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."

Monday, August 30, 2010

Glenn Beck Attacks Obama's Religion

So Glenn Beck, fresh from his burlesque of a civil rights rally on the national mall (news flash: Martin Luther King, Jr. was not a talk show host), is now attacking President Obama's religious beliefs (not what Obama has said, but what Beck attributes to him). He attributes to Obama "liberation theology" which is a concept that Glenn Beck obviously does not understand. (It is primarily Roman Catholic in origin and was the subject of Pope John Paul II's condemnation, something continued by Pope Benedict XVI).

Two things stand out. First of all, attacking the President for his religious beliefs is a really Bad Idea for US politics. Americans (except for the fringe of evangelical/fundies) react pretty badly to such a blatant interjection of sectarianism into public life. The majority of Americans want a president who sounds like a Hallmark card, but don't want theological debates.

Second, the person who should be thinking about religion more is Beck, not the President. Let me repeat this so that every Christian (and Mormon) can hear it: God does not love America or Americans more than any other human beings. The United States of America does not have God's blessing any more than the Co-Principality of Andorra. The American Flag is not sacred. Our institutions are entirely of earth, not of Heaven. People have been trying to pull the trick of associating Jesus with a government ever since the Roman army murdered him. Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher. All is but plain vanity. Sadly, that vanity is the heart of Republican nationalistic religion. It is more fascist or Shinto in inspiration than it is Christian.

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was willing to die for his fellow man. Glenn Beck won't even countenance a mild tax increase on capital gains. He's never been asked to give up anything in his life for the common good. His only god is the Almighty Dollar. That's why Beck and his idiot fools will be gone tomorrow, but the Dream will remain.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

What Obama and the Democrats Have Accomplished

A lot of people on the left are complaining about things President Obama and the Democratic majority in Congress haven't done that they think he should have done. But let's take a look at some of things they have accomplished. This post idea comes to me as I see reports that the last combat troops are leaving Iraq today.

The Stimulus: It's unpopular these days and Republicans are fond of saying that it didn't work but I think it's clear that the stimulus saved a huge number of jobs and set a relatively firm bottom at a time when the economy looked to be on an uncontrollable downward spiral. Yes, it's increase in debt/deficit risks inflation down the road but I'll take the possibility of inflation tomorrow over the certainty of deflation today 10 times out of 10. The risk of deflation is still with us but the stimulus has staved off a deflationary spiral.

Health Care Reform: Again, the standard media line is that this is unpopular but the nature of that unpopularity should be seen in light of disappointment on the left that the bill did not go far enough. This is still a big step forward in US health care policy. That it was passed in the wake of a massive economic crisis and two wars (all dumped on this President and Congress by the outgoing Republicans) is astounding.

Getting out of Iraq: Aside from saving American lives, getting our combat troops out of Iraq will have long term economic benefits. If we stayed in Iraq it would be a budget buster for the foreseeable future.

I'm sure there are more things we could list but these three are huge.

Sure there are things yet to be done that we had hoped would be done by now (like immigration reform and the final closure of Guantanamo etc). But do the people who voted for Obama and Democrats so enthusiastically really want to punish the record above? Do they really want to elect people who would have us stop all government stimulus spending and instead cut taxes for the wealthy (the same things that encouraged the Bush-Bubble in the first place)? Do they really want to elect people who think that rationing health care based on personal wealth of the patients is OK? Do they really want to elect the people who lead us into Iraq and would have us still stuck there if they had been in power for the last 2 years?


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bad News Bears

So my rosy predictions for the Fall are crumbling because the economy has taken a "pause" of sorts. The economic recovery has stalled and as the optimism of early Spring's job growth fades, so too have the President's numbers. For the first time in his presidency, his negatives outpace his positive ratings by a significant amount. Popularity ratings stuck around 45%. A look at the grahps and data shows that the president's popularity had approached 50/50 during the depths of the Health Care debate but had begun to climb back into positive territory before May. Then the oil spill in the gulf hit, with the perception of mishandling (note to president: next time, send the entire fifth fleet into the gulf and get accused of overreacting, not underreacting) and then the recovery stalled. You may recall that the unemployment rate actually climbed slightly in April because so many new people jumped into the workforce because they were optimistic about their chances. The unemployment rate has fallen back to 9.5% while the economy has shed a few jobs because people are leaving the workforce.

So this means bad news for the elections. Unless there are signs of economic recovery returning in the August reports out around Labor Day, the Fall will look grim for Democrats. Expect it to get uglier and uglier as the Dems realize they can only win by demonizing the Tea Party. And the Republicans will exacerbate this effort by running further to the right rather than to the
center. I still think that the loss of either house is unlikely, in part because the GOP was much more unpopular in 2006 and 2008 and it took two serious elections to swing the tide this far in favor of the Dems. That's a lot of ground to make up. It requires, for the GOP, taking senate seats in CA and Illinois, which seems very unlikely. But big gains, yes, that is looming.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Compensation for Federal Employees

Ok, I have been waiting for this. Here is a recent article from USATODAY that will turn heads. The grabbing headline "Federal workers earning double their private counterparts". OK, let's talk about this myth.

I am always curious about data like this because for me, it is more telling about the private workforce than the Federal workforce, of which I am a part. The private sector is exploiting its workers and reducing benefits while paying CEOs and bankers huge sums. The CEO of BP, for instance, is going to walk away with a nice sum. And they justify that because he had years of "good service" and it was part of his deal from the start. The government sector has maintained the good old middle class value of worker benefits and stability. It's the only place left where you can count on a paycheck. The real story of GS salaries is much more complex and nuanced than the general public is willing to tolerate. Where to begin . . . .

1) All Government service salaries are capped. The most any GS employee can make in salary is $155K. That means you have to be a GS15. All government salaries are public information. Want to see? Check here. To be a GS15 you have to climb up the latter, it isn't given for free. Within any GS rank, there are 10 steps before you turn over to the next rank. Many people retire at GS12 or 13 after years of service. To go from a GS11 to a GS12, you are looking at 10 years of strong performance.

2) Government employees have a nice health care plan. In fact, if you recall, Obama wanted this to be a model for the entire country until Republicans scuttled it.

3) Government employees do not change employers every 3-4 years. They stay and as the saying goes, "Slow and steady wins the race".

4) Pensions are not what they used to be. Currently, pensions are small but we have the equivalent of a 401K now. It's called the "Thrift Savings Plan". The plan is built around a small set of high-quality, straight-forward index funds with low management fees. The reason they do so well is because they are so big and so many people are participating. The government matches 100% the first 5% invested by the employee.

5) People who have been in the service since before 1984 were not able to draw social security and they didn't pay in. They had a pension and they paid into that. This was changed in 1984. We now pay in, but we don't have the pensions. Newer ones like me can take Social Security, but we don't have the pensions like they older workers do. to read more about this check the link and scroll down to myth # 2.

6) There is no mandatory retirement. So it is more and more common to see workers beyond retirement age maintaining their work. I've talked about this is previous posts. These people will drive the averages up because 30 years of 3% raises adds up. And, a concession to the article, GS pay raises used to be much more generous. The most I've ever gotten over 7 years that I've been in service is like 4%. But in the past, they could be as much as 6%-8%.

7) The jobs on offer now require higher qualifications. We are in a defense laden economy and often these jobs require specialized skills and technology backgrounds that command higher salaries. All government salaries are based on department of labor statistics. So when the initial salaries are set, they should be in line with private sector salaries. In fact, it's the Republicans that really pushed for contractors. We have a contractor who told its employees that to win the new round of bidding, they would all have to take pay cuts. That's lie. I know because I was part of the selection panel and we never saw prices. We based the decision on the quality of the proposals only. This is how the private sector treats its employees. Is that really what Americans want? I want to make all these people GS and get rid of these contracting companies who line their pockets at the expense of working people.

8)Many government agencies are located in expensive areas. Salary is linked to the cost of living in local areas. 35% of the base pay for federal employees in the California Bay Area is locality pay. Try living on less than that in these areas? And even at that, with property prices what they are, even in a downtown, many federal employees can't afford to buy. The Beltway, Maryland and Virginia have entire economies based on government salaries. And many of those are much higher than they would be in the middle of the country. In fact, The Washington Post covered this aspect of things in its articles. So these drive up the average. I would love to move to where my house is actually located and work in an area that is cheaper to live. And that community would love the jobs. I always said that Congress would work much better if it were located in South Dakota. The Beltway is little more than 68 Sq. miles surrounded by the real world.

I do not earn more than my private sector counterparts. I know this because there are others in my area that do the same or very similar job that I do and they make $20K more a year than I do. They also have benefits and stock options. SO I don't apologize for my solid, middle class existence. Read some of the comments from other Feds if you want a view other than mine. But we all agree that rather than complaining, people should look to Federal Employment as a model. Please, all you bitter private sector employees, come join us. We'd love to spoil you.