Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Three E's in This Election -- Part Nine

In the rest of the country, they call this Indian Summer; here we call it, Earthquake Weather. We've had a few shakers lately, nothing to get excited about. I decided I had to write another installment of my election season essays, because neither candidate impressed me this week with their statements on the economy.

To be fair, nobody could have anticipated how bad this situation has gotten in the period of two weeks. Government intervention, even for "small government" Republicans, became the only option to avoid the specter of a global financial failure.

Macroeconomic theory needs a makeover, now every country's economy is tied into every other country's. The candidates cannot be faulted for being out of touch with how to manage an economy of the size and complexity of ours. In the middle of an election, they've had to think in their feet; instead, they sounded like they were thinking with their feet (in their mouths).

This is not a good partisan issue; to the extent it is, however, it favors the Democrats. The GOP has held the White House for 8 years and Congress for 12 of the last 14. Those who've read my posts know I do not favor large government bureaucracies or unnecessary regulation.

But I've never supported "deregulation," which is code for removing needed laws and regulations in order to let large companies gain access to new markets unfettered by any reasonable sense of restraint. This has been the GOP mantra since Gingrich took over Congress in 1994.

Now, we all are sharing the "benefits" of their approach.


Friday, September 19, 2008

Welcome to the Future (ugh)

The other day, I had a meeting in downtown San Francisco. This is not such an exceptional event in and of itself, but over the past however many years, most of my meetings have been down in the heart of Silicon Valley, which is quite a different world than this, my adopted home city, and the birthplace of all six of my kids.

The way the day was supposed to go was like this: Junko and I would drive a zipcar down to the city garage at 5th & Mission. From there, I would walk down to my meeting at 2nd & Howard, while she shopped in the area near that garage.

My meeting should take about 30 mins, after which I'd call her and we would reunite, back up at the garage, and zipcar some more. But things never really work out the way we think they should, right?

My meeting went over an hour; as I said my good-byes to my colleagues and started back up Mission Street toward the garage, I realized an awful fact. I'd left my cell phone at home.

No problem. I would just find a pay phone. Block after block, I sought said phone booth. There wasn't one here, not one there. Not this direction, nor that direction.

No problem. Hotels have banks of pay phones. So I detoured into the first of three hotels. "Sorry, sir, we no longer have those amenities."

Okay, bars have phones, right? To call a cab. I ducked into three of those. "Sorry, sir, we no longer have a phone you could use."

"Man, this really sucks," my hopeful self said to my cynical self. "There just seems to be no possible way to call Junko." Hmmm, maybe I should ask an average citizen. Everybody has a cell phone, right?


Thursday, September 18, 2008

One Little Girl's Political Art

Whatever your political orientation, I hope you can appreciate the decision by a 9-year-old to use her "art project" time to work on a political statement. Not very many years ago, many of us were decrying the apathy of youth.

I don't much care which party a kid supports as long as she is paying attention and getting involved. At my daughter's age, I was already a committed Republican, sporting an "I like Ike" button.

But I didn't have the ability to express my opinions visually. By a few years later, I was writing a political newsletter that nobody (but me) ever read.

Unlike me, my little girl is an instinctive liberal, not a conservative.

Which, at this juncture, is fine by me. :)


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Three E's in This Election -- Part Eight

As of tonight, the polls show McCain and Obama each have 45.7% of the voters in their respective camp. Somewhat faster than anticipated, the healthy bounce the GOP ticket got from its convention has dissipated, party because the economy has tanked, never a good sign for the incumbent party; but also because V-P nominee Palin has proved unable to answer basic questions from reporters.

Additional factors involve Palin's increasing vulnerability from her "Troopergate" scandal in Alaska and the National Enquirer's cover story about her affair in Alaska. Probably the most damaging trend to the GOP is that Palin has become a stock character on the stand-up comedy set, after she claimed she could see Russia from her window, sold the state jet on eBay, and other nonsense.

But most elections are determined at the top of the ticket -- actually all elections -- but I have to say "most" because Palin has already had an unprecedented effect on the race, both good for the GOP and bad, so who knows what else will happen. And, McCain has not been able to create much credibility that he understands, let alone could constructively engage, with the President's role in setting economic policy and priorities.

I thought he was at his best today when he angrily denounced the greed on Wall Street that he said caused this mess, but he had no constructive policy suggestions at all. Meanwhile, Obama gave a much less effective and low-key speech, but there was some important substance. He uttered the dreaded "R" word -- regulation.

Americans don't like this word. It implies bureaucratic red tape, complications, socialist impulses. The problem is, when you have a "see no evil" administration in power, as we have suffered under these past 8 years, all kinds of misbehavior tends to occur. Think of the parent of teenagers who is MIA when a party is going on up (or down) stairs.

That's been the Bush approach. That would be the McCain approach.

Obama is a much better speaker than McCain, just as Palin is much better speaker than Biden. But talk is not action, and speaking does not equate with wisdom. I cannot trust the GOP generally, or McCain particularly, on economic regulatory policy. Obama is indicating a deeper sense of what needs to be done, despite his relative inexperience.

Plus he is very, very smart. Much like another recent young President, Bill Clinton, who did a great job of using regulatory sticks and non-regulatory incentives to preside over the best economy any of us alive today have seen in our lifetimes. That, at least, gives me the glimmer of hope that Obama gets it. That's a world better than his clueless opponent, now resorting to angry rhetoric, as if he hadn't been complicit these past 8 years in destroying what was once the strongest economy in the world.

He was. Because he covered his eyes.


Monday, September 15, 2008

Weirdness in the Election Season

McCain got the bigger bounce in the polls after the two parties held their conventions. Obama got a 4.4% bounce, but McCain overcame that and ended up 1-3 points ahead, according to the most reliable tracking polls. Nobody has published an actual number, as far as I can tell, so I am going to estimate that McCain got about an 8-9-point bounce. That can only mean that the Palin choice is behind his surge, which is unprecedented in American politics. But that still leaves the candidates within the margin of error.

There is additional evidence that the McCain-Palin ticket has peaked in the polls. Continuing problems surrounding Palin, including her reversal today, in which she said she will not meet with investigators into "Troopergate," are starting to make her a drag on the ticket. Her failure to be able to answer very basic questions from reporters are having the same effect.

Unfortunately, for McCain, it is too late. He got the momentary bounce, as many Americans felt a resonance with this "small-town gal." But, as her true colors emerge -- as an ignorant, vicious politician who quite clearly abused her power -- Palin is now likely to sink McCain as quickly and as deeply as she boosted him.

Live by the Palin Effect; die by the Palin Effect.

Presidential politics is a funny kind of business. Candidates sometimes reap what they sow, which generally is a good thing.

Meanwhile, I went through a state-by-state analysis of the likely electoral votes again today. If every state breaks to the candidate who appears to be leading, it will still turn out to an electoral tie, 269-269.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Three E's in This Election -- Part Seven.1

A long time ago, over half a century ago, a writer named Harrison Brown wrote a book about energy called The Challenge of Man's Future: An Inquiry concerning the Condition of Man during the Years That Lie Ahead. Somewhat more recently, another writer, Robert Engler, wrote several books that analyzed the political economics of oil.

These writers influenced my thinking about energy from an early age. What they shared was an orientation that seemed rare when I was growing up. They both were focused not on the present but on the future.

Later, in my early 20's, I worked as a researcher-writer for Pacific Basin Reports, a small business publication that tracked global trade and investment issues, industry by industry.

One of my beats was the mining industry. Before I knew it, I knew more than almost anyone about the companies extracting tin, nickel, copper, etc., from wherever the richest reserves could be found -- worldwide. One of my long, meticulously documented articles was purchased in a quantity by the Bank of America that guaranteed every member of its Board of Directors received a copy.

I remembered these books and that job as I thought about what I want to say tonight about energy. Oil is the black gold of the past century. But what exactly is oil? Nothing more than compressed life from our past. In shorthand, we are eating our ancestors when we burn oil, which is one of the objections Aboringenes and all native peoples on the planet voice toward this fossil fuel extraction.

Peak Oil is the point when we have passed the point of the earth's remaining reserves' ability to continue to support our ever-increasing demand. Scientists differ, but most agree we have already or will soon past that point.

This, at a time when the majority of the world's people -- in China, India, and Africa -- are just getting within range of living their version of the "American Dream," flying down a highway in a cool car, a cute girl (or guy) at your side, music blaring, destination unknown.

The trouble is they will never achieve that dream, because we have been too greedy about ours. As a great nation, which I still believe we are, or at least could be, we need now to lead the way, immediately, in pioneering new technologies to unleash energy from renewable sources, as opposed to the finite type. After all, we and other plants and animals only have so many ancestors!

It's the time for solar, wind, ocean waves and solar-absorbing rocks to be tapped. It's time to cut back on the wasteful use of oil. An ancillary benefit of turning away from oil might be to help this nation pull back from its corrupt foreign adventurism in the Middle East and its lock-step support of Israel against the Arab nations.

So many wars fought, innocent lives lost, historical animosities unleashed!

In this context, we are asked to embrace another no-nothing demagogue, Sarah Palin, who's never been anywhere or read anything and who is such an irresponsible would-be leader that she launches a "drill, baby, drill" chant from her ignorant, adoring crowds.

That moment made me nauseous. Everything we need to do as a people at this moment in our history is rendered impossible if this kind of person ascends to a position of national power.