Monday, September 29, 2008

Thank you, Fred Upton (R-MI)...

Not that it matters, but my US representative here in the Michigan 6th deserves some kudos for joining the Democratic majority in attempting to pass the the bailout bill.  The same cannot be said for the idiot in our neighboring district, Pete Hoekstra.

Some of us worked all day today only to leave work in time to find out that the financial markets are imploding due to the complete incompetence of our political leadership.  Sure, the finance geniuses who leveraged up to buy worthless debt paper merit come culpability for their years of malfeasance, but don't pay their salaries.   I pay the salaries of elected officials who are charged with regulating the inherent greed that moves the markets.

This is a disaster.  The final bill was fine, as far as anyone could tell, and those against it have no idea the depth to which the worldwide economy may fall with the freezing of capital.  I totally empathize with the sentiment to allow the knuckleheads who engaged in alchemy and lost money to smolder, but the problem now is that the house is on fire and everything will be destroyed without a rescue.  And the rescue failed.

Stunning.  I heard Joe Scarborough on MSNBC, someone I don't regularly agree with, and he said point blank John McCain is hurt the most with this because he made the issue a presidential issue and he failed to deliver the necessary Republican votes.  Secondly, Speaker Nancy Pelosi is to blame for putting such an important bill up for a vote, before the world's markets, without KNOWING it would pass.  I could not agree more.

Sure there may have been a better way to fix the credit crisis, but right now is not necessarily the time to argue about the make of the fire truck we need, let's just start pumping water.  This crisis can escalate rapidly as hedge funds and mutual funds need to sell more to cover redemptions over the next few days.  The conflagration can explode, but even if it does not explode the risk is not worth taking.

Who the hell is running the show?  WTF!!

Even those of us who have lightened our stock exposure these past several months know the importance of passing this bill to unlock the credit that lubricates the world's financial markets. The guy working at the corner muffler shop, or single mom slinging hash at the local eatery, may be sentimentally correct when they rail against the bill, but they will suffer too when their employers cannot clear enough capital to back their paychecks this week or next.  

Kudos to the legislators who put politics aside to vote in favor of this bill, as flawed as it may be-- now go back to work and get soemthing passed this time!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Uh-oh, Palin Makes Her "Cringe"

Kathleen Parker, a conservative woman writing in the National Review, compels Sarah to put country first:

Palin’s recent interviews with Charles Gibson, Sean Hannity, and now Katie Couric have all revealed an attractive, earnest, confident candidate. Who Is Clearly Out Of Her League.

No one hates saying that more than I do. Like so many women, I’ve been pulling for Palin, wishing her the best, hoping she will perform brilliantly. I’ve also noticed that I watch her interviews with the held breath of an anxious parent, my finger poised over the mute button in case it gets too painful. Unfortunately, it often does.
My cringe reflex is exhausted. 

[snip]

Only Palin can save McCain, her party, and the country she loves. She can bow out for personal reasons, perhaps because she wants to spend more time with her newborn. No one would criticize a mother who puts her family first.

Do it for your country.

Ouch. 

Jesus Told Me to Take Out That Mortgage I Can't Afford


From the Cunning Realist:
"And so we need more counseling and more education to make sure our fellow citizens know what it means to buy a home and can get comfortable with the idea of buying a home. And so we've doubled the amount of money available for community-based programs, faith-based programs -- (applause) -- to be able to brief their parishioners and/or their fellow citizens about the opportunities and the hope and what it takes to be able to purchase a home."

-George Bush 
10/15/03


The setting for that 2003 speech? Just outside of Fresno, California. If you don't know what happened there, 
here's one post-mortem.

Favre Sets Personal Best; Aaron Rodgers Possibly Out


D'oh!

I won't say I toldya so... OK, on second thought, I will.  Somewhere in the Packers' front office, they're rifling through desks looking for Don Majkowski's phone number.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman (1925-2008)

A Hollywood icon, philanthropist, and he makes a great salad dressing. He is certainly missed.

(Turn the music off on the right to watch videos on the blog.)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Bush: "This sucker could go down."

Perhaps emblematic of his entire presidency, now we have Bush staring into the abyss of yet another cavernous disaster created by his own inattention.  And yet again, we have to endure his bleating like a schoolgirl while the adults scramble to assuage fears and pull us all back from the ledge.
“If money isn’t loosened up, this sucker could go down,” President Bush declared Thursday as he watched the $700 billion bailout package fall apart before his eyes, according to one person in the room.

“We’re in a serious economic crisis,” Mr. Bush told reporters as the meeting began shortly before 4 p.m. in the Cabinet Room..."


No shit, Sherlock.  Everything is a crisis, mainly because the folks in charge allow it to get to crisis stage before looking up from their Guns and Ammo magazines or The Pet Goat to see the warning lights blinking red.  The World Trade Center falls down, intelligence fails about WMD,  Iraq devolves into chaos, Abu Ghraib, Katrina, etc...  I know I'm leaving out some, but for the sake of brevity just consider these and then we can see that the latest crisis is merely the most recent completely avoidable debacle in a long series of completely avoidable debacles.

Good Lord, I cannot wait until January, and I'm sure that Bush can't either.  It's obvious that the latest crisis of inattention is the result of  Bush staring at his navel, counting down the minutes until his tenure is up when he can start his ambition of  "wealthy boredom" and jump onto the lecture circuit to "you know, replenish the ol' coffers."  Idiot.

Let's face it, this economic volcano has been choking and burbing up methane for months, even years, and Bush has dawdled, hoping that the lava flow would wait until after January 21st when he is safely dispatched to his Paraguyan villa (Paraguay has no extradition treaty with the US and grants immunity from the International Criminal Court for war crimes.)   

But, alas, the eruption wouldn't wait the necessary 4 more months, and now we have to endure Mr. Bush whining one last time for pounds of funding to fix a disaster that could have been prevented with an ounce of common sense.


More thoughts on the bailout

1.  The problem with the Republican idea of "warrants" (from the website of Greg Mankiw, former chairman of Bush's Council of Economic Advisers.)

2.  What is the precedent of having two Senators, presidential candidates or not, involving themselves in ongoing Senate business of which they are a) not members of the committee handling it, or b) have no special expertise?  What would have been the scenario is Obama were not a Senator but, say, a governor; then would he have been invited to the Senate Banking Committee meeting with the president?  Answer: doubtful.

3.  Furthermore, how can McCain one day say that the economy is "fundamentally sound", and within ten days he's cancelling his presidential campaign, flying back to Washington, barging into Senate Committee meetings, cancelling debates, and basically running around like his hair is on fire?  It just seems like odd behavior.

4.  Why hadn't McCain read Treasury Secretary Paulson's 3 page proposal by Tuesday, when it was put out on Saturday?  Hell, even I took the 7 minutes to read it on Monday.

I'm torn over the propect of using taxpayer money to buy mortgages, but I do know that I trust the Senate Banking Committee, as messed up as it is, to be better at finding a solution than a retired naval aviator who never even read the proposal.

5. Also, I think that the Republicans who gutted the regulatory regime should have their noses held in the stink a little bit longer:

Critics in the financial industry and academia insist the abuses would not have happened if federal and state regulators were doing their jobs.

For instance, banking regulators at federal and state levels failed to monitor lenders that were offering mortgages without following basic industry guidelines on income levels and without requiring appropriate documentation on applications. Those practices led to a high number of risky loans...

...Then there were the failings of the SEC at the federal level and self-regulatory bodies like the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, which supervises brokers. Those entities were supposed to oversee investment banks and brokers, partly to prevent the recent string of catastrophic financial failures that seemed to catch everyone by surprise.

While no one is pointing to any single regulator, the SEC has the broadest responsibilities, including monitoring the financial health and operations of investment firms.

This is what happens when the the refs get fired... and it's going to be expensive.

I realize that now may not be the time for such partisan venom, and I apologize if I have trampled any delicate tendencies in this contentious election season, but this is demostrative that there are fundamental differences between the two parties and the two men running for president.




Wednesday, September 24, 2008

We're from the Government and We're Here to Help


Random thoughts on the Global Economic Crisis (TM):


1.  Somewhere in a cave in Waziristan, a bearded millionaire terrorist is smirking.  After all, bin Laden had written to his buddy Mullah Omar in October 2001:
"...Thus our plan in the face of this campaign should focus on the following:
—Serving a blow to the American economy, which will lead to:
a) Further weakening of the American economy
b) Shaking the confidence in the American economy. This will lead investors to refrain from investing in America or participating in American companies, thus accelerating the fall of the American economy …"


Who knows, he may have even shorted Lehman and Bear Stearns all the way down.


2.  Intrade betting site has the odds of Congress passing a bill to fix the current crisis at 0.77.   We all know a bill will get passed this weekend by our spineless representatives on Capitol Hill.  The best trade out there is taking the Intrade for passage for a quick 23% return.


3.  Aren't we all glad that Grandma and Grandpa didn't put their Social Security into Fannie, Freddie and AIG stock like President Bush wanted in 2004?

4.  So much for President Bush being conservative and keeping government small.   The Bailout 2008 will push the federal deficit to record levels and expand governmental agencies to record size.  Who voted for this guy?  Seriously, who?  If you voted for him because he is "conservative", then you fail basic economics (and need to return to civics class to re-learn the Constitution as well.)

5. Be advised as the drama unfolds this week, as the president urgently calls for a "robust package" to bailout Wall Street, and Secretary Paulson urges immediate passage of a "clean bill" that gives him comically unchecked power, that these guys have been mulling this thing for "months."  Months.  That seems like enough time to have convened a bipartisan group of Congress critters and other assorted principals to the White House for a pow-wow before now.

Defending the package, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Tuesday that the bailout had been "months" in the making but insisted that lawmakers should pass it "this week."

"This was not a program that was conceived of, or put together, hastily. There was an enormous amount of analysis and debate and discussion before we came forward with this program," said spokesman Tony Fratto.

"Some of the policy staff have had months to think about what a program like this would be like and how it would work. Others have had at least weeks to think about it," he told reporters on a conference call.

"We do need to get it done quickly and urgently and would oppose efforts to delay it," the spokesman said. "I think we want to be confident that it will get done this week."

In a subsequent email exchange, Fratto declined to say when the administration first began internal discussions on the mammoth plan, but told AFP: "It shouldn't come as a surprise that we think about contingencies."

Methinks we're being played.


6.  Nobody says it better than The Cunning Realist:
Regular readers know that I don't give financial advice here. But I'll say this. It's clearer than ever that one's after-tax savings are not safe if kept within this system. When two or three unelected statists can decide on a moment's notice that the nation will embark on something as costly as another Iraq -- and then dictate the terms to a cowed Congress -- does that need much explanation? The chances are rising for a sudden and massive dollar devaluation at some point in the future. Moreover, we know now that the system is capable of anything. We've already seen rock-bottom interest rates, new credit facilities, expanded repurchase agreements, unprecedented liquidity, well-timed futures goosing, interventions, conservatorships, and now short-selling bans and bailouts. If all that proves insufficient, expect literally anything: national bank holidays, market shutdowns, restrictions on gold ownership, and capital controls. You really don't need much of a historical perspective to predict this stuff, just a little intuition about what happens when a jingoistic, militarized, increasingly socialistic nation overextends itself and is confronted with the consequences. Evaluate your exposure and plan accordingly.
Indeed.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Can You Trust This Man?


In medical jurisprudence the term res ipsa loquitur refers to a circumstance of malpractice that is so glaringly obvious that no other explanation is necessary, with the classic example being a sponge left in the abdomen after surgery. Write the check, as they say.

The recent bailout bill proposed by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson speaks for itself:

Section 8:"Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency."

Yeah, right. I realize that Paulson's resume is supposedly unimpeachable, having been the CEO of Goldman Sachs, having sold his half billion dollar stash of stock upon leaving his post for the government... this guy knows money. We should all feel fortunate that individuals of this caliber are willing to serve in the government.

But
let's review what Secretary Paulson has told us about housing since he took office a couple years ago:

12/25/06: "I don't know whether [housing] has bottomed out... [Whether housing] has bottomed out, not quite bottomed out, or is going to take a quarter or two longer, the thing that we've seen is that other parts of the economy are doing so well that we're just powering through this."

3/13/07: "It's too early to tell whether [Housing Market] has
bottomed. I believe it has. We'll know more in the next month or two."

4/20/07: "All the signs I look at [show] the housing market is at or
near the bottom."

6/20/07: "We have had a major housing correction in this country. I do believe we are a
t or near the bottom."

7/2/07: "In terms of looking at housing, most of us believe that it's at or near the bottom. It's had a significant impact on the economy. No one is forecasting when, with any degree of clarity, that the upturn is going to come other than it's at or
near the bottom."

7/23/07: U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said on Monday the U.S. housing market correction was "
at or near the bottom".

8/2/07: Secretary Paulson: "No. ... let me be pretty clear about what I've said before. When I said... that there had been a major correction and the housing market was at or near the bottom, I also have said that I thought this would not resolve itself any time soon, and that it would take a reasonably good period of time for the sub-prime issues to move through the economy as mortgages reset. But that as, even though this, and it is a cause of concern, the impact on individual homeowners, and we care a lot about that, but I said as an economic matter I believe this was
largely contained because we have a diverse and healthy economy."

In other words, he's been wrong. Not just "a little off", but stunningly and repeatedly wrong. Wrong when others have been shouting from the rooftops that the housing market and subprime lending and creative Wall Street products are going to take down the economy.  What Paulson has told has been wrong, and I don't think it's an accident.  He's a white guy in a suit, so you know there's a better than even chance he's lying.


Now, in the final months of the Cheney administration, an administration that has already taken unprecedented latitude in the assumption of political and military power, the final act will be to skate off with $1 trillion, no questions allowed.

As Glenn Greenwald has summarized:

The [Cheney] administration's central strategy has been repeatedly to tell courts that they have no right to review the Leader's decisions. The Military Commissions Act, the Protect America Act, the FISA Amendments Act, the Detainee Treatment Act, and the Patriot Act all provide, to one degree or another, the exact same absolute executive discretion and prohibition on judicial review that the Paulson Plan provides, and in doing so, allows the President to decide which individuals -- including Americans -- are spied on, arrested, detained, rendered, and subjected to all sorts of interrogation methods without any review at all. The administration repeatedly told Congress and courts that what they did -- in general -- was far too secret to allow any oversight or review of any kind.  

And now they want whatever tax revenue they can shake out of your pocket on their way out the door.  

In a word, "No fucking way."

And don't even start with the panic talk.  Reasonable ideas exist to get a handle on the Global Economic Crisis (TM), and none of them need inclusion of a blank check to one of Cheney's acolytes.  Res ipsa loquitur, baby.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Another McCain endorsement: "It's gettin' down to the nut cut."

I work with guys like this (is this you, Kevin?):

[Note: Turn the music off on the right before watching videos on the blog.]






This is not an actor. Yes, despite the zillions of public dollars spent on education, libraries, and media there really are people this piss ignorant.... and, more frightening, THEY VOTE!

We're fucked. But the video is funny (especially 2:02 to 2:08 and 3:04 to 3:21). Great entertainment, like watching the stand-up comic on the deck of the Titanic as the women and children board the lifeboats.

"Osama bin Obama. What the hell are you people thinkin'?!"

Sunday, September 14, 2008

McCain/ Palin will win in a walk

This election is over.
John McCain, in a masterstroke, has chosen the perfect candidate that will complement his presidential ticket. Barack Obama with his transcendent quest of hope and change has been beaten. A couple weeks ago I would have predicted another nail-biter to be decided on election night by a couple teetering counties, but not anymore. It’s McCain/Palin in a walk. Here are the reasons.

Warrior Ethos.
An unlikely source recently pointed out that in nearly every general election for president, the candidate who more embodies the warrior has won. Brent Steenberger , on his trading website, recognized that Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan, Bush have all been characterized as the "manly" man, either younger, taller or swarthier, in the election and each have won. I would add that John Kerry's warrior persona, the decorated hero, necessarily had to be attacked and discredited for him to lose, and it was. This attraction to the fighter may be a universal trait for all cultures with the warrior held in high regard either on an overtly conscious level or a subconscious reptilian level. George W. Bush landing on the air deck in his flight suit, while silly in the extreme, achieved a lasting emotional impression of the warrior. And this phenomenon transcends gender: Margaret Thatcher, a woman, would have certainly been considered the more "manly" of the candidates in her day.
Located deep in our primitive mid brain the fight or flight response is sequestered, and it comes to the fore in times of great importance-- such as crisis, or an election. Such basic impulses of tribal preservation will short-circuit the higher cerebral functions every time. McCain is the consummate warrior whose life story exudes the ethos of sacrifice for the sake of comrades and country. Someone will be quick to ask why, then, did John McCain lose to the draft dodger Bush in the Republican primary of 2000? The warrior ethos principle only works in the general election. When the average voter gets down to the "nut cut" and is alone in that booth for the general election, a transformation takes place. The primaries are all about vague ideas of hope and transcendence; the general is about our very survival.

The interesting thing that the John McCain saga demonstrates is the self-replicating nature of the warrior ethos. McCain was the son and grandson of military academy-trained career warriors. He fought in a war that was unnecessary, ill-conceived, probably illegal, and escalated by a testosterone-addled Southerner (LBJ) not unlike the current Iraqi incursion. The Vietnam war produced the POW hero McCain who then called for and supported another unnecessary, ill-conceived, and probably illegal war. And now his career is about to be advanced because of the similarly poor prosecution of said war. What if the Vietnam war had never occurred, or at least had never been escalated? Answer: There would have been no POW McCain, no celebrity status, no Senate career, no presidential run. Lt. John McCain, who graduated in the bottom 2% of his class, would have finished out his career in Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, pickling his brain with gin and lathering his genitalia with trollops. McCain's career has been part and parcel the self-perpetuation of the warrior ethos.
Palin is tough: she shoots, skins, and eats caribou. She is disciplined: raising five kids with a major career. She lives her values: she has a Downs-syndrome baby that she refused to abort. She has the image of the ideal conservative mom: pretty, perky, feminine, Bible-toting, and fitting into the ideal conservative family. And she fits the stereotype of America as small-town America. It is Reagan's morning-in-America image.
Sarah Palin is a self-described pit bull who is unashamed in espousing her unblinking desire to take on the entrenched powers in Washington, stare done the Russians and tackle the daunting economic crises. This will be looked upon very favorably by right wing social conservatives who see her as the point person in the war against the liberal valueless society. Also, she will be viewed positively by white suburban and small town mothers, actual knowledge and experience are far less important. Palin's life story is compelling and this was slammed home to me a few days ago at work. Three female co-workers of mine, all mothers and one a grandmother, are very favorably inclined to Sarah Palin as vice-president, and I know for a fact that two of these women are quite liberal socially. One said, "I like that she's a hockey mom like me." When I asked how hockey moms are viewed versus soccer moms, she kidded that, well, soccer kids are derogatorily called "foot fairies" by the "brick headed" hockey kids. Warrior ethos, baby. Obama's soccer moms don't stand a chance. Another remarked, "Yeah, I think she [Palin] would kick ass, which is what they [whoever "they" is] all need." All three of these women would have "no problem" with her as vice-president or even president, as a half-smile erupted over each of their faces.
Furthermore, these arguments, if they can even be called arguments, were made midweek, before we knew anything substantive about Sarah Palin. This is a gut emotional reaction, and it's not just favorable-- it very favorable. Senator Obama, whether he likes it or not, has been cast as the pointy-headed east coast liberal, and this is a tough persona to shake. Joe Biden, while he has extensive experience in foreign policy, is equated with the entrenched Washington elite and is strongly associated with the status quo. This is my impression, but I'll stand by it and it's no wonder to me that Obama/Biden have lost their poll advantage to McCain/Palin.

Emotion versus Substance.
Issues are lost on the vast majority of voters, and elections are decided on the emotional power manifested in the candidate, not the substance of the issue. Voters are famous for voting against their own best interests time and time again. Let's take taxes as an example. The two candidates have presented tax revisions that are fairly equal for the great mass of taxpayers, not that there is any chance that either plan would pass unchanged into law, but let's consider them.
Obama's plan will lower income taxes for the great majority of taxpayers, but will raise taxes for those making over $200,000 and will raise total tax revenues. McCain's plan lowers taxes across the board and will likely lower total tax revenues paid into the treasury, notwithstanding Arthur Laffer's curve. A colleague of mine who is certainly in my tax bracket and hovers around the upper 5% income earners has voiced unconditional support for McCain because, "if Democrats get elected, they'll raise my taxes and my family will be living in a cardboard house." When I pointed out that, according to a rundown the two plans, our income taxes would likely be unchanged, she was unconvinced. I further argued that the wars started and mismanaged by the current Republican leadership are the main reason we are wallowing in such budget debt now, which is necessitating oppressive taxation in the future.  No dice.  The emotional trigger is that Democrats are associated with higher taxes, nobody wants to pay taxes, so there is no way someone in a higher bracket is going to vote for a Democrat-- even if there is substantively no difference to their bank account.
Even on issues that do represent significant differences between candidates, the voters will ignore their own preferences.  Health care is persistently at the top of peoples' lists of probelms that need solving, and when presented various solutions, they usually prefer the universal health option over the fee-for-service employer based model.  Regardless, voters do not vote in their best interests when it comes to president. 
Another item: voters that I have come in contact with have offered an emotional defense in deference to Sarah Palin when issues of experience and education are broached. One colleague noted that she herself, like most of us on the medical staff, went to a state medical school which would not be considered "elite" by Obama's Harvard credentials, yet she considered herself an excellent physician, and furthermore, she knew one student in her med school class who was "an idiot" and "he came from Harvard." Palin's University of Idaho communications degree after attending four nameless schools in four years goes unquestioned because to do so would also put her own state school credentials in question. See, smart people can certainly come from state schools, so there, and it follows that Sarah Palin must be one of those smart people.
Along these same lines is an emotional anti-intellectual sentiment which is very alive in the hinterlands. In fact, staunch rural Bush acolytes who support the Iraq war, the global war on terror, guns, god and abortion restrictions, have all but blamed Bush's east coast education for the general lack of success in his presidency and certainly the specific sub par prosecution of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. McCain and Palin, neither with an advanced university degree, are viewed as change agents from the status quo, a concept which acts in their favor. Obama, after all, went to the same school as Bush, so why should we believe that he'll perform any better than Bush did? And Biden, the lawyer? Please. What we need is the PTA mom and the POW who know how to get things done, dammit.  Never mind that the POW owns several houses whose net worth is hundreds of millions of dollars while the supposed "elitist snob" was raised by a single mother on food stamps.  Substance matters not.
Sarah Palin stated in her interview with Charlie Gibson that her foreign policy credentials are burnished partly because (and I'm not making his up): "you can see Russia from Alaska." Now, I can see the moon from my kitchen, does that make me an astronaut? While Palin is technically correct that Russia's possession, Big Diomede island, is visible is from Alaska's Little Diomede island in the Baring Strait, the argument is just one drop of silliness in an entire ocean of silliness represented by the Charlie Gibson-Sarah Palin interview (everyone should watch it in it's entirety.)  While Palin's argument is substantively bankrupt, the emotional power of some isolated US island staring down the Russian goliath is powerful.
Other emotional issues are guns (will Democrats really take away my guns?); abortion (overturning Roe vs. Wade would likely not prevent one abortion); gays (call it a civil union, equate it with marriage, and move on); God (doesn't even deserve a comment in this context.) Sure, Democrats may vote their emotions on these issues, but the Republican spin-meisters have been masterful in turning each and every one of these issues to their favor.

Attitude versus Veracity
Sarah Palin gave a rousing acceptance speech, spewing half-truths and lies off the tele-prompter; she never stopped smiling and won acclaim by every talking head on television. She showed that spunky attitude we all love! My take is that the media literati were so surprised that a rube governor from the Arctic could string together more than a few sentences that they immediately became enamored with the personality of Sarah Palin, forgetting the vile substance of her "speech", and that affection was quickly transferred to the viewers at home. In a tremendous tactic by the campaign, Palin was then sequestered behind the rhetoric, repeating talking points by day and learning more talking points by night, certainly under the tutelage of a Rovian lieutenant.
Obama and Biden have been back on their heels, unable and unwilling to attack for fear of being perceived uncouth. When Obama uttered a cliche about "lipstick on a pig" a few days later, referring to Republican policies, McCain himself came out and chivalrously demanded an apology for his lady running mate and the campaign ran an ad chastising Obama for the remark, even though Obama never mentioned Palin his entire speech in question and the always gracious Obama obviously had no ill intent. Senator McCain, on the View later in the week, disingenuously and categorically stated "Senator Obama always chooses his words carefully and I know what he meant." Really?  We all knew McCain was full of shit, but the image-- the attitude-- of the paternal senior statesman standing up for his vulnerable female partner was priceless, and even the liberal leaning women on the View gave him a pass.
This is about the time most voters' eyes glaze over in apathy with the false determination that "ah, they're all the same; both sides lie to benefit themselves.  It's all just BS."  This could not be further from the truth, and has been promoted with Obama's relatively polite campaign contrasted with the festival of lies that is popularly known as the Republican Convention.  The same was true with the 2000 Al Gore character assasination that went unanswered and the 2004 Swiftboating of John Kerry.  Neither of these men showed enough  deference to even defend themselves from salacious lies and the voters see this as either weakness, inattention or apathy, any of which is a death sentence for a candidate.   The venom from the Democrats pales in comparison to that from the GOP.  I believe Democratic voters hold their candidates to a higher standard as evidenced by the defeat of the less than credible, but certainly more venomous, Hillary Clinton.
I would have liked to hear Obama exert more attitude on the issue, and I think it would have served him well with voters. In other words, get pissed my man. What he should have said was, "Listen, I never engage in childish veiled name-calling, that's never been my style, and when the time comes that I call my opponent a pig, they'll definitely know it." Instead, Obama tried to take the high road and muttered some polite musings about the proper decorum of a campaign, or some such rubbish. Where's the warrior ethos? Where's the attitude? Doesn't he know that if the meek are going to inherit the earth, they're going to have to kick ass for it?
The other controversy this week was the McCain campaign advertisement stating that Barack Obama wants to teach explicit sex education to kindergartners. This was a canard first presented by the wild-eyed Alan Keyes in his failed US Senate race against Obama and is based on a bill Obama had presented and passed in the Illinois state senate regarding K-12 education. The bill required age-appropriate education and called for 5 and 6 year-olds to learn about inappropriate touching in order to protect them from sexual predators. What kind of a deviant would try to turn this into a campaign issue? Obama, instead of showing the proper outrage, let the controversy die a slow death-- but the damage is done in the eyes of the voters-- and I can just see his legion of stalwart campaign workers gasping for air as they march door to door with the image of their withering beacon of hope in tatters.
Again, I would have liked to hear Obama show a little more attitude. What he should have said was, "I don't know what kind of cretin could write a commercial like this, but I need to know who wrote this script. I am stating right now that I require the script writer and the narrator to take the stage with John McCain during a prime time televised event to explain the text of this ad. I will not debate Mr. McCain until I personally settle this matter in front of the public." This would immediately catch fire in the media and the raging inferno would live longer than the usual nanosecond spark of most issues, thus exposing the McCain campaign for the charlatans that they are. Every day, the media whores who live for the red meat of the debates would fear the loss of the ad revenue, and they would ask if it were true that the debate will be canceled, and every day Obama would steadfastly say, "Yes, unless and until the morons who wrote and recited this crap come forward and face me like men (or women) and take personal responsibility, I will not participate in this charade.  How can John McCain consider this egregious lie honorable?
Check and mate, motherfuckers.

Conclusion
Perhaps Democrats are biologically unable to project the necessary attitude, emotion and warrior ethos to win national elections, a conclusion presented by Jason Rosenhouse who happens to be an evolutionary biologist, so he should know. Republicans are hard-wired, as Sarah Palin characterized it, to take on these challenges without blinking. And blinklessly they will march out and dictate our foreign policy across the Baring Strait and bail out more banks and brokerages as our economy fragments further. Onward!

In my next post, I'll explain that while many may find this thesis disconcerting, a McCain/Palin administration would not be predictably better or worse than an Obama/Biden presidency. In as much as we can predict the defining events and issues of the next four years (we usually cannot), knowing a priori how a president will perform is nearly impossible (except, I would argue, in the case of Bush/Cheney, who were predictably an unmitigated disaster.)

Most of my current coterie of friends and co-workers view me as a knee-jerk Democrat and they may be surprised at some of the opinions I have in the follow-up piece. The fact is that I have cast ballots for both Republicans and Democrats in my nearly 30 years as a voter. My recent persona, however, is shaped by my rabid negative sentiment towards George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney, who I view as immensely stupid (or, in my more compassionate moments, demented ) and evil, respectively.

The current election has many of the same themes as previous ones, but it's always different this time. Even so, given the reasons outlined above, the Republicans are a lock to win it. If Bush/Cheney can win twice, then McCain/Palin, using the same tactics, will win walking away.
The only caveat:  My cynical opinion that the media despise landslides and they will make every effort to have this election as close as possible. If the Republican ticket gains too much advantage, the media powers will likely attempt to even the field. In the end, however, the McCain/Palin juggernaut will prevail.



Monday, September 08, 2008

Steve Greenberg: Tool of the Week

With Jay Mariotti thankfully going into self-imposed exile, we have been scouring the landscape for the next brainless tool to pummel, and what ho! We have a winner!

Steve Greenberg (at left), the supposed football expert for the Sporting News, in his latest column, seems to be hiding his knowledge of football extremely well. After the Chicago Bears dismantled the vaunted Indianapolis Colts who broke the seal on their brand new stadium on national television with an embarassing loss, Steve Greenberg had to caution us not the "overrate" the Bears or "underrate" the Colts. Huh?

His first point was that "the Bears did not attack the deep middle of the Colts' secondary even once. There were no gimmicky plays." I'm no football expert, but I believe football is a game of scrimmage line control, not "gimmicky plays." He continues:
That sounds good on the surface--line up and whup 'em--but it will not be difficult for most defenses to force the Bears to grind it out between the 20s and kick field goals. Orton is an average-at-best starting quarterback (although his career record as a starter--13-6--is pretty terrific.) Chicago's offensive line is an injury away from train-wreck status. And rookie running back Matt Forte, though he opened eyes across the nation Sunday night, probably isn't the next Adrian Peterson.
WTF is he talking about? Football is exactly about "line up and whup 'em", and why would any other team enjoy more success than the Colts who have one of the most feared defensive lines in the business? The game I saw showed Orton and Forte grabbing first downs at will all night. As far as Forte not being Adrian Petersen, I'm no "football expert" but if my memory serves, the last several Super Bowl winners did not have Adrian Petersen in the back field. Imagine that. Greenberg is correct to opine that the Bears should not be considered the "co-favorite" to win their division-- they are now the favorite, my friend.

His second point is that Peyton Manning was "rusty" and he may have a small point. But then he dissonantly asks, "You don't think the Patriots would love to trade places with the Colts right now--to be 0-1 but with their superstar quarterback on two feet? The Jaguars lost their opener, as did the Texans."

OK, so the fact that Brady is injured makes King Peyton's performance that much better? Finishing a game with an intact ACL now somehow merits a badge of honor? The fact is that Peyton Manning was schooled because he (finally) had pressure on him all night and he was unable to read the defense. Time-outs were used injudiciously and the Colts offense looked sloppy which is all evidence that the Colts were outplayed.

Thirdly, Greenberg feels that the Bears "will run Forte til he drops" and this is somehow a disadvantage. Forte had 23 carries for 123 yards and took a few good hits. I hate to burst your bubble, Mr. Greenberg, but I'm not sure the Colts put that much hurt on him. He seemed to be able to scamper into the Colts' backfield any time he wanted. The hit you seemed to think was so devastating was inflicted by a safety, not the defensive line.

Greenberg's fourth point was just a sonnet about his apparent man-crush on the Colts' Dwight Freeney:

Dwight Freeney is back. Not to worry about the foot injury that ended the Colts' Pro Bowl defensive end's season in 2007.

A three-play sequence in the second quarter showed why Freeney is such a dominant player. He jumped offside, giving the Bears a first down in Colts territory. On the next play, Freeney powered through left tackle John St. Clair for an 8-yard sack. Then he fought off two blockers to tackle Forte after a 3-yard gain.


The Bears threw too many quick passes for Freeney to be a major factor, but he looked very good.

Freeney "looked very good"?!! OK, let's run this down. Freeney jumps offside and is a non-factor the entire game but, golly, he would have been better if only those nasty Bears would only have thrown the ball to him, and after all "he looked very good." Listen, I know love is blind and Freeney does have a pleasant enough smile and I have no problem with anyone's personal lifestyle preferences (my problem with Jay Mariotti had nothing to do with his life choices), but such inane drivel has no place in an objective evaluation of a football game.

Greenberg's fifth point is just more of the same insanity: the AFC is "tougher to size up than we realized" because (again) Brady is injured and (again) the Jaguars lost. I ask: Does this somehow make the Colts better than the 29-13 thrashing they received?

Maybe Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy can write Greenberg's next column for him. Unlike Greenberg's column, Dungy's surmise of the whuppin' is very accurate: "We certainly haven't had one like that in a long time, where we got soundly outplayed. They outplayed us for four quarters."

You can imagine all kind of reasons how this could happen, but back here in the real world none of them would involve the Colts being "underrated" or the Bears being "overrated."

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Is Bush Demented?

This is a serious question and not intended as a snarky jab at a failed president. Organic brain syndromes of various etiology are fairly common among the general population and the president has some risk factors.

Look at the video comparing Mr. Bush from 1994 to 2004. Ignore the commentary for now, but notice the obvious deterioration in his speaking skills.



According to Mr. Bush's official medical record that is made public, he takes no medication except vitamins and has no major illnesses or diagnoses. Absent, however, is any mention of a cognitive or psychiatric evaluation.

Cognitive dysfunction can occur gradually over many years and can be due to any of several factors including but not limited to infections, atherosclerosis, tumors, neuronal degeneration, substance abuse and trauma. Previous presidents, most notably Ronald Reagan and Woodrow Wilson, suffered catastrophic brain syndromes that very likely started while serving as president, and in both cases the country was put in unknown jeopardy due to a lack of judgment by its chief executive. Nixon reportedly used psychotropic drugs while in the latter days of his aborted term.

President Bush has admitted to heavy alcohol abuse as a younger man, as well as a de facto admisssion of cocaine use, both of which can cause cerebral damage.   Also, Bush has been diagnosed with Lyme disease which can also have neurologic sequelae. Even without these risk factors, a high ranking official such as the US president surely warrants some evaluation from time to time.  

One difference today is that scientific advances have benefited the diagnosis of mental and cognitive impairment, and also the stigma attached to such maladies has been decreasing. Neuropsychiatric evaluations are commonplace and specialists are available with objective tests that can provide insight into the extent and cause of cognitive impairment.

Why is this important? For obvious reasons the nation's well-being is contingent on having capable people at the helm. The US Constitution provides for a succession plan when the president is not able to perform his duties, and these judgments should not be left to spouses and White House staffers. Some conjecture recently surrounds Bush's conspicuous absence from the Republican Convention as possibly due to his failing mental status, which thus fueled conjecture that the speech was pre-recorded.

A reasonable approach would be to have every president and vice-president undergo a formal neuropsychiatric evaluation upon taking office and then have it repeated every 24 months or upon request of both houses of Congress. Those results should be made available to the ranking members of the Congress for action as necessary.

The planet is becoming a more complex theater of activity and the US presidency is arguably the single most powerful office in the world. We cannot afford to allow mental impairment jeopardize our well-being or the safety of the world.

I don't know if Bush is demented, but I do know that it should be considered. And we have a right and duty to know... especially if we are planning to elect septuagenarians on a regular basis.

My hunch is that Bush just isn't right.  I'd also wager that, as in the case of Ronald Reagan, an announcement is made in the coming years regarding the impaired mental status of George W. Bush.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Sarah Palin and Iraq... and God

No one issue will have more impact on the next president than the Iraq war.

The most stunning aspect of Sarah Palin's vice-presidential candidacy is the absolute dearth of information about her views of the Iraq war.  Google produces nothing substantive, and no, merely visiting the Alaska Guard troops in Kuwait does not win foreign policy points.

By her own admission, she had not paid much attention to the Iraq war until her son showed intent to join the infantry.  In 2006,  when asked about the troop "surge" as proposed by President Bush,  she told Alaska Business Monthly:

I've been so focused on state government, I haven't really focused much on the war in Iraq. I heard on the news about the new deployments, and while I support our president, Condoleezza Rice and the administration, I want to know that we have an exit plan in place...

Huh?  Even those of us who have no child or other family member in the military have been keeping up with the issues especially in regard to such a massive military operation, and we all know there is no "exit plan in place."  That's called responsible citizenship.  Her lack of curiosity reminds me of the current inhabitant of the White House.  To this day Sarah Palin has yet to give an opinion about the Iraq war except some fatuous intonation that "victory is in sight", but then fails to elaborate on her definition of "victory."

Apparently Sarah Palin's religion informs much of the motive of the United States' involvement in Iraq.  The war is prescribed by her God and, regarding the troops, "Our national leaders are sending them out on a task that is from God."  I did not know that!  I wish someone would tell the evil terr'ists so they would stop trying to kill us!

Furthermore, it turns out that God wants Alaskans to drill and transport fossilized dinosaur by-products to put into our gas tanks and furnaces. 

God's will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built, so pray for that... I can do my job there in developing our natural resources and doing things like getting the roads paved and making sure our troopers have their cop cars and their uniforms and their guns, and making sure our public schools are funded... But really all of that stuff doesn't do any good if the people of Alaska's heart isn't right with God.

I'm not sure which language Governor Palin used to uttered those sage words, however, because for a couple decades she was a member of the Assembly Pentecostal Church, which is famous for its members having the ability to speak in tongues.

To say that understanding Iraq is important for a vice-presidential candidate is like saying that understanding the double-play is important for a potential shortstop.    Palin simply does not evoke confidence that she gets all the nuance of conducting a war in a theater such as Iraq, and I doubt the Muslim world will be impressed with her theology.

Seriously, this person wants to be my president?   So, again, Ms. Palin, stop feeding red meat to right wing nutjobs and start giving us substantive information about your world view.  

Sixty-five days.... and counting.