Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Are Men the New Ball and Chain?

A lot of women talk on TED right now.

This one Hanna Rosin goes on about how the global economy is shifting the power balance between men and women. Men are getting hit harder by the current recession; they are graduating at lower rates than men; women are taking more managerial positions; young women are now earning more than young men.

This TED talk, in some ways, blames old-school men-style thinking in the financial sector for the global financial meltdown. Well, not exactly, but they did start a financial company using feminine qualities that survived through the Icelandic financial crisis.

So, what do I, a man, make of all this? Well, I can't make broad generalities, but I can compare myself with, say, my wife. I definitely have qualities she doesn't have; there are definitely some things I can do that she can't or at least not as well. Definitely, the same thing can be said in reverse (and I'm hesitant to say, but I'm sure its true - that overall she brings more to the table than I do).

But are women going to be entering the work force while men stay home? Is that our future?

I like what I do on my job, and in some small ways, I think what I'm doing is important and I want to do more important work more often.

But, as I watch how hard my wife works with our kids and when I see the work she does in the community, I have to say, that the work she does is far more important for more people than the work I'm doing. The difference is that I get paid for it and she mostly doesn't.

And I would have to say, that the most important work (more or less) people don't pay (or get paid) for it or they pay far less for what they're getting than what its worth.

So if women are being lured into the workforce in greater percentages and if what they bring matter more in our current economy than what men bring. What will men be left doing? This isn't me asking by the way, Hanna Rosin herself asks it:

"I went to a men's group in Kansas and these were the same kinds of victims of the manufacturing economy that I spoke to you about earlier. They were men who had been contractors or they were building houses and had lost their jobs at the end of the housing boom. And they were in this group because they were failing to pay their child support. And the instructor was up there in this class explaining to them all the ways they had lost their identity in this new age. He was telling them they no longer had any moral authority, no one needed them for emotional support anymore, and they were not really the providers. So who were they? And this was really disheartening for them. And what he did was he wrote on the board $85,000. That's her salary. Then he wrote down $12,000 and that's your salary. Who's the man now? She's the damn man. That sent a shutter through the room."

Is this our future? Women taking over the work force and then hiring other women to take care of their children? While men, well? Sit in prison? Go off and fight wars?

Not sure what to think of any of this, but I think its something worth discussing.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas: A Post Mortem

I really should have posted (read and absorbed) this article before Christmas, really before Christmas shopping, but its fun to consider it after the holidays as well. Its all about the economics of Christmas, a holiday that has widely been assumed to be a boon to our economy. Well, hate to break it to you, it turns out that its not.

"It suggests that in America, where givers spend $40 billion on Christmas gifts, $4 billion is being lost annually in the process of gift-giving. Add in birthdays, weddings and non-Christian occasions, and the figure would balloon."

The reason is simple. The amount of money the buyer spends on a gift is often greater than the amount that gift is worth to the receiver. This is especially true when there's a big age disparity between the receiver and the giver, and/or when they are not closely connected. This disparity in worth makes both the giver and the receiver poorer.

I'm sure you can relate, I know I can. I have received gifts that I did not really want, or didn't really want that badly. Of course and probably more often, I've given gifts that weren't really enjoyed by the recipient. And in these cases, we are all poorer. The giver spent money on something reducing her wealth. The receiver received something she didn't want. Lose/lose.

There are cases when this works out and the article lists some of them.

If the giver knows a lot more about something than the receiver and the receiver has an interest in it. My sister bought me a subscription to the New Yorker some years back and basically changed (after reading issue after incredibly written issue) my politics. My wife just renewed that subscription this year, saying "I'm so glad we have the New Yorker again in our house" - proving that this gift was just as much for her as it was for me. My sister already enjoyed this magazine, knew I would probably enjoy it as well, but knew I probably wouldn't take the step to purchase it - I was richer as a result.

The giver of the gift basically gives the recipient permission to consume something they probably would not have allowed themselves to consume otherwise, but still they desire it. Say, chocolate? Or some other indulgence - I gave my wife a massage one year which she thoroughly enjoyed but would never buy for herself.

Gifts that have incredibly high sentimental value qualify. My sister-in-law Suzie compiled the weekly e-mails my wife sends out to family and friends complete with pictures and a summary of the week (The Turley Family Newsletter) and published them in a book. It was incredibly generous - this kind of thing is not cheap - but it's a priceless to us. Yes, we came out of the holidays very rich.

Gift cards and/or money should be given if you truly cannot meet the qualifications above. I think overall, we did a pretty good job making our kids happy, and we actually received a lot of happiness from the gifts we received. We did get gift cards and our kids got money from the right relatives. Otherwise, the gifts qualified as thoughtful and appreciated.

So, maybe collectively, we can all do our part to reduce the over $4 billion loss to our economy each year by making Christmas economically more efficient.

By the way, Amazon is innovating around this economic principle, but is taking some heat for it. We'll see how that plays out.

Friday, December 24, 2010

I Love Christmas

No matter how stressful the holidays can be, I love Christmas. I love gifts - the giving and the receiving. I love the myths and the magic around the holidays - Santa Claus and the elves and how excited all this makes our kids. I love the movies and the songs and the candy and the food. And of course, I love the religious parts of the Christmas celebration, the holiness of that sacred night when a Savior was born.

It's easy to get all huffy about the commercialization of the holidays - I remember my parents giving me this lecture actually.

But being a parent, I love living vicariously through my kids I must say. I remember how fun it was on Christmas eve singing carols with my family and then I would go to bed early because I wanted Christmas morning to arrive as quickly as possible and how hard it was to go to sleep. I love the thought that my kids will be in the same situation I once was. My parents struggled with the holidays, but my older sisters often stepped in, and I really appreciate this gift from them.

I think its easy to get huffy about the holidays (watch the above video for a lot of extra huffiness) and I can relate to it - I got a little bit huffy about Disneyland a while back. But you know what turned me on to Disneyland, other than the general downright fun of it of course? It was while I was on the wildly fun "Souring Over California" ride and at the end, there's that famous Disneyland fairy that fly's over Disneyland while the fire works go off. In that one second, the whole thing clicked for me. The magic and the fun of Disneyland - all of the movies of Disney and the rides and the fun. I bought it into it.

I guess, more generally, I love commerce, yes I love the commercialization of Christmas and all of the holidays for that matter. At the heart of it, this is nothing more than what each of us collectively pours our heart and soul in to produce. Receiving a gift with joy is just celebrating the art produced by another person. Sure, a lot of this depends on what we bring to the holiday. And there's more than enough rope to hang yourself in our society. But when properly consumed, Christmas can be an incredibly uplifting holiday. Of course, it doesn't matter how much or how little money a person has, but its a holiday where we can enjoy a little excess no matter how small that excess may be. Or hopefully, if someone's a little short and literally has no excess, someone else will reach out and share what they have with another.

After all, we are all in this together. Let's celebrate and share with one another. But giving a gift requires a receiver - and both those who give a gift and those who receive it can find joy in these holidays and in these very exchanges this holiday promotes.

Seth Godin talks about gifts here.

"When done properly, gifts work like nothing else. A gift gladly accepted changes everything. The imbalance creates motion, motion that pushes us to a new equilibrium, motion that creates connection.

The key is that the gift must be freely and gladly accepted. Sending someone a gift over the transom isn't a gift, it's marketing. Gifts have to be truly given, not given in anticipation of a repayment. True gifts are part of being in a community (willingly paying taxes for a school you will never again send your grown kids to) and part of being an artist (because the giving motivates you to do ever better work).

Plus, giving a gift feels good."

Merry Christmas everyone.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Bradley Manning's solitary confinement

For those of you who don't know, Bradley Manning is the private accused of releasing secrete information to Julian Assange that was recently leaked to the press via wikileaks.

I posted the following links on facebook recently:

Glenn Greenwald's critique of the way the US Marine corp is treating Bradley Manning.

I'm not a big fan of Glenn Greenwald, he's not on my blog roll. He's been a pretty big critic of the Obama administration and the way he's continued Bush's war on terror. Its hard to disagree with Greenwald on most of his charges actually, but I'm just not a regular reader.

But here are two people who are on my blogroll who agree with Greenwald on this issue:

Megan McArdle.

"The way our society treats prisoners is shocking, and to me, frankly un-American. Extended solitary confinement, prison rape--we tolerate things that we would never allow if we thought there was any chance that they might happen to us. But since prisoners come from a different social class, and are often members of a racial minority, we ignore it. In fact, we joke about it. America wouldn't treat stray dogs the way it treats the millions of human beings it has incarcerated. This is not just a problem for them, though it is, horrifically so. It turns us into torturers and rapists, because we are the ones who pay for the system, and implicitly endorse its terrorizing prisoners."

Matthew Yglesias:

"But Manning hasn’t had a trial and hasn’t been convicted. Somewhat punitive post-arrest pre-trial measures are kind of a necessary evil, but the prolonged confinement of Manning under cruel conditions go well beyond the necessary into the straightforward evil."

I am a big fan of Atul Gawande who wrote this about solitary confinement which is an article practically impossible to pull out a single quote from. You must read the entire thing to appreciate the horrors of solitary confinement, but he clearly makes the case that solitary confinement is torture.

Posting these links on facebook led to a pretty lengthy discussion that I won't repeat here, but I think the main defense of Manning's treatment is that Manning is a really, really bad person and basically deserves what he gets. That the information he leaked has caused countless lives and real suffering in the world. Leaking this information is not a far cry from actually directly enabling suicide bombers, assisting in the sex trafficking trade, and directly killing American soldiers who are working in secret in the most dangerous places on earth because what he leaked seriously damaged the US military's ability to take down these secret networks and put American soldiers lives at risk. I won't dispute in a direct way any of this although it hardly answers the question why is solitary confinement necessary.

But, it leads me to a larger thought. Is what we're doing the best way to limit or end sex trafficking? Suicide bombers? Terrorists?

There's no doubt in my mind the US military has a key role to play in challenging the modern threats that exist in the world today. There's also no doubt that the US military and other military's around the world need to protect the information they have to keep their soldiers safe and to protect us more effectively.

But there are real limitations to what the military can accomplish in this regard. We are no longer facing a Cold War scenario where our most serious dangers consist of opposing world powers and the key to winning is based on how much more intelligence we have compared with to our enemies.

The world is much more messy now than it used to be. Information is now much more difficult to protect and its also becoming less relevant.

Terrorism, the sex and drug trades, suicide bombers. These are all symptoms of poverty and chaos. These are regions of the world where governments barely exist, where the economy barely functions, and people are marginalized because they lack opportunity, education, and access to functioning commerce. The power in these environments lie in secrete underground organizations - drug cartels, mafia organizations, and terrorists.

I'm not sure how or if it's even possible to eliminate these threats, but it seems in order to minimize them, we need more transparency, more trust in our institutions from those most effected by these horrors.

We also need to enable trade, build schools, and open borders. Allow people access to education wherever they can get it. And then do our best to build schools closer to where they live. If not in Afghanistan then in Pakistan or in Jordan or in Iraq.

The key in my mind is not more bombs and guns, it is more schools, more commerce, more free trade (not perfectly so), more open borders (not completely open). Allowing more people opportunity and in my mind giving them a greater chance to limit what ails the world than bombs and guns could do.

It seems to me that we need to build the trust and strong relationships with those who live in these regions. Keeping secrets may, in the end, hinder our ability to do this.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Why Americans Don't Go Into Engineering

Ok, maybe they are, but anecdotally, they sure don't seem to be getting programming or IT jobs. I work at a pretty big dot com company, I got my masters degree in Computer Science at ASU and in both instances I was demographically very much in the minority. In my current position, I work primarily with people who have immigrated either from India or China and our company has a big development center in India many with whom I work pretty closely.

Well, not long ago I came across this article about the banking system in America.

Here, the article talks about the growth of America's financial system from 1/7th of the economy to about 1/3.

Since 1980, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of people employed in finance, broadly defined, has shot up from roughly five million to more than seven and a half million. During the same period, the profitability of the financial sector has increased greatly relative to other industries. Think of all the profits produced by businesses operating in the U.S. as a cake. Twenty-five years ago, the slice taken by financial firms was about a seventh of the whole. Last year, it was more than a quarter. (In 2006, at the peak of the boom, it was about a third.) In other words, during a period in which American companies have created iPhones, Home Depot, and Lipitor, the best place to work has been in an industry that doesn’t design, build, or sell a single tangible thing.

In this paragraph, it talks about the wages, where financiers used to be paid on average the same as those with the same qualifications in other industries. Their wages have grown tremendously since.

From the end of the Second World War until 1980 or thereabouts, people working in finance earned about the same, on average and taking account of their qualifications, as people in other industries. By 2006, wages in the financial sector were about sixty per cent higher than wages elsewhere. And in the richest segment of the financial industry—on Wall Street, that is—compensation has gone up even more dramatically. Last year, while many people were facing pay freezes or worse, the average pay of employees at Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and JPMorgan Chase’s investment bank jumped twenty-seven per cent, to more than three hundred and forty thousand dollars. This figure includes modestly paid workers at reception desks and in mail rooms, and it thus understates what senior bankers earn. At Goldman, it has been reported, nearly a thousand employees received bonuses of at least a million dollars in 2009.

This paragraph talks about why many of our brightest are getting into finance over other fields such as say engineering:

Not surprisingly, Wall Street has become the preferred destination for the bright young people who used to want to start up their own companies, work for NASA, or join the Peace Corps. At Harvard this spring, about a third of the seniors with secure jobs were heading to work in finance. Ben Friedman, a professor of economics at Harvard, recently wrote an article lamenting 'the direction of such a large fraction of our most-skilled, best-educated, and most highly motivated young citizens to the financial sector.'

I don't think this is a full explanation. But when I talk to my Indian friends, there's this pipeline of young talent in India who attend college to pursue IT or CS degrees and the field is booming in select regions of India not to mention the many who come here to work for US companies - jobs Americans seem ever increasingly less interested in filling.

Again, I don't have a good explanation, but here's what I know from my own experience:

In the late 1990's the dot com, telecommunications industry, and computer industry simultaneously boomed and as a result everyone was getting into programming. As the decade drew to a close, there was a push to outsource manufacturing and eventually programming jobs overseas where the work force made significantly less money for the same work.

At the time, I was working in the defense sector and I knew many of my colleagues were in defense because it was an industry that could not get outsourced.

And it was true a lot of companies felt they could get something for cheap by just shipping jobs overseas. But I think now, companies are forced to go to India and China and other countries because there are simply not enough qualified workers here to fill the number of workers required to meet the labor needs.

It is true that Indian and Chinese workers in India and China have lower wages, but that won't be true indefinitely. As those countries develop, labor costs will rise.

And the software industry is not a race to the bottom industry. Just because a worker is paid a low wage doesn't mean he is cheap. It they don't produce that is a problem with far more consequences on the bottom line than if you paid for the brightest talent in the first place. So companies need to go where talent exists and then pay for that talent.

There's so much potential in engineering and science. So much we could develop and haven't. This is far from a zero sum game.

So, I'm not sure why Americans aren't interested in engineering? Is it because we don't enjoy math? Or that we get paid a lot more money moving money around the economy than we would building things? Or is it fear that we can't compete with the Chinese.

I'm not sure, but I'm afraid it's a problem.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

If You're Going to Vote Republican, You Better Act Like A Democrat

I just wanted to follow up on my last post, by inverting the phrasing a bit to show this this can go both ways. Since I vote Democratic, this post is directed toward those of you who vote another way. Because if you really want to cut government services to the poor and cut taxes for the rich, then you better help out the poor because the government sure isn't going to do it.

Ideally, the well off would find ways to associate with those who lack means. Sell your house buried within the confines of a well-off gated community and purchase something in a more integrated community. Sell your mansion and buy something more modest. Stop using your wealth to separate yourselves from other, but instead use it as a resource to uplift and build your community.

One tenant of the conservative movement as I understand it is that those who make the money are more inclined to use it in more useful ways then the government. Maybe so, but then prove it. Invest in the community, find ways to make sure education and health care access is ubiquitously available.

If we had the rich voluntarily pursuing greater equality in society, than government would have much less to do.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Vote Democratic, but act Like a Republican

I don't mean much by this title, so let's get this straight first. There are plenty of fine liberals and conservatives. I'm just having a little fun. I am actually playing off the phrase, "pray like everything depends on the Lord, then act like everything depends on you". I had a discussion the other day with a friend about the Obama health care bill - its an issue I care deeply about and I've followed fairly closely, so I have pretty strong opinions on it. But then he found out we were planning on home birthing our fourth baby (due in January).

He also knew that I have come down recently in favor of properly funding public schools even though we home school.

This was incongruous to him, and he wanted to use it as a reason to stop the debate on these points a lone. You see to him, I was voting Democratic but I was behaving like a Republican. I wanted big government (his words) but I was rejecting government in every meaningful way in my own life. I want government, but for others not for myself. In his words, he lost interest in this whole debate because he could no longer take my arguments seriously.

Of course, I see things a bit differently. I want just enough government, but I also want to do everything in my power to succeed. Even if we weren't home schooling, I would hope that my wife and I would be engaged as much as we possibly were able in our children's schooling. I would hope that our kid's teachers would welcome our involvement and our advocacy on their behalf. I would try to find teachers that would allow for that.

Same thing for health care, actually. Do I just want to turn my health over to some nameless doctor at some massive hospital institution? In my experience that's exactly what they want you to do. But in each of our births, we took control - self diagnosing my wife's choestasis in her first pregnancy convincing them to do the necessary blood work to prove she had it, which ultimately led to an early induction and possibly saved our oldest daughter's life?

I have discussed the economy on this blog and how I've wanted our government to handle the mess we're in, but our economy continues to be stuck in the mud (they just don't listen to me darn it).

But unemployment can be an opportunity or it can be devastating. When a person loses their job, its definitely devastating, but it might be the impetus one needs to launch into a new career, take a risk and start a business, retool one's network, get training they've been putting off. In fact, if every single person who lost their job, got out there and not only worked their tail off to find another, they continued to work whether it be pro bono, they continued to learn, they continued to serve, our recessions wouldn't be nearly so recessionary.

It's why I love Seth Godin's blog so much. Especially when he says stuff like this:

"We are surprised when someone self-directed arrives on the scene. Someone who figures out a way to work from home and then turns that into a two-year journey, laptop in hand, as they explore the world while doing their job. We are shocked that someone uses evenings and weekends to get a second education or start a useful new side business. And we're envious when we encounter someone who has managed to bootstrap themselves into happiness, as if that's rare or even uncalled for."

Or when we make excuses saying we can't really afford graduate school then I come across cheap and in many ways more appealing alternatives to graduate school.

So, I'm trying to stay focused on two tracks in my life. I want to do my part to encourage and promote good legislation because in many ways I know how much I depend on good governance. But I also want to work like mad in my career, in my church, and in my family to help myself and others support and sustain my government, my country, my community.

In the end, our country needs each one of us pulling the most out of ourselves to succeed.

A Republican Conservative is at heart a "supply sider". We need to make sure we produce as much supply as we possibly can, each one of us. So, that our lives and the lives of others around us are enriched.

Friday, December 3, 2010

What Could Have Obama Done Differently?

To be honest, I've been pretty supportive of Obama's first two years. On almost every issue, I've seen the merits of what he's done, and although I've almost always wished he would have done more, I've understood why in the political environment he was in, he didn't.

Admittedly having 60 seats in the Senate (well for like six months he had 60 seats, he didn't get to 60 until July 7, 2009 when Al Franken finally won his disputed Minnesota seat, and then he lost it again when Scott Brown won the Massachusetts seat on January 9th, 2010) and a Democratic controlled Congress gave him a pretty cushy political environment. Except that a substantial number of Democratic Senators and Representatives represented conservative states and districts and would only support moderate bills. Also, the Republican party decided pretty early on that it was in their best political interest to oppose Obama on everything, and not only oppose, but make him seem like the most liberal, socialist, anti-American person that ever lived.

The Republican party is the master of sound bites and they have a pretty effective media machine between AM talk radio and FOX news that can reiterate those sound bites virtually on command. Those soundbites are riveting and convincing - freedom, liberty, personal responsibility, so even in the minority they have a powerful voice and significant influence.

Obama did have the power to accomplish a lot, but there were real limitations to how big that "a lot" could realistically become.

Looking back on what he did accomplish, he was successful, but could he have done better? I don't think he could have passed more legislation through. He basically used every last bit of political firepower he had to do what he did. Passing immigration reform or an energy bill or something else wasn't happening. Getting a more expansive health reform bill wasn't happening, he was lucky to get what he got, and even still he was did it with the skin of his teeth.

But maybe his priorities weren't right. Maybe he should have went after a different combination of achievements that would have left our country in a better place two years later.

Enter this rather blistering analysis by the economist Brad DeLong.

DeLong is focused in this article on the state of our economy and here he agonizes over the senseless and avoidable almost 10% unemployment that we seem to be stuck in for almost two years now (and counting).

Most people don't realize how irrational this recession was to begin with:

"For one thing, the initial financial shock that set the downturn in motion was remarkably small. We got irrationally exuberant about the demand for housing and the trajectory of housing prices. We built five million houses extra - largely in the swamps of Florida and in the desert between Los Angeles and Albuquerque - that simply should not have been built. Their cost of construction was to a first approximation covered entirely by mortgage debt. And on average one of those five million houses the purchaser took out $100,000 in mortgage debt that simply will never be repaid: the buyer cannot afford it and the house is not worth it. That means that, as of the end of 2007, there were $500 billion of financial losses to be allocated: somebody's bonds and derivatives were going to pay off $500 billion less than people thought."

In one paragraph, DeLong makes a pretty convincing estimate of the real world value loss incurred by the housing bubble - $500 billion. That's a real, tangible financial loss that had to be absorbed by the world economy in some way. And that sounds like a big number, but...

"Now in a global economy with $80 trillion worth of financial wealth, a $500 billion loss due to irrational exuberance and malinvestment should not be a problem. Double it or quadruple it and it still should not be a problem. We have modern, sophisticated, highly liquid financial markets. We have originate-and-distribute-securitization to slice, dice, and spread risk broadly across the whole globe so that nobody bears any significant part of and so is ruined by any idiosyncratic risk like mortgage defaults..."

The real problem was not the housing bubble, the problem was the way our financial institutions behaved during the housing bubble, using it as a foundation to make profits on even greater leverage:

"Regulatory forebearance allowed investment banks to ramp up their leverage to unheard-of-levels--30 to 1?--on the grounds that the financiers' had their fortunes at risk and knew their business."...

"So when the $500 billion loss hit, it hit the capital of highly-leveraged financial institutions and transformed all the liabilities of America's banks from safe, secure, and liquid high-quality assets to unsafe, insecure, and illiquid low-quality assets."

"Thus an enormous worldwide flight to quality. A $500 billion fundamental loss triggers a $20 trillion decline in global financial asset values with a financial accelerator of 40 as everybody tried to dump their risky and build up the safe assets in their portfolios. And, as John Stuart Mill knew back in 1829, whenever you have a large excess demand in finance it will be mirrored by a large deficiency in demand for currently-produced goods and services and labor".

In real-world terms, people running scared turned something reasonably small into something really, really big. The reason, of course, is that people took massive bets trying to turn their housing profits into something much bigger. And our financial institutions just were not equipped to deal with it.

DeLong spends some time talking about what Paulson and Bush, regulators and financiers could have done to prevent the recession from ever occurring. If financiers would have managed the burst properly, they could have spread out the risk and contained the damage. They did not - I'm not sure why, and DeLong does not spend much time explaining.

Housing finance (Fannie and Freddie) could have been nationalized much earlier and then the government through Fannie and Freddie could have bought up bad mortgages and contained the mess before massive unemployment hit. This would have also contained the cost of the mess. As its gone longer and deeper, people lose their jobs, they also lost the ability to pay for homes they normally would have wanted to stay in. Keeping people working would have softened the blow and contained the cost.

They could have nationalized as many banks as necessary much earlier, which would have kept banking, borrowing, lending and investing moving, while preventing any major financial runs or panics (which did occur after Lehman collapsed).

DeLong points plenty of fingers at Obama. Obama did do a lot of what Delong suggests, but in each and every case, it was never big or forceful enough to make enough of a difference. The stimulus needed to be much bigger. The Fed basically stopped doing much after the initial disaster was averted (other than keeping interest rates to basically zero). They could have advertised defined inflation and price targets and aggressively pursued them. Many more targeted bank nationalizations could have been performed.

In all of these suggestions, you find that the principle outlined in "Bagehot's Rule":

"All seven of these tools are applications of Walter Bagehot's rule: the principal that the way to deal with a panic in which nobody is sure if contracts will be honored is for the government to make sure that contracts are honored by lending freely to anybody who asks. (But, Bagehot wrote, the lending should be 'at a penalty rate' -- financiers should never profit from the fact of government assistance to stem the panic. That is the second part of Bagehot's rule)."

But why was Obama so timid?

Basically to sum up both Bush's and Obama's response to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression: They did just enough to avoid a Depression, but not nearly enough to either prevent the severe recession nor spur a vigorous recovery.

What Obama did do was he pivoted. He spent a lot of time, energy and political capital getting health care reform passed. Additionally, he spent the next year getting a significant financial reform bill passed. Health care in particular consumed his time and attention and left him little room to deal with the economy in any significant way.

Now, I support Obama's health care plan. It was no where near adequate. I'm doubtful it does enough to control cost - my primary concern, and more work is required.

But where does that leave us now. We have an economy with 10% unemployment. In 2014 (when Obamacare will finally be working in full), we'll have a health care system in place that should provide a better framework especially in a climate of high unemployment - its not so nearly dependent on employment provided health care.

But we are at serious risk of being stuck in a situation where high unemployment becomes the norm, and the next two years, we have a political climate that will probably make things worse. Cutting government spending does not make up for this massive demand shock (we have plenty of supply), and therefore if we do too much to try to balance our budget, we risk a double dip recession.

Furthermore, the massive losses in tax revenue due to this recession puts a huge strain on our ability to pay for our health care costs (which generally continue no matter how the economy behaves - sick people still need care). This reality gives more ammunition to those who would kill or severely roll back what Obama accomplished with his health care bill.

After reading through DeLong's critique and for these reasons I've outlined, I'm inclined to agree, maybe Obama should have done things differently.

Maybe he should have spent his entire first two years on nothing but foreign policy and the economy. He could have spent every last ounce of his political capital on getting the unemployment rate down. He could have put more pressure early on to get even the Republicans in Congress on board. He could have made recess appointments to get the Federal Reserve fully staffed - bypassing Senate confirmation procedures. Then with a fully staffed Fed, they could have been empowered (and pressured) to pull more levers to boost demand much more aggressively. He could pushed to nationalize more banks and then use that leverage to to institute stronger financial regulations to prevent future crisis of this magnitude.

Perhaps Greece and Ireland and Europe as a whole would have been in better shape.

All of this would have had real political cost. He would have been described as a dictator and a socialist at every turn. But unemployment would have been much lower. Republicans would still have won seats in Congress but not nearly as many.

More importantly, many more people right now would be working. I know personally qualified people who are unemployed right now and in very real ways are suffering.

I think Obama saw a unique opportunity to get health reform passed and he took it, but he sacrificed the economy in the process. Had he focused on the economy and sacrificed health care, would that have been a better calculation? Probably. But then health care reform would have been a goal for his second term - and far from a certainty.

Time will tell if this trade-off was worthwhile.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


I recently came across this provocative post from Tyler Cowen who seems like the only person who is defending the recent changes to our airport security.

This quote makes the most sense to me:

"Hovering in the background is the reality that a few successful downings will kill many people and furthermore probably wipe out the insurance market and thus lead to nationalization of the airlines. It's not clear what the freedom-enhancing path looks like and there is no default setting of market accountability. It's 'elephant interventions' all the way down."

and this one:

"The funny thing is this: when Americans insist on total liberty against external molestation, it motivates both good responses and bad ones. It supports a libertarian desire for freedom against government abuse, but the same sentiments generate a lot of anti-liberal policies when it comes to immigration, foreign policy, torture, rendition, attitudes toward Muslims, executive power, and most generally treatment of 'others.' An insistence on zero molestation, zero risk, isn't as pro-liberty as it appears in the isolated context of pat-downs. It leads us to impose a lot of costs on others, usually without thinking much about their rights."

and finally:

"The issue reminds me of the taxation and spending debates; many Americans want low taxes and high government spending, forever. For airline security, at times we want to treat it as a matter of mere law enforcement, to be handled by others, and one which should not inconvenience our daily lives or infringe on our rights. At the same time, so many Americans view airline security as a vital matter of foreign policy and indeed as part of a war. We own and promote this view and yet we are outraged when asked to behave as one might be expected to in a theater of war."

Another example how Americans want their cake and eat it too.

By the way here Megan McArdle links a video about TSA going over the top harassing a lady who refuses to send her breast milk through a scanner.

But if our airlines are truly one of the fronts on the war on terror, these kinds of overreaches are possible. Its hard to imagine that this kind of activity helps our national security. But, to me, its not hard to imagine when we give an organization the thankless job of preventing a terrorist from bringing down a plane (they are blamed when they fail, no one notices when they succeed), abuse is surely possible.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Immigration and the DREAM Act (and some general snarkiness)

Just wanted to share this link with anyone who happens to stumble upon this blog. I found it profound.

"It's worth noting that the southwestern portion of the United States just was Mexico, once upon a time. There is an undeniable economic and cultural continuity between Mexico and the United States. The border distorts and disrupts it, but it cannot and will never put an end to it. The pattern of traffic between these two countries is not something to choke off, but something sensibly to regulate and rationalise."


"The DREAM Act sends the message that although American immigration law in effect tries to make water run uphill, we are not monsters. It says that we will not hobble the prospects of young people raised and schooled in America just because we were so perverse to demand that their parents wait in a line before a door that never opens. It signals that we were once a nation of immigrants, and even if we have become too fearful and small to properly honour that noble legacy, America in some small way remains a land of opportunity."

Ok, what follows is a rant, a vent. I have really smart, reasonable friends that may disagree with the some of the points I make in the second half of this post. Also, there are reasonable disagreements on the issues I bring up. What I see right now, almost systemically, however, is something really wrong in the Republican party. I think it comes from some combination of corruption from being in power for too long and this crazy Obama is a socialist, power over country sentiment, and FOX news/AM talk radio that's brought them where they are today.

So, I just need to do it :-). Feel free to ignore all of it. No offense if any of these issues feel targeted at you. I'm venting :-).

How many issues have the Republican party demogogued over the last 10 years or so, to the point of unreasonableness, let's just count a few off the top of my head:

  • Immigration: Hard working Mexicans drain our society's resources! Let's stop every single Mexican from entering our country despite unrelenting market forces!

  • Banking: The great recession was caused by Barack Obama who took office after it began! By the way, it had nothing to do with unregulated bankers who took advantage of lax regulation to gamble the world's reserves making record profits on both the downside and the upside! But hey, regulating banks is always a bad idea - resist!

  • War: Preemptive invasion on the cheap - but don't worry we'll be welcomed as liberators and Democracy will flourish wherever we decree it.

  • Nuclear Proliferation - Its not enough to fight the war on terror, Russia is and will always be our enemy. Just say no to START - let's keep the Cold War going! By the way, Europe sucks too!

  • Health Care: There is a market solution to elderly - kick them off of medicare, give them a voucher (that will not rise with medicare inflation, and I'm sure some for-profit insurance company won't mind giving them insurance with that voucher despite the fact that an elderly person will likely cost much more than any voucher will cover.

  • Health Care Part II: Same thing for anyone with a chronic condition. But there's a free market solution for every problem!

  • Tax Cuts: Tax cuts always increase revenue! (Need I say more - well for some people I do :-)

  • Education cuts improve education quality - no need for reform, its magic! Teachers work harder when you pay them less money - and they will surely pay for their supplies out of pocket.

  • Tax cuts for the wealthy: The wealthy are the only drivers for our economy -despite the fact they make up 1% of our economy, but they control something like 20% of our wealth - so they must know what they're doing right? So, if you want to boost the economy, put more money in their pockets and they will magically guide our economy into the next century.

  • Global Warming: Its fiction because, well if its wasn't then we recognize their are no free market solutions for global warming and anything without a free market solution doesn't exist.

I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


The libertarian leaning local columnist Robert Robb had some nice things to say about Terry Goddard.

"Goddard began the diffusion of political power that characterizes Phoenix and the state today. He actually had more lasting influence on Arizona's political future than those most often cited as the dominant figures of that period: Bruce Babbitt, Burton Barr and Alfredo Gutierrez.

If Goddard had played it safe as mayor, he undoubtedly would have been elected governor in 1990.

Goddard, however, forcefully advocated for a series of failed tax-increase proposals: to build a downtown baseball stadium, to transform and restore the Salt River throughout the county, and to establish a county-wide transit system.

In much of this, he was just premature. A downtown baseball stadium was eventually built. A county-wide transit tax was approved. Piecemeal improvements of the Salt River are occurring. In the case of the transit system and Salt River improvements, what Goddard advocated in the 1980s was actually much better than what county residents ultimately got."

I think this is why I am a Democrat right now. I love Tempe Town Lake, I live only a few miles south of it. My daughter's youth choir sang the National Anthem at a Diamond Backs game recently. I took the light rail downtown to see her and the game. I forgot how much I love baseball and I had a blast at the game, despite the cheesy over the top amusement park-like baseball stadium. I also loved riding the light rail and I wish I could take it more often, but I love that it exists.

Baseball stadiums, light rail, highways, Tempe Town Lake, parks - none of these exist without some amount of public government support. But the Republican party presumably would prefer to cut all of this and more. It's the utter-cheapness of today's Republican party that drives me away from it. Its a political party that has started to think small.

I grew up in Yuma, a city that historically has close to the highest unemployment rate in the nation. And my dad was perpetually unemployed or vastly underemployed. We literally scraped by. I cannot tell you the number of times they would say the words: "We can't afford it." And it was always true - they couldn't afford much of what I wanted (even my modest wants were usually unfulfilled.

But looking back, my dad often suffered from a lack of vision. You don't say we can't afford it, you find a way to afford it and then you afford it. I'm speaking of the more worthwhile wants I had growing up - like piano lessons, say. And I can think of times when my dad was able to step it up and afford stuff - most notably when it came time for me to serve a two year church mission. He took on a second job for those two years to pay for that mission, and for that I'm very grateful. So, he had it within him, but too often he used poverty as an excuse (this is my interpretation - there were probably issues going on I didn't fully understand).

I get that we don't want unnecessary debt or burdensome taxes, but that just means to me that you find a way to raise revenue broadly so it has minimal impact, say by cutting loopholes, broadening the tax base instead of simply raising the rates.

This hit home for me one more time today. My oldest daughter was involved in a Suzuki "book promotion" concert today. All of these kids involved in Suzuki violin or cello gathered for a concert at a church in South Tempe. They played in order from the beginner to advanced. The most advanced student played last. She must have been 12 or 13 and she played a solo, the only solo of the day, and her piece was beautiful and inspiring.

To play the violin well (or at all), you need to practice for years, be willing to spend good money on lessons and instruments and music. Be willing to spend the time day after day. And then after many, many years you may be good enough to actually perform something that people will show up to listen to, and not just because they're being supportive because they know they will be inspired, maybe. But you still do it anyway because you're thinking big. You want to create something beautiful - and the cost of doing so is basically beside the point, because beauty really has no price tag.

The Republican party has within itself the ability to think big by the way. I think I understand their ideology pretty well - I lived it pretty passionately for a good 10-20 years.

Republicans believe in the free market but so do the Democrats. Nobody is arguing in any of our political debates that we should nationalize the internet or Apple.

Where the battle lines are drawn are in those areas where the free market is not actively participatory - preserving the environment (some companies do want to preserve the environment, but usually only if and when it benefits them, or its a secondary concern subservient to profits), universal access to education and health care, roads, police, our military.

Republicans want strong and active government in police and in the military but they want to minimize its footprint in other areas. Democrats don't. That's really the extent of the difference between the two parties.

But Republicans are not cruel, most want good schools for everyone, most would be in favor of a diabetic getting access to insulin regardless of ability to pay. They just don't want the government to do it. They rightly believe that government tends to be motivated by more political than altruistic concerns, and in the politician's machinations, winning the next election takes precedent over anything else.

But what are their alternatives - churches and charitable organizations. And I think I understand why - I can see on paper (not sure if the data bears this out) that when a person volunteers time and money to a specific organization they're gong to want to be more diligent in vetting that organization and all of this comes from a place of passion and for a higher purpose. I give a lot of money to my church - I do it because of my faith, but I also have a lot of confidence those funds will be used wisely. This is why I favor eliminating tax loopholes and deductions, but I make an exception for charitable giving. The problem with taxes are they are not voluntary. They are collected by force, so other than through elections, politicians don't have the same accountability that charities do.

But I want to see this explained much, much better and with more vigor by Republicans. If Republicans truly believed that charitable institutions could fill in the gaps for health care, education, libraries, care for the elderly, I would love to see them embrace this fully and explain to me how. And I want to see it employed in practice.

Remove the tax subsidies employers get for providing employee health insurance, which will effectively kill employer provided health insurance. Then show me how through a combination of free market health insurance and charity, I can always get insulin to my daughter. I'm not being cynical here, I want this position defended much more forcefully by the Republicans.

Stop thinking small. In my view, we have more wealth on this good earth than we realize. We can harness our global natural resources, get more out of more people. We can live more abundant lives than we currently are.

Its time our politics reflect that - from both parties.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Ok, so, Its Education We're Going to Defund

Looks like 300 million dollars are going to be cut from our schools and social services. That's just a start, apparently, we've got to get to $2 billion this fiscal year and $3billion in the next. But just to be clear, unless our schools have been burning $300 million dollars in a literal fire, that's going to increase our unemployment rates at a time we already have 9.6% unemployment. I think its clear that this makes it more likely not less that our economy will fall into a double dip.

Even if we can make these kinds of cuts without affecting school quality (which I seriously doubt), even if we are able to find people to fire who are making zero impact on our school quality, those people will be added to our unemployment roles. Those people will have to immediately cut spending, which impacts demand, which will reduce the incentive for businesses to hire and the cycle continues.

For those who think the government stimulus was a waste of money, now as that stimulus expires, we'll see what happens, to some extent, to our economy without it.

By the way, these spending cuts will be offset somewhat, by the Fed's decision to increase the money supply through its monetary policy, which conservatives inexplicably are also against. In that link, Krugman argues that even Friedman is too liberal for today's conservatives.

All of this is worrying enough, but I assume that $300 million (plus the additional cuts still to come) are sizeable enough that it will affect educational quality.

I just ran across this article recently. It is short, but the author tries to pinpoint the source of America's wealth. Here's how the article concludes:

"America does seem to be special in important ways, but it's not always clear what those ways are. A liberal economic order and geographically mobile population are important, but so is the level of education, the promise of social mobility, and the openness of America's borders. It's worth keeping all of that in mind as the country's leaders think about the ways economic policy should change in the wake of the Great Recession."

It's like Arizona read that paragraph and decided to do the opposite of every item in this sentence.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Will Medicaid Be Cut

Laurie Roberts already addresses the issue of medicaid funding quite well.

But here's a reader on Andrew Sullivan's blog who relies on medicaid to take care of her disabled child:

"Cuts to Medicaid will result in more people like my daughter having to live in institutions, at a much higher cost to the public than home-based care. Most elected officials are clueless about this; I know I've had to sit down with my current and prior state delegates to educate them since they had no idea. (This video from Virginia state delegate Patrick Hope discusses the downward spiral that would result from cuts to Medicaid.)"

Here's our fearless leader of the Senate, Russell Pearce, talking about medicaid.

Over the past couple of decades, Arizona has rolled back our local tax rates but they can do so based largely on a couple of decades now of robust population growth and resulting in the growth in housing, construction, and other industries that benefit from that growth. But obviously in the past decade, the growth turned into a massive bubble and we now have a glut of housing. It's doubtful that the old economic models we've counted on are going to be there anymore.

Our state has some serious budget holes to fill in immediately. Do we want to fill those on the backs of the poor (medicaid), they young (education) or do we want to look at both expand and slightly increase our tax rates so that we can sustainably pay for the services our state needs.

In the long term we can look at reform, which should include a more robust rainy day fund that is not just given away. Of course we need to improve our schools and universities and find ways to squeeze out efficiencies.

What I worry about is the Republican party has turned into a caricature of itself.

Read these blog posts on David Frum's blog (a moderate conservative former speech writer for Bush Jr) here, here and here.

Some Reasons given:

Republicans campaign against the educated
"Applebaum reacted to Christine O’Donnell’s advertised boast – 'I didn’t go to Yale' – that Republicans 'need to stop celebrating stupidity'."

Republicans discard science
"Under Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon, Republicans championed science and knowledge. But over the past 30 years, national Republicans have formed an intensifying alliance with religious conservatives more skeptical of science and knowledge. I don’t know whether discarding evolution goes against common sense; but I’m pretty sure it goes against most Ivy League-educated senses."

They talk about evolution here, but I see it alarmingly apparent in the global warming debates.

The Republican dogma no longer makes sense

"Educated people may also be extra-sensitive to policy positions that do not make logical sense. While individual elements of the Republican platform can make sense on their own, the combination of demands to reduce the deficit, plus increase Medicare spending, plus opposing reform meant to save costs, plus uncompromising insistence on tax cuts just does not add up. "

And this is a huge problem for the Republican party going forward:

"However, there is another side to the challenge: one of governance and policy. A party needs a well-educated echelon – call it an elite – to formulate policy to deal with complex challenges. Without the philosophical and academic achievements of the likes of Friedrich von Hayek, Milton Friedman and James Q. Wilson, the Reagan revolution would not have been possible."

Going back to Medicaid quickly. One of the reasons why I left the Republican party is for the reasons given here, the ideology no longer makes sense. You can cut taxes, but at some point you have to stop - we need revenue. We can cut services (the Republican party has been far from consistent both in ideology and in practice in this regard), but do we want to eliminate safety nets?

The Democratic party is far from perfect, but of the two, its by far the more thoughtful and rigorous (many thoughtful people have abandoned both).

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Anger Over the Housing Crisis

The problem is that I don't know who to be angry at. All I know is that there's a lot to be angry about this Thanksgiving season.

Last night I helped a friend move out of his condo. His family purchased it while he was going to school as a way to build a little equity in hopes of using it to by a more permanent house after graduation. He bought it at a reasonable price - his mortgage costs were roughly what rent would have been (maybe a bit higher), but that's reasonable, right?

However, this was pre-boom times and as the decade progressed, those condo values ballooned, and buyers eventually were priced out of thse condos. That should have tempered the boom, right? Wrong. My friend knew something was up when renters were the only ones who could occupy these condos because investors were the only ones who could afford to buy and they were buying, inflating the boom further.

Unfortunately for him, he decided to sell too late and when he tried, there were no buyers. He kept dropping the price of his condo until the writing was on the wall and he knew he was entering negative equity.

He's now trying to short sell the condo for around $40,000. Can you imagine that? If you took out a 30 year mortgage for $40k, you're monthly payment would be $350 including taxes fees and insurance. The average rent in this area is at least double that (if not more). Is his condo really only worth $40K? Absolutely not.

Which brings me to my anger. From mostly around 2005 to 2008, things went absolutely haywire. Loan officers, landscape architects, real estate agents, anybody affiliated in any way with the real estate bubble were making a bunch of money. My friend told me that he knew a landscape architect working primarily in Anthem making $180,000/year at the peak. I knew someone who was refinancing mortgages as a side job and doubling her engineering salary while she did it.

This American Life covers all of this nonsense here.

What's sickening is that there are people still making a lot of money on short sells and foreclosures, profiting on the downside just as much as they were profiting on the upside. Its hard to begrudge anyone from making a bunch of money doing legal and basically honest work.

Its just disgusting how wasteful this all became. So many people were working really hard making a lot of money doing very little to produce stuff of value. It's true that we now have a sea of cookie-cutters sprawled across our beautiful desert. Some of these housing communities do have real value as people find a way to live and enjoy their lives in them. Some now are decaying unoccupied awaiting foreclosure.

What would Phoenix have been like if people bought homes they wanted in communities they loved. If homes were bought to live in and not to flip. If people transformed their homes into something they love instead of something they think would be the easiest to sell. If people saved and spent their savings to re-furbish older homes in core communities closer to where they work and played.

We're in the mess because so many people thought they could get rich off their homes or other people's homes. And our politicians thought that if you just deregulate everything you can prosper.

But prosperity takes work and discipline. We need professionals and craftsman building and creating art. Making things people love. Our politics should reflect that.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Propositions - a Recap

As far as I know here are the results of the propositions. I have a pretty long history in being disappointed in state proposition results, but the reality of it is that I win some and I lose some and this year is no different. So, let's go down the line one by one:

Prop. 106

This proposition amends the state constitution to make it possible for for someone to pay for medical services in any way they prefer without having to pay a fine. I totally understand why this passed, but its not clear to me what the consequence of passing it will be. There will be definite conflicts between the language in this proposition and "Obamacare" passed by the federal government and there's enough ambiguity in the proposition, lawsuits are probably the only way to sort it all out. My feeling is that this proposition will waste some state funds but not result in any substantive change to our health care environment. I don't think Arizona has the authority to arbitrarily overrule what the federal government does. Conflicts will have to be decided in the courts.

Ultimately, I still believe people don't fully understand the need for mandates. If people really want to restrict insurance companies from denying those with preexisting conditions or to limit coverage or kick someone off their rolls based on their actuarial models, then by virtue of this restriction, they are essentially insured regardless of whether or not they pay a premium.

If you can wait until you are sick to enroll and still be covered, you were insured. Removing a mandate allows someone to free-ride.

And in essence, we have this ability to free ride right now, at least to some extent. How many people really want to live with the consequences of a society without mandates? Do you want to prove you can pay before being admitted into the hospital or being picked up by an ambulance? Do you want to be refused cancer treatments because of inadequate insurance?

My feeling is this proposition will ultimately have little to no consequence other than giving some lawyers something to do. But Arizonans have a history of of this kind of silliness.

In fact there seems to be a larger disconnect with voters nationwide. We want a bunch of services but we don't want to pay for them. We want stuff for nothing which is why we have this massive debt, and we need to start electing politicians who will call us on this (I blame Reagan by the way :-) ).

Proposition 107, Proposition 113
Prop 107 bans state sponsored affirmative action; prop 113 maintains the legality secret ballot in union elections. First off, its almost high comedy that Arizona passed 107 especially when we may be on the verge of gutting our government to balance the budget. Do our state universities (universities that accept practically everybody) really even use affirmative action?

On 113, I don't get the feeling that our unions have much power in our state, so this proposition does little to change that. In my view, both of these propositions will ultimately have little consequence.

The Rest
The voters agreed with me on the rest that have been decided:

1) Hunting and fishing is not a constitutional right on the same level of speech, press, and worship (phew).
2) No lieutenant governor position will be established (the idea is a good one, but it needs more vetting to make way for independents to run in the general election).
3) And the voters rejected the states attempts to balance the budget by pulling funds from state trust lands and "First Things First."

By the way on failing to pass 301 and 302 we have essentially blown a hole in our budget a mile wide. Voting no on these propositions only makes sense if our politicians are willing to raise revenue through tax increases (something I support). But I'm not sure if the average voter realizes this.

Instead, it looks like we'll ultimately have to reject $7 billion dollars of federal aid, so that we can gut medicaid. Is our goal to drive both migrant workers and the poor out of our state?.

I hope this quote raises more than a few eyebrows:

"The budget is more than $800 million in the hole this year, with another $1.4 billion in cuts needed next year. If you cut all of state government, with the exception of prisons, DES, K-12 and universities and AHCCCS, you would save $820 million."

Those Still to be Decided
Of the three propositions still undecided, legalizing marijuana is the one I care the most about and I'm praying and hoping it fails.

Friday, November 5, 2010

On Harry Mitchell's defeat

First of all, I'm far from an expert on local or even national elections. I know what I know, I have my own experiences, I try to read as much as I have time to read, and I think and discuss about the issues. Its my hobby, definitely a bit of an obsession. But I don't claim to know that much about the local political leaders.

I supported Harry Mitchell's campaign a tiny bit: spent some time making calls for him one evening, got up at 5am on election day to put fliers on door knobs of likely Democratic voters with information about their polling locations. I wish I could have done more, I would be surprised if I moved even one voter over to Mitchell, but you never know.

Let me be clear. I'm incredibly impressed with him as a person. I met him briefly once. Its clear that he's a man of substance. He was mayor of Tempe from 1980 until 1994 and its my understanding that he transformed Tempe's downtown. There's even a statue there made in his honor.

He's a pragmatist - believing in low taxes for small businesses but also believing in schools. Look at the bills he's sponsored or co-sponsored here. A long and substantive list.

Ultimately, he was voted out because of the economy and because of his health care vote. He was one of the last holdouts on this vote and expressed strong concerns over the bill, but he ultimately voted for it and ultimately lost his seat because of this vote.

I owed him some of my time. I wrote him a letter encouraging him to vote for the health care bill, and he did (I'm doubtful it was because of my letter - but still).

Let me though give him some parting criticisms. I mentioned that I made some phone calls for him during his campaign. When I got to his headquarters to do this, I was told by one of his staff to avoid mentioning the health care bill because they needed to win and this bill and that vote was not popular. Indeed Schweikert ran almost exclusively on that vote and in all probability won because of it.

But how could I do it. It was frustrating making phone calls to strangers when I had to defend Mitchell because of some obscure "GI" bill of the 21st century bill he authored (which sounded good to me by the way) a bill I knew very little about. It was disingenuous and it sucked all of the passion right out of me.

I watched their debate and Schweikert hammered Mitchell on the health care issue, Mitchell defended it pretty well in the debate, but not nearly far enough. Look, it probably wouldn't matter how Mitchell ran his campaign, and it probably wouldn't have mattered how he voted on the health care bill. The wave against Democrats was probably too massive to overcome.

But I just wish the Democrats would have put up a better fight. Listen to last week's "This American Life episode here. The first forty minutes they talk about the Republicans and its interesting. But skip that for now, get to about the forty minute mark to listen to the Democrats.

They make the point that they should have ran hard on letting the tax cuts expire for the rich (an issue they win 2 to 1 among voters) or did you know that most people support almost everything that's in Obamacare, they inexplicably just don't support Obamacare. Maybe instead of running away from the bill, they should have defended it hard, like this for example:

"You want to see a death panel? I will take you to a death panel. Take the media to the door of an insurance company and tell the story of the little girl who was denied her care and she died. That's a real death panel and it happens every day in the private insurance system. That's the real answer."

Or the Ohio Congressman, John Boccieri, an Iraq war veteran who won a district in 2006 that had previously been Republican for 60 years who when asked about his health care vote by a reporter said this:

"I used to think I was brave and I used to think I was tough and I've flown into enemy fire and I've flown in four combat missions. I'm just not tough enough to look this lady in the eye who has breast cancer and tell her I'm going to deny her health care. If you want someone whose that tough, you've gotta vote Republican."

And these stories abound and the Republicans have no answer. My own daughter is a type 1 diabetic. She needs something like this health care bill in place so she doesn't have to cling to a big company insurance plan. So, she has the freedom to innovate, to run a small business or to work for one or whatever.

We need a real two party system. The Republican party has talking points and easily expressed slogans. The Democratic party is a muddled mess.

So, yes, I'm sad that Harry Mitchell lost, he's a man of substance with a long, distinguished career of public service. But it was just difficult for me to get excited about someone who did not have any energy to defend his vote on one of the most significant bills in our modern history.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Quick Reaction to the State Election Results

It looks like the Republicans won the state-wide elections in a clean sweep. And it looks like they are gaining majorities in the legislature. On top of that both Proposition 301 and Proposition 302 went down in big defeats.

So, what to make of this (if anything)?

Prop 301 and 302 were put on the ballot in a desperate attempt to find millions of dollars to help balance the Arizona budget. The voters said heck no with emphasis (302 moves funds allocated for "First things First" into the general fund, 301 transfers money from the state land conservation fund into the general fund).

Meanwhile, the Republicans have been running almost religiously on the principle of no new taxes. They also want additional resources on the border and want to expand the police force role to include immigration enforcement (HB1070).

They also have a constitutional mandate to balance a state budget they couldn't balance last year even with the help of the federal stimulus. Do you remember the stimulus is running out and won't be available next year? Meanwhile, of the 50 states, we are one of the most frugal states in the country in terms of per pupil funding on education.

Not to mention we elect Huppenthal who now has a voter mandate to turn all of our schools into charters or something.

I have no idea where all of this is heading, but it doesn't look good for Arizona.

Good luck Republicans. You're in charge of this mess almost completely now. My prayers are with you.

Monday, November 1, 2010

My Ballot Picks

I've been trying really hard this election to stay up to speed on the candidates and I've been doing pretty well. The night before the election I thought I'd might finalize my picks in one post.

My general strategy is to vote Democrat, although in this post I'll tell you the elections I think where the candidates are pretty even.

For reference, here are my propositions.

Here are the Arizona Republic's picks

On to my picks:

My Ballot

PositionMy VoteArizona Republic's OpinonBrief Explanation
SenateRodney GlassmanJohn McCainRodney Glassman is young, inexperienced, from a rich family, has some question marks in his past, but he's also smart, energetic, polished, and confident. John McCain brought Sarah Palin to the world and may do his part to end it if for some odd chance Palin wins the presidency in 2012. His presidential campaign, in a word, was awful. He's also changing course on a number of issues, trying desperately to reincarnate himself into the Rush Limbaugh of the Senate. This is really more of a no vote against McCain than a yes vote for Glassman (McCain is someone I've really, really liked in the past, so I'm sad to see McCain's career turn this way).
Congressional District 5Harry Mitchell
David SchweikertThis is one of those elections where two really pretty good candidates are running against each other. Harry Mitchell has a long, deep and substantive record in local politics. A longtime teacher at Tempe High, the mayor of Tempe, a state legislature, and a Congressman for two terms. He's a moderate all the way, every bill he's authored has had Republican co-signers. I'm voting for him because he voted for Obamacare, despite some of his misgivings, he did what was right.

Schweikert is young, energetic and a fiscal conservative. I trust (though not sure) he would be sincere in his attempts to act as a counter-weight to Obama's spending. I'm voting for Mitchell, but Schweikert should be a better representative than J.D. Hayworth (who Mitchell beat in 2006) if he were to win. For now, I believe the election is too close to call.
GovernorTerry GoddardJan BrewerJan Brewer was not prepared to take over when Napolitano left, but after a slow start she's been competent. I abhorred the 1070b signing, but she did defend it with passion. Goddard, though, is a much more competent governor who would defend our schools in the face of a legislature who will try their hardest to cut its funding. The state is facing hard times right now. The schools are already scraping by. Goddard is in a better position to do the right thing.
Secretary of StateChris DescheneKen BennettThis one is a tossup election for me and admittedly Ken Bennett has more direct experience and is better prepared to take over as governor if for some reason he's called upon. Both seem qualified to assume the responsibilities of Secretary of State. I want greater participation in the elections and I trust Deschene will work harder to reach out to the disenfranchised. I'm going with Deschene.
TreasurerAndrei CherneyDoug DuceyI agree with Ducey ideologically more than I do with Cherney. I just trust Cherney more than I do Ducey. My heart and gut over rule my head on this one.
Attorney GeneralFelicia RotelliniFelicia RotelliniWow, the Arizona Republic finally agrees with me :-). This is a no-brainer. Tom Horne is a strong candidate, although he does have a lifetime ban from the SEC (for something he did 40 years ago - but still). But this is more about Rotellini - she's incredible, highly qualified, with a sterling record. Arizona would really muff this one if they chose Horne over Rotellini.
School SuperintendentPenny KottermanJohn HuppenthalAnother no brainer. If you're a school reform ideologue with no faith in teachers or administrators and all it takes to run our schools is in-depth knowledge on the latest research (no matter how sketchy or politicized) - Huppenthal is your guy. He's never taught school, but has a long record writing legislative bills on school policy. Kotterman has been an instructor and a administrator, has a deep knowledge of school issues and a comprehensive view on how to improve them. This choice should also be a no brainer.
Corporation CommisionGary Pierce and David BradleyGary Pierce and Brenda BurnsThere are three really qualified candidates running from my view (the second Democrat unfortunately passed away). I prefer a little more emphasis on renewable energy than the Republicans will bring to the table, but I'll be happy no matter what happens here I'm sure.
Central Arizona Water Conservation District"Tim Bray, Frank Fairbanks, Jim Holway, Arif Kazmi, Sid WilsonSameI'm placing my trust in the AZ Republic on this one. There are some tea-party candidates running who just want to cut costs and have no background or experience with water. Be sure to avoid those folks.
State Mining InspectorManuel CruzJoe HartTwo good candidates - one is focused more on advocacy for mining in the state, the other is more focused on regulation and safety. I'm going for the second.
Legislative District 17 - SenateDavid SchapiraDavid SchapiraDavid Shapira is much more qualified and knowledgeable on the issues than Wendy Rogers. Rogers skipped their one debate and has a pretty narrow view of the issues facing Arizona generally. Shapira is by far the better choice.
Legislative District 17 - HouseEd Ableser and Ben ArredondoEd Ableser and Ben ArredondoI never did getting around to blogging about this race. The Republicans did not field anybody even worth mentioning once Steve May dropped out (he was kind of a joke as well). Its inexplicable - this district has plenty of Republicans living in it and we've had substantive Republicans representing it in the past. Ben Arredondo is a rock and the better of the two. Ed Ableser is energetic although a bit idealistic apparently.
County AttorneyBill Montgomery Bill Montgomery I really like Rick Romley who lost to him in the primaries. There are no Democrats running. Montgomery was endored by Arpiro which is a big negative for me, but I'm assuming he's competent enough for the position.
Clerk of the Superior CourtMichael JeanesMichael JeanesGoing with the AZ Republic on this one
Justice of the Peace - KyreneElizabeth RogersUnknownShe's the incumbent and the Democrat
ConstableJon LevensonUnknownI've met him and his sign is in my yard.
High School Governing BoardDave Wells and David SchapiraUnknownDave Wells is a professor at ASU and seems knowledgeable and energetic. Schapira is also running for the the Senate (part time position) and can use his influence to help Tempe High schools

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Why Its Hard to be a Moderate

Because moderate arguments are harder to make.

I was in a lively debate the other day defending Obama's health care plan. And it takes some time for me to defend it because there's a lot to it and my reasons for supporting it (with its flaws) are a bit complicated. In this debate, my friend suggested that if I have to spend so much time defending something, maybe it's wrong? I also sent another person an article that went on for at least 5 pages defending Obama's two years as a president, and he told me he didn't read it because if you can't sum up your position more concisely, if you have to spend that long defending a position, then there may be something wrong with it.

Because the political forces at work are trying to pull you to one extreme or the other

I feel this in my own life a lot. On most issues, I can see good points on both sides and I usually try to find ways to merge these two issues into one. When trying to determine who to vote for, I prefer people who are rationale and reasonable and who seem to have a record of working through compromise with others of different viewpoints.

But its hard because for most people really active in politics, the whole thing becomes a game. Its us verses them, a battle between good and evil. So, right now I happen I find myself being pulled to the left on some issues for very rational reasons, but as I gravitate toward these news sources, its gets easier and easier to be pulled in.

In the end, I just want to believe that most people that run are really pretty outstanding people.

Because an extreme view is just more fun to be passionate about

Gay marriage is a classical example of this. If you're against gay marriage, you are really against it because gay marriage will destroy marriage as we know it. It will depopulate the earth. It will bring about the end of life as we know it. No matter that gays have committed suicide because of bullying inspired by over the top anti-gay rhetoric. No matter that the aids epidemic killed literally thousands through the 1980's who had no institution to support them or guide them toward healthy alternatives.

If you support gay marriage then you really support it. You believe churches who speak out against it are hateful and should lose their tax exempt status.

The moderate view is harder to defend. Of course, I'll say my view is the moderate one :-).

But the church I belong to is taking a complicated view of this complex issue. We have strong religious reasons for being against gay marriage as a religion, but we also have strong religious reasons for being inclusive, compassionate, and charitable toward all.

Bottom line, this issue is complicated and attempts to make it easy tend to be wrong.

Gay marriage is just one issue. I can make the same case for schools, the environment, abortion.

Jon Stewart says it all better than me:

Rally to Restore Sanity.

Loved these quotes:
"We live now in hard times not end times. We can have animous and not be enemies. If we amplify everything, we hear nothing."

Monday, October 25, 2010

Two Debates Over the Weekend

I'm slowly making my way down my sample ballot. Hopefully by this weekend (post the JDRF walk this Saturday morning, I'll compose a post with a complete set of all my picks. I'm afraid all of the research on the judges will be last minute.

Well, this weekend I watched two debates:

Harry Mitchell verses David Schweikert (and Nick Coons).

Ok, I was already decided on this issue a loong time ago, but it was still fun to watch. Last week I did a little phone canvasing for Harry Mitchell and if I would have watched this debate I would have been better on the phone.

Harry Mitchell is a true moderate Democrat - someone who is used to representing more conservative districts than the party he belongs to. In the debate he emphasized the bills he wrote and received Republican co-signers (one co-signed by Ron Paul to freeze Congressman pay raises). He also emphasizes tax cuts - especially those on capital gains and the estate.

There's also an interesting (though superficial) debate on the health care bill in this debate. Although Schweikert makes some completely wrong points on the health care bill that Mitchell doesn't do near a good enough job refuting.

Moving on to a race I'm still undecided on - the important State Mine Inspector:

The candidates are Manuel Cruz verses the incumbent Joe Hart.

They both seem extremely experienced in mining. Joe Hart is the Republican who seems to be a little more oriented toward the interest of miners and the miner companies. He wants to act like more an advocate of mining and less a regulator. Although, I do believe he is sincerely trying to close and cover dead mines (he's covered I believe 200 since being in office), and I do believe he cares about safety. He just also cares about mining as an industry - and that comes out in this debate.

Manuel Cruz is the Democrat and he's the more environmentalist candidate - someone who wants to emphasize safety regulation and mining safety. He wants to be the regulator (although I'm sure he'll advocate as well). He was extremely critical of Joe Hart on a couple of key points - particularly Hart's slow rate of closing dead mines (Hart claims resource constraints).

So, largely, I suspect that both candidates will run the office in similar ways, I also suspect that each will emphasize certain aspects of the office a bit differently.

Comically, Obamacare came up in this debate (Hart accusing Cruz of using Obamacare-like financing as a way to push his mining agenda :-) ).

I think both candidates are qualified to run this office.

The Arizona Republic endorses Joe Hart, and someone inexplicably endorses David Schweikert.

I have to say I more or less agree with the AZ Republic here on both counts (I'm still voting for Harry Mitchell and I'm leaning toward a vote for Cruz). I think the next two years is going to be (for better of for worse) about debt reduction, and David Schweikert is probably more suitable for this particular task than Mitchell.

However, the thing that worries me is if Republicans take the House (which they probably will) will have a nightmarish scenario where House Republicans hold up all kinds of stuff (including Health care reform) through endless law suits and subpoenas. Diane Rehm goes into this on today's show.

I like Mitchell, a lot and am committed to vote for him, but I probably wouldn't be tooo sad if Schweitkert won (ok, a little sad)...

(Incidentally, Schweikert's the small business owner of a real estate investment firm which given the nature of our bubble and burst in Arizona is probably not a good thing).