Thursday, October 23, 2008

Reason #6: I don't like him all that much

Barack is a little more centrist than I'd like.  Position-wise, I was more aligned with Dennis Kucinitch.

That's gotta make somebody feel a bit better.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Reason #5: Obama has the better energy policy

The two energy plans compared.

There are actually several points of agreement. Both favor a cap-and-trade system for regulating CO2. Though Obama sets a slightly more ambitious target, both put that target way out at 2050, making progress difficult to gauge. Neither candidate is currently proposing to open ANWR to drilling (though I'm convinced that if McCain dies in office, Palin will have it sucked dry before he's buried). Both are eager to develop alternatives to our coal-fired energy system, with McCain being far more ready to go nuclear.*

I like most of McCain's energy plan, but I think Obama's is broader and more comprehensive. There are two things I'd like to address from McCain's plan.

The first is the summer gas tax holiday. I think it's a bad idea; so bad, in fact, that I was really surprised that McCain hadn't pulled it from the plan. The government would be passing on $10 billion in lost revenues, but the money will probably go to the oil companies, not to drivers. Dropping the price would only increase demand, which would shoot the price back up to its previous levels. End result, bigger profit margins for the oil companies, same price at the pump.

The second thing is nuclear energy. McCain points to France as a model -- which has to be a Republican first. But look at the drawbacks from a right-wing perspective. France's energy infrastructure is almost entirely nationalized. I think that's an almost unavoidable consequence of choosing nuclear energy. From the enormous capital investment to the inherent danger in the fuel and byproducts, nuclear energy demands big government intervention.

Or, to put it another way, a move to deregulate the nuclear industry would be about as popular as giving Enron nuclear warheads.

So, here are the things I like about Obama's plan. He's talking about weatherizing 1 million energy-inefficient homes a year. This will reduce energy consumption, while giving purpose and direction to idle construction workers. Old manufacturing centers will be revitalized and retooled to build green tech. Obama's plan calls for ramping up fuel economy standards, while providing tax incentives for advanced technologies. That should ease Detroit's concerns that higher fuel standards will destroy their business.

In fairness, McCain proposes a slightly smaller tax incentive, though for a smaller range of vehicles.

But I have to ask. Candidates, where is my electric bicycle subsidy?

Obama's plans seem to focus more on promoting the technologies of the future, and making the United States the center of a technological revival. McCain, with his focus on expanded drilling and nuclear power, along with his "Drill, baby, drill" running mate, seem to be trying to eke out the last drops of a dirty and unsustainable technology. He won't place any more tax burden on oil companies, for fear of underfunding the next wave of oil exploration and expansion, which seems to indicate which activities a McCain administration would encourage.

* Pun intended.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Reason #4: A bunch of reasons

All eloquently explained by Colin Powell.

Yeah, I was going to do energy policy today. But the news cycle demands that we talk about this instead.

Update: Reason #4.5 is actually a reason to vote for whoever you think will do worse by the economy. The glass is half full.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Reason #3: (and why not?) Because he's black

Is that to say that race should be a deciding factor when choosing your candidate. If it were, then Palin's womanity would be nearly as relevant. Still, as a firmly decided voter, I think that pulling the lever for Obama is going to feel, well, historic.

We haven't had that many presidential firsts, come to think of it. Kennedy was the first Catholic. Bill Clinton was the first honorary black president. Aside from that, it's really a long, unbroken string of white males of varying ages.

There's something compelling about a role model on the national stage. Hillary Clinton helped young women dream of becoming president. Sarah Palin let middle-aged Republican women dream of field dressing a moose. I can't exactly claim expertise on the experiences of any minority group, and I know that (despite Obama's impressive ability to speak on racial issues) an Obama presidency isn't going to heal the racial divides or unite the nations in peace and harmony. That's Bono's job.

But I can imagine that an Obama presidency might give some young African-American kid permission to dream of what he or she can accomplish in this society. That's no small thing, and something I'm glad for.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Reason #2: Also the economy

I promised to talk about "trickle up economics." Ideally, it means that money is put in the hands of poor and middle-class people, the money is used to buy things, and that helps the wealthy to flourish.

For a long while now, the other sort of trickle-up has been at work. We've cut social spending and indebted our grandkids in order to finance tax cuts for those who have the most. The incomes of the wealthiest have skyrocketed, while the median income is actually falling (adjusted for inflation). The folks on Forbes' list of the 400 wealthiest Americans have amassed more wealth than the bottom 20% combined.

Wealth inequalities of this scale don't just incite envy. They degrade society, by giving the privileged the power to rewrite the rules in their favor, to control the discourse that is vital to a democracy, and to increase their advantage by dipping directly into the public trough.

All this might be an acceptable trade-off, if lavishing such rewards on the few really drove the economy. But I don't find the claim credible. Talent and work ethic are far more equitably distributed than that. Moreover, the people who are the best at their jobs are usually the ones who are doing what they love, and couldn't be lured away from their profession for a small pay raise. If anything, outrageous pay would lure the greediest to try and trample over more effective leaders and more intelligent decision-makers.

That seems to be happening now. I've seen an amazing graph, which I can't seem to find right now. It plots worker productivity and median income over time. In the decades after World War II, the two rose in lockstep. As individuals were better able to create wealth, they reaped some of the reward for their own wealth creation.

But for the last, oh let's say eight years, a different picture has emerged. Productivity still increases, but median income goes flat, perhaps even trending down a bit. Does this mean that only the upper crust were doing more and better work, which only they were rewarded for? Or did the owners of businesses simply decide to redirect more wealth into their own wallets?

Just as Democratic presidencies create more jobs (see Reason #1), they also raise the median income nearly twice as fast as Republican administrations do. Only the truly wealthy see their lot improve under Republican presidencies.

So reason #2: vote for Obama, cuz I'd really love to buy me a dune buggy.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Reason #1: The economy

Welcome to my blog, gentle readers. I've gathered you here today to answer a challenge given by certain beloved parties: Give me reasons to vote for Obama. In keeping with a time-honored, downright hokey format, I'll attempt to put up one reason each day between now and the election. Think of me as an advent calendar for the Democratic messiah, but without the fun toy surprises.

Today's reason: Democrats are better for the economy.

Now, there are many ways to judge the overall health of the economy, from the total economic activity, to the ever-jittery numbers of the stock market, to the number of people employed. Each of these measures may say something different. Stocks often go up because a company announces plans to lay off workers. But as I've written before, I don't find the first two to be particularly useful as measures of "how we're doing."

Not so with employment numbers. As happiness researchers have discovered, short of the death of a loved one, almost nothing is as injurious to a person's happiness as losing his or her job. My personal experience confirms this. Being unemployed just sucks.

So we get to the meat of reason #1. Democratic presidents have an astonishing history of creating more jobs than Republican ones. Here's a recent article from the LA Progressive: Who creates jobs? Democratic presidents do. The figures show that even the worst-performing Democratic job creator (Kennedy) quite evenly matched with the best Republican job creators (Nixon and Reagan).

Toward the bottom of the article, the author points out that, on occasions where the Democratic party controlled the Presidency and both houses of Congress, job growth has been a rocking 3.8%, compared to Reagan's 2.3%. He also indicates that, while the correlation is less clear for Congress, Democratic congresses have tended to outperform Republican congresses.

Let's call this the trickle-up theory of economics. When you do things to improve the lives of the impoverished and the middle class, the economy improves. When you expand access to health care, you create jobs in the health care industry to feed that demand. When you raise the minimum wage, you make employment more desirable, and put money in the hands of people who will use it to buy goods and services, rather than sending it chasing across the globe in search of some unsustainable 20% return on investment. When you invest in public infrastructure, you create jobs today, and build the things which will support the economic activity of tomorrow. When you invest in public education, you do the same.

For the last eight years, the Republicans in Washington have been fighting for their own form of "trickle-up economics." Only now it's become a torrent, which has led to many of the problems we see today. More on that tomorrow.

Final note: this blog has often been written without accounting for possible consumption by my family. I usually write angry, and I sometimes express worrying opinions, and use bad words to do so. Go ahead and explore, but be warned.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Blame Freddie Mac and ACORN for everything

There is an emerging mythos among the Right, pinning the whole of our current financial crisis on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. As the tale is told, these two institutions, under pressure from the government to make more loans to the poor and minorities, forced banks to lend to unqualified applicants, and those bad loans eventually drove the market into free-fall.

Daniel Grossman of Slate vehemently disagrees. So does ummm.... I guess his name is Barry Ritholtz. And also some guy named Robert Gordon. Who cares who they are. They're saying what I want to hear.

More to the point, they say it very convincingly. No regulation anywhere required anybody to make loans without vetting an applicant's credit or verifying his or her income. In 2004, Bush weakened the Community Reinvestment Act, weakening the supposed government pressure to lend to minorities. Yet subprime activity accelerated. Finally, most of the subprime loans were made by institutions that weren't under government pressure at all.

The fact is, these are loans that the financial industry wanted to make, no government coercion necessary. Why? Because even the riskiest loan could be packaged up into a AAA-certified package. Thanks to skyrocketing housing prices, even if a loan went bad, the mortgage owner would simply foreclose on a property that was now worth far more than they'd loaned out. Complex mortgage insurance schemes meant that the financial world could delude itself into believing that there was absolutely zero risk.

The two causes I see are 1) Greenspan's super-low interest rates, which made lending cheap, and stupid lending enticing. 2) Government deregulation, especially as it applies to the regulation of the sort of "innovative" financial schemes that allowed lenders to take $150,000 loaned to a paranoid schitzophrenic named Wilbur, package it up with a hundred other risky loans, and sell the whole rickety package in what amounts to a risk-laundering scheme.

The second part of the myth involves John McCain "sounding the alarm". How did McCain actually act on his prescience? According to a random source, McCain launched into action. He gave one speech on the senate floor, which basically regurgitated the contents of a recent investigation, and added his name to a bill that subsequently died in committee. That's a pretty weak response, if you truly believe that McCain had the foresight to see all this coming two years ago. At least with Obama's overblown claims of foresight, he chose the more appropriate target (subprime lending itself).

Reading the news coverage back then, it sounds like the problems with Fannie Mae had more to do with massaged earnings reports than risky lending practices. In other words, it's not the same poison that is rattling the economy today.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

In this time of deepest national crisis...

...McCain's campaign decides to go crazy negative. For the good of the country, of course.

Let's start with this attempt to smear Obama using guilt by association. Obama did work with William Ayers, though the very New York Times article Palin is bragging about having read discounts the extent of their association. That work entailed serving as a board member for the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, which helped create local school councils to give parents more influence over their kids' schools. Real sick, dangerous, revolutionary stuff, let me tell you.

William Ayers is

Let's turn now to Sarah Palin's own unsavory associations. Her husband, Todd, was a member of the Alaska Independence Party from 1995 to 2002 (at which point he went all wishy-washy, putting himself down as "undeclared"). The party (a subset of the Constitution Party, whom I find absolutely reprehensible), believes that Alaska is not legitimately a U.S. state*. They believe Alaska has full right of secession, along with the right to nullify any federal laws they don't like.

Sound familiar? The U.S. fought a civil war over those last two principles.

Of course, Todd Palin never killed anyone in pursuit of those principles. But, Obama didn't marry William Ayers and have five kids with him. I humbly suggest that Todd Palin's warped political principles have a stronger influence on his wife than Ayers' had on Obama.

Now on to Palin's other scandalous association:

In a televised interview last spring, Senator John McCain, Mr. Obama’s Republican rival, asked, “How can you countenance someone who was engaged in bombings that could have or did kill innocent people?”

Given the source of the question, the irony here is unbearable.

1) Did John McCain engage in bombings? Of course. He probably detonated more explosives in one bombing run than The Weathermen did in the entire history of their organization.

2) Could those bombings have killed innocent people? Of course.

But, McCain never went out and targeted civilians. But then, The Weathermen generally avoided civilian targets as well. So we're left with two major distinctions between Ayers and McCain: social approval, and funding. Ayers had neither, McCain had both.

Am I knocking McCain's military service, or military service in general? I suppose, though not as harshly as reader(s?) might suspect. The desire to protect your country from threats is honorable. I served in the Army, so I understand the emotion on a gut level. But I also see the pervasive U.S. military presence around the world as a destabilizing influence that makes it more difficult to achieve our objectives peacefully.

But that's a long, long tangent. The main point is, that desire to protect is honorable. But sometimes that desire to protect, or to right some grave injustice, simply doesn't have a socially approved vehicle to convey it. The early abolitionists sometimes resorted to violence and mayhem. Anti-abortion activists have killed doctors, the ELF has torched houses, and animal-rights activists have vandalized businesses, all in the name of that same desire to protect the innocent and stop atrocities.

Sometimes this emotion goes horribly wrong. Sometimes we disagree over whether it has gone wrong. Lefties see it subverted when someone joins the Marines to "fight the terrorists" and ends up invading a country where no terrorists reside, or when they kill human beings in defense of a fetus which has only the potential for humanity. Righties consider anti-war and pro-nature violence illegitimate in much the same way. But at least when we're being reasonable, we can accept that these ill actions flow from healthy motives.

That's what bugs me about the clip. Governor Palin seems to be trying to shove Ayers into a box marked "EVIL", then shoving Obama in the same box for having associated with him. I guess Obama should have cut all ties to Ayers, just like he ought to cut ties with Iran, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela, Spain, and Finland until they become not-evil.**

This is unlike Joe Biden, who claimed in the debate that he made friends in the Senate by not questioning the motives of his opponents, Palin clearly has no compunctions about attacking the basic decency of her opponents, and her supporters (at least the ones at that rally) clearly love that fact.

The crowd is clearly acting on behalf of the same instinct, the desire to protect the U.S., the beacon of hope and democracy, from its' enemies. But in this case, those "enemies" are the New York Times, the Obama campaign, and -- let's face it -- the half of the country that doesn't ascribe to their worldview. After eight years of an incredibly divisive presidency that successfully pit us against each other, we should reject four more years of this sort of leadership.

Bah. Have a funny:

* This is based, if my understanding of their site is correct, on their assertion that the U.S. violated U.N. laws governing self-determination. Funny, this is the first time I've heard of such a group treating U.N. declarations as anything but toilet paper.

** Yeah, Finland. They know what they did.