Are the Wheels Falling Off McCain’s Wagon?

September 23, 2008

Today, as leaders wrangle over the future of American capitalism, Sarah Palin was inviting pictures to be taken of her with world leader types and being briefed on foreign affairs.  She would not allow journalists to see the photo opportunity until CNN refused to be so brazenly used for publicity purposes.  After 40 seconds of listening to small talk the me3dia was dismissed.  Her experience in Wasilla and the year and a half in the governor’s office was apparently deemed sufficient for domestic issues.  (Who can argue with the need for this after she blithely considered going to war with Russia in one of her two recent interviews.)

The question is whether this sort of thing will counterbalance the flack McCain is taking for lying on attack ads against Obama, and for seemingly irrational responses to the economic crisis.

What has not come to the forefront is McCain’s career long undeviating commitment to deregulation.  This is what I want him to address.  While Obama says that recent events will require a re-analysis of the wisdom of proceeding with some of the plans he has proposed, McCain has launched a barrage of denials and finger pointing that is fast alienating people on his side of the fence.

It has gotten to the point where not just Sarah Palin is in hiding from journalists, but it seems that the whole campaign has burried its head in the sand and is carefully cheery picking interviews.

Hooray for the Iraqis!

August 26, 2008

The candidates and pundits are wrestling over who gets the credit for the troop withdrawal in Iraq and a great deal is made of an agreement about withdrawal without any serious attention to the contents of the agreement. The withdrawal agreement seemed to me to amount to little more than an opportunity for political posturing without any indication of the substance behind it, if any.

Apparently the talks have broken down in part over an item that we have been told was already a part of the agreement. The Iraquis want the departure date to be a hard deadline and that apparently is not agreeable to the U.S.  I had understood from the news reporting here that we had already agreed to this, but I guess not.

I applaud the effort by the Iraqis to have a legitimate and sovereign nation, rather than a United States protectorate. The current discussions about the withdrawal terms seem to highlight the fact that we are in Iraq in spite of the wishes of the Iraqis, not because of them. It appears that, after installing an oil executive in Afghanistan as its leader, we are having a little trouble with a puppet regime in Iraq.

FISA: After Retroactive Immunity

August 25, 2008

I heard a lot of talk about how the FISA bill would not absolutely block court cases for unconstitutional wiretaps. That of course was largely untrue and most of the pending cases will be dismissed because of the retroactive immunity granted by Congress. The Electronic Frontier Foundation intends to expand its lawsuit instead of dismissing it. It will now include the government as a defendant, a risky tactic, as sovereign immunity defenses have served in previous cases for the government to avoid responsibility.  Wired reports that the EFF may have documentation sufficient to get around the tactics the government has used to avoid disclosing what it did.  Once again our ability to find out what our government has been doing will depend on the integrity of the people involved in the clandestine activity.  If enough information is brought forward we yet be able learn through the courts what has been done to us.

The Washington Primaries

August 25, 2008

I’ll write more later but first a couple of quick comments on the primary results. Sam Reed, the Secretary of State was the pronounced favorite, which I thought was encouraging. Mr. Reed is the traditional sort of Republican, the Dan Evans sort of politician who subordinates party interest to public interest.

He is competent, ethical and trustworthy. He does not bow to the extremists who have taken over the state Republican party, people who seem to profess winning at any cost.

Our local Republican Party of course suffers from a disregard of the Constitution in its zeal to win, advocating the disregard of the 14th Amendment in its just adopted platform. It has been lock step with the Bush Administration in its position on FISA and the Administration’s disregard of the the 4th Amendment. The party sanctions the hate-politics of its attack dog the B.I.A.W. Sam Reed is cut out of better cloth.

The Attorney General’s race between the incumbent and John Ladenburg could not present more divergent styles. Our current Attorney General campaigns on tort reform using misleading statistics, then argues against this in politically popular cases such a Exxon Valdez, when political pressure mounted for a distressed property law here, he proposed legislation, then argued to the real estate special interests that the legislature was to blame for being overly protective.

Our Attorney General seems to be trying to appeal to everyone, while maintaining his corporate base and receiving substantial corporate donations.

His deficiencies as Attorney General are compensated for by adroit political maneuvering. He has launched, as of a few months ago, an email campaign, publicizing the “successes” of his office. This seems to me to be a highly questionable use of public funds.

John Ladenburg on the other hand is an adept administrator with a commendable track record as Executive of Pierce County. His rather low key style has served to resolve problems and issues that the incumbent uses to factionalize the electorate and drive people apart.

Attack Ads

August 21, 2008

There has been a bit about McCain’s apparently deceptive statements earlier that he would run a clean campaign.  Some of his t.v. ads have been shown to be untrue or misleading.  Obama has been criticized for turning the other cheek, as Kerry did with the false Swift Boating campaign.  But he’s beginning to counter punch is his ads too.  The attack ads from Obama are not untrue but certainly insinuating. This sort of approach is apparently necessary for political success but I don’t care for it.

I’ve been reading a book about the American Whig Party and I’ve been puttering through detailed descriptions of politics in the Jacksonian Age.  My impression is that attack politics is not a recent election technique.  In the 1820’s and 30’s campaigns were striated with bombastic  predictions of doom if one person or another were elected.   To some degree they sought to inflame the masses.  I’ve found myself recently harboring Hamiltonian concerns about democracy.  But for all the apparent ease with which people can be influenced by unbecoming campaign tactics, corruption and exploitation seem to flourish the farther we — or any other nation — get away from democratic ideals.

You tube has more unleashed, more “Swift Boating” treatment of McCain’s record.   These seem to be the equivalent of nineteenth century pamphleteering.

There are a number of reasons that this sort of thing is a regrettable product of our system.  For me the chief reason is that it serves to polarize our country which now more than any time in my life is so bifurcated that the two parties seem unable to work together in Congress.  Political considerations seem to guide our representatives more than any notion of the common good.

Be Thankful for Each Day

August 19, 2008

I have not had much to say since I returned from my vacation in part because I’ve been preoccupied with a tragedy that befell my daughter’s room mate. (For her privacy I”ll not use her name, but with her permission I may use people’s names later.)

My daughter Amy shares an apartment in Washington D.C. with a couple of other young (mid to late-twenties) professional women. One of her roommates is a second generation American, her parents having immigrated here some time ago from India. Her other room mate is from Africa, but was educated here and met Amy in graduate school. She’s now back home in Mauritius after completing a one year contract for the World Bank.

Amy’s Indian-American (that’s right isn’t it?) room mate is from a family in Maryland. Her father, like most first generation immigrants, sought to preserve the culture of his homeland in his adopted country.

For the last quarter century or so he has been giving lessons in classical Indian music, inviting students to his home where he would cook breakfast on Saturday morning for the group, spend the day giving instruction, then concluding with dinner for the group. He would not consider taking money; this was done for his love of his culture and his students. He was a valued member of the local Indian community.

Amy’s friend, like most second generation immigrants, engaged more with American culture. She sang, not classical Indian music, but experimental music with a band in venues around town. She accepted both American and Indian cultures and is equally comfortable in each of them.

Her two little sisters, not yet in high school, lived in the traditional Indian household of the family, but they were thrilled by their older sister’s “exotic” life, living and working in Washington D.C., with other professional women.

One evening, Amy heard a ruckus outside her room. When she opened the door, she was nearly knocked over by the embrace of the two little sisters. They told Amy that they had heard so much about her that they already loved her. Amy was not sure that she had ever seen such love of life and raw energy.

There are also two disabled boys, the older brother with cerebral palsy who cannot help himself or communicate verbally and a twelve year old with autism. These disabled kids were fully functional family members. They were taken most everywhere with the family, incorporated in every activity and as thoroughly loved and appreciated as any children.

Two or threef months ago the family was going on vacation to India. Amy’s friend declined to go because she could not afford the time off from work, so the family came to the apartment for a get together before leaving.

About six weeks later (a couple of weeks or so before my arrival there) Amy’s friend got a call: Everyone in her family except her brothers had been killed in a car accident. Her youngest brother was in a coma, the older was fine, and the rest of the family had been killed while being driven to the airport to go home. Their driver had fallen asleep and his van had drifted into on-coming traffic.

Amy’s room mate borrowed enough money to fly to India and to pay for funeral arrangements there for her father, step mother and two sisters. She was hoping that friends could help her with additional expenses that would come up. She had no idea how she could get her brothers back to the U.S.

This began a nightmare of a different sort. First, she was required to identify the bodies which had neither been preserved nor much cleaned up. This was like a horror film. Then the people performing the Hindu funeral ceremonies became very demanding and, apparently because she was American, tried to charge her ten times the usual price for things.

Her youngest brother came out of the coma and somehow she got everyone back to Maryland. Someone however had gotten into the house and picked the interior locks, including a safe and rooms that were kept under lock and key.

Friends arranged for someone to come in 12 hours a day to help with her oldest brother. She discovered that she cannot afford the mortgage on the family home. A friend wrote to the bank, asking it not to foreclose while things were being sorted out.

She can’t sell the house because there is an unfinished addition to it. The family was building an addition so that the two girls could have their own rooms for the first time. Not being familiar with local customs and being rather trusting by nature, they had paid the contractor in full and in advance. The addition was not finished and the contractor was gone. Amy’s room mate found out that the contractor was neither licensed nor bonded.

She is the only person in the world that her brothers have to care for them. She is receiving wonderful support from family friends and personal friends, as well as her father’s former students and people from the community. It is inspiring to see how these people are caring for the three surviving members of the family. People help with meals; someone is there every night; there is a great deal of love in the house. But know one knows what is going to happen.

Amy’s friend, after returning from Indian, stayed in her room a lot and did not go out of the house for two or three weeks. She’s still struggling and will of course for some time.

Her youngest brother and I became friends. He is a beautiful, gentle little boy with olive skin, enormous deer-like eyes, and a soft voice. He’d ask me to give him a hug when he went to bed and occasionally during the day. The last time we saw each other, we hugged, then he wispered to me “How old are you?” When I told him that I was sixty, he pulled back, looked me earnestly in the eye and gravely said “You are very, very, very, very old.”
I had to agree, then he said “Please don’t let anything bad happen to you; I couldn’t stand any more bad things.” Then he hugged me. I was the one though who needed the hug at that time.

Selling Before Foreclosure

June 20, 2008

With the number of foreclosures still rising, and the peak  not expected until fall, more and more people will be  confronted with  the decision whether to sell before the foreclosure date.   Before deciding to sell the homeowner should be satisfied that selling is the best alternative.

Due diligence in this regard should include talking with a bankruptcy lawyer, consulting with a knowledgeable mortgage broker or other qualified consultant about the possibility of refinancing, negotiating with the foreclosing lender, contacting local governmental agencies to see about assistance programs, consulting with a foreclosure expert to see what price the property is likely to get if it were sold in foreclsoure and to understand the process, and speaking with a real estate agent with experience in foreclosures about the market.  I can’t over emphasize the importance of talking to people with expertise in foreclosures, as they are likely to be far more helpful than people with general experience.

Once it is determined that sale is the best option, the laws of the state should be ascertained.  Some states, such as Washington, have distressed property laws that are intended to assure that a home owner in this situation makes an informed decision before parting with title.

These laws generally speaking reduce the interest of investors in buying distressed property, creating great opportunity for investors who are willing to comply with the law.  The laws also dramatically reduce the number of “rescuers” who hound homeowners in financial crisis and often prove to bring only financial disaster to a home owner.

I recommend that you list the property with a real estate agent with knowledge and experience in the area.  If you try to sell without an agent, give yourself a deadline, then list it if the property has not sold.  An agent will give the property much more marketing exposure than the typical non-agent sale and the expertise in this situation is usually helpful.

In marketing the property,  emphasis should be placed on  assuring the prosepctive buyer that you have done your homework and that  the buyer need not fear running afoul of the depressed property laws of the state.  A lawyer can help with this.

There should be a backup plan.  Often people plan to file bankruptcy if the property is not sold by a specified date.  It is a good idea to have already consulted with a bankruptcy lawyer and have the papers ready to file before that date.