Third Party Debate

ObamaFree & Equal put on the 3rd Party Presidential Debate, which was broadcast by NBC. Just kidding. It was Al Jazeera English, of course. When you need real news, you really need to go outside the country.

There were four candidates debating: Jill Stein (Green Party), Gary Johnson (Libertarian Party), Virgil Goode (Constitution Party), and Rocky Anderson (Justice Party). Two of them were good, reasonable candidates. And two were total fucktards.

There is not that much that separates Jill Stein and Rocky Anderson on the issues. Anderson seems a bit more restrained than Stein. This goes with his actual experience as Major of Salt Lake City. But there is something really compelling about Stein; she seems on the edge of cracking—such is how palpable her passion is. I would gladly vote for either of these candidates.

It wouldn’t be a debate if there wasn’t a fucktard or two. Virgil Goode is your typical conservative 3rd party candidate: running because the Republicans just aren’t bellicose and racist enough. Gary Johnson is a typical libertarian freak. It is the same old thing: big government baaad, big corporations goood!

When asked what constitutional amendment they would most like to see, both Goode and Johnson said term limits. I could hardly believe that! Term limits!? Jill Stein hit back on this idiocy in a big way. She noted that limiting terms wouldn’t keep corporations from simply controlling a long string of politicians. The fact that this came as a surprise to Goode and Johnson shows that these guys (and people on the right generally) are just not that serious.

Then came the closing arguments. Virgil Goode made a little sense by back tracking on his term limit claim. Gary Johnson noted that he was an entrepreneur; get that man a government to run! He had a fiery summation: “Vote for me, I’m pre-corporate owned!” Jill Stein is a weak speaker, but she was passionate about all the right things. I really like her. Rocky Anderson looks uncannily like Tom Poston. He was really great—the best politician on the stage.

As I’ve noted before, I won’t vote for Obama because I told him I wouldn’t and I don’t live in a swing state. However, you’d have to be crazy not to vote for Obama if you lived anywhere that was contested. I certainly would vote for the President if my vote counted. But as it is, I would gladly vote for either Rocky Anderson or Jill Stein. Unfortunately, Anderson isn’t running in my state. So I’ll be pleased to vote for Jill Stein.

Would You Jump Off a Cliff?

Why I Left Goldman SachsYou may remember back many months ago, Greg Smith wrote a high profile OpEd in the New York Times as he stepped down as a VP at Goldman Sachs. This last weekend, he was on 60 Minutes in a plug for this new book, Why I Left Goldman Sachs. Matt Yglesias, for one, doesn’t really care about all that. “But the ferocious anti-Smith push from Goldman Sachs PR and Smith’s critics in the media have me interested again!” he writes.

I’m glad to hear this, because I think what Smith has to say is important. And I especially thought that while I watched the 60 Minutes interview. The way it was cut together tended to minimize his arguments. The segment contradicted him by using Frank Partnoy, a former derivatives trader turned (God help us!) finance professor. His refrain was, “Who cares? Everybody does it!”

What everyone does is screw over their clients. Companies like Goldman Sachs are supposed to help their clients make money. Instead, they just use them to enrich themselves. And the more green the client, the better Goldman Sachs likes it.

This is basic stuff. It is like when you were a kid. Everyone’s heard it from their moms, “If everyone jumped off a cliff, would you?” Well, would you?! This is something we are supposed to learn at 5 or 6. Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t make it right. But maybe we’re all supposed to know that people on Wall Street don’t have the ethics of a kindergartner.

Matt Yglesias explains this in the most forceful terms:

Norms matter. People work for money. But people also work for status, and people work because they take pride in a job well done. Ideas about what kinds of financial success merit high status and what kinds of jobs constitute a job well done are important. A doctor who bragged to you at a party about scoring a great deal on season tickets is doing something very different from a doctor who brags to you at a party about scoring season tickets after swindling a woman out of a bunch of money for unnecessary medical treatments. A doctor isn’t supposed to be hustling patients. Everybody knows that. The vast majority of journalists are working for for-profit enterprises that are publishing stuff in hopes of making money, but it’s much better to live in a world where the editorial personnel don’t understand themselves as merely engaged in a transactional quest for money rather than a genuine effort to entertain and inform the public. The idea that there’s a difference between making money by being clever and inventing something useful to sell to people and making money by being clever and inventing a way to persuade people to buy something useless is fundamental.

Amen brother!

Update (23 October 4:47 pm)

Hamilton Nolan has an excellent article at Gawker, In Defense of Being Outraged by Things that Everyone Already Knows:

The backlash, of course, is already well under way. The NYT‘s Andrew Ross Sorkin said he thought Smith “might have conned” the media into paying attention to him, because his book “doesn’t say anything particularly revelatory.” Nathan Vardi at Forbes dismisses Smith’s complaints, saying that clients distrusting their own banks is “precisely what should be happening in financial markets.” The NY Daily News complains that Smith’s book “failed to make his readers care” about the issues he raises. As Bloomberg View put it in its original snide dismissal of Smith’s op-ed, “If you want to dedicate your life to serving humanity, do not go to work for Goldman Sachs.”

I would simply like to assert that, no matter whether or not you believe Greg Smith is a hero or an opportunist, he did what we would all hope that our own banker would do: he spoke out publicly about something that was wrong. The fact that his charges are old news to the Wall Street people, the bankers, the financially savvy, and the media figures that cover them is not an indictment of Greg Smith. It is an indictment of everyone who accepted rapacious amorality as the natural order of things. It is not important whether or not Greg Smith is a hero. What is important is the principle that people in positions of power should not grow so inured to corruption or unfairness or the rotten nature of their particular institution that they accept that state of affairs without question. To understand how something works does not mean that we must lackadaisically assume that it should work that way. And we should never become so cynical that we create an environment in which whistleblowers receive more criticism than the institutions they blow the whistle on.

Everybody knows Wall Street rips off unsophisticated clients as a matter of course. One guy complained about it. That’s the problem.

Yes on 30

Small Business Action Committee FucktardsProposition 30 in California would levy a temporary quarter percentage point increase in the sales tax and a 1 to 3 percentage point increase in the top marginal tax rates (on money made above $250,000 per year). Initially, I was concerned about this proposition, because of the sales tax increase. These taxes are highly regressive and I didn’t want to see those who have suffered the most during this depression be further taxed while those who are doing better than ever are barely touched.

After doing a “back of the envelope” calculation, I am convinced that Proposition 30 is a good idea. Even taking into account the huge and unjust income equality in the state, this is a progressive tax. The amount of money brought in by the sales tax is very small—it was most likely added to argue against claims that the proposition is some kind of class warfare.

Yesterday, I received a mailer from the “Small Business Action Committee.” Calitics has the dirt on this group. It’s leadership team is made up of one guy: Joel Fox. He is the former head of the nutjob group Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the group that brought us Proposition 13 that is a large part of California’s perpetual budget problems.

Other than this, SBAC is just a generic conservative front group formed to take money from wealthy fucktards and use it to subvert the cause of democracy. According to the site, one of its big donors is Charles Munger Jr, who’s given almost $20 million dollars to the group.

Their arguments are exactly the same as the ones in the voter’s manual: this money won’t go to education and even if it did, the government is too damned big! Last night I spoke to a supporter of Proposition 30. I asked why he was against it. He didn’t seem to care at all about giving any lip service to education. It was just that the government was wasting all the money it gets. So I pressed on. What is it the government is spending money on that is wasteful? I got no answer. So I suggested a few things. Roads? Are we spending too much on upkeep of roads? Are firefighters too well paid? Again there was no answer. But this is not a surprise. People like this never have an answer because there is no answer. In general, the government does a good job at what it is assigned.

(This is the same person who bristles every time I suggest we increase the number of elected representatives in order to have a more representative democracy. But no. We can’t have that! That would cost money! How much? Basically nothing. About as much as we spend on NPR. But that doesn’t matter. Waste! Socialism! My hard earned Social Security check!)

The argument against Proposition 30 in the voter’s manual is written by Jon Coupal—the current head of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer’ Association. Now he has an idea about government waste. And that idea is (Of course!) public employee pensions. But that isn’t actual waste. That is what people in the legal profession call a “contract.” It is the same thing that conservatives like Coupal used to justify all the bank bailout money being used for executive bonuses. “Those were contractually obligated!” the conservative chorus shouted. But when it comes to teachers and other public sector workers, contracts don’t matter. Contracts are not for the little people, silly!

Afterword

Proposition 30 is not the main issue of the Small Business Action Committee. Their focus is on Proposition 32. This is the proposition that would basically stop all paid political speech except for that by dark money groups. It is a vile proposal. The fact that the SBAC is pushing it is about all you need to know.

The polls indicate that both Propositions 30 and 32 are really close. And there are a lot of undecided voters, so each could go either way. It is important to vote Yes on 30 and No on 32. Also: No on 38, because it conflicts with 30 and is a regressive tax.

See you at the polls!

American Influence is Way Up

Last night at the debate, Mitt Romney claimed, “Nowhere in the world is America’s influence greater today than it was four years ago.” That sounds like a typical vague statement that a politician might make because they know it can’t be countered. It’s a matter of opinion, right? Well, maybe in a world without policy nerd and Jon Cryer look alike Ezra Klein!

Last night over on MSNBC, Klein was doing what he does best: wonking off in public. Rachel Maddow asked him if Romney’s claim was checkable and for which there ware empirical data. Klein responded, “We not only have empirical data, we have a graph on it. This comes from a Pew Poll that was done in 16 different countries around the world. And it looked at a range of questions about American influence.”

Here is the graph:

<%image(20121023-foreinapproval.jpg|421|277|Approval of U.S. in 16 ForeignCountries)%>

I’m not suggesting that many Americans care about how we are viewed outside the country and how willing other countries are to work with us. But this is striking. This is why Obama was given the Nobel Prize. And it is a very good thing.

Mitt, Cheney, and the Auto Rescue

Dick CheneyJonathan Cohn of The New Republic has a very evenhanded column about Romney’s position on the GM rescue, What Romney Wants You (and Ohio) to Forget About the GM Rescue. The title makes the article sound a lot more critical than it is. Let me briefly lay out Cohn’s argument.

Romney’s New York Times OpEd was far more nuanced than its title “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” would indicate. He was not calling for the liquidation of GM and Chrysler. What’s more, it isn’t clear whether he was for or against Obama’s decision to rescue the auto makers. During this period, Romney indicated elsewhere that he did support it.

And then came the primary season, and Romney—Quelle surprise!—changed his position. This is from a CNBC debate:

My view with regards to the bailout was that whether it was by President Bush or by President Obama, it was the wrong way to go. I said from the very beginning they should go through a managed bankruptcy process, a private bankruptcy process. We have capital markets and bankruptcy… My plan, we would have had a private sector bailout with the private sector restructuring and bankruptcy with the private sector guiding the direction as opposed to what we had with government playing its heavy hand.

And then he changed his position back during the Michigan primary. And now we hear from him all the time, “Of course I supported the auto bailout!” It’s easy to be on the right side of history when you simply change your opinion to whatever history says.

This is not an isolated incident, of course. Consider Obama’s position on Osama bin Laden. When Obama said that he would go into Pakistan to get him, everyone attacked him. This included Mitt Romney. But after Obama did exactly what he said he would, Mitt Romney was totally on board. “Even Jimmy Carter would have made that call.”

I don’t mind inconsistency; I’m one of its greatest practitioners. But there is a real problem with Mitt Romney’s inconsistencies. It doesn’t come from the shifting tides of his moods and facts. Instead, it comes from his decision about whatever is expedient. But even this I wouldn’t mind if he hadn’t surrounded himself with all Bush’s people on foreign and domestic affairs. There is no doubt that if Romney is elected President, there will be a group of neocons and “free” marketeers who will play him like a fiddle. And we don’t need another Cheney administration.

Update (23 October 2012 9:55 pm)

Here is a more negative take on the Romney claim by the exceptional Martin Bashir:

David, the Gnome

David the GnomeIt’s another cartoon morning! In response to my Kimba the White Lion article, Mack asked if I had heard of a show called David, the Gnome. I had not, so I looked it up. It turns out to be a series from the mid-1980s produced in Spain, based upon a Dutch children’s book, The Secret Book of Gnomes.

The episode embedded below is from Episode 6: “The Wedding.” There are a few things that stand out. The colors are vibrant, and I really like that because I still work with a 5-year-old’s visual palette. And to be honest, I like that the animation is not Japanese; it’s nice to see more traditional work. Here it is with Christopher Plummer as the narrator and Tom Bosley as David:

What most strikes me about this and Kimba is the in and out group politics. For kids’ shows, I don’t especially care about this. It is an important aspect of learning to be a civilized person. But I do care that we don’t ever move past this. The most popular films are simple good vs. evil allegories. What’s more, pretty much all TV shows are morality plays. But this doesn’t have anything to do with my life. My life is all about moral ambiguity.

Kids’ shows are fine—for kids. As adults, we can do better. And David, the Gnome would tell us that.