Monday, August 16, 2010

The Christian Community Center of Lepanto!

Ladies and gentlemen, 


In the name of promoting religious tolerance and in the spirit of demonstrating that the recent developments with the Ground Zero Muslim community center can cut both ways, I'm proposing that we band together to fund a Christian Community Center of Lepanto in downtown Mecca!  Now, a few words of caution: foreigners are forbidden to own property in Mecca or Medina, so we'll need to find some native sponsors interested in demonstrating a commitment to tolerance and a mutual peace between Christianity and Islam, and what better way than for some benevolent Saudi to sponsor our land and construction in downtown Mecca by affixing his name to the deed?   Also, we'll need to raise at least $8 million, because in my research, I found that foreign investors purchasing land for construction had to erect buildings worth at least SAR30 million, which comes out to just under $8 million USD.  

So, to recap: we need a Saudi national to agree to sponsor our construction in downtown Mecca, preferably with a couple of hundred feet of the Kaaba, just to make it spatially proximate enough to signify the true peace and tolerance of Islam.  After all, we're all People of the Book, right?  That's right.  I'm proposing that we name the center the Christian Community Center of Lepanto, after the naval battle which dashed the Muslim hope of subjugating all of Europe all those centuries ago.  Culturally speaking, many of us likely consider that an apex of Western cultural achievement, given that we were able to preserve the West from the encroachment of Muslim aggression. However, let's not dwell on that, okay?  Let's focus on moving forward while also paying homage to our past.  

Here's hoping we can enjoy our coexistence together and share the world in peace, while celebrating the rich shared histories of our respective faiths.  After all, we've got plenty to bond over: Catholics and Muslims alike have sanctioned pogroms and mass executions of Jews, and I'm sure that shared Anti-Semitism will give rise to some bonhomie somehow!  The Jews might have a problem with it, but we'll have an interfaith day or something where they can come over and share a halal meal.  I vote for lamb kebobs and couscous!  And what an opportunity this will be for Christians of various sects to visit Mecca and stare out from our lovely courtyard at the Kaaba that they are forbidden to enter, just a few hundred yards away at most! Perhaps we could petition the authorities to allow us to build a walking track where we can circumambulate clockwise around the Kaaba so as not to breach etiquette.  I think this could be a wonderful opportunity for our societies to demonstrate a renewed commitment to understanding, tolerance, and coexistence!  




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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Top Ten Reasons the Republicans Will Blow a Majority

Top Ten Reasons the Republicans Will Blow a Majority


Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve been pondering the future of the Republican Party’s prospects in the event of a November sweep of the House and Senate races, and I have to tell you that I don’t feel very good about the future.  There are any number of reasons for this, and I’ve pared down the list to the top ten reasons I don’t feel that the Republican Party can handle majority status.  They are as follows: 


  1. Darrell Issa- Representative Issa is apparently well aware of the saying that the only bad publicity is no publicity, and he’s dead set on using his position as the senior Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to call attention to the Obama Administration’s peccadilloes in the Democratic primaries.  Apparently, the Obama Administration offered two challengers to the favored Democratic contenders incentives in the form of government jobs to get out of the race.  That’s a felony, but it’s also business as usual in Washington, D.C.  What’s good for Darrell Issa’s profile isn’t necessarily good for the Republican Party’s agenda, and when all is said and done, it will be quite likely that the Republican Party’s own skeletons might be laid bare.  Does anyone really believe that we know all there is to know about Karl Rove’s machinations over the term and a half he served in the Bush Administration?  Do we really want to know?  Just as pay for play and patronage for primary drop-outs are the norm in Washington, so is tit-for-tat.  If Issa has his way, you can bet that the Democrats will have ample fodder to reply with.  And for a party trying to govern with a majority in both chambers, that could be bad news.  Given that Issa has fed the anticipation for such investigations with his public statements, any draw down will likely infuriate the Republican stalwarts in the base and the Tea Party who are pushing for a Democratic defeat in November.  Neither outcome is particularly desirable for the GOP.  
  2. Financial Reform repeal-You know the problem with the recently passed financial reform?  It’s weak where it should be strong and strong where it should be weak.  Derivatives continue to be a potential nightmare in the future, as banks continue investing and trading in these devices to the point of leveraging themselves right back into Bear Stearns territory.  Banks have the ability to leverage themselves by law at a ratio of 34:1 between the financial reform legislation and recently proposed international standards out of Basel.  Bear Stearns was over leveraged at around 33:1 when it failed.  What’s more, given Paul Volcker’s remarks which acknowledged the reality that wealth created by derivatives is not real in any sense, one wonders why anyone would want derivatives to continue.  There’s a simple reason, really: a derivative enables a business to cheat the market rate of interest. Let’s say you have a level of indebtedness which wouldn’t qualify you for a favorable rate of interest if you wanted to borrow additional money: a derivative will enable you to beat market rates of interest connected to your real fiscal condition by allowing you to peg the rate of interest to some underlying commodity within a market.  Most of the time, this is advantageous, but if the commodity falters in value, your rate of interest skyrockets.  Since the pricing models used to determine interest charges are proprietary to the bank, you have no way of independently verifying whether or not the rate you’re being charged is connected in any way to reality.  You can’t challenge the rate of interest, and this has catastrophic implications for businesses and their shareholders.  So let’s review: a derivative, like a subprime loan, allows someone to borrow money at an initial rate which is totally disconnected from their real fiscal condition and overall indebtedness.  Just as a subprime loan will eventually skyrocket interest rates under varying conditions, so too will a derivative.  There’s a reason we allow the market to determine the qualification of borrowers and the interest rate they pay for further credit.  It limits risk.  Circumventing this is a recipe for disaster, whether with a subprime loan or a derivative.  Yet Republicans favor an unfettered derivatives market, one which enables the undeserving and overextended corporation to borrow undeserved credit at a rate which circumvents market realities and basic risk management.  Additionally, this removes any incentive that corporations have to manage their debt responsibly in order to secure more debt in the future at a lower rating.  They can simply use a derivative to attain credit in the event that the market won’t extend it at a rate reflective of their underlying fiscal overextension.  So when Republicans repeal financial reform, and the next crisis erupts, they’ll be the ones tagged with the blame.  Again, this does not bode well for their future electoral prospects.  
  3. Healthcare reform repeal-The Republicans simply won’t repeal the recently passed healthcare reform legislation in its entirety.  The President awaits in the White House with a veto that a Republican majority likely won’t be able to override, and the fact is that the Republicans view healthcare reform as a great asset politically speaking.  They can prolong the magic indefinitely, but what happens when the first Americans start reaping the rewards of mandated insurance purchases and the onerous enforcement mechanisms set up by that law through the IRS?  People will remember Republican promises to repeal, and they’ll note the failure of the Republicans to deliver.  They won’t care to hear Republicans point the finger at President Obama anymore than they’ve cared to hear President Obama blame President Bush for his recent travails where the Gulf of Mexico, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the economy are concerned.  Inheritance isn’t an acceptable plea.  The American people want results, and a Republican majority looking to court pharmaceutical and insurance industry support to preserve its electoral advantage into the future simply won’t cross those two sources of campaign contributions by repealing health care reform.   
  4. Afghanistan-the Republicans, like the Democrats, simply seem incapable of understanding that the American people are tired of borrowing money from China to fix Afghanistan. After nine years, we’re starting to wonder why it is that we can’t get Osama Bin Laden.  We’re questioning why a $15 IED is sufficient to take out a Humvee that lacks appropriate armor plating.  We’re also wondering why it is that we have no apparent exit strategy.  Parroting the same tired phrases and cliches simply won’t work anymore.  We don’t want to stay the course.  It’s that simple.  
  5. Iraq-See Afghanistan.  
  6. Iran-The Iranians do have a nuclear program.  What’s more, Russia is supplying their reactors.  We’ve got two choices: we can bomb the reactors and provoke a regional conflict with catastrophic implications, or we can let the world’s pre-eminent state sponsor of terror groups develop nuclear material and a nuclear bomb.  Can you say lose-lose?  
  7. North Korea-North Korea has actual nuclear weapons, and is ruled by an arguably delusional leader who needs psychiatric treatment.  Moreover, it’s taken to sinking South Korean ships and firing ballistic missiles over Japanese airspace.  Do any of us want a remilitarized Japan in the Pacific?  Can we legitimately ask the Japanese to abstain from remilitarization on a large scale in the face of a North Korean threat?  What are the odds that an attack on North Korea will go off without a hitch?  What’s more, given that the North Koreans are attempting to export their technology and know how to the likes of Syria, the prospects for a peaceful resolution are not looking good.  
  8. The national debt-the Republicans have no real plan to deal with the national debt that precludes increased spending on military campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, or North Korea.  Given that our deficit spending arguably comes almost entirely from defense spending, since Social Security is a pay as you go program that generates enough money to pay recipients from the withholdings of present day workers, and our defense spending is almost entirely borrowed from China at this point, we can’t afford not to put defense spending on the table for deficit reduction.  
  9. Taxes-the great irony of Dick Cheney’s assertion that Ronald Reagan proved deficits didn’t matter is this: the Bush-Cheney era has most certainly established that deficits do matter.  You can’t cut taxes and increase spending and expect a magical economic boost.  Quite the contrary, actually.  What no Republican has the stomach or the backbone to acknowledge is that preserving present rates of spending will require a massive, across the board tax hike.  You can cut entitlements, you can cut education spending, you can cut any number of items, but if you do not cut defense spending, you will not cut the debt without raising taxes.   The Republicans have not shown any will to entertain defense spending cuts.  They haven’t shown any will to entertain increased taxes.  Where’s the money for debt reduction going to come from?  
  10. Corruption and Cults of Personality-The Republicans have John Ensign, David Vitter, and an ominously resurgent Newt Gingrich lurking on the horizon.  This is what we know about, and, as with any iceberg, the majority of the mass lies beneath the surface and away from view. One can easily imagine the sundry ethics violations waiting to be exposed by a recalcitrant Democratic minority and a surly liberal press whose auxiliaries in the left-wing blogosphere have shown a willingness and a proficiency to expose Republican malfeasance.  And let’s be quite honest: do any of us see Sharon Angle holding up to scrutiny from independent quarters?  This is a woman whose stated view of the press is that they should be the friends of candidates, reporting and documenting what the candidates instruct them to report and document, nothing more and nothing less.  The aforementioned Mr. Darrell Issa is perhaps a liability unto himself, given his prior involvement in car thefts and his business conflicts.  We know quite a bit about Darrell Issa already, but that’s not the same as a 24 hour saturation cycle of news where the same old nuggets are repeatedly revisited and pounded into the consciousness of the American voter.  Eric Cantor, as good as he may think he is, is the Republican equivalent of John Edwards, who was so bitingly dismissed by Dick Cheney as “a young man in a hurry” during a vice presidential debate.  


In short, a Republican majority in 2010 is potentially the best news for Barack Obama in 2012.  If the Republicans don’t develop clear alternatives in action to Obama’s agenda, come 2012, Obama will be able to point to their two years of inaction as proof that Republicans can’t govern even with a majority in both houses of Congress.  What’s more, they won’t be able to do anything much different than Obama had already done.  The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know, and the American voters might just re-elect Obama in 2012 just as they did in 1996 with Bill Clinton.  It might seem implausible now, but other than opposing Obama, what real agenda with concrete specifics do Republicans have?  I have yet to see unified statement of purpose with specific or concrete goals that can be reasonably sublimated into action in the event of a Republican majority in both houses of Congress.  


Then again, if anyone can blow the opportunity of a Republican majority fulfilling the worst case scenario of the ten points outlined above, it’s Barack Obama.  He opens his mouth to switch feet, and none of his advisors seem to know how to stop his tendency to comment on matters like the Cambridge Police Department, the USDA official in Georgia, or the mosque near Ground Zero. While Joe Biden’s infamous proclivity for verbal gaffes was decried as a potential liability, Joe’s actually been the more disciplined of the two while in the White House:  he kept his mouth shut on all three of the aforementioned subjects.  Moreover, Joe’s been on the side of reason and moderation in foreign policy, speaking against surges and the like.  Had Obama followed Joe Biden’s advice, we wouldn’t have had the surge in Afghanistan and we likely would have avoided several domestic policy gaffes like healthcare reform as well, which was passed in the face of voter opposition.  Joe Biden knows how to get re-elected, if nothing else, and he didn’t make it for the better part of 36 years by being wrong about which side of an issue to come down on from an electoral perspective.  


And so we wait for November and the potential Republican return to majority status in both houses of Congress, but the reality remains that neither the Republicans nor President Obama seem to have a clear way forward on any issue.  Uncertainty will continue regardless of the outcome in November, and we’ll likely see two more years of bickering and gridlock while the pressing business of the nation goes unattended.  Let us hope that I am wrong.  


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