Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Some Notes on Tonights Republican Debate

I think this debate marks the beginning of the end of the Herman Cain presidency. I didn't know, did others? that he was the head of the federal reserve in Kansas City in the 1990's. That came out in a rush tonight as he referenced that experience in his support of Allan Greenspan's actions while head of the Federal Reserve.  Yes, that Allan Greenspan, widely blamed for helping the housing bubble along by keeping interest rates too low for too long.  Even Greenspan has admitted mistakes were made. Can an ex-head of the federal reserve really transition to a tea party champion? Maybe, but he should take a hit based on this revelation.

Once he loses his grip on the Republican flavor of the month, we'll relegate the 9-9-9 plan to the back burner which received far too much discussion tonight.  One quick thought, on his unnamed economic advisors who helped him come up with this plan, well, it was just strange that he named some unknown as his chief economic adviser, who turns out not to be an economist at all, and then sited a couple of other people who need to remain anonymous.  This was just strange.

Rick Perry has completely flamed out. He wasn't awful in this debate, I guess, but he just kind of disappeared.  Honestly, he didn't saying much worth remembering. The one concrete idea that he suggested was to open up the energy industry to drill, baby drill.  Yes, this was his only idea on how to get the economy moving.  Really?  Everything else that came out of his mouth was meaningless platitudes. He's done.

The only serious candidate left (with apologies to Huntsman who has yet to break through) is Mitt Romney. He defended TARP, he rightly pointed the finger at China's currency policy, he pointed to education reform, and tax reform. He said some stuff I disagreed with, some really senseless stuff, but I have to believe that much of it has to do with his desire to win the nomination.   He just sounded like he was in command, the smartest (by far) guy in the room, the only real presidential candidate left standing.

Granted, Bachmann, Santorum, and even Gingrich were engaging and smart, but they aren't breaking through.  Gingrich has no chance.  Bachmann was supposed to have been the tea party candidate but inexplicably flamed out.  I'm still not sure why.  She's a great debater.  She's smart and articulate.  She's crazy, but that should fit right in with what the tea party crowd is looking for.  I'm wondering if someone can explain to me why she's slipped.

I'm also not sure why Santorum remains a third-tier candidate as well.  He consistently says a bunch of tea party ideas.  He is the most neo-con one of the group and that may hurt him.  He doesn't have the organization or the name recognition.   Maybe that will change.

A couple of notes about Romney.  During the debate, he defended Romneycare by explaining his plan leaves the current system a lone and simply expands coverage, unlike Obamacare which was a revamp of the entire system.  Ummm, that's just completely false.  Obamacare was modeled almost exactly after Romney's plan and basically does the exact same thing - creating health care exchanges for those who don't currently have health insurance.  Romney's strongest defense is that he plans on leaving health care reform up to the states and doesn't believe the federal government should get involved.

I'm anxiously awaiting an Obama/Romney showdown which seems the most likely scenario after this debate.  We'll see.

Occupy Wall Street == Tea Party Part II

Just wanted to push this picture out there for general consumption, pulled from here and commented on here. So, I'm not the only one that believes the two groups have something in common. However, I do think the issue is more complex than people maybe get. I think the complaint is not about big corporations per se, but more about the biggest banks, and there are plenty of reasons to complain.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Blue Bear

Some time ago, I read the book: Blue Bear. It's a book written by an Alaskan guide who worked with a photographer to try to get a picture of the elusive Glacier Bear, with a blue tint that live in Alaska. It's a beautifully written book. I was talking to my family about fear today and it reminded me of this quote from the book:
I could hike through the mountains with complete peace of mind. I could camp without worry. But what a dull place Alaska would be! Here people share the land with bears. There is a certain wariness between people and bears. And that wariness forces upon us a valuabe sense of humility. People continue to tame and subjugate nature. But when we visit the few remaining scraps of wilderness where bears roam free, we can still feel an instinctive fear. How precious that feeling is. And how precious these places, and these bears are."
I think fear is a useful and human emotion. It keeps us humble, this knowledge that we could be decimated at any moment, a reminder of our mortality. It's also an emotion that those on Wall Street have completely sanitized themselves away from. Instead of taking risky bets with their own money, they can profit off of short-term profits made from other people's money. They are insanely well compensated and now have an explicit backing from the US taxpayer on the downside. They have no reason to fear, many of the bears in their lives have been annihilated. I would have to know one of these rich investment bankers better to know if their lives are now dull as a result.  This quote is good on many levels beyond this one, of course.

The Tea Party's Plot to Undermine America

Ok, that is a pretty incendiary title, and I don't think they mean to, but whether they mean to or not, their ideology is doing exactly that.  Check this article out by the MIT economist, Simon Johnson.
Good credit made the United States the dominant world power of the 20th century. Whether it will ever force the federal government to default or not, the Tea Party and the conservative tax revolt behind it are chipping away at the fiscal foundations built by Hamilton at the dawn of the Republic. Ultimately, this could make us less like 18th-century Great Britain and more like 18th-century France: a country where the people no longer believe in their government and refuse to pay taxes, destroying the sound credit that is still vital to national prosperity and power.
I've said said before that the tea party movement was one based on legitimate anger. The problem is the conclusions they are drawing run counter to historical precedent. They are leaning too far on Jefferson and too little on Hamilton, who eventually even informed the way Jefferson guided our presidency - the Louisiana purchase anyone?

What's needed is competence and it's up to us to ensure that by holding them accountable. As we do so, the ability to tax and borrow is a key element of our government especially when the demands of the moment call for it - and we need to make sure they legitimately do. This is much more difficult. It asks more out of our leaders and out of us then the simplistic and mindless dogma coming from the tea party right. We need to make sure our government works, and the ability to tax is a key part of that. If we lose that trust and confidence, we lose a lot of political power and our country weakens. We are the ones to blame for that.

The Princess and the Frog

I watched this movie the other night with my kids and I really enjoyed it, actually.

I loved the message that Tiana's (the heroin) father leaves for her:  it's not enough just to wish on a star, magic only gets you so far.  You have to work for it.  And work she did, tirelessly.

But it turned out wishing and working was not enough either.  You have to marry a handsome, rich prince from some remote country who happens to be visiting your home town.  In fact, I'm not sure wishing and working were all that essential in this story.  You just have to have a great personality and incredible looks.  Woo the rich guy and you're in.

Needless to say, I was less than underwhelmed at the message this movie was given to my girls, sigh.

Occupy Wall Street == Tea Party

I'm not really qualified to make this kind of statement, but aren't they germinating from the same forces of economic discontent and an anger at the utter unfairness at the way the government has handled this economic downturn?

Which is why this kind of comment is so dumb.  I know I know a lot of this kind of commentary was coming from the left about the Tea Party crowd, but this whole, our protestors are better than yours is kind of tiring nonetheless.

One of my critiques from the Tea Party crowd is that they were just against a lot of stuff but weren't proffering any solutions.  My sense is the same from the "Occupy Wall Street" crowd as well.  I'm not sure if just outright anger is enough, although there are a lot of justifiable reasons to be frustrated and angry.  What we got from the tea party is a Congress that pushed our government to the brink of default and a lot of nationalism (close the border!) and anti-poor rhetoric that would make a hash situation harsher.  I'm not sure what we'll get from this group.

But one thing I'm certain of, is there cause is more than justified.  Wall Street investment banks are largely responsible for our current mess; the government has become too beholden to them; and we are priming ourselves for enough bubble/crash as our biggest banks have gotten even bigger and more powerful since the crisis.

But both groups are basically about the same thing, that tax payer funds went to bail out rich bankers who refuse to change their ways or to even express an ounce of remorse or regret.  It's the same transaction, tons of government money going directly toward the banks.  The tea party group just vented against the government side of this transaction.

Why can't the two movements coalesce, find common cause, and work together to get the government to work for them. Getting the tea party to unite with rich bankers who are getting, in effect, billions of dollars in corporate welfare has been a coup for the bankers who have used that anger to redirect back at Obama who has been in their back pockets all along. I am rooting for the "Occupy Wall Street" gang, but I think this movement could be much more powerful if the tea party recognized that they were both on the same team. Depicting this group as blue-haired hippies doesn't help things a long on this front.

Why this Democrat Might Vote for Mitt Romney

First of all, I don't think Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are that far a part ideoligicall speaking.  However, for a variety of reasons, I was pretty excited about an Obama presidency in 2008.  Reading this rather damning book about the Barack Obama's presidency drains the excitement I had for Obama coming into office. The book's primary point is that Obama lacked executive and management experience to effectively take on the massive undertaking of correcting the worse downturn since the Great Depression. Obama erred, as a result, by trusting too much in a different set of economic advisers than the ones that helped him get elected: Larry Summers, Timothy Geithner, Rahm Emmanuel, people who did too much to keep those on Wall Street whole, the very people who took massive bets with other people's money and were primarily responsible for the economic downturn.

These same people who got bailout after tax-payer funded bailout. Ironically enough, as Obama basically turned over the keys of the government to Goldman Sachs, et. al, these same bankers then turned on him and undermined everything Obama has tried to do to reign them in. On top of all of this, the tea party movement, a populist movement inspired by the bank bailouts, has turned hard against Obama and left Wall Street completely unchecked.

I've already gone into quite a bit of detail of what Obama could have done differently in his first term. Here are some reasons Mitt Romney stands apart from the other Republican candidates.  In addition, Mitt Romney has a much stronger executive background than Obama, although now Obama has his first term as a US president as experience, so he's better now than four years ago.  And having a Republican president would take the wind out of the sails of a Congress hell-bent on saying no. Perhaps Romney could institute some Wall Street regulation with teeth? And really tackle our tax code? And institute more stimulus?

It's a long shot, and there's a better chance Obama would be better in term two than in term one.  But he now has a much more hostile country and much more hostile Congress than he did coming in that will prevent him from doing many of things he really needs to do.  

Saturday, October 1, 2011

I'm off of Facebook and back on Blogger (at least for now)

I decided to dump Facebook for now. I honestly do not have the capacity to handle more than one social media tool at a time. Facebook has such a low barrier to posting, in just a couple of clicks my cool article is linked and a couple of sentences of my own commentary is added, then, poof, all done.

The problem with Facebook is that it's walled off, but for those people within my wall, they are subjected to my use of Facebook without really asking for it. Sure they extended the invitation - I hardly ever go out looking for friends, almost everyone came to me. They, innocently enough, recognized my name from some chance happenstance long ago (college acquiantence? friend of a friend? high school buddy?) and they linked me as a friend. I'm inclined to accept such requests thinking, are you sure you really want what I'm about to give you?

Then, they get flooded by my stuff: mostly political, lefty bias, sometimes inane, sometimes overwrought, mostly more than people want on that kind of platform.

Actually Facebook is hard to pin down, right? It was used as a tool to overthrow Egypt by the way, so how is my stuff more serious and heavy than that? But mostly people use it to talk about their kids or their day. It's a weird experience, actually, to see the multi-uses of facebook streaming down your wall from all of these diverse sources. There are some too sad and maybe too private to be on facebook kind of posts, a few crazy/silly posts, a lot of mundane I'm eating breakfast kind of posts, an occasional brilliant posts, and a fair of amount political and religious posts.

And I definitely had my style. I love to debate, probably about 100 times more than almost everyone I've ever met. I can carry on a an on-line (and off-line) debate as long as it takes and I never get frustrated or tired of it. I love it. And since fb comments can just go on and on... I've frustrated more than a few people.

So, I'm back on blogger for now. I have some ambition to generate a much better website, but for now, blogger is a place where I can be basically me. People can link to me or they cannot, but it's all mine.

It's more work than Facebook and that's a major downside, and it's much easier to be ignored, which is another major downside, but I'm currently experimenting with other ways to scratch my need for on-line "discussion" itch. Hopefully I'll find a home for that and I'm almost assured it's not here. The blog as a community discussion form is too biased in favor of the blogger. I get all kinds of space to say what I want to say. People can respond in my comments but I've already dictated the topic and expressed my point in a much easier to compose format.

But expect more activity from me here world. I'm glad to be back.

By the way, because I'm nt on Facebook for now, I came across a really cool article making a point I've never heard before. Normally, it would have gone onto facebook, so now it's going here. Here it is, "The Death of Reading". Read it, it's pretty interesting:

Why don’t most people like to read? The answer is surprisingly simple: humans weren’t evolved to read. Note that we have no reading organs: our eyes and brains were made for watching, not for decoding tiny symbols on mulch sheets. To prepare our eyes and brains for reading, we must rewire them. This process takes years of hard work to accomplish, and some people never accomplish it all. Moreover, even after you’ve learned to read, you probably won’t find reading to be very much fun. It consumes all of your attention, requires active thought, and makes your eyes hurt. For most people, then, reading is naturally hard and, therefore, something to be avoided if at all possible.

I love to read, but I've read all my life. Growing up in Yuma, being as utterly and completely painfully shy as I was, being raised by a Mother who I'm convince has Aspergers although she's never been diagnosed conspired to make me a pretty lonely kid. Books became my primary escape (did I tell you that when I grew up the internet didn't exist and we couldn't afford cable). So, I spent the hard work re-wiring my brain to enjoy reading. I love it now and I can't relate to those who don't.

But apparently, loving to read is a skill that's earned through hours of work. I was lucky enough have basically been given it as a gift of circumstances.