Saturday, May 31, 2008

To Barack Obama from an old white guy

A little while ago, I posted the video you can watch above to YouTube, as a response to a video from the Obama campaign which you can watch here. If you don't find my video in the "video responses" section, it means the Obama campaign didn't "accept" it -- that is, decided they'd rather not have it associated with their video.

If you didn't have the patience to listen to me go on for close to ten minutes, here's the gist of it -- I tell Obama that what I really want him to do is undo the Reagan Revolution. I tell him he should significantly raise taxation of the very rich, re-regulate a lot of what's been deregulated over the past quarter-century, and run a government that's actively pro-union. Beyond that, I want him to put government workers back on the payroll to do most of the work that's been contracted out, and I assert that the Iraq War was started specifically so the private sector could loot the Treasury.

Yes, it's one of my usual diatribes, and if it actually appears on YouTube as a response to Obama's video, I'll be flabbergasted -- but there's at least a chance that somebody in the Obama campaign will have looked at it.

The truth is that I don't expect Obama could accomplish what I think needs accomplishment even if he wanted to. The biggest problem I see with an Obama presidency has nothing to do with Obama. Rather, it has to do with the fractious nature of the Democratic Party. Will Democrats in Congress unite behind Obama if he wins? I'm guessing they'll give him all the stunning support they gave, say, Jimmy Carter. Thanks in part to Clinton pulling the party to the right, there are quite a few powerful Democrats who are quite conservative -- and the fact that Congress becomes more and more of a millionaire's club with each election cycle won't much help either.

By the way, I tried to make the video more visually interesting than just my talking head by adding a bunch of stills and animations, some of which are moderately amusing. If you haven't watched it yet, please give it a try.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Bush gets it right (!?)

Okay, it's not likely he did it for the right reasons, but he did it. He vetoed the farm bill.

Also, I suspect he probably wouldn't have vetoed it if it hadn't passed by veto-proof majorities in both houses. He certainly didn't do any arm twisting to get Republicans to uphold his veto. Nevertheless, he vetoed it. Hooray Bush. Boo, Pelosi. Boo, Reid.

Every five years, Congress becomes truly bipartisan as the Congressional Creatures of Agribusiness join together to enhance the bottom lines and kiss the well-lined bottoms of the largest corporate farmers. While many of the CCA are from the farm states, plenty are not -- but those others figure they need farm state support for their own diversions of taxpayer funds to Those Whose Backs Require Frequent Scratching. Honestly, I don't know if Reid and Pelosi are personally involved in any of those tit-for-tats, but both are strutting around as if they've done something truly wonderful by getting a bill they suggest could have been much worse.

Yes, yes, we know the bill includes some extra funding for food stamps, and a couple of sops to the environmentalists -- but it's still primarily a massive giveaway to those who need it least from a government already swimming in debt. It also violates every alleged "free trade" agreement the US is party to, but even the most vocal free-traders don't seem to care.

The farm lobby, as always, gets its way.

Friday, May 16, 2008

How did you spend your rebate?

I thought it was kind of serendipitous that my $600 rebate and my $650 fuel oil bill arrived on the same day. Easy come, easy go.

Today, though, I bought an immense heap of pork chops, a gigantic jug of laundry detergent, and a huge package of frozen breakfast sandwiches at Costco. I think I'd have bought those anyway, since no matter how bad the economy gets I will endeavor to continue eating and wearing clean clothes. (By the way, the frozen sandwiches cost no more than they would cost if I made them myself. Granted, they don't taste as good as homemade, but they also don't leave me with a greasy frying pan to wash.)

Okay, I also stopped at the music store and picked up a new harmonica holder, but I'm really trying to economize where I can. It's not because my income is down -- I recently started collecting Social Security, so my income is up quite a bit. Just the same, every time I pull into a gas station or shop at a super market, I feel my new income being drained away -- and I feel really fortunate to have that new income. What are other people doing?

In the meanwhile, though, the President, Wall Street, and most of the mainstream economists are talking as if the alleged "stimulus package" is about to deliver us from evil. I don't see it. I see virtually all the stimulus money going to the oil companies and agribusiness, and a good chunk of the agribusiness money going to the oil companies. In other words, the main thing I see the stimulus payments stimulating is the demand for oil.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Wimp factor?

Ah, ironies upon ironies!

A woman competing in a testosterone infused environment, Hillary Clinton saw the need to demonstrate her, ah, manliness. It was that need more than anything else, I believe, that led her to vote in favor of authorizing GWB to invade Iraq. After all, saber rattling is a very manly activity, and those who demur might be considered, well, effeminate. We can't have some pansy leading the Free World, now -- can we?

And so Hillary never missed an opportunity to demonstrate that her lack of literal balls should not be construed as a lack of figurative balls. Yes, her political posturing did help to encourage the widespread suspicion that she might be a lesbian, but there was no helping that -- not if she ever was going to get a shot at the presidency.

Barack Obama, on the other hand, should have had the manliness thing sewn up. After all, in popular culture the black male is the very embodiment of unbridled male hormones. His problem, though, was exactly that -- our popularly conceived black man is entirely too scary to be elected President of the Harvard Law Review, much less President of the United States.

Obama found it necessary to cultivate his public image just as carefully as Clinton cultivated hers, except from an opposite perspective. He had to learn to be consistently calm, even tempered, and conciliatory. He had to eliminate any show of anger or aggression from his behavioral repertoire. Barack had to appear as "un-black" as Hillary appeared "un-feminine."

The result, as you must have noticed, is that Hillary out-machos Barack by a factor of three to one. She knocks back shots of whiskey while he's counting calories. I don't know if she could beat his bowling score, but now she doesn't even have to try. She even came up with a scenario for nuking Iran -- granted, a pretty far-fetched scenario where Iran nukes Israel first, but clearly that makes her a mensch. That schmekele Barack, though, won't even talk tough to Ahmedinijad. As it begins to look more and more like he'll be the Democratic candidate this Fall, Obama had better start dealing with what could be a serious problem.

It's commonly called "the wimp factor." Although the term was first used to accompany a photo of Bush Senior on the cover of Newsday in 1989, it's been a problem for many Democrats in the past. Think of Dukakis in the tank, Kerry windsurfing, even Adlai Stevenson offering his brilliant, intellectual analyses while the rest of America was chanting "I like Ike." Now think of how the press jumped all over Obama's allegedly "elitist" comments about the white working class from that speech he delivered in San Francisco last month.

Let's face it: there's nobody left in the United States who's really concerned about Barack Obama turning out to be a violent, gun toting mugger intent on raping white women. His real problem now is to start looking less like an Ivy League twit. It may not be easy, not after a lifetime of consciously assimilating himself to the culture of Ivy League twitdom, but it's something he must do -- and soon. He has to demonstrate that he is capable of real, down and dirty, testosterone laced aggression.

The fact is, though, that he can't demonstrate it against Hillary Clinton. A "real" man doesn't beat up on women -- not even women as formidable as Hillary. It's time for him to ignore Hillary (because real men are allowed to ignore women) and start consistently and systematically attacking John McCain. But how?

John McCain is not the sort of man who ever could be tarred with the brush of intellectualism. He has no connection to the Ivies, and graduated near the bottom of his class at West Point -- but that doesn't mean a populist attack on McCain can't work. McCain has flip-flopped like a beached mackerel since winning the Republican nomination. It shouldn't be hard to label McCain a sell-out -- a one-time maverick who's now in the pockets of the same mortgage bankers, oil company tycoons, and super-rich businessmen who are foreclosing, extorting, and cutting the jobs and wages of the rest of us.

The attacks should be personal, not generic. It's not enough to attack the financial elite -- Obama has to put aside his fastidious good manners and attack McCain himself. He has to forget all about McCain's war record and his age and anything else that might make him pull his punches. With luck, McCain even might lose his famous temper and say something stupid.

It's also time for Obama to drop the high-falutin' oratory about "coming together" and upgrading American political discourse. He's already cornered the market on what Bush Senior, in that same 1989 election, called "the vision thing," so it's time to move on. You can bet the Republican attack machine's political discourse will be just as brutal as it's ever been, and the only way to beat it is with a strong offensive.

Don't be a wimp, Barack. Hit hard, and hit now.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Words and numbers

Wall Street is irrationally optimistic, almost all the time. The only time it is otherwise is when it panics. I suppose optimism is required in a business where continuous growth of assets and earnings is required for the large majority to earn a living (and I'm told that majority truly despises the few who make a living by selling short). Clearly, someone of my melancholic disposition would not be a good fit at all.

The official unemployment figure dipped from 5.1% to 5.0% and Wall Street is ecstatic. Nobody seems to care that the "drop" in unemployment seems to have been caused by employers reducing the number of their full-time workers and hiring more part-timers, and that the percentage of those working part-time who want full-time jobs is higher than it's been since the Nixon Administration. Add those unhappy part-timers to the regular unemployed and the "discouraged" workers, who would work if they could find jobs but no longer are actively looking, and the real unemployment rate is about 12%.

Wall Street also was thrilled to learn that production continued to grow in April, albeit by a tiny fraction of a percent. Nobody seemed to find anything amiss when growing inventories of unsold products also were reported. Clearly, producers are reluctant to lay off their skilled, trained workers -- even as their sales drop. That's why employment figures lag behind the rest of the economy. When the workers finally are laid off, they'll stay laid off until the unsold products eventually are sold.

Don't even get me started on inflation. Whoever decided not to count food and energy when measuring inflation -- supposedly because their prices are "too volatile" -- couldn't have done it for any reason other than to cook the books. Count food and energy into current inflation figures, and inflation is more like 11%.

12% unemployment plus 11% inflation equals stagflation, the way I see it. It's too late to worry about it's arrival, because it's already here.

In the meanwhile, the presidential candidates are debating a two-month suspension of the gasoline tax. Great. The only really effective way to bring down gasoline and food prices is to restore the value of the dollar, and that won't happen while we're borrowing ourselves into a deeper and deeper hole.

For most Americans, economic growth stopped paying off when the current Administration came to power -- and anyway, growth isn't real unless it's paid for. Just ask the people whose homes are being foreclosed, who can 't continue in college for want of affordable loans, and who are paying big chunks of their monthly incomes in credit card interest and fees.

Growth has had its chance but, both fiscally and environmentally, Americans can't afford much more right now. Instead of growing more wealth for the few, it's time to start redistributing that wealth among the many. If poor and middle-class people get a chance to start spending some of the wealth the rich have locked up in speculative "investments" -- like commodities futures -- inflation will come down, employment will go up, and America will get back on track.

Wall Street might have to panic a bit in the process, but whatever happens, those eternal optimists eventually will see the silver lining.