get a grasp on what’s going on

A month or so ago This American Life did an awesome show on the Sub-Prime Mortgage Crisis, making it all understandable for regulars Joes like me. I believe it won awards. They talk about how the station was flooded with requests for CDs so people could share it with their friends and family.

Well, last Sunday they did another episode on the economy, attempting to explain how we got ourselves in such deep doodoo. It’s an open, honest look at the bailout, assessing whether or not we needed it, and whether or not it will help. It’s an hour long, but it’s fairly easy to follow, and VERY informative. If you think you know enough about mortgage backed securities, then you need to listen to this, since it basically says that MBS was only a small portion of the issue.

So download it, burn it to a CD, put it on your mp3 player, whatever…But be sure to listen soon, as there is VERY important time sensitive things in here that you need to learn about and act upon.

Get it here.

the internet makes the seemingly impossible, possible

OK, just a little praise for a moment for the internet.

For those of you who know me, I’ve become increasingly more jaded about the US Government as time passes. The election season has only made it worse, and the candidates selected nearly strike complete hopelessness into my very heart. It’s nearly enough for me to just give up and ignore it all. But that’s hard to do when they’re making my money worth less every year.

So what’s a jaded young(ish) American to do? It would seem the executive branch is long since out of my effective range, so maybe I should look locally and start picking out potential presidents now. I mean, can I blame America for picking two awful candidates when the selection was so abysmal to begin within (except for that one guy who predicted this whole financial mess we’re in now 2 years ago)? I suppose not. So maybe I should start making sure the lower guys are worth my tax dollars, so eventually I can actually be proud of more than one presidential nominee. (Wouldn’t that be crazy? Imagine saying, “I don’t know who I want to be the presidential nominee, they’re all so effective!”)

But how does little old me figure out real, unbiased facts about his local government, and how his Representatives and Senators are working in Congress? I could watch the news, but I’d have to wade through hours of “pretty white girl kidnapped” stories only to hear two people not involved in Congress, talking about how one half of Congress is always wrong. That seems really effective.

Newspapers use to be known for carrying information, but now you never know who’s propaganda you’re reading. Which multinational corporation owns this newspaper? I can never keep track.

In comes the internet, bastion of honest, straight forward, succinct information. I’m sure you detect my sarcasm. But while the internet is chock full of idiotic rambling (present party excluded of course) the other thing it’s chock full of is data. And all those geeky developers love to figure out ways to wrangle it all in and dish it up as something usable. In comes three sites that I find nearly essential if you want to really get to knwo what’s going on around you.

First, is votesmart.org . This is a wonderful that compiles all sorts of information about current officials and those running for office. Voting records, biographies, positions on issues, ratings by Special Interest Groups, all sorts of stuff. it’s a really great way to get to know what a candidate stands for quickly and easily, and best of all, it’s uniform across most candidates (obviously, newcomers have less info).

A great companion site is ontheissues.org. It’s very similar to VoteSmart, but one feature it has that is very well executed is their issues list. They separate out key issues like abortion, civil rights, budgeting and economy, and they list out bullet points of actions and statements that paint the picture of where the candidate stands on the issue. I know what you’re thinking, bullet points can be useless without context. That’s why above the bullet points they link to a page of expanded information, giving context to each and every quote or vote, and when it comes to legislation votes, they explain the bill, and point out pro and con arguments about the bill. It’s an incredibly fast and easy way to get an idea of what the candidate has actually done, and it does it fairly, and with a balanced viewpoint.

Finally, a site Teresa pointed me to today, govtrack.us. This one steps away from potential candidate territory and focuses on who’s in office, and what they’re doing. The best part about it is that you can setup daily emails to let you know everything that will happen in Congress that day, everything that has happened, etc. It’s essentially taking the thousands of bills introduced each session and making it manageable for someone who doesn’t get paid to know this stuff.

So this post is a lot longer than I wanted, but I hear way to often groups telling people to “get informed” but never telling people how. I can only hope that others may stumble across this info and finally be able to manage a normal daily life while still feeling like they know what their tax dollars are going towards.

EDIT: This is what happens when I get too excited and post too early. I just noticed on govtrack.us that for each bill that’s posted, they include the cost to individuals. So you look up the act and it says “Cost: $3 per American over the 2009-2013 period.” That’s just plain awesome.