Monday, November 24, 2008

How About Just the 'Big 1'?

There is a lot of talk these days about the "Big 3" automakers; as in Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler. Auto manufacturing is a pillar of the U.S. economy, many say. Yet they are undergoing enormous hardships, and are in danger of collapsing, bringing with them the jobs of their employees, suppliers, and thousands of others.

Their problems first started surfacing early in the summer when gas prices skyrocketed to record highs. Apparently when gasoline tops $4 per gallon, consumers decide that they want fuel efficient cars. But the Big 3 have always been primarily about, well, Big Cars. You know, cars that allow you to easily haul your boat and your family of ten kids (plus the family dog) down the road to the lake. Cars that can single-handedly stop C-130 cargo planes as they're landing on the runway. Cars that can tackle and demolish the roughest terrain nature has to offer... if only we as Americans would take these cars outside the confines of the grocery store parking lot.

And so, as gas prices rose, consumers began purchasing cars from the... shall we call them the "Little 3"?... Honda, Nissan, and Toyota.*

Now the troubles of the Big 3 are compounded with the current credit crunch. What few consumers still want to buy the behemoth offerings of GM, Ford and Chrysler cannot get the financing to do so. With few people buying US cars, the manufacturers are fast running out of money, and aren't expected to last through 2009 (with the possible exception of Ford, which could survive through 2010).

So it seems that the two options before us are to try to prop the Big 3 up with a multi-billion-dollar "bail-out" package, or to let them collapse and go bankrupt. Both options have their proponents. Bailing them out would likely save thousands and thousands of jobs, and would give the manufacturers breathing room to weather the current storm, and begin focusing on more palatable (read: more fuel efficient) automobiles. However, bankruptcy itself isn't the end of the world; often it simply allows companies to reorganize under new management and refocus. All of those manufacturing plants won't suddenly just disappear. Plus, there's no guarantee that a bail-out would solve the Big 3's problems anyway.

I see a third option. Call it a "hybrid" option, if you will. Instead of bailing out the Big 3, let's just bail out the "Big 1". Ford, Chrysler and GM can each draw up their proposals about how they would use their share of the bail-out money. How would they turn the company around? How would they save--and better yet, create--jobs? How would they produce more fuel-efficient, environmentally-friendly cars? Whoever has the best proposal gets their share of the bail-out package.

The other Big 2 would be on their own.

That way, the taxpayers would be putting up less money than if they had bailed out all three manufacturers. The other two could begin bankruptcy procedings. Maybe they'd survive just as well as the Big 1, and in the long term all would be rosy. Maybe they wouldn't, in which case the Big 1 would expand, providing jobs for the former employees and suppliers of the Defunct 2.

Or maybe they'd all crash and burn anyway, in which case we'll only have thrown away a third of the money we're currently planning to throw away.

* And Mazda, Kia, Hyundai, etc... Basically, foreign car manufacturers with a strong focus on fuel efficiency.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

McCain Goes Out Gracefully

Senator McCain, you made an extremely gracious, classy concession speech. Kudos.

Governor Palin, you also made the best speech you could've possibly made. Kudos to you as well.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Prop 8 Supporters: Are you jerks, or just unbelievably stupid?

In California next Tuesday, we'll be voting on Proposition 8. Prop 8 is another in the line of hate-filled legislation designed to take away the rights of gays to marry whom they choose. Against this measure will be those of us who believe in decency, fairness, and freedom. In favor of this proposition will be jerks, and unbelievably stupid people.

Let me first present what's on the line here. First, let's look at the actual, tangible, negative things that will happen if Proposition 8 happens:
  • Many people will not be allowed to marry the person they love.
It's one thing, but it's a horrible thing if you're one of the many victims of Prop 8... or, if you're simply someone who believes in the concept of freedom.

Next, here are all of the actual, tangible, positive things that will happen if Proposition 8 passes:

That's it; that's all of the positive changes anybody will see if it passes.

In other words, nothing good will happen if Prop 8 passes.


At all.

But "what about the children"? True, there are some unbelievably stupid people who think that existence of gay marriage will make their kids turn gay. I'm still waiting to here from one of these unbelievably stupid people as to how this works, exactly. If one of these unbelievably stupid people went to a gay wedding themselves, would they then become gay?

But okay, let's answer the "what about the children" question. I have a son. Odds are, he's going to grow up to be straight. But there's a chance he might be gay. Whether or not Prop 8 passes will have zero influence on this. The only thing for Prop 8 to dictate would be--if he would turn out to be gay--that he's denied the right to marry whom he chooses.

The same goes for the children of jerks and unbelievably stupid people. There will be nothing positive at all that they will be doing for their kids by voting yes on 8. The only effect these voters will be having on their own children is that, for a small percentage of them, they will be denying their own children the right to marry the boy or girl of their dream.

So let me ask you. If you're a Californian who's planning to vote in favor of Proposition 8, which are you? Are you a jerk, or are you unbelievably stupid?

Do you hate people who are different from you so much that you'd deny them the same fundamental rights that you have--even though granting them those rights would have no negative impact on you or anyone else on the planet, and even if one of those people you hate winds up being your own son or daughter? Is the concept of freedom something that you can so quickly discard on a whim? Does your twisted sense of morality consist of arbitrarily persecuting other people simply for how they are born?

Or do you actually think that gays getting married will somehow turn your kids gay?

Because you're either one or the other. So pick one.

Of course, I might very well be wrong. You might very well be both.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The sad joke continues

As if we needed any more evidence that Sarah Palin is a national joke, the VP candidate is now attacking Katie Couric for her own miserable interview performance. "I was kind of annoyed with the questions that I was being asked because I thought they were kind of irrelevant to, you know, national security issues and getting our economy back on track," Palin whined at a rally in Indiana, "so I kind of showed some of that annoyance."

But if Couric's questions about "about the economy and national security, focusing in particular on the congressional bailout package, the mortgage crisis, John McCain’s record on regulation, the war in Afghanistan, hunting terrorists in Pakistan, Russia, Iran, Syria, Israel and the role of the United States in the world" weren't relevant, what was the one question that actually was? "The one question that I answered that everyone could agree on," blathered Palin, "it maybe shows where my heart is… too is, she asked me this relevant question: What was my favorite movie? And I said 'Hoosiers!'"

Way to go, John McCain. While you claim "Country First" as your slogan, you've picked someone who thinks "what's your favorite movie" is the most pressing issue facing this country.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Rove, Rove, Rove Your Vote

After fours years of suffering through George W. Bush's first term, and three and a half years of having to suffer through his second, many of us have been wondering what it will take for this country to wake up and make some fundamental changes regarding how this country is run. Finally, we've seen an answer. Apparently it takes a perfect storm of disasters to shake people into cognizance of the downward spiral we're all taking. Apparently it takes a faltering economy, a disastrous war, skyrocketing fuel prices, an increasingly worthless dollar, and the realization that we still haven't caught bin Laden--dead or alive--to rile the majority of Americans up.

As sad as it may be that it takes that much for people to demand change, that's reality. And so with the country being driven into the ground by the current crop of Republicans, Americans are demanding--finally-- a real change in power. Polls around the country are showing widespread support for a Barack Obama presidency. Virginia--a state once staunchly Republican--now boasts a majority of its voters favoring Obama. Other typically red states such as Colorado and Florida are showing similar trends. Nationwide, polls show Obama with anywhere from a 6- to 10-point lead over McCain.

But the election is far from over. Anyone who's paid any attention at all to American politics in the past ten years knows that something isn't right. Republicans don't just let things like this happen. That McCain is down so low in the polls makes me think that the Republicans aren't entirely focused on convincing people to vote for the Arizona senator and his Alaskan sidekick. Instead, they're exploring all the ways that they can obtain enough votes to fill the White House for another four, horrific years.

So what are they up to?

I can only guess, but here are a few thoughts I have on the subject.

First and foremost, when I said that Republicans don't let things like this happen, what I really meant was that Karl Rove doesn't let things like this happen. Karl Rove is widely regarded as the mastermind behind George W's presidential campaigns (as well as many of W's damaging policies.) During the 2000 presidential election (which incidentally followed a successful primary for Bush, during which Rove orchestrated a smear campaign against none other than John McCain), Rove & Co learned an important lesson: you don't need a majority of the voters to win an election. Many debates remain surrounding the 2000 election, but one aspect that is not up for debate is that Al Gore won the majority of the popular vote. It also just so happened that in Florida--the most hotly contested state of '00--the Republicans had numerous operatives already in place, including Katherine Harris, and George's own brother and the state's governor, Jeb Bush.

So is Karl Rove behind McCain's campaign at all? Rove left the Bush White House about a year and a half ago, ostensibly to become a lobbyist. Rumors--mostly unsubstantiated--circulated that he was in fact leaving to prepare to orchestrate the campaign of whichever Republican presidential candidate would merge. Since then, he's appeared on Fox News as an "independent consultant" and "former senior advisor to President Bush". Those labels paint Rove as being unaffiliated with the current Republican candidate. Of course, since it's Fox News, those labels are also meaningless. Moreover, there is plenty of evidence that Rove is a large donor and informal consultant to McCain's campaign.

So Rove may be behind the scenes at McCain headquarters. If he's not, then it's fair to assume that there are numerous Rove proteges, anxiously to take over as head Republican smearmaster, election-stealer, and overall slimeball. So in the remaining week to week-and-a-half (depending if we wind up in political overtime this year) we can expect to see some Rovian tactics employed.

Rove's lesson from 2000--that winning voters isn't necessary in order to win an election--was apparently put into practice four years ago. John Kerry was slightly ahead of Bush in the polls on Election Day, 2004. Exit polls--which up until that year had always been accurate and reliable--placed Kerry with a 3 point victory over Bush. Yet when the results came in, Bush wound up with a 2.5 point victory over McCain. Remember also that it was during that election cycle that Walden O'Dell, the CEO of Diebold--the manufacturer of the electronic voting machines used in states like Ohio--told his Republican friends at a party fundraiser "I am committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year." Ohio, of course, became the most narrowly-contested state. Its exit polls gave the win there to Kerry; the Diebold machines gave the win there to Bush.

It seems those same tactics might already be rolling out for the current election. The Charleston Gazette reports that a number of West Virginia early voters are reporting that electronic voting machines there have switched their Democratic votes to Republican ones:
"This is the second West Virginia county where voters have reported this problem. Last week, three voters in Jackson County told The Charleston Gazette their electronic vote for 'Barack Obama' kept flipping to 'John McCain'."

Meanwhile, Republicans in other states have been attempting to keep Democrats from the polls this year, with varying levels of success.

Given Obama's insurmountable lead, coupled with McCain's incoherence and Palin's laughability, it seems that the droves of mini-Roves have given up trying to con the American people into believing that a McCain presidency is a good idea. Instead, they seem to be focusing their efforts on forcing a such a presidency upon the American people using whatever means necessary.

Of course, there is another option, one that I hardly dare hope for. It could very well be that Rove is completely out of the picture. And that the Republicans are really in shambles. And that--dare I say it?--Obama might actually win.

Monday, October 6, 2008

More and more, life is a sitcom

I recall a conversation I'd had with a friend in the mid 90s. My friend was ranting about the sitcom Married With Children, a comedy centering on the disfunctional Bundy family, headed by serial loser Al Bundy. His distaste didn't stem so much from the show's content itself; he wasn't concerned whether, as sitcoms went, it was funny or not. Rather, he was lamenting about what it said about the people who watched the show. As his theory went, these people could always tune into the show and--no matter how much their own lives sucked--tell themselves at least my life isn't as bad as the Bundys'.

I think he was on to something there. But as I reexamine his theory, some ten-plus years later, my own view is a little different. Instead of looking for evidence that their lives aren't that bad, people are actually looking for validation that even if their lives kinda suck, they might still be able to live them in a meaningful, funny sort of way. A better illustration of this might be the late-90s show Suddenly Susan. This show starred Brooke Shields as Susan, a woman who recently left her rich fiancee at the altar and finds herself, for the first time in her life, truly living on her own. It's a scary scenario, but one that many people have faced in their lives. How attractive this show must have been, then for--say--any middle-aged recent divorcees out there, or anyone else in a suddenly-on-my-own situation. Instead of struggling to provide for herself and deal with with the emotionally-nightmarish situation situation she finds herself in, Susan winds up in a laugh-a-minute job with wacky friends and co-workers... a job she landed because of, not in spite of, her recent break-up.

Hey, if Susan can do it, maybe I can too!

No doubt the producers of Gary Unmarried, a show about a newly-divorced man suddenly facing life on his own, are banking on the same sort of mentality. Though I don't plan to watch the show myself (what can I say? I'm happily married!) I'll be curious to see how well it does.

So what's the point of all of this?

More and more, this mentality is creeping into real life. Nowhere is this more evident than with presidential politics. A frequent criticism levied upon presidential candidates--usually from Republicans onto Democratic candidates--is one of "elitism". On it's face, this is usually a laughable claim to begin with. Particularly in the current political race, watching a candidate who married into great wealth (and who owns more houses than he can count) claim that the opposing candidate who created his own wealth by his own hard work (and who owns, like most of us, a single home) is like watching Peg Bundy try to convince Al that going to the dentist won't be painful.

But there's a reason that the elitism argument exists. More and more, Americans are looking for someone like them to lead the country. No longer do presidential elections involve the search for the best, brightest person who's willing to move the country forward. Instead, we want someone like us. It's as if we're saying, "Hey, if that person can become president, then I maybe I can be successful, too!"

And so we vote an average American into the White House.

The problem is that the average American is, well, average. We saw for the past eight years what happens when we vote not for the best candidate, but for the guy we'd most like to "have a beer with". Rather than voting for Al Gore, a candidate orders of magnitude more intelligent than "Dubya", we voted for the guy who was mediocre at best with his life's endeavors, yet who we thought seemed friendlier. And when we had a chance four years ago to vote him out of office, we instead became intimidated by John Kerry's big words and nuanced arguments, and again voted for the simpler, "commoner" candidate.*

That Sarah Palin is even being considered by any American as a reasonable VP candidate is strong evidence that we're continuing this trend. That people who like her "folksy charm" are trying desperately to convince themselves that she's not that bad (she didn't break down in tears during the debate, did she?) says that many Americans are still more interested in who's "nicer", not who's more qualified.

It's probably a trend that won't be reversed any time soon. I only ask two things. First, that those who still do seek the most qualified--and not the most average--candidate make it known that there are still Americans who demand competency. And second, on any upcoming McCain/Palin interviews, can we just go ahead and add a laugh track already?

* How George W Bush, with his undeserved life of privilege and wealth ever lead to his being considered a "commoner" is still beyond me, but I digress...

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Palin Effect

It's been nearly a decade that I've watched in horror and amazement as the American people have shown what little collective common sense they have. Electing George W. Bush not once but twice. Embracing TV shows like "The Moment of Truth". And actually taking Sarah Palin seriously as a vice presidential candidate.

But lately, I've been heartened a bit. It seems that the initial bump in popularity that John McCain received for choosing Palin as his running mate has waned. Presumably, when Palin actually opens her mouth to spout anything other than a well-scripted speech, what comes out is so appalling that she turns away even the people who fawn over her moose-field-dessing skills, Old Testament beliefs, child-producing abilities, or whatever it is that attracted her to them. Hell, even some conservatives are begging Palin to bow out.

So with that, I propose a new phrase be added to the common vernacular:
"The Palin Effect"
The definition, of course, would be something like this: 

A temporary gain in favorability--caused by an seemingly-appealing attribute--which is subsequently lost when it becomes painfully apparent that the attribute is not, in fact, appealing, but is in fact akin to a bloody train wreck.

Here are some of the many potential use cases:
  • A company's stock price skyrockets because a technical whiz is brought on as the new CEO. Unfortunately, this whiz has no experience speaking in public, let alone running a company. So in a matter of weeks, the stock price drops like a stone.
    "Looks like the Palin Effect hit GlobalCorp's share price"
  • All of the senior boys at the high school were hoping to have English Literature with Miss Anderson, the hot, young new English teacher. But she turned out to be the strictest, harshest, nastiest teacher on campus.
    "You have Anderson for English lit, and you're complaining about it?"
    "Dude, she's a total Palin!"
  • You're running for president. Many in your own party don't really like you, so you choose a vice presidential running mate who looks good, and whose wacky right-wing ideals match the wacky right-wing ideals of your own party nay-sayers. You get a bump in the polls, but as soon as people realize that she's woefully unqualified, you lose that bump.
    "I don't understand what happened! I thought the fact that she was a woman, was attractive, and thinks the earth is 6000 years old was enough to satisfy the disgruntled Hillary supporters and the lunatic Republican fringe!"
    "But dude... she's Sarah Palin!"