Monthly Archives: September 2008

The Consequential and The Conscientious

Shes making a difference

She's making a difference

A friend asked me the other day why I stay involved. I am just one person; a small cog in the internal combustion engine political machine.  So why bother? Why be so self-important as to assume that I can make a difference?
It’s a tough question, with a lot more philosophy involved than you might think. Being involved: with community service, in politics, in student government- means giving up your time and energy and not getting a whole lot back. So why bother?

Those who work in politics in particular can tell you how frustrating campaigns can be- months and indeed years spent in preparation, half of the time all for naught. Late night strategizing sessions, early morning canvassing, hours upon hours of phonebanking and confirmation calling and volunteer organizing- only to see your candidate lose because of a stupid word slip or semi-slanderous commericial or maybe just because people didn’t like your party that year. Why even try?

I guess the answer to these questions is that, if you don’t try, who will? One thing the Wall Street Meltdown Crisis of the Century taught is that people have to look out for themselves. The government won’t, your friendly local banks won’t, and Wall Street most definitely won’t.  If you want to make your neighborhood safer or cleaner or prettier or nicer, you have to do it. If you want a candidate to win, you have to help them yourself. If you want change to happen, you have to make it happen.

But it goes deeper than just doing things for your own good. Politics are about changing the world, changing history, profoundly affecting the lives of your future children. Think about a world without Bush- without the war in Iraq, without No Child Left Behind, without being so far on stopping global warming and environmental destruction, without such terrible debt, and probably without the aforementioned Wall Street crash. A few more people could have prevented all of these things- by ensuring enfranchisement for African-Americans in urban Ohio in 2004, or by educating a few more voters in Florida in 2000. These were elections that were quite literally decided by a relative handful of votes, and the impact they had is quite plainly devastating.

Not deep enough for you? How about this. Think about the time you spend watching TV, surfing the internet, playing video games, and whatever else you do in your free time. To avoid any unecessary preachiness, I’ll put myself in this position- I do these things, far more than I should. When I look back on my day every night, I think, what did I accomplish? If the answer is “watching the entire 5th season of America’s Next Top Model on VH1” or “napping and eating a lot,” then the day was probably a waste. Those are not the kind of things I want to think about when I lay on my deathbed. Those are not things that make the world the better place. Those are not even things that make me a better person. And while they may be relaxing or easy or even fun in small quantities, they are indeed wasteful and fruitful and, when repeated millions of times all across a listless nation, harmful.

John Kerry lost Ohio by just over a 100,000 votes. Bush won Florida, and the election, in 2000 by 537 votes. All of this could have been prevented. But it wasn’t. Who is going to stop it from happening next time?

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Doomsday Has Arrived, OR, Why Free Market Capitalism Doesn’t Work

I’m not an economist, and indeed my interest in the economy generally falls just above my interest in which “Hills” character is hooking up with which semi-celebrity. But this recent economic collapse has got me worried.

People on Wall Street.

People in front of the NYSE.

As I’m sure everyone is aware, the stock market fell 500 points today, the worst loss since the markets opened after 9/11. The reason for the fall is one that fascinates me because it takes place on such small scales but has enormous ramifications for the US and the rest of the word:

Step 1: Person wants to buy a house (or a car, or a boat, or whatever).

Step 2: Person can’t normally afford to buy the house they want to buy.

Step 3: Lending company offers them an awesome “adjustable rate” loan so that they can afford the house.

Step 4: Rates skyrocket, making payments impossible, and the house gets foreclosed.

This happened literally millions of times all across the US. It’s obviously bad for the homeowner because they lose their house (and the payments they already made), but, as we now see, when enough people cannot afford to pay back their loans, the lending company too runs out of money and goes bankrupt. In some cases, these lending companies were well aware that the homeowners could not afford their loans, and relied on the fact that they could get at least partial payment for the house, and then resell it on the market when the loan was defaulted. Other times, they gave uneducated homeowners great-sounding deals with rates that increased to absurdly impossible rates, up to 300% (interest, not increase!) in some cases. This is called predatory lending, and it went on for years all around the nation without anyone crying foul.
On a larger scale, these loans ended up seriously hurting the lending companies. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two of the largest lending companies in the US, recently were bailed out by the federal government (and your taxpayer money) so they wouldn’t go bankrupt. But this isn’t a trend that could continue- we cannot keep paying for companies that screwed up, even if the economic consequences are dire. So when Lehman Brothers reached the edge, no one was there to keep it from destruction. The result is what Alan Greenspan declared “by far the worst economy I have ever seen.”

All of this could have been avoided with more regulation. Everyone is always terrified by government intervention, but it is cases like this that prove it is necessary. My general complaint with free market capitalism is that it overwhelmingly favors the rich- those who can afford to play the markets. But here, we can see that it didn’t even do that- everyone was screwed over by what John McCain called “Wall Street greed, irresponsibility, and corruption”. The problem is that Wall Street is SUPPOSED to be greedy. That’s the nature of profit-making. Wall Street has no need nor desire for a conscience. That is what government is FOR- looking out for those whom Wall Street will not. The government protects and serves the people. And in this case, as in many other cases, the government’s free market policies failed. And nothing in the policies of John McCain, a man who continues to insist that “the fundamentals of our economy are strong,” and whose top economic advisor insists that our problems are “just in our heads,” would change that.

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Catching Up- Who the hell is Sarah Palin?!

My apologies for not updating recently. I have been off in the magical land of “college,” full of all sorts of mythical challenges including “reading like a million pages a day” and “barely being able to afford food.” But now I am back, so we shall begin.
There’s a lot of information floating around about Sarah Palin. When I first heard she was John McCain’s VP pick, my (early morning, semi-awake) stream of consciousness went something like this:

1. Is this a joke?

2. Why would all the news networks conspire to report such a dumb joke?

John McCain introduces Sarah Palin as his runningmate

John McCain introduces Sarah Palin as his running mate.

3. I hate her voice.

4. Isn’t she under investigation?

5. Isn’t she like, terribly inexperienced?

6. WORST PICK EVER.

Of course, one woman’s terrible VP pick is apparently another person’s treasure, which is why her pick has been described as a “brilliant” but “risky” choice by some, and McCain’s numbers have shot up recently (also due to a probable “convention bounce“).

I’m still stuck in the mentality of #6, though. Let’s take a look at Ms. Palin:

1. She calls herself a “hockey mom” and “got her start” working in the PTA.

This is all well and fine, although none of these make her particularly qualified for president. If they did, my mom could do the job just as well.

2. She ran for mayor of the town of Wasilla, population approximately 6000. The Frontiersman (the local newspaper) reports that:
“When asked how she would run the city without experienced department heads, she responded, ‘It’s not rocket science. It’s $6 million and 53 employees.’ “[Seattle Times]

She later (at the RNC) compared this experience to Barack Obama’s as a community organizer. I have a few issues with this:

  • Community organizer was one of Barack Obama’s first jobs. This is sort of like saying I’m inexperienced because I one time worked at Jamba Juice, and her job of mayor was much harder.
  • Cesar Chavez was a community organizer. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a community organizer. JESUS was a community organizer. Just because you don’t know what it is doesn’t mean its a worthless position.
  • If you don’t know what it is, maybe do a little research? Perhaps read Obama’s book Dreams from My Father, in which Obama describes his tasks as an organizer, which included improving the housing situation for hundreds of people in the poor parts of Chicago.
  • How the hell do you make helping poor people sound like a bad thing?
  • Even if we say that Obama’s job as a community organizer did not prepare him for the presidency, we are forgetting that he was later in the Illinois State Legislature and then IN THE SENATE.

3. She is FANTASTICALLY inexperienced. And not in a good way. Let’s break it down:

She has LESS THAN 2 years of experience as governor. In these two years:

  • She was commander of the Alaskan National Guard, which the McCain campaign claims to give her foreign policy and executive experience. However:

Since governors have no role in overseeing Guard members federalized for service in Iraq, military experts said that should not count as foreign policy experience.

Furthermore:

Closer to home, the bread-and-butter duties of most state National Guards are natural disasters. During Palin’s 21 months in office, there has been one declared disaster: widespread flooding in June and July this year. Palin quickly signed a disaster declaration, officials said. The Guard’s role was limited to providing two water tanks and 30,000 sandbags to local authorities. [LA Times]

  • She claimed at the RNC that she said “no” to the Bridge to Nowhere. This is, of course, after she said “yes” to the Bridge to Nowhere.

…political leaders of both parties said the claim was false and a betrayal of their community, because she had supported the bridge and the earmark for it secured by Alaska’s Congressional delegation during her run for governor.

The best part?

The state, however, never gave back any of the money that was originally earmarked for the Gravina Island bridge, said Weinstein and Elerding. [Reuters]

  • She is currently under investigation:

The legislative council approved 100,000 dollars for the investigation that will find out whether Palin was angry at Monegan for not firing an Alaska State Trooper who went through a messy divorce with Palin’s sister…

Legislators approved hiring a special investigator to look into the controversial firing of former Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan. Monegan was fired two weeks ago without explanation and has said he was pressured by the governor and her staff to fire a trooper who was once married to Palin’s sister.Accusations have risen that Monegan was fired for his refusal to fire trooper Michael Wooten. The council’s intent is to investigate the circumstances and events surrounding the termination of Monegan and potential abuses of power and improper action by the Governor and her administration. [KTVA]

  • She was an enthusiastic member of the Alaskan Independence Party, a group in Alaska that has the ultimate goal of the state seceding from the United States.

“Keep up the good work,” Sarah Palin told members of the Alaskan Independence Party in a videotaped speech to their convention six months ago in Fairbanks. She wished the party luck on what she called its “inspiring convention.”

The Alaskan Independence Party, founded in 1978, initially promoted “the Alaskan independence movement.” But now, according to its website, “its primary goal is merely a vote on secession.” [LA Times]

This is spectacularly ironic, since she is running on which a main campaign tactic, publicly or otherwise, has been to question Barack Obama’s loyalty to the United States.

  • She claims that as VP she will be an outspoken advocate for education and kids with special needs (as mentioned in the comments), but:

Before her run for the vice presidency, advocacy for special needs programs had not been a central part of her political campaigns or during her administration, despite her sister’s autistic son. [CNN]

4. But let’s get back to the Alaska thing. Here’s a few facts about the state:

Population: about 680,000

All right, that’s actually the only part I care about. Less than 700,000 people. The following cities have larger populations than all of Alaska:

New York

Los Angeles

Chicago

Houston

Phoenix

Philadelphia

San Antonio

San Diego

Dallas

San Jose

Detroit

Jacksonville

Indianapolis

[Wikipedia]

Not only does Sarah Palin lack foreign policy experience, she is the governor of a state that has fewer people than 13 major American cities. This is not to downplay the state of Alaska, since obviously it holds in its snowy bosom a favorite thing of all Republicans: oil. But the fact is, the state is not a huge economic powerhouse. Nor is it a huge political powerhouse. My point is that being governor of Alaska is simply not experience enough to become president.

To be fair, though, its no wonder McCain chose her, since he did so little research to look into who she actually is. Can you imagine how little thought McCain might put into important positions such as the Secretary of State, or Supreme Court justices? [NY Times]

To summarize, Sarah Palin has zero foreign policy experience, very little national policy experience (unless you consider getting enormous amounts of pork-y funding for your state national policy experience). And yet John McCain, potentially the oldest first-term president in American history, has put her one step away from being Commander in Chief. She is a no good, very bad, terrible pick, and if her selection process was any indication, McCain shouldn’t be president either.

Oh, and one more thing. If you’re still convinced that Sarah Palin can do a good job as vice president, you should probably tell her what a VP does, because she doesn’t even know.

——

By the way, everyone should read this awesome article by feminist icon Gloria Steinem in the LA Times titled “Wrong Woman, Wrong Message.” It will be a good wakeup call for anyone who thinks that having Palin on the ticket is good for women.

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