Archive for May 2008

A Divided Country

May 31, 2008

Today the Democratic National Committee’s Rules sub-committee will meet to rule on the status of Florida and Michigan’s delegates.  There is speculation that a compromise will be put forward and Obama will accept it and most likely Clinton will not.  In a game of chess, it is time for Clinton to lay her king on its side.

The focus on who will be the Democratic nominee tends to overlook the actual closeness of the race between Obama and Clinton, two qualified and popular candidates.  There is spit separating their popular vote especially when you consider the total votes cast (and even more if you could figure in those that were instead channeled into caucus voting.  The delegate situation is a total puzzle.  Some States were winner take all, others were winner take your share only, and in a few like Texas, it was take a share that reflects some previous voting pattern and not the current election.  It should be clear that for Americans to understand this process, Democrats should adopt a more straight forward method.

I can understand the strength of Hillary’s argument and in fact she should win the Presidential election if she gets nominated.  For Obama, the story is the same and by most assessments he is narrowly ahead in the delegate count and by the “rules” should be the winner.  This is the hard pill for Hillary.  America has always advertised itself as a country that plays by the rules, for example, baseball, and it is time for the primary race to end and the delegates to decide. 

It will be a shame and truly a mistake if Hillary forces the nomination decision to wait until Convention.

Tough Times Ahead

May 30, 2008

Oil prices in recent days have taken a breather and have settled back to $ 130 per barrel!  At the pump, Americans are looking at $ 4 per gallon gasoline prices and all around us prices seem to be rising except of course the price of your house.  What a mess for the next President to inherit.  Yet there does not seem to be a voice of concern amongst the three soldiers left standing.  For sure Hillary, Barack, and John all are for better paying jobs and a steak on every babeque, but that is hollow political talk.  Unfortunately, American voters do not prefer to hear the truth, and worse, may not recognize it if one of the candidates did share it.

Economics is complicated to be sure and most of us studied something else.  Over time, however, experience has taught us certain laws like

  • Supply and Demand – the more of something available the lower its price, the more people want something, the higher its price. 
  • There is no free lunch – if someone tells you it is free, watch out because you will be paying for it one way or the other.
  • If you snooze, you lose – If you do not pay attention and perform proper preventive measures (like home repairs, healthy life styles, savings and investments), you will end up with a loss.

The current American saga under the direction of producer and director George W Bush with able assistance from Dick Cheney is a case in point.  During the past 8 years American national policies have ignored these three laws.  Here are the results.

1. It has been long known that America was dependent upon imported foreign oil, and that oil reserves were both limited and under increased demand from other developing economies such as China and India.  Rather than put in place domestic goals and policies that would have (1) reduced US demand for oil, and (2) increased sources of alternative energy (thereby reducing demand for oil), America ignored the rules of supply and demand.  We now see higher oil prices in part due to this ignorance.

2. When George W Bush took office, he inherited a budget surplus and interestingly a military budget of some $ 400+ billion.  Bush set about increasing the military spend which now is about $ 600 billion.  At current levels the US spends more on its national defense than the rest of the world combined and about 10 times more than its next rival.  Why?  Since there is no free lunch this increase in the defense budget has had to come from some place.  Where?  Most of the increase has come from borrowing and the rest has come from overlooking the maintenance needed for America’s social and physical infrastructure.

3. During this Bush era, Americans have pretty much snoozed.  To be sure there has been first class mood music in the background (from spin and outright misinformation) to help Americans sleep.  Never the less, in 2008, we have awoken to a weak economy, rising prices, and a significantly devalued dollar ( as one measure, the euro is now worth about $1.55 versus $0.85 when Bush was elected).  The price of oil is set by world traders and they see this weakening of the dollar and are demanding more dollars for the same barrel of all on top of what ever supply and demand effect there may be.

You can look at this mess from different directions but you will come out at the same approximate point if you are honest in your assessment.  The next President will have to:

  • Increase tax revenues
  • Decrease the Defense budget

in order to stimulate

  • alternate energy programs
  • repair of the infrastructure
  • an increase in the value of the dollar
  • stabalization of inflation at less than 2%/year

The picture is not pretty and will seems worse because the facts have been withheld for too long.  America’s future can be healthy but we must tend to it.

Another Voice For The Obvious

May 29, 2008

The White House and its few remaining friends were huffing and puffing yesterday when advance copies of Scott McClellen’s new book were released.  In Scott’s tell all accounting of his time as White House Press Secretary, he adds no new information to the underhanded methods used by the White House to coax America into invading Iraq.  Scott does, however, add credibility to the already made claims because he was there.

You do have to scratch your head a bit.  It is almost 3 years since Scott left his assignment and 5+ years since the Iraq War was falsely justified.  Why so long, why at all?

One is left to speculate that career-wise things have not gone as well as they could have for McClellen and for sure he will receive big bucks for the book and speaking appearances.  I would like to think, however, that over the years McClellen has had time to think about how he was used by Bush, Cheney, and Rove.  How he was sent repeatedly out infront of the press corps and like a puppet, made to mouth things he knew not to be true or at least should have figured out were false.  This must be a heavy weight to carry for anyone other than a Rumsfeld or Cheney (where ends always justify means).

McClellen in his early interviews since the book release has stumbled about why he didn’t say something at the time.  He, like Hillary and many others, claims that the Goverment information was worrisome and threatening, and after all, it was the Government speaking.  It must be true.  The great disconnect is “what is the appropriate response to the facts known or claimed?

1. Assume for a minute that the Bush Administration claims were true.  Hussein had WMDs including the beginnings of nuclear weapons.

2. Why would the correct response not be to first verify these allegations with the UN and obtain a UN mandate?

Or consider this

1. There were contradictory claims about WMD and no proof of nuclear weapons.

2. Why not wait until such information was substantiated?

Or try this

1. For whatever the reasons, the US decided to invade Iraq.

2. Why would you not wait until all units were suitably equipped and there was a plan for the peace and a plan for a safe exit?

These are questions that McClellen does not answer and the American public must try to answer in the years ahead.  The best possible answer will be sheer incompetence on the part of our chief executive.  The dark shadowy hints at the answer suggest political and financial favoritism with a good measure of desire to alter the US political process for choosing its elected officials.  Hopefully some future authors will propose and provide supporting reasons why the Iraq War is a result of something other than incompetence.

One Step Forward, One Back

May 28, 2008

John McCain yesterday gave a speech on his approach to foreign policy.  He opened with a veiled incorrect reference to Barack Obama, saying “some would think that simply talking to leaders of countries like Iran is all that is needed to control nuclear proliferation”.  He then segwayed by saying that “others would resort to force immediately as their option of choice in controlling nuclear proliferation”, presumably refering to the chicken hawks that predominate the Bush Administration and supporters.  McCain said his policies would include both of these extremes and a host of other multinational and coalition measures.  This seems eminently reasonable.

McCain’s speech is a necessary break with one of the underlying reasons that drove the Bush Administration too so many dismal failures in foreign affairs.  Bush and friends were the masters of the one song concert.  (This is not the only reason.  Bush and company were political driven, mean spirited, and faith based (denying reality) in addition.)  Of course the McCain speech is common sense and it will be his implementation that makes it work or end up in disappointment too.

There were actually two steps backward, one predictable and one sandwiched around McCain’s speech.  First, hecklers interupted McCain with anti-Iraq War taunts.  McCain true to form assumed the fighting position and sneered, “I will never surrender in Iraq”  What that has to do with being in Iraq is hard for me to understand.  McCain could have said, “I disagree with the decisions, given hindsight, that got us into Iraq, but getting out is not easy.  I will do my best to find a suitable exit strategy but it will not involve surrender”.  But he didn’t.

The second step backward occurred the night before and will again tonight.   McCain met behind closed doors with campaign donors, and guess who.  Yes, the prince of incompetence, President George W Bush.  McCain should get credit for an innovative approach to using a President whose national ratings are below 20% but like his association with Pat Robertson and John Hagee, it signals at the least a poor choice of friends and at the extreme a hint at how far McCain will drift if the situation suits him.  This is something to worry about.

While in general this is a welcomed speech by McCain, it is important for Obama to return the volley.  He needs to connect foolish foreign policy decisions with the waste of American resources and Iraq in no way is related to any war on terror.  He needs to press this connection until McCain disowns Bush on Iraq.  If McCain cannot bring himself to that, he unsuited for the office he seeks.  Please remember, along with Iraq has come no peace with the Palestinians and Israelis, a doubling of the national debt, an equvilent drop in the value of the dollar, comsumer prices rising at alarming rates, a military that is over extended and breaking from within, and a disspirited American population.  Without these denounciation, McCain will be Bush III.

The Marriage Non-Issue

May 27, 2008

When one considers all the troublesome issues facing the next President such as global warming, the huge cost of the Iraq War, America’s low global world reputation, the plummeting value of the dollar, the trampling of individual American civil rights, and sorry state of our country’s fiscal and monetary policies, one should ask “who cares” about the issue of same sex marriage.  Here’s why the debate will arise…

1.  Those who raise this issue to the national level are mixing the social norms of our country with the main stream Governmental issues.  These “issue raisers” fall into two groups.  First is the hate mongers who driven by some “for profit” church leader prey upon those who they feel less human then themselves, thereby raising their own personal self image.  The second group is mainly those leaders of the gay and lesbian organizations who want to be treated as equal human beings faster than society as a whole seems to be willing to move.  Both of these groups are set to fight for reasons of their own.  There will be no “social discussion”.

2. Marriage is a myth, at least when expressed as a “sacred” or “holey” event.  Marriage is pure and simply a civil ceremony where certain legal rights and tax breaks are granted to couples (as opposed to single persons).  Both “for profit” and “not for profit” churches can also have ceremonies called marriage and they certainly can set the bar for who can partake.  While many who call themselves “christian” and do not accepts gays and lesbians are fully equal human beings seem to me less than what I understand the term “christian” to imply, that is their priviledge in these private organizations.  But the Government is for all the country and not just some of it, but this seems to be misunderstood.

3. The Republican Party is in deep trouble this election and will need to change the national discussion from the shameful and absolute failure of the Bush Administration to something else.  Same sex marriage is one of those hot button topics that will capture supporters who will once again make a deal with the devil to prop up their “for profit” church.

Once again logic seems to fail us.  Civil unions can provide exactly the same rights as marriage does today.  So here is an idea.  Let’s remove this discussion from the emotional campaign stage where it stands today and make “civil unions” the national standard for receiving any favorable tax treatment, the right to inherent from a partner, the automatic healthcare proxies, etc, and then let people go to their church, club, or social group and receive the ceremonial label “marriage”.  Rights conveyed by Governments should be for all citizens and be distributed fairly and as equal as possible.

How do you think the candidates will handle this hot potato?

Immigration Blues

May 26, 2008

Over the past week, Federal authorities have raided two large slaughter houses in the mid-west.  In each, authorities arrested about 300 workers who were in the US illegally.  Some were just here and others had over stayed their approved paper work.  You have to scratch your head and wonder about what motivated the federals to make these raids now when these plants and dozens more have operated with “illegals” for years.  I wonder whether this might be a trial balloon for an election issue?

The immigration issue has not been well defined by our politicians.  Some say “live and let live” and others say “secure the boards and kick out all these illegals”.  With an estimated 12-14 million illegal aliens living in America, “kicking them out” seems a bit ludicrous if not economically silly.  Why do politicians not ask the question of why the aliens are here and why are they working where they work?  Why do politicians not ask why the American consulates in Mexico issue to few work visas so that any Mexican that wants to come to the US, can do so legally?  Why do politicians not ask why they support restriction on the free movement of labor in the North American region?  (Look at the Common Market in Europe.)

The policies we are living with today are bad for all Americans because

1. The immigrant or temporary laborer produces foods, products, and services at more affordable prices.  At a time when gasoline is skyrocketing and general cost of living expenses are sharply increasing, why do we want to add to this inflation?

2. Undocumented workers consume some amount of public social services and are unable to pay their fair share through taxes (because they are undocumented and have no clear way to pay).  Why do we overlook this income?

3. The bulk of the Mexican “illegal guest workers” are wonderful people who given the fullness of time would enrich America.  Like all the other immigrant groups before them, they will add to the American fabric.  Mexicans are family oriented, hard working, and patriotic people.  What more could we want?

4. If not Mexicans, then who will work in these jobs?  And if you say it is other Americans providing these companies pay higher wages, then I ask, who will be able to buy these products and services?

We all should be opposed to “undocumented” aliens but to restrict the availability of freely willing Mexican workers, is a large mistake for the American economy and for the future development of the Mexican economy.  Our next President must bring a preference for common sense and fairness and address the immigration discussion purposefully. 

A New Theme?

May 24, 2008

Senator Jim Webb has been leading a bi-partisan effort to improve the benefits our service men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan would receive.  Center stage is a much stronger package of education benefits.  For reasons that are not quite clear, President George W Bush has opposed the bill.  John McCain, also for reasons unclear, has joined the “chicken in chief” (remember George was absent when his flight physical was needed in order for him to qualify for deployment to Vietnam) in rejecting this bill.  You must conclude that George and John think alike.

Senator Barack Obama in a campaign speech called attention to the seeming contradiction saying McCain claimed to be a true friend of the military person and yet he was opposing the bill.  Rather than answer this criticism with a clear statement summarizing his objections, McCain chose instead to discredit his opponent and say he was not going to be lectured by someone who chose not to wear the cloth of the military.  Is this a new theme?

Interestingly, beside the chief chicken’s forgetful memory, Dick Cheney chose the route of 5 deferments.  I would say that is a pretty good 1-2 combo.  McCain may have forgotten that Obama came to military age after the US had moved to an all volunteer army.  Obama, like everyone else, was under no obligation, real or implied to join the military.

The new theme appears to be a combination of patriotism and service to country which McCain has and will claim Obama lacks.  McCain should be cautious in this strategy because in addition to being mean spirited, it is inaccurate.  Obama is no less a patriot or has done no less service to his country than McCain.  Obama’s service has been quite different to be sure.  Being a prisoner of war is not a greater service to your country than being an ordinary soldier, peace corps member, or community activist.  Although McCain gave more of his personal freedom, he did not ask to be a prisoner, it just happened that way.

I wonder whether McCain really thinks the same as Bush?

The Blessing of High Gas Prices

May 23, 2008

Yesterday I filled my SUV gas tank and I was unable to fill it completely until I gave the attendant my credit card again.  There is a $ 75 limit associated with my credit card and in trying to fill it I exceeded that amount.  The Bush Administration would like me to think that the high price of gas is due to the Chinese and the Indians using so much gasoline, and the Saudis (and others) refusing to pump more.  While the Chinese and other developing economies are clearly consuming more oil, the Saudis could not make a big difference if they did try to pump more.

In addition to normal supply and demand, there are, some say, three other factors at play.  (1) There is speculation with oil traders practicing the game that prices always go up and no matter what they pay, they can sell it at a higher price tomorrow, and make a profit.  (2) There remains a lot of instability in the oil producing world and the fear that oil supply might be disrupted is a real fear.  The US, of course, has itself to blame for screwing up Iraq and the Middle East in general.  (3) Probably the largest effect is the devaluation of the US dollar.  Arguably the dollar is 50% of its value when President George W Bush began his Iraq War and had he not followed this foolish course, and even more foolishly financed it with borrowed money, oil might today sell for $ 60-70 per barrel rather than the $ 120+ that it is now.

The blessing however is the sharp punch in the nose that all Americans are now experiencing with higher fuel and transportation costs.  The one unique characteristic of America and Americans is the constant need and desire to travel.  Our whole life style is built around mobility.  What we have never faced up to is the recognition that this style costs more than other styles.  With cheap oil, you could not see the real costs.  In Europe, for years and years, fuel has been expensive largely due to extra taxes, and as a result Europeans have developed more energy conscious living styles.  It is time for America to begin making some of these trade offs and even more urgent is to apply its innovation to developing real alternatives like wind, wave, and solar power.

Which candidate do you think will bring this focus?  

While America Slept

May 22, 2008

The Bush Administration and its many supporters ranging from neoconservatives to AIPAC to the Christian “for profit” right religious groups would like the American public to think there has been a terrorist behind every tree and the Bushies have been there to protect us.  From such obscene uses of Government power as the invasion of Iraq to Terri Schaivo to Guantanamo, this Administrations has squandered time, money, and the hope for a brighter American future.  For our next President the task will be enormous since the medicine to fix America will not taste so good.

As bad as the Bush Administration has been, one of the underlying causes for its  malfeasence has been how campaigns raise funding and what the obligations each Congress person has in return.  Cleaver political action groups, of course, give to both parties and both candidates.  In this manner they get a seat at the table no matter what.  The American public seems to have lost sight of this issue.  We are reminded often that the first amendment guarantees unlimited spending since free speech is a bedrock American value.  And so it should be but we should all ask the question “why is it necessary to spend over $ 300 million between Obama and Clinton for an office that pays 3 orders of magnitude less than that.  You might think ego is the reason but why would others support Barack’s or Hillary’s ego so much if that was the main reason? 

We must recognize first that the candidates do not spend their own money.  It comes from others.  We must recognize that there is a cottage industry set up around each candidacy.  There are strategists, managers, arrangers, publicists, field organizers, media managers, and so on.  There are people to raise money and people to spend money.  There are policy developers and spin masters.  There are the communication experts and today, internet wizzards.  All this takes money.  

For the past 8 years the Bush Administration has pushed as much money as it could in the direction of its major supporters.  All Government decisions had to pass a “does this help us” test. 

  • we said no to global warming
  • we said no to science (eg stem cell research)
  • we said no to Middle East peace (eg Iraq invasion plus blatant Israel favoratism)
  • we said no alternate energy development (dig for more oil)
  • we said no to “paying our way” (increased debt and weakened dollar)
  • we said no to energy conservation (hello $ 4 /gallon oil)

All of this can be traced to promises made to financial backers.  I hope the “straight talk express” and “change you can believe in” understand the flip side of the political donation.

The Last Scene

May 21, 2008

Yesterday’s primaries in Oregon and Kentucky made the outcome of the Democratic nomination process almost certain.  As they say it is not over until it is over.  Obama now has a majority of elected delegates and is awaiting Hillary’s official withdrawal.  It is abundantly clear that either Obama or Clinton would make a far superior President than our current one.  It is a shame that they could not alternate, two years for one and then two years for the other.   But there can only be one candidate.

The longer Hillary stays in, the longer the uncertainty of who will be the Democratic nominee and probably the next President.  In one sense, who cares?  Presidential campaigns usually begin on Labor Day and run wide open until the November election.  Why do we need to hear incessantly between now and Labor Day about each candidate?

The only reason I can think of is a fairly negative observation.  The ideological divide that Republicans have built over the past 8+ years has allowed some really demented and hateful people to spend money to tear down one candidate for no other purpose than to enable the election of a Republican.  While the election of a Republican, even one who is very conservative, is the choice of American voters, the rise of these hate groups who distort fact, do not do anyone a useful service.  (Just look at the last 8 years with George W Bush.)  These negative speakers try to create a poor image of the Democratic candidate so that voters think of that image and not what the candidate says or does.

So the sooner the “last scene” of the primary takes place, the sooner Obama can focus on finishing the definition of who he is and why he will be the better choice.  There will be more time to smoke out the “crap throwers” and tie them firmly to John McCain (who will deny any knowledge or control over these groups).  John Kerry was a loser from the start so his “swift boating” (as disgusting as it was) only partly contributed to his defeat.  Barack Obama is a far more compelling candidate and will not be thrown off course with hate rhetoric.  The prospects of “Bush III” is far more dangerous than anything imaginable that hate groups could put forth.