So Who’s Up Next?

The Cain Train is about to implode.  Herman Cain, who has built his public persona on a no-nonsense straight talker has suddenly become quite adept at dodging questions when it comes to allegations that he sexually harassed two women during his tenure of the lobbying group the National Restaurant Association.

This never bodes well for politicians.  Particularly for Republican ones.  So, at this point, we’ve gone through Bachmann, Perry, Romney.  What I’m wondering is who’s going to replace Cain atop what is quickly becoming the GOP debacle/nominating process?  Rick Santorum hasn’t peaked yet.  Or maybe it’s former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.  Either would be my personal favorite, not for any real merits they bring on their own, but largely because they’re both so funny.  You have a crazy former Senator who thinks that the biggest threat to this country is gays, and on the other hand a thrice-married confirmed adulterer who had the gall to (successfully) impeach Bill Clinton for his sexual improprieties, while he was conducing an extramarital affair at the same time.

The GOP, despite the excellent conditions for unseating an incumbent, is doing everything it can to lose the 2012 election.  President Obama is marginally vulnerable.  But the field of Republican wackos is doing everything in their power to make him look virtually unbeatable in the coming months.  The most electable candidate, Mitt Romney, is one who the GOP base vehemently detests.  And the veritable merry-g0-round of flavor of the week candidates has been a roll call of individuals who have demonstrated that they’re patently unqualified to be President.  So what next?

More of the same.  Expect another candidate to crest in GOP polling.  Who knows who it’ll be, but one thing’s for sure: Romney will continue to flounder at second place, and Saturday Night Live episodes will continue to be entertaining for some time to come.  And an otherwise weak administration is going to look impregnable.

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The Melting Pot: DC Suburbs

America is a country that’s riven by race.  It’s been what’s defined much of our political dialogue for the past century, and it’s still with us in various forms.  Ever newer groups of immigrants continue to land on our shores, much to the benefit of the country.  And with that, the patchwork quilt of our communities is continuing to evolve and become ever less white.

To which I say good.  Not that I have anything against white people, I am one, but the added value that is immigration and the continuing process of natural integration of people from one ethnic group with others is an inherently good thing for this country.  For an example, look to the metropolitan Washinton, D.C. area.  The area has seen a pronounced wave of integration in the past few decades, not at the hands of court-ordered bussing, federal relocation plans or other forms of invasive social engineering, but rather the natural forces of globalization.

The area, in short, is seeing a marked decline in the number of ethnic enclaves.  Basically, this means that people are far more likely to live around people who are of a different race or ethnicity than they are.  The process is speeding up, and becoming ever more pronounced, but the day of when your neighbors all likely looked just like you is long past in the D.C. area.  Asian and Hispanic families have led the way in terms of moving into what were previously all white neighborhoods, and frequently black families follow in their footsteps.  If current US demographic trends continue, it’s likely that non-Latino whites will be a minority in this country in about three decades.  And I welcome that shift.

I do so for a very simple reason.  Our founding fathers initially ordained that the official motto of this country was to be ‘E Pluribus Unum’ (Out of Many, One).  In the 1950s, in the paranoid early days of the Cold War, it was changed to ‘In God We Trust’ to delineate us from the godless Bolsheviks of Russia, but I like the old saying better.  I do truly believe that diversity and integration is a strength for which to strive instead of an anathema which to avoid and fear.  Once we reach a level of racial and demographic balance, I think that other groups will find it easier to engage politically, and also to feel more of an ownership in a country that’s not predominantly white.

There’s going to be bumps, fights and the inevitable infighting that always occurs in this process, and it’s still a long ways from being over.  But in the continuing process that is integration, a process that’s unfolding organically, not by dint of government intervention, what we think of as America is continuing to evolve and become an ever stronger nation.

Detroit Leading Nation in Income Growth?

Yes, shockingly.  If you did a double take when reading that, I don’t blame you.  The Detroit-Warren-Flint Census Metropolitan area experienced a surge of 4.9% in the past year, leading all other metropolitan areas.  This could well be because Detroit is growing from a much lower point than a lot of other areas.  The region has been decimated by a prolonged economic contraction that ended only this year, so it’s starting off from a lower starting point than other areas, which means that whatever growth takes place will make a larger impact than it would elsewhere.

Still, let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth.  I suppose that having private sector incomes rise faster in Motown is a pretty good consolation prize for not having won the World Series, right?

Occupy Wall Street: They Have A Point

But they’re failing miserably at articulating what it is.  Which in democratic politics, is the very essence of effecting change.

Yesterday, the Congressional Budget Office released a report that was commissioned a few years ago that studied where the economic gains of the past three decades have gone.  And that report found that the top 1% took the lion’s share of that increased wealth.  That the very richest in this country have taken the overwhelming bulk of the economic progress that’s been made in my lifetime is no surprise.  The writing has been on the wall for some time now.

It has many reasons.  Federal policies that have skewed government benevolence on speculation and financial manipulation, the evisceration of the manufacturing sector in this country, soaring costs in education and healthcare, all of these are factors.  But the bottom line that the Occupy Wall Street movement should take note of is that these are all the direct result of either a failure to act, or the government actively promoting policies that have led to this outcome.  This wasn’t a fluke.  This didn’t come out of nowhere.  This is the result of a long process of conservative economists and politicians singing the glories of the ‘free market’ for a long, long time.  And all the while, they ignored the obvious consequences as they continued to mount.  But the persistent counterargument to these phenomena as they piled up was basically more of the same.

Let the market take care of it.  The obsession with the invisible hand and the prowess of the invisible hand at effectively, efficiently and fairly allocating those gains realized by the policies, or lack of policies, is akin to a religion.  I’ve long stated that while this country may not have an official state religion, in practice we do.  That religion is capitalism.

If Occupy Wall Street wants to effect positive and lasting change that will target the material well being of the 99%, they would do well to point to this report as Exhibit A to illustrate their case.  Reforming government policies to assist the middle class in terms of reigning in costs in healthcare and education, bolstering our manufacturing sector (industries that actually produce tangible products, as opposed to the financial industry that just moves piles of money around) and a sensible tax code that fairly captures an equitable and sustainable take of those gains so as to best fund a federal government that is able to help that broad middle part of the country that has been put through an economic meat grinder should be the focus of the Occupiers.

This is an opportunity.  Occupy Wall Street would do well to use this as a staring point to articulate a coherent, feasible and realistic strategy to right the wrongs that the past 30 years of free market worship has dumped on the US.  Whether or not the Occupiers can give in to that sense of organization, hierarchy and dirty politics that this will inevitably entail remains to be seen.  But this is a chance that’s being served up to OWS on a silver platter.  Eat it up fellas.

Global Warming: The Verdict’s In

And it’s much as we on the left have been saying for some time now, despite all of the protestations of the know-nothing conservative pols who refute the charge, all the evidence notwithstanding.  Global warming is real, and it’s likely man made.

Richard Muller, a research physicist at the University of California-Berkeley used to count himself amongst the ranks of the skeptics.  As a scientist, he didn’t think that the case had definitively been made for global warming.  So as any self-respecting scientific investigator does, he conducted his own study to see if there was any merits behind the charge that the earth was indeed getting warming.  He concluded, definitively, that it is.

He took 1.6 billion weather readings from dozens of previously conducted studies, and systematically debunked the idea that the earth is not getting warmer, despite his own earlier contentions that that was indeed the case.  Naturally, being a scientist, he came to a point where he could no longer ignore the data.  The earth is getting warmer.

As of yet, his study has not been peer reviewed, so, theoretically, it’s still in the preliminary stages, but for a such a respected former vociferous skeptic to make such a 180 degree change in his position is telling.  The science is there, it’s just politicians at this point that are the ones ignoring the data, opting to play politics with something that they think will earn them a few more hard right votes in whatever electoral contests they enter.

And while that’s sad, it’s more than just sad, it’s dangerous for us.  The scientific debate is settled.  It’s now just a political phenomenon to see practicioners of politics willfully ignore the writing on the wall.  And while they may experience electoral success on this front, to do so for much longer would condemn us to an ever increasingly bizarre (and severe) weather patterns, with more Katrinas, more droughts and overall more suffering for humankind.  But don’t tell Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry that.  It’s not that they don’t understand it, it’s just that they don’t want it to be true.  It doesn’t hew to their view of reality.  They’re in over their heads, and soon, water may be over ours.

October 31, 2011: Helloween

October 31st draws near.  All Hallow’s Eve, the ghoulish celebration of the dead in Anglo-American world, is known for colorful costumes, pranks and candy.  This year, however, October the 31st will see two horrifying milestones being crossed.

The first is that the population of the world will pass the 7 billion mark, according to the United Nations.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is, however, that population growth is slowing.  It will peak at around at 10 billion in 2050, and taper off thereafter.  This poses demographic and economic problems, but on the whole, the news is scary.  The planet is already crowded enough, and it’s set to get more crowded for the bulk of my lifetime.  By the time that I’m going to be 70, that’s when my generation will start dying off in droves, and we’ll have to let the youngsters clean up the mess that we left to them.  God bless ’em and good luck.

So, if that’s not scary enough for you, how about this: the United States federal debt is set to cross the historic post-WWII high of 100% of GDP on Halloween as well.  In layman’s terms, that means that the total amount of debt the United States federal government holds will be equal to an entire year’s economic output of America.  This is historic.  The only time that this has ever happened was when America was in the midst of fighting the Germans and Japanese during the Second World War, and the postwar economic boom and tax cuts whittled that percentage down lower and lower until fiscally ‘conservative’ President Ronald Reagan went on a massive spending binge on the armed forces, cut taxes massively, and presided over a huge expansion of the federal government, a trend that only Democratic presidents (Clinton and Obama), ironically, have since countered.

Both of these problems threaten our existence, both as Americans, and as human beings.  Both issues are going to be hellishly difficult to fix, and both require a massive reservoir of courage, as the solutions are going to likely be not only wildly unpopular, but rather painful to stomach.  And in this day and age, aversion to pain and an ongoing quest for popularity are the hallmarks of our elected leaders.  It’s going to be hard, but it’s not impossible.  Being Americans, we’re going to wait some more, like we always do (Yankees love procrastination).  While that’ll make the problem harder to solve in some ways, likely, by the time that it reaches crisis proportions, we’ll have more malleable partners, and consensus will be easier to build.  But until that happens, expect both of these time bombs to tick away until they become too ominous either to ignore or pretend like they’re not really there.  Because at some point, they’re both going to explode, and we had better get on top of this problem to defuse it, rather than to be sitting in ignorant bliss on top of it when they detonate.

Germany: He Who Pays the Piper Calls the Tune

Europe is on the cusp of a financial meltdown that would likely either stall economic growth or kill it outright across the globe.  And the only thing standing between us and another half decade in the poorhouse is Germany.  But don’t tell the rest of Europe that, they’ll likely not take kindly to it.

The Eurozone is a mess.  There’s no centralized, institutionalized monetary authority to speak of within western Europe.  The structure operates mostly on consensus, and when that fails, it reverts to pretty much an ad hoc sort of situational comedy.  The Mediterranean rim is broke.  Northern Europe has all the cash.  And while the Germans have, up until now, put up the money for Greece and the like to restructure their economies, they’re no longer giving away free money with no strings attached, as they well should not.  The beneficiary countries are pissed.  Not to mention, kind of horrified.  That Germany has attempted to conquer Europe twice in the past century has largely been forgiven, but definitely not forgotten.  The idea that Germans are again in the driver’s seat scares the absolute bejesus out of the rest of Europe, and now that Germany is finding its necessary to flex some diplomatic and economic muscle in their neighborhood, those countries that were demanding German ‘leadership’ are now suddenly not so keen to follow.

If there’s going to be a bailout of the basket case debtor nations, it’s going to be done with German cash.  And as we all know, he who puts the money in the jukebox decides what we listen to.  Harsh medicine indeed, but it’s a good lesson for countries to learn: Don’t mortgage yourself up to the hilt, stop making payments, and then act surprised when there’s a steep price to pay.  Germans, for all of their efficiency, are not known for coddling failures.  But, instead of being pissed that your country is about to be taken over by German bankers, just be happy that divisions of Panzers aren’t massing across your border.  Glass half full!