Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Follow-Up: Obama vs. McCain/Palin/Economy

Many thanks to Wretchard for linking to my previous post, and also thanks to all the commenters both at his site and mine. I would like to reply to some of the issues raised by the various comments:
  • My religion & background: I was born in India, came to America, when I was three, and am from a Hindu family. I would consider myself religious, believing in God, trying to read and grapple with scriptures, and attending our religious functions and festivals regularly.
  • Am I a misogynist because I oppose both Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin being anywhere near the Presidency?: This I must take exception to. I gave my reasons for opposing both of these in previous posts, and those are my reasons. I will elaborate on Sarah Palin below. But would I oppose a woman for President just because she is a woman? Of course not. If Sen. McCain genuinely wanted a female Republican, he could have picked Kay Bailey Hutchinson or Condoleeza Rice. If he needed someone young and very attractive, how about Michelle Malkin (is she >35 to pass the age threshold?)? Personally, I was hoping in August McCain would pick Bobby Jindal who is much more accomplished than Sarah Palin and who I predict will do much more in Louisiana than she has ever done or will do in Alaska.
  • Obama's Record vs. his words: This is a fair criticism, that I focus more on what Obama says. He has little national legislative record of note or accomplishment. He has been a party line voter most of the time in the Senate. As I noted, ordinarily I probably would have gone with McCain based on his honor, service, tax policy, record of bipartisanship, experience, and toughness. But I believe the issues I raised about McCain-Palin are serious ones.
  • Am I anti-religion or anti-Christian? As noted above, I am not anti-religion. But I do value the separation of church and state, both because the state can corrupt the church and doctrines of religious infallibility can destroy state policy. And as a scientist, I do think creationism should not be introduced into school science classes, and I have legitimate worries that Palin, either as a VP, future President, or future Republican nominee would further that cause. To digress, I think God created evolution and we should all leave it at that - the evolutionists who claim evolution contradicts God and the creationists who just blind themselves to all evidence that contradicts their claims are just plain stupid. The latter to me is the greater danger as they are far more numerous and destroying science education would condemn generations of students to not understanding how antibodies are generated in the body, how bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, how drugs targeting epidemics can be generated by selective evolution in vitro and in vivo, and yes, how species share common ancestors. But to summarize my position, I do believe faith and reason are like a pair of shoes - you can go farther with both than just one.
  • Am I pro-Islamic fundamentalist?: This is frankly amusing. Please see my essay vault
- Myths of 9/11:
- Questions on the Quran I and II
- So called liberals need to face facts
- The only root cause
- Free Speech, Slavery, and Islam
- Defining a Religion
- Self-determination?

There are many others in the essay vault that may be of interest to the commenters

On Sen. McCain, I have great personal respect for him and would love to see him as a Secretary of State in an Obama administration - as a liberal hawk, his idea for a "League of Democracies" is nice (to self-promote, I tabled an idea for a Democratic Nations Against Terrorism Organization in this essay in 2006), and his toughness vis-a-vis Russia would be good to have, and it would be rich to have him be the point man on robust diplomacy with Iran. But his odd lack of focus on Pakistan and pretending its military is an ally is long past counterproductive; Pakistan is more of a failed state now after 7 years of Republican-backed military dictatorship. And Pakistan, along with Saudi Arabia, is the the real incubator of evil - let us remember Omar Sheikh, who beheaded Daniel Pearl, and had a key financial role in the 9/11 plot, has still not been extradited to the US. Let us remember AQ Khan who ran a Nukes R Us for years (kudos to the Bush administration for at least impeding his operation and hopefully shutting it down - we don't know because he remains at his home in Pakistan). Let us remember Pakistan's airlift of Taliban and likely al Qaeda fighters from Kunduz in the fall of 2001. And let us remember Pakistan's firing on US helicopters and allied soldiers just weeks ago despite our $11 billion in aid over the last 8 years.

On Obama vs. McCain on the economy, yes there are many unknowns on the economy. But Obama's team of Volcker/Rubin/Summers/Buffett gives confidence in hoping for a Clinton economy redux while McCain's team of Gramm and Fiorina gives considerable worry as to 4 more years of Bushonomics.

On Gov. Palin, several conservatives - George Will, Kathleen Parker, David Frum, David Brooks have noted charitably her frank inadequacy. Why did I say she is not bright or curious? George Bush may not pronounce words properly, but his sentences are understandable. The Couric interview shows she cannot string together sentences coherently or logically. And I don't think it's condescending to question the adequacy of the intelligence of someone who states she is ready to be a hearbeat from the Presidency who went to 5 colleges in 6 years to wind up with a journalism degree to become a sports reporter, and is now reported to believe dinosaurs and humans coexisted because she has seen footprints in dinosaur tracks. As far as curiosity, I would bet serious money that prior to this campaign, she has never read the National Review, Wall Street Journal, or the Weekly Standard, or any publication of substance outside of Alaska. I would even bet she has never read Belmont Club or LGF. Maybe she has not read them even during this campaign. So to put her in a Vice-Presidential role is plain irresponsible.

Notes on the Economy:

I hope yesterday's vote results in a better bill. I did not claim to be an expert in finance (I specifically noted I was not), but wanted to share what I felt were good ideas (and gave credit to those from whom I derived the ideas). I do not think McCain delivered his party, and to criticize Obama for injecting partisanship when it was McCain who stole the show last week is a bit rich. Anyway, I still think the key ideas I noted (suspending mark-to-market, buying equity stakes, restricting golden parachutes, using net worth certificates, buying and restructuring the underlying troubled mortgages, bringing back the trading tax while cutting long-term capital gains tax) are sound ones. And I still think the House Republican's plan for a government backed insurance plan for bad assets seems to me to be a setup for Fannie Mae meets AIG in the future. As for overall budget ideas (these are somewhat old), please see the following:
Focusing on Domestic Issues

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Obama for the Presidency + Notes on the Economy
It’s been a busy summer professionally so I have not been able to post for a while. I have also been waiting to decide who I was going to vote for, and now I am prepared to endorse Barack Obama for the Presidency.
I was seriously considering voting for John McCain well into August due to his strength on national security, less propensity to raise taxes, and his long record of bipartisanship as well as personal honor & service. But Senator McCain’s selection of Governor Sarah Palin, his performance last week with the financial situation, and several things he said in the 1st debate have sealed my decision to recommend Senator Obama.
Let me revisit the key issues where I think Obama is the best choice and discuss McCain’s weaknesses:
  • National Security:
  • Pakistan: Obama has clearly defined Pakistan as the nest of Islamic fundamentalist evil, something which is 8 years overdue and which my conservative friends have only belatedly come to realize. Osama bin Laden and his gang must be hunted down and destroyed for symbolic and strategic value; it is not an easy problem but I think it will be more easily achieved by a leader who recognizes Pakistan is the problem. McCain, in Friday’s night’s debate is out to lunch on Pakistan: he justified Gen. Musharraf’s coup in 1999 by saying Pakistan was a failed state at the time. This is a blatant rewriting of history. Pakistan was led by a democratically elected Prime Minister at the time (certainly not a failed state in the sense of Somalia or pre-2001 Afghanistan). Background: Musharraf invaded india in june 1999 going behind the back democratically elected prime minister, who ordered a withdrawal. When the PM tried to dismiss Musharraf later that year, Musharraf conducted his military coup. This was widely condemned at the time by democrats, republicans, the UN, and the British Commonwealth. The question must be asked: Does John McCain support a military coup by Pakistan, a nuclear-armed state whose military’s intelligence service is in cahoots with al Qaeda and the Taliban, in the future if its democratic government struggles or tries to impose civilian control of the military?
  • Iran: On the surface, McCain projects a far tougher view on how to approach Iran than Obama, and Obama’s willingness to negotiate directly could indeed be construed as weakness. But let us look at the record – McCain’s approach has indeed been tried for 8 years, and Iran has only gotten closer to nuclear weapons. Maybe diplomacy with carrots & sticks has a shot at shifting Iran’s course (I doubt it) or at least building international acquiescence for military action, but ignoring Iran has not achieved anything. And the bottom line is that no US government and certainly no Israeli government will stand aside Iran to get nuclear weapons. Indeed, I’d like to raise the following question with regard to Republican policy on Iran (first noting that Gen. David Petraeus is a truly brilliant commander, and I don’t want to take anything away from him): was the success of the surge in Iraq enabled/bought by US allowing Iran to continue with its Manhattan Project unfettered (including for example that atrocious National Intelligence Estimate last year saying they pulled out of nuke research) and by the US allowing Assad in Syria to get away with the assassination of Rafiq Hariri (the UN "investigation" into that has gone nowhere)? We'll never know the answer, but i think the question should be asked. Iraq is important, but so are Iran and Syria.

  • Iraq: To reiterate my previous positions, readers know I supported the invasion of Iraq and continuing US military involvement. This judgment call is premised on hopefully turning Iraq into a decent democratic country to promote positive change in theMiddle East, a “democratic domino” theory. Readers will also know I have consistently bashed President Bush’s mismanagement and absence of planning, and worried gravely about the primary motives of this administration. Whether this was the right call or not will not be known for decades. I respect and applaud John McCain’s support for the surge; it was vital political cover at the time for that approach. But we are at a point, both militarily and economically, where $10 billion a month and >100,000 soldiers to support Iraq in an effort to have long-term bases there does not make much sense to me. Iraq wants us out by Dec. 2010; Obama proposes us leaving by June 2010 – that is a negotiable difference. We have finite army resources – might these not be better deployed for action against al Qaeda, possibility of action against Iran, and reserve uses elsewhere?
  • Economy/Financial Situation: McCain’s behavior this past week can charitably be called bizarre. There was an apparent deal (maybe, maybe not) on Wednesday and Thursday morning. McCain asked Bush for a photo op meeting Thursday presumably to emerge as a hero with Obama at his side. If anything, McCain backing House Republican proposals which had been previously rejected and then his mysterious silence in that meeting blew up that meeting. What did he accomplish? Delay. Now one can say that might be a good thing (I have grave reservations about a blank check for $700 billion). But he made this big show about returning to Washington to get a deal done. That along with advisors who say we are in a mental recession and who are pretty weak on economics (vs. Obama’s team of Rubin, Summers, Volcker, and Buffett) makes McCain a poor prospect for leading the economy. As far as the bailout package itself, I will highlight some ideas that I think are good (posited by various sources this past week) below.
  • Fiscal Policy: Obama will spend more, McCain will tax less. Neither have addressed entitlements or the national debt. Both will have this $700 billion (probably more) bailout to deal with. Neither are reassuring to me as far as America’s fiscal health long-term. Indeed, McCain's glib debate line about a spending freeze on everything but entitlements/defense/interest on debt/veterans' care is absurd: there is not much left in discretionary spending, and does he want to freeze spending on the FBI/DEA/Homeland Security/National Institute of Health?

  • Health Care: I have concerns about both candidates’ approaches, but I think Obama’s plan makes more sense than McCain’s of just getting rid of the employer health benefit tax credit to set up a “market.”In any case, McCain’s ideas of privatizing the VA, cutting funding for injured veterans, and his abstentions on preserving Medicare fees for doctors this summer make him a bad choice for me.
  • Science: Our long-term outlook as a nation depends on investment in research & development in medicine, engineering, energy technology, nanotechnology, etc. This link is very instructive. I think it shows Obama has thought much more constructively about maintaining America’s scientific pre-eminence.
  • Energy Policy/Environment: Both support offshore drilling (McCain more so), have extended some support for measures against climate change and for nuclear power, and for alternative energy. Emphases will be different. I don’t think there is that much of a difference.
These I think are the key issues to judge the two candidates. On the merits, I give Obama the edge. But McCain’s experience, service, and toughness could have overridden all of that for me. The clincher for me is McCain’s selection of Palin. She is just Bush + Huckabee on high heels. She is not bright, she is not curious, she is not coherent when dealing with probing questions. She is, in the words of Peggy Noonan (Reagan’s speechwriter), “chirpy” about war with Russia, talks about Putin “rearing his head into Alaskan airspace”, and can’t pronounce nuclear properly or speak “caricature”. She plausibly believes (the quote is unclear) that the Iraq war is “God’s plan”; she certainly said a natural gas pipeline in Alaska was God’s will. She is quite likely a creationist. Let me not even mention what Republicans would do if Obama could not speak proper English (either in pronunciation or grammar) or if Obama had a pregnant teenage daughter (even Republicans have already discussed that in passing). But the last is a distraction. McCain is 72 years old; his #2 pick has to have 2 out of 3 traits – experience, intelligence, or wisdom. I think Sarah Palin strikes out on all 3 counts. Obama has done us the favor of keeping Hillary away from the Presidency; may he do us the additional favor of keeping Sarah Palin away as well.
Notes on Financial Crisis:
Let me conclude with my thoughts, based on what I have read this week, about the financial crisis. If I had a $700 billion check, I could think of a lot of things to do with that money besides a Wall Street bailout. But a lot of serious people are saying a credit freeze would cripple America – I am not sure but we probably should not take the chance. I know people will say too much credit got us into this mess – but I have also seen that heroin withdrawal can be fatal and that such patients need detox – maybe this package will be detox; I certainly hope it puts us on that path. I am glad the Democrats have gotten executive compensation caps, equity stakes for the Treasury, and oversight; I am glad the Republicans have blocked some of the Democrats’ dumb ideas. I think the Republicans’s scheme for government backed insurance is weird and possibly dangerous, setting up potential for a Fannie Mae meets AIG situation in the future (a government sponsored enterprise which is an insurance company). Personally, I wonder whether a better plan (and most of these are not my ideas as I am not well-versed in these issues but those I have picked up from various commentaries in the national press and friends) would be:
  • The Fed providing credit for employer payroll, student loans, municipal bonds, i.e., key lines of credit in the economy
  • Purchase of a combination of net worth certificates and some equity (preferred shares; senior stakes) in these insolvent companies by the Treasury
  • Relaxation and rewriting of mark-to-market rules which don’t make sense in the present context
  • Buying troubled mortgages directly, restructuring those deals, and selling those back into the market later
  • Forcing banks to cancel dividends and issue new equity on the private market
  • Bringing back the 0.25% tax on stock trades (which was in force from 1914 to 1966) while cutting long-term capital gains tax somewhat – this would generate revenue while discouraging speculation
  • Encouraging executive compensation plans tied to long-term productivity
These are the best ideas I have seen on the net (Sebastian Mallaby; Anil Kashyap; Raghuram Rajan; Luigi Zingales; William Isaac; William Gross; some of my friends).