4 Things To Remember On Election Day

presidential-electionIt’s difficult to talk about this American election without somebody going off the deep end.  People all over the world have drawn their own Clinton/Trump battle lines and are defeating them to the death.  Plus, from what I’ve seen in my own country, neither side is taking any prisoners and both sides are shooting the wounded.  Nobody on this planet is indifferent to what’s going to happen in America today.  This is full contact politics. and it’s not for the faint of heart.

However, this is America’s Election Day and we need to remember a few things before tearing our hair out, shooting our mouth off or declaring the Antichrist has risen and the Apocalypse is upon us.

1 — These are Americans.  They’re loud, they’re noisy, they’re brassy, and they’re rude to each other — but they don’t mean anything by it.  Most of the shouting done during an election is just rah! rah! rah! from the cheap seats.  It’s not serious.  The time to take Americans seriously is when they’re not shouting at each other.  (Remember what happened when they quit calling George III names?)

2 — Americans are not as dumb as the rest of the world thinks they are.  The stereotypical redneck from Rubberboot, Arkansas is funny — to a  point.  However, remember that Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Disney — and a whole lot more — are all American companies, fueled by American ideas.  This election might look a bit hillbilly from the outside, but most Americans know what’s at stake and are making their choice accordingly.

3 — The President of the United States doesn’t have as much power as a lot of people think.  The beauty of the American system is that each one of the three branches of government keeps a wary eye on the other two branches — so nobody really steps out of line.  Rhetoric is easy, and all candidates talk a good fight (see #1) but the President of the United States is not a monarch, a dictator or even a pro-consul, and once they’re in the Oval office, they find that out — very quickly.

4 — The sun is going to come up tomorrow — just the same way it did the day after Lincoln was elected, or the morning after Teddy Roosevelt was sworn into office, or even after George W. Bush won The Battle of the Hanging Chads in 2000.  (FYI, every one of those events was labelled the end of the world — at the time.)

This is our time, and regardless of who wins today or what the various media outlets say about it, it’s not  going to be the end of the world.  However, just one more word of advice: buckle up, boys and girls! The next four years are going to be interesting.

How to Ruin a Debt Crisis: Part III

To put it mildly, America is in the middle of an economic crisis… again.  However, there’s a difference between this one and the crisis of 2007-08 or even 2000.  This time, instead of faceless, nameless corporate executives, Americans have somebody real they can blame — and it just might be Barack Obama.  If this credit downgrade by Standard and Poor’s sticks to the President and the crisis turns political, America is in for a ride right out of Roller Coaster Tycoon, and the rest of the world better buckle up ‘cause they’re coming, too.

Before we discuss the mayhem that’s about to ensue we need to get a few facts straight.  First of all, there’s nothing wrong with the American government’s credit.  If anybody would take even a brief panic pause, they’d notice that most people who are getting out of the stock market are putting their Yen, Yuan and Euros into US Treasury Bills.  So much for America’s inability to pay its debts!  Secondly, the US economy is in trouble, but it’s not on the verge of collapse.   Of the twenty largest corporations in the world, ten are American — and that doesn’t include Disney, Coca-Cola or McDonald’s.  Visa and Mastercard are American companies, as are Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Intel and Apple.  Your physical laptop may be made in China, but the guts that run it are American.  Also, there are two essential concepts you need to understand.  One: every single American, from birth, knows that, unless it’s your team, nobody cares who didn’t win The World Series.  It’s in their DNA somewhere.  To reiterate, they believe that there are champions and then there are the other guys; you don’t get points for close.  Two: in general, ordinary Americans don’t know anything about the rest of the world, and they don’t care.  It’s not arrogance; it’s a simple fact.  Why don’t they care?  They don’t have to.  This isn’t bashing “stupid” Americans.  Think about it, objectively.  What difference does the rest of the world make to them?  The reality is not much.  Former Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill, once said, “All politics is local.”  For Americans this is true.  That’s why Barack better shape up, or in 2012, the locals are going to go Jimmy Carter on his ass and he’ll be spending the next four years planning the Obama Library.

Here’s the scenario.  Last November, the Republicans may have taken control of the House, but it’s the Tea Party caucus that owns it.  They proved that during the debt ceiling fiasco.  As it stands now, in 2012, there’s more than an even chance the Senate could go the same way – a Republican majority with Tea Party control.  Now, as of last Friday, Standard and Poor’s threw the White House into the mix.  Obama’s approval rating is at 40%.  That’s not enough to win re election.  If a Republican – any Republican – gets to redecorate 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue next year the Tea Party is going to be running the show.

Tea Party people are fed up with playing nice with the rest of the world.  They see America as getting kicked around by every two-bit country with a vote at the UN, and they’re tired of paying for that privilege.  This credit downgrade is just another example to them.  They look at the billions spent in Iraq and Afghanistan and say, “Hey, wait a minute!  We could have used that money.”  They want to stop wasting lives and dollars on foreign adventures and get their own house in order.  They want to protect their own borders, their own jobs and their own industry — before they start tackling other people’s problems.  They want to feed and educate their own children first.  In short, they’re old-fashioned Isolationists.  But before the anti-American choir starts gearing up for the Hallelujah Chorus, let’s look at what this means.

Admit it or not, America has been doing the heavy lifting — economically and militarily — around this planet since 1945.  American military spending has allowed Europe to spend their money on social programs and Canadians to buy Health Care.  The foreign aid they gave Asia established global industries that turned Pennsylvania, Ohio and all points northwest into the Rust Belt.  They’ve paid for schools and hospitals across South America and Africa.  And it goes on and on.  There is no part of contemporary society that hasn’t benefited from American dollars.  Pax Americana has given our world the time, space and peace to grow scientifically, medically and culturally.  Anti-American gasbags don’t realize the USA is the most benevolent Superpower in history.  They never mention the trillions of dollars worth of free food Americans have sent around the world, or the free medical aid or industrial assistance.  They don’t talk about things like the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, or the American Red Cross or the IMF or the World Bank or any of the other goodies Americans have been paying for — for two generations.

So what happens if an America First Congress starts turning off the money tap?  Every country west of the Bosphorus is going to have to up their military spending by at least 20%.  Europe doesn’t have that kind of money, but they’re going to have to find it.  Canadian Arctic sovereignty will become an expensive proposition.  South Korea will have to do some serious sucking up to Kim Jung-il.   Japan had better invest in missile defence, and China’s lost province of Taiwan will probably be reunited with the mainland, at long last.  The Middle East is too disastrous to even contemplate, but Iran’s neighbours should consider stocking up on bomb shelters and HazMat suits.  And the military spending isn’t even the half of it.

If America erects protectionist trade barriers and shuts the world’s biggest economy out of the free trade loop, the Great Depression is going to look like a walk in the park.  World trade will collapse, just like it did in 1929 — but the fall will be further because billions more people depend on it.  Modern Asia’s prosperity is built on exports; and without them they’re burnt toast.  The Yuan, China’s much-manipulated currency, won’t be worth the time it takes to print it – never mind Asia’s lesser economies.

Then there are all the other non-threatening by-products of American isolationism.  Frantic calls from places like Haiti, Somalia and Indonesia will still be there, but they’ll be put on hold.  Relief efforts in non-big-media areas will wither and die.  The UN, not a Tea Party favourite, will be looking around for lunch money, and Unicef, Unesco, WHO and all the other alphabet agencies will be having bake sales to pay the bills.

The last time America shut the doors and went about its business, there was a global economic disaster and a world war.  In the 21st century, American voters are not going to complain if their government stops spending money in places like Eritrea; most of them don’t even know where that is.  No pressure, but Americans don’t like a loser either; so, Barack, you’d better come up with some economic answers pretty quick — or the political fallout is going to be heard around the world.

How to Ruin a Debt Crisis: Part II

The problem is this just might stick to Obama.  The president may have finally run out of Teflon.  Unless Barack can figure out a way to pull some leadership out of that teleprompter, he’s going to be wearing this like last month’s pastrami when he has to face the people in 2012.  It’s going to hurt him.  I know this is a bold statement about the most adroit politician to come out of Chicago since Dick Daley, but think about this.  I haven’t even told you what I’m talking about yet.  You already know what it is, though.  It’s the American debt crisis and Standard and Poor’s downgrading of the US credit rating – and yes, it is a crisis.  The White House has gone to DEFCON 2 on damage control, but it ain’t going to help ‘cause, as Harry S Truman’s eloquent little sign pointed out, “The Buck stops here.”

For the last 48 hours, Obama apologists have been setting break fires wherever they can find a Blackberry or a microphone.  The first line of excuse is Standard and Poor’s made a mathematical mistake – a couple of trillion dollars, apparently.  This one is way too highschool lame to even deal with.  From there, they take a run at the Republicans, who just weren’t being reasonable about Obama’s plan for a “balanced approach” to the debt crisis.  Good point, except for one minor problem: there never was an Obama plan (at least not one that was written down anywhere.)  There was a lot of in-general talk about compromise, but the Commander-in-Chief never stood up and said “This is the problem, and this is what I’m going to do about it.  Okay, Broehner.  What’s your plan?  That’s stupid.  Now let’s hammer out a deal.”  The fact is most of Obama’s thoughts on the debt crisis (including “balanced approach”) were just more media platitudes that don’t actually mean anything but invoke some vague idea of reasonable behaviour.  Even the most ardent supporter can’t point to Obama’s chapter-and-verse solution to keep America out of debtors’ prison.

Finally, the Obamanista have been dragging all-purpose bogeyman George W. Bush out of retirement and kicking him around again.  After all, that worked in 2008.  “Bush was the one who spent all the money.  (Stage direction: point fingers accusingly)  He did it.”  Please!  Yeah, yeah, yeah!  We all know that Dubya is responsible for everything from 9/11 to Lebron losing Game 6 to the Mavericks, but there’s got to be a statute of limitations somewhere on the guy.  Even if he did spend all the money, it’s Obama’s job to fix it, and he’s had three years to do it – which he hasn’t.  Besides, everybody knows the bottom line is no matter what, where, who, when or why the debt got out of control, Barack Obama was the guy sitting in the Oval Office when the cash cows ran dry.  That’s what history and the electorate will remember, and if either one ever forgets, the Republicans are going to remind them.  And that’s the problem.

Americans are a mercantile people.  They’re willing to trade a lot if they think they’re getting something for their money.  In this case, they were willing to go with a next-to-useless president because he was interplanetary cool.  In 2008, the whole world loved the guy.  (He started his presidential campaign in Germany, for God’s sake.)  So, during the election, nobody bothered to notice that Barack Obama was a (less than one term) junior senator, with fewer credentials to be president than Millard Fillmore.  He expounded change and then cut a traditional backroom deal with Hillary to make her Secretary of State — but nobody cared.  The guy was Kennedy-sweet — with no downside.  He got the Nobel Peace Prize just for showing up.  All he had to do was hang out at the White House, pull an Eisenhower and don’t touch anything.  Most Americans would have been more than happy with that after eight years of George Bush.

However, Americans are also a proud people.  They don’t like it when they think they’re not getting their money’s worth.  And they get downright unreasonable if they think they’re being conned.  Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter and George Bush the Elder are just a few one-term presidents who tried to pull a fast one on the American people.  This is where the Tea Party comes from.  It doesn’t take Howard Beale to figure out there’s a boatload of folks across America who are “mad as hell and not going to take this anymore.”  Despite what The New York Times will tell you, these folks are not an isolated pack of snarling, white-haired, right-wing, Sarah Palin nut bars.  They’re ordinary folks who think they’re watching their prestige going over the falls along with their economic future.  This is just insult to injury to an electorate who trusted Barack Obama to change America’s position on this planet.

Right now there is an economic crisis in America.  So what?  That’s nothing serious!  Take a look around you.  There are more farmers raising livestock on Facebook than there are on real farms in Europe, and Facebook is less than a decade old.   More people are touching Google on their iPads every day than there are people in Malaysia.  Google is a teenager and iPads didn’t even exist when Obama was elected.  Last year Walmart customers made 7.2 billion purchases (the population of the world is approximately 6.5 billion) and most of them were made with a Visa or Mastercard.  Americans win more money on Jeapordy than most humans earn in a year.  Use your head, folks: American economic power is awesome (in the true sense of the word) I don’t care what Standard and Poor’s says.  However, if this thing really does stick to Obama and these economic problems turn into a political crisis, all bets are off.  The world is going to change radically and not in that cool, glamourous way Barack was singing about three years ago.  It’s going to get ugly, and it’s going to be mean.

Wednesday:  What happens to economics when American voters get angry?