Of Two Minds

It’s the mother of all ambivalence.

On the one hand, I readily admit, it’s really cool that we elected someone who is not an old white guy, or even a young white guy, to be president. Not that I have an innate problem with white guys, being one myself. But given all the racism that still pervades my country today, both overt and otherwise, I never would have thought I’d live to see this day, and I’m proud of my country that it proved me wrong. Seriously, up until Tuesday night, I really didn’t think it was possible, and I really am happy that it happened in my lifetime.

I think Tom Toles, the editorial cartoonist for the Washington Post, put it best, simply and eloquently:

The above is, of course, copyrighted material, but I think this constitutes fair use.

Furthermore, it was really, really awesome to see people celebrating the president-elect – black, white, straight, gay (my neighborhood tends to be pretty fabulous, as is my local; good thing I’m not homophobic – which his apparently more than we can say for a slim majority of California’s electorate). People excited and happy about the results of an election – that’s a pretty historic event as well. Not a first for America, but certainly never in my lifetime have we seen people carrying on in the streets in giddy happiness over presidential [tag]election[/tag] results.

Cool, that; very cool.

I’ll further admit, that despite my misgivings, despite the fact that I couldn’t bring myself to vote for either mainstream candidate, I’m relieved that [tag]Obama[/tag] won. I might have considered voting for [tag]McCain[/tag] back in 2000, but he’s pretty much sold out everything he ever stood for. In a way, I feel bad for him; he obviously went for broke to win the election. Case in point: hiring Dubya’s campaign director from 2004, Steve Schmidt, a Karl Rove protégé.

Old news, at this point, but it still astonishes me that he hired one of the despicable people that smeared him in the run-up to the Republican nomination four years ago, dredging up his wife’s drug addiction and spreading rumors that his adopted daughter from Bangladesh is actually his illegitimate daughter. In retrospect, it’s very hard to believe that the same McCain who delivered the eloquent and statesman-like concession speech Tuesday evening is the same one who would stoop to hiring Schmidt. We’ll put that little tidbit on top of the huge pile of reasons why a majority of Americans are glad he didn’t win.

Hell, I’m just glad we elected someone with more than half a brain, for once, unlike lame-duck Dubya (God, that really feels good to say)

On the other hand, as I found myself explaining more than once Tuesday night, after going out to the aforementioned local to observe the revelry, FISA was a deal-breaker for me. So was the bailout. And Obama voted for FISA, and encouraged the bailout. I might have been able to overlook the bailout, perhaps, but FISA? No way. I’m an American, dammit, and I’m pretty libertarian on this issue: civil rights are sacred. As far as I’m concerned, everyone that voted for FISA pretty much wiped their ass with the parchment the Bill of Rights – namely the Fourth Amendment – was printed on.

I’ll give Obama props; he acknowledged the fact that this would be a deal-breaker for some.

Democracy cannot exist without strong differences. And going forward, some of you may decide that my FISA position is a deal breaker. That’s ok.  But I think it is worth pointing out that our agreement on the vast majority of issues that matter outweighs the differences we may have.

Well, it was for me. Some people I had this conversation with Tuesday were aghast that I didn’t vote for Obama, even after acknowledging that his FISA cave-in was all but in-excusable (for them). Others said they totally understood why I voted for [tag]Cynthia McKinney[/tag], and respected that decision, which was cool. Then there was the dolt who suggested I was racist because I didn’t vote for Obama, until I explained that no, I voted for McKinney, not McCain, and that McKinney is a black woman and her running mate is a Latina (I’m assuming that Rosa Clemente is of Hispanic background, but I don’t really know for sure, and to be honest don’t care; I thinks she’s pretty rad and her genetics are immaterial). Lawlz, that shut him up in short order.

I realize that in a democracy everyone has to compromise. But some issues are black and white (no pun intended), and at some point you have to draw a line in the sand and say, no more. With our [tag]civil liberties[/tag] on a toilet-bound vector since 9/11, I drew that line at [tag]FISA[/tag]. I hope that all those who believe that trend will reverse under an Obama administration are right. But he’s a career politician, who does what is necessary to get power and then stay in power – how else did he raise record amounts of financing? What’s going to happen when all those special interests come knocking at the door of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.?

Will he be different? I have my doubts. Sure, he talks a good talk, but I trust politicians as far as I can throw them; Obama’s pretty slim, so I could throw him farther than most, maybe. But still, he’s a politician – on the take until he proves otherwise.

But again, having said that, and in spite of my abivalence, I’m glad he won. It’s not everyday you get to witness history, and it’s not everyday when your own culture and country suprises you in such a wonderful way. And it wasn’t like I thought McKinney had a chance, even as cast my vote for her. I honestly think she would have made a good president, though. And I am still, and always will be, a registered independent, but for all my Green brothers and sisters in arms this time around, the 120,389 others across the country (including 7,776 other people in Ohio) that voted for McKinney – 0.1 percent of the votes in the presidential election – thank you fighting the good fight. No one else I know personally feels the way I do, but obviously I’m not completely alone when it comes to these issues.

Oh, and someone asked me why I didn’t just vote Libertarian. Well, I agree with the Libertarians on a lot of things, but there are a few key deal-breakers, among them the belief that private ownership of public lands will better protect the environment. Another is the idea that there should be no government regulation of business – deregulation of business got us into our current economic mess, in no small part, obviously.

I’ve got problems with the Green Party, too, but I haven’t found any beyond-dispute deal breakers in that party’s platform. No plans to change my voter registration from “independent,” though. In fact, I might not have voted at all, but McKinney, a former member of the Georgia Congressional delegation, is on record as being against FISA and the bailout of Wall Street; that pushed me into the Green column this year.

Speaking of Libertarianism, civil rights, and fabulousness, we’ve still got a ways to go. We may have turned a page in living up to the ideas embodied in the founding documents of the United States with the election of Obama, but still not everyone enjoys the rights, protections and freedom the rest of us have.

The good fight continues.

I <3 Sartre, Comrades! Shall We Wait for Godot?

Ah, I’ve come circle; I’m no longer morose and melancholy over a) the election, b) the financial meltdown, and c) the government’s subsequent bailout. It’s gone beyond mystifying and transcended to the realm of the absurd … the insanely absurd. The Absurd with a capital A. I feel like my brain broke and that instead of witnessing and participating in reality, I’m in a French existential comedy – the world has transcended, or rather descended, into a work by Sartre or Camus. Maybe Beckett.

He'd be thinking, "WTF?!"If Kierkegaard were alive today, what would he make of all this?

People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.

So, Dubya comes on the television and says in order to save the free market the government has to use taxpayer money to buy shares in private banks. So … we need socialism to preserve the free market? We have to partially nationalize private banks in order to save them? We had to burn down the village in order to save it?

We got into this mess by people living beyond their means, and people banking – literally – on the fact that people were doing this. So, we have to use taxpayer money to bail out Wall Street so banks will extend credit again – so the same people whose tax money is being used for the bail out can continue to live beyond their means, and investment bankers can continue to get rich off of them. And the best part of it is, the people in charge of implementing this bailout were, up until a few years ago, investment bankers at Goldman Sachs, making money hand over fist from sub-prime mortgages – in other words, some of the same folk that got us into this mess have been tasked with getting us out of it.

What?

But wait, it gets better.

I’ve been doing my best to avoid the news lately, but I couldn’t help myself when it came to news reports about my fellow Ohioans shouting that Obama should be killed. I don’t think he should be president – neither should McCain – but cutting off his head seems a bit extreme. Last I heard, lynching went out with the Civil Rights Act.

What year is this again?

I realize that being a white WASP American male I’m hardly an expert on prejudice, but I have to say, I’m rather surprised by all the surprise in the media and in general about the ugly spectre of racism that has reared its ugly head as the presidential election nears. Maybe it’s because I’ve been lucky and been able to live in a number of different places within America as an adult, but from my perspective, the racism that’s been put on display lately in connection with the respective presidential campaign is anything but surprising. Ignorance and the fear it breeds is still the rule rather than the exception.

Speaking of ignorance, there was a photo from one of the McCain/Palin rallies here in Ohio that showed some clown with a sign that implied that an Obama presidency would equal socialism. I got news for ya champ: we’re already getting socialism. And both McCain and Obama encouraged it, and it’s being put into place by our current “conservative” Republican government. Heck, McCain is so desperate he’s even offered up more extreme solutions to the economic crisis that smack of socialism.

Once more: it’s gotten laughably Absurd; clearly the inmates are running the asylum – the assylum of asses. Of course, that means there is no meaning to the world than what I give it, so I suppose there is some comfort in that. It does make it easier to laugh, as opposed to crying in dismay or screaming in anger.

Arguing the Plight of Joe Six(figure) Pack

I almost got angry again when both presidential candidates latched onto this Joe the Plumber guy. Joe is complaining that Obama’s plan would increase taxes on people making more than $250,000 a year. You know what Joe? The majority of Americans don’t make anywhere near that (God knows I don’t and never will – what was my degree for, again?). Yet he’s being held up by both campaigns as some sort of Joe Everyman … Sarah Palin’s Joe Sixpack. Shouldn’t that be Joe Six-figure Pack? And, of course, all the presidential and vice presidential candidates are millionaires – actually, not sure about Biden, but the others are worth a million or more.

So, Joe? I’ve got one thing to say: waaah. My taxes have mostly gone up over the last eight years, even though I make nowhere near six figures, much less $250,000. And, in fact, I just got a notice from the IRS two weeks ago saying that I owed more money from 2006, because of a 401K that rolled over to an IRA when I got laid off from my job after six years. I didn’t report this at the time, because I didn’t even realize it was considered taxable income, since I can’t touch it until I’m 67, or some such age. Heck, I wasn’t even aware I was participating in the 401K program until I got my pink slip – just can’t seem to ever get worked up about that stuff. Ironically, this IRA is worth … oh, let’s just say considerably less than it used to be worth; it’s slightly north of diddley squat at the moment. And like Social Security, I’m not really depending on that money being their when I’m 65 or whenever.

Life just gets crazier by the day. But we don’t need the Absurdists and the Existentialists of yesteryear to put things in perspective. I think modern author William Gibson has said it best:

Joe the Plumber. (They might want to consider calling it the Palin/Plumber campaign, actually.)

It just makes so much sense, on so many levels, and actually manages to up the national fuckedness factor from where I judge it to stand today. Which is more of a stretch than ever, really.

If this dream ticket seems hopelessly far-fetched, to you, just remember that Karl Rove and I are both huge Borges fans.

I have to agree: just when you think it can’t get any worse, the national fuckedness factor rises some more. In this context, it even makes sense. For anyone stumbling across this, and the one or two friends that read this, Gibson is a popular science fiction author who has set his last couple of novels in the present day, because, as he puts it, the present has gotten weirder than any future we can imagine.

Indeed, it’s like America and perhaps much of the world is waiting for Godot.

But don’t let it get you down. If you’re a tabletop gaming nerd – if D&D makes you think of graph paper instead of large breasts, then I present to you the most brilliant political commentary of the entire 2008 presidential race, from somehedgehog:

GM: OK, the bugbear attacks you. What do you do?

OBAMA: I send one of my 672 henchmen after it.

MCCAIN: OK, seriously. Why does he have so many henchmen? I’m a level 72 ranger and he’s only a level 8 paladin.

OBAMA: Well, if you’d bought the Grassroots Organizing and Oratory/Colgate Smile proficiencies you could min max it so that you…

MCCAIN: Why is he even IN this campaign? I thought this was supposed to be a high level party.

OBAMA: Well, maybe some people got tired of the grim and squinty “Matterhorn, son of Marathon” shtick you keep doing. Dude, could you be any less original?

MCCAIN: Oh my god, I did not leave my left nut in a tiger cage in the Tomb of Horrors to spend my Friday nights mopping up after the new kid.

For the whole thing, go here to somehedgehog’s Livejournal entry. Brilliant. Simply brilliant.

Bailout: Lulled by the Sound of Congressional Fiddles

Fiddling while America burns ... Oh yes, I mean, Rome, of course. God(ess(es)), I don’t know why I keep writing this stuff. But somehow it makes me a little less angry with my elected leaders. Venting into the electronic ether provides some cold comfort, I guess.

Let’s review, just for my own sorrow/amusement.

So deregulation – a dismantling of the banking and financial regulations the government put in place after the stock market crash of October 1929 that precipitated the Great Depression – took place in the 1980s under Reagan and the Republicans. Deregulation essentially expanded since then under each administration to one degree or another, as I understand it, with Clinton – a Democrat, mind you – getting in his administration’s two cents/lack of sense in 1998. This was in spite of the savings and loan debacle of the 1980s (remember that, Generation X? No, I didn’t think so).

This in turn lead to all manner of financial investment schemes that became so complex that even the people that are paid to understand them confess that, in the wake of the implosion of said schemes, even they don’t understand these schemes. This is what the much-heralded free market has begat. But at the root of the current disaster is the problem of subprime mortgages and speculation in and selling of said mortgages – and leveraging, I believe is the financial industry term. I gather leveraging is Wall Street code for “in debt up to your freakin’ eyeballs with no clear way of how to pay it off.”

The Foxy Investor Guards the U.S. Hen House

Now Henry Paulson used to be the head of Wall Street investment bank Goldman Sachs until 2006, when Dubya invited him to become the U.S. treasury secretary. Goldman Sachs, along with Morgan Stanley, is essentially one of two Wall Street firms left standing, and the only reason they are standing is because the government let them be recognized as bank holding companies – essentially, they are getting into the commercial bank business, so they can fix their balance sheets with bank account deposits, which they couldn’t do as investment banks. That was one of the results of the regulation that came after the Crash of ’29: delineating between commercial banks and investment banks.

This is what Lehman Brothers wanted to do – even as it sought millions of dollars in golden parachutes for its execs – but the government told it no, and it promptly folded. Goldman and Morgan Stanley would likely have met the same fate, eventually, were they not given this federal lifeline, if the journalists who cover Wall Street are telling it correctly (I certainly couldn’t say for sure).

So, Congress capitulated to the fear mongering that it had to pass this bailout measure or else, promptly handing over $700 billion in taxpayer money to someone — Mr. Henry Paulson — who up until 2006 was directly part of the problem. Goldman Sachs made some tidy sums off of the whole subprime mortgage speculation, with Paulson at the helm.

Does This Make You Angry? It Makes Me Angry

But wait, it gets even better/worse.

Who does Paulson appoint today to oversee the newly-created Troubled Assets Relief Program and U.S. Office of Financial Stability? One of his own: Neel Kashkari, a 35-year-old former Goldman Sachs executive, who came to the U.S. Treasury with Paulson, serving as the assistant treasury secretary for International Economics and Development.

So Congress, in its infinite wisdom and at the insistence of the Bush administration, which has done such a great job low these eight years, watches the financial industry meltdown, and then hands over hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to fix it to two people who were part of one of the institutions that caused the problem.

Er, um. What? I still don’t understand how the hell any of this is not anything but bat-shit insane. The world has clearly gone barking mad.

Congress and Dubya hand $700 billion of public money – our money – to people that have literally been part of the problem, and gotten rich off of it too boot. There were dire warnings that if this quick fix didn’t come to pass, everything would continue to go to hell. That if we didn’t rescue (reward) those who combined greed and bad decision making and in the process put a government that is on its own wobbly financial legs on even more precarious financial footing, that things would get immeasurably worse.

So what happened? The market didn’t exactly react as everyone supposedly thought it would; it promptly got worse.

The ripples of the American financial collapse are being felt around the globe, and investors aren’t buying the idea that the bailout is going to fix things. And the same president that warned that we had to do this right away because the industry and the economy is in peril is saying that the economy is “just fine” (really, he said this here in Cincinnati today) but that the recovery will take a long time. And all of the talking heads are telling us that it could be months or even years before credit loosens up – when frozen credit was the boogie man the administration – and the two presidential candidates – used to sell everyone on the bailout.

WTF?

I had held out hope for a moment that Congress would take its head of out of its collective ass when it refused the bailout the first time, but no. I had hoped that it might actually do something to address the root cause of our current economic crisis, rather than apply a $700-billion bandage that will do nothing to keep the wound from festering and rotting. That our elected leaders might actually do something that resembled leadership.

But no.

So what did Congress do once it passed the emergency bailout and a spending bill Friday? It went on recess. The next session of Congress isn’t scheduled to start until November, after the election.

Congress went on vacation.

Those with seats up for re-election have to rush home to do what they can to make sure they get re-elected, of course – never mind the fact that the country is winging its way to financial ruin, if the financial press is to be believed.

So, America burns, and our leaders collectively fiddle. I know, I know; that’s cliché. But it’s apparently an apt one.

Way to go Congress. You too, McCain and Obama. Well played. Two thumbs up. To borrow a phrase from Bush: you’re doin’ a heckuva job. But please remind me: what exactly do we elect you and pay you to do again? I forget. …

Shoulda Taken the Blue Pill

Ah, now this is the stuff of blogs: navel gazing and self-righteousness at it’s best. …

I never really stopped to think about this; perhaps that’s the problem — why, that as I close in on age 40, I still feel like [tag]Holden Caufield[/tag]. I reread Catcher in the Rye for the umpteenth time last week. I remember reading it as a youth, and having one of those epiphanies that only someone filled with the self righteousness of youth can experience: here is someone who “understands,” I thought; here is someone who “gets it.” The who being J.D. [tag]Salinger[/tag], of course. I thought the same thing when I read [tag]Ayn Rand[/tag]’s The Fountainhead. I suppose I should be embarrassed to admit that now, but I’m not — I’m also astonished to have found it among my mother’s books shortly after her death, but that’s another topic for another time.

I guess I had some vague notion or expectation that by now I wouldn’t still feel alienated from the world around me. I’m not really surprised that I’m not, I suppose; but I think if anything I’m even more restless and mystified by the world today — even pissed off — then I was as a youth. I guess the upcoming election coupled with the current financial debacle have exacerbated these feelings. Or maybe I’m just not as self absorbed as I was as a youth.

But I just can’t believe that most people actually think that either [tag]Obama[/tag] or [tag]McCain[/tag] are good choices for president. I can’t get my brain around this that the majority find one or the other acceptable. I could provide reasons a mile long against both, but the one that astonishes me the most, I’ve already written about, and that’s their support for FISA. Good God, both candidates for president voted to abridge our civil rights, rights upon which this country supposedly was founded, rights which supposedly men and women have died to protect — are dieing even today. At least in theory, this is why they are dieing; I’m not so sure, and that is what is so terrible about that.

But the thing is, I bring this up with people, even people that I used to think were rational thinkers, and they just shrug their shoulders. “Well, would you rather have Obama/McCain?” they ask, depending on which side of the political spectrum they lie. No I wouldn’t. I would rather have someone who isn’t a career politician, i.e., I’d rather have someone who is not a sellout crook. I’d rather have a candidate who hasn’t wiped his butt with the constitution like these two have as sitting U.S. senators; they are no different than the sellout crooks in the current administration.

Pete Townsend was right: meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Then there is the financial debacle.

So, as of today, it looks like Congress may pass that $700-OMFG-billion [tag]bailout[/tag]. Oh, they threw in a few caveats so they can brag about how they protected the “little guy,” or as Obama likes to say, “Main Street.” The hope is, of course, that the government will by huge amounts of devaluaed assets — essentially bying bad debt — with the idea that with this bad debt taken off their hands, banks and financial firms will be more willing to — wait for it … wait for it — extend more credit. To make more loans to create more debt. Ostensibly “good” debt, but debt nonetheless. As the Associated Press put it, the bailout “would pump as much as $700 billion into beleaguered financial firms that are starving for cash, taking over huge amounts of devalued assets from the companies in the hopes of unlocking frozen credit.”

WTF?

According to the AP report, the government will insure some bad home loans rather than buy them outright, ostensibly to limit the amount of tax payer money used in the bailout. It also seems that financial executives who got us into this mess “would see their pay packages limited,” and won’t receive “golden parachutes. Something tells me their limited pay packages will still be more than I make in total for several years.

The AP also reports that the government would receive stock in the companies it bails out, ostensibly giving it, and by proxy us, a chance to recoup some of the bailout through future profits these companies would make. So we’re betting on these companies that are all about to fail that someday they’ll make money again. This sounds a little too close to the logic of “too big to fail.”

And last, and seemingly least in the eyes of the government, the litte guy on Main Street: the plan would require the government to try renegotiating the bad mortgage debt it acquires with the goal of lowering borrowers’ monthly payments so they can keep their homes.

Again, WTF?

OK, if you don’t want to read the angry, self-righteous rant we all know is coming, stop here. Bad words trouble you? Please go to http://www.fluffyboxofkittens.com and tell ’em I sent ya.

<angry rant>

So, essentially the government is going to fuck us hard yet again, but at least is giving us a momentary reach around before heading out the door without so much as a “thank you ma’am” (that will come later in a soundbite for the evening news that we’ll see on the fuzzy TV in our sordid little roach motel room). Sorry for the graphic analogy (not really) but I’m very, very angry by all this, not to mention mystified as to how anyone can think this is a good idea.

Our country is already $9.8 billion in the hole (yes, all the sordid details can be found here), between debt carried by the U.S. public and that carried by the government The total debt has increased more than $500 billion each year since since 2003; the annual budget deficit declined from $318 billion in 2005 to $162 billion in 2007, but is estimated to increase to $410 billion in 2008. Budget deficits add to the debt, of course, because the government borrows to make up the slack.

So, a government that lives beyond its means is going to borrow even more money to bail out individuals and corporations living beyond their means.

Seriously, in what the fuck world does this make sense? Please tell me, as I’d like to join the rest of you there, but apparently I was in the bathroom when they handed out the blue pills.

I’ll go ahead and state the obvious here, because obviously it needs to be said. But in all seriousness, isn’t this just the sort of thing that caused the current problem in the first place? On one hand, we’ve got milions of people living beyond their means through credit. Maxing out their multiple credit cards and getting a mortgage they have no realistic means of paying off in the long run, living in debt up to their eyeballs — all in pursuit of the so-called American dream. On the other hand, there’s the thousands of greedy bastards willing to extend all that questionable credit. As if that weren’t enough money, even greedier bastards are buying and selling that debt.

So now that this is all crashing and burning, both sides are clamoring for the government, which is broke to begin with, to bail them out. And that means, of course, us taxpayers. Well, maybe if you’re one of those people living impossibly beyond your means, or one of those greedy bastards making money off of those fools, you think this is a good idea.

As someone who has largely stayed out of debt for most of his adult life — caveat to Mom and Dad for paying off the college loans — who pays his taxes (taxes which have gone up under Dubya, I might add), who lives simply and not beyond his means, who drives a ’92 Subaru that’s paid for (what a novel concept), I have to disagree. I don’t think my tax dollars should be used to bail out anyone on either side.

Fuck you; you made your bed, now you should have to lie in it. Why should people like me help foot the bill and be punished while others get bailed out — in other words, rewarded — for being at best foolish and ignorant and at worst a greedy, opportunist asshole? When do I get to stop feeling like Holden Caufield, and that there is actually some rationality in the human world? What about my American dream?

I think that’s about to drown in a $700 billion flush down the toilet; Obaman or McCain will have the priviledge of jiggling the handle.

Oh, but what about the “painful recession” Dubya warned us about if this doesn’t come to pass? Well, what about it? I would have thought unending war, gas shortages, and a price more than $4 dollars a gallon would be enough to wake people up, but it hasn’t; it just produced more should shrugs. Maybe this would be enough to make the blue pill wear off.

</rant>

Ah, I feel much better now. I still feel like Holden Caufield, but I’ll stick with the red pill.