Thursday, September 25, 2008

How Now, Cash Cow?

I think if you're John McCain now, you're looking around and wondering if things can get any worse for you. Wall Street and the financial sector, which you thought were coming out of the woods, retreated into the depths of the forest and barricaded themselves in their log cabin. Your Vice Presidential candidate did not come off too smoothly in a trip to the U.N. and made gaffes in front of Katie Couric which a) were worse than what happened with Charlie Gibson and b) not exactly going to fill anyone with any confidence in her ability to retain and repeat information (otherwise known as your record as a Senator). And did I fail to mention that you campaign manager didn't completely sever his ties to the people he lobbied for?

So you need to do something to get the swagger back and look, well... presidential. What to do... what to do... wait-a-minute! I'll suspend my campaign! I'll tell the American people that this financial crisis is too important to be handled in a partisan fashion and needs my full attention! It'll make me sound vigorous, in-charge, ready for action! Yeah!


First off, it seems Congress is able to build a bailout plan without your help. Second, even so, not all your Republican buddies are all that keen on it -- mainly because the people back home are restless, there are several key states where Republicans are vulnerable for House and Senate seats, and to give in so easily would look bad. It may mean angering their Wall Street contributors, but fat lot of good their money is right now!

Third, Obama called you on it. Shouldn't a man who-would-be-President be able to handle multiple things? It's not like the economy will stop collapsing long enough for you to be able to deal with Iran and North Korea.

And fourth, coming a full two weeks after the crisis reared its ugly head, doesn't it seem a bit disingenuous? Where was your leadership last week or the week before? Did the whole thing catch you and your staff by surprise?

And another thing -- why suspend the campaign? Don't you have a "qualified" Vice Presidential nominee who can hit the campaign trail in your absence and continue spouting the half-truths, obfuscations, and baseless accusations just as well as you can? Or are you afraid she'll say the wrong thing, "pull a Quayle" so-to-speak?

I'm sorry Senator McCain, but you were not prepared for this and your instinctive reaction tells the country more about your ability to be President than any attack ad or campaign stump speech. You dropped the ball. The people you surrounded yourself with weren't smart enough to take true advantage of the situation, to get you into your shining armor and up on your trusty steed fast enough. And now it looks like Congress is going to solve the problem without you and possibly without full Republican support, and that's going to make you look even weaker.

Do yourself a favor -- debate on Friday. At this point, you have nothing left to lose.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

It's The Mortgages, Stupid!

So now, the backpedaling on bailouts has begun. John McCain was "firmly" against them, as the "fundamentals of our economy are strong." However, now that the Fed is having to bail out AIG to keep them from taking down their sector of the market, now perhaps they're a good idea.

I could go on raking McCain over the coals for this, but Obama has been hedging on the issue as well, not wanting to "second guess the Fed" on the need for these bailouts. The fact is, Obama wants tighter regulation to keep this from happening in the future and McCain wants to continue to deregulate and let the market take care of itself. Given that the current level of deregulation led to this crisis, guess which plan would work better in my estimation?

But I don't want this to be a political diatribe. Instead, I want to point the U.S. Government's attention to the actual problem here. As usual, those in power cannot see the forest for the trees -- the failure of banks and brokerage houses is not the cause of the problem, but a symptom. The cause of the problem is the mortgages that the banks handed out that were invested in by the brokerage houses. Those mortgages are in foreclosure at an ever-increasing rate, sucking resources out of these large firms as they try and stem the bleeding. This is leading to problems for Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, et. al.

The solution to the problems on Wall Street has little to do with pumping up these failing companies. Conventional wisdom says that these firms made these mistakes and they should pay by failing, but that is a short-sighted view, given that these firms and their investing is the backbone of our economy. That said, the government should not simply be pumping money into their coffers. Instead, the government should have started trying to avoid the problem entirely by helping the people in danger of foreclosure.

As the title goes -- it's the mortgages, stupid!

Now, all these banks and mortgage brokers shot themselves in the foot by handing out no-doc, sub-prime, adjustable-rate mortgages like so much Halloween candy, to people who in many cases were clearly going to be unable to support them. They front-loaded the mortgages with low rates and low payments to get people on the hook, and then were shocked to find out that when the rates (and thus the payments) went up, suddenly people couldn't afford to make them anymore! And so around 18 - 24 months ago the great wave of foreclosures began, leaving banks holding title to thousands of homes with no owners, who were paying no money for them. And as the inventory piled up, the booming housing market hit the brakes hard, causing this pileup on Wall Street, since somewhere a few years back, someone thought it would be a good idea to issue securities tied to this debt.

So now we see Wall Street giants being felled by the stupidity and greed of some mortgage brokers and bankers. And it didn't have to be. Because when the crisis was beginning, Congress could have throttled it but good by taking the money they are now throwing away on bailouts and instead pumping it into these rotten mortgages to prop them up. I'm not saying they should have paid off everyone's sub-prime mortgage, but they could have stepped in, paid one-third say, and then told the mortgage holders to refinance the remainder. In the worst of cases, perhaps they could have paid the mortgages down to a higher degree, or swapped them out for FHA mortgages. In any event, taking some prudent steps before the crisis grew too much would have saved time and money, and Wall Street would not be wandering around with a dazed look on its disheveled face.

So now more hard-earned taxpayer money, instead of directly benefiting the taxpayers, is going into the coffers of Freddie Mac, Bear Stearns, AIG, et. al., where it will keep these entities afloat but benefit you and I not one iota, unless we have significant investments with them. They will allow the tottering, badly regulated system to keep operating while at the same time putting very little onus on those who created the mess in the first place. And Congress will hem and haw and harrumph over stricter regulation, all the while being lobbied by firms hired by the very same firms that have been bailed out, to keep the regulations from being too strict.

Because it's not like this will ever happen again? Right?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Deconstructing Sarah Palin

The American people have been bombarded by salvo after salvo of Sarah Palin. From the announcement of her candidacy for Vice President, to her acceptance speech, to her whirlwind campaign stops with John McCain, to interviews with Charlie Gibson, and finally to being lampooned on Saturday Night Live. The news media seems to have a case of "all Sarah Palin, all the time."

The novelty has worn off.

It goes to show that everyone has a short memory, because I seem to recall that a woman was running for President not all that long ago, what was her name... oh yeah!!! Hillary Clinton! She was running for President, not for the runner-up slot. And but for some political maneuvers which were not indicative of her ability nor professional in their presentation, she would probably be running against John McCain and Sarah Palin would be in Alaska, still shooting wolves, moose, and bears. And we would not be subject to a campaign of Palin-ization.

This goes to show quite plainly that the pick was totally political, not based on her abilities.

OK, argue with me if you like. Point out that she was a mayor, then a governor. Point out all the things she's done to help Alaska get its hands on more oil money. Laud her if you will for being a working mother, who kept a Down Syndrome child when most might have taken the expedient route. But don't claim that any of that makes her a solid pick to be our first female Vice President.

What about Olympia Snowe? Senior Senator from Maine since 1995, prior to that spending 16 years as a Representative, orphaned at 9 and raised by an aunt and uncle. Has quite a list of Committee assignments:

  • Committee on Finance

    • Subcommittee on Health Care

    • Subcommittee on International Trade and Global Competitiveness

    • Subcommittee on Taxation, IRS Oversight, and Long-term Growth

  • Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship (Ranking Member)

  • Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

    • Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security

    • Subcommittee on Interstate Commerce, Trade, and Tourism

    • Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard (Ranking Member)

  • Select Committee on Intelligence

A hawk when it comes to foreign affairs, more moderate for other issues (abortion and gay rights among them), and definitely fiscally conservative (opposed George Bush's tax cut plans). In 35 years as an elected official, she has never lost an election. Frankly, she's more a "maverick" than John McCain!

And I could go on. I used Olympia Snowe to make a point: it's kind of hard to defend Sarah Palin on her merits when you had to pass over so many other more qualified candidates. McCain has asked her to be one step away from the Oval Office and yet if the moment came and she was forced to pick up the reins, I think it would be beyond her. I think she would be completely beholden to the advisers McCain would leave behind to carry her through her Presidency.

She may have smarts, and savvy, and be a fierce debater, but the office of President requires compromise not obstinacy, conviction not conversion, and a willingness to rise above and beyond your own persona to do what is right for all Americans. It requires stepping down from the bully pulpit and pulling up those who cannot pull up themselves. It requires compassion for all those in need. It demands the greatest sacrifices of self, because there is no vacation from being President. It requires seeing the broadest picture of the world while at the same time understanding the subtle nuances of what makes the world work. And while a President can surround himself or herself with trusted advisers, at some point the decision falls on the President's shoulders.

I have seen and heard a lot of Sarah Palin in the last two weeks, and I cannot say I am impressed. She is focused solely on repeating the same tired patter of the Republican Party line and making it clear that her personal beliefs are more important than your or mine. She and her followers have clothed her in the cloak of feminism, but her actions and beliefs speak of a woman who feels that other women have no right to determine what they do with themselves and their bodies. She would put her own beliefs ahead of the greater good, and to me that spells zealotry.

In the end, she is condemned for what she is: John McCain's lap dog, his smokescreen, his attempt to pander to people rather than give them his "straight talk." And while for now she is some sort of warped feel-good story, all too soon the reality of the fight she has gotten involved in will come to her, and she will be found wanting.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Why Some Americans Don't Trust You, Senator Obama

It's quite simple really -- you upset the status quo.

For one, you're a "Black man." Nobody is outright playing the race card, but then no one would be stupid enough to. And yet you know that behind closed doors in America, there are people actually frightened at the thought of you holding the reins. Their fear is that there will some kind of retribution for slavery or there will be rioting in the streets as your brethren decide to "punish the White man." It's frightening that living in an age of information as we do, such parochial views are still widespread.

For another, you're a Democrat. Yes, the mere fact that you are not of the party in power has them worried, at least those who have been making out quite well living off of other people's money and resources. The "fat cats" have been having a party for 8 years and they are afraid that the chips and dip are gone, the bar is closing, and they will soon have to stumble blearily back to the cloakroom. The idea that very soon they might actually be forced to fork over some of their money to foot the bill for the extravaganza has them spooked.

And further still, you are a progressive. You want to change how our federal government operates. You want to take away the pacifier that is oil and replace it with renewable energy. You want Congress to stop handing out candy (earmarks) to the States. You want everyone, everyone, to be able to go to the doctor or the hospital when they need to. And what you want everyone's kids to have a level playing field when it comes to education. You're threatening to upset the balance of power, to tear down class distinctions and remove the things that separate "us" from "them." In essence, you want to change the structure of society, and that will not do.

And you're upbringing leaves a lot to be desired. No nuclear family, in a suburb, with a white picket fence around the house and church every Sunday. Raised by a single mother and your grandparents -- who are you kidding! That does not make a family! Exposing children to other cultures and belief systems, confusing them with different ideas. What was your mother thinking?

And to top it off, you're a smart man. The smart kids are the ones who get picked on in high school. They're usually the kids with little money, no fancy stuff to wear, a simple life that affords them the time to learn and grow. They are not supposed to be successful, only to supply those who are successful with grist for the mill. There can be no working your way up the food chain -- you have to be invited up to the heights. We can't have people getting the idea that yes, anyone can be President. That will never do, or the next thing you know, Washington, D.C. will be filling up with people who shun special interests and are not susceptible to graft and blackmail, who want to work for the common good.

Yes, Senator Obama, you scare some people. Not me, because your life resonates with mine in many ways and because you seem to hold the promise of the future out as a reality, something I have always striven for. No, you scare those people who are used to things being "the way they are" and don't care much for progressive social thinking. Those are the people you have to convince if you are to succeed; not many, but enough of those who are sitting on the fence to tip the balance. You've got to show them that their world will change but it will be good change and won't mean the end of their way of life. Do that, and this election is in the bag.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Poem For 9/11


And so it sits and waits for her
As it does most days
There in the parking lot
But she is not coming

Under the empty blue sky
Sun beating down on metal and glass
It waits for her return
But she is not coming

Each train glides into the station
Brimming with people
Returning from a long day
But she is not coming

The Sun moves across the sky
Its rays grow longer by the hour
And still it cannot realize
That she is not coming

Day passes into night
The trains only trickle in now
And she is not among the riders
Because she is not coming

And the days now pass
Until finally they come and tow it away
It waited and waited and waited
But she never came

-- For all those who did not come home.