Thursday, October 30, 2008

Obama the Professor

The latest attack on Obama by Palin has focused on his connections to a radical professor. Not Bill Ayers this time, but the even more nefariously terroristic sounding Rashid Khalidi.

The connection is even more tenuous than the Ayers-Obama link, founded largely on Obama's having attended a farewell dinner for Khalidi when he was leaving U of Chicago for Columbia University. At this dinner, a poem was apparently read by a Palestinian-American girl that criticized the US and accused the Israeli government of terrorism for its treatment of Palestinians. Additionally, the GOP has accused Khalidi of having been a PLO spokesman, an accusation Khalidi denies.


So Obama is linked not only to domestic terrorists but to Palestinian terrorists? Because he happened to be a colleague of a man whose only act of 'terrorism' is to be an outspoken supporter of an oppressed people and a fierce critic of US policy vis-a-vis Israel? God forbid anyone Obama ever met should criticize Israel because clearly that makes him, by association, a terrorist. No doubt Prof. Khalidi's un-American sounding name makes him an even scarier spectre than Ayers, and everyone knows that the one thing you can never ever do in America, freedom of speech be damned, is to criticize Israel, a foreign country that is often treated, particularly on the campaign trail, as our 51st state.

Khalidi's response to this is admirable, not least for his seeming reference to Bob Dylan: "I am not speaking to the media at this time, and certainly not until this idiot wind passes."

The real story in the McCain campaign's accusations is the effect they will have on the individuals 'linked' to Obama. Ayers, admittedly a former domestic terrorist, has turned his life around and is a highly respected professor. Khalidi, not a terrorist of any sort, is also a well-respected professor. Now the whole country knows their names, and not in any good sense. How many threats and piece of hate mail will these men receive for having their names dragged in the mud by the McCain campaign? What the hell did they do to deserve it, particularly Khalidi whose only crime seems to be his name and his stance on Palestine?

It is clear that the Republicans are anti-intellectual. Radicals lurk in our universities, secretly spreading un-American propaganda to our youth. Bastions of elitism, universities are the opposite of the Real America, where leaders are blindly followed and all that is not conservative and Christian is evil. There is no place for debate or for rational thought in today's Republican party. The campaign might as well just come out and accuse Obama directly of being a terrorist for having taught constitutional law (a hippy terrorist subject that the Republicans have done their best to ignore for the last 8 years) at U of Chicago.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Hungary's bailout

Sorry for the absence - I was in Berlin for the weekend and flu-ridden for the last two days, thus completely unable to think, let alone write.

Rather than talk about the US presidential election, which is really a thoroughly beaten dead horse at the moment, I'm going to shift gears and return to the topic of the global economy.

As a Hungarian American, I have a particular interest in how Hungary fares economically. And recently the prognosis has not been good. Hungary has received a $25.5 billion bailout from the IMF and the EU to help rescue its floundering economy, the largest bailout in Europe thus far. Amidst discussions of salary freezes and pension cuts, the question is why is Hungary in such a bad position? Why is its budget deficit the largest in eastern Europe? While I'm not informed enough to provide a comprehensive answer, I think the crisis can be in large part attributed to long-standing economic policies implemented in the early transition period.

In particular, eastern Europe in the early 1990s found its socialist systems being radically restructured to conform with the model of capitalism promoted by the Washington Consensus. This shock therapy, implemented throughout the eastern bloc, is the very model of unregulated, unfettered capitalism that is causing the foundations of the post-Reagan US economy to crumble, and that caused crisis after crisis in Latin American countries during the 1990s.

Whereas western Europe built its economy on a capitalist model tempered with social programs to ensure the health and survival of all members of society, social services in eastern Europe were systematically dismantled, privatized, and sold to corrupt entities interested only in profit. Sound familiar? It should. This is what the US, together with the IMF, has been selling to developing and transition countries around the world. Sure, it looked enticing when everything was peachy in the US, but it doesn't look so great now. And eastern European countries, already viewed as riskier investment areas than western Europe, are seeing a flight of capital that is causing the markets to plummet and undermining a system based on market strength rather than actual assets.

The model of capitalism promulgated by the US in the last few decades is an unsustainable one, working through speculation and lacking in underlying assets. And when the market hiccups, the national economy vomits, particularly in smaller countries without the market power of the US. As long as the markets were functioning in their happy magical land of unicorns, rainbows, puppies, and Greenspan, all was well. Now, seeing that this model doesn't even work for its creator, it's time to attempt to reintroduce the concept of actual rather than speculative value, although it may be too late.

As for Hungary, the economic crisis is surely due to more factors than its post-transition economic choices, including corruption of politicians, poor public policy choices, and the ripple effect of economic shocks undergone in the process of acceding to the EU. (Let's not forget, the EU is as bad of an offender as the US in many ways, forcing adherence to the acquis by accession countries that was never and is still not required of older member states.)

Nevertheless, the underlying message is clear: corporatism, i.e. US capitalism, is not in the interest of human beings. It has never been in the interest of human beings. And if we want to weather this financial crisis, we need to give the economy back to the people, not in the sense of allowing them to invest their pension funds willy-nilly in volatile markets, but in the sense of ensuring for their future and their wellbeing rather than the future and wellbeing of corporations.

Friday, October 24, 2008

One man's terrorist...

They say one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. I guess that's why Sarah Palin refused to condemn abortion clinic bombers as terrorists. See, Bill Ayers, as she says, admitted he's a terrorist. But "others who would want to engage in harming innocent Americans or facilities that uh, it would be unacceptable. I don’t know if you’re going to use the word terrorist there."

So let me get this straight. Bill Ayers is a terrorist because Sarah Palin disagrees with him. Abortion clinic bombers are merely fighting for the freedom to live in a country that denies women the freedom to choose what to do with their own bodies?

Fighting for freedom from freedom. That's freedom you can believe in.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Almost there...

Less than two weeks to go. I'm emotionally exhausted, nervous as hell, and quite honestly feel like I'm holding my breath until it's over. The only things keeping me sane at the moment are the Daily Show and the Colbert Report. It's really good to laugh, even if it's a somewhat bitter, nervous laugh.

With more and more revelations emerging about McCain's campaign and the GOP (Sarah Palin's $150,000 clothing expenditure, the voter fraud in California that actually consisted of voter fraud instead of a misrepresentation of law-abiding behavior, the anti-American/real America views of Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin), and the clear signal from the intelligent real Republicans that the McCain campaign has gone in a direction that is erratic, unstable, and profoundly troubling for anyone looking for a leader for tough economic times, the chances of Obama winning seem better and better.

It is somewhat uplifting to find that in a time of crisis, Obama can reach across party lines and draw in Republicans unhappy with their own party despite their fears about his potentially liberal policies. I think it's clear that what we'll have if we elect Obama is a president who really will listen to what others have to say, and who will be decisive and strong in his actions both in terms of economic policy and in terms of foreign policy.

It's much less uplifting that the term 'socialist' post-third debate quickly became a talking point of the campaign. I honestly thought it would fade sooner. McCain's been the socialist sounding one, and as many have pointed out, and Palin is from the closest thing we have to a socialist state, if you consider that Alaska gives all its residents an annual check from money it collects from the oil industry. It's also funny that Obama ends up being the one emulating Ronald Reagan. Does that mean the country was so much more to the left in the early 1980s than it is now that today St. Ronny would be considered a *gasp* socialist? Scary thought. Anyway, no one discussing this seems to have a clue what socialist actually means.

Anyway. I'm on pins and needles. There is a right and a wrong choice in this election. Usually that's not the case, but we're in the middle of a crisis and we need leadership. As Colin Powell so eloquently put in his endorsement of Obama:
"I think he is a transformational figure. He is a new generation coming into the world--onto the world stage, onto the American stage, and for that reason I'll be voting for Senator Barack Obama."

Monday, October 20, 2008

Racial violence

I'm going to step back a bit from my usual focus on politics and economics and turn to the subject of race and racial violence.

A week ago in a small town in Hungary my cousin was attacked and beaten in a racially-motivated incident that resulted in his ankle being severely broken in multiple places. He now has a metal plate holding his ankle together.

My cousin is a Hungarian. His mother is Hungarian, he's lived in Hungary for most of his life, he has a Hungarian passport, and he speaks Hungarian fluently. He is more Hungarian, in fact, than many Hungarians living outside Hungary's borders.

My cousin also happens to be half Nigerian. And so it happened that he and his half-Japanese, half-Hungarian friend, were in a bar in the small town where his friend's father lives having a drink. Because they stood out and looked racially different, and because neither of them is particularly menacing, they were targeted by a couple of thugs who followed them out of the bar, yelled racial epithets and proceeded to attack them without provocation.

Like my cousin, I am also half Hungarian. Unlike my cousin, however, I speak grammatically incorrect Hungarian, have never actually lived more than a few months in the country, and consider myself more American than Hungarian. And yet, because of that other half, what happened to my cousin would never happen to me.

This attack against my cousin has hurt me deeply. I'm not some sort of naive idealist who believes we all live in a world of magical racial harmony. I can comprehend that to some people, particularly in Europe, the influx of 'others' into their formerly homogenous countries has created tension, both racial and economic. And in Hungary, which doesn't face those immigration concerns, racism against Roma has been painfully obvious and has remained largely unchecked in recent years. But this is my cousin. This is someone who is of my blood. This is someone who was attacked because he was black, not because he was an asshole, or because he had a beef with those guys. This is someone whose only fault was his skin-color and fro and there is no justification for the attack other than his race. That's racism at its ugliest and purest, and it's something I fear in Europe, and particularly in Eastern Europe.

In the aftermath of the attack, my cousin will likely be losing his fro and replacing it with an Obama-do. But is this the way to address things? His family doesn't want racial hatred - they're Hungarians and want to go on being Hungarians. And if that means changing appearance to fit in better, then so be it. I think that's the most awful part of all this - that my cousin can't just be who he is, and look how he wants to without fearing for his safety.

All I know is that I don't want to raise my children in a place where attacks like this happen. I don't want my children to view people of other races, creeds and nationalities as different. And in this respect, despite its racism, and narrow-mindedness, and religious fundamentalism, the US still has room for such tolerance. That's the magic - hope, enlightenment and freedom can coexist with the most abhorrent of close-mindedness, and in that oftentimes contentious mix, those who keep their minds and hearts open can learn not just about tolerance, but about human nature more generally, the good and the bad.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The little ACORN that grew into a mighty oak

In the third presidential debate, McCain told us that the biggest threat to the US, a threat 'maybe destroying the fabric of democracy' was not Al Qaeda, not the economy, not the Iraq war, but ACORN.

ACORN, "who is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country" (as McCain said at the debate), for those who've been living under a rock the last few days is the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, a group that goes out and registers people to vote. As required, once signing people up, ACORN submits all registration cards to local election officials to have them verified, and have been the ones most frequently highlighting the false registrations. And somewhat unsurprisingly, people like Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and the starting lineup of the Dallas Cowboys have submitted registration cards (the starting lineup of the Dallas Cowboys having been registered in Nevada, where none of them reside).

ACORN is not perpetrating voter fraud. At worst, it's voter registration fraud, which is quite different, since voter fraud requires showing up and voting as someone else with fake identification. And since ACORN has been reporting fraudulent registrations, it doesn't even look like they're trying to perpetrate voter registration fraud.

Note that even McCain couldn't come out and say straight up that ACORN is evil - he's got deniability having couched his attack at the third debate in terms of 'maybe' - maybe it's going to destroy the fabric of democracy, and maybe it's the greatest fraud in voter history - McCain never came right out and said it was.

Of course he accomplished his goal, if his goal was to get his base all riled up and somehow associate ACORN with Ayers and terrorism (at the debate, McCain's ACORN remarks followed immediately after his dismissing Ayers as a washed-up terrorist).

Post-debate, ACORN offices in Boston and Seattle were vandalized and a worker for ACORN received a death-threat. Nice going, McCain. It's good to know for once and for all how the GOP feels about having people actually vote. Remember the good ol' days when voters were mostly white, over 50, and conservative? I guess this is the panic that results from seeing that slip away.

Finally the media seems to have acknowledged that the ACORN voter-fraud discussion was blown way out of proportion.

How involved is the GOP is this fiasco? Robert Bauer, general counsel for Obama's campaign, in response to a leak to the media that the FBI was investigating ACORN for voter fraud, stated that McCain's campaign and the GOP are "fomenting specious vote-fraud allegations and there are disturbing indications of official involvement or collusion." The Obama campaign called for a special investigation into improprieties surrounding these reports.

I'm just glad to know that the US is doing so well right now that somehow the biggest threat against our democracy is ACORN. That said, death threats and vandalism against an organization that goes out and registers people to vote??? Really??? Shame on you, GOP...shame on you...

Friday, October 17, 2008

The party of fictional Joes

Joe Six-Pack was fictional. Joe the Plumber also appears to be fictional. I say let's bring in Joe Cool. Also fictional, but awfully cute, Joe Cool is a voter concerned about the economy. Just like you, me and millions of other Americans, Joe Cool thinks with his stomach and is concerned about having enough food in his dish. The deeply patriotic Joe Cool was a pilot, just like McCain, flying many dangerous missions against the enemy, similarly with limited success.

Joe Cool is like many GOP voters - stuck in a lackluster life, Joe Cool escapes to his imagination, concocting tales of daring battles and invisible enemies, stardom and fame, to distract himself from the sad truth of his existence. Hell, even Joe Cool is a manifestation of Snoopy's imagination.

Maybe that's the key - GOP voters are voting for candidates and for a party that is a figment of their imagination. Built out of illusions, the 2008 Republican campaign is merely the fictional product of the collective Walter Mitties of the GOP base. So to make it all go away, we just need to stop believing in it.

Oh right - that's what November 4 is for.

Vote reality - Vote Obama.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Protection of the unborn!

So I just watched last night's debate on MyDebates. A bit late, but it was this or stay up even later than I did last night.

McCain on education reform was hilarious - he's saying 'we're going to do' all sorts of things that are actually up to the states - like state school tuition waivers and the like. Nice that the Federal Government is going to mandate that much.

McCain on the housing crisis was hilarious - have the government buy the mortgages? As Jon Stewart pointed out on the Daily Show - nationalize it.

It's quite amazing to see how much the term 'socialist' is getting bandied about by Republicans, when they're becoming quite 'socialist' in their own rhetoric, while slamming their opposition for being socialist and actually presenting no plans at all.

Beyond that, McCain's condescension towards women in his use of air quotes about the health of a woman, and the use of the phrase 'protection of the unborn' (which conjures awesome zombie army images in my head - with bloody fetuses marching to demand protection) make me shudder. His answer on Roe v. Wade was disgusting to me as a lawyer - sure, he'll look at the qualifications of a Supreme Court justice candidate - as long as they support overturning Roe v. Wade.

Now I'm watching the VP debate - I'd only seen excerpts. I think I have a crush on Joe Biden. Am I the only one, or is he kind of sexy?

Let's get this over with!

With only 19 days left until the US presidential election, and the last debate out of the way, I just want the elections to be over with. My constant obsessive tracking of political news (in addition to my constant obsessive tracking of economic news) is begin to impact my productivity. My free time is spent reading about the upcoming elections, my down time at work is spent reading about the upcoming elections, and it's safe to say that 80% of the time I'm awake, if not more, I'm somehow thinking about the upcoming elections.

My vote is already cast - I sent in my absentee ballot sometime last week. But until November 5, I'm on pins and needles. (Hopefully only until November 5 - it seems unlikely that there will be a repeat of 2000, but if there is, I will be highly annoyed.)

I think at this point the American public is as galvanized as it's going to get. People get that this is probably the most important presidential election of their lifetime to date, and that the impact of our decision will reverberate around the country and around the world. The economy ain't fixing itself. And pretty much everyone who is likely to vote has picked who they're voting for. At this point changing more than a few voters' minds is unlikely.

So I suggest we hold the elections early. I've got some research I should be pursuing in my free time, and I don't want to be distracted by politics. I'm sure that nationwide, work productivity is down, and given the financial situation, I don't think we can afford that. Since more and more states are allowing early voting, why can't we just shift the whole country to early voting - two weeks early, to be precise?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

That's the last real conservatives thundering away from the McCain campaign

Just a short update since I need to go to sleep - there's just too much to save up for tomorrow.

First of all, after a McCain spokesman attacked Bill Kristol for attacking the McCain campaign, accusing him of buying into Obama's party line (Bill Kristol!?!!!?!??), Kristol attacked back saying McCain was better than his campaign, and effectively begging McCain to speak up for himself and salvage the campaign.

As if that weren't enough, in response to the flack he received after his endorsement of Obama (see my earlier post), Christopher Buckley offered to resign from the National Review, and to his surprise his resignation was accepted. Buckley's response: "[T]o paraphrase Ronald Reagan, I didn’t leave the Republican Party, the Republican Party left me.”

Finally, as if trying to make it completely clear that associating Ayers with Obama is a meaningless attempt at transparent 'us' vs. 'them' propaganda, in an attempt to make Obama into the 'outsider' that so many Republicans clearly see him as, William Timmons, the lobbyist picked by McCaign to lead his transition team, apparently lobbied on behalf of Saddam Hussein to ease international sanctions against his regime.

The mental clusterfuck this causes to my logic circuits is almost too much. I guess we should be happy McCain actually is planning a transition team - a week or so ago he wasn't so much.

But now let's see. The straight talk express, against lobbyists and terrorists, and for the war against Saddam (which was however started by people who for the most part had once 'palled' around with Saddam (see Rumsfeld)), has hired someone who also 'palled' around with Saddam to lead the transition team that would, in the unlikely event McCain won, put into place the leadership structure that would govern the country for the next four years.

McCain wants to put a terrorist-sympathizer in charge of his transition to the Oval Office?

This is really too much. I'm going to bed folks. Next thing I'm going to read is that of course McCain knows how to get Osama Bin Laden - he's putting him in charge of Homeland Security...

Iceland - the rise and fall of a tiny island

Iceland has been in the news a lot recently, one of the most prominent early victims of the financial crisis. Here is a country that had a booming economy, brought to bankruptcy. Stories of potential food shortages due to the collapse of the banking system and the consequent inability to pay for imports highlight the stark reality of what has happened, almost overnight, to Iceland and what could happen to the rest of the world if the crisis spirals out of control.

But underlying it all were still some questions - particularly, how in the world did a country with a population of less than 350,000 become so rich off of so much speculation without anyone noticing that there was a fundamental lack of underlying assets? The Financial Times has an insightful piece on the subject.

As a result of this meltdown, of course, a lot of the hurt is being felt by the UK as UK councils across the country, and even Transport for London and the Metropolitan Police Authority, not to mention numerous charities see millions of pounds frozen, most of it likely lost for good. So the UK-Iceland relationship isn't at its zenith at the moment.

Even more interestingly, who rears its ever-more powerful head in the midst of all this? Russia, with whom Iceland is currently negotiating to obtain a loan. Russia, huh? Let the Arctic wars begin!

Now it looks like there may be a return to fishing on the part of Icelanders - when all else fails, go back to tangible, smellable goods.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Palin thinks she was exonerated?

This campaign has made it more clear than ever before that Republican politicians are perfectly comfortable saying black is white, and repeating it over and over again until it becomes true.

So it is not surprising that Palin has managed to turn the somewhat damning Troopergate findings (i.e. that she violated state ethics laws - a not insignificant black mark against her) into a narrative of full exoneration. This is particularly easy to do when you actually DO believe that you're right, and I'm quite sure she does not see anything she did as an abuse of power. After all, this is just small-town politics, because she's one of us, and we all know that's how things work in small towns - backstabbing, nepotism, and a strangely overbearing role on the part of the house husband, Todd.

I'm really out of rage. I can't even muster enough vitriol to put up a proper anti-Palin rant. I suppose I should be happy that she's 'toned down' her rhetoric a bit. Of course had she ratcheted it up any, she'd have been calling for a lynching, and it seems clear that the constant attempts to destroy Obama's character were alienating what's left of the semi-intelligent conservative base.

So I'll put the rage in the hands of some other authors today. For two interesting, and angry articles - see Rolling Stone on McCain and on Palin.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

True conservatives

I have a lot of respect for true conservatives. I want this to be made clear, since my posts tend to come off sounding so left-wing. Honestly, I'm an American and as such, I believe in small government run on a state-level - more power to the states is a good things (of course in crisis the federal government needs to step in - that's where I'm a liberal).

So it delights me when people like William F. Buckley's son, Christopher Buckley, identify the problems with the McCain campaign and are willing to openly endorse Obama.

As I wrote to my dad (he sent me this link) - not all conservatives are morons, and the Republicans are running a moron campaign at the moment. This is quite the turnoff if you're not a moron. Thanks Sarah Palin - good job alienating the intelligent segment of the conservatives. Look like it's going to be the Stupid Party from here on out...

Good to see support for Obama, especially from conservatives. He's really not that scary left. And we really do need leadership right now. And Palin-McCain (she's really the stronger half at the moment - thanks Rove!) don't have that. It's just moving them into the White House/Naval Observatory and leaving the existing power structure in place.

So Gobama! Vote for Obama if you don't want the stupid people to win...

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Arab - the opposite of a decent family man?

Oh boy. As the McCain rallies get angrier and angrier, McCain seems to be getting a little nervous. After all, he's not Sarah Palin - he's just not really the one in control anymore. But his choice of words in assuaging the fears of the crowd raises interesting questions.

The video clip is terrifying, really. The person asking the question seems batshit crazy, and the response is a horrifying indicator of the way many Americans think.

So the lady claimed she didn't trust Obama since she'd heard he was an Arab. To which McCain responded: "No ma'am, no ma'am. He's a decent family man...[a] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues. That's what this campaign is all about."

To me this sounds an awful lot like McCain is reassuring her that Obama is not an Arab by offering out its opposite - being a decent family man and a citizen. Since when can't Arabs be citizens? Since when can't Arabs be decent family men? I'm sure this is not what McCain thinks, but to get the conservative base to continue to rally behind him, that's the level of comprehension he has to cater to.

To the conservative ranks of the white, poorly educated segment of the US population, therefore, an Arab couldn't possibly be a good family man, and an Arab will certainly never, ever be considered a citizen.

This is the most rabidly racist crowd out there since...oooh, this is fun, getting to make another angry 60s reference....George Wallace's 68 presidential campaign. These are the ones we all knew existed in the US, and were wondering when they'd rear their ugly heads. All was well when things didn't seem so bright for Obama, but now...well, these people don't care about the economy. See, what they really care about it not electing black people to the office of president. Sure, the economy sucks, but didn't McCain say he knew how to fix it? He's a white, Vietnam POW, and Palin...well, she's one of us - she understands where we're coming from. She's from Alaska where everything's white...and what isn't is oppressed.

People pissed off about the economy: not usually violent as long as they still have food on the table and a sixpack in the fridge. People pissed off about the possibility of a huge leap forward in racial equality: few things bring out such violence.

I want to scream. These unevolved, pea-brained bastions of the great American Dream, or what's left of it, can't stop their blind hatred for a second to look at what's happening all around them - not in the presidential election context, and not even in a global context, but on a domestic, at-home micro-economics level. Issues, people, issues...not even worth mentioning that word, I guess. Issues have come to mean anything problematic - from an emotional to a national level. And the only issues that matter to the angry mob are questions of race, abortion, socialism (whatever that means...), and oh yeah, race...

Friday, October 10, 2008

Derivatives and the economic crisis

With global stock markets continuing to plunge and speculation concerning the global economic future continuing to run rampant, it's somewhat amusing to sit at the sidelines and wonder what will go next.

Honestly, I think (and I've been telling friends for the past few weeks) the next big shockwave to the market is going to be related to derivatives. First of all - here's a nice link to a table that shows the derivative exposure of various US banks - take a look at JP Morgan. In case you're not familiar with derivatives - exposure isn't a good thing in the current market.

An interesting article from 1994 lays out the case for why derivatives are not as high-risk as they seem, but amidst the article's reassurances are some scary possibilities:
Although the "gross" derivatives exposure exceeds 100 percent of equity for all of these banks, only a default by all of a bank's counterparties would wipe out the bank's capital, and only then if there were no offsetting netting agreements and other risk-reducing mechanisms in force and the actual losses incurred were identical to the total exposure. Such conditions seem unlikely for derivatives as well as for loan defaults.
So in other words, derivatives are great UNLESS all hell breaks lose on the global financial market. Oh, that's really reassuring...

Among the financial instruments to keep an eye on - credit default swaps. Here's a good piece on why credit default swaps are so risky - basically, it's a bunch of unregulated, OTC gambling that has spiraled out of control.

Just to end with a less than reassuring quote, from Warren Buffett in 2002:
We view them as time bombs both for the parties that deal in them and the economic system ... In our view ... derivatives are financial weapons of mass destruction, carrying dangers that, while now latent, are potentially lethal.

In defense of Ayers

The McCain campaign is still harping on Ayers and how he's a terrorist that Obama has a deep secret relationship with somehow.

And I just can't take it. This is so ridiculous. This is such a tactic to incite hatred. The entire McCain-Palin charade is, as others have commented, straight from the Atwater playbook. And on top of that, we've thrown in a cop-movie cliche for good measure: good cop McCain to bad cop Palin. Of course the level of bad cop is rising to that of a rabid lobotomized doberman and this is why I'm compelled to mount a defense of Ayers.

Let's start with a disclaimer: I'm not trying to say that what Ayers did was right, nor am I trying to deny that Weather Underground was a domestic terrorist organization. But there are nuances. And the Republicans don't like nuances. The world is black and white, with the white being tinted by rosy-colored shades that portray a fictionalized, sanitized version of 1950s America.

So there's a semantic issue at the root of things here. Words change their meanings over the course of years, and terrorist is one such word. To call Ayers a terrorist today puts him in a class to which he does not belong - one populated by Al Qaeda and other large-scale organizations hell-bent on destroying the US. Terrorists in the 1960s and 1970s were very often domestic - Brigado Rosso, Weather Underground and their ilk, generally Communist in leaning but ultimately dissatisfied with conditions at home, not without reason.

See, I always sort of thought Ayers was one of the good guys, albeit a very misguided one. In the late 1960s, early 1970s, the Weathermen stood up for something they believed in, realized that not enough was changing, and took drastic (and misguided) measures. They didn't want to destroy the US - they wanted to destroy US imperialism. They wanted to change the system, and the available alternative ideology at the time was Communism. They thought capitalism was bad, the Vietnam War was bad, and civil rights were good. And they were fed up with the fact that non-violent protesting was getting no results.

Let's see now. It's 2008. The markets are crashing and governments are bailing out banks that gambled with people's money, effectively rewarding them for irresponsible behavior. This is going on globally. Yeah, I'd say capitalism, in its American guise, unfettered by any regulations is bad. Doesn't mean Communism's the answer - but I think as far back as the 1960s, it was clear to a lot of people that the way we were going wasn't going to benefit the little people.

Next point - the Iraq War. Yup, that's bad.

Civil rights - we're still working on that, but this year's looking awfully promising for a real milestone. That is, if McCain and Palin don't manage to incite a rabid mob to riot. Which seeing how things are going, isn't outside the realm of the possible.

Ayers doesn't deserve this treatment. It's not like he's been running around planting bombs in people's houses all these years. As I wrote in my previous blog entry - the US is 'palling' around with Qadafi and I don't see Palin complaining.

Obama's got great staff who are doing their best to distance him from Ayers. The connection between them is so remote, this isn't hard to do. But the ones who are buying into this story, and growing angrier and more mob-like by the minute aren't those whose minds can be changed - this is the base, energized by Palin's inanities, for whom the concept of a charismatic, black, Democratic president is the same as the concept of the antichrist, and who forty years ago would have happily executed the entire American New Left had they been able to. Which is precisely why the McCain campaign has unleashed this spectre of Ayers - if fear by itself won't win an election, perhaps fear mixed with anger will...

Thursday, October 09, 2008

McGovern v. Nixon - not quite

The parallels between the McGovern campaign and Obama's campaign have been pretty clear for a while now. Underdog no one expected to win wins the nomination, and suddenly becomes the 'establishment' even though his party isn't the incumbent one. Intellectual, low key individuals vs. jingoistic patriotism.

Then McCain picked Palin, and for a little while it looked like McCain had suddenly become McGovern - this looked like Eagleton for VP all over again.

But as has been the case for decades, scandals, gaffes and blunders that would sink a Democratic candidate are brushed off by Republicans amidst a rah-rah explosion of verbal confetti aimed at smearing red, white and blue all over any possible subject of a serious discussion.

Take the economy. I think we can all agree that things are worse than usual, on a global scale. What's happening systemically is the most significant upheaval to the basic nature of the free market that has been seen since the Great Depression. As such, it is even more significant, since it represents the failure of a system long touted as the Only Way, and imposed on emerging democracies the world over.

But what are we discussing in the American race for President? Whether Obama's connections to Bill Ayers, a man who while indeed a domestic terrorist at one point, was a University of Illinois-Chicago professor long past his terrorist days when Obama knew him, make him a friend to terrorists...

Seriously? I won't go so far as to call the Weathermen patriotic, but they certainly are rooted in American history in a way the application of the term 'terrorist' today is not - being anti-war is not the same as wanting the destruction of an entire society. So it's OK for Condoleeza Rice to hang out with Muammar Qadafi, but not OK for Obama to have a casual friendship with Bill Ayers. Good to know.

One thing I can say for sure - after 8 years of Bush, a collapsing economy, and ongoing wars on two fronts, the fact that so many American people can't rise above the rhetoric of hate and fear and see what has happened to our country tells me that the terrorists really did win.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

An appropriate quote...

Many years ago, I posted this quote by Douglas Adams from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Somehow, I think it's incredibly appropriate right now:
This planet has - or rather had - a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd, because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.

Back in business...can't keep quiet

I know that I'm writing into a vacuum right now. Haven't updated this blog in over a year, and there's definitely no one left reading it.

But I'm back. I can't keep quiet anymore. The US presidential election is in less than a month, the global financial crisis is getting more global and more crisis-like by the minute. And I have opinions.

So a few months ago I saw a program on CNN about how Iceland's banks were struggling. The latest news suggests that Iceland may be one of the first national bankruptcies of the financial crisis. And apparently Iceland has enough clout that this would hurt the European markets even more than they're already hurting.

It's been really interesting following the currency market - I have a particular interest since I'm in Europe but have a US bank account from which I withdraw money in dollars. Apparently the strength of the dollar in recent days has been in response to the non-unified handling of the financial crisis by EU members - a fear that many currency experts had concerning the Euro.

See, the EU is a strong economic union, but in the end, it's not a unified state, even when it comes to economic matters. When what is at stake are national banks and financial institutions, taxpayers in other EU member countries are unwilling to pay for their bailouts. They're also unwilling to adopt a policy of letting the strongest entities survive, since that will likely mean the downfall of their own national enterprises and institutions. So everyone is reverting to a financial isolationism, focusing on insuring their own deposits and their own banks and financial institutions from collapse. This sparks fears concerning the strength of the Euro, since it becomes more subject to the vagaries of domestic economic concerns, rather than EU-wide economic policies.

I'd been really confused about the dollar's response to the collapsing stock market - but I thought this explanation made some sense. Of course, the big question is how strong the dollar can remain in the long run. If every economy is in crisis, no one will be around to bail out other currencies. Remember, most of our financial crises in recent years have been localized - and it's easy to get another major economic power to help you out if your problems are localized. Right now, it's a bit different.

Anyway - now that I'm back, expect postings about politics, law and the economy. To quote Harlan Ellison, I have no mouth and I must scream...