Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Vote Quimby!

Okay, final roundup of the best articles on the election:
Until Barack Obama came around, the only Presidents since the end of WW2 to increase the national debt as a percentage of GDP have been Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and the two Bushes. So why is it that so many people who oppose Obama, who look to Reagan as a shining light, are yelling about financial responsibility and deficits? They weren't supporting Democrats since 1976, that is for sure, and it wasn't that long ago that Dick Cheney told us boldly that that deficits don't matter.

I also don't get the economic concerns that Republicans have about Obama. With the exception of Obamacare, essentially the same thing as Romneycare and very much based on a Heritage Foundation plan, Obama's economic plan has been to continue GW's policies. Tax rates have been kept constant, right where GW left them. The bailout was kept the same. What exactly did he change?

Which leads to the same question for Democrats too: what exactly did Obama change? From where I'm standing, on the economic front, all I can point to is that Obama has, if anything, done less to rein in financial abuses than his predecessor did.
Obama, Romney & Enthusiasm (Angry Bear)

The reason right-wingers need to belive all the nonsense about Obama that's completely at odds with reality or completely false (socialism, communism, atheism, homosexual, expansion of big government, raised taxes and so on), is because the legitimate avenues of criticism would indict their own candidate. The only legitimate non-insane criticism of what's actually been going on these last four years comes from the left (who have no viable alternative by design)
BOSTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - There is one group of voters Mitt Romney should win in a landslide in Tuesday's U.S. presidential election: hedge fund managers. Most of the best-known hedge fund managers threw their support and, more importantly, their dollars behind the Republican presidential hopeful long ago.

Now, some heavyweights of the $2 trillion industry plan to break out the champagne and party in style Tuesday night as they cheer on their man at events in Boston, New York and even Las Vegas, according to people familiar with the Romney campaign and some of the big contributors.

 Julian Robertson, a billionaire hedge fund manager who helped launch the careers of more than a dozen other money managers, will be in Boston, where Romney and his family will be watching the results come in. Robertson and Romney have known each other for decades, going back to when Romney was running Bain Capital and Robertson's Tiger Management was one of the largest hedge funds around. At the height of Tiger's success, the fund was overseeing more than $20 billion.

Conventional wisdom suggests that if Romney defeats President Barack Obama, he will be less likely to raise taxes on the rich and will ease off on tough regulation of Wall Street. The stock market is expected to rise as a result.

John Paulson, who made billions betting on the collapse of the U.S. housing market, is hosting a small election party at his Upper East Side townhouse. Paulson, whose Paulson & Co hedge funds have endured two rough years, has long been a reliable host for Romney events, throwing parties for the candidate at his summer and regular residences. Money manager Jason Ader, who gained prominence as a Wall Street gaming analyst and is backing Romney, had been planning to travel to Las Vegas for an election night "watch party" at the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino.
Romney's hedge-fund backers plan to party on election night (Yahoo!)

Remember when Americans, including the so-called "Tea Party" wanted to hang anyone associated with Wall Street? You can tell a lot about someone by who their friends and enemies are. Notice also how the stock market can only rise when we give the rich everything they want. The fact that the rich can extort all of us by threatening to "wreck the economy" is the ultimate bargaining chip.
Taxes and government spending. Health care. Immigration. Financial regulation. They are the issues that have dominated the political debate in recent years and have played a prominent role in this presidential campaign. But in many ways they have obscured what is arguably the nation’s biggest challenge: breaking out of a decade of income stagnation that has afflicted the middle class and the poor and exacerbated inequality.

Many of the bedrock assumptions of American culture — about work, progress, fairness and optimism — are being shaken as successive generations worry about the prospect of declining living standards. No question, perhaps, is more central to the country’s global standing than whether the economy will perform better on that score in the future than it has in the recent past.

For the first time since the Great Depression, median family income has fallen substantially over an entire decade. Income grew slowly through most of the last decade, except at the top of the distribution, before falling sharply when the financial crisis began.

By last year, family income was 8 percent lower than it had been 11 years earlier, at its peak in 2000, according to inflation-adjusted numbers from the Census Bureau. On average in 11-year periods in the decades just after World War II, inflation-adjusted median income rose by almost 30 percent.
And here's the conclusion, trotting out the economist's favorite, 'The Luddite fallacy'
Maybe the biggest reason for optimism is that there is still a strong argument that both globalization and automation help the economy in the long run. This argument remains popular with economists: Trade allows countries to specialize in what they do best, while technology creates opportunities to extend and improve life that never before existed.

Previous periods of rapid economic change also created problems that seemed to be permanent but were not. Neither the cotton gin nor the steam engine nor the automobile created mass unemployment.

“When technology reduces the need for certain kinds of labor, we know that some inventive people will one day come along and find a way to use that freed-up labor making things that other people want to buy,” said Mr. Friedman, the economic historian. “That’s what in the long run made the Luddites wrong.”

He added, “How long does it take the Luddites to be wrong — a few years, a decade, a couple of decades?” Perhaps just as important, what happens to the workers who happen to be living during a time when the Luddite argument has some truth to it?
Standard of Living Is in the Shadows as Election Issue (New York Times)

Be sure and tell your landlord or mortgage company that you''l have their payment ready for them in the long run. Remember, everything in the future will just be a repeat of the past. See also The Forgotten Long-Term Unemployed. Note that the "getting back to normal" touted by the media would be returning to the status quo of forty years of declining wages, job prospects, rising health care and education costs, fictionalization, war, etc. Count me less than enthused about "getting back to normal."

And this is a contender for article of the year. It also makes the same point I was making yesterday about politics versus economics:
The United States Army is developing a weapon that can reach -- and destroy -- any location on Earth within an hour. At the same time, power lines held up by wooden poles dangle over the streets of Brooklyn, Queens and New Jersey. Hurricane Sandy ripped them apart there and in communities across the East Coast last week, and many places remain without electricity. That's America, where high-tech options are available only to the elite, and the rest live under conditions comparable to a those of a developing nation. No country has produced more Nobel Prize winners, yet in New York City hospitals had to be evacuated during the storm because their emergency generators didn't work properly.

Anyone who sees this as a contradiction has failed to grasp the fact that America is a country of total capitalism. Its functionaries have no need of public hospitals or of a reliable power supply to private homes. The elite have their own infrastructure. Total capitalism, however, has left American society in ruins and crippled the government. America's fate is not just an accident produced by the system. It is a consequence of that system.

Romney, the exceedingly wealthy business man, and Obama, the cultivated civil rights lawyer, are two faces of a political system that no longer has much to do with democracy as we understand it. Democracy is about choice, but Americans don't really have much of a choice. Obama proved this. Nearly four years ago, it seemed like a new beginning for America when he took office. But this was a misunderstanding. Obama didn't close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, nor did he lift immunity for alleged war criminals from the Bush-era, or regulate the financial markets, and climate change was hardly discussed during the current election campaign. The military, the banks, industry -- the people are helpless in the face of their power, as is the president.

Not even credit default swaps, the kind of investment that brought down Lehman Brothers and took Western economies to the brink, has been banned or even better regulated. It is likely the case that Obama wanted to do more, but couldn't. But what role does that play in the bigger picture?

We want to believe that Obama failed because of the conservatives inside his own country. Indeed, the fanatics that Mitt Romney depends on have jettisoned everything that distinguishes the West: science and logic, reason and moderation, even simple decency. They hate homosexuals, the weak and the state. They oppress women and persecute immigrants. Their moralizing about abortion doesn't even spare the victims of rape. They are the Taliban of the West.

The truth is that we simply no longer understand America. Looking at the country from Germany and Europe, we see a foreign culture. The political system is in the hands of big business and its lobbyists. The checks and balances have failed. And a perverse mix of irresponsibility, greed and religious zealotry dominate public opinion.

The downfall of the American empire has begun. It could be that the country's citizens wouldn't be able to stop it no matter how hard they tried. But they aren't even trying.
Destroyed by Total Capitalism: America Has Already Lost Tuesday's Election (Der Spiegel)

Why do we vote on Tuesday?
So, why do we vote on Tuesdays in November? The answer may surprise you: Horses, farming and God.

See, way back in 1845, Congress changed the voting laws in an apparent attempt to make things more convenient for voters. Since we were an agrarian society, many of these voters were farmers traveling from the country into the towns and cities to vote. Since, at that time, people believed God forbid traveling on Sunday, Tuesday was a good choice because it gave them Monday as a travel day. Wednesday was the day these farmers would sell their crops in the market, so Tuesday became election day. That's pretty much it.

Flash forward 167 years later and here we are still stuck with this system. Think about that.
 How Voting on Tuesdays Helps Explain the Challenge of Sustainability (Treehugger)

And of course November is after the harvest. The conclusion to the article is: " So it is clear that Tuesday voting isn't the ideal solution for our modern time. So why do we stick with it? I think the reasons are clear: tradition, complacency and those in power wishing to maintain the status quo." How many things in society are this way? Someone could write a book on it. At least one person did: The Tyranny of Dead Ideas: Letting Go of the Old Ways of Thinking to Unleash a New Prosperity. It takes on such shibboleths as "taxes hurt the economy", "health care should be tied to a job" , "education should be a local matter" and "money follows merit". That's just the tip of the iceberg.

Here's another one: We have extensive education, training, testing and certification requirements for nearly every professional in society to make sure that they have the necessary knowledge and skills to do their jobs properly and safely: doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, architects, police officers, airline pilots, psychologists, nurses, electricians, etc. Yet we leave the most important job of all - that of guiding and administering our society to people with no special training in anything at all, and we expect them to make policy decisions about everything from nuclear safety to farm subsidies to urban planning to foreign policy to the space program. The only skill you need is the ability to manipulate and deceive people and the only certification you need is millions from corporate backers. Our government employs thousands of the most highly trained and intelligent people on the planet, yet they have no actual real decision making power whatsoever! In fact, they are often ignored or hushed up.

Anyway, that was a question that led me to do research on a book about technocracy as a political alternative. Unfortunately, the term "technocrat" has been blackened by China's kleptocracy and the misleading application of the term to economists who work for the big banks being appointed to head governments in debt and drain them dry, rather than people with true technical/scientific merit and no conflict of interest. It's really about empowering the most qualified people to make objective decisions for the good of society rather than having two political parties full of lawyers trying to destroy each for sport other and funnel money to their corporate backers. It's not infallible, but it might be better than what we have now.

Anyway, I didn't feel like taking on sacred cows like democracy and free markets at the same time. but I did do enough research to learn about the Marquis de Condorcet (a mathematician who wished to unleash science for the betterment of society; he died during the French  Revolution) and his Condorcet method of elections. Even that would be an improvement. And finally:

Against Voting: "As long as we live, we shall have to live together with ourselves" (Power of Narrative)

Third Party Laziness (Pruning Shears)

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