Monday, October 13, 2008

My new site!

I'm working on a new blog project called News Pirates. We don't make the news - we plunder it!

I don't know how far it's going to go, but hey - I'm going to have some fun and see what happens.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

How can you be a Democrat if you're a Mormon?

I get asked this sometimes. I even had an experience at church today when someone said "Oh, don't you know that you can't get a temple recommend if you're a Democrat?"

They were joking. Mostly.

As for me supporting a Democrat, I guess it was an odd combination of my examination of conservative cultural values and economic realities. I think that government should not legislate morality - it should (and does) have the power to influence incentives in order to move common goals.

For example: roads. Everyone agrees that roads are important. Good roads make driving safer. Good roads mean that people save more money because you spend less gas and wear and tear for your car. The quibbles come in on how much to spend on the roads. Do we just pay for inner city roads, or do we take care of the roads in rural areas too that don't have as much traffic? Do we want to have super great roads, or roads that are "good enough", then let individual areas pay for better roads? Or should we ignore roads in general? There are people - mainly in the libertarian belief - that hold that private business would just build roads themselves without government help, since they have a financial incentive to do so. (Which ignores pretty much all of recorded history from the Roman and Chinese empire on down that shows when governments that build better roads tend to be more powerful empires - those that leave it to "someone will do it" don't do nearly as well.)

However - I have a serious issue when people want to legislate morality. I know - I shouldn't be a Mormon democrat. But the 11th article of faith states:

"We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may."

Based on that, I find it fascinating that the Republican party - which used to espouse the view that government should have no role in people's lives, switched during the early 1970's to a party that, over the next 20 years, became dominated with worrying about abortion, gay marriage, prayer in school, and whether the 10 commandments displays should be paid for by governments. Before 1970, any given Republican would have said "hell no" - and I would have agreed *based on the tenants of my faith not to allow government to interfere with people's individual religious beliefs*.

Then, after the 1972 supreme court decision regarding the ability for government to tax religious business assets, the Republican party got in bed with conservative business religious leaders. Note the distinction between "religious assets", which are non-taxable, and "religious business assets". A church is non-taxable. A church that owns a business garage and charges people to park there Monday through Saturday (when the church is not in operation) *is* taxable (depending on the state you live in).

After that, the Republicans - party of business - decided to hop in bed with religious leaders to espouse their views of "less government taxation" - a viewpoint I can understand. But by the 80's Reagen area and then the 2000 election, those cultural issues that religious leaders care about had far outstripped the traditional conservative values that had existed in the Republican party prior to the 1970's. I read through speeches given in the 1980 Republican convention speaking out against sodomy laws in Texas - laws that the Supreme Court later ruled were unconstitutional. By 1990, no Republican spoke out against anti-gay laws.

In the end, I supported that I couldn't support the Republicans on cultural issues, because I believe that church should stay out of state. And vice-versa.

The second issue, however, is economics. I like what works. I still have a scientific mind. If someone works, do that. If something doesn't work, stop doing it. The model of the sun in the center of the solar system worked, and though Galileo was tortured, eventually the Catholic church had to admit that yes, he was right, no matter what the dogma says.

During the 1900 - 1920's, the model was "business will control itself". Then came the 1929 crash, and suddenly the entire world learned that no - business *can't* control itself.

Economics is all about incentive. It's not about money - though we measure money by incentive. Is the incentive to spend money wisely - or to spend it on short term, riskier gain?

During the 1920's stock market, there were little to no controls, especially over banks. Banks were playing in the stock market with their customer's money. This is what made the collapse so harsh - banks that had $1,000 in their customers savings might have had $50,000 invested the stock market - so when the market fell, so did their customer's savings.

In the 1930's, Roosevelt and others sat down and figured out how to structure things. Banks couldn't invest money in the stock market - they could invest in loans and such, and only a certain ratio. (For example, $1,000 in customers savings and maybe only $5,000 in loans outstanding.) This way when things fall apart, customers won't be hurt too bad - and then there's the FDIC that all banks must pay into so if they do screw up, people don't lose their money. Banks weren't allowed to get bigger than a certain size. The stock market became more transparent.

I like to compare the economy to Nascar - I know, I've used this analogy before, but here it is again. Nascar used to be a lot more dangerous than it is now - there weren't concrete barriers, just people watching in stands. The cars could go as fast as possible, and there weren't pace cars. There were news reports of "car spins out of control and people get killed" - not often, but just enough that it was part of the excitement. Drivers actually found they were blacking out on some tracks because the turns were too sharp.

So rules were instituted. Engines couldn't be bigger or accelerate faster than a certain value. Drivers had to have protective harnesses. Concrete blocks protected the stands. There are pace cars so if there's an accident, everybody can slow down long enough to fix the problem, then the race can begin. It's still exciting, there are still crashes, there are still winner and losers - but not nearly as many people get hurt or killed as before.

During the 70's, 80's, and especially in the last 8 years under Bush, those rules have been relaxed. Phil Gramm - McCain's economic adviser - lobbied for language that removed the protection between "investment banks" (which are banks that don't do checking/savings, but just invest in the stock market), and commercial banks (the banks you and I use). With those protections down, banks could now have more debt than cash on hand. Banks could get super huge - "too big to fail." Then the failure of the housing market - which is another issue entirely, but it was done with the attitude of "let's not regulate this stuff - it'll fix itself", an idea that was championed by Republicans.

It's as if the Republican party said "OK - at Nascar races, get rid of the rules. The crowds want to get involved - so take down the barriers! Drivers want to go faster - let them do whatever they want to the cars. If it's too dangerous, they'll just slow down by themselves. If there's an accident, don't worry about pace cars - people will know if they don't slow down they'll get hurt."

The exact same scenario as what used to happen in the older unsafe Nascar days - only now we have even faster cars. So now we have a situation where there's a massive accident, cars are on fire all over the road, cars have crashed into the stands and people are bleeding and dying - and the question is "What happened? How could this have happened? We don't understand!"

I do. And I hate to say it, but the blame is 80% on the Republicans - and that's why when I started getting involved the studying the issues, I decided that I had to support the Democratic policies. Because, as a guy with a scientific mind, I was able to observe what worked and what doesn't. We tried it the Republican way for almost 30 years now starting with Reagen. Republican promised if they had more control of government, they'd make government smaller, leaner, more efficient and less involved in our lives. More fiscally responsible.

Instead, under Reagen, Bush I and Bush II, it's been worse. More deficits. Spending out of control. Spending - especially in Iraq - geared towards making the rich even richer by paying them taxpayer dollars. More infiltration of the government into our daily lives (like the NSA spying on our phone calls without warrants, or expanded powers of the TSA into our airline travel - expansions that security experts like me say just don't work compared to old fashioned police work).

And that's why I support a Democratic candidate. Even though I'm LDS.

Friday, October 10, 2008

So, just what is the stock market?

Let's Have a Business!

Today I had someone I know asked the question "What's the actual value of having a stock market exchange? Seems like the stock market allows for people's skittishness to have real effect."

I'm no economics expert, but I at least recall some of my college classes and how I've explained it to other people over the years.

First, let's look at how a normal business is run - or how it was run, before the stock market existed.

So, let's meet Bob:

Bob wants to own a business - let's make one for him.

Bob Widget Company makes - widgets. What's a widget? I don't know - it's something that people want to buy. Usually.

Now, suppose that Bob invest $1000 into his company. He buys a store, he pays for a Widget Expert to train employees. He buys special Widget Making tools. He owns 100% of that company. Every profit it makes is all his. Every time he sells a widget, he takes the money and puts it right into his pocket (well, after paying his expenses.) It's Bob's money! All his! Bwahahahahahaha! If the company grows and becomes worth $10,000, Bob would sell the whole thing and make a nice profit.

But - what if something bad happens. Like, people decide that they won't want widgets any more. Now, all of Bob's investments - buying the shop, the tools to make the widgets, paying to have employees trained in the Ancient Art of Widget Making - gone.

All of that $1000 Bob put into the business is gone. He could take 100% of the profit - but he also assumed 100% of the risk. All of that money is gone.

Now, let's see about a partnership. Meet Bob's friend Frank. No, they're not brothers. They just look a lot alike.

Now, both Bob and Frank start the business together. Since it's still going to be Bob's Widget Company, let's have Bob own most of the company - say 60%. Frank will own the other 40%. They draw up a private contract, maybe get a lawyer to stipulate how things are to be split up.

Same company:

But now it's shared between the two co-owners.

Bob puts in $600, Frank puts in $400, and they run the company together. The good news is if something goes horribly wrong, Bob's only out $600 instead of $1000. Yay for him!

The downside is now, he has to share the profits with Frank - 40% of them. And he has to share some of the responsibilities with him. Maybe not - perhaps Frank isn't the pushy kind who's always asking to get his say in everything.

And even if Frank is - hey, Bob still owns 60% of the company - he has more power than Frank. Still, it can be tense if things aren't laid out between who does what.

Bob could reduce his risk more if he wanted to bring in more partners. On the one hand, the more partners Bob has, the less risk he assumes - but the more control of power he has to give up.

Of course, there is another way.

Let's have a market!

The good part about having more partners is that the risk is divided. The bad part is having to share the power, the profits, and most importantly, the ownership.

What if Bob teams up with a group of people - Frank, Nancy, Jo Bob, Latesha, and Fredo.

Everything's fine - each of them put in $200, and split the profits between them. Maybe they share some responsibilities, but overall things are going well.

Until Frank decides he has to leave town. No, don't ask why! It has nothing to do with the three state killing spree! But he wants his money. And since there was a private contract that detailed what Frank's powers and responsibilities were in exchange for his $200 ownership into the company, there's that whole headache to deal with. Who takes over Frank's responsibilities? Do the other partners buy him out? What if the value of the company has gone up, and now Frank's $200 is really worth $1000 - how does that get solved?

Another solution: stocks.

Instead of setting up partners and making individual contracts with everyone, you start with a Charter - a piece of paper that says what the company does, lays out the roles. You don't assign *people* to those roles usually - but just what the roles *do*.

Usually, you'll have a breakdown of roles like:

CEO: Chief Executive Officer - this is the person running the company, making the big decisions.

CFO: Chief Financial Officer - this person is in charge of how money will be gathered and stored and such.

CTO: Chief Technology Officer - the Geek God of the company.

And so on and so forth. There are probably rules about who can own the company - an initial group, then if they want to add new "shareholders" the group can vote on who they'll allow to sell shares to.

Remember how everyone put in $200 into Bob's Widget Company, and there were contracts that everyone signed about what they did? Well, instead of just everyone putting $200 into the pot, the company is split up into "shares".

Originally, Bob's company needed $1000 to get off the ground. If we split the company into 1,000 pieces, then you have 1,000 "shares" of the company, and everyone in the group can buy them up. Bob, being the guy who got this off the ground, buys up 350 shares. He owns about 35% of the company. Maybe Frank buys up 200 shares, and so on. Everyone owns a stake of the company, and however many shares determines how much of the company they own.

The importance here is now each member knows how much power they own based on how many shares of stock they own. Bob may own the biggest chunk of the company, but if everyone else teams up against him, they could overrule him. Unless Bob offers to buy up the shares of someone else's stock in the company, or can convince a majority of shareholders to go with him.

When Frank wants to leave, the other members just buy up his shares of the company, and they can vote a new person into Frank's job. Maybe the new person will buy some shares of the company, or maybe he'll just be another employee.

Now you can have movement in and out of the company. You don't have to do complicated contracts in and out. You know how much of the company is owned by whom at any time because they'll wave their pieces together.

And - the values of those shares can rise and fall. If the company does well, perhaps there an explosion of widget buying out there, the company grows. So those shares that were originally worth $1 each might be worth $10 each when the company is worth $10,000.

Of course, if the company shrinks - maybe there's an economic downturn, the shares of stock may be worth less. Value goes up or down as the company grows or shrinks.

So why do this? Well, by unleashing the forces of "the market", people can quickly raise investments. Bob's company can issue new shares of stock into the world, and raise money when needed. Of course, this means they're giving up some of their ownership, but that may be OK. It allows investors to decide how well Bob's company is doing, and add value to it by buying stock. People can swiftly move in and out of the business - which can be pretty good for business in general. If Bob does well, his company's value will grow. If he doesn't, well, investors can go buy someone else's stock in another company.

The big advantage to the entire economic situation is speed, and the ability to raise money for your company. Instead of complicated legal agreements with everyone who wants to be a partner in the company, now that ownership can be traded, bought, sold, and even allows new leadership to arise.

So - What rules should be followed for a good market?

The original question was - why have a stock market at all? Our little system seems to work all right. People can trade in and out. Maybe Bob sells all of his shares and goes to do something else.

But what when things go wrong? You've got 1,000 shares of stock running around, but how do you really know who owns what? What if one of the partners forges shares of stock? Or if there's some financial wrongdoing that leaves the company in ruins - not because the company was bad, but because someone did something that purposely devalued everybody else's shares, just so they could buy them up later?

Introduce - the stock market. The shares of thousands of companies, billions of shares are traded back and forth. Whoever wants to buy them can if they have the money, or can sell them when they can find someone who buys them.

At the same time, there's a system in place in the form of the SEC - the Security and Exchanges Commission. Every company that sells stock tells the SEC how many shares of stock they have out there, and who owns them. If companies want to merge, the SEC gets to decide whether there will be a problem (like if the merger will create a company that could be a monopoly).

This relies on there being transparency about who owns what shares of what companies. On the down side, this does mean that people's emotions can influence how much a company is worth, instead of just how well the company is doing. If there's a disaster, prepare for massive sales of company stock - which could hurt the company if they want to sell stock later to raise money. Or, as in the tech bubble, stock can be artificially high - until people realize that the shares they hold aren't worth the paper they're printed on.

So why have it? Because, overall, it does work. When there's proper regulation and oversight, the stock market has proven to be a powerful way to create new investments and grow the economy and jobs.

Of course, when there's not, then you can have a disaster - like we have right now. A lot of the ills of the stock market can be laid at investments that had no government oversight at all - private contracts between companies buying and selling shares of things that the government never knew existed. For more information, I really recommend you listen to NPR's show Our Confusing Economy, Explained and Another Frightening Show About the Economy - both shows feature Mr. Greenburger, a former commodities regulator, explaining default credit swaps (the private contracts the government didn't regulate that are bringing people down).

When markets are well regulated, it can work like a good sports game. Think of a Nascar race. There's rules about what kind of engines can be used. Rules about how fast the cars can go, what kind of tires can be used. There are fences around the tracks. When there's an accident, there are pace cars that force a slow down.

For the last 8 years, people in the markets said "Look - let's not worry about the rules. I mean - if it gets too fast and dangerous, people will slow down on their own! And let's take down the fences separating the fans. They don't need that - they want to be right in the action! No more pace cars - if there's an accident, the people will clear themselves out - we want the race to be exciting!

Only - now we know what happens when you don't have any controls over the market or a race. The cars all go as fast as they can because it's all about Winning at all costs. Now there's a massive pile up, several drivers are dead, some have crashed into the crowds and set people on fire -

And the people running the races are going "Duh - gee, I guess the drivers won't regulate themselves."

I'm sure there are even better explanations out there, and if you have them, pass them along. For now, this is my little explanation on how the stock markets work. Hope you enjoyed it.

America's Most Wanted

Something I made up for a friend.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

So - that debate thing

Last night, I was liveblogging (live Tweeting?) the debate last night on my Twitter account. After thinking about it and having some time, I wanted to write up what I think happened.

Long story short, Obama won. I know - I'm partisan. I'm suppose to say that. But let me say *why* he won.

With friends like these

During the debate, the question of "Who would you make your Secretary of the Treasury" came up. Senator McCain - your answer please?

McCain: You know, that's a tough question and there's a lot of qualified Americans. But I think the first criteria, Tom, would have to be somebody who immediately Americans identify with, immediately say, we can trust that individual.

A supporter of Sen. Obama's is Warren Buffett [chairman of Berkshire Hathaway]. He has already weighed in and helped stabilize some of the difficulties in the markets and with companies and corporations, institutions today.

Ok - wait. Are you seriously telling people "I like Buffet. Oh, by the way - did you know he's endorsing my opponent?" Why on earth would you say "I think the richest man in the world would make a great secretary of the Treasury - though I should mention that he thinks the other guy will be a better President than me."

Oh, but McCain wasn't done yet hurting himself. He then followed it up with this gem:

I like Meg Whitman [former CEO of eBay and current McCain campaign adviser], she knows what it's like to be out there in the marketplace. She knows how to create jobs. Meg Whitman was CEO of a company that started with 12 people and is now 1.3 million people in America make their living off eBay. Maybe somebody here has done a little business with them.

Well, yeah - and she also knows how to create a company that just announced they were laying off 10% of their workers.

Oh. great.

So, first you pick the guy who thinks the other guy will be a better president, and then you pick the lady who's company is about to fire a lot of people. Good choices there.

Nobody likes the rude guy

During the 2000 debates, Gore was ahead of Bush by some 11 points. And then came the debates - and Gore was, well, less than steller.

OK - he stunk.

Not in his policies or facts. There, as always, he was precise. No, the problem with Gore was disrespectful. While Bush spoke, Gore signed. He rolled his eyes. Shook his head. In the Town Hall debate, he got up in Bush's face and asked him about supporting some bill.

Gore's disrespect likely cost him the election. Last night, it didn't help McCain.

When asked about his treasury secretary pick by Tom Brokaw, McCain's first response was "Not you, Tom."

OK. I get it. Ha-ha. Some humor. Only - nobody in the audience was laughing. This was followed by this little exchange:

McCain: I think pure research and development investment on the part of the United States government is certainly appropriate. I think once it gets into productive stages, that we ought to, obviously, turn it over to the private sector.

By the way, my friends, I know you grow a little weary with this back-and-forth. It was an energy bill on the floor of the Senate loaded down with goodies, billions for the oil companies, and it was sponsored by Bush and Cheney.

You know who voted for it? You might never know. That one. You know who voted against it? Me. I have fought time after time against these pork barrel -- these bills that come to the floor and they have all kinds of goodies and all kinds of things in them for everybody and they buy off the votes. (Emphasis added.)

That one? I don't think that McCain was being racist at that moment - just disrespectful and dome. Call him Senator Obama. Or just Senator. Or My Opponent. Barack, if you must. But "That one"? It's like when I did something wrong, my mother came home and asked Grandpa "Who did this?", and my grandfather pointed at me and growled out "That one."

It could have been a good example - but then McCain had to ruin it by being disrespectful.

For It Until Against It Until For It

Thursday night, Governor Palin said that the McCain campaign supported allowing the bankruptcy courts to readjust the interest rate or principal of a claimant's house.

Friday morning, the McCain campaign said "No - that' not right, McCain doesn't support that.

But that's OK, because Tuesday night, McCain said:

[McCain:] You know that home values of retirees continues to decline and people are no longer able to afford their mortgage payments. As president of the United States, Alan, I would order the secretary of the treasury to immediately buy up the bad home loan mortgages in America and renegotiate at the new value of those homes -- at the diminished value of those homes and let people be able to make those -- be able to make those payments and stay in their homes.

Is it expensive? Yes. But we all know, my friends, until we stabilize home values in America, we're never going to start turning around and creating jobs and fixing our economy. And we've got to give some trust and confidence back to America.

So wait - the bankruptcy courts should be able to change the value of home mortgages. But no, they shouldn't. But the Treasury secretary can.


Walking Right into the Fist

Probably the worst time for McCain during the debate was when Obama cocked his fist, and McCain decided to run headlong right into it.

Obama: You're doing a great job, Tom.

Look, I -- I want to be very clear about what I said. Nobody called for the invasion of Pakistan. Sen. McCain continues to repeat this.

What I said was the same thing that the audience here today heard me say, which is, if Pakistan is unable or unwilling to hunt down bin Laden and take him out, then we should.

Now, that I think has to be our policy, because they are threatening to kill more Americans.

Now, Sen. McCain suggests that somehow, you know, I'm green behind the ears and, you know, I'm just spouting off, and he's somber and responsible.

McCain: Thank you very much.

Obama: Sen. McCain, this is the guy who sang, "Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran," who called for the annihilation of North Korea. That I don't think is an example of "speaking softly."

This is the person who, after we had -- we hadn't even finished Afghanistan, where he said, "Next up, Baghdad."

So I agree that we have to speak responsibly and we have to act responsibly. And the reason Pakistan -- the popular opinion of America had diminished in Pakistan was because we were supporting a dictator, Musharraf, had given him $10 billion over seven years, and he had suspended civil liberties. We were not promoting democracy.

This is the kind of policies that ultimately end up undermining our ability to fight the war on terrorism, and it will change when I'm president.

(Sigh.) He actually thanked Obama. He had to know that the punch was coming - and he thought he'd be smart with that "thank you" comment.

So now what? Well, based on the latest polls and projections, Obama is going to the next President. Of course, a lot can happen in the next 3 weeks.

But if this is how McCain's going to debate next week, Obama can all but start considering his treasury secretary now.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Today I met a real live racist

I had two goals today - to buy an iMac for my children (been saving up forever), and watch tonight's debate between Obama and McCain.

I did all of the usual things - go to the store, point to the machine I wanted, told what warrantees I wanted (and which I didn't). The problem started when I ran my bank card through the machine, and was declined (even though I had more than enough money in my checking account).

Then came - the racism.

Me: I'm hoping to get out of here in time so I can go watch the debates. Especially with all of the nastiness Palin has been spreading around.

Salesguy: Oh, I like her. Besides, Obama kind of scares me.

Me: Really.

Usually when I hear "Obama scares me", I get an earful about "most liberal senator" or some other stuff.

Me: How so?

Salesguy: I've noticed he's been revealing more of his true Muslim nature.

I nearly froze. I had my phone to my ear while my bank tried to figure out why my purchase didn't go through.

Me: Oh, yeah. I mean - heaven forbid. We certainly wouldn't want a Muslim to have any government office. No - wait, that would be a horribly racist thing to say.

Salesguy: Oh, I don't think so - they're dangerous!

At that moment, the bank took me off of hold. Turns out I had to purchase the computer as an "debit" not "credit". Oh. Silly me.

I made my purchase, and the sales guy walked me out with my purchase to the car. And the whole time, I kept thinking - he looks so normal. I would never think the guy was a racist.

I 've never really met racism. I mean, I've heard a racist joke - the old Polish jokes when I was a kid, but I've never met someone who really thought bad things about a person because of their religion or ethnic background.

Actually, that's not entirely true. I remember as a teen being told by others that I didn't believe in Jesus because I was Mormon - even though the name "The Church of Jesus Christ" it put in big metal letters on the side of our buildings. But people never thought that I was a danger should I ever run for office, or that my "family history" should preclude me from ever doing anything in public.

I now regret not saying something more, making how offended I was clear. Or perhaps being more forceful. Or even canceling my purchase. I didn't - I just walked away.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Did the longer primary help Obama after all?

I remember during the Democratic primary, there was hand wringing that the long primary battle against Senator Clinton would cause eventual harm to the Obama campaign. Would Democrats be able to join together and put bitter feelings aside? Would the attacks Senator Clinton leveled against Senator Obama come back to hurt him?

It turns out the answers are Yes and Yes. So far, Democrats have "come home", nearly all of the Clinton supporters backing the Illinois senator. But now we're starting to see the return of some of her attacks - particular the questions about Obama's patriotism regarding his former Reverend Wright and local neighbor William Ayers.

The McCain campaign launched a new attack the boils down to "Who is the real Barack Obama? The charges are to try to paint Obama as an outsider. Do you know he "pals around with terrorists"?

There's just one problem: it won't work.

See, people by now remember the long, protracted primary, and the accusations using Wright and Ayers and Rezko. And in the end, it all came down to nothing. The media investigated, reported, and - not much there if you go by the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times.

The main crux of the attack is that "Obama isn't really patriotic". But for almost 2 years now, the American public has seen him speaking, talking, appearing at debates. To suddenly accept that Obama is "paling with terrorists" is going to be hard for anyone but the most dedicated of the 25-percenters (those who support Bush and the Republicans no matter what).

And all along the way, the Obama campaign team has been prepared to push back, and push back hard, against any attacks on Obama's patriotism and origins. Perhaps if Obama was more like Kerry, and trusted that people would just "know the truth." Perhaps if Obama had been more erratic during the campaign and kept changing his message of "change you can believe in".

Perhaps if the primaries had been short, and now was the first time you've heard about this Obama guy with the funny name. For McCain to try this attack now, with 30 days to go - it's too little, too late. People's opinions of each man's characters has been set, and all that's left now is to either battle on the issues, or try to take the other guy down with you.

Seeing as McCain's negatives are higher than Obama's, in a mud fight, it's McCain who will wind up the pig needing the most lipstick.

Obama's Google versus McCain's Yahoo

The Complaint

Earlier today, the Republican party filed a complaint to the Federal Election Committee (FEC) (warning, PDF link) about the Obama for America campaign.

The complaint goes like this:

1. A Newsmax article (which is like saying "A Fox news story, which means it's totally biased but you should believe it anyway) says that the Obama has gotten donations from some 11,500 foreign nationals.

2. If this is true, there a chance that the nearly 2 million people who have contributed to the Obama campaign might be illegally donating, since nobody's going to check a donation of $199 and below.

3. Therefore, we think that a lot of those those donations for the Obama campaign must be illegally done, since nobody could have almost 2 million people donating to their campaign.

Now, ignoring that the claims seem pretty flimsy so far, there is the basic complaint in the Republican party's complaint that really boils down to this:

Wah! Obama's getting more money than us, and that's impossible - we're richer1 Wah!

Yahoo versus Google

A year or two ago, I remember hearing an interview with the Yahoo CTO, and he was asked the question "How did Google beat you?"

I'm paraphrasing here, but the answer was "We tried to collect $1,000,000 from 10 peole like Ford, Bank of America, and so on. Google figured out it could collect $10 from 1,000,000 - and the were right."

In a lot of ways, this is the heart as to why the Obama campaign has been able to outperform its competitors. Senator Clinton started the primaries with more money - nearly $100 million dollars. Obama had to rely on smaller donations. But his campaign soon learned that 1 million people can give $25 - and do it again month after month.

Obama pulled a Google to Clinton's Yahoo. She had bigger donors - he had more of them.

In many ways, the McCain campaign has seen the same issue. They had richer people, but Obama was able to gather more. It's a model that's changing politics in a big way - and it's not just about the money.

When someone contributes that $25, they're now personally invested. They have a stake in that person winning, so they're more likely to follow the news. More likely to watch the debates and talk about it with friends. More likely to volunteer, even once. When you have 2,000,000 people donate to your campaign, that's one sizable army you can rally to your cause at a moment's notice - all that have a reason for you to win.

Central Control versus Public Control

The other difference between Yahoo and Google wasn't just in how they raised money - Google through smaller, focused ads while Yahoo sought the big commercial investments.

It was also about local control versus user control. In the original Yahoo, the Internet was divided into categories - like "Entertainment", "Business", "Technical", and so on. Then each each category was devided further, so something in Entertainment might be in "Movies", or "Television", or "Games", or "Cinema", and so on.

The problem was that this system required you have "experts" decide what went where. When the Internet was small, this was easy enough. But as the number of web pages grew, this became a nearly impossible task.

On top of that, what if the experts didn't put things where you expected to find them? What made something into "movie" versus "cinema"? What if you were looking for information about the movie "Momento", so you looked under "movies", and never saw the wealth of links about it in "cinema"?

Google took a different approach. It didn't rely on "experts" to assign things - it let people assign their own categories based on what they did. If you put a link to your web page with the word "movies" for Momento, people would find it just as if someone else put in "cinema".

Now, look again at the McCain campaign versus the Obama campaign. Obama is known for his big rallies (leading to the McCain campaign calling him the "biggest celebrity in the world").

But that wasn't the strength of the Obama campaign. It was the legions of local volunteers, organized through the web page. Looking for a local Obama event to make fliers or go door to door looking for voters? Go to the web page, put in your zip code, and there you go. It relied less on paid campaign managers, and more on the people who might only be able to volunteer once a month, or once a week - but add up the numbers, and soon you have a group that vastly outnumbers the paid McCain staff.

The McCain campaign has been more heavy run - rely on TV ads and media communications, while the Obama campaign has been able to use those local volunteers to get out the word quickly, move to action, then be ready for the next need - or, more likely then not, move on their own.

Perhaps that's why the RNC can't understand how Obama got so much money, so they believe it *has* to be through deceit. The alternative is to discover that they don't speak for the American people as they've claimed for the last 30 years - and now the people are funding - and speaking - for themselves.

McCain voted against punishing domestic terrorists

Remember, kids - it's not terrorism if you bomb abortion clinics, or if you're white. Terrorism is only for those dark skinned folks - or so McCain's voting record indicates.

McCain: What Keating 5 scandal?

McCain's latest claim is he never did anything wrong in the Keating 5 scandal.

This after the Arizona Senator admitted that the Keating 5 scandal was his "the most difficult experience in my political life". Now, evidently, it didn't really happen that way.

Sometimes, it moves you

Saturday I was going door to door with a list of names to make sure they were registered to vote. The way it was suppose to work is I ask them who they want to vote for. If they say "Obama", I ask them to volunteer. If they say anyone else, I say "Ok - cool - but Obama's cool."

Then I make sure they're registered to vote, that they know about early voting, and they know when election day is. For the most part, everybody was registered. Lots of Obama supporters, a few "I don't know", but more than anything else, houses with people not home.

Probably the funniest house was the guy who came to the door saying "Heeeeeyyyy, man!"

"Hi, I'm John Hummel." I shook his hand - I made a point of shaking everyone's hands, so they knew I wasn't creepy. "I'm an Obama campaign volunteer making sure people in the area are registered."

"Woah. Dude - I am so drunk right now, I'll fill out anything you want me to." He was a very happy, friendly drunk guy as it turned out. I just left the voter registration form with him, and move on.

It was the last house that everything changed. Turns out I had the wrong house - I was looking for one that ended in a 1, and I stopped at the house that ended at 7 by mistake. Turns out that was the best thing.

I knocked on the door, gave my spiel, and was ready to go home when I heard "Oh my God - you're here to register us to vote!"

I had a Palin-caught-in-a-Katie-Couric look in my eyes. "Um - yes."

"Oh, come on in."

It turns out the house had nearly four generations - a little baby, the mother, the grandmother matriarch of the home, and three older people who had been born in the 1920's.

Three people who had waited 75 years of their life to vote in this election for the first time. The family was mainly African American, save for the youngest generation which was mixed. And those older people, who could barely walk, one was nearly blind, were so excited that I had come to register them to vote so they could vote for Senator Obama.

So I did. I filled out the information, and in slow, laborious hands, they signed their name so they could vote for the first time in their lives. And while I was there, the matriarch of the home was on the phone, calling her relatives, making sure they knew they had to get registered before Monday. And what else could they do - they wanted to volunteer because things were getting bad out there, and they wanted to help.

Just when I think that these little efforts don't matter, something like this happens. For you volunteers out there who try to find housing for the homeless, or services to the sick, serving in the PTA, or even just helping people vote - your work matters.

In the End, This is All They Have Left

And So, At the End, This is All They Have Left

We have now entered the last 30 days of the election, and let's see what we're seeing rolled out by the McCain campaign and the Republican party members.

Minority lending caused all of our problems. If the poor, innocent banks hadn't been *forced* to make loans to minorities, we wouldn't be in the situation we're now in.

Of course, this ignores the massive deregulation given to the financial market who were given loans far and above any federal requirement to use the FHA loan program to help the poor and minorities find a house. It ignores that the definition of a "sub-prime loan" is practically "one that Fannie/Freddie Mac wouldn't buy" (until the situation started to turn into a crisis, so they did – and then they fell).

Real estate agents putting up signs saying Osama-Obama not welcome here.

Remember, if you're name is one letter off of someone else's, you must be related somehow. I can understand the problem – whenever I see the word "Bush", I think "Bust", and then I wonder what size bra he must wear.

White supremacist group spreading anti-obama fliers.

The argument is "countries with black leaders have more problems, therefore so will America". Which is like saying "Asian people are more likely to eat rice, so if you start eating rice, you'll become Asian".

Now, you could discount a lot of these as just the racist rantings of individuals. And let's face it - there's a lot of stupid people out there spouting off their mouths (incredibly, some of them get paid by Fox News).

Then we get to the McCain campaign. It started pretty simple - what I'd called "image racism". There's an advertisement from the McCain campaign trying to tie Senator Obama to a man named Frank Raines.

Of all of these, the last one rather insidious. What's the connection to Obama and Raines? Well, Raines worked at Fannie Mae. The Obama campaign had a telephone conversation with him. And what else -

Oh. That's right – they're both black. And they're going to victimize that poor white woman looking sad in the advertisement. Maybe they're going to jump her in the park or something. But other than the color of their skin, there's not a whole heck of a lot that ties the two men together.

But hey - it wasn't directly said by McCain campaign people. Just in the ad. Until Governor Palin said Senator Obama "pals around with terrorists".

Even though, so far every investigation has pretty much concluded "Well, they live in the same neighborhood, once worked at the same charity, and Ayers once raised some money – but that's about it. They never "paled around", Obama has always condemned Ayers actions."

I think Mike Murphy said something this morning that I think is relevant: if Ayers was a runaway CEO on Wall Street, then people might give a care today.

But the point is: this is all the McCain campaign has left. Polls overwhelmingly show Obama is ranked higher on the economy. On domestic issues. McCain and Obama now tie on who would handle Iraq better.

So what's left for McCain to run on? Character. McCain and Palin want to paint Obama as an "unknown" (even though he's been in the public eye for nearly every day for the last 2 years). He's untrustworthy - though it's been McCain and Palin are more known for their negative, lying ads.

But what else can they do? When you can't run on your record as a deregulator, on your record on being wrong about starting the war in Iraq versus finding the terrorists in Afghanistan - all you've got left is racism and smear.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

How many times did Palin deflect the question?

One thing I noticed in last night's Palin/Biden was how often Palin deflected the question, or even answered a question that wasn't answered. Let's count:

1: Health care? No - let's talk about tax increases.

IFILL: Governor, please if you want to respond to what he said about Sen. McCain's comments about health care?

PALIN: I would like to respond about the tax increases. We can speak in agreement here that darn right we need tax relief for Americans so that jobs can be created here. Now, Barack Obama and Sen. Biden also voted for the largest tax increases in U.S. history. Barack had 94 opportunities to side on the people's side and reduce taxes and 94 times he voted to increase taxes or not support a tax reduction, 94 times.

Now, that's not what we need to create jobs and really bolster and heat up our economy. We do need the private sector to be able to keep more of what we earn and produce. Government is going to have to learn to be more efficient and live with less if that's what it takes to reign in the government growth that we've seen today. But we do need tax relief and Barack Obama even supported increasing taxes as late as last year for those families making only $42,000 a year. That's a lot of middle income average American families to increase taxes on them. I think that is the way to kill jobs and to continue to harm our economy.

1.5: I'm might not answer the questions the moderator wants to hear:

IFILL: Would you like to have an opportunity to answer that before we move on?

PALIN: I'm still on the tax thing because I want to correct you on that again. And I want to let you know what I did as a mayor and as a governor. And I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I'm going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record also. As mayor, every year I was in office I did reduce taxes. I eliminated personal property taxes and eliminated small business inventory taxes and as governor we suspended our state fuel tax. We did all of those things knowing that that is how our economy would be heated up. Now, as for John McCain's adherence to rules and regulations and pushing for even harder and tougher regulations, that is another thing that he is known for though. Look at the tobacco industry. Look at campaign finance reform.

2. Let's talk the bailout plan - or energy, I guess:

IFILL: What promises -- given the events of the week, the bailout plan, all of this, what promises have you and your campaigns made to the American people that you're not going to be able to keep?


PALIN: Well, the nice thing about running with John McCain is I can assure you he doesn't tell one thing to one group and then turns around and tells something else to another group, including his plans that will make this bailout plan, this rescue plan, even better.

I want to go back to the energy plan, though, because this is -- this is an important one that Barack Obama, he voted for in '05.

Sen. Biden, you would remember that, in that energy plan that Obama voted for, that's what gave those oil companies those big tax breaks. Your running mate voted for that.

You know what I had to do in the state of Alaska? I had to take on those oil companies and tell them, "No," you know, any of the greed there that has been kind of instrumental, I guess, in their mode of operation, that wasn't going to happen in my state.

And that's why Tillerson at Exxon and Mulva at ConocoPhillips, bless their hearts, they're doing what they need to do, as corporate CEOs, but they're not my biggest fans, because what I had to do up there in Alaska was to break up a monopoly up there and say, you know, the people are going to come first and we're going to make sure that we have value given to the people of Alaska with those resources.

And those huge tax breaks aren't coming to the big multinational corporations anymore, not when it adversely affects the people who live in a state and, in this case, in a country who should be benefiting at the same time.

So it was Barack Obama who voted for that energy plan that gave those tax breaks to the oil companies that I then had to turn around, as a governor of an energy-producing state, and kind of undo in my own area of expertise, and that's energy.

3. When did Biden talk about energy regarding bankruptcy?

IFILL: Next question, Gov. Palin, still on the economy. Last year, Congress passed a bill that would make it more difficult for debt-strapped mortgage-holders to declare bankruptcy, to get out from under that debt. This is something that John McCain supported. Would you have?

BIDEN: Well, mortgage-holders didn't pay the price. Only 10 percent of the people who are -- have been affected by this whole switch from Chapter 7 to Chapter 13 -- it gets complicated.

But the point of this -- Barack Obama saw the glass as half- empty. I saw it as half-full. We disagreed on that, and 85 senators voted one way, and 15 voted the other way.

But here's the deal. Barack Obama pointed out two years ago that there was a subprime mortgage crisis and wrote to the secretary of Treasury. And he said, "You'd better get on the stick here. You'd better look at it."

John McCain said as early as last December, quote -- I'm paraphrasing -- "I'm surprised about this subprime mortgage crisis," number one.

Number two, with regard to bankruptcy now, Gwen, what we should be doing now -- and Barack Obama and I support it -- we should be allowing bankruptcy courts to be able to re-adjust not just the interest rate you're paying on your mortgage to be able to stay in your home, but be able to adjust the principal that you owe, the principal that you owe.

That would keep people in their homes, actually help banks by keeping it from going under. But John McCain, as I understand it -- I'm not sure of this, but I believe John McCain and the governor don't support that.

There are ways to help people now. And there -- ways that we're offering are not being supported by -- by the Bush administration nor do I believe by John McCain and Gov. Palin.

IFILL: Gov. Palin, is that so?

PALIN: That is not so, but because that's just a quick answer, I want to talk about, again, my record on energy versus your ticket's energy ticket, also.

I think that this is important to come back to, with that energy policy plan again that was voted for in '05.

When we talk about energy, we have to consider the need to do all that we can to allow this nation to become energy independent.

It's a nonsensical position that we are in when we have domestic supplies of energy all over this great land. And East Coast politicians who don't allow energy-producing states like Alaska to produce these, to tap into them, and instead we're relying on foreign countries to produce for us.

PALIN: We're circulating about $700 billion a year into foreign countries, some who do not like America -- they certainly don't have our best interests at heart -- instead of those dollars circulating here, creating tens of thousands of jobs and allowing domestic supplies of energy to be tapped into and start flowing into these very, very hungry markets.

Energy independence is the key to this nation's future, to our economic future, and to our national security. So when we talk about energy plans, it's not just about who got a tax break and who didn't. And we're not giving oil companies tax breaks, but it's about a heck of a lot more than that.

Energy independence is the key to America's future.

4. What's you're greatest weakness? Or - we can talk energy policy.

IFILL: Let's talk conventional wisdom for a moment. The conventional wisdom, Gov. Palin with you, is that your Achilles heel is that you lack experience. Your conventional wisdom against you is that your Achilles heel is that you lack discipline, Sen. Biden. What id it really for you, Gov. Palin? What is it really for you, Sen. Biden? Start with you, governor.

PALIN: My experience as an executive will be put to good use as a mayor and business owner and oil and gas regulator and then as governor of a huge state, a huge energy producing state that is accounting for much progress towards getting our nation energy independence and that's extremely important.

But it wasn't just that experience tapped into, it was my connection to the heartland of America. Being a mom, one very concerned about a son in the war, about a special needs child, about kids heading off to college, how are we going to pay those tuition bills? About times and Todd and our marriage in our past where we didn't have health insurance and we know what other Americans are going through as they sit around the kitchen table and try to figure out how are they going to pay out-of-pocket for health care? We've been there also so that connection was important.

But even more important is that world view that I share with John McCain. That world view that says that America is a nation of exceptionalism. And we are to be that shining city on a hill, as President Reagan so beautifully said, that we are a beacon of hope and that we are unapologetic here. We are not perfect as a nation. But together, we represent a perfect ideal. And that is democracy and tolerance and freedom and equal rights. Those things that we stand for that can be put to good use as a force for good in this world.

John McCain and I share that. You combine all that with being a team with the only track record of making a really, a difference in where we've been and reforming, that's a good team, it's a good ticket.

I could discuss her horrific response to the "what do you think the Vice President does", but this is how often she pretty much ignored the question and went out into left field so far that I had no idea how she got there.