moldybluecheesecurds 2

Friday, December 26, 2008

The sin of doing well by being charitable

“Want to make a million selling violent video games to kids? Go for it. Want to make a million helping cure kids of cancer? You’re labeled a parasite.”

Check out more here

Monday, December 22, 2008

Liberals seem to prefer giving through government

Because when it comes to charity, conservatives give a lot more.

Republicans and the auto bailout: a collective bargain

The Votemaster is providing post-election news and analysis, and this one's a doozy.   Ever wonder why there were quite a few Republicans behind the bank bailouts but almost none willing to back the automakers?
It is increasingly clear that what southern Republicans really want is to break the back of the UAW (which habitually supports the Democratic Party). Thus while demanding lower wages and benefits as part of the $17 billion loan to the auto industry (where labor costs are 10% of total expenditures) is crucial to them, they didn't make a peep about lowering salaries as part of the $700 billion bailout of the banking industry (where labor costs are 70% of the total). In other words, the $1.7 billion worth of labor costs in the (unionized) auto industry are a big deal but the $490 billion worth of labor costs in the (nonunionized) financial industry is a nonissue. [emphasis mine]

Friday, December 19, 2008

When lotion is free and plastic is 2-for-1

It seemed a near-trivial Christmas shopping endeavor. I had wanted to get one of those plastic covers you use to cover your plate in the microwave, to save on all the waxed paper I'd been discarding over the years. I mentioned it to my family, and a few others were interested so I went online in search of three.

Found them. Ordered three.

Several days later the Sears box arrived at work. Opened package. Found three of these:
I've never had a lotion/soap dispenser built in to my sink, but now I own three. I do have three sinks, but no holes for dispensers.

I called Sears. They apologized. Issued refund. Said UPS would come by to get them. They ordered three microwave platter covers (really this time). No shipping cost this time. Saved 50%

Earlier this week, they came.

Three of them, just as ordered. Nice!

Today, I was expecting a package - more internet shopping. Hmm, there are two packages here. One expected. The other...from Sears.com.

Opened box...three microwave platter covers. So, it was a 2-for-1? Or was that first box meant for someone else.

Would not be surprised to see this on Craigslist:
Wanted: three lotion dispensers shipped to me from Sears. Hands chapped, sinks have holes. Help.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Perspective: Big 3 bailout = Grand Theft Auto

I can't abide the anti-government lickspittles who take everything government does, from Social Security to proposed bailouts of the auto industry, as some sort of personal affront. So it's a relief to see someone who believes in good government and good capitalism providing some perspective:

Pan Am, which had been a leading U.S. international airline since the 1930s, collapsed in 1991. Like other great U.S. companies, it died in the marketplace because it blundered. Churn — of people and businesses — has always defined America. Nobody subsidized U.S. Steel or the automaker Packard in the belief that the world without them was unthinkable.

Coming to the United States from Europe, I found this constant reinvention bracing. Look at the top 40 companies by market capitalization in Europe and most have been there for decades. Not in the United States, land of Google and eBay. Churn requires death as well as birth. The artificial preservation of the inert dampens the quest for the new.

For Cohen, the issue is more than jobs or businesses too big to fail. It's a question of the American ethic.

The whole financial crisis is about the death of responsibility: the buck stopped nowhere. Everyone profited from toxic paper. Bernard Madoff, he of the alleged multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme, is only the latest example.

Irresponsibility has also characterized Detroit. I don’t see how you restore responsibility with a bailout. Obama has a deeper task than changing the economy; he has to change the culture.

Rather than adopting European subsidies, put billions toward more inspiring European examples: a high-speed railroad network or universal health care.

Hear hear.

Diet pop will save you calories and dollars

A nice piece by Nicholas Kristof on the brilliance of New York Governor Patterson's plan to make ends meet by taxing sugared soda
An 18 percent sales tax on soft drinks and other nondiet sugary beverages 
Why is this so great?  Because taxing unhealthy behavior is one way that we can make money by improving health.
Let’s break for a quiz: What was the biggest health care breakthrough in the last 40 years in the United States? Heart bypasses? CAT scans and M.R.I.’s? New cancer treatments?

No, it was the cigarette tax. Every 10 percent price increase on cigarettes reduced sales by about 3 percent over all, and 7 percent among teenagers, according to the 2005 book “Prescription for a Healthy Nation.” Just the 1983 increase in the federal tax on cigarettes saved 40,000 lives per year.

And why are sugared drinks in particular so bad?
Evidence is accumulating that sugary drinks are a major contributor to obesity because of the evolutionary heritage I mentioned at the outset: Except for soups, liquid calories don’t register with the body, according to Professor Popkin and other specialists. [emphasis mine]
Tax the hell out of them.  

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

There are no libertarians in a financial crisis

A thoughtful post from Jeff Frankel on the rush to government intervention in the markets during this economic crisis, often led by former prosletyzers of libertarian ideals.  There are no athiests in foxholes, nor libertarians in financial crises.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Capitalism's quote of the day

A financial writer was trying to track down the source of the financial crisis, from greedy loan marketers to failures at rating agencies overseeing complex "collateralized debt obligations" (CDOs), and heard this from a hedge fund manager that had seen the problems early:
[Eisman, hedge fund manager]: ‘Where are the rating agencies in all of this? And I’d always get the same reaction. It was a smirk.’ He called Standard & Poor’s and asked what would happen to default rates if real estate prices fell. The man at S.& P. couldn’t say; its model for home prices had no ability to accept a negative number. ‘They were just assuming home prices would keep going up,’ Eisman says.” [emphasis mine]
These are the guardians of our markets.  

A "seventh generation" look at bailouts

Tom Friedman has very cogent thoughts on bailouts and the economic stimulus these days.  On the proposed car company bailout:
You want my tax dollars? Then I want to see the precise production plans and timetables for the hybridization of all your cars and trucks within 36 months...because nothing would both improve mileage and emissions more — and also stimulate a whole new 21st-century, job-creating industry: batteries.
For energy policy, hit the supply and demand sides:
It makes no sense to spend money on green infrastructure — or a bailout of Detroit aimed at stimulating production of more fuel-efficient cars — if it is not combined with a tax on carbon that would actually change consumer buying behavior.

Many people will tell Mr. Obama that taxing carbon or gasoline now is a “nonstarter.” Wrong. It is the only starter. It is the game-changer. If you want to know where postponing it has gotten us, visit Detroit. No carbon tax or increased gasoline tax meant that every time the price of gasoline went down to $1 or $2 a gallon, consumers went back to buying gas guzzlers.  [emphasis mine]
Exactly.  If we're intending to shift to renewble energy and reduced carbon emissions permanently, there's no time to do so like the present.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Give the gift of IQ

Want to know one of the most un-sexy, yet effective types of foreign aid?  Providing iodized salt to the world's poor
Almost one-third of the world’s people don’t get enough iodine from food and water. The result in extreme cases is large goiters that swell their necks, or other obvious impairments such as dwarfism or cretinism. But far more common is mental slowness.

When a pregnant woman doesn’t have enough iodine in her body, her child may suffer irreversible brain damage and could have an I.Q. that is 10 to 15 points lower than it would otherwise be. An educated guess is that iodine deficiency results in a needless loss of more than 1 billion I.Q. points around the world.
For more information, this 2006 story examines the challenge and progress of delivering this crucial nutrient.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Recycling and bottled water

This is a great essay on the challenge of reconciling the environment with convenience, how policies have been created to discourage Americans from simply tossing (or littering) their 215 billion beverage containers per year.  Some highlights:
  • Should states provide an incentive to recycle, often via a "bottle bill" that provides a cash return for recycling?
  • If so, should the deposit be indexed to inflation?
  • How do we balance convenience and cleanliness?
  • What happens when scavengers simply empty curbside bins of recyclables?
 Get more on bottled water, from its environmental impacts to price mark ups, here.

MAPlight: connecting money with politics

Ever hear of a bill passing and wonder how much your senator or representative got paid to vote for it?  Now you can find out.  I think the interface is clunky, but if you watch the tutorial video, you can pretty quickly get a sense of how folks voted, who was lobbying them, and how much they were paying. 

I used MAPlight to critique the FISA bill vote in June.

A beautiful short film

If you have a bit of time on a lunch break, I recommend this. It defies further explanation.

Torture was endorsed by Bush

Some of us are giddy about change, but also resolved that there will be justice.  Torture, once spurned by Americans to demonstrate our commitment to higher ideals, was embraced by the Bush administration for the War on Terror, despite it being ineffective.

A new, formerly secret memo to the CIA, written in the summer of 2004, expressly permitted torture by agents.  Of course, the secret is really just to change the definition of torture

Maybe we can change the definition of executive privilege.  Here's one vote for Bush to stand trial in international court after he leaves office.

As seen on TV: Teen sex

The Washington Post summary says it best:
Teenagers who watch a lot of television featuring flirting, necking, discussion of sex and sex scenes are much more likely than their peers to get pregnant or get a partner pregnant, according to the first study to directly link steamy programming to teen pregnancy...The researchers took into account other factors such as having only one parent, wanting to have a baby and engaging in other risky behaviors.
When most of pop culture is peddling sex, we need comprehensive sex education [it works] so teens at least have an idea of how to be safe.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Challenged ballots: judge well, but consider this

State statute may affect some of your choices.  From the statute:

You may not be able to count ballot #4 or #7 by this rule:
  • Subd. 3.Votes for too many candidates.


    If a voter places a mark (X) beside the names of more candidates for an office than are to be elected or nominated, the ballot is defective with respect only to that office. No vote shall be counted for any candidate for that office, but the rest of the ballot shall be counted if possible. At a primary, if a voter has not indicated a party preference and places a mark (X) beside the names of candidates of more than one party on the partisan ballot, the ballot is totally defective and no votes on it shall be counted. If a voter has indicated a party preference at a primary, only votes cast for candidates of that party shall be counted. [emphasis mine]

According to this section, ballot #5 may be technically an overvote, and subject to the above rule.
  • Subd. 4.Name written in proper place.
    If a voter has written the name of an individual in the proper place on a general or special election ballot a vote shall be counted for that individual whether or not the voter makes a mark (X) in the square opposite the blank.
Other rules for thought:
  • Subd. 6.Mark out of place.
    If a mark (X) is made out of its proper place, but so near a name or space as to indicate clearly the voter's intent, the vote shall be counted.

Challenged ballots: you be the judge

Minnesota Public Radio is giving the average citizen a chance to see what the canvassing board will be deciding - what was the voter's intent.  Click on to see challenged ballots in the Minnesota Senate race and to see if you can determine the voter's intention.

Hat tip to GM for the link (via email).




Update (after the quiz)
  • I can't believe people would give ballot #1 to Franken.  I voted Coleman, but I'd rather discard it that accept it.  It's an arrow, away from Franken!
  • On #7, it's a hard one.  I'd argue that the voter started the wrong bubble and then went for their true choice - Coleman.
  • #11 is not an underline, it's a strikethrough.  I gave it to Coleman.

Netflix kicks ass v2

In January I gushed about the many virtues of Netflix.  In order to keep you posted on its many advantages, I give you this update:
  • Movies watched since March 2007: 57
  • Average price per movie: $2.48
And did I mention I don't have to leave home to get them?

Identify this famous person

My concern has been the atrocities there in Darfur and the relevance to me with that issue as we spoke about Africa and some of the countries there that were kind of the people succumbing to the dictators and the corruption of some collapsed governments on the continent, the relevance was [the] investment in Darfur with some of our [fund] dollars.
Disclosure: the brackets are where I excised a couple words that make it a dead giveaway.

Read on for the answer, another perspective on this famous person, and a chance to read the phrase "sizzling loins" on a page with the NY Times header.

A clear view of the Russia-Georgia conflict

Kristof has a brief essay on why the U.S. should not be inviting the country of Georgia into NATO, and how their recent encounter with the Russian military was entirely their fault.  A quick read to get you up on your Asian foreign policy.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Breaking the taboo of prostate cancer

An excellent real-life account of an experience with prostate cancer, dealing with the treatment that essentially suppresses a man's testosterone.  In other words, trying to face prostate cancer "like a man" while no longer feeling much like one.

Obama: turning the tide in the war on brains?

Nicholas Kristof opines on the impact of having an "out of the closet, practicing intellectual" as our president-elect. 
An intellectual is a person interested in ideas and comfortable with complexity. Intellectuals read the classics, even when no one is looking, because they appreciate the lessons of Sophocles and Shakespeare that the world abounds in uncertainties and contradictions, and — President Bush, lend me your ears — that leaders self-destruct when they become too rigid and too intoxicated with the fumes of moral clarity.

...as Mr. Obama goes to Washington, I’m hopeful that his fertile mind will set a new tone for our country. Maybe someday soon our leaders no longer will have to shuffle in shame when they’re caught with brains in their heads.
Amen

Monday, November 17, 2008

Counting the vote: totals always change

Some camaigns like to suggest that the change in vote totals after election night and prior to vote certification is some sort of shady, underhanded practice (usually when their margin of victory is declining).  Fact is, it happens all the time (see pic, which I received via email):

Alaska update 2: turnout may break record

It seems that turnout is just fine in the nation's largest state, it just takes a while to get all the ballots in.  Something may not be rotten after all, contrary to my first post on the subject.

Thoughts on the GM bailout proposal

This essay goes in favor of a bailout, on a few principles:
  • It's a loan.  The Chrysler bailout in the 1980s was paid back.
  • The credit crisis means that GM could probably not do Chapter 11 (reorganization bankruptcy) and would instead have to do Chapter 7 (liquidation).  
    • That means as many as a million jobs lost in manufacturing and supplier stores.  And these are good jobs with health benefits.
  • The Big 3 are retooling and learning the lessons, improving efficiency, renegotiating with unions, and building more fuel efficient cars.
A bailout isn't the worst idea ever, but there should be some fairly strong guarantees about the direction the industry goes if they get a handout.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

After the Imperial Presidency

An excellent magazine piece by Jonathan Mahler examines whether a Democratic Congress has made any strides in reasserting Congressional authority over the executive (not much) and what the implications are.  From the summary:
Will Congress simply insist on being asked for its blessing before empowering the president to do whatever he sees fit? And if so, what will it take for what the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. identified as democracy’s greatest virtue — “its capacity for self-correction” — to kick in and restore the constitutional balance?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Curmudgeon one-upmanship

As seen on Slashdot today:
No toys here. Christmas was watching commercials and then kids at school brag about their presents. I had this one rather long branch, though, that I found incredibly straight. It was a sword, a rifle, a baseball bat, and so many other things. I would look forward to playing with my stick and using my ingenuity to find further roles for it to play.
Then, one day, I came home from school to find that my dad had refrained from getting high/drunk that day and cleaned up the back yard. I couldn't find my stick until I went to the dumpster and found that he had snapped it in four so it could fit easier into a trash bag.
A stick? Luxury.

We had to make jump rope from our own eyebrows. The only way to play hop scotch was to break our own leg, then trace the court on the ground with our protruding bone. When our dad came home and found out we broke our own legs and marked up the drive way, he used to drag us through a cactus patch with our own jump rope tied round our necks.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Detroit: needs a restructure, not a bailout

President-elect Obama has proposed a bailout for Detroit auto firms, but this proposal reeks of political favor rather than rational economic policy.  From Tom Friedman's column on the proposed bailout:
Bob Lutz, G.M.’s vice chairman...has been quoted as saying that hybrids like the Toyota Prius “make no economic sense.” And, in February, D Magazine of Dallas quoted him as saying that global warming “is a total crock of [expletive].”
Is there any question as to why an industry led by these idiots is sinking in a down economy with gas prices having been higher?  Oh, there's the health care thing, but Friedman has a thought on that:
please, spare me the alligator tears about G.M.’s health care costs. Sure, they are outrageous. “But then why did G.M. refuse to lift a finger to support a national health care program when Hillary Clinton was pushing for it?” asks Dan Becker, a top environmental lobbyist.
It's not just the car companies themselves, their Congressional representatives have done them an ill turn, as well.
The blame for this travesty not only belongs to the auto executives, but must be shared equally with the entire Michigan delegation in the House and Senate, virtually all of whom, year after year, voted however the Detroit automakers and unions instructed them to vote. That shielded General Motors, Ford and Chrysler from environmental concerns, mileage concerns and the full impact of global competition that could have forced Detroit to adapt long ago.
 In other words, we should finally show them the tough love, or we'll be doing this all over again. 
“In return for any direct government aid,” he wrote, “the board and the management [of G.M.] should go. Shareholders should lose their paltry remaining equity. And a government-appointed receiver — someone hard-nosed and nonpolitical — should have broad power to revamp G.M. with a viable business plan and return it to a private operation as soon as possible. That will mean tearing up existing contracts with unions, dealers and suppliers, closing some operations and selling others and downsizing the company ... Giving G.M. a blank check — which the company and the United Auto Workers union badly want, and which Washington will be tempted to grant — would be an enormous mistake.”
Given this advice, I think the companies (and unions) are likely to go for bankruptcy instead.  That's lousy, too, because either way there are a lot of good, union jobs going down the toilet.  But I'm not convinced there's any way to save the car companies from themselves, in a fashion that would prevent this kind of bailout again.

Campaign finance reform

Barack Obama spent a lot getting elected president, around $600 million.  In comparison, a candidate who accepts federal matching funds is required to spend no more than $84 million during the general election campaign.  Clearly, the system is no longer competitive with unlimited fundraising and spending. 

The president of Democracy 21 has proposed a fix:
  • A 4-to-1 match for contributions up to $200 and nothing for contributions above that.
  • Realistic spending limits: $250 million for the primary and another $250 million for the general, up from $50 million and $84 million, respectively.
  • A lower individual contribution limit than $2300
  • Close loopholes for joint fundraising with the party
I like options (1) and (2) for sure.  What a great way to lock in the importance of smaller donors. 

The lower contribution limit, (3), may dissuade candidates from going with public financing. 

Cutting off funds for parties through joint fundraising (4) is a mixed bag.  Consider: party fundraising is the money the Obama campaign used for get-out-the-vote and voter registration.  It's what is activating people in politics.  It can also be spent on dirty ads against the opponent.  We have to be careful not to toss the baby with the bathwater.  The dramatic increase in participation by Americans is one of the best things to happen from this wild spending.   

What think?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Advice to Obama on energy

I don't necessarily always agree with Robert Rapier, but he's one of the most cogent and comprehensive thinkers on U.S. energy policy and he has an open letter to President-elect Obama on his energy plan.  The highlights:

A 4-point program
1). Minimizing per capita energy usage
2). Finding sustainable, affordable alternatives
3). Managing the down side of the production peak such that severe shortages are avoided.
4). Communicating to the public the nature of the problem, and explaining why sacrifice is needed.

Rapier's criticisms of Obama:
  • We will need more domestic fossil fuel production in the near term to bridge the gap between fossil fuel and renewables (windfall profits taxes will kill exploration)
  • Prices must rise to constrain consumption [YES]
  • Reliance on ethanol to supplant oil means long-term unsustainability - corn farming depletes soil nutrition, fertilizer comes from natural gas, and irrigation (and ethanol production) deplete aquifers [true, we need a next-generation biofuel, but mostly we need plug-in hybrid cars]
  • We need nuclear to help bridge between coal-fired electricity and (capital-intensive and often rural) renewable electricity [NO - for what nuclear costs, we could probably build enough renewables with battery storage]
Rapier's agreement with Obama
  • Plug-in hybrids
  • Incentives for wind, solar, geothermal,
  • Weatherizing homes

Alaska update: more ballots uncounted

My original post covers the strange drop in turnout in Alaska, and the strong skew toward Republicans compared to election week polls.

But there are new developments:

Elections officials now report that uncounted ballots number closer to 100,000 than 50,000, so turnout is a much more reasonable 63%, with time enough for a few thousand more ballots to arrive before counting begins later this week.

Alaska has a large vote-by-mail population, so it may be that ballots were simply delayed. It will be interesting to see if the vote-by-mail folks break heavily Democratic, making the polls more accurate than previously thought.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Numbers nerd crunches Franken-Coleman Senate race (MN)

I've read a few posts at fivethirtyeight.com, but never knew it was the website of a stats geek who decided to apply his gift to politics.  Anyway, he's got an article on the odds of Franken winning the MN Senate race after the recount, using terms like "Correctable Error Rate (CER)."  If that sounds sexy, click the link.

Hat tip to SK for the story.

Obama: already spreading hope and faith in America

I received an email on Saturday about a person's experience abroad as the U.S. election came to a close and Obama won.  She's connected to me through family and a college professor I once knew.  Her story itself is inspiring, but a person on Daily Kos (who also got the email) made the story much more poignant by discussing her travel abroad experience from 2003 as a prelude:

In 2003, was beginning my round-the-world trip after having left my corporate publishing job in NYC. Just ten days prior, Bush had just shaken up the world by invading Iraq with the infamous "shock and awe" bombing of Bagdad. The anti-American feelings of confusion, anger and hate were reflected back to me so clearly during my trip.

My connecting flight took me into the heart of Asia and my first stop was the same Kuala Lumpur airport as the young traveler below describes.

In a restaurant at the KL airport, I noticed the young Muslim table-seater and waitresses, wearing light, flowing gowns and headresses, whispering and looking suspiciously at me. I ate my meal a little self-consciously and tried to be inconspicuous throughout.

As I paid my bill and started to leave, the young table-seater approached me and asked "Why is your country going to war against Muslims? Why does your country hate us?" I turned my eyes down, here it was, what I feared, right in my face. I paused, took in a deep breath, thinking, how could I possibly explain?

Finally, I looked up at her and said with my deepest sincerity and humility, "I'm so sorry about what my country has done. I don't agree with my government. There are many American who don't agree and don't like what our President has done in Iraq. The best thing we can do is love one another and pray for one another, because all people really want is peace."

She looked at me as if she understood. I stood there for a moment looking back into her dark eyes, eyes that were seeking to understand. I walked away feeling that I had no answers, no solution or resolution to what was happening. I held that thought of love and peace as I continued my travels and strangers questioned me or stared at me suspiciously whereever I was in that year -- Australia, Korea, Thailand, India, Germany, Italy and England. All the while the bombs, missiles and machine guns kept falling and firing.

So five years later, we finally have change and the hope of, at long last, a new, brighter day for everyone in the world:
-------------------------------

November 4, 2008

My dear friends,

Today I have had to travel from the island of Borneo...from SABAH and the town of Kota Kinabalu.  Then to Kuala Lumpur where I had a 5 hour lay over and finally arriving very late at night in Bangkok.  The election has already begun....

Today, in honor of the election, I am wearing an Obama '08 button on my lapel.  If the treatment and reaction throughout my day is any indication of what our world might become....I am overwhelmed with optimism.  First, every single place I went, someone noticed the button and called out, "OBAMA!".  There were international administrators from across the region at the Hotel.  Many of them nodded and smiled, and even the non-Americans who reacted with huge enthusiasm.  One man from Australia stopped me to talk politics for 10 minutes.  The crew working behind the desk all gave a thumbs up...the taxi driver did not charge me for taking me to the airport.

I must explain that, once at the airport,  I am one  of very few Americans among Asians from all over this region.  I might possibly be the only blond in either airport I have been in so far today, and won't see many if any Americans until Bangkok.  I do not speak the language...thank goodness they speak English.

Upon seeing my button, everyone, without exception, smiles.  I have received preferential treatment all day long. They didn't make me pay extra for a heavy bag, they treated me in short, like royalty. The stewardess told the pilot, who stood up in the cock pit to give me a thumbs up.  Even the immigration official barely looked at my passport.  He was much more interested in knowing an Obama supporter and what I thought would happen today.

When I was buying dinner at a very American McDonalds (the only place to get something to eat), the entire crew behind the counter (not one American) came to say kind words to me.  The man who exchanged my money asked how I could do anything so far away from the USA.  I told him, with some amount of pride, that I had voted by absentee ballot.  He took my hand and said, "thank you so much for voting for Mr. Obama."  There were actual tears in his eyes.

While waiting at the airport in Kota Kinabalu and girl about 9 years old saw my button. She smiled broadly.  I said hello and she asked if I wanted Obama to win because she did and her whole family did and that that morning they said a prayer that he would.  I  told her that I thought Barack would like that a girl all the way in Kota Kinabalu said a prayer for him.  She asked could I tell him that they were praying for him and I said I would send an email to his headquarters.  She was so excited that she ran to tell her parents.  Her father came over and asked me if I knew Obama.  I told him I had seen him speak, but never met him.  He said that his whole community was praying for Obama and that he appreciated that I would write an email to tell him.  He took my hand and said, we are praying for all of the American people too.  This was the second stranger to take my hand today. It was my turn to have tears in my eyes, because this man, who I didn't know, was completely sincere.  I thanked him.  He said, "all of us, together...do you understand?"  I said, "All of us together."  We parted...smiling!

I write this as I sit in the airport at Kuala Lumpur waiting for hours for the plane.  The women who guard the doors have on muslim headdresses , orange pants outfits and lime green jerseys.  They are shy and reserved, yet they give me the thumbs up, and quietly whisper, "Obama" as I walk by. There are Thai and Chinese, and Indonesians and Indians surrounding me...The languages, dress, foods are all interesting.  And sitting right next to me is a Buddhist monk, in just his orangish/yellow robes and shaved head.  He smiles broadly when I look at him.  He says frankly, "I like Obama."

The man behind the counter is Malaysian.  He asks if I voted and when I confirm I have he laughs really loud and says something to the other official sitting next to him.  This man laughs too.  They both look at me intently.  The one, fighting to find the right english begins, "This is (something in Malay).  I smile saying I don't understand.  He looks at his colleague and rattles something in Malay...The man says just a minute.  He gets out a book.  It is an english translation book.  He says something to the man and hands him the book...pointing to a line on the page.  The 1st man turns back to me and says..."this is fan/tas/a/tic...fan-tas-aahhh-tic...how do you say?"  I tell him, yes, he is right "Fantastic".  They laugh again at their attempts.  I laugh too.  He stamps everything forcefully, "wham! wham! wham!"  And then he says something none of these officials ever take time to say,  "We hope you will come back and visit our country!"  "Of course," I say, "of course."  I don't quite know how to explain the full meaning of his invitation.  Americans haven't been at the top of the list for quite awhile and traveling around, it isn't hard to sense.

Our leaders reflect who we are as a country/nation.  I have always been proud of my family and Oregon.  I have not always been proud of our leaders and the choices they make.  Today I am proud...I am proud of our country and I was tearful watching a top French official trying to explain to the BBC reporter why the whole world is watching this election and praying that Obama will become our president.

Well, thank you for letting me share.  Tomorrow at 7am we head to the American Embassy gathering to watch the election results come in.  We are attending with world leaders and diplomats.  We are to dress 'smart casual.'  It should be quite the experience...one I hope brings new hope to our country and the world.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Something is rotten in the state of Alaska

Update 11/17/08:  
Turnout may actually break a record.


Update 11/11/08:

Elections officials now report that uncounted ballots number closer to 100,000 than 50,000, so turnout is a much more reasonable 63%, with time enough for a few thousand more ballots to arrive before counting begins later this week.

Alaska has a large vote-by-mail population, so it may be that ballots were simply delayed. It will be interesting to see if the vote-by-mail folks break heavily Democratic, making the polls more accurate than previously thought.

----

In a banner year for Democratic candidates from Obama on down, here's what happened in Alaska:
Here's a great summary graphic from fivethirtyeight.com illustrating the anomaly. The first column shows the latest polls, the second is the result. "Delta" is the difference:
How bad is that turnout figure? I did a quick comparison, pulling 2004 turnout data from here and then searching for newspaper reports of 2008 turnout. It's not exactly apples to apples, but Alaska clearly stands out.

The news on this is starting to spread. Let's hope there's a full-scale investigation.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Hey Norm, still willing to forgo a recount?

Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman is currently up by only 342 votes in his re-election campaign against DFLer Al Franken (the race keeps tightening as ballots are counted).  Yesterday, he declared victory and said that Franken should voluntarily forgo the state-required recount to promote unity.

Fun thought: if the final tally actually puts Franken ahead, will Coleman still be saying "no recount"?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The last 100 days - an agenda of destruction

While Barack Obama's victory is giving many Americans a vision of hope for his first 100 days, the Bush administration is busy trying to wreak as much havoc on civil liberties, the environment, abortion rights as it can.

A sample:
Last month, Attorney General Michael Mukasey rushed out new guidelines for the F.B.I. that permit agents to use chillingly intrusive techniques to collect information on Americans even where there is no evidence of wrongdoing.

In coming weeks, we expect the Environmental Protection Agency to issue a final rule that would weaken a program created by the Clean Air Act, which requires utilities to install modern pollution controls when they upgrade their plants to produce more power.

Soon after the election, Michael Leavitt, the secretary of health and human services, is expected to issue new regulations aimed at further limiting women’s access to abortion, contraceptives and information about their reproductive health care options.  Existing law allows doctors and nurses to refuse to participate in an abortion. These changes would extend the so-called right to refuse to a wide range of health care workers and activities including abortion referrals, unbiased counseling and provision of birth control pills or emergency contraception, even for rape victims. 
I suppose when your approval rating is already under 25%, you might as well just flip the bird to the 75%.    I can't wait to see who gets a pardon. 

Stretch before running? Think again.

Turns out static stretching beforehand is actually worse than doing nothing at all.  Try some active stretching or just a light warm-up, instead.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

We Won!

Our opponent gave one of the most gracious concession speeches.  I only wish his campaign had been as classy.

Thank you, Senator McCain, for trying to bring America together behind our new president-elect.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Pointless things to fight a sibling over

I saw a funny mobile phone commercial where the family's two boys were fighting over "new" and "old" minutes for their family talk plan.  It reminded me of other inane things to fight over, like one my brother and I did. 

See that curl of margarine in the center?  Yes, somehow that was worth fighting for...egads, we were dumb.

This economy won't turn around fast

I already blogged about the debt trap that has captured so many Americans before and through this credit crisis, but Paul Krugman's column today highlights why the mound of debt already accumulated might make this economic downturn very, very long:
According to Thursday’s G.D.P. report, real consumer spending fell at an annual rate of 3.1 percent in the third quarter...To appreciate the significance of these numbers, you need to know that American consumers almost never cut spending. Consumer demand kept rising right through the 2001 recession; the last time it fell even for a single quarter was in 1991, and there hasn’t been a decline this steep since 1980, when the economy was suffering from a severe recession combined with double-digit inflation. [emphasis mine]
So it's bad.  And those numbers are coming in before the crash in the Dow, and the seizing up of credit.  So when the economy is two-thirds consumer spending, can a Christmas holiday make us right?  Probably not.
American consumers have long been living beyond their means.
Here's the chart from the NY Times debt trap feature:

We've been spending more than we had for years, and now we're in a real bind.  Krugman goes into the macroeconomics, that the Fed can't even loosen up the economy because lowering interest rates can't help people who've been outspending their income for years. 

In other words, this recession's going to be here for a while.  Maybe we'll all learn a little thrift in the meantime.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Your subconscious is still racist

It turns out it's harder than just voting for equal rights to remove all the lingering social prejudices from your mind.  Check out this fascinating column as well as two tests of your subconscious preferences:
I blogged about Kristof's last column on this subject, too.

Voter suppression samples

Across the swing states, a lot of shady efforts to suppress the vote are ongoing.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Nation of Debtors

Want to understand how America lost its way on financial sense?  Check out The Debt Trap, an interactive feature from the New York Times.

Long term fiscal stimulus: a New Deal

Renewable energy and energy efficiency could be the foundation for long term economic sustainability.  And it could provide an outlet for government to provide substantial economic stimulus in the short term.

Voter suppression is the real problem

As much as ACORN and voter fraud have been mentioned in the conservative media lately, you'd think community organizers are out stealing this election for the poor (and Democratic).  Too bad there's little evidence of that.
The Department of Justice, which according to the attorney general has "made enforcement of election fraud and corruption offenses a top priority," convicted only 24 people between 2002 and 2005 for voting fraud, an average of eight people a year.
But voter suppression is another way to undermine democracy, and it is being propogated on a much larger scale.
Voter suppression by election officials and state governments -- is widespread and validated. "Tens of thousands of eligible voters in at least six swing states have been removed from the rolls or have been blocked from registering in ways that appear to violate federal law," the New York Times recently concluded after its own investigation.

And of the specific allegations against ACORN?  Well, the same allegations were made in 2004 and every lawsuit was dismissed.
WASHINGTON - December 14 - Today, ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) announced that the last of three politically-motivated lawsuits filed against the group in the wake of its successful 2004 voter outreach drive has been "dismissed with prejudice." Each of the three cases (two in Florida and one in Ohio) were brought by partisan law firms based on unfounded allegations of "voter fraud" against the organization -- and all three cases have been dismissed.

In other words, this "voter fraud" claim is bullshit, just like 2004.  It's a politically motivated tactic to suppress Democratic voters.  And it's a campaign tactic we have to fight. 

Neat car tech: hydraulic hybrid

Monday, October 27, 2008

Time to vote: is work in the way?

Thinking about long lines at the polls impacting your ability to exercise your voting rights?  Keep in mind that most states have laws guaranteeing you time away from work to vote, even if lines are long.

Sample:
Minnesota – An employee has a right to be absent from work for the purpose of voting “during the morning of” election day. This time off is paid. (Minn. Stat. Section 204C.04)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Obama and America's standing

A great piece on the potential for a President Obama to significantly increase America's standing in the world and why it's important (as opposed to just being a military power).

Best line:
you can’t fire cruise missiles at the global financial crisis

Friday, October 17, 2008

Palin Hatchet Job

It's about as nice as slamming community organizing.  But I think it's damn funny.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Better answers for Democrats

Why is the Democratic economic plan better than the Republican one?

Because Democrats have two fundamental beliefs: that when government acts, it should be to benefit the middle class and not the wealthy; and that when we use government to invest in the crucial functions of our economy, from health care to energy, that we have to pay for what we spend.  That's why, in a time of economic crisis, we're asking the wealthy to go back to paying taxes as they did before 2001 - since they don't need another handout - in order to sustain the middle class.

Would a Democratic President consider a judicial nominee who opposes Roe v. Wade?

A Democratic President is looking for the most qualified jurists to serve on the Supreme Court and would not use a litmus test.  That being said, the chance of their being a candidate for the Court whose judicial philosophy matches a Democratic President and yet opposes Roe v. Wade is downright infinitesimal.  You might as well talk about a Republican balancing a budget.

A moment of silence

Ever had the TV on for three minutes with no ads, taglines, splash screens or network music segments?

I tuned into the presidential debate on C-SPAN, and for the last three minutes prior to the debate, it was just a camera on the auditorium. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

w00t!
woo hoo!
YES!

How Racism Works

Thanks to MJE for the email, and to Kelvin LaFond for writing this letter to the editor on Sept. 5, 2008 in the Fort Worth Star Telegram.
What if John McCain were a former president of the Harvard Law Review?
What if Barack Obama finished fifth from the bottom of his graduating class?

What if McCain were still married to the first woman he said 'I do' to?
What if Obama were the candidate who left his first wife after she no longer measured up to his standards?

What if Michelle Obama were a wife who not only became addicted to pain killers, but acquired them illegally through her charitable organization?
What if Cindy McCain graduated from Harvard? What if Obama were a member of the 'Keating 5'? What if McCain was a charismatic, eloquent speaker?

If these questions reflected reality, do you really believe the election numbers would be as close as they are?

This is what racism does. It covers up, rationalizes and minimizes positive qualities in one candidate and emphasizes negative qualities in another when there is a color difference.

-Kelvin LaFond, Fort Worth
If you're more of a "compare the stats" person, try this from the email I received (if you're part of the anti-intellectualist wing of the Republican party, don't bother.  I know you think education is worthless):

Educational Background of Candidates
  Obama:
  Columbia University - B.A. Political Science with a Specialization in International Relations.
  Harvard - Juris Doctor (J.D.) Magna Cum Laude

  Biden:
  University of Delaware - B.A. in History and B.A. in Political Science.
  Syracuse University College of Law - Juris Doctor (J.D.)

   vs.

  McCain:
  United States Naval Academy - Class rank: 894 of 899

  Palin:
  Hawaii Pacific University - 1 semester
  North Idaho College - 2 semesters - general study
  University of Idaho - 2 semesters - journalism
  Matanuska-Susitna College - 1 semester
  University of Idaho - 3 semesters - B.A. in Journalism

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

From the last debate: should we be buying mortgages?

In last night's debate, Sen. McCain suggested that the Treasury Secretary should be buying up individual mortgages to help out homeowners. Seems like a winner for the middle class, until you read up a bit more. Get the skinny from economist Brad DeLong:

The McCain plan is:
  • Take $300 billion.
  • Pay double current market value to banks that have troubled mortgages on their books, thus:
    • Give a present of $100 billion to the bankers who made the loans.
    • Acquire and regularize the mortgages of only two-thirds as many homeowners as could have been accomplished if the $300 billion were invested wisely.
There's a big difference here: Democrats want to prevent depression and support the financial markets by investing taxpayer money in banks with troubled assets. Republicans want to give taxpayers money away to the shareholders and managers of banks with troubled assets.

His entire post is worth a read, because he explains the fundamental difference between the European actions and Secretary Paulson's plan, and why the former is a lot more likely to return taxpayer money.

Fiscal responsibility

If you want to see a balanced budget, here's a couple thoughts for you:



Palin, patriotism, and (payroll) taxes

Gov. Palin made a big stink in the VP debate about taxes and patriotism:
You said recently that higher taxes or asking for higher taxes or paying higher taxes is patriotic. In the middle class of America...that’s not patriotic. 
I couldn't disagree more, and Thomas Friedman has a great column today explaining why paying taxes is in fact far more patriotic than anything else Gov. Palin has suggested we do:
Palin defended the government’s $700 billion rescue plan. She defended the surge in Iraq, where her own son is now serving. She defended sending more troops to Afghanistan...

I only wish she had been asked: “Governor Palin, if paying taxes is not considered patriotic in your neighborhood, who is going to pay for the body armor that will protect your son in Iraq? Who is going to pay for the bailout you endorsed? If it isn’t from tax revenues, there are only two ways to pay for those big projects — printing more money or borrowing more money. Do you think borrowing money from China is more patriotic than raising it in taxes from Americans?” That is not putting America first. That is selling America first. (emphasis mine)
A lot of Republicans consider it a given that taxes must go down, and then spending.  But we've tried that for every Republican administration since Ronald Reagan, and each time it's simply led to deficits and massive increases in the national debt

This is the issue: we currently spend what Americans expect from their government, but we don't ask them to pay for it.  Cutting spending means cutting programs Americans want, from defense to health care. 

It's time to do like the American family does in a pinch - try to make more money - and raise taxes.  Because it is patriotic to earn your living.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Election 2008: a chance to conquer unconscious racism

The studies show that conscious prejudice has been on the decline for years, but that unconscious prejudice has been fairly steady.  The problem is that the prejudice rarely happens in a clear-cut fashion:
Whites are particularly likely to discriminate against blacks when choices are not clear-cut and competing arguments are flying about...

For example, when the black job candidate is highly qualified, there is no discrimination. Yet in a more muddled gray area where reasonable people could disagree, unconscious discrimination plays a major role.

White participants recommend hiring a white applicant with borderline qualifications 76 percent of the time, while recommending an identically qualified black applicant only 45 percent of the time.
The subconscious prejudice unfortunately plays out in the election campaign:
a careful survey completed last month by Stanford University, with The Associated Press and Yahoo, suggested that Mr. Obama’s support would be about six percentage points higher if he were white
It may seem that solving this problem is beyond us. 
But another lesson, a historical one, is that we can overcome unconscious bias. That’s what happened with the decline in prejudice against Catholics after the candidacy of John F. Kennedy in 1960.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Sarah Palin's Debate Flow Chart

Now you, too, can be a Vice Presidential candidate and successfully navigate your first debate.


Thanks to EJ for the email and to Huffington Post for the image. 

McCain: how many times can you flip-flop in one interview?

Skip to 1:45 for John McCain's opinion(s) on the bailout bill that just passed. Many opinions, my precious.

Debate: Palin better than before, still not qualified

CNN did the fastest post-debate polling:
  • Palin: 84% of debate watchers thought she overcame expectations (she stood, she breathed, success), but less than half think she's qualified to be President.  
  • Biden: Debate viewers also thought Biden performed better, overwhelmingly agreed that he's qualified to be president, and thought he sounded more intelligent.
Neither candidate told the truth the whole way - get the debate facts at FactCheck.org.

My reactions:
  • Palin stuck with the strategy of "if I don't know the answer, I won't give an answer," falling back to talking points and slogans.  She's great at slogans.  Won't help much if she becomes president (see: Current Occupant), though I'm glad she wants to put "country first, government on the side of the people, be a maverick, blah blah blah."
  • Biden clearly showed he knows what running the country involves, particularly with the nuances required for good foreign policy.  His best line was probably in describing the McCain health care plan that will tax $12,000 in benefits in exchange for a $5,000 tax credit - "that's a bridge to nowhere."
If the election were held today and the polls were accurate, Obama would win in a landslide.  I don't think Palin did enough to change the game.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Senate bailout passes (with lard)

The Senate took the failed House bill and sexed it up with a few juicy (and often unrelated) components to win some more votes.  It passed this evening.

Some of the additions:
  • Increasing FDIC insurance to $250,000 from $100,000 (the maximum you get back if your bank goes under)
  • Renewables and "renewables"
    • Extending the renewable energy credits for wind and biofuel for 1 year, and for other technologies for 2 years
    • Lots of coal related tax credits (for things like "refined coal," "advanced" coal and "coal gasification")
    • Tax credits for plug-in hybrid cars
  • Mental health parity for health insurance (yay!)
And then there are a few smaller items like this:
  • SEC. 503. EXEMPTION FROM EXCISE TAX FOR CERTAIN WOODEN ARROWS DESIGNED FOR USE BY CHILDREN.
  • SEC. 325. EXTENSION AND MODIFICATION OF DUTY SUSPENSION ON WOOL PRODUCTS
I think I agree with Paul Krugman that this stinks, but may be necessary.

VP Debate Preview from an expert

He debated Sarah Palin over 20 times in the 2006 Alaska governor's campaign.  What's it like debating Governor Palin?
She's a master, not of facts, figures, or insightful policy recommendations, but at the fine art of the nonanswer, the glittering generality.
She's not much for facts or figures (or knowledge). 
"I watch you at these debates with no notes, no papers, and yet when asked questions, you spout off facts, figures, and policies, and I'm amazed. But then I look out into the audience and I ask myself, 'Does any of this really matter?' " Palin said.
 So what's a policy wonk like Biden to do?
With shorter question-and-answer times and limited interaction between the two, he should simply ignore Palin in a respectful manner on the stage and answer the questions as though he were alone. Any attempt to flex his public-policy knowledge and show Palin is not ready for prime time will inevitably cast him in the role of the bully.

What Rep. Sherman wants for the bailout

Discussion Points on Bailout Plan (hat tip to TPM)

1) Supervision. The Secretary of the Treasury shall not enter into
any contracts or purchase agreements unless such contract or purchase
agreement is approved by a bipartisan three member Board. Before we
pass the bill, Bush must unequivocally agree to appoint one person
selected by the Speaker and one selected by the Senate Majority Leader
to the Board. Asset purchase agreements of less than $1 billion and
service contracts providing for fees of less than $10 million are exempt
from this requirement.

2) Fast track for Regulatory & Corporate Governance Reform.
Throughout the 111th Congress, the Speaker of the House of
Representatives and the Majority Leader of the United States Senate,
shall have the following extraordinary power: to call up any bill
dealing with corporate governance and/or financial services reform under
the following rules: the bill shall be subject to limited debate,
followed by an up or down vote.

3) Tough Standards on Executive Compensation. Upon the sale of any
mortgage related asset to the United States Treasury by any corporation,
the following shall be applicable: any executive compensation contract
calling for compensation in excess of the amounts which are deductible
under Internal Revenue Code Section 162(m), is hereby void as against
public policy. No executive compensation agreement or practice shall be
engaged in by the selling entity, providing for compensation that is not
deductible under Internal Revenue Code 162(m). This provision is
applicable to the entity selling a mortgage related assets to the
Treasury and all affiliates of such entity. Affiliates is as defined in
Internal Revenue Code Section 1504.

4) US Investors Only: No mortgage related asset shall be purchased
under the bill unless it is established that such asset was owned on
September 20th, 2008, by an entity headquartered in the United States.

5) Obligation to invest in the United States. Any entity selling
assets under this bill to the United States must agree to invest the
proceeds of such sale in the United States for no less than 5 years.

6) Homeowner States Rights Not Preempted. The federal government
in its role as holder of any mortgage, shall have no greater rights via
the mortgagor than would a private entity owning said mortgage. The
federal government shall comply with all state and local laws which
protect such mortgagor, not withstanding any argument that the federal
government is exempt therefrom.

7) Reports to Congress. The reports to Congress required by
Section 4 of the Paulson Act shall be rendered every 2 weeks, for so
long as said act is effective.

8) Minority and small business contractors Buy American. At least
10% of the asset (in dollar volume) management contracts and advisor
contracts must be small enough that a firm of 100 or fewer staff could
perform the contract. Otherwise, minority and small business will be
effectively excluded. In contracting with private entities for services
regarding the acquisition and management of mortgage related assets, the
Secretary of the Treasury shall be bound by all applicable laws designed
to benefit minority-owned businesses, women-owned businesses, and small
businesses and shall be bound by all applicable "Buy American"
provisions.

9) Review. Section 8 of Secretary Paulson's proposal is deleted.
The actions by the Secretary shall be reviewable by administrative
agencies and courts of law as provided by existing law.

10) Homeowner protection/bankruptcy reform.

11) Economic Stimulus.

Why many Democrats opposed the bailout

Unvarnished, a memo by one of the rebellious Democratic House members on why he opposed the bailout plan as written.
TAXPAYERS HIGHLY UNLIKELY TO RECOUP ANY OF THE COSTS -- Brad Sherman 9/29/08

We know that the Bailout Bill allows million-dollar-a-month salaries to executives of bailed-out firms, and it allows hundreds of billions to be used to buy toxic assets currently held by foreign investors. But we are told: "don't worry, this $700 billion bill won't cost us anything. We will get it all back next decade through a revenue bill."

I. Section 134 of the Bailout Bill merely says that the President must submit a revenue bill to Congress in 2013 that recoups from the financial industry the taxpayers' net losses.

a. If the President has any revenue ideas he actually likes, he would submit them to us anyway.
b. If the President submits revenue ideas only because he is forced to by Section 134, he will send it to us with a note saying that he believes they are bad for the country, and reserves the right to veto.
c. The Bailout Bill does not automatically enact any revenue increases, nor protect a revenue bill from filibuster or veto.

II. Congress is unlikely to pass a tax increase bill of hundreds of billions of dollars in 2013.

a. Tax increase bills are anathema to many.
b. 41 Senators can block the plan. We're giving Wall Street enough money to hire 4100 lobbyists.
c. In recent years, Wall Street has easily defeated every attempt to close every loophole that they exploit, no matter how pernicious-even the abusive use of Cayman Island tax havens by hedge fund managers, who thereby pay zero tax.

III. Any tax on the financial industry would make the good banks pay a huge tax so we can recoup what we gave to the bad banks.

a. Section 134 says the tax will be on "the financial industry." It does not provide for a tax on just those firms that received bailout payments.
b. A bank that doesn't get a bailout payment still pays the tax.
c. Community banks and perhaps credit unions will also be subject to the tax, so we can recoup what we gave to Wall Street.

IV. It is impossible to draft a tax that hits only those firms that received bailout payments, and even more impossible to draft one that taxes each bank in proportion to how much money we lost on its toxic assets.

a. There are no provisions to even keep track of losses on each asset purchased as it is managed over the years. Assets purchased from several
banks will be pooled, managed, and sold together, and we can never know how much we lost on assets purchased from any one bank.
b. If three banks in the year 2013 have the same income and size and operations, they will all pay the same tax-even if one got no bailout payments, a second got a million dollars, and a third got a billion dollars.
c. Many bailed-out firms won't exist in 2013.

1. Some will go under.
2. Some bailed-out firms are only shell companies. Example: Assume the Bank of Shanghai has $30 billion in toxic assets. It will sell these to the tiny subsidiary it has incorporated in California. The subsidiary will then sell these to the Treasury in 2009, and will be dissolved long before 2013.
3. Many bailed-out firms will still be unprofitable in 2013.
4. Some bailed-out firms will move offshore before 2013.

d. The whole purpose of the bill is to improve the balance sheets of the bailed-out firms. If particular bailed-out firms owe us the money they receive, they would have to list this as a liability, and the bill would fail to improve their balance sheets.

In 2013 we will not pass a tax bill that imposes hundreds of billions of dollars of taxes on the financial services industry, including those banks that got no bailouts, community banks, and credit unions. A tax bill imposed only on those entities that got bailout payments is impossible to draft, and contrary to the purposes of the Bill.

If it were easy to pass a bill to recoup hundreds of billions of dollars through taxes to be imposed in 2013 and thereafter, then provisions imposing such taxes would be in today's bill.

Wall Street gets their money now, and we get it back never.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Take your pick: high gas prices or none at all

Hurricane Ike shut down a lot of refining capacity in the South, and the result is gasoline shortages and gas stations running out of gas.

One culprit: "gas gouging" legislation. Stations don't want to raise prices to reduce demand, so they run out of fuel instead.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Foreign policy: can experience temper belligerence?

Times columnists Nicholas Kristof frequently writes on international issues and rarely on politics, but he breaks from that tradition to warn how Sen. McCain may be a return to the foreign policy of the first Bush term.
Although he is frantically trying to distance himself from President Bush, Mr. McCain, by his own accounting, would be more Bushian in foreign policy than even Mr. Bush is now.
Let's start with Iran, with its theocratic regime, hatred of Israel, and interest in nuclear armaments. 
Iran seems determined to continue its uranium enrichment and will be vexing for any president. But Mr. Bush, under the influence of Bob Gates and Condoleezza Rice, has realized that the best hope is diplomacy and negotiation. In contrast, Mr. McCain denounces Barack Obama’s call for direct talks with Iranian leaders and speaks openly about the possibility of bombing Iranian nuclear sites. 

“There’s only one thing worse than military action against Iran, and that is a nuclear-armed Iran,” Mr. McCain has told me and others, repeating the line regularly. That’s a nice sound bite, but it suggests that if Iran continues to enrich uranium he would feel obliged to launch airstrikes...

So if Iran continues its policies as most expect, we might well find ourselves under a McCain presidency headed toward our third war with a Muslim country.

And then there's the newly belligerent Russia.
Russia underscores Mr. McCain’s penchant for risk-taking, theatrics and fulmination. Most striking, he wants to kick Russia out of the Group of 8.

Mr. McCain’s lead-with-the-chin approach to Russia reflects the same pugnacity that resulted in obscenity-laced dust-ups with fellow Republican senators, but it’s less endearing when the risk is nuclear war. Do we really want to risk an exchange of nuclear warheads over Abkhazia or South Ossetia? The Spanish prime minister, José Zapatero, told me a few days ago that what he fears most under a McCain administration is a revival of the cold war with Russia.
Anyone recall the ad, Daisy?

Palin: ready to lead

A great debate

If you missed it, you can still catch the first presidential campaign debate here.  The best?  Plenty of time for the candidates to go back and forth, to challenge inaccuracies and to provide point-counterpoint.  It was a DEBATE.

I hope the other two live up to this.

Oh, and if you haven't, always follow up your debate watch with a visit to Factcheck.org.  Get the truth.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Bernanke: pass this bailout or a recession is coming

Top story:
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke bluntly warned reluctant lawmakers Tuesday they risk a recession with higher unemployment and increased home foreclosures if they fail to pass the Bush administration's $700 billion plan to bail out the financial industry.
Hmm.  The administration comes up with a plan that is getting a lot of skepticism, wants it passed in a hurry and with little guarantee that it can solve the crisis.   Sound familiar?  Let's flash back to 2002:
On NBC's "Meet the Press," Vice President Dick Cheney accused Saddam of moving aggressively to develop nuclear weapons over the past 14 months to add to his stockpile of chemical and biological arms.

...[Condoleezza] Rice acknowledged that "there will always be some uncertainty" in determining how close Iraq may be to obtaining a nuclear weapon but said, "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."
That kind of talk lying led to six years in Iraq with no clear strategy and a multi hundred billion dollar price tag.  Ready to bring our Iraq strategy home?

Grape Juice as Good as Wine

Need a non-alcoholic life-extender?  Grape juice has nearly all the same benefits as wine.

Comparing presidential tax plans

Which do you prefer, tax cuts with debt or tax cuts that are paid for?  That's your choice in the tax plans of the campaign.  McCain's plans skews to the rich (in percent of income and absolute dollars) and will increase the deficit.  Obama's plan offers tax cuts skewed toward the middle class and pays for it with an income tax surcharge on the very rich.

 

Monday, September 22, 2008

Obama: bailout Main Street not just Wall Street

Obama's response to the bailout proposal:

Why this bailout is not the right one

Taxpayers are about to ante up $700 billion to save the financial giants.  But what do we get in return?

Paul Krugman analyzes the bailout and his comments can be summarized as this:
  • It's not clear that the bailout can actually accomplish its goal.
  • Even if it does, it may do so by over-paying for bad mortgages and leaving taxpayers with nothing in return.
  • We'd be a lot better off with a plan that involves injecting capital into failing firms in exchange for stock, rather than buying up their worthless assets.   In this plan, if the financial giants recover (the whole point), taxpayers get something in return.
Here's the full story:
What is this bailout supposed to do? Will it actually serve the purpose? What should we be doing instead? Let’s talk.

First, a capsule analysis of the crisis.

1. It all starts with the bursting of the housing bubble. This has led to sharply increased rates of default and foreclosure, which has led to large losses on mortgage-backed securities.

2. The losses in MBS, in turn, have left the financial system undercapitalized — doubly so, because levels of leverage that were previously considered acceptable are no longer OK.

3. The financial system, in its efforts to deleverage, is contracting credit, placing everyone who depends on credit under strain.

4. There’s also, to some extent, a vicious circle of deleveraging: as financial firms try to contract their balance sheets, they drive down the prices of assets, further reducing capital and forcing more deleveraging.

So where in this process does the Temporary Asset Relief Plan offer any, well, relief? The answer is that it possibly offers some respite in stage 4: the Treasury steps in to buy assets that the financial system is trying to sell, thereby hopefully mitigating the downward spiral of asset prices.

But the more I think about this, the more skeptical I get about the extent to which it’s a solution. Problems:

(a) Although the problem starts with mortgage-backed securities, the range of assets whose prices are being driven down by deleveraging is much broader than MBS. So this only cuts off, at most, part of the vicious circle.

(b) Anyway, the vicious circle aspect is only part of the larger problem, and arguably not the most important part. Even without panic asset selling, the financial system would be seriously undercapitalized, causing a credit crunch — and this plan does nothing to address that.

Or I should say, the plan does nothing to address the lack of capital unless the Treasury overpays for assets. And if that’s the real plan, Congress has every right to balk.

So what should be done? Well, let’s think about how, until Paulson hit the panic button, the private sector was supposed to work this out: financial firms were supposed to recapitalize, bringing in outside investors to bulk up their capital base. That is, the private sector was supposed to cut off the problem at stage 2.

It now appears that isn’t happening, and public intervention is needed. But in that case, shouldn’t the public intervention also be at stage 2 — that is, shouldn’t it take the form of public injections of capital, in return for a stake in the upside?

Let’s not be railroaded into accepting an enormously expensive plan that doesn’t seem to address the real problem.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

But the red sauce was my ticket to the cockpit!

Bruce Schneier is, frankly, a genius when it comes to security issues.  Unlike the TSA and so many government agencies, he notes HOW rules and regulations make use more secure.  His latest treatise is the liquids ban from plane flights.
There are two classes of contraband at airport security checkpoints: the class that will get you in trouble if you try to bring it on an airplane, and the class that will cheerily be taken away from you if you try to bring it on an airplane. This difference is important: Making security screeners confiscate anything from that second class is a waste of time. All it does is harm innocents; it doesn't stop terrorists at all.  
Why doesn't it work?  Because for items that are caught and carry a consequence,  the potential consequence has a deterrent effect.  Bring a gun to a airport and you'll be meeting with police for a while.  If items are confiscated with no consequence (liquids), then it means that screeners must catch every single person, because there's never a deterrent to trying to bring a liquid explosive on board.
If some copycat terrorists try to bring their liquid bomb through airport security and the screeners catch them -- like they caught me with my bottle of pasta sauce -- the terrorists can simply try again. They can try again and again. They can keep trying until they succeed. Because there are no consequences to trying and failing, the screeners have to be 100 percent effective. Even if they slip up one in a hundred times, the plot can succeed.
In other words, skip the liquids ban or start giving folks a hard time for it.  Otherwise, it's just an empty gesture.

2008 Campaign: Some media are aware of the lies

A stunning piece in TIME Magazine looks at the persistence of lying the presidential campaign, singling out Senator McCain for:
a ceaseless assault on his opponent's character and policies, featuring a consistent—and witting—disdain for the truth.
It's not as though the Democratic campaign and Senator Obama are innocent of the typical political monkeying with truth, but McCain has taken the lying to a new level by unreproachfully repeating falsehoods even when confronted with truth. 
John McCain has raised serious questions about whether he has the character to lead the nation. He has defaced his beloved military code of honor. He has run a dirty campaign.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

What do you call...

Seen on Slashdot:
What do you call a hockey mom who preaches abstinence only?

A grandma

McCain - sounding a lot like Herbert Hoover

Responding to the collapse of several major investment banks this week, John McCain reassured us, "I think still -- the fundamentals of our economy are strong." That move comes from an old playbook: On Oct. 25, 1929, Herbert Hoover declared, "The fundamental business of the country, that is the production and distribution of commodities, is on a sound and prosperous basis."
McCain's fault is not just a lack of perspective on the economy, but also a willful support of deregulation that caused much of today's financial crisis.
What [McCain] doesn't talk much about is how deregulation happened. It was the 1999 Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act that repealed the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act and thus eliminated the depression-era walls between between banking, investment, and insurance that made this crisis possible. Glass-Stegall erected walls between banking, investment management, and insurance, so problems in one sector could not spill over into the others, which is precisely what is happening now. The primary author of that legislation was none other than his economic advisor, former senator Phil Gramm (who thinks the country is in a "mental recession"). McCain fully supported the bill and has a decades-long track record of opposing government regulation of the financial industry. His new-found conversion to being a fan of regulation is going to be a tough sell as Obama is already pointing out that McCain got what he wanted (deregulation) and this is the consequence.

The sin of symmetry

An interesting piece from the Washington Post that notes the media's penchant for symmetry (instead of being objective, truth seekers) and how it's allowing the McCain campaign to run roughshod over the truth.

The most outrageous of McCain's distortions involve Obama on taxes. He asserts that Obama's new taxes could "break your family budget," and that an Obama presidency would inflict "painful tax increases on working American families." Hardly. Obama would lower taxes for most households, and lower them more than McCain would. The only "painful tax increases on working American families" would be on working families making more than $250,000.

Likewise, the McCain campaign has its story about Sarah Palin, and it's sticking with it -- facts be damned. She said "thanks but no thanks" to that "Bridge to Nowhere," except that she didn't: She backed the bridge until it was unpopular, then scooped up the money and used it for other projects. More than a year after McCain began railing against the bridge, Palin, then a gubernatorial candidate, said the state should build it "now -- while our congressional delegation is in a strong position to assist." 
 Obama's not innocent of stretching the truth, but he's also got enough of a conscience to stop lying when he's caught.  McCain, on the other hand, is "playing to win."