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Friday, March 28, 2008

Casey Endorsement of Obama Only a Temporary Favor

As a former resident of Pennsylvania, I can tell you that when it comes to voting, the Keystone State is an odd place. There are blue areas around the state, mostly Philadelphia and other urban centers, but Pennsylvania is still a place where a good candidate, no matter what party, can rise to the top and become a force. Pennsylvanians tend to look at each individual candidate not so much for party affiliation, but for stands on individual issues.

Pennsylvania has the highest population of voters over the age of 65, mainly because the benefits of being old in Pennsylvania are many. As one example, all proceeds for the Pennsylvania lottery go to programs benefiting senior citizens. The late Republican Senator John Heinz, nicknamed "Senator Landslide", was one of the bigger advocates of issues affecting seniors during his tenure in the Senate. Pennsylvania is also roughly 30% Catholic, a great many of whom vote only based on a candidate’s stand on abortion.

Into this backdrop comes freshman senator Bob Casey, Jr., who today announced that he is endorsing Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination for President. Like his namesake former governor father, Casey’s power center is mostly in Western Pennsylvania, and his name and endorsement will do nothing but help Obama in the red and purple parts of the state.

Now relocated, I haven’t had a chance to see Bob Casey Jr. enough to form an opinion on his political career, but my opinion of his father is carved in granite. I was taught not to speak ill of the dead, but in Bob Casey Sr.’s case, I’ll make an exception. He was a scumbag. The biggest reason he won his first gubernatorial campaign was because of a TV ad now referred to as "The Guru Ad". The ad was run in the western and rural parts of the state against his Republican opponent, Mark Scranton. It showed pictures of a long-haired Scranton in the early 1970’s as a threatening voice talked about his living for a short time on a commune under the leadership of some questionable cult-like figure now lost to the sands of time. The insinuation of the ad was clear. Do you trust Casey, anti-choice establishment Democrat, or some now clean-shaven hippie? The ad was considered so toxic at the time that it never ran on any station anywhere near Philadelphia, as it was thought that the ad would cut into Casey’s Democratic base of support there. Casey ended up racking up big numbers in the rural part of the state that carried him to the Governor’s mansion.

When Casey Sr. was in declining health in the mid-90’s, he was able to get a heart-lung transplant by magically appearing at the top of the transplant list. No one ever provided a reasonable explanation for how this happened.

Bob Casey Jr., much like his father, is a Democrat more for political expediency than for any other reason. The Casey family is adamantly anti-choice and they are very comfortable seeking the middle ground when the Republican wagons begin circling. It’s hard to blame them for this behavior, given the split personality of the Pennsylvania electorate. Casey will have a long career in Pennsylvania politics because the Republican Party in Pennsylvania is currently drenched with people like Curt Weldon, Joe Pitts and Pat Toomey. Arlen Specter, as silly as he is in all his camera-mugging glory, is truly the best the Republican Party in Pennsylvania has to offer in the post-John Heinz era. In any other state, a guy like Bob Casey would either never make it past the local level, or he would be a Republican in the mold of a John Danforth. I gave him my support from afar in the last Senate election because like many others I observed that Rick Santorum was a cancer on the body politic and needed to have his revolting back side booted back to Virginia, where he actually lives.

Bob Casey Jr. endorsing Obama is good for Obama in the short term, but Casey is not a guy with a lot of credibility with the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. Given Pennsylvania’s political intricacies, this endorsement is stunning. On the surface, Casey would seem to have more in common with Hillary Clinton than Barack Obama. In a state like Pennsylvania, where KKK membership is higher than any other state in the union (you truly have to see parts of Central Pennsylvania to believe it), Casey endorsing Obama won’t do him any favors in 2012 if he runs for re-election to his Senate seat. I commend Bob Casey Jr. for the courage of his endorsement of Obama, but it is with the realization that it doesn’t do Obama any favors with his core constituency in other parts of the country.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Clinton Victory By #6 Combo

It has been a week since I first put forth a proposition to the campaign of Hillary Clinton for President.

By any reasonable mathematical equation, Hillary Clinton cannot win the presidency without cajoling or making wild and unwieldy promises to the sizable swath of uncommitted superdelegates in the Democratic Party. She has currently won fewer states, has fewer pledged delegates and yes, she also trails in the popular vote, unless you apply what I call the Lieberman Theorem. This theorem posits than when you finish anywhere but where you expect to finish, it’s best to call it a tie, such as a three-way tie for third when you finish fifth in New Hampshire. There’s no such thing as a statistical dead heat when all the votes are counted. Either you finished first, or you lost. Hillary Clinton is currently in second place. The only entity that reverses the absolutes of voting mathematics is 5 extremists in black robes on the Supreme Court.

Being an Obama voter from the state of Wisconsin, I have made my voice heard in this election. I voted for Obama and hope he is the eventual nominee. In the face of the current mathematics, if he isn’t the nominee, I will immediately declare myself to be a supervoter, with carries with it all the expectations of cajoling, wild promises or perhaps bribery that the superdelegates currently hold.

As a supervoter, if Hillary Clinton wants my vote, I want a number 6 combo from Wendy’s, plain, biggie sized with a Hi-C. In addition, Bill Clinton has to sit with me as I eat it, and Eddie Vedder has to join him, as my wife is a Pearl Jam fan and she missed their last concert in Milwaukee because she was giving birth to our son.

There is no doubt in my mind that if Hillary Clinton wins the nomination, she’ll spend about 2 ½ months of time between the Democratic Convention and the general election showing up on campaign stops next to superdelegates running for re-election as a thank you for giving her the Democratic nomination. Absent that, her big money donors, (the ones currently blackmailing Nancy Pelosi Don Corleone-style by tersely worded letter), will more than likely start throwing their money around into the campaign coffers of superdelegates who back Clinton at the convention.

If a superdelegate’s vote for Clinton carries enough weight for a series of quid pro quos, so too does the vote of a supervoter. We all want something. She wants a vote. I want lunch. My wife wants to meet Eddie Vedder. Everybody’s happy, and it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than a campaign stop and much friendlier than a reading from the Book of Threats.

I’m hoping that there are many more like me. I want to start a supervoter movement. Picture if you will the last scene of the movie "Billy Jack". Instead of an upraised fist, imagine that all the students of the Freedom School held a spicy chicken sandwich in their hands? Billy is driven off in the back of a police car (substitute Bill Clinton in the back of a limousine) on a road lined for miles by people holding sandwiches aloft. The slightly clouded Southwestern skies dotted not by the red painted mountains of the desert, but by God’s most perfect creation, the Wendy’s spicy chicken sandwich in the united hands of humankind. It is this kind of rampant idealism that shapes me as an American. My dream of a spicy chicken sandwich has now replaced thoughts on policy as we approach the general election.

I’ll make a promise to all of you. If Obama wins the nomination, come to Milwaukee, introduce yourself by your Daily Kos ID, and we’ll celebrate with a stop at my favorite Wendy’s at the corner of Chase and Oklahoma in Milwaukee. If Clinton wins the nomination, I hereby promise that I shall not eat a beloved spicy chicken sandwich until Bill Clinton and Eddie Vedder come to Milwaukee to eat one with me. Bill’s buying, so it’s not like I need to scrape up the money.
As a supervoter, what I ask for is much less than what is being offered to superdelegates currently. This isn’t a $100 a plate dinner we’re talking about here. Throw in a chocolate frosty and we’re talking about maybe $10, plus the cost of tranportation to Milwaukee. Transportation is negligible though. If Hillary Clinton wins the nomination, someone who represents her is coming to Wisconsin, also known as "a much-needed swing state". My Wendy’s is about a ten-minute drive from the airport. Bill and Eddie could swing by, eat with the jpspencers after local drive-thru maven Ron gives us all our food perfectly matched to our order, and be done in about 45 minutes tops. Then it’s on to Marquette, or UWM or some other high value destination within the city limits where ralliers await (possibly with chicken sandwiches in hand; you never know). You can even bring a camera crew along. I’ll endorse Hillary and take a bite of my chicken sandwich, instantly creating an image for the ages (don’t worry; I weigh 196). And, what the hell, Eddie can have my fries!

A chicken sandwich is such a small price to pay for knee-capping the preferred candidate. A political hit requires a karmic price. As a supervoter, I demand my tribute. E Pluribus Pulli, Unum! GIVE ME SPICY CHICKEN OR GIVE ME DEATH!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Buckminster Fuller and the Subprime Mortgage Crisis

As the effects of the banking and mortgage crisis become more apparent, it offers all of us an opportunity to look at some of the less visible reasons behind it.

The primary reasons for it are obvious at this point. We have the adjustable rate mortgage, which may very well be the greediest lending avenue ever devised by humankind, automobile leasing being a close second. Some of the percentage increases now former homeowners were faced with when ARM’s reset at higher interest rates were staggering, so much so that many homeowners have chosen to send house keys to the bank rather than pay an inflated mortgage on a home that’s losing its sales value. Add to this fact that there are many mortgage brokers rewarded not so much for minimizing risk to their lender employers, but for getting a signature on the dotted line, and the ingredients for disaster begin to congeal.

This is where we come to the less obvious reasons. We clearly have a certain percentage of borrowers living beyond their means. While it may be fashionable for someone with a good job to desire a house worth $750,000 or more, very few members of our society can reasonably afford a dwelling at this price. With each new McMansion style development that swallows open land space and existing resources, people begin to measure wealth by the square feet inside a dwelling, rather than the value and efficiency of that living space to themselves and their immediate environment.

Modern housing developers cater not to needs, but desires. Denizens of cities and their immediate suburbs dream of the great big house in the country. If we take the example of greater Atlanta, the future effects of this desire have arrived in an ugly fashion, as Lake Lanier, the water source for Atlanta and suburbs as far as 40 miles away is running dry. While lack of sustained rainfall can share some of the blame, the bigger culprit is the sprawling, overpriced cul de sacs that ring Atlanta in the far suburbs. I have a friend who lives in Marietta, GA, which is roughly 30 miles north of Atlanta. When I visited him recently, he drove around his immediate area and pointed out what used to be farms two decades ago, now gone. In their place are gated communities, with prices on individual homes behind the gates going up to 7 figures and beyond.

There are now over seven billion people on the planet. While human potential is infinite, the amount of ground available to human beings is not, and the open spaces are disappearing. With each farm that disappears under the weight of obscenely overpriced and oversized housing comes the realization that one small source of food evaporates along with it. This fact alarmed Thomas Malthus. R Buckminster Fuller saw it as an opportunity to rethink and redesign man’s immediate needs and environment with attention to design and reuse of existing resources.

With this in mind, Fuller brought forth the Dymaxion House, a four-dimensional house built around one pole with sufficient space for a family of four and all modern conveniences. The unique design would allow for a constant suitable temperature in all seasons, thereby conserving dwindling resources such as natural gas. Unfortunately, it was derided as a "tin can" and under the weight of the failure of his business, Fuller was only able to erect one temporary Dymaxion House in Kansas.

Sixty years later, Fuller’s grand designs warrant a second look. While not perfect, the though process that brought them forward had the best of intentions. This cannot be said of the modern land developer, who puts profit motive ahead of reasonable use of space. Municipalities, eager to expand the existing tax base in an American economy no longer invested in domestic manufacturing, happily sign over the land for unneeded and unnecessary new development.

With an increasing percentage of this type of housing now sitting empty and seeing stark devaluation, we have now reached a watershed moment to reassess what it means to live "comfortably". Does comfort means that each member of a family of four deserves 1,000 square feet of space under one roof? Given the direct environmental impact of an affirmative answer to that question, does a 4,000-square foot family have an obligation to break it to fellow citizens within their immediate geography that they must go without space and resources for the sake of the comfort of 4 people out of seven billion?

Comfort and affordability need not be mutually exclusive. The operative principles exist to utilize space and resources for all to live comfortably. With the number of McMansion foreclosures slowly rising, it is time to change our perception of these homes from one of overvalued vacancy to one of suburban blight. With a combination of reason and political will, we can insure that now is the time to send these developments back to the drawing board to be replaced by the kind of shelter that benefits a higher percentage of the population and the resources at all of our disposal.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Bigger Fight behind the Sirius/XM Merger

For purposes of full disclosure, I must state that I am not only a subscriber to Sirius Satellite radio and have been for two years, but I also am currently a holder of 100 shares of Sirius stock. While this is not a large amount, I can be reasonably judged to have a vested interest in what I write about. I disclose this because it’s the right thing to do.

With that out of the way, I’d like to join the chorus of those in the world who aren’t legislators and government "regulators" being bought off by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), a front group for the Republican-leaning Clear Channel Communications. There is absolutely no reason in the world why the Sirius/XM merger should not go through. Anyone who says otherwise is on the take and not arguing the point honestly.

The main thread of argument is that the combined company represents a satellite radio monopoly. This is absurd. The combined company would represent slightly more than 5% of the entire audience for all broadcast radio. This number does not include broadband streaming of FM stations, which presumably decreases the percentage for satellite radio if included. Satellite radio currently does not compete against itself. It competes against terrestrial radio, MP3 players such as the IPod and CD’s. With such a small percentage of the total listening audience, the combined company wouldn’t cease to be a fly on most windshields, but rather it would become a rubber fly that could bounce and compete on its own merits.

The NAB is paying legislators, including Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and Roy Blunt (R-MO), to put forth the monopoly argument because anyone, like myself, who experiences satellite radio for 15 minutes knows that they never want to listen to terrestrial radio again. If the NAB could be honest and argue that they want to see satellite radio die because it’s cutting into their action, I could be persuaded to listen. Lying doesn’t get my attention.

Yet there is a bigger reason why everyone in this community should be fighting tooth and nail for the Sirius/XM merger to go through.

It is currently being argued by the usual suspects (such as Michael Smerconish) that talk radio leans heavily to the right due to overwhelming demand for that kind of opinion on terrestrial radio. All one needs to do is look at the ratings Al Franken drew in New York City when he was up against Bill O’Reilly to see the right wing argument for the lie that it is. Left wing talk is buried because Clear Channel wants it buried.

Air America Radio, begun with the best of intentions, is still for the most part sequestered in smaller radio markets. I live in Milwaukee and the closest Air America station is in Madison. Unless I turn up my AM radio in my car to volume 43, I’m not hearing Air America Radio.
Enter satellite radio. I can’t speak for XM not being a subscriber, but Sirius channel 146 supplies 24 hours of left wing talk radio. I realize that it is mostly a work in progress, as it’s currently populated by DLC types like Bill Press and Alex Bennett, who spend far too much time taking cheap shots at progressives to stroke their own egos. Lynn Samuels in the afternoon, while funny, is the human vocal equivalent of a horse getting a pitchfork suppository. Having said that, it’s nice to know that the channel is there and thriving. Air America Radio is currently on its third ownership group, tilting at the Clear Channel windmill on terrestrial radio while constantly downgrading the on-air talent and cutting costs.

I’m particularly annoyed with Louise Slaughter on this subject. Anybody with half their hearing notices that progressive voices are being shut out of terrestrial radio. Why empower these people further by killing one of the few national outlets for progressive talk in the country? Is $1,000 really the financial threshold for stabbing your own constituency in the back? The Pharisees would have loved Louise.

John Conyers isn’t immune from criticism on this. The people in his district have contacted him in large numbers telling him the obvious, but he appears to be in Clear Channel’s pocket as well, as he is putting forth the monopoly straw man at every opportunity. Decades of independence and fighting for progressives shot to hell. Way to go, John!

It surprises me little that Democrats constantly vote against their own beliefs. With a wide swath of broadcast media lined up firmly against them, they worry more about appearances and appeasement than standing up for what they believe in. Cowering in fear is the new bravery in the Democratic Party. This thought process gave us the rogue regime we currently have in power in the White House. The only question to be asked, as we have asked it with net neutrality, the Iraq War, telecom immunity, the Justice Department scandal and other scandals too numerous to count is "With the president at a 19% approval rating, why cave"?

If you insist on shutting down one of the few outlets to get your side heard for the convenience of a little money, why not just sever your own vocal chords and get it over with? Think of the windfall!

One last point. Sirius isn’t completely immune from criticism. Sirius 146 is called Sirius Left. The right wing equivalent (I don’t know the station number for obvious reasons) is called Sirius Patriot. I happily call bullshit on that, but at least Sirius Left is in existence. It should stay that way. It has now been over a year since the merger proposal was put forth. Sirius and XM have expanded their own deadline for the merger to go through thanks to the NAB’s money gumming up the wheels of the decision making. Enough already!