Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Politics: the blame game

The bailout bill was defeated yesterday. Here is the roll call.

Whether this particular bailout package was a good option or not is a separate issue but of course, the media blame the House Republicans.

Indeed, 133 of the no votes came from the GOP side of the House. However, the reality is that 95 Democrats cast no votes as well. Thus, the instant blaming of the House Republicans doesn't tell the whole story.

As for the blame game for the whole financial mess to begin with, it has landed on the Republican doorstep as well.

Again it is more complicated as both sides wanted more "affordable housing" made available. By loosening lending criteria, the affordable housing problem was "solved" by making the mortgage lending problem which has snowballed into what we have now.

Good intentions, bad consequences.

UPDATE: Check out this item that spreads the blame pretty much everywhere. Excerpt:

So who is to blame? There's plenty of blame to go around, and it doesn't fasten only on one party or even mainly on what Washington did or didn't do. As The Economist magazine noted recently, the problem is one of "layered irresponsibility ... with hard-working homeowners and billionaire villains each playing a role." Here's a partial list of those alleged to be at fault:
The Federal Reserve, which slashed interest rates after the dot-com bubble burst, making credit cheap.

Home buyers, who took advantage of easy credit to bid up the prices of homes excessively.

Congress, which continues to support a mortgage tax deduction that gives consumers a tax incentive to buy more expensive houses.

Real estate agents, most of whom work for the sellers rather than the buyers and who earned higher commissions from selling more expensive homes.

The Clinton administration, which pushed for less stringent credit and downpayment requirements for working- and middle-class families.

Mortgage brokers, who offered less-credit-worthy home buyers subprime, adjustable rate loans with low initial payments, but exploding interest rates.

Former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, who in 2004, near the peak of the housing bubble, encouraged Americans to take out adjustable rate mortgages.

Wall Street firms, who paid too little attention to the quality of the risky loans that they bundled into Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS), and issued bonds using those securities as collateral.

The Bush administration, which failed to provide needed government oversight of the increasingly dicey mortgage-backed securities market.

An obscure accounting rule called mark-to-market, which can have the paradoxical result of making assets be worth less on paper than they are in reality during times of panic.

Collective delusion, or a belief on the part of all parties that home prices would keep rising forever, no matter how high or how fast they had already gone up.

The U.S. economy is enormously complicated. Screwing it up takes a great deal of cooperation.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Politics: Trying to cut through the feldercarb

Feldercarb ... if you watched the original Battlestar Galactica, you know what that is!

Who would you choose to be your vice-presidential candidate?

Someone who has served two terms in the US House and is serving a second term in the US Senate
Or
A one term US Senator?

Who would you feel better about being president?

A two term state senator and one term governor
Or
Someone who served as a city council member, mayor and is serving a first term as governor?

Who would you elect?
A graduate of Yale and Boston College Law School
Or
A graduate of Yale and Harvard Business School?

For political news nuts, you know what I'm getting at!



John Kerry is a graduate of Yale and Boston College Law School while George W. Bush is a graduate of Yale and Harvard Business School. Bush was considered by critics to be too stupid to be president.

Jimmy Carter was a two term state senator and one term governor and was elected president and Sarah Palin served as a city council member, mayor and is serving a first term as governor and has been nominated to be vice-president. Palin is considered by critics to be too much of a novice to be veep.

Dan Quayle had served two terms in the US House and was serving a second term in the US Senate when tapped by George H. W. Bush to be his VP while John Edwards was a one term US Senator when he ran as veep in 2004. Critics said Quayle was too inexperienced to be VP while Edwards was hailed as a fresh choice for a new generation of leadership.

Politics isn't tossing beanbags but the piling on of Palin is ridiculous. If one is going to knock her for being inexperienced than you have to say Obama's experience is thin too. If you are going to give credit to Obama for having special qualities beyond experience then you have to acknowledge that Palin has some special qualities too.

When we elect someone, we primarily look at policy (do they more often than not hold the views I do?), special qualities (is there something about this person that says leadership?) and experience (does this person have the various types of life experiences that causes me to trust them to make good decisions when the inevitable crisis arrives on his or her desk?).

It is the combination of these things that lead me to support McCain-Palin.

As an ethnic minority (American of Chinese ancestry), I think Obama's success story says something good about this country. I've read about Joe Biden's personal life story of tragedy and fighting back from health problems and admire his love for his family and perseverance.

Nonetheless, elections are about choices and I believe that the McCain-Palin team offers the better mix of policy, qualities and experiences for America.

Being in LA, that view is a rare one!

Send hate mail to rrblog_at_yahoo.com. 8-)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sports: Dodgers In October!!!

Its been a rocky year but they did it!

Weisman over at Dodger Thoughts has been my go to place for commentary beyond the box score.

He put it this way:

We celebrate the hit, even though we're rooting for the run. We celebrate the run, even though we're rooting for the win.

And today, at 2:32 p.m., we celebrate the division title, even though we're rooting for the bigger prize.

Congratulations, Dodgers and Dodger fans. Being the best in anything over 162 games is no easy road. Live it up!

Its been an incredible year from the special exhibition at the Coliseum, to the moving "Field of Dreams" opening day ceremony, the highs and lows of a long season with injuries and surprise stars, dramatic late season trades and the exciting and strong finish by a team that is coming together.

Go Dodgers!

Politics: This bailout thing is so huge and complicated ...

Am trying to get my head around the issue.

Robert J. Samuelson of Newsweek tries to explain. Excerpt:

Under Paulson's proposal, the Treasury could buy distressed mortgage-backed securities. Consider a batch of hypothetical securities originally worth $100 million and paying an interest rate of 6 percent. They're no longer worth $100 million because half of the homeowners have stopped making their monthly payments. Suppose, then, that the government buys the mortgages for $50 million. It earns 6 percent on its $50 million, and if it borrowed money at 4 percent to buy the securities, it would make a tidy profit. If the government holds the securities until maturity and all the remaining homeowners repay their mortgages, the government would come out ahead.

Would something like this happen? It could, and Pimco's Bill Gross argued in the Washington Post that it might, but there are several reasons it might not.
....

One of the reasons is the uncertainty of the price the Treasury will actually pay for that $100 million example. Will it be less than the $50 million and thus come out even more ahead. But then again, if they pay more than $50 million they would at some point come out behind.

And of course, what percentage of the homeowners ultimately default on their mortgages which will affect the future value of those securities?

****

How did we get in this mess in the first place?

From what I'm hearing, it started with the decision by the government to encourage home ownership and the various decisions that got made by other institutions in response and people who bought homes who financially might not have really been ready to.

In short, their is blame to go around to everyone.

Home ownership sounds like a laudable goal though, right?

But what happened?

Follow the bouncing ball ...

Lending standards had to be loosened to loan money to people who normally wouldn't be able to buy a home. I.e. lower down payment requirements, teaser interest rates, etc. Banks went along because they might be able to profit.

Package all the loans into mortgaged-backed securities (Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae's charter) which they sell to US and World markets. They probably wound up taking more risks figuring that since they were chartered by the Federal government they might get bailed out if they get into trouble.

Economy slows down and people start defaulting on their loans and the system cascades downward into the mess we are in now.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Politics: A video from Catholicvote.com

When we consider supporting a candidate, we ask ourselves: does this person represent, more often than not, the values I hold?

Though I am not Catholic (I am in the evangelical Protestant category), I appreciate the part where the video points out that some issues are more important than others.



HT: Hugh Hewitt.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Travel: July 2008 - Mississippi and New Orleans

In July, I joined up with other people from various Southern California Presbyterian churches to go to Mississippi to do some house repair work as part of the ongoing post-Hurricane Katrina efforts ...

Youth: What we are talking about at youth group ...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Life: 9/11, 7 years later

It was a cloudless day in New York city when the events of that day unfolded.

On Youtube.com, a search of 9/11 brings up many items.

The editors of Youtube placed this item near the top of the search results about one New Yorker's reflections on the cloud of paper that drifted over where he was ...



Another item brought up in the search that I clicked on was the work of computer scientists to animate one of the planes striking the WTC.



Here is a news clip about the memorial at the Pentagon.



As I thought about what to post, I decided to look back in the archives ...

From 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006.

The posts were brief and usually focused on "getting back to normal."

There was no post on 2007.

I don't want to forget for there are those who feel the absence of someone lost.

I don't want to forget for there are those in far away lands fighting the people who want more 9/11's in the USA, 10/12's in Bali, 3/11's in Madrid and 7/7's in London.

I don't want to forget for in the midst of sadness and anger of that day there was heroism and sacrifice and it is that part of remembering today that should lead us forward into today and tomorrow.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Sports: Dodgers still alive ...

Previously, I posted on the Dodgers when they were 54-54. Well, they are now 70-70.

I thought they would need to win 85 games to win the NL West. Well, there are now only 22 games left and the thought of them going 15-7 seems unlikely.

But they are still alive because the Dbacks are only 71-68!

Both teams have been streaky ... winning a bunch of games in a row and then dropping a bunch of games in a row.

The Dbacks are on pace to finish 83-79.

Can the Dodgers get to 84-78?

Can they go 14-8 down the home stretch?

3 games at home against the Dbacks.
3 games at SD.
3 games at Colorado.
4 games at Pittsburgh.
3 games at home against the Giants.
3 games at home against the Padres.
3 games at San Francisco.

If they win each series and split at Pittsburgh, they get to 84 wins!

They will face the top pitchers of the Dbacks in this weekend series. Taking the series gets them in front which is something they haven't done. They've tied the Dbacks but haven't been able to get past them.

UPDATE: Dodgers take the NL West lead! Hope they can sweep the Dbacks with a win on Sunday and thus hold onto the lead! WOO HOO!

Colorado has given the Dodgers trouble this season.

And of course with 6 games against the Giants the Dodger's dreams of post-season play could come crashing down to earth.

Well, if the Bruins could pull off that upset against Tennessee, then maybe the gutty little Dodgers could manage to see October!

Go Dodgers!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Politics: Comparing the Experience of Gov. Palin and Sen. Obama

No doubt about it, Gov. Palin was a surprise pick.

The immediate criticism of her was her lack of experience.

Of course, that charge has been leveled at Sen. Obama!

Obama's "resume"
Community organizer in a Chicago non-profit
Law school teacher
Illinois State Senator
US Senator

Palin's "resume"
Wasilla City Council Member
Wasilla Mayor
Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission
Governor of Alaska

How "big" is the job of Alaska governor?

Alaska's budget is more than 11 billion, and the state employs 15,000 people.
HT: HH FYI: Alaska FY2009 budget summary.

In all fairness, Alaska's budget is 1/10th the size of California's budget but it is not trivial and the dismissive attitude of Gov. Palin's critics is unfair to the good people of Alaska and to her role as the chief executive of that state.

Fairness also requires us to admit both resumes are relatively thin in terms of a lifetime of experience compared to both Sen. Biden and Sen. McCain.

However, I think for Obama supporters to claim their candidate for president has vastly more experience than McCain's vice-presidential pick is a stretch. Given that they are running for a position in the executive branch one could say Palin's experience as a mayor and governor is a plus for her.

As a side note, the current President was Governor of Texas, and before Bush 43 was President Clinton who served as Governor of Arkansas. And prior to Bush 41 (who was a VP), President Reagan was governor of California who followed President Carter who was governor of Georgia. The voters seem to like governors for president for some reason?

Of course, the reality is that people vote on more than just experience.

Obama's spectacular rise in the Democrat party is clearly not due to his tremendous experience. How he has gotten to this point is a tribute to his rhetorical skills and an admittedly compelling biography and sense of political timing.

In the last analysis, if experience is the most important criteria, would one vote for Obama because of Palin's small state roots? Or would one vote for McCain because of Obama's thin resume?

Tonight, Gov. Palin speaks at the convention and the viewing audience will get to see who she is beyond the media feeding frenzy.

This will be her chance to either confirm the worst criticisms of her or she will shine and shed the "not ready for prime time" image that Dan Quayle was never able to shed.

Stay tuned for yet another chapter in one of the wildest presidential election cycle in modern American politics!

Politics: One Alaskan's View of Gov. Palin

Check out this post ...

Excerpt:
Please, please, please don't vote McCain in November. Sarah Palin is BEST thing that has ever happened to this state and we don't want to lose her. IF however you feel compelled to vote for the best then it's an easy choice. I can't stress enough how much we love her.

The very first thing she did on taking office was sell on EBAY the Gulfstream jet that her predecessor bought for himself on the states tab. She bullied the oil companies to start building a gas pipeline (the largest construction project ever in North America) to the lower 48 that no governor or legislature has been able to do for the last 15 years. She is absolutely transparent and holds everyone in her government to the same standard.
...

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Non-profit of the month: August, 2008 - MIssion Year

One of my friends is participating in a year of work in the inner city through Mission Year.

What do the people who join do?

Straight from their program page:

Mission Year is a year long program where Christian young people live in an urban neighborhood volunteering, worshiping, and loving their neighbors. It is an opportunity for 18 to 29 year olds, both single and married, to spend a year following Jesus' command to “Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself.” By partnering with a local church, volunteering at a service site, and spending time with neighbors, Mission Year Team Members effectively impact their communities while catching a deeper vision for what the Kingdom of God is like.

My friend will be doing this project in Wilmington, Delaware.

The organization is on the ground in six cities.

If you know someone who is offering a year of their lives to this kind of community work, please consider offering some support to them.