Category: politics

Editing Obama…

Original text: The First Presidential Debate

What follows is my editing of Obama’s answers:


LEHRER: Gentlemen, at this very moment tonight, where do you stand on the financial recovery plan?

OBAMA: Well, thank you very much, Jim, and thanks to the commission and the University of Mississippi, Ole Miss, for hosting us tonight. I can’t think of a more important time for us to talk about the future of the country.

You know, we are at a defining moment in our history. Our nation is involved in two wars, and we are going through the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

And although we’ve heard a lot about Wall Street, those of you on Main Street I think have been struggling for a while, and you recognize that this could have an impact on all sectors of the economy.

And you’re wondering, how’s it going to affect me? How’s it going to affect my job? How’s it going to affect my house? How’s it going to affect my retirement savings or my ability to send my children to college?

So we have to move swiftly, and we have to move wisely. And I’ve put forward a series of proposals that make sure that we protect taxpayers as we engage in this important rescue effort.

Number one, we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got oversight over this whole process; $700 billion potentially, is a lot of money.

Number two, we’ve got to make sure that taxpayers, when they are putting their money at risk, have the possibility of getting that money back and gains, if the market — and when the market returns.

Number three, we’ve got to make sure that none of that money is going to pad CEO bank accounts or to promote golden parachutes.

And, number four, we’ve got to make sure that we’re helping homeowners, because the root problem here has to do with the foreclosures that are taking place all across the country.

Now, we also have to recognize that this is a final verdict on [What happens today is due to] eight years of failed economic policies promoted by George Bush, supported by Senator McCain. a theory that basically says that we can shred regulations and consumer protections and give more and more to the most, and somehow prosperity will trickle down.

It hasn’t worked. And I think that the fundamentals of the economy have to be measured by whether or not the middle class is getting a fair shake. That’s why I’m running for president, and that’s what I hope we’re going to be talking about tonight.


LEHRER: All right, let’s go back to my question. How do you all stand on the recovery plan? And talk to each other about it. We’ve got five minutes. We can negotiate a deal right here.

But, I mean, are you — do you favor this plan, Senator Obama, and you, Senator McCain? Do you — are you in favor of this plan?

OBAMA: We haven’t seen the language yet. And I do think that there’s constructive work being done out there. So, for the viewers who are watching, I am optimistic about the capacity of us to come together with a plan.

The question I think, that we have to ask ourselves is, how did we get into this situation in the first place?

Two years ago, I warned that, because of the subprime lending mess, because of the lax regulation, that we were potentially going to have a problem and tried to stop some of the abuses in mortgages that were taking place at the time.

Last year, I wrote to the secretary of the Treasury to make sure that he understood the magnitude of this problem and to call on him to bring all the stakeholders together to try to deal with it.

So — so the question I think, that we’ve got to ask ourselves is yes, we’ve got to solve this problem short term. And we are going to have to intervene; there’s no doubt about that.

But we’re also going to have to look at, how is it that we shredded so many regulations? We did not set up a 21st-century regulatory framework to deal with these problems. And that in part has to do with an [the] economic philosophy [of George Bush and John McCain] that says that regulation is always bad.


LEHRER: Do you have something directly to say, Senator Obama, to Senator McCain about what he just said?

OBAMA: Well, I think Senator McCain’s absolutely right that we need more responsibility, but we need it not just when there’s a crisis. I mean, we’ve had years in which the reigning economic ideology has been what’s good for Wall Street, but not what’s good for Main Street.

And there are folks out there who’ve been struggling before this crisis took place. And that’s why it’s so important, as we solve this short-term problem, that we look at some of the underlying issues that have led to wages and incomes for ordinary Americans to go down, the — a health care system that is broken, energy policies that are not working, because, you know, 10 days ago, John said that the fundamentals of the economy are sound.

LEHRER: Say it directly to him.

OBAMA: I do not think that they are.

LEHRER: Say it directly to him.

OBAMA: Well, the — John, 10 days ago, you said that the fundamentals of the economy are sound. And… [Why?]


This is too much fun… I may do the whole debate later. Only Obama though – don’t want to help McCain.

Big Thoughts from Small Minds

Here is a guy who’s (in his own words) “supposed to be thinking ‘big thoughts’ all day as part of a fellowship program that recruits PhD-level scientists into public service with the federal government.”

And here is one big thought he produced:

“But at a fundamental level, studying complex behavioral and genetic networks in animals is not so different from understanding human social networks.”

Oh yeah… on a fundamental level… we’re all animals. So heartbreakingly true.

But here is the scary part:

“So to some extent, when it comes to explaining social software to military policymakers – I’m the perfect guy for the job.”

Read more… 

Alexander Solzhenitsyn Dies

Never read “The Gulag Archipelago“… but loved “One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich“… always remember his advice from “One Day…” about how to survive in tough conditions – do everything slowly.

There was a joke back then… in the Soviet times… about a Russian boy… from the 21st century… asking his father: “Dad… who’s Brejnev?”… and the father: “Hmmm… I think he was a politician from Solzhenitsyn’s time.” Not a joke anymore.

Hope Obama Doesn’t Become an “Engineer” Once (if) Elected

In a recent (really interesting) NYT article, Jodi Kantor tells us how Obama’s students (at the University of Chicago Law School) call him “a contextualist, willing to look past legal niceties to get results.”

This reminds me of two older NYT articles (both by David Brooks) which I commented in two older posts – one about “Relationship Blend” vs. “Productive, Rational Behavior” and another about Progressive Realism.

Politically, I identify with the “ecologists” (contextualists) and Robert Wright’s “progressive realism”…

Now, here is the thing (by David Brooks) I am referring to in the title of this post:

“Most politicians are ecologists who turn into engineers once in office.”

Reading Blogs and Articles About Our Health Care System…

…written by people who know a thing or two about the subject… as opposed to listening to our presidential candidates.

Running a Hospital (blog)
by Paul Levy, President and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston

Repairing the Healthcare System (blog found via Brad)
by Stanley Feld M.D.,FACP,MACE

The Health Insurance Mafia
(article in today’s Wall Street Journal found via Stanley Feld)

Good Post About Obama by Marc Andreessen

Mark tells about a meeting he and his wife had with Obama in early 2007. Here are some parts of the post:

And here is the full post…

“I carried four distinct impressions away from our meeting with Senator Obama.

  • First, this is a normal guy.
  • Second, this is a smart guy.
  • Third, this is not a radical.
  • Fourth, this is the first credible post-Baby Boomer presidential candidate.

What’s the picture that emerges from these four impressions?

Smart, normal, curious, not radical, and post-Boomer.

If you were asking me to write a capsule description of what I would look for in the next President of the United States, that would be it.

He’s got my vote.”

Clay Shirky Talk in Harvard – February 28, 2008

Clay Shirky on his new book, “Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations” (6PM on the Harvard Law School campus, location TBA).

In story after story, Clay masterfully makes the connections as to why business, society and our lives continue to be transformed by a world of net-enabled social tools. His pattern-matching skills are second to none.“-Ray Ozzie, Microsoft Chief Software Architect

From the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard:

All events are free and open to the public… Invite your friends, students, colleagues, co-workers, fellow faculty, research assistants, interns, family, and others to celebrate and collaborate with us. Please don’t hesitate to forward and blog this information.

These events will take place on the campus at Harvard Law School unless otherwise noted, with more information on time, venue, and topic posted on the events page. The events page also includes a complete list of luncheons and other events, which we hope you’ll also be able to join us for!”

The Structure of Today’s Political Discourse

I’ve been following the French presidential elections on TV5. One thing is becoming quite clear. The French are discussing the same stuff that we’ll be arguing about in 2008. There are differences in the way things are talked about or the specific realities discussed, but the underlying ideological structure seems very much the same to me. Or, at least, that would be what I see as a pertinent structure for today’s political discourse here in the US too. Here are the main dimensions:

competition — cooperation
locality — mobility
predictability — fluidity
identity — context
effective — affective

Most of the other stuff that may come to mind – like “security vs. growth” or “dependence vs. autonomy” for example – seems derivative to me.

"Relationship Blend" vs. "Productive, Rational Behavior"

Another good article in The New York Times by David Brooks. Here is the starting snippet:

“In the world of public policy, there are ecologists and engineers. The ecologists believe human beings are formed amid a web of relationships. Behavior is shaped by the weave of expectations and motivations that we pick up from the people around us every day.

The engineers believe all this relationship talk is so much mush. They believe behavior is shaped by incentives. You give people the resources they need and socially productive, rational behavior will usually follow.

Most politicians are ecologists who turn into engineers once in office…”

I totally agree with his criticism of Hillary Clinton’s “American Dream” plan. I had exactly the same reaction when I read about it – such a tired approach, such a lack of imagination, such an inability to produce something that may “change the rules of the (social) game” and inspire constituencies…

And here is the predictable (for me) conclusion:

“But the fact is, when it comes to helping people flourish, the ecologists are usually right.”

I find David’s argument absolutely pertinent to my own preoccupation right now – building an online social software service. I am talking about Aidpage – and our current work on its next major upgrade… coming soon on a computer near you… 🙂

"Progressive Realism"… Not Too Different From "Considerate Idealism"

An online test recently defined me as a “considerate idealist.” I liked that. It is very close to what I am thinking of myself.

I also identify with what Robert Wright describes as “progressive realism” in his recent New York Times article.

In my previous life under a communist regime, I almost inevitably would bring a conversation to the point where someone would call me a naive idealist for believing in democracy and market economy. To which, my reply was “no, I am not naive… don’t you see the US is stronger than the USSR.”

Similarly, when confronted with all the abundant evidence (see this and this just from today) about how morality must be left aside if you want to make real money, I would simply point to the fact that the two richest guys in the world (you know who) do not seem to be morally bankrupt crooks.

And I liked David Brooks’ “Democracy’s Long Haul” from a few days ago. It reminded me of my own theory about the sometimes necessary “Pinochet” period for countries transitioning from long dictatorial one party systems to democracy.

So, now you know where I stand… 🙂

Americans Are Poorer… But Otherwise The Economy Is Doing Great!

It’s a shame – at least for those getting poorer. For those getting richer – it only makes sense.

Here are some changes over a one-year period only (2003-2004) just published by the U.S. Census Bureau:

    “Real median earnings of men age 15 and older who worked full-time, year-round declined 2.3 percent between 2003 and 2004, to $40,798. Women with similar work experience saw their earnings decline by 1.0 percent, to $31,223.”

“There were 37.0 million people in poverty (12.7 percent) in 2004, up from 35.9 million (12.5 percent) in 2003.”That makes 1.1 million more people in poverty.

    “There were 7.9 million families in poverty in 2004, up from 7.6 million in 2003.”

That makes 300,000 more families in poverty.

Update (August 31, 2005):

From today’s article in New York Times…

    “‘It looks like the gains from the recovery haven’t really filtered down,’ said Phillip L. Swagel, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research group in Washington. ‘The gains have gone to owners of capital and not to workers.'”

And also…

    “Since 1967, incomes have failed to rise for four straight years on two other occasions: starting in the late 1970’s and in the early 1990’s. The Census Bureau does not report household income for years before 1967, but other data show that incomes were generally rising in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s.”

So, we have a total of three documented periods of such “stabilization” of incomes – one under peace maker Jimmy Carter and two under the House of Bush Warrior Clan.

Update (September 1, 2005):

From today’s editorial in New York Times…

    “And additional census data obtained by the Economic Policy Institute show that only the top 5 percent of households experienced real income gains in 2004. Incomes for the other 95 percent of households were flat or falling.
Income inequality is an economic and social ill, but the administration and the Congressional majority don’t seem to recognize that. When Congress returns from its monthlong summer vacation next week, two of the leadership’s top priorities include renewing the push to repeal the estate tax, which affects only the wealthiest of families, and extending the tax cuts for investment income, which flow largely to the richest Americans. At the other end of the spectrum, lawmakers have stubbornly refused to raise the minimum wage: $5.15 an hour since 1997. They will also be taking up proposals for deep budget cuts in programs that ameliorate income inequality, like Medicaid, food stamps and federal student loans.

They should be ashamed of themselves.”I wonder… in what country do the editors of New York Times live. Don’t they know that America is all about “winners and losers”, “competition, competition, competition…”, “it’s a jungle out there”, and “the winner takes all”. And finally, since “God is in control”, obviously “winners” have “Him” on their side – try argue this point with an American.

And a bit more from today’s Reuter’s story about Katrina:

    “With household debt now up 60 percent in just five years, rising short-term interest rates will already be crimping wallets. Consumer mortgage interest payments alone were up 14 percent in the last year…
Consumer spending on gas, fuel oil and natural gas accounts for just 2.4 percent of the income of the richest fifth of households but 11.2 percent of the poorest fifth, said David Kelly, Senior Economic Advisor at Putnam Investments. ‘Sadly, it is the poorest Americans in the regions and areas that have seen the weakest recovery from the recession of 2001 who are being hurt most by higher oil prices,’ he said.”



The Gates – Christo and Jeanne-Claude in Central Park, New York

Gina (my wife) and I finally saw a real Christo event… We know about and admire Christo since our college years back in Sofia (Bulgaria). He was a kind of a hero for us for the obvious reason of his success as an artist but also for the fact that he had left then communist Bulgaria for France (and later for the US) – seeking artistic and personal freedom.

In 1993, while studying at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, we had the chance to see Christo at an event hosted by the Detroit Institute of Arts… where the organizers were a bit quick to interrupt Christo when he started talking about freedom. I guess Detroit’s “bourgeoisie” expected a lecture strictly about “art”.

And now – “The Gates” – really beautiful. I’ll post our pictures of The Gates later. For now… here is one… of us… happy… at the event:

Poland Probes The Killing of Thousands by Soviet Secret Police in 1940

I saw the news on BBC… and I remembered my father telling me the story of the Katyn Forest massacre.

I was probably about 8-9 years old. Against my parents’ usual instructions, I, of course, told the story to some of my friends at school. Nobody believed me (but I was already accustomed to that – they didn’t believe me either when I was telling them that the Americans would be the first on the Moon). At that time, most Bulgarians still could not imagine a “bad” USSR… or even a “bad” Stalin. And I was already starting to think “evil” USSR – had to wait almost 20 years to hear an American president say it outloud. Even then, many in the world still thought that Reagan was “too extreme”.

Here is part of the story and a link to the full text:

The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany invaded Poland in September 1939 after Moscow and Berlin signed a secret pact to divide Eastern Europe. Millions of Poles were arrested by the Soviet secret police and most sent to labour camps. But more than 21,000 army officers and intellectuals were executed in Katyn and other parts of the USSR.”

Read full BBC story…

So Much for Flip-flopping: Excerpts from John Kerry’s Speach on Iraq Before the War – October 9, 2002

“In giving the President this authority, I expect him to fulfill the commitments he has made to the American people in recent days–to work with the United Nations Security Council to adopt a new resolution setting out tough and immediate inspection requirements, and to act with our allies at our side if we have to disarm Saddam Hussein by force. If he fails to do so, I will be among the first to speak out.

If we do wind up going to war with Iraq, it is imperative that we do so with others in the international community, unless there is a showing of a grave, imminent–and I emphasize “imminent”–threat to this country which requires the President to respond in a way that protects our immediate national security needs.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has recognized a similar need to distinguish how we approach this. He has said that he believes we should move in concert with allies, and he has promised his own party that he will not do so otherwise. The administration may not be in the habit of building coalitions, but that is what they need to do. And it is what can be done. If we go it alone without reason, we risk inflaming an entire region, breeding a new generation of terrorists, a new cadre of anti-American zealots, and we will be less secure, not more secure, at the end of the day, even with Saddam Hussein disarmed.

Let there be no doubt or confusion about where we stand on this. I will support a multilateral effort to disarm him by force, if we ever exhaust those other options, as the President has promised, but I will not support a unilateral U.S. war against Iraq unless that threat is imminent and the multilateral effort has not proven possible under any circumstances.”


“The threat we face today with Iraq does not meet that test yet. I emphasize “yet.” … it is not imminent, and no one in the CIA, no intelligence briefing we have had suggests it is imminent.”


The international community’s support will be critical because we will not be able to rebuild Iraq singlehandedly. We will lack the credibility and the expertise and the capacity.”