Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Financial crisis and cheaper oil

Finally, something that brought the price of oil down. Our financial/credit market crisis. So....no credit but cheaper gas. This morning oil was a $96 a barrel. How soon before the gas prices actually come down?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Crisis Constructing so we need a Manager

just watch it....you'll laugh and be informed.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

John McCain's Country First Gambit

So now Senator McCain wants to suspend the presidential campaign to focus on the economic crisis. Looks like a gambit to me. First off, his campaing is tanking, so why not? But more importantly, let's dissect this.

If Senator McCain really thinks he cannot do both his job, being a senior Senator from Arizona and campaign for President of the United States (let's admit it, that is a hard thing to do...ask Bob Dole, Fritz Mondale, George McGovern...Losers everyone) then he could put country first and resign his senate seat and Gov Napolitano appoint his replacement. But, that would give a democrat Barry Goldwater's seat. Given that Sen McCain is the putative head of his party, he still has a strong bully pulpit to work on the economic crisis on the campaing trail. Or, Senator mcCAin could just stop campaigning. he could put country first and turn over the election to his hand picked successor.

But he does all this in the public eye, as if he is laying down a guantlet....this is the cynical part of this...he almost dares Sen. Obama not to follow his lead, which is of course the only true "country first" path.

It could be that a younger man, Senator Obama, can do both jobs. Lord knows Obama's campaign days are far more strenuous and long than Sen. McCain's. Why should we be surprised? I don't have what I had 25 years ago...I'm smarter, but don't have the sheer energy. So, why shouldn't age catch up with Sen McCain who is nearluy 30 years older than Sen Obama.

I used to like Sen McCain's occasional bouts of independence. I heard a speech he gave some time ago today about his respect for Sen Goldwater and his youthful exuberances. This was after hearing about his 'dare" to Sen Obama to cease campaigning. I think he is so desperate to live up to the older men in his younger life that he doesn't have a sense of who he is. He just covets the presidency.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Could the $700 billion bailout make Congress work like it should

In reading about the objections raised by Senators and Congressmen to the Bush plan for a bailout of the financial markets made me think: is Congress beginning ot act like it is supposed to? As a check on the power of the President? For too many years, the President's party just moved the Democrat or Republican agenda.

The Congress is responsbile for the tax monies. This Administration is a spendthrift. We need a Congress, this Congress to act as a check. That won't happen if they bicker among themselves, but they (Congress) can deliberate and make the plan better, if it must be done.

If I am seeing what I think I might be seeing, Congress acting like Congress and not the back drop for mortal kombat, then a better functioning Congress could emerge from this...whether we bailout the financial market boobs or not.

700 billion dollar power grab

I don't pretend to understand the crisis in the financial markets. As simply as I can understand it, the "financial products" are smoke and mirrors; there is no equity, there is nothing. I heard someone, perhaps it was John McCain who referred this kind of stuff as a casino economy. That seems realistic.

How this kind of junk leads to this kind of crisis is beyond me. Is our economy really that much a house of cards. The 90s Savings and Loan bailout was due to deregulation that led to bad management decisions. In fact, can anyone show me one of these bailouts that ultimately is about bad management decisions?

yet, some firms seem to gain a position that is so powerful, that they cannot be allowed to fail. So we socialize the risk but privatize the gains. Yup, that is capitalism that few will defend.

What is the effect of such a nationalization of these markets?

The Bush Administration is playing the same kind of crisis game that they did with the patriot Act. At least Congress is not playing this time. But investors, put the pain to the markets today. Is it extortion?

I'm queasy about this bailout. $700 billion would pay a lot of unemployment if that is the alternative.

If we avoid a depression as many calm,rational types, (not like Bush and McCain, hysterical ones those) claim, then isn't government a BIG part of the solution instead of the problem. I mean, this is like a perfect hegelian dialectic. The Conservative/Reagan revolution demonized the government, undermined virtually all public institutions. The market was unfettered. And now, we bailout the financial markets just 28 years later. And BIG government is back.

I've been reading for the past couple of weeks German social theory. Ulrich Beck has a notion of what the post capitalist/post-industrial society is...risk society. The meltdown in the financial markets is a perfect example of it. He was promulgating this theory, beginning in 1985.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Regulation Good, Regulation Bad

I am of two minds. One the one mind, I don't care for unduly regulation and cumbersome bureaucracy. To me, it seems to be a way to create jobs for mediocre bureaucrats and politcal cronies. Take "welfare." A half or more of "welfare" costs are in the admnistration of the welfare to make sure people don't cheat. let 'em cheat, its cheaper. Of course, what happens to all those case workers and clerks who staff that welfare adminisration, many of whom would be on welfare without that job. See what I mean, by "two minds."

Big government bailouts and degrulation seem to go hand in hand. When is the last time a heavily regulated area went belly up? Any water companies out there go belly up? Electric generating companies go out of business leaving their customers in the dark?

Was it 1979 when the Carter administration deregulated the airlines? Prices went down, profits went up (Carter imposed a windfall profits tax) and the Air Traffic Control system began to degrade.

Flying used to be almost a pleasant experience...not any more. Though, it is probably still cheaper than it was in 1979 under regulation. And the industry, as a whole, doesn't seem profitable. Time for the amtrakization of the airlines??? Both are about as good right now.

About the same time didn't Chrysler need a bailout because they were too big to fail, as well? The auto industry is not a heavily regulated industry and has resisted increased regulations for years and years, witness CAFE standards.

Then banks were deregulated under Reagan and then later bailed out under Reagan...because of mismanagement and risky loans to Latin America.

Next big deregulation was in the telecommunication industry. We got cable TV, and goofy phone service. A lot more services (really toys if you want to know the truth...I mean it is nice, but we can't live without text messaging and v-cast?). I pay A LOT more for phone service now (but I am getting so much more). And my cable never works right.

And following telecom deregulation, while no bailouts, we did have massive scandal, about the same time with Enron, remember??????????

And now, we have bailouts of the mortgage lenders. After deregulation of course of the financial markets, or reallly, a failure to regulate as they developed and new products came aboard.

In the end, we pay, meaning taxpayers and who is hurt by any of this. There are little guys, who shoulndt' have dabbled in house flipping who have pretty much lost everything and then the moguls who had to sell their multi-million dollar mansions and move into a single million dollar mansion.

I read a piece where Franklin Raines, the once wunderkind, now scandal tainted, divorced, and living in a single million dollar mansion, said, he told the gov't that not backing Freddie or Fannie, whichever he was running at the time, was a mistake, but the Bush administration refused to do so. We doing it big time now....half a trillion. What happens if this doesn't work? I mean the Republicans cynically know that deficits don't matter politically, but what about economically???

I may be wrong, but I seem to remember when I bought my first house, in 1987, that there was a rule of thumb about how much house one could afford. There was a simple formula. Of course, I recall, that I thought that was ridiculous, becuase it seemed more than I could afford (I didn't follow, and bought much less house), but maybe regulations, at least in the home mortgage industry, should be long term.....a bit paternalistic with first time home buyers, and not facilitate putting themselves into bad situations. Make that first home an easy one to afford and build equity in, not one that requires everything to go perfect. Think about keeping the person for a customer not just a transaction.

Lastly, this is a good object lesson in what happens if we "deregulate" social security. There will be a period of unbelieveable success, then abject failure and the gov't (meaning taxpayers) will be bailing out social security and a half trillion won't cover it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Barack Obama Health Insurance Plan....no change for me (probably)

According to Barack Obama's Health Care Plan, I wouldn't have to see any change. if I have insurance through my employer, I don't have to do anything. Like the good politician that Sen. Obama is, he still throoughs in a goodie, somehow I am supposed to save about $2500 a year (that is a savings of 37% on my current premiums). I assume that about half of that savings would actually go to my employer, not to me. Sen. Obama doesn't mention that.

No tax increases except letting the Bush tsx cuts expire on the households making $250000 or more. Which ain't very many, 2,245,000 according to the March 2007 CPS. That is out of over 116,000,000 households.

So, Sen Obama's plan is to cover the uninsured, shore up insurance by setting government competition, working the anti-trust laws, and so on and so on and so on. Very complicated. I'm sure he means well, but by the time this is legislated, some will not be done and it all depends on the whole working. So, we could end up with the very expensive Medicare part D, drug card....yeah, good idea, except no savings.

I don't care for either plan. Sen. Obama's is going to cost more, no question. And if he is successful, he will reduce the profits in the very profitable insurance industry. But costs are high due to incredible overhead. Little is said about that except medical IT. That will save money in nursing homes, but that isn't covered by anything but Medicaid anyway.

So, we have a big contrast. McCain would just push everyone into the private insurance market...people with jobs who don't qualify for government insurance, Medicaid, SCHIP, are going to end up hurt, I think with McCain's plan. And the insurance companies will just cherry pick, just like they do with Medicare patients. I saw that first hand with my mom and dad. Sen Obama's plan says it won't allow that...more regulation in an already pretty regulated industry.

I think we should decouple health insurance from one's job. I think it would be very good for the economy and would provide some flexibility for large firms. But, we have a very expensive health care system, it is irrational, due to the the remarkable costs of medical technology (do we reallly needs better than a half dozen MRI machines in my town of 50,000?), Medical competition doesn't drive costs down, paradoxically it drives costs up!

While Sen McCain's plan is not good for me personally, it is more radical. It will chnage things, but lots o risk. No risk for the rich, the poor will be the one's to bear the worst of that. Why should we be surprised at that?

Sen Obama's plan, is more modest, more focused, more bureaucratic, and legilsatively more risky to deliver the goods. And likely more costly to the taxpayers, (mcCain's is more likely to be more costly to those who must buy individual health insurance...and the little gift to the healh insurers with that HSA).

We need a single payer system. Even the doctor's agree (I've blogged about that before). America is ready for it. Put everyone on Medicare/Medicaid and let the helath insurance companies become contractors. Decouple health care from employment, and folks will probably end up with a bit more income, and tax it, tax it big to help pay for the monster. I;d personally make it bear bones...encourage HSA and very targetted private insurance.

But I'm not a politician. I just want a system that works for regular folks like me. I don;t mind paying more if it works and is stable.

John McCain's Health Insurance Plan...not good for me

Was reading a crique of Senator McCain's health insurance plan. Now, the critic claimed his plan was going to raise my taxes becuase he would tax health insurance benefits like it was cash. It doesn't say that on Senator McCain's website, but I suspect in order to pay for the generous tax credit, something like that is going to have to occur. It has been a goal of conservatives for a long time.

the gist of the plan is that I can opt out of my employer covered group and get inusrance on my own, and my family would get a 5K tax credit (if I can find a plan for cheaper, the residual goes into a health savings account).

So, between my employer and me, I pay 572 a month for my health insurance. I don;t pay taxes on my contribution nor on my employers. That apparently would change. I'd pay income tax on an additional $6800 in income. At my tax rate, that translates to about 2K. so, I pay 2K more in taxes but I get a 5K tax credit...I'm 3K ahead. Sounds good.

I can stick with my health plan. But why, the market is much better right? I checked and the best I can do "on my own" is no where near as good a coverage as I have right now. My deductible is 900 right now, best I can find is a 2K deductible. Prescription coverage looks, without looking at the details, about in par with what I have right now. So, double my deductible and 20% of office visits after deductible. I pay #15 right now--period. But, the plan is cheaper, by $100 bucks a month, so I save $1200. With the tax credit, I'd just be out of pocket an additional 600 bucks..plus the extra $1000 deductible

but I can stick with my employer's insurance if I wish. I still get the tax credit, so, I'm up 3K (except it has to go into a HSA). Right now, I would never use 3K, so that money just funnels to the insurance company anyway. If you don't use it, you lose it. So, I pay 2K more in taxes, and get a 3K HSA, which I might use 1-2K of. My deductible of 999 would come from the HSA. We've had those before, they worked when we had braces, but don't work easily now, "unfortunately" we are pretty healthy.

But, my employer is self-insured. We don't permit opt outs, or we couldn't insure ourselves. I'm assuming that for Senator McCain's plan to work, there must be an opt out. So, some folks, especially younger ones and single ones, or those who have options with their spouses (I didn't think about opting out and moving to my wife's insurance), that my employer's plan will probably get more and more expensive (read degraded coverage(, until I probably would find the admittedly cheaper but not as useful plan, my preferred option.

All the while I can be jealous of my mother's medicare plan, which does a better job of covering stuff than my private, employer provided plan does.

I'll look at Senator Obama's tax plan for my next posting.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Monday, September 15, 2008

Never called it propaganda

Kathleen Hall Jamieson spoke at my university this evening. It was very good, as I expected. She spoke tonight about the new media of political communicaiton, viral videos, the sophisticated political messages we are being bombarded with. She could have presented a real doom and gloom, but instead she was very hopeful and pinned her hopes on the "new" generation of 18-29 year olds, who are more media savvy and internet skilled to demand facts and accountability. She also pointed out that research the Annenberg Policy Center was conducting showed that conversations within families that crossed political boundaries acutally occured, which she found to be very helpful.

She showed several political videos. She "deconstructed" them for the audience, giving all of us a primer on political communication deciphering. She never, once, however, called any of it propaganda.

Propaganda is a dirty word in the US. Of course, it is all around us, we just call it advertising. Information meant to "move" you toward a particular view or action is propaganda. Communications directors are propagandists.

I admire Hall Jamieson. She keeps it very even, despite what I think are her political leanings (having watched her on TV for many years). And that I think she is a democrat/liberal is her belief that facts matter. Always the democrat/liberal achilles heel. To use some of her own message tonight, if we look at her framing of her own message, the assumption is that reality/facts matter to people.

Yes, I know, how could you argue with that. If it is about power and winning, then facts do not matter. Her arguement is that facts don't matter when you only speak to people who you agree with ideologically. But, if we begin to cross lines, then facts matter.

I agree that facts matter (I'm a materialist afterall), but perception and construction matter more. As W.I. Thomas put it, if a people define their circumstances as real, then they are real in their consequences. So, it matters little that Senator Obama, for instance, is not a Muslim...but that people believe he is. The consequences of that belief are just as real if Senator Obama actually was a Muslim.

I think Hall Jamieson is pretty good. I like her scholarship. I hope she is right about the future.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Service Nation Forum

I watched/listened to the Service Nation Forum last night. I appreciated the civility, especially given the nastiness of the campaign in the last couple of weeks. (Unfortunately, at the end of the Forum one of the talking heads indicated that the Obama campaign was going to get down and dirty, beginning today. too bad).

There wasn't much to distinquish the candidates. here is my take: McCain sounds old, that is, he harks back more to the past than to the future. That maybe a function of his age....at his age, and with anyone at that age, there is a tendency to look back more than forward. Obama, he looked forward. Drew from the past, but always moving forward.

McCain did get angry, he, I felt, was smoldering, but kept it under control. It was in response to Judy Woodruff's question about the seeming inconsistency of his championing of service but the mocking and ridiculing of Obama's past as a community organizer. and that question came from one who is usually pretty friendly to republicans.

I thought McCain was angry. He gritted his teeth, he dissembled. He doesn't like to his actions quesetioned, especially if it suggests actions which are not honorable, such as hypocrisy or politcal craveness.

If I were scoring this event, given that the setting and topic favored Obama, I'd call it a draw.

I personally preferred Obama's nuances and I felt he kept politics out of it (at least obviously) as McCain did not.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Pigs in Lipstick

And now it begins. The presidential foodfight. If Republicans can make this two months of name calling, they will win. If the Democrats can keep focused on substance, I think they win.

But so far, the Dems have not been willing to get into the food fight. So, what happens? the Republicans just make up a fiction about Sen Obama calling Gov Palin a "pig."

Now, Democrats have been doing similar things. There is the whole "sambo and the bitch" fiction. But that stuff is not paid for or directed by the campaign.

But the fiction (including carefully edited videos) of Sen Obama calling Gov Palin a pig was paid for by the McCain Campaign. That elevates a 527 type of activity to the campaign itself.

The McCain campaign is calling for an apology! It is the McCain campaign which should apologize. Apparentlty "truth" isnot one of their campaign principles.

Get the facts here

Sunday, September 7, 2008

What does choice of Palin say about social equality?

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune-Star, 9/7/2008
Alaska governor Sarah Palin’s nomination as Senator John McCain’s running mate for President of the United States insures that this election will be historic. Either way it turns out, a member of a historically discriminated against group will rise to the very top of political power.

Will the election of either one signal the end of sexism and racism the way anti-Catholicism was dealt a death-blow by the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960? Will the Civil Rights and/or Women’s Movement declare victory that their goals of real social equality have been realized?

I have spent the last 20+ years studying inequality in the United States. We know a lot about inequality, we are very good at measuring it, we are very good at explaining it. But what we don’t know is what equality looks like. When will we know that African Americans and women, two of the historically most discriminated against groups in our society, are equal to white males? Oh, I can offer many statistical measures of income, occupational status, and models of income determination that could demonstrate it, but in all those, there is a theoretical standard of “perfect” equality, a state I doubt will ever be achieved because it doesn’t exist.

I don’t know who said it, I tried to track it down, but I like this as a concept of social equality: when mediocre African Americans and mediocre women succeed at the same rate as mediocre white men.

If that is what social equality looks like, then neither the election of Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton fit. Both are extraordinary people with long lists of accomplishments and talents that few people of any color or sex possess. From an early stage of their adult lives, they were not “mediocre.”

Sarah Palin is different. With no disrespect to the University of Idaho, it’s mission is not focused on the preparation of America’s leaders in industry, commerce, government or the military. No doubt, there are a few Idaho governors (and one from Alaska) among its graduates, but it’s students are not among the academic best in the way they are at Columbia, Harvard, Wellesley, and the Naval Academy.

Sarah Palin’s early career was mediocre. After college she returned to her small hometown and worked as a sports reporter, and she settled down to make a life, just like so many other regular, “mediocre” people who will make their “way” but that “way” doesn’t include the top tier of America’s political, economic, or military power. She helped run the family fishing business with her husband. She made due like most of us: she worked, paid her bills, raised her kids. She was elected mayor of her small hometown in which less than 1000 people voted in the election.

Governor Palin is not the first running mate to be picked with a “mediocre” record. Indiana’s Dan Quayle, President George H. W. Bush’s Vice Presidential pick, was underwhelming. Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to occupy a national party ticket in 1984, was also relatively inexperienced. So was Spiro Agnew, President Richard Nixon’s choice. In the rarified air of presidential politics, these picks were “mediocre.” Compared to Joe Biden, who has 30 years of senate experience and important leadership positions; Dick Cheney, who served in congress, in the Ford and first President Bush administrations, and was CEO of Halliburton Corporation; the first President Bush who served as CIA director, a congressman, ambassador to the UN, and presidential candidate; Al Gore, a four term congressman and two-term senator from Tennessee and presidential candidate; evaluating Governor Palin’s record as thin or mediocre is not a slight.

This essay, however, is not about whether Governor Palin is a good choice or not. It is about whether her selection as the Republican Vice Presidential nominee signals that women are socially equal to men because mediocre women now succeed at the same rate as mediocre men.

After watching her speech at the Republican Convention, it may be a slight to call her mediocre. If her gubernatorial accomplishments are what her supporters say, it raises the question of why she was not on the radar of rising, young Republican leaders like Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty or Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal. That Linda Lingle, a two-term Republican governor from reliably Democrat Hawaii and Sarah Palin were not on the radar of rising Republican leaders may indicate more about the state of social equality for women at this stage in our history than anything else.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Always proud of America

I was struck with Sarah Palin's line in her RNC speech that included this line: "They love their country, in good times and in bad, and they are always proud to be an American." Thisis in reference to the small town folks who Senator Obama appears to have insulted with the "clinging to religion and guns" remark. But Sarah Palin is a social conservative, "one of ours" as Pat Buchanan described her. She has a Christian perpspective: she is extremely anti-abortion, she is anti-sex ed, she is not pro-life becuase she favors the death penalty. Okay...so she is proud always proud of America's abortion holocaust? Of our violent society where we are the only industrial country that still executes people? Of the sexualized culture that we live in? Of the America that Governor Palin's preacher says God is going to destroy?

I'm confused.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

More burden on Army families

An article in Science News reports on a study of the increased neglect and abuse of children in families where a parent is deployed to combat. Article here

And with our Army so dependent on reservists and national guard, the number of combat soldiers with kids is more (proportionally) today than in the past.

For me, this is every bit as shameful as are homeless vets.

An excerpt:

The greatest increase in the rate of child abuse and neglect occurred when soldier-husbands deployed, leaving mothers at home to care for the children. In these cases, the rate of physical abuse nearly doubled, and the rate of neglect, in which parents do not properly care for their children, was nearly four times higher.

Abuse like this carries with these kids a long time. There is no easy answer to this problem. But one thing is for sure: presidents with cavalier attitudes and who engage in bellicose sabre rattling are dangerous .... to our kids.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Sarah Palin: taxer of oil campanies

I've found something I can like about VP select, Sarah Palin. As governor she pushed through an 11% tax increase on oil company revenue and then kicked money back to the Alaskan citizens, about $1200 per person.

I thought Republicans didn't like to raise taxes.

You can read the entire story here.

40 million people watched Senator Obama?

Just read that 40 million people watched Senator Obama's acceptance speech. More than who watched the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.

How many watched the SuperBowl? 97.5 million.

He still has a ways to go.

John McCain is more like 'W' than you might realize

Just read this NYTimes article on the selection process of Sarah Palin. The headline is a bit misleading, however.

The article suggests a very rational process to choose a VP. How Sarah Palin's name ever got into the mix is what I'd like to know. It may be due to this:

At the very least, the process reflects Mr. McCain’s history of making fast, instinctive and sometimes risky decisions. “I make them as quickly as I can, quicker than the other fellow, if I can,” Mr. McCain wrote, with his top adviser Mark Salter, in his 2002 book, “Worth the Fighting For.” “Often my haste is a mistake, but I live with the consequences without complaint.”

This is our current President's style of decision making. I'm fairly sure that President Bush would agree...and when we use the instinctive style to buy a car, or maybe even a spouse, it is just "I" living with the consequences. But, President Bush's instincts about Putin were ..."wrong." And are the Georgian people living with the consequences (without complaint?)? The instinct to go to war in Iraq? The ridiculous justification that the world is better off without Hussein is a blanket justification to go to war with North Korea, Russia, hell, how about with China? Rwanda? And who is paying the consequences for such "instinctive" decisions?

The other side of the coin is "feet of clay." The over analyzed, get me more information, the fear of making the wrong decision, in the face of a needed decision. Senator Obama could be that kind of leader. A ditherer. Hot-headed, impulsive, maverick or a cool, headed, reasoned, contingeny planner (or ditherer?). We do have a choice in this election.
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