Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The End of the Longest Silence In This Blog's Recent History

Well let's see, what all happened since I last posted anything?

- Gonaïves and Galveston were both leveled and people all over Ohio lost power for days and days thanks to Ike.

- The Todd Boeckman era at Ohio State ended with the Buckeye's national championship hopes.

- The government added more than a trillion dollars to our national debt to stave off the biggest economic collapse since the Great Depression.

- The GOP as sequestered Sarah Palin from the press like she was a material witness in a RICO trial.

- Our six year old son, Xavier, lost his two front teeth.

Now for the witty and insightful commentary...

Hurricane Ike
Last May while in Haiti, I had a great conversation with a Haitian missionary regarding the work that UN had been doing in the country since the last failed coup a few years ago. My Haitian friend insisted that the impact of the UN was slight to non-existent because they had virtually no impact in helping the nation's government become self-supporting and independent. I argued the opposite. My reasoning was that given the public works projects the UN had been able to facilitate and the drop in the nation's violent crime that Haiti was much better off than it was under UN care than without.

But I have to say, in the aftermath of Ike, that I was wrong. Why? Well, as Gonaives, which is a town that basically rests in a river bed, languished in Ike's wake, who was it that struggled to get into the city to provide any kind of assistance or aid? Answer: Argentinian troups under the command of an Argentinian general.

Without a military, national guard, police force, or the equivalent of an Americorps, the Haitian government has virtually no power to keep the peace or assist in times of emergency. An unwillingness to acknowledge this is only perpetuating the nation's dependence on outside aid and leadership to keep the ship righted. If we are truly going to do some nation building in Haiti, then much like President Bush's ongoing effort in Iraq, we are going to have to help the Haitian government raise a national security force so that they aren't dependent on outside entities to maintain order. As distasteful as this might be to those worried about the possibility of a future military junta, its already been proven that small armed guard can sail into Port Au Prince and topple an existing government. At some point, if order is to be truly restored, some arm that the Haitian President that can command into action, and act quickly in a time of crisis, needs to be established. Without that, the hope for Haitian sovereignty and development will be nil.

The End of the Todd Boeckman Era
Listen, I was at the game in SoCal. I saw the interceptions, poor line play, botched receiver routes, and the total domination of USC first hand. This Buckeye team is not a great one. Chances are they'll drop at least two more games to Penn State and Wisconsin, which at this point in the season look far more polished.

So, given all this, do you stick with a sixth year senior whose QB play could be described as "shaky" in his last seven games, or do you throw the freshman phenom out there as the first step to future glory and redemption? In my mind's eye, there's no choice. And for all those folks pooh poohing the crowd at Ohio Stadium for booing Boeckman in his one and only snap, I think that's what they were trying to say. It was less "we think Todd Boeckman sucks" and more "let the Terrell Pryor era begin". It was less a message to Boeckman, and much more a message to Jim Tressel:

"The future ain't now coach, so you got our permission to do some rebuilding and break these young kids in. You got no qualms from us."

On a side note, my trip out west (the game notwithstanding) with the three doctors - Eric the Buckeye, Dr. Mango, and The First Husband - was excellent. If you are pastor though, and you ever travel with three doctors on a trip that really has no spiritually redeeming value (i.e. no mission trips and Christian conferences), here are some things you need to know:

- Docs are the same as you and me. They put on their pants one leg at a time like you do... it's just they got their pants Nordstroms while you got yours on sale at Kohls. No big deal.

- While shopping (or, in my case, looking) on Rodeo Drive, I found out that docs have a weak spot for cars, watches, and pens. Now cars I can understand. Who doesn't like cars? Cars, in any culture, are cool. Guys in remote parts of Africa can get geeked over a Ferrari.

But watches and pens? How ironic is it that I spent the better part of an afternoon looking at watches and pens with guys in a profession known for not being able to keep a schedule and illegible handwriting? You can't make this stuff up.

- Pastors should be prepared to field questions about theology, religion, and spirituality if they travel with docs. Much like docs field medical questions from us when we find out they're docs, when they get unfettered access to us, docs will take advantage of the opportunity to pick our brain. Hence our discussing everything from the nature of salvation to the phenomenon of speaking in tongues. At least its better than talking about the weather, or watches that can tell you the barometric pressure.

- I don't care who you are traveling with - docs, pastors, businessmen, teachers, etc... - if you are traveling with a group of guys and one of them orders a Mango Margarita, you are obligated to question his manhood. Doesn't matter if the guy can run a thousand miles or wrestles bears for a living. If some dude is ordering stuff you're wife, girlfriend, mom, or great aunt would normally order, don't let that go, or you will be twice the wuss he is. I mean, what's worse... being the guy drinking the Mango Margarita, or the guy sitting next to the guy drinking the Mango Margarita? The other three guys could be drinking molten lava (or a manly Coke), and it will mean nothing if the fourth guy is drinking from a pretty glass with an umbrella and a fruit drink in it. Publicly humiliating the gender drink offender is the only way to restore order, hence the nickname, Dr. Mango.... which will get downgraded to Ms. Mango if we ever have another serious infraction involving daiquiris, wine coolers, or a cosmopolitan.

You see, that why I'm here. What would you do with out guidance on such matters?

The Collapse of Our Financial System
Don't understand the credit mess on Wall Street right now? Here's a great piece by Paul Solman that was on the McNeal Lehrer News Hour last night.

I have this friend who, long ago, decided our financial system was headed toward collapse. He's put his money in gold doubloons, rare coins, and other precious metals that can be melted down. I must say I thought he was maybe a little on the fanatical side.... and then I found out that our financial system is now being built on the premise that you finance debt, but buying up more debt. Now, as my wife said this morning, my friend looks less fanatical and more of a genius. Here's to hoping when the house of cards falls down he makes his contribution to the church in gold doubloons.

When a whole system only keeps moving on the premise that growth will never end, then you got trouble. For example, as Solman pointed out, if you use your credit cards under the assumption that your income will always rise enough to cover the spending you can't afford right now, you'll only be OK if your income continues to rise. But if it doesn't rise, or shrinks, you're hosed.

That's where we are right now.

Thomas Friedman, in his brilliant book, "The World Is Flat", suggested that in a global economy where trillions of dollars get moved around the globe at the touch of a mouse button, investors will punish institutions like governments or businesses firmly and swiftly for bad behavior. When it comes to the house of cards that has been our adjustable rate economy, my best guess is that we saw the beginning of this crisis late last year when investors of all kinds started moving money out of Wall Street into commodities. That's why you gas went up to $4 a gallon, even as global demand for oil actually DECREASED as Americans began to engage (out of financial necessity) in conservation (i.e. we drove less, and traded our SUV's for more fuel efficient cars).

While we were screaming at the oil companies and OPEC, the connection between this drop in Wall Street and surge in commodities was pointed out, strangely enough, by the Royal Prince of Saudi Arabia, who blamed the commodity crisis on poor economic policy in Washington. Just like people vote on the quality of a pastor's sermons with their feet, the world was voting on the soundness of our economy with their dollars.... or euros. Years of failed economic policy, particularly on the part of the Bush administration, where trillions of dollars were continually borrowed with little or no plan for repayment, drove down demand for our bonds and stocks, creating dis-ease in the world in regards to the health of American business, particularly the financial sector.

Friedman's assumption was correct: Money went into oil, rice, zinc, and hog futures on the assumption that they were a better risk than say, an investiment in AIG. Hence when Shearson Lehman went down the drain, they had been appealing to the South Korean national bank and various Chinese institutions to lend them dollars so they could meet their daily operational costs as their own investments in credit card, mortgage, car loan, and other forms of loans were collapsing.

Now, with the world unwilling to give us a nickel to bail out our financial situation, our federal government has decided to back the bonds necessary to get all these debts off the banks' books. The questions are

a) will they be able to raise enough money to essentially end this ponzi scheme banks have been engaging in by trying to meet their debt obligations by buying up more debt

b) will the government's action convince investors that American business is a good bet for the future and move their money back into our markets and

c) will the government, which has put itself on the line in the eyes of the world, follow up this unprecidented action with a sound fiscal policy that will encourage saving over spending, and debt repayment over deficit spending?

I wish I had bought some gold doubloons.

Sarah Palin, the GOP, and the Press
Whenever a studio in Hollywood has a movie they think the public might be interested in, but it isn't all that good, one of the tricks of their trade is to not screen the film in advance of release to critics. Hence, bad press can't contribute to negative buzz passed via word of mouth, and the movie might at least open strong before everyone finds out its really a dud.

Given the quality of the few "off the cuff" remarks I've heard Sarah Palin make, my guess is that the GOP is doing with her what the Hollywood did with "Snakes On A Plane". I think they realize the IDEA of Sarah Palin is better than Sarah Palin herself (at least at this juncture of her political noviceness). Hence the GOP's preference that we see a picture of Sarah Palin with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, as opposed to hearing any actual interaction between the press and Sarah Palin to find out what she thinks about Pakistan (just days, I might add, after indirectly telling Charlie Gibson that she supported the Bush Doctrine of going into sovereign nations, particularly Pakistan, if we suspected that an entity within them might attack us).

I suppose the GOP is simply trying to do with Palin what neither party can do with any of the other candidates. McCain, Obama, and Biden all have enough of a track record, on and off camera, that you pretty much know what you're getting when you vote for them. You are choosing less their image or what they want you to see, and more their substance. McCain's definition of the middle class includes people making $4.999 million dollars a year and his plan for health care is to replace employer-provided health insurance with a $5000 tax break. Obama's record consists of a term as an Illinois state senator and a partial term as a US Senator, and is littered less less with a voting record indicating less of a willingness to cooperate on a bipartisan basis than we've been promised.

And Biden is due to put his foot in his mouth any day now, so bloom is off the rose for those guys.

So, for example, a friend of mine whose family income is substantially higher than $200,000 a year has made no bones about it... he'll be voting Republican even though he can't stand McCain and disappointed in the choice of Palin because he knows that Obama advocates raising his taxes. It's not about hope for him. It's kinda just become the lesser of two evils, and the hope the federal government won't make things worse. I hear enough talk to know that he's not alone in these sentiments.

This kind of reality hasn't hit the folks who are gaga over Sarah Palin. Disaffected from the other candidates, they aren't really all that concerned with her substance. They couldn't care less about what she really thinks about the economy or foriegn policy. It's really more the IDEA of Palin as a populist, right-wing, evangelical Christian, Washington outsider that has won them over. So, if I had to guess, I'd say the GOP is trying to stick with the idea of Sarah Palin, as opposed to anything substantive. And this is no knock on Palin... they'd do it with all the candidates if they could (hence all the negative campaigning). Thus if enough Palin believers can put her into Blair House (or wherever the Vice-President lives) then the GOP handlers will try to get her up to speed so she doesn't become a female version of Dan Quayle.

Hey, the first couple of weeks of its release, it worked for "Snakes On A Plane". The question is whether it will work in the campaign.

Xavier Loses His Front Teeth

I guess all he'll want for Christmas is his two front teeth... which is a good thing because the Tooth Fairy has bankrupted us.

Maybe the government will bail us out.

1 comment:

Brother Esq said...

wow, been so busy had not gotten to the blog for quite a while... thought I would be way behind and generally out of the digital loop... turns out I was only 1 day and 1 blog behind.

In other news... the rev (or "the judge" as he has labeled himself in our FF league) got his hindparts handed to him last week by yours truly... what is this now? like 6 years of dominance by the youthful Bucher?

As John Luvitz (as Jay Scherman) would accurately state regarding your fantasy team...