GM a Few Months From Extinction

November 13, 2008

Many people call GM’s vehicles dinosaurs, which could be weirdly prescient in that analysts say that GM will become extinct in early 2009 unless it receives billions from the government.  Just last year of course the authomobile industry required $25 billion of loan guaranties from the government.  Now GM needs about that amount in cash.

Like Thomas Friedman, I am sick and tired of the automobile industry thinking that it can susrvive by paying money to lobbyists, blocking environmental laws, and disregarding the needs and concerns of consumers.  American auto manufacturers used to plan the obsolescence of the cars they manufactured in the interest of causing people to need new ones.  Their utter disregard of consumers is tantamount to planning their own obsolescence.

There is no way taxpayer should support the disreputable and irrational behavior of the American auto industry, at least not without some serious concessions.  The government ought to get whatever equity there is held by the stockholders and the officers and directors should be held accountable.  That means fire them without a parachute of any sort.  The salaries of their successors, considering what these companies have done to their industry and to the country, should be dramatically reduced.

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School Children Chant of Assassination.

November 13, 2008

All that campaign talk about Obama being a terrorist and somehow un-American translates into frightful activity on the ground.  People actually believe that stuff, including dangerous people.  To get an idea of the effect of this sort of campaigning consider a bus load of elementary children chanting “assassinate Obama” on the bus.  Some of the kids did not even know what “assassinate ” meant.

This was reported by a Rexberg Idaho television station.  Rexberg is a small town dominated by a Mormon university.  Mormons of course campaigned fiercely against gay marriage in California, spending tens of millions of dollars.  I hope this very usual occurrence does not indicate that there is a radical — even violent — branch of the faith.


What is Conservatism?

November 12, 2008

I’ve been hearing a lot about where this country is politically and I have to confess that I do not understand much of what is being said. Yesterday I heard a Republican say that “America is right of center.” I sincerely do not understand what that means. I presume that it was intended to mean that Americans support the Republican agenda, but the election offered little to support that position and polls uniformly show that the majority of us support the political issues advanced by so called “liberals” such as opposition to the Iraq war, health care revision, regulation of financial institutions, and establishing a trade balance.

It seems to me that the notions of conservative and liberal are indistinct to say the least with conservatives proposing dramatic changes to the society at least over the last eight years (I’m thinking tax reduction during a war, the “Bush Doctrine” which permits attacking other countries that might be a threat in the future, domestic warrantless surveillance, rendition, Guantanamo and the related human rights issues, abdication of federal oversight of financial institutions, stuff like that) and liberals advocating a return to a balanced budget and trade balance, and rolling back many of the recent changes implemented by the administration.

Another instance of this confusion about what is conservative and what is liberal is the recent Supreme Court case, argued Tuesday, in which the Court heard arguments about the FCC’s right to penalize “fleeting profanity.” The FCC for example fined PBS for airing interviews with old blues men who sometimes used the “s” word.

During oral argument it appeared that the “conservative” judges favored upholding the FCC’s right to control the use of any bad words, while the liberals seemed to disfavor this relatively mild form of censorship. In the courts conservatism is not marked by a philosophical opposition to governmental intrusion into our lives, as conservative judges tend to favor this type of censorship, to favor expansion of the police power and generally to disfavor using civil rights to limit the powers of government. At least in cases involving these competing interests the conservatives are more likely to be on the side of the government. On the other hand when government interferes with business, they are more likely to be on the side of business and the limitation of government.

This reminds me that when the constitution was adopted there was no bill of rights, to Thomas Jefferson’s great disappointment. The conservatives, who generally had opposed the inclusion of a bill of rights, coalesced into the Federalist Party which favored a strong federal government. Federalists were also much more pacifist than Jefferson’s following. I guess the conservatives on the bench take inspiration from John Adams and the Federalists at least in part. The conservatives of that era were for radical changes in the government to centralize and strengthen the power of the federal government.

The just finished presidential election illustrates the blur between conservative and liberal, as these terms are commonly used. McCain could not effectively distinguish his policies from those of Bush. McCain could not identify any bright lines that distinguished his policies from Obama and appealed to the voters. Eventually he seemed to stake his campaign on “character” issues, which to some degree is a euphemism for personal attacks. He did this is substantial part because he could not find the “right of center” where Republicans say most of us reside.


A Triumph of a Foundational Belief

November 5, 2008

Our country has come a remarkable way in my lifetime.

I was born in a racially segregated country with laws impairing the black’s right to vote. There were neighborhoods in Seattle with covenants that made it unlawful for blacks to live there. When I was in college, black people could not buy property in my parent’s neighborhood. For that matter they would not even sell to Jews. In the 1960’s there were people living who had been slaves and several who had parents who had been slaves. Society was racially segregated and racism was rather obvious.

I’ve see the Supreme Court declare racial segregation to be unconstitutional. The civil rights movement was an enormous effort by many, many people and the experience became deeply imbedded in the participants’ consciousness. There was a sense of camaraderie among the participants in the movement not unlike the what happens among troops in a war. There was real grief over the assassinations of civil rights leaders and people still get deeply moved hearing Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech. It was truly a profound experience full of struggle and violence and doubt and faith.

The country has made mighty efforts to overcome the ghetto-ization of the descendants of the slaves. Every step was marked with controversy, extremely high emotions, and great uncertainty about the benefits of the undertaking. The resistance to the movement included outspoken racists, but far from only those people.

Many, many people were not remotely racists but worried about the preservation of the fabric of society, going too far and too fast. Many of the “civil rights” efforts seemed artificial and meaningless. Many felt that the efforts were going way too far and penalizing non-blacks by usurping opportunities precious to struggling whites. Emotions always ran high with everyone on all sides seeing himself or herself fighting against injustice on the other side and saw the risk of the country’s doom hovering above everything.

It seemed to me that everyone in the last few decades has been fighting for opportunity as that person perceived it. Beneath all the squabbling was a foundational belief that this is the land of opportunity.

Many on the left despaired that with the demise of affirmative action, we were shirking our moral responsibility. Many felt that with the reduction in social services assured the further decline of people in the cycle of poverty. Many saw the Bush administration as having put us back toward the inequities of the 1960’s.

Out of this seething cauldron of accusations, distrust, blame, failed hope and sharp division steps a black president, calling for unity. For me he represents, not a triumph of the civil rights movement, but a triumph of the American experiment. People on the right who opposed the civil rights “social engineers,” who opposed formulaic affirmative action should feel vindicated. Out of the impossible tangle of competing ideas we have elected a black president, something no industrialized western country has done. Thirty-five years ago this was utterly inconceivable. Our foundation belief in opportunity has triumphed.


Negativity Pushed Powell to Obama

October 20, 2008

All the neo-McCarthyism and demogaguery caused Powell to pick the candidate that reresented an wscape from that  He concluded that  Obama was the one to lead us away from such nonsense.


Google CEO Jumps on Obama Train

October 20, 2008

With the CEO of Google campainging for him, Colin Powell endorsing him and Warren Buffet advising him, Barack Obama does not look like your typical terrorist-socialist.  It is hard to imagine that this continual drum beat character assisination will serve McCain well.  It seems to me that he is trading credibility for whatever is to be gained by demagoguery.  That seems like a poor bargain as with McCain’s experience and the current crisis of confidence in the president. the loss of credibility would be a critical loss for McCain.


Palin Condemns Threats but Will Continue Accusations

October 20, 2008

Palin, saying that she has not heard anything inappropriate, stated that threats against Obama were out of line and she would not continue speaking if she heard such things.  This seems a little disingenuous since McCain has had to take a microphone away from a woman who was calling Obama an Arab.  McCain no doubt correctly intuited that this woman was about to launch into an anti-Arab discourse or discussion of Obama as a terrorist.

She still though insists that it is appropriate to claim that Obama “palls around” with a terrorist.  She maintains this position in spite of the fact that this claim has been thoroughly researched and no support for it has been presented.  What is strange is that she supports this with allusions to undocumented claims and asays that there has not been a full explaination or disclosure.  This sounds a lot like McCain’s claim that Acorn is a threat to democracy.  Again no support and all research in circulation supports the opposite conclusion.

These viscious unsupported accusations seem to me to be utterly irresponsible and to bring the McCain ticket’s judgment into sharper question.  To me this demonstrates a willingness to engage in the sort of conduct that got us into a war in the Mid-East and has led to the erosion of the credibility of the presidency.  More than anything this sort of behavior links the McCain ticket with the current administration.

This sort of thing was tried by Goldwater when he was failing as the election approached.  It seems to be wroking aginst McCain and Palin.  When it is launched late in the campaign, voters seem to see it for what it is: a desparate attempt to win at any cost.  It is hard to imagine a campaign that is farther from the standard of “putting America first.”  It fosters hate and suspicion for the goal of getting elected, thereby fracturing a society that very much needs to unify to address its ills.