Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Lieberman stays?!?

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

Obama is taking an enormous gamble in leaving Lieberman in charge of the Homeland Security Committee. All the arguments for doing so—new tone in Washington, increasing the chances of passing key legislation, another seat in the Senate, etc.—all of it pales before the fact that should another 9-11 occur on the new president’s watch, Lieberman will be the one in charge of the ensuing investigation. The Senator gave Bush a free pass these last couple of years, but I somehow doubt that the man he insinuated is a Marxist on the campaign trail would get anything approaching the same treatment. Lieberman’s whole MO is to use his centrist position for maximum political/media exposure; Obama had better hope that his decision to prioritize his domestic legislation above all else doesn’t ultimately hand Lieberman yet another opportunity to seize the limelight.

Electoral math

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

There’s a reason why the GOP has won two-thirds of the presidential elections held since LBJ left office. By the late 1960s, the electoral map that defined the New Deal coalition was in tatters; once Nixon (and then Reagan) coaxed the sunbelt/southern states out of the Democratic orbit, a political realignment toward the GOP took place that endures today. Even now, for all the talk of 2008 being a potential “realigning” election, Obama has yet to fundamentally redraw the electoral map, though he has come closer to doing so than any other Democrat since Bill Clinton.

Nonetheless, by way of perspective, consider this: if the situation were reversed, and the Democrats had presided over a collapsing economy and a relentless quagmire of a war, they wouldn’t be looking at electoral totals in the three-digits.  (McCain is at about 150 right now, and will probably rack up a lot more than that).  They’d be looking at being on the wrong end of yet another blowout a la 1980, or even 1984 or 1972.  Again, that’s because of the electoral math.  The worst-case scenario for the GOP in any election is to win most of the south and midwest.  The GOP could run Bugs Bunny, and he’d still pick up those states (“he’s a friend to small-towns . . .he’s a true American”).  But (as the 1972/1984 elections show), the worst case scenario for the Democrats involves them picking up D.C., and maybe the candidate’s home state.  It’s not that Obama can’t turn this election into a blowout; it’s just that Democratic blowouts look very different than Republican ones. But if he becomes president-elect next Tuesday, he won’t be complaining.


Friday, October 24th, 2008

Saw Oliver Stone’s latest last night; it’s actually surprisingly well done. I was expecting a mega-hatchet job, and it doesn’t come off that way at all. This may be the weirdest comparison you see out there, but . . . to me it almost felt like Henry V gone horribly awry: Bush overcomes his Prince Hal days to attain maturity and ultimately become a wartime leader, but unfortunately ends up fucking everything up once he does so. As a biopic it works, though the best scenes in the movie involve planning to invade Iraq, and the bit where Powell mutters “fuck you” to Cheney is particularly priceless.

Stone makes it quite clear that in his opinion the key to Bush’s character is the Bush Sr./Bush Jr. relationship; W’s rejection by his dad is what causes him to seek the presidency and, ultimately, to overstep himself in Iraq by finishing what his father “failed” to do.  Stone elects to stop the narrative prior to Bush’s re-election, which is an interesting choice given that that’s the central way in which Bush ended up “surpassing” his dad.  Yet given how many chickens came home to roost in his second term, it’s a victory that looks pretty #$# Pyrrhic in retrospect.  No need to worry about the 22nd Amendment this time around.

Power unleashed

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

Two fascinating books are sitting on my desk right now while I frantically make last-minute revisions to mine. One’s Schlesinger’s THE IMPERIAL PRESIDENCY; though he revised/updated/republished it in 2004, my copy is the original edition, released in 1973, in the throes of Watergate. The other is Charlie Savage’s TAKEOVER, released last year and detailing the extraordinary expansion of powers under Bush II, with that president asserting a radical new theory of executive authority that (among other things) gives him the right to imprison “enemy combatants”/U.S. citizens indefinitely.

What’s particularly interesting in perusing Schlesinger’s original work is that you can really see the extent to which Watergate gave us a temporary reprieve from the nightmare that’s been shoved down our throats these past eight years. Nixon was planning many of the same things that Bush/Cheney have carried out:  the attempt to use culture wars and dirty tricks to ensure a permanent Republican majority, the classification of opponents as enemies of the state (or, if you like, terrorists), the accrual of almost unlimited wartime powers . . . all of it was part of the GOP playbook in the wake of the 1968 election, and all of it got totally derailed in the wake of the 1972 one.

But this time around there was no Watergate; today’s White House is far more adroit/sophisticated than Nixon’s ever dreamt of being.  Instead of bugging themselves, they destroy their papers.  Instead of ending wars, they declare wars that can have no end.  Instead of relying on Silent Majorities, they hack the vote itself.  There is much irony in all of this.  It was predictable enough that, from a constitutional perspective, the principal beneficiary of America’s great power status in an industrialized age would be the executive branch.  But the Founding Fathers would have been appalled at just how quickly the presidency has expanded its powers these last few years.  Those men knew all too well what would happen should one of the three branches of government break out of the checks/balances which they constructed.  It’s taking place right in front of our eyes, and regardless of who wins on November 4th, it’s a process that may have already attained an irreversible momentum.

The experience question, and the Palin trade-off

Friday, September 5th, 2008 has a great article on how overblown the whole experience issue is. Put bluntly, there’s no evidence to suggest that less experienced presidents underperform more experienced presidents. This is in large part due to the nature of the Oval Office: by definition, everyone who ends up there has no idea what it’s really like, and they’re going to be playing catch-up as best they can.

Which may still leave open the question as to whether there’s an “experience threshold”: i.e., a desirable minimum of exposure to the pitfalls of high office prior to taking over the highest office of them all. While the Dems hasten to defend the magic power that serving only a few years in the Senate can apparently have (at least on Democratic candidates), I think the most telling argument in favor of Obama is the campaign he’s run:  a highly successful undertaking that beat the favored incumbent and may yet win the presidency.  While the nature of modern campaigning gets (and deserves) a lot of flack, the sheer volatility/complexity of running a national campaign has the benefit of signaling when someone’s totally unqualified, as a candidate who loses control of his campaign isn’t likely to make a good president.  (Which is one reason I think Kerry would have been a disappointment had he won in 04.)  This of course doesn’t prove that Obama would make a great president, but it does at least indicate he has the potential.

Palin is more of an enigma.  Whereas with Obama we have at least have some clue as to how he might cope with a blizzard of domestic and foreign issues/crises, with her we have none (beyond, of course, her socially conservative views).  This doesn’t mean she would make a terrible president.  Were she to shadow a President McCain for several months/years, she may yet cut a formidable figure on the world stage.  Great leaders often come from humble origins and backgrounds; there’s nothing in Palin’s biography to suggest she won’t learn if given time.

But that’s the problem:  time.  McCain is betting that he’ll have it, and he may, if all goes according to plan.  The press is agog with the notion that the Palin pick is a terrible risk to his campaign.  I don’t think it is:  she will fire up the GOP base like no one has done since Ronald Reagan, and her very lack of experience will prove to be a boon with an electorate desperate for something new.  The real risk here is that Palin may succeed quickly to the presidency, and I can’t see anyone arguing with a straight face that putting someone into that office after (let’s say) three months in the national spotlight isn’t a colossal gamble.  It’s hard to escape the notion that in picking Palin, McCain has optimized his campaign at the expense of his legacy, and the repercussions could be with us for a long time to come.

Governor Palin’s debut

Thursday, September 4th, 2008

Sarah Palin’s speech last night was pretty much made to order: she scrupulously avoided all (well, most) of the really controversial stuff, and instead beat the drumbeat of family values and small town Americana. The questions that swirl around her will only intensify across the next few days, though, with the really big wild-card being whether there any other surprises in her past that the McCain campaign failed to discover.

And there may well be. But nothing that’s surfaced so far is likely to be damaging, despite the growing speculation. In fact, a lot of those “issues” in Palin’s past are likely to redound to the GOP’s favor. The “Troopergate” question, for example: Palin may have crossed the line, but the cop she was targeting was clearly completely out of control, and the details of the incident are unlikely to win her anything but electoral sympathy, regardless of what the law says. And as to the speculation on her/her daughter’s baby: do the Democrats really believe there’s serious upside to pursuing this? Based on what we know now, nothing that’s occurred in the Palin household is likely to disturb the voters of Red State America. If anything, they’ll rally around her more fervently.

And that’s likely to be the crux of the matter. Palin has virtually no chance of pulling any but the most diehard/confused of Hilary Clinton’s followers into her orbit. But she has energized the Republican base in a way that I suspect the mainstream media (and certainly the left) has yet to fully understand. There are many reasons why we’ve had only two Democratic presidents since Richard Nixon took over. One of them is the Dems’ perennial tendency to underestimate their opponents. In focusing on the Alaska governor’s experience, they run the risk of falling into the same trap.  McCain is betting that Palin will ignite the NASCAR circuits this fall, ensuring that the GOP base is mobilized and in the voting booths this November. From what I’ve seen so far, he’s probably right.  Whether this can be done without diminishing McCain’s chances of clawing enough centrist votes to win:  that’s the big question.

Flunking the Fed (Part Deux)

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

In my post of yesterday, I made the statement that “[Fed chairman] Bernanke is clearly floundering amidst the crisis that [former chairman] Greenspan spent his career postponing.” At least one commenter has wondered why Greenspan did this, given his focus should have been on the overall economic health of the country. And I’m here to tell you why:

Because he was a chickenshit.

Oh, it wasn’t entirely his fault. As the commenter in question points out, there’s no doubt that Alan Greenspan succumbed to pressure from the Prez, thereby turning what should have been the culmination of a great career into a mockery of everything that career stood for. But Greenspan was just doing his utmost to prevent an economic downturn at all costs.  Costs that included the risk of an even greater economic downturn in the future.  Thus the lowering of interest rates to rock-bottom levels across the early part of this decade.  Thus the ignition of a housing boom that rapidly got out of hand.

But that nonetheless did what it was supposed to:  propel us out of the recession of 01/02.  And something that’s worth noting about that recession is this:  it was the first in American history where our leadership denied its existence throughout its existence.  It was only after it was safely in the rearview that the dreaded R word could be pronounced at the highest levels of state.  And I would argue that there’s a sense that we never truly recovered from it:  that the housing boom constituted, essentially, a false recovery.  All we did was create a mountain of debt that’s now threatening to suffocate us.

Yet before we rush to blame Bush and Greenspan, we should take a good, hard look in the mirror.  Because that’s where the ultimate culprit resides.  Because lately the American public’s relationship with that thing called Reality has been getting pretty dysfunctional.  Something our leaders are smart enough to see . . and cowardly enough to accommodate (and, I might add, greedy enough to exploit).  The American people don’t want to be in a recession.  So . . presto . . no recession!  It’s easy, see?  We just hit the magic button and keep printing more money and your homes keep increasing in value and you can keep on fucking borrowing and borrowing and keep on buying SUVs because we know the only thing that’s as unlimited as dollars is oil and besides daddy I mean Dick Cheney said the american way of life is non-negotiable and you wouldn’t want to see what kind of electoral temper tantrum I’m gonna unleash on any goddamn commie who tells me that it’s NOT . . .

But let’s not get carried away here.  Because Dick also said use your last ten bucks to buy THE MIRRORED HEAVENS.  There’s no better way to spend it.  Trust me on this.

Flunking the Fed

Friday, June 27th, 2008

Grim day yesterday, as oil rose into the stratosphere and stocks took it on the nose. Just to put things in perspective, we are now on track for the worst June on Wall Street since the Great Depression. What’s really scary here is that it’s not just oil prices that are driving this; the market was also reacting to clear signals that the credit crisis (which bankers were so eager to assure us was now behind us) remains in its early stages. Worse, Fed chairman Bernanke is clearly floundering amidst the crisis that Greenspan spent his entire career postponing. Barclays Capital warned its clients yesterday that central banks have flunked their “first major test in 30 years”, and that their pumping of money into the economy has given them “zero credibility . . .and the Fed has negative credibility, if that’s even possible.”

Harsh words.  Maybe too harsh, given that it’s not just the Fed’s fault.  The stupidity of the much-vaunted stimulus packages passed by Congress and signed by the Prez this past spring is now manifest: at best that stimulus had no impact; at worst, it persuaded just a few more debt-stricken consumers to stagger to their local Circuit City for a TV they couldn’t afford.  We’ve been sleepwalking for so long; what’s ten more minutes after you’ve already hit the snooze button fifty times?  But unfortunately the scene now is like that at Arthur Dent’s house in Hitchhiker’s Guide:  the bulldozer is right outside the window, and it’s about to come crashing through.  Royal Bank of Scotland just issued a warning that the “chickens are about to come home to roost”, and that by September the markets will be in full, devastating retreat.  It’s hard to see how that scenario can be avoided now.

Meaning that the Fed will be confronted with the dilemma they’ve been so desperate to avoid for so long.  Raising interest rates offers the only hope of stemming the runaway inflation that rising oil and commodity prices are threatening to unleash.  But the impact on the long-deluded American consumer will be nothing short of catastrophic . .  and that’s a word that I fear we’re going to hear a lot more of in the weeks and months to come.

Homeworld and the nature of this one

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

Starting close to home: or rather, Homeworld. Which was the videogame I worked on back when the idea of writing a novel had yet to even occur to me. The folks at Relic News did a little sleuthing a couple weeks back and realized that I was the same guy who received co-writing and story concept credits on what went on to win PC Magazine’s Game of the Year for 1999; earlier this week, a more comprehensive article appeared in gaming blog The Big Download, in large part as a result of their efforts, I’m told. Thanks guys!

Moving into the news: the Louisiana Senate has passed a bill which essentially acts as a trojan horse for creationist teachings. (Thanks to the inimitable Pharyngula for the tip.) The thing that always boggles my mind about this kind of thing is that believing in Christianity doesn’t automatically entail believing that the Earth was created five thousand years ago. Nor does it mean that one has to subscribe to a world in which dinosaur bones are all part of some elaborate scheme to test our faith.

Because otherwise faith in the next world will inexorably undermine our position in this one. The New Scientist reported last week on the speech of Nobel laureate David Baltimore at the first World Science Festival, who commented on the damage that creationism is doing to the U.S.’s international scientific stature. There’s no doubt this fear is totally warranted; there’s also no doubt that this issue is very much THE issue in the culture wars now underway. Virtually everything else admits of compromise; this one does not. This is at the heart of what kind of nation we’re going to be in the 21st century.

‘Nuff said for now.