Monthly Archives: March 2009

I’ll Keep the Change

Yesterday, while I was writing my post about national debt, my brother called. He’s a conservative Republican. We couldn’t be more different politically and our conversations lately always lead to politics. Without even thinking of it, within minutes, we were both on the White House web site, downloading  summary of Obama’s FY2010 budget.

In my whole life I have NEVER actually looked at the federal budget, or even really thought about it too much.

Obama is the first president who is committed to using modern tools to promote information transparency. The site is great looking, useful and easy-to-use, designed to keep us connected and informed. On the most basic level this change inspires confidence. We’re busy people — we don’t have a lot of time to hunt down infomation —  easy access to the facts promotes informed discussions. Thanks President Obama!

whitehouse.gov screenshot

Feed the Beast

PBS’s Frontline program Ten Trillion and Counting, sheds light on the enormity of our the national debt. In 2001 – when Bush took office, there was a surplus. Then 911 happened, they took us to war, then proceeded to borrow billions to pay for the war, while cutting taxes. His actions served himself and his administration politically, and not the country economically. I would have gladly paid more taxes, to keep us out of the mess we’re in now. They never reckoned where the money would come from to pay back the borrowed billions. During the 8 years George Bush was in office, the amount of the national debt doubled. On the day of President Obama’s inauguration the national deficit was $10,626,877,048,913.08. By the time he leaves office (if he’s in for 8 years) it will have tripled.

I have trouble imagining what a billion means let alone 1 or 10 trillion. It’s been said that our brains  have not evolved enough to really comprehend how much money that really is. In 1979 author Frank Trippit wondered: “…can any imagination get a practical hold on such a quantity? It is easy to picture the symbolic numerals: 1,000,000,000,000. Still, who can comprehend that many individual units of anything at one time? The number teases, dazzles the mind and even dizzies it, but that does not add up to understanding. Biology ought to find out what happens to the brain when it tries to visualize 1 trillion.” (Getting Dizzy by the Numbers, Time Magazine)

Fortunately, we have designers, developers and artists who can help us picture the incomprehensible. Mint.com created visualizations of 1 Trillion dollars, using examples to show how much the money is worth, such as “one trillion dollars can pay an additional 11 weeks of vacation for every American worker.” And here’s another that uses Google sketch that shows the physical scale of the actual dollars. Chris Jordan is making some great images which visualize  a specific quantity of consumables such as fifteen million sheets of office paper (five minutes of paper use); 106,000 aluminum cans (thirty seconds of can consumption).

I cannot comprehend Obama’s $775 billion stimulus package, and budget proposals that, if carried out, would produce a staggering $9.3 trillion in total deficits over the next 10 years. As much as I want to believe that Obama is doing the right thing, those numbers really scare me. How can we feed the beast, when we owe so much? Who’s gonna pay for all of this, when so much wealth has been lost and squandered already?

High Performance Driving

Lotus and me

I like to drive. I find it profoundly enjoyable to turn up the stereo, press my foot on the gas and maneuver around cars and other obstacles. When there’s no traffic and no cops, the lush landscape and curves on the 280 are thrillingly gorgeous! The combination of control, speed, and danger is such a rush –  I’ve always wondered the experience of driving on a race track, unfettered by speed limits and Sunday drivers. Well – I finally got my chance!

A few weekend’s ago, Dwayne’s co-worker, Mike Vincenty invited us out to the Infineon Raceway.  He teaches “high performance driving” – not racing – to people who sign up for a weekend of instruction and track driving with BMW CCA Club Racing. Pupils drive their own cars – we saw lots of  beemers: Mini’s,  M3’s, even a 70’s 2002! The most impressive machine had to be the Lotus, the most unexpected a Hyundai.

Mike took us around the track in his silver 2001 VW GTI – pretty much the same car that I drive every day. After a time or two around the track, he looked over at me and said: “I can’t believe you’re not screaming!” In all honesty I wasn’t scared – I can take 60-70 mph around a hairpin curve! Plus, I didn’t want to mess up his concentration or my experience by talking too much. This is seriously dangerous business.

Everyone has their reasons for being out there: people who want to drive their sports cars faster than 65mph, others training to be come race car drivers. Mike seemed less into the cars and the speed, and more into the teaching and practice of staying in control in a dynamic, high speed situation. Learning to think ahead, scan ahead, being prepared and consistent, and following the rules. All great lessons for a gal who is in the consulting business.

Would I ever go for it – take the classes? I don’t know. I will, however consider a first step – signing up for the prerequisite Car Control Clinic at Candlestick park. Vroom vroom.

Downturn? Try meltdown.

Dwayne just sent me this article on rollingstone.com. It’s takes a good loooonngg look at what how we got into this economic mess and puts in layman’s terms. Well… layman rollingstone reader’s terms – calling Cassano – the guy who headed up the AIG financial derivatives division a “… just a greedy little turd with a knack for selective accounting who ran his scam right out in the open, thanks to Washington’s deregulation of the Wall Street casino.” The Big Takeover is a must read.

Maceration of Money