Thursday, January 31, 2008

Whirlwind

Well, between getting badly sick and ending up with pneumonia for the first time since I was a kid, and the maelstrom that is January I haven't posted for a while. Of course, the world continues on without me, even if I'm stuck in my house for a week staring at the mess I just coughed up which I can only assume is my lungs.

A couple things have come up recently that I think are worth note. First, the mad rush to put out an "economic stimulus" package. This sort of thing always drives me crazy. The last time the government tried this after 2001 I didn't make enough money to qualify for a rebate in the first round, and in the second round I got a check for $12. That's right, twelve dollars. It probably cost the government twice that to do the calculations, cut me the check, and mail it to me.

This time around I stand to get a bit more, my economic prospects having improved significantly since then. But is it any more of a good idea now than then? There's a fundamental problem with the entire concept. That is, the assumption that 1) people will spend that money, and 2) that spending that money will help stimulate the economy. On the first point, I imagine most people are like me and have a lot of debt that they'd like to pay down. So there goes number one: the money was already spent.

For number two, I commend to you Robert Reich's comments on the matter. Basically, it's silly to think that lowering the cost of investing will make people invest if there's no demand for what the companies you're investing in are producing. And right now, there is no demand because we're all up to our eyeballs in debt. This is exactly the problem with cutting taxes on the wealthy and corporations. If the rich have more money they don't spend it because they already have everything they want. And if there's no demand for products they won't invest it either. We're throwing more money at people who don't need it, so they sit on it and watch it gain interest in securities and futures, none of which helps the economy right now.

The other thing on my mind right now is the Democratic primaries. First, I was extremely disappointed at the sniping between Obama and Clinton earlier this month. I was especially disappointed that it seemed to be the Clinton camp that originated the sniping. This just confirmed my worst fears that Clinton falls into the old-school camp of politics and mudslinging as usual. And as someone once said, the only thing that comes of mudslinging is that everyone gets covered in mud. To my mind this is another reason why we as Democrats shouldn't support Clinton for the presidency. It's not because she's not qualified, but it's because she will turn the presidential race into even more divisive politics as usual. Several people have said that the best hope the Republicans have is Clinton running for president. This worries me very much, and I think that the Democrats need to think about that very carefully.

But the other disappointment I have about the Democratic primaries is the tone things have taken now that Edwards is out of the race. Suddenly it seems that only women and blacks should be interested in the race at all. Even NPR, which I normally consider to be a voice of reason and moderation, said that it's now an open question where white men will vote now that Edwards is out.

First of all, this is just silly given the numbers that Edwards was putting up. If white men were voting for Edwards he would have put up better numbers, because there are still quite a few of us out there. But much more disturbing to me is the assumption that I'm voting based on the candidate's gender or color. I'm sure there are some out there who do, but I think the fact that Obama and Clinton are the front-runners is a very good indication that it no longer matters to us. Speaking as a white man who supported Obama from the beginning, race and gender have never been and never will be a factor in whom I vote for, unless it's voting against someone for whom it is a factor.

So what ties this all together? I guess it's that we all need to move beyond those ideas which have died the death they deserve. Supply-side economics was shown to not work back when Reagan led us into massive debt and the worst recession in recent memory. And race and gender have become increasingly unimportant to those of us who grew up in the post-civil rights era. All the hard work of the 60s and 70s paid off, and we're closer now to realizing Dr. King's dream than ever before.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Vindication, of a Sort

Every so often it's nice to see confirmation that you're not crazy.

You may recall that almost exactly one year ago I was frothing at the mouth over why no one seemed to think that impeachment of the current administration was a good idea. It seemed to me that if there was ever a presidency that rose to the level of "high crimes and misdemeanors," it was this one.

Well today I saw a Washington Post Op-ed from the weekend by someone who should know confirming what I've been saying all along. Not only does it support impeachment, it lists the same reasons I've been giving for well over a year. It seems to me that if the guy who lost to Nixon in 1972 thinks that this administration should be impeached, maybe it's about time we did something about it.

Friday, January 4, 2008

I Don't [Heart] Huckabee

Welcome to the new year, dear reader. And thankfully our long national nightmare is finally over. The primaries have begun. Even though the results from Iowa seem to rarely be an indicator of the results overall, two candidates who just last summer seemed to be either dead in the water or unable to catch the leader have won.

Naturally, I'm thrilled that Obama won. I'm also glad to see that Edwards made a good showing. We've got a horse race on our hands folks, and despite my doubts about Clinton I would be happy with any of the three.

But on the other side I'm starting to get a bit worried. I haven't quite been sure what to do with Huckabee. Initially he seemed to be a genuine fiscal conservative with some interesting thoughts on our current state and the non-conservatism of the so called neo-conservatives. I was always worried about his social conservatism and the fact that he's a Baptist minister (I'm sorry, but most Baptists in politics that I've seen don't seem to fit any definition of Christian that I know. Maybe that's prejudiced, but I'll at least withhold judgment), but he didn't seem to be pushing that agenda too hard. Since then several things have started to give me pause, and now I'm starting to get downright worried.

First of all, despite his saying a lot of things about the budget and economy that make sense, he has an absolutely insane idea about how to generate tax revenue. While most European countries have a value-added tax, which is similar, they don't rely on it solely. Put in the simplest terms, can you imagine everything you buy suddenly costing at least 23% more? Granted that you wouldn't have income tax getting taken out of your paycheck, and people under a certain income level would receive subsidies, but that doesn't change the sticker shock.

Even worse, it is ultimately a regressive tax. The lower your income, the greater the percentage of your income you would be paying in taxes. Plus if we've learned anything about people living in generational poverty, it's that they don't do well navigating the middle-class rules necessary to receive those subsidies. The majority of them won't even bother applying for them. So we're back to the poorest doing the most work to support the country while the rich get richer.

But the clincher to me was his response to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Apparently what we should take away from what may be the most important event this year in foreign affairs and our presence in Afghanistan is that we have a lot of illegal immigrants from Pakistan.

We've just had 8 years of a president who has no clue what's going on outside our borders. Can we really afford another 4?