Monday, November 02, 2009

Family In an Age of Transition

We live at a time in history when many issues seem particularly polarizing. One of those issues is same-sex marriage. Conservatives find it easy to pontificate on the subject, railing against it as an attack on the traditional family. Liberals advocate for it from the high ground of civil rights and the inclusiveness of love.

I was born and reared in a traditional family - a traditional Southern family. My parents were decidedly heterosexual. They were married only once - to each other - and produced children who followed that same path. Yet, when I hear people talk about same-sex marriage as an "attack on the family" something in me recoils. And I think I've found out why.

Our family isn't traditional. I doubt yours is either.

Some of our family members live in relationships with members of the opposite sex, without benefit of marriage. Several of us were born out of wedlock. Two are from foreign countries. We have children from previous marriages, who have their own children, and no one thinks of them as anything other than child, niece, nephew, cousin, grandchild and great-grandchild. If we asked, a couple of us are of dubious family lineage, but we don't ask - and you better not either. And, our family includes two babies for whom we were a surrogate mother. Even though they now live thousands of miles away, and we may never see them again, we still oooh and aaah over the baby pictures. Don't try to tell us they aren't "really" part of our family. Someone will whack you in the head with a pot.

So, as I looked around the room at a recent family gathering of our "traditional" family, I realized that same-sex marriage can't and won't redefine family for us. We've already done that for ourselves. And I suspect your family has, too.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Praise for WHAT THE RED MOON KNOWS

I'm on Chapter Nine and can't put it down. Wow!

Tom Sinclair
Fairhope, Alabama

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Praise for WHAT THE RED MOON KNOWS

Fans of Joe Hilley will revel in his latest novel What The Red Moon Knows. Audacious and fun to read, Hilley sinks his teeth into the reader and promises to keep you guessing. There should be little doubt that Hilley is one of the most significant Alabama writers working today.

Lee Peacock
Evergreen Courant

Saturday, October 10, 2009

What The Red Moon Knows

The Latest Novel From New York Times Best Selling Author Joe Hilley

Almost ten years ago, I walked away from the practice of law to write novels full time. My first book was published in 2004. Since then, the publishing industry and I have gone through a number of changes. One of those changes has been the rising influence of e-books; books released in electronic format, many that are quite successful but never introduced in traditional print format. This month, I am joining the ranks of those e-book authors.

What The Red Moon Knows, my latest novel, tells the story of Ruth England, a seventy-five-year-old widow who sees a man she is certain was once her teenage boyfriend. The only problem is that boyfriend was Elvis Presley. She knows Elvis is dead - she read newspaper articles about it, saw reports on television, watched the funeral on video - but she is certain the man she's seen is him.

Telling her things about their relationship only Elvis could know, he convinces her to go with him on a trek across Florida in search of a friend whom "Elvis" is certain faces grave danger. Together they follow a trail of clues that lead them far from accepted reality and deep into the secrets of powerful people.

When a reporter tells Ruth the man she's with is really Bobby Wayne Pugh, an Elvis impersonator who witnessed a murder no one was supposed to see, she quickly dismisses his concern. Then she notices the men in the car following their every move. Unwilling to abandon the man she now loves - whoever he is - Ruth holds on until the surprise ending and learns that even late in life dreams really do come true.

What The Red Moon Knows is available from Amazon as a Kindle Book. You can read a sample there for free. And it is available at Smashwords.com in multiple download formats.

For more information go to http://www.joehilley.com/

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Age of Economic Transition

In the 2nd Century AD, Ptolemy devised a theory of the universe that placed the earth at the center of the solar system. That theory accounted for all information known about the universe and allowed for accurate prediction of the seasons. It was an incorrect model but provided a result that was adequate for its time.

As science continued to develop new information about the universe, Ptolemy's model came under criticism. Copernicus suggested an alternative model that placed the sun at the center of the solar system. His theory accounted for all known information but did so in a much simpler manner than Ptolemy. Galileo later proved Copernicus correct but the transition from a Ptolemaic orientation to Copernican was traumatic.

In the 17th Century, Newton provided theories about motion that explained the movement of objects in the heavens and objects on earth. His theories accounted for all the information available at the time. Later, Einstein reconstructed theories about motion and the universe in a way that replaced much of what Newton put forth as law. That transition threw much of physics in disarray but ultimately led to even greater discoveries.

Today, American culture is emerging from a period of transition easily as traumatic as the transition from Ptolemy to Copernicus or Newton to Einstein. We have witnessed this in every area of life. Now, that transition has reached our economic system.

When we began this Great American Experiment, Adam Smith Capitalism was in vogue. At the time, individualism reigned and Smith's theories fit well with America's worldview. Using his ideas, America was propelled to great heights of economic power. But American culture is not stagnant. It has continued to develop. Now, American culture is no longer driven by individualism but by relationalism - the notion that value and meaning are derived from relationship. Fact is no longer seen as absolute fact, but as interpreted fact with the interpretation determined by one's relationship to the 'fact' in question.

Cultural shifts are risky and both Liberals and Conservatives are running scared. Conservatives have rallied around a Darwinian view of capitalism - only the strong survive. While Liberals promote a collective policy - the State should insulate everyone from risk. Neither approach is adequate for American society. Both are passing away. In their place a new era of American Entrepreneurship is emerging. Old forms of employment, business and economics are passing from the scene. New theories and forms are rising to take their place. Just as the ideas of Copernicus, Newton, and Adam Smith replaced those of their predecessors, so also new ideas and forms are replacing theirs.

We live in an era of empowerment and that empowerment reaches to the most vulnerable levels of society. In the coming century, that empowerment will unleash American creativity in an explosion of ideas, solutions, and commerce unlike any in the history of mankind.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Capitalism's Forgotten Moral Responsibility

Communists forgot that economies rest on individual choices. Forgetting that one simple truth left Communism relegated to the trash pile of socioeconomic theories.

In the United States, Capitalists gloated over Communism’s demise and spent the last two decades touting the power of individual choice and the wonders of economic freedom. And along the way, the Capitalists became forgetful, too.

Capitalism’s advocates have forgotten that no individual choice stands alone but rather stands in relationship to every other choice by every other person. Taken together, the individual choices that drive economies form communities. The freedom to attain wealth of immeasurable portion carries with it the moral obligation to address the needs of those who cannot succeed in a system in which success is the product of competition. At its heart, Capitalism produces great wealth, but it also produces an inherent economic disparity between those who thrive on competition and those who don’t.

The American economy moves on two trends. On one track, the trend is toward greater and greater efficiency, empowerment, and access. Yet the same things that promote those qualities – technology, information, and complexity – take the economy on a second trend toward exclusion of those with less skill, less ability, and limited access to education. The kind of Darwinian Capitalism promoted today would see no problem with grinding up those who cannot or will not pull themselves up to the required level of competition. That lack of moral imperative will be the end of our capitalist system.

In the 19th Century, pro-slavery advocates used state sovereignty arguments in an attempt to defend the immoral practice of slavery, and sacrificed the Tenth Amendment doing so. Segregationists of the 20th Century used a similar argument to defend the equally immoral American Apartheid, and sacrificed what remained of state sovereignty in that effort. Now, Darwinian Capitalists are sacrificing the remains of American Capitalism to defend their devotion to materialism. Capitalism can rouse itself to remember its moral obligation, or it can die. The liberty that grants to some the means of attaining great wealth comes at the price of caring for those who cannot, for whatever reason, exercise that liberty.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Democrats Take Us To The Gulag

Over the past several weeks Democrats in Congress have threatened to conduct hearings into interrogation techniques used on terror suspects during the Bush Administration. Congressional hearings are nothing knew and often produce useful information. On this subject, however, Congress already knows all there is to know. Congressional leadership on relevant committees was briefed well in advance of implementation of the policies.

More troubling is the threat of criminal prosecutions against those who signed off on the policy and who prepared action memos authorizing the practices.

Memos authorizing implementation of policy are not mere opinions. They are the means by which policy is implemented. They carry with them a detailed account of the legal authority that permits the proposed action. In this case, the memos were prepared by attorneys and approved by the appropriate Justice Department officials.

The practice of law is an art, not a science. Ask three attorneys a legal opinion and you’re likely to get three different answers. Responses often differ depending on an attorney’s area of practice. When the attorneys in question are political appointees, the matter takes on a new twist.

Private attorneys look for precedent to answer legal questions and advise their clients. They have no real ability to shape the law except the long and expensive judicial process. Attorneys who serve at the pleasure of the President in the White House and at top positions in the government are in a different position. They operate within the bounds of the law but their ability to shape the law and policy is much more expansive. When they shape the law, they do so from a particular political point of view. That is their job. Republicans did this under Bush. Democrats are doing it under Obama.

Now, after sitting on the sidelines for eight years, Democrats want to prosecute Republican political appointees for the Republican shape those attorneys gave the law while Bush was in office. This goes beyond political payback.

Using criminal prosecutions to imprison political appointees solely because their political opinion differed from the officials in power is nothing short of Soviet era use of the Gulag. The Democrats can carft their own policy. They can rail against Bush era practices. They can impose their opinions on current terror suspect treatment, which they have. But imprisoning someone for crafting policy from a political perspective that differs from your own is contrary to everything this country and our legal system was established to preserve.

Castro Needs Us As The Enemy

In spite of rhetoric to the contrary, neither of the Castro brothers want to normalize relations with the U.S.

Normalizing Cuba’s relationship with the United States would open the streets of Havana to thousands of tourists. Their seaside marinas would be jammed with sport fishermen. Bars and clubs would be packed with Cuba-Libre-drinking vacationers. Cigar lovers would flock to buy hand-rolled Cuban cigars. With billions in foreign investment, Cuba’s economy would flourish. And that is the problem.

By freeing the Cuban economy to participate fully in an exchange of commerce with the U.S., the world would see first-hand the failures of Castro’s policies. They would see the failed health care system and the ruinous effect of his collective economic policies. With tourists and businessmen on the island, Cubans would learn of the life beyond. Knowing how others live, they would be empowered to speak out against their conditions. At the same time, Castro would have to come clean about the fate of the many political prisoners who have disappeared.

So, no matter how many handshakes you see between Cuban and U.S. officials. Regardless of the press releases and the joint communiqu├ęs, Castro will not agree to normalize relations with the U.S. Imposition of the embargo gave him an enemy on whom to blame all the ills he foisted on the Cuban people. Without us, he would be forced to admit responsibility for the condition of his people. He wants us as the enemy. He needs us as the enemy. Without us, he has no country to rule.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Pass The Tea

Today is Tax Day – the day by which we must pay Uncle Sam for the privilege of living in our own country. And it is the day of the great Tea Party Protest.

At the original Boston Tea Party, Sam Adams led a group of men aboard a British ship. In protest over a recently imposed British tax on tea, Adams and his cohorts seized the ship’s cargo of tea and threw it into the Boston harbor. The crux of the protest wasn’t to throw tea in the harbor. The point was to prevent the tea from being unloaded, to render it worthless, and to deprive the Crown of the despised tax. Their protest subjected Adams and his friends to the possibility of criminal prosecution.

Today, angry citizens are gathering at sites across the nation to once again protest the imposition of ever-increasing taxes. However, unlike the historic tea party protest, today’s protest consists of driving to the grocery store, purchasing tea, taking it to the designated gathering point, and throwing it in the harbor, bay, river, creek, swimming pool.

My, how far we have come.

Throwing my own tea into the bay reduces the brave act of Adams to mere symbolism. It deprives no one but myself of anything (the tea I purchased with my own money). Yet, somehow this symbolic act is supposed to send a message. It sends a message, but not the one the protesters intend.

The message of today’s Tea Party Protest isn’t one of angry defiance. Instead, today’s message says, “We am not willing to take any step that threatens our own comfort.” We have nothing but gestures and hollow words. We are all about rhetoric and not about substance. What about throwing our tax returns in the bay? What about a massive refusal to file a return? What about filing but not paying? That would cost us something, but it would send our elected officials a message they would understand. We don’t need symbolism, we need substance.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Economy Set To Rebound

Since October 2008, news outlets have inundated the country with reports detailing how poorly our economy is performing, forecasting dismal economic results in coming quarters, and calling for desperate measures to address our dire circumstances. The federal government has responded, pumping trillions of borrowed dollars into the economy. Yet, reports continue to focus on bad news.

Fear not, genuine help is on the way.

Election Day, 2010 is less than 19 months away. Already, political strategists and fundraisers are hard at work planning mid-term election campaigns. The entire House of Representatives will be up for re-election. A third of the Senate, too. And therein we shall find the relief we desperately need.

No, we won’t throw our elected officials out of office, though that might be an interesting remedy. Instead, the economic stimulus we need most will come in the form of a change in the story.

For the past 8 months, politicians have used bad news to bolster their claims for more spending and to defend the accretion of greater power to the federal government. Under the cover of pending financial doom, politicians have borrowed more, spent more, and claimed more power than at any other time in our nation’s history. That strategy has a short life. Its effectiveness lasts only as long as the momentum from the previous election. As the new election cycle gears up, the story will change.

With mid-term elections approaching, candidates for re-election will begin to tout the effectiveness of their efforts. The White House will lead a chorus of praise for the recent stimulus initiatives. Every shred of positive news, every hint of profitability, every glimmer of good news will be highlighted, polished and made to glow with the fires of hope and prosperity. Sectors of the economy that have remained sound but ignored will be trotted out as evidence of the effectiveness of government stimulative efforts and a harbinger of coming economic prosperity. All of which will be attributed to the work and wisdom of our elected officials. When you hear the rhetorical shift, don't despair. That new and positive message will be our salvation.

America’s economy is a confidence game. Trust is the key. We have no fixed standard for determining economic value. No fixed benchmarks for determining the value of our currency. The true wealth of our economy rests not on gold or silver but on our mutual trust for each other.

You give paper currency to the pizza store in exchange for something to eat. The paper isn’t worth the cost of one pepperoni slice, yet the store takes it in exchange for enough food to feed a family of four. The store takes that piece of paper only because the owner knows the pizza dough supplier will accept that same piece of paper as payment for the store’s supply account. Over the past twelve months our confidence in each other has taken a big hit. A constant mantra of bad news has settled doubt and gloom on us like a heavy, thick cloud. But take heart. The fog is about to lift.

As the politicians switch from a message of fear and failure to one of better-days-ahead, newscasters will follow suit. With a prosperity chant ringing in our ears, the fog of despair will lift. Our confidence will return. Not confidence in the politicians, but confidence in each other. And the economy will rebound.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

One Person Can Make A Difference

In 1913, Booker T. Washington was president of Tuskegee Institute. Though an African-American, and a former slave, Washington was well-educated. At the time, most blacks in Alabama were not so fortunate. Schools in Alabama and across the South offered little or no opportunities for African-Americans.

To address that situation, Washington asked Julius Rosenwald to invest in a modest effort to construct simple, one-room school houses in predominantly black communities. Rosenwald was intrigued by the idea and in 1913 began funding the construction of one and two-room school houses across the state. By the time he was finished, he had expanded the program to 15 states and constructed more than 5300 schools.

The buildings made possible by Rosenwald’s generosity became houses of learning and hope to generations of young minds. Hundreds of thousands of students found in those simple buildings a doorway to a future that only a few years earlier seemed impossible.

Washington was just one man who saw a seemingly insurmountable problem and decided to do something about it. When Rosenwald saw the problem, he decided to help. The next time you see a need in your community and think the situation is hopeless, remember Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington and remind yourself that one person with an idea really can make a difference.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Can We Really Borrow Our Way Out of Debt

Current analysis of economic conditions in the United States centers on the need for businesses to obtain financing. Tight credit is supposedly the root of our current economic recession. America, so we are told, runs on credit. At the same time, we are told that consumer debt is a serious threat to our economic health and should be avoided. Credit card debt, so we hear, is a huge problem for most American households.

Can anyone see the conflict in this message?

It’s okay for General Motors or Chrysler or AIG or any other company to amass huge amounts of debt. After all, debt – dressed up as financing – is essential to the life of American business. It’s okay for a business to incur debt, but not okay for an individual? It’s okay for the federal government to borrow billions from China, yet not okay for the consumer to borrow thousands from MasterCard?

If American consumers can’t borrow their way out of debt, chances are, the federal government can’t either.

Friday, April 03, 2009

China's Monetary Role Portends Global Shift

In recent weeks, China has sent not-so-subtle messages to the U. S. and to the world. First they warned the United States against devaluing the dollar, a move that would devalue the hundreds of billions of dollars in U. S. debt currently held by China. Then, they suggested the world should adopt a reserve currency not based on the economy of any single country – calling for a shift away from the world’s dependence on the dollar as that reserve. China’s rumblings about the dollar might be seen as an attempt to stake out their role as a critical economic player prior to the G20 meetings. And they might have been an attempt to test the mettle of the United States’ new and young president. Whatever the immediate aim, the suggestion of a larger and more permanent role in world financial affairs goes far beyond China’s concerns over the current economic crisis.

For the past fifty years, China has been growing toward a market-oriented economy. Using low wages to its advantage, China has transformed itself into the world’s manufacturing center. From its huge export trade, China has amassed foreign exchange reserves in excess of $1.5 trillion. At the same time, it has carefully developed its own domestic economy, raising growth of domestic demand to 4-6% per year. As a result, China and the United States are reversing their historic fiscal and monetary roles. At the close of World War II, the U.S. loaned money to other nations to enable them to purchase American goods. Today, China loans money to the U.S. to enable the U.S. to purchase Chinese goods.

As this century unfolds, the symbiotic relationship between China and the United States will profoundly influence U.S. foreign policy. With loyalties re-forming along commercial lines, the United States will come to view its relationship to all other countries through a China/trade-and-commerce prism. As the U.S. orientation turns increasingly toward Asia, a power and influence vacuum will develop in other parts of the world. The U.S. will become increasingly reticent to participate in solving Middle Eastern and European problems. Countries in other regions will move to fill the gap left by the U.S. absence, realigning along trade and commercial interests.

What you hear now in China’s warnings about U. S. fiscal policy and its call for an independent international reserve currency are but the first rumblings of a coming global realignment of nations.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Time To Regulate Credit Card Interest Rates

The Obama Administration has used every means available to impose tighter and tighter regulations on companies receiving Stimulus Funding. In the financial industry, they have sought to limit executive pay and eliminate bonuses. In the automobile industry they have used federal assistance as leverage to restructure General Motors, even ousting officials elected by General Motors’ stockholders. Most recently, some in the administration have suggested the government should regulate salaries of all executives in all industries. But one thing they haven’t sought to regulate is credit card and consumer loan interest rates.

Over the past twenty years, the banking industry has lobbied for increasingly favorable rules controlling the interest rates they are allowed to charge for credit card debt. As a result, in some states interest rates are unlimited. In addition, banks and credit card issuers are permitted to tack on fees and late charges and they are permitted to increase interest rates for customers who, though current at the time, fail to meet certain criteria not directly tied to their account.

Not satisfied with that, in 2005 after years of intense lobbying, banking officials convinced Congress to tighten bankruptcy laws to prohibit consumers from liquidating credit card debt. Now that many in the financial industry have run the banking sector into the ground, imperiling the U. S. and the world, these same companies turn to Congress for assistance.

In the past 12 months, the federal government, through one agency or another, has pumped trillions of dollars into the banking industry. Banks have received generous injections of capital, either through the sale of preferred stock or loans from the Federal Reserve, at all but an interest-free rate. Every dime of that money is taxpayer money. If banks get all of this free of charge, why are consumers forced to pay usuriously high interest rates?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Republicans Need Pro-Life Consistency

Since the emergence of politically active Evangelicals in the late 1970s, the Republican Party has presented itself as the pro-life/anti-abortion political party. For the past thirty years, a pro-life stance has been essential for Republican candidates. So much so that Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, both of whom previously held pro-choice positions, were forced to morph themselves into pro-life candidates as they entered the 2008 Republican presidential primaries. The Republican Party, however, is not truly pro-life.

Pro-life advocates argue that life begins at conception and that abortion brings that life to an unnatural end. They argue that the inherent and intrinsic value of human life requires state protection for those who cannot speak for themselves. The fact that the value of human life is “inherent” means the value of life does not arise from the age, wealth, status or character of the human – not even the character of one accused of a capital crime.

Most Republican candidates and elected officials support imposition of the death penalty for heinous crimes such as murder, rape, and arson. Thirty-five states agree with them, arguing that defendants convicted of those charges have forfeited the right to live or that the punishment acts as a deterrent to future crime. Many Republican candidates who voice support for an end to abortion adamantly support the death penalty. And therein lies the contradiction that robs the pro-life argument of power. If life is inherently valuable, then the right to live is one of those inalienable rights we hold dear and, being inalienable, it is a right which no one can surrender – willingly or unwillingly.

In truth, most Republican politicians are not interested in ending abortion. They merely want to campaign on the issue, using it to raise money and motivate their voter base. If they were interested in ending abortion they would actually use their elected positions to do something about it. Republicans have held a majority in Congress for most of the last 30 years, yet unfettered access to abortion on demand remains the law of the land. Conservatives hold a majority on the U. S. Supreme Court, too. Yet all of the justices support the Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade.

A consistent, authentic pro-life position would argue not only for the life of the unborn but for the life of the elderly, the infirmed, and those accused of crimes for which they face the death penalty. That the accused are currently left out of the right-to-life equation belies the political nature of the Republican Party’s pro-life position. It’s not about life, it’s about getting candidates elected to office.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Census 2010 - Republicans a Permanent Minority

While potential Republican candidates jockey for media exposure and position themselves for the 2012 election cycle, the real battle for the future of the Republican Party is being waged without them. That battle isn’t in Iowa or New Hampshire. And it’s not in the studios of cable news networks. The battle for the future of the Republican Party is taking shape in the Department of Commerce and in the halls of Congress. No, the battle is not over the Stimulus Bill or the Bailout Bill. The real battle is over the Federal Census.

By the terms of our Constitution, seats in the House of Representatives are apportioned among the states based on the Federal Census. Districts for those House seats are periodically redrawn by state legislatures using Census data to ensure equal representation. All of that will be determined in the second half of the Obama Administration's current term using 2010 Census data. But more is at stake than mere House seats.

Over the past thirty years, political strategists have become adept at using election law to position their candidates in an advantageous posture. One of their favorite techniques for presidential campaigns involves the timing of state party primaries. Candidates with real political muscle can get primary dates moved to their advantage. Bill Clinton did it in 1992. Hillary tried it. Others have as well. To adjust those election dates, the candidate’s party must have control of the given state’s legislature. The coming reapportionment and redistricting will help make that possible. But I think a more critical strategy may be in play.

The Supreme Court has ruled that only a nose-count method will pass Constitutional review for the Federal Census. Statistical modeling is not allowed for counts used to apportion House seats. But the Census Bureau still uses statistical modeling to check the accuracy of their nose count. Accuracy of that count is determined by comparing the modeling results to the actual count to check for an under-count or over-count. Based on that information, the Census Bureau can send Census Takers back to re-canvass areas thought to have produced an erroneous nose-count. I say all of that to suggest there’s room for error. The counting method isn’t air tight. It has slack.

In the slack between total accuracy and approximation, the Party in power has the latitude to adjust not only district lines but perhaps even the ability to adjust the apportionment numbers for House seats. It all depends on the manner in which the counting is done.

Counting that produces an undercount in rural Republican states, for instance, in Louisiana, Alabama or Mississippi – or in New York and Ohio where the Democrat margin is not in jeopardy – might actually produce an over-count in other states. Say, for instance, North Carolina, Florida, or Nevada. Redistricting for those new seats might mean that districts could be realigned to give the Democrats a majority of all the districts in each of those states.

Those three states – North Carolina, Florida, and Nevada – voted Republican in 2004 but switched to Democrat in 2008. By reapportioning seats to those states and realigning districts there, the Democrats could solidify their hold on those states. So much so that they would remain in Democrat hands for the foreseeable future, not only for district elections but for national elections as well.

That kind of power shift could put the Republican Party in the minority, permanently.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Voter Registration No Longer Effective Campaign Tool

In preparation for the 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns, Republican strategists pursued voter registration with a vengeance. Much to the dismay of the Democrat Party, registration efforts proved overwhelmingly successful for the Republicans. With increased voter counts in strategic locations, they were able to shift vote totals in key states, handing the presidency to George W. Bush in both of those elections. Now, that tactic may have run its course.

During the 2008 election cycle, an interesting phenomenon occurred here in Alabama. In several municipal elections, and later in several counties during the presidential election, more votes were cast than the Federal Census predicted for the total number of voters. Being a native Alabamian, my first thought was, “They voted the graveyard.” Alabama, like many southern states, has a reputation for election-night shenanigans. But as I pushed the thought a little further, I came to a different conclusion.

Beginning in the 1960s and continuing through the 1980s, Democrats pursued voter registration as a way of increasing their voter base. The two Clinton campaigns emphasized it as well. Republicans took that effort to new heights with the George Bush campaigns. Then, with Barack Obama’s candidacy, Democrats went even further, hiring, encouraging, and facilitating the use of outside agencies and organizations in a massive effort to identify and register as many new voters as possible. Because of this prolonged emphasis from both parties, I think voter registration has invaded the margin of error for the Federal Census. Voter registration has reached so deep that the total number of registered voters in many local wards and precincts is a more accurate reflection of the local population count than the Federal Census.

That means, for many areas in the country, voter registration has reached its maximum potential for influencing the outcome of an election. In the future, both parties will be forced to develop new tactics and strategies for shifting electoral advantages.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Will AIG Debacle Result in Criminal Prosecutions?

Tell me the difference between the Madoff scheme and AIG. I don't think there is one.

According to the allegations, Madoff took money from investors in exchange for an obligation to invest that money and pay them a return. He met that obligation, part of the time, by using money from new investors to pay his obligations to older clients. This process, apparently, was repeated many times over until the plunging stock market of 2008-2009 drove up demands for liquidity beyond what he could meet and brought the scheme to an end.

AIG, according to reports, sold credit default swaps guaranteeing the liquidity of mortgages that had been bundled and sold as securities to investment funds, banks, and other financial institutions. Apparently this worked in much the same way as insuring a municipal bond offering increases the marketability of an issue. If news reports are true, AIG sold far more in credit default obligations than the company held in assets available to cover the total risk. This practice created income for AIG but amounted to a gamble, betting the company against the income "float" that the risk would never imperil the life of the corporation. This position posed no problem until the collapsing real estate market caught up with the scheme. As mortgage default rates rose, AIG's obligations on the default guarantees rose as well, pushing the company to the brink of disaster.

Just as Madoff's alleged practices threatened his investors equity, so also AIG's practices impinged upon the financial condition of both their investors and those who purchased the mortgage-backed securities for which AIG guaranteed against default losses. Madoff's scheme fell apart when falling asset values brought greater demand for liquidation from clients. AIG's scheme fell apart when rising defaults drove up claims for redemption on the default guarantees. Both were extended on obligations far beyond their ability to pay. Both were meeting former obligations with later arriving capital - Madoff before the situation was discovered, AIG after.

Madoff is going to jail for what he did. If his conduct deserves punishment, why isn't he sharing a cell with someone from AIG?