Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Financial Meltdown

I just got through reading this fascinating article about Ben Bernanke and the financial crisis in the latest New Yorker, here.

There's a lot I don't understand about the current financial crisis, but this article makes a few points pretty clear:

1) Allan Greenspan's policies deserves some of the blame for it and when Bernanke took over for Greenspan, he also basically continued those same policies. They kept interest rates too low for too long, and were not vigilant in their oversight of the housing bubble. They had some decent reasons for making these mistakes: it's difficult to differentiate and identify bubbles from legitimate growth, etc., but they could have done more.

2) The housing bubble is at the heart of the crisis (duh), but its excacerbated by how inter-connected financial insititutions have become. Much of this interconnectedness adds to the compexity, the opaqueness. The failure of Lehman Brothers, for example, appears to have been the domino that has exacerbated the problems we've seen.

3) Bernanke and Paulson have been sincere since their recognition of the crisis to do what is necessary to prevent a complete financial collapse, and while they've been the brunt of intense criticism, many substantive people have largely admitted that their actions have been necessary and commendable.

I loved this quote at the end of the article:

"Bernanke, in a search for inspiration and guidance, has been thinking about two Presidents: Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. From the former he took the notion that what policymakers needed in a crisis was flexibility and resolve. After assuming office, in March, 1933, Roosevelt enacted bold measures aimed at reviving the moribund economy: a banking holiday, deposit insurance, expanded public works, a devaluation of the dollar, price controls, the imposition of production directives on many industries. Some of the measures worked; some may have delayed a rebound. But they gave the American people hope, because they were decisive actions.

Bernanke’s knowledge of Lincoln was more limited, but one morning the man who organizes the parking pool in the basement of the Fed’s headquarters had given him a copy of a statement Lincoln made in 1862, after he was criticized by Congress for military blunders during the Civil War: “If I were to try to read, much less answer, all the attacks made on me, this shop might as well be closed for any other business. I do the very best I know how—the very best I can; and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what is said against me won’t amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right will make no difference.”
Bernanke keeps the statement on his desk, so he can refer to it when necessary."

There's been a lot of talk among conservatives that blame FDR for actually lengthening the depression. While technically true, if FDR had continued hands off approach to the depression begun by Hoover, it would have been a much worse problem I believe.

Not that FDR was right on everything, but that he was acting decisively with sincerety and intelligence helped tremendously. I believe it buoyed the nation up and kept a recovery in play until WWII came and an investment in an overseas war finally got us out. (an over-simplification I'm sure - I just began a biography on FDR so I'm hoping to learn more).

The lessons of Lincoln are also helpful because like FDR Lincoln made his share of mistakes in the Civil War, but his and Grant's willingness to act with boldness and deciviness also were critical not only in winning the war, but also in winning the peace.

This isn't always a good thing, deciseveness, as we've seen with Bush Jr and the Iraq war. Also, such bold actions are only good in cases when the sky is actually falling (in the case of the Iraq war, it wasn't), and in many ways, the financial crisis "sky" really was falling, and hopefully won't. Finally, unlike Bush and Co., I know that Bernanke is brilliant but most importantly sincere.

Again, I'm having a hard time having a strong opinion about any of this, but my gut tells me, many if not all of these massive bailouts are exactly necessary and necessarily temporary.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

My daughter has diabetes, all eyes on Barack Obama and his health care bills

The past few days have been a pretty emotional time. Its definitely not an easy thing to hear that that your six your old daughter has been diagnosed with a lifetime chronic illness for which there is no cure, for which she will have to take shots with every meal, for which she will have to count carbohydrates every time she eats and try to match the precise amounts of insulin to match those sugars so her body can get the energy she needs.

We now face a lifetime of blood sugar measurements, worrying about blood sugar too high or too low, worrying about whether an unsuspecting Sunday School teacher gives her a cupcake without telling us... Lots of people worry about this, so definitely we're not alone, we're far from unique. But it is a lot to take in.

But more than that, I've always had job anxieties. I grew up with my dad counting on the fact that he had healthy children because there were many times we lived lives without health insurance, taking trips across the boarder to get dental work done in a third world country with third world prices.

Our health care system sucks, agreed? I now live in a world, where if I lose my job and have trouble getting another one, not only will I lose my health insurance and potentially lose affordable access to insulin and suringes and blood sugar measurement tools (I'm sure there are always was to get what I need, so I'm not too worried except I'm sure I'll have to fight for everything I get), but I will have a very hard time getting Lizzie back into the health insurance system at least at affordable rates. Because health insurance companies don't want someone on their rolls that may have a lifetime of medical costs. Maybe I'm wrong with this, but that's my impressions right now.

So, I'm pretty happy right now, more happy than I was before, that Barack Obama won the election. This election matters more to me now than it did before. Because we need a health care system for everyone, we need insurance that doesn't kick folks with chronic disease out of the system.

I have now moved from the camp where I've been subsidizing some of your health care to the camp where I need you to subsidize some of mine. I know its easier to want a little societal welfare when you need it than when they want you to provide it.

But right now, I want a health care system where the healthiest of us are paying a bit more, so that the sickest don't have to pay so much. A little socialist of me? Maybe, but Darwin doesn't have to be right. We should not want to live in a world of "survival of the fittest", we should want a world where survival is an option for everyone.

And one more thing, for the un-initiated, type-1 diabetes is where the pancreas just shuts down and stops producing insulin. There's no known cause, no known cure. It can happen anytime and has nothing to do with the person's lifestyle pre-diagnosis (at least nothing that we know about). People think of it as an auto-imune disease, where the body starts attacking the cells in the pancreus that produce the insulin. I'm only just learning this sort of stuff, though, so maybe more later.

At any rate, this is a bit of my post-diabetes commentary with a little political spin (everything is politics with me).

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Let's have a worldwide walk for families - what do you say?

As excited as I am for a Barack Obama presidency, a significant part of me is sad for the political marginalization of the evangelical, Christian right. There's no doubt in my mind that they did it to themselves (I jumped ship as soon as they got too crazy, although I really sympathized with them through the 1990's).

One of the big problems in this world is that we're going around demonizing the wrong thing.

This Book of Mormon scripture, Moroni 7: 12-15 I love, here's the quote:

12 Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is bevil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually.

13 But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.

14 Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.

15 For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.

So, in my view, we are completely missing the boat in acting like Democrats are evil or Republicans are evil (granted much of that talk is hyperbole, but just work with me a little bit).

So, in light of today's worldwide prop 8 protests this strikes me as a classic case of one side calling (or at least implying) a group of generally good people evil. I'm not saying that it doesn't strike both ways on this issue, it does. But this blog is only focused on today's protest and the general backlash to prop 8.

This article makes me particularly sad and a bit angry. While I'm not opposed to peaceful protests, fine. But I only wish there was a little more engagement and dialogue between the two sides. It makes me sad and angry that there isn't. And it makes me even more sad and more angry that people have been singled out and punished for putting their support behind proposition 8. That an opposing point of view on a complex issue is not tolerated.

One of the primary arguments made by the church for prop 8 is that it was really not an anti-gay point of view but a pro-family point of view. Well, why not have a little thoughtful discussion on this to find common ground? Why try to ramrod opposing point of views on each other.

Surely, can't we all agree that we need a society with strong families. Surely, most people would accept the notion that children raised by both biological parents who love them are better off. I realize this is not always possible, and that step-parents can fill in and do a wonderful job when necessary, but isn't it obvious that that is second best, not first.

To hit this point home even better, listen to this excellent podcast from "This American Life" entitled "Switched At Birth". In the show it describes a scenario in which two baby girls are switched in the hospital by accident, only find out what happened well into their adult lives.

The two families involved in the switch are extremely different from each other, and as a result the two girls switched really struggle in a family not truly their own. When they do find out, its interesting to see how the dynamics change. I can't summarize it well, and this issue is complicated, so you really have to listen to it for yourself.

But at a deep level, I just get the sense that my kids, my wife's kids are ours, and we are theirs. Their DNA runs through us, and ours through them. They look like us, they act like us, and we them. Assuming we are capable, loving, and caring parents we are, by far, the most qualified to raise our own kids.

But obviously, we live in a messy world, and it's getting messier all the time. Its harder and harder for families to stay in tact. And its because the traditional heterosexual family is in such bad shape that other types of family situations have a stronger place in our society. In fact, we need other family situations to step in where parents have completely dropped the ball. We need good and effective step-parents to step in an fill a role where one parent left his (or less commonly hers), we need grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, to step in and help a single mother raise a child, and yes, we need more people adopting children, providing stability and nurturing. There are too many kids in foster care.

But ideally, we also need more heterosexual couples to come together in a bond of matrimony, love, and commitment. And when they commit to sex with each other, when they commit to an act that can bring life into this world, they also commit (as they do) to raise, nurture and love those same children and each other until the bitter end, no matter what the trial or struggle.

I believe the reason the Mormon church has come out so strongly in favor of proposition 8 is because of the notion that the way children are brought into this world matters. In fact the act of creating life is central to our religion. Families matter. Children matter. Parents matter. To them, to me, this is not an anti-gay belief, its a pro-family belief.

Isn't there room for common ground in this framework of belief? I'm open to discuss legal policy that will work for you and for me, are you?

Sunday, November 9, 2008


I loved this podcast an interview with Donald Hall and Billy Collins, two former poet laureates.

To be honest, poetry is something I have always wanted to be into, but have had trouble getting poetry to stick. Every so often, though, a poem blows me over, but usually, poetry is hard. I think poetry would blow me over more often (or at least slowly seep itself into me with multiple readings), if I read more of it. Ideally, we would all read more poetry, view more paintings, watch more theater, listen to more music, classical music.

But here are a few of the cool segments from the podcast:

A good poem is like one of those eye charts in the doctor's office. You have at the top this big E and then as you go down it gets more ineligible. I like poems to start really clearly at the top and then as you read further, it gets more difficult.

Poetry and Ambiguity
No one really hates exclusively, or loves exclusively. No other art can embody this human ambivalence. Poetry is the home for ambiguity and ambivalence. A poet is someone who can't say one thing at a time.

Education and Poetry
Teachers tend to stand in between the poem and the student. We should memorize poems, to truly internalize poetry.

Poetry and death
If you are majoring in English, you are majoring in death. Every poem is written in the shadow of death. Its mortality that poetry wants to remind you of. The message of poetry is that life is beautiful, but you're going to die. Death is the illustrator of beauty. Fake flowers are not beautiful because they are not dying.

And here's two of the poems (I probably hacked them up pretty badly, but I hope you get the idea).

On Reaching the Age of 200

When I awoke on the morning of my 200th birthday,
I expected to be consulted by supplicants like the sibilate Kumy
I could tell him something.
Instead it was the usual thing,
dried grapefruit for breaksfast,
Mozart all morning interrupted by bee's wings.
And making love with a woman 181 years old.
At my birthday party, I blew out 200 candles.
One at a time, taking naps after each 25.
Then I went to bed at 5:30 on the day of my 200th birthday
and slept and dreamed of a house no bigger than a flea's house with 200 rooms in it.
And in each of the rooms, a bed,
and in each of the 200 beds, me sleeping.

-Donald Hall


When its late at night and branches are banging against the windows
You might think that love is just a matter of leaping out of the fire pan of yourself and into the fire of someone else.
But it's a little more complicated than that.
It's more like trading the two birds that might be hiding in that bush
for the one you are not holding in your hand.
A wise man once said that love was like forcing a horse to drink
But then everyone stopped thinking of him as wise.
Let us be clear about something.
Love is not as simple as getting up on the wrong side of the bed wearing the emporer's clothes.
No, its more like the pen feels after it has defeated the sword.
It's a little like the penny saved or the nine dropped stitches.
You look at me through the halo of the last candle
And tell me that love is an ill wind that has no turning.
A road the blows no good.
But I am here to remind you as our shadows tremor on the walls
that love is the early bird that is better late than never.

- Billy Collins

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Some Post Obama Victory Comments

First of all, I'm excited, damn excited. We have entered a new era, and I'm not quite sure what it means yet, but Obama promises change. Not just from Republican rule but from all of that, all the partisanship, the cultural war issues that have driven us a part, a change toward something new, something more relevant, something better. What exactly is that yet? I'm not sure Obama even knows right now. He'll figure it out as he goes along.

But know this. He's smart, he's thoughtful, he has vision, he has surrounded himself by smart people. He's going to work his hardest to get it right. And he'll enlist all of us to help him. We'd better help.

Know this. He'll propose stuff that's never been proposed before. All kinds of cool sounding stuff. Some of it will work, some of it won't. But along the way, he will inspire and energize. That much is clear.

But I am a little sad. I'm sad because of the beating the Republican party is getting. I wish they could have put up a better fight. Provide better alternatives. McCain's campaign makes me wish Romney or Huckabee would have won. Either one, I suspect would have had a more organized, thoughtful campaign with alternative ideas. They would have still lost, but it would have been a better race. The one tragedy with this campaign, is that Obama's ideas were never really contested. McCain had really nothing to contrast his with. Sad.

I'm also sad about how bad of a beating the evangelical/Christian right is getting right now. Many people blame them for the failings of the Republican party. They are right partially. The Christian right over-extended. They were too partisan. Never really willing to reach across the party line in a spirit of cooperation. But Bush's failures extend well beyond the Christian right.

Look, I am a member of the conservative Christian right demographic. Culturally, I identify them. I went on a mission to Alabama and I grew up with strong evangelical friends. There are so many thoughtful, sincere, good, moral, ethical people that are culturally conservative. I understand why they are so fervent in their emotional attachment to cultural war issues. I hope they don't get dismissed, it would be a huge mistake for the Democratic party to try to ramrod cultural issues over them. I don't think Obama will.

In fact, one of the successes of the Obama campaign is that he made it possible for people like me to believe in him, to hang up a yard side, to put a bumper sticker in my car, without compromise. I could be pro-life and pro-Obama. I could vote yes for proposition 102 and vote for Obama. I have great faith that Obama will not let me down. That he will listen to the many voices who are concerned with failing families, our over-sexualized society, children born into broken families, reared by those who did not bring them into this world. It's a tragedy really, and it needs to be addressed.

True conservatism, at its heart, is the belief in self responsibility. That a society with strong families will produce strong economies. Children raised in caring, loving homes will grow up to be educated, strong, and valuable producers in society.

Government can never replace that. Government should never replace that. Government should provide an environment where families can succeed, and to do what it can to help more families succeed.

I believe Obama is with me on this. My heart is full, I am excited. I hope and pray the Republican party can bounce back and be active players to work with Obama to generate a diversity of idea that will allow our country achieve and to grow.

That is my hope. Tonight, I believe in hope. Tonight, I know hope.

Know Hope

Obama is our next president and he has the Congress as well. And a ton of expectations. No pressure, but I'm more than excited.

Know hope.

One more last minute reason to vote for Obama

For all of you undeciders who needed one more reason to vote for Obama, consider the judges:

Only two judges to the Supreme Court were nominated by a Democrat (both by Clinton), the rest were Republican appointees. Despite that fact, the court is currently fairly balanced, but notably the older judges, those more likely to retire have a more liberal bent.

So, a vote for Obama basically means keeping the dynamics of the court intact for a while. Not a good thing if you don't like the dynamics of the court, I suppose, but I recently heard a most excellent point on NPR a few weeks ago. I wish I could find it on the web, but I can't, but hopefully the point stands on its own.

Basically, the commentator was describing the problems with our current polarization. How, when our views are not challenged, they tend to get more extreme. We tend to want to prove our partisanship to the group and voice stronger, more extreme views to the crowd, which encourages others to pull even further to the extreme.

This is true even with the courts. Studies have found that when a court consists of idealogically consistent group, they tend to judge cases in a more partisan manner. This is a problem. I want smart, qualified justices on the bench. But I also want justices that are forced to argue their position to other smart, qualified justices with different points of view.

Keep balance in the Supreme Court, vote Obama for president.

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Few Last Minute Updates to My Votes

For Country Supervisor District 1: I am officially switching from Fulton Brock to Ed Hermes. Why? I have a good friend who actively campaigned for Ed Hermes. The Arizona Republic had nothing but good things to say about Ed, but they went with Fulton because of his experience and record. But my gut tells me that Hermes would work with more vigor to curb air polution, something that is a part of the Supervisor's job description.

And what has pushed me over the edge? Brock's despicable mailings that were misleading, irrelevant, and over the top attacks against Hermes. That Hermes was unqualified because he was once addicted to Halo? Really, that is a disqualifier? Not in my book. I'm in the Hermes camp, which just about pushes me into voting for practically a 100% Democratic ticket. Fulton Brock was one of my only Republicans.

Except I'm saved, because I am voting party line Republican for Corporation Commission:

When I initially endorsed the Democrats in a previous post, I received two pretty damning comments on these candidates. The Arizona Republic also endorsed the Republicans and made a convincing, clear cut case that the Republicans are clearly more qualified, better prepared, and more pragmatic choices for the position.

So, needless to say, I'm going with Barry Wong, Bob Stump, and Marian McClure.

Regarding the Tempe Union School Board, I'm voting based on descriptions here.

I'm going with: Donald Keuth, Michelle Helm, and Zita Johnson, the incumbents. They have been in the area longer then the challengers, and seem to have the right balance of experience between them. Johnson worked at ASU in the child study library for 25 years which is intriguing. Keuth used to work at an architectural firm that designed buildings and schools which would be helpful knowledge, and Helm worked for many years in Tempe elementary schools.

The challengers both seemed intriguing in their own ways, but both are new to the area, with shallow experience actually working in the schools, so I'm going with the incumbents.


Helena prompted me to look again at the judges rankings and another friend convinced me of a pretty compelling strategy on how to vote for the judges.

Vote yes for all judges who received really high ratings, vote no for any that received really poor scores, skip the rest.

My No's:
Crane MClennen:
17 Commissiones voted "Does Not Meet Qualifications. Received a 60% on Judicial Temperament from a survey of Lawyers.

From netroots:
"called an "idiot savant" by some lawyers, and a "total prick" by others. Wants everything his way, sticks it to the defense as much as possible, gives prosecutors the run of the court; never admits that he has made a mistake; totally unfit."

AZ Judges Review, however, gave him a 9 and claims the Commissioners know nothing about the judges... What can I say?

Linda Akers:
Net Roots: Pro-prosecution, biased against Hispanics, heavy handed sentencing of minorities.
AZ Judges Review: 7
3 of 26 Commissioners voted does not meet, 73% Judicial Temperament among lawyers.

My Yes's:
Helene Abrams - 29 Commissioners voted "Meets", Received 98-100% from the lawyers and jurors, More than 80% from the litigants and witnesses.

Net Roots: "Was head of the Maricopa County Public Defenders Juvenile Unit, took a lot of heat when she suppressed a confession in a child molest case, Andrew Thomas was livid (my, oh, my!); not afraid to put the law above possible adverse publicity; generally an outstanding judge. "

John Dittsworth:
Netroots: Former county attorney who couldn't get along with Andrew Thomas; progressive, fair, a straight shooter; keeps the prosecutors on a short leash.
AZ Judges Review: Rating 9
29 Commissioners Voted Meets

Ok, this strategy of looking at Netroors, AZ Judges Review, and the Commissioners recommendations just isn't working. By the way, the Commissioners only recommended a No vote on one judge, and that judge received a resounding endorsement from AZ Judges Review.

I just don't think I know enough to vote, and unlike Helena, I'm just not ready to vote every single judge out at this point...

There you have it.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Obama's Tax Plan and why the Republican party is dying

I have been saying it for a while, but the McCain's presidential campaign has really sunk this idea deep into my gut. His campaign has been so idea-barren its almost startling. Just want kind of president would McCain be? Really, I have no idea.

One of my most favorite columnists of any political persuasion happens also to be conservative. In today's column, here, Brooks really lays the case that McCain was a fantastic Senator and could have been a great president, but was never able to define himself.

In the article, Brooks describes the political center (a region I like to think I reside), that's " is for using limited but energetic government to enhance social mobility." He describes this group as "progressive conservatives". That phrase really rings home for me. Personally, I really wish there was a place for progressive conservatives.

And there's been a long history of presidents who fit that description, none of them recent:

" This tendency began with Alexander Hamilton, who created a vibrant national economy so more people could rise and succeed. It matured with Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War Republicans, who created the Land Grant College Act and the Homestead Act to give people the tools to pursue their ambitions. It continued with Theodore Roosevelt, who busted the trusts to give more Americans a square deal."

You could really see a half-hearted attempt from McCain in the conventions to market himself as a Teddy Roosevelt Republican, but it never stuck, and Sarah Palin basically sunk that attempt like the lead balloon she has become.

And I agree with Brooks, that McCain "never escaped the straitjacket of a party that is ailing and a conservatism that is behind the times. And that’s what makes the final weeks of this campaign so unspeakably sad." Its really the Republican party that ruined McCain.

Which leads me to another really excellent article that really describes the problem with modern day conservatism. It's here that talks about the great Consumption Compromise that really was the crux of conservatism's success.

The past 20 or 30 years, you can see a startling and rising gap between the rich and the poor, and you would have think the Republican party would have taken a hit because of it, because it is that party more than the Democrats who continuously promote policies that propagate the economic disparities.

But it hasn't sunk because another effect of Republican economic policies is that they tend to keep goods cheap. Free trade increases competition and allows economies to take advantage of cheap labor throughout the world. Tax policy that provides all kinds of tax breaks for the investment class, and just an overall policy that promotes capitalism and free markets has a tendency of concentrating wealth. You wouldn't think so, but it does.

Free markets tend to reward the winners much more than those who are second or third best. There is only one ebay in the online acutions market. Really only one Amazon. One Google, One (or two or three) Walmarts. One a company scales they have the money and market power to drive out competition. It takes an activist government to put some breaks on this.

Not to mention cheap and easy credit which has also had the effect of

But as a population we've allowed this because while the rich have gotten richer, the poor have at least been able to afford tv's, cell phones, video game systems, fast food, and entertainment.

While they continue to struggle, their quality of life has in many ways improved.

But this consumption compromise is having struggles. The price of everything from energy, to food, to health care, to education has sky-rotted putting enormous pressure on millions of Americans.

And large economic disparities do have political consequences. With so much wealth concentrated in the hands of so few, these people have the resources to influence legislation in their favor. This is why that although we have the second highest tax on corporations in the developed world, many US companies pay little to no taxes.
That although we have a tax code that's progressive, many of our wealthiest have all sorts of ways to circumvent the tax code altogether.

And its why that Obama's tax policies don't bother me. In fact, I support them. In world with massive deficits and massive institutional and infrastructural break down, you have to tax those with all of the money to the benefit of all.

It's why I support Obama's idea to provide tax cuts to the middle class and poor even if it means a tax rebate to many people who already pay little or no taxes. I support this not permanently but in the short term to help people who are getting squeezed.

Republicans like to say that the rich worked hard and earned all the money they've gotten. That is not necessarily true. The game is rigged as it always is. We all have the potential to do well, to be successful, to become rich in this great country of ours. Some just have far fewer barriers to do so than others.