Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Wills, Inheritance, Marriage, and the Social Cost of the Law

I just read a piece in the Washington Post that floored me. NFL player Sean Taylor was murdered in November 2007. The piece is about how his 49 year old mother inherited nothing, and how that has left her in dire financial straits. Apparently he used to hand out gobs of money to relatives and bought property for her she cannot afford now. He left $5.8m largely to his daughter, who is now 3 years old. A few lessons are clear:

1. If you depend on someone for your livelihood, consider purchasing life insurance. That's what it's for.
2. Intestate succession is not all that complicated. Here's the basic order of inheritance (who gets your stuff) if you die without a will: (1) spouse + children (2) parents (3) siblings (including half-siblings but not stepsiblings) (4) grandparents (5) aunts/uncles (6) cousins. These are degrees of kinship most people can remember easily. The basic rule is that if there is even one person in the class, they get it all. The next class gets nothing if there is one person in the class above.
3. The rules are a bit complicated between spouse and children (most common issue). The general rule is that spouse gets half, kids get half, although most states give the spouse a certain amount of money (like $50,000 or more) before kids get any. In a community property state like California, the spouse gets all the community property first before splitting separate property (if any) with kids). For most people in most states, these rules mean that unless you have some significant wealth, effectively 100% goes to the spouse even if you have kids. The bottom line is your spouse will get between 50% and 100% of everything if you have kids, 100% if you don't.

4. Note the holes in the rules. The following persons, among others, are nowhere in the line of succession: stepparents, step-siblings, girlfriends, boyfriends, fiance(e)s, unmarried partners of either gender, persons in civil unions except where the definition explicitly extends to inheritance, people you call "uncle" who aren't, uncles and aunts who are related by marriage rather than blood, and pets.

5. Illegitimacy no longer matters. It used to be a complete bar to inheritance. There is still an issue of unrecognized paternity, however.

Unfortunately, Sean Taylor had a kid, but no spouse, something becoming all too familiar. Had he died before the child was born, his mother would have inherited all $5.8m. Had he been married to his child's mother, she would have received 50-100% of the estate. As it stands, the kid gets everything and the kid's mother nothing. This is one of the reasons why marriage is important. And Sean's mother also gets nothing. I read this article and felt ill. Sean Taylor was a very wealthy man and father who left everything to chance. That is callous and irresponsible. I feel sorry for his girlfriend more than his mother. The mother should know better than to depend on a child for income; a girlfriend with a baby should expect to be taken care of.

Know the rules. Prepare. Life insurance may be more important than a will. Remember one thing about all succession, with or without a will: two classes always inherit above all others: (1) government (2) creditors. Life insurance generally (and for obvious policy reasons) allows you to avoid those.

Similar issues arose with Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, where unsettled property rights have effectively impoverished and disinherited thousands. There is a great hidden class discrimination and social cost to our system of legal inheritance borne by those who don't hire lawyers to draw up wills and don't, at least, get married and create legal relationships that way.


Monday, September 28, 2009

German Election Analysis

Or rather analysis of a German election...

In this past weekend's election in Germany (wikipedia has a nice results table here), the CDU-CSU lost fewer seats than the SPD and the FDP gained more seats than the Greens and The Left. This means that the next government will have the same Chancellor, Angela Merkel, but will have a much different overall composition. Where as most of the ministers in the outgoing government were from the SPD, this new coalition will be mostly made up of CDU-CSU ministers with a strong dose of FDP representation.

What does that add up to? Well, the Merkel has been rather publicly calling for re-regulation of financial markets as a response to the recession. My guess is that the FDP (a party known for its strong neo-classical liberal ideology) will resist that. Merkel also sought to make the war on terror a campaign issue. There again, the FDP may prove a less cooperative partner than anticipated. The FDP is staunchly libertarian in its ideology. I have a hard time seeing the FDP going along with re-regulation of financial markets or a more aggressive stance on the "war on terror" stuff.

Why did this result come about? Two reasons leap to mind. First and most importantly, whenever there has been a grand coalition (CDU-CSU and SPD) the smaller parties have gained at the expense of the bigger parties. That has certainly happened here. Both the CDU-CSU and SPD lost seats. Second, the left got creamed in the middle of a recession and an atmosphere of widespread criticism of capitalism. The FDP (the most pro-capitalist, anti-regulation party in Germany) won their biggest vote share and seat share in their history. But is this result really a rejection of Social Democracy? Maybe. But I think it is really a surge in voting based on nostalgia for the Wirtschaftswunder of the 1950s and the relative prosperity of 60s which was orchestrated by a series of CDU-CSU/FDP coalitions. Germans may associate the FDP with competent economic management because of that and the FDP have been out of government for a very long time. Germans, especially Western Germans, may want them to come in an reestablish the glory days.

AMENDMENT: The CDU/CSU did not lose seats. They did lose vote share but because of the nature of the German electoral system and rules governing the proportionality of the Bundestag, the CDU/CSU actually gained seats despite winning a lower percentage of the vote.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Obama, Iran and the Revised Missile Defense System

So a week or so ago, the Obama administration altered the missile defense plan for Eastern Europe. The new plan redirects the system to be better suited to protect Europe from missiles from Iran rather than Russia. This makes good sense. Russia isn't a cuddly teddy bear but they need Europe to keep buying their oil and gas (CIA world factbook shows that all but one of Russia's top export partners are EU member states and they combine for nearly 40% of all of Russia's exports). Starting a war with EU countries (aka most of NATO) would be economic suicide for the Russians. Even if Russia won, they would destroy the EU economy in the process which would be tantamount to killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. So let's stop obsessing about the Russians shall we? Russia is annoying and worthy of wary observation and even criticism from time to time but they aren't likely to be a serious deadly threat to the EU/NATO any time soon. Iran is a different story. Iran has other oil markets (CIA world factbook reports that about 40% of Iran's exports go to China, Japan and S. Korea not Europe) and is governed by a regime that seems to place higher priorities on the usual Middle East nonsense than on the material well being of their citizenry. That could lead to the odd missile being lobbed at Greece or Romania or something. So redirecting the missile plan is a good idea. It's smart. Conservatives who criticize it are just being partisan wind bags. Either that or they are actually delusional enough to think that it is still 1982.

The most recent news is that Iran has finally admitted to having a second nuclear reactor that it has so far kept secret. Also they are now planning to test fire a series of short and medium range missiles. So here is where the positive overtures pay off. On Friday, Obama, the UK's Gordon Brown and ... wait for it ... France's Sarkozy issued a joint statement of warning against Iran. By starting his administration with a conciliatory tone towards Iran, it makes Iran look that much worse when they are caught red handed. And the initial diplomacy gives the French government political cover to back our play. Add to this now, that we are no longer being confrontational with Russia and there are wide spread expectations that Russia will soon join the newly united front against Iran.

As LTG said in an earlier post. This is real change in foreign policy and it is working!

Nevertheless, for months I've been seeing ads on TV attacking Obama for his overtures to Iran (I looked for it on youtube without success). Arguing that Obama is too soft on Iran and that Iran's leaders are taking advantage of him, this ad is still running even as events over take it and make it's criticisms look more and more ridiculous.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Senator Dukakis?

The Massachusetts Senate gave approval to the bill today to allow Governor Deval Patrick to appoint a successor to the late Ted Kennedy. This puts Mass in line with almost every other state. Mass, however, still requires a special election within 180 days, which is a very good thing. Every state should move in that direction.

Word is that Michael Dukakis wants the job and the BostonGlobe has endorsed him.

I personally am not so sure. Is Walter Mondale available? George McGovern? Anyone else who is a symbol of the kind of liberalism that the Democrats have spent 20 years trying to distance themselves from? I just don't see how putting Obama and Dukakis into the same sentence is a good idea.

Sure, I would like to see Dukakis redeemed in the public eye, and I do enjoy evening up scores from the 1980s when the "Reagan Revolution" created our current financial and fiscal disasters in the public and private sectors. (It is a dream of mine that Ronald Reagan will get the blame for ushering in an era of massive irresponsibility which he deserves. His "something for nothing" message to voters has been absolutely deadly. As Benjamin Franklin observed, democracy can only last until the voters discover they can vote themselves largesse out of the public treasury. The Republican message that you can lower taxes and still have all the entitlements and military spending you want is just that).

On the other hand, I understand that we need a seasoned politician for the role, not just a benchwarmer. Isn't there at least one Kennedy available?


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Real Change in Foreign Policy

For all those who claim that Obama's new foreign policy is all about new atmospherics, it's time to think again. There has been a profound shift - the USA is going to abandon Bush/Cheney's idea of a Eastern-European-based missile defense system, largely in Czech Republic and Poland. The Poles and Czechs are keeping mum for now, awaiting consultation (the leak happened prematurely). My guess is that there is some particularly nice present waiting for them in return for accepting the change. There usually is. Republicans are screaming as if the Cold War were on, forgetting momentarily that they kept saying that missile defense shield wasn't about Russia, but about Iran and North Korea. NATO Sec-Gen Anders Rasmussen spoke favorably of the change in policy.

There is no indiciation that this was done to please Russia, although it will certainly please Russia. It may have been done as part of the START III talks, but again, there is no particular indication of this. It is noteworthy that the Kremlin's response has been muted. For what it's worth, TASS says that President Medvedev is currently earning his keep by playing host to Prince Alois of Liechtenstein. It is also noteworthy that according to TASS, the head of the Duma (a nobody with a big title) said that (my trans.) "On the one hand, it shows a narrower, more objective view of the Iranian situation. On the other hand, it shows a new seriousness about the relationship and strategic dialog between the USA and Russia as the most important factor in global political stabilization. Russia is beginning to understand the Obama administration." The official word, however, is that the Russians are "awaiting confirmation."

I'm delighted because I believe that missile defense system was a financial and political boondoggle designed to reward "new Europe" for its participation in the Iraq War. There appear to be other ways to design the system. And if it does allow the USA and Russia to work together on Iran, that will be a big help.

Some will portray this as a Munich moment, as backing down. It seems to me that, if a trade of some kind was made, it was a good one: trading the illusory for the real. The best safeguard against Iran is not missile defense, but Russian cooperation. The neoconservatives see it exactly the other way around.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What Doctors Like and Don't Like About Public Health Care

...And what it tells us about the source of opposition to the public option.

So I heard about this story on NPR's Morning Edition this morning and found it again on the Washington Post. The highlights are that some MDs and MPH types did a survey for the Robert Wood Johnson Center. They surveyed doctors in the US and asked them if they supported or opposed a public option, a public single payer or the status quo. A whopping 62.9% of them support a public option. Only 27.3% support a reform bill that does not include a public option. OK, ho hum. That's probably not that dissimilar from levels of support among similarly educated people (i.e. people with post-graduate degrees). But where the poll got interesting was where it talked about what doctors liked and disliked about the public (Medicare) and private insurance providers.

The doctors preferred private insurance for ease of paper work and because of how much they get paid. But they preferred Medicare for health care provision and minimal interference in their medical decisions. From this I speculate that many of the doctors who oppose a public option do so because they fear they will lose money or for other reasons completely unrelated to the provision of actual health care to patients.

It also shows you who the insurance companies feel then need to keep happy. They take pains to make payment and paper work doctor friendly. But go out of their way to set up a system that actually denies care as the default condition. They serve their own interests which is understandable. But the only group they seem interested in keeping happy is doctors. And they seem to have won over about a quarter of them.

Whether or not we get a public option is probably a finished debate now. We're not going to get it. And I doubt that if it had been released a month ago it would have done much to change the debate. The Tea-baggers, Birthers and Deathers and their backers in the Republican party and the Insurance industry had a plan to hijack the debate regardless of any references to reality or evidence. But it is interesting to see this poll now. It gives yet another piece of evidence about the nature of the opposition to health care reform. A lot of people have been making a lot of money on the status quo for a long time and they have used that money to acquire political influence and power. They won't go quietly into the night.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Another View of the 1989 Picnic in Hungary that Led to the End of the Eastern Bloc

The LA Times just published a portion of a new book on 1989 that involves the so-called "Pan-European Picnic." You all may recall a bit of hullabaloo on this blog last month when the news item about the picnic first surfaced. Hungary was pinning a medal on the border guard who didn't shoot at the East Germans. The new book says the whole thing was organized and masterminded by Hungary's new, young Prime Minister, an economist (!) named Miklos Nemeth. Hungarians had the right to travel to the West as of 1988 (I had forgotten this), but they had agreed not to allow East Germans to go through. This was how they got the deal done. Nemeth wanted East Germans to go through, knowing that if this happened, it could bring down Honecker's regime and perhaps, with it, the whole Iron Curtain and give Hungary real freedom. Apparently he de-electrified the fence with much fanfare and even had the barbed wire stripped away - again with fanfare- but the East Germans didn't seem to pick up on the hint. So when a group of activitsts petitioned for permits for this picnic, he figured out how to use it. So the Hungarian border guard who got the medal was actually following the government's policies, even if the standing orders had not changed. Perhaps the heroism is that he didn't realize the scheme afoot but conscience prevented him from shooting. Now that we have a fuller retelling of the story - that Hungarians were crossing freely - the idiocy of shooting only the East Germans might be clearer.

I am always suspicious of medals awarded years after the fact. The purpose of such awards is usually to rewrite history. Were the present view of the action or person being awarded commensurate with the contemporaneous evaluation, the medal or accolades would have been awarded contemporaneously or soon thereafter. I am not surprised to hear, now, that Hungary would rather honor a lone bodyguard than a former communist leader. This is a reminder that while historians may actually be interested in the past, most politicians' interest in history is only insofar as it can inform and justify their own narratives of action. A fairy tale of a lone border guard changing history is clearly debunked. But we do not have the whole story either. We may never.

Of course, Nemeth doubtless did not believe the result would be his own ouster shortly thereafter. He tried, apparently, to return to Hungarian politics in 2000 but failed as a leader of the Socialists. He was with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development from 1990-2000.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Here's to You, Joe Wilson

So, cleverer and nastier people than me came up with a better solution to Joe Wilson than censure: give to his opponent. He has now collected more than $550,000 since the Joe Wilson's opponent, Iraq War Vet Rob Miller. A half million dollars was going to take a year of effort and rubber chicken dinners and begging for him. Now it's over in a night. And he didn't have to open his mouth. Money will continue to be huge for him, forcing the GOP to either defend Wilson's seat with their money - and associate more publicly with the scumbag than they have to date. Joe Wilson showed that Republicans don't care at all for tradition and values. They have no respect for a joint session of Congress. So in response to this cracker jackass, real Americans all over the country did what we Yankees do best: fight hellfire with money.

And if you're still mad, like I am, you can dedicate this website to dumbass Joe Wilson: .


Farewell and Thank You Dr. Strangelove

Some of our frequent visitors may have noticed that Dr. Strangelove's avatar is no longer on the blog's banner. It is with deep regret that we say farewell to Dr. Strangelove. His contributions to our blog have been thought provoking and informative. Since we first asked him to join us, about a year after we started the blog (if memory serves), he made an immediate and positive impact.

In the strangely three dimensional world off-blog, the man behind Dr. Strangelove's identity continues to be our very good friend. So perhaps, "farewell" doesn't apply to us but only to the blog and his alternate identity. Regardless, I think THANK YOU definitely applies!


Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Review of President Obama's Health Care Speech

At one point I was wondering who would smile first, Barack Obama or my upset toddler (whose Elmo had been displaced). It was a long time before either one happened. It seemed to me that Barack Obama gave the policy ground to the centrists but many liberals what they wanted - anger and some good smackdowns on the Republican blowhards. He basically called Sarah Palin a liar. Which was awesome. In many ways, the speech seemed to me to be a way to mollify the Democratic left to allow them to support the president's compromises. I suspect it worked very well as political cover. Very well. So much for the public option... I wonder if it was ever more than a bargaining chip.

You could see, I think, the irritation in the chamber as the Republicans realized that they were likely to lose, lose big, and that there really isn't much they could do. Max Baucus' announcement earlier today was a pretty big blow to their hopes of scuttling the bill. Senator Snowe was smiling too, particularly in response to the small business exemptions. The big hope, that the Democratic left could be persuaded to kill the bill, may have failed tonight.

The speech was unusually combative and not particularly inspiring. I think the point was also for the President to "own" the bill. That, too, I think he did.

I've been starting to wonder. Is the reason we saw such extremism on the far right this summer precisely because there was nothing else they could do?


Saturday, September 05, 2009

A Must-Read Article!

Paul Krugman, the nobel-prize winning economist and NY Times columnist who sometimes goes in for more polemic than he should, has just written an excellent and quite long article about the economics profession, its past and future. It is rare that I just say "go read this," but that's what I'm urging. Among other things, he seems to praise Larry Summers, which is a big thing for him to do since they have been otherwise perceived as rivals.

Here's his conclusion after considerable detail: "So here’s what I think economists have to do. First, they have to face up to the inconvenient reality that financial markets fall far short of perfection, that they are subject to extraordinary delusions and the madness of crowds. Second, they have to admit — and this will be very hard for the people who giggled and whispered over Keynes — that Keynesian economics remains the best framework we have for making sense of recessions and depressions. Third, they’ll have to do their best to incorporate the realities of finance into macroeconomics." Please, don't comment on this post without reading the article.
My take on this piece that he's basically correct that the efficient market hypothesis, in both strong and weak forms, has simply failed too often to continue to be the basis of macroenomic social science.

However useful rational actor assumptions are, and they are very useful, particularly for micro theory, macroeconomics has to deal with the fact that there is enough irrational behavior to distort the macroeconomic world. The engine of this needs to be explored, not assumed away. One thing to focus on is the source of capital accumulation - profit. Profits should be very modest in a world of perfect competition. One might suggest that profits, which lead to the accumulation of capital that drives capitalism, depend in no small measure on the inefficiencies in the market. Perfect competition pushes profits toward a minimum level; imperfect competition allows extraction of much higher rents for some. The ability to produce a product and sell it consistently at 50% profit to you is a source of great capital accumulation, but depends on imperfect market forces. Arbitrageurs should eliminate large profits, the ability to buy something at X price and sell it immediately at X+Y price for Y profit. When that doesn't happen, large profits can be reaped over sustained periods. Thus, relatively small amount of irrational behavior may take on oustized importance in the economy for the simple reason that it is a main source of capital accumulation.


Friday, September 04, 2009

Friday Levity

A little bit of humor before the long weekend.

Jimmy Kimmel, on David Paterson shaving his beard:

"This makes Governor Paterson the first governor to get rid of his beard since former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey filed for divorce."
Enjoy your Labor Day weekend!


Thursday, September 03, 2009

Teachers and Merit Pay is a Bad Combination

Obama has come out in favor of pay-for-performance for teachers. He has made it one of the main parts of his educational reform initiative. I am not sure yet how he plans to structure this pay-for-performance plan, if at all. However, I am not keen on the idea.

I object to this notion for many reasons. The first is that merit systems in general have huge flaws. I have worked under various merit systems, from retail commission, to formal merit systems in government and corporate America. I always find them unfair to the employees and often corrupt. Education, like medical care, is not a business. And you can't use pay systems designed for cooperate, profit driven businesses for schools.

The second objection deals with education specifically. Students aren't products in the traditional sense. And the trouble for teachers is that they are proving a service whose quality is pretty tough to measure. The idea that standardized tests are the answer is false. I write standardized tests for a living. And I have said before that using a test that is meant to gauge proficiency or knowledge of students for pay decisions for teachers is an abuse and misuse of the test. People in educational testing should not see this as a boon to their profession, but as a threat to its validity. I know this from first hand experience. When teachers start loosing money due to standardized tests, they will turn the tests into political boondoggles that will render them completely invalid. Their unions will pressure state Depts. of education to dumb them down, recalibrate the cut scores to make passing easier, and the like. When all else fails, blame the test and the people who wrote it. I live this every day in my work. And of that doesn't work . . . blame the teachers. Never ever blame the student.

Merit pay systems based on student performance severely undercut the authority of teachers in the classroom. Students will fail them on purpose because there is no reason not to. So unless there are some serious incentives for the students to preform on these tests, basing pay on them is reckless. Back when I was taking standardized tests, it was merely 3 days of the week I got off early from school because we had testing. I didn't care how well I did. It meant nothing to me. My grades did. That was all that counted.

When California started requiring high school exit exams, the teachers' union got implementation postponed nearly 2 years. It is a minimum competency exam. So when 1 million students failed to pass, they got 3 additional tries. And the media went wild, not about how illiterate our students are, but at how unfair the test was. It goes against the American grain to deny our little sweeties a diploma, sports, band or the like just because some stupid teacher failed little Johnny or because my kid didn't pass some silly exam one time. They had crap teachers. Hello! Your kid failed a basic test after 12 years of school and a host of "crap" teachers? Not one good one in all those years? And what were you doing at home to encourage your kid?

Furthermore, there is the lottery effect. If you are lucky as a teacher to get a nice class, full of upper-middle income, mostly white, English speaking kids, you will do well in a merit system. If, however, you are cursed with an inner city, non-English class, you're screwed. So any merit system would have to take into account the profiles of the students. And guess what! If schools started profiling students, the ACLU would jump on that.

We have been blaming students and schools for years and have seen results only falter. I think we ought to start considering the conduct and motivation of students for a change.


Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Making this Blog a Better Place

I want to be a better blogger, and I want this blog to be a better place. So let me put it out there: We have had more than our share of blow-ups lately, and I sense little resolution. It feels like our modest blogging community has become tense, on edge, as though we are all waiting for the next flame war to erupt.

Does it need to be this way? How can we lower the DEFCON level DEFCON around here? What would make this blog a better place? (And what do we mean by that?)

If we are to improve our blog, I believe the first step is to figure out our common goals. Although our reasons for contributing are likely not identical, we can surely find some common ground. The second step then would be to outline some ground rules, or some principles of etiquette, or some rights and responsibilities as readers and contributors... But however we choose to frame it, I feel strongly that our blog could benefit from a concrete agreement on purposes and expectations.

I don't want to dictate anything, but it often helps to start with a draft. So here are my own suggestions for our common purposes for the blog: To inform, to debate, and to learn about political issues--and to make this enjoyable. An overarching (and probably overreaching) aspiration would be to change the world, especially the United States, in some positive way through our efforts.

I feel like lately we've been doing a fair amount of informing and rather a lot of debating, but not so much on the learning--and I find the whole experience less enjoyable now than it used to be. And as for our larger aspirations, I suspect our readership and influence could be growing faster if we worked at it. Here are my suggestions of what we can do to work better toward could do more consistently to further these goals, in no particular order. [Note on terms: a "post" starts a "thread" that continues with "comments."]

To inform
* Link to sources to substantiate key assertions, especially primary sources if possible. Subsequent commenters can help out here
* Define unusual acronyms and obscure jargon words upon first use in each thread
* Give people's full names and titles upon first mention in each thread
* Recognize our global audience and specify US/non-US where there could be confusion
* Maintain all original text when editing an existing post: strike deletions and italicize additions. (The HTML tags are "s" and "i" respectively)
* Contract longer posts with the span id="fullpost" tag to keep more threads visible on the first screen

To debate
* Focus posts to a couple of key points
* Respond to the key points of the original post as part of your first comment in the thread
* Acknowledge salient points made by previous commenters before adding your own
* Acknowledge explicitly any mistakes or errors you have made
* Address comments more toward the issue than the individual. Try to dispute the argument rather than the source

To learn
* Re-read the entire thread before commenting, especially the initial post
* Treat all comers equally, regardless of party or national affiliation. Be open to points of view from across the political spectrum and around the globe
* Ask real questions more often than you pose rhetorical questions
* Where possible, approach ideas from a "yes, and" perspective rather than "no, but."

To make this enjoyable
* Be polite, of course!
* Respect one another, especially each other's education and experiences
* Assume the best. First request clarification for any remarks that appear to be senseless, egregiously erroneous, or insulting
* Express appreciation for interesting posts and comments
* Thank new contributors and welcome back rare ones. (Whichever of the five editors comments next on the thread can do this.)
* Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous [George Orwell's sixth and final rule from Politics and the English Language]


Tuesday, September 01, 2009

A Busy, Busy Fall

As I was doing my fantasy football drafts this weekend (Brees in one league, Peyton and LT in the other, thanks for asking....), I was thinking how excited I was about the coming Legislative season. This is it, people. The teabagger whackos will get off the news shows now that the press corps is back from vacation and everyone is returning to Washington to get down to business. Fall 2009-Spring 2010 is going to be the time that President Obama succeeds or fails in his legislative agenda. It sets the stage for the midterm elections, both state and federal, plus the coming census and redistricting/reapportionment. We set the table for the next three years politically. And it's looking very good, I think. Third quarter numbers will come out in about 30-odd days showing an end to the recession - actual economic growth in all likelihood. This will spur optimism, consumer confidence, and fuel a recovery. Plus the real stimulus money will be starting to hit construction. Deficit projections will look better, appeasing so-called fiscal conservatives. I predict some sort of a health care bill will pass that will allow the Democrats to proclaim victory. As I write this, the moon is orange outside, and a hurricane is hitting Cabo San Lucas. Wildfires and hurricanes, floods and legislative action. It's going to be a very busy political season.