Thursday, September 18, 2008

campaign response #3: trade deficit

I'd like to continue exploring, in a bit more detail, some issues I mentioned in my last two blogs. I stand by my emotional frustration with the current campaign. Admittedly, I've addressed the campaign broadly, and now I'd like to get a little more specific.

Overall, please know that one of my main points is that we have a flawed representative system of government and election; the two major parties are largely responsible for this. With very few exceptions, Republicans and Democrats comprise all three branches of government. Each party takes an opposite stance on major issues. When the congress votes on minor issues, representatives refuse to cross party lines in fear that their disloyalty may give the opposite party a victory. This is not a petty issue: small congressional victories mean a lot when a congress is nearly even-split between to parties. And why are senators, representatives, presidents, and judges so loyal to their party? Because corporations, lobbyists, and people with money invest in those parties, convincing each party that they are essential in properly representing the interests of America.

I plan on returning frequently to this issue. In the meantime, let's look more specifically at some issues that our candidates are glossing over. In my last post, I mentioned that our Federal Reserve operates without a lot of oversight from the government, let alone from people like you and me. I'd like to move slightly from that topic to address our Federal Trade Deficit—a related topic—for this reason: the Federal Reserve makes powerful policies and statements about the U.S. economy. For better or worse, these actions are part of the Federal Reserve's responsibility to keep inflation reasonable. The
Bureau of Labor Services calculates the rate of that inflation—a rate that is used when the Bureau of Economic Analysiscalculates the GDP.

So, for example, Ben Bernanke (who is in charge of the Fed Reserve) might tell us that, even though our trade deficit is high, our GDP is also high, meaning that business is still growing. …unless, of course, the GDP is overstated, which should be a big controversy right now.

So, backing up slightly, the GDP is a rough sum of all the economic activity in the country. Usually, if the GDP increases, that usually means that our businesses are making us money, which is good. The
trade deficit is the difference between the amounts of goods we import versus the goods we export. If we continually import more than we export, that's bad, and if our deficit continues to grow, this acts as a disincentive to our own investors.

Economists and bankers have several big questions related to our growing trade deficit ( is a great place to get info on all this.) The biggest question, currently, is: how much of our trade deficit can we attribute to the rising cost of oil? Keep in mind that we import the vast majority of our oil, so high oil prices obviously contribute to higher import costs. However, oil is NOT completely responsible for our deficit. Check out the latest trade analysis spreadsheet which I found at the BEA's website. Click on Exhibit 11 and compare Non-Petroleum exports to Non-Petroleum imports. The difference is huge! For a general breakdown of the types of stuff we import, read the latest newsrelease. The types of imports we're talking about are goods and services like food, vehicles, insurance, travel, technology, and technology support.

Anyone who listened to the RNC recently and heard crowds chanting "drill, baby, drill!" might assume that "oil-drilling will decrease our support for dangerous regimes" (
Sarah Palin on YouTube) and help solve an energy crisis. But we're also talking about a huge trading and credit crisis here, for which oil-drilling is not necessarily the answer.

What will decrease a trade deficit? The meaningless answer is: U.S. business which investors believe in. How do we get business we believe in?

I'm not a businessman, I'm a musician. Still, I sell myself and I sell my ideas to a degree that won't make me uncomfortable: I want to speak about things that move me, I want to use music in my discussions, I want to stay away from impractical ideals, I might think ideals are impractical. Those who invest in ME, believe in the tenets of my business, to some small degree. It sounds dry and heartless but it's true.

If it sounds like I'm saying "we need more businesses with HEART," I'm not. We already have them. I work for one. There are willing entrepreneurs everywhere, especially here in the NW. The meaningful answer is that the public and the government must create conditions which allow theses businesses to flourish. This means government subsidies and tax incentives. During the Reagan administration, the Republicans cut subsidies for alternative energy and fuel companies. Over the next ten years, the top wind and solar energy companies were purchased by foreign nations like Denmark, Germany, and Japan. They were officially "off-shored," and now, years later, we import their goods and services. Even worse, our government refuses to pass meaningful economic stimulus to these industries.

I barely feel the need to mention the massive migration of I.T. work to India over the past 10 years, do I?

And, while I'm not saying the U.S. government was wrong in discontinuing funding to the Texas Supercollider of the 90s, this is another example of forward-thinking research and investment, from which hundreds of businesses would benefit.

Obviously, consumers can play an important role in trying to consume local goods and services. We can also start making noise about exciting business we believe in: business that might change the world, like, oh I don't know, solar power, hydrogen power, wind power, sustainable food sources, weather research and control, satellite-cellular technology, black holes, the fourth dimension!

We can also refuse to support giant parties that will NEVER be able to address business ideas like these until the country/world demands it, in a drastic economic depression or an environmental catastrophe.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

campaign response 2

Several weeks ago Drew and I chatted about the role of a figurehead (i.e. a president) in a nation as large as the United States. My argument was that a president could never properly represent so many starkly different economies, industries, and communities as there are states. Why should I then expect him to be anything other than a symbol? I'm leery of "real" people who embody symbols yet also wield power, because their actions correspondingly take on moral value, whereas the congress of a local town can make mistakes without risking democratic legitimacy: the small-town errors lie in the mechanism rather than the symbol itself.

Drew's argument was that a symbolic figurehead can actually encourage small communities, especially if that figurehead strives to embody the same grass-roots change that is required for any real national change. In that sense, rhetoric and language are important, even if that language is vague. If it is empowering, it is worth it.

We both agreed, however, that if a president of a large nation is to make any pragmatic changes, there will be liberal waste, and we should accept this, choosing wisely which decisions we allow him/her to make.

I think the U.S. credit crisis poses a good example of a both symbolic and pragmatic issue. The issue is local and wallet-sized, national and powerful, and we can address it as a pragmatic problem without delving too deeply into the morality of borrowing. The Federal Reserve (the United States' central bank) regulates the monetary value of the dollar by telling private banks how they can borrow. The Federal Reseve sets interest rates and meets with the president as his dubious "
Working Group on Financial Markets." The Federal Reserve also operates on a huge deficit, which basically goes unmentioned to the public. The president needs to address the power of the Federal Reserve immediately, at the very least, creating more transparency so that people like you and I know what's happening. The president's Working Group on Financial Markets should divulge their findings, tell the country what they're doing, and enumerate the Federal budget. This is the best way to solve credit on a local level: education of the people.

Here is Ron Paul discussing pricing with the Chairman of the Fed Reserve.

Monday, September 8, 2008

presidential campaign response 1

This election is mostly about oil. McCain and Obama both refer to high fuel costs with nearly every mention of U.S. economy. When McCain talks about U.S. off-shore drilling, he mentions that we currently depend on terrorist-supporting nations for energy. Last Thursday night, Palin mentioned Russia as a threat to global security, and inferred that Russia's primary interest is oil.

I would like to hear candidates speak to the global environment and the United States' impact on it. I hear a lot about the U.S. economy, but only as it pertains to individual clumps of humans, and not as it pertains to a global community of humans, much less a global community of fish, birds, or ocean currents. Obviously, the president's loyalty resides first with his/her people, not to fish, but the people he/she represents should serve the world at large, and the world is suffering dramatically. For all the talk about Sarah Palin's knowledge of northwestern ideals, I've heard nothing about preserving ecosystems, returning damaged environments to healthy states, even acknowledging or monitoring environments (!) except statements that emphasize the importance of finding new industries for a struggling economy. In his acceptance speech, McCain said that "we need to restore the health of our planet by using all resources available to restore our economy." Terribly phrased, I think his point is this: a healthy American economy propagates a healthy planet. I disagree completely, and history does too!

I think McCain purposefully associates environmental preservation with the state of our economy, and this confuses people. They think he's talking about a healthy planet, but he's just talking about preserving their quality of living. I disdain this. We should be concerned with the planet for obvious large reasons, including--to a much smaller extent--the environment's effect on our economy. Alternative fuel, solely for the sake of better jobs, is not enough for me.

I'm frustrated that people only want to hear surface level stuff about taxes, big or small government, and national security: party-line phrases and meaningless banter. Sometimes I think people DO want straight talk and change, and that if our candidates would stop catering to our wallets, our stomachs, our pride, we'd understand and we'd rally around them. But look what happened to Ron Paul in the primaries: he was ridiculed and laughed at, and the public didn't care enough to lift up his issues.

I don't think presidential candidates need to get banally specific, ignoring the symbolism of their position. I think a president can still act as a figurehead, philosophize, inspire, and leave the specifics to the smaller communities. As much as I wish to God I felt as confident in our leaders' knowledge as I feel in Ross Perot's knowledge of our economy, we can inspire a nation without graphs. We need real philosophy! Our two-party system makes this impossible.

For instance, I hear very little talk about credit philosophy, which is weird, since Americans clearly have a muddled understanding of credit. American Government probably doesn't have a muddled understanding of credit, but it's a pretty closed-mouthed understanding. In my 10 years of voting, I've never heard a candidate from a major party enumerate the expenditures of a government versus the income of the government. Yet, candidates still talk about reducing federal debt. When we're talking about sums of money this large, how can any normal wage-earner truly grasp the meaning of statements like "We waste 100 billion dollars a year on countries not our own." To what am I comparing 100 billion dollars? The unknown budgets of other government expense accounts? And how could I possibly put a number like 100 billion in perspective? How many hotels can I buy with that much money?

It doesn't matter, because candidates lump the issue of federal spending into the larger issue of large versus small government, a stupid argument that plays on our fear of big brother or our individualistic pride or our liberal love for humanity. You Republicans and Democrats, I despise you. You are no better than cliques of high school kids, street gangs, or monotonous religion. You move in swarms, gaining momentum only because you surround yourself with others like you, motivated by some general feeling of purpose and a general hate for those who choose to live in direct defiance of you. I hate you and I hate your puppet-candidates. Get a life of your own, help others do the same!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

prepare to become obsolete!

Quantum computing. I never really understood this, and—believe me—I still don’t. But, via several rabbit trails, including a particularly interesting Science Friday article with Ira Flatow, I found myself excitedly reading wiki after wiki on particles, integer spin, and a 17 mile supercollider.

I remember hearing about the Texas supercollider in my junior high science class. It was funded by the U.S. government, but construction discontinued in 1993. I definitely want to visit the skeleton of a structure like this; it sits, rotting, in Texas, having been used only for the set of a John-Claude Van Damme movie in the 90s. At age 13, the concept of particles smacking together at inconceivable speeds was exciting mostly because I figured they’d blow up, or create radioactive-man or something. Then, in high school physics, Dr Helman addressed the “God Particle,” which is the basic component of the supposed field through which all things pass to get mass: a bunch of these particles create a field, just like a bunch of photons make an electromagnetic field.

This “field” is all referred to as Higg’s Field, and the materials needed for the field are called Higg’s Boson, although no one’s ever really seen this boson. We can't see the particles because they have dubious mass, like photons (which I think have no mass--nope, definitely don't understand that!), or maybe they have something to do with another dimension, or something even crazier. I guess it takes a lot of heat and energy to observe Higg's things. Like the Big Bang.

I don’t know if I ever really understood how a thing could be massless and then—suddenly—massful. And I still don’t understand the theory behind a particle collision and why it’s the best experiment in which to view Higg’s Boson, unless it’s a case of trying to observe way more energy than we’ve ever observed before—as in, inevitably, something awesome will happen. But all this is to preface what you’ve probably already heard: the Hadron Large Collider stands nearly ready for use, and is the talk of the world.

I’m so excited to be alive (for now)* and a bystander to a scientific experiment of this magnitude. It’s amazing! Sure, nothing substantial may come of this: scientists may not discover the God Particle or another dimension or dark matter. It’s doubtful, but maybe nothing will happen. Still, as my friend Matt said to me, half-joking, “I like how as a species we’re so fearless! We’re gonna get to the bottom of it even if we have to build a 17 mile loop under Switzerland and France.” It’s morbidly hilarious when you examine humankind from the perspective of God, or an intelligently-superior space-alien, or in the wake of all our disastrous social mistakes, or historically-silly scientific theories. But, while I love to laugh at people, I hate to set up camp with anyone who can’t see the beauty in evolution—the bigger philosophy behind progress, failure, investment, recession, and experiment.

There is so much awesome stuff to learn! and so much of science-technology is related to stuff we do every day. For instance, as a web user, you obviously make use of 1 or more processors, each of which can process millions of instructions per second. The instructions (and the data your chip processes) are all communicated through one of two states: 0 and 1. Your chip processes all that data through circuits, which are little gates and tunnels and storage receptacles, through which pass a bunch of electrons. Doy, you know this already. But quantum computing, man. It could happen! You know the story: if you can create and control qubits in superposition, you can build a quantum computer. Haha, OK maybe you don’t know that. Basically, qubits are particles that are able to represent both 1 and 0, simultaneously, by adding another dimension, or manipulating time, or whatever. We don’t really know how to do it yet, but there are all sorts of ideas.

For instance, this and this article talks about how researchers observe electron spin. An electron’s spin is measure in integers (which you will read more about if you start looking up bosons) and the orientation of the spin could potentially represent binary numbers, because there are basically two kinds of spinning electrons. By manipulating the spin of electrons, we can create more than two states, more options than 1 and 0. That's awesome.

Yeah, yeah, quantum computing won’t happen for a long time, but the supercollider has got me all excited about it anyway. Can you even imagine how rapidly technology would accelerate? It makes me wonder why we spend so much money on the military and stupid stuff like that, and why every kid is not learning the basics of building a computer in 3rd grade.

For some great (and quick) synopses of Higg’s Boson, go here.

*According to some, I may not be alive much longer. Check this out!