Work and Days

Randomly Politically Incorrect


Why hasn’t Obama put McCain away?

Everything is in his favor. Count the ways. Obama has far more money than McCain (so much for the liberal mantra about the corrosive effects of big money upon politics and the need for public campaign financing. In regard to these changing attitudes about the rich: Old J.P Morgan, remember, was a robber baron who warped the political process; Warren Buffet is an enlightened capitalist whose billions helped out a little here and there).

The Republican brand is toxic. Obama is the more charismatic. Voters usually tire of one party after eight years in the White House.

George Bush will leave office with poll ratings analogous to Harry Truman’s own exit numbers. The Democratic majority in Congress will widen (Nancy Pelosi’s hit speech on the eve of the bailout or Harry Reid’s gleeful announcement that Iraq was lost are precursors of things to come).

Two wars and a sinking economy had depressed voters—before the financial meltdown (which supposedly had nothing to do with the trillion dollars plus lost by Freddie and Fannie). The mainstream media is now overtly for Obama, running hit pieces on Cindy McCain in the New York Times, claiming the Palin rallies are racist, and even going after poor Joe the Plumber as a fraud. John McCain does not have a fervent base of conservative supporters and has not run a dynamic campaign.

The answer, then, to the voters’ apparent hesitancy is simply that citizens still have no idea who Barack Obama is.

Are we to believe that he is a trans-racial, post-politics centrist, who will appoint both Republicans and Democrats and govern in Clintonian fashion?

Perhaps, but then we would also have to assume that his Chicago associates—Ayers, Khalidi, Meeks, Pfleger, or Wright—were themselves centrists, that his record in the Senate is not the most liberal among those of his 100 colleagues, that he has not in the past, in Chicago-style, sued to invalidate African-American voters’ petitions when he wished to eliminate all his state legislature rivals in the 1996 campaign, that in 2004 his campaign had not had some part in the leaking of the sealed divorce records of both his Democratic primary and Republican general Senate opponents that crashed both of their campaigns, and that his original positions when he announced his candidacy were not jettisoned as soon as they were a liability.

Socialism 101

The drop in gas prices, the net weekly partial rebound in the stock market, and the “spread the wealth around” comments of Obama helped McCain. He is finally now talking not of Obama’s “tax cut” (how could one, when the plan is mostly a cash payout to many of the 50% of wage-earners who will next year pay no income taxes at all?), but of a redistributive scheme to ensure an equality of result. McCain needs to sharpen his message: The issue is really socialism—taking from some to give to others through exemptions and credits—that transcends the logic of the progressive tax code. If there were increased revenue (I doubt it since the proposals will harm any incentives for those in the lower brackets to increase wages and productivity, given the specter of losing their cash payments should their income climb; and on the upper groups by taxing every dime over $250,000 at nearly 65% [in high-tax states]), the monies would simply go to a trillion dollars of new programs that will expand government (a Fannie health care system, a Freddie education bureau, etc.), not merely wasting money, but making social problems worse.

What then Went Wrong?

We have six, not twenty-five percent unemployment. Even last quarter’s GDP figures showed growth, not recession. How then did the sudden meltdown occur?

It’s pretty easy to envision, and can be simplified into two general scenarios. One, somewhere between 4-6% of mortgage holders bought houses without sufficient income and down payments. Eventually they found that they could not make their monthly payments—once energy and food prices climbed, or their credit-card purchases of consumer goods kept rising and squeezed family budgets, or adjustable mortgage rates on their loans increased—or all combined.

So they defaulted

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Two, a larger number who bought at the greatest expansion of the real estate bubble  had made no payment down, or very little, or had taken out second and third mortgages. Then when housing prices inevitably dipped, they learned that they now owed more on their homes than they were worth, and therefore, despite being employed and in theory able to continue to meet their obligations, decided it was more logical to walk away, and take a hit in their credit ratings than to owe more on a house than it was worth—when, in contrast, renting a house, or renegotiating the loan, or buying another cheaper home made better sense to them.

That rather small percentage of defaulting homeowners was nevertheless large enough to prompt a cascade—given the fact that Wall Street greed in the buying and selling of sub-prime mortgages was given a green light through federal guarantees to the quasi-public Freddie and Fannie.

We live in a culture, after all, where we blame “them”—even though we watch television programs on how to flip houses after cosmetic improvements, go to seminars on how to purchase homes without a down payment, and welcome snake-oil salesmen’s advice how to default on credit card debt. Capitalism depends on some modicum of honesty as well as regulation. While Wall Street must have transparency and oversight, we the people also have to honor debts, save capital, and accept that productivity arises from real work rather than mere speculation. There is such a thing as a moral economy.

Channel surfing on a Saturday night

Recently I turned to C-Span2 Book TV, a program I often enjoy. But here was Michael Moore, in rather repulsive fashion, reading from his latest written diatribe—and damning John McCain for bombing the North Vietnamese communists four decades ago.

He was making the usual morally equivalent arguments that a Stalinist regime in North Vietnam that had killed hundreds of thousands of its own, was, in fact, a superior moral culture to our own, and thus John McCain might be considered a war criminal as well as a terrorist. Then Moore went on to his conspiracies about the “oil men ” and their plots about getting “gas stations” in Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia.

Next, in grotesque fashion, Moore boasted that, “More people want to have sex with Barack Obama than with John McCain”. Then he went on to his sex jokes about gutting a moose and having sex with Sarah Palin, while in Orwellian fashion, Moore (all 300 pounds plus of him) damned Big Macs, American children’s lack of exercise, and soft drinks that have fattened other Americans up. (Or was he implicitly blaming Coke and Super Size-it for his own obesity?)

I remember that right after 9/11, Moore lamented that Bin Laden had selected New York, a city full of Democrats, rather than a red-state target. But  I had forgotten what a repugnant and incoherent buffoon he had become.

Turning the channel to CNN, I found that there was a story about the white racists at a Palin rally. Then I went to MSNBC and someone was talking about “what happened to John McCain.” (as in the old “good” losing McCain of 2000 versus the now “bad” McCain of 2008 that could still beat Obama). I finished by turning to local news and the hype about Colin Powell’s anticipated principled endorsement of Barack Obama. Some evening…

An Epidemic of Incompetence

The following happened to me in a recent 6-day period: (1) My insurance company, Beacon One, notified me that without prior warning my insurance on my farm would be suddenly canceled—and without grounds. Ten days later a second letter came in the mail stating that the prior notice was “in error.” No explanations or apologies;

(2) Macy’s called to say that I had been in arrears on a bill for a new bed, and therefore they had (a) charged me a finance penalty fee, and (b) turned the bill over to collections and to the credit rating bureau. When I called their 1-800 number, they confessed that they had not put the street address on my bill (but instead just a five digit number, along with the city, as in something like “Victor Hanson, 5643 Fresno California”). They then admitted that their bill was returned to them on three successive occasions, that they had not called me personally to inquire about the address, despite having my private number, or to inform me of an overdue payment due, and that they were “sorry,” but that the charges and letter they sent to the bureau were understandable;

(3) My Internet satellite provider, Hughes, called and offered on its own initiative, to upgrade my rural antenna dish for $198 dollars, if I would agree to continue the service for two more years. But after installing the new dish, they sent me a bill for $597, with a warning that service would be disconnected in seven days if the amount was not paid. I’m still trying their 1-800 number (8th attempt) to figure that overcharge out;

(4) I turned in my worn and demagnetized ATM card to Citibank to get a new one. They assured me they would send a fresh duplicate ASAP, with the exact same number as the original. Seven days later it came, was activated—and found to have a different and wrong number, nullifying my online automatic bill payments. I am still working on that too, but now must notify all my on-line creditors that either their card on file is no longer operative, or that it may be, or that both old and new card numbers  work, or neither,  since no one at Citibank knows anything other than they regret it was their fault but offer no payment for late bill charges or my time in trying to run down creditors.

There is one unifying theme to all these incidents. When notified (usually by emails threatening dire consequences, and with warning not to dare email back at that automatic email address), I called their 1-800 number as directed. The respective holds (lousy music) averaged about 20 minutes each. In every case the person on the other end, either could not speak English well enough to carry on a conversation, or, if they did, could not understand basic mathematics. Their supervisors were no improvement.

We are suffering from a nationwide epidemic of incompetence that threatens to sever the very sinews of commerce, brought on by a therapeutic educational system that teaches almost everything other than literacy. All this is compounded by a corrupt corporate culture that builds into its calculations the notion that there is still great profit to be made by hiring, on the cheap, attack-dog, but largely illiterate, employees, who may not understand how to fill out, or mail, or discuss bills, but will intimidate or ignore enough to make their employers a great deal of money. No apologies or contrition are ever expressed when the mistake is found to be on the company’s part. We are a long way from the 1950s when I used to follow my grandfather around Selma as he paid his bills in cash, face to face, and received a handshake, thanks—and a receipt.

When Obama praises ethnic magnet schools, talks of pouring billions more into education, promises reparations in deed rather than word, or advocates more “oppression studies”, I am not confident there will be a return to basic education, but assured that more “-studies” courses will appear: as in Asian-, African-American- , Chicano-, environmental-, ethnic-, leisure-, peace-, or women’s- studies courses that won’t do a thing to improve America’s declining literacy or knowledge of simple math and science—or questionable ethics.