Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Rare Insight into Race in America

Yesterday, Barack Obama gave a speech that I believe every American should hear.

If you plan to vote in this election, or influence someone who will, you owe it to yourself to listen to his remarks.

It is rare that an American politician speaks so honestly and thoughtfully about such a politically dangerous topic. For that reason, I believe this speech is worthwhile for any voter, regardless of your preference in this election.

The speech is 37 minutes long - a significant investment of time - but I recommend the entire thing without reservation.

Because this is a nuanced and emotional issue, I hope you will watch with an open mind and an open heart.

Watch it here.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Mortgage Plain English

I found an excellent (and pretty entertaining) tutorial on the mortgage crisis that I thought I would recommend to those of you that are interested.

Even for those of you that are not struggling with one of these loans, the spillover effects seem increasingly likely to impact us all. This was made clear this week with the collapse of the nation's fifth largest securities firm, Bear Stearns. Bear's demise was directly tied to their over-investment in these loans.

The tutorial was prepared by Harvard professor and former George W. Bush Chief Economic Advisor Greg Mankiw.

Be warned, there is some bad language in the tutorial (I mentioned it was entertaining, right?). You can access it here. It may take a second to load, but once it does you can flip pages by clicking the arrows on the bottom left of the page.

You can also access Mankiw's blog here.

A View From Inside Iran

A close and exceptionally intelligent friend of mine recently returned from a visit to Iran and shared some thoughts that I wanted to quote directly here:

The [Iranian] people are nothing like we (Americans in general) think they are. Everyone I meet is very excited when I tell them I am American. Without fail, they always smile and they all tell me that they want to visit my country and that I am very welcome here.

I know the relationship between our governments is complex and highly confrontational, but the Iranian people couldn't be more different from the image we have of them back in the states.

I have even spoken with members of the Revolutionary Guard who smile often and enjoy practicing their English. They tell me that I am a very welcome in Iran.

They don't understand why Americans are so afraid to travel to Iran. I explain to them the problems between our governments and they all seem to agree that that is
a shame.

I have also sensed that the conservative brand of Islam projected by the Ayatollahs is not as popular as it was a generation ago. Most of the country is very young and was born after the Shah's departure and were either not born yet or were very young during the Iran/Iraq war, so the revolution doesn't mean for them what it did for the older generation.

I think Iran will be moving in a positive direction over time.

I considered using my friend's thoughts to launch a longer essay on how the United States should approach Iran going forward, but I am going to let his thoughts stand on their own.

Besides, I have already written two pieces encouraging us to talk to Iran and a proposal for how we might go about it.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Less Carbon, More Employment?

Most people know that when you tax something, whether it be a good, a service, or an event, you usually see less of it in the economy.

For this reason, some people are advocating a carbon tax to lower greenhouse gas emissions and to curb the use of foreign oil.

I'm undecided if I like this idea more than a cap-and-trade scheme, but I still wanted to highlight one idea related to the implementation of a carbon tax that NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently cited (as many others have previously).

Although passing a new tax is a non-starter in an election year, there would seem to be some (minimally) creative ways to make it politically palatable while preserving the effectiveness of its primary intent (to lower fossil fuel usage).

Jobs are something all politicians want to see more of and claim credit for. Therefore, it is ironic that we actually tax employment in this country. Remember, whereas the payroll tax requires YOU to pay 7.65% of your income to fund Social Security and Medicare, it also requires YOUR EMPLOYER to pay a matching 7.65% on top of the gross salary they pay you. This makes providing a job more expensive and therefore almost certainly leads to less of them.

So...why not phase out part (or all) of the payroll tax and replace it with a carbon tax?

107 Years Ago...

....Frank Buckles, the last surviving World War I vet, was born.

After driving an ambulance during the Great War, he later found himself as a POW for 39 months during the SECOND World War.

Talk about living history...

You can read more a little more about him here.

Friday, March 7, 2008

A Dash of Perspective From....

...Karl Rove...on the epic Democratic Primary fight:

Remember: It has only been eight weeks since Iowans voted in the first contest of the season, though it seems like a geological age has passed. There are now seven weeks until Pennsylvania, nine weeks until North Carolina and Indiana, and 10 weeks until West Virginia. Imagine how many twists and turns are possible.

I haven't written much on this race here, but I've been following it constantly. Karl has convinced me that it is okay to take a week or so off....

(By the way I should disclose that I stole this post idea from Andrew Sullivan's blog. I thought it was very insightful so I wanted to make sure a few more people saw it)

Thursday, March 6, 2008

How Will They React?

Apparently, Southwest Airlines knowingly flew 70 airplanes that were very clearly designated as "unsafe" due to missing mandatory safety inspections. By law, these planes are supposed to be grounded until the inspections are complete.

If true, this is absolutely outrageous.

Not only was the conduct of Southwest Airlines reprehensible, but equally intolerable was the failure of the FAA to enforce the law. According to CNN, unspecified managers in the FAA allowed these planes to fly because taking "aircraft out of service would have disrupted Southwest Airlines' flight schedule."

This type of oversight is one of the most important functions our government performs.

Given that, I'll be interested to see if the Congress and the Justice Department demonstrate a level of outrage similar to what they have shown in the recent steroid scandals in Major League Baseball.