Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Gay Weddings

After an extended hiatus I'm back writing about politics again. According to the internet I have one followers so, to those disappointed masses, fear not. I'm back.

I have been absorbing a bunch of post election breakdown and will eventually post about some of my research and some of the other cool things i've encountered relative to that. First I want to brainstorm about Gay Marriage. I don't think I know that many folks that think it's a bad idea. However, it has been on the ballot in 30 states and 30 states have rejected it. It thus seems obvious that we need new strategies for talking about it.

This is a great interview between Mike Huckabee and Jon Stewart.

I think it helps show how logically indefensible the anti-gay marriage position is. I also wonder if we just need more of this or if the rational arguments on the subject are not likely to succeed. Dr. Rowland teaches his undergraduate students that a logical argument is not likely to succeed if a: people have already taken their position and b: there is no new information or c: if it is a value issue d: it is a highly complex issue. However, he argus that over time the logical position tends to win out. Do we just need more time? Do we have any new information? If not, we may need new strategies. My suspicion is that we do need new strategies and starting with happy California couples who's marriages were voided is not a bad idea. We should share these stories, and see if we can't get others to realize that their position on the definition of marriage is really hurtful to some.

Here is another interesting argument that is all over the internet these days:

It certainly plays with form. It uses celebrities and appeals to reason as well as self interest. I wonder if it isn't just a new packaging of the old strategies though. I suspect we need to find other ways to articulate our positions. Thoughts?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Election

What to watch today, and my predictions:
BTW, I am totally indebted to I voraciously read anything I can get my hands on about the election but constantly turn to this website for all my info.

Number 1: Prop 8 in California is a major cultural issue for us. Will the people of California vote to ban gay marriage? I think it is a toss up, I have no idea.

Number 2: Al Franken. The Senate is very interesting this year. The Democrats should be safe in all of their defenses and should pick up seats in Virginia (Senator Warner has a nice ring to it : ), New Mexico, Alaska (anyone feel bad for Ted Stevens?), Colorado, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Oregon. That would bring the Democrat lead in the Senate to 58 (counting the two independents. Georgia could be 59. Saxby Chambliss has a small lead in all polling but I personally think the Georgia polls will be conservative by about 3-4 points because “likely voter” polls will discount a lot of new black and young voters, something that I think factors heavily in Georgia. Chambliss also deserves to lose after what he did to Max Cleland ( so I’m giving Martin a karmic edge too. I’m really looking to see if one of my favorite political satirists can push the democrats into 59/60 territory. Keep an eye on that Minnesota race, it’s a true toss up. Remember, this is the state of Jesse Ventura.

Number 3: How far will Obama run up the score? I think 290 is almost certain. I think a reasonable ceiling is 396 (to get 400 he would need Arizona or South Carolina or West Virginia or something crazy like that. I guess Louisiana could go, that stat is crazy in terms of politics, but it should be solid McCain state. I think Obama will get 354, losing Missouri, Ohio and Indiana but winning Georgia, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina and most of the South West and Mountain West. I could easily be wrong about Missouri and Ohio and may be overestimating Georgia.

If you are just watching for the presidency you can go to be after they call Virginia and Pennsylvania for Obama.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

How to spot a racist

This campaign is not about race. It’s one of the great things about the Obama candidacy, we are on the brink of a historic moment and it seems like a footnote in an election defined by much bigger issues. In other words, race is not much of a political story right now.
However, politics is an important race story. So what can we learn about racial politics in America because of this election? We learn that racists speak in code. Code is used to deceive others, to deceive yourself maybe. Most importantly, code is used to communicate to those who may be afraid to speak their prejudice out loud.

My favorite incarnation of this is the speech about race that Obama gave a while ago in response to the Rev. Wright controversy. If you missed it you really should give it a look:

Early in the semester Ray Strother ( told a class I was in that when someone says “I just don’t know enough about Obama” they really mean “I am not comfortable voting for a black man.” How can you tell? He has campaigned for 17 months, been in 3 presidential debates and dozens of primary debates, he has written 2 books about himself, run more advertising than any candidate ever, been the subject of endless news coverage and has one of the most extensive and easy to navigate websites ever created. If you don’t know much about Obama it’s not because there isn’t a lot to know. In fact, how would one know a bunch about McCain and not enough about Obama? Have they been watching Senate debates on C-Span for the decades he’s been in office? No, at this point that is code.

More code: “he’s not like you and me,” “he’s a secret Muslim,” “he’s a radical/extremist,” “he’s too risky,” “Barak HUSSEIN Obama,” etc. etc. etc. All of these are stand in phrases for “I’m not sure I can vote for a person of color.” How is he “not like us” any more or less than any other politician we’ve ever voted for? What is “risky” about him and not some other Democrat or Republican? Where does this radicalism come from?

Tell me this isn’t race code:

If you don’t believe this is race baiting then tell me how Palin caught so many fish with it:

Look at what civil rights icon John Lewis had to say about the situation:

Also, watch for familiar plot lines to come up. Dangerous black man hunts helpless white woman is a popular story. If you make the characters the appropriate race and gender you can insert the plot and not say a think about race, the stereotype is already invoked. Here are two examples of this story emerging in the campaign:

In any event, I believe that we can still learn a lot about racial politics in this country by watching how people talk and act regarding the Obama candidacy. Thoughts?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Selecting a Pres: why issues don't matter

How do you select a president? Should someone vote on the issues? Should people vote on personality? Character? Values? I have friends who agree with one candidate a majority of the time but would vote the other way on the basis of one or two “trigger issues” like abortion or the war.
Here are my thoughts on the subject: issues should not be the focus of your vote. They should assist you in making your decision but should not be the sole locus of decision-making.

Presidents often campaign on the policies they would like to pass but settle for what they can get done. Sometimes a drastic event happens (like 9/11 or the current financial melt down) that changes everything. For example, in 2000 Bush campaigned against “nation building” and military overstretch. He criticized US operations in Yugoslavia and Somalia and said if he were president he would not use the military in nation building/peacekeeping operations. Here is him saying just that (he talks nation building at the 1 min mark)

Clinton had a large list of issues he wanted to pursue. He ended up with a Republican congress and basically passed a Reagan agenda (welfare reform, NAFTA, balanced budget). Bush promised a Reagan agenda and ended up with a giant government that has massive deficits. Here is some research my friend did:

From 2001 to 2007, in the years that the Republicans controlled both the White House and the Congress, non-defense related Federal spending increased from roughly $330 billion to over $549 billion, the largest increase in non-defense spending in the history of the United States.

Anyway, the point I’m making is that issues tell us what a presidents priorities are and what they value. That is important, and it’s nice to know that the Prez is going to push some good ideas (in theory). But campaign promises are largely empty promises (not lies, just wishful thinking). I like to use issues to help me understand where the candidate is philosophically, then I try to pick the person that I think will steer the country in a good direction. That’s why I don’t think the details of a heath care plan are that important but I do think the difference between a Universal plan and a “tax cut” “market based” solution is important. It tells me that Obama knows the system is broken and wants to try to fix it while McCain isn’t willing to move on his free market philosophy even if it means sacrificing millions without healthcare.

That’s just my thinking though. How do you make your decision?

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Sky Is Falling???

Paul Krugman, a Princeton economist who was awarded the Nobel Prize just today, had this to say about how screwed we all are:

Interviews like this freak me out. Not only are all expert economists saying the worst, they look nervous when they say it. Doesn’t Krugman look rattled? I’ve been trying to make heads and tails of what is going on with the economy and here is what I can figure out.

One: If you are really tied up in either finance or fluctuating mortgages you are in a lot of trouble. This is on the brink of becoming a full scale financial meltdown. One man who made his fortune in finance already snapped, killed his whole family and then took his own life. He left notes all over his house just in case we were wondering why he went nuts:,8599,1848422,00.html
There is also the story of Addie Polk. She is a 90 year old woman who was being foreclosed on by Fannie Mae. When they came to kick her out of her house they found that she had shot herself in the chest with a shotgun:,4136,179449,00.html
She survived and Fannie forgave her outstanding dept, but this isn’t going to be the only instance of crisis induced suicide. The World Health Organization is already warning of a spike in the international suicide rate as a result of the crisis:

So what if you don’t work in finance or don’t have skyrocketing mortgage bills? Will finance spill over into your life? To an extent it certainly will. Should you start stockpiling cans of food and clean drinking water? Couldn’t hurt. Comparisons to The Great Depression are rampant. Take this one: “it is not fanciful to make comparisons with the Great Depression,” Andreas Whittam Smith, British Financial Journalists and co-founder of The Independent (one of Britain’s major newspapers).

However, there is a difference between an actual crisis and a perceived crisis. Unfortunately, if people perceive that there is a crisis it can cause things like a run on the banks, a refusal to invest, people hiding stocks of cash in their mattresses instead of putting earnings into the economy, etc. This could precipitate an actual crisis. In fact, Washington Mutual likely collapsed because people were (justifiably in this case) afraid of a collapse (see:
Fear can freeze up capital. If investors are pulling their money out of the economy and ordinary people are pulling their money out of the banks then there isn’t likely much capital flowing in the economy for regular loans. It’s hard to buy a house or a car. This slows the economy more because these big ticket purchases help drive growth. If banks run out of money for loans they may even have trouble providing routine payroll loans to reliable businesses (like the Sonic on the corner). Here is a real world example:
“Two weeks ago, for instance, I was on the executive floor of a large company, a household name for generations. Decent people run it. It makes substantial profits. I found the directors stunned to discover that they could no longer go on raising short-term loans from time to time to balance out the ebbs and flows of their cash flows. This was a "first" in the company's long history.”

If people can’t get their paychecks then we are in a real economic crisis. However, the government understands these risks. That’s why we are on the line for a $700 billion bailout. Not because these companies deserve charity, but because it is a quick and easy way to inject money back into the economy. It’s also why the Fed is lowering interest rates and why England is starting to partially nationalize their banks. It’s to make sure there is enough money in the banking sector to keep capital flowing through the rest of the economy. This should help blunt the impact of the crisis on the rest of the economy. If you want an optimistic view on the subject check this article out:

Not everyone believes this may work though. Ever hear of a “toxic asset”? It is basically an asset that people pretended was worth lots of money even though it’s really worth next to nothing. How does this happen? Lets say a bank loans ½ a million dollars to someone who has not ability or intention of paying it back. The bank may pretend that this is actually worth half a million dollars. In reality, it’s worth nothing. It’d be like if I wrote you a check for 6 Kazillion dollars. You may think you are a Kazillionare, but you really don’t have one more penny as a result of our transaction. Unfortunately, lots of banks are holding lots of these “toxic assets” and are therefore terrified to lend to anyone. Don’t believe me? That “1/2 a million dollars” story is 100% true. Check out this terrifying and eye opening account:

Will partial nationalizations, trillion dollar bailouts and lowered interest rates fix this? Maybe. Part of the point of the bailout is to take toxic assets off the hands of these lending institutions so they will be willing to offer loans again. However, Stephen King (not that one, he’s the managing director of economics at HSBC and only recently in the business of writing things that scare the shit out of me) wonders “What happens, though, if the banking systems are so overly leveraged that under no circumstances can these bailout policies be made to work? Then, policy-makers will have to consider the nuclear option. In effect, through the sale of bonds to the central bank, governments can "print" money, to be distributed through an economy via tax cuts or, even more effectively, increases in government spending. Think roads, railways, airports, hospitals and the like. Money is pumped into the economy without the need for a banking system. The government allocates capital, the central bank loses its independence and free market philosophies are eviscerated.”

So are we facing a great depression? I hope not. I have a friend who recently got a great job with her masters degree only to have it pulled from her months later because the company eliminated all of their new employees (growth wasn’t as big as projected). I’ve heard that people entering the job market in academia are being advised to accept multiple job offers because Universities will likely be rescinding them after they see revised budget numbers. In other words, it may be hard for dudes like me to get a job when I finish all this schooling.

I am told that Obama and McCain both plan to unveil a grand strategy for fixing the economy today. It is more important than ever to have smart, quick and cooperative action to stem the crisis. However, we need to be honest about where we are. The government did not create this problem. Lack of oversight? Maybe. The Great Depression started in the private sector. It was Coolidge and Hoover’s attachment to free market economics and small government that allowed the problem to spiral out of control. The philosophy of free market, non-intervention, tax cuts, trickle down, etc. is tried and failed. Massive interventions (like are happening in Britain) are needed. Make sure our policy makers are being honest with us about what they are doing and how they plan to fix the problem. Fortunately, I don’t think anyone is foolish enough to just let the market sort this one out for itself. Only the most deranged free market capitalist would suggest it and I don’t think we have someone like that on the ticket (not since Ron Paul dropped out of the race anyway). Thoughts?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sarah Palin is not a serious candidate for vice president

I understand why people like Sarah Palin. I also think she is a rising star and a politics success story. She is perfectly qualified for most political positions. However, it is a joke to treat her like a serious option for president, as a legitimate understudy to the most powerful position in the world.
Exhibit A: A series of uncomfortable facts: (1) she never had a passport. This is an indication that in her 44 years she was never interested or engaged in foreign affairs. Her world is big, it is the biggest state in the nation, but it is nothing more. (2) She can't name a Supreme Court decision she disagrees with other than Roe v. Wade. This may be tough for many Americans, but it should be easy for any serious presidential candidate. People mock Bush for being dumb but he knows dozens of decisions he doesn't agree with. What about Griswold? It gave privacy rights and it the basis not only for Roe v. Wade but also for the Lawrence decision that overturned Bowers v. Hardwick thus making anti-Sodamy laws unconstitutional. Shouldn't a real social conservative know about Griswold? What about Korematsu, the decision that upheld the interment of Japanese Americans during World War II? It's still the law of the land. What about Plessy v. Ferguson? Shouldn't any candidate for president be able to name that one? (3) Prior to being named vice president she said that she didn't have strong opinions about Iraq because she had never thought much about it. That's fine if you are a governor but it is not ok if you may well be president. This is just a small sampling.

Exhibit B: The Bush Doctrine

I have heard all the arguments about how the Bush doctrine is fluid. Lets not split hairs here though. Any student of international relations knows that the Bush administration made a major shift in US foreign policy and away from international norms when they assumed the right to attack a nation that did not pose a direct and imminent threat. Iraq had no ability to attack the US and we invaded anyway. No definition of the Bush Doctrine will stray from this premise. "His world view" is not even close to any interpretation espoused by anyone who knows. Again, ok if you are a governor but nowhere near ok for the president.

Exhibit C: Couric Interview

Exhibit D: The Debate
Why should I type my opinion when Keith Olbermann did a nice job covering the key points for me:

And for fun

Again, I don't think she is a bad person or unqualified for the job she has. I just think she is terribly under-qualified for the job she wants. I don't agree with her politically but that isn't what this is about. I don't think she is remotely capable of running the most powerful nation in the world. If anyone can think of any argument to the contrary I'd like to hear it.