Archive for October 2008

Are We Morons?

The election is upon us and the last few days have been interesting.  The choice could not be more stark.  But after all the disappointments of the American people making the wrong choices, I wonder if they are about to do it again.  So lets just review and see if the choice is much clearer than you think:

  • John McCain claims that he has shown the character to be Commander in Chief.  He has been tested.  I guess this means that any POW is presidential material.  Let’s review the test so far.  In the Keating affair his character was found lacking.  He stood up against Bush tax cuts, immigration, and torture as a Senator, but as a candidate he flip-flop on all of them.  He has engaged in character assignation as his primary campaign strategy.  Some character.
  • John McCain said he wanted to raise the level of the dialogue in this campaign.  Then because Barack wants to return the tax rate on wealthiest Americans back to the level they were before cut by Bush, he called Barack a socialist that will destroy America.  Nice dialogue John.  Oh did I mention the absurd claim that he is a terrorist because he was once on a committee with a legal American citizen who did some bad things?  Oh and don’t forget that he is a Jew hating PLO fraternizer.  Real nice dialogue John.  You and your party make me proud.
  • John McCain wants to fix the economy by cutting taxes on the wealthy.  Now lets review:  Since George Bush has been doing this for the last eight years, just exactly how is this going to help?  The economy needs to be stimulated and he wants to freeze all government spending.  Maybe if you decrease regulation and help the big boys make some more money the economy will take off.  Well it will for the rich people, but the rest of us are screwed.  It’s what they have been doing for the last 30 years,  Nice plan John.
  • John McCain claims he has the experience and judgment to lead.  So lets review:  What has he ever lead?  When he came back from Viet Nam, he was a “special person” so he ought to know a celebrity when he see’s one.   Because of his notoriety he had access and that access lead him to the Senate. I won’t bring up Cindy here or his first wife.   He got the name the maverick because didn’t work well with others.  He thought the Iraq war would be a cake walk and is refusing to recognize the reality that the Iraqis are about done with us.  Let’s not forget his vote on the Patriot Act that allowed the kangaroo courts at Guantamano that has yet to result in a conviction that has not been thrown out.  When the economic crisis hit, he flew to Washington and confused the situation.  When the Russians invaded Georgia he grew all bellicose and pretended he was in charge and would have reinitiated the cold war if he had the power.  And then of course is the selection of Sarah Palin, a right to lifer who thinks the world is only 4000 years old.
  • John McCain says that he can make real change happen.  He knows how government works.  If the way he has run his campaign is any reflection of his ability to run the country then we are in deep deep trouble.  Added to that is that all the people he will bring to Washington are already there and in power.  Exactly how is reinvesting in the status quo change?
  • Let’s not forget how the Republican Party has run their campaign.  They have used lies, fear, slurs, appeals to racism, crossed the line into inciting hate, called one candidate godless after showing a fake video, jingoism by claiming that some parts of the country (conservative parts) are more American, and anti-intellectualism.  It is a campaign designed to divide American and appeal to their most base instincts.  These people are going to unite us?  No, they are terrified of losing their free ride and have to join the rest of us and stand in lines.
  • Finally lets not forget what these people and their conservative philosophy brought us over the last eight years:
  1. Never ending engagement in a Middle East War
  2. Skewing/misrepresenting intelligence to sell their war
  3. Torture
  4. Abu Ghraib
  5. Rendition
  6. Katrina
  7. Warrantless wiretapping
  8. Waiving Habeas Corpus
  9. A severely damaged military
  10. Guantanamo
  11. The Patriot Act
  12. Outing a CIA agent
  13. Loss of respect in the world
  14. Worsening relations with a nuclear arming Iran and most other nations in general
  15. Greater dependence on foreign oil
  16. The largest deficit in recorded history
  17. A crashing economy and shrinking middle class
  18. The largest gap between the rich and the poor since just before the Depression
  19. Signing Statements
  20. Monarchical Executive Branch
  21. A Supreme Court leaning right of Atilla the Hun

So there you have it.  If you like all the above and you are a moron, then vote for John McCain and we can have four years of going backwards with the cast of thousands that brought you all above.  Also you can spend sleepless nights hoping nothing happens to him and the government is put in the hands of one of the most divisive and extreme right wing politician this nation has seen.  But she is cute.  Or you can make the other choice and vote for Barack Obama and end all of the above.  Gee this is tough isn’t it?  One has to wonder about those who choose John McCain.

California Dreaming

There is a belief around here that the way California goes, so goes the rest of the country.  California sets a an example for most of the rest of nation in its approach to the environment, alternate energy, and global warming.  Well in some cases let’s hope not.

California has made some very bad choices in the way it governs itself.  First and foremost in bad mistakes is the two-third super majority requirement to pass a budget.  What that super majority requirement has done is gridlock our government, kind of like the filibuster in the Senate.  But here in California we are held hostage by a small minority of conservative Republicans who will never raise one tax.  When the Democrats came to them and said we will compromise, for every program cut we agree to, you will allow us a potential tax increase, they simply said all taxes are bad and nothing doing. It is cut or nothing.  Like all good conservative Republicans, it is their way or the highway.  The result is gridlock and an ever increasing state deficit.  Even the Govenator is frustrated with them when he proposed a 1 cent sales tax to help with our deficit and they balked.  But like the national elections, there is a chance that their one-third tyranny may be over if enough Democrats get elected.  On a positive note, if the Republicans keep up their intransigence, they may not be around much longer.

Second, since nothing gets done in the state government, everything is a Proposition put forward to the voters on election day.  Now there are two problems with this.  First these Propositions are complicated and a tough slog through to figure out just what they really do.  I have a degree in electrical and structural engineering and I have a hard time figuring out if what they are advertising is what the bill actually does and what could be the unintended consequences.  The second problem related to that issue is that there is no give and take like in a legislative process with amendments to fix an otherwise flawed bill.  It is what it is, take it or leave it.  Basically in this system the things that need to get fixed get thrown to a confused electorate to figure it out.    One of the favorite tactics is to take something like funding for education or firemen that we all think is important and pass a state constitutional amendment to guarantee a certain amount of state funding.  This might seem like a good idea, but it reduces the state’s ability to balance budgets when shortfalls occur, and we have so many of them now, that there is really very little discretionary spending left to manage.  This is no way to run a government and California is long over due for a financial restructuring.  Some think the constitution ought to be just thrown out and we start over again.

Speaking of Propositions, my favorite here in California is Proposition 8, the proposition that will amend the Constitution to deny gay marriage.  The California constitution guarantees equality for all its citizens and the ruling by the judge overturning an earlier proposition to outlaw gay marriage went something like this:

“The state Constitution’s guarantees of personal privacy and autonomy protect “the right of an individual to establish a legally recognized family with the person of one’s choice,” said Chief Justice Ronald George, who wrote the 121-page majority opinion. He said the Constitution “properly must be interpreted to guarantee this basic civil right to all Californians, whether gay or heterosexual, and to same-sex couples as well as opposite-sex couples.”” (San Francisco Chronicle)

Now the fruit loops on the right immediately began their activist judge chant.  I think Malbury versus Madison is lost on them, but so is rational thought.  Let’s face it, not even Sarah could name this case, but that should not be a surprise given her politics.  Worse are the moronic ads for the Proposition, paid for primarily by Morons from Utah.  No I am not kidding.  The Mormons were flooding the state with calls and money.  The basic argument is it is against their religious belief.  What I can’t ever figure out is if they are against it, then don’t marry a gay person, but don’t force your religious beliefs on the rest of us. I guess this little piece of logic just can’t enter their heads. This is always coming from those who shout the loudest about freedom, but are the first to take your freedom away if you are not like them.

Their latest ad claims that they will teach about gay marriage in schools and somehow your children will be irreparably harmed.  Right, like when I was young and somebody told me I could marry a man it would have made a difference.  It is either in your nature or it isn’t you morons.  It’s really sad when mob mentality is going to try to disenfranchise some of our citizens and make them second-class citizens under the law because they are afraid and intolerate.  Hopefully it will fail, but like the Republican machine, fear and misinformation is their tool of choice and unless the young vote, all the old homophobes will do something stupid on election day and embarrass us all with their ignorance and intolerance.

The last bit of stupidity from the Golden State is their get tough on crime.  Politicians are amazingly gutless wonders and we have passed all these mandatory sentencing laws to look tough on crime, but now their stupidity is coming home to roost.  In the last ten years prison cost have grown by 50%, will soon exceed what we spend on education in the state, and eats up 10 percent of the total state budget. It cost more to incarcerate someone than to send them to Sanford.  And it is a great system as 66 percent of parolees are back in prison after three years compared to about 40 percent nationally.  The parole system is horribly unfair, treats all offenders alike, and makes it difficult to re-enter society.   Clearly some sentencing modifications, reform of our parole system, and more focus on rehabilitation would pay big dividends, but then you might look soft on crime.  Well you gutless wonders who have thrown so many people on the heap pile of the human race, you can no longer afford it.  You can’t just look away any more.  Maybe many of them are redeemable and we simply can’t afford, meaning real money, to ignore them any more. (New York Times – California Prison Disaster)

So even in the golden state where I live in the middle of a beautiful vineyard, I am surrounded by ignorance, intolerance, fear, and stupidity.  Maybe it is the human condition.  I wonder when we will ever grow up.

They are Starting to Sound Shrill

The Republicans are grabbing at straws.  Of course the pundits keep asking them amazingly stupid questions which fail to recognize what is going on here.  What I think we are witnessing is not some election where the voters are mad at the Republicans and just want somebody else.  What we are witnessing is a rejection of Reaganism and the last 30 years of conservative philosophy.  It just hasn’t worked and we are in a mess.  The mess is not because the Republicans were not true to their principals, but because they were true to them and most people are getting it.

These pundits keep focusing on basically flawed questions like why couldn’t the McCain campaign focus on one message that would resonate with the voters.  The answer is clear:  They don’t have one.  The one that does resonate is the one that rejects their message.  It is not about some crystallization of a conservative approach to our future.  They have failed.  Conservatism has run its course.  That is why the Republicans have focused on trying to defame Barack’s character as an American hating, socialist, who has ties to terrorists.  It’s a lie, but it is all they have.  The voters have already rejected their position on issues so what else could you run on except character and character smears?

I watched Duncan Hunter, a very conservative Republican from California explain to some media person that if only John McCain had focused on international threats he would be leading now.  Then we got the litany of how we are winning in Iraq to which the media person asked how we are winning if we are still stuck there and spending $10 billion a month.  That is how out of touch these people are.  Most Americans just want out so we can focus on the great problems we are facing at home and the Republican approach is we will bring victory, whatever that means.  Its good flag waving fodder for their base, but for those who think deeply about our future, we have done what we can do and it is time to disengage.  In the language of cost benefit ratios, we can gain a greater benefit in our national security by investing our money and people elsewhere.  Slogans are not working any more and thoughtful nuanced policy is not Republican forte.

On NPR’s Talk of the Nation, I listened as Neil Conan’s guest made the argument that you should elect John McCain in order to provide a balanced government and that the American people are afraid of one party being in control.  Once again both Neil and his guest totally misunderstood this election.  It is not just that the voters are mad at the Republicans, and so are looking for a balance.  It is that they have decided they want to jettison the Republican orthodoxy and they want to try something new.  They don’t want baby steps that long fights and compromises will bring, where Republicans will fight reform every step of the way.  They want to step off smartly in a new direction.  They are going to deliver the government to the Democrats and give them a chance and the Democrats will have two years to show what they can do.  For those who are afraid of single party control, note that the Democrats who might win election in these swing states are not what one would call left wing Democrats.  They are very practical politicians who are just not wedded to a conservative ideology.

But the Republicans are beginning to understand the wave of change that is bearing down on them and they are terrified.  Their arguments and their fear mongering is gaining no traction except among their pathetic base and they don’t know what to do.  Watch their spinners try to explain what is going on.  The body language and the fear in their eyes belies their smiles.  Their stretches of reality are getting longer and longer.  “This election would have been impossible to win anyway because of George Bush’s unfavorable ratings” as though this is just about George Bush.  It is not.  It is about conservatism and George was a good conservative.  McCain’s real problem is the basic thesis and message of the Obama campaign:  He had nothing to offer except more conservative ideology only maybe applied with more expertise and people are rejecting it.

Conservatives are going to tell you that this was about the mountains of money that Barack Obama had.  Some of that is true, but in the past Republicans have had tons of money, mostly from their lobbyists.  Barack’s average campaign contribution was $75 and it came from all over the country from people like me who are voting with their wallet.  Some will tell you that if the economy had not gone south when it did, McCain and the republicans would have won.  Once again that ignores the unfavorable ratings before the economy crashed.  Most people understood that the Republican party is about the status quo and protecting the wealthy.  The dramatic turn on Wall Street simply underscored the bankruptcy of their ideas.

So the desperation you see in the Republicans is not just about losing an election.  It is much more basic to them than that.  It is about losing power and control.  It is about having everything they believe in rejected.  They are terrified because without their conservative religion they are rudderless.  They will be the last to finally open their eyes and see that what they have wrought is just the manifestation of what they believe.  It is emotionally wrenching to find out your god is a false god.  Some will never let go.

No, I don’t think this election is just about being tired of George Bush or corrupt politicians of which the Republicans have had the majority of lately. Ted Stevens come to mind?  His arrogance is symptomatic of the Republican’s problems.  But that is business as usual in the world of politics.  Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. What this election is about is turning a page and moving away from conservative ideology that has held us back from taking any real steps toward changing the direction of this country.

But don’t be afraid.  Liberalism, as the Republicans define it, which is taking your money through taxes and then wasting it is not what is about to happen.  Note the Republicans didn’t bother to take your money, they just wasted it while running up your credit card so someone else would have to take it from your children later to pay the bill.  The new liberalism, which I call progressivism, will be one that sees government as part of the solution, and an effective and efficient partner in our way forward.  It will be one that respects market place solutions, but that also tries new things and is not afraid to do what works, regardless of ideology.  It will be a government that works for all the people, not just the rich with the hope that there will trickle down.  It will be a government that believes if we can empower and enrich our working classes, there will be trickle up.  So in the words of that 90′s commercial, “Try it Mikey, you’ll like it.”  Note to Democrats:  You will have two years to make some progress in the monumental mess the Republicans have left us.  Be thoughtful and don’t screw this chance up.

“Deficits Don’t Matter”

Paul O’Neil, then Secretary of State for George Bush, has told us that when he warned the Bush administration of a looming economic crisis in 2002, Dick Cheney replied, “Ronald Reagan proved that budget deficits don’t matter.” During the Carter years, the federal deficit had averaged $54.5 billion annually.  During the Reagan era, deficits skyrocketed, averaging $210.6 billion over the course of Reagan’s two terms in office.  Overall federal spending nearly doubled, from $590.9 billion in 1980 to $1.14 trillion in 1989. In those eight years, the United States moved from being the world’s largest international creditor to the largest debtor nation.  (Washington Post)

Right now we are in a real economic crisis and we have already authorized over $1 trillion in bailouts ($700 million for the banking crisis, and over $300 million for AIG). What many of us are calling for is a massive investment in infrastructure, alternate energy, R&D, and support of state programs to kick start our economy and get us back on track.  So if we are in such massive debt where is this money going to come from?  The answer is that we are going to borrow it.  Right now, deficits don’t matter.

Now there are a couple of reasons for this.  First it is one thing to create massive deficits so that you can cut taxes while partaking in frivolous foreign adventures, i.e. the Dick Cheney approach.  It is totally another thing to create a large deficit to invest in your future.  One is a free ride that will someday have to be paid for and the other is an investment in our future that should pay the dividends to pay for this investment.  Maybe this example will help.  Some students, especially doctors take out six figure loans to get through school.  For most of them it is a good investment, because in the future their income will allow them to easily pay off that loan and it will secure their future.  As James K. Galbraith, the economist professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas, stated in his interview with Bill Moyers last week:

One of two things can happen. The government can take action and help stabilize the economy in which case we will have more spending but also more employment.  Or the government cannot take action and let the economy collapse in which case we will have much less tax revenue. The deficit is going to be larger either way. There is no way of avoiding that. The only question is do you work to have a good economy or do you accept a terrible economy?

The second point is that the deficit, although larger than it was in the Bush or Clinton years, is not significantly growing as a percentage of GDP (Gross Domestic Product).  That is kind of like saying when you buy a home if your monthly payment is below a certain percentage of your monthly income, the bank figures you can afford the loan (these were the rules they blew off to create the current housing crunch).  Or as Professor Galbraith pointed out:

Well, the deficit isn’t beyond sight. The deficits in the Bush administration in relation to the size of the economy were never all that large. They were certainly larger than they were under Clinton, but that was in part necessary because of the changed economic situation, the collapse of the dot-com bubble in 2000.

And where are going to get that money?  It turns out that the dollar is remaining the anchor currency of the world economy; right now the euro is falling rapidly as the dollar rises.  Again as Professor Galbraith points out:

Uncle Sam’s credit is excellent. Uncle Sam can borrow short term for practically nothing these days. Everybody wants to have Treasury Bills and bonds because they’re safe. Uncle Sam can borrow for 20 years at 4.3%. That’s the same rate that the United States could borrow at for 20 years in the last month of the Eisenhower administration. So from our point of view, we’re actually well placed, I mean, as the government of the United States is well placed to take the lead in pulling the country and the world out of this crisis.”

The biggest problem is going to have the political courage to stand up and convince America that the way out of our crisis is in the short term to increase the deficit.  Note that in all the debates the moderators all tried to push the question, what are you going to cut so you can afford your spending program.  The right answer is only those programs that do not work or are wasteful but we are not going to worry about the deficit right now.  If either candidate had said that, although exactly what we need to do, there would have been a media circus and attacks from the other side.  I am not the only one who thinks this way. Martin Wolf, the widely read columnist for the “Financial Times,” and the author of a new book, “Fixing Global Finance,” said (Fareed Zakaria GPS):

I do actually think that, though governments are heavily indebted, we are going to spend ourselves out of the recession. We’re going to have fiscal deficits in the Western world as a whole, which are going to be, as it were, unimaginable for some years. And the markets will swallow it, because they’ve got no other assets to buy now which they trust.

It is going to be an uphill battle convincing our citizens and getting Republicans who have been nothing but obstructionist for the last 2 years, to understand this new dynamic and go along with it.  Hopefully Barack understands this and the voters will neuter the Republicans.

A Couple of Sunday Themes

This Sunday there were a couple of themes that came out in the Sunday News shows and the editorials that I think are worth reiterating here.  The first has to do with how the Republicans have campaigned, who they are campaigning to, and the second has to do with our economy, its fix, and its future.  Let’s start with the Republicans.

David Brooks, the conservative, opined in “Ceding the Middle”, that modernizing the Republican party was critical to a win and that John McCain “…never escaped the straightjacket of a party that is ailing and a conservatism that is behind the times. And that’s what makes the final weeks of this campaign so unspeakably sad.”  David is arguing that there is still great value in conservative values, but that by not modifying their approach to the challenges of today, the party missed a major opportunity to revamp and revitalize the Republican Party.  He still thinks John McCain would be a great president, but I would argue that if he couldn’t lead his own party out of yesteryear, how would he lead the nation out yesteryear.  But the real question here is that if you are appealing to old tired out ideas, just exactly who is your base who thinks these ideas work?

Without the blinders of conservative philosophy, Timothy Egan opined in “The Party of Yesterday”  that the Republicans have focused their whole approach on the less intelligent and ignorant of our population. A recent study identified the most educated cities in our nation based upon percentage of college graduates:

Among the top 10, only two of those metro areas — Raleigh, N.C., and Lexington, Ky. — voted Republican in the 2004 presidential election.  This year, all 10 are likely to go Democratic. What’s more, with Colorado, New Hampshire and Virginia now trending blue, Republicans stand to lose the nation’s 10 best-educated states as well.”

Is this the less American parts of the country that Sarah Palin refers to?  The point here is very simple.  The Republicans have a campaign focused on anti-intellectualism, jingoism, and a fear based appeal by claiming we are moving to socialism, elitism, and consorting with terrorists.  They have not argued effectively on the issues and have focused on character instead to appeal to our less educated citizens.  I think the conclusion is obvious.  When your conservative philosophy for our future doesn’t really address the challenges we face, all you have left is to try appeal to those who don’t think deeply about the issues and react to fear.  Hopefully this election will be  a referendum on that kind of thinking.

The other theme was about what kind of an economy will we have for the future.  With the nationalization of the banking industry are we moving toward a much more nationalized capitalism?  Although conservatives see the need for strong intervention now, they would prefer far less government control and say in how banks operate.  But after the bank failures in 1929 and the reforms that were instituted to prevent such a catastrophe again, we forgot those lessons in conservative pushes to get government out of the markets.  The real issue here is when does government intervention limit the necessary risk taking that is the hallmark of a vibrant and innovative economy.  Thomas Friedman opined in “If Larry and Sergey Asked for a Loan”  that we need to regulate but in a careful and thoughtful way:

Bottom line: We must not overshoot in regulating the markets just because they overshot in their risk-taking. That’s what markets do. We need to fix capitalism, not install socialism. Because, ultimately, we can’t bail our way out of this crisis. We can only grow our way out — with more innovation and entrepreneurship, which create new businesses and better jobs.

The point here is that the world has changed and even progressives see how the market place is critical to our recovery and we must strike a balance.  But note a balance is a far cry from the conservative dogma of laisse-faire capitalism.  But I think the most important comment about where our economy is going was made by Paul Krugman in his editoral, “Desperately Seeking Seriousness”.  In this piece, Mr. Krugman opined that the Republicans were running a frivolous campaign and it was working until the economy focused the voters on serious issues.  He closed his editorial with this:

Will the nation’s new demand for seriousness last? Maybe not — remember how 9/11 was supposed to end the focus on trivialities? For now, however, voters seem to be focused on real issues. And that’s bad for Mr. McCain and conservatives in general: right now, to paraphrase Rob Corddry, reality has a clear liberal bias.

The point here is that we can always go on doing stupid things if they don’t have consequences that are immediately felt.  But reality has focused us on our economy and the market system as it has been working in this country.  The market place of the future will not be the market place of the past if we are to regain our leadership in the world.  It will be a market place that does have a liberal bias, but also as Mr. Friedman points out, a market place with “smart regulation”.  This is not a world for slogans and conventional wisdom, but for well thought out policies for our future.  These are not the voters that the Republican’s have targeted and is why they will lose because they are not thinking deeply about where we are going or presenting policies that can address our challenges.

The End of Ayn Rand Fantasies and Reaganism

Yes I read both the “Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged” and cheered for her chief protagonists, Howard Roark and John Gault, and felt the requisite amount of moral outrage against the rules of government that were hindering the great plans of these industrialists and engineers, and cheered for the individual freedoms that would allow these characters to build a colossal world.  But it was a work of fiction and it failed to recognize the realities of our world, one of which is that without the equalizing hand of government, many talented and gifted people would never get a chance to rise to the heights of greatness.

Her view of government was that its primary purpose is to protect individual rights including property rights.  But when you looked closely at this philosophy, it protected the individual rights of the rich and connected, not the rights of the poor and the average citizen to a good education, healthcare, or a decent wage.  These kinds of rights intruded on the rights of her fictional characters to fully express their individualism.  Today her idea of laissez-faire capitalism has coming crashing down around our heads.  It turns out that those “Masters of the Universe”, being free to pursue ever more wealth, simply robbed the rest of us and bankrupted our economy while they lined their pockets.  Even Allen Greenspan, the great guru of this line of thought, finally admitted he had made a mistake.  This failed economy is what Republican economic philosophy has brought us.

And it has worked so well.  From The Bill Moyers’ Journal, Bill reported:

“Or this: the 30-nation Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development – or OECD – is out this week with a new report on global gaps between rich and poor. Guess which great industrial nation had the fourth highest inequality in incomes – behind Mexico, Turkey and Portugal? Right. Us.”

Or said another way, wealth is being spread around, but to only a very few wealthy and it is hurting our economy.  The New York Times, in a lengthy editorial endorsing Barack Obama for President, noted:

“The American financial system is the victim of decades of Republican deregulatory and anti-tax policies. Those ideas have been proved wrong at an unfathomable price, but Mr. McCain — a self-proclaimed “foot soldier in the Reagan revolution” — is still a believer.”

But they missed an even more important point about the reality of Republican economic philosophy, which was reported by Mr. James K. Galbraith on the same Bill Moyers show:

“What I mean is the people who took over the government were not interested in reducing the government and having a small government, the conservative principle. They were interested in using these great institutions for private benefit, to place them in the control of their friends and to put them to the use of their clients. They wanted to privatize Social Security. They created a Medicare drug benefit in such a way as to create the maximum profit for pharmaceutical companies.”

It is not just that government should not impede business, but that it no longer represents the citizens, but corporations and then works to favor them over the citizens.  This is the true impact of Reaganism and the Republican revolution.  It is centralizing wealth among a few and destroying our economy.

So with the recent events, you would think that we have learned our lesson but I am not so sure.  Note that Mr. Paulson and President Bush talk about these “temporary” measures we are taking and emphasis is on temporary.  Most Republicans, I believe, think this is just a bump in the road on the way to restoring the Republican economic ideal.  “Some people got greedy, but as soon as we can restore the markets, we can return to business as usual.”  How else do you explain John McCain’s economic proposals?

What I think you are going to hear is the call for a return to the basics of Ronald Reagan.  Except if anybody was paying attention there were no basics.  Andrew Bacevich, in his thought provoking book, “The Limits of Power”, notes:

“He (Ronald Reagan) vowed to put America’s economic house in order.  “you and I, as individuals, can, by borrowing, live beyond our means, think that collectively, as a nation, we’re not bound by the same Limitation?”  Reagan reiterated an oft-made promise “to check and reverse the growth of government.”  He would do none of these things.  In each case, in fact, he did just the reverse.  During the Carter years, the federal deficit had averaged $54.5 billion annually.  During the Reagan era, deficits skyrocketed, averaging $210.6 billion over the course of Reagan’s two terms in office.  Overall federal spending nearly doubled, from $590.9 billion in 1980 to $1.14 trillion in 1989.  The federal government did not shrink.  It grew, the bureaucracy swelling by nearly 5 percent while Reagan occupied the White House.”

The point is, it has never worked and now we are facing new challenges that few of us understand.  Americans think in clichés and proverbs and do not deeply examine them.  After almost 30 years we are buried in conservative economic conventional wisdom, which we have seen, is failing us miserably.  Taxes aren’t necessarily bad if they pay for the things we need, and they aren’t too burdensome.  Creating a climate for the rich to get richer does not lead to an increased standard of living for all of us.  And of course, government is not necessarily the problem.

The future we face is going to require government to be a major player in restarting our economy and then making the investments in our citizens and our infrastructure to prepare us for a vibrant economy in the future.  Socialism is not bad if it means access to education for everyone, reliable and affordable healthcare, and good transportation systems so that goods and services can move freely.  The fight is going to be with the old guard who will want to reign in government spending and limit its ability to pull us out of our mounting economic crisis and to invest in our future.  For the near term, deficits don’t matter.  We have to develop a plan led by government to put our people back to work, keep them in their homes, and increase their ability to compete in the 21st century.  To get there we will have to jettison conservative economic philosophy and the Republicans who have championed it.

Vine/Wine Friday

The Mourvedre is the Block with the Changing Leaves

The Mourvedre is the Block with the Changing Leaves

Vine: Well its over for another year.  The Mourvedre was picked last Saturday, and the pictures tell the whole story. This year it looks like I harvested about 4.9 tons, down from 5.2 tons last year.  I actually increased the Syrah production, but both the Mourvedre and Grenache were down, the Mourvedre down almost .5 tons.  I will have to look at the pictures from last year, but I don’t get it.  Maybe the numbers were off last year.  This is a beautiful time in the vineyard and as you can see from the picture the Mourvedre has already change color and will soon be dropping its leaves.  Meanwhile the Grenache and to a less extent the Syrah is staying green.  I think much of this is that we have not had any freezing weather yet and instead is in the 80’s every day.  Global warming anyone?

The Harvest

The Harvest

In a way, and I know this is a little strange, but I miss my grapes.  You spend seven months, pruning, weeding, watering, thinning, training, managing canopy, dropping fruit, and then finally when they are truly beautiful, they are gone.  Kind of like children.  But unlike children, there will be a new batch next year (unless they come through with some grandchildren and that does not look promising).  I did enjoy savoring their flavor with each walk through the vineyard, and watching them reach the peak of their maturity.  Now all I can do is enjoy the color and watch the leaves fall.  Everything but the Mourvedre is crushed, fermented, pressed, and stored away in oak barrels.  The Mourvedre is fermenting as we speak, and is about a week away from its rest in neutral oak.  So with all that said I won’t be saying much more about the vineyard this year until spring when we start again.

Fall Bounty

Fall Bounty

Wine: The pictures pretty much tell the story of the harvest and their beginning trip to Holly’s Hill Classique Mourvedre, but I will give you a layman’s tour.  The grapes are picked into half ton wood containers.  They were picked by 9 a.m. and trucked (after weighing) directly to the winery with crushing starting at 10 a.m.  The grapes are destemmed and lightly crushed (not pressed, just breaking the skins) with a rubber drum.  They are then (juice, skins, seeds) pumped into another half ton container (continuous process) where they will be inoculated with about 50 parts per million of sulfites to prevent unwanted yeasts and bacteria and then they will be  rested over night.

Josh Delivering the Grapes to the Crusher/Destemmer

Josh Delivering the Grapes to the Crusher/Destemmer

In the morning, Carrie or Josh will test the brix, TA, and pH, adjust acid if warranted, and then add the yeast for fermentation.  Now this is somewhat of an over simplification, but that is the general process.  They may add an enhancer to kickstart the fermentation (just high-octane food to get them going).  Adjusting acid is always tricky because many of us have high TA and high pH.  Think of it this way:  You are trying to establish the very best environment to ferment your wine, prevent infections of bad things, extracting all the wonderful flavors, and getting the right balance of flavors, tannins, acid, and alcohol in the final wine.  This means a balance in the chemistry in the must.  I won’t bore you with the numbers, but the adjustments are to create that perfect chemistry if

Carrie Adding Sulfites, Isa, Marin, and Carrie's Father Tom Cooper - Its a Family Affair

Carrie Adding Sulfites, Isa, Marin, and Carrie's Father Tom Cooper - Its a Family Affair - Holly, Carrie's Mother was busy Tending Esme

possible.  As a grower you are always hoping your grapes come in with the magic numbers, but they rarely do so it is left to the magic of the vintners.  But it gets tricky.  For the situation where the TA and the pH are both high, adding acid will lower the pH to the appropriate levels, but raises the TA to levels higher than are optimal.  Some vintners cold soak their wine later in the process to hopefully drop TA crystals out of the wine.  Some just live with it and add a flittle more sulfite to protect a low pH wine from infection.  Okay enough already.

Red wines ferment on their skins (to extract tannins and color) and their seeds.  When the process is complete, Carrie will taste to see if during the fermentation process they have extracted enough tannins, and if not leave them in their macerated state to extract a little more and then they will be pressed off (juices extracted leaving behind the seeds and skins) and then possibly have their sulfite levels adjusted to prevent unwanted infections

Let's not Forget Ron who Planted my Grapes, Advises me Every Step of the Way, Harvests them, and Gets them to the Winery

Let's not Forget Ron who Planted my Grapes, Advises me Every Step of the Way, Harvests them, and Gets them to the Winery

in the new wine and then its off to neutral oak for about 9 – 12 months.  Once again, a gross oversimplification, but you get the drift.  I will leave the pictures to tell the tale, but note that the whole family works in this process and it is hard work.  But up in the tasting room  is the fruit and bounty of their labors which Ron Mansfield and I did excused ourselves to after delivering my babies and watching them start their journey to fine wine.  Carpe Diem.

Discriminators

I love discriminators.  Discriminators give me a real head start on judging someone.  A couple of my favorites were smoking and seatbelts.  People who smoke or don’t wear a seatbelt were easily cataloged as careless and oblivious to outcomes.  Then they took one of those away from me when they made it a law to wear seatbelts.  It’s that big government thing watering down my powers of perception.  But here it is election time and they have given me back a big one.  When I see a McCain/Palin bumper sticker, button, or a sign in a yard, I know that these people are very good at ignoring reality and have no long term memory.

My favorite is a Bush/Cheney 2004 bumper sticker on one side and a McCain/Palin bumper sticker on the other side of the rear bumper.  Not only do they have bad judgment, but their judgment is not informed by their past mistakes.  I give these cars wide latitude.  I wonder how many encyclopedias and vacuum cleaners these people have bought from door-to-door salesmen.  I wonder how many pieces of swampland they have bought in Florida.  Maybe they even bought the same piece of property twice.  It would be consistent with their informed choice for leadership.

Then there are the people who stand up and say I am voting for John McCain because of his character.  This tells me several things about them.  First as in the above example, they have learned nothing from their vote for George Bush because they trusted him.  But more importantly it tells me that these people are easily fooled by appearances.  What kind of character runs a campaign of false innuendos and character assassination?  What kind of a character stands up and says Acorn is the biggest threat to voting integrity  (registering Mickey Mouse to vote) when his team is out trying to deny many potential Democratic voters their right to vote at the polls?  How can he be a man of character if he actively lies about Obama’s character and his plans, and his campaign rallies sound more like lynch mobs?  I would like to know their definition of character.  They were exactly the parents I was looking for when I was dating some hotty in high school, and they thought I was such a nice boy.  Little did they know what I was really thinking.

Then there are those who are voting for John McCain for his experience.  This tells me that they can’t distinguish between good experience and bad experience.  It’s kind of like hiring a train engineer because he has been through several train wrecks and has experience, but only in wrecking the train.  Let’s see, John guaranteed quick victory in Iraq, and before the invasion was one of the first pushing for the invasion.  He has stood firm against a time-line in Iraq while the Iraqi Government is negotiating our exit, and he wanted to engage the Russians as we did  in the eighties after their invasion of Georgia.  Like a train wreck, he has great experience in misreading the Middle East and restarting the Cold War.  If you want to face the future with ideas and experience from old solutions, this is the guy for you.  I won’t be coming to any of these people to think outside the box or design anything for the future.  Outhouses worked well for many years didn’t they?  Who needs one of those new fangled flush things?

Then there are McCain/Palin supporters who stand behind John McCain on the issues.  Now what this tells me about these people is that they have no idea how things work, or said another way and unkindly, they are stupid.  They are not the people you would call to fix something because they will do whatever they have done in the past only harder, no real looking at the problem and looking for new approaches.  John McCain’s approach to the economy is to use the same policies that have been applied in the past and have gotten us into this mess.  How are more tax cuts for the rich (66% of business in the United States pay no taxes) going to stimulate the economy?  How are across the board spending freezes going to put money in the the economy and stimulate it?  How is curbing government action, some think the root of all our problems in Wall Street, going to bring the economy back.  Nope these people are classic examples of Einstein’s definition of stupid, continuing to do the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.

Then there are those McCain/Palin supporters who think Barack is a socialist because he wants to “spread a little wealth around.”  What this tells me about these people is that they are either oblivious to the government we have, extremely selfish, or have little understanding of the history of capitalism.  These are people who hear something, make snap judgments, and never examine underlying details.  Examples are people who tailgate you, run into you, and then blame you for a quick stop.  They are the same ones who whip into your lane, sideswipe you, and then give you the finger.  If you find one of these who is a doctor, ask him how he can afford his malpractice insurance.  I guess some people never noticed that we have always had a progressive income tax, Social Security System, Medicare system, aid to students at subsidized rates, or help for the poor in terms of food stamps and job training, and all kinds of breaks on their income taxes for various social goals like home ownership.  They forgot the history of unfettered capitalism in the steel industry when the workers were indentured slaves.  I guess they don’t think that workers should get a fair share of the profits of their work.  They don’t even get the concept that spreading the wealth means growing the middle class so that there are people to spend money to stimulate and grow the economy or that spreading the wealth means investing in infrastructure.  These are the scariest people of the bunch and you usually see them hanging from overpasses with anti-gay banners. They are afraid of just about everything.

Finally, there are those McCain/Palin supporters who just can’t vote for a tax and spend Democrat.  That would be refreshing, raising the money before you spend it.  That has been alien to this crop of Republicans.  But what this tells me about people who hold this view is that they have no short-term memory and can only remember Democrats from the 80’s.  Do not lend these people money.  They will never remember you.  They can’t seem to remember back to the Clinton years when taxes were higher, the economy was humming, and what!  There was a budget surplus.  They do however remember the Jim Wright days.  But they can’t seem to remember that the people who spent all that money and grew the government in the last eight years were the Republicans.  Or maybe I am wrong about these people.  Maybe they have dementia and can’t remember who is who.  At any rate, you need to stay away from them.  They are living in another time, may frequently forget your name, and may confuse you with someone who has offended them.

Well there you have it.  At least until the election is over I will be able to discriminate between highly effective people and aimless morons by their bumper stickers, label pins, political views.  After that I am on my own again.  It is a dangerous world out there without discriminators.  How long to the next election?

Bias in the Press

We all know bias in the press when we see it don’t we?  I am not so sure.  Sometimes it is very subtle and unintended, yet powerful.  The biggest problem in spotting it is to be able to put aside your own biases, which in my case are powerful.  But in my professional life, I spend most of my time finding solutions to the needs of the government whose only criteria is that it will work (and sound better than anyone else’s solution).  So one would think I could push aside my biases and try to evaluate how the press is doing.  I think not well.

Now we could start with Fox Noise, but except for some bright spots on their staff, most are working off Republican/conservative talking points and there is little dissent about their biases.  Then there is Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs, and O’Rielly, but they don’t even pretend to not be totally biased and driving every interview to one point of view.  But what about the rest of them?  Okay I will give you that Keith Olbermann is obviously biased, as is Rachel Maddow, but is it the same as Fox Noise?  I don’t think so and here is why.  If you have two competing points of view do you give them equal time and consideration even though one point of view is more in question than the other?  If you do, you lend equal credence to both points of view and in fact you are biasing the argument in favor of the less accepted or credible point of view.  The classic example is a debate between evolution and intelligent design.  There is no scientific evidence ever found to deny evolution, and intelligent design has been debunked as religion numerous times.  Yet when we have a debate and both sides are given the same status, uneducated viewers would assume that there is good evidence on both sides.  See how this is biased toward intelligent design?

So what happens when this involves a political discussion?  The same thing.  When one political advocate states something that is known to be inaccurate and the moderator of this he said/she said shouting match does not push back on what are known incorrect statements, as in the above case, they level the playing field for the party who is spewing falsehoods.  That is pretty much what we have today on cable media news where the moderator is along for the ride.  The Republicans are very good at this game fanning out like storm troopers with their talking points, and so the bias has been in their favor in this medium.  The answer is not for the Democrats to adopt similar tactics, but for the moderator to act like a real journalist and push back against obvious falsehoods before the other side has to waste precious airtime debunking the claims (on the defensive) before making their own points.

There is a variation to that when the moderator pushes back on one side only and I saw Wolfe Biltzer do that in an interview between a Republican and Democratic strategist.  The Republican made a claim and Wolfe turned to the Democrat and said “what about that” and when the Democrat responded, he followed up with several tough questions.  Good follow up so what is the problem?  The problem is that he then throws out a whole another new question and never follows up the Democrat’s point with the Republican.  After watching about five minutes of this, whether Wolfe meant to be biased or not, by only attacking one side he was once again skewing the playing field in favor of the Republican.  As one commentator has observed we have defaulted to conservative  points of view over the last 20 years or so and this defaulting is biasing the discourse by making the progressive debunk conventional wisdom instead of treating it as an equal point of view.

So back to the question of whether Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann are as biased as most of Fox Noise.  Well they have a progressive point of view, but I have yet to be able to question any facts they have put forward, in contrast to many things I hear on Fox Noise.  Could it just be that these progressives are just presenting the truth and the conservatives are unable to garble their message so it must be biased?  Many have accused The Daily Show or The Colbert Report as being progressively biased, but aren’t they just really showing the hypocrisy of our political world and there is whole bunch more of it on the conservative side?

This election is about two very different ways of seeing government and policy.  There is massive data to show that conservative policies in most cases have failed miserably and we are living through the aftermath, yet our media still defaults to the conservative story line and makes progressives somehow go the extra mile to explain their views.  It allows all the misdirection about terrorists, socialists, and un-Americans instead of pushing these spurious claims aside and focusing on the issues.  It puts progressives at a disadvantage in almost every argument, but reality is creeping in and most people just know what we have been doing hasn’t worked.   Maybe facts or biased coverage doesn’t count anymore.  Maybe finally reality will be the great equalizer.

It’s the Economy Stupid

With all the head fakes and misdirection going on out there in Republican land, one has to wonder if they think we are really that stupid.  Well we have been in electing George Bush for eight years.  And if you are buying any of the stuff they are shoveling now, we are that stupid:   Barack is a terrorist.  Barack is un-American.  Barack is a socialist.  Barack is an elite intellectual. The Republican Party is appealing to anti-intellectualism, jingoism, racism,  elitism, and of course, the bottom line, fear.  But where are the issues?  It’s the economy so let’s examine what it is they are saying:

  • Barack is a socialist because he wants to raise taxes on the rich.  Warren Buffet doesn’t have a problem with that and all he is proposing is to return them to the Clinton era rates.  If you look at economic data for the last 60 years under any measure, the economy has grown more and the middle class did better under Democratic leadership than under Republican administrations (New York Times).  By the way I heard a great comeback when Pat Buchanan was ranting about socialist taking over the world:  Look in your wallet Pat.  You are a card caring socialist.  If you will take our and throw away your Medicare card and renounce all benefits then you are really not a socialist.  Socialism it would appear is in the eye of the beholder.
  • Joe the Plumber is suppose to represent in the Republican mind the small businessman that would be hurt by Barack’s tax policies.  Okay so Joe isn’t a plumber, doesn’t make anywhere near the amount of money to be subject to higher taxes, and the low taxes he is subject to, he hasn’t paid, but let’s forget Joe and look at the principal.  A small business person, of which I am one, would have to make over $250 grand to be subject to that increased tax.  Now understand that is a net amount meaning after all taxes, salaries, and expenses, you put $250,000 into your pocket.  What percentage of the population makes that amount of money?  That’s 2% of households according to the IRS (FactCheck.org)   Those are not the people suffering out there.
  • McCain is claiming that we have the highest business tax rate in the world and that is a true statement.  But what is the effective rate, that rate they really pay after all the tax breaks are figured in?  Well just consider this:  The GAO said that 94% paid less than 5% and over two-thirds of all large business (both American and foreign operating here) don’t pay any taxes at all.  They can’t get any lower than that and our economy is still suffering.  How do tax rates for corporations compare to other nation is almost impossible to tell because of the ways income and taxes are sliced and diced, but if you think there is an easy answer here, don’t ever trade in your Republican buttons.
  • John McCain promises to cut spending across the board once he is elected.  Most economists will tell you that is exactly the wrong thing to do.  We may have started to solve the banking/credit crisis, but we have done nothing about a slumping economy.  It is a slumping economy, by the way, while we have had continued tax cuts, low regulation, and little government interference.  What we need are jobs, decent wages, and stopping defaults in the housing market.  This means that the second part of stimulating the economy is a government spending program, especially in benefits to states for the really desperate, investment in alternate energy, and an infrastructure program.  Just how are you going to pay for this with an across the board spending cuts?
  • What should really scare you is that these fundamentalist conservatives will try to resurrect their failed conservatism by instituting a plan to balance the budget quickly.  Their assumption is that the only way they went wrong was to lose their way and grew government and spending and now like an ex smoker, they will kill us with their zealousness to reform.  John McCain says he will do it in his first term.  As noted above this is exactly the wrong approach.  Most economists will now tell you that for the short term forget about the deficit.  Eventually if we can re-stimulate our economy and get our financial markets back in control, we can start working on it, but first we must get the economy going and cutting government spending is a recipe for disaster.
  • Finally, tax rebates don’t stimulate the economy or increase revenues, and if the next plan to stimulate the economy includes another hand out, it will be wasted money.  Instead of handing out money that last time, most was either saved or spent on foreign products, government spending should be focused on infrastructure or other home grown projects that give people jobs and gives the entire nation something when the money is spent. (Economic Policy Institute)

You have to ask if we want what we want, how are we going to pay for it.  Well we could look around at the rest of the world.  Hanging more taxes on our already overburdened income tax is madness.  But why don’t we institute a consumption tax.  Income is irrelevant, only spending.  Oh but that is what the rest of the world does and it works, so why or why would we want to try that?  It would be anti-American.  Maybe that is why we have secret ballots:  So we can not tell the real Americans from those anti-American socialists.

Actually with all this mis-direction and name calling it is really getting to be fun.  The fun is watching how frantic these Republicans are getting as their little scam to rob from the poor and give and give to the rich may be coming to an end.  Notice that tax cuts for the rich is not socialism, but tax cuts for  the poor and middle class is.  Oh this is fun.