Friday, October 31, 2008

Joe The Plumber - Among The Easily Fooled

The is a personal Joe The Plumber type story...

Several years ago I was repairing our washing machine and needed a part. I Googled for suppliers and found one several blocks from my house. The person who had the part was a plumber/washer/dryer repairman running a small business out of his small house. He was married with one young daughter. I know that because she answered the door with him when I went to pick up the part.

I've noticed that local man has an Obama sign in his window now. He's a real small business person. I'm not really sure who the national Joe The Plumber is, but it doesn't really matter who he is - because what he is - is someone who is very easily fooled. He's not alone - many working class people have been fooled into thinking the Republican party of the last eight years has their interests at heart.

In the book How to Rig an Election: Confessions of a Republican Operative Allen Raymond gloats about the success of that big lie -
"Who would have thought that we could convince so many blue-collar workers that raising taxes primarily on white-collar workers was intrinsically wicked enough that they and other voters should give us both the House and the Senate? If we could get elected by convincing our own hard-up constituents that they were in the same boat as the rich, what wouldn't a voter believe? Those were heady times - and we were just getting started."
The Republican's Party has had a good ride on that horse, but not this time.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

People In The Middle For Obama

People in the Middle for Obama is a series of video statements by a variety of regular people - young, old, Republican, Democrat, Independents, Christian evangelicals - created by the documentary filmmaker Errol Morris who writes about the project in his New York Times blog,

"If you’re not going to put words in people’s mouths, if you’re really listening to what they have to say, you’re going to learn something. Admittedly, the evidence is anecdotal. I haven’t selected these people through some kind of statistical sampling. These people are self-selected. They wrote in and said that they were registered Republicans, Independents or switch-voters who were planning to vote for Obama. People in the middle. And I was interested in talking to them on film about why they were making the switch from voting for a Republican to voting for a Democrat. Was it linked with policy? With the personality of the candidate?"

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fox News - Mike Huckabee Show

Fox News justifiably gets a lot of criticism for not being fair or balanced but to their credit they have given Mike Huckabee a show where guests have a chance to have a conversation.

For example he had Bill Maher on his show and provided a counterpoint to Bill's belief that all people of faith are delusional.

He also did an interview with Richard Dreyfuss, who in response to a comment by Mike that Richard's views were "complex" - said, "sound bites are the enemy of thought".

That's a dangerous proposition to make on a network or cable news show of course but somewhat ironically they couldn't delve into a discussion because time was up.

If Fox News wants to appeal to a broader section of people, a more middle of road compassionate point of view such as Mike Huckabee presents, might be a place to start.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Fox News - Cross Between Infomercial and The X Files

Bill Burton, an Obama campaign spokesperson, does a great job of making those poor Fox News talking heads look silly. At one point in the interview he says, "Fox News is a cross between an infomercial and the X files."

The first video is interesting in it's attempt to not so subliminally influence what people are thinking by putting up wanted posters and scary pictures on the split screen while Bill Burton calmly and logically explains what's going on - you almost can't hear what he's saying because the graphics are so intense.

One of the anchors says Fox News keeps echoing things that don't matter because "that's what the viewers want." I suppose some segment of the population wants fake news from Fox just like readers of the Weekly World News want to read about the manigator that upset a McCain rally recently or a 9 foot tall cyclops who joined the NBA.

In the second video the anchor says there was a Rasmussen poll that shows Americans' think Fox News is the least biased network. That doesn't sound right to me.

I can't find that poll on the internet, but there is a Rasmussen report that says 87% of Fox Viewers said they are likely to vote for John McCain. Maybe she was talking about a poll of Fox News viewers who agree with each other that Fox News is the only news source they can trust.

Every other news source is reporting real news about the economy, unemployment, and other things that actually impact people's lives - which isn't nearly as much fun as an endless loop of attacks, conspiracies and interviews with a plumber expounding on economics, tax policy, and now foreign affairs.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Fox News Worried Its Viewers Might Confuse a Cartoon With Actual News

Matt Groening, creator of "The Simpsons," tells John Stewart Fox News Worried Its Viewers Might Confuse a Cartoon with Actual News.

The clip of the Krusty the Clown campaign spot is pretty funny - be sure and read the scrolling text on the bottom of the screen...very Fox-like.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

We Need a Two Party System

I've always seen the Republican party as the party for rich people. Being a poor person, or a working class person, it never appealed to me. However - I can see a need for opposing points of view - someone has to stand up for the rich, because some rich people use their money to employ the poor.

From an article in The New Republic -
"For years, many of the elite conservatives were happy to harvest the votes of devout Christians and gun owners by waging a phony class war against 'liberal elitists' and 'leftist intellectuals.' Suddenly, the conservative writers are discovering that the very anti-intellectualism their side courted and encouraged has begun to consume their movement.

The cause of Edmund Burke, Leo Strauss, Robert Nisbet and William F. Buckley Jr. is now in the hands of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity--and Sarah Palin. Reason has been overwhelmed by propaganda, ideas by slogans, learned manifestoes by direct-mail hit pieces."

Rush, Sean and Sarah are not going to build a coherent political party platform - they are good at energizing the base/mob, attacking people and providing sound-bites, but not at all good at articulating alternative ideas. In this sense they are conservative, i.e. they want to maintain a status quo - some fuzzy vision of what things are like or were like.

The Republican party rode the "polarize the country" and "fool poor people into thinking we are looking out for them" for a few decades - and it was a good ride from a power point of view - not so good for the average citizen.

It's time for some new ideas.

One thing liberals are good at is coming up with new ideas, believing in unlimited possibilities of the individual, nothing is impossible.
"As has often been acknowledged by conservative writers, one of the fundamental traits of the conservative attitude is a fear of change, a timid distrust of the new as such, while the liberal position is based on courage and confidence, on a preparedness to let change run its course even if we cannot predict where it will lead."

Source - Institut HAYEK - Why I Am Not a Conservative
Liberals need conservative thinkers to debate and moderate their ideas. We need a strong thoughtful conservatism - not fear tactics, dopey name-calling, labels and yelling - aimed at stopping thoughtful consideration of ideas.

A party willing to give up individual liberty for a government defined and mandated morality was never a good idea - and has gradually led to an erosion of individual liberties that makes this such a great country to live in.

If the Republican party wants to rebuild itself as the party of fiscal conservatism that might work...but the fact of the matter is a strictly conservative point of view will never be sufficient for good government - we need a second party that offers viable alternatives.

Friday, October 24, 2008

What's the Real Federal Deficit? And How Do We Pay it Off?

According to this USA TODAY article written in August of 2006 -
"The federal government keeps two sets of books.

The set the government promotes to the public has a healthier bottom line: a $318 billion deficit in 2005.

The set the government doesn't talk about is the audited financial statement produced by the government's accountants following standard accounting rules. It reports a more ominous financial picture: a $760 billion deficit for 2005. If Social Security and Medicare were included — as the board that sets accounting rules is considering — the federal deficit would have been $3.5 trillion.

The official number is based on "cash accounting," similar to the way you track what comes into your checking account and what goes out. That works fine for paying today's bills, but it's a poor way to measure a financial condition that could include credit card debt, car loans, a mortgage and an overdue electric bill.

The audited number is based on accrual accounting. This method doesn't care about your checking account. It measures income and expenses when they occur, or accrue. If you buy a velvet Elvis painting online, the cost goes on the books immediately, regardless of when the check clears or your eBay purchase arrives."

The answer of how to work our way out of this is simple -

We need to create good paying jobs that will increase tax revenue and we need to reduce spending.

It helps to have fiscally conservative members of Congress like the Blue Dog Democrats but we also need to reduce military spending for weaponry, and maintaining a large overseas military presence.

We spend almost as much money as the rest of the world combined on the military and military-related activities.

The government says defense spending is 20% of the federal pie chart, but other estimates say defense-related spending takes up 54% of our tax dollars.

Our current model is based on the cold war of the 1950's and a WWII model - where powerful nations were at odds. If we transition to an international police-based model where we treat terrorists as criminals we would be better able to deal with the guerilla-style terrorist threats to national security of the 21st century and reduce our military-related spending considerably.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Barack Obama TV Special - 8 PM Wednesday Oct 29

Barack Obama has a half hour spot this Wednesday at 8 pm on NBC, CBS and Fox

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Choose Joy

People say we are what we eat, but I'm pretty sure we are what we think.

What we read, listen to and think about shapes the way we view the world. If we can find simple things to be thankful for everyday we find happiness.

It's paradoxical, but we do not find happiness by trying to make ourselves happy - but rather by thinking less about ourselves and more about people less fortunate, we find peace, satisfaction and more joy. Doing something good for another person often has more benefit for the doer than the receiver.

I think it's a good idea to become involved in volunteer activities, or take individual acts, that help other people - for a very selfish reason - it makes us happier. There's really nothing wrong with being selfish if it leads to you being happy and has an added benefit of aiding others.

I also think it's a good idea to become involved with some sort of spiritual activity - whether it be a church or just finding devotionals or thought of day material that have positive messages.

We start by looking inward and as we grow we become more outward focused and realize that doing simple things to take care of ourselves allows us to do more for others. Taking a news-break, reading and listening to positive messages, buying fresh flowers, eating healthy foods, exercise, breathing and meditation - can all help us, so we can help others.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

-Philippians 4:4-9 (NRSV)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Believing in Vote Fraud May be Dangerous to a Democracy's Health

From an article in Slate Magazine By Dahlia Lithwick -
"Large-scale, coordinated vote stealing doesn't happen. The incentives—unlike the incentives for registration fraud—just aren't there. In an interview this week with Salon, Lorraine Minnite of Barnard College, who has studied vote fraud systematically, noted that "between 2002 to 2005 only one person was found guilty of registration fraud. Twenty others were found guilty of voting while ineligible and five were guilty of voting more than once. That's 26 criminal voters." Twenty-six criminal voters despite the fact that U.S. attorneys, like David Iglesias in New Mexico, were fired for searching high and low for vote-fraud cases to prosecute and coming up empty."

It will be interesting to see what efforts are made to skew the vote this time around. There have already been some number of voter purges in Montana where an Army Reservist and one of the most highly decorated veterans of World War II were taken off the registration list by Republican zealots.

PBS and YouTube have teamed up to encourage people to send in videos of their election day experience to Vote 2008 Election Connection.

Michael Waldman from the Brennan Center for Justice talks about voter purging in this CBS News video -

Monday, October 20, 2008

Joe Comes to Tacoma

No it wasn't Joe the Plumber or Joe Six-Pack - but Joe Biden came to Cheney Stadium (temporarily named Obama Biden Stadium) yesterday. He gave a very inspiring speech and it was very cool to see Governor Christine Gregoire, and U.S. Senator's Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray on the stage with him. I watched on CSpan, but R&B got to see it in person.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Colin Powell Endorses Barack Obama

Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama for president this morning on Meet The Press.

Colin Powell says of John McCain and Barack Obama that, "Both of them are distinguished Americans who are patriotic and devoted to the welfare of our country."

He also stated that he was "concerned with the selection of Sarah Palin as a vice-presidential candidate" saying he, "does not believe she is ready to be president" and that her selection, along with John McCain's changing position on issues during the economic turmoil, raises questions about John McCain's judgement.

He says that Barack Obama has a steadiness, intellectual curiousity, depth of knowledge, and a definitive way of doing business that will serve us well.

He says the Republican party's approach over the last seven weeks has become narrower and narrower, while the Democrat's have a more inclusive approach that crosses ethnic, racial and generational lines - and recognizes all villages and towns have value - not just small villages and towns.

Colin Powell is troubled that some Republican's are narrowing the party's appeal and polarizing people by trying to paint Barack Obama as a terrorist sympathizer by using robo calls and statements by Sarah Palin - and with the misguided attempts by some who say Barack Obama is a Muslim. Colin Powell points out that Barack Obama is a Christian, and that there is nothing wrong with being a Muslim in this country. He says how wrong it is that in America the land of opportunity - that people who are saying these things might make a seven year old kid, who is a Muslim, think he or she could not grow up to be president.

Who is the president we need now?

Colin Powell says - Barack Obama's ability to inspire, the inclusive nature of his campaign, his rhetorical abilities, his style and substance shows he has met the standard and has the potential to be an exceptional president. He is a transformational figure, a new generation coming onto the world and America's stage. For these reasons he will be voting for Barack Obama.


As a Republican Colin Powell is disappointed with the debasement of the Republican ideals that has come about by following a Fox-Newslike campaign strategy of no substance and all sensationalism. It is unfortunate that instead of letting John McCain be himself and provide a valid counterpoint as he did in this November 2006 speech to the Federalist Society we are left with a campaign that is racing to the lowest common denominator.

I have a great deal of respect for Colin Powell. If you want to learn more about Colin Powell, his book My American Journey, published in 2003, is very interesting and inspiring. This is a quote from that book -

"To sum up my political philosophy, I am a fiscal conservative with a social conscience. Neither of the two major parties, however, fits me comfortably in its present state. Granted, politics is the art of compromise, but for now I prefer not to compromise just so that I can say I belong to this or that party. I am troubled by the political passion of those on the extreme right who seem to claim divine wisdom on political as well as spiritual matters. God provides us with guidance and inspiration, not a legislative agenda. I am disturbed by the class and racial undertones beneath the surface of their rhetoric. On the other side of the spectrum, I am put off by patronizing liberals who claim to know what is best for society but devote little thought to who will eventually pay the bills. I question the priorities of those liberals who lavish so much attention on individual license and entitlements that little concern is left for the good of the community at large. I distrust rigid ideology from any direction, and I am discovering that many Americans feel just as I do."


Speaking of endorsements, Editor & Publisher shows Barack Obama leads John McCain 76-18 in newspaper endorsements as of Saturday October 18th. Some of these newspapers typically support the Republican candidate. The Houston Chronicle and Austin American-Statesman who strongly supported George Bush in 2004, and one - The Chicago Tribune has never endorsed a Democrat for president.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Obama Leading in 7-11 Coffee Cup Poll

You can participate in the 7-11 Election 2008 by buying a cup of coffee in a McCain or Obama coffee cup. It's interesting that around 60% elect to purchase the Obama cup. The poll has a bias of course but it seems like it would be biased towards people with lower incomes and the working class - the real Joe The Plumber/Joe Six Pack types.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Safe, Prosperous and Free

It's interesting that some candidates spend so much money on negative TV ads while a young independent artist comes up with his own video with a positive message. I'm not sure how a traditional political campaign could ever compete with this kind of grassroots effort.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Amateur Gourmet

The blog The Amateur Gourmet looks pretty interesting to me. I especially like the graphics at the top of the home page.

I ran across that blog while looking for information on the impact adrenaline in animal meat may have on the people who consume that meat. I didn't find anything on that topic but I did find Food and Drugs: Two Questions which was good for a smile.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Good News - There Will Be Snacks

Tables And Chairs by Andrew Bird

"I know we're gonna meet someday in the crumbled financial institutions of this land
there will be tables and chairs
pony rides and dancing bears
there'll even be a band
'cause listen after the fall there'll be no more countries
no currencies at all
we're gonna live on our wits
throw away survival kits
trade butterfly knives for adderal
and that's not all
there will be snacks, there will
there will be snacks!"

Lyrics - Tables And Chairs by Andrew Bird

Listen to the song at Andrew Bird - live concert video on

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sarah Palin Tellin a Whopper? - You Betcha

From the report to the Alaska Legislative Council released Friday October 10, 2008 by a 12-0 vote of the Alaska Legislative Council, with eight Republicans and four Democrats voting -

Finding Number One

For the reasons explained in section IV of this report, I find Governor Sarah Palin abused her power by violating Alaska Statute 39.52.110(a) of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act. Alaska Statute 39.52.110(a) provides

"The legislature reaffirms that each public officer holds office as a public trust, and any effort to benefit a personal or financial interest through official action is a violation of that trust"

Sarah Palin tells Alaska reporters in a phone interview on October 11, 2008 -

"I'm very, very pleased to be cleared of any legal wrongdoing, any hint of any kind of unethical activity there. Very pleased to be cleared of any of that."

The Fact Checkers at the Washington Post gave Sarah "Four Pinocchios" for this whopper.

Jiminy Cricket must be quite disappointed.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Who's Terrorizing Who?

The Truth will set you free.

Fight The Smears cites articles from, The New York Times, The Associated Press, CNN, The Washington Post, The Detroit Free Press, and The Chicago Sun Times that explain how ridiculous the claim is that Barack Obama being on a board, and at a political fundraiser, that included William Ayers, has anything to do with Barack Obama's character or political views.

Part of what makes this baseless attack on Barack Obama scary is the implication that there is no free press - we can't trust anyone.

That should strike terror in the hearts of everyone who believes a functioning democracy depends on an informed citizenry.


Another talking point that's being repeated is that Barack Obama praised a book written by William Ayers. The next time some drone says or writes that Barack Obama said something good about one of William Ayer's books, ask them if they are talking about 1. To Become a Teacher: Making a Difference in Children's Lives or 2. A Kind and Just Parent or 3. The Good Preschool Teacher or one of the other 13 books William Ayer's has written.

The correct answer is number 2. If they get that right you can ask them if they would like to burn that book, or make sure more people read it since it's been praised by the Library Review, Kirkus Reviews, Review - among others - for describing how the the juvenile justice system can eliminate a child's chance for redemption, and for providing hope that the system can be changed to give children a chance.


A whisper campaign of guilt by association - based on someone being at a fundraiser, serving on a board, and saying someone wrote something useful for people who want to help children - but not listening when Barack Obama says William Ayer's acts as a Weatherman 40 years ago were "detestable", or reading numerous reputable newspapers that say the connection is absurd - is intended to appeal to a person's gut, not their head. It's a perfect example of what Stephen Colbert so aptly defined as Truthiness.

If we wanted to talk about guilt by association there are much closer ties between John McCain and G. Gordon Liddy that bear some consideration when deciding on who to vote for as the next president.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Pick Your President

<p><strong>><a href=''>2008 Election Contest: Pick Your President</a></strong> - Predict the winner of the 2008 presidential election and enter to win a $500 prize.</p>

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Tribe has Spoken

Maybe it's the campaign season, or I've been watching to much cable news, but America seems to be moving away from a democratic civilized society where rational discourse is used to examine and critique a variety of ideas - and becoming a nation of tribes.

We have divided ourselves into tribes, by using labels that we often don't understand - "Republicans", "Democrats", "Liberals", "Conservatives", "Radicals".

Once I've labeled you I can discount "you" since you are not a member of my tribe. It becomes a quick leap from rational thought to emotionally charged feelings - you are bad, you are scary, you are not like me. I want what's good - you for some reason want what's bad. It's all silly nonsense of course - because the definition of the tribe is sometimes based on no more than sound bites heard on MSNBC or Fox News or whatever TV/radio show, internet site, we think best represents our tribe.

Political affiliation, similar to religious affiliation, is often an accident of birth and many people don't bother to examine the underlying philosophies of either the political or religious tribe they claim membership in. Never having developed their own religious or political beliefs they are left open to following whatever mystical or irrational ideas are promoted by the leader(s) of the tribe.

As an antidote to the cheering (or booing) mobs I see on TV I'm reading Karl Popper's book written in 1944 - the Open Society and Its Enemies (Volume 1).

After I've finished those I think I'll re-read the San Francisco longshoreman/philosopher Eric Hoffer's book The True Believer.

I'm afraid if all I do is watch TV, listen to the radio and visit my favorite websites I'll be tempted to join in the emotion - stop thinking rationally, and thereby give up my individual liberty to say and think what I want. If the tribe has spoken and they do my thinking and talking for me - then I can stop thinking....and cease to exist as an individual.

What a waste that would be - we live in a free country - we are all wonders of God's creation - we should take advantage of that fact to come up with new, better and more peaceful ways of thinking and doing things.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Why Conservatism Fails as a Social System

I'm reading a book by Friedrich Hayek written in 1944 called the The Road to Serfdom.

In his preface from 1956 Friedrich Hayek writes,
"Conservatism, though a necessary element in any stable society, is not a social program; in its paternalistic, nationalistic, and power-adoring tendencies it is often closer to socialism than true liberalism; and with its traditionalistic, anti-intellectual, and often mystical propensities it will never, except in short periods of disillusionment, appeal to the young and all those others who believe that some changes are desirable if this world is to become a better place. A conservative movement, by its very nature is bound to be a defender of established privilege and to lean on the power of government for the protection of privilege.

The essence of the liberal position, however, is the denial of all privilege, if privilege is understood in its proper and original meaning of the state granting and protecting rights to some which are not available on equal terms to others."
It's important to note that Friedrich Hayek's classical definition of liberalism maintains that freedom of the individual and limitations on government are paramount. I have no idea what the word liberal means in today's society - except that it's something that some Republicans and Conservatives know is scary and that they don't like it. I think we have confused ourselves with a lot of labels which serve to divide people who share common ideas - or at least common goals of continually creating a better civilization.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

After The Bailout

I was listening to All Things Considered tonight and heard a funny story from from Romanian poet and novelist Andrei Codrescu — For $700 billion, every able-bodied American could have a chain saw, a solar-powered generator and a stake in a communal well and windmill. Also, red dirt and plum trees.

The podcast of the story is at After The Bailout : NPR

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

John McCain and the Financial Crisis

I watched the Senate hearings of the Lehman Brothers and AIG executives yesterday on C-Span.

Here's a few tidbits -
  • There are over 60 trillion dollars of paper bets aka credit default swaps floating around in the financial ether. Banks are afraid to loan money because no one knows what this stuff is worth.
  • These "insurance like" exotic financial instruments were absolutely unregulated and turned into a huge casino for people who like to bet - they have nothing to do with investing.
  • Prior to 2005, as this mess was unfolding, Congress tried to figure out a way to regulate these financial transactions even considering classifying them under existing gaming laws.
  • One thing that was particularly interesting to me was the Republican/conservative philosophy of non-interference in the "free" market resulted in cutbacks at the SEC to the point that one person at the SEC was responsible for overseeing what turned into a giant international casino - run primarily in the AIG Financial Products division in London.
  • There's a whole bunch of hogs at the trough but one particularly egregious example is the executive of the London branch of AIG Financial Products, who is currently receiving 1 million dollars a week as a consultant to what is now a government-owned business.
It's a mess.

So what does this have to do with John McCain?

John McCain is a fiscally irresponsible conservative who believes that keeping the government out of the free market is good policy. He's fiscally irresponsible, like George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, because he a believes in the voodoo economic theory that you can promise to lower everyone's taxes (but really lower the taxes on the super rich) and not cut spending.

We have tax and spend liberals. We have no-tax and spend conservatives, who end up running up huge government deficits, and of course aren't conservative at all. You don't have to argue the theory - all you need to do is look at what this does in practice. Ronald Reagan left the country with the Savings and Loan bailout and huge deficits. George W. Bush will leave us over 10 trillion in debt and some yet to be determined number of taxpayer funded bailouts.

If you want to find a poster boy for complete deregulation it would be Phil Gramm - John McCain's economic mentor. You may recall Phil Gramm was John McCain's chief economic spokesman until he had to be kicked off the bus for calling American's whiners and saying we were in a mental recession.

It would be foolish to think John McCain somehow had a conversion of his policy positions just because he had to get Phil Gramm out of sight. We are talking about a core tenet of Republican's party - deregulation - keep the government out of the way of business.

The Columbia Journalism Review has a good article on John McCain's economic policy mentor - Phil Gramm. Here's a quote -

In the early evening of Friday, December 15, 2000, with Christmas break only hours away, the U.S. Senate rushed to pass an essential, 11,000-page government reauthorization bill. In what one legal textbook would later call ‘a stunning departure from normal legislative practice,’ the Senate tacked on a complex, 262-page amendment at the urging of Texas Sen. Phil Gramm.

There was little debate on the floor. According to the Congressional Record, Gramm promised that the amendment—also known as the Commodity Futures Modernization Act—along with other landmark legislation he had authored, would usher in a new era for the U.S. financial services industry.

And did it ever.


Speaking of markets Intrade Prediction Markets has Barack leading McCain 76 to 24 this morning - so that market wasn't too impressed with the debate and the recent attempts by some to move the discourse into the gutter.

I don't think this election is over by a long shot - a lot can happen in the next 27 days. It's imperative that every young person, every new voter, every voter of any age - show up at the polls on November 4th for this referendum on the country's future.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Tax Cuts and Small Business

The next time you hear John McCain talk about extending the Bush "tax cuts" in order to help small businesses - it's useful to know what he means by a "small business".

The following information is from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities article "The 2001 and 2003 Tax Cuts and Small Business" by Robert Greenstein
"Small business" is meant to invoke visions of, risk-taking entrepreneurs who are involved in the hands-on management of their small firms. To some people, it calls to mind the corner grocery store owner or the local auto mechanic. To others, it suggests a start-up firm, such as a new business developing a new type of software."

"The tax cuts have indeed provided significant tax breaks to a small, elite group of households with some small-business income. But for the vast majority of such households, the tax cuts offer far more limited benefits, and the reductions in the top income tax rates offer no benefits at all."

"The Administration’s estimates count as a small business owner any tax unit that includes any income (or loss) from a sole proprietorship, farm proprietorship, partnership, S corporation, or rental income."

"This expansive definition suffers from two problems. First, it counts as tax cuts for small businesses billions of dollars in tax benefits that go to individuals whose businesses are not “small.” Second, it counts as tax cuts for small businesses tax benefits that go to wealthy individuals who are passive investors and have nothing to do with operating the business in question (and may never have set foot in it)."

"Using IRS data from 2003, the Joint Tax Committee showed that the Treasury definition of “small business” included 770,000 businesses with gross receipts of over $1 million and 86,000 companies with gross receipts of over $10 million. Businesses with gross receipts of more than $10 million accounted for about two thirds of the gross receipts of all partnerships and S corporations."

"The Treasury definition includes many wealthy individuals who are passive investors, not small-business proprietors. According to the Tax Policy Center, passive income from partnerships and S corporations accounted for some or all of the small-business income of 2.9 million tax filers who were termed “small-business owners” under the Treasury definition in 2004. For 850,000 of these filers, all of their “business income” came in this passive form."

"It is of particular note that the prevalence of passive business income increases at higher income levels. Passive investment income constituted all or part of the business income of about 9 percent of all households counted as small business owners under the Treasury definition. But about 35 percent of the “small-business owners” with incomes above $200,000, and about 58 percent of the “small-business owners” with incomes over $1 million, received some or all of their “business income” in this form."

"Small businesses typically evoke positive images in the public mind, and the Administration and other supporters of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts have often sought to build support for these tax cuts by associating them with the small-business sector. Yet the benefits tax-cut supporters claim will flow to small businesses as a result of the tax cuts are greatly exaggerated. Few small businesses will see any benefit at all from the reduction in the top income-tax rates. Moreover, the distribution of the tax cuts as a whole among small businesses closely resembles their distribution among other households: by far the largest benefits flow to those with the highest incomes."
The Republican party's tax cuts as implemented by George W. Bush and now championed by John McCain place the burden on middle class taxpayers, while giving tax breaks to the ultra rich - many of whom have nothing to do with producing goods or services or employing people.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Making News With The Echo Chamber

The Fox News program Hannity's America dedicated Sunday night's show to smearing Barack Obama. The guest that night was Andy Martin, who was billed as a "a conservative writer and frequent political candidate". Quotes from the show ended up in the New York Times, and of course will be picked up by various other newspapers and blogs.

As with any information you have to consider the source.

Who is Andy Martin and would he be considered a reliable source of information?

"A news story out of the New Times Broward-Palm Beach written July 31, 2003 said this of Martin:

Martin, of course, is mad. Quite mad. He's an enigma wrapped in a riddle who probably should be wrapped in a straitjacket. The would-be senator is one of the most prolific and compulsive lawsuit filers in the United States, a first-class shadow-dwelling fugitive from justice, and a perennial also-ran political candidate whose stance on the issues has changed about as often as Michael Jackson's proboscis.

The Illinois Supreme Court, refused to admit him to the bar, pointing to a military psychiatric exam that allegedly found him to have personality defects that include delusions involving both paranoia and grandeur.

In his ‘92 bid for Senate he report $1,060 in contributions $500 of which came from his mom. The only contributions ever reported to the FEC."

Source - 2004 - US Senate Race - Andy Martin History
The following information comes from TPMCafe -
According to no less a source than the Unification Church's impeccably right-wing Washington Times of December 22, 1999:
In 1986, when Mr. Martin ran as a Democrat for Connecticut's 3rd Congressional District seat under the name "Anthony R. Martin-Trigona," his campaign committee filed papers saying its purpose was to "exterminate Jew power in America and impeach U.S. District Court of Appeals judges in New York City."

The Washington Times' reporter, Ralph Z. Hallow, went on to say: "a Connecticut federal judge finally barred him from filing any more federal lawsuits without permission. The judge said Mr. Martin has pursued legal actions with 'persistence, viciousness, and general disregard for decency and logic.'"

Hallow went on:

In a New York bankruptcy case, he referred to a judge as a "crooked, slimy Jew." During the bankruptcy dispute, he filed a civil-rights lawsuit claiming Jewish bankruptcy judges and lawyers were conspiring to steal his property. He asked a court to bar "any Jew from having anything to do with plaintiff's property."

In another motion in the case, he wrote: "I am able to understand how the Holocaust took place, and with every passing day feel less and less sorry that it did, when Jew survivors are operating as a wolf pack to steal my property."

For Fox News to put Andy Martin on the air and call him a "conservative writer and frequent political candidate" is the journalistic equivalent of writing a story, quoting some insane idea from Iran's president Ahmadinejad, and then attributing the quote to "a high ranking political official".

Allowing Andy Martin and his sidekick Sean Hannity to spew hate on Fox News is unconscionable of course - but unfortunately this sort of thing appeals to some segment of our population, and Fox News puts making money above ethics.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Giving Every Child a Chance to Excel

I am lucky to have had, and have, some great teachers in my life. My wife is a pre-school teacher, my grandmother was a remedial reading teacher, and my daughter is a student teacher who will become a teacher in a few months. Education is our future, it's how people get ahead, learn to help others and get along. Individuals who become teachers do so because they care about people and want to help them succeed.

I've been in a variety of classes/seminars where people are asked to name the most important person in their life and very often they will name a teacher who helped them at some critical stage of their development. I can't think of any more important job than a teacher who is in a position to make a difference in a child's life, at a point where it can make a huge difference for that child's future.

Barack Obama not only has a cool looking website at BarackTV, with license plates that link to videos from New Hampshire, Texas, Iowa and Pennsylvania - but more importantly he has continued to address and articulate clear plans for achieving the goals people care about.

In this video he talks about education and shows his grasp of the issues - including early childhood education, teacher pay, art and music education, math and science education, and helping people afford to go to college. He's clear headed about it and says he knows not everyone will excel, and it's not the job of government to make that happen - but as Americans we all need to work together to create a world class educational system that gives every child a chance to excel.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

When Did Agreeing With Someone Become a Bad Thing?

In the first presidential debate Barack Obama said he agreed with John McCain. Somehow saying you share common ground with someone is viewed as a liability in this John McCain ad.

The idea that it's "us" versus "them" and "they are bad" doesn't help when we need to work together to make America a better place. There are good ideas, not so good ideas and just plain bad ideas - that's what the campaign should be about.

If John McCain and Sarah Palin can convince the American people that they have a better plan then they will be elected. If their campaign devolves to the point where all they can do is make personal attacks by rehashing already asked and answered questions supposedly having to do with character, it shows they've given up trying to convince the American people that their plan is better than what Barack Obama and Joe Biden have proposed.

Speeches attacking a person's character will continue to create a backlash of people who say, "not this time" which will hasten the already sharp decline of John McCain and Sarah Palin's poll numbers.

We waste our democratic freedom by allowing political discourse to move away from ideas and into personal attacks.

Small people talk about people, leaders talk about ideas.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Obama Momentum

Intrade Prediction Markets has Obama up by 33 points over McCain today, but the race is far from over since nobody knows what strange things may happen over the next 32 days until the election.

People are predicating McCain's next Hail Mary campaign stunts at Slate Magazine.

The U.K. Times Online reports that a McCain insider said, a pre-election wedding of Bristol and Levi "..would be fantastic, you'd have every TV camera there. The entire country would be watching. It would shut down the race for a week."

There will be lots of ads but I don't know if those have nearly as much power as the general trend across all media, that McCain is not the right person for the job. It's not over til it's over, and there are a couple of debates to go. I'll wait until late on November 4th or November 5th to either celebrate the beginning of a new era in American politics....or wonder what the heck people were thinking.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

One and a Half Hours That Won't Matter

I didn't get to watch the debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin but I listened to it on the radio. I have to give Sarah Palin credit for doing her best to stand by her maverick.

She can talk better than the interviews on ABC and CBS indicated. She seems best at broad generalities and did a good job of answering whatever question she felt she could answer - rather than always answering the questions being asked. Nothing new about a politician doing that.

I'd say she did well all things considered. She has some grit. I think she should be proud of her performance given the daunting task she was faced with, and the shock she must feel having been plucked from Alaska and thrust into a national election only a little over a month ago.

I think she was getting in some deep water when she said she thinks there is some constitutional flexibility that would allow her to expand the role of the vice president similar to what Dick Cheney has done - and that she agreed with Dick Cheney that the executive branch does not hold complete sway over the vice president. Not sure what that was about but it probably scares the hell out of a lot of people.

Cheney's record, and his claim that he is not part of, or answerable to, either the legislative or executive branch of government - or the American people - makes him a bad choice as Sarah's role model.

Joe Biden when asked his view on "Vice President Cheney's interpretation of the vice presidency" reminded us that Dick Cheney is probably the "most dangerous Vice President we've had in American history". Joe Biden cited Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution as clearly limiting a vice president's duties relative to Congress.

For people who like a simple sound-bite view she probably holds some appeal. The simple pictures she paints and the complexities of reality are not always in close connection, so they don't have much appeal for people encumbered by the thought process.

Waving a white flag of surrender in Iraq might be a vivid visual picture but it degrades the complexity of what is going on there and how we will bring our soldiers home. Talking about a government that's for the little guy and doing things to help families sounds good until she brings up Ronald Reagan as an example. Being seventeen years old when Ronald Reagan took office she may not be aware of the impact his policies had on unions and working class Americans.

I thought Joe Biden countered every talking point she made with a viable logical alternatives and made a particularly good point when he said if you don't accept the science on global warming it's hard to come up with a solution. One thing about that old Joe is you can't out six-pack him - for every mainstreet, hometown, family reference Sarah has - Joe has his own. I was a bit surprised that he spends a lot of time at Home Depot - maybe he's drinking free coffee back in the lumber section or something.

The best point in the debate for me was at the very end when Joe Biden brought up Mike Mansfield. You have to be my age or older to know who he was - but having been raised in Montana that reference made me feel good.

Mike Mansfield was the senate majority leader from 1961 until 1977. He left home before he graduated from the 8th grade and served in the Navy, the Army and the Marines. He worked in the Butte mines and went on to get his Bachelor's degree at Montana, Masters at UCLA, and become a professor at the University of Montana. One of his most memorable acts while in the senate was introducing, and helping to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. After he retired from the Senate he was named Ambassador to Japan. He was a liberal democrat and a leader that people in Montana, and the nation, looked up to and remember with a great deal of respect.


Postscript October 3, 2008 - I'm glad to see the New York Times picked up on Sarah Palin's suggestion that Dick Cheney would be her role model.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Why I Wouldn't Vote For Myself

Groucho Marx and later Woody Allen both said, "I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member."

That's how I feel when the VP candidate says she's just a regular old Joe six-pack who thinks it's time for one of us Joe six-packs to become vice-president.

I consider myself a Joe six-pack, but I don't want somebody like me to be president or vice-president.

I want somebody who understands history, reads newspapers and magazines, can name and talk about Supreme Court cases they feel strongly about, someone who knows more than I do about politics, the world and the people in it - someone who is smarter than I am.

I want someone who can speak well and articulate ideas using good diction. I want someone who has enough knowledge in a wide variety of areas, to be able to hold their own when surrounded by people who want to tell them how to think.

I want someone who can move beyond partisan bickering, blaming and name calling - and help foster the free exchange of ideas between conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans so we can work together to develop policies that are best for our country.

I want someone who knew they wanted to be a political leader and did the prerequisite things to prepare - years in advance....not a cram session 3 days before a debate.

In America, any child can grow up to be president, but we don't just pick some regular old Joe six-pack and stick them next in line to be president.

This is the quote from Sarah Palin's radio interview, full transcript at

"Oh, I think they’re just not used to someone coming in from the outside saying you know what? It’s time that normal Joe six-pack American is finally represented in the position of vice presidency, and I think that that’s kind of taken some people off guard, and they’re out of sorts, and they’re ticked off about it, but it’s motivation for John McCain and I to work that much harder to make sure that our ticket is victorious, and we put government back on the side of the people of Joe six-pack like me, and we start doing those things that are expected of our government, and we get rid of corruption, and we commit to the reform that is not only desired, but is deserved by Americans."

I suppose there are people who are "out of sorts and ticked off" that John McCain would be so reckless as to choose six pack Sarah as a running mate. The upside is the chance that he will win the election is getting less likely every day.