Net Neutrality Or Die

Ok maybe that’s a little extreme… However, it’s been a long time since I’ve felt this passionately about something that is going on in the world. I truly believe Net Neutrality is a right that the public should have. So what is Net Neutrality? It is the belief that all content on the internet should be given the same credence (aka bandwidth) and people should be able to choose what content they want to see without any impediments (like limiting bandwidth for less popular sites).

There’s actually a really great video from Endgaget where they interview Tim Wu, who explains why Net Neutrality is so important and what has gone on recently. I recommend everyone watch it. So much so that I’m going to make it easy for you and embed it here.

As an American I take pride in the freedoms that we have but it worries me that these freedoms are being lost as corporations control more and more of our political process. Part of what makes the internet so great is that you can get anywhere and find even the smallest of blogs if you just search hard enough. Though the video above really describes this is in the mobile broadband space, what happens when we take one step in that direction. Why wouldn’t the telecom companies that provide business and home internet service not want to follow in mobile carriers footsteps and start limiting access from computers as well? I think this is the next big thing in technology that we really do need to fight for our rights. It may not seem like much now but it could change the whole internet tomorrow.

The Budget Wars

Ok so, I don’t know about anyone else but I feel like I am continually struggling to be able to manage my own budget. Maybe it’s because I kindof suck at budgeting, by which I mean I can stick to a budget for maybe a month (if I’m lucky) and then it’s blown out of the water. However, I am unbelievably proud of myself because I thought I had really completely blown my budget this month and would have to reach back into my savings to dig myself out of this little hole I’d gotten myself into. See, recently, I’ve been giving a lot of money to charity and eating out quite a bit. The giving to charity bit, I’m actually pleased with myself about. The eating out and just spending money I shouldn’t, I’m a bit annoyed with my lack of discipline.

At any rate, I was just trying to balance my checkbook since I have been having the most miserable day at work ever. Yes, it is definitely one of those “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days”. But then I was doing my budgeting because I figured if it was going to be a bad day, I might as well get all my bad news out of the way, right? Right. And then I looked and I saw that the only thing that’s even slightly off this month is that I had wanted to be able to put an extra $10 towards my student loans. But seriously, if I’m only off by $10 and that is part of the extra I typically put towards my loans (because I’m trying to aggressively pay off my loans so I send more than the monthly minimum). That’s really not so bad!! In fact, I’m ridiculously proud of myself. Granted, I would be more proud of myself if I could, you know, budget and consistently put money aside into savings. But hey, breaking even when I thought I had completely blown my budget ain’t bad. In fact, I’d say it’s a step in the right direction. (Now if only the rest of my life could fall in line with that).

Finding The Silver Lining

Sometimes it is incredibly difficult to find the silver lining in life. I’ve been waffling between being unable to have the energy to look for the silver lining and trying so hard to find it that I just go out and do crazy things. While the crazy stuff is fun, I forget that I’m not 16 anymore, I can’t go out for 6 days in a row with no sleep and still be able to do the work I need to do for grad school and hold down a grown up job. Thankfully I have yet to do anything so idiotic that I get fired from said grown up job but that doesn’t really make me feel any better because I know I’m smarter than this. Anyway the point of this is not to crib about all of that but to point out that sometimes even when life is hard there really is a silver lining in there somewhere.
I mention this because I have a lot of friends who are struggling with the job search right now and um, I understand just how much it sucks. I remember when I got out of college and I didn’t have a place to live or enough money to do anything. I lived mostly out of my car for nearly 2 months but thank god for D who let me crash with her during that time before I had enough money to even be able to afford an apartment. It sucks. But remember it’s not permanent and it’s not forever. I even ended up taking a couple of AWFUL jobs in that time. I was a glorified secretary that they called an office manager except I did all sorts of crap stuff, like replace soda in the refrigerators and make lunch on Fridays. I swear it was the most frustrating thing ever because I thought to myself, “I went to college. I have a double major in Physics & Philosophy. And honestly, I’m smarter than most of you people that work here, I can’t believe I have to do this. This is so demeaning.” And at the time it really was.
Oh and there was this OCD woman that I worked for. You would think that someone with OCD is really clean, that’s just the general stereotype. Wrong. She had stacks of paper piled so high that there was just a narrow little pathway from the entrance to the staircase which I would have to go up to go to her “computer room”. And everything was covered in plastic because she had “cleanliness issues”. She also ran a “clutter workshop” to help others declutter their lives and for the life of me I do not understand because I really didn’t think she was the picture of learning how to clean up your clutter. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to make fun of her, I’m glad she was trying to organize her life. It just didn’t really seem like it to me. Not to mention it was terrifying to walk through that house once a week, it was just… I don’t even know how to describe it but it is certainly etched in my memory.
And this is all just stuff I *had* to do to get by at the time. So ok, my life is not perfect right now. I will give myself enough legitimacy that I’m allowed to be sad and to look forward to 2010 being a better year but seriously, my life is not that bad. I have a place to live with a roommate that I really like. (Actually, I think Adam is just a gem. I have a friend who is having the most awful time – lost his job and got kicked out of his apartment. *WALKED* from Lakeview to Downtown Chicago [that’s like 10miles] in the winter in freezing weather to a job interview because that’s how desperately he wants to be employed and not be in the place he’s in right now. – so I told Adam I’d like to offer this guy a place to stay and, seriously I love this boy, Adam’s response was “Of course he can stay with us. If it becomes an issue we’ll think of something when we get there, we can’t let him be homeless. We’ll figure something out. Tell him to come over whenever he wants.” Seriously, Adam is *such* a gem.) I have a job that I actually really like. And I’m in school for something that I’m actually really interested in. And I’ve got incredible friends, even if some of them are thousands of miles away they’re still there. So really there is some silver lining out there. Sometimes it’s just about perspective and being able to see it. And for everyone who is looking for a job, I know the economy blows. I know it’s really hard. But I promise you it will not be like this forever. You will find something. Cut yourself a break. Even if it’s just for an hour. Also I know it seems like the most overwhelming thing in the world right now but it will get better and there are good things out there outside of needing to find employment. You’ll get there, just have a little faith even if that sounds impossible right now.

What Every American Should Know About The Bailout

Now I am no economist, in fact, I will readily admit that there is a wealth of information about the banking system that I know nothing about. But I do try to be informed and to keep up with the news and current events. And considering the state of the economy I have been paying a bit more attention to accounting and how the banking system actually works.

So here are a few things that while everyone has been watching these bailouts go out that should be known. Thanks to John C. Coates (a professor at Harvard Law School) and David S. Scharfstein (a professor of finance at Harvard Business School) who wrote a beautiful op-ed in the New York Times, I now know that the bailouts did not actually go directly to the banks that are having trouble lending but rather to bank holding companies. In their piece they ask why the government would give this money to a bank holding company as opposed to a bank, I mean we aren’t bailing out the automotive companies by giving the money to the equity firms that own those companies so why would we do this with the banks? I realize that we, the people (at large), may not be informed of this. But I would hope that those members of the House Financial Service Committee would be aware of this and would have created legislation to be appropriate to the situation instead of going this awkward (not to mention inefficient) way about it.

The next point was raised by yet another fabulously written op-ed by James Deitrick and Michael Granof (professors of accounting at the University of Texas at Austin). The point that they brought up is how the banks are having such trouble accounting for the money being lent to them by the government. But this should not be so difficult. Every non-profit is required to have their accounting systems in order such that they can be held accountable for the funds they receive from various parties. Now, if a non-profit organization can keep their books accordingly, one would imagine that this should not be such a difficult task for a bank. I mean banks are financial institutions, which leads you to believe that they should have a sufficient understanding of accounting to be able to manage the money that they have. I mean isn’t that the point of a bank. If one were to decide to be a banker, it shouldn’t be so difficult to imagine that said banker could be held accountable for their actions. And that they would be capable of having it done correctly. I mean if bankers cannot do this then why are they managing banks, perhaps we should be turning to the accounting teams at non-profits for some guidance. But in all seriousness, it should not be cause for this much of a stir, it should be standard business practice or at least one that they are familiar with.

Lastly, I’d like our government to remember that these are not free handouts to spoiled children who misbehaved. It may be critical to our economy to aid the banks but it is also critical to our economy to not encourage poor practices. However, it is critical that we encourage those wayward souls to start implementing best practices, such as responsible accounting so that things like this will have less of a chance of occurring. Let us remember that it was no accident that we ended up in this position. And if our lawmakers, who are bailing these irresponsible people out of a self-made crisis, do not set the record straight about what is acceptable and what is not, I have little faith that such an event will not occur again in the future.

When Good Is Not Enough

Why is it so difficult for politicians to admit that they make mistakes? And why is it that we think that reaching across the aisle is more important currently than making effective changes to the major bills going through Congress to actually effectively change the way things are headed. I mean surely making nice with the Republicans, who I would like to note, have quite successfully been ousted out of the House, Senate and White House or we could pass some legislation that actually puts some good back into this country. Tax cuts are not effective and they are not the path to helping out people who are truly struggling. Let me tell you those tax cuts are not helping the guy that just got laid-off… you know one of the most recent in the 500k+ that have lost their jobs thus far.

I love reading Paul Krugman’s op-eds (like the most recent one) because while they can be a little depressing, he is generally quite insightful. Also, I have noticed he has become more emphatic as the economic crisis has been getting worse, which I am eternally thankful for because it is nice to have someone actually care and speak intelligently about what is going on. What I can’t fathom is why we still have these Wall St schmucks advising our new President. I mean, really, it would’ve been such a tragic idea to take someone who may not be in industry but, oh, maybe a Nobel Prize recipient instead who can actually speak intelligently about economic theory and perhaps not go down the same path of greed that Wall St has been following for far too long.

For one, I think the politicians are understating the severity of this situation, which is really not helping our cause. Not to mention the fact that everyone wants to be a “centrist” because it’s oh so safe in politics. But in reality they just created a big gaping hole in some of the most significant legislature of our time. Seriously, was that necessary? It’s so hard to hope for change and for rebound when it just seems like they aren’t getting the memo.

A New Age For Politics

Now I am pretty upfront that I’m not exactly an Obama fan-girl (skeptic would probably be the best descriptor) but I’m starting to come around to actually liking the guy a little bit. In fact Obama fan-girls/boys still irritate me and bring out the “devil’s advocate” voice in me all the time. But I have to say I am a fan of some of the things that are happening. One very trivial example would be not wearing coats in the oval office. While it may be a trivial example I think it just shows a President who is a little more relaxed with formalities and more interested in doing what’s best for the country and you don’t have to be in a full suit & tie to do it. I’m not saying wear jeans to work but loosening up a bit is not a bad thing, in my opinion.

Not to mention there has been much progress in the past week or so. I am pleased.

So Thursday morning I was reading this lovely article about how Wall St has been freely giving away bonuses this year despite the fact that they cannot stay out of water without tax-payer dollars bailing them out. And I was just lamenting to a friend about how I wish someone would say something to those people in finance who believe they deserve a bonus for actually making their companies fail because quite frankly, I’d say the opposite is true. These are the same people that got unreasonably large bonuses for doing things that we have found to be completely unethical and made of naught. The money just wasn’t there and they made it up, so why should they be rewarded for this? I cannot explain how pleased I was to read this article later that afternoon which appeared in this morning’s paper. I am really glad that President Obama is actually taking a hard stance on this, granted I wanted a little more brimstone and fire a la Maureen Dowd but you know, I’m still happy that he is showing his displeasure.

Perhaps I will end up actually liking Obama I do really like some of the new moves that Obama is making even if I am not (and am determined never to be) a “fan-girl”. I certainly reserve that fundamentally American right to criticize our politicians but I have to say I think this is a great start to what I hope is a new era in politics.

The Unemployment Debate

I have always thought of myself as a rather drastically liberal person who believes in social responsibility which also goes hand in hand with hard work. But very recently I was called conservative and judgemental in the same sentence. Typically it wouldn’t bother me but the reasoning behind it bothered me so much that I have been thinking about it all week.

Let me backtrack a bit, this all stemmed from someone I know who is reapplying for unemployment. Now, I do believe that there should be a safety net out there for people who lose their jobs. I believe that they shouldn’t be left hung out to dry because of the economy or the fact that it can take a few months to find employment again. I get that, I really do. But this person has maxed out the terms of unemployment and reapplying for an extension without even looking or wanting to look for a job. I am just flabbergasted at this phenomenon. I have met some conservatives who always tell me when I speak about how I am a proponent for welfare, umemployment, social security, and quite frankly most social services that all these people are just free-loading off of our hard work. Up until this point I had never met anyone that I felt was doing anything close to that, so I never took it all that seriously. But now I don’t necessarily know how I feel about the whole unemployment system and I have to say that I really do not appreciate people who abuse the system. Because I have friends that due to the failing economy or other unfortunate circumstances have lost their jobs and they are working extremely hard every single day to find a new one. They are not happily collecting unemployment they are just thankful that they have it so that they aren’t on the street with nowhere to go. And I am glad that unemployment exists so that they are relatively safe and stable until they can find another job.

What really strikes me is the fact that a person can say that they don’t particularly want to look for a job because they would rather “enjoy life” and then talk about how they don’t have enough money to do fun things that they want to and yet still continue to be unemployed. I mean I understand that working is not always fun. In fact it often sucks (for lack of a better word). But, in my opinion, we all have to do it in order to survive. Working is simply a part of life and it is up to you to find some form of employment that suits you. I mean I’m not in love with my current job (although, I have been lucky enough to have had work experiences that I love) so I know that I am working towards having enough experience and education to move to something better at some point. It doesn’t have to be immediate but I know that I have the ability to control my work environment to a certain extent. It does not excuse me from having a job. And society does not “owe you” the money to exist when you are not contributing anything back to society. And I don’t think that is a conservative view point. In fact it is the basis for social responsibility.

Being liberal isn’t about giving away free hand-outs, it is about helping those who are less fortunate who need the help to get to where they need/want to go. It is about being socially aware and trying to think of what’s best for the entire community, not thinking only of oneself (in fact, I believe that’s where being conservative comes in). When one takes advantage of the system it’s just being on the other side of the conservative coin, except that you believe someone else should be paying for you to do whatever you want. I mean it sortof reminds me of Donald Trump who believes that he should be able to get out of his massive loan from Deustche Bank to build Trump Tower in Chicago because of the real estate crisis but he won’t let those home-buyers who bought those condos at outrageous prices out of their mortgages with him. I mean does that strike anyone else as just a little self serving? Because that’s the way it seems to me. And honestly, shouldn’t Trump have enough money to cover the costs for such an ambitious project anyway, he sure acts like he should.

I digress, the point being, I do believe in having an unemployment system. And yes, I will admit there are flaws that are not easily rectified. In fact, they may never be rectified and while I do not appreciate people who cannot be bothered to get a job I still believe that the system is necessary for those who are not abusing the system. For those people who truly need it to get back on their feet and who use it as such. I think that the selfishness of a few should not make us so close-minded that we forget the great benefit it gives to so many. If nothing else at least we all have the security of knowing that should we lose our jobs to this fantastic economy that we won’t be immediately out on the street.

Is America Becoming Socialist?

Because that’s certainly what it feels like at least from *all* the socialized losses that we seem to be picking up these days. What I want to know is where are the benefits for the majority of Americans? Surely there has to be something more in it for the average person to be picking up over a trillion dollars worth of bad business. At the rate that we are handing out money to corporations I really do hope that someone is going to be held accountable because I find it absolutely unacceptable that there are many executives that have truly made a giant mess of things and yet are still being paid in the millions.

Perhaps I just don’t understand capitalism but I was always under the impression that should you run your business poorly, it will go under and you will “lose your shirt”, but clearly we no longer believe in that. As it is being proven by the fact that we are now bailing out the automakers along with Wall St. Who else are we going to take on as charity cases? I’m just waiting for the next shoe to drop. For all these years we have criticized and absolutely down-played the need for any socialist tendencies, yet now, now we are essentially taking from the poor and giving handouts to the rich who have managed to mismanage their money. (Sure, I know I’m exaggerating a bit but if you really do take an overly simplistic view that is exactly what is going on.)

So I hope that the new administration does not forget that this is not a socialist country. And until the base standard of living can come up to some sort of reasonable standard, such as universal health care and an appropriate minimum wage and appropriate taxes on the wealthy to compensate for such things, I would hope that the government can control themselves as to just how sorry they feel for those poor, poor corporations that have managed to go astray.

Why I Was Wary Of The Bailout…

Really, now we want to bailout the automakers in Detroit who haven’t been performing up to par for years? This is the ultimate in privatized profits and socialized losses. Sometimes I wonder about the Democrats in office… Are they actually paying attention or do they just think handing out money to anyone who asks is a good idea? Because I don’t. I may be a liberal but I still believe you should have to earn your own bread and butter. I have come to terms with the fact that our entire economy would have collapsed if we had not bailed out the banks. That I can accept, unhappily but accepted nonetheless. If the automakers cannot create vehicles that people in this country would like to buy then they should not be rewarded for their incompetence by being bailed out.

Yes, I do realize that allowing the auto-giants in Detroit to fail does mean a significant amount of jobs lost. But let’s be realistic, if you run your business poorly, you don’t pay attention to your consumers and the fact that your sales have been going down for years then you are going to run yourself into the ground. And it is not the general public’s problem to clean up. You fail, you close, too bad for you.

And I know Detroit is crying out that we bailed out the banks so why not them. Well, to put it simply, yes the banks made a mess of things but unfortunately they effect every other industry in the United States and, with these fantastic global markets, the rest of the world too. So not bailing them out would have most likely guaranteed a Depression that would have been unprecedented. While I may not like that we bailed out the banks, it certainly was necessary in order to maintain some semblance of an economy, even if it is in crisis. The automakers on the other hand, well ok too bad they go out of business, we still have a bunch of foreign automakers that have factories in the US. This will not effect the entire country much less the world even an iota of what the banks failing would have done.

Perhaps it isn’t fair but it’s true and the less socialized losses we take the happier I am because let’s face it we’re not a socialized country. I am all for socialized losses as long as we start socializing the profits, you just let me know when that happens cause I’m not gonna be holding my breath for that one. And just one final thought, perhaps we should take a look at Britain and learn from their mistakes, bailing out a lousy automaker does nothing for anyone. It’s just plain stupid.