Financial illiteracy …

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on September 29, 2008

We’re a bit perplexed by these somewhat simpleton and obtuse distinctions between “Wall Street” and “Main Street.”  There really isn’t any: both are just as responsible for the current financial mess.  We don’t buy the argument, which attempts to play pseudo-class warfare through clever buzz words.  But, we shouldn’t talk, huh?  We tried to coin “Main Street vs. Martin Luther King Blvd.” in a snappish twist on the campaign culture wars ignited by the GOP political hack-dom.  We’ll take one on the chin for that.  But – at least we got your attention …

Which we guess is the point.  When you put complex policy crisis into simple terms, essentially “dumbing” down complex issues, people listen.  It’s like the term “bailout.” Mike Allen in Politico writes today:

Don’t think “bailout.” Think “economic stability.” Or “financial rescue.” Or “buy-in.”

And definitely don’t think $700 billion. Think, well, who knows? But less. Much less. Promise!

In fact, maybe it’ll even be a profit-maker. Really!

Suddenly worried, administration and congressional leaders are racing to rename and re-price the mortgage bailout even as they scramble to sell the unpopular measure to voters and rank-and-file lawmakers.

There’s a bit of conundrum we policy experts and political junkies find ourselves in.  On one hand, we want to “keep it real” or “break it down” in such a way that everybody, even that blue collar cat in the factory or the single mom catching the bus, gets it right away.  Hence, a habit to simplify the issue – some call it trivializing.  But, on the other, we don’t want to miss the details, and we abhor public stupidity and society’s tendency to bask in its own idiocy.

Both arguments are cogent.  We dig that.  At some point, you have to find the balance.  But, in the meantime, is the American public actually grasping what’s going on at the moment?

To make the point, we single out Columbia University economist’s Charles Calomiris’ point in the Politico Arena earlier:

The preferred stock approach would have protected taxpayers from bearing much risk, provided the capital and liquidity necessary to end the panic and avoid a severe credit crunch, and avoided the need for complex interventions into the financial sector — such as limits on pay, stock warrants to taxpayers, ex post assessments on financial firms to pay for losses. Instead, we will do all these, and will buy assets with no reliable mechanism for price discovery, at ill-defined prices “above fire sale” values. That approach invites errors and abuse in execution, and by moving the process of asset liquidation from New York to Washington, we will add to the job loss in New York’s financial sector at a time when New York is already in trouble. There will also be substantial confusion about stock valuation coming from the uncertainty of ex post assessments and ill-defined warrants mandate (in amounts and at exercise prices to be determined by Secretary Paulson). No wonder stock futures are down.

Translated: “no wonder” people don’t get it.  Garbled academic transmissions hyped by the fluidity of their expert vernacular on a simple conclusion: banking institutions got greedy offering loans to average consumers who took their gluttony for “things” to a whole new level which drove unrealistic expectations and commitments.  This is what happened, on the real, multiplied tens of millions of time: so many wanted so bad to “flip” and “McMansion” their house or were foolish enough to actually buy the cheaply built by overpriced model house in the ‘burbs, we collectively drove up prices, costs of living and property taxes (so we could have what Mr. and Mrs. Jones had on the latest installment of MTV’s “Cribs”).   But, since common folks don’t understand Econ 101, or fail to read between the lines of their mortgage, we all eventually suffer once it reaches a boiling point.  Which provides a rather strong argument for mandatory financial literacy in the classroom, Pre-K to high school.


Were we watching the same debate?

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on September 27, 2008

We try to keep it as real as we can on the G/E blog (when we have the time to commit), and struggle to find some comfort zone between our true feelings and the mission to maintain balance.  It’s a bit difficult. Yes: we get dinged persistently for seeming a bit partisan; or a bit to one side as opposed to the other.  But, here’s our straight no chaser on the debate last night.

For real: some of these “wise” prognosticators on network television didn’t appear all that wise in the post analysis.  And while we understand that they have a need to keep it even while the partisans pimp their spin, we also understand that media gets bit too caught up or appears a bit too contrived in the effort.  Cats all night talked about a “tie” or conveyed how strong McCain fared in this.  We don’t think these cats were really watching what we saw last night.  Debate 101, we thought, dictates that composure is key, maintain a little cool, show empathy with the audience and succintly pose the argument.  But, apparently, based on the analysis of the day, conventional wisdom on “How to Debate Effectively” is thrown out.

McCain was irritable, cranky and downright grumpy in all his body language. Perhaps this is what his previous effort to postpone the debate was all about: he didn’t really want to be there.  He didn’t really want to face his opponent, the campaign – to him – now becoming awfully more personal and nasty than it should be.  We know about this McCain – the dude with the hot temper; molten wads of anger that flash as bright as his gray hair.

We don’t want to say who “looked more Presidential” or won this debate except to say that Obama consistently talked about or referenced the everyday struggles of average American families – from paying mortgages, paying for gas “that’s killing them” to paying for their kid’s computer.  Which may have went a long way towards further stripping away the elitist label so frequently utilized by Republicans (and nay saying Democrats) who really want to say he’s too “uppity” for his own good. But, he did what he was supposed to do: personalize the economic crisis.  Show that, yeah, I know what’s up – especially as the son of a single mother raising her boy on food stamps.

He empathized where McCain did not; voters, we’re a bit certain, wanted to here if they will have jobs the next year or if they will have a house.  Through the diatribes on Obama not “understand[ing]” to the placating, overdone displays of campaign fake on “honor” and bracelets from grieving mothers and the almost senile grandpa-like tirades on the dangers of talking with cats you don’t like, McCain primarily talked about … himself.  Once, he mentioned “American families.”

Frankly, they didn’t want to get verbally bludgeoned about earmarks and reigning in government spending.  And, this is where the Washington insider, the 30+ years of Capitol Hill showed in John McCain; the Senate-speak about how he’s not “Ms. Congeniality” (a phrase that we’re just about rich on because we get a dime everytime someone says it, including him) and “I’m the guy …” this and “I’m the guy …” that … is the “maverick.”  McCain pretty much spoke in a harshly worded vernacular of quickly crafted McCain-isms and catch phrases about “maverick,” “earmarks,” “cutting spending.”  As though fixing the economy is just a matter of simply striking off some line items in a bill.

Were we watching the same debate?  Because, frankly, idiocy appeared to rear its ugly head on one side of the stage that night.  Who knows: maybe that’s what most Americans still want.

A few cynical theories/thoughts on this week’s “bailout” saga …

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on September 27, 2008

Theory 1 is that this past week’s drama over Wall Street “bailouts” could pretty much be political posturing by the White House in an effort to bolster the GOP nominee.  Initially, signs of economic turmoil meant a plus for Obama, who could now stick to topics rather than gossip and culture wars since his opponent pretty much admits to not knowing much about what currently afflicts the nation. However, McCain flips the script, a fast buddy-up with the White House to appear decisive and Presidential.  This becomes the “engineered” event (on some levels) that many expected; the game changer that changes the race.

Theory 2 is that constant uncertainty over the first debate only fuels the speculation that McCain is struggling to buy more time for his running mate, Palin.  It’s no mystery she’s getting coached in preparation for the one VP debate – one could argue that if enough time is bought (literally and figuratively), we may not see a VP debate.

Theory 3: AP/Yahoo poll on the race factor comes out, McCain camp gets all hype about, and – more than likely – assumes they’ve got things locked.  Days later, a Washington Post poll shows Obama leading by 9 points.  McCain’s camp flips out on this latest poll, stunned by the sudden turn of fortune after assuming a November win would hinge on bigoted White voters.  Hence, a mad rush to spark drama, a belligerant move to postpone the debate which ends up finding McCain getting punk’d and punking himself since he ended up on the stage Friday night anyway. Nice try.

A few sporadic thoughts on the increasingly racialized tone of the race …

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on September 26, 2008

The closer we get to Nov. 4th, the more tense it gets, of course. But, watching the tone of the race take on an increasingly racialized tone – either subtle or not-so-subtle references.  What do you think about this?  We never really talked about it, but now there was a flood of news on a recent AP/Yahoo poll showing quite a few White voters who won’t vote for Obama because he’s Black.

Some concern over what happens the day after – if Obama loses.  Say he loses and the exit polls find that one of the main reasons (if not the main reason) he lost is because a huge chunk of White voters couldn’t bring themselves to vote for this cat.  So, the question is:
1) How will Black folks respond?  Perhaps middle class/working middle class Black folks will be upset/angry/depressed, going about daily business with a heightened sense of awareness that racial tensions are going to be inflamed over the loss and that many White folks will now feel even more empowered to further impose their power.  But, at the end of the day, nothing different about that, right?  
Since Obama appears each day as more than just a Presidential candidate to certain demographics, being treated like the second coming of King, what does that mean.  If he loses, could we have a “flashpoint” of tension occur?  There are a few who worry on this; then others who say that the reasoning behind a loss would be so nuanced that speculation of a completely racial vote would be just that: speculation.  Plus, as the economy tanks: who would really care?

But, as history shows, when the economy tanks, societies act out and use race/religion as a scapegoat.

The disproportionate impact of the economy on African Americans …

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on September 16, 2008

Recent economic turmoil will bring to light the disproportionate impact negative economic indicators typically have on African Americans.  2 million African Americans are out of work, losing 55,000 jobs alone since December 2007. And while the national unemployment rate is 6.1%, the Black unemployment rate is 11%, up from 9% in 2000.  That’s more than twice the unemployment rate of Whites (5%) and higher than Latinos (8%).  Black wages are at a standstill, only growing at an annual rate of 0.2% since 2000.

Based on these indicators disproportionately impacting African-Americans, there is more evidence as to the very high stakes nature of this election. Clearly, this election is not a laughing matter (despite the incessant chuckling of former NYC Mayor Rudy Guiliani on a recent installment of Meet the Press). It is not an election to be toyed with, and the domestic and global ramifications are very real.

That’s why the recent tone of the campaign is very disconcerting and irresponsible. The silver lining in the data is that, perhaps, as it circulates, it will wake us up. The larger American electorate and media must really stop the focus on irrelevant campaign gossip, innuendo and cheeky personality tests.

We need a frank discussion on those essential “bread and butter” topics.” And, contrary to the bigoted notions of pollsters and pundits, African-Americans have those discussions everyday — long before this election started — since the reality of the data is a constant in our lives.

Why Philly was right on Charlie Gibson …

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on September 12, 2008

Palin appears very well coached, very well scripted in what amounts to her first major interview on the national stage.  The real test is for the media: does it allow itself to get bullied/punked into soft-balling the running mate due to phony outcries of sexism from the GOP? Or, does it do what it’s supposed to do by seriously vetting the unknown Alaskan Governor?  Charlie Gibson – rightly booed and hissed by Philadelphians during his sub-par Democratic primary debate performance – just doesn’t seem like the advocate for due diligence some would prefer.  But, that’s why you pick him if your looking for the “deference” McCain campaign manager Rick Davis demands.

The unfortunate thing about this interview – her first – is that it is even scheduled; that it is even staged and scripted as it, frankly, is.  No one is singling out Palin for hardball-style journalism; it’s just that many need to know – with only 54 days left till November 4th – who this person is.

As far as performance, she maintained.  She was, clearly, coached very well.  She’s also, obviously, a bit hardline on foreign policy issues in a way that appears similar to current policy.  That’s a bit worriesome considering the current situation.  But, it remains to be seen whether she can handle the nuances or the unexpected questions.  Gibson appeared predictable and too polite.

In all of this, we’re paying way too much attention to Palin.  Voters elect Presidents; we don’t elect Vice-Presidents.  And, there is a concern here that we’re spending too much time discussing the new running mate and her polling impact and not enough time about candidate platforms and key issues.  In a week when the federal government takes over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, national discourse devolves into rhetorical barbs over pigs and lipstick.

The Pig’s Lipstick

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on September 11, 2008

The media frenzy over Sarah Palin in the aftermath of the Republican convention was predictable.  First: headlines needed another star to outgun the “celebrity” aura of Barack Obama – some polls did indicate a bit of Obama-fatigue from likely voters, hence one of the reasons behind his week long disappearance into Hawaiian fauna prior to Denver.  But, headlines also need … headlines.  They hunger for drama as a way to attract eyeballs and advertisers and this unknown from the far reaches of the Artic tundra fit that bill with her bits of family and political baggage.

We won’t get into the mechanics of the “Lipstick on a Pig” fiasco – excpet to say that the media and the electorate is just as much to blame as the campaigns for instigating the conversation.  We don’t pay attention to the policy debates, the “white papers” and the agendas; in fact, most of us yawn because it gets too “heady” or it’s not “marketed” right.  Now, we get testy when one of the major campaigns appears to insult our collective electoral intelligence.  Negative campaigning with negative tones and ridiculous slandering is used because, for some absurd reason, we keep on responding to it.  On a recent Hardball segment, Chris Matthews rightly states that our democracy is being “insulted.” But, he can’t resist the temptation to talk about the “weapons of mass distraction” for his entire hour.

On another note, in Groff/Ellison’s recent Washington Times piece, there was mention of the fact that this is being framed into the new cultural war.  Never mind about the infinite amounts of hypocrisy being shed by Republicans – could one ever imagine that modern Republicans (of all partisans) would be whining about the evils of sexism?  The point in that column was that the race is, at the moment, being defined as “Main Street vs. Martin Luther King Blvd.”  That could be true considering the hype surrounding the latest Great White Female Hope now crusading against Obama.  When media reports talk of “women voters” getting excited over Palin, what’s not said is – once again – another round where White women voters are being pitted against the Black man.  The symbolism and messaging is uncanny: Black man and White woman each fighting for a power spot typically controlled and defined by White men.  It will be very interesting to watch how Obama and Palin (each clawing their way to the top of an exclusive White men’s club) will eventually cancel each other out, allowing McCain to ultimately “save” the White House from cultural transformation.

Where are the animal rights activists?

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on September 11, 2008

First: either little reporting or just little heard from those “fanatical” animal rights activists who wile out when celebrities wear furs at red carpet galas, yet appear eerily silent when super “hockey mom” Alaskan Gov. and GOP running mate is celebrated for her infamous animal hunting.  Maybe it’s just some of us, but we’re finding this recent photo (and several others) a bit disturbing.  Well, since she’s not former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, we assume she got the typical media double standard pass on animal cruelty.  We’re not excusing Vick for being a knucklehead; we’re just saying it’s funny how her incessant celebration of “moose gutting” is barely getting noticed for what it is: cruel.  Please: spare us the banter about differences between organized hunting and dog fight gambling, because it’s still animal cruelty at the end of the day.  Hunting to survive we understand; hunting to showcase a moose head on a family wall we never quite caught up with that.

McCain doesn’t know what he got himself into …

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on September 4, 2008

Who is Sarah Palin? Those of us watching her on television are not the only ones asking that question. It seemed as though delegates and the throngs of convention-goers in St. Paul are struggling to convince themselves that she’s the right pick.

What we did see is a running mate come very close to upstaging the party’s nominee. A repulsive and surreal monologue replay of Reese Witherspoon plays Tracey Flick in the underground classic ‘Election.’ We walk away from this having no real sense of what she can do – but, we have a greater sense of how many animals she’s hunted down. There is something rather troubling and awfully surreal about what’s transpiring in the Xcel Center this week.”

It’s difficult to accept the assessment from some of the network pundits that this was such a ‘great speech.’ There was no real connection beyond the base of the Republican party. No energy outside the Xcel Center.

Instead, the tone of this convention appears to be more about Palin than John McCain. By hyping up her ‘executive’ experience, she’s actually taking shots at the guy who picked her as his running mate. There’s doubt as to whether or not McCain understands what he got himself into.

Tonight, we saw a lot of sarcastic zingers and one-liners from Palin. All we know is she’s a gun-toting “hockey mom” with kids who have unique names. There was no mention of the economy during the entire 45-minutes of her speech, no clear picture of what she might do to solve some pressing problems of the day. She claims an Obama presidency will raise taxes, but she conveniently forgets she raised taxes as Mayor of Wisilla to build a hockey rink.

The base clearly loved it – but, did it resonate with the rest of the American electorate? Clearly, there are a handful of folks who are undecided. And, perhaps, the loud, surreal comedic approach mixed with anti-Obama chest thumping is what some of them want to see. Yet, all we hear are snide remarks and subtly racist comments about “community organizing” and people losing their jobs without any attempt at mentioning the economy.

Ultimately, Republicans are making a rather targeted attempt to re-ignite the culture wars. Urban America versus Small-town Main Street America. Welcome to the 21st century culture wars, the same divisive script that won Republicans the majority of the previous Presidential elections. We’ll learn very soon whether or not this still works.

Reflections on not being at the RNC …

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on September 3, 2008

The energy (or lack thereof) in St. Paul’s Xcel Center appears nowhere near what was felt in both the Pepsi Center and that historic Woodstock, Part Deux-like day at Invesco Field in Denver.  Still recovering from that – so much energy that there was no real time to blog.  So worn out, we actually passed on free passes into Wyclef Jean and Kanye West concerts.  On the real: there is some relief we opted out of St. Paul.  After a week of the euphoria and multicultural love-fest that best captured Denver, St. Paul would have left cats angry, bitter or depressed – either way, someone on staff would’ve ended up hurting some smart-allecky, bow-tie wearing White College Republican or taking it out on a hotel wall.  Someway, we would’ve been choking on that anti-riot chemical we hear St. Paul police are using on thousands of anti-Bush demonstrators.  Because Denver was so peaceful, with little to no disturbances, the fuzz stocked up in preparation for cats protesting the pasty patriotism fakeness of the 2008 RNC.

This convention is as crunchy as it gets, folks.  There are many White faces; the few faces of color are either lost, paid or downright confused.  We’re not going off on a typical “sellout” rant because we appreciate the diversity of opinion in the community, but these very few, handful of brothers and sisters at the RNC have got to be feeling quite lonely.

And, we’re not just saying that because its a Republican convention.  Republicans can throw down, too. But, this year, there are a lot of them not feeling it either. Come on: at least play some live music on the convention floor.  You couldn’t find a good Jimi Hendrix cover band?  They couldn’t do Bruce Springstein scores since the DNC got dibs on that. What about some country? Or, is it just that they can’t find any major musicians who want to be affiliated with this mess?

It doesn’t go unnoticed that the first major speaker of the convention is a very unpopular President. Not to mention, he’s the first President in several decades not attending a major party convention. That’s a very interesting way to set the tone of the convention. In fact, the President appeared both disconnected from the audience and somewhat less than enthusiastic about the nominee and his running mate.

This is the most experienced White House in the history of the country – and look where we are. It’s clear that the McCain campaign is drawing a line in the sand on the perceived strength of his military service record. But: is that really the big issue for American voters?

The last four Presidential candidates with the most military experience have lost. WWII veteran President Bush I in 1992, losing his second term to then novice Gov. Bill Clinton (D-AR); WWII veteran Senator Bob Dole (R-KS) losing in 1996; Vietnam vet Sen. Al Gore (D-TN) losing in 2000 and Vietnam vet Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) losing in 2004. All of them attempted to tie their military service to some elusive link to Presidential readiness. And with the economy the way it is, Americans are displaying a natural tendency to look forward rather than look back.

The President and his party are using too many nostalgic military platitudes. That may prove quite a gamble in this election as questions abound on whether or not that message truly resonates with the American electorate.

On another note, Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (D-CT) address before the RNC should cost him his coveted chairmanship. The Lieberman speech is most notable for being chock full of the mischaracterization that Sen. Obama doesn’t reach across the aisle – which one is not certain of considering he’s got major Republican Senators like Sen. Dick Luger (R-IN) and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), openly supporting him. And if Lieberman’s speech doesn’t carry any sort of political punishment, it should cost Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) his leadership post, thereby creating a political landing zone for Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY).  This may already be in the works.