Monthly Archives: May 2005

France's "non" and the real estate bubble

Even though it was pretty clear headed into the weekend that France was going to reject the EU Constitution, currency markets apparently are still reacting this morning. As of this writing, the euro is valued at $1.23, or about 12 cents off its peak this year.

CW has the dollar short because of low interest rates and massive federal deficits, and the euro long because it is, after all, the currency of the world’s second largest economy (the euro zone) and its members have been imposing fiscal and monetary austerity in order to complete economic union.

Leaving aside for the time being the question of the wisdom of free-floating currency markets, and the laughable premise of “efficient markets,” it seems that this market is “reacting” to France’s “non” vote with great apprehension. Are they going to buy yen? dollars? Sterling? Who knows, but the euro isn’t a weaker currency because of this. The economic union of the countries in question has existed in some form or another for almost 50 years. A financial crisis, not a political one, will signal its demise, if there is to be one.

It appears that this may give the Fed and the housing market yet another temporary reprieve, as the bond market reacts to this news as well.

UPDATE: The Euro fell again today. The UK pound only twitched. Given the fundamentals, this is not a bad price for the euro. The Dutch ‘no’ vote means, I’m pretty sure, that this draft of the EU constitution is dead.

Hillary at 53%

As I discussed below, Hillary is leading the markets for the Dem 2008 nomination. I have sold that share short; I don’t think she’s getting it.

Today, a USA Today poll has her at 53%. Now, granted that’s before the right-wing smear maching is coming up against her. But I wonder–is that 53% for Hillary, or 53% for the Clinton years? If so, as also mentioned below, I say support Gore instead.

Niall Ferguson's Secret Plan For Victory in Iraq

All we need is 1,000,000 troops and 70 years to win! Ferguson must be on crack. What’s to fear? Plus, he gives great odds too (33% chance of success).

Maybe Ferguson is the single most politically color blind person on Earth, or at least with a Ph.D. A majority of Americans no longer support the war in Iraq, and if Bush had said “we need one million troops and 70 years” you can bet it never would have happened. Maybe in Ferguson’s mind, it’s worth the loss of life, but I can’t see much long term import of Iraq.

Oh, and I wish he would quit thinking that everything under the sun happened to the British Empire.

A Win?

The CW seems to be saying that the compromise is a win for the Dems. In the now, it probably is based on what I’ve read. I wasn’t in the room and I don’t know how many votes were there–if it really was 50-50 and there were no waverers, I might be more excited about this.

The thing is, I’m pretty sure that this is going to bite the Dems in the ass later. When they go to use this filibuster they think they’ve preserved, they are going to be accused of breaking their deal, breaking their word, etc. The Supreme Court nominee will be far more mainstream than Brown or Owen, whom the Dems let pass on this one, and the Right-Wing echo chamber will have plenty of time to build up the “mainstream” credentials of whomever Bush nominates.

This also probably means that if Bush wants to elevate Scalia or Thomas to Chief, it would be awful hard to call it “extraordinary” circumstances. Also, doing that may complicate the picture enough to get a replacement on as associate justice also as not “extraordinary.”

We’ll see what happens. Bush may only get one justice in eight years and most likely onely one before the 2006 elections, and it will probably be to replace the ultra-conservative Rehnquist, so it’s possible no ground will be lost.

I’m also not sure what value this agreement will have when the Dems get power back. Probably none. Different rules apply to Democrats, as Bill Clinton well knows.

But it is apparently sending the rightwingnuts ballistic, so that means it must be good.

Compromise

Under the terms of this compromise, the Dems will get hit in the press if they ever use the filibuster. What a bunch of pussies. Bush will nominate whomever he wants, and they will just show how they’re not “extreme.”

And using some of these judges that will pass as examples, they might even be right.

Filibuster

Roll Call is now saying that Reid has 49 votes. I heard on Thursday that Frist has 49 as well. The Note, on the other hand, says there are 4 more up for grabs leaving it 49-47-4. I don’t believe the claim that Hagen and Dewine are up for grabs (maybe it’s changed), so that leaves Specter and Warner as the deciding votes. If either of them side with Frist, Cheney comes out of his undisclosed location to take the chair, and they’ve got it.

My money is on Specter siding with Reid, but Warner not having the balls to be 51 and so it will pass. If it’s clear they have the 50 votes, I wonder if the other Republicans will bother voting, and that could take some heat off of Cheney too.

I’m anxious to see what happens.

UPDATE: CBS News confirms my count at 50-50.

Labor in America

I’ve been trying to write something thorough about labor conditions in America. This is something that I’ve become a bit of an expert on through my day job. Here’s a first attempt.

First, anyone my age or older probably has some urban myths (or even true stories) about comic union excesses. And even though these stories were circulated by the patrician caste, they gained traction with many of those who did not get that kind of largesse out of resentment. And as fewer and fewer Americans belong to Unions, there are more people to join this resentment.

But I rarely, if ever, have heard about how this connects to excesses at the higher end. We blamed it on the Japanese in the 80s, and increasingly so on illegal alien labor. The 90s saw a lot of blame be placed on NAFTA. The Democrats tried to place a lot of chips on the decline of manufacturing in America in the 2004 election. None of those xenophobic explanations explain the low wages of endemic jobs, like service jobs, the fastest growing sector in the above-mentioned timeframe.

Conversely, during the post-bubble scandals of Enron, WorldCom, et al., we heard about the plight of a few pensioners and shareholders, and we focussed our anger at the Ken Lays of the world on those basis.

But I never heard “What would you rather have, America? A few extra foremen hanging around a worksite, or multi-millionaire rip off artists?” Every beer-bellied foreman hanging around a worksite doing nothing is another kid or two in college with health care. Can we say the same for Ken Lay’s wreckage?

As union membership has declined, some states have replaced them with agencies and wage laws that apply to all workers. So, instead of a broad number of employers having to pay prevailing wages instead of low wages, a few employers here and there will be hit with gigantic lawsuits for what often amounts to clerical error or a misunderstanding of byzantine regulations.

Likewise, the lack of a internal complaint system that has teeth is probably to blame for plenty of sexual harassment and other dscrimination claims that often lead to large ticket lawsuits as well.

If I had the time and the money, I would love to do a study and see what cost these lawsuits have on American business and what percentage of them could likely be solved by union reps and union grievance procedures, and then take that amount and spread it around and see if it would approach a union wage for the affected businesses. My guess is that it probably wouldn’t get there, but it would take a lot of risk out of doing business for some employers.

Re-unionization is probably not going to be a political reality, however. People change jobs often and increasingly work for smaller and smaller firms. These firms are not well equipped to handle giant projects like collective bargaining and health care the way, say, Ford was in the 50s.

Despite a long cold coservative winter, the momentum for these solutions seems to be increasingly headed for government.

Movie Reviews

I liked Revenge of the Sith. I thought it could have been better, but compared with the two before it, it was excellent. 50 years from now, when they remake these movies, they’ll have plenty to work with, but at least it will all make sense.

Some people think Empire is the best one, but I always liked the original star wars the best. I thought it was more pure of heart and didnt suffer from the apocalyptic and fattening mythological pretense that the last two did. I mean, it was just fun after all (even if you want to smack Luke often–but when don’t you?).

The dialogue was embarrasingly bad, but the plot seemed to flow much more naturally than almost any previous Star Wars movie (oh, we just happened to run into the ewoks, or the jar jar people, or whatever…) and it actually, in my opinion, made the other ones better by making them make more sense and have a more unified story arc.

And was that the millineum falcon we saw for one second in the distance? We needed more Lando and or Han Solo than that. Someone who you could see dancing or having a good time, or being a human being, instead of seeming like they were on a serious dose of ritalin.

So, I had fun with that movie…

but, Napoleon Dynamite. So many people told me to see this, and I can’t understand why. Maybe I don’t relate, maybe I don’t get it, but this movie was frustrating, depressing, and pointless. Only the “bad guy” characters even seemed to be alive. Everyone else seemed like they were talking in their sleep. Therer was no discernible plot, theme, or message.

Movies like this freighten me. I think they encourage kids to believe that they will one day “win” if they are unpopular or outcastish. Sending the message that different cliques of students represent good and evil and that if only people knew me everything would be ok is totally counterproductive. I knew better than to wear after ski boots and elastic jeans to school, and I probably got many less ass kickings because of it.

Anyway, I’m not even sure that “nerds are all right too” was even the point of that moive. I think it was trying to reflect Americana a little too with some of the imagery, especially in the credits and the online relationship thing. But it was just yucky, awkward and pointless.

Anyone who likes this movie, I suspect, is trying to like it or wants to like it. Ick.

Revenge of the Frist. Darth Dubya'.

Art imitates life.

Just as the original triplet of Star Wars movies presaged the resurgence of feel-good militarism in the Reagan 80s, so has this newest trilogy, at last redeemed by the excellence of Episode Three, foreseen the death of Democracy in the name of autocracy, safety, and “peace” during the Generalissimo Bush 00s.

“So this is how Democracy dies: to thunderous applause.”

No sentence better encapsulates the failure of the majority of American society to think critically of Gulf War II, or of the small men and women who perpetrated it.

Neither Goya, nor Dali, nor El Basco, nor Picasso nor any other artist could better capture the pathetic, militant, self-pitying hatred that is the crux of the modern Republican Party better than Lucas does at the climax of “Sith” in the scene where Palpatine becomes the Emperor and Anakin Skywalker turns into Vader.

1999 feels link a long time ago; like an era that existed in the lifetime of someone else.

The Filibuster.

I hear they are one vote away from 50, as of this moment. How reliable that source is remains to be seen, but I imagine if we see Cheney show up, we’ll know they have 50.

I’m wondering if this isn’t going to be a pyrrhic victory for the Republicans. The polls at this point are less than clear. People haven’t been paying attention yet, with flimsy polling results. Of course, that will depend on how it’s portrayed in the media.

There are two ways this can backfire if it works. It will look silly instantly if Frist pulls the trigger and doesn’t win. But, if they do, there two ways, I think. First, the public reaction at first could be negative. Second, the Democrats could win the senate and the White House in 2008 and get a chance to repopulate the Supreme Court with centrist or liberal judges. After all, you can’t do much worse than Rehnquist and he’s probably going to be the only one replaced in before the 2006 elections.

It’s not as if there were all of a sudden three vacancies and the chance existed to eliminate the Casey/Roe majority, and that threat could be used as an effective campaign tool for the coming elections.

Maybe my life simply isn’t impacted enough to take these nominations seriously, the appellate court judges. Maybe I think the Fifth Circuit is a lost cause already, and it really isn’t, but I hardly think that alone should take a back seat to the long term political calculations.

Energy Policy In The Republican Era

Today’s Wall Street Journal features an article about the McCain-Liebermann bill to offer reductions in carbon emissions in exchange for expansion of nuclear power plants.

James Riccio, an analyst for Greenpeace in Washington, says … Greenpeace is “not willing to leap from the global-warming frying pan into the nuclear fire.”

I’m not the energy policy expert on this blog, but I know enough to know that under the current regime, we are not going to get a Green energy policy. There is certainly a risk involved with nuclear power. We still haven’t worked out how to dispose of the waste. The name scares people (can we get a Frank Luntz memo to rename it ‘fission power’ or something?). But it certainly is not the threat to the entire globe that fossils fuels are.

Ideally, we would have a policy that focusses strongly on renewable, low-footprint energy sources. But anyone who thinks progress on that front will be made under the Bushies is out of their mind.

The Earth is changing at the hands of humanity. If we can buy a 100 years or so using nuclear power to go green, we should take it.

42 months out: I'm for Gore.

You heard me.

With 42 months until the next presidential election, I’ve picked my first horse (I’ll switch, I’m sure): former vice president Al Gore.

By 2008, people will remember the 90s fondly, and not instantly think that Gore is back for a grudge match like they would have in 2004. Gore did not inspire me in 2000, but he’s a changed man since then. He has given some of the best speeches I’ve heard, especially on the environment since his defeat.

And this is mainly because our bench is not very deep at the moment. I still think, unforunately, we’re going to need a white, anglo male to win. I can’t take Hillary Clinton seriously. Bill Richardson is possibly part of a “western strategy” but he hasn’t convinced me he can campaign. He blew 2004 in New Mexico.

John Kerry is done as a presidential candidate whether he knows it or not. John Edwards seemed like a good pick for VP at the time, but he’s a light weight, a one term senator. He can be HHS Secretary or something. Howard Dean has baggage and is best as DNC chair. Wes Clark was a shitty campaigner.

Gore has his flaws, no doubt. I can’t believe how badly he blew Florida. But he’s the real deal, and he’s realized that all of the posturing his campaign staff had him do cost him.

Go for it, Al. You’ve got one vote already.

P.S. That’s GORE/BOXER 2008

Wish fulfillment, continued

I have to disagree with the post below.

The Democratic Party has one simple agenda when (if?) it gets back in power in 2008: to repair the damage to our middle class society done by 14 years of economic conservatism and 8 years of social conservatism.

Democrats can start by a series of potentially business-friendly moves: take the burden of workers’ compensation insurance and health benefits programs off their backs and provide healthier workers for our workforce by making sure all Americans have adequate health care. They can repait the decline in union membership not by passing more pro-union legislation, but by providing for a living wage for all full time working heads of households through tax credits in exchange for a repeal of the minimum wage and the replacement of the Fair Labor Standards Act with a law that provides for “default” labor agreements for employers that are not unionized but have over 50 employees (sort of the way people who die without wills have their “intestate” estates divided by default state laws).

They can pay for this by forcing all companies that have minimum contacts with the United States must pay taxes here, and by restoring Clinton-era taxes on upper income Americans, while simultaneously slashing taxes on small businesses.

In the foreign arena, the next Democratic President will need to go on a John-Paul-II-like goodwill tour of the world, visiting more countries than any other prior president to restore goodwill towards America. He will have to end our involvement in Iraq and being our involvement in Africa. Before he even leaves America, he will have to start the process not by signing the Kyoto protocol, but by proposing a new protocol that requires China and India to curb their emmissions as well.

Socially, the next Democratic president will have to convince christians that he will work to make abortion a thing of the past, but to do so he will have to legalize Ru486 and widely distribute condoms and reform sex education. In exchange, he will staunchly defend our religious heritage, and Los Angeles can put the cross back on their county seal, we can leave ‘under God’ in the pledge, and ‘in God we trust’ on our money. In exchange for all of this, Red State America will have to accept civil unions.

The next Democratic president will have to provide for real homeland security, improve schools and not the bottom line of testing companies. He will have to rebuild our military and our infrastructure.

And he will have to do all of this while restoring our fiscal health.

The problem isn’t the vision thing, or the lack of things for the Restoration to handle. It’s deciding where to begin on this long list of things that must be done if America is to remain great.

The Truth That Cancels The Daydream

Capitalizing on their momentum for the ’04 elections Democrats take a senate seat in Montana. Arch-conservative mesfit Santorum loses in Pennsylvania, and the pusialanimous wuss Lincoln Chafee gets replaced by a Dem in Road Island. The popular governor Mark Warner squeezes past Allen in Virginia. Republican Zach Wamp holds on to Frist’s seat in Tennessee when his Democratic opponent, Harold Ford, dies in a mysterious plane crash a week before election day. Democrats pick up a few seats in the House.

So in ’07 the Senate is Republican by 50-49-1 (Bernie Sanders replaces Jeffords as the I from Vermont). Olympia Snowe, upset over the White House’s attempts to purge her with a more conservative candidate in the Republican primary, pulls a Jeffords and becomes an Independent. Sanders changes his I to a D and the Democrats control the chamber. With the ability to call hearings the Bush Administration’s secret deals with oil companies to increase the price of crude comes to light. Republicans stick by their man, but Bush becomes an icreasingly unpopular figure as he enters into his lame duck phase.

In a bitter primary fight Bill Frist runs hard to the right and beats out John MCCain. He resolidifies his support to the theocractic wing of the Republican Party by selecting Santorum as VP. Their hateful, negative campaign gives ample opening for the Democratic ticket of Bill Richardson and Hillary Clinton to claim the middle ground and the high ground. Richardson/Clinton win 53% of the vote and an electoral landslide, taking all of the Kerry/Edwards states and Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado and Montana for 363 EVs.

Their coattails, in combination with lingering frustration over the oil scandal, allow Democrats to increse their Senate majority to 54 seats and to take back a bare majority in the House with 224 seats.

In firm control of the Federal government for the first time since 1992 the Democrats prepare to sieze the day by supporting their agenda of………….

I’m drawing a blank. Sure, I could write down a series of policy positions and they would be better policies than what the Republicnas are doing, but that does not create the important “vision thing” as Bush the First put it so concisely if inartfully.

With the Republicans you know what you get: a combo of theocracy and corporate socialism.

During their last similar wildrness phase in the 1920s the Democrats, at the grass roots anyways, stood against the railroads and vested corporate interests and for programs that would assist the common person in accomplishing his dreams. FDR won in 1932 promising nothing in particular, but the longtime stands of men like Rayburn gave a purpose to the sudden and unexpected power (Who would have envisioned a Democratic sweep in ’32 in July of 1929?).

Where can Democrats go for a transcendent vision? The crux of modern problems of terrorism and pollution center on oil. Funding the brain power to solve this problem is a vision that unites environmentalism, with militarism, with capitalism. The blueprint is already there with Representative Inslee’s “New Apollo Program for Renewable Energy.”

Withou some larger, unifying vision for all of the policy details the Democrats will not be able to capitalize on circumstances like they did in 1932.

Lessons from the UK

Here’s what I learned from following the election in the UK: they get it there.

Sure, Tony Blair personally deserved to be run out of office, but being the prime minister probably makes a lot of good things happen for your own constituency, but letting the Tories back into power would have been absolutely counter productive.

First of all, everyone knows the Tories would have been even more eager to go to war with Bush. Second, aside from Iraq, the UK is much more in line with the beliefs of “New Labour” than they are with the Tories. Third, the feeble Liberal Democrats, who haven’t been in power for 100 years, don’t offer a viable alternative.

So, just about the perfect result was reached. Labour stays in power, but they receive a clear message that their participation in Bush’s war is not welcome. Only the PM’s personal defeat could have improved the result.

I’m eligible for an English law license in December. In addition to living in California, where the majority of people do not make enough money to buy an average house and the schools are falling apart, I live in the US where there is a scary tendancy towards theocracy lately. The FDA rejecting gay men as sperm donors? Baptists kicked out of their flock if they don’t support the President.

I would go to Canada, but I’m not sure that’s far enough away to be insulated from the implosion of the US.

It's 1968 in the UK

Except Tony Blair isn’t bowing out the way LBJ did over his unpopular war. The Tories are within the margin of error, and the UK’s own Nixon like Michael Howard may actually win this election.

Just as the left protested the Democratic convention in 1968, the UK’s Liberal party is trying to advance itself, and it certainly seems like it will, but in the end, it would mean Howard, not Kennedy as the new PM.

Putting aside my interst in UK politics, the Bushies would certainly call a Tory victory a victory for them, even though it was a rebuke of Tony Blair and Bush’s war.

The Stealth Threat

So, an Admiral tells a Senate committee today that North Korea has the capability of arming missiles with nuclear warheads. They have enough material, if memory servers, for 10-12 weapons. That’s no where near enough to bring about our old cold war nightmares, but think about this . . .

America has been reeling for 4 years, especially the first 2, since only–and I say “only” only because of the context–3000 were killed on 9/11. It hurt the economy, and it did damage to our national soul in many ways.

Now imagine if 10-12 major cities were hit with nuclear weapons. Not the 5-15 megaton Soviet weapons, but still. . . It would probably kill millions, not thousands, and it would render certain areas of the country uninhabitable. Panic would break out, everything would be disrupted.

And that’s just what would happen here. We would certainly retaliate with perhaps hundreds of weapons, assuring the death of almost everyone in North Korea.

And here’s the thing. I actually think Osama bin Laden is more sane than Kim Jong Il. I don’t doubt that is OBL had nuclear weapons, he would use them on the US if he thought it would further his goals of ridding the holy land of the infidel. But Kim Jong Il might do it for the hell of it, just because… or maybe on his death bed.

UPDATE: It’s not so “stealth” anymore. North Korea tested a missle near Japan this morning.