Managing The Machines of Politics

Many science fiction movies have a common plot: The machines created by humans rise up to take power over their creators. And while the real world version is far more benign, our addiction to knowledge has created a world where we are, for better or worse, increasingly defined by machines. To survive in the Smart Phone Era, we must learn to manage the machines.

Just over a decade ago, I decided to go all-cellular all-the-time. In just a decade, however, the era of the cell phone has come and gone. The cell phone has given way to the smart phone and early adapters, regardless of how smart they truly are, are fast becoming arbiters of knowledge, news and information in their communities.

While visiting my family in Texas over the holidays, my relatives quickly saw how helpful it was to have hipside Internet access. Want the latest stock quotes? Need a phone number for a restaurant? Forget what time you had plane reservations? Just ask Scott, who has the whole Internet in his pocket. A quick tappity-tap in the phone’s browser and any question can be answered, from which team won the 1996 Rose Bowl Game to the ranks of the three enlisted men sitting at the next table over in their dress blues.

No more arguing, no more debates, no more people acting holier-than-thou because they have some trivial information stored in their heads. As my roommate says, the phrase, “I wonder” will soon be replaced by, “I Wiki.”

Where’s My
Fifteen Minutes?

In his new book, Where’s My Fifteen Minutes? Get Your Company, Your Cause, or Yourself the Recognition You Deserve Hollywood publicist Howard Bragman argues that everybody has a public image that they must manage. What your Facebook profile or Google results say about you is as important as any image you put forth about yourself, talking at a seminar, walking down the street, dealing face to face with your neighbors and colleagues. Now that more and more people have the Internet in their pockets, first impressions are as important as the second impressions someone has when they look you up online.

Whenever I meet a new person, I look them up on Facebook and probably Google them. Same goes for many companies evaluating new employees. I have even heard of one courtroom prosecutor who befriended a defendant on a social networking site and gathered evidence for his case!

Our online personas are becoming part of each of us. A blogger’s online persona can quickly define them as a person in the eyes of others, for example. If someone does not manage their Facebook profile, the comments and photos of others will tell their story to the world – be it a true on or not. This, of course, goes double for politicians and public figures.

And if we do not control what is being said about us online, the Internet will begin to control us. Google, Facebook and other online outlets tell stories to others about us, and what everyone must learn is to take charge and tell the stories we want people to hear.

Today’s MySpace kids will become tomorrow’s leaders. The comments of a fifteen or twenty-five year old today could become a speedbump on the information superhighway should they decide to take on, say, a political career at some point in the future.

In some ways, the rise of the machines is well underway. As the World Wide Web becomes ubiquitous, on our desktops, in everyone’s pockets, in cars, on subways, at work, on vacation, those who have access to it will have knowledge to use as they see fit. So for politicians today, and those aspiring to go there, it’s more important than ever to control what you say, and what’s said about you, online as almost any assertion, unless corrected, becomes the truth.

It’s Still the Economy, Stupid

If it feels like the 1990’s are back, you are not alone. After O.J. Simpson’s return to the headlines – and cable TV – and the resurrection of Hillarycare, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a sudden dirty plaid flannel shirts as Grunge makes a comeback.

And when it comes to politics, there’s a 1990’s catch phrase that may once again define the 2008 Presidential contest: “It’s the economy, stupid!”

Conventional wisdom says that the 2008 election will be determined by one issue: the war in Iraq. Will Americans withdraw into a protectionist cocoon or will we choose to stick things out and clean up the mess that was made? But conventional wisdom this far out from an actual election can often be wrong.

More often than not Americans vote on what they perceive to be their best interest. As the 21st Century opened, housing prices soared, liquidity sloshed through the economy and incomes rose with relatively no inflation and we could care about things like Iraq and what our troops were doing over there.

By and large, the war in Iraq has little effect on the day to day lives of most Americans. If you are not in the military or do you have a family member serving, the Iraq is little more than a philosophical or partisan discussion to be had mostly among people you know agree with you. If you are serving or know someone who has, your view is not filtered by the media and you likely know why we’re there, what we’re doing and the costs of failure.

But what will matter to most Americans when they go to the ballot box in 400 days is what affects their day-to-day lives. All signs are indicating that we’ll be feeling an economic pinch by then.

In Stockton, California, home foreclosures have increased ten-fold in the last year as rising interest rates sting homeowners tricked to believe that the housing bubble would not burst.

Consumers are staying away from retail stores in droves leading to lowered expectations from Lowe’s, Target and other retailers, many of them catering to the middle class.

The trucking industry is seeing declining tonnage month-to-month, signaling a decline in economic activity across the nation.

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Outing a Hypocrite

Mike Rogers is proud of himself. But he’s not proud in the gay-pride kind way. He’s proud in the self-important kind of way. By playing into America’s fears of homosexuals, and exploiting homophobia, Rogers has managed to get himself labeled the “most-feared” man on Capitol Hill by none other than the Washington Post.

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Sub-prime Shakedown Has Upside Potential

It’s March Madness in the media as people are jumping off the rooftops—metaphorically—over the collapse in the sub-prime lending market. The recent housing boom was fueled, in part, by people chasing the American dream of homeownership when they were in no position to do so—and a complicit industry of bankers and brokers who were willing to bend the rules for them. Many are now recognizing that there is a difference between the American Dream and the American Fantasy.
Representing about twenty percent of the mortgage industry, sub-prime lenders offered credit where it was not due. In exchange for higher interest rates, people gould defraud the lender by using “stated income”. People could get homes with little or no money down by piggy-backing loans on top of each other. It was also possible to get a low initial interest rate which would later balloon once the mortgage went adjustable. Some folks, I imagine combined all these tricks and more just to get into the real estate markets.
Bubbles, by their very nature, pop. That’s the sound you’re hearing in today’s housing market.
Newspapers, which have traditionally been boosters for the advertising-friendly Real Estate industry, are going wild with the story. Today’s Los Angeles Times has four, yes four, stories and one editorial on the story…today! The fish in Long Beach have got to wonder if anyone will be able to afford to eat them tonight.
For once I agree with the Times that borrowers who are caught up in the sub-prime mess should not be bailed out by the government. Those who bought homes they could not afford should not be propped up by the government. Otherwise, markets won’t work.
For all of the hullabaloo and market mayhem over the sub-prime crisis and the housing bubble bursting, for most hard-working Americans this correction can be a good thing.
Many people will lose their homes in the coming months and years and the investor class will feel the squeeze of credit tightening across the board—but unless you’re rich enough to be heavily invested in the markets and fail to invest wisely or unwise enough to have entered into a mortgage you cannot pay, you’ll actually be better off once this housing crisis plays out.
A decade ago, I moved to Los Angeles at the nadir of the last housing downturn. One bedroom condos could be bought for less than a hundred grand. I didn’t even consider it, since the cost of a place was roughly equal to the cost of my parents’ house in Texas, and I knew that on my income at the time, I could not afford it.
Real Estate boosters would tell me that I could not afford not to get into the market. Indeed that one-bedroom condo today is selling for three, four or five-hundred thousand dollars.
But who can afford to live here? Apparently, almost no one. Los Angeles’ housing affordability index is among the nation’s lowest. Only 2 percent of homes sold in Los Angeles were considered affordable for the average Angeleno in the latest report.
Rising housing prices—propped up by sub-prime lenders—have made the American Dream out of reach for honest, working class Americans. The boom in housing has led to significant construction, including, for once, an increase in urban density.
When new housing stock comes on-line and the sub-prime shake-down sorts out, the market will have corrected itself—without government intervention—to make homeownership possible for many more Americans. I can’t see how that would be a bad thing.

Battle for Republican Soul Begins!

But in 2007, the party seems adrift, as if it suffered from the Democratic malaise of struggling to find a soul. Take a look at the topics to be discussed at this week’s edition of the Conservative cabal and you’ll see what I mean: Beyond Our Pocketbooks: Social Issues and the Conservative Movement What Happened to the Fight Against Big Government?… There’s no telling what will come from this year’s meeting of the Conservative Cabal, but we’ll be there to see how the Right plans to strike back in 2007—and let you know against whom, the Democrats or themselves?

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Texas-Sized Energy Crisis Looms

While Californians happily debate how to spend the billions of dollars in excess revenues generated from last year’s stock market surge, the state is facing an energy crisis eerily similar to that of seven years ago. Only by this time, the pending shortages will be almost entirely of our own doing…. Obviously the kind gentlemen at Chesapeake Energy Corp and the other gas companies which are funding this Texas-based front group believe that their profits will increase if, all of a sudden, the second-largest state in the union suddenly switches to using their product to replace coal for electric generation.

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In California, Labor is King

In my last missive, I observed that, in California, education policy is no longer about improving children’s education—it’s about the aggrandizement of the teacher’s unions. But wherever you look in the Golden State—whether it’s fixing traffic or building shopping centers—unless a union benefits, nothing gets accomplished. Good or bad, we Californians have to ask ourselves how Labor managed to buy and pay for the Golden State.
When someone recently asked me how we got to a situation where Labor is running the show in California, my first reaction was to blame Gray Davis. Elected as a moderate, Davis believed in rowing the ship of State Government with both oars. On the left, he created an onerous daily overtime system (unless voters organized into collective bargaining units) then to the right, he argued for stricter law enforcement and more prisons (which coincidentally pleased the CCPOA).
Labor elected Gray Davis against dueling multi-millionaires and he repaid them dearly as Governor of California. But it’s too easy to blame Gray for all of California’s troubles—as he certainly had co-conspirators in the Legislature.
Perhaps the two greatest contributing factors to Union power in California are commonly thought of as common-sense political reforms. Rather than empowering the people, term limits and campaign finance reform have given special interest groups—and Labor in particular—a stranglehold on Sacramento.
When Californians passed term limits for the State legislature in the 1990’s, the prevailing wisdom was that a new set of fresh faces every six years would bring Sacramento closer to the people. What has happened instead is just the opposite.
Because of the very nature of the Labor movement—where individuals must constantly politick for power and build coalitions from within—unions are developing a farm team which does not exist among the Chamber of Commerce set. For example, just look at the 45th Assembly District. From former speaker Antonio Villaraigosa to his predecessor Jackie Goldberg to her future replacement Kevin DeLeon, each representative from this district got their start in politics working for a labor union…and this downtown Los Angeles district is not an anomaly. The Democratic Caucus in Sacramento may as well be an executive council of the AFL-CIO.
A second popular political reform has also positioned Labor to strengthen its grip on California politics. Under California’s Campaign Finance Laws, individuals are limited to contributions of no more than a few thousand dollars. But while candidates and contributors hands are tied, there are no limits on so-called Independent Expenditures.
In races across the State, labor and the business community have waged war—spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in Independent Expenditures to elect the candidates of their choosing.
In the 2006 primary elections, according to the California Targetbook, Labor won this battle in 11 of 19 districts.
With their ability to garnish wages from their members’ paychecks to pay for such multi-million dollar campaigns, Labor has a structural advantage like no other in California politics…and it could get worse.
Under Proposition 89, a proposal written by the ultra-liberal California Nurses Association, candidates must collect a certain number of $5 contributions in order to qualify for public financing of their campaigns. Compared to chambers of commerce with only a few hundred members, a thousands-strong labor union (which can take money from its members paychecks to contribute it on their behalf) will be halfway to the finish line before the starting gun goes off.
While on the East Coast the educated anti-war liberal is surging behind names like Ted Lamont, out here in California, labor remains king.

Epistemology of Global Warming

Yesterday morning at the gym, I overheard to not-so-naturally blondes talking about the weather… “Like, omigod! It’s soooo hot!” said one, to which the other replied, “Oh it must be global warming.”

I wanted to turn around and suggest that maybe the phenomenon which has caused temperatures to rise in the past few weeks in Los Angeles could be called, “summer,” but their exchange got me to thinking. Since starting my own business and opening an un-air-conditioned home-office, average temperatures have climbed twenty degrees in my neighborhood.

These last few days, I have taken to calling my apartment-slash-home-office, “The Furnace.” Even when temperatures abate at night, it seems to remain a toasty ninety-plus degrees. Some genius in 1959 must have figured that climate controls were not necessary in Southern California when our courtyard apartment was built.

It’s obvious to me that opening my own business has caused global warming…because, as Al Gore points out in his movie, An Inconvenient Truth, correlation equals causation.


Before you tell me that I am just being silly—temperatures rise in summertime and so Los Angeles’ latest heat wave is not caused by Global Warming—let me point out that I already know that. But in the context of World History (the 5 billion-year version, not the 5000-year one), my six month data set is about as statistically-significant as the 111-year set of data used to claim that 2006 is the hottest year in recorded history. My data cover 1 ten-bllionth of time compared to One 50-millionth of the earth’s life.

Does climate change exist? Certainly. I won’t deny that—but I will challenge anyone who claims that they know why or how.

What I did learn from Al gore’s movie is that once every few 100,000 years, there is a significant increase in global temperatures. We’re in an upswing which looks a lot like those which came before it.

Using the data from ice cores over the last 600,000 years, we see that as temperatures rise, so does the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. For Al Gore, that’s proof enough that carbon dioxide causes global warming.

Perhaps—but how do we know that it isn’t the other way around? How do we know that there is not an external force which has much longer cycles—such as a cyclical increase in solar storms or something about our position in the Milky Way—which would cause temperatures to rise yet be undetectable to humans since it has been the “normal” since we’ve been able to track such a thing?

This is a big universe, and it’s been around a long time, so whenever someone says that it’s getting awful hot lately, please remind them…it’s Summer!

Price of Bigotry is Big Government

The national debate over Immigration reform is, in the words of CNN’s Wolf Blitzer – a man not prone to understatement – “widening a crack within the Republican Party.” He’s only slightly exaggerating. Because unless Republicans come to their senses and stop tearing each other – and Immigration Reform itself – apart the Grand Old Party may learn that the wages of bigotry is, in fact, big government.

Before sending me off to college on the East Coast, my father told me to know what I believe in and apply those principles religiously. Well, what I’ve come to realize is that I kneel at the church of limited government.

Generally, I have applied this philosophy in approaching the immigration debate. That’s led me to support proposals which would allow for people already here to gain the right to work and perhaps, over time, to earn citizenship. But what gets me sounding like a right-wing member of Congress is when it comes to the provision of government services to illegal immigrants. It almost makes me want to type the words in all-caps…ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS!!!…just to get it out of my system.

Take for example the case of Antonio Villaraigosa, the Democratic Mayor of Los Angeles. He wants to put a $1 billion bond on the November 2006 ballot to build affordable housing. If you’ve tried finding a place to live in Los Angeles, you know that we need to do something for working people who make less than six digits, and the plan to subsidize private development of affordable housing makes sense.

Well, an Affordable Housing bond makes sense until you realize that Fair Housing Laws prevent discrimination on the basis of someone’s legal status—which means that the City of Los Angeles is asking voters to raise their own taxes in order to give cheap housing to ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS!!! It’s not that I have anything against immigrants – it’s that I object to our country opening up my wallet to redistribute wealth to just about anyone who comes across the border.

I think most Republicans – and if the 1994 vote on Proposition 187 was any indication, most Americans – find something offensive about the idea cross-border carpet-bagging freeloaders. Come here and work, and we’re fine with immigrants. But come to suckle off the government dole and there’s a problem.

Republicans have gone astray in attacking the wrong head of this two-headed monster. Instead of trying to go after big government, Republicans in Congress are attacking the immigrants…and in the process, making Government even bigger.

Just this week, on the floor of the United States Senate, two Republicans proposed raising taxes by eliminating the Earned Income Tax Credit for immigrant workers. That’s just the latest. Proposals to secure the border only create more government bureaucracy, and the crackdown on employers who hire ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS will only burden an economy that is shaking of the post 9-11 recession.

Higher taxes, bloated bureaucracy and economic stagnation are the cost some Republicans seem willing to pay for their attacks on immigrants – but I have to wonder if people wouldn’t mind welcoming migrant workers into our country so much if, instead, we started slaying the beast that is Big Government.

Public Rejects False Choices on Immigration

For the first time since the national debate on immigration began, pollsters went to the people to ask Americans what they really want. Faced with to seemingly irreconcilable choices on Capitol Hill, the public came back and said, “we want both!”
In a nationwide survey conducted by the Los Angeles Times, a majority of Americans said they’d support the Democratic plan to allow undocumented workers to get a path to citizenship. In the same survey, more Americans were for fencing off the border than were against it. A majority also supported creating a guest-worker program.
Cheers can be heard coming from all corners of Capitol Hill as everyone can now say they’re trying to implement the will of the people.
But the people pulled a fast one on Congress, rejecting the false dichotomy of the partisan choices. Forced to choose between one solution or both, those polled said by a 2-to-1 margin that they’d take both stronger enforcement and a guest worker program. Heh.
Similar results came out of California this week in the Field Poll’s bilingual survey of Californians.
Californians favor: a path to citizenship, a guest-worker program, penalties on employers of illegal immigrants, and requiring immigrants who have been here less than two years to leave the country. Practically the only things we’re against are giving illegals drivers’ licenses and arresting illegal aliens and charging them with a felony.
So while politicians in Washington bicker about who’s at fault for stalling the Senate compromise on Immigration reform, the public is seriously engaging in the issue and forming their own opinions.
Mostly, they favor an approach which embraces both the Democrats’ and the Republicans’ proposals to grant rights to immigrants already here and toughen enforcement at the border. In other words, most Americans probably support George Bush’s proposals—just don’t ask the question that way on a poll!