Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Choice ...

So there have been all sorts of charges leveled at Barack Obama. That he was born in Kenya (the latest I have heard), that he is a secret communist or fascist, that he learned about politics in some fashion from one (or more) of maybe a dozen shadowy figures; William Ayres, Jeremiah Wright, or several other names I have heard in passing. The he wants to take money from the rich and give it to the poor (that accusation may have more traction). I wonder if it is all just because he is black. Obama seems to be doing much better than John Kerry was at this point. The American people seemed fed up with George Bush in 2004, but John Kerry seemed no better than a conventional choice, and in fact turned out to be something of weenie. In my opinion Barack Obama is also something of a weenie, but he wears it better. Obama comes off as a faculty member who has spent a lot of time trying pro bono cases, and has actually seen enough poverty to be able to think of it both in particular and make some generalizations. He also seems like a politician, in his way just as sharp as Sarah Palin but also able to hold his own (so to speak) with the likes of Daniel Moynihan. Could Obama be a communist? I suppose it could have been something that interested him in his youth, I really don’t know. But Obama seems to want to be President, seems very ambitious. I can’t believe any serious candidate for President would actually believe he could turn the United States into a communist nation. Obama has already promised to tax the rich and borrow from our future to put more money into the hands of both the poor and the middle class. So he would accomplish some symbolic wealth redistribution from the rich to the poor, and I am sure that would be satisfying to him.

And on the note I want to look at the Choice. I haven’t said anything about John McCain yet in part because no charges have been leveled against him apart from the obvious. He’s old. He’s temperamental. He’s become somewhat erratic, as evidenced in the debates and his appearance on Meet the Press last Sunday (whether you think he is erratic might be a matter of personal perspective, after all, all politicians answer the questions they want to, not the questions their asked). His choice of running mates raises questions. But the most important thing about John McCain to me is that if elected he will face an opposition Congress. Most of McCain’s promises will be DOA in the Congress. McCain’s promise to eliminate earmarks will be defeated by veto proof majorities on spending bills (the one thing Democrats and Republicans can agree on, spending on themselves). If the Democrats don’t get 60 seats in the Senate the Republicans will continue to block a lot of legislation (this is true no matter who gets elected). So the country will drift along, with out any serious policy initiatives, much like the last eight years. Maybe there will be some peripheral stuff on education or immigration. Maybe.

If Obama is elected, his presidency will be affected by that 60 seat factor in the Senate. If the Democrats have 56 seats in the Senate, things are likely to proceed as they have, with Republicans blocking many measures. If they are closer, at 58 or 59 seats, then we will see what kind of arm twister Obama is, how good he is at influencing public opinion on specific issues, and using it to bring pressure to bear. He may have a shot at making Chuck Hegal or Olympia Snowe (or both) the de facto 60th Democrat. Possibly even Arlen Specter may be persuaded to vote with the Democrats, although he is a lot more conservative than people think. Obama may get parts of his agenda passed in this case.

If the Democrats do get 60 seats in the Senate, we should expect to see most or all of Obama’s agenda come into law. If well organized, and if the parts that create infrastructure jobs are set up first, they may have a good effect on the economy. If it were up to me, Obama could skip parts of the middle class tax cut, but it isn’t up to me. The only question is how far Democrats would go in their legislative spree. They’ve been frustrated for 16 years, so they may be out of practice, but I suspect they might instead try to make up for lost time. It’s not the laws like new CAFÉ standards or laws expanding the powers of unions to organize I would mind. It would be new spending initiatives that would bother me. I worry that Obama would feel obliged to sign everything, since after all it would be coming from his party. He might need to throw an elbow early on, veto a piece of legislation, just to get a point across. Unfortunately I doubt he would.

So that is the Choice, in my estimate. Our one little vote each of us has will probably not make any real difference. But the election will likely be close (I think, despite some of the polls), so we probably should get out their and vote our conscience.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


I finally caught the KD/PG Sunday edition today, at it’s punted football season time of 8:30 am on Sundays. I’m glad I did because they had representatives of ACORN on, two women, one the local director and the other a woman who came to ACORN because her house is being foreclosed on and stayed to become a member and help others (both white, by the way). Ken Rice was able to ask them why they hate America and tear them apart, exposing them for the fascist communists they are … OK, actually not. They did talk about John McCain’s accusations against ACORN, and ACORN did not apologize. What they did say is what I have heard in a few places plus a bit more. The director talked about how they hire workers to register voters, and they hire from the low and middle income communities because ACORN wants to help low and middle income people, and they hire a lot of them. So some of them don’t do the job they are supposed to, and to the extent they are identified they are fired and ACORN may turn the workers name over to the county board of elections for prosecution (ACORN warns its workers when they are hired that this could happen). ACORN tries to call the phone number on the voter registration form three times, and if they don’t get the voter they flag the form with a cover sheet describing the possible problem. The director said she thinks it is illegal for ACORN to simply destroy voter registration forms they think are fraudulent, but she says that all the ones where they can’t contact someone they flag. She didn’t say what her criteria for flagging a registration form is. After all, there may be more than one Jerome Bettis and is likely more than one William Parker living in Pittsburgh, and if they answer the phone … So ACORN says it does its due diligence with regard to voter registration. I can see how that would work, too, in the sense that ACORN probably gets grants for its voter registration work, and probably hires as many people as it can. So it justifies hiring phone bank workers evenings and weekends by saying they have to verify registrations.

But let’s face it, you can see how the voter fraud operation would work. This could be done by communists working on their own, but it would be easiest to use the communist front operation ACORN. After filing out voter registrations forms with several different names at real addresses scattered over several different districts in the city (you would use apartment buildings, and load as many as twenty names maybe into a single apartment – any more would clog the mail box), ACORN would turn the registrations into the county board of elections at the last moment. ACORN would use the excuse that it had to verify registrations, but mostly it would be overwhelming the Board of Elections that the Democrats specifically under-funded to prepare for this day. On election day, operatives would drive from polling place to polling place, flooding the voting machines with Obama votes, using identification papers created by skilled communist forgers. When Obama took office, he would immediately rescind the second amendment, seize all the guns the Democrats had been keeping track of, and enslave us all. My Friends …

Sorry, got caught up in that a bit. It is theoretically possible that ACORN could be part of a big conspiracy to win the election for Obama. It would only work once, though, since the City of Pittsburgh would suddenly have many more voters than it had residents identified by census. And it would be hard to pull this fraud off in rural counties, where the distances between polling places is further and people are more likely to know each other. It is basically a silly idea. A number of people have talked about how it is possible to hack into electronic voting machines, or perhaps into the database that records votes. That would seem to be an easier way to get a lot more bang for your buck, and if I were trying to rig an election, that would be the way I would go. A few people throwing the election would have to be better than thousands of operatives, any one of which could expose the plot.

I want to talk about the woman whose house was foreclosed on, and about income redistribution in general, but I think I will save that for another day.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Joe the plumber, senator, independent/democrat, etc

Joe the plumber is starting to irritate me. It's not because he is a real guy, or that he turns out to be something of a real fraud, but because he is being described and is still being described as a symbol. Joe says the business he works for makes $250,000 to $280,000 a year, he says he would like to buy the business, and he asks why Obama is against the "American Dream". By the way, I have not watched, nor do I want to watch, the YouTube video of the back and forth between Joe and Obama. But I have watched what other people are saying about Joe, how he is now an important symbol. On the show Off Q, the two Republicans were arguing fiercely that Obama's (unfortunate and yet accurate for Joe) comment to Joe that we need to share the wealth. The Republican's were asking why would you tell people you were taking their money away for other people who don't work as hard as you do. On Washington Week, Doyle McManus was saying it didn't matter what Joe's actual circumstances are, what is important is his role as a symbol.

So apparently Joe was misrepresenting himself to the world. He was characterized as undecided and independent, when in fact he is apparently a long time Republican. I have heard the plumbing company does not make nearly as much as was claimed, and/or that if two men are sharing the revenue, then the 280,000 becomes less, maybe 230,000 and 50,000 or a more equal number. Either way, the owner of the company is not making the quarter of a million dollars that Joe apparently claimed he was anticipating. Based on what I know personally about taxes, it is possible that an individual could be set up as an individual corporation or some kind of partnership. But if you fill out a schedule C in your income tax, you are supposed to claim those expenses like supplies, equipment and depreciation, advertising, health insurance for yourself and any employees, etc, these things reduce your income for tax purposes. So Joe's whole problem is a red herring. Seeing him as a symbol of blue collar ambition is a lie. Plus he looks like a Republican plant, or at the very least, an opportunist. And he owes the State back taxes and is not currently a registered plumber and may be penalized for the attention that has been drawn to him.

So the symbol is a fraud. And that is really, really important. Why? Because incomes between the people at the top (say the top ten percent) and people at the bottom (the lower 90% or so) are showing an increasing gap for the last fifty years or so (with maybe some time off during Democratic administration). The "American Dream" is that anyone can work hard and succeed and have a pretty comfortable life or maybe even get wealthy, like Joe was saying he wanted to do. And Joe was asking Obama why he wanted to ruin Joe's dream (with the extra 4% of taxes). Joe's point is that electing Obama will end the American Dream for all of us.

But it's not true. We need to look seriously at what Obama's tax policy will do for us, what "spreading the wealth around" means. It would mean for poorer people, they will have a few more dollars back when they file their taxes (a few will cannily adjust their with-holding to take advantage of the new tax policy, but most will just save with Uncle Sam). They will also have incentive with a higher tax credit for education to get more or perhaps any training or education. And the people who provide some of the money to do all this will be the richer among us, the professionals who did work hard for their money like lawyers, doctors and businessmen. They do work hard and apparently many of them don't like giving their money to people who didn't have to work for it. But we should note that despite the few but prominent rags to riches stories we hear about, most wealthy people come from wealthy households with the advantages that come with knowing the right people. Further, I resent the idea that it is somehow harder to sit behind a desk and do work on a computer, or work in an operating theatre, or research and argue before a judge and jury, than to clean floors for eight hours, or take care of either the very old or the very young. I would agree that both types are hard, but if pay is based on how hard work is, then at worst everybody would be paid the same. As people keep asking, when did it become patriotic to avoid paying taxes. But that is what the wealthy have gotten away with for these many years. And it is the wealthy who can best afford to help the less fortunate, and part of the reason they are so wealthy is because of past policies, so it only appropriate that they take their turn paying their share.

Meanwhile, we need to think more critically about Joe, and what he really symbolizes.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

That's Debatable ...

So the last debate has passed. I thought that, in debate world, John McCain landed some hits on Obama. The story about a fairly ordinary sounding guy, Joe the plumber, who apparently would be making over (at least) two hundred grand if he bought his bosses’ business. Personally I was thinking that Joe had never filled out a schedule C in his life, and didn’t understand the difference between gross receipts and income after expenses. I think that Joe may have sealed his fate too, Turbo Tax and/or H & R Block are probably descending on Toledo right now, trying to get video of Joe using their products. He may be the biggest winner of last night’s debate.

Speaking of which, despite McCain’s seeming success with a sneer about “spreading the wealth around”, I don’t know that either candidate did anything memorable enough to say “a-ha”. As I say, John McCain was better than he had been in previous debates. One commenter said that Republicans will be asking “where was this guy before?”. But I also agree with (I believe) David Brooks when he said that he thought McCain looked angry or flustered or both. Brooks wondered if voters would want four years of that. By comparison, Obama was his (now) usual cool and calm self. Occasionally he would, robot like, ratchet up his voice one decibel, modulate his tone up one unit, raise his finger and say “Bob, I have to respond to this”. The new algorithm would fire, the subroutine (“agitated”) would run through its instruction and the little sub loop would return to original program. This was a noticeable difference from the debate with Hillary Clinton before the Pennsylvania primary, where Obama was startled to find the moderators had switched from Sunday morning mode to “Hard Copy” mode (I notice no one from ABC moderated any of the Presidential/Vice debates).

During the debate William Ayers finally came up, in a section on negative campaigning. McCain did make a sort of meandering accusation, starting it with a silly “I don’t care about a washed up terrorist”. McCain mentioned a specific dollar contribution to ACORN as well. Obama gave a limited response about Ayers, mostly saying that the McCain campaign was hyping Ayers, that Ayers had served on a board with him (Obama) ten years ago, of a group that had a lot of republicans (Obama named four or so). Then Obama gave the short story on how ACORN had paid people to register voters and some of those people made up names, and Obama was not involved, had only once participated in a long ago lawsuit with the Justice Department and ACORN on motor voter rules in Illinois. Both good, coherent answers that really didn’t address McCain’s points (on ACORN at least), but should satisfy viewers because they were more coherent than McCain was being at the time. McCain and Obama then got in a back and forth when McCain fired off an accusation that Obama, together with Ayers, funneled $230,000 grand for the Woods foundation to ACORN and that Obama started his political career in Ayers’ living room. “OBAMA: That's absolutely not true. MCCAIN: And the facts are facts and records are records. OBAMA: And that's not the facts.” And then McCain fumbled around just a bit more with Ayers and ACORN. Even I would say Obama dodged the questions, yet Obama is likely to be seen as coming out on top of that exchange because he was so smooth about dodging them. McCain seemed like a petulant grand dad accusing grandson of messing with his vinyl LP’s. He might be right, but grand dad is always accusing somebody of something. Just let him talk and eventually he’ll go take a nap.

McCain was trying to say that Obama was wrong on many issues, and seemed to almost make his case. But Obama was too cool and intelligent sounding to really seem like a wrong guy. And McCain became visibly agitated as the debate wore on, fumbling for words a few times and coming back, somewhat randomly, to Joe the Plumber and Spreading the Wealth. In the end, you might wonder if McCain is right about Obama, but then you also might just wonder about McCain - period.

It will be interesting to see what Saturday Night Live does with the debate tonight on their (almost) regular Thursday night spot.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Philosphy is a smile on a dog ...

American elections are one of the few times Americans dust off the political philosophies and talk about them. I can’t help but think of Edie Brickell and her line in What I Am:”Chuck me in the shallow water, Before I get too deep”. We don’t engage in discussions of “political economy” in the US, at least not outside college campuses. But we do have limited discussions about whether more or less government regulation and more of less aid to the poor is a good idea. Mostly in the last eight years it has been that less regulation is a good idea, and that the poor should turn to churches for help. The Republicans are generally linked with the more laissez faire argument and democrats with the government aid position.

David Brooks attempted to address the state of modern conservative thought in the NYTimes on Friday. He described it as originating in dissent from a group of intellectuals, but has drifted away from that because (his words) Democrats keep nominating pointy headed intellectuals and Republican strategists decided to attack them based on class war. What Brooks is dancing around with, but does not say is that Reagan and the people who handled him used Reagan’s acting talents to out-folksy Carter (who had done something similar to Gerry Ford). Reagan promised the easy solution, promised that he would get government off people’s backs. Of course the term Reagan Democrat, a group of working class people without college degrees, who might be a union man or woman but didn’t think the unions were doing anything anymore, originated then. I have been using it, I think some people might have used it in connection with Hillary Clinton’s Pennsylvania race.

Brooks now decries the dumbing down of the Republican party, fueled by the “plain speaking” conservative talk radio jocks like Rush Limbaugh and, around here Jim Quinn. He actually says that Democrats are deliberative and self-examining (well, maybe more than the Republicans) while the Republicans now govern from the gut. It sounds like he is a fan of Steven Colbert.

George Bush is a near caricature of this. John McCain also has some elements of this, as a Navy pilot he would have prized instinct and split second decisions over a considered approach (that would be more Colin Powell’s approach). Brooks also praises Sarah Palin as “smart, politically skilled, courageous and likable”. But he says that nobody plays the class-warfare card “as constantly” than Palin.

There is a commenter on twopoliticaljunkies, John K, who says that George Will and David Brooks are not “real” conservatives. They want the adulation of liberals, according to him. John K and other conservative commenters scattered around the Pittsburgh political blogosphere are commenters that I think Rush Limbaugh would approve of. John K uses short sentences with simple statements like “You lefties worship Ayers and Dorn” (not an actual quote, although that is how he spells “Dorn”). He writes “lol” a lot, comments not on the post but on whatever subject might have come up recently that is favorable to conservatives, and makes personally negative comments about other commenters. Now 2PJ’s is an unabashedly liberal blog, so a certain amount of this is probably a good thing. But John K and other commenters of that ilk represent a wing of conservatism that does attack using key works like terrorist, Marxist and John K, for example, rarely if ever refers to Obama as Barack Obama; he uses Hussein Obama constantly.

This kind of thing is also happening at Universities. Institutions of higher learning are finding they can not be part of any discourse on current events. If they try to discuss current events, whether from a professor’ particular point of view or even as an illustration for a lesson plan, professor’s find themselves besieged by national and local politicians and by trustees. Of course one problem is that the professors who feel most strongly about politics are usually the first to speak out at a University, and expressing only their views may well distort debate. The extremists who do leap to speak out help make conservatives arguments for them.

So actual discourse may only still exist on the mainstream media, often called the liberal media. Programs like Washington Week In Review or round tables on Meet the Press or this Week. Today somebody, might have been Brokaw himself, mentioned on MTP how we are a credit card economy. Since Brokaw broke the idea, the other journalists were happy enough to “comment” on it (I suspect no one wanted to be first with an idea like that). That discussion is only just barely present in the media, let alone on the campaign trail. McCain and Palin seem to want to use George W Bush’s old stand by, fear, to win the election. There’s little we can do about this now, but feel free to pester the next President.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Anothr Sunday ...

The 2 Political Junkies were kind enough to find a story in the Rolling Stone I likely would have missed, which in fact made the cover of the “Rolling Stone” (like them, I couldn’t resist). I will now shamelessly comment on this story, which they did not do in their post. I basically respect the Rolling Stone when it chooses to do real journalism. This article, “Make Believe Maverick”, is an unflattering biography of John McCain. Whether it is accurate or not will be up to readers to decide, but I suspect enough of the information is basically public record that large parts, maybe most, will be hard to dispute. The tone of the article, of course, reflects the politics of the magazine.

I haven’t finished the article (I got up to McCain’s early political career), but there was a bit during the Vietnam that caught my eye. Right after a fire on the Forrestal where a F-4 “inexplicably” fired an unguided rocket that happened to go through the fuel tank of the A-4 McCain was sitting in here (no sinister suggestion on my part, but weird, right?), causing a fire McCain emerged largely unscathed from (but which killed 134 other sailors), McCain talked to a New York Times reporter. I’m sure the reporter was delighted, talking to the son of a four star admiral. McCain, for his part, liked the attention, according to the Rolling Stone. Apparently, among other things, McCain said:

“"Now that I've seen what the bombs and napalm did to the people on our ship," he told Apple, "I'm not so sure that I want to drop any more of that stuff on North Vietnam."”

McCain of course did drop more "stuff", transferring to another carrier and flying more missions, until he was shot down. And after he was freed from the POW camp, he championed the idea of continuing the war, according to the article. Still, I think the Wikipedia might have used that NYTimes story as part of their bio of McCain, suggesting he at least partially opposed the conduct of the war, during the war (like John Kerry absolutely did). Even then, McCain played to his audience.