HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

February 25, 2008
Implication for the Long Run

Developments Last Week

John Turner


Perils in Obama Land
February 19, 2008

The danger for Barack Obama now is that in American campaigns just last too long. Since he has been designated the Hope Pope in the pages of the New York Times it won’t be long till the late night talk shows take up the term. And there’s no telling what they might do with it.

The life of inspiration in the United States grows ever shorter. That’s a good thing generally, but it’s not good for one whose chief product is inspiration. David Brooks, in a satirical piece, says that many are now suffering from OCS, that is, Obama Comedown Syndrome. Some are so far into it they’re even asking whether the words that lifted them to ecstasy have any meaning. That’s a scary sign.

It may be that the chief skill needed by Obama to waft him into the White House will be not eloquence but self-denigrative humor. When you think about it, that’s not a bad test. A man who can convincingly make fun of himself might be just the medicine needed for a nation that has almost no ability to make fun of itself. Maybe he can teach us something -- that is, if he has the sense to see the need of it.


Protection
February 21, 2008

The Pentagon has just spent $60 million to shoot down a space satellite in a decaying orbit. They did it, they tell us, to enhance our safety and protect us from the possibility of poisonous gases being released in our back yards from the fuel tank.

Anybody who believes that, please get in touch. I have a special deal for you.

I just saw a Navy official discuss the explosion with a Fox News analyst, who pretended to be exploring the reasons for the effort. As the interview came to a close, the Fox News guy expostulated enthusiastically, “God bless America!”

That should tell you something about what actually took place.


Roadway Safety
February 21, 2008

Only once, yesterday, driving up from Florida, did a large truck come close to killing me by cutting into my lane when it was still right beside me and I had no place to go. I should be grateful for this sterling performance from the nation’s truckers. The thing is, though, I saw at least a half-dozen other incidents when big trucks came close to killing other people. I don’t guess I should care about the latter. That’s vaguely socialistic and certainly shouldn’t be allowed to interfere with patriotic commerce. Still -- I guess for sentimental reasons -- it troubles me when I see a mechanistic behemoth going ninety miles an hour forcing tiny, puny little cars off the road, even if the car drivers are violating the national ethos by not driving Hummers, or pickup trucks twenty feet long.

For those of you who are automotive weaklings like myself, I advise you be on the lookout for Federal Express truck 805562, Indiana license plate P102584 (or something pretty close). He’s the one who almost got me yesterday.


Which Story?
February 22, 2008

I'm confused about the big John McCain flap of the last several days. From the article in the New York Times, I got the impression that the issue was whether McCain had allowed a personal relationship to influence his votes in the Senate. But from most of the commentary I've heard about the piece the whole question seems to be whether he had sex with a woman.

I have to say, in passing, that the way the Times  is described on talk radio and local TV stations has almost nothing to do with the reality of the paper. A good many of the people who profess to hate the Times have never held a single copy of it in their hands. After being limited to the Lakeland Ledger for a couple weeks, I felt a great relief in being able to read the Times again. It is so superior to what most of Americans accept as a newspaper it scarcely falls into the same category of publication.

But to return to McCain: it's none of my business whether he had a girlfriend. It is my business if a personal relationship with a lobbyist influenced his vote. You would think we could get that distinction straight. Yet it seems to be beyond most of the pundits who have played up the story, whether they approve of McCain or despise him. I suppose they claim they're playing to the real interests of the people. And if they are, we're in a sad state.


Financial Crisis
February 23, 2008

I assume the average voter is bewildered by the troubles in the U.S. financial centers. Most people have little knowledge of how banks make money, what a hedge fund is, or how selling short and futures work.

I don't know that there's any need for the electorate to become versed in the intricacies of big money deals. But the people do need to recognize that the way to get rich in the United States lately has far more to do with shuffling paper than it does with creating goods and services that actually benefit the general population.  When that's the case, avidity and greed among the super wealthy has greater potential to hurt ordinary people than if there were no market devoted to making bundles of financial paper seem as though they're worth far more than they would be if investors understood their actual composition.

When everybody is trying to get rich without creating anything, the dangers are higher than they are among a society of producers. When Republican bigwigs pontificate about freedom, they're mostly talking about the freedom to cheat and pull the wool over people's eyes. That's a freedom of sorts, but it not the kind most people have in mind when they hear the word.

When you get something for nothing, you have to be getting it from people who are getting nothing for something. If that weren't the case, we would have learned to defy the laws of physics. And, guess what? We haven't.

The people of the United States need to learn one thing more than any other. Government regulation of financial markets is essential if the most ruthless elements of our society are not to oppress everyone else. An unregulated financial market is, essentially, a license to steal and that's pretty much what the markets in bundles of paper have been over the past seven years. If you don't want that license to be extended, it's very clear what you should do next November.


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