Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Warning: Major Rant Ahead

Rarely is Congress asked to make a decision as important as the one it voted on yesterday. And the House’s inability to come together to pass a bailout plan is evidence of it being the less deliberative body. Several current House members are in the middle of tough election races, mainly because Congress has a current approval rating lower than even President Bush. In the House, votes are often made along party lines, or for other very selfish and partisan reasons, such as 1) my constituency won’t understand why I voted for this and I can’t risk my neck this November, 2) the Democrats don’t want the bill to look like it was overwhelmingly supported by the Party, in case the bailout goes belly-up we can blame it on Bush and the Republicans.

Hello, McFly! We’re in the middle of a financial crisis and if this does not work we’ll be in even bigger trouble than we are right now. Why not work on legislation that is well thought out and responsible so that there is no hedging of bets on it failing?

I am thoroughly disgusted by the inaction taking place on the Hill. The biggest drop in Wall Street in one day and instead of taking action, we have Representatives on the news finger pointing at the other side as to why this isn’t fixed yet. From the New York Times here are some of the reasons as to why some Representatives voted No:

1. Nancy Pelosi gave a partisan speech right before the vote.- An inappropriate move, but who cares what she says? No one watches C-SPAN!
2. The Republicans voting against cited their opposition to government intervention.- Isn’t the lack of regulation and intervention during the unfolding mortgage crisis the reason we’re at this point now?
3. The Democrats voting against didn’t want taxpayer money bailing out Wall Street fat cats.- How about the $1 trillion lost yesterday in the market and how that affects people’s retirement?

Again there’s a reason this year’s Presidential election will yield unprecedented voter turnout and why several long-standing House members may not be re-elected, it has to do with the American people waking up from their long slumber and wondering “What the heck happened?” The days of wine and roses are over, its time for everyone to pay a little more attention to what’s happening in Washington D.C.

Friday, September 26, 2008

It's the Economy Stupid Part 2

I have not been purposely neglecting writing a new post, but I have had a bit of a writer’s block this past week. I just didn’t see much humor in the Government preparing to give $700 billion to Wall Street without any idea of whether this would actually work or just turn into another very large “Oops!” moment for the Bush administration.

Then there’s the response from the Presidential nominees. McCain calls for a time out, as if his presence in Washington is so crucial for brokering the deal. Obama was caught between a rock and a hard place, not wanting McCain to have the upper hand, but also not wanting to look like he doesn’t care. Either way there is no reason why the debates shouldn’t go on as planned.

Economists have weighed on what they feel might be the best solution to the problem at hand, and it seems like most of them are hinging their hat on different theories as to what the outcome will be. The majority feel that handing over a blank check to Paulson and the succeeding Treasury secretary is a bad idea. And that buying debt at the value the banks have listed is a bad deal for taxpayers. If the assets are purchased for less than what they’re listed as, it will probably not help the banks at all. My favorite economist Paul Krugman suggests using the $700 billion to add capital and allow taxpayers a share of the market. When the market recovers (as it should given this plan) profits might actually be made on the public money loaned.

Either way I feel the complexity of this crisis and the public policy solutions necessary to alleviate it are at a level that requires the skill, expertise and willingness to learn that has been at times wholly thrown out of the Presidential race. One example again comes from Governor Palin’s most recent interview with Katie Couric, here’s a brief transcript of her response when asked how the bailout will help out the average American.

COURIC: Why isn’t it better, Governor Palin, to spend $700 billion helping middle-class families struggling with health care, housing, gas and groceries? … Instead of helping these big financial institutions that played a role in creating this mess?

PALIN: Ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the health care reform that is needed to help shore up the economy– Oh, it’s got to be about job creation too. So health care reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions.

Huh?! How does this have anything to do with health care reform or job creation. Maybe she thought this was a different question or maybe like the Bush Doctrine no one has prepped her on why Wall Street needs a $700 billion bailout. If this does not work everyone is in serious trouble, not just "fat cats" and CEOs, but anyone who would like to continue to live and earn money in the U.S. and even abroad. If we are sent back to a bartering economy, at least Alaska might be in some good shape with all those beaver pelts. I'm going to start hoarding copper and other scrap metal to bring down to the trading post.

Add on top of that Washington Mutual failing and having to be purchased by J.P. Morgan Chase, and I am really starting to believe the sky might just be cracking a bit. The minute WaMu decided to move away from its customer service model to a money hungry banking institution like BofA and WeFa this was bound to happen. This is why I suggest Credit Unions or maybe international banks like HSBC.

All of this is made a little better by the Dodgers clinching the N.L. West Division, but then again made a little worse by the Trojans losing to Oregon State. Oh woe is America right now, which is why I suggest everyone head to your nearest watering hole and have a strong drink. Wake me up on November 5th.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I guess I'm an Elitist

There has been a lot of mudslinging back and forth between the two campaigns about experience and lack thereof. For most of the election, the McCain camp wailed on about the inexperienced Obama who did not have the foreign policy credentials to be Commander in Chief. Then Obama went on EuroTrip: Presidential Style and met with rave reviews from Europeans and their leaders. He added Biden to the ticket in what most felt was an effort to quell this fear of inexperience. Then two weeks later, McCain picked Palin, or what one friend of mine called "The Hail Mary Pass of Politics, that turned into a touchdown." All of a sudden, Dems were staring around at each other wondering, "I thought we were the inexperienced ticket." Since then anyone who mentions Palin's lack of foreign policy, military or legislative experience is rebuffed by a variety of retorts. Some of my favorites are: 1) She's more experienced than Obama, because she is in charge of an entire state government. 2) She has foreign policy experience, because Alaska is closer to Russia. 3) She has military experience, because she is in charge of the Alaska National Guard. 4) The liberal media is slandering her with accusations of inexperience, because they're anti-feminists and "elitists".

The elitist aspect has been the one excuse I've been unable to reconcile. I don't quite understand why Americans should not want the leaders of our country to be well-educated, experienced leaders and visionaries. Ronald Reagan may have been a famous actor at one time, but by the time he ran for President he had already cut his teeth as Governor of one the 3 largest states in the Nation. This is far different from a 2-year stint at the 47th largest state. America has some of the best higher-ed institutions in the World, and every year thousands come to the U.S. from other countries to study. Is it elitist that I worry that Governor Palin went to 6 colleges in 6 years and has no advanced degree? Even for the most entry level job I would assume 6 different transcripts and that many transfers would cause employers to worry about the individual's ability for follow-through.

Interestingly enough, David Brooks, the New York Times conservative opinion writer had a great take on why he believes experiences matters, check it out here.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Not So Golden Right Now

For those of my readers not in California, I would like to say “Congratulations!”. At least you don’t live in a state that is in crisis on top of already living in a country in crisis. I am still trying to believe that the sky isn’t falling, but its becoming harder and harder with what is going on. Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and AIG are all in trouble. I know that a lot of it has to do with poor choices in lending, but what happens to all the people who have their money or 401K invested with these institutions? I don’t really know but I will attempt to learn more. But back to Cali and why living here is no bueno right now. The State is over 77 days (that is more than 2 ½ months) late in passing a budget bill. This entire time the State Senate and the Assembly have been fighting along party lines with the Republicans sticking it to the Dems, in return for the Dems sticking it to the Reps all year long. It is not until they need 2/3 vote to pass the budget that compromise becomes necessary. Throw in the Governator and you have one political mess.

After much back and forth, the legislature passed a budget around 2:30 a.m. and was promptly threatened with a veto from the Governor, because it did not include all 3 of his budget reform initiatives he demanded. The “rainy day fund” which is to be created to save money when the economy is doing well for year’s when there is a budget shortfall did not come with the restriction Ah-nold proposed. I understand to some extent why he is digging in his heels on this point, because without restrictions on when the money can be pulled from this fund, it could turn into just another pot of money for the State to pull out of at its whim. At the same time, it took this long to pass any budget legislation, I don’t know if 77 days in is really the point at which we want to go back to the drawing board.

When I was in graduate school studying public policy, I assumed that legislation was crafted from research, common sense and thoughtfulness. But after spending sometime in D.C. actually reading legislation, I learned what a hodgepodge of ideas and solutions a successful bill includes. Why? Because every legislator wants to be able to point to how they personally assisted their constituency or prove that they are not just in Sacramento or D.C. saying Yay or Nay. The result is often a very long, impossibly confusing bill that very few people ever read from start to finish.

If Ah-nold sticks to his guns and vetoes the budget, it will be up to the legislature to override him. If they do, he promises to veto every other bill waiting for his approval. In the end, it’s a game of chicken being played with the administration of one of the largest economies in the World, and I’m scared to see who will veer first.

Monday, September 15, 2008

I'm scared for my couch

For those of you who don’t have television or read the Sports section, you missed what was supposed to be the “best match-up of the NCAA football season” between #1 USC and Ohio State. The result was of course far below what you might expect from such a hyped-up game, with the Trojans dominating the scoreboard 35-3. The poor Buckeyes’ tired from all their trash talking, managed to control the ball for the majority of the game, yet could not put anymore points on the board except for their 1st quarter field goal. The real turning point in the game came when Ohio State’s only touchdown was reversed, because of a penalty. What followed were interceptions, fumbles, sacks and just a very sad game to watch (even for Trojans, because boredom isn’t fun).

I’m still not sure if UCLA’s first string made it to Provo, or if they got stuck somewhere and the club team had to don their jerseys; either way mad shoutout to my two readers who are BYU alums, the Cougars were amazing! They kept the Bruins from scoring while managing to chalk up 59 points of their own, well done!

Apart from college football there is plenty of other great things to watch on TV and I have thrown myself full-fledged into the fall season of shows. So far here’s my list for this year:
1. The Office: my favorite show is back! And I can’t wait to see what happens with a certain pregnant character! I really hope Rainn Wilson wins an Emmy.
2. Lost: I’m trying to keep this on my radar, because I really want to know what’s up with that island. I know the writing has gone downhill, but I have faith and at least we know there is an end in sight.
3. Mad Men: I am so glad I chose to add this to my list and delete Ugly Betty. I need a good old fashioned serial drama that isn’t too cheesy, plus I love retro interior decorating.
4. House: I am going to miss Kumar as a regular, but I wonder what they will do with Chase and the other girl. Hopefully they dye her hair back to brunette, she looks AWFUL blonde.
5. 24: I really hope this show can revive interest after being off for a year. I also hope that Fox doesn’t make us wait until January to watch this awesome show. At the same time I don’t even remember where we left off so I hope there’s some type of prep for the re-release.
6. Grey’s Anatomy & Private Practice: Both of these shows get one more season and if they don’t improve they’re off the list. Note: both are more interesting and funny if watched after a bottle of wine.
7. Brothers & Sisters: I initially watched this show, because it had some big names. Overall, its relatively interesting, but not a nail biter.

Where will I find the time to watch all of these? Answer: 3 little letters: D.V.R., which cuts most of these shows by 25% in time. But I’m deathly afraid at the same time, because the evil cable company just gave me HBO, Starz and Encore for free for a year, are they trying to kill me on purpose?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Dirty Laundry of D.O.I.

Most people assume working for a government bureaucracy is boring, and usually that’s true. It can be at times seem to move at a snail’s pace, doing things backwards, using technology and processes from centuries ago, but every once in awhile those bureaucrats decide to party it up, such as the Department of Interior. A recent scandal was exposed yesterday at said DOI, in the Minerals Management department, whose function is to sell off American oil and gas reserves to the private companies. Although the majority of the wrongdoing went on in the satellite office in Denver, it did extend its reach to Washington D.C. Apparently, for sometime now; employees had been receiving perks from Chevron and other oil companies such as sporting event tickets, free booze, and invitations to fancy events. Two federal employees went to a golf tournament, and were so intoxicated they had to stay at the resort rather than go home. Additionally, one manager was buying cocaine and sleeping with 2 of his secretaries. The woman in D.C. responsible for the satellite office helped steer a contract to a former employee, who before leaving federal service wrote the contract so that it basically detailed exactly his roles and responsibilities with the agency. Probably the worse part was that the Feds in charge of negotiating the contracts would allow the oil companies to renegotiate prices down after awarding the contract to a loss of over $4 million.

I love a good federal scandal, but this also proves another point which I feel is not often mentioned: regardless of who is in office, or who wins the election, the bureaucracy keeps chugging along doing what its always done with very little outside oversight. In most of the agencies, the inspector general’s office is responsible for auditing and investigating thousands with an office of dozens. And, when the wrongdoing is widespread enough too many people become involved for whistleblowers to feel comfortable in telling their story. Even in the DOI situation complaints were filed as far back as 2 ½ years ago. Most people do not want to risk retaliation, especially when it will take so long for an investigation to finish. The federal government is not unique in its size, and unmanageability, it is seen in many large states, counties, cities, and school districts. The amazing part is that when politicians talk about government waste they rarely point their fingers at the bureaucrats, probably because they know they’re voters too.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Laughingstock of L.A.

A lot of people talk trash about the Los Angeles Times and rightfully so. The level of journalism has fallen short recently as Sam Zell, the owner of Tribune Broadcasting, has laid off reporters and put profits over everything else in the paper. Prior to his takeover of the Tribune his real estate companies were the largest owner of both residential and office space in the U.S. It’s a bit sad for me as a native Angeleno to not have interesting and informative news reports about my city, but I still attempt to glean some local news on a regular basis. Today though there were two awesome articles that one must check out, if only because they are almost unreal.

First, goats have taken over a brush patch in Downtown L.A. The Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency decided it would be cheaper and more eco-conscious if they hired goats. The goats chomp on the brush day and night well being watched by their 71 year-old owner. Even better is that the males are fixed to prevent any hanky panky and keep their eye on the prize, that is eating brush.

Second, in the automotive section there is an awesome rundown of the top 5 redneck cars Levi Johnston (Bristol’s Baby Daddy) should consider purchasing. My favorite is the Trans-Am with the screaming chicken on the hood it is truly breathtaking.

It’s bad enough that I have to watch horrible local newscasters on KTLA (also owned by Zell) i.e. Elizabeth Espinosa and Allie McKay, now I get to read about goats. And its not like we’re in the middle of a slow news season, the state budget is overdue by more than 70 days with no sign of being passed in the near future. The SacBee runs a blog updating what’s going in CowTown, but it reads mostly like a political version of Pink is the New Blog. Yesterday’s top headline: “Sen. Maldonado was chewing gum during speech at the RNC.” Are you serious?!

I guess Chicago has it worse than us, Zell has put up the Cubs and Wrigley Field for the highest bidder. I suggest Chicagoans use some of that community organizing honed on the South Side and drum up some funds to purchase it themselves. Hey, its worked for Green Bay.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Are you ready for some football?!

Brett has done it again, at least during the first game of the season. The football icon started in his 254th consecutive regular game and proved why he shouldn’t retire with his 54 yard touchdown throw for the first score against the Dolphins. I feel a bit sad for Chad Pennington as he was booted and then embarrassed by his middle aged replacement, but that’s what happens when you play against an icon. Suffice it to say, my love for Favre has outweighed my affection for the Packers. That being said I will be rooting for the first time in history for the Vikings to beat the Pack and show the front office why they should have just left Aaron Rodgers on the bench to collect his $25 million.

On a sad note, Tom Brady’s injured and potentially out for the season! Luckily he has Giselle to nurse him in the hospital as long as it doesn’t interfere with the Spring fashion shows and I’m sure Bridget Moynahan will bring Baby Brady for a visit too. I felt bad for Petyon Manning who couldn’t get a break in his season opener against the Bears (Go Bears!- I heart Fargo), but I wouldn’t count the Colts out just yet. But in the end “Who cares?” what really matters in football is that today is jury selection in the O.J. Simpson kidnapping/robbery trial. He should’ve worn Isotoners this time or at least got some balloons to block the security cameras a la Ocean’s 11.

In tennis, Serena kicked Jancovic’s butt on the Court to win the U.S. Open, and although I’m not a huge Williams’ sister fan its nice to see an American win on the home turf. A friend of mine suggested we force all those other foreign tennis stars to become citizens if they want to live here. It would definitely ensure we kick butt in the Olympics. At least our former cousin, Andy Murray, from Scotland, managed to knock down Nadal from his oh so pretty Spanish pedestal. I think it might have been the hair tie, or the tape below his knees being not even or the fact that his feet had lost circulation from wearing shoes 1 ½ sizes too small. That guy has dedication, probably as a result of his slightly OCD tendencies and his need to maintain Rockstar status in the home country.

Last but not least my wayward Dodgers got back on track (for now) by sweeping the D’backs this weekend. Yesterday’s game was practically handed to us by the sloppy playing Arizonians. Maybe they’re preoccupied with their Senator running for President, or wondering why they have jerseys saying “Los D’backs”, or they have just realized as the Dodgers will soon (if they make it to the postseason) is that being 1st in the N.L. West is a lot like being Runner-Up in the Miss Alaska pageant; it doesn’t get you far, oh wait I take that back there’s a 1 in a million chance it will get you a World Series ring or the Vice Presidency.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Babies, Blowouts and Bevery Hills

This was such an exciting 3-day weekend I barely know where to start. So let me begin with the beguine…Bristol Palin is preggers. Now I know that this has happened to many a young female, but to the offspring of a conservative, abstinence only sex education, VP Candidate from the frozen tundra, feels like some bad joke repeated on the nightly comedy shows. But its true and the GOP convention has to now figure out which is worse Gustav stealing their thunder or all the attention placed on Bristol’s 5-month baby bump. I must give 10 points to the McCain camp for artful placement of a baby at a VP candidacy announcement. No one could see the bump with Trig plastered all over her. I thought it was a bit odd that the way she was holding him, but it was just smoke and mirrors, genius. As exciting as this news maybe, I’m even more shocked by reports that state McCain vetted his VP candidate through a Google search. I love internet sleuthing, and recommend it to all my friends who are going out on a first date or finding a roommate, but 2nd in command of the U.S. is definitely something worthy of a more thorough search than a Wikipedia article.

On Saturday I reaffirmed my devotion to the Trojans, and reminded me about how I need them to remain a Dodger fan. If I was a Bruin football fan and a Dodgers fan, I’d be in a constant state of stress and frustration. At least this way I can take a break and enjoy a game where there are no surprises, except for how attractive Mark Sanchez looks without his football helmet on. Finally USC has someone cute to put up on the big screen. John David Booty lacked a lot in the looks department (and QB department as well). I can’t wait for Ohio State in two weeks, bring it on Buckeyes!

And finally, all this excitement is almost eclipsed by the return of Beverly Hills 90210 tonight! I was a major fan of this show back in the day when I was about 10. I have no idea why my parents let me watch that show, but all I could dream about was Dylan and Brandon and try to decide who was hotter. I hated Brenda and Kelly because neither of them realized how lucky they were to hang out with such hotties. Today the LA times interviewed Shannen Doherty and asked her about the “We hate Shannen Doherty” magazine. There was only one issue, but it made a big splash. And believe it or not, I owned a copy!!! My godfather bought it for me, knowing my love/hate relationship with Brenda/Shannen. I am going home tonight to search through my box of memories from elementary school and if I find it, I’m going to frame it. Who knew I had such priceless memorabilia lying around the house?

On second thought, I must actually be getting old, because shows/bands from when I was young are starting to have reunions. Check out NKOTB’s new promo pic. Maybe they’ll have to change their name this time around.