Friday, February 1, 2008

Getting the Message

It would appear, at least provisionally, that both Clinton and Obama have wised up a bit.

I predicted quite a while back that the democratic race would come down to these two - and ultimately the overall race would be between Clinton and McCain. The first predication has come true, we'll see about the second one here shortly.

As most of you know, the GOP and I have gone our separate ways. I can't see myself voting for any Republican candidate in the near future, certainly not for any of the current crop of anal retentive jackasses, and most especially not for McCain (I swear John McCain reminds me of Don Rickles doing a bad John McCain impression). However, I haven't been all that impressed with the Democratic candidates either.

Don't get me wrong, I have no major beef with either Clinton or Obama. I think both would make a fairly decent president. I think Clinton will do an above average job. She's tough, strong, and smart - maybe a little too smart. She comes across as aloof, and she's lacking in shear personableness and in charisma, which is no small thing in a president. She brings a lot of baggage with her, some of it deserved, some not. I don't particularly like some of her voting record, especially her yes vote on the Patriot Act in 2001. But overall I think, depending on her relationship with Congress, she has the potential to be if not a great president, then at least a decent one. Obama, on the other hand, I think has the potential to be a truly great president. Like Clinton he is strong and smart, and he has the charisma Clinton is lacking. Again, I'm not entirely happy with his voting record, I agree mostly with how he voted on many issues, but he missed a lot of votes - and that irritates me. But, I'd be reasonably happy with either one as president.

As I've said elsewhere, I'm not a member of any party, and I don't like politics or professional politicians as a general rule. At the moment I'm leaning strongly towards the democrats because I purely despise the current republican line-up (and that includes their king in the oval office and his court of fools), I like the Democratic candidates' message of health care, civil rights, education, taxes and spending reform, and an end to this idiotic war. And I think properly presented, these things are important to a vast majority of Americans. And I think that many are fed up with Bush and the Republicans in Congress and the mess they've managed to get us into. I think many are fed up with the lies, and the bullshit, and the good ole' boy mentality. I think the time is right for the Democrats to win by a landslide.

But for crying out loud, if they do win, it won't because they resonated with the American people, it'll be because the American people are fed up with Republicans. Democrats as a party are their own worst enemy. The biggest threat to democrats is not republicans, but other democrats. If a Democrat doesn't end up in the White House next year, you know who's fault it will be? That's right, the democrats. Teamwork? Never heard of it. Mutual support? Never heard of it. Standing together on the issues? Never heard of it. Democrats spend more time on average bashing each other, than they do confronting the opposition. And as such they spend most of their time in an ineffective gridlock of their own making. The current democratic Congress is a perfect example - so far they've accomplished exactly squat. Oh, they've talked it up, and rattled their scabbards - but they have yet to draw the sword. The last stirring speech Nancy Pelosi gave on the floor? Yeah, her swearing-in speech. Bah. When it comes to fighting amongst themselves they're all full of piss and vinegar, when it comes to standing up to the opposition - they've got spines made of jell-O.

And, this more than anything has been putting me off both Clinton and Obama. This constant, incessant bickering between the two of them. They're like children in the backseat of a car during a family vacation that has gone on too long. I'm sick of it. When it comes to my vote, I don't want to hear why the other guy is off-base, I want to hear what you're going to do about the problems facing our nation. I want to hear how you're going to pull us together as a people. I want to see you rally the population. I want to see you earn the respect of not only your own supporters, but of those who oppose you as well. I want to see you reach out to your opposition and show me that you can work effectively with even those you dislike and those that don't share your ideology. In other words I want to see you start acting like a leader. If you need an example of what true leadership consists of, read this.

More than anything, an effective leader, a truly great president, must be a bridge builder - he or she must be able to work with both their own party and with the opposition. And it starts with their candidacy. The greatest threat to America is not communism, or fascism, or terrorism, or any other 'ism,' it's America herself. No matter how many airplanes or buildings the terrorists manage to destroy, they can do nothing more than scratch us, they cannot destroy the fabric of this nation, nor the principles it was founded on. Only Americans themselves can do that. It's American leaders who increase the natural divisions within our society rather finding ways to bridge those gaps, that threaten our way of life. It is American leaders who set goals exclusive to only their own party or their personal ideology, who will not compromise or listen to their opposition, who continue to pound the wedge of division deeper and deeper into the fabric of America. A president must represent all Americans, all Americans, both those of his or her party and ideology, and those opposed or even indifferent. And if two competing members of the same party can't run for the nomination without badmouthing each other - then I don't see what chance they have of working together or with their ideological adversaries after they've won that nomination.

Both Clinton and Obama seem to have gotten that message, or at least their coaches and handlers have. Last night's Democratic debate between Clinton and Obama was more civil than their interactions have been in the recent past. And I, for one, am glad for it.


  1. I'm not sure whether the perceived bickering between Obama and Clinton is any greater or lesser than that between any two other candidates. IMHO, it's because the media likes that angle, it's sensational and sells papers. So, they blow things out of proportion, and focus on any little thing that supports that story line.

    I agree with you on Obama, but I'm less enchanted with Clinton... and I would typically be thrilled to vote for any viable female presidential candidate.

  2. I've said before that I'm on the fence between Obama and Clinton. NY's primary is next week and I've got to make up my mind.

    I'm starting to lean toward Obama because Clinton is such a polarizing figure. I think some of the same people who might vote for Obama over a Republican candidate would vote against Clinton in the same situation.

  3. Jeri, yes, I agree, some of it is certainly media sensationalism - but if there wasn't some grain of truth to it, there'd be nothing to hype. That's why I was so glad to see them act like members of the same team last night. It's OK to have differing methodologies for achieving the same goals, but I want to see a candidate that shows true respect for all Americans, and if you can't do that with somebody who is close to you ideologically, then I'm going to have a hard time believing that you can do it for everybody else.

    Nathan, I feel the same why. I think that Obama is a better bridge builder (which is going to be the critical requirement in the next president) and that he can pull in some Republicans the way Reagan pulled over some democrats. I know people who dislike the current Republican agenda intensely, but fucking purely hate Hillary Clinton, and would vote for Republican Cannibal Hitler's Head in a Jar before they'd vote for her. I don't like her as a person either, and she's a bit more socialist than I like, but - I do like her message and her agenda and I think she is extremely competent, much more so than the current dipshit and much more so than McCain.

  4. Not that it matters what I think in the primaries, mind you. I'm an 'undeclared,' and as such I don't get to vote in the primaries, and Alaskan primaries mean jack shit on the National stage anyway. Just as Alaskan voters mean jack shit in the actual presidential election - 3 electoral votes - big whooptidoo, the candidates won't come anywhere near Alaska.

    On top of which, this is the reddest of the red states filled chock full of gun toting Christian Fundies, and all three of our electoral votes are republican - Hillary and Obama might as well be the Anti-Jeebus - so there you go, Cannibal Hitler's Head in a Jar.

  5. I heard part of the debate earlier today before I had to go teach, and I thought it was impressive, and sounded a lot nicer than the bits of the Republican debate I listened to.

    And as a Democrat I am desperately hoping Clinton does NOT win the primaries. Not because she'll do a bad job--I think she'd do a fine job--but as was mentioned already, people will go out of their way to vote against her.

    And I don't think she's the right personality to reach across the aisles. Too many developed a dislike for her when she was first lady, and I don't see their opinions changing if she were to be elected president.

  6. Michelle, exactly so.

    What do you teach?

    And I'm surprised that you're not a big gushy Republican - after all that We're Leaving All the Children Behind Act (wait, that's not exactly right is it? Whatever) was such a success, at least according to the State of the Union Address the other night. :)

  7. Jim,

    In general, I teach people how to use software, including MS Office and web design.

    Today, I got to teach two classes to two groups of life longer learners--a seniors group.

    It's a lot of fun, but it's also exhausting, because it's computer basics as much as it is Word (what we were supposed to be covering) as well as questions that span the spectrum from creating and organizing files and folders to personalizing e-mail programs.

    So I have no idea what to expect, and often have to dredge my memory to come up with what they need.

  8. Over here in Georgia, they don't care what you're registered as - you can vote in either primary (but not both ... darn). They have you choose when you show up at the polling station.

    Our primary is next week as well. Yay Super Tuesday!

  9. For primaries, you've got to declare a party here. I don't mind this actually. I'm not voting for a republican, and the democrats use the super-delegate system which means they'll nominate whomever the party has agreed on anyway. By the time it gets to Alaska it'll be all over but the shouting anyway.

  10. Michelle, sounds fun - yeah, and exhausting.

    Also sounds like a worthwhile pursuit, seniors are getting left behind by technology - and the little dweebs who answer the tech support lines are often snotty little gits who don't have either the patience or understanding to help them.

  11. Jim,

    It's worse than that. They were talking today about trying to find people to fix their computers. One woman got charged $850 for the repair people to eventually send her computer back to Dell to get it replaced.

    Another couple got charged ~$500 for a DSL/modem issue that the repair people never did repair.

    I'm considering asking Michael if he wants a third job doing computer repair on the side.

  12. Oh Jim - did you see this "Whateverette" on Scalzi's site?


    It's just begging for your particular brand of analysis. :)

    Unfortunately, my inlaws are zealous & intolerant fundamentalist neocons, and I can't rant against creationism or right wing politics too overtly on my site or my hub would be disowned. And this one would be so much fun!

  13. Well, I can't forgive Hillary this line:

    "We're saying that for America to get back on track, we're probably going to cut that short and not give it to you. We're going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good."

    True she was talking to wealthy businessmen about rescinding tax cuts, but I just can't get over her Socialist tendencies. Obama's a closet socialist, too, but Hillary is experienced enough to Get Things Done, and I don't want her to get done alot of what she wants to do.

    The first politician that comes along and admits to the magnitude of the Social Security crisis and then proposes means testing NOW to preserve the system for the folks who really need it will get my vote, not matter what party. 2017 is the big year, and we are fast approaching it. Means testing means I won't get any SS checks, but so what? My aunt and uncle who worked blue collar jobs for 35 years deserve SS. Call it a tax and be done with it.

  14. John,

    We discussed the social security problem a LOT in several of my gerontology classes. The problem with adding a means test to SS is that will change it to an entitlement program, and that will eventually suction support from it, as those who do not receive the benefit argue that they shouldn't have to pay to support others (See: Welfare, Medicaid)

    The way things are, all seniors will fight to keep SS, because all seniors receive it.

    Once you place a means test on it, the only ones who will have an interest in saving SS will be the poor. And we all know how much political power they have.

    And the 2017 date is a bit of fudging as well. That is simply the date that, ASSUMING that all baby boomers who are eligible actually take social security (which is not an automatic assumption. I don't see my dad retiring any time soon, which means he'll be continuing to put money into the system.)

    Secondly, that is not the time that social security goes "broke" it simply means that's when social security payments to seniors will be larger than what they believe those still working will pay into the system.

    What this means is that for years and years the government has been receiving more in SS taxes than it has been paying out in benefits.

    So what happened to that money?

    We spent it.

    So if we're going to be technical about it, SS isn't really in trouble. The problem stems from the fact that instead of putting the money by for when it would be needed for the future, it was spent as soon as it came in. (And still is being spent.)

    And initially, that imbalance will be quite small. (comparatively) so it's not like the government is going to have to cough up the entire amount on one day in 2017.

    Additionally, it makes sense for us continue to push back the age of retirement for SS, which will change the date at which SS puts out more money than it takes in. We can do this not because we need to save money, but because we are living longer, and remaining healthier longer.

    And the longer people pay into the system, the longer the system remains in the black.

    And don't even get me started on Medicaid and Medicare...

  15. Jeri, I hadn't seen that particular article, but I was aware of the 'peer-reviewed' creation science Answers Journal. Don't remember exactly where I first heard of it, maybe PZ Meyers' site Pharyngula. He's usually pretty damned quick to jump on anything like that (warning, if you have problems with vehement atheism or are easily offended over religion - don't repeat don't visit Pharyngula). You might imagine my opinion of the creationist peer review process (for those of you not familiar with me - my opinion would involve the word 'crap' and profane variations of such, repeatedly and with great vigor). I thought about writing something sufficiently snarky about it, but it's gotten a lot of play elsewhere. However, I may take particular delight in ripping on a specific article. Thanks for brining it up. I'm always open to suggestions if there is something you'd really like me to talk about.

    John, agreed. However, Clinton has never made much secret about her political agenda - there's plenty of pictures of her in 60's hippy hemp regalia that just screams socialism. And while I would seriously prefer that America not go the socialism route, I'm not foaming phobic over it either. I will say that I'm ambivalent about the tax cuts, sure I'd like the money, but I also remember the umpity trillion bill for Bush's folly that we've got coming due. And like you said, SS. After thinking about it for the last couple of weeks I'd prefer they keep it, and use it to pay off some bills or invest in a hedge fund against SS collapse.

    Personally I don't think the 'refund' is enough to make a single mortgage payment for most home owners, so I'm not sure exactly what it's supposed to do other than show that the government is doing something and to make people optimistic.

  16. Michelle, excellent explanation of the problem. Thank you.

  17. Jim,

    Glad my suffering was not completely in vain.

    (The Medicare/Medicaid stuff has come in handy several times, as elderly relatives transition into nursing homes.)

  18. Michelle – I had a post on this up at Toilet Paper With Page Numbers, which I will update for Refugees, as it includes a lot of number crunching. The entitlement argument is a new one on me, though, I’ll have to think about it. I take too much of Jim’s bandwidth with my long-winded comments as it is. I’ll post a note here when I’m done.

    I do want to say something about one issue, though. While you are correct that the “Trust Fund” is being spent, the problem with the explanation provided by most Public Health professors is that they do not invite economists to the discussion, and it was economists who set up the SS system in the first place. A government that does not run State enterprises can not run a “Trust Fund” without damaging the economy – they had no choice but to spend the money, and this is a feature of the system, not a bug.

    The wealth of a nation is the sum of the amount of goods and services it can provide. Money is a way of keeping score. Increase the money supply (which you could do in the old days simply by printing more money), and inflation happens. The market assigns a relative price to goods and services based on how much money is floating in the entire system. A lot of money is locked up in investments, where it creates new wealth – that is why you get interest on a bank account – the bank lends that money and makes a return on it, some of which it keeps, and some of which it pays to you in interest. Other bits of money are socked away in literal or figurative mattresses. When too much of this “locked up” money comes out to play in the market, inflation really takes off, and the Federal reserve makes adjustments to the prime rate and other rates.

    When the government started taking money out of paychecks for SS, there were roughly 16 workers paying for each retiree. They knew the system would expand, so they set the amount deducted to more than was necessary to cover the number of workers retired at the time. The actuaries expected that at steady-state, eventually money taken out would be completely used to pay retirees – a perfect balance. If there were a perfect balance there would be little inflation due to the transfer of money from a working consumer to a retired consumer. (There would be some because retirees save less). The surplus in the money taken out was called a “Trust Fund” to placate the masses who had just went through the depression and were deeply suspicious about banks with no reserves.

    So what would have happened if the government did run a real “Trust Fund”? Like I said, money is just a way of keeping score, so it would be as if we suddenly changed the rules of football so that a touchdown is only worth 5 points- everything would adjust to the smaller scale, and theoretically there would be a momentary blip of deflationary pressure to adjust to the smaller amount of money flowing in the system. But that money would have been sitting there waiting for that future date when the number of retirees caught up and surpassed the number of payers. Releasing that money, which had not built anything, had not been used to invest in anything, would have been exactly the same as if the government were printing more money. And with about 40 million people on the SS rolls, that would be significant inflationary pressure on our current generation.

    So instead, the “Trust Fund” got dumped into the Federal general revenue fund. Now, a dollar invested on the free market returns about 108 - 110% over time. Some investments go up, some go bust, but on average, an 8 - 10% return. Because of massive inefficiencies, graft, corruption, etc., government spending returns a lot less (my guess is 0.5 - 1%, YMMV). Paving roads, providing for a common defense, making sure that meat is packed in sanitary conditions (hah!), etc., all this does provide some return. So the system was designed to spend that money until it was needed to eliminate the threat of inflation. The problem is that the actuaries did not account for the increased lifespan of the modern era. So now we are not only catching up, but in 2017 there will be 1 retiree for every 3 workers, and in 2025, there will be one retiree for every 2 workers. I’ll still be working then, so unless changes are made, I’ll in fact have an extra mouth to feed.

    The government could get much better return, and build wealth at a much better rate, and eliminate the inflationary threat of the “Trust Fund” if it invested that money, but that is de facto privatizing SS, and for once I agree with the socialists that this is a bad idea. The 529 education savings programs are a good example of why. Each state contracts with an investment company. In return for being the sole provider of the “tax free” savings option, those single contractors gouge the hell out of parents with higher fees than the exact same instrument that is offered to the general public! I worked out the math, and I come out ahead by paying the taxes now and investing at the higher rate of return, unless my ROI falls below 3 – 4%. I’m a better investor than that (with the caveat that I’ll invest in something safe 4 years before I need the money), so I give 529s a miss. I think that a privatized SS system would be worse than that - both more corrupt and less efficient. Plus, it would give the government “investors” an excuse to distort the market even more than they do now.

    Damn, sorry Jim – another long-winded comment. When I get the chance, I’ll do this with numbers on my blog.

  19. John,

    I (think) that was kinda my point.

    I didn't mean to say that we should have set up a trust fund, only that money has already been paid into the system. So we're not giving seniors money that they haven't already paid.

    And yes, SS was set up as a pay-as-you-go system, and no the baby bust was not expected when SS was set up.

    But the baby bust did happen, and we need to figure out how to live with that.

    My problem is that the way the argument is framed, it makes it sound like the baby boomers are trying to get more than they put into the system, which isn't true. They put their money in, and they (like us) deserve to get their money out.

    We've known for years this was coming (it's not like those of us who are part of the Gen X/baby bust generation came as a surprise five years ago) so to start panicking now seems... foolish.

    And FWIW, the gerontology classes I took were cross listed for multiple departments, only one of which was public health. So the backgrounds of the students and instructors were quite diverse. The instructor who spent the most time on SS came to the school after spending years working for the state and went into great detail about the state budget and how things work (including the state digest [gag]).

    So it wasn't economics per se, but most classes were taught and populated by people with a variety of backgrounds (including nursing home directory and police officer), and the focus was almost never public health. (All the classes had research projects, and our projects were expected to focus on our interest, but didn't have to.)

    And the entitlement issue was the main focus of the professor who had worked for the state and saw how budgeting issues worked first hand.

    And you're right about privatizing both SS and Medicare. IIRC, the overhead cost of Medicare is something like 3%. The overhead cost of private insurance companies is anywhere from 20-50% So it wouldn't just be a little less efficient, it will be a LOT less efficient.

    I think Medicare Part D is a prime example of this. Who is being helped most by this? The drug companies. Even my Republican grandmother complains about how worthless Medicare part D is. Did you know that what coverage is available to you varies from state to state? And can change with just a few weeks notice?

  20. "But the baby bust did happen, and we need to figure out how to live with that.

    My problem is that the way the argument is framed, it makes it sound like the baby boomers are trying to get more than they put into the system, which isn't true. They put their money in, and they (like us) deserve to get their money out."

    I do not agree. We (Gen X) are not going to get anywhere near out what we put in, because the cohort above us is so large relative to our cohort. The Boomers who have saved enough for retirement need to take one for the team (as will we Gen X-ers) - the team being our own kids. There's no "deserve" to it. For that matter, the Boomers paid in expecting to retire at 65, so you could say that they deserve to retire then, and not have the age limit rolled back.

    SS is a tax. I'm not going to get nearly as much out as I put in. The difference between that, and between what I would have made by investing that money properly instead of the ~1% return that SS gives is the value of that tax. Some of that tax is OK - I don't mind supporting my aunt and uncle in their retirement because they worked hard and deserve not to eat cat food in their old age. The VP from my company who recently retired and boasted that he is using his SS payments to pay for opera tickets? He can kiss my redneck @ss. He is taking money from me that I would otherwise use to invest in my kids' education - I save 20% of my income for retirement and another 10% for my kids' education. I'm maxed out on that, and I'd put aside more if I could.

    I don't get a choice in my tax money going to boondogles in Alaska (hey Jim!), boondogles in the DoD, or for social welfare. I can only put so much pressure on the government. Look how long it took to reform Welfare. I'm not sure I buy the entitlement argument, because Welfare did not go away, (and I didn't opt out - my tax money still goes there) - we just rationalized it. I'd like to see, along with the SS statement we get each year, a rationalization along those lines. The statement might read: "You are paying for x number of people who could not save enough for their own retirement at the wages the market offered them. At your income level, we (the US government) expects you to save $y for your own upkeep as a senior. If you don't, then we suggest that you start taste-testing cat foods, because we're not paying for your upkeep as a retiree so that you can buy a new car today. TANSTAAFL."

  21. Not that it has anything to do with anything, but I was just thinking on my drive home from work tonight just how much of my life depends on a working car. If I wreck it, I wouldn't be able to go anywhere (in a timely manner). Getting to and from work would become kind of a pain.

    So when you say "I'm not paying for a retiree to buy a new car" - I hope you mean "a second (or third or etc.) luxury car." Because I can think of situations where a retiree might actually need to buy a new car to replace a broken one, as a necessary form of transportation.

  22. MWT - the new car comment was about someone byuing a new car in their 30s rather than buying a used one and saving for retirement.

    One of the best comments I ever saw on a conservative blog was during a major bus strike (I think it was in FL). The guy saw a woman get out of a taxi he'd been following and go to work in a Home Depot. He calculated that she had to work over an hour to pay for that ride. The bus would have been about 10 minutes worth of work.

    He then went on to say that the problem with most conservatives talking about working their way up the economic ladder is that they started on the middle rungs and don't realize how sticky the lower ones are.

    I'm pretty financially conservative myself, but I have no problem giving people a hand up. I worked some pretty rough blue collar jobs in college, and it was good for me to see exactly how tough it is to mkae your way with just a high school education.


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