Silent Archimedes

Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

Citi Field no more? Politics or bad use of taxpayer money?

Posted by silentarchimedes on February 4, 2009

Citi Field Rendering

Rendering of Citi Field

Due to the economic crisis affecting financial companies, the big corporations that have taken money from the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) have come under scrutiny for their use of capital and list of expenditures. The latest salvo was by several politicians, U.S. Reps. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and Ted Poe (R-Texas), who are questioning Citigroup’s $400 million stadium naming rights and marketing deal with the New York Mets. The deal includes calling the stadium Citi Field for twenty years. Citigroup, like many other financially strapped companies, has taken out about $45 billion from TARP.

At first glance, the concerns of Kucinich and Poe make sense. A company that is taking valuable taxpayers’ money because of its financial situation should not be spending $400M simply to put their name on a baseball stadium. However, is this politics as usual? There are several issues here that show that public perception is not always reality.

New York Mets

New York Mets

The obvious issue here is that the marketing deal is a legal binding agreement between two corporations. How can politicians force a company to renege on a legal business deal? Does giving $45B equate to complete scrutiny of the said company? Doesn’t the company still have some independence in fulfilling previous agreements and decisions? What about the Mets? They have made other business decisions since then based on having that revenue stream. Is it fair that politics might force a legal deal to be reneged?

The second issue here is marketing. As financially strapped as companies are, they still need to spend a portion of their budget on marketing. This is the case even if they are receiving money from the federal government. What do the politicians expect them to do? Use 100% of their budget on selling loans and improving the credit crisis? That’s unreasonable because marketing helps increase the financial business. Maybe Citigroup continues to decide that Citi Field will in fact have a positive effect on its financial business.

Citigroup

Citigroup

A third issue is the actual effect of the $400M. The number seems large but it is over the course of twenty years. That amounts to $20M a year. Now we know (at least with very high probability) that the economy won’t be in the doldrums for the next twenty years. That means the deal, as affected by the economic crisis, is in the range of $20-$60 million. This is chump change for a large corporation like Citigroup. More specifically, it is 0.04% to 0.13% of the $45B in assistance! When you look at the fact that Citigroup has revenues of over $19 billion and has a cash/debt ratio of $763B/691B then you start wondering is this worth the time to criticize over?

This reminds me of the grilling that the auto industry received last fall when they tried to get some assistance from Congress. The amount was tiny compared to the bailout received by the financial industry. Yet, politicians were focusing on politics as usual. They focused on these tiny expenditures that have bad public perception (such as private airplanes by executives) instead of worrying about reality and where the real money is going. The auto industry did not cause this mess. The auto industry also employs millions of hard working Americans. The financial industry and politicians caused this mess, and instead of them getting grilled, the politicians gave the financial industry a massive bailout without any public hearings. Talk about fairness. Now we have more politicans worrying about a stadium marketing deal that although has a bad public perception, when analyzed in further detail really has no financial bearing on the situation. It’s absurd and once again, politics at its best.

Posted in Economics, Opinion, Politics, Sports | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

A Letter to America

Posted by silentarchimedes on November 3, 2008

Dear Fellow Americans,

The land of the free and the home of the brave...

The land of the free and the home of the brave...

Tomorrow is one of the most important days in recent American history. It is a day that will affect the short term prospects of America and the standing of America in the world for the next century. The events and actions of the past eight years have accelerated the damaging path the country has embarked on for the past thirty years. The irresponsible actions have left America crippled economically, politically, morally and psychologically. Both parties have been hijacked by the special interests of corporations, ideological groups and personal interests. The values in which America was founded on have been distorted. The decision made by America tomorrow will go a long way in determining if we continue this egregious path of self-destruction.

The debt at the national, local and consumer levels are not only due to the actions of the past eight years. The decision by the Supreme Court in 1978 (Marquette National Bank of Minneapolis vs. First of Omaha Service Corp.) to deregulate interest rate caps at the state level was the precursor to the inundation of credit cards and the mortgaging of personal futures for the present. Although Reaganomics has been credited with bringing the country out of the vitriolic stagflation of the late 1970s, it has had a long term effect that has eaten away at the fiscal responsibility of the federal government. At the core of Reaganomics was reducing tax rates by reducing government spending which in turn was achieved by reducing costs associated with regulation and social programs. However,  unexpected costs from the burgeoning Cold War resulted in large trade and federal budget deficits. In order to cover such deficits, the government began borrowing heavily both domestically and abroad. This decision to mortgage the future of the country for the present instilled a belief that debt is good, even to other countries, such as China, Japan and India. America became a borrower nation instead of a loaner nation, which it had been for decades during its prominence.

The deregulation of these two critical issues are the main causes of the current economic problems. It instilled bad habits at all levels of society. Although quality of life continued to increase the past thirty years, it was mostly at the cost of the future. Both politicians and individuals began feeling entitled to such luxuries and expected it to last forever. However, as analyzed by Pulitzer Prize winner Jared Diamond (Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed), it is this infectious mindset that causes great societies to fail. This country is at that critical juncture. Do we reinstate the values, sacrifices and hard work that made this country great or do we continue down this destructive path?

In addition to the present economic and ideological problems that endanger the quality of life of America, there are many massive elephants in the near future that can derail any sense of comfort in the nation. A fundamental restructuring of social programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is required in the next one or two presidencies before the effects of the baby boomer population cripple the flow of aid from the system. The high quality of life has left Americans lazy, fat and indifferent, and the medical costs associated with treating related diseases and health issues threaten to destroy the already broken health-care system. The super-highway system that supported the rise of American power is also the bane of the country’s dependence on foreign oil and its lavish automobile lifestyle. Furthermore, the infrastructure of America is crumbling and poses a danger to the lifeblood of a large country like America. A massive government infrastructure initiative is required within the next twenty years. The only question will be where does all the money come from? As globalization continues to redistribute the wealth and power of the world, the education system and America’s ability to compete are also being tested. American children  continue to fall behind other countries at all levels of education, from middle school to college to graduate school. This country has been able to sustain its technological competitiveness partly through the immigration of top-level students from countries such as China and India. However, the current backlash on immigration coupled with the increasing prestige of other countries’ higher education systems, begs the question of how America will sustain its technological edge? Corporations and special interest groups as super-humans continue to eat away at the fabric of America. Their selfish narrow-minded view of profit and ideology permeate all levels of society, from individuals to the government. Ideology has especially polarized the country into two hardened stances, secularity versus ideology. The effects of this has left the country fearful and suspicious of each other. Finally, the effects of the internet and other entertainment-related technologies cannot be understated. Although they have created luxuries beyond anyone’s belief and increased the free flow of information, they have also created a schizophrenic society of 24 hour media frenzy and questionable freedoms of morality. The neutrality of journalism and the mental well-being  of society are at stake. Coupled with the constraints of global warming and moral responsibility, the above problems must be faced responsibly.

These problems will definitely be difficult to face and resolve. Most of these have been simmering for years, but have been effectively ignored. However, what has always made America great has been its ability to come together as a country and sacrifice for the greater good of the country and the world. The sacrifices by this country during the Civil War and World War II for the greater good cannot be forgotten. Although society was simpler and less polarized then, the country must come together once again to face the unprecedented wave of issues that threaten to send America down the road of self-destruction.

Tomorrow begins that choice. Tomorrow the country decides which path to take, one of sacrifice for the greater good or one of continued wantonness. Tomorrow begins the day where America can begin reinstating the values that made this country so great. A country of uniqueness not found anywhere else in the world. A melting pot that protects individual rights and helps others at times of need. A constitution so strong that the thought of a revolution is unfathomable. The land of opportunity and openness. A land of thousands of parks and natural resources. The separation of church and state and the freedom of religion. The land of the best medical care and higher education system. A land of tolerance and hope. And the land of the free and the home of the brave…

Whomever you vote for tomorrow, please think openly and clearly. Without any bias of age, race, religion, and fear, think who will be better for America. Who will lead America towards a path of redemption and strength. A path that requires sacrifice but cherishes American freedoms. A candidate that realizes that what America needs now is a problem solver with pragmatism and humility, and not one fixated on idealism, intolerance and fear mongering. Look closely at your choice, and know that when you go home afterwards, there will be a better America tomorrow. A better America for yourself and your family, and also for its great citizens of today and tomorrow.

America’s tomorrow begins now…

Thank you.

Silent Archimedes

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Playing devil’s advocate on Obama’s campaign

Posted by silentarchimedes on October 20, 2008

I’ve been so negative on the McCain and Palin campaign (I think justifiably), that I haven’t had too much  time to dissect the negative aspects or questions regarding Obama’s campaign. Below I take a quick look at some of the issues that are warning signs or concerns or questions.

Obama once said yes to public financing

Obama once said yes to public financing

1. Any chance of publicly financed campaigns in the future are over - Since Obama changed his mind and refused to abide by the rules of public financing, he has  far out-raised McCain because of private donations, each limited to $2500. As a result, due to his popularity and his campaign’s acumen for grassroots fundraising, Obama just announced his campaign raised over $150 million in September alone! That is such an unbelievable figure. John McCain, who does abide by the public financing laws, can only spend $84 million in September and October combined. It makes sense why Obama didn’t want to abide by it because he knew he can easily raise more than that amount by himself. Why limit his campaign to that figure? This discrepancy in financing has proven to be a very important advantage for Obama because he can spend tons of money in states he has only a small chance of winning, where as McCain has to use his money wisely. Obama has also taken out a 30 minute time slot right before the World Series game six! Future candidates will see how effective his internet fundraising strategy was and will believe they can duplicate that. No one will want to abide by the limits of public financing.

Source: Yahoo News – Analysis: Obama money dooms current public finance

Money for Obama's Programs

Money for Obama's Programs

2. So where is all the money going to come from to fund Obama’s programs? – Although Obama has clearly been more detailed and specific than McCain has been on what he will do if he is elected president, it is still unclear as to how it will be done and where all the money will come from. He often mentions how McCain wants to use a hatchet but he wants to use a scalpel to cut costs. That means he will do a serious assessment of programs once in office, but as of a right now, we do not know which programs will be affected. The proposals he mentions are a common problem for presidential candidates in previous elections. They say they will spend this amount of money on this problem, but never give details on where that amount will come from. At least this is better than McCain, who has been vague at even what he is going to do. That being said, Obama’s ideas are still more practical and would better serve the middle class than McCain’s.

Barack the Celebrity

Barack the Celebrity

3. How far will his celebrity status take him or hurt him? - It is amazing the excitement that has surrounded Obama since he gave that famous coming out speech at the 2004 DNC convention. Since then he has beaten Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary and now has a comfortable lead in the general election against McCain. His speech in Missouri last week drew over 100,000 supporters according to a police estimate. Is there some anxiety as to whether this is part bubble? He has led an almost perfect campaign, from his fundraising abilities, to his calm demeanor, to his ability to inspire. Is he truly a “transformational figure”, as well-respected Republican General Colin Powell said this weekend during his endorsement of Obama or is America in need of any inspirational candidate that he has been elevated to a higher celebrity status than deserved? Only time will tell.

A Divided America

A Divided America

4. As much as Obama has inspired the country, can he really unite a very divided America? - The race is still relatively tight (in some polls, only a 48-43 lead) even with all the gaffes and negativity surrounding the McCain/Palin camp.  Why is this? Why is almost half the country still undecided or supporting a grumpy old man over a young inspirational man? As some have alluded to, race still plays an issue in present day America, even if it’s now more of a below the surface rumbling. Can Obama unite this country as President even if a good minority just won’t let him? This one seems more out of his hands and more about how much America has changed or hasn’t changed in the last 100 years.

Posted in List, Opinion, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

CNN’s Campbell Brown commentary sounds good but…

Posted by silentarchimedes on October 17, 2008

CNN’s Campbell Brown just put a commentary on cnn.com titled, “Commentary: Food banks instead of campaign ads“. In summary, she says the two campaigns should give campaign finances to food banks instead of spending them on non-impact negative ads. Instead of spending a combined $30 million a week ripping on each other, why not give that money to a food bank in Provo, Utah, or the Northlands Rescue Mission in Grand Forks, North Dakota. At first glance, this sounds like a great and righteous idea, but in the end, it is a horribly ill-conceived not-thought-through idea just to make Brown look good. Here’s the simple reason why:

People make political contributions for one reason, they want the candidate they support to spend it so his or her message gets out. There are rules regarding what the campaign can do with the money. You can’t just give it to a food bank! If that’s the case, why not just tell donors to contribute directly to the food bank instead of going through a circuitious route? If you want campaigns to donate the money to food banks, then where does it end? Why even campaign? Why not just stop everything in life and only do things if it’s related to survival? As bad as the economic crisis is, life must go on. As a matter of fact, the political campaign of this year is more important because of the economic crisis. So as much as Brown sounds all righteous and looking out for the little poor guys, her idea is naive and illogical.

Posted in Economics, Opinion, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

I don’t understand McCain’s logic on why his campaign is full of negativity

Posted by silentarchimedes on October 16, 2008

Third Presidential Debate (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Third Presidential Debate (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

In the third presidential debate yesterday, John McCain again used the same logic when asked why the American public has an overwhelming perception that his campaign is much more negative than Barack Obama’s. He once again responded that because Obama declined to accept his challenge to have ten or more town-hall meetings, he had to go negative. Had Obama accepted, the tone of his campaign would not be so negative. Huh? I don’t get the connection or the logic behind that. The only thing I can think of is that McCain is bitter and taking vengeance on Obama for not wanting town hall meetings. That just makes McCain look worse. Like a bitter old man who pouts when he can’t get his way. It’s like a child throwing a tamper tantrum because his friend won’t play with him. So instead he steals his friend’s lunch money, and starts badmouthing him to everyone else. What the… How old is this guy?

I don’t see the point of having so many debates anyways. The second debate was a complete repeat of the first one. Even though the second one was a pseudo-town hall debate, it’s not like McCain did any better. The third one was finally different only because McCain was desperate and had to throw the kitchen sink at Obama, which Obama gracefully dodged.

QUICK TRIVIA QUESTION

ANSWER – Highlight with mouse

The United States presidential election of 1964 was one of the most lopsided presidential elections in the history of the United States. As of 2007, Johnson’s 22.6 percentage point-margin of victory in the popular vote is the fifth-largest such margin in Presidential election history (after the margins of the 1920, 1924, 1936, and 1972 elections). Johnson won 61.1% of the national popular vote, which remains the highest popular-vote percentage won by a U.S.presidential candidate since 1820.

Nominee Lyndon B. Johnson Barry Goldwater
Party Democratic Republican
Home state Texas Arizona
Running mate Hubert Humphrey William E. Miller
Electoral vote 486 52
States carried 44+DC 6
Popular vote 43,127,041 27,175,754
Percentage 61.1% 38.5%

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Modern credit cards and personal debt the result of deregulation of state usury laws

Posted by silentarchimedes on October 9, 2008

Time line of the history of credit cards

1887 – The term “credit card” is first coined by utopian author Edward Bellamy in his 1887 book Looking Backward.

1920s – The Great Depression introduces the credit card model to the general public.

1950sDiners Club evolves into the first credit card company.

1978 -  Marquette National Bank of Minneapolis vs. First of Omaha Service Corp. -  Supreme Court rules that companies can export their state interest rates on loans to customers in other states. In essence, deregulating long usury laws that regulated the ceiling on interest rates.

Early 1980s – Sioux Falls and South Dakota remove long usury laws regulating interest rates on all types of loans.

Early 1980s – Citibank moves credit card headquarters in New York City to Sioux Falls because NYC had a 12% limit on loan interest rates. Sioux Falls soon becomes the credit card capital of the West.

Early 1980s – Delaware copies South Dakota and relaxes many state usury laws. Wilmington soon becomes the credit card capital of the East.

Credit Card Mania

Credit Card Mania

The rest is history. With further deregulation approved by the Reagan administration and their belief that debt is good, the general public began accepting credit cards as a major alternative to already earned money. Competition increased and customers were issued credit cards with minimal background credit checks. Banks began lowering rates to risky customers because they can cover their defaults and risks  by spreading the costs to their new base of stable customers. This is similar to how insurance companies work.  Credit bureaus began collecting tons of data on consumers and banks would analyze them to target specific consumers. Credit cards became the most profitable section of the banking industry with $30 billion in profits in 2003.

Personal debts skyrocketed. Other forms of credit cards were freely issued. Stores began issuing them. To stay competitive, banks began offering cash back and rewards programs. In essence, the entire profit of the credit card industry was based on taking money from the future livelihoods of consumers. For the first time ever, the savings rate of Americans became negative.

Before credit cards, Americans were known to be good savers. Since the deregulation of interest rates, Americans have less money than ever. They have mortgaged their futures to support their current exorbitant living standards.

Deregulating NYC Rents

Consequences of deregulating NYC Rents

COMMENTARY

Not all regulation is bad, and not all regulation is good. It has to be done carefully and with plenty of oversight. There has been or is regulation everywhere in our lives. When we were kids, our parents and teachers regulated what we ate, how much money we had, and how to spend our time. When we are at work, companies and labor laws regulate our actions.  When we are in public places, there are laws and regulations. It has been shown that people as an entity are not responsible and disciplined enough to regulate all their individual needs. When most of us don’t know how credit cards work or how mortgages work or how our health care works, is this really the time to deregulate more? As our daily lives become more complicated, the last thing that people want to worry about is monitoring their 401k everyday, deciding which health plan to buy  and wondering which mortgage to get. Some things we want the government to do for us, and to look out for us, and to make things easier in our lives. We don’t always want to make decisions and tough choices. Look at the obesity rate in this country. You think most people can take care of themselves? There needs to be a balance of both. There has been too much deregulation the past 30+ years and it has led to many of the major problems in this country right now.

Don’t think deregulation is always in the interest of consumers either. Yes, there is usually more competition which leads to lower prices, but you have to remember, that these super-humans…err.. corporations still need to make a profit. At the end of the day, they will find a way to pass that cost onto you, either by cutting corners (airlines), or charging for non-necessities. Have more faith in our government that it can still do the right thing. Bring more faith to the government by voting in people that actually are practical and look out for the interests of middle class America.

Watch The Secret History of Credit Cards online at PBS!

Posted in Economics, Politics, Poll | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Political cartoon: The strategy and tactic of the final 30 days of the presidential campaign

Posted by silentarchimedes on October 7, 2008

The Obama Strategy vs. The McCain Tactic

The Obama-Biden Strategy vs. The McCain-Palin Tactic

Posted in Opinion, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Initial Reactions – McCain picks Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska, as VP choice

Posted by silentarchimedes on August 29, 2008

Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska

Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska

My initial reaction of McCain picking Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska, was, “Wow, who the hell is she?!” After reading more about who she is, I’d have to think that the McCain camp is really making a risky choice in picking her. Here are my initial reactions:

1. Experience – Palin’s total experience? Two years as governor of Alaska! She was mayor of Wasilla (population 5,470 in 2000) in 1996, and ran unsuccessfully for Lieutenant Governor in 2002. She became governor in 2006. Are you serious? All this time of McCain attacking Obama having no experience to become president and he picks Palin as VP choice? She is one step from becoming president of the United States! And McCain is no spring bunny here! That was McCain’s strongest point against Obama and now he can not use that again. Actually, with Obama picking Biden, the Dems ticket seems a lot more experienced and formidable than the Republicans.

2. Purely a Political Move – I’m not sure what Palin really brings to the table that the other potential VP candidates would have brought. Romney, Lieberman, Ridge or Pawlenty, all bring a lot more to the main Republican base. Palin is known as a maverick, but having only two years of experience is tough to justify as having a career of independence. One last reason he might’ve picked her is the oil play. Listening to her on CSPAN after the speech, she rambles stats and stats about Exxon Valdez and Artic drilling. It seems like this is a strategic move and not a who’s best for the job move. She is female and seems like McCain is trying to pick up the Clinton supporters that are still unwilling to support Obama. He is also trying to run the anti-Washington reform card.

OK, so reading more, it seems like she was chosen also to try to invigorate the evangelical vote. She is strongly pro-life and an NRA lifetime member.

3. Harmony - I don’t see how McCain, 72, and Palin, 44, can work well together. He is from Arizona and she’s from Alaska. He’s a senator, she’s a governor. How much does he really know her? The longest he must have known her is two years. There’s no chance he knew her when she was mayor of a small town in Alaska. How would they work together if in office? He could be her father? Would she be too intimidated by him?

4. Alaska – Nothing against Alaska, but it has not had good press the past few years. First the bridge to  nowhere, and then the senator Ted Stevens being indicted on seven felony counts and still wins the primary race? Or Rep. Don Young having legal/ethical troubles as well. Don’t forget former Senator Mike Gravel’s hilarious attempt in the Democratic primary race. To me, it seems like they are pretty disconnected to what’s going on on the continental US. Life there is much different than what is happening on the main land. Palin’s spent her whole life in Alaska, so how much does she know what is happening to the middle class for the majority of America? What do people think of when somone mentions Alaska? Cold. Exxon Valdez. Wasteful earmarks. Nice in the summer. No sunlight in the winter. They wanted an outsider? They got the most outsider you can be.

It’s funny. In her interview with CSPAN in February, she talks about Wasilla as one of the fastest growing areas in Alaska. Wanna know the numbers she’s referring to? Population in 1980 was 1600, in 1990 was 4000, in 2000 was 5470, and references to it being around 9000 now. Wow. This makes it the fastest growing areas in Alaska?? Hehehe… I think more people than that travel to and from NYC in less than an hour.

5. Maverick – McCain is overplaying the maverick card. Palin is known as a reformer and independent thinker, but it’s definitely much easier to make such changes in Alaska. Look at Gravel! How did he become senator? If McCain wanted to make a splash, he could’ve picked Lieberman, or someone with more experience and appeal.

6. Palin not without controversy – Just a month ago, she dissed the VP job as being unproductive! She was on the Kudlow & Co. show, and she replied, “I still can’t answer that question until somebody answers for me what is it exactly that the VP does every day?” In February, on CSPAN she replied that she doubt McCain would ask her to be his VP choice. Additionally, there is controversy about a firing she did in her office. An investigation is being done into whether she did that as relatiation for her relative being fired earlier.

7. Can’t wait for the VP debates – There better be some debates between Biden and Palin. They are going to be amazing. Biden will eat her alive. That might be bad for Dems though, as many people might feel sorry for her. But the experience of Biden will be hard to overcome by her.

I just don’t understand this pick. It seems like a desperate move. Reminds me of the Dem’s Mondale-Ferraro ticket in 1984 and the Bush-Quayle ticket in 1988. Let’s pick a young newcomer to motivate the base voters. I think this pick will completely blow up in McCain’s face.

This year’s election is so different than what anyone would’ve thought. It was supposed to be Clinton and possibly Guiliani. Who would’ve imagined Obama/Biden vs McCain/Palin two years ago! Wow, gotta love the American political process.

My other link:

Further Reactions – Sarah Palin as VP choice

Posted in Opinion, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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