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, November 30, 2010

Leaky, Leaky

Despite the high drama in the media about wikileaks latest disgorging, I don't see why the content is such a big deal. Most of what I've heard about so far seems rather typical and mundane. Of course people call world leaders names in cables. These are like private letters.

I think this event, and those to come raise several questions:
1) Who really did the leaking, and what was the real motivation or agenda?
2) What does this continued data dumping mean for governments trying to conduct private business?\
3) The 24 hour news cycle plays a serious role in the inability of government to function. It is partly responsible for the growing polarization we see among our political leaders, so how does such open and easy technology contribute to this?
4) How much can you disable technology, such as deactivating USB ports as the DoD has done, without paralyzing the functions of government?

I don't see think it is fair to compare this to the Pentagon Papers. That was the leaking of a specific report about a specific issue and it was done out of concern for the public good. This was indiscriminate and done to prove it could be done. The public good be damned.

What do the Citizen's think?


Federal Employee Pay Freeze

What do you think about the federal employee pay freeze? I'm surprised to find myself for it. State employees in my state have faced pay freezes for years now along with furloughs and layoffs. I don't see why federal employees should be let completely off the hook.

That said, I'd rather the federal employee pay freeze happen sooner rather than later because we do face the potential of future inflation because of the high debt levels. I'd rather see federal employees have their pay frozen during a period of flat prices than rising prices.


Monday, November 22, 2010

You are now Free to Roam the Country

The new TSA regulations about airport screenings are riling a lot of people. I have complained about them before on this blog. Needless to say, I very much hope I am not expected to travel anytime soon because I refuse to be strip searched by a scanner and I will not allow anyone to "touch my junk" either, unless it is part of a larger civil protest. I am not a criminal because I have chosen to fly. With that in mind, I encourage you to participate in the "Opt Out Day" if you are flying for Thanksgiving. This is acceptable civil disobedience.

And please, file your complaints about screening with the TSA. They keep saying that they are getting "minimal complaints". They are either lying or no one is bothering to file complaints. This article has information about IPhone aps for filing complaints. Let them hear you!

I have also been reading the blog Of John Tyner, the San Diego resident who used his cell phone to record his TSA encounter. He makes some very good points about contracts. I'd be interested what LTG thinks of his point of view.

I am most put off by the fact that the TSA threatened this man with fines because he left the screening area. He forfeited his ticket and agreed not to fly, at which point they threatened him.

And what is very disheartening is to hear people in the Obama Administration using the same scare tactics as Bush's people did. Here is what John Pistole said to the New York Times about the "Opt Out" protest, "If terrorists can anticipate that, it gives them an opportunity." Sad, very sad.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Income Taxes and Small Businesses

Hi Everyone,

The Republican argument against allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire for tax payers making more than 250k/year is that raising taxes on this income bracket would kill off small businesses or at least slow their growth/recovery. They say this as if it is self evident but it raises a number of questions for me that I'd like to hear the opinions of some tax experts about (like maybe LTG or Seventh Sister).

First, are all small business profits treated as income for the owner for tax purposes?

Second, is there a way for a small business owner to reinvest their profits in their business before it can be taxed as income?

Finally, depending on the answers to the first two questions, shouldn't it be fairly straightforward to prevent what is intended to be a tax increase on the richest portion of the population from directly affecting small businesses in general?

Or is this just a typical Republican canard based on dishonest presentations of the facts?


Friday, November 12, 2010

Mandate? What Mandate?

Hi Everyone,

In a recent thread, a roving Republican commenter posted that in her opinion the country voted clearly to "stop Obama." As vague as that might be, it's probably a fair expression of where the Tea Party/Republican activists are. But what about the country as a whole?

I looked up some things on and found these little tidbits:

A poll by Pew Research Center found that 55% of Americans want Republicans to work with Obama while only 38% want Republicans to "stand up to Obama." That 38% is about the same as we see for any issue where the Republicans really differ from the rest of the country. So what this suggests to me is that the only people who think President Obama "has to be stopped" are the hard core of Republican activists. In other words, they are not riding a wave of broad support.

Similarly, 62% of Americans want Democrats to work with Republicans. I think we can assume that the 62% who want Democrats to work with Republicans overlap somewhat with the 55% who want Republicans to work with Democrats. I take this as an indication that the center of the political spectrum is sick and tired of the politics of intransigence and obstruction. It's a pity they keep voting for divided government.

When Pew asked Americans who should "take the lead" in Washington, 49% said Obama compared to just 30% who said Republicans. Again, not exactly what we'd expected to see if the 2010 election was really a broad based movement of opposition to President Obama.

Recent Polls by Pew and CBS both found that the number of Americans who approve of President Obama is about the same as the number who disapprove of him. Again, not really what we'd expect to see if there was really a fundamental change in American attitudes in general.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Speaking of Google

Not to reignite old posts, but I had the pleasure today of reading two articles about Employee compensation.

The first is that old saw from USA (on a mission obviously since they love publishing these) about how Federal workers are getting fat and happy on huge salaries and how the Republicans are going to try and crush Obama's proposed 1.4% raise for all us spoiled workers. Well, I for one am willing to give up the 1.4% if it helps the country recover (although I doubt it will). I also hope that these Congresspeople are willing to sacrifice as well. They live pretty well and bring up the average for all of us. The salary for the rank and file House Rep. and Senator is $174K a year. The Speaker earns a cool $224K. They get the same benefits as everyone else in government. And their wages affect those for all judges and the like.

For a pretty well balanced look at this debate see The Federal Salary War . It is pretty much a lot of smoke and mirrors.

My favorite part of these articles is when the Cato Institute says, "BLS data shows that a federal employee is more than 8 times less likely to quit than a private sector employee. We’ve argued that this indicates that federal employees recognize that the generous combination of wages, benefits and job security is hard to match in the private sector, so they stay put." Of course, you idiot. So we should raise job insecurity and the struggle to hang on the middle class status as some sort of higher value? Why such disdain for the American worker? The ultimate value of any job, or any product really, is what someone else is willing to pay for it. Why is it fair for a Wall Street banker to sew up sweet pay deals and compensation packages, but unfair for a middle class American to have some job security and a decent salary? The bankers say they have to pay a lot to get the best and brighest. This leads me to the second, happier article.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Google is offering its people 10% raises to retain them. Yeah for Google and it's "do no evil" mantra.

The irony is striking. Google has obviously highly skilled employees that it values. The government does too. It employs an awful lot of IT specials, Cyber security specialists, doctors, lawyers, technicians etc. And these people have to be paid adequately to keep and retain them. And we won't mention how many private sector jobs the government subsidizes through tax incentives and the granting of contracts. The American people deserve the best and they aren't getting it. The American people suffer when the federal government, ah-hem, can't entice the best and the brightest. Those guys move over to Google.


Thursday, November 04, 2010

Some Interesting Things About the Recent Election

Hi Everyone,

I thought I would blog about some interesting things about the election last week. Here is a link to the exit polls that I will use for most of the blog post.

I'll begin by pointing out that if Republicans think that this election represents a coherent mandate for conservative retrenchment they are mistaken. The first bit of evidence against what I'll call the conservative "tsunami" interpretation of the election results is the turnout. It was low. In low turnout elections, the electorate is older, whiter and more male than in high turnout elections. That tends to favor conservatives right from the start. So rather than representing a shift of opinion the 2010 election represents a shift in attentiveness to the election. In other words, its not that more Americans agree with conservatives now. It's that more conservatives voted. Here is a link to the exit poll from 2008. One thing that stands out is that in the 2008 election 44% of voters self identified as moderates. In 2010, moderates only made up 39% of the voters. In both elections most self identified moderates voted for Democrats. This begs the question of whether voters really wanted what the Tea Party and the Republicans were offering.

Now, what did the people who did vote really want? Did they - as the Republicans argue - vote in favor a Republican agenda of reversing what President Obama and the Democrats have done in the last two years? The answer is more complicated than Fox News would like to admit. On the one hand 53% of voters had an unfavorable opinion of the Democratic Party. 88% of that group voted for Republicans. On the other hand, 52% of voters had an unfavorable opinion of the Republican Party. 75% of that group voted for Democrats. So really the Republicans won not because people love them now but because more people were holding their nose and voting for them than were holding their nose and voting for the Democrats. That's not exactly a basis for a rousing mandate (see tables from: 2010 Exit Poll).

What do 2010 voters want Congress to do and could Republicans possibly deliver it even if they had the kind of total control they had between 2000 and 2006? 19% think Congress should cut taxes. 39% think Congress should cut the deficit. And 37% think Congress should spend more to create more jobs. You might assume the people who want to spend for more jobs are all Democrats. But 30% of these people voted for Republicans. Cutting taxes and deficit reduction are clearly contradictory. When you throw in the significant number of Republican voters who want more spending and you have a tricky situation for the Republicans. What exactly are they going to propose? No matter what they do they risk alienating a significant portion of their vote (see table taken from 2010 Exit Poll).

Now consider that the Republicans don't have control over legislation. What they do have is some control over the agenda in the House and a blocking minority in the Senate. If they really want to change things, they'll have to compromise with Democrats to do it. If they insist on the ideological purity espoused by the most vocal elements of the Tea Party set, the best they can hope for is to lock in place the policies Obama and the Democrats instituted in the last two years. Speaking as a Democrat, that's a deal I'd gladly take. It's at least as likely that the Republicans would win more support from working to compromise with the Democrats on some less contradictory options than trying to respond some incoherent "mandate" that they imagine they have. As a Democrat, I'd accept reasonable compromises with the Republicans on some major issues. It wouldn't make me vote for Republicans in 2012 but it would make me think people who did vote for Republicans weren't insane.


Wednesday, November 03, 2010

If California were a country

If California were a country, the Democrats would be said to have scored a huge victory yesterday.

First, Jerry Brown was elected governor. Second, Barbara Boxer was reelected.

Third and probably at least as important as the other two, was that Proposition 25 passed. Prop 25 removed the requirement of a 2/3 majority to pass a budget and returned the rule to simultaneous majorities in both houses of the state legislature combined with the governor's signature. This means that the sizable Democratic majorities in the state legislature will be able (finally) to pass the kind of budget that the majority of Californian's clearly want. Second, it means that governor of California is no longer a weak figure head. Under the old system, the same vote was needed to pass a budget as was needed to override a veto. This meant that the governor was largely shut out of the legislative process especially if the governor in question was unable to exert any influence among the blocking minority. Governor elect Brown (and his successors) will be much more powerful than either Schwarzenegger or Gray Davis. This is a good thing in my opinion.

This new budget arrangement means that when one party controls both houses and the governorship, they will actually be able to govern. This also means that even when there is divided government (different parties controlling different houses of the legislature or the governorship), that the governor become a much more important player than had been the case before. What's more, in the event that one has one party controlling both houses of the legislature and a different party controlling the governorship, the new rules makes obstructionism a much more high profile strategy.

Consider the situation that California faced during Schwarzenegger's years in Sacramento. The Democrats controlled both houses of the legislature but not by the required 2/3. Schwarzenegger might have been inclined to compromise with them but he was not the reason compromise was so difficult. Rather it was radical conservative legislators, from districts far from typical for California, that held things up. The result was a deadlock that was imposed (repeatedly) by one party on the entire state under circumstances where the political costs one might expect to result from such behavior were either shared out or not imposed at all because of the narrowness of the constituencies of the legislators in question. If California had had the new budget rule in place back then however, the real fight over the budget would have been between Governor Schwarzenegger and the Democratic legislative majority. If Schwarzenegger had wanted to be as intransigent as the Republicans in the legislature had been, he would have had to do so under a spot light. He would have had to take center stage in the state and make his case for a veto. That's much harder to do because he would have had to appeal to a much broader cross section of the electorate than any one legislator would. And, as governor, he would get a lot more media attention for what ever actions he chose to take. I suspect that it would have made a Republican governor like Schwarzenegger much more reluctant to adopt the kind of scorched Earth approach so favored by Republicans in the California state legislature.

This won't solve California's problems. But it does at least make a solution possible. So let the healing begin California!


Some Good News For the Left

So progressives are probably a little down today. That's OK, the Democratic party took a bit a beating last night. But here are two bits of good news to consider.

First, the results last night do not indicate a shift to the right ideologically. Despite what the Tea Party crowd would like us to think, the results last night were driven by two things unrelated to their ideological agenda: high unemployment and low turnout (which boosts the share of voters who were white, male and older).

Second, in an election year with a large swing in favor of Republican candidates (because of the reasons stated above), Iowans crushed a move to hold a constitutional convention. The proponents of holding the constitutional convention were hoping the mandatory ballot measure (held every 10 years) would pass so they could amend the state constitution to forbid same sex marriage. Such a convention may only be held every 10 years and Iowans said "no" to the chance 67% to 33% in favor.


Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Election 2010 Blogging

Dems appear poised to win the WV Senate race and Ohio governor's race (based on exits). House is looking not so good. Struggling with incumbent seats in IA, VA, KY- all three early-poll-closing states (note: early poll closings are favored by the GOP to reduce turnout among workign people especially, which tells you about these three states).