Archive for January, 2010

Stocks Sliding Again

There’s no rally in the stock market to commemorate the victory of Scott Brown in Massachusetts.  Between Obama’s newly found tough rhetoric against “too big to fail” banks and questions about whether or not Bernanke can muster enough votes to be confirmed, investors are feeling a bit shaky about the future value of American equities.

In three days, almost 600 points have vanished from the Dow – nearly a 5% drop.  Of course, a lot of this is just the natural result of continued deleveraging despite federal attempts to inflate housing and stock markets with access to cheap and freshly minted money.

As the Congress reveals itself to be increasingly paralyzed and more states fall into budget crises of their own, expect stock markets to stumble once again.

Bernanke Running out of Support

A lot of people (rightfully) blame the Federal Reserve and its member banks for causing and exacerbating the still unfolding financial crisis, and as a symbol of the Fed Bernanke has come under increasing fire from the grass roots, then media, and now from members of Congress themselves.

In a stunning revelation, it has been announced that Bernanke may not have the number of votes required to confirm his re-nomination by Obama.

Many liberals had blasted Obama for his decision to appoint Bernanke for a second term, and his party members in Congress are taking heed of this lesson in the wake of the unexpected Massachusetts Senate race.

The question then – if not Bernanke, who?

Is Massachusetts turning Purple?

In a relatively surprising and somewhat last-minute victory, Republican Scott Brown has won the late Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate seat.

While Mr. Brown counted partially on the support of various “Tea Party” organizations, his platform sounds typical of the “moderate” Republicans that manage to get elected in heavily Democratic districts in solidly blue states. While still being staunchly on social issues like gay marriage or abortion, they are somewhat more willing to negotiate spending plans – especially the ones that bring pork back to their local constituents.

So how will Scott Brown’s election impact the future of Obama’s agenda? Early signs aren’t encouraging, because the 60 vote supermajority they once sort-of enjoyed is now utterly reliant on at least one Republican breaking ranks with party discipline.

CSPAN Dares Democrats to Broadcast Health Debate

The House and Senate have each passed their own versions of the healthcare bill, and now before Obama can sign it all they’ll have to do is work out the differences and come up with something that both chambers can agree on.

Now, there are quite a few differences in the bills, with the House version being a small help to some poor people and the Senate bill largely being a massive corporate give-away, so there’s quite a bit of interest among the voters and political analysts as to which one will ultimately shape the law of the land.

The CEO of CSPAN is even offering to help the Democrats publicize their “great” reform of a critical social system – but the party’s leadership doesn’t seem too interested in showing their constituents how this money-stuffed sausage is made.

Of course, its not like reconciliation of other legislation gets broadcast on cable TV, so this isn’t a new trend toward secrecy (its just the old one we’re used to by now.)  Instead, CSPAN is giving the Democrats a chance to live up to Obama’s campaign ideals of open discussions and transparent political processes.  Only problem here is that publicizing the political process is unlikely to win them many fans – especially as they’ve gone out of their way to make sure the insurance companies are the #1 group represented by said reform.

A public conference would probably require Congress to stand up for the common voting folk, but it would do incredible damage to their ability to raise funds and deliver on the expectations of their corporate sponsors.

I won’t be holding my breath for live coverage of the legislative reconciliation process, but I’m getting the popcorn ready for what will promise to be an interesting public response to an incredibly unpopular bill.  Aren’t you glad to know that you’ll be forced into buying an inefficient product from a publicly traded for-profit business?

Terrorists Still Incredibly Unlikely to Hurt You

Despite all of the fear-mongering and the huge military & defense budgets we expand every year, terrorists pose a risk so small and insignificant that we may as well worry about the risk of lightning or asteroids.  Actually, spending some of this money on science might not be a bad thing, and our efforts against the weather will probably have more of an effect than our efforts to change people’s behavior and insulate ourselves perfectly from political violence.

FiveThirtyEight calculates the odds of being killed in an airborn terrorist attack at about 1 incident per 16,553,385 departures.

[T]he odds of being on given departure which is the subject of a terrorist incident have been 1 in 10,408,947 over the past decade. By contrast, the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are about 1 in 500,000.

People have a hard time judging risks in relative terms – and these leads people to obsess over seemingly horrible disasters that are incredibly unlikely to happen.  In the mundane world of reality and statistics, anyone concerned about security and mortality should be taking a look at our cars, roads, and medical system.  Its not a ‘maybe they’ll kill us more in the future’ situation there, its something that is guaranteed to kill a whole lot of Americans this year and every year following.

So forget the fact that our militarism kills innocent civilians, or ignore the fact that our massive spending does little to secure us, but at least accept the fact that there was really nothing to be afraid of in the first place.  Let’s redirect the violent efforts of our war on terror to more constructive purposes – and the progress we create will do more to keep us safe and respected around the world than anything our guns could accomplish now.

Democrats Face Election Fears

It is fairly rare in American political history for any party to long maintain a super-majority above 60 seats in the Senate, so its a natural fear that they may lose some elections in the coming term.

Complicating this is the fact that the final healthcare bill was relatively unpopular by the time it had been compromised down to little more than a big corporate giveaway.

Unfortunately, a loss on this legislation would potentially be worse than a victory, so the partisan reps will continue to support it despite the damage that they’ll still receive for doing so.

Of course, any losses the Democrats suffer do not necessarily become gains for traditional Republicans.  In many polls, voters would support “Tea Party” Republicans over GOP-insiders, but since the GOP controls the Tea Party PACs it probably doesn’t matter too much.  Republicans who do get elected will probably run on a more populist platform than we’ve seen in the past, and many of them will set themselves up in opposition to both Obama and other aspects of  Bush’s legacy.

Another source of danger for the Democratic super-majority is the rise of progressive parties and the general drift of those on the farther parts of the left who have so far been disappointed with Obama’s progress in changing or undoing many of Bush’s administrative trends.

In the coming years, voter dissatisfaction and Congress’s inability to please both sponsors and voters will lead us to a wild ride that re-aligns American political alliances for generations to come.  Some of the players are starting to group up and get ready for the coming election rounds, but we probably won’t conclusively know what the new scene looks like for another six or eight years.

Iran Leadership Under Social Pressure

Mass protests against the theocratic government in Tehran have put the leadership of Iran under significant pressure to demonstrate order and control.

The scenes on the streets are not unlike 1979, and there are rumors that the supreme leader may need to seek refuge abroad (possibly in Russia) if things do not calm down in the immediate future.  The last time this happened, a new government and constitution were established.

Iran’s ruling media has insisted that all of the dissent is manufactured abroad and imported through the internet, and they’ve even gone so far as to suggest that the United Kingdom is the primary organizer and supporter of the protesters.  From an online perspective, it is always hard to tell who is really saying what due to the cloak of anonymity that modern broadcasting technology seems to provide.  While the governments can strong arm some ISPs to acquire personal data about particular users, those on the web must remain skeptical of what they hear others claim.

The government in Iran is theocratic and authoritarian in nature – so regardless of who is actually organizing the resistance, its hard for me to sympathize with the clerical leadership and the winners of questionable elections.