Monday, November 03, 2008

A few words before we press the button/lever/chad

As we approach this historic vote, I figured I would chime in on a few key issues (since I helped stir up the hornets' nest among friends in the first place). My goal is not necessarily to critique McCain or Obama, but to instead comment on where we are and where we need to go:

Please forgive me in advance for jumping around - it's getting late.

We should never have gone to Iraq. It is now all too clear that the Bush/Cheney administration took advantage of that fact that Saddam was a well known, evil prick, and many Americans can't identify most Middle Eastern countries on a map, let alone understand the religion & ethnicity of the people who live in them. Saddam was no fan of Al Qaeda or ANY force that might cut in on his action. Dictators historically aren't real fans of competition. He also promoted a secular society, which, you know, kind of clashes with Al Qaeda, who are Islamic extremists. That's like Ralph Nader marrying an executive of Exxon/Mobil - it's not going to happen.

We need to shift our focus off of Iran and Iraq, and move it to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Yes, I said Pakistan, since that is most likely where Bin Laden and most of Al Qaeda are right now. Judging by the growing political instability of the country, it's also evident that Al Qaeda's intention is to cause as much trouble for American troops in Afghanistan as possible. . . .while they take over the Pakistani government next door. Quick reminder - Pakistan has WORKING NUKES. They aren't desperately looking for yellow cake uranium, aluminum tubes, or reprocessing facilities. They ALREADY HAVE THEM.

While I agree that we need to intervene in a few countries right now, how are we going to pay for it? As a citizen, I have not been asked to sacrifice anything, except my person freedoms. Maybe I'm slow, but I am uncertain on how that sacrifice helps finance a 1.8 billion dollar/week expenditure. In fact, I've even received money back from the government since 2001 through tax credits, rebates, stipends, etc. encouraging me to SPEND SPEND SPEND. So . . . my purchases of some caulk at Lowes and an iPhone from Apple help pay for this war? Obviously not, but I guess we won't explore how to pay for such things - let's just put them on the credit card. What could possibly go wrong?!

I think Obama will stand up to the war profiteers (the only business that seems to be thriving in this economy), and at the very least fight the RIGHT battles. Who knows, he may even be able to generate some support from long lost friends in the world so that it's just not our soldiers getting killed over there. McCain over the past 8 years has lost his way while trying to obtain support from the magical Neo-con Republican "base"; that misguided, fascist, psychotic sect of our country that represents less than 10% of our population, yet controls most of the current administration's policies. I am not trying to portray Republicans as evil, rather I am trying to remind you that the party has been taken over by extremists. In my opinion, extremists of ANY sort are bad, regardless of religion or political disposition. Extremism means that you do not tolerate anyone whose opinions differ from yours. In a Democracy, that's bad. Hopefully, the Republican party will undergo a revolution soon, so that the moderate voices of competent government servants such as Christine Todd Whitman and Tom Davis can be heard again. I haven't agreed with all of their policies in the past either, but at least they have brought forth sound [and inventive] ideas that have helped this country prosper, and in a responsible fashion. Needless to say, I am not a fan of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid either. As leaders, they are as inspiring as Abe Vigoda on Thorazine (and just as competent). To me, Obama represents the much needed generational change Powell discussed a few weeks ago (but I guess he's only supporting Obama because he's black, like Fox News and Rush Limbaugh claim).

So let's shift a little more focus on the economy. . . McCain's top adviser on the economy was (and to an extent, still is, as they remain close friends) Phil Gramm. Phil Gramm was a co-author of the Gramm-Leach-Biley act passed in September of 1999. This act effectively repealed the Glass-Steagal act, which was passed during the depression. Oh, excuse me, let me be specific.. . . . the depression of the 1930s, as opposed to the depression we are now facing. Shame on these three senators who erased important financial institution reforms, and shame on Bill Clinton who signed it into law. Again, let me restate this a little more clearly:
1) We encountered a depression during the 1930s, in part due to Harding/Coolidge and Hoover administration policies which reduced taxes and eliminated regulations during the 20s.
2) America spends more than a decade getting back on it's feet.
3) Starting in the late 90s, we eliminated the regulations passed in the 30s and lowered taxes.
4) We now act all frigin surprised that a depression/panic has begun, and may be suffering the fate of Japan circa 1982.

While I appreciate (and have agreed with) many Republican efforts to reduce bureaucracy, this is different. Regulation does NOT equal bureaucracy. I am simply talking about simple, basic RULES to defend ourselves against greed, a trait which is inherent in ALL human beings (some more so than others). Capitalism and democracy actually need these rules, otherwise, the system simply implodes due to an enormous disparity and/or by some other significant sociological event (i.e. revolution). I don't think we need a new agency manned with 16,000+ government employees, rather, we just need some rules here and there. Even Greenspan finally conceded last month that "hey, maybe assuming that the institutions would police themselves on how they handled derivatives was a bad idea."
Speaking of derivatives, please keep in mind that THIS is the real cause of the current crisis. It isn't due to ACORN (who McCain has supported in the past - plenty of you-tube videos out there), or forcing the government to give home loans to people who deserved them, etc. Some brilliant minds from our top educational institutions formed a new financial instrument. This instrument repackages risk and basically turns it into it's own commodity of sorts. However, without any regulations, this multi trillion dollar market spun out of control so bad, financial institutions didn't have an accurate account of what they own. Think about that for a second - the Citibanks, the Lehman Brothers with their tens of millions of dollars of computers, analysts, etc. didn't really have an idea of WHAT THE F they owned, much less the risk it represented!
The downturn of the housing market is the catalyst to this mess, but it was bound to happen anyway, thanks to lack of regulations and the insane, idiotic notion that bankers would not succumb to greed. We have experienced a real estate correction of some sort every 10-15 years, and it was never this bad. The bullshit "transfer of risk" dream in the residential mortgage market accomplished nothing except to crash the system. Both democrats and republicans did nothing while large groups of people were given access to credit they didn't deserve, or even ask for on many occasions (I think everyone on this thread has had plenty of experiences where credit just seemed too easily accessible). Shame on them.

By the way, Obama wants to roll back the clock on the tax system to the early 90s for families making more than 250k/year. We could get into a semantic argument about raising taxes vs. rolling back tax cuts, but . . . . hmm. . . .I think we all did pretty damn well during the 90s, and I know of many people who made more than 250k who also fared well and were not taxed to death. While this change in taxation may not directly create jobs, I don't think it will remove any either. Taxes on small business will be lowered under the Obama plan (including capital gains, allowing you to buy other businesses without the feds imposing prohibitive taxes). I agree with eventually moving more money to the states and local municipalities, but since we are in a war, I prefer we deal with that now, rather than dumping this on future generations. My kid(s) can help rearrange federal vs. state vs. local tax allocations some other day. Also, given that during the peak of the financial crisis, McCain changed his stance EVERY DAY FOR A WEEK, I don't really consider him competent to handle this type of problem moving forward. He clearly doesn't have a grasp of what is going on, and what we're in for.

Some unions (and this is based on my personal experience) have pushed things too far, and used their power unfairly to create gridlock amongst manufacturers who simply want to create a quality product or service at a reasonable price. However, jobs aren't leaving America in droves because of unions. For instance, on last check, there is no national union of software developers/engineers I am aware of, so who's responsible for those jobs going to India and other pan-asian countries? It's simple, the rate being charged is ridiculously less on the other side of the world (and there is a larger pool of educated engineers, but it's getting late, so I am not bringing education into the mix today). Union labor may have pumped up wages 20-30%, but wages in India & China are more then FIVE TIMES less. You will never compete with that. . . unless you actually reform tariffs, which everyone is afraid of doing for fear of overprotecting American-made goods (which could do more harm than good if not imposed properly). However, that doesn't mean you avoid the subject, which is what the Executive & Legislative branches of government have been doing for the past 10+ years. Shame on them for allowing companies like WalMart to move not just jobs, but operations from entire companies/suppliers overseas while giving the same companies TAX INCENTIVES. Yes, thank you for giving me the gun to shoot myself with.

There are small pockets of the rust belt that are starting to come back to life by retooling their operations so that instead of making washing machines (a losing battle), they are making things like large scale wind turbines (which come with tax incentives and are cheaper to produce domestically due to shipping costs). We have an enormous opportunity right now to change the world through green energy. "Drill baby drill" sounds like a great chant, but it doesn't mean much when we continue to use 25% of the world's oil supply, yet only produce around 4% of it. Even if drilling in ANWAR and offshore increases domestic production by 50%, that still leaves us with a 19% shortfall. On top of that, it will take another decade before we even see this increased production. By then, global demand will most likely have increased another 75% and our existing wells will have dried up some more. We need to start harnessing more readily-available sources of energy for conversion into electricity in my opinion. Wind and solar come to mind. Not only do you avoid paying people who pretty much hate us, but you avoid paying ANYONE on a recurring basis. Stick a wind turbine or a new thin-film solar cell array on your roof and generate your own power. Charge your own damn car. By getting rid of such a heavy dependence on oil, foreign or domestic, we may very well avoid another world war and finally propel ourselves into the future (no pun intended). THAT to me is freedom. I think Obama gets it, and McCain is still stuck on a 70s mentality where we can negotiate our way out of this somehow and just buy smaller cars for the time being.

Net neutrality is also another area where McCain (who admittedly does not know how to get online and rarely uses the Internet) is misguided. Thanks to all of the major telecoms in his pockets, he supports it. The main reason why the Internet has had such a significant impact on our lives in the past 15 years is in part due to net neutrality. Companies like Google would never have thrived without it. If you go to a pay per use model (like electricity), the tech industry will implode. Given that this has an impact on my own personal bottom line, I'll end my rant by using Sarah Palin's quotes (one of about a dozen phrases she is only able to speak I guess): Thanks, but no thanks.

Many thanks to my friends out there who contributed to a great dialogue. This has been an enjoyable thread to read and ponder over. As Justice Brandeis said, "In the frank expression of conflicting opinions lies the greatest promise of wisdom in government action".

Good night, and remember to VOTE!!!

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