Archive for November, 2008

The Public Works For a Mortgage Bailout

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

In today’s Washington Post, there is this letter to the editor, from a Mr. Denis K. of Fairfax VA.

A Poor Remedy for the Mortgage Crisis

I was appalled by the plan from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to modify mortgages only for borrowers who have not been able to make their payments [“FDIC Details Plan to Alter Mortgages,” front page, Nov. 14].

Under the FDICs proposal, only borrowers with delinquent loans would receive interest reductions, but many of those borrowers took out loans they knew they could not afford. Also, the mortgage industry is rightly concerned that the plan could persuade others to stop making payments in order to receive this assistance. Because of this, the plan could result in higher mortgage interest rates for responsible buyers.

Instead of rewarding irresponsibility, the government should target efforts to responsible homeowners (those with a five-year record of on-time payments) and offer them new, 30-year mortgages at a fixed interest rate of 5 percent.

This would stimulate the economy by either lowering their monthly payments (thus providing additional spending power) or providing larger mortgages at the same payment levels to purchase properties that have been foreclosed on. This, in turn, would stabilize the housing market. The government could fund this effort from long-term bonds that paid interest of 4.5 percent or less, with the difference going toward administrative costs or government profit.

Finally, a plan for the responsible, a plan I can really get behind (on).

As I write this, the stock market has tanked big-time for a second day in a row and is now at around 1997 levels. Ouch. The CEOs of the Big Three were in Washington earlier this week – each arriving on their own private jet – but there does not seem to be consensus for an automotive bailout. There is talk of a second stimulus package. Unemployment seems poised to continue its rise. Profits are down. And so on. All-in-all, not a good situation.

I’m beginning to think that a better use of bailout funds might be the public works option. It would have the effect of stimulating the economy, shoring up unemployment and, oh by the way, helping address the crumbling infrastructure. As this article in the LA Times points out, public works have not been seen as the quickest way to stimulate the economy. Nothing works better than a check in the mail, goes the conventional wisdom. But the conventional wisdom might be challenged today as people seem to be reigning in spending left and right. As the Times points out, in so many words, the state of the economy currently is not amenable to the quick fix; maybe the slow and steady pace of public works is the way to go. I tend to agree.

In the mean time, if anyone wants me to refi at 5%, drop me a line. I’d find such an offer, um, stimulating.

Joe Lieberman Keeps Chairmanship

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

I wonder what is going on with the Democrats allowing Joe Lieberman to keep the chairmanship of the important Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. I can envision two different scenarios.

In the first scenario, the Democrats are eyeing the magic 60 filibuster-proof majority and realize that they may achieve this if Lieberman continues to caucus with Democrats.

In the second, President-elect Obama has issued back-channel communications to the Senate leadership and has stated in plain terms that Lieberman should stay.

Personally, I think the second is the likely scenario. If this is indeed the case, I give credit to Obama for taking the high road.

It is interesting to recount how Lieberman came to be an Independent. He was, of course, Al Gore’s running mate in 2000 and was the first Jewish candidate on a major ticket. At the same time, he ran for the Senate and was re-elected. In the 2006 senate race, Lieberman was challenged in the democratic primary by Ned Lamont. Primaries are often dominated by partisans, and the Connecticut democratic partisans, the progressives if you will, found plenty to complain about Lieberman. According to Wikipedia, the following were some of the reasons for lack of support for Lieberman:

  • his opposition to affirmative action
  • his opposition to a Connecticut state law that would require Catholic hospitals to provide emergency contraception to rape victims
  • his opposition to same-sex marriage
  • his membership in the bipartisan Gang of 14
  • his support of Florida governor Jeb Bush in the Terri Schiavo case
  • his initial willingness to compromise on Social Security privatization
  • his alliances with Republicans and attacks on other Democrats
  • his rhetoric, which is believed by many Democrats to often support Republican talking points

And, of course, there is the Iraq war. Lieberman is rather hawkish, was a supporter of the war and the Patriot Act, and took some to task for what he believed was inappropriate criticism of the President during wartime. The 2006 elections were a difficult time for republicans and I recall paying some interest to what was happening in Connecticut. And I don’t recall it quite the way that Wikipedia describes. Instead, I recall it as almost exclusively about the Iraq war. This view is somewhat supported by an article in today’s Washington Post, which indicates that Lamon’t campaign focused almost exclusively on Bush and Iraq.

Lamont won the primary and so Lieberman entered the senate race as a 3rd party candidate under the ‘Connecticut for Lieberman‘ label. Lieberman won the general election for the Senate with, I assume, support from moderate democrats, independents, and even moderate Republicans.

And just a couple months ago, we had Lieberman playing a supporting role in the candidacy of Republican John McCain, including a speech at the Republican Convention that was critical of Barack Obama. There was even some speculation that McCain could tap Lieberman for the VP slot. So, it seems evident why the Democrats might be hostile to Lieberman.

The Post notes that Vermont’s senators, Patrick Leahy and Bernard Sanders, both opposed allowing Lieberman to retain the chairmanship. Let’s see, a Deadhead and a Democratic Socialist. That right there are as good a reasons as I can think of for allowing Lieberman to remain.

Think Of Us Like a Coast Guard

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

Is it my imagination, or does it seem like every week or two, we hear a story of Somali Pirates that have commandeered another ship or boat in the Gulf of Aden? The Gulf of Aden is home to some very busy shipping lanes. Historically, piracy has been more of a problem closer to the coast of Somalia. But more recently, the attacks have become more sophisticated and more dispersed throughout the Gulf. Somalia’s government is not recognized by most Somalis and so is ineffective in stopping piracy, to say the least.

Gulf of Aden

Gulf of Aden

Maritime insurance underwriters have designated the Gulf as a war zone and, as a consequence, the insurance costs for those passing through has skyrocketed.

The pirates do not appear to be very particular about the cargo aboard their targets. Most recently, it was crude oil. But in just the past couple of months, the pirates have commandeered ships laden with chemicals, salt, Russian tanks, palm oil, and – here’s the real puzzler – French people. In a recent interview, spokespirate Sugule Ali stated that the objective of the pirates is simply money. Sugule continues

Think of us like a coast guard.

Umm, a coast guard, right.  Sugule, you should lay off the King Khat.

The pirates typically use small speedboats to approach and board their quarry. Operating further out in the Gulf, there are reports that the smaller boats are dispatched from “mother ships”. With some 20,000 vessels passing through the Gulf each year, it may be difficult to identify the “mother ships”. Despite these challenges, there is some evidence that the European Union, India, and others are beginning to track these bilge rats down. Aarrr!

Jack Sparrow. Aarrr!

Jack Sparrow. Aarrr!

A Successful Crash-Landing?

Monday, November 17th, 2008

Congratulations to India and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) for their recent unmanned mission to the moon, called the Chandrayaan-1. The spacecraft, currently in lunar orbit, is also called Chandrayaan-1.

Artists Impression of Chandrayaan-1

Artists Impression of Chandrayaan-1

From Chandrayaan-1, the ISRO has launched probes to the moon. An article on CNN reports

India probe successfully crash-lands on moon.

The article describes the landing as “hard” and then states that the probe was traveling at 3,579 mph. Wow, I’m assuming the airbags deployed! To be fair, the probe is known more precisely as the Moon Impact Probe. Impact? Mission Accomplished!

Moon Impact Probe

Moon Impact Probe

According to Bangalore Ramachandra Rao Guruprasad of the ISRO

One of the objectives of this probe is to understand the moon for future soft landings

I thought that this was a done deal with the Surveyor program back in 1966-1968. I guess there’s no harm in being doubly sure that a landing at 3,579 mph is too fast.

I think I know why the ISRO sent the Moon Impact Probe into the moon’s surface as they did. I think the ISRO has projected the “12 Rules of the Indian Road” onto their space program. Article X of the 12 Rules states

Nirvana may be obtained through the head-on crash.

Welcome to Nirvana, Chandrayaan, welcome!

Spread the Wealth in DC, Maryland, and Virginia in January

Sunday, November 16th, 2008

Taking a quick peek at the Washington, DC Craigslist, sublet/temporary housing, and searching on ‘Inauguration’ in the title, I find 2105 listings.

Inauguration Housing

Inauguration Housing

182 of these are priced at $10,000 or more for the week.

For $58,000, you can move into this attractive residence for a week:

Move In Here

Move In Here for a Week

I have no idea what the real sublet prices will be. I have a sneaky suspicion that market forces will prevail, in accordance with one of my favorite laws, law of supply and demand.  I hope these prices do not come as too much of a shock to the many out-of-town guests that we are expecting. I can hear them now: “It’s Bush’s Fault”.

Safe Haven

Saturday, November 15th, 2008

Do you ever go by a shopping center or perhaps a church parking lot and spot a good-sized truck that parks at scheduled times during the week in order to accept walk-up donations of household goods? Or perhaps you are aware of permanent facilities that accept donations? Here in northern Virginia, we have drop-off locations in the form of thrift shops that benefit numerous causes, and service organizations such as Goodwill, Salvation Army, and Habitat Restore.

Which brings me to the subject of this post. I just recently learned that all 50 states (57 if you voted for Obama) have a Safe Haven law that decriminalizes the relinquishing of infants to designated private persons or organizations. Prior to recent press, I think I would have confused Safe Haven with Safe Harbor. The purpose of the Safe Haven law is to reduce the incidence of abandonment and infanticide. To be sure, this looks like an attempt to mitigate tragic and unfortunate circumstances. Not every child is born into a family that possesses the resources (economic, physical, mental, social) to properly care for the child.

A recent article on cnn.com informed readers that Nebraska’s Safe Haven law did not include any age limitations on the child relinquished. In Nebraska’s case, relinquishment is made to hospitals. Nebraska’s law was adopted (no pun intended) in February and went into effect in July. According to the CNN article, 34 children have been “dropped off”.  All but six were older than 10 years old, one was 17 years old, and none were infants. A simple internet search suggests that parents are bringing children into Nebraska from other states. According to the CNN article, which has been repeated throughout the blogosphere,  this situation has prompted Nebraska governor Dave Heineman to plead

Please don’t bring your teenager to Nebraska.

Nearly all states impose an age limit of from several days to about 30 days. Henieman has called for a special legislative session to revise Nebraska’s law to include a limit. You can see the Governor’s official communication here.

The Nebraska safe haven law is available here. This is a perfect example of the law of unintended consequences, one of my favorites. One has to wonder if sick teens in Nebraska, requiring medical care, are reluctant to go to the hospital.

I can’t say for sure how I feel. I have to believe that the parents relinquishing children in Nebraska must be experiencing some type of crisis or, possibly, are mentally ill. As horrible as relinquishment may be, I can think of scenarios that could play out much worse. My heart goes out to all involved, especially the children.

My view of this is somewhat colored by my experience with international adoption. My daughter was adopted from China. Virtually all children (nearly all girls) that are available for adoption in China are abandoned. Yet, it is against the law in China to abandon an infant.  Throughout southern China (which is where most of the adopted infants are born) there are apparently well-known drop-off points where these infants may be placed so that they are found in short order. Maybe there is some wink-wink-nudge-nudge going on with authorities. I can only say that I am appreciative of the decision that my daughter’s birth mother made, for the chance that was given to my daughter.

Nebraska Safe Havens

Nebraska Safe Havens

You Are Here!

Friday, November 14th, 2008

The very big scientific news of the day is that, for the first time, there is now visual – or direct – evidence of planets outside of our solar system. According to an article in today’s Washington Post, astronomers have detected over 300 extrasolar planets using indirect methods in the last decade.

The news today is the discovery of the planet “Fomalhaut b” by Paul Kalas of the University of California at Berkeley, and the discovery of three planets orbiting a star called HR 8799 by Christian Marois and his colleagues at the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics in Victoria, B.C.

Kalas used the Hubble telecope during his study of the star Fomalhaut, while Marois used two telescopes in Hawaii.  Fomalhaut is 25 light-years from here, a little further if you live inside the beltway.  HR 8799 is 128 light-years. It’s a good thing the price of gas has been coming down lately. Here is a picture of Fomalhaut b.

Fomalhaut b

Fomalhaut b

This seems like a good time to share the following pictures, which have made the rounds as email attachments.

The Five Smallest Planets

The Five Smallest Planets

The 9 Planets of Our Solar System

The 9 Planets of Our Solar System

Planets Relative to Our Sun

Planets Relative to Our Sun

Our Sun and Some Other Stars

Our Sun and Some Other Stars

Sun and Antares

Sun and Antares

On this last picture, the Sun is represented as a pixel. I think maybe Betelgeuse and Antares are stacking.

He Can Come As a Tourist

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

On the front page of today’s Washington Post, there is an article entitled Facing Obama, Iran Suddenly Hedges on Talks. Here is the opening paragraph:

TEHRAN, Nov. 12 – Since 2006, Iran’s leaders have called for direct, unconditional talks with the United States to resolve international concerns over their nuclear program. But as a American administration open to such negotiations prepares to take power, Iran’s political and military leaders are sounding suddenly wary of President-elect Barack Obama.

Boy, I did not see that coming, did you? There are many quotes of various officials, none of which seem to suggest a willingness to meet with Obama on his generous terms. The article states

For Iran’s leaders, the only state of affairs worse than poor relations with the United States may be improved relations.

And then there is a report that, on Wednesday of this week, Iran test fired a two-stage solid-fuel rocket capable of a 1,200 mile range. Right on cue. Later in the article

In recent interviews, advisers to Ahmadinejad said the new U.S. administration would have to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq, show respect for Iran’s system of rule by a supreme religious leader, and withdraw its objections to Iran’s nuclear program before it can enter into negotiations with the Iranian government.

And my favorite

Obama would not be welcome in Iran as president, were he to decide to come here, [Ahmadinejad media adviser Mehdi] Kalhor said.  “He can come as a tourist.”

Well there you have it. It looks like negotiations are going to reap unprecedented cooperation, right?

In the interest of reaching out to Medhi Kalhor and the rest of the terrorists, I offer this cheery holiday song:

It’s beginning to look a lot like Fallout

Ev’rywhere you go;

Take a look at the Council of Guardians, glistening once again

With sand-strewn plains and acid rains aglow,

It’s beginning to look a lot like Fallout,

Immense temps galore,

But the prettiest site to see will be the No-Rooz that will be

As you look up from the floor.

Sweet Dreams, Osama

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

During the run-up to the election, then-candidate Obama sometimes roiled conservatives with his talk about talking with the likes of Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But he spoke pretty tough about Osama Bin Laden. Me, I like the tough talk when referring to terrorists and tyrants. So I appreciated Obama’s pledge, stated during the October 7 debates:

We will kill Bin Laden.  We will crush Al Qaeda.  That has to be our biggest national security priority.

Just today, on cnn.com, there was an article about the next administration’s intention to “ratchet up [the] hunt” for Bin Laden. Read the article here.

The article states the obvious: It won’t be easy. But I found this passage quite interesting, and unexpected:

“If you think of this as sort of a combination of [the hunt for] Eric Rudolph, who was the Olympic bomber, and the movie ‘Deliverance,’ multiplied by a factor of 10, that’s really what you’re focusing on in trying to find bin Laden,” said Robert Grenier, the former CIA station chief in Pakistan.

Eric Rudolph (aka the Olympic Park Bomber) is the bomber of the Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, during the 1996 Olympics.  As a fugitive, Rudolph lived in his makeshift mountain camps of the Snowbird and Tusquitee Mountains.  He ate acorns and salamanders and pilfered grain from nearby silos. And it is suspected that Rudolph had the assistance of sympathizers as he eluded law enforcement. So I understand the analogy with Bin Laden, presumed to be hiding out in caves of the mountainous tribal region of Pakistan.

But Deliverance?  I consider Deliverance to be one of the all-time great movies. However, it is in no way an enjoyable two hours. Deliverance tells the story of four Atlanta businessmen that decide to take a canoe trip down a river that is scheduled to be flooded by a soon-to-be-constructed dam.  The men run into some hillbillies and some distasteful scenes ensue. [If you have never seen Deliverance, do yourself a favor.  Stop reading now and go rent the movie. But don’ see it on a first date.]

Deliverance explores conflicts on numerous levels:

  • An internal struggle experienced by Ed (played by Jon Voight) over the taking of life.
  • A struggle between two friends as Lewis (Burt Reynolds) and Drew (Ronny Cox) share different views on whether to inform the authorities.
  • A struggle between classes as the city slickers show disdain toward the mountain folk and the mountain folk show indifference to their guests.
  • A struggle between the city slickers and mother nature.
  • A struggle by Bobby (played by Ned Beatty) to survive a rape by a sadistic mountain man.

I am still unsure, though, about how Deliverance might relate to finding Bin Laden.

  • Maybe it’s an internal struggle, internal to the US, over the use of force against military targets that intentionally expose civilians to danger.
  • Maybe it’s a struggle between two friends (sort of) that share a different views on the nature and extent of Pakistan’s central government’s role in rooting out Bin Laden and the Taliban and on the role of US forces in the region.
  • Maybe it’s a class struggle between classes – the US forces (the city slickers) and the Wazir tribes of Pakistan (the mountain folks).
  • Maybe it is a struggle with nature – the rugged and unfamiliar terrain of Waziristan.

Feel free to share your thoughts via comment.

In the mean time, I hope Osama has difficulty sleeping at night.  Maybe he stays up thinking about this:

Squeal Like a Pig

Squeal Like a Pig

Letters to Home – Veterans Day

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

I’m a procrastinator, unfortunately. I registered www.thoughtdocket.com many months ago and have been paying for hosting also. The same goes for www.letterstohome.com.  With www.letterstohome.com, it was my intention to publish, in a blog style, letters that my father wrote home during his time in World War II.

Today, Veteran’s Day 2008, seems like the right day to both honor my father and veterans by getting off my @$$ and following through with my plans.

So, if you have an interest in World War II oral history, please check out

www.letterstohome.com