Friday, July 25, 2008

Just Asking

If government is as incompetent as the Defenders of Liberty on the right would have us believe, can it make sense to surrender 4th Amendment rights to that government for the sake of national and personal security? Why would we surrender our rights against illegal search and seizure to a government that cannot really protect us? Government is incompetent, remember? But, then again, even if the administration just manipulated us (yet again!) into giving up Constitutional protections, we do get the psychological relief of believing that we did something to protect ourselves.

Right, Senator McCain?

But at least it was the 4th Amendment we sacrificed and not the 2nd. We are never arbitrary about these things. So now when your name is accidentally added to a watch list for terrorists, you'll still be able to blow those government agents away when they come to search your house without need of a warrant or just cause.

Waltzing Matilda All Over

Today's New York Times featured an editorial about the continuing disgraceful health care the Army (and by extension, our government) provides to returning wounded and half-destroyed veterans. But the Times is a leftist rag, so, yeah, we can ignore their whining. Except it's kind of hard to do that because I don't want Dick Cheney or that cute little Tokyo Rose of right wing talk radio Rush Limbaugh to support the troops more than I do. And so, it doesn't seem right to ignore the fact that it takes New York Times reporters doing an article to remind the Army that it promised to take better care of our soldiers.

I keep hearing John McCain belittle Barack Obama about the war in Iraq, apparently the ONLY war that matters, to hear the Senator from Arizona talk about it. Apparently, Obama really wants to lose the war so that he can go mess around in Afghanistan or some place. McCain reminds us every fifteen minutes or so that he was right about the surge. What about your earlier predictions, Senator? The ones about how short the war would be and about how few casualties we would take? Were you right about the surge, Senator? Well, if a politician makes enough predictions, sooner or later he'll get one right. Maybe. Besides, who would have thought that the Iraqis would shoot back? The temerity! Didn't we already bomb those overmatched Arab boys back to the stone age and deafen the hell out of them back in 1991? They probably did not even hear us coming this time.

And anyway, the soldiers coming back in tatters and flesh rags are learning a valuable lesson that the Right has been trying to get through our silly heads at least since the 70s, which is that government can't do much of anything right. As a matter of fact, government is the enemy and stands in the way of political liberty and all human progress. Government is the enemy, period. That's what our shell-shocked and limb-truncated and brains-shot-away troops are finding out as they return home to the medical care they were promised. Or not as they were promised.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Pro-Obama Bias and the Mythical Liberal Press

Just went to Lou Dobbs' website to vote No on whether the media is biased toward Obama. The Yes votes outnumber the No votes by a large margin, but there was a reminder that the poll is not scientific. Nor, is it serious. The media panders and miseducates us and then asks us what we think, based on the mind-deadening pablum they try to shove into our mouths.

The observable fact is that the press mounts 24 x 7 coverage of every Obama mistake or every Reverend Wright outburst while barely covering McCain's retinue of plutocrats and gunslinger lobbyists or his incomprehensible economic policy. And this constitutes a pro-Obama bias? I think it lends credence to those who argue that the press is protecting McCain. But that's not the intuitive take. The "mainstream press" is liberal, right? Except that the mainstream is FOX News these days. More people watch FOX than any other news network and by a good margin. That would make FOX the most mainstream of all the news networks. In recent years, CNN has moved further to the right just to survive. But none of the networks show me a liberal bias. Keith Olberman's Countdown at MSNBC is not typical of anything on that network or on any other. One show is not a bias.

No one in this country knows what a real liberal or pro-Obama press looks like because no such thing exists in this country.

Friday, July 18, 2008

McCain's Karma and the Genteel 2000 Republican Primary Campaign

James Carney resurrects fond memories of the 2000 Republican primary race in South Carolina. One does have to admire McCain's restraint at the time while at the same time marveling that the Senator ever thought it would pay off to embrace Bush as enthusiastically as he has the last couple of years.

After he upset an overconfident Bush by 19 points in New Hampshire, it appeared that McCain might take South Carolina too, ending Bush's bid. In a Greenville, S.C., hotel room the day after his New Hampshire loss, Bush's high command agreed to attack McCain as a double-talking Washington insider and closet liberal. They also discussed the help they could expect from outside groups not legally permitted to coordinate with the campaign. Said a Bush adviser: "We gotta hit him hard."

They did. While the campaign itself launched a fusillade of negative attacks, a network of murky anti-McCain groups ran push polls spreading lies about McCain's record. They papered the state with leaflets claiming, among other things, that Cindy McCain was a drug addict and John had fathered a black child out of wedlock, complete with a family photograph. The dark-skinned girl in the photo was, in fact, the McCains' daughter Bridget, whom they adopted as an infant after Cindy met her on a charity mission at Mother Teresa's orphanage in Bangladesh. It was, even by G.O.P. standards, unusually foul stuff.

Up to that point in the campaign, McCain had been more or less ambivalent about Bush personally. "He thought Bush was a lightweight but a nice enough guy," says a close McCain associate. That ended in South Carolina. During a commercial break in a debate there, Bush put his hand on McCain's arm and swore he had nothing to do with the slander being thrown at his opponent. "Don't give me that shit," McCain growled. "And take your hands off me."

And How Seriously Does McCain Take Afghanistan?

While the McCain campaign has a point, seemingly a good one, in calling out Barack Obama on his having attended only one Senate hearing on Afghanistan, ABC News points out that John McCain himself has attended even fewer hearings on the subject, which would be zero hearings.

However, it should be remembered that John McCain, when not propped up by his admirers in the traditional mainstream press or by Joe Lieberman, does not appear as sharp as the average septuagenarian and likely does not have the energy or the attention span for those hearings. There are certain things he should not have to be bothered with. But, seriously, if anyone needs a good rape joke, an obscene gesture, or a comment about why Chelsea Clinton is ugly, the Republican standard bearer will search his depleted neurons and eventually come up with something. And there is no doubt that, whatever McCain comes up with, his devilish smile, his wink, and his famed authenticity will leave many (or at least the beltway pundits) holding their sides as they fall on the floor laughing, convulsed and adoring.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Suffering, Yes, but Also Complaining

Phil Gramm is right. We are whiners. I was whining about Phil Gramm just yesterday.

But the whole country does it. We whine about taxes. We whine about gas prices. We whine about terrorists. We whine about the schools and our knowledge of math, science and geography. We whine about access to affordable health care. We whine about dead soldiers. We whine about the fact that tax payers have to keep bailing out the financial industry, allowing the gamblers who bring down the industry to start new bubbles and scams, starting the cycle all over again ... and yet we whine about regulation. We whine about inflation. We whine about jobs moving out of the country. We whine about automation making workers redundant in our manufacturing economy. We whine because all of those great jobs of the future are still in the future, but we're stuck here in the present and, in some cases, the past. We whine about liberals. We whine about conservatives. We whine about McCain. We whine about Obama. Grouse, grouse, grouse. Whine, whine, whine. Why doesn't everybody just get a grip and get on with it. Isn't that what we are supposed to be about? Getting on with it, pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, becoming the next Bill Gates or Sam Walton? Did those guys let bureaucrats, taxes, government ineptitude and an undereducated workforce stop them?

And do not get me started on the whining that goes on elsewhere in the world. Israel whines about Iranian nukes. The UN whines about organized rape in the Congo and east Africa. Aid groups whine about Darfur. China whines about its PR problems. They sound like a bunch of babies over there.

It reminds me of a New Yorker cartoon I saw a few months ago.
A spiritual teacher and his acolytes sit on the floor; a woman addresses the teacher with a question: "You say that life is suffering, but isn't there also complaining?"

Monday, July 14, 2008

Hedge Funds Give More to Obama

According to a Reuters report, hedge fund managers have thrown more than twice as much money at Obama's campaign as they have at McCain's. From the report:

New figures show the Illinois senator and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee has drawn $822,375 in campaign contributions from employees of hedge funds, compared to $348,300 for his Republican rival, Arizona Sen. John McCain.

The figures, compiled for Reuters by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan campaign finance research group, reflect mounting concern over the rising cost of health care and other domestic issues where several hedge fund managers said Obama had an edge over McCain.

The New York Times business section ran a similar story on April, 22 and gives a list of Obama's wealthiest donors.

Democrats have not been altogether difficult for hedge fund managers to deal with. New York Senator Charles Schumer last year defended the 15% tax rate that a number of hedge fund managers pay on income from fees they charge for managing other people's money. As was widely reported in 2007, Schumer argued that to charge higher rates would be to discourage "risk-taking", as though entrepreneurs were the timid sort and need to pay less in taxes than do construction workers and secretaries in order for us to keep them out there taking risks for the rest of us.

It is a good thing then that small business owners are hardier sorts because neither Party is working very hard to give them 15% tax rates on income.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Third Largest Bank Failure in U. S. History

Jim Cramer told Chris Matthews on MSNBC on June 10 that the banks in this country are basically insolvent. On June 11, federal regulators seized IndyMac Bank in what the Wall Street Journal is calling the third largest bank failure in U. S. History. Phil Gramm and Lawrence Kudlow would have us know that the economic picture has never been rosier.

On the Matter of Political Dynasties

Of the rationales for supporting Obama (or Edwards, Richardson, Biden, etc) in the Democratic presidential primaries, one of the best, in my opinion, was the argument that the U. S. presidency should not be a revolving door for Clintons and Bushes.

But, come to think of it, do we not effectively have alternating dynasties in the form of our two party system? Each time a Party returns to the White House, it brings with it the usual suspects, the familiar elites, the people whose expertise has gotten us into the crisis situations we are in today in the first place. This two-party tango is essentially as tight a trap for this country as any system of alternating family dynasties would be.

I have been particularly critical of Republicans lately, but today's New York Times has me remembering just how presumptuous, infuriating, and corrupt the Democrats can be as well. It is not just our little brown mousy Congress allowing felonies to be committed by the White House. It is (today's example) Congressman Charles Rangel accepting a gift of four rent-controlled apartments in Harlem, using one of them possibly illegally as a campaign office, and expressing surprise that anyone would raise an eyebrow. Rangel denies knowing that he got a special deal not available to others in the city, including people who are being thrown onto the street so that landlords can raise the rent. But, in any case, he believes he deserves the apartments. Would he be so happy with them if he had to pay the same market value that almost everyone else has to pay to live in New York?

How do we get a new party started in this country? Seriously?

Friday, July 11, 2008

One Reason I Don't See Myself as a Republican

Douglas Moran, in his comment on a Ross Douthat blog at the Atlantic, identifies one reason that I will not consider voting for the Republican Party this year despite whatever reservations that I have about Obama.

Douglas wrote:

The flip side of the last 40+ years of the Republicans using social issues as wedge issues has meant that if someone is interested in, say, gay marriage, or equal protection under the law, or legalization of marijuana, or divesting from South Africa, or helping poor folks in Appalachia, or whatever, the Democratic party is the only place they could turn. And more recently, if you are an economic conservative as well as a social liberal, the Republican party has actually been actively hostile.

For the last 8 years--and even arguably before then--the Republicans have been fixed on personality, the personality of The Leader. For the last 8 years, that has been Bush, and no matter what Bush did, his base didn't desert him. Torture? Pre-emptive, nation-building wars? Vast expansion of executive power? Huge new benefits programs? New cabinet-level government department? Massive deficits? None of these are "conservative" stances in any way, yet Republicans supported them because *Bush* did.

End of quote. Thanks, Douglas.

The disorganization of the Democratic Party seems to have some merit now. Politics really are very personal and, therefore, should be messy. When a group of disparate individuals agree too often, the word "cult" should maybe come to mind. But, to be fair, I think a lot of Republicans were quietly unhappy about how the last 8 years were turning out. It's just that we are all so partisan now, we do not perceive that we have choices. So we live like soldiers in trenches, adjusting our bayonets and getting ready for the next charge, the next drive for a few more inches of land (the NFL really reflects our culture back to us). This trench warfare, this constant winning and losing of territory, is what our elections feel like.

The Blind Men, the Elephant

Lawrence Kudlow asserts that "today's economy may be the greatest story ever told". Jim Cramer, Kudlow's former cohost on CNBC, told us last night that most of the banks in this country are basically insolvent. Phil Gramm, John McCain's economic guru, tells us that we are a nation of whiners and then, after the firestorm, says that what he meant to say is that our leaders are the nation of whiners. McCain contradicts his adviser and says, no, the country is "experiencing great difficulties", but, on a few key issues, McCain offers the country "psychological" relief. Therapy is expensive on the open market, though.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Refuting the Notion that Tax Cuts Pay for Themselves

This 2006 piece by bonddad offers a strong refutation of the claim that tax cuts both pay for themselves and increase government revenue. It is an educational read, and I quote his conclusions below. But first, my comments:

The notion that tax cuts flood the Treasury with new revenue is an interesting one in that we usually hear it from ideologues who speak of government as though they would prefer to see it as starved as a body with tumors. But when voters give the "starve-the-beast" crowd the keys to the Treasury, what they get is the kind of spending we have had over the last eight years. With tax cuts to boot! Perhaps it is not government or spending they hate so much as government they do not control. The Democrats were pikers, small-thinkers with little nerve who had to move over to let some real gamblers get in the game. Now, these Supply Sider types were the guys who could show us how to get it done - spend a fortune, a gazillion fortunes, and never pay for any of it. Repayment would fall to the chumps who voted for this scam.

McCain, while at one time disavowing Bush's tax cuts as being harmful, now completely avows them and wants to add his own, along with his own unfunded spending. Why not? It's what a lot of voters seem to prefer. It's not "pay as you go" because that would not tickle our shopping addicted brains enough. No, what we want is Harry Potter solutions. Sorcery to allow us to have our heart's desires without a cost to us. Except, stories tell us (or should) that sorcery always comes with a cost.

But when you vote for C students (graded on the curve) to run the world, this is the kind of accounting you get, that of the magical realism variety. Bush happily joked about his C average to a graduating class at Yale, and McCain graduated fifth from bottom of his class at the Naval Academy, which, to his credit, he does not brag about. Maybe they just didn't like to study (not a good sign, either).

Bonddad concludes from his analysis that:
"Under Reagan, the tax cuts led to stagnant government revenue from individual taxpayers. It wasn't until he started raising taxes the government revenue started to increase. However, Reagan spent like a "tax and spend" liberal, increasing the debt/GDP ratio in each year of his presidency from 33% to 51%.

"Under Bush II, the tax cuts led to a 6.7% decline in revenue for the first 4 years of his presidency. Because his spending increases far outpaced the decrease in government revenue, the total national debt outstanding increased 41%.

"To compare, Clinton increased taxes on the upper-income taxpayers, which led to a 97% increase in government revenue. He grew the economy at a health pace. He decreased the debt/GDP ratio in each year starting in 1995 of his presidency.

"The two attempts to prove "tax cuts pay for themselves" have failed. It is clear that if the laffer curve exists, the US tax rates are clearly to the left of the curve's apex indicating a tax cut will in fact decrease revenue."

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Living in the Material World

The Christian Science Monitor reported in late March that the Egyptian Army had taken up baking bread to curb food riots.

The article states that the UN Food and Agriculture Organization "expects food prices to stay high for the next three to five years, presenting a challenge for governments trying to keep domestic food prices low in order to keep poor citizens properly fed and avoid mass protests and social unrest. "

Now, the predictions of Marxism may have turned out to be quasi-religious social fantasy rather than science, but surely market-based economies do rely on overseas and cross-border markets. What else is globalization about? Who is most affected by food and fuel prices? That would be people in whatever country who live from hand to mouth or from paycheck to paycheck (so to speak). In other words, that would be the vast majority of people that we look to to buy our goods and services, the demand upon which our globalized jobs depend ... unless businesses are just going to sell to other businesses.

This would not seem a good time for John McCain (or Barack Obama, either) to be listening too seriously to Supply Side advocates. It is not that the markets are not reacting as we expect them to; it is that, in the face of shortages, markets are acting just as we expect them to. Prices for essentials are going up. Wages are not going up nearly as fast, and why would they, given that people needing work are everywhere and given that actual labor is devalued in a world where production can be moved anywhere at anytime?

We can come up with alternatives to petroleum given a concentrated effort; coming up with alternatives to food is going to take more concentration than that.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Economy Performs Better Under Democrats?

I have not heard this brought up much since grad school, and not at all by the TV punditry, but we have numbers to argue that economic performance tends to be stronger for everyone under Democratic administrations. I have linked to several postings on these studies here, here and here. More such analysis is readily available.

This piece from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco finds no statistically significant advantage for either party with regard to stock market performance, an area where Republicans are assumed to be stronger. In an election year like this one, Republicans do not need investors to hear that sort of thing, especially as corporations have found Democrats to be just as willing to let themselves be twirled around lobbyists' fingers like Sauron's rings. Why would investors necessarily want to support Republicans under those circumstances?

This link, along with this, finds that Republican administrations are better for the average pocketbook during election years only, offering an explanation as to why no-growth or slow-growth Republican administrations get reelected. I doubt that Democrats have to worry about that this year.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Rich Will Do Fine. The Rest of Us, Maybe Not.

An analysis entitled How the Rich Would Fare Under Obama, McCain concludes that earnings for the top 1% go down under Obama's taxation plan and up under McCain's plan. This is not surprising nor is it news. But what should surprise is the heat generated by the back and forth between those who, on one side, argue that tax cuts for the very wealthy benefit society the most by spurring job creation and those who counter that the country is in far too much trouble for us to be cutting taxes for anybody.

Objections to the supply side argument make a world of sense. How can the supply side drive job creation if economic conditions for the largest sectors of the consuming public are so strained? The government can cut taxes for the top 1% and the top .1% all day, every day, but as long as the middle and working classes are just treading water, if not drowning, where is the demand going to come from to snap up all the new services and products that the wealthy are supposed to unleash on us? And if the demand does not exist, where are the new jobs going to come from?

The wealthy are going to do fine, regardless. They always have and likely always will, seeing how well-represented they are in Washington and how lawyered-up they are. It is the non-wealthy and small businesses who need to be the focus in this election. They need real growth in income and, in the case of small business, real tax relief, not just massive borrowing from China and the Middle East to keep everyone afloat.