Thursday, November 13, 2008

Open Hands

Now that Bush has started handing out money to any corporation that says they are about to fail, lots more companies are looking to spread the wealth from the American tax payer to their personal shareholders. Now it's the car manufacturers putting their hands out. Some questions that should be answered before we do anything are: how did they get there, how will (or just "will") a bail out help them and how should a bailout be structured?

GM has been on the path to this point for years now. At least since 2004 (I don't have data that goes back further) GM has steadily been posting decreasing net profits (2006 being an exception). The sudden spike in oil prices over the past couple years has exasperated the problem, which is reflected in 2007's $42,000,000,000 net loss. Over the same time period, Toyota has moved more strongly into the American market (exceeding GM for net sales this year). Toyota has done this through a reputation of quality (which GM and Ford have both lost over the past couple decades), a wide selection of low priced cars, and especially the past couple years a record of fuel efficiency. Only in the past year have the American automakers refocused their message on fuel efficiency, often still falling short (due to their focus on SUVs, all of the hybrids from GM, et al have been SUVs, which still barely break the 20 mpg mark vs. 40-50 mpg Prius, etc.). Just this month we learned that the automakers are still bleeding millions of dollars a month, even as they attempt to retool their factories and cut their workforce.

This brings us to what the companies are asking for the money for. One of the biggest costs facing automakers is changing their plants from building SUVs and Hummers to more fuel efficient hybrids and Volts. This is key to these companies being viable in the near and long term future, but it is a huge cost. Due to the credit crisis of the past few months, lending that could have financed such changes has dried up. What the automakers believe is that if they can get the money to make the cars people want, people will start buying again and they will return to solvency.

Sadly, I'm not completely sure this will be the case. The credit slow down has affected more than just banks and corporations. Buyers also are unable to get credit. Also, much of the purchasing power of American consumers in the past few years has been due to increasing home values and decreasing costs of borrowing on those houses. Now, with both of those reversing, the consumer just can't afford to buy a new car. This is reflected in the fact that even Toyota's sales are negative this past quarter. Also, because GM, Ford and Chrysler have been so slow to get into the hybrid market, it will take time to convince consumers that they are comparable to the Priuses and Civic hybrids of foreign automakers.

Because of this, I don't think we should or even can do a bail out similar to the one proposed for the bad mortgages. NPR's All Things Considered last night did a segment on the Chrysler bail out from 1979. Then, instead of directly giving Chrysler the nearly $2 billion, the government only insured the loans banks gave to the companies. In return, the government got preferred stock, required detailed plans on Chrysler's restructuring, and ensured that if Chrysler went bankrupt that it would get repaid first. Because of this action, Chrysler returned to profitability quickly and wound up paying off the loans seven years early and the government made money on the deal.

I believe a similar set up would be even easier to achieve now. The government, through the TARP law, has much more leverage over banks that could finance such loans. After the buyout of AIG, the government controls roughly 70% of the country's largest insurer. Through these two entities, we could potentially help both the auto industry and, depending on the success of the automakers, ensure long term solvency to the banking industry. This will also keep the government from being on the line for yet another $50 billion that we just simply can't afford right now.

The biggest problem right now is that the banks still aren't lending though. In the past couple weeks since the TARP package was passed, the rate banks lend to each other has dropped more than 4%, yet the rate banks lend to borrowers and to corporations has still remained high. Loosening that up, with targeted goals in mind, is going to be one of the best ways to get the economy moving again. There are two ways to loosen that up, and I think both should be taken: 1) Get money flowing to the middle class, which is where most of the consumer debt is held. You can do this through tools such as the stimulus checks of earlier this year, increased unemployment benefits during this slow down, and tax incentives for job creation. 2) Get loans moving to corporations again. The best ways of doing this are through insuring loans to targeted industries (green energy, infrastructure, automotive to name a few) and tax incentives for targeted initiatives (hiring and green energy again). The problem all along has been a trust issue, so if we can increase the trust, we may be able to pull out of this tailspin and not leave our children with $20 trillion in bad debts to collect.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes We Did

What a day yesterday was.

For my wife and I, it started at 4 AM. My wife was the canvas captain for the Airport Township for the Obama campaign. Meanwhile I was in charge of watching our four year old son until my mother finished voting and running errands so that she could watch him. I took Isaac to vote with me at 8 AM. The line was an hour long, but everyone near me was so excited to be there ready to vote. The couple in front of me were voting for the first time; they had just recently become citizens.

When I cast my vote, I couldn't be prouder. My son helped me by pushing confirm on every screen. Thirty years from now he will be able to tell his children he helped elect our first black president.

Afterward I helped a friend get to the staging location and took Isaac to my mother's. I heard word of a couple voter intimidation incidents and attempts by poll workers to keep people from voting by violating the law and attempting to require multiple forms of ID. These were quickly stopped by the volunteer lawyers and other Obama volunteers. That afternoon I canvased with several other Obama volunteers. Every house I went to the people had already voted. People seeing us on the street honked in encouragement or cheered the Obama tees we had on. There were even victory parties being started at 4PM.

Then came the hardest time. After 6PM it was too late to go out canvasing any more. We all met back up at the staging location and prepared to go out to help with long lines. While there were some long lines closer to St. Louis City (300 people still in line two hours after polls closed), every voting location in our township had almost no lines and we began to worry that not enough people voted.

When Pennsylvania was called for Obama at 6, we began to be hopeful; one of the four legs of McCain's victory path had been knocked out from under him. After polls closed at 7PM we broke up and many of the volunteers went to the watch party downtown while my wife and I, having been sick for the past couple weeks, went to get our son and headed home.

On the way, Ohio was finally called and I knew Obama would be our next president. Barack's message of hope and inclusion won out over McCain's calls for hate and division.

Now, as I said in my last post, the real work begins. After eight years of divisive politics, of trying to call one group more or less patriotic than another, we must unify. "And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn - I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too." We are one country, INDIVISIBLE; we will, we MUST work together to bring our country out of the troubles that face us now.

As I said on Twitter last night: To all the staunch conservatives: Throw away the straw men and wait to see what really happens before judging Obama's presidency. To all the staunch progressives: Obama was always center left. You will not get all you want, but our country will be better than ever. This country has always been a country of moderates. When Bush attempted to take the country too far right the people spoke up in 2006 and again this year. Should Obama attempt to do the opposite they will speak up again. This must be a time of cooperation and compromise or it will always be three steps back for every step forward.

Monday, November 3, 2008

No Rest for the Weary

Hopefully 36 hours from now we will know who our next president will be. These next few hours are what it all comes down to. Obama and McCain supporters across the country are working night and day to get their candidate across the 270 electoral vote finish line.

Posting here has been very light the past few months because both my wife and I have been a part of that. Now, more than any time in the past 22 months we need your help. Get out and vote! If you have time (or even if you don't) volunteer. Call your neighbors and remind them to vote; go door to door doing the same; go polling place to polling place encouraging people to brave the hours long lines that are sure to confront us. This country is a representative republic and it ONLY works for those who participate.

Remember also, this fight doesn't end on November 4th. If we elect these people and then stop paying attention, our causes will fall by the wayside. The real work begins November 5th. We must make sure our officials never forget why we put them in office. I have seen many people on the blogs and on Twitter saying they don't know what they will do once this election is over. But we cannot create the change we need if we just leave our elected officials to do it alone.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The (in)Famous Pie Speech

Some of you may be watching the new Rachel Maddow show (and if you aren't, start). If you were last week, you may have seen a story about Barack Obama repeating the word "pie" twenty times in about two minutes. I'm happy to say, when he came to St. Louis Saturday, he shared that same story with all 100,000 of us. It actually is a really good story for all it's randomness at the beginning. Below is a transcript and the video (story is about 7 minutes in). See Momocrats for the other videos and more photos and impressions.

I was in Ohio last week and I was traveling with the governor there, Ted Strickland. We were on a bus tour talking about jobs. And we were working hard so, we got a little hungry. Decided we needed an afternoon snack. So I decided I needed some pie. Some of you may like cake, I like pie. Turns out Strickland likes pie too.

So we went into this little town, Georgetown Ohio, and found out where the best pie place was. It was this local diner. We went into the diner.

Now, I like sweet potato pie, but they did not have sweet potato pie. I like pecan pie, but there was no pecan pie. But they did have coconut cream pie, and I'll take some cream pie. Strickland, he wanted lemon merangue pie, they had that also.

So we order our pie and the people who are serving us, they want to take a picture with me because they say, "Our boss, he is a die hard Republican. So we just want to poke him a bit by taking this picture."

So while we're standing there cheezing and grinning, the owner walks in, with our pie. And I said, "How do you do sir? I understand you are a die hard Republican."

He said, "That's right."

I said, "How's business?"

He said "Not so good." He said "My customers can't afford to eat out right now."

I said, "Sir, who's been running the economy for the last eight years?"

He scratched his head and said, "I guess the Republicans have."

I said, "Sir, if you keep on hitting your head against a wall and it starts to hurt, do you decide at some point to stop?"

He said "You make a good point."

I said, "Why don't you go ahead and try voting Democratic this year. We can't do any worse than these other folks have been doing now."

Lets all stop hitting our head on the wall.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Blame Game - Consumers

In this recent economic downturn, people from all sides are pointing fingers and trying to place the blame on one another. This is the first of a series of posts in which I will try to dispel some of the myths being spread.

The most common theme you hear when it comes to the housing market is "people bought more house than they could afford." While this is true in some cases, more often it only became true three to five years after the home was purchased.

Back around 2003-2004 we were just beginning a recovery from the twin market downturn caused by 9-11 and the tech bubble burst. Jobs were slowly being created, interest rates were at all time lows and many were expecting the economy to really grow. Because of this, more people saw that they were finally able to get into the housing market. This caused house prices to grow which allowed people already in a house to upgrade to a new house. This was the start of the housing market boom.

What people didn't realize was that the economic growth they were seeing in the markets was a shallow gain. While average wages were going up, they weren't matching inflation. What's more is that the average number was skewed by a large increase in income for the top 1% with little to no gains for the other 99% of us (see charts below). At the same time, mortgage brokers and other lenders (who we will discuss more thoroughly later) saw the potential for large profits via new mortgaging schemes now dubbed "sub-prime." This led them to encourage clients that could qualify for standard mortgages to instead apply for adjustable rate or other balloon mortgages.


This is why I say most people trapped in this mess could afford the house they bought at the time. However, when inflation went up (not only food prices, health insurance costs have increased 20-30% annually in many cases; an average of 6%) but their wages didn't, they were put in tighter and tighter circumstances. In the very early days of the current crisis (circa 2005-6) some people were still able to refinance or sell their way out. But some people hit a more severe hardship. Many people got to the point where they were living paycheck to paycheck. If they lost their employment for even a month, they wouldn't be able to pay the mortgage. If they had any sort of medical emergency, they wouldn't be able to pay the mortgage. These people began going into default.

By late 2006 and throughout 2007, the housing boom started really slowing. Job growth had slowed or at times gone negative. Federal interest rates had been raised from their 2003 lows of 1% back up to a more reasonable 3%+. At the same time, personal property taxes were being reset to the new home values. In many cases this caused a doubling of those taxes. People could no longer refinance their homes. Fewer people could buy so housing prices began to slump and selling the house was no longer a way out. Wages that had been stagnant (or negative) for three or four years were no longer able to afford the mortgage and the rapidly increasing cost of getting to work. The people who in 2003 could afford their house were rapidly getting buried under increasing piles of debt. This trap many home owners fell into is what began the popping of the sub-prime bubble.

So I ask you, is it your fault that corporations have enjoyed their multi-million dollar golden parachutes while the employees working 60 hours a week to make ends meet get nothing? Is it their fault that insurance costs grow by double digit percentages while coverage steadily drops?

There were some people who bought beyond their means, don't get me wrong. If you make $30,000 a year, you probably can't afford a $300,000 house. If you are told you can live in a house for three years without paying anything (what some of the balloon mortgage plans promised), it is probably too good to be true and you shouldn't sign up for it. But I can't put the blame on a working family who couldn't see that their earnings would be the same four years down the line but their expenses would have grown by double digits. I don't blame the public school graduate who can't understand the ins and outs of mortgages that even the Harvard educated accountants who invented them barely understand.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Review of the bailout

Yet another letter to my representatives

This is in regard to the Wall Street Bail out program titled "Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008" (pdf).

I must first congratulate Congress on the openness of the process in making the full text of the proposed legislation available and open for public comment before being proposed on the floor. Such a process clearly opens up government to be truly of the people and allows us to make sure government is working for the people. Thank you.

About the legislation itself, there are many good things in it. I do have hesitation about some aspects and am strongly opposed to one main clause. As I was reading the bill, I kept a running Twitter stream going of my thoughts.

Beginning with the aspects of this bill that I like, the general outline of the plan is a good idea. While I don't believe that an insurance program will be effective, allowing Sec. Paulson to either apply such a system or buy the securities themselves directly gives him the flexibility necessary to handle such a large and complicated issue. I am also really happy with the openness of this program. The regular reports detailing what securities are being purchased or insured will significantly improve the trust of the American people that their money is being used appropriately.

Requiring this program to work on renegotiating mortgages is probably the single thing that will do the most good in this bill. I also appreciate that executive pay will be restricted if they take part in this program; such a protection will ensure the executives aren't taking advantage of the tax payers for their own personal gain.

There are a couple parts of this bill that I do find issues with. One is the incredible power Sec. Paulson will wield under this bill. Not only is he being put in charge of guiding this program through the Department of Treasury, but he is also one of the five members of the oversight board, with the other four members also being significantly involved in the troubles facing us now. The only other actual oversight is provided by the Office of the Comptroller. Congress will set up another oversight board, but that board will only be set up in a review role, unable to require changes to the program. This concentrates an enormous amount of power over as much as $700 billion in the executive with minimal checks from other branches. I believe that at the least, Congress should be allowed active oversight of the program as well, to ensure tax payer money is being appropriately used.

That however, is not the main issue for me in this bill. Also contained in this bill is the suspension of mark-to-market accounting (section 132). It is my understanding that this accounting procedure requires banks (and other entities) to list the value of their assets at current market value, not at their expected future value of those assets. Such a write-down has played a factor in this crisis because banks' asset sheets have dropped in value significantly. However, suspending such a rule allows the banks to effectively lie to investors and officials that would loan to them. Were such a rule to be passed for someone such as myself, I could apply for a loan saying that I have $1 million in assets based on a 401k with $10,000 and a $100,000 house -- if I hold on to them long enough, it is estimated that they will be worth $1 million. I would be laughed out of any bank office were I to ask for a loan using that logic.

I do believe that mark-to-market should be reviewed as required in section 133, but the mark-to-market rule should not be suspended until after such a review. There are types of trades that shouldn't be able to affect market value of some of these assets and as such, the rule does need refining. Suspending it wholesale removes the transparency so desperately needed on Wall Street now to improve investor and credit trust. PLEASE, fight against this section of the bill.

h/t to BAC for linking to the proposal text

UPDATE: The bill as it was written failed to pass (Yes, ignore the title, this appears to be the correct roll call). My congressman, William "Lacy" Clay did vote against the bailout.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Open letter to my congressional representatives

I have been listening to lots of coverage of the Tresury Secretary's financial bail-out program proposed 09-18-2008. From my understanding, our government would be responsible for over 1 trillion dollars of bad mortgages. This increases our deficit by 25%. Right now, with just AIG, Bear Stearns and Fannie and Freddie loans under our control, treasury bill yields are nearly 0%. If we take this extra $500 billion in bad debt, the yields will be negative - people will be paying the government to borrow money from us. Our dollar will tank and inflation will go through the roof.

I know that not taking action will cause many more financial institutions to fail. I know that stock markets will continue to fall. This is a risk that the investors knew they were taking on. These financial institutions knew that they didn't really understand the securities they were creating. They willingly took on the risk and gambled with our future. We cannot have the federal government take away all that risk and tell these companies that they were right to take on this risk. It will tell these institutions that they are too important to fail, so if they make further mistakes or take on more bad risks, they will be protected from this risk by the tax payers. This can not happen, and I ask, as a strong supporter of you and an Obama volunteer, that you vote against any such bail out that leaves banks and executives involved in this without penalties.

Thank you for your time

Monday, September 15, 2008

My life as a Momocrats chauffeur

With all the depressing news going on right now, let's focus on a more hopeful time. It was a time when, even though Americans were facing many challenges on many fronts, we knew that, with the right tools, we could make a better country. It was a time when our leaders looked to the future confident in our ability to rise above our personal divisions; when politics wasn't just about the people who were running but about the issues they were fighting for. Let's go back to three weeks ago.

The week of the DNC, my wife was a credentialed blogger through Momocrats. Though ouur son and I wouldn't be able to get credentials and wouldn't be able to get in to see any of the major speeches or anything, we thought it was important that we all go and be a part of this. So we packed up the car and drove the 850 miles to Denver.

The atmosphere there was electric. Signs everywhere were welcoming the Democrats to town. The residents were cheerful and open, many of them thanking us for being a part of the convention. Maybe it was just that there were so many people with the same hopeful world view that brought everybody's mood up.

The plan for us would be that I would run backup: drive Jaelithe and the other Momocrats to whatever events were needed; pick up and drop off supplies; and acquire food when time allowed. The rest of the time, I would take our son to see the city. Denver is a really nice city - for St. Louis residents, imagine Grand Center, the Loop, and the Central West End rolled together into one area. We went to the Denver Art Museum (free thanks to Target), local parks, the main pubic library and many other local sights.

The convention itself was interesting. By going there ourselves, we were able to cut through the curtain the media would hang in front of our eyes. Instead of watching the infighting MSNBC tried to show, we saw an assistant of Chris Matthews run out to grab the seven "PUMA" members in the area to keep them from leaving the shot. Instead of seeing protesters only allowed in the "Free Speech Zone," we saw protesters allowed and encouraged to say their peace when they interrupted Nancy Pelosi at an event.

I also saw the speeches, not through the talking heads and pundits on MSNBC and Faux News, but directly (or as my wife described, "unfiltered") on CSPAN. Rather than listen to Matthews or Hannity bloviate about themselves, I watched regular citizens describe the problems they face as they work themselves to the bone but still see 2%+ real pay cuts as inflation outgrows pay for those making less than $1 million a year. I watched veterans who can't get health care because the party in power would rather spend the money in Iraq. And through this all I have watched these hard working citizens be called whiners over Twitter when they describing how their government has forsaken them in favor of the top 1% of earners.

The DNC was hopeful and uplifting. It gave us real solutions to real problems facing everyone. Yes, they attacked their Republican rivals, but they attacked John McCain's tax policy which mirror's Bush's, and we all see how well that worked. They attacked McCain's foreign policy, which take's Bush's unilateralism to the next level, and showed how isolating ourselves from the world is the wrong way to go.

This is what politics and political conventions should be about. It should be about praising your party's accomplishments and highlighting its policies. It should be about issues that matter to all of us. It shouldn't be about criticizing the hundreds of thousands of community organizers working for $10,000 a year to make the millions of people in their community safer. It shouldn't be about patenting the word "lipstick."

We need a politics focused not on the personality of the one or two people in charge. We need a politics focused on helping the 300 million people living in this country. We need a politics about that recognizes the place of those 300 million people among the 6 billion people globally. Not long ago, those 6 billion people looked to America as the city on the hill, as leaders. Over the past 40 years, and especially in the last 8, we have abdicated that position. That doesn't have to continue. The Democrats recognize this and want to make our nation a shining example of democracy and equality again.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Country First

Yeah, I know I said I would re-cap the DNC. Don't worry; it's coming, but the vitriol and slime coming from the north is requiring my response.

John McCain is very fond in his campaign against Obama to say he "puts his country first." Obama did a good job of directly addressing that last week in his speech, but I wanted to draw some more attention. When John McCain says he puts his country first, one must ask, "What part of the country?" Clearly both candidates are very proud Americans -- you wouldn't run to be the symbol of a country you weren't.

When John and Sarah Palin say they put country first, the most glaring question is "Which citizens?" John McCain's tax plan is very top heavy. The people in the top 5% of incomes stand to save a significantly larger amount than anyone in the bottom 80% of earners. In fact, those in the top 1% will save almost 10% (on average), those in the bottom 40% will save (on average) about 2%. Clearly, he puts the very wealthy first. Barack Obama's plan is to cut taxes for the bottom 80% by about 5% (on average). He intends to pay for it though by raising taxes on the top 1% of earners by about 1 to 2%. Clearly he puts the regular citizens first.

Source (PDF)

How about the environment, this is a large part of what our country's future relies upon. Three out of the four candidates are willing to say that humans are having an effect on global warming. Sen. McCain is even will to call for a "cap" and trade program. However, he doesn't actually know what the word cap means. In fact, he wants to give corporations whatever carbon credits they request, and then let them trade them back and forth. However he doesn't want to charge for the credits, nor does he want to fine companies for polluting more than their credits allow. Again, John McCain puts corporations and the rich first. Obama understands that corporations are paid to only care about one thing, money. If there is no fiscal benefit for taking an action, or fiscal penalty for not, they won't take that action. Everything is about ROI. Because of this, he intends to auction off all credits and institute penalties for exceeding those credits. This will create a fiscal incentive to move to less polluting technologies. The money the government will raise through these auctions will also be reinvested in the environment with proceeds being turned into grants to green technology R&D. Clearly, again, Obama puts the environment and our nation's future before corporations and lobbyists.

What about the 51% of our country that is female. John McCain campaigned against (although he failed to cast his vote) the Lily Ledbetter act that would have given women more rights when it comes to fighting for equal pay for equal work. He and the Republican party were able to filibuster this bill this year. He was afraid that by opening up when a lawsuit could be filed, corporations would have to actually pay people fairly, reducing their profits. Barack Obama has campaigned vociferously for this; in fact, most of one day of the DNC convention focused on this, with Ms. Ledbetter herself making an appearance. Once again McCain puts corporations first, Obama people.

How about the military? John McCain wants to fight any where, any time. He wants to stay in Iraq for 100 years. He would love to attack Iran. He probably would have tried to send American forces in to fight against Russia in the recent Georgian incident (forget bringing back the Cold War, lets heat up things a bit). There is no doubt that given the proper resources (including troop levels and recuperation time) our military can meet any objective we set before them. McCain doesn't want to do that though; in fact, he has voted against giving veterans improved benefits and sufficient time back home with their families. Here McCain is putting the wrong part of our military first, as Pres. Clinton so accurately said, "[The] people the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power," but McCain has it backwards, caring more about showing off our power. Senator Obama though wants to use our military smartly as a targeted weapon to use only when absolutely necessary. He also wants to reward our veterans, many of whom sacrifice everything for their country. He fought for Sen. Webb's GI bill and for Walter-Reed reforms; he is still fighting for mental health parity for the troops. Again Sen. Obama puts our troops first.

I could go on (and probably will again) but remember, when a candidate says "I put my country first," ask "How?"

Monday, September 1, 2008

Busy month!

We have had a very busy month this past August. The Obama campaign has drafted my wife and I as neighborhood team leaders for our area. My son will be starting pre-school through Hazelwood's reverse mainstream program on Sept. 2. And the thing that has been taking most of our time lately -- my wife got a press pass through Momocrats to cover the DNC Convention in Denver this past week.

While Isaac and I weren't allowed into most events, we all drove out there (all 850 miles). It was so nice to actually cut through the curtain the MSM wants to lay in between what is really going on and the story they want to tell. I'll try to share some of the stories over the next week or so. For now, check out Momocrats to see some real behind the scenes stories.

Friday, August 1, 2008

FISA: Cliffnotes Edition

After digging through pages and pages of the FISA legislation, I've come away with a much better appreciation of the law itself, instead of all the misinformation swirling around it.

The biggest thing that everyone (including Bush & Co.) said this authorized was warrantless wiretapping of anyone. Just skimming through the bill clearly puts lie to that. Even spying on a foreigner in a foreign country must get a certification from the FISA courts. If you are trying to spy on an American, the rules are even stricter. This bill also makes one of Bush's biggest defenses of his previous program moot. Originally, Bush argued that the Patriot Act and related bills gave him implicit authorization to spy freely; this bill instead says explicitly that all wiretapping (overseas) must go through FISA.

This bill also added significant protections for Americans overseas. To my knowledge, the CIA had pretty much free reign to spy on anyone, as long as they were outside of the country. This is no longer the case. It also gave clearance for telecoms interested in their clients' privacy like Qwest to challenge these orders.

Probably the most important addition in this bill is the review process. The main reason Bush was able to get away with what he did for so long was because these organizations' actions were not monitored. Now there are very clear reporting procedures. The American people get to see how this is happening every six months. Openness is the most important defense we can have against an overreaching government. As the saying goes, "Who is watching the watchers?"

They did, however, use this bill to add a couple things I disagree with. First is the fact that they extended the grace period between when the spying starts and when the AG needs to get approval from the original 3 days to a full 7. I don't personally see any reason the AG should not be able to turn in the information required to FISA if he believes there is a serious reason to start wiretapping. If he has enough information to believe there is a serious national security risk then he should have enough information to convince a FISA judge. If he doesn't then he should get that information before starting the spying. However, this is one of those points that I believe is a viable negotiation point to get the rest of the legislation passed.

My next issue, and this may just be something I missed or didn't understand, is that there are no rules on how to treat information gained from the wiretapping should a FISA judge reject an application. For example, the AG starts eavesdropping on Joe American in Germany and three days later turns paperwork over to FISA. Two days later, the DOJ records him talking about something illegal, but the next day FISA rejects the warrant request. Can that information be used in an arraignment or for future warrants against Joe, or does it have to be discarded as tainted like similar evidence in unauthorized investigations? If anyone reading this is a lawyer and understand it better than me, please help fill me in.

Finally there is the issue of the telecom immunity. This is everything it was advertised as. Telecoms can have any law suit against them thrown out if the AG says to the district court what he already testified to Congress. The one interesting thing I did find in this was that the cut off for immunity only goes back to 9-11. According to many sources though, this program started immediately after Bush took office, February of 2001. If that is the case, I would expect that any suits related to those actions should be able to go forward. This is the deal killer on the bill to me though. In effect, it authorizes the Nuremberg Defense, "I was only following orders." According to the Nuremberg Principals: "The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him." As Qwest's resistance, to its financial detriment, demonstrates, these companies did have a moral and legal choice to refuse.

With the cadre of lawyers corporations like AT&T have, there is no question in my mind that they knew there was no legal grounds to follow these orders, but they complied anyway hoping for such a future defense. When a corporation or other entity knows that they can use such a defense, there is nothing to keep them from violating the law the next time someone asks. In fact, it discourages companies like Qwest from resisting next time -- they have a lot to lose if they resist, and nothing to lose if they comply. This is very dangerous moral ground, and the precedent should never have been set.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Long Overdue

I have finally gotten through the FISA reform bill. I am not a lawyer, so any of my readings of this legislation may not be completely accurate. There is also the problem that many of the clauses refer back to the original FISA or other laws, which I don't have a copy of. What follows is my best attempt to translate it to somewhat human readable form.

Non-US citizens outside of the US


  • Any surveillance authorized under this section may not target a person in the US -- citizen or not.
  • This legislation also cannot be used to indirectly target someone in the US or a US citizen (can't wiretap person b in France because you want to hear what person A in Houston is saying).
  • The AG and DNI must put into place policies that would prevent the violation of the above conditions, and have those policies approved by Congress and the FISA court

Certifications (similar to warrants, but with lighter requirements):

  • Must be filed for before the surveillance begins.
  • The AG and DNI can determine that "intelligence important to the national security of the United States may be lost or not timely acquired and time does not permit" filing for the warrant in advance. Certifications run under this must be submitted to the FISA court within seven days of the surveillance beginning.
  • FISA court must review certifications within 30 days
  • Certifications must include:
    • A statement that protections described above are in place to prevent improper surveillance.
    • A statement that Fourth Amendment protections are in place
    • A statement that the surveillance is for foreign intelligence purposes using a communication service provider
    • The start date of the surveillance
    • An affidavit from the head of the relevant intelligence agency
    • If the surveillance was started before the FISA court can review the certification, an explanation by the AG/DNI must be included as well.
    • It does NOT need to include a description of how the surveillance will be conducted
  • Valid for one year and can be reauthorized.
  • The certification will be used to force telecoms to provide full assistance to the government, including implementing procedures to ensure the secrecy of the surveillance.
  • Telecoms cannot be sued for following these orders
  • Telecoms can challenge these orders through the FISA court and both the government and telecom can appeal any decision on this challenge up to the Court of Review.
  • Government can also appeal denied certifications. Any surveillance already in process may continue during the appeal process.
  • Accepted certifications must be accompanied by an explanation by the judge for acceptance.

Review procedures:

  • Every six months the AG and DNI must submit an assessment of how well the policies are complied with.
  • The IG will review compliance with the procedures in place and compile a report on each violation.
  • The head of each intelligence agency with access to FISA will report annually to Congress and the court about the IG's findings and describe any new procedures they intend to put in place to reduce future violations.

US Citizens outside the US


  • FISA courts can only authorize wiretapping of US citizens outside of the US.
  • If a citizen returns to US soil, or is discovered to have been in the country, the wiretapping must stop immediately (it can be resumed if the person is reasonably believed to have left again).
  • Review methods are the same as per previous section


  • Must describe the specific information sought
  • The target must be working for a foreign power
    • Evidence backing this up must accompany the request
    • Actions protected by the First Amendment (speech, religion, etc.) are not valid evidence
  • A full description of the method to be used to gain the information must be included (i.e. forced entry, wiretapping (including which telecom will be asked to comply)
  • Information about any previous surveillance of this target must be included.
  • Must specify a time span of the surveillance (not more than 90 days)
  • Requesting officer must swear under oath that the information contained is accurate (the officer's name is attached to the order)
  • Telecoms cannot be sued for actions taken while following these orders
  • AG can authorize an emergency surveillance but:
    • Must inform a FISA judge when he is authorizing it
    • Must file the request no later than seven days after authorizing it
  • If a person is already under warranted surveillance locally, the AG can authorized continued surveillance if the person goes overseas

Previous warrantless wiretapping program

  • Lawsuits against telecoms or other persons can be thrown out if the AG testifies to the district court that:
    • The surveillance was in connection to an intelligence activity between 9/11/2001 and 1/17/2007
    • It was related to preventing a terrorist attack
    • The order was authorized by the president
    • The order was said to be "determined to be lawful"
  • The administration can claim national security interests to prevent information from being released about the program
  • No state can launch an independent investigation into the telecoms' actions
  • The IG of the DOJ, DNI, NSA, and DOD (and any other agency involved) must give a complete review to Congress of this program including:
    • All the determinations used as a basis for the program
    • All legal reviews of the program
    • All communications with the private sector
    • Any interaction with the FISA courts
    • Anything else the IG determines to be relevant
  • The report may include a classified annex, but the main part of the report must be declassified
  • The initial report is due 60 days after authorization of the act, a final report is due in one year

Thursday, July 10, 2008

McCain's economic advisor to Americans:


In an interview today with the Washington Times, one of McCain's top economic advisors, Phil Gramm (of Enron loophole and mortgage meltdown fame), said that Americans facing hardships due to the (near?) recession we are facing are "nation of whiners." The article goes on, "'We've never been more dominant; we've never had more natural advantages than we have today,' he said. 'We have benefited greatly' from the globalization of the economy in the last 30 years."

For some sectors, that may be true. Unfortunately, a larger portion of our workers are in sectors that have not grown and more often shrunk. You have only to look at Michigan (although the car companies themselves are more to blame than globalization), Pennsylvania and Ohio. You have only to look at our now non-existent textile manufacturing industry, or most other manufacturing industries for that matter.

Gramm's pay as a UBS vice-chairman may have only gone up over the past six years as he got more and more borrower safeguards removed, but the average American's wages have barely kept up with inflation - in many cases they have lagged behind. For the first time in at least 35 years (google finance didn't go back any further) the S&P is on target to be lower at the end of a president's term than it was at the beginning (even during the recessions of the Carter and Reagan administrations it closed higher).

This is the type of person John "I still need to be educated [on economics]" McCain is choosing to do that educating. This is why McCain's solution to the mortgage crisis is "get over it." Advisors like Phil "Enron" Gramm are the reason McCain thinks an eighteen cent tax holiday for a couple months won't just go right into gas company pocketbooks.

When Americans say that the fact they aren't being paid enough to buy the gas necessary to get to work, they deserve more than "You're just whining," or "Get over it," or even "Go buy some more marshmallows." They need someone who will keep not only their needs in mind when negotiating foreign trade agreements, but also the rights of foreign workers and the safety of the environment. They need someone who will fight for FAIR trade agreements, not blind "free" trade agreements.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Get Out of Jail Free

Well, it's happened. This afternoon around 3 CDT, the Senate voted to approve the FISA amendment bill with no amendments. Bush was last seen doing his happy dance in the Rose Garden with the AT&T exec that has been buggering him for the past 8 years. John McCain was seen far away from DC hoping no one pays attention to whether or not he supported it. And Sen. Obama voted in favor of the final bill...

Obama did, however, vote in favor of every amendment that would have stripped telecom immunity. Unfortunately, there were, on average, 15-17 Democratic senators willing to fight for the telecommunication companies -- among them my own Sen. McCaskill... According to Sen. Obama, the reason he voted in favor of the final bill is, in part, that it sets up Congressional oversight of any eavesdropping program via an inspector general -- something that should have been set in the original bill.

Oddly, contrary to what happened almost 5 months ago or two weeks ago, Sen. Clinton voted against the final bill. Kudos to her for finally taking a stand on this issue.

Final vote tallies:

I will update those vote tallies with the links to the actual votes so you can see where your representative voted on each thing when the Senate posts it.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A fading sheen?

Now that the Democratic nomination has wound down and Obama has emerged as the victor, the main stream media, driven by the hard right (especially the self avowed McCain "surrogate" Faux News) have started attacking Obama's positions. The most common attacks are the blatant lies - the "Obama is a secret Muslim" and "Obama says high gas prices are a good thing." What is more insidious, though, are the attempts to portray Obama's long held positions as "flip-flops."

Julie over at Momocrats has a great series of posts (starting here) addressing a few key issues. As she points out: on the death penalty he has consistently been against killing innocents, but not against capital punishment in general; on gun control - "I think it's important for us to recognize that we've got a tradition of . . . gun ownership . . . We can have reasonable, thoughtful gun control measure that I think respect the Second Amendment."; FISA I will address later in this post.

Other attacks like this include NAFTA - his position has been that we need to renegotiate NAFTA, not drop it completely. His problem with NAFTA has been that there are no environmental protections and no worker protections. This allows manufacturing jobs that paid well and were union jobs here in America to be sent to Mexico and Canada where the workers can be paid less and there are fewer environmental protections. He wants to fix these issues; he does not want to unilaterally drop out.

Then there is Iraq. Obama has, since 2003, been against Iraq. But now you are seeing people attack him saying he doesn't intend to leave and in the same breath attack him for being a "cut and run Democrat." They can't have it both ways. Obama's stance has been "We have to be more careful getting out than we were careless getting in." This means that while he intends to pull most of our troops out in 12-18 months, he is not going to do something stupid that leaves us in a worse position than we already are in.

Just this past weekend we had yet another instance of this. General Wesley Clark said "Well, I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president." On its surface, it's true. However, McCain did serve in the military, achieving the rank of captain. This is a record of service that, as Obama has said for months, deserves our recognition. He has also consistently, even through the primary campaign, been against personal, ad hominem attacks. Thus, when he rejected General Clark's attack, he was not flip-flopping or throwing Clark under the bus, he was staying consistent with his message of bringing politics out of the gutter.

The last of these I want to focus on is the FISA legislation. In general, I am against these reforms. However, I have not read the legislation myself and I don't know all of the reforms it will be implementing. The one that I am most strongly against is the telecom immunity clause that will ensure no one is held responsible for completely ignoring the Constitution during Bush's warrantless wiretapping program. When this came up for vote a few months ago, Obama voted against cloture and co-sponsored an amendment with Sen. Dodd to strip the immunity clause. It has come back up for vote in the Senate and this time Obama did not vote on the cloture vote (neither did McCain or Clinton). He has, however said he will continue to push to remove the immunity. Without having researched this bill better, I can't make a complete judgment on his general support of the bill. As far as whether he has changed his position, that is harder to say; he still is fighting against the immunity, but it appears he has weakened his position on the bill at large.

Now all of this does not mean he hasn't changed position on things. The most talked about change has been his stance on public financing in his campaign. Back in 2007, he did say that as long as his Republican counterpart chose to accept public financing, so would he. This clearly is not happening. To explain this, he has said that with 1.7 million donors nationwide, his campaign is being financed by the public, but that ignores some of the other catches tied in with federal public financing. Personally, I am mixed on this. As an idealist, I would like for the public financing system to work and allow good campaigns. However, the other side is best summed up in a cartoon BAC posted a week ago:

There is also the issue of Israel. Throughout his career he has remained fairly neutral on this. However, after securing the nomination he spoke before AIPAC and came down very strongly pro-Israel. This really disappointed me. It weakens his ability to be a fair arbiter of any peace deal between Israel and Palestine. As of yet, I have not heard him address the issues raised in this speech.

I think Julie's final assessment is very accurate. Obama's positions are much more nuanced than a 10 second sound bite. This is something that draws me to him because it breaks away from the "with us or against us" mentality of the past eight years. But it is much harder to convey to the wider public and can be has been used against him. What should be the MSM's job, conveying the facts of the issues, has now fallen to us, the bloggers and grass roots activists.

Friday, June 27, 2008

If only it weren't so true.

Check out this hilarious sad post over at Macro Man.


Friday, June 20, 2008

FISA Failure

This afternoon, at 12:48 PM EDT, the House of Representatives signed away our fourth amendment rights. After a year of wrangling, the Bush administration was able to convince 105 Democrats, Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer, to vote for this horribly flawed bill. And because the fourth amendment wasn't enough for them, they have established a precedent of allowing the Bush administration to ignore whatever other laws they please.

The biggest issue in this bill is how the telecoms are being treated. In the previous bill that the House rejected, telecommunication companies that allowed the justice department to set up wiretaps that they knew were not warranted and thus were unconstitutional and illegal were granted unconditional immunity. This time, Kit Bond, who I am ashamed to say is one of my state's Senators, was able to work out a "compromise." Instead of blanket immunity, the FISA court would be able to hear whether or not the companies were given letters in which the administration says that what they want to do is legal. The court is not, however, allowed to judge whether such a statement was legal. Because Alberto Gonzales has already testified to the Senate that such a letter was sent to these companies, the courts will only be allowed to determine whether a well accepted fact is a fact. In other words, the telecos were just voted immunity.

The precedent set is that if the Bush administration breaks a law, and asks others to aid and abet him with it, no one will face any prosecution. All Bush has to do to overturn a 220+ year old amendment is write a letter saying, "Trust me."

On a more positive note, both of the local Congressmen, my own William Lacy Clay and Russ Carnahan, both voted against it. I had the pleasure of meeting both of them at the Missouri Democratic Convention and both are upstanding men that deserve the positions they have earned.

I don't know if this updated bill still needs to go before the Senate (I'm 99% sure it does), but I don't hold high hopes that it will be killed there. This leaves us only one last option - the Supreme Court. Even though Congress is stripping the courts of their rights to hear cases on this issue, because it is a Constitutional issue, the Supreme Court can still choose to hear a case. With justices like Alito who believe that since we are at war with "radical islamists" we don't need to follow the Constitution, I fear even that might not be enough.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Open letter to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel

What follows is a response I sent to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel regarding an editorial they published attacking Congressman Robert Wexler for co-sponsoring articles of impeachment (pdf) (videos here) that Congressman Dennis Kucinich presented against (still)President George W. Bush.

This article was forwarded to me by Congressman Wexler and the shortsightedness of the author and the editorial board that published it deeply saddens me. It is nothing more than a low brow attack on a person attempting to fight for those things the author claims to want.

In the editorial, the author claims that holding impeachment hearings to address the current president's actions against our country is a distraction from issues that should be focused on. The examples this author gives of such "real" issues are Iraq, the economy, health insurance and oil/gas prices. However, this author misses the actual bottleneck these issues are running into.

On every single one, Congress has passed legislation, or begun holding hearings. Every piece of legislation that has passed to address these issues has been vetoed by that same president this author wants to leave in office.

Congress passed, repeatedly, legislation that would set firm benchmarks that would allow our military and national guard to come home and would set actual goals that the Iraqi Parliament had to meet. This was vetoed.

Congress at the beginning of the year passed legislation that authorized tax rebate "stimulus" checks to be issued. This bill fortunately was signed by President Bush, but the new one currently wending its way through the Senate, one that would help those who have lost their jobs during this crisis, currently faces a veto threat.

Earlier this year Congress attempted to legislate an update to the expiring SCHIP bill providing government subsidized health care to hundreds of thousands of young children. This is personal to me because my wife and I were able to afford to have our child because we barely fell on the cusp of the former income level. If I had been making $100 more a year, we would not have been able to afford to have a child. When the Democrats, including Rep. Wexler, attempted to expand this bill to catch those who would fall through the cracks, the Republicans in the Senate were able to block it with a veto from the president.

On energy prices, Congress has been holding a number of hearings attempting to get to a point where they can fix some of the issues. Some proposals include measures such as taxing the excessive profits of the oil companies (some making more than all but a couple nations, worldwide) and using these revenues to fund research and development of new forms of energy that would help drive down consumption of these commodities and push the prices lower. These measures also face a presidential veto.

The only way to pass meaningful legislation on these "REAL issues" is a change in the presidency. There are only two ways to change the president, an election held every four years electing a new president, the inauguration of whom is just over six months away, or impeachment. According to the Constitution, "The President, Vice President, and all other civil Officers of the United States shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors." A president who has violated the Constitution he has sworn twice to uphold - in removing habeas rights, unwarranted wiretapping of civilians, and more - and who has sold our military and our children's futures into the hands of Halliburton and China has, in my informed opinion, acted treasonously and committed high crimes and misdemeanors. This president, and his equally guilty vice president, should be removed not only because of his illegal activities outlined by Rep. Kucinich, but also so Congress, and the nation, can move forward on REAL issues.

If you too would like to send the Sun Sentinel a piece of your mind on this issue, email them at

Friday, June 13, 2008

Rest In Peace

Moderator of Meet the Press for the past seventeen years, Tim Russert today passed away from an apparent heart attack. He was one of the few political pundits willing to ask the harder questions (not that he would always push for real answers). He will be missed.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Thin Veneers

Two short stories of how easy it is to see through John McCain:

Some of you may have noticed that he has updated his website taking many layout aspects from Obama's site. To most viewers it is nice and flashy. Me, however, I browse using Firefox with the NoScript add on enabled. This means javascript doesn't run on pages unless I tell it to. So when I loaded his fancy new page, there was a giant "McCain Golf Gear" ad. That is what is central to his website message... Obama's, on the other hand, looks fine with javascript turned off - his people do it right. As a side note, this is also what search engines like Google see.

This evening, McCain's new TV ad came on during dinner. You know, the one that says, "Only a fool or a fraud talks tough or romantically about war." After the end of the commercial, my son asks, "Is John McCain pretending to be Barack Obama?"

Yes, Isaac, but he isn't doing a good job of it...

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Thank You, Sen. Hillary Clinton

"[I]t's time to restore the ties that bind us together and to come together around the ideals we share, the values we cherish and the country we love."

Thank you, Sen. Clinton, for these kind words. My only hope is that it will reach as many ears, and as many hearts, as if it had been said on Tuesday.

Let us come together as a family and begin the healing we so desperately need before November.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

What stands between us and unity

Yesterday, my wife, son and I went to an Obama party to watch the final primary results. Originally it had been scheduled for a restaurant, but the level of response from area Obama supporters was so great, they had to move it to an art gallery at the last minute. When we got there just after six, there were easily fifty people around the room and (horrors) a giant Lou Dobbs on the projector (fortunately, the room was loud enough that his drivel was drowned out).

As the evening wore on toward the time the South Dakota primaries closed, more people crowded in. Eventually, McCain took the stage to a small smattering of "boo"s, but he was largely ignored similar to Dobbs. Every so often, the CNN delegate ticker would roll over as a new super delegate would pledge for Obama, bringing cheers from the whole room. There his counter was at 2114 when the head of the Missouri Democratic Committee took the stage. He and three other Missouri super delegates were still unpledged and had said that they would vote as a block. He told us, five minutes before the SD polls closed, that all four of them had decided to pledge their support to Obama. The applause of the couple hundred people was deafening.

With this enthusiasm we welcomed even Republican pundits calling McCain's just finished speech "the worst ever." We watched as South Dakota was projected for Clinton, but our spirits weren't dampened because we knew this nomination battle was finally won.

Then Senator Clinton took the stage. We applauded her; proud of the fight she had fought; respectful of the enormous effort that her supporters had put out for her as we had for Sen. Obama; glad to have such a strong leader on our side.

Then she began her speech: "I want to start tonight by congratulating Senator Obama and his supporters on the extraordinary race that they have run." "Uh oh," I said to my wife, "this doesn't sound too conciliatory..." In fact, to me it sounded like the sort of thing she would say to the loser of a contest. But we were still optimistic and applauded her praise of Obama.

"Nearly 18 million of you cast your votes for our campaign, carrying the popular vote with more votes than any primary candidate in history." Yup, there it was, the knife in the back. The glaringly misleading half-truth designed to divide the party. The tone in our room immediately changed. We knew that more than 18 million people also cast their vote, as best they could, for Obama. In fact, by all counts except one, Obama won more votes than any primary candidate. Even on that one in which he didn't, more people voted against Clinton than have ever voted against a primary candidate in history.

"And I am committed to uniting our party so we move forward stronger and more ready than ever to take back the White House this November." Ok, we thought, after what she has just said, how does she intend to do that?

"You know, I understand that that a lot of people are asking, 'What does Hillary want? What does she want?'" We are, Mrs. Clinton. We do want to know what you intend to gain by drawing this out with more divisive politics. What do you want?

"I want to end the war in Iraq. I want to turn this economy around. I want health care for every American. I want every child to live up to his or her God-given potential." So do we all. Work with us, help us get Barack Obama elected the next president of the United States and you will see all these things and more. "And I want the nearly 18 million Americans who voted for me to be respected. " Ah, there it is, 'I want to use those people that voted for me as bargaining chips." It couldn't have been said more clearly.

The problem with this is manifold. She herself showed in this speech that she doesn't hold respect for those voters beyond the power it will give her. She has also, with this stance shown that she does not have even that level of respect for the 18 million people who voted for someone else. And she has shown that she doesn't respect her opponent enough to even admit when he has had a clear victory. Even this morning, her communications director couldn't answer when asked whether Obama had won the majority of the delegates needed to become the nominee.

Senator Hillary Clinton, I do not know what drove you to take this stance on the day your own metrics for victory were met by your opponent. What I do know is that you threw away your best remaining chance to bring this party together, not as Clinton or Obama supporters, but as Democrats. Instead, for whatever reason, you have chosen to drive that stake into the heart of this party. You had the opportunity to leave with the strength of a leader, instead you have encouraged the idea that your due was stolen from you.

You, of all political leaders, know what this image means to so many. And yet, rather than leading your supporters past that, you chose to relish in it. You know better than most, that none of those things you hope for will be accomplished under a McCain presidency. You also know that without the support of your followers, we may be doomed to four years of McCain. But still, rather than securing a central role as a Democratic leader, you chose to hold your own party hostage.

I do know that your campaign has said you will concede the nomination this Saturday. My only hope is that such belated words will be strong enough to bring us all back together.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

A Time for Unity

Yesterday, the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee ruled on Florida and Michigan's delegations to the Democratic National Committee Convention. The final ruling gave Florida and Michigan their full delegation, but reduced each delegate's vote to 1/2. Also, in order to more fairly seat Michigan's delegation after Sen. Obama removed his name from the ballot according to his view of the oath he gave following Michigan's early primary, Hillary Clinton was given 69 delegates, and Obama was given 59. These numbers reflect not only the actual primary ballots, but also the exit polling that showed many of Obama's supporters voted for Clinton because only her name was on the ballot. This wound up giving Obama an extra 4 delegates out of Clinton's total. This was worked out as a compromise to Clinton's request that Obama receive no delegates from Michigan and the rules, as laid out last year, that no Michigan delegates would be seated.

This now gives Obama a delegate total of 2052 to Clinton's 1877, with the goal post set (firmly I hope) at 2118. Obama now needs 66 of the remaining 280 unpledged delegates (24%) and Clinton needs 241 (86%). Switching those four delegates would mean Clinton would need 239 (86%) and Obama would need 68 (24%). Unfortunately, as Sen. Clinton made clear beforehand, any seating of Michigan's delegation that gave Obama any votes would be completely unacceptable to her, and as such Harold Ickies, her representative at the meeting, has stated he will fight this ruling to the Convention.

What follows is part of a comment I left over at BAC's blog:

...[T]he votes by this committee could have no effect on [party unity], no matter how they voted. The only way we will see unity is if Sen. Clinton, and her ardent supporters, stop vilifying Sen. Obama as the devil re-incarnate and work to bring unity themselves. The people have spoken; Obama has won more states, more pledged delegates, more "super" delegates, more caucuses, more primaries, and more popular vote.

Sen. Clinton has fought an incredible campaign, but she has lost fairly. If she continues to drive wedges between her supporters and the DNC and the Democratic presidential nominee, not just women, not just Americans, but the whole world will be forced, by her, to suffer under a third George W. Bush term.

As much as we might wish (the more salient of us at least), nothing Sen. Obama could say, nor anything any of his supporters could say, can prevent Hillary Clinton from driving that wedge in if she so wishes. There is no magical speech Obama could make; sometimes the ball is just in the other person's court and there is nothing one can do about it. Insults have been bandied, feelings hurt, but we are willing to lay those aside and apologize for any we have delivered. But we cannot take that step without Sen. Clinton and her supporters.

Unity can only be brought by both sides working together.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

May 31

Unless you have been hiding in a cave, or just plain ignoring the political season as much as possible (not really a bad idea), you know that this Saturday the DNC Rules Committee is meeting to discuss Florida and Michigan. Almost a year ago, the Committee ruled that any state that moved their primary elections before February 5, other than the four chosen early primary states, would lose all their delegates. The Florida and Michigan state legislatures didn't think they were serious and decided to start a game of political chicken. The head of the Florida state party went so far as to threaten the DNC with law suits and protests if they enforced these rules.

The state legislatures wound up moving the primaries forward, Florida's legislature voted 118 to 0 on the bill and Michigan, at the behest of Carl Levin, voted to move theirs up in a 67 to 34 vote (at least here 1/3 of the Dems voted against it). In order to prevent a complete collapse of the primary schedule, with the risk of some states holding primaries as early as November or December of 2007, the rules committee gave them an ultimatum to move their primaries back or lose all their delegates.

As late as March 6, Sen. Clinton opposed re-votes in both states, with a blanket opposition to any Florida re-vote, "I don't think that there should be any do-over or any kind of a second run in Florida." It wasn't until she was significantly behind in pledged delegate count in mid-March that she began calling for re-votes in both states.

The first proposals by Florida were mail in primaries similar to what is held in Oregon. However, according to Florida state law, mail in elections are illegal for nominations like this. Another thorn in the re-vote plan was that the Floridian representatives to Congress were against the plan. By the time Clinton supported a Michigan re-vote, it was nearly too late to set one up, and her plan was to disenfranchise anyone that voted in the Republican primary, a restriction made impossible by the fact that voter rolls aren't taken at the primaries and such a system would then be completely an honor system. Due to this, the respective legislatures were unable to pass new plans.

That brings us forward to May 31. At the committee meeting, Clinton wants all 368 delegates seated. This would add about 192 delegates to her total, and, depending on how the Michigan uncommitted delegates are divided, 70 to 132 delegates to Obama's total (with a few also going to Edwards in Florida). At best, this would give her 122 delegates to cut into her 199 delegate deficit. More likely it would get her 60 delegates. This would bring the current delegate counts to 1974 for Clinton and 2051 or 2113 for Obama. The new goal line would be about 2210. With only 280 delegates remaining available, Clinton would still need 85% of them. Obama would only need 56 - 35%.

Personally, I don't think they should be seated fully. At the very least, all of the super delegates from these states need to have their delegate status removed. These are the ones like Carl Levin and the Florida state chairwoman who said the DNC "wouldn't dare" remove their delegates. These short-sighted representatives caused this mess in the first place and they should not be rewarded for this attempted party-cide by being given exactly what they wanted. Further, I don't think the full pledged delegation should be seated. At most, half should be seated; it wasn't the voters' fault (beyond choosing bad representatives) so removing all state delegates may have been too hasty a decision. Also, the 40% uncommitted should be given to Obama (according to exit polls, most of the uncommitted voters were Obama supporters).

Any way you slice it though, Clinton has no mathematical path to victory. It is long past time for this divisive figure to stop praising the Republican candidate at the detriment of the eventual Democratic nominee. It is time for her to unify the party, not compare it to Mugabe, those against civil rights, or anti-suffragists. It is time for her to set aside her self-importance and join the fight against those who would roll back Roe v. Wade; those who are against the Lilly Ledbetter Act; those who support torture; those who would kill off Social Security; those who would continue the quagmire in Iraq.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Home updates

Or, in some cases, repairs.

Finally, we have gotten somewhat caught up with our major outdoor projects. Of course, as with any home, there is always something more to do, but we now have breathing space.

Our most pressing repair, although it wasn't completely obvious, was a repair to the to the facing board behind the gutter on the back of our house:

We could tell it had some water damage (it had a metal cover, but part of the wood by the downspout was exposed and we could see the water damage), but after I took off the first two foot end board, I could tell the next, twelve foot section had some damage too. That twelve foot section came off in two, three foot pieces of wood:

Needless to say, this showed the quality of work that has been so evident with the rest of the house... Now we have Kilz treated cedar wood up there. That ain't rotting for a hundred years or so...

Then there is the project that took three or so weekends. Last year my wife and I (mostly my wife) started a raised bed vegetable garden. We got months of tomatoes, peppers, and green beans out of those plants. To keep the ravenous squirrels away, we used two tactics: One, that probably did the most, was bribing the squirrels by putting the tomatoes that got insects, etc. under their tree (they were lazy) so that they wouldn't go across the yard to get fresh tomatoes. The other was a quickly assembled chicken wire fence wrapped around some metal posts:

This worked alright, but was unsightly and always got in the way of the weed whacker. This year, not only did we expand the vegetable garden, but we went all out and made a real fence:

If the wood had been straighter, it would have been a quicker build, but now it is up and seems to be holding up to the insane weather we have been having the past several weeks.

I am still working on my MO Democratic Convention posts. If anyone knows a good way to post plain audio (mp3) files right into a blogger blog post, let me know.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

No time for blogging this week

Or at least this past week, and much of this week. At least Blue Gal has given us all a free pass to play hooky this month! Instead I will be recovering from my birthday a week and a half ago, my son's birthday last Friday, our trip to the Missouri Democratic Convention, and recent home repairs. In the meantime, I will be gathering my thoughts on the convention, researching atrazine and memristors, finding a way to fight Charter's attempts to remove all of my internet privacy, and preparing to head off to the PHP|Architect conference up in Chicago next week. No rest for the weary, huh?

Oh, and a quick congrats to Hillary Clinton on her West Virginia win, netting her a gain of about 9-10 delegates.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

IN/NC Results

After an incredibly idiotic, drawn out wait for Lake County Indiana to turn in it's results, we have some good final numbers. I guess that is sort of fitting after the long, drawn out race it is part of. Congratulations to Sen. Clinton on her Indiana win and to Sen. Obama on North Carolina.

Here is how the numbers turned out (per CNN): North Carolina - Obama won by 14%, almost 233,000 votes, and gained roughly 16 delegates. Indiana - Clinton won by 2%, a little bit more than 18,000 votes, and she gained roughly 2 delegates. Total last night went overwhelmingly to Obama, gaining more than 210,000 in the popular vote count and 14 delegates.

For the race at large, this puts Obama soundly in the lead on all counts: 1592 pledged delegates to 1421, 1844 total delegates to 1687, 15,088,235 (15,657,276 with Florida) (15,895,038 with FL and Michigan's 40% undecided) popular vote to 14,618,762 (15,475,970 with FL) (15,804,121 with MI and FL) and 13 to 1 in the caucuses. To catch up in pledged delegates, Sen. Clinton now needs 89% of the remaining delegates. If you add Florida in, that cuts Obama's delegate lead by about 30 (assuming all 211 state delegates are pledged, which they aren't), meaning Clinton would need 82% of the remaining delegates. With Michigan added (giving Obama the undecideds again), Obama's lead is cut by a bit more than 60 pledged (same caveat as with Florida's delegates) and Clinton needs only 60% of the remaining votes.

With all this, of course, we need to take into account the super delegates and the target delegate count. With Obama's current delegate total, he is now within 181 delegates of the "magic number." Clinton is still 338 away. This means, according to CNN's undeclared super delegate count of 277, Obama is soundly inside of the number required to be handed the nomination.

This race is effectively over. Senator Clinton has run a very strong race. She has been a tough and tenacious opponent and I congratulate her. But now, more than ever, it is time for us to come together as a party in preparation for November. Obama very clearly articulated what we will be up against in the coming months. We must be unified to face the onslaught of lies and swift-boat attacks the Republican machine is guaranteed to throw against us. If we do not unify, they will use our divisions to try to drive us further apart. Our country and our world cannot be handed another four years of the policies of George W. Bush. As Obama said "We can't afford to give John McCain the chance to serve out George Bush's third term."

Friday, May 2, 2008

The power of conservation

Over the past few days I have been talking a lot about the presidential candidates' plans to cut fuel costs. Very clearly, I have supported Obama's "cut consumption" plans over Clinton's and McCain's "increase consumption but lower taxes a couple cents" plans. I felt that some of the research I did for comments deserved a little bit more attention.

As of 2006, Americans were using over 20 million barrels of oil per day. This is three times more than any other country in the world - China, the most populous nation and second biggest oil consumer, uses just over 7 million. Looked at a little differently, the average American uses about 25 barrels of oil per year, the average Chinese person uses about 2; Japan, the next most consuming nation and also a highly developed society, uses about 15 barrels per person.

What does this mean when it comes to oil? It means that America is one of the best countries to focus on conserving oil. If Americans used just 10% less oil a year, that would make an incredible dent in consumption. It wouldn't completely fix the problem, but as a computer programmer, you learn to optimize starting with the largest bottleneck.

What would 2.5 barrels of oil entail? One barrel of oil holds 42 gallons of crude. Out of that, depending on the refining efficiency, about 19 to 20 gallons of gasoline can be made, along with a number of other by-products. For just gas, 2.5 barrels is, on average, a bit more than 1,200 miles of driving in a year. If fuel economy is raised to 35 mpg as called for in the recent bill, that alone would be a fuel savings of about 30% over an average year, about 143 gallons - more than 7 barrels of oil and more than $500 (not including what is saved in lower demand). Even more can be saved by using, when available, public mass transit. Or by purchasing locally grown food (shipping food from China and Central America uses quite a bit of fuel).

Or even just by recycling and buying recycled plastics. New plastic products, worldwide, consume about 1 billion barrels of oil a year (just in the plastics themselves, this doesn't include energy to produce). Recycling could cut this significantly (producers, PLEASE mark your products for this...).

Thursday, May 1, 2008

It doesn't matter which candidate is the Democratic nominee

This woman had better be the VP nom.

Donna Brazile for VP 2008!

Moms ask...

Obama answers.

Congrats to the Momocrats on a great interview (full disclosure, my wife wrote the initial response Obama is responding to). I join them in asking the other candidates to respond to these questions as well.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


You know, it's one thing when a Republican proposes a tax cut that will only help large corporations and hurt the rest of the country. But when a leading Democratic presidential hopeful echoes him, that really just takes the cake. I don't know if she just doesn't understand the economics of supply and demand, fails to understand what this tax will save/cost, or is just being naive, but this is just ridiculous.

At current gas prices, about $3.50 per gallon, the average American will spend $420 for gas over the three months being proposed (1000 miles per month, 25 mpg vehicle). Of that, a total of $7.36 $22.08 (over three months) goes to the government in tax. That isn't even half a tank of gas saved should the tax be revoked for a few months. And that is at current prices; gas is expected to reach $4 per gallon or more by the time this "holiday" is proposed to go into effect. That $7 $22 won't cover a quarter tank of gas. I might be able to get to work and back on that, but I live a mile or two from work.

Then there is what that tax pays for. $7 isn't much for you or me when it comes to gas, but $7 from all of us over those three months is several hundred million dollars that go to maintain roads and bridges. McCain doesn't have any idea of how to make that up, so at least Clinton does improve on that plan by also proposing a "windfall" tax on the gas companies. The thing is, that tax is just going to be passed on to us the consumers in the form of raised gas prices. So, if you're following all this, Clinton is proposing to lower front end gas taxes for three months, but raise taxes on the gas companies that will then raise the cost of gas to compensate.

All of this completely ignores the fact that gas prices are (largely) determined by the amount of gasoline available. Now, I expect that, largely, supplies are being kept lower by these companies in order to help push prices up slightly, but there are a number of things entering into this.

One is the supply of raw oil. Much of this comes to us from the Middle East, where Clinton is doing some saber rattling of her own to match Bush's and McCain's. This heightens the instability in the region and causes crude costs to go up.

Next is refining capacity. This is where, I think, oil corporations are doing the most to keep prices up. Oil companies would like you to think that they aren't being allowed to build new refineries. This is completely untrue. In 25 years, 1975 to 2000, there was one application to the EPA for a permit to build a refinery. There are environmental requirements that must be met to build a new refinery, as well there should be. But there is nothing creating a blanket ban on building new refineries. Instead, oil companies are holding out for a tax break ransom, holding these high gas prices over our heads and threatening to move them higher unless they get paid to make new refineries instead of paying to do it themselves.

I say we don't negotiate with these economic terrorists and instead encourage lower consumption through higher CAFE standards and increased development of alternative energy sources. These are the proposals that Sen. Obama has voted for and supports expansion of.

EDIT: Fixed amount saved in the tax holiday. Originally I had calculated it for only one month.