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?

..
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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.