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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I suppose if I want to be true to the stated theme and purpose of this blog - commenting on the passing parade - I should comment on the U.S. economy rescue plan or bailout or whatever it finishes up being called - which of course is not yet a fait accompli. I personally think that it’s a good thing that legislation has yet to be devised that will garner enough votes to pass the House. And maybe it won’t happen at all. But for sure the idea of rushing to put something together before markets opened in Asia on Sunday and in the US yesterday was flawed from the beginning because of the talk of doom if we don’t do it advanced from everyone from the President on down.

At a moment that called for something akin to Roosevelt’s we have nothing to fear but fear itself, we got Bush just about emulating his dire warnings about the danger posed by Iraq and its horrible weapons of mass destruction aimed at the U.S. and ready to be fired in our direction on 45 minutes notice. Jon Stewart and The Daily Show put it into perspective that even a child could understand by juxtaposing the president’s economic "The Sky is Falling" speech of September 24, 2008 with his "The Iraqi Bad Guys" speech of March 17, 2003. It was the same speech other than the subject matter. He had set the stage for a stock market debacle if no deal was in place by Monday morning as did McCain using the same terminology about a deal being necessary "before the markets opened Monday morning" And here are two guys who shudder at the mention of "deadlines." Well, we’ve seen the result of the fear mongering. The market plunged. It didn’t have to happen. Without the dire predictions, there wouldn’t have been the mass selling that took place.

Some people are looking for who to blame for the financial mess that all the experts are saying is solely the result of defaulting sub-prime mortgages. I’m getting e-mails from Republicans trying to blame Clinton for encouraging greater access to home ownership to the less credit worthy among us - but of course Bush encouraged it too. Some blame all of the problems on the very existence of the Community Reinvestment Act and changes made in 1995. But nothing in the original act or changes to it encouraged what happened - people on the ground making a fast buck by peddling the equivalent of Brooklyn Bridge shares and the higher ups gladly paying the foot soldiers their commissions for what was found money when worthless mortgages were bundled with the less than worthless and sold like miracle seeds guaranteed to grow into forests in only two sunny seasons.

There was nothing in the act or in presidential support of more people becoming homeowners - the "ownership society" - that encouraged lenders to engage in acts of stupidity. The sub-prime mortgages carried an interest rate premium over rates available to more credit worthy borrowers. The so called logic behind that was that greater risk called for a greater rate of interest. The illogic of that of course is that the borrower who couldn’t qualify for a standard mortgage - whose lack of creditworthiness placed doubt on his or her ability to make the mortgage payments - would have an even harder time paying off a mortgage at a higher interest rate.

You can be sure that the sub-prime madness would never have reached the proportions that now appear to be threatening the industrial world’s economy if there hadn’t been money to be made along the way. Banks and other institutions may be going under because they’re too heavily invested in these and other "will o the wisp" products, but a lot of people pocketed a lot of cash while the house of cards was being built - all the way up to the last brick on the chimney that provided enough weight to precipitate the implosion.

The stock market rallied big time today, which is no surprise. There wasn’t any real reason for it to have plunged yesterday There was no logic to the selling. But you can be sure that while this morning’s headlines and last night’s news painted a bleak picture of more than a trillion dollars of people’s life savings and 401 K’s disappearing in the blink of an eye - money was being made on the decline - and is being made again as it climbs back up. No matter what happens in any trading markets - someone is always making money.

I have no idea what a final bailout package will look like or if it will work. or even if it’s necessary. Paulson, Bernanke et al can’t offer any guarantees and there are people with as much "expertise" as those two who say that a government rescue plan isn’t needed - and I think therein lies a good part of our problem.

Years ago I operated a one man business - the one man of course being me. I knew what I was doing - I had expertise in the work I performed. And I knew how much money came in and what my expenses were - so if anyone asked me how much I was making I could subtract one sum of money from another and provide an instant answer. But I also had an accountant and he would write all of this down in a set of books - page after page with different headings that were gobbledygook to me and that would or could present a totally different picture from what I knew to be the state of my business. That was his expertise and at times it scared the bejeezus out of me. And that’s about the way I feel as I watch the stock market go through its gyrations and listen to the experts tell us what we must do to keep the sky from falling.

It’s a Jewish holiday today - the Jewish New Year - and so there will be no voting on any deal in Congress today or tomorrow. Time perhaps for things to cool a little - if we can keep Mr. Bush from coming on the airwaves and repeating his tale of impending disaster - as he did this morning. Of course there are some people who automatically blame Jews for anything that goes wrong anywhere in the world and they’ll say it’s terrible that we can’t arrive at any conclusion about what to do before Thursday. But I say let’s be grateful to the Jews and Jewish holidays. Maybe, when the smoke clears, they will have saved us from doing something that we didn’t need to do in the first place or that would have make things worse.

So Happy New Year to one and all. It's 5769!!

Friday, September 26, 2008

It becomes clearer every day. The President and the Republican candidate for that office care less for the good of the nation than they do for holding on to power. It was bad enough - and obvious enough - when McCain pulled the first leg of his campaign suspension charade. But it became a lot worse when he and Bush corralled Obama into becoming part of the backdrop for the stunt by issuing an invitation to come to the White House for a "top level meeting" - something he could have flatly refused to do if this country was populated by rational beings who would understand the decision. Unfortunately, we have a mixed bag of people and there are those who might actually believe that there was a top level White House meeting that required the two presidential candidates to be there and to contribute their wisdom to the negotiation of legislation to bail out our financial markets. It wasn’t so of course and even some Republicans are willing to say that far from making any positive contribution, the injection of presidential politics into the negotiations was an unwanted distraction. E.J. Dionne said it all in the headline of his Op-Ed piece in today’s Washington Post - The Photo McCain Wanted!! A photo op! McCain playing Mighty Mouse. Even though he was getting in the way rather than saving the day.

I sometimes wonder if it becomes increasingly difficult for defenders of all things Republican to keep defending every nutty thing this man does or whether they are so devoted to the basic cause of radical conservatism that they see what rational people can’t see. They do it with straight faces - the Limbaughs, the Hannitys and the McCain campaign surrogates. Even when they’re insisting that Caribou Barbie - as Stephanie Miller calls her - is ready to step in as president if McCain is elected and becomes disabled or worse. It boggles the mind. I even heard someone in local radio in Chicago - not one of the extreme right pundits - insist that tonight’s scheduled debate was "just a television show" and that every member of congress should be in Washington hammering out a package to save the nation from financial disaster. One hundred Senators and 435 Representatives around a table without a bathroom or nap time break until they’ve saved the day. It double boggles.

But I have to give a tip of my blog hat to the Republicans who are holding up any "deal" to bail out the Wall Street Gougers - a perfect name for whatever team the warden might insist they form to play the "regulars" if they ever get transferred to where they belong. I neither know nor care about their motives. I just think it makes sense to make sure that in the administration’s desired rush to do something - they don’t do something that makes a bad situation worse. In so many ways, the administration’s posture mirrors the days leading up to the unfortunate resolution that congress passed on October 11, 2002 which gave Mr. Bush the authority to invade Iraq. There was pressure on every member of Congress to be "resolute in the face of great danger" - and it worked. It passed in the House 296 t0 133 and in the Senate 77 to 23.

I don’t know what the tentative numbers are of those favoring or objecting to the "agreement in principle" that was there one minute and gone the next - but in the face of the present "great danger" - many members of Congress are being pressured by their constituents NOT to be so quick to give the president what he wants. A great number of the people calling their Representatives and Senators are saying no deal at all. Let the S.O.B’s go down the drain. I doubt that that will happen or that it should happen, but if pressure from constituents pushes members to carry the discussions into next week - and even beyond if necessary before arriving at a bailout deal, I think we’ll all be better off. The sky isn’t going to fall on Monday morning even though McCain virtually predicted that it would by saying that a deal needed to be in place before the stock market opens on Monday and the President’s speech echoed the same kind of panic and probably contributed to the run on WaMu that brought that bank down. NO bank can survive if everyone wants to withdraw their cash at once - the "It’s A Wonderful Life" story notwithstanding.. McCain’s agreement to participate in tonight’s debate of course takes the edge off the implied dire predictions. It was all a tactical ploy. He was always going to debate - unless he had been successful in conning Obama into going along with his "suspend everything" charade.

This is being written at 2 p.m. Chicago time. By this evening or tomorrow or Sunday there may be a deal that can garner enough votes to pass. If it happens that fast, you just have to hope that Paulson and Bernanke are right and that all of the economists who have doubts or think it’s totally the wrong approach are wrong.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Does it sound familiar?

We’ve had the unraveling of a series of financial houses of cards , and "experts" are telling us that if we don’t fix it NOW we could have a recession that could make 1929 look like a walk in the park. So the recommendation is for a bailout of our financial systems amounting to billions or maybe trillions - using non exiting dollars or borrowed dollars or printing press dollars or whatever you want to call the smoke and mirrors money game that’s being played with the rules being invented as play unfolds. Congress is being asked to approve the hundreds of billions that will be funneled back to the companies that blew the hundreds of billions so that they can save us all from a second great depression. By hiring a fox to guard the hen house. One man who says only he should be in charge of all that money and that no one should have the right to question what he does with it. Henry Paulson, who worked for Goldman Sachs for years pulling down millions of that funny money annually. It’s about as close to The Year of the Jackpot as I’ve seen in recent times. Once again Congress is being asked to give the Bush administration unprecedented authority to take unprecedented action - and there’s no time to stop and consider what they’re being asked to do. Act now, they’re being told - or we will be facing certain doom. As I said above - sound familiar?

Whatever the final outcome of this alleged crisis, it’ already had one positive outcome. It’s told us something about the Republican candidate for the presidency that many already know but that is becoming clearer and clearer to more and more people - that John McCain is, to use words that Sarah Palin might understand - one scary dude. His response to the crisis? To fire someone - if he could. It really didn’t matter who, but he picked on Chris Cox, Chairman of the SEC, saying that if he were president, he’d fire Cox. Presidents nominate people for that post but they don’t have the power to fire them once they’re in office - so he was wrong on that count - and to blame the incredible mess of the financial markets on one man exhibits the dangerous aspect of McCain’s nature that compels him to "act" - no matter how ill considered the act. Just show that you’re a man of action.

And then he blasted Washington lobbyists - a description of those running his campaign - and the greed of CEO’s who walk away from failed companies with golden parachutes - I guess excluding his -for the moment silent - financial advisor Carly Fiorina - who ran Hewlett- Packard into the ground and walked away with more than 40 million bucks. And for sure no blame for former Senator Phil Gramm - his other advisor who championed the deregulation of cockeyed financial instruments that led directly to this mess. And yet, mixed in with all this nonsense - he managed to find a way to put some blame on Obama The guy doesn't have the temperment to be president - as even conservative columnist George Will pointed out the other day. If you still want to vote for this man, you truly do need to have your head examined.

All of these financial troubles were supposedly precipitated by the sub prime mortgage debacle. So say the experts - and who am I to question their wisdom? I know very little about how thousands of sub prime mortgages were bundled together by financial con men and peddled as securities to unsuspecting pigeons

Some of what went on may have been fraudulent, but while these collapsing financial institutions may be populated with con men motivated by greed, I have a feeling that the con men may well be outnumbered by numskulls. Or maybe they’re one and the same.
Regular readers of this blog may remember my two day revelation of the idiocy of Capital One Financial Services - or at least of people working there and presumably representing the mid set of management of that company. That was on December 13, 2007 and December 17, 2007 I approached them on a simple matter that could have been resolved in a matter of minutes but Capital One was having none of that. Simple resolution wasn’t mentioned anywhere in their style book. If you read the back and forth e-mail correspondence that took place, you’ll probably finish up asking the same question that I asked. How the hell could people this stupid stay in business? I haven’t seen any reports that Capital One is one of the troubled financial companies - but it wouldn’t surprise me.

I have heard rumors about troubles at Citicorp and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the rumors are true because it seems that that company is also populated by numskulls. A few days ago both my wife and I got a letter in the mail from Citicorp - telling us that they had "decided to close our account due to inactivity." What they were referring to was a credit card account for which we never applied - but which indeed we found stuffed in a desk draw along with similar items. I don’t know how we ever got a Citicorp credit card. I imagine my wife and I are looked upon as potential suckers in the same way that unqualified people were used in the sub prime game to make profits for the con men of the financial world. They figure if they send you a credit card you might use it and start carrying a balance which accumulates interest and you’ll become part of their profit base. We do indeed have two or three other unsolicited credit cards which we never use. But none of the issuing companies have ever told us that they were withdrawing their card because we didn’t use it. Citicorp is a first. And maybe it is indeed a warning that they’re going under and want to hide how many people they’ve tried to sucker into becoming their debtors.

I have heard from someone who heard from someone in the bowels of a major international financial institution that what we’ve seen so far is just a small part of troubles ahead. And now we're hearing from Washington that as many as one hundred Americn banks could go belly up.It wouldn’t surprise me one bit.

So watch out below

And now we have the latest gimmick from McCain. Starting the week saying that the fundamentals of our economy are strong and ending it saying we are in the most serious crisis since World War II, he adds to the atmosphere of hysteria launched by Paulson, Bernanke and Bush, saying he must suspend his campaign, call off Friday’s debate and go back to Washington to help forge a deal to be in place before the markets open on Monday. Almost guaranteeing that the market would drop if there is no legislation in place by that time. As indeed there shouldn’t be. No matter how many Chicken Littles the administration lines up, the most dangerous thing that congress can do is to pass panic legislation. Without sufficient thought and with far too much emotion. We should have learned our lesson from the way congress caved and allowed Bush to involve us in the never ending Iraq disaster - which , in case you haven’t noticed - has made a major contribution to our financial woes but which McCain wants to continue indefinitely.

There is absolutely no reason for the presidential campaign to be suspended or for Friday’s debate to be delayed. The staffs of the two candidates can be and should be in touch with their congressional colleagues. Both candidates are a phone call away if their views are sought or needed. It is a gimmick folks. A Hail Mary pass by McCain. And why?

What happened between "the economy is fundamentally strong" and "the most serious crisis since World War II?" The "crisis" didn’t change. The polls did. They began to turn against McCain. That’s what happened. So the "maverick" decided it was time to "put country first" again. Just like he did in selecting Sarah Palin.

If the shoe was on the other foot, I have no doubt that McCain would have called it a political gimmick. I just wish that Obama hadn’t been so damned polite, long winded and professorial in his response this afternoon - but at least he made it clear that he wasn’t buying into the gimmick - pointing out that presidents should be able to pat their stomachs and chew gum at the same time and that the debate should go on as planned.

Monday, September 22, 2008

I got the following in an e-mail this morning with a request to pass it on - which I will do - but meanwhile, here’s a "pass on" to anyone reading this blog site. It appears to have originated with a contributor to the Bill Press Show web site, which source I gratefully acknowledge.

It starts out by saying…..

I’m a little confused. Let me see if I have this straight…..

If you grow up in Hawaii, raised by your grandparents, you’re ‘exotic, different.’
Grow up in Alaska eating mooseburgers, a quintessential American story.

If your name is Barack you’re a radical, unpatriotic Muslim.
Name your kids Willow, Trig, and Track; you’re a maverick.

Graduate from Harvard law School and you are unstable.
Attend 5 different small colleges before graduating, you’re
well grounded.

If you spend 3 years as a brilliant community organizer, become the first black President of the Harvard Law Review, create a voter registration drive that registers 150,000 new voters, spend 12 years as a Constitutional Law professor, spend 8 years as a State Senator representing a district with over 750,000 people, become chairman of the state Senate’s Health and Human Services committee, spend 4 years in the United States Senate representing a state of 13 million people while sponsoring 131 bills and serving on the Foreign Affairs, Environment and Public Works and Veteran’s Affairs committees, you don’t have any real leadership experience.

If your total resume is: local weather girl, 4 years on the city council, 6 years as the mayor of a town with less than 7,000 people, and 20 months as the governor of a state with only 650,000 people, then you’re qualified to become the country’s second highest ranking executive.

If you have been married to the same woman for 19 years while raising 2 beautiful daughters, all within Protestant churches, you’re not a real Christian.
If you cheated on your first wife with a rich heiress, and left your disfigured wife and married the heiress the next month, you’re a Christian.

If you teach responsible, age appropriate sex education, including the proper use of birth control, you are eroding the fiber of society.
If, while governor, you staunchly advocate abstinence only, with no other option in sex education in your state’s school system while your unwed teen daughter ends up pregnant, you’re very responsible.

If your wife is a Harvard graduate lawyer who gave up a position in a prestigious law firm to work for the betterment of her inner city community, then gave that up to raise a family, your family’s values don’t represent America’s.
If your husband is nicknamed ‘First Dude’, with at least one DWI conviction and no college education, who didn’t register to vote until age 25 and once was a member of a group that advocated the secession of Alaska from the USA, your family is extremely admirable.

OK, much clearer now

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

When Charlie Gibson asked Sarah Palin about the Bush Doctrine, she could have asked "which one?" In her defense, a number of people have pointed out that there are several Bush positions that could be considered "doctrines." "Either you’re with us or you’re against us in the fight against terror" could be considered a doctrine. And though he may never have articulated it in specific terms, certainly "The enemy of my friend is my enemy" could be thought of as a current policy of the United States. Governor Palin even opined that we could go to war with Russia if it attacked one of our "friends" in the NATO alliance.

But this "friend" and "enemy" thing can get pretty complicated at times, calling for the kind of diplomatic skills and fence balancing that seem to be sorely lacking with the current administration. For example, Israel is surely regarded as a friend -and we are a friend to Israel as is no other country. Without us, there probably would not be an Israel - which no doubt would please a goodly number of people and not all of then in the Middle East. The Bush administration also says that we are "friends" of the Iraqi people - even though we invaded their country without cause and killed unknown thousands of them and have remained in occupation of their country for years, doing what is not exactly clear. According to John McCain, what were are doing there is "winning" - although he doesn’t explain what it is that we are winning and against whom. To be kind, one could surmise that what he really means but doesn’t seem able to articulate is that we are "winning" in our efforts to help the Iraqi people, who we consider to be our friends - create a democratic society - something they have never known.

Casting aside for a moment those cynics who say that we invaded Iraq because of oil - there has been another theory advanced by the famous group of strategists and would be rocket scientists known as "neocons" - that by creating a democracy in Iraq, we would be setting in motion a version of a domino effect that would topple borders and spread peace and love throughout the turbulent Middle East - that "The Road to Jerusalem Goes Through Baghdad." Well, we’ve seen how well that has worked. Iran has become - to use a Bushism - "emboldened" - and representatives of the former enemy of Iraq are now welcomed with red carpet treatment when they come to visit. As opposed to being snuck in unannounced under cover of night, which is how George Bush pays his visits. And of course the "road to Jerusalem" is in the opposite direction to the road to Teheran.

Nonetheless, if we are successful in helping Iraqis achieve the nirvana of a democratic society, our sacrifices and those of the Iraqis will surely be worth it, because with two democracies in the Middle East, Israel and Iraq, stability would almost certainly be assured. They would both be our friends and Bush would be able to tell his critics how wrong they have been to question his grand, God directed plan to spread democracy throughout the world. Except that that outcome would violate the doctrine mentioned above, because whether or not Iraq is now a functioning democracy or a democracy in progress, it is an enemy of Israel - so declared to be by Iraqi law. That was made very clear in recent days with the possibility of an Iraqi politician facing felony charges for attending a counter terrorism conference in Israel. Mithal al-Alusi is the kind of politician that we would hope would emerge from an Iraqi democracy and from a democratic parliament. But he is not only in the minority - a minority of one it would seem - but now considered an enemy of the state.

So let’s see where our efforts and our sacrifices in Iraq are going to leave us - when and if we finally leave that country. Or maybe I should say if we ever leave it. Iraq will be a shaky democracy that could fall apart at any time that Sunnis decide that they’d rather be Sunnis than Iraqis and Shiites decide that they’d rather be Shiites than Iraqis. But still they’d be our friends - living next door to Iran which we consider to be our enemy and that used to be Iraq’s enemy but is now its friend - and with both Iraq and Iran sworn enemies of Israel, which, with its crazy quilt form of democracy, remains our friend through thick and thin. All of which will be dumped on the doorstep of the next President of the United States to sort out starting January 20, 2009.

A small part of the diplomatic legacy of George W Bush. And Sarah Palin tells Charlie Gibson that maybe we’ll need to go to war against Russia some day? What was it that Ebenezer Scrooge said after a Christmas visit from his nephew? Oh yes. I’ll retire to Bedlam.

Friday, September 12, 2008

That’s how long it’s been since we were last in England, sitting in my niece’s house in Milton Keynes , talking to my daughter back home in Evanston, Illinois and watching the horror of the twin tower attacks unfold on television. Days later we were in Bristol and then Glasgow and Edinburgh and everywhere we went, the British people expressed their deepest sympathy and solidarity with the American people. We didn’t get over to the continent that year but we were aware that the same feelings were mirrored in country after country. On September 11, 2001, the civilized world was one with us. On that day, they were all Americans. And where are we seven years later?

As I look back over what I wrote on every anniversary of 9/11 since I began this blog - with the exception of 2005 when for some reason I neglected to acknowledge the date - the recurring theme seems to be that nothing much has changed in the world except that Osma Bin Laden is still at large and we are bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan. In my first anniversary comment - that one written in 2003, I asked whether the origin of the attack could be traced to the religion of Islam itself. Pretty harsh comment - but it’s too easy to speak of "Islamic terrorists" as though you can separate them from whatever it is in their religion that they are able to find to justify their actions. You can’t fight a war against a religion of course, but if I was right when I wrote, four years ago, that "the enemy is buried deeply in the psyche of that religion" - we’re going to need to understand Islam a lot better than we do and what it would take to achieve mutual respect between it and the other major religions of the world. An unenviable task facing the western world.

But one thing has changed since 9/11/01 and the days that followed. As I’ve said, the civilized nations of the world stood shoulder to shoulder with us following that dastardly attack. It could have been the dawn of a new era - a period of coming together of those civilized nations as never before in their joint determination to defend western civilization. But George Bush blew it. His cowboy braggadocio, his militaristic unilateral approach to foreign policy - the invasion and occupation of Iraq and the fear of war against Iran - have just about eroded the goodwill that was there seven years ago. But there is hope.

The 200,000 US Flag waving Germans who gathered in Berlin’s Tiergarten Park to hear Barack Obama speak last July weren’t there to greet a rock star. Their appearance was telling us something that you can find echoed in country after country as the Bush era comes to a close - that the civilized world wants to be one with America again. Depending on who wins the election of course. The civilized world has shown us its choice. Ladbrokes has Obama at 1/ 2 and McCain at 6/4. Now it’s up to American voters.

Speaking of which and of Charley Gibson’s interview with Sarah Palin on the news last night. Part of the greatness of America is that anyone can grow up to be President or Vice President of the United States. And one of the dangers of our democratic system is that anyone can grow up to be President or Vice President of the United States.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The polls are showing a shift to McCain - particularly among white women - and much is being attributed to Sarah Palin’s addition to the ticket. This has apparently caused Obama to "sharpen" his message - and yesterday, in response to some of the nonsense that’s been coming out of Palin’s mouth, I heard him say that American’s aren’t fools - implying that they won’t be fooled by lies - though he is careful not to use that word. Which is why he may lose the election. Because Republicans know something that the Democrats don’t seem to understand.

John McCain and Sarah Palin may not be dreaming up their strategy themselves. It may be coming directly from Karl Rove. But what they obviously understand and Obama and the Democrats do not - is that there are plenty of Americans who are fools - or at least enough of them to swing an election to the foolers. Obama may stray from absolute truth from time to time by applying "nuance" to his positions and in answering questions - but McCain and Palin just lie repeatedly and keep doing it even when they’re called on it. They don’t bother with nuance. They know that if they keep talking past anyone challenging their lies, enough people who Obama says don’t exist, will believe them - and it seems to be working - or at least making a significant contribution to their improvement in poll numbers.

Who are these people who Obama, trying to be nice to everyone, says don’t exist? From what I’ve been able to observe over a lifetime of national elections, there are all kinds of voters who can be easily fooled by Rovian type tactics - and sometimes by no tactics at all. A group that falls into that last strange sounding category is the one that creates the magical shift in poll numbers known as post convention "bumps." What those changing numbers tell us is that there are people who make decisions based n the last thing they heard. If you’re a true independent - willing to vote for who you think is the best candidate regardless of party - can enough happen at the Democratic convention to persuade you to say you’ll support the Democratic candidate - only to be swayed in the opposite direction after watching the Republican convention? I seriously doubt it - yet, unless the pollsters are practical jokesters, that’s exactly what happened following both conventions and what happens in just about every presidential election.

There are people who can be persuaded to vote for someone because of their gender or religion. We’ve seen some of these people on the newscasts of the past few days. Man - oops - woman on the street "interviews" of approximately 10 to 15 seconds each - with the interviewee - usually wearing a foolish grin, telling the interviewer that she (Palin) has all these wonderful qualities, ranging from the ability to make McCain seem younger (I swear, I heard one woman say that) - to her "small town values." Nothing about her ability to run the world’s major democracy should that catastrophic event ever come to pass or of any of the growing number of inconsistencies in her resume.

Then there are the single issue voters. You don’t have to make any special effort to fool them. Just figure out which single issue will sway the largest number of voters and make sure you express support of whatever they believe - whether you believe it or not. If you’re asked when life begins for example - answer "at conception" without hesitation. If you try to give a "nuanced" answer, you can kiss that voting group goodbye.

Perhaps it isn’t fair to categorize all of these people as "fools" - but there is a common thread that binds them and the Republicans seem to know what it is and how to reach them. They don’t bother with "nuance" or with professorial dissertations on the major issues facing us as a nation. Their approach is to use whatever tactic they think will work and to double down on any tactic that produces favorable poll numbers. And that includes fear, flag, phony family values, zero regard for the truth and a runner up in a state beauty contest.

After he won the Republican nomination, McCain spoke of running a "respectful" campaign. No smears. No lies. Well, we’ve seen what kind of campaign has unfolded from the Republican side. Smears. Lies. Rovian tactics. And he’s getting away with it - mostly because of an advantage that he started out with and that has stayed with him - a compliant press. They call him on virtually nothing - from his flip flops on just about every major issue - no torture/torture O.K. - tax breaks for the rich irresponsible/tax breaks O.K. - no offshore drilling/off shore drilling O.K. - McCain immigration bill O.K./ McCain won’t vote for his own bill - to smear tactics and lie after lie in television commercials.

Worried Obama supporters are urging him to fight back - to use the same kind of hard ball tactics that McCain is using - but Obama can’t do that and then retreat behind an image of suffering war hero who can’t be criticized. Not only would the press be all over him like a cheap suit - but he would be doing something totally out of character. Detractors have referred to his background in "Chicago politics" as though that automatically characterizes him as a "street fighter" - ready, willing and able to do whatever it takes to win. But it isn’t his nature and he’s unlikely to do it.

But it isn’t against his nature to understand what is happening - that the McCain camp has taken possession of the low road and it’s working for them - and to rouse his surrogates to start fighting back before it’s too late. If he can get them to refute the nonsensical attacks and ridiculous claims and concentrate his personal efforts and television ads on comparing his vision for the future with that of McCain’s - in other words, go on the attack without doing it in a sleazeball fashion, he can reach and influence those same people that McCain and Palin seem to be influencing.

Conditions may change over the next few weeks, but at the moment Palin seems to have commandeered center stage - and the media, while calling attention to lies that she continues to repeat - is keeping her there for the easily influenced to see - and be influenced. But the Obama camp has the one weapon that can neutralize her and the boost she is giving to the McCain campaign.

Hillary Clinton!!

She could have stuck pins in the Palin balloon immediately following the hockey mom’s acceptance speech by expressing righteous anger at the suggestion that any of the millions who voted for her would think of switching to the McCain camp simply because he had chosen a woman as his VP running mate. That was what Palin implied in her speech. It’s not too late. She can do a heck of a lot more than amending her convention speech by adding Palin to her "No way, no how, no McCain" comment. If she’s willing, the Obama camp needs to set her loose - mano a mano - or whatever the distaff equivalent of that phrase might be. When presented with the comparison of the two women - their accomplishments and their abilities - even voters at the bottom of the easily influenced pile should be able to see through the charade that is being foisted upon them.

And change the polls back to where they should be. Pointing directly to the election of Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Having been away from the blogophere for a full two weeks, you’d think that I couldn’t wait to resume my comments on the passing parade by diving headlong into the world of politics - but there was something else that intrigued me while I was taking my break and that was the connection between the kind of flim flam that we hear year round from so called stock market analysts and what we heard from John McCain a few days ago.

Abraham Lincoln, one of our greatest presidents, whose "experience" prior to his election is similar to that of fellow Illinoisan Barack Obama - spoke truths that have held up over the years - not the least of them was that you could fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time - and the last couple of weeks provided two stand out examples of that truism. Take what some people are told and fooled into believing all the time about the stock market..

I’ve commented on the crazy quilt gambling casino known as the stock market before, but the last couple of weeks have truly been one for the books - with the Dow bouncing all over the place for absolutely no logical reason. .Nonetheless, "reasons" are always given. I think I once opined that somewhere in the bowls of the New York Stock Exchange, there is a wizened old man, bent over a roll top desk, green visor pulled down to his eyebrows - whose job it is to dream up the day’s "reason" for "movement" in the market. His daily work is then sent by telephone, telegraph, e-mail and carrier pigeon to every newspaper and radio and television station in the country, so that it gets incorporated into newspaper and broadcast news reports - as though "experts" at those media outlets had determined the reason for those movements.

For example, on one day the week before last, the Dow was down some 240 points. I don’t recall what the wizened old man had selected for the reason of that day’s movements - but then a day or so later it was up more than 200 points and the headline in the business section of that day’s Chicago Tribune was Positive GDP Report Makes Investor’s Smile. Then the next day , checking the online Tribune, I found this little note. Dow Down 150 on Consumer Concerns. Well, I’m a consumer - I assume you are too - and I wasn’t particularly concerned that day - except perhaps about the more than forty bucks I shelled out to put some gas in my car. How about you? Were you smiling when the Dow went up 200 points and concerned when it was down 150? Or weren’t you, like me, nowhere near the market where the manipulators move the indexes up and down?

There may not be silliness in market movements. They can be downright serious if you’re holding stocks that are fluttering like a newly hatched butterfly. But what is silly is the perceived need to come up with a logical explanation of why they fluttered. The futures price of crude oil dropped so the stock market went up. So said the little old man with the green visor. But then oil bounced back and the market did nothing, calling for an outpouring of creative juices to explain that anomaly. Market movements might make sense to the market makers at the various exchanges - particularly if they’re the cause of the movements - but the explanations for those movements that we are supposed to believe - in my opinion - are mostly hogwash.

The late Richard Ney, one time actor , long time stock market guru and author of The Wall Street Jungle, The Wall Street Gang and Making It in the Market, maintained that it was the market specialists - the persons responsible for matching buyers and sellers and maintaining a fluid market - who controlled market movements. Over the years he accused them of all kinds of manipulative monkey business - and none of them ever called him a liar or took him to court for defamation of character - so he may have been right For sure his explanation was as good as the "reasons" churned out daily by that little old visored man in his cubby hole buried somewhere under the intersection of Broad and Wall Streets in New York. Then again there’s Burton Malkiel’s Randon Walk theory which says that stocks move in ways that can’t be predicted - which could be interpreted as saying that market movement makes no sense at all - that they move without reason. I think I prefer his theory - but there will always be the " reason" of the day and there will always be some people who will believe it - who will - as Lincoln opined - be fooled by it.

I think I’ll assign myself a project. I’ll track major market movements - at least three figure movements - and correlate them with the daily output of the wizened old man in the bowels of the NYSE. We’ll see how many times he contradicts himself and how close some of those contradictions are to each other. I’ll report back somewhere down the line - but I can tell you now that the first entry in my log of market flim flam will be yesterday’s market. The Dow dropped around 350 points because of "lousy retail sales, lousy earnings and an expected rise in the unemployment rate." Sure it did!! So it should drop some more today, right? And indeed it did, more than 100 points. But then it went in the other direction and finished up 33 points. Not enough for the little old man to create a "reason." But just wait ‘til Monday.

But the stock market flim flam is with us all the time. The selection of Sarah Palin to be John McCain’s running mate is a once in a lifetime affirmation of Lincoln’s warning. Some people are going to be fooled. If there’s enough of then, we’ll be heading for a disaster of unprecedented proportions. If you can believe the pundits, McCain wanted Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge - maybe one other. But the far right nuts wouldn’t hear of it. If he wanted their support - financially and in the voting booth, he had to pick one of them. So, without knowing who the heck this woman is or what she believed, he presented us with this Hail Mary surprise.

And so - as Sherlock Holmes might have said - the game was afoot - the PR campaign to turn the sows ear that Palin’s nomination presented - into a silk purse - to convince voters that her selection was for legitimate and defensible reasons. It is of course a nonsensical task - and one that is providing many moments of amusement as we listen to one Republican stalwart after another struggling to persuade us to believe that she was the best possible person to be ready to assume the office of President of the United States in the event that grandpa McCain got elected and keeled over from all of the inaugural excitement.

There are of course people who are legitimately delighted to see Sarah on the ticket. I listened to an interview of conservative icon Richard Viguerie the other day - and he was almost delirious with joy over her selection. This has energized the Republican base, he said, as no other person or position could have done. To support the reason for his joy, he of course joined in the chorus of audacity and hope about the wonderful credentials of this woman - and the shining tower on the hill this nation will become if she is elected vice president - and who knows - one day president?

I won’t bother to examine her "credentials" and her nutty - further to the right than Attila The Hun beliefs. Ban sex education from schools but teach creationism. The invasion of Iraq was God’s will. You can find her nonsense all over the Internet. But these few words are about what McCain’s handlers are now trying to do - pull off one of the biggest flim flams in American political history - a soap opera as reason - and the scary thing is that they just might pull it off.

It is so blatant - so obvious - so over the top - you get to thinking - surely McCain isn’t that stupid to think that he could pull this off - to keep saying with a straight face that Ms Palin is the best person in the entire country to be his second in command and - if fate should dictate - to assume the leadership of the free world. But then it dawns that this man who claims to put country above self - who accuses Obama of being willing to lose a war in order to win an election - has put self above country in a desperate attempt to rein in the right wing "base" of his party and to hoodwink unthinking female voters into supporting his "diversity" ticket. And it says that he - or his handlers - or both - are fully aware that there are enough people out there with a right to vote but who, in a rational society, would be barred from exercising that privilege - the masses who Lincoln knew could be fooled at least some and very likely all of the time and to whom this flim flam is being directed.

As I listened to the announcement of Sarah Palin’s selection, I couldn’t help thinking about that little old man with the green visor under the sidewalk at Broad and Wall. For years he’s been feeding us the daily "why" of market movements - even when they make absolutely no sense. But whatever he says gets picked up by all news media and gets repeated without question. Such a talent. What if the idea for Sarah Palin for Vice President came from him or from what he has pulled off all these years? How does that grab you this far in advance of Halloween??