So much for the free market

I am not a free market capitalist. I don’t believe that those whose primary objective is to obtain as much money as possible can always be trusted to do so scrupulously (or, for that matter, competently). I also do not see the government as a malevolent force. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, ours is a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” The government is us. This, given the current widespread disdain of “Big Government”, would suggest that America has been struggling through an extended period of self-loathing. But mostly it just means that the government exists to manifest the will of the people.

Is it the people’s will that we give investment banks $700 billion (that’s about $2300 for — or rather, from — every single one of us, infants and elderly included, by the way) as a reward for proving themselves wrong about the merits of deregulation? Government is bad when it keeps them in line, but it’s good when it saves them from suffering the consequences of their mistakes. Wonderful for the rest of us.

A couple of other developments today have my blood boiling at an even more rapid pace than it already was: first, I learned that Congress is also preparing to give $25 billion to the auto industry to upgrade its outdated plants to produce more fuel-efficient cars. Fuel efficiency is a good thing, and if GM, Ford and Chrysler manage to improve it, rock on. But let’s be honest: this has nothing to do with protecting the environment, or even reducing our dependence on foreign oil. It’s about saving the asses of more free market capitalists who suddenly find themselves facing the music over years of bloated incompetence and obscene executive salaries.

Second, John McCain has proudly declared his intention to suspend campaigning, and also wants to postpone Friday’s debate with Barack Obama. Never mind the fact that suspending campaigning was actually Obama’s idea (O called M this morning to discuss the idea of a joint announcement, then M jumped the gun and stole the thunder). How exactly does it benefit the people, who very soon will head to the polls and hand over the reins of government to one of these guys, to postpone the debate? Is the Senate really going to be in session at 9 PM this Friday? If so, I’m sure they’ll give themselves overtime pay.

Meanwhile, the rest of us might spend the weekend contemplating this.

Obama’s electoral college challenge

This interactive tool from the LA Times reveals the daunting challenge Barack Obama faces in this election. It lets you paint the electoral map based on which candidate you expect to win each state. Remember, the popular vote doesn’t matter: in the end, 270 electoral votes are the only thing that can make someone president.

This tool defaults to Republican, Democrat, or toss-up, based upon the 2004 election results. Any state with a margin of victory of 8 points or less in that year is considered a toss-up. This is somewhat disingenuous, as it doesn’t take into account current trends and polls (for what they’re worth). But it’s as good a place to start as any and it seems to line up pretty well with what we’re seeing in the polls (for what they’re worth) this year.

I took the challenge, and went with my best guesses for those toss-up states: I painted Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Delaware “Democrat Blue” and Nevada, Missouri and Florida “Republican Red.” That left three states in play: Colorado, New Mexico, and Ohio. Ohio is a 20-vote powder keg in this election. If McCain wins Ohio (along with the other three states that I think are fairly safe for him), and Obama prevails in the entire, aggressive slate of ten states I assigned to him, Obama still must win Colorado and New Mexico to (just barely) win the election. Ouch.