Government 
10
comments

How to Request Presidential Inauguration Tickets

US Capitol BuildingIf you’ve been thinking about going to the inaugural ceremony of the 44th President of the United States, wait in line. A week or two ago, scalpers were trying to sell tickets to the inauguration on sites like StubHub and eBay for thousands of dollars. No one told the prospective buyers that tickets hadn’t even been issued yet! In fact, no one has tickets to sell in the first place because they won’t be issued until early January. There are only 240,000 tickets for the West Front of the Capitol, where the inauguration takes place, but most of those seats don’t have much of a view either. 240,000 tickets – not many at all.

How do you get an inauguration ticket? The best thing you can do is submit a request through your state’s Senators and Representatives (each are supposedly getting 200-500 a piece), though that likely will not result in much as they’ve all been inundated with requests. Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, one of the Senators I requested tickets from, recently emailed me to say that they received 55,000 requests already and they are estimated to get only 400 tickets (some of which they will likely keep for themselves). All the names will be put into a drawing and winners notified in January.

While people recommend you locate the Senator and Representative representing your district, it probably doesn’t hurt to just ask them all. I don’t think it’d be worth it to ask those outside your home state though.

Expanding the area: The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, the committee overseeing the inaugural, is looking into expanding the number of people allowed in the official inaugural zone (that 240k area). We’ll see how that goes.

If all else fails, you can always go to the National Mall and try to catch the inauguration on a huge Jumbotron. You won’t need tickets to go to the National Mall but you will have to fight with huge crowds just to get there. Most will be traveling by mass transit, probably the Metro train system, so good luck. If you aren’t a fan of crowds (just to see it on a Jumbotron, no less), you can always just flip on the TV.

However you ultimately choose to view the inaugural, it’ll be historic all the same.

(Photo: martinstelbrink)


 Government 
34
comments

I Voted for Barack Obama

I voted for Barack Obama.

I walked into the polling location, sign in, voted, and walked out in what felt like five minutes. Then my wife and I headed over to Chik-fil-a where we thought they were giving away sandwiches (the one near us wasn’t!). We ate there anyway because Chick-fil-a is a good place and then snagged our free coffee’s from Starbucks across the street. Not a bad voting experience!

Now, I hope you all won’t mind if I share a few thoughts about my decision. I share some of the same feelings about him as Marc Andreessen, who is pretty well known in Silicon Valley and, among other things, helped create Mosaic. Here are some of my other thoughts about him, the Election, John McCain, etc. I don’t write much about politics, I know it’s a heated topic and I try not to play with fire too much, but this is pretty much a brain dump and feel free to share your own in the comments.

There are two things I feel the next President has to do:

  • Improve our standing in the world – The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, how the Bush administration justified it (great and scary Frontline doc about it), and everything else have really knocked the United States down a peg or two or ten. I believe Barack Obama has both the charisma and the humility to improve how the world sees us.
  • Reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, especially foreign oil, and reduce our impact on the environment – Obama has said that our approach to finding alternative sources of energy should mirror that of Kennedy’s approach to landing on the moon, I really think we do need a goal like that. It’s unfortunate that so much of politics is dominated by groups with a huge stake in maintaining our reliance on fossil fuels (coal industry is huge in the swing states of PA and OH, Detroit automakers are detrimentally tied to gas guzzlers, Big Oil needs no explanation).

I don’t think McCain or Obama will be able to cut taxes, the economic conditions are such that cutting taxes is near impossible. Taxes will go up and they will have to go up. I bet we’ll see the Social Security maximum raised, some brackets shifting upwards (less so for the lower brackets), and some tax cuts permitted to sunset. It’s like elder Bush and his famous “Read my lips, no new taxes” line that he had to renege on – the realities of the environment will dominate any promises.

As for the big focus on “wealth redistribution?” We’ve been doing it for years, it’s called the progressive tax system. While it seems like you’re punishing success and being a bit socialist, the alternative is far worse. Imagine a nation where there is an upper class and a very large lower class with few economic opportunities, filled with anger, desperation, and despair, and with very few options. Not pretty huh? America is still the land of opportunity, even if success is taxed a little more.

The funny part is how the Bush’s tax cuts, coupled with ridiculous spending, redistributed wealth from the poor to the rich. It was a little sleight of hand though The cuts lowered taxes on the rich (no one upset by that huh?)by lowering capital gains. Lowering capital gains is a huge coup for anyone who was rich because they were more likely invested in things that give capital gains (stock market, real estate). If you were in the top tax bracket of 35%, long term capital gains is a mere 15%… that’s a 20% discount! This also had the effect of making the stock market more appealing, which boosts share prices, which makes everyone feel richer.

I am a little concerned about how Democrats will control both the Legislative and Executive branches, but I’m OK with it for now. I do like the idea of checks and balances. The bail out bill was four pages long when it was first introduced, thankfully a Democrat legislature and a Republican executive existed to slow it down and put a little framing around it. While I often complain about the slowness of government, in this case I’m glad things weren’t rushed. While having a single party control both branches is a little disconcerting, I’ve come to terms with that.

As for Joe the Plumber? Comedy. Pure comedy. I don’t know how the nation was convinced that someone earning $250K was somehow considered a “regular Joe.” If you make $250,000 (if it’s a business, that’s $250,000 profit), I’d say you’re doing pretty good.

Finally, I have the utmost respect for John McCain. I liked him far more before he adopted his strategy to appear closer to Bush to appeal to the Republican base (something I learned in Choice 2008, another great Frontline doc) but that’s part of the political game. I don’t fault him for his involvement in the Keating Five scandal and I think he’d make a fine President if he were elected.

If you haven’t voted yet, please go and vote.


 Government 
22
comments

Did You Vote Yet?

I Voted - American Flag

That simple question is enough to get a lot of people to vote.

So, I’m curious, did you vote yet? If so, and you are so bold, for whom did you vote for?

This afternoon I’ll post mine if you post yours. :)

(As of this posting, I have not yet voted, but I will soon; I’ll remove this sentence once I’ve voted)

(Photo: orangejack)


 Personal Finance 
6
comments

Don’t Vote (Just Kidding!)

Happy Election Day! Today is Election Day in the United States, where citizens can cast their vote for the person they feel is best fit to be the next President of the United States. You should celebrate your right to vote, one of the rights afforded to you as a citizen and protected every single day by our naton’s bravest sons and daughters, by going to the polls and casting your vote.

Or you could skip it. (watch the video!)

(If you vote today, you can get a free tall brewed coffee from Starbucks for free… or a scoop of Ben & Jerry’s – see? carrot and stick!)


 Government 
3
comments

Barack Obama vs. John McCain Dance Off

To help prepare you for the awesomeness that is Election Day on Tuesday, I think that the next President should, at the very least, win a dance off.

Who do you think is the winner? Statistics has shown that in a head to head dance off, the dance off winner often goes on to win the election 78.5% of the time. That, and 90% of statistics are made up.

Have a great weekend!


 Personal Finance 
5
comments

You Decide On Emotion, Confirm With Facts

It’s a well known advertising and marketing fact that human beings make decisions based on emotion and then confirm it with facts. It’s why salespeople are taught to sell benefits (how something helps you, what problems of yours it solves) rather than features (this thing can do this or that). Some sales tips say that rather than straight up selling benefits, get your prospect worked up and emotional about their problems… then hit them with benefits or solutions to those problems.

Emotions sell and facts confirm.

Want a prime money example of this idea at work? Consider Dave Ramsey’s snowball approach to paying off debt, it’s mathematically sub-optimal. By sub-optimal, I mean his approach does not result in the least amount of interest being paid and the shortest payback period. His approach states that you pay the smallest balance first, then take that payment and add it to the next smallest, etc. The optimal approach is to pay the highest interest rate balance first, and then moving to the next, the next.

His snowball approach has a huge number of supporters because it appeals to emotion (and the psychology of motivation). You feel the happiness of progress, of paying off your mountain of debt, of not feeling like you’ll be in debt forever. Those feelings are very real and they are exceptionally motivational. The approach is backed up with facts too. While not mathematically the best, it works. You might pay more in interest but the end result is that you will be debt free and thousands have achieved this with this approach.

Another great example is whenever you buy a car. Car salespeople want you to get into the car and drive it, to make a connection with the vehicle and for you to picture yourself driving it. They want you to imagine yourself strapping your kids into the back, packing the trunk with your golf clubs or your vacation gear, and driving it down the street with the top down. Once you’ve imagined that, they take you into the showroom and give you the facts. You find out how much trunk space it has, how many cup holders, its horsepower, the fuel efficiency, and finally the price. If you can afford it, and sometimes if you can’t, the facts merely confirm whether or not you want the car. If you don’t like how it handles or can’t see yourself driving it around, the MPG and horsepower won’t matter. The facts just confirm your decision, a decision made on emotion.

Is it wrong to be swayed by emotion? No, unless you begin bending facts to justify a decision. Think about the political party affiliation on your voter registration card – mine says Democratic Party. Does that mean you blindly justify everything your candidate says? My emotion says that Barack Obama wants to bring change to Washington. I firmly believe he does want to bring change, however he, and his advisors, carefully planned his actions over the last two years such that he’d be at his political peak right now. He might be new to Washington but he’s not new to the same old Washington politics. I could easily take that idea and say that Obama is new to politics but his advisors aren’t, but I think that’d be naive of me to believe. He might be new, but he picked up on it real quick.

Just be aware that you decide on emotion and confirm with facts, that alone will protect you in many ways.


 Government 
4
comments

Frontline: The Choice 2008

FrontlineFrontline is a part of PBS and an example of phenomenal investigative journalism. If you haven’t seen any of their shows before, you should check them out when you have a chance. I’ve seen numerous shows and the recent ones that really stand out are (you could spend days watching their stuff):

  • Bush’s War: A discussion about the decision to go into Iraq following the attacks on September 11th, 2001. It offers a tremendous amount of insight into the decision making process and is actually quite scary. [March 24th, 2008]
  • Affluenza: “Affluenza is a one-hour television special that explores the high social and environmental costs of materialism and overconsumption.”
  • CARRIER: This is a great series that explores life aboard the USS Nimitz, one of our nation’s amazing aircraft carriers.

Frontline: The Choice 2008

Frontline However, today I wanted to highlight one particular episode: The Choice 2008, aired Oct 14th, 2008. It follows the political growth of both candidates from the very beginning and gives a very balanced perspective on both. It’s non-partisan, takes no sides, and merely presents the facts as they’ve learned them. I recommend watching the full program, rather than the individual pieces on either candidate, because it tracks both men chronologically; showing what each did during the same time period.

Some things I took away from the show were how much planning and politicking goes on. Barack Obama had a two year plan to position himself such that his political peak would occur for this election. Barack Obama leveraged his opposition to the war, which was aided by the fact that he wasn’t in Congress when it was voted on, as much as possible. John McCain absolutely hated President Bush following the 2000 election in which Karl Rove, spreading lies about McCain possibly fathering a half-black baby out of wed-lock, absolutely destroyed him in the Republican Presidential primaries. McCain, who had then alienated the Republican’s conservative base, decided he had to align himself with Bush, despite hating him, to regain that base. That’s part of the reason why he now faces charges that he’s just like President Bush (voting with him 90% of the time).

It’s good stuff, definitely something you should watch before November 4th.


 Investing 
5
comments

Stock Market: John McCain Will Not Be President

John McCain Not Happy With Stock MarketThat’s the proclamation of the stock market in a resounding fashion.

I always find it entertaining when pundits draw ridiculous correlation relationships between the stock market and [insert something popular at the time]. This time, it’s the winner of the Presidential election in November and the performance of the stock market three months beforehand.

What’s fun is that the CNBC article, Who’s the Next President? The Stock Market Might Know, was written on August 26th – predating all the thick of the market turmoil. The largest single day drop of 777.68 in the Dow didn’t occur until September 29th, almost a month later. The second largest single day drop of 733.08 in the Dow didn’t occur until the 15th of October! (though we did see the single largest point gain on Oct. 13th, a gain of 936.42 in between).

So, you might be wondering how the recent changes in the market have affected the chances of our candidates?

According to the article, an up market in the three months prior to an election signaled victory for the incumbent party 80% of the time, since 1928. At the time the article was written, the S&P 500 was up about 2%. As of Monday’s close, Oct. 20th, the S&P had fallen from it’s August 1st close of 1,269.42 to 985.40. -22.4%!!! Incumbents aren’t looking too good here.

“A poor stock market performance usually anticipates and/or accompanies a weak economy—and that usually leads to the ouster of the ruling party and its president (think Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush).” – Heh, talk is of a recession, a bad recession in part caused by a freezing of the credit markets in a manner not seen in quite some time.

The article goes on to discuss a few other fun frivolous statistics like this one:

Since 1833, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has posted an average gain of 6.7 percent in presidential election years, with 20 up years and 14 down ones.| Even if the Dow does turn around and close higher than its 13,264.82 opening level in 2008, history shows it will be an inferior gain to the year before-election year category, when the blue-chip index has gained an average of 10.6 percent and notched 32 up years.

I’m not going out on a limb when I say the chances of the Dow closing above 13,264.82 this year is nil, I think we’re looking at one of those times when we’re in the minority of all those statistics :)


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