Swing State Confidential

October 21, 2008

It’s late in the campaign season, which means it’s time to start crunching the numbers.

While the election has the potential to be close, it’s important to look at those states that could go either way. These are the states that the candidates are focusing on, campaigning hard for, and, most importantly in the world of politics, spending boatloads of cash in.

Many media outlets foolishly create lists of a dozen or two states, claiming such ridiculous things like Delaware might actually vote Republican or Utah might swing Democratic. And they insist on using the slightly perverse “swing state” instead of the clumsier but more accurate “vacillating morons who can’t make a proper rational decision that aligns with their cultural and economic interests.” (Iowa, I’m looking at you.)

Here is a list of the most likely swing states for this election.

Nevada
Under normal circumstances, Nevada would be a lock for the Republicans. Otherwise, it’s a nice, solid conservative state, if you don’t count all the whores and rampant gamblers. This year, however, may be a realigning year. The unions have made themselves more politically potent, Nevada’s sizable libertarian sympathies are antithesis to many of McCain’s policies, and, more importantly, while a lot of people have lost money in their 401(k), even more lost money on the Giants-Patriots game.
For McCain: The anti-government types in Nevada hate both candidates equally, but the stuff they can get away with will force them to choose and probably be more inclined for McCain. They can get away with everything in the desert from free weed and Russian Roulette, but they can’t get away from the IRS.
For Obama: Whores and rampant gamblers vote.
Wild Card: “So, I hear yous is thinkin’ ‘bout votin’ for sumbuddy. Let’s see what Jimmy the Baseball Bat has to do to get yous to change your mind.”

New Mexico
New Mexico was one of the few states to actually switch sides between 2000 and 2004, voting for Gore in the former and for Bush in the latter. While it could possibly be a result of the growing socially conservative demographics in the state, or perhaps immigration fears, most likely it’s because it looked around, saw all the red states surrounding it, and decides to assimilate, something everyone else has been urging for quite some time.
For McCain: New Mexico is Arizona looking for the cool spot on the bedsheet.
For Obama: It is a legal uncertainty whether livestock can vote.
Wild Card: It’s a question mark how many people are willing to drive about two thousand miles to the nearest voting booth.

New Hampshire
Tiny New Hampshire, nestled snugly in New England, is an outlier in an increasingly liberal part of the country. Fervently anti-tax and mostly anti-government, they have a large libertarian streak which could break for either candidate. Also, there really isn’t anything else to do in New Hampshire besides shovel snow and care about politics.
For McCain: New Hampshire loves McCain. We’re talking open-mouth, call the next day love. They also hate older brother Vermont, so may vote McCain out of spite.
For Obama: Like New Mexico, New Hampshire is looking around a sea of blue and wondering if they’ve misplaced the memo.
Wild Card: It starts snowing in New Hampshire somewhere in July of last year, and while the residents are used to hostile weather, Health Savings Accounts and Campaign Finance Reform aren’t worth getting the snow tires on for.

Virginia
A southern state by trade, this is normally a lock for the GOP. This year, however, enough of northern Virginia has converted to the Democratic Party that it’s likely it will change sides. While it’s uncertain whether the combination of government workers, contractors, and service-related jobs will translate to a permanent change to swing state status, it’s reasonably certain to be close this time. Not like, say, Chancellorsville.
For McCain: Virginia is still, technically, the South.
For Obama: The Klan doesn’t pay above GS-10.
Wild Card: I’m pretty sure they still have literacy tests.

Ohio
The heartiest of the heartland, Ohio is usually quite conservative. Like its neighbors Pennsylvania and Michigan, however, they’re slowly rusting away, shedding industrial jobs to foreign lands like Greensboro, North Carolina, where “closed shop” means “this is a private supper club.”
For McCain: They look around at Buffalo, New York and Gary, Indiana and suddenly realize things aren’t that bad.
For Obama: Voters are not only angry about the economy, they also are angry about not having any professional football teams this season.
Wild Card: Never underestimate the power of the Amish or Browns fans.

Missouri
One of the traditional bellwethers of the United States, Missouri is often held up as a microcosm of the nation as a whole. They have a demographic makeup of urbanites, minorities, and religion very close to the nation as a whole. And aside from a brief fling in the 1950’s, when they were irresponsible and young, they’re always voting for the winner.
For McCain: Missouri is the south without being southern, and west without being western. Much like the blander items on the Denny’s dinner menu. In other words, all the items on the Denny’s dinner menu.
For Obama: The one time they voted the wrong way for president was when the candidate was an intelligent, thoughtful policy wonk from Illinois with only four years experience in elective government. Whoops.
Wild Card: St. Louis may be known for original blues music, but they also have a major league hockey team. You figure it out.

Colorado
Colorado used to be a solid, Republican state where residents went to church, build log cabins in their spare time, and regularly shot their breakfast. Unfortunately for the party, much of the growth in the past decade has consisted mostly of displaced hippies looking to smoke dope, start atheist churches, and pretend like they are saving the world but in reality making it harder for people to flush their toilets. As such, it’s become increasingly progressive, and this year may be the year it finally tips and just turns into one big ski commune.
For McCain: All the members of the Colorado Black Caucus were going to attend the convention, but he couldn’t make it.
For Obama: If there is any place in America where you’ll find a hunter crouched in the woods drinking a grande marble macchiato and listening to both Phish and Martina McBride on his iPod, it’s Colorado.
Wild Card: As far as I’m concerned, the ghost of Hunter S. Thompson lives on and is more than willing to beat the crap out of you regardless of your political affiliation.

Florida
After the fiasco that was the 2000 election, all eyes have been on Florida. While 2004 was thankfully and remarkably uneventful, it was also safe for the Republicans that year. Since Florida is equal parts tourist trap and real estate developer’s scam, they’ve been hit particularly hard by the real estate collapse and economic downturn.
For McCain: People tend to vote for candidates that are like themselves. And McCain—white-haired, suspicious of teh internets, and kinda creaky—fits Florida quite well. Also, get off the lawn.
For Obama: People are leery of voting for someone older than themselves. And, seriously, these people are like a thousand years old.
Wild Card: Old people can barely master the Dollar Value Menu, let alone the butterfly ballot. Hopefully everyone cancels themselves out and we can just forget about this state altogether.

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Who’s Your Daddy?

October 12, 2008

I think I may be slowly changing my mind on my position about how much I like sharks.

Okay, I “like” sharks in the sense that I like them swimming about on my television set, and then only briefly. They seem inherently menacing, like bears or Dennis Rodman, and so a little bit of them goes a long way. And any prolonged viewing of a shark on TV or at the zoo aquarium will reach the inevitable eventuality of them bloodily chomping down on something or someone, making a big show of raw flailing flesh about the water grinning from whatever it is sharks have instead of an ear to whatever it is sharks have instead of an ear. Kinda cool in the abstract, I guess, but not someone I’m inviting over for bridge anytime soon.

Reports out of Virginia are that a shark, with the unfortunate name of Tidbit (sharks, regardless of gender, should be named after evil Greek gods, belligerent generals, or rocks, not theoretical Fisher Price toy product lines) was pregnant, even though she had had no contact with a male of her species, ever. DNA tests proved she, indeed, carried the baby shark even though she was of the stay-home-on-prom-night-watching-Sixteen-Candles-and-weeping sort. This is the second such documented case of the asexual reproduction of a shark, the first being a few years ago in Omaha. There, when a lady shark gave birth to a baby shark which was—in what can only be described in medical terms as “awesome”—immediately chomped down by another larger, presumably male, shark, intent on keeping his child support payments to an absolute minimum. More proof, of course, that you couldn’t get any in Nebraska even if you tried.

I am constantly concerned that our animal brethren—everything from mammals and amphibians to fruit flies and South American hostel residents—are in a perpetual state of conspiracy against the eventual overthrow of the human race. Evidence for this isn’t hard to find, of course. Our pets are masters of manipulation, forcing us to purchase artificially-flavored bacon-style chunks and then reversing Pavlov, getting us to fork over the tasty nuggets on a regular basis for doing remarkably simple tasks such as not taking a dump on the good white couch in the den.

I trust very few animals, in fact. Cats, in particular, seem a manipulative breed, the entire attention-getting concept of nice-dinner-trumps-football-playoff-game mentality conceptualized in a living organism that coughs up its own hair as a form of passive-aggressive routine maintenance.
So when I hear about sharks cranking out babies asexually, it greatly concerns me on two very important fronts. First, it makes me think that sharks have more up their sleeves than simply crunching down jellyfish and looking for surfers to terrorize. While I’m all for that—I am unsure whether jellyfish or surfers rank higher on the list of things this world could conceivably be better off without, though “both” is an adequate answer—I’m also well aware that the same tactics to use against creepy ink-squirting sea critters and community college dropouts in southern California can also be used against major freight shipping lanes in the Pacific and oil tanker itineraries.

Besides operating in the grand conspiracy, it also worries me because of its message: Mother Nature is stating to the world that males are unnecessary. Sure, there have always been footnotes in our high school biology text books about the three or four known organism that can reproduce without a male, but these are normally strange, rare amphibious creatures that are useless outside of filler for Chinese school cafeteria meals. It’s not like cheetahs or elephants are stomping around cranking our calves and kittens indiscriminately about the Serengeti. (Just so you know, I know about as much about geography as biology, so cover your ears and hum if you don’t like my gross miscalculations of species taxonomy or temperate zones.) Now that the phenomenon has progressed to include animals that could, in theory, bite my head off with little to no repercussions amongst their contemporaries, I am much more gravely concerned than before.

There are several theories as to why these sharks are flushing out virgin births. Seafood has, traditionally, been a quite literal breeding ground for strange reproductive activities. Some blame it on the ocean’s quite unique biodiversity; others on the social instincts of the animals. My own personal theory is that the ocean is a large, almost unfathomably large place, and I could see it difficult to find a compatible mate. It’s probably hard to find another whale or dolphin that shares your own interests in catching tasty fish or watching Rushmore with the sound turned down. I could see at times that your options are to ride the current for four months or so from the Indian ocean to the Hudson Bay just to get some strange and not even get a two-star meal out of it—or unluckily become one. Or just putter around the house in curlers and learn how to do it on your own. I could see males doing the former—and probably have—but I can see the females just embracing the latter, a sort of proto-feminist movement within the marine animal community. Next they’ll be demanding equal plankton for equal work and a more fair distribution of lifeguard bits.

Of course, I’m sure many activists will point to this occurrence as proof that gender is unnecessary and may eventually disappear as a function difference between men and women. While it may be true, it also points towards a grim world in which all transportation seizes up from lack of oil changes, all businesses close from four to five so Oprah can be watched, and no decision is ever made about anything, ever, and even if it is, it is changed immediately after the original decision can no longer be reversed. Alas, this is scarily close to the world right now. At least we could do without those uppity sharks.


Make A Run For The Money

October 11, 2008

It’s quite understandable that most individuals are freaking out about the current economic disaster. While few people actually directly buy stocks—thought plenty of people have dormant Ameritrade accounts for when they thought they were going to be crackerjack day traders back in 1998 but gave up after one week of taking a bath on internet pet food companies and incorporated European “tanning” salon chains—many people have 401(k) accounts. And these retirement accounts have not exactly responded how imminent retirees want them to—namely, up. It’s rather understandable that a nation of reluctant investors has suddenly realized how distant pages in the financial section of the local paper now officially matter to them beyond checking the potential interest rate on a loan for that sailboat they will never buy.

Thank goodness that people are reacting rationally about this, such as thirty year olds waiting all of four hours until they get home from work to accept the tax penalty and pull all their money from their retirement accounts and stuffing it under their mattress, causing most financial advisors to fall over in pain after listening to small parts of their soul die. While the market is being unpredictable, there are certain rules of finance that are immutable, one of them being reckless changes in your financial spending are the equivalent of the cross between a women two weeks before the announces she wants a divorce and…every other woman.

Well, at least journalists are being reasonable. Such as Time magazine, which ran a cover story entitled “How We’re Going To Be Sipping Bone Marrow Soup And Eating Crabgrass Clippings For Breakfast For The Next Three Decades.” For style, they put a stock picture of a soup line from the Depression on the cover; stock photos being necessary since there aren’t exactly any modern soup lines to snap pictures of, a fact no doubt quickly ascertained by the crack objective journalists at Time. One assumes that journalists study to become journalists because they already understand everything there is to know about finance and economics (cough, cough).

So at least television financial advisors are acting like reasonable human beings, right? Such as Jim Cramer, the host of Mad Money, declaring that anyone who hasn’t converted all of their shares into gold bullion being stored in small compounds in the Pacific Northwest is going to be first up against the wall when the revolution comes. Most financial advisors try to avoid such broad-based panic-generating statement, though in Cramer’s defense he is certifiably insane.

While it’s certainly possible the economy will spiral out of control and falling stockbrokers will force the creation of a new task force within FEMA, things are a lot different than they were in the 1930’s. The banking system now resembles what happens to my DVD player after the power goes out and comes back on during a storm—it’s a lot of interconnected wires and signals that create a lot of flash and activity that doesn’t really show that anything productive is happening. But tinker with it for a few scary minutes and it will still play Suburban Commando like a champ like it always has, at least until a power surge destroys the whole thing.

Of course, there is one unfortunate similarity between now and then, and that’s bank failures. Bank failures have been virtually nonexistent for the past sixty decades or so (the legal system delineating the different types of banks in such a way as to make Andy Warhol a beacon of sense and clarity), owing in part to the fact that, unlike now, most banking CEOs aren’t complete amoral idiots. An elaborate system of balances has been set up in the financial industry for years effectively guaranteeing that banks won’t fail. They mostly do this by forcing banks to hold on to a certain level of assets in relation to the money they are holding, a concept so simple that no one ever followed it.

During the savings and loan crisis in the late 80’s and early 90’s, financial institutions were using any and all random items to claim as assets—everything from artwork with deliberately overinflated worth to all the crap they could find in their grandmother’s attic—and in many cases would simply declare their grandmother’s attic to be worth what it theoretically would be worth if anyone wanted to actually go root around and inventory the place while she prattled on about a sale at the Hallmark store and meat rationing, which of course no one ever did. Because of the resulting financial mess from this scandal, many regulations we see today being flaunted were initiated—and the reaction, alas, seems to be much the same.

Unfortunately, new regulations didn’t help, since banks went ahead and used mortgages on homes that had highly inflated prices to begin with as assets, and the exact same story started over again—when the depositors knocked on the door, the bank found nothing but a burned out DVD player in granny’s attic. So it may be a while before we see any part of a recovery. If only there was a way to make embarrassingly clunky metaphors a solid asset, we could finally get ourselves out of this mess.


Fifth Avenue Bailout

October 1, 2008

I don’t think anyone knows what to think about this economic bailout.

The presidential candidates aren’t sure of what to make of the failure of the bailout to pass. Of course, the candidate’s position on the bailout package can be summed up pretty nicely:

Barack Obama: “I will take a tentative position on the bill until the House votes it down, so they can get all the heat for its defeat. I’ll then have an internal poll taken to see whether I want to be for it or against it regardless of its content. Once it’s voted down, I can then come out against it with little repercussion.”

John McCain: “I have no idea what is in this bill because I pretty much know jack about the economy. I would defer to my vice presidential candidate, since she is set up to complement me on my weaknesses, but it turns out she doesn’t know jack about the economy either. Even though this is the case, we still know more about the economy than Fannie Mae, Lehman Brothers, and the Treasury Department combined.”

Of course, even though the House of Representatives voted on it, which necessitates them specifically stating “Yes” or “No,” they don’t know what to think about it, either. Almost immediately as the last ballot hit the bottom of the box (or I assume as such; I have no practical way of knowing how votes are actually, physically tabulated on the House floor. It’s probably some pussy method like swiping an ID card, but I like to imagine they have to text their vote to number 67773 (standard text messaging rates apply) or at the very least auction off a part of their soul every time they cast a vote), representatives took to the airwaves doubting their vote cast. Some seem genuinely confused, given that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson gave lawmakers approximately fifteen minutes between the time they received the plan and had to vote on it, forcing legislators to use the “find” function on Adobe Acrobat to look for—depending on their political philosophy and geographical location—“tax cuts for the same people who got us in this mess in the first place,” “education grants that have somehow been tangentially related to the financial crisis,” “energy investment credits, otherwise known and handing out burlap sacks of cash to the oil companies so folks from Texas and Alaska might actually sallow this piece of tripe law,” “contractual obligation to saw off California so it drifts out into the sea,” or “Britney Spears Sex Tape” (the latter, one presumes, is simply out of habit).

The American population isn’t sure what to think about it, either. It’s one of the finest balancing acts in modern politics. People hate bailing out with massive amounts of taxpayer cash the obviously boneheaded mistakes made by rich Wall Street tycoons who, when it’s all said and done, will still be driving their Porsches around Rodeo Drive while eating foie gras and drinking Château Latour and buying tickets to the Eagles concert afterwards. On the other hand, not bailing them out will spell if not total disaster a pretty unfortunate downturn in the economy causing many consumers to stand in bread lines reading the want ads while talking on one of their three cell phones.

And, it turns out, Wall Street doesn’t know what to think about it, either. The stock market has been incredibly volatile, which is saying something in a year of an increasingly large number of ups and downs. Investors can’t quite decide if they want to jump off of buildings, throwing worthless stock certificates of AIG like confetti as they fall, or whether they want to crouch behind their office chair, salivating while holding a fork in one hand and a knife in the other, waiting for the right time to jump and carve out a huge chunk of the mortgage business at dirt cheap prices during the Great Huge Federal Government Fire Sale Of Assets From Incredibly Greedy And Stupid Companies Whose Board Of Directors Are Still Somehow Going To Make As Assload Of Money.

And—heavens to Betsy—I don’t know what to make of it, either. My rather theoretical libertarian heart wants so badly for the government to shrug their shoulders and extend a middle finger of sympathy to these failed companies who failed because they failed to realize that they were greedy and stupid. And I want people who bought houses worth about three times outside of their pay scale to suddenly realize that it isn’t just cocaine, Amway, that Ron Paul contribution you made one night you were drunk, and a nasty Starbucks habit that can lead to financial distress; sometimes overextending yourself does, too, and you shouldn’t expect the government to bail you out. On the other hand, it was government interference that sort of precipitated this in the first place, with both unrealistic tax credit encouragement and regulations effectively forcing bad loans to be guaranteed. And while I think it’s bad policy, stabilizing the economy while letting the government make a dime off the deal maybe isn’t the worst thing in the world. The blame is easy to spread around because everyone is to blame. About 13 people out of 433 are still trying to figure out the most politically expedient way to assign it for the record.