Archive for September, 2008

Yes, I know, while sequels can sometimes be OK, threequels almost always suck (I’ll hope it’s more Bourne Ultimatum than Goldmember) but here goes. I think we should go into the VP debate with low expectations for Joe Biden. It’s not his fault – he’s just in a complete no-win situation. 

You all know and dread what’s going to happen: Sarah Palin will show up with everybody believing she’ll be completely clueless. Then she’ll basically do the political debating equivalent of cramming before an exam in a subject you’ve skipped half the lectures for. She’ll have been studying hard and getting instruction in foreign policy issues. She’ll show up and display a basic understanding of them and pad her limited knowledge out with lots of “folksy common sense” , say “guys and gals” a lot and at one point will say something along the lines of “we have a saying in Alaska…”. She’ll also use sensible sounding but practically meaningless generalising platitudes like “the terrorists must not win”, “we will bring democracy to those who want it” or “America is a beacon of hope” and as long as she doesn’t mention her views on witchcraft, everybody will rave about how unexpectedly well she did and she’ll be a star all over again.

Poor old Joe – he’ll just look grey and boring beside her. Because of the agreed format of the debate, he may not get an opportunity to challenge her. Unless he does an equivalent of what McCain did in the presidential debate, ignores the agreed format and challenge her anyway. And if he does this, the Republicans will bleat about how he broke the agreement and viciously attacked their Golden Girl. We all know from recent days how easily offended Republicans are (more on that tomorrow). So perhaps it’s best that the format doesn’t allow direct exchanges. Picture it: Palin makes a nasty, snide comment dressed up as feisty, regular small-town girl straight talk, Biden snaps back angrily and suddenly it’s Biden the Bully.

So the best thing for Biden to do is just focus on his own game – clearly and concisely communicate his legislative and foreign policy experience and most importantly passionately put forward the Obama/Biden vision for America – after that just hope for the best. Who knows, maybe nobody will take notice of the Vice-presidential debate. Can’t we just put a Paris Hilton reality show on MTV at the same time? Nobody would watch then.

I caught the debate on Saturday night (I say “caught” casually-in reality it was the centrepiece of my evening’s viewing). It was shown a day later here in the UK which gave me an opportunity to compare it to the reactions in the media in the aftermath. Mostly the consensus was reasonably accurate – that Obama was somewhat stronger in the economic section, the foreign policy portion was about even but that this would probably help Obama a little as he is considered weaker in this area, and that nobody landed a knockout punch (does anybody nowadays). There are a couple of areas I want to pick up on though:

1. The foreign policy area was pretty interesting. McCain, to his credit, showed a wide knowledge about various global issues and a clear analysis of various conflicts without resorting to the naked scaremongering of Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld. However, he did try to harp on about possible naivity on the part of Obama. But Obama was well prepared enough to bat these issues away.

2. Obama has received some criticism for how many times he said McCain was right. I think this is unfair as he usually followed this praise up with a but or however and a clear description about where McCain’s argument fell down. There’s no point completely disagreeing with your opponent if your opponent is making some sensible points – you’ll only come across as overly partisan and truculent.

3. What was up with McCain never looking or engaging at Obama – was it rude and disrespectful? Was he afraid that Obama would take apart his arguments? Or did he just forget the agreement that this debate was supposed to include inter-candidate exchanges? The agreement, as I understand it, was that Palin wouldn’t have to go toe-to-toe with Biden, as long as the presidential debates were proper debates instead of recent affairs where candidates, as Martin Sheen said in an episode of The West Wing, give two stump speeches in the same room and nobody learns anything new. If he didn’t forget and chose to ignore this agreement what does this indicate about about a potential McCain presidency? Will he completely ignore Congress and the Judiciary when they raise constitutionally mandated objections? Will he agree not to bomb-bomb-bomb, bomb-bomb Iran and then go ahead and do it anyway? Just how often will he renege on promises when he can’t even keep a promise to face his opponent?

4. McCain kept telling us what a maverick he was in the senate. This is a bit like Obama saying how charismatic he is. That should be for other people to decide, not him. And besides, he may have been a maverick in earlier times but what has he done for us lately?

5. And here’s the big point – when asked about how the Wall Street bailout plan would affect their spending plans, Obama admitted he would have to delay or possibly limit some spending but that a lot of fundamentals would stay in place. McCain said that apart from the military and veterans affairs he would suspend all spending. WWHHATTT??!! HAS HE COMPLETELY LOST IT??!!! Apart from the misery this would cause for many people, does he want the economy to grind to a complete halt?? Consumer confidence is in the toilet (0ver 80% negative, according to Gallup), so consumer spending is restricted. The fed’s interest rates are at 2%, I read, so not much scope there. The only way for the government to get spending going again may be to go and do it themselves. It becomes a matter of basic Keynesian economics, the type of policies that Roosevelt used to drag America out of the Great Depression, through a program of public works and transfers to those on the bread line.

For those of you who may not be familiar with Keynesian economics (I’m not an expert myself, but I do know a little), this states that an extra dollar injected to an economy will create more than a dollar in wealth. This is because the person you give the dollar to will spend a portion of it and that the people who receive this expenditure will spend a portion of that and so on. The actual amount created will depend on people’s Marginal Propensity to Consume, or in layman’s terms, how likely people are to spend locally and not save or import. So common sense would tell us that to really get the economy going, extra money should be given to those who will spend it even when confidence is low, quite simply because they have little scope to set aside funds – i.e. poor people – through government transfers or job creation through public works. McCain actually wants to cut them off completely as a way of getting the economy going!

And this brings us to the BIG LIE about tax cuts that the Bush Administration told Americans at the start of the 21st century – that tax cuts, 46% of which went to the richest 1%, would stimulate the economy and bring wealth to everybody, so don’t worry about the morality of giving away the budget surplus to people who don’t need it. And even apart from the morality, this is a ridiculous rationale. Rich people, when they get extra cash, are less likely to rush out and spend locally on things they couldn’t afford before, simply because they probably have pretty much everything they want. Instead, they are more likely to save the money, or if they do spend it, possibly on expensive imports and thus a good portion of their share is lost to the economy. And the proof is in the pudding. Over the last eight years growth became sluggish to the point where America is on the brink of recession.

So, simply from the cold, rational, non-moralistic point of view of wanting to get the economy going when it’s starting to sputter, the best thing to do is give it to those at the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder. And don’t worry, richer people, I’m sure that as a result of their spending, there will eventually be an increased flow of funds into your pockets. And more than likely it will work faster than the Trickle-Down economics of the past eight years.

Starting with the second part, in a recent blog I mentioned that my sweet wife Meri described Joe Biden as looking like a used car salesman. I thought this may be a bit harsh, even though yes, he maybe a little old-fashioned looking and his teeth may be a bit too white. And then I found out yesterday what his father did for a living – you guessed it, a car salesman!!!

Still though ladies, who would you rather have as VP? A kind of cheesy looking older guy who was instrumental in the introduction of anti-domestic violence legislation in the ’70s or a woman who charges rape victims $1200 for their medical exam?

And speaking of the Honourable Governor, I think that, in light of the recent the videos on www.YouTube.com featuring her, it’s safe to say that Obama now has the Wicca vote nailed down – should be worth at least 50, 60 swing state votes. Yes, I know there are many more…er…witches? practitioners of Wicca? what’s the politically correct term? in America, but he’s already coasting in California. 

Sarah Palin’s planned first policy initiative once in office? Ban repeats of Bewitched. And where she stands on Middle-East peace is not as important as her view on the Salem Witch Hunts. And of course the main obstacle to her reaching the White House is not her lack of Foreign Policy experience, allying herself to a failed economic ideology, being a generally not nice person (see earlier post) etc etc, it’s actually witchcraft. In fact I myself am feeling a little…em…warlocky? sorcerous?…writing this post. So all together now:

Tina Fey – BURN THE WITCH!

Hilary Clinton – BURN THE WITCH!

Nancy Pelosi – BURN THE WITCH!

Joy Behar – BURN THE WITCH!

Barbara Walters – BURN THE WITCH!

Whoopi Goldberg – BURN THE WITCH!

One last thing, at the end of the clip I watched, there is a small extra part which shows her at another religious gathering praising Pastor Muthee and how “bold” he was in not saying something as wishy-washy as “Lord, if it is your will, let this woman be Governor” but rather demanded “Lord, make a way” and I thought, wow, now they’ve stopped asking God for his help and have started telling Him what to do!

How could I have written about this last night and forgotten:

10. THE BRIDGE TO NOWHERE!!!!

Lazy, I know, but it’s late here in Europe

In one/some/many/all of her recent speeches, Sarah Palin extolled the values of small communities without ever really expanding on what they are. So let’s have a look at her record and maybe we can figure out what she means by this:

1. She quoted the writer Westbrook Pegler, described by Robert Kennedy Jr as a “fascist” who “expressed his fervent hope about my father, Robert F. Kennedy, as he contemplated his own run for the presidency in 1965, that “some white patriot of the Southern tier will spatter his spoonful of brains in public premises before the snow flies.”” – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-f-kennedy-jr/governor-palins-reading-l_b_126478.html

2. She is OK with charging rape victims $1200 for their rape kits

3. The quiet, picket-fenced small town she was mayor of is the Crystal Meth capital of Alaska.

4. She claimed that she had visited Ireland as a way of displaying her insight into foreign affairs. In reality she did the Shannon Stopover, an airport refuelling stop. What, did she indulge in an expansive chat with Kathleen in the Duty-Free shop about how the lessons of the Northern Ireland Troubles and Peace Process can be applied to the wider world??!! She’s exaggerating like an old Irish storyteller.

5. Allegedly, on becoming mayor of Wasilla, she immediately asked how to go about banning books from the library and then bullied the local librarian, who stood up to her.

6. She laughed on radio, as a (female) political opponent, was mocked as fat and a cancer. Then she had the gall to send a letter to that opponent saying that she opposed name-calling and now is ultra-sensitive about anyone criticising her (it’s always because of sexism, apparently, even when done by Tina Fey). Oh and by the way, that political opponent had recently recovered from cancer.

7. When an inquiry is set up, looking into a possible abuse of power by her as governor, her husband and others close to her ignore subpoenas to appear. If she does indeed fire people for divorcing relatives, imagine what she’d do if, say, the family member of a CIA operative questioned her or her administration (oh crap, it could really end up being HER administration).

8. Well, there’s no need for sex education in small towns because there’s obviously no teenage sex or pregnancy in small to…Oops

9. She believes in God (fair enough) but also that God planned the deaths of thousands of young American people and tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of Iraqis

Are these really the values of Small Town America? Because of they are, I guess she’s right that a city boy like me just wouldn’t get them.

PS if there are any Small Town Americans out there with a different version of small-town values please feel free to add a comment, setting me straight on this

PPS My favourite TV show about Small-Town America is “Friday Night Lights” – anyone know if that got a second series because the end of the first series looked pretty final

Something caught my eye on the Daily Show last week. I haven’t followed the offshore drilling issue all that closely but a montage of Republican members of congress complaining about the Democrats’ proposals to only drill at least 50 miles from shore did make me laugh. In particular one congressman claimed that most offshore oil reserves were based 3-50 miles from shore. You want to drill for oil three miles from shore??!! THREE MILES!!!!! As in, clearly visible from the beach!!! What would this mean?

– On a good day, children could skim stones all the way to the platform

– There could be a new tourist attraction – swim with the dolphins under the rig

– John Kerry could windsurf out to it (by the way, how is it that if you stand on a flat board in the sea you can be called a lazy beach bum – add a little sail to it and you’re an out of touch elitist)

– It wouldn’t require an oil spill to close the beach, just a worker dropping a dirty rag over the side

– If the Olympics were awarded to a nearby city, they could use the rig as the marker for the swim portion of the triathlon

– On the upside, if there was a hurricane, one returning resident, on finding their house destroyed, could bed down on Exxon platform 83   

A recent poll of 22,000 people around the world showed 80% support for Barack Obama in the Presidential election. Now, I don’t know what the exact global margin of error of this poll but I think it’s reasonably indicative that non-Americans want Obama to win. It brings me back to an issue I touched on in my first post – that of how much of a right people from outside the States (like myself) have to give on opinion on American affairs. In that post I intended to give a rather glib justification – because I can – but forgot.

But recent events have made me think further about the influence American policy has on the outside world (as the saying goes “when America sneezes, the rest of the world gets a cold”). Firstly, I know somebody who works for a major UK institution. In recent days his company took over another major bank which, having invested in the US sub-prime mortgage market, had suffered major losses and whose share price plummeted as a result of attacks by short-selling stock traders. As a result thousands of people within the new institution face redundancy. Secondly I think back to July 7, 2005 when London was attacked. On that day I was off work sick but had I gone to work and had the bombers arrived an hour later I may have been caught up in the chaos.

Now in the short-term, not a whole lot can be done. People will lose their jobs as a result of the current financial climate. Al-Qaeda terrorists are out there plotting attacks. We can only hope that our security services can prevent them but unfortunately, in the short term, they may get through. So we must look to the long-term and aim for stability in the economy. We must look to the long-term and peace, perticularly in the Middle-East, so that the terrorists will be ostracized, not supported. This, in particular, may involve difficult actions. Our leaders will have to talk to people we don’t like. They may have to make concessions that stick in our throat. This is what happened in Northern Ireland when John Hume sacrificed his political career to talk to Gerry Adams, and when prisoners were released as part of the Good Friday Agreement. As a result there has been a decade of peace.

There are many, many people around the globe, whose lives have been affected, directly and indirectly, by American political policy – sometimes positively but also, all too often recently, negatively. So that’s why Election ’08 matters to us. I know much Anti-American comment is ignorant and even hypocritical (I was guilty of it myself when younger). I also re-iterate that it is your election and that the final decision should be made by the American people, for the American people. You can take or leave the opinions of outsiders. I only ask that, as you stand in that booth in front of that complicated machine trying to ensure that you don’t accidentally vote for your local Marxist-Leninist (unless you are a Marxist-Leninist), you don’t dismiss our views out of hand.