Archive for the ‘Economy’ category

Every Writer Needs an Editor, Every Actor Needs a Director, Every President Needs a Critic

October 20, 2009

What is the best way to criticize our government?

If it is true that in order for a successful democracy to function, the people must always question the actions of the government, how exactly does one go about doing that?

I say this because we have a president now who is popular with a certain portion of the population and unpopular with the other. Barack Obama, elected under promises of “hope” and “change,” enjoys support from liberals and moderates and hostility from those on the right. These are rough generalizations, of course, and there are plenty of exceptions all around.

Those on the left hope Obama will increase the size of the federal government as a way to combat our nation’s problems. Universal healthcare (or something resembling that), bailouts of failing banks, federal stimulus packages, and increasing federal funding for several programs including alternative energy are all ways Democrats hope to better serve the nation.

There are plenty of voices on the right, both in Congress and in the media, who disagree with this style of governance. They don’t just disagree with it, they hate it. They hate it so much they will call our president anything from “Hitler” to a “socialist” to a “Communist.” Communist?  That’s an insult that was thought to be as extinct as McCarthyism.

But name calling aside; there are other voices other than Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, and Sean Hannity who have issues with the current administration’s way of handling both domestic and foreign affairs.

But those voices are never talked about amid the screaming and shouting of those in talk radio, right-leaning blogs, and the infamous Fox News. They seem to be getting all the press these days. A year after the exciting election of America’s first African American president has seen nothing but hate, disdain, and bitterness from those on both sides of the aisle.

But why? Why are the media (especially the liberal media) giving these loud mouthed blowhards so much free publicity? Why is Bill O’Reilly’s face currently on the front page of Slate.com? Why are so many liberal commentators like Leonard Pitts, Jr. and Keith Olbermann spending almost all their precious time complaining about neo-conservatives when they are no longer in any positions of power?

For our supposed new era of “Hope and Change,” we are seeing a significant amount of bitterness from the left. They are right to be upset at how loud and obnoxious far right conservatives are being right now. But don’t they have the smarts to know that if they keep on battling with them night after night; America may soon get disenfranchised with them too?

But that is a whole other discussion. For now, people in the “loyal opposition” need to know the best way to criticize their government, which brings us to the original question. Is screaming at your opponents and calling them derogatory names going to make much of a difference? So far, it has, and it has not.

There were enough folks convinced about “death panels” and all other sorts of horror stories regarding Obama’s health reform proposals. Those series of disastrous town hall meetings held over the summer became shouting matches instead of intelligent discussions. This was caused by fear-baiting instigated by right winged media figures who want nothing more than to see Obama fail. The spiteful name “Obamacare” should be a good indication of that attitude.

So it seems that for those on the right, the right way to criticize your government is to be civil about it and learn as much as you can about the actual issues being discussed, not talking points established by voices on the radio. No one will even consider talking to you if all you do is shout, scream, and wildly flail your arms in the air.

But what about those on the left? How should they take criticism? There are a couple of answers to this. The first is to realize that not every critic of Obama is a gun-toting, Bible-thumping, homophobic, racist, fascist right winger. There are those on the left who feel that Obama is not taking reform far enough and fear our current woes could come back later in the future unless more rigid regulations are placed on certain businesses.

There are liberals like The New York Times’ Paul Krugman who feels that Obama needs to spend more money, not less, to get us out of the recession. One round of stimulus spending is not sufficient to combat unemployment and the collapsed financial system. More spending should be on the way, regardless of what it does to the federal deficit.

And there are intelligent conservatives like David Brooks and George Will who are far from fear mongering “birthers” and bigots. They hold on to conservative principals without becoming too militaristic or angry. Unlike Rush or Bill O, they argue from logic, reason, and facts instead of emotion, half truths, and flat out lies. They are the type of oppositional voices that President Obama and our current Congress need, not fringe lunatics.

One should not forget about the millions of Americans (and for that matter, those around the world) who fell in love with Obama and think he can do no wrong. Monsieur Barack had plenty of fans who loved his charisma, promises, and personal story that carried him to election victory over the old and unflattering John McCain.

Those who think Obama is one step below Jesus need to realize that criticism is necessary in order for a presidency to succeed. Abraham Lincoln, arguably one of our greatest presidents ever, famously appointed a “team of rivals” to his cabinet. Lincoln appointed William Seward, Salmon Chase, and Edward Bates to his cabinet despite all of them being former opponents for the Republican nomination in 1860. Despite disharmony, internal fighting, and contempt for their boss, these men helped Lincoln reunite a fragmented America and end the inhumane institution of slavery.

This is why Obama fanatics should not be scared about criticisms heaped upon their political savior. In fact, GOP input in writing up the healthcare bills have made them stronger and more likely to pass both the House and Senate.

The best way to criticize our government, you may ask? Beside civility and intelligence, humility should also be added to our list. No one is perfect, and we should be willing to acknowledge that. If the right can clean up their act and treat everyone as adults (including themselves), the left should respond by welcoming oppositional ideas and taking them seriously. If the Bush team had done that 8 years ago, do you think we would be in the messes that we are now?

Not everyone who criticizes our president is a racist who “cannot stand seeing a black man in the White House,” a phrase used by many Obama supporters to counter the harsh treatment from the right. At the end of the day, sometimes politics is more important than race. And sometimes we see racist smears where none exist (I may not may not be talking about Jimmy Carter).

Playing the race card does nothing to get foes to the negotiating table. Neither does bigotry, name calling, and paying attention to half the truth. But all these ideas have been shared before by many other people in previous times. But I think we should all be reminded of this every once in a while.

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Oh, How the Mighty Have Fallen

June 2, 2009

I never thought I would see the day when General Motors, one of the most powerful corporations in the United States, file for bankruptcy. GM has enjoyed financial dominance for as long as I can remember. But that’s what happens when a nation goes through a major recession. Companies go under. Even the mighty ones.

Chrysler, another big automobile producer, filed for bankruptcy on Apr. 30. They have been significantly reduced and now are joined with the Italian automobile company Fiat. The newly structured Chrysler will now aim to build more fuel efficient vehicles in an effort to survive in this new anti-petroleum world.

Should we blame those global warming enthusiasts for destroying the auto industry as we know it? That’s being a little harsh, but the fact that Americans are no longer purchasing large gas-guzzling SUVs certainly didn’t help their cause. Chrysler and GM’s demises can be traced through a combination of folks not buying large fuel-inefficient cars, people not buying cars period, and the rough economy. So, Chrysler and GM are victims of the recession. And what caused the recession? Those greedy banks. Oh Wall Street, how much do we loathe thee?

It is unknown how many people will lose their jobs as a result of these bankruptcies. Thousands have been the initial predictions. 20,000 to be exact. The Obama administration and the Treasury Department gave GM a June 1 deadline to create a restructure plan. As it turns out, this plan will grant taxpayers a 60% share in the new GM. This is amazing considering the United Auto Workers union owns 55% of the new Chrysler. As many as 100,000 additional jobs may be lost if dealerships are closed. Employees directly connected with GM are not the only ones who suffer. People responsible for selling and making car parts also suffer indirectly.

All this means that Obama’s plan to bailout the auto industry has partially worked. The companies cannot be completely saved, but at least they can still breath. Most companies that file for bankruptcy never see the light of day again. GM and Chrysler are given second chances. This is good considering thousands of jobs are at stake. When you consider the human aspect just as much as the economic factors, this is no laughing matter.

Also no laughing matter is the fact that the New York Stock Exchange will no longer list GM stock prices. GM can also say goodbye to being listed on the Dow Jones Industrial Average. This is the final stake in the grave. When the stock markets no longer care about you, that’s when you know you’re really dead.

So what does this all mean? In this short run, a lot of people are going to be unemployed in the Detroit/Auburn Hills area. High unemployment means more government assistance is necessary to make sure these families can provide food on the table. Social strife will follow, along with higher rates of depression, crime, family troubles, and community disharmony. There will be calls for more government spending in covering healthcare costs, as if these calls are not happening already. Labor unions will grow in power as they will be asked to carry the burden of providing basic pensions. Foreign companies like Fiat will increase their hold on domestic labor and will be able to set the agenda for the future. In other words, things are not looking good.

During the Bush administration when outsourcing expensive jobs to India became topical fodder for late night television, more American jobs were being sent overseas because companies didn’t want to pay them livable wages. Why pay an American an actual salary when a foreigner with a lower cost of living will do it cheaper? This outraged many, especially those whose jobs are being outsourced.

But today we are seeing a very different format of outsourcing: instead of jobs being sent overseas, foreign companies are coming here to get a slice of the crumbling pie. Fiat and other international creditors (China, anyone?) are now in a position to make decisions that will guide the agenda of previously red, white, and blue corporations. Chrysler and GM will now make smaller, more fuel efficient cars. This should go well with the Obama administration’s plan to increase corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards even more than it is.

Conservatives are spinning with rage at all these developments. The federal government is taking part ownership of private companies. American corporations are being owned by foreign organizations. The free market system of Reaganomics seems to be failing right before our very eyes. Labor unions are getting very cozy with the new Democratic administration. People are losing their jobs. CEOs are losing their jobs, which means they won’t be able to make generous donations to the Republican Party anytime soon. Oh the horror, the horror.

But when the going gets tough, you got to do what you got to do in order to survive. We should be troubled by what is going on. Bailing out private companies does set a bad precedent. In the future, if other large corporations fall victim to a bad economy or poor business decisions, can they ask Congress for stimulus money and automatically get it? Republicans should hope not. Democrats are trying not to think about it. The rest of us are just sick and tired of everything related to the word “recession.”

Democrats should not ignore the concerns brought up by the Republicans. Though they lost the 2008 election big time, are extremely unpopular right now, and seem to have no definitive leadership, they bring up legitimate points. Spending taxpayer money in order to solidify toxic debt is a risky endeavor. Is there any guarantee that the American people will see their money again? No one can know for sure.

Republicans have brought up the possibility of splitting up GM and Chrysler into smaller companies instead of selling them out to foreign interests. Dividing these two corporations into smaller companies allows for toxic assets to be distributed at smaller values, if one company fails there will still be others to continue afterward, and it reduces the roles of both the federal government and foreign corporations in rescuing these large behemoths.

It is difficult to say whether this plan will work better than the status quo. I am not an expert at the economy enough to make a credible educated guess. All I know is that this is what is going to happen and there is very little we can do to stop it.

There can be some good to come out of all this. Really? Yes, there is. This should be a wake up call to Wall Street executives and future financiers that their poor decisions affect not just their jobs, but the jobs of others. The auto industry are unintended victims of years of greed and mismanagement. This should teach us to be more careful in the future.

Also, if newer cars can have more efficient CAFE standards and lower our dependency on producing oil, that will always be a good thing. Things will get worse before they get better. The transition from oil to less oil (and later on, wind, electrical, solar, and nuclear power) will not be easy. Proponents of this new system look to this current crisis as proof that drilling for more oil is of utmost importance. What they fail to recognize is that the rest of the world is going greener. If we don’t follow suit, we will fall behind indefinitely.

One can hope that we will emerge from this crisis stronger and more sustainable. There are some hopeful signs. People will always need cars. If we can get through this tough calamity relatively unscathed and create a whole line of smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles, people will purchase them, guaranteed. Like the old saying in “Field of Dreams,” if you build it, he will come. If Chrysler and GM build these new eco-friendly cars, we will buy them. You can put your money on that. That is, if you have money to do so.

If this whole plan fails and this recession worsens, then a new plan should come into play. But for now, let us pray this brief depression will last for only a year at the most and we can return to stability as usual by 2010 or 2011 when these new cars will be ready for the market. And then, let the free market do its thing. Let the Green Revolution be our way of getting our economy back on its feet.

That way, the mighty can reclaim their title of mightiness and we can all drive the cars that we need to. And hopefully words like “recession” and “bailout” can finally be put to bed. One can only hope.

Graduation: Part II

May 20, 2009

Graduating from college is like an Olympic athlete running a race. They sprint as fast as they can, they huff and puff and give it their all until they approach the finish line. And when they finally do, it’s all over.

All that hard work, all that blood, sweat, and tears, is over so quickly. You give 110% toward finals week only to have it all end in just a short while. That is how most of us college graduates feel at this moment. Unless we have a job lined up immediately, most of us have the luxury of sitting back and reflecting on all that has happened. It’s weird coming back home and being able to sleep in till noon. I had to wake up at 7:30 every day during finals week in order to cram for my next test. All that mental strain took its toll on morning Friday, when I was finally able to rest.

Thank God I will never have to worry about another finals week for at least a while. Graduation weekend was really tiring. Finishing up finals, senior reflections, Baccalaureate, Commencement, saying goodbye to good friends, packing up and moving out, and doing the long drive from Spokane to Federal Way is no small task. It might take me three years to fully recover. Hopefully not.

But now I get to wait for my summer job to start. I will be working for Stone Soup Theatre, a small Seattle theatre that specializes in producing one acts. They have a yearly summer theatre camp for kids that I assisted directed for last year. This year I get to be an actual director. I might not be working at a job that’s within my major (journalism and mass communications), but it’s something. In this economy, you have to take what you can get.

With graduation comes the fear of the unknown. Most of us don’t have jobs lined up, let alone long term career goals. Many people I talk to are spending the next couple of months job hunting or traveling. That sounds nice. I will be working a little and trying to figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life. For those of us fearing ambiguity, I have to say to them: “lighten up!”

Summer should be a more relaxing time, anyway. The sun is out, the weather is generally nicer, and the possibilities are endless. We can do anything at this point in our lives. We can work, travel, do both, or sit and think about our future. Sounds gloomy, right? Perhaps. But we have another option: we can do something that we would never have done before. Now is our chance to take a pro-active stance on our lives and live out our dreams.

Ever have the fantasy of sitting on the beach, listening to groovy music, and soaking up the rays? Now you can do that. Ever want to take a long road trip with your best buddies and create life-long memories? This is the best time to do it. Ever want to do something so epic and mind-blowing you could only dream about it? Now is the time to attempt that.

Think of college graduation as a beginning, not an ending. Yes, we are no longer college students, but what else has changed? We are still the same people that we were two months ago when we were thinking about classes, tests, and partying. Okay, maybe not partying if you go to Whitworth University. But you get the idea.

The race might be over, but now we are running a different track. A marathon is more like it than an actual sprint. There are no really significant benchmarks left in our lives, unless you count marriage and raising a family. Such thoughts have not occurred to me yet. It’s weird to think that friends of mine are getting married. Where did the time go?

This world isn’t as scary as we might think. Despite the depressing job market, we could not have graduated at a more creative-inducing time. Those of us who need to make a living need to be more creative than our predecessors. Should we pursue our dream jobs or drudge it out at some dead end job that pays the bills? Why not do both? If we can, we should.

For those of us starting this marathon, we have plenty of people who are running it with us. It’s more comforting to go into the unknown when you know you’re going to have friends coming with you. I have plenty of friends in the same boat as I. You don’t see me freaking out, do you? (I might be freaking out a little, but I’m good at hiding it)

For now, I can spend my time practicing theatre and watching the Seattle Mariners play baseball. They might not be playing too well now, but what do you expect? Life will go on. They’ll be back next year.

But you know what? All of us college graduates will be back next year, too. We may not be in a classroom per se, but we’ll be somewhere. Specifically where is now up to us. Scary thought, n’est-ce pas?

Making a Profit while in the Red

March 18, 2009

I thought bailouts were supposed to help institutions that were in need, not those that have an excess amount of money. Oh, how foolish we are.

Recently it was made public by President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Treasury Timothy Geithner that executives at the American International Group (AIG), one of the largest struggling financial companies in America, are giving themselves $165 million in bonuses.

That is a whole heck of a lot of money considering AIG requested and have received at least $170 billion in federal bailout money over the past couple of months. The company, now 80 percent owned by taxpayers, is an unfortunate example of the waste, greed, and political maneuvering that got our country in this mess in the first place.

There is no way that AIG executives deserve one penny of the $165 million they gave themselves. Bonuses. Bonuses for what? Running our economy to the ground? Putting thousands of employees and countless number of homeowners at risk? What are they trying to pull? This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

At any other company, losing $62 billion in the fourth quarter of 2008 would mean financial trouble and debt as large as the Empire State Building. But not at AIG. If small business owners operated their establishments like AIG, they would be considered foolish at best, and criminal at worst. That’s what happens when an institution like AIG gets too big and greedy: they disregard the rules and make up their own. And what a shame to the rest of us who have to pay the price.

After losing that $62 billion, the federal government would give them an additional $30 billion to cover their losses. Talk about Santa Claus giving generously during the holidays.

If Democrats and Republicans can agree on one thing, it’s that this has got to stop. President Obama has promised that future bailouts will have closer oversight in order to prevent travesties like this from happening again. Polls show that American support for these bailouts are slipping. And no wonder. I hope the president makes sure federal money isn’t given out like free chocolate at a candy store. This is taxpayer dollars, not free manna from heaven.

Though oversight is a difficult task, someone needs to do it, whether it be a bi-partisan council or an independent committee. Oversight is being done, but more needs to happen if close to a trillion dollars of our money is going to be given to these idiots.

Are you outraged? You should be.