Monday, October 20, 2008

Voting for Obama

Yes you should vote for Obama but you should also know what not to expect if he wins:

Obama has collected more than $600 million in campaign funds. In the last month he has collected more than ever before. As it appears that he may win the election, every one who has the resources to buy access to the highest levels of government, is putting money into the pot so that next year, or the year after, if they need something done for them, they can call the White House and say "remember me I gave a large amount of money to your campaign two years ago."

If you expect government to be cleaner than it has been, you will be disappointed. Our system still is run by money. Money talks; not citizens. Obama getting elected is not going to change that.

Obama has spoken frequently about his extended opposition to the Iraq war. But in the course of the it has become clear that he is not going to change the dominant attitude of the US government toward the rest of the world. Obama may well believe, as do most people, that the war in Iraq was and is a terrible mistake. But he does believe that it is good for the United States to act as if we were entitled to tell everyone else what to do.

Yes Obama talks more about diplomacy, about even talking to our enemies. But that is all a question of the mechanics of being the most powerful nation in the world. If you have any hope that our country will stop being the world's biggest bully, don't expect that change from Obama. There is no reason to think that he would willingly cede any US power to other allies, or to international organizations.

Some of us believe that what we need is radical change. That means for instance that we have health care for all but cut out the insurance companies which currently, according to some sources, are earning $350 billion from health insurance. We have to pay those $350 billion but do not get any health care for that money which is just there to enrich the insurance company. Radical change means a single payer health care system that cuts out the insurance companies altogether. Obama's health care plan leans heavily on the private insurance companies to pay for health care for most citizens.

Radical change in the economy would go beyond regulating financial institutions to keep them from producing periodic crises, like the current one, when the people have to make up for the losses of the so-called "financial experts." What we have at present more than one witty commentator has pointed out is “socialization of losses and privatization of gain.” Radical change in the economy would equalize incomes so that everybody has a decent life and the difference in income between the rich and the poor is lower than its current 400 to 1. Radical change would mean that everybody has health care and decent education not only the children of the rich. Radical change would take on the matter of awful jobs, of job safety, of boring jobs, of tyrannical supervisors. Radical change would mean that everybody is entitled to decent working conditions.

While Obama talks all the time about "change," he is not going to produce radical change. He will make the world safer for business as usual.

But as long as we will have business as usual, we might just as well get a good version of it. McCain is for war. The present wars have cost many lives of Americans and others and are continuing to do so. There is no sign that they are increasing security for anyone. The financial cost of these adventures is astronomical.

McCain is on the side of big business; he is for deregulation. Deregulation is what has gotten us into our present mess. Deregulation is part of a religious faith in what they choose to call "the free market." It is a religious faith because it is not supported by evidence, by science, let alone by common sense. It is a religious faith because it is unshakable in the face of contrary evidence. The present financial crisis does not shake the faith of the free marketeers in the benefits of the unregulated market because nothing will ever do that. But being so proof against contradictory evidence is the mark of a religious belief.

Like Bush, McCain does not believe in being reasonable, objective, looking the facts in the face. As his running mate he chose a woman who is, however energetic and positive, plain ignorant. McCain has no respect for intelligence, for knowing things. He goes on his hunches.

If you have a choice of doctors, one of whom tries to keep up with current medical research while the other goes on his hunches, which would you choose? The same applies to presidents. You want someone who tries to get as much relevant information on any topic as is available before making a choice. Running our government is a complicated and very difficult job. Any sensible person would try to get as much information and expert opinion as available. He would look for a running mate who knows a lot about government.

McCain did not do that.

Here are good reasons for voting for of Obama. His opponent is totally unacceptable. His opponent also is burdened by the colossal failure of eight years of Republican governance.

But Obama will not bring radical change to our economic system. He will not re-fashion our foreign policy to be less macho, less inspired by Rambo and more by ordinary standards of decent human behavior. Obama's picks for his team may not be quite as unfortunate as some of George Bush's choices. But the basic system of cronyism, of helping your friends that have helped you with campaign funds is going to remain with us. Politics will not be less corrupt.

Whoever you vote for—remember that the election may end up being fixed. It would not be the first time that we owe our president to crooked election officials.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Bailout and Democracy

The current financial crisis is not only a disaster for the economy but it exposes in the starkest terms the collapse of American democracy.

A significant number of legislators in Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, refused to vote for the first version of the $700 billion bailout bill because they got a lot of heat from their constituents. Why bail out the banks and not help the people who are losing or have lost their homes because someone tricked them into buying a balloon mortgage? Why bailout the big banks and investment firms without penalizing them for their terribly bad judgment? We are being told over and over again that many of the bankers and investors who lost billions of dollars bought securities which they did not completely understand. It is quite clear that a large part of responsibility for the current economic situation rests with large banks and their leadership. But Congress is being asked to spend an unbelievably large sum of public money to rescue them without holding them responsible.

The bailout pointedly ignores ordinary citizens. Ordinary citizens are held responsible for their lack of judgment or care in buying their homes. A while ago when the suggestion was made to help homeowners who lost their homes, the President refused to take the suggestion on the grounds that we do not want to encourage people to be irresponsible. The lesson is clear: if you are irresponsible in a small way, stand in the corner and be ashamed of yourself and then go live in your car. But if you are irresponsible to the tune of many many billions of dollars, the government will help you out.

Congress is about to pass a bailout bill. It does not contain significant help for homeowners. It does not contain serious punishment for irresponsible investors.

Add to all of this the fact that those $700 billion come out of taxpayer's pocket because that's the only place government gets money. Since the government already is in debt over its ears, it will simply have to borrow more money and our children and grandchildren will have to pay back, to make up for the bad judgments and irresponsibility of the likes of Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers.

But then you say: wait a minute. Is this not supposed to be government of the people, for the people, and by the people? Is that not what they taught us in school? Did they not tell us that we control the government through the mechanism of electing representatives who either fulfill our wishes or will be punished by not being reelected?

But if these representatives represent us, the people, how can they take our money and give it to the people who already have more than they possibly need over many lifetimes?

In this way this financial crisis is also a deep crisis for democracy because it shows that ours is not a people's government.

On Wednesday, October 1, 2008 the Boston Globe ran this paragraph:
"A nonpartisan watchdog group calculated that U.S. Congress members who voted yes [to the proposed bailout plan] received 51% more in campaign contributions from the finance, insurance, and real estate sector in their congressional careers than those who opposed the emergency legislation."

The big banks insurance companies and real estate interests have bought a lot of representatives. Their money counts for whole lot more with these representatives than the votes from their electorate. These Representatives voted to bailout their benefactors. Congressional representatives less generously gifted by a banking and insurance and real estate listened to their voters more closely and voted against the bill.

Obviuously, this is a grand generalization. Not every Representative who voted to support the bailout is bought off by large financial institutions. Not every Representative who opposed the bailout did so from regard of ordinary ctizens. But the numbers cited convey a grim message: taking Congress as a whole, the votes go where the money comes from. Orinary citizens count for very little.

This crisis not only shows how fragile our economy is. It also shows that our democracy is in terrible trouble.

Can we still bail it out?