Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Be Reassured. Let Me Count the Whys.

I'm grateful for reassuring people like Jason Zweig, whose Wall Street Journal advice column said this morning that we're not facing another Great Depression.

The Federal Reserve is stronger and readier to lend than in 1929 or 1987, Zweig says. A flood of cash is waiting in healthy businesses right here in the United States, cash that will find its way into distressed stocks--a sort of trickle-down from strong to weak. Besides, Zweig says, nobody was freaking out in 1929. There's bound to be action with everyone freaking out now.

I'll have to admit that that's me. I had an interview for a job I'd really enjoy, but that was early September, just before the banks started toppling. The hiring process is suspended, I'm told. Will it ever start up again? Will the publication itself survive?

Louis Rukeyser came up with a more direct, if less reasoned, reassurance for panicky investors the week in 1987 when the stock market fell by a third. Everyone who loved you yesterday still loves you today, he said. Puppies will still curl up in your lap and go to sleep.

I'd say if you're looking for reassurance, Rukeyser's was the better advice of the two. Anyone can argue the points Zweig made. There's no arguing about whether the people who really loved you will love you still.

So give your dearest a hug. If you're a shouter, shout at a stranger.

And remember, if you haven't got anybody, you can always get a puppy.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Congress is a Damn Fool

As I write, the House of Representatives is still voting on the $700B bailout plan to stabilize the financial markets. And the House is voting No.

Perhaps they're all planning to back to their reelection campaigns and say, "Look--I'm looking after your interests! We're not going to let those financiers use your money to get away with crashing our financial system!"

Nothing could be more foolish.

When the stock market crashed in 1929, then-president Herbert Hoover put his head in the proverbial sand and waited for the magic of capitalism to make the desert bloom.

Didn't work, folks. It took government money to get the economy working again--literal job creation.

All over the Sierra Nevada mountains there are trails built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a make-work program started by the Roosevelt Administration, and the remains of disintegrated wooden dams that were built to serve the same purpose (there seems to have been no other). The New Deal even provided work for writers, for heaven's sake. Any good used book store will carry several 1930s volumes profiling states and major cities, all written during the Depression by otherwise unemployed writers.

But even New Deal money wasn't enough: World War II, and the torrent of government money it required, is what finally got the U.S. economy afloat once more.

The point is that sooner or later, we're going to need a whopping big amount of government money to get the economy going again.

Better sooner than later. We should know from Hoover's mistake that a quick bailout is a far better way to address a market crisis than wishful thinking.

No, the well-heeled heels of Greenwich don't deserve any handouts. But then neither does the Bush administration, which, if anything, smiled on financial risk-takers, nor do federal regulators who stood by while it happened--and nor does the do-nothing Congress that let the situation slide so far. Everyone involved has been greedy or at least complacent. Then again, was that unexpected?

We should remind Congress that it's irrelevant who got us into this mess.

It's also irrelevant if any individual representative fails to get re-elected for doing what the country needs done.

If we don't bail together, we're going to sink. We could take the rest of the world with us.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Old-Guy Tactics Make Trouble for Obama

Old age and guile will always overcome youth and skill.

That anonymous line is supposed to be a joke, but it's exactly what happened at Friday's presidential debate.

McCain used the simplest of speechmakers' tricks to out-communicate Obama. McCain remembered that the audience for debates isn't supposed to be policy wonks. He answered questions as if he'd been scripted by Readers Digest, while Obama played professor.

McCain belittled Obama, saying several times that Obama "doesn't seem to understand" the issue at hand--starting with the difference between tactics and strategy, a gratuitous insult.

McCain also managed not to look at Obama during the debate. He referred to Obama with the stiff "Senator Obama," rather than the more typical terms for politicians who disagree with each other, such as "my esteemed colleague," "my dear friend," or even as "Barak," while Obama himself first-named McCain.

McCain also reflected glory on himself by affixing the arcane phrase "the great" to the name of General Petraeus and a few leaders of the past in an attempt--it seems--to bring back the age of heroes.2 McCain, of course, is a war hero.

That curious rhetorical trick highlights why McCain is eager to escalate the two-front shooting war against terrorism, not only by throwing more money and troops at both Afghanistan and Iraq, but by adding a third front in Iran. Heroes are glorious; war makes heroes; therefore war is glorious. Do you understand the difference between rhetoric and logic, Senator?

McCain did well with such tactics in spite of Obama's more serious preparation. The Democratic candidate had blocked out three days to prepare for the debate2 while McCain was busy trying to put out two immediate campaign fires:

Lobbyist connections. The disclosure that McCain's campaign manager's firm had quite recently been getting $15,000 a month from Freddie Mac, and that the manager himself had himself received almost $2 million (ending in 2005) from a lobbying group set up by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.3

Unqualified VP candidate. A devastating television interview of Sarah Palin: CBS's Katie Couric, with just a few questions, had highlighted that Palin's views on foreign policy were more reminiscent of a bubbleheaded beauty queen than a vice presidential candidate (although Couric apparently failed to reveal Palin's mean streak).4

You'd think that smarter equals better. Not in this debate. Old age and rhetorical trickery made the better candidate seem like a mediocre choice.

1Doubt remains whether heroic behavior as a POW is a qualification for president.
2"First Debate Up in Air as McCain Steps Off the Trail," Elisabeth Bumiller and Jeff Zeleny, New York Times,
September 24, 2008
3"McCain Aide’s Firm Was Paid by Freddie Mac," Jackie Calmes and David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times, September 23, 2008.
4"A Question Reprised, but the Words Come None Too Easily for Palin," Alessandra Stanley, September 25, 2008. As for Palin's mean streak: For instance, besides trying to fire a state trooper who was in a custody battle with Palin's sister (elsewhere in this blog), Palin also supported--or at least didn't cancel--Wasilla's policy of forcing rape victims to pay for the evidence-gathering required to a pursue a criminal case against their attackers, as described in "Sarah Palin and the Rape Kits," Dorothy Samuels, September 25, 2008.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Mederma: Heeeere's the Result!

I promised an update on the effect of Mederma--the scar-fading gel--on my dog-bite scar.

Here's the result of four months of Mederma followed by a few more months without it.

Pretty good, huh?

Now for Round Two.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Is Palin the Bitch Cheerleader from Hell? Let's Ask Ken Starr!

You wouldn't know it from Palin's acceptance speech, but almost every vicious, scurrilous allegation devised to attack Hillary Clinton's character finds its reality in Sarah Palin.

I'm not talking about the fact that Palin looks, sounds, and behaves like the bitch cheerleader from hell--or high school, which is much the same thing. I'm talking about Palin's politics.

In Palin's short-to-evanescent public career, she has muzzled government employees, fired the ones who disagreed with her, and poked a finger into the local public library to see if she could censor the books. That's not to mention a sleazy move for which she's under investigation: firing a state official for refusing to fire a man who was divorcing her sister. Palin's sister wanted to win a custody case, you see. 1, 2, 3

Remember the federal investigation into the Clintons' business ties--the one that lasted until Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr found a way to trap Bill Clinton via Monica Lewinsky? It took four years, cost $40 million, and finally led, to Republicans' obvious glee, to Clinton's impeachment. 4 The saga from sin to impeachment began with an incident that occurred after the investigation began, and it was the sole topic of the "Starr Report."5The impeachment was, in my view, a travesty. Congress's bitchy cheerleaders for this witch hunt were willing to embarrass the country so that they could disgrace the President.

Congress needs to investigate evidence that government officials are crooked. Now that Palin has stepped onto the national stage, she should get a legal and ethical version of the Clinton investigation.

It would do the country good.

1Kate Zernike and Kim Severson, "Low-Key Outdoorsman and Family Man Now Faces a National Role," New York Times, September 2, 2008.
2William Yardley, "Palin's Start in Alaska: Not Politics as Usual," New York Times, September 2, 2008.
3Monica Davey, "Palin Daughter's Pregnancy Interrupts G.O.P. Convention Script," New York Times, September 1, 2008.
4Encyclopedia Britannica online: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/285098/Office-of-the-Independent-Counsel
5Archives of The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, PBS; http://www.pbs.org/newshour/starr_report/