18 June 2009


I think I need to bring this blog to its natural conclusion.  

For those of you reading it for information about Moldova, you need to start at the beginning of 2008, because the recent posts barely touch upon my time there.   

Moldova is an incredible country full of contradictions and confusion.  If you're assigned there as a PCV it will be a experience you will not forget.  

Thanks to all that read it; sorry it got off topic so much.  

Catch you on the flip side.

11 March 2009

So this crisis was caused because the government forced banks to give home loans to poor people?

Subprime mortgages took off after 2004. Subprime mortgages had been around for a long time. But their popularity took off in late 2004. Most subprime mortgages were issued after 2004, according to a survey by the New York Federal Reserve.


Subprime mortgages were not used primarily for new home purchases.
One of the familiar media narratives is that subprime loans were used as part of a government policy to make home ownership affordable to low-income people. But in fact most subprime loans were used to refinance existing mortgages, and not for new home purchases. And most of those refinancings were also used by home owners to take out more cash from their home equity.


Many people who would have qualified for a traditional prime mortgage took out a subprime mortgage instead, based on the recommendation of mortgage brokers, who earned bigger upfront fees from the subprime product.

A big percentage of subprime mortgages had inadequate documentation. It's easy to engage in mortgage fraud if you don't need to prove your income or your net worth. And the proliferation of "no income, no asset" mortgage loans did just that. It was an invitation to fraud. This product was most popular in California and Florida.


Most subprime mortgages had adjustable rates. Most subprime mortgages had low introductory interest rates that reset after a few years. Often, when the rates were reset, homeowners discovered they were no longer able to afford the monthly payments.

Subprime Mortgages With
Adjustable Interest Rates

Arizona 73%
California 69%
Florida 65%
Nevada 68%
Wash., D.C. 68%
U.S. 61%

For an incredibly detailed analysis of all the math involved in the mortgage crisis, go here.

01 March 2009

The Daily Dish, Andrew Sullivan

28 Feb 2009 01:38 pm

Dissent Of The Day II

A reader writes:

I came to this country and worked hard also.. and, like you, have been lucky enough to be successful. This country is wonderful that way - if you work hard you have a good chance of being successful. But many people work very, very hard and are not successful - and not because they are stupid, or lazy. The difference between Obama and his predecessors is that he realizes that the people who work hard and don't make a lot of money, or work hard and don't have health insurance, or who worked hard all their lives and now - in their golden years- have little to show for it also deserve some minimum level of dignity.

And yes, someone has to pay for it, and I'm happy for it to be me and people like me, because there for but for the grace of God. It's not punishing the successful, it's realizing that hard work is only part of the equation and we as a society need to recognize our obligations to those people who have held up their part of the bargain but didn't end up on the winning side (and children get an automatic pass).

23 February 2009

a full repost of an andrew sullivan article

February 22, 2009

Mad, maddening America, the wisest of all

The US is hobbled by bigotry but it has an unrivalled vitality that pushes it ever forward

America can drive you up the wall. To Europeans and world-weary Brits, it can sometimes seem almost barmy in its backwardness. It is a country where one state, Arkansas, has just refused to repeal a statute barring atheists from holding public office but managed in the same session to pass a law allowing guns in churches. It incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than even Russia and aborts more babies per capita than secular Europe.

Darwin remains a controversial figure, but Sarah Palin was a serious candidate to be vice-president. Last week the California legislature took five days to prevent the entire state from going bankrupt; and more than three months after the election, and five months since the financial system went kablooey, the Treasury secretary had not mustered the staff sufficient to craft the details of a rescue package for the banks.

There are times in the quarter of a century since I arrived in America that I have been tempted to throw my hands up in frustration. To give a brutal, personal example, I’ve lived in the US since 1984. I’ve made a home and a life here. But I still cannot even begin the process of becoming a citizen because the United States makes it illegal for anyone with HIV to get a green card.

The ban was passed in the 1980s in a moment of total, ignorant panic. It took two decades to repeal it last summer, and the government bureaucracy still hasn’t changed the regulation. There are only 12 countries in the world with such a draconian policy on HIV-positive immigrants: Armenia, Brunei, Iraq, Libya, Moldova, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Sudan and the good old USA. Quite some company, no?

Another small insanity: the residents of the city I live in, Washington DC, America’s capital, do not have any representation in Congress. Since the founding of the country, the district has never been formally a part of a state, and so cannot, according to the constitution, have representatives in the House or the Senate. Imagine the residents of Westminster not having any MPs in the Commons. The residents of Bagh-dad, in fact, have more democracy than the residents of Washington but no one in government cares enough about this actually to amend the constitution to make that change.

And yet I stay and love it and defend it, even as it can push me to bang my head against the wall at times and may eventually throw me out altogether. Why? Because I’ve learnt over the years that the constitutional system that seems designed to prevent change has more wisdom in it than some more centralised parliamentary systems; and because the very chaotic, decentralised and often irrational mess of American state and federal politics also allows for real innovation and debate in ways that simply do not occur as vibrantly elsewhere. The frustration and innovation are part of the same system. You cannot remove one without also stymieing the other.

Take gay rights, a cause dear to my heart. Many Europeans feel quite smug about their enlightenment, and the transformation of the debate in Britain in the past decade has been as profound as it has been welcome. But few doubt that America pioneered the gay rights movement, as the movie Milk, up for eight Oscars tonight, underlines. New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco in the 1970s forged a liberation movement that changed gay lives throughout the world.

Yet even now, though I have a marriage licence, something no gay couple in Britain have, my five-year relationship is not recognised by the federal government. In Massachusetts, a state where gay marriage is legal and where I married my partner Aaron in August 2007, the licence is no different in any respect from that given to heterosexual couples. Civil partnership may provide rights at a national level, but it is still indeli-bly a separate and lesser institution than marriage itself, and offers a lesser measure of the social, psychological and cultural acceptance that civil marriage provides.

In California, gays just suffered a horrible setback as a majority narrowly voted to take away marriage rights. But at least they had a chance to get them in the first place. And the debate was a real and raw one – which made victory more meaningful and defeat more profound.

In America, the bigotry you face is real, unvarnished and in the open. In Britain, it can come masked or euphemised or deflected into humour. It hurts much more to punch a brick wall than to punch a deep velvet cushion. But if you punch hard enough, the wall will one day crumble, while the pillow will constantly absorb the blows.

There is plenty of religious bigotry and fundamentalist rigidity and crude sectarianism in America. But there is also a clear and invigorating religious energy that takes the question of God seriously and does not recoil from it in apathy or world-weariness. Give me a fundamentalist to argue with any day over someone who has lost the will to care that much at all.

On race, of course, this is especially true. No civilised country sustained slavery as recently as America or defended segregation as tenaciously as the American South until just a generation ago. In my lifetime, mixed-race couples were legally barred from marrying in many states. But equally in my lifetime, a miscegenated man who grew up in Hawaii won a majority of the votes in the old slave state of Virginia to become the first minority president of any advanced western nation.

That is the paradox of America; and after a while you find it hard to appreciate anything more coherent. What keeps America behind is also what keeps pushing it relentlessly, fitfully forward.

That Canadian genius Leonard Cohen put it best, perhaps. In his anthem Democracy he called the United States “the cradle of the best and of the worst”.

You live with the worst because you yearn for the best, because the worst in its turn seems somehow to evoke the best. From the civil war came Abraham Lincoln; from the Great Depression came FranklinD Roosevelt; from segregation came Martin Luther King; and from George Bush came Barack Obama. America may indeed drive us up the wall, but it also retains a wondrous capacity to evoke the mountain top and what lies beyond.

05 February 2009

S. 162, The Fiscal Discipline, Earmark Reform, and Accountability Act

S. 162 would provide greater accountability of taxpayers' dollars by curtailing congressional earmarking.

It's a Feingold, McCaskill, McCain "joint". Support it by emailing your legislators. It's just in the senate, so you can go to www.senate.gov, but it doesn't hurt to tell your house folks to, and you can find out who those people are here: http://www.votesmart.org/

Kids letters to Obama....

Dear Obama,
I hope this letter reaches you in the best of health and condition, following your victory in the presidential race.… I guess the best thing about the White House is the experience of being there for a term or two terms and really sucking everything up, be it good or bad.
Mohammad Jama, age 14
Ann Arbor, Mich.

Dear President Obama,
The first thing you need to do is put your stuff in the White House. Be careful, Abraham Lincoln haunts one of the bedrooms. Look around the White House. Meet with your helpers. Get a puppy. Talk to America. Make a speech.
Matthew Wong, age 8

Dear Mr. Obama,
As president, I would move into the White House and get some people to help me with my homework. I would fill the White House with chocolate and gravy (but not together) and mashed potatoes or maybe fill it with root beer. I'd drive through the White House on a boat. We'd make the floor out of mashed potatoes and the house would be filled with mashed potatoes. …
I'd have a couch made out of pudding that you could eat with a giant spoon. And I'd have a pizza carpet. After we'd eaten all of our furniture, we'd buy real furniture.
Amir Abdelhadi, age 6 (as dictated to Katie McCaughan)

Here is a list of the first ten things you should do as president:
1. Fly to the White House in a helicopter.
2. Walk in.
3. Wipe feet.
4. Walk to the Oval Office.
5. Sit down in a chair.
6. Put hand sanitizer on hands.
7. Enjoy moment.
8. Get up.
9. Get in car.
10. Go to the dog pound.
Please enjoy your experience as president.
Chandler Browne, age 12

Dear Mr. Obama,
Hey, I'm Sheenie, I'm kinda a poet. I really hope you put America back together. No pressure though.
Sheenie Shannon Yip, age 13

Dear President Obama:
You are awesome!!! Some things you should do are:
1. Stop the use of oil in cars.
2. Clean up the ocean.
3. Help animals that are endangered.
4. Help immigrants get better jobs.
5. Give money to schools.
6. Fire the governor of California.
Hilda Herrera, age 12
San Francisco

Dear President Obama,
Could you help my family to get housecleaning jobs? I hope you will be a great president. If I were president, I would help all nations, even Hawaii.
President Obama, I think you could help the world.
Chad Timsing, age 9
Los Angeles

Dear President Obama,
If you could lower gas prices, it would be good so people could not waste their money. Or if they waste all their money, they should have more chances before they become homeless.
Jackson Huang, age 10
Los Angeles

04 February 2009

Inspiring 5th Graders.

So these are public school kids in New York - in a regular school, no magnet or anything, I checked. And I just think they're awesome.

29 January 2009

It's been awhile....

I haven't written an actual posting in a serious long time, and truth be told, I have much to update about.




New apartment.

All these things have kept me busy in the past few months - kept me away from my computer. Or at least, away from writing anything.

Plus, when the election ended, things just kind of - crashed emotionally. It was a serious buildup of emotion and fear, and when that ended it was such a relief that I didn't even watch the news for awhile.

Yes Rachel Maddow, I... forsoke you? forsaked you? But only for a few months. Only until the inauguration. Now I'm back to my "no he did not do that!" state of mind.

Except for now it seems to be more of the "yes, he *totally* did that!" kind of exclamations.


I'm in the midst of this momentously huge task of Model United Nations, and it's sure been a tough project. We're greatly expanding it, and it's hard to do a project in a nation that has very little internet access and sketchy phone system. Oh, do I have stories.

But the competitions for MUN start in two weeks, and I am finishing trainings in romanian (which are horrible) so that the local competitions can start, and once they're finished, I'm finished! Huzzah!

The end of February, folks, I'll have so much more free time. But I'll try to be on here more, promise promise.

What Obama Can Learn from "Old Europe"

This is a ridiculously long article to republish on a blog.

I don't care. It deserves a reading. Not that anyone will. But it will make it easier for me to find and quote later.

"The inauguration of the 44th president looked like the most dramatic debut since the Beatles arrived in New York. But now it's time for Team Obama to produce results. For three of President Obama's top priorities -- energy and climate change, health care, and jumpstarting the economy -- he would do well to look toward "old Europe" for guidance.

Energy and the Environment
The European Union recently displayed global leadership by enacting its 20-20-20 Plan: agreeing to cut human-produced carbon emissions that contribute to global warming at least 20 percent by 2020. They will do this by ramping up renewable energy technologies to 20 percent of energy usage, as well as by implementing far-reaching conservation measures and enacting the world's most ambitious carbon-trading program.

Displaying an important principle that will be crucial to any global climate agreement replacing the Kyoto Protocol, the richest European nations will contribute a greater share toward combating climate change.

Importantly, the EU has not allowed the recent economic crisis to thwart its drive. EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso told the BBC, "The financial crisis is not an excuse. On the contrary, we can make it a win-win situation. We can create more green jobs; we can promote more investment in the low-carbon economy of the future."

Indeed, the European wind and solar industries are creating thousands of jobs, many of them in rural areas where job creation can be difficult. Germany's economy has received a major boost from a massive investment in the renewable energy sector. Tens of thousands of Germans are employed in the wind-turbine industry. Germany's entire renewable energy industry -- including wind, solar and biomass power - included 249,300 jobs in 2007, a 50 percent jump from 2004. On a per capita basis, that is comparable with creating 1 million U.S. jobs.

A study by the German government predicts that by 2020 there will be 400,000 domestic jobs in the renewable energy sector. Other EU nations are enjoying similar economic surges; in Portugal, a massive solar plant is bringing jobs and development to the traditionally poor Alentejo region, 125 miles southeast of the capital Lisbon. The business of wind, solar and other renewables is growing deep roots in fertile European soil, and Europe is leading by example. In a friendly challenge to then President-elect Obama, Barroso said, "Our message to our global partners is: Yes, you can ... especially to our American partners."

Health Care
Similarly on health care, the Obama administration can learn from what has worked in Europe. The World Health Organization (WHO) rates European countries as having the best health care systems in the world, spending, on average, far less than the United States for universal coverage and quality results. France has the top-rated health care system, while the United States is ranked 37th -- just ahead of Cuba and Slovenia. In the Czech Republic, a proposal to introduce a $2 co-payment per office visit nearly toppled the government, as health care is considered a basic right in the social contract.

The United States ranks 28th in the world in infant mortality, at seven deaths per 1,000 live births, tied with Poland and Slovakia, and substantially higher than Sweden (3.4 deaths), France (4.3 deaths) and Germany (4.5 deaths). In life expectancy, the United States ranks 29th, its 77 years lagging behind Italy (81 years), France (80 years), Sweden (81 years) and Germany (79 years), and about the same level as South Korea (76 years) and Cuba (77 years). The United States has fewer per capita physicians, nurses and hospital beds, fewer MRI and CT scanners than the average for other advanced nations, and has the highest rate of medical errors (receiving the wrong medication, incorrect test results, a mistake in treatment or late notification about abnormal results). And of course, the U.S. has some 45 million Americans without health care, with that number rising as more Americans join the ranks of the unemployed and lose their employer-based health care.

In addition to providing better health coverage, Europe also manages to spend less. According to the WHO, the United States spends the equivalent of 16.5 percent of its economy on health care, about $6,100 per person, compared to an average 8.6 percent in EU countries. France spends just $3,500 per person, or about 10.7 percent of its economy. As Dr. Christopher Murray, director of WHO's Global Program on Evidence for Health Policy, says, "Basically, you die earlier and spend more time disabled if you're an American rather than a member of most other advanced countries."

How do the European countries manage to provide better health care than most Americans receive for about half the per capita cost? While there are differences from nation to nation, there also are some broad generalities to point to, as well as national specifics. These give us a pretty good snapshot that should be instructive to the Obama administration as they grapple with a health care system that is continuing to hurt American workers, businesses, and increasingly will hurt American competitiveness in the global economy.

The first overriding difference between American and European healthcare systems is one of philosophy. The various European healthcare systems put people and their health before profits. It is the difference between health care run mostly as a nonprofit venture with the goal of keeping people healthy and working, or running it as a for-profit commercial enterprise. For example, UnitedHealth Group CEO William McGuire received an obscene $124.8 million in compensation in 2005. He's just one of many grossly overcompensated kingpins of the U.S. health care industry. If nothing else, the U.S. health care system provides a valuable tale illustrating that corporate profits and affordable, quality universal health care are not a viable mix.

The second major difference between American and European healthcare is in the specific institutions and practices that flow from this philosophy of "health comes first." Contrary to stereotype, not every country in Europe employs government-run, "socialized medicine." Unlike single-payer Britain or Sweden, France, Germany and other nations have figured out a third way hybrid with private insurance companies, short waiting lists for treatment and individual choice of doctors. This model is based on the principle of "shared responsibility" between workers, employers and the government, all contributing their fair share to guarantee universal coverage. Health care is mandatory: everyone pays what they can afford into the health care fund so that everyone can receive health care.

A similar health care plan now is used in Massachusetts, and has been proposed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in California, but with two essential differences: in France and Germany, the private insurance companies are non-profits. Doctors, nurses and health care professionals are paid well, but you don't have corporate health care CEOs making hundreds of millions of dollars. Generally speaking, the profit motive has been wrung out of the system.

The second key difference is in the area of cost controls. In France and Germany fees for services are negotiated between representatives of the health care professions, the government, patient consumer representatives, and the private nonprofit insurance companies. Like in America's publicly financed Medicare system (which provides health care to the retired and elderly), the negotiations establish a national agreement for treatment procedures, fee structures and rate ceilings that prevent health care costs from spiraling out of control. In the end, this not only benefits personal health, but also has been good for European businesses, which aren't exposed to the soaring health care costs that have plagued American businesses.

Economic Stimulus
The Obama administration also could take notes from how the Europeans are jumpstarting their economies. Europe sometimes is criticized for its lack of unity, but sometimes that multi-headed hydra affords certain advantages. Having so many powerful nation-states allows each nation to act as a laboratory for the others, learning from each other's successes and shortcomings.

For example, during the massive financial meltdown in the fall of 2008, as markets reeled and the US announced a $700 billion bailout plan, Europe was harshly criticized for its initial failure to craft a continent-wide bailout. Eurosceptics saw it as another example of Europe's disunity and weakness.

But that was a rush to judgment. Each country initially tried its own bailout formula, and less than two weeks later the British strategy under Prime Minister Gordon Brown emerged as the most effective. Much of the rest of Europe followed, as did the United States in a change of tactics from Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson's original plan, which had proven to be so ineffective.

The European plan also includes tighter controls over the bailout money, equity in the banks, reductions in dividends and concessions from the bankers (including restrictions on executive pay in some countries), all of which were lacking from the US bailout. And Europe already has enacted a fiscal stimulus worth hundreds of billions of dollars at the continental and national levels, while Americans still await Obama's plan. Europe is looking relatively light on its feet, while the U.S. has looked flatfooted.

With a half billion people, Europe is the largest, wealthiest trading bloc in the world, producing nearly a third of the world's economy -- as large as the U.S. and China combined. While its critics have derided Europe as a land of "creeping socialism," in fact Europe has more Fortune 500 companies than the US, China or Japan.

Like the United States, Europe is fighting to pacify the rising economic floodwaters. But something about Europe and its "social capitalism" seems particularly well-suited to this make-or-break century challenged by a worldwide economic slump, global warming and new geopolitical tensions. Team Obama would do well to take notes."

Steven Hill is director of the Political Reform Program at the New America Foundation. His book "Europe Rising" will be published by the University of California Press in September 2009.

A Change is Gonna Come

If there is one thing Mr. Obama has not gotten around to changing, it is the Oval Office décor.

When Mr. Bush moved in, he exercised his presidential decorating prerogatives and asked his wife, Laura, to supervise the design of a new rug. Mr. Bush loved to regale visitors with the story of the rug, whose sunburst design, he liked to say, was intended to evoke a feeling of optimism.

The rug is still there, as are the presidential portraits Mr. Bush selected — one of Washington, one of Lincoln — and a collection of decorative green and white plates. During a meeting last week with retired military officials, before he signed an executive order shutting down the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, Mr. Obama surveyed his new environs with a critical eye.

“He looked around,” said one of his guests, retired Rear Adm. John D. Hutson, “and said, ‘I’ve got to do something about these plates. I’m not really a plates kind of guy.’ ”

From "White House Unbuttons Formal Dress Code" in NYTimes
by Sheryl Gay Stolberg

Published: January 28, 2009


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