Friday, October 31, 2008

Notes on the Election Projections

Here is the projected election map from (non-partisan site). As you can see, Obama is the clear projected winner.

*The little boxes inside of Nebraska and Maine represent the split votes that those states have opted for. They split up their electoral votes so that it isn't a 'winner take all system.' In those states two electoral votes are given to the state-wide popular vote winner and the other electoral votes (2 in Maine, 3 in Nebraska) are split up among the congressional districts. This allows for the possibility of a split electoral vote in those states, however, since they implemented these rules, neither state has ever actually split the vote. It looks like this year will be no different; Maine is going all Obama and Nebraska is going all McCain (although Obama is polling pretty strongly in Omaha this time around).

*Notice how much more blue there is on this map than there was in the last two presidential elections. We've come a long way, haven't we? This is partly why I have faith in our two-party system. Both the parties and the people are free to be fluid and change over time. In multi-party systems, the parties are more tied down to a particular set of party lines, but in America we change and evolve to suit the times. Plus, our parties are inclusive. It is a rare set of political opinions that wouldn't find a home in one of our parties (on the fringes at least).

Sigh...just three days to go....

Friday, October 24, 2008

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Drunk-Proofing Your Email

Google has already solved so many of the world’s problems; it was only a matter of time before they tackled this one: Drunk Emailing. I won’t tell any personal stories here, but I am sure you can imagine the scenario. It’s Friday night, you’ve had a few drinks, you are thinking things over, maybe remembering the good old times with your ex or reliving that argument you had with your boss and suddenly it comes to you—the perfect comeback. You hop online and type away. Before you have time to think twice about what you are doing, you’ve already hit the send button and that email is off to surf the internets and make small carnage out of your personal or professional life.

The solution: Mail Goggles. Mail Goggles is a Gmail application that will make you think twice before hitting the send button. Here’s how it works:
First of all, by default Mail Goggles is activated at night and on weekends, the times when you are most likely to be in the predicament described above (you can change these settings if they don’t match your particular habits). When you sign into your email account during the ‘active’ hours, you will be forced to answer a series of mathematical questions before being allowed to send any mail. You can customize this feature to reflect your actual (sober) mathematical ability.

If you take too long to answer the questions or if you get too many of the questions wrong, the message will be saved in your Drafts folder for you to review and possibly send tomorrow. Then the program tells you to go to bed. Brilliant, right? More info here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

History in the Making

I know the photo is fuzzy, but the moment seemed sufficiently significant to warrant documentation:

One vote; signed, sealed, and in the mail!

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Meltdown

Yesterday I attended a teach-in at EWU focused on the economy and politics of the moment. The teach-in was the brainchild of the dean of the college of social and behavioral sciences. She was thinking about the market meltdown in the shower one morning a couple weeks ago, her head spinning with questions, when it occurred to her that she had a number of experts in her department who could probably explain the whole thing to her. The event was led by a panel of five people: two economists, one poli-sci professor, on finance professor, and one retired financial advisor. Each person on the panel took about 15 minutes to talk about the economic crisis from their own perspective, and then the floor was opened to questions. Here is some of what I learned.


1920s-1930s--Great Depression. The government failed to act quickly. There were very few regulations in place on the financial and banking industry and no safety nets. It snowballed out of control because the people lost faith in the markets and in the government.

1933--The markets saw huge gains and started to get back on track. The government started to regulate the financial industries and other industries as well.

1970s—In the early part of this decade there was a period of stagflation thought to be brought about by too much regulation. This began a long period of reducing government regulation and oversight of many industries.

1990s-2000s--Without regulation, there are huge profit-making opportunities that go unchecked, which is how we got into the current economic crisis. More on that below.

Why/How did it happen?

1. Failure of regulators to keep pace with financial innovation.
2. Failure of regulators and congress to enforce existing regulations.
3. After the bubble-burst of 2001, interest rates were dropped and were kept too low for too long.
4. Failure of lenders to advise home buyers about managing their own risk.
5. Consumers have been buying homes that are too big and expensive for them.
6. Institutional lenders who were buying and selling these mortgage packages amongst themselves also didn’t manage risk well.
7. Rating agencies (like Standard & Poor’s) that are responsible for rating mortgages based on their likelihood of default rated many mortgages wrong. Their probabilities and mathematical models were off.
8. Failure to maintain stable leadership over the US Treasury. The head of the treasury is an important position for managing financial crises, but it has been a bit of a revolving door in the past decade.
9. Failure of congress and the president to appreciate the connection between ‘goods & services’ markets and ‘credit’ markets. They underestimated the collateral damage that would come from a credit collapse.

The Bailout:

When it comes to the bailout, the evidence is clear. The experts are almost entirely in agreement that the bailout was a good idea. It was the general public who were against it for the most part, which is mostly because we didn’t understand it. And since the people didn’t support the bailout bill, their representatives in congress who are up for re-election next month had a hard time voting to approve it. There was a sharp failure of the political leadership to convince the public that the bailout was necessary.

So here’s what the bill is all about. As Obama said on the senate floor last week, the bailout bill is an emergency measure only, not a long-term solution. Imagine that your house is on fire. You have to put out the fire as quick as you can, you can’t waste time pointing fingers and trying to figure out who is to blame for it. That will come later, after the immediate danger has passed. The $700 billion isn’t exactly a hand-out either. The government is buying (with our tax dollars) actual assets from these floundering financial companies. We are buying up the risky mortgages and other such devalued assets so that the companies that currently hold them can get them off their books and continue to do business. The value of the assets will rise, however, with time and consumer confidence, so the bailout isn’t actually going to cost the US Treasury $700 billion in the end. We’ll be able to recoup a lot of that money. There is even a very, very slim chance that we will make money on the investment.

In the meantime, we are currently in a recession. We have a bear market. We can expect unemployment rates to rise, and with that, crime and poverty will likely rise too. Taxes will have to rise to cover the cost of our social programs, or else the programs will need to be cut. There is no way to know how long the recession will last, but the system will recover. We will make changes to the system to re-regulate the finance and banking industry to some extent. The more the recession hurts, the more likely we’ll be to learn from our mistakes.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Where I Was Two Years Ago This Week....

Thanks to Jaima, one of the best travel buddies ever, for the reminder!

Street in Vienna

Parliament Building in Budapest

Matthias Church in Budapest

Spa in Budapest, "like bathing in a cathedral"

Bratislava, Slovakia

Jaima, this one's just for you. Notice something missing from this photo? A McDonald's, for example? :)

Pecs, Hungary

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Complete Gibberish

One question, one answer from Sarah Palin's interview with Katie Couric:

COURIC: Why isn't it better, Governor Palin, to spend $700 billion helping middle-class families who are struggling with health care, housing, gas and groceries; allow them to spend more and put more money into the economy instead of helping these big financial institutions that played a role in creating this mess?

PALIN: That's why I say I, like every American I'm speaking with, were ill about this position that we have been put in where it is the taxpayers looking to bail out. But ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the health-care reform that is needed to help shore up our economy, helping the—it's got to be all about job creation, too, shoring up our economy and putting it back on the right track. So health-care reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions and tax relief for Americans. And trade, we've got to see trade as opportunity, not as a competitive, scary thing. But one in five jobs being created in the trade sector today, we've got to look at that as more opportunity. All those things under the umbrella of job creation. This bailout is a part of that.