Talk softly and carry a big stick.

On Sunday, it was reported (barely) by the New York Times that, allegedly, a Special Forces operation was carried out by four American choppers and on-the-ground commandos within
Syria‘s borders. They destroyed a terrorist haven in Kabul, a town that borders Syria and Iraq. Syria claimed that it was a “construction” zone. Intelligence indicated that the only thing Syria was constructing was a tunnel to funnel Iraqi insurgents from Syria. American officials at first denying the news, finally acknowledged that the attack was aimed at Badaran Turki Hishan al-Mazidih, an Iraqi who smuggled fighters into Iraq from Syria. Good news: he was killed in the operation.

Angered by America‘s impunity, the Syrians asked for a charge d’affaires, an envoy when there is no ambassador to talk to, they shut down an American school. Recall, we don’t negotiate with terrorists. America has not returned the call. Bravo. Now, angered further, on October 30th, AP Reuters recently reported that Syria is shutting down the embassy in Damascus. Now it’s going to be even harder to talk.

The Washington Post applauded the United States, claiming “If Sunday’s raid, which targeted a senior al-Qaeda operative, serves only to put Mr. Assad on notice that the United States, too, is no longer prepared to respect the sovereignty of a criminal regime, it will have been worthwhile.” The juice was certainly worth the squeeze. However, Robert Dreyfuss of the Nation believes that once again the Bush Administration has overstepped its reaches. He claims that this tactic is just a new addendum to the Bush Doctrine and another disregard for international law. (Remember recently America launched drones and rockets into Pakistan.) But although the Bush Doctrine has too often lead to mistakes, the Bush Amendment (if I can coin that term) has pushed America in the right direction. While, the Bush Doctrine condones unilateral attacks by America as preemptive measures. This retaliation on terrorists in Syria is simply tit-for-tat and nothing like preemption. Terrorists within Syria struck first.

But the Bush Amendment can certainly fall under the umbrella of the Bush Doctrine which has stipulated that if you pal around with terrorists you’re going to get clamped. As Bush states on November 6th 2001,  “No group or nation should mistake America‘s intentions: We will not rest until terrorist groups of global reach have been found, have been stopped, and have been defeated.” In fact, the first Bush Doctrine, outlined in the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, made a vague goal: the eradication of terrorism, but the Bush Amendment has made our tactics a little more clear and pragmatic. In essence, you’re judged by the company you keep (Side note: the new National Strategy for Combating Terrorism published in September of 2006 revises the Bush Doctrine on many key points especially multilateralism, cultural sensitivity, roots of terrorism, and nation building.)

While crossing national lines might infringe on Syria‘s sovereignty, can they (or Pakistan) really complain. America might go in with choppers, but Syria has been trafficking weapons and fighters across Iraq‘s border. Those in glass houses should not throw stones. Now, maybe if this was Ethiopia and Somalia, America would not be as aggressive or responsive. But America is Iraq‘s protectorate, its body guard, and its bulletproof vest, and its going to protect itself and the Iraqi people. As the new bush doctrine sates, “Working with committed partners across the globe [Iraq], we continue to use a broad range of tolls at home and aboard o take the fight to the terrorist, deny them entry to the United States, hinder their movement across international borders, and establish protective measures to further reduce our vulnerability to attack.”

Finally, might is right. America has the firepower and they’re going to use it. What good is it to be a beacon of light without the will to light up the world? America is not afraid to ruffle the leaves, cross lines, and impede on national sovereignty. And the U.S. should. Sometimes having the guts to pull the trigger means breaking the rules. There are many problems and terrorism leads to making difficult decisions; sometimes you need to cross that line.

Liberal Media Bias, Objective Journalism and the GOP

For as long as I can remember, I have heard nightmarish tales from conservative pundits of the spectre of a “liberal bias” in the mainstream media.  Ranging from the patently absurd to the clearly insightful, these claims have resurfaced in the current presidential election with a vengeance.  John McCain, who consistently joked that the media was his “base” prior to the Republican National Convention, now continually levels criticisms against television, internet and print news sources for being “in the tank” for Barack Obama.  In keeping with Karl Rove’s strategy of waging culture wars in order to seize elections, McCain and his campaign advisers have made a rejection of the “liberal media elite” a constant talking point in his increasingly dim bid for the White House.  Many highly esteemed news publications responded to these claims with furor, claiming that they have done nothing but hold themselves to the highest standards of journalistic excellence during the campaign, as always.  In an attempt to channel my inner-Aristotle, I thought it would be particularly relevant to find the moderate ground between these warring camps of information dissemination.  That is, of course, assuming there is a centrist’s position worthy of taking.

The ongoing Pew Research Center study, entitled The Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ), recently investigated these claims, with some interesting results.  It rated news stories about each candidate in one of three categories, either clearly positive, neutral/mixed, or clearly negative.  News stories on McCain roughly broke down as follows:  clearly positive – 20%, neutral/mixed – 20%, clearly negative 60%.  Those numbers are not much in their own right, but, in comparison to Obama’s numbers, a clearer picture begins to emerge.  Obama received approximately 40% positive coverage, 30% neutral/mixed coverage, and 30% negative coverage. Just looking at negative coverage, Obama holds a two to one advantage over his Republican rival.  That’s pretty astounding evidence in favor of the existence of a liberal media bias.  Despite’s attempt at rejecting these findings through assertions of “objective journalism” in the mainstream media, I think there is something to the PEJ’s findings.

The idea of “objective journalism”, like any form of “objective knowledge”, has always been one of those lies that we tell ourselves to sleep better at night.  No piece of knowledge is for certain, but how can we attempt to know anything about the world if all information is constantly suspect?  At some point, we have to draw a line in the sand between the “reputable” and the “egregiously biased”. Our mistake comes from calling that a perfect system of objectivity.  Surely, there are newspapers and television shows that do a much better job at maintaining their “journalistic integrity” – a commitment to maintaining the highest possible standard of factuality – but, no source of information is or ever has been immune from the plague of subjectivity.

This is particularly true in the climate of a presidential election – the head-to-head combat of political theory, the confrontation of the “should” versus the “should not.”  Even if the stories that a newspaper runs are entirely “factually accurate”, there are a variety of factors that can demonstrate partisan influence like language and the highly subjective choice of what is “newsworthy.”  There is no truth, even if it comes packaged as such.  A perfect example of this bias came from the executive editor of the New York Times, Bill Keller, who responded to top-McCain adviser Steve Schmidt’s claims that they were “150% in the tank for Obama” and “no longer a journalistic organization.”  Keller said, at The New Yorker festival earlier this month, that “My first tendency when [the McCain campaign says things like that] is to find the toughest McCain story we’ve got and put it on the front page.”  Hardly objective for the most reputable American paper, even by my standards of constant subjectivity.  So, why would a respected institution like the Times move so strongly against the McCain campaign?

It is my opinion that the real sources of the liberal media bias are something far less spoken and far more important to studies and perceptions of journalism.  The American media are composed of people.  Their families live in the United States and reap the byproducts of American politics, like everyone else.  At some point, their sincere commitment to balanced reporting gets trumped by their own fears and concerns about intentional distortions of knowledge.  The campaign that McCain has run this election cycle is committed to lying, anti-intellectualism, and ignorance on an offensive scale.  One moment John McCain says that he will buy everyone’s homes to prevent foreclosure and the next he is calling Obama a socialist for wanting to restore taxation levels to those held under Bill Clinton.  One moment Obama is “palling around with terrorists” and the next Sarah Palin’s husband comes clean about his membership with the secessionist movement known as the Alaska Independence Party.  My favorite example of this occurred just this week.  Speaking about the importance of funding autism research, Palin vilely rejected the necessity of fruit-fly research as irrelevant spending, as something preventing a cure.  Little does she admit, or know, that fruit-fly DNA research is utterly essential to an autism cure.  Palin, McCain’s choice to step in as president if he dies in office, runs on sheer ignorance.

This is not to mention McCain’ own policy positions.  McCain’s perspective on global affairs is truly frightening, as anyone who watched the presidential debates could have seen.  Desirous to entirely cast off the United Nations and international law in favor of unhinged American power projection, McCain envisions constant securitization and fear as the driving forces in the United States’ agenda.  Journalists are exposed to the world more than most and see the potential ramifications for the security of their children and grandchildren with a “pitbull” America, clawing to maintain its hegemony.

Part of the “liberal bias” also has to do with the explosion of the “ideology first, facts second” 24-hour cable-news media.  Most of their content is a journalistic joke, but still they are factored into the Pew study because of their extensive share of the public’s attention.  Their “experts” are usually ludicrously partisan hacks, who would say or do anything to keep their ideology prominent in the minds of American voters.  Quantitative analyses are misleading in the respect that they do not explicitly and immediately present the sources that they tapped into in order to come upon their data set.  The numbers are simply circulated around without anyone having the time to delve into the actual structural realities of the study.  The creation of obviously “in the tank” media outlets like Fox News (for conservative thought) or, increasingly and troublesomely, MSNBC (for liberal thought) skews the data in an obvious manner.  At this point, I’m tempted to think that Bill O’Reilly would probably tell his viewing audience that a murder committed by a Republican Congressman was somehow justified.  Keith Olbermann, whose constant ravings about O’Reilly are deserved and necessary, is moving into increasingly dangerous territory, but mainly through ‘lies of omission’ about liberal ideology.  Both play the ratings game with increased frequency and would say whatever keeps Nielson demographics moving in their favor.  Now that there are more liberally-minded individuals in this country, we will see a shift away from the successes that Fox News had during the Bush years.  That, however, is not the entire story.

The media, as agents committed to “objectivity”, but more so to their own families, are sincerely offended by the GOP’s assault on education, science and global stability.  It certainly hasn’t helped that the McCain campaign has taken to slandering them as an election strategy.  As long as the GOP remains committed to paradoxical positions in order to continue to wield power in Washington, the media, which is composed of mainly intelligent and rational individuals, will rebel against them.  If you want the media back, conservatives, stop your party from denigrating American political discourse.  Stop your party from suggesting violent and imperialist foreign policies.  If you do that, believe me, the media will return to its prior levels of “objectivity”, as questionable as that always has been.  McCain, as well as the GOP leadership, is entirely to blame for the currently liberal tendencies of the mainstream media.  As I said above, a lot of this biased reporting has to do with pandering to shifting demographics, but a lot more of it, particularly the overwhelming number of newspaper endorsements for Obama, has to do with the say-one-thing-do-another politics of Nixon and Rove.  If your life’s work was committed to factuality, wouldn’t you work against those committed to destroying it?

Regulation and Blow Back

As the national media floods the airwaves with talk of placing new regulations on the financial sector, it’s worth thinking about what regulation is, how much regulation invades our lives, and what principles should be applied to regulation in general.

Regulation is government manipulation of the market for the purpose of achieving a certain set of goals.  Since the market is a decentralized, interconnected, natural force much like the weather and regulation is an imperfect, man-made structure meant to channel that force, you can imagine how difficult it is to create effective regulation.  Indeed, the history of mankind is rife with disastrous regulations that, when applied, have unintended consequences that often produce precisely the result they tried to prevent.

One of the most famous examples of these unintended consequences, also known as ‘blow back,’ comes from the Bible’s book of Exodus.  Pharaoh heard that a nice Jewish boy was going to screw things up so he made a regulation: all male Israelite babies were to be thrown into the Nile.  Of course, it was his action that inspired one Jewish mother to place her baby in a basket and float it down the river.  That baby grew up to be Moses and he screwed up everything for Pharaoh.  We might all be speaking Egyptian right now if the Pharaoh hadn’t created that ill conceived regulation.  On the other end of the holy text spectrum is the Tao, which is literally 80+ case studies in blow back.  The Tao states, basically, that if you act you’ll create unintended consequences and screw screw up the balance of things.  This was today’s Daily Tao quote:

“When they lose their sense of awe,
people turn to religion.
When they no longer trust themselves,
they begin to depend upon authority.

Therefore the Master steps back
so that people won’t be confused.
He teaches without a teaching,
so that people will have nothing to learn.”

The Master doesn’t step in with regulation when people lose their sense of awe or no longer trust themselves, he steps back.  Why?  Because he knows that constructed actions (like regulation) create complexity and blow back.  Complexity is bad simply because it separates us from the natural world and fosters inequality.

This election cycles most recent and unexpected celebrity was Joe the Plumber.  Recently it was revealed that Joe is not a licensed plumber. To many, that fact is the last in a string of populist falsehoods about McCain’s everyman American narrative, but, to me, it was a reminder of how deeply our economy is regulated by government forces.  To be a licensed plumber in the state of Indiana (Go Hoosers!) requires:

  • four years in an approved apprenticeship program
  • four years (6,400 hours) plumbing work experience
  • four years plumbing work under the direction of a licensed plumbing contractor

On top of all that, you’ve also got to fork over a few hundred dollars to the government so they can administer a test to officially ‘license’ you.  No wonder Joe is aggravated at the government: he needs to spend 12 years plumbing (how long is medical school?) before he can get a license from them.

Plumbing is just one of the hundreds of jobs local, state and federal governments have decided they need to regulate.  This certification process does two things: it allows the government to regulate how people earn a living and it creates a higher barrier of entry so older plumbers can take advantage of younger, uncertified ones.  Of course, regulation benefits the regulatory class as well as the government and those who have already been ‘certified.’  Lawyers, accountants and bureaucrats all ‘help’ people navigate the world of government regulation.  They benefit from the government regulations that hinder the economic freedom of the people. More regulation means more lawyers and higher transaction costs.  No government means no lawyers. In the grand scheme of things, I think this country has ventured way too far into the more regulation, more lawyers part of the spectrum.

Regulation is essential, but we must remember regulations are like buildings: you need to build a strong foundation built on principles (like gravity) or else the thing simply won’t stand.  Right now we have thousands and thousands of regulations, we have massive government systems like Fannie, Freddie and the Federal Reserve.  We spend billions on social programs that act as regulations and billions more on enforcement of said regulations.  We’re regulated up the wazoo and the new regulations they want to push are simply building on the foundations (and maybe the top) of huge regulatory institutions and arms.

If the federal government is serious about cleaning up the financial sector, they need to start their regulations at the ground level.  That might mean making all financial derivatives illegal.  It might mean making over-the-counter degree derivatives illegal, but it MUST mean making a principled stand against a practice.  The regulations must destroy the root of the problem or more will grow in its place.  I seriously doubt they have the balls to do the job properly since everyone is talking about a bail out and no one is talking about posting bail.

Alan Greenspan, We Hardly Knew Ye

In what has to be the most shocking ideological shift caused by the American sub-prime lending crisis, Alan Greenspan has tentatively reversed his position on the ability of financial institutions to regulate themselves.  A stalwart defender of the free-market and deregulation during his 18-year tenure as chairman of the Federal Reserve, Mr. Greenspan testified on Thursday before the House of Representatives in order to stem the tide of criticism obviously heading his way.  His comments come as a deft blow to advocates of permanent market deregulation, who have steadfastly relied on his reasoning and argumentation to advance a variety of equity-generating mechanisms now under intense fire.

Mr. Greenspan began his testimony by reading a prepared statement to the House Committee on Government Oversight, chaired by Henry A. Waxman of California, in which he acknowledged that an excess of demand for the “securitization of home mortgages” was “undeniably the original source” of the market collapse.  He continued that it was the failure of institutions to properly assess risk to credit-default swaps, part of the nascent culture of credit derivatives on Wall Street, that ultimately inflated the housing bubble to its catastrophic size.  In his statement, a paltry 4 double-spaced pages, Mr. Greenspan spent most of his words trying to divert a great deal of the blame away from himself, reminding everyone that he had “raised concerns that the protracted period of underpricing risk…would have dire consequences” in 2005.  After nearly two decades as the most powerful and well-respected economist in the American government, such comments can only be viewed through the 20-20 lens of hindsight.

Perhaps the most telling line of Mr. Greenspan’s prepared statement occurred when he placed his fundamental belief in the sustainability of self-interest into question.  He said, with reverberating echo, “those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholder’s equity (myself especially) are in a state of shocked disbelief.”  Indeed, when watching your professional legacy turn into a Jimi Hendrix lyric – “and so castles made of sand / collapse into the sea / eventually” – one is usually confined to that position.  Who would have thought that hedge fund managers and their ilk, squeezing every penny out of the American economy, would bankrupt it?  Allow me to fake shock for a moment.

The real blow to deregulation advocates, however, came during a heated exchange, at Mr. Waxman’s prompting, that followed shortly after these initial comments.  Mr. Greenspan tensely explained, “I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms.” Making reference to his underlying economic philosophy, Mr. Greenspan continued: “I have found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is. But I have been very distressed by that fact.”  Mr. Waxman immediately jumped on him, demanding a further explanation.  “In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working,” Mr. Waxman said.  “Absolutely, precisely.  You know, that’s precisely the reason I was shocked,” Mr. Greenspan responded, “because I have been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.”

I think I speak for everyone when I say, “Whoops.”

I suppose that Mr. Greenspan lost sight of the real powers intrinsic to the markets – fear and greed.  Neither of those emotional states are conducive to a healthy individual or a society not in decline.  For sure, risk assessment and pricing are necessary to the continued functioning of a complex economy, but not without the oversight of knowledgeable social scientists in the government.  I think that Andrew Lahde, a hedge fund manager who recently decided to quit amidst the firestorm, put the viewpoint of investors during the reign of Mr. Greenspan best into focus.  He summed up his personal role in the American market in a resignation letter to his investors: “I was in this game for the money…I have enough of my own wealth to manage.”

I feel the cold hand of history on my back.

Another Take on the Global Financial Crisis

While the current global financial crisis has its immediate roots in the collapse of the American housing bubble, there has been little to no discussion about the deeper causes of the meltdown.  As you’ve probably read many times elsewhere, the internal practices of the financial sector – AIG, Merrill, Lehman, Mac – triggered the floodgates of our economic volatility.  Indeed, it is very easy to assign blame to the equity managers without delving into what drove their actions.  In this time of collective anxiety, everyone needs to stop yelling “Doomsday!” and quietly interpret the events that have just occurred.  What economic analysts have forgotten is that market prices are just qualitative analyses of the commodities and processes we place value in.  The markets are a mirror and what they reflect is us.  We have to learn our lesson and step back from the financial sector to see what choices we have made to cause our distress.

To begin, the culture of greed that exists on Wall Street is undeniable.  Executives over-leveraged their companies on derivatives and extremely risky real estate speculation without regard for their fiduciary responsibilities.  European bankers took part in the game too, as clearly evidenced by the collapse of some of their largest financial institutions and the nationalization of the banks in England.  Iceland made such poor investments that they are now utterly bankrupt.  But I do not think blame should fall as heavily to the equity managers – whether private or public – as it has.  These fund managers are a collective of people who have been trained since their first job out of college to exploit the market through every possible loophole in order to drive profits constantly higher.  Parents saw dollar signs and pushed the golden unicorn of an “investment banking” job.  Meanwhile, all of our finance students were ever taught to do is play with numbers without any consideration of the actual assets they were dealing with.  In truth, the school of finance just got better at its game and the government either didn’t keep up or willingly abetted to profiteer from their exploitations.  Government regulation and oversight, endowed with a lot of foresight, is always necessary to close exploitable loopholes and keep investors rooted to the ground.  For that, the cavalier laissez-faire deregulation that drove the Bush administration can take its share of the blame.  We can also blame the Bush administration for putting us into two costly wars without exit strategies, which destroyed American diplomatic capital and fed helium-inflated deficit spending.  Bush, however, was also not the deeper cause of our financial turmoil.

We, the American people, can point out fingers at the managers of our equity and government until we are blue in the face.  The fact of the matter is that all of them still work for us (except the private equity managers, who were only responsible to those of us who could afford to play).  And, for the most part, all they have ever done is what we have told them to do.  We demanded mansions, they gave them to us.  We never demanded real energy independence, so no one invested in the infrastructure.  We cheered the stock market on, so they invented new ways to continue the ride.  We demanded justice for 9/11 and widely approved the Iraq War in our bloodthirst.  This is not to de-villify the Bush administration, because, more than any in the recent past, it was the most willing to encourage the feeding frenzy.  There is no effective governance from them now, because they were never put there to be effective governors.  The Bush administration was just an enabler of our most base instincts towards racism, xenophobia, fiscal irresponsibility, environmental degredation, and war profiteering.

The 300-foot tall pink elephant in the room is our collective desire for unsustainable consumption.  The American people always demand growth, but without any understanding of where that growth could take us.  Why is it always bigger and not more sustainable?  Whether the effects of our haste take the form of carbon emissions, invisible equity or imperialist intervention, we are playing the game like there is a fourth quarter that will end.  For some reason, probably teleology, people have not yet begun to understand how the game really works.  The game doesn’t end unless we end it.  We like to talk about “the companies doing harm” like they exist apart from reality, but we are the ones that work for them and purchase their products.  We are their lawyers and accountants, shielding them from legal and financial attack.  Neither of the presidential candidates will address it, despite Barack Obama’s promising pledge to create a solar and wind energy infrastructure.

We are not going to fool the environment or the market.  As James Lovelock famously wrote in his book “Gaia”, the Earth is essentially a living superorganism.  Its health is directly impacted by our actions, because we are a living part of it.  Not to mention a dominant part.  There are only so many resources at our disposal and it has become critical that we manage them wisely with our eyes on a permanently iterable lifestyle. I think that Thomas Friedman best described the reality of our situation, when he wrote in his New York Times editorial, “The Post-Binge World”:

“My friend Rob Watson, the head of EcoTech International, has a saying about Mother Nature that goes like this: “Mother Nature is just chemistry, biology and physics. That’s all she is.” And because of that, says Rob, you cannot spin Mother Nature. You cannot bribe Mother Nature. You cannot sweet talk her, and you cannot ignore her. She’s going to do with the climate whatever chemistry, biology and physics dictate. And Mother Nature always bats last, and she always bats a thousand.

There is a parallel with markets. At their core, markets are propelled by fear and greed. They’re just the balance at any given moment of those two impulses. Over the long run, you cannot spin the market. You cannot sweet talk it into going up or beg it not to go down. It’s going to do whatever it’s going to do — whichever way greed and fear tug it. And the market always bats last and it always bats a thousand.”

Whether we ignore these economic, political and social facts is up to us.  When people “put their faith in the markets” to guide society, it’s like praying for divine guidance.  It’s not going to happen and you’re avoiding the inevitable problems.  We have to collectively change our overconsumptive habits before the sense we’re getting of Newton’s Third Law  – “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction” – gets any more intense.  The collapse of the financial markets needs to be evaluated as part of this larger picture.  If we look in its mirror, it is showing a world that no longer can run on credit.  We must pay down our debts – to each other and to the environment.  This election will play an important part in whether we alter our values for the better.  Choose without unsustainable desire.

Evolution, Economics and Solar Power

Nothing I’ve ever read has effectively explained to me how evolution works.  I know there are mutations: the beneficial mutations lead to survival and reproduction while harmful mutations lead to death.  How, I’ve always wondered, can the amazing complexity and diversity of live arise from so many individual efforts of trial and error?  How many amazing traits have been lost because mutation #1 didn’t benefit it’s host and thus couldn’t be spread, even though it would have provided the perfect foundation for mutation #2?

I’d imagine that an Eastern answer would go something like this: evolution is a path and every step forward in that path leads to perfection while space/time (circumstance) creates impediments; but these impediments are only temporary, just like all things, and the correct mutations will be discovered and will spread.  A Western answer might go like this: some organizational force (God) has a plan and evolution is the unfolding of that plan.  The Western one naturally leads to the next question: how can I understand this plan?  Is the Pope going to tell me?  The bible?  Natural scientists?  My own Spirit?  I can more easy grasp the concept of a path than a plan, which is probably why I’ve been finding Eastern wisdom more effective than Western as of late.

The most effective wisdom tradition in explaining our world, in my opinion, is economics. I’d consider it a wisdom tradition because, like the others, it has it’s own concept of Ultimate Reality, Perfection, Oneness, etc: the free market.  If something bad happens in the world, it’s not because of a failure of the free market: it’s because the market wasn’t really free (and of course, can never be.)  The intersection of evolution and economics is playing out particularly obviously in the current quest for solar power.

The human organism is evolving an organ to create electricity out of the light from the sun.  At a trade show in San Diego hundreds of different designs, each financed by a deliberate amount of capital, are displayed to people with access to clients and/or more capital.  CNET took photos of their favorites. Take a look at these pictures and ask yourself if these don’t look like a bunch of different mutations; if this doesn’t look like evolution in action.  Some of these technologies (mutations) will prove beneficial and receive more capital (life) while others will die off.  We will evolve the ability to capture the sun’s energy.  The only questions are how soon and how much.

The Death of a Campaign

John McCain’s presidential campaign is starting to do quite poorly.  According to the latest ABC/Washington Post national polling data, Democratic hopeful Barack Obama has opened a ten point lead –  53% to 43% – over his Republican rival.  Indeed, states that “should have been” solid red like Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida are turning pall shades of blue.  Obama commands such a substantial lead in the electoral college – has currently pegged it at +119 EVs – that ultra-conservative pundits like William Kristol are calling for McCain to “fire his campaign.” Looking back at the history of presidential elections, the Rush Limbaughs of the world have good reason to fret.  Unlike MLB wild-card teams in the playoffs, the electorate does not side historically with the underdog.  Since 1936, only one candidate who was trailing by more than seven percentage points in October came back to win the presidential election – Ronald Reagan.  Needless to say, McCain is a few acting roles away from being Reagan and Obama is no peanut farmer from Georgia.

So far, McCain’s frequent and cringe-inducing attempts at stirring up those same “Reaganites” by referencing Cold War initiatives like Star Wars and listing assorted former USSR heavyweights one after another have been met by either liberal laughter or ignorant silence.  At some point, apparently, McCain’s advisers forgot to tell him that the world has changed since the Soviet Union fell.  McCain’s inability to demonstrate even a tacit understanding of the information revolution or globalization highlights the gap that he is so desperately trying to push back together.  From global capital markets to the importance of international coalitions apart from single-minded and exceptionalist moves towards “coalition-building”, McCain has been unable to grapple with the new political realities he is facing.  Forever tied to the hegemonic policies of the twentieth century by his experience with the Russians and his imprisonment with the Vietnamanese, McCain is slowly watching the death of his campaign.

For sure, almost every major trend that worked for Reagan is working against McCain.  The disintegrating economy, the extremely unpopular neo-conservative presidency of George W. Bush, and the unbelievable successes of liberal voter registration organizations like ACORN have constructed a political tsunami for anyone who rides an elephant to Capitol Hill.  If you need any further proof of this George Lucas-esque “Return of the Liberals”, just watch the smile spread across the face of Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) when someone mentions the word “super-majority.”  In fundraising capabilities alone, the Obama campaign is outmatching their Republican counterparts two to one. Democratic National Convention workers outside of the Starbucks I frequent have lines long enough to suggest they are giving away tickets to the Dark Knight sequel.

McCain initially tried to combat the energy of the “Left in the America” by recruiting the mascot known as Sarah Palin.  Drawing on her folksy rhetoric and utter programmability, McCain saw a chance to swing the momentum in his favor by reminding people what “Main Street” is really about.  It turns out that the reason presidential candidates don’t nominate beauty pageant contestants for their number two slot is because they tend to be poor orators.  Independent voters, who at first responded positively to the populist conservativism that is Palin, came to realize that she more closely resembled the former Miss South Carolina than anyone else.  From disastrous interviews with Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric, Troopergate inquiries that recently resulted in the finding of an ethics violation, and YouTube video of Palin taking part in a ceremony to exterminate witchcraft, the golden ticket that was her selection has turned into a lump of coal.  Ironic that coal is black, because that appears to be the color the McCain campaign has forced itself into constantly, although implicitly, decrying.

Conservative pundits have been quick to say that anyone pointing out racism in the 2008 presidential election has the moral equivalency of someone yelling “Fire!” in a movie theater.  I do not disagree that race should play no factor in this election.  But, to watch the events of the last couple of weeks with anything other than sad disdain for the utter dredges that Steve Schmidt and the Rove Boys have conjured up to spite Obama, the “racism card” just got a lot easier to pull.  It is true that no one associated with McCain ever says, “Don’t elect Obama because he black.” Instead, they say, “Don’t elect Obama because he is foreign.” The contention that William Ayers has any tacit connection to Obama is ludicrous and has been repeatedly debunked since the Democratic primaries. Yet, the newest words written for Palin to speak have her holding rallies in which she claims that Obama “does not see America like you and I see America”, because he is “palling around with terrorists.”  Not only are those incendiary claims patently false, but nothing short of an invocation of closet-racism.  With antagonists of Obama yelling things at Palin rallies like, “Terrorist!”, “Kill him!” and “Off with his head!”, McCain has entirely moved into the dark side of politics.  Bob Herbert of the New York Times aptly described the situation when he wrote, “The Republican mask has slipped.”

With centrists fleeing McCain-Palin stump speeches faster than you can say “1930’s Weimar Germany”, it appears that the long road of service to his country has finally ended for John McCain.  McCain, the self-described “straight-talker” who used to consider the media his “base”, abandoned any remnants of his former honorable self when he gleefully participated in the overtly xenophobic and implicitly racist “Act III” of his campaign.  Honor turned to ambition as soon as he saw his post-convention boost sink faster and disappear longer than the sun in the Arctic Circle.  Then again, I suppose that’s what you get when you nominate a religiously fundamentalist Alaskan to your ticket.

Debunking “3 Men who brought down Wall Street”

You’ve probably received a number of politically charged emails in the last fews days that purport to reveal questionable practices by one campaign or the other.  Today I got this email.  The highlights are as follows:

Here is a quick look into 3 former Fannie Mae executives who have brought down Wall Street.

Franklin Raines was a Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at Fannie Mae.  Raines was forced to retire from his position with Fannie Mae when auditing discovered severe irregulaties in Fannie Mae’s accounting activities.

Raines left with a “golden parachute valued at $240 Million in benefits. The Government filed suit against Raines when the depth of the accounting scandal became clear. .

Tim Howard –  Was the Chief Financial Officer of Fannie Mae. Howard “was a strong internal proponent of using accounting strategies that would ensure a “stable pattern of earnings” at Fannie. In everyday English – he was cooking the books.  The Government Investigation determined that, “Chief Financial Officer, Tim Howard, failed to provide adequate oversight to key control and reporting functions within Fannie Mae,”

Howard’s Golden Parachute was estimated at $20 Million!

Jim Johnson –   A former executive at Lehman Brothers and who was later forced from his position as F annie Mae CEO.   Johnson is currently under investigation for taking illegal loans from Countrywide while serving as CEO of Fannie Mae.
Johnson’s Golden Parachute was estimated at $28 Million.


FRANKLIN RAINES? Raines works for the Obama Campaign as Chief Economic Advisor

TIM HOWARD?  Howard is also a Chief Economic Advisor to Obama

JIM JOHNSON?  Johnson hired as a Senior Obama Finance Advisor and was selected to run Obama’s Vice Presidential Search Committee

IF OBAMA PLANS ON CLEANING UP THE MESS – HIS ADVISORS HAVE THE EXPERTISE – THEY MADE THE MESS IN THE FIRST PLACE.   Would you trust the men who tore Wall Street down to build the New Wall Street ?

The best hoaxes are those that combine truths with lies to escape detection.  The description on the crimes of these men are essentially accurate, but their relationship to Obama is not.

Raines is NOT an Obama adviser, much less a “chief economic adviser.”  It was fabricated from an interview in which Raines said that he had talked to someone within the Obama campaign about general issues concerning the housing market.

No one has any evidence of Tim Howard being linked to Obama.  Apparently this was simply fabricated.  One article I saw that said Howard was linked to Obama used this WSJ article as proof.  Obama isn’t names in it.  They just assumed you wouldn’t click.

The final charge is true: Johnson did advise Obama but resigned once the Fannie Mae scandal hit the front pages.

Of course, McCain’s team has been conspiring with the Fannie Mae people as well.

Fannie and Freddie were massive institutions that lobbied heavily: financing Democrats and Republicans alike.  The collapse of these semi-governmental mortgage giants is a mar on the record of both parties and the political-economic-media establishment.   Obama and McCain were both culpable.

We Need a Better .Gov(ernment)

It’s easy to get distracted by the political theater of the day and forget what government is supposed to be doing.  Government organizes people.  At it’s simplest, government organizes it’s citizens to fight an external enemy and create an internal peace.  Governments also tend to take money from one group of people and use it to create outcomes that the market won’t.  The actual application of government power is conducted through the use of information technology (IT).  Indeed, if one views IT as a continuum (language at the beginning, then writing, printing press, internet, etc), then IT is the foundation of government.  Of course it is: how else can one person communicate a message (information) to another?

If government and IT are so linked, why does the Federal Government act like a pre-internet organization?  Unlike nearly every business in America, they have not been thinking about how they can modify their products and services for the internet age.  GE has a comprehensive website that explains nearly every aspect of their business but the Federal Government doesn’t… and the federal government is the one that’s supposed to be transparent!

The fact that the Federal Government doesn’t have a serious web strategy is a joke that costs tax payers billions of dollars and allows for corruption to continue unnoticed.  Why is the census data locked into a government made PDF instead of analyzable through (and integrated with) third party products like Google Earth, Microsoft Excel or Wikipedia?  Why do thousands of office workers commute to Federal office buildings when they could work remotely?  Why can I do banking online but not my taxes?  Why can I get a college degree online but not a free, public high school one?

It’s really quite amazing how much the government could reduce the cost of governance, increase the quality of services and  engage with it’s citizens if it used just a little of the internet’s potential.  Our elected legislators can have an online home with a profile, a blog (if they want), video and transcripts of all their speeches, their legislative work, all their votes, a listing of all their donors, etc.  Our federal agencies can reduce their size and increase their transparency by using more open source products, more online collaborative workflow and a paperless office.  Our judiciary can post every case online: evidence, testimony, outcome, classifications.  All this data can be freed and integrated with third party applications that allow us all to manipulate it: finding hidden causations and correlations, exposing inefficiency, etc.

The time has come for the government to create a web strategy.  If they don’t, someone else will.  I know a guy who just bought the URL and he’s convinced that there is money to be made in online governance tools.

According to Neilsen, 220 million Americans already have internet access.  Let’s stop pretending we can’t, or shouldn’t, change the way government interacts with it’s citizens by using the internet in a sensible way.  Obama has already started.