Friday, December 04, 2009

The Electric Car

As you may know, I'm a bit of a technology nut and I love the new electric cars coming out from Tesla, Chevy, Nissan, etc. However, I recently stumbled upon one that is very unique.

The good folks at the British car review show, Top Gear, were complaining that it was taking too long for the major car manufacturers to bring out their electric cars. To prove their point, they assembled and electric car from spare parts in about 18 man-hours of labor. Here is their result:




On second thought, maybe it's a good thing that the other car companies are taking their time...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Another Option For Healthcare Reform


It's interesting that all we hear about is the Democrats plan to create government healthcare vs. the status quo (which is definitely broken). In fact, most of the time I hear the media saying that the Republicans don't have anything - no new ideas, no alternatives - and are left to boo the Democrats plan. Well it seems that's not the case.

The following is a letter from Representative Tom Price that outlines a Republican plan for reforming healthcare:

Perhaps the most blatant “disinformation” being promulgated in the health care debate this year is that there are only two choices for American health care: putting the federal government in charge or allowing insurance companies to run the show. While the President, congressional Democrats in charge, and, to a degree, the media have done all they can to shut out Republican ideas, the truth remains that there is a third path, a correct path.

Republicans have put forth bold ideas that can transform American health care in a positive way -- without a government takeover of medicine. Before the August recess, I joined with a number of colleagues to introduce H.R. 3400, the Empowering Patients First Act. Our solution is built upon the principle that when individuals are given control and ownership, we will achieve full access to coverage and see the entire system move in a positive, patient-centered direction. While we join in the national critique of the President’s misguided proposal, we also offer positive solutions for health care reform.

Full Access to Coverage

First, all people should have the financial wherewithal to purchase private, personal health plans. As cost is the biggest barrier to coverage, H.R. 3400 employs a hybrid tax structure to ensure that there is no financial reason for a person to go without coverage. Based on factors such as income and family size, the legislation offers tax credits and deductions, which are advanceable and on a sliding scale, so the less wealthy and those without employer-provided plans will be able to purchase coverage.

A true market for Americans to purchase this personal private coverage, however, does not currently exist. For patients to have real choices, we must create a functioning marketplace for all to gain coverage they select. To achieve this, under the Empowering Patients First Act, all Americans would be able to use pre-tax dollars to buy coverage on the open market, leveling the playing field with employer-provided care that already receives this benefit. And to provide Americans greater purchasing power, the legislation allows for robust pooling mechanisms so that people can come together freely to drive down prices. These pools will provide a place for those with pre-existing conditions to find coverage at an affordable price. And there is the opportunity to purchase health insurance across state lines, which is currently barred.

Finally, we cannot fully bring down costs without addressing the runaway medical liability crisis. From exorbitant malpractice insurance premiums to the remarkably expensive practice of defensive medicine, it is my experience that the current culture of litigation costs patients hundreds of billions of dollars. And these costs do nothing to provide better care, but rather serve only as a defense against unyielding personal injury lawyers. H.R. 3400 tackles this problem with the creation of new health courts that trust the expert opinions of medical professionals. When malpractice suits are brought through specialized courts and viewed through the perspective of medically appropriate care, rather than a lottery mentality, we will see a decline in frivolous lawsuits and the need for costly defensive medicine.

Patients in Charge

But providing access to affordable care only gets us half way to our goal. A 21st century American health care system should put the customer -- the patient -- in charge of the system. To truly transform American health care in a patient-centered way, we must give control and ownership of health coverage to individuals -- to patients.

Currently, most people receive their care from their employer or the government. This makes someone else, not the patient, the customer. H.R. 3400 offers people the option to utilize a system that would put them in charge. This means that employers could provide their workers with the opportunity to purchase the care that best fits their individual needs, rather than just what is offered at work. Building on the new marketplace previously discussed, we can give patients seemingly limitless coverage options. What’s more, if a Medicare or Medicaid beneficiary would prefer a private, personal plan, they would have the option to move their resources and purchase whatever coverage they believe best suits them and their family. And all of these purchasing decisions will be made easier with the transparency created by new health plan and provider portal websites where patients can compare rates and information about coverage options and treatment.

All of these things give patients choices, portability, and control. And when patients are empowered with the ability to vote with their feet, we will, by necessity, see insurance companies become much more responsive to our personal needs.

Finally, all this can be accomplished without raising taxes a single penny. On top of the cost savings associated with lawsuit abuse reform, greater competition, and reining in waste, our plan is fully paid for by reducing spending, which has gotten way out of control. Instead of growing government, the Empowering Patients First Act says that Washington must once again set priorities in our budget -- just like American families do every single day.

The Third Path

Rather than a government takeover of medicine or allowing the unsustainable status quo to persist, there is a third path. No bureaucrat -- one from either the government or an insurance company -- should get between you and your doctor. By empowering patients, we can preserve what is good with our current system and improve what ails it, all without threatening the world class quality of care that we enjoy in America. So the next time the President asks what Republicans want to do for health care, we must all respond: empower patients!

Dr. Price is a Republican from Georgia and is chairman of the Republican Study Committee.

Out healthcare system is truly a mess right now but I agree with the Republican stance that government healthcare is not the answer. Let's level the playing field. Let's return the power to the individual/family. I should be able to decide the level of healthcare I want for my family instead of being limited to two pre-packaged choices.

This plan addresses many things that I have already blogged about: That the patient is not really the customer in our current healthcare system; that individuals should get the same tax breaks that companies do; that getting hurt should not be equated with winning the lottery. To me, this plan (and I'll have to research it more) really focuses on letting the strengths of the free market create a competitive landscape where insurers really compete with each other for individuals - not businesses. This should drive down costs and increase responsiveness. It's a win-win situation.

Some may say this plan won't work because it doesn't require that everybody has coverage. To them I would say that governments job is NOT to take care of the people but the give the people the tools to allow them to take care of themselves.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Swing Vote


If there ever was a great commentary on our apathy as a nation, it's the movie Swing Vote. I just watched and I have to say that I was impressed with the message.

On the surface, it's played as a comedy where a total loser somehow ends up deciding the next president. There's a bit of song and dance - played for laughs - where each candidate immediately takes a position in support of whatever he says (whether or not he even understands the issue). Then he decides and the movie ends.

From that perspective, it was a terrible movie. I never laughed, his lifestyle made me really pity his daughter, and he had no redeeming qualities until the very end. They don't even tell you who he voted for.

However, it was the end that put it all into perspective. The undertone of the whole movie is the media circus that is a presidential election and how the candidates bend over backwards to appeal to people who just don't care.

In the beginning of the movie, the main character's daughter gives a report that spells out the cycle of liberty. It goes (if I remember correctly): bondage -> liberty -> prosperity -> complacency -> apathy -> bondage. The question I have (and that the movie hints at) is: are we at complacency or apathy? How many people and/or candidates actually think about what's best for their country, state, county, city, etc. when they vote and/or campaign? Do they even understand the issues they're taking a stand on? I always accuse the rank and file of America as voting for selfish reasons but I hadn't really thought about how many candidates are running for selfish reasons. The candidates say they want to make the country a better place but are they so focused on a few specific issues that they somehow think that those issues are all that matters? Probably. After all, nobody gets elected any more by putting their country first - it's just not popular enough.

The movie brought out these points and a couple of others. Some of these are as follows:
  • The main character slowly realizes that his vote really does count for something and that the issues actually have real effects on real people.
  • The candidates slowly realize that they are prostituting themselves to one man - just to get elected. The Republican who goes green and endorses gay marriage. The Democrat who goes pro-life and anti-immigration. Both end up being disgusted with themselves.
  • The media who are more obsesses with sensationalizing than actual reporting.
At the end, our "hero" becomes the voter we all should be. He knows who he's voting for and he knows why. That's the point of the movie.

It's not necessarily a good movie but it make a great statement.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Our Rights and Not-Rights

I stumbled upon a great little rant against liberalism. While I don't necessarily agree with everything on there, it made me smile and made me think.

Here it is:

NEW PREAMBLE TO THE CONSTITUTION

The following has been attributed to State Representative Mitchell Kaye from GA.

"We the sensible people of the United States, in an attempt to help everyone get along, restore some semblance of justice, avoid more riots, keep our nation safe, promote positive behavior, and secure the blessings of debt-free liberty to ourselves and our great-great-great-grandchildren, hereby try one more time to ordain and establish some common sense guidelines for the terminally whiny, guilt ridden, delusional, and other liberal bed-wetters. We hold these truths to be self evident: that a whole lot of people are confused by the Bill of Rights and are so dim they require a Bill of NON-Rights."

ARTICLE I: You do not have the right to a new car, big screen TV, or any other form of wealth. More power to you if you can legally acquire them, but no one is guaranteeing anything.

ARTICLE II: You do not have the right to never be offended. This country is based on freedom, and that means freedom for everyone -- not just you! You may leave the room, turn the channel, express a different opinion, etc.; but the world is full of idiots, and probably always will be.

ARTICLE III: You do not have the right to be free from harm. If you stick a screwdriver in your eye, learn to be more careful; do not expect the tool manufacturer to make you and all your relatives independently wealthy.

ARTICLE IV: You do not have the right to free food and housing. Americans are the most charitable people to be found, and will gladly help anyone in need, but we are quickly growing weary of subsidizing generation after generation of professional couch potatoes who achieve nothing more than the creation of another generation of professional couch potatoes.

ARTICLE V: You do not have the right to free health care. That would be nice, but from the looks of public housing, we're just not interested in public health care.

ARTICLE VI: You do not have the right to physically harm other people. If you kidnap, rape, intentionally maim, or kill someone, don't be surprised if the rest of us want to see you fry in the electric chair.

ARTICLE VII: You do not have the right to the possessions of others. If you rob, cheat, or coerce away the goods or services of other citizens, don't be surprised if the rest of us get together and lock you away in a place where you still won't have the right to a big screen color TV or a life of leisure..

ARTICLE VIII: You do not have the right to a job. All of us sure want you to have a job, and will gladly help you along in hard times, but we expect you to take advantage of the opportunities of education and vocational training laid before you to make yourself useful. (AMEN!)

ARTICLE IX: You do not have the right to happiness... Being an American means that you have the right to PURSUE happiness, which by the way, is a lot easier if you are unencumbered by an over abundance of idiotic laws created by those of you who were confused by the Bill of Rights.

ARTICLE X: This is an English speaking country. We don't care where you are from, English is our language. Learn it or go back to wherever you came from!

(Lastly.....)

ARTICLE XI: You do not have the right to change our country's history or heritage. This country was founded on the belief in one true God. And yet, you are given the freedom to believe in any religion, any faith, or no faith at all; with no fear of persecution The phrase IN GOD WE TRUST is part of our heritage and history, and if you are uncomfortable with it, TOUGH!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

AZ Budget Gets Bigger Spotlight


It seems that it's not just Arizonans that are interested in the State Budget. The New York Times is running an article about it as well. I guess the fact that a Republican governor with a Republican legislature can't seem to agree on a budget is a great news story.

The worst part of this whole fiasco is that we're so close. It seems like we're one State Senator away from passing the budget. However, the three Republican holdouts have stopped the whole thing. Then there's the Democrats who are quick to heckle the Republicans but are so angry at being sidelined that they've taken their toys and gone home (perhaps they're justified as they haven't been treated well by the Republicans).

So where do we go from here?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What We Need for Healthcare Reform


Healthcare reform is big news right now. Congress is hard at work trying to overhaul our healthcare system to make it less expensive and cover more people. These are admirable goals and they will be extremely hard to accomplish. The ideas that Congress has come up with seem to revolve around a government healthcare plan paid for by taxing the rich. I'm not confident that this will be a good thing in the long term. It simply creates another government plan that will probably underpay (I've heard that doctors are dropping out of Medicare because it doesn't pay enough to cover the costs of the service).

In my opinion, we need to focus on what makes other services better and cheaper and try to adapt those principles and models to healthcare. So, in my opinion, healthcare reform should include the following:
  • Encourage Competition: There should be no captive markets (how many insurance options does your employer give you?). Insurance carriers need to work to win over people not companies. With effective competition, the most efficient and effective plans will come out on top and those that can't adapt will wither away. This is how the market works best. Real competition will drive down prices and increase service levels.
  • Reduce Complexity: Have you even noticed how medical offices seem to have more staff to handle billing than actual doctors? All of those employees cost money. All of the insurance employees dealing with them cost money. All of that money comes from us. Shouldn't going to the doctor be like buying anything else? Just slide your card and you're done. No forms to fill out, no fighting with the doctor's office about what procedure was done and whether or not is was covered, none of the headaches of dealing with the insurance companies. It saves time, money, and stress.
  • Reform Liability and Malpractice Proceedings: How many people in this country look at injuries like the lottery? Sue the company, sue your doctor, sue your neighbor, etc. To me, this just isn't right. If a person gets hurt and it's the fault of a company (slipped in a grocery store or something), the company pays for the medical bills and court costs and that's it. If a doctor loses a malpractice suit, the payout is limited to medical bills, court costs, and lost wages. If punitive damages need to be assessed, they will follow these rules: 1) Punitive damages do NOT go to the victim. This is not a lottery. The victim is already being compensated. Hopefully this will reduce the number of lawsuits as there's no money in it for the victim. 2) Punitive damages are NOT paid by insurance. The purpose of punitive damages is to punish the offender. If insurance pays for it, is the offender punished? 3) Malicious intent must be proven for punitive damages to be awarded. Doctors should not worry that they'll be sued for giving their best guess and/or their opinions. Sometimes talking to a doctor feels like talking to a lawyer. They will only say what can't be used against them in court. Doctors deserve the freedom to be doctors.
  • Eliminate Pricing Disparities: Have you ever noticed that what you're charged and what you pay are radically different? If seen lab tests that are billed at $150 but discounted to $7.50 because of insurance contracts. That's not right. Charge what you need to charge for the service. These pricing swings are confusing and punish those who don't have insurance.
Those are my ideas on healthcare reform. We have a good econimic model in this country but healthcare has been regulated to point that it's hugely inefficient to do anything and yet we wonder why it costs so much. As for government supplied insurance, if you're going to have it, make sure it pays at least the cost of the procedures it covers. If doctors start losing money on patients, they'll stop seeing them and we'll be right back where we were before.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Winter Soldiers needed for Arizona Summer heat - Budget

America has passed through several time periods that "have tried mens souls" and in Arizona we stand again at that precipice. In the past it has been both physical as well as ideological; now while it is still ideological it is also financial. We wait to see what the leaders will decide for Arizona and her people. Just like in centuries long past, the decisions that are made will determine not only how Arizona is shaped by also how her people will fare. This is when we will see if our trust in our leaders are well placed or if they will simply use their power to move ahead their agendas. As a parent sometimes I am faced with what I feel is best verses what is best for my family. At these times I defer to what is best for my family because I know not only is that my higher priority, but it is also the resposibility I have chosen.

What are we calling upon our leaders to do now? We want a responsible budget that will not sacrifice our future or make our children pay for our short-sightedness. If we have over spent now, we need to be pay it back now, not years later with interest. If our tax structure is weak, we need to re-write it so that it reflects reasonably across all income levels and commerce. We also need to keep our long-term responsibilities in mind. There are some costs that while they may not be technically our responsibility now, will greatly reduce if not eliminate costs to which we will be responsible for later.

In the United States we have a Republic and not a Democracy because it is unreasonable to think that each voting member has time to familiarize themselves with all the nuances of the government issues. That is what we have elected/hired you all to do for us. We trust that you will spend time learning how to make good government for us, not simply put the responsibility for that back on us with special elections that cost us more money.

It is time for our leaders to decide whether they are going to step up and start doing what we elected them to do, or if they are going to continue on the path that they currently are on. If we need reasonable cuts to programs, that needs to happen because those programs have been evaluated as being wasteful, not to solve lack of funding issues. As a homeowner and head of household I need to make sure that my bills are paid, that expenses are met, and the needs for my family are paid for. It is time for Arizona and it's leaders to step up and pay for expenses in a responsible way.

We need leaders that our "winter soldiers". Ones that are willing to sacrifice more than they are asking us to, ones that are willing to do the job that we have entrusted them to do.

Kristina P.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Politics and The Law of Unintended Consequences

Politics are complicated. Our country is a large, very complex system of services, mandates, checks and balances, power struggles, perceptions, economics, etc. No matter what the election time commercials may say, there are not easy, 30 second soundbite answers to the country's problems. Just look at Obama's problems.

A couple of months ago, President Obama was pushing to help homeowners refinance their mortgages. This was supposed to help with the housing crunch. Well here it is a few months later and has it helped? As near as anybody can tell, there's been no effect. He gave boatloads of money to GM and Chrysler - around $60 billion I think (which is about $200 from every man, woman, and child in the USA) - to keep them from going bankrupt. Didn't work out so well. He got a stimulus bill passed in order to prevent unemployment from going over 8.4% - now it's at 9.4% and still rising. And that's just the beginning.

Now I'm not saying that Obama is an idiot. I don't agree with his ideology, but I think he's a very smart man. However, these failures underscore that fact that there aren't any simple answers out there. Even the ones that look simple, end up being far more complex than we originally thought.

Arizona politics is no different. I'm a bit of a right leaning moderate as far a politics are concerned and I think that Governor Brewer's balanced plan sounds good on its face. I don't know enough about it to make a deep evaluation but I think that by both raising taxes (temporarily) and making cuts we can keep the government operating at a stable level and qualify for stimulus money that will help even more. To me, that seems like a good balanced approach. So, am I right or will there be unintended consequences?

The more conservative folks out there point to a study saying that if we raise taxes, we'll lose about 1,500 more jobs. Is that correct? I don't know. However, if we simply cut everything out of the government, how many jobs will be lost? How many jobs are directly and indirectly dependent on the government? Once again, I don't know, but it makes you stop and think about the law of unintended consequences.

My point is that there are very few simple solutions out there. We can't simply assume that because we don't see any problems that there aren't any problems. I think this is why compromise is so important. I think that both liberal and conservative ideologies are based on logic and are trying to steer out country towards prosperity - just in radically different ways. By coming together and compromising, I would hope that fallacies in both the conservative and the liberal ideologies can be exposed and that we'll get a better, more workable solution.

Of course, in real life it's never that easy...

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Partisan Politics


What ever happened to the focus on serving the people?  You know, it's difficult not to get extremely frustrated watching the AZ State Legislature "work" on the budget.  The governor releases a budget that the ultra-conservative Republicans don't like.  What happens?  Do the Republican leaders point out where it will hurt the state?  No.  Do they articulate a coherent rebuttal based on economic data, etc?  No.  What do they do?  They complain that the governor's budget isn't Republican enough.  That the governor is not supposed to raise taxes because that's not Republican.  That she's not supposed to protect social programs like aid to the disabled because that's not Republican.  Not Republican?  Not REPUBLICAN?  Aren't our officials supposed to be working for the good of all Arizonans?  Shouldn't reality take precedence over ideology?

If Governor Brewer's budget is bad, then I expect the State Legislature to spell out why it's bad in sound economic terms.  If their budget is better, I expect them to be able to compare and contrast without resorting to ideological name calling.  Is that too much to ask?

No I admit that I don't know the specifics on either budget, but I do know that when Governor Brewer's budget came out, nobody was asking "Is that even legal?"  The State Legislature's budget didn't fare so well in that department.

Now if we could just get everybody together and look at how these budget proposals will affect us - not just this year, but 5, 10, or 15 years down the road.  Look at the short and long term effects, debate the best course of action and pass a budget that will help Arizona.  I'm tired of the partisan bickering.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ethics

I just finished by Master's Degree in Information Management at ASU - congratulations to me! - and was a little surprised at one of the convocation speeches.  If I remember correctly, it was the Dean of the School of Business, and what was surprising was how many times he talked about ethics and being ethical.  He spoke of President Obama's commencement speech that blamed the current financial crisis on Wall Street and urged all of us to conform to ethical standards so that we do not have these sort of crises in the future.

I was struck at how true those statements were.  Many on the left are blaming our problems on under-regulated capitalism.  Their solution is more regulation.  I don't think that's the case.  Our current financial problems have been caused by greed and lack of ethics.  More regulation may or may not have slowed the descent but as long as greedy and unethical behaviour continues, we will continue to have these issues.  Capitalism, like democracy, can only function well in honest and ethical hands.  

One of the great things about capitalism is that it's self-correcting.  Businesses run by the greedy and unethical tend to collapse in on themselves (Enron, Worldcom, large banks, etc).  This clears the way for other businesses to step in and take their place.  Unfortunately, our government has decided that certain businesses are too big to fail and are propping up those companies with taxpayer money.  This seems to send the message that it's OK to lie, cheat, and steal as long as you know that the government won't let you fail.  I don't think that's right.

We live in difficult times.  We are suffering from the aftermath of unrestrained selfishness and greed.  I hope that as a society, we can overcome this and start bringing ethics back into business and government alike.  That is the only way we will be able to weather this storm.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

When Government "Rescues" The Auto Industry


There is an excellent column today in the Arizona Republic by Robert Robb. It's called The Chrysler Power Grab. Don't get confused, this is not about Chrysler grabbing power but the government using its "bailout" to benefit the union.

Mr. Robb points out that the terms that the government is forcing Chrysler to ask for are as follows:

The Obama administration is attempting to muscle past this law. Under its proposal, the health care trust of the auto workers' union, an unsecured creditor, would forgive 57 percent of what Chrysler owes it, and receive 55 percent of the company's equity in exchange. The federal government would forgive about a third of what it would loan Chrysler and receive 8 percent of the company's equity. Fiat would pay nothing for its 20 percent initial ownership.

The secured creditors, with the first claim on Chrysler's assets, were asked to forgive 70 percent of what they are owed and receive nothing in equity. When they refused and forced the company into bankruptcy, they were excoriated by Obama – a shameful act by a president who pledged to uphold the law, not make it up as he went along.

This is the equivalent of you going bankrupt and the bankruptcy court deciding to give your house to the credit card companies and telling the mortgage company to forgive 70% of your mortgage and to give up any ownership of the house. Does that make any sense? Well, it turns out the credit card companies appointed the judge...

This is why government should stay out of business.

Read the column. It's very good and kind of scary at the same time.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Government Shortfalls And Their Effect On Disabled Children


A week or so ago my State Senator emailed a message to his constituents (including me) in response to the growing support for raising taxes to help with the budget shortfall.  In that message, he recounted the following:

“In our friendly neighbor city of St. Augustine, great flocks of sea gulls are starving amid plenty. Fishing is still good, but the gulls don’t know how to fish. For generations they have depended on the shrimp fleet to toss them scraps from the nets. Now the fleet has moved. …

“The shrimpers had created a Welfare State for the … sea gulls. The big birds never bothered to learn how to fish for themselves and they never taught their children to fish. Instead they led their little ones to the shrimp nets.

“Now the sea gulls, the fine free birds that almost symbolize liberty itself, are starving to death because they gave in to the ‘something for nothing’ lure! They sacrificed their independence for a hand-out.

“A lot of people are like that, too. They see nothing wrong in picking delectable scraps from the tax nets of the U.S. Government’s ‘shrimp fleet.’ But what will happen when the Government runs out of goods? What about our children of generations to come?

“Let’s not be gullible gulls. We … must preserve our talents of self-sufficiency, our genius for creating things for ourselves, our sense of thrift and our true love of independence.” (“Fable of the Gullible Gull,” Reader’s Digest, Oct. 1950, p. 32.)

He uses this allegory to support his stance that no new taxes are needed.  We simply cut government programs and let people "learn to fish."  While that sounds good on the surface, if you look where the cuts are being made, a different story emerges.

Some of the government programs that seem to be getting the hardest hits are the programs that provide services to children with special needs.  Parents who use these services work long hard hours to give their kids the best possible chance at having a productive life.  These government services give their kids the training, therapy, etc. that are necessary to have a realistic opportunity to overcome their disabilities.  Unfortunately, nobody else seems to fund these services.  So if government cuts them, what happens?

These "gulls" that are starving are the special needs kids of Arizona.  Not only that, but the "fishing" is not good.  These kids aren't suffering because they're too lazy to go out and help themselves; they're suffering because the only help they had is being cut off.  That's where the allegory falls flat.  It's about those that can help themselves choosing not to, but the reality is that there are thousands (yes thousands) who can't help themselves that are suffering from these budget cuts.  Is it really right to let these "gulls" starve to death?

Now I'm not saying we have to raise taxes.  I'm saying that we need to be pragmatic.  Lets not get so caught up in ideology that we lose our grip on reality.  Our government has many tough choices to make but they need to make them with a full realization of the consequences.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Who's Responsible For The Mortgage Crisis?


OK, there is an awful lot of finger-pointing regarding who is responsible for this mortgage meltdown. The Democrats are blaming the Republicans for loosening up bank/finance regulations. The Republicans are blaming the Democrats for encouraging the sub-prime mortgage market (loaning to people who wouldn't ordinarily qualify for a mortgage). Lots of other people are blaming the CEO of the large financial institutions for being so greedy. It's funny but everybody has somebody to blame but nobody blames themselves.

In my opinion, there are many factors that contributed to the issue. Decreased regulation made it easier to get away with some questionable actions. Encouraging the sub-prime market got banks to loan to people they normally wouldn't loan to (the same people that are defaulting left and right). However, even with all of that, it comes down to one thing: greed.

It seems that everybody is after easy money. Buy a house you can't afford and, in a couple months, flip it for huge profit. Get a loan you can't afford and, before it adjusts, refinance for a better rate (because your home will be worth twice as much... right?). How many people fell into that trap? Of course, it's not just the consumers. There was greed on every level. Mortgage brokers who signed people up for loans they knew were unaffordable because they could just load it into a mortgage backed security and not have to worry about it anymore. The banks who  sold the securities to investors. There was massive amounts of greed at all levels.

What ever happened to doing the right thing? Not in this country any more. Now it seems to be do whatever gets you the most right now. It doesn't matter if it hurts somebody down the road. It is a sad, sad world when most people seem to care far more for their own wants (not needs, wants) than for other people. Whatever happened to honesty and integrity. I'm convinced that those two traits would have prevented the housing crisis.

Yes, there is plenty of blame to go around, but we miss the largest culprit of all. The me first, foremost, and above all else mentality that seems to describe an astonishingly large number of Americans. Now, of course there are plenty of people who are simply victims of circumstance (and the press loves to do segments on them) but for the most part, we're victims of our own greed.

Maybe we're not as cool as we think we are...

Friday, February 27, 2009

Most Unfortunate Names

Here's a bit of humor to lighten up your day (in this economy, we need all we can get). The BBC recently published an article about the most unfortunate names in Britain. Some of my favorites:

  • Stan Still
  • Jo King
  • Carrie Oakey

Give it a read - it's a lot of fun.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

If Oil Is Getting Cheaper, Why Isn't Gas?

The problem with our world of fast politics and 30 second sound bites is that they make complex issues look simple.  Just look at oil prices.  The price of oil keeps dropping but the price of gas is going up.  Huh?  How is that possible?

I've heard a lot of conspiracy theories but found a far more credible article about it the other day.  The reason that gas prices are going up is because oil prices are actually going up.  It seems that the oil prices you see in the press are for one specific type of oil (West Texas Intermediate).  So while that oil price is going down, the rest of the world's oil prices are going up.

Maybe they should change to an average of oil prices...

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Do The Speed Cameras Help?


There has been a lot of back and forth on whether the speed cameras are a safety measure or a revenue generator.  Most people that support cameras say they're a safety measure, most that oppose them say they're simply revenue generators.  So who's right?

In my opinion they're both right.  No one can argue that they've brought in quite a bit of revenue since they were installed.  However, there seems to be some back and forth as to whether our highways are safer since they've been installed.  The Arizona Capitol Times has an article (membership may be required) that kind of presents both sides.

First it takes the DPS statistics (from an ASU study) for the loop 101 since the speed cameras were put in:

The ASU study, officials said, showed a 58 percent reduction in side-swipe crashes, a 71 percent reduction in single-vehicle crashes and a 40 percent reduction in accident-caused injuries as a result of speed cameras.

However, the statistics reported by DPS didn't include rear-end collisions that increased as much as 55% on the Loop 101 as reported from a 2007 study.  That looks pretty bad.  It seems that there are a lot of people slamming on the brakes when they see the speed cameras.  However, the article then gives the overall statistics:

Factoring in increases in rear-end collisions, accidents on the Loop 101 in Scottsdale decreased by 54 percent during the time speed cameras were in place.

So, is it a revenue generator or a safety measure?  I think it is both.  Yes, it's generating a lot of tickets but a 54% reduction in accidents is a pretty impressive number.  Besides, the revenue generated by them will probably trend downward as people become accustomed to the cameras and start driving the speed limit.

Overall, I think I'm OK with the speed cameras as long as they're not used as an excuse for not keeping sufficient DPS and other law enforcement officers patrolling our streets.  After all, a camera isn't near the deterrent as a law enforcement officer.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Gilbert Mayoral Race


Those of us who live in Gilbert have an election coming up.  While its not getting national attention and we're not being bombarded with constant TV ads, I submit that this election will have a far more direct effect on Gilbert's citizens than most others.  Why?  Because the Mayor and Town Council determine things like sales tax rates, property tax rates, how many police officers we have, how many firefighters we have, etc.   They determine things that affect us directly.

The Arizona Republic site (azcentral.com) has a section devoted to the mayoral and town council candidates.  If you are a citizen of Gilbert, I encourage you to read them and then go out and find more information on the candidates.  I, myself, have not found a favorite candidate yet (though I like Lewis and Turner and Skousen for mayor) so I'm still doing research.

This is where the rubber hits the road and where individuals have the most influence (who do you think cares more about your opinion/vote, the mayor or the president?) on their officials.  Let's take this election seriously.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Measuring Success

One of the blogs I follow is run by a man named John Halamka.  I stumbled across him from a case study I had to analyze for one of my graduate school classes.  He struck me as very intelligent and also very pragmatic (two qualities which are important to me) so I looked up his blog and have been following it for a while.

Today he blogged about measuring success.  I found it very refreshing to find somebody as successful as he is being so pragmatic about where happiness (true success) really comes from.  When people have asked me for career or education advice, I tell them to find what they enjoy doing and pursue that.  I say that because, no matter how much money you make, if you don't like your job, you will be miserable.  So find what is important in your life focus on that.  

In his blog, Halamka says that but a lot more eloquently.  Give it a read, I think you'll be impressed.

Monday, February 02, 2009

How Readable Is My Blog?

blog readability test
I found a readability test recently and thought it would be interesting to find the reading level of my blog.  I expected to get a high school or maybe undergrad level.  So I was really surprised to get genius (I actually thought it was broken - I had to check a bunch of other blogs to make sure it didn't say genius for everybody).  Does it really take a genius to understand what I'm writing?  I always thought that politics was a fairly simple topic.  You simply take a logical look at various issues and, applying all of the known variables, find a solution that best fits the...

OK, maybe it's not so simple but it is important.  What's the point of electing representatives if we have no understanding of what it is they do?  How do we hold them accountable?  We live in a complex world full of complicated problems.  Simple rhetoric and campaign slogans are not going to solve our problems.

I sincerely hope you don't have to be a genius to understand my blog or politics in general.  It is a topic that affects the lives of every American (politics that is, not my blog) and ignorance is definately NOT bliss.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

If You Have About A Trillion Dollars, What Do You Spend It On?


The stimulus plan is coming.  $875 billion of government goodness.  Will it save our economy?  Well, we won't really ever know.  After all, we don't know what would happen if it fails, we'll just have to see what happens when it succeeds.

So what is of that mo all  ney spent on?  Over at the Republican Cloak Room, is the Republican Party's official statement on the stimulus plan.  It makes some pretty serious assertions.

  • "Supporters of H.R. 1 have described this legislation as a transportation and infrastructure investment package. However, the bill only includes $30 billion – a mere 3 percent of the funding – toward “shovel ready” road and highway spending."
  • "H.R. 1 provides funding for 32 new programs totaling $137 billion or 38 percent of all discretionary spending in the bill."
OK, there's lots of others that I don't have time to go over.  Give it a read.  It may just give you pause about what we're about to jump into.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Government Organization

I know it sounds like an oxymoron but there really is a government organization.  It's just such a mess that it's hard to keep track of.  Well, in honor of inauguration day, here's a link to an organization chart that shows what our new president is getting into.  It's a little java program that lets you click on any position and move it around to see who it reports to and who reports to it.  I thought it was really cool.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Atlas Shrugged - I Need To Read This Book


I've heard of the book Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand but I never really knew what it was about.  Well, I just read an opinion article in the Wall Street Journal that compared our current economic crisis with the events portrayed in Atlas Shrugged.

It was frightening.  The gist is that the more government tried to help, the worse things got.  The author of the article even made some fairly direct correlations from events in the book to things the government has already done (bank bailouts, auto bailouts, etc).  True enough, for all the money government is spending, things don't seem to be getting any better.

I think I really need to read this book.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Thank Goodness For Comments

Have you ever wondered how biased the news you get is?  I try to look at both sides of an issue and find the truth that's usually somewhere in between.  However, I have also found that both sides of an argument can present their cases so well, that it's difficult to tell where the truth really lies.

This came up as I was trying to get more information on the fighting in Gaza.  Most of the information I had painted a picture of an Israel that had been hit by so many rockets from Gaza that it just couldn't take it anymore and invaded.  Then I read an article from Al Jazeera that paints an entirely different picture.  The article was well written and convincing enough that I had to wonder what was really going on.  Then I read the comments.

The article made several assertions about Israeli involvement in the violence and accused Israel of being the aggressor.  The comments, on the other hand, both supported and criticized the article (as most comment sections do).  The critical comments called into question many of the assertions of the article and called them patently false.  It was kind of a wake up call.  I realized (again) that just because it's posted on a news site, doesn't mean it's true.  The article makes no references to prove its points so it becomes the author arguing against commentors with neither side backing up their "facts".

I usually think of comments as mostly being entertaining but not having a lot of value.  In this case, though, the comments made me think, re-evaluate, and reconsider an article that is very one-sided.

So thank goodness for comments.  They're a reality check in this world of tenuous reality.  Keep them coming!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Here Come The Cuts!


The State Legislature is meeting and something, probably many things, are going to get cut. The Arizona Capitol Times, the Arizona Guardian, the Arizona Republic, etc. are all running articles about people and groups trying to protect their funding.  First in line is our soon to be former Governor, Janet Napolitano.  She is pleading to save all of the programs she started when it seemed like Arizona would have an endless money supply.  Next in line is education.  Schools are forecasting doom and gloom if their budgets get cut.  Then there's social services.  In a bad economy, more and more people sign up for government services.

So my question is:  what do they cut?  Emergency services?  No, that's unacceptable.  How about, um... what's left?  The unfortunate truth is that all the things that governments pay for benefit society (well, depending on who you ask).  So, if all the government programs are good, how do you justify cutting any of them?  That's the problem.  No matter what gets cut, there will be people who think it was the wrong thing.  In my opinion, these are the things that are most important:

  1. Government itself:  The government needs to be able to run.  I'm not saying they shouldn't look for and eliminate inefficiencies, etc. but they do need enough money to function.
  2. Emergency Services:  Police, Fire, and other emergency services need to run.  They protect citizens from each other and from physical harm.
  3. Education:  Our State Constitution requires education and the future of our society depends on it.
  4. Services for the Disabled:  Notice I didn't put all social services.  I think the government has a responsibility for helping to take care of those that can't take care of themselves.
After that, prioritizing gets very difficult.  In fact, the priorities I put up there are subject to change.  If you have other ideas, I'm definitely open to them.  My point is that the Legislature and our new Governor are going to have to put together a similar list and then start cutting budgets and eliminating programs.  The only guarantee here is that somebody is going to get the short end of the stick.  We just don't know who it is.

If you have any thoughts/predictions, I'd love to hear them.

Monday, January 05, 2009

They're Not Stupid, Just Different

Apart from my political leanings, I work in information technology. This is a profession that is full of smart, but often misunderstood people. Many people look on us as having some sort of magical rapport with computers. I have spent a lot of time troubleshooting computer problems (in fact it started taking so much time, I started charging for it so people would quit bothering me) as well as giving advice. Usually I don't mind. I enjoy helping people. However, every now and then it gets frustrating when I see the same problems over and over again. It even gets to the point that I wonder how people can not understand what, to me, are the simplest concepts.

This frustration pervades among the "computer geeks" of the country. Many of the forums complain of how stupid people are. They rail against businesses, politicians, and any other profession they see as severly misguided. I fear, however, that this may give them the idea that they are smarter than everybody else; that anybody who doesn't agree with them is an idiot. Yet somehow this country has survived, businesses have flourished, and people have lived happy lives in spite of not being as smart as us techies.

I see the same thing in politics. There is a polarization that occurs and it seems to make people think that their side of the aisle has all of the good ideas. Too many democrats would assert that if a republican says something, it's wrong. Too many republicans think that all ideas from democrats are flawed. I have seen countless arguments on forums, etc. that summarily dismiss anything that doesn't conform to a preset form of ideals.

In other words, too many people are spending their energy villifying the other side. There are too many arguments that have no substance. Too much time spent on blame and not enough on resolving issues.

We, as a people, need to stop treating people as the enemy and start looking at where they are coming from. We need to stop spouting mindless sound bites and start examining our own beliefs. I have found, as I have spoken with several friends who - GASP! - are democrats, that the results that the democratic and republican parties are looking for are very similar. Equal opportunities for all, a prosperous people, a high standard of living. We all agree on the desired outcomes, it's simply the path to the outcome that we disagree on. However, if we can seek to understand them, it's possible to come to a middle ground that everybody can agree on. At least on some items. On others, we may have to agree to disagree, however, at least we will understand where they're coming from and they will understand where we're coming from and both of us can walk away thinking: They're not stupid, just different.