October 2008


I just listened to Sarah Palin delivering her energy policy speech in Toledo, OH. Although she mentioned briefly alternative sources of energy, sun, wind, geothermal, in the same weak litany that McCain is accustomed to repeating, her real focus, not surprisingly, was on drilling here in the U.S. and on developing “clean coal” technologies. She asked the audience to take up the mission of developing the technologies to make mining and burning coal “clean” as a lofty and ambitious generational challenge, like the Space Race, or eradicating world poverty, or defeating communism.

“We can do it, America!” she says in essence, “we can make coal clean!”

I’m just not sure this is the generational challenge the world wants or needs

, not now, not ever….

Burning coal and hydrocarbons for nearly 200 years has gotten us into this mess. Continuing the dirty industrial revolution, only “cleaner,” is not going to lead to anything but more warming, more environmental degradation, more species extinctions, not to mention more jobs in one of the dirtiest, most hazardous industries there is, coal mining.

“We can do it, America! More blacklung for everybody! Leveling our beautiful mountains and destroying our lovely rivers is a sacrifice we can and should be willing to make!”

It’s nuts, just nuts.

Here’s how I’ve been (wishfully) thinking about the election the last couple days. In 2004 the electoral map looked like this:

Kerry won 252 electoral votes. Obama needs 270 to win.

It’s hardly a stretch to suppose Obama will carry all the states Kerry did. Of these, New Hampshire is the “swing state,” and it’s been polling ~6+ points ahead for Obama. (McCain is currently throwing himself into the long-shot Pennsylvania. But his strategy will probably fail; Obama’s polling as much as 10 pts ahead there.)

Forget these “battleground” states for a moment: OH, FL, CO, NM, NC. Look just at two states that Bush won:

Iowa: 7 electoral votes

Virginia: 13 electoral votes

In Iowa, Obama is polling around ~12+ pts ahead. That’s ahead even of NH, and everyone is calling it for Obama. That gives him 259 EVs.

In Virginia, Obama is polling ~6-10 pts ahead. A tighter race, certainly. But McCain has been steadily losing ground there, and many in the media are about ready to call it for Obama.

At the very least, right now I am predicting that this election is won in Virginia. Obama will still likely win one or several or all of OH, FL, CO, NM, NC, even MO. But all he has to do is take Iowa (a relative gimme), and VA, totally within reach.

Another way of putting this is that Obama can fairly easily win 259. All he needs is 11 more from somewhere. And there are a lot of very good chance possibilities for this: VA, CO, NM in the top, then FL, OH, NC, MO down the list. Those are pretty good odds.

That’s my current psychological consolation.

If the last 15 years have been marked by an increasing showdown between state sovereignty and paranational capital-market leveraging, to the consistent detriment and erosion of state power/effectiveness, will states now have the wherewithal to stave off disaster now that the confidence-game of the global market has shown its empty hand?

And where is all this promised capital from the nation-states coming from anyway? As always, the future. Our children will save everything….

Let me try to break this all down in absurdly simple terms: John Q works 40+ hrs/wk making widgets (corn, drywall, house paint, houses etc.) for Mr. Bossman, who profits from this basic created value by markup and resale. John Q then buys his own product from Mr. Bossman, at a price so high that he must borrow the total price from Mr. Bossman and his banking associates and pay him back over many years at compounding annual interest. This interest Mr. Bossman and his global banking associates then divvy out amongst eachother, “leveraging” John Q’s debt into profit streams that theoretically pay off ad infinitum.

Meanwhile John Q Citizen also pays taxes into his nation’s public treasury, putatively to secure his own and his neighbors’ collective interests. When Mr. Bossman’s global Ponzi Scheme is revealed for what it always was, and the whole ill-built edifice tumbles, Mr. Bossman and his banking associates appeal to the public treasury to pay out on their inflated promises of profit returns. John Q’s public representatives tell him that this is necessary to “avert calamity,” and go ahead and conscript John Q’s grandchildren’s tax payments to keep the whole cycle turning.

John Q is not supposed to question the premises. The “Free Market” won the Cold War, so what alternative is there? So keep going to work and paying your taxes. If you still have a job….

I’ve been following the election polls closely (like a junkie) as well as the “wisdom of the market” over at Intrade, where people bet on all sorts of things happening. Obama’s lead there has been growing steadily lately, but I was surprised to see today, the night after the second debate, that the market betters are edging into certainty about Obama. Still a month out, but here’s how the wisdom of I’m-putting-my-cash-on-this-horse is looking right now:

As this housing bubble has burst and the financial crisis played out over the last weeks and, really, year, my wife and I have regularly discussed the affair. It is now a hackneyed dialogue, because we are in fundamental agreement and we both have been seeing it coming for many years. Those who claim that this crisis was unexpected, or unforeseen–like McCain who a couple months ago, I think, said that this meltdown took him by surprise–were either willfully ignorant or are lying to the public.

Over the last ten years my wife and I would take our annual or biannual pilgrimages to the homeland of southern Idaho for holidays, and watch how the valley, which when we were growing up was mostly farmland and sparsely populated, was being devoured by rampant over-development. The new signs of sprawl were always eye-popping, first the malls and box stores and then more recently the overbuilding of houses, most of them oversized even in the low price end. It was clear to us for years, just looking at it, that this was unsustainable. It was clear from speaking with friends and family that 1) housing virtually WAS the economy from the top down, and 2) people, including people we knew and loved, were getting in over their head. For example, buying or building 3000+ sq.ft. houses with ARM mortgages with the intent to flip them in two or three years. It was sheer nuts and we knew it. Since our career paths had forced us to remain transient during these years, we were never able to settle down as we would have liked, instead having to rent throughout this time (as we stil are, alas). But neither did we get sucked into the madness maelstrom. For that I guess we’re lucky.

I wrote and recorded a song as far back as early 2004, called “Before the Fall,” in which one verse reflected on this trend:

“I see revolutionaries everywhere / in business coats

Turning farmland into feudal states / surrounding them with moats

To keep some out / keep others in

So much debt they’ll never pay it / or even know where to begin

And it’s the wave of the future / Stand up proud and tall

Things are better than they’ve ever been

Even better than before the fall.

Apparently the revolution is now being televised, and the future is now. And we can stand up proud and tall, say America First!, and sign up the line of out-of-work Wall Street accountants to oversee and distribute amongst themselves the $700+ billion in bailout cash.

A good report from Missouri by the Fivethirtyeight team, on what the McCain campaign looks like on the ground, gives some insight into either A) the GOP’s state of disarray and demoralization, B) McCain’s inability to run an effective campaign, or find/buy people who can, C)the sheer lack of interest in McCain among voters, or all of the above.

This from the man who swears he’s the best commander-in-chief, that he “knows how to win wars.” But politics is, proverbially, war by other means. I guess he’d rather lose an election than win an election.

MFox

Just watched the VP debate. Biden clearly won on every point of substance. But Palin held up, didn’t fall apart, so I guess lived up to that lowest-bar expectation she’d been handed. Her talking points were canned, and the policies they’re offering are hollow, contradictory, or totally unclear. So the GOP platform of McCain is in shambles. But she put the lipstick on it.

MFox

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