Welcome. This here blog offers what I learn, in commentary for all its worth. Know that I try to know best, when I know anything at all.

Journey onward!!!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Miss Cali Thinks Gay Marriage Is Not Right, But Does That Make It Wrong?

Miss California made a fatal gaffe at the venerable Miss USA pageant, or did she? Basically she stood up and gave her honest opinion on gay marriage, saying she was brought up to believe that marriage "should be between a man and a woman." Respectable an opinion as that is, her response became red meat for partisans on both sides of the issue.

See for yourself.

The general public's response to this is as you would expect, namely praised by some as ideologically pure and derided by others as ignorant bigotry. These are, of course, dead end talking points, so I feel motivated to offer an alternative angle on this touchy gaffe.

There may be no wrong answer to the question of gay marriage, but I believe there is in fact a right answer.

The way I see it, Miss California should have said 'I don't believe gay marriage is right, but that doesn't mean gay marriage is wrong.' Such an answer would have been at once politically correct and in line with her stated morals.

Had she said that, I bet she would have gotten every single one of those judges' votes for her encompassing vision; she would have gotten mine. Instead, she basically said 'I believe straight marriage is right, which means gay marriage is wrong but oh, it's ok if you do it; it's a free country."

In my view, there is nothing wrong with her principles per se, but that is simply the wrong answer.


Other than the fact that I am an admirer of painfully hot women, I am not interested in these pretty contests. What does interest me about this particular gaffe is that it showcases the woefully black-and-white vision of the world many Americans are comfortable with.

The notion that either you're right or you're wrong--you're with us or against us--simply repulses me. Life is never as simple as a rulebook. When a partisan blasts the viewpoint of an opposing partisan, usually he is just as guilty of myopic vision as his counterpart. This is a classic case of existential hypocrisy that I hope to explore here at a later date.

Consider the case of Miss California. Had she given the answer I suggested above, she would have in fact demonstrated a POST-partisan understanding of gay marriage. By suggesting that gay marriage is not right but not wrong either, she could have genuinely vindicated gay marriage without sacrificing her own moral integrity and sense of honesty.

If you listen closely, that is basically what she was trying to say. In her full statement, she began by stating that "it's great that Americans are able to choose one or the other . . . [that] we live in a land [where] we can choose same or opposite sex marriage." However she failed miserably at reconciling this open-minded statement with her subsequent and proud declaration of heterosexual supremacy.

(I recently read this great quote by G.K. Chesterton: "when the modern man see two truths that seem to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them." Apparently this afflicts modern women as well.)

Fortunately I am here to connect the dots for dear Miss California. By having cheered the freedom to choose, she basically suggested that there possibly exists an overriding ethos of responsibility and pragmatism which trumps the rigidity of ideological belief, namely her own.

(Yet I am not convinced she really knew she was actually suggesting this, which doesn't exactly surprise me considering how modern and hot she is 0_0)

This is, as I have asserted elsewhere, my definition of a true post-partisan stance. The post-partisan may take partisan positions, but he also recognizes that there may be greater truths to which he must submit.

In other words, you can support gay marriage without being a supporter of gay marriage.

Americans, however, are generally not bred to think this way. We are raised to cherish the sanctity of individual opinion. That is all fine and good, but unfortunately life is not as simple as a rulebook, and as such certain social issues intrinsically lie beyond the purview of partisan opinion. Such it may be for gay marriage, that is if you believe gay people are precisely that: people.

In a democratic society, the tenet of self-governance demands that we look beyond rigid partisan beliefs with the understanding that not one party has the right answers. The fact that Americans are generally satisfied with knee-jerk partisan outbursts tells me that perhaps self-governance is getting to be a burden too heavy to bear (see my post on AIG).

Incidentally, I happen to agree with Miss California in that gay marriages are not right. However I also recognize that just because I think it is not right, that does not make it wrong. This effectively puts me in the pro-gay marriage camp, although I am not pro-gay marriage per se.

This is what a healthy democracy should be all about. I fancy Obama might agree that I have been a good post-partisan on this issue. Taxing my RYO tobacco habit, however, would be an entirely different story..
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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

GM in America, Land of the Subprime?

The joke is on us. If you thought the subprime mortgage market collapse was "funny," then the auto market collapse is even funnier. GM, as it turns out, was no less subprime than home owners in Arizona who borrowed beyond their means. Like Washington, our bankruptcy-bound automaker had presided over a business model running almost entirely on debt.

They call it 'borrowing,' but in reality Wall Street was basically GM's way of printing its own money. It is no coincidence that, just as Wall Street collapsed, GM executives promptly knocked on Washington's door. They were begging the Treasury to print some money for their company because, for the first time, Wall Street (and GMAC) didn't have any left to bail them out.

To Washington, this was something wholly new, but to GM it was just business as usual. What difference does it make that GM is bailed out by Washington or Wall Street? Perhaps one: GM is now dealing with a lender with real teeth and some semblance of conscience. After all, we are talking about prospective taxpayer money here.

The truth is that GM was crushed beneath an old weight. It was a slow death because up until 2008, plentiful Wall Street loans kept GM humming indefinitely. Armed with credit eternal, GM made and sold enough cars to make its minimum loan payments. All the while GM's debt kept ballooning and its global competitiveness continued to falter.

But that was fine with GM, apparently, so long as it could borrow enough money to pay its bills.

Little did Wall Street know it was lending to a subprime borrower in GM. Perhaps GM itself did not know. Actually, maybe regulators, bankers and rating agencies just ignored some facts (from 2004) and made the loans out anyway. This kind of self-assured negligence in Washington and Wall Street is precisely what precipitated the subprime mortgage market crash and vaporized a whole lot of phantom wealth.

Sadly, GM's bankruptcy will vaporize more than just wealth, namely tens of thousands of jobs.

This is not just about GM. What brought down the ill-fated automaker also brought much of the American economy to its knees. See job losses in 2008. As it turns out, credit flowed from Wall Street to credit-unworthy or -addicted borrowers across the economic spectrum. The question now is who will be the latest on the chopping block.

Don't just take it from me, but from the man who saw it all coming: Nouriel Roubini, affectionately known as Dr. Doom, who had the strength of will to see through mainstream pre-2008 economics. Everything he is about to say in the following warning is worth looking out for:
This crisis is not merely the result of the U.S. housing bubble’s bursting or the collapse of the United States’ subprime mortgage sector. The credit excesses that created this disaster were global. There were many bubbles, and they extended beyond housing in many countries to commercial real estate mortgages and loans, to credit cards, auto loans, and student loans. There were bubbles for the securitized products that converted these loans and mortgages into complex, toxic, and destructive financial instruments. And there were still more bubbles for local government borrowing, leveraged buyouts, hedge funds, commercial and industrial loans, corporate bonds, commodities, and credit-default swaps—a dangerous unregulated market wherein up to $60 trillion of nominal protection was sold against an outstanding stock of corporate bonds of just $6 trillion.
(read the whole thing here)

This is a joke on us. Have we emerged from the American Century not only as the sole superpower, but also a subprime nation in disguise? When the American economy looks itself in the mirror, does it see GM? How about that family with the foreclosed home? Just don't ask Dr. Doom.

One thing is for sure: we reap what we sow. Wall Street made us rich beyond imagination; too rich, as it turns out. By the 21st century, we had too much wealth chasing too few worthy investment opportunities. So Wall Street, with Washington's nod, proceeded to loan out to the unworthy, the subprime, the GMs of the world, and any family who happens to wants a house.

(Hell, even to illegal immigrants; I mean come on, why not! The party was just getting started!)

After all, Wall Street had no choice. The only alternative was to forfeit the wealth flowing into our markets from all around the world and say, "thanks but no thanks, heehee, we are too rich already." But of course, no self-respecting capitalist nation could ever do such a wrong thing. Certainly not Wall Street, the key driver and underwriter of the indomitable American economy.

This is precisely why our best and brightest minds worked on Wall Street, and why the sum of Wall Street bonuses can dwarf entire nations. This is also why AIG "deserves" its retention bonuses (as I have argued) and Wall Street managed to bag the sixth largest all-time bonus payout in 2008, as I have previously reported.

(F*%&-ing EH, where were the pitch forks for the Wall Street bonuses??!?! AIG was NOTHING compared to what the real banks got. I'm REALLY pissed about that. It was appalling, what populist Washington did to AIG. Democracy at its worse, I'm sorry to conclude.)

It may be hard to imagine today, but there was a time when Wall Street was a legitimate force respected worldwide (even if grudgingly). Of course, this was before Wall Street had to squeeze corners and coax the subprime to keep growing, and growing, and growing, which is what capitalism is all about: relentless growth for profit and shareholders, often at a cost that is not immediately apparent.

Capitalists, as such, cannot escape the temptation of alchemy, that elusive art of spinning straw into gold. The best kind of money is, of course, the kind that you don't have to do anything to make. Just ask Wall Street.

Admit it, you wish you had a friend named Rumpelstiltskin, just like the American economy and GM had a friend named Wall Street.

Whether we like it or not, the post-industrial American economy, as it were, is done for. "Change" is coming and it has nothing to do with Obama's initiative, whose job is merely to administer change. It is "change" we might have to believe in.

The biggest irony is that this crisis was made in our own subprime image. Like GM, Washington saw this coming with eyes wide shut. Have our free markets grown to a weight that can rival that of any centrally planned economy?

Now that, my friends, is a scary thought.

Forget about AIG bonuses or Obama palling around with Jay Leno or his stupid teleprompter. That the very notion of American capitalism is under siege at home and abroad should receive our full attention.

I for one never imagined I would write as I am about these topics. Hell I can't even vote yet!!

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