as others, have reported there is no evidence Obama knew Ayers more than very limitedly. Ayers, after being cleared of charges, went on to become a civic leader, and is a distinguished Professor at the pre-eminent University of Chicago. How galling that Obama would casually know a Professor and civic leader. Moreover, Obama has publicly rebuked Ayers and his conduct during the 60’s in no uncertain terms or words.

All that doesn’t matter though when for McCain it’s more useful to describe Obama as “palin’ around with terrorists” than to worry about the truth. I guess 'palin around' doesn't quite mean what we think of, you know, hanging around, doing stuff with your good P-A-L. Sarah Palin was contemptible here, a scummy, and certainly anything but the nice ol’ school “marm” she tries to paint herself as. She followed a “pander to the anti-Arab racists” reference to “Barack Hussien Obama” with her ugly, deceitful and utterly demagogic remarks. I guess though, that since McCain himself didn’t say them, that makes it all right, he’s not responsible for the conduct of his campaign. Sometimes, when you run on judgment, John, you are expected to show it. Sometimes, when you show this kind of judgment, it reflects someone utterly unfit for the position they seek.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Psalm 23

"He restoreth my soul"

Each Sunday, when I awake, I think to myself that I'd really rather not go to Church. Then my wife, with her cheerful nature, cajoles me, and I go.

It used to be nearly every week I would go and hear something which would admonish me, not in a hurtful way, to be a better person. It would remind me to be charitable, or forgiving, or more patient, often all of the above.

Today, I got the chance to speak with someone who I think found me, prior to today, to be just a little odd. But then, I told her of a story whereby I was speaking with a friend who said that atheists have insufficient proof of the lack of God, and further, discount the abundant proof of God. I reacted to this comment from my friend to remind him that the meaning of faith is the belief in something without proof. Those in the bible who believed based on the words of Christ were seen as abundant in faith, those who required proof, as ones still in doubt. I told the person I was telling the story to that I reminded my friend that many theological scholars consider the requirement of proof to be blasphemy. Her reaction was to ask me whether I'd ever considered the seminary, or had attended it. I told her I had considered it, but not attended. Her meaning was clear, she finally saw a person of faith, and with it, someone she could respect. I am thankful to God for the opportunity to be faithful, but admonish myself for my pride and for embarrassing my friend. I am reminded that nearly every time I go to Church, I come away a better person - my soul restored by the humanity God so clearly put in place for us to find.

"He Maketh a table in the presence of mine enemies, you annoint my head with oil, my cup runneth over."

I am presented nearly daily the opportunity to discuss with people who I strongly disagree with, the challenges of life, and the challenges facing our country. I often am satirical, often am cynical, too often I am insulting. I am very often angry. When I react in this way, I am treating those people as they treat me. I doubt very much this is what God asks of me. It is my challenge to walk in a path of compassion and patience, to find understanding, rather than to seek to embarrass.


"Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the lord forever."

If I/we can do so, then we will show the unilateral and unconditional mercy of Christ and walked in his path. By this will we bring forth the grace of God, and heaven will follow. I chose to instead of showing scorn, to seek to love my neighbor in the manner I ask to be loved by God. I ask forgiveness for my pride, and guidance this day.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Debate Reaction

Now that a couple of nights have passed, and the dust settled a little, I thought I'd post my reaction.

On the first part of the debate, neither candidate looked very ready regarding the 'bailout' questions. McCain did, however, come across as snide in his attacks on Obama, a theme that carried along throughout the night.

When they moved to foriegn policy, McCain clearly showed he has been around, and has considerable experience. However, McCain didn't do what he wanted to do, which was to paint Obama as inexperienced and/or uninformed. In fact, if anything, Obama appeared at least as capable on the subject as McCain. McCain struck some points when he pointed out his 'surge' success, and again on his attack on Obama's reaction to Russia's invasion of Georgia. Past that, frankly, McCain didn't seem to have much to say. He seemed to repeat the same old message (the surge worked) over and over again. My reaction was, "Is THAT all you've got?" You're going to claim someone is unready, and all you can complain about is someone feeling, that after 3 and a half years, there was no reason to believe the Bush administration any longer - and so be skeptical of the surge?

Obama, for his part, appeared calm, even Presidential. He didn't have much meat to his answers, though, even on things which should have been easy for him. He DID however, do the one thing the McCain camp could NOT have him do. He appeared ready, informed, prepared. He also stripped away the veneer that McCain was foolish enough to paste over himself, specifically, that the 'surge' was the only topic on Iraq worth mentioning. He pointed out the repeated mistakes and missteps of the administration, and of it's chief cheerleader, McCain. If there was a defining moment in that debate for Obama, it was him pointing out to McCain, the repeated mistakes, and saying, "It's as if you think that war started in 2007."

On the intangibles, the things which often tip debates, clearly Obama came across as more likaeble, more someone whom you could see in the role, could stand watching for 4 yeears on television. McCain appeared smug, even at times conceited. He also appeared cold, even wooden. He didn't even look at Obama once during the debate, a sign of disrespect, or so it would seem. The tracking meters all nose-dived whenever either candidate began attacking the other one, and mostly, McCain only attacked (small wonder, he has little positive to point to).

On balance 60/40 Obama - which means a loss for McCain because this was his favorite topic, the place where he 'has all the experience', and because Obama appeared MORE than able to hold his own.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Charlie Rangel

Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY), must go, meaning, he must be replaced as Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee

He has on-going allegations and factual substantiation of failure to pay taxes on properties in the Dominican Republic, failure to report taxable income in other investments, and sweet-heart deals in New York City on rental property.

As Chairman of Ways and Means, he chairs one of the most important committees in Congress. Among its duties is oversight of tax policy. Clearly Mr. Rangel has become too cozy, too comfortable with the power and the temptations his position offers.

If this were one allegation, I'd agree that it's much ado about nothing, as he asserts, but it isn't. It's at least two serious charges of failure to pay taxes, along with tax deferements on properties he has no legitimate need to be renting or having government subsidy expended against.

The bottom line is to lead, is to set an example. His example is intollerable, and he must go. Let the hypocrtical hyper-polemics defend their crookss as they will (e.g. Tom Foley or Tom Delay), but the right example is demanding of BOTH parties that they live up to the public trust they are graced and honored to be given.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Fall of Giants

It may be that in 20 or 100 years, they will look back on today and call it "Black Monday."

It certainly is a bell-weather, a day to recall - the fall of the two largest investment banks in the country, coming only days after the bailout of the two largest lending institutions (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac).

I work in this industry, I have friends at Lehman, my peers at my current company all come from Merril. It's a sad, sad day.

There are a few fools who attributed Fannie and Freddie to Henry Paulson, that's just because they don't know anything, but let me be clear, FM/FM failures stem from the market they were required to play in - backing FHA loans regardless of the risk taken on by the originator.

Lehman and Merril represent collapses due to unsound investment, sure, but why did they invest unsoundly? What caused the liquidity crisis? What caused people with good credit and sound income to declare bankruptcy? These aren't sub-prime loans, these were ARM's, or Home Equity Lines of Credit (HELOCs), or Home Equity Loans (HEILs). Why are so many defaulting? Why did someone at Merril estimate that a huge percentage of their HEIL's are at risk of default?

The answer is frankly simple, peoples income have not kept up with costs of living - they can't absorb these continuing inflationary pressures. What they absorbed through their home equity in the past, is no longer available. When you include the massive debt burdened/heaped on them by the admninistration for Iraq, for FM/FM bailout, for unfunded infrastructure - all to give more money to the top, who then DIDN'T invest it in America - well, not just Joe Average is bankrupt - so to is the ability of the public to pay these debts.

As a result, make no mistake, the rocks have been hit - the hull is leaking - and no BS about ear-marks is going to make it all go away. We have huge problems, not the least of which is that good friends of mine are packing their desks for things they didn't cause, being held accountable for something they didn't do. Those who ARE responsible for this mess have cashed their stock options and fled to Bermuda. Perhaps we can brand them with a big fat black 'G' - for greed - and they can try to tell us all how greed is good.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

1944? 1954? 1984.

Recently I asked a question of a prolific right-wing blogger and active member of ScaifeNet. In his normal Orwellian way, Mitch Berg attempted to turn the world 180 degrees upside down and declare truth to be lies, and lies to be truth.

I asked, "What would you categorize Rush Limbaugh as, who claims Naziism to be a liberal/leftist movement, because (to quote) “after all, it has Socialism in the name.”? This was in reply to Berg's complaint that others, including those on the left, compare right-wing extremism to fascism - and he doesn't like it.

His reply was, "It’s an oversimplification, but there’s a lot of truth to it. Hitler admired the way Lenin seized control of society, and used many of Lenin’s methods. He saw the need to totally subsume society in his ideology"

And my reaction is this; No, there's damned little truth in it outside the fact that each was a totalitarian - Stalin would be closer to Hitler anyway, than Lenin. Such an analogy, however, is extraodinarily simplistic and immature. It is wilfully changing the discussion to Totalitarianism, and then saying liberalism is passingly familiar with socialism so therefore, as Lenin was a communist - and could be calledd a socialist, and communism is totalitarian, ipso facto, liberalism is facism. Utter, commplete, nonsense. First, Lenin was far more committed to communism than socialims, meaning, while he embraced (kinda) the idea of egalitarian economics, he FAR MORE embraced (and Stalin even moreso) the ideals of extremist power grabbing, there is NO relationshp between THAT and liberalism OR socialims. Both of those economic/ethical ideals embrace the ideal of NOT ACCEPTING TOTALITARIANISM - unlike right wing extremism, which mouths equality, but supports the suspension of rights like habeaus corpus.

Further, all totalitarians use scape-goats and half-truths to assume power, and nearly always come out of near anarchy as a precedent (including civil war), but that doesn't make Hitler a Socialist, and certainly doesn't make him a liberal, an ideology which sometimes gets so bound up in tolerance of competing ideals that it stagnates and becomes incapable of action. Hitler was hardly stagnant, he began his programs of extermination and persecution within weeks of taking over as German Chancellor.

He went on "..as Lenin did; he adapted Lenin’s tactics heavily to German society (Russia was a preliterate peasant society with no liberal tradition; Germany, while historically authoritarian, was industrial, educated and somewhat cosmopolitan, and needed a different approach to totalitarianism).

I’d suggest you read Modern Times, by Paul Johnson, which has an excellent account of Hitler’s intellectual relationship with Lenin."

My counter would be to suggest reading about Joe McCarthy, a right-wing extremist red-baiter who had more in common with Hitler than either Lenin or Stalin did with Hitler. Hitler's intellectual relationship to Lenin extends to each's desire to gain power and use that power to deceive and distort issues. Lenin and Hitler are hardly equivilant people. I'd look at the book, but if it attempts to blur the difference between Facism and Communism, then it's silly.

The real point of course was this: This question wasn't abougt Hitler - and the reply was an attempt to confuse the issue that while Righties complain abougt Hilter comparisons, they love to make ludicrous comparisons of Nazism - which was founded on the political/economic philosphies of facism - with liberalism. The two ideologies could hardly be more different. So, the question wasn't about Hitler, it was about Facism, and was ignored. Mitch conveniently ignored the economic model employed by Communism and Nazism (and of course, liberalism), the political positions taken by each system and for that matter, each leader (Lenin and Hitler). One was clearly pro-worker, the other exterminated labor leaders, socialists, social democrats, trade unionist, labor unionists. If Hitler were such a liberal, I'd like to see examples of where liberals engaged in programatic extermination of a race, ethnicity, or religion? I'd also like someone to explain Hitler's extermination of 350,000 or so Social Democrats and Communits? (not to mention starving to death about 3,000,000 Soviet/Slav POW's).

So, I clarified the question:

Do you think Facism is a left wing movement?

The obfuscating reply was, "I think that “right” and “left” are an overused metaphor, (I actually prefer a two-dimensional view based on views of personal and economic liberty), and that “fascism” has been used to imprecisely...that it’s lost most of its meaning."

NO, facism has a very clear meaning for anyone desiring to understand it. Mitch instead desired to specifically NOT address the fact that it represents control of the government by corporate hegemony - collaberation with that government to enhance the position of the elite, and along with all of it, the dimunition of the middle class by scape-goat politics to pursue their subjegation to enhance a hyper-nationalistic, hyper-militaristic state. He ignored it all, despite knowing it, because it would have indicted Limbaugh as a gasbag, perpetrating deliberate falsehood. There is nearly zero relationship between liberalism and Facism, except when some chuckle-head of a liberal promotes totalitarianism in some form, and THEN it's a relationship with Totalitarianism, not Hitler and certainly not Facims.

He then laid out this whopper, "However, in fact Mussolini was by any rational definition a leftist (REALLY??? So EVERY Social Scientist who has classified Facism as rightwing extremism had it wrong??!! AND, weren't rational besides.. you see, apparently right wing extremism isn't extreme, it doesn't exist.. that's the upshot of this BS argument - they don't seek control, they don't use politics and power as a bludgeon, they don't squelch debate with hate-filled rhetoric, they don't invent excuses to invade countries just because they want to. Nope, hyper-militaristic, xenophobia, it's a complete invention of the left to say that applies to righties.. OMG)

Berg justifies this whopper with nonsesnes, "(he (Mussolin) nationalized industries, created a large complex entitlement state and controlled the media), albeit not a totalitarian (he didn’t use the state to supplant religion, the family

FAT LOAD OF CRAP - those are also halmarks of Facism, and as for control of the media, what would you call Fox News, and all of the right wing radio stations - Open Discussion forums??? Mussolini (and Spear) nationalized industries they needed to for their military programs only as a last resort, but by and large worked hand in glove with those industries instead to provide them a. slave labor b. massive profits, and c. (most importantly) busted unions (including murdering union leaders) to ensure vast profits for those corporations. This is the most gauling of Berg's numerous fictions - to say that Mussolin was some sort of leftist when he openly advocated for violence against those on the left is assinine in the extreme - and advocated for it not because he was a leftist (and to thereby take power) but to payback his corporate partners.

He also propped up and worked closesly with other industrial leaders to make them fabulously wealthy. So Mitch, in one breath talks about liking an analogy of free/totalitarian, and then goes back on the comment to try to peg right-wing hyper-miltarism and corporate/government cooperation, on leftists.. ludicrous.

Also, Mussolini's 'large and complex entitlement state' was anything but large or complex, certainly not as compared to the New Deal. To be sure, he had a few such programs, but they were mostly sops to get control - he believed in the Corporate state, and as the inventor of 'Facism' in fact, he said, Facism is 'Corporati Il Stati' as memory serves, or translated "The Corporate State."

He went on to say, " and every other facet of society). He added to that intense nationalism and a “fascist” personality cult. I do believe many leftists are intellectual thugs, yes"

See, there it is again, conflating nationalism with leftist - since when? Further, Facism - at it's core is pro-corporate conduct, not anti, finally, personality cult - like perhaps as in oh, say the blind acceptance of WMD lies? Intellectual thugs come in lots of varieties, including those who claim that 'If you aren't for us you're against us" (like Joe McCarthy and George Bush) - as well as those who claim that anyone who questions the leader is a traitor- aiding and abetting the enemy (like Joseph Geobells and John Kline and one Mitch Berg).

But yes, some leftists step over the line and engage in the same sort of smear idiocy that people like Sarah Palin do when they (falsely claim they were the victim of sexism) - and become intellectual thugs. Whereas folks like Mussolini and Hitler, were ACTUAL thugs - using juvenile and underhanded tactics to demean their opposition until such time as they had the power to simply kill them.

Intellectual thuggery takes a lot of forms, including distorting the truth, attempting to squelch all debeate by simply attacking the messenger when your message fails, and ... attempting to claim that the thing the people should fear, is freedom of thought -- like questioning the base motives of right wing (or left wing) extremism, where it comes from, and what it truly is. It's better, it appears, to claim there is no such thing, and to blame a scapegoat (like liberalism)for those things which in fact you embrace wholeheartedly.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Certainties

One thing we can be certain of, no matter who Barack Obama picked as a running mate, the Republicans would have attacked him or her. They had a canned commercial all setup and ready to air first thing Saturday for Biden. As Biden was the least likely of four or five possibilities, it's easy to conclude really ANYONE chosen would have been attacked.

For Hilary - too liberal, too bitchy, too much like Bill
Tom Kaine - too inexperienced
Biden - too experienced
Bill Richardson - too much of an outsider, too inexperienced, too liberal

It would have happened no matter what, and that's why Tim Pawlenty's criticisms of Obama and Biden are nothing more than political theatre. Biden represented a reasonable, though unexpected, balancing of the ticket, in the same way that Dukakis selected Lloyd Bentsen, or for that matter, Dubbya chose Cheney.

I don't love the selection of Biden, I don't see him adding much in terms of diversity, I would have rather had Clinton, as I think she represents (for some unknowable reason) an olive branch to blue-collar Democrats and Independents, but then again, so does Biden. It's just I suppose with Biden, Obama avoids the acrimony which built up between he and Clinton, and he avoids Bill's commanding presence at the White House.

But of one thing I am truly certain, the Republicans will SAY ANYTHING at any time, such as the doctoring of climate change data, birth and health statistics, invention of intelligence about Uranium, blaming of North Korea for the acts of Pakistan and Dubai, (this list is endless btw), to them, politics trumps truth, the ends justifies the means, and making a hollow claim (Pawlenty) which is absolutely and easily applicable to their own President, is just fine as long as it gets air time.

And get airtime it will, thanks to Faux News, another certainty - like taxes used to make the rich richer, a certainty you can bet the house on.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Speaking Francly

Today there was a story of 10 French soldiers killed in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban.

The Taliban, of course, are the hostile, ultra-conservative, ultra-orthodox Mujahadeen descendants of the 1980's Afghani resistance against the Soviet occupation. They eventually embraced the similarly virulent and hostile Wahabis of Yemen and Saudi Arabia, a movement which grew into the leadership of Al Qaeda. The Taliban offered safe harbor for Al Qaeda, and of course, Al Qaeda's leadership was living in Afghanistan, on Septemember 11, 2001, and trained and launched those attacks from bases in Afghanistan provided by the Taliban. Fighting the Taliban is nearly equivilant to fighting Al Qaeda, with the sole exception that it is likely the Taliban can be claimed to be legitimate resistance fighters INSIDE Afghanistan.

The French have repeatedly stood by our side when trouble came. They stood by our side in relation to Vietnam and the Viet Minh in the fight against the 'Domino Theory' ludicrousness. They stood by our side in our own Revolution, in the war of 1812, in our own Civil War for that matter. We've fought by their side in WWI, WWII, in Korea, in Desert Storm I, and in Aghanistan. They've, in fact, put more boots on the ground in support of the US than ANY OTHER NATION, bar none, in raw numbers of troops. They lost more troops in WWII, despite fighting less time, than the US, but we forget that. They fought valiantly to liberate Paris, to support the D-Day landings, taking horrific losses among their freedom fighters, but we forget that.

Yesterday 10 more French fighters were killed fighting Terrorism, in a war WE decided needed to be broader than just getting the Taliban and Al Qaeda, ignoring the advice of our allies, including the French and British (who had extensive experience fighting in the Punjab and Kashmiri regions of Pakistan/Afghanistan)- to keep our 'eye on the ball'. They stood by while our troops inadequately attempted to deal with a resurging Taliban.

And yesterday, 10 more Frenchman died. The French have NEVER threatened to pull their troops from Afghanistan.

I wonder how many conservatives today will choose to call them "Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys?" Arrogance is not only a sin, it's ugly and it's vulgar, as well as just plain ignorant and stupid.

My response is "Viv Le France!, Merci Beaucoup"

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Theft of Thought

If I were to write a book on politics in my adult life, this title, "The Theft of Thought", would get real consideration.

Since the 1981 Reagan Revolution, discussion of policy, especially civil consideration of the best course of action, has become increasingly rare.

Bill Bradley was on Bill Maher's show recently - and said something I've felt for a while - namely that the inherent qualities which draw people to the Republican or Democratic party are not irreconciliable, they're not even opposed, but we've made them so.

Bradley postulates the primary ethic of Republicans is self-reliance, or even more clearly, personal responsibility.

He said he feels the primary ethic of Democrats is decency and concern for 'your fellow man.

I think both are correct and fair, and yet, like Bradley, I see that the politically active members of both parties show real contempt for the politically active members of the other party. This didn't use to be so, in fact, in the 60's (or 50's) there was vastly more civil discourse, and work toward effective comprimise, than there has been in the 90's and certainly more than today. Paul Krugman feels this is because during that period, the parties were not far apart on policy, so there was little need for the kind of invective and venom we see today. He's right of course that there was less divergence on policy, and he's also right that the Republicans have shifted FAR right from then, while Democrats, if anything, have become more moderate as compared to the days of the New Deal or the Great Society.

Yet, I don't feel that's the full explanation. Krugman's explanation seems to say, because John became more radical in his political position, John and Jane treat each other contemptuously. I think that the contempt was part and parcel of the radical shift, in fact, I think it caused and was the genesis of the shift, not the other way around.

Political discourse in this country became highly beligerent starting in 1964 with the Goldwater campaign. The rhetoric of Barry Goldwater - which even he felt was over the top later in life - was belicose, was full of the kinds of finger pointing and red-baiting that only McCarthy had really used since the 1930's.

Then, in 1976, and gaining ground in 1980, 1994, 2000 and 2004, a series of political attack apparatus and persons appeared, nearly all of them on the right, whcih instead of talking about policies, talked about 'character', and not in a nice way - started saying things like 'aiding and abbetting' the enemy - when someone dissented - and the chilling effect it had on the press, and on Democrats as well, was palpable. Democrats became defensive and beligerent in response, but now, to very little less degree, than Republican extremists, and it's repulsive.

Does anyone truly think someone like John Kerry (or John McCain) truly would willingly do something to jeapordize the national security interests of the country? If so, why? What inconceivably foolish notion other than animosity could drive such hatred? George Bush didn't blow up the World Trade Center - and Barack Obama isn't going to trade Israel away to terrorists.

However, rational, clear debate is the nemesis of the radicals. Because rational debate debunks the mythology about the opposition they've built up in recruiting followers. Try suggesting sometime to a staunch party loyalist, that a moderate from the other party is preferable to radical from your own and see what you get. Try to discuss, for example, whether our approach in how to secure Iraq was well planned, and you'll either get called a traitor (by the reactionary extremist Republicans) or a warmonger (by rabid anti-war radical Democrats). Even the terms which used to mean the more centrist elements of the parties 'conservative' and 'liberal' have supplanted the terms for the extremists (of radical and reactionary).

No, no longer do we have clear, reasoned debate. Instead it's sound-bites like "he's a celebrity", or "the One", which the right (and now the left) hammer home like some high-school bully, completely uninterested in the actual facts, any debate or discussion. The message apparently is, we want victory, not skillful policy or diplomacy. We are here to blugeon you - to belittle you personally, to create contempt, even hatred for you.

Thoughtful purpose, development of sound fiscal policy, for example, or even just a sound discussion of fair tax policy, that's for only an internal crowd. Thought, it seems is dead, is in fact, even outlawed. It has been stolen away, stolen by zealots who care less about finding a solution that benefits all, except in that they are convinced the ends justifies the means, and thus, anything in the middle is fair game until the end is achieved. It is reminscent of the Soviet communist theory, totalitarianism until the utopian state arises.

The only problem of course, in this Benthamite ethcial world, is that the state never arises, and of course, no one group of people has EVER had the right answer for everyone else - without including everyone else's wisdom in the decision.

So instead it's down with thought, the death of the American experiment soon to follow.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

It's called buying votes

One of the themes you'll hear from time to time about the 'better days' of American politics, is a reference to record voter participation during the 1880's and 90's. The idea, or so the story goes, is that the American electorate was more erudite, more engaged, more committed.

Well, that's the theory - in reality of course, there are some glaring holes - namely, people worked enormous hours, had little free time to become aware - and less access to information that they do today, certainly.

No, instead the truth is a bit more seedy - voters and pricinct organizers were often paid to vote and recruit voters - vote buying was big business and business was good. Paul Krugman's book "Concience of a Liberal" outlines some specifics, but suffice to say - there was a lot more store bought voting, and a lot less true interest - than has been the mantra from teachers or from the right-wing of today which looks back fondly on those days of yore where their financial largesse was easily translated directly into votes.

And so today's story is very troubling - http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/08/07/politics/washingtonpost/main4327373.shtml -

Here's the thing, people can be paid for LOTS of things, but getting paid to essentially 'make up your mind' about McCain (in a positive way) and then go proselitize about McCain's virtues and Obama's sins, is nothing short of vote buying through an oblique measure. For example, let's say you're on the fence, and someone OFFERS to pay you to support their candidate - oh, online sure, only online - well, you might just very well take up that offer... I mean heck, you're getting PAID!, right?


It's also a direct violation of the idea of full disclosre of purchased advertising, as, since it's 'rewards' where the activity isn't fully tracked, it skirts the requirement to disclose campaign media purchases, both dollars committed, and location/method of delivery. McCain's camp certainly could never track the number of places a person might post - certainly not in any way easily verifiable - and as it's a contest, there's little sure way to know the value of funds given, which, um I'm guessing, they may just undercount dollars committed - just because it makes it look LESS like they're buying votes the smaller the number of dollars involved.

It's damned shady, and decidedly unethical, buying votes, obliquely is no better than buying them directly. Using clandestine moles to plant messages is shall we say, somewhat reminiscent of when BushCo put commercials out there made to look like news, but which were really push advertising for their programs, oh, and then there's the times they paid political pundits to push their agenda. You may remember those - the one's that ruined the careers of a couple of pundits because their veneer of objectivity was destroyed. Well this is just the exact same kind of thing writ large, and it's shameful, it's also sure as hell further evidence old "Straight Talk" is anything but straight, willing to use whatever shady trick he can get away with - including having paid poseuers on websites pretending to be the genuine article, deliverign unscripted and independently developed opinion.


It's also in a word, pathetic. If you can't attract votes and supporters to your idea because they are good ideas, and instead need to pay them to support you, perhaps it's not just your 'straight talk' approach that's the problem, it's your ideas.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Dollar Meal

"Would you like fries with that, because that's extra?," says the polite young lady across the order counter at McDonald's, after I've ordered from the McDonald's dollar menu. I ordered the Big Mac - the special one we're getting on the menu this fall.

I'll bet you didn't know you are getting a Dollar Meal with a Big Mac, but you are.

Here's the thing - Big Mac (McCain) offers no change, none, just like ordering from the Dollar Meal menu - you get NOTHING, no change for your dollar. Big Mac is a carbon copy on policy to Bush - fiscal restraint is even LESS likely, if that's possible, under McCain, and THAT's the only thing the Republicans can point to as change at all.

So instead, they have to smear Obama, calling him a 'celebrity' because he's far more eloquent and informed than their candidate, or 'The Messiah' because he generates real enthusiasm and hope, unlike their candidate.

So my response is this, the Republicans are running the Dollar Meal - A Big Mac, with no change for your dollar. It's unhealthy, fattening as hell, and the kind of meaningless fast-food quick fix soundbite baloney that defined the Bush administration. And, much like the real Big Mac (no offense McDonald's) you like Big Mac a little at first, when you first taste them, but then, an hour or two later, when you think about the costs, the calories, etc.. you feel bloated and sick, and wish you'd never tried it.

The Republicans are stuck in amber, running the same sorry, failed and distorted policies which make corporate giants rich, but the middle-class and poor even poorer, as they have since the days the Big Mac really WAS $1.00 (and no change).

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Economic Vapidity

The Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR - or An wahr), is a small parcel of land when contrasted against Alaska, but still, a pretty big parcel of land. It's bigger than West Virginia, and would rank as the 40th largest state if it were a state.

It was set aside in an effort to preserve species and land which had, by contrast, been destroyed in the lower 48 states, as a last haven for what was once a continent of pristine beauty. Of course, it was in the frozen north, land so undesirable, that it has the among lowest population densities in the world. That's part of the reason it was chosen.

Now, as we seen an ever increasing need for oil, those who would gladly strip mine the upper midwest for shale oil, also want access to ANWR, where there is approximately 18 Billion barrels of oil - and that's a lot of oil. It's 1 Billion more than was at the Prudhoe Bay finding.

So, sounds good, we do a little drilling, disturb not too much, and voila' we have much less expensive gas again, right?

Not so fast there big fella, some realities start to sink in when you consider where this oil is, and what is required to get it to a refinery. Some further realities sink in when you consider the overall impact such supply actually would have on the world market.

Prudhoe Bay/Alaskan oil represents 17% of the US oil consumption, it had 17 Billion barrels, about 9 of which has been pumped. It comes to the lower 48 through the Trans-Alaskan Oil Pipeline, which at peak, moved about 2.1 Million Barrels per day. Currently that pipeline carries 750k (roughly) per day.

Presumably, to use the ANWR find, the same pipeline would be used, if not, the time to get ANWR oil to market would be many, many years. Some sort of cross-ship pipeline would seem to be required - a big job, but a LOT less impactful than having to build a second pipeline, but that's where the trouble would seem to start. Prudhoe still HAS 8 Billion Barrels, and its shipping that daily at a rate of 750,000 barrels. If we assume ANWR would use up the remaining roughly 1.3 MM/bbl shipping capacity/day, then we get that ANWR would simply replace what was once coming from Prudhoe Bay. Meaning the net impact on the world stage would be roughly 1.3MM/bbl - even if ANWR could PUMP 10MM bbl/day, the problem is in logistics, there is no way to ship that oil south without either a. building a new pipeline - (a decade long project), or using the current pipeline.

Then there's this, oil is of course used world wide. 96% of the growth in consumption is in nations which subsidize the price of (and in many cases produce) oil. The US is not among that list. Their consumption will continue to grow until they are convinced to stop, they are impairing the ability of high prices to reduce consumption. Currently, the world uses about 100MM/bbl/day, at peak pumping ability, the amount of oil the oil producers can provide will peak in 4 years at 110MM/bbl/day. So, think about it, will 1.3MM/bbl/day make much, if any, difference, when consumption is only going to rise? Will a 1% increase in production really matter? The simple answer is, not very much. Oil is more affected by rumor than reality, so even a 1.3MM/bbl/day increase probably would drop the spot market by more than 1%, it might even drop it as much as 5% - but likely not much more. When OPEC agreed to increase supply by 1MM/bbl/day several years ago, oil dropped in price, but only a few dollars a barrel.

So, ANWR is unlikely to have much of an impact, and it won't have an impact for a decade or so.

Then let's talk about off-shore drilling. It wasn't economical 5 years ago, and is now only because oil is above $60/bbl. If the threats to Nigerian production, and to Iran's supply were removed, oil would probably be near $60/bbl according to both oil industry and airline industry executives. Meaning, offshore drilling is only viable IF supply isn't increased much above consumption growth. In short terms, it means offshore drilling won't be used if prices drop, so it won't really impact anything, other than keeping up with current consumption, and again, that won't happen for 10 years.

Then finally, there's shale oil. The US is said to have 150 Billion barrels of oil in shale oil deposits. There are two rather inconvenient truths here, though. First, shale oil takes HUGE amounts of water to extract, not exactly a robust commodity in North Dakota, Utah, Wyoming and Montana (where the deposits are found), and, if used for shale oil extraction, means it WON'T be available for US citizens, creating indirect shortages. Oh, and this pesky problem, shale oil is extracted by strip mining - clearing vast areas of land of it's topsoil. While the oil companies do a decent job of putting the landscape back into use, the shear vastness of the area of deposits means we'd have to strip mine an area roughly 20% of the size of the continental US to fully extract that oil - imagine the reality of that impact. So, there's not really enough water, and the environmental impact would be unbelievable in it's magnitude.

The bottom line is, the neo-cons want to entrust our future energy needs and stability to the same companies who couldn't predict the current shortfall, either didn't plan well enough how to handle it, or were plenty happen to see it coming and reap the benefits, and stood before Congress and said 'it's not OUR fault' that we didn't plan. I think the citizens of Alaska would be happy to atest to the soundness of trusting Exxon after the Valdez crash - it took a dozen years and a dozen lawsuits to get Exxon to live up to their promises to clean up the Alaskan coastline. I think trusting companies who's primary motive is profit - to 'do the right' thing, when they've so demonstrably proven they will do anything BUT the right thing if given an opportunity to make money off it, is economically vapid, vapid beyond words.

The long and short of it is simply this, there IS no immediate solution. The solution to trust the oil companies to find enough oil is trusting that in 10 years they won't look to create the same shortages, and maximize profits, that they could see 10 years ago. It also means trusting them NOT to pollute, or create economic wastelands, in pristine wilderness that is irreplacable. Finally, it ties our future to a fossil fuel that we KNOW has enormous negative impacts on the health of our country and the world as a whole. We are at a crossroads in history, do we look to simply find enough oil - as may exist in the shale deposits - to satisfy our gluttony for cheap, but destructive, energy sources - or do we look forward responsibly for better, cleaner energy? Some neo-cons say 'do both' but trusting that they'll actually DO both - is trusting them (oil companies) to not lead us into shortages that create massive profits and ruined economies. It's time to cut that umbilical cord and to put our future into the hands of people who grasp that if we do not concern ourselves with the plight of all, but rather the plight of a few, in the end, we all perish.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Doing nothing (or very little) and breaking your arm patting yourself on the back

Mitch Berg, at Scared of the Dark once again finds a way to congratulate neo-kooks for doing next to nothing.

He whines about truckers planning on protecting the Republican National Convention because "They're protesting the people actually DOING something about it." To neo-kooks, doing something means proposing short-term fixes, or fixes that didn't even exist five years ago.

ANWR has perhaps as much as 18 billion barrels of oil, I say perhaps because that's the most optimistic guess, it could be somewhat less. Even if they could get 10 Million barrels a day from ANWR, which is a massive if, it would not change the price of oil substantially. The world's current rate of consumption will top 110 M/bbls per day by 2012, and probably be over 125 bbls/day by 2025. While 10 bbls helps, it won't change the price of crude more than a few to a dozen dollars. It's a small amount when contrasted against the WORLD's consumption. People like Berg try hard to ignore that fact - when they talk about how ANWR could supply the US for several years. Oil is a world-wide commodity. While ANWR oil might even wind up here, it would only be replacing oil which would then head elsewhere. Bottom line, oil company executives testified that oil should be at $60/bbl without speculation and the threatening situation with Iran (and some threats from Niger). If you add 10MM/bbl per day to 110 which is or will be available, you're adding 9% to current supply, 9% of $60 is $5.40/bbl reduction in straight terms - which means gas would go from roughly $2.25 gallan it SHOULD be at, to $2.05 - WOW, what a difference!

Shale-oil and deep water drilling are solutions which were not even available five years ago. Shale-oil simply couldn't be realisitically produced, and deep water drilling isn't financially viable below roughly $55-60 barrel, which oil wasn't at 5 years ago. Unless the oil companies are stupid, they don't have any interest in pumping oil for a loss, and the sure won't erect oil derricks for a 'future' need 5 years in advance. Bottom line, neither was a viable solution, yet the neo-kooks belly-ache about how 'environmentalists prevented them' from having a solution. They also fail to grasp the vast quantities of water needed to process enough shale-oil to have an impact. I believe I read it takes something like 10 gallons of wash water to clean enough shale/sand to give you 2 gallons of oil. Good luck getting enough water in Utah - fresh water is already becoming a commodity under pressure in the southeast US, I wonder what happens when we start consuming another 1.5 billion gallons a day to process shale/sand oil? (at a 5:1 ratio - to produce 10 Million barrels/day will require at least that much water). Even if it's only 100 million gallons a day - that's an enormous quantity of water - and it's not available.

What the neo-kooks don't want to admit to is that for 35 years they've stood in the way of alternatives to oil, claiming it would last forever, that it renews itself, that polution control wouldn't work, was too costly, was unnecessary, that pollution was overrated hype. They also supported tax cuts which greatly increased consumption - cuts which were unneccessary sops to the US automanufacturers.

Now that things have hit critical mass, they want to claim only THEY have a solution, but their solution is either a short-term band-aid on a long-term problem (in the case of ANWR), or was not viable in the past at the market prices, and does NOTHING to address dependence, pollution, or good long-term planning. In short, bottom line, they don't want to do much of anything, they want to, once again, ignore the problems and hope they'll go away, and they want to pat themselves on the back for suggesting ANWR, which is a nothing solution, it's irresponsibily short-sighted. They want to claim others don't have solutions, because the solutions others have will, in fact, take a long time, but will, as opposed to ANWR, bring the country and the world to a far more healthy, far more viable long-term energy policy.

It's as if we're in a flood we/they could see coming, at first they denied it was going to rain, then they denied it would be much of anything, then they denied the flood would rise up high enough, then they said that the sandbags would fill themselves, and then finally as the waters invaded their home and they filled a sand-bag, they want to jump and shout and claim they stopped the flood, and that the other people, building locks and dams to control flood rains, are fools, aren't doing anything, and are the REAL problem.

It reminds me of Senator McCain, who was irrefutably wrong for 3.5 years, breaking his arm patting himself on the back because Patraeus wasn't as incompetent as Tommy Franks, claiming the ends justified the means.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Twins Killings

Terry Ryan retired from his post as General Manager for the Twins a couple years ago, and while Ryan didn't make every trade exactly right, neither did he very often go far wrong or do as poorly as the current manger, Bill Smith.

The Twins have forever tried to get over the hump with humpties, from Sidney Ponson, Joe Niekro (at the end of his career) and Rheal Cormier to Livan Hernandez, Adam Everett and Mike Lamb, this has ever been their lot. As a smaller market team, it's the nature of things, you rarely get to sign expensive players. It is a shame, though, that so very often, the players the Twins sign do not pan out. Only Don Baylor, Jack Morris, Mike Redmond Paul Molitor come to mind as a free agent whom they signed who produced anything like was hoped for. Whereas many, many players have not.

However, that's not really the problem, it would be nice if free agents produced, but the real killer is, for small market teams, players whom they trade, usually players about to become free agents, need to bring talent back to the small market team that trades them.

Last season, the Twins made two meaningful trades:

The first sent Johan Santana, the best pitcher in the organization's history since Bert Blylleven, to the New York Mets. For Santana, an A+ level free agent, the Twins got Carlos Gomez, Deolis Geurra, and two not too well regarded prospects. Gomez, after starting off hot, has cooled dramatically, makes defensive mistakes, and is showing himself to be what the scouts said, a fantastically fast player, with good defensive range, but who makes enormous base running mistakes, and who, unfortunately, cannot bat lead-off because he doesn't know how to draw a walk EVER. While the Twins weren't getting killed with high-calibre offers, clearly the offers MUST have been better than this someplace, but the Twins took the wrong one. Guerra has potential, but it's hard to know if it will EVER turn out. This trade is quickly becoming a bust, and when it's the best player you have to offer, that just cannot happen.

The second trade is a little more ambiguous. The Twins traded Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett to Tampa for Delmon Young and Brandon Harris. Young is hitting .294, Harris .251. However, Garza was a 24 year-old, hard throwing right-hander. His current ERA would tie him for second on the Twin's staff, and considering the generally better defensive team the Twins have over the Devil Rays, it's not unlikely Garza's ERA would be lower. He's given the 'Rays' quality starts time and again - and was not in any sort of free agent year. Bartlett, who struggled at the plate last season for the Twins, played a position where fielding well is more important than hitting well, and Bartlett was an excellent fielder. This year, he's hitting better, considering he was 25 when traded, we gave up on him too soon. Considering Adam Everett is hitting .189, and Harris can't play second base that well, and is pretty awful at short - this was a horrible trade, on a one for one basis, Bartlett is just flat-out a better SS. Delmon Young hits .294, but he's been awful in the clutch, is a lousy-armed and poor ranged left-fielder who hits for NO power. That's totally, utterly unacceptable. Some positions can be slap hitters, if you have power elsewhere, LF CAN be, but shouldn't, but Young was brought in to keep pitchers and teams honest, by hitting between Mauer and Mourneau, and he can't do it. The Twins moved him out of that spot because he's not reliable enough as a hitter, and isn't fearsome enough with power. Beyond that, his average is likely inflated by hitting behind Mourneau. He's been a C- grade player at best, considering the Twins gave up Garza to get him, this was a horrid, awful trade.

The real problem goes a bit deeper too, it's not as if the Twins didn't have solutions at second and CF in their minors. Denard Span and Alexie Casilla have proven they deserve to play. The Twins would be FAR better off with Bartlett and Casilla up the middle, Span in CF, and Garza in the rotation, having spent the money they spent on Livan Hernandez to get a DH or LF (or 3b) who could hit. Punto has returned to hitting, and is an excellent 3b, and good enough SS to play - but you didn't know that would happen. Finding a decent hitting DH really, REALLY isn't that hard, and they could have played Kubel in LF, Cuddyer in RF, Span in CF, and been a much better team. The trade of Santana CERTAINLY should have brought a starting player or high-grade pitching prospect, and as it turns out now, it sure looks to have not done so. Gomez at least could be kept for his utility and speed (though not as a PH, he can't find a pitch he won't swing at), but Monroe should be jetisoned, as should Mike Lamb, to make room for Liriano, to keep Span in the majors, and to have room for Cuddyer.

The crying shame is both of those trades were much easier to see as a bad move when they happened, but worse, that the organization didn't see it had good options in the minors for what it got for Garza and Bartlett, and look to solve glaring problems at 3B and LF with the Santana, rather than solving CF - bespeaks a General Manager and minor league evaluators who didn't do their jobs right, not even close to right, last year. While the Yankees or Red Sox can recover from that kind of screw-up, smaller market teams, like the Twins, rarely do. The proof will not be this season, but maybe next or the year after, when they need Garza, and still don't have a quality player at 3b or SS (depending on where Punto plays). They got killed twice last year - one more than a team like the Twins can afford.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Tin. Ear. Who.

Today, the Bush Administration said, "We're going to do nothing to heed the call of the troops, to pay attention the obvious realities playing out on the ground, or help stem the growing tide and threat in Afghanistan."

Via this link: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/07/23/world/main4287472.shtml

Bush has said essentially, no help is coming to Afghanistan any time soon. Even with a new President in 6 months, a new appropriation and orders to move will take months, perhaps even a year. The situation in Afghanistan is in fact growing more serious by the month, if not week, but this President 'committed' to the war on terror - will do nothing. Wonder why? Me too, and then it hits me.

If President Bush orders a rotation of troops to Afghanistan, he is validating Obama's (among others) plans and claims that the real fight, the fight against the Taliban, the fight against Al Qaeda and Bin Laden, is both IN Afghanistan, and in need of troops. Further, he'll validate that Iraq isn't the 'central front' on the war on terror, but rather than Afghanistan and Pakistan are.
Finally, of course, he'll be moving more troops into harms way, in an election year where John McCain's one feeble appeal is that the danger to US lives and US troops is lessening. Sending more troops into harm's way, in the place they were needed all along, is sending a message that this GWOT is far from over, and was fought in the wrong place, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons. Can't have that, as always, craven politics trumps listening to the troops and generals - more troops may be needed, but they'll be at least a year coming because this President doesn't have the moral fortitude to do his job. And the Neo-Cons want another go at screwing up a war until they are forced to change with McCain as their new figurehead. As the saying goes, fool me once..(you don't get fooled again -- Prez Bush)

McCain declares "Peace with Honor"

John McCain yesterday said that he would “Bring our troops home in Victory” as opposed to Senator Obama, whom he says will simply bring them home precipitously, and seemingly therefore, in defeat, by Mr. McCain’s comments.

I think that’s great, I think we should declare victory, and leave.

There is nothing further to be gained by our presence, unless you want to justify a permanent military presence. The Iraqis want us out, on a firm timetable, as does Senator Obama, so Obama is aligned with the sentiments of the legitimately elected government, where Senator McCain is not. Senator McCain claims if we leave too early, we will only have to return, instead, we must assure ‘victory’, of course, he doesn’t describe that ‘victory’, nor has he ever, in detail.
So if this is about covering ourselves in glory, then I say we say we’ve won, and come home. The solution necessary now is for the Iraqis to make peace internally, between the Shiaa and Sunni, between the Kurds and the Sunni, and externally between Iraq and Iran. Our presence does little but inflame and complicate the situation.

As Richard Nixon did in 1975, we should simply say we’ve won, and leave – knowing full well, in this case, however, that China and Soviet sponsored client states are NOT about to topple the Iraqi government. The only way that government will fall is if the Iraqi PEOPLE decide it is illegitimate and replace it, and they cannot make that decision, or take that action, while we are there. More than that, they cannot get on with the process of rebuilding their nation – the process of reconciliation – while we create artificial prisons with our concrete walls. That ‘reconciliation’ may be violent, or hopefully, it will be peaceful, but there is nothing our troops are going to do today, or in 50 years, which will make it be any different, and our return would be unwelcome, unnecessary, and unproductive.

The other truth is simply this, Mr. McCain has only one note to sing, he constantly yammers about ‘the surge working’ and that Mr. Obama, based on all good information at the time, opposed it. The ‘surge’ worked obliquely, was counter to better information (like say, ignoring better information about WMD), and is the first thing in five years of action in Iraq that Mr. McCain can claim he was right about. Conversely, Obama was right and Mr. McCain was wrong about – WMD, the reasons for invasion, the way to handle the occupation, the number of troops, the conduct of the CPA, the need to investigate the CPA, the reality and impact of Abu Ghraib, the need to investigate same, the conduct and control over our ‘contractors’, the cost of the war, the length of the war, the ability of the Iraqi’s to pay for the war, the competence of Tommy Franks, the truths told by General after General about what was going on and how to fight the war, and finally TA DA, the tactic/strategy advocated by Gen. Patraeus which Senator McCain, by backing Tommy Franks, initially rejected as molly-coddling.

Bottom line is this, this interference in a civil war is a war which is not worthy of the presence of our troops for one day longer. We help to save lives, to be sure, but we cannot prevent the ultimate reconciliation and work Iraq must do for itself, they know it, Obama knows it, I suspect the American people know it, I just wonder just like he was ignorant/oblivious to the realities of the fact that we helped create and exacerbate the ‘insurgency’ through our hubris, and then ultimately changed only due to political pressure, when Senator McCain will ‘get it’ too.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

9 Strikes and you're normally out (ok it's 3 but..)

Recently, John McCain made the comment that "I know how to win wars" and that "the 'surge' has worked."

I think Senator McCain needs to remember a few things:

1. No WMD
2. Mission Accomplished
3. A few remaining 'dead-enders'
4. No need for more troops (2003)
5. "last throws"
6. 'Weeks not months' - Donald Rumsfeld on how long it would take to secure Iraq
7. The Iraq war will pay for itself
8. We only need six more months (said in 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007)
9. Iraq is the central front on the 'war on terror'

The point is this, I could probably go on, but the 'surge' was a change in tactics to no longer brutalizing the Iraqi people. McCain never aspoused the cavallier attitude regarding the plight of civilians that most neo-cons do and did - (with comments like 'everything's fair, mollycoddle the terrorists, Abu Ghraib was a 'fraternity prank'), but he backed an administration which did, and he backed Tommy Franks and others who did - and backed those who called any dissent 'aiding and abbetting the enemy." To the extent the 'surge' worked to calm sectarian violence - which it has - it's the FIRST THING HE'S GOTTEN RIGHT. I wouldn't, for one, break my arm patting myself on the back for a success after 3.5 years of abject failure. If this is how McCain, "knows how to win wars' then I'd rather have someone who wouldn't waste 3.5 years getting the right people, wait 3.5 years to listen to the experts.

Put another way, McCain comments are akin to someone, after striking out three times in a row, if he gets a single, jumping up and shouting, "See, I'm a great hitter!!"

Past that, the 'surge' worked because it was used to erect concrete barriers and instill a police state in Baghdad, which is good in that it has saved lives, but little political progress has followed - and such a state is not sustainable. Perhaps Senator McCain should take the time to consider why Gen. Patreaus was successful against Al Qaeda in Iraq, meaning, he was not arogant (Gen. Patreaus), he did not bluster about American infalibility and greatness, he sat down with his potential adversaries, identified commong goals, and built relationships. It is a lesson anyone who would call talking to Iran "appeasement" seems highly unlikely to accept - just as the current resident of the White House was unable to accept until change was thrust upon him.

A Dark Night

Some local Scaifenetters complained about the rather mild negative remarks of people like Keith Olbermann when they commented on Tony Snow's death. Of course, they conveniently forget their own ghoulish commentary regarding the deaths of liberals they don't like, or their unnecessary political shots when commenting about Ted Kennedy and his battle with cancer.

Still, is it right to make a negative comment (or two) when someone 'high profile' passes away? The simple answer is 'yes', because being honest about someone is the right thing to do, but the less simple answer is, unless they were a complete jerk, those comments need to be tempered, and probably need to be said after a bit of time, to allow those who loved the person to grieve unfettered by thoughts less than kind. Olbermann made several highly complimentary comments about Snow "with whom he disagreed," and interestingly, in an ironic twist of fate, his comments - which I echo - point to exactly how Snow so completely differed from the right-wing in one key area. Snow was able to separate the message, from the messenger.

The idea in discussion is to debate the merits of each side's point, not to personalize each side's proponents into 'us' and 'them', while very often ignoring the point. The right very often desires the exact opposite - attacking personally (such as in the Swift Boat attacks). This is/was the antithesis of Snow - and something some on the right found infuriating, that he wouldn't demean the press personally, off-camera, he would instead stand up for his peers. Snow epitomized what we on the left wished we'd have seen in so many more on the right, passion with a sense of decency. Snow, as I've come to know AFTER his death, was a kind person, but not kind in the Ann Coulter sort of off-camera smarminess where she talked about not really meaning it with Al Franken - but then went on camera to butcher the character of one person after another. No, Snow stood up for people, stood up for good conduct. I didn't always like what he said on camera, but I rarely, if ever, saw him take off after someone personally. His like is too infrequently encountered in the world of politics, and we are cheaper for it.

Which brings us to Heath Ledger. Last night, "The Dark Knight" premiered. Ledger, as I hear, was superb, as he was a superb actor quite often, I suppose this shouldn't be too surprising, but it points to the tragedy of too many actors/artists, their on-camera/on-canvas gifts are overshadowed and perhaps even borne of a harsher off-camera reality, a 'dark night' when the cameras dim. Ledger wasn't a hero, he was, like John Belushi or Chris Farley or Freddie Prinz Jr. or Karen Carpenter for that matter, a person haunted by demons. Stardom appears to those of us sitting in our comfortable suburban world, to be easy street, and we wonder how people can go so wrong. Yet, while it is easy financially, and it seems that the worries of the 'rich and famous' in Hollywood - are often trite and shallow - the reality for some is that the very talent they draw upon comes from a skewed and painful history, and a very very negative sense of who they are. Ledger was a talented young actor, with a troubled off-camera life. I admire his talent, I would not suggest admiration of the troubles he struggled with, nor creating another and ultimately profoundly dishonest and disrespectful unreality about him. It is my guess that someone like Ledger, like someone like Snow, would rather we learn from his missteps as much as we might like to learn, should learn, from his graces.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bank Failures

The job I have works every day with some prominent banks. IndyMac wasn't one, but that doesn't mean that some banks I know of may not have issues that I don't know of.



The failure of IndyMac represents the end-game for the idea of letting 'the market' decide on home lending, but unfortunately, may only be a signal bell for the coming rough seas. While I suspect the FDIC and the Federal Reserve have no interest in allowing more large banks to fail, there may be little the FDIC (at least) can do, and given the ham-handed way in which Bear Stearns was handled by this administration, unfortunately, any further bail-outs of large banks (other than Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) are less likely to be acceptable to a skeptical public and Congress.



The bottom line is that while economic environments are cyclical, this cycle is going to be rough, really, really rough. Rough because of fiscally foolish policies by the administration, abetted by both Democrats AND Republicans. Tax cuts which were unneeded, and did nothing meaningful to spur the economy, were passed by both parties in 2001 and 2002. Massive spending on military boondoggles (like Iraq) have made the situation worse. Fannie and Freddie were obligated to take on loans they'd rather not, and the administrations' laissez faire attitude as it watched home equity loans, depletions of 401(k) and IRA funds, and sub-prime mortgages spiral out of control, all have contributed to a heaping helping of really bad things. We've moved our ability to produce offshore, along with the jobs and payroll necessary, we've handed the wealth to people who've fled to tax havens, and failed to require them to pay their share on the way out the door.



We have little opportunity to pay our debts, insufficient strength in the economy to look to future earnings, and created debts needlessly. When you heap on that the need to pay for health care, Medicare, and Social Security, this nation is looking at a grim next couple of DECADES. When McCain talks about change, it seems like he means no change at all, and unfortunately, I doubt Obama means anything like sufficient change and honesty - either way, either man is going to be saddled with a need to change unlike anything we've seen in 40 or 50 years or more - change will be thrust upon them.



This is bad - and it has been made all the worse by an administration which was both ambivalent and complicit in the coming disaster. Let's hope the next one isn't so craven.