About Me

Semi-retired technology (originally) entreprenuer living in Seattle with my partner, Michael, and our three cats: Barnum, Bailey and Buster.  Currently mostly on hiatus from technology; exploring new things I couldn't when I worked full-time.  And...continuing my love of all goods baked. 

About this Website

Musings on things that interest me: the stock market, personal and enterprise technology, pop culture/entertainment as well as my family and other general observations in my daily life.  Also, this is the place to find out more about our charitable foundation and what non-profits we are currently supporting.

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Moderate liberal with a slight hint of fiscal conservative.  I believe in a free market with appropriate regulation; government intervention in crisis; tax cuts but also tax increases when necessary; social safety nets; privacy and equal rights for all.  Wha?! you say.  Click here to read more.



Think twice before defending "traditional marriage" to discriminate

The case of the death of Christina Santiago in the horrific stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair and resulting indignities faced by her long time lesbian partner at that hands of an Indiana coroner should make all you "traditional marriage" defenders think twice.  This issue has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with civil rights.

Now, let me point out that as a gay man in a 14 year committed relationship, I have always been neutral on the concept of gay marriage and have purposefully avoiding getting into this debate.  I am of that age, right on the cusp between the shift from growing up and living life in the closet and significant mainstream acceptance, where we avoided mimicking "the straights" because our uniqueness was still trendy.  I come from the era where it was "en vogue" to have a gay friend.  I still feel like that in many ways.  I don't really have any desire to live my life exactly in the same way as thousands of years of straight people.

But, when death unfortunately comes to one half of a committed couple like Santiago and her partner in a state like Indiana without any protections for gay and lesbian couples, citing the US Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) Indiana is allowed to tell Stantiago's partner to go pound sand when trying to retrieve her partner's body, even I have to re-think the value of marriage.

The Marion County coroner's office is refusing to release Santiago's body to her partner; the office cited the Defense of Marriage Act as the reason why they've turned down Brennon's request to pick up her loved one's remains. DOMA allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. Indiana has its own version of DOMA that outlaws same-sex marriage. Since Indiana law requires the next-of-kin to pick up Santiago's body, but the state won't recognize Brennon as the surviving spouse, Santiago's body is still laying in the morgue awaiting a solution. It's unclear whether or not Santiago has other family available to claim her corpse and take it home for burial.

This required Santiago's partner to search out a distant relative to claim the body.   Had Indiana recognized the couple's civil union obtained in the state of Illinois, we wouldn't be having this discussion.  We're merely talking about a partner's right to claim her long-time partner's body after a horrific death.  Because of DOMA, individual states and the federal government are allowed to discriminate.  There is no uniform guarantee of protection of this right or any of the hundreds of other CIVIL rights guaranteed to married straight couples in all 50 states including hospital visitation, spousal medical benefits and the power to make medical decisions for a partner. Because DOMA is a federal law, there are also many other federal CIVIL rights which are denied to gay and lesbian couples including tax-free inheritance, filing joint tax returns, and immigration when one partner is not from the US among many others.

Note I have not once mentioned anything about marriage in the religious context or that we should demand that religious institutions perform gay marriages.  I have simply pointed out how lack of hundreds of CIVIL rights affects the daily lives of hundreds and thousands of loving couples of which Santiago's story is just a microcosmic example.

Marriage has changed over time.  It has only been in the past 100 or so years that the woman had a choice in her marriage.  Women and marriage were essentially a way to guarantee transfer of property and/or guarantee political alliances.  Nobody today sees this change in marriage as the end of "traditional marriage".  It's time to realize that marriage will continue to change and that granting gay and lesbians the the exact same rights as their straight counterparts is the right thing to do...from a CIVIL rights perspective.



#fb In case it was unclear...

...what is contributing to the deficit.

To counteract what will undoubtedly be a Republican rallying cry against the lack of fiscal control by the current Administration and Democrat controlled congress, there is this chart, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities:

I think it speaks for itself.




#fb Compromises required to tame the deficit!

Interesting article in Time Magazine about the compromises both sides are going to have make in order to get the deficit under control.  Here is a hopefully short(er) summary.

First, you have to believe that control over the deficit is important.  I do, if only from a pure market/investment standpoint.  In the 1930s most of our debt was held domestically and we didn't have the massive social security and medicare commitments which exist today.   Luckily for social responsibility we are able to finance our excess spending through the desire of foreign governments to purchase unprecedented levels of our debt at very low interest rates:  mostly Japan and of course China.  Those who don't believe deficit reduction is important, maintain that this insatiable appetite for our debt will continue in perpetuity.  But if that generosity were to wane and we don't get the public debt under control, the only way to finance it is by raising interest rates to make the debt more attractive.  This would be huge a problem not only for the cost of government service of the debt, but also for any business or consumer which borrows money as they are intimately linked.  I for one believe this generosity is more likely to abate than continue on forever.  Should we be betting the farm (our economic stability) on the continued generosity of other countries which can reek economic havoc on us by simply deciding to sell (or no longer purchase) our massive amounts of debt?  Seems the best answer is:  NOT.  The best way around this is to make sure that we get the debt under control while still maintaining our social responsibility.

For deficit reduction to occur, no longer can both sides "win" as has been occurring for decades:  taxes cut and spending increased.   The article postulates that both sides are going to have to give in and without the requisite political grandstanding which the Republicans are just waiting to jump on (see "no new taxes below").

First, a little "Government Spending 101".  On an average year the government brings in 17% of GDP in taxes; some years more, some years less. Military spending accounts for 5% of spending.  Health and Social Security each about 5%.  Interest on debt load will soon reach 2% (ed.  assuming today's historically low rates).  There we go.  We're done.  We've already spent all our revenue and we haven't even talked about:  homeland security, unemployment benefits, job training, state and local government support, higher-ed support, satellites and space missions, the NSF, NIH, NOAA, community development, food stamps, low-cost housing, infrastructure (roads, bridges), environmental protection, emergency relief (think Katrina), the judicial system, international diplomacy and poverty relief, renewable energy.  None of these programs is temporary and many are already considered underfunded and required to maintain a fair and efficient economy.  All together, the budget line items equal about (ed. 24%) of GDP (2010).

Now, let's talk about waste.  About 2-3% of GDP could be cut from the military by ending the wars and eliminating other inefficiencies.  We have to admit to ourselves that at a minimum, the Iraq war was a colossal waste of money for which we will be paying for many generations to come.  Medicare/Medicaid could also be made more efficient, but probably only to the extent that it offsets future growth which is good but doesn't help bring down the current deficit.  Removing earmarks could cut around 1% of GDP.  Even if we cut the military budget, remove earmarks, reform entitlement programs and remove the Bush tax cuts, we will still be significantly under-funded and public services will remain threadbare.  There seems to be no way around the fact that we need to raise taxes, hence the comment about political grandstanding above.  This would surely be used as an election year issue (remember Bush I).

First, the article asks that Republicans accept higher taxes as a % of GDP to be directed mainly at line items which build a base for the country's future: education, training, poverty relief, infrastructure and deficit reduction.  Democrats abandon the tax-the-rich-only approach and look at broad based tax increases and low marginal tax rates.  Implement a broad national VAT tax, but alongside a reduction in marginal tax rates to limit the VAT impact and a reduction in corporate taxes to help maintain global competitiveness and drive job growth.  It is thought that it is better to be socially progressive on the spending side rather than the taxing side.  Lower taxes to stimulate job growth but spend on health, education, training and child care to build a good base for the future. 

The second item of compromise could coalesce around the doctrine of "fiscal subsidiarity":  push the solution to problems to the lowest possible level of government where it is believed that localized, targeted solutions are more efficient than broad national programs.  Taxes would be collected by the federal government and transferred to state governments which would work with local governments to design and implement programs.

The third discussion item should be around market-based solutions rather than broad government programs when possible.  Democrats should accept the concepts of school vouchers and personalized health and education accounts as a means to install personal responsibility within government financed programs.  Also, in terms of infrastructure upgrades, use "toll" mechanisms to place the burden on the direct beneficiaries of the infrastructure.  Finally, aside from shutting down the wars, get the remainder of the military budget under control (aka "how to bypass some of the most powerful lobbyists in Washington: military contractors").

All of this requires two conditions: 1) taxes can no longer be a political game of chicken; and 2) Washington must be weaned off lobbyists.  The article concludes:  "Will we kill our economic future by shortchanging the public on investments needed to modernize the economy and train the workforce?  Will we borrow heavily from China and other countries to cover today's spending while racking up massive bills for our children?  Or might we just decide to protect the future of our country through a judicious mix of tax increases and spending cuts that will bring honor to this generation and prosperity to the next?"

After going through this exercise to summarize the article it does all come off as very "pie in the sky".  There is little chance that you could ever get these kinds of compromises through in a non-election year and even less in an election year.  Not to be pessimistic, but we will probably continue to do everything the article warns against.  It's all about short-term thinking: "What can I do to make sure I maintain my elected status while pushing off problems to the future when I won't care 'cuz I'll be dead".




#fb No "Ave Maria" at a school event?

Now I believe in the separation of church and state as much as the founding fathers, but isn't this inability to perform "Ave Maria" at a public school event going a bit too far?  And in my own state.  And it wasn't even the sung version.

If you think about it, a large percentage of classical choral works is in some way or another sacred-based because it was created for the catholic mass.  Can we no longer allow the high-school choral teacher to produce Mozart's requiem?  Faure's Requiem?  Verdi's Requiem?  Do high-school kids no longer get to experience great music because it was originally intended for a religious service?  The intent on performing it today is not to foist the meaning of the music (the mass) upon those listening, but rather to have them experience great music. I know I performed classical sacred music in high-school and that was not long ago (a mere 25 years now :)).  It seems we've drawn the line too far.


Broken Filibuster...?

...depends on what side you are on :)  Interesting op-ed from the NYTimes about changes to the Senate filibuster rules in the 1970s which have weakened it's original purpose.

With all of this talk of the momentus healthcare vote happening today (hopefully) it is interesting to reflect on how it is we are in this "do or die" situation when the Dems have a 59 vote (60 for a year) majority in the Senate.  Why is it so hard to get the vaunted "up or down" vote the majority is asking for:  Today's filibuster.  But don't be fooled, today's filibuster is not the filibuster of yesteryear...the filibuster as originally intented.

Prior to a 1970s rule change, new Senate business could not be taken up by the Senate if a filibuster was in play.  This had the advantage of real consequences for those threatening to filibuster as no other business was able to be taken up until the filibuster was over.   Today that is no longer true.  New business can be taken up even in the face of a filibuster.  The unintended consequence of the rule change is that mere threat of a filibuster is enough to side-track the legislation.   Funny that the reason for the rule change was the gridlock caused by southern Democrats during the civil rights legislation of the '60s. 

I am glad that the rule change was not enacted during the '60s or we probably would still not have solid civil rights legislation.  The old filibuster forced all sides to deal with a very difficult legislative issue for this county.  Today's rule makes it just too easy to table important legislation, as we see with the healthcare debate.  No politician wants to deal with healthcare because it is a very hard problem.  There are no good answers to the question in a country which believes in the free market but also wants to be socially responsible.  With the old rule in play it would have forced all sides to come together and work out a compromise as opposed to letting one side table the debate...which frankly has been going on for decades.


On Politics

Moderate liberal with a small hint of fiscal conservative. Let me try to explain the dichotomy of my political views.  I am an investor, so market dynamics are extremely important to me:  How big the deficit grows affects interest rates which affects profits which affect the market.  I believe the free market drives innovation which in turn drives job creation, but it must be regulated to some extent or it's primary allegiance to profits will cause it run amok (think unregulated dumping into waterways because it is cheaper).  I don't believe the government is hugely efficient when it comes to running things.  But, I do believe the government is required during crisis times like the current economic meltdown to take over spending and job creation in place of the private sector.   They won't do it well, but at least they can do it.   This requires higher deficits during the bad times which hopefully swing toward surpluses when times get better (look at the 1990s). 

I don't believe in trickle-down economic theory.  I think tax cuts on income to the wealthy and corporations are accumlated primarily to the wealthy and not "trickled-down".  I do believe in tax cuts for investment because of my above belief in the free-market.  I personally have worked very hard for what I have, but I have also been very lucky.  Within reason, I do not mind paying my share of taxes to support the social values I believe we should have as a nation.

I believe in the social safety net.  Not everyone is able to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps" for whatever reason (background, illness, personality type).  The whole world is not an entrepreneur in training.  I've worked with enough people to know that certain personalities lend themselves to "bootstrapping" and others are just good "worker bees".  I believe in extension of unemployment benefits during crisis times because it maintains some amount of spending in the economy and helps people when jobs are not available.  I do not equate extension of unemployment benefits with welfare we give to "mothers to have babies" (a conservative argument against the extension).  Welfare is a challenge for me because I know there are some who truly need the help and others who game the system.  I do believe in protecting the environment which requires regulation to keep everyone honest.  Yes it is more costly today, but sometimes you just need to spend money to protect future generations.  I may not get benefit today, but my nephew will tomorrow.   I believe in healthcare reform.  I have seen first hand what insurance companies will do in the name of profits.  Like environmental regulation, there must be some insurance regulation or corporate profits will always win over customer's health, especially when there is little or no competition (due to the anti-trust exemption for health insurers).

I believe in privacy and equal rights for all.  I find it funny that conservatives spend so much time trying to pass legislation telling us what is right and wrong on a personal level while at the same time eroding our privacy rights in the name of national security, all while telling us they want smaller government.  They only want smaller government fiscally.  They want more government regulation when it suits their belief system.  In addition to their stance on social issues, the stranglehold which the religious right has on the conservatives will almost ensure I never vote Republican.  It is a shame because I do believe in the pressure the conservatives bring to the government to be fiscally responsible is critical to the country's fiscal health.

Hopefully you can see where many times I am conflicted.  I don't necessarily want higher taxes, but I do believe in social safety nets.  It is a balancing act for sure and one that I believe most moderate politicians face on a daily basis.