And Sometimes I’m Dead Wrong

Yesterday, I accused Michigan of having a tradition of picking losers.  In my drive to castigate my home state, I myself called it wrong.  It happens from time to time, but I’m big enough to admit when I made the wrong call.  Making predictions about politics is like drinking an entire fifth of anything, it seems like a good idea when you’re doing it, and you definitely enjoy yourself at the time, but you wake up with dim memories of the night previous and a splitting headache.  Alas.  So it goes.

I’m having computer problems, so for the next few days, you’ll be deprived of my commentary and insights.  I’ll probably be back online by the end of this week.

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The Michigan Primary and Picking Losers

When it comes to picking winners, the Michigan primaries has a dismal track record.  1968: George Wallace.  1980: George H. W. Bush.  1988: Jesse Jackson.  2000: John McCain.  2008: Hillary Clinton.  As often than not, Michigan gets it dead wrong in backing the candidate that eventually emerges victorious in the national contest.  And today, it looks as if right wing nut Rick Santorum may pull off a stunning upset victory.  I have a feeling that he just may do it.  My reasoning is this: if the polls are as close as they are, and you figure into the equation that Michigan has open primaries, meaning, that Democrats can vote in them as well, there’s going to be Democrats intentionally voting for a Republican, that Republican being Sen. Santorum, a Republican they detest, to weaken the field.  So if it’s a close race, and you have a concerted effort by dedicated conservatives to push for a believer, and swarms of Democrats pulling the lever as well, it’s likely that an upset by Santorum is in the offing.  This would inevitably draw out the nominating process, and it would do so in a way that weakens, rather than strengthens the Republicans.

I’ve heard a lot of comparisons between this race and the Democrats in 2008.  Long campaigns contested by two contenders.  You could say that Romney is the Hillary Clinton of this race, the institutional/establishment candidate, and that Santorum, ironically, is the Obama candidate, the long shot that has scores of passionate backers.  But that’s about where the likenesses end.  The fact of the matter is that while the Democrats did indeed have a long and bruising primary battle, eventually the stronger candidate emerged from the contest, that candidate being Obama.  In this case, it’s not at all clear that Romney will prevail, as his support within the party and the nation at large seems to be tepid at best.  Democrats in 2008 were eventually able to come around to Obama and put the past perceived slights and conflicts of the primary season behind them, whereas that’s again not at all clear it would happen this time around for the Republicans. 

I hope that Republicans do go ahead and nominate Santorum.  I can’t think of a clearer contrast that the Republicans could draw between themselves and Obama.  It’s often said that Democrats snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.  With the economy as weak as it is, it’s Republicans who are doing just that, reverting to angry rants about retrograde positions on issues as minor as birth control, when they seem to be throwing away their trump card.  Good for Democrats, bad for the Republicans, and good for the country. 

The Chinese and Wine

When people get rich, their consumption patterns change.  Case in point: the consumption of fine Bordeaux wines in China.  The economic boom there has made it financially possible for those people who have benefited most from a growing economy there to splurge on expensive bottles of wine that regularly retail for hundreds of dollars.  Chinese tastes are evolving, as are all of ours, and becoming more global.  With that, they’re getting ever thirstier for fancy grape juice.

And that’s not all they want.  Demand for wine over the past three decades in the west has remained globally stagnant, and the industry, as a result, has been hard hit.  The growth coming from China has represented a godsend for the French vintners, and, in some cases, it has led to the Chinese buying old, famous established vineyards in Pomerol and St. Emilion near Bordeaux.  The Chinese investors have purchased several wine making properties in the region, and that trend looks as if its set to continue.

Now, I want to do a bit of interpretation here.  The first tendency that Americans might display in this case would be ‘Oh dear God, they’re buying everything.’  Yes, the Chinese are buying a lot of assets globally, but that shouldn’t be something that scares us, it’s something that we should welcome.  The more that China globalizes, the more interconnected they’re going to be with the rest of the world, which is a process that benefits all of us.

And, there’s another important benefit to this: many of the vineyards had been on the ropes financially before their acquisition by Chinese investors.  Now, with fresh injections of capital, guaranteed access to Chinese markets, these properties that would have otherwise gone under now have a new lease on life and look ready to produce high-quality wines for years and years to come that would otherwise have disappeared.  Everyone wins.  This is just another example of how the world, despite whatever differences we have with one another, can always be brought together through good food and drink.  Cheers!

Iran and the Bomb

The United States has made a fetish out of identifying and tracking down weapons of mass destruction in the Islamic world, and it’s landed us in a whole heap of trouble.  Weapons of mass destruction were the justification for the American military incursion into Iraq in 2003.  The problem?  There were no weapons of mass destruction.  The Department of Defense concluded, well in the wake of the invasion, that there were no weapons, and that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had, in the face of sanctions (sanctions that even archconservative Senator Jesse Helms supported) given up his programs in the face of the damage that the sanctions were inflicting.

So, what have we learned from that escapade?  Nothing, it seems.  The US finds itself headed into another conflict in the Middle East, this time with Iran (just one small consonant away from its neighbor to the west).  Iran has a nuclear program, but at this juncture, it appears that it’s geared towards civilian uses.  Nobody wants to see a crew of bearded ayatollahs brandishing an arsenal of nuclear warheads in what is already the most destabilized neighborhood in the world, but, here’s the kicker: it doesn’t look as if they’re developing weapons capabilities.

Bashing the mullahs is a popular pastime, both for Republican presidential contenders and hardline Israeli politicians.  But the fact of the matter is that the Iranians, if they’re not developing actual weapons uses for enriched uranium, we don’t really have a dog in that fight.  We failed in Iraq, at great cost in lives, treasure, and prestige.  Looking for a fight doesn’t suit US interests.  We have enough to focus on another conflict that’s doomed even before it begins.

The Palin Divorce That Wasn’t

Sarah Palin inspires strong emotions, both from her supporters and detractors.  Some people see in her the savior of the United States, and some see a dangerously incompetent hypocrite.  I usually count myself as one of her detractors, and not just for the fact that her policies are totally off base, but for the fact that there’s a wide gulf between what she is and what she presents herself as.  Case in point: she and Todd Palin were considering a divorce in 2007, but, that never came to fruition, ostensibly, due to her political ambitions.

I don’t mind that she thought about getting divorced, many people do for various reasons, and that’s her business.  But what I do take issue with is that throughout the course of the campaign she presented herself as a veritable June Cleaver, eagerly grasping towards her estranged husband as nothing more than a political prop.  Not to mention that this all-American family was in the midst of experiencing a teenage pregnancy courtesy of Briston Palin and Levi Johnson.  All the while, she’s bashing the President, speaking in code about his faith and generally bashing him for being un-American when her family looks like a psych ward next to the Obamas.

I don’t like making people’s personal lives fodder for public campaigns, but sometimes, they’re just so dangerous, not to mention hypocritical that taking a bit of air out of their tires is the only thing that there is left to do.

Bon Voyage, Mademoiselle

The government of France will no longer employ the term ‘mademoiselle’ in official government work or documents, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon announced today.  Feminists in France have long pushed for the term to be dropped from official use, and going forward only the honorific Madam will be used with respect to women.  Similarly, German dropped the use of Fräulein by an official decree by the Ministry of the Interior in 1972, and have since similarly employed the term Frau for all women.

I don’t really have an opinion on it, but there does seem to be a growing trend in many languages that is striving for a less gendered language.  Case in point: Ms.  It’s delightfully ambiguous, and I’ve never really been sure as to how precisely to employ the term.  Perhaps its ambiguity is its point, so I’m likely to just shout out either ‘Ma’am!’ or ‘Hey you!’ to unsuspecting passersby.  Take your pick.

The New Master of Triangulation

In the late 1990s, it was the Republicans who were the idea people.  We forget it now, but during that time frame, conservatives were coming up with innovative policy approaches such as an individual mandate for insurance and cap and trade schemes for carbon emissions.  Since that time, however, they’ve tacked hard to the right, and the ensuing decade has been one of ever more reactionary, not even conservative, policies.  During that time, Bill Clinton was dubbed the Master of Triangulation.  Basically, it worked like this: Democrats hold fast to a set of hidebound policies from the sixties and seventies, the Republicans advance a plan that has no chance of actually being signed into law, and Clinton stepped in to cut a deal that was, at a minimum, workable for everyone.

He did this on the budget, welfare, taxes and a whole litany of other projects.  His accomplishments were modest, but they were solid, and they were consistent.  Now, it seems our President is taking a page from President Clinton’s playbook, announcing an overhaul of the corporate tax system, which many critics argue is long overdue.  Obama’s plan basically consists of lowering the top rates (which are some of the highest, if not the highest outright), and closing loopholes and deductions to offset the costs, thus effecting an overall simplification of the corporate tax code.

Now, I know we’re smack dab in the middle of silly season, and it’s tempting to let politics take the day and forestall the formulation of good policy, but we have a real chance here to do something good.  A simplification of the tax code with a lowering of rates should have Republicans salivating, and Democrats would be able to weather the charge of being ‘anti-business,’ particularly given the state of the economy and the upcoming elections.  Fundamentally, however, we’re going to have to cut a deal, an endeavor at which Congress has not excelled in recent memory.  However, if Congress and the President were to pull this off, it’d be a boon for the economy and would do a lot to promote hiring in the private sector.

This could also serve as a model for an eventual overhaul of the personal tax code, another project that’s long overdue.  If we get momentum on one area of tax policy, it would translate well into another.  We haven’t had an overhaul of the tax system since Reagan’s 1986 IRS reform, and our tax system is beginning to look its age.  With one fell swoop, we could spur economic growth and put this country on a more stable fiscal footing, something, frankly, that governments ought not need to be reminded that it’s their job to do anyways.